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Miracles of nature, rays of hope

Pied stilt at Sydney Park

Early Sunday morning, I was lurking in the artificial Casuarina forest above the big earth tank in Sydney Park, not far from the kiosk, peering through my binoculars at the construction site that will shortly be – Clover Moore tells me – Australia’s biggest urban stormwater recycling project, when somebody addressed me in a comic whisper.

“Psst…Nick, you scruffy gumshoe…who’ya spying on now?”

I lowered my binoculars and looked slowly around. It was Big Mike, the investigations bloke from the insurance company that sometimes hires me.

“You know, I’m actually not spying on anybody today, as it turns out, I’m marvelling at a little miracle of nature, thrusting its way through the grimy asphalt of urban life,” I chuckled.

I pointed downslope towards the tank, empty except for a couple of centimetres of muddy water left by the last shower.

“See that vivacious little black and white bird with the long thin beak and the preposterously long red legs – that’s a pied stilt. And the little guy a couple of metres from it pecking away at things in the water is its chick. Actually if you look closely, there are two more chicks, over to the right.”

I passed him the binoculars and took some pics with the telephoto lens.

“Geez, what a fabulous bird! I’ve never seen one of those. Are they rare?” he asked.

“They’re not regarded as being so, and they’re very widespread. But they’re the sort of bird that only exists in very specific habitats – shallow lakes and estuaries – and most Sydneysiders will go through their whole lives without noticing one. But check out those chicks. They’re fully twice as big today as they were yesterday. And they’ve walked more than 200 metres, across the construction site, from where I first saw them yesterday.”

“Yeah. Little miracle of nature is right. Lovely to see. Kinda gives you hope for the New Year,” he said, and he wished me the best and wandered off.

I took a couple more pics of the little scene of potential triumph against adversity but I can’t say it gave me a great surge of hope for the new year, particularly in regards to NSW politics.

Take Labor’s health spokesperson, Andrew McDonald, who last week reckoned Barry O’Farrell should “find his guts” over the king-hit crisis on Sydney’s streets.

McDonald reckons the alcohol industry and the Liberal Party are “in bed together…and our young people are the ones who are suffering”, and he wants the ‘Newcastle Solution’ – 1 am lockouts, 3 am closure, and a ban on shots after 10 pm trialled in Sydney. Which is fair enough, but talk about the pot calling the kettle black. The ALP has been on the drip feed from the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) for decades. As recently as 2008, for example, the ALP got $632,350 from the AHA (NSW), while the Liberals only got $186,745.

By 2010, when it was obvious the Liberals would sweep into power at the 2011 election, the AHA donated $355,455 to the Libs, $167,310 to the Nats and a token $35,000 to Labor. All in the interests of democracy, you understand.

For decades the AHA’s strategy has been all about extending trading hours (if possible to 24/7) and, of course, poker machine licences, and they’re willing to pay whatever it takes. The result has been a steady extension of pub trading hours, by governments of both persuasions, from the Wran years onwards. Of course the overwhelming majority of voters got edgy about pub trading hours once they got past midnight, but money doesn’t talk, it screams, and the almighty AHA has got its way for decades. We can be quite sure that if the O’Farrell Government looks like it might lose the March 2015 election, the AHA would switch its funding game again and McDonald would “nuance” his views.

So how silly is McDonald? Even the dumbest and most rusted-on ALP voter knows the truth. He would have been better saying: “Look, in the past, we’ve been as bad as the other guys in caving in to the demands of those greedy amoral bastards from the AHA. But I pledge, from here on in, we’ll never take their dollar again, and if O’Farrell can find it in him to do the same, and wind back the nightmare we’ve jointly created, he’ll have our support.”

That, at least, would have been a ray of hope.

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