Back in Newcastle for the weekend

* I've made a quick trip back home to see the family. 750km travelled on Friday, then the weekend here, then 750km back on Monday.

* I actually went to the beach today - no swimming because it was cold and windy - but at least I can say to the kids back in Griffith that I saw the sea on the weekend.

*Pluto is no longer a planet. I've been aware of the "Pluto controversy" for years now. Essentially the problem is that 1) Earth's moon is bigger than pluto, 2) 2003 UB313, an object orbiting our sun, is bigger than pluto, and 3) Pluto's orbital status confirms that it was "sucked in" from the Kuiper belt and not part of the original forming of the Solar System. I'm all for the downgrading. It was that or suddenly getting 8 new planets.

* Can you believe that I am actually interested in "Rockstar Supernova?" Curse Shannon and his Austarness!


Being in Griffith (Part 5)

* In America there is the Mason-Dixon line. Here in NSW it is the League-AFL line. Griffith is just north of the line, which means that Rugby League is the dominant winter sport. Travel south to Narrandera and you enter AFL territory. Anyone who thinks AFL is purely a Victorian sport needs to think again - vast swathes of southern NSW are dominanted by the sport.

* The front pages of the local newspaper are dominated by the death of a little girl who was run over accidentally by her father about a week ago. Then I find out today that the funeral is being held at the Presbyterian church - do I know the family? More soon.

* Standing in front of classrooms full of teenagers is bad enough as it is, but it is worse when you catch the flu from them. I took Wednesday-Thursday-Friday off last week and am about 2/3 of the way through antibiotics. School was yuck today - especially when faced with students who couldn't give a damn.

* Saw the Bond flick The Living Daylights last night on Austar. It was the first time I have ever seen it - and Timothy Dalton as Bond. I was surprised that Dalton actually made a good fist of it - he wasn't great in the role but he wasn't bad either. Sadly, he was let down by a most appalling and unbelieveable script. I would have shot myself for writing such drivel. The film suffered from an appalling edit as well that ensured that the bomb that had 10 seconds to go off then magically had 30 seconds to go some 12 seconds later - we knew because we kept looking at the led display. Probably the worst Bond Movie I have seen - though I'm certain there are others near the bottom of the pile.

* I'm really looking forward to the Republicans being thoroughly thrashed in November. Neil the Cassandra strikes again.

* Iraq keeps moving closer to Civil War. Even if 10,000 Iraqis were dying each day due to violence, the media would still be saying that "civil war is getting closer". Accept it - since "Mission Accomplished" Iraq has been in Civil War. Thanks America.


Being in Griffith (part 4)

Shannon, the guy I live with, does not have a PC, and the Department of Education is now telling staff that they can't use the internet for personal purposes, which means that my access to the net (and thus this blog) will be sporadic at best.

I'm sitting here in the Griffith Public Library - probably the best place to go online. There are no internet cafes in town just yet.

Some observations of life here so far:

* The school does not have enough casual staff to cover teachers when they're ill. Consequently, classes often have to go out into the playground since there are no teachers to look after them. Considering the amount of staff sick at this time of year, the amount of kids running around the playground at various times can be concerning. This sort of thing is common in country schools - but not seen at all in better resourced areas like Sydney and Newcastle, where anyone who is sick is usually replaced by a casual teacher.

* Because of the lack of teachers, every single teacher has, as part of their teaching load, a number of periods set aside every fortnight to cover the lessons of teachers who are not present. This means that around 0.9 of the teacher's load are actual lessons, and 0.1 are described as "IBR" : "In-built relief".

* Being exposed to Austar has its advantages and disadvantages, apart from that wonderful line from the Pink Floyd song Nobody Home ("I got thirteen channels of *&^*& on the TV to choose from", although in my case there is around 40 channels), I occasionally get to view some of the programs available on the Australian Christian Channel - channel 140. The fact that it is located immediately after TVSN and the Expo Channel - channels both dedicated to selling things - is wonderfully ironic. I have, as a result of this, heard Phil Pringle and Brian Houston - both of whom are peddling the false teaching that God will provide us with happiness and self-actualization if we only release the power that he gives us through Christ. No biblical expositions so far.

* Man I am hating Windows. Both at school and here in the Public Library I have to have multiple windows open rather than tabs. At both school and this library I am having some strange mouse movements - where suddenly the mouse arrow will disappear up to the top left corner and I have to drag it down again. I am also missing Kubuntu - even more so since the wife rang the other night to tell me she can't get the printer to work.

* I'm missing my family a lot. One good thing is that before I even got the job we had decided to get new mobile phones and we are now happily taking pictures and movies of one another to send. It's nice to have a video message of my kids saying hi to me. Wow. We live in the future now.

* One advantage of not having the family around is that I have been able to have more regular quiet times. Reading through Ezra and Nehemiah recently was interesting since in both books there is no record of God speaking directly to anyone. Both Ezra and Nehemiah were obviously God's agents to bring about the re-making of post-exilic exile but there was absolutely no direct guidance given to either of them.

* This message is for Tom - No I haven't.

* My little girl, Lillian, managed to fall over and gash her head last week - a process that cost her three stitches. It's not good that I'm not there. Please pray that God will provide more long-term or permanent work for me so that the family can come down and escape the evil clutches of a certain in-law.

* According to a pedometer I bought, I am averaging over 10000 steps each day working at school. This will be good for my health and weight.

* I have a number of difficult students in my classes. They're not too bad yet but I just need patience and time to understand "the system" before things cool down.

* While at sport the other day (year 7-8 Rugby) a gale blew up as the roll was being taken. One student came up to me and asked "Sir, is that wind due to a low pressure system?". "Yes" I replied. "See?", he told me "I do learn things in your class!".

* I am learning just how much Griffith sits at "the bottom of the barrel" in terms of its attraction to teachers. The teaching profession, like all professions, has its share of crazies but it seems as though GHS has attracted much more than its fair share of wrong people over the years. I was told today of a former teacher who apparently had undiagnosed Aspergers and who was completely incapable of teaching properly. Another one apparently discussed sexual positions with a class of year 10 students and was only sacked after he decided to join in a fist-fight while watching a Rugby game at the school oval. Two former teachers were described as "alcoholics" to me as well. There's also a problem because the school has attracted overseas teachers who have varying degrees of teaching ability. One woman was apparently a physics professor in Eastern Europe, but when she came to GHS she did not have the ability to teach basic year 7 science since a) She couldn't speak English properly, and b) She did not have an education degree and thus the knowledge needed to be able to teach teenage students.

* Went to Bible Study on Wednesday night after dinner with the minister and his family. It's not good that Griffith has just one evangelical church, but from what I can see they are informed and mature in their Christian faith.

* I took my entire DVD collection with me. In the last few days I have watched The Party, Platoon and half of Pulp Fiction.

* Interesting episode of Compass the other night - interesting because it did not have anything to do with religion. It was about WW2 veterans finally dealing with their PTSD after 50 years. A clinic in Melbourne has set up a support group for WW2 veterans, who are also given individual therapy and antidepressants. The result has apparently been astounding - with all these guys in their mid 70s suddenly treating their long-suffering wives better and learning how to confront issues.


Being in Griffith (part 3)

For the past two Sundays I've been attending Griffith Presbyterian Church, pastored by Peter and Anna Gobbo. Coincidentally / providentially I was at Bible College when Anna Gobbo (in her pre-married state) was there as well. I've found the church to be Gospel-centred, Bible-based and welcoming. It appears to be the only choice of church to go to in Griffith.

Griffith is a relatively large country town. There's around 28,000 who live in the town and its suburbs, but this increases to around 50,000 when outlying towns in the district are taken into account.

My rule of thumb is that wherever there is a major supermarket, there also exists a potential for at least one evangelical church. Griffith has a Coles and a Woolworths and a largish IGA, along with plans for another Woolworths to be built. If Griffith Baptist church is included in my narrow definition of "evangelical church", then there is probably potential for at least two more evangelical churches to exist in the area.

I'm currently sharing a house with a single guy named Shannon, a PD/H/PE teacher. We get on well (so far) and he has Austar which is wonderful because it means I can catch up on all the shows I've missed over the years.

Griffith High School is a mixed bag. There are some good kids and some bad ones. The multicultural community of Griffith is reflected in the school with no one culture in dominance. I have Islander kids and Aussie-born Italian kids, but also some Turkish and Afghan kids. One female Afghan student wears a Hijab although she often has her hair uncovered.

Well - I'd better go again. Lots of schoolwork to catch up on.


Being in Griffith (part 2)

I've now been in Griffith for just under a week. What are my impressions of the place?

Griffith is a very multicultural area - and I mean VERY multicultural. No one culture here represents more than 50% of the people.

White Anglo Aussies probably make up around 25% of the population.

Aussie-born Italians make up around 30-35% of the population.

There is a very large Sikh population from India, which means that turbans are in vogue. There is also a small amount of Indian Sikhs from Fiji.

There is a large population of Tongans and Samoans.

Quite a number of Afghan refugees also live in the town - with a sizeable amount coming here via boats which landed on Christmas Island, Ashmore reef and so on.

The reason why there are so many different cultures here is because Griffith is one of the few places in Australia which has a demand for unskilled labour. Agricultural workers to pick grapes and fruit are in demand. As a result, unemployment in the town is around 3%. This means that there is actually a comparatively small population of people needing direct welfare assistance. This is obviously a good thing, and I suspect that the crime rate is relatively low for this reason. The fact that so many people have jobs also means that racial tensions between minorities is not so pronounced.

One teacher here has told me that he is surprised at the lack of single parents in town - obviously many kids at my school come from familes that have both a mother and a father.

Historically, the Italians control the town. It's at the point now where Australian-born Italians make up the largest ethnic group - but from my own short research it is obvious that this group is now completely "Aussified" - both parents and the kids I teach seem to be Australian born. Most Italian-born Italians are the grandparents.

It's this influence that has driven Griffith's religious culture. The area is pretty much dominated by Roman Catholicism, with only a small amount of protestant churches. There is no Christian school in the town, which means that Christian parents have a choice of either the government schools or the catholic schools.

From what I can gather, there are only two evangelical churches here - the Presbyterian church and the Baptist church. The Uniting church is reasonably liberal in its theology but it has a large and thriving evangelical movement amongst its islander church. Apparently the Griffith Uniting Church was evangelical back in the 1970s but has since then gone downhill. The Anglicans are "more catholic than catholic".

The Charismatic movement here has impacted the Roman Catholic church in some way, although I'm not sure to what extent. There are a number of Charismatic groups that are associated with the Catholic Church in some way. Pentecostals are here as well in the form of an AOG church and a Foursquare gospel church, but neither of these churches seems to dominate either.

The bell's rung... back to class. More soon.


Being in Griffith (part 1)

I left Newcastle on Saturday 29 July for Griffith. I had just two days to get used to the manual transmission of the car some friends lent me, but the trip was reasonably uneventful.

I left at around 9.00am and arrived around 5.30pm. I travelled over 700 kilometres in total from the Shell Service Station in Mayfield to arrive in East Griffith.

Some thoughts about the trip:

1. The McDonalds El Maco burger is not that wonderful. It's not bad but it's not good either.
2. I made some hilarious mistakes using the manual transmission. Often I would intend to shift down from 5th to 4th, but manage to go too far and shift it into 2nd. When you're travelling at around 90kph that's not a good feeling. In order to compensate I then tried to shift it back, only to shift it into reverse, which is not nice either (don't worry, the noise warned me before I took my foot off the clutch). It was also funny trying to shift from 1st into 2nd, but miss 2nd and go into 4th directly. I stalled the car 3-4 times in car parks doing that.
3. The Burley Griffin Way is a clayton's highway that goes from Yass directly into the centre of Griffith - a distance of over 250km. It is a single laned road but it was surprisingly free of traffic during that time. I only got caught behind one slow moving car but overtaking it was a cinch. I think I went past one East-bound car every 10-15 minutes as I headed West, and only once had someone overtake me. Pretty good for 250+km of driving.
4. The M7 in Sydney has to be one of the best bypass ever invented for anyone who wishes to bypass Sydney. Travelling from Newcastle I had to endure only about 5km of Sydney traffic (from the Newcastle Freeway to the M2 entrance in Pennant Hills), before having a luxurious, if circular, trip out west. I have an Etag which means that I could use the M7 (there are no toll collecting booths and they have cameras that take pictures of non-Etag equipped cars and send you fines).
5. As a result of the M7, I drove non-stop from Newcastle to the Pheasant's Nest Mobil near Camden for a bathroom break. Another 100km later and I was munching El Macos at Sutton Forest. A few hours later I stopped for 15 minutes for a rest at Harden (where I watched a League match) and another 10 minute rest about 40km out of Griffith.
6. When I arrived in Griffith it took only a few minutes to find my place of residence - I'm living with another teacher (a single bloke) until the wife and kids come down. That night, both of us went to my head teacher's house where I had my first taste of Griffith cuisine - Pizza, Pasta and Red Wine. All three of which went down very, very well. Griffith has a history of Italian migrants stretching back to its foundation and the Italian restaurants and take-aways here are very good. I'm not a pizza man, but the stuff they cook here is wonderful.

I'm typing this insde the school Staffroom - it's Tuesday. I'll let you know soon about how things are going at the school, but I will say that, so far, it's been good.