Mistletoe.

All my life I have thought of mistletoe as a European thing, and associated it with images of druids cutting it out of trees with a sickle–  most likely embedded by all the Asterix  books I read as a kid.

Mistletoe is, in fact, a very old word that dates back to Old English. It had closely related words for the same plant in Old Saxon, Old Norse, Old Frisian, Old High German and Gothic languages.

The plant was venerated by the druids, especially when it was found growing on oak trees, which were seen as the most powerful and mighty of trees. The druids believed that mistletoe had powerful healing properties,  and it has traditionally been associated with life, renewal, hope, magic,  and love. 

This accounts for my enormous surprise last Friday as we were driving through southern New South Wales and I discovered that the teardrop shaped plants growing on Australian gum trees were, in fact, a native variety of mistletoe. They were different enough in colour, leaf shape and habit to be distinct from the trees on which they were growing, and a quick search online confirmed what I had jokingly suggested to my husband as we drove: “Maybe it’s mistletoe!”

Photos: WordyNerdBird. Mistletoe growing in an Australian eucalypt at Wilbriggie, NSW.

As it happens, Australia has about seventy varieties of native mistletoe, and another twenty or so that have been introduced. While they live semi-parasitically on other trees, they don’t do any harm to them or the environment as some other parasitic plants do. (Yes, Golden Dodder, I’m looking at you, you nasty weed.)

So, next Christmas when certain family and friends laugh at me for singing ‘Meet Me Under The Mistletoe’ I’ll be able to inform them that it does grow here naturally, and therefore Australians are just as entitled to sing about it as anyone else.

Sources:
Etymonline
Gardening Australia
Dictionary.com

Mistletoe.
#words #history #etymology

The Uncomfortable Truth: The Rapists Are Likely To Be Blokes You Know

The irony of writing to men on International Women’s Day has not escaped me, but this is something they need to understand.

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

On the morning of Sunday, March 6, 2021, a white, middle-aged male Australian journalist, especially the privileged and powerful stated on national television that while he was glad that women were speaking up about rape and sexual abuse, he was struggling with the fact that his friend— a prominent member of the government who is obviously innocent, of course— had been accused of rape and is at the centre of a maelstrom of media and public scrutiny as a result. 

It was an absolute AYFKM moment for any thinking g woman watching. The two women on the discussion panel did an excellent job of not saying what they were clearly thinking.I, on the other hand, was not on national television so I was able to express my thoughts more freely. 

When the rage and the nausea subsided, I asked my husband, “Who exactly does he think the rapists are if they’re not among the friends of all the other men?”

The fact of the matter is, rapists and child abusers are very often friends or family members of their victims. They all have friends who would be as shocked by the truth as Peter Van Onselen is by the allegations against Christian Porter. They would all struggle with accepting the heinous behaviour of someone they know and respect. 

That does not mean that allegations and accusations are not true. The only way to know with any confidence is to fully investigate and, if necessary, prosecute the matter. 

In the meantime, friends of the alleged rapist— particularly journalists and his parliamentary colleagues— should recuse themselves from public forums discussing the matter because, quite frankly, it is not the place for biased male perspectives on the experiences of women. It is most definitely not the place for making a woman’s account of rape about them and how much they are struggling with the allegations against their mate. 

Conversely, Australian women are way past being surprised or shocked by men we know, or those in positions of privilege and power, being accused of rape and abuse. And while we have always been angry about rape and abuse, our fury has grown over recent weeks over the number of allegations of rape and abuse connected  to the government and the apparent inability— or outright failure— of those in positions of responsibility and power to deal with those situations appropriately. 

It’s high time Peter Van Onselen, Scott Morrison and anyone else struggling with the current accusations and publicity realised what the rest of us know: while most Australian men are not rapists and many of them are excellent, the abusers and rapists are moving among them and look just like the. They could turn out to be anyone. Nobody is beyond suspicion, regardless of their position in society. 

One other thing is just as sure: if Christian Porter or any of the other accused men in Parliament House were a teacher rather than a politician, his employer’s response would have been very, very different. 

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The Rapists Are Likely To Be Blokes You Know
#UncomfortableTruth #blog

Frequently Confused Words: Conscious vs Conscience

This post was inspired by the numerous social media posts I saw this week either stating that certain Australian politicians “have no conscious” or wishing that they would “have a conscious”.While that is, quite ironically, a remarkably astute observation, what those comments obviously meant was that certain Australian politicians have no conscience

Screen shot from Google taken on March 7th, 2021

Conscious is an adjective which means awake, aware, alert, responsive, or possessing mental or moral faculty. If the tweets had been observing a lack of those qualities in said politicians, the word should have been consciousness, as that is the noun form.

Of course, given the behaviour of certain members of the government in recent weeks, and of certain journalists who defend them without investigation or proof of innocence, there is a very strong argument to be made that they lack any number of types of consciousness.

Conscience is the innate, internal knowledge or recognition of right and wrong behaviour, speech, thoughts or motives, or one’s inner sense of fairness and justice. It can also refer to one’s mental or moral faculty that makes decisions based on such knowledge or recognition.

Given the behaviour of certain members of the government in recent weeks, and of certain journalists who defend them without investigation or proof of innocence, there is also a very strong argument to be made for a complete and utter lack of conscience among them.

The two words are crucially different… unless, of course, one lacks both. In that case, the distinction is somewhat irrelevant.

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Frequently Confused Words: Conscious vs Conscience
#vocabulary #words

Zucked.

I do the love the Macquarie Dictionary.

It is the dictionary of Australian English, expressive of all classes and of our multicultural society. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with it because of my frequent reference to it in my word-nerdy posts.

Today, though, the editors excelled themselves.

On the day when Facebook cut off access to all Australian news channels— sadly including sources of information relied upon by particular social groups such as  Indigenous communities, domestic violence support groups for women and families, and local information networks— as a result of a disagreement with the Australian government over market share and finances, the Macquarie tweeted that Australians have been zucked.

An obvious play on the F-bomb and Zuckerberg, it’s a clever new portmanteau word.

A portmanteau word is one created by blending two existing words or parts of words to create a new word. The name comes from a portmanteau, which is a type of suitcase that opens into two halves. This  dates back to Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking Glass’:

from ‘Through the Looking Glass’ by Lewis Carroll, courtesy of archive.org

We use portmanteau words every day, without many of us realising how they were created:

  • Botox —  botulism toxin
  • Brexit — British exit from the European Union
  • Bollywood — Bombay and Hollywood
  • Email — electronic mail
  • Fortnight — fourteen nights, so two weeks
  • Sitcom — situation comedy
  • Webinar — web seminar

English is actually full of these words, as it’s a form of wordplay that has been around for hundreds of years.

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Sources:
Britannica
Etymonline
Macquarie Dictionary

Zucked.
#words #language #facebooknewsban

Signing the Uluru Statement Of The Heart

Today, I signed the Uluru Statement Of The Heart.

I make this public declaration in addition to signing my name on the signature wall:

I stand with the First Nations people of Australia as an ally and an advocate for voice, for Treaty, and for truth.

I will continue to teach Australian history with honesty and with empathy for the experiences of the Indigenous people. I will encourage others to listen and understand .

I will continue to seek an end to racism, division and inequality.

I will continue to work for reconciliation, friendship, and harmony. I will continue to speak for increased representation and constitutional recognition.

This is my commitment as an Australian.



Australia Day: We Can Do Better

There’s a lot of controversy about celebrating Australia Day on January 26, and with good reason.

Some Aussies — in all honesty, mostly white ones – argue that there is nothing wrong with celebrating our country on that day as we do.

They would most likely be quite surprised to know that Australia Day wasn’t celebrated nationally until 1935: it’s not something we’ve been doing since 1788. Even more surprising would be the fact that it’s only been a public holiday since 1994 – not even thirty years.

A growing number of Aussies feel conflicted about the date. They are coming to understand that, as it is, it is a celebration that causes grief and hurt to the Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia. For them, it is ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Day of Mourning’, which is a very fair call.

January 26 marks the anniversary of the date in 1788 when the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour, set up camp, and began the first British colony in Australia. It is impossible to condense the history of the nation since then into just one sentence, but it’s fair to say that the story is characterised by dispossession, racism, violence, massacre and oppression toward the Indigenous people of the country. That is why celebrating that date is so offensive to them. Anyone who doesn’t understand that is either a. extremely white privileged, b. not trying hard enough or c. both.

It is common understanding that if one is doing something that hurt someone else, and if it is in that person’s power to stop, I should stop doing it. Even if there is an apology, the only way to prove the apology means anything at all is to refrain from doing it again. The only way to heal a damaged relationship is to change one’s ways.
This is as true on a national level as it is for an individual.

We have seen our national government issue an apology for the actions of the past. Now, as a nation, we must prove that we meant it.

There is no reason why we can’t change the date for celebrating our nation. There’s a lot to celebrate, but we can also do much better than we have in the past.

Some people suggest that we should celebrate Australia Day on January 1st – the anniversary of Federation. It’s a good idea, despite the complaints that people will be hung over from New Year’s Eve parties the night before. That’s a choice for each individual to make – but wouldn’t less drunkenness be a good thing anyway?

Alternatively, I suggest that the Australian government should commit to and sign a Treaty with the Indigenous people, as they have been pleading for the government to do for years. This Treaty, made in collaboration with Indigenous people, would acknowledge the past, shape the future, and enable us to move on together in a spirit of reconciliation and healing.


The date on which that Treaty was established and signed should be the new date for Australia Day. We could even call it Treaty Day, or Australian Treaty Day, to put the focus on the relationship instead of the painful memories of the past.

I’m not Indigenous, and I do not pretend to share their experiences or speak for anyone else.

I am, however, a History teacher who seeks to teach Australian history with empathy and awareness of the experiences of Australia’s First Nations people, and to encourage my students to understand that our nation’s story began long before 1788. I am an Australian who loves my country, but also one who is deeply sorry for the suffering of the Indigenous people, past and present.

As such, I cannot help but think that either one of those two ideas would have to be better than what we have now.

I will not be attending or watching any Australia Day celebrations tomorrow.
Instead, I intend to mark the day by signing the Uluru Statement From The Heart, which is a call to Australians to rally together to achieve constitutional recognition for our First Nations peoples and to establish an Indigenous voice to Parliament.

It’s high time we did better, Australia. Let’s change the date, and move forward in a common spirit of reconciliation and healing.

Australia Day: We Can Do Better
#changethedate #AustraliaDay

Christmas Windows.

For many years, families have made a tradition of going into the city to see the department store Christmas windows.

We don’t live in a big city, or near one, but shop windows decorated for Christmas have become popular out here in the country, too.

Tonight we had the unveiling of the Christmas windows at the local hardware. They made an event of it, added in some competitions and games, and generated a lot of interest among the community. A good number of community folks turned out for the event, and there was a lot of excitement and chatter among the crowd.

The Christmas windows at H Hardware in Cobden, Victoria.

The windows, each decorated by a different staff member, are fabulous. They all show creativity and a sense of humour, and they are sure to be a feature of the Christmas lights viewing in town.

“Why would you live in Cobden?” is a question I get asked from time to time.
My standard response is, “Why wouldn’t you?”

An evening like this is just another reminder of just a few of the reasons why my town is a really great place to live.

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Christmas Windows.
#Christmas #ChristmasIsComing #lovewhereyoulive

A Much-Needed Break

COVID-19 restrictions were recently eased in our area, just in time for us to make the most of us both having four days off work.

We took the opportunity to sneak away for a break and headed down the coast with our friends, caravans in tow, phones switched onto silent, and four days’ worth of food, drinks and comfy old clothes ready to go.

At this point of 2020, we fully realise what a luxury four days away from home really is. After months of staying home, teaching from home, and only leaving home when absolutely necessary, the change of scenery was most welcome. Of course, Melbourne and its surrounding area are still under restrictions, so this is a privilege most people in my state do not have. I do feel sympathy for them, but not sufficiently to forgo the pleasure of my first real break since January.

We are camped at the little coastal hamlet of Yambuk on the south-western coast of Victoria. It’s a picturesque little spot, overlooking a lake that is kept separate from the ocean only by sand dunes. We can see the ocean beyond the dunes, hear it murmuring all night as we rest, and easily walk to the beach whenever we so desire. The lake has a bird population of a dozen gulls and one magnificent pelican, while our campsite has several blue wrens that keep us entertained.

Not that I need much for entertainment. I’m happy to gaze at the sea, or the birds, or watch the sun dip behind the dunes as dusk cloaks the countryside with a blanket of almost-but-not-quite-darkness, illuminated by stars and a full moon so bright you could almost read by it.

I had planned to record and upload a couple of spooky stories for Halloween, but the phone signal is so low, I can’t even upload images to Instagram unless I drive twenty minutes to a bigger town. This would usually frustrate me but, this weekend, I really don’t care. So, I put my phone down and decided I would also take a good break from screens.

I have taken the opportunity to walk, to nap, to read books, to do puzzles, and to sit in companionable silence with my friend. I have managed to get a few nice photos. I have taken time to contemplate the huge differences in my life between last January and now. I don’t know if this year has changed me, but it has changed lots of things for me.

I suppose I am stronger, but I don’t feel it. It’s going to take more than four days to heal that amount of damage, but at least I’ve made a bit of a start.

I’m very thankful for this beautiful place and the time off that made this little getaway possible.

Most of all, I am thankful for the people who are willing to nourish me physically and spiritually, and to hold my hand or encourage me while giving me time and space to work on myself. I am blessed to have some of those people right here with me this weekend, while others are still on the other side of closed borders. It may have been one of the most rubbish years ever, but I am richly blessed to have some amazing people in my life to help me get through it.

This post and its pictures actually uploaded after who-knows-how-many attempts. I had actually given up and put my phone down again, and noticed some time later that it has uploaded. And they say miracles don’t happen!

Josh Frydenberg: You Have Some Nerve, Mister.

An open letter to Josh Frydenberg, Federal Treasurer and MP for Cooyong:

You have some nerve. Your outburst in Parliament yesterday was way out of line.

Yes, mistakes were made early on in Victoria’s management of COVID. And they got cleaned up. We’ve actually done a brilliant job, which you didn’t even acknowledge. But that isn’t the part of your speech to which I, and many other Victorian teachers, take particular exception.

While the rest of the House was congratulating the people of Victoria on crushing the curve and bringing the numbers back to zero, you chose to be ungrateful. That little tantrum of yours would make a two year old proud.

An excerpt from Frydenberg’s speech in Parliament, Tuesday Oct 27, 2020.

Your assertion that your children missed out on six months of schooling is highly offensive to every teacher in this fine state who has gone way beyond the call of professionalism and duty of care to ensure that our students did not miss a single thing that we were able to provide for them.

Were my colleagues and I merely dreaming all the extra work we put into setting up online classrooms, doing extra courses in online safety and classroom management, monitoring our students’ wellbeing and mental health, in addition to all the usual planning, preparation and teaching we have been doing all year?
Did we imagine the eye fatigue and headaches from being in online classrooms all day, doing all our marking and reporting online, meeting with colleagues and conferencing with parents online?

You have been able to do your job almost completely normally all year.

We have had to completely reinvent ours, while at the same time being required to switch from face to face teaching to online classrooms, then back, and back again, sometimes at only a few days’ notice.
We’ve done it without tantrums, without complaints, and without pointing fingers at people who were also trying to do their best in otherwise uncharted territory.

Victorian teachers have proven to be dedicated, resilient, and incredibly versatile this year.

And I will tell you one thing that is absolutely certain: the students at my school did not miss six months of school. They had their full timetable, every school day, complete with teachers and teachers aides, differentiated lessons, roll call, and individual help whenever they needed it.

Don’t be firing your nasty little aspersions at Victorian schools and the 100% committed teachers in them, Mr Frydenberg, even by inference.

We do not deserve that. We are exhausted, our patience has been pushed to the limit, and we are still going. We are not in the mood for your petulant tantrums.

It’s high time you gave credit where credit is due, learned some gratitude and grace, and got on with doing your job while we continue to do ours.

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An Open Letter to Josh Frydenberg @JoshFrydenberg
#TeacherLife #VictoriaTheHeroState #howdareyou

Back in the Classroom: Putting My Teacher Mask On

Thoughts on the first day of face to face teaching after months of lockdown and teaching online.

Image by HaticeEROL on Pixabay

After nine weeks of only seeing my students in little squares on my computer screen, a two week term break, and a final week of online classes, we resumed face to face lessons today. Things were a little bit different than they used to be, though. 

The desks were distanced from one another as practically as they could be. The bottle of sanitiser at the front of the room had been joined by another and, this time around, the students didn’t need reminding to use it. Most obviously, though, we were all wearing masks. 

We used to talk about “putting our teacher hat on” when we walked into the classroom, and taking it off again at the end of the day. I guess now it’s our teacher masks we have to consciously think about wearing, as this seems to be the new normal— in Victorian schools, at least— for the foreseeable future. 

The wearing of masks is something disliked by many students and staff alike. Personally, I don’t mind wearing one, and I am happy to not be breathing in whatever germs are floating around the room. Most of my students seemed to manage without any difficulty, but getting some of them to wear their masks properly and not keep touching them proved to be yet another new classroom challenge.

Still, there were some good things going on. 

The tone and humour in my classrooms was generally positive. One kid who doesn’t even like me much told me it was good to see me. I laughed and told him to give it time, and everyone laughed at that because we all knew it wouldn’t last.

Marking the class roll was significantly easier and quicker than online: once again, I could see at a glance who wasn’t there. Marking the roll in online classes was something I always found arduous. Today it took two seconds. 

I could see right away who wasn’t doing what they should be, and I could move around behind them and see their screens. There is no more effective way to make someone work than to be able to see their screen. 

At the same time, I could instantly encourage those who were working hard amd staying on task. It’s so much easier to be positive when you can be both natural and proactive about it. The added bonus is that when you praise and encourage one student for doing a good job or making a great effort, it tends to make those listening more inclined to want to do better and get some praise, too. 

Those few kids who have avoided doing much at all since we returned to online schooling finally had to do some work. Those who did not engage in online lessons found themselves no longer able to just sign in and zone out or leave the room. And because I was wearing a mask, they couldn’t see my wry grin as I watched them working. 

I was able to move around the room and look over the shoulders of my students. Delivering instant feedback and reminders about spelling, punctuation and paragraphs is significantly easier than trying to give that kind of advice online.

All things considered, while the day was not without a few issues and challenges, it’s fair to say that the positives outweighed the negatives. It’s hard not to be satisfied with that. 

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