Sunday, February 28, 2010


There is a competition somewhere for writing stories of exactly 50 words. I know because years ago the editor of the Narrabri newspaper, The Courier, told me there was. Like him I have been fascinated with these stories ever since. As a teacher I often set this as an exercise for students. Produce a story in 50 words. Exactly 50 words. Not a few more, nor a few less, but exactly 50 words. Its a challenging exercise (and for people who don't particularly enjoy reading, a chance to read a lot of stories) and it teaches students what are the essential elements of a good story.

Here is an example of one I wrote:

The bats were all huddled in the cave for the night. Roger arrived late and was all covered in blood, cuts and bruises.

"What happened to you" the others asked.

"See that big tree near the entrance to the cave" Roger replied

"Yes" they answered.

"Well I didn't" sighed Roger.

OK now your turn to try it. Email me a story, and at some time I'll put a couple on here:

If you want to find the competition or more stories here is one link:

Friday, February 26, 2010


I drove my mum to Sydney last night. A five hour drive.

I thought 'Mother and Son' was a comedy. I realise now it was a documentary.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Before you read all of this blog entry take out a pen and paper and do these two quick quizzes. (No really do them....because after you read the answers you'll say "Oh I was going to put that").

Which sports are the most injury-prone? Rank these sports from 1 to 10 based on how you think they rate for injuries. 1 means the most injuries to 10 being the least.

Running, Basketball, Rugby Union, Tennis, Australian Rules Football, Soccer, Cricket, Netball, Rugby League, Aerobics.

Ok while you still have that pen out (of course you do).....put these seven causes of deaths in Australia in order. The first should be the one causing the most number of deaths and the seventh the least:

Crocodile attacks, Drownings/submersions, Scuba diving accidents, Lightning strikes, Shark attacks, Motor vehicle accidents, Bee stings.

See this blog is about people's perceptions of danger. As a Rugby Union player who has played over a 1000 games and only ever suffered from one broken bone in my thumb (and that was against a Rugby League player) I am constantly amused by people who say that Rugby Union is a rough and dangerous game. I am also amused by mothers who say their son is not allowed to play Rugby because they fear he will get hurt, and they send him off to play soccer instead....or even tennis. Is this valid reasoning or just perception?

I also know people who fear visiting the beach because they are worried about shark attacks. No, not just country people. Yet, these same people will continue to work or play golf in a lightning storm, play in a yard where there are bees collecting pollen or even drive to look at the beach. But which of these really poses the greater danger?

Talking to people from overseas a number of them said they would love to visit Australia but were scared of all our spiders and snakes. I was surprised as they came from countries with wild animals and grizzly bears. (The worse our bear does is piddle on you according to one ex-tourism minister.) Spiders don't even rate in the list of causes of death for the 10 year period above. Why? Well in Australia only two types of spiders cause death, the male Sydney Funnel Web and the Redback spider. Since anti-venoms have been made available in 1981 there have been no recorded deaths from spider bites.

And snakes.... well presumably in the ten year period surveyed there were less than 8 deaths from snake bites because they did not even rate and 8 deaths were the lowest number of the top 7 causes in the survey. According to an article by Brian Bush there have been only 40 deaths from snake bite in Australia in the past 27 years and this is by far the lowest number of deaths for any continent (except Antartica). Brown also points out that there are more deaths in Australia each year from horse riding accidents (21 vs. 1.6). He observes that more people have died in the world from eating turtle flesh (certain turtle flesh contain a poison called chelonitoxin) than have ever died from snake bite in Australia. So, unless you are a mouse, stop worrying. And just in case you have heard about the deadly sea snake..... there are no reported deaths from sea snake bites in Australia.

In their book Freakonomics Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner tell the story of a child who wanted to go and play with a friend. The parents don't let her go to the friend's home because there is a gun in the house. Instead the child is allowed to go and play at a different friend's house. This one has a pool. A reasonable decision by the parents you would think. However, statistically the child has more chance of dying from drowning than by a gun accident. Levitt and Dunbner say “roughly 100 times more likely”. So the safer house would be the one with the gun not the one with the pool. In Australia this is probably more so the case. Deaths from accidental shootings are close to nonexistent but death from drowning in household pools are high every year. In 2008 for example there were 40 deaths from drowning in Australia.

OK. To settle office arguments.....the answers to the quizzes.

According to the Medibank Private Safe Sports Report 2006, the top 10 most injury-prone sports (based on patient presentations to Australian hospital emergency departments and general medical practices) are:

1. Australian Rules Football
2. Basketball
3. Netball
4. Running
5. Tennis
6. Cricket
7. Soccer
8. Aerobics
9. Rugby League
10. Rugby Union

According to statistics (from Stevens & Paxton, 1992) the number of deaths in Australia for a ten year period, 1980 to 1990 are as follows;

1. Motor vehicle accidents 32,772 deaths
2. Drownings/submersions 3,367
3. Scuba diving accidents 88
4. Bee stings 20
5. Lightning strikes 19
6. Shark attacks 11
7. Crocodile attacks 8


In the last 12 months I have started wearing an Akubra. I was not a big fan of wearing hats and in particular find Australians wearing an American baseball cap pretty strange, and a real pity. However I now wouldn't be without my hat. I wasn't going to take it overseas, for fear of losing it, but at the last moment decided I would. In Kula Lumpar as I walked through the markets vendors would yell out to me "Hey cowboy, come and look at this". In Nepal many people would comment on the hat and could easily recognise me when I returned to a place. Three or four times young men just as they passed me in the street would say "Good hat" and just keep going. My Facebook photo is one of me wearing my hat. When I play poker people from overseas often identify me as an Australian..... because of the hat. The Akubra really is an Australian icon.

In the 1870s Benjamin Dunkerley arrived in Australia from England. He set up a factory making hats in Tasmania. He was also able to make a machine which would remove the tips of the fur from rabbit skins so that the fur underneath could be used for hat making. Nearly ten years later he moved the factory to Surry Hills in Sydney. In 1902 another hat maker from England, Stephen Keir joined the business. Three years later he married Dunkerley's daughter and took over running the factory. The business has been in the family ever since.

In 1911 it was called the Dunkerley Hat Mill and employed nearly twenty workers. In 1912 it adopted the brand name 'Akubra'. The name is believed to have come from an Aboriginal word, meaning 'head covering'. The company produced Australian slouch hats for the army in both World War 1 and 11. In the 1950s it was given the licence to manufacture stetson hats in Australia. In the 1970s it finally relocated its factory to Kempsey where it remains today, still under the management of the Keir family.

The hats are made using the soft downy fur from the rabbit. This fur is removed, washed and cleaned. It is then put on a large cone and sprayed with water which causes the fibres to interlock and gives the hat its strength. Then it is shrunk several times being put through rollers to get the water out and to make the material even. It is then dyed in large vats, which contain about 200 hats for about an hour and a half. The part of the hat which is to become the brim is then soaked with shellac to keep it stiff. The hat is then soaked in boiling water to allow them to be moulded into shape. This is done using a mechanical bloc and mechanical fingers shape the hat into its final form. The hats are dried over night in large ovens before having the brims ironed flat. The hat is then sandpapered and brushed off to give it a smooth finish. Again the hat is blocked to produce a crown and then hat bands, linings and the Akubra crest are added. In the final stage the brim has a wet cloth put over it and pressure applied using bags of hot sand to give the brim its final shape. Some fifty pairs of hands may have handled the hat before it is purchased in the store.

The Akubra has become a part of Australian culture. It is worn by men and women on the land and associated with rural industries. It has been worn by Australian Olympic teams and I have also seen it many times presented to visitors from overseas who want to take a part of Australian culture back home with them.

The photographs with this blog entry come from my trip to Nepal and show many people who had a fascination with the hat..... a hat which I lost, and regained, three times while there.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Last November I took my first trip outside of Australia. My daughter, Amanda and I spent seven weeks in Nepal doing volunteer work, first at the Everest Children's Home and then at the Pema Ts'al Sakya Monastic Institute. The time at the monastery I found fantastic, amusing and so surreal. We taught classes, had classes in Buddhist philosophy, attended prayer sessions, ate with the monks, talked with the monks, laughed with monks, even danced with the monks and for a short while experienced life in the monastery.

A little history of the monastery. Its located in the village of Hyangja, just outside of Pokhara. It was first established in 1999 in Kathmandu with 30 children, 25 of these were from the different villages of the district of Mustang (the people who are ethnic Tibetans) and five from Tibetan refugee camps around India and Nepal. In February 2002 in was moved to its present location near Pokhara, and in 2004 added 25 more students again from Mustang and Buddhist communities in Nepal. At present there are about 80 students but the monastery aims to accommodate 105 students eventually. The institute also caters for blind students who are taught using the newly invented system of braille pioneered at their sister school in Mundgod in India. Lama Kunga was formerly appointed chairman of Pema Ts'al in 1997.

The Kingdom of Mustang, where the children are drawn from, is one of the smallest Buddhist Kingdoms. It is located to the northwest of Nepal and surrounded on three sides by Tibet. Until recently it was one of the most isolated and inaccessible areas of the world. While its social and spiritual life has remained unchanged for centuries it lost its spiritual patronage from Tibet in 1959. The institute seeks to in part fill this void and preserve cultural identity and the Buddhist way of life.

The monastery is under the care and guidance of Lama Kunga. While there I was to teach him english. It was such a surreal experience each night to be in his room reading Goldilock and the Three Bears and trying to explain to him why she was called Goldilocks. He was so caring towards the young students and he had a great sense of humour. This was evident the night we returned late from shopping in the city to find he had locked us out of the monastery and wouldn't let us in until he had lectured us about being late .

While there we had the occasional Buddhist philosophy lesson. In one of these we talked about all life being sacred and how buddhists didn't eat meat, nor did they kill anything. Not even an insect. I saw this in practice one night in the dining hall when a mosquito landed on my arm. I made a swipe at it but missed and slapped my arm. It was like a scene from the movies. I felt like almost immediately eigthy faces turned to look at me and a dead silence descended on the place. Lucky I missed it.

One night I was called to remove a cockroach from the room the two female Dutch volunteers were staying in. Ronne and Eva were final year medical students and used to dealing in blood and body parts but Ronne just could not stand even the sight of cockroaches. The next morning the three of us attended the early morning prayer session held just before dawn. We would sit cross-legged on little benches around the side of the prayer room. Maybe it was divine intervention but in the middle of the prayer session a cockroach scuttled into the centre of the room. It stopped, slowly turned towards us, and then slowly scuttled closer and closer. It stopped just in front of us and sat there watching for about fifteen minutes before advancing to below our feet and then following the bench along to the door. Ronne was biting her lip trying not to scream. I was biting my lip trying not to laugh. I think the cockroach was just licking its lips and I'm sure it had a little grin.


No, this is not an argument about creationism versus evolution. Charles Darwin using science argued that man, and the rest of life on this planet had evolved over millions of years. In his Origin of the Species Darwin argued that man evolved as the highest order in a chain of every changing improvements where the fittest, or best adapted to the environment, ensured not only the survival of the species but its improvement. Darwin found it hard going trying to convince his colleges in the scientific world that his theory was creditable. Hence Darwin left out a crucial part of his findings. He did this to make it more palatable and salable to the scientific world and to the public in general.

Darwin's theories are often illustrated using a graph. When the graph reaches its peak there stands man, or mankind. However Darwin was also a teacher .....and every teacher knows what a bell curve is. The graph goes up on one side and down on the other. Or using scientific theory proposed by Sir Isaac Newton: 'What goes up must come down". Yes Darwin realised, but didn't reveal that while mankind had evolved as the most intelligent form of life on earth it must soon start devolving.

I can hear you shaking your head in disbelief now. But its true man is on his way down (actually women have been saying this for years). But lets look at the facts, look at some scientific evidence. For example when I go away and I stay in a motel, inevitably in the bathroom there is a hairdryer. have you ever read the label on this hairdryer. If you have it says: DO NOT USE IN SHOWER! This is surely striking evidence that mankind is , well becoming ....dumber. To need a label so that you don't stand under the water and use an electrical appliance! And even if it was dangerous, imagine trying to dry your hair while water is running on it.

Afraid is on the decline. Next time you go to the supermarket have a look at vitamin pills. To be specific have a look at Men's vitamin pills. Now read the small print. Remember these are vitamin pills for men to take. But in fine print it will have the warning: DO NOT TAKE IF PREGNANT.

Want evidence of a different kind. As man evolved he made progress by inventing things such as the wheel, fire, engines, electricity. Lets have a look at the inventions modern man has patented. Well there is the mini clothes line. It is just like a small wind-up clothes line, but it goes on the top of your car. You hang the clothes on it and they dry on the way to work.

Then there is the Santa Claus detector. This is a christmas stocking with lights in it. It lights up so in the morning the children can see that Santa has been....I would have thought the presents would give it away! And the 'Big cigarette Ash Bib'. This you wear when driving in the car so that cigarette ash can just fall down your front. And the Jet propelled golf club. This helps you hit the golf ball further. Or heated glasses. These are electric glasses with wires attached so that it heats up to stop snow building up on your reading glasses. Of course there is the padded carry bag for your banana. This is like those plastic travel toothbrush holders, but it is banana shaped and padded.....just to protect your banana until lunchtime. And my favourite.....the electric ice-cream cone. It not only pushes the ice-cream to the top but rotates the ice-cream around for you to lick.

Still not convinced?

Other academics have long know this forgotten side of Darwin's theories. Harvard University have an award, called the Darwin Award. This is given ever year to someone who is so dumb that they kill themselves to try to stop the de-evolution of the human race. But the list of people nominated for this award shows just how serious this decline in the human race is. There was an electrician in the US who decided that it would be a good idea to fly his kite in the electrical storm because the wind was so fierce. He was right. The kite took off and soon he was running out of string. he reached into the back of his truck and found a coil of copper wire and so proceeded to attach this to the end of the string. As the kite continued to climb lightning found the copper wire and the budding Benjamin Franklin was no more.

Other nominations include the robbers who tried to blow up an ATM machine but used too much dynamite. The whole building exploded....with them in it. The drug addict who decided to jump out of a moving car in order to sustain an injury so they would take him to hospital and give him some drugs. His injuries were so severe he died at the scene. The vandal on a train who swung on the overhead railing so that he could smash the train window with his feet. When the feet made contact and the window disappeared the vandal was also sucked out of the train and to his death. And of course the men in Northern Uganda who were involved in fierce tribal clashes and fighting. They purchased a magic lotion to protect them from bullets. In preparation they smeared the lotion all over their bodies for two weeks. But before going off to battle they decided to test it. One of their group, Aleobiga stood in a clearing while the rest of the group fired bullets into his chest.

Well you decide....but have a good look around at the people beside you first.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Yes I play poker. Zynga poker. Texas holdem'. Been playing for a couple of months. The same way I used to play Civilization and Myst and Suduko. What's the attraction. Well there is the sense of achievement trying to build up how many chips you have. I've been up over a million and a half chips.....and then back down to 365. But I continue to go up and down. The top player at the moment is Oliver. He has 74.2 billion chips. Maybe he is good, maybe he is lucky or maybe he just needs to get a life. But I'm gaining on him. At the moment I have just over 400,000.

The other nice thing is that there are millions of people all over the world playing this game. At any one time there seems to be two and a half million players on line. But you get to play at a table with eight other players and while you are playing you can chat with the people you are playing with.....well texting. It is fascinating. When I first started most of the players were from Asia. But now its from everywhere. USA, Canada, UK, Africa, South America and all over Europe. Mostly the chat is in english but not always.

Just the other day I was chatting to Boryslav who was a young bloke working in a travel agency in Serbia. He had just started work and was online playing cards. I asked him if he was worried the boss would catch him. He replied that the boss was away sick that day.

Tonight I was chatting with a couple in Athens. It is interesting to compare the difference in time and weather. These are usually the opening questions before you move on to 'what do you do for a living?' I have talked to US exchange students doing volunteer work in Chile, school cleaners in the UK, photographers in France, kindergarten teachers in Western Australia and housewives and office workers everywhere.

I only play 'Stop n Go'. This is where you get a 1000 chips and play until you are eliminated. The last three eliminated win a percentage of the chips that everyone paid to get into that particular game. I'm not too bad when I concentrate and am patient. Yes, sometimes I have been chatting and lost a game. And usually I am not very patient (or I'd be challenging Oliver). Trouble is I think every hand is a possible winner if only I'm lucky.....but I'm not always lucky.

When I am patient I fold and watch the hand play out. Often I'll see that my cards could have won ....if only I'd stayed in. Of course this is a deadly trap because next time you are tempted ....and yes the cards don't fall. It certainly is a game of 'what ifs'. Which reminds me of a story I read somewhere.

There were these two people, Jim and Gloria, who used to be high school sweethearts. They both ended up marrying someone different. But they met accidently after not seeing each other for nearly 40 years. They decided to share a cup of coffee and they recalled old times. During the conversation Jim said to Gloria: "Do you ever wonder what life would be like if the two of us had got married".

He was surprised and a bit disappointed when she said "no".

He tried again "You mean you never ever just close your eyes and wonder: what would life be like now if I had married Jim. Where would I live, what would I be doing. Just hypothetically."

Again she replied "no".

He was a little crest-fallen.

"No" she said "See there is always the fire to consider".

"What fire?" he said

""The house fire" she replied "Shortly after we got married the house burnt down and when you tried to rescue me we were both caught in the fire and died. So see I was better off not marrying you."

"But there was no fire, you can't base everything on that" said Jim indignantly.

"Well" said Gloria "If we were only imagining us two getting married than we can also imagine the fire.

Poker is like this. If you can imagine every hand a winner then you have to keep sight of every hand also being a loser. Isn't life like this also. You can imagine all you like but when it comes down to it you have to play the cards you are dealt.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


For nearly 35 years the residents of Sydney would see the word 'Eternity' written on the pavement in chalk. It was a mystery, and remained a mystery until 1956 when it was revealed that the single word message was being written by a reformed alcoholic and christian, Arthur Malcolm Stace. Stace is estimated to have written the word over half a million times in suburbs from Campbelltown to Hornsby, Blacktown to Cronulla. It became so much a part of Sydney folk lore that in 2000 the new millenium was ushered in with the word 'Eternity' electronically displayed across the front of the Harbour Bridge as part of a $5.4 million dollar fireworks display.

Arthur Stace was born in the Sydney suburb of Balmain on 9th Febuary 1884. His parents were alcoholics and Arthur grew up neglected and without much schooling. By the age of 12 he was made a ward of the state and at 15 he was sent to gaol. He enlisted and became a stretcher bearer in World War 1 but upon returning to Sydney after the war he became a heavy drinker, a gambler and a petty criminal. After appearing in court on 6th August 1930 Arthur went with other down and out vagrants to the church hall at St Barnabas' on Broadway. Here he had to listen to a sermon before being given a cake and a cup of tea. However Arthur was so moved by the words of the preacher, Archdeacon Hammond, that he soon repented of his sins and became a devout christian.

At a sermon six months later the reverend John Ridley said he wished he could shout the word 'Eternity' throughout the streets of Sydney. Stace says these words kept ringing through his head and outside of the church he reached down to the pavement and with a piece of chalk wrote the word 'Eternity' on the footpath. Although he could barely write his name the word 'eternity' came out in beautiful copperplate script. So began Stace's quest. For the next 35 years he would rise at 4am and after praying for an hour and having breakfast he would set off to different parts of Sydney where in a day he would write the word about fifty times. At first he used yellow chalk but later changed to marking crayon because it did not wash off as easily in the rain.

Arthur died in a nursing home in 1967. Although he left his body to Sydney University he is buried with his wife in Botany cemetery. Arthur is remembered by the word 'Eternity' being cast in wrought aluminium near the Sydney Square waterfall. The National Museum in Canberra also holds one of Arthur's sign which he wrote on a piece of cardboard. When the Sydney GPO clocktower was rebuilt in the 1960s and the original bell returned to the tower after 15 years in storage the workmen found the word 'Eternity' written in Stace's hand under the lip of the bell. Seven years after Stace's death the word 'Arthur' began to appear written in chalk on the payments around Sydney. Although this continued for several years it was never discovered who had written these messages.

With a piece of chalk Arthur became known as 'Mr Eternity'. Imagine what he could do now with a computer.

(The picture above is one of the few taken of Arthur Stace. It was taken by Trevor Dallen a Sydney reporter)