Moments in my eBook Library — 14 —  more random choices

Do note that thanks to the tag eBook moments you can see this series as a separate chain of posts.

The first takes us back again to World War 1 and Australia in a lavishly illustrated book that would have sold well back in 1919 I’m sure.

Indeed there is more to this book than I had realised: “Many contributors, includes a record of the ‘achievements the horsemen of Australia, and of the Flying Corps, and the Anzac Section of the Imperial Camel Corps.  These books were given as gifts by Australian Light Horse soldiers and are now quite rare and sought after. Includes 2 folding panoramas of the fields of battle for Richon le Zion, and Beersheba.”

Preface
“Australia in Palestine” should prove of great interest to the people of Australia, and especially to those whose lives have been spent outside the great cities, for it includes a record of the achievements of their “very own”—the horsemen of Australia, and of the Flying Corps and the Anzac Section of the Imperial Camel Corps, which were recruited from them, and co-operated with them in the greatest war yet known to history.

The Australian Light Horseman—and under this name I include the Field and Signal Engineers and Medical Services connected with him, who come from the same stock—is of a type peculiarly his own and has no counterpart that I know of except in his New Zealand brother. His fearlessness, initiative and endurance, and his adaptability to almost any task, are due to the adventurous life he leads in his own country, where he has been accustomed to long hours in the saddle, day and night, and to facing danger of all sorts from his earliest youth. Perhaps these qualities are inherited from his pioneer parents. His invariable good humour under the most adverse conditions comes from the good-fellowship and camaraderie which exists in the free and open life of the Australian Bush. His chivalry comes from the same source, and it is one of his strongest points. In other words, the life he has been accustomed to lead has fitted him to become, with training and discipline, second to no cavalry soldier in the world.

As far as Australia is concerned, the Palestine Campaign may be said to have commenced with the crossing of the Suez Canal by the Anzac Mounted Division at Kantara on the 23rd April, 1916, to re-occupy Romani and the western end of the Katia Oasis Area. The mounted troops of Australia and New Zealand had already proved their extraordinary adaptability to circumstances as infantrymen in the hard school of Gallipoli, but it yet remained for them to show their value as cavalry. The occupation of Romani was followed by long and trying marches in the Desert of Sinai, during the hottest summer known in Egypt for many years, after an elusive enemy who did not appear in any force until July, 1916, when he advanced on Romani preparatory to his second attack on the Suez Canal. The disastrous defeat inflicted on the Turkish arms at Romani, and the pursuit which followed, not only demonstrated the inestimable value of the horsemen of Australasia as cavalrymen, but opened the way for the advance to the Eastern Frontier of Egypt which ended the enemy’s menace to Egypt. The systematic advance of the British Force from Romani to the Egyptian Border was covered by Australian and New Zealand horsemen, British Yeomanry and the Imperial Camel Corps, ably assisted by the reconnaissance of the R.F.C. and Australian Flying Corps. The victories of Magdhaba and Rafa completely cleared the enemy from Egyptian territory and opened the way for our advance into Palestine. The operations which began with the capture of Beersheba and concluded with the capture of Damascus and Aleppo, and eventually led to the complete surrender of the Turkish Forces, are dealt with in this volume, and I will say no more of them than that the brilliant part in those operations played by the Australian and New Zealand mounted troops has more than upheld the reputation they established on the battlefield of Romani.

The splendid record of the 1st Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps speaks for itself. It was formed in Egypt and has grown with the campaign to a state of efficiency which places it second to none of the same arm.

The casualties in action in this campaign have been light compared with the results achieved. In a very large measure this was due to the dash of the troops, which saved heavy losses on many occasions; but many brave fellows have given their lives through diseases contracted in areas which the exigencies of the service required to be occupied and fought in.

Before concluding, I would like to say a word for the Medical Services, which have endured the same hardships as the combatant arms, and always performed their duties cheerfully and efficiently under the most adverse conditions.

The great re-enactment of Beersheba filmed in 1940 in the Cronulla sand hills! Directed by Charles Chauvel, the nephew of General Sir Harry Chauvel who led the Australian Light Horse Brigade.

History of other eras may be found in the next two random books.

That name intrigued me!

That Short History of Scotland is by a writer very famous in his day, Andrew Lang, whose work is still well worth looking at. There is web site devoted to him.

The next book is also by someone famous in his day — Sir Walter Besant. There is a memorial to him in St Paul’s Cathedral.

There are many magazines and journals to be found on Project Gutenberg which often publishes individual items of note. From this 1926 magazine they chose a D H Lawrence story.

THE LAST LAUGH
by D. H. Lawrence
Author of “Women in Love”

There was a little snow on the ground, and the church clock had just struck midnight. Hampstead in the night of winter for once was looking pretty, with clean, white earth and lamps for moon, and dark sky above the lamps.

A confused little sound of voices, a gleam of hidden yellow light. And then the garden door of a tall, dark Georgian house suddenly opened, and three people confusedly emerged. A girl in a dark-blue coat and fur turban, very erect; a fellow with a little dispatch case, slouching; a thin man with a red beard, bareheaded, peering out of the gateway down the hill that swung in a curve downward toward London.

“Look at it! A new world!” cried the man in the beard ironically, as he stood on the step and peered out.

“No, Lorenzo! It’s only whitewash!” cried the young man in the overcoat. His voice was handsome, resonant, plangent, with a weary, sardonic touch.

As he turned back, his face was dark in shadow.

The girl with the erect, alert head, like a bird, turned back to the two men.

“What was that?” she asked, in her quick, quiet voice….

Finally a writer very popular in the early to mid 20th century: W Somerset Maugham.

Reflections from some recent reading

The excellent work done by ANU Press in making first-rate academic publications freely available as eBooks cannot be praised enough. The most recent publication to interest me, so now downloaded and added to my eBook Library on Calibre, is Mobilising the Masses by Matthew Cunningham.

The radical right has gained considerable ground in the twenty-first century. From Brexit to Bolsonaro and Tea Partiers to Trump, many of these diverse manifestations of right-wing populism share a desire to co‑opt or supplant the mainstream parties that have traditionally held sway over the centre right. It is now more important than ever to understand similar moments in Australian and New Zealand history.

This book concerns one such moment—the Great Depression—and the explosion of large, populist conservative groups that accompanied the crisis. These ‘citizens’ movements’, as they described themselves, sprang into being virtually overnight and amassed a combined membership in the hundreds of thousands. They staunchly opposed party politicians and political parties for their supposed inaction and infighting. Whether left or right, it did not matter. They wanted to use their vast numbers to pressure their governments into enacting proposals they believed were in the national interest: a smaller, more streamlined government where Members of Parliament were free to act according to their conscience rather than their party allegiance. At the same time, the movements prescribed antidotes for their nations’ economic ill‑health that were often radical and occasionally anti-democratic.

At the height of their power, they threatened to disrupt or outright replace the centre right political parties of the time—particularly in Australia. At a time when fascism and right-wing authoritarianism were on the march internationally, the future shape of conservative politics was at stake.

I have started it, and note from p.35 ff an extremely useful set of expanded definitions of key terms for the book: conservatism, populism and fascism. Great stuff actually.

Now I have always maintained that I am really a conservative, and the discussion of that term does rather conform to what I recognise has been at the core of my thinking or attitude for probably the last 60 years — even with all the changes that have also taken place. Let me quote the relevant section.

If conservatism was rarely used as a political identifier at the time, why use it in this book? The answer is that conservatism is far more than a political ideology. It is a sentiment, a framework for mediating change through the guidelines of tradition. The English political theorist Michael Oakeshott defined conservatism as a ‘disposition’ rather than ‘a creed or doctrine’. Conservatives

prefer the familiar to the unknown … the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.

Hayden White suggested that conservatives are ‘suspicious of programmatic transformations of the status quo’ and ‘inclined to imagine historical evolution as a progressive elaboration of the institutional structure that currently prevails, which structure they regard as a “utopia”’. Rather than opposing change entirely, conservatives envision it as occurring via ‘plantlike gradualizations’ that do not fundamentally alter or challenge the ‘structural relationships’ on which society is based. Put simply, there are always some who look to the status quo for stability and reassurance, and who use it as a lens through which to consider any proposals for change.

That is me to a T!

The book is exceedingly promising.

The other book I mentioned in an earlier post: my current read, historian Timothy Snyder’s must read: “The Road to Unfreedom” (2018). That link takes you to a downloadable PDF copy.

Its relevance to everything Putin, Russia and Ukraine right now is clear. How good it is some dispute. In all, I have learned much from it. You may also read Chapter One online at Timothy Snyder’s site.

With the end of the Cold War, the victory of liberal democracy seemed final. Observers declared the end of history, confident in a peaceful, globalized future. This faith was misplaced. Authoritarianism returned to Russia, as Vladimir Putin found fascist ideas that could be used to justify rule by the wealthy. In the 2010s, it has spread from east to west, aided by Russian warfare in Ukraine and cyberwar in Europe and the United States. 

Russia found allies among nationalists, oligarchs, and radicals everywhere, and its drive to dissolve Western institutions, states, and values found resonance within the West itself.  The rise of populism, the British vote against the EU, and the election of Donald Trump were all Russian goals, but their achievement reveals the vulnerability of Western societies.

In this forceful and unsparing work of contemporary history, based on vast research as well as personal reporting, Snyder goes beyond the headlines to expose the true nature of the threat to democracy and law. To understand the challenge is to see, and perhaps renew, the fundamental political virtues offered by tradition and demanded by the future. By revealing the stark choices before us–between equality or oligarchy, individuality or totality, truth and falsehood–Snyder restores our understanding of the basis of our way of life, offering a way forward in a time of terrible uncertainty.

But how good is it? Here is a negative review by Paul Robinson, a professor at the University of Ottawa. He writes about Russian and Soviet history, military history, and military ethics.

Timothy Snyder doesn’t like Donald Trump. Really, really doesn’t like him. He fears that under Trump, American (and also European) democracy may collapse into some sort of nasty fascist tyranny. And he wants us all to know who is to blame for this terrible state of affairs, so that we can defend ourselves against it while there is still time. And who is to blame? You know the answer, of course. It’s Russia.

Snyder explains all this in his new book, The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. You will have to excuse me. This is going to be a very long review. Snyder is quite a high profile intellectual in the United States. He’s doing a tour of the country, selling this book, and giving talks and media interviews. I doubt that many Trump supporters will read his book, but a fair number of middle class, liberal intellectuals will, and no doubt many of them will suck it all up, not realizing that they’re being conned. For that reason, The Road to Unfreedom requires a detailed response. Unfortunately, there’s so much wrong with it that I can’t adequately deal with it in just a few lines. So, it’s going to take a little time. Please bear with me….

It is certainly true that Yale history Professor Snyder does not like Donald Trump:

Given that one criticism of the book is that it is full of unsupported assertions, here are the footnotes to that section:

Professor Snyder claims to have competence to read sources in 10 European languages, by the way, including Russian.

A positive review may be found in The Guardian.

Snyder is very astute at joining the dots in how Russian propagandists, human or digital, sought to spread fake news to undermine faith in the democratic process, at the same time giving overt support to European separatists and Russia TV regulars such as Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage. He details how, for example, Russian “news” sources spread the idea that the Scottish independence vote had been “rigged” by “establishment forces” with the aim of undermining faith in democratic institutions in Britain before the EU referendum. We are still awaiting, of course, the full disentangling of Donald Trump’s complex relations with Putin’s government, and the many links between his campaign organisation and Russian operatives. As with Luke Harding’s book Collusion, however, there is more than enough here to keep Robert Mueller busy for a long while yet.

One unavoidable conclusion of this depressing tale lies in the acknowledgment that Putin’s strategy has been so successful in shaking faith in the sanctity of fact and expert knowledge. A measure of that assault comes when you examine your reaction to this meticulously researched and footnoted book as you read it. Timothy Snyder is professor of history at Yale. His book Bloodlands, about the fallout of second world war atrocities on the eastern front, won the prestigious Hannah Arendt prize and was described by the late, great Tony Judt as “the most important book to appear on this subject in decades”. And yet as he unfolds this contemporary sequel, you might well hear, as I did from time to time, those sneery voices now lodged in your head that whisper of “liberal elitism” and “fake news” and “MSM” and “tempting conspiracies”, and which refuse ever, quite, to be quieted. How did we get here? Snyder has a good idea.

It may well be that Snyder over-eggs the significance of Ivan Ilyin, “Putin’s Philosopher of Russian Fascism”.

Ilyin wrote about Ukrainians in quotation marks because Ukraine, as he believed, was a part of the Russian organism, and it could not be divided. He also took any mention of Ukraine as aggression against Russia. 

Since 2012, Russian policy towards Ukraine has been built on Ilyin’s principles, considering the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Donetsk and Luhansk in the summer of 2014. Ilyin would have agreed with the final goal of this war.

If the world were saved from demonic constructions such as the United States, it would be easier for everyone to live. And one of these days it will happen.’

Vladimir Putin

This London-based Russian-born Oxford-educated political philosopher weighs in on the topic of Putin as fascist,

So my position? Snyder is certainly interesting and worth reading, but there are some reservations. While granting he is onto something in his attempt to characterise the politics prevailing after the collapse of the USSR with a dichotomy of “politics of eternity” versus “politics of inevitability” I am not sure he establishes those categories clearly enough.

Plenty of food for thought though — in both books.

Once more looking at my April 2007 archive after 15 years

Various selections from the month’s archive.

Alana Valentine is a playwright to watch…

That is if Parramatta Girls, which I saw last night, is anything to go by. It is indeed a “must see” as many comments to be traced from that Google Search indicate — Trevor Cook on Corporate Engagement for example:

This is a great piece of theatre, one of the best plays I’ve seen for awhile. The subject matter is often harrowing but the treatment is full of compassion, wit and understanding. The cast work very well together and there are no ‘weak’ performances. If you can get along to see it you should. Its on at the Belvoir until 22 April.

Except you won’t get in; Parramatta Girls is sold out for the rest of the season.

The Sydney Morning Herald is typical of most reviews: The spirit triumphs in this healing journey.

…The director, Wesley Enoch, has created an unflinching, powerful and moving production full of surprising mood changes, peaks and troughs and with a keen eye to the perpetuating cycles of abuse. Ralph Myers’s stripped-to-the-bone set, with its stacks of metal chairs, starkly symbolises the ruin and discarding of souls. The talented cast does great justice to the material, not just being feisty, fearful and loud but persuasively revealing the stains, regrets and shameful emotions that have singled the characters out and, in their later lives, brought them together.

Skinner’s portrayal affords Parramatta Girls much of its spark and spine, as does Leah Purcell’s as the charismatic Marlene, especially in the climactic rooftop riot scene when she reclaims power even though it means time spent in isolation. Annie Byron gives a remarkably brave performance as tough, soft-centred Gayle while Genevieve Hegney delights as Maree, an innocent who mocks authority and whose spirit-crushed presence lends a tragic dimension.

Parramatta Girls is desperately sad, honest, humorous and uplifting. It is a triumph for Valentine and company. On opening night, when former inmates joined the actors on stage for the curtain call, there were tears, smiles and slightly embarrassed bows; an extraordinary moment of life and art blurring and uniting as one.

One small but important point struck me. Near the end of the play one of the Aboriginal ex-inmates has obtained her records but can’t read them; she gets another “Parramatta girl” to read them to her. The official account, it transpires, includes a number of convenient bureaucratic lies… The play of course is rooted in oral history, though not in oral history alone. It has been very carefully researched. That moment in the play resonated with the History Wars, however. I think it very clearly showed the danger of the purist Windschuttle approach to history; indeed I am sure it was meant to.

I went with a group from South Sydney Uniting Church, having turned up on spec as I hadn’t actually applied for a ticket. Fortunately Andrew had a spare. 🙂

I was able to fill in Andrew and Dorothy on the latest on Lord Malcolm too. Dorothy was especially touched when I told her about Lord M’s Easter Sunday writing project, that by his computer (as I noted yesterday when I went to Lord M’s place on an errand) sits her blessing.

Later

I told Lord M about the play when I visited him today. Lord M had an Aboriginal partner, now deceased. It turns out that partner was the cousin of Wesley Enoch, the play’s director.

I now have the portrait of that cousin of Wesley Enoch on my wall here in West Wollongong — a reminder of Malcolm.

Award-winning playwright Alana Valentine has woven together the true stories of women who were once Parramatta Girls into a masterful tribute to their courage, humour, strength and optimism.

UTS Alumni on 29 March 2022 published this:

“I really believe that UTS taught me that sometimes it is good to be a tool for other people’s vision. And that it doesn’t always have to be about you.”

Alana Valentine (BA Comm, 1983) is one of Australia’s most celebrated playwrights whose visionary work puts the human experience squarely on centre stage. Alana has spoken of how deeply she values the trust placed in her by the marginalised communities she has worked with – on pieces such as ParramattaGirls – to share their experiences on stage, and it’s this dedication to telling important Australian stories that saw her win both won the 2021 UTS: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Award and joint Chancellor’s Award for Excellence.

I have been privileged to have met Alana through the South Sydney Uniting Church connection.

Wise words from a young gay American

[There was a blog*] here on WordPress that I was led to by a bit of random surfing, and I am glad to have found it. C**** is “your garden variety, 18 year old queer guy living in Houston, Texas.”

…I am the perpetual student who hates structured education, most of what I know of value I taught myself or at the very least was instructed in away from the walls of my public schools…

I am cynical about oh so much, but still can muster eternal optimism that things can be better (if only people were more like me). Sarcasm and gallows humor are my trademarks.

I love old movies, kitsch, crooners from the 40s and 50s, geezer pop and rock, country music that is not heard on the radio. Hyper masculinity both fascinates me and bores me. I love camp in small doses. My theology comes from books, the saints, the patriots, the movies and drunken ass dances. My politics are liberal but I can’t abide most liberals, and [am] suspicious of them as always waiting for you to trip, but I will have none of their foolishness! Did I mention that I am a wee bit bombastic?…

Teachers need that little dose of reality from the first sentence sometimes just to keep a sense of proportion.

I am referring you to this blog though for one entry in particular, which is not to say the rest is not good because it is in fact a very good blog, especially in the world of teen blogs. In its own way it is as good as the remarkable MyScribbles, the Afghan blog, whose author is around the same age. The cultural context of course is very different. (That reminds me: Ahmad still hasn’t posted this year. A real worry that.)

The entry in question is Choices Made And Not Made.

What set of circumstances do you suppose occurred where I might have had a choice to be gay? Do you imagine that one day I awoke and just up and decided “today I think I will become homosexual’? Do you think I might have made a critical error on “Career Day” in high school? Do you suppose that I chose to become a pariah just for kicks? That I somehow found it appealing to face harassment from bigots, the religious right and those compensating for their own inadequacies. Do you suppose that I would choose to become a lesser citizen that is denied the rights granted to my heterosexual brother, including the right to marry the one I love? When was I asked? Why is it with 90% of the population heterosexual, no one on that side thought to ask me to choose to be straight?

I admit that wasn’t an answer when I answered the question with rhetorical questions. So here it is. I did not choose to be gay. Whether genetic, hormonal or some yet to determined factor, its not important how I got here, I am here and I accept and embrace who I am in its totality as how I am supposed to be. Long before I knew what gay was or had a clue what sex was, I had attractions to other males. It wasn’t a sexual attraction at first it was something more fundamental than that. Its easy for those who view gay as being bad to dismiss us if they can reduce it to sexual acts alone. That being gay is just an easy way for sexual gratification. It is deeper and more profound than that. Its as much an emotional attachment as heterosexual males and females have.

Choose to be gay? No, but I did come to a realization that I was gay, that these feelings had a name and I decided to accept that as part of who I am. It is as much a part of me as a heterosexual’s sexuality is a part of them. Its not how I define myself, but it is there and shapes who I am, and that I do choose to accept and own it with no apology.

My family accepts me as I am. I was blessed with a family that loves me unconditionally… Sadly, my experience isn’t as common as it might ought to be…

I choose to be many things in my life. I choose to try and live my life honestly and to be a good man, that not only my parents would be proud of me, but to live my life in such a manner I can take pride in it. I choose not to live a life in the margins. I choose to try and be a good son, brother, friend, citizen and one day a partner to a man I love. I choose to be a strong gay man. Those are the REAL choices I make.

I did not choose to be gay. I accept my sexuality, own it and do not choose to hide it.

I REFUSE to be defined by bigots, to be limited by prejudices, nor to be denied my place at the table of life. I refuse to have you or anyone else debate my life. I refuse to suffer foolish arguments, banal one liners or the rants and ravings of zealots. I refuse to let my life to be ruled or dominated by homophobic rants or raving. I refuse to live my life in fear of those that choose to live their life coccooned in their hatred.

I choose also to live my life with dignity and honor to the best of my potential. That, my anonymous friend, is how I define “normal.”

That is magnificent, C***. I have just extracted highlights. [It’s a shame it is no longer available.*]

Mind you, referriing to my reading in the past few days which has also interested Jim Belshaw, I don’t know what it is with Americans and “liberals”. To us older folk outside the US what an American labels and then worries about as “liberal” just seems normal, civilised, progressive, and even quite uncontroversial. Things like health care, for example. Even trade unions. Or at least that was the case until about ten years ago.

* UPDATE 5 May 2007

This blog has now been deleted by its author. I have therefore disguised its origin and names in it, as I respect his choice but still value what he said and wish others might read it.

2022 — And the My Scribbles blog?

See How 15 years ago my blog reached into Afghanistan and encouraged at least one teenager…. And just the other day on Facebook Ahmad, now a friend there, posted:

Forthcoming in London on 10 November 2022
Soon after of course the Taliban took over and Ahmad went into exile…

Reading the Bible

To quote the appropriate page for today from Deng Ming-Dao’s 365 Tao: Daily Meditations:

Don’t be afraid to explore;
Without exploration there are no discoveries,
Don’t be afraid of partial solutions;
Without the tentative there is no
accomplishment.

I am still in the habit of following the Daily Office Lectionary from the US version of The Book of Common Prayer, an eccentricity I mentioned on Blogspot Books and Ideas in January 2006.

Lest that seems either saintly or pretentious, let me say that I am pragmatically finding this of benefit. I get food for thought, and, doing it as I do just before sleeping, I find my nights in general have been much more restful. No, I don’t mean to say the practice puts me to sleep, but it certainly helps compose the mind.

Those of you who have followed my rants for a while know that I do not believe God writes books. In other words, I am not a fundamentalist. So what of the Bible? All along from my teen years to the present I have found the Bible inspiring, if not always inspired. So my ruminations over the Daily Office are often critical. For example, reading Galatians lately I have been struck by how exceedingly dodgy Paul’s use of the Old Testament often is. Galatians marks a key moment, of course, in which the Church became more universalist and less a sect of Judaism. Paul was trying to convince the Galatians that this was the way to go, but I can well understand some not being convinced. Another troubling feature of his argument, and indeed in the representation of the Pharisees in the gospels, is that one can see only too clearly the seeds of antisemitism there. I believe, of course, that you don’t have to go down that path, but the potential was there and in time as we all know it bore strange fruit.

So what are we to make of the Bible? Anthony Freeman addresses this on Radical Faith, and I commend him to you. “Whatever more it may be, it is never less than this: part of our world, a human product situated in a particular place, at a particular time, and in a particular culture.”…

I would also commend James W. Aageson from Concordia College on “Reading Biblical Texts: Truth, Fact, and Myth.”

It is not uncommon to hear someone say, “Let’s just read the Bible literally. Let’s forget about all this interpretation stuff and just read the Bible for what it says.” The impulse for this can be appreciated. Serious interpretation of the Bible takes a lot of effort and sustained study, and sometimes all of this effort in the end only seems to work against certain cherished and long held religious beliefs. Many people want the Bible to sustain them. They do not want to be confronted by strange and new interpretations of it. And still others are opposed to the critical study of the Bible because they think God and God’s word are beyond human understanding. They can only be understood by the power of the Holy Spirit and not by human reason standing alone. Moreover, digging into the scriptures seems to make human beings the final arbiter of God’s word instead of God. These concerns are real, and the forces that motivate them should be understood.

Even if a person is of two minds about the critical study of the Bible, however, the problem of a “literal reading” of biblical material is an issue that is more complicated than might first appear. What is meant by the term “literal reading?” What makes a reading “literal” as opposed to something else? And is “literality” the same for all types and varieties of texts in the Bible? If we are to think about this question of literal interpretation, we must address the issue of what is meant by the expression, “literal reading.” The term in popular usage seems to refer to the surface reading of the text. In this sense, “literal” refers to the straightforward adherence to the surface level of the material and its wording, the face value of the text in other words…

One final observation about the discernment of biblical truth should be made. Many truth claims, many biblical truth claims included, should, in my judgment, be subjected to moral critique. When we look at the consequences of historic and religious truth claims, what have been the social and human consequences that have followed from them? Can we discern any consequences? If so, how have these claims played themselves out over time? Are the consequences morally laudable or morally reprehensible? At a minimum, we should ask ourselves if these claims can be true when we see what they have done. When Matthew in his gospel implies that the blood of Christ is not only on the hands of the Jews in Jesus’ day but also on the hands of their descendants, can this statement have any claim to religious truth, given the way this has contributed to the horrible reality of anti-Semitism? When seen in light of the Christian gospel itself, the consequences of this rather direct Matthean implication seem to be suspect, if not altogether devoid of theological truth value, that is if the Christian gospel is in fact good news and not bad news. Moral considerations may not finally settle questions of biblical truth, but they ought to be considered.

Assessing biblical truth is complicated and cannot be reduced to a single notion of truth. Multiple levels of meaning and truth can be discovered in biblical material, and the critical reader of the Bible needs sophistication and flexibility in evaluating them. In some cases, the question of whether the biblical material is true or not is beside the point. It only leads one away from the significant features of the text. Yet truth claims that are made are always made within a social and communal context. Likewise, those of us who try to assess them do so in social and communal contexts. In historical and religious matters, truth is social in character, and the apprehension of it is similarly social. Understanding the social dimensions of truth is important for critical readers of the Bible, just as it is important to understand the historical and literary dimensions of biblical texts and their interpretation.

Many will not be pleased by this approach, but to me it is the only honest way to go. For example, you will see if you visit that lectionary linked in the first paragraph that I am at the moment reading The Book of Exodus, one of the most obvious features of which is that it could not possibly have been written by Moses. Another obvious feature is that the “history” in the book is clearly in the realm of legend, with elements of myth. So you can’t say the Exodus didn’t happen, but you can say it didn’t happen in the in fact various ways it is recounted in Exodus. Wikipedia (for all that it gets bagged) actually reviews this rather well: The Exodus.

If you wish to clarify what myth, legend, and/or folktale actually mean, see Michael Webster’s course material Frequently Asked Questions about Mythology.

It is clear too that when subjected to moral critique Exodus can be decidedly discomforting. There are all sorts of things, what Bishop Spong memorably calls “the sins of scripture”, that Biblical literalists gloss over. (Don’t think the Qu’ran will help, by the way; it is very much in the literalist camp when it comes to its references to Exodus. Not at all surprising in the Qu’ran’s human and cultural context of course.)

Nonetheless, as archetypes Exodus and The Exodus are profoundly inspiring. That is what they still have to offer. Oh yes, and it is a good story, and one which anyone in our culture really should know.

bullock-dray-02.jpg

Bullocky

Beside his heavy-shouldered team
thirsty with drought and chilled with rain,
he weathered all the striding years
till they ran widdershins in his brain:

Till the long solitary tracks
etched deeper with each lurching load
were populous before his eyes,
and fiends and angels used this road.

All the long straining journey grew
a mad apocalyptic dream,
and he old Moses, and the slaves
his suffering and stubborn team.

Then in his evening camp beneath
the half-light pillars of the trees
he filled the steepled cone of night
with shouted prayers and prophecies.

While past the campfire’s crimson ring
the star struck darkness cupped him round.
and centuries of cattle-bells
rang with their sweet uneasy sound.

Grass is across the wagon-tracks,
and plough strikes bone across the grass,
and vineyards cover all the slopes
where the dead teams were used to pass.

O vine, grow close upon that bone
and hold it with your rooted hand.
The prophet Moses feeds the grape,
and fruitful is the Promised Land.

— Judith Wright (1915-2000)

I still love that poem; technically it is almost perfect, in my humble opinion. But it was written in the 1940s, and looking at it through the allusions to Exodus one can’t help wondering about the Amalekites, Canaanites, and so on… Judith Wright herself certainly did, and “put a block on some of [her] poems being anthologised: poems like ‘Bullocky’” later on in life.

Reconciliation isn’t a word I like. It’s about the only word, unfortunately, that fits. But they, I think, have more of a problem reconciling with us because we are the ones who did the deed. And the fact that they can do this speaks very highly indeed for their own capacities for forgiveness and understanding. We don’t have that. That’s because we do have this problem in ourselves: a kind of guilt that stands in the way of understanding. That is a very important part of our development as a people, and until we come into a proper relationship with the Indigenous peoples, we can’t be in a proper relationship with ourselves.

Ramona Koval: You put a block on some of your poems being anthologised: poems like ‘Bullocky’. Was this related to the matter of Aboriginal-white history and reconciliation?

Judith Wright: Yes, in a way it was. That poem came from the nationalist era in which I was only able to write from a white point of view. Now that I can see what that has done to us, I refuse to allow Bullocky to be anthologised any longer because of the way it got taught. It’s a perfectly good poem in itself, I still stand by it as a poem. But it was being used in a way I disapproved of. And the funny thing was, of course, that there were teachers who wrote to me in a fury: ‘You can’t do this. It’s not possible for you to do this. We’ve been teaching it this way for so long.’ They were teaching it as though it was an aggrandisement of the whole invasion. And it was a very bad example of bad teaching of poetry. The only thing I could do was to argue that it shouldn’t be put into anthologies at all. And that, I think I kept to fairly well. It was a great illumination to me of how poems can be misinterpreted simply because the idea is opposite to what they should be.

Interesting.

2022: I still value Bible reading, among other readings, and have a range of translations as actual books or in my eBook Library on Calibre. I have not persisted however with that particular lectionary.

There you are — just THREE posts from my blog for April 2007! And some indications of later developments…

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 72 — FB delivers more family history

Isn’t this delightful?

In Memoriam:
Graham, Ruby Ruth (nee McInnes). (11.12.1892-5.10.1991)
Daughter of Jonathan & Susan Caroline (nee Whitfield) McInnes.
Wife of Stanley Keith Graham.
Mother of Jonathan Adolphus & Lilian May.
Photograph: Ruby aged 10 years courtesy Whitfield/McInnes family collection.

Thanks to the Wollondilly Historical Page on Facebook on 5 October. I commented: I met them! Really! And indeed spent time with daughter Lilian as recently as April 2014. Lilian turned 100 this year and is still living in Gunnedah.

I learned of Lilian’s birthday in February, again thanks to the Wollondilly Historical Page. This is what I said then:

Whitfields — this is a must read!

So here is a Whitfield relative who has cracked the ton! And I can vouch for her being an amazing woman and a fount of family history. I was privileged to have met Lilian at Stanwell Park in 2014. She recalled my father as a bronzed beach god — from her memories of Shellharbour in the late 1920s!

“At Stanwell Park yesterday. She had a shopping trolley of Whitfield family pics, photos and documents going back to the 1830s! Amazing stuff! The four hours I could spend didn’t do it justice. Lilian Lee. 90+ and sharp as… She has been a TAFE teacher in her time. Recalled I met her father and mother too sometime around 60+ years back and he gave me a ride in his buggy.

“She really was just wonderful. And I am sure you can see the intelligence and humour in her face. She had at 90+ walked up the hill to Stanwell Park Station to meet me — and it is quite a climb.

When she was a little girl she saw William Joseph John Whitfield (b. 1836), the son of William Whitfield, in his turn the son of Jacob Whitfield, the convict who arrived in Sydney from Ireland in 1822. When you contemplate that….

Lilian at 100

This is what the Wollondilly Historical Page said:

Lilian Lee of Gunnedah is today celebrating her 100th Birthday (10.2.2021)

Lilian May Graham was born on 10.2.1921 at Lidcombe N.S.W. her Parents being Ruby Ruth (nee McInnes) & Stan Graham. Lilian’s Grandparents were Susan (nee Whitfield) & Jonathan McInnes.Lilian married Raymond Lee on 24th October 1942.

Their children were Alan (Sadly was killed in accident at 37 leaving 3 children and a wife.), Graham & Jennifer.

Lilian has eight grandchildren, and nine great grandchildren and looking forward to the arrival of another two.

Lilian is still a dedicated member of the Gunnedah Country Women’s Association where she held various positions such as President, Vice President, Treasurer, International Officer, Cultural Officer, Land and Cookery Officer. She volunteered in other capacities, such as Art Gallery attendant, Bible Shop attendant, and Treasurer at the Uniting Church.

Lilian taught as a TAFE teacher teaching Secretarial Skills and was a Secretary at the Roads & Traffic Authority. On 30th November 2020 Lilian Lee was granted Life Membership to the Country Women’s Association for thirty years of dedicated service. The Citation that was prepared for her Life Membership described Lilian as an “immensely popular member, well-respected by our younger members and our more mature members alike.”

Lilian often inspires and advises others to reach their potential and is instrumental in making a beneficial difference in many people’s lives.

Photograph of Lilian May Lee. (3.2.2021) Information & photograph courtesy of Jennifer Lee-Robins & Whitfield family files.

Church of England cemetery, Picton

See my posts To Stanwell Park: 1 (2014) and Still in Dharawal country — but among the Whitfields, contemplating centuries (2021).

Remembering 31 July 1902 — Mount Kembla

On Facebook I posted in relation to this, the worst industrial disaster in Australian history, and was surprised that one of my Aussie friends had never heard of it before — and he is a real history buff too!

I had posted about it back in 2010 when my friend Sirdan (now in NZ) and I visited the Mount Kembla pub — in the building/repair of which my grandfather Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield had a hand in the late 19th century.

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Sirdan looking at the Kembla Mine memorial

An explosion at 2pm on July 31, 1902, at Mt. Kembla colliery killed 96 men and boys. The sound of the explosion could be heard in Wollongong, some 7 miles away. At the end of the day 33 women were widows and 120 children were fatherless.

The hundreds of rescuers were headed by former Keira Mine manager and ex-mayor of Wollongong, Major Henry MacCabe who had played a vital part in rescue efforts at the Bulli Mine disaster in 1887 which killed 81 miners.

MacCabe and Nightshift Deputy, William McMurray were to lose their own lives during the rescue effort to the effect of “overpowering fumes”, adding 2 more deaths to the 94 miners…

Mount Kembla Coal Mine disaster 1902
Moving tribute through music video/song about the loss of 96 lives at the Mt Kembla Mine disaster in Illawarra Australia. the song reflects the events and photos and video portray the story of that fateful day in 1902 — Jessica Grainger
THEY LEFT IN THE MORNING…Ballad of Mt Kembla Words & Music South Coast Labour Council Secretary Arthur Rorris – Vocals Stuart Alexander
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The Gong has a long history in coal-mining. Outside the Council Offices/Library is this memorial:

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