31 July: failed post, great day at Woonona

This morning I actually completed a post but Windows Live Writer and this ancient computer had a spasm which lost the post. Nor did I have time to redo it, as I had to head out fairly early to meet my Diggers friend S.H. at Steelers in order to catch a Dion’s bus up to Woonona to go to the Woonona-Bulli RSL.


The idea was to meet S’s parents who live at Moss Vale but visit this club every month. They are about my age. S’s mother was born in Shellharbour, where my father was also born. I figured we would know people in common, and so it proved as her home as a child was next to my cousin Max! We had a great day of sharing.

Earlier I had posted July’s stats. The overall result here is better than last month. The most read posts in July have been:

  1. Home page / Archives 832 views in July.
  2. Reclaiming Australia Persian-style in Wollongong 82
  3. Of Pakistani origin, but not radical extremist… 60
  4. Outnumbered, Merlin, and other recently seen TV 46
  5. A very mixed bag 19
  6. I return to teaching — 1985 18
  7. All my posts 15
  8. My mother and the secret river; Ulster accent; class act 14
  9. Tom Thumb Lagoon 13
  10. Lost Wollongong 13
  11. What a treasury of family history! 12
  12. About 12
  13. Friday Australian poem: #NS6 – Mary Gilmore “Old Botany Bay” 10
  14. Ian Thorpe – free at last? 9
  15. Random Friday memory 22 – Beethoven in Minnamurra 9

Go back, lunchtime prayers, Adam Goodes

Go Back to Where You Came From (Series 3) began last night and delivered an up-to-date picture of where many stand on refugees and asylum seekers. I commend the program website to you.

Participant Kim Vuga is quite weird: I think so at any rate. See Go Back To Where You Came From episode 1 recap: Kim Vuga told ‘You don’t know anything’.

The self-described freelance journalist from Townsville sent the show trending first on Twitter with her inflammatory comments…

  • “I don’t believe that people are stateless because everyone comes from somewhere.” Face, meet palm #GoBackSBS

The most explosive argument came as the show’s six participants stood out the front of Darwin Correctional Centre.

[Nicole] Judge, who worked on Manus Island and gave evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into the death of Reza Berati, became angry when Vuga called the 23 year-old Iranian asylum seeker a “troublemaker”.

“One of the troublemakers that had died had been standing over people,” Vuga said to her.

Judge, from Sydney’s northern beaches, became highly emotional as she defended Mr Berati.

“Please don’t insult me by insulting a man that I knew,” she screamed over Vuga.

“You have no idea who Reza Berati is. I knew him; I played soccer with him, and he died at the hands of an Australian employed guard.”

“You don’t know anything,” she told Vuga…

Even one of my more mindless pleasures, Channel 10’s Family Feud, has been reminding us that this is after all one of the most successful multicultural societies on earth. encompassing both people called “Vuga” (rather than Smith or Jones) and contestants like last night’s:


Imagine how shocked I was earlier in the evening when I found myself agreeing with Paul Sheehan when The Drum discussed NSW to audit school prayer groups for extremism amid claims radical Islam preached at Sydney’s Epping Boys High School. He thought this was nonsense.

I spent at least two years sitting in, and being made welcome in, such a lunchtime prayer group. I have alluded to this many times: London ten years on; Bringing it home; Recycle and prelude: nine years ago; Some reflections on the late teen suicide bomber. From the last one there:

My former student [a member of the lunchtime prayer group] does “look the part.” He is clearly sub-continental and may wear some kind of funny hat. He possibly carries Islamic literature. But of course it seems clear to me that he is a zero security threat – in fact, an asset to this country and, through his work, several others.

I just hope we can all make such distinctions: but unfortunately the common talk makes this difficult. We become obsessed with damnably stupid ideas about the significance of halal markings on chocolate – though not apparently by statements about the same item probably also being kosher. We start to see all Muslims as terrorists, or at best not to be trusted as not being sufficiently “Aussie”!

I do despair: but all praise to people like Tanvir (the blogger quoted above) and friends. There may be the hope we need.

To clarify too: such lunchtime prayer groups are not part of the official religious education that state schools provide space for, commonly called “Scripture”. In NSW:

Under the Education Act 1990, public schools provide special religious education. This is provided by authorised representatives of approved religious groups to students who have nominated that religion. Times for these classes are negotiated with the school.

In November 2011 the Minister for Education published a media release that announced a minimum time of 30 minutes of meaningful teaching time per week in primary schools and a minimum of one period per week in secondary schools.

Rather they are voluntary ex-curricular gatherings for cultural, social or other purposes (train-spotting or butterfly collecting, perhaps) usually run by students for students. I belonged myself in the 1950s to the Interschool Christian Fellowship which met at lunchtimes – and still does. Similarly the school I last taught in also had a Jewish group, at times a Buddhist group, and latterly an Islamic group.

My experience in the years from 9/11 to London then Cronulla 2005 is that the consensus on The Drum last night is correct: it is better to keep dialogue open rather than to seek to “audit” (and then ban or punish?) the expression of opinions, which will occur anyway.

I am much saddened by the treatment of former Australian of the Year and Swans player Adam Goodes. See Sydney Swans star Adam Goodes considering retirement over booing scandal.

Retired Swans premiership player Michael O’Loughlin, who Goodes considers a father figure, did not dismiss the retirement talk when contacted on Tuesday night, while AFL Players’ Association  said no one could blame Goodes if he made that decision…

An emotional O’Loughlin told Fairfax Media he was now embarrassed to take his family to away matches.

“I hope the world takes notice of this,” he said. “This isn’t a WA thing or an AFL thing – it’s an Australian issue. To be called an Abo, a nigger, a black so and so, for your entire life, and then expected to sit there and accept it, it’s a reflection on Australia and where we are as a country.

“For people to say it’s not racist … What else can it be? They are booing someone who is a dual Brownlow medallist and someone who has a hundred other accolades. They are booing someone who has done so much to make sure kids get a better education. They are booing someone who has given so much more back to the game than many others.

“I read about one fan who was evicted after yelling out, ‘Get back to the zoo’. He was just ‘banter’. What absolute garbage. Because someone like Adam doesn’t sit in the corner and accept it – and neither would I – he is booed.

“I won’t be taking my children to watch football interstate until that stops. My mate is copping it everywhere he goes.”

Goodes, 35, decided during the off-season to play one last season with the Swans…

Rethinking boat arrivals policy?

My position over the years on asylum seekers who come by boat has been fairly consistent. I have lamented the trajectory taken on this issue over the past decade and more, but at the same time I have never been an advocate of open borders – or a policy of warm-hearted anarchy.

I made a point of watching live on ABC News 24 the recent ALP Conference debate the motion to ban boat turnbacks with interest. The standard of debate was itself encouraging. I have to admit to being moved by Tony Burke’s speech.

Tony Burke, who was immigration minister when Labor lost office in 2013, told the conference 33 people died in less than four months he spent as Minister, including a 10-week-old baby.

In a passionate and emotional speech arguing that Labor needs to be able to turn boats back, he said he asked his staff to find out the child’s name from the Department.

“The staff came back and said, ‘Oh no, we have spoken to the Department they can’t give you the name, you can’t use it in the media at the moment because the names can change and the details can change’.”

“And I said, ‘Can you just tell them, I don’t want to use it in the media’.

“He was 10 weeks old. He died on my watch. I just want to know his name. His name was Abdul Jafari.

“I was given his name on a post-it note and I kept that post-it note on my desk until we lost office.”

Mr Burke said Labor needed to change its policy.

“Be in no doubt, if we allow a consequence of our policies to be that people smugglers can credibly argue that they can sell someone the chance to be Australian, then good, desperate people will say that’s worth the risk,” he said.

“I want us to help more people than we’ve ever helped before but I want everyone to get here safely.”

Some in the audience were moved to tears by his speech.

Now hot on the heels of that debate (lost, by the way, so that turnbacks remain an option under Labor, though whether The Greens let it happen is a moot point) comes SBS with series 3 of Go Back to Where You Came From on three nights this week.


See TV highlights: Go Back to Where You Came From.

As the tagline says, the boats might have stopped, but the debate hasn’t. Certainly, this third iteration of SBS’ controversial and award-winning series feels timely. It’s also confronting, thought-provoking, moving and difficult to watch. There are six participants this time and initially it feels like the scales have been weighted a little towards the “go back” camp: only two of the six are vocal in their support of refugees, and criticism of current government policy. But the situation is actually more subtle and fluid than that. The remaining four represent quite a broad sweep of opinion, from the unashamedly redneck to the educated and concerned. They include Davy, who, as an eight-year-old, was put on a boat by his parents, came to Australia as a Vietnamese refugee, and is now a vigorous supporter of Operation Sovereign Borders. If nothing else, this series is a fascinating insight into human nature. At times, the shouty righteousness of the “welcome refugees” faction is as off-putting as the xenophobia of their opponents. It’s intriguing to see the way different people process exactly the same information. And, of course – this is a linchpin of the format – it’s compelling to see how people react when confronted with the human reality of their preconceived theories. One pothole that does emerge early is the government’s absolute refusal to allow filming inside our detention centres. It denies us the opportunity to make up our own minds. It also undercuts the whole process here: whatever these people went in thinking about detention centres necessarily remains unchallenged.

Elsewhere, though, our six participants have the opportunity to physically test their beliefs and it is to the enormous credit of all six that they tough out what must be an extraordinarily challenging ordeal, physically and emotionally. And, as always, Go Back to Where You Came From is an opportunity for us to get a taste of that ordeal, and perhaps reassess our own positions.

I posted back in 2012 on the previous series: Not yet on Go Back 2012 on SBS; The email from Quitnet and further framing thoughts on GBTWYCF2 on SBS; Go Back to Where You Came From 2012–revisited–Part 1; Go Back to Where You Came From 2012–revisited–Part 2 and on the first in 2011: Pub talk, reality TV, reality and “Go Back to Where You Came From”; About last night’s “Send them back…” and Paul Sheehan.