Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye 2010...........BRING ON 2011!!

2010 is at it's end. Just when I finally got used to saying twenty-ten, another year is upon us and nobody has really indicated how we are supposed to phrase this one. Will it be twenty-eleven (doesn't sound right) or two-thousand and eleven? I assume the media will inform me tonight.

So, what have I learnt this past year?

I learnt that a red strip of hair is great for recognition but bloody expensive and time consuming to maintain. I learnt that it is easier to just be yourself and let people make up their own minds about you because they will do it anyway. I learnt that Cairns is discombobulated (I really love that word, it fits so many situations and emotional moments)and in desperate need of guidance and change.....kind of like our national cricket team. I learnt that it is easy to find out what people feel about the region and what they would like to see changed. You just have to ask them, they can't wait to tell someone, even me. I learnt that Federal politics can be cruel and that even the Prime Minister is not immune to employment redundancies. I learnt that the Global Financial Crisis is not 'global''s local. I learnt that the internet is a very powerful and useful tool but you must read articles all the way through to the end BEFORE commenting. And I learnt that this year was the year that Cairns got sick of stagnating and wanted something more for itself although it's unsure how to go about it.

You would think that after all that, I would have nothing left to learn. You would be very, very wrong.

Next year will be a big one for me, a big one for Cairns and a big one for our nation. It will start with hope. Cairns in particular is very hopeful right now. Hopeful that things can and will change for the better. Hope that the slump it still finds itself in will turn into a surge upward. Hope that the community can band together and bring life back into the city, the suburbs and the entire region. Hope that Cairns can get back it's verve, it's's soul.

There is a nasty wet season to get through first. We have been promised a doozy and so far, the predictions have been pretty accurate. Once we are through that period, we will have to face the real world again. Will we or won't we build a Cultural Precinct? We talk about the need to revitalise our city, the need to bring back culture and art to our public spaces, then in the next breath we denigrate our option for a world class facility that has the potential to do all that we are asking. Is it because we are just so used to the status quo we are scared to try something this big? Maybe.

Will we get through the tender process and solidify the direction of the re-build at Sugarworld in time to open it up for next Christmas? This process is one which has been slow but steady and I sincerely hope that it continues on in a forward direction so that we do not have another year of this waiting...waiting....waiting.

Will the Edmonton Town Centre and Leisure Centre be built next year? According to all reports, the Leisure Centre will be. Now that the State Government has been given the go-ahead on the land for the future health facility (hospital), it should be acknowledged immediately by all Councillors that Logomier Road needs to be made a priority in any development that is to commence next year. There is no longer any reason to stall on this one, just build it.

Will the Redlynch area get a major facility built right alongside the Crystal Cascades swimming area? Is there a need for such a facility? Will it be a blessing or a curse to those living in the area? We will find out next year.

Will the new Dental Clinic at JCU be worth all the fanfare? Are people lining up to get free work done on their molars? I have no idea, but if you need a tooth pulled out or just a good clean, get in line for's free after all!

We will be gearing up late next year for the State and Local elections that are to be held in the early stages of 2012. Will Desley Boyle be running again or will Tim Grau be her replacement? Will Steve and Jason cop a flogging at the election as predicted recently? Will we end up with Curtis Pitt being our only representative from the Labor Party here in this region? The deeds and words coming from these politicians in the whole of 2011 will give us all a better indication of that. My tip is that Jason, Steve and Desley (or Tim) need to start now to alter opinions and to produce ideas for Cairns and the Cape that will kick start a change for the better.

Will we still have the same Mayor or Councillors? Which of our Councillors will announce their intention to run for Mayor in the last few months of 2011? Will we end up with a complete change to the entire Council or will there be a severe lack of alternatives resulting in no change to the status quo? This election will be a very important one for our region and will be watched closely by most residents. Cairns is ready to make changes in all other areas, it would not surprise me at all if the Council joined the list.

Whatever comes in 2011, I will be watching. I will be involved in some way in my community and in the region. I can't help myself. In mid January I will begin my 'Polling the Neighbourhood' initiative again...asking the questions that people are eager to answer.

The first big thing I will be involved in next year involves the school my eldest daughter attends. In 2011, my middle child and only son will start Prep. It's a very big deal in this house. So while it's great to get involved in the lives other people have got, sometimes it's even better to get involved in your own!

Have a great night tonight everyone.....see you next year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wet, Wet, Wet.

Christmas is over and New Years is just around the corner. So far this festive season has been wet, wet and......well, wet. Yesterday I went to Cairns Central and in almost every shop they have the same sign. 'Due to flooding the items advertised have not yet arrived. We apologise for any inconvenience.' This message covered food, clothing, books, dvd's and any other thing you could possibly think of. Only a few weeks into a wet season we were promised would be bigger and wetter than ever before and we are already struggling to stock shelves.

The cyclone crossing on Christmas Day was a lovely little puff of air and brought the necessary rain with it to wash away the bad energy from the year. Most people slept through it. If only all cyclones were like Tasha. Unfortunately, they aren't. I have been through Joy, Winifred, Steve, Justin, Olga, Larry and many others that were memorable for all the wrong reasons. Lost roofs, trees, a car and on one occasion.....everything inside the home I had was lost (thanks Justin), so I know the power of a cyclone above a Category 1. Even Steve, which was a Category 1 and was downgraded to a rain depression after crossing, was a nasty weather system. Small and compact, it crossed with much noise and enough rain to isolate my home and make driving impossible for several days.

Never make the mistake of thinking that a lower category of cyclone or a small system will not do much damage. Never think that because a cyclone crosses outside the Cairns area it will not affect us. The damage that Joy, Winifred and Larry did to the greater Cairns region was pretty horrendous and the noise while they were crossing was unbelievably loud and frightening.

We are lucky in Cairns because the mountains and the islands protect us from most cyclones. We rarely get one that crosses directly above us and for that we should be grateful, but not complacent. Just because we have largely be spared the ferocity of a major cyclone is no indication that we will always be so lucky.

Even without the cyclone, we had a very wet Christmas this year. We are isolated again from all of the rest of the state. Cairns doesn't even need to record a high level of rain to feel the affects of rain, south of us is the area we feel it the most. The stores are feeling it, the travellers are feeling it and the businesses in the area are most definitely feeling it.

Flood mitigation is a great phrase and one which is dragged out every time we suffer a bit due to inclement weather. The reality is that it would be almost impossible to floodproof the Bruce Highway from a deluge like the ones we have seen this week. My entire life we have been cut off south of here every decent wet season.

The rain comes, the roads are cut (it used to be power too) and nobody really minded. Now, people panic if there aren't enough Doritos on the shelves. Along with a cyclone pack, we should all have a box of food that is for use when flood become a major issue. Fill it with all the goodies you wish you had access to all the time. I see no reason why it wouldn't be possible to have a cyclone kit and a flood kit ready to go every November, just in case.

The roads will be clear soon, they probably already are, and the food and clothes and books will all be in the stores before 2011. If you feel helpless and useless, even bored, while the flooding is occurring, why not consider being a part of the solution. I am positive that there are many ways we can all help make the wet season less traumatic.

Join the SES if you are really keen to help. They are out there in all kinds of tough situations, making our lives easier without questioning the need for their services. The SES trademark has been shown on plenty of backs during every news broadcast this past week. It's a noble thing to do, a necessary thing for the region and I am sure there is always room for more volunteers at your local SES office.

Become a member of the Red Cross. Throughout all of the coverage about these floods the one constant has been the Red Cross volunteers. They are there to help people pick up the pieces after a catastrophe, they are willing to lend a hand with the most mundane or the most complex of tasks just to help bring some order to the chaos. These volunteers are always available, always welcome and again, this organisation would probably be very happy to get some more volunteers on their books.

If the scope of the SES or the Red Cross sounds like a bit too much for you....go small. Keep in close contact with an elderly neighbour and check on them before and after storm activity. Invite the neighbours over for a cuppa every now and then to ensure that you all know one another and you are all there for one another if required. I have met some amazing people in all of the areas I have resided, been through cyclones with them, babysat their children, grieved with them and celebrated with them. I have many friends who once were neighbours and they still help me celebrate important events in my life.

Neighbourhood Watch is a very important organisation in every neighbourhood it flourishes. It helps to keep crime down and keep people safe and does a great job doing both of those things. There is nothing wrong with taking that whole concept a step further and starting to look out for one another in emergencies of all kinds.

We chose to live here in Cairns. The winter is luxurious and the environment is stunning. We are stuck sometimes in that tough place where we are unsure if we are a large town or a small city. We want the conveniences of living in a city but hate the lack of personality that goes along with that. We love the small town feel we still occasionally have, but hate the backward thinking and small scale progress that often goes with that. We will always suffer from isolation in the wet. Somehow we need to learn to accept that fact and turn it into a positive.

How successful we are at doing that depends on all of us. Being involved in the community will allow us to focus on our area and worry less about what is happening down the road. Compassion for those who have lost their homes and their livelihoods would stop us being so selfishly annoyed by what is happening to us. Joining a group that has a purpose in this kind of weather is a sure-fire way to stop feeling helpless and inadequate.

The short and simple answer to all of this is to get out there and get involved. Look out for neighbours, friends and family and most importantly....stop worrying about things you can't control.

Enjoy the start of 2011. Here's hoping the rest of this wet season is a little kinder than predicted but if not, stay safe.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Evolution = Equality.

Every year, from all walks of life, we hear the same catch cry over and over again. It resonates within the majority of the population and it always seems to get further and further away from resolution. What is it?..... EQUALITY!!

The gay, lesbian, transgender and transexual community are asking for same-sex marriage to be considered by the Federal Government, allowing people wishing to publicly celebrate their union as a couple to do so legally. This does not mean that churches will be forced to open their doors to preside over these occasions, most people these days go for Civil Ceremony's anyway, this will just give them the opportunity to have a big party with friends and family and officially unite their relationship, finances and families. As far as I am concerned, it's none of my business. I have the right to marry, and used that right more than once, so I have no issue with others wanting to have access to the same celebration as I did. Just another occasion when politics intrudes on the private lives of our citizens.

Then there is abortion. This is seen as an issue of equality also, as giving women the right to own their bodies is something that women feel men already have. And they may just be spot on about that. The right for women to choose how and when they wish to start a family is one which should be protected, safe, regulated and accessible. The safety of women is always a high priority of any forward thinking nation, and so it should be. Either way, politics aside, personal opinion aside, this is another example of the intrusion into people private lives that is not required, desired or necessary.

Equal pay for men and women. This issue has been argued for, lobbied for, legislated for, and still there is a huge gap. Why? Is it because women can leave the workforce at any moment when pregnancy occurs? Is it because women are still seen as the home-makers, not the money makers? Is it because the system is just REALLY slow to change with the times? Who cares? Just make it so. If the job is equal, the hours are equal, the conditions are equal......the pay should also be equal. Honestly, why is this even still an issue?

Equality for all races. The fact that our indigenous population has a much shorter life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher percentage incarcerated, lower employment, much lower pay, lower average educational levels....and the list goes on, should make the rest of us question the current policies and measures in a much more vocal way. Why is the gap so wide? Indigenous people are not stupid, they are not ignorant, they are not uncaring individuals and they are not content with things as they stand. And why should they be.

Is this problem staying stagnant because we are asking the wrong people to fix it? Is it a matter of money? Is it that we are not really interested in bridging the gap and perversely prefer things as they currently stand? Perhaps a bit of all of those things. Maybe we are measuring the gap the wrong way and things really are being done in the communities to affect real change. I am told they are, I hope it's true.

It's a well known fact that suburbs with problem teenagers roaming the streets, stealing, joy riding, drunk and abusive, are those lacking facilities for them to attend and socialise, and learn how to be responsible members of the community. This is very simplistic but are the problems in communities simply there because they have nothing, and I mean nothing, to do? Take away all the jobs in Cairns (some would say that the process has already begun), remove all of the cinemas, the shopping centres, the cafe's, restaurants and any other place where locals gather. Then what? 50 bucks says that we would have significant anti-social issues that would rival any area throughout Australia.

This is not the only issue, I am not foolish enough to suggest that, but it just might be the part of the problem that is not being addressed fast enough to feel and see the effects.

Equality for all? What does that really mean? Do we really want equality? If we legislated in favour of abortion and same-sex marriage, fixed the inequality between races in this country and paid everyone the exact same amount of money would this make us all happy? Hell no!! There will always be someone who feels like they are getting the short straw in life. There will always be those who wish things had stayed as they currently are. There will always be problems with obvious solutions that take an eternity to resolve.

Evolution. That's what's required. We need to jump on that bandwagon and revel in the position we are all in right now. To abolish some injustices and give people a measure of freedom they should already have. The 60's and 70's were filled with forward thinking ideals, revolution and change. The 80's, 90's and naughties were stagnant. Now is the time to make our own changes, to revolt against the few who prefer the status quo and to leave a legacy that is as great as the good old days my parents are always talking about! Who's with me?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Giving, Sharing and Hope.

Last Christmas was largely anti-climactic. I am not really sure why it felt that way, I love the season so much that I realise I have high hopes but last year....blah. This year however, it feels like the city and it's suburbs are spreading the joy. The people are coming together for wonderful nights of feasting and celebration as they do every year, but this year there is hope in the air.

I have gone to the Christmas Carol night in Forest Gardens. What a lovely event that was. Held by the Rotary Club, it featured some fantastic singers, choirs and story-tellers. There was the obligatory fake candle to buy, softdrink to clear the throat for more warbling and chocolates on hand to top the whole thing off nicely. The crowd may not have been huge but it sure was passionate. There were families, elderly couples, single people and just about every demographic you could imagine represented. What a wonderful way to start the Christmas Season.

Edmonton Playgroup is a large group with close to 100 members. On Saturday I was privileged to host the annual Christmas Party where Santa was the star, the children all received gifts and the turn-out was spirited and enthusiastic. This group is made up of residents from all over the South Side, they are from every kind of background (socio-economic and cultural) and this year, they were all ready to jump right into Christmas. Again, a fantastic way to keep the spirit going this season.

There have been other events I have attended this December and plenty more to come and I am absolutely thrilled with the smiling happy people I am meeting on these occasions. I realise that for many, life is tough at the moment. Some are struggling to hold their heads above water, but it's through events such as these, with no or minimal costs, a large group of like-minded individuals and lots of excited children, that you begin to feel the magic of Christmas.

It's not about the presents, the size of them or the cost. It's not about which Religion you belong to or which you don't. It has not much to do with the big round tummy encased in Red that the man with the fake beard wears while shouting 'Ho..Ho..Ho'. It has absolutely nothing to do with a tree decked out in lights and the house that's now a fire hazard. It's not the songs, the food or the wine.

Christmas is all about the giving and the sharing and the hope. Giving the time to people who will appreciate every second you can spare. Giving a smile and a warm wish to those you meet throughout the next few weeks. Sharing a meal with people you love. Sharing a conversation with strangers who are all out with you, enjoying the lead-up to Christmas. Finally, its all about the hope. The hope that next year will be a better one. The hope that this year will end with a positive note. The hope that things will get easier and life will improve.

Those are the most important things at Christmas time. In the past week, I have seen plenty of giving, plenty of sharing...and most importantly, plenty of hope. Cairns is going to be just fine, just wait and see.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Polling the Neighbourhood ~ Lady Penrhyn Close.

Sorry to my faithful readers who have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment of this project. Unfortunately I have been working long and crazy hours and haven't been able to give the time required to have this in on time. This week I ventured to the area near Bentley Village as I go there a lot and I could do this in small parts. Hopefully I will have next weeks blog up on time but in the meanwhile, here are the results from this little Close.

Lady Penrhyn Close is off Friendship Street, which is the street I polled first in this initiative. It's a busy Close, with children playing outside, riding bikes, scooters, jumping on small ramps and playing football. These kids are not from the same house, they are all neighbours, which is evidence that in this street at least, the sense of community is strong. The yards are neat, the doors are open and everyone was very happy to have a chat to me about the area.

These residents love living in this part of Cairns as they see it as vibrant and verging on great things. They are excited about the possible opening of Sugarworld for the holidays and the opening of the new all-abilities playground which is imminent. The half pipe on Robert Rd is an ideal destination for plenty of these residents children and they are happy with the facility down there. The lack of things for children to do is a problem but it's seen as a temporary one and with the school holidays fast approaching they are managing to fill their schedules anyway.

A spare $50 would pay for dinner (again) or go towards the electricity bill. Most of these homes are owned by the residents although there are a few renters and several public housing homes so it's a bit of a mixed bag. They are all happy though, and claim to have some fantastic neighbours, so it obviously works to have a balanced mix of housing.

The Cultural Precinct is seen as a requirement. The Eisteddfod is an event that plenty go to every year and with some having children at Bentley Park College they are also aware of the problems with having the Awards Night at the Convention Centre. Aside from children orientated events they did not mention any others they would consider attending when the facility is operational but they did say they would love to take the family to the museum, especially if it's similar to the one in Townsville and fully interactive.

There is one area of concern to all of these residents and it was mentioned on several occasions. At the end of this Close is a park. The park goes from Lady Penrhyn Close through to McLaughlan Rd. This means that it comes out at the front door of Bentley Park College. It makes for a nice shortcut for the residents to take their kids to school but it also makes a lovely haven for those who should be in school but would prefer to sit in groups in the park and smoke and drink.

It's become a really big problem, police have been called several times but only drive past outside school hours when they are dispersed. The school has sent over truancy officers and they move the kids on but within a few hours, they are back. None of the residents here have forgotten being a teenager and wagging the odd day of school. They mostly object to the loud foul language coming from the park, the excessive drinking and the abusive comments they get if they should venture in during the day with smaller children in tow for a swing. This behaviour has rendered a small park unusable and unsafe during school hours and that is seen as completely unacceptable. The fact is, it IS completely unacceptable. But what are the alternatives?

The local Councillor is either unaware or has no interest in the issue, it depends who you talk to, and the police only have a move on policy which is temporary at best. The school is sending officers over but only sporadically and the residents are annoyed. I am positive that this problem is one faced by locals all over Cairns where there is a fairly secluded park so close to a High School, so it can't be an issue for these residents alone.

This problem is escalating and recently has become a daily occurrence so something has obviously changed in the area. Is it due to the lack of healthy options for the kids? That there is currently no other place for them to go? I realise they should be in school, so maybe the issue is one concerning the school itself? Perhaps Bentley Park College is suspending students too quickly or maybe they are having a truly horrible time there for some reason and need to escape into drink and rowdy behaviour? I have no idea. This is merely conjecture and could be far from the truth. It just seems that if the problem was non-existent this time last year, something has gone wrong in the past 12 months, somewhere.

The kids are angry, they are gathering in groups and they are exhibiting bully tactics and anti-social habits.

More and more residents I speak to are dissatisfied with the school their children attend. The lack of adequate assistance for children with special needs is the biggest complaint but many are appalled at the culture of bullying that is prevalent in all of the local schools. Suspension of students didn't work when I was at school, why are there still no alternatives? You would think that in the years since then (and it's many more than I care to think about) they would have come up with some appropriate measures that would actually be affective. Instead we are still living in the rollercoaster world where we get called into the office because our child has been bullying, or is the recipient of bullying, the bully is sent home for a weeks 'rest' and then they come back and...surprise, surprise...bully again!

Zero tolerance just means more suspensions. It solves nothing. They need to offer counselling to bullies and the bullied, they need to ensure that the counselling is attended regularly and only then will they see results. In the adult world, we are charged with assault if we bully, or some other charge appropriate to the crime (note the word - crime). We are counselled and we pay the fine. If the bullying is really bad, we go to jail. I am not for one second suggesting that we send kids to jail for schoolyard bullying, however, I do believe strongly that counselling actually does achieve results. Most bullies have a reason for their behaviour but at the moment the action, not the cause, is the only thing looked at and if that doesn't change then neither will the bully.

The residents of this Close do not know who their Councillor is, but feel they are not being effective in their job. They said that if the job was being done adequately, they would know the name of the Councillor and would see them around the area. Fair enough.

The Christmas lights are out, the kids are playing on the street. This Close is full of the Christmas spirit. They are excited about the season ahead and just as excited about the future of the area. The park issue is one that will go away for a few months now as school ends in two weeks. Next year things may change, for the better? I don't know. Hopefully the schools will look more closely at the behaviour of their students from a different perspective, one which may just get some results. Kids who exhibit poor behaviour will invariably become adults who exhibit bad behaviour.

In the meanwhile, enjoy the lead-up to the festive season, go for a night drive to see all of the beautiful light displays and, if you haven't already, introduce yourself to the neighbours. A great neighbourhood starts with you.