As so often, a “yes but” reaction…

Did that annoying trick (to some) of posting yesterday’s lunch on Facebook.

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And a fine $10 roast lamb lunch as one could ever hope for from the lovely Sophia at the Wollongong Hellenic Club. Ex-SBHS student Russell Ward noted: “Nice lunchtime reading!” Indeed.

The book (Lawrence, Bruce (2006) The Qur’an: A Biography) is a delight to read and very informative. It is a salutary reminder that “civilised” readings of the Qur’an are not just possible but have existed for centuries and still exist. This is a very necessary corrective to the crudities both of the more rampant and murderous jihadists and the paranoid rejecters of almost one quarter of the world’s population and their ideas on the other – the latter leading me in the past, based on my actual dealings with actual Muslims as well as on my reading, to oppose what is called, I think more than a bit unsatisfactorily at times, Islamophobia. The latest manifestation of that is recent attention to (in my view) the quite unbalanced Dutch MP Geert Wilders.

Wilders believes Islam is a political ideology, not just a religion, and should be compared with totalitarian belief systems. He has compared the Koran to Fascism and Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He advocates ending immigration by Muslims because the Netherlands was losing its demographic and social stability. For this he was taken to court for hate speech. He won, but the case occupied three years.

Wilders is opposed to what he calls the Islamification of Europe by a combination of demography, immigration and accommodations by multiculturalism that are not reciprocated by Muslims. Two other Dutch political activists who were similarly critical of Islam were subject to numerous assassination attempts. One was murdered, the other fled to America.

Debbie Robinson believes the fear she has encountered in Australia merely confirms her reasons for arranging Wilders’ visit: ”With every refusal I asked why, and was almost always informed that management had concerns about the repercussions. The audience was never the issue. The issue was offending Muslims. Looking at the number of cancellations and refusals it is apparent the Islamic community are not getting their message across about being the religion of peace.”

But.

Yes. BUT…

Revelations are sorted out into chapters and verses, and the causes of each revelation provide context for its content. The number of revelations exceeds 200. They came to the Prophet Muhammad via a divine mediary (the Archangel Gabriel) between 610 and 632 CE. They are now arranged in 114 chapters. All but one begin by invoking God’s Name, then qualify the Name as at once Compassion and Compassionate: "In the Name of God, Full of Compassion, Ever Compassionate". Different people close to the Prophet Muhammad heard these revelations as he uttered them. They remembered the words and repeated them orally. A few wrote them down. In all they total at least 6,219 verses. The contents of the surahs (chapters) and ayat (verses) are informed by the causes of revelation – that is, by events and circumstances that marked the Prophet’s life and the early Muslim community.

Through a complex process, the recitations that had been revealed in verses and chapters became, over time, a book. After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, ‘Ali, his close relative and supporter, worked with others to compile them into a written text. Then 20 years later, during the rule of ‘Uthman, the third Caliph or Successor to Muhammad (after Abu Bakr and ‘Umar but before ‘Ali), all extant versions were arranged into one "standard" version. This version persists substantially unchanged to the present day.

The Qur’an is a book unlike any other: it is an oral book that sounds better spoken than read silently, but it is an oral book that is also a scripture. More evocative in recitation than in writing, the Qur’an is only fully the Qur’an when it is recited. To hear the Qur’an recited is for Muslims unlike anything else. It is to experience the power of divine revelation as a shattering voice from the Unseen. It moves, it glides, it soars, it sings. It is in this world, yet not of it.

That is from an article by Bruce Lawrence summarising the book. Now of course I do not really believe “They came to the Prophet Muhammad via a divine mediary (the Archangel Gabriel) between 610 and 632 CE.”  Yes, Muslims do believe that, and so it appears does Lawrence, who in the book goes on to explain Muhammad as being in a prophetic line  from Adam via Abraham and so on.

Unfortunately both Adam and Abraham exist pretty much on the same plane as Harry Potter and Gollum, as far as I am concerned. And I regard this fairly typical statement by a Muslim apologist of no great distinction in an eBook I have as promulgating historical idiocy and terminal dishonesty.

If there were two books and there was the possibility that one of them were not true without knowing which one, then both of them would be unreliable. Why? Because there is a probability that each of the two books is wrong. These errors can be detected by the healthy human mind and brain.

So, we say to the Christians: do not expect Muslims to prove to you that the Bible (the Old and New Testaments) that you have, has not been changed and is the true Word of God. It is definitely not a Revelation sent from the Lord.

Muslims deny that these Books are an Inspiration from Almighty God.

If one who denies the facts is in doubt about their authenticity, then proof must be brought forward in justification of the fact by the one who claims to be telling the truth. This statement has been made and agreed upon by the wisdom of humankind.

Muslims are not called upon to bring evidence that their Holy Book is true because the Truth and legitimacy of the Holy Quran has yet to be questioned. However, Christians must prove to the Muslims that their Holy Book is true.

As a matter of objective fact the Qur’an is heavily dependent on Jewish and Christian writings and traditions. It even had much the same cast list, and many of the nastier things in the Qur’an echo quite closely the dark side of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. And all these texts buy into accounts of the past that have very problematic connection to anything that may really have been happening in that part of the Ancient “Near” East that God/Allah unaccountably singled out over the heads, it appears, of around two thousand generations already living down here in Australia, not to mention other parts of the world.  In other words, :faith: in all three Abrahamic religions can involve a very large degree of patent nonsense.

And of course much that is good. Lawrence does remind us of that.

Nor am I picking on Islam especially.  A figure much respected in evangelical circles in Sydney, one whose lectures I attended during Evangelical Union meetings at Sydney University in the 1960s, was Canon Broughton Knox of Moore Theological College. Nowadays, sadly, I find his arguments of “propositional revelation” alarmingly and patently circular and little better than the Muslim apologist cited above. For example:

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Sydney Anglicanism still follows suit: see for example articles posted by MatthiasMedia.  I, rather, see much merit in The Bible and Interpretation: Dedicated to delivering the latest news, features, editorials, commentary, archaeological interpretation and excavations relevant to the study of the Bible for the public and biblical scholars. I might add that around the time I was listening to Broughton Knox I had also studied the Ancient Near East in Ancient History I at Sydney Uni and maintained an interest. Later experience teaching Ancient History, especially in an Orthodox Jewish school, augmented that journey.

Now I could offend another group by saying that at least the writings that over some centuries emerged and became in due course the Tanach and the Christian Bible have what antique collectors would call provenance. That is, they are real documents with real histories, much of which scholarship in the past couple of centuries has recovered. The Qur’an is hobbled in that respect by its own very strong exceptionalism, though as Lawrence does demonstrate there has been a very active history of interpretation. The group I could offend are the Mormons whose text, in my view but also objectively, bears no relationship to any history whatsoever, aside from what happened to the believers after the composition of one of the most effective works of fiction in American literature.

Just goes to show there is no accounting for what people will believe.

Anyone seen The Master, by the way? Doing rather well, isn’t it.

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Flying Fox Dreaming–or nightmare?

A year ago I posted “Nightbats” on YouTube.

Well, they have certainly increased since then! See this story, and some excellent pictures, in The Illawarra Mercury.

A flourishing colony of flying foxes at Figtree is driving some businesses and residents batty. It is estimated that tens of thousands of grey-headed flying foxes have turned a patch of bushland just north of the freeway exit into their summer home.

"The smell is overwhelming and they gather at dusk in numbers that completely blacken the sky overhead," said Chris Caroutas from Figtree Cellars.

WIRES bat co-ordinator Sandra Leonard has called for patience, assuring people the flying foxes are crucial to forest regeneration and will move on once the bush food runs out.

But Mr Caroutas said numbers had been steadily increasing each year and so had the stench. "Customers are constantly commenting on the smell, which is not good if that’s the first thing they notice when they get out of their cars," he said.

It has been likened to cat urine, marijuana and lantana.

Hakan Karama from Star Kebab House described the bats as "annoying and smelly". "Customers are always complaining and it seems worse when it rains," he said.

Juliette Fox, an assistant at Pet Barn, said the squealing and flapping did not bother her. "Their numbers have definitely increased but that’s probably because they have been displaced from their natural habitat," she said.

Nearby resident Con Stefanou from London Drive estimates the bats have multiplied 10-fold over the past few years and believes such numbers are unhygienic…

Since I was going shopping at Figtree yesterday I thought I would call in on the bats as I walked by. And the numbers are indeed amazing, something my camera could not really capture.

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Australian poet Les Murray wrote a wonderful poem “The Flying Fox Dreaming” – “finger-winged night workers… Upside down all their days…” They are a significant element in Indigenous culture also, as in this painting by Jimmy Djilminy (2000).

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See also a site of questionable authenticity — but nonetheless it may please some – an attempt to do a tarot on indigenous symbols. Very New Age. There is a lot of that around. Nice art work though.

Who remembers the disgraceful Marlo Morgan and her bullshit exploiting Aboriginal Culture?

1996: Dr. John Stanton (Berndt Museum of Anthropology, WA) “said the book contained misleading and damaging information about Aboriginal people” [5]. He was not sure, he said, “whether the damage the book had done to the overseas image of Aboriginal culture, which was complex, diverse and vibrant, could be ever undone.” Morgan promised a written apology, which she actually never produced [6].

Not saying that Wildspeak site is totally doing a “Mutant Messages Down Under” shtick – but one does need to question such things.

This, however, is authentic:

Oh, and after photographing the bats I called in at The Hellenic Club and…

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BUFFET LUNCH
& DINNER
All you can eat with
a combination of
Traditional Greek
and Australian Cuisine

At The Brewery on Remembrance Day — 1

This from today’s Illawarra Mercury: Illawarra brewers enjoy breakout success.

Being based in the Illawarra or South Coast isn’t a problem for winemakers, with people regularly travelling to the region to sample their wares.

But it has been a different story for the region’s two breweries – the Illawarra Brewing Company (IBC) in Wollongong and HopDog in Nowra.

While Tim Thomas from HopDog said he sold most of his beer out of the area, the IBC has had to overcome the hurdle of having "Illawarra" in their name…

This is despite brewers Ashur Hall and Shaun Blissett winning gold medals for their beers at the Australian International Beer Awards and Royal Easter Show.

"I got a bit frustrated with it about a year ago, reading blogs and the idea that we were from the Illawarra," Mr Hall said.

"There was one quote from a guy who said, ‘I wouldn’t bother drinking Illawarra beers, because I know they’re bad’.

"This was after we won two gold medals at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. I thought, ‘Hang on, mate, we beat beers that you like. so what’s going on there?’ It was just because of the name.

"But I think we’re getting beyond that. In Sydney we’ve got a pretty good following."…

And so they should.

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The place is very popular with Chinese tourists. This man is a travel guide. I spoke also to a couple of women from Chengdu.

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Redfern Now last night, and memories of Aunty Beryl

Lovely acting in last night’s sweet episode of Redfern Now.

In her mid fifties, Coral (Tessa Rose), works in a food van, which sometimes brings her into contact with victims of abuse, leading her to the mistaken conclusion that her daughter’s bruised face is the result of more than just an accident. As a result, Coral and her daughter Rosie don’t talk.

On her way home from the pet shop one day, Coral is knocked down by a bunch of teenage boys in a stolen car. One of them, Danny (Rhimi Johnson Page), hadn’t wanted to be there in the first place and instead of running off like the others, he checks to see if she is okay. He calls for an ambulance and the police are able to trace the call back to Danny’s mobile. He won’t dob his mates in and so takes the blame and is sent to jail.

Back at home Coral starts having dizzy spells and her granddaughter Julie (Shari Sebbens) is reluctantly brought in to help. Coral complains about her daughter Rosie "I knew she wouldn’t come" but Julie just wants her mum and grandmother to get on again – forgive and forget. When the spells get worse, Coral is admitted to hospital and Julie agrees to stay on to look after the house until Coral is better.

Coral (left) was memorable, and in fact she reminded me of a woman I met once in a Redfern pub…

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But it was a small item in ABC News that really took me back.

An overlooked sandstone lodge with a rich history has been transformed into a modern café offering food with a bush-tucker twist and on-the-job training for unemployed people, following a major restoration by the City of Sydney.

Visitors to the Gardener’s Lodge Café will be able to make the most of the beautiful setting in Victoria Park, with the option to try traditional foods served up with hampers and picnic blankets.

"The Gardener’s Lodge Café is a great addition to Victoria Park – a spot much loved by the local community and university students," Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

"We’ve carefully carried out a major restoration of this heritage asset. It has a new lease on life which will allow visitors and locals to experience foods infused with the flavours of the original custodians of this land."

The building was one of *two lodges built in 1885 by the former Colonial Architect to NSW, Edmund Blacket, to provide a grand main entrance to the university.

The Gothic-styled Gardener’s Lodge was the former home of the University of Sydney’s groundskeeper, who tended the sweeping lawns and gardens surrounding the campus.

In 1911, ownership passed to the City of Sydney and the building was later converted into public toilets, or ‘conveniences’ as they were then called. In need of repair, it was closed to the public in the mid-1980s.

Aboriginal Elder Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo, from the Gamillaroi people of north-west NSW, is one of three hospitality teachers who will run the café.

"There’s so much Aboriginal history in Victoria Park because it was once a gathering ground for our people," Aunty Beryl said.

"We hope the new café will also become a place where people gather and enjoy the surroundings of the beautiful park while also learning a little bit of Aboriginal history through our bush tucker flavours, like lemon myrtle aioli, kangaroo with bush tomato sauce, and rabbit pies."

Aunty Beryl runs Yaama Dhiyaan, a hospitality training college in Darlington that teaches students – primarily young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – how to prepare food using bush flavours. The college has an impressive 70 per cent success rate, with most students gaining work.

That’s Aunty Beryl in 2009 when I interviewed her at Yaama Dhiyaan for the South Sydney Herald. Click on the photo for the relevant posts. This is the SSH story I wrote.

Aunty Beryl’s three word dictionary

“My dictionary has just three words,” Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo says. “Communication, Education, Respect. That’s what I tell those students in there all the time.”

Not a bad dictionary that, and there’s a story and a half behind it.

Three years ago, following an initiative by the Redfern Waterloo Authority, Aunty Beryl co-founded the Yaama Dhiyaan Hospitality and Function Centre with chef Mathew Cribb. The Centre is in Wilson Street Darlington just by Carriage Works. Those three years have seen quite a few personal transformations – young students made confident enough by their success at Certificate II Hospitality to go back and do the HSC; families now well fed with good slow food and a real knowledge of nutrition; people finding jobs in the hospitality sector.

Of the 106 graduates who have now completed the nine week hospitality training course with Yaama Dhiyaan, 66% have gained employment or moved on to further education.

Things like Yaama Dhiyaan don’t come from nowhere, and in this case it is a long-held dream that holds the key. As a young girl in Walgett with no formal education Aunty Beryl dared to dream. She knew education was the key and dreamed of one day bringing back to the community whatever skills she might learn. At sixteen she was in Sydney working as a nanny in an upper middle-class Eastern Suburbs family.

“Yeah, I had to learn to read then, what with the kids going to Sydney Grammar.” So she did, and that was just a beginning. She remained close to that family and still does.

Her real formal education began at age thirty-one while she was working as a cook at the Murraweena preschool, then in Surry Hills. She worked days and at night studied nutrition and budget cooking at East Sydney TAFE. This was something she felt she could take back to the community.

Then she met a challenge: an invitation to become a trainee teacher for TAFE. “But I have no formal education,” she countered. That, she was told, would look after itself as she had the life skills and knowledge and an ability to communicate.

It didn’t quite look after itself as she found herself working as before, going to TAFE, and undergoing teacher training. When I asked her when she slept she just smiled.

Graduating in 1988 she went ahead in her new career. When retirement loomed the Redfern-Waterloo Authority made their offer. Here was at last the greatest chance to bring all that knowledge and experience right back into the heart of the community and make a real difference. She decided to give it a go for twelve months – and now it’s three years.

Aunty Beryl has been part of the Redfern community for fifty years now, but her beginnings are with the Gamillaroi people. The Centre’s web site says: “Yaama means ‘welcome’ and Dhiyaan means ‘family and friends’ in Aunty Beryl’s Yuwaalaraay language of the Gamillaroi people of north west New South Wales.”

“A great life,” I read somewhere years ago, “is a dream formed in childhood made real in maturity.” Aunty Beryl would probably reject that applying to herself, but it’s hard to deny.

She wanted to know if this would be a positive story as we had talked a bit about the dark side and the way Aboriginal issues are represented so often in politics and the mainstream media. How could it not be positive? Seeing the college, the students, and meeting Aunty Beryl have been inspiring. Anyone who dropped in would be inspired too – and well fed, if you happen by when food is on offer. As Aunty Beryl told SBS’s Living Black: “We specialise in bush tucker. We might have crocodile – we’ll do that with a lemon myrtle sauce, we might have kangaroo and we’ll just do that with skewers, and make a bush tomato sauce for that, vegetables in some of our herbs and spices.”

But it is the transformation of lives that is the real work at Yaama Dhiyaan. “You can’t forget the past because that is who you are. It’s in your heart,” Aunty Beryl told me. “But we have to move on for the sake of the future generation. Some come here needing their self-esteem building up and we show them they can have confidence, and they do have choices.”

See SSHNOV09.

Hard to believe that was three years ago now! Aunty Beryl is one of the most remarkable people I ever met.

See also Ambassadors for dignity and grace.

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Promising Yum Cha at Steelers

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I dropped in for lunch yesterday and found that they were launching a new Yum Cha service and a much redecorated restaurant. Literally Day One! So there was a bit of confusion about when and how the food would appear, but when it did it was very tasty. Let’s hope they get into the Yum Cha groove very quickly and get lots of customers. I suspect there must be a minimum customer level to make Yum Cha viable.

M in Wollongong–Sunday lunch

M came down to Wollongong. We went to the northern Chinese restaurant, Bei Feng, in Keira Street. I left my camera at home.

The food? Better than most I have had, including Chinatown in Sydney! M agreed – and he is Chinese! He described it as good home cooking, nothing fancy about the presentation.

Then we took a walk down Market Street.

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Market Street in 1885

Behind the trees on the right, mid-ground, the second church building: 

Yes, Wollongong Congregational Church is still there. 

The Congregational Church in Wollongong was officially established in October, 1855,  and services were held in family homes. The first minister was Rev. George Charter, who had been a missionary in the South Seas. In 1856, it was decided to build a chapel for the growing congregation, and in August, 1857, the present church in Market Street was dedicated. Trustees of the new building included the Sydney businessmen, David Jones and John Fairfax.

Further towards the beach we came upon the old Wollongong Post Office, now a museum – and it was open.

We went in and had a good look around.  There is a lot inside and in the yard.

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On 2 December, 1816 Richard Brookes received a 1300 acre grant on the western perimeter of Lake Illawarra which he named "Exmouth". The homestead he built consisted of split timbers such as stringy-bark, red gum and red mahogany with some wall plates of sassafras. After the homestead was dismantled some timbers were taken to Mt Brown where they were used for a shed to store grain and tools. With the construction of the southern freeway in 1968 the building had to make way for progress. The Society obtained the timbers and Ken Thomas set about constructing a typical stockman’s hut at the rear of the museum, completing it in 1979. Someone said that the flooring traditionally consisted of cow dung. This was one technique Ken was not familiar with. After advertising for information Forbes Historical Society contacted the Society stating that laying a cow dung floor can only be done in springtime whilst the manure was still warm. Ken diligently followed the instructions and laid a perfect cow dung floor.

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The air raid shelter was built during World War II. The Museum building was then used as Government Offices. The air raid shelter is located at the rear of the building.

The Illawarra Historical Society has used the air raid shelter as a display area depicting various items used by the people of Illawarra during the war years, such as knitting patterns and sheet music.

Also on display are posters relating to the war years, a gas mask, an air raid warden’s helmet and hand book which would have been used during this time. In the corner is an old wireless set. A switch on the wall allows the visitors to turn back the clock and listen to recordings relating to World War II.

Update

The restaurant – taken today.

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Excellent food!