Tag Archives: Life and love

Jean Macnamara: not all viruses are invincible

A recent piece about Dame Jean Macnamara DBE (1899-1968) reminds me again of my great debt to her. She was the scientist and physician who, when I was about seven years old, figured out that I had had polio six years earlier.

Jean Macnamara

Jean Macnamara distinguished herself at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1922 with degrees in both surgery and anatomy. She went on to become a resident medical officer at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and was just 23 when she was appointed resident at the Royal Children’s Hospital in May 1923. It was a critical time as poliomyelitis was sweeping the globe. After leaving the hospital, in 1925, she entered private practice to focus on poliomyelitis patients.

Her research found that that immune serum needed to be used in polio treatment during the pre-paralytic stage. She published and defended her results in both Australian and British journals, though it was a treatment that was never widely administered.

However, it was her discovery in 1931, along with Australian virologist Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet, of more than one strain of the poliovirus that made her reputation. Their finding was one of the first steps toward the eventual discovery of the Salk vaccine.
Macnamara travelled to England and North America on a Rockefeller Fellowship from September 1931 to October 1933, meeting President Franklin D. Roosevelt, himself a victim of polio.

In addition to her keen interest in curing disease, Macnamara sought to alleviate the pain and suffering it left in its wake. She is credited with ordering the first artificial respirator (or ventilator) in Australia. She introduced novel approaches to rehabilitation and splinting damaged limbs, most developed in conversation with patients and her own splint-maker. Macnamara proved to be a tireless advocate for people with disabilities long before it was in vogue.

Stay home or stay away, just don’t travel

Dear people

Canberra has had no known new cases of Covid-19 infection for three weeks. And for that we give thanks to God, to health workers, to the territory government, and to the good sense of the city’s people.

Now, if your home is in Canberra, please stay here; if do you leave, please do not come back. If your home is not in Canberra, we love you, but please stay the fuck away.

And if you break the rules without good cause, I wish upon you the punishment prescribed by James Agee for arms merchants:

"…may [their] loins thaw with a shrieking pain, and may there be slow nails in the skulls of each, and may lost winds of plague unspeakable alight like flies upon their flesh, here in this earth and by public arrangement, to the sweet entertainment of all men of goodwill: and in their death may the vengeance of God shock their flesh from their bones, and their bones off the air, and all that was of them be reduced to the quintessence of pain very eternal, from moment to moment more exquisite everlastingly, by a geometrical increase: unless by improbable miracle they repent themselves straightway and for good." — Permit me voyage (Yale, 1934).

Not kidding. Lives are at stake.


Autism and a narrowboat: life on a boat saves mental health

Colin has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Because of them, he had to give up his dream career in radio. The conditions leave him with acute anxiety, depression, stress and, rarely, into meltdown. Colin and his partner, Shaun, recently moved for the second time onto a canal narrowboat. The quieter environment and the friendly community on the English canal network massively improved their quality of life. In this video Colin tells his story beautifully during a walk in one of his favourite places.


Propelled into history

In an earlier page I mentioned the VGSS Lady Loch; my great-grandfather John Slater Anderson was among those who designed and built it.

A spare propeller of about three tons weight was cast for the Lady Loch at the time of her construction in 1886. Lady Loch was a 487-ton steam vessel built in Melbourne by Campbell, Sloss & McCann in 1886 for colonial Victoria’s Department of Trade & Customs. She was used by Victoria as a lighthouse tender. With federation, care of lighthouses was transferred to the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth bought the vessel and, presumably, the spare propeller. After a chequered history, Lady Loch became a mere hulk and was finally scuttled in Moreton Bay in 1962.

For some years, the propeller was displayed on the street frontage of a government building in Mort Street, Canberra. When the building was demolished and the propeller moved. I wrote to ask of its whereabouts.

Dr Steven Kennedy, PSM, Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, kindly replied that his department and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority had arranged for the propeller to be displayed in the newly established Seafarers Rest Park in Melbourne. The Park is being developed along the Yarra River in the heart of the city. The propeller is seen above on a truck as it arrived in Melbourne. The park is next to the heritage building of the Mission to Seafarers an active Christian ministry caring for merchant sailors who visit our ports.


Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

William Martin, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents


“Death is not the extinguishing of the light,
but the blowing out of the candle
because the dawn has come.”
— Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941).

Husband, let me serve you

Brother, husband, let me serve you;
let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace to
let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
and companions on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christlight for you
in the night time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping;
when you laugh I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow,
till we’ve seen this journey through

When we sing to God in heaven,
we shall find such harmony,
born of all we’ve known together
of Christ’s love and agony.

Brother, husband, let me serve you;
let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace to
let you be my servant too.
—Richard Gillard

Live longer and prosper

To lengthen our lives we might usually think of trying to increase our years, with good diet, exercise and so forth — all a bit hit-and-miss. A piece in The Book of Life reminds us that our experience of time is subjective. We should seek to "densify" our lives, to enrich our experience rather than trying to postpone death. Children experience a year as a very long time because their experience of everything is so intense and very much of it is new. It has to with novely, The Book of Life contends. "The more our days are filled with new, unpredictable and challenging experiences, the longer they will feel." … By middle age, things can be counted upon to have grown a lot more familiar. We may have flown around the world a few times. We no longer get excited by the idea of eating a pineapple, owning a car or flipping a lightswitch. We know about relationships, earning money and telling others what do. And as a result, time runs away from us without mercy."

The answer is not to try to cram in many expensive novelties, such as much travel to exotic places. Rather, let us take greater notice of things around us.

"We have probably taken a few cursory glances at the miracles of existence that lie to hand and assumed, quite unjustly, that we know all there is to know about them. We’ve imagined we understand the city we live in, the people we interact with and, more or less, the point of it all." In fact we have barely scratched the surface. Time races by because we have not paused to study properly.

Art especially "re-introduces us to ordinary things and reopens our eyes to a latent beauty and interest in precisely those areas we had ceased to bother with. It helps us to recover some of the manic sensitivity we had as newborns." We see Cezanne, "looking closely at apples, as if he had never seen one before," and Van Gogh, "mesmerised by some oranges". Or Albrecht Durer, "looking — as only children usually do — very closely at a clod of earth."

"We don’t need to make art in order to learn the most valuable lesson of artists, which is about noticing properly, living with our eyes open — and thereby, along the way, savouring time. Without any intention to create something that could be put in a gallery, we could — as part of a goal of living more deliberately — take a walk in an unfamiliar part of town, ask an old friend about a side of their life we’d never dared to probe at, lie on our back in the garden and look up at the stars or hold our partner in a way we never tried before. […]

"It is sensible enough to try to live longer lives. But we are working with a false notion of what long really means. We might live to be a thousand years old and still complain that it had all rushed by too fast. We should be aiming to lead lives that feel long because we have managed to imbue them with the right sort of open-hearted appreciation and unsnobbish receptivity, the kind that five-year-olds know naturally how to bring to bear. We need to pause and look at one another’s faces, study the evening sky, wonder at the eddies and colours of the river and dare to ask the kind of questions that open our souls. We don’t need to add years; we need to densify the time we have left by ensuring that every day is lived consciously — and we can do this via a manoeuvre as simple as it is momentous: by starting to notice all that we have as yet only seen."

He said “Yes”.

On 15 May 1997, I said “Yes” to James Kim when he asked me to be his life partner.

Today he honoured me by saying “Yes” when I asked him to marry me.

Ethan Hethcote about the scars that bullying leaves on young gay people

Vlogger Ethan Hethcote offers some thoughts about the scars that bullying leaves on young gay people, offering a powerful personal story that may resonate with a few of you. His remarks are a reaction to an article by Michael Hobbes published by Highline on HuffPost entitled Together Alone: The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness, which is about that subject, but also about the pressures of rejection faced by gay men once they are "out". Notwithstanding advances in rights and legal equality, Hobbes notes, "e;the rates of depression, loneliness and substance abuse in the gay community remain stuck in the same place they’ve been for decades."

Writes Hobbes:

Gay people are now, depending on the study, between 2 and 10 times more likely than straight people to take their own lives. We’re twice as likely to have a major depressive episode. And just like the last epidemic we lived through, the trauma appears to be concentrated among men. In a survey of gay men who recently arrived in New York City, three-quarters suffered from anxiety or depression, abused drugs or alcohol or were having risky sex—or some combination of the three. Despite all the talk of our "chosen families," gay men have fewer close friends than straight people or gay women. In a survey of care-providers at HIV clinics, one respondent told
researchers: "It’s not a question of them not knowing how to save their lives. It’s a question of them knowing if their lives are worth saving."

Ethan has some interesting and heartfelt thoughts about his own experience: