Women in Black – addendum

Listening to the accolades received by the play “Ladies in Black” about women who worked at David Jones based on the book “Women in Black” by Madeleine St John, has brought me to a confession about a past sin. This has haunted me over many years.

In 1960, as a young law student, I shoplifted a writing pad from David Jones stationary department in their basement floor.

I have never, before or since, done anything like that.

I blame two women in black.

Many years later, I confessed this to my family and have a ten year old granddaughter who periodically says “Grandma, remember when you shoplifted?” Last night I confessed to a wider group. (Yes there were some therapists present!)

Now is the time to go public!

I was, at the time, a student. Every weekday morning I caught a bus from Sydney University to the Law School, then in Philip Street, for an early morning lecture. If we got out of the bus a section earlier, outside Market St David Jones, and walked the rest of the way, we saved a princely threepence, very important in those poverty stricken student days. But, serendipity, one day I needed a new writing pad too. If I really hurried I could get one from DJs, its doors just opened, and still make my lecture. I rushed through, picked up a pad, got out the right money, two shillings and six pence and held the money and pad out to a conveniently close woman in black standing behind a till.

Despite my standing there with both hands extended with the pad in one and the money in another she pointedly ignored me and continued talking to the similarly clad woman standing next to her. Their quite audible conversation was about their recent weekend. I tried to hand my goods to the other woman and was also suitably ignored as she fed her friend her very boring weekend titbits. Eventually I said, “excuse me” in the politest way I could muster. No reaction. Of course why would such superior women in such a superior shop pay any attention to a young obviously impecunious student?

After a wait, long enough to make me aware that unless I left the shop I would be late to my lecture, I knew I would have to act. This would not have mattered too much except that, as one of only a handful of women law students at the time, it was very obvious who we were and embarrassing if we entered a full lecture room running late. It sometimes drew a comment.

What could I do? I looked around fruitlessly for another woman in black but saw no one. At last I saw a Security Guard at the door. I approached him with my money in one hand and the writing pad in the other. He made no comment but stood there immobile, unblinking, when I offered him the two shillings and six pence. I thought at the time he was just not prepared to break rules to help me in this dilemma (but in retrospect he may have been somewhat sympathetic as I departed the shop with pad and money).

Since then I have purchased many an item from David Jones but was much happier to so once it could be done by phone with no contact with the aforesaid women in black. My sister in law is a great lover of the store and I have occasionally lunched there with her. My daughter worked there very happily as a student twenty seven years later.

Sometimes I think I could assuage my conscience by just giving two shillings and six pence to David Jones (if I could find such coins). But no, I say to myself, I am entitled to that as damages for pain and suffering directly attributable to those women in black and their highly evident attitudes of vast superiority and distain.

One of those to whom I made the disclosure last night said, “But Anne you wear a lot of black”. Another replied on my behalf “She’s still channelling those women in black.”

As I write that I am aware I am wearing black. Oh the damage that can be done by women in black!

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Socrates, Trump and Jedis

There is some evidence that Socrates, one of the greatest thinkers of all time judging from the information we have been given by such as Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle, was not happy with democracy. But he did drink his hemlock after being adjudged he was a danger to the democratic Athenian state.

The reason he is reported as using for his unhappiness with the democratic principle, is that it meant that people who were quite ignorant or who had not thought deeply about right, wrong and other issues could be our leaders.

Of course he was not a believer in religion – he thought of morality as an inner search for good by each of us as individual human beings. However he did openly celebrate some of the pagan religious ceremonies common in his time, one assumes with both the view of respecting other’s opinions and for the protection of not standing out. Nevertheless it was his godlessness that brought him face to face with the hemlock. I know how he felt!

It is hard not to think that the sort of democracy we are experiencing at the moment in the west does not reflect his views as to its very dangers and shortfalls. But do these shortfalls always arise from the possible ignorance of the elected leaders? Could it not more reflect on the leaders’ and its majorities’ long term ties with religions of one sort or another?

I think this is one of the main reasons that Donald Trump has been freely elected in a democratic US society. For many in the old Holy Roman Empire and its more recent off shoots and “dominions”, good and right have been axiomatically accepted as reflecting Christian viewpoints. Whilst the proponents of these viewpoints may not themselves be strong supporters of a particular sect which might, in itself, require the believer to do some self examination, nevertheless the external representations of these views is without further thought, accepted.

Other religious viewpoints are seen as a threat. Differences in people are viewed as a threat.

And you Jedi worshippers, as not revealed by the Australian Census, watch out.

For many years I, as a non theist, have contended that I am, in a democratic society, entitled to a secular government. I require that elected members should take their oath of allegiance as a personal promise, not as an oath. I think I am entitled to send my children to a secular, government school which does not enforce religious teaching. I think that religious institutions should pay the full rate of taxation with normal exemptions for charitable works. And this would apply to you Jedis in particular!

I respect the rights of each individual to believe in the tenets of any faith which he or she follows, whilst obeying the laws of the country in which they reside. I believe that non theists such as myself have a right to respectfully express our opinions also.

But whilst so ever democratic governments do more than merely protect the rights of believers of all faiths (and non believers) equally, there will always be room for disasters like hemlock or a Trump. If the democratic government of the day takes a stand on issues that are religious ones only, such as John Howard did on marriage equality, such as some government members do on questions such as abortions, such as our government does on some refugees, then we leave room for the idea of democracy to become seriously abused.

And you Jedis beware. I am not yet ready to be forced to say that I am at one with all Martians! I would have to think about that, at some depth, after I had had time to use Socratic methods to debate views with one or two of them.

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Children and Censorship

We have two different, but important questions here.

The first one is, do I as an individual believe in any Censorship? It is the answer to this which is pivotal to any discussion because often the responses to this provide a great deal of the answer to the question of children and censorship.

Personally I do not think that any human being other than myself has a right to decide what I should see or read or hear . Perhaps other community members might have a right to say I must read or watch or listen to such material in private so that it does not impinge on their rights not to see or hear it. I respect this opinion.

Having been alive when books such as “Lolita” and “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” were not allowed into the country and had to be smuggled in even by academics studying literature, where films showing two people in a double bed had to have one foot on the floor, I think censorship can be dangerous even in a democratic country. Wheresoever the political masters have any control of the way people think we cannot be said to be free. And it can lead to a society where we do not have freedom because we do not know of the alternatives.

But the other reason is because I am conceited enough to think I am smart enough to make my own decisions and better than some others can. This can lead into dangerous waters. If I think that I can make these decisions a lot better than some other adults, should I be the one to decide for them?

Of course not. Every adult who is capable under the law of looking after themselves must have a right to consume what information they wish.

Now we get into murky water where children are concerned.

How much and to what age are we to make these sort of moral decisions on their behalf? And should this be individual parents or society as a whole.

As a one time teacher, as a parent and as a child psychologist, I have grappled with this issue for many years. I have known children under twelve who could make better choices than some adults. I have known many teenagers who in other times and other cultures would be making decisions on behalf of others and who already make very complicated decisions in their lives or the workplace.

We already have a lot of control over our own children. I have heard and have some sympathy with the argument that we should not have private schools in this country. One basis for their support is that it provides a freedom of choice for the children. But it is not a choice of the children but is more like one type of censorship for children by their parents. It is a separation of them from wider society and thus the parents making decisions for the child on issues such as religion and lifestyle. It does not allow them to experience a more general view of society, just one the parents have selected.

All parents select a great deal in the nature of the exposure their children have to the world. In the early years this is inevitable. And as they grow older most get more exposure through peer group, sports, other interests and books and the media. In case they are fearful we tend to guard them from stories of incidents, including natural disasters, which might scare them. But as they grow older we realise they need to be ever more, but gently, exposed to what is reality.

Should we do this using guidelines? Every child is very different. Can we guard them against danger when they do not know what danger is?

The three things I personally think I would wish to protect children from would be violence, religious exploitation and unwanted and/or unnatural sexual exploitation.

How can we protect them from these by their not knowing about them? We cannot. And once they have been exposed to these concepts by our answering their questions at the level of their understanding (as we do for most learning), once they have been exposed to our particular views and some alternative ones, and once they demonstrate some understanding of the concepts, do we still have a right to any censorship?

Do we not allow them to investigate on their own as they do other areas of life?

Morally, if we do not believe in censorship, I do not think we can impose it on children.

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Plebiscite on Relationships

Andrew P. Street in his Sydney Morning Herald article this morning compared the proposal to have a plebiscite on gay marriage to the issues that surrounded “legalising divorce”. Whilst I agree with his basic premise, I do not know if he fully realises the public anger from many at the changes that took place in 1975.

I worked within our legal system both before and after Lionel Murphy managed to get through parliament the then new Matrimonial Causes Act which allowed people the freedom of leaving a marriage without the issue of fault arising. There was a great deal of angst at the time, perhaps more than there is now, about this “undermining the fabric of society”. The artificial concept of “constructive desertion” (when people who had been badly treated in a marriage, which they then left,  had to bare their soul and disclose their victimisation prior to any consideration of the right to equal sharing of mutual assets) was no longer needed. People could be free to choose to leave what was, to them, an unsatisfactory marriage.

It has been hypothesised that the violent attacks on the Family Court that followed this Act were a result of those unfairly benefitting from the previous status quo, feeling marginalised.

Fortunately property issues need not be considered in this latest proposal in the forthcoming plebiscite as all defacto relationships are now recognised by law in property adjustments.

This new, proposed act would be one of official recognition of a status that already exists. And how can that adversely effect those who already have legal status? It can only be because those who say they are against it because it would effect their own marriage will no longer be able to consider they have a “superior” edge. And this is a very small change to what we have done for only 200 years, that is only legally recognising one traditional British form of relationship.  We would be only recognising one other type, also monogamous before the law.

Arrangements which we should also have been recognising for these two centuries are within groups of our own indigenous people. It is illustrated by the role of whom we might call “aunties” in a family. This is very important. The concept of an isolated nuclear family was foreign to aboriginal people and in many cases has been imposed by our laws.

I was privileged to attend a world conference in 2001 on the rights of children. It is disappointing how late Australia is at looking at how sometimes the non legal recognition of “statuses” of parents can adversely effect children’s lives. In 2001 this was an issue already being discussed by European countries. Probably the speakers from Belgium proposed some of the most interesting changes to law to cope with conundrums that I had not, until that stage, properly considered.

Belgium judges described in 2001 that, whilst they did not want polygamy to be a form of marriage practised in Belgium, it should be recognised when it has occurred overseas in countries where it is legal, so that their immigration laws and laws surrounding refuges did not have the effect of separating mothers and children. That was very forward thinking – the rights of children should supersede conventional practices in legal recognition of the way people decided to construct their own families.

As a teenager, living in Cooma during the construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, I met many interesting people from a wide range of backgrounds and countries and, as a silent “fly on the wall”, sometimes heard some interesting adult viewpoints. One of my mother’s close friends was a University educated Mormon woman who was the wife of a very Senior Consultant loaned to the scheme by the USA Bureau of Reclamation. She made it clear that as a citizen of the USA, where polygamy was not permitted, she and her husband always obeyed the law of country. However she put forward a very strong defence of polygamy. She said negativity towards it is always rife in patriarchal countries as it actually limits the role of men. Polygamy is an asset to educated women as, in a family structure such as polygamy, there are more people to help in the child rearing role, particularly the person with younger children and it gives women more opportunity for careers and other such activities. She hypothesised it was good for children in that they also became used to a wider family group and thus exposure to more ideas.  Of course another result might be there are less men needed overall!

Over the years there have been many, many unconventional unions in the sight of the law, that I have seen work beautifully for adults and children. One such was a woman whose husband became a quadriplegic and suffered brain damage in an accident. She wanted to look after him and wanted her baby son to know his father. Later she met another man who shared her compassion. They had children and all lived together, he helped as a carer too and her official “husband” began to learn to talk again as the children did. It was an example for the whole community. But from time to time legal issues came to the fore as an inconvenience and distraction in a good working relationship.

I have known, as undoubtedly most people have known, some wonderful families where children have two dads or two mums. It is particularly heartening when they also have a relationship with their other biological parent as well. Three adults who love one is no burden for a child to carry. But they should not have to explain their situations each time. Their two Mums or two Dads should be able to marry, or not to marry, according to their choices, just as can the man and woman parents of their friends.

I worked for some years with children and the only time I heard any complaints about same sex parents was from teenagers was when parents flaunted their sexuality in a public way. But this was in no way limited to the children who had same sex parents!

Over history, over nations, over religions there have been multiple ways of organising families.

Personally, as a non theist, I think that the secular law in each country should not be influenced in any way by religious views other than to provide freedom for individual worship and freedom for individual’s choices in areas which do not impinge on others.

As far as relationships go, the law should be there to protect an individual’s rights in a dispute and children’s rights to receive care from their families. So it stands to reason, if the above two laws are in place, it should also be recognised by law that consenting adults’ choices of their family structure should be able to be cloaked in the authenticity of equal recognition by a societal ceremony before the law, if that is what they wish to have.

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Wearing My Heart in My Sleeves


I spent yesterday throwing away my life, or at least that is how it felt in the morning.

By afternoon, after a bracing midday exercise class, I started to marvel that I had had enough time in my life to have known much of what was in the many, many articles, workshops and notes from my working and learning lives that I was busily throwing away. All my undergraduate notes and my notes from work as a solicitor had been tossed in moving clean ups prior to the eighties, but in the last thirty years I seem to have thrown out very little. I was very pleasantly surprised, as I scanned documents prior to binning, how much of each I actually remembered!

And most of it was still quite interesting. I tried to severely limit my rereading. I do not have a shredder but I pretended to myself that each article had to be scanned so any possible identifying names and information could be hand shredded with great vigour. That added less physical work to the job than did the scrubbing of shelves as each was finally exposed.

Why now? These have sat in my “shed” in neat folders on bookshelves for almost ten years, since I retired from work. And the theses and lecture notes had had been there for even longer. I am sure all the psychological tests for children were well and truly out of date! Perhaps, I mused, it was because I had just heard of the death of an old friend. We had “flatted” together after University College and I had been a bridesmaid at her wedding 52 years ago. But surely not, very sad as that was, this was something I had planned to do for some time. Was it because I had seen my daughter in law struggling both emotionally and physically with the history her late father had left behind when he died last month? I have a lot of memorabilia that will cause my children more angst than just tossing out reams of printed articles about child psychology and legal issues!

I know not why. But now I do know “what”.

A huge part of what I threw out was years of research about violence within families. Many learned people have been discussing this for eons. I reread articles relating exactly to what we are still discussing now as if for the first time. I saw again some of the workshops with which I was involved since the 90s, trying to help victims, trying to work with perpetrators, knowing what damage was being done to children. Every time this serious problem is in the public eye there seems to be a reinvention of the wheel, a demand for simple legal solutions rather than getting on with the building of working tools for what we already know about for the development of human beings.

Similarly articles about the possible future problems with IVF and with anonymous donors. We were talking about this, based on our knowledge of adoption issues, more than thirty years ago! What a non surprise it has emerged.

And other of the old issues in these folders are again in the news as if never discussed before.

Now, almost finished, I have filled two recycle bins and added much to the ordinary garbage. But I still have quite a lot I cannot yet throw. My two Masters theses I have retained. A few wonderful articles, such as a great send up of research called “The Etiology of Childhood”. I was going to allow myself to keep only enough to fill just one plastic box that my descendants can toss. Perhaps it may turn into two.

But what I find that I cannot throw are those wonderful – probably fast fading in terms of our future needs for paper copies of anything – plastic sleeves for folders. I have saved all of them that remain in condition fit to continue.

My working life was spent in a number of different forms of conflict resolution – now merely represented by many intact now empty and some torn now empty plastic sleeves and much knowledge of sadness. Do these  sleeves say nothing of that life’s remains except they are empty memories? Or do they beckon me to move into the future and refill them? With “the cloud” available I do not think they will be needed any more than their contents were.

Perhaps they represent the emptiness of declining years? Not loneliness, not lack of ways to provide some assistance, but emptiness of united purposes, the feeling one can get, in middle age particularly, that perhaps each person can make a difference. (But I finally know this is actually illusory as proved by my illustrations of our attempts to solve, or at least stem, family violence and other problems for children.)

Most of all, perhaps, they represent the human condition? The torn ones show the frailty of our human condition. The intact ones are resilient but yet still empty. Their difference was probably, in the main, caused by the load the frail ones carried.  They, however, do not judge one another.  When, oh when, will we just learn to follow a simple truth that does not need to be researched – be nicer to one another?  Then no one will need to be used and damaged or even empty, like these sleeves, the frail now gone for eternity.

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I do not want to “do a Scott Morrison” here. I am a privileged, educated person and I can take care of myself so far as what people say about me and my beliefs are concerned. However some assumptions do not please me.

I have been an atheist for about sixty four years. I have many, quite religious, good friends and close family members. We rarely discuss the subject out of consideration for others’ views. In fact, I only realised it was legitimate to go public at all with these then non-mainstream views when I was at university.

However, as a one time researcher, I find it difficult to cope with the reality that, as non theists, we are constantly being asked, by those who wish to believe something different, to prove the null hypothesis which we accept. It shows a real lack of understanding.

My Twitter account, for some time, has been punctuated with religious argument, views and support from people I do not know. Many make the assumptions we know nothing of the nature or details of religions. I usually quickly scroll past them. What would be the point of responding, I ask myself. However, a few months ago I tweeted an answer to one of the constant religious fillers of my stream who had pushed the view that lack of proper knowledge of Christianity made people such as me non believers. I replied, “@ XXXX I don’t need a class on fairies when I say I do not believe they aren’t at the bottom of my garden, either.”

She replied with resentment that I was “parodying” religion. Some cannot even accept that a non believer will axiomatically think of religion as tantamount to a fairy tale, albeit a well meaning one with a large number of positive messages and admirable suggestions as to how to live a good life. (Most fairy tales have some positive message too! But perhaps that is unnecessarily parodying again.) I ignored her tweet and moved on, resolving never to reply again.

But this morning I find she has again retweeted this tweet of mine with yet another answer from herself.

I repeat here, in a direct and non “parodying” way the basic concept. It  is not up to me or to others with no religious beliefs to have to defend a null hypothesis.

Recently the following question was also posed to me by a very nice, close acquaintance of mine who lives a devout Christian life, “Atheists like you are really setting yourselves up as small Gods in your own right aren’t you?”

I had to think twice before answering as I value my interactions with her. I finally said, “If you mean by that, that I have to take complete responsibility for all of my actions and decisions then you are probably right.” But it is a shame that I had to grudgingly assume the persona of a “god” to make my own decisions.

And spell correct just gave me a capital letter for “god”. That really shows what people like me are up against!

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World Tragedies

On Bastille Day 2016, I took two of my grandsons some croissants for breakfast as a celebration (and because they love croissants with melted cheese). This was in Australia many hours before day break on 14th July in Nice.

I was explaining to the almost ten year old about the history of France and the storming of the Bastille. He was quite perplexed that the forced release of prisoners from a gaol would represent the freedom of a country. As usual with this young man the discussion turned philosophical. Foucault himself would have been proud! We discussed punishment in general and the aims of incarceration; protection of society, deterrence, punishment and rehabilitation and perhaps even retribution? I explained the history of gaols and the sometimes accidental role it has played in punishment. We discussed alternatives, historic and current.

He was interesting in his ideas on the death penalty for murder. He took on board the concept that perhaps society should not be asked to bear the responsibility of killing a person as tooth for tooth retribution for their action of killing. His suggestion was that this may be an inappropriate reaction in the case of one death but not in cases of multiple deaths.

Then there was news of the tragedy in Nice.

I could not help being relieved that the perpetrator of this tragedy had been killed, mainly, I thought, because that prevented more deaths. Then when the father of the perpetrator spoke out about his son’s mental illness I was even more relieved in the sense that the perpetrator will never have to face the enormity of what he did in that period of insanity if such insanity was the cause.

It is very possible that law enforcement agencies would rather have him alive in their quest to know what actually happened, why and how to prevent it happening again.

But the tragedy inevitably leads back to the original storming of the Bastille.

How do we keep each society safe whilst still accepting that each single one of us in any time in any society will not always have the same views as to how that society should be constructed? We cannot just take the word of a king or a ruler and that 1789 storming was symbolic of this. Democracy is a lauded idea and the best we have so far, but perhaps we should look hard at views of a democratic majority which does not accept its duty to both respect and look after the minorities in their population.

And how can we improve the lot of the mentally ill? We have become so absorbed with viewing mental illness through the 21st Century lens of “depression” that we have, in many ways, failed the fortunately much less common group of mentally ill people subject to psychotic episodes. This failure is much more evident since the closure of the old “asylums”, leaving the hard working mental health professionals with fewer options and the idea of hospitalisation as a last resort. How well does the justice system deal with mental illness?

We have a long way left to go in society, even in democratic societies. And a lot more important issues to deal with than economic “add ons” like superannuation and negative gearing and other distractions to real life.

We need to get to the greater causes of these many tragic events all around us, such as the one in Nice yesterday.

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