One of the most remote places we are visiting around Australia is called Kangaroo Island – the country’s third largest island off a remote peninsula in South Australia.
This island was once attached to the Australian mainland until the thaw following the last ice age created a sea passage between the island and Australia.
It has a chequered history.It’s first inhabitants were from Stone Age but never developed further after being isolated. It was the subject of Aboriginal stories and myths including one that the sea passage was created after a group of rebellious women fled a tyrannical leader who caused the sea to rise up and drown them.
At one time the island was deserted leaving its unique animals and birds to have no fear of humans. But then in the early nineteenth century a group of settlers and ex convicts moved in and there followed a massacre of its animals and birds for food and profits.
One species a dwarf emu became extinct just like the more famous Dodo as settlers ate them all. They then turned on the huge kangaroo population and decimated them. They also killed off most of the seals for their skins but ignored their valuable oil which meant eventually their community collapsed . ASA last gasp they started to kill off the whales of the coast but this was only seasonal.
But it has a well stocked supermarket, petrol station,post office, cafes,a cricket pitch and a craft market and a number of tourist attractions. Also a number of new species have been introduced including koala bears and bees. Indeed the Ligurian bees on the island produce a unique honey as the population is isolated from any other bees.
Today’s island has recovered and many of its unique mammals are flourishing again.The main threat to them are wildfires which have destroyed a lot of the vegetation not people as the population is very small. Penneshaw the port where ferries link to the mainland has just 300 people.
There is a splendid open air sculpture trail on the island where hidden in the dense bush you can find wallabies and kangaroos if they don’t run off to hide. I have put up pictures of the trail below.
When I was there the bush was tinder dry with a few flowers in blossom.Here is one below.
Queensland’s Art Gallery is well known for its collection of Aboriginal art. But when we visited it on a day stop in Brisbane what attracted us was a special free exhibition of contemporary Papua New Guinea artists called Kin, reflecting the close relationships among the country’s painters.
It celebrated the work of Mathias Kauage and more recent painters and was a riot of vibrant colours and political messages touching on issues like refugees now right at the heart of debate in Britain. It included a remarkable painting of Captain Cook looking down on residents of Papua New Guinea – see above.
The paintings don’t shy away from tackling political issues particularly on the red hot issue in the UK and Australia on asylum seekers and refugees. A particular striking picture praises Jacinda Arden accepting and helping refugees.
One wonders how the painters would portray Suella Braverman and Rishi Sunak -both brown British politicians deporting largely brown and black asylum seekers from the shores of the UK. Perhaps the UK’s leading art gallery Tate Britain should commission them to paint a series to counteract the baleful influence of Right wing Aussie politician Tony Abbott on stirring up hate and resentment in this country.
Two other striking paintings by the group stand out. One is a painting of the Left v Right Australian general election where the combatants are portrayed as Aboriginal chiefs.
Another is of refugees kept in a holding camp in Papua New Guinea similar to the UK plan for one in France.
Two other striking exhibits in-the exhibition including a remarkable sculpture representing people literally getting under other peoples skins and an amazing collage by an Iranian born artist now living in America using decorative images used by Pakistani lorry drivers to beautify their vehicles .
It was meant to be the highlight of the centenary world voyage of the Queen Mary 2. Cunard chose the iconic site of the Flower Field Gardens at the Bay in Singapore. They promised “ you a night to remember”. Instead it became a night you wanted to forget.
The combination of the chaos at the event and the long bureaucratic Singapore immigration system which meant long queues both took the pleasure out of the evening.
It began with a long 45 minute wait for immigration to allow anybody to leave the ship.When we had cleared immigration we met our next disappointment. Cunard had promised to lay on disability transport to the event for people like my wife who is in a wheelchair. When got there we were not on the list to get any transport.Indeed from what I saw of the list only six people out of hundreds attending the event qualified. They did rustle up a minibus with two high steps which we shared with another couple who was also not on the list and who was hobbling around on two sticks.
Getting to the event added to the disappointment.Cunard had promised that all diets especially diabetics would be catered for . Their FAQs with the invitation said waitress would be”educated” about diets. Well apparently not. Presented with six starters we asked our waiter for advice about which were lactose free. His response was to go and find his manager. Worse was to come when we joined the long queue for a curry. Asking the server which food was diary free I got the brusque response “everything has dairy in it “
Eventually after someone just ordered rice and flatbread I got someone to give me just that – but helpfulness was not on the agenda. No wonder we learned later that one group of guests had spurned the Cunard haute cuisine and gone to the Gardens on site McDonalds to have their meal.
One group of guests spurned the food at the venue to eat at McDonald’s
So we’re there any redeeming features?Yes the Lion Dance was good and the flowers gardens beautifully lit up.
But it was not over yet. Going back we encountered the same problem in getting disabled transport back to the ship as we were not on the list.Luckily a Cunard rep did intervene and she got a shared minibus.
The gremlins at Singapore immigration had their last throw. At customs we were diverted to an empty line as my wife was in a wheelchair to speed us up. What we didn’t realise as we went straight ahead is that we had joined the line to board the Spectrum of the Seas the other cruise liner in port.actually It was only a person checking passengers passports who realised the green sticker on our passport meant that we must be on the Queen Mary and diverted us.
Finally I must thank the kindness of fellow Cunard passengers who took great care to help my wife on and off the minibus and the one kind gentleman offered to take my wife Margaret down a staircase that we had been misdirected to at the venue. We did decline and later found like the rest of Singapore the venue had wheelchair lifts to get to the lower floor.
Ho Chi Minh City is famous for a number of tourist sites including its Post Office,Notre Dame Cathedral and its Harrowing Vietnam War Museum.What is not so well known is the city’s history museum telling the story of the country for the last 30,000 years.
Tucked away in a side street off a main road next to the city’s botanical gardens this gem of a museum includes numerous artifacts dating from the Stone Age to the present day.
When you get there you are greeted by a large Buddha in a room full of Buddhas from different Asian countries.
The Buddha here is a reproduction of the oldest known Buddha in Vietnam dating back to the eleventh century
The museum had some fine costumes and an interesting exhibit showing how ethically diverse the South Vietnamese with no fewer than 34 different indigenous groups in the country .
The sad thing is that we weren’t able to see the whole museum including more modern exhibits.officially designated as disabled friendly some of the rooms were inaccessible to wheelchairs because you had to go up a flight of steps.Also the ramp to the entrance was so steep that I needed the assistance of some fit young Vietnamese lads to get to the top.
Our taxi driver also helped Margaret get up the stairs to the museum’s cafe. On the plus side it had a very good accessible disabled toilet.
Finally since we were last in Vietnam the number of scooter boys and girls has grown on the roads. See a previous blog. So much so the latest new expressway has a a segregated lane for the daredevil scooter drivers Even there they move faster than some motor vehicles weaving around to overtake each other – just like in Ho Chi Minh City.
On the edge of the centre of Kuala Lumpur – a city dominated by huge skyscrapers and apartment blocks – near the greenery of Lakeside Gardens is a modern museum dedicated to Islamic Art.
The Islamic Arts Museum opened as recently as 1998 is not on Cunard’s shore experience programme and consequently has few Western visitors.But this is not a local or even a Malaysian national museum but an important international one.
It has over 12000 artefacts, a large reference library and tells the story of the spread of Islam from the Middle East across Asia and China through Islamic Art.Missing are artefacts from Spain after it was occupied by the Moors.
The collection is impressive. It covers metalwork,ceramics,textiles,jewellery,weaponry, manuscripts, China and furniture.
With 12 galleries it is almost too much to take in but it also a very cool Restuarant and Cafe to have lunch and a break. What is fascinating is how Islamic art adapted from Turkish carpets to delicate China through a rather extravagant costumes in India.
There was also an interesting collection of weaponry including heavily decorated rifles as illustrated below.
Textiles and ceramics were well represented.
The light and airy building makes the museum pleasant visit especially as Kuala Lumpur has very high humidity and temperatures often top 33C.
My first visit to the Gulf states of Oman and Dubai has been an eye opener and shows how two relatively poor Arab Nations have been transformed by the rise of petrodollar. Both are effective absolute monarchies that still have authoritarian rulers. Yet both have used their new found wealth to benefit their indigenous people.
This may explain why both are stable states and largely popular with the Emirates and Omani population. In Oman the 50 year reign of the late Sultan saw his people benefit from the wealth provided by oil. In 1970 Oman had only three schools now it has nearly 1100. Education and healthcare is free for the 1.5 million Omanis and when they start a family they are given a free plot of land to build a house. The younger generation are bilingual as all pupils learn Arabic and English and all signs are in both languages.
Strict regulations lay down how each house in Oman should be built on a 650 square metre plot.It should be no more than two stories high and occupy a third of the plot with a high wall enclosing a garden and garage .
In Dubai the government also give a contribution to building costs. The main city is ultra modern and full of skyscrapers and modern apartments. In this heavily trafficked city of five lane roads parking is also free – there were some limited parking charges in Oman in Muscat.
What is really jaw dropping in Dubai despite its authoritarian stance on alcohol, gay rights and on insisting how modestly Muslim women should dress is how cosmopolitan it is. The Dubai Mall said to be largest shopping complex in the world with 1600 shops is a complete mixture of people with women in Western Style dress walking among Arab women covered from head to toe. While young men in shorts walk among young Arab men wearing full robes.
Of course expats don’t benefit from the largesse the Emirs show to their own people But professional Westerners benefit from high tax free salaries, cheap petrol and low utilities bills that are becoming more of a rarity in the UK as the wealth gap grows.
As an example my daughter who is a Dubai state school science teacher earns a tax free salary just short of £50 000 a year plus free and efficient healthcare and fuel bills of just £20 a month. Here in the UK the government is boasting that teachers will soon get £30,000 a year before tax and will have huge fuel bills and petrol costs. There is no comparison.
I noticed that Emirates airlines are now targeting Brits in the hospitality sector to work as cabin crew. They are offering tax free salaries,free training,free accommodation and healthcare as part of the package . In the UK the same person will be lucky to get just above the minimum wage working for Wetherspoon.
The situation is not the same for workers from India,Pakistan, and the Philippines who take more menial jobs in construction or as maids to wealthy Arab families. They miss out big time and are on low wages and/or work long hours for little money.
One last interesting point.What happens if you have a car accident with a camel in Oman? According to our guide if it happens in the day the owner will claim it is his most valuable animal and you will have to compensate him handsomely. If it is after dark the camel owner will have to pay for all the damage to your vehicle. The trouble is that owners don’t always admit that is their camel and can be difficult to trace.
This modern museum is a joy to visit and also for my disabled wife Margaret as it is easily accessible and staff extremely helpful.
These artefacts are part of a huge collection of thousands discovered in Crete dating back to 6900 BC of both the early Minoan civilisation and later palace societies housed at Heraklion’s Archaeological Museum.
The wonder of these exhibits is that they were created by people who couldn’t read or write yet perfected some of the most exquisite jewellery and crafted pottery. Most of them were discovered in early tombs because our ancestors believed they would be needed in the afterlife.
The sport section had a dangerous sport that that has died out involving bulls that has died out in ansoort that hasdangerous sport involving
The fertility symbol of a child bearing woman is almost universal to early civilisations.We saw a similar statute in Lima in Peru dating back thousands of years to the civilisation that precede the better known Incas.
The murals come from the Knossos Palace as most of the original ones have been removed or tarted up.The figure was thought to be a prince – originally known as Prince of the Lilies – but now thought to be more likely to be an athlete or a boxer – a sporting hero years before Christ.
Bull leaping as a sport
For a civilisation associated with the Minotaur the sport section had-a fascinating game which has died out. Known as Bull Leaping or Bull Vaulting intrepid athletes would have to grab the horns of a charging bull and leap over it. This rather dangerous sport was open to men and women, showing that sports equality is not a new phenomenon. It existed centuries ago long before the recent prominence given to women’s football and rugby.
In my short visit to Lisbon I intended to visit its Castle. But when i arrived I found queues of tourists running out into the street trying to get in.
I changed my mind but some 150 yards away I noticed a rather shabby building called the museum or museu das artes decorativas. On impulse I went inside.For a modest charge of ten euros I gained admission but was told I had to go on an English speaking guided tour that had just started.The view above is close to the museum.
Expecting another horde of tourists I found instead I was just one of three people -two Brits and one American including myself. It was almost like a private tour.
What I had stumbled across was a rather quirky museum run by a foundation over five creaking floors of an old palace. It contained a collection of Portuguese furniture and objects de art dating from medieval times to the days of Napoleon Bonaparte. This had been gifted by a wealthy philanthropist and run by the Fundacao Ricardo du Espirito Santa Silva.
Now I know nothing about Portuguese furniture but the place is an eye opener on how the better off furnished their homes over the centuries.
The earliest furniture in the museum is in the heavy Baroque style but according to our guide contains a series of small beds.This was because the Portuguese at that time slept propped up because they believed to lie flat would mean they could die in their sleep.
The half tiled bedrooms reflected the strong Roman Catholic belief with many pictures of the Virgin Mary. Later the style of furniture became much lighter first influenced by Portugal’s relationship with China and a tradition of inlaid marquetry grew up which is still followed by students today.
Two extraordinary facts emerged from the tour. For those who think flat packed furniture is an invention by IKEA and that recycling is a new phenomenon think again.
Early Portuguese furniture could easily be dismantled – chair backs could be replaced with leather of different colours and one settee in the museum could be easily dismantled to become two arm chairs and a table.
And wood could be recycled in the 18th and 19th century. Sturdy wooden crates to transport valuable sugar from Brazil were reused to make furniture.
There is also a fascinating collection of. Small tables that can be converted to play backgammon and chess for family members to. Play during the evening.
There is a fascinating Portuguese website – use Google Translate to read it – with details about the foundation and the museum with pictures of the rooms. The link is www-fress.pt. Unfortunately the place looked as it had seen better days. The cafe was closed but the museum deserves to be better known.
Readers of my blog will be familiar with the scandalous story of the billions owed to 50s born women who both suffered maladministration and direct discrimination over the raising of the pension age from 60 to 66.
But what has emerged over the past year appears to show that this is part of a pattern where pensioners and disabled people are frankly swindled out of their money by the incompetence, maladministration and meanness of top management and politicians who run the Department for Work and Pensions.
Far from the 50swomen being an isolated case where mistakes were made those at the top of the DWP administration appear to have a playbook to deprive people of their rightful pensions and benefits, especially if they happen to be women. Nearly all the cases hit women much worse than men and as I have highlighted before – men have had privileges denied to women – such as the long running auto enrolment scheme that allowed men to have their national insurance contributions paid by the state from 60 to 65 while denying women any such privileges.
One of the worse cases which saved the state billions was a decision not to pay out extra pensions to people whose firms had contracted them out of Serps – an old style second pension- so they lost out of a Guaranteed Minimum Pension still payable in the public sector. A lot will have been women
The blog I wrote on this – despite being fiendishly complicated to explain- attracted over 15,000 hits – yet only two people got any compensation as the DWP made it difficult to claim.
Time to sign this petition
Christopher Thompson, a retired expert on this, has put up a petition to Parliament to protest about this and restore the indexation, but sadly only 311 people have signed. If everybody who read the blog signed it it would force the government to have to explain to Parliament why they did it. So please sign if you can.
Then there was the case of 237,000 pensioners – again a lot of them women – cheated out of £1.46 billion from their pensions – by miscalculations by the ministry raised by former pensions minister, Sir Steve Webb. The department is slowly trying reimburse them – some have decades of extra pension owed -but it will take at least to 2024 before it is completed.
Now Sir Steve has found another scandal which only affects women who should have received credits for looking after children from the late 70s. He has launched a campaign Mothers Missing Millionsto try and get women’s pensions raised to make up the money – in one case a women was not credited with 14 years contributions.
And you have to add the scandal of the 118,000 disabled people put on a lower rather than benefit rate where the ministry has declined to compensate them – only giving money to the one person who complained to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Even the Ombudsman has been silenced by the ministry who refuse to budge on this issue -leaving him appealling to MPs for help.
Time for an inquiry into the running of the DWP
What I am saying here is if you put all these cases together it is quite clear there is a pattern of underpayment and maladministration where the department do their best to avoid doing anything about it. It is without doubt discriminatory against women and suggests that ministers don’t want to pay them.
It is time women pressed all MPs to take up these issues. There is a strong case for an inquiry into the running of the DWP – there are too many cases for this to be just a coincidence.
Please donate to Westminster Confidential to allow me to continue my investigative work
Happy New Year. Last year My WordPress blog reached 304,297 hits with 218,257 unique visitors – compared to 286,840 hits and 203,099 visitors the previous year.
This figures does not include hits on my Facebook and Linked In sites which means the numbers are actually much higher though more difficult to exactly measure. Nor does this include my articles on Whitehall and Westminster for Byline Times. Byline Times is worth subscribing to for all the other independent journos who contribute to it.
Thanks to everybody who chose to read my stories and special thanks to those who kindly donated to my site. Last year I raised some £5600 via WordPress plus another £1600 through Paypal before charges.
The two campaigns I run on this site – the demand for full restitution for the 3.6 million women who lost out when the pensions age was raised from 60 to 66 – and valiant whistleblowers fighting for justice in the NHS and at the nuclear facility in Sellafield – attracted the most interest.
The Department for Work and Pensions emerged as the most hated ministry by pensioners and benefit claimants.
DWP most hated ministry
The biggest hit on the site was not from my campaign for the #50swomen but from the blog exposing the millions of people who have been swindled by the DWP out of a Guaranteed Minimum Pension. Here I was helped out by a retired expert on the issue Christopher Thompson who has tirelessly pressed ministers and the Commons DWP committee to do something about it. This attracted 15,281 hits.
Four blogs on the 50swomen campaign attracted over 10,000 hits – the highest being my report of the WASPI meeting at the Labour Party Conference which attracted 12,405. Myreport on the proposed remedies for the women by the Parliamentary Ombudsman which I and many women see as a betrayal attracted 10,054 hits. An opportunity to download the summary of the changes attracted 4,400 people to do so – adding a little to more transparency given only a selected few were supposed to see it.
Dr Day case was followed across the world
On the the whistleblower front I decided to do a daily report on the Dr Chris Day case – the appalling story of a junior doctor who lost his training place because he tried to expose patient safety dangers at an intensive care unit at Woolwich Hospital where two patients had already died. This was really old fashioned journalism when people used to cover courts regularly – in this case an employment tribunal – making the proceedings publicly accountable. It paid off not only with a big following of the blog here but thousands of people followed it on Linked In including doctors from Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada and Brazil. He lost the tribunal despite the health trust destroying 50,000 emails relating to its case that should have been examined by the tribunal. But the good news is that the British Medical Association is backing his appeal.
There is similar interest -including internationally – in the tribunal case of Alison McDermott who was commissioned by Sellafield to review its human resources policies and found appalling shortcomings and also in India and the UK in the fight by Dr Usha Prasad, the former cardiologist at the Epsom and St Helier University Trust, who was sacked after refusing to change a report on an ” avoidable death” there that should have been reported to the coroner. My thanks to two retired cardiologists, Dr David Ward and Jane Somerville for their help on these cases.
Whistleblower cases call into question the employment tribunal system
These cases have thrown up serious questions about the competence and bias of employment judges and called in question the entire running of the employment tribunal system and its failure to keep records of cases. I am now beginning to be inundated with dissatisfied people who feel they have been cheated by going to an employment tribunal.
This year has been a frustrating year for whistleblowers and for women seeking a just solution to maladministration and direct discrimination over the raising of the pension age. But there is no reason to stop reporting this – though I will be taking a long break at the beginning of this year only to come back reinvigorated.
One final point. A very small minority of people are trying to put up comments on this blog using false names from fake email addresses. I see some national newspapers are no longer going to put up comments on the web from people who don’t declare who they are. So from this year I will no longer carry comments from people who do this.
Please donate to this blog to allow me to continue my reporting.