Education, Then and Now

CoalMiningCoverMy latest article for the Lambton Local is out, this month on the “Mosquito Pit” of the Lambton colliery.

In the course of preparing the article I came across an interesting and instructive book about coal mining from 1906 in the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections archive. Interestingly this textbook “First Lessons In Coal Mining” is subtitled “For Use in Primary Schools” – which highlights how much our industrial economy and educational curriculum has changed in the last 110 years!

In an introductory note to the book, H.F. Bulman writes

“Coal mining is peculiarly suitable in every way to be a subject taught in the schools of mining districts, as a matter of most practical concern to the children, and as being well fitted to draw out their metal powers. And the dangers and difficulties which need to be encountered in the getting of coal, demanding as they do courage and self-devotion, supply that element of the heroic which will naturally appeal to a healthy-spirited boy, and call out the finer qualities of his nature.”

I wonder if there are any subjects in the modern school curriculum that can “supply that element of the heroic”?


The University of Newcastle archive has each double page of the book as a separate scanned image. For convenience of reading I have collected the pages into a PDF document: First Lessons In Coal Mining.pdf

Words, but not as we know them

Further proof that while insurance companies might use the same English words as ordinary people, they’re speaking a different language.

ContradictoryWordsIn an e-mail about a policy renewal they say in the first paragraph (emphasis added by me)

We’re now offering you the opportunity to renew your policy

But in the second paragraph say

For your continued protection and to ensure that your insured property remains covered, we’ll automatically renew your policy and deduct the premium from your account.

Which is utterly contradictory to the first paragraph. Given that I never gave permission for Youi to automatically renew the policy, and having already switched to another cheaper insurance provider (because Youi was a long way from being the cheapest) it was somewhat of a surprise on checking my credit card statement to find that my car was now insured twice!

On calling Youi they cancelled my policy and said that I would get a full refund, with the usual cancellation fee to be waived. Checking my credit card statement later I found that I had only received a partial refund, and had been charged a cancellation fee. Another phone call to them and they promised to sort it out and refund the cancellation fee. It took another 5 days to receive that refund.

Youi are marketing themselves as the company where you save. From my experience the only way “Youi” and “save” go together is if you save yourself time, money and bother by steering clear of them.

New cycling laws are noise and smoke

cycle10kThe NSW government is introducing in March this year some new laws relating to bicycle riding, including increasing fines and the requirement for adult riders to carry photo ID when cycling. These changes are eliciting varied responses, both positive and negative.

From my point of view as a regular cyclist, commuting to work on weekdays and recreational cycling on the weekends, the practical impact of these changes is somewhere between zero and unimaginably small.

Most times when I cycle I already carry a photo ID in my wallet. The only times I might not have a wallet on me is on a short weekend ride with my son in quiet suburban streets. As for the increase in fines, if you abide by the rules then the size of the fines are irrelevant. But more than that, in my 36 years of driving a car, and 7 years of cycle commuting to work I have never, ever seen a cyclist pulled over to be fined. In fact I have never even heard of a cyclist being fined. No doubt it happens, but the infrequency of it makes all this talk about increased fines a meaningless irrelevance.

But aside from the almost negligible practical implications of these new laws, whenever a change in public policy is proposed, I believe these four questions need to be addressed:

  1. What is the problem that these changes are seeking to solve?
  2. How is it expected that the changes will be the solution to the problem?
  3. Is there any evidence or research that shows that the changes will solve the problem?
  4. What monitoring or assessment mechanisms will be put in place to measure the efficacy of the changes?

It seems to me that these four questions aren’t even being asked let alone answered in the current debate. All in all there’s a lot of noise and smoke, but no motion forward.

Creature from the drain

Cycling home from work this afternoon I found this tortoise, on Bates Street Hamilton North, rapidly dehydrating in the heat of today, and in a prime position for being run over by a car. I placed her1 beside the road under a tree and verified that I was looking at a live’n and not a dead’n, and then pondered for a while.

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I’m guessing that with the recent heavy rains she’s been washed down the drain and eventually managed to crawl out in Hamilton North. I wondered what to do for a while – putting her back in the bare concrete drain nearby didn’t seem suitable, so I carried her upstream in my lunchbox, and released her in Kerai Creek in Lambton Park, which is looking pretty nice after the recent restoration work by Hunter Water.

I went back later in the evening with my daughter to see how she was going, and found her lying submerged in the middle of the flow, and my immediate thought was “oh no, she’s slipped in and drowned”, but on picking her up she poked her head out slightly and gave me a healthy but  exasperated “not you again” look.

My daughter has named her “Flo”.

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1. Actual gender unknown. Assumed gender for narrative purposes.