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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

'Tis amazing what causes one to have little trips down Memory Lane. This week it has been the Mayor of Mount Isa in North West Queensland, John Molony.

Early this year, my old mate Molony (National Party) defeated my other old mate Ron McCulloch (Australian Labor Party) in the race for the Mayor's job in Mount Isa. Now to all of those who live in places like New South Wales and Victoria who put up with weak, namby-pamby local governments who leave their local councillors to elect their mayors for one year terms: forget it. Queensland (as does the Northern Territory - clearly something about the North) directly elects its mayors.

Ron had been mayor for something like eighteen years - a popular Irishman. John had been on the Mount Isa City Council for years and years and then took off further north and west to Burke Shire up on the Gulf of Carpentaria where he became what used to be called Shire Chairman. Now Mount Isa City Council claims - or used to - to be the biggest city in the world in area because it extends across to Camooweal and the Queensland-Northern Territory border. This sure is a contrast to Burke Shire because, as I recall it, Burke Shire does not contain one bitumen road.

Anyways, John is back in The Isa. Well, I don't suppose he ever really left. Just that, now, he's the mayor. Runs the place you could say. John owns a western men's outfitting store. John was selling western gear to stockmen before he ever had a Mount Isa store. His business life began as a hawker selling clothes and stuff from station to station in north west Queensland and the Barkly side of the NT. So he knows the Barkly Tableland and the Gulf from go to whoa.

Now let's get things straight. If you are a bloke with the lifeblood of northwest Queensland flowing in your veins; you are a paid up member or supporter of the Queensland National Party; you own a cattle property; and you make your living from people who live and work on, in and around cattle properties it is possible - but not all that likely - that you are a reconstructed, sensitive new age guy. However, those four adjectives have never applied to me mate Molony even at his best.

You see, dear Reader, in the long ago in that place accessed by a trip down Memory Lane, I used to know John and his wife Heather. It was in the late 70s to mid 80s when I was employed by the Mount Isa City Council to manage the Mount Isa Public Library, then part of the North Western Regional Library Service. The Library was situated directly opposite John's menswear store in West Street. I served on committees with him and our relationship was always co-operative and cordial.

However, I remember one night where the unreconstructed John came to the forefront. It was the night of Mardi Gras which launches Mount Isa's biggest event of the year - the Mount Isa Rodeo. We (the Dear Departed Dearly Beloved -DDDB - and Miss Eagle) were in the street outside Boydie's pub and got into conversation with John. Now, back then as now, Miss Eagle was never short of a word or an opinion. In the course of the conversation, John looked past Miss Eagle to the DDDB and said to him - How do you handle her? Miss E, not showing her inward consternation and not waiting for the DDDB to reply, piped up with a large and glowing smile - Because he's a real man. 'Nuff said.

Now maybe John can't provide a lot of intellectual stuff to the wider political debate. Perhaps - and it really is difficult - it is difficult to get anyone's attention when you are way across the Great Dividing Range and the sunlit plains extended in far-flung Mount Isa. Perhaps, he's been following the example of and taking lessons from that well-known noise from the northwest, Bob Katter Jr. Perhaps, it is just that it's rodeo time and all those lonely, boozing ringers in town provoked Molony's grey cells into gear.

But this time he's been and gone and done it. He's got himself not only national publicity, but international publicity. What else is going to happen when you talk about an isolated mining town, a shortage of nubile women, and an invitation to ugly women?

Everyone is now buying into the debate about his comments - including Catherine Deveny. But the local women are holding their own well - as they always have. I can proudly make that statement since I founded what is, arguably, the only home-grown feminist organisation Mount Isa had - the Union for Western Women. Time alone will tell whether the old adage about any publicity being good publicity will prove true in this matter.

Last night, the women of Mount Isa gathered outside the Civic Centre (right next to the Mount Isa Public Library) and demonstrated their displeasure. BTW, Molony and I once organised a celebration for Australia's win in the America's Cup in that very space. We made it a fundraiser for our Bi-Centennial Committee and we packed in a couple of thousand Mount Isans. The jollities included soap-sudding the civic fountain. Kev Ashworth, Town Clerk at the time, said that, in his view, it was the best use the fountain had ever been put to. We had a good time that night, didn't we John?

And, in the end, that is the point. Mount Isa is unique. It is great. It is a place of great experiences and great times.

My nine years in Mount Isa were probably the best years of my whole life - unreconstructed men and all! I don't pretend that Mount Isa now is the same as Mount Isa then. Remote towns are transient towns - but, as demonstrated by John, some things stay the same.

I commend Mount Isa to everyone - male, female, ugly, beautiful or just plain interesting - but with one proviso. It is tough living in an isolated community in a forbidding climate and geography. It is not for everyone. Cracks in relationships can become gaping chasms. The education of kids has to be considered. There is the question of relationships with the First Australians. While the DDDB and I loved it - my children's memories are of the harshness. For them as they look back, their memories (and this saddens me) are bleak.

Perhaps some of us have longing for green grass and urban environments in our hearts - and others, like me, bless the sunlit plains extended.

The town Mount Isa Mines built (please note that fly in-fly out mining does not bring the socially constructive elements of somewhere like Mount Isa to the human community and landscape) is the result of generations of hard work since 1924. There have been deaths, occupational hazards, blood, sweat, lead, tears, strikes and a state of emergency. Men have mined, women have battled, children have thrived and cultures have lived together well. Those of us who have lived and shared the Mount Isa experience know that we have been part of something very, very special. Long live Mount Isa!

When you can do nothing else: bear witness.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dont it always seem to go...

...that you don't know what you've got til it's gone

Big Yellow Taxi

This blog has opined and warned against the erosion of one of the world's greatest traditions and civic structures - Trial by Jury. Now Queensland is leading the Australian charge. This from the state who imprisoned, just a few short years ago, its own Chief Magistrate when its own legislation prohibited such a thing. Seems to me that the Chief Justice of Queensland, the Hon Paul de Jersey AC, may have been asleep at the wheel on that one. One hopes that he - and a few others on the Queensland Bench and at the Queensland Bar - were appropriately embarrassed when the High Court of Australia quashed Queensland's verdict.

Now Queensland has taken the plunge to erode its citizen's rights to Trial by Jury - and it may have given opportunity for Jayant Patel, the defendant in one of the most serious matters to come before the Queensland Supreme Court, to opt for a trial by a judge alone.

One day, when there are no juries, when parliaments have accrued to themselves every bit of power over our lives that they desire, when there are no trade unions at all, and banks and other forms of usury take all our money and we all have casual-no-penalty-rates jobs, I hope someone can still find an old Joni Mitchell song to provide an anthem for our memories.

When you can do nothing else: bear witness.

Monday, August 18, 2008

When will we ever listen?

Makinti Minutjukur
Today the Indigenous Affairs Minister makes a flying first-time visit to the Pukatja Community in South Australia's APY lands. This is an open letter to the Minister from Anangu woman

12 August, 2008

Dear Minister

We welcome you on your first visit to our community at Ernabella/Pukatja.

We are happy to hear that the Government will pay for the repair of the Ernabella Church. That church is part of our present day heritage. Our fathers and grandfathers built it with their own hands. It is a place that helped to keep our community strong.

We are also happy to hear that the Commonwealth and State Governments will help the Amata community to have a new art centre building for Tjala Arts. Community art centres are like the hub of a wheel. They are a fixed point where people work and make money to feed their families; pass on their knowledge to young people; get training in art skills and business skills; and have a quiet safe place to be where they make beautiful things that make them feel proud and happy, as well as giving pleasure to the people who buy their work.

We are also pleased to hear that both your Government and the South Australian Government will do something to help with more houses in our communities.

We appreciate the help the governments are giving with these things. We believe that you know that they are the tip of the iceberg. Hiding under the water are the same old problems - bigger than ever.

First though, step back 30 years. In those days we had a community garden supervised by Ungakini's husband, and which supplied our fresh fruit and vegetables. The community bakery run by Peter Nyaningu supplied all our bread. Rodney Brumby ran the building projects, supervising the brick making for houses and community buildings in which my father also worked, just one of several of his community jobs. My mother worked in the women's learning centre where she and other women made clothes, home furnishings, and all sorts of practical goods which people bought with the money they earned from their employment in the community.

I worked in the clinic and was trained there by Robert Stephens and others. Many Anangu received health worker training then; few do today. We had the responsibility of doing the jobs that made our community. We earned our living and we did work that was interesting and worthwhile. We were learning in a good way how to be together in one place all the time, and how to start making so many changes in our lives. All this was new, since as you know, only 30 years before that most of us were still living in the bush and living from the land.

I believe the reason why all our lives out here have become so difficult and painful over the last 30 years is that governments, who have the power over us because they have the money we need to make the changes from old ways to new ways, have stopped listening to us. Listening properly. Taking the time. Working with us. Trusting us to be responsible for our own lives - since we know them best.

It's true that many people have come from government for visits: politicians like yourself, very senior and important public servants from Canberra and Adelaide, and all sorts of other experts and advisers. That's good of course - but not one of them has ever stayed long enough, or come back often enough so that they can really understand, and so that we can help them understand what is the reality here - and the other way, so that they can help us understand what the government can do.

You know and I know what some of the problems are: not enough money for people to live and eat properly, and so an increasing health crisis because of bad diet; no proper work for most adults and so a rising sense of hopelessness from young people who can see no future; a terrifying marijuana problem (since Opal fuel it has replaced petrol as the substance abuse of choice) which is a main factor in most suicides among its many other destructive effects; many old "slum" like houses, and not enough houses anyway, so babies, children, everyone gets sick.

The strength of Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara is in our relationships with each other. That is how our society and our communities work - through our relatedness. Our communities can remain strong only as long as our relationships can be strong, instead of melting away because of no work and no meaning, sickness and sadness. We need to build up those relationships again and we need a different relationship with governments.

I want to ask you, for all Anangu: will you listen to us? As a participant in the 2020 Summit I felt very hopeful that your Government might listen to us.

I understand that governments change, that politicians come and go and so do public servants. We've been here all along, and long before that. Our lives were much better 30 years ago. In the years since there have been many changes, some big, some little. Our money has gone up but mostly down; the places we could work in the community changed, and/or disappeared - that is, they weren't funded any more (such as Wali K which only two years ago employed young men making building products). This is just one example of all the changes that are imposed on us in which we have no part, and no choice. Part of the reason is that the various groups, committees and individuals who make the decisions that affect us all are not properly representative of Anangu tjuta - all Anangu. This is a serious problem and needs urgent attention with full Anangu participation and understanding every step of the way.

Surely we can work together to understand each other properly, to make good plans together that will last, and not change every few years when governments change and officials change. I don't believe it has to be like that. We are a very patient people but none of us has much more time to wait before our communities disappear under the sea, with the rest of the iceberg.

Yours sincerely
Makinti Minutjukur
Disability Support Worker,
DFS Pukatja Community (formerly Ernabella Mission)

When you can do nothing else: bear witness.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Of mice and lights and poverty

To-day some of us have been synchroblogging about poverty. See my post below and if you go to the very bottom you will find some links to keep you busy. Now I shouldn't pick favourites and there have been some goodies but I have to tell you I just lurv Jeremiah's post - not least because of the cartoon above which I have knicked.

When you can do nothing else: bear witness.

Poverty - and the hospitable heart

This post is part of a synchro-blogging effort on Poverty - as seen from God's perspective being hosted at Phil Wyman's Square No More. Miss Eagle has not participated before but has been invited by Steve Hayes from Notes from Underground to participate. To make things clear for those who don't know Miss Eagle and haven't figured things out by looking at the sidebar, Miss Eagle has dual citizenship. She is a member of two faith communities: The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Anglican Church of Australia. With regard to the former she is a member of Eastern Suburbs Local Meeting as well as the Dandenong Ranges Worshipping Group within Victoria Regional Meeting. With regard to the latter she worships at the Church of St Thomas at Upper Ferntree Gully in the outer south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne.


I apologise if I am perceived to be not exactly on topic in this post - but there are things on my mind.

Firstly, at St Thom's I do a two hour stint once a week in the Open Door Ministry. The Open Church Ministry keeps the doors of St Thom's open between 10am and 2pm Monday to Friday irrespective of whether there is anything else happening at the church. This means that the church is open for prayer. In winter, the back pew is made particularly comfortable with cushions, blanket, and heater. If someone wants coffee and a chat, the volunteers are happy to oblige. If emergency assistance is needed, we can help with emergency food parcels and with referrals to agencies who can be of more assistance.

A couple of weeks ago our team had a meeting which I found heavy going when it came to discussion on handing out our $25 vouchers to our next door supermarket. Now these were never handed out willy-nilly - in fact we only handed out 34 this year - but there was a lot of discussion which I found unedifying and we have now switched to only making food parcels available.

Secondly, if you take a look at the side bar, you will notice that Anti-Poverty Week is in the offing, and I represent Quakers on the Christian sub-committee of the Victorian Anti-Poverty Week Committee.

Miss Eagle is not one to take things lying down when she believes that things aren't right - as in the case of the attitudes surrounding the food vouchers. She did insert one or two comments into the discussion but they didn't cut the mustard with the attitudes expressed that day. So, believing in the old adage that one can lead horses to water but can't make them drink, I was not going to proceed to hitting my fellow parishioners over the head with scripture and theology. I have been around community and social services - including well meaning church programs - long enough to know that some people get it and some people don't. So anything further I could say would not be understood and would fall on deaf ears.

But as well as not taking things lying down, I am a devious soul. I am prepared to take back routes, come at things from various angles, walk beside folks over long distances to get to the desired result. Why am I prepared to do this? Because you see, I believe in the basic idea of the Open Church. There is something so very sad and so very wrong about churches that are locked up all day every day.

The Nazis closed churches in Germany. The rogue Anglican Archbishop of Harare closes churches in Zimbabwe. And in comfortable suburban Australia we Christians of various denominations close them quite willingly for ourselves.

So when we lock our churches what are we thinking, saying, doing? Are we demonstrating that we have such poverty of spirit that the locked doors of our churches say something about the locked state of our hearts?

Over at this church in Manhattan they seem to think it has something to do with the institutional church's love of money. Catholics in Australia have such a shortage of clergy (and I won't discuss why but you all know) that parish churches are under threat and lay people are taking things into their own hands to keep the doors open - and find themselves drawing closer to one another as a result.

So all this has got me to thinking. And the road I wish to take in opening up hearts to the poor, in opening up hearts to open churches - and by the way a group in England is collecting statistics on locked churches - is to talk about hospitality.

Hospitality is a strong tradition in the Judaeo-Christian context. As the icon on this post portrays, the Tanakh contains stories of ancient middle-eastern hospitality in Genesis 18 and 19. The prophet Isaiah gives us the words of Yahweh in describing what God thinks is an acceptable fast:

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover him,

and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

So what I wish to emphasise both here and within my communities of faith is that hospitality is an encompassing thing. In our Christian walk, it is required that we have a hospitality of heart and hand, spirit and mind. The Good Samaritan may not have been able to take the mugging victim into his own home - but he displayed a true spirit of hospitality and we have never forgotten it.

We have long-standing traditions of true hospitality within the Christian tradition which we can emulate. There is no shortage. However, one cannot fail to do honour to the mighty Benedict and his Rule. Monastic hospitality did not begin with Benedict but Benedict's wide and continuing influence through the Rule is a guiding star to us.

Chapter 53 of the Rule says:

All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me. (Matt 25:35).

I believe our Open Church Ministry team is always welcoming. Where I think we can lift our game (please note I include myself in this ) is to see Christ in everyone who comes in that door. I think our discussion at our meeting indicated that we were not seeing Christ - because if it had been Christ, if we were sure it was Christ, perhaps we would have given him a multiplicity of food vouchers in breach of the boundaries and rules we have. We probably would have had him home for dinner. We would have sent out for cream cakes to have with the coffee instead of the biscuits.

Benedict's rule makes clear that how we respond in our hospitality requires a renunciation, a discipline, a reformation in ourselves. In Luke Bretherton's book, Hospitality as Holiness, he points out that:

For Benedict, hospitality of vulnerable strangers was directly linked to a readiness to change one's self-willed and pride-filled pattern of life in order that worship of God and love of one's neighbour, might come first.

Mother Teresa said in her book, In My Own Words:

We should not serve the poor like they were Jesus.

We should serve the poor because they are Jesus.

And any treatment of hospitality and poverty in the Christian tradition cannot fail to mention the Catholic Worker Movement and their Houses of Hospitality. I love to recall Dorothy Day's statement about the Catholic Worker Houses: they did not help the deserving poor, but the undeserving poor.

Perhaps, difficult as helping the undeserving poor may be, this is how we entertain angels unaware.

Below is the list of contributors to this month's SynchroBlog. The subject is poverty and the people contributing so far are:

Phil Wyman at Phil Wyman's Square No More

Adam Gonnerman: Echoes of Judas

Cobus van Wyngaard: Luke: The Gospel for the Rich

Lainie Petersen at Headspace

Steve Hayes: Holy Poverty

Jonathan Brink: Spiritual Poverty

Dan Stone at The Tense Before

Jeremiah: Blessed are the poor... churches...

Alan Knox: Boasting in Humiliation

Miss Eagle: The Eagle's Nest

Jimmie: Compassionate Christianity

When you can do nothing else: bear witness.

Friday, August 08, 2008

A prophetic witness of Olympian proportions

Photo: The Sydney Morning Herald

Jarrod McKenna, our energetic peace-loving peace-making Aussie, has written over here of a great Olympic story. It is the story of a prophetic and public moment in the lives of three Christian men. Two of these men were black Americans. The third, a white Australian. The white Australian was Peter Norman.

What Jarrod didn't mention was that when Peter died in 2006, the solidarity of the three men that was so publicly and irrevocably evident at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 was evident once again. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were here in Melbourne for Peter's funeral and they helped to carry his coffin.

Dear Reader, you have no idea how much this meant to us in Australia. That such athletic comrades from almost forty years ago should do such honour by coming half-way around the world will not be easily forgotten by Aussies.

To-night, I will watch the opening ceremony of the historic Beijing Olympics. I am a great admirer - in spite of things that get in the road sometimes - of the Chinese, their history, their culture and above all the Tao Te Ching. I am conscious of Australian's long involvement with the Chinese people. But if, like our Prime Minister, I could be a forthright friend: there are issues of justice in China and some of its relationships which can be difficult to overlook. Some people, perhaps, at these Olympics will feel strongly enough to make a public - and possibly prophetic - stand.

I pray that if this is the case that such people will remember the time forty years ago when three men decided to make their stand: representing two very different cultures these men really stood for something. The speedy and gentle Australian did not raise a fist. He wore a badge and, with Christ in his heart and his motivation, stood beside his black brothers. After all, Jesus said, where two or three are gathered in my name: there I am in the midst of them.

When you can do nothing else: bear witness.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


To-day is the Feast of the Transfiguration. Three years ago, the fruit tree beside my home office window was covered in blossom (the picture is from 2005) but my fruit trees have very few blossoms at this time and my magnolia seems to have blossom as a permanent condition since they have been there so long without flowering.

In the Northern Hemisphere, Easter coincides with new life in nature. In the Southern Hemisphere, Easter happens in Autumn when the leaves are falling and nature prepares for Winter.

I love the Feasts but, on those occasions when we observe those that are not Easter and Christmas, I think we talk about them in a way which does not give any depth to the experience. I think that, in the main, this is how the Transfiguration is treated.

The Transfiguration was a supernatural event intervening in the natural order of things. It was transforming and predictive of the new life to come. Just like the Southern Hemisphere is experiencing at this time. How wonderful then if people in the south of the globe could take this great season of the soul and transform it to mirror the wonder of regeneration that is happening in the environment. We could then experience both the transfiguration of our environment and of our spirits.

The Transfiguration Lyrics

When you can do nothing else: bear witness.


This picture and its source offends Christian sensibilities and sensitivities.
However, when grown up Archbishops and Bishops play at schism, it offends mine.

Life is peculiar sometimes - particularly its synchronicities. A week ago to-day, I attended a huge turn out of union officials and delegates at the Dallas Brookes Centre in East Melbourne. Its purpose was to hear about the ABCC and what it is doing - and what it is doing, in particular, to Noel Washington.

As those of you who attend these big working class events know, they are a magnet for all sorts of left organisations (except the ALP, of course). They are there with their stalls, their stickers and posters, their buttons and badges, the newspapers, journals, books and flyers, and the petitions and the sign ups. The whole thing is quite festive and colourful. One sad note though was a woman from the Australian Irish Welfare Association who was handing out leaflets telling about the young Irishman gone missing, Stephen King. A body has since been found in the Yarra River and it is believed to be Stephen. May he rest in peace.

So on this festive sunny but chilly morning in the middle of Melbourne I collect every bit of paper presented to me - including the one I had to pay for, The Green Left Weekly. I am not a subscriber to GL but always buy it at these things - and it's usually from the lovely Sue Bolton. Don't read all the articles - but love the ads. This time - surprise, surprise - an article about religion: Class war and the Anglican schism by Barry Healy. I didn't read the article. I steer clear of reading about the latest machinations of the Sydney Anglicans in any form and I figured the last thing I needed was a Marxist critique of the whole shebang.

But synchronicity will have its mysterious and penetrating way. I have been in internet contact with Steve Hayes, a Greek Orthodox deacon in South Africa, on and off for the best part of ten years. I was studying theology at Morling College when I came across him through the South African Missiological Society and their excellent journal Missionalia. Steve - in our pre-blogging days - used to run an excellent email network. We have hooked up again on his blogs and on the Yahoo Groups site he manages, Christianity and Society.

Had an email from Steve the other day. A little controversy was in full flight on Notes from Underground. Guess what about? That's right, the GL article on the Anglicans. And are the Africans upset or what! Steve thought Miss Eagle from Australia might have something to say - and she did and she has, at length. So pop over to Steve's NFU and see what all the fuss is about - but it will help to read Barry Healy's article first.

When you can do nothing else: bear witness.

Friday, August 01, 2008


Dear Jason,

Denis at The Nature of Robertson has just forwarded to me this clip from a parliamentary speech you have made. Not a good look, Jason. And that concerns me because, you see, I am one of your constituents in the seat of La Trobe. I am dependent on you to represent my interests in the wider world of governing the nation. With a performance like this, Jason, you just won't cut the mustard will you?

They say that every army officer carries a Field-Marshall's baton in his knapsack. Well, Jason, if you have ever packed a Prime Ministerial baton or even a Cabinet Minister's baton in your knapsack you might as well remove it and use the space for something more useful like aftershave and hair restorer.

However, Jason, if you ever want to learn how to really communicate; to not trip over your tongue (and I hope it wasn't because you had been too long in the parliamentary dining room); to do your homework and present well as a representative for La Trobe, just email me at eaglemiss(at)gmail(dot)com and we can discuss what can be done.

It ill behoves me to make such an offer to a member of the Liberal Party of Australia after all they have put us through but - in the interests of sound representation and because we have more than two more years to get through until the next election - I am prepared to give it a go if you are.

When you can do nothing else: bear witness.