Friday, 30 September 2016

On preparation: a big ideas post.

Hi everyone,

It's been another orange-tinted day.  I slept late this morning (0900), after yesterday's early start and late finish, and then took the dog for his morning walk.  I was getting together some sort of plan for the day when my pager went off for a possible flooding in Shepparton.  Our duty officer activated us and an auxiliary unit and so I got my overalls and boots on and hared out the door.  The job turned out to be a flap over not much, and we were stood down shortly after.  I kept going to the shed anyway as I had some odds and ends to do there and when I arrived ran into Anthony.  The rest of the day was spent doing some maintenance in the shed, as well as a trip to the bushland near the Causeway to warn the homeless people there about the flood warning now issued for the Goulburn River.  I was finally home a bit after 1900.

I think I mentioned once before that the homeless people we talk to are often the best prepared for flooding - or at least the ones with the strongest plans to evacuate.  I often contrast them in my head with a gentleman I worked with at the last job who, I'm pretty sure, would have almost completely ignored a natural disaster with a kind of ovine inability to imagine his own death.  He said (pretty often) that I was a 'prepper'.  This mildly annoyed me (only mildly - I can't say I valued his opinion much), because 'preparing' seems to me to be simple common sense.  Good enough for the Red Cross, for example, good enough for me.

I must say, though, that one of the things I don't understand about preppers generally is the resistance to co-operation with "the authorities".  One blogger, who writes as The Survival Mom, has said
A rural retreat won't save you. The federal government has you in their cross-hairs, as does the United Nations.
Gold and silver may be useless if a world currency is established. Using them may even be criminalized.
Ultimately, a too-powerful government will be the biggest threat to your survival.
and that
6. Leave it to the United Nations to harass rural Americans
Has your local news media been covering Agenda 21? No? Thought not. Americans don’t even realize that the policies of this oppressive document are already being voluntarily implemented in many towns, cities, and states. The goals of Agenda 21 are shocking and when you read through them, it’s obvious they are becoming a threat to rural America in the form of various regulations put in place by people who mean well but don’t understand how easily they are signing away basic freedoms.
I can only be bemused by the idea of the UN being able to harass anyone particularly effectively.  As organizations go, it seems slightly less effectual than Greater Shepparton City Council, with none of the financial probity (in the late 1990s, for instance, the Human Rights Commission found that the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory wasn't interested in even returning their calls).  It doesn't seem to do a great deal of damage to anyone (aside from taking up some reasonably valuable real estate in Manhattan).
What did preparation for cataclysm look like during the Cold War, when belligerents with genuinely terrifying weapons glowered at each other?  It looked like this:
Somewhere in the course of the long weekend off from history the way many people think about disaster changed.  Real disasters - things one really needs to prepare for, and that can be more-or-less managed by cooperation - became less imaginable.  Instead, even people who claim to be serious about preparing are now mostly playing at being scared, telling themselves childish make-believe horror stories about "the day when United Nations soldiers will enforce martial law in this country, when things fall apart [and] ... martial law will be inflicted upon us, and that people will beg for it, when faced with the alternative of anarchy, food riots and race riots"
If I can draw anything from this, it's that to be consciously a part of society - to see your future as bound up with that of a community - is to be an adult.  Turning your back on it is to retreat to a kind of wilful childhood.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Under the Radar

Hi everyone,
It's after midnight and I've been up since about 0330.  It's been a busy few days of anxiously watching the weather radar and planning for disasers that might never happen.

The putative disasters have all related to a sharp, well organised low pressure system hovering over the coast of South Australia.  This system has absolutely trashed the Festival State - it knocked the power grid out altogether to the entire state - and was expected to come this way next.  This was what it looked like yesterday (strictly, the day before yesterday) according to the weather radar at Mount Gambier -

Most of Victoria was under a severe weather warning yesterday, and in line with my mission in life I was spending a decent whack of my energies trying to get the word out. I kept sharing the warnng maps on various social media platforms and also republished (with approval) the relevant SES media release on our unit facebook page as a Note.  This was the map that was rather exercising me -
A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

I also shared the media-release-cum-note on the Unit twitter account.  I'm rather proud that we managed to get a shoutout from Bruce Roberts, the anchor on the local WIN-TV News.  Hungry for fame!

In the event, we didn't get many callouts at all: when I looked at the radar last night the storm system seemed to have lost some of its impetus.  We got quite a bit of wind last night, and at 0330 I was woken by my pager advising me of a tree down/traffic hazard.  I was the Duty Officer, and my instinct said it would be the first job of many (as people started going to work and found trees down everywhere), so I activated the 4WD and storm-trailer (which I  drove) and the truck and headed out there.  In the event it was the only job of the morning, aside from a small tree down I found on my way home, and so I just pressed on with the day from there.

Today has been orange heavy again - a long conversation with one of my superiors regarding a few operational matters, then a bunch of cleaning and running around both at the unit in Tatura and then in Shepparton, and then dinner with Beck and Anthony, two close friends from the Unit, followed by training (casualty handling, with quite a few new and prospective members!).  A request was put out for people willing to be deployed to South Australia to help with disaster recovery there.  I was initially keen to go, but then thought about a number of other things and decided against it - among others, the current internal dynamics of the unit, and also the fact that I've been away from home a lot for SES over the last week and been doing principally SES stuff when I AM home.  I felt that going away for a four day deployment seemed like not the best thing I could do.  I'd love to, but having taken on added responsibilities here (unit controller, for instance) I had to decide as best I could where I would do most good.

Not much other news to share.  I didn't get a position as a seasonal firefighter, which is a shame.  On the other hand, my dear friend (and former secretary) Giz shared a picture of the briefs she had prepared for the circuit hearings coming up in a law firm I worked at once upon a time.  As I look at them I can scarcely believe that's what my life used to look like.  I don't think I could ever go back to it now.

A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

I don't know what the future holds for me.  But as improbable as it sounds, as as difficult as things can be sometimes, I think I'm on the right track.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Review: Traudl Junge, Until the Final Hour (Phoenix: London, 2005)

Review: Traudl Junge with Melissa Müller, Until the Final Hour (transl. Anthea Bell) (Phoenix: London, 2005)

In 1993, the British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf included this wonderfully surreal exchange -
Future Cat: I think they're our favourite hosts. If you don't count the Hitlers.
Kryten: The who?!
Future Rimmer: Providing you avoid talking politics, they're an absolute hoot.
Kryten: You're good friends with the Hitlers?!
Future Kryten: It's just a social thing. We don't talk about his work. We just have a few laughs, play canasta, and enjoy the odd game of mixed doubles with the Goerings.
Kryten: I don't believe what I'm hearing!
Future Rimmer: Look, you have to understand -- we travel back and forth throughout the whole of history, and naturally we want to sample the best of everything. It's just a bit unfortunate that the finest things tend to be in the possession of people who are judged to be a bit dodgy.
Kryten: Herman Goering is a "bit dodgy"?!
Thanks to Traudl Junge's memoir Until the Final Hour, with its close-up observation of Adolf Hitler, we now know that this description was less bizarre than Rob Grant and Doug Naylor might have believed.

Junge served as Adolf Hitler's personal secretary from 1942 to 1945, and was present in the Berlin Bunker at the time of his suicide.  Her memoir was written in 1947, when she was 27 years old.  It benefits immensely from this for two reasons.

First, the book was prepared while academic history and official memory and popular culture were still digesting the experience of the Third Reich.  Nobody in 1947 would have much disputed that Nazi Germany was criminally bellicose, that its military and paramilitary forces had routinely broken the laws of war, and that it had treated the Jewish and similar populations under its control with extreme cruelty.  However, neither the regime nor Hitler personally had yet become a byword for unredeemed evil.  This meant that Junge could could write without needing to distance herself from the subject (Melissa Müller's accompanying essay notes the guilt she felt in later years about this) or to much exculpate herself.  Hence, she describes as a simple fact the Führer's ability to persuade people that final victory was inevitable even when the known facts made this belief absurd: it did not need to be made a sign of something more malign.  Equally, Henriette von Schirach's disgrace for questioning the ill-treatment of Dutch Jews is reported simply as an event (p.88).

Traudl Junge, 1942
Image from here

The second benefit is that Junge is still writing as a reasonably bright but relatively untutored person.  She writes clearly and without affectation: an experience is pleasant because it is pleasant.  Hitler is kindly because (in that moment at least) he was kindly.  And the upper echelons of the Third Reich are people with personalities rather than representing one or more of the feuding blocs of the SS, the Wehrmacht, the Chancellery and so on.  Anthea Bell's translation does not feel laboured or strained.  Further, there is no attempt to impose a narrative structure on her time with the Führer.  One experience simply followed another, which is essentially how human life is experienced.  One shouldn't overstate how far a person can give a completely objective account of their experience - memory does not work like that - but Junge, who was not a political operator nor part of one of the political factions, is about as close as we can hope to get to a fly-on-the-wall view of Hitler's inner circle.

Berlin, 1945
Image from here

There are one or two points to criticise about the book.  The version that I have (Phoenix: London 2005) has a few historical slips.  For instance, General Burgdorf is said to have gone missing in Berlin on 2 May 1945 (p.211, n.85), although his body was found in the bunker.  And Constanze Manziarly is said to have probably committed suicide by drinking poison (p.210, n.84) and then reported to have disappeared with two Soviet soldiers (p.219).  A stronger editing process could have weeded these flaws out.  Equally, the commentary provided by Melissa Müller (a journalist) doesn't break much new ground as to wartime and post-war experience.  A commentary prepared by a historian of Nazi Germany might have added more value.

The Führerbunker
Image from here

These points are quibbles, though.  Fundamentally Junge and Müller have managed to bring us something truly remarkable: the inside story of a regime which rose and fell based on lies and false realities, told by someone honest enough to record simply what she saw, and at the time of writing simple enough not to reflect on what she chose not to see.  If we want to get inside the head of the average German between 1934 and 1945, this book would be a good place to start.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Deeper into First Aid

Hi everyone,
Sunday evening, and I'm typing this with a glass of wine and trying to block out the noise of someone watching Major Crimes (really, how on earth does this dreck get made?).  As you know, the last few days have been heavily taken up with forms of first aid training.
I mentioned in the last post that I'd been on the Careflight Trauma Care workshop.  This was a little short of the full Advanced First Aid course, but invaluable for teaching about the more extreme types of injuries that one can find.  It took in how to treat crush injuries and severe burns, and even how to treat traumatic amputations.  I have the impression (couldn't get a confirmed answer) that some of the things they recommended - like use of tourniquets and pressure points to control bleeding - are still not approved techniques.  As such, SES members are probably not permitted to apply them in the course of our work.  On the other hand, I think it'll be useful for me to procure some of their recommended items for my own first aid bag.  Proper preparation for that sort of thing has been more and more on my mind as the acolytes of ISIS spread their mayhem around the world.  I doubt I have any great aptitude for inflicting injuries, even in defence of myself or others.  I hope to reach a point where I can do something about the resulting damage though.

The last two days (that is, this weekend) I've been up at Wangaratta on an SES-sponsored course in mental health first aid.  That is, how to provide initial care for someone suffering depression, anxiety, psychosis or substance-abuse disorders.  It covered the things you really need - how to start the conversation with someone who is in distress, how to point them in the right direction and be sure they get there, and how to deal with someone at risk of injuring themselves without putting yourself in danger.  Sadly, mental problems being lived out in the public street are becoming more common, not least because of the rise of drugs like Ice.
I should add that Wangaratta has one other big advantage: it's built on flat ground, so it was ideal country to start today off with a run.  I find that they're critical on these weekends, because one of the side-effects of a course run at a hotel is that they're usually pretty well catered and you inevitably eat far too much!  This early start (on top of quite a few other early starts and late nights) is one reason I'm really looking forward to bed tonight.

I saw a good quote recently about this sort of thing on Instagram from student nurse Allie Pendzich: You do not study to pass the exam, you study to prepare for the day YOU are the only thing between a patient and the grave

I'm as guilty of badge-hunting as anyone.  I don't think you can do emergency work as a volunteer without taking a strong pride in adding to your skills and competencies.  This is healthy and it keeps us keen.  But sometimes we have to remind ourselves that what we do isn't a hobby or simply a chance to make friends.  We train and keep our skills sharp because one day our training will be all that stands between the Grim Reaper and a human being.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Adventures in the North East

Hi everyone,

I've only got a few minutes to write, I'm afraid.

It's been a good couple of days:  I spent yesterday and the day before up at Beechworth on the CareFlight "Trauma Care Workshop".  I'll wrote more about this when I have more time.  Suffice to say that Careflight are a charitable ambulance service who have taken to running free trauma care workshops for emergency volunteers (cost of each course?  about $10,000.00!).  We get the benefit of the experience they've built up doing jobs like this -

It turned out one of our instructors had previously been an army medic in Iraq and Afghanistan, so he had a lot to share on trauma care.  I was up there with Beck, one of my friends in the Unit, and she showed me some of the highlights of the area I hadn't seen before.  Despite spending a lot of time up there, I'd never seen the Hume Weir -

or the Woolshed Falls, for example.

This weekend will also be SES-heavy: I'm off to Wangaratta for the Mental Health First Aid course.  Should be a good one. 

More soon.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Floodwater Busyness

Hi everyone,
Quick update after the last few days.
If you've been following the news of late, you'll know that Victoria has been affected by a scrolling series of flood warnings across most of the larger river systems.  This is what's been generating much of my life's activities recently.

By Thursday it looked like the river was going to start coming up, so the Unit went out with the 4WDs to pass on the word to the homeless people who camp in the bush near the Causeway.  The ones we spoke to were aware of the risk and had mostly made plans to be elsewhere.It did seem to be clear that quite a lot of people had moved to higher ground, or at least away.
I'd picked up some work on Friday, gardening and cleaning for a doctor in Shepparton to get his house ready for a social gathering he was going to to hold.  It was a curious experience to have become "the help".  Curious, but not exactly distasteful.  Although it was a bit bizarre to be getting directions on picking up this or that leaf off the lawn (I'm not joking), or to be told to get rid of a little 2-inch long skink because "my children will be so scared"!  Anyway, pay is pay.
At least there are jobs to apply for
After the work was done, we had a dinner coming up for a unit member who is off to the Police Academy for the next few months.  I didn;t have time to come back to the farm to shower and change, so I went for a shower at the gym by the river.  I can tell you, the Goulburn was REALLY high.
Saturday my Unit had agreed to put up a stand at the Kidsfest Festival at Mooroopna.  We put up lots of photos of what SES does and told anyone who was interested about it (we also got three enquiries about joining, which was great!).  Meanwhile, we handed out lots of material, giving colouring books to the children and storm- and flood-safety material to their parents.

Anthony and I rounded out the day with flood reconnaissance on the Goulburn and Broken Rivers.  Amazingly, we came across a raft of people who were still willing to try and cross flooded roads in little utes and sedans.  You can't fix stupid.  You can't even really protect it from itself.

On Sunday I was preparing job applications when my pager started screaming to tell me of a water rescue (campers who'd been cut off by rising floodwater).  We didn't have enough people available to make a boat crew, and our Duty Officer arranged for backup units to attend.  I responded to the scene so to be sure I was there if I could be helpful, since I hold the coxswain and crewperson competencies.

In the event, there wasn't much for me to do, but better to have more resources than not enough
You can see my back a lot in this video!
There was another job later that night that Rebecca and I went out to - a welfare check for a person at risk of being cut off.  We followed up with more flood reconnaissance which said the river had indeed come up since the previous night, although the Bureau of Meteorology said the peak of the flooding had passed. 
A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

Today has been mercifully quiet and I had a chance to catch up on farm chores and paperwork.  I was hoping to get a bunch of job applications out (not enough hours in the day) although I'll have some time on my own tomorrow to do that.  More rain is supposed to arrive tomorrow.  Hopefully it stays quiet nonetheless.
That's my life to date.  What's going on in your world? 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Farm Fun Recap

Hi everyone,
My life’s had a bit of an agricultural bent lately, so it’s a farm fun recap post tonight.
The weekend saw me heading over to the property at Rushworth with the old boy, former-brother-in-law and Barry to retrieve a couple of loader tyres and a bull bar.  Barry, happily, came tooled up with all of his usual gear from his day job as a diesel mechanic.  With the magic of a rattlegun the loader was pretty swiftly taken from this …

… to this …

The other part of the day was to try and retrieve a bulldozer.  The dozer had been struck in its tracks (literally) since autumn, when work clearing some of the scrub off the place was suspended.  That was a tougher proposition.  The batteries were dead (that was to be expected), but more seriously no covering had been left over the exhaust and the manifold seemed to be full of water.
In the end we admitted defeat: getting this one going will take a bit longer.

Those of you who follow the news over here will know about the rolling weather warnings we’ve been facing for heavy rain and flooding.  This was the warning area map that the Bureau of Meteorology put out last night:

The sky today, frankly, matched it.  We’ve had no callouts (not even tree jobs) but I’ve been kind of waiting for us to be asked to do something useful.

We may have exactly this happen, too: our friends at the Seymour SES Unit, which is up the Goulburn River from us, shared these pictures of what they were looking at today.

This water will find its way to us, I expect: two of the larger water storages between there and here are the Goulburn Weir and Waranga Basin, which are 97% and 93% full respectively.  It may all pass through of course, but we may also be busy yet!

The other thing today was that I applied for work as a seasonal labourer with one of the grain handling companies.  God willing I’ll get work at their facility at Murchison East or Dookie, which are a short drive from here.  Not work I’d planned on, but it’d be work nevertheless.  And what the Hell – my Uncle Ferdie spent his early years lumping sacks of grain.  Good enough for him, good enough for me!
Loading bags of wheat in 1948
Not much more to add now.  I’ve got a day’s work as a gardener’s labourer lined up tomorrow.  Not something to sneer at.  Things always get better the harder you work! 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Postcard from Numurkah

Hi everyone,

I was up in Numurkah this afternoon for a job interview.  It went reasonably well, although I think I waffled a bit.  I had some time to kill in that town afterwards however, before coming back to Shepparton for legal service volunteering, so I went exploring.

Numurkah is a reasonably old and well preserved town of about 4000 people (it feels smaller).  The parks are well maintained, and one of them has a number of more or less preserved farm machinery on display.

Minneapolis Moline tractor

Hornsby stationary steam engine

Fowler steam tractor.  These were customarily used for plowing, by winching a plough back and forth across a paddock using cables wrapped around the drum between the front wheels.

McCormick Deering tractor

The same park also has a 1943 K-class railway locomotive on display next to a mock platform

There is another park with a war memorial in place.  As usual, there is a depressingly long list of names of locals who did not return from the First World War.

The back side of the monument, however, was unusual.  The committee left space to include the names of any locals who fought in pretty well any of Australia's conflicts, even when it's extraordinarily unlikely any of them actually did.

The Sudan campaign of 1885, for instance, was made up of soldiers from another colony.  The force sent to the Boxer Rebellion was almost wholly naval (Numurkah is 150 miles from the sea).  And the North Russia campaign included at most a few hundred soldiers and sailors.  I know it sounds snotty to say it, but it may be the only time I've seen a memorial when there may not be anything for the town to remember!

That aside, the park is well laid out, with some good plaques about locals who served in World War Two, and a display including an anti-aircraft gun and field gun.

Finally, on the way out of town I noticed the old court house building.  For obvious reasons, I have a professional fondness for courthouses.  Having courts centralised in major centres like Shepparton and Benalla makes sense, I know, but I do think the legal profession lost something when we lost the small local courts like this one.

I hope you've enjoyed this tour of Numurkah.  I wonder where my search for work will take me next?

Monday, 12 September 2016

Review: Kerry-Anne Walsh, The Stalking of Julia Gillard (Allen & Unwin: Sydney, 2013)

This book really needed to be retitled “the second chapter in your ongoing national nightmare”.

Image from here

Walsh’s book chronicles the difficulties created for Prime Minister Julia Gillard by the destabilising conduct of leadership rival Kevin Rudd and by the media’s reporting of that leadership rivalry.  Covering these two themes gives the book its great weakness: Walsh is simultaneously outraged by Rudd’s determination to white-ant PM Gillard and by the media’s persistent coverage of that undermining, both of which created an impression (reality?) of chaos and instability in the government of Australia’s first female Prime Minister.  The book is current to 18 June 2013, and therefore ends six days before Rudd toppled Gillard in a leadership challenge.

The book’s other great weakness is that it reads like a personal diary or low-readership blog which was hastily expanded into a book before the Gillard/Rudd Labor government(s) receded into memory.  White’s own voice is persistently present throughout: carping, sniping and whining.  Other journalists are “Rudd’s main man at Fairfax” (p.66) or “briefed by the usual propagandists” (p.211).  There are almost no revelations that wouldn’t have been known to anyone reading an occasional newspaper in the 2010-2013 period.  This is what sets the book apart from Triumph & Demise, Paul Kelly’s wonderfully gossipy account of the same period.

Image from here
What makes Walsh’s book depressing is that, as I said at the start, the Gillard government was only part of an ongoing national nightmare.  Between 2007 and 2010 the government under Kevin Rudd was led by a man who was unstable and chronically unable to make decisions.  Between 2010 and 2013 the Gillard government was led by a woman who could exert little or no control over her own party.  The chaotic Rudd returned to the leadership for six months in 2013 before losing an election to Tony Abbott, whose prime ministership (2013-2015) consisted heavily of increasingly bizarre “captain’s calls”.  In 2015 Mr Abbott was ousted as leader by Malcolm Turnbull, who in the 2016 Federal election managed to convert a more-or-less workable Parliament into one which may well be utterly unmanageable.  If Walsh’s book has any merit, it’s to set out part of the reason Australians have lost faith in their government.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

September 11, and subsequently.

Hi everyone,

Another September 11 has come around: fifteen years since the twin towers came down.  Every scribbler in the world will join in pouring out torrents of ink on What It All Means.

What can I add?  My view on September 11 remains what it has been for quite a while.  That is, that the period between 28 February 1991 (the end of the Persian Gulf War) to 11 September 2001 was the long weekend off from History, when the bit of civilization we usually call the West had an unchallenged supremacy in ideas, commerce and military capacity.  The destruction of the World Trade Centre and the attack on the Pentagon heralded the arrival of the remarkably durable alternative worldview of Islamism.  And the willingness to attack non-combatants then and since (in Bali, and London, and Madrid, and Paris, among others) suggested the limits of what military power could (and can) achieve.

Image from here

So much for the big ideas.  I certainly remember where I was when the news broke.  I’d been studying late in the Matheson Library at Monash University.  I caught the bus back to my flat and got home at about 2250, made some dinner and flipped the radio to the BBC World Service.  The stories that NewsHour started with were all fairly unremarkable and I went into the kitchen to wash the dishes.  I walked back into my room to hear the radio saying “so another plane just went into the building?”.  I remember listening to the radio for the next hour or so, and then thinking to turn on the TV.  I remember how surreal the news seemed, with the announcer saying to a journalist in Manhattan who was reporting by telephone “hang on … I’m not sure what’s going to happen next”.  He sounded as confused as everyone else.

It’s too soon (still) to start writing about the long term impact of that day, either for me or the world as a whole.  I suspect most people my age have lived most of their adult life in the shadow of that event.  Those who took the Queen’s shilling, naturally, and who suffered in Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere.  But also that much larger pool of civilians like me who have enjoyed the period of change and innovation and intermittent prosperity of the last few years, but in the knowledge that it might all be swept away by a war cry and the roar of bombs.

Do you remember where you were when you first heard of the September 11 attacks?  And do you think they’ve affected how you’ve lived since?

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Learning from a knotted stomach

Hi everyone,

It’s been a funny old day.  Ending well though.

You remember yesterday that I’d been out to a road accident just before I wrote that post?  When I woke up this morning I was a bit surprised to find that that job was still ‘with’ me.  That is, I felt tense and edgy, and I noticed odd things weren’t agreeing with me – sharp loud noises, and the sound of bickering were especially disagreeable.

I was surprised because last night’s job wasn’t in any sense a ‘bad’ one, or even especially memorable.  Nobody died or was catastrophically injured.  The driver had a smashed up car and would be sore as Hell today, but that was all.  There were one or two things in our response we’d ideally have done differently, but nothing that caused an adverse outcome.  Anyway, I thought over what they teach us in the Peers’ course and decided that it didn’t matter why this job was niggling at me.  For whatever reason (as we tell people after a job) I was having a normal reaction to an abnormal stimulus, which should fade with time.  With that in mind, it became interesting to take a step back and note what was happening to me.   I noticed that my stomach clenched up like a fist.  I couldn’t focus as well as I wanted.  And even when people were talking to or near me, I wasn’t really listening: I was just sitting there with a suitable expression plastered on my face.  I can’t really tell you where my mind was, but it wasn’t there in the room.

By about 1600 I was fed up with feeling off my game.  I decided that some fresh air and new blood in my brain was what I needed, so I set out for a run.  I cranked up the iPod and had a smooth 11-and-a-bit kilometres in the cool air.  It must have been what I needed, because I felt much more like myself when I got back, and a good night’s sleep tonight should be all I need to put a capping stone on the event.

I think I can take three learnings from this –
  1. Reactions to a ‘job’ aren’t fun when they occur.
  2. The advice that as Peers we give to crews genuinely works if it’s followed.
  3. (This is the really interesting one) You can find yourself bent out of shape from a job that, at first glance, should be utterly innocuous.  So, perhaps we should be a little more careful to make sure all crewmembers are doing OK after any job, and not just after ‘bad’ ones.
So there you have it.  It’s been a funny sort of day as I said, but definitely one to learn from.

Friday, 9 September 2016

... Good Morning, Forest City NC

Hi everyone,

I’m typing this in a curious frame of mind.  It’s 2245 on a Friday evening, and I’ve just come back from a road crash rescue callout (relax: it wasn’t a bad one in the scheme of things, although I expect the driver will be sore tomorrow).  This is a post that I was mulling over today.  I’m now sitting in the kitchen with a glass of wine and I can’t resist the feeling that typing it would be the most decompressing thing imaginable.

A blog that I read regularly is Tales of a Kansas Farm Mom, written by a lady named Nicole.  To name it is to describe it (as you might imagine), and it’s a charming look at one person’s life in the great state of Kansas.  On the accompanying Facebook page today, Nicole noted how the weather there was humid and hot and she asked what it was like where her readers are:

The resulting roll-call of locations piqued my interest.  I have a feedjit app on this blog (see the right of the screen.  I’m constantly surprised by where people come to this blog from.  I’ve noted that one regular reader is referred here from Facebook, and that that reader is apparently in Forest City, North Carolina.  I’m not exactly certain who they are, as only a couple of my Facebook friends are from that state, and none from Forest City to the best of my knowledge.
Wikipedia tells me that Forest City has about 7000 people (making it roughly twice the size of Tatura).  It has a number of historically significant buildings, and it has a baseball team.  In short, it seems like a good place to call a home town.  So, hello to the reader in Forest City, NC!
Home towns – and homes - have been on my mind a bit today as a significant weather system passed over much of Victoria.  There were warnings of very heavy rainfall (indeed, it’s been raining all day) and flash flooding.  As you can imagine, I’ve been kind of waiting for the pager to go off all day.  It hasn’t, and the only time it beeped today (aside from this evening’s road crash) was for a leaking roof in Shepparton.  We asked an auxiliary unit in that town to check it out and deal with it if they could.
 Regrettably, for a number of genuinely sound reasons, there was very little that could be done aside from guidance on mitigating the damage.  I agreed with the approach taken – I would have dealt with the matter in much the same way - but I still felt a bit flat about it all.  Our unit had spent Thursday evening training in sandbagging, which is the ultimate step in protecting a home (from floodwater). 

When that’s the sort of protection you aspire to provide, it’s a dead letdown not to be able to help someone as fully as you want to be able to.  Having the best of reasons doesn’t alter that.

With all that in mind, then, let’s hear from each other.  In the comments, tell us where you’re calling home these days?  And why are you living there?  And if you’re happy to be there, why so?  Naturally, if you have a blog or a website you’d like other people to know about, share that too.

Looking forward to getting to know you all a bit better! 

Monday, 5 September 2016

Gardens, and a motorcyle crash

Hi everyone,

I'm typing this in the Shepparton Library on Tuesday afternoon.  It's been a challenging few days and I'm glad of the peace and quiet.

I've at least had some work over the last week, as a gardener's labourer.  It's certainly better than inactivity.  And it lets you have a sense of achievement: the biggest of the jobs went from this -

to this -

And from this -

to this -

I spent most of Saturday just gone cutting firewood with and for the old boy.  For perhaps the first time ever he didn't object to me wielding a chainsaw and firing up the blocksplitter.  I dunno... I think he may be feeling his age.  Family can be maddening, of course, but I do worry about him.

Things have been relatively quiet on the SES front.  Late last week in the evening we were called out to search for a gentleman who had gone missing in the bush near Shepparton (he was found safe and well by police the next morning).  On Saturday afternoon we were asked to assist police at the scene of a motorcyle accident offroad near Shepparton.

As the Shepparton News put it -
The man was travelling south along a bush track in Shepparton Regional Park near the Reedy Swamp area about 3.30 pm on Saturday when it is believed he struck a large gum tree off the dirt track and was killed. The man was one of five experienced trailbike riders who were travelling along the unsealed bush track.

They also included some video footage which gives you an idea of what all of the emergency responders who attended were facing. 

I was back in Shepparton last night to help deliver a peer support briefing to our colleagues at that city's sister agency.  SES is probably taking up a disproportionate whack of my life right now.  Certainly when things go wrong or I have a sense of letting the team down, I feel it much more deeply than is probably healthy.  On the other hand, I look at the life I used to have - urban, suburban, city and office - and I can scarcely believe that was me.  I'm far from persuaded I could ever go back to it.

Not much more to add.  Sorry this post is all over the place.  Somehow I'm not thinking so clearly.  Happily my next stop today is the Blood Bank.  Regular readers know how good that makes me feel.  When the time comes for me to leave this world, hopefully I'll be allowed to go to the Blood Bank, have them hook me up to the machine, and tell them to just leave the tap set to 'on'!

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Review: Leonard Grant-Taylor, The Palestine Police Force: Close Quarter Battle (Paladin Press: Boulder, 2008)

This book is a collection of training notes which were originally published in 1943 for the police force of Mandatory Palestine (a British-controlled territory).  My interest lay in what I could learn from them that would translate to what I do with the State Emergency Service (SES).  The SES, of course, has no direct role in detecting or preventing crime (save for providing assistance to police in certain circumstances - for example, land searches).  However, I thought there may be something in this book which could help with training or leading people in intense situations.

The first thing that I noted was an observation about how people behave when endangered.  Grant-Taylor noted that "when a man is being shot at he ... will instinctivey make himself into as small a target as possible. ... [He] will crouch, bend and 'creep within himself'" (p.33).  A natural response to being shot at, no doubt, but probably also likely when a person is aware of being exposed to any physical threat, like fire or a severe storm.  A person leading an SES crew, then, should be aware that this may affect what sorts of loads people can be expected to carry (like sandbags).  It may also affect how they handle tools (particularly relevant in road rescue situations.  They may need to be reminded to adopt physically safe and effective postures.

Image from here

The second useful point trelated to training crew members:
On no acount should a pupil be allowed to go away feeling dissatisfied or that he has made a fool of himself.  A man who is trying hard must never be discouraged, no matter what errors he may make.  On no account must an instructor ever endeavour to make a man look foolish (p.38).
This applies even more strongly in leading volunteers. 

Image from here

The third item relates to situational awareness.  Grant-Taylor says of police storming a room thought to contain armed offenders:
You are going to see that room and in a fraction of a second the whole picture is to be photographed on your mind; and [sic] indelible picture drawn on your two eyes.  We call this 'appreciation'.  Appreciate the situation so that if someone suddenly put out the lights the moment after you had entered you would know the contents of that room - exactly where each man stood and what stood between you and him (p.57).
This skill would be incredibly valuable for a crew leader at a road crash rescue, who must know where every vehicle and casualty is, what hazards are present, what may prevent effective extrication, and be able to both direct their crew in response and report these details back to dispatch.  Guidance is given in developing this skill.  Again, it focusses on armed police work but the lesson is obviously transferrable:
When you go away from this lecture I want you to study every door or room that you may enter, whether it be in your own billet or otherwise. ... When you enter the room try and 'appreciate' the situation at once.  Note where everyone is standing; what furniture is in the room and where it is placed (p.63).
Developing this skill can only make an emergency responder both a better operator and a better crew leader.

Image from here

Concerning the book generally: the style is fairly simple and direct, and a reader can imagine the tone of the lectures from which it was drawn.  The process of editing and reissuing it has introduced a few typoes and errors which are a little annoying.  However, these are fairly minor problems and don't detract from what's otherwise an interesting page from the law-enforcement past.