The Centrelink Visit

Note for Out-Of-Australia readers: Centrelink is the Australian federal government office that dispenses welfare payments to many people for many reasons. Much of what it does is possibly duplicated or overborne by the Repatriation Department and the Native Welfare Department, but it still has the bulk of the administrative tasks.

It has a spotted name amongst the people who access its services – some of them want more help than they get and more money than they receive. Some complain of long delays and administrative cock-ups. Others find that it is very helpful. The prospect of approaching it can be daunting – there are horror stories of what seems to be enmity between this office and the needy.

This year I experienced my first contact with it. Heretofore I have never interacted much with our federal government – I was not judged eligible for any student loans nor wanted for the navy. I paid taxes regularly but received no pension at all. But this time I was prompted to apply for a senior’s health card as an assistance to general living. It won’t mean too much – a few dollars off medicines – and I don’t take many medicines. A few dollars off a driver’s license. Perhaps a few more marginal perks. But I was terrified at the possible bureaucracy that might be entailed…Like I say, you hear stories.

The approach to the counter was normal – the ID procedure quite sensible with my Medicare card and a driver’s license – and the waiting room chairs in the big centre quite comfy. Lots of people and an hour’s wait, but no real hardship for a man with a book to read.

The one real hiccup was the procedure of calling my name – instead of using a tannoy or notice board, the staff member who was to deal with me came out the front and called it out. If they had a soft voice or my earwax was bad, I could have missed the chance.

As it was, the young woman dealt with the form work very efficiently  and with good humour. We awaitd the outcome of the application for a few weeks, but the experience of the federal department interface was quite positive. Perhaps Centrelink does not deserve the bad rap.

Addendum: The health card came through on schedule and has been invoked to deal with some of the rates on the house and part of the car insurance. I may not need to pay for my next driver’s licence. I am as happy as I can be.


Beat The Parcel Bandits This Year

The crime of theft from the front doorsteps of Australia is on the rise – the holiday month plus the increase in on-line shopping means than more and more deliveries are being made…and more and more delivery personnel are discovering that no-one is home.

Some of them make this judgement after ringing the doorbell and knocking for 5 minutes. Some make it from the street as they drive by at 50 kph. The second types are generally Australia Post contractors who just take the parcel back to the local depot and leave it for you to seek. The ones who invest a bit of time at the front mat may to leave the goods under it or behind the potted palm and then buzz off.

Here is where the parcel thieves succeed. They trail delivery trucks until they get one of these unattended drops and then swoop on it after the courier has driven out of the street. The goods are gone and the intended recipient may have a miserable trial trying to get anyone who handled them to admit to it.

The Guild Solution to this is BGA Couriers. In our distinctive cars and vans – we have a magnetic sign that can be whacked onto the doors of any car…and as easily removed again – we drive through the suburbs until we pick up a ” trailer “. There is a list of likely suspects circulated daily and any old Commodores or Hyundai sedans with oxidized paint panels are instantly recognised.

A house is selected – preferably with an open driveway, closed garage doors, and a porch easily seen from the street.. The BGA Courier goes to the door with a temptingly large parcel. The courier seems to ring the bell, but no-one answers…so they prop the parcel in full view of the street and drive away. With a bit of luck the thief swoops, collects the bait, and is off and away.

What’s in the box? Anything we fancy. Old laundry, used, and well past saving. Commercial leaflets that have been accumulating for the last three months. Pistachio shells and glitter in an unsealed bag. Dust from the Hoover. Just anything…

After all, it is the holiday season and in this case we are far better giving than receiving.


Life Hack Tip: Get injured

The coolest way to improve your life is to get injured. It will totally reset your mental machinery and help you to discover more about yourself and others around you.

I recently fell off a ladder and cut the skin off the end of a finger in the process of flailing to the floor. And the sequence of events after that has been very beneficial:

a. I did not hit anything vital, valuable, or non-repairable. Win.

b. I bled like a pig. The long-term low dose aspirin is working well. It’s all liquid in there, folks. You poke a hole and out it comes.

c. I did manage to get to the sink and wash it off before I blacked out and hit the floor. The family was there to see me do this and put something soft under my head when they called the ambulance.

d. Again I did not hit anything expensive. Win. Plus I didn’t even remember falling.

e. The finger is a mess, but will heal. I shower with a plastic bag over it. We’re a week on and it has not become infected.

f. Nearly everyone was kind and sympathetic about it. The two people who weren’t are now the subject of my particular interest. When they have their next injury I will rush to their side and smother them with concern. Or point at them and laugh. After all, it’s their preferred form of social interaction…

g. The ambulance was unnecessary as I did not break my head, but it was expensive, even with a discount applied. If you are clumsy or prone to emergency rides, take out insurance cover with St. Johns especially for this. Or go to the emergency waiting room and fall over there.


Filling In The Form


It is rare in Australia that we are asked to put some personal details forward on official forms – at least not on the occasions where we are not asking for government charity. Even the intrusive census forms leave us a couple of pathways to avoid contentious issues.

Most times we are not asked our sexual preferences, or religious beliefs, or our political persuasion. Applying for a licence to own a dog is pretty well focused on the dog and not us. And we throughly approve of this approach.

Other places in the world are different. I should recoil from the sorts of enquiry that might be directed at me in Saudi Arabia, Great Britain, or Russia. Or at Los Angeles Airport, for that matter. It is not that I would be afraid of giving the wrong answer – I do that all the time. It is because I am loath to give ANY answer – or to even consider the question. Certainly not to consider the question as legitimate or moral.

What sort of questions? Religion. Sex. Politics. Finances…the subjects that were once placed beyond the pale at a dinner party. The sort of questions that polarise conversation and lead to someone being treated badly. Yet there are always going to be these sorts of questions asked – as there are always going to be people who just don’t realise that they are doing the wrong thing in asking them. So what answer can be given – what answer should be given?

I have pondered it for a long time and finally I have to come back to the teachings of the Dalai Lama – a gentleman who has had to cope with a great deal of pressure. I think I shall adopt his classic answer when people ask me about religion, sex interests, or money matters…

” None of your G-d damned business, eh? “*

This seems to  cover all areas under consideration. I shall look forward to the next enquiry.

* Fred Dalai Lama. Runs a tyre warehouse in Okotoks.

All Hail The Motor Car Sales Lot

_dsc7179And a few years ago, that is exactly what happened.

Perth is a temperate city – except when the summer temperature climbs to 42º Celsius and melts the post office delivery people on their motor bikes. The police have to come out after sundown and scrape the little piles of goo off the footpaths. It is also temperate in the depth of winter when it is 3º Celsius and the Police have to set bonfires under the postal delivery people to get them moving. Note: the rate of job turnover in Australia Post is rather high. Anyone can apply…

It is also very temperate when we get a cyclone moving in from the northwest  because the residents in the suburbs of Rockingham and Safety Bay often find their roof tiles, garden sheds, and carports heading southeast in the middle of the night.

But the most temperate day of all was the afternoon the hail storm went through. Now I grew up in Alberta and hail storms are no new phenomenon. There was a particular grey-blue colour that could arrive on the horizon over the prairies that sent the school children in off the playground and the farmers diving for the crop-insurance policy. Hail Blue is an actual shade.

Well, it turned up over the northern suburbs of Perth in 2010 between 4:00 and 5:00 on a Monday afternoon. We were astounded at the golf-ball sized hail stones that hit our workplace in the center of town, but it was nothing to what dumped on the major motor vehicle retail area in the north. The car lots with the new and used vehicles looked like they had been hit with shrapnel shells. Windows went, as did interiors, all over the place, and tens of thousands of cars were dent-damaged.

Some of the damage was so bad that the cars were written off and uneconomic to repair. Some received new panels. Some were beaten out. Some were sold off cheaply…presumably to hopefuls who reckoned they knew a mate in the business who could straighten it out.

The wisest of the buyers bargained the car dealers down to well under street prices. Indeed if they were willing to take them away quickly, they could have the vehicles for about $ 500 above scrap price and it would save the dealers’ time. I heard of a few new cars being driven off with nothing more on them than the state government’s third party insurance as none of the companies would touch them.

Whether or not the dented cars got Plasti-Bonded up and repainted is neither here nor there -a few might have. The supply of replacement panels would have been dismal, considering all the damage, and the prices at the wrecker’s yards would have skyrocketed. It’s an ill hail storm that blows no-one any good…

The biggest winners were the people who found a car on a lot that was intact but covered with dents. If they did not penetrate the paint cover or damage the lights or glass areas, they essentially had a chance to get an unsalable but perfectly driveable car for squit. I’ve seen a few in the subsequent years that have never been touched – they still wear their lumps with pride, and one even had a sticker on the bumper proclaiming it to be a ” Hail Survivor “. That’s good value!

Oh, final note. As usual, a few assholes tried to diddle the insurance companies with false claims for hail damage – seeing it as a chance to get payouts for cars that they had grown tired of. Some of them took to their own vehicles with ball peen hammers. The companies quickly had assessors analysing this and they could prove by the size and shape of the dent whether it was real or man-made. The fraud died out quickly. They ended up with hammer dents and summonses.

Bollards To You!

_dsf0313The heading photo is from a few years ago – the back end of my pride-and-joy little car after I reversed it into a concrete bollard at a car park. The post was low enough not to be seen as one pulled out of the parking bays but tall enough to strike both bumper and rear hatch.

The subsequent repair work was costly enough to require me to use my insurance policy but was done to a good standard and the car is as useful now as before. While I considered myself plagued with bad luck then I recently saw something that changed my mind. A friend did the same thing to his car and has effectively written it off.

This may seem a little severe with bumper and boot lid damage but he unfortunately has an older car that is constructed on some sort of unibody principle. The entire rear end up to the window line is all one giant panel, and if you break it the price of replacing it  – for cars that are well out of date – is prohibitive. He will end up with a secondhand car of the same era if he is lucky but it is likely to have as many flaws as the one he owns.

Is this gong to be the way of the future? What happened to the 70’s plans to make cars with replaceable panels that would cut down on repair costs? What happened to actual panel beaters actually beating panels? Have we regressed?

The idea of a hot rod sourced from someone who has already built it to a legal standard is getting more and more attractive. Blow getting a big-engine one – a roadster with a tiny Japanese 4-cylinder engine will be fine – as long as the body has separate panels and there are real live steel bumpers out the front and back on big stalks.

Or better still –  an old pickup with a steel rear platform.


Acting And Re-enacting – Part Three – Where To Stand


If you go to the cinema you know what to do: buy overpriced popcorn, sit through a half hour of loud ads, and watch the show.

If you go to the live theatre you know what to do: buy an overpriced program, sit through a thin overture, and watch the show.

If you go to a re-enactment you also need to know what to do. Here’s a list of suggestions to make the thing pleasant:

  1. Read up a little on what the re-enactment is of before you go along. Really, just a quick glance at wikipedia will do if you are not a scholar. Just get an idea of where the place depicted was, what happened there, and when it occurred. Find out who the people were. That’s all you need to do – the re-enactors will do the rest as long as you are receptive.
  2. Arrive early. You don’t have to assault prepared positions at dawn, because most of the re-enactors are old, fat, and lazy, and they are certainly not going to do so. But there will be a definite start time for everything and if you find it out well in advance you can be there to see the kickoff. Be aware that many re-enactments start better than they finish – just like the wars they feature…
  3. Be aware that car parking is problematical. If someone was re-enacting in the middle of the Gobi desert the car parks would be full…If you can get dedicated public transport that drops you off at the gate you will be happy.
  4. Dress appropriately. As a spectator you are not expected to be in correct period dress ( though if you are you may be delighted to be given especial treatment ) but cheesy fluoro clothing and ripped tops do nothing for the scene. In comparison to the magnificence of the costumed re-enactors you will feel tacky and foolish.
  5. Eat and drink at the facilities provided for spectators – not at the camps of the re-enactors. That is their life – you have yours. If your polystyrene tray of cheese fries topped with chocolate lard is less attractive than the spit-roast joint of beef in the soldier’s camp you can reflect on it later as you sip the Gaviscon. Wise spectators pack a sandwich and a flask.
  6. Take your camera and a couple of spare batteries. Take a spare card. If it has facility for an interchangeable lens, take the wide-range zoom. Don’t take multiple lenses that compel you to change in mid battle because there will be a lot of particles in the air. Put on your highest usable ISO and a good fast shutter speed and then follow the action.
  7. Be aware that you could be hurt on the day. Things can, and have, gone wrong. Don’t ask for details, but trust me on this. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. You can’t sue anybody for anything.
  8. Bows and crossbows kill people in front of them at mid-range.
  9. Pistols kill people in front of them at close range.
  10. Rifles and muskets kill people in front of them at long range.
  11. Artillery kills people all around it up both close and far away. It also kills them when it is being moved into place and when it is being towed away. It kills them when it is being made and when it is laid up in a museum.
  12. Horses kill people and then stamp on them.
  13. Airplanes kill their pilots right in front of your children and faster than you can react.
  14. Camp food poisoning rarely kills but everyone affected wishes they could die.
  15. Don’t expect the re-enactor that you see on the field or in the camp to have the right age, shape, colour, sex, or attitude. These are modern times. They may, however, look exactly like an Osprey illustration.
  16. Don’t expect all the equipment you see to be 100% authentic. At a recent open day I was twitted about the historic camera I was using. The visitor jeered at the anachronism…until I pointed out that the heart arteries I was wearing at the time were not in their original place on my body. He took the hint and scuttled off with his tail between his legs.
  18. When things go awry, words will be spoken. If the re-enactors are scholarly they will be period pieces of abuse. If they are modern athletic types the language will be similarly robust. This is what happens.
  19. Feel free to be offended by something but do so silently. You’ll see that our ancestors operated the planet with slavery, sex abuse, venality, religious savagery, murder, genocide and really silly recipes. You need not follow in their footsteps, but you are not invited to bleat about it. Go home and be self-righteous over a cup of vegan tea.
  20. All the food has lard. All the food has gluten. All the food has meat, peanuts, seafood, gunpowder, snot, and fingerprints in it. No-one has the especial pills/needles/inhaler that you need to survive. If you eat, you take your own risks.