The culture of control

Your flight has been cancelled due to circumstances beyond our control … This store will be closed until further notice due to circumstances beyond our control … Unemployment is rising due to circumstances beyond our control …
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Question: Which circumstances are not beyond our control? Isn’t it the very nature of circumstances – favourable or unfavourable – to be beyond our control? Aren’t circumstances things that shape us, things we react to, rather than things we create?

Courtesy of the global financial crisis (I’m not yet on friendly enough terms with it to use the chirpy GFC), we’re once again being reminded of just how many things are beyond our control: the greed of others; the slackening demand for our resources; the fragility of underregulated capitalism.

This is hardly news. Wasn’t the threat of international terrorism beyond our control? And climate change? (Well … we shall have to wait and see.) But you don’t have to think on so grand a scale: nothing in human history encourages the idea that the important things in our lives – especially our relationships – are ever under control or that "getting my life under control" has ever been a realistic goal.

The yearning for control has become a kind of modern madness. Stressed and destabilised by the rate of change, we have been looking in the wrong place for a solution to our anxieties and insecurities.

It’s true that the rate of change has been accelerating at an uncomfortable pace. We’ve reinvented the institution of marriage, transformed the nature of family life (25 per cent of Australian families are now single-parent families, for instance), sent the birthrate tumbling to an all-time low, shrunk our households, felt the rumble of economic restructure, widened the gulf between advantage and disadvantage, rewritten our labour market statistics (especially those involving female participation and part-time work), been swept up in an communication technology revolution that has changed the way we live and work, re-examined the very meaning of "Australian" … all in the space of less than 30 years.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that so many people feel as if they’re trapped on a runaway train, or that our consumption of antidepressants has tripled in the past decade, or that about 25 per cent of young Australians are suffering serious psychological distress, or that the incidence of binge drinking and serious assault has increased markedly over this period. What humans deeply crave, after all, is stability and predictability; we love ritual and repetition. So why wouldn’t we have some difficulty with threats to our sense of security or identity?

Some of us responded to heightened anxiety with positive action: we can’t clean up the world, but let’s clean up the bush, paint the school, join a choir, buy a hybrid car. Others gave in to a kind of acquiescence in the face of things that might once have scandalised them: state-sponsored torture and child abuse carried on in our name in the infamous Baxter detention centre; the AWB kickbacks; the erosion of civil liberties through anti-terrorism legislation.

Many of us responded by retreating into our shells. We disengaged. We turned away from a big picture that was too dark and daunting and focused instead on the miniatures of our personal and domestic lives. We became obsessed about body shape, teeth, wrinkles. We went in for Botox, tattoos and body-piercing. We threw ourselves into home renovations. We racked up record levels of debt to finance a mad materialist binge, using self-indulgence as a form of insulation from our anxieties. We hunted for schools that would "control" our children were willing to pay big money to send them there.

Our social attitudes toughened. We welcomed legislation that we thought might "get things back under control". We urged judges to be tougher on criminals, and governments to introduce more mandatory sentencing. We became less compassionate, less tolerant, more prejudiced. Some of us adopted a dogmatic, hard-line fundamentalism, in religion, economics, environmentalism or medicine and psychology. We welcomed the sense of control that certainty brings, no matter how delusional.

Whether it was self-indulgence, fundamentalism or regulationism, the underlying motivation was the same: it was all about control. It was as if we were saying: "I can’t control the big picture, so I’ll focus on the things I can control."

Yet these are self-defeating strategies if they are based on the premise that life – whether on a large or small scale – is controllable. Sure, we can "control" the colour of our bathroom tiles, but if we think this means we are taking control of our lives, we are caught in a dangerous spiral of escapism.

Our obsession with control has another, more subtle face. In response to a growing sense of chaos and uncertainty, some of us are seeking refuge in the embrace of those twin seducers, "excellence" and "happiness" – magic code-words (like the word "control" itself) favoured by the growing membership of the cult of perfectionism.

This cult fosters an idea that’s bound to make us restless: however beautiful something is, or however happy we are, however affluent, however contented, there’s some even more wonderful possibility that we can only imagine (though Hollywood or a glossy magazine might grant us a glimpse of it).

When we’re in serious control mode, we’re tempted to strive even harder for the perfections that seem to be eluding us. We’re drawn to the idea that the ultimate form of control would be to achieve some gold standard of excellence in everything we do – from romance to sport.

What parent, in this current climate, would dare send their child to a school that wasn’t a centre of excellence for something? What organisation – from an international mining company to your local gym – would not claim to pursue excellence? (I idly wonder if I’ll ever come across a centre for mediocrity.)

From time to time, we hear alarming tales of religious cults that seduce people away from their partners and families. Yet how many relationships have foundered because one partner was seduced by the mad cult of perfectionism?

Perfectionism both feeds and feeds off the culture of control. Why can’t I have the perfect marriage? And if it has to end, why can’t I have the perfect divorce? (Imagine the pressure on the kids, in both cases.)

Why can’t my child have the perfect teacher at the perfect school? Why don’t we plan the perfect holiday? Where can I get a perfect latte? We’ve already been introduced to the notion of "the perfect storm" … perhaps we’re now in the privileged position of being witnesses to a perfect economic meltdown.

Those involved in the so-called "helping professions", along with the authors of all those self-help tomes, are at risk of encouraging this utopian madness. "I wish I could get my life under control" might be a popular cry, but it’s a symptom of a misunderstanding of what life is about. How easily we forget that life is for living, not for controlling.

Human relationships are inherently messy because they are driven more by emotional than rational factors – and thank goodness for that. (Marry a computer if you want the other kind of relationship.) Because relationships are unpredictable and ultimately impossible to control, so are families, communities and organisations.

Why did we ever think that such a relentless period of social dislocation and economic upheaval would not take its toll? Have we been putting too much emphasis on positive outcomes and not enough on the process of living well? Thinking positively is all very well – better than thinking negatively, no doubt. But thinking realistically has even more to commend it: to be realistic is to acknowledge that the richness of life lies in its contrasts, its light and shade, and in our capacity to experience and deal with the full spectrum of human emotions and responses.

The current preoccupation with happiness places more emphasis on pleasure than on the ancient ideas from which it sprang: virtuous living with a rich sense of purpose and full engagement with the world. In its modern, rather vacuous meaning, happiness only seems to make sense by contrast with sadness. That’s why you so often hear parents remark that all they want for their children is that they be happy. (Is that all you want for them, I want to ask. Do you really want them to be emotionally disadvantaged and deprived?)

In the next breath, of course, those same parents will assert that "we grow through pain". Yet they’ll go to extreme lengths to minimise their child’s risk of pain (let alone pain itself) and when pain comes in the form of loss or disappointment, they’ll be far more intent on "moving on" than "growing through it".

It’s the same with failure – another reliable sign that life is not under control. We know failure is a more effective teacher than success when it comes to learning what it means to be human, so why don’t we value failure more highly when it happens? Why do we interpret failure as a sign of inadequacy when it’s such a crucial part of the process of growing up?

Winners might be grinners, but losers are learners. Don’t we owe it to our children – and to each other – to avoid making false promises about what life has on offer? Shouldn’t we be more open about what’s involved in a healthy, balanced life?

Optimism is a great trait to possess, but only if it can be kept in its place when the circumstances call for a different perspective, a different expectation. (Ask a dying person how they feel about visitors trying to sound upbeat.) In many ways, optimism is as unrealistic – and as prejudicial to a balanced assessment of our situation – as pessimism. But we continue to dwell on the positive as though "a positive outcome" will be the sign that we have life under control.

The current obsession with control looks to me like a symptom of a deep unease in our society. The yearning for control is a cry for help. The most useful response to that cry is not to say, "Here’s how to get your life under control" but to explain that the deepest sense of wellbeing springs not from mastery of our circumstances – let alone mastery of others – but from mastery of ourselves.

Some of us need guidance about how to manage our anger in the face of frustration, or to subdue our violence in the face of provocation, or to resolve our bitterness in the face of disappointment.

What we don’t need – and shouldn’t expect – is a magic wand that will remove frustration, provocation or disappointment from our lives.

We need to shift our focus from control to participation and engagement; from resistance to adaptation; from an unhealthy utopianism to a more realistic acceptance of life’s disorderliness, its irrationalities, its unpredictability, its disenchantments, as well as its joys, its gratifications and even its occasional small triumphs.

This is not to suggest for one moment that we should settle for lives of misery, frustration and disappointment, or that we shouldn’t encourage our children to fulfill their potential (as long as we’re realistic about what that potential is). But it is to suggest that adapting to our circumstances – accepting that things are the way they are – is a good starting point for working out how to respond to them.

I suspect the culture of control has contributed to the distress of many people by promoting a utopian view of relationships, achievements, outcomes, and even of possessions. Might it not be time to lower our expectations of how we should feel, what we can have, and what we can control?

This is an edited version of the Australian Psychological Society’s Annual Oration. Hugh Mackay is a fellow of the APS.

Aloisi gets second chance but Mariners have the last laugh

JOHN ALOISI is familiar with nailing a penalty under pressure. He found the back of the net with his most famous shot to take the Socceroos into the World Cup finals and nothing will ever top that for raw emotion, but there was more high drama last night when – shock, horror – he missed a penalty only to be allowed to take it again by referee Peter Green.
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Aloisi was given his second chance because the Mariners’ Pedj Bojic was ruled to have overstepped the mark while Aloisi was shooting. Aloisi made no mistake with his second attempt against his old club and the Sky Blues were on their way to salvaging a draw – until another penalty was awarded to the Mariners just before fulltime and Mile Jedinak got them home in a genuine thriller.

Grinning, Aloisi said: "I saw Pedj next to me – that’s why I hit it badly."

Not grinning, he added: "I’m disappointed we didn’t get the result. The second half we got into the game but it wasn’t enough. I cop a bit of stick up here but I cop that wherever I go. I just try to do the best for my club. It didn’t mean much to score the penalty because we didn’t get out of the game."

Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna said the re-take should not have happened. "Watching the replay I don’t know who encroached," he said. "Obviously it was Pedj but if we were always playing by the rules then every penalty would be re-taken."

Aloisi was awarded his penalty after Mariners goalkeeper Danny Vukovic hammered him with a bone-rattling shoulder charge.

The Mariners stole the win when Sydney FC’s Iain Fyfe felled Dylan McAllister for Jedinak to score at the death. Sydney FC had been denied yet another penalty when Shannon Cole was ruled offside after Green had already pointed at the spot only to see a linesman with his flag up.

The last four games between these two teams had produced 25 goals, so unless our calculator was broken we were in for a rollicking show featuring one net-finder roughly every 15 minutes. The best little boutique stadium around was full enough for the next chapter of one of the great A-League derbies with one requirement placed on Sydney FC – try not to choke.

The Sky Blues bombed a 3-0 lead the last time they played the Mariners and their nemesis on that occasion, Matt Simon, was back.

It was another nerve-jangler even without the bombardment of goals. Green’s re-ordering of Aloisi’s penalty had a crowd of 11,000-plus spectators baying for his blood until Jedinak controlled his nerves to give the Mariners a stirring triumph.

Sydney FC mentor John Kosmina claimed his team deserved a draw and should have received the second penalty.

"We battled away and had a legitimate penalty disallowed," he said. "That’s the second time this year a late penalty has killed us off. The Mariners are a good side and deserve some credit. We battled away. You’ve got to show character and we did that."

McKinna would have felt cheated by any result other than a win.

"I thought we deserved it," he said. "We definitely deserved it. We wouldn’t have felt good coming away with a draw."

Sydney FC’s 19-year-old Brendan Gan was having his first run-on start after his matchwinner in the ambush of the Jets last weekend. Captain Steve Corica was on the bench.

Kosmina was full of praise for Gan even if the youngster helped give the Mariners their first goal to Dylan McAllister with a failed clearance at the beginning of an all-guns-blazing showdown.

Meanwhile, the path to the A-League play-offs became rockier for Wellington Phoenix and Perth Glory after their 1-1 draw last night.

Two teams struggling to break into the top four did themselves no favours in a match that only burst into life over the closing stages.

A goal to Perth striker Eugene Dadi in the 76th minute was cancelled out by midfielder Tim Brown with seven minutes remaining. The hosts came close to generating a winner several times, most notably when a Leo Bertos thunderbolt was parried onto the crossbar by Perth goalkeeper Tando Velaphi.

The Phoenix had the better of the match and may live to regret not snaring more than one point with just six rounds remaining.

Dadi’s goal was his eighth of the season, leaving goalkeeper Glen Moss with no chance when he side-volleyed home a bouncing ball, unmarked from a few metres out.

Meanwhile, it is a big weekend for the Queensland teams. Yesterday in the W-League, Queensland Roar claimed the inaugural premiership with two matches to spare after beating the Victory 3-1 in Melbourne.

No mercy will be shown to ladder laggers Newcastle this evening as the Roar attempt to rebuild Suncorp Stadium as an A-League fortress.

Playing the percentages

A few days ago, one of Australia’s leading climate-change scientists got a dramatic first-hand lesson. Buffeted by wind, Dr John Hunter found himself scrambling with villagers on Takuu atoll off the Papua New Guinea coast as they hauled their belongings from flooded huts to higher ground and huge waves surged over the beach.
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Hunter had landed on the atoll three weeks earlier to study the impact of rising sea levels on small island communities. But a massive storm whipping up waves along PNG’s north coast was swamping his host village and its 500 inhabitants. Storms are a fact of life on Takuu but Hunter is studying the increased frequency of high seas and floods threatening to inundate these tiny island communities as a result of climate change.

"When you get sea level rise in this present century we’re going to see more of these extreme events," Hunter told the Herald over a shaky mobile phone as he surveyed the destruction on Takuu. "The same thing is going to happen in Australia and around the world. But these islands are particularly vulnerable. The highest point is something like only a metre above the highest tides."

Hunter’s expertise on rising sea levels is renowned. This week the Rudd Government appointed him and two fellow scientists from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Co-operative Research Centre to run national workshops next year on the impact of sea level rise on Australia’s coastal cities and towns. Government planners, engineers and business executives are urged to attend.

Since the Rudd Government came to office a year ago, it has readily accepted the scientific advice that Australia needs to plan now to adapt to climate change. Penny Wong, the Climate Change Minister, proudly insists her Government "recognises the science", compared with what she says is the climate change scepticism among Opposition MPs.

So far, however, Wong and the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, have been less willing to embrace the scientific advice on the most vexed climate change dilemma: how much should Australia cut its own greenhouse gas emissions over the next 12 years as part of a global effort to avoid catastrophic climate change?

On Monday, after Wong returns from the current round of UN climate negotiations in Poland, she will make her long-awaited announcement on Australia’s 2020 target to cut greenhouse gas emissions. With it, she will also outline details of a new carbon trading scheme, or carbon pollution reduction scheme, to encourage that effort.

The bitterly disputed 2020 target is now widely reported to be emissions cuts of 5 per cent to 15 per cent below 1990 levels, far less than the range for which most climate scientists pleaded.

For Australia’s environment movement and scientific community, Monday’s announcement will be the defining moment for the Rudd Government’s climate change policy. And some scientists are already voicing their deep concerns about the expected target range.

"This is not good news," said Matthew England, a University of NSW professor. "It’s essential that we go for at least 25 per cent cuts by 2020 to minimise the rise of dangerous climate change." Science, England said, pushed these targets for at least five years, felt it got nowhere under 11 years of John Howard and sensed deja vu in "getting somewhere but not where we need to be".

David Karoly, who worked with the UN’s peak scientific body on climate change, is equally worried and more convinced than ever that "we need the largest global emissions reductions possible". That meant 25 per cent to 40 per cent reductions in the developed world. "So 25 per cent reduction is the minimum Australia should be doing."

But after months of intense lobbying over both the 2020 target and the carbon pollution reduction scheme, Monday’s outcome is

unlikely to satisfy any of the vocal protagonists on either side of this epic political battle. Environment leaders lobbied Labor ministers and backbenchers on the scientific arguments.

But most cabinet members have been heavily influenced by the lobbying of key industry and resources executives and union leaders arguing that deep emissions cuts will cost jobs and profits as the global financial crisis continues to bite.

Just this week, the head of the Australian Industry Group, Heather Ridout, called for a slow start to cutting greenhouse gases. "Five per cent to 15 per cent cuts are very big figures," she told the Herald , arguing they would be a tough ask for businesses in crisis. Peter Coates, head of the coal giant Xstrata, described this target range as "extremely difficult" for the resources industry in a week when Rio Tinto announced 14,000 global job cuts.

From Poland, Wong insisted the Government "will seek to strike the right balance".

The Opposition is voicing the arguments of many in the resources industry that any early start to emissions cuts will leave Australian companies exposed until a global climate agreement is in place. The leader, Malcolm Turnbull, is saying he will not support the Government’s date for the introduction of the carbon trading scheme by 2010.

In this stand-off, the Greens see opportunity to reassert influence over the climate change debate knowing the Government is likely to need their support in the Senate. Without commitment until legislation is on the table, the Greens senator Christine Milne said: "We think that scientifically, economically and diplomatically it is stupid for Australia to adopt a low target."

The Greens are banking on a public backlash against the Government’s 2020 target at home and abroad. "It’s a question of what the community will do if hopes are dashed," said Milne, who is promising long Senate hearings that will give voice to the Government’s climate critics.

Monday will reveal whether Wong and Rudd have crafted a 2020 target and scheme that will win over enough middle ground support. "It’s a defining moment for the Rudd Government," says the Climate Institute’s John Connor, who has lobbied key ministers to keep alive the 25 per cent target.

"It’s been made emphatically clear in Poland, at the UN talks, if you don’t turn up with 25 per cent in your backpack, don’t bother coming. That’s the sit-down price."

The global climate negotiations loom large over Monday’s announcement for Wong and Rudd. A year ago, at the first round of UN talks in Bali, Rudd stood before the world’s environment ministers and labelled climate change "the defining issue of our generation". His new Labor Government signed on to negotiate a global pact that involved developed countries agreeing to consider binding emissions cuts in the 25 to 40 per cent range. Meanwhile, developing countries including the big polluters, China, India and Brazil, would agree to slow or cut emissions through verifiable but non-binding programs, buttressed by financial and technical help from the First World.

The Bali plan’s scientific premise was that rises in world temperatures be kept within 2 degrees, by keeping greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere within 450 parts per million, as advised by the UN’s peak scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This week’s meeting in Poznan, Poland, was meant to advance the plan. Instead, it stalled because key developed countries baulked at deep 2020 cuts without tougher commitments from China, India and the US. Despite promises, Wong refused to reveal Australia’s 2020 target at Poznan, doing nothing to abate speculation that the target would be well below earlier expectations.

She refused to be drawn on whether the Government would keep cuts of 25 per cent on the table in the event of a successful, ambitious global agreement. She also refused to articulate the scientific advice on what emissions cuts are required to keep the rise in global temperature below 2 degrees.

Wong’s silence is instructive. When Ross Garnaut, the Government’s climate change adviser, brought down his report in September, he advised that a global agreement that kept the temperature from rising 2 degrees was unlikely to succeed at the final round of UN talks in Copenhagen next year. He argued that pursuing this agreement risked collapsing the UN talks.

Instead, Garnaut argued that a less ambitious global agreement was "vastly superior" to no agreement and should be pursued. Under this less ambitious agreement, greenhouse gas emissions would be allowed to rise to 550 ppm. But according to Garnaut’s own report, temperatures were likely to rise more than 3 degrees – enough, he acknowledges, to kill off a third of Australia’s fauna species, and to destroy the Great Barrier Reef and much of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Garnaut argued forcefully that once a "more realistic" 550 ppm agreement was in place, the world had a chance to strive for a tougher agreement to lower greenhouse gases, ultimately achieving a safer temperature.

Garnaut’s argument was rejected by Australia’s climate scientists as too risky but it was developed in close consultation with Wong’s key climate negotiators, Jan Adams and Howard Bamsey. This suggested to some in the environment movement it is now Australia’s negotiating strategy for the UN climate talks. The 550 ppm strategy also allows Australia to set a 2020 target of 10 per cent, rather than 25 per cent, while putting more pressure on China, India, Brazil and other developing countries.

Selling this strategy was a public relations nightmare for Garnaut who, in the eyes of some in the environment movement, went from "hero to zero" on the release of his report. On Monday, Wong will strive to avoid a similar dilemma. She will announce billions of dollars in free permits for the biggest greenhouse polluting industries such as aluminium and steel to protect them from foreign competition. She will also promise millions more to assist coal-fired power stations and coal miners to adjust to the new scheme.

The Government judges this massive assistance is vital to protect Australian industry. But selling this to the public without the hope of an ambitious global climate agreement in Copenhagen that can avoid dangerous climate change will test her political skills – and Rudd’s.

Aussie Andy on the rise and true blue to his roots again

IT WASN’T so long ago that Australia’s most promising tennis product wasn’t playing for Australia.
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When Andrew Thomas burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced 12-year-old, Ian Barclay – the man who guided Pat Cash to Wimbledon glory – described him as the best junior he had seen.

It seemed only a matter of time before the right-handed slugger was following in the footsteps of patriotic Aussies Pat Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt on the path to grand slam glory.

Enter Marcos Baghdatis.

Baghdatis stole our hearts in his incredible run to the Australian Open final in 2006. Then he nearly stole our best young junior when he returned to our shores the following year. On the lookout for a hot prospect to partner him in the Davis Cup, the Cypriot stumbled across a brash baseliner with all the tools. Turns out that kid was eligible to play for Cyprus, as his mother was born there.

Money was offered, promises made. Thomas ditched Australia. Called Cyprus home.

Tennis Australia was not amused. Money and time were spent developing Thomas into a gun player and just as TA was about to reap the rewards he was packing his bags. The man who broke the story, respected tennis journalist Craig Gabriel, said at the time: “This smacks so much of the Jelena Dokic case …”

Just like Dokic, the prodigal son returned. So why did Thomas, now 18 and shifting into the senior ranks, decide to come back?

“Obviously I was a proud Aussie and I’d do anything to play for Australia. At that time I felt it was the right choice. Obviously now I’m happy where I am. The worst-case scenario was I’d go to Cyprus but obviously I was happy representing and playing for Australia.”

A star as a junior, having won the Orange Bowl in America and the Japan Open juniors, he is now ready to make his mark on the professional circuit in 2009.

While he had hoped to take part in the Australian Open wildcard play-offs, his name was not on the list of invitees released yesterday. Yet his youthful optimism remains intact.

“My main goal is obviously to win an Australian Open. Every practice session, that’s my eventual goal.”

Reckless, passionate and full of talent

SOME might have called it reckless but Steven Smith unwittingly followed Steve Waugh’s lead by deciding to throw everything into following his dream to make it in cricket.
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After Waugh left Year 12 he attended his induction day at teachers college and not long into listening to the speech about the career that awaited him and the others in the auditorium, the future Australian cricket skipper picked himself out of his chair, walked out of the hall, returned home and boldly declared he’d become a full-time cricketer.

It caused a bit of a kerfuffle in the Waugh household – very few of the nation’s leading cricketers even had contracts back in 1986.

An impressive member of Dominic Thornely’s "Baby Blues", Smith felt the same calling while doing bar work. In between pouring beers and listening to grog-fuelled conversations, fulfilling his childhood dream to represent Australia made better sense.

"I didn’t like it much," the 19-year-old said. "I just wanted to play cricket at the highest level."

He could afford to be confident about his decision to focus on sport. He’d spent one-on-one time in the nets with Shane Warne to develop his leg spin, England wanted him to declare his allegiance to them by talking about a possible Test cap and he was also setting new run-scoring records for Sutherland’s first-grade team.

His decision to sacrifice a minimal wage was rewarded quickly with state selection last summer and, as someone who realises opportunity rarely knocks, he hasn’t missed a beat whether it be Sheffield Shield, one-dayers or Twenty20.

"We call Steve ‘reckless’ … it’s a running joke in the team … because he throws himself 100 per cent into everything," Thornely said. "After he took a wicket in our game against New Zealand a tailender came out. I asked Steve if he was going to set him up with a big turning leg break but he said flipper straight away. He bowled the flipper and came within an inch of getting the wicket … he found the batsman’s inside edge and it went for a single. Reckless."

Yet Thornely hastened to add that few young cricketers possess the same cricket smarts. It also doesn’t surprise him the teenager orders men around as skipper of Sutherland.

"It’s an honour for him to be skipper of a first-grade team at such a young age but it’s easy to understand why he’s been given the position," Thornely said. "He’s unorthodox, shows confidence in his own ability and he has a good cricket brain.

"Out of the younger guys, he talks about the game a lot more. He’ll tell me his ideas out on the field and he comes up with a good option, the commonsense option. But what I also like is he has an aggressive, attacking approach to it."

The next challenge for the unorthodox batsman and emerging leg spinner will be to try to help guide NSW to a desperately needed Ford Ranger Cup victory over South Australia at the SCG on Tuesday.

"When I look back a few years ago, I didn’t think I’d be where I am now," Smith said. "It is an honour, a great privilege. But I’m not getting ahead of myself either. I realise consistency is important … I need to be consistent … and persistence is important as well."

Australian and English authorities had both charted Smith’s rise and rise. In 2006 the English invited him to pledge his allegiance to them. While he’d become the first Sutherland player to score 1000 first-grade runs before his 18th birthday, it was his leg spin that caught their attention.

He became England’s most-wanted Aussie after taking a Warne-like 6-14 for Surrey Second XI against Kent. However, the promise of the cap bearing the three lions of England was no match for his childhood ambition.

"I qualified for England through my mother," he said. "But ever since my father stuck a cricket bat in my hand when I was four, my dream was to wear that baggy green cap. I learnt a lot about cricket by playing in England in 2006 but to return and get picked for NSW was terrific.

"Some people said England would be an easier way to play Test cricket … but that was not my dream. The dream was to play for Australia."

His manager, Warren Craig – who looked after Glenn McGrath and oversees the career of Phil Jaques – described Smith as a young man "with a level head and willingness to learn".

All well and good. However, that little reckless streak could give him a winning edge.

Across the ocean and into the past

Wanted: two blokes who are looking for the adventure of a lifetime. Essential requirements include a sense of humour, an ability to live off meagre rations and do without toilet paper for more than 40 days and the desire to push yourself to your limits. Cost: $20,000. Apply to Don McIntyre, Australian adventurer.
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For McIntyre this latest voyage is the culmination of years of research and the chance to re-create what he considers one of the most epic sea voyages of all time: the desperate 3600-nautical-mile escape from Tonga to Timor in a seven-metre open-timber longboat by Captain William Bligh and 18 of the men who were victims of mutiny on the Bounty.

April 28, 2009, is the 220th anniversary of the voyage and the day McIntyre, his "first mate" – an Australian Young Adventurer of the Year in 2004, Chris Bray – and the two successful applicants will push off from Tonga, hoping to make it to Timor about 40 days later.

"This is the most exciting adventure I have done, because it is so multi-dimensional," McIntyre says. "I am really relaxed with the sea, so that part doesn’t worry me at all, but to be in a little, open boat and know that there are so many things that can and will happen is what excites me.

"The human dynamics will be as big as the voyage itself, and what happens on the boat is the real story."

McIntyre is adamant that this will be a faithful re-creation of that journey. "Of course we have a few advantages over Bligh but the whole point of this adventure is to live Bligh’s experience and do things exactly the same," he says.

The boat has been built. It is not a replica of Bligh’s boat, but one built to the specifications of the James Caird, a boat used in another great voyage – that of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who in 1916 sailed 700 nautical miles through some of the world’s worst seas to South Georgia Island, in the southern Atlantic Ocean.

"I saw an ad in a paper in Hobart for a whale boat for sale – a 25-foot boat that had been built for an expedition that failed due to a capsize," he says. "I bought that boat and had it rebuilt for this voyage. It took about a year but now it has a similar rig to the one Bligh used.

"It is about a third of the volume of the original Bligh boat, but he had a crew of 18. It is a lot lighter so, even with four in it, it will be low in the water. It is still built on the 1800s whale boat concept, traditionally, with oars and a sailing rig."

McIntyre says the entire voyage will re-create Bligh’s as faithfully as possible – even down to the rationed food, including the unappetising ship’s biscuits with which the original crew had to try to survive. That also means no modern navigational equipment, no stove, torches, beds or toilet paper.

"We are only going to take what Bligh had in weight," McIntyre says. That will include 690 kilograms of ship’s biscuits, 14.5 pounds of salted pork and 127 litres of water … I have calculated that we will have about 800 grams of food per day, which is enough to last us about 25 to 26 days.

"But we could be out there for up to 40 days so we have to figure out how to ration these supplies as well. When we get to Tonga we can load up with any local stuff there, like Bligh did – coconuts, fruit and vegetables. Then we sail through the northern Fiji islands and the northern islands of Vanuatu but, like Bligh, we won’t be landing. Then it’s through the top of the Coral Sea to Restitution Island, where Bligh stopped for berries, fish, oysters.

"And, like Bligh, if we do manage to catch a fish on the boat the first thing we have to eat is its guts and eyes, and then the flesh. But remember we will also have no stove to cook it on.

"We are in the process now of making the ship’s biscuits. They’re just flour, water and salt, which are baked and left to dry for six months so they end up like ceramic plates and can last up to 20 years.

"Bligh did manage to catch some sea birds, but we won’t be doing that. What we will take instead is nine special rations and break them open on the same days that Bligh caught the birds. He also had six bottles of rum and wine and even though I don’t drink we will take that. We will have a spoonful of rum every now and then. It’s all part of the story and the experience."

For the past 12 months McIntyre has used eBay to search the world for traditional sextants and an octant, as well as two 180-year-old pocket watches – the only things the crew will be able to use to judge the time for navigation. "I finally found a 150-year-old octant, the same that Bligh used, which is in mint condition, made out of ebony and ivory – very exciting," he says.

"The only chart we will have on board is one covering half the world from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. That will show us the track that Bligh took.

"We have no almanac so can only work out the latitude and will use a piece of wood and rope with knots in it to give us speed, helping us to estimate our longitude by dead reckoning, as Bligh did. There will be a lot of navigating by the stars."

Although there are some people who would criticise McIntyre for being foolhardy and putting not just himself but those who go with him at risk, he is adamant that this adventure, like the others he has done over the past 25 years, has been planned to the last detail. "The first thing we have done is to make sure we have minimised the risk; I’m not planning on being rescued," he says.

"Of course this has its risks, but we are capable and have all the modern safety equipment – distress beacons, life vests and raft. We will have a satellite phone to talk to Margie [his wife] every day to give our updates for the website but it is a one-way conversation, so Margie can’t tell us anything about weather forecasts or what’s happening on the cricket so we maintain our sense of isolation. We will have a satellite tracking device that locks on to Google Earth so people can track us 24 hours a day.

"The big wild card is that, with global warming, cyclones are coming at different times than when Bligh set off, so we may run the risk of a late cyclone, but we have plans and tactics in place if that happens.

"I have a simple philosophy that, if I ever have to be rescued, I need to be able to look my rescuer in the eye and say I have done everything I could to make sure I didn’t need to be rescued and also minimise any search. Some of the greatest adventurers in the world are in the ranks of the rescue services, which is partly why they do it, and I respect every one of them, so give them the respect they deserve through careful planning and minimising risk."

McIntyre says he is not looking for sailing or adventure experts to join him in April. "I’m looking for someone who can look after themself, and who is content within themself," he says.

"They need to have done something on their own, like trekking, boating or camping, and I have to know that when it does get tough and grim they will have a degree of confidence. The crew that Bligh had were all ages and occupations and that is what will make this journey so unique.

"I have plenty of mates busting to come with me but I am adamant that I want to do this with people I don’t know."

Child care third rate: Gillard

WHILE the British Government has complained bitterly about a United Nations report on child care that gave its services a middle ranking, the Rudd Government has happily accepted that Australia’s services are the third-worst in the developed world.
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The British Children’s Minister, Beverley Hughes, has written an official letter of complaint to UNICEF describing the report as poor with many inaccuracies, saying it has misrepresented the British position and querying whether it has also misrepresented the situation of some of the other 24 countries covered.

But yesterday the Education Minister, Julia Gillard, said she was not surprised Australia’s early childhood services were ranked so poorly, failing eight of the 10 international benchmarks. The previous government was to blame, she said.

"I mean, under the former government, the federal government just didn’t engage in these issues and we regularly came last or second last in the OECD for investment in early childhood education," Ms Gillard said.

Every expert on child care contacted by the Herald condemned Australia’s early childhood services system and agreed that Australia deserved its low ranking in the report, called The Child Care Transition . However, within a poor system, many high-quality child care and preschools could still be found, they said.

The head of education at Charles Darwin University, Alison Elliott, said: "There are some very good quality early childhood centres in Australia but equally there are some which are a cause of concern."

The main concerns were unqualified staff and poor staff-to-children ratios. "Staff quality and qualifications have the biggest impact on the quality of learning," Professor Elliott said. "But only 10 per cent of staff … have a university-level qualification."

The professor of early childhood education and care at the University of Melbourne, Collette Tayler, said: "There is reason for concern that in a rich country we do not meet these international minimum standards."

However, she said the Rudd Government had initiated changes that could see Australia meet a third benchmark next year with its national plan for early childhood quality, and a fourth benchmark a few years later when most four-year-olds should be attending an accredited and subsidised early education program.

"This will bring us up to the bottom of the middle rank," she said. "But even that may not happen unless the community makes sure the Government delivers. So far we have a plan but not the money required."

The chief executive of Early Childhood Australia, Pam Cahir, said parents as well as Government would have to spend more to attain a quality system.

"Parents are going to work on the back of low-paid workers," she said. "High-quality care for our children will not come cheaply."

Ms Gillard said the Government was spending more than $500 million on universal preschool education and more than $100 million to develop a better child-care workforce.

Webcke reveals blues after hanging up boots

It’s a serious problem but Shane Webcke doesn’t want to describe it as "depression".
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"I’m hesitant to use that word," he says. "It gets bandied about society too much. I think I was genuinely upset but I don’t think I was depressed either.

"But in saying that, what’s depression? I don’t know.

"I wasn’t myself, put it that way. I never thought ‘I’m suffering from depression, I need a tablet or something to help me’. I knew I was feeling a bit weird about the world and I just needed to persevere."

The malaise Webcke describes engulfed him after he hung up the boots. Having spent his entire life thinking, training and playing football, the Brisbane prop didn’t know what to do with the rest of his life. One day he was a footballer, with a purpose in life. The next, he was lost.

It was only after talking to other players from his era, like fellow forwards Jason Stevens and Robbie Kearns, that he realised he wasn’t the only one struggling with the transition.

"I had no idea what was coming in terms of the jolt it was going to give me," Webcke says of retirement.

"And I was a bloke who was organised. I had jobs to go to but when professional sport has been your life for so long, when it’s gone it’s quite bizarre.

"If you’d asked the blokes that played with me, I don’t think they would have picked me as a bloke who would have struggled in the transition to normal life, as it were.

"But I did it as tough as anyone. It was fairly traumatic. I’m not being a wanker either. I just felt that to put something on record, it might be a help to someone else."

So just two years after penning his first book, Warhorse , Webcke is at it again. But rather than pen just another autobiography, the former Kangaroos prop gives a no-holds-barred insight into the modern game. Nothing is off-limits. Brisbane’s booze culture. Rugby league officialdom. Wayne Bennett. But the one thing Webcke particularly wanted to convey was how hard it can be adjusting to life after football, in the hope it will prepare other NRL stars for retirement.

"They talk about being institutionalised, people who have been in prison so long – that’s what it’s like," he says. "I was just shocked by the absence of routine.

"That’s what being a professional sportsperson is all about, complete and utter routine. When that’s gone, you can’t explain it but there’s something missing and it’s a massive hole in you. I didn’t know what the problem was. I thought, ‘hang on, I have a good job’ – I was earning the same sort of money as when I was playing, so that wasn’t an issue. Why do I feel so crook?

"Time is the only thing. Time heals all. But you’ve got to know it’s coming."

Webcke, who lost his father in an accident 15 years ago, said his mother gave him some invaluable advice to help deal with upheaval.

"She said the smartest thing she ever did was not make decisions in that terribly emotional state, because you make mistakes," he says.

"I made some mistakes. They weren’t things that were critical but some of the things I did weren’t very characteristic of me and for a while I was very jittery. I don’t think I’d ever been back on my word as many times as I had been during that time.

"I decided something was a good thing and then I didn’t want to do it. I was really, really rattled."

Webcke devotes an entire chapter of the book, to be released to coincide with the kick-off of the 2009 season, to the Broncos’ booze culture. Specifically, he takes aim at the infamous toilet tryst involving three Broncos stars.

"I have a fairly strong opinion on it and that’s coming from a bloke who was never an angel," Webcke says. "Players now, for want of a better description, need to get with the times. They live in a very unfair regimen in many respects because they are so heavily scrutinised.

"Even in my two years out of the game, it has increased tenfold.

"People are getting tired of us saying ‘we’re just normal young men, stuff like this happens all the time’.

"It does but the scrutiny the game is under now means it’s not acceptable for us to do it."

End of 10-year Sydney pub brawl that cost $15 million

THE final chapter in the legal brawl between two of Sydney’s biggest pub baron families, the Shorts and the Crawleys, has been written, with Christopher Crawley saying he will pay the Shorts about $15 million.
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Mr Crawley, a prominent restaurateur and lawyer, yesterday agreed to buy the family of his late business partner and school friend Warwick Short out of two of their jointly owned hotels, Jacksons on George at Circular Quay and the Marlborough Hotel in Newtown.

True to form in the decade-long case, the fierce enemies were quibbling over the last couple of hundred thousand dollars in interest and splitting legal hairs until yesterday, when Justice Richard White in the NSW Supreme Court closed the case.

But it is understood that the Short family – which includes widow Ros and three children, Fraser, Paris and Martin – remain sceptical that they will receive the funds.

Mr Short did not live to see the end of the case, dying in 2004.

The payment was due to occur eight days ago but was delayed by a fight over how much interest Mr Crawley should pay.

The Short family owns or jointly owns a string of bars and pubs frequented by Sydney’s A-list, including Cargo Bar, the Loft and Bungalow 8 at King Street Wharf, and the Gazebo Bar and the Sugar Mill Hotel in Kings Cross.

The case was bitterly fought over 10 years, with great distrust between parties since their 15-year-long business relationship broke down in May 1997.

Mr Crawley’s barrister David Studdy, SC, described the case to the court last month as a "horrendous piece of litigation".

The Short family hired forensic accountants to trawl through company accounts to find missing cash, leading the court to find Mr Crawley had been "diverting profits" from the Shorts to the tune of millions of dollars through overcharging on legal and management fees and had given false evidence.

Mr Crawley is appealing against findings that he went to "absurd lengths to be obstructive". But Mr Short did not emerge unscathed, as he was found to be an unreliable witness.

The case descended into a fight over profits from a hot-dog stand inside Jacksons on George that made nearly $900,000 over nine years to 2006.

Housing plans put on 10-day fast track

BUILDING plans for tens of thousands of single- and double-storey houses, home extensions and swimming pools could be approved in 10 days under a housing code gazetted by the State Government yesterday.
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Planners and local councils have warned that the new code, which encourages builders to simplify their plans in return for quick approval, will encourage McMansion-style housing, set neighbour against neighbour and spark a turf war between councils and private building certifiers.

With local government taking 75 days, on average, to approve new homes, the state hopes at least half of the more than 100,000 people who submit development applications to councils every year will use the new code instead.

The Minister for Planning, Kristina Keneally, said the code – which stipulates how big, how high and where a new house is positioned on a block – would take effect on February 27, so people could take advantage of the $17,000 worth of first-home owner grants offered by the Federal and State governments.

"If a proposed house meets set standards, which limit its potential impact on neighbours and the look of a street, it should not be tied up in red tape," Ms Keneally said.

"The code provides a straightforward approval process for straightforward buildings. For example, it currently covers some 80 per cent of all project homes available on the market."

Proposals for lots over 450 square metres can be approved by an accredited certifier or council within 10 days if they meet the new standards, which include capping building heights at 8.5 metres, dictating how close houses can be built to boundaries and limiting a house’s footprint.

The final code did not have broad professional support, was flawed and contradictory, and looked too complicated to allow a building plan to be approved in 10 days, said Canada Bay Council’s director of planning, Tony McNamara.

Mr McNamara, one of several local government and industry representatives involved in heated negotiations with the Government about the code since June, said there was no doubt it was taking too long and costing too much to process DAs.

He said the Government had ripped up a long tradition of public consultation about planning reforms by failing to exhibit the code before gazetting it.

"Good luck. [Ten days] is a short time-frame and I suspect there will be a lot of [complying] certificates issued that shouldn’t be. There are going to be a few unhappy neighbours around."

Mr McNamara said neighbours would not be able to object to anything in a building plan that met the code, and would not learn about any building proposal until after it had been approved.

But the principal architect at Environa Studio, Tone Wheeler, said councils wanted to retain too much control over building plans.

Mr Wheeler was also closely involved with designing the code. He welcomed the new rules but said they did not go far enough in encouraging good house design.

"I wanted to get rid of the box-on-box, McMansion-style houses. But as for the intent of the code, architects are totally in support. I think there are so many good things in it that it would be a shame if some stakeholders tried to sabotage it."