Repost from 2015 relevant to Melbourne

In the light of recent additional details emerging, for example Sheik Mohammed Omran tells ‘bloody PM’ Morrison: ‘blame police … not us’, I have decided to repost Some reflections on the late teen suicide bomber. Before I do, let me point out that Sheik Omran plays a part in the story behind that post. See too Wikipedia. Sheik Omran is a Salafist. Do also read Dr Roger Shanahan Bourke Street attack: What we get wrong when we talk about terrorism. Dr Rodger Shanahan is a research fellow in the West Asia program at the Lowy Institute. A former army officer, he had extensive service within the Parachute Battalion Group (PBG) and has had operational service with the UN in South Lebanon and Syria, with the PBG in East Timor, in Beirut during the 2006 war, and in Afghanistan.

Now the repost.

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.

One really does wonder what realistically anyone can do about such radicalising influences. Shut them all down? Do a great firewall of Australia? Hardly likely, and hardly desirable as a lot of the stuff Bilardi must have consumed is in its own right legitimate.

I noticed too that some of what Bilardi says in that January 2015 blog post is not dissimilar to some of the things those students I knew in the mid 2000s were thinking and saying – not surprising since the issues and events that concerned them – and many of us who are not Muslims – are reflections of realities that are often highly unpalatable. But that such interests and views must lead to murder and suicide is clearly not inevitable, a proposition I tested by tracking what some of those students I knew in 2005 are up to now. What I found is encouraging.

There are more positive paths.

Here is the blog of one of those students from ten years ago* who seems as delightful today as when I knew him then. In one post he reflects on events we actually shared in, though from different sides in many ways – generational, and cultural. Here is some of what he says:

— I note this blog is now restricted by its author. In keeping with that I have anonymised some of it — a shame though, as it is excellent! — 14 Nov 2018

My story knowing F– [a fellow student] began in high school …. Whilst we played cricket and soccer together and undertook similar subjects (like French with the intimidating Mr. Davies) – I believe our friendship like the other MCs really blossomed through our involvement in setting up the Islamic Society of …, the only kind of such organisation at a high-school at the time. We organised social activities, provided prayer spaces and opportunities to share and learn about our religion. It was through our combined efforts along with our fellow Muslim and also non-Muslim classmates that we facilitated seminars on Islam to share Islamic culture and ideas and remove myths and misconceptions with the wider school community.

Despite all of our efforts, unfortunate external events generated much attention to our small organisation and our school. This situation blew out in 2005 after one of the seminars on Islam in the aftermath of the July London bombings. Whilst we saw the media attention and negative publicity, F– and his father were the ones who dealt with the media and the school principal, Dr. Jagger. It was actually many years later that we learnt about the pressures that he had faced. I think that it was incredible how a 16 year old was able to handle all of that pressure. And he went on to be School Prefect, GPS Debating champion and achieved such incredible results in the HSC and post-school. This is all part-and-parcel of trying to achieve success and to promote justice and the truth.

It was in those few years that our group of friends realised our potential, our purpose and duties growing up in Australia and what we would need to do as active citizens to hold Islamic values whilst fully functional in the wider society.

What made that experience special and the key qualities that developed was that we were truly all-rounded. We played sport together, hung out at recess and lunch, visited each other’s houses and studied together – and even sold chocolate boxes together.

F– and his multifaceted intellectual pursuits

In much of post-industrial societies, people tend to specialise in certain professions and as a result lose knowledge about other fields and the “bigger picture” issues. Writing at the turn of the 20th century, Emile Durkheim once noted “Not only has the scholar ceased to take up different sciences simultaneously, but he does not even cover a single science completely anymore”. This is something that I can say I’ve come to appreciate very strongly in F– and that inspires the friends all around us. He actively pursued Qur’an, Arabic and Islamic studies alongside law, economics and also philosophy. Moreover, he encouraged us all in this way. This is the sort of multi-disciplinary knowledge that we should all promote and inculcate a passion for in our youth today. So that they may have a greater impact as future leaders.

Non mutual exclusivity between religious and secular pursuits

The key lesson from our group was the pursuit of excellence in religious and secular pursuits. There is no mutually exclusivity in academic rigour, sport and culture and religious duties and community service. Everyone has the potential to make a contribution in their own way and this needs to be supported. This attitude and approach to life was very much developed through our group work starting back in high school – with F– at the helm of our group’s leadership!…

Interesting too is this 2013 post Reading Half the Sky is a Painful Experience (Part 1).

I would read a few pages at a time and would have to stop or look away. Seated 38 000 feet above the ground and after enjoying a warm meal on my flight from Sydney to Dhaka on Thai Airways – I wanted to look away into the distant sun or the large span of water (i.e. the Bay of Bengal) to find some sort of solace and hope. Why are people so incredibly cruel?

I have only gotten through the first 100 pages or so where sex slavery is being recounted by the authors. Whilst it was frightening and painful to read of the stories of these girls and young women who were brutally raped and mentally and physically traumatised – there was also hope in what some of them were doing to fight back and to bring positive change in their communities. I’ll account some of these in the next post Insha Allah. Whilst this comforted me a little – it also highlighted my own incapacities and how I could be doing so much more in my own enjoyable life. It saddened me that we didn’t come to the rescue of these women and that we simply didn’t do more!…

That spirit, I suggest, is many miles from the hate and disillusion that seems to have swallowed poor Jake Biladi. I say “poor” because it is such a waste of a boy who was obviously talented. But his way is far from the only way.

How the authorities can hope to monitor all threats in this world of unparalleled access to whatever information you want boggles the mind. They have taken to stopping and searching people at airports. Dr Jamal Rifi thinks this is a bad idea. Jake Biladi of course didn’t “look the part” so very likely would have got through. (He doesn’t fully explain in that WordPress blog entry how he did it.)

My former student 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 T– (the blogger quoted above) and friends. There may be the hope we need.


Real Australians

In the last post I mentioned that in 1948 (1947 census, to be accurate) only 3% of the non-Aboriginal population of Australia — that is, of 7,637,000 people — were born outside of either Australia or the British Isles. (Aboriginal people were not included in the census until 1971, following the Referendum of 1967.)

I omitted the latest figure from 2016: Census shows 49% of population either first- or second-generation migrants, with the remaining 51% at least third generation.

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Today the Sydney Morning Herald features an interesting international Ipsos Poll. On the question Who is and is not a “Real Australian”, “Real American”, or a “Real Briton”?

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Ipsos reports:

Australia is among the top five countries when it comes to having the most inclusive definition of nationality, an Ipsos Global Advisor survey shows.

Canada and the United States topped the list followed by South Africa, France, and Australia. These countries score highest on an “Inclusiveness Index” reflecting social acceptance of diversity as it applies to religion, immigration, sexual orientation and gender identity, political views, and criminal background.


Commenting on the findings, David Elliott, Director Ipsos Social Research Institute – NSW, said: When you take into account all the components we covered and look at the Overall Inclusiveness Index, Australia comes out as one of the five most inclusive nations behind Canada, the US, South Africa, and France.  This is not that surprising given our multicultural society as it exposes Australians to a variety of cultures and religions which helps drive acceptance.  It also fits with previous Ipsos studies on immigration and refugees, which highlighted Australia as one of the more positive countries globally in terms of our views on immigration and refugees.

“However, while we are generally accepting of religious diversity and immigrants, we do show much less positive views of naturalised citizens when they aren’t fluent in English or don’t have a job, as well as lifelong immigrants who don’t become citizens and illegal immigrants who have lived here most of their lives.

“Interestingly, where we fall down the list in terms of our inclusiveness versus other nations is in regard to LBGTI people and those convicted of a criminal offence who have served time in prison, with our classification of these people as ‘real’ Australians placing us mid-table. 

Plenty of food for thought there. Personally, I doubt there is such a beast as a “real Australian”. For me anyone who is here is by definition an Australian, end of story. Of course it helps if they speak English, but it is also a great thing to be able to speak two or more languages! Multilingual Australians are a national treasure, in my opinion. I have long since stopped feeling paranoid when I hear people speaking Croatian, Chinese, or whatever at the club, on the bus, or anywhere else.

Do visit my 2011 series Being Australian.

Food and time….

Prompted by last night’s 1950s episode of Back in Time for Dinner:

This was, after all, a time when post-war food rationing was still in play, fridge technology was evolving, you had to buy olive oil from the chemist, phones were attached to a wall by a cord and tripe was on the menu.

Baker laughs. “I don’t think this family will ever, ever eat tripe again. With each decade we gave them a manual and the 1950s included a fantastic tripe recipe that Carol had to cook. She was aghast.”

Back in the day I loved tripe — the way my mother cooked it anyway!

I note that 100+ posts here are tagged food! Here are some sample meals….

Ziggy’s House of Nomms, Wollongong:


Much missed: Shiraz Persian Restaurant, Wollongong:


Taste of Xian, Wollongong:


Samara’s Wollongong:



Fascinating story of Wollongong Art Gallery

Must go again! On an earlier visit:


It is the Gallery’s 40th anniversary.

An immersive interactive installation project that celebrates the significant and generous gift by Bronius (Bob) Sredersas, a Lithuanian migrant and steel worker whose personal art collection became the impetus for the establishment of Wollongong Art Gallery.

Incorporating the Sredersas art collection, this innovative multidisciplinary exhibition recognizes both the Gallery’s origins and celebrates the contribution that migrants and refugees have made and continue to make to our communities.

This work has been created by the Society of Histrionic Happenings under the curatorship of Anne-Louise Rentell​ through the Gallery’s Visiting Curators Program.

​​THE GIFT on Vimeo

See also THE GALLERY / The Story of Us.

It was not until 1975 after a chance meeting with a very modest gentleman named Bronius (Bob) Sredersas. Bob wanted to donate his collection to the “Children of Wollongong”. This momentous gift was the catalyst on which the Art Gallery was built (Sredersas Gallery). The Illawarra County Council donated the property formally known as the Hughes Whetton Reilly Building (now Wollongong Youth Centre), including the land upon which it stood to Council on the proviso that the property be used for an Art Gallery. Through the persistence and hard work of the society, volunteers and donors, and with the assistance of Council and Government funding bodies, a Director and Board of Trustee was appointed and on the 2 June 1978 Wollongong City Gallery was officially opened by Mr Neville Wran, Premier of NSW at 85 Burelli Street, Wollongong attended by over 500 people. The first exhibition was titled Burghers of Calais, with works borrowed for the National Gallery and Art Gallery of NSW.                                      

Local ABC has a great feature: The Lithuanian secret service officer whose art collection changed an Australian city.

Bronius 'Bob Sredersas stands in front of a painting while holding a cigarette.

I was back in Wollongong by late 1978, though seeing out the year working at Sydney University.


“North Wollongong Beach in the early 1980’s. Photo thanks to Lost Wollongong member Michael Schurr.” I was living not far away in Church Street at that time – well, at least from late 1978 to the beginning of 1981.

I recall hearing about “The Gift” at the time. Interesting the role played by Father Michael Bach, whom I met earlier in the 70s when he officiated at a wedding where I was a groomsman.

Mr Sredersas’ life outside of work could not have been more contradictory — he would not be seen at the local pubs that were filled with steelworkers or at the local football matches and horse races.

Instead, he would spend his time at his fibro cottage in the Wollongong suburb of Cringila, tending to a garden of roses, cabbages, lemons and a line of trees to absorb the dust from the steelworks.

It was in 1956 when he decided that his home needed a painting and he caught the train to Sydney, a journey he would regularly make over a period of 20 years….

In 1977, hastened by a break-in which saw 13 of the works stolen — including two Willian Ashtons and a Norman Lindsay — Mr Sredersas began to wonder where his collection would be stored over the long term.

He decided that the people of Wollongong, the city he felt he owed a great debt to, should own the paintings.

A devout Catholic, Mr Sredersas, who was then in his late 60s, enlisted the help of Father Michael Bach who was the administrator of Wollongong Cathedral at the time….

Body language and cultural differences

One of the most amazing spectacles provided by Donald Trump is his body language. I have never seen anything quite like it. We all recall President Macron’s experiences:


See also The Awkward Body Language of Donald Trump.

Sacred texts have received less scrupulous analysis than Trump’s foreign-leader handshakes, his presidential-debate snorts (remember those?) and the reactions — aghast, awe-struck, puzzled, peeved — of those who bump up against (or happen to be married to) him.

It just may be that this is relevant to things happening lately. The whole area of the physical in cross-cultural communication is one business people and teachers of English soon encounter. It can be fascinating and often far more important than we at first realise. See 20 Cultural Mistakes to Avoid in Korea.

Here is an amusing example from my own experience. I took this photo in a Surry Hills pub in 1990.


At the time I was working in an English Language college. Rui, on the left, was a scientist from China; Mr Kim, on the right, had been in the Korean military. Great guys, both of them. The Korean cultural habit of grabbing the leg of a companion in order to show friendliness is clearly not a Chinese custom. The photo is not a set-up! I saw what was going on and snapped it for my own amusement, and later shared it with the two in the pic, who also found it amusing…

This post is very honest and interesting. I haven’t been to Korea, but back in 1990 I did encounter what can happen if a Korean feels he/she has lost face. I wonder if Donald Trump ever takes such things into account? Maybe he does….

Every culture has social cues and norms that are implicitly understood.  Korea has more of those than the West.  Westerners, in comparison to Koreans, are brutally direct, particularly in the workplace, and that applies to Americans most specifically.  Koreans have no problem telling you that you look like a fat ass or that your face is melting due to old age/lack of plastic surgery, but they will generally skirt the issues at work or really when anything is important.  You’re just expected to understand, which makes being a newbie here more than a bit difficult at times.  By contrast, I feel that expectations in the West are more direct, which is helpful when you don’t really know the expectations in the first place.

Many foreigners here are left with the impression that Koreans expect them to be mind readers.  This is sort of true.  They expect the same of Koreans, but it is marginally easier when you’re at least dealing with your own culture.  The lack of planning and subtle social cues that Koreans drop don’t really do the job for most Westerners.  The Koreans can’t understand why the foreigner didn’t pick up what to them amounts to an obvious cue, and the poor little waeguk ends up thinking that Koreans are insane, never mind disorganized flounders who can’t tell up from down.  Which is kind of true sometimes.

For my part, I’ve gotten used to many of the aspects of “face” and trying to save it in Korea.  I’ve learned to pick up on a lot of the Korean social cues.  I can read between the lines when my boss says certain things.  “Student A is taking a break” means “Student A quit and probably won’t be back.”  Sometimes the student is legitimately on a break, but most of the time, they never reappear….