Newspaper article The Northern Star (Lismore, Australia)

Small Snapshots from Paradise

Newspaper article The Northern Star (Lismore, Australia)

Small Snapshots from Paradise

Article excerpt

SNAPSHOT No. l: The young man is enunciating very haltingly, but loud enough for me to hear: aFour-hundred-years-ago-on-a-remote-Bengali-beach ....a

His girlfriend encourages him with a kiss: aYes, very good, babe. Keep going.a

Frowning in concentration, his finger prodding each word, he continues: aA-man-swore-on-the-skull-of-his-father's-mur-mur-mur ... .a He looks up in anguish. The girl hovers over him, attentive as a mother. aMurderer,a she says.

We're in the Ballina airport departure lounge and the young man is hunched over a Phantom comic.

In the way of Australians in public places, the waiting passengers are pretending to ignore him. If my own reaction is any guide, they're masking surprise at an adult who is still learning to read a in public, too a and sympathising with his endeavour.

If statistics are correct, we shouldn't be so surprised. It seems improbable, but the Australian Bureau of Statistics found in a 2008 survey seven million Australians between 15 and 74 were abelow the acceptable benchmark for understanding their own language in printa, i.e. they couldn't read or write. If the repeated Learn to Read TV commercials here are any indication, many non-readers live in the bush.

The benchmark? Being able to understand a newspaper and the directions on a medicine packet.

Snapshot No. 2: A second young man, a surfboard shaper of relaxed social habits, breaks up with his girlfriend, a police constable. To his surprise he abruptly finds himself before the courts on a charge of growing and distributing cannabis. His four veranda pots of pot, of no apparent importance in the two years of their relationship, assume a criminal magnitude once he bids the policewoman farewell.

Snapshot No.3: A thirtyish North Coast woman, despairing of meeting eligible local men, joins an online dating service. …

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