Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zanzibar

Z is for Zanzibar

“The two men exchanged pleasantries then Wittaya quickly drilled to the core.

‘What happened on the Albany?’

Wittaya pictured Cassidy’s face during the brief pause before he answered. ‘Was it a mistake? Did someone do something wrong? Is that what you want to know?’

‘Don’t play @#$%ing games with me Cassidy. I need more than what I am getting from Admiral Masters. I’m getting the feeling that the Navy is closing ranks on this one.’

‘I’m meeting with Masters this morning, and I’ll be looking for more answers than I got yesterday.’

‘Why didn’t you stay and press him?’

‘I had personal business to attend to in Canberra.’

‘Personal business? For @#$% sake. We don’t have the luxury of personal business. This is serious. You understand that don’t you?’”
from chapter 3, Ashmore Grief

For my final 2014 A-Z Blogging Challenge post, I will make my greatest leap. Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar. I have loved Queen forever. They are one of the all time great rock bands, and the man behind the mike and tinkling the ivories, Freddie Mercury, is one of the all time great rock singers. I read Leslie-Anne Jones definitive biography of this rock legend, and I was appalled by the man behind the music. It is no exaggeration to say that I seriously contemplated ditching Queen from my playlist. Wisely, I overcame that extreme initial reaction and I still enjoy their wonderful and unique sounds.

It did make me think about the divide between the professional and personal lives of superstars of music, movies and sport, and from there to thinking about politicians, and regular everyday low profile people like you and me. Is it a question of integrity? Do those who entertain me, inspire me in some way, or even lead me in a political sense have to be perfect people? Of course not, there are no perfect people. This is a vexed issue which cannot be dealt with in a blog post.

What, you may ask, is the connection to my novel Ashmore Grief? The characters in the book all have personal and professional personas. Readers will know more about them than many of the other characters in the novel with whom they interact. Most of us have public personas which may or may not align with our personal lives. Do you?

Photo source

Monday, April 28, 2014

Y is for Yummy

Y is for Yummy

“As Mark settled himself at a table inside Peewee’s at the Point, he gazed out through the window across Fannie Bay to Darwin city. He sighed with contentment as he soaked up the exclusive ambience of one of Australia’s top restaurants. His contentment was devoured by the anxiety he felt about the salience of the occasion, and his bewilderment. What was he doing here? Less than a week ago, he had been dining with Lisa at The Jade Palace. This was a significant leap up the social ladder, and the company, although not as attractive as Lisa was bound to be intoxicating. He ordered a James Squire Sundown Lager, and a Puglises sourdough with wattleseed butter and bush tomato relish for an appetizer.”

From chapter 22, Ashmore Grief

This is something a little lighter, but no less tasty than most of my posts. I am not a foodie. I am not obsessed with cooking shows, nor do I spend hours in the kitchen because I love it. In fact, I spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. I do like food, and I have a good appetite. I am an adventurous eater. If I have to go back to the same restaurant, I will order something different from the menu. I will take a risk because I figure if I am out, and someone is cooking for me, why not try something different, even something a little weird sounding. I like food and eating out, but for me the food is always secondary to the company. Dining out is an interesting setting in which to observe human behaviour and I am a student of human behaviour.

We tend not to go to ‘fancy pants’ establishments like PeeWee’s at the Point because of the cost. Big plates, small servings and exorbitant prices tend to spoil the experience for me. However, last year for our anniversary we stayed in Sydney at Swissotel, and ate dinner at Jpb which is located inside the hotel. That was pretty special and I didn’t give a second thought to the cost. It was a special occasion and the food was superb. I had the Crispy Dutton Park duck leg confit, I think.

Tell me about the fanciest dining out experience you’ve ever had.

Pee Wees at the Point

X is for Xenophobia

X is for Xenophobia

“Fourteen dead and six more critically wounded. He was still unable to interpret these events, to decipher the implications. Border protection had never been so deadly. It had never come at such a cost. What did it mean in terms of the perceived increase in people smuggling activity through Australia’s northern seas in relation to the heightened awareness of every citizen. Australians were xenophobes. He knew that. He’d experienced racism first hand, but he did not hold it against them. Even the word ‘them’ made him cringe. He was one of them. Why could he not think, automatically of us, rather than them? We, he thought to himself, deliberately correcting, are no different to any other nation on Earth. Filled with people who are afraid of what is different and of what is unknown. 

He finished his cigarette quickly, suddenly aware that he was wasting time.”
From chapter 3, Ashmore Grief

Racism is much more prevalent than most people care to admit. Many racists would not even consider themselves to be xenophobes even when uttering statements which are introduced with the phrase, ‘I’m not a racist but...’ Most people hold prejudice in their hearts and although they are not necessarily aware of it, it influences they way they think, behave and speak.

My wife was born in Thailand. She has lived in Australia for over 20 years and is a citizen. She earned a nursing degree here, and is now working in the Renal Unit of Wollongong Hospital. A qualified and competent professional, as well as a compassionate person and a diligent worker, she still experiences racism. People presume certain things about her because of her appearance and they equate her accented English as sign of inferior intellect. She has driven herself hard over many years of study and labour to prove herself good enough, and is only now learning that for some people, there is no such thing as ‘good enough.’

Xenophobes are ignorant and narrow minded people who discriminate against people and treat them disrespectfully, and in some cases, worse than that. Regardless of superficial physical differences, or cultural or religious differences, people are the same. We always have been and always will be. We have the same basic needs for food, shelter, love, security and purpose. When we fail to see and appreciate our commonalities, we are both blind and stupid.

Photo sources:

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for Wittaya

W is for Wittaya

"Looking back, it was clear that his father had used him. If he needed somewhere to sleep he would plead on Wittaya’s behalf, tapping into the sympathy generated by the sight of a helpless  baby, or a young child. The women especially were horrified at the idea that Wittaya’s father should be dragging him all over the city from place to place. They would keep him and try to persuade his father that Wittaya was better off with them, but he always refused. There were even women who offered themselves to him, and volunteered to care for both Wittaya and his father. These acts of kindness were politely refused. His father also used him to stay out of jail. 

No doubt he loved Wittaya in his own way, but in later years, as Wittaya grew up alone in various orphanages and foster homes, he realized his father had not really known how to love him any differently. If nothing else, at least he had delivered him safely to Australia. He died three months after they arrived from tuberculosis."

From chapter 4, Ashmore Grief

Some people, like Senator Wittaya Keawwanna, rise from the ashes of disadvantage and tragedy, and succeed. They trample obstacles as they strive to reach their goals. Rather than view their misfortune as an excuse for failure or a reason not to attempt anything, they use it as inspiration. And these people inspire us. We love ‘rags to riches’ stories, we delight in tales of lives afflicted with suffering in which the sufferers overcome, we marvel at people who rise above their circumstances.

What about those who don’t? What about those who are trapped in miserable cycles of depression, violence, addiction and self destruction? What’s the difference? Is it the person? Other people in their lives? Other external circumstances? Why do some people do well in life and others don’t? If life seems harsh and unjust, it’s because sometimes it is. Sometimes, I just want to go home to Heaven.

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Victory

V is for Victory

“Mark was at the Marrara Cricket Ground watching Australia play Bangladesh in the first test match when he received a phone call he was not expecting. The Top End sun beat down upon the heads of the players and most of the fans as Australia took control of the match early in the post lunch session on Day One. Stubborn resistance but the Bangladesh top order batsmen faltered after the break with the Australian bowlers claiming three quick wickets. The crowd was jubilant, cheering and swilling beer from plastic cups.

A lull in the vociferous celebrations allowed Mark to hear his phone, otherwise he might have missed the call. He answered without attempting to subdue his excitement.

‘Hello, Mark. Wittaya Keawwanna here. How are you? Do you have time to talk?’

‘Faark!’ said Mark.

‘Sorry, what was that? Did I catch you at a bad time?’

Mark yelled to his mate beside him that he needed to go and take this call to which his mate merely raised his plastic cup.

‘Sorry Senator. I’m at Mararra. At the cricket. I’m just trying to get away from the noise. Bear with me will you?’”

From chapter 16, Ashmore Grief

There are three games of rugby league on today, and three games of Australian Rules football. It is Friday but not a typical Friday. It is April 25: ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand. This morning many of us attended dawn services at various locations around the country to commemorate one of our most significant national days. This afternoon many of us will watch a game of footy or two or three. We will cheer for our teams and hopefully celebrate their victories. Our sporting heroes will entertain us and inspire us. However, today is not about sport.

On April 25, 1915, around ten thousand Australian and New Zealand soldiers died at Galipoli in Turkey as they attempted a poorly plalnned beach landing at what is now called Anzac Cove. The sixteen million lives lost during the First World War should have deterred us from further international conflict, but it didn’t.  Victory came at a terrible cost, and as history has unfolded, we see nothing but misery and devastation as nations have fought each other. Men and women have served their countries fighting for what they believed in, and dying for it. Today we remember those who have died, not as a glorification of war but as an acknowledgement of the sacrifices made by honourable and brave people.

The spirit of the ANZACs is alive and well in Australia. As we drink and eat and watch the footy, we will remember our true heroes. To all Australian armed forces personnel past and present, I say “thank you.”

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Unbelievable

U is for Unbelievable

“Thuza laughed.

‘I have been here for three months but I’m leaving soon. Would you like to come with me? Then stay strong, Little One. Stay strong.’

It might have been madness but it sounded so rational: not at all like a foolish fantasy but more like a plan. It seemed that Malee had a way out of the detention centre, or if not, she had at least done an impressive job of deceiving herself that such a thing could happen.

‘How are you going to get out? This is a prison. They won’t let you leave. Don’t be foolish!’

‘You are ignorant, Little One, and trying my patience. You’ve been here for one night and you are telling me the ways things are. You don’t know anything. Get up now. Let’s go and get something to eat.’

Thuza rolled over to face Malee. ‘I’m not hungry.’”

from chapter 7, Ashmore Grief

A friend of mine is overly fond of the adjective ‘unbelievable’ and so I want to dedicate this post to her. When I hear the word, or think of it, I think of her. Certain words or phrases are like that: they get stuck in your mind and are inextricably linked with a person. Either because of the peculiarity of the word itself, or their over use of it, the word and the person become one.

Blogging is a self indulgent past time for me, and a means to an end. To some extent writing is purely cathartic, but I also want readers, and so my blog is a self promotional vehicle for me to drive along the highway to fame. I have something to say, and I want as many people as possible to hear me. I want my name to be linked to words like classic and entertainment, and to phrases like thought provoking. I want my name indelibly associated with quality literature. I want a multitude of readers not only of my hasty, passionate and often somewhat gloomy articles but my stories, my novels. Having that desire does not make me unique, and yet I am.

It is unbelievable to me that I have chosen such a path. It amazes me that I have achieved as much as I have. I once dreamed of what I have now accomplished. With over thirty short stories published and three novels, I yearn for more. The unbelievable can become the undeniable, and I will never cease trying to prove it.

Photo source:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Thuza

T is for Thuza

“She, like her fellow travelers, was throwing the dice for the last time, trying to reach Australia where they had heard stories of peaceful wide open spaces and a generous government. They had handed over their last coins, dumped their identity documents and begged with the smugglers agents for the privilege of being transported in miserable conditions on a dangerous voyage. In her case, her mother had arranged it all but with no money, and her pleas for mercy having fallen on deaf ears, she made an arrangement with one of them. It was all she had to give and he happily took it from her. She was seventeen years old. She was alone. Her name was Thuza.”

From chapter 1, Ashmore Grief.

In Ashmore Grief, Thuza represents the vulnerable, the lost and the hopeless. I live in paradise. I know nothing of war, famine or political or religious persecution. I was raised by two parents in a stable home, and all my life I have prospered in the fertile ground of freedom and affluence. I have had a wealth of amazing relationships and plethora of wonderful opportunities. I go where I want, when I want to, and I eat and drink what I want to. I have bucket loads of leisure time and my work is not arduous. I have never been struck by tragedy of any kind, and I have never been a victim of violence, nor been forced from my home. From time to time I get a bit lost, and I have experienced loneliness but I have never plunged into despair.

Maybe, you also have been blessed like me. Perhaps not, but if not, then you probably know someone who has suffered, or who is suffering. Why not me? Is that what you ask yourself? I do. Why have I escaped the evil which seems so prevalent in the world? I don’t know, but I’m thankful. I thank God for his grace and mercy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Sex Workers

S is for Sex Workers

“ ‘These boat people are going to destroy this government. And I am going to destroy myself.’

‘What say, darling?’

Amy, like most of her imported associates in the sex industry, spoke just enough English to do her job: to satisfy her clients. For small talk, or God forbid a decent conversation, Wittaya would have to go to another bordello where Australian girls worked. The problem with Australian girls was that most of them did not smell as nice. Not their hair not their skin. Neither were they as soft and smooth, nor as genteel. For proper social discourse before, during or after sexual intercourse, he would have to put up with hair which smelled like cigarette smoke and leg stubble. They all shaved their pubic hair these days as well and pierced themselves. Navels were one thing, but the labia and clitoris? He shuddered. None of these women who sold their bodies to him for an hour were even remotely close to the perfection he knew he would never find. But he had needs, and this was uncomplicated: an anatomical transaction between consenting adults.” 

from chapter 8, Ashmore Grief

I have become increasingly ambivalent about the sex industry over the years. There are elements of it which I find abominable and disgusting. Most of what passes for fun, I find at best distasteful and at worst sickening: toys, fetishes and orgies strike me as inventions of the Devil, wicked distortions of the beauty of sex. I cannot stand sexual violence to the point that I skip sections of books which describe such practices, or fast forward movie scenes, or at least avert my eyes. There is a lot of evil in the sex industry. Aside from unmentionable sex crimes, perhaps the worst sin is the exploitation of the weak and powerless, including human trafficking. I really hate all these things.

However, I cannot rouse any such antipathy for a business transaction between consenting and respectful adults whereby a client pays for sex. If a woman chooses to sell her body for financial benefit, then isn’t that her own business? Why should the provision of sexual services be stigmatized? What is the big deal if a relaxing massage includes what is colloquially known as a hand job? Is it a crime or a mortal sin for a man to pay for sex with a stranger if his wife will not make love with him?

I accept the moral, and some would say conservative ideal that is one man and one woman within the context of marriage, is not that simple. Is the oldest profession in the world, a legitimate occupation? I think so. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Photo source

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Rugby League

R is for Rugby League

“‘Are you !@#$%^&  kidding me? Come on!’

Wittaya was on his feet gesticulating wildly at the television. The object of his wrath was the referee who had just awarded a try to the Bulldogs over their arch rivals the Melbourne Storm. Although Wittaya was a Sydney boy, Melbourne represented how he felt about his place in the world. They were a team which had dominated the game for over a decade. A team which all other teams aspired to emulate. A team of outsiders representing a state which was so passionately in love with Australian Rules Football that they had little affection left for a team full of New Zealand and Queensland imports. The Melbourne Storm were hated because they were so good. It was jealousy. Plain and simple, and exactly the same puerile emotion felt by his enemies towards him: a young, ambitious senator on the rise through the ranks.

‘What is the point of having a video referee if they are not going to use it? That looked dodgy at normal speed and the ref was not in a good position to see it properly. What do you reckon, Kelly?‘”  from chapter 9, Ashmore Grief

This is a bit of stretch in terms of being connected to my novel, Ashmore Grief, which is my theme for the A-Z Blogging Challenge, and it’s a repost from last year’s challenge but rugby league is such a great game, I just wanted to share this again.

Last night I went to a rugby league match. Those of you unfamiliar with this fast and brutal sport should think in terms of American Football without all the padding and helmets, less players and few breaks in play. Rugby league is 80 minutes of skillful gladiatorial combat. So here I am in a hotel room, the morning after the game, in Canberra which is not only our national capital but is also celebrating its 100th birthday. As part of the celebrations, it hosted last night’s match at Canberra Stadium. Just over 25, 000 people, of which I was one, watched the first rugby league test match between Australia and New Zealand to be played in Canberra. It was an historic night. It was also an historic night for two of my guests. My niece and nephew are visiting from Thailand, and I felt obliged to share this wonderful facet of Australian culture with them. They were exposed to some of what is good and bad about living in Australia.

The free bus, which was to take us to the ground from where we parked our car and had an awesome Italian meal, was late. When we got to the ground, there was a massive queue of ticket holders like us, who were being slowly corralled through just four ticket gates. The teams came on to the field while we were outside. The national anthems were sung, the haka performed and the game commenced all before we made it in. We were then directed by stadium staff to the wrong end of the ground, and by the time we walked to the other end, found our seats, ejected the people who were sitting in our seats and finally sat to watch the game, twenty minutes had elapsed. It was very cold but we cheered with vigour as our boys finished strongly in what had been a tight contest. With a victory under our belts we left the ground in high spirits, and went to join the crowd of people waiting for buses. It was long wait. I thought my niece and nephew, unaccustomed to cold weather, might die from exposure. The crowd jeered the stadium staff as they apologized for the lack of buses as we stood and made the best of our plight.

Last night was one of those nights which will be talked about for as long as we live. A great victory by a great team with great support from patient and generally good humoured fans. I love my footy. What sports are you crazy about? What lengths have you gone to see a match?

Photo sources

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Quirky

Q is for Quirky

“It was only then that Mark realized he himself was the subject of intense scrutiny from the other side of the bus.


The woman lifted her hands high above her head and began to chant something about seven sons and six fathers, and the various blessing s they were seeking to bestow on the favoured ones.
‘I am one of those upon whom the masters shine. I am favoured,’ she said.

‘I’m Mark. How are ya?’

She lowered her hands, and brought them into her chest with the palms facing the roof of the bus. Then she pushed them out simultaneously towards Mark.

‘More will come. Many will come. Many are here already.’

‘Good thing there are plenty of seats,’ said Mark.

The woman allowed her right hand to drop by her side and rest upon her dirty denim handbag. With her left hand she made elaborate stroking gestures across her thick matted hair. Mark watched as the static charges in her hair caused individual hairs to be liberated from the thicket on her head and rise to freedom.

‘The boat people,’ she breathed. ‘The boat people.’

Mark was torn. The conversation was ludicrous but mildly entertaining, and he needed a distraction. Thus far, the crazy old bat had not made a skerrick of sense, but how could he fail to engage, or at least attempt to engage her on the topic of boat people. Unless, of course, she wasn’t talking about illegal arrivals to Australia aboard smugglers’ boats.

He decided to step out on a limb and test the strength of the branch of her sanity. ‘I used to work on a patrol boat.’

‘Then you know the truth.’

Mark’s heart stopped. ‘What truth?’

‘Ashmore Grief.’

‘It’s reef, not grief.’”  From Ashmore Grief, chapter 9

Do you have an eccentric friend? Are you a little idiosyncratic? Call it quirky or call it weird, there is something of the ‘slightly off kilter’ within all of us. Something quidditative. ( Thanks Roshni  ) 

We are all individuals and the mixing of our personalities with our experiences results in a unique and slightly fruity cocktail. Sure some of us are nuttier than others, and some people are much more overtly ‘on another planet’ but we are all different, and it is worth our while to try to be as accommodating of these dissimilarities as possible: to even develop an appreciation for them.

The woman on the bus in Ashmore Grief clearly had a mental problem of some kind, and I don’t want to be insensitive towards or dismissive of those who suffer mental disorders. However, whether we have been diagnosed with something or not, we are all a bit batty sometimes in some of our habits and behaviours. We’re all a bit looney, aren’t we? Or I am out of mind?

Photograph source

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Prime Minister

P is for Prime Minister

"‘...The closed door policy that some Australians believe we should adopt with respect to migrants is an intolerable nonsense. Such a policy would have prevented me from coming to Australia as a three year old boy on a boat with my father. I love this country and I want Australians to be magnanimous and compassionate for these are admirable qualities which please God and bring peace. Thank you Australia.’

Spontaneous applause erupted around the gallery as recording devices were discarded on chairs and on the floor. ..He had never felt such unabashed elation, yet he knew, that an incredible amount of hard work was required. The job he believed he was always destined for, was now his to populate and prosper.
When the applause faded, Wittaya left the room, with his two favorite girls by his side. It was only then, in a flash, that an unwelcome intruder crashed into his joy. A fleeting thought of Watheq Abdullah Mishal."  From chapter 34, Ashmore Grief

I recently read a book called In God They Trust written by Roy Williams. In the book, Williams explores the core values and beliefs which underpinned the political careers of Australia’s Prime Minsters. It is essentially an investigation of integrity, and questions whether the practice of a genuine Christian faith is compatible with the execution of the duties of the highest office in the land. The answer to his question is, unsurprisingly, vexed not least because of the problem of accurately defining a Christian.

Is belief in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity sufficient for a person to be called Christian? If you have Christian values and believe in God, does that make you a Christian? If you’re a good person and you go to church, is that enough?

What I will say is that if you call yourself a Christian, you immediately subject yourself to greater scrutiny. More will be expected of you by your family and friends. If you have a public profile, for example as the Prime Minster of Australia, then even more will be required. You will be judged by different standards and the pressure to compromise you values will be intense. In a healthy democracy, politics is, after all, the art of compromise.

Jesus said, “Judge not, lest you be judged yourself.” Today is Good Friday. Easter is a reminder of how much God loves us, and what it cost for us receive the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Original Sin

“Wittaya used people the way his father had used tools. He remembered watching the man work and marveling at his artistry, his concentration. He could be awesomely focused in times of sobriety. Each tool brought to bear on the blank canvass of a piece of wood for a specific purpose, a limited time, then discarded and ignored until need once more. The finished product, a carving of breathtaking beauty for which men paid good money. Although possessing no such skill as a woodworker, Wittaya considered himself an artist in his own right.  He had a team of people upon whom he could call, but who were forbidden to trouble him even if they did possess such temerity. His favours were only ever gifts to be received according to his whim. The outsider may have seen caprice, but the superficial randomness masked engineering. Manipulation.”  
from chapter 11, Ashmore Grief

Pride is the original sin. According to the Bible it was pride which led Adam to disobey God’s command in the garden, and partake of the Forbidden fruit which then saw him and his wife, Eve, cast out of paradise. It was pride which saw Lucifer exiled from heaven along with a third of the heavenly host who thought to raise themselves above their creator. 

Pride makes a man declare independence from God and from others. I am enough. I can do it myself. Have you met a self made person? Have you heard their tales of triumph over the obstacles the world has thrown in their path? Pride rejects help even when it is needed. Pride doesn’t acknowledge other contributions to success. Pride justifies immoral or unethical actions. Pride audaciously declares, “I am the most important person in the world.” Pride focuses attention on the self. The ego becomes the master.

In Ashmore Grief, pride drives Wittaya Keawwanna. He dresses his pride in altruism, but his ambition is fuelled by a darkness which causes him to function with deliberate ruthlessness. The Proverbs tell us that pride goes before a fall...what calamity awaits Wittaya?

When has pride caused you to fall from grace?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Navy

N is for Navy

“In no time, Mark was in position at one of the two 12.7mm mounted machine guns should he be given the order. The Albany was also equipped with an ATK Bushmaster cannon which was operated remotely from the bridge. Each man knew his job. The well oiled machinery of this patrol boat was matched by the men and women who crewed her. With everyone at their respective stations, the countdown began. Mission parameters for Armidale Class patrol boats allowed for the provision of naval support for civilian authorities such as fisheries protection, customs patrol and in protection against illegal immigration.

Unidentified vessels were most likely foreign fishing boats, trespassing in Australian territorial waters or leaking, overcrowded people smugglers. There was a potential for hostility in either case, as well as the chance that pirates were plying their wicked trade. Piracy was a new phenomenon in Australian waters. Formerly ignored by maritime criminals, the popularity of the Great Southland had ballooned following the much publicized campaigns of the colourful Indonesian buccaneer Porampu Satu.”  from chapter 1, Ashmore Grief

The Royal Australian Navy consists of 53 vessels and over 16 000 personnel. It is one of the largest and most sophisticated naval forces in the Pacific region, with a significant presence in the Indian Ocean and worldwide operations in support of military campaigns and peacekeeping missions. The RAN currently uses the Armidale class patrol boat. Boats are named after Australian cities and towns with close links to Navy heritage. Armidale class patrol boats provide the RAN with an improved ability to intercept and apprehend vessels in a greater range of sea conditions than earlier patrol boat classes.

Author's note: I did much more research for Ashmore Grief than for either of my previous novels. Authenticity was important, and I hope I managed to convey a realistic feel to the novel with respect to the RAN. HMS Albany is the main Armidale class patrol, boat featured in the novel.

My extreme distaste for the Australian government's policy on "boat people" is no reflection at all on RAN service personnel who do their jobs well and proudly serve this great nation.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Migrants

M is for Migrants

“‘I understand the strength of emotion that causes people to behave improperly, to use rash, angry words and to resort to violent actions. I understand the deep empathy which brought you all here today. I also understand what drives people from their homes to risk their lives on such uncertain promises as made by unscrupulous smugglers, exposing themselves to untold dangers. Do not forget that I am a boat person. I arrived in this beautiful country as an illegal immigrant, a queue jumper, courtesy of the money my father paid to a smuggler. I do understand the issues. The concern of course it how to get the balance right. Neither an open door policy, or a turn the boats around policy will suffice to humanely and justly manage this complex problem.’

He paused, and inhaled the anticipation of the audience. With the protestors long gone, and the juice stains drying nicely on his suit, the time had come to close his address. It was vital that he leave them hungry because he had more to feed them later, when he was ready.”   from chapter 6, Ashmore Grief

Australia is a migrant nation. We have been dependent on migration for growth since Arthur Phillip led the First Fleet into Sydney Cove in 1788. Beginning with convicts and a smattering of free settlers, through the Gold Rush which saw 600 000 people come to Australia from all over the world, to federation in 1901, when migration policy began to be dominated by the infamous “White Australia Policy” which effectively ended Asian migration for fifty years. 

The end of the second world war caused another dramatic shift with then Prime Minister, Ben Chifley declaring that we should “populate or perish” (my paraphrase). A Department of Immigration was established and Australia began to accept significant numbers of refugees from Europe. In 1972 with the coming to power of the first Labour government since 1946, the racist quota system was replaced by something called ‘structured selection’ whereby migrants would be chosen according to social and personal attributes, and occupational group rather than country of origin. Three years later the first ‘boat people arrived and Australia experienced a wave of refugees from Southeast Asia, principally Vietnam and Cambodia.

Despite Australia’s incredible ethnic diversity, (around 50 statistically significant ethnic groups) and our continued record of successful and peaceful multiculturalism, the hysteria surrounding our current crop of illegal boat arrivals demonstrates the xenophobia which lies beneath the surface of our smiles. Roughly one in four Australians were born overseas, and sadly, this still bothers too many people.

Photograph sources:

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Lazing About

L is for Lazing Around

“After a week of lounging around his apartment, watching movies, eating and drinking too much, Mark decided he needed a change of scenery. The prospect of a long rest with nothing to do, no place to be, no uniform to wear, and no orders to follow had seemed very appealing until boredom gate crashed his party.

He rolled over and stared at the clock. It was six thirty, and so far, his longest sleep in. He stayed in bed longer than he needed to because there was no reason to get up. He was supposed to be recuperating so his indolence was entirely justified but it troubled him, nonetheless. He tossed himself around on the bed, as much as his broken ribs would allow. The odd twinge was all he experienced now. He banged his hand against the bed, then against the pillow. Then he let it fall rather than thrusting it down. He squeezed his hand, bent his legs.”   from chapter 6, Ashmore Grief

If you are an active person, if your life is full of numerous activities and responsibilities which  demand your attention, your time and your energy, then you need a vacation. If you are such a person who frets over time wasted, and the inefficient use of resources then you need to chill. You push hard to cram as much as you can into your twenty four hours whilst always wishing for an extension, and you need to achieve your goals, to get things done. You have a to do list, and you motivate yourself with self improvement quotes. You love to work. Paid work, voluntary work, any sort of work. You are always on the go, and you can find time for everything.

It makes me tired just thinking about it. Rest is severely underrated by people like you, and I know because there is a little bit of you in me. I’m fighting it because I don’t want to live life at one hundred miles an hour. I don’t want to be so driven that I cannot enjoy anything. Cliche alert: I want to be able to stop and smell the roses. I’m learning to relax. I’m learning to appreciate quietness and slowness.

Take a vacation, and if it’s been a while since your last one, then make it a long one. Unwind. Relax. Enjoy. It may be very difficult, as it was for Mark in Ashmore Grief, who liked the idea but found the practice of rest uncomfortable and unsatisfying, but please try. If you work hard, you deserve rest. Don’t begrudge yourself this simple pleasure.

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