Our family

Entries in Australia (91)



10 years ago, Lydia and I got married. Thankfully, we had to right to marry for love, with a secular wedding based on equality and mutual respect. You know, not traditional marriage at all. We went to Canada to get married, where the law recognises love as the highest value:

"Our bride and groom have brought us amidst the beauty of these mountains to celebrate the peace and joy that they have found together. Let us gather our thoughts and good wishes as we witness and share in their formal joining in the legal state of matrimony. The state of matrimony has matured as our society has matured. From an ancient tradition, marriage has developed into an expression of joy between any two people sharing love, respect and understanding. Our couple have found true happiness in each other, and with joy they have entered a life-long companionship and will comfort and support each other with gentleness and strength. In marriage, we give ourselves freely and generously into the hands of the one we love, and in doing so, each of us receives the love and trust of the other as our most precious gift. Today our bride and groom proclaim their love to the world."

Disgracefully, Australians do not yet have this right. There has been a clear majority in favour of same-sex marriage for over 10 years. Unfortunately, the country as a whole has not voted with its convictions, with a parliament substantially more religious and conservative than the people. Yet even the right-wing Liberal party, dead against anything progressive or inclusive, has known better than to campaign openly against LGBT rights in Australia, preferring to obfuscate and delay.

The most recent tactic, used by the very disappointing Malcolm Turnbull, has been to insist that a referendum is needed to change the constitution to allow same-sex marriage. Except, this morphed into a plebiscite, since the religious right wanted to vote against even if the country voted for. The argument is legally rubbish - the Constitution of Australia does not need to be changed, as ruled on by the High Court of Australia, so this has now degraded into a non-compulsory, non-binding postal survey. Exactly like all the surveys that have consistently shown majority support for same-sex marriage for ten years, except this one is costing $120 million.

Oh, and the other important difference? The right-wing has created an situation where the vitriol held by a minority of Australians is now publically on display. By holding up the human rights of the LGBT community to a public survey, every hate-filled venomous group feels free to spew bile in public. Knowing from past examples that public votes on LGBT rights led to increased homophobic attacks and LGBT youth suicide, it is utterly contemptible for the Australian right-wing to run this useless and unnecessary postal survey.

That said, the survey is happening, so of course we are voting. My postal survey came in today, so we had a family discussion with Hayden.

"Hayden, in Belgium you can marry anyone that you love. So a mummy can marry a daddy, or a mummy can marry another mummy. But in Australia, the law doesn't let mummies marry mummies, or daddies marry daddies. Do you think we should change that law?"

"Why is Australia being mean? Yes, we should change that law".

Pretty straight-forward yes vote there. So, for the children, #VoteYes. It is not a difficult question, and that is before even going into all the heart-wrenching stories of gay couples suffering the consequences that being unmarried can entail during situations such as hospitalisation and death. Please, #VoteYesAustralia


"Australian" lunch in Utah - Fosters beer fondue with pretzels. So bad - I should have gone the "Alice Springs quesadillas".


Just go away Tony Abbott





Tony Abbott and his supporters.




Yes. Yes there are.


Measuring the true colours of Australia's worst government

I tend not to comment on Australian politics any more, it is too depressing and too distant, watching a country that mostly had it together deliberately destroy a legacy of egalitarianism. 

The current government won in a landslide by playing to the worst of the Australian character. After nearly a year in office, some people are starting to wake up to just how horrible Tony Abbott is, although it mystifies me as to how they were unaware of this to start with.

The measure of the true character of this government can be seen on how they treat refugees - unable to vote and out of the eye of voters, it is how they would treat all of us given half a chance. So what has the Abbott government done about refugee policy in its near-year in office?

First, they cut the refugees off from public scrutiny, moving the refugee camps to PNG. They hired 66 media staff to manage the public image, but prevented independent journalists from visiting. Next they removed the legal protections and legal assistance of refugees, and banned human rights lawyers from visiting the camps. Even when they put refugees at risk by releasing the personal details of many thousands, they evaded fair judicial oversight - deporting those who tried to sue the day before the court case started. They ignored the UN when they condemned the human rights violations of children occurring in Australian refugee camps.

Once imprisoned in camps in PNG, the Abbott government has no concern for the safety of refugees. They have repeatedly ignored requests by security personnel for better lighting and cameras, and threatened staff who spoke out. They ignored occasions when the children of refugees were assaulted by security guards. All these ignored warnings place the responsibility on the government for when a local mob was let into the camp by security guards and proceeded to kill one refugee and severely beat many refugees and slit the throats of others with machetes. Further contempt for the refugees was shown by the lack of adequate medical care given to them after the attack, and initial attempts to blame the attack on refugees themselves.

Next, they gutted the health care for a group of people often in critical need, in particular removing critical mental health care. They replaced nurses trained to Australian standards with partially trained staff, and lied about the presence of a psychiatrist. The health care has been so poor that pregnant women have had unnecessary miscarriages; other women have had abortions rather than give birth in the camp, and a woman who did give birth was separated from her sick child for several days. Why so many pregnancies? Perhaps because the Abbott government is enforcing their Catholic sexual taboos in the refugee camps and banning the distribution of condoms. While we are on the topic of forcing their religion on everyone, the Abbott government has also banned homosexuality in the camps and threatened to report gay men to the PNG police (where it leads to 14 years jail). Remember, they'd do this to the rest of us if they could. To be politically viable, they limit their homophobia in Australia to unwinding same-sex marriage rights, but when given half a chance they criminalise being openly gay. 

The Abbott government has only seen one "refugee" that they would actually like to see enter Australia. For the rest, they treat with the contempt that they barely conceal for the rest of the Australian public. 


Heron Island

We just had a wonderful week on Heron Island, on the Great Barrier Reef. I was there for ThymOz, the best scientific meeting on my conference circuit. Top-level science, a very critical and collegiate environment and an atmosphere that is more like a friendship reunion than a conference. This time, as well as the company of my scientific colleagues I had the pleasure of bringing Lydia along, for our first trip without Hayden. The scientific sessions were interspersed with snorkels, dives and long walks around the island. My favourite animal encounter on the island must have been the five tiny squidlings that Lydia and I surprised while snorkeling - they squirted us with simultaneous ink sprays and then swam off a metre. We also had an interesting encounter with a remora (suckerfish) while going on our first scuba dive for five years. The remora attaches to a host (usually a shark, turtle or whale) and filter feeds while it hitches a free ride. This one was solo, and swum around me and Lydia speculatively, considering us as its next host. Another highlight was the turtle hatchlings, of which we saw maybe a hundred over the week were were there, scuttling down to the water while seagulls swooped down and made a meal. A surprise for us was the frenzied shark feeding that happened just a metre off shore, with large sharks swooping in for a turtle dinner. Normally few if any would make it out to deep water, but on our last morning there we saw over a thousand tiny turtle tracks on our morning walk, a quantity that must have overwhelmed the appetites of even sharks and seagulls.

Now one day in Canberra, then we are off back home to Belgium.


Not all turtle hatchlings are eaten by seagulls


The life of a turtle hatchling