Posts Tagged ‘Finland’

Is the end Nigh for Real Estate and Education?

September 19, 2017


The news that the clearance rates at Real Estate auctions in the major Australian cities are dropping might well be welcomed by many. All bubbles burst and why not in housing? What should be of greater concern is that our education system keeps on failing our children. Language and numeracy results are lagging badly behind most developed nations.

Eminent educational expert keep on popping up on our TV screens  urging yet more tests. They go to American or UK  educational institutions trying to get inspiration in devising plots that will make a difference to the way we educate our young. At the same time our Government is twisting and turning in making permanent citizenship harder to obtain by devising English language tests for migrants and extending  years of waiting. We should really test our politicians instead of our school children or migrants.

Australia has this conundrum of many professional positions being unable to get filled by our own (badly) educated, and rely on Syrians , Iraqis, Indian, and many other well educated foreign professional experts to fill those positions. We often get experts on so many fields appearing on our TV with foreign accents. There are a dearth of highly professional positions that can only get filled by trying to attract overseas educated people. It seems the Government’s contempt for lack of migrant’s language skills ought to be sheeted home to themselves. It is embarrassing watching our deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce painfully searching for the words to express himself. Take out the verb ‘ensuring’ from our Prime Minister (A mere lawyer) and he too would have trouble getting his message across. Talk about painting the kettle black! Do your own English testing in Canberra!


Please, take the time and read this link which shows how education works:

“There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians. Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town.”

I don’t think that the apocalyptical predictions associated with ‘the end is nigh’ will eventuate but,  isn’t it about time we do things better?




Dropping a bombshell.

June 30, 2017


When Cardinal Pell declared some years ago, that the health hazards of homosexuality were worse than that of smoking, he sure showed his cards. The fact that as a priest his anti gay stance drove young aspiring men to suicide did not seem to trouble him the least.

Pell will get his trial and no matter the outcome, the catholic church is receiving a king-hit right now. It cannot risk losing support from their own staunchly conservative anti-gay, anti same sex marriage of ‘true’ believers, nor from those that were hoping that this new Pope would finally steer the church into a more progressive direction. It is a real dilemma and a nightmare. One can just imagine the battles being fought between the younger progressive cardinals and the concreted conservatives. I would not be surprised it coming to fisticuffs with mitres flying about, littering the Vatican’s corridors.

I reckon the Pope would have been tossing and turning last night. A restless sleep. He needs all the advice that his most trusted cardinals can muster. The whole Vatican must now be seething with anxiety, lawyers getting copies of briefs, ready for the Melbourne procedures. It is clear that Pell’s TV appearance last night was already pointing out at great lengths that ‘character assassination’ and ‘media gossip’ will be used as one of his best modes of defence. It might be argued that his trial cannot possibly be fair when so many allegations of sexual abuse have already been ‘relentlessly’ aired and tried by the media. Against that is the belief that ‘no-one’ is above the law, not even the Pope.

My own parents gave it all a miss many years ago. Mum reckoned she would have used the pill if available in earlier years. She was a great supporter of her own children later on choosing the number of children they wished to have. It begs the question, if the pill would have been available in my parents time, some of us might now not be here to tell the tale! The bombshell when I announced my plan to travel to Finland to get married was received with total mayhem and utter despair. “You used to be such a nice young man, Gerard,” was what my still fervently believing catholic inspired mum told me. Dad was more understanding or just less orthodox. Either way, the idea of marrying a girl they never met, was  much less of an issue than the fact she wasn’t ‘catholic.’ It was one of the most irritating questions we were asked by mother, when dating a girl; Is she Catholic?

I would like to think that my trip to Finland might well have been the catalyst in their slide-down into becoming ex-Catholics or non-believers. It was slow in coming but gathered speed as the years went by. It had a liberating effect on my parents. The final knock-out blow to their Catholicism was delivered years later, when they watched a TV segment whereby their former ‘nice-boy Gerard’ was interviewed about his recent vasectomy. There could not have been a more enthusiastic supporter for the cut to the vas deferens, than my mother.

The surgeon was Barbara Simcock. I read years later that she performed thousands of vasectomies.  What she doesn’t know about testicles is just not worth writing about. The seventies was just the beginning. Vasectomies become so popular the term vasectomania was used. It still is the preferred method for male contraception. Just type in ‘vasectomy’ and one gets the most mouth watering invitation from dozens of clinics offering a host of very tempting procedures. One even offers a three-day trip on a luxury liner.


The mind boggles.


A sigh of relief!

January 3, 2017


There is a communal sighing of relief washing all over Australia . Work has started and routine is returning. People are happy again. It is odd how we yearn for variety and change of routine, yet always welcome a return to normality. There is nothing as life-confirming as everyday habits while performing household duties. I suppose, all the extra dishes have now been washed and the last of the bottles put out for re-cycling. We are all relishing a return to the familiar. We enjoy being bored but are just not honest enough to admit except to our most intimate friends under the cover of darkness or an umbrella during day time.

New Year’s day was totally absent of any public expression of joy. Not a celebration in sight. All shops were closed. Even the coffee bars were shut. Some tourists were aimlessly walking around looking for a celebration. Several with strong European accents asked us where they could get a coffee. “No, not here in Bowral, but the Fish and Chip shop is open, try there you might get an instant Nescafé.” Bowral on New Year’s day looked like a post-apocalyptic scene out of the novel ‘On the Beach’, by Neville Shute. I remember when each time we arrived back in Australia by boat it would be on a Sunday in Fremantle. Not a soul to be seen on the streets. The first time back in 1956, before the book was even written

At one stage we had foreign students living with us in inner city suburb of Balmain. They were mainly from Asian countries. Inevitably they would ask us; “where are the people?” They missed people around on the streets more than anything.

I think Australia might have to try a bit harder in the field of public celebrations and joy in attracting tourism. Sure, the fireworks in Sydney and other places were magnificent on New Year’s Eve. Overall, it seems that the Christmas season celebrations are mainly a private affair. A family get together rather than a public event. Our cities don’t seem to have the density required for people to come out in the open in throngs like they do in Amsterdam, Paris or Hong Kong. We live too spread out from each other and with our love for privacy don’t care much for a display of abandoning all our inhibitions, except when we get drunk. Even then we are more likely to bash than to embrace.

A report has come out stating that our economic model of consuming by soaking up our yearly GDP is becoming more and more unstuck. It seems we have reached a level of saturation. There is only so much we can shove in our cupboards and wardrobes or have enough power points to plug in electronic gadgetry.

Well, the pensioners will certainly give a helping hand in non-consuming, seeing the government has targeted billions to be saved from cutting pensions or by lowering them. The money saved will be used to give tax breaks to business and the wealthy. We also have this senator advising that pensioners should be ashamed of being a pensioner. Pensioners ought to feel they have failed seems to be his message.

We should all pull together and show shame. Be proud of your shame.


The Budget.

May 3, 2016

Our family about 1960. Frank second from left.

Our family about 1960. Frank second from left.

Our treasurer, Mr Scott Morrison had all the manners of a Moses holding his staff moments before parting the Red Sea. In fact a sea of red and obstinate budget debts is really closer to the truth. In the aftermath of his reading of the budget and recommending it triumphantly to the House, he started to be interviewed and questioned by prominent journalists. Those, whose job it is to keep the finger on the pulse and report back to the population at large. Millions of viewers were glued to the flat screens, sound bars turned up, not a word to be missed.
Innovation, jobs and growth were the catch words.

Now if this was Germany or Finland, the innovation would be pared to alternative energy. You know, solar- wind, saving the planet, showing the world real innovation. Australia, the sunniest and windiest continent in the world, but…no. Not a word. Our PM knows his hands are tied. The old guard fuddy-duddies, the clueless uncles of clinging to the past still holding him to ransom. But, hang on, our Turnbull was going to change and steer us into the future. Get away from onion eating monarchy loving PMs.

Sadly, no such thing. Back to the past and sleep and snore…The LNP the slumber party.

As for the “Almost There,” just a few more days. The final proof has been done, but each time I open the file, another spelling or funny fault turns up. Yesterday an extra f in off. It should have been a single f. I am so sick of reading my own words. It is naval gazing at its worst. A kind of verbal attempt at bungie jumping at the end of a metal chain. A most jarring experience.

But, take heart, dear readers. I am almost ready to send my second book off to the editor, the brilliant David Burton in the UK. This time, the paper-back edition will appear first and then the kindle version. I have dug into my reservoir of short bits on my Word-Press blog and found enough for many publications into the future. In the meantime I will just ramble on as it comes. The aim is to publish the words in book format as well as on WP. I shall also try and upgrade the Heading of my blog, and advertise the books at the top that I have noticed many of you do as well.

There seems to have seeped a certain lethargy into the present. An autumnal sweeping of brown leaves swirling before the bare skeletons of trees shown up stark in the evening chill. Perhaps a trip up North to warm balmy ocean shores is needed. But then again, all that sand and harsh sun-light, bags of tourists’ fries and hamburgers wafting around. We are both lovers of shade and cinnamon. Perhaps a good walk with Milo will do the trick. We will be asked; ‘How old is your Jack Russell?’ ‘He is eleven now.’ ‘Gee, he still looks very young, almost like a puppy.’ Milo looks up, but goes into a fury when a Harley Davidson roars by. He strains at his lead. Intend on killing the bike and rider.

He lifts anyone’s spirit. He really does.


The magic of Finnish Education.

May 3, 2016

Finland’s children do better at school by going to school less! It seems contradictory but it is not. Not only that, but they do not get any homework either. Have a look at this video.

With the latest female refugee setting herself alight at the death-camp of Nauru, the second within a week of doing so, and the dreadful stance of our Government on refugees. ( Our own PM, Turnbull stating ‘we must not get too misty eyes'( about refugees) we might get to the real reason of our well ingrained acceptance of bullying and torturing of refugees. We simply are just not educated and developed enough to understand the meaning of empathy and understanding of those outside our own narrow little world.

The Minster for immigration Mr Dutton, is now blaming refugee advocates for encouraging self harm. To think that New Zealand has offered to take several hundred refugees away from the dreadful state they are in, and then to, at the same time, make sense of Australia’s refusal allowing that to happen makes one wonder if North Korea isn’t a more humane country.



March 27, 2016

Please read the above article in the link.

“The Harvard education professor Howard Gardner once advised Americans, “Learn from Finland, which has the most effective schools and which does just about the opposite of what we are doing in the United States.”

Following his recommendation, I enrolled my seven-year-old son in a primary school in Joensuu. Finland, which is about as far east as you can go in the European Union before you hit the guard towers of the Russian border.

OK, I wasn’t just blindly following Gardner – I had a position as a lecturer at the University of Eastern Finland for a semester. But the point is that, for five months, my wife, my son and I experienced a stunningly stress-free, and stunningly good, school system. Finland has a history of producing the highest global test scores in the Western world, as well as a trophy case full of other recent No. 1 global rankings, including most literate nation.

In Finland, children don’t receive formal academic training until the age of seven”

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Where are the ‘Cities’? Finland’s income plan.

December 10, 2015


Old Turku, Finland

Old Turku, Finland

If you are looking for a city called Shoalhaven City, forget it. It does not exist. The same for a city called Canterbury City. We are visiting a place named Nelson Bay which does exists but yet Port Stephens does not. Nelson Bay is also Port Stephens together with some other townships. Palm Beach has no palms and tasty cheese is often not tasty.  Many a foreigner is left dangling to make sense of our fondness for the confusion caused by complications in naming things. I remember buying a house in Balmain but it was actually in Petersham because that was the Parish in which Balmain was situated but it was also in the county of Cumberland even though Balmain was also a Borough till at least 1906. (which was in the Cumberland County). To top it off, Balmain is part of Leichhardt Shire

I suppose, history leaves a stamp on land- titles and official documents and it takes a brave soul to modernise the running of a bureaucracy. Then there are places like Leichhardt near Balmain, but you would be wrong thinking it is the same as the electoral seat of Leichhardt which is 2500 kilometres away in the North of Australia.

It is no wonder someone asked; What’s in a name?

In the meantime Finland is addressing social inequality , by planning to pay every person a monthly income. Now there is a country that likes innovation and making things simple.

“To fight poverty and boost its own economy, Finland is planning to issue a check for $876 to every citizen, every month. The concept is called basic income, and the Finnish government is getting closer to finalizing its implementation this month.

The Finnish Social Insurance Institution (KELA) is drafting the plan to pay every one of its 5.4 million people $876 per month, tax-free, which would replace social support programs, such as welfare and unemployment benefits. Though a proposal from KELA isn’t expected until November 2016, a pilot stage is currently planned prior to full implementation of the program.

Basic income has been debated by economists for years, but Finland would be the first major nation to actually implement the model on a universal basis. The arrangement was initially popularized in the 1960s by Milton Friedman and would “provide payments from the state that would increase in inverse proportion to income.

This could be the Finnish government’s answer to rising poverty and unemployment rates during a three-year recession, and it is certainly popular among Finns. In a recent poll by KELA, 69 percent of Finns support a basic income. Voters elected the Centre party this April, which campaigned in support of basic income, but the idea is popular among voters of almost all parties.”

I will just leave you with the following;

Our Dutch pension that includes a holiday loading is now higher than our Australian pension. I worked in Holland for about three years. I worked in Australia for well over fifty years (paying tax!) Because the Australian pension is means tested, it gets deducted by the value of savings, the family car, furniture, silver tea spoons, cash on hand, brass taps etc AND a deduction of the value of our Dutch Pension.

Can one believe how complicated and unfair this all is.  We are not complaining and are living well. But what about those who pay rent or mortgage, have debts or living in struggle street?


Pardon me; your accent is still showing.

December 8, 2015
In Belgium at 5 or 6 years. ( to put on weight).After the war.

In Belgium at 5 or 6 years. ( to put on weight).After the war.

‘Tell me honestly, where is your ‘real’ home?’ I don’t really ask that question immediately whenever I meet someone who talks with a foreign accent. Generally, I wait for an opportune moment. It can’t come quick enough. My grandchildren squirm in embarrassments whenever I fire up engaging with foreigners about the original birthplace and talk about other countries. Fortunate for them both their parents are without any accents, both were born in Australia. Grandpa and grandma are a different country altogether, but I do remember when much younger, also being a bit apprehensive when my parents tried to speak English in my presence to a neighbour or an Australian.

The ultimate was for my mother calling the baker ‘bugger’. Dutch is a phonetic language and of course English is not. You could not blame my parents for calling him the ‘bugger’ even though he would just be called upon to leave 2 loaves of white bread. We kept trying to correct my mum’s pronunciation but never succeeded. The baker must have just put it all down, good naturedly, to those ‘continentals’ and their lascivious manners and ways.

Of course, the need to blend in and be invisible is often keenly sought when growing up. It is such an embarrassing business. When old, one wishes for more attention, but the young just race past the old.

One just never knows with old fogeys what kind of stupid remarks they might still make. Alzheimer can’t come quick enough, just give us our money and then piss off. Has anyone read recently about old folks getting ripped off by their own children. They end up fighting over the antique clock or box with jewellery and wedding rings that no longer fits those gnarled shrunken fingers? It happens in close knit communities. Can you believe?

Even though I was fifteen on arrival here, my foreign accent is still here and will never go. The odd thing is that my Dutch has an Australian accent. Years ago while in Amsterdam with Helvi, I asked direction to a cinema. To our surprise we were asked if I perhaps could be a Dutchman who was living or had lived for a long time in Australia. I was stunned. How could you tell, I asked the man? Oh, he said ‘I have met  a few Dutchmen who came from Australia.’ They all speak Dutch with an Australian accent. Even more intriguing is that Helvi’s English has a mixture of both Finnish and Dutch with Dutch being more dominant.

In any case, my question about trying to suss out what people’s ‘real home’ is can be put down to many still having a foot still in both continents. I am always somewhat curious what it means to have soaked up enough of the real Australia way of life to have totally blended in with the locals. Most of the locals come from somewhere, unless rooted in the ‘real Australia’, the traditional owners of this land we call Australia. In any case, my question is often met with pleasure and surprise. It makes for interesting conversation and it passes the time!


A salaried artist in 1973 (Auto biography)

August 2, 2015
In Holland 1973/74

In Holland 1973/74

As it happened back in the early seventies I read a Dutch magazine in which was featured a Mayor of a small Dutch town. In it he spoke about artists and how he wanted to encourage the arts to flourish in his municipality. Also in the same magazine was mentioned a Government initiative many years before to make this happen. It was very simple really. Artists would be paid a salary the same as most workers. It was argued, that the making of art was as valid as making bread or driving a train. Art was as necessary and equally esteemed as a bicycle.  Indeed, art was the very bicycle of the spirit and soul. Was it Marcel Duchamp who pointed that out? It was decided that in exchange for their production of art, the maker or creator of this art would be paid a salary which would enable him to live comfortably and with dignity. It seemed so pragmatically and so utterly Dutch.

The article struck me as a lightening bolt from the sky. I became feverishly emboldened and I promptly wrote to this Mayor in which I greatly appreciated his aim in encouraging creative work in Holland. At the same time I made enquiries on how the system of creating art in exchange for a salary worked.  While in Australia the combination running a business  as well as doing art worked reasonably well,  it wasn’t as ideal as it could be. The idea of a salaried artist germinated into fertile soil. I could not let go of the idea. At the same time I felt a rekindling of a kind and benevolent Holland. An artistic Dutch Nirvana! . I would again be regaining my home- country. It grew stronger by the day. Gone were the memories of daily rain and howling storms.  I pushed aside those earlier memories visiting my friends who put on the TV within minutes of my arrival. Instead, a welcoming home to this lost Dutch prodigal son from Australia emerged like a fata morgana strangely affixed amongst an aurora in a Nordic sky. Of course, it also grew out of all proportions. I was running a head of steam.

I received a letter back from this Mayor advising me to contact him if and when we would arrive. I still had the Dutch nationality and right from the beginning our stay in Australia was decided would be temporary. It was envisaged we somehow would get a house (hut) made of solid pine in a Finnish forest and Helvi would teach and I would paint. Life would be simple and joyous. The Mayor’s article and the Dutch artist salary made us decide to do the ‘simple and joyous’ in Holland instead. Please consider that we were young and idealistic. It was the only way to be. With ageing might come experiences that wilts idealism, or at least blows autumn leaves, sometimes even icy blasts. Of course, to keep going in making art that doesn’t give an income is the  slippery slope that bedevils many. The Dutch Government artist’s support whereby the art was bought for a monthly salary seemed so good, manna from heaven. It was so popular many overseas artists flocked to Holland. The art was used to decorate the walls, floors or gardens of public building. Jails, hospitals, parliament buildings, schools, libraries, child care, municipality town-halls, swimming pools, Law-Courts, Family-Divorce courts…  you name it, all were flooded with art works.,1185173&hl=en

When those public buildings were saturated with paintings, ceramics, wall hangings, sculptures. A law was passed named ‘the percentage in art acquisition’. It forced all large planned private buildings to spend a percentage of the total building costs on buying creative works to decorate the new building with. It was a boon that created an enormous output of art surpassing the (over) production of the world’s largest EU butter mountain a few years later. Of course, it went without saying that libraries started lending art works as well. People would take a painting home for a few weeks and swap for another one.

In 1973, we sold Gertrude’s cottage, packed as many suitcases we could take on the plane and after landing at Schiphol, rented a car. We slept one night in a hotel near the airport. Next day, after breakfast of ham and cheese rolls and coffee, we drove North to the small town and the Mayor.  He was extremely helpful and indeed knew a farmer who had just moved into a new farm house who gave us the old farm-house to rent for the time being.  He had it arranged for us. How glorious. We had packed air mattresses for the five of us. (That’s right, between Helvi on holiday in Finland in 1972, with our two daughters and her return to Balmain, we had a third baby, a glorious boy this time). The second night we slept on those air mattresses on the floor of the old farm, quite chuffed that all had turned out so reasonably well.

It was a lovely spring and sunny. That helped a lot.

(more to come)


Life drawing with a fondue. (Auto-biography.)

July 31, 2015


‘Billabong’. From Wikipedia;

“The etymology of the word billabong is disputed. The word is most likely derived from the Wiradjuri term bilabaŋ, which means “a watercourse that runs only after rain” and is derived from bila, meaning “river”,[3] and possibly bong or bung, meaning “dead”. One source, however, claims that the term is of Scottish Gaelic origin.[6]Billabongs attained significance as they held water longer than parts of rivers and it was therefore important for people to name these areas.

Gaelic or aboriginal, I’ll settle for the latter and painted accordingly in the ochre, chrome yellow, sienna colouring and avoided any kilt hues. You’ll be hard pushed to see any well hung MacDonald’s quarter pounders in my Billabong.

The above painting ‘Billabong’ must have got the nod of approval by the panel of judges and was hung in the NSW Gallery in 1972. The seventies was a period, not only of vegie co-ops, baby sitting clubs and going bra-less, it was also a period of enormous cultural change in Australia..  It all started in the late sixties and had its origin in a couple of cafes around the Cross in Sydney. I think Frank Morehouse, an Australian writer, was savvy to this and even wrote a book called ‘ Days of Wine and Rage.’ Up till the late sixties, the Nescafe instant coffee was the preferred brown drink. For many years TV advertisements used to swear each cup had 43 beans of  ‘real coffee’, implying that there were coffees around that were not ‘real’, conveniently forgetting that Nescafe instant coffee is as far removed  from being real coffee than ‘tasty cheese’  is from being an honest cheese. Most readers of this blog would know my stand on ‘tasty cheese’!

Towards the end of the sixties a coffee lounge opened up named ‘Reggios’ at the corner of Crown street and near Chapel Street, Sydney. Not only was it one of the first ‘real’ coffee lounges to open, it was also selling the best coffee in town and it was ‘real’ coffee percolated from ‘real’ beans. Reggio’s was frequented by a lot of Italians. Many were migrants from boats such as Roma and Sydney. Most were single. If one looked carefully it was noticed that many looked somewhat doe- eyed. The tragedy of a shortage of available women was expressed in their eyes after they  lifted their faces from the  empty coffee cups and looked into mine. I understood their plight.

A few girls of the night soon cottoned onto this Mediterranean loneliness and for a modest sum would allow some relief to the forlorn of Messina or Napoli. It wasn’t the kind of love those men sought but it was better than nothing. The coffee afterwards helped. But it was a love so bitter and not helped by the dusty train journey home afterwards to their even lonelier suburb.

Soon more coffee lounges followed. Today it has become a mile long stretch of coffee lounges and cafés, catering for the well-heeled,  the property developers, the gangsters, toy boys and their  well coiffured owners. All now are sitting under the striped awnings together with their barristers or  Labor Ministers. All are wildly gesticulating and doing their sipping. Of course there is so much more to coffee now. There is a bewilderingly long list of different coffees available. It frightens me, as I have long ago given up in remembering the latest of this or that. We still ask for a simple ‘latte’. Does anyone in our age group ask for a macchiato coffee? I doubt it. What is it?

Our daughters 'Susanna and Natasha in Finland. Nr 3 and 4 on the right.

Our daughters ‘Susanna and Natasha in Finland. Nr 3 and 4 on the right.

In between running a business we also found time to do life drawing and have fondue parties. The fondue set would come down from the top cupboard and with the help of a little dish with methylated spirits we would cook bits of raw meat in a container with oil which was heated by the metho. The meat was held at the end of steel prongs. The fad lasted for a few years together with exercise bikes. I noticed there has been an upsurge of exercise machinery. Some look as if they are ready to go on an outer space journey. So massive,  I wonder if they can double as a diesel truck or prime mover or a good lathe? Would it not be better to go for a walk or has that become too dangerous with perverts stalking the streets?

In any case, society had progressed and nothing was not tried and experimented with. It came about that some would eagerly strip off for a spontaneous life drawing session all inside our Gertrude cottage. Of course, that is finished. Can one imagine the horror of stripping off now. There would be a stampede out of Gertrude’s cottage or a call to the police, even an ambulance!.

Those were the days.