Last unreformed bastion

Prise_de_la_Bastille.jpgThe phrase ‘last unreformed bastion‘ is one of my favourites. The phrase has a negative meaning. A bastion sticks out from the castle wall. From inside the bastion you can defend better. You can see more than from the straight wall. The picture above is the Storminis g of the Bastille.


These days the phrase is used for organisations, not castles (like the Siklós Castle above). If someone says “That organisation is an unreformed bastion”, what do they mean? They mean the organisation doesn’t want to change. They resist change. They oppose change. They lock themselves in a bastion. They fight anyone who wants to change them.

The phrase can also mean the people in the organisation are lazy. They are comfortable in their bastion because they do no work. Other people do work, but not them.

So why do people say ‘the last bastion’? They mean everyone else has changed. They mean everyone else has reformed. They mean that only the last bastion is resisting.

I have a lot of experience with ‘unreformed bastions’.

  1. I learned the Latin Mass as an altar-boy in the catholic church. This was before the ‘reforms’ of Vatican II. I’m not religious now.
  2. In the school holidays I worked in a timber yard. I stacked timber as it came off the cutting machines. Then I had to sweep up the sawdust. When I had nothing to do I sat down. One day a big boss shouted at me “Never sit down. Even if you have nothing to do, stand up with a broom in your hand.” Crazy, I thought.
  3. My first job after school was in the New South Wales Water Resources Commission. I calculated costs when a worker worked for different departments. Each department would then get paid their share. I worked out, with algebra, a much quicker way of doing the task. I suggested it to my boss. He said ‘No, do it the way we’ve always done it.” He didn’t understand algebra.
  4. My next job was in the Sydney Water Board. I updated computer records when people sold houses. We were so bored that we used to flick rubber bands at each other. We used to play table-top football. We flicked little folded paper footballs across a desk. Your football had to get near the edge. If it fell off the edge, you lost. We used to put a file under our arm and just go for a walk. We pretended we were busy. We pretended we had to go to another department. One of my colleagues had a gambling addiction. He used to sneak out to place bets. He was very nervous before the race. He used to sweat and shake.
  5. The worst ‘unreformed bastion’ I worked in was the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). I was in the Vice-Chancellors office. This is the administration, not the academic side where the teachers are. I had to help Faculties write their Strategic Plans. There were too many people in the Vice-Chancellors office. There was not enough work to do. I only worked about two days in five! My boss worked even less. He played computer games all day.

At university I studied Indian history. My undergraduate honours thesis was about reform of the Congress Party in India – the Kamaraj Plan. At that time the New South Wales public service was being reformed by Peter Wilenski. I taught literacy in Sydney’s Long Bay Jail. It was busy because we didn’t have enough teachers. Then I moved to Canberra for a new career. The Australian public service had been reformed. It wasn’t a bastion at that time and work was busy. I’m very interested in how organisations can reform. I did a course with the Australian Institute of Management to study this.

There is a last unreformed bastion in New Zealand. What do you think it is?


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