Calling in Well

There was an endearing 1980s novel Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins which remains unlike any other novel I have read since then.

The late singer songwriter Dan Fogelberg was inspired by this book to write his song  ‘Make Love Stay’, the group La Dispute wrote a song ‘One’ which consists of quotes from the novel, and the Drew Barrymore character is reading this book over and over each morning over breakfast in the comedy/romance film, 50 First Dates.

All these years later, passages from it are still quoted

Woodpecker was written at the tail end of the LSD generation and in an age when people were more comfortable surfing their own minds than they are in today’s internet-friendly age.

I haven’t read the book since the 1980s and am reluctant to revisit … it is a bit like not wanting to go back to a place for fear that what delighted you then will leave you cold now – or worse — what you remember is not really what is there. This happened to me when I re-read The World According to Garp by John Irving, which was written around the same time as Woodpecker. The ending of the Garp book was not at all the way I remembered it to be, turns out I had rewritten a much ‘happier’ ending in my mind’s eye!

However, several of the many quirky sayings of Woodpecker have stayed with me, including Calling in Well. Robbins tells his readers he knows about calling in sick, but asks us to one day consider Calling in Well.

At this time of year, of holiday peace and goodwill and New Year promises, it is timely to remember that we all have the ability to ‘call in well’ and change our landscape.

Life is short so don’t waste time on negative or mean-spirited people. Call in Well to those people!

At a neighbourhood party the other day, several people were perturbed by a newsletter that was being circulated by a local councillor, full of opinionated misinformation that this man is renowned for distributing. I keep wondering if this fellow can possibly get shallower, and he never fails with yet another example.

This man is not going to change and, as I saw at this party, people were genuinely annoyed and unhappy with him. So what is the point of this?

Our local community should just call in well, vote him out of office and let their conversation be full of fun, imagination, ideas and inspiration rather than be drawn into a web of  negativity.

I provide this Tom Robbins quote for the councillor:

If you believe in peace, act peacefully; if you believe in love, acting lovingly; if you believe every which way, then act every which way, that’s perfectly valid – but don’t go out trying to sell your beliefs to the system. You end up contradicting what you profess to believe in, and you set a bum example. If you want to change the world, change yourself.

I provide this Tom Robbins quote for the rest of us who are letting ourselves get drawn into the councillor’s web:

We are our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.

For myself, I find it far better to smile and think a happy thought and Tom Robbins gave me pages and pages of that more than 30 years ago.

I thank Robbins for that – it stays with me.

Jan Smith


When is enough, enough?

A few news stories these past weeks and a swag of emails debating the rights of an ageing building have aroused a strange synergy, for me, with the on-going euthanasia debate, narrowly defeated yet again, this time in Tasmania.

In the 1990s I wrote passionately for our politicans to support euthanasia in a letter in a national newspaper and was amazed at the responses I received far and wide, even overseas, from people who agreed.

My father had just died, at the time.

There is a black humour joke that goes something like this:

A man goes to his doctor and the doctor  says, Do you want the good news or the bad news, first?  The patient says whichever comes first. Well, says the doctor, you have terminal cancer but the good news is, you also have Alzheimer’s, so you will forget about both after I’ve told you.

That was the fate of my father, and I can assure you it was not a happy, nor a forgetful, ending for those of us who loved him. I still ache with the remorse that someone who had led such a kind, generous and distinguished life had to leave the world in such undignified and unkind circumstances.  The long years of being a handsome pipe smoker had come at a terrible price. The doctors had pushed my mother to buy time, what turned out to be less than four months, with disfiguring and pointless mouth and jaw surgery to avoid ‘the stench of rotting cancer’, yet his nurses were still lighting candles in his room to cut the stench in his last days when we visited the confused stranger we still called, ‘Dad’. My mother had a brave and positive few more years, but when alone churned herself inside out that it was she who had somehow let him down, no matter how we reassured her. She died within weeks of a  terminal diagnosis of a body that was riddled with cancer and we then learned just how brave and ‘never again’ determined she had been, long hiding her symptoms from us, so that she could at least spare us the heartache and die ‘her way’, and with dignity.

Just before the most recent vote, on the Tasmanian bill for legalizing euthanasia, I thought a poignant story on the TV news, did a good job of answering the question, when is enough, enough?

A gracious and obviously intelligent lady, suffering from Motor Neuron Disease    was straightforward and unemotional in her argument for her desire for assisted suicide to be legalised.

She was aware that MND can be an unforgiving disease and had already lost the use of one arm. She argued that when the disease progresses to her other arm she will lose her independence, and it is her choice not to end her days being dependent on someone else and suffering the indignity of not being able to attend to her own intimate body functions. She argued that unless there is a form of legal assisted suicide while she is of sound mind and body to make the decision, it will be too late, and deprive her of her right to die with dignity.

And fair enough, say I. Just as she has been in command of her life up to now, she should be able to continue to be in command when she has a terminal and incurable illness.

Contrast this story with another reported about the same time, of the woman who contracted a rare bacterial infection and against all odds, survived, but had her arms and legs amputated as part of that survival. She is rejoicing that she is alive and, unlike the MND lady, is up to the challenge that the loss of all her arms and legs for the rest of her life has presented. However, she is young and she has a loving young family. She has everything in her life to live for, particularly seeing her children thrive into aduthood. Her story might be different if this happened to her when she was 75.

Neither of these stories changed my stance on supporting euthanasia, but curiously a little parish pump squabble did… through a swag of emails about saving a local heritage building.

Many in my local community want to treasure this first public building in Brighton built in 1869. However, despite the structure being ‘local heritage’ listed, and a Strategic Plan for our city that contains a myriad of motherhood references to protecting and celebrating heritage, the  City of Holdfast Bay Council wants to strip the Original Brighton Town Hall’s community land status and sell it, with an adjacent parcel of land, to a developer. Outrageously, the Council suggests to the community that the historic Town Hall building will be better cared for, when in a private developer’s hands.

One councillor, in particular, seems to be obsessed with his need to ensure this building is sold off the Council’s ledger. If you study his voting record on any culture or heritage issues in his six years on Council it clearly demonstrates his bias against cultural history and prejudice for money over substance.  In the above mentioned swag of emails, he bullies, displays his ignorance, and spreads half-truths with little sense of fair play in his attempts to control any informed debate on this issue. He is only a ward councillor elected in another part of the city, not where the threatened building stands, yet he has appointed himself the ‘Walter Mitty’ mouthpiece of the Council and its Administration, without portfolio.

Disappointingly, it has been left to a  passionate member of our local community to seek State Heritage listing for this building, as a means to further protect it, with the Council again not matching its actions to the lip service words it uses in its Strategic Planning documents.

Despite a community public meeting voting unanimously in support of keeping this community land, and despite petitions supporting protection of the building, the Council ignores the community voice… because it can.

This is what happens when the wrong people stand for election to Councils, and when people lose sight of who they are meant to serve. This is what happens when people who are incapable of seeing any reflection except their own are given a taste of ‘power’.

If this lack of compassion, intelligence and empathy is so evident in our parish pump politics that it can eradicate in one ignorant action, unique local history that has stood the test of time through 144 years of previous Councils, it sends a strong message to err on the side of caution in future.

I can just imagine if someone in high level Government,  with the personality type akin to these sorts of councillors, had control of legalised euthanasia it wouldn’t take long for the terrifying prospects of sales of body parts to the highest bidder, and the local nursing homes would have to ‘knock off’ those residents who had outlived their usefulness, to make room for those prepared to pay more, and so on.

Yes, I’ve changed my mind on euthanasia and now think politics should stay away from legalising euthanasia. We should err on the side of caution and euthanasia should continue to be a moral issue between people and their God.

And at the local parish pump…we’ve had enough! We need to examine more carefully the calibre of people that  we want to represent our community voice when elections come around again.

For thought-provoking readings on these themes, I highly recommend:

Moral Hazard by Kate Jennings

Love among the ruins    by Evelyn Waugh

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

Jan Smith

Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House

In the scheme of world issues, what’s happening at Holdfast Bay is small potatoes, indeed.

However, the Council meeting I attended this week provided a great incentive to campaign for amalgamations of local government councils into a centralized metropolitan body, along the lines of what they have in Brisbane.

Councils have clearly outgrown the ‘parish pump’ nature of their business, and the people who are elected to Council these days are generally not equipped to be making the decisions they are making.

This circumstance is compounded by politics now entering into the fray… at Holdfast Bay we have a strong Labor faction that manipulates the vote, and I am sure there are similar cases of Liberal and Labor factions on other Councils. If local government is going to be overtaken by political factional voting, we might as well merge it into State government and remove this costly third tier of government that many have argued is unnecessary.

Holdfast Bay currently has at least three fiascos on its plate… the Brighton Caravan Park, the joint venture with Taplin Group, and the Broadway Kiosk all illustrating in one way or another that the elected Council seems to be operating beyond its capabilities.

The Council approved a heads of agreement for a development with the Taplin Group at its meeting this week with a vote of 7 to 4. The Council revoked community land status over its land to allow for this cinema development, it will now charge local shoppers for car parking that was previously free in Glenelg, it has given the developer carte blanche to close two centrally located car parks for up to 18 months during construction, and the developer gets two air titles (both of which he is free to on sell) and complimentary parking for his cinema patrons, and a council maintained car park for perpetuity as part of this deal. He, of course, covers his own building costs and business risks.  The developer will contribute about $2m to build a car park, to which the Council also contributes $2.5m from the Jetty Road traders car park existing fund.  (Most of this fund has been contributed over many years from traders at the other end of Jetty Road.)

Four councillors argued that the numbers and details did not add up to this being a ‘good deal’ for the community and advised the Council to go back to the drawing board and think again, rather than rush into approving the motion to revoke the community land status and  sign the existing heads of agreement.

But the seven had already made up their minds… influenced greatly by the Labor faction on Council and also by, I suspect, the Developer, since one councillor alluded, speaking to the motion at the Council meeting about  her dealings with  the Developer’s representatives, and confirming they addressed her concerns to secure her vote.

Now I want to state my bias here.

I think Andrew Taplin is terrific. I think he has done a brilliant job of snowing the Council’s Administration and his consortium has been clever, he has paid attention to detail, and done a great job of playing a councillor or two for their weaknesses and ambitions, to bulldoze his project through the elected Council.

I also think Justin Lynch, the Council’s CEO, has done his job the way he interprets it. He has enabled a huge development for his city, a big tick on his cv, and he secured the expertise to say it is all ‘legal’. From his standpoint, I suspect, it was up to the Councillors, the elected representatives of the community, to make the moral decisions, and ensure that their constituents understood the game plan. However, this is a very smart man and he also knew the calibre of the Councillors sitting around the table and the aforementioned councillors’  weaknesses and played them for the desired result. In this scenario, I don’t admire Justin Lynch as much as I admire Andrew Taplin because I reckon Justin has gotten so excited with the machinery of government that he perhaps forgot our local community, in his eagerness to deliver.

And now to the elected Council. These people are elected to Council as representatives of their community, yet as soon as they’ve attended a few meetings the game changes and many become agents of the Council Administration, or under the influence of the aforementioned political factions.

Do the research and you’ll find this is a common complaint with local government.

At Holdfast Bay, the councillor who is the most verbose bully was elected on a mere 477 votes at the last election. In the example of this cinema development proposal he has manipulated the facts, spread untruths, and tried to claim that any opposition to the plan is  a case of old fogeys against development.

What nonsense! This divide and conquer strategy (also employed by the Labor Party ) has no place in our city of Holdfast Bay. Interestingly, the residents are switched on and have formed a City of Holdfast Bay Residents Alliance covering the whole of Holdfast Bay… the community is uniting itself, tired of waiting for the Council and its Administration to stop this them and us division. This, too, is a common phenomenon.

In this proposed development people wanting to park in Cowper or Partridge Street car parks will now have to pay (no more free time!) while Taplin cinema patrons will have 4 free hours of parking. Interesting, too, that there is no paid car parking in Brighton, so the other Glenelg businesses and traders (not the cinema) are charged as well, with  providing Council’s paid parking revenue, on top of their already high rents.

Kudos to (young) Councillor Stephen Patterson for his passionate plea to Councillors to go back to the drawing board and ensure the details are the best deal for our community… I’m sorry his older colleagues on Council couldn’t listen to his wise words.

Kudos also to Crs Mikki Bouchee, Karen Donaldson and Bob Fisk… these people read the documents and listened to both sides of the argument. They didn’t say throw the plan out… they said let’s get a better deal for our community.

Shame on all those Glenelg ward councillors who did not even bother to consult with the businesses that will be affected by the closure of both car parks, potentially for up to 18 months.  Shame on those councillors who got excited by the glamour over the due diligence. Shame on those councillors who said ‘near enough is good enough, we’ll let someone else work out the fine details’. You don’t deserve to represent the community of Holdfast Bay.

In the meantime, I think these 7 Councillors should offer the free air title to their own backyards to those businesses that are now under threat due to the car park closures of this development.

Line them all up.