Consider–my world 1952 to 1959. Thoughts on the origins of belief.

Here was my world from 1952 to 1955-6: Vermont Street Sutherland, NSW.

Vermont Street

And here I am in that world, towards the end of the period.

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That is April 1955 and I am in the front yard of 1 Vermont Street with my mother.  I am 11 years old, and newly at Sydney Boys High. I had had a serious illness just three or four months before – pancreatitis – so I may look a touch thin still. All the ribbons are because we are going to the GPS Regatta at Penrith, a big deal in those days and perhaps even more so in my family. I was the first in the family entitled to go as I was in a GPS school – albeit the only state-owned one – as I would later be the first in the family to go to university.

Just three years earlier my sister had died – 61 years ago today. She was cremated and her urn placed in a rose garden at Woronora Cemetery, which she now shares with Grandma and Grandpa Christison, who died in 1959 and 1963 respectively.

And that takes me to the subject of belief, because my sister’s death affected me very profoundly – of course this was just as true for the rest of my family and extended family, but it is of myself I think now as I sit in the last six months of my seventh decade. Read my mother’s account in her own words.

My immediate family were not religious, or perhaps more accurately were not church-goers.

My mother was perhaps best described as a stoic. In her words:

Truly, as Adam Lindsay Gordon wrote in “Ye Wearie Wayfarer”

Question not, but live and labour
Till yon goal be won,
Helping every feeble neighbour,
Seeking help from none;
Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.”

The poets and Charles Dickens – she acquired a love for both from her father – were the formulae of her faith, rather than The Bible which she rarely read.

Tennyson:

Robert Louis Stevenson:

UNDER the wide and starry sky

  Dig the grave and let me lie:

Glad did I live and gladly die,

  And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
        

Here he lies where he long’d to be;

Home is the sailor, home from the sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.

And my father? Very much impressed by the writings of Colonel Ingersoll, among others. Indeed it was from my father that I first heard the name. But his agnosticism – for such it was – combined with a respect for the ethics of Christianity and for much the churches did, though he, nominally an Anglican, did not really want to have much to do with them. He had seen, it appears, fanaticism in some of his family’s past – though he rarely talked about that or them. He did quote this back at me, though, when after around 1958-9 I became perhaps obnoxiously religious.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent

Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument

About it and about: but evermore

Came out by the same door wherein I went.

With them the seed of wisdom did I sow,

And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow:

And this is all the Harvest that I reap’d —

I came like water, and like water, and like wind I go.

And my Grandfather Christison, though the son of a woman of faith for whom he had enormous love and respect, was also truly an agnostic, at least as far as the institution of the church and the Holy Scriptures were concerned.  He loved his Dickens.

“…while I clean my boots keep a eye upon your mother now and then, and if you see any signs of more flopping, give me a call. For, I tell you," here he addressed his wife once more, "I won’t be gone agin, in this manner. I am as rickety as a hackney-coach, I’m as sleepy as laudanum, my lines is strained to that degree that I shouldn’t know, if it wasn’t for the pain in ’em, which was me and which somebody else, yet I’m none the better for it in pocket; and it’s my suspicion that you’ve been at it from morning to night to prevent me from being the better for it in pocket, and I won’t put up with it, Aggerawayter, and what do you say now!"

Growling, in addition, such phrases as "Ah! yes! You’re religious, too. You wouldn’t put yourself in opposition to the interests of your husband and child, would you? Not you!" and throwing off other sarcastic sparks from the whirling grindstone of his indignation, Mr. Cruncher betook himself to his boot-cleaning and his general preparation for business.

A Tale of Two Cities

On “flopping” he once told me that when you see someone praying you should watch out for the knife in the other hand. He also deconstructed for me, as we might say now, quite a few of the stories in the Bible. I remember particularly that like any sane person in the last few centuries he was more a touch disbelieving about:

And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hastened not to go down about a whole day.

Joshua 10:13

He also thought the Second Coming was taking rather a long time. He and I discussed such things there in Waratah Street West in the later 1950s,

I went to Church/Christian Endeavour/Sunday School probably no more times than can be counted on the fingers between 1950 and 1956. But that changed markedly, especially after 1959.  As I mentioned in the previous “Consider” post my views in the early fifties derived from the books my mother had bought from some passing Seventh Day Adventist colporteur.

What I do remember is that I sought comfort as I grieved for my sister in the years 1952 and 1953 in religious rituals of my own, such as arranging crosses of pebbles in various parts of the garden, something my parents were totally unaware of. And I pondered the images of the next life and the resurrection of the body on those SDA “Uncle Arthur” books.

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I also often had dreams and nightmares about death. In one I recall there was a skeleton by my bed, as vivid as can be.

To be continued.

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Bushfires

My brother lives in Tasmania, but not in an area currently affected. This is the latest news at the time of writing: Fears for missing residents as fire fighting continues.

Police fear there may have been deaths in the fire-ravaged south-east of Tasmania, with a number of people reported missing.

Since Friday, more than 100 homes have been destroyed by a bushfire between Forcett and the Tasman Peninsula, in the state’s south-east.

Residents of the worst-affected town of Dunalley have told of how they were forced to dive into the canal in the middle of the town to escape the wall of flames coming towards them on Friday.

State Acting Police Commissioner Scott Tilyard says there are grave fears for a small number of people reported missing…

We are, it is fair to say, still facing over a month of fire season.  I was trying to remember when there was last a severe fire down here in The Gong. I vividly remember 1968 – and the season came early: November that year. The whole of the Illawarra Escarpment went up. Living where I am now I would have been uncomfortably close.

1968/69: Widespread damage occurred over much of the eastern part of the State. Major fires at Wollongong burnt rainforest, destroyed 33 homes and five other buildings. Fires in the lower Blue Mountains were fanned by 100km/h westerly winds and destroyed 123 buildings. Three lives were lost.

Julie at Woonona has a Flickr collection superimposing historic photos on current shots. There is one showing Austinmer, north of Wollongong, in 1968.

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I was still teaching at Cronulla High at the time and I remember the sky being filled with smoke to the south.  There were also severe fires in 1997-8, though as far as this area was concerned more to the north.

1997/1998: There were major fires in the Burragorang, Piliga, Hawkesbury, Hunter, Shoalhaven, Central Coast and Sydney’s south (particularly Menai) that proved difficult to contain and suppress, and posed a major threat to communities, their assets and the environment.

However the fires were brought under control in a timely manner with only relatively minor property damage. There were in excess of 250 significant fires, and:

  • approximately 500,000ha were burnt
  • over 5,000 firefighters were utilised at any one time
  • over 60 fixed wing and rotary aricraft were involved
  • 10 homes were lost at Menai
  • 20 local government areas were affected
  • 4 firefighter lives were lost.

The principle duration was 16 days, though fires started in late November 1997 and continued until 28 Feb 1998.

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The Menai fires, 1997

See also Turn and burn: the strange world of fire tornadoes and Jim Belshaw’s Saturday Morning Musings – fires, land management & risk.

Thinking about The Shire–and Christmas Past…

Northern Hemisphere readers won’t find this Christmassy, but I sure do. It is also what Cronulla looked like when I was 21, and I’m afraid to say it looked much better than it does now. Overdeveloped to hell, in my opinion, though that process had begin by 1964 as you may see from that fugly unit block built far too close to the beach.

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The old Cecil, though – that was another matter.

Was the photographer just lucky, do you reckon, or did he place Bikini Girl there himself? I suspect the answer is rather obvious.

Miss Odgerny and other contemporary figures

Annabel Crabb is spot on today.

If we learnt anything at all about misogyny in this grubby old week, it’s that as a nation, our ability to spell the word is in precisely inverse proportion to our eagerness to fling it about online.

If we wipe the week down for a minute and examine where it all started, we find a text message from the former speaker, Peter Slipper, in which he likens an intimate female body part to a brined mussel.

It’s easy to see why this sort of observation, once published, might be inconsistent with the continued exertion of distinguished and unimpeachable authority over the federal House of Representatives.

And the text certainly established Mr Slipper’s status permanently, in the minds of anyone who might have been wondering, as ”bivalve-curious”.

But … misogyny? That’s a big call.

The Oxford definition of the word is ”hatred of women”.

Is it misogyny when Tony Abbott refers to the ”housewives of Australia … doing their ironing”?

Is it misogyny when some buffoon at a union dinner makes a cheap and speculative (and defamatory, which by the way is why you haven’t read it, and not very funny either) joke about the Opposition Leader and his female chief of staff?…

Sexism is everywhere in politics – you just have to count the examples that have cropped up this week once everyone suddenly started to care about it.

Mr Abbott’s response to the speech, understandably, was very different; he couldn’t believe he’d been called a misogynist, and that – in my personal opinion – is fair enough.

Mr Abbott has been guilty of sexism, and at times extreme dopiness, with respect to women. But a deep and unswerving hatred of women, ”every day, and in every way”? It’s not a case I’d prosecute.

Thursday, the day on which Christopher Pyne was arguing to the Speaker that the word ”bloke” was sexist and unparliamentary, and everybody else was going through the roll-call of the guilty, otherwise known as the guest-list for the CFMEU dinner, was the first International Day of the Girl.

One in three girls around the world do not get an education, the charity Plan International reports. One in seven is married before the age of 15. One in four is sexually abused by the time she’s 18. On Tuesday, as Australia’s gender debate revved up, 14-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban; punishment for her insistence that she has the right to be educated.

The definitional squabble over the term ”misogyny”, in other words, is rather a clear-cut affair, in certain less blessed parts of the globe…

One of the most sensible things I have read so far.

You want to see misogyny? Look no further than the Taliban. Comparatively you won’t find much of it in any Australian parliament, though sexism and dopiness are not so hard to find.

Then there is a tradition, quite venerable really, as any fan of the 17th century poet and libertine the Earl of Rochester knows:

Love a Woman! y’are an Ass,
‘Tis a most insipid Passion,
To Chuse out for Happiness
The idlest part of God’s Creation.

Let the Porter and the Groom,
Things design’d for Dirty Slaves,
Drudge in Fair Aurelia‘s Womb,
To get Supplies for Age and Graves.

Farewel Woman, I intend
Henceforth ev’ry Night to sit
With my Lewd Well-natur’d Friend,
Drinking, to engender Wit.

Then give me Health, Wealth, Mirth, and Wine,
And if busie Love intrenches,
There’s a sweet soft Page of mine,
Do’s the Trick worth Forty Wenches.

Now that could be called misogyny, even if it is not entirely clear how serious Rochester is…

Leaving that and the Punch and Judy show of 2012 politics aside, I go back a bit – but not before commending a couple of other articles.

Charles Waterstreet in today’s Sun-HeraldGillard brought down the House.

…Abbott likes women around him, so do I. They are smarter. Like Ramjan, they are more generous, kinder and emotionally honest. Ramjan built houses of bricks in her career, Abbott a house of sticks.

In law, good character means, among other things, that what such a person says about a matter is more likely to be believed. If Ramjan says she was intimidated, surrounded by fists, then I believe her. If Abbott could not recall it, then I would have believed that, too. When he changed his mind and said it did not happen, I believe Barbara.

The Prime Minister nailed Abbott to the wall this week. We have all done stupid things. Men of character apologise and move on. They don’t hide from the fog of the past and suddenly remember. I have been accused of living in a glass house of misogyny and sexism myself. When I appeared with Penny Wong on Q&A, I whispered to her that we had something in common. She turned to me quickly – ”We both love beautiful women”. She laughed, I think.

Abbott could not laugh when Gillard stripped him of all his emperor penguin’s clothes in the chamber. One thing he could do is get dressed, get on his bicycle and cycle down to Barbara Ramjan’s house and apologise.

Michelle Grattan: Misogyny war has no winner.

Now to go back, as promised, and to THE SHIRE!!!  Yes, I watched Puberty Blues last night – the 1981 movie, not the recent much praised Channel 10 miniseries.

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Now those are more the Cronulla I remember, as distinct from the over-developed version I saw when I revisited this time last year. Even so, my time teaching at Cronulla predates the period Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey wrote about by a good decade or more. By the 1970s I was in Wollongong rather than Cronulla, and the drug issues that form part of the story in Puberty Blues I associate with Wollongong, therefore, rather than Cronulla. (The ethnic mix in that second North Cronulla still above is interesting too for 1981.)

Sadly, I don’t think the 1981 movie is all that good. Having 20-somethings (it seems) playing the school-aged surfie guys didn’t work for me, and the parodic elements in the story clashed with the serious rather too much. But I really don’t think the book is all that great either.

Nonetheless I enjoyed the nostalgia trip, even if it was to a place that wasn’t really quite like that at the time. But see Kate Hunter, Puberty Blues: boys were really like that in the 70s.

It’s so sad the boys in Puberty Blues do little to make life better – more fun, more interesting, more memorable for the girls.

Whenever a panel van pulls up, or a wave packed with surfers rolls in, the girls’ relationship shifts. The mood gets darker, loaded … dangerous. I wanted to yell at the boys, ‘Rack off, you dickheads, those girls were having a perfectly nice time until you showed up.’

Maybe that’s just me. Could be because now I’m a mother of daughters. I’m not a girl anymore. Thank God.

Miscellanea again — 2

Yesterday’s post really did take an interesting turn!  Today there will again be some nostalgia but first I begin with something futurish…

This is already being built down here in Wollongong, or at least the hole is growing where it is meant to go.  Sadly experience here and in Sydney, which had a very long-lasting hole where Anthony Horderns used to be, means we need to cross our fingers, eh!

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Looks good though. Today the same mob, according to The Illawarra Mercury, are floating an even grander idea about what to do with a former industrial and manufacturing hub like The Gong.

Wollongong’s CBD should be anchored by a dynamic university precinct to breathe life back into the city, a new planning report has recommended.

The GPT Group has presented to the city’s councillors and business community a commissioned review of Wollongong’s planning guidelines and long-term vision documents, suggesting radical changes are needed to attract more people to live in the CBD.

The report, prepared by world-renowned urban planners CIVITAS, recommends the city’s building height limits be scaled back to allow for better views to the escarpment and a reduction in the amount of inner-city land zoned for commercial development.

Seven key "character" precincts each with a different make-up of residential and commercial space should be established, it said.

The plan earmarks a revitalised MacCabe Park as a highlight of the CBD, to be bordered by a string of residential high rises, akin to New York’s Central Park.

Setting up a University of Wollongong faculty in the city’s east, possibly on the former Dwyers site, would also act as a catalyst for regeneration of the CBD, the report said…

Well they didn’t float this today or even yesterday, as Wollongong City Council makes clear in this 31 August release.

Wollongong City Councillors and staff have spent the last few days workshopping concepts for the future of the city centre.

Council accepted an invitation to hear from Joe Hruda, a principal of Vancouver-based company, Civitas Urban Design & Planning, on the vision and analysis of our city centre.  This work was commissioned by GPT prior to construction of the West Keira development.

Wollongong City Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery OAM said: “There are a number of exciting ideas presented and it’s important that our Council which is relatively new be provided with differing opinions, views and ideas on how a city centre can be made innovative and lively, and how our city centre, with its unique and enduring characteristics, is attractive and sustainable for our citizens, visitors, and businesses. This is also timely given the recent State government’s NSW 2021 plan to rebuild NSW.

“With GPT creating a bigger presence in the city they engaged Civitas to provide a fresh look at the City Centre. Council was interested in hearing the ideas and concepts to help Wollongong realize its potential. With this in mind Council has asked also engaged Design Urban Pty Ltd to independently review the analysis and recommendations of Civitas…

It is worth looking at Wollongong City’s (PDF) CBD Action Plan (2010).  Even if only for the pictures… Winking smile 

Now back in the mists of time in – wait for it! – THE SHIRE!

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That was taken in 1961 in Glencoe Street Sutherland, just across the road from the Presbyterian Church, which you may see below 50 years on.

In the post accompanying that I wrote:

Sutherland Presbyterian Church and manse. I was an elder here  at the age of 21, and Sunday School Superintendent. In the mid 1960s exciting events occurred in this church, the congregation mostly leaving to form the Presbyterian Reformed Church. At that time I resigned. See my 2008 post Uncertain dogma, The Shire, and related musings.

But that was still a few years in the future in 1961, when I was 17/18 and living in Como, though at Sutherland every Sunday morning and evening. I didn’t know the boy in the photo – but then it appears he was a Catholic and even though I had actually fraternised tentatively with some Catholics at Sydney University – indeed sat next to one in English – I didn’t really know any Sutherland Catholics – or Tykes, as we probably said at the time…

Nostalgia can be a deceptive jade, I fear.

This blog–fearless ground-breaking questions FOR YOU!

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That last one is amazing!

Finally, am I damned because I find myself agreeing with Paul Sheehan this morning?

Exhibit one: The Shire. I’m not close to being in the target demographic for this series, which does have high production values but also has a hole where its heart should be. The Shire is a new low in network corporate cynicism. Ten presents the series as being driven by ”real people, no actors”, about a real place, Cronulla, and the surrounding Sutherland Shire. This is nonsense. It is a kernel of authenticity wrapped in a package of artifice.

The genesis of this series is pure plastic: it is a copy of an American faux reality series, Laguna Beach, with a dash of the grotesquery of another American reality show, Jersey Shore, and the dramatic story line of yet another American show, The O.C.

This Australian knock-off draws its drama by fixating on several carefully chosen young women who represent the quintessence of puerile narcissism. They are the only people who don’t get the joke – that they are the joke – cast for their combination of vanity, vapidity and plastic surgery.

The real Shire must be getting sick of parodies…

Mind you compared with many current offerings Sylvania Waters actually looks rather good.

Defending The Shire: the place, not the trash TV…

This isn’t the real show, or at least I don’t think it is…

It can be hard to know what is parody and what is not in cases like this.

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The Shire’s Vernesa and Sophie. Or is it Sophie and Vernesa?

Oh stuff it, even they don’t know.

That’s from The Punch – linked to image. See also Barking mad and howling at the moon in the shire … on Loon Pond. I haven’t watched the show, joining the majority who preferred Australian Story last Monday night, which I was able to see before ABC got cut off here in West Wollongong for the duration of QandA later that night.  Here is the current state of a survey this morning, linked to source:

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And here is a Shire image you won’t find anywhere on Channel Ten OR in the frankly self-satisfied, stereotype-driven and snobbish responses that the show has, sadly for the REAL Shire, rather encouraged.

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See Sudanese people in the Sutherland Shire – a moving community, oral history project: “records the outstanding combined community efforts of people in the Sutherland Shire to support Sudanese people who settled in the area. Oral histories of people from the Sudanese community and people who have assisted them from Caringbah Anglican Church, Gymea Community Aid Information Service, Sutherland Shire Council and TAFE NSW Sutherland College are recorded. The oral history project not only records community history in Australia but records for posterity recollections of life in Africa, the Dinka language and images.”

Didn’t know that, all you smartarses smirking at The Shire, did you? Not at the show, which probably deserves every brickbat it gets, but the place where I grew up – the actual Shire.

Didn’t know it was a hotbed of socialists and radicals either, did you?

For example:

RECENTLY revealed files show former ALP senator Arthur Gietzelt was an active communist.

THE Communist Party of Australia has played an important but never critical role in the turn of political events.

But what has been little more than a sideshow has become a showstopper. After years of research, an incredible story can now be told.

The nub of it is that the CPA has long tried to infiltrate the Australian Labor Party. Few CPA members have been successful in penetrating at high levels. But one person, over a period of 40 to 50 years, has succeeded to unprecedented levels.

This individual is Arthur Thomas Gietzelt, who, according to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, was a member of the CPA who reached the heights of Labor politics.

Gietzelt rose from local alderman in southern Sydney’s Sutherland Shire to mayor to senator in federal parliament and, finally, minister in the Hawke Labor government….

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He would have been a Councillor, by the way (elected first in 1956) and then Shire President. I met him through school debating when I taught at Cronulla High in the late 1960s.

And there’s this:

Sutherland Shire Environment Centre (SSEC) was set up in 1991 by concerned Shire residents. The objects of SSEC are

1. to act to defend the environment of the Sutherland Shire and associated bio-regions,by supporting members and local community organisations in their efforts to protect and improve their local areas
2. to develop and conduct enviornmental education initiatives,to encourage behavioural change to achieve a sustainable enviornment in the Sutherland Shire and its bio-regions.

SSEC is a totally independent,non-government community organisation. It is an incorporated Association guided by a constitutionand governed by a Board elected at an Annual General Meeting by members of the Association.

Our patron is R.D. (Bob) Walshe,AOM

Dear old Bob Walshe: former Communist, great English and History teacher and community activist who loves The Shire to death!

And why not join Tradies, The Sutherland Shire Trade Union Club?

One of Tradies’ core reasons for existence is to provide service and support to the local community. To date Tradies connects and supports over 60 different community organisations and Tradies employees have spent more than 2,400 hours towards local community initiatives. As you may notice from our blog here below, giving back to the community is a part of  Tradies DNA.  Feel free to like, share, comment and spread the LOVE.

Or drop in to Hazelhurst where you could have seen Shen Jiawei: From Mao to Now a couple of years back.

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Finally look again at my post The Shire, The Shire! Again… And there’s more! and the excellent essay in The Monthly referred to there.

Mind you, there may be a secret army in training up there in The Shire. How else explain this?