Thursday, March 29

Fifties nostalgia

After reading Bill Bryson’s book entitled “Thunderbolt Kid” about his boyhood experiences growing up in the USA, I was reminded of my own childhood experiences. I grew up in the picturesque small dairy farming town of Kyogle situated on the NSW side of the border with Queensland. The back fence was all that separated our house from fields of grazing cattle and the river; an endless source of entertainment and excitement for me. I was scarcely ever indoors, coming in only to listen with bated breath to the daily radio broadcast of “The Search for the Golden Boomerang” and other popular radio serials broadcast then. Radio, books, comics, making sling shots, bows and arrows, climbing trees or exploring the river banks kept us actively interested, I can never recall feeling bored. In later life when I watched the same radio script on TV I was sorely disappointed, actors and sets seemed surprisingly insipid and imprisoned on the tiny screen.

I loved the weekly visit to the movies. Afterwards we feasted on chips, smothered in salt and dripping with fat, wrapped up unceremoniously in old newspapers- mana from heaven to me. When I returned home it was time to re enact the scenes, embellishing the story line to make it more exciting whilst playing in the bush outside.

Supermarket shopping didn’t exist but there was a constant stream of merchants and visitors to our house, the milkman at first light filling your jug with fresh milk and cream, a baker carrying his basket under his arm of freshly baked bread exuding its enticing aroma, the postman’s shrill whistle, ice from an ice cart for your ice chest, an insurance man collecting the premiums and an occasional salesperson perhaps selling encyclopaedias.

Each week the faithful ‘Dunny man” had to carefully exchange your full dunny for an empty one which was an operation that required a combination of brute strength (as they were rather heavy when full) and skill to ensure you didn’t spill any of the contents out while lifting on to the truck. The contents were respectively referred to as “Night Soil”.

My best pal conveniently lived next door; he was several years older and the wrestling champion of the local neighbourhood. I soon leant that I was not going to be strangled and die when he engaged me in wrestling contests on our front lawn, surviving his favourite head locks. There seemed no point in complaining since my parents seemed totally disinterested in my dire predicament. The wrestling experience turned out to be invaluable when I went off to school, when dealing with an older school bully. He launched his attack on me on the way home; as he had promised and I thought, I was a goner but I would do my best. To my surprise and the small crowd gathered around to watch (fights were usually premeditated which gave everyone the chance to come along and watch) I managed to get a decent head lock on him and wrestled him to the ground. To my astonishment and relief it was soon over; as he heeded the chant of the crowd. He’s got you!! , He’s got you!! Give-up, Give Up!!

Christmas time was always an exciting time and receiving a Bike for a Christmas present eclipsed all known joyous experiences in my life up to that point in time. My parents sensing my excitement had laid a string throughout all of the rooms of the house and back down the stairs to be attached to the bike situated on the front lawn. Christmas morning at first light they invited me to follow the string and see what was on the end of it. Needing no encouragement I tore through the house and in a state of heightened excitement finally surveyed a wondrous bike. It was the singular most exciting thing in my life. I immediately hopped on and cycled away. It didn’t matter a fig to me that it was an old bike, painted and spruced up with a false “Malvern Star” sticker on it, it was simply the best thing that could have ever happened and I was far too excited and happy to notice or bother. It was only in later life when I recalled the details in my mind I could see the bubbly paint work, to cover the rust and the shiny bell on an old frame. Freedom is an elusive state but I never felt as carefree as riding that bicycle around in the country.

Australia in the fifties was very conservative, fiercely loyal to the Queen under the guiding hand of Prime Minister Robert Menzies. During Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation we all made up scrap books as school projects. When she visited Australia no one really knew why we should all be excited, it was as if we were all swept along with this national bout of infectious enthusiasm and delight for the Queen. The cheers of the schoolchildren echoed everywhere as the Queen was greeted with unanimous delight.

During this time there was migration under the white Australia policy where assimilation was the norm. Immigrants were expected to abandon their cultures and languages, to quickly assimilate into the mainstream of the Australian way of life as distinct from the present day concept of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is an acknowledgment of our differences, diversity celebrated together under the core values and institutions that bind us. Those immigrants then traditionally worked in the factories and where labor was scarce. Many set up innovative businesses and went on to become captains of present day industry. Migration changed the shape and feel of Australia by introducing other cultures and interests to help form an integral part of who we are to day. Australia has been enriched by their efforts. We are a multilingual. Multicultural society doing business with the entire world and no longer tied to England. Capital cities are centers of diversity, engaging in new ideas, and evolving as we speak.

This prosperity has not been shared equally; it has come at the expense of the traditional custodians of the land, our Aborigines. Aborigines are very forgiving people; all most ask is to say sorry about past atrocities and injustices. When I was growing up in the fifties I was blissfully unaware of the injustices, but I had no trouble in saying “sorry” just as I do now, “Sorry”.

Saturday, March 24

Kizitos & the Angels

Bryan Pipins is a Jesuit from Melbourne who has worked in East Timor and the Philippines. Last year he was in Darfur, and is presently in Northern Uganda working for the Jesuit Refugee Service.If you would like to read his interesting article entitled "Kizitos and Angels " publshed by "Eureka Street" click here.

Saturday, March 17

A Bird Bath

Rainbow Lorikeets have become plentiful in Eltham as a consequence of the prolific Eucalyptus tree planting carried out from the mid eighties. When we fist arrived in 1983 none were seen in contrast to today. Their screeches at dusk in the trees of the township are deafening.

Depite their brilliance, striking colours of emerald green, orange, blue, red, lemon yellow, purple and violet greenish grey they blend beautifully into the trees and consequently are difficult to spot.

They obtain moisture from water trapped in the leaves, but can also drink water and like having a bath in the bird bath in our back yard. With the drought it has become quite popular, so much so that jostling and fights brake out among this gregarious group as to whose turn it is to go first. Eventually the throng settles down to wait patiently in turn for their chance for a refeshing bath and sunbake.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 12


Montsalvat, located close to where I live in Eltham is an interesting mixture of buildings set on 12 acres. Artist and architect Justin Jorgensen purchased the land in 1934 and with a dedicated group of volunteers established an artist’s colony of painters, sculptors, poets, and musicians. Building materials used were rescued from many of the old beautiful building sites being demolished in Melbourne to make way for modernisation. Extensive use was also made of mud bricks, rammed earth, mud stone and bush timbers combined with slate flooring and stained glass windows. The community’s quest was to be self sufficient as they operated a dairy and small farm.

Many of the descendants of the original community today inhabit the adjoining cottages as sculptor’s painters and musicians. The appearance is of a European Castle with its adjoining chapel surrounded by the artist’s residences, which were once stables and storehouses.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 5

Fear now rules the centre stage

Malcolm Fraser, former prime Minister of Australia has been a particularly vocal critic of the present Howard Government approach to human rights.

He contends it is vital to maintain liberty and there is no justification to believe we must curtail such liberty by a change of the rule of Law in response to the perceived threat of terrorism.

I remember the party I joined, the party of Menzies, of liberal and progressive ideas, a forward-looking party, willing to make experiments. As Menzies himself put it, a party that believes fervently in the Rule of Law, in higher education accessible to all able students, in a government accepting national obligations and a vision for the future, a party that slowly abolished the White Australia Policy and broadened Australia to a more open, multicultural society. It was a party of hope and of vision.

Fraser has become particular disillusioned with Prime Ministers Howard’s approach in government and I agree with his concerns. There is no doubt some changes to the law were appropriate to deal with the threat of terrorism. However the 37 new laws passed represent an exercise in extreme haste, for I think such laws were passed with inadequate debate. The end result is the removal of many of the checks and balances that protect us against mistaken false arrest and conviction.

The presumption of innocence that existed for so long, important to our society, is now removed and replaced with justified suspicion. Our laws now make no distinction between soldiers and civilians, or between legitimate and illegitimate motivations. Under these new laws, you need be only suspected of committing an offence, need not be charged and can be taken into secret detention by police or the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), with little or no right to contact family. You have only limited rights to speak to a lawyer.

Whilst there are limits on who can be detained and for the period of time the prospect of secrecy looms. The previous security available as defence in an open courtroom is lost and the whole system invites abuse. I am heartened to see some progress of repeal in Canada who enacted very similar laws. See Gary's blog; I hope we will eventually follow suite.

We have also created a detention centre in Nauru, to proceeds offshore refugees at a horrendous expense. I have visited Nauru and observed its desolate lunar landscape, a legacy of the phosphate mining which rendered the island useless except for a tiny green band around its outer perimeter. The processing offshore enables us to avoid our obligations as a Country, out of sight and mind but the cost is very high, at about 2 million per refugee.

I wonder how many people remember the 137,000 boat people who arrived penniless, as refuges on our shores from Vietnam in the late seventies. Except for isolated pockets they have assimilated very well in to the Australian way of Life. We were not nearly as fearful then and I remember talking to them, about their journey in open boats on the high seas subject to pirates and the cruel sea.

I composed a poem entitled: “Fear now rules the centre stage” as per below.

Count we did the human cost
Precious life blood that was lost
Fear stirred up a mighty rage
Fear rules our centre stage

Laws passed in fearful haste
Liberty, the law replaced
War on terror, our political pride
Render helpless enemies outside

Pacific solution is our history
Nauru’s new trade in misery
Cost of millions per refugee
Solution now far out to sea?

I remember a time of national debate
Vietnam refuges now hardly rates
137,000 amassed on our shores
Where are the age old sores?

Laws enacted please overturn
A time for freedoms wheels to turn
Freedoms guest book please re-design
War on Terror, phoney war this time