The Gastronomic Pub Crawl of North Melbourne:
The Limerick Castle Hotel
Russell Degnan

161 Errol St North Melbourne
(Corner of Errol and Arden Street)

Rob referred to this pub as 'unreconstructed' and it is as good a description as any. Although the exterior is excellent, its position on a busy street and the TAB means it will never attract the kind-of gentrifying clientele most of North Melbourne's other pubs have drifted towards. Instead, the front bar has a collection of older, friendlier and louder patrons who almost certainly pop in on a nightly basis. Through the long and narrow front bar then to the tables out the back, where things are quieter, but equally as functional.

The meals are solidly traditional. A full plate, nicely cooked and not too expensive. The roast lamb and vegies was good without trying to be any better than that. The rest of the menu was quite extensive and similar to what you'd expect from a pub -- by contrast with a few pubs which weren't -- veal and chicken parmas, fish, assorted pastas, and so forth. The lunches are especially cheap too. If only it were more comfortable.

The short: For traditionalists, smokers and gamblers.

Next week: My local. The Albion Hotel (Corner Curzon and Haines Street).

Melbourne Town 29th September, 2005 17:19:18   [#] [3 comments] 

Season Review 2004-05 and 2005
Russell Degnan

No tests this month, so a summary of the last year instead.

England 2nd 1252.93 +75.5

England began the year as a solid team looking to assert themeselves as the second-best team in cricket. They ended it as likely challengers for the top spot, having won the Ashes for the first time in 16 years. Their record isn't that sparkling (12 tests, 6 won, 2 lost) but unlike everyone else they (mostly) played good teams in proper 5-test series, and they won. The best English ranking since 1979.

New Zealand 7th 1034.08 +11.33

Can New Zealand really be the next biggest improvers? Having been thrashed twice by Australia, and doling out the same to Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, their only two competitive games were against Sri Lanka. 1 win, 1 loss.

Pakistan 6th 1046.49 +1.69

Pakistan were also thrashed by Australia, but managed to draw three series, against India away, Sri Lanka at home and the West Indies away. Rebuilding, but not going backwards.

Australia 1st 1342.10 -3.47

For ten months this year was all Australia's. Victory over India on the sub-continent, dominant wins over New Zealand and Pakistan at home, and the Kiwis away. An easy victory in the first Ashes test pushed their rating up to 1426 -- Australia's best since 1950. Four tests later and the team is in crisis and terminal decline.

Bangladesh 10th 614.29 -7.56

Lest anyone question Bangladesh's devotion to losing, behold! It takes real talent to actually force your rating down when even a draw gets a big bonus. To manage it despite recording a win against Zimbabwe shows just how far behind Bangladesh really are.

Sri Lanka 5th 1086.46 -9.02

The masters of the two-test series only played 6 tests in the past year. They beat the West Indies at home, but are developing an away record to rival India's with losses to New Zealand and Pakistan.

South Africa 4th 1127.19 -19.09

Declining? Or just stagnating? Competitive losses to India away and England at home were the downside; victories over the West Indies and Zimbabwe the up. South Africa will be an average team without some better bowlers.

West Indies 8th 816.39 -27.1

How low can the West Indies go. Every corner turned seems to herald another crisis and another loss. Now the worst side in the glorious history of West Indian cricket; they played eight games against competitive middle sides (South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) for one win and five losses. I'd say the only way is up, but then I would have said that last year.

Zimbabwe 9th 707.44 -29.52

Zimbabwe's race to the bottom continues. When your best result is a draw against Bangladesh it is probably a small mercy that they only played four tests.

India 3rd 1142.64 -45.13

Who'd be an Indian fan? A home loss to Australia was followed by wins over South Africa and Bangladesh, but a drawn series at home to Pakistan. What it amounted to was a side whose performances should have been better, but who still lack the winning mentality. Given the age of their middle order India are as likely to go down as up.

Idle Summers 27th September, 2005 18:44:27   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XC, September 2005
Russell Degnan

For the end of football for another year. The MCG under lights. Taken April 2004

Melbourne Town 26th September, 2005 22:54:28   [#] [0 comments] 

Russell Degnan

My web-host's hard-drive decided to end its own life on Thursday. The resultant backup left nothing after the 7th September which seems a little longer than 'weekly'. Nevertheless, google kindly caches my site more regularly than that so I've managed to put everything back up sans a few comments.

Meanwhile I had my first, belated, session of cricket training yesterday. My shoulders have kindly informed me that I am no longer either young or supple.

Fun, fun.

Passing Fancy 25th September, 2005 09:59:22   [#] [0 comments] 

Wither English Education
Russell Degnan

Amidst all the talk of a new year 12 English curriculum I wanted to go back to a comment Kate made on Larvatus Prodeo last week. I didn't have time to comment when it was written, but it (somewhat inadvertently) gets into the guts of a debate that tends to spend a lot of time talking about irrelevant side-issues -- like the class texts for year 12 students.

"All this talk of state schools being Bad Things pretty much forgets that it’s only in recent times that our country has had pretty near universal literacy… thanks to state-based, cheap, education.

"I mean, if choice is so wonderful, why even make kids go to school at all? If parents want to choose to keep their kids home to work in the family business, why not? That’s a ‘parent choice’ too, isn’t it?"

Her first point isn't actually very accurate. A claim of "near universal literacy" needs a very low benchmark before it becomes true. It is hard to gauge how well the really poor students can read, because they become very adept at finding ways of avoiding reading; but I do know that my English class in year 12 never discussed the texts because over half the class either didn't or couldn't read them. My school wasn't good, but neither is it atypical. Students with insufficient literacy to read two syllable words were and presumably still are commonplace.

Nor is cheap education purely a state-based exercise. What it has been, is an urban phenomenon -- hence its final rise to encompass all parts of society. In 16th century Netherlands, the Brethren of the Common Life educated many including poor, fatherless students like Erasmus or Gerard Mercator. Scotland of the 18th century was similarly educated under religious, and then state guidance. Speaking of the late middle ages, Denys Hay states that:

"If the incentive was there, it seems it was not very difficult for a child to get a reading and, hence, a writing knowledge of the mother tongue."

But that...

"For the vast majority of European men and women that apprenticeship was to farming, and education largely passed the peasant by. He had no use for it."

It really isn't important who provided the education. What was important was the understanding of why that education was deemed important, in many places, at many different times. A private teacher, 14th century Mantuan, Vittorino da Feltre summarised it as well as anyone ever has:

"Not everyone is called to be a lawyer, a physician, a philosopher, to live in the public eye, nor has everyone outstanding gifts of natural capacity, but all of us are created for the life of social duty, all of us are responsible for the personal influence which goes out from us."

Florence was perhaps the best and earliest example of this, but it was widespread throughout the city republics as in the preamble to this Venetian statute of 1551:

"In every well-ordered city, as is this city of ours by the grace of God and the prudence of our ancestors, every effort must be made [to ensure] that the youth of the city are worthily occupied, so that they do not waste in idleness but serve and bring credit to the Republic while growing up in a well-disciplined manner to their own honour and that of persons close to them. For this reason, since there is in this city a flourishing and numerous body of young people, we must ensure that the young be given an opportunity to engage in the study of letters, so that the desired end is attained."

This kind of statement also highlights another point. Namely, that public education is indoctrination. We educate our youth because we expect them to follow in our footsteps. To maintain (and perhaps reform) our institutions and values, and, in the future, to do the same for the generation that follows them. Even to the extent that education seeks to attain equality and to lift the poorer classes it is still indoctrination, merely a normative one.

What should we make then, of articles like this, containing such inspiring gems as:

"For our best students, year 12 is a forcing house and the study of great works of literature is an exercise in the getting of an ENTER score rather than wisdom."


"The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority's responsibility must be to construct a course for all students, the silent, the loud, the clever, the disengaged and the illiterate. This is what the cohort is really like; these are our 18-year-olds - all of them. All students have a place at the table despite their reluctance to embrace King Lear."

I argued here that the great failing of state schools are that they don't make adequate expectations of their students. These quotes are the reason why. Students are disengaged and disinterested in high school English, but it is the responsibility of the school, of the student's parents, and more generally of society to set those expectations.

There is a reason students are expected to do English no matter what their future after year 12. Unfortunately, whatever that reason might be has been lost amongst fights over literary theory, texts, and indoctrination. None of which have any relevance to my own failings as a student of English, or, I suspect, 99% of other students.

The number and type of texts is irrelevant. What matters is the outcome at the end of the process, and there are innumerable paths to achieve that outcome, much as there are many possible outcomes we might want to achieve. Beneath the copious and extravagantly prescriptive literature that guides our education system lies a more general goal. Might I suggest we remind ourselves what that is; and perhaps even express it in less than 59 pages or 16 mostly redundant aims.

Passing Fancy 20th September, 2005 17:28:15   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LXXXIX, September 2005
Russell Degnan

We are long overdue for a landscape shot. Taken September 2005

Melbourne Town 19th September, 2005 22:51:50   [#] [0 comments] 

Advice for Incoming Governments
Russell Degnan

Yesterday saw the release of Doyle's plan to reduce tolls on the Scoresby Freeway. I have discussed this before, and maintain that political opportunism of this sort -- even when it comes as a backdown from an earlier position -- is counter-productive to proper transport planning. But whether a more general tolling regime is politically feasible will hopefully be discussed in the inquiry into congestion announced last week.

Instead I want to highlight some of the wondeful new tricks in spin-doctoring and obfuscated government that Doyle's announcement has within it.

1. Cut small, cut often

1% a year is not much. Surely that is within the budgets of bloated government departments. Except it is not really 1%. It is compunded over four years, it ignores increases in population and inflation. Over four years this come out to 10% or more. Even a 1% increase is really a cut. I happen to think lots of government services and particularly bureaucracy is waste (the planning system for example) but it needs to be taken to with a sledge-hammer, not a chisel.

2. Reshuffle departments

Bracks has taken this one to a new level by creating the DSE and the DVC. It conveniently hides how much is being spent because they are not directly comparable to before. But that is not all. By making more than one minister responsible for a department it makes blame hard to apportion and it lets you marginalise parts of the public service you don't like. Think the DOI is incompetent, slap a Major Projects Group over the top.

3. Hire/fire consultants

Bracks does use a lot of consultants, but he uses them for a very important reason: from Cain onwards, every incoming government has marginalised the expertise of the public service because they are supposedly tainted. Completely gutted by the third run through, the only way to get a report done is to hire someone - preferably someone who'll give you what you want. A fair proportion of the consultancy listed at the DPC seems to be for lobbying the Federal government, but it is still worthwhile policy-making. The only alternative is to either rebuild in-house skills, or to just make stuff up. The latter ought to make government more competent,

4. Cut development programs

All incoming governments trash these. The old government calls them resarch and development; the new government refers to them as "picking winners" and subsidies for protected industries. They are the easiest to cut as only policy wonks miss them, as well as the easiest to reconstitute under a different banner.

To summarise: don't believe a word of it. Unlike either Cain or Kennett, neither Bracks nor Doyle has any idea why they want to be in government. Except for the nice title, the bigger car, and the plusher office.

Sterner Matters 17th September, 2005 14:51:19   [#] [0 comments] 

General Theory of Searches
Russell Degnan

It's well known already that most google searches are executed by deviants and miscreants; that the mere mention of porn, nudity, or sex on your blog can result in an endless flurry of hits from members of the community with disturbing fetishes (or people playing a funky game I'm not aware of).

What I'm beginning to realise is that this is not unique to the online world.

The more you walk, the more you are asked for directions. When, years ago, while outside Melbourne University, I was asked by a couple of friendly Americans where the closest strip joint was, I thought it was unusual. Imagine asking for that?

Nowadays it seems perfectly normal. The youth hostel might be the most popular destination around North Melbourne, but the casino, the local TAB, bars, strip joints and drugs come a close second. For a while I blamed the long black coat. It looks a little seedy.

This morning though, a guy nods at me while I was in Flagstaff Gardens, on the way to work and looking (by my standards) highly respectable.

"Excuse me", he says. "Do you know where I can get some speed?"

Ok. Maybe I looked a little tired. But not that tired.

I pointed him on his way. He was from Sydney and a bit disoriented, but he should be able to find something. It's the least we can do.

Passing Fancy 16th September, 2005 19:19:19   [#] [2 comments] 

Melbourne 2030 - Planning Rhetoric versus Urban Reality
Russell Degnan

Ch. 4 - Demographic Constraints

See also: Ch. 1, Ch. 2, Ch. 3

In this chapter, the authors substantiate their claims that Melbourne 2030 won't work, as opposed to merely being a bad idea. They begin by discussing the important change that occured in the inner city areas during the 1990s. To summarise: large numbers of apartments were built, some on brownfield sites, others over existing detached dwellings, attracting a mostly young, single and/or childless people into the area.

The authors then turn to the household projections underpinning Melbourne 2030, and here find a disparity. While it is true the number of single person and childless households will increase, they will be older, not younger. The young people who have been driving inner city gentrification will actually decline in absolute terms.

Older - indeed all - households rarely move from their local statistical area, and don't appear to downsize their houses either. There are few financial reasons to do so because of the cost of apartment construction - a point borne out by the number of approved but unbuilt apartment complexes in the suburbs. The author's conclusion that "it remains an open question whether older childless couples and lone-person households will move in any significant numbers" appears to be justified.

The conclusion then, is that dwellings on the fringe, on larger blocks with room for children will continue to be the primary housing need despite the drop in household size. However, while I agree with this in part, there are two reasons why I don't believe it is clear-cut as that.

Firstly, the financial considerations are not straight-forward. Like farmers on the fringe of towns, a large landlot is a potential nest-egg if it can be subdivided. With the incentive of financial security many older people would be willing to move. However, if they need that incentive their numbers will be relatively small unless there is a market for apartments or detached dwellings. The question then becomes whether that market does exist given the youth demographic is declining in size.

This brings me to the second point. People are reluctant to move as they get older, and at all times generally move along the same corridor, and within their local area. We therefore have an interesting new phenomenon that is only just emerging. Many young childless couples living in the inner city are now having children. It is not clear that these couples, adjusted to living in the inner suburbs will want to live on the urban fringe. Some appear to be moving to regional areas, some are staying in the city in smaller detached dwellings, thereby forcing the younger demographic further from the city.

The urban fringe is now very distant from the CBD, and even more expensive to travel to. Houses there are not substantially cheaper than smaller, closer dwellings, and lack local amenity. Some cities in the US - particularly LA - have already found density levels increasing, and there is no reason it won't occur here. If older people don't move house, then this group will remain the driver of Melbourne's urban form. Unfortunately we just don't know what choice they will make.

Next: Residential Infill and its Threat to Melbourne's Liveability

Finer Things 15th September, 2005 23:50:07   [#] [0 comments] 

The Gastronomic Pub Crawl of North Melbourne:
The Court House Hotel
Russell Degnan

86 Errol St, North Melbourne
(Corner of Errol and Queensberry Street)

The first unusual feature of the Court House hotel is that unlike every building in the near vicinity it is not of the Victorian era. Instead it is art-deco in style with intriguing but dated lettering and higher but wider windows. The interior is more typical, with a lot of solid polished wood on a long bar that stretches around from the back bar to the restaurant. Each room is as different to the other as could be. The back bar, full of couches and smoke; the front bar, small tables, a lot of stools and customers; the restaurant for proper dining.

The clientele is older, which explains its status as a former 3AW pub of the year, and seemed to be predominately after a quiet beer after work. It is not a bad place for it, the beer selection ranged from Dogbolter and Bohemian Pilsner to the hand-pumped Matilda Bay Bitter. Things are more problematic on the meal front. The restaurant is not cheap, while the bar menu is cheaper but a little spent for choice. Sparse maybe, but it is good. I had the fish and chips, while others tucked into the sausages. Both were outstanding, if a little small. The fish tender, light and sweet. The chips crisp and even.

The short: For discerning beer drinkers.

Next week: A break. Then the Limerick Castle Hotel (Corner Errol and Arden Street).

Melbourne Town 14th September, 2005 18:48:22   [#] [1 comment] 

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