Monday, 31 December 2007

We are sorry, Arabanoo. Please pray for our forgiveness.

Two hundred and nineteen years ago today marines acting on orders from Governor Arthur Phillip unlawfully imprisoned a member of the Cannalgal people, the original owners of Sydney Harbour’s northernmost arm.

The man had committed no crime; he was captured so that he might assist those ruling the eleven month old colony to learn more about the people whose communities had occupied Sydney for the preceding sixty thousand years – give or take a few dozen millennia.

Contemporary accounts of his capture and subsequent life are heart-breaking: he “was now fastened by ropes to the thwarts of the boat; and when he saw himself irretrievably disparted from his countrymen, set up the most piercing and lamentable cries of distress.”. Later that day he was given what he thought was an ornament to wear upon his wrist, which cheered him up. But it was actually a handcuff, and he was again enraged and distraught when its purpose was revealed.

There are no known portraits of the man, whose name was Arabanoo (although since this was considered too foreign and “primitive” he was commonly referred to by the place of his capture). One account says he was aged around 24, but another suggests he was older; about 30. He was not tall, but 'robustly made', with a thoughtful face and a soft, musical voice; his disposition was mild and gentle, but 'the independence of his mind never forsook him'. It’s recorded that he was horrified by the brutality of a public flogging, an everyday sight in the gulag that was European Sydney in 1788.

Shortly after his imprisonment a severe smallpox epidemic broke out among the indigenous communities, who had no prior exposure (and thus no immunity) to the disease. Arabanoo nursed two sick children named Nabaree and Abaroo, who had been found ill and possibly orphaned: they recovered, but he then fell victim himself and died on 18 May 1789. One year and four months after the invaders arrival: one year and four months after what must have seemed like the unleashing of hell itself.
As I’ve already said, there are no known pictures of Arabanoo., so the best picture I can find is this one taken with my cell phone from a spot now known as “Arabanoo’s Lookout”. The hills, beaches and bays shown once belonged to him and his people and, coincidentally, they’re also where I grew up. Where I learned to sail, and dive, to surf and to ride a bicycle. To read, and to make love, and to believe.

It was a wonderful place in which to be a child, and Arabanoo, and countless of his ancestors before him, doubtless loved it just as much I did. The difference, however, is that my joy was their loss: blissful ignorance is no excuse for the fact that all - absolutely everything - they loved, cherished and held sacred was taken from them just as brutally as Arabanoo was himself dragged away. He and his fellow Cannalgal people were gone for more than 150 years before I was born, but the places in which I played were still rightfully theirs. With friends I’d find their carvings in the bushland, and in the sandstone caves at the water’s edge, and I’d wonder about the people who’d created them. Now I am old enough to know: the artists were killed by my people, by members of my Church.

Instead of bringing Christ, my predecessors brought death. Instead of law, they brought injustice; injustice as epitomised by what was done to Arabanoo on this day so long ago. Lord God, forgive us, for the blood of our father’s sins stains our hands. Arabanoo, we remember. Too late for you and those whom you loved, but we remember. Our barbarous past kneels in shame before the dignity of your own.

And we are sorry.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

The British hotel, Lyttleton.

Lyttleton is one of the world’s most southernmost English-speaking ports. Coal and timber ships depart for China, Taiwan and Japan, while Arctic factory-fishing ships re-provision after a southern summer spent tearing the heart out of the Southern Ocean.

Before the hard men onboard these stinking juggernauts of rust, diesel and death head north to Vladivostok, Kalingrad or Murmansk they – like their predecessors in Lyttleton for more than a century before them - seize a final opportunity for liquor and women. Those bound only for Taipei or Yokohama join them – they might not be fishermen, and they may not spend 11 months of each year at sea in the world’s cruelest waters, but they’re still sailors.

Yet gentrification is coming to Lyttleton, much as it has come to other ports around the world. Places once housing the desperate and drunken are now dedicated to the modern cults of home improvement and property investment. Just as the ghosts of Dicken’s London no longer whisper in the Docklands’ laneways, so also are Lyttelton’s undead now being exorcised by corporate consultants with artistic pretensions.

Maybe this isn’t an entirely bad thing: history is rarely preserved by those who lack money and time. Yet there’s something sad about seeing the old ways disappear: a fashionably restored wine-bar filled with professionals might be safer than a linoleum tiled pub worked by down-at-heel hookers fleeing a childhood in Shanghai or Stalingrad; but you’ll never hear the memories of an old Union man who stood loyal throughout the 1951 stevedore’s strike – to the point of near starvation - in a boutique selling Beaujolais Nouveau.

Fortunately the British Hotel has resisted prevailing trends, the bright paint recently pasted onto the frontage notwithstanding. I first came here with a friend about 8 years ago, and while drinking dark south-island ale we noticed an unmistakable spray of dried arterial blood across the low ceiling, directly above where we sat.

Chuckling at our nervous glances upward, the barman called over “Hey Aussies!” (to Kiwis the Sydney accent is as subtle as a New Yorker’s in rural Georgia) “How’d you like our décor? Couple of Russian long-liners started fighting, and we’ve left the result as a reminder.”

Sometimes there’s nothing, absolutely nothing you can say in reply. Raising our glasses we ordered another pint each, and made mental notes to never, ever say anything that might even remotely upset a Russian seaman. And then we left the barman a hefty tip. Just incase he knew where we were staying


Lest anyone think this blog has entirely abandoned it’s vaguely religious raison d’être to become a B-grade travelogue, relax (or don’t relax, if you’re one of the people who keep sending me angry anonymous emails). There really is a point to this story, and I promise to keep it brief:

Some of the disciples were fishermen, and the job wasn’t any easier, safer, or more prestigious then than it is today. Fish smelled exactly the same, if not worse, since there was no refrigeration. Jesus was friends with people who worked, drank, and lived in bars like the British Hotel – he even frequented such venues himself from time to time. And the whole messy business of the incarnation was as much an act of Supreme Love for the patrons, staff and “freelancers” of the British Hotel as it was for anyone else who’s ever walked, crawled, gurgled or belched on the face of this planet.

Which includes Southern Coneheads, Matthians, and all the rest of us. I doubt I’ll ever understand why, but the whole bunch of us have been thrown together into the same boat. My instinct says to kick them out, and theirs is to throw me overboard. All while the folks at the British Hotel just want to have a few beers, experience something as close to intimacy as is possible, and then get back to catching fish. My guess is that the Church has more to learn from them than they have to learn from the Church. but it doesn't have to always be this way.

Friday, 28 December 2007

The One True Southern Cone

Not only are +Akinola and his band of rarely merry men a distinctly unbiblical, unloving and divisive bunch, they're also unoriginal. In a shocking Duck Noodle Gang exposé, it’s now been revealed that they have actually pinched their nom-de-schism from a sculpture in Christchurch’s Cathedral Square.

The fact is that the One True Cone is thousands of miles south of any imitation Southern Coneheads, and has bewildered locals for the past 7 years: much longer than any plagiarising namesakes have been enjoying their global tantrum.

What’s more, while the northern imitators have proven themselves full of nothing but hot air, the Genuine Southern Cone is transparently honest about the air it contains. And given Christchurch’s latitude, this is rarely even warm.

Lastly, while the original cone pictured here may like the schismatics appear bigger than the Cathedral behind, this is actually just an optical illusion. Yes, it’s taller than an individual standing at the base, but when viewed from a proper perspective there’s no question that the Church is much, much larger. Nor does the Cathedral actually bend in homage towards the cone. Lenses can just as easily distort reality as they can clarify it. Which is always worth remembering in these troubled times...

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Merry Christmas from Middle Earth!

Yes, I know these wishes to everyone for a wonderful Christmas is a day late by my local time, but since I’m currently 12 hours ahead of GMT (and about 20 ahead of the US West Coast!) it’s still Christmas Day for most of the people dropping by here. Christchurch is quite possibly one of the most English cities in the world – far more so than anywhere in England herself that I’ve ever visited - and the lovely old English practice of closing business to mark days like Christmas extends to internet cafes. Consequently I’ve been unable to get online until today, and that’s fine. The day anyone thinks the world can’t occasionally take a day off to celebrate Something Truly Wonderful will be when the meaning of Christmas really has been forgotten. Which is something that will never happen – the warm faith and love of so many of the people I’ve come to meet through this blog is proof of that.

So please, have the very merriest of days; and thank you for (a) dropping by during the past few months this blog has been going, and (b) for all your encouragement – both of which have meant far more to me and been more empowering than I can ever possibly hope to explain.

Far easier to explain is the rationale of my “Middle Earth” reference: if the link isn’t obvious from the picture, then it certainly would if you you were standing here next to me. The Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand for obvious reasons; and on days like this it’s hard to remember that Tolkien’s characters aren’t just resting somewhere around the next corner. Close your eyes and you can almost smell Merry & Pippin’s bacon sizzling on a crackling fire, while Gandalf blows smoke-rings and laughs over old times with Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam.

This photo was taken from Diamond Harbour, which is IMHO one of the most beautiful villages on earth. The white buildings on the far right are the port of Lyttleton, and Christchurch lays just the other side of the hills behind. As for the mountains in the centre of the picture? My guess is that half a day’s ride and Shadowfax would have you in the House of Elrond.

The picture is from the same spot, but facing the other direction. Try as I might, nothing I can write conveys the air’s thick fragrance of cypress and pine, nor the rich tang of an ocean even older than the volcanoes in which these rocks were forged.

Sail east past this headland, and the next landfall is Tierra del Fuego, more than half the globe away. Round up to starboard at any time during the voyage, and a few days later you’ll strike Antarctica

It’s a different journey, however, that's on my mind today; rather I'm thinking about the one to that Christmas has made real for all of us: the one in which all sadness shall pass when it’s time to hoist sail for the Grey Havens. If they’re half as beautiful as here then life will be pretty good indeed, and until it’s time to cast off on that passage, the people (and dogs, cats and everyone else who’s called by!) like all of you make holding anchor in this harbour all the more worthwhile.

Merry Christmas, and may God Bless each and every one of you.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Numbers add up to nothing.

Perhaps it’s because I’m into week three of the rather interesting experience of withdrawing from the little white pills that have for past decade helped to compress and maintain my equilibrium, but while lurking in church last Sunday morning I experienced a slight recurrence of the disorder which once ruled my world. It was far from severe, and actually gave me something of an insight into the current mess facing my beloved Anglican communion. Which will take a little explaining…

For much of my life I have wrestled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, an odd affliction which may be quite amusing when portrayed by Jack Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets” (or more recently by someone whose name I cant remember – which shows things are pretty much under control these days - in “Monk”), but is actually a cursed way to live. At it’s worst my particular symptoms were pretty weird: I’d have to spend whole nights laying awake and memorizing large chunks of books (usually dictionaries), and then attempting to discover a mathematical algorithm to account for the difference in word length – thereby enabling me to predict how many letters any new words which might be created would contain, irrespective of what that word might mean… or some other equally meaningless mental task. Yes, I know I’m probably losing you at this point, and I really do know how crazy it all sounds – but obsessions like this could literally keep me awake for days at a time, and intrude into every spare moment of the working day. And please don’t think they seemed any less crazy then: at the time I fully realized my mind had been captured by an utterly pointless and stupid task – but it felt irresistibly, exhaustingly urgent just the same. It simply had to be done, and I had been made slave to the task.

Those extremes are long in the past now, but while lurking in a back pew at church last Sunday morning, I could feel the once-familiar troll recommence his gibbering at the back of my mind. Although this time the end result was good

As it was an old church (by Sydney standards at least) the pews still have faint traces of numbers on their ends; a legacy of the days when they were rented on an annual basis by parishioners in an alarming extension of the class system – the better the pew, the more you paid and the wealthier everyone knew you were. Looking across the aisle, I could see the numbers were out of order: at some point in the past the pews must have been moved around in the course of maintenance.

“So what?”, any sane person would say. And I agree, except that for me this could have once been an unavoidable mine-field: “were they now in any mathematically discernable pattern?”, “what would the next number in the series be?”; and “could there be any meaning in the order the were now positioned?”; the old ways of thinking were not so loud as to be crippling, but just loud enough for me to laugh at my old tormentor.

By the grace of God, and with the help of more than a decade’s therapy, I could understand the situation for what it was, and keep control. But it’s amusing to know that there was once a time when I would have been compelled to re-arrange the pews if I were to continue attending the parish. I’d have had to keep my reasons for doing so secret (maybe even hide the whole process itself), since I’d have known my reasons for shifting things around was idiotic, but I’d have simply had to confront the issue. Instead I found myself wondering: if my obsession was other people’s sexuality, instead of word and number patterns, would there be much difference in the obsession’s validity?

What I’m trying to say is that I wonder if some of the people currently claiming to be focused on a “biblical” and/or “moral” issue aren’t actually just suffering from a more socially acceptable form of my own malaise? Whereas I learned from a very early age that sharing my obsessions with others normally just resulted in them dismissing me as “weird”, the obsessions of people such as +Schofield, when expressed in the manner in which they have learned to use so effectively, actually gains them a following among others similarly afflicted.

The reason I never liked any of the “Bible Code” garbage is because their linguistic/mathematical hypotheses were always so weak – but what if someone had been able to produce a more rigidly consistent theory? It’s likely I’d have embraced it wholeheartedly – just as so many of the followers of the currently popular obsessions gaze so lovingly at the loudly repeated tissue of lies.


I’m writing this in a plane thousands of feet above the Tasman Ocean, heading for Christchurch, New Zealand, where I’ll be joining my wife and her family for Christmas. On this day ten years ago I was in a psychiatric ward, having just failed in an (yet another) attempt to kill myself. Then life felt very, very alone, and all over bar the screaming. Today, in contrast, it’s very, very wonderful. But how dearly do I wish that some of the other people similarly afflicted could find their own new life of wonder and joy, instead of so loudly indulging their own obsessive disorders at other’s expense.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Sydney supports San Joaquin

Yet again this blog has to start with the line "No, I'm not making that headline up." It's lifted straight from

The first sentence of their article says it all: "Sydney’s Standing Committee has announced its support for the Diocese of San Joaquin as it realigns itself with the Southern Cone." Anyone feeling especially masochistic can read the rest here.

The really hypocritical thing about it all is that given Bishop Schofield's past (as researched by the brilliant Lisa Fox at My Manner of Life) there is NO WAY the schismatic trouble-maker could ever have been ordained in Sydney, let alone enthroned in the purple he clearly finds so becoming. The response to any application from +Schofield would be pretty much as that so many others have recieved...

"We appreciate your request for consideration, and fully understand that your past has been forgiven, which was, in any case, a long time ago. Still, given your circumstances we cannot believe it is right or Biblical for you to proceed in ministry.

The Archbishop thanks you for the interest you have expressed, and wishes you all the best for your future."

Is it really surprising I get angry sometimes?

Friday, 14 December 2007

Even in the belly of the beast...

Yesterday morning I took She-Whom-I-Love, along with the littlest Duck Noodle and her unborn baby brother to the Airport: they're going home to New Zealand for Christmas. I'll be joining them in a few days, but till then it's just me and the dogs... and a whole heap of work I don't think is ever going to get finished.

Even though it's only a three hour flight across the Tasman, because She-Whom-I-Love is 6 1/2 months pregnant it seemed a good idea to cash in the frequent-flyers points and upgrade everyone to the extra leg room of business class. Consequently it was goodbye to the usual economy check-in counters, crammed with Kiwis escaping the Sydney heat, and hello to quiet luxury at the expensive end.

Now I've got to admit; I love airports. Yes I know they're (and least in western countries) crass temples to a uniquely pompous kind of marketing (Is owning a certain type of credit card made from the usual plastic, but named after a precious metal really going to make me more handsome? And are many people actually gullible enough to believe that?) - but I still find them exciting: possibly because (a) I like planes the way some people like cigarettes, and (b) as a first generation child of migrants, the airport was where we went to meet mysterious (and invariably fascinating) relatives visiting from the other side of the world: people who's accents were the same as my parents, and who (unlike everyone else living in what was then a very Anglo suburb) understood and appreciated the funny foods and customs for which us migrant kids more usually faced ridicule.

Yet my love of airports has always sat uncomfortably with my love of Christ. The sheer materialism of endless counters displaying duty-free gee-gaws, and the way I am invariably drawn toward the glistening counters promising far-off luxuries - these do not, I cannot but admit, reconcile easily with my theology. I love airports, but they are Godless places.

So seeing this nativity scene tucked in an obscure corner of the Business/First Class check-in left me startled. The miracle of the incarnation can still capture our attention after all, even in this most deistically sterile of realms.

Sorry about the quality of the picture: I only had my mobile with me and had to be quick. Given the miltarily paranoid times in which we find ourselves, standing around taking pictures of airport infrastructure probably isn't the safest of pastimes - being cavity searched by Neanderthals unimpressed with my explanation that I was just taking pictures for a vaguely religious blog about Duck Noodles was understandably not how I wanted to spent the rest of my day.

Sure, if you could see the display in detail you'd wonder how any Semitic baby could possibly be that fair (ok, so He took after the statue of His mother - but that only raises another question, doesn't it?), nor why the happy parents should have been forced into a manger given they were adorned with more gold than a Chinese jewellery store. Nor did the tableaux convey any trace of the blood, shit and tears which have always accompanied any birth at which I've been present. Nor was there any stink of animal dung and cow piss - it was a manger, after all...

... but I'm sliping into cynicism again, and that's wrong. It was a reminder of the Incarnation, proof that this Wonder beyond all others can't help but invade our world again and again and again and... Ok, so the display was only a few metres square - but stop and think about what floor space in the Business/First class check-in area is worth. Even in the dingy corners like this one. The merchant bank which owns Sydney's international airport expects every square centimetre earns it's keep.

And yet the Birth of our Hope can, albeit in just a small way, still fracture their greedy paradigm. Merry Christmas, everyone. God really has invaded our world.

It's Advent!

Thursday, 13 December 2007

We apologise for this brief interruption in transmission...

Sorry for the lack of updates during this past week. We’ve sold the Casa del Caliban and are currently seeking a temporary lair in preparation for a much bigger move some time late next year.

The idea was that we’d shut down the home adsl connection and move to a wireless modem - the changeover should have been seamless, but…

Then to make things worse, severe storms hit Sydney last weekend, taking out the cable into the office to where I’ll be for December and some of January. Things are still working fine at my usual place… but I’m currently over an hour’s drive away from there.

Things should be back to normal soon, and I promise I’ll reply to everyone’s emails as soon as possible…

…till then why not fill the void by visiting the Of Course I Could Be Wrong Christmas Appeal and giving till it hurts.

Go on – you know you want to, and just think how angry doing so might make the Matthians ;-)

Friday, 7 December 2007

Possibly the silliest statement ever.

"Wherever the ordination of women as presbyters has happened the results have been disastrous."

No, I have not made this up. Read it for yourself here if you don't believe me. It's part of a piece written by the Dean of Sydney in October 2006 called "History should be our teacher" - in his case I fear History will only be his teacher if History gets allocated the "special supervision" class for behaviourally-challenged students.

Is it just me, or does anyone else find this picture of our misogynist Dean Jensen kind of creepy?

Maybe it's the way one of his eyes seems to follow you around the room...

Thursday, 6 December 2007

French Boat Porn.

Don't worry - it's safe for work (unless like me you're frequently tempted to quit and go sailing, that is). The term "boat porn" was coined by a friend to describe the pictures of extreme sailing I love downloading, and this clip of racing on Douarnenez Bay pretty much defines the genre.

Watch out for the great kite footage; since I can't afford one of the giant French trimarans shown here (damn but that country builds sexy boats!) I started kite-boarding last May and if you think it looks wild, just wait till you try it…but if I blog anymore about the thrills of kiting there’s no way I’ll be able to spend the rest of this afternoon diligently working here in the office.


PS. Wonder how much this site’s hit rate will increase because I've used the word “porn” in the title???

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

The 7:40am to Harris Park

In the 19th century trains were symbols of liberation, promising a shining new world to come. What went wrong?

And will information technology go the same way?

Sunday, 2 December 2007

BlackStar is sorry (we had an Incident)

It all happened ‘cos Fiver an’ me were in the Cemetery Park. Dad was tapping on his ‘puter an’ we had marked lots of lovely territory all around him an’ we were the Most Very Important Dogs in the whole park.

Because it’s getting very Summer hot an’ Dad needs Protectioning I was close by under the shady tree while Fiver dug holes. Fiver doesn’t really understand Protectioning ‘cos he’s little an’ wasn’t kicked by a Man-in-Boots before coming to live with us, but I do it all the time. When you’ve had your jaw and ribs broken by a Man-in-Boots then Protectioning the ones who taught you how to Love gets in your system. This was made stronger by the time I bit the burglar’s leg so he got arrested, but Dad says I mustn’t blog too much about that because it might make the people-who-don't accept-dogs in our building get afraid of me.

I was sitting being A Very Good Dog an’ Protectioning like I was when Dad took this picture of me. If anyone wonders why I am A Unique Shape it’s because my Ancestors were Dachshund and Labrador. Dad often makes himself laugh by telling people who are pompous about these things that I am a Nova Scotian Seal-Dog (which is just something he made up) an’ then trying to keep a straight face while they pretend to know all about Seal-Dogs. Mum says I am a bad influence on Dad because she knows I understand and find it as funny as he does.

So what happened today was that a man came into our territory when Dad wasn’t looking. The man was holding a long-stick that wasn’t the playing kind of stick AND HE WAS EVEN WEARING BOOTS so I knew he was a Man-in-Boots trying to sneak up on us an’ take our territory and hurt us and MAYBE EVEN HARM DAD which just thinking about makes me go all growly and trembling.

Dad told me to CLOSE! which I usually understand but because I had been startled I thought this was a Very Serious Situation like the other time I’m not supposed to blog about which was when a man with gold chains around his neck road-raged us an’ put his hand in our car to drag Dad out and hurt him but instead he ended up learning a good lesson about Protectioning when I jumped over from the back seat.

‘Cos I was too distracted to CLOSE! Dad had to grab me. Then Fiver got excited an’ started barking an’ he had to get grabbed too an’ it was all a mess ‘cos the man in boots wasn’t really a Man-in-Boots. I know I’m supposed to look to Dad and do what he tells me like we learned when he an’ me went to Dog School every Saturday morning but that was different because people who look like the Man-in-Boots weren’t allowed to sneak up on our territory at Dog School.

Dad told me off an’ we had to go back home. Mum found out and gave Dad a lawyer talk about the New South Wales Companion Animals Act and how much trouble we could get into. Then when Dad saw how sorry I was looking he picked me up an’ gave me a Cuddle, an’ then Mum patted me too. Protectioning them is important because they understand about Cuddles …

Dad also understands about Itchy Places and Dinner, but I’ll tell you ‘bout them some other time…