Sunday, May 19, 2013

Listening to Leunig

On Monday night, Sam and I took the Barrmobile down to Bendigo to join our friends Susie and Woody at the Capital Theatre to hear Michael Leunig speak.

The Bendigo Library along with the Bendigo Writers Festival presented the evening as a warm up to the 2013 Bendigo Writers Festival (9 – 11 August). The highly regarded cartoonist for The Age newspaper and philosopher, known simply as Leunig had a conversation on the stage with Castlemaine based author and historian, Robyn Annear.

In 1999 the National Trust of Australia added Leunig to their list of Australian Living Treasures. He spoke vividly of how his ideas formed for his cartoons… not from some high and enlightened place that some have supposed. Instead, his inspiration for cartoons, he suggested, are mostly formed from the dark depths of desperation and shadows thrown from a looming deadline… This caused me to smile and conclude that cartooning and column writing both lead to similar emotional states.

Another point Leunig raised was our modern society’s need for instant perfectionism. Young people starting out in the workforce today often need to be brilliant right from the beginning to even be considered for a position. Leunig, who was born in 1945, declared, if he were starting out as a cartoonist for the first time today, no one would have the patience to hire him and then allow his talent to emerge and develop.

Does this mean in this day and age, we are missing out on developing geniuses? I wonder how many people out there, aren’t reaching their full potential because society lacks patience?

I think Leunig raises a valid point… but to play the devil’s advocate, I note, Leunig enjoyed drawing as a child, his cartoons first appeared in a Monash University newspaper in the late 1960s (where he completed an arts degree). After university he enrolled at the Swinburne Film and Television School before beginning his career as a cartoonist. His cartoons appeared in a number of different publications before he became a regular cartoonist for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald newspapers.

He wasn’t an overnight sensation; he persevered with what he loves and worked his way up, over time, into the upper echelons of the cartooning world. While I can understand the point Leunig was making, I can’t help but think – perseverance (no matter what moment in history you’re living in) is what brings you success.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Nerve-Racking Journey to Buying a New Car

The boys and I started this week over 600km from Barham in the New South Wales Central West city of Orange. I was handing over a bank cheque to a stranger and taking delivery of our new (2nd hand) car.

After twelve years and 358,000km, I had finally decided to retire the “Trusty Nissan”, a 1997 Nissan Patrol I’d bought in May 2001. Our new “Barrmobile” is a 2011 Mitsubishi Pajero, under factory warranty and still permeated with the new car smell.

Buying a car is a multitude of big decisions, not the least of them financial. I found the process quite nerve-racking and worried a lot about being taken for a ride (no pun intended) by paying too much or buying a “lemon”. At the risk of setting the women’s movement back several decades, at the start I just wished I’d had a boyfriend/husband/partner who waltzed through the door (oozing sex appeal) and said, “Don’t you worry dear, I’ll take care of this.” Luckily for me, I did have Farmer Bill, my older brother Tom and a number of mechanically minded male and female friends willing to help me in my quest.

Armed with my address book and phone along with my laptop and Google, I began some in-depth and intense research into the mechanical world of cars. The first thing I did was telephone people I knew who owned the type of vehicle I was interested in (a seven-seater 4WD wagon) to ask them their personal opinions and experiences with their own vehicles.

With my choice of manufacturer down to three (Nissan, Toyota and Mitsubishi), I then read reviews, compared specifications on each model and worked out which one fitted my budget. The Internet makes this quite easy and became my new favourite site with the Mitsubishi Pajero coming out on top for what I wanted.

I found two in Victoria and Tom found one near Orange, New South Wales that fitted the description I was after. Tom’s pick won as it had fewer kilometres on the clock and was still under factory warranty. My whole car-buying experience became a family affair with my sister Rachel (who lives in Orange), offering to do the inspection and test drive for me.

Following the inspection, Rachel phoned back and gave the Pajero the thumbs up. I was now into the home straight and the nitty gritty of negotiating with the seller.

In stepped the next person in my “Help Annie Buy A Car” Team, my friend Sal (a car-buying guru) who advised me to study to get a comprehensive knowledge of used-vehicle valuations and then coached me on what questions to ask the seller and advice on negotiating a good price. Under Sal’s strict and careful guidance (and a couple of stiff drinks), I reached an agreement with the seller on a price that was within my budget.

So there we were late on Monday morning, leaving Orange and heading home in our new Barrmobile… the first time I’d ever even driven a Pajero (minor detail). Although I enjoyed the long drive back to Barham, I didn’t completely relax until after work the next day, when Brum put it over the hoist and gave it the all clear (I know, I know… one should always have a mechanic check out a vehicle before you agree to buy it… not after you’ve handed over the money).

Hopefully like the Trusty Nissan before it, the Barrmobile will take us on many excellent adventures and I won’t have to worry about buying another vehicle for a decade or so.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Teaching Young Australians to Drive

Why learning to drive well when we are young is so important:

       Over a quarter of all road deaths are in the under 25 years old group, despite this age group representing less than 13% of all licensed drivers.
       Motor vehicle fatalities are the largest killer of youth in Australia.
       45% of all young Australians killed are as a result of injuries from road traffic crashes
       Of all young Australians hospitalised due to injury, nearly 50% are car drivers and a further 25% are car passengers
       The moment a Learner driver becomes a P Plate driver, their likelihood of being involved in a crash increases 33 times
       A first year P-plater is four times more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash than a 26 year old
       More than 80 % of young drivers killed in Australia are males
Whilst the number of fatalities each year remains relatively stable, the number of serious injuries is continuing to climb.

Being the mother of three boys aged 15, 13 and 10, I worry (a lot) about these statistics and I wonder how I can best prepare my children for driving on public roads. Like my parents before me, I have taught all three of my sons to drive a vehicle on private property.
Sam (13yrs) concentrating on the road instead of on his mother taking the photo

One of the many perks of growing up on or having access to a farm (read: large tracts of private land) is learning to drive at an early age. During my childhood, we started off on Dad’s knee just getting used to steering from the age of three and up. From there as our legs grew longer, we progressed to using the accelerator, brake and clutch and working the gearstick. By the time I was nine I was driving independently around our property (admittedly my parent’s sheep station was and still is, an ideal landscape for beginner drivers; flat and treeless with smooth dirt roads)... I still remember my first solo drive on the Hay Plains and looking through the gap between the steering wheel and the dashboard.

Did all this pre-licence driving make me a better driver? Who knows but I certainly feel it was nothing short of beneficial to me. By the time I got my L-plates at sixteen, driving wasn’t a novelty. Yes, I had to learn the road rules for driving on public roads. I had to concentrate and be aware of other drivers and road users but the actual mechanics of driving a vehicle were familiar and comfortable; for me, steering a vehicle had already become second nature.

Recently the chief executive officer of the Confederation of Australian Motorsport (CAMS), Eugene Arocca (former CEO of AFL’s North Melbourne), recommended children from the age of twelve years be given practical driving experience through the CAMS Ignition Program.

The Ignition Program is designed to promote socially responsible driving and vehicle use on the road by reinforcing the messages around risk taking, decision making and road rules, as well as assisting young people to gain a thorough knowledge of the skills needed to drive and share the road with others. The program also introduces these very young people to cars in a practical, albeit very controlled, setting.

Personally, I am glad I’ve spent time teaching my children to drive early and I would much prefer my children to undertake a CAMS Ignition Program rather than limit their pre-licence driving experience to Sega Scud Race machines or Xbox’s Grand Theft Auto…
Fun to play but not good role modelling