Martin Wesley-Smith's
baby shot


in 1956 or so


in 1988 
or so


old pic


mw-s new pic


an incomplete, occasional and opinionated ramble through miscellaneous events, performances etc so far in 2013/2014 ...

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The Rob Blog:
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* Sun Oct 26 2014:

Last night I went to Sydney to attend a memorial ceremony and concert for Australian composer, and friend, Peter Sculthorpe, who died in August aged 85. I particularly enjoyed the performance, by the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Symphony Orchestra, of Peter's 1988 masterpiece Kakadu. And I enjoyed some - not all - of the speeches, particularly that by fellow composer Ross Edwards. Peter eschewed the European-influenced music favoured by most Australian composition teachers throughout his lifetime in favour of an original music that sought to reflect the Australian landscape and its ancient peoples. His influence was, and will no doubt continue to be, huge.

* An article, titled Song Company performs two Canberra concerts, October 25-26, in The Sydney Morning Herald on Friday October 24, included this (about The Song Company's baritone Clive Birch's impending retirement):

Other highlights of his career have been a Song Company tour to Europe in 1997 when there was a standing ovation after the very first performance and a trip to Groningen in the Netherlands when the group performed Martin Wesley-Smith's Quito. "It's an amazing multi-media piece based around mental health and East Timor," Birch says. "We finished the piece to complete silence and then there was this enormous 'whoosh' and the whole audience got up and just exploded. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life."

I was there, doing sound, and I remember it vividly (such a response doesn't happen every day!). The main gain control of the audio mixer I was given was short and stiff such that the slightest adjustment risked being much larger than intended, giving a sudden drop or increase in level. When the piece started I realised that it was too loud, but I dared not try to drop the level in case it suddenly became too soft. I decided to leave it as it was. The result was an added rawness and urgency in the piece that made it even more compelling than it normally is. But when it finished I thought that I'd blown it, for there was no reaction from the capacity audience. Then, as Clive said, whoosh! One of the most moving experiences of my life, too.

Clive is one of my favourite baritones. He has been a mainstay of The Song Company for a quarter of a century, providing superb tone and great character. I'm gonna miss him!

* A health update: a recent course of chemotherapy was judged by my oncologist not to be working - on the contrary, it was depressing my white-blood-cell count, leaving me open to infection. The treatment was halted. After a CT scan, which showed that my bronchioalveolar carcinoma was neither improving nor getting worse, I was offered a choice: resume chemo but at a lower dose (so as to have minimal effect on my white-blood-cell count) or do nothing. Since I would rather do something than do nothing, I opted for the first option.

* Tues Oct 7 2014:

Our Not the Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Show, which occurred last Saturday night, was a marvellous success in just about every aspect. So other people assure me. We raised nearly AUD4K for the Kangaroo Valley-Remexio Partnership, which undertakes development projects in Timor-Leste. Read the program here.

The good-looking bloke at left is my son Jed Wesley-Smith, who came down from Sydney to do sound for the show (I've always done it myself, but these days I can't carry loudspeakers etc without needing frequent rests). Needless to say he did it brilliantly. Other family members were here too - click on Jed's photo to see 'em. From left: my daughter Alice, Jed's son Bassy, Jed, me, bro Rob, bro Pete and my daughter Olivia. They all contributed to the event, helping make it the best one yet (it was the twelfth one, held annually since 2003). Among the emailed comments received was this one from an audience member:

"... a sensational success. I laughed throughout the films and comic acts and felt acutely aware that I am in the lucky position to do so when reminded of the struggles of others when listening to Baghdad Baby and the Good Ship Lollipop with its sobering reference to the asylum seekers. It's this balance that you bring to the nights that make it special and I can't thank you enough for co-ordinating such talent (including your own!)."

* Fri Sept 26 2014:

Yesterday I had the second of three three-weeks-apart infusions of Pemetrexed, a chemotherapy drug. No side FX that I've been able to identify as yet - probably won't get any, in fact, for I had none from my previous bout of chemo four years ago, and Pemetrexed is apparently a milder drug than that one was. The night before, a choir at the University of New South Wales, conducted by Sonia Martin, performed my piece Who Killed Cock Robin?. I desperately wanted to go but didn't feel up to the five-hour round trip. Sonia posted the following on facebook:

* Mon Sept 22 2014:

Today we read that ex-prime minister John Howard was "embarrassed" when he discovered that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction when he sent Australia, as a member of the Coalition of the Willing, to war in 2003. He said that he had genuinely believed that those weapons existed and that therefore the invasion of Iraq was not only justified but necessary. No mention of the Downing St memo that showed that the USA was cooking the books. No mention of Australian intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie's revelations, before the invasion, that it was all BS. No, Howard "believed", on no basis whatsoever, the propaganda coming from Bush, Blair, Rice, Rumsfeld etc and therefore took Australia to war at enormous cost of human lives, resources, and untold subsequent blowback. It is hard to imagine that the invasion and occupation of Iraq could have been more of a disaster, yet Howard - and fellow cabinet members like Foreign Minister Lord Downer of Baghdad and current Prime Minister Tony Abbott - have so far escaped any charges. Apparently, embarrassment is punishment enough. If you rob a bank, killing a teller in the process, you might get twenty years in jail. Rob a whole country of far more, killing hundreds of thousands in the process, and you're rewarded with lecture tours netting millions of dollars. Go figure.

* I've cobbled together a website for our Not the Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Show coming up on October 4 in Kangaroo Valley Hall. See here. My dream is that people will download this to their smartphones and read it during the show instead of relying on a printed version. But it won't happen. Kangaroo Valley being Kangaroo Valley, I will be lucky to get more than eleven hits ...

* Sat Sept 13 2014:

As America prepares to go to war in Iraq again, with Australia's Abbott government almost wetting itself with excitement at the prospect of joining in (again), it's instructive to ponder on how successful the 2003 invasion of Iraq was. Does anyone seriously suggest that conditions in the Middle East have generally improved? If so, was it worth it in terms of lives lost and money spent? Is there any justification for not taking Bush, Blair and Howard to the ICC for their blatant falsehoods that led to such a monumental mess and tragedy? Will the imminent attack on ISIS achieve anything positive for anyone (apart from American arms manufacturers)?

* Fri Sept 12 2014:

I'm currently working on a fund-raising show coming up on Sat Oct 4 called Not the Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Show. One of the pieces is an epic poem - Our Shirl, by Peter Wesley-Smith - about the life and times of a local girl who will be turning 100 on the day of the first performance. The poem, to be read by local thespian Jillian O'Dowd, will be accompanied by the live piano of Robert Constable and photographs of Shirley that have been photoshopped by Diana Jaffray. The photo at left was taken 100 years ago, at Shirley's birth (click to see a larger version).

The show stars soprano Karen Cummings, who will sing Ballad of Marie Sanders (Brecht/Eisler), Le Grand Lustucru (Deval/Weill), J'attends un Navire (Deval/Weill) and the dark lullaby Baghdad Baby Boy (Wesley-Smith/Wesley-Smith).

This last song was composed in 2007 for soprano Yvonne Kenny to sing at the Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival. Apart from one other local performance, by Nicole Thomson, it has never been performed again - yet it's a good piece, or so I claim, and it is even more relevant today than ever. For a free download (pdf), click here. That's in Db. If you would like it up a tone, in Eb, click here. There's an Eb version which adds a cello part; access that here. If needed, here's a separate cello part.

* Fri Sept 12 2014:

Yesterday I did a live phone interview for a program on Radio Adelaide in honour of English composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' 80th birthday (that's Max at left (click on the photo for a larger view)). In 1965 he came to the University of Adelaide to teach composition, attracting students from Sydney (Grahame Dudley, Ross Edwards), Melbourne (Graham Hair) and New Zealand (Gillian Whitehead). Ged Glynn turned up too, I remember, and there were several other local students (in 1964 I'd been the only one under previous composer-in-residence Peter Tahourdin). Grahame Dudley put the program together, the second of two. Last week he played music by Edwards, Hair & Whitehead. This week it was his and my turn, with my White Knight & Beaver scoring an airing.

Last year Max, who until recently was Master of the Queen's Music, survived leukaemia. Having been given just six weeks to live, he finished his Tenth Symphony while being treated in hospital. "He said he had been 'overwhelmed and buoyed' by the support of friends and well-wishers, especially on Orkney. (His) cancer battle (came) only months after the bitter collapse of his long-term relationship with his former partner ..."

Another 80th birthday this week: that of Australian composer Larry Sitsky. Happy birthday both!

* Fri Sept 5 2014:

Yesterday I had the first course of my current round of chemotherapy to treat a little lung problem I have. The drug is Pemetrexed, which is dripped into a vein for thirty minutes once every three weeks. There may be some side FX, but as this drug is supposedly milder than what I was given four years ago, from which I felt no ill-effects at all, I don't expect any this time. No worries.

* I've collected a few more photos from last weekend's trip to Timor-Leste. The recipients of this round of awards of the Ordem de Timor-Leste, or their representative, are gathered together here. A post-dinner shot at Tibar Beach Retreat (recommended!) can be seen here. Left to right: David Odling-Smee, Lurdes Pires (sister of Francisco, who was the subject of our "opera" Quito), Peter Wesley-Smith , Susan Connelly, local composer Simão Barreto, me, Dr Dan Murphy, John Dalton and Rob Wesley-Smith. There are shots of my two bros and me here and here. Here we are with Timorese friends. More later.

* I put up this facebook post last Wednesday:

It has had a gratifying response so far, including:


Having been attacked, often quite viciously, over the years for mixing music and politics, comments such as these are particularly pleasing. Thanks, all. And thanks to all performers who have played my "political" pieces (I believe that all music is political in some way to some extent), especially The Song Company, Charisma and Ros Dunlop. Others welcome!

* Thurs Sept 4 2014:

That's me, on the left, with the President of Timor-Leste, Taur Matan Ruak, and my brothers Rob Wesley-Smith and Peter Wesley-Smith. The photo was taken - by Cathy Heptinstall - in Dili last Saturday, immediately after an awards ceremony at which these Wesley-Smiths, and twenty or so other old activists, were awarded the Ordem de Timor-Leste for their support for Timor's "struggle for national liberation".

Click on the photo for a larger view.

Other awardees included Andy Alcock, Robert Dom, the late Roger East, the late Denis Freney, the late Ken Fry, Helen Hill, the Mary MacKillop Institute (represented by Josephite sisters Josephine Mitchell and Susan Connelly), the late Brian Manning, Gil Scrine, and the late Greg Shackleton. Future ceremonies will acknowledge other activists from Australia and other parts of the world.

The road forward for Timor-Leste is proving to have many pot-holes (like most of its roads), but progress is being made in many areas. This tiny nation successfully resisted the might of the Indonesian war machine as well as the indifference of most governments around the world (including various Australian governments since Whitlam's in 1975). It is still battling Australia over the oil fields in the so-called "Timor Gap", and it continues to need our support.

* Tues August 26 2014:

From Radio New Zealand International, 8.26am today:

A spokesperson for the Australian Democratic Labour Party says the arrest of two French journalists in West Papua is unacceptable, and has called on Australia to review its support to Indonesia.

Robert Dandois and Valentine Bourrat were arrested two weeks ago for allegedly violating their tourist visas by reporting for a French-German television station, Arte.

But Anthony Craig says the journalists were just doing their job, and the arrests are an example of the Indonesian military running West Papua like a prison camp.

"If you're going to hide something, then you stop people looking into things. And to have the French journalists locked up because they actually want to find out what's going on in Papua, given the atrocity reports that keep coming out of there, then there's something seriously wrong."

Anthony Craig says a Royal Commission into Australia's foreign aid policy and its military support to Indonesia is urgently needed.

* I signed a contract today for the publication by Wirripang of Peter's and my song She Wore a Black Ribbon, from our Centenary-of-Federation commission Black Ribbon.

* I'm off to Timor-Leste for a few days on Thursday. More info about this later. When I get back next week, I start a new course of chemotherapy.

* Mon August 18 2014:

From today's Sydney Morning Herald:

Don Banks

Peter Sculthorpe

Australia Ensemble's charming tribute to musical masters

by Peter McCallum

Australia Ensemble
Clancy Auditorium, University of New South Wales, August 16

Martin Wesley-Smith's db (1991), was originally written to honour composer Don Banks (died 1980) and is a celebration of that composer's talent, high craftsmanship and eclectic musicality.

Wesley-Smith's discursive, genial and sometimes hyperactively virtuosic tribute moves from the surging spirit of jazz to the cogency of so-called "serialism", one of the 20th century's most severe principles of musical organisation, uniting it all with a reflective motto on the musical notes derived from Banks' initials.

The piece not only captures Banks' engaging musical intellect, but endures in its own right for its craft and inventive rhythmic energy and originality. The two movements, Steps and Pat-a-cake 2, form a well-balanced whole, though Wesley-Smith's intention to add another movement paying tribute to the interest he shared with Banks in electronic music conjures up additional intriguing possibilities.

Raffaele Marcellino's Suite from Mrs Macquarie's Cello takes its inspiration from the actual cello thought to be played by Mrs Macquarie during her husband's governorship of NSW. The four movements of the suite set a studious, fluent and symbolically isolated solo cello part (Julian Smiles) against texts performed by the Song Company highlighting thoughts and feelings from the margins of colonial life. The last movement, Mrs Macquarie Dances, is a ballad-like setting of a poem by Robert Burns with dreamy harmonic shifts against sustained chords.

The Song Company then sang a rarity, Janacek's Rikadla (Children's Rhymes) in a reduction by Erwin Stein for six voices piano and viola. Sung against projected images of drawings, the songs were terse and rhythmically original, conveying with the incongruous, humorous images and mood of children's singing games, and given added starkness by the complete lack of ornamental embellishment or sentimental indulgence.

Before Dvorak's Piano Quintet, the ensemble paused for two short tributes (A Little Song of Love for ensemble and a transcription of a 1947 song for flute and piano) to the passing of composer Peter Sculthorpe, whose music they had played and recorded for most of their individual and collective lives. The first movement of the Piano Quintet, which followed, had relaxed expressive ease and in the second movement, Dumka, the genial repetitions led player and listener along charming and surprising pathways.


* Sun August 17 2014:

Last night I attended an Australia Ensemble subscription concert in Clancy Auditorium at the University of New South Wales. The concert began with a brilliant performance of my chamber work db and continued with an attractive Suite from Mrs Macquarie's Cello (2010) by Sydney composer Raffaele Marcellino.

In his program notes, Roger Covell writes:

Wesley-Smith is a refreshing voice in Australian music, offering gently adroit humour and fantasy where attempts at heroic affirmation r radical offhandedness have been far more common. Passionately attached as he is to many topical causes - his commitment to the cause of East Timor's independence was persistent, practical and well in advance of most Australians' active interest in the country - Wesley-Smith has also shown a consistent ability to enter the imaginative world of children (of any age) and has produced a series of works based on his abiding interest in the private but universally attractive domain of Lewis Carroll. Works by him performed by the Australia Ensemble in earlier subscription concerts include his dazzling Snark-Hunting and his Balibo for flute and tape ...

The speed of musical thought encountered in Martin Wesley-Smith's Snark-Hunting is again to the fore in db. While the actual sound of the music is often elegantly or slyly playful, its realization presupposes playing skills of a very high order on the part of each of the four instrumentalists involved.

At first it seems as if the piano is to act as sturdy anchor for the flights of fancy initiated by flute and clarinet and echoed by the cello; but it is not long before the piano joins in the florid, quick-witted but essentially transparent interplay of the work. An earlier title for the first movement was Waltz, but this has been crossed out and replaced by the less specific Steps. One possible reason for this may be simply that there are quite extended passages that are not in waltz time (they are closer in accent, spirit and shape to a polka), though the general impression of an elaborate, ultra-spry and often fantastic waltz remains strong.

Similarly, Pat-a-Cake as a title for the second movement should not encourage the expectation that the music is naively childish. The composer's exploration of triadic shapes is anything but self-indulgent. The players have to match the composer's almost relentless liveliness. His ability to maintain such resourceful momentum is a rare gift in contemporary music.

The performers last night were Geoffrey Collins (flutes), David Griffiths (clarinet), Ian Munro (piano) and Julian Smiles (cello).

The Ensemble paid tribute to the late Peter Sculthorpe by performing a couple of his shorter pieces. Sculthorpe's music, and the man himself, were greatly loved.

* Wed August 13 2014:

A recent (August 11) editorial by Crikey:

The decision of the Obama administration to intervene militarily in Iraq in defence of Yazidi refugees and what is, for all intents and purposes, the new independent Kurdish state against Islamic State forces is the correct one. But it also demonstrates the extent to which Iraq has been left as an unviable state in the wake of the attack on Saddam Hussein. The most powerful symbol of this was when US airstrikes destroyed the Humvees of Islamic State forces. These US-supplied vehicles were captured from fleeing Iraqi army forces in June.

All of this is the product of the vast historical tragedy of the Iraq War. It is a war that has so far cost nearly US$2 trillion and, according to American estimates, will eventually cost up to US$4 trillion by the time the last veteran of the conflict dies and the ongoing medical bill associated with treating veterans is finalised. That cost does not include the over 5000 allied lives lost in Iraq, nor the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives.

The only demonstrable result of the Iraq War is that the West was made less safe. That is the conclusion of British and American intelligence agencies and the Australian Federal Police: that the attack on Iraq made Western countries less safe from terrorism. Now governments are insisting once again that we are threatened by terrorism from Iraq, and that this threat justifies further draconian changes to our anti-terror laws.

The price we are paying for the folly of men like George W. Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard is now greater than ever.

Greg Martin contributed this comment to facebook:

The Iraq war frames this century as a crusade by the US led west against Islam. It was the greatest folly of this century so far, based upon transparent lies and spawning generations who will never trust the west. All of the goodwill towards the US after the abominable September 11 attacks has been pissed against the wall in a stupid gung ho, NeoCon, racist adventure, It has put back the cause of liberal democracy by 20+ years and means instead of the west coming to grips with with climate change and destruction of the environment, with China and the Asian century, with labour globalisation, and with rampant corporationalism, we will be fighting medieval mutilators and spending billions for the foreseeable future. Millions will die die as a result of the folly of the NeoCons, and we have lost years in our attempts to stop the destruction of our planet and our way of life.

Spot on. It continues to amaze me that Bush, Blair and Howard are not in the Hague ...

* Last Sunday night I attended the 40th birthday party of the Sydney-based percussion group Synergy. Here are (left to right) ex-member Ian Cleworth, composer Carl Vine, me, and ex-members Rebecca Lagos and Colin Piper:

Amongst the performances was a tribute to Synergy's patron, the late Peter Sculthorpe, played by the group with William Barton, didgeridoo.

Synergy has been - continues to be - a magnificent Australian musical institution. We are all in their debt.

* Tues August 12 2014:

Like many Australians, I'm saddened by the recent death of composer Peter Sculthorpe. He was an inspiration to me in many ways, particularly the way he developed his own musical style at a time when there was great pressure on composers to write music that sounded like it had been composed in Cologne in 1956. See tributes to him here (Andrew Ford) and here (Stuart Greenbaum).

* Last Saturday night I witnessed Jon Rose's magnificent multimedia piece Ghan Tracks, presented by Ensemble Off-Spring. It was brilliant: beautifully put together and paced, superb presentation, always intriguing, imaginative mix of elements ... I loved it. It's a perfect festival piece, particularly for the Adelaide, Alice Springs and Darwin festivals (I hope at least one of them will take it on). It's a substantial piece that connects with ordinary people in ordinary situations. Even the Carriageworks audience loved it, with a very positive vibe all around where I was sitting. So good to get some of our history up there in sound and image but in a way that's real, that asks questions, that's entertaining in the best way ...

* Fri August 8 2014:

The carnage in Gaza continues to shock, even when one thinks that it can't possibly get any worse. One might think that performers would be interested to include in their programs pieces that are about contemporary issues such as this. If so, they haven't found their way to Peter's and my song Eyeless in Gaza, scored for soprano, piano & cello. Although written in 2009 about a previous Israel vs. Hamas battle, it applies just as much - even more so - to today.

* Am working on material for an event on October 4 in Kangaroo Valley. See flyer here.

* Thurs July 31 2014:

I heard today that I have not been selected for the forthcoming drug trial (see entry for Mon July 14) - apparently my tumour is not expressing the protein PD-L1. I'm to be advised shortly of an alternative treatment currently being designed for me.

* My current favourite pundit is American Chris Hedges. Reading his book The World As It Is - Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress (Nation Books), I came across the following passage (pp259-260):

"... academics, sheltered in their gardens of privilege, often have hyper-developed intellects and the emotional maturity of twelve-year-olds. Perhaps it is because they fear the awful revelations in front of them, truths that, deeply understood, would demand they fight back. It is easier to eviscerate the form, the style, and the structure with textual analysis and ignore the passionate call for our common humanity."

Academics - in some fields, anyway - are rightly concerned with such things as form, style, structure, and various analytical tools. But it's easy to become so concerned with these things that broader considerations, such as Hedges' "passionate call for our common humanity", which are much harder to talk about, slip by. I saw that all the time in my academic career, such as it was. Judges of student compositions, for example, and music critics, would make assessments based on "formal coherence", say, or lack of it. So obsessed were they with details they could recognize, draw red rings around, and talk about, that the overall impact of a piece didn't even register. The system has no way of judging "passionate call(s) for our common humanity".

* Mon July 14 2014:

I went to Wollongong Hospital today for a biopsy of part of one of my lungs. This was a result of a PET scan I had a couple of weeks ago ("PET" stands for "Positron Emission Tomography"; it is not a scan of our dog). The report indicated that the drug I've been on for the last three years or so - Tarceva - is starting to lose its effectiveness in my tiff with bronchoalveolar carcinoma. Hence I'm probably going to take part (I have yet to be selected) in A Phase II/III Randomized Trial of Two Doses of MK-3475 (SCH900475) versus Docetaxel in Previously Treated Subjects with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer, a study sponsored by Merck, Sharp & Dohme (Australasia) Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Merck & Co, Inc. MK-3475, an antibody with parts from mice and humans being developed for treatment of human cancers, is a highly selective antibody that is designed to target a protein on the surface of some white blood cells called PD-L1. After MK-3475 binds to its target on the white blood cells, they may then begin attacking my tumour. So says the blurb.

* After the biopsy I visited soprano Karen Cummings in Coledale, near Wollongong. Karen is going to sing a bracket of songs on our latest Not the Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Show, coming up on Sat October 4 in Kangaroo Valley Hall. We looked at several songs by Brecht/Weill and Brecht/Eisler as well as Peter's and my Baghdad Baby Boy (commissioned in 2007 by the Kangaroo Valley Arts Festival and sung by soprano Yvonne Kenny accompanied by pianist Andrea Katz). See here for a free download (pdf). Want it with cello? See here.

* Someone recently asked me to write about the musical and audio-visual works I've composed to do with Timor-Leste. See what I wrote here. I was reminded that in times gone by, one could expect a newspaper review of performances - especially first performances - of one's work. No more. These days there might be on-line reviews, but a review in print is rare. Here are some excerpts from reviews written thirty years ago of my audio-visual piece Kdadalak (for the Children of Timor):

"The effect is both beautiful and wrenchingly sad. Whatever one chooses to call this work - audio-visual art? - it is a complete success." (Tim Morton: The Virginian Pilot, Tues Nov 13 1979)

"An effective collage of image and sound, (Kdadalak) remains a piece of powerful political art." (David Vance: The Sydney Morning Herald, May 25 1982)

"Kdadalak was one of the most remarkable fusions of sound and image that I've witnessed ..." (Nick Waterlow: Nation Review, 1977)

"In Kdadalak electronic music whispers and thunders through the auditorium as pictures, taken by Tweedie in East Timor shortly before the Indonesian invasion in 1975, flash across a screen above the stage. Gradually the faces fragment and dissolve into increasingly abstract color patterns ..." (David Lewis, Asahi Evening News, Tokyo, 1978)

"It is an impressionistic opus that exploits the complexities of projection of transparencies and taped music ... Kdadalak vivifies the ugliness of war." (Grover Oberle, The Ledger Star, Norfolk, Virginia, Nov 13 1979)

* Sun July 06 2014:

The imminent Indonesian presidential election, between Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Prabowo Subianto, is of more than usual importance. Here's what the Jakarta Post had to say in its editorial yesterday:

Joko "Jokowi" Widodo
is the current governor of Jakarta ... He was previously the mayor of Surakarta ... (more)

Prabowo Subianto
is a businessman, politician and former Lieutenant General in the Indonesian National Armed Forces. He is the former husband of Siti Hediati "Titiek" Suharto, the late President Suharto's daughter ... (more)

There is no such thing as being neutral when the stakes are so high. While endeavoring as best we can to remain objective in our news reporting, our journalism has always stood on the belief of the right moral ground when grave choices must be made.

We were not silent during reformasi. Neither have we been shy when power is abused or civil rights trespassed.

Good men and women cannot stay idle and do nothing. Speak out when persecution occurs, stand firm in rejecting the tide of sinister forces.

At certain junctures in a nation's life, its people are called upon to make stark choices. No longer is it a mere ballot cast for one candidate over another, but rather a moral choice on the fate of the nation.

Russia faced such a choice in 1996, during a runoff between independent incumbent Boris Yeltsin against Gennady Zyuganov representing the old-guard Communist Party. It was a moral choice for hope versus remnants of the past. They chose hope.

In five days this nation too will make a moral choice. In an election like no other — divisive in its campaigning, precarious in its consequences — Indonesians will be required to determine the future of our body politic with a single piercing of a ballot paper.

The Jakarta Post in its 31-year history has never endorsed a single candidate or party during an election. Even though our standpoint is often clear, the Post has always stood above the political fray.

But in an election like no other, we are morally bound to not stand by and do nothing. We do not expect our endorsement to sway votes. But we cannot idly sit on the fence when the alternative is too ominous to consider.

Each candidate in the presidential election has qualities in his declared platform. They have been dissected at length the past three weeks. And voters will sway one way or another based on it. Yet there is also a sizable part of society who are undecided in their preference.

In such a case, perhaps one can consider who not to vote for as their reasoning for that moral choice.

Our deliberations are dictated on the values by which the Post has always stood firmly for: pluralism, human rights, civil society and reformasi.

We are encouraged that one candidate has displayed a factual record of rejecting faith-based politics. At the same time we are horrified that the other affiliates himself with hard-line Islamic groups who would tear the secular nature of the country apart. Religious thugs who forward an intolerant agenda, running a campaign highlighting polarizing issues for short-term gain.

We are further perplexed at the nation's fleeting memory of past human rights crimes. A man who has admitted to abducting rights activists — be it carrying out orders or of his own volition — has no place at the helm of the world's third-largest democracy.

Our democracy will not consolidate if people's mind-set remains wedged in a security approach in which militarism is an ideal. A sense that one candidate tends to regard civilian supremacy as subordinate to military efficacy.

This nation should be proud of its military, but only if those in uniform acknowledge themselves as servants of the democratic, civilian governance.

As one candidate offers a break from the past, the other romanticizes the Soeharto era.

One is determined to reject the collusion of power and business, while the other is embedded in a New Order-style of transactional politics that betrays the spirit of reformasi.

Rarely in an election has the choice been so definitive. Never before has a candidate ticked all the boxes on our negative checklist. And for that we cannot do nothing.

Therefore the Post feels obliged to openly declare its endorsement of the candidacy of Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Jusuf Kalla as president and vice president in the July 9 election. It is an endorsement we do not take lightly.

But it is an endorsement we believe to be morally right.

* Sun June 29 2014:

Sad news: a few days ago our Mother Chook, Zorro, departed her mortal coil and is now happily pecking away in Heaven's Eternal Chook House. She was the archetypal chook, the survivor, one of our first three Bearers of Golden Goodness. Unlike the others, she died of old age - how many chooks can say that?? Well, OK, none, 'cos they'd be dead. And, anyway, they can't speak, or so people believe. But Zorro spoke to me, eloquently, not afraid to cluck disapprovingly when things were not to her taste, yet she would show gratitude, a smile on her lips, for all the good things I provided. Despite being the most senior chook in the chook yard, she was rooster Dave's favourite, which must be encouraging for old chooks everywhere. She leaves lots of happy memories as well as several daughters and granddaughters. RIP, Zorro, my fine feathered friend; we'll be lucky to see your like again.

My daughter Alice wrote: "Sorry to hear about Zorro...what a trooper she was! One of the great chickens... strong, motherly, caring, led by example...she will definitely be missed."

* At 1pm today, ABC-FM broadcast a Sunday Live program featuring pianist Arnan Wiesel. The blurb said:

"Pianist Arnan Wiesel performs one of the masterpieces of piano literature, Bartok's Piano Sonata. We'll also hear Musica Ricercata, a piece in which Ligeti pays homage to Bartok and sometimes develops only one or two notes with his focus on a series of fascinatingly changeable rhythms. Martin Wesley-Smith's witty waltzes have the last laugh without being in the least Hungarian."

* Mon June 23 2014:

A letter, dated today, from a friend of mine, activist Vacy Vlazna, to Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop:

Dear Minister

Regarding the matter of the cancellation of passports of Australians fighting in Syria and Iraq, I look forward to you also revoking the passports of all Australians serving, going to join up, or who have served, with the Israeli OCCUPATION Forces (IOF) to commit 'acts of barbarity' against Palestinian civilians suffering under Israeli OCCUPATION.

The government should 'keep them out' as they are involved in war crimes 'defined by savagery and brutality'

*when protecting the ILLEGAL settlements, in OCCUPIED Palestine,

* when manning checkpoints in OCCUPIED Palestine,

* when smashing into Palestinian homes at night and ripping frightened children from their families then criminally ransacking and looting these homes in OCCUPIED East Jerusalem and OCCUPIED West Bank of OCCUPIED Palestine,

* when extrajudicially killing unarmed youth such as the 3 young men (including a child) in the past two days in the OCCUPIED West Bank of Palestine,

* when participating in ILLEGAL collective punishment by kidnapping Palestinians, such as the 400 innocent persons over the past 10 days, to incarcerate them ILLEGALLY in Israeli prisons under administrative detention and expose them to the renewal of banned torture methods ordered by Netanyahu.

The Australian government should take this matter very seriously by investigating Australians who are serving or who have served in the IOF and returned to Australia.

I also ask when will the Australian government publicly condemn Israel's present rampage of collective punishment against the Palestinian population and demand that it immediately desists? Please email your answer forthwith.


Dr Vacy Vlazna

* While I'm about it (I thought I'd given up this blog), let me recommend a recent speech by Australian playwright Andrew Bovell. It was the keynote speech at the National Play Festival at Sydney's Carriageworks. As their blurb says, Harold Pinter at the Ivy covers the current state of Australian playwriting, theatre's place in broader political discussions and society, as well as some moments of triumph and humiliation from Bovell's career. Bovell most recently won acclaim for his adaptation of Kate Grenville's novel The Secret River, for which he won the Helpmann Award for Best New Australian Work and Best Play. He's also known for his play Speaking in Tongues, which was turned into the award-winning film Lantana.

A lot of what he writes about theatre can be applied to the so-called "serious music in the classical tradition" scene in this country. For example:

"simply doing the classics with an Australian aesthetic or in Australian accents doesn't answer my craving for a theatre that is particular to our time and place and past and future"

could easily read:

"simply doing the classics with an Australian aesthetic or in Australian accents doesn't answer my craving for a music that is particular to our time and place and past and future"

And this (my changes in brackets):

"At this moment in our history I find myself hungry for content ... For plays (pieces of music) that are saying something. I want meat on the bone. I want to think. I want to be upset. I want to be shocked and shaken. I sense a rise of conservatism in this country. A narrowing of opportunity. A widening of the gap between rich and poor. Between black and white. A meanness of spirit has crept in to the social discourse. I want to challenge it. I want to get in its way. And I don't know if we can do that with Chekov (Beethoven) anymore."

Too much Australian new music, including much of mine, is bland, white, safe, conservative, irrelevant ...

* According to today's Sydney Morning Herald, in an article by Debbie Cuthbertson, "Opera Australia has released soprano Tamar Iveri from her contract following a furore over 'unconscionable' homophobic comments posted on the singer's Facebook page."

I suspect that AO probably had no real alternative after protests, and threats to disrupt Ms Iveri's performances, by opera-lovers. Initially AO said nothing, no doubt hoping that the controversy would fade away, but eventually it had to act. According to ABC News, "Jed Horner from the New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby says it is a positive development but was a long time coming.

'I think the initial response left much to be desired and when they first came to light they should have actually been addressed,' he said.

'There should have been efforts by Opera Australia to look into the background of this person because there has been allegations made that this is not the first time, that there's actually been other comments as well. Those should have been addressed by Opera Australia when they arose.'"

An English translation of Ms Iveri's letter can be read here. Dennis Altman has written an article titled Tamar Iveri is a homophobe -
was Opera Australia right to sack her?
in Australian on-line discussion site The Conversation. Her defence - that the offending letter was changed by her homophobic husband and uploaded by him without her permission - is questioned by Ivan Crozier, one of the responders to Altman's article:

Iveri lied constantly about her statements. She tried to portray her letter as a response to LGBT pride marchers as interrupting an event to commemorate fallen Georgian soldiers - but this happened on a different day. She said that her non-appearance at the National Opera of Paris was due to an indisposition - but she was sacked because of her homophobia was made known to the Parisian opera by the Georgian LGBTQI groups. She said her husband wrote the letter - but this story was fabricated only for the Australian audience, because she accepted responsibility for it in her response to the Parisian sacking. We do not want anyone on our stages who says that LGBTQ people are like "cancer", or "faecal matter" or should "have their jaws broken" ... Public monies should not be spent on people who express such opinions in public.

Opera Australia should have stood up for LGBTQI rights much sooner than they did - they should have condemned her hate speech before they were pressured into it ...

Doug Pollard writes:

She did not recant, or show any evidence of seeing any light. She changed her story repeatedly in an attempt to escape responsibility for her words, and when that failed, used her husband as an excuse. At no point did she demonstrate genuine contrition or make any concrete effort to make amends. Now she claims she only wanted to protect gays from the criminal elements who beat them up, as she feared,which is clearly not the intent of the original letter, nor is any such altruistic motive evident in her subsequent interviews with the Georgian media. She is still claiming she has been misunderstood throughout ...

A few years ago, Condoleezza Rice visited the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where I used to work, and gave a speech. If I'd still been employed there I would have boycotted the event on the grounds that the Conservatorium should not be hosting a proven liar and probable war criminal. When I espoused such views I was jumped on by the usual suspects - including some of those most vocal in their condemnation of Ms Iveri - on the grounds that we should respect the office of US Secretary of State regardless of who is occupying the position. I have some sympathy for that view, but I would argue that a Secretary of State who supports and facilitates a full-scale invasion of another sovereign state, on the basis of blatant lies, with horrendous consequences that continue to worsen even today, loses the right to have her office respected. If Ms Iveri deserves to be boycotted for writing a hateful letter, Ms Rice deserves at least the same for her role in a hateful invasion.

* Sun June 22 2014:

A rare entry, to advise of my latest health news:

About five years ago I was diagnosed with bronchioalveolar carcinoma, a rare form of lung cancer. I had one third of my right lung removed, then had a course of chemotherapy at the end of which I was pronounced C-free. But the tumour returned. Since then I've been on a drug called Tarceva (Erlotinib), which has done a great job in stopping the tumour growing. It has a few side FX, of course, the most debilitating being severe breathlessness.

Last Monday I had a scan. Then, on Thursday, I went to see my oncologist. He announced that he wants to take me off Tarceva (my condition is gradually, though slowly, deteriorating) and put me on a new experimental treatment that "wakes up" lymphocytes in the immune system and empowers them to kill cancer cells. Something like that (I don't fully understand it). I'll be having a PET scan in the next few days, then he'll take some of my lung tissue for a biopsy that will determine whether the treatment is likely to be successful in my case. If it is then I go onto a trial that my oncologist says he has a "gut feeling" will be successful. Whoopeeee.

I feel pretty good except for the breathlessness problem - but as that's probably a side effect of the drug I'm currently on, perhaps that will improve when I change to the new one.

I asked about alternative treatments, including asparagus, turmeric, cannabinoids, cannabis oil, lemon juice-and-baking-soda, and so on (I've received a lot of suggestions from friends): he was scathing about them all as a cure, although he thinks that dope can be quite effective in dealing with various side FX. But I already knew that. He regularly takes my case and others to a local Lung Group - a gathering of oncologists and respiratory physicians - that reviews cases like mine and whose members make recommendations re treatment. As far as I can tell, I'm in excellent hands.

That's me updated: no worries!

* Wed Jan 22 2014:

Time for me to wrap this blog up. It has been a useful exercise for me, acting to some extent as a personal diary and serving as a platform for the occasional political rant. But I seem to have less and less time to maintain it and decreasing interest in doing so. I'll keep it alive so that I can add stuff if at some point in the future I find myself with something to say and the time and enthusiasm for its on-line expression ...

* Wed Nov 13 2013:

I've just heard of the death of English composer John Tavener (1944-2013). Read his obituary (in The Guardian, by Michael J Stewart, today) here. An excerpt:

"For the composer John Tavener, who has died aged 69, creativity sprang from religious faith. Many of his works held an appeal for audiences that did not necessarily identify with contemporary music or the theological values from which he started. However, their response meant a great deal to him: he took their engagement as an affirmation that his music was operating on a spiritual level.

"It took until halfway through Tavener's career for him to receive substantial recognition. This came with The Protecting Veil (1989), the "icon in sound" for cello and strings inspired by the Mother of God and premiered at the BBC Proms by Steven Isserlis. The soloist found it to be "a gorgeous, romantic piece of music; the first performance was one of the highlights of my concert life", and his 1992 recording was a bestseller. Five years later, Tavener achieved global celebrity when his Song for Athene (1993) closed the funeral service for Diana, Princess of Wales ..."

* Tues Nov 12 2013:

Got back yesterday from a trip to Adelaide for a school reunion. I can't get away with denying it so I might as well admit that it was the fiftieth anniversary of my leaving school. Crikey! Here is a shot of the collected blokes (it was a one-sex school). This shot shows Dave Cleland (front left), Brian Williams (front centre), me (front right), Kent Wallis (back left) and Dick Leeson (back right). Most of the blokes there I hadn't seen for those fifty years - it was very enjoyable catching up ...

* Brother Rob ("Wes") was in charge while Peter and I were away. We had a WWOOFer there, Ionelle, who received a visit from another WWOOFer, Laetitia, from Cameroon, who blogged about it here. She includes lots of photos of where I live.

* While in Adelaide I saw critic and music educator Elizabeth Silsbury, who subsequently sent me a review she'd written for Music Forum magazine and that I'd previously missed. It was of the Guitar Trek CD Six Fish, which includes my piece Songs and Marches:

Six Fish
Guitar Trek
Tall Poppies TP 221
Reviewed by Elizabeth Silsbury

A sincere tribute to their generous sponsor, the late Edda Filson, special thanks to luthier Graham Caldersmith, originator of the Guitar Family idea and promotion for four different Australian composers - Guitar Trek pay credit where credit is due in the quirkily named disc celebrating their 25th anniversary. They might also have acknowledged the recording engineer Niven Stevens and the ANU School of Music Studio, who have ensured high quality reproduction.

Timothy Kain, Minh Le Hoang, Daniel Mckay and Harold Gretton of Guitar Trek have been known to pluck away at Tchaikovsky and Brahms in pubic concerts. This time, dinky-di guitar pieces only.

Four of the six items have drawn inspiration from the wonderful world around us - flora, fauna, sea, sky.

Kain and co have been mindful of the cognoscenti, naming the various types of guitar (2 x nylon string classical, 1 x dobro resonator, 1 x 12 string) for their title piece. Ichthyologists might discern references to the marine creatures in Nigel Westlake's Six Fish. For laywoman me, the Slingjaw Wrasse sounds like a bully boy, Leafy Sea Dragon (emblem of my holiday refuge, the Fleurieu Peninsula) drifts and darts trailing seaweedy bits.

Phillip Houghton's Nocturne started life as a piano piece with a whimsical verse about dawn, a beach and a man. His programme notes for Wave Radiance take us deep down into the ocean, with exotic sea creatures flashing past a repeated figure.

Richard Charlton looks heavenward for Capricorn Skies. Although ambitious, his aims as expressed in words are largely fulfilled in his soundscapes. Pictures of The Southern Cross over a black sea, A sky for dreaming and Opal sky with birds come readily to the mind's eye.

Charlton finds four minutes' worth of material in an old song in Dreams and Dances on Moreton Bay. Eminently listenable, morphing from reverie into knees-up with a jolly bass winning the tune. My appetite is whetted for a taste of the original setting - bush violin and guitars made from fence-palings, a log and a crate.

Martin Wesley-Smith also looks to existing material. His Songs and Marches starts with a 12th century Andalusian melody for ud and draws into the mix bits and pieces from all over the place and several centuries.

'Some may care to see a political theme in this piece' he comments. Ha! Wesley-Smith political?

Some song fragements are immediately recognizable as jingoistic propaganda of countries we know and love, others named as belonging to the jack-booted Hitler Youth; marches are underpinned by percussing on the guitar bodies. Sophisticated settings, occasional tiddley poms, references to jazz, a wilful waltz, finally a return to the dear little tune, surviving , no matter what.

All are set with his masterly touch and played with infectious enjoyment by the Guitar Trek - guitar is his instrument, among many others, after all, and it shows. Readers with long memories still yearn for a CD of "Banjo the Singing Rabbit" and "Mister Thwump".

Elizabeth Silsbury

It's an excellent CD, that one. I feel privileged having had a piece selected for inclusion. It may be purchased from the Tall Poppies website.

* I haven't seen any evidence of it, but surely the most ardent climate change "denialists" must occasionally think "What if I'm wrong?". It's getting harder and harder to dismiss phenomena such as the current disaster in the Philippines, hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, and the recent New South Wales bushfires coming so early in the season, as part of natural variation. Aided and abetted by the new government in Canberra, they will continue to cherry-pick the vast amount of evidence, ignoring uncomfortable conclusions while, instead, getting hysterical over something a so-called "warmist" said in a private email.

* Fri Nov 1 2013:

Have just seen a clip of Billy Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones talking about their new album of Everly Brothers songs, called Foreverly. Takes me back: when my twin brother Peter and I were about 14 we started singing Everly Brothers songs together as a duo. Songs like Take a Message to Mary. By then I'd started playing guitar, and Peter plucked a cello as if it were a double bass. Then a kid at school - Keith Conlon - whose father had a drum kit offered to play drums with us. We accepted, and were thereafter a trio. Or, rather, a rock star duo plus backing. He had on his kick drum a sign saying The Weserly Brothers & Me. He became a full member of the group (rather than just the drummer) when we were doing Bird Dog: he contributed the "He's a bird" interjections with more style than Peter or I could muster, so we let him do them, then cautiously allowed him to sing a bit. Later, when we'd become a folk trio in the style of the Kingston Trio, Brothers Four, Chad Mitchell Trio etc, he became the main vocalist. Just today Keith announced his impending retirement from the South Australian media scene, where he has been employed for 50 years. When he presented the popular Channel 9 television program Postcards SA (1995-2011), he was dubbed "Mr South Australia".

* Mon Oct 28 2013:

I spent most of last weekend having a great time at the Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival. Performances I particularly enjoyed included those by Mongolian throat singer and horse head fiddler Bukhu, vocal and instrumental quintet Chaika, singer/comic/magician Mic Conway with flat-picking guiyar champion Robbie Long, our own singer/songwriter/guitarist Danny Ross, the well-known female indigenous duo Stiff Gins, and beatboxer, sideways yodeler, multi-instrumentalist, live looper etc the amazing Mal Webb. I still enjoy music in the folk tradition: that of the Stiff Gins, for example, who combine interesting words and music in relevant, challenging songs. Of course, folk festivals these days are eclectic affairs where almost anything goes. Hard core rock'n'roll doesn't fit, nor mindless pop. The musical eclecticism and musical excellence of Chaika ("fusing traditional elements of Balkan and European music with original music tinged with jazz and Celtic") fits right in. The photo at left is of singer, violinist and guitarist Susie Bishop. Click on it to see the whole band (the other members are singer and clarinetist Laura Altman, singer, percussionist, pianist and piano accordionist Laura Bishop, double bassist Johan Delin, and singer, pianist and piano accordionist Emily-Rose Sárková). Their performance features excellent playing and singing, intriguing arrangements and compositions, good variety, and attractive personalities and presentation. Their pieces often abruptly shift gears, and the texture changes: we're bopping along with an instrumental when suddenly we're into four-part female vocals. Or three-part, or two-part. They seem to be as at home in 7/8, or 7/4, as they are in 4/4. Most of all I love the soul with which they imbue most pieces, making some of them very moving even when I don't know the language or even what the piece is about. Very un-Conservatorium-like ...
* I mentioned below (Tues Oct 8) that PM Abbott said "the people of West Papua are much better off as part of a strong, dynamic and increasingly prosperous Indonesia". West Papuan activist Benny Wenda disagrees. In an article titled West Papua: things are not getting 'better' for us in the Guardian, Oct 11 2013, he writes:

Ever since West Papua was annexed and colonised by Indonesia in 1969 through a referendum ironically called the Act of Free Choice (we call it the Act of No Choice), my people have endured nothing but violence, hardship and human rights abuse. Maybe Australia's prime minister Tony Abbott would then care to explain how things in West Papua are "better, not worse", as he recently stated? Is it possible to have a better state of colonialism? Has Indonesia created a better state of fear? Better forms of intimidation? Better ways to suppress free speech? ...


Selpius Bopii writes West Papuans live in terror, Mr Abbott in the Guardian, Thurs Oct 24 3013:

Tony Abbott is wrong, and his words are extremely hurtful to the people of Papua. The situation for the Indigenous population of Papua is getting progressively worse, not better. Even Lukas Enembe, the governor of Papua, has stated that the province is experiencing a decline in key areas such as health, education and the economy ...


Abbott is desperate for Indonesian assistance in realising his base political slogan "Stop the Boats". He's a committed Christian (a Catholic), but that's not enough, apparently, to engender any concern for the victims of Indonesia's policies in West Papua.

Meanwhile, A report that claims Australian helicopters were used by Indonesia in a 1970s operation that killed more than 4,000 Papuans looks set to be dismissed by Jakarta, reports Kate Lamb on the SBS website:

Allegations of genocide, rape and napalm bombs dropped on the restive province of West Papua in the late 1970s are likely to be 'stonewalled' by the Indonesian government, analysts say.

According to an extensive report released by the Asian Human Rights Commission this week, thousands of West Papuans were killed in aerial raids, including by cluster bombs and napalm, in a bid to quell sectarian tensions following the national elections in 1977.

The report also states that two helicopters supplied by Australia were used during the military operations ...


* Tues Oct 22 2013:

Parts of New South Wales, especially the Blue Mountains, are expecting catastrophic fire conditions tomorrow. But here, south of Sydney, it's currently wet and chilly, with no sign of danger. It looks as though this weekend's Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival will be unaffected.

* Environment Minister Greg Hunt has rebuked Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt, accusing him of politicising the NSW bushfires: "There has been a terrible tragedy in NSW and no one anywhere should seek to politicise any human tragedy let alone a bushfire of this scale," Mr Hunt said. This prompted Nick Feik to write (in the Monthly, Mon Oct 21 2013):

Is it okay to talk about climate change yet? Or should we wait until the fires stop?

What if they keep burning for weeks?

What if the fires go all summer? Do we wait until the weather cools down?

If the fires stop, and we start talking about climate change, but then the fires start again, should we stop talking about climate change?

We were talking about climate change when the fires started. Should we have stopped?

If carbon-tax legislation is before parliament and the fires are still going, can we talk about that?

Does everyone need to not talk about climate change? Should climate scientists find something else to talk about while the fires are burning?

What's the minimum distance you should be away from the fires to talk about climate change? Do you need to be overseas?

Or is Tasmania far enough away? Perth?

Can someone who's been affected by the fires talk about climate change? What about their close friends? Or relatives? What if they ask us about climate change? Can we respond?

Can a fire-fighter talk about it?

If we can't talk about climate change, can we at least talk about unseasonal weather extremes? (Can people in Canberra talk about the severe frosts?)

So, we can talk about the weather, but not the climate?

Or can we talk about climate change, just not in political terms?

What do people mean by 'politicising' climate change? Is that the same as talking about it? Or is it talking about doing something about it that's the problem?

When people are killed by guns, can we talk about gun control?

In a shark attack, can we tell people to get out of the water?

Who do we ask to find out when we can talk about climate change again?

And is there anything else we shouldn't be talking about, just to be sure?

Yes, Nick, there is something else we shouldn't be talking about but as it's something we shouldn't be talking about I can't talk about it ... Tim Hollo can, however, and did, yesterday, in an article in yesterday's Guardian titled Why we need to politicise the bushfires:

As I write, several of my close friends are among thousands of people across NSW facing the real and immediate terror of bushfires threatening their homes.

But there is a no less real and even more terrifying fire threatening the home of every single one of us. Looming over the next ridge and coming our way at high speed is the catastrophic destabilisation of the global climate which has nurtured human civilisation. Like a bushfire lit by despicable arsonists, this is a fire of our own making. And, while it is less easy for us to see, it is a far more terrifying fire because we don't have the option of leaving our home and saving ourselves. Our home is our whole world. We have no alternative but to stay and fight for our lives ...


* Mon Oct 21 2013:

This morning we had a visit from a beautiful diamond python (Morelia spilota).

There are dreadful fires in New South Wales at the moment, the worst, most destructive being in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. There have been no fires, so far, near us - but conditions are worsening, with Wednesday shaping up to be a shocker. We're as ready as we can be ...

* Fri Oct 18 2013:

It was a horrendous fire day in New South Wales yesterday. Fortunately we were OK despite the potentially-deadly trifecta of high heat, low humidity and strong winds. The Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, were not so fortunate, however: as Megan Levy reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, "Streets of homes have been razed in the Blue Mountains and hundreds of residents have spent the night in evacuation centres after about 100 fires ravaged the state on Thursday in the worst bushfire emergency in more than a decade." Read more here. More dangerous fire conditions are on their way. We've checked our pumps, tightened connections, and tested the sprinklers that are stationed around the house ready to drench it and surrounding areas should a fire be on its way. We have protective clothing ready should we decide to stay and fight (this will depend partly on the official rating: if it's "catastrophic" then the advice is to get out, go somewhere safe, and hope for the best).

* With the help of brother Rob and WWOOFers Heather and Thomas I've dug over, prepared and planted my vegetable garden. There's still a lot to do (isn't there always with a garden?), but at least some vegies are in and have started growing while I catch up on other things.

* I heard yesterday that the Australia Ensemble has programmed a performance of my piece db at one of its subscription concerts next year (8pm Sat August 16 2014, Sir John Clancy Auditorium, University of New South Wales). The blurb in the brochure says: "Martin Wesley-Smith's db honours the memory and achievement of one of the important figures of Australia's musical efflorescence of the last seventy years, the late Don Banks (hence the initials that form the title of this score), while affirming Wesley-Smith's own high and individual talents."

* I've recently made digital versions of the sheet music of two kids' songs, on request: Who Stopped the Rain?, arranged for six voices a cappella, and Climb the Rainbow, arranged for four voices a cappella. Feel free to download copies for use with your choir or vocal group. Rainbow comes from 1980 or so when my wife at the time, Ann North, was writing scripts for various children's radio and television programs. She needed a song about a rainbow but couldn't find one, so she jotted out a few words and gave them to me, saying "by 9am, please", meaning that by 9 o'clock next morning she needed her lyric fashioned into a song. I did what I was told, as always, coming up with what has proved to be a beautiful and enduring little song. Ten years or so later I arranged it for voices. Rain is even older - from 1965, in fact. Brother Peter and I wrote it as part of a children's piece called Mister Thwump, which our vocal and instrumental trio The Wesley Three recorded for CBS on a large flat black round thing made of vinyl called an "LP". I arranged it for six voices (SSATBarB) in 1990 or so for The Song Company, who have performed it many times.

* Tues Oct 8 2013:

The fund-raising film event/concert Not the Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Show happened last Saturday night and was generally considered a great success. Phew! Big effort. We raised over $3000 for projects in Timor-Leste, which ain't bad for a little old country hall. See the on-line version of the printed program here. Many thanks to all who contributed, especially pianist/composer Robert Constable and singer Amelia Cormack.

Excerpts from some of the post-event emails received:

Dear Martin et al, Thank you so much for a very enjoyable night last night. The Not the Buster Keaton Silent Movie Show was just as much fun as the Buster Keaton Silent Movie Shows. I loved the variety ... lots of it made me laugh (loved the Tri Hards), Waterdrawn sent me into a trance it was so beautiful ... and what can I say about Pete's Ol' Man River with those almost unwatchable photos ... a great night enjoyed by all ...

Congratulations to you and all involved in creating last night's show - arguably the best yet seen in the Valley. I don't want to be selective by copying this email only to those for whom I have email addresses, but the contributions of Robert Constable, Peter W-S, Belinda and Libby clearly deserve special mention. And I can't imagine why I got a bio in the program, when Diana and Sarah contributed so much more to the success of Albert's Air.

A hard act to follow, but I'm sure you'll aim to outdo it next year.

Thanks for a great evening! It went really well, and was fascinating in many respects. Good turnout! All your hard work paid off! I hope it raised some decent dosh for ET. Loved Libby's fillum. I hope you were pleased, and that you had enough help to pull it all down.

Now you can relax!

Martin and Peter, we really enjoyed the show last night, lots of variety, lots of laughs and heaps of talent. Enormous amount to organise for you guys so good on your for pulling it off. Amelia was wonderful, we are confirmed fans. Sarah Butler was amazing, good writing Pete. Films were great too, and PMs piano was lovely, thanks Robert. Libby's ads were very funny, she is a crazy talent for sure. Anyway all great, the Old Tries done good too.

... Well done lads ...

Congratulations on a fantastic show and slick production and thank you for inviting me to be part of it! It was an honour and pleasure!
Hope you raised lots of money for the cause and enjoyed your success!

Many many thanks to you and the creative team that brought such joy yet again to our community. Images supporting Ol Man River were thought provoking and a poignant reminder of the savage treatment dealt to indigenous peoples throughout the world.
Good on you for pushing us out of our comfort zone and challenging us to connect the dots of ongoing brutality taking place in West Papua.

* I'm trying not to comment on the Abbott government's appalling start (the hypocrisy, the lies, the snouts in the taxpayers' trough, and so on), but Abbott's eagerness to appease Indonesia in the hope that it will "stop the boats" on his behalf spells grave danger for the indigenous people of West Papua:

Violence in West Papua

I hope the West Papuan students who entered the Bali consulate did leave voluntarily ("Protesters breach consulate walls in protest about torture", October 7). Some reports have indicated they were told they would be handed over to the Indonesian military if they did not leave. Budi Hernawan's study on torture in West Papua by the security forces is enough to raise grave concerns about such a threat were it given by consular staff.

On his first visit to Indonesia as Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the "government of Australia takes a very dim view, a very dim view indeed, of anyone seeking to use our country as a platform for grandstanding against Indonesia. We will do everything that we possibly can to discourage this and to prevent this." I hope this is not a threat to human rights activists who might try to raise concerns about the ongoing human rights abuses in West Papua.

Joe Collins, Australia West Papua Association, Mosman

That was published in today's Sydney Morning Herald.

I think it's important, from many points of view, that Australia strive for an excellent relationship with Indonesia. But being good friends doesn't mean refraining from commenting when the other side engages in appalling behaviour, like the TNI's actions in West Papua. Abbott's threat to human rights activists is alarming. What will he do? What can he do? In the concert in Kangaroo Valley Hall last Saturday, a rendition of Ol' Man River was accompanied by images of exploitation, including shots taken in West Papua. Are such performances to be banned in future, or will they be raided and shut down by Commonwealth police? Will Abbott attempt to prevent comment such as this one? Whither our fragile democracy?


On Monday, Abbott told reporters in Bali that "the people of West Papua are much better off as part of a strong, dynamic and increasingly prosperous Indonesia".

The Australian prime minister appeared to shrug off reports of human rights abuses in the troubled province, arguing the situation in West Papua was "getting better, not worse", courtesy of reforms implemented by the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.


"Better off" compared to what? The notion that the people of West Papua might like to decide for themselves what's best for them appears not to have crossed Abbott's mind. Apparently he is happy for them to be sacrificed on the altar of expediency.

An article in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald - West Papuans 'tortured, terrorised', by Jenny Denton - must be in Abbott's firing line. Whatever was the SMH thinking in publishing this deviation from what is now Australia's official line?

Meanwhile, I find Abbott's hypocrisy over parliamentarians' expenses quite shocking (see Tony Abbott claimed $600 to attend Peter Slipper's wedding in yesterday's SMH). There are some great comments from the public, including this one from Redsaunas, 7.02am Oct 8:

Anyone who paid any attention whatsoever knew that Abbott was a monumental hypocrite.
But even those of us in the hard-core Abbott-hating community never dreamed that he would plum such fathomless depths of double standard.
OK. Either Slipper gets off his charges and is allowed to repay his claims. Now. Or the AFP is called in and Abbott and his friends face their own music.
Either way, Abbott's credibility is irretrievably dead in the water. Didn't take long, did it?

For something frightening and shocking, read about the highly secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership that's coming up.

* Wed Sept 25 2013:

I've just heard that Australian pianist, conductor, composer, teacher, competition juror and music administrator Rex Hobcroft has died. As Director of the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music (now Sydney Conservatorium of Music), he gave me my first full-time job, proving to be a wonderfully encouraging and supportive boss. He took "the Con" from a sleepy tradition-bound public service institution to a modern sometimes-dynamic tradition-bound "music university ... in which specialised musical disciplines ... enriched each other."

Fellow composer Vincent Plush writes:

Sad news this week. Rex Hobcroft, one of the true gentlemen and quiet dynamos of the Australian music scene, died in Perth on Monday, aged 88. Rex was Director of the Sydney Conservatorium from 1972-82 and, in that capacity, had the bravery/audacity in March 1972 to hire on a green and immature 22yo stripling as its youngest ever permanent appointment. Farewell, dear Rex, mentor to us all.

The stripling was, of course, Vincent himself. We eventually forgave Rex for that appalling lapse in judgement (er, that's a joke ...)

* Sun Sept 22 2013:

Yesterday's Trek for Timor, put on in Kangaroo Valley by The Kangaroo Valley-Remexio Partnership was a great success. Here's a report by Les Mitchell, one of the organizers:

Saturday September 21st turned on a perfect day for the third Trek for Timor, to raise funds for solar lighting in the villages of Remexio in East Timor. 287 walkers enjoyed the beautiful spring weather, with 135 hardy souls undertaking the 50 km route and 148 people doing the 11 km walk. Spring wildflowers added to the enjoyment of the event. As of the following morning, Trek participants had raised $67,000 which will light up nearly 400 houses in East Timor. The Kangaroo Valley Remexio Partnership congratulates all the walkers for their fantastic efforts and their wonderful spirit on the day of the Trek. KVRP extends their great appreciation to all the volunteers without whom the event would have been impossible to run. In particular, the WICEN amateur radio group and St John Ambulance for their logistical and medical support on the day, to the Scots College Glengarry for once again providing a fabulous venue for the finish of the walk, to all those who supplied food and managed its purchase and delivery, to the Kangaleles for their entertainment, and to the government agencies and landholders on whose land the Trek was held. We'll be acknowledging the efforts of particular individuals in personal letters, and in the next issue of the Voice.

The good-looking dude pictured above is Kangaroo Valley resident Peter Stanton, one of the oldest trekkers to complete the 50 km distance. Click on the photo for a larger version which includes his wife and fellow trekker Rosemary Stanton, one of Australia's most prominent nutritionists. Peter was a member of the late lamented a cappella vocal group The Thirsty Night Singers. At the forthcoming (Sat Oct 5) fundraising silent movie/concert, his magnificent baritone voice will be heard in a rendition of Ol' Man River, from Showboat, accompanied by Robert Constable's piano and images of disadvantage and exploitation. He will also be heard as a member of The Tri Hards, an a cappella trio of blokes from The Thirsty Night Singers in their final public performance. Tickets ($25, $10 (under 16 only)) are available from the Kangaroo Valley General Store or from me.

A lot of emails from satisfied trekkers have already been received. Some examples:

I just want to say a big thank you to the Trek for Timor organisers and to the wonderful people who stationed the checkpoints and provided such an abundance of delicious food and refreshments and logistical support for us all yesterday. We thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of the trek, the varied terrain and scenery, and the people we met along the way. I can only imagine how many volunteer hours must had gone into planning and running such an event!

Our team, the Mountain Wonderers, also take our hat off to the clever, creative people who came up with the marvellous movie quiz. We had such fun trying to work them all out.

Yesterday I participated in the Kangaroo Valley Trek for Timor and I would like to thank all the organisers for the wonderful job they did to make this such an enjoyable experience for the participants. Leading up to the event the Newsletters were very informative and encouraging. On the day everyone was so friendly and supportive; all the checkpoints were well set up and the food was nothing short of amazing. In fact my team buddy said he would do it again just for the food!!! And to be greeted at the end by the cheering and clapping was a warm and wonderful gesture.

Thank for making my first endurance event such a great experience and I have to say I am now inspired to take on other treks in the future.

Wonderful news that the fundraising was so successful. Thank you for the opportunity to support this worthwhile cause and it is good to know we have helped to light up the lives of some people around Remexio.

All in all, a memorable day. THANK YOU.

It was was perfect, track was ideal, support was exceptional, food was heavenly, organization was outstanding.....we guessed all 10 movies (and tested each other to recall the clues for the 10 songs from the previous event - thank you Libby and Paul). We loved it - hope you are all really happy and that there were no injuries that can't be fixed with blister therapy. Congratulations on the best event. My friends and I felt privileged to get to do had that very special Kangaroo Valley factor that doesn't happen anywhere else - loved being able to hug people at the checkins.

Biggest thank you!

I should say that although I'm a nominal member of KVRP, have organised many of its fund-raisers (including the event on Oct 5), and continue to support the people of Timor-Leste, I contributed zero to this year's Trek for Timor. That was in the hands of a remarkable bunch of local stalwarts whose dedication, hard work, creativity, sound planning, combined skills, attention to detail, and so on, is a wonder to behold.

* I like this comment - and many others - by Peter Ormonde, farmer, in response to a brilliant article - Alienation to alien nation by Julian Burnside in a recent edition of The Conversation:

Isn't it obscene the way Syria has behaved so inhumanely to children and civilians, violating UN resolutions and international law? Who do they think they are - us?

* Tues Sept 17 2013:

On Sunday Peter and I drove to Canberra for a concert by Canberra Choral Society. Under Artistic Director Tobias Cole, the Canberra Choral Society chorus, along with other vocal groups Kompactus, New Voices and Turner Trebles, performed an entire concert of music by Australian composers, including excerpts from our epic piece from 2001 Black Ribbon. The other composers included Calvin Bowman, Daniel Brinsmead, Peter Campbell, Judith Clingan, Wilfrid Holland, Stephen Leek, Ruth Lee Martin, Hans Gunter Mommer (arranger), Matthew Orlovich, Peter Sculthorpe, Anthony Smith, Olivia Swift, Sally Whitwell, Malcolm Williamson and David Yardley - phew! Yes, it was a long program. Too long, in my view, but a great testament to the energy, variety and quality of contemporary Australian choral music. Of Canberra's choral community, too. Congratulations, and thanks, to all involved.

Black Ribbon, for six vocal soloists, choir and orchestra, was a 2001 Centenary of Federation commission. An hour long, it took us most of a year to create, but it received just one performance, to an audience of 300 or so on a Thursday night in Canberra. It was not recorded, the ABC pleading recent budget cuts. Since then, though, some of the songs from the piece, including She Wore a Black Ribbon, have been performed by The Song Company and others. The Canberra Choral Society has expressed interest in reviving the whole work, needless to say a delicious prospect!

To read Peter's irreverent, humorous but ultimately highly serious libretto, click here.

* Preparations are almost complete for Saturday's fundraising Trek for Timor in Kangaroo Valley. Proceeds will go towards a solar lighting scheme in villages in Remexio, Timor-Leste. If you would like to donate towards this project, or sponsor a trek team or individual walker, click here.

* Fri Sept 13 2013:

Last weekend's victory of the LNP (Liberal-National Party) in Australia's federal elections happened as anticipated. The ALP (Australian Labor Party) has no-one to blame but itself. Well, Rupert Murdoch played a part, as did Australia's shock jocks and others. But the ALP threw away, over six years, an enormous amount of the goodwill felt by many in Australia after the demise of the Howard government in 2007. I blame, most of all, union secretary Paul Howes, who was largely responsible, so I gather, for the replacement of Kevin Rudd by Julia Gillard. I've heard that there are moves for him to take Bob Carr's senate seat when Carr moves on. If that happens, [a] it will show that the ALP has still not learned any lessons from its recent defeats, and [b] I won't vote for them again. From my perspective, the Greens are looking better and better ...

* Today I finished a piano piece! Well, there's more to do on it, but it's finished enough for me to send it to pianist Ambre Hammond for appraisal and comment. She posted the following message on facebook: "Completely STOKED (there is no other word!) to have just received a brilliant piece of music based on East Timorese melodies written for me by ... Martin Wesley-Smith ... Just played it through and it is jolly marvelous." I'm delighted she likes it - of course! Ambre is an excellent pianist who is planning a concert tour of East Timor with her unique Girl Piano Truck - check out the blog of her first visit to Timor here. Her CD of Piazzolla tangos with accordionist Marcello Maio, Oblivion, has given me great pleasure (I don't think I really got Piazzolla before listening to this CD).

Music Critic Dennis Koks writes: "The brilliant virtuosity of Ambre Hammond on piano and the intense, romantic passion of Marcello Maio, on piano-accordion, drawing us into the world of Piazzolla's Tango ... truly, a musical marriage forged in heaven!" The CD can be ordered directly from Ambre by emailing her here.

The photo at left [click!] is of Ambre in Spain. Other photos here, here and here.

* from Radio New Zealand International, Sept 14 2013:

A freedom flotilla of Australian activists has held a secret meeting with West Papua indigenous leaders on the sea and has declared its mission completed. The last remaining vessel was to enter Indonesian waters early this morning, but the group was deterred by threats of military force, and a lack of support from Australian authorities.
The groups met on the Australian-Indonesian border to 'ceremonially reconnect' elders, after the group travelled 5000 kilometres from Lake Eyre in Australia's south.
The group reports Arabunna Elder Uncle Kevin Buzzacott presented sacred water from Lake Eyre to the West Papuan elders, as well as ashes from Aboriginal tent embassies around Australia.
He says the group was unarmed and came in peace, unlike politicians 'who are coming selling arms to the Indonesian military, like the Americans who just last month sold them Apache attack choppers, those are to be used against West Papuans, and they know it.'

Melbourne activist Louise Byrne has written a letter to the flotilla. Read it here.

* Thurs Sept 05 2013:

In today's Guardian, Marni Cordell writes;

Greens senator Richard Di Natale has accused shadow foreign minister Julie Bishop of inciting the Indonesian military to act against the West Papuan Freedom Flotilla.

The flotilla of Australian and West Papuan activists is sailing from Cairns to West Papua to raise awareness of human rights abuses under Indonesian rule.

Di Natale wrote to Bishop this week to express concern about her public comments on the flotilla. "This peaceful protest does not pose any threat to Indonesia and to imply otherwise has the potential to put Australian lives in danger," he wrote. "Your comments run the very real risk of inflaming an already tense situation given the threatening language already used by senior members of the Indonesian security forces."

He told Guardian Australia: "I'm concerned that Julie Bishop, who looks likely to be the new foreign minister after Saturday, is inflaming tensions and seems to be inciting the Indonesian military to act in a way that is completely disproportionate to what's being done - which is basically a peaceful protest in Indonesian waters.


It is indeed looking likely that after Saturday's federal election Ms Bishop will be Australia's Foreign Minister. This is too depressing to contemplate.

* Tues Sept 03 2013:

"The Freedom Flotilla will go down in history", writes activist Shirley Shackleton in today's Let's hope it doesn't go down, as in to the bottom of the ocean, as it confronts Indonesian authorities determined to stop the world learning the truth about what they are doing in West Papua. Read the article here. The flotilla is nearing its destination and its inevitable confrontation with Indonesian forces. For more information, click here.

* Wed August 28 2013:

(photo: Peter Hislop)

The Canberra Choral Society under Artistic Director Tobias Cole (left) will perform excerpts from Peter's and my oratorio Black Ribbon at 3pm on Sunday Sept 15 in St Paul's Church Manuka, Griffith, Canberra, ACT. The concert, called The Best Choral Ever Written by an Australian (with a Canberra Connection), is part of the Canberra 100 celebrations. According to the website, the concert will:

... showcase composers with a Canberra connection, highlighting the contribution that they have made to the national and international choral music repertoire. Some have chosen to live in Canberra, contributing both as composers and as active members of the local musical community. Others have come for short or long periods through professional commitments such as fellowships and festivals. All have enriched Canberra, and been enriched by it.

As well as the music and the composers, this program will draw attention to the role that Canberra played in their lives and careers. How did a fellowship in Canberra eventually lead to Malcolm Williamson receiving the Order of Australia? What great gift did Canberra present to Peter Sculthorpe to commemorate his 80th birthday? Why did a Centenary of Federation commission by Martin Wesley-Smith divide the Canberra Choral Society?

Why indeed?

Someone in the choir wrote saying "We spent most of Monday evening's rehearsal on the Black Ribbon and much fun was had." For more information, contact the organiser by calling 02 6282 7190 or by emailing Buy tickets here.

* Educator, organizer and researcher Dr Jason MacLeod asks, in an article in Fair Observer, Is a Free West Papua on the Horizon? and notes that "West Papua is Indonesia's Palestine". He concludes:

(Indonesia) cannot have it both ways. Either they have nothing to hide and let the international press see what is happening in West Papua, or they admit they are an occupying army committing human rights violations to maintain an increasingly tenuous claim that their rule in West Papua is legitimate. Ultimately, the Indonesian government will need to enter into some kind of political settlement.

West Papua is Indonesia's Palestine. Until people like Karma and Rumkabu have the opportunity to freely decide whether they want to remain with Indonesia or not, any claims by the Indonesian state that West Papua is a democracy will ring hollow.

To read the complete article, click here. See, also, Blood And Tears Continue To Flow In Papua by Selpius Bobii.

* See this:

By 1988, U.S. intelligence was flowing freely to Hussein's military. That March, Iraq launched a nerve gas attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja in northern Iraq.

A month later, the Iraqis used aerial bombs and artillery shells filled with sarin against Iranian troop concentrations on the Fao Peninsula southeast of Basrah, helping the Iraqi forces win a major victory and recapture the entire peninsula. The success of the Fao Peninsula offensive also prevented the Iranians from launching their much-anticipated offensive to capture Basrah. According to Francona, Washington was very pleased with the result because the Iranians never got a chance to launch their offensive.

It's from an article titled Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran and shows that the U.S. knew Saddam Hussein was launching, against Iran, some of the worst chemical attacks in history yet still gave him a hand. In condemning Syria, it plasters the H word in big bold letters on its forehead.

US Secretary of State John Kerry says "Let me be clear. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard it is inexcusable ..." What he means is "The killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity when it's done by someone we don't like." Read about it here.

Robert Scheer has written an article titled The Moment the US Ended Iran's Brief Experiment in Democracy in which he reminds us that "Sixty years ago this week, the CIA successfully staged a coup to overthrow (Iranian) Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh." Is it any wonder that Iranians hate the "Great Satan" so passionately?

* Mon August 26 2013:

My only response to most of the political news one gets these days is extreme skepticism. The alleged use of chemical weapons in Damascus is a case in point: while it may have been the Government that was responsible, the attack has the hallmarks of a "false flag" operation designed to bring other forces, particularly those of Great Britain and the USA, into the conflict on behalf of the so-called "rebels" ("Western countries, including Britain, are planning to take unilateral military action against the Assad regime within two weeks in retaliation for its alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians in Syria." [ref]). Weapons of mass destruction in Syria? Quick, invade! It all seems too convenient for forces that have been itching to get in there for twenty years or more but haven't yet had a convincing pretext.

While I abhor the use of chemical weapons, I don't see a fundamental difference between them, on the one hand, and, on the other, depleted uranium and white phosphorous, both of which the USA has used in Afghanistan and Iraq. Is the use of napalm, used by the USA in Vietnam and other countries, OK? How about Agent Orange, still causing birth defects in Vietnam today? And how about the USA's use of germ warfare in Korea, and its bombing of dams to flood farmland and cause massive starvation amongst ordinary Koreans? Watching Obama, Cameron and others huff and puff in self-righteous indignation about chemical weapons in Syria takes the cake ...

* Every now and then a bloke needs a win, but there hasn't been a lot of 'em of late: Australia was thrashed in the Ashes (that's cricket), Sally Pearson was beaten in the 100m hurdles at the World Championships (athletics), the Sydney Swans were beaten last weekend (Australian football), the Wallabies were beaten by the All-Blacks in the second Bledisloe Cup match (rugby), I failed to win a prize in a recent lottery run by local volunteer firefighters, and the Australian Labor Party is set to lose at the Federal Election on Sept 7. Actually, I wouldn't be particularly upset about the ALP losing if the likely winner were not the Liberal-National Party coalition and its odious leader and proven liar Tony Abbott. Bleak times ahead ...

* The male narrator on the Sydney Philharmonia recording of my piece Boojum! is professional historian and part-time actor David Christian. He has recently been in the news for his development of what he calls Big History, which has attracted a lot of attention world-wide, including from Bill Gates. Read about it here.

Talking of Boojum!, here's an excerpt from just one of many reviews of the show's Chicago production in 2010:

"... the result is a show that is quite unlike any other I have ever seen. Reminiscent of opera, art song, musical comedy, a play with music, experimental theater and a night in an adventurous bar, "Boojum!" may be a highly original, unique work as written, and it comes across as pretty singular in performance, as well. It's part journey theater, part character analysis. It's a staged secular cantata. I don't know, am I right? ... This Australian musical ... has been dropped onto our laps as a holiday gift no one saw coming. It's not for the faint of heart or those looking for a fancy night on the town. But as a piece of theater/music/music theater/literary theater/community exorcism/storefront magic, this work is powerful, troubling and seductively beautiful. Give yourself to its slow seduction, and try to understand the tortured soul of a genius. I can't shake Boojum!. I want to, but I can't." [Chicago Broadway World]

Read excerpts from more reviews here.

* Wed August 21 2013:

Yesterday I wrote an article for the Kangaroo Valley Voice, and designed a flyer, for a fundraising event coming up in Kangaroo Valley on Sat October 5 that I'm organising. For ten years I've been the main organiser of the Annual Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Show, featuring pianist Robert Constable. This year I thought it time to do something a little different, not least because we'd run out of the really funny Keaton features and shorts. A new version of the 1913 Australian film The Sick Stockrider would be just the ticket, we thought. It's a rather dreadful old movie, in my opinion, but interesting because of its place in the history of Australian cinema and because one of the actors in it was George Ellsworthy "Roy" Redgrave (26 April 1873- 25 May 1922), considered to be the first member of the Redgrave acting dynasty (Vanessa, Lyn etc). Brother Peter borrowed a DVD of the film from the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra. It seemed that a severely edited version of the film, with Constable's piano and a live reading by an actor of Adam Lindsay Gordon's original poem, might be a beautiful performance piece that would spark interest in Gordon and his poetry and in early Australian cinema. However, after protracted negotiations with the NFSA we've had to abandon the idea: even at a discounted price, it was all going to cost too much for one performance in a small country town to an audience of, say, 150 people. This is incredibly disappointing. I realise that the NFSA has to recover its costs wherever possible, but I venture to suggest that there is a vanishingly small audience for this and other early films and that new versions would give them new life and attract substantial audiences. After this we wanted to look at doing the same thing with The Sentimental Bloke, The Man from Kangaroo, and other early "silents". No go. Those films will sit in the NFSA vaults, rarely seen and gradually being forgotten ...

* We're often told by governments and others when our rights are being trampled "If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear". Exactly the same thing can be said to the governments that are screaming so loudly after the revelations coming from Manning, Wikileaks and Snowden. The exposés are showing that these governments have an enormous amount to hide. The hypocrisy is appalling ...

* Wed August 7 2013:

I had an enquiry today re possible performances and a recording of my kids' piece Pip!. And I had one the other day re my audio-visual pieces for clarinet & computer. Spring must be closer than I thought: that's interest showing itself, all of a sudden, in Pip!, Boojum!, Black Ribbon, and Weapons of Mass Distortion and other A-V pieces.

* Mon August 5 2013:

Am working on the program for a fundraising silent-movie-and-song night to be held in Kangaroo Valley Hall on Sat October 5. Over the past ten years we've put on ten "Annual Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Shows", with pianist Robert Constable accompanying Keaton silent features and shorts. We've added various other "silents" over the years, but the emphasis has always been on the comic genius of Buster Keaton. This year we're moving into other areas, including a locally-made silent, a 1913 Australian one, an original poem being read by an actor accompanied by piano, and several songs, most of them humorous. I'm hoping that in a couple of years' time the show will be entirely locally written and performed: songs, movies, audio-visual pieces, photographs, poetry, paintings and so on.

* Every so often there's interest expressed in Peter's and my full-length piece about Lewis Carroll called Boojum!. There were some marvellous photographs taken of the 2010 Caffeine Theatre and Chicago Opera Vanguard production, and some rave reviews, which in order to assist with enquiries I've collected together on a separate website here. Copious clicks on links on the various Boojum! sites will reveal all.

* I was reading a book the other day called The Company We Keep (text by Annarosa Berman, photographs by Bridget Elliot, Opera Australia, Currency Press 2006) and came across this:

Lindy Hume joined forces with composer Richard Mills and librettist Peter Goldsworthy for the premiere of Batavia in 2001, and found the experience very rewarding. "Of you are lucky enough to have the composer and librettist still living", she says, "what sort of fool would you have to be to say 'I'm going to direct it my way' when they have different ideas? It's my job, as director of the first production, to make sure that what is staged is what the composer and librettist had intended."

There's a debate going on at the moment in Australian theatre to do with the liberties some directors take with the pieces they are directing. Some of my work has been so mutilated (emphatically not Boojum! in Chicago) that I'm most reluctant to get involved again in musical theatre. But give me Lindy Hume and I'll start on a new work tomorrow ...
* The latest edition of "musicforum", the Journal of the Music Council of Australia (Vol 19 No 4 Spring 2013), with a photo on the front cover of the delectable classical saxophonist Amy Dickson, has an interview with my good (?) self. Questions by David Bollard. If you're interested, try going to pages 14 and 15 of the on-line journal here. If that doesn't work, click here. Excerpt:

DB: Is it possible for you to identify the start of the creative process, i.e. when a new work stirs in your mind? What factors influence the compositional impulse?

MW-S: I believe that when Ira Gershwin was asked "What comes first, Mr Gershwin? The words or the music?" he replied: "The contract!" I imagine that that motivates a lot of composers, including me ... But there are many other factors: an abstract musical idea, for example, or even a phrase, that begs to be realised in some way and which leads to a whole piece. My For Marimba & Tape began life as a technical exercise on a Fairlight CMI ... A programmatic idea led to my choral piece Who Killed Cock Robin?: what really killed the bird? Perhaps the real culprit was not the sparrow but something far more sinister ... there are many influences. Some take root and thrive while others wither on the vine - I mean, on the wesley-smith ...

For a while now I've been hearing the word "selfie", not knowing what it meant but afraid to ask someone in case I appeared to be un-cool. I suspect it can refer to various things, including taking a photo of oneself or doing what teenage boys - mostly alone but sometimes with others - do in bed at night. And not just teenage boys, and not just in bed or at night. But whatever it's supposed to mean, I claim, with Humpty, that "when I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean". Thus the photo above, of me, is a selfie: I took it with my iPad.

* Sad news: broadcaster and music critic John Amis, who became an international figure thanks to the long-running BBC radio quiz My Music, has died in England. He was 91. See an obituary, by Dennis Barker, in The Guardian, here.

I met Amis (a cousin of Kingsley Amis) when he turned up at the Ninth Annual Kangaroo Valley Buster Keaton Silent Movie Show in 2012. He had been giving illustrated lectures in Australia on the music of Percy Grainger. He was most charming, and affable, with great knowledge and a wealth of stories, musical and otherwise. As bessabol commented at the end of the obituary mentioned above, "Another part of the soundtrack of my life has gone." StephenMcK writes: "A beguiling siffleur, a charming renderer of long faded folk-songs and a master raconteur of spontaneity, I consider it a pleasure to have been one of his listeners ..."

The photo at left [click!] is from a shot of the My Music team way back: Steve Race at piano and, left to right, Ian Wallace, Denis Norden, Frank Muir and John Amis. The shot at right [click!] was taken in 1997.

gjlebowski contributes a story of John Amis's about conductor John Pritchard:

(He) was due to receive a gong at Buck House, but this also coincided with he and his partner heading for a vacation in their French house. They resolved then to attend the investiture and continue afterwards on their drive down to Dover. Consequently, the car boot was crammed with various supplies including a large supply of toilet paper as they didn't care for the local variety.

Anyway, at the gates of Buckingham Palace they are halted by a police officer for a security check.

"No need to leave the car, sir, but if I could have the keys just to check inside your boot," says the constable.

Pritchard duly obliges and after a perfunctory inspection the officer comes back with the keys ... "Thank you, sir. Particularly nervous about the occasion are we?!"

I love the word "siffleur" (see above), although I have no idea what it means. STOP PRESS: I've just found a definition in The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles. It says: "Siffleur. 1703. [Fr.] a. An animal that makes a whistling noise, spec. the whistling marmot. b. (with fe, -euse). A whistling artiste 1923." According to my computer's dictionary, a marmot is "a heavily built, gregarious, burrowing rodent of both Eurasia and North America, typically living in mountainous country." I don't myself see John Amis as a whistling, heavily built, gregarious, burrowing rodent, but perhaps StephenMcK knew him better than I did. Nevertheless, "siffleur" remains a great word.

* Sun July 21 2013:

I spent last week in Christchurch, New Zealand, where I was a Composer-in-Residence in the Music Department, University of Canterbury. Part of my duties involved presenting a lunchtime concert of some of my stuff, including some piano pieces for kids (Grey Beach, Griff's Riffs and Red Rag), some songs (Tommy Tanna, She Wore a Black Ribbon and I'm Walking in the City), and a couple of audio-visual pieces (Weapons of Mass Distortion and Papua Merdeka). Soprano Amy Jansen, ably accompanied by Iola Shelley on piano, gave a chillingly powerful performance of Black Ribbon. Pianist Robert Constable played the solo part of "Weapons" with feeling and precision. It was a successful concert, part of an enjoyable week in a department fighting to survive (student numbers plummeted after the two earthquakes in 2010 and 2011).
* A couple of nights ago I had dinner with composers Nicola Lefanu and David Lumsdaine, who are old friends. Afterwards I looked up a new website about David and his music, coming across a photo from 2003 of a dinner with (left to right) my brother Peter, hostess Jane Mathews, my daughter Olivia and me. Click on the shot at left (of Olivia Wesley-Smith) to get the whole picture.

* In an article titled New Film Shows U.S.-Backed Indonesian Death Squad Leaders Re-enacting Massacres, published on AlterNet on July 19 2013, American activist, author and radio presenter Amy Goodman interviews Joshua Oppenheimer, who is the director of a new film called The Act of Killing:

Today we spend the hour with the director of a groundbreaking new documentary called The Act of Killing. The film is set in Indonesia, where beginning in 1965 the military and paramilitary slaughtered up to a million Indonesians after overthrowing the government. That military was backed by the United States and led by General Suharto, who would rule Indonesia for decades. There's been no truth and reconciliation commission. As the film says, Indonesia is a country where the killers are, to this day, celebrated as heroes ... [more]

* Just before going to New Zealand I attended a Wesley-Smith family reunion at cousin Terry Wesley-Smith's place in Canberra. The occasion was the 100th anniversary of my paternal grandparents' wedding. Terry has done a great job tracing and constructing the Wesley-Smith family tree.

* Next week, at Lake Eyre in Central Australia, a group of people will set off for West Papua. The indigenous elders behind the protest are calling it the Freedom Flotilla to West Papua, and say it is "creative resistance" to the Indonesian occupation of West Papua. Spokesman Ronny Kareni says they are trying to send a solidarity message. Listen to a report on Radio Austraia here.

* Sat June 29 2013:

Last night I went to hear The Song Company present its Old Songs, New Songs, Shared Songs program in Wollongong. The highlight was the first performance, with local choir con voci, of a new cantata by Hal Judge (libretto) and Timothy Hansen (music) called Howls of the House. Terrific piece! Well performed, too, although it will get better with more performances (at the Conservatorium Theatre, Newcastle, with the University of Newcastle Chamber Choir, 2.30pm Sun June 30; at Llewellyn Hall in Canberra with Oriana Chorale and other choirs, 4pm Sun July 7; and at the Italian Forum Cultural Centre in Leichhardt, Sydney, with the Leichhardt Espresso Chorus, 2pm Sun Aug 4). Also on the program, as it happened, were four of my songs: She Wore a Black Ribbon, sung by Mark Donnelly, The Duchess, Lord Jim and Me (Clive Birch), Tommy Tanna (Anna Fraser), and Recollections of a Foreign Minister (Richard Black). Each performance was superb.

In addition we heard Benjamin Britten's 1942 piece Hymn to St Cecilia (this year is the 100th anniversary of Britten's birth), Andrew Ford's piece for six solo voices Australian Aphorisms (check out Andrew's website to get a feeling for his enormous productivity), and a couple of pieces for choir by Eric Whitacre: Five Hebrew Love Songs and Little Birds.

* One of the reasons I haven't blogged much in recent times is the appalling so-called "broadband" service we've had here, making doing anything on the internet an exercise in frustration. The satellite system provided by Westnet was working OK until six or so months ago when it suddenly stopped. The reason given: "It's raining"! Clearly Westnet knew there was a problem with the hardware on the roof but decided it was too much hassle and/or too expensive to fix. I crossed to the dark side and bought a wireless modem from Telstra. After working OK for a few weeks, it too became a dithering mess of unreliability and fluctuating but mostly snail-like speed (e.g. download 0.07Mbps/upload 0.02Mbps). I've now ordered a new satellite dish from Bordernet. It was going to be installed last Wednesday, but it was raining, so installation was postponed to today. It's still too wet, so the installer is coming in a couple of weeks' time. In the meatime, the Telstra service has decided to behave itself, with 1.37/0.05 being typical numbers from speedtest. More later ...

* from The Scotsman, June 22 2013:

Se ceėl seann nės á Timor an-Ear an cuspair a bh' aig Ros Dunlop. Ri linn structar nan teagh_laichean 's na coimhearsnachd, ghlŹidh iad an dualchas a dh'ain_deoin feachdan agus riaghaltas a thug fo smachd an dĚthaich aca. Chaidh cur ris an ėraid aig Ros Dunlop ri linn an iomraidh ioma-meadhain a rinn Martin Wesley-Smith mu na daoine a bha, agus a tha, a' fulang ri linn nam feachd_an a ghabh smachd air Timor an-Ear anns na deich bliadhna a chaidh seachad.

It's from an article titled Chan eil eilean sam bith 'na eilean, it's by Magaidh Nic A' Ghobhainn, and no, I don't understand what it says either (it's in Gaelic). See the whole article here.
* A few more words to add to the millions of 'em recently written about Australian ex-Prime Minister Julia Gillard: like many other Australians I've been appalled at the level of vitriol, much of it sexist, levelled at Gillard by the Opposition, newspapers (especially Murdoch's papers), shock jocks and members of the general public. She has weathered the storms with strength, courage and grace. She has worked hard, and has many significant achievements to her name. Her poor standing in the polls was more a result of hate-filled media campaigns than an indication of what the public would have thought had they been given the facts in a fair and balanced way. That said, she confounded some of her most ardent supporters by such things as continuing Australia's support for and engagement in the occupation of Afghanistan; pronouncing Julian Assange guilty when he hadn't been charged with anything; refusing to stand up strongly for him, an Australian citizen; not supporting gay marriage (it's a discrimination matter); breaking her promise to Andrew Wilkie on pokie reform once she no longer needed his vote to stay in power; her and her party's failure to come up with a humane asylum-seeker policy; her lack of political nous and her consequent inability (aided and abetted by hostile media) to sell her achievements; her and Swan's repeated insistence that they would deliver a surplus long after it was clear that this would not be possible without doing grave harm to the body of Australian institutions, including savage cuts to universities, and to research, at a time when top-end education is needed more than ever; her enthusiastic and uncritical support of Israel ... and so on.
There are many articles about post-PM Gillard, most gravely unfair. I think that this one (Julia Gillard: where did it all go wrong?, by Katharine Murphy in The Guardian), is as fair and thoughtful as any I've read. As one might expect, John Pilger, also in The Guardian, offers some trenchant criticism in his article Julia Gillard is no feminist hero, published in October 2012. Dr Gideon Polya offers a devastating attack on Gillard and the party she would have led to the next election in his article 100 Reasons Why Australians Must Reject Gillard Labor. I agree with much of this. The particularly depressing thing is that a Rudd government would be no better and that an Abbott-led LNP coalition government would be far worse.

* At the Senate estimates hearing on June 5, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said, as he has before, that people in Australia are playing a cruel deception on the people of West Papua: by demonstrating on behalf of the West Papuans' right to self-determination, activists are encouraging them to think that they might be in with a chance in their quest for independence. It's bad enough that Australian politicians, including Carr himself, don't stand up for West Papua; it's shocking that he should criticise those who do. Andrew Johnson claims that "West Papua is not part of Indonesia because it is a trust territory, a colony which has been subjected to Chapter XII of the UN Charter, the Trusteeship System when the General Assembly including Australia made resolution 1752 (XVII) approving UN occupation and responsibility under article 76 of the Charter for West Papua ... Carr has been unable to answer the question when and how has the world recognised Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua ..." Read more here.

* Sat June 1 2013:

Today I took two roosters - excess to our needs - to the Shoalhaven Zoo where they will be humanely put down then fed to the zoo's crocodiles. It's a sad fact of life that there can be only one cock in a chook-yard like ours. These two (Big Blue and Moriarty) had started trying to have it away with their aunties, forcing their Dad, Dave, to be on guard 24/7. Sorry, boys. Better luck in your next life.

* Comments about Ros Dunlop's and my recent concert in North Cyprus have been flowing in. They include (excerpts):

I was really impressed with your composition/video presentation, I hope it reaches out to as many people as possible as most of the "developed" world are still oblivious to such matters. Congratulations to the both of you.

And this:

It was intellectually challenging yet hugely entertaining. Lots to think about. The abstract interplay of visual and musical shapes and colours was fascinating, even ignoring the content. And the content: wow! There's some tough stuff in there, but also passages of great beauty. Some of it was very moving.

The following excerpt came from someone who wasn't there but had received emails about it:

I have heard from both people who enjoyed your performance and from people who did not that parts of the West Papua section was exceedingly gory and graphically explicit.

I must say that I am at a loss to understand that comment. Papua Merdeka contains a total of two or three shots of dead bodies, and these are less confronting that what one often sees on the evening news on television. I suspect that the objection - which was not made to me, even though there was ample opportunity in the concert for people to discuss any relevant issue - came from people who disagreed with the politics of the pieces but could not cogently argue for an alternative viewpoint so they attacked it on other grounds. The description "graphically explicit" must have referred to photographs of bare-breasted women and men wearing penis gourds. I make no apology for those shots, for that is the way most indigenous West Papuans were before the Indonesians arrived. It is not up to me to censor, or try to cover up, reality.

Ros played Ppaua Merdeka at the Boite in Melbourne last Saturday night. A friend wrote:

The concert was great last night, and your music came across really well ... Ros does such a great job, at both presenting and playing. it's hard to beat Hotel Turismo, what a beauty. Merdeka was really good too. (A West Papuan person) came with me, and laughed mightily at the indonesian anthem set to the general's words bouncing along karoke style ...

A presentation of Ppaua Merdeka is a great way to get a discussion going about the situation in West Papua. I present a point of view then invite audience members to express their views. Sometimes this leads to really interesting discussions.

* Tues May 21 2013:

Am in Hong Kong on my way home after a quick visit to Famagusta in Northern Cyprus to present a concert at The Third Island Dynamics Conference. This was a collaboration of Eastern Mediterranean University's Center for Cyprus Studies, the Institute for Anthropological Research (Zagreb), and the University of the Highlands & Islands' Centre for Nordic Studies. On the way I spent a day in London, hanging out with friends and making contact with people working for justice in West Papua. Here is me [click] at the ruins of the ancient city of Salamis, near Famagusta. Photo by clarinettist/musicologist Ros Dunlop, with whom I did the concert.

The concert attracted some rave responses. Some critical ones, too, which is OK by me: this program is designed to stimulate discussion, even controversy, about important issues.

The dude on the left is Chan Kam Biu, Joshua, an ex-student of mine at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music who now teaches at the University of Hong Kong. Good composer! I had dinner last night with him and some members of my HKU class of '95. Click on Biu's photo to see, left to right, Alicia, Kolly, Loritta, Pamela, Ivy, me, Joshua and Annie. Alicia, who wasn't around back then, is Pamela's daughter. It was a great thrill to see them all again. Am seeing other old friends too, but don't have time this trip for a reunion with our Hong Kong WWOOFers. Next time.

* Mon May 6 2013:

The fourth biennial Kangaroo Valley Arts Festival concluded yesterday with a concert that included a performance by David Pereira of my piece Jerrinja Song, for solo cello. He played it - and sang it - superbly, and the audience loved it. I composed that piece in 1999. It received one performance back then, and one a few years ago by an ex-student of David's, Rachel Scott. Now that it has been revived, I'm hoping it will score a few more performances before it's put back onto the shelf. Read my notes on the piece here.

Another piece of mine, Aurora Wynnis, was included in Alice in Antarctica, a compilation of pieces using film, electric harp, an FX unit, spoken word and song put together and performed by harpist Alice Giles. I was responsible for the sound and image projection. As the concert was held at 10.30am, this involved getting up at 4.45 to load up with gear to get to the hall by 6. Alice needed to watch the screen, which was behind her, so I set her up with a wireless link from the main computer to an iPad, a solution that worked well (thanks to Oskar Wesley-Smith for showing me how). The concert was to do with Alice's grandfather, Cecil T Madigan, who was the meteorologist on Douglas Mawson's Australian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-14. The performance was enthusiastically received by the audience.

* A couple of weeks ago I attended a one-day symposium at UTS (University of Technology, Sydney) on "Music and the Environment", organised by Hollis Taylor and others. As part of the symposium, clarinettist Ros Dunlop and I presented three of my so-called "political" audio-visual pieces: X (1999), about Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmão, Weapons of Mass Distortion (2003), about propaganda and official lies, especially those that led to the invasion of Iraq, and Papua Merdeka (2005), about the plight of the indigenous people of West Papua. Later this month we're going to present this concert in North Cyprus.

Ros Dunlop's beautiful book on the traditional musical instruments of East Timor, Lian Husi Klamar ("Sounds of the Soul") recently won a gold medal at the Independent Publishers book awards in the USA.

* Sun March 31 2013:

Last night there was a party to mark the formal end of the fundraising drive to assist local identity Hugh Sinclair (that's him at left). Six or so months ago he broke his leg when a plank he was on broke, and he hasn't been able to work, or earn money, since. The final total of all the activities (including a variety concert, a formal dinner, a curry-and-poetry night, the sale of locally-made Portuguese tarts, the sale of moo poo, a raffle, a street party, and more) will be close to $20,000, a remarkable sum to come from a small rural community.

* I love living in this small rural community except for one thing: we can't get fast and reliable broadband here. As I explain below, a slow and expensive satellite service provided by Westnet recently gave way to a wireless modem provided by Telstra. I wrote, foolishly, that this "is marginally more reliable (so far), cheaper (I think), and faster." In the past week, however, it has slowed down to the extent that I would be better off using a telephone modem. It's Easter, so I can't sort it out till Tuesday. In the meantime, you probably won't get to see this 'cos the modem will be unable to upload it. It's incredibly frustrating, especially as I'm trying to book my passage to North Cyprus in mid-May for a concert of some of my audio-visual works. Clarinettist Ros Dunlop and I will be presenting X, about Xanana Gusmão and Timor-Leste, Weapons of Mass Distortion, about official propaganda and the invasion of Iraq, and Papua Merdeka, about the plight of the indigenous people of West Papua.

I wrote the following round for the audience to sing at the variety concert to raise money for Hugh Sinclair. There wasn't, as it happened any room for it on the program, so it never saw the light of day.

* Mon March 25 2013:

Does (Noam Chomsky) think that in all these years of talking and arguing and writing, he has ever changed one specific thing? "I don't think any individual changes anything alone. Martin Luther King was an important figure but he couldn't have said: 'This is what I changed.' He came to prominence on a groundswell that was created by mostly young people acting on the ground. In the early years of the antiwar movement we were all doing organising and writing and speaking and gradually certain people could do certain things more easily and effectively, so I pretty much dropped out of organising - I thought the teaching and writing was more effective. Others, friends of mine, did the opposite. But they're not less influential. Just not known."

This comes from an article, Noam Chomsky: 'No Individual Changes Anything Alone', by Aida Edemariam, published in The Guardian, UK, on March 23. Read it here.

I was an activist for many years in the cause of the people of East Timor, who were subjugated by Indonesia from 1975 to 1999. After a while I realised that while it was important to keep writing letters to newspapers, politicians etc, and to attend demos, perhaps the best contribution I could make was through composing audio-visual pieces about East Timor and putting them on at concerts and rallies. Thus Kdadalak (For the Children of Timor) and more than a dozen other pieces came into being. Did my efforts change anything? Almost certainly not. But my pieces, plus other people's poems, songs, letters, placards, demos, books, plays, photos, films, and so on, plus the efforts of Noam Chomsky, who was a great supporter of the rights of the people of East Timor from the beginning, together created a river of change for East Timor that led to the carnage and heartbreak but ultimate victory of 1999.

Incidentally, I went to a talk Chomsky gave in San Diego in the early 90s. He told the story of someone recently ringing him up and asking if he would be able to give a talk to a particular group on a particular date ten years hence. He thought that, without checking his diary, he was indeed free on that date. A little while later the person rang again to ask him what the topic of his talk would be. "Aaaah" he said, "Let it be 'The Current Crisis in the Middle East'!" Everyone in the lecture hall laughed, for we all thought that, surely, the problems in the Middle East will be solved in ten years' time. It's now more than twenty years later, and the situation is as bad as ever.

* Fri March 22 2013:

Last night I attended a meeting - a GetTogether - of local members of GetUp, a grass-roots organisation of people concerned about such things as environmental sustainability, economic fairness and social justice. We discussed these and other issues important to us, coming up with a list, in decreasing importance, of what we considered were the ten most important issues needing to be addressed in Australia:

2. VOCATIONAL EDUCATION - the gap between trades and university
3. RENEWABLE ENERGY - technology improvement and implementation
4. Refugee processing
5. Keep the Carbon Tax
6. No mining in sensitive areas
6. Redefinition of progress - reduce obsession with economic growth
8. Water management
9. Appropriate taxation - corporate and individual
10. Accountability and transparency in politics and organization

These issues have been forwarded to GetUp to be collated with the responses from the hundreds of other GetTogethers that were held last night across Australia

It is interesting that both the Labor and Liberal parties in Australia have about 100,000 members. GetUp, with 626,616, will be a force to be reckoned with at the next fedeal election (scheduled for Sept 14 this year).

Our group ranged from someone in her early 20s to a bloke in his 80s. It included an ex-navy man, an accountant, a meteorologist, a Uniting Church minister and a beauty parlour owner. All have been energised by the state of politics in Australia and the desperate needs of our social and physical environments. We are planning to meet again to finesse our concerns and to act as a pressure group bringing these issues to local political candidates, media and other citizens.

* My main area of activity during the past couple of months has been the organisation of a variety concert to raise money for a local identity, Hugh Sinclair, who suffered severe damages to his left leg in a fall about six months ago and hasn't been able to work since. We put the concert on last Saturday night, and it was a great success! I was delighted, I must say. As you can see from the program (537KB, pdf), there were singers, actors, musos, movies, comics and a bush poet, all Kangaroo Valley locals. A lot of the night was very funny!

One of my artistic contributions was an audio-visual version of the old parlour song The Green-Eyed Dragon. I originally wanted a local baritone to sing it, accompanied by a local pianist. But the pianist didn't have the time, so I started practising it myself. At the same time I started working on a computer version of the backing, complete with the lyric and suitable graphics, that could follow the singer through the extended rubato sections. Then the singer pulled out. Having done a lot of work on it which I didn't want to throw away, I decided to finish it and sing it myself. Now I'm not a great singer, but no-one was listening to me; instead everyone was watching the quick-moving graphics on the screen and their portrayal of Julia Gillard as the Fair Princess and Tony Abbott as the Dragon. It was funny and topical, and it's a great old song, so it wasn't hard to delight the audience. Ha!

Excerpts from some of the post-concert emails received:

Congratulations on a very enjoyable evening. The variety was great and the contribution by performers excellent ... I particularly enjoyed your rendition of Green Eyed Dragon - very amusing and fulsome in its lyrics, visuals and music - you really did it justice!

The time and effort put into the Variety Concert last night by ... the performers and all the helpers were indeed well rewarded. The hall was full, the audience enthusiastic, and the event raised an incredible $3,600 in tickets sales, raffle ticket sales and donations.

You did a brilliant job last night!!! A lovely show and mostly well-managed! Parched was terrific, as was the Green-eyed - loved the slides! I gather it brought in some serious cash, so this is just terrific! I hope you were happy! Thanks for all your work!

Parched was the name given to a few remnants of the now-defunct a cappella vocal group The Thirsty Night Singers who, experiencing difficulty giving up the bright lights, the fans, the glamour and the money begged to be allowed one last appearance on the Main Stage.

The photo at left is of Jo Stirling, a member of the group (click on the image to see all members at the rehearsal before the gig: Janette Carter, Peter Morgan, Jo, me, Patsy Radic and Peter Stanton. We sang Freddie the Fish, a variation called Bazza the Bass (about coal seam gas mining in Kangaroo Valley (there isn't any, and won't be any)), and Shut the Gate, a kids' song I wrote with my wife, Ann North, many years ago and which has proved to be remarkably resilient and popular.

At this stage there are no plans to keep Parched as a working group, nor to resurrect the Thirsties. I am planning a silent movie event in October, but apart from that will be getting back into my own work. I have various projects on the back burner, including a piece for singing cellist. I would like to create a Green-Eyed Dragon-style audio-visual piece but with original words, music and graphics. The next local event I'll be involved with will be the Kangaroo Valley Arts Festival, May 3-5. I gather a couple of pieces of mine will be performed there: Jerrinja Song (David Pereira, cello) and Aurora Wynnis (Alice Giles, harp).

Congratulations on the success of the concert. It was great fun though I know you did a lot of work to make it so. Well done.
Parched sounded very good and there were lots of folk there who hadn't heard you sing so they particularly seemed to enjoy your two songs.

I really loved your Green Eyed Dragon Martin, though he looked more of a monster to me, the princess was a bit dodgy too but you sang it very, very well and the visuals were brilliant. Possibly the highlight for me ...

Patsy (Radic) and Jeremy (Butterworth) were very lovely together with great choice of songs. I did like Michael Moore's little film with great sound track. Seeing DDan again was a real hoot, the strobe lighting and reappearance of the lovers was wonderful ... Anyway it was very interesting and most unusual. It was all good to varying degrees, a true 'Variety Show' ...

Anyway well done lads, do it again soon.

DDan is Dirty Dan, a silent movie I shot and edited in Kangaroo Valley ten years ago. Robert Constable played piano for it back then; we recorded his playing, complete with audience reactions, and put it onto the movie so that it was no longer silent.

It was a marvellous night Martin ? what an effort by you pulling all that together!

Thank you so much for putting on such a fantastic Variety show ... I looked at all those cables leading to sound, visual and lighting and thought what a big big job it is to provide such quality presentations. I absolutely loved your Green Eyed Dragon and the two Peters' performance ... thank you again. A mighty effort to pull that off.

The "two Peters" were Peters Morgan and Stanton, who did a hilarious presentation of Offenbach's The Gendarmes' Duet accompanied by Patsy Radic on piano.

Thanks for all your top work getting the people and sound organised ... I loved your green eyed dragon song and would love to see it uploaded to YouTube.
Great result with the funds.

Unfortunately, an audio-visual piece about current political figures inevitably violates various copyrights. I'm happy to borrow photographs that are already on the web for a three-minute piece at a once-only fund-raiser in a country hall, but putting the piece on YouTube is a step too far (not that anyone else seems to think so, I must admit).

I thought the whole night was great but I really liked your A/V presentation with the Green Eyed monster. Very clever.
Thank you for all the work you did to make the night a success.

You obviously put a huge amount of work into the night's organisation and i'm glad you were so rewarded with the night's success

Well done Martin, Just a terrific night, made me feel privileged to live in such a creative, warm community.

That last comment hits the nail on the head: "such a creative, warm community". Kangaroo Valley is indeed that. And more.

* The 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq - in my opinion the greatest war crime committed during my lifetime - has led to the usual suspects proclaiming how right it was. There have also been articles looking at the reality of life today in Iraq. An example: Iraq: War's legacy of cancer, by Dahr Jamail, published by ALJAZEERA on March 15:

Contamination from Depleted Uranium (DU) munitions and other military-related pollution is suspected of causing a sharp rises in congenital birth defects, cancer cases, and other illnesses throughout much of Iraq.

Many prominent doctors and scientists contend that DU contamination is also connected to the recent emergence of diseases that were not previously seen in Iraq, such as new illnesses in the kidney, lungs, and liver, as well as total immune system collapse. DU contamination may also be connected to the steep rise in leukaemia, renal, and anaemia cases, especially among children, being reported throughout many Iraqi governorates ...

Dr Savabieasfahani explained that her research proves areas of Fallujah, as well as Basra, "are contaminated with lead and mercury, two highly toxic heavy metals", from US bombings in 1991 and during the 2003 invasion. "Exposure to metals, as well as to ionizing radiation, can lead to cancer," she added.

She said that, when the DU munitions explode or strike their targets, they generate "fine metal-containing dust particles as well as DU-containing particles that persist in the environment. These particles can enter the food chain and enter the human body via contaminated food. Toxic particles can also become airborne with the wind and be inhaled by the public. Iraq is prone to frequent sand and dust storms. Continuous public inhalation of toxic materials can lead to cancer. Ingested or inhaled particles that emit alpha radiation can cause cancer." ...


Check out, if you dare, this video.

See, also, an interview with Dahr Jamail here. And everyone should read Chris Floyd's Barbarian Rhapsody: Ten Years Deeper Into Hell: "America's amnesia regarding the war crime in Iraq and its continuing ramifications -- not only the repression and death still going on there, but also the catastrophic impact of this atrocity on America itself, including the tsunami of suicide, homelessness and PTSD among its soldiers, and the back-breaking costs of this orgy of corruption and war-profiteering -- is indeed remarkable."

* While living in the bush has many attractions, a negative is constant internet hassles. For a long time we were on dial-up. Then we changed to slow and unreliable broadband on a satellite system operated by Westnet. Recently the modem stopped working completely, so I rang Westnet to discuss the situation. "Well of course it's not working:" said the techie I talked to, "It's raining where you are". Well, yes it was, but we'd never previously had any trouble in torrential downpours or baking heat. There was no explanation as to why it should stop working now, the only solution offered being to engage one of their techies, paying her/his transport, fees and accommodation at up to $1000! I went over to the Dark Side and bought a Telstra wireless 3G/4G modem, with wi-fi, which is marginally more reliable (so far), cheaper (I think), and faster.

back to March 31

* On February 12 my DPhil supervisor at the University of York, composer Richard Orton, suddenly passed away. An excellent obituary, by Archer Endrich, can be found here:

(The Composers Desktop Project) and the electroacoustic community throughout the world (are) deeply saddened by the news that Richard Orton, one of its primary visionaries and a founder member of CDP, has died unexpectedly after a brief illness. The scope of his contributions to music, and to electroacoustic music in particular, is extensive ...

In the words of Ross Kirk, his former colleague at York, "Richard was an inspiration to us all, both in terms of his own vision and in terms of the wider community to which he introduced us (particularly the CDP). His dedication to the cause was always utterly beyond any doubt."

Richard's creativity grew from his depth as a thinker, his inner confidence, and from a deep spirituality. His influence runs deep, a fact that becomes ever clearer in retrospect. We shall all feel his loss keenly.


See, also, this obituary from the University of York Music Press.

* Mon Feb 11 2013:

Australian trombonist Tom Burge, who lives in the USA, wrote on facebook today to say that an audience he had last week in Arkansas loved my piece White Knight & Beaver. He will be performing it again in the coming weeks in Utah, in Winston Salem NC, and in Charlotte on a new music series called Fresh Ink.

* I'm currently organising a fundraising variety concert for a local bloke, Hugh Sinclair, who six months ago broke his leg so badly that he hasn't been able to work, or even walk, since. Local singers, actors, movie-makers etc are rallying around to put on a show that truly puts the V into Variety. Venue: Kangaroo Valley Hall. Time: 7.30pm. Date: Sat March 16 2013.

* Fri Jan 25 2013:

I occasionally check out a blog called Little Darwin, usually because its author often writes about my ratbag brother Rob Wesley-Smith. A recent (Jan 22) entry called "DANGEROUS" MAN FIGHTS FOR TRUTH is a paean to Rob's stands on behalf of oppressed people everywhere:

Longtime Darwin activist, Rob Wesley-Smith, is similar to Julian Assange. For more than 40 years, Wesley-Smith has consistently exposed inconvenient truths about many important international, national and Territory issues. In doing so, he raised the ire of those in high places and, naturally, received the attention of the security service . As a result, Wesley-Smith is currently reading his recently obtained bulky Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) file.

Little Darwin has been given the privilege of a quick peek at the documents, parts of which are blanked out ...


Here's an entry (Jan 19) about clarinettist Ros Dunlop, with whom I've made several international tours presenting my so-called "political" audio-visual works:


One of Australia's leading clarinetists, Ros Dunlop, who captured the musical soul of Timor-Leste, is expected to pass through Darwin tomorrow on her way to that country. After 10 years of research, she wrote Lian Husi: Musika Tradisional Husi Timor-Leste (Sounds of the Soul: The Traditional Music of East Timor). The unique book was supported by the United States Ambassadors' Fund For Cultural Preservation. Dunlop made her first trip to Timor-Leste in April 2002 with Timor activist brothers Robert and Martin Wesley-Smith and gave concerts which included Martin's audio-visual pieces about East Timor. She became enchanted by the country, its people, culture and began making regular visits to record the local music. Darwin agronomist, Robert Wesley-Smith, recently received an author's presentation copy of the book with an inscription saying it would never have been written without his help. He said Dunlop was a tireless worker and entertainer; he recalled that one night she, he and his brother were accommodated in a police cell as they travelled about the country. Dunlop was enthusiastically supported by many people, including musicians, translators, artists from the Arte Moris Art School and young Timorese from the audio-visual archive Centro Archivo Max Stahl Timor-Leste. Well-illustrated, the book is in Tetun and English. Copies can be ordered through

It's a beautiful book and an important contribution to Australian musicology. Ros first got involved with Timor through playing my piece X, which was originally written for American clarinettist F. Gerard Errante, who commissioned it in 1999. Other so-called "political" pieces of mine she has played include Welcome to the Hotel Turismo and Tekee Tokee Tomak, both about East Timor, Weapons of Mass Distortion, about propaganda, especially that that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and Papua Merdeka, about the plight of the indigenous people of West Papua.

* I've written an article for the local journal of record, The Kangaroo Valley Voice, about the local vocal group hanging up its hat:

The Kangaroo Valley-based vocal group The Thirsty Night Singers is, alas, no more. On December 16 last year we gave our final performance at a private function to an audience of friends.

It was probably our best ever performance, making it a fitting finale to nearly six years of music-making.

In the beginning, in early 2007, a few singers from Carlos Alvarado's Courthouse Choir in Berry got together to explore some different repertoire. After a few singalongs, some left, some stayed, and a core membership of seven emerged. I took the reins as musical director and started doing new arrangements and modifying existing ones.

Thursday nights suited everyone for a regular rehearsal hence the group's name. An alternative suggestion - rejected - was "Herding Cats", which is what it sometimes felt like when I was organising gigs and extra rehearsals. Our original intention was to sing just to each other, for our own pleasure, but after a while we realised that we occasionally needed to sing to others to ensure we achieved as high a standard as possible. Our first "gig" was in 2008 at Peter and Louise Morgan's place to an audience of friends. We were pretty raw that night, but we rapidly improved.

Before that - in January 2007 - we'd sung with others in a choir that performed with soprano Annalisa Kerrigan, harpist Genevieve Lang and violinist Jennifer Hoy in Kangaroo Valley Hall. We sang a song about East Timor as well as the choral parts in a new arrangement of Eric Bogle's classic song And the Band Played "Waltzing Matilda". See

Also in 2008 we joined others to sing with the Seven Harp Ensemble - SHE - from Canberra. We sang Gabriella's Song, from the Swedish film As It Is In Heaven, and Seven Widows at the Gates of Sugamo, which we subsequently recorded for a CD - Bolmimerie - released by Tall Poppies Records. Later that year we sang in a workshop at Bundanon with a cappella group The Idea of North, a valuable experience that gave us confidence to sing at a concert at Yarrawa Estate the following February. See In 2009 we sang in Canberra and Yass as part of the David Pereira Cello Series. Shortly after this, soprano Alex Holliday from Berry left the group due to work pressures. We were fortunate to be able to replace her with Nadia Intihar, whose inclusion caused the average age of the group to plummet.

Since then there were many other performances, including an East Timor benefit in Sydney, three Kangaroo Valley Folk Festivals, the Shoalhaven Folk Club, an "Up a River" fundraiser, a magical night at the Gallery in December 2011, a song at that year's Buster Keaton silent movie show, two superb nights at the Gormans', and winning first prize in two categories at last year's Shoalhaven Eisteddfod. We thought about, but ultimately rejected, giving up our day jobs.

Any enterprise like The Thirsties takes up a lot of time and effort which, for some, was harder and harder to give, what with jobs, kids and other interests all competing for attention. We were losing our two sopranos, which meant looking for replacements, auditions, teaching the new recruits their parts, and so on. It seemed like a good time, while we were at the top of our game, to call it quits.

Our thanks to all those who supported us, and our apologies for rendering page 146 of The Art and Soul of Kangaroo Valley obsolete.

We're all having trouble contemplating a Thirsties-less future, so we're thinking about fairly frequent reunions plus the occasional dinner where we'll sing around the table. But we won't be learning new material or doing gigs.

At a gig last year I heard someone say "Crikey! You can't go anywhere in Kangaroo Valley without the flamin' Thirsties turning up and singin' at ya!" Let me assure you, sir, that that won't happen again. But perhaps something else will emerge to fill a very thirsty void.

* The other day I received the following email, out of the blue:

Hi there

Thank you for composing wonderful music.
I just got Boojum in the mail about 2 weeks ago just love it.
I own 4 cd's of your music now and just love every single them ,Merry go round is fav at the moment. The track merry go round so beautiful.



* Sad to report that our five ducklings are now three. One disappeared (a fox? a bird of prey?); the other one, abandoned by its Mother Edwina, was looking poorly so I brought it inside to care for it. But a couple of hours later it died. I buried its poor fluffy little body in the garden.

* Fri Jan 18 2013:

Today we suffered through another record-breakingly hot day. In Sydney it reached 45.8 deg C (114.44 deg F) - 46.5 (115.7) in Western Sydney; down here at least 44 (111.2) and perhaps up to 48 (118.4).

* I received an email today from one of three recent WWOOFers from mainland China. After a week here they'd left before they'd had a chance to write in our visitors' book. Mao Yinan wrote:

Volunteering at Road's End is a once in a lifetime experience that I shall never forget. On the first night, when Peter picked us up from train station, one wallaby and three wombats greeted us happily. There are two bully horses who rob the alpaca Janna of her food everyday, many chicken and ducks, and our dear friend Ghoti whose name is pronounced as Fish, the beautiful labrador who is enthusiastic about ball catching game. Peter and Martin are very nice people, they always talked about political issues at dinner, which is very enlightening. We also met Annie, a family friend of theirs, and Robert, who just moved to Kangaroo Valley. Working was fun, including feeding animals, washing dishes, weeding, removing horse dung, and planting vegetables. These could be useful skills to live in the countryside, which I have seriously taken into consideration. Martin is a good cook, and we were very well fed, even indulged with white wine at every dinner. Honestly I've never seen such spectacular view as Kangaroo Valley. On the last day when driving to the train station, there was a heavy fog obscuring the lower half of the mountain, like solid wind, or liquid light, under which are hundreds of cattle wandering lazily on the vast green field, composing a poem that is worth reading, rereading, and reading again.

* Thurs Jan 17 2013:

Critic Nick Barnard has written an excellent review of the David Pereira (cello)/Timothy Young (piano) Tall Poppies CD Blue Silence (TP222), which contains my piece Morning Star Lament. Excerpts:

This has proved to be a greatly enjoyable introduction to a wide range of music for cello and piano by contemporary Australian composers ... All of the music here shows the composers to be individual, interesting and able to write music both attractive and of substance ... throughout the disc pianist Timothy Young proves to be an exceptionally fine player with a wide range of tone and keyboard colour ... David Pereira is a fine player and a champion of Australian string music. It is a pleasure to hear a player willing to produce a genuinely quiet sound ... Alicia Grant's Night Spell and Ian Munro's Lucy Sleeps in some way come together to form an - unrelated - triptych of miniatures together with the title work [by Elena Kats-Chernin] which inhabit a similar emotional landscape of hypnotic meditation and repose ... A by-product of listening to this disc has been the crystallising of the idea that recent contemporary composers - regardless of their compositional techniques employed - seem more at ease with embracing overtly emotional external subjects.

Certainly that is the case with all the music presented here where the extra-musical stimuli evoke strongly felt emotions even when expressed in a 'contained' manner. Composer Martin Wesley-Smith clearly feels the plight of the oppressed peoples of West Papua and expresses his solidarity in Morning Star Lament. He describes the work as; ".. a lament for those who have died resisting the occupation, for those who are prisoners in their own country, for the destruction of their environment, for the brutality of the occupiers, for the hypocrisy of the West?". Strong stuff. As is my wont, I listened to this disc the first time with no reference to the liner. With music I do not know it ensures no preconceptions or expectations. In the case of this Lament it also provided considerable confusion. In purely musical terms there is an extraordinarily wide range of styles and moods encompassed in the nine minutes of the work. This includes 'serious' contemporary clusters, brilliant be-bop like syncopating passages, a curiously impressive vocalise where one of the players, uncredited, accompanies themselves (the other?) singing a plaintive wordless melody. At first listen, it was the presence of a simple, almost saccharine melody richly harmonised in the best traditions of the tea-shop that frames the work that confused me. It turns out this melody, "O My Country Papua" was written in the 1930s and became the colony's official anthem and at much the same time the Morning Star flag became its official flag. When Indonesia took over the country in 1963 both were banned. Certainly, knowing that cranks up the emotional temperature of the work several notches and 'explains' much of the music's thrust in an instant. It does leave the listener with the eternal debate; should music need its context to be explained before you can evenly partially understand it. As it happens this was one of my favourite pieces on the disc even before I read the explanation - I enjoyed the diversity of styles it embraces and again it benefits from a very powerful performance. What one cannot divine from the superficial knowledge of a work afforded by this kind of review is whether/how the musical material of the anthem is transformed or developed in the main body of the work.

Overall, this disc is an excellent sampler of the rich diversity and range of contemporary cello music being written by Australian composers. All credit to performers Pereira and Young for devoting the considerable amount of time and energy it must have taken to bring this amount of unfamiliar yet impressive music to the studio. A worthwhile project skilfully executed.


The review was published by MusicWeb International.

* As it happens, another West Papua piece of mine, Papua Merdeka, was scheduled to be performed in Sydney tomorrow, but for various reasons this has been cancelled. I suspect that I might not have been able to go, for tomorrow the forecast temperature will be 40 deg C (that's 104 deg F), making it a day of high fire danger.

* Wed Jan 16 2013:

Canberra's all-female Seven Harp Ensemble (SHE) was recently in China for Beijing TV. Their gig there was part of Beijing TV's highly prestigious Spring Festival Global Gala, one of the most viewed TV events in China. They were also scheduled to perform at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), the premier concert venue in Beijing, showcasing not only SHE and their Western classical harps but also Chinese harpists performing on traditional instruments. On Tuesday Jan 8 SHE gave a preview in The Artists Shed, Queanbeyan, which was attended by Canberra Jazz blog, who wrote (excerpt):

Then a playful, toy-like piece, written for the ensemble by Martin Wesley-Smith and referencing Alice in Wonderland, called Alice in the Garden of Live Flowers. Given that each harpist identified with a flower, I assume it also referenced Alice Giles in her own garden. At times, it sounded to me like a portable organ grinder, but it was more complex and bigger: cute and toyish with child-like openness and crossing into impressionism and rich in confusing polyrhythms. Nice!


On tour, SHE consisted of Ingrid Bauer, Alice Giles (leader), Genevieve Lang, Hilary Manning, Laura Tanata, Lucy O'Shea (replacing Liena Lacey) and Tegan Peemoeller.

* Talking of things Chinese, one of our favourite WWOOFers, from June 2008, is the charming, beautiful and talented Frenchwoman Marine Dn. After leaving here she went to China, learnt to speak Mandarin, and has now established herself as a singer in China of, mostly, Chinese songs. There's a photo of her here singing on Chinese television.

* The forecast for tomorrow is a warm 33 deg C. But we're expecting Friday to hit 40 deg C (104 deg F) and thus be a day of extreme fire danger. Our defences (a 75,000 litre tank full of water, a bushfire pump, sprinklers ready to soak the house and surrounds, bushfire hoses so we can extinguish stray embers, protective clothing, and so on) are as good as they can be, but I recognise that if the Big One comes our only effective defence will be to get the hell out before it hits. Recent cooler weather has allowed fire-fighters to contain the Deans Gap and Yass fires, but they are still burning and could again pose a threat if high temperatures combine with strong winds and low humidity. Fortunately for us they're a long way away from here, but I have friends in Yass for whom this is a tense time.

* Sat Jan 12 2013:
Our longest-surviving duck, Colin, is a pretty disgraceful duck, I'm ashamed to say: he tries to hump any female duck, wild or domestic, that happens to pass by. A few months ago a neighbour gave us a duck that that I assumed was male, for I never saw Colin try to have his way with him, even though they quickly became great friends. I never saw even a sly sideways glance. Imagine our surprise, therefore, when Edwin, as we called the new duck, laid nine eggs and started sitting on them! Edwin had suddenly become Edwina. On Thursday she introduced us to five ducklings - click on the photo at left to see them all. Cute!

At the top of the photo at right is a wild wood duck. Mum Edwina is at left, with Dad Colin at right. Click for a larger view. Actually, I'm assuming that Colin is the Dad. It's possible, I suppose, that our other male duck, Stan, a Muscovy, was responsible. We won't know for sure till the ducklings have grown up a bit and revealed their parentage ... Meanwhile our six chickens have almost grown up - we'll soon be able to tell the boys from the girls.

* Wed Jan 9 2013:
A relatively cool day here today, and much-reduced fire danger. But there are still serious fires in New South Wales, the closest to us being at Deans Gap, south of Sussex Inlet Road in the Jerrwongala area of the Shoalhaven. According to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, more than 151 firefighters and 27 trucks are working to contain this fire, with the villages of Wandandian and Sussex Inlet under threat. It's going to be hot again here on Friday and Saturday, but not as hot as yesterday and without the strong winds that are so dangerous when there's a bush-fire.

* The photo at right is of a Corymbia ficifolia (West Australian flowering gum, known also as Albany red flowering gum), that we planted in memory of our old Mum, Sheila Wesley-Smith (1916-2010, at far right). She lived with us in Kangaroo Valley for the last three years of her life (for an account of her last six months, click here). Our tree has just started its spectacular floral display - click on the photo to see a larger photo of the whole tree.

Apparently, Corymbia ficifolia's flowers are usually red, as ours are, but may be pink, crimson or orange. Their succulence, and their brilliant colour, make the tree - our Sheila tree - very popular with various birds.

* British author, journalist, thinker, human rights activist etc George Monbiot has written an article in The Guardian (UK) called Heatwave: Australia's new weather demands a new politics - Climate change clashes with the myth of a land where progress is limited only by the rate at which resources can be extracted:

I wonder what Tony Abbott will say about the record heatwave now ravaging his country. The Australian opposition leader has repeatedly questioned the science and impacts of climate change. He has insisted that "the science is highly contentious, to say the least" and asked - demonstrating what looks like a wilful ignorance - "If man-made CO2 was quite the villain that many of these people say it is, why hasn't there just been a steady increase starting in 1750, and moving in a linear way up the graph?" He has argued against Australian participation in serious attempts to cut emissions.

Climate change denial is almost a national pastime in Australia ...


I subscribe to a website called Australian Climate Madness, which regularly, and viciously, attacks those who believe that person-made greenhouse gas might, possibly, just possibly, have something to do with the extreme weather we're now seeing in Australia and which North Americans have experienced over the past year or so. It has been suspiciously silent on the big issues in recent times. Where are you, ACM, now that we need you more than ever? We need you to assure us that the current extreme weather events are simply part of the earth's natural volatility and that therefore it's perfectly OK to continue our wasteful ways. C'mon!

According to CNN, "2012 is officially in the books as the hottest year on record for the continental United States and the second-worst for 'extreme' weather such as hurricanes, droughts or floods, the U.S. government announced Tuesday."

See an article titled 'Sprawling Heat Wave Of Historical Proportions' Brings 'Horrendous' Wildfires To Australia by clicking here.

* Tues Jan 8 2013:
7am: there's no sign of fire, the weather is cool, and where we are there's no wind - but I can hear the dull roar of wind on the other side of the hills that enclose us. The situation seems to me to be quite beningn, but a neighbour has just rung to say that he's getting out. The question is Where to?. The fire authorities are mute: yesterday I rang a fire hot-line and asked that question of an official spokesperson in Nowra (our closest medium-sized town): "I don't know", she said, "Everywhere around here is rated catastrophic". But there must be places that are safer than others, I said. "I have no information on that", she replied, and hung up.

Nearby council areas with a rating of catastrophic include Goulburn, Kiama, Upper Lachlan, Mulwaree, Palerang, Queanbeyan, Shellharbour, Shoalhaven, Wingecarribee, Wollondilly, Wollongong & Yass Valley. Those ratings have not changed overnight.

We have a sprinkler system designed to keep the house and surrounds saturated. We use a petrol pump that we tested yesterday. We have about 70,000 litres of water reserved for fire-fighting. We've tightened pipe connections. We're cleaning out gutters and getting rid of flammable material near the house. But all this would be for naught when the Big One comes. There is no effective defence against fires of the intensity of those that devastated parts of Victoria three years ago other than sitting in a concrete bunker, or in a creek, or a dam ...

10am: it's hot, muggy, windy - but not viciously so - and no sign, or smell, of smoke. We're watching things closely. No false heroics, but no un-necessary panic.

1pm: it's getting hotter and windier, but there's still no sign of a local fire.

8pm: after reaching c.42 deg C this afternoon, it's now slightly cooler, and the wind is less gusty than it was. Phew!

Definitely a cool change - looks like we survived Australia's hottest day since records began. Tomorrow and Thursday it will be 25 deg, Friday 34, Saturday 33, Sunday 23 and Monday 23. Fire danger, however, will remain high.

* Mon Jan 7 2013:

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service issues daily fire danger ratings for particular areas of the state. Tomorrow, huge areas, including Kangaroo Valley, where Peter and I live, have been rated "catastrophic", with a temperature of 43 deg C (that's nearly 110 deg F), strong winds and low humidity. Their advice:

For your survival, leaving early is the only option.

Leave bush fire prone areas the night before or early in the day - do not just wait and see what happens.

Make a decision about when you will leave, where you will go, how you will get there and when you will return.

Homes are not designed to withstand fires in catastrophic conditions so you should leave early.

That's the official advice. Our plan is to see what conditions are like in the morning and to decide then what to do. I can't deny that it's a worry - but there are reasons to believe that we'll be relatively safe where we are. Time will tell!

Watch this space ...

* Wed Jan 2 2013:

Kirsty Sword Gusmão, the wife of the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, Xanana Gusmão, has sent the following message to her friends and supporters:

With sadness, I need to inform you that just prior to Christmas, I was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in my left breast, and following some tests and a biopsy of the tumour at the wonderful Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute and Hospital in Melbourne on Christmas Eve, I have been advised that I require surgery in the coming days. Whilst this is obviously a huge shock to me and my family since I have been blessed with excellent health all my adult years, I am feeling strong and optimistic and have the love and support of vast numbers of friends and family members.

Kirsty was a courageous activist during the long years of the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste (1975-1999). Of great assistance to me when I was working on the radiophonic version of my piece Quito in the late 90s, she has made, since liberation, an enormous contribution to the development of her adopted country. I join the many thousands of people around the world who are sending her, and her family, their love and best wishes, especially for this coming Friday (the day of the operation).

* Several prominent musicians and composers died during 2012. They included Hans Werner Henze, Elliott Carter, Jonathan Harvey, Dave Brubeck, Ravi Shankar and Richard Rodney Bennett.

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