Saturday, October 31, 2009

Institutionalised rascism

Well this one's a bit of a rant, coming from a conversation this week with one of my work colleagues. I work for an Aboriginal Medical Service, with most of the staff and the majority of clients being Aboriginal. Now everyone knows about the apalling health statistics, about the 17 year gap between life expectancy in Aboriginal people as compared to the non Aboriginal population. And much of this gap is due to huge shortcomings in housing, education, employment etc, what we call the basic determinants of good health. The transgenerational effects of the forceful removal of children continues to cause ongoing trauma within the community.

Working where I do I get to see not only the bad side, but also the upside. I know many Aboriginal people who have a good education, good jobs, own their own houses and still have strong cultural links within their community. The depth of support for those who have little by those who have successfully negotiated their way in mainstream society puts most white philanthropic organisations to shame. I'm proud to know these people and to call some of them friends.

Anyway, there I am having a conversation with one of our reception staff, a smart 21 year old lass who tells me she was the only Aboriginal student at the local state high school in her year 11 to do the tertiary entrance stream. In fact, whilst doing her year 11 exams she was asked why she was there!! Now I might have been asking why she was the only Aboriginal person there!!

It seems that at the local high school Aboriginal students are discouraged from mainstream subjects. They are pushed into vocational subjects rather than encouraged to aim higher. One of her younger sisters recently got into trouble at school because she refused to be segregated. When the teacher asked her to leave the class to join an English class for Aboriginal students, this quite obviously bright and capable student questioned the teacher as to the reason why she needed to leave. She asked the teacher directly whether there was any concern about her marks, whether she was failing in any way to keep up with the other students in the class. The teacher had to admit that there were no concerns at all, but that the policy of segregation needed to be adhered to. (Of course I doubt the word segregation was used, but this is exactly what it is, one class for the blacks and another for the rest). The girl refused and ended up in trouble with a note home to the parents. Luckily for this girl she has a father who is an adamant advocate of good education for his kids, so I can only hope that sanity will prevail and this kid can get on with her education.

Of course literacy amongst Aboriginal kids is a huge problem, and there may well be a need for special English programs for kids with special needs. But to target kids on the basis of their skin colour??? Well that's rascism, alive and kicking in Geraldton State High Schools in 2009. Shame on them!!!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Who turned the oven on?

OMG!! That first blast of summer is one hell of a shock. Why only on Monday a cold front came through and it got awfully cold and I even lit the fire. It only lasted a few hours and I was out windsurfing later in the arvo, but even so....

"Fan forced oven" hot winds arrived with a vengeance yesterday, burning the tomatoes and shrivelling the greens, a quick lesson in what I am in for this summer. Should I really persist with the shade tunnel idea, or submit to the inevitable? At any rate it's time to turn on the reticulation and start my gardening days at 6am if I'm to beat the heat. Of course the upside is more time swinging in the hammock on the verandah reading books! Not much else to do when the mercury tops 40!

The heat will only be with us for a couple of days, before we revert down to the low 30s and the sea breezes kick in. The onset of this weather pattern of highs followed by troughs, means the windsurfing season has well and truly arrived and it's time for some serious fun. Is that an oxymoron??

Now the beauty of my part time work arrangements become apparent, with only two days a week when I work till 4:30pm, the other afternoons I have off. Lots of time for windsurfing means I can still cycle in to work as well. Not sure how I'll go on the really hot days though....

well, must get back to my novel in the hammock......

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Purple moments

All that rain has produced a bumper crop of mulberries this year, huge succullent berries the size of a matchbox car, and more than enough for me, the bobtail lizards, the chooks, the kids next door and any insects and birds that want a feed. I am toying with the idea of getting George across the road to show me how to make mulberry wine but meanwhile I am just gorging myself daily. Last week me and the Bradley kids made mulberry tarts, with lots of honey, which then got demolished pretty quickly with huge lashings of vanilla icecream. But with the kids away for a week the tree is groaning and has taken on a rather pleasing weeping habit. A directive has gone out that on their return they must hightail it round here for a mulberry picking session, otherwise known as a purple feast!!

The broccoli has yielded, although towards the end I was consuming some protein along with the flowerettes, and has now been pulled up and fed to the always appreciative chooks. The enthusiasm with which the girls got into stripping those aphid infested leaves was so enjoyable to watch. I just wish I had more to give them...

I recently got another disused corrugated iron water tank and after cutting it down with a grinding disc I now have three more tubs for raised garden beds. This will make a total of eight raised beds altogether, probably about enough to grow enough food on a rotating basis to keep the organic production viable. Currently I am filling the bottoms with all the extra weedy growth that the winter rains have produced, and these will be solarised for a few months to kill any seeds before being covered with soil etc for planting next autumn. It'll mean some of my other beds can take a break or have a green manure crop sown to improve the soil. But meanwhile they are in full production, with three different varieties of tomato fruiting, lots of snow peas and asparagus to eat straight out of the garden, and a continuous supply of small silver beet leaves from the seedlings I only planted 2 weeks ago. I've also planted cucumber and eggplant, and my sole zucchini plant is still supplying lots of fruit without succumbing to mildew as it usually does. I must be doing something right afterall!

This year I've planted some strawberries, in an old wheelbarrow whose bottom is rusting out. I've resisted strawberries for years, mainly as they need a fair amount of water and I've never been home enough to keep up the requisite required. But now that I don't have a job that sees me gallivanting around the countryside every few weeks I can indulge in such luxuries. Can't wait for the first fruit..

The passionfruit vine which I'd been nursing back to health has finally been binned. I got sick of pulling out suckers from the root stock, particularly when they started coming up 2 metres away from the parent plant. Enough molly coddling; out it went, and a new one put in nearby. The new one is getting special treatment at present, including liberal soakings with seaweed tea to get those roots established, but that won't last forever. Because the summers are so hot and unforgiving here, it's important to get plants to establish deep roots through heavy infrequent watering. After the initial establishing period this means pulling back to twice a week for veges and fruit, and weekly for the natives. After a year, the natives are on their own, as by then they should have reached the water table (which is quite shallow here) and can fend for themselves. I have a eucalypt which hit the water table last summer, since then it's gone into overdrive, while it's nearby mates continue to struggle. Survival of the fittest is what it's about...

Twice a week watering won't be enough if I want to grow veges right through the summer months, something I will be doing this year for the first time. So I'm planning on erecting shade cloth and windbreaks to retard the drying effects of a forty knot easterly at 40 degrees celcius ambient temperature - a regular occurrence from November through to March/April - and give my plants a chance at survival. That's my job for the next few weeks, in between that mammoth bougainvillea job I was mentioning in an earlier post.....

Since I've been banging on about my garden, I thought I ought to start putting a few piccies up. The little point and shoot is perfect for this so I shall be happy snapping and posting them as I go. You'll find them here.

It has been a sobering week internationally, with the tsunami in Samoa and the earthquake in Padang. Having been in West Sumatra for a month last year, having met so many wonderful people, I feel personally sad for their loss. I also met a number of the staff working for Surfaid, a non profit organisation which has been working on health issues in the region for about a decade, and who are heavily involved in the current humanitarian effort post earthquake. I'd urge anyone who wants to make a donation to do so