Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book Reviews / May 2015

At the beginning of the 20th century, Australia had just become a nation and was in the midst of an economic recession. The two major cities were crowded and unemployment, poverty and disease were rife. 
The government of the day was trying to get people out of the cities and onto the land in an effort to jump start an agricultural led recovery. They were offering very generous incentives for the move.
There was only one thing wrong however.
All the good land had already been taken up by the rich squattoracy during the preceding colonial years so the land now being offered was marginal at best.

Based on historical research of real events, The Bubbles of the Platypus describes the experiences of an Australian rural family who left Sydney to take up some of this marginal land  in the Bellingen area of the New South Wales north coast between the years 1912 and 1960. In particular it documents the trials and tribulations of the family's matriarch, Helen Rosina Bros (Nell).
She and her family become committed dairy farmers who confront isolation, flood, drought, cattle-disease, tensions with the aboriginal community and a host of other challenges thrown up by the tough environment of the Australian bush as well as the disruption of two World Wars.
The book is well written and brings all the characters and era they lived in back to life.
I recommend this book not only for those interested in a more contemporary history of our country but also to those who also enjoy a good adventure story.
Barrie Cassidy is a political journalist and Australian ABC-TV political programme host. He has written a number of books.  
Private Bill: In Love and War is the story of his father who joined the Australian army to fight in World War II. He saw his first action on Crete in May 1941, during the only large-scale parachute invasion in wartime history. Just four days later, Bill was wounded and eventually captured and survived more than four years as a prisoner of war. Twice he tried to escape his internment with dire consequences.
But it is also a story of a family, one of whom had a dark deep secret.

This is a deeply personal story of family life told by a son. It documents a little known theater of war for most Australians, the Battles of Greece and Crete. It vividly describes the trauma of POW life and the bonds of friendship that developed under this hardship.
It also is a story of those left behind at home not knowing their loved one's fate and the subsequent struggles of daily life
This book is not as dour as it sounds. In fact it is quite uplifting and written in a typically lay back Australian way. 
Really worth reading.
I first came across Elizabeth Warren on Jon Stewart's 'Daily Show'. She was a guest brought on the explain the ins and out of the Global Financial Crises. It was obvious then she knew 'stuff' and was able to explain what was happening and why in terms the layman could easily understand.
Subsequent appearances confirmed that opinion.
In A Fighting Chance, Elizabeth documents her life from its humble middle class beginnings in Oklahoma, where she learnt what it meant for a family to be continually financially stressed, to being elected a member of the USA senate.
In between there were two marriages, a law degree, two children, a professorship of law at Havard, chief advisor to National Bankruptcy Review Commission, chair the Congressional Oversight Panel which was created to monitor the $700 billion bank bailout effort known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), co designer of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation and special assistant to President Obama.

'Early in her law career she began exploring the economic pressures facing the American middle class, looking specifically at a 1978 law passed by Congress that made it easier for companies and individuals to declare bankruptcy. Warren decided to investigate the reasons why Americans were ending up in bankruptcy court, and discovered that most of the financial victims were from middle-class families who had lost jobs, experienced financial hardship from a divorce or suffered illnesses that decimated their savings. From then on, Warren would focus her research on bankruptcy and commercial law—specifically on how it affected financially distressed companies, women, the elderly and the working poor' (
She has said "America's middle class is getting hammered and Washington is rigged to work for the big guy."
The big end of town has already sat up and taken notice. She appears to be someone not to be messed with.
And her fight for social equity against considerable odds continues. Her current stoush with Obama over the fast tracking of the Pacific Rim Trade Agreement is one to watch and would make an interesting addendum.
A book by a person of great intellect, courage and determination.
David Mitchell is a well known UK writer, actor and comedian whose work is largely limited to television. He is known in Australia through his appearances in many panel shows eg. 'Would I Lie to You' and 'QI'.
On TV he comes across as a little posh, a bit of a snob and maybe a tad old fashioned and introverted.
In reality he comes from a middle class background, did fairly well at school but relatively poorly at Cambridge University where he spent more time at the institution's Footlights Theatre (launching pad for  Peter Cook, the Monty Python gang, Hugh Laurie, Clive James and John Oliver to name a few) than studying.
His public image is that of a kind of tweedy loner, a study in British middle-class repression and reticence.
But being self-deprecating, emotionally inarticulate, self-conscious and buttoned up has been the cornerstone of his comic persona. 

In this autobiography Back Story - A Memoir, David tells all from his growing up through University to his struggles breaking into the entertainment industry in the most comic way. And he does this while taking us for a walk (it helps his bad back) through his neighbourhood streets of London. Then there are the insights into his personal life and relationships with admissions about his very sporadic and disastrous love life.
For those who have come to 'know' him from his work, you can hear him speaking to you from the page.
A very entertaining book that makes you laugh out loud at times. Recommended unreservedly.
In 2010 Julia Gillard become our first female Prime Minister. Some say she got there by default not through the electoral process. Kevin Rudd, the elected Labor Prime Minister (elected is a broad definition in terms of the Australian electoral system) was ousted by his parliamentary party mid way through his government's 3 year tenure and Julia took over. As a result she was much maligned especially by the right wing press, media and politicians and their supporters. Even though she was reelected by the people, albeit forming a minority government with the support of independents, the attacks continued not only about her politics but also her personal appearance and her lifestyle. Being a single atheist childless woman living in a de facto relationship was also grist for the mill. She was subjected to what many believe was the misogyny of the conservative 'old boys' club. One cannot seriously argue against this being the case numerous times.
And all the time Kevin Rudd, bent on revenge, was working in the background to white ant her.
Stupidly the party fell for his line, cast Julia aside and brought him back to the top job for another attempt at getting it right.
The electorate reacted in 2013 by ousting the now obviously dysfunctional Labor Party from government in a landslide and installing the conservative Liberal National Party which, as it is turning out, may be the most incompetent government Australia has endured headed by undoubtedly its worst ever Prime Minister.

But Julia is one tough lady brought up by a working class family who emigrated to South Australia from Wales.
In My Story she describes her life growing up in Adelaide and her career from cutting her political teeth at University with the Students Union, practising industrial law, being a state politician's chief of staff and then a federal parliamentarian to eventually ending up with the top Australian political job.
She discusses all the background of her rise and fall and all the spite and back stabbing that went with it.
Despite governing with a minority, she got a huge amount of legislation through. She goes into much detail about her economic, health, education, immigration, climate change and foreign affairs polices not afraid to to admit the mistakes and errors in judgement made.
Obviously how all this is appreciated would depend greatly on the reader's political leanings.
But I found it all extremely interesting and, despite the policy discussions being a little tedious, I think it's a good book for the Australian political junkie and maybe for others who want to know how the democratic process in Australia works.
Kevin Rudd snarkily remarked that the book could be found in the fiction section of most libraries.
Par for the course.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

World Wine Consumption

I came across an article the other day in one of our major newspapers which quoted statistics about our alcohol consumption.
It appears Australians are drinking less alcohol now than at any time in the past 50 years.
50 years ago, beer accounted for three quarters of all alcohol consumed, but now makes up 41%.
Wine's share has increased from 12% to 38% over the same period.
The nation drinks more white than red wine with 270 million L of white compared with 190 million L of red in 2013-14.

I hadn't thought about world wine consumption figures since my days in college studying wine marketing, so decided to do a little updated research.
Here is the Top 10.





















Australia comes in 13th with 23.3L/capita.
USA consumption is 11.9L/capita.
Other interesting statistics:
Spain has largest vineyard area with around 1.032 million ha.
France is top wine producer with 5076 ML
Italy is largest wine exporter with 2088 ML
USA is biggest wine importer in $ terms.
China is largest grape producer with over 9 million tonnes.
But the vast majority of that is table grapes.
Of course stats, as always, can throw up some anomalies which are discounted.
The actual largest wine consumer is the Vatican City with 74L/capita.
Hard to believe that is all altar wine.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Autumn 2015

After two months of Autumn the season has decided to announce itself with the exotic trees bordering our road finally turning colour.
Only a very small number of Australian native plants, around six, are deciduous or semi deciduous so the forests and bushland are always green.
The co-driver and I love Autumn with its warm sunny days and cool nights and the humidity of summer gone. We both agree it's the best time of the year.

But this year has been different. March was normal but in April everything went awry.
Two low pressure systems formed off the east coast of Australia a week apart and we were subjected to torrential rain and category 1 cyclone (hurricane) winds. Many areas suffered bad flooding and, unfortunately, lives were lost. Long term communication and power outages were common.
In our area April saw around 230mm rain fall over 19 days which is nearly three times the previous record.
We have had May's total average rainfall in the first three days!
However the picture above was taken on the 4th May and the week's forecast is for similar weather.
So the worst is maybe behind us.