Saturday, December 30, 2017

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Britain to celebrate 100th anniversary of women winning right to vote

Seven areas across England are to host projects in 2018 to mark 100 years since women in Britain were first allowed to vote, Minister for Women and Equalities Anne Milton announced Friday.

To mark the milestone event the government's "centenary cities" -- Bolton, Bristol, Leeds, Leicester, London, Manchester and Nottingham -- will all stage a range of exciting projects to celebrate as well as remember the individuals who helped win votes for women. 

And government funding of a million pounds will help pay for the celebrations.

Millicent Fawcett
The program forms part of the government's wider plans to promote this pivotal moment in history, including the addition of the first female statue in Parliament Square of suffragist campaigner Millicent Fawcett, due to be unveiled in 2018. 

"The initiatives and commemorations that will take place across the country next year aim to help inspire and educate young people about UK democracy and its importance, as well as encourage more women to get into political and public life," said a spokeswoman for the Department for Education.

Although women in Britain won the right to vote in 1918, it was not the end of the campaign. Only females aged 30 or over were allowed to vote. It would be another decade before women won equality with men and were allowed to vote at 21. The age for both sexes has since been lowered to 18.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ward – Australian Legend by John Hirst

The life & work of Russel Ward

The Australian Legend
John Hirst

Russel Ward’s classic book The Australian Legend (1958) avers that, from the 1890s, the Australian nation defined itself by the values and attitudes of the up-country bushman. Born in 1914, Ward grew up almost untouched by this bush ethos. His parents were Methodists and his childhood homes were the private schools of which his father was head. On completing his schooling at Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, Ward was, in the words of his autobiography, ‘as arrant a conservative, as loyal a Briton and as nasty a snob as ever left any great public school in Australia.’ All this was to change, but he remained always impeccably bourgeois in manners and appearance. The apostle of the Australian Legend looked like an English army officer.

At the University of Adelaide he spectacularly flouted the Methodist prohibition on alcohol. He lost the Christian faith but rediscovered Jesus as a man of peace and the champion of the poor. His nickname within the family was ‘softie’ and his tender nonconformist conscience carried him – like so many others – to political radicalism. This had as yet no clear form or object. In the midst of his roistering at the university, he wondered whether he should be a priest. Instead, he returned to the private schools, teaching at Geelong Grammar and Sydney Grammar. In the army during the war he served in the censorship and psychology units, both based in Sydney, and he remained there after the war teaching in state schools.

In Sydney in the 1940s, he found a radical milieu – the New Theatre, the Journalists’ Club, the Teachers’ Federation and the Communist Party, which he joined in 1941. Reading Ward’s account of his life in Sydney reminded me instantly of Graeme Davison’s depiction of radical Sydney in the 1890s – the Bulletin, the bookstores, the Freethought Hall – the urban environment in which, as Davison insists, the bush legend was born. For Ward, it had to be born again. He was completely typical of his class in being brought up on British history and English literature (which he loved) and learning almost nothing of the history and literature of his native land. As a radical in Sydney, he started to collect Australian folk songs. Until then, he had never heard one. He was introduced to them by a Scottish immigrant couple, neighbours of his in Sydney, who possessed a dog-eared copy of the 1905 edition of Banjo Patterson’s Old Bush Songs. He was invited to their home one night and found the Scottish couple and two visiting British sailors singing ‘Wrap me up with my stockwhip and blanket’. So wayward and attenuated were the conduits for the transmission of the bush ethos. Ward’s autobiography, whose theme is the author’s discovery of an Australian identity, shows how weak a hold the Australian Legend had on the respectable. In The Australian Legend he argues the opposite, against his experience, and uses a poem by John Manifold to clinch the case that the ‘noble bushman’ tradition ‘has captured the imagination of the whole Australian people’, for Manifold belonged to one of the ‘old squatting families in the Victorian Western District, traditionally held to be the most conservative and “aristocratic” social group in Australia.’

The Australian Legend in itself is a work of mythic power for it is an account of a revelation, of a moment when a people came to know fully what was previously half known or hidden. Ward wrote so compellingly because he was writing of his own revelation, which he projected onto the nation and backdated to the 1890s. Clearly he exaggerated the extent of the Legend’s influence, yet the book itself did much to repair this mistake. Having rediscovered the Legend in the 1940s, Ward became one of the chief vehicles for spreading it among the bourgeoisie. The success of the book became the best support for its claims. In his autobiography, Ward ponders why Australian folk songs enjoyed a revival in Australia in the 1950s but does not offer an answer. An answer would serve as well to explain why his book was so well received. In part, it was because the respectable or, more precisely, their children were becoming less British and more Australian in outlook and were abandoning the standards of respectability that made free-wheeling bushmen doubtful heroes.

The Australian Legend was written in the early 1950s as a PhD thesis at the Australian National University, which provided Ward, then a married man in his late thirties, with a scholarship. The thesis was entitled The Ethos and Influence of the Australian Pastoral Worker. Before it was accepted, Ward became a cause célèbre. An appointments committee at the University of Technology in Sydney unanimously recommended him for a lectureship, but the council overrode its committee on the urging of Vice Chancellor Baxter, who was concerned at Ward’s ‘seditious’ (i.e. communist) connections. The protests of Ward and his supporters were unavailing. The University of New England then offered him a position and he remained there for the rest of his working life, advancing from lecturer to professor.

Following the success of The Australian Legend, Ward wrote several general histories of Australia, which depict not a nation united in its attachment to the bushman but one of conflicting allegiances determined by class. Working-class people were nationalists; the middle class were imperial patriots. This depiction of the bourgeoisie was closer to Ward’s own experience but he drew the dichotomy too firmly, especially when he assumed that imperial patriots were careless of Australian interests. In this he took too savage a revenge on the world of the great public schools.

The general histories do not have the distinctiveness or force of The Australian Legend, elegant, lively and professional though they be. Ward remained a committed Marxist but a reader of these works would not know it. The mode of production is not presented as the dynamic force. Much of the account is of high politics, seen from a left-liberal position, spiced with social observation.

Ward’s claim to greatness rests on the one book. It is much more subtle than many of its critics have allowed: ‘It is not so much the bushman’s actual nature that matters, as the nature attributed to him by so many men of the day.’ Those who argue that the Legend was constructed rather than transmitted by the literary men of the 1890s should reread the final chapter where much of their case is conceded. It might be said that Ward should have allowed the insights of this chapter to exercise more control over the rest of the book. What Ward, rightly, would never concede was that the Legend was a complete fabrication. The thesis offers a better defence against this view than the book. It begins, not with a description of the national stereotype, but with a discussion of Australian folk ballads. Ward concludes that these clearly were not communal creations; they began life as adaptations or parodies of street ballads or popular music-hall and drawing-room songs or as published, literary verse. But one small group of men sang and reshaped and sometimes composed these ballads and created, as it were, the canon – and they were the outback pastoral workers.

The book has survived all its critics. Historians will never destroy it; it will become a relic only when the culture-hero whom it celebrates ceases to be recognised and valued.

From the Evatt Foundation (1996)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Friday, November 17, 2017

Monday, November 06, 2017

Our Humanity Moz from Manus

Asylum Seeker ‘Moz’ releases song recorded in Manus Island detention centre August 30, 2017. ‘All the Same’ produced by O’Brien, Skov & Pilkington @Audrey Studios

Behrouz Boochani – Song from Manus Prison

Journalist and poet Behrouz Boochani has been held in immigration detention on Manus Island for four years.  "When I was in Delta prison, my roommate is Kurdish. He wrote this poem on the wall. 

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Sydney Manus Demo

UN human rights chief tells Turnbull government to restore services to Manus immediately

Bangkok: The United Nations' human rights chief has lashed out at the Turnbull government, expressing "serious concerns" over the welfare, safety and well-being of more than 600 refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island.

In a blunt statement issued in Geneva, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, described the situation on the Papua New Guinea island as an "unfolding humanitarian emergency".

Refugees and asylum seekers protesting inside the now-closed regional processing facility on Manus Island, which they refuse to leave. Photo: Supplied
"All migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers are human beings," Prince Zeid said through a spokesman.

"Like all of us, they have a right to a safe and secure environment, a right to an adequate standard of living and to participate in the decision-making process that is affecting their future," the spokesman said.

The men have refused to leave the Australian-funded regional processing centre on Manus Island over fears for their safety outside.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR has backed many of the men's claims that new camps to accommodate them are unsafe because they are open to the violence-wracked Manus community and medical and other support there is inadequate.

The centre was closed on October 31 and Australian contractors and service providers have left the island.

Prince Zeid levelled blame for the stand-off at Australia, saying that as Canberra interned the men in the first place it should provide protection, food, water and other basic services which have been cut off since authorities shut the centre.

He called on the Australian Government to restore services immediately.

He said the men have said they fear they will be subjected to violence at the hands of locals if they leave the compound.

"Given there have been violent incidents in the past we believe these fears should be respected and satisfactorily addressed," the spokesman said.

"We urge the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea to fully respect their human rights under international refugee law and to enter into a dialogue with the men to ensure these rights are duly respected, protected and fulfilled," he said.

"We urge the Australian Government to transfer the men to the mainland where their claims can be processed."

The men have said they are hungry and exhausted and have had to dig wells to access water.

Food donors have reportedly been barred from going to the centre.

New Zealand's new Labour government has confirmed New Zealand is prepared to accept 150 refugees from the island and Opposition leader Bill Shorten has urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to accept the proposal.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tom Roberts – plink-a-plong – 1893

Tom Roberts – plink-a-plong – 1893

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Vale Iona Opie – 13 October 1923 - 23 October 2017

When asked how she became a custodian of the lore and traditions of childhood, Iona Opie, who has died aged 94, told a bedtime story. The publishing company that employed her husband, Peter, was exiled by the London blitz to Bedfordshire in 1943, and there the couple walked by a field of corn. Iona, who was pregnant, picked up a bug and recited “Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home / Your house is on fire and your children all gone.” It flew and they were “left wondering about this rhyme – what did it mean? Where did it come from? Who wrote it?”

No index in the public library could direct them, so from scratch they started researching nursery rhymes. Iona claimed the rhymes were uniquely British: “All part of being frightfully tough and not minding the weather; we’re nourished with nonsense and it does us a lot of good”. The Opies collected, codified and published that nonsense.

ona had learned to study while young, as a silent child who read locked in a loo in the family house in Colchester, Essex. Her father, Sir Robert Archibald, a pathologist, was often away in Africa researching tropical diseases; her mother, Olive (nee Cant), nurtured Iona’s studies and her first purchases of old books. She meant to follow her father into science, but “I was hijacked”.

During the second world war, she made meteorological maps in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Off duty, she read I Want To Be a Success, a popular 1939 publication written by, and very much about, an old Etonian, Peter Opie, another peruser of reference books. She sent him a letter; the correspondence became a romance, an elopement, and in 1943 a marriage. “I did this very stupid thing of letting myself get fascinated with Peter. I was 19 and knew it was the end of my independent life.”

Since they had no academic background, the Opies did not know they lacked proper qualifications, or how to publish within academic conventions; the keeper of western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, discovered them collecting riddles, and recommended them to the Oxford University Press. The couple’s inquiries were exhaustive and exhausting. Peter did the writing; Iona, whom he called “old mother shuffle paper”, did the research. They worked three shifts daily in separate rooms, communicating by note in work hours – no social life, no money, picking nettles in the park to eat in lieu of greens.

“We were both puritans; we liked hurting ourselves,” said Iona. “Neither of us liked luxury. I wanted a hard life.” She got it, although both Opies could burst into playfulness: “The happiness a child can find … is more intense than any in adult life and the treasures of childhood which often exist only in the memory are among our most precious possessions.”

Their first publication was I Saw Esau (1947), a slim precursor of the wide spines of The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1951) and The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book (1955). The Opies applied years of rigour to an oral culture too commonplace to have received attention before: their scholarship, informally communicated, was important to the postwar discovery of the words of ordinary people. “It took 50 generations to make up Mother Goose,” Iona said. “Nursery rhymes are the smallest great poems of the world’s literature.”

They slogged on. “We stayed home and plod, plod, plodded along.” The Opies wanted to do fieldwork among the juvenile tribes of Britain, about whom anthropologists knew nothing; they ignored claims that traditions were dead and recruited helpers to question children in 70 schools. The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959) revealed a complex, secret society with its “own code of oral legislation for testing, betting, swapping, keeping secrets”.

The tribes remembered from generation to generation a codex of knowledge, yet could speedily disseminate a joke nationwide. This society was unsentimental, anti-authoritarian, aware of the absurdity of adults. The book that recorded it – just before its customs were changing with the commodification of childhood – was on all the reading lists for the new subject of sociology in the 1960s.

On the Opies plodded, no car, no telly, interviewing thousands for Children’s Games in Street and Playground (1969) and filing folk fictions for The Classic Fairy Tales (1974); they also anthologised children’s verse. Books furnished their Hampshire homes (first at Alton, then West Liss) and because they tried to “think as a child”, these homes also became repositories of once-put-away childish things – toys, games and teaching aids.

After Peter’s death from a heart attack in 1982, Iona continued the work alone. Her publications included The People in the Playground (1993), a diary of two of the 13 years for which she attended morning playtime at Liss junior school to document the scatology and lewdness left out of The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren –“In 1959, you didn’t publish anything worse than ‘knickers’: now in the name of science I’m going to put in everything.” Tail Feathers From Mother Goose (1988) and Here Comes Mother Goose (1999) were meant to transmit tradition to children who no longer learned it from peers or grandmas. Iona overcame a fear that printing would dispel the spell: “The world of childhood is too independent, too large, and too vital to be affected by any book.”

She sold 20,000 books from the Opies’ private collection, worth £1m, half-price to the Bodleian in 1987. Oxford University’s appeal for purchase funds exceeded its target. Some of the money helped subsidise her son Robert’s collection of ephemera – he applied Opie principles to collecting items such as the baker’s brown paper bag and the bus ticket, and the result is now housed in the Museum of Brands in west London. Robert collaborated with Iona on The Treasures of Childhood (1989). Her son James was an expert on toy soldiers; her daughter, Letitia, worked in education. All three children had been sent to boarding schools so they should not distract from their parents’ work.

Iona changed direction temporarily with A Dictionary of Superstitions (1989), but never lost faith with children: “I have a way of life that comes from the children, I’m going to go on playing until I expire.” The encyclopedic by-product of this vow was Children’s Games With Things (1997).

The universities of Oxford, Southampton, Nottingham and Surrey, and the Open University, awarded the Opies honorary masters’ degrees and doctorates; and they won international literary medals. Iona was made CBE in 1999.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Vic Turner – October 1927 – 30 December 2012

"Turner represented all that is good about the dockers and working people," Len McCluskey

Vic Turner was one of the dock leaders known as the Pentonville Five, whose imprisonment for picketing in July 1972 led to one of the largest mass demonstrations in London, and the threat by the Trades Union Congress of a general strike. The men were arrested and jailed on the orders of the Heath government's newly set-up National Industrial Relations Court; the dispute over their jailing would be one of the defining moments in postwar industrial relations.

The dockworkers were secondary-picketing the Chobham Farm container depot in protest at proposals by employers to move their jobs to the depots; another company, Midland Cold Storage, part of the multi-national Vesty Group, applied to the NIRC for an injunction to stop further picketing; the dockers defied the injunction. MCS hired private detectives to identify the mens' leaders, and five Transport and General Workers Union shop stewards – Conny Clancy, Tony Merrick, Bernie Steer, Derek Watkins and Vic Turner – were named as ringleaders. Warrants for their arrests were issued by the NIRC for contempt of court, and four were arrested and imprisoned on 21 July; Turner, seen as the most prominent, was arrested and imprisoned as he led a demonstration outside Pentonville, where the men had been taken.

Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite (formerly TGWU), was a young shop steward in the Liverpool docks at the time, and remembered what an inspiration Turner had been. "Vic Turner," he said, "represented all that is good about the dockers in particular and working people more generally. To go to prison in the cause of trade union freedom is not something many of us have had to face, we can only hope that we would live up to the example that Vic Turner set."

There was uproar throughout the UK with demonstrations and walk-outs; the TUC General Council called for a one-day national strike to take place on 31 July, after Prime Minister Heath ignored their plea for him to intervene. A march and demonstration was organised which saw thousands march on Pentonville.

Faced by the threat of a general strike and looking for a way out of the confrontation, the Official Solicitor was sent in by the Government to look at the case. He applied to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that the NIRC had "insufficient" grounds to deprive the men of their liberty, and that the private detectives' evidence was also insufficient.

The men were set free on 26 July. The role of the NIRC was discredited; although the Industrial Relations Act remained on the statute books, it was largely ignored. Thatcher would learn from the case and later target funds rather activists.

A clever, determined man, Victor Turner was born and brought up in East London, he followed his father and his brothers into the dockyards, becoming a docker. His socialism was learnt from his mother, who took him as a child to meetings at Poplar Town Hall. He joined the TGWU, becoming a steward in the Royal Group, and also a member of the Communist Party, taking part in the battles to end casualisation.

Immensely popular with fellow dockworkers, he turned down offers of advancement to remain near his roots. His son Vic recalled: "He never wanted to be one step away from the men. He never courted adulation or esteem, he led the way because it had to be done. Dockers never went on strike for money, only for better conditions, and that's what he wanted."

The introduction of the Industrial Relations Act led to full-scale conflict between unions and employers. Turner played a prominent role in organising support for the dockers fighting to keep the Upper Clyde Shipyards open and in helping others such as the miners' children affected by the 1972 miners dispute. He was to continue his fight against the loss of jobs within the shipyards, but the days of the docks came to an end as containerisation took over, resulting in large-scale redundancies; Turner lost his job when the Royal Group finally closed.

He went to work for Newham Council as a Trade Refuse Officer and joined the Labour Party. He was elected to the council in 1984, serving as Mayor. Len McCluskey said: "There was life after the docks for Vic. Active in the Newham Labour Party, he continued to represent working people in their communities. Vic Turner, whether active in the workplace or in the community, never lost sight of working class interests and was never swayed from supporting that cause."

He was awarded the TUC's gold badge for his work in the trade union movement. TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady remembered the impact that Turner had made: "For Vic Turner, trade unionism was about working class people looking after each other. It was a simple belief, but it was one that led him to organise in support of his fellow dockers when jobs were threatened, it was a belief that resulted in him being jailed; and soon afterwards it was a belief that led to him being released when workers across the country decided they should look after him and the other Pentonville Five.

"The same belief lay at the heart of his work on the docks and later as a councillor in Newham. And that is why I am pleased that Dan Jones' painting of the Pentonville demonstration hangs outside the TUC's General Council Chamber."

It was good to see the respectful obituary of Vic Turner (19 January), writes Eddie Johnson. I knew him for over 50 years, first when I served as the Tally Clerks representative on Jack Dash's unofficial London Docks liaison committee when Vic was one of Jack Dash's most trusted lieutenants. Later, when I'd left the docks to run the Two Puddings pub in Stratford he was a regular.

I remember when he was the Mayor of Newham he came to a charity night we ran for Terry Spinks and he let me wear his chain of office to have a photo taken. What was so good about Vic Turner was that he was incorruptible, and always true to his beliefs of the solidarity and honour of the working class. He never sold out, as many did in those days. I will raise a glass in his memory.

In 1973 Cinema Action members Pauline Swindells and Maree Delofski edited an award winning film starring Vic Turner and thousands of protestors. Every year following their victory the imprisoned leaders would gather to watch their film.


Arise Ye Workers

List of Cinema Action films

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Democracy Now – Woody Guthrie at 100 (2012)

Woody Guthrie at 100: Pete Seeger, Billy Bragg, Will Kaufman Honor the "Dust Bowl Troubadour"

Thursday, September 28, 2017

UK – For the Many not the Few

Jeremy Corbyn at Labour Party Conference
Mr Corbyn was met with a rapturous standing ovation in the Brighton Centre, for his first conference speech since the his party gained seats at the election and stripped Ms May of her Commons majority.

He slammed the Tories for still believing in “the same dogmatic mantra” which he summed up as “deregulate, privatise, cut taxes for the wealthy, weaken rights at work, delivering profits for a few, and debt for the many”

He added: “It’s as if we’re stuck in a political and economic time-warp.”

Mr Corbyn then went on to set out his vision of “socialism for the 21st century” – drawing in nationalised utilities, new fines for business and taxes for the wealthy.

He said: “Our economy no longer delivers secure housing secure well-paid jobs or rising living standards.

“There is a new common sense emerging about how the country should be run.

“That’s what we fought for in the election and that’s what’s needed to replace the broken model forged by Margaret Thatcher many years ago.”

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Dale Hansen Unplugged – US Anthem Protests

Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen is a fixture of the sports media scene, and his "Unplugged" segment on ABC affiliate WFAA has never shied away from the sometimes-insidious politics of the sports world.

On Monday, Hansen nailed it again, defending the #TakeAKnee protests that swept the NFL last weekend in a clip that's quickly becoming required viewing on Twitter.

Most notably, he refuted the notion that a protest during the national anthem is inherently disrespectful to veterans. (Hansen served in Vietnam.)

"My best friend in high school was killed in Vietnam," Hansen said. "Carroll Meir will be 18 years old forever. And he did not die so that you can decide who is a patriot and who loves America more."

Hansen also took several shots at Trump, including at the president's decision to call players who protest "sons of bitches" despite "[saying] nothing for days" about the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville.

"If you don't think white privilege is a fact, then you don't understand America," he said.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Lecture by Prof. Gyanendra Pandey 2015 – Politics of Indifference

What is the meaning of politics and democracy at any time?  I think that these are questions that need to be asked. It is not self evident but they are being treated today as though we already know what we are talking about ... a shift from the level of policies good bad, indifferent to the question of power and privilege in our societies. I suspect it would lead us very quickly to recognise a really quite new ethos that surrounds our political and governmental discourses in the late 20th and early 21st centuries ... a politics of indifference … I suggest first that there is a politics that you can see in the politics of callousness and you can see in  bureaucratic obstacles presented all of the time, procrastination, process that will take forever sometimes. An indifference that might be called apathy, disinterest, callousness … I suggest to you that much modern governmental and political practice is marked by that. We know this perfectly well its just something we ought to remind ourselves its something that we need to mark … My second concern is with indifference to difference to the very condition of plurality of different ways of being of different ways of thinking, of different views of different practices of life.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Jute Mill Song

This song is probably one of the most famous & lovely folk songs ever out of Dundee (already represented here in some very beautiful & interesting versions on youtube !)  (as far as I know though, this particular version of the song has not been posted until now) I think this  rendition by Lowland Folk which I took off my precious vinyl record 'Coorse & Fine',is certainly one of the best recordings ever of this song and deserves to be accesible to the audience which youtube provides. Most people would know that the famous words were written by that remarkable Dundonian woman, Mary Brooksbank who had a complete knowledge of what she was talking about as she herself spent her earliest working days (from age 13) slaving in the mill. In putting together the visual images for this I couldn't help noticing how the photos  I found  bore witness to Mary's poignant lyrics about the social conditions in those days. For example, one of the explanatory captions on the photo of the two wee bairns on a Dundee street, mentioned that one of them already had  bow legs due to rickets...

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Horses Sing None of It – Peggy Seeger

Legendary feminist songwriter, folksinger, multi-instrumentalist & sister of Pete & Mike; 45 years of concerts, 20 solo & over 100 joint recordings

Smithsonian – Listening to the Earth Breathe

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Paul Robeson to Woolmet Colliery near Edinburgh 1949

Extract from Mining Review 2nd Year No. 11 (1949)

The highlight of this 1949 issue is the visit of American actor and singer Paul Robeson to Woolmet Colliery near Edinburgh. Robeson was also a renowned (and often persecuted) left-wing political activist and he made several visits to British mining communities. On this occasion he sings "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night" for miners in the canteen, a song about an American trade unionist who was allegedly framed on a murder charge and executed in 1915. Robeson had long been something of a hero to the British mining community, ever since he starred in the film Proud Valley (d. Pen Tennyson, 1940) as an American sailor stranded in Cardiff who finds work in a Welsh colliery (the newsreel opens with a short clip from the film).

Ella May – Martyr For an Organised South

As the events of the Gastonia strike unfolded, Wiggins recorded them in song. The strike, the union, and the men and women in jail all became the subjects of her ballads. After the murder of the police chief, Wiggins sang to the strikers: "Come all of you good people, And listen to what I tell; The story of Chief Aderholt, The Man you all knew well." Drawing from traditional mountain ballads, Wiggins put new words to old tunes while carefully observing the conventions of the unfamiliar songs. Her lyrics,

"Toiling on life's pilgrim pathway—Wheresoever you may be, It will help you fellow workers—If you will join the ILD,"

This became a popular strike song. Wiggins, or Ella May, as she was always called, sang before large groups of workers in fervent tones, with great seriousness. As folklorist Margaret Larkin wrote in 1929, Wiggins's songs were "better than a hundred speeches." This quiet young woman's untaught alto voice rang out simple, monotonous tunes that captivated those who listened. Her six-versed ballad entitled "The Mill Mother's Lament" documented her personal struggle to support her children:

We leave our homes in the morning,
We kiss our children good bye,
While we slave for the bosses,
Our children scream and cry.

But understand, all workers,
Our union they do fear,
Let's stand together, workers,
And have a union here.

This ballad, as each of Wiggins's songs, expressed her faith in the union, the only organized force she had encountered that promised her a better life.

Ella May was to sing her ballads and speak to the strikers at the NTWU protest rally on 14 Sept. 1929. Early that morning the Manville-Jenckes forces mobilized hundreds of men, including many newly sworn-in deputies and vigilantes, to disperse those attending the rally; they set up roadblocks in all directions.

A short time before the rally was to begin, a group of twenty-two unarmed union members, strikers, and sympathizers, Ella May Wiggins among them, traveled in a truck from Bessemer City to the rally site south of Gastonia. Wiggins had insisted that none of the strikers carry weapons. The truck was halted at one of the roadblocks where armed men ordered the workers to return to Bessemer City "on pain of death."

The strikers turned their truck around and headed away from the meeting, as ordered, only to be pursued by several carloads of armed men. After a short distance, one of the cars passed the truck and stopped in its path. The truck driver, unable to brake quickly enough, ran into the car, and workers riding in the back of the truck tumbled out.

For a moment, while the others scrambled back into the truck, Ella May Wiggins stood in the bright sunlight, leaning against the side rail. Then, the mob opened fire and she fell into the truck bed gasping, "Oh, my God, they've shot me." Wiggins died in the arms of Charley Shope, who had stood near her in the truck. The other strikers, two of whom were wounded, fled into a nearby field as the mob continued to fire their guns.

Bob Dylan – The Cuckoo is a pretty bird

Thursday, September 07, 2017


Critic (Hobart)  Sat 16 Mar 1912  p. 4.

Old-Time Reminiscences.

[ By Dion.]

Seventeen prisoners went voluntarily off in the Cyprus boats besides Brown—one of the sailors whom they handcuffed, and forced to go with them. All the rest of the prisoners were forced on shore, the pirates not knowing there was such a large quantity of provisions on board as there actually was. When they took an inventory of their plunder some days afterwards, there were provisions sufficient to keep 400 men going for several months.

As soon as matters were got on an even keel on shipboard, there was some dispute as to who should assume command, and ultimately Walker, who possessed a fair nautical knowledge--or imagined he did—was appointed captain, and Ferguson, who dressed himself in Lieutenant Carew’s uniform,  assumed to himself the title of lieutenaut, and Jones was rated mate. They proposed to make regulations  as to the future navigation of the ship when they got to sea, and it was arranged that the crew should be  uniformed in canvas clothing.

An endeavor was made to induce Morgan and Knight—two of the brig’s sailors  who had been pressed into the service of the mutineers, to stand by the ship, but they refused to have  anything to do with the business, and after being treated to a night’s jollification on the ship’s rum  (of which there was a large supply on board), they were on the next morning put on shore to keep the  others company.

The first evening on board of the brig was devoted to mirth and revelry, towards which the Government rum contributed in no small degree. During the next two or three days the prisoners on board enjoyed themselves to the top of their bent, and Pennell, Jones and Watts indulged to such an extent that the liqour had to be taken away from them. Three of prisoners signified their willingness to give Morgan and Knight—the two sailors who were landed—the jolly boat, but they were overruled by the majority, who held that if this concession were granted it might enable Lieutenant Carew to send an express to Hobart, and cause the vessel to be retaken.

At half past 5 o’clock on the Saturday morning following, the captain of the brig and the castaways on shore saw the last of her. A fair wind sprang up all sails were hoisted smartly, the crew gave three cheers, and she was out of sight in a couple of hours, and as it subsequently turned out, they brought South America, where they afterwards found out they did fare as well as they imagined.

One must now return to the castaways, who were making the best of things on the scrub-fringed shores of Recherche Bay, which at that time had not a vestige of habitation nearer to it than the prison station at “Birch’s Bay.” An attempt was made by Lieutenant Carew, who bad charge of the party, to try and get through in the direction of the Huon, but having no guide they walked round and round, and like the doomed in the Grecian Tartans, never arrived, with all their labor, nearer the attainment of their object. They returned to the camp almost dead with fatigue and with very small hopes of deliverance from their perilous situation.

Man’s power of adaptation to circumstances is a benign provision, and perhaps its most striking feature of misfortune of the marooned ones was the brave way in which Mrs Carew, the only woman of the party, kept up. Her conduct has been described as most courageous.

She had a little infant with her, and barely sufficient clothes to cover both of them, This display from a woman made the men keep a stiff upper lip, and they cast about them to devise some means to get out of their seeming hopeless predicament. Two of the most active members of the party were a couple of prisoners named Popjoy and Meakins, who, rather than join the piratical crew, jumped off the brig and swam to the shore. These two men volunteered to carry a despatch through to Hobart, and they were sent away on their journey with a day’s rations, and wished God speed; on their errand.

These two plucky fellows got through the Huon River, and while trying to swim with their clothes on their heads, they were surprised by a party of blacks, who did their level bet to spear them. Popjoy and his mate succeeded in eluding the spears by diving, and in following out these manoeuvres they lost their clothes, and were compelled to return to the camp in a state of nudity, after being two days in the bush without a bite to eat.

According to the tale related by them on their return, the blacks pursued them for several miles, and they ran blindly and wildly like men with bloodhounds on their tracks, stumbling over rocks and logs, torn now and then by the scrub, and battling up hill with straining lungs and trembling limbs until they dropped down thoroughly beaten and stupified in a dense tea tree scrub, where the natives left them. They stayed in the scrub for several hours, and then they put to themselves two very plain questions—“ Where are we; and how are we going to get back to the camp? ”

Sunday, September 03, 2017

E.P.Thompson – Blake's London ... Something to Say

Lecture by E P Thompson on William Blake's poem 'London'. 
Directed by Trevor Griffiths broadcast on BBC1 25 June 1970

                                BY WILLIAM BLAKE (1793)

                                I wander thro' each charter'd street, 
                                Near where the charter'd Thames does flow. 
                                And mark in every face I meet 
                                Marks of weakness, marks of woe. 

                                In every cry of every Man, 
                                In every Infants cry of fear, 
                                In every voice: in every ban, 
                                The mind-forg'd manacles I hear 

                                How the Chimney-sweepers cry 
                                Every blackning Church appalls, 
                                And the hapless Soldiers sigh 
                                Runs in blood down Palace walls 

                                But most thro' midnight streets I hear 
                                How the youthful Harlots curse 
                                Blasts the new-born Infants tear 
                                And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse 

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Australia and Timor-Leste have resolved long-running dispute over maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea

Australia and Timor-Leste have resolved long-running dispute over maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea, in what is being described as a "landmark day" in the relationship between the two nations.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague today announced the parties reached an agreement on Wednesday over the disputed territory, which contains large oil and gas deposits worth an estimated $40 billion.

Timor-Leste  initiated the compulsory conciliation process last year in a bid to force Australia to negotiate a permanent maritime boundary.

A history of treaties in the Timor Sea

In 1989 Australia and Indonesia signed the Timor Gap Treaty when East Timor was still under Indonesian occupation.

East Timor was left with no permanent maritime border and Indonesia and Australia got to share the wealth in what was known as the Timor Gap.

In 2002 East Timor gained independence and the Timor Sea Treaty was signed, but no permanent maritime border was negotiated.

East Timor has long argued the border should sit halfway between it and Australia, placing most of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field in their territory.

In 2004 East Timor started negotiating with Australia again about the border.

In 2006 the CMATS treaty was signed, but no permanent border was set, and instead it ruled that revenue from the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field would be split evenly between the two countries.

Former Timor Leste president Xanana Gusmao said the "long and at times difficult" process had helped the country achieve its dream of "full sovereignty and to finally settle our maritime boundaries with Australia".

"This is an historic agreement and marks the beginning of a new era in Timor-Leste's friendship with Australia," he said.

While the details remain confidential, the court said the agreement "addresses the legal status of the Greater Sunrise gas field…and the sharing of the resulting revenue".

In January, Timor-Leste terminated its 2006 treaty with Australia, which split revenue from the Greater Sunrise field 50/50 and delayed negotiations over a permanent maritime boundary for 50 years.

The country claimed the treaty was invalid because of allegations that Australia spied on cabinet ministers during negotiations to divide the oil and gas fields.

Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong welcomed the breakthrough, saying the court's ruling brings to an end "more than 40 years of uncertainty over this maritime border".

"The maritime boundary dispute with Timor-Leste has strained our bilateral relations and has gone on too long," she said.

The deal will be finalised in October. Until then, the details will remain confidential.

Lonesome Valley – Mississippi John Hurt with Hedy West and Pete Seeger

                    An excerpt from Pete Seeger's television program called "Rainbow Quest." 
                            It was recorded in 1965 or 66 at WNJU-TV (Channel 47), 
                     a New York City-based UHF station with studios in Newark, New Jersey.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Rural Life in WW1: lecture by Prof Alun Howkins

Professor Alun Howkins lectured on ‘A Countryside at War: Rural England 1914-1919′ at 6pm on Wednesday 27 April, in the Hive Studio, University of Worcester.

Alun Howkins is Professor Emeritus in Social History at the University of Sussex. He left school at 15 and worked at a variety of manual and white collar jobs before going to Ruskin College, a trade-union college for adult students in 1968.

He went from there to Oxford, where he read History and to Essex where he completed his PhD. He has written on a wide range of subjects from the paintings of Turner to the politics of the 1930s Communist Party. However his central commitment has always been and remains the history of the rural areas and especially the rural poor.

His books include The Death of Rural England: A Social History of the Countryside since 1900 (Routledge 2003). He is also an Honorary Professor at the University of East Anglia.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Friday, August 11, 2017

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Seville Orange time in Sydney

Organic Sevilles from Addison Road Markets

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Pete Seeger live in Australia – 1963

Published on 18 May 2014
Pete Seeger live in Australia

Pete Seeger on Moses Asche

Published on 20 Feb 2014
A Tribute to Pete Seeger:

Pete Seeger recorded many albums for Moses Asch, the originator of Folkways Recordings (now, Smithsonian Folkways). In 2006, Seeger related a tale that begins with the first singer Asch ever recorded and ends with Albert Einstein, then Seeger reveals Asch's creative business model.

The content and comments posted here are subject to the Smithsonian Institution copyright and privacy policy ( Smithsonian reserves the right in its sole discretion to remove any content at any time.

BBC Arena - Woody Guthrie (1988)

Published on 9 Oct 2011
Documentary on the life of Woody Guthrie, the travelling songwriter and singer who paved the way for the likes of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

Born in Okemah, Oklahoma, in 1912, Guthrie became a spokesman for a whole generation of downtrodden Americans during the 1930's with poignant songs like Vigilante Man, Pastures of Plenty and the anthemic This Land is Your Land.

Charles Kuralt interviews Alan Lomax

Published on 7 Dec 2012

Alan Lomax interviewed by Charles Kuralt at Lomax's Hunter College office, New York City, 1991. Part three of four. An edited portion of this interview appeared in a CBS Sunday Morning segment on Lomax later that year.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Film director Ken Loach has called for Labour MPs to Get Behind Jeremy Corbyn

Film director Ken Loach has called for Labour MPs who do not support Jeremy Corbyn to be ousted by members. 

The man behind ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and ‘Kez’ used a speech at Durham Miners’ Gala to attack the legacies of Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher before calling for Labour MPs who “will not work against” Corbyn.

“The long dark night that began with Thatcher in ’79 may be coming to an end, let’s hope,” Loach told a crowd of around 200,000 at the event.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (centre) and film director Ken Loach (right)
watch the parade during the Durham Miners’ Gala in Durham

Loach continued “And with it, the memory that followed: Blair and his privatisation and his illegal wars - that is coming to an end.”

Loach said MPs should face mandatory reselection processes as he mapped out how Labour could recover from losing the General Election.  

“The closer we get to power, the more vicious the attacks will get and the stronger we will need to be,” he said. 

“We have got to stay strong and for that we need a united movement. Now I’m going to be contentious on this day of unity: we need representatives in Parliament that are committed to this programme and will not work against it.

“We need an injection of democracy because most people in trade unions have to be elected and nothing is more perfectly democratic than, when members have served their time in Parliament, they have to be affirmed or reconfirmed by their members. 

“Because we cannot have the disgusting attacks that went on against Jeremy in the last Parliament.

“Let’s have an extension of democracy throughout the whole party.”

Monday, July 03, 2017

Naidoc Week – 2-9 July 2017 – Our Languages Matter

Oh Oh Jeremy Corbyn

Theresa May as depicted in huge Corbyn Rally in London

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Rear Window: A Life of Dissent - The Life and Work of E. P. Thompson

Published on 13 Jan 2016
E. P. Thompson, a British historian, poet, novelist and activist, was a voice of dissent in the dogmatic political environment of 20th century Europe. As a member of the New Left, his work and activism sought to bridge the gap between Marxist theory and practice, and to heal the fracture of the Cold War divide.

Jeremy Corbyn and crowds at Glastonbury 2017

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Saturday, June 10, 2017

BBC – Corbyn "Incredible result for the Labour party because people voted for hope"

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn reflects on the election result, telling reporters: "Incredible result for the Labour party because people voted for hope. Young people and old people all came together yesterday.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Convict Escape Ship – Cyprus Brig in Japan – 1830

A watercolour of a British-flagged ship that arrived off the coast of Mugi, in Shikoku, Japan in 1830, chronicled by low-ranking Samurai artist Makita Hamaguchi in documents from the Tokushima prefectural archive.

Photograph: Courtesy of Tokushima prefectural archive

A watercolour by samurai Makita Hamaguchi showing one of the sailors with a dog from the ship that ‘did not look like food. It looked like a pet.’

Photograph: Tokushima prefectural archive

An amateur historian has unearthed compelling evidence that the first Australian maritime foray into Japanese waters was by convict pirates on an audacious escape from Tasmania almost two centuries ago.

Fresh translations of samurai accounts of a “barbarian” ship in 1830 give startling corroboration to a story modern scholars had long dismissed as convict fantasy: that a ragtag crew of criminals encountered a forbidden Japan at the height of its feudal isolation.

The brig Cyprus was hijacked by convicts bound from Hobart to Macquarie Harbour in 1829, in a mutiny that took them all the way to China.

Its maverick skipper was William Swallow, a onetime British cargo ship apprentice and naval conscript in the Napoleonic wars, who in a piracy trial in London the following year told of a samurai cannonball in Japan knocking a telescope from his hand.

Swallow’s fellow mutineers, two of whom were the last men hanged for piracy in Britain, backed his account of having been to Japan.

Some researchers, citing the lack of any Japanese record of the Cyprus, had since ruled the convicts’ story a fabrication.

But that conclusion has been shattered by Nick Russell, a Japan-based English teacher and history buff, in a remarkable piece of sleuthing that has won the endorsement of Australian diplomatic officials and Japanese and Australian archival experts.

Russell, after almost three years of puzzling over an obscure but meticulous record of an early samurai encounter with western interlopers, finally joined the dots with the Cyprus through a speculative Google search last month.

The British expatriate all but solved what was for the Japanese a 187-year mystery, while likely uncovering vivid new detail of an epic chapter of colonial Australian history.

Nick Russell

“If you’d said I was going to go hunt and find a new pirate ship, I’d have gone, ‘you’re crazy’,” Russell told Guardian Australia. “I just stumbled on it. Boom. There it was on the screen in front of me.

“I immediately knew and as soon as I started checking, everything just fitted so perfectly.”

The ship anchored on 16 January 1830 off the town of Mugi, on Shikoku island, where Makita Hamaguchi, a samurai sent disguised as a fisherman to check the ship for weapons, noted an “unbearable stench in the vicinity of the ship”.

It was Hamaguchi’s watercolour sketch of an unnamed ship with a British flag that first intrigued Russell when he saw it on the website of the Tokushima prefectural archive in 2014.

With the help of a local volunteer manuscript reading group, Russell has since worked at translating written accounts of the ship’s arrival by Hamaguchi and another samurai, Hirota, now held by the Tokushima prefectural archive. Hamaguchi’s is called Illustrated Account of the Arrival of a Foreign Ship, while Hirota’s is A Foreign Ship Arrives Off Mugi Cove.

Russell first thought it may be a whaling ship, but the manuscript readers were skeptical. Having learned mutinies were common among whalers, Russell last month Googled the words “mutiny 1829”.

This stumbling upon a link between a samurai record and the story of the Cyprus was the research equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack, according to Warwick Hirst, the former curator of manuscripts at the State Library of New South Wales.

“It was a fantastic find,” Hirst, author of The Man Who Stole the Cyprus, told Guardian Australia. “I have no doubt that the Japanese account describes the visit of the Cyprus.”

Read More in the Guardian

Friday, May 12, 2017

Kick out MAY in JUNE – Voters back Labour Manifesto

Voters overwhelmingly back policies set out in Labour’s leaked manifesto, including nationalising the railways, building more houses and raising taxes on higher earners, according to a poll.

The ComRes survey shows around half of people support state ownership of the train network (52 per cent), energy market (49 per cent) and Royal Mail (50 per cent).

Roughly a quarter of people (22, 24 and 25 per cent respectively) said they opposed the policies, outlined in the party’s draft document, which was signed off by Labour executives at a meeting on Thursday.

All 43 pages of Jeremy Corbyn’s plan for a Labour government were leaked on Wednesday, days before the official manifesto launch.

The 20,000 word document revealed a radical plan for the country after 8 June; proposals that saw right-wing critics claiming the Labour leader wanted to drag Britain back to the 1970s.

The latest polling, conducted in the last 24 hours and published in the Daily Mirror, reveals wide-scale support for the proposals, even if the party leader remains unpopular.

On the plan to ban zero-hours contracts, 71 per cent said they backed the move, while just 16 per cent said they were against it.

Income tax hikes for the highest 5 per cent of earners on salaries of more than £80,000 also got the thumbs up from 65 per cent of voters, with 24 per cent opposed to higher levies.

And more than half (54 per cent) of voters said they supported the policy of building 100,000 more council houses each year.

Voters are split on whether MPs should be given a final vote on the terms of the Brexit deal, a policy that also found its way into the Labour manifesto.

Thirty-six per cent supported Labour’s call for Parliament to have a say at the end of the negotiating period, while 35 per cent are opposed, the survey found.

Meanwhile, Theresa May's support for fox hunting is at odds with nearly eight out of ten (78 per cent) of those polled, who said they wanted the ban to remain in place.

Voters were less flattering about the Labour leader, the survey found, with 56 per cent saying Mr Corbyn would be a “disaster” as prime minister and 30 per cent saying he should be given “a fair chance”.

Labour’s proposal for renationalisation of the railways is borne out by a Which? survey which reveals the extent of overcrowding and delays on the network.

More than half of travellers (53 per cent) could not get a seat at least once during the past six months, while one-in-seven (15 per cent) said this occurs "regularly".

Which? said it has been contacted by thousands of people sharing details of their nightmare train journeys.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Egon Kisch 1885–1948

Kisch arrived in Fremantle on 6 November 1934 on the P&O liner RMS Strathaird.

The ship was promptly boarded by representatives of the Federal Government who refused Kisch entry to Australia on the ground that he was "undesirable as an inhabitant of, or visitor to, the Commonwealth".

Kisch professed to be deeply hurt and was sure that things would be put right once he was given a chance to explain. He was scrupulous, however, in denying his membership of the Communist Party of Germany.

Kisch was required to stay in the custody of Captain Carter on board the Strathaird as it proceeded through Australian waters via Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. Attorney-General Robert Menzies prosecuted the Lyons Government's case against Kisch

On 12 November 1934, large groups of Kisch supporters gathered in Melbourne and the Strathaird was surrounded by boatloads of Kisch well-wishers. The International Labour Defence (another Münzenberg Trust front) engaged Melbourne barrister Joan Rosanove, who, with a group of Kisch supporters, went aboard the Strathaird and initiated a habeas corpus action.

The Melbourne court hearing the action delayed any immediate decision on Kisch, leaving him in custody aboard the Strathaird as it departed the city.

Egon Kisch in Melbourne 1934
On 13 November, Kisch defied Australian authorities when he jumped over five metres from the deck of the Strathaird onto Melbourne's Station Pier, breaking his right leg. The Victoria Police quickly took charge of Kisch and carried him back on board the Strathaird.

The next day, the issue rose to national prominence when Labor MP for Batman, Frank Brennan rose in the House of Representatives to accuse the Lyons government of cowardice. He asked why Kisch's right to speak in Australia was being restricted just because the Lyons administration disagreed with him.

In response, the Attorney-General Robert Menzies pointed out that every civilized country had the right to determine who should or should not be allowed in, and that, since Kisch was a revolutionary and since revolution involved violence, he was not to be permitted entry.

High Court Justice Evatt authorised Kisch to visit Australia, finding that the Lyons Government had failed to list the reason for Kisch's exclusion in their order

As the Strathaird made its way up Australia's east coast to Sydney, supporters of Kisch took his case before High Court Justice Evatt, who found that the Federal Government had incorrectly excluded Kisch from Australia because they had failed to list in their order the advice received from the British Government. Evatt released Kisch and ordered that he be free to visit as long as he respected the laws of Australia.

see more on wikipedia

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Peter Doherty: Why Australia Needs to March for Science

April 21, 2017 9.32am AEST

Peter C. Doherty
Laureate Professor, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

Peter C. Doherty is a founding board member of The Conversation, and is funded by an NHMRC Program Grant investigating immunity to the influenza A viruses. He will soon step down as Board Chair for the ending ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Systems Science, and serves in that capacity on the ARC Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology. His most recent book (2015) is 'The Knowledge Wars'.

The following article is adapted from a speech to be delivered at the Melbourne March for Science on Saturday 22 April, 2017.

The mission posted on the March for Science international website states:

The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest. The March for Science is a celebration of science.
To me, it seems the reason concerned people across the planet are marching today is that, at least for the major players in the English-speaking world, there are major threats to the global culture of science.

Why? A clear understanding of what is happening with, for example, the atmosphere, oceans and climate creates irreconcilable problems for powerful vested interests, particularly in the fossil fuel and coastal real estate sectors.

Contrary to the data-free “neocon/trickle down” belief system, the observed dissonance implies that we need robust, enforceable national and international tax and regulatory structures to drive the necessary innovation and renewal that will ensure global sustainability and a decent future for humanity and other, complex life forms.

Here in Australia, the March for Science joins a global movement initiated by a perceived anti-science stance in Donald Trump’s administration.

Trump’s 2018 budget proposal

In the USA, President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 incorporates massive cuts to the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

And, though it in no sense reflects political hostility and deliberate ignorance, British scientists are fearful that Brexit will have a terrible impact on their funding and collaborative arrangements.

How does this affect us in Australia? Why should we care? The science culture is international and everyone benefits from progress made anywhere. NOAA records, analyses and curates much of the world’s climate science data. A degraded EPA provides a disastrous model for all corrupt and regressive regimes.

Science depends on a “churn”, both of information and people. After completing their PhD “ticket”, many of our best young researchers will spend 3-5 years employed as postdoctoral fellows in the USA, Europe and (increasingly) the Asian countries to our north, while young American, Asian and European/British scientists come to work for a time with our leading scientists.

The proposed 2018 US President’s budget would, for example, abolish the NIH Fogarty International Centre that has enabled many young scientists from across the planet to work in North America. In turn, we recruited “keepers” like Harvard-educated Brian Schmidt, our first, resident Nobel Prize winner for physics and current Vice Chancellor of the Australian National University (ANU).

We might also recall that – supported strongly by Prime Ministers JJ Curtin and RG Menzies – the ANU (with 3 Nobel Prizes to its credit) was founded as a research university to position us in science and international affairs.

Not a done deal, yet

What looks to be happening in the US is not a done deal.

The US political system is very different from our own. The Division of Powers in the US Constitution means that the President is in many respects less powerful than our PM.

Unable to introduce legislation, a President can only pass (or veto) bills that come from the Congress. Through to September, we will be watching a vigorous negotiation process where separate budgets from the House and the Senate (which may well ignore most, if not all, of the President’s ambit claims) will develop a “reconciled” budget that will be presented for President Trump’s signature.

How March for Science might help

The hope is that this international celebration of science will cause US legislators, particularly the more thoughtful on the right of politics, to reflect a little and understand what they risk if they choose to erode their global scientific leadership.

There are massive problems to be solved, along with great economic opportunities stemming from the development of novel therapies and new, smart “clean and green” technologies in, particularly, the energy generation and conservation sector.

Ignoring, or denying, problems does not make them go away. Whether or not the message is welcome, the enormous power of science and technology means we can only go forward if future generations are to experience the levels of human well-being and benign environmental conditions we enjoy today.

There is no going back. The past is a largely imagined, and irretrievable country.