Explainer: The ’67 Referendum | NITV

Today it is 50 years since the 1967 Referendum was passed. I was 11 years old at the time. I think that the Referendum was the conclusion of one process, and the beginning of another. A process which, fifty years later, is still not complete. I think about this often, and particularly when I walk past the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

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On 27 May 1967, the people of Australia collectively voted to remove two provisions in the Australian Constitution which discriminated against Aboriginal people. The overwhelming and unprecedented ‘YES’ response was the result of the tireless work of campaigners and the growing national support for the rights of Australia’s First Peoples. 

Source: Explainer: The ’67 Referendum | NITV

Master and God by Lindsey Davis

‘It was a quiet afternoon on the Via Flaminia.’

This standalone novel is set in Ancient Rome, roughly covering the period of the Emperor Domitian (from 80-96 AD). It’s not, like the Falco series, a mystery. It’s a story about two people whose lives meet, cross, and then meet again.

In 80 AD, Gaius Vinius Clodianus is an investigator with the vigils, Rome’s police force and firefighting service. Flavia Lucilla, a young freedwoman apprenticed to her hairdresser mother, comes to the office to report a robbery. It seems like an unremarkable summer afternoon, but by the end of the day Rome is burning. The Emperor Titus is in Naples, dealing with the aftermath of the eruption of Vesuvius. Vinius and his colleagues fight the fire over a period of days, and when it is over he comes to the attention of Titus’s younger brother: Domitian.

Consequently, Vinius is promoted to the ranks of the Praetorian Guard. He still remembers Lucilla, and wonders what happened to her. Lucilla is busy establishing her career as a hairdresser to the imperial women.

Years later, quite by coincidence, Vinius and Lucilla end up sharing an overpriced apartment. They negotiate boundaries: some space is shared and some is not. Vinius, a man who seems cursed not to find happiness in his serial marriages, finds Lucilla a sympathetic listener. In Vinius, Lucilla, a single woman, finds a protector. Could their relationship develop further?

In the meantime, Domitian has succeeded Titus as emperor. He’s dangerous: impulsive, paranoid and unpredictable. Both Vinius and Lucilla can see this in their respective roles in the imperial court. What will the future hold? For Rome, and for Vinius and Lucilla.
I really enjoyed this novel. My knowledge of this particular period of Roman history is sketchy, and I kept searching for information to round out my knowledge. But the aspect I enjoyed most was Ms Davis’s development of the two main characters in keeping with their historical setting.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

‘Imagine …’
I first read this collection of short stories in 1969: I was fascinated by what then seemed the brave new world of space exploration, and by the role that robots might play.

The Three Laws of Robotics made perfect sense to my teenaged self:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given by a human being unless it conflicts with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection won’t conflict with the First or Second Law.

I think what attracted me to these short stories then was the possibility of intelligent robots, undertaking work that would be too dangerous for humans.

Rereading the stories now, almost fifty years later, I focussed more on ethical issues. On how humans tried to make the robots more like them, even when that was dangerous and involved modifications to the Laws of Robotics.

The short stories in this book were amongst the first that Isaac Asimov published. They are brought together chronologically as an interviewer researches the life of Dr Susan Calvin, chief robopsychologist at U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc., the major manufacturer of robots. Dr Calvin reminisces about her life’s work, which has mainly been concerned with the aberrant behaviour of robots and the use of robopsychology to identify what is happening in the robot’s positronic brain.

As a framing device, this technique works very well as it enables the stories to be presented as a series of sequential developments. From robots that cannot speak, to robots that think. The conflicts that arise where humans have not thought through the consequences of the instructions they give the robots.

Yes, some of the stories are dated (we may not have made quite as much progress quite as quickly as Asimov thought when he wrote these stories during the 1940s). But the issues he raised are still relevant.

I wonder what the future holds.

As Dr Calvin says, at the end of the book:

‘I saw it from the beginning, when the poor robots couldn’t speak, to the end, when they stand between mankind and destruction.’
Jennifer Cameron-Smith