Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Doust Files - Albany Advertiser 24/5/2011

When I tell people I have a kayak the first question they ask is: “Do you go on the ocean?”

And when I answer “yes”, they then say: “What about the sharks?”

Inevitably I pull a face and say something like, well, they are always there and as long as I go out with a couple of mates hopefully they will take one of them before me.

This is a joke, of course, because with my luck I will be the first to go.

So far we have never seen a shark and I have never spoken to an ocean-going kayaker who has ever confronted a shark, had an argument with a shark, or done a property deal with one.

And if you are a kayaker who has, please, by all means, keep it to yourself.

The thing is, there is nothing quite like doing the thing you love and right now I love getting in my little boat and paddling like the devil as far as I can until my body screams.

I am rarely alone. There are others like me. We are always well prepared.

The night before we pack our water bottles, our muesli bars, our chocolate bars, our thermos flasks, load our boats on car rooves, wake before the sun, rendezvous at water’s edge and head out. One of our little group is not quite up to the packing and his partner makes up a sweet something for him but we shall not mention that his name is Steve.

Once on the ocean all else leaves, the rhythm of the paddle takes over. My eyes wander the surface, but more than anything I love watching the bow of the boat as it cuts through the water making its little white waves on either side. It mesmerises, hypnotises and whatever it was I was thinking of, ever thought of, ever looked like thinking of, empties.

I paddle, bereft of thought, eyes on water and coastline, arms and shoulders working as though in a trance and every so often I look up as a magnificent creature of the sky flies by. So far, not one of them has left a calling card.

Sometimes we stop, look around, give thanks, count our blessings, share a private thought or two, then go like the clappers again.

Even on a mad and ugly day there is somewhere to launch your kayak in the Great Southern. An estuary, a harbour, a river, and it is a rare week we don’t find ourselves on water, floating in flow with the great oneness that is the heart and soul of this, the water planet.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Doust Files - Albany Advertiser 10/5/2011

Not long ago local government was the domain of the tired and over the hill desperate for recognition before they packed their bags for the final journey, but not anymore. Have you seen the latest mob leading the way in local communities?

Take the current Lord Mayor of Perth, the 23 year old Lisa Scaffidi, who took over from the 107 year old bloke who was probably better known for keeping house for the deputy leader of the Federal Opposition, Julie Bishop.

All this came to a head last month when I met the 12 year old Brad Pettitt, mayor of Fremantle. He was elected in October 2009 and he replaced a bloke who retired to contest a seat in state parliament and I was reliably informed he had only recently finished primary school.

All right, I may have got the ages wrong but, as Mark Twain once said, I am not one of those people who, when expressing opinions, will confine themselves to facts and, besides, the occasional tweak helps you get my point.

And just in case you missed it, here it is again. It’s time for Gen Xers to take the reins of local government, wrest them from the clutches of the baby boomers and set about instituting policies that will save enough of everything and ensure they can put locally sourced milk, cheese, bread and fish on the tables of their grandchildren.

Mayor Pettitt is clearly a passionate man and when I asked him if the time was right for his generation he said: “I think we are seeing lots of bright and capable younger people ready to step up and I encourage that. When we get to work alongside those who are experienced that can be a great mix.”

Most Freo-folk I spoke to said they liked him. A couple said they were undecided, but everyone admitted it was great having a mayor who could surf, run 100 metres without calling for oxygen and someone who was not chained to an ancient code of local government dress or behaviour.

The night I shook his hand, for example, he spoke in front of 300 people wearing a shirt out of his pants, tieless and holding a bottle of tonic water.

And now I’m going to issue a challenge to all boys and girls, sorry, men and women, between 30 and 45 to step forward and offer themselves up to lead Great Southern communities. Pettitt reckons two terms is plenty: “One to learn the reins and one to put your ideas into practice.”

As for us, the baby boomers, most of us will welcome you gladly as we fade away disgracefully, amusing ourselves with coloured socks, silly hats and dancing wildly while screaming “Hallelujah Leonard Cohen”.

Right, race on, we’ve got about four months to find another Brad or Lisa. First prize is the city you want to live in in ten years time.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Doust Files - Albany Advertiser 26/3/2011

Anzac Day is no longer the day it was when I wore short pants, long socks and a baggy cap and I am almost ready to join a throng paying their respects to those who are forever with us but no longer here.

Usually I pay my respects in the privacy of my own home, quietly, when no-one is around to hear me whisper to those I have known.

Unfortunately, my public Anzac Days were scarred at a very early age by people in authority who failed to adequately explain its significance, others in authority who engaged in inappropriate discipline and occasional ugly behaviour in public drinking houses.

As luck would have it, when my marble went in the Vietnam barrel it stayed low but being an Australian male imbued with a spirit of adventure and a need to inhabit a conflict somewhere, anywhere, I made my way to Israel.

I arrived early in 1973, fell in love with a soldier whose father chased me out of town, withered in exile and returned during the October War to work on a communal farm bereft of able bodied men and women and where all work was carried out by older men and women, volunteers, school children and soldiers home on leave.

I worked the orchards and because the manager knew I was Australian he gave me an M16 and a pistol and every day on the trek out to the fields I either drove or rode shotgun. In the middle of the night I stuck the pistol in my pants and guided a spraying machine up and down rows of apple trees.

Luck stayed with me and I never took a bullet, although one was aimed at me but missed as I hit the dirt and scrambled. My life was spared again by a man who shoved a shotgun in my mouth while I slept on private property not far from Tiberias. He thought I was an invader.

There were other incidents but the luck continued and I experienced nothing approaching the intense and relentless horror of war known to too many. My three years in Israel left me with a very clear view that living in a permanent state of war was no place to bring up children.

Something else stayed with me. It is that if a nation asks men and women to kill or be killed on its behalf, that when those warriors return home the warring nation should acknowledge that no soul leaves a war unscarred and it should guarantee life-long care.

Look out for me next year. I’ll wear a hat.