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January 11, 2020

MIKE O’CONNOR 7/1/20, Courier Mail, ‘Hate for hate’s sake is embarrassing us all’

Personally, I agree with some of what O’Connor writes. His final paragraph contains observations worth dwelling upon: that hatred consumes those who feel and express it. I agree that people seem emboldened these days to type into the ether what they might never say in person.

An analogy for calumny (the sin of spreading lies about others) from my school days: take a feather-filled pillow up on a high peak and empty it into a strong wind. How hard will it be to recapture every single feather? Just so it is impossible to retract the effect of what we say publicly. In these days of social media, the analogy is even more pertinent.

But – and this is the point of the rest of this piece – I read most of the article with dismay. Here is why:


The HEADLINE: Obscure. Is it suggesting that some forms of hate are OK? Or that ‘hate for hate’s sake’ is a low-grade, less reprehensible attitude because it is only ‘embarrassing? Try deleting words 2, 3 & 4 and see what difference it makes.

The GRAPHIC: image of fire burning at the base of a blackened gumtree with blackened, smoky bush scene behind. It is a low impact scene. Compared to many of the posts I have seen this fire season, it is bland. The low impact quality of the photo supports the main thrust of the opinion piece.


  1. The vitriol and abuse’ – Nowhere does O’Connor make a specific reference to illuminate what he means by this. I don’t do Twitter and most have been fairly reasonable on the Facebook posts I have read. (For that I am grateful.) I imagine there is a spectrum in the commentary. What O’Connor has done here is, firstly, include all readers by not actually calling out any specific action because we can all apply our own definitions of ‘vitriol and abuse’ and, secondly, include all manner of dissent/criticism in the scope of the article.

For instance, which of these does O’Connor mean to refer to in this article:

–  the television captures of the two folk abusing Morrison in Cobargo?

– the anger of the fire captain of Nelligen having ‘lost’ 7 houses in the town?

– opinion pieces on television, in papers and on blogs/ articles/ cartoons/ online posts which express a range of emotions from frustration to fury at the stance of the Coalition on climate change?

– expressions of dismay from senior NSW Liberal people at the handling of ADF involvement in evacuations and other forms of support?

The lack of specificity is an issue which underlies much of the article, encouraging the reader to accept that O’Connor is taking aim at all manner of criticism of Morrison, or at least to fill in the gaps with their own, personal targets.

  1. Rhetorical red flags: the following are time honoured, highly effective expressions designed to persuade: ‘Any intelligent person’, ‘ It is obvious’, ‘It is obvious for anyone with eyes to see’, ‘They would also have to admit’. In these sentences, all in the early pars in the article, are the arguments supportive of the PM. In terms of the rhetoric used to persuade an audience, these expressions are intended to include the reader, to gather the audience in closer to the position of the writer.

The arguments/evidence produced in favour of the PM are:

  1. Morrison, Prime Minister for a little over seven months, isn’t responsible for the fires’ I agree – Morrison did not go out into the bush to light matches. The statement avoids the criticism that Morrison is the latest in a succession of leaders, ministers and members who have belittled, demeaned and scoffed at the warnings of the scientists. He is also the pointy end of the government, the leader, the public face of the government’s policy.
  2. the states have failed miserably in their duty of care to control forest fuel loads.’ ‘National parks administered by the states have become powder kegs’ ‘watch the state premiers try to absolve themselves’ Translates to: the fires have nothing to do with the federal government because the fuel loads are the responsibility of the states. Much has been written and spoken recently by people involved in fire fighting about the subject of fuel loads.
  3. reasonably astute politician’ The argument in this par is not one that Morrison put forward – or did I miss it? If so, sorry. He is a father who promised his kids a holiday. This ignores the criticisms around the handling of his absence by himself and others.
  4. The direction of the piece swivels around ‘None of this matters to those who have succumbed to the mentality of the lynch mob.’ What follows is harsh criticism of people from whom O’Connor has distanced himself: them, the ones who’ve lost their minds and manners. His criticism of their actions and words seems to come hard for him because it causes him shame and sadness: these were people he seems to have respected previously: ‘These are my fellow Australians’, ‘People I had judged as being reasonably sane and possessed of a sense of fairness’, ‘people I thought possessed of some character reveal a truly ugly side to their natures that has hitherto been kept hidden’

This has the effect of creating sympathy in the audience for his opinion because it is costing him personally to write what he does. He positions himself as being rational and different to the abusers: ‘I struggle to recognise them’, ‘Shamed and saddened to see people I thought possessed of’.  

  1. There is a jarring note in this set up: if O’Connor’s shame and sadness is real, then he once considered the perpetrators he is aiming at as being worthy of respect, as being sane, as having character – these people: ‘These are the same people who would howl with disapproval if similar hate speech was directed towards gays or Muslims’ , those ‘still in denial of the election of a conservative christian (sic) to the nation’s highest office’, ‘who strike like cobras’ and Labor voters and/or sympathisers. The language and tone employed in these pars I would suggest is aggressive and righteously judgemental.

The recurring use of the rhetorical question is a classic persuasive technique. When a person asks a question with no idea of the answer, there is openness, vulnerability and curiosity. When the questioner presumes to know the answer anyway, or indeed presumes the answer to be so obvious as to be not worth saying, it is an exercise in power, in control. There are four such questions, each framing one group of the accused.

On another level, these questions allow O’Connor to make a point without having to justify or explain much. For him, they are givens.

  1. The inclusion of Bette Midler, ‘a fading American singer’ who is more usually ‘ranting at Donald Trump’ seems obtuse. One of the effects is to group these hating Aussies with an American entertainer of dubious quality. There is an old trick of tainting by association; this looks like it.
  2. Here is some moral high ground: ‘absence of respect for the office of the PM’. I, too, have watched with dismay through my adult years as the tone of discussion has slowly descended. I respectfully ask Mike O’Connor if he expressed similar sentiments when Alan Jones said, repeatedly, that Julia Gillard should be bundled up in a chaff bag and dumped at sea? Does he accept that anyone directing hatred at anyone else is worthy of censure? Does he accept that people who lie, twist the truth and otherwise manipulate people, ideas and resources for their own ends should be called out? Is it the manner of the calling out that offends O’Connor rather than the substance of the criticism?

For, given the employment of language, sometimes laden with connotations, and persuasive techniques evident in this piece, I wonder if his intention was to roast people for whom he has no time whilst attempting to appear rational and magnanimous … if he wishes to portray his position as Right and those who dissent as Wrong.

I am only a retired English teacher who knows little of political matters, but I had hoped for honesty, intelligence and civility, if not respect, as well as passion in our social discourse. If this were the end of a lesson in language, I would be asking the class not to believe me but to look for themselves, think for themselves and seek beyond the surface. With integrity.

January 11, 2020


I am past some sort of turning point. While away on the mainland for 3 weeks, somehow, the pall of depression has lifted. Some days I even feel chipper for hours on end. 😊 There are more I’m sure, but I think two transformative experiences were:

  1. occasions of pure joy in reconnecting with friends & family, of belly laughs, of guiltlessly having some fun;
  2. confronting & surviving existential threats, the fires, for instance. Another was more about my self-image.

Someone close challenged me about the state I was in, the changing attitudes & hardening judgements I was displaying. It hurt. Thankfully, after licking the wounds for a bit, I chose to consider the evidence and open up rather than dig myself further into the trenches. I don’t agree with everything, but this person loves me & really cares about the state of my life, and vice versa – that’s one of the uplifting takeaways from that interchange. I am so grateful.

It balances out the anger that has been growing through the fire season. Anger is not the greatest of motivators for me – it dissipates too quickly for one thing & needs to be constantly stoked. And often when I have given in to my rage, I have said & done things that are little more than vengeance, & I have ended up in unfortunate places. It matters to me what I end up with.

The Motivation creates the Means of Action which determines the End.

So I now am waiting out the anger to see what turns up.

January 11, 2020

Posted on 5 January

Welcome to 2020 everyone. The Year of the Eyeball?

2019 ended in a bit of rush for us: Sept/Oct – o/s to visit our brand new little granddaughter in KL (& their parents), twice, & a return to UK to see Ireland & Wales – BRILLIANT!

While o/s our longterm spiritual mentor, Adam, died in the Blue Mtns. We had a week at home before MA went up to the mtns to settle his estate. His home took longer & was much more arduous than expected. Plus the smoke, every day, from fires N, S & W of her, drifting ash & occasional drop of charred leaves. I joined her in mid-Dec & struggled to breathe in the heat & smoke as we worked. Yep, I’ve grown soft down here!

Thanks to Helen for her generous hospitality – again.

On Monday, relieved, we left for Canberra & Christmas with the Sheahams … only, the smoke was there too. After the day of flung wrapping paper & feasting with the Oldham clan, and the recovery in front of the cricket, we left on Friday to Gayle’s parents’ place on the south coast at Rosedale between Moruya and Batemans Bay.

Cautiously, we left on Sunday for our daughter’s home at Kinglake West near Melb, changing the plan to go south via Eden & Sale because of the possibility of being cut off by the fires. We bought a beautiful painting in Mogo on the way. Moruya – Bega – Cobargo – Cooma – Adaminaby – Talbingo – Tumut – Adelong: stayed the night with some of MA’s family in the Wondalga area. A great family night. Husband returned home at 9pm from the first day of the Ellerslie fire which, with the o/night backburns & all going well, might be OK. Next day, up to Batlow to visit MA’s parents in the cemetery, then down via Rosewood to Albury &, eventually, Kinglake on Monday evening. Away from the smoke & the tension of fire in proximity.

Then it was New Year’s Eve – Tuesday.

The home in Rosedale is a pile of ash & twisted metal. It is weird to see on the national news the beaches & streets you walked with the grandkids a few days ago, now razed. The gallery in Mogo is gone, along with  much of that wonderful little village.

The roads we drove on Sunday were all cut in the next couple of days. Cobargo’s main street in flames, the high country alight. Then the roads we drove on Monday down to the Hume, cut. The Ellerslie fire blew up to 130,000 hectares, & kept going to start threatening places like Batlow & Talbingo.

On Friday we sailed home on a day sail, finally leaving the smoke about 4pm. Relief! Home to Tassie! As we waited to be called down to our car, we noticed the smoke haze rising in the north.

On Saturday we woke to thick smoke. Bugger – back into the mask.

At 2pm we headed off for Swansea, 3 hrs away on the east coast to pick up our friend, Narelle, who was house-sitting a place on the edge of Swansea. She had picked up the alert to prepare to leave. The wind was getting under the Fingal fires to the north. She wanted out.

Today, the extent of damage in Batlow & the fate of the family home at Wondalga is uncertain. It feels like the fires have been following us. Silly, I know, but there it is. Some tiny parts of the catastrophe are deeply personal. I am intensely grateful that no-one I know has been hurt. I feel for the pain & grief of so many 1,000s.

We are home, safe, and everyone I know is safe from the fires. For that much I am grateful.


January 11, 2020


I am officially angry now. The climate emergency has suddenly become personal. My ancient protective reflex has kicked in so that I can no longer ignore the threat to my little ones and the little ones they might bear in the future.

The gorgeous home of our daughter-in-law’s parents in a sleepy hideaway called Rosedale on the NSW south coast is gone, a ubiquitous pile of twisted metal on a heap of white ash on a blackened slope. This is one story of what happened at Malua Bay on Tuesday, New Year’s Eve, published on 1 January 2020 in The Guardian.


We left on Sunday at lunchtime after spending an hour strolling through the little village of Mogo. Such an interesting little village. We bought some pottery and a luminescent still life from Vanessa Williams. The bush loomed across the back of the village and, overheard, some one opined that it was only a matter of time before the village came under threat from the fires. Two days later Mogo was burning, the gallery was gone.

The only road open to us was south. We decided not to travel south along the Victorian coast because of the possibility of becoming cut off or even trapped by fires. We’d be just two more tourists in danger where we didn’t have to be. We took alternative south to Bega then up to Cooma. Cobargo looked a nice little place. On Tuesday its main street went up in flames and people died.


We stayed Sunday night with relatives at Adelong. The husband, Scott, got home about 9 o’clock from fighting a fire in a pine plantation at Ellerslie. He thought that, with luck and the back burning that would go in overnight, it would be contained. There were another couple of fires off the road we travelled on Monday down to Kinglake West where our daughter and her husband live.

There was smoke every inch of the way, even when it showered around Adaminaby. Sometimes it was thick, brown and tasted acrid, though we kept the aircon on recirculation. My lungs aren’t coping with it. I feel such a woose. Kinglake felt like a haven. Despite the towering gums and the history, there is a comforting green tinge in the grass.

On Monday night my son and his wife were out to dinner, no doubt the grandies were minding the two littlies, when they received a Leave Now alert. They ditched dinner, packed in half an hour, vainly exhorted her parents to come with them, and left, travelling more than four hours up through Kangaroo Valley.

On Tuesday at 6.00 am, another Leave Alert was issued for south coast residents and visitors, including Rosedale. The road from Bega up to the high country was cut. They headed north but were trapped in Ulladulla until Thursday. All the roads we drove on Sunday and Monday were cut on Tuesday, Bega to Cooma to Tumut to Holbrook. The Ellerslie fire is now the Dunns Road fire and jumped every effort at containment, running past Batlow and Tumbarumba almost to Cabramurra. As at the time of writing it has consumed 130,000 hectares. I wonder how much sleep Scott has had.

Batlow is now evacuated. My inlaws’ home town is now considered ‘indefensible’ and the population has been directed to leave en masse. Buses took people down to Wagga where folk have offered beds for refugees and refuge for pets, among other things. People are good, mostly. Disaster has a tendency to strip us back. I am proud of what this disaster is showing me about ourselves. It’s not these people I am angry at.

Put an advertising exec in charge of fronting a vested interest like the Federal Government and this is what you get: the cunning threading of hidden appeals to a sense of belonging, to a desire to contribute and to be acknowledged, for instance; of mythologies, tropes and symbols drawn from good bloke culture; and all neatly wrapped in slippery wording to deflect opprobrium, censure and the reckoning. The layer of sunny optimism is particularly galling. This guy could find a silver lining on a nuclear cloud. Is it meant to help ‘us’ see through the trials to the Promised Land or is it intended to cast the dissenters as Nellie Naysayers who nothing of import to contribute?

The blinkered, binary thinking evident underlying commentary on these catastrophes shows the shallowness of the leadership and authority employed. It is of the position, the role, the robe, and is certainly not derived from the person. It is divisive, not leadership. It speaks of the ‘we who know and everyone else who doesn’t’, of Us (the righteous) and the Others (the deluded, the gullible, the wrong), of the virtuous and trustworthy who are in charge and the ideologues who would destroy all that is good in pursuit of their fatal agendas. This person in the leader’s robes calls on us to unite in this time of tragedy. He envisions a unity in which those who have different viewpoints forsake their errors and join him and his ilk in the One True Way.

I have had enough of ‘leaders’ whose hands are sticky with power, bogging down like wheels in wet black soil. This war-game is being fought for control, dominance, for the rush of seeing one’s footsteps setting like concrete in the landscape – and to keep the other bastards away from the machinery of influence. It is not for the common good of the common people: these people are so far separated from anything tarred as ‘common’ that they may as well exist in a different society. Perhaps they do, with their ilk.

Patronising exhortations to remain clam, to be patient and kind fuel my ire. I am irate. How dare he? How dare he present himself and his rule as being in control and doing all that is reasonable to address the issues, including the warming of the planet? How dare he presume to understand my ‘fear’ when he obviously has no idea of the nightmares I foresee in the flames? Does he not consider what our world will be like if this summer is to become the norm in the future? Who does he listen to? Who in their right mind thinks that the chance of repeated catastrophes is worth the royalties, is worth appeasing the vested corporates with shareholders to appease at any cost?

Fuck you. You haven’t listened to the scientific warnings dating back into at least the 1970s, even as they have become increasingly blunt and the models increasingly refined and accurate. You deal in spin, half-truths and deliberate deception in response to logical concerns. You have fobbed off my letters with platitudes. You are willing to dice with the future of my grandchildren, and for what? You risk catastrophic social disintegration, and for what? There will be nothing artificial or divine about the Armageddon that is beginning to bleed this world. Present tense – in the Now.

Enough of being polite. It is said that politics is played hard in Australia, perhaps by way of excusing the savagery that breaks into the public view now and again. Why not also the democracy of free speech, public action and protest?

If there were a modicum of leadership, even compassion, there would be Listening not deflecting, serious action rather than defensiveness. Energy would be put into confronting the causes not defending their position. It would be characterised by flexibility not defensiveness. The group of emergency ex-chiefs would have been given an audience when they asked, six months ago. Current actions, criticised roundly around the globe, would not be touted as being better than reasonable. There would be an admission that more needs to be done, that what is proposed will not avoid perennial disaster, that we are currently bludging on others.


January 31, 2018

In reviewing posts, I found these questions from the audience at the launch of The Bracelet in Burnie in 2014. They were at the end of an exuberant post from that event. I thought they could use another airing – people ask good questions.

Question and Answer time at the launch of The Bracelet, 2014

Q – Did you have a plan?

A – No. I felt like Dr Frankenstein sometimes, stitching together these pieces that I had written sporadically over the two years to make a whole thing. I had a starting point, an idea for the structure, sort of, and a collection of characters.

Q – What would you do differently next time?

A – Investigate a program called Scrivener. It’s supposed to be brilliant at helping novelists to keep their stuff organised.

Q – What is your next project?

A – It’s a non-fiction work. In May 1945, a training accident at an Army base just outside Wagga in NSW blew 26 young men to pieces. Two days later they were buried in the local military cemetery. It is still the largest military funeral on home soil, but until recently, even the local population was largely oblivious to it. It had been forgotten except by the families of the men. Each of these 26 was only ‘important’ because they were 26. If it had been 19 men killed, it would not be a record and it would be different, perhaps. But each of the 26 left behind a particular shaped hole in their families. And the families are still coping with that gap in their lives. So the book is a way to honour them and acknowledge their grief.

Q – What was the balance of the work your editor did with you – the balance between addressing the commas and the big picture issues?

A – I am fortunate to have a gifted reader in my wife, so she actually did a great deal of the big picture stuff before Kate got to see the manuscript. There were many issues of consistency because of the way I wrote it, in bits and pieces. So I’d ask Mary Ann to read a sequence and she’d provide some feedback about what did or didn’t work for her. Then, as it started to come together, she pointed out the inconsistencies.

I sent the first draft up to James Moloney but her only got through about 90 pages. His response to me was ‘It’s called The Bracelet, but the bracelet appears briefly then disappears for the next 90 pages. That’s a problem.’ So I had to go back to it and do a whole lot of rewriting.

By the time Kate saw the whole work, it had already undergone much revision and ironing out of the wrinkles. Kate, however, also picked up on some big picture issues, such as the beginning, which she thought just did not work. What was the beginning now appears at about page 60 and the present opening sequence was made up entirely.

The new went though the novel line by line. She questioned the punctuation, some of the wording, the images used – everything. A great deal was left unchanged, but I had to justify, to myself as well as to Kate, much that remained unchanged.

Q – What were some of the pieces that you really liked that got edited out?

A – The opening. Even though it appears later in the book in a revised form, it is changed. And there is a section that has a series of letters in it. In the original, there were twice as many, but it was too slow, so I cut them back sharply to keep the momentum of the story going.

Q –What was the problem with the beginning?

A – I was trying to be clever. I wanted to create the echo-effect, a frame for the novel, so that it begins and ends with the same sort of scene, even, the same scene. Very literary, but it didn’t work in this novel. Mary Ann had tried to tell me this much earlier but I didn’t want to hear it. By the time Kate was telling me I had had enough and was ready to concede.

Q –Is there a worry that the editor can have too much say?

A – Yes. A ‘bad editor’ will try to shape a work according to their own ideals. But a ‘good editor’ will point out what does not work, in their view, and there might be a discussion of that and alternatives, and the writer then goes off and deals with it. That’s how the present beginning sequence came to be.

I used to think there was one author, the one whose name appears on the front cover. Not so anymore – it is a collaborative effort. Yes, it is my concept, my drafting, but there has been so much given by others that I really do see it as more a collaborative effort now. Writers need editors.

Q – When you were writing the novel, did you ever sit down to write have nothing happen?

A – Yes. But I couldn’t afford to just sit there and watch the scenery. Sometimes I was not in the right headspace to write the next thing that needs to be written. That was one of the good things about writing the novel in bits and pieces.

There was always research to do if I got really stuck.

But often I could attend to other things, non-creative things like editing, organising files, attending to correspondence, transcribing sections I had written in longhand, etc.

What I found usually happened then was that my headspace would change and I could go on and do some of the creative work.

One of the really liberating insights from the process that came after a while was that so much of what I write gets tossed out. Partly, perhaps, that is because I often need to write myself in to a story or a character rather than make it up in my head first, then write it down. I’d have done it pretty tough if I’d been writing in Jane Austen’s era, or Charles Dickens’ office, working with nibs and ink bottles and loose sheets of paper.

Q – Did you ever want to give up?

A – Yes. The knockbacks, or even worse – the no replies, were hard to take sometimes. To lift my spirits early on a friend told me that no-one can count themselves a real writer until they’ve had 29 rejections. (It actually worked for me!) Then there were the occasions when the sheer enormity of the task left to do – even to finish the first draft – would get me right down.



January 30, 2018

In the world of exploration, Certainty is a killer. Knowing that I’m right – ‘Yes, I’m certain!’ – is a one way ticket to nowhere else.
Why? Pretty obvious: you get what you look for – you find what you know. The prejudices you look through pick up corroborations and delete the errants. Nothing new there.
But turn the perspective on the immaterial world and the same applies. Religious certainty is a killer. Nothing more is required of the believer than to adhere. Adherence means living out the consequences of the belief, and maybe defending it. Following the paths, patterns, structures implied in the belief. And this is as it should be because, if you’re going to believe in something, then wholehearted is the way to go. Right?
What if – what if there is merit in the opposite – complete uncertainty – ‘I don’t know but I’m going anyway’ ?
Being right leads to entrenched positions, concreted attitudes, rigid responses to the curlies that life throws up.
Just being – stripped of the accreted filtering layers that shelter me from the unpredictable weather of Uncertainty – is a challenge. I have to trust what I don’t know, who I can’t name, whatever it is that is beyond the reach of my intellect. It means removing control from my beliefs. It means I don’t care about being Right anymore. It is inexplicable and indefensible to anyone else who sees the outcome as Wrong. ‘Why?’ gets a shrug, a smile and a lengthy, open eye-contact.
How did I come to this? read more …

January 13, 2018

10 Jan 2018
There are no beliefs here.
I am on my own.
In my being with whatever waits in the darkness
there is nothing but my self to sustain me.
All the frippery and ephemeral disappear,
unseen in the night,
In the Blindness there is only the Light
glowing from within,
a bubble-shield illuminating a few bare centimetres,
not even the length of my foot
shuffling its next tiny step.
Who can tell in the darkness?
It is enough to move in the Light,
trusting my Self not to seek to know –
Why? Where? How? –
trusting whatever this is

It is a precarious way to live.

September 14, 2017

Life is easier without them.
Not the ones that hold your shirts together and not the ones you find in elevators or on keypads. I’m not writing about zippers and Siri.
It’s the ones I’ve stitched onto myself, the threads shallow beneath the skin, and the bright, shiny ones that surface in my skin, wires running down into bone marrow and even deeper into my psyche, rooted in something forgotten. These ones especially, like gross, shiny, flat-topped pimples located on the edge of awareness and trailing inside to something unknown – these ones I can do without.  read more …

August 28, 2017

Some of the recent history of the Malayasia-Myanmar-India-Bangladesh region sits clear through the window of this book. What I read in the news from that region now has more depth. The detail in the book is amazing. No wonder it took Ghosh 5 years to research it. Historical fiction, in my opinion, should attempt to reveal something of the past clearly and sincerely. I want to know things like: What happened? Why? What was it like for the people involved? How is the past visible in the present? etc. The Glass Palace is most satisfactory. (That sounds condescending!)
There are some things that will stick with me for a long while: the scathing critique of imperialism delivered politely, two of the wartime deaths, the change in Burma’s circumstance over the twentieth century.   read more …


August 25, 2017

Imagine you come upon someone saying ‘I know of a way to be free of the buttons and bindings of being here, a way to brush aside dusty webs from the mirror – it’s as simple as breathing …’     What would you say?
(You may choose more than one option.)

A – What’s the catch?
B – No thanks. I’m an atheist.
C –Spill. My life sucks.  read more …