This time from October 2001.
02 Oct 2001
Despite what I said…breaking my silence
It has taken something really good (for a change!) to make me interrupt my break from this diary.
1. My nephew, who in an immaculate piece of historical research has demonstrated his descent on his mother’s side from Bungaree, who sailed with the explorer Matthew Flinders almost 200 years ago, has been honoured by having some of his research displayed in a Matthew Flinders exhibition at the State Library of NSW. He has also been interviewed on video, and that interview, along with some other things, will become part of the exhibit at the Museum of Sydney devoted to evidence of continuity of Aboriginal presence in the Sydney Region since European settlement.
2. Cafe Max was particularly lovely this afternoon….
04 Oct 2001
..house and site
M got into tidying yesterday, and became a bit…well…
Today I am on my way to coaching and called into Global Gossip Internet Cafe (of which I am now a member) in order to start the process of deleting the archives (except one or two) on Diary-X. (Internet Cafe saves hassles, is cheap, and makes a nice outing.)
I do this purge on Diary-X every few months, but in some ways it was nice to delete September! However, you can still read it on the Angelfire archive. That gives you September, but all the rest back to late 1999 can be found on that archive, for which see Diary Key below.
Really looking forward to after coaching. I have a book complete with proclamation (correctly spelt) 😉 Max is wonderful….
05 Oct 2001
…but I’ll rave quietly 😉
Our Prime Minister has called an election for November 10, nothing to do (of course) with his popularity going through the roof right now due to one rather dishonourable set of circumstances, and one other–the international situation. It’s not too hard to see the second one, but what of the first? I refer to a series of carefully targetted policy backflips, the cynicism of which even some of his supporters have noted. I also refer to the exquisitely absurd Tampa crisis, a mobilisation of moral panic and xenophobia which is simply breathtaking. In cost terms, we may as well have hired the QE2 and sent all the asylum seekers on a long cruise, but people really don’t seem to care. I’ve argued this one before (see September 2001 diary) and others have argued it better. So I’ll leave it there right now. Except to say I think Malcolm Fraser (ex-Prime Minister and Liberal Party one at that) has generally been quite right in his criticism of his ideological successor over the past few years.
J W Howard won’t be getting my vote–but I guess you knew that; then, neither will the Opposition unless they look a whole lot better. Yes, I will vote: it is compulsory to do so, but I will be studying the alternatives very carefully.
06 Oct 2001
A petition signed by many eminent Australians
In The Australian today there appeared a petition signed by two broadsheet pages worth of eminent and less well-known Australians, including a number I know, such as Nicholas Jose, William Yang, Helmut Bakaitis, Professor Ros Arnold of Sydney University, and of course Malcolm Fraser, ex-Prime Minister (same party as the present one). M. and I agreed we would have signed it ourselves had we had the chance, so here it is:
Australia and the Refugee Crisis
In today’s world, left shaken and uncertain by the terrorist acts of 11 September, it is more imperative than ever that Australia find just and humanitarian ways to respond to the growing refugee crisis.
We are outraged and ashamed at this country’s contemptible treatment of men, women and children seeking asylum in Australia, a country which has given a new home and new life to countless thousands of immigrants.
We are outraged and ashamed that our hard-won international reputation as a decent and tolerant democracy has been severely damaged.
We must not allow the events of 11 September and their aftermath to erode the principles of humanitarianism and justice that underpin our society. Rather, we must reaffirm those principles as essential to our democracy.
Confronted by a situation that is challenging for community and government alike, we call for Australia to abide by both the spirit and the letter of its international treaty obligations in offering sanctuary to victims of persecution who have fled the tyranny of their governments.
We call for a multi-partisan approach to address the global refugee crisis. We call for Australia to show regional and international leadership in developing a worldwide and long-term solution to this problem. This is one way Australia can act constructively in this volatile time.
Finally, we call for all Australians to draw strength and direction from the rich humanitarian heritage of our country, especially the value of the fair go.
I would sign that gladly, and I add that one reason I will not vote for either major party is that the current government has cynically manipulated the situation for supposed electoral advantage (that is, winning the One Nation vote for itself) and the Labor Party has connived in an unprincipled manner for the same purpose. Both stink, in my view, at least on this issue.
The 2000+ people who signed the above petition are not just ratbags, radicals or trendies, but include some of the most eminent and respected in the land.
I had an interesting discussion tonight with a military man who before long will be a lot closer to the action overseas than I am, and he agreed with this assessment of the current government’s handling of the so-called “queue-jumpers” 100%, I am pleased to say.
For further reading, see Peter Mares, Borderline, UNSW Press 2001. This book is excellent, and actually quite charitable towards Mr Ruddock, the current Immigration Minister, but gives inconvenient fact after inconvenient fact to expose the hollowness of the government line, made even worse by the manipulation since the book was written of the so-called crisis over the Tampa. (See September diary for more.)
But I promised not to rave too much…
[What follows] is from “Spectrum” in The Sydney Morning Herald 6 October 2001:
By Ruth Wajnryb
Be honest. Can anyone truly look at a picture of a refugee family from the Tampa and still see these people as people? I can’t. I now see them in the terms in which they have been newly constructed in the language.
I try not to. I remind myself: these are people. They’re not refugees or asylum seekers or desperadoes or illegals or queuejumpers or boat people. They’re not cargo or contraband or human flotsam or victims of people-trading. They’re not part of a flood or a deluge that needs to be contained. They’re people.
It’s not easy. Over the past few weeks they’ve been languaged – packaged and presented up to us. Sometimes as deserving objects of our compassion. Sometimes as targets of our contempt. Somehow, along the way, they stopped being people.
They are the new dark hordes, a not-too-distant cousin of the yellow variety. They’re Middle Eastern, Afghans, Muslims (variously pronounced Mozlem, Muzlem, Moozlem. I am reminded that Churchill persistently mispronounced “Nazis” as “Narzies”. This allowed him to drag out the first vowel – one can only speculate why. I suspect that talkback radio’s “Moozlem” serves a similar purpose.)
How do you make a villain? Insanely, it helps to equate those-who-flee with the government-being-fled – a formula that would turn Einstein into a Nazi. It’s a peculiar way of thinking that serves only the one making the equation.
And what about us? We’ve constructed ourselves into a land on the brink of being deluged. Overcome by a tidal wave, a plague, disease. We have no will or power of our own; the pestilence will happen to us because illegal asylum-seekers will cause it to happen. Unless we act decisively, close the floodgates, send in the SAS. Make ourselves Tampa-proof. This is what we’ve been told.
This crisis seemed to be about 460 people, a ship, an island, a continent and a prime minister. But it’s not. It’s about language. The language we use to talk about these people has started to construct our attitude towards them. When and how and why did these people stop being people? How and when did these people become “illegals”? How did “illegals” come into the language as a plural countable noun? These are not people who have done, or might have done, or have yet to have it proved that they have done, illegal things. All these categories have been collapsed into one: “illegals”. Their entire identity – a wailing baby, an exhausted mother, a father trying to hold it all together, where they’ve come from, their memories, what fears they’ve had and still have, what hopes they hardly dare to have – all of this has been leaked out of the picture. Now they’re three illegals.
So it’s no longer possible to look at a picture of a refugee family without thinking: aren’t you just an illegal alien, a queuejumper, an economic refugee? Those clothes don’t look too bad. That haircut looks recent. Under the new rhetoric, there’s no neutral term for who they are.
The spotlight turned the people-who-have-been-smuggled into contraband. They’re like drugs, or weapons. They’re cargo. Stop the people transporting the cargo. Stop the governments making life such hell that people willingly become illegal cargo. Now they’re illegal cargo. They’re illegals.
Humankind has a long and colourful history of demonising, of stripping the other of their humanity, seeing them as animals or objects or vermin. (We needed a song, remember, to remind us that the Russians love their children.) Historian Colin Tatz says that atrocious acts such as genocide can happen only because the pathways to extermination have been made possible through language. Step 1 is to create “the other”. Step 2 places that other outside the human membrane. That’s what we’re up to.
I know they’ve been languaged because it has worked on me.
07 Oct 2001
More food for thought
The column above expresses some ideas that I have some sympathy with, in a mode I relate to professionally.
Ruth Wajnryb is an ESL teacher with considerable expertise in migration and cross-cultural communication.
Her analysis of the discourse in which controversy over “illegal immigrants” occurs is well worth noting.
Please consider it carefully. It is very sound linguistically.
Meanwhile today was quite delightful.
Yum Cha at the Emperor’s Garden was attended by the Empress, Sirdan, Malcolm, Mitchell and myself. Food was good, and conversation that continued in two other places was really good.
Mitchell got to hear Sirdan speak Afrikaans, and both Mitchell and I learned more about Sirdan than we had known before. His is an interesting story, from Zimbabwe to South Africa to London to New Zealand to Australia.
Malcolm and the Empress went to see a recent Australian film, The Bank, and loved it so much that they propose seeing it again at 11.45 next Sunday! I, and perhaps Mitchell (who is invited) may join them.
Conversation resumed with Sirdan, the Empress, Malcolm and myself at the Albury (where my drinking was modest and not all alcoholic–so I did know the way to Surry Hills!).
It should be added that a slight poetic licence may apply to Malcolm’s stories; I really did know the way home.
More food for thought
This link to an article in The Atlantic Monthly is worth a look. Harking back to Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies, originally written during World War II, the writer, from a moderate conservative perspective, brings us back to core problems confronting the existence of liberal democracy when faced with closed minds or societies both within and without. I find the ideas presented must be taken into account when thinking of the current world situation.
There has been a disturbing report of the latest boatload of asylum seekers, turned back to Indonesia by the Australian Navy–in itself arguably the right or wrong thing to do. The report claims that some of the people on the boat began to throw their children over the side. This is very emotive stuff. You know my interest in the topic, and I now include a link to Robert Manne’s latest column on it. I share his perception that public debate on issues such as multiculturalism has soured, and fear too that the present major parties–both of them–have contributed to this display of Hansonism.
I said to Ian Smith last night that I suspect my core ideas are actually Dickensian, by which I mean that the spirit in which Dickens viewed both religion and society is congenial to me. In fact I suspect I imbibed it at my grandfather’s knee–the same grandfather who counselled me when young to watch for the knife concealed behind the back when you saw people praying!
2021: See also In Remembrance: Ruth Wajnryb, Ph.D. (1948-2012).
13 Oct 2001
No politics today
However, that does not mean I won’t get on my soap box at some stage in the future.
While I was at the doctor’s surgery the other day I picked up a little book called Brief encounters: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Associated Therapies for General Practitioners by Alex Tahmindjis, and was interested having had a little experience in this area, directly as a client, and indirectly with others.
The book gave a good summary of depression, anxiety disorders, seretonin levels, and so on.
Improving one’s seretonin levels is one element in treating depression and anxiety. Tahmindjis discusses the role of such medication as Zoloft (which did not work well for me), exercise (which I should do more of), cognitive behaviour therapy (which I have had some experience of), setting achievable tasks (which I sometimes have problems with!) and touching.
“Holding hands boosts feelings of comfort and happiness. If you have a partner, start touching more… No partner? Well, how about friends…” True, isn’t it? Also, one can in such a situation hug in the mind, if you know what I mean; the book does not say so, but I suspect thinking about such a person probably affects seretonin levels too.
Now isn’t it nicer sometimes to think of things like this instead of politics, world problems and matters of intellect? It could be that such a grounding for oneself actually helps when it comes to dealing with other things. What do you think?
Much nicer than politics or the state of the world.
18 Oct 2001
Empress sends naked men…and other mysteries and ruminations
A few days ago the Empress, whose hard disk must be rather like a nudist colony, sent me some not unattractive images (three in fact) that purport to be Ian Thorpe in the nude, and in varying degrees of excitement. The other variation is in his body, which either is very changeable, or the images are fakes. I await the chance to have them authenticated by someone who may know 😉
Our friend A., a sailor, is among those going off to war. At first I wondered how he knew this two weeks ago, but probably he is on the ship that was going to the Gulf anyway to replace one that is coming home. The deployment of Australian forces in the War on Terrorism has bipartisan support here, although two of the minor parties, the Greens and the Democrats, have reservations. Some military experts also question the open-ended nature of the commitment, given that the Australian Defence Forces, while very good, are also very small. The question then is how long we can maintain a commitment, how many can be spared (given the Government still continues its rather odd policy on asylum seekers, the true cost of which is now emerging), and whether (though all deny it) conscription is further down the track.
Naturally we wish the men and women who go all the best and hope they all come back. Unlike the USA, it should be noted, gay men and women are officially among those serving–A. is one of them, and an outspoken one at that.
University exams loom. At the same stage, when I was seventeen and three months, I was a nervous wreck, absolutely convinced I would fail Ancient History (I didn’t) and having completed less than the whole of my Latin course. I passed Latin, but was told if the rest of my paper had been the same standard as my Horace, I most certainly would not have. I did not achieve the Distinction level in English I had hoped for, despite my tutor having encouraged me to consider Honours. I almost gave up on the idea, and was very flattered when the tutor rang me at home after the results came out, telling me to ignore them and do Honours anyway. I did–and got through.
At nineteen and three months (being born in July) I was in Third Year, doing the Honours English Course (I got a Distinction) and, despite again being convinced I would fail (Asian) History, I actually came first! Much to my surprise.
The following year I spent working in an Insurance Company, due to family finances going belly-up. But that’s another story.
What a conservative, straight young man I was in those years. I would have run a mile from someone like me if I had ever met such a person. Not that I had much idea such people existed. I just alternated wanking, working and praying and hoped for the best, finding solace with my Christian friends at university and at church, questioning very little politically, and reading my Bible every day. I was a sweet, if naive, young person: cute too? Well, I’m not so sure about that…