Knights’ rage turns to outrage

“…to banish the knight does not alleviate the suffering of the peasant.” — C.S. Lewis, British scholar and novelist (1898-1963)


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Tony Abbott, age 57, is the 28th and current Prime Minister of Australia, since 2013, and Leader of the Liberal Party since 2009. Photo: en.wikipedia.org

When Tony Abbott restored knights and dames to the Australian honours system in 2014 with little consultation, public outrage was immediate. Where were deliberations with senior parliamentary colleagues, with ordinary Australians? Was this the telling sign of a leader’s determination to act alone?

The PM weathered that storm, only just. His choice of recipients no doubt the reason why: two admired and respected Australians, outgoing Governor-General Quentin Bryce and former Army chief General Peter Cosgrove.

The initial outrage was quelled though many Australians and Members of Parliament continued to maintain the rage over the PM’s failure to consult. His judgment was now in question, and therefore you’d think Tony Abbott would have learnt from the backlash. 

Air Chief Marshal Sir Allan Grant “Angus” Houston AK, AFC is a retired senior officer of the Royal Australian Air Force. Photo: http://www.wsj.com

Air Chief Marshal Sir Allan Grant “Angus” Houston AK, AFC is a retired senior officer of the Royal Australian Air Force. Photo: http://www.wsj.com

Obviously not given this year’s decision to award Australia’s highest honour to a decorated British royal, Prince Philip, was made without involving the opinions of senior colleagues. What a missed opportunity to build up popularity for this renewed award. And worse, the PM’s decision overshadowed the great work of previous recipients as well as the other beneficiary Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, known worldwide after being appointed to head the Joint Agency Coordination Centre during the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

As an avowed monarchist, the PM defended his decision, saying Prince Philip was “eminently suitable’’ and someone who “has been a great servant of Australia” and “has done a lot for us [as a nation]’’. 

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A man of many titles: His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, Baron Greenwich, Royal Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Extra Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Member of the Order of Merit, Grand Master and First and Principal Knight Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Knight of the Order of Australia, Additional Member of the Order of New Zealand, Extra Companion of the Queen’s Service Order, Royal Chief of the Order of Logohu, Extraordinary Companion of the Order of Canada, Extraordinary Commander of the Order of Military Merit, Canadian Forces Decoration, Lord of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, Privy Councillor of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, Personal Aide-de-Camp to Her Majesty, Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom.

It’s true Prince Philip is the patron of 800 organisations and sure there’s no denying hundreds of thousands of young Australians have benefited from the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award but, understandably, giving the top gong to a non-Australian has been too much for the ordinary Aussie-battler to bear.

This time around the backlash against such a decision hasn’t abated. Instead it has gained momentum among some of the PM’s staunch supporters, including commercial radio broadcaster Alan Jones, newspaper columnist Miranda Divine and media commentator Andrew Bolt, who described the PM’s decision as “pathetically stupid”.

When Abbott emerged late last week to finally front the media, his response was explained away as a ‘stuff-up‘ in the average Australian pub! Well, the average Aussie would respond, “yeah mate, and a right-Royal one at that!”

So it is no surprise pub talk has turned on Tony’s comments “urging the nation to move on”. They’re not impressed with the PM describing himself as a “good captain for the Coalition team” instead they want him to start showing the Australian public why it should continue to back such a “serial gaffer“. Even Liberal MPs have reportedly given Abbott six months to improve his electoral fortunes or “he risks losing the top job”.

If the PM survives this decision and remains leader of the Coalition, perhaps what’s required is a new piece of furniture for Parliament House, a round table where ministers can sit to discuss next year’s choice of knights and dames.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist and blogger who isn’t against the government’s decision to introduce knights and dames to the Australian honours role as long as it is awarded to homegrown Australians.

Life’s a beach, unless the sharks come in

“​Many people continue to think of sharks as man-eating beasts. Sharks are enormously powerful and wild creatures, but you’re more likely to be killed by your kitchen toaster than a shark! — Ted Danson

We’re now into a record 10 days of beach closures along a stretch of the NSW coastline as two to three metre [six to nine feet] predators, fattening up on dolphins in the warmer waters, interrupt summer fun in the sun.

wallsavedSightings like this are unprecedented, as are the beach closures, and the commentary has even described one Great White shark sighting “reminiscent of the movie Jaws” as half-eaten dolphins wash ashore!

Newcastle City Council later confirmed an initial sighting of a five-metre [16-foot] shark, weighing about 1700 kilograms, giving it the girth of a small elephant, was seen cruising along the coastline for the past week.

Summer surf carnivals were also brought to a standstill amid more sightings further south, but the question on all Novocastrian lips is this: when will it be safe to get back into the water?

It seems, not any time soon, given continued sightings as well as a scare attack on Friday for holiday-makers on the south coast after a teenager spear-fishing near Mollymook Beach was bitten by a shark.

And it seems December through to February poses the highest incidence of sightings and attacks. There’s an interesting list on Wikipedia of fatal shark attacks in Australia since 1791, recording Port Jackson as the site where an aboriginal female was “bitten in two”! The next sighting happened 46 years later, in 1837, when a 12-year-old boy washing his feet one evening was injured by a shark. Of course, looking at this list, it is evident recordings weren’t kept up to date in those 46 years based on the huge number of incidences that followed.

thumbIn the United States, the list goes back as far as 1642 and  may be the earliest recorded shark attack in the New World. Wikipedia reports: “The victim was presumably killed and eaten by a shark on a stormy evening while attempting to swim across the Hudson River at the Spuyten Duyvil, Riverdale, New York City. A witness to Van Corlaer’s death stated that ‘the devil’ in the shape of a giant fish swam up and proceeded to ‘seize the sturdy Antony by the leg and drag him beneath the waves’.”

Since 2011, there have been numerous articles suggesting a spike in shark sightings and none more so than the unprecedented attacks in 2013 in Hawaii, which prompted a two-year study into the migration of tiger sharks to the area.

This surge in attacks has vexed vacationers since 2001 with even online health blog http://www.webmd.com asking whether our oceans are becoming more dangerous?

It says the greatest number of recorded incidents have involved white sharks, followed by bull, tiger, and, in Florida, the black tip shark.

So how can we humans avoid being attacked? Emergency physician Richard Nateman tells WebMD that: “Humans are not really what [sharks] want. When they get a human, that’s a mistake.They do want fish, so the best strategy for avoiding a shark attack is not looking like a fish,” he explains.

Sharks usually won’t attack someone who’s standing or in a vertical position. “They want to attack horizontal things because they know fish are horizontal,” Nateman adds.

hi def wallpaper 2Even though the risk of attack is low, here’s some tips to take steps to further limit that risk from Nateman and Erich Ritter, PhD, a senior scientist with the Global Shark Attack File in Princeton, New Jersey.

  • Swim where lifeguards can see you.
  • Swim where other people are around.
  • Know how to do CPR.
  • Avoid swimming during dusk and dawn. This is when sharks have the best vision and are looking for food.
  • Avoid murky waters, harbour entrances, channels, and steep drop-offs. “Murky water is attractive to sharks because it has more nutrients,” Ritter explains. “Steep drop-offs or anything that increases the current has more available food … so that brings in more sharks.”

If you do encounter a shark, what should you do?

  • Stay calm but “don’t carry on”. “Sharks … can sense your speeded-up heart rate,” says Ritter. If the shark has seen you, never ever swim away from it. Stay still. Even if they bump into you, do not move. That’s how they check you out.
  • Stay vertical. Don’t struggle and splash. You don’t want to look like a struggling fish.
  • If a group of people see a shark close by, they shouldn’t huddle together. Instead, try to stay at least a body length away from the next person.

Finally, stay out of the water until you’re told it’s safe to get back in! Good advice.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance writer and blogger who hopes to swim without sharks this summer along all the beaches Newcastle has to offer!