“As a young teenager in proudly peaceable Canada during the romantic 1960s, I was a true believer in Bakunin’s anarchism. I laughed off my parents’ argument that if the government ever laid down its arms all hell would break loose. Our competing predictions were put to the test at 8:00 A.M. on October 17, 1969, when the Montreal police went on strike… This decisive empirical test left my politics in tatters (and offered a foretaste of life as a scientist).”
Reference: Pinker, Steven (2002), The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Penguin Putnam, ISBN 0-670-03151-8.
To understand why, we might turn our attention to the great social and economic transformation that occurred after the discovery of gold (by Europeans) in Victoria in 1851. Archaeological excavations across Melbourne have uncovered masses of rubbish dating back to the Gold Rush era of the 1850s and 1860s.
Artefacts recovered from sites within Melbourne show that the city’s Gold Rush era occupants were incredibly wasteful. You might think that 150 years ago, Victorians would have been thrifty and mended their belongings or sold them on secondhand. But the evidence suggests otherwise.
Working-class people living in Melbourne’s CBD were throwing out so much stuff that the weekly rubbish collections couldn’t manage all their trash. Residents were stockpiling rubbish under floorboards, in hidden corners of the backyard or digging holes specifically for it.
Cesspits (old-fashioned long drop toilets) were closed across the city in the early 1870s, leaving large empty holes in the ground. Residents took the opportunity to fill them with their surplus rubbish. Many of these rubbish dumps remain under current city buildings and have been found and recorded in cultural heritage management excavations.
Analysing the contents of all these rubbish dumps, it’s clear that people were discarding dinner sets and replacing them with more fashionable designs, buying and chucking out junk jewellery, and throwing out glass bottles in vast numbers in spite of industrial-scale local recycling operations. Sound familiar? They were even using “disposable” clay pipes, a Gold Rush era equivalent of our disposable coffee cups.
Another surprising find was a rubbish pit dug in the backyard of a draper shop and filled with piles of seemingly perfectly good clothes and shoes. Perhaps they had gone out of fashion? Excess, it seems, is in Melbourne’s bones.
You are what you own
The discovery of gold brought a massive increase in population, new wealth, unprecedented access to a global network of consumer goods and great opportunities for social mobility. No one could be sure of your social background in the chaos of this rapid change. The old working, middle and upper class hierarchy became less relevant and it was possible to move up the social ladder.
How, then, did people communicate their status? Through stuff. Cultural capital refers to how people play the “culture game”: their accent, their clothes, their possessions, their manners, their interests. The argument goes that status is determined by the expression of cultural values and particular behaviours rather than wealth alone.
Everyday choices of consumer goods became powerful in carving out a new position and a better life in the new city. Your home, your furniture, your tableware, your drinking glasses, your clothes, all became vital markers of your place in society. You were no longer constrained by your situation of birth.
Melbourne society was reinvented and a new, much larger and more diverse middle class emerged. One that had a new system for determining status based largely on what they bought.
Why do we buy and why can’t we stop?
As a globalised world grapples with the problem of fast fashion, fast consumerism and a throw away culture, with massive landfills and climate change, the question of why we consume is more important than ever.
You might want to consume and waste less. But old habits die hard and it’s important to understand why we consume before we are able to make significant changes to our wasteful habits.
Social mobility might not have the currency that it did in the gold rush era, but we are still purchasing to communicate something. What we buy announces our position in the world and our values. Our possessions place us within one group and distance us from another just as they did in the Gold Rush era.
As the slow movement, anti-consumerism and concerns over sustainability gather pace, a new brand of cultural capital may emerge. A cheap polyester jumper and a disposable coffee cup may become a sign of inappropriate excess. A minimal wardrobe of ethically produced clothes and a reusable coffee cup could become the ultimate marker of status.
We’ve just passed another winter solstice. Wednesday June 21 was the shortest day of the year. I live in Melbourne, so we had just 9 hours and 32 minutes of daylight, and it was dark and grey, so we certainly felt the lack of sunlight.
For those up north and closer to the equator the shortest day is not so extreme. For example, Brisbane had 10 hours and 24 minutes of daylight on Wednesday, almost an hour more than Melbourne. No wonder southerners head north for winter.
Traditionally, the solstice marks the time when the Sun “stands still”.
From our vantage point on Earth, the Sun is changing directions. At 2:24pm June 21, it reached its furthest north for the year and then started heading south.
If you’re like me, you might find that statement a little confusing. What it means is that the Sun is now moving higher in our northern sky, which course means it’s moving southward.
Still no morning Sun
We may have reached our shortest day, but unfortunately it will be a few more weeks before our mornings get any brighter. In fact, sunrise will shift slightly later (by a couple of minutes) and it won’t be until July that the trend will start to shift. Bad news indeed for those of us who struggle to get going in the morning.
But our days are still getting longer, just the extra daylight is added to our afternoons, not our mornings.
It’s a pattern that happens around the time of the solstice. At the winter solstice, the earliest sunset (or shortest afternoon), happens first, then the solstice (shortest day), followed by the latest sunrise (or shortest morning).
It works in the opposite way for the summer solstice in December. The earliest sunrise comes first (or longest morning), then the solstice (longest day), then the latest sunset (longest afternoon).
What’s in a day?
While our clocks mark out an equal 24 hours to every day, the Sun is not so steady.
When you take a photo of the Sun at the same time every day, not only do you see it move higher and lower in the sky, but it also appears “later” or “earlier” in the east-west direction.
A solar day is the time it takes for the Sun to return to due north (or local noon) each day and it is constantly changing in length.
Not because of the the Earth’s rotation, which is really very constant (to the order of a millisecond). Every 23 hours and 56 minutes, the Earth rotates once on its axis.
But as the Earth rotates it also moves along its orbit around the Sun. After 23 hours and 56 minutes, the Earth has moved far enough along that it needs a further 4 minutes, on average, to realign itself to the Sun.
The key word here is average. In February, May, June and July a solar day can equal 24 hours. But around the autumnal equinox in March and the spring equinox in September, the solar day is about 20 seconds less than 24 hours, and at the solstices, the solar day is slightly more than 24 hours.
Turning, turning, turning
To understand what’s going on, we need to reframe the Earth’s movement. Let’s suspend reality for a moment and imagine how things would work if we switch from a Sun centred view to an Earth centred one.
Since the Earth is tilted by 23.5 degrees, let’s position the Earth upright and place the Sun’s orbit on a 23.5 degree tilt.
The solstices are now obvious. They are the moments when the Sun reaches its most northern or southern points.
You can also see the why the Earth’s tilt (seen in the diagram as the tilt of the Sun’s orbit) causes the seasons. When the Sun hits its northern most point, it shines down on the northern hemisphere bringing the long days of summer.
While here in the south, as the Earth rotates on its axis, it’s the nights that are long and our winter days are short.
When the Sun crosses the Earth’s equator it is the time of the equinox (or equal day-night). The “Sun’s orbit” near the equator is relatively steep. The Sun is mostly moving north-south with only a small fraction of its movement in the east-west direction (or parallel to the equator).
And because the Sun doesn’t “move” very far in the east-west direction, the Earth doesn’t need to rotate as much for the Sun to return to due north and complete a solar day.
That’s why the solar day is less than 24 hours at the time of the equinox.
But at the extremes of the “Sun’s orbit” the rate of movement in the north-south direction slows and most of the Sun’s movement is now east-west or parallel to the Earth’s equator.
At these times, the Earth has to rotate even further to bring the Sun back to due north, and hence the solar day is longer than 24 hours around the time of the solstices.
The tilt and the solar day
So there are two things going on here. As we move towards winter, the tilt of the Earth makes the days grow shorter. This naturally brings later sunrises and earlier sunsets.
But as we approach the solstice, the second effect kicks in – the solar day starts getting longer. The Earth has to rotate more to bring the Sun back into place and this shifts both the sunrise and sunset progressively later.
It pushes the time of latest sunrise to occur after the solstice and that’s why we have this wait to see more of the morning Sun. It also means that the time of earliest sunset must happen before the solstice.
At the summer solstice, it all plays out in the opposite way. As we move through spring, the tilt of the Earth makes the days grow longer – we have earlier sunrises and later sunsets.
But once again as the summer solstice nears, the lengthening solar day kicks into action, pushing both sunrise and sunset to happen later. It pushes the latest sunset to occur after the summer solstice, while earliest sunrise must occur before the solstice.
Of course, when we are basking in the summer Sun we don’t pay quite as much attention.
So just hang in there a little longer. We’ve made it past the shortest day and eventually the lengthening daylight will bring us brighter mornings.
However, with dry weather over the past two years, water storages have begun to decline, both in Melbourne and particularly in regionalVictoria. The desalination plant was built to be used in times of water shortages, and the Victorian government has now deemed it time to order water.
The order is being made to reduce the possibility of water restrictions in Melbourne and to negate the need for Melbourne to take water from the Goulburn system and so allow more water to be made available to localities such as Bendigo and Ballarat.
The cost of drought
Desalination membranes at Melbourne’s desalination plant. Stephen Gray
It has now been six years since the millennium drought ended and it can be hard for city residents to remember the impact of drought on their lives.
To give one example, we conducted a study on the social impact of water restrictions on sportsgrounds during the drought. This study found that 70% of people used sports grounds, either for organised sport or informal relaxation, and that all users were adversely affected by the drought.
The most severely affected were those at women’s, disabled and junior sporting clubs, which were of low priority for irrigation. These groups were forced either to cancel their activities because of the hard playing surfaces or to reschedule their events and find other locations to play their sport. This became a major disruption to the lives of many people during the 13-year drought.
This was just one way that water restrictions and drought affected our lives. When water storage levels were etched in our minds through public billboards and television weather reports, neighbours were asked to report people who used water contrary to the restrictions, car washes became a growth industry, and communities were parched and brown. I am now enjoying my garden, which has sprung to life in recent years, and will be happy if we can avoid such water restrictions again.
For regional Victorians the impact of drought was greater. For them, the reminders of drought are already to the fore following several dry seasons. Parts of Victoria have received less than 50% of average annual rainfall for the past two years. Farmers are reducing the number of cattle on the land.
Water from the desalination plant will be delivered to regional Victoria via the state’s rivers and pipe networks that make up the water grid.
Some may argue that other sources of water such as dams, storm water harvesting and water recycling would have been better alternatives. However, all require significant investment and none are likely to be fully utilised during wetter periods. This has been one criticism of desalination, but is simply an outcome of reducing risk in a variable climate.
Storm water harvesting is often promoted as being a cheaper alternative to desalination, but a recent water industry article on the cost of such harvesting has estimated costs of A$10-25 per kilolitre (1,000 litres) when used as a substitute for drinking water. This compares to costs of A$2-3 per kL for desalinated water. Turning the desalination plant on adds up to an extra A$12 a year on Victorian water bills.
Victoria uses recycled water for irrigation, in toilets and clothes washing, but such schemes require homes to receive water through a second pipe. These second-pipe systems are more costly to build and manage.
Recycling water for drinking avoids these costs, as you simply use the same pipe that supplies water from dams. The technology to recycle water for drinking is also well established and can be delivered to existing homes.
Given Melbourne has access to desalinated water that we are only just starting to use, it is unlikely Melbourne will need to consider recycling water for drinking in the near future. However, regional communities may like to have this option, and I believe this option should be allowed.
I was the leader and manager of the Australian Cotton Club Orchestra for 20 years from 1986 to 2006. (The band is still going, under different management). The Orchestra was a 12-piece big band (including a singer) playing jazz, swing and popular songs from the 1930s and 40s.
During this time we played hundreds of gigs, mainly at high society functions in 5-star international hotels in the Melbourne CBD. 99% of the time we were well paid and treated, usually eating the same food as served to the guests in our own large dressing room etc. But there were a few gigs where we were not as well treated, and I think it may be cathartic to get them off my chest in this memoir.
One of the worst ones was for an AFL football club, where a couple of drunken players tried to sing with the band. One of them got up on stage, pushed our singer aside and insisted that we play some current pop song that we had never heard of. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and not a single club official tried to stop him. (I gather that these players are treated like gods and nobody ever says no to them, including women). We started playing one of our usual songs that the football player had never heard of, so he eventually staggered off stage and back to his table. To add injury to insult, the club wouldn’t pay us for about 3 months, and then only because we threatened legal action. After that particular gig from hell, we resolved never to play for a football club again. We were always previously engaged whenever a footy club rang us.
Another gig from hell was when we shared the bill with a cowboy on a horse. Yes, that’s right, he brought his horse inside the hotel and up the stairs to the ballroom where we were playing. He and his horse galloped towards us and leaped onto the temporary stage. Some of our quicker-witted musicians fled for their lives, whilst the rest of us stayed riveted to our seats in shock, with the horse prancing and rearing on the stage making us almost seasick with the rocking motion. I thought the stage was about to collapse!
The cowboy then reached into his saddle bags and handed out the musical parts for some country song that we had never heard of before, let alone seen the music for, or rehearsed. But being professional musicians (except for me) the band played it OK and the cowboy sang along with us, still seated on his horse. Then without a word of thanks or acknowledgement, the cowboy and his horse leaped off the stage and galloped around the guest tables at high speed. I was horrified that if even one drunken guest had got up from his table at the wrong time, he or she could have been trampled to death by this horse.
One gig not quite so bad was at a leading 5-star hotel where they tried to serve us stale sandwiches for dinner that had obviously been left over from lunch time. We sent them back to the kitchen saying they were unacceptable. The hotel refused to serve us a proper meal (which was in our contract with the booking agent) so we rang and ordered pizzas to be delivered from outside the hotel. Hopefully, the hotel management were embarrassed at the sight of pizza deliverers marching through the reception area and ballroom of the hotel. Needless to say, we refused to work at that hotel (or for the agent who booked us) again.
At other posh society functions we were occasionally approached by tipsy female opera singers who wanted to sing with the band. For the sake of both their reputations and ours, I tactfully tried to explain that our musical arrangements were in the wrong keys for their soprano voices, which was probably at least half true.
Earlier in our career, we played in various pubs in the suburbs of South Melbourne, Richmond and Hawthorn. Here we were paid less and received no meals or drinks, but we were playing up to 3 or 4 nights per week gradually improving our repertoire and becoming better known around town. Whilst we didn’t do ‘door deals’, staff collecting entry fees told me that plain-clothes policemen and women used to ‘flash their freddies’ and get in free. Publicans and bandleaders like me were happy to have police present in case there was any trouble. Although we would also get the occasional ‘dontcha know who I am?’ VIP who could easily afford the modest entry fee and was less welcome.
We often played with a female vocal trio named Rhapsody in Red, and their pianist also became our pianist. We recorded a CD album with them, although it was not our best one, in my view. Everything seemed to be going well until the girls suddenly demanded a much higher fee which priced themselves out of the market, and that was the end of that.
We didn’t have much trouble playing in pubs; although I do remember one muso who got out his trumpet and started playing along with us uninvited. If he had asked us, we might have let him take an ad lib solo or two (he said he couldn’t read music). One or two audience members asked me “Can’t youse play any rock ‘n roll?”. My usual answer was “Do you go to a French restaurant and order Chinese?”.
Another guy insisted that we play a tune that was not in our repertoire (unlike small groups, it is not possible for big bands to ‘fake’ a tune – the music needs to be pre-arranged). This guy would simply not take no for an answer, and he used to follow us around the pubs harassing me between sets (the pubs had no dressing rooms). Fortunately, some burly band members and sometimes audience members (but not the plain clothes police) realised what was happening, and used to stand between me and this guy for my protection. If it wasn’t for their help, I would have seriously thought about hiring a bodyguard because I suspected that my harasser ‘had a kangaroo loose in the top paddock’ as we say in Australia. (Police tell me that threats of violence should always be taken seriously).
We had the occasional gigs in pubs where the staff played Muzak over their PA whilst we were playing. I remember one where the publican turned the lights off (we are a reading big band). So we had to stop playing mid-tune until they turned the lights back on again. I don’t think that these minor incidents were malicious – just lack of attention to detail.