Biographical Log of Michael Furstner - Page 101
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Tuesday, July 21 2009
Mairead and I had a good night at bridge yesterday. We also won the Arafura Pairs
event held over the previous two weeks.
Today I have lunch at the Stokes Hill Wharf
again. There is a wide range of food on offer here : crocodile, emu, wild buffalo,
kangaroo, camel, but I most times, like today, stick to my seafood grill of prawns,
scallops and calamari. There is a large oil drilling rig moored in the middle of the
harbour, probably for some maintenance before heading off to sea again.
Contemplating this huge almost empty harbour I try to visualise what it will
look like in say 50 years time. There is no doubt in my mind that over time it will develop
into possibly the most important gateway to Australia. It has a large gas processing plant
with underwater pipeline all the way to the North West Gulf gas fields. It has also the only
port facility in Australia where ships can off load their containers directly onto a train
for transport South. No trucking required as is the case for all other Australian ports
thanks to the Waterfront Labour Unions who are fighting tooth and nail to prevent
My mind casts back 34 years to the port of Newcastle (NSW Australia) where, in 1975, I was
advising on the feasibility and possible location of a new dry dock there. I and a few
fellow consulting engineers were invited for lunch one day by the Harbour Master up in his tower
overlooking the harbour. While looking down from this high vantage point he asked us
whether we could spot anything unusual down below. Not a single fork lift was to be
seen anywhere. Two Workers Unions fighting one another in a demarcation dispute could not
agree on which Union was entitled to drive fork lifts. So every time one was needed it had
to be hired and driven in from town, none were allowed permanently on sight.
least partly because of disputes like this Newcastle Harbour never had much chance to
develop and grow, and ever since the BHP steel mill closed down (and an earthquake badly
damaged the town center) Newcastle has been struggling to stay alive. Shops have closed
all over its central Hunter Street. Some of these are now leased out for free to arts and
craft people (as revealed by a recent TV documentary I watched last week). It is a long
long way down from the prosperous town it was when we arrived there way back in 1965.
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Wednesday, July 22 2009
(diary, Anita Brookner, introvert)
Today is a good day. The Darwin Airport
Gateway Motel has had its first full house (62 rooms) last night. So tells me
receptionist Renee as she returns home from her night shift this morning. Her
husband chef Rick has also had a busy morning with many breakfasts to cook. This is
a good effort achieved in just 5 weeks after opening their doors (and only one week after
their official opening). No doubt being a member of the Worldwide Best Western chain
of motels and hotels has helped to achieve this early success.
Around noon I receive a call from Irene van Amsterdam. She just received my letter and is very
exited about the prospect of perhaps going to Mijas next year. She needs some time to think
about this of course, a trip like that at age 98 is a big thing to contemplate, but I think
there is a good chance that she will decide to go. My letter has arrived at a good time as
August the 5th is quickly approaching. It will be one year to the day that her daughter
Shirley has died, and Irene is in a fragile sad mood at present she tells me. My proposal
will give her something positive to think about.
After an Indian lunch from the Pride of India, a dinghy little food stall in the
Palmerston Shopping Centre I drop off some books at the Library and have a quick browse.
And surprise surprise my eyes most unexpectedly are caught by something I have been looking
for for years.
Back sometime in the 1990s or perhaps even late 80s I read a book I
enjoyed very much but of which I just have not been able to remember its title nor its
author. And here I find her, the English author Anita
Brookner with her latest and 24th novel Strangers just released this year
(2009). Not a bad effort for someone now aged 81. The novel by Brookner I read
previously is Hotel du Lac which won her the Booker
Prize in 1984.
The books by Brookner can perhaps best be described as novels about introvert
characters written by an introvert writer for introvert readers.
Intelligent extrovert readers may well appreciate her novels too, but they will
probably feel that the main characters come from a different planet and perhaps incorrectly
mis-interpret her stories as being sad. This they decidedly are not. Brookner describes
with great insight the thought processes, emotions, anxieties and behaviour of strongly
In Hotel du Lac the main character in the
story is a woman. In Strangers it is a man, Paul Sturgis, who is like me at
present, 72 years of age. Although I am undoubtedly a much more self assured and robust
personality than Sturgis, many of his thoughts, feelings, anxieties and actions
resonate strongly with my own.
Sturgis fights the life long struggle of (I
believe) many if not all true introverts between his mind which wishes to live in
unencumbered solitude (freedom, keeping the rest of the world at a safe distance)
and his strong emotional need (bolstered by physical desires) for an
emotional connection with the "outside world" though the umbilical connection of a
Whereas at a younger age the emotional and physical needs may for a time hold
the upper hand over the wishes of a (perhaps pragmatic ?) mind, in time the balance of the competing
forces gradually seems to shift towards the other side, making it increasingly more
difficult (and unlikely) to arrive at anything more than an uncommitted friendship.
Well, there you have the story of my life in a nutshell. Only yesterday, sitting
on the Stokes Hill Wharf, looking at my watch and noticing it was the 21st, my mind
was jolted back 46 years and one month to the wedding day (June 21, 1963) of Antien
and myself. Reflecting back over the years it has been the only significant relationship in
my life that has really worked for me. Since that ended nothing has come close to working
for me again.
Sad story ? I don't believe so. It really is a matter of choices. "You
can't have your cake and eat it too." But then, you never know do you ? (More about being an introvert)
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Thursday - Saturday, July 23 - 25 2009
(diary, education, Jim Lehrer Newshour)
I was contemplating the other day : "What have been the most useful and enduring skills learnt during all
those years of education in my life ?
It were 29 years (!) in total. First 7 years at the
Primary School in Gorssel (village Primary Schools had 7 years rather than the
normal 6 in the cities in Holland), then 5 years at High School in Zutphen, followed
by 8.5 years at Leiden University.
After completing my Doctorandus degree in
Leiden I spent 6 months of my National service at the School for Reserve Officers in the
Artillery (SROA in Breda), graduating as a 2nd
Lieutenant. Finally, after a hiatus of about 20 years I studied for 6 years at the Jazz
College in Adelaide, Australia.
Judging solely on the basis of which skills I used and retained through all my years most I
can not go past my Primary School years. Reading, writing and arithmetic are the
most essential and defining skills of humans of the Developed World, and the lack of these
will be holding back those in the underdeveloped world (remaining pray to ignorance,
obsolete believes and sub standards of living) until these three "Rs" are adequately
Geography too has remained a most useful subject from my
Primary School days. This consisted mainly of the rote learning of names and locations of
places, rivers, mountains, islands. We could recite these as a class like a prayer or poem.
For example in Indonesia from West to East : Sumatra Java Sumba Sumbawa Bali
Lombok Flores Timor
(Quick, a map, a map, have I still got that right ??)
Geography opened our young eyes and minds way beyond the narrow confines of our
village and the nearest two towns (Deventer, Zutphen), and I can't believe the lack of
knowledge so many here in Australia have about the basic geography of their own country.
Not until they retire that is and become part of the "grey nomads", driving all over the
country in their caravans, which is a great thing.
One of the great regular foreign features on SBS television is the Jim Lehrer Newshour covering
the politics and culture of America. Jim heads a small team of outstanding TV journalists
reporting on politics with a maturity rarely seen in Australia. It is I find one of the
best sources to get a good idea about the major issues in that country.
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One of their
reports this week was on the present curriculum of a school in New York City ("School 24"
and a few others). Besides the normal staple of subjects they include regular weekly
lessons on emotional behaviour and on social skills.
I am in general somewhat doubtful
about these alternative types of subjects, but in this case they are clearly on to a
winner. They encourage students to look at the way they express their anger and the cause
which lies underneath it. In their social skills class they learn how to deal with this
anger in themselves and in others, and to communicate with each other in a nonhostile
These are clearly skills which are likely to remain very
useful throughout their lives. It would have been useful in my time, but in the present
violent world of terrorism, violent movies, computer war games and most recently
cyber space bullying (online and through mobile phones, leading to increasing child suicides) these new subjects (if
taken up by increasing numbers of schools) may become potential remedies and ultimately
over time perhaps may lead to a better world.
Copyright © 2009 Michael Furstner