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What do the Melbourne Cup and the recent declaration of the polls for the council elections have in common? At first glance, not much, except that they are both at the beginning of November. One is a horse race, the other
a popular vote. The Melbourne Cup, the race that stops the nation, has been going for 157 or 143 years, depending on your criteria. The first race was in 1861, making it 157 years old. But it wasn't until 1875 that the race was run on the first Tuesday of November, making the race as we know it 143 years old.
Council elections now usually occur every four years, unless circumstances conspire otherwise, such as the dissolution of a council or mid-term polls caused by the departure of a councillor.
The Melbourne Cup is an institution, so they say, but I have never attended, and probably never will, as I have no interest in gambling or horse races. I admire horses, but don’t admire the greed and compulsive behaviour associated with horse racing. But I did, for the first time, attend the declaration of the polls of the recent local government elections. I have been struck by the similarities between both of these events. Both are contests between a wide field of entrants; they both rely on an element of chance; both generate high levels of excitement. Both events, being highly competitive, generate a wide swing of emotions: from excitement or hysteria to expectation and anticipation. As there can only be one winner in the Melbourne Cup, the other competitors may experience anger or regret, recrimination and loss – an explosion of mixed emotions.
Large sums of money are wasted or lost; lives can be drastically improved or horribly ruined by an event which lasts for minutes.
Apparently, it’s ‘un-Australian’ not to bet on the Melbourne Cup. I don’t hold with that, nor will I ever be persuaded that I should sit around wearing a fascinator and drinking champagne at a ladies’ luncheon just to be seen as a loyal Australian. Not that either of these things (fascinators or champagne) are bad, but over the years we learn what we like to do and what we think should be avoided at all costs. Any form of decorative hat is a waste of space for this old girl, unless it is to keep the sun off the scone.
Many people use Melbourne Cup Day to raise funds for a good cause, meet with their friends and have a bit of fun. But losing big sums of money at a race track or gambling outlet is not my idea of enjoyment. Some owners and punters win well, some badly, just as in a political contest.
Council elections - how similar
The recent Huon Valley Council elections have been fun, enlightening, even entertaining, and the emotions and investment of time and energy have been spread over months. With a wide field of 27 candidates for nine council positions, the election also generated lots of emotion, especially as some of the hostilities which troubled the previous council have resurfaced, if not in those standing for election, certainly among some voters and/or supporters. Despite current commissioner Adriana Taylor’s good advice that the new councillors should be focused on Valley residents’ best interests, some bystanders and supporters are not treating the new council as a fresh entity. The recently elected councillors have the chance to wipe the slate clean and get on with council business, and not carry past angst with them.
Huon Valley councillors
The declaration of the polls for the new Huon Valley Council was an interesting and spirited event.
The overall feeling was of happiness, elation and anticipation, with a large dose of Huon Valley spirit thrown in. It was one of the more positive events I have attended at the Huonville Town Hall. The new council comprises: Bec Enders, mayor; Sally Doyle, deputy mayor; and councillors Mick Newell, Paul Gibson, Christine Campbell, Mike Wilson, Rob Prince, Juarne Bird and Mark O’May. All of the new councillors appeared happy and excited to be at the event, signing official documents and applying themselves to the roles they have committed to for a term of four years. Councillor Mike Wilson was not present. Members of the South East Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation performed a moving welcome to country ceremony. Cr Taylor spoke well, conveying her hopes for the new council and for the future of the residents of the Huon Valley.
For she’s a jolly good fellow
The declaration of polls for the new officers voted onto the Huon Valley Council was an important occasion. The event had a certain dignity, expectation and hope, mirrored by the new councillors. As well as a hello to the new councillors, this was goodbye to the woman who has overseen the process, Cr Taylor. With her intelligence, dignity, humanity and knowledge, Cr Taylor has become an admired member of the community. We wish her well, as we wish all of the new councillors success and good luck for their tenures as councillors of the Huon Valley.
The Classifieds edition of 1 November carried a moving story of ordinary people “sitting around a dinner table” talking about drought, and moving from that to a local fundraising action involving local businessess, clubs, schools, TAFE and individuals, which had raised the phenomenal sum of $16,000. This from a tiny population centre in a benign environment far removed from the harsh realities of an actual drought. If this achievement were replicated across Australia on
a pro-rata, per-capita basis, and if the money were put into drought remediation, we might only have to do it once in a lifetime.
Average annual global temperatures have risen by one degree since 1950, but despite daily evidence of the consequences, we still have no national policy to deal with climate change. Drought is inflicted by nature. But how we react to it and anticipate it, is in our hands. We seem to be caught by surprise everytime a major drought occurs. We shouldn’t be: on earth’s driest continent, drought is a built-in. And yet we continue to farm in marginal areas. We go on clearing natural drought-proof vegetation which holds the ground together. We keep creating bare soil which blows away, we overstock with hoofed animals, and we plough across dustbowls.
Two years ago, Australia was celebrating one of those years when everything on the farm went right, and the gross value of Australian farm production increased by 8.3% to a record $63.8 billion across the board. The gross value of crop production was forecast to increase by 20% and producers of beef, veal, lamb and even lobsters had a bumper year. Across the Australian counter, prices remained high, consistent with what overseas buyers were prepared to pay. It’s not clear how much of the increased rural income went into preparation for drought, which is always just around the corner, but it is very clear that a number of farmers have been caught napping this year, and appeals for help and responses to them have risen accordingly.
Private individuals and corporations have come to the party alongside the federal and state governments’ hundreds of millions of dollars in farmer support. But not everyone is in favour of this unstinting generosity. Starving animals and bare-bones rural families make good copy, but the simplistic notion of the farmer as a victim overstates the number of farmers suffering real hardship, and understates the truth that many prepare for and manage drought without assistance.
The dilemma is simple: should we support farmers in distress, or discriminate between the careful and the profligate? Interviews with farmers standing in front of million-dollar harvesters arouse conflicting reactions, especially when there is an aeroplane in the shed behind the machine.
What do we think of when we hear the word ‘farmer’? Is it the doughty, independent individual, striding behind two horses coupled to a moldboard plough, his wife squatting on a stool hand-milking a Jersey house cow? Or is it the rural executive in a sharp Akubra hat negotiating a million-dollar loan for a new machine? Both may be affected by the drought.
The ABC’s Australian Story shows us individuals drought-proofing small rural properties by hand simply by slowing down water flow with ‘weeping weirs’ in eroded waterways. But ABC’s Backroads also takes us to tiny rural towns with towering wheat silos and boarded-up shop windows.
And what of climate change?
The evidence points to more frequent and more extreme droughts, but floods too may also be a consequence. The new science of attribution is allowing us to be more specific, legally speaking, about the link between climatic cause and effect, and is making company directors nervous. It will only take one successful large class action based on an entity’s failure to act on climate change for there to be a stampede to the parliamentary
500 words... Jasmine Smith-Browne holds forth on matters close to her heart
The greatest human trait is trust.
It is something we all do, each and every day. Without trust, the world would be intolerant, antisocial, paranoid and scared.
We trust simply by sharing space with others. We walk through shopping centres, share footpaths, enter lifts, and sit elbow to elbow in cafes. A psychopath might walk among these strangers and yet we mingle because we often feel safer than when we’re alone in public places.
Mutual trust exists between drivers (to a point). Each of us is driving a potentially deadly weapon, and yet we rely on the ability of others to behave safely. Sure, a licence gives us the right to share a road but our trust in other drivers is quite surprising, especially when so many do not use blinkers or disobey road rules. We are forever having to drive for the other road user and guess their next move.
We board an aircraft and hope we have a pleasant trip without turbulence or noisy passengers, and rely on a pilot and co pilot to take us across the world. Our lives are virtually in their hands and yet we trust them implicitly. It is only their experience which keeps us safe.
How many of us have jumped into a taxi with no thought as to who is chauffeuring us? We trust them because of an ID card on the dashboard, and we focus only on our destination.
Our children attend school every day and spend countless hours with teachers. We do not know those teachers personally. We rely on the government to train and select them, so in our mind they are fit to look after our children when we can’t. Child abuse has been much in the news recently, but still we allow our children to attend an institution run by virtual strangers.
We frequently trust others to prepare our food. We could consume germs through incompetent food handling, and yet dining is one of our wicked pleasures. We all trust the chefs are using safe ingredients and clean preparation areas, but TV exposes reveal that many eateries are a health hazard.
Hospitals can be a one-way street. Enter at your own risk. We place our lives in the hands of a surgeon. Anaesthesia gives many of us pause: will we ever wake again? Our trust in medical procedures is unbelievable. We hope the outcome is a better shot at life and certainly not a deterioration. I am allergic to heavy painkillers so I may have an adverse reaction following an operation, but
I go through the ordeal in the hope the medical team know what they are doing. Let’s face it, if I die in surgery I will never know.
We are invited to trust our governments. People are elected to keep us safe. They make policies which are supposedly in our citizens’ interests, and yet how many complain daily about their poor decisions and maltreatment of voters.
We trust because we are human and built with compassion, gratitude and love. We trust others because otherwise we would face anarchy and rebellion. When our trust is tested we become intolerant or abusive, and feel double-crossed. Our psyches are naturally wired to avert chaos. We mostly trust other countries not to start wars with us and reason with them for our peaceful existence. We all strive for a happy life and amicable cohabitation on this earth: our trust of others is our most precious skill.
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