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Archive for the tag “Australia”

Gilgamesh: it’s a long way to home

GilgameshGilgamesh by Joan London
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Frank Clark, an Australian soldier, wounded in the First World War, marries Ada, an English orphan, and takes her back to Australia with him. They try farming in south-western Australia, but life is hard, and their two daughters grow up, one helping on the farm, and the other working as a maid in a nearby hotel. A visit from an English cousin and his friend leaves the younger daughter, Edith, pregnant, and she sets out to find the father of her child in Armenia, just before the Second World War breaks out.

It is a book about travel, about friendship and loss, and about the way in which peoples lives connect for a while, and are then parted and they never see each other again, or sometimes met again in unexpected ways. In that way it seems similar to real life, where the twists and turns of the story are not driven by plot, but often by chance, or spur-of-the-moment decisions. G.K. Chesterton once wrote that truth is always stranger than fiction, because fiction is a product of the human mind and therefore congenial to it. And so this story has a ring of truth, and seems close to real life.

Yet it also has a dream-like quality. I don’t know about other people but many of my dreams involve preparing and planning for things that never seem to happen, because something else intervenes and turns things aside at the last minute.

It is this combination of realism and dream that made the book interesting to me, wanting to see what happens in the end, because one never knows what to expect. The characters read The Epic of Gilgamesh, who, like them, travelled a long way from home. In some ways home is where you are, and in others, it is always somewhere else.

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The bat: a Scandiwegian whodunit set in Australia

The Bat (A Harry Hole Thriller)The Bat by Jo Nesbø

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is Jo Nesbø’s best novel yet — the only problem is that it is his first.

Nearly four years ago I read The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø.I thought it was the best Scandiwegian whodunit I’d read till then, and it was the first one I’d read by Nesbø. But the later novels of his that I read were rather disappointing (see reviews here). Perhaps if one reads them backwards, there will be a steady improvement.

In The bat Norwegian detective Harry Hole is sent to Australia to help with the investigation of the murder of a Norwegian citizen in Sydney. The book is therefore quite an interesting guide to Australian geography and culture, which Nesbø explains to his Norwegian readers, to whom it would be unfamiliar. Books set in Australia and written by Australians don’t generally do this, since the authors no doubt assume that their readers will be Australian, and therefore familiar with the social demographics of Sydney suburbs, and the appearance of the Queensland countryside. I found that Nesbø’s explanations of these added to the interest of the book

There are also some Australian folk tales (the title of the book is based on one of them) and more about the different cultures in Australia — as seen through Norwegian eyes. I found all this far more interesting than the lengthy descriptions of Harry Hole’s hangovers, which seem to take up more and more space in the later books, though even in this one they are not entirely absent. One of the plot holes of this one is that one is never told when he stops drinking and is able to function again.

If anyone in Australia is reading this, and has read the book, I’d be interested in your take on Nesbø’s descriptions of Sydney suburbs, and Australian culture generally. I got a fair bit of it in The slap, which I read a few months ago, but that was written in Oz and for Australians.

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Seeking asylum: varying views from five continents

Asylum seekers seem to keep on making news. In some places, like Australia, asylum seekers are regarded as criminals, and the media sometimes refer to “suspected asylum seekers”, as though seeking asylum was a crime one could be suspected of committing.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by most countries, says:

Article 14.

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

In Canada, it seems, this right has been respected even when it seems contrary to Section (2) above: Row as Canada gives asylum to white South African | World news | The Guardian

Asylum seeker Brandon Huntley claimed he had been persecuted, abused and repeatedly stabbed. But it was the reason he gave for his ordeal that caused a diplomatic rift today. Huntley is South African – and white.

Canada’s decision to grant him refugee status because of his colour prompted accusations of racism from the South African government and a fresh bout of soul searching in a country still scarred by the legacy of apartheid. Some South African whites say they have become a persecuted minority.

But France refused asylum to Vladimir Popov, Yekaterina Popova and their two children, who claimed that they were persecuted in Kazakhstan because they were Orthodox Christians and ethic Russians. French authorities kept them in detention for two weeks and repeatedly tried to deport them to Kazakhstan. That seems to be in line with the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia and, in some cases, South Africa.

But in this case the European Court of Human Rights disagreed Interfax-Religion
reports:

The European Court of Human Rights found France guilty of violating Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 5 (right to liberty and security) and Article 8 (right to respect to private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and ordered France to pay the family 13,000 euros.

So here are five different countries — Australia, Canada, France, Kazakhstan, and South Africa — on five different continents, with very different attitudes to asylum seekers and asylum seeking. For some seeking asylum is a human right, for others it is a crime.

Invasion of the Baby-Snatchers

St. Aidan to Abbey Manor: UK Border Agency: Invasion of the Baby-Snatchers:

The thundering knock came early in the morning. It was 6.30am. Without waiting for an answer the security chain across the door was smashed from its fittings. Feet thundered up the staircase. The five children, all under the age of 10, were alarmed to be woken from their sleep by the dozen burly strangers who burst into their bedrooms, switched on the lights and shouted at them to get up.

This is not a police state. It is Manchester in supposedly civilised Britain in the 21st century. There is a clue to what this is about in the names of the children: Nardin, who is 10; Karin who is seven; the three-year-old twins Bishoy and Anastasia, and their one-year-old baby sister Angela.

Their parents, Hany and Samah Mansour, are Coptic Christians who fled to the UK after a campaign of persecution by a group of Islamic fundamentalists in Egypt whose friends in the secret police tortured Hany. But even though six Coptic Christians were shot dead by Muslim extremists only last week in a town not far from their home, the British Government has decided that it does not believe them. And so Britain’s deportation police have launched another of their terrifying dawn raids on sleeping children.

We have similar problems in South Africa. We have the notorious Lindela Repatriation Camp. We have senior people in government visiting a church that has allowed homeless refugees to sleep inside it instead of outside in the street and threatening to close the church (so much for our much-vaunted constitutional guarantee of religious freedom).

And then there is the fascist (no hyperbole — there’s no better word to describe it) Australian press, which routinely refers to “suspected asylum seekers”, as though seeking asylum was a crime. Boat carrying 30 suspected asylum seekers intercepted off Australia’s north coast | The Daily Telegraph:

YET another boat carrying suspected asylum seekers has been intercepted off Australia’s north coast, making it the 60th arrival this year.

The stationary vessel was spotted sometime before 7.30am today about 140 nautical miles (260 kilometres) north of Gove, in the Northern Territory, Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor said in a statement this afternoon.

Britain, South Africa and Australia are supposed to be democratic states, and they at least pay lip service to human rights. But this kind of behaviour is as bad as that found in totalitarian dictatorships. As far as I am aware, each of these countries is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, among other things, that Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

So why are the Australian media trying to portray a right as a crime by referring to “suspected” asylum seekers? That is how the Nazi propaganda press dealt with Jews, Slavs, Gypsies and other “Untermenschen”. By trying to criminalise the exercise of human rights, the Australian press fully deserves the epithet “fascist”.

Christians have just celebrated the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, and among other things we remember that our Lord Jesus Christ and his family were asylum seekers in Egypt. But many of his followers in Egypt have now become asylum seekers elsewhere. And, as we can see, they receive no better welcome.

Why I am not a Marxist: Class war and the Anglican schism

You’ve got to wonder what they’ve been smoking to dream up stuff like this!

Class war and the Anglican schism | Links:

Dramatic events within the worldwide Anglican Communion (the international association of national Anglican churches) have revealed a “cold split” with the potential for a complete collapse of the Episcopal formation. Superficially, the debates have centred on the right of women and homosexuals to be priests and bishops, and on gay marriage. However, while theological arguments dating back centuries are being mouthed, behind them are class-war elements of more recent vintage, including some connected with the era of US President Ronald Reagan’s backing of Central American death squads in the 1980s.

African bishops have led the charge against modernity, but they are funded and organised by right-wing US think tanks and the Sydney Anglicans’ arch-reactionary Archbishop Peter Jensen. Another player is the Vatican, which has been reported as throwing its resources behind Anglican Primate Owen Williams.

They are so keen to interpret everything in terms of class war that they end up being thoroughly racist. The assumption behind this is that Africans are too thick to make up their own minds, and they need white Australians to tell them what to think.

That is very little different from the National Party regime in South Africa, which was firmly convinced that any opposition to its policies among black people must have been stirred up by white agitators (communist, of course).

I have no doubt that there are elements of class struggle in the current turmoil in the Anglican Communion, but this kind of simplistic and racist analysis does nothing to help people understand them.

Roman Pope’s Australian visit a disaster

When the Pope of Rome visited Australia for World Youth Day recently, some people were deeply disappointed at the result.

Faith and Theology: A miracle on World Youth Day:

according to a report in The Weekend Australian, the hundreds of thousands of Catholic pilgrims have been a major economic disappointment: “The deathly retail silence contrasts with optimistic predictions of a ‘bumper week’ of trade by the state Government and the local chambers of commerce. A jewellery shop reported one sale in the week: a cross. New South Wales Business Chamber chief executive Kevin MacDonald had predicted a $231 million boost for business, or $1155 per expected visitor. But traders reported pilgrims unwilling to spend, even haggling over the price of one banana. Clothing store John Serafino said the Pope’s visit was ‘a disaster’.”

As Ben Myers reports, Pope Benedict XVI spoke against the worship of the “false gods” of “material possessions, possessive love, or power.” And he asked: “How many voices in our materialist society tell us that happiness is to be found by acquiring as many possessions and luxuries as we can? But this is to make possessions into a false god. Instead of bringing life, they bring death.”

So really, what did the Mammon cultists expect? Faith and Theology: A miracle on World Youth Day

Well done Zim!

It may be a moot point whether South Africa will be ready for 2010, but Zimbabwe were certainly ready for 2020 tonight, and Australia obviously weren’t!

I didn’t think I’d watch this cricket-lite, but Zimbabwe’s performance had me glued to the telly.

A very good start to the tournament!

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