President's Message

President's Message August 2019


We like to feel that we are in control of our lives, ourselves and our surroundings as much as possible.  We want to be free to choose outcomes and options for our future.

With the exchange of goods would have come the exchange of knowledge and more and more sophistication ways of living (and unfortunately warfare).  This has been going on for thousands of years.  The Phoenicians (from the Levant) traded with many nations through sea routes (Britain for tin) but also had extensive trade networks through Turkey, Persia and Mesopotamia.

There are arguments that we do not in fact have free will and the freedom to choose our future. These arguments fall mainly into three categories, theological, philosophical and biological. Each of these views presents conflicts of outcomes or and if accepted can affect our outlook on life and our sense of well-being.

The theological argument postulates an all-knowing supreme spiritual being aware of the future, who chooses or determines our path, consequently deciding whether we die in a catastrophe or if it the person next to us who dies. This argument can lead to the individual believing that they are the special chosen one. However, it can conflict with the idea that we can choose to please the Supreme Being by repenting sins and living the wholesome life it prefers. How can we have the choice to repent if the Supreme Being knows everything and has ordained the future. It is a paradox.

The philosophical argument states that as we interact with others we are affected by their actions and the environment about us. This determines our next actions and the range of possible outcomes. As this ripple effect spreads it is argued that our exercise of free will is entirely determined by past events and the actions of others before us.  Therefore, free will and our actual ability to choose is an illusion.

The biological argument states that we are controlled by our genes, how they have reacted with the environment and the chemical state of our bodies.  So we do not choose to drink we are driven to drink by our bodies need to for fluid.  Some studies indicate the brain exhibits mental signs of muscle activity indicating action before we are aware of choosing to act.  It follows that free will is an illusion of our mind but physically we have no choice.

Are we happy; is this a choice or a biological and chemical innate reaction?  Do we choose to be sad or pessimistic?  Is it our nature or our reaction to the world around us or a combination of the two beyond our control?

In the end my mind boggles. I prefer to think that I have the choice even when I understand the arguments against free will. This is why I will happily read our program for term 3 being quite sure that I am able to choose whatever course I prefer.

I hope you also enjoy choosing from our excellent program.

As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it. 

.Jocelyn  Head

President, U3A Clarence

President's Message June 2019

Trade, the lubricant of civilisation

The earliest form of trade was bartering.  Exchanging something we own, make or can easily obtain, for something we cannot make or is made from materials we cannot obtain.  At first this was between tribal members and then between adjoining tribes. As each tribe bartered with neighbours, the chain of bartering grew longer and longer.  Archaeological digs show many cases when goods from remote areas are found amongst ancient burial sites.

With the exchange of goods would have come the exchange of knowledge and more and more sophistication ways of living (and unfortunately warfare).  This has been going on for thousands of years.  The Phoenicians (from the Levant) traded with many nations through sea routes (Britain for tin) but also had extensive trade networks through Turkey, Persia and Mesopotamia.

We recognise the most famous trade route through Eurasia as the Silk Road because the Chinese Han Dynasty officially opened and documented trade with the West in 130 B.C.  Because silk was entrancing and highly desirable the trade flourished.  One of the main reasons was that the Chinese Emperor Wu wanted free access to the “Heavenly Horses” of Fergana in Uzbekistan.  These were bigger and stronger than the existing Chinese horses and were superior in warfare. These horses were also valued by the Persians in the West so the trading had been going on for centuries or millenniums before this.

(As an interesting aside, after the Ottomans in 1405  closed the Silk road through Turkey to the West, trade with Russia flourished and in the 17th Century the Russians had a monopoly of rhubarb considered essential to keep the British healthy and regular.)

Although money and the exchange of goods for gold was well established by then there was still the physical transfer of goods across the miles of the trade routes.  A more sophisticated method of trade was enabled by the Dutch invention of the limited liability company and the establishment of sea routes around the world.  Basically we value trade as the exchange of physical goods.

Arbitrage was an advance in earning money through trade.  It is the simultaneous buying and selling of securities, currency, or commodities in different markets or in derivative forms in order to take advantage of differing prices for the same asset.  This can mean small profits per item with large volumes and any actual exchange of goods taking place either at a distance or close by.  It can avoid trade sanctions between the countries in which the principles reside.

Current arbitrage can mean the electronic buying and selling of stocks or futures in split second trading.  Of course stocks and futures do have goods at the end of a long chain but it can be very difficult to unravel the links

Somehow trade as the exchange of physical goods seems morally more correct than arbitrage.

Today the re-emergence of the Central Asian states (the “Stans”) aided by China will change the trade and civilisations of all parties involved and the far west as well.  Sea routes will still dominate trade because of the ability to transfer vast amounts of physical goods much cheaper than land routes.  As the ice melts and ships can traverse the other half of the world via Antarctica relationships between nations and civilisation will continue to change, grow and shape our world views.

As always.

.Jocelyn  Head

President, U3A Clarence

Extracts from The Golden Road to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further; it may be
Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
Across that angry or that glimmering sea,

White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lies a prophet who can understand
Why men were born: but surely we are brave,
Who take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells
When shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
And softly through the silence beat the bells
Along the Golden Road to Samarkand.

We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known,
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

President's Message May 2019

Garden hopes 

At this time of the year I look at my vegetable garden with sadness and think of the successes or the disasters with a view to deciding what to bother with next year.

Usually I have self-seeded silver beet, but this year the possums managed to scale the fence around the vegetable bed. They have eaten all of our silver beet, and we did not get one strawberry nor any unbitten tomatoes. They have even discovered, to my amazement, that rhubarb leaves are edible. I always thought that rhubarb leaves were poisonous, but it seems that they may be for us but not for possums because their numbers have not declined. At least our potatoes were a success and our runner beans.

Another problem this year is the drought. We do water the vegetables but it is not as good as a soaking rain. Several years of drought plus infestations of corbie and curl grubs plus rabbits and wallabies mean that we have large, absolutely bare patches of dirt. Even dandelions and thistles do not seem to have survived.

The shrubbery around the house has also been severely affected. Plants under stress are very easy pickings. Rabbits and wallabies are eating native plants they have never touched before. The wallaby has even taken a liking to grevillea and fuchsia flowers.

Tasmania was much wetter when we moved to Acton 40 years ago, and we had some interesting small native plants in my garden, white and pink heaths, daniellas, blue sun orchids, running postman, bearded and other greenhood orchids and many more. Of about 20 native small plants, I think we have only about half a dozen left. In the past two years even banksia marginatas, a local Tasmanian small coastal tree, have given up.

The garden is still a delight and allows me to accept that the seasons come and go forever without regard for my hopes and expectations. Despite the set backs and at times screaming frustration I am addicted to gardening and nurseries, which is not a bad thing considering the alternative addictions.

We have improved the fencing around the vegetables and prepared the beds for next year. I will plant pinkeyes; my runner beans will come up, and I will protect the bases with chicken wire. I will fertilise the rhubarb and plant pumpkins and zucchinis and hope for the best. I do not have the heart for any strawberries but may succumb to tomato plants. As an amateur gardener my hope springs eternal that next year I will get a truly bumper crop without disappointment despite all past evidence to the contrary.

One thing I am quite sure will not be a disappointment is my enjoyment of U3A courses in this the second term of 2019.

Jocelyn  Head

President, U3A Clarence

President's Message April 2019


Words are magic.  They describe physical objects and environments in a way that we agree is appropriate.  For example, we agree that “table” is an appropriate designation for a board on legs. They are also magic because they convey ideas and concepts and provide connections between individuals.  They are used to describe feeling, emotions and ideas and can be used to tell stories, sacred and profane, which amuse or closely link groups, families or nations.  They convey meaning only to the particular language group otherwise they are just markings on paper.  In themselves they may be depicted in beautiful forms.  The Muslim cursive script is used as wonderful decoration in mosques and the illustrations of old mediaeval manuscripts are also a delight.

English is rich because it can adapt new concepts and borrow from other languages.  The centuries of invasions and migrations of many people and the enforcement of their language gives us Celtic Norse, Norman, and Latin words. This is why we have more than one word for many things so can distinguish different forms, cattle, cows and beef, sheep lamb and mutton, pigs and pork

Foreign words which have no English equivalent are happily incorporated.  Ennui (French) and doppelganger (German) are just two examples. German just seems to add to an existing word and so has claim to the longest words in any language.   As Mark Twain put it, "Some German words are so long that they have perspective."

Frequently when we see people speaking a foreign language on the news the English subtitles can be read well before the speaker is finished.  For example, a thatched cottage is chaumiere in French but casa de campo con techo de paja in Italian.  The English seems much more concise.  In compensation Italian seems so well suited to the joy of operatic singing.

English has limitations, however.  Apparently, Inuit has about 40 words for snow and apparently the Scots have over 400 which I think says much for Scottish weather.  However, English has only one word for love, from the trivial to the deepest emotion.  I love your new coat and I love my child.  This most probably says quite a lot about English speakers!

We are also happy adopting new words. Shakespeare invented many new words still in use.  Each year the Macquarie Dictionary incorporates new words and deletes some out of favour. This year a new word was one close to my heart it is Tartle. This means 'the act of hesitating while introducing someone because you've forgotten their name'

A few words to consider.

Fine words butter no parsnips.

The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help. (Ronald Reagan)

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words, like 'What about lunch?' (A. A. Milne)

Jocelyn "Tartle" Head

President, U3A Clarence

President's Message March 2019


How wonderful it is to hear rain after a drought.  The early February rains this year were very welcome, refreshing my just about dead garden and useful for dowsing the Huon fires, a little late but still very well received.

In December 2016 we purchased a new fancy up-to-the-minute sit on mower for our 5 acres.  The old one was no longer repairable.  It did not owe us anything, we had had it for over 45 years and it was second hand when we bought it.  The new one has a timer to tell you how many hours it has been used and after 10 hours you should return it to the supplier for a free service.  After 19 months it had been used for just over 4 hours because it had been so dry and no grass grew.  In the next two months we used it for another 7 hours because of the spring rains that arrived just in time to destroy the tomato plants I had just put in. Such is life!

Recent widespread drought made life unbelievably hard for rural farmers (putting my moans to shame) and in part led to the devastating fish loss on the Darling.  However the recent record floods have caused havoc, much stock loss and people facing the destruction of their possessions and having to clean out muddy homes.  So as humans and Australians we have conflicting views of the joy of the welcome essential rain and the awe of the devastation of too much too quickly.

Rain can be enjoyed though. In wetter places in the world there is always a line of different sized wellington boots at the door and rain gear and umbrellas’ waiting in the hallway; well protected walking in the rain can be quite entrancing.  I am sure dog owners often secretly like walking their dogs in the rain as long as they get out of the way when the dog shakes itself on returning home.

We are all fascinated by water, as children puddles are irresistible.  In the heat of summer the hose or fountains or a pool attract us.  Very often we are fascinated by a good strong downpour providing we are inside looking out.  I have friends who enjoy rainy days because it gives them the opportunity to do lots of baking.  I enjoy them because it is a good excuse to snuggle up with a good book

My most memorable rain memory is driving home down Acton Road in the pouring rain with thousands of tiny new frogs hopping across the road it was impossible to miss them all.  I still would not believe it could have happened but my husband was with me and he also remembers it.

Behind every cloud there is a silver lining we are told.  Does this means that behind every silver lining there is a thunderous dark cloud waiting to dump on us?  If so we should make sure we have our umbrella close at hand even on the most supreme sunny days, just in case.

We have beautiful bad weather here at present –rain, wind thunder- but with splendid effects; that’s why I like it.

Vincent Van Gough

I hope we all have splendid rainy weather but not until we are inside Rosny Library!

Jocelyn Head

President's Message January 2019


I can clearly remember the day when, aged 4, I fell into a pond. I can remember the blue sky looking up, how my feet slipped on slimy leaves and I fell repeatedly in trying to get up. It is as though I were still there. Yet it is over 70 years ago and I have not thought about it for over 40 years until my sister recently asked about this often repeated family story from before she was born.

I have a friend who has a complete visual memory of the physical details of her classroom on her first day of school. I can only remember that on this long awaited day (when I knew I would be grown up) that the girl next to me was in tears and I could not understand why. I have no other memory of that day at all.

It is amazing that a collection of atoms form into brain neurons which in some way imprint and contain our memories. The actual process is not understood and when it is discovered it may increase our sense of wonder rather than diminish the mystery.

The brain which (in most cases) could be held inside two hands enables us to learn to dance and sing, remember complex musical arrangements and an enormous variety of combinations of all three. In addition we are able to contemplate the extremely small but still to lift our gaze to the vastness of space (which makes my head hurt). Please don’t talk about quantum mechanics!

“Memory is the mother of all wisdom” Aeschylus (525-455 BC)

One of the beauties of our memory is that it can fade. PTSD sufferers long for forgetfulness, to relieve them from the constant mental re-enactment of their trauma.

Forgetting also means we can learn the same thing over and over as though it was new. I just wish my forgetting did not include the inability to remember names which is more distressing to me than forgetting my keys!

To me all learning includes a remembering of old things which the new can refresh and enlarge.

Three quotes again from Aeschylus sum up the joy of learning for me “Even the old should learn”, “To learn is to be young forever.” and “Learning is ever in the freshness of its youth, even for the old”.

So bring your razor sharp or very foggy memory to U3A in Term1 2019. There is sure to be something to interest you in our new program.