Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Back to Mallacoota

In between saying goodbye to my dear ol’ dad in Shakytown, NZ, and shivering in the Berra, 5pm today, there’s been a wonderful week of Mallacoota-ing.

Maallacoota! Maallacoota! (sung to the tune of the Hallelujah Chorus)

Oh it was lovely… A lot of the time, after a cool start to the day, it was t-shirt weather – I had to keep pinching myself to remind myself that it was actually midwinter.

My daily routine was simple – a walk into town to buy a hot chocolate; a nice sit by the lake, reading a book, drinking hot chocolate and talking to the seagulls like a crazy old bird-lady. 
My noisy buddies the seagulls, who snuck up on me from all angles to see if I had anything worth eating.
 On the way home, collect a bit of kindling for the evening’s fire. Fill in the day with gardening or reading. Light a fire in the evening, pour a glass of wine, fall asleep in front of the telly. Nice.

 And then there were some highlights: delicious, delicious curry night at the Golf Club (the courtesy bus came to pick me up from home!) with Peter & Margaret and a group of their friends; communing with nature in a variety of places:
Hot choc spot by the lake, near the main visitors' wharf

Bastion Point
  Showing my woodwork teacher Derek, some of the scenic delights of the area on a bushwalk on my birthday (yay, happy me, another highlight - I’m Old!) 

Fiddling about in the garden, tidying up some shrubs, pulling out some weeds, pruning the roses. The lawnmower died after doing half the lawn. But you know what? I just shrugged...Mallacoota has that effect on me. Yes, me, the great worrier.... what a magical place!

And then this – on Monday – a picnic at Allan’s Head with Peter and Margaret. I am so lucky to have such wonderful friends. (Quick aside: Peter & Margaret were formerly my hosts at the Adobe Mudbrick Flats, where I went holidaying every year, sometimes a couple of times a year. We’ve become friends, and they helped me a lot when I was buying my house down there.)

We zoomed across the lake in their boat, with me pretending to be the maidenhead, or whatever it’s called, at the front of the boat (no I did not follow tradition and take off my shirt, but I did a nice Wagnerian ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!’) We watched pelicans sunning themselves and listened to the black swans singing on Goodwin Sands, 
  then carried on to Allan’s Head, where we had a bbq picnic. It was lovely! (A little challenging, getting into and out of the boat – remember my unco-ness….) Great food, great company, beautiful scenery…The lake was like a mirror – look at the reflections of the clouds in the water!
 It being midwinter and all, we had to put on some layers after about 3pm – it became quite chilly on the water, rather quickly, despite the continuing sunshine. I almost lost my hat on the ride back.
 Even Peter put on a sweater for the return journey:
Oh what a lovely day it was. In fact, what a lovely week it was. I feel recharged and refreshed. Thanks to my Mallacoota friends for their continued hospitality. Gawd it was hard to leave there this morning!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Politicians and teachers: a rant

Back off, Christopher Pyne!

I am so, so sick of politicians taking potshots at teachers. The latest drivel to drip from the lips of one of our overpaid pollies is this: that 'underperforming' teachers should be removed from 'the system'. Ol' ChrisPy, with a smirk that would do Peter Costello proud, thinks money spent reducing class sizes has been 'wasted', because Asian schools have big classes and manage to out-perform Aussie schools. He thinks the wrong kind of people are entering the profession for all the wrong reasons - because they think it's going to be 'easy'.

Actually, this makes me so angry that it has rendered me (almost) speechless. I'd like to wipe the smirk from Mr Pyne's face by sitting him in front of 45 exuberant adolescent Aussies, half of whom have a below-average IQ, who would rather be outside kicking a footy around, who don't want to learn, who prefer Facebook to Physics and Angry Birds to angry teachers, who have parents with no manners who don't value education themselves because they left school at 15, and 'done all right', and handing Mr Pyne a copy of Macbeth. 

'Perform or be removed,' I would say to him. 'Their results are a direct reflection of your worth.'

Comparing Aussie schools to East Asian schools is a joke - it's comparing apples and hippos, FFS. It's not the teachers who are the problem. Australian society's larrikin attitude to education has to change. As long as teacher-bashing is a national pastime (short hours, long holidays - teaching's soooo eeeeeasy, teachers are all overpaid bludgers, and what use is History anyway?) many of our students will continue to undervalue education and underperform at school.

Schools are microcosms of society, not homogeneous little divisions of corporate Australia or (heaven forbid) the Australian Public Service. Yes, they are often staffed by people who may be employed by the government or the church, but they are filled with students - bright and dull, keen and lethargic, but all human - and the performance of this disparate mass of youngsters (some of whom are, not to put too fine a point on it, as dumb as dogshit and twice as nasty) is seen as an indicator of the teacher's ability to teach. Reducing this ebullient mass of humanity to a series of performance indicators and league tables is farcical. This is why politicians should keep their noses out of schools. 

It's dangerous. There's a legion of hardworking, exhausted teachers out here in the Real World banging our collective heads against brick walls, going back to school every day because we care about the kids and we understand the value of education as an aid to social mobility. We want that for our students, but not all of them want it for themselves. It's hard work, learning - harder for some than for others.

Holding a big stick over our heads, and telling us we have to make silk purses from some of the sow's ears we teach, or else, is not going to work. Playing politics with our schools by making ridiculous comparisons between Aussie schools and Asian schools when our cultures and values are so vastly different, isn't helpful. In fact, it's downright counter-productive.

Oh, and a final point, My Pyne, before I get off my soapbox. You said

"At the moment, unfortunately, a survey was handed down in 2010 which showed that the students who are choosing teaching are choosing it because it's cheap, because it's not going to push them much further than they were in Year 12 and because they think it's easy.

"Now that's not the kind of students we want to be teaching our young people."

Don't worry, Chris - they won't be. Not for long, anyway. Have you seen the stats regarding the numbers of new teachers who are leaving the profession when they realise how difficult it is? When they realise the level of commitment that teaching requires is so much greater than they had thought? When they find out it's exhausting, frustrating, often unrewarding? When they feel so utterly unsupported by legislators, regulators, pontificating government powerbrokers? When no amount of money can make up for the levels of stress they feel? Have a look here

Bloody politicians! Just back off. Please.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Shipping containers, gap-fillers and Other Things: UnZud part 3

Ode to Shipping Containers

Oh lovely shipping container, your chunky form delights.
Your squat and solid bottom planted firmly on the ground
Withstands the wrath of Nature, holds boulders at bay
Shoring up the crumbling cliffs and hiding the hills
Your long snaking wall along the Sumner coast
Offers art space
And can, with the help of a legion of New Zealand knitters, be quite cosy.
You are the embodiment of kia kaha* in broken Christchurch
I wonder if your ships miss you while you work so hard on land?

*Maori phrase  meaning be strong

So many gaps… Half of Christchurch, it seems, is a car-park. A razed rubble wasteland, grey and gloomy. Enterprising Cantabrians, refusing to take it lying down, have taken to filling the gaps with quirky installations – like these: 

 Dad and I went grocery shopping yesterday, and didn't even feel the 4.8 earthquake that rattled the city. Now, 4.8 is a sizeable shake, and it lasted about twenty seconds. Admittedly, the supermarket was noisy enough for us not to hear anything rattling, but I was surprised not to have felt anything. It made me think about the ridiculous and alarmist travel advisory put out by my own government, which was in yesterday's The Press.Oh dear, oh dear...

Friday, 6 July 2012

A dip in the (hot) pool. UnZud Holiday Part 2.

Hanmer Springs is a resort town about 120 or so kms from Christchurch. Look:

Brrrrrr. Yes, there were piles of snow here and there on the ground, refusing to melt. Look!

Perfect day for a dip in the pool - the thermal pool, that is. The fine misty rain that has dogged this holiday kept finely misting all over us, but the temperature in the thermal pool was 42C! Just like a hot bath, but with a farty sulphurous pong. It was very very difficult to get out and scurry through the freezing air, in wet cozzies (or in my case, flapping wet t-shirt and boardies) to the change room.

What a great day! We sang It's Now or Never very raucously in a gift shop, while the proprietor accompanied us on her pianola. We ate delicious food in Mumbles cafe, surrounded by a big Harley-Davidson and a million Pukeko pics (the chunky chilli vegetable soup was to die for) and wandered through some foresty bits that Chris and Ingrid had planted when they were in the Conservation Corps. We drove back past Seal Rock, which looks just like a seal (surprise surprise) and Frog Rock, which looks just like an enormous squatting frog (bet you didn;t see that one coming!) and then stopped at Brew Moon on the way home, for some of their very fine, er, brew. The mulled wine was a delicious way to round off the day.

You know when you're getting closer to Christchurch because the roads suddenly turn to poo and long strips of road cones materialise.

'Must be high tide', murmurs Ingrid as we drive through the flooded streets that are a new feature of Christchurch, post-quake. At high tide, water rises out of the drains, rather than flowing down them.  Something else that residents have taken in their stride as the 'new normal'.

Tomorrow: Sumner, and a tribute to the humble shipping container.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Destination Christchurch

What’s it like, coming out of marking hell? Well, this time I'm actually still sane (thank you Prozac.) It's been a bit like stepping out of a fog. All of a sudden I can hear my thoughts. I notice the mess in the house and the pile of unpaid bills on the table. Oops. I can think straight and acknowledge tomorrow and next week. I can actually think beyond this exam, this report, this frantic and inhumane pressure. It’s like waking up from a coma. I feel human again, and it’s time to enjoy the school holidays.

First thing on the agenda – visit the Christchurch Hineses! Off to Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud. Fortunately I made all my travel arrangements a couple of months ago, before the descent into marking hell – sometimes I surprise myself! So this is how it goes: a bus trip to Sydney – I finished two blanket squares for my Tutor Group knitting project (more about that in a separate post), a night at the Ibis Airport hotel, an early morning shuttle-bus to the airport, and I’m up, up and away!

Uneventful flight, but as usual I’m sitting next to a fat person who insists on oozing into the seat I have paid for… but I get to read a library book on my Kobo (more about that in yet another post, too!) and after an uninspiring gluten-free airline meal (fish! Erk!) I touch down in Shakytown at 2-something pm.

Chris and Ingrid collect me from the airport and we head across town to Dad & Diana’s place in the eastern suburbs.

It’s been 6 years and several thousand earthquakes since I was last in Christchurch. The recent biggies – the ones that split Dad’s former house in two and filled it with the silt of liquefaction – may seem like old news to those of us in the rest of the world – but they’re daily conversation and an ongoing fact of life for the people who live here. The roads are bumpy and pot-holed, fences and walls are falling down, and shipping containers have demonstrated their versatility in many ways: as storage places for all your worldly goods, holding up damaged buildings, shoring up crumbling cliffs, becoming coffee-shops and boutiques… being covered in artwork or a knitted container-cosy… 

Shipping container shopping mall - called 'The Restart Mall'

 Cantabrian quirkiness and good humour abound, however, and people have developed their own coping mechanisms. ‘Guess the magnitude of THAT’ is a popular game, as is ‘Guess the epicentre’. ‘What used to be there?’ is another. I liked this sign, in a craft shop window in New Brighton:

It’s now Tuesday, and I haven’t felt the earth moving – yet – let’s hope it stays that way. In the meantime, here are some photos taken from the periphery of the Red Zone in the city.  The scale of the destruction is hard to imagine – Christchurch has become a city of car-parks (seriously!) and sprawling vacant blocks. The soundtrack that plays in the background is the unceasing thump-thump of construction work – or rather, deconstruction work. Clearing the rubble is a gargantuan task. 

It was a harrowing ‘tour’ that made me feel a little ghoulish, but even worse than looking at the scenes of dereliction in the war-zone that the inner-city resembles was a visit to Dad’s former home.

It used to be a comfortable home with a lovely view of the river. Now it’s a broken shell awaiting the arrival of the deconstruction men. The hallway is a downhill slope. The bath, if filled, would be nearly empty at one end as it overflowed at the other. Ruined books and records litter the floor and the overgrown ‘garden’. Along the whole street, curtains hang in houses where no one lives any more. The street is deserted, apart from demolition workers and their trucks. The river glides past between the built-up gravel banks that run through this ghost-town.
Stuck in the mud - Dad's record cllection
The road to Sumner snakes along the coast, and walls of shipping containers act as barriers against the falling rocks and crumbling cliffs. Broken houses hang precariously from the clifftops.

I can’t imagine the noise of the rocks grinding and rumbling, houses being torn apart , trees falling, or the terror that must’ve gripped people as their world crashed down around them. Just looking at the aftermath, all these months later, was enough for me.