The tropical garden around our house in Fiji has been all but blown off the face of the earth. Mangoes, coconut palms and banana trees are smashed and the conflagration-bright foliage of a spreading flame tree that rose over smaller shrubs like a colossal static fireball has been carried far out into the Pacific, the tree itself reduced to a trunk and a few bare branches, jagged and splintered. The house is intact, apart from three broken windows, and in that we are more fortunate than hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people in this cyclone-devastated country. Most of these people are poor, in a way that I think even the poorest in Australia would find hard to imagine. Heaven knows how they manage at the best of times, let alone when their shacks of corrugated iron and fibro cement are flattened or roofless.

At least the relief work is under way, the power is back on after three days and the water supply restored - for those who have running water, which not many of the Fijian poor do. To be reminded of poverty at Christmas is probably salutary, except for those who have to endure it, at Christmas and on every other day of the year. Lord, we are lucky in Australia: why do we never seem to realise it? Why do we - why do I - complain so?

No more posts now until the new year. Thank you to all who have followed Argus in 2012.

23 December 2012


Bishop Owen Featherhead, retired Bishop of Burchett Hill, has suggested that the date of Christmas be changed to "make the festival more relevant to ordinary Australians."

Bishop Featherhead said that "an ideal new date" for Christmas would be 26 April, "which is also of course the birthday of Mahomet."

"Would it not be a lovely idea," he writes in the Burchett Hill Anglican, "and one expressive of our ecumenical commitment to all people of goodwill, if the birth dates of the founders of our two great religions were twinned into one festival in which all who look with faith at the Stable in Bethlehem and, er, wherever the Great Prophet was born could share their yuletide joy?"

Bishop Featherhead said that the calendar fixing Christmas Day on 25 December was "an artificial Western construct which rightly gives offence to many of our sisters and brothers of different faith traditions. To do away with it," he said, "would be a huge step forward in building that fraternal sisterhood of humankind which is the purpose of all true religion."

Bishop Featherhead said that moving Christmas to April, when the weather is cooler, would also "eliminate the anomaly of Australians trying to enjoy traditional Christmas festivities, such as eating roast goose and listening for the sound of sleigh bells in the snow, when it's a hundred, I mean thirty-seven, in the shade." He continued: "I admit it is unlikely we would get snow in April, but hail or autumn mist would be a not unacceptable substitute, and I cannot be alone in thinking that the Christmas ham - well not ham of course if we are celebrating a joint Christmas and Mahometmass - would taste no sweeter at that time of year."

Historically, said Bishop Featherhead, combining the Christian and Muslim festivals was "peeling away centuries of colonialist accretions and going back to the root of things." He said that "viewed from that angle, the births of our two bundles of joy were not that different in circumstance. True, Mahomet was the child of a wealthy family and Our Other Saviour a victim of deprived economic circumstances, but in both cases there are accounts of signs and portents, a traditional indication of divine intervention in human events."

A further advantage of moving Christmas to 26 April, the Bishop writes, is that it would be "a healthy corrective to the militaristic excesses" of Anzac Day. "We are constantly reminded by our leading thinkers in the media and academe that Anzac Day has degenerated into - indeed always was - an excuse for glorifying war and celebrating the worst aspects of masculinity. To follow it next day with a festival of peace and goodwill, kindness and consideration - all the feminine virtues - could be nothing but beneficial."

As to the prospects of extending a joint Christian and Muslim festival to the third "religion of the Book", the Bishop admits he is pessimistic. "It is unfortunate," he concludes, "that we would be unable to invite members of the Jewish faith to join us in our ecumenical celebrations, but to do so - apart from their having no bonny baby whose birth to celebrate - would be to seem to sanction murderous Israeli aggression against the displaced people of Syria and Transjordan and that would not accord with the preaching of a religion founded on love."

21 December 2012


If we think we're one of the world's more important nations, not everyone would seem to agree.

"The Vatican has announced the appointment of an Englishman, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, previously apostolic nuncio in Guatemala, as apostolic nuncio in Australia."

Guatemala? Is it a promotion or a demotion? Still, it could have been worse. He might have come to us from New Zealand.

13 December 2012


Dr Gwen Witchetty, the outspoken Professor of Native Title at Burchett Hill's Manning Clark University, has slammed the Gillard government's $4.5 million-a-year Chief Commissar for Climate Change Enforcement, Professor Tim Fruitbat, for his comments on Aboriginal custodianship of the environment, describing him as a "fascist-racist who makes Hitler seem like a fairy godmother."

Dr Witchetty made her comments while delivering the first of this year's Finkelstein Lectures on ABC Radio. She said that although she was not in favour of censorship, Professor Fruitbat should be "locked up for life" adding that, in a more enlightened society, "he would be speared and have his tongue cut out."

The Finkelstein Lecturer, whose appointment to the prestigious chair at Manning Clark three years ago was hailed as a landmark in Aboriginal attempts to "break through the wattle-and-daub ceiling" of promotion in public life, had taken exception to Professor Fruitbat's comments in an interview with The Leftie that Aboriginal people "could not be trusted" to look after "our natural heritage of flora and fauna".

"Wherever they went they destroyed protected native species such as goannas, crocodiles, wallabies and honey ants," Fruitbat told the magazine in an interview with its proprietor, property developer Izzy Schonkhaus. "They decimated protected native plants and grasses - baobabs to make canoes, eucalypts to build gunyahs and spinifex to do heaven knows what with. Even our very national emblem, the golden wattle, was ruthlessly harvested for its seeds. The fact that any species was protected by environmental law meant nothing to them."

In her lecture, Professor Witchetty said Fruitbat's chronology was "utterly defective" and he "should go back to his abacus". "Australia's first peoples," she said, "had their own environmental protection procedures in place." The problem was that these had been "blown out of the water" by the arrival in this country of "bog Irish and other Europeans like Fruitbat's ancestors."

She said the fact that Australia's "time-old landscape and its mystic denizens had survived for millions of years before the Fruitbats of this world turned up to ruin it proved that Aboriginal people were expert in enforcing environmental protection", and indeed should be "reinstated in that role, at a commensurate emolument, by government today."

Asked later by ABC News about Dr Witchetty's criticisms of his comments, the climate-change guru was unabashed. "What would she know?" he laughed. "She's just a silly old gin promoted above her intellectual station." However he later apologised for "any suggestion of misogyny" in the use of the term "gin" and issued a statement pointing out that what he "had really meant to say", was "bat".

ABC director of news and current affairs Gordon Flowerchild said it was "wonderful to see the cut and thrust of genuine high-IQ professorial debate" arising from an ABC programme. He said that the fact that both sides had been extensively quoted on air "demonstrates once and for all the ABC's commitment to balance" and showed that right-wing accusations of bias were "way off mark".

11 December 2012


Readers who care about fine architecture will be pleased to know that the sale of St Alban's Armadale (see "Architecture for Sale", Argus, 30 October 2012 and subsequent updates) will not after all lead to any kind of destructive redevelopment. I understand the Coptic Orthodox Church has bought St Alban's. This is excellent news. The new owners will maintain and respect the structure, especially the noble interior, and continue to use the church for the purpose for which it was built.

5 December 2012


I came across some lines by Longfellow I remember my mother singing in the kitchen, a song learnt in her schooldays at University High in Melbourne in the late 1920s. They seem to me to illuminate some of the changes in our society since then.

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints that, perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Inspiring though they were considered in the past, if anyone suggested singing those words in a school, or anywhere, today, imagine the objections. Patriarchal language - men, brother. Elitism - great. Discredited top-down history - lives of great men all remind us. Judgmentalism towards diverse lifestyles - forlorn and shipwrecked brother. How can we know that the brother's lifestyle is not an alternative one with which he is perfectly content, and is merely perceived as forlorn and shipwrecked by those blinded by bourgeois notions of success? Sexism - why shouldn't the brother be a sister, or transgender? Seeing? Well, there are other ways of apprehending and "seeing" might just be a bit inappropriate towards the visually impaired. Take heart? [S]he doesn't need to take heart, whatever that means, just to have her/his human rights recognised, to be affirmed as a person and to have a suitable recompense paid for the disadvantages inflicted by "society" in the course of shipwrecking her/him.

As for footprints on the sands of time, well, we'd be told, we've had quite enough of those, thank you, in the form both of the culturally genocidal footprints of colonisers and imperialists the world over and the carbon sort we selfishly leave today. What we want today is fewer footprints, not the encouragement to leave more. If Longfellow were writing today he'd be instructed, at the risk of losing an arts grant, to put some lines together not about our egotistically aspiring to make our own lives sublime, but exhorting us to devote our efforts to restoring to the planet the sublimity it had before all those "great men" came along and with their discoveries and inventions mucked it up.

5 December 2012


Ever bursting with new ideas for stamping out discrimination, the Equal Opportunity and Anti-Racism Unit of Burchett Hill City Council has come up with a "killer app" to dispose once and for all of what EO&AR commissioner Ms Drusilla Alitosis describes as "title-related misogyny that relegates women to the category of inferior beings".

Titles such as Mr, Mrs, Miss and Ms are to be "more equitably applied," she says. "The last three will henceforth be used only of males, employed by or otherwise connected with the municipality. That will give them an idea of what it's like to be discriminated against as countless women have been who would prefer to be called 'Mr'."

Council will further enact a bylaw making it an offence "on the level of spitting in the street" for anyone in Burchett Hill to use "Mr" of a male.

At the same time, says Ms Alitosis, women will have "the opportunity to feel what it's like to have the patriarchal upper hand by being called 'Mr'." She added that, for women who feel particularly strongly about the matter, the old honorific "Esquire" will be permissible, a privilege already claimed by Mr (formerly Ms) Gail Murdstone, a sometime lady prison officer who is the municipality's Director of Child Protection and who is currently engaged on a campaign to have all children attending private single-sex schools in Burchett Hill removed from their parents into council care on the grounds of "exposure to the risk of heteronormative indoctrination".

Under the new rules, the Mayor of Burchett Hill will be known as Mayoress. Thus the current (but in reality perpetual) Mayor, Greens party veteran Councillor Les Rhiannon, who is also Ms Alitosis's "partner", will be, to give him his full official title, "Her Worship the Mayoress of Burchett Hill People's Municipality, Mrs Les Alitosis". Dress rules will be altered to correspond with everyone's new "identity". It is fortunate that the collection of evening gowns made for a succession of mayoresses by legendary local couturieuse Lorette of Burchett Hill (late of the "Paris End" of Collins Street) for the mayoral balls of the 1950s had been presented to the municipal museum, since Councillor Rhiannon will be able to avail himself of these, suitably amplified in girth, when presiding at official functions such as the Mayoral Rave-in, a 1970s form of entertainment dear to the Mayor in his university days with which he has replaced the "elitist" mayoral ball.

Ms Alitosis says Greens councillors will use their majority in the council chamber of this inner-city municipality ("proudly twinned with Pyongyang") to "ram the issue through". Party officials would be among the first to adopt the change, starting with the Greens national leader who will be known in Burchett Hill as "Mr Milne" and the former leader "Ms", "Miss" or "Mrs" Brown - "it's up to her," says Ms Alitosis.

The titles edict has had a mixed reception. Trevor Castrol, the municipality's Director of Mobile Infrastructure (formerly council car pool) said he didn't mind what he was called "as long as you don't call me late for me dinner." Amid his own laughter he added, "I dunno what the wife'll say about having to be called 'Mr'. But she wears the pants in our home so I suppose it won't make any difference" (more laughter).

Councillor Jeremy Floris, who is in charge of the council's Gay, Lesbian and Otherwise Gendered Outreach Programme, explained that he was in two minds about the change of titles. On the one hand he was "thrilled" that he would now be able officially to call himself Jennifer and wear what he described as "my slinky little black cocktail number", hitherto worn only in private, to council meetings and other evening events. On the other, he was "furious" that the initiative should have come from "that pushy Greek strumpet" (believed to be a reference to Ms Alitosis's family and matrimonial background and to her forceful and fiery personality) "barging in on territory that, as head of the council's Diversity Unit, rightfully belongs to me."

In contrast, wholehearted concurrence is the reaction of Burchett Hill's official Director of Smoking Rites, Ernie Heiss, who presides over Welcomes to Country and other traditional ceremonies in the municipality. "I don't mind being treated as a lubra," he told Argus, "not if it means I can also get the job of Municipal Custodian of Women's Secret Business the council's just advertised. That'll be $185,000 a year on top of what I get now."

"The only worthwhile change in titles would be their total abolition," says Burchett Hill's chief censor, Ray Finkelstein. "'Mr' and 'Ms' and all the rest are an invasion of privacy because they reveal without prior acquiescence of the bearer a person's gender - or in this case their 'assigned' gender - which is thus an invasion of privacy. The habit of the Murdoch press in using such titles is one of those media abuses we are intending to crack down on in Burchett Hill."

Totally against the change is the Mayor's chaplain, fierce-featured Imam Ibn al Choppa-hedoff Poofa of Burchett Hill Mosque. The Imam says he is "outraged and humiliated" that he will henceforth be considered a female cleric, in which capacity, he complains, he would be expected to submit to genital mutilation.

Imam Ibn al Choppa-hedoff's opposition is a further indication of an unfortunate rift between the municipality's Islamic community and its ruling Greens councillors, a once close relationship already under strain on account of the council's policy on same-sex marriage (see "Marriage Reform in Action", Argus, 5 September 2012) and a more recent disagreement over "sustainable energy". This latter dispute arose after the Mayor called for the construction of wind turbines on the roofs of all public buildings (the Town Hall now sprouts a forest of whirling blades, each one sending showers of chopped pigeon onto passers-by below) and suggested that the minaret of Imam Ibn al-Choppa-hedoff's mosque would be an equally appropriate site for a turbine. The Iman, to mask the fact that he has concluded a "personal private" deal with a mobile telephone company for the use of the minaret, has rejected the request as "secular interference" and an "insult to the holy purposes" for which minarets were prescribed. He might be "forced", he said with an eagle glare, to resign as chaplain and declare a fatwa against the Mayor and his "sacrilegious cohorts"

"The Sons of the Caliphate,"declared the Imam (referring to an ethnic cultural group subsidised by the council as part of its "Diversity in the Arts" programme), "stand ready with their scimitars sharp and thirsting for infidel blood to bring justice to those who mock the sacred representatives of the Prophet." To safeguard his own blood and in order not to lose the votes of the congregation at the mosque, Councillor Rhiannon hopes to placate the angry Imam by conferring the freedom of the city of Burchett Hill posthumously on Osama bin Laden, whom he describes as "a fallen hero in the world struggle against American imperialism".

30 November 2012

There are other news stories from Burchett Hill in Argus here ("Municipal News"), here ("A Feast of Reason"), here ("On the Street Where You Eat"), here ("The One Day of the Year"), here ("The Glorious First of May"), here ("Support for the Arts"), here ("How May I Not Help You?"), here ("Our Very Own Olympics"), here ("Marriage Reform in Action"), here ("A School Story") and here ("A Voice in the World").



As every keen gardener knows, the war on pests is never-ending. You no sooner get rid of one than there's another to be dealt with. Where I live the most virulent pest is friends and neighbours dropping in uninvited and wanting a cutting of this or some advice on that. They quite spoil the prettiest garden and make it very hard to enjoy outdoor living in the meditational privacy I for one so much treasure. Banishing these pests and making sure they don't come back is a perennial chore.

I have recently had a very exciting inspiration in this regard from an article I was reading in an old National Geographic at the dentist. It was about Amazonian Indians in the Brazilian jungle. Apparently many of them find that, what with one thing and another, there are people around them who make pests of themselves and need to be got rid of. One knows how they feel. Well, to make a long story short, these ingenious inhabitants of the rainforest have devised an infallible form of pest control that is just perfect for the Australian garden too. Let me explain.

First they dig a deep pit - they do this themselves but I would recommend getting a maintenance person to do it because it's very hard work - or if you have a hubby you also want to get rid of and he has cardiac problems, well, look no further! Then they embed some pointed stakes in it (the kind you can get from any good garden supplier). Stand them vertically, about 50 centimetres apart. IT IS ESSENTIAL to keep the sharp end uppermost and not to stint on the stakes. About three dozen would be a minimum for a normal-sized pit.

The next step is to cover the pit by placing a very simple timber frame across it - a piece of trellis would do if the timber's not too solid. You camouflage this with grass and leaves so it can't be seen. The next time a pest drops in, steer him or her towards the pit and dropping in will be exactly what they do - and there's no risk they'll be back again tomorrow either!

I am now having a series of pits dug at strategic points along my front path. When they're ready I intend to give a little garden party for all my regular droppers-in and hopefully after that I'll be left in peace. I'll keep you posted (no pun intended!).

N.B. DO fill in the pit and trample down well as soon as it's full! And DO memorise the location of the pits! Otherwise you'll find yourself joining the droppers-in. And wouldn't that be the pits?

Readers will find earlier gardening notes by "Edna" on 23 March, 24 April and 12 September 2012.

20 November 2012


Mintaro too has been sold (see "Architecture for Sale", Argus 30 October) at its reserve price of $3 million. Its future is a brighter one than that of St Alban's (see update below) though not without clouds. The new owners will "restore it as it was", which presumably means no jacuzzis, but they intend to make the house "pay for itself" by running tours and a "dining experience". Their model apparently is the British television series Country House Rescue. The worrying part is that they're going to embalm Mintaro. The gas lighting will be restored - why? - and "heritage experts" consulted "to ensure fittings and interior decorations are replicated or restored". Translated, that means a riot of commodes, whatnots, bulbous sideboards and other antique-dealers' wares whose putative authenticity is unlikely to preclude aesthetic mediocrity, together with lacy doilies, self-consciously "Victorian" wallpaper and presumably the heritage expert's favourite colours of maroon, dark green and cream wherever you look. But at least the roof will be secure again and the tower won't fall down.

17 November 2012


The lovely church of St Alban in Armadale, Victoria, has now been sold (see "Architecture for Sale", Argus 30 October 2012). For how much and to whom is not disclosed. A "residential use" was much touted in the agent's advertising: with a building so large that would mean flats, and the fine interior of its nave hidden behind a warren of partitions and mezzanines. It will be depressing to see what indignities will now be inflicted on this beautiful church, without doubt one of the best and most original in Australia.

15 November 2012


The damage done by Roman Catholic priests and brothers who so shamefully betrayed their trust with children does not end with the pain and anguish inflicted on innocent lives. By their sins this tiny minority of child-abusers has destroyed the moral authority of the entire Church in the public mind, and in the mind of many Catholics.

What a weapon to hand the forces of secularism.

With what authority now can the Church argue against abortion and progressive causes such as gay "marriage"? Who would listen?

No one believes child abuse is peculiar to Catholic clergy, and in percentage terms clerical abusers are fairly low down the list compared with other walks in life that are in contact with children. The problem is endemic in our morally decadent society. Yet in the media and in the utterances of children's "advocacy groups" (often adults with an axe to grind) the Church is daily singled out as though it were the sole offender.

Is it only my nasty suspicious nature that makes me wonder whether the frenzy of these accusations is not wholly unconnected with the Roman Catholic Church's vigorous opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage? Many of those in politics and the media whose attacks on the Church are loudest, and who will do their best to turn the forthcoming Royal Commission into a forum of anti-Catholic propaganda, are enthusiasts for these causes. It is clearly in their interest that the Catholic Church be rendered so despicable in general estimation that no one will dream of taking any notice of anything it says on any moral or social issue.

So although the cries of condemnation of child abuse are no doubt sincere, many who cry loudest must admit with equal sincerity that it's an ill wind that blows no good. The clerical abusers have done them a favour.

14 November 2013


"It matters not who won or lost, but how you played the game," wrote a poet called William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), a quotation much employed by schoolmasters of a certain era to console a losing team. All very true of sporty games no doubt, but not of the great game of the United States presidential election in which who won matters enormously to the whole world.

As to how he played the game, the challenger Romney gave the challenged Obama a great run for his money and, one suspects, not a few moments of panic as well. For his part, Obama played the game in the manner that served him so well in 2008, relying heavily on the vacuous rhetoric strategy ("Together we can" etc) albeit with an air of flagging conviction, as though even he were wondering if anyone was still taken in by it. He needn't have worried. Enough voters lapped it up to keep the challenger out of the White House. Or they voted for the President because they had not got over their love affair with his colour, either racialistically as in the case of black voters sticking en bloc with the candidate who is supposedly one of themselves, or romantically, as with white liberals expiating their vicarious guilt by voting for an alleged descendant of the victims of past oppression. Nor would the shamelessly partisan media coverage, which stopped just short of presenting Romney as a Mormon kook, have helped voters form a balanced judgment. One imagines President Obama can hardly believe his luck. Obviously, too few Americans are troubled or personally affected by what his inept and spendthrift first term has done to the United States economy - an ineffable level of debt, China virtually with a mortgage on the nation - to hold him to account for it. Still blowing hard with the rhetoric, he exhorted the nation in his last speech before the poll to give his administration "the chance to finish what we have started". The heart quails to think of the straits the US will be in once he has done.

If Obama has won the election the Left has won America. Not the old no-nonsense Left that used to stand up for the poor and weak against big business and the banks, but the soft new Left, selectively conscience-stricken about everything in the American historical record, aggressively secular, sybaritic, that thinks the state owes it a living. The kind of Left represented by one Sandra Fluke, a 31-year-old perpetual student, whose speech decrying the horrors of a state in which there was no Obamacare to pay for her contraception, and presumably for disposing of the consequences of any malfunction in whatever contrivances she employs, was a great success in Washington and on the campaign trail.

This was an election between two Americas: the new one of Barack and Sandra and the old one of work and enterprise and moral responsibility that became - on the whole benevolently - the most powerful nation in history and guarantor of the free world. That's a role the new America doesn't have the stamina or inclination to continue; after four more years of Obama it won't have the means either.

Scarcely reassuring for us here in Australia. 

8 November 2012


Another blast of Greenhouse gas from a triumphant Obama.

"I will return to the White House more determined and inspired than ever."

Oh dear.

9 November 2012



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6 November 2012


The Ordinariate decreed by the Pope for Anglicans wishing to convert to Rome yet retain their liturgical "Anglican patrimony" is up and running in Australia and services in the Anglican tradition, suitably modified to conform to Roman Catholic doctrine and practice, are being held at a Catholic parish church in Melbourne.

It might be argued that the extent of the modifications leaves room for only a limited degree of recognisably Anglican patrimony; but given that most if not all members of the Ordinariate come from the High or Anglo-Catholic Anglican tradition, whose liturgy is closely modelled on Catholic rites (pre-Vatican II Catholic in some cases) and owes not much at all to that touchstone of Anglican orthodoxy, the Book of Common Prayer, there is not a great deal of Anglican patrimony to accommodate.

This, however, is not the case in the branch of the Ordinariate now established in the inner-city municipality of Burchett Hill, where the Ordinary, the Right Rev. Hugh Lancelot Waldegrave Montgomery-Campbell-Blomfield, is determined not only that the "historic face of Anglicanism" will be expressed in liturgy, but that Catholic doctrine and practice "will have to adjust to our tradition rather than the other way round." A proud and independent spirit (he is the direct descendant of two Anglican Bishops of London), Dr Montgomery-Campbell-Blomfield is invariably to be seen around Burchett Hill in the traditional day costume of Anglican bishops as worn until the 1950s - gaiters, apron and frock coat and a Homburg hat with strings on it. When officiating he wears a voluminous rochet with bands and billowing lawn sleeves and a mortar board, with, "as a concession to Catholic patrimony," a stole and chasuble over the rochet if the service is Mass.

"We represent an Anglicanism untainted by the Oxford Movement or Tractarianism," says the Ordinary, "the pure undefiled Anglicanism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that remarkable epoch of Erastian vigour. Ours is the Anglicanism of Parson Woodforde, of George Herbert and that eminent divine Nathaniel, third Baron Crew and Bishop of Oxford," he explained, adjusting his lawn sleeves in preparation for a service of Commination.

The Burchett Hill Ordinariate has been assigned the use of the Catholic church of Our Lady of the Pierced Heart, a dedication Ordinariate members feel "is not really very Anglican-sounding" and which they hope to change to St George's. The church building has already undergone some necessary adjustments to fit it for Ordinariate services. An Italian marble high altar with throne of exposition and attendant angels has been crated up and reassembled in the Ordinary's residence (the rambling twelve-bedroom presbytery beside the church) where, laden with silver salvers, bowls of fruit and decanters of port, it is in service as a sideboard in the dining room - the Ordinary believes that "to be consistent with our Anglican patrimony" he should live like an eighteenth-century prelate as well as act like one in church. In place of the altar there is a wooden communion table - "portable, as the Elizabethan Injunctions require," explains Dr Montgomery-Campbell-Blomfield, "and covered with the decent carpet of stuff prescribed by Canon 82 of 1604." Behind this is what is now the centrepiece of the church, a towering three-decker pulpit with sounding board. Here the Ordinary officiates twice a day, sonorously intoning Morning and Evening Prayer. There is no parish clerk to make the responses, but the presbytery housekeeper, Mrs Kathleen O'Malley, who has been kept on to run the Ordinary's domestic establishment, does her best to "help out", taking her place in the lowest level of the pulpit and reading out the responses from a vast Prayer Book on a purple velvet cushion, though somewhat undermining the classic dignity of the liturgy by the impenetrability of her Connemara brogue and by frequently losing her place. "It's all a lot of stuff and nonsense anyway," she has been heard to grumble. "Why can't I use me Little Flower Daily Missal like we used to?"

Beside the communion table a tall pot-bellied stove, as once seen in many a rural English church, sends out intermittent bursts of heat on cold days. Though untroubled by speculations about climate change - he would describe himself as a Latitudinarian in this regard - Dr Montgomery-Campbell-Blomfield had the church's gas heating system turned off for good when the last bill came in. "There's too much mollycoddling these days," he says. "Gilbert White didn't have ducted heating. And I for one never feel the cold," - this latter assertion being hardly surprising given the proximity of the stove to the triple-decker pulpit. When the Ordinary ascends to the uppermost level at sermon time to deliver one of his substantial homiletic disquisitions, in a tradition of preaching Dr Johnson would have savoured, replete with quotations in classical Greek, he is level with the top of the stovepipe.

A screen for projecting the words of hymns, mounted on the east wall by the former parish priest, has been replaced by elegant polished timber boards in a Georgian design inscribed with the words of the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. The low bench pews have been removed from the church and proper high-walled box pews constructed in their place, two of which, reserved for principal Ordinariate benefactors, have their own fireplaces, as was common in the eighteenth century. Dr Montgomery-Campbell-Blomfield is toying with reintroducing pew rents, once the St George's congregation increases above its present four.

The church has a fine Fincham organ, unused since after the Second Vatican Council when a then curate, long-haired jeans-clad Father Damien "Chuck" McHartigan, very popular with the younger parishioners and now resident c/o the Sexual Offenders' Unit, HM Prison, Burchett Hill Heights, introduced a "teens' combo" to play and sing at Sunday Mass under the name of the Marty Haugen Groovers. For Ordinariate services Dr Montgomery-Campbell-Blomfield is hoping to get enough voices together for "a traditional Anglican village choir", as depicted in the well known painting by Thomas Webster in the Victoria & Albert Museum, to be accompanied "in true eighteenth-century fashion" by viol, cello, clarinet and flute. Its repertoire would be drawn exclusively from the pages of Hymns Ancient & Modern.

The Ordinary has also devoted his attention to the presbytery and done his best to turn it into something resembling an English episcopal palace. Its principal rooms, uniformly dull and indiscriminately used by earlier parish priests for meetings, watching television and storing donations for the parish op shop, have been formally designated drawing room, library, morning room, music room and audience room, in the last of which Dr Montgomery-Campbell-Blomfield presides over Ordinariate chapter meetings in a full-bottomed eighteenth-century wig. The hideous jazz-patterned curtains, the "Fler" chairs, leatherette-upholstered couches, faded Genoa velvet club chairs, AWA radiogram with its recordings of Father Sydney MacEwan ("Mountains of Mourne", "The Wearin' o' the Green") and other 1950s furniture accumulated by his predecessors have been thrown out, together with the framed prints of racehorses and Sacred Hearts that cluttered the walls and a bronze bust of Archbishop Mannix. The Ordinary has refurnished the presbytery, thanks to a timely bequest from an aunt, with chintz-covered sofas, breakfront bookcases, Victorian landscapes in gilt frames and a huge mahogany partners' desk for himself, with silver inkstand and candle-snuffers. Firelight flickers on tooled leather bindings, silver, glass and marble from the roaring blaze Mrs O'Malley is charged with keeping going in all main rooms.

The latter functionary, in order that she might not to spoil the stately effect with her floral pinny and lambswool slippers, has been persuaded, albeit with some difficulty, to wear a white cap and apron when going about her duties. "Got tickets on 'imself, that one 'as," she confided to the newsagent while doing her Tattslotto, "thinks 'e's living in Downting Abbey or somewhere."

The Ordinary's assertion and implementation of the true principles of Anglicanism raises the question of why he joined the Ordinariate in the first place. "The Anglicanism of today is not the Anglicanism of the past," he explains. "It might seem paradoxical but that vanished Anglicanism has more in common with Catholicism than the present-day version with its female clerics and the rest. Catholicism has a reputation for rigorous conformity but this has not so far been the experience of our Burchett Hill Ordinariate. Once you're in you can do pretty much as you like."

3 November 2012


Two fine and unusual buildings are for sale in Victoria. One ought not to be. For the other a sale will probably lead to long overdue repairs and restoration.

The building in need of restoration is a large nineteenth-century country house called Mintaro, on the edge of the hamlet of Monegeetta, 56 kilometres north of Melbourne. It is about as close to derelict as a building can be and still be partly habitable. Mintaro was built in 1882 in the Italianate style popular in Victoria's boom years and has arcaded logge and a high tower characteristic of that style. There is a fanciful theory that it was to some extent modelled on Government House in Melbourne, completed six years earlier, but although the tower bears a vague resemblance to that of the vice-regal palace, the rest of Mintaro is no more like Government House than a host of plutocratic mansions of the era.

The architect of Mintaro was James Gall, who designed three similar houses, in East Melbourne, at Canterbury and Murchison; the client a Captain Robert Gardiner, a Scot who had made fortune whaling at Portland, trading in gold and grazing sheep and cattle. He clearly intended Mintaro and its estate as a showpiece of his wealth. The house has a grand staircase hall along with ten principal rooms (plus smaller rooms for servants and a cellar). Some of the rooms are sumptuously decorated. There are elegant Corinthian columns in scagliola, that is, plasterwork painted to imitate marble. There are floors of beautiful and intricately patterned Minton tiles, grand Italian marble fireplaces and intricate cornice and ceiling mouldings. Some rooms have fine wall stencilling and wall paintings. A painted sequence in the drawing room illustrates the pursuits by which Gardiner made his fortune and there is some delicate painting of flowers and birds and scenes from his Scottish homeland. All this decor is of a more elaborate kind than is generally found in country mansions in Victoria. Yet Mintaro is little known and few these days can claim to have seen inside it.

Captain Gardiner enjoyed his house for only seven years before he died. There were several subsequent owners and then a period of institutional use by the Methodist Church as a girls' home. In 1934 the property was bought by Mr Percy Rea for fattening sheep. He died in 1940 and the next year the army gave notice to his widow and son to leave and took over the house as a barracks. Mrs Rea and her son Derek were allowed to return to their home in 1946.

In the decades that followed Mintaro became steadily more dilapidated. When Mrs Rea died in her nineties Derek inherited and lived their alone. He lived in one room and slept in another while the mansion went to pieces over his head. But he was not a hermit. One of the few death notices after he died in his sleep in October 2010, himself well into his eighties, recalled pleasant times with "music, tea and biscuits" in his kitchen. He was a good pianist and played the concert grand that was kept in the drawing room. He was a supporter of the local fire brigade and an old-car enthusiast. In fact, the grounds of Mintaro, which in the house's earlier days were laid out as formal gardens, were like a vast car yard in Mr Rea's later years, though most of the vehicles, sold en masse in an auction soon after his death, looked fit only for the wrecker. At his funeral in the nearby town of Romsey, a cortege of vintage cars followed the hearse from the church to the graveyard.

The original Mintaro "run" was 12,800 acres. The land for sale now extends to 24 acres. Trees screen the house from the main road, though not thickly enough to screen out the view - from the house - of a dreary industrial-looking Department of Defence site right next door, compulsorily acquired from the Reas in 1941 for the army and absolutely inappropriate to a country setting. Perhaps, given the Federal Government's financial attitude to the armed forces, it will not be there forever.

Mr Rea's executors are selling Mintaro at auction on 15 November. The reserve price is $3 million, but it will cost at least as much again to put it into good order. One must hope that whoever buys it respects its integrity and does not fill it with jacuzzi and other vulgar contemporary contrivances alien both to the spirit and the decor of a nineteenth-century country house.

The building that ought not to be for sale, if commonsense and responsibility prevailed and fitness of use were taken into account, is one of Melbourne's - and perhaps even Australia's - finest Anglican churches. It is St Alban's (or to the agents 583 Orrong Road) in the prosperous Melbourne suburb of Armadale. St Alban's is for sale after a long period out of ecclesiastical use. The site will no doubt bring a lot of money, even though planning and heritage laws and the nature of the building itself will impose substantial restrictions on what it can be used for.

St Alban's is what is known as a town church, in that it rises straight from the urban street instead of sitting in a churchyard. It is most imaginatively designed in a form of Gothic Revival known as Arts and Crafts Gothic that was in vogue for churches and secular buildings around the beginning of the twentieth century. It is tall and steep-roofed with five splendid lancet windows at its east (or altar) end, set back in the wall and enclosed within a huge arch and flanked by two octagonal turrets. This makes a striking facade to the street.

St Alban's was completed in 1898. The architects were Inskip & Butler, a firm with a strong aesthetic sense who in their design for St Alban's showed how construction in brick need not be an exercise in ordinariness but, with intelligent use of a variety of types of brick, in patterns such as the diaper design on the east facade, could result in a building of great visual interest and satisfaction. The way the different planes of walls, roofs and exterior buttresses intersect and combine adds to the interest. St Alban's is like a well-made clock. Every smallest detail is as it should be, everything fits together and the whole is functional and beautiful.

The architects' imaginative use of brick is especially apparent inside St Alban's, where walls, pilasters and arches, all in brick - there is no plaster rendering - are elaborately but not fussily patterned. There is a wonderful effect of colours and textures. The soaring nave is separated from its low passage aisles by shallow arches. The traditional Gothic ratio of lofty aisle arches to shallower clerestory above has been turned upside down and the clerestory, much taller than the arcade beneath it, is grand and dramatic and reinforces the sense of the nave's height. With its windows set in groups of three and framed by blind arches inside and out the clerestory is one of the church's best features.

The only thing that lets St Alban's down is the tower, built not to the original design (there used to be a picture of what the completed church should have looked like hanging in the vestry) but to a reduced 1960s version with tiny corner pinnacles which is too small for the church and makes no impact whatever. It has an awful statue of St Alban above the door in a dated "contemporary" style. 

But if the parish could afford even a cut-down tower in the 1960s that must have been about the last time the church was viable. Even then it didn't have much of a congregation. The Melbourne Diocesan Year Book of 1957-58 lists the "estimated number of communicants" in the parish at 450 (which, given the Anglican twelve-per-cent attendance rule, means there must have been about 3750 nominal Anglicans in Armadale). In the unlikely event that the 450 ever turned up to one service they would have fitted nicely into St Alban's, which, according to the same book, has seating for 475. By 1982, one generation later, there were only 25 communicants in the parish, a mere fifteen of whom turned up on Christmas Day, a time when even in these godless days churches are usually respectably attended. Armadale is a wealthy district, its population not so much upwardly mobile as already ascended. Why do so few of them go to church? Perhaps they are too secure in their privileged comfort to feel that they need to (Armadale's other Anglican church, Holy Advent, has been recently closed too. Happily it is nothing like as distinguished a building as St Alban's). Perhaps the few Armadale residents who feel a religious impulse of the Anglican variety go snootily up the hill to the more fashionable St John's in Toorak. They certainly didn't go to St Alban's, which remained the right church in the wrong place.

They stayed away from St Alban's in such numbers that the Anglican authorities gave up on the church. They amalgamated it with a neighbouring parish. For a time it was let to a Chinese congregation. Now it is for sale, with of course the usual estate agents' lame attempts at wit that attend the sale of churches: "Your prayers have been answered" proclaims the on-line ad, presumably addressing a hypothetical purchaser.

Could the Anglican Church not have found some way to keep St Alban's? Church authorities have often justified the sale of redundant churches on the grounds that the Church has more pressing tasks than to be a custodian of historic buildings. But the Church built them and the Church should look after rather than abandon them. Besides, a prominent church is more than a building. It has a missionary function: its existence makes a statement that the church is there, in the community, even for non-attenders.

One means, whether tried or not I do not know, of saving St Alban's from closure would have been to invite a successful Evangelical parish to open a "branch" there and revivify the parish. This has worked successfully with a number of big redundant churches in England. Evangelicals of the revivalistic sort are not everyone's cup of tea, but they maintain a Christian presence in the parish and keep the church building alive (often at some cost to the internal appointments, but you can't have everything).

But if, after serious efforts to find one, no purpose can be found for a redundant church of notable architectural merit, the Church authorities should not allow themselves to be tempted by the commercial value of its site. The building should be let - never sold. Who knows that as times change it will not one day be needed again?

It is not good PR when prominently sited, big churches cease to be used for worship. Few notice when an obscure church down a side street is closed but when a monumental edifice such as St Alban's shuts up shop everybody does, and people take it as one more sign that the Church as a whole is on the way out. Which it might well be, though it seems masochistic to shout the fact from the housetops. 

A couple of years ago, after St Alban's ceased to be used for services, I was passing by one cold night and noticed it lit up. I looked inside and what a bizarre scene I saw. Some kind of dance rehearsal was in progress and a single couple were whirling around in the middle of a vast empty floor. All the pews had gone. Portable stage lighting shone a glare of bluish white on the dancers, whose gyrations sent spectral shadows flitting over the polychromatic low brick arches. The higher walls of the nave and the roof above were lost in inky darkness, misty and mysterious. Near the door a piece of stone was set into the wall, a gift to St Alban's from St Alban's Abbey in England. Like the stained glass, no one had bothered to remove it when the church was deconsecrated so I suppose it goes with the building, a quaint talking point for new secular owners.

There are some excellent photographs of Mintaro and of St Alban's, Armadale, inside and out, at the estate agent's websites. For Mintaro: www.keatings.com.au/view-property/. For St Alban's: www.realestateview.com.au/...armadale/.

30 October 2012


While the Federal Government congratulates itself on winning a seat on the United Nations Security Council, a unit of government on a lower level in our abundantly governed country is seeking membership of the UN General Assembly. The candidate is the Greens-controlled inner-city municipality of Burchett Hill ("proudly twinned with Pyongyang"), which believes that as "a self-sustaining multi-ethnic entity" it has an entitlement to UN representation and, as Councillor Les Rhiannon, the Mayor, puts it, "to project its voice into the counsels of world government".

Councillor Rhiannon told Argus that it was "outrageous" that a "community with a specific identity and profile and clearly delineated local territory" such as Burchett Hill should be represented at the United Nations only by a "far-off government in Canberra". This arrangement, the Mayor believes, is "an inherited colonialist aberration utterly out of place in today's democratic world". "Further," he said, "speaking personally as a historian" (Councillor Rhiannon was a state secondary teacher before entering local government and has a BA in history from Manning Clark University), the present situation was "utterly opposed to the spirit of the United Nations, which from the time of its foundation at Bretton Woods in 1923 has systematically encouraged the dismantling of colonialist and imperialist empires".

Burchett Hill's application to join the UN, after lying around unopened in New York for some time, eventually brought an "assessment team" to the municipality from the UN's Committee for National Accessions. Three diplomats arrived in a chartered Airbus (a second Airbus brought their advisers, media staff and "security specialists") to undertake an "exploration of commonality of interests colloquium" in which, said a media release, the municipality's qualifications for membership would be "scrutinised" in "full and frank discussions".

Unfortunately no discussions took place. A spokesman for the UN delegation at first said the three officials would be "delayed" for their meeting with the city council because of "longstanding prior commitments", leaving the Mayor and his fellow Greens councillors sitting by themselves among sandwiches and teacups in the mayoral reception parlour consulting their watches. Then the "chair" of the assessment team, a Zimbabwean diplomat, having installed himself in the luxurious fastness of the Presidential Suite at the Burchett Hill Park Hyatt, declined to be "disturbed" for discussions or anything else. In vain did Councillor Rhiannon send pleading messages propped up against the silver-covered dishes on the food and beverage trolleys that plied their way hourly into the diplomat's sumptuous rooms. Nor did a handsome gift produce any effect, even though the Mayor had personally commissioned it - a solid silver statuette, encrusted with Australian opals, of former Senator Bob Brown in the act of inaugurating the Burchett Hill branch of the Greens Party. Councillor Rhiannon arranged to have it conveyed into the Presidential Suite by one of the many visiting "hostesses" despatched there by the management of SaucyGirl ("sizzling hot chicks the way U like them"), a prominent Burchett Hill "escort agency" engaged for the entertainment of the visiting assessor.

The second member of the UN delegation was closeted for his entire time in the municipality with Imam al-Choppa-hedoff Poofa at the Burchett Hill Mosque, emerging only on the last morning to issue a ringing denunciation of the council's "anti-Islamic aggression" for not excluding non-Moslem bathers from the city's swimming pools every day of the week instead of only on weekends. The third member, from Cuba, had a limousine waiting at the airport and, having supervised the loading into the boot of a number of boxes labelled "UN Printery", sped off in it to an unknown destination. This was later discovered to be the overcrowded detention centre at Bowen Park, where the UN envoy was engaged in what Federal Police, powerless to act because of diplomatic niceties, described as a "commercial transaction" with counterfeit Australian passports.

The departing delegation did leave a statement addressed to the Mayor in which they said the municipality's application had been rejected on the grounds that Burchett Hill did not constitute a nation. "This is rubbish," shouted Councillor Rhiannon, tearing up the offending missive and stamping on it. "They might be from the UN but" - his rage for the moment trumped his usual locutional smugness - "those guys know Jack Shit about international trends in governance. The nation-state is on the way out and the future lies, as our distinguished former leader has averred, with world government all over the earth. Not being a nation-state is an outmoded criteria and this quibble will not deter us from pressing ahead with our application and at the same time acting on the assumption that it has been successfully processed."

To this end, the Mayor has begun to establish a number of "UN instrumentalities" directly under the aegis of the city council. These will "bring Burchett Hill into line with current UN priorities while our application goes through," he said, "so that once we are in we'll waste no time in entering fully into the life of this unique world body, perhaps the greatest blessing to humankind next to the foundation of the Greens movement by Rudi Dutschke and Jane Fonda in Switzerland in the 1960s". The first instrumentality, the "UN/BH Joint Commission for the Advancement of Women" has been placed under the direction of the Mayor's "partner", Ms Drusilla Alitosis (recently in the news for her "stand-off" with the principal of Burchett Hill Ladies' College). Ms Alitosis believes that "as a basis of fairness for all", male ratepayers in the municipality should no longer be able to vote in council elections. She regards her stand as "a concession to pluralist views", given that if she had her way no males - apart of course from members of the Greens Party in good standing, and Greens councillors, with a number of whom she has enjoyed liaisons - would be eligible to vote in any election anywhere.

A "UN/BH Joint Commission for the Enforcement of Climate Change" is also, as a council leaflet puts it, "up and running". The commission has been entrusted to the Department of Climate Sciences at Manning Clark University and its director, Professor Kevin Crock, who in an interview with Argus in the university library condemned most current climate-change research as "hopelessly unrealistic". Fixing his stern gaze on the Argus reporter - one eye, that is, the other seeking to "upskirt" a female student on a ladder reaching down a book (Professor Crock, like the silent film comedian Ben Turpin, suffers from strabism) - the eminent climatologist said that a rise of three millimetres in the seas in the next decade was "out of the question". "It will be at least 300 metres," he said, "and it's starting now. Can't you feel the sloshing round your feet? Better take your shoes off."

The Mayor is now selecting "commissioners" for his third instrumentality, the "UN/BH Joint Commission for the Unborn Child". This will be "headquartered" at the Sir Truby King Memorial Infant Welfare Centre in Enver Hoxha (formerly Victoria & Albert) Drive. A contract has been let with Marie Stopes International (long a council "preferred supplier") for the removal of "outdated" infant welfare equipment such as scales and baby baths and its replacement with "state-of-the-art termination plant".

Burchett Hill's UN aspirations came under attack at last night's council meeting while Councillor Rhiannon was delivering his "update" to "municipal stakeholders". "The United Nations!" sputtered the council's one Coalition member, rising from his seat. "It's intolerable that you're wasting ratepayers' money trying to join that international gang of thugs and crooks. You might just as well make an application to join the Mafia." The Mayor looked thoughtful. "I had been coming to that," he said. "We actually intend to apply for associate status with the organisation you mention." There was silence as he continued: "Yes, I know what people say about the Mafia but don't be taken in by what is basically bourgeois criticism of an organisation that arose from the need to show solidarity against the forces of reaction. Reactionaries hate the Mafia because they can't control it.

"I'm here to tell you that Cosa Nostra, to give it its full name in Eyetalian - it means "our thing"- is really about sticking up for your mates, in the best Aussie tradition. It's a grass roots organisation, like we Greens. It's also about efficiency and getting things done. In particular they have an excellent record of dealing with people who make themselves" - here he directed his gaze at the Coalition councillor - "inconvenient. We could do with some of that round here."

14 October 2012
19 October 2012


Does there not seem something a little odd in a woman who has never married but has had various lovers, of whom one, no longer with her, left his wife for her, shrieking at a man with a loyal wife and three daughters that he is a "misogynist" and has "a problem with women". Not a thousandth the problem that she has with men, surely.

10 October 2012


The jailing of the former ABC presenter Andy Muirhead for possessing child pornography is a savage act of barbarism. Anyone who cares remotely about justice and fair sentencing should register a protest. To send a young man to prison for an offence whose effects, measured in terms of harm done to others, must remain unquantifiable, is shameful. If he had bashed someone into a coma in a pub he might well have been more leniently treated.

That child pornography is an evil and vicious thing no one needs to be told - even though we constantly are, often by the same people who would defend adult pornography as art. But to watch child pornography on a screen or accumulate a collection of it does no harm to the children who are exploited to make it. The harm to them has already been done. If the full wrath of the law were directed at the manufacturers of child pornography that would be only just. But most child pornography comes via the Internet from abroad and its makers are, as lawyers put it, beyond the jurisdiction. Not being able to get at them, Australian law directs its wrath instead at pornography-watchers here, conveniently within the jurisdiction. It seems a strange principle. If you utter or publish a libel you can expect to be sued. But not if all you do is read the libel.

If it be argued that Muirhead is being punished because, by watching child pornography he has encouraged its manufacture - that to stamp out the market will be to stamp out the manufacturer - then Muirhead is being sent to jail on a hypothesis, hardly a firm basis for such a severe sentence. If it be argued that sending Muirhead to prison will deter others from watching child pornography, this again is conjecture. The deterrence value of prison is one of the most debated of all legal arguments.

That said, Muirhead did wrong, but more severe-warning-wrong than ten-months-worth-of-jail-wrong. His and his family's humiliation and the destruction of his career should also be taken into account as being part of his punishment.

Yet the matter does not end there.

For some reason, at any time in history societies need to have someone or something to dislike, to be afraid of, to condemn - an Other, as the late Edward Said defined it. In Anglo-Saxon culture this has been variously witches, gypsies, Catholics, Moors, Jews, blacks, Chinese, Irish and foreigners in general, alcohol purveyors and, latterly, cigarette manufacturers. But with political correctness reigning supreme, most traditional objects of social fear and hatred are no longer available to be cursed or scorned, openly at any rate. In our community paedophiles and child abusers fill the vacuum. So great a menace are they considered that the police are given rights an anti-terrorist squad might find hard to secure to march into private houses and probe into citizens' private habits.

The promotion of paedophilia to its current status as the greatest social evil of all time is fairly recent. Until well into the twentieth century "kiddie-fiddlers" were as much objects of comic relief as of hatred: figures such as vicars and choirboys or naughty scoutmasters were staples of popular newspapers, vaudeville jokes and - even into the 1970s - television comedy. Then, as Browning puts it in "My Last Duchess", "all smiles stopped together". Why?

I believe the change came as part and parcel of the sexual revolution of the late twentieth century which made all kinds of sexual activity that had previously been (at least outwardly) disapproved of socially acceptable. In the name of liberty and self-realisation sex anywhere with anyone and of whatever form was to your taste became the order of the day, disapproved of by a few fuddy-duddies but sedulously promoted by, amongst others, psychologists, hippies, political radicals, cinema, television, popular music and magazines. Guilt about sex, we were told, was something that no one under any circumstances should have to feel; that was the way people had been brought up in the dark ages before the 1960s, and, argued the forces of enlightenment, look how it had screwed up their lives.

But the human capacity for guilt runs deeper than that; and all the guilt about their sexual lives that the new libertines were telling each other they didn't feel was still lurking deep in their psyches. It had to manifest itself somewhere, and it came spewing to the surface vicariously in hatred of paedophilia, the one form of sexual preference that the new morality will not tolerate. That active paedophilia is the preserve of a small squalid and secretive minority with none of the political clout of the sexually emancipated majority or even of the larger minorities of male and female homosexuals ensured that it would never be seen, as theirs were, as just one of the legitimate forms of sexual expression on offer, even if those who furtively indulged in it had the courage to try and present it as such (yet surely, repulsive though it may sound to some, for paedophiles that is what paedophilia is). At any rate, no one was going to defend it, and hatred of paedophiles became the sacrificial offering through which practitioners of all other forms of sexual behaviour, no matter how bizarre, purged their own latent and unrecognised guilt.

As for the old jokes about child abuse, in 1998 the American film Happiness appeared with a sub-plot that satirised paedophilia. But of course there are some things too serious even for the enlightened to laugh about, and this excellent film was widely condemned.

It is hard to imagine what purpose Tasmanian Chief Justice Ewan Crawford supposed would be served by sending Muirhead to prison. It won't "cure" him, if, that is, he needs curing. Sexual quests are a symptom of the incomplete individual seeking to complete itself with another individual. For some people, perhaps on account of shyness or embarrassment or immaturity, pornography is the only way to meet this need, until through luck or providence the right person comes along. Sending Muirhead to jail could retard and perhaps obliterate this possibility in his life. And if he watched pornography only for diversion or prurience, it is unlikely at this point that he needs a prison term to convince him of the inadvisability of that.

The judge's treatment of Muirhead is thoroughly in accord with community attitudes to paedophilia in contemporary Australia (indeed, Chief Justice Crawford sounds a very contemporary kind of person, being the first chief justice in Australia not to wear what he apparently considers the "out of date and unnecessary" traditional judges' robes). Yet Crawford was in a position, at least in theory, to apply reason and objectivity if he so chose and not impose the severe punishment that majority opinion would doubtless have expected. That he didn't give Muirhead a suspended or other less harsh sentence suggests that, like judges throughout history, Crawford knows which side his bread is buttered on, and wasn't prepared to go against the community's obsession with paedophilia as the one sin crying to heaven for vengeance.

Of course Crawford and his fellow judges might well share this obsession, given that it seems to be only in cases of this kind that a generally soft-sentencing judiciary, one often as much if not more concerned to identify exculpatory formative influences on an offender as to see that justice is done to the victim of the offence, forgets its liberalism and reverts to the savagery of the old-fashioned hanging judge.

One feels very sorry for Muirhead. He was one of the nicest presenters on the ABC, pleasantly mannered, modest and affable, without any trace of the condescension of certain other "personalities" on the national broadcaster. At 36 he is at an age when the best years of his career were ahead (would his age have gained him sympathy if he had pointed out that he was "young and naive" at the time of his misdemeanours, as the Prime Minister did when explaining away certain events dating back to a similar age in her middle-aged youth?). His indulgence in pornography has been a tragedy for him, a tragedy compounded by his treatment by the court. People like him are a scapegoat, a scapegoat sent into the wilderness as scapegoats were, to absolve the sins of others, in this case of a generation of sexual permissives who, while claiming the right to be free of moral disapproval for their own behaviour, consider jail sentences fair punishment for people whose sexual preferences, no matter how antisocial and regrettable, differ from theirs in that they were excluded from the "anything goes" of the sexual revolution.

4 October 2012


As one of the most exclusive and respected girls' schools in Australia, Burchett Hill Ladies' College (motto: "Graciousness and Godliness") is a venerable and dignified institution that has been exposed to embarrassing publicity only once in its history. That was in 1933 when the gymnastics instructress, Miss Guinevere Hoylake, a lady of large physique, climbed the college's ivy-mantled tower and threatened to jump off unless the then headmistress, Miss Dorothy Cragshaw, agreed to elope with her. The fire brigade retrieved her from the tower before she could carry out her threat, and an investigation established that the incident had been occasioned by a visit to the cinema to see the "film of the year", King Kong, which had led the impressionable Miss Hoylake to the conclusion that she was a reincarnation of the eponymous gorilla, and Miss Cragshaw the object of its passion. The scandal was quickly hushed up and the enamoured PE mistress consigned to a mental home, where she passed her days demanding peanuts from the other inmates in the belief that she was in a cage at the zoo.

The controversy that now, seventy-nine years later, engulfs Burchett Hill Ladies' College, has nothing to do with movies and everything to do with the conflict of two powerful personalities. One is the current headmistress (now known as principal), Ms Deirdre Mussolini. The other is the chairman of the school council (now known as chairperson of the board), Ms Drusilla Alitosis, who has sent Ms Mussolini a letter of dismissal for "financial irregularity", accusing her of secretly selling the school to a consortium of Japanese businessmen who intend to use it as a recruiting base for "hostesses" in a chain of geisha bars.

Ms Mussolini vehemently denies the allegation and claims that the "sale" is actually a "joint venture" with a Japanese hospitality training institution "of world repute" and that it had been verbally agreed to in private conversations with members of the board, of which however she had unfortunately lost her notes. She counter-accuses Ms Alitosis, who is a member of the Greens party (she is the "partner" of the Mayor of Burchett Hill, Councillor Les Rhiannon), of trying to "white-ant" the college for ideological reasons.

"Everyone knows that she (Ms Alitosis) has repeatedly said private schools should be nationalised without compensation," Ms Mussolini told ABC radio host Jon Trotsky. "The trouble-making cow," she continued, in a lapse from her morning-assembly mode of speech, "only got herself onto the board so she could act as a Trojan horse and get the school shut down and me out of a job."

When Trotsky volunteered that his "own take on the affair" was to wonder whether the principal had "allowed climate-change denialism to be taught in the college, which of course would justify her dismissal," Ms Mussolini brushed him aside and continued her attack on Ms Alitosis. "She should have stayed in the fish shop," she said (presumably in a reference to the professional occupation of Ms Alitosis's Greek-born parents), "but her father sent her to BHLC and as an Old Girl she browbeat her way onto the board. Now she's there she is cynically misrepresenting an innovative and imaginative exchange-student programme, designed to help BHLC girls gain fluency in a second language, as selling them into slavery or something. Talk about loyalty to her old school."

The dispute has divided the BHLC community. Many parents support Ms Mussolini and say the school wouldn't be the same without her. "She's a lovely lady and she got my Kasey through Year 11 with only four fails," says single mother Denise Hotchkiss, "and when my ex walked out on me she let me work off the school fees by washing up in the tuckshop." "I have every confidence in her, " says Arab-born "Australian success story" Waheed Saddam, CEO of the Commonwealth Egg Board. "We've had nineteen daughters at BHLC, and every one of their mothers is pleased with the results. Speaking personally, I've always found Deirdre - she's a first-name kind of person, very unstuffy - pleasant and obliging about accepting any little presents I've offered her to help our girls on their way."

The president of the BHLC Parents' Association, Mr Lou ("Lucky") Giancana, general manager of StallSafe, one of several rival firms of "protection counsellors" operating in the Victorian wholesale fruit and vegetable market, was to have issued a statement urging Ms Mussolini "not to give in to board blackmail" but was unable to do so, having been found yesterday floating in the Maribyrnong River.

For its part, the college board is "solidly behind" Ms Alitosis ("a very determined personality", says a former colleague) but board members declined to comment individually. "Whatever Drusilla says, I agree with," said one.

With the situation in stalemate - Ms Mussolini says she is "staying put" and Ms Alitosis declares "either she goes or I go and it won't be me" - the Uniting Church, which controls the school trust, has called for mediation. "I feel it is only fair and proper that these two good ladies sit down and sort out their little difference over a cup of tea," says the church's moderator, the Rev. Owen Featherhead. "As our dear Master tells us in Matthew 5:24, when we have any unpleasantness with one of our sisters or brothers, we should put down whatever we are doing and leave it in front of the altar, and shake hands in a spirit of peace and reconciliation. It is all too easy, is it not, to let a petty disagreement get out of hand and ..." At this point there was a crash and his study door flew open, revealing the fierce-faced figures of both Ms Mussolini and Ms Alitosis, the former brandishing a long leather strap, the latter rolling up her sleeve. "Petty, is it?" they demanded as with one voice. "You just come out from under that desk and say that in our face!"

1 October 2012


It's a busy time in the sexual-abuse industry in Victoria, with a state parliamentary inquiry into the way various organisations have dealt with child-abuse accusations now in full swing. The star turn, as usual, is the Roman Catholic Church, though the impression, much fostered by the ABC and the Melbourne Age, that RC clergy are always and everywhere the only abusers, is somewhat modified by the  inquiry's brief to examine what employees of of other "non-government organisations" have been up to. (And government organisations? State schoolteachers and PE instructors?)

The parliamentary inquiry is the first of its kind in Australia and shows that in child abuse, as in so many important fields, from liveability to football, the Garden State leads the way. And now there's another first to add to Victoria's laurels. Argus has learned that a Victorian centenarian has become the world's oldest person to lodge a sex-abuse claim against a member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Mr Arthur Dribble, 106, now of Shady Glades Nursing Home in the Ballarat outer suburb of Fiddlerstown, claims that as a child he was abused by Melbourne's famous Archbishop Daniel Mannix. He says the offence took place in Studley Park Road, which runs between the suburbs of Kew and Collingwood.

"I sees 'im coming long in 'is top hat and he gives me two bob," Mr Dribble told Argus. "I don't remember anythink much after that but I'm sure he abused me."

"The money was obviously intended to buy sexual favours," explains Mr Dribble's great-granddaughter, Ms Denise McCarthy-Plibersek, a sex-abuse counsellor and memory-recovery expert who has been helping Mr Dribble "remember" the horrific event. "While at this distance we cannot actually prove that the intention to abuse was fully translated into action, there is no doubt that the waylaying of an impressionable young man provoked a lifelong sense of trauma in the victim."

Prompted by Ms McCarthy-Plibersek, Mr Dribble said that the trauma had manifested itself in his current physical and mental decline and in the fact that he was now unable to get a job. He proposes to sue the Roman Catholic Church for what his great-granddaughter describes as "punitive and exempalry damages".

Ms McCarthy-Plibersek dismissed as "lies" a Church statement pointing out that in spite of the political and other enmity occasioned by some of Dr Mannix's statements and actions there had never been "the faintest hint" of an accusation against him of the type Mr Dribble was making, and that, further, it was "strange" that Mr Dribble had waited so long to make his complaint. "Was it the fact that so many other complaints have recently been made against Catholic clergy that gave him the idea?" the statement asked.

"They shouldn't be allowed to get away with saying this sort of thing," said Ms McCarthy-Plibersek. "The last bit is an outrageous slur on great-grandad's integrity and the whole so-called statement is the kind of smokescreen the abusers have been putting up for too long. Too many damaged lives like great-granddad's have been swept under the carpet without redress. I demand justice, I mean you do, don't you, darling?" she declared, shaking her elderly relative awake.

Police have confirmed that Dr Mannix was in the habit of walking along Studley Park Road each day from his home in Kew to St Patrick's Cathedral. "There's plenty of oral history to say he used to carry a pocketful of two-shilling pieces to give away, ostensibly to the needy," a police spokesman said. "After this latest allegation we shall have to look at that behaviour in a new light."

27 September 2012


Burchett Hill City Council is to investigate the possibility of introducing beheading as a penalty for certain "more serious" offences against municipal by-laws.

"We're taking our cue from some of our Islamic ratepayers on this one," says Councillor Les Rhiannon, Mayor of the progressive inner-city municipality ("proudly twinned with Pyongyang"). "As we've clearly seen in recent days, there has been eloquently expressed support for beheading from all age groups in the Moslem community. Your council feels therefore that to incorporate beheading into our local by-laws would be a significant gesture in the direction of building greater understanding and harmony between the diverse groups that make up our shared civic community."

Councillor Rhiannon says that a committee will be set up to look into the ways that legal barriers to capital punishment can be circumvented. He said that council solicitors Finkelstein & Bromberg would bring a test case in the Supreme Court arguing the right of the municipality to determine its own rules in purely local matters where "good communal governance" is the over-riding issue.

"Let's face it," he added. "A lot of our laws are just a load of outmoded Anglocentric baloney, quite irrelevant to the administration of justice in a modern Australian municipality. They need to be made to correspond to contemporary opinion in a pluralist society. The introduction of beheading will make our local by-laws more reflective of the informed attitudes to crime and punishment held by a not insignificant and valued cultural group in Burchett Hill, a group that has its own highly developed concept of libertarianism with a weight of tradition behind it going back far beyond the so-called Magna Carta.

"Further, as a Greens-controlled municipality, Burchett Hill will be in the vanguard of progress by introducing beheading, a legal sanction that is in full and total harmony with other Greens policies that celebrate life as an experience to be subordinated to the good of the community, policies such as infant existence termination (pre- and post-birth) and compulsory elder self-disposal."

Councillor Rhiannon added that it was "still too early to say" what sort of by-law infringements would be punishable by decapitation rather than a fine. But "environmentally deleterious" offences under council's refuse collection by-laws would "almost certainly" attract a capital penalty, as would "hate speech" against Green Party officials and traffic obstruction of bicycle lanes. Refusal of celebrants to  conduct a same-sex marriage would probably also qualify.

As for finding "an executions professional" to implement the penalty, the Mayor refuses to accept that there is likely to be any difficulty, even after so many years without capital punishment in Australia. "I'll be killed in the rush - ha ha - when I advertise this job," he says. "We'd have more executioners than offences if I stuck up a notice asking for volunteers in at least one community cultural centre I can think of. And don't forget we've got the Sons of the Caliphate with their scimitars. Council has been subsidising them for years as part of our "Diversity in the Arts" programme. In return,  I think I can say they would do the job for free."

Of course, none of this will happen if Burchett Hill's legal challenge to existing legislation forbidding judicial execution is unsuccessful. "I wouldn't worry about that if I was you," says the Mayor. "If those judicial lackeys of the establishment on the bench chuck out our application, let's see whether a well organised riot will make them see reason. That hideous old nineteenth-century Law Courts with its silly blindfold statues and overtones of Victorian imperialist pomposity would go up like a torch."

17 September 2012

There are other news stories from Burchett Hill in Argus here ("Municipal News"), here ("A Feast of Reason"), here ("On the Street Where You Eat"), here ("The One Day of the Year"), here ("The Glorious First of May"), here ("Support for the Arts"), here ("How May I Not Help You?"), here ("Our Very Own Olympics") and here ("Marriage Reform in Action").


Sir: As an "old digger" and small "c" conservative who values our enviable tradition of government by constitutional monarchy, I was sorry to see that Mr Malcolm Turnbull, who I believe is the great nephew of my old comrade-in-arms Captain Arthur "Gaga" Turnbull, as he was known to us in the mess, is again peddling the notion of Australia becoming a republic - and this in spite of the "shot in the arm" the recent Diamond Jubilee celebrations gave to the popularity of Her Gracious Majesty the Queen of Australia. I hope and believe that Mr Turnbull is barking up the wrong tree on this one, much as his great-uncle Gaga barked up the wrong tree at Mataranka in 1943 when, young and ardent as he was in those days, he paid court to a strikingly handsome lady officer in the WRAAC who nearly bit his head off when he tried to embrace her in the starlight behind a baobab at the outdoor film night, it transpiring that she was "on the other team", as they say. There was quite a bit of that in the women's ranks I understand, so Gaga shouldn't have been surprised.

Be that as it may, it seems to me from the publicity given to the younger Turnbull's remarks in the "quality media" and on ABV Channel 2 that the "R" word will not go away. And indeed I fear this is all too understandable. It cannot be denied that the "balance of power" in the world has changed since the fall of Singapore and that, what with such things as the "Common Market" we are not as close to the "old country" as once we were. Indeed the finger of destiny seems to suggest that it is to our neighbours on the Asian-Pacific "rim" that we should look for future alliances. Would it not therefore be an appropriate gesture, and one acceptable both to those who prefer our present system and those like Gaga's great-nephew who argue for a constitutional change that would more accurately reflect the realities of our nation's evolving geopolitical situation, if in due course, when Her Majesty finally gains the eternal rest she so richly deserves for the heroic job she has done for us all, we were to transfer our allegiance to a constitutional monarchy in our own region, such as Thailand, or Tonga, which has the advantage of being a fellow member of our happy Commonwealth family. But not, I would counsel, Japan.

Lyle J. Gatling (Brigadier, retd) 
The Old Warhorse Eventide Home
Duntroon, NSW 

12 September 2012



As a keen participant in the Open Gardens Scheme I must say that my own garden is a showpiece all the year round. It is good to hear the appreciative oohs and aahs from members of the public as they walk around my bowers and beds, which even at the end of winter are a blaze of colour with such delights as Camellia japonica, red hot pokers and gorgeous "Winter Cheer". And now what even lovelier prospects spring will bring!

When a garden is open to visitors there is obviously a lot of wear and tear but to minimise this I make sure our guests' ramblings are confined to the gravelled walks. Anyone who strays onto a lawn risks stepping into one of the rabbit traps I have placed in little hollows concealed beneath a layer of grass clippings, and then the comments, I am afraid, are less appreciative and sometimes quite "blue".

The Open Gardens Scheme makes money for some worthy charities but I can tell you it was making absolutely nothing for me. In my view this was rather unfair to the person who actually foots the bill for keeping the garden going so that it can be opened. I know that the funds raised for good causes and the pleasure one is giving the public by sharing one's garden are their own reward, but try taking a reward like that to the bank! Of course, it would be quite improper to reimburse oneself by raiding the collection tin left in one's care - visitors being as stingy as they are there's never enough in that to be worthwhile anyway. I decided therefore that the best way of defraying my expenses would be to persuade each visitor to make an additional voluntary payment, more realistic than the few coins they put in the tin.

Perhaps if you open your own garden you might care to try my method.

First, build a pretty little gazebo beside the exit from your garden. It should be as far as possible from the entrance but adjacent to where visitors park their cars. You can get prefabricated gazebos quite cheaply these days from any reputable garden ornaments supplier, or if you have a handy hubby he can run one up with trellis. Grow some wisteria or ivy over it to make sure no one can see inside then line the walls with polystyrene for soundproofing. You will need to make sure the gazebo has two doors (I always recommend those rather nice rustic ones in brushwood) and that the gravel path the visitors follow leads through it.

The next step is to engage the services, as economically as possible to keep overheads down, of some willing but dim individual who likes the company of savage dogs and knows how to handle them. I found mine, Trevor, through the local kennel club and he has been worth his weight in gold.

The rest is simplicity itself. As your visitors are completing their garden tour they will naturally walk towards the exit (at least those who haven't stepped on a trap will; I keep a couple of wheelchairs available at a very reasonable hire for those who have). Lurk beside the gazebo where you can't be seen and, when the visitors walk into it, push the brushwood doors (to which you have attached spring locks) shut behind them - they'll be too busy admiring the wind chimes and baskets of dried lavender you have hanging around inside to notice. This is the part I always enjoy, when my garden-loving guests find themselves locked in the gazebo in the company of Trevor and his four rottweilers, all snarling, slavering and baring their teeth (yes, even Trevor when he gets excited). In big letters on the soundproofed wall is the sign you have written out (marker pen is best) informing those inside that as a condition of exit they must make a "freewill offering" of at least a hundred dollars or jewellery to that value. I have installed an EFTPOS facility for their convenience and Trevor is slowly learning to operate it. I am still amazed at how generously so many visitors, once they have absorbed the reality of their position, are prepared to contribute towards the cost of their enjoyment in having seen around my lovely garden.

But what of those who won't? In spite of the implied threat, you can't really throw them to the rottweilers. It would create a lot of unpleasantness, the last thing I want in a garden which is a haven of tranquillity and spiritual regeneration.

I have therefore prepared another little incentive. I have acquired, very economically as they're not everyone's cup of tea, a pair of First World War cannon that used to stand beside the soldiers' monument in Victory Park, very near my home, until our local council, which unfortunately is very left-wing, renamed it Peace Park and sent the cannon, as "offensive weapons", to a scrap merchant, which is where I saw them when I was looking for some Victorian cast iron for my conservatory. Beautifully restored to working order by another of my little "finds", Kurt from the gun club down the road, these are stationed beside the back gate of my garden, the one visitors use when they are leaving, and trained on the visitors' cars. As we "release" our guests from the gazebo, those who have declined to contribute enjoy the spectacle of a warning shot fired across the bonnet of their cars - and another if needs be (Kurt quite enters into the spirit of it all; he would have been invaluable on the Western Front, though his aim is a bit erratic and he has smashed a number of windscreens and ruined a certain amount of bodywork, sad to say).

I have never known this incentive not to have a wondrous effect on any visitor still hesitating about that hundred dollars, and it certainly makes their time in my garden, helping the less fortunate in our community who have to turn to charity, a day to remember.

Happy gardening!

12 September 2012

Readers will find earlier gardening notes by "Edna" on 24 April and 23 March last.