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


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.


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


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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,


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

This is What War Does (Collateral Damage)


I have had enough
of the war.
It is going badly,
as all wars do.

I have had enough
of shaking
ash off tree limbs
into my garden.

I have had enough
of unknown
children’s faces looking
in my house.

I have had enough
of their deaths,
wan bodies breeding
ties familiar.

This is what war does:
warm blood turns
cold, and life turns in
a reptile’s eye.

Warwick McFadyen

The Fairness Myth



By Warwick McFadyen

Fairness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

We kid ourselves if we believe it has an objective universality.

Fairness is the car you drive to take you somewhere where you want to go. You only get in when it’s to your advantage. It’s not called the altruism model; it’s called the turbo self-interest. When it suits the circumstances, it’s given a polish and paraded down the boulevard of splendid dreams.

Two recent high-profile drivers have been Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison. Proclaiming “fairness this’’ and “fairness that’’, both have been revving the engine, a little bit here at the traffic lights, a bit on the highway, in the carpark. It serves two purposes: to show people they are putting their foot down on accelerating fairness, and enriching their political fortunes by allowing others to believe them.

The tragedy might be that they believe what they say. Actually, to justify the effort involved, they must believe it. Otherwise, it makes a farce of both deed and word. And these blokes are not clowns.

In November 2015, Turnbull was selling tax reform. He managed to be both clear-sighted and blind. Or to go back to the car, he was, in effect, taking his foot off the pedal and then without knowing it letting it slip back down.

In one interview, he said: “Fairness is absolutely critical. Any package of reforms which is not and is not seen as fair will not and cannot achieve the public support without which it simply will not succeed.”

In another he said: “Fair is obviously in the eye of the beholder and people have different views on it. I think for Australians, fair means the burden of tax is borne by the best able to pay it. It’s a question of judgment.

“The test of whether any set of measures is fair is going to be whether people look at it and say, yep, that seems fair enough.”

Ah me o my. Fair speech may hide a foul heart, as Tolkien wrote. It may also hide a heart of stone.

Crudely, fairness comes down to priorities. Priorities come down to equations. Equations come down to numbers. Numbers equal votes. It’s the only equation that matters in this constant election cycle. Do the maths.

If as Paul Keating says when you change the government, you change the country, then what exactly is the country? If then its natural state is flux then the prime movers of fairness are impossible to define.

Of the recent budget, Turnbull said it would “be committed to fairness, opportunity and security. Ensuring that Australians are given the opportunity to get ahead, the economic growth that enables them to get ahead, to get a better job, a better-paying job, to start a business, grow a business, to realise their dreams.

“We’ll also deliver the security and the assurance, national security, we’ve been talking about, but also the security about essential services and essential government services – education and health.

“But above all, this budget will be a thoroughly fair budget. We are the nation of a fair go, it’s in our DNA and our budget will reflect that.”

Say it often enough and the lie becomes fact. So it is with fairness. What is true is that the more money you have, the fairer things become. The fair go is really a chimera. We are fed the mirage that the fair go can be seen and grasped – a dream wrapped in good honest work clothes. Try shifting the concept between economic stratum, those clothes get caught on the floorboards. The will to power trumps the will to selflessly help those less fortunate.

Those on welfare, in the framing of political discourse in this country, are criminals, ne’er-do-wells who have to justify their straitened circumstances to receive something, anything, to get by. Such has been the relentless use of “crackdown” to describe the treatment of the vulnerable that it has lost its tawdry and despicable connotations. A government is cracking down on those who are at the bottom of the pile? It is shameful.

As Michelle Grattan wrote: “As in all Coalition budgets, those on welfare get a kicking.”

Ben Spies-Butcher, Senior Lecturer in Economy and Society, Department of Sociology, Macquarie University, in The Conversation, wrote:There are harsh measures that include trials of drug tests, harsher breaching rules (that often leave recipients with no income), and even restrictions on accessing support for disabilities related to substance use.

“That reflects a very strong populist attack on some of the most vulnerable. It also reaffirms an important political dynamic in Australia: when we frame action for everyone (as we do with health, education and housing), it is much easier to achieve equitable action. And when action is focused on the very poor, the political instinct is to attack.”

No better example of this attack is to institute random drug trials for dole recipients. So the welfare system morphs into the police state. Three strikes and you’re on your own. And then what happens? Morrison and Turnbull are fond of the expression “mutual obligation”. It’s an easy way to wash your hands of a bigger problem. There is no fairness when one side holds the sledgehammer.

And the thing is, the hammer shapes the hand.

What is the most bombed-out, moonlike cratered piece of land in Australia? The moral high ground.

This fabled plateau offers dominion over the hordes below, those hapless, helpless souls who can neither see what should be obvious or heed the clarion calls of those on high. Pity their wretchedness.

A nation at one with itself would not be quarrelling over what its values, founded on a fair go should be. All now is dissonance. Some might call it robust debate, but it is not. It’s different scales, intersecting, and deaf to the other. There’s no grace notes of compromise of coming down a pitch or rising to meet another’s point of view. Ask the asylum seekers. Ask the Indigenous people across this nation.

The constant cacophony between voices across the political spectrum as to what constitutes Australian values shows that in truth there are no Australian values. Sure we can hold up mateship and giving everyone a fair go, but history shows otherwise.

Surely the place where examples of quintessential values of a nation would be in evidence is from what government does for its people. We are defined by our actions. Words, in the end, add up to nothing.

What values are defined in our treatment of our Indigenous people, asylum seekers, the homeless, the disadvantaged, those on foreign shores who depend on our humanitarian aid [which we’ve frozen, thus in effect cutting it] versus the colossal and obscene amount of money we spend (billions of dollars on submarines and Stealth fighters), in waging war to buddy up to allies, and in cementing the great dividing range of economic privilege?

What do we value most? That we’re all equal? We’re kidding ourselves.




Into you


Click go the fears, boys,
click, click, click.

In time, terror will flow into you
like ink into a word
and define your life and how others
read you.
In time, beauty will betray you
with a kiss.
And the solstice will seduce you
to sleep in lamplit hallways.
In time, luxury will call you
to defend it;
and love will require you
to answer it.
In time, your voice will leave you;
and the tongue of your past
will utter nothing.
In time, the rim of your lips
will describe formlessness
where there had been none.
In time, exile will take you
into its fold.

Click go the fears, boys,
Click, click, click.

Warwick McFadyen

Into the Skin


We, who live without gods,

desire nothing

out of the ordinary:

a roof over our heads,

food on the table,

the good health of our children.

A small star falling onto the back

of our hand

would hinder our grasp of things.

We do not need signs from heaven.

For to hold one, no doubt a scar would form, which in time

might blend into the skin.

And so become a tale told to lighten

the order of nights stretching

into the wintering heart.

The sky is empty.

Gods are not our witness.

Warwick McFadyen