Tuesday, 18 March 2014

March In March 2014

This week I attended the March In March demonstration in Sydney with my husband and my nearly 9 month old baby. It was an opportunity to catch the ferry (for the first time for the bub) and enjoy a day in the city with like minded people; those who are embarrassed and appalled by our current government and their decisions. Those who want things to change and soon.

For me, these rallies are also a way to show gratitude that I live in a country where we can disagree with our government, publicly and en masse. We can peacefully protest without the threat of violence, imprisonment or death. I do not take this right for granted.

We got there nice and early and set up our picnic blanket right in front of the stage. I was mainly wanting to hear the speeches and planned to go home before the march to get the baby home in time for dinner and bed. 

It poured with rain and despite getting a good spot early, we had to take shelter at Central Station for a while and move from the good spot. I did manage to give the baby some lunch and vacuum down a vegemite and cheese sandwich before the down pour; I even breastfed the baby right there in the middle of Belmore Park, another right I am grateful for and don't take for granted.

At first it seemed that there were only going to be a handful of people at the Sydney march. I was reading tweets and communicating with my sister who lives in Melbourne and it appeared that the Melbourne rally was getting quite crowded. Melbourne people have always been that little bit more radical and political and creative. I think Melbourne city is smaller and easier to get to as well as being designed in a grid, not to mention having a very accessible and efficient public transport system. In comparison, Sydney is huge and complicated and distances are vast and difficult to cover, whether by car or public transport. Sydney was colonised, it just happened, it wasn't really designed, particularly the CBD. Even driving to Manly and catching the ferry to Circular Quay then a train to Central, although efficient, took us a good two hours. I was impressed that on a Sunday we could get a family day tripper ticket and my husband and I got pensioner rates; $2.50 each for traveling on public transport all day. As a friend of ours pointed out, you just don't know about these deals until you have kids. Good info for next time we want to spend the day in town on a Sunday, especially if there is another rally on. It's hard to get Sydney siders to be anything but complacent about important issues. Maybe we're more conservative here; more cynical. Nonetheless, as we were leaving, people were still turning up and although not as huge as Melbourne, I would say the Sydney rally was still a success. Here are some amazing photos of the Sydney rally.

When we started to make our way back to the stage from the shelter of Central, the rain had eased somewhat, but it was still drizzling. The baby had fallen asleep and we bought a plastic rain coat, the last one at the shop as most places had understandably sold out, to cover the pram. I forgot to take the plastic pram cover and discovered the pram is waterproof; it got a good wash anyway. Despite the baby being dry and safe and pretty comfortable in there, I still worried that bringing her to a rally wasn't the brightest idea, I've ever had. I was wrong. I saw heaps of mums with babies and toddlers in prams and strollers and didn't feel out of place at all. The biggest concern then was to avoid standing next to someone who was smoking. An ex smoker myself, I can tolerate the occasional plume of smoke wafting in my direction and although I don't like it, I can persevere; I just didn't want the baby exposed to it. In the fresh air of the outdoors, it wasn't hard to stand in a ventilated spot. Mummy jitters aside, we met up with some friends and settled under my Public Service Association umbrella for the formalities.

The speeches began with a welcome to country, something that should continue to occur as often as possible at any public address, in my opinion. It happened throughout the refuge movement when we held conferences, it happens at any union conference or mass meeting and it should happen at any official ceremony as recognition and respect for the traditional owners of our land. In my mind, the current true custodians of this country. Despite what controversies arise, I enjoy this new tradition. It is very new. It was begun in the 1970's by one Ernie Dingo and it has continued to be practiced, sometimes at some expense and elaborate ceremony, sometimes simply stating recognition of the indigenous custodians of the area. There are some who have criticised this practice and depending on who is doing the criticising and their agenda, although I can see their point of view, I have to disagree. I think it is honourable and often very moving. It needs to be done in the right context and with the right intention to have a positive impact. Here are some instances of this criticism from Wiki.

In 2012, Northern Territory MP and traditional Warlpiri woman Bess Price told a reporter that Welcome to Country ceremonies were not meaningful to traditional people, saying "We don't do that in communities. It's just a recent thing. It's just people who are trying to grapple at something they believe should be traditional."[10][11] 
This I find completely justified - if anyone has the authority and authenticity to comment on such a practice it is a traditional indigenous woman and I believe she is simply stating that because it is a recent practice, it shouldn't be claimed as a traditional practice. I don't think she is dismissing its importance.

In 2010, Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott said he thought that, in many contexts, the Welcome to Country seems like out-of-place tokenism.[12]  
This I find sinister - our now PM, although he wasn't when he made the comments is coming from a place of prejudice. He is implying that there shouldn't be any obligation to do this because it is meaningless.

In 2012, Rhonda Roberts, a prominent indigenous Australian and head of Sydney Opera House indigenous programming, echoed Tony Abbott's criticisms.[8]
Again I find this an acceptable statement by an Indigenous Australian and although I disagree with her sentiment that the practice is tokenistic, I still feel that she is entitled to make that statement more than Tony Abbott and if she feels it is out of place then I respect that. 

Indigenous Australians have the right to comment on this practice and determine amongst their very diverse community whether it should continue. A white, male, privileged politician doesn't. 

Regardless, at the march it happened and it was wonderful. People cheered and applauded and it didn't seem at all tokenistic or unnecessary. It was practiced with respect, pride and joy and a sense of rebellion; a sense that no matter what, we will keep acknowledging that our indigenous heritage is valuable and worthy of mention EVERY TIME we gather for something purposeful on this land.

There were seven speakers at the rally all up and they all spoke about different things. The topics ranged from our treatment of asylum seekers to cuts to education and the erasing of Gonski, Australia's trade agreements, indigenous rights, disability support, marriage equality and class division to name a few. In between making sure my baby wasn't getting wet or having smoke blown on her (some of which was not tobacco - wonderful for me, not for the baby) I listened closely to what was being said. None of it was new to me and hearing all the negative realities of how this PM and his ministers are governing supposedly on our behalf caused me to tune out half the time. Except when this man  spoke, Hamoun Iranmanesh. I heard; I felt every word. I goosebumped and fought back tears. I wanted to hug him. Instead I shouted and woohooed and cheered and clapped with the crowd. He elated us.

Then Billy Bragg came on, which was a nice surprise, I've always admired him and didn't know he would be at the rally. He sang some politically angsty songs and spoke about Gina Reinhardt and her comments last week about how our country needed more Thatcherism. He commented that she timed it perfectly for his arrival, he wasn't impressed. She obviously made those remarks knowing full well that it would infuriate most people, especially those who weren't born into the kind of wealth that she enjoys. Even if she truly believed that that period of English history was somehow economically favourable; I'm sure it was for some, it wasn't for many; it was insensitive at the least and down right inflammatory and a little bit cunty at the most. Pardon my language. Well no actually; cunty, amongst other c word derivatives, is now in the Oxford English Dictionary. Hooray!

Billy Bragg spoke about how destructive the period of Thatcher's Prime Ministership was for the economically and financially marginalised (it starts at around 2:57. Apologies for the loud distortion earlier at around 1:50 - he was having issues with his sound). He told us we would know Thatcherism when the recipients of welfare assistance are demonised 24/7, when the disabled are disempowered by having their payments made to someone else instead of directly to them, when people living in department housing with one spare bedroom are evicted and made homeless because their accommodation is thought to be superfluous and no smaller dwellings are available, when people needing state provided food rises from 30 a week to 1600 a week as it did in Newcastle in England during Thatcher's years in power. Billy talked about how a conservative government like Thatcher's and like Abbott's degrades and diminishes the well being and prosperity of the most marginalised people in our society "and if socialism is not at heart a form of organised compassion then it is not worthy of the name socialism." Brilliant. 

He then went on to say (at around 6:50) that our greatest enemy is cynicism not capitalism or conservatism - cynicism in our media and particularly attacks on intelligent young women on social media. I could have hugged him too.

Those two speakers; Billy Bragg and Hamoun Iranmanesh were to me the highlight of the day and what it was all about. They summarised my intentions and the reasons I felt so strongly about attending that I dragged my husband and baby through the rain and crowds to be counted as someone who is unhappy about the state of affairs in this country and to stand up and say that the government is not behaving on my behalf. I didn't vote for these idiots, #NOTINMYNAME! 

 These are a great example of some of the signs at the rallies and how humour can really demonstrate a point peacefully and effectively. I was disappointed to see at the Sydney rally an example of the exact opposite of this. A group of angry young men holding a very long banner that said something which ended in KILL THE POLITICIANS. It pissed me off. There is absolutely no need for that sort of aggression and instigation of violence at a peaceful rally. It was unnecessary and the antithesis of what the whole day was about. It really annoyed me and I was tempted to approach them, but I didn't. I was afraid. 

Anyway, it was a successful movement and I hope we have more. I hope as a nation we continue to call out the government when it blunders. Not just this government, but all future governments too. They work for us you know.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Unnecessarily Giant Cars

It seems that everyone owns a four wheel drive (4wd) these days. Or a gigantic ute. You know for all the off road driving and stuff carrying these people have to do. The parking spaces are too small to accommodate them and you can't get your door open if you park next to one. It is especially difficult trying to get a baby capsule out of a hatch back when you are parked along side one at the shops. And forget seeing anything ahead of you if they happen to be in front of you in traffic.

When I found out I was pregnant, I knew I had to buy a new car because I only had a three door hatch and there was no way I was going to maneuver myself over the front seat to get the baby in and out. I had a few options. Get the same size zippy car in a five door hatch, buy a larger sedan or station wagon or get a 4wd. I chose option number one. Why would I spend more money on a massive car and more money on rego and insurance when a giant car is superfluous to my needs right now?

I rarely get out on the road without incident; without someone cutting me off, or sitting close to my behind, or overtaking me aggressively, or running a red light, or misusing a roundabout, or not indicating, or parking crookedly, or flying past me when I'm sure I'm doing the speed limit. Often, the offender is in a huge 4wd. Well it seems that way anyway. I started to resent these people, especially if they had the stick figure stickers on the back of their car to describe their family unit. I prefer this sticker:

This summer, my family - my husband and I and our baby, went to the beach a fair bit. Living on the Northern Beaches of Sydney means we are close to the sea and we can commit to a whole day at the beach without being deterred by a long car trip to and from the beach on a hot day. So when we make a day of it, we take stuff to see us through the day and with a baby we had a bit of extra stuff to take along - namely the pram, nappy bag and her floating turtle seat thingy. Not too much extra. Her food (mainly my boob) fit into a small cooler bag in our esky (not my boob, I don't put my boob in the esky). Our tent and chairs are pretty compact. Towels and clothes occupy one bag. We can fit ourselves and our stuff pretty easily into my car, a Mazda 2.

My car is the one with the baby capsule attachment so we have to take my car out when we travel as a family and so far we haven't had any trouble fitting everything in. We do our grocery shopping each week with no trouble - the boot fits the pram and grocery bags easily. We even traveled by car to Melbourne for a week over Xmas and the three of us and our stuff for the week fit in easily. I guess you adapt. You learn to take what fits and what you need without over packing. However, we have started to consider the future, especially when we notice that the majority of families we see out and about drive a big 4wd. What if our family grows and we have another child or get a dog? What if our activities change and we need to take equipment with us like snow gear or bikes? How much can you pack into and strap onto a 5 door hatch back and still be comfortable and safe inside?

So I started to look around for some research into the use and safety of urban 4wds. I wanted to either justify or eliminate my resentment and understand the reality of why sales of 4wds has continued to increase over the last couple of decades, despite tariffs, penalties and increases in petrol prices that should deter people, but don't. One study seems to think that this has made no difference to the people who buy 4wds; they can either afford it or the expense increase is minimal compared to the benefits of having a big people mover, because that is what they are usually used for in the suburbs, to transport people. And their stuff.

I found this page really interesting. Four Wheel Drive Australia is an organisation that advocates for the 4wd 'community' and presents information to distinguish the facts from the myths. When I first clicked the link I honestly thought 'here we go, bias city'. I was wrong. The information is really eye opening and in comparison to sedans, it appears that 4wds have sometimes been demonised unnecessarily. The site is incredibly thorough and gives people resources and information to contribute to the safe and responsible use of these cars in an urban area as well as 'off road'. This site argues that the people buying 4wds have been unfairly labelled - often really irrationally - by the media, promoting the perception that the large cars are dangerous and damaging to the environment. They can be, but so can any car, they say. It is about looking at the facts and the reality of how these cars are used or misused and what factors contribute to harm to passengers, pedestrians and the environment. This organisation appears to be one really positive step towards ensuring people are informed and equipped to properly operate and get the best possible use of these vehicles for their needs and if those who own 4wds use them properly, it also ensures safety and convenience for the rest of us who don't want or need to have such a huge car.

This study concluded that:

"Urban dwellers are voting with their wallets and purchasing flexible and safe (for the occupants) vehicles, 4wds, in record numbers. They are often used as substitutes for people movers, being used 25% of the time to ferry passengers around. Indeed, one in five couple households in Sydney with young children owns a 4wd. The types of households owning these 4wds are wealthy enough not to worry unduly about moderate pricing measures to alter their choices – significant price incentives (or penalties) would likely be required to encourage a behavioural shift towards vehicle types more acceptable in a safety and environmental perspective to the community as a whole. The tariff equalisation program and the current trend in petrol prices are likely to have an impact, but maybe not a large one. Current station-wagon-like people movers such as Honda Odyssey and Holden Zafira offer safety and environmental advantages over many types of 4wd vehicles in urban areas while retaining much of the flexibility and carrying ability that 4wd users require. Are there any other options? Well, it may surprise to learn that there is no strong evidence for 4wd owning households using public transport more or less than other households. Thus, methods to encourage greater use of public transport by 4wd owners may be as successful as with any other households in the population. In addition, households owning 4wds are almost twice as likely to own adult bicycles than other households (.9 of a bike per household vs .5 of a bike for non-4wd households), perhaps indicating more active lifestyle, but also perhaps another reason for the 4wd purchase – for carrying bikes." Tim Raimond, Transport and Population Data Centre, NSW Dept of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources

It was so interesting to me to consider that the people I see driving around in these giant cars, may actually need them to transport their kids and their kids' belongings, their shopping, their equipment such as prams, bikes, skate boards, pets, scooters, sporting equipment, clothes, food, pillows and blankets and whatever else they needed that particular day, or weekend, or indeed longer if they were going on holidays. It also got me thinking that perhaps it was the infrastructure that needs to evolve quicker to accommodate the shifting needs of families. Maybe we need wider roads, bigger and more abundant parking spaces, better systems of public transport and better bike lanes/routes. The other side to that is that maybe we need a shift in culture too. Maybe we need to think about our reliance on cars, especially in a place like Sydney. Everywhere is distant, we have to drive to most places, in particular to work. What incentives do we have to stay local to our area? What services and facilities are available in each suburb to cater for the demographic? How can we adapt our lives generally to need less commodities, to live simpler and more efficiently? How can we learn to enjoy a world and lifestyle that is slower, less complicated with "things" and "objects" to gratify us as opposed to connecting again with each other and our natural world and accessing that which is available to us easily and without fuss? It seems we spend much more time and money equipping ourselves and getting to the activity than actually doing said activity!

In fact when I read this study from Monash University, it really put some things in perspective. It looked at the age of the driver, their gender and their location. It also took into consideration the age of the vehicle and the technology it possessed as well as the distances it traveled, which made speed and the condition of the road a contributing factor. So for example what is the difference between a driver who is a young male in an old ute or jeep flying down a country road for work compared to a mature parent who has been driving for years in a brand new 4wd with all the mod cons, dropping their kids off at the local school and doing the shopping, driving mainly short distances in a 60km zone?

The study used NZ and Australian statistics and concluded that particularly in NZ, 4wds had a lower crash risk compared to other classes of vehicles when driven in urban areas. Both Australian and NZ studies in the past had shown that 4wds were more likely to protect the occupants of the vehicle in a crash, but there was a higher risk of serious injury to other drivers when they collided - this is referred to as aggressivity. Despite 4wds having higher aggressivity, they had a lower risk of collision depending on how they were used, ie. for shorter distances at lower speeds (say by families in an urban environment) compared to long distances and higher speeds (say by young males in a work capacity in rural areas). The study also found that the most dangerous vehicles by far were sports cars driven by young males in the country side. The study did find that 4wds were more prone to rolling than other vehicles and were more likely to kill the passenger if it did roll, but again this was more likely to happen at high speeds on longer distances, especially if driven by inexperienced drivers and in older vehicles.

So what does this all mean to me? Maybe I have something similar to small dog syndrome. Small dogs are wonderful when left alone; they're low maintenance, they do small shits, they don't eat much and you can put them in your hand bag. They also bark a lot, at everything, including really big dogs, because they are always shit scared and on high alert. They live on a knife's edge and are forever feeling threatened and defensive, feeling the desire to bark loudly and puff out their chests and bare their teeth as a warning and a mechanism for self protection. They are fucking annoying. 

I'm in a small car. I love my small car. It's easy to park, it's fuel efficient and compact, but when I'm surrounded by really big cars, they feel aggressive and over bearing to me. I feel suffocated, closed in when they're behind, in front and on either side of me. They always appear to be going really fast and coming up to me really close. Perhaps it isn't just a perception. They do tend to promote a false sense of security and a confidence in their drivers bordering on aggression because of their girth, but by the looks of this research, perhaps the sense of security is justified as you're definitely going to come out better off if you crash into someone and you're protected by a big metal box instead of a smaller one. My fear gives me the need to bark and I'm starting to think I might be annoying like the small dogs; maybe only if I whinged about 4wds to their drivers' faces. I'm intimidated on the road by bigger cars. Sometimes it's in my mind, sometimes it isn't. I reckon there is definitely a whole lot of bullying going on on our roads by people in big cars - whether they are 4wds, or big yutes, or trucks, or buses. The thing is the vehicles don't drive themselves. People do the driving and they do the bullying too.

When I started to write this I was definitely vehemently opposed to ever owning a 4wd while I lived in the suburbs and I absolutely had the shits at people who do. Although I feel like I am growing out of my little hatch, as I am no longer a single young woman, zipping around the place in nothing short of a roller skate; I still think that I can manage my expanding spacial requirements that having kids causes, by upgrading to the next still compact level - perhaps option number two, a larger 4 door sedan or a station wagon. They do make 4wds in a more compact version though, so after doing just a bit of research, that is now an option I am willing to consider if we have another baby or get a dog or if I join my husband on the snow fields (which is highly unlikely to require me to buy equipment as the best maneuver I can manage in the snow is just a really awesome snow angel). 

I can now appreciate that some people have the need for a larger car to cater for their family sizes and their activities and that these people aren't out to kill me. I also understand that some of the intimidation I feel might be self imposed because I have resisted surrendering my discreet place in the world as an invisible single woman living in harmony with the still and silent. I'm starting to get the 'if you can't beat them join them' mentality. It's a little bit more reassuring to have discovered that in urban areas, there may be less opportunity for 4wds to do a lot of damage because they are not going to be driving very fast or over long distances and they're likely to be driven by more experienced drivers, but that's referring to damage to themselves, the 4wders. It doesn't erase the fact that in my little car, with my baby on board (and a big fucking sign declaring it, in lieu of the stick figure family shit), if I were to collide with a 4wd, I'm going to come off second best - the sheer terror, the horror of the thought keeps me awake at night. 

I'm probably going to buy a 4wd. 

But it won't be a Jeep. Just because of that fucking ad where the wife goes 'I bought a Jeep' and the husband is so chuffed that she bought a man's car that he gets a boner because she upgraded to masculinity and legitimacy instead of being a pussy and buying a Mazda 2. Maybe I'll just get a Mazda 3, in a station wagon.


I conceived twins and we bought a 4wd - a Mazda CX5. We had to, we simply had no choice because we had to have a vehicle that would fit three children (at the moment it's two capsules and a seat, eventually it will be three seats) in the back seat. I must say it is a dream to drive and my experience on the road has been vastly different to that whilst driving a little hatch back. I'm definitely more confident on the road because I sit higher and the car is bigger, but the biggest difference is how others drive near me; or at least my perception of other drivers. I don't feel as bullied. I don't feel as overwhelmed by bigger cars because I am one of them. I still drive like a nanna, in the left lane, not much over taking, sitting just below the speed limit if it's safe to do so, making very thought out decisions to make my trip more efficient with the safety of my babies paramount in my mind, like changing lanes or over taking. I don't feel defensive anymore. I'm not a barking little dog anymore. I think I'm a big dog now. Well at least medium sized. There are still truckies and bus drivers to contend with and I've already nearly had my mirror swiped off by a passing bus as I sat at the traffic lights; on my way to hospital pregnant with the twins. Bottom line; I'm a convert. Necessity won and I'm not at all unhappy about it.