Archive for the Social Justice Category


Posted in Books, Disability, Social Justice on August 6, 2012 by ladyredjess

In January, I had the good fortune to catsit Pierre, the prettiest feline known to man, while his owners moved to Melbourne and found somewhere to live. For the good part of a year they had been my neighbours, and Pierre often wandered into my flat and sat on my drafts as I wrote, or stretched out on my bed in the sun and sleep.  If it was a summer afternoon and I was dozy with heat, I often curled up next to him and napped too.

Unfortunately, over the year, the kitten owned by the neighbours on the other side of my neighbours grew into a feral tabby, festooned with a studded collar.  One evening of catsitting, while Pierre was casually watching the world beyond my screen door, he suddenly hissed and arched.  The tabby was on the other side of the door, wanting a fight.  I scared it away and Pierre shot me a look of pure venom for not allowing him out the door and at the tabby.

Pierre naps in summer.

It was a shock to see this sweet-natured creature, who was allowed to sit on my red velvet couch (at that point not even my sister’s children were allowed on it), who slept on my feet or woke me up at 5am by touching his wet nose to my forehead, transformed into animal who was pissed off for me for trying to protect him.  I became aware of how much cat-ness I projected onto him, and how alien we were to each other.

This slippage between the animal and the human is explored with sophistication and deftness in Eva Hornug’s Dog Boy.  The novel opens with a four-year-old boy, Romochka, who discovers he has been abandoned by his mother and uncle in the depths of winter.  He ventures outside for food and follows a dog, Mamochka, back to her lair in a basement.  He suckles with her pups and grows into part of their pack, learning to utilise his senses as a dog might, by concentrating on smells; or how a dog’s teeth can be read the way a human mouth can; or by listening to the sounds of the pack as if they are words.  Not only does Romochka become more like a dog, but the dogs themselves are imbued with human qualities, for example, ‘Mamochka treated [Ramochka] with disarming solicitude’ (22), which enables the reader to emapthise with them, as Romochka does.  As the boy grows, he learns to think and survive as a dog, but is inevitably drawn back to the human world, dragging his pack with him, with painful consequences.

The story is told in third person and is largely focalised through Romochka.  When he is captured by authorities, however, and handed to the doctors of a children’s centre, the lyricism of the story is lost, as the focalisation shifts to the doctors.  If this move was designed to represent an abrupt shift back into the clinical human world, it worked, however I found the representation of the doctors to be two-dimensional and unsatisfying.  In particular, the reports which the female doctor tabled on Romochka were bland, stilted, and contributed nothing to the text.  It was a pity, because the story was otherwise rich, sensitive and sensual (even as it canvassed the distasteful).  It is one of the cleverest pieces of writing I’ve read for a long time, making one question what it means to be human, and if the human condition — given the contrast between the cruelty of some of the people in the text and the kindness and protection of the dogs — is necessarily better than that of being an animal.

Similar themes were raised at a talk I attended in May at the University of Queensland Art Gallery.  It was chaired by the admirable Dr Donna McDonald as part of Diversity Week, and was held in conjunction with the Animal/Human exhibition.  Marvellously, the sliding doors of the entrance to this exhibition were imprinted with an image of a herd of cows, so that one had to wait for the herd to part as the doors opened.

Donna is a senior lecturer and convener of the Disability Studies Program at Griffith University.  She had arranged for an Auslan interpreter, even if there was no one in the audience who read Auslan, as she was keen to raise awareness of the necessity of making public spaces accessible to all people at all times.  The panel also included Sam Leach, one of the artists in the exhibition, and Mandy Paterson, Scientific Research Officer with the Qld RSPCA.  According to the scrawl in my notebook, the discussion touched on how animals teach us to become familiar with the unfamiliar, the diverse and the different; how we negotiate relationships and connect with some animals, but not others (for example, connecting with cats, but detesting cockroaches); how the borders between animal and human can be disrupted, for example by a woman who was rolled by a crocodile up north and lived, and realised she wasn’t a person anymore, she was meat.

There was also, importantly, the observation that we can never enter into another consciousness, not even another human’s, and this I think is essential for understanding the relationships that many have with the disabled: people lack the imagination to conceive of the difficulties of another person’s life and, in doing so, they dismiss them as less-than-human, as something that needn’t be bothered with because it’s simply too much hard work.

This lack of empathy continues the long association between the disabled and animals.  Deaf people, for example, were believed to be no better than animals because they couldn’t hear the word of God, and therefore they couldn’t have a soul or attain a state of grace.  In World War Two the deaf were one of the groups rounded up by the Nazis and gassed because they were thought to be inferior.  And neither are these attitudes confined to history, as witnessed by Campbell Newman’s recent refusal to put forth any funding for NDIS trials.  His actions speak loudly, even to a deaf person: he believes the disabled aren’t worthy of the same care and education as their abled (for want of a better word) peers.  Newman would do well, I think, to read Dog Boy, but then I don’t think he reads, because he canned the Premier’s Literary Awards.

During the drinks after the talk, Donna took me to see a piece by Patricia Piccinini which I had overlooked (I’d seen Piccinini’s other hyper real exhibit of a man holding a blob fish and, approaching it from behind I thought, ‘Geez that man must be pretty tired holding that thing all day,’ and then realised it wasn’t real).  The exhibit, encased in a glass box, was of a newborn baby curled up, asleep, surrounded by three or four green frogs.  The baby was so lifelike that my response was instinctive and visceral: I pressed a hand to my chest, suppressing an impulse to pick the child up and cradle it.  For all the cultural hardwiring of Darwin’s survival of the fittest, we are really not so different from animals: we fight when threatened (as happened to me when attacked in London: I became, for a few seconds, an animal completely evicted of reason, being instead motivated by adrenalin and nothing else), and we nurture and look out for our own (although our esteemed Premier might not).

Pierre continually lost the fights against the tabby, and I was so upset that I retrieved my plant spray bottle from the cupboard, changed the nozzle from misty diffuser to thin and hard, and sprayed the feral cat whenever he came close, which sort of worked.  Pierre is now he is very happily keeping his owners warm in the bitter Melbourne winter, but it took a while to stop hoping that he would appear at the gauze door as I wrote, miaowing insistently for entry.

Pierre obstructing the process (and mirroring my feelings exactly) of writing an Oz Co grant application.


On ‘Entitlement’

Posted in Family, Rural Australia, Social Justice, Writing on May 28, 2012 by ladyredjess

I had been intending to write this post a little later, when I’d gained some distance from my novel, but given that Saturday was National Sorry Day and today is the centenary of my relative Patrick White’s birthday and ten years to the day I walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge with H and his friends for reconciliation, I thought now would be more opportune.

Entitlement is almost done, aside from the proofreading over the next couple of weeks. The last two months have nearly killed me.  My final edit, then the copy edit, went incredibly fast and the weekend before last saw me at my desk for some 30 hours, sending it off to my editor not long before dawn broke.  I didn’t go outside or check the news or any kind of social media, not wanting to break open the world I was writing.  And then, going to sleep, the characters were still interacting in my head and, for a few days afterwards, they were still walking with me to the bus stop.

I had forgotten how much these things sap you.  I haven’t been able to shake this cold and flu that has lingered for a month now.  I’ve lost weight, I’ve barely seen my friends, the pain from an old root canal flared, I haven’t been skating, although I tried to keep swimming, and some of my pet fish have died, either through negligence or because I introduced too many new ones to their tank, although they do have a history of carking it when I am phenomenally stressed.  I did, at least, put on a lovely new blue-and-red Elise frock from Birdsnest and go dancing.  Now, having finally stopped, my body is letting me know how truly bone tired I am, but I’m trying to cobble together some remnants of energy to start socialising again.

However, it was worth it.  The novel feels good which, coming from a perfectionist, means that it probably is.  The writing is polished, the plot is superb, we have a cover which I love, and it will be on the shelves in September.

Entitlement is about Cate McConville and her brother, who went missing 8 years ago.  Their parents want to sell the family property, but Cate is vehement that they can’t.  ‘What if Eliot comes back, and he doesn’t have a home?’ she asks them. An old Aboriginal friend, Mellor, whose country is owned by the McConvilles, offers Cate a solution, but it’s one that nearly tears her apart.

The idea for Entitlement came to me ten years ago when I’d just started writing A Curious Intimacy and was flatting with an historian in Sydney, in a terrace house in Paddington which features in the novel.  She asked me if I had ever considered how my life of privilege had come from the Indigenous people whose land we owned.  I was 23, and the thought had never occurred to me, which was appalling.  However, at that stage my education regarding Aborigines largely consisted of that delivered to me by Mrs Woodley in Year 2, when I had diligently copied down information on hunting tools and glued a picture of a bark humpy into my exercise book.

I started wondering about the Indigenous people who had walked over the property on which I’d grown up, a mixed farm of 5,500 acres, which must have been taken from them not long ago.  I also remembered a black stone my father had found which was smooth and heavy in my hand, and sat in the wooden marble-topped table on our verandah.  Later, when my sister married an Indigenous man and I began doing research for the novel, she pointed out that Native Title could never have been claimed for our property because there was no record of unbroken descent, despite the fact that that tool showed they had obviously lived off that land.  That seemed to me to be wholly unfair.

I can’t remember when I started to learn about the Stolen Generations, though it must have been while at university in Wollongong.  I don’t know why I can’t remember one defining moment, nor why the horror of it didn’t become apparent to me until I read Anna Haebich’s Broken Circles.  I think it was because I never listen to the radio or watch the news as, being deaf, it takes too much effort (and the spelling errors in teletext drive me mad), so if I learn something it’s usually through reading.

Nor can I remember how I arrived at the plot device on which the novel turns and which involves Cate, the protagonist’s brother, which frustrates me because usually my memory is very good.  I chose to write about my relationship with my own brother (although it has been largely fictionalised) because I wanted to write about our childhood and, on the farm, we were rarely ever apart.  To this day, he is my closest friend and seems as much a part of me as I am of myself.  We have the same sense of humour, complement each other and think alike, as evidenced by the fact that one year we gave each other the same Christmas present.  To lose him would mean losing much of myself, and this is tied up with our childhood on the land.

This, then, became the crux of the novel: I wanted to describe what it was like for a white person to lose their identity and their family through the loss of their land, in the hope that readers would then understand what it might be like for an Indigenous person to lose their country.  Of course, this is a very basic premise and, not being Indigenous, I can hardly begin to conceptualise the entirety of such a relationship.  There are many who will argue that I’m presumptuous to even try, given my background, which is similar to that of my forebear Patrick White’s: I come from pastoralists who made their wealth from the dispossession of the Indigenous.

My great-grandfather F.G. White descended from James White, who had arrived in Australia in 1826 from Somerset as manager of stock for the Australian Agricultural Country.  F.G. White bought ‘Mittabah’ in Exeter, NSW, and a swathe of other properties in NSW and Queensland.  He married Ivy Voss, a Queenslander, who hated the cold and was happier on her property in north west NSW, which she bequeathed to my grandparents, and which my father and his two brothers came to run.  There was an element of snobbery, pride in a blueblood heritage, and of learning to speak ‘properly’ hovering in our family.  ‘Are you from England?’ people would ask me, although my lack of a strong Australian accent has also been as a result of some speech therapy because of my deafness.  Somehow, despite this background – probably because of my paternal grandmother’s more democratic background and my own mother’s levelheadedness – my brother, sister and I have become hardened leftists.  This position manifests in my writing through a constant return to the lives of those who are on the margins: lesbians, Indigenous people, the disabled, refugees and so on, which no doubt also stems from my own marginalisation on account of my deafness.  And, while I am in no way comparing my writing to that of my illustrious forebear, it is true that discussions of his similar background, and of his literary intent and style, are often held in tandem.

In a Sydney Writers’ Festival panel titled ‘Is Patrick White anti-Australian?’, consisting of Gail Jones, Ivor Indyk and Geordie Williamson and chaired by Michael Cathcart of ABC Radio National’s Books and Arts Daily, the now-tedious question of Patrick White’s relevance and the inaccessibility of his work was raised.  My detestation of the term ‘anti-Australian’ must be reserved for another post as this one is already too long, but my impression of the questions delivered to this panel was that White’s background was somehow yoked with the impenetrability of his writing.  He was an irascible man, therefore his texts must be too, an insinuation which all three speakers heartily rejected.  Ivor Indyk referred to White’s identity as a homosexual which ran together with the many references to and compassion for the displaced and foreign in his work; Gail Jones, in her beautiful, delicate phrasing, noted White’s attention to physicality and how this was often rendered affectionately; while Geordie Williamson commented that, ‘To try and draw White into his social utterances and judge him by them is almost to come at it from the wrong angle’.  Gail re-iterated this, noting that White has been co-opted into cultural arguments, and she would like to see a return to his literariness, to the text themselves.

It’s true, Patrick White takes effort, but I have always found him amply rewarding, not least through the richness of his language, to which Ivor referred as ‘baroque’.  Besides, what kind of reader are you if don’t want a text to make you think a little?  There was some mention towards the end of the panel about White’s use of parody, and I was disappointed they hadn’t dwelled on this more, because above all, his writing is stuffed full of humour.  When I began Riders in the Chariot, I burst out laughing at his description of how ‘several barbs of several strands [of blackberry bushes] attached themselves to the folds of [Miss Hare’s] skirt, pulling on it tight, tight, tighter, until she was all spread out behind, part woman, part umbrella’.

Cathcart also mentioned White’s references to Australia as ‘the Great Australian Emptiness, in which the mind is the least of possessions’.  This was taken by the panellists to mean a lack of cultural connection and a lack of spirituality, while I maintain it exists very strongly still in the recent actions of Queensland’s premier in scrapping the Premier’s Literary Awards and pushing this state towards a cultural wasteland.

That aside, how might someone who is ‘born of the conquerors’ (Judith Wright, ‘Two Dreamtimes’ 1973) and who may have, as Brigid Rooney writes of Wright in the marvelous Literary Activists, a similar ‘characteristic fearlessness and principles certainty of view … legible as signs of a born-to-rule patrician outlook’ (UQP, 2009, p. 10) attempt to reconcile their privileged background with the effects of that background, namely the disenfranchisement of ‘the persecuted’ (Wright, ‘Two Dreamtimes’)? I have tried to do this through Entitlement by using empathy.  Regardless of my background, I still have the capacity to feel for those whose children and country were taken from them, and I hope that this novel communicates that to its readers and that they, too, might pause and consider how their lives have been shaped by Indigenous history.  Certainly, it’s a risk that I’ve taken, because I can be accused of speaking for Indigenous people with a white voice, and with a White surname, but I’m not the kind of person who will ever stay silent on issues about which I am passionate.

The Stella Prize

Posted in Books, Feminism, Social Justice, Writing on March 18, 2012 by ladyredjess

On International Women’s Day I finished up at work, caught the bus into town and walked down the main street of West End in my pale pink Alannah Hill shoes with bows, while my silk frock rippled against my calves.  At Avid Reader, I bought yet another copy of Anna Funder’s All That I Am for a friend, gratefully accepted a glass of wine from Fiona and sat outside to listen to a forum on the Stella Prize.

Still in the making, the prize will award $50,000 annually to a woman writer with Australian citizenship, in any genre.  It is intended to raise the profile of women writers and increase their readership.

It was another humid Brisbane evening and the palpable indignation of the speakers and audience made things even warmer.  Here was Susan Johnson, whose writing I have always loved and whose blog I used to read when I was miserable in London, brandishing some thoroughly depressing pie charts from Vida showing the number of women’s publications vs men’s publications in respected literary outlets in 2011; here was Anita Heiss declaring from the audience, ‘I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a black woman writer, I just want to be a writer’; here was Ben Law attending to the absence of women’s representation in culture through an anecdote of Triple J’s Hottest 100 of all time which showcased no female artists whatsoever; and here was Krissy Kneen saying that her sexy books are marketed with pink covers whereas a male author writing about sex has a more serious cover.  So, it was asked, do we need an award just for women writers?  Then consensus was that yes, we do.

To me, it was blatantly obvious after the discussion that evening that a culture exists in Australia which women’s intellectual and artistic contributions are diminished or made invisible, and that we need the award to draw attention to this.  Some might argue that market forces push women’s work to the margins.  Books such as Carrie Tiffany’s finely crafted Mateship with Birds, with its muted love story and gentle renditions of domesticity, would be completely swamped in a market that favours, as Mary Philip noted, the weighty non-fiction tome.  Yet if the readership isn’t alerted to the beauty of quiet texts such as Tiffany’s, how are these texts to gain the attention they deserve?

As someone who is disabled, I know full well that unless you get up and make a noise, nothing will happen or, more likely, people will walk on you.  If you don’t jump and shout, if you just accept the status quo, then society remains blind to its flaws.  Naturally, such challenging might result in stripping the status quo of its privileges, which is undoubtedly why, as Ben Law pointed out, when four male bands in a row win an Indie music award, it’s called a meritocracy, but when a woman is a winner, it’s a conspiracy.

The effects of such shouting were apparent that evening.  One member of the audience noted that she often bought books by female authors as gifts for her female friends, and books by male authors for her male friends.  She hadn’t realised it until that point, and from now on, she said, she was going to buy books by female authors for her male friends.  Consciousness raising might be a dated and unfashionable concept, but clearly it still works.

There are some however, such as MJ Hyland and Sonya Hartnett, who are completely opposed to the idea.  Mention was made of the anonymity of Hyland’s name.  Are we, I wondered, returning to the days of Acton, Ellis and Currer Bell?  Concerns were raised, too, that such an award might trivialise women’s women by consigning it to a corner.  Yet, as another audience member pointed out, women can still win awards for both genders and besides, when was getting winning more money ever a problem?  Male authors might complain that they’re missing out, but given Vida’s stats showing how well they’re doing, I don’t know how strong an argument this is.

I’ve been reading a slew of Australian fiction lately, and I noticed that all of it, aside from Alex Miller’s awful Autumn Laing, was written by women: Gillian Mears’ Foal’s Bread, Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy, Anna Funder’s All that I Am, the abovementioned Mateship with Birds, Sophie Cunningham’s Geography and Bird, Kalinda Ashton’s The Danger Game, Melissa Lucashenko’s Steam Pigs, Janette Turner Hospital’s Forecast: Turbulence and Favell Parrot’s Past the Shallows.  I’ve been trying to work out if this is because I actively seek fiction by women or I just like their subject matter; most likely it’s both.  Given the quality of these books, I think that an award to encourage the production of more of them can only be a good thing.

And then, as we filtered back into the bookstore, P stepped through the doors, diverted me from Anna Krien’s Quarterly essay and we Jam Jarred across the road on a salad with chilli-flavoured popcorn.

On Equality (or the lack thereof)

Posted in Charity, Family, Shoes, Social Justice on December 23, 2011 by ladyredjess

After the excesses of the year, it’s a relief to be stationed at Parental Unit’s, even if, having slept off my exhaustion, said Unit are starting to drive me slightly demented. The weather resembles an English summer, being 20 degrees C and overcast, with glimpses of sun, and I’ve been thinking longingly of the baking heat of Brisbane. However, I’m writing again, having started my third novel, and find myself in that delicious state of being swept into another world (that of a quiet man in a small coastal town), and am relishing the insistent tug of that pad of blank paper in the front room where rain spats agains the window and the dog has to be chased out for chewing Mum’s cushions. My Christmas shopping is complete and Family have been instructed to get everything on my Christmas list. When Mum asked me if there was anything else I wanted, I answered hopefully, ‘Shoes?’ but that was rejected, as apparently I have enough of them. There was nothing else I, then, except that which only the powers that be can bestow.

Earlier this year, my boss and I, together with six universities and a number of other stakeholders, were involved in putting together a national grant application for funding into autism. We developed three core programs which were intended to facilitate research into autism over a course of ten years, addressing (broadly) conception and genetics, education, and finding a place in society. As part of the presentation of these concepts, my boss and I put together three videos that helped to illustrate these programs through interviews with parents of children with autism, and of a young man who had autism himself. Although I knew, on an academic level, that parents of children with autism have a difficult time, it wasn’t until I listened to these parents how little support I realised they were getting.

One of the reasons why such parents are stressed is because the autism sometimes manifests in their child’s behaviour and, because that child doesn’t appear to have any physical disability, people may criticise him/her for failing to act like a typically developing child. This was illuminated clearly by a mother we interviewed whose son had once had a meltdown in the pool during a swimming lesson. The parent ended up in tears by the side of the pool comforting her son, who was deeply distressed. She was distraught too because she didn’t know what was wrong, as by this stage she still didn’t have a diagnosis (it would eventually take her four years to obtain one) and hadn’t understood what might have triggered his meltdown. Another parent came up to her but, instead of offering comfort, said to her, ‘Will you get your son out of the pool, so my child can continue his swimming lesson?’

Sometimes, the selfishness of people is simply beyond comprehension.

Another parent whose extremely bright daughter had Asperger’s was unable to continue with her child’s schooling, after trying four schools, because the bullying was so ferocious that her girl became too stressed to learn. Finally, the mother had to take her daughter out of school and homeschool her, at huge financial cost to her family despite, as she pointed out, this girl being a citizen of Australia, who was entitled to an education.

These parents illustrated the difficulties for their children when they were in school, but the problems certainly didn’t end when adolescents reached the end of their schooling. Often, they find it difficult to get work and their life becomes immediately, and narrowly, circumscribed. This sense of ‘falling off a cliff’ happened to a young man with autism who desperately wanted to become independent when he left school but, because he had a disability which he honestly disclosed, he often couldn’t get to the interview stage. Although organisations existed to help people with disabilities cross this bridge from school to work, they had a high turnover of staff and his parents, on using such an organisation, found themselves constantly having to bring new employees up to date. The young man became quite disheartened, as would any person in this situation. Eventually, he did find a position and his parents noticed this was therapy in itself. His self-confidence blossomed, social skills improved and his mental health picked up again. It would make sense, then, for programs to be put in place to get people with autism into jobs that suit them because it benefits both individual and society, but this simply isn’t happening.

After coming across these heartbreaking stories, from parents and young people who have tried desperately to succeed in a world that is largely impervious to them, I simply couldn’t understand why there has been so little funding for autism. Perhaps it’s because it isn’t a sexy disability. By this I mean you can’t help a person with autism to interact with their environment more effectively with a piece of technology like a cochlear implant or a red hearing aid studded with diamonds, so it doesn’t attract the numbers of high-tech researchers that, for example, deafness might. This is not, of course, to discredit a number of illustrious researchers who are in this field, numbering Andrew Whitehouse among them. And of course, my boss, who I think never gets enough credit.

Yet, while I was given free hearing aids, FM systems and adjustments to my classrooms (ie carpet to help with the acoustics) more than twenty years ago, a national funding programme for autism was only introduced in 2008 through the Helping Children with Autism package. This provided funding towards early intervention (ie therapies for kids up to the age of 7), but not for help beyond this age which, obviously, is almost an entire lifetime. As for all the parents who had struggled before this point, it has been, to put it bluntly, tough luck. For anyone interested in understanding what tough luck entails, I direct you to the non-fiction account by Tony Macris of his son’s diagnosis with autism, and subsequent intervention via applied behavioural analysis, in When Horse Became Saw. Incidentally, Tony was a former writing teacher of mine, although I didn’t find out about his son until I read his essay of the same title, which was shortlisted for the Calibre prize.

Given these instances of grave injustice in one of the richest economies in the world, it didn’t really surprise me to come across this article noting a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers which had found that almost half of people with a disability in Australia are living in or near poverty, sending Australia to the bottom of the ranks of the developed world. In addition, Australians with a disability are half as likely to be employed as those without a disability, ranking them 21st out of 29th in the developed world. Tellingly, the response of John Della Bosca, former NSW health minister and national director for the national disability scheme’s Every Australian Counts campaign, was that there was no reason why Australia couldn’t do something about these rankings, as ‘Fairness is part of our national character’.

This is hardly a statement that inspires confidence. For what kind of ‘fairness’ is in place in a country that leaves refugees languishing in detention centres like criminals, and who processes a paltry number of those people who have risk their lives for their families, when thousands more pour across the borders of Europe? Or has mining companies that pay lip service to the indigenous people whose land they are butchering and doesn’t give a damn about adequate recompense? Or which is permitting another coal mine which may destroy the world’s chance of keeping global warming to 2 degrees?

For a sophisticated analysis of this concept of being a good-hearted people who are prepared to help their neighbours, but who are routinely hostile to those who are perceived as ‘other’ such as indigenous people, foreigners, or the disabled, I highly recommend Jennifer Rutherford’s The Gauche Intruder, which uses Freud and Lacan (yes, it’s a battle!) to demonstrate how aggression manifests itself at the time Australians have set out to do good. For example, as I pointed out to my students of Australian literature, how can ‘mateship’ be such a great thing if it’s means the exclusion of women and indigenous people, who also fought in the wars but receive so little recognition in comparison to white men? In these contexts, the words fair go or mateship automatically arouse my suspicion, rather than my respect.

Yes, the government has a great deal to answer for, but so too does its populace. Australians, for all their wealth, are stingy when it comes to charity, particularly in comparison to the US which has a history of philanthropy. Although I don’t agree with the Christian overtones of Christmas (which appears anyway to have been hijacked from the winter solstice celebrations), I do endorse its culture of giving. It would be nice to see, in 2013, some of our millionaires (other than Dick Smith) and average Joe Bloe who, for all his whinging does have quite a good standard of living, donating 2.5% – 15% of their pre-tax income to charity. It would also be nice to see our politicians stop fighting like dogs over scraps, and to show some humanity and leadership. But perhaps that’s one present that won’t fit in Santa’s bag.