Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Few of my Favourite Things

Near the dawn of a new year, and with apologies to Julie Andrews, I would like to present a few of my favourite things in 2012: the best of what tickles/tickled my fancy.

Best music: The much anticipated release from the legendary POD, Murdered Love ticked all the boxes and was definitely worth the wait. Despite lacking a killer signature track like Boom, it delivers hunger satisfying flavours from punk rock to reggae with nice chunky crunchy bits, and passionate poetry. A work of art from the Boys from Southtown.

Best in Sport 1: As the leading runs scorer in test cricket in 2012, Australian captain, Michael Clarke, astounded cricket fans with four double centuries and a triple. He finished the year with another 100 in the massacre of Sri Lanka in the Boxing Day test in Melbourne. A craftsman with the bat, and an aggressive captain, Clarke may well lead Australia into a new Golden Age.

Best in Sport 2: The Canterbury Bulldogs splurged on a new coach and he proved to be the buy of the year. Turning the Bulldogs from inconsistent underachievers to competition heavyweights in the blink of an eye with a revolutionary style of forward play, Des Hasler led the team to the Grand Final without a specialist halfback. The Bulldogs may have lost the decider but they will be the team to beat in 2013.

Best Movie: It's hard to remember a whole year of movies, so one of my all time favourites, and arguably the greatest move franchise of all time, James Bond gets the nod. Skyfall is classic Bond delivered by the director with all the panache of modern film making. It was everything I hoped for: cars, guns, chases, locations, stunts , a sicko villain and the best on screen explosion I've seen since The Matrix.

Best book: I only read one five star book in 2012: Perry Angel's Suitcase. I stumbled across it by accident and although it is a children's novel, it moved me deeply with its simple yet powerful prose. An inspirational and delightful story.
I thought it looked like a nice story for my daughter when I saw it on the shelf at our local library, but I'm pretty sure I enjoyed more than she did.

Best Blog post (by me): This was 
really hard: easily the most difficult decision I had to make. Finally, after perusing my posts for the year, and making a shortlist, I elected The Death Penalty Upsized (September 28). If I was famous and had millions, even hundreds would do, of followers I would put it to a vote. But I reckon this one is a beauty and it did provoke some passionate comments.

And so ends a successful year for me professionally. The release of my debut novel, Devolution, in paperback, 15 short stories accepted for publication, and a publishing contract for my second novel, Loathe Your Neighbour. I wish you all success, however you define it, good health and happiness in 2013.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Note to Party Poopers

Christmas Day is only four days away. What's your party count up to? How many Christmas functions and gatherings have you attended? Are you loving it? The eating, the drinking, the Christmas cheer, the exchanging of gifts and good wishes? I hope you are enjoying every minute of it. I hope you can put aside the feeling that it's all a bit much. I hope you aren't whining about the necessity of showing up at "another Christmas party", the busyness, the crowded malls, the searching for and purchasing of gifts, the drain on the budget, the effort, the hassle. I hope you aren't grumbling about the commercialization of Christmas or the forced congeniality of family get togethers. I hope you aren't writing Christmas off as only being a magical time for children. I hope you aren't wishing it was all over and bah humbugging everything to do with the festive season. I hope you aren't a mean spirited Scrooge. I hope that's not you.

If that it is you, then snap out of it! Even if you don't believe that forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ is the greatest gift any of us has ever been given, and I absolutely believe it is, then at least acknowledge that Christmas is a time when we can focus on what is good. It's a time of hope and thanksgiving. A time to be treasured. Randy Stonehill sang in one of his songs, "Christmas isn't just a day, and all days aren't the same." Actually I'm glad we have a Christmas season rather than just one day.

So you've been to a hundred Christmas parties and you're full when you arrive and stuffed when you leave. Big deal, you credit card's in the red and you're not getting enough sleep. So what if it's all getting a bit much. Get into it! Celebrate! Love life and be thankful. Spread a little Christmas goodwill and don't forget to thank God for sending Jesus to save us. Merry Christmas everyone.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tongue Tied

If you speak and/or are literate in a language other than the one you learned from your parents when you were a child - then you will understand. If you are monolingual then you won't. If you were pulled out of school after only a few years, or never even started because your parents could not afford to have you not working, or because there was no school due to a marauding militia burning it to the ground and murdering your teacher -then you will understand. If  you started school around the age of 4 or 5 and completed at least 10 - 12 years of uninterrupted education, then you won't. If you fit into the first of those categories, you will understand how difficult it can be to move to a new country,  learn the language and find employment. If you work in a government office in one of those nations which receive refugees and asylum seekers, then you won't.

In Australia, one of the services we provide to migrants is English language training. The government operates two main programs. The Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) and the Language, Literacy and Numeracy Program (LLNP). The AMEP focuses on new migrants and offers 510 hours of free instruction. The LLNP focuses on employability skills and the hugely important role of literacy. It offers 800 hours of free instruction in four 200 hour blocks.

In order to progress from one block of training to the next in the LLNP, students have to demonstrate improvement in two different macro skills. For example, reading and writing. For each of these outcomes students must supply two pieces of evidence from two different text types. In other words, to show that they can write, they might have to write a recount and a letter. To prove they can read that might have to read a description and an information text and answer questions on both.

This can be incredibly hard work both for the student and their teacher, especially for older students who have never been to school and who are not literate in their native language, but also for students with learning disabilities. Throw in a range of medical problems which result in memory and concentration problems, as well as frequent visits to doctors. Add some attitudinal problems related sometimes to culture and other times to personality, and you will begin to get a clearer  picture of what goes on in English language classrooms around the country.

The system, the LLNP, is quantifiable results based and driven by the bottom line: you guessed it, money. It is largely incompatible with the needs and abilities of low level English learners. It is apparently run by bureaucrats with little understanding of people, nor of any principles of language learning. The fact is that no matter how adept the teacher is or how hard the student tries, anything more than extremely modest improvements in English language skills will remain elusive for a large number, even a majority, of refugees. The insistence on a certain level of improvement is a denial of reality.

Friday, December 7, 2012

But for the grace of God

Last night I watched a great piece of television drama. Episode 227 of the multi award winning cop show, Blue Heelers. The episode called "The grace of God" focused on the murder of a police officer while on duty, the reactions of his family and his colleagues, and the subsequent hunt for his killer. One of the reasons Blue Heelers was such a popular series is that it was a very realistic portrayal of the lives of a group of police officers in a country town, but as real and as intense as this show and especially this episode were, in the end it was only fiction. Made for entertainment.

Two days ago in Sydney a feud between neighbours about a  bird aviary allegedly caused a violent altercation which resulted in the death of police Inspector Bryson Anderson. The 45 year old veteran was well known and well respected in his local community where he was heavily involved in charity work. Described by NSW police chief, Andrew Scipione as an excellent officer and a damn fine bloke, Anderson responded to a phone call about arrows being fired into someone's backyard by their neighbours. Within moments of arriving at the scene he was struck in the back of the head with a knife and died a short time later.

I feel incredibly sad and heavy hearted as I write this. These kinds of stories are shocking and depressing. However, I am not the wife of Inspector Bryson Anderson, who kissed him goodbye as he went to work but never saw him alive again. Nor am I one of his children who will have to grow up without their father because of a completely unjustified act of violence. I'm not one of Inspector Anderson's friends or colleagues, the latter saying to themselves that it could have been them, but for the grace of God.

When those whose job it is to protect us are killed in the line of duty, we all feel vulnerable. Police don't simply maintain order in society, they represent it. They do not merely enforce the law, they symbolize it. More than doing their best to keep our streets safe, they personify security, they epitomize safety. I don't know how they do it but I'm glad they are there, and they have my undying respect and gratitude.