Guns and butter. Glad of the nanny state


Australia is congratulating itself on its gun control laws, ‘post Las Vegas’, and American commentators are looking for Australia-style solutions. There has not been a mass killing (defined as five or above shot) in the past 21 years – since the government’s gun “buyback” after the horrific Port Arthur massacre, in which a 28-year-old gunman, Martin Bryant, shot 35 dead and wounded another 23 customers seated in a café in Tasmania. The half-a-billion dollar gun buyback, funded by a special tax, saw more than 660,000 guns “seized and destroyed”, and was accompanied by the creation of a national firearms registry and a flat-out ban on automatics, semi-automatics, and shotguns. Gun-deaths went down, whether homicides or suicides. A more recent national amnesty saw a further 28,000 guns surrendered.

Not quite so high-minded, self-congratulatory Immigration Minister Peter Dutton boasts how other countries want to emulate Australia’s successful hard-line stop-the-boats policies. Immigration concerns were behind the coalition victory here in 2013, followed by the Brexit victory, Trump, and the surge of support for the far right in Germany, says this puffed-up man.

The Gap, Watson's Bay

Recently, driving from the very gorgeous once-upon-a-time fishing village of Watson’s Bay (think Kalk Bay) in the early morning, I saw a posse of police cars and a helicopter whirring. Not hard to guess why: it’s The Gap, Australia’s most famous suicide spot, the high cliff where people go to jump, despite a CCTV system and dozens of cameras, a virtual fence detecting movement on the cliff side of the actual fence which triggers a police alarm, special lighting, and “social spaces” designed to encourage people to hang around longer to increase the chance of noticing someone at risk.

On the other side of the road, wedding pics are all the go, what with sparkling bay and quaint backdrop.

Cold comfort it may be for South Africans (and admittedly the weather bureau is forecasting that it will soon come bucketing down), but Sydney has had the driest September on record. Just 0.2mm of rain was recorded, with the previous lowest at 2.1mm in 1882. Temperatures reached 41.4 in Bourke, in the north west of NSW.

On the environmental front, low-lying Pacific islands which are at risk because of sea-level change are complaining that Australia’s energy emissions have hit record highs and half of the coral on the Great Barrier Reef has been predicted to die this year. Add to this that while Australia has more statues of animals than of women (only 3% of public sculptures in Australia honour non-fictional, non-royal women), koala bears are being killed, injured or made homeless by deforestation of “corridors” by tree-felling, and opposition is growing to a Aus$1bn government loan for the Adani coal mine.

Onward and downward, to more petty aggravations: driving on a narrow tree-lined road, I am blocked by a garbage truck. A line of cars builds up behind me as the “garbos” go about their leisurely business, one even stopping for a “smoko”. I’m in a hurry, so try a little toot and a wave of the hand to indicate that there’s a space to the right, and if they just pulled over a little, I could squeeze through in my tiny, tiny inconspicuous and un-self-important car. They’re oblivious. I get out, and patiently explain in my best non-South African accent. “Fuck you lady”, comes the reply, and they dawdle along. Incensed, I take down the licence number to ring the council – only to double the pain: for the next 22 minutes and 16 seconds I listened to local government on-hold muzak as I made my way to the supermarket. Get there, and have just been connected to the operator when my phone shuts down; no reception in the bowels of Woolworths. Next, I wonder about the grand plan that has seen the blackberry cordial from New Zealand (described to me once as “a creepy little utopia”), moved to a different aisle and I am mildly pissed off that the bagels only come in packs of four when I need just two. Then I notice that underpants (for my teenager) skip straight from kids 13-14 to medium or large for men, no small men here today (or whenever I look), and I go on a riff to a nearby woman – what is it with these men, can they not cope with being small, are they like fast-food hamburgers, always upsizing? – but I end up in a good mood because she and I talk schools, and she smiles and says that while our sons’ school may not be all that academically challenging, “It may not be the school, it’s just my son.”

Sane again!

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