d e a n   f o r b e S                                                            w a l k i n g ,  n o t  r u n n i n g . . .

Making a Difference: Australian International Education

Edited by Dorothy Davis and Bruce Mackintosh (UNSW Press, Sydney, 2011)

MEDIA commentary 2018

Humanities and social sciences will wither if they retreat into ideological corners in the Times Higher Education 6/12/18.

Could limiting foreign influence also limit overseas income? in the Times Higher Education 30/8/18.

My commentary in John Ross’s piece titled ‘Chinese students undeterred from study down under’ in the Times Higher Education 27/5/18.

Planning Asian Cities: Risks and Resilience

Edited by Stephen Hamnett and Dean Forbes (Routledge, London,  2011)


eBook version

Sustainable Development in China edited by Curtis Andressen, Mubarak A.R., and Wang Xiaoyi (Routledge, London,  2013)

BLOGS 2018

Scroll down to read

  1. Bullet The gig economy

  2. Bullet Delta town blues

  3. Bullet A royal (society) event

  4. Bullet Foreign influence 2

  5. Bullet Vale John Beaton

  6. Bullet Political arty party

  7. Bullet A brief manifesto

  8. Bullet Geographers who are PMs

  9. Bullet Populism strikes

  10. Bullet Ave atque vale

  11. Bullet Revisiting the Asia Pacific

  12. Bullet I’m a newspaper tragic

  13. Bullet Foreign influence 1

  14. Bullet The Kimberley

  15. Bullet Poldark is back

  16. Bullet PNG’s articulate DPM

  17. Bullet Chinese students undeterred

  18. Bullet The Socialist City Vietnam

  19. Bullet Vale Tom Wolfe

  20. Bullet Grey suits and red stars #6

  21. Bullet The Malaysian election

  22. Bullet Townske Vietnam

  23. Bullet 10 blogging years

  24. Bullet Don’t shoot me, I’m a reader

  25. Bullet MONA on Townske

  26. Bullet Wilson Center

  27. Bullet Incorrigible optimist

  28. Bullet Shuffling into 2018


We all know about Air B&B and others like it, right? And yes they have worked for me both in Australia and overseas.

Living in the inner city I have noticed signs going up on apartment blocks indicating that no short term rentals are allowed in some blocks. I am new to strata management, but beginning to learn why it is important.

The NSW government has recently passed legislation that eases restrictions on apartment owners and renters providing Short Term Rental Accommodation (STRA). It overrides the previous ability of the apartment strata managers to have a tight hold on this kind of activity.

Pyrmont, being close to the CBD, is very attractive to backpackers and others who want short term, shared accommodation. It is generally less attractive to owners and residents in general who fear the apartments will become ‘party central’ for the duration of the stay.

Not all short term residents in Pyrmont are at fault. But for a year or so I suffered from noise of regular long showers at 3am, dinner parties outside that went on until 1.00 or 2.00am, and hour long phone calls to Europe talking loudly while strolling up and down past the bedrooms of sleeping residents. Ear plugs are OK for events like New Years Eve. They are not for every night of the week.

Some entrepreneurs make a lot of money out of these activities having large numbers of apartments that they sub-let to any number of people at one time. It’s not just (international) students who want the cheapest bed they can get in the best location.

The fear is that the legitimate restrictions which the building strata committees have the right to impose may be diluted or that the hard core entrepreneurs will continue to operate outside of the new laws. The final form of the legislation is not yet clear.

Apartment managers are discussing the options. They know the lucrative profits of short and medium term rentals and that risk-taking entrepreneurs will continue to exploit any opportunities in the legislation, or ignore it altogether.

It is another reminder that there are many sides to the gig economy. Not everyone is a winner. (21/12/18) 


Humanities and social sciences will wither if they retreat into ideological corners’ is my new piece in The Times Higher Education. It is about the prospects of a university establishing a Ramsey Centre program on western civilisation. It is a very contested space in Australia at present. (8/12/18)


John Henshall’s Downtown Revitalisation and Delta Blues in Clarksdale, Mississippi (Springer, 2018) looks interesting. Especially so for those with an interest in the role of the arts in building communities and contributing to the revitalisation of regional towns.

I have followed John’s photographs of Clarksdale and other small delta towns on facebook for years and they reveal a very funky, organic music scene. Tamworth, of course, has a claim based on its support for country and western music, but I have never got the same vibes from the coverage on TV.

Congratulations, John. (7/12/18)


What do artificial intelligence, a stressed global environment and weakening social cohesion have in common? Answer, they are all of public and scientific concern to Australians and will have a robust impact on our children’s world.

Stay with me.

It is not often I get an invitation to Government House in Sydney, the residence of the NSW Governor, His Excellency General The Hon David Hurley AC DC (Ret’d). Hurley is the Vice Regal Patron of The Royal Society of NSW. It joined forces with the Australian Academy of Science, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, The Academy of Social Sciences in Australia (my Academy connection) and The Australian Academy of the Humanities to organise a Royal Society of NSW and Four Academies Forum.

The first Forum was held in Government House in September 2015 and I was fortunate to attend the event. The presentations were impressive and M and I enjoyed a drinks gathering in the evening that gave us the chance to wander around the public spaces and the gardens.

So it was back to Government House. I was stopped by a police-woman at the gate who asked me the name of the conference. I, of course, hadn’t taken much notice of the trivia but I opened my phone and showed her the conference agenda. She waved me on with a smile, obviously thinking only an academic could not know the name of the event he is attending.

I sat down behind a man who, like me, was not wearing a tie. He swung around and told me he was delighted I was tie-less as his wife, who was sitting next to him and looking pained, said he would be under dressed. Most of the audience were blokes, and most were wearing a tie. I blame the scientists and engineers.

Towards a Prosperous Yet Sustainable Australia – What Now for the Lucky Country? was the name of the forum. It was an initiative of David Hurley, who I’m coming to think of as an activist-governor. In a short welcoming speech he observed that HECS debt is now $230 billion and could negatively impact on the Australian economy by weakening the nation’s credit rating.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) was one of three themes that kept me entertained. Toby Walsh, a rock star of Australia’s digital revolution, assured us that AI has potential to improve Australia. The pace of change in AI is so fast everything is doubling every two years. Yet at the same time, the best, most sophisticated AI instrument takes 25 minutes to fold a swimming towel! It is an odd example of an activity that is very hard for machines, but easy for humans.

Walsh’s book is 2062: The World That AI Made. He also dropped in the term ‘Zettabytes’ which is sextillion bytes or 10 to the 21st power. That’s a lot of MacBook Pros. 

Hugh Durrante-Whyte is NSW’s Chief Scientist and Engineer. He is a celebrated machine learning and robotics specialist and spoke about the low level of competitiveness of Australian businesses. It’s a hard slog. Australian investment in AI is small by comparison with many countries. Australian AI provision in the budget is $A22 million. By comparison, South Korea has put up $880 million over five years.

The Australian environment was of concern to many speakers. Samantha Mostyn is on several major company boards. She was also on Australia’s National Sustainability Council, an independent body set up in 2012 to report every two years about Australia’s progress measured against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. There are 179 in total, not all that many when you consider the complexity and fundamental importance of the environment.

The Sustainability Council was abolished after delivering its 2013 report, but the work continues with the support of Monash University. She advocates the importance of our ‘stewardship’ of Australia. I wonder how well that term goes down with the conservatives.

Ashley Brinson is Executive Director of the Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering at the University of Sydney. His focus was the processes for building and expanding recycling and re-use of materials that are the essence of ‘the circular economy’.

The situation is dire, especially in the world’s oceans. They found 80 plastic bags in the stomach of a dead whale. It will not be long before the accumulation of waste plastic in the oceans will weigh more than the total number of fish in the oceans. Mycoplasma are expanding and will have an increasing impact on humans. The Warren Centre has a weekly newsletter.

Jacky Hodges, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, says that ‘accountants are responsible for the problems’ we face in the environment. How? Simple, really: we measure economic activity but we don’t include in those measures the impact of activity on the environment.

If we had the will there are solutions. The US Statistical Commission has developed a System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA) that brings with it new standards for measuring Gross Development Product (GDP). This means that production is off-set against the depletion of natural resources on land, at sea and in the atmosphere.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has also developed standards for measuring the GDP adjusted against the depletion of the environment across minerals, timber, fish and water.

Brian Czech spoke by video from the US. The title was Steady State Economics, The Trophic Theory of Money, and GDP as an Indicator of Environmental Impact Simulations. My comprehension of the detail was limited, but I agree with his central argument that we need to create a ‘non-growing or steady state economy’ if we are to survive on this planet. It was the trophic theory of money bit that I couldn’t get on to.

The third theme of the day was Hugh Mackay speaking on two big Australian issues. Increased social fragmentation was one; the other was the mental illness crisis. Social isolation is a greater threat to health than obesity. He lamented that being busy is now a social virtue, meaning that life built around social connections is less possible. On top of that, three million people live in poverty. Mental illness affects about five million people, or just under 20% of the total population.

Mackay wants us to rebuild society at the micro level and strengthen institutions at the macro level. Somewhere in my notes I wrote that he said ‘accountants are responsible for the problems’ but his solution is for us to become more compassionate.

It was a half day well spent and a pleasure to listen to well-informed experts. They shared their deep thinking on major social issues and the pragmatic solutions that they are working towards. Let us hope these ideas can be drawn in to the mainstream of thinking of both major parties and enable government and society to help us make a better Australia. (2/12/18)


The rise of China as an economic and military power has been faster than expected. Clive Hamilton’s book Silent Invasion. China’s Influence in Australia is a relentless single-minded pursuit of growing Chinese influence. It is quite a read even if some of the arguments could be discounted because of the lack of hard evidence.

Publication of the book came around the time that Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act was proclaimed. The Act is measured but hard hitting. Hamilton’s book is a raging inferno. I see the book on the shelves in airports and city bookshops, but I have heard or read relatively little about it. Perhaps I should get out more often. 

It starts with high emotion. Australia is being ‘robbed of our sovereignty’. Chinese residents are buying up houses that otherwise would go to Australian citizens. Chinese students take places from locals at selective schools. Tourists buy up cans of infant formula pushing Australians out of the market. Billionaires are able to leverage their influence. The Chinese diaspora, he notes, are ‘deeply worried’ and that ‘I will be accused of racism and xenophobia’ (pp 3-5).

Hamilton suggests China’s President Xi Jinping is a revanchist out to reverse the ‘century of humiliation’. Rejuvination began in 1993 with Xi Jinping labelling it the China Dream. China is seeking revenge and escalating competing with the USA by establishing itself and its authority across the world. The Chinese diaspora of 50 million or more is being pulled back into supporting the motherland. Since 2011 China has embraced all overseas Chinese whom it wants to contribute to the fracturing of the power of the USA. China wants more Chinese to go to Australia to push this along.

Not surprisingly I was particularly interested in Hamilton’s identification of a ‘China Club’ that had its origins in the period of the Prime Ministerships of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. He is particularly critical of Keating who thinks of himself as a realist. Push away the USA and get closer to China. Hamilton describes Keating as an ‘unwitting mouthpiece’ (p 260).

The ‘China Club’, he says, includes Dennis Richardson, Allan Gyngell, Ken Henry, Martin Parkinson, Ross Garnaut and even Peter Drysdale. Garnaut’s book Australia and the North East Asian Ascendancy (1989) was a significant publication drawing attention to the benefits of understanding China. More recently support has come from prominent Australian ambassadors in China including Frances Adamson, Geoff Rabey and Ian Watt. He is particularly scathing of the 2016 Drysdale Report, believing it ‘amounted to the removal of all restrictions on China’s economic penetration of Australia’ (p 257).

China’s influence is identified explicitly. Leaders include rich list business investors and entrepreneurs including Huang Xiangmo, Zhu Minshen, and Chau Chak Wing. The New South Wales Labor Party is deeply linked with China. Before resigning Premier Luke Foley wanted Australia to sign up for the One Belt One Road (OBOR) program. Chris Bowen, the Shadow ALP Treasurer, has called for OBOR to connect up with the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund. The Liberals, too, are well connected through politicians such as Craig Laundy who promotes China links.

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has particularly strong connections with China. Chau Chak Wing funded the striking Frank Gehry designed building for the UTS Business School. $1.8 million was provided to UTS to establish the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI). Bob Carr is the Executive Director. Hamilton says that ‘Carr has been pushing an aggressively pro-China position in Labor Caucuses’ (pp 94-95). He has become the key person for the Communist Party to get its ‘real story on Australia-China affairs’ (p 100).

Confucius Institutes, first established in Australian universities in 2004, and now numbering 14, come in for a lashing. The public are told, Hamilton says, they are about Chinese language and culture and China studies. The real purpose, he believes, is to increase the Party’s influence across the world. They are a source of propaganda and curtail academic freedom. He asks if universities in the USA and Canada have closed Confucius Centres, why have none been shut down in Australia? Hamilton calls for a full inquiry to reveal the extent of PRC influence on Australian campuses. Universities, he suggests, should be inviting dissident Chinese writers to speak on campus, or inviting the Dalai Lama, or force students to attend courses on human rights and democracy.

Australia’s relations with China have cooled in the last few years. China’s actions in the South China Sea, the Belt and Road program and especially China’s expanded presence and activities in the Pacific micro-states have roused concern. It is all complicated by the importance, especially from Australia’s view point, of the significant trade and investment connection between the two countries.

Hamilton does not claim, as far as I am aware, to be an expert on China. He has read widely and relies on sources such as James Jiann Hua To and there are numerous others referred to in his work. Hamilton’s purpose was to make more widely known China’s influence on Australia and to connect it all together. Otherwise the knowledge would be fractured and its significance downgraded.

It is a courageous book that will have offended many people across the community, and even more in China. Knowing that John Fitzgerald, a prominent academic scholar on contemporary China, is a strong supporter of the book gave me confidence. and although I was at times uncertain about the emotion and absence of nuance, and occasionally felt disbelief, Clive Hamilton’s voice needs to be heard. It is an important contribution to a world in which China will continue to surprise us. (18/11/18)

Clive Hamilton 2018 Silent Invasion. China’s Influence in Australia, Hardie Grant, Sydney


Dr John Beaton, Director of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia since 2001, passed away on the 6th of November. He was friendly, well meaning and unafraid of engaging in discussion. Hail and farewell, John. (10/10/18)


Politics is an enduring, yet often frustrating, way to engage with the directions that are set for society. Lived experience shapes perceptions of the past and present and provides an input into how we imagine elements of the future.

Individually our impact on the direction of government, especially at the national and state level, is miniscule. Our vote is collectively meaningful and is a pillar of our democracy, but in most circumstances our individual impact is limited.

We have few opportunities to talk with politicians and when we do they are hardly listening. At best they skim the conversation. At worst their body language demonstrates their mind is elsewhere. Yet that has not discouraged me from taking a close interest in politics.

There is a justified concern, blamed in part on attitudes fostered by social media, that young people do not see the significance of the electoral process. 

I have a life-time interest in Australian politics. It began in the early 1960s when the Vietnam War nudged me in the direction of the Labor left. There were many heated discussions with my father over the dinner table during the latter years of Robert Menzies.

I distinctly remember the day that Harold Holt went missing in the sea at Portsea – I was surfing at Seaford Beach. I can recall little about John McEwen who stepped in to fill the gap left by Holt. John Gorton I thought was OK, but his successor, William McMahon, is widely regarded as a failure.

I was in the UK in a queue to vote for the Whitlam Government in December 1972. Its’ success in the poll had a lasting impact on my generation. While the Whitlam Labor government had many significant failings, it both rejuvenated and alienated Australian politics with its bold stances and its sometime bumbling ineptness.

In the 1980s while living in Canberra I drifted towards the centre left. It was initially due to the influence of Bob Hawke and his government. More importantly, Hawke’s successor Paul Keating expanded and re-focused the thrust of the government. The Hawke-Keating years are remembered as the best of Labor.

The Howard years were frustrating. I favoured Labor in Opposition but have to admit the outstanding success of Treasurer Peter Costello and the important contribution the Liberals made to Australia’s ability to perform so well through the 2008 financial meltdown.

I supported Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard during their time in power, but not uncritically. My one meeting with Gillard I will write about separately at some point; it was a calm and well structured discussion, with a great outcome for me. Like most people I was frustrated by Labor’s leadership infighting.

The less said about the brief Abbott years the better. Although he lacked some of the verbal skills of, say, Paul Keating, I thought Malcolm Turnbull was a capable PM and deserved more support than he received from his Party. Although Scott Morrison and I both have undergraduate degrees in geography, too often I find myself cringing when I listen to what he has to say.

Over the past few years I have shuffled across to the centre where both major parties periodically overlap. Increasingly I see the Liberal National Party Coalition too frequently tumbling into bed with the hard right.

The way things are going Labor will walk in the next election. 

I have never been a member of a political party, nor has any political party been interested in me (though I was once sounded out to help advise the Australian Democrats in their declining years).

Arty party or not: there is no danger that I will try to enter politics. (24/10/18)


I had my say on populism in current politics (blog 11/10/18). In this blog I work through the future themes and ideas that are important to me. It is not easy. It would have been more conducive if I could have written it while sipping on a glass of merlot. Problem is, I have just viewed a program on the horrible health consequences of even small regular amounts of alcohol. The message hit the target.  

Where do I start? I would like my children and grandchildren to be part of a society that is agile, resilient and able to imagine, explore and shape the future. It is essential that the majority of our community is engaged, argumentative in a good way and tolerant. We must persist in being open to a diversity of ideas. Remaining a democracy is essential, even if there are some who believe its’ time has passed.

As a nation we need meaningful social and economic strategies and policies leading to a sustainable prosperity that is reasonably distributed. Inevitably Australians will depend on a competitive economy with significant global engagement.

Our workforce will be flexible and globalised, tolerant of immigration and the expansion of multicultural communities and integrated cities and towns.

Our urban areas must be livable and economically productive. We will have to engage with the knowledge economy, the gig economy, the sharing economy and rapidly growing artificial intelligence, while coping with disruption caused by these new technologies. Our obsession with large houses and even larger areas of private space must be reigned in.

A balanced impact on the environment will require measured environmental strategies and policies and sensitivity to the essential needs of humans and all the other life on the planet. It demands that we improve our capacity to identify and address catastrophic dangers such as climate change. The current growing denial of the consequences of a steadily warming planet will baffle and infuriate humans in the future. 

We should continue with engagement in international trade, global aid and sustaining effective alliances.

Our aspirations should extend to having an exceptional education system that provides a pathway to our international leadership in a diverse globalized world. As a nation we must continue to be committed to speaking out in support of human wellbeing across the globe and brave in insisting that our future is dependent on the diversity of the non-human life on the planet. (17/10/18)


Who would have imagined that a time would come when the Prime Ministers of Australia and the UK would both have university degrees in geography. Seriously.

Most government leaders have a background in law or have embraced the dark arts of a business career.

Theresa May, the British PM, ascended to the office of PM in 2016 on the back of Brexit. Raised in Eastbourne, Sussex, she attended St Hugh’s College at Oxford University, reading geography and graduating with a BA Honors (class 2) in 1977.

Australian PM, Scott Morrison won office in August this year after his party’s right wing botched a no-confidence move against the popular Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Morrrison graduated with a degree in economic geography from the University of New South Wales.

I haven’t noticed any celebrations of these two by geographers, but in truth I am out of touch with the discipline. That both represent the more conservative or liberal side of the political spectrum may be a factor in the lack of attention by the discipline.

From memory, the only other geographer to be a President was Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator from 1973-1999. The global geography community was, quite rightly, not impressed by Pinochet. (16/10/18)


Populist thinking has a striking influence on the political landscape. Trump’s America has given it additional international momentum, but it was growing well before Trump’s ascendancy. Populists are not only from the political right. In the UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is getting traction by saying he will take the UK back to the pre-Thatcher years. To my astonishment, many seem to have signed on to the populist idea. Corbyn, like Trump, has become a political rock star.

Australia is yet to create an equivalent to either Trump or Corbyn. Scott Morrison surprises when he reveals a populist streak in his off the cuff can-do comments. But it is too early to judge. Australians are frustrated by the frequency with which PM’s change. Yet with an election coming in the next few months there is a high likelihood of a change in the ruling party and yet another new PM. Despite a lack of enthusiasm for Bill Shorten, Labor would have to be inept to lose the coming election.    

Another strand of populism, and I’m getting into more dangerous waters here, is the relentless criticism of what is termed neoliberal policy and thinking. A critique of neoliberalism is solidly entrenched in much university humanities and social sciences writing. The idea that political structures and the so-called neoliberal economy can be discarded and a new economy built and driven by financially successful digital entrepreneurs, the gig economy and an enthusiastic civil society is, well, touchingly naïve.

Some will read this as the mumblings of an old man with a preference for the past. They would be wrong. I have no desire for us to reinvent the past. And it is not possible, anyway.

In the 1970s and 1980s I was intrigued by the new socialist societies, particularly Vietnam and China. I watched Indonesia lurch towards communism and then back to a plain dictatorship and a corrupted market economy. Both the distorted socialism of China and Vietnam and the distorted capitalism of Indonesia had some good aspects, but neither system was capable of delivering a seriously worthwhile, free future and economic improvements for their people.

Our dilemma is this. We know there is global progress. The number of people in poverty continues to shrink. We have managed to avoid a nuclear war. We are taking (small) steps to reduce the severity of global warming, albeit in an unnecessarily tortuous way and with strong opposition from some governments that really should have a better grasp of science and risk management.

But we have not yet come up with a serious alternative to the fundamentals of a transparently elected government and a modern market economy – or neoliberalism, if you must. Even the best managed and most successful regimes and market economies have failings. It is part of the human condition.

Fluidity, change and improvement is invariably uncomfortable and hard to manage. The early years of the digital age have brought about significant social and economic change. The astonishing wealth of the new plutocrats could not have been imagined in the 1990s. Russian plutocrats are closely entwined with the Putin government. The plutocrats in the USA are impossibly wealthy and wield enormous power, both over the economy and government.

Only the naïve would think it straightforward for Australia or any other nation to guide its’ way through the next few decades. Dark forces not only inhabit the internet; they are entwined with governments in many countries, they influence elections and they accumulate wealth and use it to achieve personal ends.

It is often pointed out that we are over governed, stuck with three overlapping levels of government. Two would be more efficient, but which would be discarded? We don’t need both state and local government but now is not the time to restructure the current arrangement.

Australia needs a strong and engaged civil society, a commitment to a balanced and well managed economy, and an elected government and opposition committed to an honest and rigorous governance progress. We depend on the two major political parties and need them to explain how they propose to address the challenges before us. There are few signs that either major party has a comprehensive vision at present. (11/10/18)         


Hail and farewell friends and colleagues from the social sciences:

Professor Hal Kendig, demographer, the ANU;

Professor Eric Richards, historian, Flinders;

Dr Jim Schiller, Indonesian expert, Flinders;

Professor Patrick Troy, urbanist, the ANU;

Professor Ken Inglis, historian, the ANU;

Professor David Lowenthal, geographer, University College, London.

Over the last few months I felt like there was a surge in the numbers of eminent social scientists passing away. These are people and names who seem so familiar and bring back memories of universities and academic affairs.

Thanks to the people at the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia who circulate the names of members who have passed on. (3/10/18) 


Understanding Contemporary Asia Pacific was published in 2007.

The book was edited by Katherine Palmer Kaup, an associate professor in political science at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina and published by Lynne Reiner in the USA and UK.

I had a chapter in it titled ‘Population and Urbanization’. M and I were in Brisbane in December last year and I received an email from Kate. She said the publishers would like to do a second edition and would I like to revise/update my ‘excellent contribution’. Who could resist after a little flattery? It so seldom happens in academia.

So I agreed and put it aside. It was mid December 2017, and there were other things pressing. But I left it too long as it turned out. I had another email from Kate last week gently inquiring when I might finish my revised chapter? I opened the original email and discovered she wanted it by 1 July this year.

It was a busy time for me - three board and council meetings coming up next week - but I said I could have it to her by the end of September. The first draft is done. I’m hoping to edit and improve it then get it off in the next week. A lot of the revision has involved updating population data. At times I went cross-eyed trying to read the numbers. (20/9/18)   



Reading The Weekend Australian has been a Saturday morning ritual since the early 1990s. Initially I read at home with the paper spread across the kitchen table; in summer I sat under the gazebo. Later, I moved to a coffee shop in Glenelg after which I would do the weekly food shop. My favourite reading spot was Cibo Espresso in Moseley Square, where I could sit in the sun overlooking the Square with the beach and ocean in the background


At one time I would read the week-day Australian and the Adelaide Advertiser, all thrown over the front fence, and The Weekend Australian and the Sunday Mail. Eventually I ditched the Sunday Mail and replaced it with the Financial Review. If I travelled on business, as I often did, I would return home to quite a few newspapers still in their plastic wrap.


No more. Now I walk to Harris St and purchase The Weekend Australian from a surly Chinese mini-mart proprietor and read it in my Pyrmont apartment. For a time I bought The Saturday Paper, but it was uneven and one-sided. Social media, radio and television are the weekday providers.


As a child comics and newspapers were my preferred reads. With parents owning and operating either delicatessens or kiosks on the beach there was a regular supply of comics and newspapers. Blissful.


As far back as I can remember I was a regular read of newspapers. I recall the day The Australian was launched. I was 14 and cycled to my father’s delicatessen to collect my regular cheese and gherkin roll – it was the only lunch combination I ever asked for; odd, I guess. He solemnly showed me the first edition of the newspaper, released in July 1964. I acknowledged the importance of the event without any inkling of just how many hours of my life would be spent browsing newspapers.


And the other newspapers in my life? Living in Port Moresby it was the Post-Courier. I still have the editions from 1975 marking independence for PNG. After moving to Melbourne I was an avid reader of The Age, and the National Times. From Melbourne I moved to Canberra where I was a serious reader of the Canberra Times. When travelling abroad my all-time favourite was The International Herald Tribune, now morphed into The New York Times International.

Social media has taken a large bite out of the newspaper industry. More on that in a later post. (6/9/18)


Have we become more vulnerable as a nation or is it we have been spooked by world events? More the former, I fear. The new Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act is in play. Could limiting foreign influence also limit overseas income? See my piece in the Times Higher Education.

Interest in an expansion of foreign intervention in government, businesses and the community is ratcheting upwards, with Russia and China most often mentioned. The confusion in foreign affairs generated by the occupants of the White House have helped stoke the fire. I will have more to say in a future blog  (30/8/18).


My photographs of the extraordinary Kimberley region in the north-west of Australia are now on Townske. On a 13 day journey from Darwin to Broome we slept under the stars and managed to complete just under a 100 kilometres of walks.

It took me outside my urbanista comfort zone, made worse by slipping on the footpath and injuring my back while looking for a taxi to get to the airport. Inconvenient, to say the least. The journey stretched me, but it was worth it. What next will M suggest? (4/8/18)  


I don’t know how I missed the first series of Poldark. I only ever watch the ABC or SBS. But miss it I did.

My mother’s was the granddaughter of Cornish miners. They arrived in South Australia in the 1840s and worked in the mines. I would have been glued to each episode if I knew it was about Cornish miners!

M persuaded me to watch the second series. I was hooked. Ross Poldark’s Wheal Grace mine looked eerily similar to the remnants of mines still visible in South Australia around Burra or Kadina, Moonta, Wallaroo and Broken Hill.  

I followed up with the third series on its’ release; now I’m into the fourth series. At first it seemed somewhat repetitive.

The endless horse rides up and down the coastal cliffs, hair billowing in the wind. Ambling along the deserted beach. Glimpses of the wild sea against a background of the haunting sound track. Even now as I peer out over the sea I think of Ross on the lookout for ships to plunder.

Yes, Ross was frustratingly ambivalent about his wife and family. I felt like telling him to get over it. Perhaps he will, now that he seems set for higher things.

The odious ever-present George and his slimy acolytes are always plotting against Ross. Our Ross may be flawed, yes, but he does care about the working folk. Now he is on his way to London to do good things in politics. What could possibly go wrong? (8/7/18)


Charles Abel is sure that PNG has a bright future. Papua New Guinea’s Deputy Prime Minister gave a short, clear and balanced speech to a full house at the Lowy Institute last night.

The first major item in his talk was the need for closer education links between the two countries. He graduated from the University of Queensland, so he has a fair understanding of Australia’s higher education. He wants PNG to have a larger, stronger, better educated middle class. Australia can help. He has also been driving the development of the infrastructure needed, including the expansion of access to the internet.

PNG will host the APEC meeting this year. It is a big deal for a country that does not have much of an international profile. With the expectation that Donald Trump will attend inevitably means a very significant media coverage and a high probability of chaos. APEC just might stretch the hosts.

Asked if they had thought about the costume the leaders might wear for the final session, as they do at APEC, Abel replied instantly: ‘a penis gourd’. Yes, it was sexist, but it got a huge laugh.

It was an unusually cold and wet night in Sydney, but I left the event thinking that maybe PNG is on the up. (19/6/18)   


John Ross’s ‘Chinese students undeterred from study down under’ appeared in the Times Higher Education on the 27th of May. I spoke to John several times when he was working at The Australian. We chatted on the phone when he was writing his piece and included a few words of mine in the article. We will be hearing more about China and higher ed in Australia in coming years. The temperature of the conversation is warming. (5/6/18)


#7 in my series of memoir collages is completed. It is titled ‘The Socialist City Vietnam’, and covers the period from 1983 to 2018. I used the term socialist city because that was so important in the 1980s, before becoming diluted in the 1990’s as doi moi - economic reform - became increasingly important.

The Vietnamese cities have grown enormously. Hanoi has a population of 7.6 million, and Ho Chi Minh City 9.2 million. And the planners I worked with in the 1980s were adamant that the Vietnamese cities would never grow as large as Bangkok. (25/5/18)


Vale Tom Wolfe (1931-2018). A great writer close to the top of my clutch of all-time favourites.

When I culled my 3,000 or so books I kept five by Tom Wolfe. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-flake Streamline Baby (1968), The New Journalism (1975), The Right Stuff (1980) and From Bauhaus to Our House (1983). I also read every essay of his I could find.

Having said all that, I haven’t read any recent Tom Wolfe books or essays. I will have to rectify that. (16/5/18)



Grey Suits and Red Stars Vietnam 1983’ is my latest collage. It is #6 in the series, which started with a short collage on ‘Port Moresby university days’ (#1 2016), followed by ‘Place, Emotion, Memory. Papua New Guinea’ (#2 2017). Teasers for all three are on this website.  

I’m currently completing #7, another on Vietnam, titled ‘The Socialist City Vietnam’. A teaser will be posted soon. Vietnam has been a real focus for me over the last few months as regular readers of the blog (I think there is one or two) will recall the Townske post on Vietnam in 17 days. (13/5/18)


Malaysians must be ecstatic that they have tipped out Najib Tun Razak’s government. Something had to happen to bring Najib before the courts and find out just how around $US 1 billion was moved out of the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad Fund and how something around $US 700 million ended up in Najib’s bank account.

Credit to former PM Mohamad Mahathir for taking on the role he did for the Alliance of Hope, Pakatan Harapan. I had mixed views about his contribution as Prime Minister, perhaps because of his ruthless treatment of Anwar Ibrahim and his antipathy to Australia. But he did provide some reasonable guidance and Malaysia moved forward, although the Malay community was privileged and the Chinese and other groups were not well treated, to Malaysia’s cost.

I will be following with interest Anwar’s release from jail and whether his expectation of winning a seat in government occurs. Mahathir’s public statements suggest this is the plan, but I can’t help wondering whether Mahathir will follow through in a timely way. (13/5/18)


New on Townske: Vietnam in 17 days.

M and I travelled to Vietnam in March-April. We were not alone. Almost 13 million tourists visited Vietnam in 2017, a whopping 29% increase over the previous year. The 2018 figures are expected to be even higher. The crowds of visitors are noticeable in places like Hoi An and Halong Bay, but less so in other places. Don’t be deterred. (29/4/18)


I’m in celebration mode! Friday is the 10th anniversary of the website and its blogs (it’s also M’s birthday so a celebration dinner is happening).

Some 357 blogs have been posted over the course of a decade. The site launched on the 20th of April 2008 with a posting on the national innovation strategy.

It is still largely in the format I used when it started. A page I call Artistica has been added to reflect my interest in more diverse ways of writing and story telling, and I now call the website Walking, Not Running. It resonates with my overall place in the scheme of things.

I want to thank those visitors (excluding the robots) who do drop into the page from time-to-time. Over the last year, monthly users have ranged from eight to 26, sessions from 15 to 46, page views from 15 to 106, and pages per session from 1 to 2.3. When you consider that some of the users are trolls this is anything but a significant audience. However, as a lifetime academic with a focus on Asian cities and the knowledge economy I have modest expectations. (18/4/18)



I have been reading The Weekend Australian for decades. The current edition (10-11 March) includes yet another perceptive essay by Paul Kelly on the fracturing of the conservatives and the difficulties they face with unsettled and over-ambitious backbenchers. It is refreshingly deeper and more nuanced than many shallow pieces on contemporary populism. Kelly, as I have said before, is Australia’s single most outstanding political journalist. 

In the same newspaper the Letters to the Editor section focuses on climate change. Four letters are from denialists; one very short letter suggests NASA’s website has useful information about climate change. I am underwhelmed by those who make uninformed, emotional, claims about future global climates. Why doesn’t The Weekend Australian stop providing a welcoming platform for the amateur denialists? By all means allow the voices of well-informed sceptics, but it should be serious and proportionate. At present it is neither. 

Diversity in the political inclinations of journalists is good, but it seems to be diminishing, along with the numbers of conventionally informed and paid journalists. Guardian Australia and the Fairfax papers, with the exception of the Financial Review, are insufficiently politically diverse for me. Too much lefty bias leaves me cold. There is more than enough on Twitter to provide a sense of the latest outrage against the Liberal-National government. With the Murdoch papers in the cities all following a rough and tumble conservative populist line - Sydney’s Daily Telegraph for instance - this leaves The Australian and The Weekend Australian out on their own.  (11/3/18)


It was time to return to Hobart and MONA. Our last and only previous visit to the Museum of Old and New Art was in 2012, about a year after it opened in early 2011. There has been a steady stream of emails highlighting the expansion of MONA so it was a no-brainer. Late summer was a great time to go.

MONA is still confronting and over the top, but a revealing and fun art experience. It has significantly expanded the artwork on display, much of it crammed into B#3 the basement floor that is the recommended starting point for MONA. A new wing called Pharos has been opened. In it are several new light works by James Turrell and others, and an elegant food outlet called Faro Tapas, along with a small lounge with great views over the Derwent.

My updated page on MONA is on the Townske website at http://bit.ly/2oGzO0y  (10/3/18)


Congratulations are in order. The Wilson Center in Washington DC has been ranked as the #1 regional studies think tank in the world. Overall it is the #5 ranked think tank in the USA. I’m, in general, a little cynical about rankings exercises but the Global Go To Think Tank Index that comes out of the University of Pennsylvania is one of the better ones.

I should acknowledge that I spent several months at The Wilson Center in 2013 and enjoyed it immensely. Even when the Government shutdown meant the permanent staff of the Wilson Centre were absent for a few weeks. (7/2/18)


Being opposed to the Vietnam War I joined the Campaign for Peace in Vietnam in the late 1970s. My name went into the ballot for conscription into the army with the possibility of being sent to Vietnam; fortunately my number was not called.

I retained an interest in Vietnam’s gradual recovery from the trauma. A deeper concern about Vietnam and particularly its cities developed in my time at the ANU in the early 1980s. In September 1990 with three colleagues we decided to host a conference on Vietnam. It was modelled on the long running Indonesian Update, and proved very successful. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Gareth Evans, delivered the opening address. It was a substantial piece, well written and argued, and helped set the tone for the 160 people who attended. 

Evan’s father was a tram driver and he attended public schools, albeit one a special high school. His talent was recognised at an early age. He became a prolific writer and headed several Ministries in the Hawke-Keating governments, but the Foreign Ministry was his favourite. As a committed and knowledgeable Foreign Minister his new book, Incorrigible Optimist. A Political Memoir, is an essential read. 

I found the first 40 or so pages hard work. There was the go-go-go, and the ever-present ego, but I couldn’t get a grip on the inner Gareth. He describes himself as having ‘an urge to get things done’ (p x) and as a consequence the book radiates a relentless ‘my views and my place in history’ vibe. This is the bloke who knows everyone and everything. And a touch of humour is part of the mix. He can’t resist bagging Bronwyn Bishop for her negativity in the Senate, and quietly mentions her maiden name was B Setright (p 47). In general, though, he exposes little of significance about his private life and the darker aspects of his career.

I started warming up when I reached the chapter on diplomacy. It was ‘the most exciting and productive period of my professional life’ (p 100) he says of his years as Foreign Minister, from 1988-1996. Not surprisingly, Evans believes Australia is a ’middle power’ and its foreign policy needs ‘more self-reliance… more Asia… less United States’ (p 117). He has no confidence in Donald Trump. 

Evans reminds us that the Hawke and Keating government’s main focus was on business and the growth of the economy, combining ‘very dry economic policies with very warm and moist policies’ (p 88). Their strategies overlapped with British PM Tony Blair’s Third Way democratic socialism.

Evans barely mentions his longest-serving successor, Alexander Downer, and, not surprisingly, was largely unimpressed by the performance of John Howard’s government. Nor does he mention Ross Garnaut, Hawke’s advisor on economic matters including the Asian economies.

Advice flows. Evan’s offers his thoughts on how to balance relationships with the USA and China (pp 172-176), why golf enables the building of relationships (p 166) and the reasons for Australia to be wary of significant defence links with Japan (p 171). He admits to being unable to achieve much in the Indian Ocean region (pp 177-179) and says loudly that the UK ‘has brought nothing of significance to the region’s defence since the fall of Singapore’ (p 132).

A lengthy chapter on education expands on Evan’s activist undergraduate years at Melbourne University, and his fellow students who went on to high profile elite roles. A stint at Oxford followed enabling him to continue to travel to different parts of the world and to build more international links. The core of the chapter is about his time as Chancellor at The Australian National University. Typically, Evan’s turns it into a lesson for the reader on the role of Councils and Chancellors and why the Australian practice of Chancellors’ chairing Council is superior to the UK where, he says, Vice-Chancellors chair Council.

He brings to the book experiences over a series of major jobs, a finely tuned intellect, a serious interest in detail and a ribald sense of humour. When the term memoir is used I am programmed to expect more subtlety, more reflection, more introspection. If only he chilled… but, of course, he wouldn’t. Does he have an inner life? If he does there’s not a lot of it in the book. Now Evans calls himself a CLOOF Clapped Out Old Fart (p 266). It’s a joke, of course. He is anything but a CLOOF. I wonder what book he is writing now?


Gareth Evans 2017 Incorrigible Optimist. A Political Memoir, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne


The New Year thickness in my head is very slowly starting to dissipate. The New Year fireworks in Sydney were spectacular, I’m reliably told; I took on the child-sitting duties and managed to see the 9.00pm display.

It is time to transfer commitments across to my 2018 Moleskine.

The new addition is to update a chapter in Understanding Contemporary Asia Pacific, which was edited by Katherine Palmer Kaup from Furman University in South Carolina. The book was published by Lynne Rienner (Boulder and London) and released in 2007. My chapter on ‘Population and Urbanization’ will need quite a lot of work. Cities have grown rapidly in size and number over the last decade - think of China and its ghost cities.

I am hoping the book edited by Rita Padawangi and titled Routledge Handbook of Urbanization in Southeast Asia will be published later this year. My chapter is titled ‘Knowledge, Creativity and the City’. (5/1/18)


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