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Monday, December 02, 2002
Headscarf solidarity day

Disappointingly, I saw no examples of westernised women wearing solidarity (or, indeed, any) headscarves, last Friday. My observations made me aware of the large numbers of women, from oppressive cultures, wearing all-enveloping garments quite inappropriate for modern life. One girl was with a school party. One can but hope that her fellow pupils will make it more difficult for her to continue with such idiotic garb. Perhaps legislation is called for… On the positive side, I saw neither veil nor burka.

As I promised I would, I wore my headscarf with pride but I fear that the point was lost – it would have been hidden beneath my sunhat, an essential in this climate.

Trams and pokies in Melbourne

To give you an idea of what life is like in Melbourne, I have two pieces of information. They may come in useful should you ever find yourself in Melbourne wondering where to stay and how to get about.

Firstly, any building bearing the legend ‘Hotel’, is probably not a hotel, particularly in the suburbs. When I first arrived here, some years ago, I went to several ‘hotels’ to try to find accommodation before I realised that many soi-disant hotels now fulfil different functions.

Australians seem to be inveterate gamblers and most hotels have become gambling saloons. They have notices saying ‘Pokies’ outside but the ‘hotel’ signs usually remain. Contrary to one’s initial suspicions, ‘pokies’ has nothing to do with sexual practices nor is there a lost consonant from cockney rhyming slang. (‘Pork pies’ = lies. ‘Pork pies’ is often abbreviated to ‘porkies’. Geddit?)

You will be pleased to hear that I have found suitable accommodation at the Essendon Ritz, one of Mohamed al Fayed’s properties, very much along the lines of his Paris establishment. It is convenient both for Essendon airport, where the Blackbird made such a stir, and for the tram route into the city centre. If ever you come to Melbourne, amuse yourself by trying to find the lovely hotel I have described.

The tram system provides reliable, economical and interesting transport around the city and its suburbs. These vehicles have priority and you tangle with them at your peril. Last week, a four-wheel drive vehicle tried it and came off second best. The vehicle was shunted into a fire hydrant, giving rise to a massive water spout, and rescuers had to rig up awnings to protect themselves while trying to free the driver (Oops, no Superman). Fortunately, she had only minor injuries.

I have been travelling round by tram for as little as £1 per day. The service is frequent and quick and I have happily left my hire car (a Mitsubishi Magna in the absence of a suitable Rolls Royce) behind when going into the city centre. Tram tickets are dispensed by onboard machines and I had the pleasurable experience today of demonstrating how to use one, to a Melburnian no less. There is also a free, circular-route tram, running round the centre of the inner city. It is an excellent vehicle for getting to know the layout. It will get you from point to point when tourist legs are becoming weary.

Talking of weary, you will by now, either have forgotten about ‘pokies’ or become incensed by my lack of explanation. I have told you what they are not, but not what they are. Pokies are poker slot machines and one-arm bandits, I think, but I’m not sure. Having a constitutional aversion to gambling – I’m sometimes known as ‘Josh the Careful, - such things do not interest me. Remind me one day to tell you about my exploits in Las Vegas…


I always seem to be in Australia for some sort of election or the other. On Saturday, there were elections for the State (i.e. Victoria, not National) Parliament. More of this anon, when I shall discuss the result: the ruling Labour Party increased its majority very considerably.

I visited a polling station in an attempt to see Australian democracy in action. I announced myself as one of the European Union’s official observers of Australia’s democratic process. I asked a series of questions about election spending to which I got satisfactory replies (e.g. there is a cap on election spending by each party).

However, I am afraid that the officials interviewed may not have been treating my questions completely seriously. One said that, if candidates contravene one particular regulation [I am afraid I cannot remember what it was], ‘…then we shoot ‘em’. These were his very words. Whether or not I was mistaken about the apparent levity, this has to be seen as an interesting practice which should, perhaps, be adopted more widely.

Free (ahem) speech

Saturday’s Melbourne Age carried the following interesting piece of news:
The lawyer for a Brisbane man who flashed his buttocks at a police car argued in court last week that ‘mooning’ was a constitutional right and a part of the larrikin Australian character.
Hmm, mooning as a constitutional right, eh? That’s an interesting idea, even to those of us with an unwritten constitution.

You can read the rest of the article, headed ‘Mooning is OK, court told’ here. Personally, I do not understand why mooning at a car could be considered an offence in the first place. Now, mooning at people… that’s another matter.

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