The Trouble with Two year Olds

Bob at 2

OMG! Our son just turned the age I was when he made his way into the world. What happened to those years, I wonder? This seems like the perfect time to introduce a very occasional flashback to my first newspaper column which appeared in the Toowoomba Chronicle every Friday for three years in the 1980s. I have dusted this one off a few times over the past decade or so as friends and relatives started having their own children. My niece sent it around to her mothers’ group and I have seen a faded copy tacked to a noticeboard in the kitchen of a house where four children were raised. (That’s me left, down in the garden, aged about two).

Parenthood has its joys and despairs, doesn’t it? My rule of thumb these days that if your kids have a loving nature, answer your phone calls and texts at least once a month and try not to write off the family’s second car, that’s all one can expect. We had one child and it still does my head in when I meet people who have had four or five kids or have twins, or foster-kids.

We were late starters when it came to having a baby, but got lots of free stuff and helpful advice from friends who had been there and done that. She Who Sometimes Calls Herself Irate Mother of One had a rich friend who donated a wardrobe full of Pru Acton maternity frocks. My endearing memory of this time was Laurel (IMOO), eight months’ gone and wearing a flowing green velvet number, singing “Careless Love.”

One of my new songs ponders the merits of people pursuing some elusive happiness by crossing things off their “Bucket List.”
Since this is something of a legacy project, I add some sage advice for the man who is now the man I was, 33 years ago.

“I watched our son come into the world, he was wearing my father’s face,
They say children change your life to a slower, gentler pace
Christmas carols in the park, you were one or maybe two,
You fell asleep on my shoulder, you won’t remember but I do
Every day you wake up, say hello to the morning star,
Take time to look in the mirror and be content with who you are”.

April 6, 1984
The Trouble with Two Year Olds
Next time you’re cleaning spaghetti off the wall or sticking the contrast button back on your TV, just tell yourself that two-year-olds are very creative. I’ve been looking for a good book that tells you how to cope with a 30-month old child without having a nervous breakdown or throwing said child out with the bath water. Such literature is rare indeed.There are any numbers of wise coffee table books which deal with the wonders of colic or breastfeeding and baby’s first steps.
But they all seem to bail out when baby gets to the stage where he can open the refrigerator and demand “bottle.” Not caring if bottle contains milk, beer or contact lens solution.

Parents who have passed the sometimes-magic-sometimes-madness time of steering a two-year-old through this frustrating learning period can be infuriatingly smug.
“He’s just two,” they’ll tell you as Horace holds his breath till he turns the azure blue of a jumpsuit. Breath-holding provokes more anxiety, but is easier on the ears than screaming.

As Phyllis Diller once said, “We spend the first twelve months of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next twelve telling them to sit down and shut up.”

Indeed. The 12 to 15 month period when baby turns into a little person can sorely try a parent. But I wonder how many adults could acquire the same skills and weather the myriad ailments which are the lot of the two-year-old?

Measles, mumps, ear infections, cuts and bruises and teething pangs, for instance. Learning to walk, talk, run, play with other children, and distinguish between hot and cold…shall I go on?

You should never feel foolish about peering under your car every time you back out of the driveway, either. The two-year-old has no concept of danger.

Compare the world of the two-year-old with the frustration of learning French, German, shorthand, golf or a musical instrument. They say it takes astronauts a long time to learn how to brush their teeth and perform simple ablutions in space, yet we expect two-year-olds, who find the earth just as alien a place, to get it right first time.

We parents can become so blinded by the extent to which our two-year-olds commit our time that we miss out sharing in their rich fantasy world. At least adults can discuss their frustration with someone else. The super-frustrated can even talk to psychologists or psychiatrists. But the two-year-old can only scream, hold his breath, throw things, sulk, refuse to sleep (refuse to wake up) or gabble at you in that strange tongue which only the wise and patient try to understand.
Take a simple visual illusion like the moon.

“Moon, Daddy!’’ (Points skywards with sharp intake of breath).
Several nights later: “Moon gone, Daddy.”
Yes, but gone where? Do we start discussing the elements of astronomy and meteorology and the influence of tides?
“Yes, moon gone,” I reply, impotently.

I’m hardly an expert, though the trouble is by the time you become expert, the kid is in Grade 6 and pestering you for pocket money.
So how do adults cope with scenes like the ones so familiar to houses where two-year-olds live? There’s Horace sitting on the floor with a blissful grin and he’s pulled all the tissues out of the box, all 360 of them.
“Blow nose?”

Then there’s the endless games where once is never enough. The energetic two-year-old can wring the life out of the rosies or piggy-back ride till you feel like you’re carting a 60kg boar around the room. Then he’ll sink his teeth into your shoulder, cackling hysterically like me watching the A Team.

But they’re charming and delightful, two-year-olds, and 12 months is nothing when you’re caretaking a 15kg human dynamo.
You could be a fading 50, weeping softly on son’s wedding day before you figure out that the time when he was two was all yours for the enjoyment.
The real shame about the magic world of the two-year-old is our lack of acceptance of their fantasy world. They need their fantasies to fill the gaps between learning, knowing, communicating and trying to figure out those complex ogres who alternately smile, hug, or yell and brandish weapons of discipline.
We were all two, once.

Reproduced with permission © Toowoomba Newspapers 1984

Making contact

About half way through our three-month trip around Australia, She Who No Longer Reads Newspapers asked if she could contribute a guest column on our return. So here it is:

Laurel Wilson

By Laurel Wilson

On our 14 week road trip to WA and back this year, I shared a cup of tea with three ladies in Alice Springs; had a chat with a local in a pub at Fitzroy Crossing; got some directions to a campsite from a young man at Karajini National Park; learnt something of the history of the Gascoyne region of WA and bought a souvenir from a young woman there; and in Ceduna chatted to the painter of a picture of whales which caught my eye. “Well that sounds pretty unremarkable,” I hear you say. And so it should be, but in each of these conversations, I talked to one of the ‘real locals’:

Three Aboriginal women of indeterminate age are sitting on the footpath near where we’ve parked the caravan in a back street of Alice Springs. One asks me if I’d like to buy one of the paintings they are working on. “No, sorry, not buying today,” I reply. But it set me to thinking about how to approach these women. It was morning tea time, so what to do next seemed obvious. I asked them if they’d like a cup of tea – quite easy to provide, as the caravan, with its efficient gas stove, was right there. They didn’t have cups with them (or indeed any sort of container, apart from their painting equipment, so I did wonder how they would get a drink of water if they needed one). I managed to find four cups, though I kept the one with the Australian flag to myself, thinking it was a bit insensitive to offer it. Oops. Forgot the sugar at first. Bikkies were appreciated though.

I asked if I could sit down with them and received a nod of assent. Conversation ensued? No, not really. There are over 200 Aboriginal languages extant in Australia. These ladies spoke one of them. I didn’t. “Are you from around here?” I asked, after telling them where I lived. “Yes”. “What area?” I said. “Bush,” was the reply. Which may have been the extent of their English, or could well have been an admonition not to be so nosy.

“Hi – my name’s Davey. Where are you folks from?” asked the youngish Aboriginal man as we sat by ourselves in a historic pub at Fitzroy Crossing. He was drinking a glass of water. I was having a light beer, as that’s all there was on offer that day. I told him where we lived and offered practically the only word in language that I know. “Nara,” I said, then asked him what the greeting word was in his area. “That’s a hard one,” he replied. “There are people from so many language groups here that there’s not just one word.”

Karajini National Park

Onwards to the beautiful Karajini National Park – not far East of the spectacularly ugly Tom Price.
Me: I get kind of confused about directions over here – can you show me which way the campsite is?
Him: Where are you from?
Me: Queensland
Him: Well, does the sun rise in the East and set in the West over there?
Me: Um, yes.
Him: Well, what’s the problem, then?

Tom Price Mine

It’s not often that someone can take the piss in such a gentle but effective way.
This conversation was with a young Indigenous man who sold me the T-shirt which says: ‘Go with a clear open and accepting spirit and the country will not treat you badly’.

Carnarvon’s Gascoyne Aboriginal Heritage and Cultural Centre was built when local land title claimants agreed to substitute the Centre for their claim on waterfront land. Despite the dubious generosity of this bargain, the Centre is most impressive. It includes an art and craft gallery, conference rooms and a café, as well as a permanent interpretive exhibition which outlines the Aboriginal history of the area, before and after the coming of Europeans.

“Come here, sit down, listen and learn,” said the elderly Aboriginal man – projected on a screen, but it did seem as if he was talking directly to his listener. Burlganyja Wanggaya – Old People Talking. All of the elders spoke in a matter of fact way about their experiences within their family groups as well as their interactions with non-Aboriginal people. But it would be a hard heart indeed that didn’t feel a wrench at the tale of the married Aboriginal stockman whose daughter was taken away and who was denied access to her, despite numerous attempts. The young girl was told her parents didn’t want her. Only when her niece tracked her down many years later, did the young girl, by now an elderly woman with her parents long gone, become re-united with what remained of her family.

In Ceduna SA we dropped into an Art and Craft gallery run by local Indigenous people. A painting of whales caught my eye, as we had recently seen them swimming close to shore at the ‘Head of Bight’. Luckily for me, the painter of that work was at the attached studio that day. I met her and had a brief chat as she proudly showed me some of her other work in the exhibition.

According to the recent SBS TV show ‘First Contact’, 6 out of 10 Australians have had ‘very little or nothing’ to do with Indigenous people – or at least with people they recognise as Indigenous. The show took six young Australians, who had never met an Indigenous person, on a journey to various parts of Australia, where they met Indigenous people. Four of the participants had very negative attitudes, considering Aboriginal people were ‘dirty’, ‘alcoholics’, ‘welfare cheats’ and/or obtained benefits unavailable to non-Aboriginal Australians. The shock jocks would be proud of how well their propaganda has spread. By the end of the three part programme, one of the people with negative attitudes had left the show. The other three were gracious enough to acknowledge that their original prejudices were unjustified.
So, how would you go in the same situation? You’re unlikely to have Ray Martin come knocking on your door offering a month’s tour of Australia, so as an alternative, how about going out of your way to meet and talk to an Indigenous person?

Feel like helping to redress the balance?
Check out and ‘like’ local non-profit organisation Mimburi Upper Mary Aboriginal Association’ on Facebook.
Read about the remarkable Aboriginal women elders (and those who assist them) who live in the remote WA desert – Kapululangu Women’s Law and Culture Centre


Simple as ABC

ABC low res
ABC South Bank

We’re hearing a lot about the national broadcaster at the moment because management has been handed an open razor by the current government and told to slash $254 million from its $1.22 billion operating budget within five years – a massive 20%+ cut. The ABC has already started making changes that will cut $207 million from its bottom line (in 2015). As you’d expect, jobs will go in ABC newsrooms, programmes will be cut or centralised in Sydney and some of our international radio services will go. Hopefully they will axe Upper Middle Bogan and It’s a Date while they’re reviewing what is valuable and what is not.

Toowong ABC site

Managing director Mark Scott says 400 jobs will go and the property portfolio is to be reviewed. This will overjoy developers, who have long slavered over the central locations of many ABC-owned buildings. In Brisbane the ABC sold its riverside site at Toowong (left) and moved to a new campus at South Bank (above).

Concerto, East Perth

In Perth, listed developer Finbar and its Singaporean joint venture partner have already pre-sold 43% of the 226 apartments planned for Concerto, a 38-level apartment building at 189 Adelaide Terrace, East Perth, the 1.28ha former site of the ABC, bought by Finbar’s partner in 2008 for $37.58 million.

If only Mark Scott had called me earlier! The answer is so simple – re-introduce the concept of an annual public radio/TV licence.  People used to pay an annual licence fee back in the 1920s and continued to do so until the introduction of colour TV in the early 1970s.
An annual fee of $35 per Australian household would raise $273 million a year. That’s it, job done. The licence would allow households to listen to ABC and SBS radio and all of its variations and watch ABC TV, SBS and NITV, as well as catch up on Iview and SBS on Demand.

The problem with a public radio licence is that roughly half the people in this country will scream blue bloody murder about being asked to cross-subsidise those dangerous lefties at the ABC. If you read stories online about the budget cuts, keep on scrolling down and read the comments. It’s a hilarious debate between left and right wing ideologues. I know the ABC monitors comments and approves or disapproves, but surely they must realise what a loaded bunch of nonsense this is, as the lobby groups on both sides of the debate give it their best shot.

You can learn a lot about a large organisation by reviewing its annual report. Scoff if you like, but that’s how Warren Buffett made billions, by assiduously poring over company reports and then getting to know the companies better through site visits until he decided to buy.  The ABC’s annual report contains what all such reports should – a high degree of disclosure. On page 115 we find a summary of contacts received from the public in 2013-2014, totalling 52,287 emails, letters, faxes, texts and phone calls.
There were 26,484 complaints, although most of them were about programme standards and scheduling. Sure, people complained about bias. There were 2,812 contacts alleging party political bias, 2,038 contacts alleging bias other than party political, 1,439 contacts complaining about factual accuracy and 810 claiming a lack of balance.
In short, only 9.3% of the contacts were about bias or party political bias.
So if you strip out allegations of leftie bias, what’s the motivation for the funding reduction? Not much really – just a government intent on cutting funding to many areas that the previous government deemed important. (Alas, the previous one burned so many bridges we fear they will never find a way to cross back over the River of Discontent.)
It is politically dangerous work, tampering with the ABC. People in the bush and the outback rely on it utterly for news, weather, and information about the wider Australia and, if there is a crisis (a flood, a ‘super cell’ a la Brisbane last night, a bushfire, a pending tsunami) the ABC is their only lifeline.
The ABC’s critics often complain about “middle management bloat” (which happens to any large organisation). But an examination of the wages bill shows ABC staffers don’t get paid as much as those who drive trucks or trains for multinational mining companies.
Wages and salaries at the ABC rose 6% to $368.1 million in 2013-14, for an average salary of $67,615 (compared to the Aussie ‘average’ full-time wage of $75,556). I know that’s not how it works in the real world, but it gives you a bit of a picture. More than half the ABC’s 5,444-strong workforce (57.9%) earns less than $85,000 a year. Another 1,050 earn between $85,000 and $100,000. There are 161 men and 98 women who earn more than $145,000. Just how much more than $145,000 is not stated (page 109). However, according to a ‘leaked report’ passed on by the Australian newspaper in November last year, Lateline host Tony Jones topped the list at $355,000, while half a dozen other presenters earned between $250,000 and $300,000. But what a responsibility: reporting to the Australian public and the Commonwealth Government as shareholder.
Comparisons are odious, but David Koch from Channel 7’s fluffy ‘Sunrise’ programme is said to be on $1million.

But as I was saying about radio licences
Some of the older readers out there will remember the days of radio licences. The original concept was a radio which was tuned to one station and then sealed. The customer paid for a licence and that fee was handed over to the station his radio received. That restrictive system thankfully didn’t last too long and in 1924 licences were based on A class (public radio) or B class (commercial radio).
Class A stations received grants from the Commonwealth via radio licence fees and Class B stations were allowed to sell advertising.
That system lasted until 1972 when the reformist Whitlam government abolished radio and TV licence fees, decreeing that the ABC be funded directly by the public purse.
In the UK, the BBC still charges households £145 a year for a combined radio/TV licence. The BBC is being pilloried in the UK press, with its annual budget blowing out to £3.4 billion, partly because of the 2010 decision by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to freeze the television licence fee until 2016. The BBC, clearly the global benchmark for quality TV and radio, was forced to trim its budget by 20%, as it also had to take on the cost of running the BBC World Service.
Mark Scott has no doubt been looking at how they did this (redeploying or sacking staff, sharing programmes between stations and channels, sharing radio news bulletins, more repeats and a reduction in original programming).
I would happily pay $266 (£145) a year for the priceless freedom of choice the ABC and SBS/NITV has been providing. Who else is going to broadcast the likes of John Pilger’s Utopia, or Babakiueria, that satire on the history of Australia’s settlement, or the ribald adventures of Rake’s Cleaver Green?

A super end to the week

Japanese abacus
A Davy Coogan

In early 2007 our since-retired accountant sat back in his chair and asked the crucial question about starting a self-managed superannuation fund: “Can you tell me why you want to do this?” Then he explained in detail just how onerous it is to run your own super fund. He explained how you need to keep records for 10 years, how big a burden it is in terms of compliance, and, crucially, even when you get an accountant to do the books, the buck stops with you. We decided to go ahead and roll over our superannuation balances from large funds because, if you’ll recall, in 2007 the world markets were imploding and some large listed companies were facing annihilation. We had not been happy with the returns from our managed super funds for some time. She Who Has Not Been An Acronym For A While had slipped her money into cash in 2006 (smart, eh) but the paltry returns (less than 2%) were prompting us to manage our own affairs.

A Big Mistake
I say that from the viewpoint of someone who just wants to lead a quiet life. Our SMSF has brought us a positive return in every year bar one and, despite our expensive travel habits, the balance has not atrophied as much as we had thought. But on a personal front, keeping the books and making sure one does not breach the terms of the all-seeing Trust Deed has been a burden for one of the world’s many anxious people.
I have a theory about anxiety – it troubles conscientious, honest people far more than it bothers the people who hide their money in Luxembourg and pay sanguine lawyers and accountants to keep the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) at bay.

Speaking of the ATO, did you know that among the many functions of our under-resourced tax collection agency is supervising self-managed superannuation funds?
The ATO charged us a supervisory levy of $388 this year. I spend about 11 hours a month updating our internal accounts, filing paperwork and reconciling bank accounts. Any simple errors made along the way can double the amount of time spent. If there was any justice in the world, the ATO should be paying me $388 for supervising my own fund.
Actually, given the ATO’s workload and clearly inadequate staffing levels, it’s a wonder they get around to me. Did you know the ATO has 17.18 million “clients” including 12.3 million individual taxpayers, 2.7 million small businesses, 750,000 trusts and 534,000 SMSFs? All of this work was carried out in 2013-2014 by 23,631 people (before the ATO was required to cut staff numbers by 3,000). They are an efficient lot, though – the ATO’s annual report says the cost of collecting $100 is 69c.

Come back, it’s quite simple really
For those of you who run screaming from the room whenever anyone mentions superannuation, I can understand your anguish. I was a business journalist throughout the era when successive governments pretty much ballsed it up. In 1980-something I set up my first super scheme, before Paul Keating introduced the Superannuation Guarantee Levy (1992), without which many of us would get to 65 with no super whatsoever.
The way super rules were in the early 1980s, I could make after-tax contributions and claim them on my personal tax return. This was before salary sacrifice became a thing. Stay with me here – it’s not that hard to understand.
Historical data from the Commonwealth Treasury tell us that prior to the 1980s, no tax was paid on contributions to superannuation funds. Super fund earnings were tax exempt and tax was only imposed on 5% of lump sum benefits. Pensions or annuities were taxed at the recipient’s marginal rates. Sounds like a fair and simple system.

Tax havens and other sharp practices
Ah, but then the Greed is Good era began and all sorts of chicanery was invented to minimise tax. So in1983, the government moved to thwart the concessional treatment of lump sum superannuation and termination payments.
They introduced a complex system for eligible termination payments (ETPs). The full value of ETPs was included as income, with the post 1983 component taxed at a maximum rate of 30%. For those aged 55 and over, the rate was reduced to 15% up to a threshold.
This system was tweaked in 1988 so the government of the day could bring forward tax revenue. This involved reducing tax on the post 1983 component of ETPs and imposing a 15% tax on super fund contributions and earnings.
Reforms to superannuation in 2007 aimed to make superannuation easier to understand (hah!), and improve incentives to work and save. Superannuation benefits paid from a taxed fund to people aged 60 and over became tax free (hoorah!) The treatment of ETPs was also changed to differentiate between payments received from employers and those received from superannuation funds.

Tax-free Super (Yippee)
These rule changes are said to be behind the exponential growth of DIY Super, which 10 years ago represented less than 10% of all funds.
The ATO reported in June 2014 there were 534,000 SMSFs in Australia with total assets of $557 billion. About 28% of these funds have $1 million or more in assets, but the median fund balance is $518,000.
The ATO is collecting $207 million a year in supervisory levies. It seems iniquitous that they charge $388 whether your account balance is $2.95 million or $295,000. Scope for a sliding scale, perhaps?
I mentioned salary sacrifice before. For a two-income family, this can be a painless way of saving for your old age, which will come along soon enough. In the last eight years of my full-time working life, I was taking home a small wage and shovelling the rest of my pre-tax income into my super fund.
Along the way, there were sterling years when industry-based super funds earned 25%+ and charged very little for managing our money, so as a strategy it paid off. I still have an industry super fund which, now that I am a certain age, is just another bank account from which I can withdraw lump sums whenever needed (as long as it lasts).

Silas Palmer

Sennheisser headphones maybe?
“Whenever needed” can include expensive, age-related items like hearing aids, crowns, ride-on mowers and mobility scooters (which may or may not be deductible).
Or indulgences like producing an independent songwriter album, augmented by some amazing musicians including Silas Palmer and hopefully ready for sale and download in early 2015.
In coming weeks I will be writing about crowd funding, the creative urges of older Australians, the struggle of independent sound engineers, the death of the CD, the not-quite successful birth of the paid music download, the endemic practice of downloading and copying anything that is not tied down, occasionally mentioning a finely crafted recording of truly excellent songs.
Since you have all been so patient working your way through the perils of superannuation, I’ll leave you with the (free) version of Loudon Wainwright III’s protest song “Something for Nothing.”
Ain’t irony great!