Sunday, December 25, 2011


Another so-called Aborigine

I had better not call her a fake Aborigine or I might end up in court like Andrew Bolt. So much for free speech in Australia.

Though it must be said that judge Mordecai Bromberg was dancing on the head of a pin with his vapid reasoning concerning Bolt's writings. According to Bromberg what Bolt said was OK; It was just the "tone" in which he said it that condemned him. Do we really have a law about "tone"?

It is a great pity that the Bolt verdict was not appealed to a higher and hopefully fairer court. But the Labor Party legislation made that difficult.

And what does it say for the progress of Aborigines when the successful ones among them are white rather than black?

A PERSONAL tragedy inspired Ellie May Moore to pursue a career in medicine, something she hopes will be possible now she has completed Year 12. Ellie was the top Aboriginal student to complete the South Australian Certificate of Education this year and was presented with an award in recognition of her achievements.

The 18-year-old obtained a university entrance score of 89.75, completing biology, health studies, maths studies, psychology and a research project.

"I was shocked when I heard I had received the award," she said. "It's a real surprise, and my family are thrilled for me. I hope it can encourage indigenous students to complete their schooling and realise their dreams."

It was the time she spent in hospital around the time of a grandparent's death when she saw the good doctors could do that she set her goal to be part of the medical profession.

This year 145 Aboriginal students who started Year 12 went on to complete their certificates - out of 172 - which is an 84 per cent completion rate and a rise of 5.8 per cent on 2010. And 83 students gained a tertiary entrance score, more than any other time in the past six years.


The folly of litigation over wills

THEY are often the only winners when families go to war over disputed wills but the state's most expensive lawyers have been told by judges to stay off the battlefield.

As legal costs eclipse the value of some of the estates being fought over, top silks should know better than to get involved when they are not needed, however lucrative the work, judges believe.

When flautist Jane Rutter, 52, and her brother David, 51, challenged their father Barry's will after their stepsister, 25, made a claim for a greater share of his estate, the judge was scathing that the four-day hearing cost an "outrageous" $400,000 in legal bills. The estate was worth only $375,000.

In another notorious case, two daughters and a granddaughter of widow Alma Sherbourne won a $360,000 inheritance from the late 81-year-old's estate - but their legal bill was $450,000.

Professor Prue Vines last week released a study of fights over wills for the country's judges and said it wasn't that top lawyers weren't doing a good job for their clients but most disputes over wills were not complicated enough to merit the expense of hiring a Queen's Counsel or a Senior Counsel.

"It's very hard to ask someone to turn down work but judges have said to me that a silk should be able to say, 'that (case) doesn't really need me'," Professor Vines, from the University of NSW's law faculty, said. "Judges generally feel that silks have the ability and the knowledge to know when they are not necessary."

Her study for the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration found that family members sparring over the smallest amounts were willing to spend the most on lawyers. The most disproportionate costs came in cases between battling siblings, followed in second place by fights between the children of the first wife and the children of the second wife.

In one case, a 61-year-old woman claimed for the cost of a car from her late step-father's estate despite the fact neither she nor her son drove. She didn't get the car but did get $30,000. Her legal costs were $38,000. Judges have been outspoken in court when the legal costs have added up to more than one quarter of the value of the estate being fought over but Professor Vine said that some cases involved costs adding up to more than half the value of the estate.

Families are then shocked to discover they have to pay out of their own pockets because they were no longer automatically paid out of the estate, as had traditionally been the case.

Professor Vine said this was the end of the generation where parents would scrimp and save and "starve" to ensure there was something to leave to their children. Latest figures show there were 1576 disputes over wills filling the Supreme Court lists in 2009, with 512 new cases filed that year and 605 finalised. Numbers have remained high for years - in 2005 there were 655 new cases filed and 578 finalised.

It was reminiscent of Charles Dickens' Bleak House, where the fight over the inheritance went on so long that beneficiaries did not live to see the end, Professor Vines said. Costs balloon because people swear hundreds of affidavits which means longer in court time and the resulting costs.

Professor Vines suggested that people discuss their will with their family before they die and explain the decisions they are making so the bad news doesn't come as so much of a shock when they lose the inheritance lottery.


Christmas rituals help hold us together

Christmas has been commercialised, but the central activity remains - people taking time out to be with other people, be it family, friends or a mixture of both. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
Christmas is a time when religion meets US-style enterprise. Despite its manifold and, some say, crass modifications, the capacity of Christmas and other traditional celebrations to hold us together remains undiminished.

As Christmas beckons I find myself wondering whether this and other religious and cultural festivals such as Passover and Ramadan share common ground. After all, they bind us in our humanity, but remind us of our unique origins and experiences and affirm the importance of our community life and renewal.

Rituals are deeply embedded memories and traditions that have been carried on the migratory journeys of people and adapted to new environments. Santa Claus decked out in his winter gear has been lugged from the northern hemisphere winter to the dry heat of an Australian summer without a change of clothes.

Many in Australia will celebrate Christmas on beaches, a sundeck or under a mango tree. If it is not a fire danger day, the Aussie barbecue, with its slabs of meat, salad and beer, will replace the traditional cold climate Christmas meal of pudding and roast.

Our indigenous peoples know deeply that rituals and traditions are the connecting threads that provide us with a sense of our familial and ancestral history. Without them we can become lost. But, paradoxically, if rituals become rigid and fail to adjust to altering circumstances, they can lose their power and meaning.

This occurs when we go through the motions but do not necessarily engage in the spirit of the occasion — when we dutifully turn up, but our hearts are not in it. In all but extremely dysfunctional families, the legitimacy of the day rests with what we confer on it. Being mindful of the passing of life and expressing genuine pleasure in the company of those we love or who are significant in our lives is the deal maker. For some whose family history has been a source of pain rather than a nurturing environment this might mean creating a new "family" of friends.

We also need to reassess the culture of excess that seems to go into a frenzy over the festive season. We overeat and over consume, bestowing often unwanted gifts on recipients who must feign gratitude so as not to offend. As the planet groans under our weight it is time to reassess the tradition of plentitude and overindulgence — a legacy of the yuletide winter solstice and pagan festivities that are part of "ye olde Christmas".

Despite all, at their best, these traditions provide a celebration of continuity, comfort, company, family and community. They mark time, but reassure us that some things still remain, if not the same, at least recognisable.

Some celebrate with prayers and carols, and above all, the iconic Christmas lunch. But many have an "early Christmas", to gather in disparate groups that reflect divorce and separation. It is possible to have four or more sets of grandparents to visit. As a result of split relationships, many find themselves experiencing a force-feeding at multiple Christmas feasts. Like the Vicar of Dibley who politely and agonisingly consumes three enormous Christmas lunches in succession.

And the festive season can also sharpen awareness of change and loss. These are times when wounds can be reopened. The lonely are more lonely and the season may bring a heightened risk of suicide.

The absence of dead relatives and friends is felt keenly. This may be the loss of a grandparent who spanned the decades and held generations of memories.

The survivors of the Queensland and Victorian floods will experience their first Christmas since the disasters. Some are in temporary homes and have lost all memorabilia of the past or worse are now without much loved family members. Many will fear this time of year. There will be new homes but a need to reconstruct their way of remembering the experience.

But perhaps the most forgotten among us are the homeless, who at best will have the "tradition" of a lunch served by kindly volunteers in a church hall or other charitable venue or do nothing at all. They are left as outsiders.

In these times of fast-paced change, the observance of time-worn and adapted, even kitsch, traditions has become more important and powerful. All of us, including the dislocated and the grieving may find comfort in some form of celebration, however different from past years.

The raison d'etre remains the same. Connecting with family, friends and our communities; farewelling the passings and embracing the time to come with hope.



The following are results from an OZ-words Competition where entrants were asked to take an Australian word, alter it by one letter only, and supply a witty definition. Clearly, you need to be an Aussie to understand.

Billabonk: to make passionate love beside a waterhole

Bludgie: a partner who doesn't work, but is kept as a pet

Dodgeridoo: a fake indigenous artefact

Fair drinkum: good-quality Aussie wine

Flatypus: a cat that has been run over by a vehicle

Mateshit: all your flat mate's belongings, lying strewn around the floor

Shagman: an unemployed male, roaming the Australian bush in search of sexual activity

Yabble: the unintelligible language of Australian freshwater crustaceans

Bushwanker: a pretentious drongo, who reckons he's above average when it comes to handling himself in the scrub

Crackie-daks: 'hipster' tracksuit pants.

And for the Kiwis amongst us:

Shornbag: a particularly attractive naked sheep

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