Thanks to Anne Moon

Thank you to Anne Moon and to this organisation for the wonderful  opportunity to have heard her. What we heard about the plight of some off shore refugees was gut wrenching to say the least. But I must agree with a comment Liesl Tesch made. Australia is, and has been, a very racist country, and  it is up to us all to speak to our neighbours and acquaintances about this. Sadly we cannot expect, in this country, that our population would elect a government on an anti racism platform. And there are more refugees world wide.  I have had a little professional experience of cases of damage from other refugee camps, not nearly as cruel as Manus and Naru.  Even some of our on shore centres have also been psychologically damaging.

I first discovered the racist nature of Australia when I was 12 years old, 65 years ago. I moved to a school in Cooma as my Dad was an engineer on the Snowy. In our school population 78% of children had English as a second language. Some came as children of overseas consultants enabling the Scheme to develop. Some came as children of World War II refugees.

Those children were treated to particularly harsh unwarrented discipline from a senior teacher. We were all silent, adults always knew what was right. But I eventually spoke to my father. I am still ashamed at the two whole months it took me. He made waves and the school community was rid of this senior person. But the question remained, how did we let this racist abuse of children happen? We just refused to admit its existence and  looked for other excuses.

When I was at Cooma I was privliged to come to know well, as a family friend, one of the post war refugees.  He was German and had been a soldier during the war.  He had spent some time in an allied prisoner of war camp.  My father spotted  his talents when he was working as a refugee labourer, his extensive German engineering qualifications were eventually recognised and he made a great contribution to the work of the Snowy Scheme.

His wife and daughter had been killed in the allied bombing of Berlin and I later realised that my age being so much the same as his daughter’s would have been, was probably why he was interested  in sharing some thoughts and experiences with me as well as with my parents.  Of course my intense questioning may have been another!

He was dismayed that  the German people did not fully know what was going on pre war and during the war.  He was saddened at reports of what went on in German prisoner of war camps.  On my insistent questioning, though he spoke very carefully, I am convinced his allied prisoner of war camp, and possibly others, were also very difficult places.  What we do and do not not know is sometimes the victor’s history.

He, however, still looked at life with hope and at humanity positively.

At university I met a fellow Law student who fell in love with a Malaysian Colombo Plan student.  He was not allowed  to settle in Australia, even if they married.  She had no future in Malaysia – she went there and tried – but there was no space for Australian lawyers there.  It was somewhat of blight on both their lives but they have kept in touch.

Here, on the beautiful Central Coast at my old ladies’ exercise class  a short time ago, I overheard quite a racist discussion with one very sweet and kind lady complaining, “I had a whole lot of those Muslim people coming towards me jabbering away in their Muslim language”.  I had to intervene.  I said mildly, “There is no Muslim language, they could have been from Indonesia, Pakistan or the Middle East, for example.”  She demurred so I went on explaining, “It is just like Christianity, you can have French speaking Christians, German or Spanish speaking Christians and so on.  She replied with a finality I did not dare answer, “But our Bible was written in English.”

She is not at all unkind but merely fearful and very ignorant in this particular matter.

If we can try our individual hardest to mend the ignorance and get rid of this fear of difference in the population we may be able then to elect a government that has community permission to  act for humanity as a whole in an Australian context.


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Message to Young Coasties

This is an appeal to the young people from the Central Coast.

We need an Australian Republic.

Before you say “I think there are more important issues around at the moment”, I would like you to have a quick read.

I have been a supporter of the Republican movement since University about 50 years ago but it is only in my work for the movement on the Coast in the last 20 years that I have come upon this rejoinder constantly. Why is it mostly Central Coast young people who make this rejoinder? You are certainly very capable of thinking about more than one thing at a time.

Of course there are more important issues around that rightly worry you. World peace, health care and climate change are examples of what worry many of us. I think, however, that under an Australian Republic we would be more fitted to deal with these issues, particularly in our region, than the present conglomerate emotional situation most people are in regarding our homeland as being as one with another country on the other side of the world. “Let the other adult countries fix it” seems to be an opinion.

Our Constitution was written in some difficulty. The states, proud of their original settlements as British colonies, wanted to retain their links to the “mother country”, particularly as a guard against our Commonwealth government. There was distrust and competition between the states. Witness the settlement of Canberra as National Capitol situated between Melbourne and Sydney.

For many years if any state and the Commonwealth were opposed to one another, the decision of our High Court could be taken to the English “Privy Council” on appeal. This virtually cannot happen now but the attitude still hangs over our head.

We are not always comfortable in our own identities as Australian. We flaunt our overseas lineage ( even if we do not renounce it properly before moving into parliament).

We can continue to respect our ex- monarch, but we can become a republic, remain in the Commonwealth of Nations and think for ourselves. We no longer need to think like the out of date Britain, with its still prominent class system and lack of connection with the rest of the world – increased by the recent Brexit exit.

We can take a look at other stable countries that are republics, for example France, Spain, South Africa and even Ireland. And very close to home we have Singapore and Fiji, our neighbouring Republics. We can become like the other 31 ex British colonies who are republics within the Commonwealth of Nations.

Let’s get trendy and let go of some of our old fashioned ties. That might allow us to make decisions, a great deal more easily, about some the very big questions that face us and the world.

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My Life In Pictures

Now in the latter years of my life I look at some of the pictures on the walls of the house in which I live and muse upon them.

All my phographs are concentrated in one room so they do not count. But what have we (now I ) regarded as artworks during the years of being a householder are on the walls of this home. Perhaps the longest picture possession is a reproduction. It was a reproduction of streetscape by Utrillo that I gave to my late husband when he was first given the privilege (as a then young lawyer) of moving into an office rather than a cubicle. And it was a corner office to boot! This now hangs on the wall of my very own shed which I converted to a nice room in which to house my books and other precious possessions. There is even a bed in it which is much coveted for use by teenage grandsons when they visit! It also has other memories of the past which may not be the ones I wish to see daily. I have hung a painting of my parent’s wedding, a nice painting done by my late mother in law when she joined a painting group and a garish painting of horses in the grand national which my husband bought against my will at the same racecourse after big losses at the grand national.

The shed walls also sport a Fahrenheit thermometer as a memory of the old days.

And old days come back to me when I look at some other paintings. The first memory is of a very good friend who was from Belgium. As a representative soccer player he had spent some time in the Cameroons and became enamoured of their artefacts. He was also a lover of paintings from around the world. He opened a gallery in Australia. A wonderful present he gave me is a small painting on ivory of a scene from the Kama Sutra. I chose a very tame one – just the offer of an apple. But I also think of him when I look at a charcoal drawing by a then young French artist called Ray Roux. I asked him to buy one on my behalf when he visited France because I saw a picture he and his Australian wife had in their house. I have that one in my bedroom. We hosted his friends at our house after the funeral ceremony of his wife much later. He too is no longer alive. I also have a still life he gave me after I looked after many of his special paintings when he travelled. As you can imagine, it was a pleasure not a chore.

When we moved to the home we lived in for a long time and in which we brought up our children, in Greenwich, Sydney, we bought a watercolour of Gore Cove. It proudly occupied the entrance hall of that house and still reminds me of the lovely times I experienced there.

In my front room, with the piano, are two lovely flower pictures my husband bought for his office on the advice of a partner who really knew about art. In a serendipitus way this artist hales from where I now live and is quite well known.

The further I go I see pictures we bought when overseas. One from Malaysia, two from Egypt, sketches from Florence, Magdalene College Chapel in Oxford where my eldest son conducted many a concert and two lovely watercolours of the area we lived in London for three years. The latter hold lovely memories. They were in an exhibition by a local artist and I confidentially told my 15 year old son I was buying one for Christmas for my husband. He surprised me by saying he would like to see it and pass his opinion on whether it was one his Dad would like. When Christmas Day arrived we discovered we had each had had the same idea and my son went with each of us to ensure the pictures were compatible. Whenever I look at them, hung proudly in the dining room, I remember, not only the pleasures of our time in London, but this story and that Christmas.

In the living room, in pride of place, is a lovely painting of Sydney Harbour by Judith White. It was chosen by my younger daughter and me for a brand new house we were then building. Sadly we were never able to live in it. But a story is attached to that too. When it was delivered I had a panicked call at work from my husband, who had never seen it, telling me that it had been ruined by the packers as two bits of newsprint had made their way between the glass and the painting. I had to inform him it was part of a collage effect and was an intrinsic part of the painting!

But onto more recent items. In the kitchen is a lovely piece of embroidery. Pictures of herbs embroidered by my lovely sister in law. Her husband loved it too and when she wanted to get rid of it when she moved to the Central Coast we, against her wishes, found a place for it in their home. After his death she moved to a unit in Sydney and I gratefully accepted it. Apart from being a lovely picture it holds so many memories of them both.

Moving on the watery lounge room, it also contains a picture of a Newcastle beach – one I drove past on weekdays for fourteen years on my way to work. It was a wonderful present to me on my retirement.

A few pictures that I have from my parents house fill me with great memories.

But the here and now is also fantastic! My youngest son married a lovely lady who paints and creates other works of art. Some of those are my favourites, particularly two she has done for me of birds in flight. Her beautifully decorated skull of a deceased bovine sits in conjunction with a mask my younger daughter completed in her last year of art at high school. I love her picture of The Owl and the Pussycat and my husband chose a picture she did of looking through a rear vision mirror, much as I am doing now.

There are others that give me delight and bring back memories. Some of these memories are wonderful, some are sad.

But when I don’t just dash past but pause sometimes to look more carefully, I can be very grateful for the differing experiences I have had in my life and I remember a lot of wonderful people I have known.

Perhaps I can even look forward to a bit more future on my walls.

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Parental Rights

“Parental Rights” is apparently an issue dogging this “survey” on the same sex marriage of adults. Why?

“Parent Rights.” It sounds a good phrase to run off the tongue. “Parents should have rights to bring up their own children in the way they wish.” We are hearing it all the time in this debate on same sex marriage.

But, even when we come to physical issues, the broader community, by way of the law, is allowed to intervene in these “rights”. Children must be physically cared for, must be sent to school, be inoculated against major diseases except in exceptional cases, and must be fed healthily. The law can even intervene against parents’ beliefs and wishes in order to save life, for example by ordering a blood transfusions for a child.

But I can’t understand how “parental rights” will be infringed by a “yes” answer. I cannot imagine some sort of push to allow either parents or the law to give permission for under age, gay children to marry!

So how can “parental rights” be involved in this discussion?

The only conclusion that can be drawn is that some mothers and fathers want the right to have their children know only a view of life that has been completely filtered through a prism of their parents’ beliefs.  So do they think they have the right to have other people’s lives fit their filter too for the sake of avoiding conversations with their children?

Parents, who are with their own children more than anyone else, who are listened to by their children, are loved by their children have, and always will have more importance in children’s lives and decisions than will others. They have “rights” as well as many opportunities to express their views to their own children. They have a right to demand certain values in their own home.

But in my view, they do not have a right to prevent their children from knowing about other parts of the world and from being exposed to different viewpoints. The history of our country and others, the working of our society and our legal system are all based on an assumption of an acknowledgement of freedom of thought and views that can be subject to argument and discussion. Children need this freedom too.

And yes, I firmly believe each child has the inalienable right to know about other people’s beliefs both in religious or non religions areas .

If parents can only interact with their children on the basis of those children’s total belief in their ideas and no knowledge of alternative ways of thinking and no discussion and debate, then one must question the value of those very beliefs that they wish to pass on to their children.

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I do not want to say that we have become a nation of whingers. But watch out. We are getting very close.

In the “olden days” (I am 76) we were not tougher, we were not faster, we were not as knowledgeable, but when the going got tough we made do. If it was a simple matter, I really think we whinged less.

This is exemplified in the current fuss about “blackouts”. In this I am excluding the business sector. I am talking about home life.  There seems to be an assumption, even at this time of threatening climate change, that access to cheap power 24 hours a day is tantamount to an inalianable human right.

There are not many people left in Sydney who would remember the blackouts at peak hours that we had there in the late 40s and early 50s before the Snowy Mountains Scheme got underway. They occurred almost every night. They were a nuisance but we made do. And people became very inventive. Mothers would be saying to their children “Do your homework whilst it is still light. You know how slow it is to do it by candle light!”

People got inventive with food that did not need cooking. Fridges stayed firmly shut when the lights went out so as to minimise loss of cold. Even children put on or took off clothes in the cold or heat. And once the lights went out we played word games, made up jokes, went to bed early and got up at sunrise. This was on the Australian coastline in Sydney where temperatures, both hot and cold, remain manageable all year round. My comments do not extend to some Australian inland areas although I have also “survived” and occasionally enjoyed blackouts in Broken Hill.

In recent years I have experienced the occasional blackout. These have occurred because of power line outages. The longest was five days. The others were all more than a few hours and went overnights. But they were easier to manage these days. I boiled water for the unmissable early morning beverages on the barbecue. We cooked on the barbecue. We used candles and a daughter in law showed me how to make a display with tea light candles that far outdid any electric light in style! The grandchildren even enjoyed the blackout, despite the fact their devices ran out of charge. I managed to keep my phone charged by keeping it only for phone calls for the duration and the local shopping complex provided some charging points.

Currently the talk seems to be around air conditioning. To me it seems logical that at times when power is low these absolute luxuries should be turned off unless there are exemptions for the very needy. And these are few and far between in our climate. We are neither on the Sahara nor in Iceland. It is not hard to get under a blanket – or even better under a doona – not yet invented in the 40s.

I will admit that living alone, as I now do, it is less pleasant not to have access to a device, a TV or even a book for leisure or entertainment, but the battery operated radio (of which one of my grandchildren asked “is that called a relic”) is a good companion. It is, like a battery operated torch, a good thing to have handy in a house for an emergency such as bush fire danger or the need for blackout information or mere amusement.

I am not saying that blackouts are not a problem for businesses, for transport, for hospitals and for emergency services, some of which have their own emergency generators.

But peak hour blackouts in the average family home, whilst annoying, are not the end of the world.

There is a lot of discussion about our poor children and how much they should be “banned” from their devices in case they get addicted to them or are not engaging in other activities as did children before IT.

I suggest adults apply the same logic to blackouts!

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The Rainbow Survey

It was impossible, after I read Tom Switzer’s comment piece in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning, to stick to my resolution that I was going to say nothing more about voting in the possibly upcoming “survey” on marriage equality.

I speak as an elderly atheist of 65 years study and commitment, who was in a heterosexual marriage for forty three years until my husband died. My four children are in heterosexual marriages with children of their own. I therefore think my platform for speech on this topic is about as neutral as it could possibly be.

I will vote a resounding “Yes” in any vote.

But I feel strongly that this is an issue which should not be decided by a public vote. Not only because the campaigning has got so nasty, but because, unless you are an adult gay couple who wish to marry, it is the business of no one else.

I found Mr Switzer’s article was offensive on two fronts. The first that he clearly does not see that the “No” vote’s outspoken supporters are speaking more offensively to my neutral ears than are the “Yes” vote supporters. He is not able to see this. Even his quoting of Margaret Court’s outspoken remarks before the issue became a survey and the fact she did not see there would be considerable retaliation to the tenor of her comments, was offensive.

I do not want my remarks to be particularly an attack on religions as there are many churchmen and institutions that have spoken out in support of a “yes” vote and some others who have spoken very moderately, but clearly, about their reasons for a “no” vote.

However Mr Switzer’s one eyed view on who is unreasonable in this debate is a reflection of a very conservative religious view that has dogged me all my life. It is that if one is a non believer one must verbally genuflect if one is to criticise a religious belief. When expressing my absence of theism I have always felt the need to be very careful so that I do not give offence. I have, unless I have been very hard pressed, refrained from liking a religious belief to any other legend or story. I have gone out of my way to make it clear that I admire many of the exhortations of religions to do good and love one’s neighbours, whilst quietly believing this is part of a humanist ideology as well.

But all my life I have had the Christian religion thrust upon me, from the days my parents insisted I go to Sunday School and pressed me to be confirmed or to take first communion. I politely attended SRE lessons that Public Schools make it hard to avoid. I paid taxes that promote Christian religions without overt complaint.

As an adult I leant more about Islam and am astounded at the extraordinary parallels between that and Christianity.

Yet the Islamic spokespeople here have the sense to say they are not entering the debate intensely as they think their intervention might promote a backlash.

Yes, they have experienced backlashes in Australia, as the gay community have experienced over the years with homosexual acts being criminal until relatively recently. Those who have experienced criticism of their ideas as people are a little more careful of how they speak. They have learnt that freedom to speak does not mean that their speech is free from criticism.

But conservative sections of the Christian Church, such as Mr Switzer seems to represent in his article, must accept that although they do and always should have freedom to express their views, this does not mean that if they do so it will not excite vigorous retaliation.

And from my exposure to debate on the “survey” issue both in the press, on the radio and television and through social media I have to say that the earliest “below the belt” criticism came from the “no” voters. And it has been answered quite cleverly.

We are voting on an issue very personal to those whom it directly affects.

Those who disagree will always have the right to freedom of speech. Religious beliefs are provided with additional freedom in our constitution and in some of our laws.

But for those of you, Mr Switzer, whose experience of life has been of people like myself who give a verbal genuflect before disagreeing with you, you have now lost that extra respect (to which you have never been legally entitled).

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Marriage Equality

It is hard to watch the insensitivity of some of the hard right in Australia forcing us to interfere, once again, in the private lives of others who wish to opt for the now conservative choice of marrying a lifetime partner whom they love.

Have we not moved on to accept difference and choice in this country in areas of personal relationships?

When I was a very young solicitor in the early and mid 1960s I, at the request of a barrister who was a member of the Council for Civil Liberties, assisted to represent in Court a young man charged with the then illegal offence of having sex (in private) with another man.  I would have liked to think I was chosen for my legal skills but, in retrospect, I realised it was because I was a young female and the barrister involved, quite correctly, thought this might contribute to a more accepting attitude.

On the way to the court I had to take the gentleman charged to a jeweller to have his rings removed. Outside the court we met the young man’s father who had come to support his son and who carefully carried for him a very conservative coat and tie.

The thoughtful magistrate had little option but to record a criminal conviction against this quiet, law abiding client as his “partner in crime” had been given an ultimatum by the police that he would not be charged if he gave evidence about the offence.  (My client bore no grudge against his former lover saying, “What options did he have? He is only telling the truth after all.”)

Perhaps because of the voluntary work of the excellent barrister and the presence of a conservative and imposing, loving father and a young female solicitor sitting next to the accused, the magistrate, after finding the offence proved, imposed no custodial or financial penalties.

But this sad young man had to go through life as a convicted criminal. The other young man, made to give evidence, had to go through life with his guilt.

Despite the fact that homosexual relationships have now been decriminalised, some of these young people have had to carry with them a criminal record.

What people do in consenting sexual relationships is now none of our business under the criminal law. It also should not be any of our business if herosexual or homosexual couples marry or choose not to marry under our law.  All adults should have the same options.

And why on earth should we other citizens, not involved in the particular relationships, have any right to voice our opinions on a decision so personal?

Or should we go back to the dark ages, for example to those 1960s?


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