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Category Archives: Your Say

Cheeriozy!

Got talking to Pete last Friday down the local … the subject got onto the passing of one’s parents … I s’pose because we are both old now ourselves and it comes as no longer an immediate sorrow, but rather one lived through so many years ago. And we got onto the reactions one experiences at the funeral, what with all the rellies gathered there and the friends and some strangers one doesn’t know but is informed in hushed whispers or so later on. There is that bottled-up grief, that reserve in the English tradition, especially amongst the men to not be seen to blubber or weep uncontrollably at such sad gatherings … and the language used is interesting in its sparsity of emotion …

Then Pete, took a sup on his beer, reflected a tad, wiped the beads of condensation from one streak on the glass, looked into the distance and made a motion with his pointed finger …

“But I do remember one chap I worked for, a builder in the financing / speculative line … stiff-upperlip sort of bloke … John M … old Adelaide family, that sort of thing. You couldn’t get an emotive comment from him if’n you smacked his thumb with a hammer … which I did once –  accidently – as he was holding a length of bracing for me … hopeless at physical work … all thumbs … an I hit his thumb and you know what he said? Where you or I would’ve swore blue murder, he just spun away (dropped the prop!), cried; “bother!” and stuck the thumb in his mouth for a second to comfort the pain … that’s the sort of chap he was … “old school Oxford”.

The job was winding down, the contract reaching near completion so there were only a couple of tradies finishing some final touches to the groundworks and I was there as supervisor of the job from go to whoa. That was when John turned up. He was walking the site by himself, looking like he was inspecting the finished job … not his usual occupation … he kept a distance from the physical construction, it being an almost “alien” thing to him, always dressed in a suit … usually waited for the handing over ceremony for that sort of thing … but there he was. Now .. I knew he had been to his old Mother’s funeral the day before, and I put his meandering down to a listlessness that one gets when first “orphaned” … that “you’re on your own now” feeling … so to say, but I was surprised when he sat down and joined me and Keith the plumber for smoko.

John was the project builder, a developer rather than an actual builder … not your sort of tradie evolved into builder, but a bloke from an old family with old money involved in multi-faceted projects, of which building was but one. I was his go-to man for building. I was the “knowledge-base” for that side of his investments. He would leave on-site management to me … and that included timetables, subbie hire and materials delivery scheduling. We had worked together for years, but not in a close familiar way … just a business sort of thing … that’s how it was with John … just business. So it was quite surprising when he opened the conversation with the announcement that he had just buried his mother … of course Keith (another long server) and I both knew this, but we gave our condolences kindly … and fairly, we had no gripe with the man or his family. He thanked us and then after the usual quiet on these occasions, he cleared his throat and spoke in a confiding manner … to neither of us in particular, but rather while looking at the ground somewhere between us.

“You know, it’s a funny thing, language … the expression of certain words … at certain times. I have been to the best schools and university at Oxford, where language is treated as a sacred thing … the pronunciation, the grammar, even the timing of delivery of thought or repost … how to speak and speech, you could say … I used to be in the debating team … ”

John went quiet while he reached to pick up a twig which he used to scribble on the ground by his feet.

“I gave the eulogy at my mother’s funeral yesterday,” he continued,” all the usual blather and history … all about the family, her work in the district and committees she was on and such like … all written there on my notes, some highlighted in yellow marker … it went over well … as I was trained to do. A solemn finish before we all made our way to the cemetery for the placing of the casket.”

John drew some hieroglyphics in the dust as he thought it out a bit. I could see all this idle chatter was taking its toll on the man … but he was on a mission to explain something to himself, I felt … we remained silent … to give him space.

He continued with a sudden exclamation:

“Dammit! You have to hold yourself together at these … these events. It doesn’t do to make a fool of oneself weeping and carrying on … one must maintain structure … dignity … after all, it wasn’t as if my mother’s passing was a sudden tragedy. No, no … it was a long tiring business for all the family … a kindly relief for all when she passed … for her most particularly, I’d say … so it was … SHOULD have been a solemn, dignified affair … the placing of the casket in the grave … except for Loretta …” John stabbed the stick into the earth.

There was a silence.

“Loretta?” Keith encouraged.

“Loretta,” John breathed.” Yes … Loretta … Italian woman, the wife of one of the nephews … lovely woman, in the Italian dark-lady of the sonnets mould … if you know what I mean. It was quite a surprise when the nephew returns from a working stint on the continent with an Italian wife … shocked … you could say … a real eyebrow raiser, the whole affair. But they settled down and had a couple of kiddies and got on with the married life routine … but dammit, she’s got that dago emotion thing in spades … weeping all over the place, at weddings and christenings and such like … so she had to almost be dragged from the grave before she threw herself in it on top of the coffin … damn display to say the least!”

And here was the long silence … here was the nub of the new “congenial John”. But here he became uncomfortable …

“You know, one HAS to hold oneself together as an example for the younger ones. It doesn’t do to put on too much display … and … and I was there beside Father O’Loughlin as he read the rites and the coffin was lowered down … certainly, I had some tears to shed … after all, she WAS my mother … but held in check for the moment … there’s a time and place … but I could hear Loretta wailing somewhere there behind me … and I thought I would give her husband a bit of a talking to after the funeral … at the wake. But as we stepped back from the grave to let the mourners file past to throw the bit of dirt onto the laid coffin, that silly Italian woman suddenly called out a word in perfect imitation of our mother’s voice … here was this woman who could only speak a kind of garbled mish-mash of Italo-English, saying in perfect enunciation that one word so familiar to all of her children and grandchildren … and by time-lapsed, especially to me.”

“You see,” John continued in a kind of self-reflection tone, “Mum was a country girl and she had an infuriating habit of “cutesying” words by adding an “ee” to the end … like “bunnee” instead of rabbit. She’d say; “Oh we’re having a couple of bunnies for dinner,” and one really infuriating one she’d say when I was a young tear-away, home from the college with a friend and we’d been ripping it up a tad at a local dance and in the morning she’d wake us with a much too cheerful:

“Come on boys up we get … I’ll make you some bacon and eggies for breaky.”

“Eggees, do you mind, “breakee”? It used to SO infuriate me … and here we were at the final lap so to speak of the funeral, and I had held myself together so well and then that weeping Italian woman has to drop that bombshell that took me by complete surprise and … and … well … ” John threw the twig over his shoulder … “I lost it … I just lost it. Loretta just halted right next to me, looked directly at me in a flood of tears then to the coffin in the grave and wept out a string of indecipherable Italian mish-mash to finish with that one damn softly spoken parting word mother always called to us with a twinkle of her fingers as we left her home:

“Cheeriozy!

That silly, silly muck-up of a perfectly good, common language English word; “Cheeriozy! Cheeriozy!” Loretta wailed out and I just lost it and I wept and wept … and I still can’t get over it … and I don’t know why.”

Then John abruptly stood up, turned around and left … without another word, but we could see the tears …

Of course, neither Keith nor I ever mentioned it again.

“ … and this is why we will not survive.”

Not world wars, neither disease or plague or natural disaster … all these have gone before at times when humanity was still so vulnerable … when we were still small tribes wandering from water to hunting ground to shelter just to stay alive … and we did. And we did because of one central desire: a desire to be a part of other’s lives … a loved one, a special one within the tribe itself … within the shelter of the tribe as a whole … that other one who shared our particular liking for a particular fruit or woven style of cloth or place of refuge over all others … that someone special that would in times more conducive to individual preference develop into a love.

And regardless if it can be fulfilled in the interests of tribal custom or culture … these days call it ethnic group or class structure and creed … regardless if it is never consummated in a relationship, still the embryonic desire will develop in the imagination till it reaches a kind of fruition in the hidden senses and is held to one’s heart in secret conspiracy and there it is stored and adored.

There are moments many of us live through in our lives that can give such emotional pleasure and personal joy that they are held in deepest secrecy and must never be revealed except perhaps … and that is a big “perhaps” … at point of death. For to release such a secret of one’s deepest personality is equal to destroying the base belief in a personal future. The fate for those partners who seek or demand that such be revealed to them can be the unforeseen ruination of the current relationship.

I have experienced this as a revelation on the death bed moment – of which I’ll say more later – but consider this passage from James Joyce’s story “The Dead” in his book “Dubliners” … where the jealous “Gabriel” pushes for his wife “Gretta” to tell him of her past love … ”Michael Furey”:

“O, then, you are in love with him?” said Gabriel.

“I used to go out walking with him,” she said, “when I was in Galway.”

A thought flew across Gabriel’s mind.

“Perhaps that was why you wanted to go to Galway with that Ivors girl?” he said coldly.

She looked at him and asked in surprise:

“What for?”

Her eyes made Gabriel feel awkward. He shrugged his shoulders and said:

“How do I know? To see him, perhaps.”

She looked away from him along the shaft of light towards the window in silence.

“He is dead,” she said at length. “He died when he was only seventeen. Isn’t it a terrible thing to die so young as that?”

“What was he?” asked Gabriel, still ironically.

“He was in the gasworks,” she said.

Gabriel felt humiliated by the failure of his irony and by the evocation of this figure from the dead, a boy in the gasworks. While he had been full of memories of their secret life together, full of tenderness and joy and desire, she had been comparing him in her mind with another. A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous, well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealising his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror. Instinctively he turned his back more to the light lest she might see the shame that burned upon his forehead.

He tried to keep up his tone of cold interrogation, but his voice when he spoke was humble and indifferent.

“I suppose you were in love with this Michael Furey, Gretta,” he said.

“I was great with him at that time,” she said.

Her voice was veiled and sad. Gabriel, feeling now how vain it would be to try to lead her whither he had purposed, caressed one of her hands and said, also sadly:

“And what did he die of so young, Gretta? Consumption, was it?”

“I think he died for me,” she answered.

A vague terror seized Gabriel at this answer, as if, at that hour when he had hoped to triumph, some impalpable and vindictive being was coming against him, gathering forces against him in its vague world. But he shook himself free of it with an effort of reason and continued to caress her hand. He did not question her again, for he felt that she would tell him of herself. Her hand was warm and moist: it did not respond to his touch, but he continued to caress it just as he had caressed her first letter to him that spring morning.“ (The Dead: James Joyce: “Dubliners”).

In breaking the seal of trust that Gretta held in union with the memory of the dead; “Michael Furey” the character “Gabriel” had also broke the seal of affection between himself and his wife.

A similar bond can be held in the heart with an unpleasant memory. In his book of recounting his surveying of an African plateau; “Venture to the Interior” the now disgraced Laurens Van Der Post recounts his method of dealing with troubling memories …

He would lay still and imagine himself taking down a suitcase containing these memories from the top of a wardrobe. He would then imagine himself opening the case and taking out the memories one by one, going through them dispassionately until the feelings were gone, then repacking them into the case and returning it to the top of the imaginary wardrobe. In such an exercise would he satisfy those ghosts of his personal secrets of a bad moment in his life which he was wont to share with others.

This holding close to the heart is a most human desire that it can reach right into our most personal hungers for company. A (now aged like myself ) woman I knew in my younger, wilder years told me recently of why she was in a relationship with a man we both knew in those years:

“He was a strange bloke, was B … ” I remarked. “How’d you get along with him?”

“Oh … quite well, as a matter of fact … and we only broke up because he went to work to the North West of WA. and I stayed here to finish my nursing training … we wrote for a while but we were both young and we drifted apart … ”

“How’d you get to know him?” I persisted.

“He was just a friend at first … and we went out together a couple of times. He was an electrician … and his flat was full of bits and pieces of electrical gadgets that he’d fix for friends … and clocks … he liked making electric clocks. He had a bench in the front room full of junk …

I came to his flat from work one day all teary and upset as I’d just had my first patient die on me and he just held me and talked to me in his deep, slow voice while I wept … that’s all he did … he just talked about his electrical stuff and what he was doing and he stroked my arms and back and just talked softly and slowly until I went to sleep in his arms. He was such a comfort … a lover-friend.“

And this is why we, as a species may not survive. We have been hollowed out, gutted like a dead fish! We now are so untrusting, so protective of our sensitivities, so afraid that we will not allow another too close lest they seek to hurt us emotionally. Perhaps losing our collective confidence in ourselves to survive emotional trauma. Many young people do not enter into relationships anymore, choosing instead to conduct temporary “meetings” that demand no commitment, no deep emotional give and take where those “secrets” of heightened pleasure or pain are nurtured and ensconced within our psyche … and we, as a species are getting weaker for it … for if we cannot trust ourselves with holding that secret of emotional pleasure to carry as a talisman through rough life, then what trust will we allow others that we hold dear to have their own private “suitcase” with their own private desires … and will we destroy our own relationships from a desire to destroy the entrusted confederacies of others?

That “death bed revelation” moment … well, it was a long-running chiack between my mother and myself, that the local GP, Doctor Short, who used to do house calls in those days and attended me when I was bedridden with bronchial-asthma at an age of around 6-8years old. He would attend to me while my mother fussed with the pillow or blankets … and my mother, being in her mid-twenties at that time and married to a much older man AND quite attractive … must have caught the attention of the tall, deep-voiced Doctor, who I in memory recall was sometimes in close attendance as much to my mother as to myself … NOT that there was any encouragement on HER part … but I used to tease her in her older years by saying on a regular basis:

“That Doctor Short … I reckon he was burning a candle for you … ” …  to which she’d pooh-pooh the whole thing away and say don’t be ridiculous! But the last time I saw her in the palliative care ward, dying from pulmonary fibrosis … I again said in a teary attempt at jest:

“I still reckon that Doctor Short was burning a candle for you … ” to which to my surprise she looked straight into my eyes in the most meaningful manner, that I have to say threw me a little and whispered:

“I believe you are right … ” … and I am not sure to this day if she didn’t give me a wink …

And that was the last visit I had with her as she died a day later.

Art and Exploitation: Ai Weiwei, Dissidence and the Refugee Crisis

The status of dissident offers a certain moral latitude in behaviour, and, in various cases, misbehaviour. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is one such figure. He is a feted figure of dissent of the Chinese political establishment, and celebrated by the artistic fraternity. He is the anointed and favoured contrarian. “The one thing I should give the Chinese government credit for,” he claims to Artsy, “is the fact that being unable to travel allowed me to focus on my work.”

Ai has found refugees a suitable subject of identification. This identification can be taken further, a form of ritualised pornogrification that finds gold in crushing victimhood. Few other current crises, to that end, provide raw material than the global refugee calamity stretching from the Middle East to Africa, a seemingly endless procession line of suffering and, for Ai, raw matter.

The death of a 3-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, in September 2015 off the Greek Island of Lesbos, spurred the artist into imitative mode. He would mimic the dead child lying on the beach, appropriating the meaning of his corpse.  But he would also mimic the photograph of the dead child taken by Nilüfer Demir, a sort of artistic re-appropriation of image and subject.

In collaboration with photographer Rohit Chawla of India Today, an image of Ai lying heavily and tactically, face down on the earth, was duly created. Besides, Ai needed an exhibition sample for the Indian Arts Festival, and had noted the startling coverage Demir’s photo was garnering. At the height of the image’s circulation, a peak of 53,000 tweets per hour was reached, touching 20 million individuals over 12 hours. The premise of such work was not presented as crude self-glorification, a narcissist’s thrusting effort in the art world. It was advertised, rather, as drawing attention to cruelty itself.

Supporters of what could only be described as a derivative stunt were aplenty. Sandy Angus, co-owner of the festival, drooled with enthusiasm, calling it “an iconic image because it is very political, human and involves an incredibly important artist like Ai Weiwei.”

The last part of the observation is more illuminating than perhaps intended. What matters is less the dead boy than Ai Weiwei playing a corpse reminiscent of the dead boy. It is precisely such art that makes Francesco Bonami fume that Ai should not be jailed for his dissidence but for his art.  “I think he exploits his dissidence in favour of promoting his art.”

Not all artists rushed to the stands of resounding adulation. Brooklyn artist Sean Capone vented on Instagram even as the image was receiving virally charged hits. “Calling you [Mr. Weiwei] out for your bad taste, egotistical victim porn and endless parade of crappy art, enough is enough.” Another artist, New York-based street photography Sally Davis, suggested that Ai had essentially hitchhiked “onto a current tragedy”.

In January 2016, the artist turned his attention to Denmark, ostensibly to protest a local regulation permitting police to confiscate the assets of refugees and raid their homes. Refugees were again rich material for indignant political expression, muses of perversion dressed up as figures of dissent. Timing was, of course everything: the closing of his exhibition Ruptures, the pulling out of exhibitions at ARos Aarhus Art Museum and the Faurschou Foundation.

Ai insists on proud and noisy self-identification, his animating rationale for constantly returning to the subject matter of the global refugee crisis. “I was a child refugee. I know how it feels to live in a camp, robbed of my humanity.”

In 1958, his family was removed from their Beijing home and banished to isolated outlying territory, his father, the poet Ai Qing, a victim of forced labour and a policy heavy with rituals of self-criticism. He remembers “experiencing what felt like endless injustice.”

It is the injustice that supposedly motivates him to create a 60-metre inflatable life raft jammed with 300 figures on Cockatoo Island in Sydney. Such pieces are sharpened to target detention centres, which give “Australia such a bad image, about who Australia is, what the Australian culture really is about.”

The sense of the political slogan, not to mention the chance to plough marketing opportunities, is never far from Weiwei’s work.  It is also preferential, and politically stunted. This month, his disoriented compass on the subject of refugees will receive another jolt. His exhibition at Doha’s Fire Station art space, starting on March 15, will feature the installation Laundromat (2016), built from thousands of clothing articles abandoned by residents of a now closed refugee camp in Idomeni.

There is a tangy irony to this, though highly appropriate given the link between politically charged art, often of the derivative sort, and patrons with deep pockets. Qatar is a state impugned for a range of abuses in employment, permitting conditions that verge on slavery. But that was not something Ai wished to self-identify with.

In another respect, Ai’s happy sponsor has shown itself more than lethargic when it comes to accepting refugees, notably from Syria. Qatari Foreign Minister Dr. Khalid Al-Attiyah, claiming that his country was “in no way falling short of its responsibilities when it comes to the Syrian crisis”, prefers to focus on Qatari funding for programs outside the country to help Syrian refugees.

Such silo-driven ignorance comes across as disfiguring, but it is one that is earning rewards for Ai.  His political contrarianism is acceptable, his displays of crude art, not always well informed. And unlike Kurdi, he is quite capable, after playing dead on the pebbles of a beach, to get up and spruce himself up for the next art opening.

The Utopian Republic: A Response to Benjamin T Jones

By Robert Wood

Hidden in Benjamin T. Jones’ new book, This Time: Australia’s Republican Past and Future, is the question: what does a future Australia look like? To you, this might be about decolonisation, which might mean dismantling the white state. To others, it might be about unsettlement, which might mean rejecting the Crown. To others yet, it might be about utopian communities, which might mean creating new institutions that govern us. And those are all important considerations when we think about treaty, republic, and a bill of rights. What they share however, is the idea that we need a new social contract for life here. That is the philosophical question that Jones gestures towards but never really gets at.

It might be worth pausing to think about what ‘Australia’ is. To my mind, that means acknowledging that the nation is distinct from the country, which is distinct from the continent. Nation is the state apparatus, the infrastructure, the government, the legislation, something that has been here in earnest since Federation in 1901 though its roots go back to the earliest times of colonisation. In that way, rejecting nationalism means rejecting this state as an expression of a dominant whiteness even though this is inflected by other qualities, raced and not. It might be said that decolonisation responds to this, that a treaty is about recognition in the state’s vision.

Country has its roots in Indigenous discourse, for it is a word, in its political meaning, which has passed from Aboriginal English into a vernacular everyday. We get it when someone does a ‘welcome to country’. Country, as the place they are talking about, is about the ecology and the social relations that pre-date 1788. The affective bonds go deeper than the nation. Understanding that there are lots of countries on the continent means many treaties are to be signed with lots of different governing bodies, that this was never a terra nullius, however defined.

Finally, the continent understands this complex body politic to simply refer to the landmass as a whole, a unified island that goes beyond Ngarluma and Yolgnu and Arrernte. It is a place that is bigger than politics and people.

When we think of all this, we have to ask what is the future of the nation, of country, of our continent, all of which we call ‘Australia’ at different moments in various discourses. We could envision a social contract that was respectful and moved us towards an idea of progress, our own tarruru as a society and as individuals. To do that means truly knowing that the conversation about the republic, treaty and a universal bill of rights has to start from a year zero.

In that way, there are problems with Jones’ article in The Conversation, which advocated for the election of a president by combining nominations from state parliaments with a popular vote of the commonwealth as a whole.

This model is a lazy, unsatisfying hybrid not a higher synthesis. Why not abolish the states? Why not remove one layer of government so we are left with a national one and regional bodies? I do not mean regional bodies in the way we conceive local councils now, say the People’s Republic of Brunswick; but rather the abolition of councils and states and their replacement with bodies based on sovereign borders.

If you consult the AIATSIS language map you will see that there are a number of regions that generally conform to ecological boundaries – the Desert is not the same as the Kimberley, for example. Fitzmaurice differs from Arnhem. These are one of the ways that we could map and administer the state that recognised the differences in Indigenous localism and also gave representation to marginalised areas. That they approximate areas that can be autonomous and well governed, which responds to differences in nature and culture, means that they are a good fit for how we might make progress to being here in a more enlightened way.

Whatever the merits of this position, Jones’ shows us that the present conversation about the republic is hamstrung by old debates. It lacks a utopian impulse let alone the ability to speak beyond its echo chamber to activists who want a treaty and those who argue for a universal bill of human rights. And without that, it will be a misrepresentation of the body politic and risks becoming simply a continuation of the colonial state, a place of old power and conservative privilege that extends the nation into the future without thinking through to truth and becoming. It will fail in its ambition to call into existence a new tomorrow and simply collapse into being a rejection of the Queen, a celebrity politics that is neoliberal and angry. It then becomes a simple labour of negation rather than a beautiful dream. The republican debate should not stifle the broader conversation – how might we belong? How might we relate to each other and our land? How can we create truth? I for one, want to ask those questions in such a way that we allow each other to become a better people in a better place.

Robert Wood’s writing has been published in numerous literary and academic journals. He has interned for Overland, edited for Peril and Cordite, been a columnist for Cultural Weekly. At present he works for The Centre for Stories. 

 

 

Sweet Innocence

I am going to tell you a story that happened back in the late fifties (last century!) as told to me by an aged nun, who had some connection to the incident. While the story I tell, dramatized as it is, is a true story, the ending as I portray it, is, unfortunately a different one than the reality … but let us not lower our expectations, but aspire, like the ‘Sister Cecilia’ toward higher goals.

Sweet Innocence

The knock was gentle and unobtrusive, indeed it had to be repeated before Mother Superior was taken from her reverie gaze out of the window over onto the cool spread of lawn out the back of the building. She turned to glance over her shoulder.

“Come in,” she called. A diminutive nun entered, aged around sixty years, her white hair shining against her white scrubbed face. Her cheeks glowed with two cheery pink blushes.

“Ah! … Charity,” the little nun greeted. “A pleasant morning, isn’t it?”

“Yes Sister … thanks be to the lord Jesus Christ in all his benevolent mercy,” Mother Superior answered in reply.

“Yes, yes … to be sure. Well now, Charity … you sent for me?”

“Yes. It’s about the choir.”

“Ah!” The little nun brightened up, for the school choir was her “special baby,” her pride and joy, and it would be said that several girls from her tutorage had risen to sing in the state orchestra! Proud, she was of her “little choir,” her “little nightingales.”

“Yes, Sister Cecilia, the choir.” Mother Superior addressed the little nun with her formal title and this warned her of an imminent lecture or something. The little nun clasped her hands together as she always did when concentrating. Mother Superior turned from the window and sat briskly down at her desk. The little nun stood on the other side, waiting. “Now, Father Collins and I sat and listened to the choir last Sunday at the morning service” ..

“Oh Charity … Mother Superior, weren’t they just divine, the sweet innocents, I do believe they sung their little hearts out last Sunday … ”

“About Caroline Halsbury, ” Mother Superior interjected.

“And Caroline Halsbury … ” The little nun put her fingertips to one of her cheery cheeks and rolled her eyes to the ceiling … “that girl has the voice of an angel … if ever there was soprano material …”

“Sister Cecilia!!” Mother Superior cried impatiently.

“Yes?” the little nun answered, wide eyed.

“Be so kind as to stop prattling when I am trying to tell you something … goodness knows it isn’t easy what I have to say without the running commentary … ”

“Well, I do apologise, Charity, but I am rather fond of my girls,” the little nun fidgeted.

“That may be so, Sister, and both Father Collins and myself agree that they sounded beautiful … charming … ” She paused and toyed with a pen on her desk. “Not withstanding all that however, we were also of an opinion that their appearance is also of the utmost importance, almost, (since they represent the college in appearance as well as voice), almost as important as their singing … which brings us to Caroline Halsbury … ” She paused expectantly, the little nun looked puzzled.

“I … I don’t see the point, Mother Superior.”

“Oh Cecilia, really!” Mother Superior leapt up impatiently from the desk and rolling her hands together strode once again to the window. There was an embarrassed moment when both nuns remained silent.

“Well, really, Sister Cecilia … it’s … it’s, well, that birthmark right across her face!” she blurted out finally.

“Birthmark?” The little nun seemed fazed.

“Yes, bother it, the birthmark! … that Port-wine stain … that livid blot across the entire left side of her face … surely you’re not blind, Sister?” Mother Superior turned from the window, her fists clenched in frustration so the knuckles were white, she had hoped it would go smoother than this.

“Why of course I know it’s there, it is rather unfortunate for the child, I dare say, she’ll have to live it down her whole life … ”

“ … She’ll have to leave the choir!”

There was a moments stunned silence in the room, a shaft of sunlight burst onto the red velvet piano chair and two yellow-tailed finches alighted friskily on a branch of flowering golden wattle outside the window and sending sprays of dew onto the lawn. The little nun stood with her mouth open, hands raised in front of her, the cheery spots now faded from her cheeks.

“Leave the choir? But why? Just because of her birthmark? Oh, Charity, I implore you … ”

“It’s very, very distracting having to sit and look upon it, Cecilia, both Father Collins and I agree on it and I might add I overheard Mrs Herreen remark the same sentiments to Mr Herreen. Its just too distracting and it upsets the … the harmonious balance between the hymns and that glow of … of … well as you said yourself…’sweet innocence.’ “

The little nun’s temper was quickly rising and the pale blushes on her cheeks now became crimson.

“Are we then to set a precedent of judging books by their covers, Mother Superior?”

“Oh, Lord bless us, Sister, the whole world judges books by their covers, and men by the cut of their clothes and girls by their good looks! The choir is a showpiece for the college and as such should be above criticism in both performance and appearance! The girls in the choir should be the pick of the school, we’ll leave Nature supply their beauty, their voice training only is in your hands, Sister … you understand?” This tirade left the little nun speechless and sad, she remained silently standing with her head bowed. “So …,” continued Mother Superior after letting that sink in, “unless something can be done to hide it, she’ll … unfortunately … have to vacate her place in the choir.” Mother Superior’s voice softened a little at the last. “Will not make-up cover it?” she inquired.

“Both her mother and herself have tried, but it has to be so heavy it becomes obvious in itself,” the little nun remarked quietly, fatalistically. Mother Superior pinched her lips together in exasperation of the whole ugly incident, none the less she pressed on.

“Well … that’s how it stands then, Sister, if you cannot come to a satisfactory cosmetic solution by this Sunday, I’m afraid she’ll have to resign from the choir … that will be all for now,” Mother Superior said in a stern dismissal and watched furrow-browed as the little nun left the room. Sister Cecilia left the office seething with anger.

“How cruel,” she hissed, “how thoughtless,” she cried to herself, “who were these people to see only the substance of the thing and not the spirit? Who were they to judge the body and ignore the soul? How thoughtless, how odious, how cruel!”

All week she pondered and puzzled on the problem, made all the more difficult in that Caroline Halsbury was one of the main singers in the front line of the choir. At times the little nun would, in the middle of a meal or even at an afternoon service, be seen to mumble to herself or shake her head quickly as in dismissing an option, all to the inquiring glances of those near her. She had not told Caroline Halsbury of Mother Superior’s instruction nor had she told any of the other girls in the choir. She had hoped something would come to mind that would make all the unpleasantness unnecessary. But to no avail and here it was Saturday afternoon. Again her temper flared as she sorted the hymns for the Sunday Mass.

“Bother and bother them!” she said angrily as she slapped the music sheets down on the organ. She glanced up to the altar in a blush of shame for her temper. “I’d like to show them, Lord, put them in their place, oh no, not for me, blow it, but for Caroline.” Suddenly an idea flashed through her mind like a bolt of lightning.

“Why … why of course … how very … very right.” She quickly gave a sign of the cross to the statue of Jesus up on the left side of the altar, the statue of Jesus with the striking red sash draped across his sacred heart!

The choir sang out beautifully from the first note of Mrs Gilchrist’s deft touch on the church organ at the Sunday Mass, their collective voices harmonised as sweet as a chorus of nightingales from the darkened cloistral choral stalls so that many a parishioner in the congregation sighed for the glory of those sweet voices.

“Sweet innocence,” Father Collins remarked with a nod of his head to Mother Superior. “Sister Cecilia has certainly achieved top note with those girls,” he remarked, then; “and did you have success with that little suggestion we put forward, Mother?”

“I believe so,” Mother Superior answered, “though it is rather dark there in the choir box, but I’m certain she would not disobey my instructions and I was quite clear as to what they were, I can assure you, Father.”

“I say, Charity,” Father Collins leaned down to her ear, “it would be an extra fillip for the college if those angelic girls could be seen more clearly by the congregation while they are singing”. Mother Superior looked at him, nodded her head and smiled.

“How true, Father, and I think I can arrange that.” She motioned with her finger for a little girl to come to her. “Go quietly to that doorway over there, and you see that row of switches there next to it, yes? Then turn on the one farthest from the door … you understand? … good, now off you go,” and she edged the girl on her way. “The light for the choir stalls,” she informed Father Collins.

The young girl paused at the switches and turned a querying glance to Mother Superior. Mother Superior raised her eyebrows and gave a curt nod of her head and the young girl threw the switch. An excited but muffled cry rippled through the congregation as all glanced to the illuminated choir stalls, not the least from Mother Superior who couldn’t suppress a cry of horror, for there, singing with such sweet harmony were a dozen girls, the pride of Cornellia College, every one of them disfigured with a crimson splash of a “birthmark” covering the left side of their faces, every “birthmark” exactly like the one occurring naturally on Caroline Halsbury’s face! Sister Cecilia, who was conducting the choir with her back to the congregation, now turned and gave a nod of respect to Mother Superior and Father Collins, the same crimson mark penciled vividly over her left cheek.

The rise and rise of a new tribalism

The unifying of several unions into one “super-union” (if we are to believe the ruler’s squawkers; the MSM) has come with a new wave of enthusiasm on the part of so many workers and their supporters, but with fear and trepidation … and no doubt the already planning for its demise … by the capitalist class of right-wing government and the business community.

“United we stand … Divided we fall!” …

… Is no accidental slogan of a new age of tribalism. It was written as a centre-piece truism in historical literature; “A house divided cannot stand” , “The People united will never be defeated”. There are many, many others which proclaim the universal truth of tribal loyalty and unity. The many Indigenous peoples of so many lands know too well in this age of commodity exploitation and land stolen, that their one chance of universal survival, both cultural and physical is the continued “holding of hands” across the nation and across the picket-lines.

The unity by the Australian Indigenous peoples in their presentation of the “Uluru Statement” shows their determination for a united treaty and not for a sell-out “Wild Rivers” style of recognition … after all, what and whose is the “Sovereignty” that needs to be recognised that is already so bleedin’ obvious as the nose on ones face?

This need to reform and consolidate the numbers of unionised labour is an imperative for the equality of those workers who are the backbone of any nation, and also for those too vulnerable or afraid to speak out against exploitation by unscrupulous “business people”. For without the unity of purpose and direction, we all are easy picking for the parasites and vultures in the “League of Capital” opportunists. The too easy promotion of “You: the individual” as the means to self-aggrandised “success” belies the awful truth of how easy it is to milk and make destitute those same deluded fools who, many times coming from a class of working trades that have little or no deep knowledge of capital investment speculation, throw their lot in with those smooth talking suits who entrap many working poor into bad or even quasi-criminal investments. Some of which even capitalise on making life even worse for their “tribal cousins” still casually or part-time employed.

The methodology of those middle-class manipulators to divide the tribal unity of whatever group, is to throw the seeds of doubt into those groups … seeking out the weakest minded or the wavering wannabe “effluents” to undermine and disrupt faith and trust. The main catch-cry we hear in these times is the half-truth that; “They’re all the same” or “It can’t be changed because its human nature“ … half-truths that rely on doubt, suspicion and paranoia to push the rest of their argument along; that it is all in vain as you: the small individual will surely be let down as you are deserted by the leadership who is also only in it for the money.

What money!!? The filth of the capital class created many commissions and even royal commissions to try and pin charges of capital corruption against union leaders, political leaders and individuals in these last few years … to little or no avail. Of course, to use the old maxim; “They were thinking about their own behaviour but accusing others.” They will not stop this continued onslaught against the tribes, be they union or ethnic minorities or even the original owners of country, they have a permanent agency in the mainstream media traitors doing the dirty work for them … even the national broadcaster has now joined their ranks and continually feeds the lies and distortions that paint the tribal groups as feral and unreliable … always displaying negatives like fist-waving, shouting and marching unionists … never the smiling faces of relieved families for the returned rightful wages or conditions or time off to be with the family and loved ones. Never the “rights at work” success stories, the “equal pay for equal work” success stories … never the successful communities of indigenous peoples and settled ethnic refugees, struggling against LNP government promoted racism and bigotry … struggling against MSM promoted racism and bigotry. It is that sense and action of a age old tribalism that gives strength to community and holds a barrier against the continued onslaught of capital-based assault.

Now … more than ever, we as communities of like-minded and interested people need to dispense with the divisive rhetoric of “they’re all the same” and unite under one collective form of tribalism and with our separate cultural identities combine in the one voice of trust in the collective numbers to change the ruling class that has stolen our nation and our governance and become one solid majority to force those who represent us to step in line to the demands and wishes of this new, united tribe of “the people” and do the will of the people.

The coming together of the “Me Too” united voices, the unity of the “Uluru Statement” and the joining together of the unions must be built upon, and not allow to be suffocated by a sabotaging MSM or capitalist conspiracy to break and disrupt. The latter day rising of social media has at last given a voice to the multitude … sure and it can be sometimes a cacophony of accusative shouting and abuse … but that is the peripheral of what is most important: The clear, concise voice of the majority calling for a new unity and a new politics to govern this nation …

Its voice will not be stilled any longer … and united in voice we call to all: “JOIN THE TRIBE!”

Traditions of Diaspora: A Response to Andrew Bolt

By Robert Wood

Andrew Bolt has been at it again. He has a long history of race baiting, but recently he has been in a purple patch, railing against Muslims, Aborigines, ‘African gangs’, ‘Change the Date’ supporters and others to boot. It might be time to critique his positions rather than react with simple disgust (but then again, maybe not). Although there are many places to start, one of Bolt’s more pernicious falsehoods is his assumption that there is a separation between traditional and diasporic peoples as it applies to internal and external migration. As might be expected from a neo-conservative, the former are authentic, real, fair dinkum. This is the case despite the necessary incursions into their territories, which is to say that occasionally ‘we’ need to remind those Others who is in power. This applies to people from remote communities on sovereign Indigenous land as well to migrants who have come from overseas.

Bolt maintains a caricature of ‘the Aborigine’ who sits cross-legged in the red dirt surrounded by dot paintings, empty beer cans and mangy dogs. Not only does this do a disservice to those people, it allows him to have a go at urban, educated, bourgeois Indigenous peoples as well, precisely because the latter are not the real deal. Hence, his infamous statements on ‘white Aborigines’.

What it mischaracterises is how people move in and out of places, how one can travel to and from ancestral homelands to cliques in the metropole. It should not be surprising that Tracey Moffatt can be successful in New York and return to her traditional country. These are journeys that are being increasingly made by a growing middle class. It goes without saying that Wiradjeri people are as valid as Yolngu people when it comes to being ‘Indigenous’. But nor should Ngarluma or Martu or any other language group be simply flattened into larger categories of assumed identification.

Something similar holds up in Bolt’s discourse about migrants. One assumes that there is a repository of more authentic knowledge in the homelands where ‘these people’ come from; that these foreign places are the ones in need of uplift, or bombing as he may have it. The white man’s burden is alive and well from Bolt to Mark Latham to Tony Abbott. But, this is false because it makes place into an ideal type that was never real. You might reify ‘India’ but I can tell you it is an internally diverse place with a syncretic history. It could be broken down into Kerala or Kochi or Ernakallum. It could be made up of Jews, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jains, and that is not to mention everything else that is happening there and always has been. By citing this example, I not only want to say that it is complicated, but that every person has legitimacy and autonomy; every person can lay claim to a knowledge base that is liberated from assumptions about place that the Bolts would maintain.

Recognising the legitimacy of traditional and diasporic peoples, culture and heritage helps white Australians as well. It helps ‘us’ overcome our peripheral anxiety, our cultural cringe, our tyranny of distance. We do not need to play second fiddle to the British or the Americans, and think that the repository of all wisdom resides in Herodotus or Shakespeare or any other cis, het, white man of the establishment, or even the Queen however benign she seems. And that is liberating because it gives us an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of life in its fecund variety and multifaceted beauty. We do not, of course, have to throw the baby out with the bathwater, to think that we must let go of The Iliad or turn off Beethoven or have a go at Meghan Markle. To do so would be a loss for us too.

What we need to understand however is that identity is not a babushka doll – we cannot assume that Scottish fits in with ‘white’, that Malayali is ‘Indian’, that Ngarluma is ‘Aboriginal’, for each of these larger categories can obscure what are distinct belongings based on language especially. This is not to say there cannot be solidarity but that the internal relations of power and privilege must be recognised if we are to understand the particularity of local, embodied subjectivity. Doing so means that every individual is capable of being their own master, of seeing through to their best selves in such a way that is recognisable to every Other. And that is true liberation and might be worth arguing for in spite of the barriers that Bolt and his cronies would maintain as they continue to build the walls to stop us all.

Robert Wood’s writing has been published in numerous literary and academic journals. He has interned for Overland, edited for Peril and Cordite, been a columnist for Cultural Weekly. At present he works for The Centre for Stories. 

 

 

 

An Act of Contrition

I am moving into my “Italian period” with these next few stories. I do like those extraordinary personalities and situations that mark the characteristic of the Italian short story … I don’t think you can find the depth of “commitment” to the random acts of delinquency or romance and indeed; superstition from an Anglo-Saxon community. But I could be wrong!

My friend told me of this “event” when he was last here from Italy. I like it for it’s subtle example of “the vendetta”, that long-lasting animosity that exists in these small villages and the resulting act of vengeance by both parties.

It went like this:

An Act of Contrition

Gemano Filosi, the cobbler of the village of San Pietro di Messana was making his way back to his home one Sunday morning after attending Church. He was suddenly overtaken by a man on a horse going at a steady trot … Gemano had to quickly step aside as the horse and rider passed.

“On the hoof, Gemano? You should get yourself one of these,” the rider shouted as he passed.

Now, to any other person such a comment would have been seen as nothing more than a friendly mock … but the fact that it was spoken by one Cesarino Marchesso, a son of one of the largest land owners in the district, and the lingering distaste of an old family hurt concerning these two families, made it strike home with all the force of a spear in the heart …

Gemano swore vengeance.

The insult dated from back to his grandfather’s time when a foal was purchased from the Marchesso family farm by Gemano’s Family, which turned out not to be the expected horse, but rather a mule! At least that was the accusation … in all probability it was just a goofy-looking horse … but that is the way with inter-family feuds … they mostly all start with a rumour. One can construct the ongoing feud without assistance from yours truly … and then even this last “slighting” may have been overlooked but for the painful corns that bothered Gemano with every step.

Gemano swore vengeance … but was yet to figure out how.

The solution came in a flash of inspiration with a request from his sister, Elvira, the next week.

“Gemano … for the love of Gesu, put some new heels on these shoes before I twist my ankles,” she complained.

“Yes,” he replied, “I will have them done by next Thursday and I will leave them outside the shop door for you to collect as I have to go to the town that day.”

Indeed, Gemano was as good as his word, for he did finish those shoes and he did leave them outside his shop Wednesday night for his sister to pick up that Thursday … but not before using them to disguise his own footprints when he stole over to set alight to the Marchesso’s hay stack on that same Wednesday night before quickly scurrying off to make his alibi in the provincial town.

Of course, as anyone who has lived in a small village knows, every family has a ‘list’ of sworn enemies that can be referred to in times of conflict and the police wasted no time in looking up the list provided to them by the Marchesso family.

The upshot was that the clear set of woman’s shoe prints left at gate which led to the scene of the crime could be traced to the sister of Gemano Filosi. There was even a slight trace of the very soil from the site on one of the shoes. But naturally, the police would never imagine the possibility of Gemano wearing the ladies shoes as that sort of thing just wasn’t done …

Of course, Elvira pleaded innocence and protested she was home that very night with her recently born baby. This fact threw the police a little, but still she was arrested at the insistence of the Marchesso family and placed in a holding cell on remand while they investigated. The baby could not be kept with her and had to be brought to her for feeding several times a day. This was a very distressing time for Elvira, and though she suspected Gemano, she would not accuse him openly, so she sent him a secret message pleading with him to come forward on his own volition. Gemano refused and pleaded his innocence, claiming that since the shoes were placed outside his shop overnight for his sister to pick up in the morning, anyone could have used them and then replaced them with the deliberate intent of shifting the blame onto his family!

This was a line of reasoning that did have more than a degree of possibility about it … so that after exhausting their inquiry into Elvira, they had to admit defeat and after three months, released her. But the “stain” of accusation had been placed onto Elvira and such accusations cause long-term difficulties in a small village. Elvira and her husband moved away to the provincial city to live as a result. She still suspected her brother of the crime and never forgave him for dropping her into it and bringing such trouble and turmoil into her family’s life.

But the years passed and they all grew old … indeed, Gemano was ill for a long time and now he had reached the end of his life. He was on his death bed. But still Elvira had not forgiven him as he never confessed to her the truth of his deed. But now he was at his last days and the dottore had informed the family that he was slipping in and out of a coma and they should come to arrange last rites with a priest as soon as possible.

Elvira arranged for a priest to come with her to attend to her brother’s extreme unction. The old priest from the village being “conveniently” called away to the next parish that week, Elvira arranged for a new younger priest from the town to do the ritual … Gemano, who had embraced the faith even closer to his heart in those later years, was not in a state to notice that his old mentor was not there.

Gemano lay still on the bed in the old family home. He was attended by the close members of his family and the doctor. They all moved respectfully outside as the priest heard Gemano’s last confession and was given the last rites. Being almost unconscious, Gemano could hardly comprehend what was being said to him by the priest. But there was one driving need he wanted to confess …

“Father,” he gasped weakly.

“Yes, my son,” the priest replied.

“Tell Elvira … tell … tell her it was me,” and he nearly collapsed from the effort.

“You, my son?”

“Yes … the haystack … it was me,” and he went silent from the effort. The priest smiled a little and whispered into his ear:

“I think it best you confessed that to her yourself … for the love of God and for your forgiveness … ”

Gemano lay still for a while, then nodded weakly in consent … he knew it would be his last act of contrition.

The priest sent for Elvira and the doctor to come to the bedside of the dying brother.

“He has a confession to say to you, my lady.” The priest spoke so both Gemano and Elvira could hear. Elvira sat at the side of her brother and leaned in to hear from his weak lips.

“It was I … sister … I set fire to Marchesso’s hay …” Gemano’s eyes were wide and he gasped and looked like this statement would be his last act, his last words … Elvira stilled him and held his hand to comfort him.

“Shh, shh, dear brother, ” she comforted. Then she leaned down close to his ear so as to secretly whisper into it:

“I know, brother. I always knew … and I could never forgive you for the hurt you brought to myself and my family … but I do now … I … forgive you. But while you have performed your act of contrition to me … you also have a difficulty. You see that young priest at the foot of the bed?”

Gemano, whose eyes were closed, weakly blinked and looked to the young priest who smiled quietly and gave him a little nod …

“ … well that young man is not really a priest, he is an actor friend of my daughter and he is pretending to be a priest and you really have not been given extreme-unction. The sin remains stained upon your soul, so you will have to go to God and beg him to forgive you.”

Elvira sat back satisfied that she had at last taken her own sort of vengeance.

Gemano’s eyes went wide as this profound knowledge slowly sank in … but it was already too late and indeed, this treachery brought on his demise by the sudden surge of shock to his system. He gasped, raised one arm to point to the “priest” and tried to speak … but only a gasp and a croak emitted from the dying man.

“Ah! … ah! … no!” And with a last gaping gasp of breath, Gemano fell back stone dead onto the pillow.

Elvira leaned to her brother, kissed his forehead and tenderly said:

“Yes, dear brother … now I forgive you.”

I thought I’d write a letter to the Queen

By Barddylbach

“Sir Governor General … I will only say this once so pay attention,” she said.

While you were away in Nauru someone swore in our new Deputy Prime Minister, did you know, I know you did. Sadly it all looked gagged and scripted to the tones of salience bias and constitutional forgetfulness. Yes, I thought it was a disgrace too.

Now if I were the Governor General I says, I would be speaking to the Queen. There is a hierarchy here isn’t there?

If I were the Governor General I says, this is what I’d say to Malcolm Turnbull, “Look here, sport, I will not be swearing in your deputy PM, and here is why … [eyes float out the window, hands clasped behind my back]”, and I would follow this up with, “Malcolm my old mate, you find someone who is worthy to carry that office, and if you cannot find someone then I will dissolve this government with the powers invested in me under the Constitution of Australia, and let the people decide their fate”. And I would remind him of the catalogue of evidence that would have enabled me to declare my ‘no confidence’ in this government a long time ago … “You’ve had a good run, old chap,” working backwards methodically from the Barnaby Joyce bi-election cover up to save “your cliff-edge marginal voice…sorry arse. Do I make myself clear Prime Minister?”, I says.

Of course if I were the Governor General I says, I would have done this a long time ago and I would be echoing my deep regrets over my glass of Barossa heritage vintage drought shiraz, which I would be waving tediously and unceremoniously in front of him, before looking composed and nonchalant at the door.

And if I were the Queen I says, and gender is no impediment here any longer … (stay with me here), I would be summoning the Governor General for a private head to head, and ask him what he intends to do. I would be reminding him of his responsibility not just to her subjects in Australia, but to the reputation of the Commonwealth, ‘my Commonwealth … our Commonwealth’. And then I would be sending him on my behalf to Nauru if he had any doubts about what I was talking about. I’d tell him privately, “It would not be dignified of me to go to Nauru, Sir ‘Major’ General Cosgrove, this is why my government in Australia pays you vast sums of money to keep you and your esteemed wife in antipodean luxury. Do I make myself clear, Sir ‘Governor’ General?”

“One last thing ‘Sir General’… Do you think Nauru will survive another 50 years or will they become wards of State? You know refugees, rising tides [hint of royal sarcasm and karma in my thorny stare]. Perhaps you could put that question to your Minister for Home Affairs, what’s his name, that potato head chap?” And then I’d wave him out with or without his half empty glass of Olorosa sherry which I thought of offering him pretending that I hadn’t, and my head waiter holding a silver tray adorning the usual coat of arms at the door at the far end of corridor.

I thought I’d write that letter I says, pretending to hold Barddy’s Crown in the mirror, but then she may not read it. If I were the Governor General I says, but clearly I am not.

Salient reminder – Australian election rort a national scandal: plutocracy for all the world to see!

By Jon Chesterton

A salient reminder of how the system works while Tasmania counts its votes, could we possibly expect a miracle? Reality says that if someone has a rope around your neck you might have to fall in line and accept the inevitable. Miracles only happen at the strangler’s will which raises the question; which side is God really on? But that is another story … Bring in the Sandman.

Right now we are being told the Liberals will win in the State of Tasmania tomorrow … today. “You’ve got to be kidding!” Not if you look at the last federal election results in 2016 and then consider the polls and media ‘presstitution‘.

Elections in Australia are rigged, not just the polls and media coverage. While party politics and electoral issues in States are different, it defies all reason that Liberals/LNP anywhere could actually win an election or bi-election at State or Federal level in a fair and even contest in the current corrupt Liberal-National climate. Anyone today who advocates the importance of understanding the difference between Federal and State is pedalling a well-worn lie. I also believe the electoral boundaries are rigged in Liberal and National favour as well as the electoral process.

Consider the following facts in the 2016 Federal election – House of Representatives:

Liberal-National Party (QLD): 1,153,736 votes – 21 seats
National Party: 624,555 votes – 10 seats
Australian Greens: 1,385,650 votes – 1 seat: How is this possible, worse still, acceptable for a so-called modern democracy?

Now that is scandalous, less than 1/25th of seat allocation according to votes to Australian Greens – one seat in the House, 25-fold in favour of the Nationals per votes cast. That can only be achieved by a highly dysfunctional and fraudulent Australian electoral system, and it is not just a question of boundaries or indeed the absence of proportional representation.

The tragedy is most Australians are not even aware of it and those who are turn a blind eye and stick their heads in the sand of plutocratic ignorance and pragmatism.

No miracles down there unless you believe in the Sandman!

Sources of statistics quoted:

1) Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_federal_election,_2016

2) Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Results_of_the_Australian_federal_election,2016(House_of_Representatives)

3) Primary source – Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) – http://results.aec.gov.au/20499/Website/HouseMembersElected-20499.htm

The last days of radicalism

I like the idea or at least the tradition of the Italian vendetta … or as the Latin origin would have it: “Vindicta” … “A rod used in manumitting slaves … deliverance … “

“In Roman law. A rod or wand; and, from the use of that instrument in their course, various legal acts came to be distinguished by the term; e. g., one of the three ancient modes of manumission was by the v indict a; also the rod or wand inter-vened in the progress of the old action of vindicatio, whence the name of that action.”

To me it symbols a kind of natural justice, delivered when civil justice is absent or deliberately denied … even a kind of “poetic justice” could be seen as a comfort of a successful “vendetta” by fate … by mute Nemesis.

Yes … certainly a “deliverance” from a perceived injustice, be it by person or persons known, corporations or political opponents … Radicalism against conservatism could be seen as a vindicta; a deliverance from oppression of bland and suffocating mediocrity in life.

Clarence Darrow, in his 79th year, saw the publication of his brilliant dissertation “On Selecting a Jury”, in Esquire Magazine, May 1936:

“The late Clarence Darrow was 79 when this achieved print. Active practice was definitely over for the lawyer who never, in more than fifty years at the bar, appeared on the side of the prosecution, who never, in scores of capital cases, had a client executed. We gave him a fairly pedestrian assignment, asking him to write a piece giving a few pointers on jury-picking. It was greater luck than we merited to receive in return this winged answer to profounder questions than we had the wit to ask. For here is no less a thing than a golden epitome of all the wisdom that has accrued to an ever-youthful spirit in the late evening of a well spent life. Far more than a mere footnote to the tricks of his trade, it is a philosophic summation of the practical answers to any present day Pilate who might jesting ask “What is Justice?” It is an answer wise though witty, compassionate though cynical, the answer of the man who said of the great Governor Altgeld what might equally well be said of himself: “Even admirers have seldom understood the real character of this great human man. It was not a callous heart that so often led him to brave the most violent and malicious hate: it was not a callous heart, it was a devoted soul . . . that spoke for the poor, the oppressed, the captive and the weak.”

His own assessment of the bias of “justice” in that same article can be read below:

“In the last analysis, most jury trials are contests between the rich and poor. If the case concerns money, it is apt to be a case of damages for injuries of some sort claimed to have been inflicted by someone. These cases are usually defended by insurance companies, railroads, or factories. If a criminal case, it is practically always the poor who are on trial. The most important point to learn is whether the prospective juror is humane. This must be discovered in more or less devious ways. As soon as “the court” sees what you want, he almost always blocks the game.”

This publication by Darrow could be seen as a kind of fulfilled “vendetta” against those who would victimise the same; “… poor, oppressed, the captive and the weak.” He left no stone unturned as he dissected the bulbous, inflated buffoonery of civil laws that worked mainly for the wealthy and privileged. Those were the days when a radical attitude toward the conservative establishment was a respected and almost a desirable quirk of the human condition. These days, however, it seems almost a dirty word, where “people of taste and style” are more savvy to avoid distasteful confrontation for what can only be described as acceptance … acceptance of what is described as the “inevitable”, the “reality of the situation” and an avoidance of anything that smacks of the distasteful in either language or opinion … ”one’s upbringing … doncha know!”… when all the time it really is just simple cowardice.

“Acceptance in human psychology is a person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it or protest it. The concept is close in meaning to acquiescence, derived from the Latin acquiēscere (to find rest in).” (Wikipedia).

And then there is this:

Often when I discuss acceptance with students or clients, a common argument is put forth: “Acceptance is no good. It is passive and accepting things as they are is giving up. It is resignation to something unpalatable.” But that is not the real meaning of acceptance. There is no better explanation than Jon Kabat-Zinn’s in, “Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness”: “Acceptance doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, mean passive resignation. Quite the opposite. It takes a huge amount of fortitude and motivation to accept what is- especially when you don’t like it-and then work wisely and effectively as best you possibly can with the circumstances you find yourself in and with the resources at your disposal, both inner and outer, to mitigate, heal, redirect, and change what can be changed.” (p.407). In other words, desiring the world to be something it is not at the moment is stopped and ruminating thoughts about how things “should be” are put aside. Then change what can be changed.

Acceptance helps reduce what people experience as negative. That is only half of the solution to improving one’s quality of life, however. It has been purported that it takes five positive experiences to counter one negative (Gottman) or, more generally, your brain responds to positive events like Teflon and to negative ones like Velcro (Hanson, Mendius). So, the new goal is to allow the positive to resonate, to be prolonged, not in a desperate grasping fashion, but instead through mindfulness and allowing it to permeate one’s attention. This helps counter the balance, and swing experience to the positive.” (Psychology Today, June 27, 2015).

What a load of middle-class wank, but taken alongside the silence or the defensive acquiesce in regards to the “majority decision” on refugees etc, the “outrage” against the minutiae of political behaviour and the pathetic seediness of sexual misconduct of the politically ugly and degenerate and one has to wonder if with such limp-wristed pontification, we, the people are not moving into the last days of radicalism.

Me personally, I prefer Norm Gallagher’s simple response when told of the bankruptcy of a particularly nasty building company:

“It couldn’t’ve happened to a nicer bunch of bastards!”

The White and the Blue

Something has gone awry. There must needs be time to consider … and if I can pinch a line or two:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer … ”

Every time I listen to an interview by a journalist from the mainstream media (MSM) – mostly from the ABC – with a politician or some other notable person, I am finding myself getting more and more frustrated at the direction and the (depending on the interviewee) aggression or the soft-soap tone of the journalist. I listen carefully to ascertain if it is just a prejudice on my part … I have done this for quite a while now, doubting my capacity for objective analysis … but after seeing and hearing many interviews over the last few months, I have to make the judgement that those regular journalists who do the interviews are leaning in an obvious bias toward the conservative side of politics. Is this just opportunism or cowardice?

Also, from my own memory of events alongside the judgements brought down against the accused in these several recent Royal Commissions, along with the excellent listing of actual facts concerning the Home Insulation Program (HIP) Royal Commission, that was published on the Independent Australia social media site, and was once again raised as a political issue in the recent “releases” of the “cabinet files”, I have to conclude that there is a “reservoir” of qualified professional people MSM are able to draw upon and who seem willing to let themselves be a “gun for hire” to deliver for the “payer” a judgement script straight from “head office”.

There also appears to be a willing participation from many higher education academics to just go along with or vehemently support that ideal of politics most destructive to expansive or less expensive education for the people … in face of the fact that their own education may have been as a result of the free tertiary education system in place at the time of their own advancement into higher learning … one has to wonder if they subconsciously deny even the success of their own capacity as an academic? And, of course, there are the many lesser professions that are too willing to toss their lot in with whoever will accommodate their personal pecuniary peccadilloes … one expects no better from these.

Which brings me to the nub of my argument … and to pinch a line from the erstwhile Jason Hand:

”There’s too much White Collar and not enough Blue Singlet.”

And this is the problem … and this is the thing that has gone awry … and this is the falcon that no longer hears the falconer. Where it has become obvious to the suburbs that the political argy-bargy, the subtle exchanging of brown bags of money, the consideration for the “Privileged Parental Leave” as against the struggling single mother in the ‘burbs, the lawyers and the litigants, the judiciary and the journalists are become so far removed from the everyday concerns of us plebs that it is almost irrelevant to even bother thinking about equality for the low wage earners and pensioners … and it is a shame. One has to wonder if many long-serving politicians are so “embedded” with the life-style and remunerations, they have lost the “fire-in-the-belly” aggressiveness to strike at the heart of the problems.

And yet we curse those “stupid people” who voted one way or the other, without considering their position in the here and now … because, if we think about the above examples, where it seems the many “enlightened and highly educated in society” are – apparently – taking the money and running … why on earth would a low-income, lower educated downwardly mobile peon not reconsider their loyalties and simply follow any money? Why do we expect those with the least clout, the least capacity for risk, do what those of greater wealth and better position do not even stop to consider before tossing their lot in with the destroyers of social order for a grubby “thirty pieces of silver”?

And that is why the MSM, in conjunction with the LNP has manipulated the policy interpretations and truthfulness of “promises” put forward by the LNP before the last election. That is why I see those crappy “interrogations” of the PM. There is no doubt there is regret in the suburbs, there is anger bubbling under the surface so now we have “Malcolm the Magnificent” the “deliverer of justice” being cynically promoted … they are low … but they know every trick in the book and they just tweak it here, tweak it there. But the biggest disappointment, is the lack of leadership from the higher strata of society … those of the judiciary. Of the legal fraternity and the academic fraternity … from the professions that have established networks that reach up into the high political circles … they need the example of integrity of another Weary Dunlop … while we already have many a “Joe Hill and Rosa Luxemburg” … we need to witness some gumption from these people to set example and yes! … to stand up and out and brazen it out to “cop it sweet” when the filth move against them … as they have moved against individual workers ,and the unions. For it is from such example the greater mass of citizenry take the lead and then the natural decency that is at the moment dormant in us all will break in a wave over these low-bred parasites that will have all our shoulders bent under their yoke and all our necks crushed under their jack-boots!

Damn their eyes!

After the Divide

By Robert Wood

It has been with some angst that I have been watching the Batman by-election from afar.

I know the division quite well and lived in neighbouring Brunswick East for the years I was in Melbourne. I was in Batman often. I shopped there, I drank there, I played sport there, I visited friends there, I volunteered there. It is, in the rhetoric of commercial media, a place for bleeding heart, downward dog, chardonnay socialist, latte sipping, mung bean, intellectual elites just like me. And without the Liberals in this particular election, it was a synecdoche for the battle among the left. How galling to watch Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt and others licking their lips waiting for us to tear ourselves apart. It seemed to them that we could only lose. In this contest, the ALP was set to be pulled off the centrist course needed to form government at the next federal election and the Greens would disenchant their base, becoming even less activist and akin to any other minor political party – 21st century Democrats anyone? But, regardless of the result, the fighting makes the left stronger. Anyone with a basic understanding of dialectics will understand that.

Although there can only be one winner, the question is how can we re-make the culture in such a way that the left provides the natural parties of government? And beyond that, how can a progressive culture give root to a spiritual education that creates a sense of enlightenment in our very souls and nature?

I have met politicians in my time – childhood tennis matches with Geoff Gallop, backyard BBQs with Paul Keating, a birthday lunch with Gough Whitlam, brief encounters with Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Teddy Kennedy. I myself have worked for trade unions and NGOs, the bread and butter of the ALP and Greens respectively. I have sat in branch meetings, pre-selection fights, voting booths. I have second-degree friends who are candidates now, people you know on Facebook but do not catch up with in person.

I have been a member of a political party for longer that I have not. I joined the ALP in 1998 at sixteen and though my membership lapsed at various points in time, I was active until 2015 when I joined the Greens for the second time. The first time I was actively involved with the Greens was during Mark Latham’s tenure in 2004, during which I campaigned in the ACT, acted as a scrutineer in the federal election, met Bob Brown and generally made myself heard on questions of the environment. But seeing politics from the inside made me realise I am not built for it – too vicious, too boring, too entitled, righteous, contemptuous. I no longer am a member, and besides, politics is bigger than its parties.

Now, I describe myself as a ‘splitting voter’. I am not someone who goes where the wind blows, not someone who swings depending on self-interest. Instead, I have developed a pragmatic and ideological compass that determines who I vote for. In general, I split my vote between the ALP and Greens to balance power and to combine pragmatic hard headedness with ideological aspiration. The point is that I aim to move the polity in an ideal direction, knowing that one can achieve landmarks along the way even as we must keep going. Recently, the accomplishment of note has been same sex marriage, but as Jed Bartlett says in The West Wing – ‘what next?’ To my mind that is republic, that is treaty, that is bill of rights as much as it is world hunger, climate change, fair pay.

In terms of what I can do as a citizen, that involves contributing to the intellectual discourse around politics here, which must be grounded in local actions that are attentive to local matters. And this is where we return to the role we play as political animals over and above our engagement with parties. For all the votes I cast, speeches I wrote, minutes I took, hours I canvassed, new members I signed up, I do not think I have met a more dedicated local group than the Witchcliffe Progress Association. Witchcliffe is a small town outside Margaret River in the south west of Western Australia and our group’s major achievement to date has been ‘Rails to Trails’, which involved opening up public land to become a green corridor so people can walk or bike between our town and the ones next door. Community groups like the WPA buttress political parties. They form the bread and butter, rice and curry, spaghetti carbonara of everyday governing in this place. Saying this should not discourage anyone from becoming a card-carrying member if they so wish (except of the Australian Conservatives). Rather, it means valuing political activity over and above the party system. The two are not mutually exclusive, and, at the end of the day, form an overlapping commitment to a social good for all of us as everyday citizens.

We must acknowledge that the ALP is grounded in class-consciousness, industrial relations, labour values, and that the Greens focus on ecological consciousness, non-profits, moral actions. Together they can be stronger; together they can shift the centre towards a tax on multinationals, compassion for the marginalised, and gender parity across a range of indices. We do not need new parties, but can retrofit our ideological rhetoric, our apparatus of thought to reflect who we are now. That means looking beyond policy, sound bites, slogan to actions on the ground. When we look there we can see the politics that counts. The everyday here is one of lifestyle consciousness, community groups, democratic needs. That is what matters today because it means continuing to articulate how we might change this place when our elected representatives can’t or won’t. And that is bigger than any result in Batman no matter who comes out on top with the votes.

Balthazar!

Balthazar is the second volume in Lawrence Durrell’s “The Alexandria Quartet”. (The exclamation mark is mine).

When I first read Durrell’s quartet a long time ago, I remember Balthazar being the most intriguing of all. The reading of it left me with a feeling of sensuous delight in the language so astutely manipulated and managed … for language as a written experience is one of the greatest and in my estimation, the most acclaimed achievements of the arts of humanity … and while painting as art is devilishly skilled, it is still a copy of many natural surroundings, likewise music is imitation of nature’s beasts and birds … wind and storm and song the cry of an estranged soul familiar in tone and pitch to a rising tumult of mild zephyr to wild wind.

But to take an alphabet of uniquely constructed letters that are assembled into accepted words and then to arrange those unfamiliar nouns, adjectives and verbs into sentences of not just legible script, but to frame them in descriptive design that can capture the sound and imagination of a reader to direct them down a road toward adventure, horror, love and desire demonstrates the dexterity of pure mental discipline to build, word by word, paragraph by paragraph that mood picture that we would wish to describe.

I have written many articles and stories … some of which have appeared on this site. Loving the fluidity of the written word, I find delight in just the sounds made in the pronunciation of those words … I always have from a long, long time ago. Some names of places have caught and held my awe in the wonder of place names:

Samarkand

Where is Samarkand?
Is it cry of bird strangely,
Or is it man?
And Byzantium?
A pealing of great bells, where
The name; Pliny, is but a tinkle.
And Jerusalem, Jerusalem … syrup,
As sticky as a bruised sugar fig.
Dar-Es-Salaam … a command?
If so, then consider its neighbour;
Like the last whispered word
From an unsettling dream …
… Zanzibar! …

So it came as a surprise to me a week or so ago when a young refugee, Samad Abdul, posted his story on this site where he opened with this sentence; “That’s such a moment of blessing when you are with your best friend but that’s such a horrible moment when friends get separated forever.”

And which brought a cavalcade of accusation and degradation upon the spirit of his plea and the generic hopes of so many desperate peoples wanting a feeling of that “moment of blessing”. The disgrace that was inflicted upon that young man’s story through nothing more that I can see than a envy of his desire for a dreamt of future whereas those who would deny him are trapped in a mire of mediocrity and drudgery unforgiving but materially secure … no longer do they seek, having become satisfied with such mediocrity, they are quick to condemn those who still hunger for life’s promises.

In the novel ‘Balthazar,’ the search for truth demands confronting some rather unsavoury imagery and realities..this demands an unflinching courage to stare at and stare down such in the face of sometimes social adversary. As the paragraph below says, from the Marquis de Sade’s story of Justine:

“Yes, we insist upon these details, you veil them with a decency which removes all their edge of horror; there remains only what is useful to whoever wishes to become familiar with man; Inhabited by absurd fears, they only discuss the puerilities with which every fool is familiar and dare not, by turning a bold hand to the human heart, offer its gigantic idiosyncrasies to our view.”

Backing up the young refugee’s article, I posted a story of another refugee from another time just last week; “Saying Goodbye to Ferrucchio”. It also was in reality a love story … a love story between the travails and sorrows of humanity that can come together in adversity and tragedy. We love as humans, we embrace as lovers, it is the continuity of life itself that neither work, duty or politics can stop. So it was a kind of weird moment when I read of many twitterers demanding of the “Barnaby Affair” that we please make it so that; “It is about the rorting, not the rooting!” … weird … as if such salacious dollops of metaphorical body-fluids could be overlooked for the everyday garden variety of possible rorting behaviour.

And it was this hypocrisy where the story of the young refugee was met with accusations of misleading, deceit, possible lying and being requested to “prove” his legitimacy of persecution … and yet, in the Barnaby Affair, we get the demand that we not ask about his private behaviour or life and do not inquire or require him to explain his tangled relationships. ”Leave his private life out of this!” we are admonished … yet demand the most intricate details of the life of a refugee, any refugee from the time of their first fears of danger to how, what, when, where and why they fled their homeland … and not any subsequent explanation by myself or others who had witnessed or experienced such fears could or would be accepted by these criothans of the self-elected “truth police” who in the face of so much detailed explanation stubbornly refused to shift ground.

‘Truth is what most contradicts itself in time,’ said Lawrence Durrell. I would add that “the telling of a truth gives strength and power to an argument, whereas a lie weakens the most legitimate claim”.

I’ll leave these last words in their sensual beauty to Mr Durrell:

“Profligacy and sentimentality … killing love by taking things easy … sleeping out a chagrin … This was Alexandria, the unconsciously poetical mother-city exemplified in the names and faces which made up her history.”

“Any concentration of the will displaces life and gives it bias in motion. Reality, he believed, was always trying to copy the imagination of man, from which it derived.”

But it is the blind, merciless cruelty that I find most offensive and disgusting, particularly from such whose greatest woe in life would be in equivalence to that which is lost by the refugee to the suffering of a mild toothache!

Saying Goodbye to Ferrucchio

You may have read my bits about “Ron the brickie”. He was sponsored to Australia as a young lad of thirteen years a few years after the 2nd WW. He left behind his mother and siblings when he came to Australia … a difficult situation not of his making. He went to school for a couple of years here, then worked for his uncle in the building trade. Like any number of refugees from war-torn countries, he came with a mix of memories both fair and foul. He is old now and not in good health, although he has worked right up till just the last few years in the building trade as a brickie/builder.

Of course, I have taken the usual liberties with the construction, names and continuity of the story-line. But I have to mark the seemingly one constant in these desperate migration situations … it is that perhaps the greatest loss and sorrow is carried by the women and children left behind.

It went like this:

Saying Goodbye to Ferrucchio

Carmina Serafina stood stolidly in the opening of the front door of her house, She filled the opening all ways, that is, width as well as height! She was not a handsome woman, she was splay-footed and big-boned. As a young woman, the other youngsters in the district used to call her “Carmina di cavalla” (Carmina the horse!). She stood there smiling at her visitors that were just alighting from the village “taxi” that brought them from the railway station of the provincial city of that region. Behind Carmina stood the flat impassive facade of the stone house that had been built around the turn of the century, and behind the house stood the massive, solid earth that is the Dolomites of Northern Italy.

Carmina smiled. She was working a tea-towel around and around in her hands.

“And what brings such riff-raff to the door of an honest woman?” she cried in mock admonishment. The aged, balding male of the couple of visitors pulled up as if in shock, one hand stalling his wife in her steps and with a surprised look on his face exclaimed:

“Did she say honest woman!? … Santa Cielo! My dear … we must have the wrong address!” and he turned bent-backed as though to sneak away.

“Come on with you, Pietro, you and your foolishness,” chided his wife … then as she was slower on the up-take; “Anyway, she is half way right“ … and she strode on arms out-stretched to embrace the woman in the doorway. The man called Pietro stayed on the spot, his arms akimbo toward the women embracing, his lips frozen in a silent “o” just waiting for the pause to expostulate mockingly his innocence. He didn’t get the chance as the women didn’t let off with the embracing so he dropped his arms to his side, sighed and came forward carrying their suitcases.

“The willing horse gets the heaviest load,” he said as he plonked the cases on the doorstep.

“Brother, welcome, welcome,” Carmina hugged him, they kissed and then held each other at arms length and as if on signal hugged again …

“Good to see you caro sorella, good to see you again,” Pietro murmured softly, all had the wetness of tears in their eyes.

“Ah, but it’s a sadness that Giorgio and Biaccio are not with us now,” wept Carmina.

“That bloody war,” she said bitterly. Pietro just pat his hand several times on her shoulder as Carmina turned and led them into the interior of the house.

She sat them at the kitchen table whilst she prepared the coffee percolator. They exchanged news of each other’s family and events as they climbed out of the pit that the mention of Carmina’s deceased husband and eldest child had drawn them.

Pietro was a builder and had traveled with his wife to Australia long before the war and had done reasonably well over there through their hard work and diligence. They had two children there. The children did not accompany them on this trip back to the “old country” as they were here on “business”.

“So tell me, Carmina, how have things been here since the war?” Pietro asked his sister.

Carmina pinched her thumb and index finger together in that peculiar Italian way and shook her hand meaningfully. She then carelessly tossed the tea-towel over the left shoulder.

“That God is my witness … brutto! … cativo! … I tell you, brother, that last year when their army retreated through here … they stripped the countryside of food … every morsel … and they shot those they found hiding anything away … ” Pietro’s mouth again formed an “o” and he too shook his hand in a gesture as he turned to look at his wife … “just so” Carmina continued “against the wall … boom! I tell you … afterwards, we had to dig the potatoes that were overlooked out of the frozen earth … everything gone … Guiseppina, she lost two children, the old people died … I think they let themselves go for the sake of the young ones. Then we had to boil the grass and drink the liquid … like cows … the grass even … but then, here we are (a sigh), things are slowly getting better, but the country is ruined, ruined … always trouble, always corruption … that is why I sent you the letter, I pray God you thought the proposition over. I’ve lost two of my men, I don’t want to lose Ferrucchio.”

She turned and leaned with both hands on the kitchen table in front of her brother then she stood up, automatically plucked the tea-towel off her shoulder and rolled it over her hands again as if it was a nervous habit, for she always seemed to have that tea-towel handy.

Pietro sat with his hands clasped together on the table, his lips pursed and a soft whistle escaped from them at the telling of his sister’s story. He sat back then with one hand resting on his knee and the other flat on the kitchen table. He was thinking careful.

“Yes, I have thought it over caro, I have,” he spoke quietly ”and I will take the boy back with me to Australia … but you, Carmina, have you considered the consequences?”

“I, Pietro? Why, yes, yes otherwise why would I write you the letter?”

“But caro sorella, do you realize how far it is to that country? It isn’t just the other side of Rome you know … you may never see Ferrucchio again,” he rapped his hand on the kitchen table in emphasis.

Carmina turned from their eyes, her eyes closed and she held back the thought while she prepared the coffee.

“I know, maybe, but … something must be done for the child … I have Enrico who is now engaged to be married next summer and then there is the three young children I have to care for and I see no future here for Ferrucchio if he stays … yes … I have thought of it often and I still say … take him.”

The last two words she spoke in a whisper so that Pietro and his wife exchanged doubtful glances.

“Well,” the wife spoke up “we will be here for a month and you will still have that time to become certain Carmina.” And the talk drifted onto other subjects.

The month passed quickly for Carmina. She thought over her proposition to Pietro again and again. Sometimes she was certain of the good of it, sometimes, as a mother she rejected the idea, she feigned to lose her favourite child to a distant land. “But one day soon he will no longer be a child,” she thought out loud, “and then what?” It was this conclusion that decided her in favour of his going.

One afternoon before the sun had slipped away completely over the mountains and the snow-capped ridges softened to a gentle hue of rose, she stood outside the front door and called for Ferrucchio to come home. She had a unique way of calling for him that differed from the other calls to her children and although Carmina, with her peasant-like sturdiness appeared clumsy, she had the voice of an angel.

She remembered with a sudden sadness how, many years before, when Giorgio was courting her, they used to “sing” to each other across the valley in the sweet spring air. Carmina was working the fields on one side and Giorgio was in the olive orchard on the other and they would tease each other with parts of Neapolitian arias and folk songs. Giorgio’s deep manly voice swirling underneath supporting Carmina’s higher thrills … and they would always end laughing at each other for the sheer joy of it all …

She started her call from a low note and built up the sound toward the rolling trill of the middle part of Ferrucchio’s name and drew out the tail end with a flowing of mellow but strong continuous tone … she would do this over and over again till this strange cry become, with the intercepting waves of rebounding echos, almost like one continuous song that trilled amongst the nearby peaks and washed through the trees on the banks of the little streams tumbling down from the snows. She would keep calling till the answering song from Ferrucchio blended into hers and she would smile at its cognizance and, taking the tea-towel off her shoulder, wipe it over her hands in contentment.

Ferrucchio had returned.

It was late afternoon, the younger children were out at play, Enrico, now the eldest, was still at work in the fields. Carmina had called Ferrucchio in to have a talk with him alone.

“Ferrucchio … you’re twelve years now … nearly thirteen.”

“Yes,” said the boy, perplexed, and a bit cautious at the seriousness of his mother’s features.

“Ferrucchio … you will be going away soon with your Uncle and Aunt. You will be going to live in Australia with them.”

“Yes, I know, we talked of it before,” he replied wearily.

“But listen Ferrucchio … you will be going a long way away and I .. I may not see you for a long, long time … I just want to sit with you a moment … and talk with you of some things.”

“About Papa?” Ferrucchio raised his eyebrows.

“What about your father?”

“How did he die?”

Carmina looked into her sons’ eyes and turned away, for of all her children he resembled his father the most.

“He … he died quite swiftly,” she parried.

“How?” Ferrucchio persisted.

Carmina took a deep breath.

“Giorgio was taken hostage by the soldiers … he and ninety nine other men … and … then … they shot them all.” She bit her lower lip to stop trembling.

“Like Angelo’s father?” Ferrucchio asked softly.

“Like Angelo’s father,” Carmina nodded.

“And Amelia’s?”

“Si, yes, Amelia’s.”

“And Francesco’s father?” he continued.

“Yes, yes!” she answered curtly.

“And … ”

“Yes, the lot! They shot the bloody lot of them,” Carmina cried and then stood up angrily and snatching the tea-towel off her shoulder, rolled it around her hands, then placed it gently to her mouth while the memory faded.

“I’m sorry Ferrucchio … the memory … .” She sat down again.

“I understand, mama,” Ferrucchio spoke quietly. Carmina looked up at his eyes, so young, so clear.

“Yes,” she thought, “maybe he does understand.”

“So I will go with Uncle and Auntie and he will teach me to be a stone mason in Australia.” Ferrucchio parrotted out the plan he had been told of weeks before. He had no objections, he was always hungry here, a lot of his friends had gone away, some had died, it would be an adventure for him.

“Yes, Ferrucchio … but I don’t want you to think I just sent you away. I am doing this for your future. There is so little here for a man to do … But you must write to me often, you must keep in touch, for I don’t know when I will see you again … ,” she stopped and put the towel to her face again. Ferrucchio leant forward and embraced his mother around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head.

“I will, I will, Mama … I promise,” he cooed. Carmina wiped away the tears and stood up.

“Well then … I must pack your things, for it’s only a couple of days left,” and she turned to go to her bedroom.

Ferrucchio sat alone in the kitchen for a moment and the evening glow from the valley window lit up the side of his face so it glowed golden. Carmina turned at her bedroom door and gently gasped at her child’s beauty.

“Ferrucchio,” she spoke, “you be a good man … ” And she turned away.

The early morning of departure was cold and the hills hung heavy with low cloud. It had started to snow for the first time for the season and the falling flakes muffled their voices and huddled the company with its pale embrace.

“I have the documents,” Pietro patted his coat pocket.

“I have packed an extra coat,” said Carmina.

“Ho! He won’t need it out there,” laughed Pietro “he’ll be getting around in his singlet!”

“Just the same,” Carmina remarked with certainty. “And you, Ferrucchio,” she chided “You won’t forget to write … you make sure he writes, Pietro, she frowned as she tugged and buttoned the collar of the boy’s coat.

“Mama!” Ferrucchio whined.

“Don’t you, ‘Mama’ me, I birthed you and raised you so now I won’t see you freeze to death … and you look after yourself too now that I won’t be around.”

“Mama!” Ferrucchio whined again.

“Carmina, caro,” Pietro laughed “he’s nearly a man now, let him dress himself!”

“And you brother, you make sure he becomes a good tradesman.” She chided.

“Ah si, si” Pietro nodded on and on.

“Well then,” Carmina stood back and snatched the towel off her shoulder and rubbed it over her hands.

“So,” spoke Pietro. “Time to depart.” And they all stood silently … then as to break the solemness of the moment, Pietro’s wife stepped forward and embraced Carmina.

“Don’t worry, Carmina caro … he’ll be fine, you’ll see, we’ll feed him up to a grand man,” and she smiled comfortingly at Carmina.

Carmina lowered her head and nodded as she tossed the towel over her shoulder again. Pietro kissed his sister and the little children. The older brother had said goodbye earlier and gone to work, but the three little children milled around their mothers dress. Ferrucchio kissed each in turn and they scurried back into the fold of the dress. He finally gave his mother an embrace and a kiss and climbed into the car. Pietro and his wife climbed into the car, then with some final word of comfort and cheerio, the car started off stickily in the new snow to drive down the road that swept along the side of the hill toward the village.

The car had gone just a little way when Ferrucchio leant out of the window to wave his hand and call some words.

“What’s that, Ferrucchio, what did you say?” Carmina cried to the going car.

“I didn’t hear, Mama,” the eldest girl said.

“Ferrucchio! … Ah, what did he say?” She stepped hurriedly forward and automatically snatched the tea-towel off her shoulder. “He’s gone, oh dear … Ferrucchio,” she whispered as she stepped quickly down the road to keep sight of the car, the soft new snow dappled on to her hair “They’re all gone now” she spoke to herself as she felt the finality of it all. “They’re all gone … Giorgio … Biacchio … now Ferrucchio,” and she spoke in a hollow-voiced cry as if trying to catch her breath. She had put on a brave face at the departure but now it had all deserted her, she felt so empty, a low hoarse whimper came with every breath and her long face contorted with her mouth agape.

“We’re here, Mama.” The girl child, now upset too, cried “I’ll stay with you Mama.”

“Ferrucchio,” Carmina called hopelessly as she hurried forward so as to keep the car in sight as if that very action would preserve the image of her child and the feeling of his presence would not just vanish, but it was all to no avail, hurrying, suddenly she slipped in the snow and fell on her thigh with one leg under her, she propped herself up on her left arm and brought the tea-towel up to her contorted face as she cried out in her despair ..

“Gone!” she cried. “Gesu, Gesu … all my men gone … why do mothers lose their children so … flesh of my flesh … oh, Gesu, send them to me … my Giorgio … that I can kiss the fear from his eyes … Biacchio that I can wipe the terror from his brow … send me my Ferrucchio that I may yet embrace him with my love … oh Gesu, Gesu … why is it women always lose their men … where do they go? … what happens to them? … oh Gesu, Gesu”.

She dropped her head and wept uncontrollably with the towel crumpled close to her mouth and the little children tugging at her clothes and worried and the eldest girl saying over and over …

“I won’t leave you, Mama, I won’t leave you, I won’t leave you … ”

But Carmina stayed humped in the snow and watched the car wind slowly down the hill toward the last twinkling lights of the village washed pale through the new falling snow.

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