Lines I wrote in 1968 get an airing
Recently I was the speaker at a graduate conferring ceremony at the University of Queensland here in Brisbane Australia. That’s a nice event to be part of … even if the graduates probably had luncheon celebrations on their minds rather than words of supposed wisdom from the speaker who ends the event. But when invited it is rude not to perform. There was plenty of material with which to work. This group had just received degrees in Agriculture and Economics, Environmental studies, Geography and town planning and various combinations of the above .It was interesting to consider what they might end up doing in the near future. I reminded them of the need for more food in the world with 1 in 8 people hungry or close to a billion undernourished people from a total population of over 7 billion. And as the population grows, so will the hunger. The humanitarians among them might see the need to provide food as a driving motivation. Others will see it as a great opportunity for Agri business. The reality s that both aspirations will have to be satisfied and the trick will be to get the balance right. This is not easy, as exemplified by the prevailing situation in the EU where farmers are paid not to produce food (to keep the prices high) even though there are real human needs in countries where they provide aid to offset the poverty and hunger of the people.
A further balance will be needed to decide how best to use the land where both farming and resources are found in abundance as is the case in Queensland. Coal, minerals, natural gas, seam gas and other natural resources are significant sources of income but so also is the use of land for food production. When choices have to made, which will dominate? Yes many PhDs will be needed to untie that Gordian knot – but with over 60 new PhD’s conferred on the day, there may be a bigger supply than demand unless such complex decisions are taken on a balanced evidence base rather than in response to media campaigns or political opportunism .
But the address to the graduates also has to carry some other “non-professional” messages. In the moments that I had used to anticipate what I might say at the ceremony I recalled an article that I had written about “Graduation Day” a few years ago. When I re-read it however I found that my reflections on that day were grim, as I imagined their future struggles for jobs that matched their skills more clearly than their own imagined future successes. That message would not suit the beaming optimism on the gleaming faces of graduates and parents that I anticipated would be the audience at the conferring. Then I started to wonder what I had on my mind at the same stage of life. I recalled the conferring in Galway on the West coast of Ireland. The choir, of which I was a member, belted out Gaudeamus Igitur as we entered the Aula Maxima. It was a lovely sunny day. My family and close friends are clearly there in the memory … and some are no longer alive today. I moved from that bitter sweet moment to a recollection that seemed to match the needs of the speech I was preparing and recalled that I written a piece when I was 21 that should be a contemporary assessment of their situation although written in 1968. And I found the note book where I had written my thoughts in one flow of words and, without a perfection seeking correction. It had travelled the world in between and ended up in Brisbane. A number of ironies struck me. The sixties are now taxidermised into a wild rave, but I, sober and analytical was perhaps more typical in my reflection on the transition to independence than the liberation driven mini-skirted drug investigating caricatures of the official chronicles. Also I was, and am, a scientist so somebody who sits on the morning of his 21st birthday to capture his thoughts on that symbolic day does not fit that easy professional identikit either.
I worried about “going public “with my previously secret writing. And then I thought I should; after all it was their day of transition and the names on the base were their families, communities and the University. So I share them with you, as I also shared with them, my poemish words
Lines written at 9.13am on the morning of my 21st Birthday……….2nd Dec. 1968
On a frosty night in December, a wet slurry of potter’s clay was delivered – shapeless, formless and amorphous but the potters congratulated themselves with glee.
Immediately they began to fashion the clay in their own imitations…….. to their own limitations.
At first the work was slow, but soon the clear outline of the maturing body was clearly seen.
Then they worked on the head, the slight pressure of their fingers forced the clay first in one direction then the other…….……the statue maintained the compromise of these pressures.
As the years went by the clay dried out. It lost its pliability, and when the potters tried to fashion it further it tended to crack and come away clinging to their fingers.
Then one year they found that their clay was dry – their influence lost, they looked sadly at each other saying; after 21 years our statue begins to die.
………… not to die my friends – but live. The Frankenstein you have moulded has now awoken – The statue breathes and thinks.
It will act independently of you from now on……………but whether it does good or bad, it will always reflect on you – the potters name cannot be erased from the base.