Listing to Starboard

20140627_082143As we prepared to embark on a three-month trip to Western Australia via NSW, Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory, we were drowning in lists. My better half is a Capricorn, which as you know, is the star sign which likes to organise other people. There are six packing lists – one each for our clothes and personal things, one for the caravan, one for the car, a list of medications and the all-important technology list. The latter is my department and what a tangled shoebox full of crap it is: chargers, USB sticks, keyboards, mice, earphones, Internet dongles and all of the usefully useless ephemera of daily life in 2014.
But don’t diss the list. I have been keeping a to-do list notebook for at least 20 years. As a former editor of a specialised section of a daily newspaper, I’d have to say that without a list or two, nothing would have got done. The habit persists today, my personal to-do list notebook (as distinct from ancillary lists provided by She Who Reads Newspapers), can contain up to 20 items per day, but rarely more. The real challenge, as we advance into our 60s, is remembering where we left the bloody list. I try in vain to persuade SWRN to take up the notebook habit as opposed to scribbling things down on the backs of envelopes, scraps of paper, flyers advertising something else and the latest version, a magnetised notebook stuck to the fridge. It would not be the first time (as I cross “washing” off my list), to find a wet soggy paper mess in the pocket of her gardening duds. (Don’t you check the pockets first? Ed.)
I still do a modicum of consulting work from the home office, so I start the day with an A4 notebook page divided into six sections: consulting, music/social, SMSF/pension, domestic, private and bills etc. Sound familiar? We busy folk who work from home need to have a system as there is no chief of staff or office manager to chide us about things that slipped our minds.
It was this system of establishing order into the life of a semi-retired person that made me realise there were too-few things in the “private” list. Much of my time was given over to domestic chores, doing the tedious but essential paperwork needed to run your own super fund and keeping enough cash coming in to balance the household budget. So it was that I took a big breath, arranged to take a lump sum from my one remaining external super fund and started recording an album of songs I had written over the past year or two.
A recording project, mind you, is far more about lists than it is about the creative process; then again, who says making a list is not a creative action? Ironically, the first song we recorded, “Another Year with You”, explores the list-making mania of those who have seen the movie “The Bucket List” and set out to do all of the things they always wanted to do, or things they think other people would admire them for doing.
The so-called bucket list is supposedly all of the things one must do before kicking the bucket. (Squeamish people ought not to look this up.)
In this context, the bucket list is a summary of one’s grand life ambitions: a corporate box at the State of Origin; Niagara Falls and a night in the honeymoon suite with the heart-shaped bed; jumping off the Kawarau Bridge with a rubber band attached to your ankles; tandem skydiving; trekking in the Himalayas, or pilgrimages to the Grand Canyon, the Pyramids, Uluru and the Kimberley.
Italian author Umberto Eco has a thing or two to say about lists: “The list is the origin of culture,” says Umberto. “It’s part of the history of art and literature.”
He believes that people make lists because they want to escape thoughts about dying. Death is finite, whereas a list is infinite.
Lists run contemporary life: the guest list, the short list, the who is being retrenched list, the VIP list, the shit list, the friends of the band list and the ever-present shopping list. As someone once said (perhaps it was me?) “people without lists are listless”. Former opera singer Jamie Frater, creator of the website Listverse, developed a thriving business by providing a one-stop-shop for all manner of trivia lists. He employs copy editors and moderators to sift through list submissions (Listverse will pay $100 for a list). Lists currently being written about at Listverse (link) include “10 lucrative ideas sold for almost nothing”, “10 historical figures with hidden talents” and “10 cool facts about The Hulk”. The website explains how Frater, a former software developer who became entranced with opera, gave in to “an insatiable desire to share fascinating, obscure, and bizarre facts”. He now makes do with singing in the shower.
Those of you who go abroad or on the road for months know all about multiple lists. As I write this we have been condensing our lists into one master list. Unhappily, I had somehow let “check caravan water tank for leaks” drop off the list. So by the time we were ready to pull out of the driveway on Wednesday, a tell-tale damp patch on the bitumen told the story. So we stayed an extra night with a friend in Warwick while the helpful people at a local trailer repairs shop sealed the 60-litre tank. This proved to be a useful delay as we had time to tick the last items off our master list, including making an on-line application to perform at the National Folk Festival in 2015 (describe your act in no more than 300 characters (including spaces).
The trouble with making lists is that we slip into the left side of the brain where logic and order overpower impulse and romantic notions. I realised with a pang there was one thing missing off the list, best described by reference to the Simpsons episode where Homer thinks he has eaten a poison blowfish and has 24 hours to live.
Homer’s list of the 13 things he needs to do to get his house in order range from “Make a list” to “Be intamit (sic) with Marge.”
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Singing for peace and harmony

Tapestry June 2014
Tapestry, Maleny

We were 200-strong and asked to sing Salaam (Peace will come upon us), written in both Hebrew and Arabic. Singers from 10 community choirs had been taking part in the annual Sunshine Coast Choral Festival, this year held at the Kawana Community Centre. All choirs had been sent the dots for the two songs we were to sing together, and everyone was assumed to have done much work on the finale, Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. Conductor Kim Kirkman (right), who also directed three choirs, said after our second run-through at morning rehearsal: “Some of you need the music! So either watch me, or read the music.”
The day began with a combined choir rehearsal, bending to the will of directors, some wanting us to “feel the music” (as in a song about Nelson Mandela and the aforementioned Salaam), while Kim Kirkman wanted precision, pitch and breath support for the high (and low) notes in the Hallelujah Chorus.
Doors opened at 1.30, the punters streamed in and pretty soon all 500 seats were taken. Each choir was introduced by celebrity MC Louise Kennedy, a much-experienced opera singer who briefly terrified judges in Australia’s Got Talent with her comedic take on the dark art of opera. The show got off to a terrific start with the Oriana junior choir, golden-voiced children of various ages who showed why the Oriana adult choir has become such a good group. As an audience stacked with singers, we yelled and hooted and applauded as loudly as possible for every group.
Just before interval, it was time for Louise Kennedy’s unique take on opera, turning the Queen of the Night Vengeance aria from Mozart’s Magic Flute into an hysterical, slapstick story about a menopausal chook. You had to be there.
The second half went by in a blur – our choir, Tapestry, was on last, so stage nerves were building. We had to quietly thread our way out of the auditorium while the choir before us was walking on stage. Then we gathered back stage for a pantomime warm-up, remembering all of our cues, what to do and not to do when the song is over. All the things we’ve been rehearsing every Tuesday for months. In the end it was all over in a heartbeat. We sang three short pieces – Mozart’s Ave Verum, Till There was You from The Music Man and that old ear worm of a tune, Java Jive. The audience clamoured, as they’d been doing all day. Our director made sure we all bowed at the right time and off we went, with just enough time to shed our gold brocade scarves, catch a breath then head back on stage for the massed choir performance.
That too went by in a blur, but I do remember the bliss on the face of Yvonne Coratorphin, who led Mosh Ben Ari’s song Salaam, as we all shared in that mysterious connection, perhaps thinking about the resurgent troubles in Iraq as the song reached its crescendo – Salaam (live performance by New World Rhythm).
Singing for joyful good health
While I’ve been appreciating music since Santa put a harmonica in my stocking when I was eight years old, I was well into my 50s before I joined a community choir. In the intervening years I eventually got over chronic stage fright and started performing, first in a jug band, then a bush band, then a band which played my own songs, then as a duo with my partner and as a solo singer/songwriter.
I thank Brian Martin for helping to transform the shy boy, who had to be quiet after school because father the baker was sleeping, into someone who is able to sing out loud. Brian Martin runs The Joy of Singing at Camp Creative, held in Bellingen in January (Brian and Imogen Wolf also run a winter camp there in July).
Brian’s approach is that everyone can sing and everyone should. After attending this class a few times, I have witnessed a few miraculous things. Many people seriously feel as if they want to sing, they should sing, but something has held them back, usually a bad experience at school, their aspirations crushed by unthinking, unfeeling idiots, sometimes known as mates or parents. Brian somehow manages to coax even the most fear-paralysed person, to voluntarily stand in the centre of the room surrounded by 39 other people who are all feeling the love. It is indeed a joy to hear this person finally sing out, alone, jumping over the fear barrier and joining the world of those who can’t get enough of the endorphins released by the joy of singing.
If only more blokes would join mixed choirs. A survey of 200 choirs by Communities Australia found that only 30% of mixed choir members are males. Tenors are hard to come by and many choir directors assign women to the tenor part. I’ve always been a tenor, but as a self-taught guitarist and singer-songwriter I’d have to say that stage nerves and a lack of practice and technique did not always produce a pretty sound. Now, after seven years of singing with a choir, I understand so much more about breathing, body awareness, communicating with an audience and blending my voice with others.
The teacher at our primary school who doubled as music mistress had a none-too subtle method of hand-picking a choir. Everyone in the class would stand in rows and start singing. She would then walk along the front of each row with her head inclined, listening, listening. People would be plucked from the group and made them go outside and run around the oval until the lesson was over. As I recall, there were many so plucked, their dreams of being another Elvis nipped in the bud. I was never thus plucked, although I did try singing tunelessly, in a bid to join my mates running around the oval. Teacher would whack me behind the knee with a long ruler and say, “Sing properly! I know you can.”
A natural musical ear is a gift, I know that now. You get it from your parents, grandparents, or some distant relative who used to be an opera singer or played the trombone in a jazz band. One ought not to waste such a gift. If you have such an ear, and a good sense of pitch and rhythm, you can be an asset to a community choir.
You will make new friends, learn a lot about music and about yourself. I prescribe singing as a way of improving your quality of life and mental health: take daily with a glass of water.
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Hold the front page

Knowing how newspapers work on the inside, and sometimes wishing that I didn’t, it is a fair bet that all newspapers had two versions of Page One ready to run after the second State of Origin. It’s a hell of a tight deadline, with commercial television stringing it out so they can catch the morning audiences in the UK and stack the broadcast with as many ads as possible. The game didn’t start until 8.15, so it would have been tight going for rugby league writers to file their finished match reports.
Mind you, they are all seasoned pros who file rugby league reports under these sorts of conditions every week from February to September. They write to a formula so it isn’t high art, but they can come up with a pithy summary like this one, in Thursday’s Sunshine Coast Daily: “High shots, late hits, forearms and facials figured in almost every tackle as each side tried to gain a physical edge,” wrote Wayne Heming. Nice, although I can imagine my Canadian friends puzzling over “facials”. I can imagine Media Watch having a jolly time panning The Courier Mail’s consecutive front page splashes this week – on Wednesday (a maroon wrap around with just one word “Believe.”) On Thursday, Page One morphed into a breezy tribute to the Sunshine State, saying that the Blues (that’s New South Wales if you come from somewhere else), might have won their first State of Origin series in nine years, but Queenslanders are winners because we have better weather, better food and better lifestyle (than where?). Who knows what they would have done had something truly newsworthy occurred overnight, prompting a late Page One makeover. (Military junta takes control in New Zealand – Abbot repeals Howard’s gun laws).
The Courier-Mail’s first State of Origin game day edition was printed arse-about, with sport on the front page and news on the back. I was curious, as I don’t think I’d ever seen it done, so I turned to what would have been page three and there was the infamous picture of Kate Middleton, accidently showing a fair bit of leg, along with a non-story about the photographer having a pang of conscience and (almost) not selling the paparazzi shot of the year.
Crikey, what tosh, as my mate Lyn says. For another dollar fifty, we could have a coffee in the UpFront Club and read The Range News for nothing. At least then I can find out why Council is digging holes in my street and whether our hinterland bus service will last another year. Now that’s worth Page One around here.

Mining the Keating Reserves

We discovered a bottomless pit of Australian political history while mining data for this week’s Friday on My Mind. I searched “Paul Keating opens McArthur River Mine” because I could not remember the year it happened. What I found was a Federal Government archive of all speeches made by Australian prime ministers. I asked my trusty ideologue and research assistant Little Brother to plough this fallow field. He remarked: “Mate, that’ll be like pushing a barrow load of bricks along the Canning Stock Route.”
Paul Keating flew in the RAAF VIP jet to a tiny private airstrip at McArthur River, one of the early fly-in fly-out operations, to officiate at the mine opening in September 1995. He was welcomed by the then owners, Mt Isa Mines and a Japanese consortium (Nippon, Mitsui and Marubeni). Keating was asked to open the McArthur River zinc mine because the Commonwealth had made it possible, buying Bauhinia Downs cattle station and giving it to the Gurdanji people as part of a compensation package that included mining jobs.
The Feds also spent $6 million diverting the road around the Borroloola Aboriginal Community “to make this a much more pleasant project for them”. Zinc concentrate from McArthur River is transported by road to the company’s Bing Bong loading facility where it is loaded onto barges and transported to ships in the Gulf of Carpentaria. When I attended the opening, scribbling away in my notebook, promises were made about ensuring the trucks making the 100 km road trip would have their loads of zinc/lead concentrate covered and fully secured.
These days McArthur River mine is owned by international mining giant Glencore which like all such companies focuses on maximising volume and keeping production costs down.
Paul Keating’s 1995 speech made much of Australia’s then still powerful commercial relationship with Japan and made comparisons between the egalitarianism which existed in both countries. (Comments in parenthesis are by Little Brother)
“I would say to our colleagues in Japan, I hope they understand that when they deal with an Australian business, and I’m sure they do, that it is real and it will be here in five years or 10 years or 15 years (right so far, Paul) and that when you do business with Australia, you don’t wake up in the morning, some morning, to find a general in charge of the country, that it is the solid democracy, that our word matters (semi-colon) that you can litigate your interests here in our courts and like you (comma) we are a democracy and also like you we don’t have a two-tiered society. We used to have the remnants of our failed upper class, they have disappeared (oh yeah?), thankfully, into obscurity.”
Little Brother sighs: “That bloke could talk under wet cement.”
No doubt the articulate, quick-thinking Keating would have ad libbed his way through the prepared text. I do recall he did not tarry long at McArthur River, jetting off to another in a series of ribbon snippings to promote One Nation, (not to be confused with the right wing political party launched by Pauline Hanson in 1997). Keating’s One Nation was a programme of infrastructure works carried out from 1991 to 1996, including the single gauge rail from Brisbane to Perth via Melbourne and the Brisbane Airport international terminal.
I’d like to thank Paul for unwittingly providing me with fodder for Deadly Diary, all these years later, and for unwittingly participating in my song Paul Who, which satirises the (male) cult of personality. You have to say he was one of our more colourful PMs. Political life in Australia must indeed be dreary when brief TV interviews with Keating, Malcolm Fraser and even John Howard seem vital and perspicacious by comparison with the present lot.