I invite you to visit also my literary blog: Journeys in Creative Writing where I post original fiction including short stories, poetry and 'Paternity', a full length mystery novel.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Will a Dud Cheque Kill Our Community Symphony Orchestra?

Last night's concert at Tweed Heads

This is the story of Barry Singh, a banana farmer who became the conductor and artistic director of his own 70 piece symphony orchestra.

And of the threat that a dud cheque for $18,000 is posing to his dream.

Barry Singh - Source NRSO

The Northern Rivers Symphony began with just eighteen musicians fifteen years ago and is now renowned on the North Coast of New South Wales, drawing musicians from a huge regional/rural area stretching to Brisbane, Lismore and Toowoomba.

It has no government funding and depends on ticket sales for its existence.

The orchestra normally offers concerts on the Tweed and the Gold Coast but four years ago took a $38,000 risk to hire the Queensland Performing Arts Centre to hear themselves 'in a proper concert hall'. The venture was a big success, but ticket sales fell short, leaving a funding deficit.

It all began with this son of a violent father and a loving mother on a Tweed banana farm. The boy chipped weeds and cut bananas as soon as he could hold the necessary tools.

He told his mother at the age of six that one day he would play a violin and become the conductor of a symphony orchestra.

In high school in sleepy Murwillumbah Barry Singh got to play a violin for the first time - the only violin student there. He practiced in the packing shed against his father's wishes, but made his way via a scholarship to the Queensland Conservatorium of Music.

The student was doing well when his father died in the second year of his course and Barry returned to the farm to help his mother. They laboured together for twenty years beginning early and often finishing at eleven at night.

Barry never lost hold of his dream, gradually growing the orchestra to its present phenominal size. The community was always supportive but finance was always a struggle.

Rehearsals were held among small groups of players in various parts of the region, with full blown practice sessions fairly rare.

Sometimes the brass section might be a bit thin but gradually the gaps filled and the group has gained respect from the profession.

Last night's concert was held in a Tweed Heads Rugby League football club auditorium in the NRSO heartland.

Fifty musicians and four singers performed before a good appreciative crowd, but there were still many seats empty in the 1000 seat theatre.

The standard was astonishing for a group that has never had government funding and pays its way with ticket sales.

The programme was mainly French, ranging from the pot boiler Ravel's Bolero to Camille Saint-Seans Dance Bacchanale. In between there were excerpts from Delibes' Coppelia and Chopin's Les Sylphides, and many others.

Overall the quality was high, but I did notice that the orchestra got away from Barry during a rollicking version of Offenbach's Can Can, and that Barry simply laughed at the head violionist and carried on.

He'd have to deal with things that way with the mixture of experience among his players, although I notice that professionals are flocking more and more to be part of the NRSO scene - a tribute certainly.

The Duet from The Pearl Fishers of Bizet was superb and so was the Quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto.

The audience loved it all. Sometimes they clapped in the wrong places and Barry used every opportunity to explain the music. The orchestra has done a lot to educate a normally unsophisticated community that otherwise has little access to classical works.

As the final applause died down Barry Singh came towards the audience and asked that the house lights be lit. He wanted to chat face-to-face he said.

He told how the orchestra had been asked recently to perform with 70 players at a Byron Bay festival, for a payment of $18,000. This would meet performers' fees, associated expenses and produce a small profit.

However, when the cheque came, Barry said it was dishonoured at the bank, and the matter was in the hands of solicitors. There was an audible gasp from every member of the audience.

Now, Barry said, the entire future of the orchestra was in the balance. He appealed to the community to fill the auditorium at a benefit concert being planned for February. If this wasn't a success the end was nigh.

We can't wait to get all of our friends there. It will be a corker of a night and the orchestra will surely live on.

Friday, 24 October 2008

The Joys of Universal Health Care

In Australia we have had universal health care since the 1970s.

I still remember queuing with my first doctor's receipt in the new shiny medicare office and leaving with a FULL CASH REBATE there and then!

It was a wonderful relief. There is nothing worse than not being able to afford treatment for something that is nagging away at you and your children.

During the regime of the Howard Government, voted out after eleven years last November, Medicare was watered down, creating consternation.

We have been paying increasing amounts ourselves as a result.

Hospital standards have also plumetted because Federal funding was not so forthcoming to the States

Howard wiped out dental care leaving many Australians with holes in their teeth - until recently very rare here.

However the new government is pro health care and hopefully things won't slide further.

They are re-introducing dental treatment for pensioners for instance. Plain sense when rotten teeth are so fundamental to bad health.

My visit to hospital and the ambulance cost me absolutely NOTHING because I am a pensioner.

People earning good money can choose to have private hospital insurance and if they don't, must pay a levy in their tax, and then they get subsidised treatment. They must pay for pharmaceuticals however.

Tests and treatment at private facilities that mostly have shorter waiting lists are very expensive without insurance.

Mental health care is free if you can get it at a public hospital. The problem is the public system has been neglected in those recent years and it's very hard to get into a psychiatric ward, particularly outside the cities.

I feel very comfortable about receiving free health care because I paid good taxes during forty working years. That's what it should be all about isn't it? Make your contribution to earn a safety net for when things go wrong?

Those better off should be there for people not in a position to make such a contribution. Good health care for every part of a society is a national asset and it is humane.

I just heard on the radio that although Australia is not likely to enter a recession in the near future we will FEEL as though we are in one!

Our commodity prices are suffering because of the international problems, prices are rising and confidence is not what it was.

So everything has a question mark over it - health services included.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Of Spirals and Hospitals ...

Everything seems fine, then things begin to spiral ...

It's nine days since I posted to 70 Plus, but I must say I have a pretty good excuse for the unusual pause in communication.

On Monday I began preparing for a story about family history and went to bed happy and feeling well.

At 1.15 am a sharp pain in my chest dragged me back from my dreams.

It wasn't the worst pain I'd ever experienced, and there wasn't any agonising shooting up the arms you hear about with a heart attack, so I waited to see what would happen.

It was pretty scarey given that I was alone in the house and the pain continued to plague me for two hours. I began to think that heart disease was a real possibility.

By 3am I knew it was time to get help, so I rang the ambulance, not wanting to disturb the sleep of my loved ones.

Two great officers came in no time: reassuring and efficient.

There I was flat on my back, wonderful female ambo administering pills and linking me up to machines, with her male partner driving.
It seemed two minutes and I was in Emergency at the local hospital.

Cut a long story short - no damage to heart and a lung x-ray showed nothing untoward.

I spent 31 hours tethered to machines with hospital staff and specialist consultant hovering.
They'd counted out all of the life-threatening possibilities, so now I must follow up with my GP in the next few days to find out what was really going on.

Apart from the dubious hospital food and the lack of sleep because of the hovering, it was a reassuring experience.

However, it's a shame that in our society attention to mental health problems aren't as de regeur as with cardiac illness ...

One day we'll get rid of the stigma towards psychiatric illnesses in the same way that we have with heart disease and cancer. The sooner the better, I say.

These diseases are after all manifestations of physical malfunction, without exception.


Does anyone have a view on the way mental health is regarded in their country of origin? Let me know in a comment ...

Watch out for the family history post in the next few days.

And please support our friend Sylvia in her valiant attempts to get her blog going again after it crashed this week.

Link to
Sylvia from Over the Hill - enjoy, learn and help a mate.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Panic Over Money, or Community and Chocolate?

The condition of the global economy is no longer the elephant in the room. Not when your own Australian Prime Minister says the situation has entered a new and damaging phase and takes an unprecedented step to help fix it here.

Yesterday Kevin Rudd made the astonishing announcement that his government would guarantee for the next three years ALL deposits, every cent, in banks, building societies and credit unions. Banks' offshore borrowings and lending to each other would also be guaranteed.

Mr Rudd said he wasn't going to 'gild the lilly' and he didn't.

'We are in the economic equivalent of a rolling national security crisis and the challenges are great,' he said.

Ministers are saying that Australian banks themselves are not in crisis. The plan is a response to a lack of confidence globally.

Australia has four banks with a AAA rating - and the number of such institutions world wide is less than you could count using one person's fingers and toes.

The Government says it is highly unlikely that it will ever need to back these new guarantees. It wants to remove any disadvantage our banks could suffer in dealing throughout the world without such measures. It will charge the banks a fee or insurance premium for this arrangement.

The Australian share market lost it on Friday, panicing to produce the biggest drop since 1987. Our country had been drawn into the vortex of global problems.

Right now it's Monday morning in Australia and all over the week-end Mr Rudd met with his top Ministers and senior public servants. The Treasurer Wayne Swan was in the USA at the G20 meeting, also discussing the crisis.

Yesterday afternoon (Sunday) Mr Rudd announced his decision. He stated in unequivocal terms that the Australian economy would slow and jobs would be lost. And outlined his protection plan for banks as well as everyday people.

He didn't muck around. He said it the way it is, good and bad, and gave details immediately. The news was determined action.

That attitude in itself is a comfort and induces confidence and trust.

So - what can we do about this in our particular neck of the woods (wherever that is)?

We can turn to community that's what! Crisis is a time for families and neighbours to pull together, helping the less well prepared and taking advantage of the increased sense of security that will come as a result.

My plan for me:

Get on with life.

Get out there and say g'day to everyone I come across. Smile.

Visit someone who lives alone.

Don't panic.

Play my happiest music.

Smell the flowers in the garden, and plant some more veggies of my own.

It's almost summer here, so I will get to a beach and wash my troubles away with a swim.

Have a bike ride or a long walk.

And when all this is done - break out a new bar of chocolate!

Love to everyone from


STOP PRESS: 12.15pm Australian Eastern Time the Australian Stock Market has so far today gained five percent across the board.


By the way there's a new blogging community out there for Aussies - Where the Blog Are You?. Check it out through the cockie link on my sidebar. Our mate Lilly is featured blogger this week.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Something unexpected ...

On my walk this week I came upon a small shrine which remembered a little boy called Travis. It must help his family come to terms with something that remains terrible.

I paused, thinking I must not intrude on a private moment.

But I came to believe that Travis' family wanted to make a statement. To declare to all who passed that way their love for the little boy, and to share a grief.

And so I stood quiet and decided to pass on the message to you.

Many people who loved Travis apparently gathered together on what would have been his second birthday.

They came carrying teddy bears, toys, flowers and birthday cards. There were especially written poems and messages from those who cared.

They tied all to an Australian native tree, there on the bank of the waterway.

Even today, the teddies keep watch.

The shrine is on a lovely quiet spot not far from a newish housing estate.

Birds call each other and there are many ducks.

I did not know Travis or his family, and had never passed that way before.

His memory is in good hands ...

My walk took me along some of the kilometres of canals used to drain former wetlands where you could once glimpse Australia's only stork, the jabaroo.

A few years ago, just before the bulldozers moved in, I actually saw two of these magnificent creatures fly off, their great long legs dangling behind ...

Now, apart from some small areas of bushland, the area is residential houses.

There are some nice spots where animals scurry ...

I continued my walk and found 'civilisation'.

Here the new growth bush ceases and suburbia begins.

I live on the hill in the distance.

Some species have learned to live alongside us. But others have disappeared.

This guy didn't move a feather, even though I came very close. He/she had his/her eye on me though!

Human beings are certainly well catered for here. The bike/walking track is a blessing.

It's easy to chat with friends under a shady shelter.

Exotic plants have moved in, adding colour and drama.

Michelangelo would have been horrified to find his David left unadorned beside an Australian backyard swimming pool. A less than sensitive talking point.

And this fierce pooch made a show of being a great guard dog until he began wagging his tail!

Mine was a day marked by sharp contrasts ...