Great Southern Land

Today was Australia Day, which is Australia’s official national day. It’s a public holiday and commemorates the arrival of Captain Phillip and the First Fleet in 1788. For most people it is an opportunity to display our national pride and you’ll often see flags in windows and people wearing green and gold at barbecues and lunches. It’s a patriotic day that brings unity despite our many differences: the one day where we are just Australian.

For me Australia Day holds a slightly different meaning. I am proudly Australian but my parents were originally English; they lived in Australia for more than 15 years before becoming Australian citizens themselves. Witnessing their citizenship ceremony was one of the proudest moments of my life. But perhaps because of that I have always preferred a quieter observation; while other people attend festivals I prefer to take time thinking about what Australia means to me, how far we’ve come and still have to go.

chris by the harbour

Something I always do around this time is to look back through some of our old photographs and I found this one earlier. I can’t believe it but it must be almost 20 years old now; I still remember some of that day, near the harbour and the botanic gardens. We had ice cream afterwards. And yes, that is me in the picture. I was 4 years old. Ugly little bugger, wasn’t I? 😉

Of all the photographs we have this is one of my favourites, not just because it captures the memories I still have of that day but also because it’s like a snapshot of how I see Australia. To me Australia isn’t a nation in the sense that America is; we’re much younger and don’t have the same history and culture behind us. We’re still growing and finding our identity and culture. That’s what I see in the photo: that I would grow, and Australia would as well.

Over the last 20 years Australia has changed a lot and it has been interesting watching those changes unfold. To be frank some of them have disturbed me, particularly as our civil liberties have unravelled, but we’ve also made progress. The apology to Indigenous Australians last year was a watershed moment in our development as a nation and raises the real possibility for reconciliation one day. That indigenous leader Mick Dodson was named Australian of the Year this year is another step towards that.

But we’re not there yet. There are still a lot of obstacles in the way and Australia Day itself is one of them. Some people think the date should be changed from January 26 so it includes all Australians and I agree; many Aboriginal Australians consider it to be “Invasion Day” and to have a national day which isn’t inclusive of the first Australians seems culturally insensitive to me and always has. Federation Day, January 1st, 1901, seems more suitable, the day we gained interdependence from Britain.

But when I think of all we’ve achieved as a young country, though – from the biggest townships to the smallest farms, from the beaches of Gallipoli to the villages of East Timor -, it makes me extremely proud. We’re a country that came about partially by accident; under other circumstances we could have been a Dutch or French settlement and if not for the American Revolution the events of our colonisation by Britain would’ve been very different. As the descendants of convicts, we’ve developed a stable democracy and are slowly moving towards becoming a republic. That is not a bad start for any country.

Today the thing I find myself thinking about the most is our landscape. That’s what I noticed most looking at that photograph, how after 20 years the harbour is still the same… the water the same brilliant blue. I think it’s something a lot of us take for granted; for many of us Australia is just there but how many of us have really seen it, have seen Kakadu or Kings Canyon? I know I hope to at some stage, to see Uluru at sunset and the ancient art in the Abrakurrie caves. I think it’s our landscape which defines our identity and it’s what I’m most grateful for.

There’s one song that always comes to mind when I think of Australia. It’s Icehouse’s Great Southern Land. I couldn’t hope for a better song to post on Australia Day. Hope you enjoy it.

Wherever you are in the world I wish you peace, hope and a Happy Australia Day. Here’s hoping one day it’ll be Happy Republic Day – a day we can all celebrate as one. 😉

We Shall Overcome

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If there’s one good thing about having insomnia it’s that when something happens in the world, you get to see it at the same time as everyone else. Early yesterday morning, while most Australians were still fast asleep, I experienced a moment in history I’ll never forget.

To see an African American in the White House is an amazing thing; it’s not just what it represents for the civil rights movement and how far America has come but also for disadvantaged people around the world. It’s no less than the power to dream, for a child to believe they can grow up to be anything they want to be. It’s a day I was not sure I would see and I’m happy I have.

What struck me watching the scenes from Washington was how joyous they were. When Obama won the election there was an outpouring of emotion, like all the emotions that had been restrained for so long were suddenly bursting forth. But this was different. This was like a celebration and perhaps nothing showed that better than seeing two million people huddled together in the freezing cold, waiting in anticipation. It was an amazing sight.

I’ve never seen crowds like that. The conditions must have been awful and the lines looked like they stretched back for kilometres but they weren’t ideologues or the Democratic faithful; they were just ordinary people who had been touched by Obama’s message and wanted to be a part of history. That’s what was so moving, particularly during Obama’s speech.

The other thing that was interesting was seeing the surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen from World War II. For so long they had fought against the discrimination that had held them back, trying to prove they could fly as well as any other man, and to see them there, with the pilot of the plane that crashed into the Hudson River, for me highlighted what this moment meant. Seeing two different eras of pilots who once would have been separated by so many divisions being honoured together shows how far America has come.

Of course Obama’s election is at best a stepping stone. It doesn’t end racism; it doesn’t fulfil the dream of Martin Luther King so many years ago. Racism might never be something we can truly be free of, only marginalise. What this moment represents instead is another step forward, another step towards tolerance. And the example it sets for the rest of the world and the hope it gives to minorities is something words cannot describe. For myself, it gives me the belief that I can be more than I am, and gives me hope that one day we will have moved past some of the divisions in Australia as well.

Personally I am hopeful that Obama will be a good president. The world needs stable leadership right now and he seems to be making the right signs but he faces a difficult task with the economy and two wars. But I was impressed by his speech; I thought he struck the right balance between responsibility and optimism. I hope he will be able to bring people together and end some of the division and from an Australian point of view, I hope our relationship continues to grow. Israel & Palestine remain in my thoughts as well.

For me, though, it isn’t about that right now. It’s about this moment in time and I think it transcends your race, political persuasion or where you live in the world. There were over two billion people watching Obama’s inauguration worldwide and watching the crowds and celebrations in Washington, it again reminded me of the moon landing and the fall of the Berlin Wall, events which united all of us together as one. Right now I don’t feel like an Australian but a citizen of the world and I’m glad I was able to watch it live.

I thought I’d post a video to mark the occasion as well. During the civil rights movement We Shall Overcome became a key anthem played at rallies and festivals. I can’t think of a more appropriate song to mark the moment. This is Bruce Springsteen’s version, a tribute to Pete Seeger.

Congratulations to President Obama. Now the hard work begins.

Quotes for Peace

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Palestine

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

This is a follow up to my last post. My look back at 2008 was quite long; I had a lot to say, particularly as the situation with Israel and Hamas was developing. It has now escalated further and I’ve been extremely disturbed by the violence and the scenes coming out of Gaza.

The civilian deaths yesterday were some of the worst I have seen and have been weighing heavily on my mind today. I’ve been reading through several of my collections of quotes about war and peace and I thought I would share some of my favourites. It is my plea for peace to both sides.

Feel free to share a favourite quote or any you think are appropriate. Let’s hope the violence ends soon. It has cost too much already.

* * * * * *

I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, “Mother, what was war?”
~ Eve Merriam

Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict – alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.
~ Dorothy Thompson

Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Peace is not a relationship of nations. It is a condition of mind brought about by a serenity of soul. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people.
~ Jawaharlal Nehru

As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.
~ Oscar Wilde

Peace is not the absence of war; it is a virtue; a state of mind; a disposition for benevolence, confidence, and justice.
~ Spinoza

Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.
~ John F. Kennedy

You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.
~ Albert Einstein

True power is when we have every justification to kill, and don’t.
~ Oscar Schindler

I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.
~ Helen Keller

We have war when at least one of the parties to a conflict wants something more than it wants peace.
~ Jeane Kirkpatrick

I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.
~ Franklin Roosevelt

We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.
~ William E. Gladstone

The Year That Was

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Buildings Devastated By War

I have been following the scenes coming out of Gaza closely during the last five days. Like most people I have been stunned by how the situation has deteriorated so quickly… this period has been the bloodiest I can remember. I had hoped that a brief ceasefire might be reached to allow humanitarian aid through but that now seems to have been rejected. So far the air strikes have killed more than 390 Palestinians (60 civilians) and injured more than 1900, while more than than 250 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired into Israeli territory, killing 4 people and wounding dozens. The devastation has also overwhelmed hospitals and more supplies are desperately needed.

To be honest it’s happened so quickly that I’m not sure what to make of it all. I support Israel’s need to defend itself but I was caught off-guard by the sheer ferocity of the air strikes; in an area as densely populated as Gaza I would have thought Israel could have shown more restraint. Then again, no country in the world would allow its citizens to come under daily rocket attack and I’d expect a strong response from Israel, particularly when the rockets can reach as far as schools and kindergartens as we saw today. I just wish there was more of a humanitarian effort as well. And now the rocket attacks are penetrating farther than ever before. The whole situation is just chaotic and I feel sorry for the civilians caught in the middle on both sides.

Right now it seems that the best hope for a ceasefire lies with the UN and the European Union, while the US tries to bring pressure to bear on both sides for a more lasting agreement. I hope some kind of agreement can be reached but, with this ceasefire rejected, I doubt it will be for several days… and right now it only seems to be escalating. In the meantime I’ve signed a petition with Avaaz calling on both sides to stop the violence; reading about the destruction, watching the scenes, I just felt like I had to do something, and though it’s only a small thing I hope in some way it makes a difference.

Australian Money

The Economy: The Big Story of 2008

Watching what’s happening in Gaza at the moment has made me realise just how quickly 2008 went by. It’s hard to believe it’s already 2009, isn’t it? This time last year Benazir Bhutto’s assassination had triggered a deadly wave of violence in Pakistan. Can that really have been only a year ago? So much has happened since then that it feels like so much longer. But we’ve had the fireworks and music, so it really must be 2009.

Most years I find that events tend to blur together as the year passes and the memories aren’t as fresh for me by the end but despite 2008 being a busy year, it’s still vivid in my mind. It’s been a sad year in many ways; there have been moments of hope but I think looking back the overwhelming memories I have of 2008 are of pain and sorrow. I think they shall linger for some time

Of course the biggest story of 2008 was the economic crisis. Watching the scenes from the US as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other institutions started to go under was chilling; not only did it have implications for the global economy but these were ordinary people losing their money and jobs. And then of course the proverbial shit really hit the fan; the global stockmarkets crashed, thousands of jobs were cut, overseas banks were being nationalised or filing for bankruptcy, suddenly we were all talking about the R world, “recession” – and then there was the bailout which caused all kinds of consternation. And that was just in September.

It’s been a remarkable period and has been terrible for the people directly affected but I think it serves as something of a warning to the rest of us as well; we are extremely lucky to enjoy our lifestyle in the West but with that comes the danger of excess and perhaps this is a wakeup call for all of us. 2009 will be a difficult year with the rise in unemployment and living costs but if we learn the lessons from this crisis then perhaps some good can still come from it as well. There are more important things in life, after all.

Heath Ledger’s death is also something that still lingers in my mind. As I said at the time Heath was someone I had grown up watching; I saw him in Sweat, his first major role, and most of his films after that. We were only a few years apart in age, so his death at only 28 had a strong impact on me. I thought his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight was mesmerising, and sadly tragic, but it’s his performances in Brokeback Mountain and Monster’s Ball that I’ll remember best. His loss is a profound one for our film industry, one I feel we still have yet to fully recover from nearly a year on.

By far the worst news of the year for me was the devastation in Burma and China. The destruction Cyclone Nargis caused was particularly overwhelming, killing more than 150,000 people (and by some estimates almost a million). I’ll never forget the Burmese authorities claiming that they “weren’t ready to accept” foreign aid workers into the country even while Burma had clearly suffered a monumental humanitarian disaster. And then only days later an earthquake flattened schools and villages in China, killing 87,000 people (19,000 children). The scenes in China were some of the most heartbreaking I have ever seen, with entire schools destroyed and parents weeping.

Like everyone else I was stunned and saddened by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai as well. To see a metropolis of 12 million people brought to its knees for three days, particularly a city with such heritage and prestige as Mumbai, was troubling, as was the sheer scale of the attacks; a series of ten coordinated attacks leaving 178 dead and 308 injured. Then to see the peace that had started to form between Pakistan and India beginning to unravel was even more troubling… it is something the world cannot allow to happen.

2008 brought with it some interesting stories and moments as well. For Australians one moment was in February when the Federal government finally apologised to Indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generations. The apology was long overdue and while it’s only one step toward reconciliation, it is a moment I’ll never forget. Then in September we started to hear more about the Large Hadron Collider beneath the Franco-Swiss border, a particle accelerator which we were told could create an artificial black hole… and might destroy the world! Well, it didn’t (obviously); problem was, it didn’t work either – it sprung a leak and they’re going to try again in June. Great.

Also in July Thomas Beatie, the “Pregnant Man”, was rushed to hospital and delivered a healthy baby girl amidst a storm of controversy. Beatie was born a woman but kept his female reproductive organs after undergoing hormone treatments ten years earlier to become a man and conceived his daughter through artificial insemination. I actually found the process interesting and didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about; but then I like weird science. For those who are interested, Beatie is now pregnant with his second child.

But of course the reason most of us will remember 2008 is because of Barack Obama. To achieve what he has achieved is an incredible thing; to have an African American President is something many people did not think was possible and to see the tears on so many faces still moves me even now. It’s a moment in history for America and the world and I think no matter what your political persuasion is, that is something to be proud of. Of course one moment changes nothing; there is still racism and always will be, and we don’t know what kind of president Obama will be yet. But that doesn’t change the fact that November 4 was an historic moment, one I and I’m sure millions of people will always remember.

There were other stories as well. Paul Newman and Sydney Pollack both passed away, as did Arthur C. Clarke. Russia’s incursion into Georgia resulted in more than 500 civilian deaths. The Beijing Olympics were held in August; Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt ruled the world, while the Games themselves were overshadowed by issues far greater than sport. And Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer fought the greatest Wimbledon final ever, a match that lasted over 4 1/2 hours and ended in darkness; Nadal was a deserved winner.

Personally 2008 was a difficult year for me as well. I was ill for most of the year, which was frustrating; my work suffered and I’ve not been able to write at my normal speed for some time now. My grandmother nearly died and required an amputation and I also lost a friendship which meant a great deal to me; both events made me think about what was really important in my life. After a serious fire and several things with my family as well, it has been an exhausting year. So I’m quite happy to say goodbye to 2008.

I think the problems I have had through this year, though, have actually helped me overall. They’ve helped me to find strength in places that I didn’t know I had and I know I can rely on myself more than I believed I could before. I feel like I’ve turned a few negatives into positives and grown as a person, which is more than I could have hoped for from this last year all told.

So that was 2008 from my point of view. A busy year and a sad year, but also one with its moments of hope. As far as 2009 goes I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions but I do have some hopes to stay true to. I’d like to be in good health and happiness; to trust in myself and my abilities; to not take bullshit from anyone; to be good to others and to help where I can; to find someone to love. I do have one very big ambition for 2009 and that is to write something I can send away to an agent; I feel like I’m finally ready and after developing an idea for several years, I want to tackle my first novel.

Globally I hope 2009 is a more peaceful year than 2008 was. At some stage there will be a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas; it’s just a matter of time and, unfortunately, lives, and we just have to hope that it is sooner rather than later. Hopefully the economy will begin to stabilise and peoples’ lives can find some kind of normalcy again. I also hope that Obama’s transition to the presidency will be smooth and he can start bringing people together after so much division. I’m also looking forward to the release of the new Star Trek film (Spock!) and can’t wait for Wimbledon. Hope it’s as good as last year.

So Happy New Year everyone! Thank you for being a part of my 2008 and I hope you all have a peaceful and safe 2009. 😉