“Oh what wicked webs we weave
When first we practice to deceive.”
Not far away from where I live, in a bare paddock, amongst thousands of broad cropping acres, there is an abandoned cottage. It was once the home of the Schippan family, the family involved in what has become a most mysterious “unsolved” murder.
It is not the original pioneer homestead of the family, but another home built after the “murder house” nearby was abandoned. It has become known as “The Towitta Murder”. You can read about it online or in a published novel: “The Noon Lady of Towitta”.
You can hear all about it here:
There never was a satisfactory resolution to that murder, and the only “concrete” evidence pointing to a possible killer was the death-bed confession of the father to a Lutheran pastor that he had murdered his own daughter because she had witnessed years before, her father killing an Afghan trader and he feared she would tell someone when she grew older … so in fear of her knowledge, he took her life.
But the murder of Bertha Schippan is not what I want to discuss here, but rather what leads us to a situation where the continued delusion, denial and deceit would bring us to sacrifice, as Bertha Schippan’s father did, the life or the lives of our closest neighbours and loved ones and even easier those who come to us as strangers seeking help. What was the driving terror that drove a father to possibly kill his own child..and is it the same motive that drives a community to abandon, maim and in many cases even kill those most vulnerable amongst us?
When I worked and lived in the Fleurieu Peninsula as a young man, I learned the swiftness that rumour and story could spread through small communities … as many of you reading will testify from your own experiences..There was a saying in Yankalilla that; “If you farted when driving through Delemere (a tiny hamlet a small distance from ‘Yank’), by the time you reached Yankalilla it had already got around that you had shit yourself!”. That’s how it is in these small communities, and I doubt it was any different back in those times in Towitta district. The fact that we may never “prove” who was the killer of Ms Schippan, does not excuse the fact that someone knew and that someone kept quiet and there was sure to be someone who knew that someone and so on … and in the end the whole community kept ‘schtoom’ … and so colluded in the cover-up and then became an accomplice to the crime.
We know now from recorded history that there was much vocal opposition to Hitler’s direction for Germany and the Nazi party, but in the end, the entire German peoples had to shoulder the community blame for the result and have weathered the insults and guilt for many years since. But the recent action of Angela Merkel to admitted nearly one million Middle Eastern refugees was not only a charitable and brave decision in the face of much outcry from the right-wing politicians and racists in her own country and Europe, it went a very long way to restore the spiritual healing of the German soul. And even though some will say that those refugees were “not of the same creed or cultural similarity as us” it has to be accepted the refugee is of the same flesh and blood, of the same sensitivities, feeling the same despairs and hungers and fears, and in the end we have to accept there are never any examples of the perfect refugee … and in fact, they are merely us. Us in another situation, another guise.
So on this anniversary of the Referendum of the Aboriginal Right to Vote (May 1967), we too, as a community have made our first faltering steps toward the healing of the community soul, and while such as John Howard will not admit to there being any association of the current generations to the crime, and such politicians and racists as Peter Dutton would not stay to hear the apology, the cover-up of the action and the denial of the deed is the same as the staying quiet by the community of the Schippan murder, the seething guilt of the German Nazis and the lying collusion of the right-wing governments in Australia to hurt, maim, demoralise and divide our communities.
But while there are many who for avarice or hate or political gain with both will try to take our country to dark places, dismal reaches of the soul, many also … much more I am seeing now, will not allow us to be dragged guilty by association to the right-wing destruction, moral or physical of our multi-cultural society. While there are ministers like Dutton, Morrison, and Prime Ministers like Howard, Abbott and Turnbull, we will have to hold close to our hearts the inherent decency passed to us by our past ancestors who did protest and rail against the authoritarian cruelty that is so destructive. And we will have to one day remove them and those who promote their indecencies from our company.
What was it John Howard was reaching for when he stood shoulder to shoulder with Donald Rumsfeld and with that signature shit-eater grin announced that “shock and awe” would be delivered like the apocalypse angels upon a wronged people in an illegal war? What was it that delayed assistance being sent to “Siev X” and then the storming of the Tampa by SAS commandos if not just to add to the denial that these situations were the result of HIS and his associates crimes? What is the first thing a criminal does at the scene of their crime but to cover up the evidence of their guilt? The continued tormenting and persecution of refugees by the conservative government is the denial of and the covering up of guilt for the original crime.
The community cannot, will not … I … will not be an accessory in this guilt. We have made our opinions felt here and elsewhere and we will not cover any more for the crimes of those who cower behind a community wall sniping at the poor, the frail, the vulnerable, because as has been written one way or another in the blood and tears of humanity over many, many millennia in every culture and creed: “There … but for the grace of fate … go I.”
[As an aside, I have to confess that I sometimes use a song from my young years to sustain the “mood” of the pieces I write…for example; for this piece, I had the beautiful harmonies of Peter Paul and Mary singing “In the early morning rain”].