How would you improve Australia with 270 Billion Dollars ?

I’m just a nomad writer. I don’t pretend to be an expert. I observe events through the social media lens same as everyone else. But I have been around. And I’ve seen stuff that makes me question the world. Here are some of my questions: What do you rate as valuable in our society? Is it human life? Community? Progress? Profit?

Or arms deals?

Anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture.

Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts. We are at our best when we serve others. Be civilized.

— Ira Byock, The Best Care Possible: A Physician’s Quest to Transform Care Through the End of Life (Avery, 2012)

quoted in; https://medium.com/@ismailalimanik/the-first-sign-of-civilization-95bc3f44f956

When I was in Canterbury for Christmas in 2017, I passed people wrapped in rubbish bags as I went to the Cathedral for the carol service. This was the heart of the Church of England in winter and homeless people watched the worshippers off to worship, and on the other side of the town, queues forming for the crazy-fun panto just around the corner. How is this civilised?

When I was in Hamburg in 2018, the tour guide told us this was the richest city in Europe, the place with the most billionaires, a city based on trade and bristling with container cranes. And I saw homeless people, even one poor women in a wheelchair, hunkered down in a doorway against the autumn chill. Why wouldn’t the richest city in Europe be able to house everyone?

When I left Melbourne in 2016, homeless people were in evidence, not just the tent cities in secluded nooks of the River Yarra, but in plain view on the main street, nesting in cardboard, pups for warmth, while smartly dressed business-people stalked past barking into their mobile phones.

I didn’t want to supply too many identifying features of the tent to the right. Idyllic spot by the Yarra in the centre of Melbourne, 2020.

When I travelled through China in 2019 I heard that President Xi wanted everyone housed by the end of 2020 and certainly everywhere I went, from Beijing, to Ningbo and down to Pingtan, there was extensive building of high-rise apartment blocks. It may not be idyllic, but it is housing.

When I caught the Trans-Mongolian across into China in 2019 I could see solar panels climbing the hillsides.

I could see trees, hundreds upon hundreds of young trees, including fruit and nuts species, being planted to absorb carbon.

It’s no longer permitted to burn coal in Beijing and new rules designed to minimise traffic pollution are coming into effect. Many old buildings sported solar hot water systems. I did not see anyone begging in the street. Not one person in five days walking around Beijing. Try that in the richest city in Europe. Try that in Melbourne.

The Beijing inner-city metro was fast, clean and, I was surprised to see, covered in new-fangled video advertising. As I walked around Beijing I noted crowds, of course, but also saw fancy shops and noted supermarkets filled with every conceivable thing a person could want. 

When I left Beijing I travelled by fast train. It was just like being on an airplane except you could buy a whole Peking duck in a red bag and make a cup of tea if you wished. Then I caught a container ship. Into the shipping lanes …

Third day at sea from CC Coral Bridge
Third day at sea from the CC Coral bridge. A China to Australia shipping route
Lockdown supplies in March 2020

When I came back to Melbourne to roost throughout the lockdown, I read that Australia’s Prime Minister plans to spend $270 billions of dollars to protect the United Australian States with military might.

This is old-fashioned sabre rattling. There’s no secrecy in the announcement which of course begs the question, what are they doing behind closed doors? Everyone, including China, must understand Australia wants to stand behind the USA, the big power in the Pacific. (I note the cyber-defense program is necessarily newer thinking. It does not necessarily name and blame one particular nation’s spying. Any nation can pay trolls and hackers to create division and disinformation. And several obviously are.)

A Chinese shipping route

However, I struggle to understand why Australia needs long-range missiles. What exactly is this backward thinking show of force supposed to achieve? Apparently, Mr Morrison is buying the big shiny toys from the USA. If Australia is worried China is going to become a threat, they just have to call on the US, the nation with the most military bases, some very close to China and, most importantly to Australia, China’s shipping routes. Surely Australia needs those routes open. Or, think about this, is this a double bluff?

In fact, the US has China squashed up against the fence. Check out a few of the 800 US military bases around the world. And, why would Australia want to sail a little close to one contested Chinese base?

US bases, including Okinawa, now under lockdown with Covid 19

The world sees the Chinese system as authoritarian. Watch John Oliver explain the history of Uighur re-eduation camps. It’s well-known China has a severe system of punishment for people stepping out of line but, wait, doesn’t every other country in the world?

From what I saw, people in China are free enough to lay their hands on pretty well whatever they want, Gucci handbags, nespresso machines or iphones, anything the capitalist system can bubble up, without causing trouble. As for surveillance, everyone uses smart phones to make even the smallest purchase; the use of a locker at an art gallery, some toilet paper in a big public toilet so every transaction is easily traced. If China is controlling their citizens by their credit and banking systems, what happens when an Aussie can’t pay their mortgage? Consider how American citizens are controlled by their credit cards? Banking rules every modern citizen no matter where they are.

I’ve spoken in English conversation classes to many Chinese students, and the main difference they notice between the two countries, why they like to be in Australia, is the space.

And, Australia has, obviously, space: seven states and territories worth.

BUT

Under those neatly drawn lines there are, in fact, over 300 First Nations, their borders, people, and languages, wiped out mercilessly by white colonial rule. What reparation for those indigenous people? The longest known civilisation in the world? Unbelievably, Rio Tinto can blow up sacred sites with impunity. Can you imagine the horror if a mining company blew up the Maltravieso cave in Cáceres, Spain? Stonehenge in England? The Canterbury Cathedral?

I only visited the American United States once, way back in 1992, but I was completely astounded by the obvious homeless on the streets. It’s common knowledge the USA has more prisons per captia than any other nation on the earth (that includes China!) Watch ’13th’ for free on You Tube.

The infamous US Guantanamo Bay prison, and Australia’s own expensive detention centres, like the now-closed Manus Island, or more bizarrely, Christmas Island where one family is trapped, exist in the so called ‘free’ world, the world of capitalism, of so-called democracy. People in prison have no idea how long they will be incarcerated or when they will see their families again. Where is hope?

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody made 300 recommendations, few of which have been accepted. Aboriginal people are the most incarcerated people on earth. Since that Royal Commission in 1991 there have been 437 Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Donald Trump happily told Australia’s then Prime Minster, Mr Turnbull, he was even worse than them. And went off to separate families at the Mexican border.

The USA is now boiling up with fresh understanding of the unimaginable damage that hundreds of years of slavery has done to a great number of people. Donald Trump began his Law and Order campaign by beating back peaceful protests with unmarked mercenaries in Portland, Oregon and Chicago and plans to further extend his personal army.

How can anything China has done be held to be any worse than the dreadful colonial system from 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue in search of silks, spices and gunpowder from China? And brought back slaves.

Wherever they’re from, humans have been responsible for murder, blood and gold, and slavery, for as long as there’s been humans. I’m not saying these wrongs shouldn’t be addressed. I am saying they’re probably not going to be fixed with long range missiles aimed by Australian politicians.

The meaning of ‘capital’ in China, in the cities of Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin, is just the same as that of any city in ‘free’ Australia, the UK or the USA. Australia has a tight trade relationship with China. Australia want to be free to make their own decisions, don’t they?

What, then, makes Australian politicians rattle sabres? Or are they just supporting arms manufacturers? Watch ‘The Coming War with China‘ for more details. If China wants to invade Australia they could just buy it. Buy it or bomb it, they still can’t take it home, can they?

Generally, when people land bombs and missiles, the ones on the smashed grounds have to move on. I don’t think we need to see more refugees in the world. Where would they go? Where would we go?

Is there an alternative for that 270 billion dollars?

Train heading south between Sydney and Albury

Why, I’m glad you asked!

One of the most amazing experiences, as I travelled from the UK to the Antipodes overland and sea, was the pitiful train and bus trip from Sydney to Melbourne. It was broken.

If there was one single thing the current government could do, to stimulate the Australian economy right now in the face of an uncertain pandemic, to improve the Aussie way of life, to lower carbon emissions into the future, it would be to take that same iron ore, that same $270 billion dollars, currently ear-marked to cause harm and death, and update the pathetic rail system, both passenger and freight, around Australia.

That might begin to raise Australia to the level of China, Japan and India in terms of growth. Here’s an article listing the top ten fastest trains in the world. Australia isn’t on it. I have no doubt, Australia is among the weakest developing nation in terms of transport. This project would stimulate the economy in a way that arms dealing will most certainly not.

Another interesting thing I learned on my ocean voyage on the container ships was that those containers going back to Asia are mainly empty. Australia and NZ pop in a bit of dead lamb, some butter and wine to offer the supermarkets in Beijing. NZ has some trees stacked up on the wharves. Australia litters the sea with coal and bits of raw metal and sells some grains for Chinese breakfasts. The containers returning in the never ending game of shipping ping pong from China and Taiwan are stuffed with everything you can imagine ordering: phones, computers and washing machines, yachts, plastic buckets and PPE. And we do order them, don’t we? Can you imagine what Australia and NZ would do if the shipping routes to Asia were stopped by the USA?

What does Australia and NZ manufacture? What are they trading? Can anyone in Australasia even make surgical grade face masks? WHY NOT?

Surely both countries have a duty to develop manufacturing! Which are the developed countries?

Instead of trying to beat China at some military game they can never hope to win, and turning the country into a target in the process, Australia needs to get on with looking after their own citizens. It’s time for a treaty. It’s time to look after human beings in need. It’s time to stop sending high-carbon-emitting ships back to Asia near EMPTY. Indeed, it’s possible those shipping lanes will soon be defunct anyway as Australian ports aren’t big enough to handle new, cleaner container ships.

Dear Mr Morrison. Forget arms dealing. Concentrate on your own backyard. After a pandemic we need an Englightenment. We need new ideas. We need innovation.

“You always get innovation out of crisis and I hope that’s the spirit that will imbue New Zealanders. It’s not going to be the way it was – let’s stop even thinking it could be, it can’t so what’s the next set of ideas to take us forward?”

Helen Clarke, former NZ Prime Minister
https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/122329060/coronavirus-former-pm-helen-clark-talks-about-world-health-organisation-panel-economy-as-world-grapples-with-covid19

Where are the renewable energy designers? Where are the plans for fast trains to interlock the major cities? Embrace new ideas!

Look after all your citizens as well as the Chinese are looking after theirs. When you have no homelessness, no poverty and a strongly beating dignified Aboriginal heart, perhaps then you can play with your rattly, rusty, old-fashioned sabres. Or perhaps you might choose to value peace?

Be civilised, Australia.

In the human race, it was never the survival of the fittest. It’s survival of the nurtured.

“Those who are nurtured best, survive best.”

― Louis Cozolino, The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: Attachment And the Developing Social Brain

Peace.

¡Buen Camino! Finding plant-based food on the way, la comida vegana. ¡Buen Provecho!

Perfect picnic lunch - note the mini vinegar and oil sachets
Perfect picnic lunch – note the mini vinegar and oil sachets

Like most people in the world I’ve been in lockdown and one of my quarantine projects was to get my 2016 Camino del Norte/Primitivo notes into some kind of readable format. You can find the full pdf version of ‘There You Go’ on Scribd here. Find the chapter about things to take with you here.

Here’s the chapter about vegan food. What can you eat in the north of Spain if you prefer to eat plants? Lots. Buen provecho means bon appétit – or happy eating!

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¡Buen Camino! Things to take with you – Las Cosas

There I go, wearing cap, with raincoat ready
There I go, wearing cap, with raincoat on outside of Aarn backpack within easy reach

Like most people in the world I’ve been in lockdown and one of my quarantine projects was to get my 2016 Camino del Norte/Primitivo notes into some kind of readable format. You can find the full pdf version of ‘There You Go’ on Scribd here.

Here, for your interest and inspiration, I offer a chapter – THINGS! – Las Cosas! – you might like to take with you on your walk across Spain. In no particular order. Mere suggestions. Go your own way. Find the Plant-Based Food chapter separately.

Ask yourself: do I need it? Can I live without it? Can I buy it along the way? (Yes, you probably can). Please note: the longest time on the Camino del Norte/Primitivo without a shop is 22km. There will be a shop soon.

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Sustainable travel? How do we get that?

A socially isolated contrail
Socially isolated contrail

Change?

In the middle of the city, I passed a dishevelled man. He crouched by the wall of a big, inner-city shop, holding out his cap. He called out, ‘Change?’ He had no expression on his face. He did not look at anyone. His gaze was straight ahead. ‘Change?’ He did not sound hopeful.

Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/236614-lord-grant-me-the-strength-to-accept-the-things-i

It is the time of Covid-19. The virus spreads quickly. Different measures in different places attempt to contain it. Medical staff are under extreme pressure in every hospital.

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Brisbane to Melbourne – the slow way is the only way

Back in Australia! My father’s land. He was born in Kalangadoo, South Australia. By sheer chance, Roly Parks, a famous author, also hails from Kalangadoo. We’re not going there. We start in Brisbane, Queensland to continue my sustainable travel! Onward!

Painted on the wall of YHA Byron Bay
On the wall of YHA Byron Bay – Coronavirus learning curve just starting

I disembarked from container ship MV Ontario II on the 22 February 2020 at The Port of Brisbane and caught a train to the centre of town. Brisbane, the third biggest city in Australia, has good bus/rail/ferry links for city travellers. The local Translink system – together with nifty app – works well. You get a GO card and set your course. Thank you, dear friends, who looked after me during my stay in Brissie! (We all kept our distance.)

Brisbane is subject to flooding
Brisbane straddles the River Maiwar (Brisbane River). Sign taken in Ashgrove, a hilly suburb!

During this trip I was not interested in tourist sights – you will have to seek other blogs for things to do in Brisbane – rather, I was a commuter, focussed primarily on my journey south to Melbourne.

Brisbane to Melbourne as the crow flies
Brisbane to Melbourne as the crow flies – I’m not a crow

As you may know, I recently travelled overland across Europe and a corner of Asia with only a hiccup between China and Taiwan, mostly on fast trains.

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Sustainable travel in a menu

What I did on my holiday …

Extinction Rebellion poster

Welcome! I hope you enjoy exploring my 2019/20 blog about three months of planning while based in the UK, two months of overland and sea travel over the Channel, through the Netherlands, Germany and Poland, Russia, China and Taiwan to New Zealand. Plus, three months of travel around NZ, five days on water from Tauranga to Brisbane and three weeks overland from Queensland to Victoria. And, finally, I have some conclusions about how we travel and our appetite for change.

My experience of sustainable travel was not fast. It was not cheap. It was not convenient. But it was the trip of my lifetime!

Heading towards Queenstown

Some of you may have already seen some of my photos, experiences and reflections. Here’s a chance to catch up with all the missing pieces! Please comment along the way, share your own sustainable travel journeys and CHANGE!

Gondolas up and down outside the Skyline Centre

Overland from UK to NZ overview – planning and travel stages over five months – menu

Mongolian train logo

Transports of delight NZ – the North Island

Kiwi Rail waiting at Welly Station

Transports of delight NZ – the South, Stewart and Ulva Islands

Stewart Island ferry at Bluff Wharf

Container ship from NZ to Australia

The Ports of Auckland and CC Coral

Brisbane to Melbourne – the slow way is the only way

Train link bus to Casino

Conclusions – how to make travel sustainable? Change

Bon voyage!

More shipping news – NZ to Oz – Tauranga to Brisbane – Ontario II

Is this a rata or a pohutakawa on Mount Maunganui?
Anyone know if this is a rata or a pohutakawa on Mount Maunganui? Big, isn’t it?

All in all I spent three months in New Zealand, seeing friends, family and reinforcing memories. I found the experience, although unplanned, grounding. As a person in transition it was helpful to look back and see the schools and the university I attended, plus workplaces where I’d wielded rakes and scythes, mixed mercury into lead for fillings and shelved books into the evening. I was a passenger in buses, private cars and taxis, ferries and I drove my own 15 ton digger. Still digesting my Kiwi experience, it was time to head back to Australia to see my son in his native habitat. And, OF COURSE, I would not be flying!

Passenger number two beside my second container ship docked at Port Tauranga
Passenger number two beside my second container ship docked at Port Tauranga
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Transport of delights through Aotearoa New Zealand Part II The South

Find Part I The North Island here.

MULTI-PAGE long read!

Bluebridge Ferry parked in Picton
Bluebridge Ferry parked in Picton

SOUTH ISLAND of New Zealand

My “home” whirlwind tour continued south, zooming from Picton to Stewart Island. (Well. It took two months. Is that zooming?) I visited familiar landscapes, discovered new beauty spots and felt honoured to be among my hosts, beloved friends and family. Tena kotu! We were able to reminisce (with much tears and laughter) about those who have gone from this land and celebrate fresh youth, chubby babies, surrounded by hope and love.

I hope you enjoy reading through my journey, finding places that might interest you and become reassured it is more than possible to make your way around NZ by public transport. As you will see, it really is a relaxing way to travel.

And again, as I revisited places known as an adolescent, I considered the possibility of returning to this place to live. Where was my ‘home’? What was the attraction that might make it so again? What could the future hold?

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Transports of delight through Aotearoa, New Zealand, Part I The North Island

New Zealand fades into the horizon
New Zealand fades into the horizon

That was the view from MV Ontario II, my second container ship, as we farewelled the Northern tip of New Zealand in February 2020. It spelled the end of my journey to reconnect with ancestors and elders, friends and Aotearoa herself, the land of the long white cloud.

“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”

― Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon

goodreads.com/quotes/tag/home

I am a person in transition, from one status to another, and checking places where I grew up has been restorative. During the three months I travelled between Auckland to Stewart Island I not only revisited my past but also contemplated the future. As I watched landscapes roll past bus or train windows, I asked myself: Is NZ my home? Could I return here to live? Where? Is it possible for a soul have a connection to any one place?

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Stage Eleven – Shipping news! CC Coral from Taiwan to New Zealand – overland from UK 2 NZ

Up the gangway of CC Coral at Port Kaohsiung
Up the gangway of CC Coral at Port Kaohsiung – see any reevers?

LONG READ!

Please note this is a multi-page post recording a 14 day sea voyage. I was the only passenger on CC Coral, a container ship travelling between Taiwan and New Zealand, in November 2019. It was an alternative to flying. But was it any more sustainable?

If you’re new to my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, here is a menu to help you find your way: https://ourrelationshipwithnature.com/overview-overland-uk-2-nz-without-flying-eleven-stages-in-fifty-days/

For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

The Port of Kaohsiung as seen in the Immigration Office
The extensive Port of Kaohsiung seen in the Immigration Office late at night

Friday 8th November night into Saturday morningThe Port of Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

First night at sea. Mr Wang, my driver, had been a shipping agent for 25 years. He couldn’t understand why this giant of a company, CMA CGM, wanted to take passengers. Why? Other freight companies did not bother.

Well, Monsieur Wang, I was glad they did for they offered exactly what I wanted; a no-fuss way to travel without flying. I also felt comfortable that CMA CGM wore their environmental aspirations on their website. Mr Wang swooped the car around the grand driveway of the Excalibur hotel, lined with a small city’s worth of sparkly blue and white lights, and parked. We were there to pick up the new ship’s reever-electrician. (Whatever a reever is – it’s super important – I’ll find out later.)

Looking over the Port of Kaohsiung from the wing deck outside my cabin
Looking over the Port of Kaohsiung from the wing deck outside my cabin.
Wonder if there’s a reever in this picture? There, look …
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