March 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.

Justice at last

In reading a copy of SAM (July ’10), I was intrigued again by Zoe Tryon’s work with Amazon Watch in Ecuador. I felt compelled to search for further information. I subsequently followed the referenced website to discover that the Amazon communities had been awarded $9 billion in damages on 15 February 2011 after fighting for 17 years through legal channels.

Chevron Texaco were found guilty of “massive environmental contamination” in areas of the Ecuadorian Amazon in which approximately 30,000 indigenous inhabitants still reside. Their groundwater, food sources and environment are heavily contaminated affecting the health of adults, children and unborns, causing serious illness and death. I can only hope at this stage that the damages awarded can go towards intense restoration and rehabilitation of these peoples’ home environments. It is a sorry state of the world when such an atrocity occurs but raises hope when justice is finally served.

I hope Zoe’s involvement has been an inspiration to others as it was to me, and one that can inspire us to advocate for those in need.

Yvette Black (BAppSc (OccTh) ’02)
Orange NSW

Definitely not forgotten

I think you produce an excellent SAM, which I greatly enjoy, and your book reviews always call for congratulations. (You once reviewed one of mine – Koala: A Historical Biography. You do them with grace.)

This is true of your review of Delia Falconer's Sydney (Nov ’10) in which you remark that the Rev William Branwhite Clarke in a sense lies at the heart of her story and has unfortunately been forgotten. And Delia herself writes, “Clarke might have been remembered as a lesser Darwin. It is staggering that he should be so thoroughly forgotten”.

But he is not! He ended up as the leading scientific “savant” in NSW in the 1850s until his death in 1878. In 2003 I published a two-volume book, The Web of Science: The Scientific Correspondence of the Rev WB Clarke, Australia's Pioneer Geologist, with Australian Scholarly Publishing.

Clarke rose in eminence as a geologist, meteorologist, and great science communicator of the Sydney press. When his wife left for Ireland after two years in the Colony taking their three children with her (and did not return for 15 years) he carried on an immense correspondence with key scientists overseas, including Darwin, and a wide spectrum of geologists, surveyors, explorers etc across Australia.

He was a founder of the Royal Society of NSW in 1867; became a Fellow of the Royal Society of London; and served for many years on the Council of St Paul's College at the University. He was one of the first to discover gold in 1844 and took it to Governor Gipps who famously said, “Put it away Mr Clarke or we shall all have our throats cut.” And he conducted a vast geological survey for the NSW Colonial Government from 1851-2 from his parish in North Sydney at St Thomas's Church to Omeo in Victoria and up to Ipswich in Queensland.

Indeed in his lifetime, Clarke was a household name. He was named at the Bicentenary of 1988 as one of the 200 people who had contributed most notably (through his geological and mineralogical investigations) to Australia's progress.

Delia has consulted Clarke's diaries and writes very engagingly and sensitively about him. And it is true that scientists (though he remained a key Anglican clergyman all his life) do not linger prominently in the public mind. But as he has played such a major role in my life (I am a historian of Australian science) I thought I would widen your acquaintance! I'm glad she liked him so much. I always thought of him, during my long transcriptions of his letters, rather as an extra husband! William Clarke College, at Kellyville NSW (in Clarke's old Dural parish) is a perpetual reminder of him.

Dr Ann Moyal (BA ’47)
Cook ACT

Left right left

It is interesting to see an author who identifies as coming from the left approaching the topic of patriotism with an intention other than to merely trash the very of idea of it and who sees it as an important part of a cohesive society (“Taking Back the Light”, July ’10). His views on Anzac and citizenship demonstrate he is willing to move beyond the usual left truisms. His book is a welcome stimulus to the debate.

Unfortunately, Tim Soutphommasane’s basic premise, “that the right has dictated the concept of patriotism far too long, effectively shaming the left into silence”, does not stand up to scrutiny.

Quite the opposite, from Marx onwards, the left has not been silent on patriotism; in fact it has had much to say on the topic. The historical consensus on the left is that patriotism is a tool of the economic ruling class. The nation state serves ruling class interests. Patriotism is a means of keeping the working class downtrodden by imposing a false consciousness in place of its real class interest, which goes beyond state borders. What is there to be patriotic about when the workers have no country; indeed they should dismantle all countries. Remember The Internationale?

The idea that people, of whatever class, may feel affinity with members of their cultural/linguistic/national group has never fallen within the leftist worldview. Hence Mr Soutphommasane’s difficulties. Rather than question the left/right dichotomy, he has to massage his arguments in an attempt to reclaim (or create) a “left” patriotism. He appears uncomfortable with his fellow leftists outright condemnation of patriotism, but rather than any concession that they may be wrong, he blames the right not only for monopolising the concept, but also (in a feat of displacement) for being responsible for left’s shamed “silence” on the topic (when has the left ever been bashful of expressing its views? Hey ho!)

So too Mr Soutphommasane’s claim that the “left had no response” to Tampa and the Cronulla “race riots”. No response? The left was all response. It had an articulate, if repetitive, position on Tampa: “Free the Refugees!” John Howard’s government was mercilessly pilloried. As for Cronulla, the left chose to take the debate no further than expressing its outrage against white racist yobbos who were decried as the start and end of the problem. Any less shrill exploration of this nasty episode may have raised uncomfortable questions surrounding the left’s usual pieties on multiculturalism (it is always and unquestionably good) and approved identity groups (they are always the victims).

Mr Soutphommasane believes it would be beneficial if we have a leftist concept of patriotism to challenge that of the right. The problem is, we have always had a leftist concept of patriotism: a negative one. It does not assist the debate to create a tidy history of patriotism in which the left’s well-known position is glossed over. He wants to “reclaim” patriotism without abandoning his left bona fides.

He not so much reclaims patriotism, as attempts to create a new species: left patriotism. Perhaps if he looked at the idea outside of a “left” or “right” posture, he might simply concede that there is nothing wrong with patriotism, and that it belongs neither to the left nor the right.

Nic Angelov (BA ’95 LLB ’97)
Sydney NSW

Gaudy profs etc

I read with interest Anton Crouch’s recent contribution (Nov ’10). “Gaudy profs” is indeed correct.

The University song, “The ’Varsity”, was certainly sung regularly at Union dinners into at least the early ’70s and appears in the last edition I have of the Songs for Union Dinners (1985). The full text is as follows:

The ’Varsity (HE Whitfield, 1900)
(Air: Men of Harlech)

Grads and Undergrads and fellows,
Gaudy Profs in reds and yellows,
Sing with lungs as tough as bellows,
To our ’Varsity

Some of us are mining,
Some in Arts reclining,
More and More
Attack the Law
And revel in its methods of refining;
Some are fools and some are clever,
Faculties divide and sever,
Still we all belong for ever
To our ’Varsity.

Varied are the tastes of students,
Varied our degrees of prudence,
Very varied our amusements
At our ’Varsity.

We shall soon be scattered,
Friendships may be shattered,
Some, or all,
Will grope or crawl
And get up very knocked about and battered.
Some are hung and some are married,
Some for years in gaol have tarried,
Still they all are member of the
Same old ’Varsity.

John Blount (BA (Hons) ’69)
(President, Sydney University Union 1970-72)
Erindale Centre ACT

Ask and thou shalt ...

Within minutes of showing my wife Anton Crouch’s letter (Nov ’10) re the University song she produced a copy of the Sydney University Medical Society Song Book. This dates back to my days as an undergraduate medical student and would have been acquired between 1949 and 1952.

I note that the four lines commencing with “And all their deadly jawing mainly gas…” contain the names of Professors in the Medical faculty. Claude is Claude Stump, Professor of Embryology and Histology, and Harold is Harold Dew, Professor of Surgery. The others are Burkitt – Anatomy, Lambie – Medicine, Mayes – Obstetrics and Gynaecology; and Ward – Bacteriology. In those days there was but one professor in each discipline. I, and other students in our year had lectures from all these gentlemen and many of us had tutorials as well.

Apart from these four lines, the rest of the words are not specific to a single faculty. I wonder if the four lines were inserted to put a medical stamp on “The ’Varsity” and this causes me to wonder if other faculties had versions with similar insertions relevant to their professorial staffs.

John D Cashman (MBBS ’53)
Lindfield NSW

Editor’s Note: Thanks to the many readers who responded to the question about the gaudy profs. In particular to Ken Knight who wrote:

I imagine you will have had a full box of letters on this topic, so I won't lose any sleep if the following one ends up in the wpb. I really only wanted to demonstrate that I still retain a few marbles, even though I resigned from the University as far back as 1982 and have been retired since 1988.

It is hardly necessary for SAM to go to the University Archives for the words: Google brings them up in about two seconds flat.

It is exactly as I recall it from my student days, except for one word. I believe that in Arts, students were “declining”, rather than “reclining”.

Ken Knight (BEc ’52 MEc ’55)
Hornsby NSW

Complicated stars

In response to Jeffrey Mellefont’s letter “Heavy Lifting Eadem” (Nov ’10), I would like to point out that I think the University’s Latin motto is quite simple and straightforward. Latin, like most European languages, has grammatical gender. The main noun in the motto is “mens”, the mind, which is feminine singular.

Eadem is the feminine singular form of a definitive pronoun meaning “the same”, and agrees with “mens”; so the meaning of these two words is simply “the same mind” (ie as at Cambridge and Oxford, the original models for the University). “Eadem” is the feminine form of the word “idem”, frequently enough encountered in academic footnotes!

“Sidere mutato” – literally with the star having been changed – or more idiomatically, “under a changed star/under changed stars”, is actually more complicated. The motto is discussed and explained in an excellent University of Sydney publication: Kevin Lee’s The Writing on the Wall, 2002, pp. 4-5.

Robert Forgács
(BA ’77 MA ’89 PhD (UNSW) ’97)
Director, Latin Summer School
University of Sydney

A Latin lover

Indeed, Jeffrey Mellefont (Nov ’10) Latin can be very economically and, at times, enigmatically succinct. One exception where modern English beats good old Latin hands down: "He’s well hung" (a mere three syllables!) takes twelve in Latin: "Duos testes habet et bene pendentes."

Barrie Smillie (BA '53)
Duffy ACT

Up up and away

I did enjoy reading Into the Wild Blue Yonder (SAM, Nov ’10). I was a student and at St John’s College oval when the balloon crashed; it was about 3am and nobody was drunk. There were also some students from Sancta Sophia. Many ropes tethered the balloon and after it rose some 50 metres in the air, with its gas burner blazing and to the cheers of the crowd, Terry McCormack urged bystanders to assist by grabbing the ropes and pulling the balloon down.

Terry jumped up and grabbed the tether under the heavy aluminium gondola to help in bringing the balloon down. It was at this point that an innocent bystander, not knowing what the consequences would be, grabbed the zip cord, which collapsed the balloon on to the still blazing burner, setting it alight.

This action also collapsed the gondola onto Terry, crushing him beneath it. As the Daily Telegraph covered the incident and I was photographed, my father phoned me next day inquiring as to why I was not asleep preparing for my lectures.

John Rowe (BA ’69)
Exeter NSW

Kant be wrong, surely

I note the “Theist v Atheist” debate in SAM’s letters. Am I missing something? Didn't Immanuel Kant write: “Transcendental theology is still therefore, notwithstanding its objective insufficiency, of importance in a negative respect; it is useful as a test of the procedure of reason when engaged with pure ideas, no other than a transcendental standard being in this case admissible. For if, from a practical point of view, the hypothesis of a Supreme and All-sufficient Being is to maintain its validity without opposition, it must be of the highest importance to define this conception in a correct and rigorous manner – as the transcendental conception of a necessary being, to eliminate all phenomenal elements (anthropomorphism in its most extended signification), and at the same time to overflow all contradictory assertions – be they atheistic, deistic, or anthropomorphic. This is of course very easy; as the same arguments which demonstrated the inability of human reason to affirm the existence of a Supreme Being must be alike sufficient to prove the invalidity of its denial. (My Italics.)

Has some recent philosophical genius proven Kant wrong on this? No respectable philosopher today would disagree with Kant one way or the other: reason can neither prove nor disprove God’s existence.

Anne Julienne (BSc (Hons) ’69)
Wiley Park NSW

Pre-emptive absolution

In the midst of a La Nina season it is hard to believe that global warming continues. In fact, rates of warming are even faster than was projected. Greenland experienced its hottest summer on record in 2010 with unprecedented melting while heatwaves in Russia drove massive bushfires. Heavy (northern hemisphere) snowfalls at Christmas could lead to more flooding in the northern spring. All this is within the equations of climatic models and global warming.

Like most theories in science, Einstein’s relativity and Darwinian evolution cannot be proven, only confirmed. It would be costly indeed to proceed as if these theories were false, yet that is what many would have us do with global warming.

Unfortunately the debate is not academic. We all have a vested interest in the status quo in one way or another and it is tempting to let preference sway our judgement. Some argue that anthropogenic greenhouse gases cannot be proven to be the cause of global warming. Strangely this selective discounting of evidence does not counter climate change but merely absolves the proponent of any need to act.

The real argument is not about human induced climate change but about the sacrifices we are prepared to make. Sadly, we are failing at the first hurdles and with continued delay the necessary emission reduction targets rise steeply. Among researchers and experts in the field optimism is a rapidly disappearing commodity. Proponents and sceptics in the debate are both becoming fatalistic, the only difference being that the sceptics seem slower to realise they have saved nothing at all.

Greg Reid (MSc ’78)
Murwillumbah NSW