I was in a significantly bad mood. I was answering the phones. Mona and the rest of the staff were on strike. All the CSIRO staff were on strike. Chaz was minding the phones at Floreat. We were "management."
CSIRO management and the union representing the agency's 6500 staff will meet today to thrash out differences over a new enterprise agreement that has sparked two weeks of industrial action.
The CSIRO Staff Association warns the action, the first national industrial campaign at the CSIRO in 15 years, could escalate if management refuses to raise its offer of a 3 per cent annual pay rise.
The union is pushing for 4.6 per cent a year. CSIRO Staff Association president Michael Borgas said management's offer fell short of cost-of-living increases and it would jeopardise the agency's ability to attract and retain top researchers.
However, CSIRO deputy chief executive Craig Roy said the agency's wages bill amounted to about $700 million a year, and even a 3 per cent annual rise would be significant.
"We don't think it's responsible to pay in addition to 3 per cent when there is not a strong business reason to do so," he said.
CSIRO research scientist salaries range from about $71,000 a year to $181,000.
The Australian, 30 March 2011
The phone rang again.
"Hollister ... Yes. Soon? Eleven? Fine." The Provost's secretary. Well, I'd see what was up.
I grabbed a sausage from the cart on my return to my office. There was a lot to think about. And it was my day to ferry Patrick home from Scotch College. A lot to think about. I considered phoning Weena, but decided to wait.
I could hear the phone ringing as I got out of the elevator. It stopped before I got to my desk. There were already four messages. I didn't listen to them. I just sat in my chair, thinking.
It was a bit before 1600 when I pulled up at the junior school. Patrick was waiting, his tie around his neck, he looked overheated and sweaty.
"Hi! We played cricket today. I like batting. I'm not good at bowling. But I was wicket keeper for a bit. Next year we'll actually have teams. I think I'll need pads. And gloves." He was all wound up. "You're excited about something, too. What it it?"
"We'll wait till we're home so your Mum can hear, okay?"
"Okay. Did you play cricket?"
"Not much. Rugger and Aussie rules [football] were my thing in school."
"Ooh. You can get hurt at those."
"You can get hurt at cricket, too."
"I guess so. We played Kwik-cricket."
In Kwik-cricket the bowler does not have to wait for the batsman to be ready before a delivery, leading to a faster, more exhausting game designed to appeal to children, which is often used PE lessons at English schools.
"Okay," I said as we got home, "Upstairs, out of those clothes, shirt in the bin and everything else hung up."
"Yes, sir, general!" He ran inside. I parked the 4x4 and got myself a beer. When Patrick reappeared I got him milk. He took an apple.
Sarah ran in, yelled "hi" and tuned the telly to the sit-coms on 11. Then she got herself some milk and left as Weena entered.
She took a look at me and asked: "Bad day?"
"I played cricket!" said Patrick.
"Great, sweetie. And you?"
"Difficult. Interesting. Disturbing."
"Tell me." She sat down.
"Well, to begin with, I was alone. Today's a 24-hour strike day. So I answered the phone a lot. One of the calls was from the Provost's secretary. So I walked over to see her. She said that she'd noted that I'd been at UWA for over ten years and that her predecessor had offered me an academic post. I tried to keep quiet, though I thought I knew where this was going. I was right. She said that they couldn't offer the salary of CSIRO, but there were other benefits in academia, not least the shorter academic year and the freedom of teaching what I wanted, when I wanted. I thanked her and told her I'd have to discuss this with my family. Then I had a sausage, ignored the phone, and fetched Pat."
"Quite a summary. What do you think?"
"I'm not sure. On the one hand, I've done no research in four years. I hate this personnel and strike stuff. I really enjoy SciTech, so I'm bound to like formal teaching. But I don't want to be an administrator, and that's a way to get an extra honorarium. By the way, without going into detail, what's our financial situation?"
"Not to worry. Even with Pat's school and my not working, it's rosy."
"Do you want to call Chaz?"
"No! Definitely not! In fact ... Patrick?"
"Not a word, not even to Rachel."
"You've got time free, don't you?" asked Weena.
"Lots. We haven't taken much holiday at all."
"Well, go away for a week. By yourself. I'll manage with both Pat and Sarah."
"What should I say to Mona and Chaz?"
"That you're taking a week off. In fact, don't 'say' anything. Just send them email."
"Where should I go?"
"Where would you like to go? Where can you drive to in a day and enjoy yourself?"
I closed my eyes and visualized the map.
"Shannon in the south-west. Between Augusta and Albany. I'll take camping stuff, but there won't be anyone there at this time of year."
"That's where the big trees are?"
"Yes. And scorpions and snakes. I'll take my collection kit and the first aid kit, too."
I sent email to Mona and to Chaz. I told Sarah I was going on a short trip. I took the two kits and my swag and other camping things, several changes of clothes and my toilet kit. Weena packed some emergency food and some bottled water. I left about 800 the next morning. I was in Manjimup by noon.
3 km south-east of Manjimup. Shannon National Park is set in some of the most magnificent karri country in Western Australia's southern forest. The park covers the entire basin of the Shannon River, from its headwaters to the Southern Ocean. The park covers 53,500 hectares, including old growth and regrowth karri forests and biologically-rich heathlands and wetlands. Information shelters tell the story of the Shannon, or you can listen on your radio to the park broadcasts at signposted stops around the Great Forest Trees Drive. There are also camping and walking opportunities within the park.
I stopped at the tourist office and picked up a restaurant list. About half of the first dozen listings were pizza places, so I went to the Slice of Heaven cafe and had a salad and pie and some excellent coffee. By 1400 I was at the park entrance. There was a sign that it was $11 for a vehicle, but no one to collect it. There was a welcoming committee of sorts, for a medium-sized death adder was sunning at the edge of the forest.
Common Death Adders live in eastern and south-western Australia. They are found in woodlands and forests. They eat small mammals, birds and reptiles. Common Death Adders attract prey close to them by twitching their tail. They then strike and inject venom into their prey from their fangs. They swallow their prey whole. The Common Death Adder is the world's 16th most venomous snake and probably the fastest of all Australian snakes when it comes to striking a victim. Common Death Adders are one of the most dangerous snakes in Australia and the world.
I drove in several clicks and located "Great Trees Drive." I didn't tune in the radio. But I did note that all three sites I passed were unoccupied. I selected one – Shannon campground – drove off the track and unloaded a bit. There was a map and water and a primitive fire-ring. I walked 10 or 12 paces and noted a decent amount of fallen wood. Having seen one adder, I put on gloves before gathering fuel. I disturbed a few scorpions and beetles, but didn't see another snake.