Postcards from the Edge: On the battle for all to say I do – without prejudice

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Second in a series on the state of Australia

By Warwick McFadyen

No one will die. No one will be hurt. Cities will not tumble into the sea, towns will not turn to dust. The sky will not fall. Locusts will not descend upon our homes.

There is nothing to fear.

Our children will not die in the cradle.

And yet it is fear, cloaked in an arrogance of superiority, that is rising and driving the opponents of same-sex marriage. They would not call it such.

This, to them, is a crusade to preserve a status quo that no longer exists. They are the defenders of the faith and of the blessed union of three people in marriage: man, woman and God.

It is a battle by one set to impose a viewpoint, and a course of life, on another set, and yet for whom the actions of the first set have no interaction or consequence to the other. It is about power.

Same-sex marriage only affects the participants. It is only about those whom it will affect personally. This is so obvious it is incredible how obscured it has become. The union of two people of the same gender does not affect anyone outside that union. It does not stop others from acting how they wish to.

Yet to hear the wailings of the churches and some conservatives it will bring down fire and brimstone upon civil society. Parents and children will be coerced into acting against their will and beliefs. They will be shackled by the chains of political correctness. The children will see . . . God forbid, they might see love between two people, irrespective of that gender.

But, once you strip away the moral equivalence, it is not an attack, it is an evolution (a word and concept that plainly scares the hell out of many). For the move to same-sex marriage is, in effect, an action to make the terms of one club the terms for all, even for those who are on the outside of the club, who never want to be part of the club.

After the federal government announced that it would hold a $122 million non-compulsory, non-binding plebiscite, Tony Abbott went on the attack.

He breathlessly informed the country, “I say to you if you don’t like same-sex marriage, vote no. If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no, and if you don’t like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.’’

Abbott is the apostle who, blinded by his righteousness of his cause, cannot or will not allow himself to see the wood for the trees.

One of those trees takes the shape of John Howard. In 2004, the then Prime Minister Howard, about to go to the polls in October, instigated an amendment in the Marriage Act (which had come into being under Robert Menzies in 1961) so that marriage was the “union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others”.

Howard said at the time: “We’ve decided to insert this into the Marriage Act to make it very plain that that is our view of a marriage and to also make it very plain that the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands, ultimately, of the Parliament of the nation. It should not over time be subject to redefinition or change by courts. It is something that ought to be expressed through the elected representatives of the country.”

He said this in May. In August, according to reports, more than 1000 people attended a National Marriage Forum in Canberra to support the amendment. The forum was organised by the National Marriage Coalition, whose members include the Australian Christian Lobby and the Australian Family Association.  Labor’s Nicola Roxon told the forum that Labor would support the amendment.

Howard told the forum: “I support marriage because I believe it provides stability in relationships, because it is a public expression of commitment, but it also the environment in which children are best raised and nurtured and brought to full adulthood and enjoyment of life’s opportunities.”

In 1973, Lionel Murphy, as Attorney-General in the Whitlam government, established civil celebrants. The first was Lois D’Arcy. As now, back then there was fierce opposition. However, according to the ABS in the past 20 years, “Australians have increasingly opted for civil rather than religious celebrants, with civil ceremonies almost doubling, while the number of religious ceremonies have almost halved’’.

If that isn’t righting on the wall, then there is this: People of faith are old and, of course, getting older. According to the latest Census, “no religion’’ was the religion growing rapidly – from 22 per cent in 2011 to 30 per cent in 2016. Of those aged from 18 to 34, almost two fifths had no religion. These trends won’t reverse. Although 60 per cent say they have a religious affiliation. However, there is a vast distance between practising it and ticking a box. The writing is on the wall.

These countries have same-sex marriages, Holland (the first in 2001), Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, Brazil, France, Uruguay, New Zealand, Luxembourg, the US, Ireland, Colombia, Finland, Germany and Malta.

In Australia, the ABS “counted more than 47,000 same-sex couples in 2016 – up from 33,000 in 2011 (a 42% increase) and 26,000 in 2006 (an 81% increase)”.

If you are worried about the future of freedom of speech, as Abbott declares, then you actually should vote “yes’’. It pushes the door open that little more so that in this supposedly progressive nation, our elected representatives can have a free vote in Parliament.

And if that fails, stock up on candles, for we will have returned to the dark ages.

Warwick McFadyen is a freelance editor and writer

 

Postcards from the Edge: On asylum seekers and the language of cruelty

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First in a series on the state of Australia

By Warwick McFadyen

A small section of the product was damaged beyond repair this week.

The Prime Minister regretted the irreparable nature of the damage. ‘‘We all regret the death the honourable member referred to (of) the person detained in PNG,’’ he said.

The person to whom the damage was done had a name. He was Hamed Shamshiripour, an Iranian national. Turnbull didn’t call him by name. He was the person detained. He was part of the ‘’product’’ by which the Prime Minister called the detainees on Manus Island and Nauru when he spoke to US President Donald Trump by phone.

“It is not because they are bad people. It is because in order to stop people smugglers, we had to deprive them of the product,’’ he told Trump.

It is easy to rationalise this use of language, to cut Turnbull some slack, because after all he was trying to talk to a child, who only knows that to succeed in this world you have to come out on top. You have to master the deal, screw the opposition in fact. So, it is easy to think, well Turnbull is using terms that the listener will appreciate. After all, they were speaking of a transaction, and they’re both transactional businessmen.

But here was a man. He lived and breathed, even in capture, even condemned to limbo, a victim to a vast indefinite indifference. And it did him in. The cruelty inflicted on the more than 1600 on Manus Island and Nauru is such that even Trump told Turnbull he was worse than himself. Of course, Trump has no sense of history or perspective, or he would have said Turnbull was just one of many who in this country are worse than he. Trump wants to build a wall. Kids’ stuff mate.

You come by boat and we don’t even care if you’re the President of the United States, you’ll be tossed onto an island, and left to be someone else’s problem. That’s the principle, and it applies to everyone on Earth, from theoretically a Nobel Prize winner to a nobody. It’s all product.

The government can live with the product getting more damaged as time goes by – six, seven, eight dead, it doesn’t matter. It can live with the global condemnation from human rights groups and the United Nations, and goody-two shoes bleeding hearts at home. Doesn’t matter.

What matters is the deal. Turnbull as much as begged on crooked knee to Trump to uphold it because “this is a very big issue for us, particularly domestically”. Turnbull didn’t even care about the outcome as long as Trump went through with the process. That’s all anybody needs to see – that there was a transaction of product. And in a scene from Lewis Carroll, Australia will not accept these refugees, but it will accept some of America’s unwanted, for the sake of the deal.

When the centre on Manus Island closes in October, humanitarian agencies are anxious that the detainees will be cast adrift even further. Tensions are rising among the detainees and the alien world in which they find themselves. PNG admits that those who try to enter outside life find it too difficult.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi says the death of Hamed Shamshiripour “highlights the precarious situation for vulnerable people on Manus Island’’.

Even Trump asked why Australia didn’t just take them in. How’s that? Our moral compass is questioned by Donald Trump. And the answer? They came by boat.

This is not a matter of future freight deliveries. It’s about the here and now and doing the right thing. Do you think if Albert Einstein was on a boat we’d toss him off to a speck of sand in the middle of the ocean and say, you’re on your own? Or WB Yeats, or Barack Obama? Turnbull would. He said so.

The language of politics is a product of the times. Are these times in Australia so bereft of compassion that innocent life, life that has done no harm, is labelled akin to unwanted cargo?

Warwick McFadyen is a freelance writer and editor

 

The Horizon

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From the river

To the sea

The sky awaits

Each drop of rain

To return

Into the silence.

I dip my hand in

and out of the water.

The tide is

Leaving me.

Droplets cling to my skin.

I look to the sky

And write 

On its surface

With my hand:

My name.

Warwick McFadyen

 

 

Assisted dying, and the right to choose the time

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By Warwick McFadyen

I looked into my father’s shrunken, red eyes. Death was tolling. I cradled the skin and bone that once was a man, a force of life, but now was in a palliative care bed awaiting nothingness. The voice had gone, breath rose and fell slowly; these whisperings of existence were really the last gasps.

Cancer did him. He had fought it through the final year of his life. He did not want to die, did not seek it, but he knew it was coming for him. ‘‘I’m so weak, son,’’ he told me in the weeks before his death. He would never have said that before. He knew the light was fading into black. He also knew that beyond his death was zero. Not even the word death.  That word belonged to the living, rolled off the tongue with familiarity, for everyone dies. Everyone speaks of it, most times in the abstract, and then up close and personal.

Did my father ever say or acknowledge he had entered the terminal stage of his 82 years? No. He always resisted the ferryman carrying him to the fatal shore. He kept his self-awareness until near the end. The drugs helped. He was loaded with chemicals to keep the pain at tolerable levels.

He took no solace in knowing his passing was merely a staging post to elsewhere, beyond sight and comprehension. Religion could stay out of his death. It had no place there. It was a stranger. In the final days his body had begun to convulse, uncontrollable spasms seized his once strong frame. We tried to soothe his fevered brow, tried to hold down his limbs, while the ambulance came, yet again, until the paramedics, my mother, sister and I knew, the only path left was the road to a dying ward.

We told him, as the afternoon light streamed into the bedroom and we held him, that it was OK to let go. Let go, let go if you can. It was a useless attempt at assisted dying, the urging of a life to go. A life we loved. But the pain had taken over completely, utterly. The letting go was the only option to end the suffering.

I think back on those last days as debate rises over the proposed legislation of assisted dying in Victoria. There is no more personal event or element to a person’s life than their death. It is abhorrent that any institution, or set of people who are held together by a common belief, can influence how a person chooses to die. It is a dictatorship of the spirit. This is not about their right to believe. It is about others not having to live and die by a stranger’s belief.

The bill introducing the legislation is expected soon to come before Parliament. It will be a ‘‘conscience vote’’. The Premier Daniel Andrews said, ‘‘This is about dignity, choice and giving Victorians the support and care they deserve in their final moments.’’

Guidelines recommended by an advisory panel include that a patient is expected to die within 12 months, have the capacity to decide and be a Victorian resident 18 years or older.

There would be ‘‘rigorous checks and balances’’, the Premier said. His views had changed following the death of his father, aged 65, from cancer. He told the ABC: ‘‘I’ve come to the conclusion that whether you would avail yourself of this option isn’t really the point. If the right safeguards are in place, then the question becomes do we have the right to stop others from accessing a safe — and on some measures a very conservative — scheme?’’

The Premier is right. ‘‘Do we have the right to stop others?’’ Of course not. Choosing the timing of the end of your life has nothing whatsoever to do with what someone else might believe is the grand plan of the cosmos and the omnipotence of an unseen deity of the universe. Nothing. To try to subjugate a person’s will to die (and obviously live in better circumstances) because of another’s spiritual bent is arrogance beyond belief.

It is administering torture behind the excuse that all life all the time is sacred, despite the agony and wretchedness that a life might have become. There comes a time when enough is enough. It should not be up to anyone but each individual vessel of blood, flesh and bone to decide when that time is to let loose the moorings and cross the river.

The only slippery slope attached to this legislation is that of allowing one set of beliefs, mainly those based in the Christian tradition, override all of us. It is fair enough, and welcome in an open society, that people do bow to a faith and live by it. As long as it harms no other. The days of the missionaries are long over.

On Monday, a group of religious leaders, including the Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart and Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier, issued a joint letter arguing against the legislation. It read, in part: ‘‘Once the fundamental principle to do no harm and never kill is removed from our medical practice, the integrity of our health system is compromised.

‘‘It would be counter-productive to legally endorse any form of suicide when our governments and community groups are working so hard to persuade others that it is not a solution to take their own life.’’

It may not be a solution to take one’s life – in a perfect world, where if not splendidly painted in beautiful colours, it is seen in black and white. But life is not like that. Even the dictum ”never kill” is not an absolute. The word of those who believe in a life after life is hardly grounded in reality, despite their gravitas.

This legislation will usher in a ray of enlightenment in the humane way in which we live with the terminally ill, and how we respect their wishes.

I know my father would have agreed.

Warwick McFadyen is a freelance writer and editor

Dr G, a life stilled, a voice eternal

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By Warwick McFadyen

It was the voice that floated above us and yet went into us, settled there and, having left an impression forever, left to soar higher and higher into the rarified air where sound is only attained by the very few. The shorthand would be to describe it as angelic. But this is not enough. Angels would rip their wings from their body, would fall to earth, to possess this voice. If only for a short time.

The owner of this voice was Dr G. Yunupingu, died in a Darwin hospital, aged 46, this week. He was on earth for a tragically short time. His voice remains through his recordings and performances. It is a solace of sorts.

Blind from birth, Dr G could not bring the colours of the world to his songs, yet he took the other senses – touch, hearing, smell and taste – and like an alchemist turned the elements of a life that began on remote Elcho Island into unsurpassed musical beauty.

His voice took him to the President of the United States Barack Obama and to the Queen, to giants in rock such as Sting and Elton John who spoke of its “transcendental beauty”, and to people in the street. He sold so many albums, won so many awards, and yet his last days were on a beach with a camp of “drinkers”; missing vital treatment for kidney and liver illness.

He sang in his native Yolngu language. It was beautiful. Listening to it was like looking into the clear night sky and imagining the river of stars, sparkling in the deep darkness, were close enough to touch. His voice could, and does, transport you beyond the surrounds of where you are standing or sitting. It takes you out of your reality, if only for a short time.

This is the power of such a voice. This is the force of nature that beguiles and enriches and gives hope through its existence that despite all that is cruel and inhumane, a flame can still flicker, bring light and warmth to the world.

Close your eyes and listen.

Warwick McFadyen is a freelance writer and editor

 

Present alms

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By Warwick McFadyen

Scene: A park bench. A grey sky. Two men are rugged up from the cold. One is reading the paper.

Guildenstern: At last Rosencrantz, some good news, a heartening development in these blighted times. Shall I read it to you? I must. You’ve been even more morose than usual lately.

Rosencrantz: I wouldn’t say morose Guildenstern, I’d call it more bitterly clear-eyed. But if you must, let’s hear it.

Guildenstern: Well, it appears minister Pyne has made a major announcement that I must say completely alters my view of him. He says he wants Australia to become a major alms exporter.

Rosencrantz: What? Nonsense. Isn’t he the minister for making tanks? Why on earth would he want to be exporting alms? That’s someone else’s job. Though it’s not much of a job these days. Hardly enough work to fill a day.

Guildenstern: Perhaps he’s branching out. He is an ambitious fellow, and the weather in Canberra is a bit unsettled at the moment.

I’ll quote you what the minister said: ‘‘My ambition is for us to enormously increase that capacity to send a lot more alms overseas to appropriate countries. I believe we can, over the course of the next few decades, create jobs and investment here in Australia by being a major alms exporter.’’

He must be serious Rosencrantz, he said it wasn’t going to happen ‘‘willy-nilly’’. That shows serious intent. He wants to put Australia on the map. He wants to show the world we are a major player in supplying alms.

Rosencrantz: But who’s going to be making these alms? We did a good job of destroying the manufacturing sector. We wouldn’t know how to make a table these days if we didn’t have Ikea instructions. And who is going to pay for the alms building? The government? The suits in Collins Street? The man and woman on the street?

Guildenstern: Cynicism maybe your chosen pose, but it does you a disservice. Minister Pyne says and I quote, “We can do it here.” Apparently we have the talent.

Rosencrantz: You’re sure he is talking about building and exporting alms?

Guildenstern: Absolutely.

Rosencrantz: Well, what else does he say?

Guildenstern: That their export would be strictly controlled. His office says we have controls that reflect our “obligations as a committed member of international alms control regimes and as a signatory to the alms trade treaty’’.

Rosencrantz:  Alms and the man. Who would have thought?

Guildenstern: Yes. It is encouraging when not so long ago we were reading of how the government couldn‘t possibly afford to keep increasing humanitarian aid to other countries. This is a good news story. Nothing fake about this gesture my friend.

Rosencrantz: You are right. After the billions of dollars we are spending to buy submarines and fighters that we will never use to hear that there is another side to the coin of our government’s character, is gladdening. It marks us from the pack doesn’t it Guildenstern? Other countries might profit from the military-industrial complex, indeed become servants to its pull, but we have shown we can do better. Indeed, are better. Our hands are clean. Look Guildenstern (he pulls his hands out from his coat pockets) they are clean of blood. Hooray. Thank you minister Pyne!

Guildenstern: It has a nice ring to it too. Australia, a major alms exporter. I like it. Should we make a list of which countries need our alms?

Rosencrantz: Yes, but first let’s eliminate those people to whom we wouldn’t want to ship them.

Guildenstern: OK. You go first.

(Pause)

Rosencrantz: I can’t think of anyone.

Guildenstern:  Nor me.

Rosencrantz: We’d want to present them to anyone who needs them wouldn’t we? Otherwise what’s the point? Alms don’t kill. We’re not going to be making enemies by this . . .

Guildenstern:  . . . Who would do us harm.

Rosencrantz: Exactly.

Guildenstern: It really is a master stroke.

Rosenccrantz: From minister Pyne. Why who would have thought?

 

Warwick McFadyen is a freelance writer and editor

Raven

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The raven at the table

Sees me yet

Sees not I

Glint eye in coal

The hard surface

Yellow dot in black sea

The visitor is only to me

Flight of fancy

Alien mind

It sees not terror

In claw and beak

It sees not terror

In death.

Its survival is within

And without

My line of sight.

The raven at the table

Raises it wings

Takes the sky

Into its feathers.

At the table

A tremor of light

Pulses and flashes

The air splits into infinity.

This is the terror it does not see.

I look for the raven

It is gone

It saw not me.

Warwick McFadyen

Gasping for air (when the theatre of the absurd seems the only reality)

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By Warwick McFadyen

Scene: a park bench, early winter, mid-morning. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are both wearing gas masks. A bird is trying to chirrup in a nearby tree. It sounds gargled before, after one strangulated cough, it stops. The air is still, too heavy for the slight breeze to move it.

Rosencrantz: My mask doesn’t seem to be working properly.

(He fiddles with the strap under his chin and coughs, having pulled it too tight.)

How did you get yours to fit Guildenstern?

Guildenstern: I don’t know if I have. But if I sit very still, it sits very still with me. Try not to fidget.

Rosencrantz: But how else am I to adjust it so that it works if I don’t fidget. After all, fidgeting is just small movements and I need to make small movements. I fidget therefor I am.

(He fidgets too hard and the mask falls off into his hands.)

Ah, this is hopeless!

(He begins coughing and hurriedly puts it back to his face.)

Help me friend, I’m dying here.

Guildenstern: But if I move, the same thing might happen to me. And as much as you are my friend and ally in life, that won’t help either of us. Especially me.

Rosencrantz: Show some kindness, please, after all I’ve done for you!

(He holds the mask in one hand and pulls the strap up under his chin and tighten it. Slowly, he releases the strap and the mask stays in position.)

Guildenstern: See, I knew you could do it.

Rosencrantz: Fine. Now what do I do?

Guildenstern: You sit very still.

Rosencrantz: Right. (Long pause) How long do I sit very still?

Guildenstern: I don’t know. But at least the mask isn’t falling off.

Rosencrantz:  Just a thought my friend, but wouldn’t it be better for us if we didn’t have to wear masks?

Guildenstern:  Of course, but how do you propose that? We would have to change the environment where we reside and we can’t do that and we can’t move. This is our home forever. Our bench, our fate.

Rosencrantz: Well, we could ignore it. Just go about things as we always have. Like future like past. Or we could just master these masks.

Guildenstern: Be sensible Rosencrantz.

Rosencrantz: And sit very still for the rest of our shortening lives? No thanks.

Guildenstern: Well then, perhaps we need to get help from others. We’re not the only ones in this park, after all.

Rosencrantz: You have a short memory Guildenstern. Nobody likes us anymore. I’ve no idea why. Damn them all. We don’t need them.

Guildenstern: I have a short memory? Don’t you recall when you drank too much tequila one night and yelled at everyone to leave you the hell alone. You were going to put your park bench ahead of everyone else’s, you were going to put a wall up around it and hang a sign that said, ‘In God We Covfefe!’ Covfefe! No one knows what that means, not even you! You’re mad!

Rosencrantz: Yes, but that just increases my power. With great power comes great madness or vice versa, whichever suits the purpose.

Guildenstern:  It’s as well that it is getting harder to see you when you’re in this frame of mind.

Rosencrantz:  If I were a deck of cards I’d always be coming up trumps eh? But yes, this air seems to be getting murkier and murkier. And it’s warmer too. Why is that?

Guildenstern: Sit very still. Stop talking.

(No response)

Guildenstern: Rosencrantz?

(No response)

Fade to black. A bird faintly tweets in the distance.

Warwick McFadyen is a writer and editor

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Is Upon Us

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The last whispers of autumn

Are teasing the leaves

Still clinging to the trees.

The fallen are already

Being mulched underfoot.

The light that bore summer

Within it is fading

And reforming;

Less of the sun,

More of the moon.

Like a tide going out

And returning,

Ice-capped:

Winter is upon us.

 

Residing within

The turning days

That move through

Blood, flesh and bone.

At times, rising as a storm

Carrying bruised clouds

Or settling as a frozen pond

At the bottom of the still heart.

A guest that cannot be turned away.

The chill air slaps our senses awake;

We fold warmth into our hands,

Blow on them to keep it alive.

In a darkened season, in this

pale light, we look for a path.

Warwick McFadyen