Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Stephen Goes to Australia

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Apr 28, 2001

If you have been wondering where I've been for the last few days, wonder no more. After bouncing around Canada a bit, I have crossed the Pacific (and the Equator, and the International Date Line) and landed in Melbourne, Australia.

For the next three months I will be working (and drinking) in Melbourne and various other Australian cities. I will dedicate this thread to reporting my thoughts and experiences in Oz.

Created on February 1, 2001 by Stephen Downes (StephenDownes)

Re: Stephen Goes to Australia
Posted by Page Schorer (StillPageOne) on February 2, 2001

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Re: Stephen Goes to Australia
Posted by Eric LaManque (faraway09) on February 2, 2001

Hey, Stephen. You're welcome to visit me in Anshan, China, if ya ever have a mind to come up this way....

Newstrolls needs you, badly.
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Stephen Goes to Australia - Part 1
Posted by Stephen Downes (StephenDownes) on February 2, 2001

It's a beautiful sunny Saturday morning and I am sitting in a dark room wondering how I am going to cope with 37 degree temperatures through the day. Today would be the hottest day I have experienced in my life were it not for yesterday as the heat topped out at around 40 degrees. Sunday should be, as Tim put it, "mild" at only 27 degrees. Heh. That's what I get for travelling down under in the Australian summer.

So far as I can tell, Australians don't believe in air conditioning - at least, I've seen no evidence of it. They do believe in cool brick or stone buildings, which helps, but the most relief I've found is under a ceiling fan or outside as the evening breeze off the bay cools the city - to a "mild" 27 degrees.

Australians dress for the heat much as you would imagine - shorts, light shirts, halters and skirts for the women. But - and I find this so odd - they do not seem to wear hats. Forget Crocodile Dundee. Everywhere I've gone, I've been the only person with a hat (and even with a hat I burned my forehead a bit). Coming, as I put it, from a "cold dark country" I need the extra protection, but Aussies, I guess, are tough.

The Australian people, I think, are the highlight of any visit to the country. At least, that has been my experience. Always with a pleasant "g'day mate" and helpful to the extreme, from the shopkeeper who explained, in detail, how the tram system works to the gas bar operator who pointed me south toward the beach.

What one notices is that nobody here seems unhappy. People here are healthy - unbelievably so - and health conscious. They are relaxed, amiable, and generally easy going. They make any experience - even filling out forms or attending to visa isses - a genuine pleasure. The attitude seems to be, "No problem mate, we'll work it out."

Australians are also, from what I saw, a very musical people. On my first night in the city I found my way into a place called the Ska Bar. Cool band - two saxaphones, trumpet, keyboards, drums, guitars and vocals - playing their last set ever together. As 11 rolled around, the band played there last song and then split up with a cheery "Well that's it, then." No problem, mate.

Friday night, after walking down to the beach, I found myself in a lively little club where they played what I can only call live karaoke - neat idea: they tossed rattles and other percussive toys to the audience and everybody joined in supporting the musicians. People dance and sing here at the drop of a hat (not that you'd find a hat anywhere).

Australians really do say "Oy!" - they say it a lot - and now they've got me saying it. Oy!

OK, now for some sad news... although Australians eat really well (the food is fabulous, even college cafeteria food), the fast food invasion is complete. Looking for a quick snack all I could really find were McDonalds, Burger Kings, Subway and KFC. Ugh (though I did break down and eat at Subway late last night). Looking for sunscreen, I was advised to check out a 7-Eleven (of which there are dozens). Oy!

Well, that's enough for today - it's a beautiful Saturday morning and I have to check out the region near the university the guidebook says is "bohemian". Good on you, mate!
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Stephen Goes to Australia - Part 2
Posted by Stephen Downes (StephenDownes) on February 3, 2001

Housing appears to be very expensive in melbourne and the vast majority of houses are tiny, packed in together side by side with little tiny gardens in front. Perhaps because of this, each house is ornately decorated with sculptured bushes, ironwork, decorative bricks, and more. The overall result is that every street is a work of art. Melbourne as a whole is beautiful - think San Francisco beautiful, only more so.

County Music! Oy! In my continuing search for a dartboard I was directed to a hotel called the Rising Sun (as in Canada, the purpose of hotels is primarily to serve alcohol and house liquor stores (called bottle shops)). No dartboards, alas, but the band was playing and they had just fired up the barbie. Ah yes, country with an Aussie accent... my appreciation for the genre will never be the same. Great fun, what?

When I was hired for my position I was advised that there would be "no rorting". It seems that rorting is - to judge by the newspapers - a widespread and serious offense. Curious to discover what rorting is, exactly, I scoured the newspapers for information. No help: all I can establish is that it is something politicians and public officials do and it seems to involve some sort of corruption or conflict of interest.

Newspapers here are - sadly - quite biased. Not knowing a lot about the details of Australian politics, I can nonetheless report that the newspapers oppose ALP, and mildly indifferent to the Liberals, and support the conservatives or National party. Yesterday the big scandal was that the ALP received a $100,000 donation from a company involved in one of the local gambling houses. Yeah. The Australian also announced a month long campaign to clean up the Murray River - a noble cause, however, it seems that no humans actually cause the pollution. Conservative newspapers sometimes create the oddest contradictions.

Oh well. Today I'll see whether the stores are open on Sunday.
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Re: Stephen Goes to Australia
Posted by divaPastyDrone (divaPastyDrone) on February 3, 2001

Whoo!...Good to hear you got there ok!

Hey, the best of the 2600 crew is down there should see if you can pop in and buy 'em a brew for me!
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Hatless Atlas
Posted by Cypherpunk (Cypherpunk) on February 6, 2001

Stephen Downes wrote,
So far as I can tell, Australians don't believe in air conditioning - at least, I've seen no evidence of it.

Doesn't that have something to do with the fact that their power supply is at a weird-ass voltage (or frequency, or both) that no air-conditioner manufacturing country uses?

Australians dress for the heat much as you would imagine - shorts, light shirts, halters and skirts for the women. But - and I find this so odd - they do not seem to wear hats. Forget Crocodile Dundee. Everywhere I've gone, I've been the only person with a hat (and even with a hat I burned my forehead a bit).

As "Crocodile Dundee" was loosely based on a real person who did wear a hat, it probably pays to remember that Dundee was from the tropical part of Australia, which Melbourne isn't.

Coming, as I put it, from a "cold dark country" I need the extra protection, but Aussies, I guess, are tough.

Uh-huh. Any word on what their skin cancer rate is?

What one notices is that nobody here seems unhappy. People here are healthy - unbelievably so - and health conscious. They are relaxed, amiable, and generally easy going.

Wow. Sounds like you're having a great time!
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Stephen Goes to Australia - Part 3
Posted by Stephen Downes (StephenDownes) on February 6, 2001

I am now enjoying a decent cup of coffee.

This is no small matter, and indeed, my quest for a decent cup of coffee has taken me around Melbourne in the scorching heat, through back alleys and small lanes, past Chinese shops gambling houses, and... well, you get the idea.

Most - if now all - coffee in Melbourne is made using espresso machines and foamed milk. I had already learned to ask for a "flat white" everything I wanted a coffee, but of course the coffee was too strong, even a little bitter. And at $2.50 a cup, would break me well before the end of my trip.

Coffee, made properly, is brewed using a drip filter and flavoured with whole milk or (better) cream. It is not scalded, burned, steamed, or otherwise abused. So my task was four-fold: find a drip filter coffee maker, find ground coffee (not ground espresso), find filters, and find whole milk or cream.

I found the milk yesterday at a local store (the milk available on campus is almost entirely a brand called "Skinny", which is, of course, skim milk). After searching about downtown, I found a Target, from which I bought the coffee maker and a broken fan (my quest for a fan is another story). After even more walking about - in 35 degree heat - downtown, I finally found a specialty coffee shop in a back lane which sold me some Kenyan beans and proper paper filters.

I felt positively subversive setting up my coffee machine in the office.

On another quest: I finally also found a place to play darts (and thereupon to administer a lesson in the game to a nice guy from South Australia).

This time I proceeded south-east from the University, down a street called Swanston, stopping at the quaint Canada Hotel - which resembled nothing in Canada, though it did have a cartoon picture of a mountie on the wall and sold Moosehead beer.

Further down Swanston, another hotel, another beed (this time a local brew, Toohey's new, which is what I seem to have settled into drinking (more for availability than anything else)). On the TV (the first I've seen) was a game show, "The Weakest Link", in which eight contestants answer a series of questions, then vote to kick the weakest player (or sometimes, a strong challenger) off the team. The last player gets the money. According to the newspaper, it's based on a show from the U.K., where the sardonic host sneers at dispatched players, "You're the weakest link. Good-bye." The Aussie host was a little less nasty, but still nasty.

The bartender at this hotel actually knew of a place where they play darts, the Duke of Kent, and offered me directions (characteristically pointing in the wrong direction). A few minutes later I was striding through the door, settling in for a pint of Toohey's, and throwing some darts.

A note on the Australians and helpfulness: on the one hand, Australians try to be very helpful. On the other hand, they're not very good at it.

I have asked a number of people, for example, for directions to various thinks (a beach, a road, a pub, a coffee shop). The Australians invariably say something like, "Oh that's up by Chester, on Sweeney." Then they point. That would be helpful except they never point in the right direction. Where they want me to go is down Sweeney, where they point is up Swanston. Perhaps I'm missing something - perhaps they're pointing to the door through which I should be exiting, or perhaps their thumb, rather than arm and index finger, indicates the direction. I don't know.

Australians offering help on the phone are no less willing and no more able. Monday I spent several hours on the phone (after getting help on how to use the phone, which only took a couple of return trips to fill in gaps in the first advice) trying to locate a place where they play darts. Invariably, the person who I called (the owner of the dart shop, the manager of the local Legion) couldn't help me, but could refer me to someone who could. So I would call this total stranger, who would again not be able to offer assistance, but who could recommend, say, a nephew who could. And so on down the line until I hit a busy signal, a no-answer, or an answering machine.

I saw my first angry Australian Sunday. Miind you, he had good cause, having just been broadsided by a distracted driver making a wide (and speedy) right hand turn at a busy intersection (Australians drive on the left, so a right hand turn is like a left hand turn in Canada or the United States).

Actually, right hand turns here seem to be a complex business (one which has given me a few scares as a pedestrian). Approaching the intersection, the call pulls left, toward the curb, with its right turn signal flashing. The purpose is to allow other cars and trams to pass. Then when the road behind him is clear, he steps on the gas, making a wide right turn through the lanes of traffic going his way and then through the oncoming traffic. I think he is supposed to watch for oncoming traffic (and pedestrians) as he makes his wide turn, but once having committed himself he can't stop (because of the traffic now coming up behind him) and so weaves his way through whatever traffic may be coming the other way. Often this is not successful, which is probably why Melbourne has already had 43 traffic fatalities this year.

Anyhow, the angry Australian was simply driving up Elizabeth Street at a reasonable rate of speed, driving without turningt through a green light, when this car appeared from nowhere and hit him square on just behind the passenger door. There was no squeal of brakes or attempted swerve; the other car just slammed into him. So there he was, on the sidewalk, waving his arms, yelling and screaming, and letting the world know that his brand new car, for which he had paid $35,000, was now totaled. Which it was.

Nobody was hurt in the crash, happily. The guy who rammed him didn't even seem disturbed; he simply took his mobile phone (cell phone - which may have been in use at the time of the crash) and rang the police. Calm as you please.

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Re: Hatless Atlas
Posted by Stephen Downes (StephenDownes) on February 6, 2001

Cypherpunk wrote, Doesn't that have something to do with the fact that their power supply is at a weird-ass voltage (or frequency, or both) that no air-conditioner manufacturing country uses? Australians have funny plugs and use 220 volt power supplies, not 110 as we do in North America. that does not appear to have slowed the manufacture of electrive devices; they have everything we do and more. I think they simply don't think air conditioning is worth the effort (much in the way Californians don't think furnaces are worth the effort).

As "Crocodile Dundee" was loosely based on a real person who did wear a hat, it probably pays to remember that Dundee was from the tropical part of Australia, which Melbourne isn't.

Actually, I've seen more hats now that we've been in a heat wave for a while. The younger people seem not to wear them; the older people do.

Uh-huh. Any word on what their skin cancer rate is?

I'm told it's very high, among the highest in the world. no surprise there.

Wow. Sounds like you're having a great time!

I am.
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Stephen Goes to Australia - Part 4
Posted by Stephen Downes (StephenDownes) on February 13, 2001

I am a human pincushion.

It turns out that while the mosquitos hide from sight (no doubt in the lush vegitation [smal l image - large image, suitable for desktop wallpaper]) when it's 40 degrees outside, when the weather turns and temperatures drop to a mere 30, they emerge in droves (well, small droves anyways).

It also turns out that they like the taste of foreign food. Namely, me.

Now while I'm in Canada mosquitos are not much of a problem. Even if I am bitten, which is infrequently, I have over the years developed an immunity. Not so here, where there is probably just enough variation to cause a significant reaction around every bite.

Thye best treatment so far? Tiger Balm. Go figure.

Anyhow, I got to see my first kangaroo on the weekend. We were driving [smal l - large] up the coast [smal l - large] and it went hopping along the highway. Just as in Canada, a small bit of wildlife attracted a great deal of curiosity.

The coast of the Southern Ocean west of Melbourne is rugged and beautiful [smal l - large] with windswept seascapes [smal l - large], picturesque river valleys [smal l - large] and inlets [smal l - large]. And, yes, mosquitos.

Enough travelogue. I finally snagged a television and have been sampling the best of Australian TV. The only Canadian show on here is David Suzuki's The Nature of Things - apparently Suzuki is very popular here.

Malcolm in the Middle premiered last Monday, the Simpsons runs about 6 months after the U.S. shows, Survivor (the Australian Outback) premieres tonight. There is an Australian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire but the best local show is a lifestyles and leisure program called Live This.

The news is much as you would expect, though the weatherman on Nine (Australia's channels are called, respectively, Two, Seven, Eight and Nine. yeah, I know) is fascinating to watch - it's as though he has no acting training at all; he talks rather more like a professor, staring into his screen, drifting off... it was quite annoying at first because I had to strain to hear what he was saying, but I have grown to like him and will miss what can only be called his relaxed style of delivery.

In the news this week (below the coverage of Australia's successful cricket matches against Zimbabwe and the West Indies) has been this year's elections. Western Australia stunned everyone last Saturday by deposing its right wing coalition (Liberals and national Party, I think) and electing labour. Labour is expected to retain its hold on government in Queensland this Saturday and things are looking bad for the country's national Liberal / Coalition government.

Australian is currently going through what we in Canada went through eight or so years ago: the introduction of the GST (Goods and Services Tax), a national sales tax. Nobody wants it, and the paperwork is a pain, but conservative governments worldwide because corporations are demanding it. The governing Liberals are also facing a number of other scandals (such as the siphoning of road construction money) and image problems.

So naturally the government blames its loss in Western Australia on an entity called Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party. Yes, that's how it is referred to in the news - at first I thought the media were being condescending and trying to make it look as though the party is nothing more than Pauline Hanson, however that's not so.

One Nation began as a split from the right wing parties, much like Reform in canada and the United States. They were immediately successful and actually elected members in Queensland. Then the problems began; one of its MPs committed suicide, the party splintered and fell apart, leaving Australians with two One Nation parties; Pauline hanson's One Nation was one faction, while the other renamed itself the City and Country Alloiance.

Pauline Hanson and her party are pretty interesting: one critic said that while One Nation has "views", it has no policies. That seems more or less to be the case, and while One Nation rails against crime, immigration, and taxes (the usual) it relies most of all on Pauline Hanson (an attractive middle age blond woman known most of all for her flowery dresses and press conferences in halter tops).

Anyhow, with the right splintering and the government deeply unpopular, it looks like a Labour win this fall.

I'm off to Adelaide for a few days (the blight on the Bight - no, no, no, just kidding!). Till then...
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Posted by StillHazel (StillHazel) on February 14, 2001

Corporations? Stephen, you said that, worldwide, corporations want national sales taxes? This seems unlikely. Business people generally HATE sales taxes. Collecting sales taxes is a LOT of trouble for businesses. And presumably, sales taxes must hurt sales since they, in effect, raise prices. To the customer, the price of an item is the amt he pays; when sales taxes are imposed, all prices are higher. Higher, and more inconvenient. Thousands of prices that would be either an even dollar amt or slightly below an even dollar amt. are by sales taxes transmuted into prices sligtly above an even dollar amount, which is inconvenient for the customer. Which I would think might hurt sales. I always thought it was govts that wanted sales taxes. They are a means to collect money from the public without raising income or property taxes, and they are a means to make someone else (businesses) do the work of collection.
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Channel Nine
Posted by Cypherpunk (Cypherpunk) on February 14, 2001

Stephen Downes wrote,
The news is much as you would expect, though the weatherman on Nine (Australia's channels are called, respectively, Two, Seven, Eight and Nine. yeah, I know) is fascinating to watch - [...]
Please, Stephen, please, you've got to tell us!

Is Claudia Black really off of Farscape this season? Say it ain't so! (Actually, if it's the truth, please say it is so. I'll mourn, but I'll get over it eventually.)
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Stephen Goes to Australia - Part 5
Posted by Stephen Downes (StephenDownes) on February 20, 2001

Adelaide is known as the City of Churches and you can see why (photos will be posted later, when they're developed). It should also be known as the City of Charity because of the numerous streetside Salvation Army booths.

Adelaide is, as anyone will tell you (and they frequently do), one of the centres of wine production in Australia. Flying overhead, you can see why: the city is surrounded by hills, and the hills are, in turn, covered with vinyards. The warm Mediterrenean climate makes for a perfect wine, or at least, a very good one.

Not that this mattered to me, for when in Adelaide I did as i did in melbourne: drink beer. You'd think that would be simple, but as it transpires, when in Adelaide, you must drink Adelaide been (standbys like Victoria Bitter and Toohey's New (which I've been drinking in Melbourne) not being available in Adelaide.

So, in Adelaide, one drinks either WestEnd (an OK beer similar to Toohey's New) or - preferred - Cooper's Ale, an opaque and quite tasty brew. Do not order Cooper's Draft, as it is even more ordinary than WestEnd.

It's hard to experience a city of a million people in four days (not to mention the fact that Adelaide even has a million people, something many people - even Australians - don't know). But I tried. :)

I arrived in the city Wednesday evening and was promptly wisked off to dinner, a gathering of all of us who would be attending the seminar the next day. It was at this British-style pub that I saw my second kangaroo - as someone's dinner - and yes, I just had to have a taste (it's a bit odd to say I ate the second kangaroo i ever saw, but there it is).

The seminar was unremarkable (well, ok, it was pretty good and we got a lot done, but is of secondary interest to readers here, I suspect) except for the fact that it is in Port Adelaide, north and west of Adelaide proper. Port Adelaide, the cab driver explained to us, is where the immigrants and aboriginals live; it's therefore poor and run down. So he said. I remarked that it doesn't look poor - and it doesn't. The houses are neat, the yards tidy. Only Port Adelaide's downtown is in bad shape, as the main street is a row of boarded shops. The ships don't come in anymore, explained the cab driver.

That evening Steve and Robby and I took a long drive down the south coast to what we would call a Legion (They call it a Returning Serviceman's Club (or something very similar) to visit the weekly folk music club. While I played darts a good amount of the time (it was, after all, a Legion), I also spent time watching the music. No, no digeridoos (though I'm told someone brought one last week), but some good guitar, squeeze-box, inventive percussion and amazing vocals.

I'm telling you John, I'll soon be leaving belfast town...

I stayed at the Hotel International Adelaide, which is actually in North Adelaide, separated from the city by a river valley, a cricket ground, and a large park. Both north Adelaide and Adelaide City (the downtown area) are surrounded by parks, which give them a surreal feel. Friday morning I made my way throught he park, into downtown, across Victoria Square and promptly into the downtown market, a several-block square of avocado vendors, butchers, bakers, and souvineer shops. While Melbourne's Victoria Market focuses much more on clothing (there is also a large food area to one side), Adelaide's is mostly food. Good, if you need a kumquat.

More interesting is the tram which travels from Victoria Square to the beach resort of Glenelg (I have learned to accept the fact that Australian place names have an unusual number of Gs and Ws). While the beach front is itself tacky (souvineer stands are the obligatory McDonalds blight), the main road a few blocks up from the beach contains a number of good stores, including one where i bought three decent shirts for $A 40.

Back downtown and diverted by impulse to a bar named the Bull and Bear - it didn't click until much later that the pub was the main hangout for Adelaide stock traders. Though your typical bar, it is dominated by two very intimidating (and very naked) figures, one a bull and the other - yes - a bear, standing on hind legs, arms folded, looking stern and eight feet high.

Though the Bull and bear is a stockbroker's joint, to judge by the pickup attempts, it is also a very gay and lesbian - tolerant bar. Which is cool, but I have to ask women: those moves (the lines, like "we're so similar", the touching of arms and hair, the thing where they pass their hand in front of your eyes) - they don't actually work, do they?

Ah, sometimes it's good to get the view from the other side. Even though I made it clear that I was (a) hetro, (b) married, and (c) not interested in anything but beer, I was still hit on and even pestered. Makes me understand why women don't like to go to bars on their own, something I hadn't seen so clearly before.

Ah, but it might be a bit of Adelaide, too. Before too long I went to another pub only to find a couple courting a woman and very interested in a fourth. It's funny - was it just the bars, or was it the city? Adelaide is not so ernestly cosmopolitian as Melbourne, and there seems to be a lot more flirting and more going on (to my untrained eye): perhaps it's the beach, perhaps it's the idolation, perhaps it's a South Australian ethos. Or maybe it was just me; I don't know.

The following day, after circumnavigating North melbourne via the park system, I discovered Adelaide's seedy side - near the university, natch - along Hindley Street. If you want adult videos or peep shows, this is the place to go. But it is also the home to a number of internet cafes (where I spent an hour or so), eateries (including the pervasive McDonalds) and pubs.

Travel east along Hindley Street, across King William to Rundle Street (all street names change when they cross King William) and you find the mall - shut down by bthe time I got there Saturday evening. Persist, though, and you enter a three-block area filled with restaurants and pubs - sort of a mirror image to Hindley, but trendier, without the seedy side, and a lot more expensive. But cheap enough for me to hang out, drink a few Coopers, and throw some darts until some locals took my seat.

I think that Adelaide is two cities in one: the central, very beautiful core, and the outside and very average surround, separated in more ways than one by an innovative, but ultimately divisive, ring of parkland.

I hope to return some day.

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Re: Channel Nine
Posted by Stephen Downes (StephenDownes) on February 20, 2001

Cypherpunk wrote, Stephen Downes wrote,
The news is much as you would expect, though the weatherman on Nine (Australia's channels are called, respectively, Two, Seven, Eight and Nine. yeah, I know) is fascinating to watch - [...]
Please, Stephen, please, you've got to tell us!

I've been watching but I haven't seen it. I'll keep you posted. Is Claudia Black really off of Farscape this season? Say it ain't so! (Actually, if it's the truth, please say it is so. I'll mourn, but I'll get over it eventually.)

[Reply Quoting][Reply Blank]

Re: Question
Posted by Stephen Downes (StephenDownes) on February 20, 2001

StillHazel wrote, Corporations? Stephen, you said that, worldwide, corporations want national sales taxes? This seems unlikely. Business people generally HATE sales taxes....

On the down side is the paperwork involved, and businesses - especially small businesses - are griping about that. But there is a big upside for corporations, especially large corporations.

Sales taxes like the GST replace (eventually) such taxes as income taxes and property taxes. In Canada (and probably in Australia) they also replaced outright a thing called the Manufacturing Sales Tax (MST).

The important thing to notice in this is as follows: businesses may income tax, property tax, and MST. But under a GST-style plan, they do not pay GST. The GST is a consumer tax; the actual tax collected and kept by the government is only for consumer purchases.

The reason there is so much paperwork involved in a GST is that a business both buys and pays GST when it purchases goods and services. However, if a business sells goods and services (and hence collects GST), it can get a rebate on any GST it paid. The idea is to prevent the tax multiplying through a value chain; in the end, the only tax collected will be tax paid by a consumer who buys the final product for his or her own use.

Thus, businesses prefer a GST style tax because it means they pay less taxes. Sure, it reduces consumer demand - a bit, not much, because people still need to buy things - but if it comes to a choice between consumers paying tax and business paying tax, business will prefer to have the consumer pay the tax every time. Oh sure, businesses would like to see taxes reduced in general, but if you have to have tax (they reason) it is preferable to have a consumer tax.

Moreover, by lowering (and in some cases, eliminating) taxes on business... by making it so that only goods purchased in canada (or Australia) are taxed, the cost of export goods is significantly lowered. Indeed, an item manufactured for export is sent to the other country essentially tax free. This means that all of the profits of exports are returned to the corporation; the government doesn't get a cut.

A GST-type system is closely tied to a free trade economy. It has the effect of ensuring that all goods and services sold in a country are taxed according to the tax policies of that country, that there are few (or no) taxes in the originating country. This allows, say, a canadian company, which is working in a relatively high-tax environment, to compete in, say, Korea, which has a relatively low tax environment.

Of course, what this also means is that countries with expensive social programs - like Canada - cannot support these programs on the basis of their exports (except insofar as those exports produce jobs, and hence spending, in Canada). This has an overall tendency to push spending on social programs down, because people pay directly from their own spending for the programs they receive, and since they want to reduce that spending, they support initiatives to reduce government spending generally.

This is also supported by business, as it opens up opportunities (e.g., in health, education, welfare (which was astonishingly privatized in Australia, to the great detriment of all concerned (since the private contractors spent a measured 50 cents on every dollar winning more contracts))) for additional business enterprises.

So for a corporation, a sales tax is the least offensive of all taxes. It has the potential to allow corporations to escape paying tax at all, to compete in low tax markets, and to foster a general inclination by a public to reduce government spending overall.
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Why SHOULD Corporations Pay Taxes?
Posted by (anymouse) on February 20, 2001

In theory a corporation is just a pass-through:  any money it takes in it pays out one way or another.  When the money reaches its stockholders (assuming a public stock corporation), it counts as income for them, thus re-entering the flow.  The advantage of a GST (as the only tax) is that it ultimately taxes only that money that goes to consumer products:  if you make $100,000/year, and live in a 1-bedroom apt and eat rice and canned tuna, you only pay the same taxes as anybody else who lives as you do.  What about the rest of the money?  Well, it either gets placed with a bank or equivalent, which invests it in some (supposedly for-profit enterprise), or gets invested by the owner, or given to charity, or put in a mattress.  With the exception of the mattress (which is "taxed" by inflation), every one of these options ends up putting the money back to work in a way that benefits many people, as well as the owner.

Notice that the GST, then, provides an incentive for people not to spend money on consumer items, but to use it in a way that benefits others than themselves.  OTOH, a pure income tax (without such loopholes as IRA's, etc.) is neutral between spending your big income on a big house and pool or investing it in a business that would add to the number of jobs.  (Of course, the house and pool also add jobs, for a while.)

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Re: Why SHOULD Corporations Pay Taxes?
Posted by Cypherpunk (Cypherpunk) on February 20, 2001

anymouse (AK) wrote,
In theory a corporation is just a pass-through:  any money it takes in it pays out one way or another.  When the money reaches its stockholders (assuming a public stock corporation), it counts as income for them, thus re-entering the flow.  The advantage of a GST (as the only tax) is that it ultimately taxes only that money that goes to consumer products [...]

Please, AK, we have several other topics to talk about taxes in; kindly leave this one to the quirks of Australian culture as observed by a Canuck. Thank you.

(Off now to go see whether I can get Cooper's Ale in the States...)
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Re: Stephen Goes to Australia
Posted by divaPastyDrone (divaPastyDrone) on February 20, 2001

Heh!...a world away and yet we frequent bars with the same name...

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Stephen Goes to Australia - Part 6
Posted by Stephen Downes (StephenDownes) on March 14, 2001

It's hard to believe, but after five weeks life in Australia has become... normal.

I don't get surprised when the cars come at me from the wrong direction any more. Hopping a tram is now second nature. I routinely eat lamb for lunch. Sugar comes in small tubes. My beers are Carleton, Tooheys, and Victoria Bitter. The Southern Cross shines in the southeat at night.

Most of the odd stuff in my life now comes from the fact that I am staying at Trinity College at the University of Melbourne. Though the College is old, distinguished and respected, I have been forced to come to one conclusion: it's a cult.

My awareness began at the beginning of last week, orientation week for students around here as they start their fall semester. There were the usual hijinks - pub crawls, painted faces, mignight parties. But when they blacked out the dining hall, had frosh enter the room by crawling under a table, and started rhythmic drums, spoons and chants, i knew something was amiss.

So far as I can see, all the standard cult tactics are there: sensory and sleep deprivation, ritual chanting, wearing special clothes, bonding exercises involving public displays, special uniforms for eating, and more. It's a cult.

I brought this up with Tim, one of the tutors at Trinity and the guy I'm working with here. Sure, he agreed, they employ cult-like tactics. But Trinity is different from, say, Scientology, in that its aims are good whereas Scientology's aims are bad. While I don't have evidence either way for either cult, I still had to wonder. Does Trinity foster a cliquishness during and after college? Does it create an 'old boys network'? Is the cultish behaviour primarily aimed at propogating religion? Tim says that the college students are inculcated in the value of "service". That can be read many ways.

Otherwise, life proceeds apace. I have found another place to play darts, the Ascot Vale, and have joined their dart team for a couple of weeks. It is good to get some competitive darts in while I'm here. As you may have guessed, darts is not a widely popular sport, though the people who play it here are devotees, keeping endless statistics. Free beer and pizza also motivates the teams.

I've also seen my first Australian footy game, a tense Ansett Cup semi-final between Hawthorn and Brisbane. If Australian Rules football ever catches on in the United States, watch out. The game is dramatic and exciting, so much better than what the Aussies call "gridiron".

It's hard to believe my time here is almost half over...
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Re: Re: Channel Nine
Posted by Cypherpunk (Cypherpunk) on March 20, 2001

Stephen Downes wrote,
Cypherpunk [pleaded],
Is Claudia Black really off of Farscape this season?
I've been watching but I haven't seen it. I'll keep you posted.

Thanks, but as of last Friday, we've seen the season opener for Season 3 of Farscape, and Claudia Black is indeed still on the show. Hallelu'!

(I've been following the rest of your little travelog with much enjoyment. When does it all wrap up again?)
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Re: Re: Re: Channel Nine
Posted by Stephen Downes (StephenDownes) on March 21, 2001

Cypherpunk wrote, (I've been following the rest of your little travelog with much enjoyment. When does it all wrap up again?)

May 1st.

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Stephen Goes to Australia - Part 7
Posted by Stephen Downes (StephenDownes) on March 25, 2001

I'm back in my room at Trinity College this Sunday evening. A non-descript spy thriller is playing on Nine, I've cracked open a can of Melbourne Bitter, and I'm discussing the cultural relativity of logic on ICQ with Galadriel, a student in Turkey. News from OA Group, my host for, that my prized page generation script ran for 2500 hours, consuming 71 percent of system resources

All in all an ordinary Sunday preceeded by an extraordinary week. The week, first, then the weekend I will never forget.

Monday the weather turned and Melbourne's glorious hot days became cold, sullen and overcast. Much to my surprise, I found myself wearing my sweater and jacket as low clouds rolled in from Port Phillip Bay and scattered showers dampened the grass.

Weekdays now are highlighted by my league dart games. I located a second pub, and this time, a pub with real dart players. I went down a couple of Fridays ago and in short order found myself a member of the Ascot Vale Tuesday 501 team and the Wednesday 301 team.

Well I am not a world ranked dart player, but I'm pretty good and have been able to offer a lot of support to both teams. This week was no different as I shot some stellar games, including one 17 dart game and a nice elegant 74 out to finish a 23 dart double-in 501 game.

But aside from that I've been working fairly steadily and was in need of a break. Thursday came and with it a steady torrential rain, and Melbourne, after six months of dry, was awash, floods turning roads into canals and the city as a whole into anarchy. My in-room internet access having finally been completed (after fifty days), I turned on the heat and hid from the world, sheltering from the cold and the rain and the people.

It all came together Friday.

I had been planning to visit Tasmania for some time and decided Friday that I had put it off long enough. If I waited another week, I might not be able to go - there would be work to do, or some other place to go, or whatever (and I might be frozen or flooded besides).

So I booked passage on 'The Spirit of Tasmania', a 1300 passenger ferry leaving from Port Melbourne Friday evening, and was on my way. It was a classic case of 'can you be packed in ten minutes' and just the sort of off-the-cuff adventure I needed.

It's a little off season for Tasmania so only 900 people filled the massive five-story ferry. It felt like a lot less. As I ate a non-descript (and slow) meal at the buffet, I watched Melbourne slip away, and as evening turned into night I sipped pots (half pints) of Boag's and watched videos in the half filled bar.

I turned into my cabin around 10:30, rereading Phillip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, rolling in my bunk with the ferry as meagre two meter waves splashed against the hull. Not seasick but not relaxed either I tossed and turned, eventually returning to the deck about four in the morning.

The night over Bass Strait was black, blacker than any I have seen, the starry sky drifting invisibly into an inky sea. Only the wake, lit by the ferry's floodlights, was visible. There was no moon, and no way to see the waves even a short distance away. I stood alone on the deck, the glowing ember of a cigarette my only company, and tried to imagine the midnight ocean without the dull throb of the ferry's engines or the conforting sweep of the lights above.

A couple of sleepless hours later and I re-emerged onto the deck to watch the first grey fingers of dawn streak across to the east. An arc of light slowly grew over the horizon and was reflected by the millions of wave crests beneath. I was joined by a surprising number of early risers and as we lined up for breakfast the Tasmanian coast came into view, first as a series of low dark hills, then as a line of lights across the horizon.

The full light of day saw the ferry pull past the breakwater at Devonport, up the river and to the terminal. Some people waved, but most continued to walk their dogs or fish from the pier. A small ferry plied across the river behind us. The ferry's full 900 complement strained for the exit to pour into the sleepy town.

The line leaving the ferry was exceptionally slow and it was not long before we saw the reason why. The signs warned us, "Beware of the Tasmanian Sniffer Dog", and sure enough, we were lined up single file in groups of twenty, bags in front of us, as a small beagle went from person to person searching for any evidence of plants, soil of fruits. Tasmania, the brochure explains, is ecologically sensitive; hence the precaution. The dog, though small, was efficient and we were soon on our way.

I had hoped to catch a train to Hobart, but there was no evidence of such, and besides, a bus bound for the Tasmanian capital was set to depart immediately, so I paid my thirty dollars and boarded with a dozen other people. After a short stop downtown, we set off down the highway for the three hour drive south.

When people describe or picture Tasmania, they describe or picture a harsh, cold, mountainous land. Perhaps Tasmania is all of these, but only by Australian standards. What Tasmania is really is a temperate and lush landscape with high rolling hills, small farms, thousands of sheep, and dotted with picturesque towns.

A wide highway led us through the centre of the state, with a brief stop at Launceston and pickups at Campbell Town and Ross. What struck me was the neatness of the countryside; though rural, there was no evidence of rural decay, no trash or abandoned farm implements, just neat cottages, tended fields, and thousands of sheep grazing on the hillsides. Forests covered the steeper and higher slopes of the hills and in the distance west some gentle mountains rose to rounded peaks.

We entered Hobart by way of a wide river valley, meeting the sea again only as we met the city. Hobart is built up and over hills, the eastern edge of the city defined by Salamanca harbor on Sullivan's Cove, an inlet on the River Derwent which empties into the Southern Ocean, and on the west by Mount Wellington. The bus pulled though the centre of the city, past the Tasmanian parliament, and into the terminus downtown.

The rain had as though by a miracle disappeared overnight and the sky had been mostly clear and sunny through the day. Now as I walked the cobbled streets of Hobart, a light bag over my shoulder, I felt positively warm. I walked toward the waterfront, poked my head into a couple of hotels to find nothing available, located an information booth near the water and was able to obtain a booking at the 'Welcome Stranger' through them, an ordinary building about two blocks from the booth on the edge of downtown.

Well in need of a nap I rested for a few hours while 'Shane' (yes, 'Shane') played on the TV and awoke to dusk at about six. I wandered downtown, past the Elizabeth Mall, while while it had been bustling in the afternoon, was now almost deserted. Downtown Hobart is concentrated into a few central blocks (the city as a whole has a population under 200,000) and was mostly empty as I pulled into a take-away and munched on a kebab.

Back out onto the street again and thinking that I might locate a pub, I was startled to hear a loud noise and the flashing of police lights just down the road. As I watched, a parade from another dimension slowly approached. Some brightly dressed men on a flatbed followed the police motorcyclist and banged on a set of drums, leading a festively dressed crowd behind in chants and drumbeats.

The praders, including many children, pounded on empty petrol containers, danced, and generally acted merry. Some carried paper lanterns lit with candles, others wore costumes, waved ribbons, and danced in the street. About five hundred people, all together, by my guess, parading to a crowd of a half dozen (myself included), and as they rounded the corner I did the only thing I could do: I followed.

And so through downtown we went, up another street, and then back down toward the harbor, through a turn, passing a block from my Hotel (a block! too far to get a camera), down a cobble path. As we marched, joined by increasing numbers of passers by, a cool rain began to fall, but this only spurred the parade into greater noise, and as it entered what I later learned was Salamanca market I took shelter (along with many of the paraders) under a double row of tall trees.

The parade itself wound up at this point, it being to herald the arrival of the Hobart Fringe Festival. At the end of the row of trees a band playing what could only be described as Aboriginal-Irish music greeted the marchers and the banging of the drums turned into a cacaphony of rhythm, cheers and song.

So I joined in the crowd and watched the band for a while, and then the belly dancers, as the brightly dressed crowd waved their lanterns around me. The people seemed part folkie, part rural, a gentle crowd of artisans, farmers, shopkeepers and students. A regular at folk and fringe festivals in Canada, I felt an affinity with these people, a feeling that we shared a bond which is not expressed in national anthems, religions or even language, but rather, expresses itself through music, art and what we might call an alternative culture.

As the rain strove to pacify the densely packed trees I ducked for shelter in a nearby shed right at the edge of the dock - it was called a shed, though it could easily have contained a football field - after a short time emerging to crowd with the rest of the people, despite the rain, to watch the burning of a fire sculture right at the water's edge. Mere feet away from us two men and two woman, painted ('bronze gods', I thought, thinking of Almost Famous), danced, the men with spears, the women with fire pots. The men symbolically slew the stick and brush figure, then the women set it alight; the mock human was raised to the crackle of fireworks and flame. Streams of fire shot into the sky, and then it was over, a burning pile of brush set against the still harbour water.

I walked quietly back to my hotel, quietly now through the two rows of trees, up an emply cobble alley beside a lush park, an alley which just hours before was filled with fruit stands and crafts, across the intersection and into the hotel pub, where there I and a couple of other people watched a Rugby Union match (different from, and a lot more violent (therefore better) than Rugby League) and sipped our pots of Cascade ale.

Hobart Sunday dawned clear and blue and after a quick breakfast of cereal, toast and coffee I walked a few blocks (determined that the southernmost point I had ever trod would not be the result of a loop followed by some bus), then I checked out of the hotel and wandered back toward the Salamanca market to greet the Sunday noon. This time by day I ventured into the park beside the lane, which informed me that it is called St. David's Park, the home of Hobart's first cemetary. Lush and green, dotted with monuments to the city's first settlers (circa 1780 or so), it occupied me for a half hour with tales of the city's noble and long deceased founding fathers.

The market was quiet, a few shops had opened and some people were eating brunch at a sidewalk cafe, so I wandered back to the sheds. The Fringe shed sat at one end of the pier, some workers preparing for the festival which would continue that evening, while in the other shed some activity seemed promising, and after I paid my two dollars I found myself inside a Rotary Club home and garden show. I wandered through booths advertising paving stones, garden greenery, insulation and bathroom fixtures. Clutching a flat white in hand and walking back up the next aisle, I was gratified to find - as part of a computer exhibit - a display protesting clear cutting, followed shortly by a World Vision exhibit. "Subversion," I said to the environmentalist, "is everywhere. It's great."

Out of the shed, I went back to the market which had by now accumulated a fair crowd of latte drinkers and book buyers. I looked at the paintings and silks in the half dozen galleries, bought a teaspoon for Rita and a couple of postcards for myself, and then settled in for a bit at an internet cafe. Two half whites later and caught up on my email I ventured out into weather which had turned into mist and rain.

No matter. I walked along the harborfront, poking my head into a museum, relaxing and taking pictures at the Abel Tasman fountain. The rain abated slightly and had ended as I found my way back in the market square - bounded on one side by 17th century stone buildings, on another by an 18th century sales block, on another by a 20th century pastel apartment complex and on the fourth by a rock cliff - an odd but effective mixture of shops, cafes and sculpture.

With an hour or so to rest my feet, I purchased a book in one shop, a pint of Guiness in another, and as I opened the first pages of Two Years Before the Mast - read in my teens and well worth a revisit - I sipped my ale, watched the people about me, and thought to myself that this is as close to civilized as it is possible to get.

Ninety minutes later I caught a cab and we drove in pleasant conversation through 18 kilometers of lush and rolling hillsides. I caught an Ansett jet and was back in Melbourne by nightfall, the return trip of an hour and ten minutes covering the distance it had taken nineteen hours to traverse by land and sea.

I think I sense now the love that people can feel for a place after, say, visiting the castles and keeps of Ireland, the brilliant forests of New Brunswick, or the gleaming white villages of Greece. It is hard to imagine how you could develop a lifelong attraction to a land in one day, but it has happened, and I know now that if there is no other place, there will always be a place for me in the green hills of Tasmania, my Tassie.
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Stephen Goes to Australia - Part 8
Posted by Stephen Downes (StephenDownes) on March 28, 2001

So anyhow I returned from Tasmania and as I enthused over my visit - and as people made fun of my seemingly endless supply of Tassie t-shirts, several people asked me, "So did you see people with two heads?"

Seems to be an in-joke, at least in Melbourne, that Tasmanians are perhaps a little in-bred, and hence developed (over time) two heads. Uh huh.

Anyhow, as promised, more pictures.

The beach at Glenelg, just southwest of Adelaide [small image - large image, suitable for desktop wallpaper]

Me on the pier at Glenelg [small image - large image]

Floowers in a park just north of Adelaide city [small image - large image]

Bird on a beach, Glenelg [small image - large image]

Adelaide downtown, from my hotel room window (what a view, eh?) [small image - large image]

A path in a North Adelaide park. "Typical Australia," commented Yanna. [small image - large image]

On the ferry to Tasmania, with Melbourne in the background [small image - large image]

Port Phillip Bay at Sunset [small image - large image]

A picture perfect morning in Devonport, Tasmania [small image - large image]

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Stephen Goes to Australia - Part 9
Posted by (anymouse) on April 29, 2001

Today is my last full day in Australia, and while it's hard to believe that three months have passed so quickly I'm happy to have had the experience. Time now to reflect on my travels, on Australia, and maybe even on some wider thoughts and opinions engendered by this visit.

The last few weeks, as you may imagine, have been frantic. In the last couple of weeks before Melbourne I finally went bush walking (hiking) in the hills east of the city. We also packed into a car and drove three hours to Wilsons Promontory, the southernmost point of mainland Australia. More bush walking, and after, a large Australian meal at the hotel in a small town called Fish Creek. Finally! Real Australian cooking.

I've been playing darts regularly, having joined the Ascot Vale dart team for part of their season. Time now to say farewell to my dart mates: and as I left for the last time I realized what a solid bunch of blokes they are. Les, the spiritual leader and former dart pro. Scotty (aka Scooter), the 21 year-old phenom. Dwayne (D.W.), who's crowing achievement was a new girlfriend who... oh, I can't say that. Sam, the team leader and organizer. Heh. And about eight more people, each one so solidly individual, so engaging... I will miss this team a lot and hope to see them win their Premiership.

Time, too, to say good-bye for now to Tim and Yanna and Mark, my partners in the Austhink research project and kind hosts for my stay in the Garden City. Time now only to deliver one last seminar, and then it's on to a train from Melbourne to Sydney.

It's a 10 hour ride through Australia's south east interior, travelling through towns such as Albury and Wagga Wagga. At the latter we picked up a grizzled farmer from the region who pointed out the place he shot rabbits, the place he got married, and the place where his brother lives, all the while pulling on a flask and sneaking cigarettes in the compartment. He departed at Moss Vale to take the coach to the coast where he intendeds to put his feet up and watch the sea.

The Australian countryside is probably best described as savannah, dotted with gum trees (which have, as Yanna and I discovered, the odd habit of shedding limbs without warning) and crowded with millions of sheep. Rolling hills, sometimes rising into small mountains, define the countryside, and the Murray River cuts a brown widing border between Victoria and New South Wales.

I was only a day in Sydney before meeting with Robby and taking the plane an hour north to Coff's Harbour, a coastal resort halfway to Brisbane, to attend Ausweb 01 at the Opal Cove Resort. The four of us - myself, Robby, Rose (from Learnscope) and Charles (from W3C) - quickly decided that the resort was run by missionaries bent on reforming our alcoholic ways, as the bar closed at 10 and there was no way to get to town to find another (cooler heads - and an organized raiding of minibars - prevailed, however, and we were able to retire at a more repectable 2:30 a.m.).

The highlight of the conference was working with some Apple video editing software and creating with our gang of four a charming and terminally cute 33 second segment called "For the Children." And a few good papers, too. And a somewhat disorganized poster presentation. Heh.

Back to Sydney, two all-day sessions for the administrators of NSW TAFE, and three days on my own touring the waterfront, taking ferries, drinking coffee in towers, riding monorails, climbing steep rock cliffs at the harbour mouth, eating steak, wandering down Oxford Street (Sydney's gay central) and King's Cross...

And now, my last day. Just like that.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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