Summer is Almost Here

But though they worked like Trojans all,
The fire still went ahead,
So far as you could see around,
The very skies were red,

(Banjo Patterson. Bushfire – an Allegory)

I love the CFA, Victoria’s own country fire authority. Last week T, my sixteen year old son, began his induction as a recruit with our local fire station. This week’s bushfires at Margaret River in W.A. are a terrifying reminder of the vital role such organisations play in protecting rural communities

The CFA has evolved from a rough network of local fire brigades, to become one of the world’s largest volunteer emergency services associations. T will have to undertake Wildfire Minimum Skills Training, before he’s allowed to turn out in a fire truck. Thank goodness for that. He’ll learn about personal protection, map reading, fire behaviour and suppression. He’ll receive communications training. This will complement what he already learned this year during Year Ten. His school offered the practical subject of Fire and the Community to its students.

So T will be well prepared by the time he helps conduct a fuel reduction burn, or attends a road accident. Or turns out to a full blown bushfire. It’s a wonderful opportunity for him to give something back – to become a valuable and responsible member of his community. I am of course, very proud. I will try to hold onto this thought when the sirens next ring, and my stomach coils in nasty knots.

I

Grief and Shame

Not Western Black Rhinos, sadly ...

Last week marked another scathing indictment of humanity’s indifference to other life on our planet – the official declaration of the extinction of the Western Black Rhino by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The announcement was fittingly made on Remembrance Day. In its latest assessment of the situation, the IUCN says two other sub-species of rhinoceros also are close to extinction. All due to the ignorant belief that rhino horn has some magical, medicinal powers.

Although predictable, it still feels surreal to me – that a species of charismatic megafauna, such as this rhino, could become extinct in my lifetime. Like when I heard that the World Trade Centre had collapsed. That it can’t be true sort of feeling.

I won’t go into how each and every species has a place in the web of life; or how the loss of biological diversity to poaching, habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, etc., is jeopardizing the very fabric of our fragile planet; or what a shameful legacy this is, to pass down to our children and our grandchildren.

Instead, I’ll just grieve. RIP rhinos. Sleep well. We can’t hurt you anymore.

School is Cool

When my son T starts year 11 next year, he won’t be hefting around a heavy backpack, weighed down with textbooks. Instead he’ll be tapping out notes and flipping electronic pages on a glossy iPad. This device will be pre loaded with electronic textbooks and other online resources. The idea is to eliminate textbooks and paper homework, and make all of his coursework available with the swipe of finger.

On the whole, I think this is a terrific idea. Learning will become more fun and engaging and tech savvy. Plus, the kids will probably feel mega cool walking around with those things. The devices are small and portable, which makes them easy to use for educational activities anywhere – including outside the classroom and on field trips. There is also the advantage that he won’t have to lug twenty kilos of textbooks home in his school bag. I must admit, I love my lightweight Kindle.

But I do have some mixed feelings about this. There must be a change in a child’s perception of reality, when everything exists on a screen and nothing is tangible. There is a reason why Montessori schools make so much effort for children to have a tactile experience of the world. I’d like to see any sort of electronic learning, balanced with some sort of physical one. Maybe the kids also need to spend an hour a day playing ping pong, riding bicycles, writing on a whiteboard or practicing penmanship. Or maybe, I’m just showing my age.

A Year Well Spent

Tomorrow I’m doing a reading at the last session of the Advanced Year of the Novel. This is a year long course, presented by Andrea Goldsmith, and run by the Victorian Writer’s Centre. I am a tremendous fan of Andrea’s writing. She has published six novels, and has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. Her most recent novel, Reunion, was published by Harper Collins 4th Estate in 2009 to wide acclaim. The Advanced Year of the Novel is tailored for those who have covered the initial ground of novel writing. It provides a supportive and critical forum in which participants can vent problems and explore techniques that will move their latest novel closer to completion. Andrea is a passionate and experienced teacher, who has mentored many new novelists. She expects each reading to be something of a performance, and anticipates that we will thoroughly practise our piece. My sons are not the most enthusiastic literary audience, so I’ve been reduced to reading aloud to my dogs. Until today that is, when my brother Rod kindly listened to me read. (He’s responsible for the gorgeous photos on this site, by the way.) So, I’m now all practised and ready, and eagerly awaiting tomorrow’s celebration of our writing year.