The wash of the moon


from a million eyes

streamed in

and brushed

against my face.

Awakened, I asked,

What is it that

you came to visit?

The moon replied,

This is not a love song.

I’ve brought you this:

It’s the dust

God shook off

his great coat

after he had stopped

arguing with

his younger self.

It’s the particles

of worlds

that vanished

before time

had a face


It’s the numbers

of the universe

broken up

by the tremor

of a bird’s

beating wing.

It’s the grain

that floats

among the stars

come to rest

as the glint and grit

in your eyes.

These things

are the fading

and the thrum,

the shadow

and the light of life.

Listen, see, speak.

Warwick McFadyen

Bob Dylan’s long reign

By Warwick McFadyen

Imagine a mountain no one can climb. Imagine a river no one can cross. Imagine a road that goes on forever. Imagine mountain, river and road are the one thing. This is not an impossibility. The proof is in a body of work that stretches back 60 years. It is a legacy beyond eclipse.

One artist carries these multitudes. Bob Dylan. It’s his birthday today. Light 80 candles.

Some artists shoot across the sky like comets, then fade out; some are one-hit wonders, some are one-album wonders, some belong to their time. A very few belong to all time; they encapsulate time out of mind, that is, they transcend.

Dylan transcends. He wrought a revolution in songwriting. He took in the air Woody Guthrie breathed, he reached down into the classics of literature, he brushed the shoulders of bluesmen and rock and rollers, he absorbed the colours of the times, and then he got to work. He set up his own canvass and started painting. Not all were masterpieces, of course, but enough were. He put literature into the lyric. He wrote songs on a typewriter. There’s too many to mention here, but one will do: A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, written when he was 21. It’s a tour-de-force of imagery and poetic tension, which works purely as words on a page, but he sings it, too. As songwriter Shane Howard has said, “He gave jobs to us all.”

From this distance it is easy to mark the revolution. There had been no one like him before, when from the early sixties he smashed down the walls of what was expected in a song and instead showed what was possible. As in the manner of a messiah, he was asked, even demanded of, to wear the garb of others’ expectations. This was an impossibility. The core driver, of course, was this, he was an artist, he didn’t look back. “Life isn’t about finding yourself, or finding anything. Life is about creating yourself, and creating things,” he has said. Or as he sang, He not busy being born is busy dying.

And from those iconoclastic days, he has continued down through the decades to this point in time, winning and losing fans as he went.  A songwriter who is also a Nobel Laureate of Literature.

His contemporaries have all fallen by the side of the road. Taken over more than half a century, the well within just doesn’t run dry: from the protest songs, including the great anti-war song ever Masters of War to Like a Rolling Stone to All Along the Watchtower, to Tangled Up in Blue, to Hurricane to Gotta Serve Somebody to Ring Them Bells to, well through to Rough and Rowdy Ways his 39th studio album. It was released last June and went to No. 1 in many countries, No. 2 in Australia. The panoramic Murder Most Foul from it comes in at a tic under 17 minutes, just like the old days.

What are your songs about Mr Dylan? To ask the question is to miss the point. They speak for themselves. The magic is that they can speak to you, as well. They resonant, like a chime struck within the soul. What are you about Mr Dylan? To ask the question is understandable. People want to know the person, and there’s enough words written about Dylan to build a bridge to the moon. But in the end it is secondary to the art.

The arc of Dylan’s work can be seen to be built on this quote: “If you try to be anyone but yourself, you will fail; if you are not true to your own heart, you will fail.”

This is also the creed of an artist. This is Bob Dylan. Happy birthday Bob.


Empty this into my heart –

The sky, the infinite surface,

Let me feel when I look within

That I am looking out as well.

Empty this into my heart –

The wash and whorl of the sea

Let me feel the tide’s pull and push

Of moonight and shadow.

Empty this into my heart –

The light of distant stars

That I might hold close the wisp

Of time that I can say is only mine.

Empty this into my heart –

The whisper of wind on worn stone

That I can listen, and return it

in a voice never emptying.

The Wake

The surface breaks and in the parting
lines of ripples slip away.
They crest then fade into the fold
that swirls and sleeps under the spray.

This is the lapping of each moment
from rock of cradle to silent grave,
this is the voice that no longer travels
but for what it left and what it gave.

This is the widening wake, carrying
the echo and call of a life now past
to my shore-bound days. The water
runs through my hands. I hold it fast.

Let’s drug test the nation

By Warwick McFadyen

“I believe in a fair go for those who have a go . . . under our policies, if you’re having a go you’ll get a go.”

By now Scott Morrison’s ineffable logic has worn its way into homes across the nation. If you’re having a go, you’ll get a go. It is perfection in its steel-trap reasoning, no matter which way you turn the words it will come out exquisitely the same nonsense.

It is this attitude of progressive thinking that has informed the government’s drug testing proposal for those on Newstart, only cleverly, it’s been switched around: if you’re not having a go, you don’t get a go.

And just to confirm the Ommm-like state of mind of the government, the Minister for Families and Social Services, Anne Ruston, has come out swinging. “Giving [people] more money would do absolutely nothing . . . probably all it would do is give drug dealers more money and give pubs more money,” she says.

Too true. But aren’t drug dealers members of 1002-nssociety too, don’t they spend their money and thus stimulate the economy? Perhaps Ruston should have gone further and said what this country really needs: compulsory national service reintroduced, thus hiding the problem of the non-working class for the election cycle and boosting defence numbers. Subs crews are apparently thin on the ground. It’s a win-win.

As to living on Newstart’s $40 a day, well Ruston couldn’t possibly bring herself to say the money was enough to feed yourself or your family, but she could say “I have not said that it will be easy to live on Newstart.” Indeed, she’s said it several times, which is a kind of empathy one supposes.

But there’s a spanner in the works. If we are fair-dinkum about being an egalitarian society, this Coalition-flavoured empathy and fair-go mentality should go further.

We should drug test everyone.

The argument for drug testing  is very small target stuff. If you’re on the dole, it’s obvious you’re taking drugs and squandering government money. So, we, the government will test you for drugs, two strikes and you’re out. Not all drugs, mind, just some. Alcohol is OK, the government makes a lot of money from sales of alcohol. It makes none from cocaine or ice. Not saying as a health issue taking drugs is going to make you an ultra marathoner, but neither is a slab of beer a day.

The argument for drug testing the lot of us is simple. Everyone benefits from government money in some shape or form. It mightn’t be directly into the bank account, though of course there are a lot of public servants and politicians, but in less direct ways. For instance, feel safe from marauding asylum seekers? That’s Border Force using our money to protect us.

So, once a fortnight there should be mandatory blowing into the tube and urinating into the bottle. For everyone, above the age of 16. Let’s hang onto thinking below 16 children are still young and innocent. Self-testing kits could be sent to homes, like bowel cancer kits, if anyone is a bit shy. Non-compliance could result in withdrawal of funds or indirect benefits – by increment (we wouldn’t want to be seen as going a bit totalitarian). Those on the government payroll could lose a proportion of their wages until they pass muster as straight for say three months, or if not on the government payroll, then there could be mandatory audits of tax returns for the past 10 years, or simply being slugged with a new levy. We could call it the contaminated urine tax.

At least this way there would be an honesty about what’s going on here. Let’s stop this pretence that we really care for those on welfare. Why we care so much we are going to modify their behaviour, and their behaviour only, that’s how much we care. We’re going to knock those suffering from addiction with a bloody big hammer. We’re going to call it conservative compassion or compassionate conservatism (depending on which side of the bed we wake up on each day).

Oh, and we’re not going to give them any more money to get by. That would just be absurd.



ScoMo: Has this been the face we’ve been aspiring to all along?

By Warwick McFadyen

Say hello to the face of Australia. It’s roundish, pale-skinned, short-cropped hair top and sides, wearing glasses and now, because of one day in May, a smile as big as the Nullarbor.

It’s the face of ScoMo.

For one who doesn’t travel the length and breadth of the country, as do leaders and wouldbe leaders in a hurry to their destiny, it is slightly disconcerting.

Should one have known that all along Australia is ScoMo writ and painted large? After the result of May 18, dare we say we are now the sons and daughters of the great ScoMO, god of all things antipodean?

For certainly Scott Morrison is a miracle worker. There have been enough opinion polls backed up to Darwin predicting he and his party would lose. ScoMo turned that on its end.

In his victory speech, he declared, “I’ve always believed in miracles.”

As a good and practising follower of Pentecostalism he would say that. So there we are – most of us through the act of voting have felt the spirit of the Lord moving through us. How else to divine May 18?  The election result was a miracle, therefore, as all miracles emanate from the God of Pentecostalism, we are not only now the face of ScoMo, but we move in mysterious ways, too.

It is the resurrection before the death that had been foretold for months. A miracle indeed.

This was quite a lot to comprehend on a Sunday morning – the rise of the messiah from the shire (as one newspaper jauntily japed) – after the night before.

But let it also be said, Morrison was with humility.  He praised not the Lord but the little people on Saturday night: “It’s always been for those of you watching this at home tonight, for me and for my Government, for all of my team, it’s all about you.

“Tonight is not about me, it’s not about even the Liberal Party. Tonight is about every single Australian who depends on their government to put them first. We’ve got a lot of work to do. And we’re going to get back to work.

“We’re going to get back to work for the Australians that we know go to work every day, who face those struggles and trials every day.”

He would, by extension, deliver on his belief “in a fair go for those who have a go”.

The crack in this mantra, which in its constant retelling has hardened into seeming truth, is that in fact it mocks the truth.

It mocks those, unfortunate of circumstances, whose lives are bashed against the rocks by forces beyond their control. But they’re not the true believers. They are not the “quiet Australians”. They are the invisible people, those on welfare, for instance.

Thus in the certitude of nature’s cycles, the sun rose May 19 upon a nation that it appears was hiding in plain sight. Again more than a little disconcerting.

The writer Rainer Maria Rilke once observed that “there are quantities of human beings, but there are many more faces, for each person has several”.

As this election has shown, trying to paint a portrait of a nation can be a foolhardy exercise. It takes a rare breed to see beyond what you want to see. Perhaps, it is all but a mask. Perhaps values are just a sliding scale of self-interest and altruism.

Perhaps, it is about face values. Certainly, ScoMo is true to Rilke’s observation. There is the face of refugee condemnation, the face of friendly coal, the face of trumped-up gang fear, the face of a hollow vessel.

Morrison travelled the length and breadth of the continent. A man alone on a crusade. He only had to keep going so that the blur of his movement hid his inaction. Policies didn’t even come into it. It was about binding his face to enough of ours so that now as a nation that is who we are.

The face of ScoMo. Say hello to ourselves.


Moon dream


The night washes

Into my eyes

And I tether the moon

To see what is not there:

The deeper meaning

From a plate of light.

The stars glow less

In this tidal pool,

While I, earthbound,

Swim in its pull,

Until, letting go,

I drift out, to sea.

Warwick McFadyen

Falling Light


DSCN0337 (3)

As I was walking one morning

Under the oaks

The acorns, knowing their time,

Were falling to the ground around me.

I breathed in and out

Deliberately, slowly

To hear with a conscious ear

The life that rises and falls with each step.

The early light was not yet full of sun.

It was the turning of the tides; moon

Pulling night towards it; the shore not

Yet glistening.

Still, as I walked, the acorns kept falling,

For it was the season.

Warwick McFadyen

Postcards from the Edge: how being un-Australian can make you an alien in your own land


Third in a series on the state of Australia

By Warwick McFadyen

Terror can come at anytime. It knows no boundaries, dismisses conscience.

Terror can be a flash of metal hurtling towards you, a mob of hatred marching towards you, an infinite horizon of one in limbo, staring at nothingness.

Terror can be asylum.

Terror can be an order.

An order such as this:

‘‘You will be expected to support yourself in the community until departing Australia.

‘‘From Monday 28 August you will need to find money each week for your own accommodation costs. From this date, you will also be responsible for all your other living costs like food, clothing and transport.

‘‘You are expected to sign the Code of Behaviour when you are released into the Australian community. The Code of Behaviour outlines how you are to behave in the community.’’

The order is from the Immigration Department, as reported in The Age on Sunday.

It is directed at 100 asylum seekers, based in Australia, who were transferred here from offshore detention centres because of medical reasons. They will be placed on “Final Departure Bridging E Visa’’. Their $200 a fortnight payment will be cut, they have three weeks to move out of government accommodation. They have to get a job. They are on their own. Oh, and they have to leave the country.

Daniel Webb, a lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre, said: ‘‘It’s hard enough for people in full employment with good wages to find a rental on three weeks’ notice, let alone people our government has imprisoned for years on remote islands and banned from working or training.

‘‘[Peter] Dutton knows full well he is making people destitute. It’s a cruel attempt to force them to return to danger. We’re talking about people who have been part of our communities for years. The sensible and compassionate thing to do would be to let them stay. Instead, Dutton is trying to starve them out.’’

The order could affect, eventually, 400 asylum seekers in Australia, babies included. Those damn infants, would-be terrorists the lot of them, with their incomprehensible gargling and mewling. It’s as un-Australian as the lawyers representing the asylum seekers, as Immigration Minister Peter Dutton agreed with radio broadcaster Alan Jones – the broadcaster who thought the best thing for the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard was that she be taken out to sea in a chaff bag and left there.

This from a government that is very likely to represent Australia on the United Nations Human Rights Council. The ABC reported last month that because of France dropping out of the race Australia and Spain will be elected. Australia lodged its pledges and commitments package on July 24. You can read it here:

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade states the “pledges are in line with Australia’s five campaign pillars and adhere to our longstanding commitment to promote and protect human rights”.

Laugh? You could almost cry. Janus has nothing on how we deal with different parts of the world to suit the temper of the political times. The government makes much of “universal” values. Clearly, its universe is very small and weak of spirit.

As if to reinforce this government’s hatred of kindness and compassion, it’s also been revealed that it has removed the human touch from dealing with refugees. Last September the Security Risk Assessment Tool, essentially a computer algorithm to assess asylum seekers, came into service.

Data on detainee is punched into a machine, hey presto a decision is made on their security risk and conditions while they are in detention. No human judgement needed, no areas of grey need be contemplated. It is the complete abdication of responsibility. As the former head of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs said of it: “The use of an algorithm to replace professional judgments – I thought this can’t be true.”

But, of course, it is. Really, it is no more than reaffirming a mantra of government that everyone must obey and uphold Australian “values”. It’s part of the code of behaviour – Australian values – by which asylum seekers must abide as they slowly starve and disintegrate in our society.

Hugh de Kretser, Human Rights Law Centre executive director, said: “It defies belief that any decent government could act in this way.’’

Actually it doesn’t. Not this government. Not this minister in Peter Dutton. Nor Alan Tudge, who as the whimsically titled Human Resources Minister seemed nonplussed, after all these moves were all of the one principle that anyone who arrived by boat would be treated the same.

Yes minister, that is with same level of inhumanity, cruelty and callousness we mete out to each man, woman and child who arrives by whatever means they can hoping for a welcoming hand and the chance of a new life.

But we don’t hand out favours. Not here, not in Australia.

Terror Australis, that’s us. Or at least that’s our government’s epithet and modus operandi, and is not our government representative of us?

So it’s come to this: to do the right thing for the wretched and vulnerable is to be un-Australian, and thus an alien in your own land.

Refugees all.

Warwick McFadyen is a freelance writer and editor