Sunday, December 02, 2018

A Cat Story


We’d seen a grey cat scurrying away down our driveway a few times when we came home. We figured it probably lived next door amidst the abundant piles of junk in the neighbours’ backyard. About a year ago these neighbours had to vacate the property as it was to be redeveloped.
The demolition began and we occasionally noticed a grey cat walking past our open back door. It, as expected, would scurry away at any indication we might come closer. This happened several times until one day the same cat ventured inside. We were sitting outside watching. It spent just a few seconds in the house and then scurried away once again.
This went on for a week or so until one night I was sitting in our living room near the back door and this ever braver grey cat walked right on in, surveyed the kitchen area for a minute or two and then strolled back outside. Again, this happened a few times before the next stage.
We had clearly passed her lengthy audition process and this dear cat one day strolls in with a kitten in its mouth. She deposited the kitten in a corner of our sitting room, and paced around nearby for a while. The kitten as it happened wasn’t too happy. It didn’t like where Mum had put her and meowed pretty much non-stop for about 20 minutes. Mother cat had seen enough. She picked up the kitten and took it back outside.
The following day she repeated this procedure with a different, larger kitten. This larger kitten was much happier about being left alone in the corner of our sitting room and barely said boo. After some time Mum went back outside and returned soon after with the smaller kitten from the day before and put it with its sibling. At this point of course we were wondering how many more there might be. I went outside and heard the meowing of another kitten on top of our back shed. I rescued it and put it in with the others.
Se we now had 4 cats - the stray grey mother cat and 3 gorgeous kittens. So began an illuminating period of watching these creatures interact and grow. It was like watching a David Attenborough documentary in real time with front row seats.
I guess we always knew we would eventually get another cat but that time was far off in some undetermined future. We had the decision taken out of our hands. We had been adopted by this delightful skittish grey stray. So skittish in fact, we called her Skitty. Still very nervous of humans, especially any sudden movements, she would dart away impulsively and slink back to her kittens when no one was around. But Skitty would stay with us – she had chosen us after all. We ultimately gave 2 of her 3 kittens away, and decided to keep the smallest of them
I still hesitate some months later to start writing about her. Her story brought us so much joy and so much sadness in her short life. When we decided to keep the three kittens we erected a cardboard barrier across the entrance to an area of our sitting room to keep them contained. Almost as soon as that barrier stood it was this tiniest kitten that stood up against it, looked up and me and meowed. From the start she was the one who wanted to be picked up; she was the one that wanted human contact. It was love at first sight and it was an easy choice – if we were to keep one kitten to keep Skitty company, it would be this one.
She had several trial names. Her official Paws and Claws name was Jasper. River called her something else. For some reason I was reluctant to name her – perhaps I knew somewhere that she wouldn’t be with us for long. It was only on the final night of her life that I knew who she was. I named her Spirit – such was her desire to be alive and to do everything she could within her severe limitations.
Her life with us started out happily. She was much smaller than her 2 siblings but mixed it with them in the rough and tumble of cat play and games of chasey up and down the hallway and skidding around corners on the kitchen lino. She, like the other 2, was hilarious. When her siblings had gone, she and her mother played together and enjoyed roaming around the garden looking like Mum and Mini Me.  At some point we began to notice that she had occasional balance problems. She would wobble a little on her back legs and occasionally tumble over. This gradually got worse and more pronounced but she, undeterred, would pick herself up each time and continue on. She was happy.
But we saw that she was getting worse. It turned out she had a congenital disease of the central nervous system that was affecting her ability to walk and keep her balance. We kept her for as long as we could but at approximately 6 months old we had to put her down. (Those words hold no hint of the depth of emotion that we felt losing her. She was just a tiny little stray cat but we had fallen in love with her.)
Skitty spent much of the next few days wandering around the house looking for her little Spirit – it was so sad to see. It didn’t take long before we decided that we would try again. We would get another kitten to keep Skitty company. The experts will tell you cats are quite happy being solitary pets, but many will tell you too that if you have 2 cats they will likely spend a lot of time together.
We knew it was a gamble. There was no guarantee that Skitty would accept another kitten into her world, but we thought it worth the risk. Enter the 6 month old tabby we named Tully. It took 8 days for Skitty to start washing Tully and lying with her on the same couch or corner of a bed. That according to our local vet was something of a miracle. Typically it takes 6-8 weeks in such situations before the host cat will accept the newcomer.
We were hopeful, even confident, that Skitty would be OK with another kitten. She had been a loving and devoted mother to her own, and was very affectionate with us. We thought she had the right temperament to ‘adopt’ a new cat and we were right.
So now, several months on, we have two pretty much adult cats who get on famously, and are really good company for each other. In an ironic twist Tully is the acrobat par excellence that little Spirit should have been, and walks on tree tops and roofs and fence lines and keeps us in a constant state of anxiety whenever she’s outside. Two year old world weary Skitty causes no such anxiety. She has experienced life on her own out in the wilderness and is now quite happy with a domestic life indoors, or enjoying the garden from ground level!
If you had asked me a year ago if I was a cat or a dog person my answer would have been unreservedly ‘dog person’. As I write this Tully is lying asleep next to me just touching my left arm gently with her outstretched paws. It’s a deeply calming sensation. I’m now a cat person.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Lake Mungo and the Meaning of Home

In 1974 the remains of Mungo Man were found on the shores of the former Lake Mungo in western New South Wales. His bones were transported to places far away for the purposes of science. It was these bones that proved conclusively that humans had lived in Australia for at least 50,000 years.
After four decades, and after much lobbying from Aboriginal people from the Lake Mungo region, Mungo man was returned to his resting place by the lake in 2017.  An elderly Aboriginal woman commented:

“He needs to go home. His soul’s just wandering around lost. It’s not good for him. It’s not good for us. It’s not good for anyone. He needs to go home so his soul can rest.”

When I heard these words it was as if I was appreciating the wisdom of the ancient hosts of our land in a way I never had before. Tears flowed as the profound message in those simple words echoed deep down in my soul. We all need to go home. And the elderly woman was talking about a man 50,000 years old as if she knew him. She cared about Mungo Man’s soul. No matter how long ago he lived. She and other members of her community have a responsibility to take care of their ancestors and their land. And a man or woman and their land should not be separated.
I went to Lake Mungo recently – an extraordinary place. The public can’t visit the final resting place of Mungo Man, but you can visit the extraordinary wall of sand dunes that run along the edge of where Lake Mungo once glistened in the sun. The Visitors Centre refers to local Aboriginal groups having cared for the land around Lake Mungo for 50,000 years. Note, not lived in, but cared for the land. Their very existence in the land of their ancestors assumes they are its custodians. Another simple, powerful message.
There is something deeply primal about the notion of home. It strikes at the very core of what it means to be alive, to be human. It evokes feelings of warmth, safety, and contentment. Home is a place where you feel comfortable and know intrinsically how to behave. No pretence is needed because at home you are your natural self, and for many it is a place they return to again and again – in both the literal and metaphorical sense – for sustenance.
For some others this may be precisely why they leave home for they crave something other than safety and comfort. Or their experience of home was so dreadful that they leave never to return. Oscar Wilde wrote that ‘no man is an adult until they leave home.’  In many cultures it is a mark of respect earned if you have left your homeland and lived much of your life in foreign shores. It conveys a certain worldliness somehow, a strength that you have struck out on your own and succeeded without the support of your family, relatives or culture – the immigrant. And though an immigrant at the end of their life might long to return to their homeland or have their ashes scattered in the fields or rivers of home it rarely happens. In the modern world a great many people leave their home never to return.
So what of their souls? Is the soul of one born in Wales and buried in Australia doomed to wander for eternity? If the Mungo elder is correct then that would be the case, and we all therefore suffer. Could there be a different set of rules than those that govern the belief systems of Aboriginal Australians? Is that the case for those who choose to leave their place of birth, and are happy to remain away, and who come to some spiritual reconciliation with a different place of their own choosing; a place they came to as a foreigner but came to regard as their home; their spiritual home? Can you in effect choose where your soul calls home?
The Aboriginal belief that one should be buried in the land of your birth works for a culture and time where most people would not have strayed far from their ancestral home. Though there may be some deep primal appeal attached to this notion, it can’t be a matter of absolute fact. It is culture and context specific.
It is interesting though to contemplate what home means for each one of us. Is it a house? A suburb or town? A land or country? Or is it being with a certain person, or being in a certain state of mind? Does listening to a particular piece of music make you feel at home? The possibilities are many. Is the state of feeling at home literal and physical or more metaphorical and symbolic where in fact the physical location has no bearing at all on the notion of feeling at home?
For my own part it has been all of these things at different times.  In terms of physical location I can variously claim to feel at home in a particular suburb where I have lived much of my life, or more widely the whole city of Adelaide, or more widely still the land of Australia. I do honestly feel at home in locations where I have previously lived or visited frequently – Holland, or Cambodia. And mysteriously, or perhaps even mystically, some places seem to take hold of your soul for no obvious reason. Israel worked like this for me. I felt a strange and strong affinity with Israel from the moment I arrived there. And there are other times when it is only in the company of my partner that I feel truly at home.
So is home where the heart is? It turns out the heart can be at home at any number of places, but perhaps not simultaneously. Perhaps home is simply where you are at any given moment that you’re feeling good about yourself and your place in the world.
To return to Mungo Man, or any other deceased being that has been interred, it seems obvious that they should just be left in peace, and it seems quite feasible that a disturbed body may trigger the wandering of a consequently restless soul.

More photos HERE

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Ugly Australian


I initially wrote this song about travelling in Greece. I was a deck class passenger on a ferry between Athens and Israel and I was give this inedible food for dinner. I kicked up a fuss with the ferry staff and they agreed to give me some other food and allowed me to sit in the first class lounge while I ate it. The food in truth wasn’t that much better, and after a short time all the lounge staff logged off and turned off most of the lights as they went.  As I sat there in the half-darkness eating this dreadful food I realise I’d been had! It was the kind of thing that made you want to go home.

Thirty years on I realised that if I just tweaked the lyrics a little and wrote them from the perspective of a refugee stuck on Manus or Nauru I have a similar but different song.




You put shit food down in front of me and expect me to eat it
You put me up in the first class lounge with my anger and expect that to placate it
I’m on a foreign boat in a foreign sea in times foreign to us all At times like this I’m wonderin’ why I’m so far from my native shore I’m going home

I’m tired of the ever moving ground
I'm tired of the ever changing ground

Australia will you wait for me with your long and golden shore?
You’re a land of sun and dreams they tell me but I wanna know for sure

Are you keeping up with fashion? Are you keeping down the poor?

Are you looking down the barrel? Or has nothing changed at all?
But I’m coming home


So I’m coming home


TAKE 2: 2018

You put shit food down in front of me and expect me to eat it
You stick me out on an offshore island with my pain and expect that to placate it
I’m in a foreign place in a foreign sea in times foreign to us all

Australia was what I was looking for – why I left my native shore
But I can’t go home

I’m tired of the never changing ground
I’m tired of the never moving round

Australia I will you wait for you with your long and golden shores
You’re a land of sun and dreams they tell me will I ever know for sure?
I have no home

Are we closing up the country? Have we shut down all the doors?
Are those in need not welcome? When did we get so mean?
They can’t go home
They have no home



Wednesday, May 16, 2018

On Australian Identity


Ever since I taught Australian History to high school students I have felt uncomfortable using Anzac Day as a cause of celebration, let alone espousing it as some kind of event that forged our national identity.
From a historical perspective the verdict is pretty clear: the ANZAC campaign was a disaster. Australian and New Zealand soldiers were used as decoys and sent as lambs to the slaughter to distract the Turks from another region the British intended to attack. It was a disgrace that was best forgotten.
Yet we go on making it bigger and grander with each passing year. Richard Flanagan in his recent address to the National Press Club says that in his family Anzac Day was always about remembering those who went to war, and especially those who didn’t come home.  From around the mid-80s, in the hands of politicians – beginning with Bob Hawke – it has become something else. It’s become a patriotic rallying call to define who we are as a nation and the values and beliefs that go with it, and if you don’t subscribe to those beliefs you are somehow un-Australian. Well let me say right here and now that I am un-Australian. Which of course just means that I think differently to those who hold up the ‘Anzac spirit’ as some kind of mirror that all Australians must look into to find themselves.
I do a lot of walking around Australian towns and cities, and as I watch the churches become homes, cafes and bars, and the war memorials shine and proliferate, and see the vast sums of money being spent on more of them at Gallipoli, France, and here in Adelaide, it’s become clear to me that Australia’s real religion is war, or at least the memorialising if it. It feels like an unhealthy obsession.
What bothers me, and as Flanagan noted is really quite dangerous, is none of this is up for discussion with mainstream Australia. War, and the militarisation of national memory, is a no go area. Question its relevance or importance and you are immediately dismissed as un-Australian, left-leaning, hippy, radical or some other insult that consigns you to the margins. It’s a closed book, and sadly is in large part based on myth rather than fact.

We are going down a dead end street that offers no solace for the growing number of Australians who are unhappy – who smash up churches and graves, eat themselves to obesity, or express their life’s emptiness through road rage….

Flanagan wonders whether there may be another path Australia could take to seek the roots of its national identity. We have been given the priceless gift of sharing this remarkable continent with the oldest unbroken culture on the planet. This could be our legacy to the world. Why isn’t there a national museum dedicated to our indigenous culture? Why would we rather spend $100 million on a war museum in France honouring the lives of those who died fighting for another country’s wars rather than spend that money on a national monument honouring Australia’s vast pre-history? Why aren’t we standing on the hilltops boasting about the fact that we host an ancient civilization whose ancestors are still with us? And this story happened on this land – not in Turkey or France or Vietnam. These are the real, authentic stories of our ancient land: our true past. Who knows - it might even make us feel more connected to it, and perhaps lead us to appreciate the unique place in history that our co-existence with the earth’s oldest culture affords us.




Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Colour Orange: the Pauline Hanson Musical



A Space Called Thelma – Rajopolis, Tue 27 Feb

Pauline Hanson may have drifted out of the news again lately, but she is still rich fodder for humour. And in this case the perfect subject for musical comedy. No wonder Flaming Howard Productions got the Sydney Fringe critics’ nod for this show. It’s wonderful.
It must be said upfront that they should be playing at a much larger venue because  1) they had difficulty fitting themselves all on stage (the drummer was off stage and unseen!!) 2) they deserve an audience of hundreds.
This is a full tilt musical. A five piece band, and five singers/players. And they were all great – there is no suggestion of a weak link anywhere. The songs were infectious and funny, the singing was marvellous; staging and choreography spot on, and costumes all eye-catching and appropriate.
And then of course there’s the story of the woman we all love or hate. Tracking through Pauline’s political life from 1994 to the present, we meet various characters who have assisted her rise and fall and rise again along the way: co-founder of the One Nation party, David Oldridge; when jilted he goes off bleating to a vindictive and narcissistic Tony Abbott, who is made to look and sound even more ridiculous than he does in real life - superbly played. Other famous redheads are featured – Todd McKenny in his role as co-host of Dancing with the Stars, and ex-PM Julia Gillard gets a brief cameo.
The various players who took turns being Pauline all did a great job. As did the whole cast. Like I said, not a weak link anywhere. Writing, direction, staging, singing, acting, and musical arrangements all come together in the hands of very talented cast and deliver a show that is upbeat, energetic, classy (in a fish and chip shop sort of way) and funny.
And just in case you thought it’s not right to elevate this woman to national icon status in routines of harmless fun, we are sent home with a serious reminder of how this all came about.
I can’t speak highly enough of this show. Level of difficulty – 10.  Do yourself a favour and go and see these heroes in Pauline’s story. They deserve a crowd.

(This review also published in The Clothesline.)

THE CHOIR OF MAN


The Flamingo at Gluttony, Tue 20 Feb

There was already a lot happening on and around the stage as the audience shuffled in to the venue for the Choir of Man. It seems we’ve entered a pub, and it’s bustling with activity. Some people are ushered to the fully functioning bar to get a drink, and the show begins.
The Choir of Man are nine men welcoming you to their local. We are introduced to all of them in turn – the talker, the dreamer, the womaniser – time is taken to sketch out a little of each of our guests. This is a pub where you will not be a stranger. If you come for a drink you can sit in silence, talk your head off, or just chew the fat, but you will not be alone.
Most of the musical material is not unaccompanied. Each of our hosts take turns in leading the next song, often accompanied by guitar, piano, ukulele or other instrument. While this adds great variety to their arrangements it also presents some staging problems. It’s always difficult to balance multiple moving sounds in a tent but as engaging and joyful as they were, the songs with instruments didn’t showcase their vocals well enough – I wanted the voices louder. In the unaccompanied pieces their voices rang out loud and true and showed how they good they are.
The Choir of Man has other things to say apart from their music. Don’t sit with your woes alone, don’t keep things bottled up inside. Share your feelings, and if it’s your turn to listen, then listen. “When the choir is working well it’s because we are listening.”
If you’re lucky you’ll be one of many audience members who scored free beers (yes – they give away free beer!)
The show just got better and better as it went. A great communal vibe, lots of positive energy, and infectious music. Go and spend some time with the Choir of Man. You’ll go home feeling much better.

(This review also published in The Clothesline.)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Moodle Good Practice

Originally posted on Wikispaces at http://moodlegoodpractice.wikispaces.com/ in 2011 but migrating here due to Wikispaces' sad but inevitable impending closure. Many links may no longer work. This is more for the historical record.

SOME EXAMPLES (and they were hard to find, or extract from people!)


1. Open Learn – the Open University http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/
Lots of unfacilitated open courses to browse. Check out their excellent list of Learning Tools.

2. On Moodle’s own demo site at http://demo.moodle.org/ there are just two courses offered (use logins provided at site):
i) a Moodle Features demo
ii) Film Studies Module

A more recent demo site from Moodle is at http://school.demo.moodle.net/

3. On the Moodle commons I found this good example on Digital Photography
http://moodlecommons.org/course/view.php?id=5
4. There are some showcase geography Moodle courses on Wycombe High School moodle here I came across the other day:
Krankenzusatzversicherung g√ľnstig
http://whs.moodledo.co.uk/course/category.php?id=106

5. Two great examples from Wallace Web Design(thank you Richard)

i) Career Awareness
ii) Using Quizzes and Assessments in Moodle

More examples from Wallace Web Design at http://moodle.wwdad.net/moodle/

6. Online Facilitation course & others on OER site in NZ
Online Facilitation course by Joyce Seitzinger (little old now, we've made improvements since, but still)
Instructional Design for Blended Learning course by Sue Dark & Anouk Janssens
7. UVCMS Online demo courses : http://test.uvcms.com/mhr/

8. A selection of Moodle sites on a slideshow from Miguel Guhlin. (Links on the sites shown in the slides are clickable.) Useful to see the various ways teachers have exploited the basic Moodle interface. Download Moodle courses you can restore from backup here . Also, a wealth of Moodle related resources, including videos online at http://mguhlin.net/moodle

9. Linux for Education - this site has a bunch of courses, no authentication/login/registration is necessary.

10. A Moodle for a primary class - Second grade in Tampa, Florida. Our wireless has been bad for weeks, so I don't add as much content as I should. Week 6 is a good example of what the Moodle looks like during a week of full connectivity.

User name: pbguest
Password: guestpb

11. Leeds City College - check guest courses

That’s all I’ve been able to find so far that I think are worth showing. There have to be hundreds more. PLEASE ADD THEM.

( Very few did. - Ed) 

What is a blog?

Originally posted on Wikispaces at http://blogsineducation.wikispaces.com/ in 2007 but migrating here due to Wikispaces' sad but inevitable impending closure.

What is a blog?


A blog is an abbreviation of ‘weblog’. It is a web based journal or diary where entries are posted and arranged chronologically. They are typically free, and are found all over the Internet. The most common free blog hosting services is Blogger, but many educators are using Wordpress (http://wordpress.com/) or Edublogs (http://edublogs.org/) for educational blogs. These days many LMSs now have blog tools built in to them.


Why would I use a blog for my students?
  • To have all their work in one place (writing, images, video, etc)
  • So students have a portable ongoing record of their work (like an e-resume, or eportfolio)
  • So students can read and comment on each others’ work
  • Perhaps make student work available to a wider audience beyond the institution or college
  • To improve student writing skills
  • To encourage and promote digital literacy
  • To use as a reflective journal for students who may be off campus
  • For a teacher to write regular reflections, summaries, etc about the class
  • A way to give students ownership of a personal space - a web site that encourages active engagement by the students and teacher

Some Examples of the use of Blogs in Education

Resources:

Friday, January 26, 2018

Steve Foster

I guess I was 18 or 19 when I first heard Steve Foster play. I used to attend the lunchtime concerts held in Union Hall at Adelaide Uni. They were usually band gigs, but Steve played a couple of shows there on his own. I was smitten on first take. I had been playing guitar for a while, learning the same few chords that most beginners latch on to and I thought my guitar playing was pretty average.
Steve had just released his Coming Home in a Jar album, and most of the songs I heard him play at these Union Hall concerts were from that album. They were strong songs – catchy and meaningful. And by and large simple. Steve used chords I played, and didn’t use any fancy picking. He just strummed. And the songs and his delivery of them were beautiful.
It was a moment when I thought “you know, I could do this. I know those chords, I can strum, and I have a reasonable singing voice. “ It was a moment I’d never forget. I learnt a couple of Steve’s songs and had great pleasure over the years telling people who liked them that they were written by Steve Foster, the Adelaide Steve Foster. (There is a much more famous Stephen Foster – the American songwriter responsible for a great many famous songs like Oh Susanna and Camptown Races.)
Steve left Adelaide for Melbourne and ports beyond in an attempt to make the big time and for whatever reason he didn’t quite get there. He should have – he got close – but that’s a story for others to tell. In my eyes he was certainly good enough.
Fast forward to 2016 and the Adelaide Fringe. Steve was back in Adelaide and performed his Dylan & Donovan: The Prophet, The Poet & The Sorcerers’ Apprentice at the Semaphore RSL Club. It was a wonderful show. As I wrote at the time, it was a real treat to hear that beautiful musical soul sing and play and tell his stories again.
Some months later Steve contacted me. He wanted to meet for coffee and thank me for my review – he figured it had gone some way to getting him invited to the Edinburgh Fringe. I hope it was that way. If so, it would be some repayment for the enormous influence Steve had had on my musical development. I was really pleased to be able to tell him firsthand about the impact his Union Hall concerts had had on me.  I told him how he had unknowingly helped me believe in my musical self.
Steve was to do another show featuring songs of the sea in this year’s Fringe but alas it won’t be happening. Steve died yesterday. One of Adelaide’s finest voices will sing no more. Thank you dear man. Rest in peace Steve.