Thursday, September 21, 2006

Monday, September 11, 2006

State funerals in the wide brown land...

So Steve Irwin's family knocked one back. Then Brockie slammed into a tree. Of course they had to offer him one. And his family has every right to accept the offer. But, really, a snake handler and a race car driver? Not to mention Kerry Goanna Packer, for services to the Liberal Party and tax lawyers the world over.

To quote the current Wikipedia entry: "In Australia, State Funerals are increasingly offered to persons of general celebrity."

Maybe there should be a tax levied on general plebs' funerals to cover the cost of those of more status?

Fair point, Bill

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Faversham Hop Festival

Ben, Olga, Katie and Scott all took the "Spitfire" Steam Train from Victoria to Faversham in Kent last Saturday for the annual hop festival. Faversham's a pretty and historic place, and home to Kent's last major brewer, Shepherd Neame. Some fin Morris dancing, local ales and much hilarity ensued. There's a bunch of pictures linked here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Germaine's view from afar

'That sort of self-delusion is what it takes to be a real Aussie larrikin'
Germaine Greer
Tuesday September 5, 2006


The world mourns. World-famous wildlife warrior Steve Irwin has died a hero, doing the thing he loved, filming a sequence for a new TV series. He was supposed to have been making a new documentary to have been called Ocean's Deadliest, but, when filming was held up by bad weather, he decided to "go off and shoot a few segments" for his eight-year-old daughter's upcoming TV series, "just stuff on the reef and little animals". His manager John Stainton "just said fine, anything that would keep him moving and keep his adrenaline going". Evidently it's Stainton's job to keep Irwin pumped larger than life, shouting "Crikey!" and punching the air.

Irwin was the real Crocodile Dundee, a great Australian, an ambassador for wildlife, a global phenomenon, a superhuman generator of merchandise, books, interactive video-games and action figures. The only creatures he couldn't dominate were parrots. A parrot once did its best to rip his nose off his face. Parrots are a lot smarter than crocodiles.

What seems to have happened on Batt Reef is that Irwin and a cameraman went off in a little dinghy to see what they could find. What they found were stingrays. You can just imagine Irwin yelling: "Just look at these beauties! Crikey! With those barbs a stingray can kill a horse!" (Yes, Steve, but a stingray doesn't want to kill a horse. It eats crustaceans, for God's sake.) All Australian children know about stingrays. We are now being told that only three people have ever been killed by Australian stingrays. One of them must have been the chap who bought it 60 years ago in Brighton Baths where my school used to go on swimming days. Port Philip Bay was famous for stingrays, which are fine as long as you can see them, but they do what most Dasyatidae do, which is bury themselves in the sand or mud with only their eyes sticking out. What you don't want to do with a stingray is stand on it. The lashing response of the tail is automatic; the barb is coated with a bacterial slime as deadly as rotten oyster toxin.

As a Melbourne boy, Irwin should have had a healthy respect for stingrays, which are actually commoner, and bigger, in southern waters than they are near Port Douglas, where he was killed. The film-makers maintain that the ray that took Irwin out was a "bull ray", or Dasyatis brevicaudata, but this is not usually found as far north as Port Douglas. Marine biologist Dr Meredith Peach has been quoted as saying, "It's really quite unusual for divers to be stung unless they are grappling with the animal and, knowing Steve Irwin, perhaps that may have been the case." Not much sympathy there then.

The only time Irwin ever seemed less than entirely lovable to his fans (as distinct from zoologists) was when he went into the Australia Zoo crocodile enclosure with his month-old baby son in one hand and a dead chicken in the other. For a second you didn't know which one he meant to feed to the crocodile. If the crocodile had been less depressed it might have made the decision for him. As the catatonic beast obediently downed its tiny snack, Irwin walked his baby on the grass, not something that paediatricians recommend for rubbery baby legs even when there isn't a stir-crazy carnivore a few feet away. The adoring world was momentarily appalled. They called it child abuse. The whole spectacle was revolting. The crocodile would rather have been anywhere else and the chicken had had a grim life too, but that's entertainment at Australia Zoo.

Irwin's response to the sudden outburst of criticism was bizarre. He believed that he had the crocodile under control. But he could have fallen over, suggested an interviewer. He admitted that was possible, but only if a meteor had hit the earth and caused an earthquake of 6.6 on the Richter scale. That sort of self-delusion is what it takes to be a "real Aussie larrikin".

What Irwin never seemed to understand was that animals need space. The one lesson any conservationist must labour to drive home is that habitat loss is the principal cause of species loss. There was no habitat, no matter how fragile or finely balanced, that Irwin hesitated to barge into, trumpeting his wonder and amazement to the skies. There was not an animal he was not prepared to manhandle. Every creature he brandished at the camera was in distress. Every snake badgered by Irwin was at a huge disadvantage, with only a single possible reaction to its terrifying situation, which was to strike. Easy enough to avoid, if you know what's coming. Even my cat knew that much. Those of us who live with snakes, as I do with no fewer than 12 front-fanged venomous snake species in my bit of Queensland rainforest, know that they will get out of our way if we leave them a choice. Some snakes are described as aggressive, but, if you're a snake, unprovoked aggression doesn't make sense. Snakes on a plane only want to get off. But Irwin was an entertainer, a 21st-century version of a lion-tamer, with crocodiles instead of lions.

In 2004, Irwin was accused of illegally encroaching on the space of penguins, seals and humpback whales in Antarctica, where he was filming a documentary called Ice Breaker. An investigation by the Australian Environmental Department resulted in no action being taken, which is not surprising seeing that John Howard, the prime minister, made sure that Irwin was one of the guests invited to a "gala barbecue" for George Bush a few months before. Howard is now Irwin's chief mourner, which is only fair, seeing that Irwin announced that Howard is the greatest leader the world has ever seen.

The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin, but probably not before a whole generation of kids in shorts seven sizes too small has learned to shout in the ears of animals with hearing 10 times more acute than theirs, determined to become millionaire animal-loving zoo-owners in their turn.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

And, just to balance it all out, here's a little "interview" Private Eye "did" with Germaine a short while ago. Click image for full size version.

Monday, September 04, 2006

RIP Steve Irwin

For some bizarre reason, I found myself watching the tail end of his classic "Croc School" episode while nursing a massive hangover early Sunday afternoon....