Oh wow, Newcastle had its hottest day on record today – 45 degrees this afternoon. And this is a relatively cool place, close by the ocean with its sea breeze. Up the valley, they hit 47 degrees. Out west, Ivanhoe had 47.6 degrees. So we have what the Rural Fire Service are calling unprecedented conditions for bushfires. Today we had a ‘catastrophic’ warning over large parts of the state. Never before at this level. And tomorrow the winds come, ready to whip up the bushfires already under way.

fire warnings

Nothing wrong with the climate …


I haven’t been there for a while, but I am off to one of my favourite places in the world for a few days on my bicycle for some winter riding.

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The China Road conference is sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the University of Newcastle, Australia.

When 13 to 15 August 2016

Where Noah’s on the Beach Hotel, Cnr Shortland Esplanade & Zaara Street, Newcastle, NSW, Australia


Panel and paper proposal deadline 15 May 2016

We invite paper and panel proposals for the first China Road international conference in the Southern Hemisphere.

The China Road has a number of levels of meaning. It concerns China’s distinct path in the modern world, a path that has also been called the ‘Beijing Consensus’ and ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, with deep historical roots and a broad basis in reality. It also refers to the new ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, which seeks to revitalise countries along and around the old Silk Road – a revitalisation that includes economic, cultural, social and educational dimensions. These levels of meaning continue to generate significant debate and discussion: is China’s path distinct? If so, what are the features of this path? What role does China’s distant and recent history play in such a path?

In this light, the conference will examine the China Road from a range of perspectives. These include philosophy, Marxism, economics, politics, society, education, culture, different forms of democracy, and international relations in the Asian Century. With an eye on past and present, the conference will also examine possible future developments. It will be undertaken in a supportive environment, seeking insight, understanding and constructive criticism.

The conference will involve keynote speakers and delegates from China and around the world giving panel and paper presentations.


The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences will send a significant number of leading Chinese scholars to participate in the conference. These scholars will be chosen on the basis of a nationwide search.


Panel proposals should include a panel title, rationale, list of presenters (up to four), abstracts for each presentation.

Paper proposals should include a title, abstract of up to 200 words, name of presenter and location.

NOTE: all paper and panel proposals must be sent to by 15 May 2016.

Participants whose proposals are accepted will be required to register at the time for the conference.



Professor Colin Mackerras has over 50 years of extensive experience in China and is a recognised expert on China-related studies, particularly Chinese drama, national minorities, Australian-Chinese relations and images of China in the West.

His keynote address is entitled: ‘China, Central Asia and the Economic Belt.’



In these parts, we’re engaged in a fascinating or horrifying struggle – depending on your perspective. I mean visions of what a city should be. On the one side is the Artist’s Impression bunch. We’ve all seen the increasingly slick images of a proposed new development. Shiny new buildings, fetching trees, people walking, cycling, talking. It’s very smooth and sanitised. The result is usually far from the impression, with concrete, plastic and glass buildings that are soulless. It may well be described as the modern equivalent of Baron Hausmann’s ‘revitilisation’ of Paris in the nineteenth century. The aim: obliterate the way people make the city their own; undermine resistance; and make massive profits for what we now call developers. The outcome: some cities in the United States are the best example.

The other vision is the Faux Grunge one. This is the city of cafés, bars, ambient eateries, hole-in-the-wall art galleries. It seems to grow ‘organically’, delighting in the detritus of city spaces and claiming them. Rather than obliterate the old city, it seeks to work with and around such a city. This would seem to be the direst opposite of the artist’s impression. The problem is that the grunge is inevitably manufactured and that you need money to live in such cities. ‘Cafs’, bars and rents are costly. The outcome: a Disneyworld image of the city and its past that you find in so many European cities.

As was pointed out to me not so long ago (ht cp), the crucial test of a city is how it incorporates the down-and-outs. Where do the homeless, druggies, and strugglers find their place in the city? The artist’s impression wants to obliterate them; the faux grunge is fearful of what grunge itself looks like. Thankfully, the down-and-outs are adept at reclaiming city spaces for themselves.

From time to time, Stalin addressed the Institute of Red Professors. Now that is a worthy name for an institute. Actually, it is the alternative title for our ‘Religion, Marxism and Secularism‘ project at the University of Newcastle.

But I am also rather taken with the ‘Friends of the USSR’, which had a world congress in November, 1927. 947 delegates from 43 countries attended and, among many other activities, they closed the congress by adopting an appeal to all the working people of all countries: ‘Make use of all means and all methods to fight for, defend and protect the U.S.S.R., the motherland of the working people, the bulwark of peace, the centre of liberation, the fortress of socialism!’

Come to think of it, our own red priest, Ernest Burgman, was chair of the Australian arm of the Friends of the USSR. Before becoming bishop of Goulburn in 1950, Burgmann was warden of St. John’s College at Morpeth. He earned his radical credentials and street smarts in the great working class political hotbed of the Hunter.

While the Newcastle rail saga now has more twists than a bad Russian novel (let’s say, Dostoevsky), it has also been able to produce a new term for terrorism.

The context:

1. Deeply corrupt government decision to cut railway line for the last 2.5 km into Newcastle and replace with light rail – at cost of $500,000.

2. Snobby Sydney people thinking that the locals don’t know what’s good for them.

3. Sneaky effort by state government to avoid scrutiny and the need for an act of parliament to cut the line. They plan to cut the line on 26 December (when no one is looking).

4. Save our rail succeeds in gaining a Supreme Court injunction on cutting the line – on Christmas Eve. Court rules any cutting of line requires act of parliament, which state government would lose.

5. State government appeals decision.

6. While awaiting appeal proceedings, line lies in limbo, neither cut nor used.

7. Awabakal Land Council submits a land claim. Legal opinion thinks they may succeed, since they can claim land held by the state but not used for any purpose.

8. Redefinition of terrorism is made.

Let me explain. The government is able to stop services while court proceedings are under way, but not cut the line. So they have put some temporary fencing.

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Such fencing now requires an official sign to indicate the possibility of terrorist attack:

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Four levels apply: low, medium, high …

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and yes, immenent:

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Terrorist attack is not imminent, not even immanent (which is little more intriguing), but immenent.

I have been puzzling over the philosophical implications. Is ‘immenent’ the third term of the dialectic, which overcomes the initial opposition and draws the whole situation up to another level. If so, does that mean we can be in a situation where it feels as though an attack has occurred, even if it has not?

Intriguing what unites people across the political spectrum: the deeply corrupt decision to cut the railway line to Newcastle. The corruption is obvious: the line is supposed to be cut by two stations, a total of about three kilometres. It will be replaced by a light rail line. The total cost is currently put at about $250 million. Add a ‘secret council’ that included the former lord mayor, politicians and developers, who are set to reap millions from the move. So we were out in force today, thousands of us expressing the view of the vast majority of people in town:



An allusion to the clunky slogan of the corrupt state government:


This one is a reference to the former lord mayor, who liked to dole out brown paper bags stuffed with cash. He described himself as both Mother Teresa and a walking ATM:


To put an end to it, the unions were out in force:



But the most heart-warming sight was the CPA flag:



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