Category Archives: Worthy things

12th Sculpture by the sea. Sydney Australia. 2008

Yesterday, my wife and I with some friends (Jade, Claude and Stephen) went to see the 12th annual exhibition of “Sculpture by the sea” along the shoreline between Tamarama and Bondi beaches. This year was the first time my wife and I have gone to the exhibition (mainly due to the fact that we tend to be on holidays elsewhere at this time of the year) and we were so impressed that I’m sure we will go to it again (if we are in town) next year.

Sculpture by the sea is free to the public and occurs on the coastal walk between Bondi Beach (the nearest large beach to downtown Sydney) and Tamarama Beach. The walk is always beautiful, but during Sculpture by the sea it becomes a wonderful stroll past the amazing products of some very talented people’s imaginations.

In some people’s minds, art is something remote, that is kept in the temples of culture we call museums. The Sculpture by the sea exhibition counters such preconceptions by being so accessible to everyone and as such it has proved to be a great success with the Sydney public. It was certainly very well attended.

Below is a small sampling of the works on exhibition.

On the beach by Tim Kyle

The work below is by Rod Mc Crae who was one of my teachers at the Sydney Institute of Design when I studied there. Rod is an incredibly talented man. His drawing skills are amazing and his mind is so creative. I used to be constantly amazed at how talented and inventive he is.

This work is a reference to Alice the elephant who was used at Bondi 97 years ago to provide elephant rides at the beach. The elephant figure is only one of a larger group of whimsical carnival characters.

Alice in wonderland by Rod Mc Rae

Prop by Jon Denaro

The life sized plastic soldier below seemed so full of pathos. Amazing and sad at the same time. It made me think about when I was a child and how long ago that was.

Soldier scale 1:1 by Ruth Bellotti and Steve Rosewell

Marguerite Derricourt’s “Flight of the Bogong” is about how the bogong moths (an important seasonal food supply for the Aborigines) during their migration from Queensland in the north to the Snowy Mountains in the south, end up being drawn in their millions to the brightly lit cities. 

A bit like people really, when you think about it.

The flight of the bogong by Marguerite Derricourt

When my friend Stephen saw the sculpture below he said that it reminded him of the best urinal in the world, that he’d ever seen at least, in a bar of of the Xin Tian Di area of Shanghai. Stephen said that the urinal was full of glass objects like the sculpture that one could empty their bladders on.

And I thought to myself, “why not!”

m.080801 by Toshio Iezumi

The iron urchins below was one of the few peices that obviously reflected the enviroment that the exhibition took place in.

Urchins by Kelly-Ann Lees

As soon as I saw the work below I thought of the computer game “Riven”.

Phenotype by Tim Wetherell

The “Fragment” below immediately reminded me of  “Cow up a tree” by John Kelly in Melbourne, even though it has nothing to do with the same ideas addressed by that work. I guess I thought about Kelly’s work because it has a tree with a black and white element in it.

Fragment by Kevin Draper

I just wish I could’ve taken a photo of the “Humpback gunship” without the cluttered background so it could be seen more clearly.

Humpback Gunship by Benjamin Gilbert

The drifter by Stephen Marr

There were many more works than what I’ve shown here, but of course I couldn’t put all of them up (damn the internet and how slow it is). What I’ve shown here aren’t necessarily the best works but they are the works I was better able to photograph due to the lighting conditions (shooting into the sun for example) and the masses of people in the way.

Yesterday was one of those perfect clear spring days where the weather was just right. Sunny and warm without being uncomfortable. It was such a great day spending time with friends, walking along a beautiful coastline looking at art. Pretty hard to beat and it’s one of the reasons why I love living in Sydney. 

The blasting priest of Barlig. The Mountain Province Philippines. 1975

Every now and again I meet an exceptional person and this post is about one of them, a Dutch Catholic priest who was a Jesuit missionary called Huberto Boumans*, known locally as the blasting priest of Barlig, that I met in the Philippines.

the blasting priest of Barlig

Back in early 1975 my girlfriend (at the time) and I had left Cambodia because the Khmer Rouge were about to take over. In the six months that we were in Cambodia we had only managed to scrape by making a living teaching English as a second language.  The  situation while we were there was pretty dire and as the Khmer Rouge came closer to Phnom Penh my girlfriend’s parents sent some money to her to fly back to Australia.  We had heard from other travellers that one could teach English as a second language in Japan so we flew to Japan via the Philippines instead.

While in the Philippines, we were travelling by bus in the Mountain Province of northern Luzon when we met a young man at a rest stop in a very small town called Bontoc. I never really travel with any plans and so I’m usually open to distraction or invitations, so when our new-found friend suggested that we come and stay in his village Barlig, we surprised him by immediately saying yes.

The unpaved road to Barlig travels through very mountainous terrain with very steep drop offs and frequent rock falls.

bus passengers remove rocks from slide off road

Because of the steepness of the terrain, most of the roads that I saw in the Mountain Province stay up out of the valleys and traverse the mountainsides close to the ridges.  Most of the arable land in the valleys had been shaped into spectacular rice  terraces.

Barlig rice terraces

When we were dropped off at Barlig, we could see that the town itself was actually below the road down 850 steps into the valley.

the 850 step stairway to Barlig from the road

Barlig was so small and out of the way that it didn’t even have a hotel, and our new-found friend had suggested that we speak to the local priest because he would be able to organise some accommodation for us. As soon as we arrived in Barlig, we were taken to a Catholic priest who was a Dutch Jesuit missionary (Huberto Boumans). I was a bit apprehensive about meeting a priest (particularly one of the pope’s stormtroopers, a jesuit) because I’m not a religious person and I didn’t want to get a Bible bashing, but my fears were quickly allayed when I met him. The priest was a very civilised and cultured man, who sized me up instantly as somebody who would not be interested in discussing religion. Instead, Huberto donned the guise of wise old uncle and he generously organised for us to stay for two weeks in a house for about $7 US.

The timber house we rented had a tin roof and was very basic with no running water but it did come complete with a pig sty outside of the kitchen window. The sty had one of those serious gigantic muscular wild boars with tusks that one usually sees associated with aristocratic hunts in mediaeval tapestries. It was a real pig, not one of those fat corn eating machines that we see here in developed world. In the mornings I used to go down and give the pig scraps from the evening meal. The sty was basically a wall of loosely stacked rocks that the pig could have pushed over easily if it had enough brains to realise that it could do so. Pigs are a bit like dogs, and they get excited when you are about to feed them. As soon as the pig saw me heading towards the sty it used to wag its tail very quickly back and forth, whilst raising up on its hind legs to push against the wall with its fore legs. He used to really frighten me, because the pig would quite often knock rocks loose from the wall, and it was so big and powerful I knew that I would not be able to control it if it got out.  So I used to go down with a 2 x 4 piece of lumber to push it back from the wall so I could feed it safely. Pushing the pig didn’t really have any effect and hitting it just hurt my hand.  So I ended up just flinging the scraps and running.

Barlig is right in the middle of the head hunter country of the Igorot tribes, and it was not uncommon at that time to see people still walking around in loincloths and carrying spears.

a hard working local

The last person the people of Barlig had killed and cut off his head was back in the early 1960s (only about 12 or so years before I’d been there), when some Communist agitators came into town and tried to stir the locals up into some sort of peasant revolution. The people of the town listened, and then followed the communists out of town, killed them, and then decapitated them.

Barlig man with tabacco leaf

The two weeks that I spent in Barlig was some of the best time that I have ever spent travelling. It is an absolutely beautiful area with an incredibly rich culture, that I will discuss in much greater depth in further articles. 

Every day or so, I would meet up with the priest Huberto, just to shoot the breeze, because he was such good company, and so interesting.  He used to show me letters written by Filipinos to him and he would point out to me their old-fashioned manners and how the Spanish influence lingered in the way how they expressed themselves.  There was a lot of “by the will of God” or “should God will it” etc. Huberto also told me that there was a Baptist ministry in town as well and that it caused quite a bit of friction in the village because the village had basically broken up into two parts along sectarian lines. It just seemed so odd that in such a beautiful place there was such an artificial and externally introduced conflict. I guess it is better than head hunting.

Huberto told me about how he had tried to bring the village together by improving their irrigation system, and he was at the time, helping them dig a 7 mile long aqueduct along the mountainsides. Much of the aqueduct had to be cut into the solid rock and since there was no heavy machinery (even if it had’ve been available) that could reach such steep terrain, so all the work had to be done by hand. I was told that they had been at it for about 20 years but thanks to a strange charity donation of a large carton of matches, construction was speeded up when Huberto figured out that they could blast the rock with match heads. He told me he used to get some of the village women to carefully shave all the phosphorus off the tips of the matches.

Once Huberto had seen how effective using matches for blasting was he immediately wrote back to his home office in Holland and asked for more matches to be sent. Because of this correspondence, Barlig was able to receive a steady supply of blasting material.

One-day Huberto took me out on a walk to inspect how the work on the aqueduct was proceeding. It was amazing to see how much work they had achieved without any heavy machinery. The villagers, with Vincent’s pyrotechnical help had cut away the sides of the whole hills all the way up a large valley. 

the men take a short rest from the back breaking work in the heat and humidity

I was fascinated to hear that when blasting needed to be done Hubert used to organise for holes to be drilled (by hand with a large metal spike and sledgehammer) and to be filled with the scrapings from the match heads.  It was at this time, I found out that the holes were plugged up with dry sand around the fuse (I don’t know why, but I always expected that wet sand would be better) to concentrate the blast and make it more effective.

My association with Huberto gave me carte blanche to travel around the general area and to be received with goodwill. 

I used to spend my days hiking up into the hills, following the ancient small foot paths that threaded all over the mountains. 

there were tracks going up every ridge

The scenery was spectacular, as I would pass kilometre after kilometre of very laboriously built rice terraces constructed from stone that had been carried, sometimes hundreds metres (yards), up from the very bottom of the valley where the river ran. 

many of the paths were along the top of the rice terraces

One day I was walking uphill following a small tributary of the main river when I came to a small stream about 3 m across on a couple of metres deep of fast running crystal clear water that was passing over smooth rock. It was such a hot day, and the stream looked like such a big beautiful and inviting natural water slide that I decided that since no one was around I would have a bit of a swim and cool down.  I took off most of my clothes and without much hesitation or thought since the water was so clear and I could see the bottom that was smooth rock, I just jumped in.

In a flash, I shot down the chute and was carried hundreds of metres downstream as I tried to get a grip of anything that would stop me going any further. Unfortunately all the rock was worn smooth, and the sides were too steep for me to get out of the raging torrent. As I was whisked away, I realised that panicking wasn’t going to help and that I needed to keep my head, and wits about me to stay conscious, making sure I didn’t drown. I was carried down stream feet first, all the while hoping I wasn’t going to go over a waterfall or be impaled on a submerged log or anything like that. Years of body surfing at the beach as a child served me well as I tumbled downstream through various small rapids until I came to a small pool, where the stream widened a little and the water was slow enough for me to be able to get enough grip in some cracks in the rock to be able to clamber out. I won’t be doing that again.

When I got back to Barlig, some of the locals had asked me where I had been and what I’d been doing. When I told them, a look of horror swept across their faces. So I asked them what the matter was and they told me to never go walking that far out of the village again, as it was very dangerous. I thought they might’ve be talking about my little episode in the stream but when I enquired further, they told me that there was still communist rebels operating in the hills, and they often kidnapped people and that a foreigner like me would have been a choice target.

When I told Huberto about my experience in the water he said that reminded him of a time when he received on the behalf of the village, a charity donation from overseas of a large box of Kraft cheese (that horrible stuff that doesn’t melt), which he handed out to the villagers. Hubert said that a few hours after he had handed out the last of the cheese some of the local women came back with the cheese in their hands and said that this “soap” doesn’t lather.

They had no idea it was food and I can fully understand why.

*I’m ashamed to admit that I couldn’t remember his Huberto Huberto Boumans’ real name and for convenience I called him Vincent when I first wrote this article. Fortunately, Clinton Wacchan who is from Barlig, kindly left me a comment informing me of Huberto Boumans’ identity. Thank you Clinton.

Also thanks to Langfia Ayeona for the correct spelling of Huberto Boumans’ name.

What does Indonesian culture have to do with American politics?

Apologies in advance to all those people out there who are heartily sick of that overly long dog and pony show that is going on in the States at the moment.

I usually don’t like expressing political opinions, because it’s like the kiss of death to a politician, if I like them.  For years, I voted against John Howard and the little creep kept on getting voted back in by the majority of the electorate.  I also voted “yes” in the referendum as to whether or not Australia should become a republic, when the majority of Australians voted in favour of the monarchy.  In short, I’m out of step with the majority of Australian opinion.

This fact was driven home to me one time when I was arguing with a neighbour, about something that I can’t even remember now, and she said something that I thought was really stupid. In my normally non-confrontational, measured, thoughtful and diplomatic way (not), I blurted out to her, “you’re so stupid, I bet you voted against the republic and you voted for John Howard”.

To which she retorted as quick as a whip, “of course I did!”

I then remarked that she was the only person I knew, who would admit publicly that she did. 

Her response was, “I don’t know anyone who didn’t vote that way”.

That’s when it hit me how polarised the society I live in is.  My neighbour lived in a world that was pro-monarchy, and right wing economic rationalism.  Whereas I inhabit a world that is populated with pro-republic left-leaning liberals. 

I must be careful what I use the word “liberal” here in Australia because the “Liberal Party” is the name of the political party here in Australia that more closely resembles the Tory party in England and the Republican Party in the USA.  Let me state, right here and now, I am not, and never will be a supporter of the Liberal party, here in Australia.

From the June 5th Sydney Morning Herald by Moir

I’ve been interested in Barack Obama for some time now, and to be honest I didn’t think he had a hope a hope in hell of winning the Democratic party nomination.  I lost interest in Hillary Clinton, when I read this very interesting blog entry about her business interests and connections.

I think it’s very ironic that the Democratic party, that used to be pro-slavery, has nominated the first African American to run for the American presidency.  Personally, I couldn’t give a damn about Obama’s skin colour (after all, I used to have recurring dreams as a small child of being the first black Pope.  But that’s a story for another time).  What does interest me about him is his upbringing and the fact that he spent some time at school in Indonesia.

I think that Obama’s Indonesian connection is very important to America’s future for two reasons.

The first reason is because Indonesia has the world’s largest population of Moslems.  The Islam as practised by the Indonesians is much more moderate than that of the Saudi Wahhabis that the western media like to portray as the face of Islam.  I think it is extremely important for not only America, but the rest of the world, that America engages with this more moderate form of Islam instead of using Moslems as a bogeyman to scare their population into line.

The second reason why I think Obama’s Indonesian upbringing is important to America, is because I’m fairly certain that he’d be familiar with the Indonesian notion of consensus (mufacat).  Traditionally, Indonesians have always tried to find a middle ground, and therefore compromise, rather than polarising opinion.  The polarisation of the American political scene (just like here in Australia) is so counterproductive. 

I think the world needs to find another way, other than, “if yer ain’t with us, then yer agin us”.  Such false logic is the tool of demagogues.

The trouble with a polarised society, is that neither camp knows or is interested in what the other camp is doing.  Each side has its own press, complete with its own propagandists, preachers and demagogues.  There just doesn’t seem to be a crossover of ideas, which leads to a hardening and intransigence of opinion.  It would seem that the world has forgotten about Socratic dialogue, and how to find out about the truth by talking to each other and testing each other’s ideas in a civilised fashion.

People with a polarised mindset, have a very difficult time in exchanging ideas.  Bailed up behind a wall of dogma, such people aren’t open to reason or persuasion. I often like to quote Carl von Clausewitz from his book, “On War” that, “war is merely the continuation of politics by other means”.

I’ve always taken that to mean that war is the natural outcome of the failure of diplomacy.

When people don’t respond to words and negotiation, what’s left but force?

I just have a gut feeling that Obama is a man who tries to find what people have in common rather than use their differences as a wedge. 

The American philosopher William James (1842 – 1910) once said, ” real culture lives by sympathies and admirations, not by dislikes and distains – under all misleading wrappings it pounces unerringly upon the human core”.

But who cares about my opinion anyway?  I won’t be voting in that election and if I did, it would be the kiss of death to Mr Obama’s presidential aspirations.

Mike Stasse is concerned about peak oil. Cooran, QLD, Australia

Mike Stasse is one of my oldest friends (here in Australia) and he is the owner of the “Running on empty Oz“, peak oil discussion group. “Peak oil” refers to the imminent decline of oil production.


Mike and his wife Glenda have moved to beautiful Cooran in Queensland and are getting ready for what they see as the inevitable chaos that will result from the shortage of oil by becoming self-sufficient. Two years ago, my wife and I visited Mike and Glenda on their land as Mike was still building the outside of their self-designed and built home.

the unfinished exterior. Photo by Mike Stasse

 We stayed with them for about three days. During our time together we were shown their permaculture garden,


solar electricity system (they sell electricity to the power company when they have excess) and various other ecologically sustainable systems that have installed, such as:

  • A simple off the shelf greywater system that uses no power
  • A kitchen greasetrap that works with compost and worms, no odours, no maintenance to speak of 
  • A zero flush toilet that saves thousands of litres water a year

It is a lovely house in a beautiful setting. The picture below was taken from the back window at sunrise, looking out towards Mt. Cooran.


It takes courage and commitment to do what Mike and Glenda are doing. The sort of courage and commitment that I sometimes wish I had, but I will be instituting some of their ideas into our next house we buy later on this year.

A worthy thing

A friend of mine in Canada (Jocelyn Banyard), is involved in what I think is a very worthy enterprise called the “Malambo Women’s Club”.

The aim of Malambo Women’s Club is to help Zambian women start small businesses. When Joycelyn told me what an uphill struggle that many of these women have I felt the least I could do was to spread the word. Camel Designs has already donated a van to the group so they can pick up materials and to take their produce to market.