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.

2010 March 011 (640x359)

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.

What a homecoming: on the usually cooler east coast stretches the mercury was hitting over 40 degrees and catastrophic fire warnings were in force. Not many hours before I had been decked out in winter woolens (merino wool and possum fur); now it was shorts and a sweat. The day before I arrived, the national average pushed through to the highest point since recordings began more than a century ago: 40.33 degrees on Monday, before it really warmed up on Tuesday. That’s a national average, mind you. Individual places were regularly recording mid 40s to a little under 50. And that’s in the shade. Apparently, it’s been stinking hot for weeks, but the ‘dome of heat’ over the country hasn’t finished yet, cranking up temperatures day by day (with the occasional cool change providing temporary relief for a few hours).

temperature map


Once you hit the purple, you’re in the 50s. Perversely, I enjoy a good heatwave, since summer isn’t summer without one. Sleep is a sweaty experience, full of vivid dreams. Merely sitting quietly makes you sweat. But it’s never ever been this hot.


So the Theology and Treason conference is over, with all of its reflections on the role of religion within radicalism. A few pictures for now. Entirely appropriate for a gathering concerning treason, we met in the exercise yard of the former Newcastle lockup (closed to the usual prisoners in 1986):

A goodly number came from China (and the UK and USA):

Alas, no-one availed themselves of the very private toilet up the back (the only one for the former inmates):

Nor did we give in to the invitation of the luxurious bath and its wonders:

Which is probably why we enjoyed ourselves so much:

Our regular ‘Radicals Walk’ is not for the faint-hearted. Apart from wild seas threatening to wash us away, we now have an added thrill:

It all comes from a desire to rehabilitate the dunes, grow some vegetation, all of which our legless friends find ever so inviting.

And why wouldn’t you? If I were a snake, I’d reckon this was a pretty good place to settle down.

(ht: ts)

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