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Some Personal Stories from my Daily Life

Read on!

Lose your iPhone, Find Adventure
(and an Appreciation of your Tech-Savy Teenage Kids and Their Values)

Like most modern-day Mums, I do battle daily with my teenage sons and their screen obsessions. Whether it’s the incessant communication with friends on Snapchat and Instagram, or the lure of the Xbox which draws them into its powerful and alluring clutches, I find myself cursing all this technology that distracts my three sons from home chores and school work... and conversation with their mother! Oh, for their younger years when day-to-day life was rich in idle chatter, when they loved nothing better than a game of Uno after dinner and when the telly was pretty much the only device one needed to limit the use of. These days our television, not being a “smart” one and devoid as it is of Netflix subscriptions, is a forgotten relic. Occasionally I switch it on to watch the evening news, just to make sure it still works, half hoping that the sound will bring my lads scampering from their rooms. But alas, their headphone-clad ears are tuned to the latest rapper or a small screen diversion of one kind or another. And so mostly my evenings are lonely, uneventful, even boring.  

Tonight I lost my iPhone. It was pretty silly on my part, actually. I was on my way to Woollies after dinner to purchase a litre of milk and a cucumber to secure tomorrow’s breakfast and school lunches. En route to the garage, I received a call on my mobile phone. By the time I had delved into the depths of my bag, the call had rung out … damn! I placed the phone on the boot of the car while I searched for my car keys. Like the phone, they have the habit of disappearing into the depths of the rubble of daily life – receipts, phone chargers, business cards, electricity bills etc - when needed most urgently. But finally I was on my way up the road to Woolworths. When I returned home a short time later, I realised that my phone was nowhere to be seen. Jeez, don’t tell me I left my precious device on the boot of the car and drove off with it there, poised for a fall into the gutters of Coburg’s back streets?! I sent my eldest son, Alex, out to walk the length of our narrow street, his mobile phone flashlight trained on the gutters and footpath. To no avail. All the while my youngest son, Daniel, made repeated calls to the lost phone. No answer.


My tech-savvy middle son, Kay, suggested that I trace the phone’s whereabouts using the “Find my iPhone”, feature accessible from my Mac laptop. I did this in haste and with a sense of urgency. This exercise revealed that I could remotely put my phone into something called “Lost Mode” and post a number to call on the home screen, presumably in the case of it being found by a helpful stranger. Ok, done. It also revealed that my phone, represented by a black dot on a map, was on Russell Street, less than a block away …. but moving swiftly up the road in the direction of busy Bell Street. 

The whiff of a theft had all three of my boys excited and primed to go in hot pursuit, and so into the car we all dived. But wait a minute. How would we maintain our connectivity and remain apprised of the whereabouts of the phone once out of range of the home Wifi? “No worries, Mum, we’ll hot-spot it with my iPhone,” declared Alex. Once I’d clarified that “hot-spotting” was nothing like “hot-wiring” and a legal means of providing my laptop with internet connectivity along the way, off we set. Onto Bell Street and in the direction of the bus stop we swerved – were the robbers about to board one of the waiting buses and escape eastwards on public transport? Repeated updates of the location of the phone revealed that the offender was back on Sydney Road, so we followed, digitally, in pursuit of the presumed phone thief. 

With the latest location update revealing that the mysterious culprit was heading in the direction of Coburg Library, I parked the car nearby on Sydney Road and Kay and I dived out, staying connected with the other two boys and my laptop via mobile phone link. 

The next 10 minutes or so saw us diving in and out of dark, empty shopping arcades and the brightly lit Coles supermarket, Alex’s instructions via phone guiding us in our movements. How on earth we thought we would be able to identify our phone thief amongst the throngs of peak hour shoppers, I have no idea. The GPS tracker was giving us nothing but a rough idea of my iPhone’s progress. Suddenly Alex shouted down the line that the Find My iPhone app was indicating that my mobile had a critically low battery and that it was now heading back to Sydney Road in the direction of my parked car. Kay and I, now in a sweat with the exertion and tension, turned on our heels and sprinted back to the main road. “3% battery remaining and the black dot has stopped at the tram stop”, Alex barked, just as Kay and I arrived panting back at the car. “You mean this tram stop?”, asked Kay, casting a glance sidewards at the green and white tram sign only 5 metres or so to the rear of our car. “Yes, that’s definitely the one,” Alex replied. 

Standing at the tram stop were two men. One was a middle-aged man. He looked like a European back-packer, fashionably decked out in the latest Kathmandu adventure-wear. The other was younger, of African appearance. He, too, had a back-pack slung over his shoulder and looked like he might be a student. I whispered to Kay out of the corner of my mouth: “What on earth do we do now? I have no idea what to say …”. “Whatever you do, Mum, make it snappy”, called Alex through the rear window of the car. “The black dot has definitely stopped here and your battery is almost dead.” Before Kay had a chance to answer, we both heard the rumble of the tram approaching. I had images of that black dot on the screen drifting steadily down Sydney Road along with the departing city-bound tram – it was now or never. “Mum, all you gotta do is say excuse me, I have lost my phone and managed to trace it to this location. I wonder if you might have seen it?” Kay whispered in my ear. I nodded and stepped purposefully in the direction of the two men. “Oh, and Mum,” added Kay. “Make sure you ask the white guy first and then the black dude.” Good point, I thought. I remembered that Kay had been watching a doco on racial profiling in the US on his laptop a few nights earlier. And so, following my son’s wise advice, I shyly approached the European back-packer. Sure enough, his polite expression of regret that he had not seen a stray iPhone was uttered in a French accent. The young African man similarly shook his head, apologising that he knew nothing of the phone. The arrival of the tram right at that moment saved me from further embarrassment. “Battery’s dead!” shouted Alex. Great! That meant further tracking was impossible so there was nothing for it but to head home. 

The next day I began researching new iPhones. It was about time I upgraded anyway. The old one, wherever it might now be, was an iPhone 4 and had been gifted to me by a friend some 6 years earlier. In spite of the inconvenience of losing all my contacts, I convinced myself that the silver lining was that I would acquire myself a spanking brand new mobile phone, the latest model to boot. By that evening the boys had each weighed in on the pros and cons of the various iPhones on offer for purchase online and I was about ready to go ahead with processing my order of a rose gold iPhone 7, when the phone rang. It was a lady from two streets away, asking whether I had lost my phone. “My son found it in the gutter on Harding Street last night on the way home from work,” she said. I thanked her and gave her a summarised version of the previous evening’s adventure. “I’ll send him around with it now,” she laughed. 

A few minutes later the doorbell rang. A young man dressed in a dark jacket stood smiling, my ill-fated iPhone clutched in his outstretched hand. Before I could thank him, he began blurting out the story of how he had come across the phone in the gutter, put it in his pocket and then headed out to do some shopping. A short time later he had noticed the “Lost Mode” message with my home number displayed on the screen. He immediately called the number from his own phone but there was no answer. By the time he had the chance to try again, the phone’s battery had died. He apologised that it had taken him half a day to find someone with a charger compatible with such an ancient model iPhone. I thanked him with an embarrassed grin. It felt awkward to confess to stalking an innocent stranger. 

It was hard to know whether to laugh or cry! He must have called while the boys and I were out on our wild, digitally-aided hunt. Had we stayed put, we would have received the young man’s call and saved ourselves our goose chase. Then again, I would also have been denied a rare mid-week adventure, one which gave me a new appreciation of my boys, their social maturity and … dare I say it, their mastery of their digital gadgets! 

(Nov, 2016)

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How a love of languages and language-learning led me to a life-long commitment to Timor-Leste 

In 2007 I was sworn in by then President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, Dr José Ramos-Horta, as Goodwill Ambassador for Education. It was a lofty title indeed but the role came with no particular job description. I decided to give particular attention to the matter of language in education policy as I could see that the new nation’s decision to make Portuguese and Tetum (one of some 17 native languages) the official languages of government and education was causing many children in rural areas to fall behind in their learning.
As the first President of Timor-Leste’s National Commission for UNESCO, I started reading up on a thing called “Mother-tongue Based Multilingual Education” (MTB-MLE), and I soon gained an appreciation for its relevance and importance to Timor-Leste’s multilingual context. We launched an MTB-MLE pilot project in three districts (Lautem, Manatuto and Oecusse) in 2010 with a view to demonstrating the superiority of the use of mother tongue in the acquisition of initial literacy skills with the child’s first language subsequently serving as a bridge to learning in additional languages. The project has demonstrated excellent results, but not without some significant controversy and heated debate, particularly at times of political transition when issues of language and identity become convenient “political footballs”.
In many ways, the work I have undertaken since to promote more inclusive policies and practices in the language in education space is the result of a life-long exploration of the role and importance of language that I embarked upon at the tender age of twelve. As a student of the Central Victorian school of Golden Square High School in Bendigo, I was offered the study of my first foreign language as an elective in Year 7. The choices were French or Bahasa Indonesia, the language of our largest and powerful northern neighbour. My father had studied Indonesian as a mature age student at Monash University in the early 1970’s and as much on the strength of this childhood connection as on any other more pragmatic considerations, I opted to learn Indonesian.
Despite being a fairly typically insular Australian country town, Bendigo had developed something of a reputation as a center for Indonesian language studies, and lessons were frequently supplemented with cooking classes, visits to our classroom by Gamelan orchestras and traditional dance troupes. My fascination for Indonesia, the country and its culture, had its roots there, in country Victoria. Many years later, I graduated from Melbourne University with a major in Indonesian. I could not have imagined then how significant those choices were in leading me to where I am today, nor how very well they have prepared me to participate in the rebuilding of the country I now call home.
In my final years at secondary school, however, another language soon loomed large for me as a medium of heart connections and, as it would turn out, of some significance in defining my destiny. I fell in love with an Italian chef whilst waitressing at a Brunswick trattoria in the early 1980’s and, before long, found myself enrolling to study First Year Italian at Melbourne University. When, at around about the same time, I became acquainted with East Timor’s David and Goliath struggle for independence from Indonesia, one of the things that most fascinated and attracted me about this cause was the confluence of Latin and Asian cultures in a little half-island not more than a few hundred kilometres north of Darwin. When I was asked by East Timorese activist friends and fellow students at Melbourne University to assist with translating documents and human rights reports from the resistance inside East Timor from Portuguese and Indonesian to English, my command of Italian served me well and I was soon able to contribute my language skills most usefully to the struggle. After a three-week evening course in Portuguese in the late eighties, I was ready to make my first foray into Timor-Leste. I made my first visit to what was then Indonesia’s 27th province in 1990. To my enormous surprise and even greater delight, on my first day in Dili I was able to use all three of my foreign languages to good effect – Bahasa Indonesia with the spy awaiting me at Dili airport and to grill me as to my intentions in visiting Timor Timur, Italian with the Canossian nun who politely refused my request for accommodation at the convent for fear of arousing the suspicion of the Indonesian military and Portuguese with the waiter who served me dinner at the Hotel Turismo. Finally, there was rhyme and reason in my eclectic language choices, and in many ways that first visit sealed my fate. I was hooked, and as I flew back to Melbourne some weeks later, it was with a powerful emotion and a strong sense of connection with this impoverished, oppressed and yet proud and resilient people. 
(Based on a lecture presented at ANU entitled “Language, language policy and education in Timor-Leste”, 20 July 2012)

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