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Monday, 29 November 2010

Rain and floods in Victoria

The Loddon river overflows
On Saturday morning we woke in the soft home bed of John and Annie’s home in Bendigo – their guests. Late Friday night Melbourne Domestic had teemed with midnight arrivals. Our flight out of Brisbane landed at 9.15 to be held an hour on the apron without an exit tunnel to the terminal, weather having delayed preceding flights. By the time we were at the carousel awaiting our bags, travellers bound to Sydney had missed that city’s landing curfew. Stuck in Melbourne, their bags already loaded on departing flights, an apologetic announcer offered them taxi vouchers and A$220 each for a local overnight hotel. We were headed for the carpark and John’s car, the freebus was packed first time round. Catching the next we were at the carpark by 11.15, plonking luggage and ourselves in the warm car and on our way north through driving rain. “One thing goes wrong... the smoothness of the system makes for a bigger mess,” I said “Yeah” said John “As Fred used to say, there’s no redundancy of parts.” Now and then through the wet dark I glimpsed the rising tail lights of planes departing on international journeys. In an hour and a half we were gliding through the empty wet streets of Bendigo, past the floodlit statue of Queen Victoria, familiar buildings, then dark again towards Junortown and home for cups of tea, Annie fast asleep already, and Lin and I to bed. Next day, after a night of further rain John and Annie went to vote in the state elections, we spoke to some of the party workers at the polling station. Labour, in power for three elections is likely to be displaced by voters moving rightwards in favour of the Liberals and the Nationals. "It's more a vote against the incumbents than a vote for their replacement" said John.
He drove us south from Bendigo past surging creeks, overflowing brown rivers, streaming ditches, noisily through long puddles across the road, to Daylesford to a delightful BBQ with friends serving local wines, tasty steaks, fried chicken and well dressed salad with juicy camembert to follow. We debated and agreed that we’d eat al fresco despite the rain and sat in happy conversation, almost dry, beneath a sloping awning that we took turns to lift to release the gathering pools. It was all strange, having visited at the same time for the last two years, to see the land like this after twelve years of drought.
Lunch at Daylesford
***** ***** So we’ve completed five workshops in Queensland – all successful with almost uniformally excellent evaluations. The state local government association had done a great job advertising our work and recruiting a level mix of senior local politicians and CEOs to share experiences with us and each other as they’ve digested our thoughts and examples of negotiating the overlap of political and managerial responsibilities in government. A remark on the final seminar in Brisbane has set us thinking: “You focus on just two people – the Mayor and the CEO. What about the others involved in the overlap?” Good question. My answer has been that the CEO-Leader/Mayor relationship models the others. Get that right and you’re positioned to ensure that the rest are OK. There’s the methodological point – that it’s tricky to track the dynamics if you have more than two in camera. John and I discussed this at the depart gate at Brisbane, and then at greater length this morning; questions coming to mind:
How do elected politicians share out, if they do, different policy tasks among political colleagues?
What’s the division of labour between councillors in relation to maintaining political oversight of the work of the council?
What criteria apply to the selection of elected members to these roles?
Who decides and how?
By what procedures are delegations shared and organised among councillors?
What forms of accountability are applied to the work of councillors in these roles?
What form of language – titles, briefs, portfolios – is used in referring to the organisation of separate responsibilities?
How is the organisation of political leadership matched to the organisation of managerial leadership?
“You know where this fits,” said John “in the content and focus? We’ve got ‘learning’, ‘negotiating’ and ‘governing’. It’s the last of those. Let’s ask people about this next seminar.” The work I’d done in UK a few years back with Michael Lyons on ‘cabinet-chief officer relations’ could apply here, indeed a twenty minute discussion at the end of the last Brisbane seminar had been all about how the Mayor and his or her political colleagues organised ‘portfolios’. There’s little or no party politics in Australian local government, and no reference, as in UK to a ‘cabinet’ or before that ‘the group’ of senior members who the officers, and other members in many councils, looked to for steer. I realised, with excitement, that we didn’t know enough, or in some cases, anything about how local government politicians were organising themselves collectively around the task of government. ** ** ** I’m rereading The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I read it first when I was still in callow teens and was disappointed at finding it so unfrightening after all I’d been warned. I guess I’d have had the same experience with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which I read much more recently. Neither of these novels have their full effect on an innocent reader. They're not revelatory and for that reason can leave the young reader – that I once was – hoping for more literal terrors as in Poe or even the brothers Grimm. With the awful knowledge of human depravity, not, thank god, experience, that comes with time’s education, these two works written not far apart at the turn of the 20th century, are landmarks in the documentation of evil, of things unthinkable in kinder times or among a more blinkered generation. Conrad pretended to be speaking about Africa’s stereotypical ‘darkness’ but he was, through his fictional interlocuter, Marlow, sat quietly on that vessel moored in the estuary of the murky Thames where the yarn was spun, referring with awful prescience to us in Britain and Europe. In Turn of the Screw James’ circumlocutions, once opaque, are now read as what he intended, an adult’s increasingly frightened search for internal fiends; ones she thinks may be figments of her imagination, hopes they are, but which she gradually realises have possessed the children in her care, inveigled them into innocent collusion in the crime against them. There has always been child abuse, but only in the last half-century, or less, have we opened the furnace door, exposed its banal frightfulness. James uses the diversion of unreality – the supernatural - to tell a story about a hideous reality. When I first read this book, like a million others who didn’t acknowledge or even believe in such things, I couldn’t make out what was so scary about it, nor did the films of the book help. Now I fully grasp the famous dying quote from Heart of Darkness - ‘the horror, the horror.’ ** ** **
In our hotel in Brisbane
It's not as if we aren't kept pretty well reminded of Europe's currency while noting how well A$s and NZ$s are performing against the pound. Poor Greece and Ireland too... "default" say the people - and then I learn from a piece in an Australian newspaper that Europe tried monetary union in the 19th century and failed. I didn't know that. * * * In Brisbane’s Art Gallery we came across a striking picture - a surrealist painting by James Gleeson - Structural emblems of a friend; – one in which I recognised across the length of a large gallery a startling likeness. Lin came over as I gazed at it. “So like your Dad." He died in 1972 the year before she and I met. “I’ve seen photos - that one of him with your brother.” She meant the one of him taken with George in 1969 in a caique off Aegina, but I was thinking of an older portrait, taken about the time Gleeson painted his self-portrait in 1941.

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Meanwhile the local shop at Inverarnie in the Highlands is almost snowbound. Margi Fleming, my mother's carer sent photos of the weather and mum, when I skyped her from Sidney, spoke of temperatures of -20° "Worse than last year and much earlier!"

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