Civility Costs Nothing

Local Government and State elections are coming up this year and I suggest civility should be a major selection criteria for any candidate to get our votes.

A quick search of local government across Australia shows that problems of uncivil politics are rife across our communities today, not just in my seaside village. Equally, I have come across countless articles lamenting similar situations overseas. Google civility in politics and you’ll see what I mean.

Civility costs nothing, and buys everything is a quote attributed to the very interesting Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who lived from 1689 to 1762, so it is not a new issue for public discourse!

Perhaps we need to revive the term ‘Civil Service’ and give it new meaning for today’s elected public servants.

If my local government is any indication, we need to do something to stop the infiltration of crass and uneducated social media mores into the former credentialed statesmanship of being elected to public office.

We have a councillor who uses his position of Councillor and his Australia Day honour award post-nominals to gain credibility on social media, but does not then conform to the statesmanship that both those positions imply. He instead thumbs his nose at both by being as rude, disrespectful and crass as he can and then claims he is acting as a private individual (despite trading on the virtues that being a councillor in our community provide to him.) Childish behavior at best, uncivil at worst.

We have hopeful candidates in the upcoming March State election and later this year we’ll have local government candidates wanting to become councillors, or incumbents seeking re-election on their local Councils—in both instances, these candidates need you to vote for them to get elected.

If my local Councillor mentioned above is any example, we need to prepare ourselves for some very uncivil behavior. He recently undertook a campaign on social media to pre-empt a scheduled deputation to the Council by a community member on an issue they are passionately trying to negotiate with Council. The councillor proceeded to proselytize his personal view (while quoting his interpretation of Council opinion and policy) of this issue in social media, again trading off his ‘credibility’ as a councillor and honour award recipient, before the ratepayer’s deputation had even been presented and the councillor even had the gall to pronounce on social media that the presenter lacked integrity — before their presentation had even been voiced!

This is conduct unbecoming the role of an elected community representative. It is not only rude, disrespectful and uneducated, it is uncivil.

How do we fix it?

We make civility a prerequisite in all candidates. Here are three traits we can demand from potential or incumbent candidates.

  •  A civil councillor is always respectful and considerate of others and avoids being offensive in language or actions.
  • A civil councillor is always able to  respectfully acknowledge the positions and conclusions of others.
  • A civil councillor is always able to listen and make coherent and concise arguments and compromises, rather than simply attack other people and their viewpoints

Before you give a candidate or incumbent councillor your valuable vote… do the research and discover how they measure up in the civility stakes. Don’t take what they tell you about themselves for granted. If they are that prominent in your community others will have had dealings with them.

Attend a Council meeting and see incumbent councillors in action before you decide to re-elect them. Make sure councillors seeking re-election are responding with a knowledge base, not just their personal opinions, or being led by other councillors in the room. Talk to other visitors in the gallery and get their impressions of candidates.

Interesting, too, at a recent meeting of my local Council, that there were several ‘observers’ who were attending on the basis of possibly standing as Council candidates later this year. It is an indication that frustrated community members are beginning to wake up to the fact that in an election year, the future of their community is in their hands.

If you are lucky enough to get a candidate knocking on your door, determine for yourself if they are genuinely interested in your community and if they are actually listening to your views, too.  Consider your community as your livelihood and measure up whether the person on your doorstep or leaving a flyer in your letterbox   can be trusted to represent your enthusiasm, interest, ideas, creativity and compassion for your community.

Have a discussion and pick a subject that you know the person will disagree with you on… see how they handle that and determine for yourself if they  possess the essential trait of civility.

Ask them what book they are reading, and perhaps what is their favourite television show for some interesting indicators to the real personality and the depth of character.

Don’t vote for the incumbent representatives  who don’t listen, who bully,  who aren’t interested in actually listening to your side of an issue,  who ridicule,  who are basically uncivil… just don’t vote for them and tell your friends not to, either.

Not one vote!


A home among the gum trees

This week, along with a group of 40 Holdfast Bay residents, I travelled up to the German village, Hahndorf,  in the Adelaide hills, specifically to visit The Cedars, the family home of two of Australia’s more well-known artists—Sir Hans Heysen, and his daughter Nora.

Surprisingly, it was the first visit to The Cedars for at least two-thirds of this group of people who have travelled the world and interstate on sight-seeing holidays throughout the years.

We had  an enthralling visit to The Cedars and left me wondering …Why are we always so reluctant to explore and celebrate what is in our own back yards? Why had people never bothered to explore this fascinating site, which is a popular Adelaide destination for our international tourists, but not it  seems (if our group is any indication) with Adelaide locals?

Most South Australians know that Hans Heysen was a famous artist and painted gum trees, but know little else about him. Less still is known about his daughter Nora who was the first woman to win the  prestigious Archibald Prize, and the first woman to be appointed as a war artist.

It highlights a sad fact of life, people get forgotten when they die, unless there is someone actively marketing the legacy they leave behind.

Sir Hans came to Australia as a seven year old with his family in 1884.

He grew up in  and around Norwood and then as a young man he was encouraged by four Adelaide businessmen who appreciated his talent and supported Heysen financially to undertake a study tour in Europe. In return Heysen promised to send them all the work he produced during his years overseas.

He returned to Adelaide, married, and started an art school.

Heysen’s first interstate solo exhibition, held in Melbourne, was opened by Prime Minister Alfred Deakin! This brought his work to the attention of prominent buyers, including Nellie Melba.

He purchased the Cedars in 1912, on the back of a second art exhibition in Melbourne. He lived on the Hahndorf Property for the rest of his life, raising a big family and significantly leaving us with a picture of rural life and of the men and animals toiling in the fields around the town of Hahndorf  in the Adelaide Hills, in addition to his wonderful landscapes, still-lifes and other activities in the art world. He also became a ‘greenie’ conservationist before his time, buying up surrounding land parcels only because he wanted to save the gum trees and habitat corridors for birds and animals. The original 40 acres he bought in 1912 expanded to 150 acres in 1938, and remains that size today.

Visitors are welcome to walk the grounds and follow Heysen’s footsteps to 11 of his favoured painting locations, with interpretive signs that match his paintings to the real life gum trees on the property.

Sir Hans was well travelled and well-connected and despite being in this country since the age of seven, he was subjected to the local prejudices of being of German  origin during wartime. He had financial success in Melbourne and overseas, yet he chose to still remain in Adelaide as his home. He was famous for his landscapes and his still-lifes – including one he famously refused to  Russian ballerina, Anna Pavolva, when she saw it, because it had been specifically painted for his wife, Sallie. (Pavlova subsequently famously refused a replacement painting he did for her, because it wasn’t the one she wanted!)  You can see the painting Pavlova wanted still hanging in the house today and it is exquisite, almost giving the effect of three dimensional flowers, when viewed in the light Heysen intended for it. However, when his daughter Nora began having success with her still life painting, Heysen graciously stopped doing them, because he thought his daughter’s technique was better.

Today, the home and studio are pretty much as the artist  left them, when he died at the age of 90 in 1968. In the home, you immediately feel that this has been a happy, warm and welcoming home, even before the guide tells you the stories of a happy marriage and visits by Dame Nellie Melba, Pavlova, Vivian Leigh, Lionel Lindsay and Harold Cazneaux, among others. A bedroom with its double bed and wooden cradle and a formal dining room complete with raised stage and piano give insight to a simpler, but somehow more genteel, yet sophisticated, time of life that has probably been lost for today’s generations and beyond.

The formal sitting room with its beautiful Bay window looking out to the familiar Heysen landscape against a backdrop of bookshelves laden with the books of Hans and Sallie Heysen and family photos are further proof of a life well loved, and lived.

A short distance from the house is the Heysen studio, famously photographed by Harold Cazneaux. You enter this building, again, just as Sir Hans left it, and he is everywhere – his art supplies, his travels, his quirks, his personality—you don’t need interpretive museum signage to explain this man. The windows in this studio are specially treated to ensure the right levels of light for the artist through imported glass that Heysen shipped from Europe in barrels of molasses, so that the glass did not break.

Our host for our visit was Glenelg resident, Peter Heysen, the eldest son of the eldest son of Sir Hans. It is largely his love for his grandfather, and his desire to pay tribute to the achievements of Sir Hans and his wonderfully talented aunt, Nora Heysen, that has ensured this family estate has been preserved after their deaths as a tourism landmark.

It has been a struggle that is increasingly difficult to maintain  as a family enterprise in modern times and generational change.

Peter Heysen is now attempting to create public ownership through a Foundation to ensure the long-term future of this property for the enjoyment of art and history lovers. Let’s hope that this is a hugely successful venture and that our children’s children will still be able to experience this wonderful era of Adelaide’s art and culture in times gone by and the Heysen legacy will live on.

In the meantime, if you have not been there…now is the time to visit!
Details about getting to The Cedars are on this link .

Jan Smith

Who knows only his own generation remains always a child

I live in a wonderful seaside village that dates back to the beginnings of my State’s history. The government of the new Province of South Australia was inaugurated in 1836 on Glenelg soil. The State’s first Governor arrived at Holdfast Bay on the Buffalo, and our first European colonist mainland settlers arrived here before expanding their reach to all parts of our State and beyond.

We have a rich memory of local residents representing  our state’s and our country’s former ‘movers and shakers’ in politics, sports,  and business throughout  Australian history living in Glenelg, or nearby Brighton… names like Henry Ayers (Premier), Thomas Elder (pastoralist/philanthropist), Lionel Logue (King’s speech), Jimmy Melrose (aviator), Henry Sparks (Adelaide oval), Alf Roberts ( Adelaide stock exchange, golf, professional tennis) George Soward (architect of Adelaide’s Beehive Corner), Douglas Mawson (explorer), and Adam Lindsay Gordon (poet) to name just a few. Horse Trainer Bart Cummings was born on Farrell Street, and Sir Mark Oliphant romanced his future bride here at her home in Glenelg. As well as residents there are all the travellers that our famous Red Rattler trams have brought to Glenelg… even the legendary Racehorse, Pharlap. James Stobie,  inventor of the Stobie Pole, attended our Glenelg Primary School. We had the first licensed cinema in Adelaide, we had the tallest residential building in the 1970s, we have the only Ring Bowl club in the country, we are the home of Bay Sheffield footrace, and the traditional finish line for the City-Bay fun run. And rumour has it that our most recent, historically famous, resident is our country’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

So with all this rich and lasting  cultural history, I was bemused to recently read this paragraph from our Council’s CEO as a welcoming message on the Council website:

Yes, we’re a little biased down here at the Bay. Holdfast Bay is the proud birthplace of the State of South Australia where Governor Hindmarsh arrived in The Buffalo back in 1836, but there’s more to The Bay than just history.

It’s that little word, just, that rankles and left me bemused.

 Who knows only his own generation remains always a child  is a quote from George Norlin (1871-1942) inscribed on the Norlin Library at the University of Colorado. Those readers who enjoy history might like to explore the story of this interesting man.   The writings of Cicero (106BC-43BC) are said to have inspired Norlin’s quote above.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it , from the pen of George Santayana, is also said to be influenced by Cicero.      

We have had a classic example of Santayana’s quote at our local Council. Within weeks , they have made two decisions that explain perfectly what he was talking about!

Two Councils ago, (about 6 years ago), we had a fragmented dysfunctional Council that was at war with itself and had factions that sided with the then CEO, or the Mayor. There is an accepted caretaker convention during Council elections that no major decisions are made until the newly elected Council concurs, however that was disregarded and the then CEO pushed through a beachside kiosk development decision with the help of Councillors who opposed the Mayor, who was himself against the decision being made. The current Council has now bought its way out of a bad contract  as part of that rushed  development decision six or so years ago, at the 11th hour of a new Council election.

Our tweeting councillor is proudly noting that the new decision to buy out of a bad deal represents a 12% return to ratepayers. He conveniently, or ignorantly, disregards all the lost income to the community of a bad leasing arrangement of the years of the initial contract and that the return is going to the Administration coffers, not necessarily as a dividend to ratepayers. It represents a 12% return to the Council Administration finances  (if the Councillor’s facts are correct, there’s been no public announcement to ratepayers about this) . The Council does not pay tax and, with this latest decision, is now a landlord to a commercial enterprise competing with other rate paying and tax-paying commercial enterprises in our community… is that now what ‘good’ local government is all about? Profiteering at the expense of the taxpayer?

At the same time, in a sort of ‘déjà vu’ for residents, our council was rushing through a plan to hand over air title, and revoking community land  beneath it , in agreeing to an unsolicited proposal from a  private developer, where the public details were sketchy, the traffic management had not even been considered, and local businesses directly affected were not even consulted. The Council ignored its own policy to tender, on the magnitude of the proposed development, and ensured it was a Category 2 development which our tweeting councillor then boastfully reminded us meant ‘no appeal rights’. And most interestingly, again, the Mayor was against this proposal, on procedural and financial grounds, not emotional grounds, yet it was again a rushed decision based on factions, ego, and spite. What is going to happen in years to come with this latest decision? Will a new Council have to buy back the air titles it has currently given away and again say it was a bad decision by a bad Council?

Why is it that 13 elected adults sitting around a Council table become more like a schoolyard of immature warring and mischievous adolescents, than a forum for good decision-making? Is it because they are only interested in themselves and their own generation of Council, as per George Norlin’s wise words.

There are several instances on this Council where petty personal disputes and arrogance are resulting in playing with people’s lives and livelihoods. This happens, I am sure, on other Councils, too.

Interestingly, those Councils that have a rich sense of their history, seem to be better at decision-making.


Children Learn What They Live

Dorothy Law Nolte wrote a classic poem on child-rearing ‘children learn what they live’ in the 1950s that was distributed to millions of families by a different form of social media for those days, advertising for a baby formula!

In the 1970s Nolte copyrighted her famous words and they live on today in a range of posters, cards, bookmarks  and also expanded into a wonderful little book, co-authored with Rachel Harris, that should be given to every new parent.

Nolte’s wise words came to mind when I read the newspaper front page the other day reporting that free- to- air TV stations now want to screen adults-only shows 24/7, and end the current ban on adult-only programming until children’s bedtimes at 8.30pm.

The TV industry argument was rational, but sad. They claim the ban is now irrelevant because parents have access to DVDs, parental locks, and can simply focus the kids’ eyes on the two dedicated children’s programming channels provided by the ABC.

I agree with Australian Council on Children and the Media chief executive, Barbara Biggins blasting this proposal as ‘outrageous’. As she points out, not all children grow up in families where parents are vigilantly watching over what their kids are seeing on tv.

And where is our society’s preoccupation with sex, violence and violent sex coming from, anyway?

Yesterday, on World Suicide Prevention Day, I found myself watching one of the formula forensic medicine crime programmes that was all about a doctor being forced to operate and remove people’s spleens and replace them with a bomb, so that an ex-soldier could be a suicide bomber on a plane as payback for all his countrymen who did not give a damn about his now broken life, and the sacrifice he and his fellow soldiers had made in Iraq. The doctor’s daughter was a diabetic being withheld her medication to force the doctor to comply as a subplot and the broken people behind this plot had decided to let her die, too, because after killing the first person, the second one becomes easier.

I  began to ask myself  why was I watching this stuff… was it really enjoyable entertainment? On one level it raises an awareness of the pain and suffering that leads to mental derangement, it resolves an horrific circumstance with a happy ending and presumably there is the emotional creativity of the actors to appreciate… but does life have to be that gory and graphic for this message and artistic engagement?

Contrast this with that wonderful programme Compass on the ABC, which recently featured a story about people’s resilience when bad things happen to them. The story traced the personal journeys of two quite different people… a woman who had been severely burned in a bushfire in the 1970s , and a young man who has recently broken his neck in an accident. The stories of how these two people fought the personal horror of what had happened and tapped into an inner strength were remarkable and inspiring in equal measure.

We have a lot of depressed, angry, violent and unhappy souls in our society if the tv, newspaper, and social media are any indication.

Closer to home, I was dumbfounded to see ‘twitters’ last week from a Local Government councillor in my community commenting that:

1960’s copper wires do not provide enough speed to make porn interesting. I need NBN.

And also,

 ‘Real Solutions’ can be achieved by electing a Liberal Government or masturbating. I suspect some promises are the latter.


This man is often mentioning the school children he counsels as part of his employment, so I question his maturity in thinking that writing on social media about downloading porn and masturbating is at all humorous, or being a good role model to young people, or reflective of his community position as an elected Local Government councillor.

Children do learn what they live, and the onus is on our adult society to set the values for the kinds of adults we want them to grow up to be.

It’s also never too late to have a happy childhood… and set some new examples for ourselves to follow.

Tomorrow is RU OK? Day — a reminder to regularly ask ‘are you ok?’ of family and friends who might be going through a tough time.

Bad things are always going to happen to good people, no one escapes, but if we instill the right values in our children they’ll have a better chance of having that confidence, courage and resilience they’ll need to weather life’s storms, without becoming angry, violent, jealous, or spiteful.

If anything, I think we should be putting more family-friendly programming on our free-to-air TV.

Jan Smith