Sunday, 31 December 2017

Making friends with the new kid on the block

On 19 December a story appeared on the Psychology Today website and on 27 December a link to it arrived in my Twitter feed. It talked about experiments with mice.
They studied mice that were either housed together or isolated and tracked their reactions when they were introduced to a new mouse. Mice isolated until that point showed remarkably high activity in that brain region which motivated them to interact with the new mouse in the cage. On the other hand, mice that were already interacting with other mice (i.e. the mice housed together) showed a lack of interest for the new kid on the block.
As well as showing that mammals are hard-wired to seek out new companions, the story further postulates that at a time in our history when resources were scarce, being in company made us better able to survive. So, even though we are now more able to supply our basic physical needs than we have ever been before, our brains still tell us to seek out company if we are alone.

The story made me think about school friends who came from far-away places. It must have been hard for Pipi – who had come from a hot country I knew because he had dark skin and straight black hair – being in the playground without any friends. He was dextrous and good at cricket and we struck up a friendship when I was still in junior school. (In those days, you went from year one to year six in junior school then in senior school you started from year one again. Junior school and senior school playgrounds were separate.)

I don’t remember all that much about Pipi except that we were good friends. But later I became friends with David, who had been brought up in Australia but whose parents had migrated. His father had been a Sri Lankan cricketer and his mother was English and David had brown skin and curly hair. At the time David’s dad was an executive at a food manufacturing company and one day the two of us boys took a day off school and went to a TV studio to watch the making of a margarine ad featuring famous comedian Benny Hill, who we duly met and shook hands with. Like Pipi, David was good at sport – cricket, tennis, it didn’t matter – but when we were together we would usually listen to music. He played AC/DC on his mother’s stereo and we deployed tennis racquets pretending to play the guitar, stomping around downstairs at his house with the excessive zeal that young people are apt to exhibit. He lived with his sister and mother in a Paddington terrace. I would sleep over and after I had gone to bed his mother might come into my bedroom to kiss me goodnight. Using wooden blocks, David and I would lay out vast networks of roads in his bedroom – which looked out over a street at the back of the house – and populate them with Matchbox cars we pushed around the floor on our hands and knees. On Friday evenings if I was staying over we would go down to a community centre where there was more music – I remember the stereo there playing the Bee Gees’ ‘Staying Alive’ – and also a billiard table around which we would socialise with local kids.

There was an American boy named Mark who lived in Rose Bay with his mother and father. He might have had a sibling but I can’t remember. He was a good draughtsman and after he went back to live in his hometown of Seattle we would write letters to each other in an effort to keep the friendship alive. Mark illustrated his letters with the cartoon characters he was famous for at school. I would stay over at Mark’s place, and we would do silly things together animated by youthful animal spirits. Making every attempt we could to appear anatomically correct we took turns mincing around his bedroom one morning after I had stayed overnight, pretending to be girls and laughing compulsively. His mother made peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for him that he would bring to school for lunch and sometimes we would swap lunches and he would get to eat cold roast beef sandwiches instead. The American staple was delicious, I thought.

There was also Anthony, whose father was a Canadian executive in an insurance company, and who had previously lived in Caracas, Venezuela. His father’s posting in Sydney meant he got to live with his family in a big house with a garden next to it in Darling Point. I would go over to Anthony’s place and listen to The Beatles. We were mad about them. But I had a strange relationship with Anthony that meant I would ape his habits, like carrying four coloured ballpoint pens the same as he had – red, green, blue and black – in my shirt pocket. He had a copper ring on his finger and in art class one day I made a ring to put on my own finger. I even started talking in what I thought was a North American accent. Anthony’s mother was originally from Lebanon and he had a long face with dark expressive eyes and an ironic smile. Anthony was also good at drawing and we would make doodles in our exercise books to show each other during class if we were bored. The two of us started a club where we would bring ideas along to talk about if we thought they were interesting. We would write reports in our spare time when we were alone and present them at meetings we organised for the purpose. The family left the country eventually and went to Hong Kong, I believe, for his father’s next posting. We wrote letters to each other from time to time and even sent cassettes with voice recordings to one another in the post. One day, Anthony wrote to me about photos he had admired in a shop window showing people with gross physical disfigurements, and I remonstrated with him, saying their feelings would be hurt if they knew of his reaction.

And there was Barnaby, whose father was a famous painter. His family also lived in Paddington, but in an unusual house that had been modified to combine two terrace houses into a single home. The family, including Barnaby’s brother and sister, had lived in Paris before coming back to Australia where the children would complete their secondary education. Barnaby’s bedroom – where I slept when I stayed overnight – was right at the top of the house underneath the building’s sloped roof. We bought strawberry Lifesavers from the shop and threw them off a balcony at people walking in the street. Barnaby was passionate about rugby league and his enthusiasm for the Manly Sea Eagles rubbed off on me. We admired Bobby Fulton, the team’s famous halfback. On some days, we would go down to the park near his house and the two of us would play footy together on the grass, pretending to be players in League teams, feinting amazing passes to teammates while holding the football in our hands, dodging tackles thanks to skilful footwork, tackling each other manfully, and scoring tries victoriously at the end of the grassed zone near where it met the footpath.

What strikes me about these boys is that we were all outsiders, looking for companionship where mostly we didn’t find it suited our personalities. I felt this keenly a few years ago when I went to a Cranbrook School reunion. After the dinner was over I found myself outside the large mass of men milling loudly in the centre of the dining room. Instead I stood along the wall with some other men who I remembered from back in the day. We talked companionably among ourselves and swapped stories while the noise from the room wafted out the glassed doors into the evening dark on the hill above Sydney Harbour. But children lack the reserves of experience that enable adults to combat loneliness, and can fall prey to it with disastrous consequences. There were other school friends I haven’t named here but they were unlike the ones I have listed, who due to their origins were outsiders.

Nowadays it is mainly my task to keep friends already made. What came before might be a chronicle from my halcyon days but I still have three good friends I met during my undergraduate days at university, which is a good place for new friendships if you are looking for them. Enrol today and make friends for life!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Brutalism twelve: Former Prudential Assurance building, Martin Place

This is the twelfth in a series of blogposts about brutalist buildings in Sydney. The building, at 39 Martin Place, is slated to be torn down to make way for a new building to go above a new railway station on the state government’s planned Sydney Metro line.

The development application (DA) was received by the city council on 8 November 1965. There were two existing buildings at the site. They were the existing Prudential Assurance building, a 14-storey structure used for shopping and commercial purposes (offices) and as a restaurant, at 37-51 Martin Place, and a two-storey building that housed the Prince Edward Theatre and shops, at 36-42 Castlereagh Street and 51-53 Elizabeth Street. The theatre had entrances both on Elizabeth Street and on Castlereagh Street (which was considered the main entrance). There is information about what was on the site already, in a heritage impact statement (HIS) prepared by architects Tanner Kibble Denton for Macquarie Corporate Holdings Pty Ltd and dated May 2017:
The [old] Prudential Building, designed by architects Hennessy, Hennessy & Co, was officially opened in May [1939]. The basement became home to Romano’s Restaurant, internationally famous for its elegance and fine cuisine. The restaurant retained its prominence and popularity until 1964.
The Prince Edward Theatre was sold to the Prudential Assurance Company in 1965 and the sites of the Prudential building and the Prince Edward Theatre were amalgamated onto one title in November 1967.

The City of Sydney Council resolved on 22 November 1965 to allow the construction of a multi-storey building on the combined site incorporating shopping and commercial activities. It further resolved at a meeting on 2 December 1968 not to raise objections to a proposal by the Department of Railways to build entrances there associated with the Eastern Suburbs Railway construction, but required that the entrance to the planned Martin Place station located on the western footway of Elizabeth Street be moved two-foot-six-inches in a westerly direction into the colonnade of the new building. 

The city engineer reported on 17 July 1969 that the Secretary of Railways had reached an agreement with the Prudential Assurance Co., Ltd. in respect of the provision of pedestrian access to the station on the Elizabeth Street frontage, and it was stated in a council meeting that “the arrangements now proposed are basically in accordance with the Council’s requirements”. 

The architectural practice of Alan Williams & Associates, of 39 Martin Place, which had begun the process of getting approval for the building, and had designed it, merged with Stephenson & Turner in February 1970. Alan Williams became a partner in the firm of Stephenson & Turner of 40 Miller Street, North Sydney. Chas. Harding & Son and J.M. Drake were the quantity surveyors. Ove Arup & Partners were the structural engineers. D.S. Thomas & Partners were the mechanical and electrical engineers.

The image above was taken from the DA file. It shows that at the time the building was being planned Martin Place was still open to vehicular traffic. The whole of Martin Place was completely closed to vehicles and made pedestrian-only in 1971.

The above drawing shows the point of access to Martin Place railway station located on Elizabeth Street outside the new building. The new building is shown (labelled “Prudential Building”) in the bottom left-hand corner of this drawing. 

The above drawing shows the lower-ground floor of the new building, from a vantage point facing north. The site is bound by Elizabeth Street on the right and Castlereagh Street on the left. You can see the vehicular driveway rendered in the bottom-left corner of the drawing coming in from Castlereagh Street. You can also see the pedestrian entrance on the north side, where arrows are pencilled in indicating access from Martin Place down a set of steps inside the lobby to the lower-ground floor of the building (the Castlereagh Street level).

The drawing above Is from ‘Public Sydney: drawing the city’ by Sydney architects Philip Thalis and Peter John Cantrill and published in 2013 jointly by Sydney Living Museums and the journal ‘Content’ of the Faculty of Built Environment, University of New South Wales. It shows the Martin Place underground station (along the bottom) with access points leading to locations on surrounding streets. 39 Martin Place is the third building from the left.

There would be no underground entrance to the new building from the subterranean Martin Place Shopping Circle that leads up to the train station located outside the Reserve Bank of Australia, east of Elizabeth Street. The Eastern Suburbs Railway, on which Martin Place station is located, was opened somewhat later than this building, in June 1979, although as we have seen the government was in the process of planning for the new station when this building was being designed.

The floor-space ratio (FSR) of the new building would be 11.99:1. The total floor area of the designed building is 307,880 square feet (28,603 square metres). The estimated cost of construction at the time the DA was submitted was 2,750,000 pounds.

Prudential weighed up three different plans before settling on a design. The first plan in a published feasibility study in the DA file describes the structure that was finally built. It has 15-foot setbacks on three sides from the site boundary. A design that was wider on each floor across all the dimensions of the block but which had fewer office floors (numbered three to 15) was rejected, as was a design for a taller tower having a smaller floor area on each office floor (numbered three to 39). The aim for each of the proposed designs was to achieve a FSR of 12:1.

Above: A ‘Plan of floors 1-8’ from a vantage point looking north. The drawing shows that there are eight lifts on each floor in the tower. Floors two to eight each have 11,993 square feet (1114 square metres) and floors 10 to 21 each have 10,556 square feet (980.685 square metres) of floor area. 

The brown tinted area in the drawing above shows ‘stage one’, which was constructed first. The Prudential Assurance Company was able to move its workers into it before stage two was constructed and before the original 1939 office building was demolished to prepare the site for stage two.

There are no internal columns on the office tower floors. The service core was constructed as a reinforced concrete shaft stiffening the whole building against wind pressures. 

T.C. Whittle Pty Ltd was the builder. Ready-Mixed Concrete Industries Ltd supplied the construction site from its Alexandria depot. Haden Engineering Pty Ltd did work for the heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and cooling (HVAC) system. Lamson Engineering Australia Pty Ltd installed a vertical conveyor system.

The building was opened in 1971. Prudential Corporation Australia was acquired by Colonial Ltd in August 1998. Colonial had been established in 1873 in Melbourne as The Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Limited, and was bought by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in 2000. The building was bought in 2008 by DEXUS Property Group and its wholesale property fund for $143 million. At that time the net annual income of the property was $8,151,000. It had basement parking for approximately 68 cars with the entrance to the carpark located on Castlereagh Street. The property was assessed to be worth $222.6 million as at 30 June 2016, and in the same year the 22-level tower plus the leasehold interest in the Martin Place Shopping Circle were bought for a combined price of $332 million by Transport for NSW. The price attributed to the building at that time was $298 million.

The photo above shows the Martin Place frontage of 39 Martin Place at the time the blogpost was written, prior to demolition work commencing.

The elegant façade of 39 Martin Place is clearly visible in this photo snapped from the corner of Castlereagh Street and Martin Place facing south.

The 2017 heritage impact statement notes that the Reserve Bank of Australia building is a national heritage place under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1999, and the building at 39 Martin Place is not, although, “39 Martin Place and the Reserve Bank Building share a visual association when viewed from vantage points around Martin Place, especially from Macquarie Street.”

But also according to the HIS:
The present building at 39 Martin Place is inconsistent with the historic character and urban form of the street. Demolition of the building provides an opportunity for a new structure which better responds to the significant urban form and spatial qualities of Martin Place and to the historic buildings in its vicinity.
There is more of this kind of verbiage later in the same report:
Demolition of the present building at 39 Martin Place – approved as part of the Sydney Metro proposal – provides an opportunity for a new building which better responds to the heritage significance and important civic qualities of Martin Place. Defining characteristics of Martin Place include the strong architectural character of buildings of similar height which create a linear east-west space along its length.
The HIS was prepared to accompany a state-significant DA submitted to the minister for planning pursuant to part 4 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, 1979. Macquarie Corporate Holdings is seeking to build a new transport and employment precinct on the area bounded by Castlereagh and Elizabeth streets up to Hunter Street, with Martin Place at its centre.

The drawing above showing the overall scope of the proposed development is from a report dated May 2017 that was prepared for Macquarie Corporate Holdings by Tzannes architects. From a vantage point looking southwest, it shows the old Martin Place station underground – the twin tubes laid out east-west represent the Eastern Suburbs Railway – and the new Sydney Metro to be constructed north-south underneath it. The new building to go on the 39 Martin Place site (marked “South site” in the drawing) will be markedly taller than the existing brutalist building. In the drawing “OSD” means “over station development” and CSSI means “critical state significant infrastructure”.

To be absolutely fair to the state government, having railway station access built into the basements of office towers would allow planners to remove the current underground access stairways that are situated smack-bang in the middle of Martin Place, freeing up more space for pedestrians. It would also allow for the construction of more retail areas for commuters.

The photo above is from the HIS. It shows the extent of the redevelopment currently being planned for the central CBD, around Martin Place, which extends left-to-right in this photo. The building at 39 Martin Place is at the “South site” labelled in this photo.

Friday, 29 December 2017

A jacket of the Boxer Rebellion

Earlier this month I wrote about our 1885 colonial participation in the British suppression of the Mahdi Rebellion in the Sudan. That turned out to be the first time Australians were deployed overseas in a war. The following blogpost stems from material gathered on the same visit to the Australian War Memorial (AWM). This time, I’m looking at the first Asian deployment of Australian military forces.

Colonial forces from New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia participated with forces from other Western powers in subduing the so-called “Boxer Rebellion” in China in 1900. Resentment against foreigners among Chinese people had grown since the 1860s, when through a truly scurrilous act of gunboat diplomacy called the “Opium Wars” Britain had forced the emperor to grant its traders access to China’s market. Concessions for numerous foreign powers were established in a number of coastal cities from where trade was carried out. The law in force in each of these concessions was that of the guest nation. From the AWM’s web page:
The Chinese government's failure to resist inroads on its sovereignty and withstand further demands from the Europeans, such as the right to build railways and other concessions, caused much resentment among large sections of the population. This eventually led to the Chinese revolution of 1911 which toppled the imperial dynasty. By the end of the nineteenth century the balance of the lucrative trade between China and merchants from America and Europe, particularly Britain, lay almost entirely in the West's favour. As Western influence increased anti-European secret societies began to form. Among the most violent and popular was the I-ho-ch'uan (the Righteous and Harmonious Fists). Dubbed the "Boxers" by western correspondents, the society gave the Boxer Rebellion its name.
The piece goes on to say that by March 1900 the Western powers decided to intervene, and the Australian colonies sent contingents to fight on behalf of the mother country even though they were already participating in the Boer War in South Africa at the time. Most of these colonial forces for China were naval forces.
When the first Australian contingents, mostly from New South Wales and Victoria, sailed on 8 August 1900, troops from eight other nations were already engaged in China. On arrival they were quartered in Tientsin and immediately ordered to provide 300 men to help capture the Chinese forts at Pei Tang overlooking the inland rail route. They became part of a force made up of 8,000 troops from Russia, Germany, Austria, British India, and China serving under British officers. The Australians travelled apart from the main body of troops and by the time they arrived at Pei Tang the battle was already over. The next action in which the Australians (Victorians troops this time) were involved was against the Boxer fortress at Pao-ting Fu, where the Chinese government was believed to have sought refuge when Peking was taken by western forces. The Victorians joined a force of 7,500 on the ten-day march to the fort, only to find the town had already surrendered; the closest enemy contact was guarding prisoners. The international column then marched back to Tientsin, leaving a trail of looted villages behind them.
The photo below shows a jacket held in the AWM’s collection. It is thought to have been taken from a Boxer. “Although they wore no standard uniforms, the Boxers dressed distinctively and usually wore red turbans or caps with a sash or scarf.”

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Sandstone from a building site, for building sites

These photos were taken recently as I was walking past the construction site where they are building new townhouses in Pyrmont. Behind the truck in the top photo you can see the old, stone terrace house that is still standing from when it was built in the 19th century. Most of Sydney’s stone buildings are made from Pyrmont sandstone.

The truck you see in the photo is an ex-Army truck now operated by Bundanoon Sandstone. Trucks like this have been using Harris Street and other streets in the area for the past few weeks because the company has been cutting out and taking away big blocks of stone like the one you can see on the back of the truck in the photo. They are preparing the building site for the new construction and the sandstone is in the way.

On the building site, they cut the sandstone blocks out using powered saws with gigantic circular blades like the one you can see in the photo at the bottom leaning up against the left side of the site. A big caterpillar-tracked vehicle with a gigantic claw on the end of its arm (you can see it in the photo at bottom) has been picking up these enormous blocks of stone and depositing them wholesale on wooden sleepers that have been placed on the trays of the trucks.

On one day I saw workmen sitting outside the building site on the pavement and I crossed the road to talk with them. The two of them wore hi-vis shirts and looked tired. One of them told me that the sandstone from the site will be processed before being sent back into the CBD to use to refurbish old sandstone buildings.

It makes you marvel at the way the business must have been conducted during the colonial period, when the Saunders family worked the quarry in Pyrmont and when labourers and masons would use manual tools to cut and work stone and Clydesdale horses drew carts carrying different-sized blocks of dressed stone to building sites in the CBD.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

A secularist manifesto

I was talking with my brother about a spiritual side for secularism but he objected saying that the difference between those who believe in God and the rest of us is that only one of these categories of people gives credence to an ephemeral and completely disembodied force in the universe. According to him, secularists must also be materialists, people who lay the blame for and identify the roosts of all phenomena – from the birth of stars in far-flung galaxies to the emergence of ideas inside the individual human brain – in causes rooted in the laws of physics.

I had been talking with him about dad, who passed away seven years ago next March, and mentioned a book titled ‘The Songlines’ I reviewed on this blog on 29 May 2010. It was published in 1987 by British author Bruce Chatwin. Dad gave it to me in 1988 for my birthday when I was 26 years old and inscribed it in the front. The book was among our first postmodern cultural products to examine the unique mythology of Australian Aborigines, whose culture we know now goes back 65.000 years after their ancestors emerged from Africa as part of an outlandish migration.

The “songlines” of the title are the stories told by Aboriginal elders about the country they live in. They believe that the country will disappear if the songs are not recited. The book compares the lifestyles of the Aboriginal inhabitants of an outback settlement with those of the white inhabitants. In the second half of the book Chatwin does an about-turn and looks at the cultural processes that formed his own personal mythology, those points of reference and ways of thinking that contrived to make him who he was. It was a self-conscious and reflective response to a challenge laid down by an ancient race of people who he identified as foreign to himself.

Chatwin wrote several travel books and had a special interest in nomads. Although the book occupied him for several years leading up to his death in 1989 from HIV-AIDS it wasn’t his final publication. In a way, it functions as a map defining belief among the inhabitants of the settlement. Whereas the white inhabitants seem to have lost the anchor point for their moral compass, the Aborigines retain vital connections to the land that sustain them. Or most of them.

Those who profess belief in a religion and thus belong to a religious tribe tend to emphasise the dangers lying in wait for the unwary in a putative world where value is allocated purely on the basis of material worth, an imagined place where belief in a God is entirely absent and there is no spiritual aspect to a person’s life. But these are merely self-interested attempts to buttress belief in what is more and more evidently a superfluous deity. Like Chatwin, each one of us carries within him- or herself the traces of our own personal mythology. We recognise fellow travellers or enemies based on the patterns they inscribe in the fabric of shared discourse and through the personal points of reference they evidence. We have lists of benevolent spirits – artists, writers, performers, singers, statesmen, elders – who serve to embody the ways we allocate value in our lives. We worship at personal shrines.

People take the measure of us by the points of reference that we recite as we lay out the markers of these tribes in public. We might give a special value to a couple of lines in a popular song, or a theme spelled out in a book by a favourite writer. We pledge fealty to such moments in our personal songlines by invoking arcane words in our conversations with others, who we meet on our diurnal rounds, and who might recognise shared experience thereby. We also might define who we are by reference to tribes we do not belong to, and describe them in less than flattering terms. People are sensitive to the presence or absence of such markers and respond with approbation or censure based on indices that reflect their own personal value systems. We validate our personal Gods through such discourses.

But whichever tribe we belong to we all still need to live together in one society. In a secular democracy individual agency is implied in the vote, and rules are made by the majority of the people in the jurisdiction. All that is required is to describe the boundaries of the electorate, to formulate the criteria according to which we include or exclude who is entitled to cast a vote. In such a world, people decide in the absence of an all-knowing deity. God has been supplanted by the majority.

In the secular West, important points of reference for democrats can be found in the 17th century in the United Kingdom. It was a period of great change and a time when the boundaries between religious and the political concerns were being drawn, sometimes by force of arms and at other times through public debate. Notables at the waystations in the development of the institution of pluralist democracy are such men as William Tyndale, who made the first accurate translation of the Bible into English, and William Harvey, who confirmed pulmonary circulation, and women such as Mary Wollstonecraft, who advocated strongly for the rights of women at a time when they were treated as less than men, and Mary Lee, a suffragette who demanded the full participation of women in the political life of Australia.

But remarkable icons collected in our procession through life are not the only things that serve to identify us as true-believers to others met on the journey. A crucial date is 1620, when Francis Bacon’s ‘Novum Organum’ was published. This is a philosophical treatise advocating for the first time undertaking what we know now as the scientific method. An openness to varied experience and a concomitant willingness to deduce the true causes of things from accurately-observed evidence rather than sophistically rely on old formulations inherited as received ideas, also serve to characterise the secularist. We demonstrate our commitment to secularism by privileging a plurality of viewpoints and being open to new inputs. We don’t stubbornly circumscribe our experience in order to bolster within it any particular set of referents. Credible value can be assigned to countless objects within the limitless boundaries of our purview, as Chatwin discovered in his travels. As is true for sexual reproduction, diversity in the demos equals strength.

Such an open and inclusive way of living truly characterises the attitudes of a community that is ever on the point of discovering things. It is equally not limited to a particular land or environment, but instead uncovers nourishment wherever it finds itself and in the bosom of every people. It is the way of explorers, like Australia’s first people, always on the verge of stumbling upon a new haven to fold into its lore.

Rather than insisting on an origin in a specific place, the true secularist yearns for an ephemeral goal: to be able to identify, name, talk about, and understand every new thing. Rather than a mere thirst for novelty this is a profoundly-relevant admission that the boundaries of experience are forever growing in an endlessly-expanding universe.

I mentioned to my brother that the ultimate origin of the universe – a time that might be delineated by describing the moment just before the big bang – was still obscure, but he said that the concept of time itself is a secular phenomenon, just as much as the concept of space is.

What lies outside the universe remains still to be revealed, however, if it ever can be discovered by people living and using tools that lie entirely within the material realm. But since everything comes from the arts perhaps help is at hand. In order to prove that God does not exist we might therefore need to work to invent an instrument that has as its sole purpose the observation of Him. To build such a device you might need to define from scratch a whole terminology with at its core the ability to give names to and describe the behaviour of invisible things, a panoply of ephemera, a whole world replete with insubstantial desires and faint aspirations. You would need a new set of words equivalent to the first person singular or the notion of “want” or to the idea of “help”. Who would you ask for help if you wanted to start out on such an enterprise?

As a note on the theme of “diversity is strength”: it’s worth noting that another consequence of the religious strife of the 17th century was that Australia was created at Federation with no state religion. This had as much to do with the collective memory of the turmoil of those distant years as it did with the like decision of America’s 18th century founders to eschew an official religion. Even though most people alive at the time would have considered having a religious link necessary to living a good life. If only Australia’s founders had taken a similar view in relation to Asian immigration. In the late-1880s there was popular resistance in the colonies to Chinese immigration and as a result it virtually stopped. The economic depression that beset the colonies in the 1890s may have been milder had their borders been more open. The White Australia Policy introduced in 1901 to keep Asians out survived two world wars. It wasn’t until the 1960s that moves were made to abolish it, and then in 1974 multiculturalism was adopted as official government policy. Not a moment too soon. With high immigration levels Australia now has one of the strongest economies in the world. The photo below shows the Newtown Baptist Church, in Church Street, Newtown. It was open for use in 1870.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Seeing the yachties get ready for the big race

As children, my brother and I would drive down with dad in his car to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia every Christmas Day before lunch. It has long been a tradition starting on Boxing Day to run the Sydney-to-Hobart Yacht Race and on that day our family had our own tradition of having a big lunch with family and friends. But we would kick things off the day before, after the heady combined excitements of giving and receiving gifts was over.

Children always find Christmas Day exciting. We ran around happily, removing each present from under the tree that stood in a bucket of sand in the corner of the living room and handing it to the recipient whose name was written on the card affixed with sticky tape to the front. You felt a special, expectant pride when you thought you would burst, if it was a gift you yourself had bought and wrapped and labelled that you were handing over either with a shy smile (for mum) or a serious look of intense concentration (for dad). Most of the used wrapping paper would be stuffed into one of the upside-down cane tabourets that normally did service as seats, to be discarded later. Granny would flatten out sheets of the wrapping paper with her hands on her lap so that they could be used again.

But Boxing Day was just as important for dad, who had always been a sailor, and for us, who loved this rather austere man. He was a perfectionist and sailing let him indulge this aspect of his forceful character, especially when he went one-up on the Hobie Cat – a 14-foot-long fibreglass-and-aluminium catamaran – because he could control all elements of a severely circumscribed environment. He handled the boat in the face of prevailing conditions like an artist who ruthlessly makes his materials serve the individual mind’s sovereign plan. It was his thing, just like it was my thing to make drawings with pencil or brush and my brother’s thing to tinker with electronic gadgets to make music out of electric current. At the time when we were small the Hobie Cat was stored on a trailer at the bottom of the garden next to the beach in Watsons Bay where we lived but dad’s love of sailing had started much earlier than that.

When dad was 18 he and his childhood buddy, Peter Hein, built ‘Eroica’, a wooden Vaucluse Junior named after Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, from a kit that shipped from Sydney and cost 150 pounds. Peter Hein agreed to crew it and they raced the boat, which had a rampant lion on the sail, on weekends out of Sandringham Yacht Club on Port Philip Bay in Melbourne. Dad had left secondary school aged 14 and was employed for seven pounds a week as a junior draftsman with architectural firm Leighton Irwin & Co Pty Ltd at the time the boat was built. The next year he would sell the VJ and buy second-hand a Star-class yacht named ‘Virginia II’ that he and Peter Hein sailed out of the Royal Brighton Yacht Club. He competed in trials for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics which were held on Port Philip Bay in 1951.

After he had graduated from university and married, and the family had moved to Sydney in 1962, he would race a Jubilee-class yacht named 'Chrunest' out of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron at Kirribilli, that he bought second-hand. The next year he bought an 8.9-metre Dragon-class yacht called ‘Norseman’ – the class was introduced by Norwegian Johan Anker in 1929 – on Sydney Harbour. He would write in his memoir in later years that he wanted to participate in the selection regattas for the Australian yachting team for the 1964 Games. "Dragons and 5.5-metre yachts were the classes sponsored by the [Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron] which would be responsible for conducting the Dragon Racing for the ’64 Games," he wrote. "I guess I was hooked on Olympic competition after the Star Class races at Royal Brighton and wanted to experience the excitement again. It was decided to hold the regattas on Botany Bay and so Dragons from all over Australia [berthed] there during much of the 1963/64 season." (He remained a member of the RSYS for most of his life and would go there for buffet lunches when he had to entertain people met through business.) But keeping a crew together and motivated to compete every weekend was both complicated and time-consuming – the Dragon had a skipper and between one and three crew – and he finally admitted defeat and adopted the Hobie Cat, which he raced solo out of the Vaucluse Yacht Club in Watsons Bay.

My brother and I had been given an eight-foot plywood, single-sail Sabot-class dinghy – named, somewhat embarrassingly, ‘Laughing Jackass’ (it had a brown shape stitched to the sail representing the Kookaburra) – on Christmas Day when I was seven years old, and we would race it two-up on weekends out of the Vaucluse Amateur 12Ft Sailing Club which is located, even today, on Kutti Beach in Watsons Bay. One year in the off-season we sanded the Sabot down in the bottom garden and varnished it with fresh varnish. Dad showed us how to tear and fold a piece of sandpaper so that an abrasive side would always lie against a smooth side, ensuring that its effective life was lengthened. We learned how to use a small block of wood to assist the sanding process by letting you impose a uniform force on all parts of the sandpaper that was in contact with the hull. Using a block of wood also helped you conserve the delicate skin of your fingers, because it was easier to use the sandpaper that way. He showed us how to make sure there were no “holidays” – or drips – left in the varnish by running the brush over each applied section several times. The varnish had a strong chemical smell and needed to be washed off the brushes with turpentine, which was kept in a plastic bottle above the sink in the laundry. If you didn’t wash the brushes they became stiff with dried varnish, and had to be thrown away. The turps had its own, distinctive, oily smell.

Dad would let us lay out the Hobie Cat sail in the park next to the beach. Depending on the strength of the wind you would tie the battens – the stiff lengths of fibreglass that give structure to the sail in many classes of boat – tighter for light winds, because it served to bend the sail into the characteristic bellied curve you wanted to leverage the breeze, or looser for heavy winds, because it would keep the sail flatter when the curve would derive solely from the strength of the wind. He would take us out in the Hobie Cat and on heavy days this could be an adventure. I remember one day when it was blowing a gale dad took me out near the Heads where the swells were high. The boat capsized and it took us a long series of fraught minutes of moving about in the roiling water that was whipped into chop by the wind, to right it. In a high-pitched voice I asked him as he was getting into position preparing to stand on the windward hull of the Hobie Cat as it lay upside-down in the water, before pulling at the righting line by leaning back with the wind behind him: “Dad, are we alright?” He didn’t answer me then but he would retell the story often in subsequent years to people who took an interest in us kids. We eventually got home in one piece that time.

This tense experience seemed only to whet my appetite for adventure. I would sometimes take the Hobie Cat or my Laser out past the Heads when I got older and so I can say from first-hand experience that endless motion on the heaving sea is both awe-inspiring and exciting. With water agitated into crests and troughs around you, you felt exposed and insignificant amid the elements: air, water, light. Out there, it was different from sailing on the relatively calm waters of the harbour. The sky stretched away into infinity on all sides, except where you could see the grey cliffs on the landward side. Elsewhere, it was like eternity: nothing but open water between you and South America.

I spoke with my brother yesterday about the Hobie Cats dad used to race and he reminded me that dad would buy a new one every two years or so to enable him to keep up with the younger men at the club who also raced them. It gave him “an edge” to offset the handicap associated with being one of the older and less limber sailors in the fleet. One competitor was a man who used to tell dad that he never read books. (Dad would often be seen on weekends reading books on the couch upstairs next to the plate-glass windows that offered views of Watsons Bay.) With an incredulous and ironic twist dad’s voice would rise to a higher pitch than usual as he would tell us kids from time to time that Bob had no books in his house. My brother needed no encouragement, he was deeply interested in the science fiction he bought to feed his curiosity. I came to reading at a later age than he did and mum was so worried that I would not start reading that she enrolled me in a book subscription club when I was about 12; new books came in the mail addressed to me every month or so, and I read them hungrily. Funnily enough, Bob was a printer. When I finally moved out of home and to an apartment in Glebe near the university, Bob’s printing business happened to be located immediately across the street from my front door.

But before going to university – an event that would jumpstart voracious and wide reading and that also coincided with the end of my sailing habit – sailing was a passion of mine also. When my brother and I had outgrown the Sabot and it was clear that I wanted to continue sailing, dad bought me the Laser – a 14-foot mono-hull fibreglass dinghy that had a two-piece aluminium mast that slotted into a reinforced receptacle in the hull and stayed upright without stays –  and I would sail it one-up. After visiting Noumea one school holidays on a trip designed to improve my spoken French, I bought a Windsurfer, which was a craft made of plastic with a fibreglass mast that had a foot that you slotted into the board and that had a universal joint so that the mast could swivel in any direction.

At Cranbrook School I sailed competitively. It was my habit to demonstrate the making of a knot called a bowline to classmates in the school science lab by tying a cord to one of the gas spigots set in the workbench. I would buy sailing magazines at the newsagent with my pocket money and clip pictures from them to stick onto the covers of my school folders with adhesive plastic film. On my bedroom wall there was a big poster of a man sailing a Laser on a lake somewhere idyllic like North America. With the sailor seated on the high side of the gunwale – the flat section of the hull located along the side of the craft – the boat was cantered over in a way that demonstrated the moderate velocity of the wind at the moment the photo was taken. I thought the poster was beautiful.

One year, the school team travelled down to Geelong to compete against a team at the Geelong Grammar School and so I got to sail on Corio Bay. There, I lost a yellow-faced wristwatch I had bought duty-free on a trip overseas when the catch on the strap caught on a stay – the stainless-steel cable attached to the hull that keeps the mast upright – on the first day of competition when there was a very stiff breeze and I was crew in a 470-class dinghy. I did better the next day when the wind was light and I got to sail a Laser. Even without the watch I won that race and to celebrate my victory the rest of the team threw me bodily into the bay for my pains. At the end of our final year with a friend I jointly won the school sailing prize. Competition was based on points from races on weekdays – the school boathouse is located in Rose Bay – and on weekends, and there was no margin between our respective totals.

So on Christmas Days after the excitement of opening presents was over the three of us – my father, my brother and I – would walk downstairs and go out the front door to the carport where we would climb into dad’s car, which was parked always on the far-left-hand side of the enclosure. At our house, you had to back the cars out before you could drive head-first up the driveway leading to the street and it took a bit of skill to get out. At the top of the drive you also had to take care, and look both ways and make sure no cars were speeding down the hill, before turning south up the hill toward the city. We would turn right into Cross Street and go around the back of Double Bay, then turn into Greenoaks Avenue where the big sandstone pile of Bishopscourt – owned we knew by the Anglican Church – was located on the upside of the road. Then we would go up to Darling Point Road and down Loftus Street to New Beach Road where the yacht club is situated. The roads were empty on Christmas Day and we never had trouble parking.

It hit you through all your senses going into the club to see the boats that would be going out the next day to voyage down the New South Wales Coast into the wild waters of Bass Straight – the body of water lying between mainland Australia and the island of Tasmania – before continuing on to the distant city of Hobart, once a penal outpost and built on the mighty Derwent River. There was for the visitor a vicarious suggestion of the adventure implicit in the business of guiding such big machines out into the ocean where the motion of the swells made you dizzy.

The first thing you noticed about the place was its efficiency: people moved constantly but they moved mostly in silence, concentrating on whatever important task they had to complete. The crews of the boats we were visiting on Christmas Day were all busy getting things ready for the chase for the prize. The occasional voice could be heard as one crewmember called out to another. The next thing you noticed was the smell – of varnish, motor oil, petrol, salt, seaweed – that permeated the clubhouse and the docks alike. Next-door to the club is a ship chandler’s – a shop for things needed by sailors – and it was imbued with its own smell as well as interesting objects that made sense to us. Cleats. Shackles. Blocks. Beacons. Different gauges of rope ranked in coils on the wall. We never took anyone else to the club with us, and mum refused when asked. This was a ritual for the men in the family. There were really very few women active in yachting in those days, although you would see the occasional girl or woman visiting, as we had done, on Christmas Day.

There were people everywhere in the club, which was on two floors – upstairs were the committee rooms and the bar – and on the docks. You walked through the entranceway of the club down a hallway through the smell of wet carpet straight onto the docks which meandered their way with runs at right angles to each other meeting at corners set on pylons anchored in the bottom of Rushcutters Bay.

The docks had berths for hundreds of boats, which were tied to them at the bow or at the stern. Some boats were tied up lengthways to the dock at both bow and stern. Crew had to jump across the gap to get onto their boat carrying whatever gear they had brought with them to stow below-decks. Men walked up and down the docks doing their errands and would walk quickly past you wearing the same salt-weathered sneakers on the boat as they wore into the clubhouse. Some of the excitement rubbed off on anyone who showed up to watch them in their element. We might pause so that dad could talk briefly with a crewmember on one of the boats as we walked around the docks being careful not to step on a coil of rope here or trip over a pile of provisions left on the wooden treads there.

We wandered aimlessly along the docks. Dad would make a remark about one boat because it was made of wood and he valued the craftsmanship of the old-style craft, or about another boat because it had a new style that was proven to be faster than other designs and was made of more modern materials. The new style when we were young, my brother and I, was the Farr design, where the yacht had almost the same shape as a skiff – a small boat like my Laser made for use on flat water – with a wide stern and a cockpit practically open to the elements at the stern. There were boats made from cement moored on the docks, and boats made from aluminium, and boats made from steel.

There were big boats with famous names like ‘Anaconda II’, ‘Apollo’, ‘Love & War’ and ‘Ragamuffin’, which would be featured on the TV as their progress down the coastline was chronicled by newscasters. Dad and Peter Hein knew the names of the skippers of these boats. These men competed for line honours: the cachet that came from getting across the finish line first. Then there were smaller boats that might win on handicap – a points advantage allocated before the start based on their size. On years with heavy winds the same boat might win on both counts, but this was rare. We soaked up the vibe, letting the tension created by the approaching start permeate our imaginations as we walked slowly around the busy docks. We tried to find the boat likely to win on handicap as we went past each one tied up in the water. The outing was a treat for dad and he made it a treat for us as well. Because we had raced boats we understood the emotions of the sailors who busied themselves around us.

On Boxing Day itself the TV was turned on late in the morning while mum finished up the final preparations for the food and we got ready for when the guests would arrive. So that people would have “something to nibble on” while waiting for lunch we kids would set out little dishes of nuts – almonds and cashews – and black and green olives on tables around the place upstairs where people would congregate. We might have to put up a second table depending on the numbers expected. Sometimes there would be a “kid’s table” and an “adult’s table”. The big dining table might need a second leaf inserted. This table had a mechanism that enabled you to slide the two sides of the table apart and set an extra wooden leaf in, anchored by wooden pins set in one of its edges, before pushing the sides together again to form a larger whole. We put out knives, forks and spoons and napkins in rings. People arrived in their cars and we greeted them at the front door. There were cousins, aunts and uncles. And Peter Hein, who had also moved to Sydney and had a family, with his wife and daughters. There were old friends of dad’s from back in the day.

Dad never drank alcohol; he had contracted hepatitis one day years before – when he had gone for a beer at a pub and the lines (pipes transporting the beer from the kegs in the basement to the hotel counter) were dirty, he said – and he only drank non-alcoholic apple cider. Guests might have a beer or a wine but the tenor of the afternoon was always moderate. It was a temperate environment suitable for small children. While mum got ready in the kitchen us kids would go down to the beach and have a swim or go out on one of the boats for a quick sail. It was up to my brother and I to take charge and be responsible, making sure life jackets were fastened properly and keeping the boat out of trouble on a harbour extra-busy on Boxing Day because of all the spectator craft out to see the start of the race, which took place opposite Nielsen Park near Rose Bay in those days.

Because yachts cannot sail directly into the breeze and because the predominant wind in Sydney is from the northeast, the start of the race was usually a matter of tacking back and forth across the breadth of the harbour as the yachts worked their way up its length to windward, heading in the direction of the Heads to the north, all the while trying not to collide with competitors.

On the Laser or the Hobie Cat my cousins and I would keep mainly within the relative safety of Watsons Bay to stay out of the chop and the hustle of the spectator craft jockeying for the best position of vantage. All along the shore, people would lay out rugs in the parks and have lunch, and line the edge of the cliff to the east, on the ocean side, to be a witness to at least part of the spectacle. The yacht that was first out of the Heads into the ocean would lay claim to a certain quantity of fame until the next goal – the end of the race – was finally reached.

While the race continues to be a popular spectacle for many Sydneysiders, for me for the most part only tattered remnants persist of the rich tapestry of lived experience. Many of those who were alive then have gone the way of all flesh. Dad will have been dead for seven years next March – brought low by dementia and complications arising from a weakened immune system in a nursing home – and mum died 18 months ago, a victim of myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood condition which lowered her body’s resistance to infections. Granny – dad’s mother, Phyllis Caldicott – who lived with the family from the time we moved to Sydney, died in the mid-90s. Mum’s brother fell victim to dementia too. I probably wouldn’t be able to make a bowline now and I don’t know where the Sydney-to-Hobart start line is situated these days. Now, I contemplate my own mortality as I roam around the city on end-of-year days accompanied by these memories.

But when we were down at the yacht club much was still yet to play out including Boxing Day lunch. All that happened in the intervening years that was good and bad, all that would fulfil our dreams or frustrate them, or serve to point the way down avenues leading to images or mirages thrown up by other dreams, were still things for fate or providence to dispose of as they considered fit. My brother ended up living in America and I ended up living in Japan, but such facts can serve merely as pointers for further tales.

As we ambled along within the bustling confines of the yacht club the green water vacillated endlessly against the smooth sides of the vessels, so sometimes you might hear a “slap, slap” as you went past the stern of one where the wake that might have been created by the passage of a dinghy with an outboard motor lapped against an elegant, sloping underbelly. Mooring lines dropped toward the water before rising again to where they might have been fastened by a bowline to the marine pylons of the docks set solidly into the bottom of the teeming harbour.

Who knew what unimaginable creatures lived there, although you could see fish swimming around the pylons just below the surface of the water, down there where seaweed flourished on the wooden poles that fell into the taupe depths. There were fish of many species we had caught ourselves on other days when we had gone out in the morning in small groups to one of the bays on the harbour. We recognised them; there were Taylor and blowfish and other fish the names of which elude me now. They darted in circles in quick spurts, their tails swiping from one side to the other as they changed course, or hovered motionless next to a slow frond of brown seaweed, their fins waving rhythmically backwards and forwards like tiny white fans.

On Facebook Messenger, I told my brother: "I just did some research in dad's memoir. His first boat was named after a Beethoven symphony." "Of course it was," he replied. "He loved Beethoven." Then he asked: "Eroica?" "Yes," I answered. He evidently knew dad better than I did.

Above: The start of the Sydney-to-Hobart race in 1981. The snapshot was taken from upstairs at our house. This was my first year at university.

Above: My mother (left) and her brother talking one Christmas lunch. This photo was in the same envelope of photos as the photo at top, but it didn't have the date stamped on the back, like the other one did.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Fill the tubes with hours of flimflam

This post samples stories on TV (the “tubes”) and online (the “intertubes”) over the week leading up to Christmas, from Tuesday, 19 December to Saturday, 23 December inclusive.

It’s uncontroversial to say that in the holiday season to flag the annual end of routine the media turns to a catalogue of tried-and-true tropes, such as “best of year”, “last of year” and “what to look out for next year” stories. I also wanted to show that at this time of year some people are still watching the news despite the fact that others are tuning out of such run-of-the-mill things as politics. Not everyone is fascinated by the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race, an event that along with the Melbourne test match had a large number of stories dedicated to it during the survey period.

I assigned one of three categories to each listed story: 1. Legitimate, 2. Community-building, 3. Flimflam. To finalise the figures, individual instances of some stories were added up, so if one TV segment aired three times in an afternoon that story was counted three times. But if a tweet on Twitter appeared with a news story linked in it, they were counted together as a single instance. You might notice there is only one story from Facebook, because not knowing people’s profile settings I couldn’t know if a story was published as “public” or not. So, I decided to err on the side of caution.

The following has the breakdown based on the method of dissemination of the story. It shows that there were as many stories made of flimflam coming from TV as there were legitimate stories coming from social media.

Collecting and classifying stories became a bit of a burden eventually and because I wanted to start to analyse the sample I pretty much stopped by mid-morning on Saturday, 23 December. (I was also doing laundry on that morning, and the noise of the clothes dryer made hearing the TV difficult.) I have maintained as far as possible the chronological order of the stories within categories.

Stories that were mere flimflam

There were 41 stories classified “flimflam” out of a total of 102, but the proportion of stories that fell into this category got less the closer to Christmas we came. Most of the stories in this category were from TV but not all, as you will see if you read on.

What is noticeable in the TV cases listed is that despite the fluffy nature of many of the stories, they still required time spent to make them, although a short segment at a zoo with a journalist spending half-an-hour with the keeper to ask a few questions is cheaper than a piece of investigative journalism, which is conducted mostly behind closed doors. And takes a lot of time. (And money.)

Altina Wildlife Park at Darlington Point in NSW’s Riverina region gave animals iced treats due to elevated temperatures, ABC News channel reported several times in the afternoon of Tuesday, 19 December. Some animals got to eat iced fruit, and others got to eat fruit encased in ice. Different animals reacted to the hot weather in different ways. The red pandas, we were told by journalist Rosie King, find the heat especially trying.

Australian author John Birmingham tweeted on 19 December at 6.53pm: “My $20 Uniqlo shorts have a hole in the arse. I can only wear them for a couple more years now.” Angling for a new pair for Christmas, John?

The Royal Flying Doctor Service got some advertorial on ABC News channel at 7.48pm on 19 December, and again an hour or so later, with journalist Steven Schubert accompanying a pilot-paramedic and a nurse on a flight to attend to a patient 500km north of Alice Springs. “On Christmas Day he could be flying anywhere to whoever needs medical help,” said Schubert. “It’s a long way from his family in Young, NSW.”

A story from the Sunshine Coast about drones being used on beaches appeared at 8.25pm on 19 December on ABC News channel, and then at 6.22am the next day, Wednesday 20 December. “The drone can fly up to 800 metres offshore,” said reporter Jacqui Street from the beach at Mooloolaba. Lifeguards can deploy floatation devices from drones and use drones to observe people in trouble immediately out of reach.

On ABC News channel for its News Breakfast show on the same Wednesday 20 December at 7.37am journalist Mark Reddie asked Sydney taxi driver Geoff Williamson some penetrating questions. The story repeated at around 8.50am. “And how do you deal with spending time away from family at friends at that time, I imagine that must be quite hard?” “I’m sure you get some pretty unruly behaviour in this cab, how do you deal with that?” “And how do you deal with increased competition from ridesharing services like Uber?”

‘It's already 30 degrees in parts of Sydney - and it's about to get hotter,’ said the link on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald on the morning of Wednesday 20 December. And ‘Sydney weather heats up with temperatures to reach the 40s’ said the headline inside once you clicked. The story took the form of a live feed, with updates added when they occurred, as happens for breaking news like terrorist attacks and live shooter events. The latest update when I looked was posted at 8.05am.

“Christmas Day weather in Brisbane could be the hottest in 10 years,” tweeted Fairfax’s Brisbane Times at 3.30pm on 20 December. The story linked by Jorge Branco said, in part:
That spot in front of the fan or under the airconditioning looks set to be even more in demand than usual this year. 
And the annual exodus from the capital to the coasts is going to be a good idea for more reasons than just nan’s trifle and a chance to fight for your share of prawns.
Australian scientist Jennifer Byrne was named by Nature magazine as one of the 10 people who mattered in science this year for uncovering research fraud, as reported by ABC News channel at around 3.50pm on Wednesday 20 December. The report was repeated later in the next hour and again, for a third time, at 5.40pm. A story, ‘How Sydney cancer scientist Jennifer Byrne became a research fraud super sleuth,’ had been published by the Sydney Morning Herald on 26 January 2017, and a follow-up story was written by SMH journo Kate Aubusson and published on their website yesterday. “Certainly, around the world researchers are feeling more and more under pressure,” Byrne said on the ABC today. 

Business journo Rachael Pupazzoni reported that Australians spent $202 on toys this year, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures. The story aired at 4.29pm on 20 December on ABC News channel.

As we try more methods of protecting ourselves from mosquitoes “this festive season”, we might use mosquito coils. Concerns are being raised over the health implications of this method of finding succour from the pests, reported ABC News channel at around 4.46pm on 20 December and later at 5.43pm. “In Australia we have no need to use coils” and can use electric emanators. “They’ve really got limited uses, they are old technology, we’ve moved on,” said Bryce Peters from the University of Technology, Sydney, in the bulletin. “It’s equivalent to someone smoking over 100 cigarettes in the same room.”

At 1.37am on Thursday 21 December a story appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald website titled ‘Prince Harry and Meghan Markle join Queen's Buckingham Palace Christmas lunch’. The story said that, “The Queen traditionally hosts a festive lunch for her family before leaving for her private Sandringham estate, where she spends the holidays.” The story was still featured at 9.36am.

At 6.40am on 21 December on ABC News channel reporter James Fettes interviewed a number of people involved in the collection and distribution of toys for children in Canberra who might otherwise go without at Christmas. He talked to two women, Reg Mitchens and Yvonne Nicholl, from UnitingCare Kippax among others.

Jenna Woginrich, a New York author and farmer, had tweeted three days earlier and the tweet was retweeted at 6.56am on Thursday 21 December by @NYFarmer: “Looking for an awesome last-minute gift? I sell pdf gift certificates that you can print and put in a card! The receiver gets a custom cartoon pet portrait to redeem later with the pets of their choice! A way to support a farm, an artist, and give a unique gift! DM to buy!” The tweet showed a drawing of a dog.

“Well folks as they say in the classics, that’s a wrap for 2017 for RICHO. See you all in 2018 for a bigger and better show,” tweeted yesterday Former ALP powerbroker Graham Richardson, who has a program on Sky TV. The tweet was retweeted on Thursday at 7.18am on 21 December by Melbourne consultant Tommy Ravlic.

“#Santa delivered early for me with this genuine 100 pound #MurrayCod...on surface lure in shallow water,” tweeted Australian ToTAL NaTIVE at around 8am on 21 December, a tweet that was retweeted about 15 minutes later by southern Queensland grain producer Brendan Talyor. The tweet came with a picture of a man holding a large fish.

Sociologist Professor Gary Bouma from Monash University fronted the News Breakfast show at around 8.12am on 21 December to talk about Christmas traditions. The interview was repeated at 10.17am. “There’s all kind of wonderful traditions but most of them come from the northern hemisphere,” he said. Saint Nicholas, a very wealthy man, apparently originated in Turkey where he would give gifts to girls who didn’t have a dowry, thus saving them from disappointment. In Holland the giving of gifts is done on St Nicholas Day on 6 December. 

At 10.09am on 21 December Andrew White tweeted, “spoiler: it’s a new kitten” and retweeted a tweet from New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern which initially appeared yesterday. The video that came with the PM’s tweet featured a segment where the politician opened a “secret Santa” gift from a school student in Auckland. The gift was a painting made by another student named Zara, and Ardern said she would hang it in her office in the national capital of Wellington. “Secret Santa is a Western Christmas tradition in which members of a group or community are randomly assigned a person to whom they give a gift,” according to Google.

A “Christmas special” edition of TV program ‘Gardening Australia’ got an ad on ABC News channel from 8.32am to 8.40am on 21 December. The intro featured an Australian native plant called warrigal greens. Costa Georgiadis came into the studio with a Santa hat on and spruiked his show to screen on Friday night. Warrigal greens were apparently employed by the first settlers to supplement their normal diet, which was otherwise deficient in vitamin-rich foods. “What else can we see in the show?” host Michael Rowland intrepidly probed.

Journalist Tom Cowie tweeted at 9.47am on 21 December: “My favourite story to cover in 2017 was the mystery of why people couldn't lock their cars in Carlton.” The link with the tweet led to a story published in The Age by Cowie on 25 June titled ‘The Elgin rectangle: why couldn't people lock their cars in Carlton?’

At 7.27am on 22 December on the ABC News Breakfast program journalist Mark Reddie was at the Sydney Fish Market. “We’re expecting 750,000 tonnes of seafood to be sold,” he said. He spoke with Bryan Skepper the general manager. “How busy are you expecting it to get over the next few days?” he asked Skepper, who has been working at the market for 40 years. Skepper said that white spot disease won’t affect sales because there are plenty of prawns from reliable local producers. “There’s plenty for everyone’s budget,” he added. “The smaller grades tend to be cheaper but they also tend to be sweeter.” They have an auction system for retailers buying fish that had just wrapped up when the interview went to camera. What will he have himself for Christmas lunch? He said that they will have smoked salmon, farmed medium raw prawns on the BBQ and a snapper. Reddie pointed to fish heads located in the shot – which he advised are good for soups – but said he would be staying with prawns. An abbreviated report on the Sydney Fish Market was recorded by Reddie and screened at 4.25pm.

At 8.36am on 22 December ABC News retweeted a tweet that had gone up from ABC Hobart six minutes earlier: “Get your giffy guide to coping with curly questions and judgmental relatives at Christmas lunch with @taliaualiitia [Tali Aualiitia] and @craabus [Carol Raabus]” The link contained a story that went, in part:
It's the most wonderful time of the year; a time to gather with family and face the endless, probing and personal questions. Oh joy. 
"How's work? Why don't you have kids yet? Still renting? Why are you looking at me like that?" 
Asking questions is a vital part of having a good conversation, but let's face it, there are some things that are best left alone. 
The following three categories of questions might be asked with best intentions but can make the askee want to peel their skin off and run screaming into the hills.
At 12.54pm on 22 December on ABC News channel came an ad for ‘A Taste of Landline’ which was due to screen on Saturday. The segment showed what was going to be on the table for Christmas at the Australian Antarctic base. According to the history books, Douglas Mawson baked penguin and ate curried seal. “More than a century later the local wildlife is off the menu,” said the narrator. But fresh Antarctic-grown salad and vegetables are served these days. “Everyone appreciates seeing a little bit of greenery or a few tomatoes,” said the narrator. Roast duck and pumpkin with homemade pasta were to be served that evening by chef Adam Hargraves. A repeat of the segment screened on the channel at 4.49pm.

At 5.30pm on 22 December ABC’s The Drum tweeted: “It’s the last episode of #TheDrum for 2017! We're discussing the Flinders Street incident, as well as some of the good news from the last year.”

On ABC News channel at 6.10pm, 7.15pm and 8.15pm on 22 December a Christmas message from Anthony Fisher, the Catholic archbishop of Sydney, was broadcast to Australians. He said that while 2017 might be called an “annus horribilis” because of setbacks for people of Christian faith in the same-sex marriage and voluntary euthanasia debates, “freedom of religion in Australia put in doubt,” and because of “shameful crimes and cover-ups” disclosed during the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, there was light on the horizon nevertheless. “Christmas speaks of new hope,” he opined.

At 8.48pm on 22 December, ABC News channel ran a segment by journalist Sarah Hancock about Adelaide Zoo’s pandas getting special treats. The story also revealed that this was the zoo’s busiest time of the year.

Erecting Christmas light displays on houses in Darwin is becoming more and more popular, according to a segment on ABC News channel at 8.53pm on Friday 22 December and also on Saturday the next at 7.50am. “I love the lights, I love the colours. Just how we decorated it and put everything on,” said one girl. “Thousands of Territorians flock to the best-lit houses,” said reporter Henry Jones.

Stories that served to build community

There were 28 out of 102 stories that I classified “community-building” and the number of stories in this category increased as we got closer to Christmas. To explain this category: it’s true that celebrating shared things helps generate a sense of community, which can be especially important for people who for any number of reasons spend the end-of-year period away from family and friends.

Tokyo-based journalist Jake Adelstein tweeted at 8.18pm on 19 December: “When you’ve lived in Japan long enough, you take for granted that Christmas Eve is a night for lovers. I never wrote about it!” The tweet included several photos of Christmas trees illuminated at night in the city.

“Summer dresses are how I know god loves us and wants us to be happy,” retweeted Australian “Englishman” Andrew White at 8.57am on 20 December; it was a tweet from 21 June originally by a person named Will Jones.

“Warmest Wishes During This Festive Season!” from Scottish food institute @GROWobservatory, retweeted by Victorian agriculture advocate @IndiBlu at 9.21am on 20 December. “Thanks for getting involved with GROW Observatory in 2017 - in our stories, our courses, our soil experiments, in whatever capacity - and here's to even more activity in 2018!” The GROW Observatory (GROW) is a European project comprising growers, scientists and others. “We will discover together, using simple tools to better manage soil and grow food, while contributing to vital scientific environmental monitoring,” says its website.

ABC Canberra broadcaster Marcus Kelson tweeted at 2.48pm on 20 December: “chips and scallops (don't even) for lunch with son and grandson after a visit to the pool I first went to as a five year old in 1966, and Marley is five, and his dad Laurence was 5 when I took him - circle complete, washing away fat content with sav/blanc.”

Editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News UK Janine Gibson tweeted, “Thank you for your Christmas wish/Please unsubscribe me from this mailing list,” at 7.16pm on 20 December.

Mark Scott, the secretary of the NSW Department of Education, tweeted at 6.46am on 21 December: “A great time of year. It's the 21st of December. (I'm even going to miss Roger).” The link led to a song on YouTube, ‘Paul Kelly ‘How To Make Gravy’ – Christmas Special on Double J’ that had been posted on 8 December 2014 and had had 52,245 views by the time I watched it. The song is about a man who won’t make it to the annual family Christmas gathering because he’s in prison. “Who’s going to make the gravy now, I bet it wont taste the same,” sings Kelly.

“I LOVE Christmas... most probably my favourite time of the year!!! But I also remember that some people find this time of year extremely difficult. Your gift can be checking in on a mate or telling someone you care about them. Let’s get around each other this Christmas #ithelps” This tweet yesterday from Greg Hire, an Australian professional basketball player for the Perth Wildcats of the National Basketball League, was retweeted today at 7.09am on 21 December by NSW livestock grazier Angus Whyte.

Goulburn resident Candy J tweeted at 2.57pm on 20 December: “What do you call an obnoxious reindeer? RUDEolph.”

Journalist Mark Reddie visited Matthew Talbot Hostel in Sydney and the segment screened on ABC News channel at around 7.40am on 21 December and later starting at 8.41am. Reddie talked with volunteer Roger Williams. “Do you see more people here generally over [the holiday] period?” asked Reddie. Williams works in the kiosk and in the community support program, where he deals with men living outside the hostel who are capable of independent living but need help with things like Centrepay and the payment of rent for accommodation. Williams might also have a chat with the men because they don’t see many people. “What can we do as members of the public?” asked Reddie. Williams said that people can volunteer at any time.

The ABC News Breakfast show featured a “best and worst films” segment with regular film critic Zac Hepburn around 7.45am on 21 December. ‘The Snowman’ with Michael Fassbender was a bad film according to Hepburn. “But it’s Michael Fassbender!” protested one of the anchors. “There’s a first time for everything,” Hepburn replied. “One of the most incomprehensibly stupid films of the year,” he went on. He also panned the new Batman film with Ben Affleck and ‘The Emoji Movie’. The winners included ‘Get Out’, a horror film. “Certainly, one that has you on the edge of your seats,” said Hepburn. Another film he liked was ‘Bladerunner 2049’. “Absolutely a marvellous piece of filmmaking,” he said. But his favourite film for 2017 was ‘Call Me By Your Name’, a film by director Luca Guadagnino based on a novel by André Aciman.” This is I think probably one of the most beautiful films that’s been released for years,” Hepburn said.

At 7.07am on Friday 22 December IndiBlu retweeted a tweet that had gone up two hours earlier from Howdah, an Indian snack producer based in Manchester, UK: “Driving to family this Christmas? We're the perfect crunchy and punchy flavoursome snack for the road. Pick up some Howdah at @TebayServices or @glouc_services on your way!”

On ABC News Breakfast at around 7.45am on 22 December and later at 8.50am as part of a ‘Business As Usual’ series reporter Jesse Dawsett was shown visiting the Canberra RSPCA shelter where he talked with animal care assistant Sarah Scott. Scott, a volunteer, was shown giving gifts to dog Ranger. “This is their busiest time of year,” said Dawsett of the shelter. Roosters are hard to get people to adopt because they wake you up at the crack of dawn but there are lots of animals, he went on, “And that means prospective owners have plenty to choose from.” A room appeared in shot with two people standing with Scott, who had a kitten crawling on her shoulders. “Giving animals away is the most rewarding part of the job,” the voiceover went. “Those animals that are left still make a mess and still get hungry at Christmas.”

At 8.24am on 22 December a tweet by National Public Radio’s Ira Glass that had been tweeted seven hours earlier was retweeted by American author Susan Orlean: “David Sedaris and I talk Santaland Diaries today on @MorningEdition [NPR's morning news magazine]: The full-length 34-minute version of Santaland Diaries:” The first of those links went to a web page published on 21 December with the following:
It's been 25 years since Morning Edition listeners first met a very un-merry Christmas elf named Crumpet from "Santaland Diaries," the somewhat fanciful story of David Sedaris' time working as a Macy's department store elf. 
"Santaland Diaries" catapulted Sedaris into a career as a best-selling author and playwright. Twenty five years ago, Sedaris was a struggling writer who occasionally read his work in nightclubs.
In the recording on the page program hosts David Greene and Rachel Martin brought Glass and Sedaris back to talk briefly on-air about the original broadcast from back in 1992. The original recording was scheduled to replay the next day, and the second link in the tweet took visitors to the original recording.

At 10.08am on 22 December Guardian Australia tweeted: “Scott Morrison vows to stand up to 'mockery' of Christians” The link led to a story about the treasurer, which said, in part:
“It all starts when you allow religious freedoms [to be eroded], mockery to be made of your faith or your religious festivals – it always starts innocently and it’s always said it is just a joke – just like most discrimination does,” Morrison told Fairfax. 
“And I’m just going to call that out. With what I’ve seen happen in the last year, I’ve just taken the decision more recently, I’m just not going to put up with that any more, I don’t think my colleagues are either.[“]
On the Sydney Morning Herald website time-stamped 11am on 22 December was a story titled ‘Dear Santa, make sure the Fender finds a good home’ about a mother whose teenage son’s prized bass guitar was stolen in broad daylight by a man wearing a hi-vis shirt. The first-person narrative was written by journalist Helen Pitt.

At 10.12am on 22 December Cutter Streeby, editor of @OjalArtsJournal, tweeted: “Daylight is dwindling and shops are closing, but our online store is always open! (illustration by Cerise Zelenetz)” The link led to a page where you can buy back-issues (for US$20) of the famous magazine, as well as such merchandise as T-shirts (US$25). The tweet came with an image.

At 5.35pm on 22 December Guardian Australia tweeted: “The 50 top films of 2017: No 1 Call Me By Your Name” The link went to a page that was subtitled:
Peter Bradshaw celebrates a peach of a film about ecstatic submission to love – the united No 1 choice of our British and American critics
Food hampers were being given to victims of domestic violence in Brisbane, a news report on ABC News channel told viewers at 6.25pm and at 7.50pm on 22 December. This year, 500 Christmas hampers were being given out that included hams, puddings, fresh fruit, and even Vegemite. Some volunteers have been helping for twenty years. Volunteer Mary Nelson said, “They just need a little bit of extra help especially at this time of year.”

At 4.33pm on 22 December Melbourne man Matthew Hall retweeted a tweet from Melbourne woman @IngridElkner that had been posted the day before: “T'was the week before Christmas/And all through the Net/The adults were stirring/With existential regret.”

“Just realised that I have quite a few Xmas cards to write #joyofchristmas” tweeted UK-based Freelance journalist and editor Jayne Howarth at 7.57pm on 22 December.

At just after 9pm on 22 December the ‘Planet America’ Christmas special started and it was quite fun to watch the succession of memorable disasters that have befallen the Trump administration over the past year. The lack of success in the Congress is especially heartening, but the new year awaits. The show signed out with a Spanish rendition of a popular Christmas song, ‘Feliz navidad.’

At 6.01am on Saturday 23 December the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists tweeted: “Are you eagerly awaiting that holiday feeling? Here's how our team will relax this holiday season.” The link led to a page that outlined what the people in the global team are planning to do over the holidays. The team members are based in Washington DC, France and Australia. What are some of the plans? Reading books, watching movies, and going skiing.

At 6.17am on 23 December Cutter Streeby tweeted: ““Looking at the Carolers’ open mouths, I try imagining beautiful ballad rather than pain or ugliness spilling from them.” The link with the tweet led to a blogpost on the Paris Review website dated 20 December 2013 by Titi Nguyen. The story is about Christmases in the family of a child of Vietnamese immigrants. Nguyen, who lives in New York City, grew up in the suburb of Germantown, in Quincy, Massachussetts and her parents were cleaners.

On Saturday 23 December a link appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald website’s front page leading to a news story titled ‘Driving it forward: Wollongong learner driver offers free car rides over Christmas.’ The SMH tweeted a link to the story at 8.01am as well. The story was dated 22 December and said, in part:
"The people I'm driving around have been great. They know I'm a L-Plater but are just so grateful. 
"I'm glad we are able to help people, especially at this time of the year when it is a bit more stressful for people." 
Chris and his mum are happy to drive people anywhere from Bulli to Shellharbour. 
"Those who would like us to do this need to visit the Paying It Forward Wollongong website or Facebook page," she said.
Cutter Streeby tweeted “Kierkegaard says make ’em; Nietzsche says be ready to break ’em.” at 7.53am on 23 December and at almost the same moment Chris Wallace, a research fellow at the School of History at the Australian National University in Canberra, retweeted the same tweet from its source: The Paris Review. The link went to a page titled ‘Advice on New Year’s Resolutions from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche’ with a story that detailed how the two philosophers viewed the tradition. For Kierkegaard:
Without commitments, we risk disappearing into the existential abyss. A life that lacks purpose creates anxiety. A meaningful life, Kierkegaard suggests, is one in which we actively assert ourselves in order to live more fully.
And Nietzsche?
Why does a nonhuman animal not make promises? Most don’t have a conception of themselves as individuals or a vested sense of identity. Yes, some animals may experience guilt, but guilt is not the same as the shame of breaking a longstanding promise. Nietzsche’s suggestion is that we ought to keep making resolutions—heartfelt, honest-to-God promises—lest we devolve into an animal-like state. 
Nietzsche does not say, however, that we must keep our resolutions. Sometimes, many times, the cost is simply too high. To fulfill all promises unconditionally may be unwise, if not pig-headed and arrogant.
Stories that served a legitimate end

There were 33 stories out of a total of 102 stories that I classified as “legitimate”. Like the other categories, this one was entirely subjective. As with the “community-building” category, there were more legitimate stories the closer to Christmas we got. I think what is most noticeable about this category is that a lot of the stories in it seemed to come from social media, while TV served up more flimflam.

A story about spiders appearing on the web at around 6pm on the evening of 19 December was titled ‘Put down the pesticides: Why you shouldn't be spraying your spiders this summer’. The story by Justine Landis-Hanley in the Sydney Morning Herald included advice from pest experts about what to do for spiders in backyards and in houses in summer months when they emerge from their nests.
[Sam Yehia, owner of Sydney Best Pest Control] recommends dealing with spiders without upsetting their natural habitat by cleaning the gutters, and changing white outdoor lights to fluorescent lights to avoid attracting spider-food like moths and mosquitoes. 
To keep redback spiders away from children, he suggests putting their toys in a plastic bucket of water overnight. Homing two chickens in the backyard to hunt and eat ground spiders, like funnel webs, also prevents against infestations without disrupting the eco-system. 
If you are going to spray for spiders in your home, he says to "avoid spraying bushes or the fence line to avoid [unnecessarily] harming the spider life".
Guardian Australia film and TV critic Luke Buckmaster tweeted at 8.27am on 20 December: “This list was a year in the making. Me on the blockbusters of 2017: the best, the worst, and what these films mean.” The story on website began:
An eclectic array of characters graced the big screen in 2017 blockbusters, the vast majority of whom we had met several times before – a Spider-Man here, a Skywalker there. None of the ten highest performing films (with Star Wars: The Last Jedi inevitably about to push Dunkirk out of this list) were original stories; the closest we got were books that had never been previously adapted for cinema (Lion, and It).
At 9am on 20 December the SMH Twitter account tweeted: “Christmas' original significance as a religious holy-day has been submerged beneath an orgy of consumerism, materialism and over-indulgence, writes @1RossGittins." The link led to a story titled ‘No real gift giving: culture of Christmas must change’ about an Australia Institute survey with 1421 people asked about their views on Christmas presents. The story also included ideas from a new book – Curing Affluenza – by the Australia Institute's chief economist Dr Richard Denniss. In part, Gittins wrote:
Rich people like us need to reduce our demands on the environment to make room for the poorer people of the world to lift their material standard of living without our joint efforts wrecking the planet. 
This doesn't require us to accept a significantly lower standard of living, just move to an economy where our energy comes from renewable sources and our use of natural resources – renewable and non-renewable – is much less profligate.
US news service Bloomberg tweeted at 2.15pm on Wednesday 20 December: “2017 was bad for Facebook. 2018 will be even worse” The tweet was retweeted on Thursday by Australian futurist Mark Pesce. The link went to a page with a story subtitled, “The tech giant's carefree years of unregulated, untaxed growth are coming to an end.” The story was about the likelihood regulators will step in and start restricting what the company can do, especially in the light of inflammatory content posted by anonymous users, which is common on social media platforms. In some jurisdictions, as well, authorities are looking at the tax that the tech giants pay – or don’t pay, rather. The article read, in part:
Facebook is projected to boost sales by 46 percent and double net income, but make no mistake: It had a terrible year. Despite its financial performance, the social media giant is facing a reckoning in 2018 as regulators close in on several fronts. 
The main issue cuts to the core of the company itself: Rather than "building global community," as founder Mark Zuckerberg sees Facebook's mission, it is "ripping apart the social fabric." Those are the words of Chamath Palihapitiya, the company's former vice president of user growth. He doesn't allow his kids to use Facebook because he doesn't want them to become slaves to "short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops."  
Palihapitya's criticism echoes that of Facebook's first president, Sean Parker: "It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other ... God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains."
The story was included by Argentinian journalist Gaston Roitberg in his publication ‘The Gaston Roitberg Daily‘ and tweeted the next day at 8.24am 21 December.

BuzzFeed Australia journo Alice Workman tweeted at around 11am on 20 December (retweeted four hours later by Upulie Divisekera): “My last yarn of the year: The Father Of A Teenager Who Died Doing Work For The Dole Says His Son Was Made To Work With A Back Injury.” The link led to a story which reads, in part:
The father of Josh Park-Fing, the teenager who died on a Work for the Dole site, says text messages exchanged with his son hours before Park-Fing's death show the young man was injured, yet made to continue working in the program. 
18-year-old Park-Fing died from head injuries sustained when he fell from a flatbed trailer being towed by a tractor in April 2016. It's suspected the tractor slipped a gear and jolted, causing the teen to fall. 
At the time he was completing a Work for the Dole program at the Toowoomba Showgrounds arranged by employment contractor NEATO. He was earning $218.75 per week.
The Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources tweeted at 3.09pm on 20 December: “Visiting or returning to Australia this #Christmas and #NewYears holiday season? Remember your biosecurity responsibilities.”

“[T]he city is overflowing with ridiculously dangerous drivers today, it’s almost like everybody is going home early from boozy Christmas work lunches,” wrote Andrew White today at 4.01pm on 20 December on Twitter.

“This cartoon sums up 2017 pretty well...” tweeted London-based freelance journalist Simon Cullen at around 3.30pm on 20 December, a tweet that was retweeted by Australian Jenny Jarmane an hour later. The tweet had a cartoon attached which showed a putative game show called ‘Facts Don’t Matter’. The compere in the cartoon says, “I’m sorry Jeannie, your answer was correct, but Kevin shouted his incorrect answer over yours, so he gets the points.”

“2018: When #battery storage gets a grip on the grid,” tweeted Gippsland resident and Renewable Energy Party Secretary Peter Gardner at 7.21am on 21 December. The link with the tweet led to a story on the Renew Economy website by Giles Parkinson, which said, in part:
There are no prizes for predicting that there will be more batteries in Australia’s electricity grid next year: the trick is predicting how much. 
Longer term, the predictions are bullish – up to 80GWh from the likes of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and a more modest 20GWh from the latest AEMO document, the Integrated [System Plan Consultation.] 
What happens in the short term, in calendar 2018, is less clear, as battery storage balances on the pivot point of whether it is actually economic or not, and whether the anticipated cost reductions that would tip that scale arrive in time.
At 9.57am on 21 December Sandi Keane, editor-in-chief of, tweeted: “Get the lowdown on lowlifes (sorry, tax avoiders). Buy yourself a Xmas present for $5 [per month] and help Westie nail this lot on his ‘Black List’.” The tweet retweeted another tweet by journalist Michael West: “Countdown on. Snide comments welcome. #2 on Big Tax List to be revealed shortly (3 years ATO data + metrics). EnergyAustralia got bronze medal.” West has been publishing on his website a series of stories about corporate tax avoiders in Australia.

At 4.40pm on 21 December Lefteo tweeted to Guardian Australian journalist Katharine Murphy: “What an absolute piece of gutter news from a pseudo journalist” in response to Murphy’s tweet of 19 minutes earlier, “What's going on inside the Victorian ALP? Gather round” which had a link to a story she’d published on the newspaper’s website. The story was titled, ‘Labor brawl in Victoria matters – it's a threat to Bill Shorten's leadership.’ The story ran, in part:
At its simplest level, what’s happening in the Victorian ALP right now is one of those kaleidoscopic shifts, except it’s not hypnotic, gentle and mildly mesmerising, but brutal and highly disruptive. As one insider characterised the fracas on Thursday: “This is Bill’s brilliant strategy for keeping Malcolm Turnbull in the Lodge.”
Murphy retweeted Lefteo’s tweet almost immediately, adding: “Merry Christmas.”

Three days ago Sydney journalist Miriam Cosic tweeted, “OMG! It's almost Christmas! What to get for someone who has everything: How about a donation in their name to @MSF's [Medicine sans frontiers] emergency fund? I've been topping up my regular donation with $50 times the number of people I usually buy for.” She retweeted the same tweet on the evening of Thursday 21 December at 8.01pm.

At 8.23pm on 21 December Melbourne priest Father Bob Maguire tweeted, “Spare a thought for a family member or friend who lost a partner since last Christmas. They may be walking alone for the first time [in] ages.” The photo attached to the tweet showed two old people walking together through a wood.

On Facebook early on the morning of Friday 22 December I saw an ad from WWF Australia as I was scrolling through the news feed: “Last minute Christmas gift? Adopt a koala now & download an adoption certificate to give on the day. The adoption gift pack will arrive in the New Year & includes a cuddly koala toy, adoption certificate, tote bag & more. Go for the feel-good option that’s unexpected, a little bit wild & incredibly meaningful.” The post came with a link to where you can leave your details to complete the required transaction.

ABC News at 8.06am on 22 December reported that Pope Francis in his annual Christmas speech had told cardinals that some in the bureaucracy are part of plots. He has instigated a sweeping shakeup of officials, it was reported.

In the hashtag stream for #auspol at 8.10am on 22 December a tweet that had gone up 50 minutes earlier from Perth man Terrence Chester was retweeted by @vagueviking: “What Santa thinks of 1%ters that avoid contributing to #Medicare #NDIS #education #infrastructure #disabled #pensioners #SingleParents #Indigenous from avoiding paying taxation across the world #WealthTricklesUp #CorruptionTricklesDown #auspol Taxcuts for wealthy that don't pay” The tweet came with an image.

At 10.32am on 22 December Australian man Geoffrey Payne retweeted a tweet from 8.54am the same day by Australian freelance journalist Elle Hardy, “enjoying Channel Nine’s slow bastardisation of Uhlmann” that had a photo attached to it showing the ex-ABC journalist with co-host of the TV station’s Today Show, Deborah Knight, and a man in a Santa costume. Hardy’s tweet had been retweeted five times and had had six replies to it.

Melbourne-based @csfmtbation retweeted a tweet at 2.55pm on 22 December from about 20 minutes earlier that had been tweeted by Melbourne-based Andy Fleming (@slackbastard): “Shayne Hunter has taken an early lead in the 2017 'Australian Patriot of the Year Award'. A reminder that voting is COMPULSORY and polls close DEC 31 at 11:59:59pm. #ausvotes #auspol #STRAYA” The link went to a page with an online voting tool soliciting choices for the putative far-right award. The blurb ended:
It’s your job to vote for the bestest and most patriotest; the winner of the 2017 Australian Patriot of the Year Award™ will be announced on STRAYA Day as the climax of Triple M’s Ozzest100.
One of the text entries outlining the backgrounds of candidates in the vote went like this:
David Hilton is a former high skool teach turned AltRight propagandist based in Brisbane. Formerly known as Moses Apostaticus, 2017 was a Big Year for David. No mere Spectator, David successfully stopped The Communist, The Jew and The Muslim from destroying Australian Civilisation As We Know It, won friends, and influenced many people. Australian Patriot Of The Year? We Report, You Decide!
At 3.06pm on 22 December, Sydney-based writer, social activist and minister Stephanie Dowrick tweeted: “Many followers of the inclusive, merciful teacher called Jesus protest the gross misery caused by ‘Christian’ politicians to those legitimately seeking care and justice. Isaiah 1:17.” Her tweet commented on and retweeted one from journalist James Massola that linked to a Sydney Morning Herald story: “'I'm not going to put up with it any more': Morrison vows to defend Christianity in 2018… via @smh” Isaiah 17:1 reads:
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
Political editor for news outlet @independentaus @ethicalmartini tweeted at 4.53pm on 22 December: “VOTE! for The 2017 Australian Patriot Of The Year! It's a tough call, there's more talent here than you might think”

A link to story dated 20 December appeared on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald website on 22 December. The story by Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon, titled ‘Most Australians will still be in debt from Christmas next Easter,’ reported facts from a study looking at how long on average Australians will need to pay off their Christmas credit card debt. “Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is a commentator and educator who presents her Smart Money Start, fun financial literacy incursion, in high schools around Australia,” according to the story’s credits.

At 8.16pm on 22 December Central Coast woman @fehowarth tweeted: “What history really tells us about Jesus' birth… via @abcnews” The link led to a story, originally published on website The Conversation, written by Robyn J Whitaker, Bromby Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Trinity College, University of Melbourne, and a lecturer at the University of Divinity.
If we pare back the story to its biblical and historical core — removing the stable, the animals, the cherub-like angels, and the inn — with what are we left? 
The Jesus of history was a child of a Jewish family living under a foreign regime. He was born into an extended family living away from home and his family fled from a king who sought to kill him because he posed a political threat. 
The Jesus story, in its historical context, is one of human terror and divine mercy, of human abuse and divine love. 
It is a story that claims God became human in the form of one who is vulnerable, poor and displaced in order to unveil the injustice of tyrannical power.
Melbourne man @timpoliti retweeted at 8.32pm on 22 December a tweet from Melbourne businessman and ALP devotee John Wren: “Given that Jesus was a socialist this will be interesting to watch @ScottMorrisonMP. #auspol” Wren had retweeted five hours earlier a tweet from Australian @AustentatiousMe: “In 2018 @ScottMorrisonMP pledges to start asking himself, ‘What would Jesus do?’ No word on whether he's likely to continue doing [the] opposite though #auspol.”

At 8.39pm on 22 December Gold Coast resident Ken Sekiya retweeted a tweet that had originally appeared from @dodo three hours earlier: “This guy wanted to surprise his dogs for Christmas, so he wrapped himself up — and they were SO excited to find out it was him.” The tweet came with a video showing two dogs going crazy when the “gift” in the kitchen turns out to contain their owner.

Canberra-based science communicator Will Grant retweeted at 8.58pm on 22 December a tweet that had appeared five hours earlier from Australian cartoonist Jon Kudelka: “Happy holidays discriminates against people who are not happy and also against people who are working.”

At 9pm on 22 December US Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University tweeted: “In 2018, maybe we should be publishing less to give readers more” The link went to a story by Ernst-Jan Pfauth about the best way to “do” news at a time when just getting eyeballs on stories doesn’t pay the bills anymore because the per-click value of stories to publishers in the global marketplace has plummeted. News organisations now need subscribers, and to keep them they have to give them better tools to help them navigate the news. 

San Francisco-based Politico writer Carla Marinucci retweeted at 6.55am on 23 December a tweet from Washington DC-based news outlet The Hill: “Science group expects more scientists to run for office in 2018 than ever before” The link led to a story on The Hill’s website that read, in part:
A group focused on recruiting and training scientists to run for office is eyeing two more key House and Senate races as it plans to ramp up involvement in the 2018 midterms. 
314 Action, named after the first three digits of pi, is closely watching the race for Rep. Dave Reichert’s (R-Wash.) open seat and the Tennessee Senate race, which has garnered some national attention. But the group has yet to make endorsements in either race.
I retweeted the story and that tweet appeared as a story in the publication that Guardian Australia’s audience editor, Dave Earley, tweeted a link to at 8.55am.

At 7.33am on 23 December ABC News tweeted, “How silly hats, crackers and quiet time can help you have a conflict-free Christmas” The link led to a story by Olivia Willis and Claudine Ryan that provides some helpful hints about how to negotiate the traditional family Christmas get-together.

At 8.13am on 23 December Geoffrey Payne retweeted a tweet from Australia’s deputy leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek, that had originally appeared 18 hours earlier: “The news that some of our defence personnel will return from Iraq is the best Christmas present for many families. They were there at the invitation + request of the democratically elected govt of Iraq to help protect the people + territory from the murderous rampage of IS.”

At 9.19am on 23 December North Sydney resident Denise Shrivell retweeted a tweet by John Wren that had gone up two hours before: “I really don't get @ScottMorrisonMP. On the one hand he says he will fight the mockery of Christians, yet on the other, he himself mocks them by claiming to be one. #auspol”

At 10.50am on 23 December Marcus O’Donnell, director of digital learning at Deakin University, tweeted: “UC Berkeley economist argues for an economic system based on altruism, sustainability & a meaningful life.…” The link leads to an interview presented by Melvin McLeod dated 13 December with economist Clair Brown. The first question is:
The starting point of your new book, Buddhist Economics, is that the goal of any economic system is to create human happiness. How does the free market system define happiness and how is the definition in Buddhist economics different? 
Professor Clair Brown: Free market economics says that everyone can increase their happiness and life satisfaction by buying and consuming more. That’s how humans become more content, happier, and satisfied—by consuming more. 
In Buddhist economics, happiness is defined by the concept of interconnectedness. All people, all beings, are interdependent with each other and with nature. Happiness comes from making sure people lead comfortable, dignified lives and interact with each other and nature in a meaningful, caring way.
At around 8.30am American farmer’s wife @birdfarmerswife tweeted: “My dad died in a tractor accident. My mom committed suicide missing my dad so much. Christmas is hard on everyone for one reason or another. This is my story at Christmastime.” @NYFarmer retweeted it later that day. The tweet came with a picture.