June 2006 really surprises me — 1

Believe it or not I do not spend all my days combing my archives, but with the new month I first checked that I did have a June 2006 archive and then, having found it, surprised myself! So this is the first of up to 3 reposts! I may add in some pics…

Pentecost Sunday at South Sydney

Good service today at South Sydney Uniting Church. Dorothy McRae-McMahon gave the sermon or “reflection”. I had been asked to do a poem, so I read from T S Eliot’s “Little Gidding”:

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

It went over well.

More on yesterday: what do you do when…

…someone says “fuck” in church?

Yes, it did happen some weeks ago during a service at South Sydney Uniting Church. There is a space in most services where people can give voice to concerns, or sometimes even vent, and being where we are (Redfern and Waterloo) there are times when real life impinges on our worship. In fact, I think generally speaking we hope that is the case. And a little while ago someone vented, if I remember rightly, about “fucking politicians.” I remember thinking, “You’re angry, aren’t you” — and in this case rightly so. I seem to remember it had something to do with the ongoing saga of The Block. There were those in church that day who were offended, as you may well imagine.

The colourful norrie responded by shortly afterwards wearing an “Unfuck The World” T-shirt to church, a sentiment (however expressed) that Christians can hardly object to.

Kind of related, see this rather wonderful article by Laurel Snyder [Wayback Machine] on Killing the Buddha — a reference to a famous Zen saying, of course, which is not meant to be taken literally: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”. I think that is about excessive certainty and dogmatism.

Dorothy’s sermon yesterday was a subtle and very gentle response to the whole episode: a plea to hear the message in our own tongues, referring to Pentecost, and to lay our lives and our languages side by side in loving acceptance, while acknowledging that this is not the same as “anything goes”. However, feeling free to express what really matters, however it may come out, is more the business of the church than putting on our Sunday faces and limiting ourselves to mere pleasantries. The sermon was well done, much better than this report of it.

Afterwards I had lunch at Sirdan’s with Lord Malcolm and Sirdan. We consumed Lord Malcolm’s birthday French wine, and it was indeed good. Lord Malcolm was also pleased to watch the Sydney Swans win in a game that for a considerable time was going against them.

We also saw an excellent Message Stick on Lillian Crombie, an Aboriginal entertainer Lord Malcolm refers to as his “auntie”, because at one low point in his life she offered him just the right word.

Lillian Crombie See also this podcast.

And speaking both of TV and church, do watch The New Inventors on ABC this Wednesday at 8, as you will see Sam, one of our South Sydney Uniting Church regulars.

Ouyang Yu, The Eastern Slope Chronicle

This time last year Ouyang Yu came to The Mine [Sydney Boys High] to speak to Year 11, so I spent the best part of a day with him. I had been warned that he could be “difficult”, but such was not my experience. This Wayback Machine capture of my Tripod English and ESL site takes you to all I wrote before and after that day about that visit.

Ouyang is a controversial figure within Australian literature, sometimes characterised as ‘the angry Chinese poet.’ His work captures the frustrations (personal, social, professional and sexual) of the migrant experience and hits out at the indifference and hostility with which Australia has greeted recent waves of Asian immigration. He writes with insight about the dilemmas of transnational artists and intellectuals caught between different literary, cultural and linguistic traditions. His raw, uncompromising style (according to one critic, the ‘deliberate unloveliness’ of his language) challenges literary as well as social establishments at the same time as it engages in courageous acts of introspection and self-criticism. Ouyang typifies the new generation of post-colonial writers and intellectuals who can write with detachment about the forces of globalisation and their impact on East-West relations and at the same time acknowledge their complex and often painful impact on their own life and work.

That is on Ouyang’s site.

I pointed out when I mentioned The Eastern Slope Chronicle on June 1 (in the additional comment) that the novel was rejected 29 times before Brandl & Schlesinger finally published it. I can see why publishers would be nonplussed with this very postmodern work where the style quite deliberately, I believe, retains quite a bit of “uncorrected” Chinglish; that this fluctuates convinces me it is deliberate.

The novel is eminently quotable. The first example may justify my referring to him as a kind of Chinese Mister Rabbit, as, like The Rabbit, he says what he sees no matter whose PC sensibilities might be offended.

Contrary to popular Chinese perception that Australians are stupid, I would think they are pretty smart for average Chinese, with their hands because they are good at fixing things, mowing the lawn, gardening, and renovating their houses, better than the average Chinese in these things…

Australians like to make promises but do not seem to like to carry them out. The end result is often exasperating…


His supervisor, Professor Sean Dredge, was a historian who knew little about the Chinese and what they thought. The only reason he accepted Wu was because he thought Wu would be useful to him as he was researching for a book he was going to write on the recent Chinese experience in Australia, particularly after the June 4th, 1989… In a climate where all things Asian were good, the Chinese were quite a commodity to market. As a historian, and one with a business mind, Sean was quick to seize the opportunity…


The comments I got were not favourable. They went something like: this was not appropriate for an essay. More respect should be due. But ever since I hated the idea of a reader that I am supposed to respect. Each time when I write I want to say this to my readers: fuck you! and get away! I can’t be bothered with you making judgments as if you were a god or something. If I do that I reduce myself to the same level as the owner of a McDonald shop whose only concern is get more customers, thus bringing in more income.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned; but I strongly recommend this bracing experience to you. It is indeed a very clever book.

“My home is where my heart find peace,” Su Dongpo [= “Eastern Slope Su”] once said… To me this doesn’t seem to apply for wherever I go my heart just doesn’t seem to find peace, whether it is Australia or in China or anywhere else in the world. Once there was a home for it and it was called China. Now that I returned home, curiously, it was no longer there.

Ouyang Yu is now a Facebook friend.

Ouyang Yu 2021

Stuart Macintyre and Anna Clark, The History Wars

I recommend this book without reservation. It is absolutely vital for anyone who cares about integrity in the writing and teaching of history. Its account of the nature of history and of Australian historiography rings true to my forty years in the field of history teaching.

Indeed, my deposit of memory goes back to the time of Federation, in that my grandfather before me was a teacher and passionately interested in Australian history and shared this with me. I have seen and read many of the histories of Australia used in schools all the way back to the beginning of the twentieth century, and I have seen and read many of the classroom readers going back to the 1880s. I also have a good working knowledge of the tradition of Australian literature. What Macintyre says on all this is absolutely accurate.

I deplore in the most serious way the interventions of John Howard in this area, as the man is not only ignorant but as ideological as any Marxist ever has been, except he of course does it on behalf of his own bowdlerisation of Australia’s past. I deplore the shrill apparatchiks who hog the media on the subject — from whom I would in fact except, at his best, Geoffrey Blainey, who really is a historian, whether or not one agrees with all he says.

I have never been a Marxist, and I have never espoused radicalism in historiography, though I certainly have learned from a whole range of historians. My training was at Sydney University when Stephen Roberts, the second Professor of History at that place, was still alive and well, if Vice-chancellor. I even learned my British history in the same class as, indeed sitting next to, Philip Ruddock!

So as one who is actually quite conservative in my history in very many ways, I again endorse absolutely Stuart Macintyre’s History Wars. Read it to see how bad are the times we live in, intellectually speaking. No joke at all; in fact I see it as a tragedy, given the progress we were making in understanding our shared past.

See also Wikipedia.

My maternal grandmother, the wife of the teacher I mention above, once stopped my grandfather in his tracks when he was about to reveal some juicy family history I now know about: “Some things,” she said, “should not be talked about.”

This seems to have been true of the Howard family, if one is to believe David Marr’s story in the HeraldThe secret Howard plantations.

THE corner of Ewart Street and Wardell Road in Sydney’s Dulwich Hill is sacred ground for John Howard and the modern Liberal Party. For nearly 30 years, the Prime Minister’s father ran a service station on this spot, setting an example his son thinks Australia should follow.

“I was brought up to believe that about the best thing you could ever do in your life,” he said soon after taking office in 1996, “was to start up a business with nothing, work your insides out, hope you earned a bit of money, and pass on a bit of it to your kids.”

His mother’s church and his father’s service station have come to stand as markers of respectability, honesty and the Howard family’s deep roots in the suburban heart of the nation. To be the son of a service station proprietor allows John Howard to claim as a qualification for high office that he was and remains an ordinary Australian.

But Howard’s father had another life. While this old soldier worked his humble Sydney service station, he was also – on paper – a New Guinea planter with a string of estates where 200 native labourers grew copra in his name. Lyall Howard had cashed in his status as a returned digger to “dummy” for the trading house W. R. Carpenter and Company Ltd. His own father, Walter, was doing it, too. The Howard case provoked secret, official investigations at the highest levels in Canberra, but they and their powerful backer got away with the scam…

Could it be that John Howard’s whole approach to history, its selectivity, its discomfort with the past, can be traced back to this particular piece of myth-making and attendant concealment? Speculation I know, but I have always felt something very strange is driving this man…

Is that funny little man still following us?