July 2011 Letters

Opinions expressed in the pages of the magazine are those of the signed contributors or the editor and do not necessarily represent the official position of the University of Sydney.

Id est sicut est

The parsing, analysis and translation of “Mens eadem sidere mutato” by Robert Forgacs is, of course, impeccable.

However, my Latin teacher, an elderly Marist brother Gerard, told us that after getting the parsing and analysis right, we should often try a free translation. “This is not a Meccano set, lads! This is the language that Cleopatra used to seduce Mark Antony!” – that got our attention.

After my experience of the Law School in the ’50s, I therefore suggest, “I don’t care if the sky is falling in, my mind is made up”.

After spending some time on the Law Faculty at the ANU, I translated its motto, “Naturam primum cognoscere rerum”, as “try before you buy”. Occasionally English can be as succinct as the Latin.

Alan Hogan (LLB ’54)
Lavender Bay NSW

Elementary m'dear Griggs

In the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze”, Holmes advises the detective investigating the case to take note of the curious behaviour of the dog in the night.

Inspector Gregory replies that the dog did nothing in the night.
That, says Holmes, is the curious thing.

The curious thing about all the long, superficial and tedious writing about the long, superficial and tedious 2010 Federal election is a similar silence.

Since they are written by right-wing journalists or people taking money from right-wing media outlets they all manage to say nothing – probably in the interest of keeping their jobs – about the main feature of the Australian political landscape.

That is, that since about 1916 there has been an abiding and pervading right-wing bias in the media.

Nobody doubts the right of the proprietor of a media outlet to express opinions in support of their class interests through editorial comment, however, even items which are supposedly ‘news’ are carefully slanted to present the right viewpoint in the most favourable light while ignoring or denigrating any and all alternative viewpoints.

Certain radio stations only broadcast opinion, mere facts never being allowed to disturb their prejudices. This systematic bias has been progressively exacerbated by the emergence in recent years of what is very close to a media monopoly. Does this really matter?

It can be argued very strongly that it does, because in Australia, owing to the strange way the AEC has chosen to draw up electoral boundaries, a couple of hundred people in Queensland decide the outcome of all Federal elections and the Courier Mail owned by News Limited is the only Brisbane newspaper.

A review of the Courier Mail for the period leading up to the 2010 Federal election is very instructive.

If you do think media bias has never really been all that important, ask yourself why the last time the ALP had control of both houses of the Federal Parliament was in December 1949, and why since then the right wing coalition parties have formed the government of this country for nearly two-thirds of the time.

It is true that this bias isn’t the only factor in deciding the governments of Australia but if you still do not think that media bias matters, I will bet you any sum you like that Mr Rupert Murdoch would not agree with you.

Michael Griggs
(BA (Hons) ’73 DipEd ’74)
Lidcombe NSW

Name of the game

The review of The Good Mother, (March ’11), prompted me to respond to an idea which is not new to me but is clearly communicated in this piece. The authors are quoted as saying that “having children continues to interrupt” the trajectory of “higher education and the establishment of career”. I trust there are still other women who, like me, see motherhood as a primary role and trajectory of choice, and education and career as a supportive, secondary role, rather than the other way around. Motherhood is a high calling. It is a privilege not granted to all who would dearly like it.

A mother has the wonderful opportunity to shape the life of another human being, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This takes enormous time and focus. As a woman who pursued her postgraduate studies at Sydney University, I was thrilled to be able to pursue motherhood as my primary role. My studies helped equip me to fulfil this role competently and with great enjoyment. My career is fulfilling and stimulating, but cannot hold a candle to the joy and rewards of motherhood as my priority.

My challenge is for women who can become mothers to think twice before considering motherhood as an interruption to the main game. Perhaps consider it the main game and see where that takes you.

Hilary Hoevenaars (DipDiet & Nut ‘78)
Geelong VIC

Jolly hockey sticks

Further to Anton Crouch’s letter (November ’10), and John Blount’s full text of the University song “The Varsity” (March ’11), I must report that it is alive and well, and still sung at full volume by the University men’s hockey teams in the dressing rooms after a win.

Alumni may be surprised to know that the hockey club is one of the largest, if not the largest, sporting club within SU Sport and Fitness, having almost 50 teams playing in men’s, women’s, veterans’ and junior teams (more than 150 juniors play for SU!) in both outdoor and indoor Sydney competitions. Unfortunately, the club has no on-campus outdoor facilities at present, but uses the excellent Sydney Olympic Park venues as its “home ground”.

In 2007 the club celebrated its centenary with a full-house dinner in the Great Hall, and in 2009 the Centenary of Inter-Varsity hockey v Melbourne University was celebrated with a series of matches at Olympic Park. Present for the big day were five of the IV Syme Cup winning team from 1959: Richard Barnard (captain), Bruce Pryor (vice captain), Don Kerr, Roger Pegrum and Ken Mayman (club captain). But to everyone’s amazement, two members of the 1931 Intervarsity team also arrived: Emeritus Professor Ruthven Blackburn (well known to generations of medical students and son of our late Chancellor, Sir Charles Bickerton Blackburn), and former Combined Universities, NSW and Australian player, Dr Malcolm Stening. Both then well into their 90s, they enjoyed meeting the first-grade team in the dressing rooms after the game and telling stories of long-past days, including Dr Stening’s recollections of his WW2 experiences in the Navy and playing hockey on the deck of his aircraft carrier out at sea.

Bruce Pryor (BArch ’61 MArch ’63)
Northbridge NSW

Horatio Scott Carslaw

My 1960s undergraduate lectures were mainly in the Physics, Chemistry and Carslaw buildings. Who was Carslaw? I doubt if I wondered.

Now reading Oliver Heaviside: The Life, Work, and Times of an Electrical Genius of the Victorian Age, by Paul J. Nahin, this remarkable Sydney University mathematics professor pops up again. Obviously Carslaw (1870-1954) with a name like Horatio Scott, was well qualified to be the Sydney University Mathematics professor from 1903 to 1935, with a father who was a well-known writer on the martyrology of the Scottish Reformation and of the Covenants. Yes, martyrology. But there is a bit more to it.

Carslaw was author of Operational Methods in Applied Mathematics (1941), a book still available on Amazon, among others such as his standard work Fourier’s Series and Integrals (1906) and Non-Euclidean Geometry (1916). Apparently Carslaw put Oliver Heaviside’s “mathematical blasphemy” in operational methods used to correctly solve equations of mathematical physics into a rigorous form. Carslaw said that “Nothing more obscure than his mathematical writings is known to me”, although Heaviside had said “It is obvious that the methods of the professedly rigorous mathematicians are sadly lacking in demonstrativeness as well as in comprehensiveness”. In defence of Heaviside, undersea telegraph cables did successfully radiate out from London based on his mathematical physics.

Carslaw also participated indirectly in estimating the age of the earth by assuming the earth has two heat diffusivities: one for the majority of its interior and another smaller value in a thin skin layer on the surface. Anyway, in about 1905 a question concerning a cooling globe was set on the Mathematical Tripos examination at Cambridge. Unfortunately the examiners incorrectly solved their own question! Carslaw supplied the correct solution in 1921.

So that was Carslaw. I remember his successor Professor Thomas Gerard Room lecturing to us in 1963 but probably not his mathematics. I do remember the good professor chalking boards with mathematics, which would be pushed up when filled. Unfortunately, being the last lecture of the year, some wag had put quotes such as “There is Room at the Top” on each newly exposed board.

Dr Malcolm Cameron (PhD Physics ’71)
Camberwell VIC

A respectful submission

I refer to Anne Julienne’s letter “Kant be wrong, surely” (March ’11) and comment that I bow to her more proximate knowledge.

I respectfully submit that Ms Julienne’s reliance upon (an albeit robust) chunk of “approximate knowledge” is severely limiting to the human spirit. Her assertion that “reason can neither prove nor disprove God’s existence” is not in question. It is, however, nought but a small brick in the wall of human enquiry, understanding and spiritual exploration and development.

Knowledge is power. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Universal systems thinking does not pretend absolute knowledge.

John Ganter (BSc ’79 BE ’81)
Darwin NT

NB: Hubert Whitfield

In the March ’11 letters there was reference to HE Whitfield as author of the words of the University song. I would just like to correct the spelling: it is Whitfeld – a common mistake that I, as his great-niece, well know.

Hubert (1875–1939) really was one of the University’s distinguished sons. The seventh child of Edwin Whitfeld, foundation classics master of the Sydney Grammar School, Hubert graduated BA in 1897 (University medallist in Classics), taught for two years, studied engineering and gained a BE in 1902. He went to Western Australia where he spent 10 years as a metallurgist and mine manager in the Murchison district. When the University of Western Australia opened he became foundation professor of Mining and Engineering and its first Vice-Chancellor.

Margaret Beale (nee Whitfeld)
(BA (Hons) ’49 MA ’98)
Birchgrove NSW