Looking back: March 2015

A new series begun in February of “random Friday memories” continued.

Random Friday memory: 1 – John Mystery, my brother, Illawong

Random Friday memory: 2 – not so random: David Hicks

Random Friday memory 3 – Digit Dick and others

Random Friday memory 4 – the iceman

Random Friday memory 5 – Aladdin Lamps

Random (not quite) Friday memory 6 — Tanna

Friday random memory 7: Katoomba 1975

As you would expect I posted about Mardi Gras, though I saw it only on TV. See Amazing sights, the first of which was not Mardi Gras:

The talk of Wollongong has been yesterday morning’s arrival at our small local airfield of the Qantas 747 Jumbo “City of Canberra.” I missed it, by the way; slept too late.

Spending 25 hours in a $30 million flight simulator prepared four Qantas pilots for the trickiest landing the VH-OJA ever made.

But what it didn’t prepare them for was the overwhelmingly enthusiastic welcome they received as they piloted the 747-400 to its new home at the Illawarra Regional Airport.

“The things you can’t simulate are the crowds we could see on every vantage point,” said Ossie Miller, the captain of the Qantas 747 fleet…

The record breaking aircraft has been donated to the Historic Aircraft Restoration Society and is being touted as having a future as one of the region’s great tourist attractions.

Captain Greg Matthews – the pilot in command of the 15 minute flight from Mascot to the Albion Park Rail airport – said the flight and landing at the small airport went according to plan…

It will be in display as a permanent part of the excellent aircraft collection down there. I gather that while it landed flawlessly it cannot take off again. The strip is too short.

Islam was the topic of  many posts in March. These posts remain very relevant.

A thoroughly good human being…

Posted on March 10, 2015 by Neil

That’s what I saw on Australian Story last night.

CAROLINE JONES, PRESENTER: Hello. I’m Caroline Jones. Dr Jamal Rifi is the sort of general practitioner many people thought no longer existed. He runs a single practice, still does house calls and cheerfully sees his patients out of hours. Dr Rifi is also an influential and outspoken voice in the Muslim community at a time of exceptional scrutiny and debate. But his views have brought him critics as well as admirers. And this is his Australian Story.

Recycle and prelude: nine years ago

Posted on March 15, 2015 by Neil

I have actually read all nine pages of Jake Bilardi’s now infamous post. (It was on WordPress, by the way.) See also Tim Mayfield’s Jake Bilardi: both perpetrator and victim and the excellent 7.30 segment ‘Jihadi’ Jake Bilardi – from Australian suburban schoolboy to Islamic State suicide bomber. Then on Saturday night SBS ran Mira Nair’s movie The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012) which I thought very good. (Margaret and David both rated it four stars.)

All this resonated with things I experienced ten years ago – and more. It so happens I chronicled some of that in March 2006, which I now offer as a prelude to some thoughts in the near future. Links do not open in new windows, and may lead nowhere now…

Some reflections on the late teen suicide bomber

Posted on March 16, 2015 by Neil

As promised yesterday.

There is much out there already; again I commend as a start ‘Jihadi’ Jake Bilardi – from Australian suburban schoolboy to Islamic State suicide bomber from ABC’s 7.30.

I looked at his school. Seems a good place. How hard it must be for them right now, and even more for the family.

Bilardi’s blog reveals a teen not unlike some I have taught or met over the years, especially perhaps since the 1990s. A digital native. It strikes me that he was “radicalised” as much by, say, John Pilger or Noam Chomsky as the Quran or Islamist sources — or by any of a whole range of left to far left news, history and current affairs sites – some of them often very useful as a counterweight (or counterpunch?) to the mainstream. The speed with which he worked through all this stuff over five years from atheist 13-year-old to 17-18 year-old fanatic ready to kill or be killed is quite amazing…

Mindless reaction trumped by decency? And our next state member…

Posted on March 18, 2015 by Neil

To take the second story first. Wollongong local member Noreen Hay is a bit of a legend around The Gong and beyond, but there is a very good chance she will be Gone Gong after March 28. [That didn’t happen…]

And now for Mindless reaction trumped by decency?

See this story in the Illawarra Mercury: Wollongong’s #illeatwithyou hashtag aims to eradicate Islamophobia.

Wollongong restaurant Samaras has hit back against calls to “boycott Islamic businesses” by launching an #illeatwithyou hashtag campaign to promote acceptance of different cultures and religions.

Restaurant owner Omar Nemer developed the idea after the Corrimal Street eatery was targeted by anti-Islamic abuse on social media, including criticisms of its halal-certified products.

Following an outpouring of support from the Illawarra community, Mr Nemer is asking diners to show solidarity by extending that same appreciation of multicultural cuisine to people of all backgrounds.

“The #illeatwithyou hashtag is about getting people to really think about and appreciate multiculturalism in the community, and sharing a love of food is a great way to do that,” he said….

He said he has been overwhelmed by the support he and his family has received since he took to Facebook to defend Samaras from racist abuse.

Among his supporters is community leader Grahame Gould, who is urging other Illawarra residents, business people and prominent figures to show zero tolerance for racism by attending an #illeatwithyou lunch at Samaras on Wednesday.

“I want to stop racist boycotts in their tracks; I want to show zero tolerance for that attitude within the community,” Mr Gould said. “It’s about fairness to individuals and giving people a fair go, which is a core Australian ideology.”…

What a crack-brained idea that was, “boycotting falafels”!  Let me mention that some of the best sausages I ever had were halal ones in Surry Hills, but further here are two takes on the current wave of hysteria around halal food…

Bringing it home

Posted on March 19, 2015 by Neil

Recently I posted related thoughts on the phenomenon of teenage jihadis: Recycle and prelude: nine years ago and Some reflections on the late teen suicide bomber. There was a thoughtful response by kvd:

Neil, I read your post and several links including the long post from the boy in question, and I can only say I am no wiser about just how this young man ended where and how he did. You say in your post ‘there are more positive paths’ and I can only hope that such is the case for the majority of his peers.

But I’m left wondering about two basic concepts for which I guess there is no specific answer: first, where did his ‘need’ spring from; second, why did he ‘want’ to pursue the course he took? I cannot find any answers from his long post which is at times quite eloquent, but at times demonstrates little understanding of some of the events he describes.

That he ‘needed’ to believe in something is intriguing in itself. These days it is unusual to find such a searching need in anyone – not to say it doesn’t exist; just that it is unusual. Then, that he wanted to believe this particular brand of truth as he understood it? Forget the many arguable points and misconceptions; why would an intelligent human think any resolution or advance could be achieved by blowing oneself up?

Anyway, thanks for a most provocative post.

I don’t have all those answers either, especially given that the truth of the matter as far as I now believe (pretty much as an agnostic) is that there are absolutely no – none, nada, zilch, zero – magic books floating around the world containing your actual words of God or an infallible guide to life. Since my agnosticism does rather shade into theism of some kind, I do think there are inspiring things in the usual suspects from the Abrahamic tradition, itself a johnny-come-lately in the human story of course. What was God up to during the millennia when the ancestors of the original inhabitants of Wollongong were sitting on that mountain I can see from my window this morning?..

So imagine my feelings when Prime (7) News rather prominently featured this story last night:

TWO brothers blocked from leaving Sydney Airport under suspicion they were heading to fight in the Middle East were award-winning students at the prestigious Sydney Boys High public school.

The boys, aged 16 and 17, were prominent members of sporting teams at the selective school, one of eight Great Public Schools (GPS) in Sydney, with the older brother also excelling academically and in debating…

That is as it appears on the Daily Telegraph website this morning as the Channel 7 version has disappeared. (The front page was devoted to a particularly bizarre murder trial that finished yesterday.) Last night on Facebook I commented:

I hate the way this is being framed. The school is simply NOT one of Sydney’s most exclusive schools. It’s a state school like any other but academically selective, old and (oddly) competes in GPS sport. I went there. I taught there. I know many of the current staff. The principal is undoubtedly the best I ever worked for. I fear that the way this plays in the media will block real understanding of what might have got into the heads of the two brothers, assuming the allegations are accurate. Coincidentally I have blogged recently on matters relating to ten years ago, but can’t and won’t say anything about this latest, except to utterly support the school…

NBN, election, great feed

Posted on March 29, 2015 by Neil

… Meanwhile it has turned out that my prediction 11 days ago in Mindless reaction trumped by decency? And our next state member… has proved wrong.  But the other part of that post proved a winner.

Yesterday in the spirit of Wollongong’s #illeatwithyou hashtag aims to eradicate Islamophobia Chris T and I had an excellent (halal) lunch at Samaras.


There’s an extract from the menu. We had a side of the best baba ganoush ever, and then shared a Lebanese Mixed Platter for one. Yes, for one! And even then we barely coped. The food is as good as anything I ever had back in Little Lebanon in Surry Hills, and Chris, who is a chef by trade, got a quick lesson on how to make perfect baba ganoush.

The staff were great and the place was doing a roaring trade.

samara image

Those are rather bigger than our mixed plate!

March also saw the passing of former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and playwright Alan Seymour.