Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Bits of Life


I’ve always written. From the age of 7 I kept a daily diary. Admittedly my first entries at that age were fairly scant on detail. Whole days could be summed up thus: “Got up. Went to school. Played football when I got home. Went to bed.” Marvellous economy with words 😊
Fast forward 25 years to life on the inside - a Dutch winter on the third floor circa 1986. I was struggling with feeling captive – I had to live in a Dutch winter to realise how much of an outdoors person I was. In desperation I took to writing my life story to pass the time. And I think I did a reasonable job of writing about my life from birth till the time I left school.
Browsing through long forgotten corners as one does in this time of COVID I came across a copy of it. What struck me was how much detail it contained that I have completely forgotten. So here’s a tip – don’t leave writing about your life till too late. You DO forget things as time passes.

Two snippets:

DAMIEN LEAVES HOME (1966)


We moved back to Adelaide and went to live in a house that none of us liked very much. It’s only real asset was its proximity to the school Shaun and I would go to, and Celine’s college. The house was a small insignificant affair where we were to live for just a few months. Leaving the country had been a hard decision for my parents to take, and was made even harder by Damien’s departure for life in a monastery at the ripe old of age of sixteen. He would be living in Sydney, some 900 miles away. Now Damien and I had had little to do with each other over the years, save for times when I hassled him enough for him to lose his temper with me. And yet the strangest thing happened on the day he left for his new life far away. He departed from Adelaide airport and I don’t remember saying goodbye to him. However I do remember very clearly this overwhelming feeling of sadness coming over me as I gazed out at the plane he was sitting in before it drew away from the terminal. I withdrew from the crowd of people who’d come to say goodbye, climbed up on a small wall and stood looking at the plane and cried silently and secretly to myself. Maybe I had just picked up the obviously heavy emotional vibes that were floating around (my mother was distraught), but it’s almost as if I knew that day that there was an exceptional bond between us that I’d only just discovered, and that I’d miss him very much. It was a turning point in my relationship with my big brother; from that day on I felt closer to him than any other member of our family.

SCHOOLBOY REBELLION (1968)

CC image: Lawrence Jones
We would as a matter of course heap shit upon our parents for being too strict, or not letting us do what we wanted when and where we wanted. These parent slagging sessions were important for gaining respect within the group - it showed that you were a rebel. Teachers too of course were prime targets for this kind of shit slinging. Things came to a head at school one day when this thin pale looking character wearing a darker suit than normal joined our class in the middle of a Science lesson. He turned out to be a recently arrived English immigrant who was as it happened a little more advanced than the rest of us along the road to rebellion. He was right into pop music, played guitar and wrote his own songs and poetry, and was willing to speak his mind in class. He made a great impression on all of us. His style of rebellion was bolder, more direct, and came with intelligence. It wasn't long before we all clamoured to be his friend and were proud to be seen to be his friend. The school’s response to this new figurehead was to try and isolate him from potential disciples. Any group that was hanging around him in the playground was split up by the teacher on yard duty. In fact the teachers seemed to have isolated a potential core of troublemakers that counted about 10 kids with the English lad, Michael D, at our head. We were not allowed to mingle in the school ground in groups of more than two or three and at least my parents were warned to discourage any close friendship with this new disturbing influence. It was silly really. We were already on our teenage rampage before he came along. All he did was give it focus.

Michael and I became close friends. Basically it was a friendship forged through hours of listening to and talking about pop music. We spent hours on  sunny afternoons in darkened rooms listening to Cream, The Animals, The Rolling Stones, Vanilla Fudge et al and extolling the virtues of these our new idols. I remember telling Michael one day on the bus to school that I had bought my first ever record: Love Is All Around by The Troggs. He was suitably impressed. He had seen The Troggs perform in England - or so he said. It was always a point of discussion just how true were the many wonderful stories he used to tell. 




Monday, June 15, 2020

Culture and Racism


My previous post generated some interesting discussion elsewhere about being disconnected from culture and racism. My response:

In an interview with Leonard Cohen not long before he died the interviewer was trying to get Cohen to state which side of the fence he was on in relation to a number of issues but Cohen would not be drawn. He said that he had learned for people to outline their points of view and present them as an alternative and better option wasn’t very helpful. Better he said to learn what we have in common and enquire of the other how they’re feeling about things!
When I was a teacher at Marymount an invited Aboriginal speaker looked out the window of the school hall and told the kids, “See that tree out there? That tree and me are the same thing. There is  no difference between that tree and me. I am that tree.”  We all thought he was quaintly mad of course. But I have heard similar sentiments from and about Aboriginal people many times since over the years and I have learnt to accept that I can and never will understand the deep spiritual connection Aboriginal people have with land. Their own patch of land. Remove an Aboriginal person from that land and you remove that person’s reason for existence.
But we as non-Aboriginal people just have to accept that we cannot and never will understand this. Our culture and world view is just too different.
When I studied Aboriginal culture as part of my Masters years ago Stephen Harris, an Australian researcher into Aboriginal culture, said that if  you searched the world for 2 groups of people who were the most different from each other you would choose white and black Australians. He thought it was a cruel irony that two peoples so different from each other ended up having to share the same piece of land!
As for racism, I’ve come to believe that my opinions about racism as a privileged white person are largely irrelevant. Only the opinions of people on the receiving end of racism count.

Monday, June 08, 2020

All Lives Matter


The Black Lives Matter movement has spread with a vengeance to Australia. Given the appalling record of treatment of Aboriginal people by policing authorities here over several decades this is hardly surprising. Australians were quick to show their solidarity with black Americans and capitalise on the worldwide outcry over the murder of George Floyd and large Black Lives Matter (BLM) rallies were organised for every Australian capital. Admirable and understandable, but the timing is tragically wrong. Still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic the Prime Minister and chief medical officer urged people not to take part. Large public gatherings of this kind are notorious for allowing viruses to spread, but people turned out in their thousands.
 In another time with no pandemic hovering over us I’d have been there too. But this was a time when something bigger is at stake. It’s not about me. It’s not about people of colour. It’s about the entire community. History provides examples of how such large public gatherings enabled pandemic viruses to launch a second wave (Spanish Flu 1918).
To their credit BLM organisers urged everyone to wear masks and practice social distancing. In QLD police actually handed out masks to those who needed them. And from all reports crowds in all states did for the most part practice social distancing. But it’s the 10% who didn’t who are the problem. They may have infected those around them and tracing those they have been in contact with could be a nightmare – even with the COVID-19 Tracing App.
The night before the demonstrations arch government conservative Matthias Cormann went on TV to say that he thought BLM protesters were being selfish. Normally when this man speaks I cringe and revile at his manner and opinions. On this occasion I found myself quietly, embarrassingly, thinking, ‘I agree with him’. BLM protesters put the legitimate concerns of a section of the community above the needs of the whole community. In 10-14 days’ time we’ll find out if we are to be punished for that selfishness. It may be the virus is so scarce in Australia that these mass demonstrations won’t make any difference to the number of cases. If so, that would be miraculous.    
In the meantime BLM organisers and the AMA are asking all who took part to self-isolate for 14 days. I wonder how many will. Right now I’m angry about it. I feel the BLM marches have jeopardised the health of the entire community and acted to ensure that the economic recovery required for all those who’ve lost their jobs will be put back several weeks – if not months. And more people could die unnecessarily. But I really hope I’m wrong. Check back with me 2 weeks from now ……