Profound Evil, or First World Problem?

Some of you will regard this story as utterly outrageous.

Others may perceive it as just another First World Problem…yawn.

My wife (the wonderful Kazzie) and I have an investment property in Sydney. A few months ago, we learned that the tenant was not living in the unit but was renting it out as an Air BnB. This was absolutely not allowed under the lease (nor the property by-laws).

Our first instinct was to evict the tenant immediately, but upon being contacted he swore he did not know such behaviour was illegal and promised (cross his heart) not to do it again.

Against our better judgment, we allowed the tenant to stay.

A week ago, we attended at the apartment for a routine inspection and our suspicions were aroused immediately. There were a number of indications that the property was not being used by a couple – as per the tenancy agreement. The main indicator being four beds stuffed into a one bedroom apartment.

Then the clincher. Sitting on a shelf, in plain view, was a Retail Tenancy Agreement executed by our tenant – as landlord – covering the period from March to August – with two strangers signing the lease as tenants.

The rent our tenant was charging these strangers was slightly more than double what we were charging him.

This is fraud.

It is fraud to pretend to be a landlord for premises which you do not own or have agreement in writing from the owner to sublet.

That much ought to be fairly clear. And yet, when we said to our property manager that we wanted the tenant evicted immediately, she said we couldn’t do it. What’s more, she contacted the Real Estate Institute (REI) who told her we could not evict the tenant due to the new COVID 19 provisions in the Residential Tenancies Act (NSW).

On what bizarro world planet is this reasonable?

I told the property manager that there were exceptions to the COVID protections, including that an eviction notice can be issued where it is reasonable to do so, including where premises have been used for an illegal purpose (such as fraud).

On top of that, surely the COVID protections are to protect people actually staying at the premises – to keep a roof over their heads during a period of hardship.

Our tenant is not staying at the premises! He has illegally and fraudulently sublet the premises to others (possibly four others in a one bedroom flat) and yet the advice of the Real Estate Institute is that he cannot be evicted in less than 90 days!

How on earth can that advice be correct?

I know that the Residential Tenancies Act (especially during the COVID crisis) is heavily geared towards the rights of tenants. I have no problem with that.

But I have a massive problem with legislation that rewards fraud!

Is the government seriously telling me that our tenant is allowed to commit fraud and that, if he does, they will protect him?

That can’t possibly be right and yet it is the advice of both our property manager and the Real Estate Institute.

As I said at the start, some will not give a rat’s about my First World Problem, but if you agree that this situation is utterly ridiculous – even a complete abdication of judgment and reason by the state government (OR the Real Estate Institute), then please share this story and tell the idiots in charge what you think.

Is Australia a Racist Country?

I have asked this question my entire adult life.

And with the Black Lives Matter movement being the equal biggest topic on the planet today, it seems apposite to ask the question again?

Are we racist?

It’s a complicated question with a complicated answer, so I’ll try my best to be honest (as a middle-aged, white male) and express what I really believe to be my own position.

YES, I am racist to the extent that I recognise people of other races being different from me.

NO, I am not racist to the extent that the difference, although I can’t help but acknowledge it, does not matter to me.

Of course, the issues are far more complex than just that, but I suspect my top-of-head response to my own question would be the same for more than 50% of mainstream Australia.

Now for the complexity…

We live in a really lucky country.

Australia has only a teensy population by world standards (25 million) but we’re the 12th or 13th biggest economy. That’s a huge amount of money being shared by only a very privileged few. Sure, many Australians don’t feel wealthy, but if you’ve got a job in Australia – any job – you would comfortably make it into the top 0.4% of wealth on the planet.

Holidays are your right. International travel is possible for you. You enjoy leisure time, political rights, free medical care (of the highest quality there is), ease and freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom to be rich (if you earn it). You can have a car, you can buy a house (or at least rent a really good one), you are connected to the internet, watch movies and sport on your television, have clean water, longevity and can boldly walk the streets at night in comparative safety.

Unless you’re indigenous.

The plight of our Aboriginal men, women and children is a disgrace. We all know it, but we don’t deal with it – not enough of us.

That’s why we shrug our shoulders and let the status quo continue. Our First Nation people are massively unemployed, uneducated, unsupported, under-resourced, over-represented in the prison population, ghetto communities, bad health and death statistics and generally non-existent as a middle class.

That’s why I think we’re a racist country because we all know about this, but we don’t take the hard decisions to redress the imbalance of 250 years.

Certainly we’re alright at making symbolic gestures, like Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generation, but where did that go? What did it really mean?

Or the Bridge Walk. I was there that day, and it truly felt like the start of a change. But nothing has changed.

As a lawyer, I’ve struggled with the idea of Constitutional recognition of our First Nation, because a Constitution surely needs to treat all people equally.

But I’ve changed my mind. We haven’t done enough to treat all people equally under the current Constitution so clearly it’s not adequate for the needs of all Australians.

If real Constitutional change is what it takes to redress the imbalance then that’s what needs to happen.

First Nation people make up approximately 3% of the Australian population. In a truly equal society that would mean 1 in every 33 households, on any street, would identify as Aboriginal. We are a really long way from that statistic being realistic, but to my mind – that’s the challenge.

And it won’t be made any easier by the conservatives among us who want to protect the homogeneity of the socio-cultural mix within their neighbourhoods and work places.

So often, when I raise these ideas in conversation with other white Australians I am confronted with the old arguments about how well “the blacks” do from government hand outs and other “bullshit positive discrimination that white people don’t get”.

My response is always: ‘What would you rather be in Australia…black or white?’

‘Shut up, smartarse!’ is the usual reply.

Men Writing Women

There is a bit of a theme these days in both writers’ and readers’ circles about the inadequacies of male writers when portraying women.

I’ve never given it much thought, except to say that my stories feature both men and women and any character given a name will always have an impact on the plot and, at the very least, reveal some aspect of the main characters’ personalities.

For me that is the essence of meaningful characterisation – have the character, no matter how minor – do something that matters.

So it was with some consternation that I read a review recently that praised my historical fiction story (The Fighting Man) but included this rider:

However, there is an unnecessary focus on sex that detracts from the story, as the few women who were included in the work were mostly there just for the protagonist’s sexual forays or were extremely minimal characters.”

I all but screamed in existential pain when I read that, for numerous reasons, not least as ** spoiler alert ** the main character never gets to properly have sex – though he desperately wants to.

Now, I am the first to say that when a book is published, the author loses control. The book becomes the property of every reader and they are free to make of it what they will. So I’m not complaining about the above review (even though it looks like I am).

What I’m railing against today is that some readers appear to bring their own agenda (should that be a-gender?) to reading a book and perceive it through a lens that distorts the author’s intention.

I believe there is an automatic suspicion in some readers (and they’re not always women) of the female characters created by male writers. In fact, this suspicion is frequently warranted, as anyone who has ever watched a James Bond film might attest. There really are writers who create ciphers – one dimensional female characters whose only purpose is to gratify, decorate or be saved by the male lead.

But if you bring that suspicion to every book you read, then that’s what you’ll find. It is human nature to see the evidence that fits with a hypothesis and not see all the other inconvenient evidence that does not.

I turn now to my treatment of the women characters in The Fighting Man, so let’s start with context.

The setting is C11 Saxon England, plus Norman France and the Viking army. It is a proto-feudal, patriarchal society where no-one had political rights as they are understood today, and no amount of presentist posturing can sanitise that brutal reality. Any historical novelist worth his/her salt will be doing their best to convey a sense of how it really was – not a sense of how C21 moralists might prefer it to have been.

The Fighting Man is very much a retelling/interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry, in which there are only two females. One is a woman being slapped by a cleric; the other is being forced to flee from a burning building. Both of these women are included in the story – the woman being slapped has a very important (even critical) role in the plot.

Of course, my research led to me to other women who featured in the known history, including Edith Swanneshals, Edith (daughter of Aelfgar) and Mathilda (wife of William the Bastard). All of these women have important roles in the plot of The Fighting Man, but none have as much impact as the main fictional female – Valla, the witch of the wood.

Brand (the main protagonist) is obsessed with Valla from the moment he meets her and their very tragic story – told from each of their separate perspectives – could simply not have happened if Valla’s story was not of approximately equal value to Brand’s.

After Brand, Valla was the most important person in the story. More important than any of the historical characters, including Harold Godwinson and William the Conqueror.

So how does anyone reading The Fighting Man come away with the impression that the female characters were only there for sexual forays (or were just very minor) when, in fact, the main female character never has sex (even though she wants to) and is far more important to the plot than the warring kings of England?

Honestly, I know I said that readers are free to come up with their own interpretations, and even free to spray those interpretations all over the internet, but we authors are sensitive souls and can only take so much. Abuse I can handle, but being misinterpreted drives me bonkers!

Which, some would probably say, is appropriately ironic.

Welcome to Ord City

Imagine if Australia decided to reverse its anti-refugee stance and let in anyone who wanted to come here.

There’d be a mad rush, so how could we possibly manage them all?

What if we said to these desperate people: “Welcome! You may come to Australia, but you must stay for the first seven years in the Temporary Citizenship Zone (TCZ) around the Ord River.”

Seven years later, Ord City might be a teeming pan-Asian metropolis on our northern edge with a large First Wave about to gain their citizenship and be allowed to go anywhere.

How might the rest of mainstream Australia feel about it?

Would we all be totally welcoming? Or might there be some opposed to the idea, not least because of the dilution of “Australian values” and the risk of letting in terrorists.

And what if the concentration of so many races and cultures in one place had seen the development of a radical new philosophy blending aspects of numerous Asian religions – preaching a terrifying unity which mainstream Australian youth adopted as counter cultural slogans.

The likelihood is that Australia would be deeply polarised by Ord City, and that barbeque and dinner party conversations would get quite heated.

This scenario forms the backdrop to my new novel – Welcome to Ord City – which I hope will be out in July.

The story opens two weeks before the First Wave. Our hero is Conan “Tools” Tooley, an AFP Agent sent up to Ord City to look into a gangland double murder, but Conan is frustrated by the problems and questions that arise at every step. It is clear to Conan that something very weird is going on but he is under pressure to wrap up the case and come home.

His local AFP colleagues are no help and neither are the people he encounters in his investigations, such as officers from the Army of God charity, local politicians and Ronny Kwai – a journalist and socialite who is very well connected.

At the same time, the story is also being told from the perspective of a carload of young people heading up to Ord City for the Illumination Festival – the night before the First Wave – and Asif, a deep cell terrorist with a deadly mission.

As the various subplots wind towards the explosive conclusion, everyone’s motives and values will be challenged and certain alignments will dramatically change.

Welcome to Ord City is a satirical crime thriller set against the backdrop of Australian refugee politics and the malleable populism that characterises the Lucky Country in the C21.

Watch out for the Facebook Live launch where I will be grilled on the book by Pauline Wright, President of the Law Council of Australia.

Rating the Raters

This will seem like the ultimate first world problem.

Even worse, it’s a pathetic, futile whinge – but I have an outraged sense of justice which needs to be expressed.

Book rating sites (especially Goodreads and Amazon) are very important for both readers and writers. For writers they are a valuable source of feedback and a bit of a marketing tool.

For readers they are a means of registering their feelings after reading plus a great resource for other readers wondering how best to spend their time and money.

They are also a medium via which readers and writers can connect to enrich the experience for both. For the system to work efficiently it needs two crucial ingredients – the objectivity and good intentions of the reviewer.

Now we come to the source of my gripe.

I recently indulged in a giveaway for my historical fiction novel – The Fighting Man. It has been a fairly successful novel – sold out of its hard copy print run and had nothing but great reviews. It was sitting proudly at 4.5 average rating on Goodreads when I decided it needed a marketing shot in the arm, so entered it for a giveaway.

A giveaway event is where readers get a free copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.

Less than a day after my giveaway, a new one star rating appeared from one of the people who had accepted The Fighting Man – which is quite a long book and reading the whole thing in less than a day would be an amazing effort. The sort of effort that could only be made by someone who absolutely loved it.

Now, I’ve had one star ratings before, and they didn’t particularly bother me – my stuff can be both challenging and confronting for some readers so not everyone will love it. But this one really annoyed me. If a person signs up for a free book in exchange for a fair review then certain implied clauses of the contract must follow.

For a start, the need to be fair.

She obviously didn’t finish the book, in fact, barely even started it. If that’s the case, she should not be rating the book at all because she did not finish and cannot therefore judge it fairly.

At the very least, if she disliked the book so much she could not continue, but still wanted to express her objection with a bad rating, she should have offered a review to say why her opinion was in such stark contrast with all other ratings.

Moving beyond my own subjective outrage, it is also a massive disservice to other readers who might be interested in the book as it distorts the apparent quality and potentially puts off those who might genuinely enjoy it.

So I am proposing a new system, where authors get to rate readers.

Just as uber has a reciprocal rating system for both driver and passenger – book rating services ought to have a similar system for writer and reviewer. If you are going to give me one star (and no review to say why) when everyone else has given four or five, I should be able to rate you back to limit your access to giveaways.

When I checked again this morning, I saw she’d (just one day later) given another one star rating to a book averaging comfortably over four. This is very obviously tyre kicking of the worst kind: sign up for a free book – didn’t like the opening – damn it with one star. Sign up for another…

I give her no stars!

Changing the Rules: A Muse on Science Fiction

I loved science fiction when I was a kid.

Authors like Robert Heinlein, AE Van Vogt, Michael Moorcock, John Wyndham, John Christopher, Philip K Dick and (my favourite) Andre Norton (a woman who wrote under a male nom de plume) spun tales that fired and stretched the imagination – introduced readers to concepts strange, hyper-logical and otherworldly.

I won’t say that you had to be smart to like sci-fi (there were smart kids who didn’t care for it), but I will say that the kids who did like sci-fi tended to be smart. Which begs the question: do you have to be intelligent to have a taste for sci-fi? Or could it be that the brain-stretching nature of sci-fi helped kids to develop in ways they might not have otherwise?

Looked at another way, my wife is very smart – a scientist, no less – but she finds the simplest sci-fi concepts rather strange. She wasn’t exposed to those ideas as a child, so finds them weird as an adult. Her brain has not been stretched in the sci-fi sense.

Of course, it’s not just any sci-fi that is stretching. Space Opera like Star Wars or shoot-em-ups like Independence Day or Starship Troopers can be entertaining in a popcorn sense, but the truly challenging stuff happens in the context of scenarios that change The Rules.

So what are The Rules?

The Rules are the standard PEST conditions – the Political, Economic, Social and Technological arrangements to which we are accustomed. Most sci-fi changes at least the T part of this formula, but major changes in technology are likely to be accompanied by other changes. For example, if someone announced a safe, cheap alternative to oil – like cold fusion, or hydrogen for example – the political and economic situation would change profoundly, overnight.

If that announcement came from a benevolent source who wanted to achieve a Utopian dream, the open source technology might be donated to the world so that all countries and peoples could enjoy access to clean, cheap energy.

If that announcement came from an aggressive corporation who wanted to control access to the new technology – let’s call them Janx Corp – then Janx would very quickly become the wealthiest organisation on the planet with far reaching powers into the socio-politics of every country. They could drive, if they wished, a quasi-corporate fascism in which only those keenest to do the company’s bidding would get (and in turn be able to control) local access.

The sociological conditions attending both of these scenarios are obvious.

Staying with technology, a favourite trope of sci-fi is speculation regarding what might be possible in the future. Faster-than-light (FTL) travel, for example, is fundamental to much sci-fi despite the fact that, according to our current (Einsteinian) understanding of the universe, FTL cannot happen, as mass approaches infinity with the increase in velocity. This means that nothing (except light) can ever quite get fast enough to reach the speed of light – let alone go faster – as the rules of the universe simply won’t allow it.

The thing is, like Newton before him, Einstein’s equations may only be true within their particular frame and context. There may be other realities, or other aspects of our own reality, which currently elude us. Ideas such as wormhole travel in the region of blackholes, the Alcubierre drive (which in theory moves space around a ship rather than move a ship through space) or other fanciful exploitations of the multiverse are legion, and some of my favourite stories concern the discovery of such drives.

Sci-fi, of course, is not content with just the technological developments. In many cases, we enter the story in the future – even the far future – where all PEST conditions have changed and it is the reader’s job to work out exactly what that means.

There are some shortcuts to the process though. Standard themes and tropes are recognised by regular readers who will adjust quickly (unlike my highly intelligent wife). Dystopias are fairly common. Environmental disaster (loss of habitat) through alien intervention, robot rebellions or our own neglect are popular means of changing The Rules.

What all these things do is place a main character(s) in a difficult situation – preferably a novel situation – so the reader can enjoy watching the characters resolve the problems in ways which make sense according to The Rules within the story.

Let’s say the heroes are Jack and Jill – junior executives within Janx Corp who have their eyes opened to the evil of Janx’s manipulation of the world and decide to do something about it; eg, steal the secret hydrogen production process and publish it wikileaks style so that anyone can create cheap fuel.

All of a sudden we have the bones of a plot, but from this point it becomes a standard thriller formula. The evil corporation, assisted by their government/military lackeys, are pulling out all stops to prevent Jack and Jill saving the world. We’ve all read or seen dozens of these stories – flip it about and the story is pretty close to Avatar – peaceful natives have something the evil corporation wants and will lose their Utopian habitat if it succeeds.

There are lots of standard formulae – human exploration leading to alien contact and challenge; alien invasion leading to existential crisis; development in technology offering new opportunities; development in technology changing political landscape; discovery of alien archaeology opens Pandora’s Box; post-apocalypse; fantasy crossovers to provide for a special talent feared by the rest…

A favourite trope of mine is the secret alien or even human evolution (supermen) story. The Midwich Cuckoos (John Wyndham) and Slan (AE Van Vogt) were excellent novels about normal humans confronted by alien evolved children (Midwich), or further evolved children confronted by the fear and prejudice of the normal (Slan).

Inevitably, these books can also be deconstructed in accordance with whichever mirror the author is holding up to contemporary society. Both of these books were written at the height of the Cold War arms race so existential catastrophe, xenophobia and fear of the other’s technology were prevailing themes.

I suspect that most sci-fi can be reduced, on some level, to PEST changes, but what would a story look like where all the PEST factors had changed?

Given that a successful story needs to be recognisable (on some level) to the reader, would it be conceivable to build a viable (from a story telling perspective) world which was alien in every way, including the motivations of the characters?

This is the challenge I have set myself in Mistletoe, the sequel to my new novel Asparagus Grass (being published by Hague Publishing in 2021).

* * *

Having reduced everyone else’s work to a finite set of themes and tropes, what can I say about my own? “Unique” would be a big call but unusual is probably fair enough. If I were to compare my work with anyone, I would probably include Ben Elton, Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams (without the silliness) and John Wyndham, without being quite like any of them.

I like sci-fi (or fantasy for that matter) that starts out squarely in the ordinary present day, and traverses only gradually into the extraordinary. To my mind, this makes the sci-fi / fantasy seem so much more real when it comes and that’s what I find truly satisfying. I can enjoy reading totally far out fantasy or sci-fi – but what I produce myself must have the flavour and ambience of reality.

I always start with the here and now.

My novel THEM was a very strange story that starts with a young man (Lasseter) on top of the world. He is in the bank with his fiancée – refinancing their mortgage because he is expecting a promotion and wants to pay off his loan more quickly.

Pretty sci-fi, huh?

However, the reader is privy to Lasseter’s thoughts and knows there is something more – something deeper going on from the very start. Lasseter’s world suddenly collapses when he does not get the promotion and then learns his fiancée is having an affair.

At this point, Lasseter receives a letter in his own handwriting from a place he has never been imploring him to go to Thule – the multi-function polis in the middle of the desert. Accompanied by his friend Miles (who claims to be dead), Lasseter embarks upon a very strange journey. He thinks he is looking for gold but finds something far more interesting.

Then of course there is Asparagus Grass (to be published in 2021).

Mitch Kuiper works in the parks for Newtown Council and the bane of his life is asparagus grass – a tough spiky weed that will conquer entire suburbs if not ripped out wherever it takes root.

As the story opens, Mitch becomes involved with two quirky young women. One is a permanent uni student engaged in some very arcane research. The other has an even more mysterious secret and, as Mitch is drawn into their worlds, finds his head exploding with the enormity of the perils before him – a galactic war, in which he has suddenly become a key player.

How can a Sydney gardener save not just the earth, but the galaxy that contains it?

Like THEM, Asparagus Grass is an Australian story of pan-cosmic enormity.

But to return to my PEST theme, both stories start out very recognisably in the present day and only gradually morph into something dark, dysfunctional and downright odd. All PEST vectors are changed by the end of both novels, but I am attempting something more ambitious for the sequel to Asparagus Grass.

Having been introduced to some key concepts in the first book, the reader is launched into something much stranger in the sequel, delving into fundamental questions regarding reality, consciousness and purpose – while also flung headfirst into a rollicking adventure.

I won’t say any more at this time, but after the book is published, I’ll be happy to explore with readers exactly how successful I was at changing the Rules, while also telling an engaging and satisfying story.

To Pell and Back

So George Pell’s High Court Appeal was successful.

I, for one, am not remotely surprised as I was always uncomfortable with the prosecution case. The evidence of a single witness (however impressive), uncorroborated by others and unsupported by other forensic or even circumstantial evidence, must be on shaky ground when the test of reasonable doubt is applied.

When I heard the (summary of the) summation to the jury I said at the time: ‘They can’t convict him on that. He’ll get off for sure.’

I was wrong. They did convict him, and a bit of a shiver ran across my soul.

Don’t get me wrong – I have an intense dislike for George Pell. Irrespective of what he did, or didn’t do, in the present case, he still presided over some of the worst days of the Catholic Church’s horrific abuse of children and seems to have not just enabled and protected the perpetrators but also terrorised and frustrated the victims when looking for redress.

But it seemed to me, that that’s what he was convicted for. It was as though the jury thought: ‘I can’t say for sure he’s guilty, but he’s been such a scumbag in the past, he must be guilty of something!’

We did hear that there had been evidence in camera – ie, evidence the public didn’t get to hear, so I just hoped that there’d been something in that to dispel reasonable doubt.

Then the focus was all on the defence case at the Court of Criminal Appeal and High Court. They led a huge number of expert witnesses to lend their weight to Pell’s case that he couldn’t have done what he was accused of because he was always so busy straight after a service, there were always so many people about, and even if unseen he wouldn’t have been able to get his elaborate ceremonial kit off in time.

I was also uncomfortable with this line of argument because to my mind that only went so far. Whatever he might have done on a normal occasion was completely irrelevant to what he did actually do on the relevant day.

There were also witnesses who claimed he had an alibi on the actual day – thirty years ago.

I would find it very difficult to believe that someone could identify with requisite precision exactly what they were doing, and when, on a day thirty years ago which was unremarkable (for them) until all hell broke loose. The very fact they claimed to remember would make me suspicious.

It seemed to me at appeal there was just so much of this sort of evidence that it gradually eroded the prosecution case. Apparently, Pell’s accuser was an impressive witness who must have been fairly convincing – something dreadful must have happened to him.

But was it Pell?

We’ll never know.

And that will always be the key conundrum to the criminal justice system. Guilt or innocence has to be established in accordance with evidence, and sometimes there simply isn’t enough.

There will be an outcry, of course.

Pell belongs in hell, according to many, but part of the justice system’s job is to protect unpopular people against the rule of the mob – none of whom know for sure that he’s guilty.

Our system says it is better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent be convicted. So before you scream that Pell’s an evil bastard and deserves gaol anyhow, how would you feel if you’d been wrongly convicted of paedophilia?

ABC’s Revelation: Sort of a #MeToo

I watched in amazement the episode on Revelation (ABC, Monday, 17 March 2020) – St Patrick’s Day.

Father Vincent Ryan was breathtakingly psychopathic in his description of countless crimes against young boys – quibbling certain minor points, as though they somehow mattered – while blithely admitting the most appalling acts, and strategies in support of those acts – against the vulnerable children he’d specifically targeted.

And by the end of the episode, despite all the dreadful things he’d admitted, he still somehow seemed to be claiming some sort of exculpation. The final scene of him continuing to say mass – even in private – was utterly obscene and underscored better than anything I’ve seen before or since the way the Catholic church STILL doesn’t understand the depth of their own evil. Not the actions of their priests, nor the cover ups of their superiors, nor the obfuscation and delaying tactics of their legal representatives.

It really is a kind of Orwellian double-think the way the church can admit the wrongs of its priests while simultaneously defending itself in every way it legally can, and diluting the individual crimes through weasel words, smoke and mirrors.

While watching this outrageous catalogue of perversion in the name of Christ, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own story.

It’s a story I wasn’t even properly aware of until about five years ago, and involves a recovered memory.

I am (I hope) a sensitive, empathic individual. I’m also a lawyer, with a special interest in criminal law.

I am aware of the concept of recovered memories, but like many, I couldn’t help, in the past, have a slight suspicion of such claims. They can seem a tad convenient, to the cynical, when only raised decades after the fact.

But now I know they really are thing, because it happened to me, like this:

I was at a party at my sister’s place in (approx.) 2014. We’d been going some hours and I’d had a lot to drink, and I found myself chatting to a fairly nice chap called Tony.

We were chatting away nicely until he mentioned the Catholic church. For some reason it just set me off and I started getting obstreperous.

Tony tried valiantly to calm me down, and I knew I was being a bit of a dickhead, but I couldn’t help it.

He mentioned George Pell (who was head of the Australian church and just about to be promoted to the Vatican) and that really got me angry.

‘Fuck George Pell!’ I shouted.

Tony tried to assuage me, like he was trying to appease a knife-wielding maniac, but I was unstoppable. I railed against Pell like he was the devil incarnate – even though I’d never met him.

Tony was (perhaps unwisely) trying to calm me down and told me his aunty worked for George Pell and that he wasn’t a bad bloke.

‘Fuck your aunty!’ I shouted, and Tony finally gave up on me and walked away. After all, I was obviously a complete fuckwit.

The next day, my brother in law rang and said: ‘Boy, you gave it to poor Tony last night.’

I had totally forgotten the incident and cringed with embarrassment as I recalled my appalling (if very pissed) behaviour.

‘Oh jeez…please apologise to Tony for me,’ I pleaded. ‘I don’t know what came over me.’

I was absolutely horrified by what had happened and genuinely confused as to what had inspired it. I reflected on the matter for a few days, and suddenly the following scene exploded in my brain.

I was transported back to being about 14 years old.

It was the end of a holiday in Port Stephens (in the Newcastle diocese, I note) and before we left, my mother insisted we all go to confession. (I’m guessing it was just before Easter.)

When it was my turn to enter the little closet, the priest asked me about my sins, and like most innocent young boys I made up the usual lies:

‘I’ve told four hundred lies and erm…’

‘What else?’ he asked.

‘Erm…I don’t know.’

‘There must have been other things…’

‘Probably…I’m not sure,’

‘What about impure thoughts?’


‘Impurity…have you been touching yourself?’

The interrogation continued as I obstinately refused to understand and engage with his questions. Then, I became aware of this odd rustling sound and glanced through the gauze screen.

The priest’s arms were under his robes and moving rhythmically.

I don’t remember any more.

I think, but I don’t know, that I immediately got up and left the confessional.

What I know for sure is that about that time I told my very Catholic mother that I was never going to church again.

She tried to guilt me into going – in the age old Catholic tradition, but I refused point blank, and I have always since been a most devout atheist.

To be honest, I think I was always an atheist – belief in god had always struck me as absurd – mainly because it was pretty obvious that no-one around me lived their lives as though they truly believed. They said they did, but their actions never bore that out. Not really.

That repressed memory stayed repressed for almost forty years.

And my anger arced up again watching that fucking Revelation show on Tuesday night.

Those poor chaps, whose lives were utterly ruined by that cunt of a priest, Ryan, and the arrogant shits who protected him – including Pell.

I got off fucking lightly.

Corona Virus: The Biggest Change in Human Relations Since the Pill

We are social creatures.

We have always gravitated towards bigger congregations – larger communities – stronger nations.

We are happy in crowds of fellow tribesmen, whether that be as commuters, or football supporters, or attacking or defending armies.

We share a common spirit, wherever we can, and we plug into that spirit to give us strength.

And the spirit can be all embracing.

Travellers are usually welcomed in distant cultures.

We find commonalities through the most fundamental human urges – need for shelter; enjoyment of food; humour evident in a myriad contexts despite no common tongue.

We laugh together, love together, live together…

Or at least we did.

The astonishing reaction to the novel coronavirus (or COVID 19) has shown how flimsy were the ties that bound us together. People fighting viciously over a packet of toilet paper – wanting to hoard toilet paper in the first place, in the knowledge that might deprive someone else in need – just shows how pathetic we really are.

How thin is the wall between civilisation and our selfish primordial urges.

After all, we are only ever a heartbeat away from abandoning all our socialisation – saying: “Get fucked!” to the rules – and returning to the state of nature which Thomas Hobbes warned us was nasty, brutish and short.

The totally psychopathic overreaction to novel coronavirus demonstrates to me that human beings have reached a turning point, from which I doubt we can ever entirely return.

We no longer want to be in crowds together – not without masks, and hand sanitiser and god-knows-what other social condoms to effectively insulate us from all human contact. This is truly the biggest change in human relations since the contraceptive pill (and that was the biggest change since the Dawn of Time).

What does this mean for our communal future?

What does this mean for any human activity that requires us to cluster together?

The fields of work, medicine, education, arts entertainment, sports entertainment, public transport, offline shopping, and especially intimacy – with either loved ones or strangers – are going to change.

I don’t mean to start a panic.

Obviously coronavirus eventually will go the way of SARS, Swine Flu and all other viral dodos, but maybe the damage is done. If we get another superbug in the next year or two, that will just confirm the collective paranoia currently sweeping the planet and normal service will never be restored.

Beyond the activities I’ve already mentioned that will also mean profound changes in world markets and the entire fiscal basis of the Western World. That’s not entirely a bad thing as I, for one, have long had some issues with that.

Thing is, if there are going to be changes that big – that profound – we all need a say in what they should be. And to inform our decision making, we need clear information.

The panic going on at the moment is not helping and we desperately need to stay calm and understand that we are in the process of making epoch defining decisions.

Be part of that decision making process.

Be very careful where you get your information and who you trust.

And FFS cover your mouth when you sneeze.

Gosford Council, Are You Kidding?

All of us have heard stories of bureaucracy gone mad.

In most cases, despite the ignorance, stupidity or just plain evil, there is at least some sort of justification – no matter how wrong – but the subject of tonight’s blog is gobsmacking in its absolute absence of any kind of reason.

The Gosford Council, in its wisdom, has seen fit to put No Parking Unless on Patrol signs outside Avoca Surf Club. The sign stipulates that it is effective 24/7.

What this means is that people who are not on surf patrol are not allowed to park there, even though the Club does not roster anyone on at night, or in winter.

Accordingly, anyone who wants to take advantage of parking spots out the front of the club at night – like caterers, entertainers, wedding guests etc – will be fined – even at 2.42 on a Tuesday morning! I understand that numerous people have already been fined which can only mean the council pursued this new situation aggressively and advised its parking officers to strike while the newly forged iron was hot.

As a Surf Club member I am outraged.

As a Gosford Council rate payer I am absolutely disgusted.

What on earth are they thinking? No-one, in the history of Australia, has ever been on surf patrol at night.

The Council are effectively rendering those valuable parking spaces useless out of hours, which makes no sense at all. So why have the Council decided to go on this bizarre crusade against the people who will vote for them next time round?

The south end of Avoca is under enormous pressure as it is with the appalling decision to let the Cinema development go ahead without requiring additional parking provision. On any given day the back car park is unable to cope with demand, but what maniac would make a rule preventing entirely legitimate and reasonable use of the parking spots that remain in the Surf Club car park when no one is on patrol?

I am literally speechless at the thick-headed buffoonery that facilitated this ridiculous, nay EVIL decision.

It might have been merely ridiculous – but the proliferation of fines straight after implementation of the decision implies an intent to take advantage of the public’s ignorance of changed circumstances.

I call upon all Avocans to demand that the Council reverse this disgusting move and forgive all fines.

If they do not, I call upon all Avocans to take note of their sitting representatives and do all in their power to ensure they are not returned at the next elections.

We have already been let down very badly by those who purport to lead us. This just rubs further insult into outrageous injury.

Please share this message with all concerned Avoca residents and Gosford Council voters.


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