My wife and I are well into our third winter in a row, (not counting our brief flirtation with summer in Nova Scotia) and it is starting to get to me.  I may be plagued with a mild form of seasonal affective disorder.  After too many months of short days, the lack of light trips something in me and a general sense of malaise sets in.  This particular string of winters was entirely voluntary, of course, triggered by our decision to spend November through February in Turin, Italy, where we had a brief fall, then full-on winter.  It would have been summer here in Melbourne.

There are signs of spring now.  The birds are getting up very early and the sun is going down later.  One street in our neighborhood is lined with cherry trees and the blossoms are out.  It reminds me of  Washington, DC, where we lived for three springs.  Japanese cherry blossoms are so fragile and lovely that they seem inappropriate in the American capital, my nation’s nest of political intrigue and greed.

Unfortunately, spring is tax time here in Australia as well as in North America.  If you are from the Northern hemisphere and this fails to make any sense to you, here is a simple breakdown of the seasons in the Southern hemisphere.

  • Summer: December to February
  • Autumn: March to May
  • Winter: June to August
  • Spring: September to November

This is just a rough comparison.  This country is almost the same size as the continental United States and has a number of different climate zones.  Up North, it is simply “dry” or “wet.”  It gets very, very wet up there even though this is the driest continent on the planet and all the cities in the South are clamoring for water.  Summers are very hot.

I have mentioned before that tax prep is my least favorite activity, so I have to get an early run at it and put an enormous effort into procrastination in order to get anything done.  We don’t have sufficient income to make it worth hiring an accountant, but the language of tax baffles me.  My brain seizes up as if I had early onset Alzheimer’s.  It puts me into a real funk for weeks.

The only antidote is humor.  Fortunately, there is some first rate stuff in this land.  My favorite is a TV show called “The Hollowmen.”  Is is about a unit set up within the Prime Minister’s office to help with his most important tasks– defeating the opposition and getting himself reelected.

Their job is to develop the “long term vision,” to ignore tomorrow’s headlines and focus on next week’s catastrophe.  The cast and the writing are wonderful.  Each episode begins with a crisis (such as childhood obesity) which calls for immediate action by the prime minister and results in a great deal of rushing about before it dawns on the staff that every action has unintended consequences, such as alienating major campaign contributors.

In the end, like a dryer at the end of its cycle, there is nothing but spin.  It is absolutely fabulous, up there with “Fawlty Towers.”  In one of my favorite episodes, the team tries to reduce its carbon footprint as part of the PM’s “Carbon Challenge.”  They turn down the heat, install new lights and get on bicycles.  Their intentions are inevitably sabotaged by their own ignorance and the necessities of finding the very best “photo op” for the prime minister, which seems to be in the Antarctic.

Last week’s Sunday supplement had a feature on Peter Garrett, former lead singer for the rock group “Midnight Oil,” now besieged politician.  To say that his segue from adored pop star to Minister for the Environment, Arts and Heritage has not been smooth is something of an understatement.  Even as rock star, Garrett resisted interviews.  This time they didn’t give him any choice.  The article would be written with or without him.

He has made a couple of missteps and several decisions which have been considered betrayals by his former friends among the Greens.  The denunciations have been pretty savage.  Prime Minister Rudd took away half his portfolio (climate change and water) and gave it to another minister, Penny Wong.

The giant,bald headed Garrett was once Time Magazine’s “icon of outrage.”   Now some environmentalists consider him the ultimate sell-out.

He approved the construction of the Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania’s Tamar valley (which seems to consider old growth forest simply future wood chips for Japanese paper);  he said yes to the resumption of zinc mining operations in the Northern Territory; he supported plans to dredge Port Phillip Bay here in Melbourne and he’s given the nod to a couple of big uranium mines.

On the plus side, he’s been instrumental in implementing a national waste strategy plan and the most significant household energy efficiency measures in the country’s history.

He has his moments of glory, even now.  After the devastating bushfires in Victoria, Garrett got his old band back together again for a “spellbinding” concert to raise funds for the victims of the disaster.  Garrett clearly cares about the environment, but he has made his pact with the political devils that drive the country these days, the PM, party and the “stakeholders.”

To me, that is a real shame. I liked him better when he was a powerful voice singing for the wilderness. If you’re going to sell out, you might as well do taxes.

France Peter Garrett

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