Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Why Not Us?

Some choose their footy team; others have their footy team thrust upon them. There are those who change allegiance like a flip flopping politician chasing numbers. There are the poor souls who have their tribe cut out from under them, leaving them orphaned on the football landscape till adoption papers come through. Me, I had no choice.

My practising Christian parents never had me baptised out of respect for my own choice. But when it came to the true religion, I was fully indoctrinated into the red, white and blue like my father and his father before him. I don't remember a time before I was a Bulldog because that time doesn't exist. If they could've printed it on my birth certificate they would have.

It hasn't been an easy birthright to bear. From the schoolyard mockery to the looks of pity or condescension as an adult that leave me in social situations feeling a need to go sit at the kiddie table. There were times we were asked to go quietly into the night but doggedly saw ourselves to a new day. Sometimes I wondered if life would've been different had I been a Hawk or a Cat or a Roo. How much do the colours you wear shape who you are? How much is nature or nurture or narrative responsible? Would it be better to be a football heathen?

I've questioned much of my beliefs but have never wavered from the 'Scray.' There is something to be said for tradition and knowing your roots. To have your pilgrimage to a wet and windy Western Oval with its broad church of supporters, decked out in their finery of beanies and scarves from bygone eras. To have your prophets, saints and sinners present in body or in myth. To get swept up in the fervour of the fans.

So there I was at Spotless Stadium last Saturday with the sun in my eyes amongst a throng of true believers, but did I believe? In true Aussie style, most of our glory had come hand in hand with failure. Losing many times in the dying stages of preliminary finals by small margins or questionable umpiring. But that was ok with me. We didn't belong in the big dance anyway and just playing finals was already rising above our station. But it felt different this time. We were still David going up against the Giants but we'd already overcome the Eagles and Hawks and there was something about this group and their 'why not us?' mantra.

The sun fell behind the western stand and its rust coloured light towers that illuminated a pristine playing surface. The Giants looked like running away with the win in the last quarter on their home turf. The Dogs played with daring, dash, heart and will and entered the last minute in front by 5 points. I looked at those around me, the diehards that had travelled up to outnumber the home fans. Heads were in hands, hands clasped over mouths, eyes wide at the scoreboard clock with trepidation that it would be taken from us again. Not today. 

The siren sounded and we rose as one in cheers and many tears, all jubilantly hugging friends, family and strangers. We knew what it meant to each other. We were in joy and shock having not seen this before. The experience sweeter for being denied so long. My mother now won't leave her house without her Doggies scarf on. And I've felt ill all week with my insides being dragged willingly but unprepared into a rewritten culture of 'why not us?' I wish my Dad was here to see this, he was always a 'why not us?' type person.


Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Too many Sooks in the Kitchen

My wife is reading a buzzfeed article about Miranda Tapsell's appearance on the Verdict. On how she spoke about feeling unwelcome at Australia Day celebrations due to being an Aboriginal woman. In reply Miranda receives a torrent of online abuse labelling her a sook. "The problem with the people calling her a sook is that they don't get the irony that if they can't deal with an Indigenous person sharing what life is really like for them, then they're the ones that need to get a thicker skin," she says. A light bulb goes off in my head. She has cut through to where bone and marrow meet. I see a young Aboriginal woman speaking about the racism she has incurred for all of her life; I see Adam Goodes enduring boos and calling out the racism latent within that. I see that when the heat gets turned up there are too many sooks in the kitchen and they are reaching for the all the knives, wooden spoons and oversized forks that they can get their grubby hands on.

Adam Goodes played on in the face of week upon week of booing before he unveiled his war dance of Indigenous pride. Heck, even Jesus held himself in check as he took a tour through the temple before coming back the next day to overturn the tables of the money lenders, chasing them out with a whip. Miranda and Adam don't raise these issues on a whim or after being slighted by the smallest cut. Yet they're told to get a thicker skin? How thick must one's skin get when it takes so many hits? Like the calloused hands of a weightlifter I imagine. They know the colour of their skin. They wear their skin like an armour forged over a lifetime.

When we peel back the onion of those that want to deride Miranda or Adam for their perspectives, that's when the fragile tears come out.  Being sensitive shouldn't be used as an insult anyway. Doesn't telling others to 'man up' as you cry like a snooty brat being told to share the sandpit say a lot about what sort of a person you are?

What seems to get most of the flag waving warriors up in arms is when Indigenous people have something to say about racism or Australia Day (I have written about Australia Day before). Miranda was asked a question and replied honestly that she doesn't identify as an Australian on Australia Day, due to being labelled with racist terms. She got a standing ovation at the Logies when she said "Put more beautiful people of colour on TV, and connect viewers in ways that transcend race and unite us, that's the real Team Australia." She has also shared a story from her school days when she got up in front of the class in response to being bullied with the term half-caste. She asked them why she needed to justify her identity as students who took exception jeered through her whole presentation. Her stand against racism has since changed the hearts of some of those students in later life. So, taking a stand can make a difference.

Adam Goodes said during his Australian of the year acceptance speech that "I believe racism is a community issue which we all need to address and that’s why racism stops with me." There was nothing any right minded person could take exception to in his speech. Months later Adam watched the movie Utopia and penned a response. He detailed how much it hurt to see what had been done in his peoples past and how present Australia wasn't prepared to face its brutal past and further reconcile it. For being honest and taking up a noble cause he has incurred the brunt of Australia's racism. He is carrying a public weight that I cannot even fathom. When someone shares a pain that I don't understand, I want to be the one who listens. Just because I'm white doesn't mean I'm being accused of being racist. Just because I didn't personally commit any of the atrocities visited upon the Indigenous people of Australia does not mean that I have the right to sweep the crumbs under the fridge. Taking exception to any of it being brought up though, that's another matter.

For those planning to never shop at David Jones again because of their choice of Adam Goodes as an ambassador for it's brand; For those that think Miranda should be grateful that she won a Logie or two and just shut up; For those who see no problem with Mr Dutton sending a raped refugee back to offshore detention before she can get counselling or medical assistance; For those who walk side by side with skinheads in UPF and Reclaim Australia; For those who often say "I'm not racist, but..." If I am the sort of person that wants to be able to say that racism stops with me, then what sort of a conclusion am I meant to draw? When someone shares the general pain of their experienced racism; when that pushes a button inside that compels another toward personalised attacks; there's a name for that button.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Lighting the Dark part II

It was over a year and a half ago that Biz and I attended the first Light the Dark in Sydney and I blogged about it Lighting the Dark part I.
Here we are again, just beyond sunset at the feet of skyscrapers in Hyde Park under a sparse canopy of fig trees lit from below by the glow of 10,000 people holding candles. We are here this time in response to the death of little Aylan (the picture of the boy on that beach in Turkey). I am here because I don't know where else to be or what else to do.

The first time I came across the image of Aylan, the agency reporting it had a disclaimer under the heading warning of pictures of a graphic nature. I skipped past the image. Five minutes later it was all over social media and I saw it again and again though I did not wish to. I wasn't sure if I should be resentful towards those shoving the image in my face. Was it an invasion of a very private moment – what should be more private than one's death? Or was it a good thing because as that picture swept around the world it became harder to ignore the devastating loss of innocence and the plight of his people.

We seem to need a human story to rally around. The story of Aylan is just such – a visceral one as it reaches beyond our desensitisation and haunts us. The speakers here at Light the Dark refer to his story. Father Rod Bower speaks eloquently to his story and how it speaks to us in our shame. He asks us to look into the flickering flames of light that we hold and he shares a poem written by Ken Morris.

Father Rod Bower
sometimes a life goes out
marked in the dust of memory by
pale sad trembling lovers
and old men who weep
for loss and the passing of things
setting an unfilled place
at the table each night

this tiny red bud
of life went out
in dark water

I stare into the flame and imagine it snuffed out. I stare into the flame and let the words of the poem wash through me. The poem goes on, beautiful and sad...go here for the Full poem of 'Aylan' and a reading of it by Father Rod Bower And in the stillness we listen and reflect together as the final stanzas echo out.

the hands that picked him up
were warm
and all the earth sobbed
for the loss of him
that we felt
to the burning magma heart
of our shame

we will remember aylan
tiny bright sad perfect
forever sleeping
on a beach
at the shores of us

But his story is one of many. And while our government talks about taking in Syrian refugees, which I welcome. And yet there is a hollowness to the gesture when refugees, children included, sit in detention centres just off our shores and are cruelly and routinely dehumanised. Aylan took a boat, had he survived, would he be welcome here? If stopping the boats is so vital then as the Premier Mike Baird said "stopping the boats can't be where this ends, it is surely where humanitarianism begins."

I didn't vote for him – but yes even Mike Baird gets a round of applause here at Light the Dark and I join in. He is right and I wish he'd go further in stating very loudly that unless we provide a process and a place for refugees to find safety and dignity then we have done nothing bar let them die elsewhere – out of sight, out of mind. Well the story of Aylan is in the sight and in the mind of many, not just those that are here tonight. Us 10,000 here are but a small representation of those of us who care. There are more at home unable to come, there are more in other cities holding their own Light the Dark. As many of us as there are I fear that there are just as many who do not support welcoming refugees.

How does this all sit with those that want the borders closed I wonder? They need a story to rally around as well. But their story is built on the demonising and dehumanising of the other. That is how we discuss the response to asylum seekers in this country. They spout the rhetoric that labels such people as 'illegals' and a threat to their vision of what our society should look like. There has to be an enemy. If they were ever to totally vanquish this enemy they have created how awkward would it be for them to then look around at a society that still didn't meet their ideological vision? Their ideology would be naked without their enemy – sickly pasty white, gluttonous and covered in sores. This is why I am uncomfortable with more bombing, more warmongering and offshore detention with no end in sight.
Imagine a world without borders
I am here tonight because I don't where else to be or what else to do. I am overwhelmed and angry and sad. I don't want to hate on my fellow Australians that I don't agree with. I don't want an outdated tribalism leading our Nation to pour funds into Border Force or Border Patrol or whatever they're calling it this week.

Father Rod's finishes speaking by saying, “May your God bless you and if you don't have a god may you bless one another”. Soon after It finishes. We stay with many though, friendly looking people, gentle people, seated on damp grass near a makeshift shrine to Aylan.
thanks to Biz for the pictures

I ponder Father Rod's words and his quoting of Richard Rohr that “We don't think ourselves into a new way of living; we live ourselves into a new way of thinking”. How do we live ourselves into this new way in this divided Nation? How do we heal the brokeness of Australia's heart and soul? How can we hope to see the scenes like those in Germany and Austria who have learnt their lessons from a fascist history where the people welcome refugees with flowers and stuffed toys and smiles? That is what I long for.

Friday, 11 July 2014

A Geek Tragedy or just a simple Footy Tragic?

During the winter months when it is dark and cold as you slink out of bed towards the workday and closing in on the same by the time you finally get home, weekdays can wear you down like a rain sodden sweater. Two days and a Friday night take on more import in the rejuvenation of the soul over this period, and there is nothing more spiritually healing mid year than footy in its approach to the finals.

Nicknamed 'the Rat' due to my Johnny
Platten shoulder length curls
I played club footy when I had more hair and carry some special memories from then. Through my twenties however, living in Brissy I found myself in a social circle of freaks and geeks and none of them understood why I was so passionate about 'footy'. As if a love for football in their eyes was reserved only for those who were a yobbo at heart – so what was I playing at? 

Scorned, I tried desperately to defend my passion in terms that I thought they may understand. I compared my love of footy to great tv shows and movie twists of plot that you could never see coming. Footy is no soap where you can spout identical dialogue minutes before the bad actor does. Teams begin each game 0 – 0 and then the mystery unfolds with all its courage and cleverness and heroes and villains.

I compared my love of footy with my love of music. In that in our imperfect works as humans, now and then we reach beautiful heights. That chord progression that sends a tingle down your spine, the chorus which lifts your heart, the harmony that resonates in your gut. These moments are akin to the player that spins out of a tackle, sidesteps and makes the ball talk along the ground from the boundary line, through for a goal. The team of telepaths that piece together a chain of quick look-away handballs in a drive forward against the wind. The young kid on the big stage that goes back and boots the goal after the siren for a last gasp victory. The player that rides the pack for a speckie and is lifted heavenwards on the shoulders of others. Every game is replete with its moments of movement and strategy and skill that bring me joy to have witnessed. Some don't see it, that's ok.

Ted Whitten Jnr and Snr
So where did this love of footy come from? Some traditions hold with me and some do not. My father was an avid Bulldogs supporter as was his father before him and so on and so forth. My father would tell the tale of being a kid and sitting on Teddy (Mr Football) Whitten's knee. Teddy doing his lap of honour at the G still chokes me up because it is forever entangled with memories of my own father. Especially years of kick to kick with a skinless Sherrin in the backyard. My brother and I spent a lot of afternoons trying to outmark that man with his bigger body and his know how in how to position it. He didn't let us get soft marks. It took years but when we finally were able to get contested marks over him, we knew we'd earned it and that it meant something that shaped how we saw ourselves.

I also recall another watershed moment in our family footy life. It happened standing in mud and rain at the Western Oval on the opposite side to the Doug Hawkins wing. We beat the Hawks that day in a very low scoring affair. That was the day my mother switched from being a Hawks supporter and finally made our family of four whole. We were no longer tainted with the poos and wees. Being red, white and blue is a tradition that holds fast with me. Now if I can just convert my wife from those blue and white hoops!

Perhaps I'm drawn to footy not just by my soul but by my body and mind as well. They say (whoever they are) that muscle memory plays a part in your enjoyment of watching sport or movement. You see someone do something and there are corresponding parts of your brain that light up pathways and release endorphins. You don't even have to have performed a similar feat to create the pathways. It is in the power of imagination and why sportspeople often try to visualise what they intend to do before they do it. I intend to do nothing bar watch the visuals however.

So I had my go at playing and I also had my go at being an assistant coach of the Deloraine High Footy team while I was a Chaplain. They were a fantastic blend of misfits and talent and courage but we lost a lot more than we won. Perhaps I was inspired by another. Barry was the Pastor of our church in Brisbane and applied to be Chaplain to the hapless Brisbane Bears back in my youth. I remember standing on the hill with him as he hurled abuse and encouragement in equal measure and with equal delight. One overly exuberant day left him on the walk back to the car with hardly the shirt on his back – his favourite blue check flannel torn to shreds like he'd had an Incredible Hulk moment. I like to think that he thought he had. But a coach I am not – or am I?

is Stevie fit to carry my captaincy?
As a geek that invests inordinate amounts of time and energy on Sci-Fi, indie cartoons, maps and indie music, nowhere is my geekiness more prevalent than in my following of footy nowadays due to Fantasy football. As coach of 'The Krisening' and manager of the 'Every Dog Has Its Day' league I now have a hobby that takes up more than my weekends. It rejuvinates and tortures my soul nearly 7 days a week. Online I have traded my way to a team of premium stars led by Gaz, Rocky, Libba, Stevie J, Swan, Dangerfield, Buddy etc. So when Gaz does his shoulder and Rocky gets suspended for a week I am on the computer, trading and shuffling my team around in preperation for their next conquest.

Fantasy football has its moments where you finally catch up with a mate who has been avoiding you all Monday to bask in the glory of rubbing it in that you knocked them off top spot. Alternatively there are moments of despair where it is you that turns the phone off and stays away from email. Fantasy footy with all its lingo around Pigs, piglets, donuts and ghost kicks has meant more to me than killing time. It is a genuine social network of geeks and characters that helps to sustain me as I reside now in the foreign footy landscape that is Sydney. We discuss trades and encourage each other during the week and then trash talk each other over the weekend. I'm looking forward to besting my best mate 'Rainbow Buttmonkeys' in the finals. Yet as a Doggies supporter I'm more used to losing. So if and when I get bumped out in a preliminary final by a mere handful of points it will feel familiar to languish over the missed opportunities and the injustice of it all. Strangely I can find that just as rewarding as going on to beat one of my mates in the final.

Whether I'm just a footy tragic or exhibit A of a Geek Tragedy, and be it real life or fantasy footy, it's still a bunch of passionate people dressing up in their favourite colours and creating culture as they go. Following the theatre of it all as it is played out yearly and builds on the rich history that is forever present. I love it.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Air Control to Major Tony

Being the vast scorched land that Australia is, the most effective way for our defence force to protect the nation is through superior air control. And our Government is very puffed up with their 12 billion dollar purchase of 58 state of the art F-35 Jets. Add to that the extra 12 billion to weaponise and maintain the jets and the fact that our intention is to double our order in the next decade. Is this a fair price to pay for air control in a time when even the Australian Defence Force is saying that the biggest threat looming on the horizon is a completely different type of air control - Climate Change?

We are told that we are in a budget emergency and so have had to cut funding to programs and services like foreign aid (4.5b), indigenous legal services (13m), cuts to Gonski, to the NDIS, dismantling of Climate Commissions, cutting back on the CSIRO, letting the auto industry die etc. all resulting in thousands of job losses. independent australia - tracking tony abbotts wreckage

And while they didn't take from these services to pay for these jets, I don't see why we can't have less jets to balance everything else and provide Australians with better services, I'm sure those on the pension even would appreciate just a portion of the ADF's budget. the guardian zero public demand for fighter planes

The ammount of money spent worldwide on military hardware is obscene. On the rise towards 2 trillion dollars annually. That doesn't mean much to me but when it is calculated as each person in the world contributing $249 annually towards it, it carries more weight. Especially when you think of the billions who live on the meagrest of wages. The most obscene of all is the U.S. who spend almost as much as the rest of the world put together. It is not like they don't have internal problems that need attention either.  Dare we keep heading down a path towards being more like the U.S?

Did the rest of the world fail to see the progress and infrastructure that was possible in places that were freed from the yolk of military spending like Germany and Japan? They were forced to demilitarise but in an ideal world we could fix near everything if we could all forego finding more and more effective ways to remove each others heads. It is not an ideal world but it us up to us to strive towards demilitarising the world instead of initiating arms races. Hard because it requires logic and trust and selflessness but if we do not try then we are lost.

Facing criticism for the record spending purchase of top line jets our PM Tony Abbott said in defence of it that "you never know what's around the corner." He seems full of this 'shit happens' verbatim doesn't he?. Well the ADF is actually charged with figuring out what is around the corner, they call it 'intelligence.'

This intelligence gathering of late has seen ADF personnel attending briefings on climate change. And earlier this year in an address to the Lowy Institute Lieutenant General David Morrison said that there were no regional military threats to Australia even despite the sometimes frosty relationship between us and Indonesia. He did however say that the impacts of climate change need to be factored into future military plans and importantly that “I think the most likely role for the military, however, will be providing immediate assistance for humanitarian and disaster relief.”

And we have already witnessed this in action with some of the largest deployments of Defence personnel within Australia being in response to floods and cyclones. I'm not entirely sure what an F-35 fighter jet provides in a humanitarian and disaster relief effort. At least those on the ground getting their hands dirty can do so safe in the knowledge that they wont be bombed from the air as they rescue people from the roofs of their homes.
So if Climate Change is the biggest threat to our national security, through climatic events and through dwindling resources putting pressure on people to migrate then what should the ADF and the Australian Government do about it? What will F-35's produce other than more carbon in the atmosphere. Well I guess they could help us feel more secure driving us towards a more insular approach to the world where we protect what we have and blow little rickety boats of desperate people out of the water.

The cynical side of me wonders whether the ADF is just trying to deflect criticism of this purchase back onto the government. And that Tony is just trying to garner more support from the military by upping their budget and giving them new toys to play with. If the ADF really believes that climate change is our biggest threat how about they say 'NO' to the jets and ask for more hardware to be able to offer humanitarian assistance. Why don't they demand that the Government faces its responsiblities in protecting our security and our future by actually implementing policies that reduce the risk of climate change and our reliance on fossil fuels?  No need to fight over oil if we've moved to renewable energy right?

So Tony is all thumbs up with his ear to ear smile in the cockpit of a new F-35 having just spent 24 billion on not knowing what's around the corner. Yet he wants to repeal the carbon tax and spend next to nothing on addressing issues that we know are around the corner and are a bigger threat to us all. I can see it now 'this is air control to major tony, our squadron has the cyclone in our targets, do you want us to hit it with everything we've got?'

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Inside the March in March

Having taken to riding the train sitting backwards now (see recent post on lighting the dark) as symbolic that I'm living in a country which is not moving forward, I had an interesting ride the other day. Found myself the only person on a nearly full carriage facing backwards. Could see everyone's face, and the only face the rest of them could see was mine. I watched them succumbing subconciously to the social norm of facing the way everyone else was when they entered and found their way to a seat. I wondered if they were subconciously annoyed at me for giving their mind an alternate choice or for ruining the symmetry. 

It was interesting when the automated message system went awry, playing every message in its system one after the other for five minutes. The 'Spitting is an offence' one elicited a few laughs and I laughed along with a few people who caught my eye and shared the joke. We shared the moment, but no one in that carriage made a human connection with anyone else but me – they were all looking at the back of someone elses head – how could they?

Obligatory picture of me in thought
Today's train ride seems less eventful bar the ever darkening skies outside and flashes of lightning which do not bode well for the purpose of our journey which is to meet up with friends and attend the 'March in March' protest. As we disembark to a thunderclap which reverberates through the station stopping people momentraily in their tracks I wonder whether I should just hop back on a train going the other way, return to my cozy abode for the afternoon.

But Biz leads the way to Belmore Park and we make our way through the throng with their protest signs and under a sea of umbrellas. With people packed tight and umbrellas touching - it's like there is an unbroken chain of colour connecting everyone present. I don't have an umbrella nor a sign but I am wearing my fan-boy Billy Bragg t-shirt. Billy is not first to take the stage, but I want to hear what the invited speakers have to say so that's fine, I can wait.

We are welcomed by a traditional owner of the land. She welcomes the presence of a diverse range of people there for just as diverse a range of reasons but united in solidarity against a government that does not welcome people or diversity. In saying who is welcome and who is not she carries herself with more authority than any elected official with sycophantic nodding heads standing behind him at a meeting with the press.

Kaveh Akbari The Unlikely Poet
A refugee and now contributing citizen addresses the crowd with a stirring address. His 'Dear Mr Not So Honourable Abbott Sir' address climaxes in him not asking for sympathy but asking why he and refugees like him are labelled a threat? The only threat he says he brings is a threat to Abbott's indecency. And the mass of people roar and shake their umbrellas, embracing him as he embraces his new life and his right to participate in his democracy.

The not cynical Billy Bragg
Each speaker is embraced by the crowd in turn but it is one of my heroes in Billy Bragg that challenges me the most. Always on form, he captures and engages the audience. He leads us in a sing a long including actions. It is his challenge however that it is not so much capitalism or conservatism that we are fighting. The fight is against cynicism. Sure, the right wing agenda breeds cynicism. But it is cynicism, and our own cynicism that endangers the future. He prompts me to ponder that being Generation X, cynicism is in my DNA.

Still in thought, we embark on the march as the rain and clouds begin to clear. A cacophony of drums, whistles and chants lead the way out of the park and into the streets. There are older folks, children, babies in prams, hippies, hipsters, punks, young people with political slogans painted onto shirts and someone in a shark suit. There is a common denominator and you can see it in that even the dogs on leads are smiling. The people we pass that show their support by clapping or tooting their horns are reciprocated with cheers and high fives.

The walk down broadway in the shadow of sheer steel and concrete highrises affords a perspective of the city that feels different. Maybe it is just the atmosphere that being among 10-20 thousand people brings, but walking down the middle of the road towards our destination feels very natural. People reclaiming the streets. We are sharing a moment, we are acknowledging eachother and eachothers causes that are written on the signs around us.

So on the train ride home I find myself lost in thought. How do I fight my cynicism? How do I connect with my fellow Australians who conciously or subconciously find themselves facing the other way? I retain doubt that today will have any influence on our Government. I have hope though that in today's rain and in its fiery passion a seed was nurtured and will grow. It will grow and bring new life and shade to all who seek such things.

Photos provided courtesy of the lovely Biz, follow the link to see more fantastic photos of the day like this one...Biz's March in March album on facebook 

Friday, 14 March 2014

Mad as a March in March hare

For once I'd like to write about something other than the appalling state of politics. Yeah, Gina Rinehart openly wants Thatcherism in Australia and condemns our age of entitlement even though she inherited her wealth and her industry gets billions in fuel subsidies. Perhaps when she kicks the bucket she'll have incurred such goodwill with the people that like Thatcher, people will be dancing in the streets at her demise.

On entitlements – education is one such right that we have in this country. If like Pyne however you think that rich kids are entitled to a better education and if you fear the general population developing critical thinking skills (an easily swayed into fear voter is a liberal voter), then it's goodbye to a fair go Gonski deal for students.

And Malcolm, we had such high hopes that you would save us all from the real mad one. You have dismantled the NBN though and permit and encourage the questioning of funding to public broadcasters SBS and ABC. Smugly ignoring the numerous independent professional reports, some that you asked for. Which state that both broadcasters provide extraordinary value for money and are making such significant contributions to our nation that they deserve more funding. Yet because Murdoch who got nearly a billion dollars of entitlement of public money wants to further his monopoly of propaganda you parrot Tony's hypocrisy. Who will stand up for what is right in your party if not even one member of cabinet shows that it can be done? Have they broken you Malcolm?

Oh Tony, I expect nothing less than tearing apart the forestry peace agreement that took decades to implement so that your ultimate conservationists can cut down more trees. And then you want your 'half the minimum wage slave wages Green Army' to go and plant more. I don't have a major problem with forestry workers but I do have a problem with the language you use that causes divisions in our society. On top of that we are set to lose thousands of jobs. And we are losing support for renewable energy. We are turning away from the strides forward we made in facing the greatest moral challenge of our time in curbing our greenhouse emissions. Oh, and not forgetting the cutting of foreign aid. Thanks for nothing Tony.

And then there is the great Scott ignoring all the internal and international criticism of our human rights abuses. Atrocities are now being committed in our name in offshore concentration camps. We have the horror of murder and people blinded and having their throats cut and of children being present in it all. And in response we have a government who is proud of its policy. Still, I can't just be mad at the government. We have a populace where they have much support. I am angry at you Australia with Scott Ludlam the only politician in the last week to provide me any real light in this dark vaccuum void of reason and humanity.

So whether the issue is that you think the attack on Unions is more for political pointscoring than any real attempt to make Unions a fairer, more effective and translucent operation. Whether it's that we are now curbing the right to protest or ignoring the gay marriage debate, while more than half the western world leaves us floundering in their wake like a dinosaur in mud. Whether those listed above or other reasons, get mad as a march hare – at least for this weekend.

I really wanted to write about something other than the appalling state of politics we find ourselves in. I was going to write just a couple of examples of appallingness and then write about something not politically related like my love for fantasy footy or that I finally start a new job next week after months of rejection. But the list just kept growing. I'd like to write about something else but everything else seems trite in comparison.

That's why I'll be marching tomorrow through the streets of Sydney as a vote of no confidence in our Government, I hope you'll consider getting along to your local march too, it'll be one heck of an experience. I'm hoping that being sourrounded by thousands of Australians that are as fed up as me will go some way to restoring my faith in Australia. Maybe I'll be able to find a place of peace to be able write about something else.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

I Can't Handle The Truth

Being a pacifist and having worked with young people for years, trained within the realms of youth work, mediation, counselling, mental health and pastoral care, I have learnt to control my emotions. While those around me can be quick to anger, reckless and at the whim of their emotional reactions. I tend to be quick to listen, slow to anger, non-judgemental and trying to draw the best out of people. I have treasured being called a 'calming influence'. But recent events have left a sour taste on my tongue. And when I spit, it is laced with vitriol. I'm showing signs of cracking.

The culmination so far of my journey towards losing it came through SBS's Dateline report on Manus Island. I think it was the most important piece of journalism I've witnessed all year (and another in a long line of powerful reasons why we need public broadcasters). If you didn't see the program, I suggest you should - everybody should. That is; if you think you can handle the truth.

I was so furious from it that I felt the need to express my rage. Did I punch walls? did I pick up a pitchfork and go marching to my nearest political representatives office? No. I did what any repressed activist with an inclination to blogging and social media would do - I sat down and wrote about what I thought and how I felt. Checking myself, I refrained from publishing. It wasn't because the use of the word 'fucking' as an adjective in every second sentence bothered me as lazy from the perspective of a writer. It was more that it was just a therapeutic exercise of release.

I feel sorry for Biz sometimes when I get all righteous and shouty, starting to share tidbits of the internal dialogue I have where I rip Abbott and Morrisson to shreds. I'm thankful she puts up with my outbursts. Outbursts that are coming all too frequent of late due to a Government that declares itself open for business but closed to humanity. Heck, even the Uniting Church got rejected for offering to care for children who are being punished because of the choices of others.

And when exactly did that happen? When in this democracy did power and business interests take precedent over the interests of people. We have a power hungry PM who has said in the past "I would do anything except sell my arse to become PM." And now he and the likes of Campbell Newman strut around like they own the place. We know power corrupts and it has surely corrupted these men to where they have forgotten (if they ever knew it) that leaders are there to serve the people. A business is not a person. We have become a nation that ignores the consequences to people and the environment because we tolerate leaders that serve business interests to serve their own self interest.

I am not always on the side of our propensity to cut down the tall poppy. It can come across as an aversion to success, a way to drag down the intellectual to our level. There are days though that I am thankful we have such a cultural system in play, I want to see it happen in this case. I want the senate inquiry announced today into Manus (thank you Greens and Labour) to expose the horror that we are accountable for. Likewise the inquiry from the UN human rights commissioner. And I want to see us take our democracy back from those that are far from conservative with their radical tea party neo-con privileged plutocrat idealogies.

Oh dear, I've gotten off tangent and turned all ranty again over the last two paragraphs. See! I have a problem.

Still, I wonder if they'll even deign to answer the questions that the senate puts to them? And if nothing changes, I wonder if (while not being individually oppressed) I can claim asylum in New Zealand? On what I consider reasonable grounds of course, that my country has gone mad with irrational fear and it is causing me considerable mental anguish?

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Lighting the Dark

"This is what going to Church should feel like," Biz says to me as we walk our suburban streets hand in hand. We cross the road to the train station on our way to the 'Light the Dark' candlelight vigil.
Normally I face forward in the train to see where I'm going and Biz likes to sit backwards. I choose to shake things up and join her in sitting backwards to watch the scenery fall behind, like I'm acknowledging where we've been over where we are going.

Sydney teems with people, each with their own identity, their own thoughts. They are all going somewhere. I catch the eyes of a few people going in the opposite direction but on the whole to most I am but a momentary blur in the corner of their eye. Some are moving in the same direction as us and we filter into the town hall square with them under the shadow of the ornate stone masonry Church that stands to one side. There is already a gathering of people waiting in anticipation for the nights event. They are mostly older folk with bright eyes and smiles etched into their faces.

Their presence surprises me. I recall one of the defining moments in the development of my identity when I was a teenager. In the movie 'The Breakfast Club' I identified with the 'freak' as they were discussing not turning into their parents (not that my parents were an issue). She said “it's unavoidable, it just happens, when you grow up, your heart just dies.” Judd's character interjects with “who cares!” and through tears she replies “I care.”

Well I'm all grown up now and the young who now swarm into the square probably see me as a bit of an oldie but that's ok. I've gotten this far in avoiding the death of my soul and around me I see hope in my fellow bleeding hearts that I will not turn into what I hated the idea of becoming. And shouldn't our hearts bleed for the refugees we deny hope and for Reza Berati the gentle giant who came to us for protection and a new life and instead was brutally killed?

The dark envelopes the few thousand gathered here and we stave it off with the lighting of our candles. The candle I brought with me was the candle that the Church community of Deloraine gave me when I was commissioned as a Chaplain back in 2007. It has a now faded cross painted on it above the Deloraine High School emblem and written beneath are the words 'Here is my servant, whom I have chosen.' This candle of symbolic and sentimental value hasn't held a flame for seven years but tonight I light it because while I may not be a Chaplain anymore, I still feel called to serve the beliefs and values that I held and that I hold.

We find a vantage point near the rear of the crowd overlooking a sea of flickering flames to the town hall steps where the organisers have set up their cameras and microphones. With hot wax already periodically dripping onto my hand that holds the candle we are encouraged to vocalise or whistle rather than clap in response to the activists and religious leaders that are to address the crowd. Chris Taylor of the Chaser is up first acknowledging that he is not one of the religious leaders, “there's still time!” some wacko yells. From that light moment Chris builds to something heavy and the response is a clamouring of whistles, woohoo's and a few thousand raised candles. I'm glad we've left applause behind, it doesn't suit the atmosphere.

We listen to refugees and activists and people representing different faiths. I appreciate the different faiths and denominations expressing solidarity with each other, and with those of no spiritual belief, in standing together with those that we have neglected. The Jewish leader expressing that his people still remember the trauma of fleeing from persecution and so stand with all asylum seekers receives one heck of a 'hell yeah.' And the Christian leader who addressed Tony Abbott's quote that 'we will not succumb to moral blackmail' as meaning that Tony is choosing to take us on a course to moral bankruptcy elicits a chorus of “Shame, Shame Tony Shame!”

Sydney has often felt like a place without a soul to me in my short time living here. As tonights events end and as people mill around the square and I see their faces lit by the candles they hold, I sense a heart here connecting me to these others. There is a pulse here despite where forces of selfishness and fear and bigotry want to take us.

Biz and I move toward the memorial for Reza at the foot of the steps leading into the town hall. An Iranian flag is flown for him and mourners gather round flowers, pictures and messages to Reza that people are encouraged to write. We deliver our message. We walk away from that scene, a scene that is usually reserved for viewing on our tv screens of pain half a world away. But this is not half a world away, this I see with my own eyes, this that has happened in our name. This is not the Australia that I want.

Perhaps I should be facing forward as I ride home on the train but I don't know if we've turned a corner yet so I find myself facing backwards again. And it falls away behind me as I plug some Billy Bragg 'waiting for the great leap forward,' into my ears. That sacred moment of fellowship where people of different ages and shapes and sizes and cultures and beliefs can come together as one to stand for something bigger than themselves. If I was more poetically inclined I'd turn to Biz and say “yes, that is what going to Church should feel like.”

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Graphic Novel, Not Graphic Enough!

Graphic novels are cool and have a long tradition of being a subversive tool in storytelling and shaping people's worldview. Let's dissect the graphic novel that was commissioned by Australia in an attempt to dissuade those who might consider seeking asylum in Australia. 

The novel depicts a young Afghan man who works hard in his job as a mechanic but is very poor and probably always will be. The parents dream of a bettere future for their son where he can shake off the grime of his present life and enter a clean and civilised society. So they sacrifice everything and send him on the treacherous, life threatening trip to the promised land – Australia.

Firstly, is this an accurate depiction of the asylum seekers that Australia receives by boat? This story of an economic migrant does happen yet when someone is found to be an economic migrant they do not receive refugee status, we are not expected to help these people, they were never granted asylum in the first place. The numbers suggest that this is not the typical story of a refugee where well over 90% of asylum seekers that arrive by sea are given refugee status which means that they are fleeing persecution. Human rights dictate that it is not illegal for them to seek asylum in Australia by whatever means they choose and as a signatory to the UNHCR refugee convention we must protect them.

Bob Carr was one who claimed last year that most asylum seekers where just economic migrants, every fact checker out there shot him down in flames.

So if we were to have a more accurate depiction of an asylum seeker that arrives by boat then this graphic novel is hardly graphic enough. I ask, where are the depictions of war, oppression, violence, slavery, abuse, threats and famine? To depict this Afghan man as representative of asylum seekers or even representative of Afghan men seeking asylum is a gross and insensitive injustice to those fleeing such persecution. Maybe the opening panels should look more like this:

we took in Vietnamese refugees back in the day

The story goes on to depict the journey from his homeland and through dodgy people smugglers to where he finally boards a rickety and overcrowded boat bound for Australian waters. They travel through rough seas before gratefully being picked up by an Australian Customs or NAVY boat. Oh how I wish the typical story would end with the refugee being welcomed...however...

The graphic novel concludes with the asylum seeker being processed and then flown to an isolated island to remain indefinitely in detention surrounded by disease spreading mosquitoes, no privacy and his own despair and dark thoughts. They could've gone further but I guess that they didn't really want to depict self harm or suicide attempts. The picture that I find most galling at the end though is the man regretfully daydreaming about home. It paints home as a rosy picture, so in place of mosquitoes and despair he is surrounded by a loving community and is celebrating, perhaps celebrating his own wedding as he prepares for a better future which will never be.

I would imagine for the typical refugee that their dreams of home would be contaminated with nightmares and fear of the things they have seen and never want to see or experience again. Is that depicted in the novel? - of course not.
Essentially if the graphic novel was more graphic it would depict an Australia that takes those that are fleeing nightmarish realities and then coldly returns them in an orange lifeboat to a remote Indonesian shoreline, washing their hands of any responsibility to what may happen next. Or cruelly dumps them in concentration camps where it dehumanises them further till they mentally break into tiny pieces. We don't even bother to send seasoned professionals to cater for their mental health anymore. Essentially we are saying to the typical refugee that is fleeing for their lives, 'don't bother coming here, we will not help you, we may even send you back.'

offensive in its generalisation but makes a valid point
And the release of this grahic novel for Australian dissemination continues the long line of recent propaganda from the Coalition of the children overboard lies, alarmist billboards and the broken record reptitious use of the term 'illegals.' To Labours advertising in national media that refugees 'Won't be settled in Australia,' now reconfigured by the new Government to 'No Way – They will not make Australia home.'

As a critic I would rate the Government's graphic novel 5 stars for its ability to provoke an emotional response in me but I'll have to take a star away for each of the following factors. Not graphic enough, not realistic enough, not batting for the home team by portraying Australia as a nation of bastards, offensive to those fleeing for their lives and the dialogue left a lot to be desired. 0 stars. Perhaps the sequel will redeem the series but I fear it will not. How do you rate this novel?

It can be found in full here: Storyboard Afghanistan