There it is again by Don Watson

‘English is an accommodating language.’

Don Watson is one of my favourite Australian authors. I’ve read each of his books and some of his columns while ‘Recollections of a Bleeding Heart’ and ‘The Bush’ have permanent homes on my bookshelf. When I heard that this book had been published, I added it to my reading list immediately.

The book is a collection of pieces published in various places over the past two decades. It’s an eclectic collection, which includes pieces on management, extracts from his other books and some wonderful pieces on society, politics and aspects of nature.

‘No unprejudiced human being could fail to be improved by the presence of magpies’.

Don Watson’s thoughts about magpies had me reconsidering. For most of the year, I like magpies (the birds, not the AFL team) but in spring I am wary. I need to avoid a couple of streets where I normally walk: the magpies there are very territorial and will swoop almost everyone. But I agree with Don Watson:

‘They are fearless, resourceful, amusing and melodious; and, above all – as all birds have to be – stoic.’

Many of Don Watson’s pieces on management take me back to my public-sector past. I remember mastering the art of writing in third person passive before a shift to active language became fashionable. It didn’t last long.

‘If scientists can regenerate a liver, even grow one from scratch, can a society of authors regenerate a language, or even just defend it ?

I wonder.

Most times I hop on the bus, almost everyone has their eyes glued to a mobile device. Or they are listening through headphones or earbuds, blocking out the external world. Those that don’t are usually my age or older. And as we all sit there in a confined space, in our separate worlds, I think about the role of electronic devices and connectivity in education. One of my favourite pieces in this book is entitled ‘Phoney Education’:

‘This is a shortcoming we have to acknowledge: the best mobile phone in the world cannot do what a teacher can. It is dumb, like a mule, and no more the master of the information we download from it than a mule is master of the piano it carries on its back.’

The best teachers teach us how to determine what is useful, and how to apply knowledge. I’m grateful I grew up in a pre-digital age, that I’ve acquired some skills useful as I wander around the internet.

I enjoyed each of the pieces in this book: others took me into the familiarity of the past while others had me worrying about the future. Each piece made me think: whether it was about country, horse-racing or politics.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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