Friday, October 4, 2013

Memoir - Leaves 21-28 Reflections on Education

Leaf 21 “Once a miner always a comrade in arms” Parliament House Canberra 1999

I’ve always considered my veneer of civilisation as being very thin and a constant struggle to retain, largely because I want to preserve the great gifts of my background – a desire for plain talking, a preference for directness over excessive politeness and a capacity to understand or feel what is like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Sometimes, however, switching back to the ‘old me’ is also a very useful tool of diplomacy.

I was sitting in a committee meeting room in Parliament House in Canberra. Before me were several members of a visiting UK parliamentary committee on Public Administration investigating FOI. Most were typical angle saxon genetics - tall, thin and full of misdirection.   However one of the party was a gruff, short, stocky and no-nonsense Labour member, who was very unreceptive to my considered, measured and academic responses. He had the look, sound and temperament of an old time miner/union official. So I let slip that I was from a mining town and had spent time working underground. Bingo. Immediately he was very keen on this “FOI” thing that his newly  found comrade was advocating.

Throughout my professional encounters, I often feel like an emissary from a very different world. I have learnt the mannerisms, customs and speaking patterns of those I mix with but I am always on guard and wary. I understand the necessity for the customs, the social cues and the power in being diplomatic, yet it is often terribly frustrating not to simply call a spade a spade or to cut through the verbiage with a simple ‘bullshit’. I understand all the shortcomings of the class and era I sprung from – the heavy layers of sexism, racism, homophobia and the viewpoint that the rest of the world is filled with idiots because they don’t agree with you. Yet often I yearn for the refreshing bluntness of leaning over the table during a tedious university meeting and simply saying, “fuck, you are an idiot!”

Leaf 22 “College years” Hobart 1974-1975

When I left Queenstown for college, my sister Julie was about 11, my brother Keith was  6, and my sister Donna was 2. Infrequent visits home over the years meant that I missed nearly all the major events in their lives. I don’t know how my parents afforded my accommodation at Hollydene Hostel and while I was grateful for the extra spending money they gave me, it was never very much. Mum and Dad had little idea of what college or university entailed but they were certainly prepared to help me get there. Yet their lack of knowledge about further education meant they never pushed me.  I worked dilligently not to write home and ask for money but it was often difficult.  During one bus trip back to Hobart, I lost the money my parents had given me and things were looking bleak until a teacher offered me a gardening job. Over the next year, I seemed to strike it lucky and got the odd gardening job from two other teachers. In retrospect, I now understand these jobs were gifts and not lucky breaks for a fairly poor and irregular gardener.

By going to College, I started a journey that took me, with every step, deep into a world unknown to my parents or my forbearers. My mother had to leave school in Year 8 and my father never went past the final year in primary school. When Dad was about 12 or 13, his father died leaving behind 12 kids - three girls in high school and the rest in primary school or very young children. Dad’s brothers were sent off to the Boys Home, not a great time for them. We eventually discovered (and the banter about Dad being Nan’s favourite had more bite in it than we realised for many years) the wide scale abuse that occurred in state care during that time. Dad had stayed at primary school until he was old enough to start work at the mine to help support his family. His approach to life has always been a kind of ‘you do what you have to do and there is no use whinging about it or trying to change things’ approach. In many ways, he was an ideal man to take on the responsibility of two step kids in the late 1960s in a small mining town.

Sometime after I finished Grade 2 at East Launceston Primary School, Mum, my sister Julie and I moved to Queenstown to live with my grandparents. We shared a very tiny house in Arthur Street.  I have no recall of my bedroom or if I shared it with my little sister but I seem to recall sleeping on a tiny couch from time to time. 

It was a tiny house on the edge of town, in a small gully, in the shadows of the majestic Penghana – the mansion of the Mt Lyell Mine mangers that sat on top of a small hill.  And Penghana - with it’s secluded, off-limits, large well maintained gardens and grounds dominating the landscape - deepened the foundations of my future political beliefs and attraction to social justice issues. 

Two transformative events changed my life dramatically after moving to Queenstown. First, in Grade 3 I received some help from a government funded speech therapist that made my impediment more manageable. I still had difficulty correctly pronouncing words and tended to speak in monosyllables (later on I loved the liberation Bob Dylan gave me to stretch, twist and create new sounds). Yet the speech therapist gave me a handful of tricks that provided an escape from my self-imposed social isolation. Later, the flexibility and ability to manage the written word completely unleashed my freedom to express myself. To this day, despite two decades as an academic having delivered over a thousand lectures, hundreds of talks, including at international conferences to several hundred people and a few hundred media interviews, I still find the written word a more comfortable, ‘natural’ and effective way of communicating.

The other major change at this time was the entry of Keith Snell into my life. Sometime between Grade 3 and 5 my mother met the only man I have ever called Dad. Unusually for Queenstown, Keith had remained a bachelor till he met Mum who not only had two small kids, but was 4-5 years older than him. 

I gained not only a father but an extremely strict disciplinarian who insisted on neatness and order and short back and sides/crew cuts (at a time when long hair was fashionable, albeit against school rules). I think my life of clutter is a rebellion against that imposed discipline. You can always tell which is Dad’s car by the high polish on the outside and the look of the engine on the inside. The engines are always painted, sparkle and literally spotless. He has a shadow board for his tools. And even after all these years, away from home, I would be able walk through his house blindfolded. Everything will still be in its prefect place as it has been for the past forty years.

 In exchange for the exposure to discipline, for the first time in my life, I gained an extended family and a new surname. The Snell clan is a wild and rambling bunch.  I went from a small struggling sole parent family unit living on the edge with almost no history or roots, I was aware of, to being, by default, the eldest member of the next generation of a proud and very large family. I went from having a couple of cousins and a couple of uncles and aunties to having over fifty cousins and twenty or so uncles and aunties.  About the age of 8 or 9, I had gained a new name, a new family, a sense of belonging, a new family history and a new home town.  Around the same time I discovered a passion for reading and the treasure trove of the small (but at the time it seemed enormous) library of Queenstown Central Primary School. In many ways my whole life and sense of identity was reforged in this period.

By the time I arrived at College in Hobart I had embraced the persona of a West Coaster, a label I still attach to myself, but the remoteness of my ‘home town’ and the scarcity of other informed West Coasters allowed me to add my own meaning, history and sense of belonging to the name ‘Snell’. My college years allowed me to salvage what I wanted from my past and then allowed me to lock away and neglect the rest for another 35 years.

Leaf 23 “Inspiring families and friends” Mexico November 2008

I had tears in my eyes and gently held a small glass horse in my hands. The figurine had been given to me by Juan Pablo’s brother. The gift was made after I had spoken about my wife and daughter’s love of horses. It had been originally a gift from their father.

I had celebrated thanksgiving with Juan Pablo Guerrero Amparan, a Mexican Information Commissioner, his immediate family and a gathering of childhood (and neighbourhood) friends. Indeed most of the male guests at thanksgiving that day were the members of a neighbourhood band formed when they were young but who still get together to play and had produced a CD the previous year. In my neighbourhood we played cricket, smashed street lights and went bush; in Juan Pablo’s neighbourhood they played music.

I had met Juan Pablo briefly at a FOI and Privacy conference in Edmonton a couple of years earlier. At the end of the conference we had a spare evening and went out for a meal together. Over the meal an easy camaraderie developed. After returning home we shared emails, family photos and kept in touch.

A few months later, my 17 year old daughter Elise visited Mexico for five weeks and lived with this talented family – they all sing or play instruments with incredible passion and beauty. Juan Pablo’s wife, Johanna, is half Dutch and American and their sons speak Spanish, English, French and some Dutch. Johanna said having Elise around was like having a daughter and for Elise, who had her own quarters in a converted two storey stable, with maids to cook and clean for her, it was a very different cultural and social experience. 

During my stay with Juan Pablo I learnt the story of his mother, Lourdes Guerrero, who had died of cancer. She was a fiercely independent female journalist and well known figure in Mexico in the 1970s and 1980s.  She and Guillermo Ochoa had hosted “Hoy Mismo”, a morning program, on Televisa for many years, and before that she had acted in a couple of her husband's movies (Juan Guerrero)  Amelia (1966), Mariana (1967) and Narda o el verano (1970).  Lourdes was hosting on air on the  19 September 1985 when the 8.1 magnitude quake hit Mexico City at 7.19am. As the quake shook the studios Lourdes said “It seems we are experiencing an earthquake…”. (see Transmission ceased when a 10 ton antenna bent over and crushed parts of the Televisa studios. Most people ran from the building but Lourdes and another presenter, Maria Victoria Llamas, stayed sheltered under their anchor desks. Lourdes appeared on air the same afternoon broadcasting from another studio.

Leaf 24 “It’s not a house but a home” Queenstown 1973

A few days before the end of the school year, my Grade 9 Social Science teacher remarked that I had failed to hand in any homework for the year. If I brought it in next day he might mark it. I had scored very well in all our class tests, I always finished my class work quickly, in large part because I would be assigned to help some of the prettiest girls in the class finish their work. Yet I was totally slack with homework. I rarely did homework. Like many Queenstown houses, our house whilst huge in my memory, was actually extremely cramped with the six of us almost living on top of each other. Certainly, there was no desk in my shared bedroom and the only work area was the small table in the kitchen. I cannot even recall where I would have put school books except keeping them in my school bag. Any homework I attempted was at recess time in the school library but only if absolutely necessary.

Up for a challenge from the teacher, I sweet talked the girls in my Social Science class into lending me their work books.  I worked throughout the night, at the little kitchen table and on the lounge room floor, and after my first major exposure to endless coffees I managed to hand in, bleary-eyed, an impressive number of homework tasks. Every task was done with different biros to reflect the time period over which they should have been put together. Much to the disgust of the girls, I won the Social Science prize for Grade 9. My only major academic achievement in High School.

I never stopped to think about what it must have been like for Mum to be housebound in a small mining town with 4 children and unable to drive. Especially after my grandparents moved a couple of hours away to Hamilton.  The winters were long and constantly wet.  Dad built a drying area on the back of the house to help ease the problem with drying washing – a covered roof and the side covered with strips of wood separated by a couple of inches to allow airflow. Yet there was little for Mum outside her domestic role. Mum was an outsider both to the town and to the large Snell clan. Many years later I read Pete Hay’s poems and writings about Queenstown and the West Coast in Vandiemonium Essay. An outsider’s insights, but a sensitive outsider who had taken time to listen and understand. Pete wrote a poem capturing a female friend’s view and also brought to my attention other female stories of a sense of entrapment or living in, Pete Hay’s words,  ‘a barren space for women’.

Looking back I think it was indeed a barren space for my mother, with four young children, a husband who after long hours at work, spent endless hours working in his garage or doing up the house.  In a different world I think mum would have loved to have spent her time drawing, exploring, bike riding and watching movies at the cinema but that was a world that was foreclosed to her until very recently.

Leaf 25 “Whose subject is it:  the teacher’s or the student’s?” Conningham February 2002

A few days before the start of semester 1, 2002, the mid February sun was setting on the Introduction to Law Camp at Conningham. The camp was held every year by the Law Students Society to welcome first year students. I sat with a group of first year students in the twilight, at a large outdoor wooden table overlooking the bay. Late the year before, I had come close to resigning.  Heavy workloads, a very problematic first year student, a white hot angry Dean and budget problems stemming from student attrition, implicitly laid at my feet, and very few sources of positive support had taken their toll. Requests to take up invitations to speak overseas were never refused but were never approved. I had to deal with a ton of grief and stress and realised that career progress from this point might be a long slow road. I had taken most of January off and now intended to just go through the motions, do my job and think a little about my next steps and whether to leave a faltering career behind. A few years before, I had mentioned to Michael Field, a former State Premier and my English teacher in Grade 7, that I had no intention of teaching the same thing in the same way year in and year out just to have a job. It seemed I had now reached that exit point.

I sat listening to the students wondering why I was even there. As the last rays of sunshine retreated, a young blonde girl at the end of the table literally shivered and said “I have been waiting all my life to come to University and my first lecture is on Monday. I can’t wait.” 

My heart sank; I was going to be her first lecturer and my intent was to just to go through the motions. Her first lecture would be such a disappointment.

The conversation continued around me but I sat silent struggling with tears of disappointment.  I had allowed myself to become the type of lecturer I never wanted to be.

I left Conningham in the dark and as I wound my way to the Channel Highway. Struggling to find the dirt road in the dark, I tried to work out my options. I still felt like resigning but didn’t want to end on such a sour note. I decided to put my problems and frustrations to one side and follow the advice of Bruce Springsteen. He once said in an interview – “the fans don’t buy a ticket for next week’s show they have come to hear me play tonight.” I might not have been Bruce Springsteen but there was no reason why this young student or any of the others deserved less than my best effort. At the very least, I could perform my best effort for one last year.  One comment, one student and one refocused teacher.

Leaf 26 “When the subject just belongs to the teacher” Queenstown, Winter 1973.

In the middle of a wild, West Coast winter, the howling wind and almost horizontal rain lashed against and through the open windows of the small classroom. Eight frightened souls, doing French in Grade 9, were wedged up at the back of the classroom shivering near the open windows. At the front of the small class, wedged in the doorway, was the towering hulk of our teacher, a giant of a man with a titanic temper and bellicose attitude. He bellowed and launched his instructions at us. Some have described him as a heavy weightlifter gone to fat.  Yet, for us poor souls doing his subject, he was a walking nightmare. I spent most of Year 9 dreading our next class with him. 

In the future, this man would be my model of an anti-teacher. You were never right, only wrong to different degrees. His students could be seen stumbling around the hallways with a pile of books and other assorted items, at least 30 cms high.  In his class you had to bring every book, dictionary, pencil, ruler and other item he wanted or face a tirade, extra homework or detention or on a whim, a fearsome retribution of all three. If the next lesson was translation you couldn’t just bring the latest translation book you had to bring everything.

I did homework for him - unlike other classes - but I was never certain what I was doing or why and resented every moment.  Trips to the phone box, a few blocks away, to call up the smartest person in the class, who lived in Zeehan, were not helpful; in this class we were all in the ‘Dumb Zone’. There could be a test without notice, homework demanded for a class might not be collected or reviewed, but then we suddenly find that we should have done extra work for this class or brought the homework not collected last week.

In retrospect, I appreciate the unenviable task of teaching French to cultural and working class barbarians on the West Coast. It is a punishment akin to penal transportation for language teachers. But this approach to teaching, linked to my speech hurdles, removed any burning desire to learn another language for a lifetime.

Leaf 27 “Broken words are never meant to be spoken, Everything is broken” Bob Dylan. Sometime, mid 1990s Law School University of Tasmania

I stood in a small law school tutorial room.  Unusually for Tasmania, it was a hot day, and I was conducting a tutorial with over twenty students in a room designed for maybe a dozen. Extra chairs had been dragged in. Two or three broken chairs lay discarded in the left hand corner and may have been there for several weeks. Restrictive covenants was the topic - not the highlight on my property law teaching play list. The students had come confused from the lecture and had done no reading.  This was the last tutorial for the fortnight. Most of the students in the room were there out of desperation, but in the time honoured tradition of desperate students, there was still no need to panic and hit the text books and certainly not enough angst to feel the need to read the assigned cases even though  40% of students had failed the mid year exam, many by large margins.  Assessment was by 80% final exam, The students were unable to discover whether this topic could be avoided in the final exam. I was in teaching hell.

Leaf 28 “Must be somewhere out of here” Bob Dylan. Queenstown 1971-1974

Throughout high school, I threw myself into sports and other physical activity: running, badminton, cricket, basketball, volley ball, bike riding and when I had nothing else to do, I would take my cricket ball down to the South Queenstown Primary School nets and just bowl over after over at the stumps or targets I placed on the pitch. In part, this activity kept boredom and depression at bay; it helped offset the bookworm and four-eye labels; and it allowed my imagination to run riot about future sports glory for me and this town in the middle of nowhere. In retrospect, it also limited, along with availability and money, my opportunities to indulge in underage drinking and made my non-smoking a sensible choice. Even when I did hit the grog underage, the prospect of an upcoming sporting effort tended to moderate my drinking.

When I went on holidays, I often spent many an hour in backyards in Devonport, Whyalla and Hamilton playing solo cricket. I would throw a ball against a wall and then hit it in endless mythical test matches where I played the key role. 

A legacy left to the future me was a liking for sports metaphors and analogies when I started to teach. I often use the idea of a small town sports coach – the primary mission is getting people simply onto the field and engaged. A secondary task, is to work with the talent you have to improve their skills -- helping the uncoordinated press-ganged nerd move from being bowled every ball to being able to block most deliveries that might just give your team the edge. I don’t see the point of leaving it all to your players/students and simply jumping up and down on the sidelines bemoaning the hopeless cretins given to you in the last round/entry. Thirdly, you take those with some skill and help them to the next level, to become local champs or legends. Finally, your job is to find the rare and truly talented ones and encourage them to the next level and a better coach.

In the end, it was not sport but education that led me away from the valley. Unlike sports, the educational path was largely a mystery and seemed either beyond my control or at risk from my own activity: acts of petty theft, vandalism, underage drinking and lacklustre educational performance in some areas. I ended up drifting down to Level 1 Technical Drawing class (there were 3 levels for High School) despite being at Level 3 for all other subjects. My drift was due in equal parts to a lack of interest, a TD teacher who used T-Squares as a form of crowd control, a lack of care in my drafting and little space at home to complete my drawings. Most of the time my thoughts, when they drifted to the future, focused, like nearly everyone’s, on getting a job in the mine either as an apprentice or as one of the five cadets out of a hundred potential candidates each year (clerical staff). Just every now and then the idea of going to that unknown place called ‘university’ popped up. Yet the obstacles loomed large – the need to move away from home, choose a college (qualify to enter) and very few people to talk to about it (even if I had been aware of the questions to ask).

In the late 1970s, when I studied Ethnic Politics during my Political Science course and from my observations of my friends from Greek, Polish and Italian backgrounds, I was intrigued by their families’ focus on tertiary education. My 1850s Irish (mum’s side) and German and Irish (the Snells) background never saw education as a route to a better life. If education was ever mentioned, it was to unfavourably compare it with common sense and hard work. Three decades later, only some of my younger nephews and nieces the next generation have started to follow a route involving further education.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Running Sloth

In the last 30 months, since Once We Were Sloths 2, my fitness journey has taken me into areas I have never experienced or where the passage of three decades has simply burnt from my memory.

Back in late October 2010, doing early morning  circuit classes with Jim Armstrong, I often struggled to survive the warm up sessions. I was breathless within the first 50 metres of a warm up run. The simple mention of a warm up run use to almost send me into a breakdown. The thought of being completely breathless produced major anxiety.   How things have changed. Recently I completed my first 4km Fun Run and have 5 x 5 km runs under my belt. Painfully slow times but nevertheless finished each one with strong reserves.

Three years ago the challenge of doing 5 pushups in a row was almost insurmountable. Yet now I have completed 30,000 push ups this year and a couple of weeks ago did 500 push ups (27 different varieties in sets of 10-30) including the last 100 in 2 minutes. Last Friday night I did 2,000 push ups over the course of a football match – mostly in sets of 50. I have gone from someone who stumbled and bumbled his way through a couple of pathetic skips to being able to do 50+ in 30 seconds.

If I could measure the energy output and applied effort in my circuit classes the average energy and effort (that at the time was 100% +) of my first 12 months would now be achieved in the first 5 minutes of yesterday’s circuit class.

I now do 2 x 60 minute personal training sessions a week and the old me would have simply collapsed after the first couple of sets of these sessions. The other week I ran up Nanny Goat Lane 5 times with my trainer Luke. In the past I would have expended most of my energy simply walking up those steps.

I can remember the way my body shook 10-15 seconds into a 20 second plank exercise and praying for it to end. My personal best for planks is now 5 min 2 seconds but generally 2-3 minutes. Now in a 20 second plank I need to raise my leg and arm to make it a challenge.

Despite being pitched at a market demographic very different from mine Men’s Health has become one of my favourite reads.

The most disappointing set back has been on the weight front over the last 12-18 months. In terms of body fat, visceral fat, muscle mass etc my results keep getting better but my total weight has drifted back over the 100 Kg mark. Indeed 4 months of intensive PT sessions and the increased running effort has seen my weight remain basically stable around 105 kg.

However the consoling factors are that my body configuration has tightened up, I am feeling slimmer and fitter and a side effect of some of my diabetes medication is weight gain. My diet has completely changed with a significant shift to protein, a decrease in carbs and processed foods and an increase in fruit and raw  vegetables. Tofu has now become a regular item on my menu.

If I had only 1 goal – significant weight loss – I would have given up long ago. At the moment my primary goals are on the fitness front.

Finally it has been the support of friends, family and graduates on Facebook that has helped me along the way. On the one hand I have used my regular updates as both a motivational tool and as a means of commitment accountability. If I state I am off on a 5km run it is very difficult to later admit I wimped out. If I commit to doing 52,000 push ups in 2013 via Fitocracy then I have a public commitment to achieve that goal. From the emails, messages and Facebook chat my story, efforts and persistence has had a positive effect on others.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Memoir - Leaves 15-20, Jimmy Carter, Ghanian princesses, Kiwi PMs and failed science projects

The Memoir - a work in progress

Background see Working on a Memoir

Leaves 2-6 Ireland, Launceston, Cape Town, Whyalla, Cambodia
Leaves 7-9 Hooning, Teaching & Presenting
Leaves 10-11 Bookseller, Vexatious FOI applicants and shaky start to an academic career
Leaves 12-14 Car crash, Launceston early 1960s, A Road Not Taken

Leaf 15 “Hey Ma look it’s Jimmy Carter” Accra Ghana March 2010
In early March 2010, I stood at a conference lectern in Accra, Ghana, in front of representatives from over 20 African countries. I was there at the invitation of the Carter Centre.  Seated smiling in the front row was former US President Jimmy Carter showing, in the deep lines of his face, every one of his many years. Jimmy Carter, after his single term presidency, had set up the Carter Centre, an organisation devoted to work on development projects.  He had just given a spirited talk that in some areas was strongly contrary to the points I intended to make.

 My topic was “The difficulties facing African countries in trying to implement freedom of information legislation”. Unlike most of the participants: activists, journalists, parliamentarians, professional staff of non-government organisations and Jimmy Carter, my task was not to focus on, and advocate for, the positives of transparency and FOI legislation. Instead, my mission was to draw attention to many of the problems African countries would face in trying to achieve effective access to information schemes. Until recently, 95% or more of the law reform effort and resources has gone into encouraging countries to adopt FOI legislation. With over 90 countries adopting some form of legislation, this has been a very successful uptake of a law reform initiative. 

Yet the really difficult task of implementation, especially for post-conflict countries or those faced with crippling combinations of high level corruption, overwhelmed public services and non-existent records management capacity – most African countries - received little or no attention and resources.
This was the second time I had been in close proximity to President Carter. The previous year I had visited Atlanta, Georgia for a Carter Centre conference. In the Atlanta group photo I was in the back row of the 125 delegates: the only academic in the line up of Presidents, activists, parliamentarians and representatives of institutions like the World Bank. 

This time, there was no one between President Carter and me.

As I talked he appeared to listen intently. While at times he nodded at my words, at others, he looked a little discomforted as I took a line that strongly contradicted some of the points he had made. His talk had been a more traditional set piece selling the democratic, good governance and development virtues of FOI.  A thousand different thoughts bumped into each other in my mind as I spoke. While trying to focus on my talk and the whole audience I found it difficult not to try and catch, and gauge, the reaction of the “Former Leader of the Free World,” a refreshing and liberal antidote to the dark years of Richard Nixon and the insipidness of Gerald Ford.  I remembered my university days of studying political science and watching the Carter Presidency attempt to steer the US towards a foreign policy agenda that focused on partnerships, human rights and global development. And there was a little bit of me marvelling that a four-eyed, stuttering geek in a small primary school classroom, on the western edge of a small island, who spent his time looking out on the bare hills of Queenstown would one day find himself delivering a speech in a major African country before a former President of the United States.

Next morning, I shared breakfast with the then Ugandan Minister for Information, Princess Kabakumba Labwoni Masiko, and an investigative journalist from Uganda. A spirited conversation ensued between the two Ugandans that was both intriguing and fascinating for an Aussie academic. I thought of the recent and history of Uganda, where simply to be a journalist was a death sentence, let alone pressing the Information Minister on press freedom issues and allegations of corruption by those in her government over shared jam and toast in the presence of a foreigner. 
Ironically, in December 2011 Princess Kabakumba Labwoni Masiko resigned from her position in the Ugandan Cabinet following allegations of abuse of office, theft by taking, causing monetary loss to the government and conspiracy to defraud government.  Radio broadcasting equipment was alleged to have been stolen from the Ministry of Information when she was Minister and subsequently used in a regional radio station she had a 75% interest in. 

During the first six months of 2010 in the midst of my busiest teaching schedule (two classes with a total of 500+ students) I travelled to Botswana, South Africa, Ghana, Malaysia, US, Canada, Fiji, New Zealand, three times to the UK and a brief stopover in the transit area of Cario’s international airport. A Saturday morning might find me up early to set up my stall at Salamanca Market and the next Saturday I was on the savannah of Botswana petting semi-tamed cheetahs. A Monday morning would find me lecturing to 300 eager young first year law students on judges and juries and later that week I would find myself being picked up by Her Majesty’s Foreign Office to be whisked off to Wilton Park, an isolated conference facility in the English countryside designed for ‘quiet and discrete dialogues’. In June I was criss-crossing Canada while trying to cobble together an application for promotion to Associate Professor.

All of these trips and encounters, no matter how fleeting, with power and position and the sharp contrasts with life outside the conference walls and restricted venues, shape my teaching. I find it impossible to even think about returning to the classroom to confront my students with a pile of inert and dead material for them to regurgitate back in an exam. I want them to have journeys like mine or, at the very least, intellectual journeys. I want them to be able to engage with former Presidents or current Ministers, or wild and passionate Filipinas who want to make a difference if the opportunity presents. I don’t want to burden them with law presented as a series of burdensome, archaic and rigid formula that just leads to a yes/no answer that no one appears interested in.

Leaf 16 “The boys are in Hobart Town – where the f**k is Lenah Valley?”  Hobart November 1974

Dickie and I came out of that classic car chase movie Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry super-hyped. We were at the cinema located near The Mercury Building in Hobart: an ultimate thrill for a pair of Queenstown boys who had recently finished Grade 10. We lived near each other for several years sharing wild adventures in the hills surrounding Queenstown and playing against each other in several sports. He was the better football player and I was a superior cricketer and we were roughly even on the badminton court though he had a slight edge. Dickie was in Hobart because he was pursuing a possible football career. On the field he was a fast, nimble and talented red-haired rover with a terrier like attitude. His father had driven us from Queenstown, in between his work shifts at the mine, but he couldn’t stay, leaving us to catch a bus home. His reasoning was that two, sixteen year old Queenstown boys alone in Hobart were a safer bet than one.

I had tagged along to investigate going to college.  We had the wild idea of sharing a house. In those days, we had no idea how unlikely that scenario was or how unviable. We walked back from the movie to our accommodation in Lenah Valley, the home of distant relatives of Dickie, I think. During the next two hours the initial buzz from the movie drifted away with each uncertain step towards Lenah Valley. Hobart with a population of 150,000 people was certainly no Queenstown, with just over several thousand souls. Queenstown was a small town located in a narrow and long valley that we could run from one end to the other in less than 20 minutes. In contrast, Hobart, in the dark, simply seemed endless to us mountain boys. We were walking past endless rows of, what to us seemed like, mansions. Back home there were only a very small handful of substantial brick houses in the whole town. Here in Hobart every house seemed bigger and more exotic than anything we had encountered previously.

Dickie’s football career didn’t materialise and I lost track of him after I moved south the following February. I was offered a place in Hollydene Hostel – a place brought to Dad’s attention by the owners of Dilger’s Garage in Queenstown, whose sons had gone to Hollydene. As a former guesthouse next door to a hotel, it appealed to a Queenie boy and helped offset the social disgrace of staying at school when everyone else was raking in the money as apprentices in the mine. It was a huge leap into the unknown because no one in the family had any experience of moving away from home for education. It was my first warning of how big and transforming that final departure from the valley would be. 

After my final year high school, only five students out of more than a hundred, from three West Coast towns went onto college: two boys and three girls.  Originally it was meant to be six of us heading south. At the last moment Sooty, the son of the Mt Lyell General Store manager, decided to take up an apprenticeship.  The problem of getting to Hobart almost derailed the whole adventure for me before it started. Dad couldn’t get off work.  The only option was the bus and then finding my own way, with all my gear, between two unknown destinations  - the bus station and Hollydene Hostel. My plans rapidly started to shift towards applying for an apprenticeship. Options for nearly all the girls in my class were far more limited.  A few would become typists at the Mine Offices, a smaller number shop assistants and for nearly all, an early marriage before they were 18.

Fortunately, a slightly older relative by marriage, working in Hobart was heading south and she offered me a lift. This trip was one of the highlights of my young life. She had long flowing hair, a bubbly personality and was driving a mini-moke: a young boy’s dream girl in the mid 1970s. It was like a delayed arrival of Woodstock. I still recall the wind roaring through the canvas flaps of the Mini Moke and the two of us shouting to be heard over the noise as we cruised the 150 miles through the wilderness and later farm lands (relatively new sights to this mountain boy). She dropped me off at the front door of the hostel on Campbell Street. The other new students mingling at the front, checking on arrivals, were a little dumbstruck. Who was this West Coast boy pulling up in a mini-moke with a beautiful young woman? I often think back, if the lift hadn’t materialised would I have made the journey or simply opted to stay like Sooty, who still lives in Queenstown and runs a large engineering works.

Within two years it was only Leigh (another son of a local shop owner) and me left to go onto university from the West Coast group. The total West Coast contingent in the whole University were Leigh, the two Dilger boys, plus a couple of the children of mine managers who had been sent away from Queenstown for their high school education: not a great retention rate.

Two factors played a big part in this abysmal retention rate: fear of the unknown; and difficulty dealing with home sickness, or more accurately, losing connection to our sense of place. For most West Coast parents, arranging for their child’s further education, was beyond their experience in terms not only of the mechanics but also in terms of emotional guidance and advice. Despite forming friends at Hollydene Hostel, the Queenstown kids often didn’t go home (a six hour bus ride) for weekends, while the kids from the Huon and East Coast rarely stayed weekends. At weekends, we West Coasters faced the normal hostel curfew and had little money to go out. I spent many a Friday and Saturday night chatting on the phone to one of the West Coast girls who stayed at the girl’s hostel up the road (our only chance to talk as the boys and girls at the hostels went to different colleges). We chatted about what we had been reading, movies seen, records played and hopes (often overly ambitious and rarely realised) for the rest of the weekend.

When we did go home it was to a very different lifestyle, one that was increasingly difficult to adjust to and one that refused to accommodate who we were becoming. The easiest thing to do when stepping off the bus was to shut down the ‘Hobart’ persona and act out a paler version of the ‘Queenstowner’ who we had been. Most of our school friends had jobs as apprentices or office staff at the Mt Lyell Mining and Railway Co. They had it all: access to cars, booze and girls.  No time for long chats in a phone booth or to read novels by authors with strange names. When I was in high school it was difficult to get a girl friend because from about Year 8 onwards you were competing with the 1st and 2nd year apprentices who had access to cars, parties, money and their own houses. 

At first the infrequent trips home from College (outside of school holidays) were an intoxicating whirlwind of parties, drinking and hi-jinks. Yet with each trip we returned home a bit more different and the distance between old friends and attitudes started to be unsettling. We came back more book wise and brain refined but penniless and missing 95% of the experiences our friends had shared in the intervening weeks. Visits home were certainly not an opportunity to discuss why I was so taken with Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem Zima Junction and how it resonated with my own homecomings. The best I could hope for was that my gift of the latest Skyhooks, or an early AC/DC album or condoms (the Queenstown Chemist refused to stock these items) kept me in the “not completely weird” category. In addition, if I kept drinking the beers my mates would buy for the ‘poor student bum,’ I was okay.  During those years my reputation was not associated with academic achievement but my return to the cricket pitch for the summer and more importantly my capacity to win bets in drinking competitions for my old school mates. Back at the Hostel it was like returning to a low key prison (controlled hours, study periods, little money, no regular supply of grog and regular surveillance).

Leaf 17 “Prime Ministers, academics and future judges” Wellington, New Zealand, April 1996

In a small elegant café in Wellington in 1996, I sat across the table from my friend, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand. A working friendship had formed after I read his article on teaching administrative law and designed my first course using many of his ideas. We started a warm, but infrequent postal, correspondence in the early 1990s. During a visit to Wellington in 2002, we caught up again when Sir Geoffrey was a very active member of a very small audience for a talk I gave comparing FOI in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. At a later conference in Wellington in November 2008 he lavished praise on my research and analysis of FOI in front of Ombudsmen, FOI Commissioners, government officials, leading NGO activists and academics from around the world. It was praise rarely given from a man more often willing to be a stern and unrestrained critic.

 In 1996 I was in Wellington as the inaugural visiting fellow of the newly launched New Zealand Institute of Public Law. I had contacted the Institute, as I was starting on a project looking at the beginnings of the New Zealand Official Information Act, just as they were trying to find their first visiting fellow. From this serendipitous linking came one of the great friendships of my life. Paul Walker QC, an up and coming administrative and insurance lawyer from Brickfields Chambers, in London had taken leave from his chambers to be the first Director of the Centre for two years. His wife Jo Andrews, a well known ITN political journalist, came with him. She continued to file reports back to the UK.  To my mind, Paul is the archetypal ‘ideal’ lawyer – thoughtful, prepared, diplomatic, considered, engaging with a depth of humanity that I could only envy. During his two years setting up the Centre Paul attended Maori language classes and would begin each of his administrative law classes with a new Maori phrase.  He would go on to be the lead counsel in the Mad Cow Tribunal and later would be appointed as a judge in the UK. Paul started his studies at Adelaide Law School but despite academic success in his first year felt the need for a break. The teaching style of the Law School had failed to grab his imagination. He went to Paris and took up bartending for a few months before moving onto Oxford, met Jo and stayed in the UK. Our families have since become close friends sharing holidays and their home in London and their cottage ‘Longknowe’, in northern Northumberland, has become part of our lives.

On my first trip to the UK, in 1999, I stopped over in London and made my way to Paul and Jo’s house in Camden Town for a beautiful informal meal. They later moved to Tufnell Park and their spare bedroom became a familiar and comfortable base for all of our family when visiting London.  Paul had become senior counsel on the Mad Cow Tribunal and incredibly busy. Jo’s career as a political journalist was also intense. Many nights during my London stopovers I would get back to Tufnell Park early in the evening, catch up with my work, welcome Paul home around 8 or 9 pm, then watch Jo on the ITN Late News at 10pm, share a whiskey and peaceful conversation with Paul, followed by a few words with Jo as she returned from Whitehall or the ITN studios towards 11pm.  Jo would then fill us in with the inside stories of what we had watched on the news.  Jo is well educated, bright, intolerant of fuzzy thinking and capable of dining with the Queen or having breakfast over a billy in the wilds of Northumberland. Her dad went to Oxford and her mother to Cambridge, creating an intense but friendly family rivalry.

In 2001 I learned Paul had testicular cancer and was undergoing intense treatment. I decided to cancel my next stay with Paul and Jo and started to look for alternative accommodation. Jo wrote back saying Paul’s spirits would be lifted by my staying with them. It was a tough few days as Paul was incredibly weak and easily tired but our friendship deepened during that visit.
In 2002 the Snell family descended on Tufnell Park, London. Elise and Lance hit it off with Florence, Paul and Jo’s daughter. Lance, tall and good looking, boosted Florence’s stocks around her friends, Elise and Florence were both horse mad. Esther and Jo had mutual respect for each other’s talents. After a week crammed together at Tufnell Park, we all headed in two taxis to a packed King’s Cross Station on the Queen’s Birthday weekend (not a good time to travel) for a journey to Northumberland and an idyllic stay at Longknowe. Longknowe is a converted pair of shepherd’s cottages located in a remote valley. The farmhouse is rented out during the year but Jo and Paul reserve several weeks to stay there with family and friends.

Leaf 18 “Four Eyes, Four squared and learning to hide lights under bushels” Queenstown late 1960s

Sometime in late primary school I started to fail class tests. Up to that point, test questions had been oral and I aced the tests. Now the tests were written on the blackboard and my desk was at the back of the room and I couldn’t see. I avoided this problem for a while – continuing to fail tests, but I think I was picked up in a visiting eye test and an appointment was made with the local GP. For my troubles I acquired a set of thick heavy framed prescription glasses that burdened me with the problem of being called squared or four eyes. The offset was an improvement in my cricket batting. However, I stopped playing football, almost a sin on the West Coast, to partly avoid breaking my glasses, but also because playing in the rain, a common occurrence, was almost impossible. I kept hoping someone would invent wipers for glasses.

Throughout most of my teenage years I was socially plagued and weighed down by my glasses and in most photos they are absent. Later I overcame the problem of my glasses being sent flying in contact sports by tying a piece of string, or elastic, to the arms of the frames. By the end of Grade 6 I had climbed back up the academic ladder and was one of the top five students and possibly, one of the rare achievers who was not a child of the local elite. Yet the grief directed at me, from the ‘locals’, for this touch of academic achievement taught me to run with the rest of the pack rather than towards the front. So for the remainder of my education, including university, I was content to cruise and just slap together enough to get by. The only motivator I had was that my exam performance was always so abysmal that I put big efforts into written assignments to give myself a chance of passing each course.

Leaf 19 “Canada calling…..” March 2001

On a Thursday morning, about 9.30 am, my office phone rang.  At the other end of the phone was a female with a thick and almost exaggerated French accent. My initial response was is this a prank call when “The Voice” asked, “Is that Monsieur Reeck Snellll …. please hold I have President Madame Delagraveee on the line for you.” On the line was another female: “Monsieur Snelll you do not knowww me but I know of uuuu….” Warning bells were ringing. Was this a Crazy Call from the Kym and Dave radio program? Was it Stefan Petrow or Lynden Griggs, two academic colleagues, with devilish inclinations, trying to hoodwink me? 

I decided to go along with the caller but very wearily. It seemed they were with some Canadian taskforce looking into FOI. I recalled a friend from Canberra mentioning a group of Canadians had visited Canberra a few weeks previously for that purpose. So if this was a hoax, the caller was very well informed. The caller stated she had stayed back at work in Ottawa to make this call,  another bit of attention to detail. The Taskforce researchers had overlooked New Zealand (whose Act is called the Official Information Act rather than the FOI Act – a basic research mistake but feasible) and whilse in Canberra they had been constantly told they should talk with me (their research had missed me, the FoI Review a journal I edited and New Zealand). Someone had given them a copy of my article, “Kiwi Paradox.” that rammed home to them their error both in terms of New Zealand and my thoughts on FOI design.

The taskforce was originally conceived as an internal government review but ironically, had been outed by a series of FOI requests and had now become a fully public review. By the time of the phone call, the Taskforce’s activities were under a great deal of scrutiny and they were now in a bind. How could they make up for their research gap? There was a quick discussion about the possibility of flying me to New Zealand at Easter while a member of the Taskforce slipped out of Canada and visited the Kiwis and me in New Zealand. This option was quickly canned. Ms Delagrave, said they were unable to pay for my travel to Canada (which would alert the press to their oversight) but if I was in Canada the taskforce would be happy to pay my internal transportation costs, put me up in a hotel for a couple of weeks and cover my other costs. At the end of the call I asked the caller to email to confirm the arrangement (still slightly suspicious it might be a hoax). A few minutes later I got my confirmation email from the Task Force and then found their web site. A few weeks later I was in Canada.

I stayed at the Capital Hill Hotel. It had plainly seen better days but was still seen as a prime place to stay because of its location in the heart of Ottawa. The Task Force was allocated a temporary suite of offices across the street from my hotel.  When I stay anywhere for a few days I like to find a café I can establish as a base because of the food, service and location. I found a cellar café around the corner that served this purpose for me. My days were spent working with a group of very bright, ambitious and multi-lingual public servants. Often, work place conversations or even sentences would begin in English and finish in French. The circumstances surrounding the Task Force’s creation meant it had a multi-million dollar budget even if it was monitored zealously by the media. At that tim,e the Task Force was responsible for the largest ever set of commissioned research projects into FOI exceeding any previous governmental or academic efforts anywhere in the world.
My role was to be an in-house expert and idea generator and to feed into the process insights I had gained from my comparative work about FOI in Australia and New Zealand. Another part of the task was to provide seminars to a steering group of Deputy Secretaries (like agency heads in Australia). 

The interchange of ideas, insights between my academic, comparative and applicant perspective and the insights fed in from the commissioned research and the bureaucratic experience of the Task Force team led to a number of major conceptual insights about FOI reform and processes. A number of these appeared in the final report of the Task Force and a number of others continued to be refined further in my research, teaching, and work in places like Cambodia, then fed back into the Australian law reform process that led to the emergence of FOI 2.0. Probably the three major conceptual developments were that: first, FOI should be approached as a system (requiring attention to legislation, public service and user culture and areas such as capacity, training etc); second, the emphasis should be on the front end of the process (making information proactively available or determining its confidentiality on the merits of the information removed from considerations of who is asking for it and why); and finally, FOI should be viewed as a system of a number of interrelated parts and relationships (records management, public service capacity, technology capacity, training, demand and supply).

At times - when I find myself having my brain picked by the UK Foreign Office, senior public servants and government ministers in Tonga and Cambodia, academics around the globe often flown at great expense by my hosts – I am struck by the lack of invitations from within my own country and state.

Leaf 20 “If only the Big Bang Theory had been 25 years earlier” Queenstown 1973
Year 9 in high school was a bleak time in terms of my academic growth and development. Earlier, in Year 8, Mrs Shepherd a young science teacher had flamed my interest in science with her enthusiasm.  This association with a teacher’s passion and enthusiasm and an obvious interest in their subject matter continued to be reinforced for me by a very small number of teachers from that point on. More importantly, she had sown the seed that would eventually grow into my decision to leave the West Coast for further education. She talked about how you could pursue science at university, a place I had never heard of.  She mentioned you could even get a PhD (for many years I never knew what this was but the 3 letters had a power all of their own and when people asked what I was doing my answer was ‘I might eventually get a PhD – still to be achieved). 

Mrs Shepherd was the first of a very small handful of high school, college and university teachers who kept my interest in learning alive and inspired me to continue a difficult journey. Yet my interest and skill in maths and science disappeared within a year. Our new maths teacher in Year 9 made maths unclear and boring. A replacement science teacher, just out of teaching school, mumbled and stumbled his way through classes and I lost all interest. About this time my dreams to build a home-made rocket of tin foil and balsa wood and glue literally collapsed and despite devouring every science book, I was never quite able to crack the trick behind storing, compressing and releasing home made oxygen and hydrogen (the making of these gases was simple). The Apollo space program didn’t seem to have these basic problems. My aspirations to win a Noble Prize for Science never left the foothills of Mt Owen.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Jenny Sallans's Funeral Service

Jenny's family has given me permission to post the Service for Jenny's Funeral for her friends, especially those overseas who were unable to be there.

Jenny's Service


Good afternoon everyone and welcome to this ceremony to celebrate the life of Jenny Sallans who was 54 when she died in Whittle Ward last Saturday.  My name is Christine Howard and I would like to welcome you on behalf of Jenny’s family, her parents Jim and Olive, her brother Steve and sister in law Coralie, her brothers Peter and Bryan and sister in law Susan and all the other members of her family.  Following this ceremony you are all invited to join the family for refreshments in the reception room. In Jenny’s memory, please consider making a gift to the Whittle Ward.  There is a donation box in the foyer. 

There are many people who have been part of Jenny’s life; friends, good mates and university colleagues and members of the legal fraternity. Their love and friendship has always been important and Jenny’s family would like to record their appreciation for the support and interest shown to Jenny and to them.

Today will be a time for us to share some of our memories of Jenny, some readings that acknowledge our sadness at this time of loss and change and some words that will help us look to the future with hope. In a spirit of love and friendship, I offer these words for us to consider.

Let us live well today, for today is what we have been given. Let us aim to live all our days with courage and thankfulness so that we may leave this world with hope. For as long as there is life, there is hope. And where there is living hope, tended and protected by a loving community, despair cannot triumph. 

And so today, as we celebrate Jenny’s life we consider what she has left us. She leaves us with many positive memories, of course, and she also leaves us with the memory of a life well lived. If we are to honour her memory, we would all do well to remember that while she is not here to make the world a better place, we can act on her behalf. We can choose to see what we need to change within ourselves so that we can be the best we can be. We can choose to be better stewards for the world and take greater care of each other.

The uniqueness of each human life is the basis of our grief in bereavement. Look through the whole world and there is no one just like Jenny.  But she still lives on in your memories and will always remain a member of your circle through the influence she has had in your life.

We are here also to grow through an ending into a beginning, to let go of Jenny and, with memories gathered for the journey, gain strength for moving through the days ahead without her. Right now most of us have a heightened sense of what is precious and what is true. There is potential for connecting, truth telling and reconciling. This time together today is a time apart when all of us gather not only to remember Jenny but also to remember the bonds between and among us.

 Unknown source
The comfort of having a friend may be taken away but not that of having had one. Let us make the most of our friends while we have them, for how long we shall keep them is uncertain. We who have lost a friend have the joy that we once had in him to match the grief that he is taken away. Shall we bury the friendship with the friend?

We are here today to remember this optimistic, accepting and intelligent woman who faced what life offered, both good and bad, with realism. Jenny believed in living her life and letting others live theirs; she was clear in her opinions, didn’t play games and liked people to be straight-forward,  black and white even, as she was.  To many people she was inspirational, always practical with an active social conscience.  Jenny didn’t sit with hands folded and wait for other to act. She was pro-active and her sense of justice influenced her behaviour and dictated her career and life decisions.

Jenny had a wicked sense of humour and was an avid collector…a family characteristic. She collected anything and everything….miniature shoes, boxes, anything with eye appeal. Scrapbooking was another passion, as was cooking, her beloved dog Annie and cigarettes. Jenny was a Tasmanian by choice, preferred the bush or beach to city life and was a good neighbour. She would have been a wonderful lawyer. Her family and friends were always important and central to her life: Christmas and birthdays were celebrated with family whenever possible.
Life was not always easy for Jenny and she faced her diminishing health with courage and realism.  
She deserves the best farewell we can give her.   Now we will hear from friend, Paula Nelson,
?? from UTas law faculty and brother, Steve. These words will be followed by a photo montage with music for reflection.

Memories of Jenny

Paula Nelson

When Steve & Coralie asked me if I had any pictures of Jenny for today, I thought I might have a few, but not many.  When searching through my computer, I realised that over 30 years had passed since I met Jen, and my mind began wandering to times even earlier than these pictures I had 'on file'.

The pictures of mine here today, are only from 2005.  They were taken at Cradle Mountain, East Coast, Mountain River, Fern Tree, Eagle Hawk Neck, just to name a few places I remembered we'd been to together.  Her 50th birthday party – Barbie themed and red! was typical Jenny.

I was asked if I wanted to say anything at her funeral.  I said no thinking I would have nothing to say, BUT then it occurred to me that her family might like to know what others thought of their daughter & sister.

Jen was actually living at Ables Bay when we first met.  I remember staying down there on week ends, the wonderful cooking – Drysdale influenced of course, watching them doing up camper vans, the parties and lots of laughs.  She appreciated the beauty of nature, the wildlife and life in general.  Recently, she loved to talk about the trips she did with Val on the mainland and was always reminding me of 'somewhere I had to go see for myself'.

As years passed and life got ever busier, we didn't see as much of each other but we still caught up at places like the Womens Dances, the P party @ Zoes School, birthday parties, Queens Ball, Halloween, xmas and easter breaks.  Being from the mainland and away from her family, she was aware many more of us were too.  Her Xmas for 'orphans' as she called it, was a comfort to many.  Anyone with nowhere to go on Xmas Day was welcome at her place.  During the past 13 years we supported each other more as we both lived on our own.  We spent more time sharing thoughts on life, love and how to fix the universe.  Typical Jenny, always wanting to aim high – I was just happy to fix the earth.

I have never in all my life, been acquainted with anyone, with as much determination as Jenny.  Moving to Clarendon Vale, she saw first hand what it was like for the 'less fortunate' in our society.  She mediated with tenants and with Housing.  She saw a need and became a JP.  She put herself 'out there' to those in need. She was the most generous person I have ever met. She gave her time freely to those in need with no expectations in return.  She had very strong views of right and wrong, and wanted to do more to help people.  She embarked on her epic journey through University, the years of part time study whilst on an invalid pension, made achieving her dream of a Law Degree all the more personally satisfying.  She saw her diagnosis with cancer as pretty much a bloody nuisance, and wasn't about to let it get in the way of being 'Admitted to the Bar'.  I remember walking into the Royal one day, in the middle of her chemo, when life was pretty rough, and she's sitting up in bed, laptop going and study papers everywhere.  Before I could say anything she was telling me to shut up, she just had to finish this on time to hand in.  She was determined to be 'admitted' with the rest of her friends!

Friends and family was very important to Jen.  Kerri-Lee, Xanthea and Marcus, Kim and Mark, Michael and Ursula were all still very dear to her.  Her Mum and Dad were constantly in her thoughts. Steve, Coralie, Peter and Bryan.  She was up to date with all their goings on!  I know theres lots of people from 30 odd years ago, still touched by Jenny.

Jenny had previously supported her sister Diana, in her final months.  She was well aware of what to expect.  She never once said 'why me?'  She never gave in to it.  She was dignity itself.  She always looked for a way to help others.  Even when they told her it had spread and they were no longer going to do chemo, she was wanting to know if there was some trial she could participate in?  By this stage I'm asking her 'why' and saying 'can't you just live the last of your life for you!' but as usual the reply was 'It might help someone else.'  Selfless to the end!

Jenny Sallans was my mate, pal, buddy, friend.  She was my conscience.  No, she wasn't perfect.  No-one is. Yes, she could be pedantic – especially if she thought she was right.  We had some arguments over the years but got over them because we respected each other.  The worst one was a time when I said the law was an ass!  She said it was black & white!  I said there was times when morally there should be a different outcome.  You can probably imagine how she just kept going on……and on…..and on…..
Which reminds me how I recently described her as the Duracell Bunny.  She just kept going! 

I have discovered in writing this, that I have more memories than I thought.  Some I could share, some best kept to myself and lots that we just don't have time for.  So, this is me just giving a snippet of how we saw Jenny.  Determined.  Generous.  Dignified.  Selfless.  Respectful. Pedantic.  And we wouldn't have had her be any other way!

And I'm half expecting a 'cackle' to come from that casket!

Rob White

Jenny Sallans – Farewell

Sharyn and I met Jenny Sallans about 10 years ago. It was at a conference dinner for a Human Rights event. We sat next to this smiling, joking person and before long we were laughing our heads off. The conversation was peppered with witticisms and one-liners. It was a hugely enjoyable night. When we got home, we said this is a person we’d like to keep in touch with – and thank goodness we did.

Jenny Sallans had a ‘joie de vivre’ about her that was infectious. She was a great cook, and great company. She handled everything in her life without fuss, and yet appreciated everything that people did around her. She had presence. She was fun.

The Law was a large part of Jenny’s life. For many years, and before she qualified as a lawyer, she was a Justice of the Peace, of which she was rightly proud and enthusiastic. She took being a JP seriously and accordingly people took her seriously and relied upon her in many different ways. She wanted to be of service to the wider community. And this she certainly was.

For example, when she lived in Clarendon Vale, she would frequently help young mothers and other women in the local community – with paperwork, advice, and yet more paperwork. She was valued by her neighbours for her generosity and helpful nature. She became part of the fabric of their lives.

One day she was confronted by a very big, very tough looking bearded man. He pointed at her and said, ‘If anybody hassles you or gives you a hard time around here, they’ve fffing got me to answer to!’  Jenny experienced no fffing problems the whole time she lived there! Protection – of all kinds and in different shapes and sizes – comes to those who give, and Jenny was definitely a giver.

Jenny not only gave to other people, she gave it out as well. Rarely shy about offering her (usually well informed) opinion, she once counselled our daughter Sienna about a previous boyfriend – the quote unquote ‘dick brain’ that she used to see. After Jenny talked with Sienna, things were never quite the same!

Never one to suffer fools gladly, Jenny was receptive to everyone but intolerant of those who spoke falsehood or who tried to take shortcuts. She would speak to truth – in her activism, in her law school classes, in her private moments. There is a word for this: it is called integrity. With Jenny you always knew where you stood, and why she stood where she stood.

As I’ve said, the law was a large part of Jenny’s life, especially once she had moved into Newtown. Over many years of part-time study she pursued a Law degree. Jenny’s technical understanding of legal studies was simply outstanding. She got it. And she had a passion for it.

The law for Jenny, however, was never about ‘authority’ or kowtowing to what the experts and the books said. The law was about achieving particular ends, about creating and constructing the ‘good society’. The authority of the law was something that had to be achieved, something that had to be judged on its own merits. Law was about people, not pomp and ceremony or going through the motions. Jenny respected people, and the law, when it, and they, walked the walk – of justice, of equality, of respect for human rights.

Not surprisingly, in her law school tutorials Jenny was never afraid to challenge, and never frightened to speak her mind. She was hugely interested in studying law and in the practices and outcomes of law. But she was not seduced by the law, nor intimidated by its language and its trappings. As with everything, the Law was seen as a potential servant, and where this was not perceived to be the case, it was open to critique and condemnation.

Jenny’s face at graduation was simply amazing. The pride and joy was wonderful to see. She graduated with excellent grades, and with the experience of having published in the University of Tasmania Law Journal amongst other things.  She was an active doer and contributor within the Law School, and her university experience was marked by lots of engagement with other students, with lecturers and with many others who accompanied her on her long journey of study. She just loved the whole thing about being a student, being in the Law School, and being part of the energy and passion of ‘The Law’.

Jenny was a wonderful friend and human being.

She loved her dog.
She loved her friends.
She loved her family.
She loved ‘The Law’.

And she served us all – with humble pride, quiet resolve and generous heart.

We celebrate her life and bid her a fond farewell. Good-bye our dear friend. 

Rob White
University of Tasmania

Steve Sallans

Steve's Words

Paula and Rob, thank you for your memories and helping to bring Jenny back to us for  this brief celebration of her life and heart felt farewell. And thank you to Christine for guiding us through these difficult and emotional times.

For my part I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate Jenny's special character, as I believe her character was, and is, extraordinary and inspirational.  Her remarkable character was tested to the hilt over the past twelve months, and she demonstrated, in no uncertain terms, that it was as true and firm as I had known it to be throughout her life.

Jenny was brave; she faced the brutal facts head on; she did not brook euphemisms; she never complained or became unduly upset, nor did she consider herself a victim.  In fact, toward the end, and losing the use of her legs, she was offered a risky operation to her spine. Jenny, ever the optimist, unhesitatingly took this challenge on, determined to walk a little further before she left us.

After initial positive indications, her doctor informed her that unfortunately the operation was unsuccessful leaving her with movement only in her right arm and hand. She accepted the news quietly and calmly.  However, her doctor interpreted her calm stoicism as denial and ordered the services of a psychologist.  Jenny was duly horrified by this development and in this case Jenny did raise some vociferous complaints concerning her treatment, at least with some of us.  However Jenny counted her small mercies and was in fact grateful that she could at least continue to smoke her precious cigarettes, which of course she did to the end; well, no one's perfect after all.

In the face of her adversity, she stood as she always had; brave, honest, pragmatic, calm, optimistic and always considered others before herself, to the very end.

I think a good life can be compared to climbing Mt Everest, attempting the summit is the real game in town, and the risk of death is simply an unavoidable part of the climb, and an honourable one at that.  Death is simply one of the costs of experiencing this wonderful challenging life.

Jenny's example inspires me, and I hope it inspires others, to travel toward our inevitable date with death, not with fear, but as a challenge to live well while ever we can, and to not permit those things that we cannot control unnecessarily drag us down. 

While this may be easier said then done, Jenny's example stands before us to show us the way up the mountain. On the other hand, and notwithstanding her brilliant example, I do think she possessed an innate advantage that the rest of will just have to work that much harder to replicate.  She was by nature an intelligent, outgoing, sceptical, optimistic, personality who challenged life from her earliest days. 

The following photo montage may at first glance appear to be simply a set of dusty family snapshots. However, if you take special note of Jenny, you may find that even in the youngest shots of her you will see that special character bursting with interest and humour, challenging the authority of the camera, while others simply smile.  I believe these images will resonate powerfully with those of us who knew her at all well.

Its not possible to express just how much Jenny will be missed by Mum and Dad, myself and all of our family, and no doubt her many, many friends and colleagues. I think that I can safely say that we are all very proud of her philosophies, her substantial achievements, and her friendship.

Finally, I am proud to say that my sister Jenny died a good and dignified death, and I only hope I can do as well when my time comes.

Thank You

Photo montage with music for reflection  

David Harkins
You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray she’ll come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left.
You can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her and only that she’s gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back.
Or you can do what she’d want; smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

With understandable sorrow but with spirits lifted by our fond memories and our hope, we put aside our sadness at parting and all our regrets for things that were said and done or left unsaid or left undone. Only our love remains. To love someone always carries the risk of parting but not to love is not to have truly lived at all.

Let us all be strong in the conviction that in spite of death, the scheme of life is ultimately
good. Let us aim to leave this ceremony determined to live through the loss and the grief to
an even more abundant life. Death is not too high a price to pay for having lived. We pause
to gather our feelings and thoughts and we remember how Jenny touched our lives and in our
own hearts, we each say our farewell.

We are grateful that Jenny has been, and still is, part of our lives. We will remember her with love and affection and gratitude. And now we have each other. That is all we have but it is all we need. We are subject to natural law and to chance but our humanity gives us the power to stand over and against them. We have a measure of understanding and so we gain some control. We share our thoughts and our feelings and so we support each other. By our living and our loving we create the value of the world.

We commit the body of Jenny to the elements. We are glad she lived, that we saw her face, knew
her friendship, and walked the way of life with her. We deeply cherish the memory of her words
and deeds and character. We leave our dead in peace. With respect we bid her farewell, in love we
remember her companionship, her ways. And thinking of her in this manner, let us go in quietness of spirit and live in charity with each other.


I’d like the memory of me to be a happy one.
I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life
is done.
I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down
the ways.
Of happy times and laughing times and bright
and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those who grieve, to dry
before the sun.
Of happy memories that I leave when life is
Helen Lowrie Marshall