Manufacturing in Australia

Over the last decade, I’ve worked in an industry that designed and actually made things – real products picked up and held by people, which can make their lives more comfortable.

And during the same time, much of the manufacture of those products, like so much else in this country, was shifted offshore.

The hard brutal truth in the move offshore was that by the time shipping costs and various taxes are taken into account, the offshoring of manufacture pretty much broke even. There is an exception: very high volume products which are highly labour intensive to manufacture will actually bring a one-time cost reduction when made in a country with lower labour costs.

But small to medium volume products don’t really give an actual improvement. Small to Medium means, in this context, volumes up to about 50,000 pieces / year. Below about 5000 pieces / year offshore makers generally won’t even be interested, and even at that low quantity the manufacture is usually done as a favour, as part of a deal where something in much more significant quantity is being made.

Although the offshore labour can be significant cheaper than making in Australia, the labour component of many modern electronic products is around 10% of the total cost of product manufacture. Result: if factory labour costs 1/2 as much in a foreign country, the resulting reduction in cost is about 5%.

In spite of membership of the World Trade Organisation, and the various mealy-mouthed platitudes uttered by pointy-headed economists, many of the foreign countries where products are now manufactured impose various charges – especially on foreign companies. Paying a bonus of 1 months pay is pretty normal. As is paying a county tax, a goods movement tax, a workers health care levy, the list goes on and on. These don’t figure in the headline labour rates (why ruin a good story?), and each is usually quite small – perhaps only 1% or so. But they add up and quickly reduce the benefit of the lower labour rate.

This all begs the question: How come stuff make in China / Vietnam / Malaysia / Cambodia / Thailand is so much cheaper?

The answer, as is often the case, is more complex than just “cheap labour” or the photos you occasionally see of Chinese factory sweat-shops.

In fact, modern foreign factories are frequently modern, with vast amounts of money and new technology thrown at them. Modern process flow-lines require a certain amount of investment – in planning, process worker training, infrastructure. None of this comes cheap.

Modern toolmaking in foreign countries uses the latest equipment for sintering, model-making, spark erosion, and so on. Again, none of this comes cheap.

Modern manufacturing relies on volumes, where economies of scale mean that profit margins can be cut and profit relies on high turnover. Economies of scale in turn mean that suppliers can be pressured to reduce prices or cut margins – again relying on high turnover.

The net effect of all these factors together means that offshore manufacture comes with a number of advantages:

- A lower labour rate reduces cost a little (and this is offset by taxes, charges, etc) making in many cases the labour component cost-neutral;

- Better productivity per worker can be achieved by eliminating batch-process style manufacture, and reducing work-in-progress (and thus having less capital tied up in partly made goods);

- But elimination of batch-process style manufacture requires significant investment in production facilities, equipment, training;

- Higher production rates achieve better pricing from suppliers;

- Investment in tools and technology allows faster production of tooling, at a lower cost (and where using the technology over and over means the investment can be paid off).

When many older Australian factories, set up through the 1950’s to 1980’s, are compared to a modern foreign factory, the difference is stark. The foreign factories are better designed, better lit, better planned, better resourced, and have more capital investment.

Where this really points is to a failure of Australian management, and Australian unions. Collectively they have signed the death-warrant for Australian manufacture. Their culpability comes down to simple factors:

- Excessive focus on short-term profits ($ today, ripped out, can’t be re-invested)

- Inability or unwillingness to try and get better prices from suppliers (Australia in global supply chains is seen as a bit of a back water, is frequently poorly serviced, and nobody wants to move on price);

- An unwillingness to spend on rejigging factories to use newer equipment (management don’t want to think or work hard, or try and justify a few million dollars of new investment);

- Unions who want to dig their heels in about work practices (seems they’d rather have their members out of a job than changing how they work);

- A frequent focus by management on “the bottom line” – that is, on costs. A better focus on the top line (sales, and growing them) is more work, but makes better profits that can be relied upon over longer periods.

THIS is why manufacture is going offshore: Mostly, its a failure of management.

Gillarrd lossage theory

This blog is pretty much in archive mode these days, but what the heck, time to come back for another serve at politicians.

So today’s topic is: why is Labor under Gillard going to get absolutely belted at the September election?

Answer: Because a large percentage of the population can’t stand Julia Gillard.

It’s also fair to say they don’t like (and often can’t stand) Tony Abbott either, it comes down to a choice of picking the least worst, and right now that’s Tony.

Why is it people can’t stand Julia? Dunno. I for one can’t bear the school-marm voice that spouts meaningless platitudes, in a manner designed to make me feel like I’m 7 years old, staring at my feet, being told off for some minor infraction.

I honestly thought that after Simon Creans falling-on-sword moment, that Gillard would be gone within a fortnight; something that turned out not to be.

But Labor have been staring for ages at this mystical light at the end of the tunnel, knowing full well that it is the lamp of the front of the oncoming train, and they’re about to get smashed. They’ve known for months, at least a year. The bull and spin about the most important poll being election day is just so much bluster. They thought some magical rabbit could be pulled from a hat that would fix their troubles: have Tony make some fatal mistake, and they’d squeak back.

This was never to be – simply because the public stopped listening a year or more ago – except when some daft new piece of legislation was to be enacted in which case a big stink has stopped it, not once but 3 or 4 times in the last year. That’s not the sign of a government that knows what it is doing, or a bunch of pollies with confidence. Out of touch: yes. Arrogant: yes. Foolish: yes. Trusted: No!

But why, why, why has Julia not been tipped out by now?

She’s never going to go herself, the glory of being the first female PM with a huge ego means that she thinks she owes one to the girls, and besides, there’s not really any clear replacement anyhow.

But my theory is that the clincher is overlooked: The Julia screaming lecture in Parliament to Tony Abbott about misogyny. Whilst this has been used by the dictionary compilers to redefine the meaning of the word (!), I believe this speech served 2 purposes:

(1) it was meant to try and switch as much as possible of the female from the Liberals – stirring up a bit more hatred for Abott; just another version of an excrement-throwing exercise (hope some sticks); but also (and far more subtly):

(2) it scared the crap out of any leadership pretenders on her own side; anybody now making a move against Gillard will by her own definition be a misogynist. In the politically correct world of Labor and quotas for female MPs, this will be used internally and in the media to cast a death-wish on any male.

So now we have the spectacle of Labor sitting like a rabbit in the headlights, unable to move out of the way, just moments from being splattered over the road.

When Tony Abbott has led his party to a landslide victory we will need, more than ever, a strong opposition. Ditching Julia now won’t let Labor win, but it might lead to Tony’s victory being a little less decisive.

F!@#$%g Bankers

So… Now it’s LIBOR.

Back in 2008 / 2009 when the financial systems of the Western World started falling apart, we had much wailing from the WBankers claiming that the world NEEDED clever, innovative, bankers who could come up with clever financial “products”.

This is the same group who were paying themselves huge bonuses so they could use it to splurge on Bolly and throwing up around the City of London. (or New York, or wherever). Self interest? Nah.

Now… it turns out that the worlds biggest banks have been manipulating interest rates.

Time for a good look at the WBankers and send as many as possible to goal (jail… in modern speak).

Watch this:

Today’s spelling lesson: LOSE v LOOSE

Today’s  spelling lesson is brought to you by the letter grump and the colour grizzle.

Our word today is LOSE, pronounced LOOZ.


The two, kiddies, are not interchangeable.

LOSE is what happens when you had something, and can’t find it any more.

Likewise, a LOSER is a a person with an “L” on their forehead, who has had some misfortune or done some foolish thing.

LOOSE, on the other hand, refers to a rattly thing not attached properly.

LOOSE can also refer to the kind of women your mother warned you about.

There is no such thing, or person, as a LOOSER.

But if the handle on your  bedroom door was a bit rattly, and was bumped by a LOOSE WOMAN, it might become LOOSER when it got more rattly and threatened to fall off.

Please learn the difference. Thanks.


The list of companies affected by the Carbon (Dioxide) Tax has finally been released.

Remember, this is the list of the “worst polluters” who must pay for their evil sins, and such like.

Apart from the usual suspects of electricity generation, cement works, and brick makers, there sure are some surprises on the list:

  • Blacktown Waste Services
  • Brisbane City Council
  • Central Gippsland Water
  • Downer EDI
  • Fonterra Australia
  • Gladstone Council
  • Incitec Pivot
  • Kilcoy Pastoral
  • Kimberley Clark
  • La Trobe University
  • Maranoa Council
  • Melbourne Water
  • Murray Goulbourn Co-Op
  • SA Water
  • Simplot
  • Snowy Hydro (WTF?)
  • Tatura Milk
  • Teys Australia Meat
  • Toyota

I bet most readers won’t have a clue what most of those companies even do. So here they are, arranged by industry:

Garbage Disposal

  • Blacktown Waste Services

(just one of many, I gave up finding the others)

Water Supply

  • Central Gippsland Water
  • Melbourne Water
  • SA Water

Hydro-electricity Generation

  • Snowy Hydro

City Council

  • Brisbane City Council
  • Gladstone Council
  • Maranoa Council

(There are other councils as well)

Food and fruit processing, Rural / Agribusiness

  • Fonterra Australia
  • Kilcoy Pastoral
  • Murray Goulbourn Co-Op
  • Simplot
  • Tatura Milk
  • Teys Australia Meat

Manufacturing, Heavy Engineering & Electrical

  • Downer EDI
  • Kimberley Clark
  • Toyota


  • Incitec Pivot


  • La Trobe University

The rhetoric and the reality are not lined up any more. There will be consequences for imposing the tax:

  • Water and sewer rates will rise (water authorities can’t pay a new tax without passing the added cost on).
  • Some council rates will raise (councils are likewise not a charity and have to get their operating costs from somewhere – namely ratepayers).
  • Fertiliser prices will rise. The farmers will be grateful.
  • Food prices will rise. Not just because of the increase in the prices of transport fuels, but because of cost increases in their processing.
  • Some manufacturing industries will close – I have left all the steel makers out of my lists, there has been a whole lot of newspaper bleating and announcement there already.

Just picking on the food processors list:

Fonterra Australia – Milk and Diary processor – one of the largest milk and dairy processors in the world and Australia, dominating Victoria, NSW and Tasmania. Brands in Australia are Mainland (cheeses), and many local milk brands, including Bonlac, Western Star, Perfect Italiano, Allowrie, Diploma.

Kilcoy Pastoral – Queensland boxed beef processor and exporter.

Murray Goulbourn Co-Op – Milk and diary processor – with brands including Devondale, Liddels, Cobram.

Simplot – one of the largest fruit and vegetable processors, with brands including Edgell, Birds Eye, John West, Leggos, Seakist, Top Cut, Chiko, I&J, Ally, Harvest.

Tatura Milk – another milk and diary processor, exporting most of its output as ingredients such as cream cheese, frozen cream, milk powder and infant formula.

Teys Australia Meat – a major Australian meat processor. A great deal of the beef purchased in Australia is processed by Teys.

Prediction: Food prices will have to rise, milk producers will get squeezed or screwed (again).

Some businesses, for example Simplot, have been known to have poor profitability for years but private ownership keeps the actual facts quiet. I’d expect some operations to be closed down with the usual further loss of rural employment.  After all, why process tomatoes in Australia? We’ve been able to buy Italian canned tomatoes for lower prices than the local product for many years, and now the price difference will just get a whole lot more pronounced.

“Worst polluters” seems wildly overblown when considering what some of these companies do. As to why city councils should be paying the tax… beats me.

Fixed tha Fitba!

Over dinner, I came up with a way to fix those English football scores. You know the stuff:

Today’s football results. Manchester United defeated Leeds 1 nil. Arsenal drew Aston Villa nill all.

Of course, included in this is all soccer, rugby in it’s various forms… all those boring games.

A few changes to make the game have a faster pace and a higher score should make it far more interesting.

We can start with that round ball. Far too predictable. It needs to go. An oval shaped ball would bounce in all kinds of strange directions – so change to one of those.

Next we need to get rid of all that bum sniffing. It’s just gross.

Then, allow the ball to carried as well as kicked, and require it to be kicked to score a goal. High is good, so like American football, some really tall goal posts are called for.

Because accuracy can be a problem, whilst the goal is a fine idea, you need some kind of encouragement for getting close. So allow the region either side to earn some reward, just not as much as a goal. Let’s call this a “point”. A goal should be worth quite a bit more – say 6 or 7 points.

Using the head is dangerous, there are enough lessons in that from boxers who have had their brains shaked a few too many times, so bouncing balls off heads is out on OH&S grounds. We will instead allow a hand-pass of the ball from player to player. To make the game faster, this can only be done while a player is running.

That should make things far more interesting. Perhaps we can call it “World Series Football”.

Oh… whats that? It’s been done? It’s called Australian Rules?! Damn!

Weekends in wonderland

Perhaps the title is a little exaggerated. Wonderland, in liddle ole Adeldaide?

Not really… but even this big country town can turn out a decent performance now and again.

We’ve just had a typical February hot weekend. Saturday saw a high of only 39.7 degrees C – a touch over 103 degrees F.

In spite of this I made bread. Or more specifically, Jamie Olivers stuffed brunch bread. Or more specifically: our variation on this. The loaf is made as a ring and is filled with bacon, boiled eggs, baby mozzarella cheese, roast capsicum, sun-dried tomato, and loads of basil pesto. The making worked very badly – probably too much water in the dough – so it was thin and stuck to everything. This led to what can be best described as “leakage”. Getting it transferred to an oven tray required 2 sets of hands and a great deal of luck; ably assisted by a liberal dose of swearing.

After all the blood and tears of making the damn bread, it ended up looking like a giant ring of cow pat.

Oldest son meanwhile had been out all day playing cricket. When he made it home he was “hot”. No kidding. There was time for a quick drink, a shower, grab the aforementioned CowPatBread(tm), a stop to collect The Girl Friend (TGF) of Oldest Son, and we set off into the city for the 14th Santos Symphony Under The Stars.

Finding a spot on the lawns at Elder Park was far easier than in some past years – the heat had driven a few people away. Nevertheless, a jolly good size crowd had turned out, so as the sun was setting we were treated to some of the better sights of Adelaide and the Torrens Lake at sunset.

Large and exceedingly well behaved crowds:

A full orchestra getting prepared in over 35 degree heat:

Paddle boats and black swans as the sun was setting:

The sun giving its version of a starburst from behind the clouds:

Just over the other side of the river – the South Australian Redbacks were playing Tasmania at cricket. I quite liked the lights at Adelaide Oval reflected in some of the glass of the Festival Centre:

Having been to this event a couple of times before – admittedly quite a while ago – I never cease to be amazed at the “picnic” dinner that some people bring. Perhaps it’s an Adelaide thing – but there were a huge number of bottles of wine being consumed. Sensibly. A Lot of sparkling wine. A lot of red. There were people making up sophisticated salads on the spot, mixing dressings, dishes on rugs full of all manner of enticing goodies. In my stickybeaking I don’t think I saw a single sandwich, though I’m sure they made their appearance in some small forgotten corner. Unlike some years, there were no small portable BBQ’s – probably too hot.

By 8:00 pm the sun had just set, and the show began. The compare announced to the relief (?) of all that the temperature had just dropped to a much more manageable 35 degrees. Hooray!

The next two hours were a collection of music, old and new, punctuated by occasional bursts of cheering from the Oval just the other side of the river as the Redbacks clawed their way closer and closer to their eventual victory.

The evening finished with the traditional 1812 overture, with the part of the cannon played by fireworks. Timing, it seems, had to be coordinated carefully due to an overhead aircraft flight path!

In normal settings – certainly in a concert hall, the part of the cannon needs to be substituted for something a little less destructive. If the only thing you know about this piece of music is that it is about war – then just listening tells the story. We get distress, attack, retreat, victory bells and of course the chase and cannon shots. Perhaps an outdoor setting with fireworks is a little frivolous, but actually as a celebration of the defence of Moscow against the invading army of Napolean, I think old Tchaikovsky would have approved. Some decent bangs and some visual sparkle just adds to the occasion.

During all this, the orchestra ploughed on, in their specially made sound shell, under lights. If we were hot out in the park they must have been sweltering. The conductor had a jacket on the whole time, god only knows how. Hero’s, the lot of them.

As for bad drunken behaviour: None. The cricketers finished up about the same time and some were a little the worse for wear. For the free community music event though, it was all terribly civilised.

And CowPatBread? Actually it tasted pretty good.

Oh yes, and the Redbacks won.


To cap off the weekend, we finally made the McLaren Vale wine region trip that we’ve been too busy to manage for the last three or four years.

Lunch at Woodstock Coterie included one of the best green salads ever ever ever. Amazing how using good produce makes such a difference: good tomato, good olives, a very good fetta cheese and a decent dressing makes simple ingredients into something sublime. Everything else was good too – apart from getting a little lost finding our way there.

Along the way we managed to stock up on some excellent red and fortified wines from Kay Brothers. And finally, some decent McLaren Vale olives: good Kalamata olives properly cured in brine instead of chemical muck. What more could one ask for? In hindsight we didn’t buy enough. Oh dear… that means we’ll have to take a trip back soon. What a shame!

Bathrooms. Sigh.

Once upon a time, Wally had a nice bathroom.

In fact, Wally had a couple of bathrooms: like most modern houses, Wally has a BATHROOM, and an EN-SUITE. And, as Mr Hogan says, it is (was) “Kinda sweet”.

Anyhow, Wally also hates cleaning bathrooms so when the small wallies (aka, The Chaps, aka, the Walrii) grew out of having a bath, it became the family habit for all the Walrii to just use the en-suite, on the grounds that this makes for only one shower that needs to be cleaned.

Over the years this has worked reasonably well, except for increasingly older Walrii using the Mum and Dad Walrus’s bathroom… which sort of irritates everyone – as the young ones get older and as the old ones approach their dotage.

A little problem popped up though: the en-suite shower was getting fairly grotty. Various attempts at cleaninghad various successes and various failures. The biggest trouble though was GROUT.

Yep, the shower grout was gradually disappearing… getting more and more eaten away, and more and more grotty. Keeping the ever growing mould away was getting more and more difficult.

So… says Wally… easy peasy I go fixey. Clean it up and bit and shove some new grout in over the top. This has worked a couple of times before; never a complete solution, it seems to buy another 6-12 months before the new addition disappears as well.

This time around, the problems were far, far worse – the grout just washed out in the first oncoming shower. Time for a proper fix. A grout cutting tool seemed to help: Well, it sure made a big mess. But it looks like the secret for grout is you need a decent thickness – cutting back 1/2 or 1 mm really does not make for a good result.

The normal bathroom reno questions apply: rip it all out and start again? Or do a minimal makeover? The tiles, fortunately, are not the 1970’s floral or burnt orange disasters. While not modern and current, they are ok – after all, 1991 was not really that far away. The passage of time and the cheapness of original tradies have taken their toll, but it’s not an unrecoverable disaster.

So in the end, the bathroom is not getting a gutting, but it is getting a decent renovation, only 21 years after it was built. The rather horrible shower screen is gone, as is the awful and cheap shower curtain. The cracked taps are gone. All the tiles have had the grout completely cut out using a small rotary abrasive saw (imagine the dust this might make, then triple it). The painted finish shower head, complete with peeling paint and blocked jet holes, is gone.

The tiles around the taps had such large holes cut out that the new taps were never going to cover them, so with a vast effort Wally has been able to remove them, as well as the old soap dish, and some of the tiles where the old shower screen was. The carefully stored stash of spares from all those years ago is finally getting used: to carefully replace the tiles that needed to be removed, with original new ones. This appeals to my pale-green principles of not wasting things. If it can be repaired and improved without pulling everything out and starting again, then that has to be a good thing.

But the old basin needs to go. It was horrible cheap pressed enamelled steel, and the enamel seems to be worn through so that it constantly rusts – both around the taps and the waste exit. Likewise the toilet cistern does not shut off properly, it’s cheap plastic and has deformed so it is leaning off the wall, so it probably needs replacing as well.

Like many things, that quick fix job has turned into a major undertaking. In another couple of months it should be all nicely fixed. right now, its an unusable disaster zone. The cunning plan, my lord, should fix it all though. That and a couple of thousand dollars. Gutting the lot and starting again would be 10 times more expensive. Would it look 10 times better? Nah. Thought not.

Pommie Place Names

Got a pack of Jelly Beans for Christmas.

The manufacturer is is Snugborough Rd, Dublin.

How about some other names:

Chipping Sodbury
Creech St Michael
East Grinstead
Bishops Stortford
Stanstead Mountfitchet
Slubberdike Wood
Draycott in the Moors

We just don’t get names like this in Australia.

I kinda like these English place names. They clearly convey charm, quirkiness, history, and character.

Perhaps the one that is really amusing in a “what exactly do they mean” kind of way is Kingsbog, in Ireland. Exactly what kind of bog????


Todays Friday Photo is still from New Zealand South Island – and like last week, this is just around the corner from the eastern side of Mount Cook.

When you make the drive in to the eastern side of Mount Cook, there is a small, unmade (gravel) road. Not especially well sign posted, narrow, and somewhat hair-raising, this eventually leads to a glacial lake.

The day we were there, it was hot – about 35 degrees, dry, very sunny and slightly windy. All in all, not that pleasant. There was about a 1/2 to 3/4 hour walk from the car park to the lake; of course this meant the same duration to get back again. The landscape on the way varies between a strange low wilderness of prickly acacia-like bushes, to a barren lunar landscape. The difference between summer and winter is obviously stark, with only the toughest of plants surviving. The movement over the years of the glacier, and the flowing waters from the lake also take their toll, which is why as you get closer to the lake it looks like some giant god has come along in a fit of anger and thrown handfuls of rock around – some as giant boulders, and a great deal of it crushed to powder.

The lake provides a welcome relief from the heat – the water is full of tiny particles of ground rock; a moving glacier grinds everything in its path, until eventually the particles drop out in the melt water. Of course, the lake is also cold. Perhaps something to do with the lumps of ice floating around in it.

Glacial Lake near Mount Cook

(Click for full size)

Boo hoo for a bunch of bankers

The recent weekend Financial Review reveals that investment bankers are suffering terribly.

The poor folks are not getting paid quite like they used to, and the bonus pools to be shared are shrinking.

Oh noes! The poor dearies!

The same bunch of clever-dicks who were paid in the millions up until about 2008, for coming up with more obscure and creative ways to “manufacture money” and produce new “financial products” (gee how I detest those terms) are now doing it tough.

About time, methinks.

Give it another few years, though. These things go in cycles, and the wheel of finance will eventually turn again. The biggest mess to be sorted out if the Euro-zone. Once that is sorted, which may be some time, I fully expect to have 25 year old whiz kids earning gazillions, living in swish London apartments, consuming the output of Columbia, and guzzling champers.

In the meantime, I rejoice at the hard times befalling the parasites of society.

Defend or flee

While hunting around to find something software and geeky-related, I accidentally came across Sam Harris. And more particularly, an article about self-defence, violence, nicking orf. (Long read but worth it.)

The Chaps have been going to Kung Fu classes for years; there is a strong emphasis on self defence, but the instructor has one overriding piece of advice: all this stuff is very nice, but if you are in a sticky situation the best thing you can do is run like hell. Only if that won’t work do you try and use anything you are taught.

Martial Arts is more about self-discipline than actually to be used in anger, unless of course you are fortunate enough to star in the next Jackie Chan movie.

Friday Photo

Todays Friday Photo continues the NZ trip (which I will describe in excruciating detail in another post).

Today, though, we have Mount Cook.

In the South Island, Mount Cook is the tallest of the mountains, and has permanent snow in a good year. When we were there in early December, there was certainly snow at the top.

Roads in the South Island tend to be a little sparse – vast amounts of NZ simply have no access, except perhaps by a dirt road in summer if you get lucky, or by helicopter. A range of mountains on the western side means that the prevailing winds pick up moisture over the oceans, and rise over the mountains when they hit NZ. The western side of the mountain range is vastly different to the eastern side, simply due to the huge difference in rainfall.

The western side of the South Island has something like 3000 mm of rain per year (some parts are even more!), and a drought is called when there are more than 3 days without rain. The other side of the mountain range is a different matter; the rainfall drops dramatically, and some parts are closer to that of parts of Australia: about 750 mm or less. The arid “bad-lands” in the middle of he South Island are strange, barren, bald-hill places. The difference is chalk-n-cheese.

Mount Cook is one of the few places that can be viewed from both the western and eastern sides.

Here then, is Mount Cook, from the eastern, more arid side.

Mount Cook

(Click for full size)


As I look around amongst the neighbours, and as I hear from colleagues and friends about their eating habits, I wonder more and more what has happened to the world of old.

That’s right, that’s the world where people and families sat at an actual TABLE and ate together.

This strange old habit seems to be dying out: sporting committments, people come and go at all hours, and crap on the TV to watch; all these conspire against the shared table. Last I knew, something like 80% of all households eat dinner in silence whilst watching the goggle box, be that at a dinner table, or mooching around in a lounge room with a big TV going and eating off their lap. [OK I made that number up, but I *did* read something along these lines somewhere, sometime, and the number was large and staggering.]

And we wonder why there are more dysfunctional families?

Even if you gobble and run, eating together at a shared table is a mark of civilisation and respect for one another. For busy people, it can also be one of the few times that a whole family come together and actually have a bit of a chat. Gosh fancy that – 15 minutes in a day to actually be together and talk. Maybe 30 minutes on a good day. Is that too much to ask?

I know firsthand how difficult this can be. Teenagers who are out and about, going to sporting and martial arts classes with early start times (6:30 pm) means that busy parents who might not get home until 6 or 6:30 certainly don’t have time for a civilised sit-down feed beforehand. That means dinner might be on the shared table at 8:00 pm, or later. This is what’s known as a pain in the neck, but the alternatives of eat-on-the-run and never see your family is worse.

Am I the odd one out in feeling the importance of the shared table and the family meal? It’s certainly hard work but I’m sure it is beneficial.

House or Home?

What is a house?

And what is a home?

To my way of thinking, a house is just a building. A structure, made of stuff, for people to live in. Any people, generic, plastic, cardboard cutout people who we don’t know and can’t relate to.

My home, though, is where I live. It’s mine, it’s personal and most of us have an attachment – be that through the vast amounts of money we had to spend or some emotional connection to the things we’ve done there.

Perhaps have make too fine a point on the distinction, but because I do, it rankles when I see real estate agents signs for “Home Sale”. No… its a HOUSE for sale. You BUY a house. You make that into a HOME. You can’t just buy one.

Phriday Photo

Today’s Friday Photo is a trip down memory lane…

A little over a year ago we were in New Zealand, and spent nearly 3 weeks travelling around the South Island. Fortunately for us this was a stable period in between the numerous Christchurch Earthquakes.

Lake Tekapo is one of those mountain lakes (just another, there are rather a lot in NZ) in between bald hills. The hills seem to capture low clouds and slowly release them as the sun goes down. By about 8pm, as the shadows come over, the cloud pokes out of a pass in the mountains like a giant tongue.

Lake Tekapo

Click to embiggerate.


We’ve been watching “The Trip” on ABC.

(FYI this is a BBC production a couple of years back… things take a while to make it to the bottom end of the planet.)

This is one of those TV shows that The Lady Of The House just won’t watch – probably on the grounds that life is too short, or it’s more fun to much on ‘andful of broken glass.

The Chaps and I enjoy it though, in my case in a kind of masochistic and slightly horrified manner. I know it is supposed to be comedy, and some parts are hilarious. But it’s also kind of sad and horrifying – a parable of middle aged men and the things that amuse them. Perhaps that’s how I look to others. ~Shudder~ I still don’t know if the foibles and sadness are intentional or were an accidental consequence of the partly scripted, partly ad-libbed production. Whichever… it provokes a very mixed reaction.

The most amusing part was the Michael Caine impersonation in episode 1 (yours to recap on iView for a little longer) and available from Mr YouTube

The original blowing the doors off.

And just for the curious, Michael Caine impersonating himself.


For some reason this just came back to me…

Many years ago I worked at a place where we were writing lots of software. So we had a big tractor-feed sprocket-drive line printer which took fan-fold paper. The kind of thing you never see any more. In spite of this I can still instantly recall that there are 66 lines / page, and 132 columns / page. Why we retain useless facts like this when they are no longer important baffles me.

Anyhow, this was a mechanical pin-style ink-and-ribbon printer. That means that characters were formed by little pins pushing against the ribbon to make an impression on the paper. The correct arrangement of pins, and moving the print head fast means that these thing could work at a fair clip and even though using a ribbon and plain paper they could print almost anything. This particular machine was also extremely noisy, and when placed on a table it would shake that table violently and threaten (like my old washing machine) to walk across the room. The only saving grace with such appliances is that escape is foiled when they pull their power cable from the wall socket.

Anyhow, this printer was made by Brother – at that time not anywhere as well known as they are today. A Brother printer was something of a novelty. What next, Sister Scanners?

Enough of the tangents. I used to always refer to this printer as the Hallelujah Brother.

This used to really annoy one of the other people on the staff who was a very fervent Christian. Of course, such objections never made me stop saying it.

Does this make me bad?

Nothing is permanent

Unions, government ministers, employees – all bemoan the ever falling number of “permanent, full time” positions in the economy. For over 30 years the notion of the traditional 9-5 full-time, permanent (and often male) employee has been slowing going the way of the dinosaur. Somehow, this trend is supposed to lead to the downfall of civilisation, increase school truancy rates, a worse sex life and dental cavities. OK I exaggerate about the cavities but you get the idea – less “permanent” employment is supposed to be B.A.D.

Don’t misunderstand – permanent employment (as opposed to being on some form of limited time or limited scope contract) has a whole stack of benefits. These include employment law favouring the employer for ownership of intellectual property (effectively, crudely, the employee is owned). Likewise for the employee a stack of things become no-worry issues: you get paid, your tax was taken out, your compulsory super contributions were made.

But come the first economic downturn, “permanent employment” is an oxymoron. Redundancy or other means are used to get rid of staff all the time. “Permanent” is not very permanent.

I grappled with this idea for years – the idea was to have a safe job which would pay the wages and allow safety, comfort and security. Eventually, the realisation dawned that this is all a fallacy. After over 20 years in a number of different companies where redundancy rounds were used every time the bottom line looked a little sick, the penny finally dropped: If you are not wanted, you will be gone. Permanent employment be damned. As far as I can tell, the only remaining real benefit of “permanent” employment is that it helps convince a banker to give you a housing loan, and the tax is pretty much automatic. Apart from that, its all an illusion pumped up by vested interest groups.

Safety and comfort come from your wits or intelligence. Security… pretty much likewise. As far as employment goes, there isn’t any.

Since leaving “permanent” employment, I have found a few things – kind of obvious really – that for many would be a put-off: doing invoices is a pain (and it’s done in your own time, no payment for that!). Likewise, doing GST and BAS returns is a pain. And chasing up unpaid invoices is an even bigger pain. It’s all possible, none is very difficult, it just consumes valuable time. Being employed makes all this go away. But being employed is not “permanent”.

Taxing times

The oldest son is now of an age where having a tax file number is pretty much mandatory – when trying for holiday employment this is a kinda obvious thing to have sorted out beforehand. Mind you the chances of actually picking anything up now seems slim.

However this brings me to actually GETTING a tax file number.

Once upon a time (a long time ago…) you called the tax office and they gave you a number and send you a nice form telling you what it is.

Now you need to apply. In order to apply you need a special form. The special form can only be obtained by phoning the document delivery service, or using the internet to order it (whereby you need to create an account, register, blah blah blah). And then the form is posted out.

So far, GETTING THE FORM has been a long and frustrating trial. The first attempt at ordering the form showed (2 weeks later) that it was claimed as shipped. Shame it never arrived. The second attempt saw the form arrive just before Christmas.

Time between trying to get the form and being able to fill it out: just a touch under 4 weeks.

Now the fun beginneth. Having filled out the form, one must lodge it. Doing so requires the production of Identification Documents. These are such things as a Passport, a drivers license, a student ID card, a bank statement and so on. All must be original. Copies – not acceptable. They promise to get these things promptly back to you by registered mail. What does “promptly” mean? If the document delivery service is anything to go by – 2 – 4 weeks should be expected. Suppose one were to send in a drivers license… that would make driving illegal while the license was in the hands of the glorious tax office.

Of course, lodgement need not be via post. One could visit a tax office “shopfront”. So… one asks… where is the nearest such shopfront. Unforunately, the glorious ATO web site shows the shopfront locations as “This document is not available on the ATO web site.”

We think we know where it is, and realistically the only way to get the tax file number processed is to do so in person. Sending in the acceptable document is not really acceptable. Trouble is the ATO won’t tell us where to actually go.

This, and my other dealings with the glorious ATO leave me feeling sullied. A bit like the new CEO of the company I worked for many years ago – after a presentation by him I felt unclean, the desire to have a shower and wash away the bullshit was something I’ll never forget. And dealing with the ATO is similar – every interaction – whether by paperwork (BAS ~shudder~) or by trying to use their web site from hell just leaves me feeling as though I’ve dealt with some incomprehensible monster with 17 heads, 43 tails, and no bloody idea.

The similarities abound, with Arthur Dent’s predicament in The Hitch-hikers Guide to The Universe: The information was in a locked drawer of a filing cabinet in a disused basement behind a door marked “beware of the leopard”. Except Arthur had it easier.

Revived! Back from the dead!

Well… Hi…

After a 2 year holiday, Wally The Walrus has decided to make the occasional come-back appearance.

Because it is nearly 2 years since the last post, and that one was on a hot January day, I had originally thought write about the weather. After all, that’s the topic of conversation when most people meet. And here is little Adelaide we are now into day 3 of the heat-wave, with tomorrow forecast for 35 degrees C – so that will make it 4 in a row of 35 or over. New Years Day at 41 was not a lot of fun.

The trouble with yabbering on about the weather is that it’s a topic which is both boring, and predictable in its permanence: Too cold, too hot, too wet, too dry, or too windy. Throw in the odd “ooh isn’t it a nice day” and you have pretty much exhausted the subject matter.

Strangely though, this brought me to the subject of permanence. More particularly, for employment.

More soon.

A hot day in Adelaide

Saturday was just another hot day in Adelaide.

The usual January / February heat waves are upon us, a run of a few days of about 40 degrees or more. A good time for staying inside under the air-con, or going to the beach. Or, something my father taught me – go see a movie. Cinemas have air-conditioning.

So after a couple of false starts earlier in the week, we took off for Semaphore, where the local Odeon Star cinema has $8 moves – one price only, every movie, every session, every customer. After hearing, over and over that Avatar was a must see – we went. Good movie , by the way. Go see it.

Afterwards, we wandered down to Sotos Fish Shop, which must have been raking in a small fortune – order your fish-n-chips and wait 1/2 hour. There were 8 staff behind the counter, going flat out. One wrapping, one battering fish, one frying, one taking orders, one making hamburgers…. and so on. They cut their own chips… need I say more. The best fish and chips in the world – eaten on the grass of the wide median strip running down Semaphore road.

And then a walk along the beach as the sun was setting… then home… exhausted.

Of course, we took photos. Click to make ‘em bigger.

Sotos Fish Shop - best fish and chips FEED ME! Don't Fall In!

Largs Jetty Sun is setting Largs Jetty as the sun goes down

Largs Jetty Largs Jetty Gulls in Flight

Sunset over the beach Sunset over the beach

UK Satellite Image – Snow, anybody?

This satellite image has been doing the rounds a little recently, and has apparently made something of a splash in the UK, where the entire country from top to tail is covered in snow.

No, its not a “spot the polar bear” picture…. look closely.


Say no.


Whining put downs

I’m finally moved to speak (write)…

I’m really really tired of bullshit email sent to the family in-box by well-meaning friends and relatives. It’s nothing more than man-bashing spam. The modern equivalent of the Mere Male column in No Idea magazine.

There seems to be an epidemic of man-bashing. For nigh on 20 years, or more, we’ve had crap like Mere Male – where the females can write about the dumb things their male significant others do. Last I knew there are no such columns in mens magazines – and can you imagine the outcry if there was such a thing?

Then we get disparaging terms like “having a mans look” when trying to find something. I’ve asked, politely, that this no longer be used in our house. I find it offensive to try and categorise men as stupid, unable to find things, uncoordinated, and foolish. This is term that seems to have made it’s appearance in the last year or two. It’s time is over.

I’ve worked mainly with men – such is my profession – and I can report that of the many people I’ve worked with over 20-mumble years, not one has indulged in sly, nasty, stupid disparaging comments about the females in their lives.

I’ve also known, or had 2nd hand reports of female dominated workplaces. So much for caring sharing communicating female managers. These people make poor male managers look like saints. But apart from this little rant, I keep quiet – those are battles for others, I have no DIRECT experience. But what I hear makes me sad.

But more than anything I really do get tired of the endless stream of emails espousing the virtues of women – endlessly patient, tending to wounds, being bright and sunny, putting down men or making them look foolish. Perhaps this is some kind of tribalism. Or perhaps I’m a bit idealistic – I’d like us to all just be people, taken as we are, on our merits, judged by our capabilities and out actions.

Silly, sniping, snide, sly, stupid comments, columns, and emailed crap wear thin.

If the equal opportunuty movement want to be taken seriously, stop crapping on about women in the boardroom, and start doing something about the nasty, trivial, carping undermining of half the population. The male half. Thanks. Over-n-out.


So if all these delegates to the climate-talk-fest are so interested in reducing carbon emissions…

Can somebody tell me why Australia needs to send 90 people?

And can somebody tell me why they don’t use a video conference? After all, its much cheaper and it emits far less muck than flying almost half a plan load of people half way around the world. And buying carbon credits is a BS answer that does not cut it – that’s a silly excuse for rich people simply buying off their guilt with somebody not so fortunate.

Or perhaps its really just a big junket?

Water, water everywhere

I’ve written before about water, consumption, waste, and foolishness. Time to spin the dice and drag out a random rant about water.

The Dump Household received the water bill recently. Our average daily water consumption during 2009, so far, has been the lowest in the last 4 years. My previous estimates of our consumption have been a little on the high side.

Our water bills now come with a nice graph showing consumption over previous years, average daily consumption over the last year, and a nice table showing typical customers. I homed in on the consumption for a house of 4 people, and am rather surprised to find:

For a house with 4 Occupants (daily consumption)

No garden: 355 to 440 litres
Small garden: 440 to 545 litres
Medium garden: 490 to 600 litres
Large garden: 595 to 740 litres

Living as we do in the driest state of the driest continent on Earth – as we were continually told when I was at school – water storage, and water use is a big deal. And water use on our gardens is a significant part of consumption so that we can have a nice environment to live in during the warmer months.

So, in the context of the above typical figures it came as a huge surprise to find our water consumption is a mere 365 litres per day. That’s for nearly everything – washing clothes, showers, toilets, and watering the garden. The exception is drinking water  - which comes from our own rainwater tank, in which a massive 200 litres can be stored and which does us all summer long.

That 365 litres includes two indulgences which I won’t back down on:

- I refuse to have a 4 minute shower. I have only 2 vices in this world – long showers and red wine, and I’m not going to give either of them up, thanks.

- We have an evil water wasting top-loader washing machine. Every front loader I’ve come across has a fatal design flaw: it’s a front loader. There is a huge pivot bearing at the back of the drum and they wear out due to the large forces involved. And they are without fail so damn slow that I fear reaching old age before they complete their idiotic cycles of backwardses and forwardses. So the top loader is not negotiable either.

However, the washing machine water does go on the lawn during the summer months, as does what we can collect using a bucket in the shower.

So our water consumption is 365 litres per day, which is in the range for 4 people in a house with either NO GARDEN, or a SMALL GARDEN. But we have neither. We live on an acre of land (about 0.4 hectares for those who speak the newfangled strange metric measure) – with fruit trees, lawns, gardens, roses. Keeping that alive with restrictions is very difficult. Keeping it alive and finding our consumption is about 1/2 what should be expected seems like a damn miracle.

I’m left wondering then, where on earth do people use water, if the normal consumption is around double what we use?

Which in turn brings me to three new points: Economics and the mentality of the masses, The failure of government policy, and Desalination. These I’ll cover in the next exciting instalment or two.

Eureka Day

December 3 is Eureka Day.

A day when we should all stop for a moment and celebrate a sacrifice that is little known, and even less understood.

A day when many will fly the Eureka flag, as a sign of remembrance and respect. And as a sign to all levels of government in our country that they should not go too far in removing some pretty basic rights.

And a day when The City Of Tea Tree Gully WILL NOT be flying the Eureka flag, because the councillors voted down a proposal to do so. Council voted the flying down for two reasons:

- It does not meet the state government protocols for flag-flying; and

- The flying of the flag “may divide the community” because it has been used (hijacked) by a few extremist groups.

So, councillors of Tea Tree Gully, perhaps you need reminding of a little history.

Start here: The Eureka Centre in Ballarat has an excellent history, and I quote:

The uprising by the miners and the Government’s attack on their Stockade in December 1854 was Australia’s only armed civil uprising. It was a battle over democracy and fairness and contributed to the spirit of freedom that Australians have come to regard as their birthright.

That spirit of freedom has been eroded, gradually, by a series of governments – with the passing of anti-terror laws, and other laws allowing imprisonment without charge, and trial without access to the evidence.

Our governments, and the elected members need to remember who put them where they are, and what it took to get the society we have. Democracy in Australia was not something that came automatically from Britian. It was built with difficulty, blood, sweat and tears. An important part of the formation of our democratic government was the Ballarat miners rebellion of 1854.

For various reasons, the miners felt that they were being taxed and treated unjustly. They created the Ballarat Reform League, with (amongst other things) the following political aims:

(1) A full and fair representation. [i.e. in parliament]
(2) Manhood suffrage. [in other words - everyone can vote]
(3) No property qualification of Members for the Legislative Council.
(4) Payment of Members.
(5) Short duration of parliament.

The charter of the Ballarat Reform League begins:

That it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws that he is called on to obey – that taxation without representation is tyranny.

The members of the League burned their miners licenses in an act of defiance of the Government.

At the time, a license had to be provided on demand, something that was not always possible because they were often kept in the miners’ tent, away from the wet and dirty conditions. However any miner found not carrying the license was immediately arrested and fined.

The burning of the miners licenses led, in turn, to the massacre of miners at the Eureka Stockade in a surprise night raid by the Victoria police.

The resulting rampage by the police saw innocent bystanders shot, the wounded being bayoneted, and much needless destruction of miners property.

About 22 miners were either killed immediately or died soon after, and a further 12 were wounded and survived. Casualties on the Government side were 4 killed and 12 wounded.

This is one of only two acts of defiance by Australian people against their government, and is the incident that had the largest impact on shaping our democracy.

Whilst the rebellion was over in 15 minutes, it led DIRECTLY to fundamental changes in Government in the colony of Victoria, and had a significant influence on all Australian Governments.

Some of the things we take for granted came about from, or were hastened by, the efforts of the Ballarat Reform League, and their leader Peter Lalor:

. short terms of parliament
. nobody needs to carry or produce identification papers or other government documentation to police on demand (generally you have 24 hours)
. true representative democracy
. the right to trial, to see and hear your accusers
. limits on powers of police
. fairness in dealing with governments and employers

Peter Lalor, leader of the Ballarat Reform League later became Speaker of the Victorian Legislative Council [Upper House of Parliament].

Today, the Eureka flag has no official status but is still used, over 150 years later, as a symbol of rebellion against Government excesses in Australia. And this week, Ballarat celebrates its position in Australia’s history, on the 155th Anniversary of the uprising.

Shame on you Tea Tree Gully Councillors. Know your country. Know your history.


Full text of the charter of the Ballarat Reform League.

Writing, FakeBook, Twitter and Crap

In correspondence with another Blogger – who has stopped – I got to thinking about writing.

Once upon a time there were essays – thoughful pieces of a thousand words or three, written carefully, taking time. There were newspaper columns – a shorter version of the essay. Then weblogs aka blogs, anything between an unstructured rant, a dump, and a one-liner. Then MySpazz, FakeBook and Twitter came along.

The trend in all this is length. The amount written drops successively, with perhaps the exception of MySpazz, where you don’t write anything at all apart from comments in somebody’s comments about How Coolz iz u dude?

Fakebook encourages a publication of “friendship” – whatever that may be. And commentary on what one is doing RIGHT NOW, thus leading to a glimpse into the lives of those our paths have crossed. FakeBook includes various applications – you can link in published blogs, play games, and so on. Food for a trivial mind.

Twitter goes a step further – the commentary of fakebook is about where it ends. The utterances are called “tweets” – perhaps because of a desire to mimic the Dawn Chorus of birdlife but also to avoid the obvious other name for an outpouring of trivia. Sorry folks, but Twitter is for Twits.

Little messages (“I’m in Paris eating a baguette”) are mindless, thoughtless trivia which is good for a prurient audience but does not contribute to humanity. It’s not thoughtful or thought-provoking. It just encourages more mindless muck for the peasants. No wonder Media-Mike likes it.

In a world of trivial crap, we need a resurgence of the essay. Unlike a Kevin Rudd essay – 6000 words of unintelligible intellectualising is going too far -  we need a bit more writing that is clear, structured and thoughtful, or at least amusing. Less of the quantity, more of the quality.

Driving me where?

Oldest son has a Learners Permit.

November has been abnormally warm for the last fortnight – with daytime highs of around 35 to 43 degrees. This has all been tiring and unpleasant, and so there has been no incentive to go spending time on a bit of driving practice.

So The Chap has had little learning or practice apart from the hour or so spent in getting familiar with a vehicle, starting and stopping, and going around a few corners. Slowly. With his terrified mum alongside.

Yesterday we spend a thrilling 1/2 hour in the deserted car park of a nearby (former) hardware store – speeding up, slowing down, braking, turning corners. Over and over and over. I think 1/2 hour was enough for us both.

Today we went and did the same again. Cornering is getting better, and thankfully, slower. Too much watching blokes laying rubber all over a test track on “Top Gear” does tend to be a little misleading.

After 1/2 an hour of pootling around the same ole boring car park – I directed him out and down a major-ish road –  only 100 metres but that was a fairly big deal… and then down into some local streets on the flat bit down the bottom of the hill. Speed humps, traffic-slowing chicanes, parked cars, bad signage. In other words – normal suburbia. After another 1/2 hour in this – it was time for cricket. A session of an hour all up is probably about long enough.

It’s beginning to sink in… situational awareness (”you forgot to check on your right… consider yourself flattened by an 18-wheel semi-trailer”), where the car is in relation to the side of the road (”don’t take out the tyre side walls on the kurb please, they’re $90 a pop”), and concentration.

Concentration is the big one, and I’m glad it’s him who said “You have to concentrate a lot, don’t you”.

Yes – sure do…

We both make jokes about how the “L” plates on the car are warning signs for everyone else. Of course, we all know also that this is EXACTLY what they are.

More fun times a-coming :)

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