After three months and four countries, we’re back home in the Tweed Valley in Australia – such a beautiful place to come back to. Our trip was one we’d waited a long time for, and it was memorable. Each day brought a discovery. We feel we’ve reconnected with the life of Europe, renewed some of our greatest friendships and found delight in new ones.
If you have been, thank you for following us.
Some thoughts on being home:
The land After Greece, where history meets you on every corner and at every turn of the road, coming back to this vast, awesome country is quite a contrast. You realise how little we non-indigenous Australians know about its previous history. We’re only just beginning to read its landscape; we’re still surprised by its extremes of fire and flood.
It’s been a winter without rain. Not far to our north, Brisbane has had the driest August in 40 years. Our much-loved rural hideaway still looks wonderful, though, well looked after by family while we’ve been gone. We’d planted mainly native trees, which can cope with these tough conditions. They’ve survived well, and attracted flocks of little honeyeaters. But now everyone in the region is waiting anxiously for the spring rains, and the latest forecasts say they may be a while coming.
The bad news On our first night at home the news gave cause for dismay. There’s been another Aboriginal death in custody. There was a rush to condemn last weekend’s Sydney protests against the anti-Islamic hate film, but hardly a voice raised to ask whether the anger of young Muslims has anything to do with America, Britain and Australia invading Middle Eastern countries. In Canberra, Cory Bernardi was sacked most reluctantly from the opposition front bench for linking gay marriage to bestiality – but Liberal leader Tony Abbott knew of his knuckle-dragging views when he promoted him. And then there’s the extraordinary vilification of Australia’s first female prime minister, detailed recently by journalist Anne Summers: if you haven’t read it, go to http://annesummers.com.au/ but prepare to be shocked.
The better news
On Friday in the Australian Federal Court Justice Steven Rares found that Lehman Brothers Australia, formerly Grange Securities, had breached its fiduciary duties in advising local councils and charities to take out CDOs – those dodgy investments based on US sub-prime mortgages. In a class action led by the councils of Parkes, Wingecarribee and the City of Swan, 72 organisations are seeking $248m in compensation, which is about a quarter of total losses to the sector after Lehman went bust early in 2008.
The judgment is being hailed as a landmark internationally. The case comes back to court in November to hammer out the details. I’d like to know: where are the principals of Grange Securities, who sold the business to Lehman in 2007, and will they be held liable? These men had a modus operandi described by one commentator as “dealing both sides of the deck”: they’d get themselves appointed as advisers to councils or charities with funds to invest, then sell the organisations CDOs, overriding all opposition and raking in profits along the way. It wasn’t pretty and the shysters deserve to be captured by the criminal justice system.
THE ART OF HEALING
While we were in Greece we found ourselves in need of medical services. Given everything we’d heard about the draconian spending cuts, we were a little apprehensive. We may have been especially lucky, but we needn’t have worried. The doctors were outstanding. The case medics worked closely with consultants, test results were produced rapidly, and the team came up with holistic treatment plans.
There’s a philosophical basis to such medical practice in Greece. It is, after all, the country that developed western medicine. It’s where the Hippocratic oath comes from. Hippocrates was born around 460 BC on the island of Kos. He was the first to develop medicine as a science, and to regard illness as the product of natural causes rather than of the wrath of the gods. It’s believed he was trained at the island’s asclepion, one of the curative temples named for Asclepius, god of healing – of which the best known is at Epidaurus. But he went on to separate medicine from religion, and spent 20 years in jail for refusing to renounce his stand. He was a believer in natural treatments, and he placed great emphasis on cleanliness, professionalism and care for the patient.
Another of the noble professions of Greece, archaeology, was honoured in Athens on Saturday. A special performance of scenes from Aeschylus, accompanied by original music, was held at the Theatre of Dionysus on the southern slopes of the Acropolis – the world’s first stone-built auditorium.
It’s 2,500 years since the plays of Aeschylus were first performed there. Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes premiered there too, and are immortalised in stone.
The new work, scripted by Giorgos Kouroupos, incorporates two monologues from the tragedy Prometheus Bound, and is dedicated to the archaeologists and conservationists working on ancient theatres.
Despite the stringent conditions imposed by the Troika bailout package, which includes severe pay cuts for archaeologists in the public service, the theatre at the Acropolis is slowly being restored to its former glory. In classical times it was the site of the Dionysia festival, which became the forum for the first known playwrights’ competition.
Dionysus – god of wine, nature, intoxication and theatre. Now that’s a god Australians can really appreciate.