Women of the Sun - Being and Belonging: Studies in Culture and Identity via University of South Australia
Peter World wrote to me earlier this year - "I'm am studying a degree in Indigenous Studies through UniSA and am currently enrolled in a paper titled "Being and Belonging: Culture and Identity" under the guidance of Dr Rosie Roberts.
I have an assignment to select a TV series or film as a case study to answer the question, discuss connections between language, culture and identity.
I have chosen Women of the Sun as my case study."
I asked if I could publish his work on this site and what follows is his piece.
by Peter John Worland
Language is a fundamental part of personal and group identity and can provide information about a person’s nationality, culture, religion, age, gender, level of education, profession or socio-economic class. Drawing upon appropriate academic literature and using one or two TV series or films as case studies discuss the connections between language, culture and identity.
This essay presents a case study of the historic, four-part Australian television dramaseries Women of the Sun as a way to discuss the connections between language, culture and identity. The 1981 series signals dramatic shifts for Indigenous voices, national television broadcasting and academics writing on Indigenous culture of the time, as well as presenting a historical perspective heretofore unheard or seen by a mass audience.
Widely acclaimed as ground-breaking television, screening a representation of colonisation in Australia from first contact to the present day (early 1980’s), Women of the Sun is a unique collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people for which
the experience of making continues to resonate today. It has the authenticity of Aboriginal voice and a rich Indigenous philosophy that emanates authority, wisdom, truth and power. Twenty-five years later a followup documentary shifted the Women of the Sun narrative on from it’s original, historical basis to deeper conversations around how the series came to be, consolidating the series it to it’s current position as a highly respected exemplar of Indigenous knowledge transmission, relational responsibility and interconnectivity.
Throughout this essay I acknowledge the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ of modern-day Australia and respectfully use language-group and traditional names of people and places where possible. In the making of movies we have to consider not just the narrative in the production, the storyline, but the narratives about production, what "we" think we are doing. (Muecke 1994, p. 5)
Women of the Sun was the inspiration of Yorta Yorta/ Wurundjeri woman Hyllus Maris who returned to Australia in the late 1970’s after studying social policy and community development with sociologist Richard Hauser, in London (FNAWN 2017). Maris was a visionary leader following in the footsteps of her Elders to fight for Aboriginal rights, to walk off the Aboriginal reserve of Cummeragunja and to realise her own dream of building the first independent Aboriginal school in Victoria, Worawa (eagle in Aboriginal language)
College, which opened in 1983 (Dept. Premier and Cabinet 2014). As Huggins (2005, p. 1) states, “Maris’ achievements were all about using relationships between people to improve communities for everyone” and the five-year collaboration with television writer Sonia Borg on Women of the Sun was no exception. McCallum (2009, p. 266), writing about theatre in the late 70’s and early 80’s, recounts that the era heralded “stories focused on communities and individuals who had previously been the Other in Australian drama which challenged ideas about identity and culture” and “opened up new conceptions… about multiculturalism.” This was the environment into which the Women of the Sun scripts arrived on the commissioning editor’s desk at the newly formed public broadcaster SBS
and into the hands of television producer Bob Weis who, although never having met an Aboriginal person, committed to making the series as a matter of personal and national importance.
Speaking of Others
In his 2006 documentary Women of the Sun - 25 Years Later, Weis shared that his natural empathy toward the Aboriginal people of Australia was akin to the pain he felt for his own family who experienced persecution in the Holocaust of World War II. It was this sense of connection, responsibility and justice that propelled him to bring the history of colonisation, and it’s continuation in Australia, to public attention by producing Women of the Sun (Weis et al., 2006). From an Indigenous standpoint there are risks in such cross-cultural
representations of Aboriginality, and, as Muecke (1994, p. 2) points out, can be “whitefella obsessions - romantic love of difference, the exotic, the mobilisation of knowledge, liberationist politics, [or] guilt trips”, particularly when being intersubjectively negotiated in
collaborative, creative pursuits such as television.
Goldman (2000, p. 9) adds that “we are all participants in historical and contemporary colonial clashes, falling into one or more of the categories: survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders [and] no person who is resident in Australia can claim ignorance or neutrality in
this struggle.” With both Women of the Sun productions Weis did not shy away from his intersubjectivity instead proceeding with “a dialogue situation in which both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people participate in a mutual construction of identities (Langton in Muecke 1994, p. 3)” and heeded Langton’s advice that “[Whitefellas] should analyse their comings and goings around Aboriginal communities (Langton in Muecke 1994, p. 3)”.
The Sources of Knowledge
In 1985 Nancy Peck filmed interviews with Hyllus Maris and her mother Mrs Geraldine Briggs for the Victorian Women’s Film Unit production, Return to Cummeragunja. The interviews reflect the deep connection between generations of Aboriginal women and
illustrate the lived experiences contained in the storylines of Women of the Sun. Within two lifetimes we hear first-hand accounts of when fluent Wemba Wemba and Yorta Yorta language was heard, when Aboriginal people answered the prayers of and fed starving
missionaries, when Briggs stood up against the tyranny of mission-station matrons and when together they walked off Cummeragunja Mission Station in a sign of defiance and autonomy (Peck 1985).
The frequency of references by both women to their ancestors and ancestors’ ancestors are presented in a process akin to Martin’s (2003) Indigenous Ways of Knowing, Being and Doing. It becomes apparent that the narratives of Women of the Sun come from the ground-up, from what Maris (1985) describes as a “spiritual culture… [that] can never be broken down, as it’s part of the land.” This example of Aboriginal identity-creation stands in stark contrast to what Goldman (2000, p. 6) describes as the desire for many Anglo-Australians to “try and forget the past, or easily gloss over [it], so as to get on with the future.” Indeed McAuley’s (2006, p. 289) book of academic essays called Unstable Ground illustrates too that there was a priority for intellectuals to remedy the colonial past and reach a ‘conciliation’ between “Anglo mainstream and the Aboriginal minority… to achieve… [a] kind of social order that all can comfortably live with.”
Timing and Politics
Although the Australian socio-cultural environment of the early 1980’s was hostile to marginal voices “timing, as well as a political and broadcasting climate… played a part in the production of the original [Women of the Sun] series (Kalina 2006).” The formation of
Australia’s second, non-commercial television broadcaster SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) early that decade was the result of 30 years of post-war immigration policy and the next multicultural step in answering the high proportion of middle-class, Australian
voters from non-English speaking countries (Smaill, 2002, p. 396). Apart from screening foreign language programs SBS also purchased and commissioned content from independent producers, pushing it to the “forefront of social, cultural and aesthetic transformations (O’Regan 1989, p. 13).” It seems ironic that multiculturalism, in replacing the failed assimilation, should also provide a screen-home for Australia’s First Peoples and awaken White Australia to Aboriginal history with Women of the Sun.
Bob Weis (2006) recalls SBS’s founding manager Bruce Gyngell, with Maris’ and Borgs’ finished scripts in hand, being asked by a senate committee hearing ‘what are you doing about Aboriginal Australia?’ and replying 'I just got these scripts that I'm going to do’ (Kalina 2006). Couple this uncanny timing with a recent merging of talent between feature-film and television production creatives, and Women of the Sun acquired a vanguard status “becoming an important sign that innovative, cultural and socially important work was being done in TV (O’Regan 1989, p. 15).” Apart from being the first time an Aboriginal language had been heard on mainstream television Langton (Weis et al., 2006) says the series was way ahead of it’s time, before historians, anthropologists and sociologists confirmed the
veracity of Aboriginal accounts of Australian history, and the series sparked a nationwide discussion (see Appendix B).
Against Cultural Hegemony
According to Smaill (2002, p. 394) public broadcasting in Australia shares the principles formed by John Reith for the BBC, to provide equality of access and education, making it a place where viewers can measure themselves against national narratives. Even in
multicultural Australia the “prevalent mode of identification has functioned… to foster a sense of unity and oneness (Smaill 2002, p. 394).” Maddison (2012, pp. 701 - 703) adds that “both settler and immigrant Australians derive pleasure in feeling that as a nation we
share the values of equality and ‘mateship’”, connected via television in the comfort of our own living rooms.
Australian commercial television in the 1980’s reflected the attitude of the times, “greed was good” (Television.au 2017), and produced a host of Anglo-Australian, saturated shows including A Country Practice (1981), Sons and Daughters (1982), Neighbours (1985) and
Home and Away (1988) that reinforced a “narrow citizenship and… left the nation as a whole ill-equipped to deal with contemporary diversity (Maddison 2012, p. 701).” Even though Women of the Sun was first broadcast in this cultural setting it’s impact suggests
the mainstream audience was ready to move from what Hall (in Longhurst et al., 2008) calls a ‘dominant-hegemonic’ reading to a ‘negotiated’ one. As Kalina (2006) points out Women of the Sun’s “accounts of the stolen generation, of the dispossession of Aboriginal
homelands, of challenges to white Australia's laws and customs… put the untold history of Indigenous Australia on the agenda.”
A Negotiated Representation
As the work of historians, anthropologists, linguists and cultural scientists now attest the veracity of Women of the Sun’s screen content is bonafide but also a negotiated representation. Episode 1, Alinta - The Flame depicts first contact between the ‘Nyari' people and the shipwrecked convicts and early settlers from Great Britain. For producer Bob Weis there was no argument about making the film in Aboriginal language (Weis et al., 2006) and, despite the concerns of the Yolngu community portraying the original inhabitants, the men and women wore traditional dress meaning partial, if not shameful, nudity. Twenty-five years after playing the character of ‘Alinta’, Nakalyan of the Yolngu people shared that “she is still being taught culture by her Elders” and lamented that “Yolngu and Balanda (Yolngu language for white man) laws are on their own” not knowing if they will ever come together (Weis et al., 2006). The making of Episode 1. on the coast of Princetown, Victoria, traditional Gadubanud country, was viewed by the visiting Yolngu tribe as a respectful reenactment of the Gadubanud people’s survival and was portrayed in memory of their ancestors and on behalf of their surviving relatives (Weis et al., 2006). Non-Indigenous farmer Matt Bowker recalls, as a nine year old, the cast and crew of Women of the Sun coming to Princetown and staying at his parents camp Kangaroobie, and the significance of the Episode’s narrative relative to his own family story (Bundle
Bowker (Bundle 2014) shares that the Aboriginal midden sites on the property where the episode had been filmed have been scientifically dated to thousands of years eclipsing his own family’s 150 year connection to the site, a similar realisation of Goldman’s (2000, p.
167) that he is more deeply connected to the struggle and history of Indigenous Australians than he had previously thought.
The Uses of Language
Actress Justine Saunders shares that she was encouraged to follow her own instincts as a black woman when portraying the character ‘Nerida’ in Episode 3. of Women of the Sun and to let the words of the script tell their own story, as “honesty was so important” (Weis
et al., 2006). As mentioned previously one of the greatest achievements of the series was the respect for and listening too other voices which also highlights the centrality of language in the formation of group culture and individual identity. When convicts ‘McNab’
and ‘Findlay’ are washed up on the lands of the ‘Nyari’ people, in Episode 1., they are given Aboriginal names, translating as ‘Man of the Sea’ and ‘Hair of Fire’, their presence explained in Aboriginal terms as being ‘displaced from their people… lost’. Unable to
speak ‘Nyari' language they are dependent on the goodwill of their hosts for nourishment and safety, and quickly learn that without a shared understanding their lives are imperilled. Language is centre-stage again in Episode 2. with the insistence by church missionary
'Mrs McPhee’, played by Julia Blake, that English is the only language to be spoken on the mission, the rationale being that it is the language of the Lord, the result however being cultural genocide; control the language and you control the people. Later in the year of
1890, the time setting of Episode 3., the Aboriginal people interned on ‘Koomalah Aboriginal Reserve’ turned the colonisers’ language against them petitioning the government for Indigenous rights with a command of English. Today, language is still the
site of contestation over sovereignty on the international stage (Berson 2009, p. 43).
Towards the Culture of Sharing
As actress Eva Johnson (nee. Birrit) who played ‘Alice Wilson’ in Episode 4. recounts, it was the viewing of Women of the Sun that led nurses on the ward of her dying mother to initiate a turbulent, real-life, mother-daughter reunion, a not uncommon story for Aboriginal
peoples of the stolen generations (Weis et al., 2006).
Johnson’s lived experience of that event, as recorded in Women of the Sun - 25 Years Later, is well-equal to the emotional impact of the analogous, fictional drama in which she plays, and ironically she “was afraid of not taking the opportunity to do the film on behalf of
the women who did have their children taken from them (Weis et al., 2006).” The connections that Women of the Sun made between history, people and place was not lost on Weis and extended to the male and non-Aboriginal directors of the series (McNiven
2017) acutely illustrated by a photograph of director Geoffrey Nottage and Johnson in ATOM's (Australian Teachers of Media) study-guide (see appendix A). The photograph illustrates a knowledge-relationship resonant with the character ‘Findlay’ and the ‘Nyari’
people of Episode 1.; Nottage captured with all the intensity of a non-Indigenous, first-time viewer of cultural practice and Johnson poised with Indigenous percipience. Despite the cross-cultural learnings of the past, Indigenous women still struggle to pave the way for the
next generation as Lisa Flanagan describes of playing the first Indigenous female character in Home and Away in 28 years of the show’s history (Rawsthorne & Byrnes 2016), a decade and 473 episodes of which were also directed by Nottage, without female
Indigenous representation (IMDb 2017).
The words of ‘Doug Cutler’ warning his daughter ‘Lo-Arna’ against contacting her Aboriginal birth-mother, in Episode 4., “why… the highest jail rate, terrible social problems, drink, the lot”, could well be the language used tomorrow by Australia's media to describe
Aboriginal culture, some 35 years hence. As Hyllus Maris and her mother Mrs Geraldine Briggs illustrate we inherit stories over generations, stories in the Indigenous sense that need telling and retelling to maintain culture and connection with the past, to guide our
future. The cultural abyss between the world’s oldest peoples, Aboriginal Australians, and the world’s most invasive coloniser, Great Britain, is bound to confound personal identity, contest language and blur cultural boundaries, but as Women of the Sun illustrates,
connection, understanding and shared histories are possible if not crucial for everyone’s wellbeing. As Bob Weis’ personal journey of longing and belonging and Eva Johnson's family reunion both attest, reconnection with the past is rarely pain-free, but more often
than not the resulting clarity of purpose and place (identity) outweighs the mediated, hegemonic culture which numbs our humanity.
In today’s contexts of reconciliation, treaty and sovereignty Women of the Sun continues to question how we relate to each other through language, how we propagate our culture on and off the screen and how we view ourselves, reflected and through each other, to form
our identities, in the endless process of becoming.
ABT17: Being and Belonging: Studies in Culture and Identity, University of South Australia - Lecturer Dr. Rosie Roberts
Women of the Sun - Broadcast Dates (SBS - Channel 0/28)
Episode 1. Alinta - The Flame, first broadcast - 5th July 1982
Episode 2. Maydina - The Shadow, first broadcast - 12th July 1982
Episode 3. Nerida Anderson, first broadcast - 19th July 1982
Episode 4. Lo-Arna, first broadcast - 26th July 1982
1982 United Nations Association of Australia Media Peace Prize
1983 AWGIE (Australian Writers’ Guild) Outstanding Script of the Year
1983 AWGIE Best Original Writing for Television
1983 Grand Prix - Banff Television Festival
1983 Penguin Awards x 5 - Television Society of Australia
2005 Hyllus Maris memorial lecture - union hall of the Melbourne (Bundoora)
campus, Latrobe University, Aboriginal and Islander health worker journal, Vol. 29 - 5.
IMDb, 2017, Geoffrey Nottage - director, producer, writer, website, viewed 22nd Feb. 2017, http://
Kalina P, 2006, Return to women of the sun, The Age - Green Guide, 3rd August 2006.
Longhurst B, Smith G, Bagnall G, Crawford G and Ogborn M, 2008, Introducing cultural studies,
2nd Ed., Routledge, New York.
Maddison S, 2012, Post colonial guilt and national identity: historical injustice and the Australian
settler state, Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, Vol. 18 - 6, pp.
695 - 709.
Martin, K & Mirraboopa, B 2003 Ways of knowing, being and doing: A theoretical framework and
methods for indigenous and indigenist re-search, Journal of Australian Studies, 27:76, 203-214,
McAuley G, 2006, Unstable ground: performance and the politics of place, Peter Lang S.A.,
McCallum J, 2009, Belonging: Australian playwriting in the 20th century, Currency Press,
Strawberry Hills, NSW.
McNiven L, 2017, Women of the sun (1982) - curator’s notes, website, viewed 22nd Feb. 2017,
National Film & Sound Archive, http://aso.gov.au/titles/tv/women-of-the-sun/notes/
Muecke S, 1994, Narrative and intervention in Aboriginal filmmaking and policy, Continuum: The
Australian Journal of Media and Culture, Vol. 8 - 2.
O’Regan T, 1995, Film and its nearest neighbour: the Australian film and television interface,
webpage, viewed 11th February 2017, Culture & Common Reading Room at http://
Peck N, 1985, Return to Cummeragunja: Hyllus Maris and her mother Mrs Geraldine Briggs speak,
video, viewed 15th February 2017, Victorian Women’s Film Unit, http://search.library.unisa.edu.au/
Rawsthorne S. & Byrnes H, 2016, Home and away heads to Alice Springs to film ‘special event’
with Braxton brothers storyline for Foxtel, webpage, viewed 22nd Feb. 2017, The Daily Telegraph,
Smaill B, 2002, Narrating community: multiculturalism and Australia’s SBS television, Journal of
Communication Inquiry, Issue 26 - 4, pp. 391 - 407, Sage Publications.
Television.au 2017, 1980-1989, website, viewed 21st Feb. 2017, http://televisionau.com/timeline/
Weis B, Hyllus M & Borg S, 2006, Women of the sun: twenty five years later, documentary film,
Generation Films and Ronin Films, A.C.T.
Australia’s Electricity Market Is Not Agile And Innovative Enough To Keep Up - via The Conversation
From Hugh Saddler @ The Conversation.
On the early evening of Wednesday, February 8, electricity supply to some 90,000 households and businesses in South Australia was cut off for up to an hour. Two days later, all electricity consumers in New South Wales were warned the same could happen to them. It didn’t, but apparently only because supply was cut to the Tomago aluminium smelter instead. In Queensland, it was suggested consumers might also be at risk over the two following days, even though it was a weekend, and again on Monday, February 13. What is going on?
The first point to note is that these were all very hot days. This meant that electricity demand for air conditioning and refrigeration was very high. On February 8, Adelaide recorded its highest February maximum temperature since 2014. On February 10, western Sydney recorded its highest ever February maximum, and then broke this record the very next day. Brisbane posted its highest ever February maximum on February 13.
That said, the peak electricity demand in both SA and NSW was some way below the historical maximum, which in both states occurred during a heatwave on January 31 and February 1, 2011. In Queensland it was below the record reached last month, on January 18.
Regardless of all this, shouldn’t the electricity industry be able to anticipate such extreme days, and have a plan to ensure that consumers’ needs are met at all times?
Much has already been said and written about the reasons for the industry’s failure, or near failure, to do so on these days. But almost all of this has focused on minute-by-minute details of the events themselves, without considering the bigger picture.
The wider issue is that the electricity market’s rules, written two decades ago, are not flexible enough to build a reliable grid for the 21st century.
In an electricity supply system, such as Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM), the amount of electricity supplied must precisely match the amount being consumed in every second of every year, and always at the right voltage and frequency. This is a big challenge – literally, considering that the NEM covers an area stretching from Cairns in the north, to Port Lincoln in the west and beyond Hobart in the south.
Continent-sized electricity grids like this are sometimes described as the world’s largest and most complex machines. They require not only constant maintenance but also regular and careful planning to ensure they can meet new demands and incorporate new technologies, while keeping overall costs as low as possible. All of this has to happen without ever interrupting the secure and reliable supply of electricity throughout the grid.
Until the 1990s, this was the responsibility of publicly owned state electricity commissions, answerable to their state governments. But since the industry was comprehensively restructured from the mid-1990s onwards, individual states now have almost no direct responsibility for any aspect of electricity supply.
Electricity is now generated mainly by private-sector companies, while the grid itself is managed by federally appointed regulators. State governments’ role is confined to one of shared oversight and high-level policy development, through the COAG Energy Council.
This market-driven, quasi-federal regime is underpinned by the National Electricity Rules, a highly detailed and prescriptive document that runs to well over 1,000 pages. This is necessary to ensure that the grid runs safely and reliably at all times, and to minimise opportunities for profiteering.
The downside is that these rules are inflexible, hard to amend, and unable to anticipate changes in technology or economic circumstances.
Besides governing the grid’s day-to-day operations, the rules specify processes aimed at ensuring that “the market” makes the most sensible investments in new generation and transmission capacity. These investments need to be optimal in terms of technical characteristics, timing and cost.
To borrow a phrase from the prime minister, the rules are not agile and innovative enough to keep up. When they were drawn up in the mid-1990s, electricity came almost exclusively from coal and gas. Today we have a changing mix of new supply technologies, and a much more uncertain investment environment.
Neither can the rules ensure that the closure of old, unreliable and increasingly expensive coal-fired power stations will occur in a way that is most efficient for the grid as a whole, rather than most expedient for individual owners. (About 3.6 gigawatts of capacity, spread across all four mainland NEM states and equalling more than 14% of current coal power capacity, has been closed since 2011; this will increase to 5.4GW and 22% when Hazelwood closes next month.)
Finally, one of the biggest drivers of change in the NEM over the past decade has been the construction of new wind and solar generation, driven by the Renewable Energy Target (RET) scheme. Yet this scheme stands completely outside the NEM rules.
The Australian Energy Markets Commission – effectively the custodian of the rules – has been adamant that climate policy, the reason for the RET, must be treated as an external perturbation, to which the NEM must adjust while making as few changes as possible to its basic architecture. On several occasions over recent years the commission has successfully blocked proposals to broaden the terms of the rules by amending the National Electricity Objective to include an environmental goal of boosting renewable energy and reducing greenhouse emissions.
Events in every state market over the past year have shown that the electricity market’s problems run much deeper than the environmental question. Indeed, they go right to the core of the NEM’s reason for existence, which is to keep the lights on. A fundamental review is surely long overdue.
The most urgent task will be identifying what needs to be done in the short term to ensure that next summer, with Hazelwood closed, peak demands can be met without more load shedding. Possible actions may include establishing firm contracts with major users, such as aluminium smelters, to make large but brief reductions in consumption, in exchange for appropriate compensation. Another option may be paying some gas generators to be available at short notice, if required; this would not be cheap, as it would presumably require contingency gas supply contracts to be in place.
The most important tasks will address the longer term. Ultimately we need a grid that can supply enough electricity throughout the year, including the highest peaks, while ensuring security and stability at all times, and that emissions fall fast enough to help meet Australia’s climate targets.
Climate change is threatening to push a crowded capital toward a breaking point.
By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN @ New York Times
MEXICO CITY — On bad days, you can smell the stench from a mile away, drifting over a nowhere sprawl of highways and office parks.
When the Grand Canal was completed, at the end of the 1800s, it was Mexico City’s Brooklyn Bridge, a major feat of engineering and a symbol of civic pride: 29 miles long, with the ability to move tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater per second. It promised to solve the flooding and sewage problems that had plagued the city for centuries.
Only it didn’t, pretty much from the start. The canal was based on gravity. And Mexico City, a mile and a half above sea level, was sinking, collapsing in on itself.
It still is, faster and faster, and the canal is just one victim of what has become a vicious cycle. Always short of water, Mexico City keeps drilling deeper for more, weakening the ancient clay lake beds on which the Aztecs first built much of the city, causing it to crumble even further.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE AT NYTIMES.COM
I met Janie Conway in that heady period in the 1970's at the Pram Factory, the actors theatre in Carlton, when we were going to make the world better and we believed we could. When we look back at that time many of us have gone in very different directions. Janie's journey has been surprising but the infectious smile she had then and the value system she lived by remain and have grown. When I saw her again after many years, at my friends Philip Frazer's and Kate Veitch's place in the Northern Rivers area of NSW, she smiled her infectious and radiant smile and the years peeled back.
I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did. -Bob
The universities of the future will do one thing we do not do today. They will teach the art of self-discovery. There is nothing more fundamental in education (Okri B., 2011: 27).
In May 2012 I gave a lecture for my close friend and colleague Professor Baden Offord at Southern Cross University, where I’d been teaching for over sixteen years. The lecture was for a unit called Australia, Asia and the World that was designed to encourage students to reflect on Australia’s relationship with South East Asia and what this might mean to them in a global sense. On the eve of retirement, I decided to base the lecture on my own story of becoming an academic and how being creative as well as being an activist had influenced this. I was conscious of the way the quote above by Ben Okri, points to education involving, not only the accumulation of knowledge, but a journey of the self.
A core focus of the learning these students were undertaking was in understanding their place in the world as well as the many ways they might find themselves working alongside others during their learning journey. In writing about the links in my own life that had brought me to academia I needed to explore the connections in the circle that links activism, creativity and academia. Looking back at that lecture now, those links are still important but the political climate has changed dramatically and not for the better.
In 1985 I made a decision in a moment of quiet desperation to get a proper job. It was not a decision that I took lightly for at the time I was almost destitute having spent the last two decades trying to make a living from being a musician, a choice of occupation entirely at loggerheads with being a single mother. My son, Tamlin, who was around thirteen-years-old, and I had all our worldly goods in a room at a friend’s house in Balmain while we looked for a place to rent that we could afford. In my quest for security I applied for two things at the same time, a Bachelor of Arts Degree at the University of Technology, Sydney and accommodation through the Housing Department of New South Wales. I was successful in both and this success remains for me a significant marker of the way I have learnt to negotiate the kind of schizophrenic existence that trying to make a living from the arts in Australia requires of you. As a mature age student applying for university I had to convince the university selection team that I was someone capable of sustained discipline and independent study and at the same time convince the housing department that I was in dire need of assistance. Both were true but I was also so much more than this opposition would seem to imply. Born in 1948 just after WWII and in the year the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified, my parents had imbued me with a sense of the possibility for world peace and a belief in the power of people to make a difference. I was someone who, since the advent of the Vietnam War and opposition to my male friends being conscripted into a conflict they didn’t believe in, had come to firmly believe in the right of all humans to a peaceful and harmonious existence.
As a musician in the 1970s and 80s I had been fortunate enough to be part of an intense and heady music scene in Melbourne that spawned such bands as Daddy Cool, Skyhooks, Split Enz, The Sports and The Goanna Band as well as my brothers’ band, The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band. Starting out as a folk singer and then playing alongside songwriters such as Paul Kelly and Shane Howard I had a belief in the power of song to change society. Through the Australian Performing group, which had its headquarters at the Pram Factory in Carlton, I became involved with the Woman’s Theatre Group, which had been formed to create more challenging roles for women in the theatre. It was a very exciting time to be in the arts in Australia.
I started playing electric guitar in a band called Myriad with my son’s father around the same time as Bob Dylan shocked his fans when he ‘went electric’. We had also been banned from Frank Traynors, one of the original folk clubs in Melbourne, for playing electric dulcimer, at the time it seemed like a badge of honour. However, it wasn’t until I formed Stiletto with fellow women musicians Jane Clifton and Marni Sheehan that my electric guitar playing really took off. All the songs were original and written by band members with contributions of lyrics by people like author Helen Garner. We quickly gained a reputation as a feminist band even though we also had two men, Andrew Bell as guitarist and Eddie Van Roosendale as our drummer but with songs like ‘Woman in a Man’s World’ and ‘Premenstrual Blues’ this reputation was probably well deserved. In those days though, my feminism was a popular and active part of the social changes of the time and a lived part the life I lead. Later, when I began to read about feminism in textbooks at university it gave context to a lot of changes I had been part of, but it was also strange to be intellectualizing something that had been a lived part of my life for so long. I never dreamt that my proper job would involve becoming an academic. I was terrified of failure when I first started at university but then, my life, as I had lived it, began to be played out in my studies.
I moved to Sydney in 1980 with two decades of musical experience that was highly politicised so it was no wonder that when the Rock Against Racism group in Sydney – styled after the same movement in Brixton, London – began to put on concerts, I eagerly joined. Rock Against Racism, Australia organised concerts that provided a platform for up and coming Indigenous bands like, No Fixed Address, Us Mob and Black Lace, marking the beginnings of a burgeoning local Indigenous music scene. My love of reggae music really grew at this time and I learnt to play it from some of the best reggae musicians in Australia. It was a steep learning curve in other ways as well and I learned, first hand, the prejudices encountered by Indigenous people in Australia. As part of Rock Against Racism I also learned about Deaths in Custody amongst Aboriginal Australians and in 1982 travelled to Wee Waa in northwest NSW to investigate the death in custody of Eddie Murray in an outback town in New South Wales called Wee Waa. Eddie had died in custody within hours of being picked up by police. We went there to see how the Rock Against Racism movement could assist Eddie’s family get justice for their son. I wrote a song about it not long afterwards. It was a reggae song and I was lucky enough to be able to perform it as part of Rock Against Racism and to feel as if I was also able to give voice to the injustice of the situation; however Eddie’s family is still looking for justice more than thirty years on.
As soon as I enrolled in university in 1986 my activist tendencies also drew me to student politics. This was the time the Dawkins reforms to education were being introduced by the Labour Party and the beginning of the introduction of student fees. As a mature-age student I felt I had benefitted from the free education that had been instigated by Gough Whitlam’s Labour government and I was appalled at how the party principles had changed. I became involved in demonstrations with my overseas student friends to stop fees being introduced for them. “They’ll start with us,” they said, “then it will be fees everyone.” It was hard to conceive of at the time, but they weren’t wrong. We failed to stop the introduction of fees for overseas students and before long, just like my friends had predicted, everyone was paying for tertiary education. This was the beginning of the neo liberal fee–paying university system all Australian tertiary students experience today but I graduated with a BA in Communications from the University of Technology, Sydney and then went on to complete a Masters in Creative Writing at the same university without paying a single cent. I had many wonderful teachers and mentors: writers like, Stephen Muecke, Dorothy Porter, Drusilla Modjeska and Jan McKemish not only taught me about writing but also helped me put my activism and concerns about Indigenous issues and Human Rights to good use in the academy. When I finished my Masters in 1995 I enrolled in a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Western Sydney and having gained a scholarship was able to move up to the north coast where I began teaching at Southern Cross University, first as a casual tutor then in a permanent position as a lecturer then senior lecturer coordinating the writing program.
One of my close friends in my undergraduate years at UTS was a Malaysian student called Debbie Stothard. She was the Overseas Student Officer and I was the Women’s Officer on a fairly conservative Student Association that was affiliated to an even more conservative Student Union at UTS. It was at this time that the Network of Women Students Association (NOWSA) was formed. Both Debbie and I were involved with the beginnings of this organization and the two of us quickly gained a reputation in the Student Association as being on the far left of student politics. We spent many a meeting arguing for the rights of women and overseas students together but after we graduated, Debbie went back to South East Asia and I lost contact with her. I knew she was working with Burmese refugees and I’d heard she was in Thailand; if I met anyone from there I would ask them if they knew her. More than a decade later, I received an email from Debbie asking me what I was doing. When I wrote back telling her I had been coordinating a creative writing program at Southern Cross University she asked me if I wanted to run writing workshops with refugees on the Thai/Burma border. She was coordinator of an NGO called Altsean Burma (Alternative South East Asian Network on Burma) and had been working with Burmese refugees on the Thai/Burma border for the last decade. Within a few months I was on my way to North West Thailand and to another steep learning curve about the politics of Burma (Myanmar) and the ongoing struggle for democracy there.
For Altsean Burma, capacity building, advocacy and leadership skills are central to the work they do and the workshops I have run for them and the resulting publications of women’s stories are part of a much larger vision they have. I have seen the restorative power in having authority over your own story work many times in my life. In particular in the gradual coming to voice of Australian Indigenous literatures in this country and the rise in respect for Indigenous writing both locally and globally via authors like the late Bundjalung and multiple award winning author Dr Ruby Langford Gnibi, as well as Miles Franklin award winners Alexis Wright and Professor Kim Scott. With the workshops on the Thai/Burma border I had a chance to see writing and advocacy work in another context. These workshops were designed to assist refugee women write about their experiences. The stories, published in anthologies and distributed internationally, reveal how the authors have personally grappled with the daily consequences of living under the military regime in Burma. Many of the women who have attended the workshops are stateless citizens having been internally displaced in Burma before fleeing over the border as refugees. Coming from a country where education is a struggle to receive at the best of times, these women know that the training they have received from NGOs is worth a lot. In a hopeful future, the skills they learn will enable them to go back and help the people on the ‘inside’ as they refer to their country, or to participate in a democratised system of government. They have been hoping for this for a long time. Generations have come and gone over the sixty years that the fight for democratic freedom has been going, making it one of the longest running civil wars in the world.
"All I know is, I will keep talking about this until rape is stopped, until violence against women does not take place anymore, until the women have laws that will protect them, until the women have political freedom to take part in the political solution. I believe that when the women are given political freedom, when we have rule of law and the protection of law, when women are safe from any form of violence, our country will be peaceful and prosperous..." (Zahau 2007: 7).
This quote is from a story in one of the anthologies describing how rape is a common experience for women from Burma. This is well known amongst those working on Burma but the international community knows little about the dreadful situation many of the ethnic villagers find themselves in. Many countries affiliated with the United Nations also turn a blind eye when their economic interests will be affected by their acknowledgement of the domination of the Burmese military.
"I’m still feeling homesick for the dinner table. I often ask myself why my family is in this situation. Why can’t we live together, why have we been separated? How many homes have a deserted dinner table? If Burma’s political situation will change and guarantee peace, liberty and justice, I will go home and work in a small business. And my father will come home and work for our family. Then we will be so happy and the dinner table will come to life for us forever..." (Kon Chan, 2010: 43).
In this story the metaphor of the dinner table stands in for a family united in peacetime and describes how the stability of many families has been upended by living under the rule of the military junta. The military has been making a show to the outside world that Burma now has democracy. There have been some enormous steps taken towards this in recent times such as the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, but, as evidenced by the plight of the Rohingya in Rahkine State, human rights and democracy in Burma still has a long way to go.
I was in Chiang Mai in 2010 when Aung San Suu Kyi was finally freed and lucky enough to share this momentous moment with Debbie and her colleagues. On a cool November evening I made my way down the curling lanes behind the mains streets of Chiang Mai past backpacker lodges and late night supermarkets to a restaurant. I was happy, having just completed the first day of our advanced creative writing workshops and feeling proud that the students from the beginners’ workshops had come this far. When Debbie appeared out of the shadows of the darkened lane and sat down beside me we hugged enthusiastically. The global network of people who have been working towards democracy in Burma is huge and many are still willing to give their lives over to rebuilding the country. In the meantime, they work on the borders both literally and metaphorically waiting for a time when they can come in from the shadows and take up a central position in a fully democratised country. That night, as Debbie and I ate, our talk shifted to the workshops in Mae Sot where I had just been. Mae Sot is often referred to as ‘Little Burma’ because of the number of Burmese already living there. There had been trouble with the Burmese military and ethnic border groups over the river Moei that borders Thailand and Burma. More than thirty thousand refugees had fled into the Mae Sot over a couple of days. We had expected no one would turn up to the workshops as most of the participants had family fleeing the fighting, but there had been a full roll up, though the atmosphere had been tense as participants waited for news of relatives fleeing across the border or caught inside the post election crack down inside Burma. Suddenly Debbie’s phone rang. ‘That’s great, I’ll pass the news on,’ she nodded, and then hung up. Grinning she announced, ‘She’s free!’
At the workshop next morning when I asked how the students felt, enthusiasm rose on a wave of optimism for a future in which Aung San Suu Kyi would once again lead the National League for Democracy. Then we started workshopping. One woman (let’s call her Mie Mie) began her story of fleeing to the border with her family as a young girl. She managed to get through the part where their village was burned to the ground and they had to flee with little but the clothes they stood up in, she described travelling by foot with only rice and bamboo shoots to share amongst the many villagers. Then she stopped, trying several times to read the next paragraph. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she struggled to voice her memories. Eventually, she was able to describe watching as a young mother died beside her ailing baby. She was just a child of ten at the time. When she finished her story everyone in the room was too upset to continue and so we took a break.
Mie Mie was now a community leader from the Karenni National Woman’s Organization based in Mae Hong Son in the northern mountains of Thailand. In the break she handed me a publication that documented cases of violations against Karenni women by the military. Like many of the women in the workshop, Mie Mie often crossed the border gathering statistics and stories of human rights abuses. Able to tell other people’s stories, she had difficulty in telling her own. The report she gave me described how: ‘Forced relocation, displacement, eviction and land confiscation top the list of underlying reasons why people (have) fled to the border’ (KNOW 2010: 21). Sexual abuse, rape, torture, forced arrest, human portering, poverty and starvation are by-products of this but no less impactful.
That night, I watched Aung San Suu Kyi on local television addressing the crowds that flocked to the gate of her villa in Rangoon where she had been under arrest for fifteen of the last 21 years. ‘If we work in unity, we will achieve our goal. We have a lot of things to do’ she told the people that crowded around her (CTV 2010: online). With a conservative estimate of more than 2,000 political activists still in prison and a growing refugee population worldwide, this was an understatement.
After returning to Australia, I met up with Debbie at a forum in Canberra hosted by Australian Parliamentarians for Democracy in Burma and co-convened by Federal MPs. Three speakers were giving presentations that focused on 100 days of parliament in Burma and the ways that government had been conducted since the elections. One of the speakers, was K’Naw Paw, a student from one of the first workshops I had run in 2007. She had worked for the Karen Women’s Organisation as a leadership trainer and was now an executive member and coordinator of their Emerging Leader’s School, travelling to many different countries attending meetings with UN Human Rights Councils and the Commission on the Status of Women, meeting parliamentarians and congress to discuss cross-border humanitarian aid issues.
As a video from Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed the Australian parliamentarians and outlined her views on the first one hundred days since the elections I picked up a publication by the Karen Women’s Organisation titled Walking Amongst Sharp Knives: The unsung courage of Karen women village chiefs in conflict areas of Eastern Burma (2010). The title drew me back to the first workshop I had conducted in Mae Sot. Some Karen women outlined a story they wanted to write about a village head forced to make a terrible choice. The junta set up a military base near a village then asked the village head to choose beautiful young girls and send them to military headquarters for training to become beauty queens. Everyone knew this was a lie and they would be forced into sexual and domestic subservience if they went. In the story the village head had sent a girl to the barracks who later, after she was sent home, had committed suicide. The story was to be told from the village head’s point of view, at a point of regret after the young girl had died. When discussing the story I assumed that the village head was a man. The group presenting promptly let me know that she was a woman as most of the male village heads had been killed or joined the resistance forces in the jungle. ‘The women have to do everything,’ they told me, ‘they make all the decisions. If you are an older sister and you decide to run away from this terrible destiny you know your younger sister will have to go in your stead or else the whole village could be annihilated.’ I didn’t ask if the story had come from personal experience, but I understood at a deep level from that moment on, the intensity of the project I was undertaking.
Calmly and confidently K’Naw Paw began her presentation outlining the plight of refugees and displaced people along the border. ‘Rape as a weapon of war continues with impunity in ethnic areas’ she said, and urged them to continue sending cross-border aid to communities along the Thai/Burma border (Altsean Burma, 2010, online). As she took questions from all sides I felt tremendous pride and renewed hope that, through the strength of women like this, true democratic government in Burma was possible. The Burmese women's stories engage with the type of storytelling that articulates that in-between space between the opposition of right and wrong that forces us to look at humanity itself. These women and their stories are ambassadors for a possible Burma that will come close to what Ma Lo dreams for when she writes:
"I believe that one day I will go back to our state and help improve the lives of our people. If I can continue my education I hope that one day I’ll be able to help my community and my country. I know our state is a poor state now, but our state and my life must improve for the better one day..." (Lo 2010: 17).
The workshops I facilitated on the Thai/Burma border played just a tiny part in redressing the dreadful imbalance of power in Burma through the simple act of giving voice. They have also been one of the most rewarding and empowering experiences of my writing life and one way I have been able to bring my academic life, my creativity and my activism together. Since 2010 Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the National League for Democracy have been able to participate in the parliamentary governance of their country but there is still a lot of work to do.
Having taught creative writing within the humanities discipline for nearly two decades I have experienced the many ways in which personal activism and creativity when combined with an academic career can be both fruitful as well as fraught. But now things have changed again and the growth of neo liberalism and advanced capitalism is reverberating globally. In the sixteen years that I taught at Southern Cross University I saw massive changes take place in the university sector. I started out teaching face-to face to a maximum of around eighteen students per tutorial. Now technology has changed the way we teach completely with two thirds of our writing students studying externally and while face-to face classes often have twenty-five students and upwards the external ratio of students to teachers is even larger. This trend is part of other massive changes in education across the nation and around the world. I think about all those years ago when we were fighting against student fees and wonder where all the accumulated funds from these fees is going in terms of university resources. Then I think about the women in Burma and the risks they took just to make it to my workshops and I understand how precious our education system is and how we must do all we can to preserve it.
I came to university already an activist, having used my creative energies as a singer songwriter for many years. My work on the Thai/Burma border enabled me to use my activism, creativity and academic skills to make a difference both politically in the broader sense as well personally. Since retiring the world has changed even more dramatically travelling rapidly down the road to what many fear will be global annihilation as conservative neo-liberal forces flex their destructive muscles and attempt to undo everything my friends and colleagues have been working towards for decades. In recent times it’s felt like we have been backsliding rapidly towards a time before the year of my birth and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but it has always been my intention to leave a different legacy, envisaging an entirely different future to the one that seems to be looming now. I look back in wonder at the beauty and the naivety of the hope for universal human rights and world peace that I so ardently believed in as a young folk singer of the 1960s.
Ironically the novel I’ve been working on since retiring is a fiction that revolves around a single mother who is the lead singer of a rock band in the 1980s and her struggle to make it in the music industry. It’s called Another Song About Love and accompanying it will be a collection of songs written by myself where the titles of the songs correspond to the chapter titles. My son Tamlin, who was only thirteen when I started as an undergraduate student in Sydney, is now a forty-five-year-old father of five. He is also a musician and a producer and is helping me record and produce the songs that go with the novel. It’s young people like my grandchildren and my students who give me hope for the future and it's a certain kind of relief to know they're willing to take up the baton and continue the vigilance. And so we have entered yet another period of needing to use our activism and our creativity as well as maintaining constant mindfulness of the responsibilities we have towards others and their rights to peace and freedom. Recently the women’s marches that were organized following Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States and protesting his onslaught on the basic human rights of so many people including women have also given me cause to hope. It’s been estimated that the marches that took place around the world involved around five million people including women from all walks of life. And so I have come full circle back to days of creativity and activism but this time fully supported by the academic life I have lead both actually and metaphorically. This time the battle is for the life of the planet itself and as take a deep breath and get ready I remember what Mahatma Ghandi wrote in his weekly paper way back in 1925; ‘Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation.’
About the author:
Janie Conway-Herron has enjoyed a twenty-year career as a musician before turning to university study and creative writing. As a senior lecturer at Southern Cross University she taught creative writing and coordinated the writing program there for over a decade. She has had creative and academic work published in a broad range of journals and anthologies and has appeared at conferences and writers festivals both nationally and internationally. Her novel, Beneath the Grace of Clouds was published in 2010. A novel, Another Song About Love, along with a collection of songs of the same title are due for release in 2017.
Altsean Burma 2011 ‘Burma’s 100 days of Parliament: more ‘nays’ than ‘yeas’’ Altsean-Burma: Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma 12 May, at http://www.altsean.org/Press%20Releases/2011/12May11.htm (accessed 30 May 2011)
Aung San, SK 2010 Transcript of video message from ‘100 Days of Parliament forum on Burma’ 12 May 2010, Canberra: Parliament House
Conway-Herron, J., 2011 ‘Freedom to Lead: narrative and advocacy among Burmese women refugees on the Thai Burma Border’, TEXT, Special Issue 12 Leadership in writing and the creative arts (accessed May 14 2012).
Conway-Herron, J., 2007 ‘ Narrative and Advocacy: Burma’s Identity Through its Women’s Voices Australian Folklore Journal Number 22 November 2007, pp Armidale: University of New England, 57-72.
CTV Television 2010, ‘Burma's military junta releases Aung San Suu Kyi’ CTV News 13 November, at http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/World/20101113/burma-kyi-release-101113.
Karen Women Organisation 2010 Walking amongst sharp knives: the unsung courage of Karen women village chiefs in conflict areas of Eastern Burma Mae Hong Son: Karen Women Organization
Karenni National Women’s Organisation 2010 Tales of terror and grief: voices of Karenni women caught in armed conflict Mae Hong Son: Karenni Women’s Organisation in partnership with Isis Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange
Kon Chan, G 2010 ‘The deserted dinner table’ Burma Women’s Voices for Peace Bangkok: Altsean Burma, 40-43
Lo, M 2007 ‘The brass rings’ Burma women’s voices for hope Bangkok: Altsean Burma, 10-17
Okri, B., 201, A Time for New Dreams, London, Sydney, Auckland Johannesburg: Rider
Mahatma Ghandi, Young India, Jan 8 1925 Vol 30 December 1924 – 21 March 1925, http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL030.PDF
ROME — When Stephen K. Bannon was still heading Breitbart News, he went to the Vatican to cover the canonization of John Paul II and make some friends. High on his list of people to meet was an archconservative American cardinal, Raymond Burke, who had openly clashed with Pope Francis.
In one of the cardinal’s antechambers, amid religious statues and book-lined walls, Cardinal Burke and Mr. Bannon — who is now President Trump’s anti-establishment eminence — bonded over their shared worldview. They saw Islam as threatening to overrun a prostrate West weakened by the erosion of traditional Christian values, and viewed themselves as unjustly ostracized by out-of-touch political elites.
“When you recognize someone who has sacrificed in order to remain true to his principles and who is fighting the same kind of battles in the cultural arena, in a different section of the battlefield, I’m not surprised there is a meeting of hearts,” said Benjamin Harnwell, a confidant of Cardinal Burke who arranged the 2014 meeting.
While Mr. Trump, a twice-divorced president who has boasted of groping women, may seem an unlikely ally of traditionalists in the Vatican, many of them regard his election and the ascendance of Mr. Bannon as potentially game-changing breakthroughs.
Just as Mr. Bannon has connected with far-right parties threatening to topple governments throughout Western Europe, he has also made common cause with elements in the Roman Catholic Church who oppose the direction Francis is taking them. Many share Mr. Bannon’s suspicion of Pope Francis as a dangerously misguided, and probably socialist, pontiff.
Until now, Francis has marginalized or demoted the traditionalists, notably Cardinal Burke, carrying out an inclusive agenda on migration, climate change and poverty that has made the pope a figure of unmatched global popularity, especially among liberals. Yet in a newly turbulent world, Francis is suddenly a lonelier figure. Where once Francis had a powerful ally in the White House in Barack Obama, now there is Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon, this new president’s ideological guru.
For many of the pope’s ideological opponents in and around the Vatican, who are fearful of a pontiff they consider outwardly avuncular but internally a ruthless wielder of absolute political power, this angry moment in history is an opportunity to derail what they see as a disastrous papal agenda. And in Mr. Trump, and more directly in Mr. Bannon, some self-described “Rad Trads” — or radical traditionalists — see an alternate leader who will stand up for traditional Christian values and against Muslim interlopers.
“There are huge areas where we and the pope do overlap, and as a loyal Catholic, I don’t want to spend my life fighting against the pope on issues where I won’t change his mind,” Mr. Harnwell said over a lunch of cannelloni. “Far more valuable for me would be spend time working constructively with Steve Bannon.”
He made it clear he was speaking for himself, not for the Institute for Human Dignity, a conservative Catholic group that he founded, and insisted that he shared the pope’s goals of ensuring peace and ending poverty, just not his ideas on how to achieve it.
Mr. Bannon publicly articulated his worldview in remarks a few months after his meeting with Cardinal Burke, at a Vatican conference organized by Mr. Harnwell’s institute.
Speaking via video feed from Los Angeles, Mr. Bannon, a Catholic, held forth against rampant secularization, the existential threat of Islam, and a capitalism that had drifted from the moral foundations of Christianity.
That talk has garnered much attention, and approval by conservatives, for its explicit expression of Mr. Bannon’s vision. Less widely known are his efforts to cultivate strategic alliances with those in Rome who share his interpretation of a right-wing “church militant” theology.
Mr. Bannon’s visage, speeches and endorsement of Mr. Harnwell as “the smartest guy in Rome” are featured heavily on the website of Mr. Harnwell’s foundation. Mr. Trump’s senior adviser has maintained email contact with Cardinal Burke, according to Mr. Harnwell, who dropped by the cardinal’s residence after lunch. And another person with knowledge of Mr. Bannon’s current outreach said the White House official is personally calling his contacts in Rome for thoughts on who should be the Trump administration’s ambassador to the Holy See.
During Mr. Bannon’s April 2014 trip he courted Edward Pentin, a leading conservative Vatican reporter, as a potential correspondent in Rome for Breitbart, the website that is popular with the alt-right, a far-right movement that has attracted white supremacists.
“He really seemed to get the battles the church needs to fight,” said Mr. Pentin, the author of “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?” a book asserting that Pope Francis and his supporters railroaded opponents. Chief among those battles, Mr. Pentin said, was Mr. Bannon’s focus on countering a “cultural Marxism” that had seeped into the church.
Since that visit and the meeting with Cardinal Burke — an experience that Daniel Fluette, the head of production for Breitbart, described as “incredibly powerful” for Mr. Bannon — Mr. Trump’s ideological strategist has maintained a focus on Rome.
Mr. Bannon returned to direct the documentary “Torchbearer,” in which the “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson contemplates the apocalyptic consequences of an eroding Christendom. Mr. Bannon also reunited with old friends, including Breitbart’s eventual Rome correspondent, Thomas Williams.
A former priest, Mr. Williams said that he used to have arguments with Mr. Bannon about whether the pope subscribed to a hard-left brand of liberation theology, with Mr. Bannon calling the pope a “socialist/communist.” Mr. Williams said he usually defended the pope, but that recent statements by Francis convinced him “Steve turned out to be right. That happens more often than not.”
Mr. Bannon’s private thoughts about the pope have at times surfaced in public.
On May 23, Mr. Bannon and Mr. Williams spoke about Pope Francis on the radio program Breitbart News Daily.
Discussing a Breitbart article about the new mayor of London titled “Pope Hails Election of Sadiq Khan, Celebrates Mass Muslim Migration Into Europe,” Mr. Bannon suggested that the pope “seems almost to be putting the responsibility on the working men and women of Italy and Europe et cetera, that they have to go out of their way to accommodate” migration.
Was the pope a global elitist, Mr. Bannon asked, “two or three steps removed from this?”
Many critics of Francis express similar views, but they are often scared to express it for fear of retribution from the pope, who, they say, has eyes and ears all over the Vatican.
Instead, the pope’s critics anonymously papered Rome over the weekend with posters of a grumpy-looking Francis above complaints about his removing and ignoring clerics and cardinals. “Where’s your mercy?” it asked.
Conservatives and traditionalists in the Vatican secretly pass around phony mock-ups of the Vatican’s official paper, L’Osservatore Romano, making fun of the pope. Or they spread a YouTube video critiquing the pope and his exhortation on love in the family, “Amoris Laetitia,” which many traditionalists consider Francis’ opening salvo against the doctrine of the church. Set to the music of “That’s Amore,” an aggrieved crooner sings, “When will we all be freed from this cruel tyranny, that’s Amoris” and “It’s the climate of fear engineered for four years, that’s Amoris.”
Cardinal Burke — who has said that the pope’s exhortation, which opened the door for divorced Catholics remarried outside the church to receive communion, might require “a formal act of correction” — has been unusually outspoken in his criticism of Francis. Cardinal Burke and Mr. Bannon declined to comment for this article.
Just weeks ago, the pope stripped Cardinal Burke of his remaining institutional influence after a scandal exploded at the Knights of Malta, a nearly 1,000-year-old chivalrous order where he had been exiled as a liaison to the Vatican. The pope had removed the order’s grand master after he showed disobedience to the pope. There was a sense in the order that the grand master followed the lead of Cardinal Burke because he projected authority, a power that stemmed in part from his support by the Trump administration, one influential knight said.
Cardinal Burke has become a champion to conservatives in the United States. Under Mr. Bannon, Breitbart News urged its Rome correspondent to write sympathetically about him. And at a meeting before last month’s anti-abortion March for Life rally in Washington, Cardinal Burke received the Law of Life Achievement, or Nail award, a framed replica of the nail used to hold the feet of Christ to the cross. According to John-Henry Westen, the editor of Life Site News, who announced the award, the prize is awarded to Christians “who have received a stab in the back.”
Despite Mr. Bannon’s inroads in Rome, Mr. Burke and other traditionalists are not ascendant in the Vatican.
The Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest who edits the Vatican-approved journal La Civilta Cattolica and who is close to the pope, dismissed their criticism as the stuff of a noisy but small “echo chamber.”
He also played down the effect of Mr. Trump’s ascent on the standing of Francis’ opponents in the Vatican, saying it was only on a “level of image” and “propaganda.”
The pope will maintain his direction and not be distracted by fights against those trying to undercut him, Father Spadaro said. “He moves forward, and he moves ahead very fast.”
He added that Mr. Trump’s ban on immigrants from certain Muslim countries was “opposite” to the pontiff’s vision for how to foster unity and peace. The pope, Father Spadaro said, is doing everything he can to avoid the clash of civilizations that both fundamentalist Muslims and Christians want.
Indeed, the pope does not seem to be slowing down.
Days after the election of Mr. Trump, in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican officially elevated new cardinals selected by Pope Francis who reflected the pope’s emphasis on an inclusive church — far from the worldview of Mr. Bannon and Mr. Burke.
“It’s not that he is just bringing new people in that think maybe like him,” Cardinal Blase Cupich, the influential new cardinal of Chicago, said after the ceremony. “He is transforming the church in making us rethink how we have done things before.”
That transformation was evident later in the evening, when the old conservative guard came to pay their respects to the new cardinals.
João Braz de Aviz, a powerful cardinal close to the pope, walked around in simple cleric clothes, the equivalent of civilian dress among all the flowing cassocks. Asked whether the ascent of Mr. Trump would embolden Mr. Bannon’s allies in the Vatican to intensify their opposition and force the pope to take a more orthodox line, he shrugged.
“The doctrine is secure,” he said, adding that the mission of the church was more to safeguard the poor. It was also, he reminded his traditionalist colleagues, to serve St. Peter, whose authority is passed down through the popes. “And today, Francis is Peter.”
Via The New York Times
I have been reading two books by the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens which I posted to Bookshelf above and then on the recommendation of Joe Skrzynski who saw it on the site, Homo Deus which is a logical follow on and equally breathtaking.
As is my want I was not just putting the title on the web site but also talking to my friends about these astonishing books - my pal Rachel Goldberg said that another friend of hers was raving about these books and had sent her a link to an interview with the author from a BBC program.
I immediately watched it and felt that I had come to know the man who appeared very much as the embodiment of his written words, and while I had expressed the desire to meet and talk with him I now feel that is not so urgent.
If you can stream video on whatever device go ahead - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJ1yS9JIJKs.
The other gratifying aspect of this story is that it closes the loop on the purpose and intention of this site.
Thanks to Jackson Frazer for his work on the look and feel as well.
Krzys and Ula are back in Warsaw,Poland now but it was a great pleasure to cook with them in Melbourne for the short that they were here. Great cooks are creative and this pair were very creative and vegan. They made things to sell at farmer's markets and brought back boxes of organic fruit, vegetables and other vegan delights. The recipe below is one they made on several occasions and it tastes nothing like white sliced bread .
Adapted from Josey Baker's Adventure Bread via David Lebovitz and The Life-Changing Loaf from My New Roots
Be sure to source certified gluten-free ingredients (especially oats) if you or your bread-eaters are highly sensitive. Feel free to trade the maple syrup for honey, the coconut oil for olive or sunflower.
Makes 1 (8x4" or 9x5" loaf)
1 cup (5 ounces / 145 grams) sunflower seeds
1 cup (3.5 ounces / 100 grams) sliced almonds
1/3 cup (2 ounces / 60 grams) buckwheat groats
1/3 cup (2 ounces / 60 grams) millet seed
2 1/4 cups (6.75 ounces / 195 grams) GF old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup (3 ounces / 85 grams) flax seed
1/3 cup (1 ounce / 30 grams) psyllium husk
1/4 cup (1.25 ounces / 35 grams) chia seed
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 tablespoons (1.25 ounces by weight / 40 grams) maple syrup
1/4 cup (1.5 ounces by weight / 45 grams) coconut oil, melted (or olive oil)
2 3/4 cups water
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325ºF.
Spread the sunflower seeds, almonds, buckwheat groats, and millet seed on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven until golden and fragrant, 8-12 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the oats, flax seed, psyllium husk, chia seed, and salt. When the sunflower seed mixture has toasted, add it to the bowl and stir to combine. Add the maple syrup, melted coconut oil, and water, and stir to combine well, using your hands if need be.
Line a loaf pan (8x4 or 9x5") on all sides with parchment paper. Scrape the dough into the pan and use damp fingers to smooth the top, creating a slight dome. Cover the dough and let sit at room temperature at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
When ready to bake, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400ºF. Uncover the bread and bake until deeply bronzed, about 1 1/2 hours (but check it at 1 1/4 hours). Remove the bread from the oven and let cool completely, at least 2 hours, then remove from the pan and discard the parchment.
The bread keeps well, refrigerated airtight, for up to a week or even two. Slice and toast for best results.
Company Tax: Big Business Already Pays Less Than 30% Rate, ATO Data Shows (via The Guardian Australia)
Via Gareth Hutchens at The Guardian.
Business Council of Australia is urging tax cuts to remain competitive but transparency report show members’ effective rate is 24.3%
The members of the Business Council of Australia, who are leading the push to cut Australia’s corporate tax rate from 30%, already pay an effective tax rate five percentage points lower, according to the latest publicly available data.
The business lobby group is pressing federal politicians to support the Turnbull government’s plan to cut the corporate tax rate from 30% to 25%, warning Australia’s business environment is globally uncompetitive and the situation is worsening.
BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott warned last week: “The need to cut company tax has become even more urgent in the era of Donald Trump, whose promise to cut America’s federal rate to 15% will further keep new investments from Australia.”
But the Australian Tax Office’s tax transparency report shows the BCA’s members paid an effective tax rate of just 24.3% as a group in 2014-15 – the most recent year for which data is available.
The effective tax rate is the amount of tax paid as a percentage of taxable income each BCA member reported to the tax office.
The report shows less than a quarter of the BCA’s members paid the statutory tax rate of 30% in 2014-15. It shows 50 members paid no corporate tax, while 11 paid no tax on their taxable income.
The BCA has 125 members, according to its website. Among them are Australia’s biggest companies, including the big four banks and major miners, Google, IBM, McDonald’s, Macquarie and JP Morgan.
A spokesman for the lobby group would not confirm the effective tax rate paid by its members. Instead, he pointed to a paper, commissioned by the Minerals Council of Australia, that shows the effective tax rate on new investments in Australia is 25.7%.
He said Australia ranked 4th highest among OECD countries in 2015 on this measure, up from 10th highest a decade earlier.
But the effective tax rate on new investments is a forward-looking measure that tries to calculate the tax burden on a hypothetical investment under the current tax system.
Nevertheless, the BCA’s preferred figure of 25.7% is similar to the effective tax rate calculated using publicly available data. A report from the Tax Justice Network in 2014 found the effective tax rate for ASX200 companies – the 200 largest companies on the stock exchange was even lower – just 23%.
And a report last year found 76 of Australia’s largest multinationals paid an average effective tax rate of just 16.2% – nearly half the corporate tax rate.
The report was written by corporate tax experts from the University of Technology, Sydney, working with the activist group GetUp!, who examined the financial records of the top 100 multinational corporations operating in Australia.
They estimated the commonwealth government lost $5.4bn in potential tax revenue in 2013 and 2014 from those 76 companies, as they shifted billions of dollars in profits offshore.
Their report was published just weeks after the biggest data leak in history – the Panama Papers – 11.5m documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca – which exposed a trail of serious tax avoidance by corporationsand the world’s wealthiest citizens.
The Greens’ treasury spokesman, Peter Whish-Wilson, has criticised the BCA for saying little about how its members use the tax system to pay much lower rates of real tax, while complaining about the statutory rate.
“Powerful business lobbies spruik the notion that our headline corporate tax rate in Australia is high by international standards, but what they don’t tell you about is the generous tax deductions and concessions their members exploit to pay much lower effective rates of tax,” he told Guardian Australia.
“The effective or ‘real’ company tax rate paid for the combined membership of the BCA is only 24.3%, and this is already lower than their suggested new lower headline rate of 25%.
“The BCA members actually pay a lower effective company tax than those who aren’t members, showing that they are the worst among equals in the tax avoidance stakes,” he said.
In a speech this week, Malcolm Turnbull urged parliament to support his $48bn tax cut plan, warning years of research, “much of it commissioned by the previous Labor government,” had shown company tax was a tax on workers and their salaries.
“The reality is that we are part of an intensely competitive global economy, and other countries have been cutting – and will continue to cut – their company tax rates,” he said, "We cannot afford to get left behind and let Australian jobs go offshore.”