My Dad

My Dad

Telling the truth said Paolo Coelho is better than telling a lie and making someone smile. Only from an informed context can there be a legitimate political reality engaging with the ways forward in the name of the common good. Our days on this earth are however many they will be and in those days it matters how we spend them, in what we do. There are no greater legacies than the deliverance of the truths and there is no greater culmination than to have improved the lot of others to the point of changing lives and saving lives.

Fear not persecution, fear not what can be done to you for doing what is right, and with truth on the front line, fight fearlessly.

Someone recently asked me, why fight injustices when those vested with the power fail to do so. Injustices are overwhelming said the person, normalised and made natural. The ask was why then do I sacrifice so much of my life to social justice causes when there are tsunamis of injustices everyday?

We are all brothers and sisters and it matters how we spend our days on this earth under this sun. In my many travels since a young person, I have never forgotten the words of a friend while in a far flung place of the world that few have been to.

“My brother, why bother? Why bother? There is so much that happens every day under this sun, so much blood is spilled, so much wrong goes unseen. So what are you searching for my brother when you are prepared to care? To care comes at great expense.”

I am an agnostic but I do not believe we were put on this earth by mere chance. We exist and while we exist it matters what we do. All lives matter. In this – all lives – each life should matter to each of us despite how far removed we are from one another and no matter how wrongs and injustices divide us. My way, at times tumultuously driven, has been to care, even if I become angry with others or I polarise people. At all times I believe in the right to redemption even with those whom I fearlessly engage who in turn can level at me great harm, who would be prepared to persecute.

In my life, in my many travels I have found that there is a darkness that haunts people. However this darkness is not found in the victim but in the perpetrator. Despite whatever a victim endures, this darkness does not reach them, for despite persecution theirs is the light. They are dealt trauma, brutalisation, they are in pain but are free of the dark. The darkest places are in the perpetrator and it does not matter the height of one’s station and privilege. I have found these people – perpetrators – whether in government, in bureaucracy, whether clandestine or just outright robber barons, that they are haunted at all times and to the end of days by a darkness, an unhappiness. They do not stare at an abyss of despair but are mired within its deepest depth; they are not free. It is not the bars and steel doors that make one unfree but it is what one does to others that may imprison. The corrupt may criminalise people, do hatchet jobs, ostracise people, but in the end they have done the number on themselves, they are their own prisoners, of a darkness that is deepest torment. Only redemption frees them and redemption is within capacity of all of us. This is not about any God or religious bent but about humanity.

No-one can be denied redemption.

The late Patrick O’Brien, Professor of Politics, University of Western Australia, wrote:

“Executive government determines salaries from the Governor down and has the power to award honours and social status. It determines who shall be Queen’s Counsels in the legal profession and thereby who shall be among the highest and most privileged income earners in the State.”

“It appoints members of the governing councils of universities, hospitals and other ‘public’ institutions. No monarch of old had such powers of patronage. When it considered that most of these powers can be exercised without reference to parliament, it can be said that the real and potential powers of the office of Premier are literally awesome.”

“Moreover, in combination with its vast powers of patronage, the subtle but decisive shift of power to the executive government has the potential of transforming our system into a mammoth favours-dispensing machine in which those who have been given the right entry cards or who have paid sufficient dues to the ruling party have every chance of punching jackpots for themselves until the general revenue is exhausted. Thus, without exaggeration, government in Western Australia can easily become a giant ‘pork-barrel’ greased by the Premier and Cabinet; an instrument for serving not the public interest but private and even corrupt interests.”

My late father never went to school, lived the Great Depression, homelessness, World War Two, various persecution and always strove for the common good; the humblest everyday humanitarian who journeyed many great deeds for others. He refused all honours. He used to say we are all equal; no-one is more or less and that to assume otherwise is such contrived; of gilded wings, insincere. He marvelled at the text of the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”

“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”

“Blessed are merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.”

“Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”

“Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

“If Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost its saviour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men.”

“Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.”

As a child I asked him one day if he believed in a heaven and that in being guided by these premises would this lead to heaven. He said to me that he is an agnostic, and defined only the resonance of these words; in that how one lives their life determines the present. He said that the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the humble, those who strive for righteousness, who fear not persecution, who rejoice in doing what is right, who remain salt of the earth, for they are free at all times.

He then said, “All lives matter.”

We left it at that. No more needed to be said.

I have spent nearly four decades without compromise in those premises and have carried these premises through every aspect of my life. You must be who you want to be, who you should be 24/7. You cannot escape who you are. No title, no station can distance one from who they are and from what they do.

In striving for any justice that is within our means we must leave none of ourselves to rest. This is what we would hope of others if we, mired in dire circumstances, needed their striving on our behalf. Several years ago I blew the whistle on the imprisonment of Indonesian children in Australian adult prisons. The battle to free these children exhausted me and similarly so those in my immediate company however our burdens were necessary in order to secure the freedom of these children. We cultivated the political and moral landscape, a cultural shift that would enable their freedom. The lawyers, the journalists and others behind the scenes or in anonymity came on board. In the end we cultivated the language and terms of reference to bring about the freedom of Indonesian children in Australian adult prisons.

 

To learn more: The Western Australian – by Stephen Pennells

The Western Australian – by Jane Hammond

The Sydney Morning Herald – by Lindsay Murdoch

 

In my brief foray into ‘journalism’ I lived by the principle that nothing was worth writing about unless it was the truth or whether in my various work as a researcher that there is no agency for change without the truth as the point of entry. One of my journalistic pieces was years ahead of the light of day when I wrote about a secret list by the then Western Australian Government – a secret list of regional communities slated for potential closure. It was denied but earlier this year this list was ‘leaked’. It is said that no lie lives forever even if it lives for a thousand years. We will see, as I often contemplate whether this is so, as for us in our mortal coil the ability to discover the truth is outstripped by the capacity to manifest deceit. As a researcher my work is always intertwined with improving the lot of others. In my most recent work – suicide prevention – naturally I knew that without the truth we would only go backwards. So, I wrote more than 200 articles to highlight the extensiveness of the suicide crises among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The media picked up on my work and the landscape has been changing, with at long last some political response. Those in the field have begun to change their language, hitting a little harder with the honesty bit and this has been a relief. Without the truth we are then playing with people’s lives, and this is an abomination.

 

To learn more: A nation shamed when a child sees suicide as the solution – The Australian – Andrew Burrell, Paige Taylor, Natasha Robinson

Youth suicide at crisis levels –  ABC – by Matt Wordsworth

Indigenous suicide rates a humanitarian crisis – AAP – Neda Vanovac

ABC NEWS 24 – Miriam Corowa and Andrew Geoghegan interview Gerry Georgatos

It is an abomination, moral, political and otherwise, that in Australia, if you are an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander aged 15 to 35 years that one in three deaths in this age group will be by suicide.

Without the truth directly confronting our politicians and the elite bureaucracies that they are supported or held to account by little changes. Without truth cultivated into media, and sustained, indeed governments and bureaucracies may fail to respond. Without us informing and including the national consciousness little would be leveraged from our governments. The suicides crises is the most pressing issue and we needed it to be respected as a national priority. For two generations our governments were idle on the suicide crises. This is why I deal in blunt honesty with governments, bureaucracies and the facilitation of the media. It was recently said to me by someone in government that the elite I engage in government ‘fear’ me – “they fear you”. Apparently, they fear my relentlessness on issues, that I do not tiptoe around the issues, that I won’t accept less when more is needed for instance in the saving of lives. They fear me because I will say it as it is rather than accept unnecessary limitations – the reductionist – and delays. If we all did this then we’d bottleneck the joint and there’d be no way out from those who would prefer to do less than should be done. They fear me because I have been relentless and meticulous in getting the research right, in telling the story, in refusing to cherry pick and instead depict the context, in identifying systemic failures. I have been obstinate about including the public.

“They fear you.” They fear me? They should not ‘fear’ someone like me. They should fear those whom would reduce the truth to a lie, they should fear silence, they should fear that which will remain as is instead of the positive change.

There is no greater legacy than to improve the lot of others to the point of saving lives. I have stated this to the elite bureaucracies and to governments – that they may fail with many objectives but where they must not fail is in the saving of lives. There is no greater legacy they can have had as parliamentarians, as bureaucrats, as governments.

“They fear you because of the combination of your ruthless honesty and your f-ing nonstop hard work. They fear you because you just do not stop. You keep on cornering them and you just say what you’ve got to say to whomever, wherever, and not just at the government level but in the media. It’s your courage and your honesty that has got things moving. You may piss off some of them but you’re forcing change.”

Despite the forcing of change, I felt sad.

For several moments everything became overwhelming. I did not know what to think and instead found myself reflecting on how my father lived his life and how the manner of his living resonated with me. It hard wired me. Like my dad, my thoughts went to the mothers and fathers who have buried their children and I thought about their very sake – of those who we are helping and the multitude of others who are crying out for us to reach them. I thanked my late father for the freedom that is inside me.

I will not write about all my campaigns, causes and work but instead urge that all of us can stand up, whether rogue, preferably as a team and ideally in unrelenting passage with the concomitant ideal of bringing others on board, and at all times willing away power, acknowledging the value each of us has. What can undermine any cause is the presumption that there is turf and that voice is assigned. This is wrong, a moral impropriety. Ideally, there should be no turf wars, certainly not in social justice. Where this is so, social justice is downed. With voice, let everyone speak; let the multitude speak and the strongest voices, those that resonate, will be heard. The means to the end does matter, it defines the end.

I love the tenets in Manos Eleftheriou’s ‘Gilded Words’ which he penned in response to Greece’s military junta. Part of it goes, “I was tied down in bystreets and in rules and as a wicked day dawned archers, phalanxes and legions took me and threw me in a cage and in the underground, using centuries for dice the money mongers are gambling… I was going for the big hunts and as I wasn’t savvy and a rascal. I underwent your tribunals. Since in Hades you’ll find me to sentence me again to martyrdom and chastise me like a criminal.”

Constantine Cavafy wrote, “Honour to those who in the life they lead define and guard a Thermopylae. Never betraying what is right, consistent and just in all they do but showing pity also, and compassion; generous when they are rich, and when they are poor, still generous in small ways, still helping as much as they can; always speaking the truth, yet without hating those who lie.”

“And even more honour is due to them when they foresee (as many do foresee) that in the end Ephialtis will make his appearance, that the Medes will break through after all.”

Forgive my indulgence, for I wrote this piece today in the qualm of a questioning mood, remembering many battles throughout my life – as a youth in the seventies fighting for the rights and dignity of asbestosis victims to my battles in the tertiary sector, other battles that include the exposing of the impacts of corrupt practices and corrupted government instruments and now with the suicides crisis – and the price paid with so many of them and remembering ‘my brother’ who asked but why. I do not understand or know how to be any different. Instinct made the call. If I were to be any different it would mean that I would be dead on the inside.

Irregularly, I remember the prices paid by me – and much worse by others – demonization, bars and steel doors, in blood and life and in these sacrifices we stand solid, free. For they saw the light of day and some were able to shine that light in our direction, to our benefit.

For those who presume to fear me, the truth is that they do not fear me. They fear themselves and of who they have become. The surface of their fears may have to do in part with not wanting to be held to account or ‘exposed’ but in truth at all times they are being held to account – by the self; there is no escaping this, with the exception of redemption.

Long ago, some Spartans said “Mo’lon Labe”. Unity is not about compromising the truth. Unity must be about those who compromise the truth, to stop and to come across to those who never will. Fear not what can be done to you, be fearless – who you are and what you do will determine whether you are free.

 

Other reading:

What do these Blacks want?