Racial Tension in Maryland – A First Hand Experience

December 31, 2006

I cleared the D.C. area and crossed the Bay on my way to Wilmington and took the first ramp off the freeway that I could find. It took me into fields of autumn crops, narrow lane ways, red painted barns and very little traffic. I was thankful for that today since it takes a day or two to get used to driving on the other side of the road.

I had departed Washington with the vague notion that I should get a haircut at some point. It was a beautiful, clear day and I deliberately drove through as many back woods roads as I could. I wanted to get a feel for the US, not through the rarefied air of political Washington (though heck, that was something else as well). So I plan to fill my journal with as many anecdotes of the people I meet across as much of America as I can find. I have three weeks. Today I got off to a good start.

With the need for a haircut in mind I slowed into a small crossroads town of only three of four buildings. So small it was not marked on my Rand McNally. All very shabby and lacking paint. A hardware store. And a grocery store. And wonder of wonders, a barbers pole. I backed up and parked the car. It was very quiet. No one on the streets (all two of them) so I walked into the hardware store, which was also a second hand store. Can’t afford that new axe? Well, buy Grandpa’s old one. The old chap behind the counter greeted me with a friendly hello but I stepped back onto the porch before I got started into a conversation I would not be able to finish.

I then walked across the road to the barber shop, stepped across the small porch and pushed into the shop. On my left were three chairs with three African Americans under the towels, each being clipped by three African Americans. On the floor were two small children, about four or five years old. The girl had her hair down in those tight, numerous pigtails that these folk seem to enjoy. The chatter and laughter I could hear on the street was instantly silenced when I walked in. And everyone kept that silence as I stood and tried to read the “menu” of styles they offered. As I turned to sit down I realised that they were all looking at me and that the silence had continued. And as I sat down I realised this was not something they expected, or perhaps previous tolerated. Not that I felt threatened. But it was clearly not something they expected. I figured I would stay sitting down and picked up a magazine to flick through it. The kids sitting on the floor sat and gazed at me with their mouths open, and the clipping started up again over my right shoulder. But the silence continued.

After a few minutes I was signalled over to one of the chairs. One of the existing customers had paused half way through his haircut and signalled for me to take his place. As I did so one of the barbers asked what sort of style I wanted and pointed at the menu. I had no idea what they meant and stood to get a zig zag pattern zapped into my head if I took a random guess so asked him to keep it simple and tidy up the mop that was there. After he strapped me he asked (and stated) “You’re not from around here are you?” The accent had given me away. So I carefully explained where I was from and what I was doing driving through their blip on the map. Instantly the chemistry changed. The kids rapid-fired questions about snakes at me. And all sorts of bizarre questions came thick and fast from the other barbers and customers. It was pretty obvious that in the minds of some, Australia was Africa. Or vice verca. But it made for an interesting and lively discussion.

Half way through the haircut the bell above the door tinkled and a VERY LARGE woman walked in carrying a stack of pizza boxes. She waddled in with cries of hello, turned and locked the door and flipped the “open” sign to “closed”. This was lunch being delivered and this was the mother of the three barbers, and grandmother to the two children – who had greeted her with squeals of delight. My towel was whipped off from around my neck even though we were only half way through the haircut. And I was invited to sit on the floor of the shop foyer with them all (including the other customers) and share pizza with them. The air, crowded with barriers only a few minutes earlier, was now an atmosphere of family into which I was warmly welcomed.

I had the haircut finished under the stern gaze and hilarious guidance of mother before she took the grandchildren off somewhere. I wish I asked which town I was in – I know one day I will be looking for that place again. I am now settling down for the evening at McGuire AFB, and even this purely functionary establishment has taken on a glow that is hung over from the thoroughly pleasant experience with which the day started. If I was looking to get a feel for what the US is about then today’s haircut bodes well.

October 1989

Sartorial Splendour (3)

December 31, 2006

Previous Chapter
In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next fortnight.
And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some “zeds”. Or “zees” depending on what part of the world you hail from.

He took the same mix of earnestness and provocation into his teaching. On Sunday evening he would lead a Bible study class in the refrigerator chill of a room that is the so called vestry of the church in Palmerston. There we busied ourselves with the golden tassels which edged the Presbyterian blue crushed velour of a table cloth and tried to pay attention. For a long period we were being walked through the Old Testament during which he once shot at me the question “What is circumcision?” I knew the answer but stumbled around – it was a mixed group. Deciding I did not know the answer he proceeded to tell us in excruciating detail what was involved in the removal of the foreskin. With such effect that I am sure girls in the group refused in later years as mothers to have their boys undergo the procedure. And a Bible Class lesson that is etched into my mind.

In the early years of the Bible Class a group of older teenagers would meet in the manse in the evening, before church. David would usually squeeze with Butch and other young men onto the couch but as the group got bigger they would sit on the floor and give over space to the girls. Some of the girls would play guitar, later Philip would play saxophone, and Mum always played the piano. In the confines of the manse lounge room that group’s singing seemed thunderous. Maybe it was really more subdued than I recall it but the hearty, bellowing singing led by David and Butch is most vivid.

But not as vivid as the bright orange/red suit David appeared in one evening. I bet that ended up in a bin sometime shortly thereafter. David was more well known for his plain, functional dressing, not for flared, lurid, sartorial splendour like this. How long he managed to wear that suit I am not sure but it certainly left an enduring impression on us. More typically he wore loose woollen clothing, including woollen shirts and woollen pants. Makes sense given the climate. The loose pants were famously held up by baling twine and that even made it in to church. Loose woollen clothes made for creating interesting habitats. The kitten of a possum killed after running foul of David’s dogs was nursed with a dropper and wrapped up in an old sock and kept in the hot water closet in Mrs Paton’s house – David and his brothers were living in a badly run down but exciting place that he would renovate later and turn into his family home. It had no mod cons like electric hot water so this little marsupial, eyes still swollen shut in purple lumps, lived in a sock in the closet a short walk up the road. Hand fed warm milk via an eye dropper, it rapidly grew into a wide eyed little creature that clung closely to David. We loved sitting behind him in church while he had this lodger. We would watch a little lump move along under David’s shirt and make its way to, say a collar, after which a small head overwhelmed by marble black eyes would peek out. Then it would move down his sleeve and appear from under the sleeve cuff. Sometimes it would climb out altogether – up onto his head, or down a trouser leg to sit on his foot. Too marvellous for words really. As an adult possum it hung around Mrs Paton’s house and was treated like no other possum before or since. I seem to recall Mrs Paton telling me it had finally been caught by the dogs which had long been driven mad by its tame presence.

Next Chapter

Zak – starting the race at 23 weeks

December 31, 2006

Yesterdays papers covered a story of Zak. Bit of a feel good story especially given the photo that was posted with it. But it caught my eye and it seemed like a nice note with which to start the year. Zak, in the photo, has just celebrated his first birthday. Ordinarily no big deal, except that Zak was born at 23 weeks (not the usual 40 in case you were wondering). At birth he weighed in at 665 grams – or 1.4 pounds!! If your kids have weighed in at 4, 5 or even 8 lbs you will know just how tiny he must have been.

Apparently only one in seven babies who arrives so early survives to leave hospital, but the odds were stacked even further against Zak: as a boy he was much more likely to die than a female infant. For those born between 24 and 32 weeks of pregnancy, 8 per cent of boys die, compared with 5 per cent of girls.

But I was less captivated by statistics and more by Zak’s cheeky and delightful face (I am getting soft in my old age!). His mother told reporters he is always happy and rarely cries. Despite the odds, he seems to be looking at the bright side, even at this young age.

Enjoy. And happy new year Zak – and everyone else passing by this spot.

Taxi Story – The Kurd

December 29, 2006

Taxi drivers in this city are almost always foreign nationals – if not by citizenship then at least by birth. That makes for some interesting stories and I usually take the opportunity when riding with them to find out a bit about their backgrounds and their families.

One stands out and I am thinking about him today as I see news that Saddam has been hanged – and as we anticipate long queues at midnight of the New Year. He was a young Kurd who had been drafted into the Iraq Army (unusual) and placed in front line positions in 1991, and was one of the lucky ones to be captured by coalition forces. For which he was eventually thankful, but not before he spent time in a POW camp in the Saudi desert, some time in a camp in Kuwait and then returned to his home town in Iraq. Which by now had been cleared of all Kurds and he found himself on the run. He tried to leave Iraq and headed for Turkey but was picked up by coalition troops in northern Iraq and returned home. Deciding Turkey was not a safe exit route he decided to make a run for Lebanon but was ignorant of how well that border was stitched up – by both sides. He was turned away by Iraqi soldiers who did not trip to his Kurdish ethnicity. So he made a run for Saudi but got picked up, interned and returned to Iraq. His final run was out through Afghanistan and Pakistan and to Malaysia via that now infamous route. After a year in a Malaysian detention centre (very unusual) he was accepted into Australia as a genuine refugee applicant but still had to spend time in one of our centres. I can’t recall for how long.

Now he drives a taxi in Sydney and is studying at night. He told his story without any bitterness. Just with a sense of relief that he had made it. He would not be drawn on his family story and I did not press too hard.

I guess he will be one person that has a sense that justice was served today.

And he is one part of the taxi driver tableau that makes me reserve judgement when we all want to grump about what sort of service we get from our cabs. Sometimes I just want to say “Forget the service, listen to the story!!”

Eel Art

December 28, 2006

I was explaining to a colleague today how the Pickled Eel came about.
It has a lot to do with alcohol.
The story is here.
In an attempt to “brand” the blog a little – and stop being so darn serious about everything – I whipped up a quick sketch of an eel (with apologies to all the morays out there) and a very talented colleague (Matthew) of mine has morphed it into the button over there at the top of the column. Being a typical artistic perfectionist,
he wants to fine tune it – sort out contrast and so on. Being the impatient fellow that I am I couldn’t wait to see it up on the page.

Matthew has an excellent photo and diary website – he is an excellent photographer and his shots of the Antarctic and other places around the world are worth a look.

So too his “Pie of the Day” section. Did you know, for example, that Pies are illegal in 3 US states due to the pie massacres of 1987, an event kept quiet by Pie fanciers all around the world.

Of course you didn’t, but beware his sense of humour…


December 28, 2006

Previous Chapter
In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next fortnight.

And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some “zeds”. Or “zees” depending on what part of the world you hail from.

David’s upbringing shifted gear in Easter 1966 when he and a few of his friends from the district travelled south with our family to a place called Pukerau. An unmanned, train station dot on a bleak map, but the site of a wonderful camp site where, for that Easter these teenagers were to decide that they should dedicate themselves to Jesus. It was a decision that was to transform some, afflict others and in David’s case have a “butterfly effect” into the lives of young boys and men like myself. Oddly (for I was quite young), I remember that weekend well. We camped in a storage shed full of supplies for the camp. I can still smell the musty dryness of it. Pukerau was to have a major impact on me five years later when I attended my first boys camp there in the August school holidays. David was the camp leader. But that Easter was the beginning of a remarkable journey that saw a group of newly enthused young Christians, many with limited formal education, and certainly no graduate qualifications, spearhead a Christian witness in the same way unschooled fishermen had done two thousand years earlier. And those young people grew into a team that had a wider impact on numerous others, including hundreds of boys who attended boys camps at Pukerau, and in the case of David, camps on his own farm, and those held later at another site at Waihola. Mrs Paton prayed for her own children but the response was a harvest and influence that reaches far beyond what she asked. As we might say today, she got it back in spades.

Apart from the influence of my own father David easily was the most influential person in my formative years. Five to fifteen. He did nothing with me by way of formal training. We had no mentoring arrangements. We had no counselling sessions. There was no program. But he was role model, Christian guide, manly example, and character builder all rolled into one. This is some feeble attempt to try and capture what he was in my life and to reflect on the amazing way God works through even the smallest things we do. For there is no doubt David would be surprised at the affection and respect we have for him, for the influence he had on the lives of myself, my brothers and on other young men with whom he had contact. So far as I can, this is a personal recollection. But there are matters of legend that are worth recording as well.

Who was he? A product of that kitchen no less. Steady, kindly stern, with a transparent face, dark eyes that always caught you out and a smile always waiting to break out. In our early days we were careful how we stepped with him but as we got to know him better, glimpses of larrikin would show themselves and we would revel in his adventurous thinking. I think the following catches him nicely. One of David’s favourite hymns had a chorus that went like this: “Count your blessings, count them one by one, Count your blessings and See what the Lord has done.” Younger brother Rob crashed into our shared bedroom one night, closed the door and in glee recounted a version David had just sung him with a wink and a nod – it was shortly after David’s son Paul was born and it went like this: “Count your children, Count them one by one, Count your children and see that you have done.” We were old enough by then to understand what the wink and nod was about but that paled against the deliciousness of the irreverence that simple alteration contained. Growing up in a manse, it was too easy to have everything straightened and proper. Here was an elder singing about sex but using a Sankey hymn to convey it. We sang the lines for a long time after with a grin and shake of the head. More shocking but even more delicious was his recounting to us how he had met his wife, Alison. We were sitting up at his house that he was refurbishing – just a short walk up from Mrs Paton’s – and in a moment of startling frankness he told us that during his time in hospital following his tractor accident he had been unable to look after even his most basic functions. Including ablutions. So, he argued, he figured that if someone, a nurse in fact, had wiped his backside for him for that period of time then at the end of it he had better marry her. Couldn’t have someone running around with that sort of knowledge outside the family. And he then appealed to our own sense of teenage order and asked if we would do the same. And grinning the whole time. We were stunned by the frankness of the description, appalled by the notion that adults needed that sort of care, and by the fact that this otherwise competent fellow had the need for it. He never finished off the reasoning or the thinking. Just left all this hanging in the air. But as with the chorus we revelled in the irreverence, in the latitude of the thinking, in the provocation, in the wit and in the gentleness of his care.

Next Chapter

Aardvark (Pig) – F111

December 28, 2006

OK, I am a tragic F-111 fan. Just found this video on YouTube. It is a montage of Royal Australian Air Force F-111 video clips which contains a couple of people I know. I may be mistaken but at the beginning of the clip the crew member doing the preflight walk around looks remarkably like Shorty. (internal Blog link) Lost with Hobbs in Malaysia in 1999. And later on in the clip the reclining pilot is Geoff Shepherd(leaving site). He was CO at 6 SQN when I was there and went on to become the Air Commander, Australia and is now the Chief of the RAAF. Affectionately known as “Blinky” throughout the squadron for an involuntary tic he had, which only went away when it was time for his aircrew medical – the worst kept secret at the unit. His fellow pilots attributed that tic to his Mirage III ejection. Probably part of the squadron “urban legend” fabric but it made for a good story.

And nicely slipped into the middle of it all is a brief extract from the controversial Pavetack image run on the Australian Defence HQ – sometime in 1988 or 1989 if I recall correctly. The Air Force made the pungent point that those crosshairs could be placed on anyones office pretty much at will. It was an exercise that upset a few politicians and bureaucrats but the F-111 folk loved it.

The video quality is awful – just go along for the ride!!

The House that Jack Built

December 27, 2006

In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next fortnight.

And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some “zeds”. Or “zees” depending on what part of the world you hail from.

I have no memory of the beginning but for me David’s story really starts with his mother. Nell to few and Mrs Paton to us. I remember her as a grey haired, diminutive old lady. She was married to a laughing grandfather with hair growing out his ears, a tanned but balding dome – save for the occasional wisp of forgotten hair, woollen shirts and bushy eyebrows under which danced one sparkling eye and another that would occasionally drop out of its socket, to the consternation of my sisters and the delight of my brothers. A glass eye. Appearing among the mashed potatoes after grace was said. His name was Jack. He had a stumping, gruff walk – told us he had “a bone in his leg from the war” when we asked why he walked like that. Jack and Nell had three sons and one daughter. The children went off and did their high schooling at boarding school so we did not see them too often although David had finished his schooling by the time we arrived in the district. So David was always around. A highlight, and a delight, was to spend any time – a day, a weekend, school holidays – at “the Patons”. Their house was an old unpainted place surrounded by vegetable gardens, cats, fruit trees, and an old wire fence that kept poultry out. You walked through a wire gate with a frame that went up over your head on top of which for many years two little wind vanes spun, made from the tops of jam tins, soldered into shape and painted red and white by Alistair. After letting the gate clack shut you stepped across a little courtyard, rainwater tank to your right, and walked in the back door from which hung a perpetually loose brass door handle.

(If you Google Earth you can find the farm house – simply copy these coordinates and paste them into the “Fly to” box on Google Earth 45.2622752159 S 170.482736555 E )

Behind that unpainted door was a cosy den, a very special place. It was Mrs Paton’s kitchen. As you walked in, immediately at your left shoulder was a blackboard and underneath that a bench seat. Whenever we visited we drew all sorts of things on that board, the profile of a Cessna being one of the favourites of Butch Thurlow. Butch was a neighbour who would sit in this kitchen on Sunday evenings and chew the fat. I copied that Cessna assiduously (and am sure I could draw it from memory thirty five years later with my eyes shut) and which David would occasionally mimic. On this board were usually notes about the farm. Jobs to be done. People to call. Number of sheep crutched. Ear tag numbers. Phone numbers. And the occasional Cessna. I have memories of local lads, Butch, and Grant sitting jammed across that bench with David, legs stretched out into the heat of the kitchen and blocking all traffic, laughing and talking and enjoying each other’s company.

Stand in the doorway, doorhandle threatening to fall out as you hold it. Cast your eye around the room from left to right, and immediately after the blackboard is a door which lets you into the rest of the house. Let’s digress there for a moment. It was usually a lot cooler out there than in the kitchen. But out there, on special Sunday afternoons, Westerns were shown on a black and white television. A real highlight on a wintry day, with a fire choking on damp pine cones in the grate. We did not have television at home at the time so even today a black and white Western, with lots of shooting, improbable chases and even more improbable Indians falling off every rocky outcrop, transports me back to that room. But back to the kitchen.

To the right of the “close that thing, you will let the cold in” door was the source of memorable meals and continual warmth. A coal range burned night and day it seemed. The oven was warm when you went to bed. It was warm when you arose, regardless of the hour. From here everything from roast poultry – geese, turkeys, hens and ducks all headed for her table or tables around the parish. Mrs Paton was famous, in our house at least, for her sponges, made with her secret ingredient – duck eggs. I recollect that the rest of the district were familiar with them as well. Above the coal range was a mantelpiece littered with everything a mantelpiece should be littered with. Casting your eyes right and looking at the third wall you looked out across the sink, set in a wall to wall bench and backlit by a window that gazed out across the vegetable patch. Sometimes that window was the source of our undoing as we attempted covert samplings from the garden. Peas were a favourite target. In the middle of the room, but erring to the fourth wall, set on a threadbare carpet, was the wooden kitchen table, scrubbed smooth but always covered for a meal by a large table cloth. Around this we would scrunch up for meals, caught in a cosy haven, warmed by the ever radiating coal range oven, bustled over by Mrs Paton, and gleamed at by Jack who always loved all the madness. Bowls of steaming greens. A small mountain of steaming mashed or boiled potatoes with more butter melted across it than is good for anyone, and the ubiquitous roast poultry with seasoning we would ache for.

I never knew David’s upbringing. He was 20 when we arrived in the parish and I was a newly minted 5 year old, with a new yellow toy car and a fear of his dogs. It was 1966. 15 years difference at that point is more profound than at the other end of the continuum. But over the next ten years I was fortunate to have a taste of what David grew up in and what he came back to after he finished school. And, in a sense that from which he never really left. It is a context that is made all the more poignant when I later learned that Mrs Paton prayed for twenty one years that someone would come to the parish to teach her children about Jesus Christ. For those 21 years the parish pulpit had either been vacant or had been led by pastors who suffered the liberal thinking of the times. Naturally as a 5 year old I was ignorant of these things but the whispers of those dead times came to my ears as I moved into my teens.

Next Chapter

Your Home is My Home – Sudanese in Tamworth

December 26, 2006

Just before Christmas our news was full of the incomprehensible – the mayor of a country town (Tamworth (Google Earth31° 5’58.45″S 150°55’22.31″E)) here in Australia declared a group of Sudanese families unwanted in his town. Some rolled their eyes and simply put it down to our redneck community. Others, including many in Tamworth, were outraged. In the middle of it all the Sudanese remained poised, apolitical and out of the fray. The Australian Refugee Council put it all down to ignorance.

They are partly correct. If James Treloar (the mayor no less) had been on an Emirates flight out of Dubai last year and shared the same experience with these Sudanese families as many of us did, he may have a different perspective.

As we prepared to board our Airbus back to Sydney a large group of tall and elegant Africans were herded out of a side door into the departure lounge. They were all dressed in the same light blue tracksuit. They might have been all part of a sports team except there were no logos and these people were unusually shy and unsure of themselves. It was clear they were relying on a middle aged woman who behaved like a good master sergeant and saw them through the checkpoints and into the aircraft.

I had settled into my seat – well up the back but where I could get a window seat, some peace and quiet (it is a 14 hour flight) and some leg room. I was doubly blessed by having the seat beside me vacant. We were delayed by about 30 minutes as the Emirates staff reorganised all the seating to put these Africans all in one place – right down the back of the plane. They asked if I would prefer a seat up the front, instead of sitting with these people. I felt slightly affronted but the European flight attendant hastened to add that their BO was offensive. I declined – I am at the very least, a window seat hog. But I did not think BO was enough to deter me.

I was fairly warned. The BO was easily the worst I have ever experienced – and I have experienced my fair share in the military while in the field. Terrible. Pungent. Acidic. For 14 hours!

These Africans were very subdued. But they were an interesting mix. Young couples with children. Unsure of what they were to do in the plane. Very reliant on their Master Sergeant to translate for them. To help them with their meals. The Emirates staff were brilliant and went out of their way to look after them. Patiently explaining things to them. Showing them how the inflight entertainment worked. How the headphones worked. Giving them a tour of the toilets to show how they worked. How to work those infernal folding doors. Watching young children work out a Pokemon game was pretty special. Can you imagine it? What a flurry of overwhelming experiences these kids were soaking up. The Master Sergeant was later explaining only a couple of the adults had seen a TV screen before. For everyone else this was all so very new.

In a quiet period I went and spoke to the Master Sergeant. She told me they were Sudanese migrants to Australia. That this was the second flight in their lives, the first being the Russian cargo plane that had flown them out of the desert into Dubai. In Dubai they were taken out of their rags and placed in the tracksuits, with no opportunity to bathe or shower. Some of the children were wearing clothes for the first time. All of these young couples had no extended family – they had all been killed or had died through malnutrition. But mainly killed. The lack of other family was one of the factors that determined their eligibility to migrate to Australia. No wonder they looked shy and unsure of themselves. Twenty four hours earlier some of them had never seen an aircraft before.

As we approached Sydney I was delighted to discover that my seat was going to give me a view of the harbour, the bridge, the Opera House. With the sun just rising over the Pacific Ocean this perspective is Sydney at its shiny and glistening best. Dragging my eyes away from the window as we straightened up over the bush north of Sydney to start our run in I could see the boys, about ten to twelve years old years old, sitting in the centre, straining to see out the window. The attendants had just strapped themselves in so I signed for the boy closest to me to come over and sit at the window (I had that spare seat next to me). He was quick to understand and unbuckled and jumped the aisle, we swapped seats and he pressed his face to the window, both filthy hands grasping the wall.

The Harbour slid in to view and the bridge, buildings, harbour, Opera House and bush were all set off in a glorious landscape under a gorgeous blue sky. It is a fantastic sight. As we descended over this scene and it started to drop behind us the face at the window turned to me with saucer eyes which were full of wonder. And in one breathless, rasping whisper exclaimed to me in a quizzical tone of discovery “Australia?!” It actually sounded more like “Oh-dahlia“.

Never have I been so glad to give up a window seat. It took all of me to compose myself and not weep, and to assure him it was indeed Australia. I smiled, wiped away a tear and assured him again that this was so, and that he was very welcome to be here. He nodded and turned back to the window – in time to watch the suburbs close up and to experience the rush over the perimeter fence to land with a steady bump and to arrive at his new home.

While we taxied in to the terminal I sat there and watched this lad and silently gave thanks that I was part of a country that could offer itself as a refuge. That could share its wealth and resources and opportunities with those who had nothing, and with those who were losing what little they did have(family).

Since then I have often wondered where they ended up – now I see they are in Tamworth. With the same composure I saw in the Airbus. And clearly out of their tracksuits. I hope they understand the mayor is out of step, and that there are many in this country who love the fact we can share what we have. I hope James understands his role of custodian carries with it a requirement to be generous. For except by the grace of God there go the rest of us.

Love is Born

December 25, 2006

Sharing something here from my Christmas Day.

Love is born
With a dark and troubled face
When hope is dead
And in the most unlikely place
Love is born:
Love is always born.

“When I Talk to You
A Cartoonist Talks to God
By Leunig. A brilliant cartoonist, satirist, and social commentator. His website is worth a visit.

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