A (live export) picture paints a thousand words

From ABC online news, 9 June 2011:

This government has really let me down.

And, nice work ABC, intentional or not *ahem*.

Why I disagree with GetUp’s petition to ban live export

[Email sent 1 June 2011]

For the attention of Simon Sheikh

I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of GetUp for a number of years, participating in online petitions and making donations – I have my NYT Assange poster on my wall.

However, this is the first time I’ve disagreed with you, and I feel very strongly that your carte blanche approach to banning all live export is misguided.  The live export trade is not the problem, it’s the animal cruelty.


  • There is animal cruelty everywhere – including lots in Australia (why else is the RSPCA so busy?).
  • You have to admit, this was a story that was always going to be controversial – footage of a compliant abbatoir was never going to make great TV.
  • A live export ban won’t stop cruelty in some locations – whether in Australia, SE Asia or the Middle East
  • Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and Livecorp have a lot of explaining to do, as they’re the bodies – funded by producers – who are supposed to ensure our cattle are treated according to agreed standards, and that training is carried out in overseas abbatoirs.
  • Sending chilled meat is not the solution – there are cultural issues involved, which I’m sure many GetUp members would be sympathetic to.
  • A live export ban would ruin Australian livelihoods – families and communities who work hard, honestly and drive innovation and follow humane practices in their contribution to the Australian economy.
  • A live export ban will just make the affected abbatoirs source their cattle from elsewhere – but how will that stop the cruelty, or is it enough that we just won’t see it any more on prime time TV?
  • A live export ban will take $300 million out of Australia’s coffers.

I have a bit of experience with this, having worked with a major media organisation in the North West of WA, and met many pastoralists and covered stories on the topic.  However, I state that I am not affiliated professionally with any live export body or cattle producer; this is my personal opinion borne out of experience.

And the problem here is that the 4 Corners program was so emotive, so shocking, it’s no wonder people are appalled. But now there are nearly 145,000 GetUp supporters who are going for the jugular, so to speak, without knowing the other side of the story.

This is not cowboy land.  These are men and woman, many of them under 30, tertiary educated, running family businesses and driving the use of technology and striving for ‘best practice’ in their operations.  They cannot be held responsible for the actions of a few.

So I’d like to know why GetUp has taken this blanket approach to banning live export, and not considered some of the points above.

I reckon if you were to ask your supporters if they want to stop cruelty in Indonesian abbatoirs, or they want to ruin the livelihood of fellow Australians who are doing a good job, I know what response you’d get.  Is it too late to change your message?

To summarise: some animals are killed. Some animals are treated cruelly. Some animals are eaten. Money changes hands. Unfortunately, these statements aren’t always mutually exclusive.

I’d like to see GetUp focus on the statement that your supporters, and most of Australia, is appalled by.

Thank you.

The inner weather girl got angry

Apparently the Dutch have a fascination for weather.  So my girlfriend told me once, and she reckoned it was because if you lived in a country that’s at risk of being submerged every time it gets a decent bit of rain, you’d want to check the weather pretty regularly too. She based her theory on being married to a Dutch man who is interested in weather, so I can’t vouch for its accuracy.

However, being half Dutch, I find there’s a bit of truth to be had from that sweeping generalisation.  I had a brief ‘Eureka’ moment when she said it because it sort of helped explain my lifelong interest in weather. 

As a child, staying at Oma and Opa’s (my Dutch grandparents) during the holidays on the south coast of WA, heaven forbid if you even breathed loudly during the weather section on the ABC TV news.   Sometimes it was just better to try and hold your breath and creep out of the lounge room so you could think without being scolded.

Their predictable habit became a useful communication tool as I grew older, because now if I want to call Oma I wait until 7.31pm.  It used to be a dead cert I’d get her and she could then talk authoritatively about the weather to ‘break the ice’.  I say ‘used to’ because now, at 94 and with wireless TV audio direct to her hearing aids (yes!) it’s not so certain.  Mind you, she’s also got the digital desktop weather station alongside the crochet hooks and sidoku, so she still knows what temperature it is any time of the day or night. Just in case.

Moving on, during high school in geography classes I learnt some of the more formal parts of weather, which sort of helped explain the physics behind the ‘Dutchiness’ interest in weather. I say sort of because, I mean, really:

Fast forward 20 years or so, and I found myself at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation working for Local Radio in a regional studio – the serious domain of serious weather.  I did so enjoy reading the coastal waters forecasts *sigh*.  Now that I look back at it, that’s when I knew that a little weeny part of my cerebellum had personally and professionally fused.

And of course I was in the Pilbara, where cyclones are a real weather threat for six months of the year, when it’s not fricken hot for the other six months – note large dark red pimple on the north-west coast of WA which is where I’m talking about.

 Broadcasting for prolonged periods of time under pressure, in a studio itself shaking and howling with the wind and the community relying on your ability to communicate information, is a serious responsibility – and one that remains up the top of the ‘Life Experiences Top Ten’ so far.

Which brings me, in a long and roundabout way, to a few weeks ago when Perth experienced one of its nastiest storms in recent times.  Where I live wasn’t affected badly, and I’m grateful.  Bearing this in mind, last week the weather bureau issued a severe weather warning for the metropolitan area because another storm was imminent.  In their advice they said no hail was expected (as per the freak storm), and no road weather alert was issued either. But they were obviously being cautious because Perthites were jittery.

Imagine my surprise then when I turned up to uni for my 5-9pm lectures, after having driven over an hour in drizzle-affected panicky traffic, to find my classes cancelled due to the weather.

Somehow 40-odd years of weather loving, cyclone experiencing, anti-weather-gang-mentality (I just made that up) indignation rose to the surface. 

I mean, come ON!  You call that a storm?  This is the kind of storm I’m used to, when palm trees blow sideways and you can’t hear yourself think for the wind, and you finally see just why there are no roof gutters on Pilbara houses, because they couldn’t support the weight of rainfall.

Grrr.  As a Dutch person would say in the Pilbara, “Word taai, prinses.”

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, enjoy Bik Runga’s lovely song, Listening for the weather, which, not surprisingly, used to be on the ABC playlist!

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Obituary for a back yard

There has been a death – in fact, a number of deaths.

Our wonderful former neighbour from Karratha knocked on our door last night, as he is wont to do on occasion in a friendly spirit of surprise, to share news of – among other things – the comings and goings of Karratha town, of which there are many at this time of fiscal and North West uncertainty.

And it appears our former back yard has … gone. The new owners have ripped everything out – everything except the aloe vera against the bedroom wall – from what once existed in our small patch of North West heaven. Apart from not understanding why, it makes me sad. So I thought an obituary was in order.

This back yard first came to being around 1980 and it was a modest affair. The north-west lawn substitute, lippia, was planted across a small area and it did well. The original owners embraced the domesticity of their patch, and planted three citrus trees along the side fence separating us from our neighbour: two lemons, and what Mr JB and I came to agree on as being a ‘lemonade’ variety. They provided many lemons for meals, and ants to agonise over, during our five years there.

Along the opposite side fence which separated us from a large council stretch of nothingness other than red dirt, indigenous plants, broken glass and a footpath of ill repute alongside a major side road, was a mix of melaleuca, acacia, frangipani and a few other trees which had struggled over the ensuing 20 years or so to reach two or three metres tall. They provided a buffer from cyclonic winds, drunken wanderers and (most importantly) shade over the new patio.

Now the back fence, that was a different story. It was awful when we moved there in 2002. A half-height asbestos mess, with an overgrown cotton palm just over the other side in the back neighbour’s property, which rustled not only with the wind, but the passing of rodents and cockroaches amongst its dangling dead fronds.

With a wonderful spirit of cooperation between our rear neighbour and the bobcat operator he employed, our rear fence was removed as well as the cotton palm, plus, for the fee of a carton of Midstrength, so was the sunken brick bbq/conversation pit our original owner had installed hard up against the right-hand side of the back fence. But we made sure the trees remained.

By the beginning of 2003, we had a level playing field. No bricks. No cotton palm. And we had a plan.

We bought five hedging plants favoured by locals residents and planted them against the spangly new rear fence (thanks Sean). They were fast growing and we could prune and shape them against the fence, thereby becoming additional wind breaks during cyclone season. They nicely framed what had become then-two-year-old’s play area where the extra transplanted lippia was taking hold.

We put in concrete curbing to define where the garden beds finished and the lawn started. We pulled out weeds. We raked. We mulched. And, by God, by the end of it, it was good.

So by the time we had our old patio replaced in 2004, we had a shaded little patch of green comfort, with the original foxtail palm standing sentinel in the centre. It always had 11 fronds, no matter what stage of growth or death it was in; extraordinary.

In a town that’s only pushing 40 years old, every year of growth had the capacity to make an impact – either aesthetically or practically. I think our back yard was an honourable mix of the old and the new, the native and introduced, after 24 years, and we had laboured hard to make it so.

When I get my laptop back, I’ll post some photos and you will see what is now missing from a little patch of earth at the end of a quiet little cul-de-sac in the middle of a strangle little town in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

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