“The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.”
As for my endeavour in reaching my professional goal, I’ve had to close the books on my acting independently. My paralysis put paid to all that. Trying to pick up where I had left off, I was left with no alternative but to enlist the co-operation of interested parties. I want others to carry on the work I began. The things I’ve planned need a helping hand. My resources need maintenance and, based on public commentary, merit development. To see my brainchild, my best laid scheme, my labour of love, lying idle or gone astray, suffering such growing pains, has been a source of concern for me. When I think of all the hours I put into creating it, I feel terribly sad. Everything I thought and valued went into it. It was central to my working well, for public welfare, for all the time that I have been given. But I’m determined to see it through.
In my darkest hours I never lost the plot but now looked like losing my whole library. I still get the feeling in the shank of the night that in my work of two decades I had been chasing my own tail, that it was all for nothing.
I felt like Narcissus without his shadow. Orpheus without his lyre.
Like actor Theodore Bikel, refugee from the Nazis, describing his loss when they disposed of his books: ‘Those were our friends. They were not just books. They were our friends. They were dear to us. They were our relatives. We grew up with them. These were our songs. These were—this was our background.’
Of course objectively it doesn’t cancel it out. This work was only half of it. I enjoyed the hunt and when it all comes down to it, I have a lot to show for it. I have a fine family. With my trio of healthy, highly educated sons, better versions of myself, I scored the hat trick. That can’t be bought or sold. It’s what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another. I must have been doing something right. And I may not have lit up the world but I’ve tried to play my tiny part stopping it being blown up.
Surely any sensible guy can see that?
Forced to redefine my dream, I ultimately realize I am not not a washout. A never-was maybe but not a has-been. I didn’t need much money, fortune, or fame.
I had all the riches one man can claim. My legacy as an good father is just as important as official recognition and backing for my education service. At least I still had my integrity. I could sleep at night.
If I had been living in the shadow of greatness, then isn’t it also true that without shadow there’s no sun.
However, we can never underestimate how profoundly men put their careers at the centre of their identity. It’s almost our entire sense of self, the thing that most gives us meaning. Although the sun will continue to rise whether we work or not, as soon we are forced to stop it our whole sense of ego and identity can began to dissemble.
If you are what you do, especially if it’s something good, what are you if you’re no longer doing it? Dash it all, knowing I didn’t get the guernsey I sought has been to feel my hopes done for, down the drain, and me consigned to oblivion. I wanted above all to stay operational, to keep the materiel in my house but my family argued the unprocessed material in particular weighed them down.
Did they smell a pack rat, unable to let go of his white elephant? Fair enough. They needed lebensraum and after all I had had my chance. Accordingly, I spent many hours on the phone approaching any takers, schools and community organisations who might value the importance of a collective and collaborative effort on this educational undertaking and who could help me get back on my feet again in the process. It would have been ideal to hit it off with some local body for reasons of accessibility.
The head at my son’s high school visited to inspect it, but like her local primary school colleagues, couldn’t see how it fitted into in the curriculum. It couldn’t of course because being global in approach, it doesn’t fit neatly into any officially sanctioned academic pigeonhole. It’s one size fits all the family.
One of the managers of nearby Tranby Aboriginal College came but couldn’t see how his College could accommodate such resources emphasising our aboriginal heritage. Like in all schools and institutions, the waves emanating from the digital revolution had seen it emptying it’s shelves of books, indisposed to retaining collections. Even one with a unique coverage of indigenous life.
I addressed a meeting of the Lions Club in Burwood but my offer wasn’t taken up.
The show had to go on-but how?
‘Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.’
San Quentin Tarantino.
Ultimately, I was directed to the Canterbury Bankstown Migrant Resource Centre in the urban fringe area where many overseas arrivals, fresh ‘off the boat’, make their first home. A working-class area, Canterbury-Bankstown is home to successive waves of spirited migrants from Greece, Italy, Lebanon and other nations flattened by wars. Chinese people introduced to locals their food and food practices.
It was here in the suburb of Campsie where Korean migrants a generation back met the challenge of re-establishing their livelihoods in Australia. As Associate Professor Gil Soo Han has determined in his research, most of these professionally trained ‘container’ migrants would disappointingly find themselves in manual labour for want of English language proficiency.
The Centre responded full steam ahead and transported the resources to their Centre.
Custom made for this purpose, they could now hopefully be directed at helping ease one of today’s most pressing problems: immigration and its effects on our prosperous but divided country, there being no absence of conflict where newcomers are concerned. Prime Minister Abbott declared a national emergency involving refugees. It has been made one. We must heed this and act.
Our task should be to smooth the harrowing experience of many newcomers – searching high and low for a better life in a country that’s often anything but welcoming.
We should smooth their exploration of new and unfamiliar facets of life. Being born in Australia is not a virtue, being born in Sudan is not a crime.
Sydney is one of the cities that has absorbed most of the latest wave of immigrants. The few remaining industries are concentrated around the city’s west. Whether in giant or small factories with a few dozen workers, the work force is now almost entirely composed of immigrants. The new inhabitants of the city are more often than not asians, africans and arabs.
This can be seen from the number of their children in the schools, which picks up exponentially every year.
The Centre brought me and samples of my materials to new arrivals and old hands to whom I talked about my life and times. I appear in public libraries, gathering places, and certain government primary schools where such children are helped after classes with their homework. I showed them the contents of my sample bags and explained my approach to learning. Now there’s a turn-up for the books.
‘Much more interesting than the Easter Show bags,’ commented one high school girl.
‘If only we had these at our school.
I never cease to be amazed by the intelligence of children.
One little Ashfield Public School girl, Ayeesha, came up to us after one homework session and asked me why I had put together such an assemblage. I could only reply that it had to be done, because as she and her fellow pupils noted, this format doesn’t exist in schools.
I appeared with the Centre at The Peppertree Café.[See the portal with this title]
A Living Book
As a living saga- I appear both online and onshelf- I became a living book myself at Campsie Library, in the thick of this new homeland for many newcomers. The library adjoins the Migrant Resource Centre. In the Canterbury Human Library scheme I was available to be borrowed by readers for half an hour to read my mind. ‘No overnight loans!’ I pointed out insistently. Readers listened to my experiences, asked questions about them and discussed them.
These are great opportunities for people to meet safely and understand those they think might be different, to challenge stereotypes and prejudices.
When libraries launched a national campaign in 2012 to promote a culture of reading in the home, I hoped to take part.
The State Librarian of N.S.W. stated the aim is for everyone ‘to have a real focus on reading [S.M.H. April 23,2012]. ”We’re saying to the community, whatever you want to read, be it a cookbook or a work of Dickens, let’s read for an hour’,” Dr Byrne said.
Programs and events promoting reading and literature were held at public libraries throughout the state. As a fully fledged Living Book in the scheme, I proposed that I hold workshops at Campsie library to further this aim. As a volunteer at the adjoining migrant resource centre, renamed MetroAssist I wanted to carry out this work in conjunction with it. Its premises are where the education material was stored and is ideally located close to the library. It urgently needed attention, to be rescued from being mothballed or oblivion. Being able to meet people with reading difficulties at the library would have been invaluable in this regard.
Unfortunately the Library already had ‘a long list of events’ to organise and promote, so it had ‘no space for this type of program’. This was deeply disappointing as people coming into the libraries bring with them the reading skills they learned at school. Many Australians enter school unable to read and write satisfactorily and they leave that way. They would be more likely to visit the library if they could be helped to balance their reading with their viewing.
Universal literacy has to be just that-nothing less.
The former Premier of N.S.W., Gladys Berejiklian learned the rewards of reading in our libraries. ‘Your future is an open book,’ she liked to tell our children.
‘A love of reading when young lasts a lifetime.’
Like the librarian in my hometown, hers at primary school earned her money. The daughter of Armenian immigrants, young Gladys arrived at age five without a word of English but after catching up with her classmates she started devouring books by the shelf-load.
Biographies were her favourites, particularly those about world leaders. So ravenous was her appetite that the library soon needed replenishing.
“I read all the biographies in our school and the librarian used to swap books with other schools so I could read more books.
But the one book that made a lasting impression was not a classic biography. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is the story of a Japanese girl who contracts leukaemia after the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
“I read and re-read that book can’t tell you how many times,” said Ms Berejiklian who still has a treasured copy of it at home.
She had a message for schoolchildren taking part: ‘Read for pleasure’.
She wants them to read more often and more widely. It’s important for children to discover what books have to offer because we know a passion for learning will set them up for the future.
“Pick an author or a storyline or a subject that you love. Reading is about enjoying, it’s not about something you have to do,” she said.
‘Books connect us to the magic of our own imaginations.’
‘They allow us to explore faraway places, see the world through other people’s eyes and discover a wonderful array of characters and their stories.’
“Books expose you to things you’ve never heard or thought of before or visit places you’ve never seen or can’t imagine going to.
She encouraged students ‘to take the challenge, read more and discover where your own curiosity and creativity can take you.’
“There’s so many great books to choose from. It’s a joy that I’ve kept up through my life and it’s one of my best pleasures, I have to say.’
How could unabashed bibliophobia have reigned unchallenged on the watch of this self-confessed bibliophile?
On the pandemic she said, ‘I want to thank the community for meeting all the restrictions we’re putting in place, for wearing masks where we need to, for making sure that we’re responsible every time we leave the home.’
Could she not have shown her thanks by easing the restrictions on literacy?
Could she not have called on her strong supporter, the Minister for Home Affairs on her watch, one of the first the alien virus homed in on, to ease the restrictions on use of books among newcomers to this country.
How can anyone deny the part books can play in breaking the chains of ignorance?
How is it that any one in any position of authority can deny the value of books in promoting literacy?
Certainly teachers in TAFE don’t. They use books and any available resources to teach the five hundred hours of English required of those from the Syrian influx to provide a bridge to their new land.
Regrettably in this state it is as difficult to attack the problem of difficulty in reading as a volunteer as it is as a professional in the education sector. Teaching the reading of vocational subjects and civics is one on one or directed to groups – it does this excellently – but not to the whole population. Despite being surrounded by such a large number of teachers, many poorly literate remain unable to benefit.
‘Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.’
The official dictate is that “people should not ask ‘why’, while those in charge only say ‘because’.
The literacy problem is shamefully systemic and can only begin to be resolved from a global approach, not piecemeal.
The encyclopaedic limited edition was arranged and shelved in an office at the Centre. There was a large amount of printed material waiting to be processed. If steps were not taken, the material would become degraded.
I’d like to think that my life is not only mine but also belongs to the events I’ve set in motion.
I asked the language teaching college, Navitas, sharing the building with the Centre if they were interested in co-operation. They weren’t but referred me to Mission Australia in Parramatta whose CEO told me they have difficulty coping resourcewise to do so. They have no ways and means to offer essential resources-even if they are free.
A friend of a friend, a former TAFE teacher, reported all that jazz with the Jesuits. They have so many volunteers at their award-winning Parramatta complex that they didn’t want her in. They have a centre in Newtown which filters volunteers. This lady comments, ‘God knows what has happened that they are filtering so thoroughly.’
They never replied to my e-mail to them.
I was grateful to the Metro Assist Centre for responding to housing the materials and for the friendly, co-operative manner of the staff.
My offer to the Centre of a vital service catering to the needs of the community started off well. As I said it started with visits to after school study activity groups and my arranging the processed material with work experience students. Our next step was to use the material as it’s designed to be. With a gathering of divers tongues engaged in a mutual exchange of ideas about their country and world in English, enhancing their understanding enjoyably, with minimal teacher intervention.
Towards this end I took part in the conversation support group Metro Assist ran at the Strathfield Community Centre once a month, using my material to prompt discussion, reading and writing. My aim was-and remains – to create a nucleus of volunteer assisted students who make their way through material of interest to them, at their own pace, developing their reading, writing and spoken skills, then helping those less able, radiating their skills and enthusiasm in a ripple effect. This allows all participants to interact as citizens three dimensionally.
Of the nucleus, I need just a few participants to start with. They are invited to help collect and classify quality images of all manner of things in a marriage of onshelf and online resources.
I suggested to the CEO of Metro we distribute the following message:
‘Fellow Citizen of New South Wales,
As things get tighter and tougher, it’s ever more urgent that all living here in Australia are able to communicate with each other in English and understand our way of life.
Official figures show that many, including both native born and new arrivals, cannot.
To address this issue, an exciting educational project is underway in the heart of Sydney. It offers everyone the chance to become totally immersed in our culture and language. Operating out of Metro Assist headquarters in Campsie, it is organised in conjunction with ‘The ‘Between the Lines’ Education Consultancy. ’
Location: Level 2, 59-63 Evaline St, Campsie.
Contact: allanwdavis@hotmail. com
Visit: inletterandinspirit.com See: Safe Haven
Participants make their way through educational material of interest to them at their own pace, developing their reading, writing and spoken skills. Even if they only like the images, they might get in deeper and find out more. They can then pass this on to others in a cascade effect. We welcome any new migrants and old hands to take part. Check with us beforehand to arrange a suitable meeting time.
You who are now reading this, as an individual or member of a group, have a role to play and can make a difference. You get to choose: Do you want to live in a country more secure because all people can get through to each other without difficulty and know the layout of the land?
It’s all up to you and me.
You could assist this project as outlined on the back page.
You could assist by passing this message on to interested individuals, organisations and businesses.
If you read about our approach outlined in the blog, you’ll see that our educational material is compiled according to a simple formula. Quality images of all manner of things are collected, classified and imposed with putty-like pressure sensitive adhesive on A4 sheets. A text is then written whose content is drawn as far as possible only from the information given in the image. This becomes an encyclopediac unit in which the text coincides with the images, each unit enclosed in a plastic sheet protector and stored alphabetically in jumbo binders. Each unit is cross referenced to others. This allows shuffling text and images around, inserting new material and continuous editing. Each unit forms part of an emerging jigsaw puzzle, producing an increasingly more complete picture of the state in which we live and the world beyond.
You can assist this project by writing, compiling and assembling the material. You can do this both onshelf and online, with or without photoshop. You may wish to write about something you’re interested in or to supply printed matter of a good visual quality. Photographs, drawings, cartoons, paintings, illustrations and so on. Our country is rich in its abundance, much of which gets wasted. Much is in the hands of booklovers many of whom would wish their material help others read and write. Much ends up in recycling bins. Much may be broken and only good for our purposes. Much ends up in charity shops where most of ours came from. You are welcome to drop in our operations and see what needs to be done.
As writing my saga has taken over the place of my educational project, my eyesight and physical strength on the wane, I wanted to – and still want to – get this operation up and running as planned, then take a back seat, assisting its direction from home before I shuffle off into the sunset.
Things started encouragingly at the most centrally and pleasantly located building in Strathfield.
I worked with the clients the consortium agency connected me with and made lengthy overtures to the various migrant communities to attract more students.
I worked alongside Tony Tonous, client service officer with Metro Assist helping newly arrived residents. Resetting my system, I looked forward to wheeling out an improved version, slotting more items of knowledge into place. With a changing turnout of numbers, giving any comers all our attention, we were able to work on and improve the education material. By drawing upon both hard copy and internet, we were starting to assemble a more refined compilation. We started filling in the gaps in our material designed to fill the gaps in the education system.
We invited The Edmund Rice Foundation to work in co-operation with us. The Foundation is a non-government organization which supports programs for socially and financially disadvantaged children, youth and families, indigenous Australians, refugees and asylum seekers. Its representative, John, took note of our details.
I made contacts with the Tamil community. The general problem turned out to be how to get their young members to come and learn about their new language and culture rather than something directly vocational. Like a lot of young people they spend much time alone or with others talking only in their own language.
As we are reminded every day on the news this is a recipe for disaster.
One young Tamil man in his late 20s began our project but never made it back.
Janarthanan set himself on fire because his application for a protection visa was rejected by the Immigration Department. After finishing a three-hour cleaning shift at Balmain’s shipping yards, he swallowed petrol went outside and doused himself with it and set himself alight. A number of workers from a nearby shipyard came to his aid, pouring water on him and trying to put out the flames. Janarthan ended up with burns to most of his body.
Janarthanan had left a suicide note saying he would rather die in Australia than die in Sri Lanka.
This followed hard on the heels of another Tamil refugee who died in the attempt, leaving a note describing Australians as a “very kind people” and his body parts to five Australians.
I helped our Italian student Paolo give a humorous account of his experiences on the road: The Truckie, the Tamil and the Teacher
Tony and I had positive overtures from the principal of Homebush West Primary to involve parents after school. Then Tony exited and Maissa Swellam took over. We were just picking up the pieces when Maissa exited. Metro Assist pulled the plug. So our co-operation was promising but a let-down in that it didn’t go further. We had some difficulty getting a critical mass which didn’t reflect any lack of enthusiasm or ability on our part. It’s a challenge attracting people in educational activities that are more socially rather than vocationalIy oriented .
I must say I’m impressed and a little envious of operations at the Hannaford Centre which assists me with my computer skills. The Centre is run by the Inner West Council. Their team of assistants work on a voluntary basis. They are doing what they want to do when they are back at the office.
Here they are using their skills to help people wanting to develop their talents, of whom there is no shortage. And they are adding to their own skills and experience at the same time.
One of my volunteer computer instructors at the Hannaford Centre was given approval to assist soon after she arrived in the country.
Regrettably my hopes of operating in similar fashion with my project at Metro Assist were dealt a blow. This at a time when the need for such services are needed more than ever what with the exodus from the war zones.
I was told in 2014 that I would be informed by June 2015 as to my future participation in Metro Assist’s program. After not hearing further, I enquired and was informed that due to funding cutbacks, my services couldn’t be used. This was very disappointing. It was driven home hard then that nothing of this project would ever eventuate unless I argued ever more strongly and relentlessly. The material at Campsie would remain just a pile of paper, cardboard and plastic in the eyes of some and would deteriorate further.
What particularly pained me is that a volume of encyclopaedic material on New South Wales, crucial for demonstrating my methodology, could not be accounted for. I left it with Metro to assist Goma, a withdrawn war damaged Nepalese refugee.
I tried to comprehend the thinking behind this. One wouldn’t expect any resources-based organisation subject to such funding measures to cut back on what resources are available to it at little cost if any. I operate on a voluntary basis and offered Metro Assist the opportunity to provide unique educational resources for its clients. They are well and widely attested to.
A resource- based organisation can best adapt to these cutbacks by using its resources as they are supposed to be . That way it can build a stronger user base from which to justify its operations.
All I required was transport to its activities. Where this was outside the Campsie Centre and I was provided taxi transport I offered my taxi vouchers for half the fare. When it was to Campsie itself I was given a lift by staff members.
I recommended to Metro Assist that it utilise both my services and the resources stored at Campsie in a more optimal way. The way I had been suggesting from the start of my association with it, one which I was yet to be taken up on seriously.
Like a dog with a bone, I couldn’t let it lie. I repeated over a long period my concern for the material. It requires safe storage and maintenance.
I reiterated to Metro management that my schedule was very flexible.My main obstacle was transport. As I live just a small deviation from the route from city to Campsie, surely there must be staff members travelling this route who could pick me up and take me there at their convenience. Then I could work with those requiring assistance with their English and local knowledge at the Centre. They in turn would help with moving materials which I cannot. Apart from some occasional printouts and advice, this involved practically no cost and could only bolster Metro Assist’s prestige as a provider of resources for migrants.
The objection raised to this has been that there were no staff available to work on this. None were needed. Where Metro Assist couldn’t, I could continue to attract learners as I did at Strathfield Community Centre before this reach out operation was abruptly terminated. I acknowledged to the Management this project requires a collective community effort but it’s well worth it.
I can’t believe at a migrant resource centre in the hub of Sydney’s newcomer centre, there would be any shortage of people requiring such educational assistance. There’s certainly no shortage among the native born population.
Australia would experience a shortage of health workers, Covid-19 testing kits and adequate claret, but there’s never been a shortage of people requiring educational assistance.
There’s a sea of migrants lapping up against the Metro Assist Centre but after years of me in the waiting slough, the Centre proved unable to connect any significant numbers up with me. My involvement with it proved tantalisingly frustrating. As the only organisation I found willing to co-operate with me in promoting popular education about our country, I’m appreciative of their initial response and don’t want to sound critical. I’m very self-critical and in the light of my physical breakdown attribute this in part to my former unrealistic expectations. I also bear in mind that Metro Assist’s ambit is not as a primary deliverer of educational services. I got along well with Metro staff and didn’t threaten to edge any one out of their advancement or one up them.
I wasn’t asking anyone there for a pint of blood.
The last I saw the processed material was several years ago. The unprocessed material was stored in an untidy pile in the Centre’s parking area. I was assured many times that it was being protected although I would have liked to have seen this with my own eyes
I have a smaller store of material in my home which needs urgently to be united with the mother lode. It was to have been taken to Campsie but this never happened. It can be removed in one car bootful. All this material is reducible to a fraction of its volume when processed.
I asked Metro Assist to look on our joint involvement not as a business burden but as a project in which fellow human beings can work together to create a more harmonious country. A great pity not to give it a go, for all our sakes.
Eventually the new CEO of Metro Assist reported the sad news that an amount of Metro Assist’s materials and some of the unprocessed education material which had been stored in the basement were stolen a year previously. The theft was brought to Metro’s attention by the landlord. It appeared that entry was gained via the carpark shutter by propping objects in front of the sensor and keeping it in the open position.
Regarding whatever resources remained, and how much could be salvaged remained to be seen, Metro Assist said it was currently experiencing an extreme shortage of space in its offices and was seeking additional space to accommodate staff.
It acknowledged the support I have given its clients through my volunteering and offered its humblest apology for not having noticed the loss and notified me earlier. It acknowledged that the news was a shock for me and said it understood how I felt.
That didn’t make it for me. What I really want is to contribute to solving a challenging social problem.
News of the loss was a great shock but I wasn’t surprised. As I warned a number of times, it was only a matter of time before this happened.
Not that I’m giving any ‘I told you so’s.’ I could say the same thing about what happened to my life. As I write, it was a shock but no surprise. We live and learn, fortunately. I said to Metro ‘Let’s move on right away.’
While appreciating the difficult situation facing organisations such as Metro Assist, I underlined the fact that if nothing was done to use the remaining resources, they’d become nobody’s.
I had long guarded them like a mother hen. I was very possessive of them before they came to Campsie but I now had to co-operate more closely with others. I was happy that they found a home in a secular oriented organisation carrying out an essential public service.
I outlined how my future service could be best used. With regard to me getting to and from the Campsie Centre or elsewhere, the Metro office only needed to know the movements of the staff and to stay in touch with me.
I don’t need much space. I operated very productively with Tony and Maissa in a very tight office at Strathfield Community Centre, the size of a prison cell.
At the Centre I explained to two students on work experience, two refugees from Africa, how the system was ordered. The room we worked in had been decked out invitingly with books selected willy nilly from the unprocessed material. If the material had been processed as had been agreed upon, it would have fitted in a fraction of the space in that room. We could have made light work of it.
It required minimal support from Metro staff.
I told Metro management that presuming it still didn’t have any parties interested in participation, I could step up contacting any interested parties in the area including and extending from Campsie. These would be of the same character as Metro involved me with in the past. Participants would become involved helping me organising and processing the material. In light of future work being undertaken on the building, this should start soon.
I chose the material primarily to build an image bank. I saved every pictorial encyclopedia printed. Some are collectors items which may be irreplaceable, unlike the ubiquitous Encyclopedia Brittanicas which are mainly used these days for land fill. There were two copies of each National Geographic which is custom made for our purposes. Each picture has an accompanying text which roughly corresponds to the image.
There was also a store of plastic sheet protectors.
When the books were on my shelves, I had them divided into subject areas. They were meticulously ordered and maintained, the straight spine, nothing crammed or stuck horizontally in the available space. There was an amount of dross but most books were of high quality. When Tony and I worked together at Strathfield I believe he could see that the quality of images in the books is streets ahead of what can be photocopied or downloaded and also may not be available online. Pixels and computer screens can’t do justice to the lush washes, delicate charcoals or eloquent lines of our greatest artists. But copies are invaluable in filling in gaps.
As someone who had lived and breathed online for the past decade researching my story, I argued that the format of hard copy I compiled remains ideal for group educational purposes. One could observe the appeal of the encyclopaedic material stored at Metro’s Centre. I have the assignment material at home in two bags. It which was used at Strathfield Community Centre. Many people relate better to each other and more directly without the intervention of machines.
The format of the educational tool I’ve shaped is not one used in our schools. For starters, images are strictly rationed and controlled in our schools. Sure, all children have devices to download anything in the known world. But that is another world. They are not taught taking that one into consideration. The one they’re taught is academically based. Children are not encouraged to connect the two. The formal academic approach is to teach principally with words. That’s how the system works. That’s how teachers learn.
The other world, the cyber world, is exciting and alluring for the less literate, inexorably drawn to the seductive glow of their iPhones.
You can see and hear anything imaginable. For writers it’s a dream come true. The end of writer’s block.
But for the less literate it can be a dangerous, stupefying and puzzling world, especially for children.
Children in our schools are told what to look for and what to look out for in the real world.
They need also to see for themselves under the guidance of teachers what to look for, and what to look out for.
I have been well assured the vast visual material I’ve compiled complies with widely approved community standards.
My approach assists members of the family to engage in general studies of their choice informally, at their own pace.
Now that we face being forced into greater depths of austerity, I recommended to Metro Assist that we react positively to losses and blows. In the way most Greeks have been doing over recent years and like all Cubans have been doing for over half a century. While the Greeks survive co-operatively now, the Cubans have done so by lifting literacy levels of the total population, not just of most. Without the wealth of educational resources available in our country they have little but human resources and a strong will. They lost much material wealth during the long standoff but preserved their dignity.
I told Metro Assist we would have lost some valuable resources which took a lot of effort to accumulate. If we could build a successful project out of what remained, we could build up our stocks in the future if so desired. The key lies in getting enough people involved.
I assured it my aim is not to nail my colours to any service provider’s mast but to add an extra sail.
We all have a responsibility to counter the growing divisions being sowed around our global village. Agencies not directly subject to to the stultifying mental restrictions imposed by political and bureaucratic directives have a crucial role to play in this respect. I remind them of the imperative, ‘Free your mind and the rest will follow.
The future is unwritten.
I asked if Metro would be prepared to to supply me with names and numbers, preferably landline, of any people in the community who might be interested in becoming involved in this project.
I included the message I outlined above, one that I envisaged could be circulated to the public so as to garner support. I welcomed Metro’s thoughts on this. We could have worked on it to come up with something mutually satisfactory.
Put on Ice
Everyone counts. Every single person has something to contribute and sometimes being a leader is about ensuring that everyone gets the chance to show their talent.
Mike Baird, Premier of N.S.W.
If You Want To Go Fast, Go Alone. If You Want To Go Far, Go Together.
An African proverb
The future depends on what you do today.’
Metro’s CEO was delayed in his response to my proposal regarding refugee re-settlement’. He had attended ‘meeting after meeting all week long’. He told me he would discuss the possibility of a project, re-emphasising the lack of space as a constraint, that construction work would soon commence on the building.
I thought the loss of material would have been followed by an attempt to redress the mistakes, to make good the loss. The CEO’s reply was to once again remind me the material had to be urgently removed.
If he had had time and interest to look at what I’d written, he’d have known this was impossible. He’d have known of the difficulty I had in getting it to Campsie in the first place due to my circumstances.
Adding a tin ear to the equation, he suggested libraries might be interested. Like Campsie library, they are not.
The educational material is partly derived from books they, like schools, throw out.
Leichhardt Library only stores education material of historical value.
I spoke with the manager of the building. I got a reply from him promptly. I told him of the material’s value. He knew of the break-in and understood what a blow it was for the project.
He gave me an outline of the building schedule and assured me the material would be cared for and there was no urgent rush.
I told him I had the interests of both his business and of Metro Assist at heart.
The activities I envisaged at Metro Assist would have only contributed to a greater public respect for the property’s security.
People generally go out of their way to protect property where good things are seen to be going on.
Such activities could bring his company nothing but a boost in prestige.
The degradation of the material at Metro Assist, the loss of its integrity and its ultimate rejection by Metro Assist made it even more difficult to offer.
In terms of the project proposal, he spoke of new funding arrangements in which Metro would be sub-contracted by the NSW Settlement Partnership, a consortium which also determines the scope of the work it does and the activities it takes on.
Due to these ‘funding cuts’, my services as a volunteer were no longer affordable.
That’s priceless. What was he playing at?
Was this tap dancing the best he could come up with?
I don’t need to point out the black joke.
Nothing added up here.
I am not a cynic. I’d like to believe Metro Assist helps a good number of people in practical terms.
But in terms of offering a comprehensive and imaginative range of services to newcomers to Australia, it is sadly lacking. Its scope is very prosaic and narrow. Such wasted opportunities.
I carried out the handover of the material originally in a gentleman’s agreement. It was to be used for the public benefit under my guidance. It was agreed it was a compilation of resources to be shared and used as designed.
The processed material was to be maintained, gradually upgraded and developed. I was assured the binders would be housed in specially provided and secure shelving. The last I saw them they were in an office, seemingly secure, but certainly not accessible in the manner proposed.
The project was to be advanced by drawing upon the voluntary talents of the sea of migrants surrounding the Centre. It would have incurred very little cost in office supplies. The ones used in presenting the processed material cost me little except thousands of man hours.
Taking its reps at their word, I had placed my total trust in what I had considered to be a secular public agency, working in the interest of the community.
I had envisaged the attraction of working with professionals not overly blinkered by mind controllers, in a challenging social environment. I had hopes of taking part in a vibrant, exciting social experiment, where my dream of putting to use the resources I had built up over a period of twenty years could finally be realised.
I knew then part of them had been degraded, pilfered, stolen or lost.
The CEO now declared them to be mine alone and to be removed.
The attitude of this jobsworth appeared to be: ‘Let’s get rid of them before any serious good can be done.’
Where was the code of honour here?
The CEO’s predecessor complimented me as ‘a person of great talent and a professional who knows his work’, remembered for my ‘great contribution’ through my educational resources, my teaching and my ‘role as one of our living books at Campsie library.’
Where was ‘the Australian value’ of respect the Federal Government expects the agencies to inculcate in prospective citizens?
Giving me the feeling I, my efforts had been otiose.
The feeling I was being palmed off.
I’d been offered a very bitter pill.
Was the Minister of Justice or the Minister of Immigration looking over his shoulder or was he just being self-censorious for fear of his job?
Is it that what I teach is so strictly prescribed or because I’m so strictly proscribed? Or both? Or am I missing something here?
Is the dependence of resettlement agencies on politicians so great that the latter don’t need to come out and say to CEOs, ‘Don’t take up offers of support from from people like that.’
Because of the CEO’s unwillingness to discuss or negotiate the matter, for reasons best known to himself, these must be considered possibilities.
The reason given for the resources I compiled being rejected were put down by Metro to obsolescence :
‘ Unfortunately it’s the way of the world now that the preference is for digital storage of knowledge and resources.’ Because of funding requirements, ideas for activities have to be kept ‘under a tight rein’. The strategy and tools used by resettlement agencies have ‘very prescriptive outputs’.
Unfortunately, these outputs didn’t include those relating to knowledge of one’s country.
A very low baseline of imagination and had been set here.
Human interaction reduced to nothing more than data.
Is this creative timidity the new normal?
As a nation in which social work should enhance and smooth social functioning and overall well-being, I thought we had moved on from this idiocracy.
Somehow the activity already in operation became reduced to that of a mere idea and maybe one considered a bit risky at that.
A fully literate citizenry is harder to control and play mind games with.
I accept that digital storage of knowledge and resources is the preference. I knew that over a decade ago. But it’s not the only one nor necessarily the most effective one for community educational purposes. I began assembling this educational tool in hard copy before the digital revolution took off in a big way. It demands continual working on.
The new technology can’t be dismissed. It’s part of the political armoury.
At the same time there are drawbacks to it. Because of its pervasiveness, people’s attention span seems to diminish. They no longer seem to need the thread of an argument. You just make a point.
To put it in perspective this transformation is no greater than that of the 19th century mass circulation newspapers.
It’s no greater than the 20th century mass circulation of television which some believed would degrade the value of books.
One of Metro’s staff had helped me begin to store the material digitally at Strathfield Community Centre. The cost of this would have been less than a cup of coffee. That’s when Metro put a stop to this.
The fact that I had spent the last decade digitising my story was not picked up although I referred to my website. I am not an information storage luddite. I find the world wide web revolutionary and as exciting as books. They are complementary.
The computer allows precise indicators of performance to be calculated, itemised and displayed.
At the same time attention should be paid to the following aphorism: ‘Not everything that matters can be measured, and not everything that is measured matters’.
In education not everything that can be taught can be quantified or put down on a resume as a skill.
Information is endlessly available to us; where is wisdom to be found?
Funding sources for resettlement agencies use the terms KPI’s for the key performance indicators they see important.
The indicators I see as important are the ones I outline above in my methodology .
They are a measure of what each student learns about their homeland and it’s culture.
Listed are the educational outputs prescribed by its people.
They are displayed in the inventory of items of knowledge about the state of New South Wales and its culture.
They are the educational outputs prescribed by its people.
What’s not to like about these?
Everything about them is appealing.
Everything the traffic will allow.
Could these not be in consonance with those of the public funding sources?
Could not those who monitor or oversee the actions of professional staff approve of these?
It’s not that the knowledge required for citizenship has been that daunting. Even the Minister for Immigration found it to be a simple checklist of dictated ‘trivia’ to be tested by multiple choice.’ All the applicant had to do was to answer questions like these:
‘What do we remember on Anzac Day? The arrival of the first free settlers from Great Britain?
What are the colours of the Australian Aboriginal Flag?
Which official symbol of Australia identifies Commonwealth property?
What happened in Australia on 1 January 1901?
If one were to be cynical one could add questions on throwing a prawn on the barbie, sizzling snags, baking damper, taking part in cooee and thong throwing competitions and lining up lamingtons – skills promoted by organisations on Australia Day.
So this kind of intellectual test that could have been bashed out in no time was considered superior to what I had put together over many years.
Its application should not have been declined for reasons of convenience.
It’s important public funds are directed wisely here. A national audit office report found the Immigration Department wasted taxpayer money by breaking the rules on how contracts are awarded.
In overhauling the citizenship test it is proposed applicants will henceforth be required to pass an English language test equivalent to IELTS level 6 equivalent, or a “competent” English language proficiency level.
Caution must be exercised in measuring their test outcomes. The insistence on indicators that can be easily measured rather than those leading to a better educated society comes at the same time that it was revealed to be failing the education system. The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results released in August 2016 show Australian students are making few gains in literacy and numeracy despite record expenditure and greater access to digitally based knowledge. National average performance scores in grades 3, 5, 7, and 9 have barely shifted since the standardised tests began almost ten years ago.
The obsession with a narrow definition of success maintains an unacceptable link between low levels of achievement and education disadvantage, particularly among students from low socioeconomic, indigenous and migrant backgrounds.
This obsession and the internet fetish must be kept in mind with respect to the proposed revamped citizenship test. Migrants are to be quizzed on their commitment to Australian values so as to weed out terrorists and criminals. Is this a good sorting mechanism for figuring out who is a ‘real’ Australian and who is a conditional Australian? As the Minister for Immigration concedes, the matter of lying is a consideration.
According to the Daily Telegraph, some of the new questions include: “Can [sic] you strike your spouse in the privacy of your home?” and “Under what circumstances is it appropriate to prohibit girls from education?” .
The question ‘Should girls ever be prohibited from education by the Australian federal government ?’ was never posed.
Sensitive questions like these are best discussed in face to face groups rather than just being read about on an electronic device. We have to break ourselves out of this habit of techno-fundamentalism—trying to come up with a technological solution to make up for the shortcomings of our education system. It’s a very bad habit. It doesn’t get us anywhere. Technopoly is not just a state of culture.
It’s also a state of mind. It consists of the deification of technology, which means that the culture seeks its authorization in technology, takes its orders from technology and finds its satisfactions in technology.
We need to put our energy into face-to-face contacts, so we can look each other in the eye, use body language such as gestures and recognize others as humans, and perhaps achieve some sort of rapprochement or mutual understanding and respect. Without that, we have no hope.
If we’re engaging with people only through the smallest of screens, we have no ability to recognize the humanity in each other and no ability to think clearly. We cannot think collectively. We cannot think truthfully. We can’t think. We need to rebuild our ability to think.
We can’t live our lives through screens. We need some kind of actual interaction with real persons, not just the profiles they put up.
We need a back up system in case of electrical grid outage. In case of satellites being knocked out by a solar storm with it’s particle blizzard potentially damaging the power supply, destabilising communication systems through voltage instability and transformer damage on the network.
Busily on the beat, the Thought Police remain ready to stop any train of thought they deem capable of leading in a heretical direction.
In June 2018 the Federal Government changed tack on its plans for the new tests. The Senate Coalition-dominated Senate Committee warned it would “disqualify from citizenship many Australians who, in the past, and with a more basic competency in the English language, have proven valuable members of the Australian community”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull acknowledged concerns with the Government’s previous attempt at toughening language requirements for migrants and said any new test would be assessing “conversational” or “primary-school” level English.
The outputs one would expect from this are hardly what one would class as ‘prescriptive’.
The government might also care to reconsider the vital part books can play in this educational arena.
You’d have to believe in leprechauns not to see that their rejection by the re-settlement consortium was brought on not by any technical reasons but by the wastage of the books stored at Metro Assist.
Migrant groups such as those of refugees in particular can benefit from the greater personal approach books allow.
’Today,’ said former Premier Berejiklian, ‘with the temptation for students to stay glued to a screen all day being so strong, the challenge (to read books) has become more important than ever.’
Newcomers can bond better with others through physical human contact than just through the medium of electronics. A refugee from Syria won’t be fussy whether he or she reads from a book or an electronic screen. It’s the content that’s important, not the form in which it is contained.
The quality of printed images is still superior and less deleterious to one’s eyesight. The knowledge contained in books and digitally is obviously interchangeable. What’s pumped into a computer gets spat out again.
It doesn’t matter to the brain how people read, according to Professor George Paxinos from the University of New South Wales. Widely known as the man who maps the brain, this top neuroscientist says the more information, whatever form it comes in. the more the brain will absorb. If you’re reading, you’re reading. It doesn’t matter how, when or why.
Those who read books can also read the web and vice versa.
They know much of online content comes from books.
They can read from pigeon carried messaging.
They can receive information from lines in the sand and from semaphore.
They can also read the writing on the wall.
The question arises ‘What do the official Gatekeepers really want?’
Surely the expectations of the Australian Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs should be taken into account: “If we are to guarantee the social cohesion of this country, if we are to guarantee a successful multicultural country into the future,
then the broad Australian population needs to have reasonable English,” Mr Tudge said.
This future Federal Minister for Education pointed out that because the spouses, children and extended family accompanying permanent migrants do not need to prove they can understand English, this had created the “concerning situation” where “close to a million” Australians now do not speak the national language.(Jane Norman, ABC 14-6-2018)
Figures released by the Coalition which spearheaded the attacks on school teachers and students suggest the numbers have been steadily rising.
In 2016, about 820,000 permanent residents in Australia had little or no English, compared with 300,000 in 1981.
It’s hard not to conclude that such a figure, like those for the homegrown population, is intentional nor the result of policy choices.
This is one part of the demographic that Professor Nicholas Biddle at ANU draws attention to. His team of researchers indicate those having basic language difficulties are likely to be resistant or hesitant to an anti-viral vaccine and less likely to intend to be vaccinated.
This is the demographic where literacy levels have been most tightly kept down.
In Sydney it’s members live predominantly in the south western suburbs which the state government targeted during the second main pandemic lockdown. It sent surveillance helicopters, mounted police and general duties officers with dogs into the community to enforce compliance.
Lebanese Muslim Association president Samier Dandan said the police hadn’t cracked down as hard on other more affluent areas in the past and this “disproportionate” response would have harmful impacts.
“This is highly problematic and reinforces the experience of this community being over-policed and continues to create heightened sensitivities around the over-scrutinisation of these communities,” Mr Dandan said.
Epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws says more community outreach would be a better strategy to get better COVID compliance in south-western Sydney.
NSW MP Jihad Dib urges better communication with diverse communities. Mr. Dib said the situation was fragile and strong-arming was not the answer as it could lead to angst and stigmatism.
“While it’s important to have compliance … what we need to do is make sure we don’t create it in a way that instils panic or fear,” he said. “I imagine people would be quite concerned that it might mean somebody could go into their house and do a check on their house or something.
Rather than fine people the first task at hand is to make sure everyone understands clearly what they can and can’t do.
“People will be compliant when you give them reasons why they need to be and make it clear.
“Remember, if we’re all in this together, we’re all in it together not one group separate to the other.”
Mr Dib said the optics matter and could even jeopardise the good relationship between the community and the police.
“If this is about putting a whole heap of police there because we don’t trust the community, then I worry about that.”
“The police operation is a misunderstanding of the communities out here, Western Sydney,’ said the mayor of Fairfield, Frank Carbone. ‘We are not the wild west, we are the working west.”
Southwest Sydney community leaders have flagged language differences are making it harder for some residents to know what the most recent health advice is.
The former Premier Ms Berejiklian said the NSW government was doing “multiple things” in “all communities” to make sure that people understand the rules.
“Whether it is people whose second language is English [or others], there are lots of different parts of the community that we have specifically targeted messages to.
She never mentioned the possibility of having generally targeted messages in English that could reach everyone.
The Defence Minister who doubts the capacity of Syrians to develop their language skills also denied there was a double standard being applied to residents of different regions.
Epidemiologist Nancy Baxter from the University of Melbourne said “fingers were being pointed” at this area of Sydney where a lot of essential workers live.
She said the lockdown of public housing towers in Melbourne had demonstrated there is inequity in how police treat certain communities.
“It’s not that people in these local government areas are necessarily not behaving as well as people in other areas, the issue is there are a lot of essential workers there so they’re going to work, picking up the virus and they’re bringing it home,” she said.
“It isn’t spreading because there’s more bad behaviour in those communities.”
Surely such personages as Mr. Tudge would expect new arrivals to be guided carefully through the complex maze of information about Australia and its language by those who are trained to do this.
The following points should be considered.
Too much information can cloud our judgement.
How much does information overload restrict us from making good changes?
The tsunami of information, of supposed facts, data or claims that pour out of the internet makes a demand on how educators get people thinking about how to deal with that information, how they manage it, how they organise it into the sorts of patterns that constitute knowledge.
Data by itself is not knowledge. Then educators have to take the further step of getting people to understand it. Understanding how to put it to work. Understanding which parts are important and which aren’t. Understanding which other things are necessary. We educators need to get people to evaluate this barrage of information, to become good gatekeepers and filterers themselves.
So where does the schism between hardline would be biblioclasts in the resettlement consortium and bibliophiles figure in satisfying these requirements?
It’s not that consortium members like Metro Assist have a thing about hard copy. Its premises, like those of any hard-pushed organisation or my own remaining office space are choc a bloc with paper.
My whole point of processing the printed material was to demonstrate that one can cut down on the amount of paper that is so profligately wasted in this effluent society.
And let’s not forget the content of our computers can be just as overwhelmingly congested as those those of hard copy if one is not disciplined. You just have to look inside.
The spokesperson for the consortium couldn’t comment on the unpleasant situation with the new CEO of Metro Assist. Only to point out it is a separate organisation and cannot be influenced.
I include here a sampling of definitions of ‘consortium’ by the best-known online dictionaries. As far as I can see the notions of ‘influence’ and ‘co-operation’ run through them all.
The internet definition: ‘Short-term arrangement in which several firms (from the same or different industry sectors or countries) pool their financial and human resources to undertake a large project that benefits all members of the group.’
I emphasised the importance of this sense of mutual benefit to the spokesperson as well as the successor at Metro Assist: ‘Humanitarian settlement and migrant service providers must stop to consider their resources carefully. They must liaise with each other in terms of resources and priorities. This is a time of great national uncertainty.
Merriam Webster: ‘an agreement, combination, or group (as of companies) formed to undertake an enterprise beyond the resources of any one member.’
If Metro Assist found it difficult to continue storing educational resources, couldn’t the other affiliates in the consortium share this ‘load?’
The Free Dictionary: ‘A cooperative arrangement among groups or institutions’
How can Metro Assist be co-operative with others but cannot with me? A person whom they have thanked for my services. I appreciate their praise about results I aimed at but I don’t need it. I’m not adding to my C.V. I want to get results in an area of social importance.
To the extent it couldn’t discuss with me what I wrote to it. I couldn’t move forward without its co-operation. Without mine, I believe it cannot move forward as it could.
It knows that the assurance of effective educational outcomes for refugees has been thrown into question.
Another definition of ‘consortium’: ‘An association of financiers, companies, etc, especially one formed for a particular purpose. A partnership.’
Surely the agreed purpose of the one Metro Assist is in partnership with is to provide resources to ease the entry and resettlement of newcomers.
Why couldn’t a comprehensive education program embracing the perfect marriage of on shelf and online resources be considered of value to it?
Does measuring the proportion of on shelf versus online resources matter when the urgency of achieving harmonious resettlement is so great?
Cambridge English dictionary: ‘an organization of several businesses or banks joining together as a group for a shared purpose’.
What purpose could be more important to share than promoting knowledge of one’s homeland to shattered newcomers?
As for having to keep ideas ‘under tight rein’, my response is ‘Free your mind and the rest will follow!’
I told Metro management I wanted this matter to be resolved in an amicable matter.
I wanted to continue working with it at least ’til the material was in shape to be passed onto some other agency seriously interested in furthering the interests of the people of N.S.W.
I couldn’t do anything without the help of other volunteers. I needed someone to begin with to help me organise the material, assess the loss, start the salvage operation and kickstart the educational process.
My next thought which I passed on to Metro management for discussion was to circulate a public appeal invoking the spirit of Henry Parkes.
.Getting the Word out.
It is pointless spending billions and billions of dollars on increasing the Army, increasing Navy capabilities, if the homeland is insecure, if communities are insecure. This is where national security starts – right here, at home. There will be nothing left to defend in 30 years if we don’t do something now.
Major General Peter Dunn, former Commissioner for the Australian Capital Territory Emergency Services Authority on governmental ignoring of natural disaster prevention.
Holding my nose, I toned down the wording of my appeal, wording it as briefly and diplomatically as possible, trying not to alienate Metro management but win them over. I emphasised honesty and a common sense of urgency rather than alarm in order to get people’s attention.
As it turned out I was only expressing the same concern as would be expressed by Citizenship Minister, Alan Tudge: ‘Australia’s successful multicultural society is at risk with many migrants failing to integrate and develop proficient English skills—- “Integration of migrants has been the secret to our multicultural success but there are a few emerging, early warning signs we are not doing it as well as we used to.”
Government figures show close to 25 per cent of migrants who arrived between January and August in 2017 did not speak English, or had very limited language skills.
Mr Tudge said that was an increase on the 18 and 19 per cent figures reported in the 2006 and 2011 censuses, and proof the Federal Government must intervene to safeguard successful multiculturalism.
Where and how did I propose distributing my message responding to this canary in the coalmine you might ask?
Plan ‘A’ which involved conveying it via phone contacts, virtual communities and networks sounded the way to go. I don’t have any experience in social media but hopefully should have gotten help along the way.
Plan ‘B’ involved handing it out outside the offices of Metro Assist in Campsie. The flyer would have taken up a third or quarter of an A4 sheet.
This approach would have involved logistical considerations that in my circumstances I’d rather have avoided.
Obviously with Plan ‘A’, I could have used more words and images, although brevity was still an important imperative.
I was currently passing on a light-hearted illustrated message online as it would be costly to hand out by hand. I feel this serious situation, one that must be defused, demands a degree of cheek. I guess it depends who I’m sending it to. Some religious groups might be less impressed than others. Would it pass our Foreign Minister’s requirement as to what should be tested?
For the Sake of Argument.
The revamped citizenship test proposed by the Minister for Immigration in April 2017 included “new and more meaningful questions” about an applicant’s understanding of and commitment to Australia’s shared values and responsibilities.
Some of the new questions include: “Can [sic] you strike your spouse in the privacy of your home?” and “Under what circumstances is it appropriate to prohibit girls from education?”
“I don’t think anyone could seriously defend an attitude that says women are not equal to men, or that violence against women is acceptable, so we’re looking to test attitudes… that [would-be citizens] are prepared to embrace the values, laws and attitudes of our society,” said Foreign Minister Ms. Bishop.
She said that the changes to citizenship requirements will not alienate those at risk of radicalisation. Ms Bishop said there was “very wide” consultation with community groups despite the move being likely to unsettle some migrant communities.
If no one at risk of ‘radicalisation’ would feel alienated by the changes, surely the chances of significant numbers in any migrant community being unsettled would be unlikely.
In order to consider that possibility, let’s say for the sake of argument that this is true.
It may not be true but it will help us have a discussion. To look beneath the superficial aspects of culture to find what is common .
Let’s consider the possibility that not all newcomers to Australia may be overwhelmingly prepared to embrace our societal values, laws and attitudes .
Let’s test the Government’s requirement that they respect each other’s differences with the following questions:
Firstly, ‘Should women be free to dress as they please?’
Secondly, ‘Should women and men adapt to the Australian way of life?
Thirdly, ‘Are men able to talk to each other about women respectfully without undue difficulty?’
A Decisive Moment.
‘You must realize that today in Germany anything can happen, even the improbable, and it’s just the beginning, Friedrich. Personal morals are dead. We are an elite society where everything is permissible. These are Hitler’s words. Even you should give them some thoughts.’
SS officer Aschenbach in ‘The Damned.’
As indicated in the flyer, this clampdown on suspect imagination occurred during a rapidly changing global situation. One in which both our Premier and Prime Minister talked of greater numbers of Syrian arrivals. Yet while the human flood spreads and washes on ‘safer’ shores, our educational authorities acknowledge they have not yet been able to further the educational possibilities of children at Walgett High School.
This is where our national security lies. In these, our children. In people who live and somehow survive in very harsh Australian conditions. In our refugees who if taught our language and culture and can communicate it well to others will want to protect it.
It doesn’t lie in any mad monastic damascene conversion. In that coterie of human props in uniform, a plethora of Australian flags and references ad nauseam to the “death cult” coming after us. That reworking of the old Yellow Peril line.
The one that brought us boats from Vietnam.
It doesn’t lie in any “Team Australia”, our saviours in this “new Dark Age” upon us .
Our urbane former Prime Minister Turnbull understands this but was caught in a cleft stick resisting the rump appeal of these latter- day ‘Crusaders’.
This long war grew worse more and more.
Shock and awe spreading hate and scattering the poor.
How will we cope with the influx?
How will we cope teaching the newest arrivals English and our culture if we cannot further the youth skills of one community who have been in this land the longest?
Professor Peter Shergold, the NSW Coordinator-General for Refugee Resettlement, says that education is crucial to this. Professor Shergold says the NSW Department already has very effective programs to help and integrate the children of refugees and migrants who come from non- English speaking backgrounds.
Michael Keenan, a key member of the Federal Government’s National Security Committee, declared ‘we can have confidence in our education system. It is very robust.’ [Wed oct 7.]
Granted our education system is robust, but as we have seen, in doing what?
Just days earlier a fifteen year old Kurdish Australian truanting schoolboy gunned down a NSW police civilian before being killed himself.
A national summit to co-ordinate security, policing and education programs across the country was called to counter the threat posed by so called radicalised children.
The Foreign Minister said it was time for the whole Australian nation to take stock.
As Federal Minister of Education she had suggested that there was a prevailing Maoist agenda amongst education bureaucrats.
The leader of her party, Prime Minister Howard, famously declared that left wing ideologists had led to curriculums that were ‘incomprehensible sludge’.
His party had carried out a purge of so-called left-wing teachers.
If so what happened to the hundred flowers ethos?
Neither ‘Team Australia’ nor the ‘Death Cult’ can claim real power. It doesn’t grow from the barrel of a gun.
Any system that fears knowledge and education, any system that closes the mind to moral and intellectual truth, will prove in the end to be impotent.
The fact that education actually has national security implications remains a hard sell in Australia.
Mr. Keenan was interviewed by the ABC reporter Brendan Trembath.
Brendan Trembath: ‘As the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on counter terrorism, how concerned are you – not just a radicalised teenager shooting killing a police employee outside a major building, but supporters praising the boy’s actions on social media?’
Michael Keenan: ‘Well it’s very concerning to me, but we know what has been going on in Australia, particularly over the past year, and that is that there is a diabolical terrorist outfit that’s taken over parts of the Syria and Iraq. Whilst they exist they will continue to export terror into Australia.
Me: ‘Gee golly jeepers, Mr. Keenan. I never knew that. You must be the caped crusader, fighting for Truth, Justice and the Australian way! How long has this been going on? Does it happen in other countries?’’
Keenan: ‘This is not a phenomena that is unique to us, it’s a global phenomena.’
Me: ‘What about the Latin American states? They weren’t in on invading the Baathist states. They’re not directly involved in the war on the ‘death cult’. Of course, they have enough of their own organised criminals to deal with, haven’t they? What has our response been like?’
Michael Keenan : ‘Our response here has been very robust, in fact world leading, in making sure that our law enforcement agencies, our security apparatus have the power and resources that they need to address this.
Me: ‘Please, pretty please Mr. Keenan. Save us from ‘The Death Cult’. Scout’s honour?’
Keenan: ‘We’re working very closely with affected communities, who are going to be, who are really on the front line of this, to do all that we can to help them identify radicalisation. We need to make sure that our teachers, our families, other community service providers, can get a sense about what it looks like in terms of the changes in people’s behaviour and can then help us to divert people away from this very dark path.’
Me: ‘We don’t want it to spread, do we? We have to watch for all the danger signs. What happens when we spot them?’
Keenan: ‘We are working to try and divert people if we think that they are falling under the spell of ISIL and the Middle East.’
Me: ‘Dear me, am I in that category? Am I considered a ‘sleeper’ due to my naptaking?’
Like many young Australians I fell under the spell of the Middle East on the trail to Europe. As I had fallen under that of the Wild West.
I read ‘The 1001 Nights’ and loved ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
I write about my passage through part of this area.
I discovered Led Zeppelin, bringing the soul of the West and Islam together. It told us we can produce a musical force powerful enough to break through the barricade dividing the two civilizations.
And what about my culinary tastes. If the political police were to go through my rubbish bin, what would they deduce from my empty containers of Yalla brand yoghurt?’
Would these clues suggest I’m susceptible?’
And what about Barsad? Born in that vast expanse to a desperate people.
How would anyone in the community identify someone in the group seen below as suspect?
Jabar is pictured on the bottom left.
Keenan: ‘Now when people radicalise, it’s not a one size fits all, people do it in different ways.’
Me: ‘Gee whiz, Mr. Keenan, thanks for those words of wisdom. They take me back to the sixties. Back to those of the Director. The former head of the ‘Enemy Alien Control Program.
Watching ‘radicals’ do it in different ways. And making notes.
Acting in the belief that ‘justice is merely incidental to law and order.’
Now according to ‘The Daily Telegraph’ [Oct 6,2015],the police believe Farhad Barsad was no ‘lone wolf’ but part of ‘an extremist pack’.
Anyone who has worked in a western Sydney school knows the boys photographed don’t belong in this category. From Arthur Phillip to Boxhill Boys,there are others who look much more menacing, hardboiled and curried .
The newspaper doesn’t quote any particular source. It is essential for the police not to be identified with such simpleminded and mischievous bull’s wool.
Could I too be considered a Deadhead? What if my letter from a certain Faisal was to be scrutinized by the ‘ experts’? Faisal was eulogized by lyricist Robert Hunter in the title track of the Grateful Dead’s 1975 album Blues for Allah.
Let’s look at who Farhad Barsard Jabar really was. We’ve got to read the wider media. We have to listen to those who had contact with him.
These facts are not disputed:
Jabar was a quiet, cheerful student who vigilantly attended the mosque but was not considered extremist and was not on any police radar before the tragic conclusion.
A week after the death of the police accountant, students at Arthur Phillip High School remembered Jabar as quietly devout, a talented basketballer and a friendly but private classmate.
What drove the teenager, a timid, withdrawn 15-year-old with no history of violence to commit such a reckless, fatal offence?
Let’s consider the witness of an adult fellow worshipper.
‘Jabar, in his school uniform, “stuck out” in Parramatta mosque the first morning he met the friendly man. “He was just hanging out there, reading books, praying,” said Isaac.
“It was 9 am, he should have been in school … It’s not normal behaviour to isolate yourself.”
Their first encounters were frosty, but gradually the 15-year-old opened up. “He told me things weren’t going well at school, he wasn’t interested in school any more, that he was being bullied. He said he didn’t like it any more. He wasn’t interested because he wasn’t feeling good.
“He spoke about it with a sense of sorrow,” he says.
The man became concerned about the boy’s mental health. “Sometimes he would be quite bubbly. Sometimes he would be quite withdrawn. And those are typical signs of all sorts of mental health conditions, especially young people,” he said.
“I presented my concerns to psychologists and other professionals and got some feedback. And the feedback was, these were depressive symptoms, these were symptoms of trauma, of anxiety.”
“It was a shock to the core,” “[Jabar] was soft-spoken, really gentle, you got a really innocent boy-like feeling about him.
He had seen Jabar as a young man looking to be guided. “He was so vulnerable and so mentally confused or unwell that he was so easily susceptible to any figure of acceptance or group acceptance,” he says.
“As a young person growing up in Australia, especially if you’re of an ethnic background, what are you looking for? Acceptance, identity.”
Mental illness is still poorly understood within some Muslim communities, as it is in many other parts of society.
“[We] need to understand the religious and cultural implications that mental health has. A young Muslim person battling depression isn’t going to go out and talk about it.
“It’s seen as something, within the context of the community, it doesn’t feed into the notion of being a man, of being resilient.”
So he was in fact open game. A not atypical Australian teenager.
How in heaven could he have ended up serving such a terrible purpose?
The speculation is that Jabar was groomed by others to carry out the attack because they were under such heavy surveillance they could not do it themselves, and that the gun used was obtained through a “Middle Eastern crime gang”.
Only after the tragedy did police learn from other worshippers at the mosque that Jabar had recently begun keeping bad company, sitting with a group of men known allegedly for their rudeness and considered to hold dangerous views.
Of course, the questions of how it happened are important, as it is important to bring to justice those who planned it. But the bigger question is why it happened. And how to stop it happening again.
In intelligence gathering parlance, there are many unprotected pieces in the field.
This much is clear: all the punitive and draconian legislation introduced by the Federal government could not have stopped it, and the billion-odd extra dollars committed to law enforcement in the past year produced no intelligence relevant to the case.
How could it have? The signs are in the classroom right under the teacher’s nose.
They have ways to counter disquieting symptoms such as those exhibited by Jabar.
They are the ones who can attract children to school.
They are the ones who can fill the intellectual vacuum left by a tone deaf political policy of making school unpleasant for a certain category of student.
They are the ones who can challenge the idea that immigrants and refugees are being “imported” to replace ‘Legacy Australians’ demographically.
They are the ones who can fill their students’ brains with mathematics, science and humanism, areas the Arabs have left their mark on.
Under the sweeping powers brought in by the state government and its mind controls they are constrained.
As are the police.
While Jabar was on the periphery of the Operation Appleby group, Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn denied police had dropped the ball, saying it was impossible to monitor everyone.
“(Jabar) has not been a target of ours and is not somebody we would have assessed as a threat,” she said.
“We did not know of him and having either that intent or capability on Friday.
“It is just a sad unfortunate reality of the environment that we are now in that we are not necessarily able to be everywhere at all times.”
Me: ‘The good news is that the police don’t have to be.
They could concentrate on the need to capture criminals, not getting on wild goose chases involving children.
Children who could and should be in class learning.
Children subject to the same governmental constraints as teachers but without the ability to express it appropriately. To articulate it through the English language, not through that of the gangsta from the hood but Standard Australian. To express it through acceptable civilized behaviour.
Fellow students told Fairfax Media Jabar never spoke openly about religion and was more concerned with playing basketball and joking around. It was only a few weeks before his end that he was drawn into the extremist circle by the 16-year-old Wentworthville boy, one of Jabar’s year 10 classmates at Arthur Phillip High School.
The pair regularly attended the same sessions at Parramatta Mosque and school lunchtime prayer groups.
The 16-year-old, who cannot be named, was charged last year for driving past a Christian school in Harris Park, yelling death threats and waving an IS flag.
His Facebook page reveals odd connections with extremist preachers in Canada, Sydney and Lebanon. His older brother spoke to Fairfax Media online just hours before Wednesday’s raid, saying the killing of Muslims overseas was more important than Mr Cheng’s death.
“Why don’t you do something useful,” he wrote. “And talk about real events occurring in Palestine. The killing of Muslims all ova [sic] the world.”
Sadly he is partly right and partly mistaken. The killers include other Muslims. If he were taught to read such intrepid journalists as Paul McGeough, he would learn Fairfax Media have excellent coverage of these events as well as of the Islamic State, that company front operating under various franchises, cashing in on its so-called connection to a god and getting all the attention it can get.
“Some of them might have been wanting to do an attack but were concerned. They’ve managed to radicalise a poor vulnerable person to do it instead,” a police source said. “It’s almost like they’ve groomed him like paedophiles to do something for them.”
Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn did not rule out further arrests and said it was an “unfortunate reality” that undetected lone wolves will continue to launch attacks on home soil.
Australian Federal Police Acting Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan said authorities were in “an unprecedented time of operational tempo”.
“The threat level remains high and that means a terrorist attack is likely. That’s not going to change in the foreseeable future,” he said.
As is the governmental policy of neglecting the basic skills of our young people.
In June 2016 A 17-year-old Sydney teenager was charged by counter-terrorism police for allegedly posting on social media about killing police. However just to confound any of the neat simplistic theories about terrorism being spread, the police acknowledged he has a serious mental illness and was not believed to be motivated by religious extremism or Islamic State ideology. As a matter of fact he’s not religious and is from a Greek Australian background. The police allege the boy was planning a random public stabbing in Sydney.
The teenager’s father said his son had “anxiety, depression and Asperger’s”.
“He hasn’t been to school, he’s not educated,” he said.
“They’ve kicked him out of school. He hasn’t done Year 7, he hasn’t been to high school.”
The father said the teen “now he looks like an idiot, like he is”.
The boy had gone missing from his home on at least two occasions and is described as having special needs. On one occasion, he had to be rescued from the bush by PolAir. He then posted a message online thanking the police.
Military strategist David Kilcullen predicts that terrorists would successfully strike a target on Australian soil. Dr Kilcullen, former special advisor to the US secretary of state and chief strategist for the US state department’s counter-terrorism bureau says that the chances on an attack in Australia was “one hundred per cent”. He points out government agencies cannot guarantee the public’s protection.
‘The question is: ”how bad will it be, how will we respond, how will we focus on consequence management and on recovery from that kind of attack?” .
One could add another question: ‘Why can’t we focus on prevention management?
Why do we still have to put up with the baleful levels of literacy imposed on society?
How do we have to protect ourselves?
How can the conservatives continue to both constantly impugn the competence of teachers and tackle so called radicalised children successfully?’
Mr. Keenan is keen to remind us: the teachers of today are on the “frontline” of this ever-evolving global battlefield.
“ISIL is targeting people younger and younger,” he warned – while baulking at the notion the government was ‘securitising’ schools.
He assures us: “We are not changing the nature of teaching, but we’re giving them [teachers] an extra skill-set to be able to identify it and say there is something of concern here that we need to look in to.”
Minister Keenan assures us the strategy of monitoring children’s inclination to take up arms against the state is on the right track. ‘It can happen very quickly.’
After Farhad Jabar shot dead police worker Curtis Cheng outside the force’s Parramatta headquarters, police arrested a student on his way to Arthur Phillip High School. In a Facebook post, a little more than an hour after the slaying he wrote: “Serves you right I hope them lil piggies get shot”.
He later posted a video of Police Commissioner’s press conference from the night of the shooting.
“Bahahja f*ck you motherf***er Yallah merryland police station is next hope they all burn in hell,” he wrote blasphemously alongside it.
Yalla, with variants Yallah and Yala, is a common expression denoting “come on”, “let’s get going”, and mostly meaning “hurry up” in the Arabic language. It comes from and is an abbreviation of classical (traditional) Arabic words “Ya Allah” (in Arabic ?? ????) literally meaning “O God”.
The boy describes himself as “A.W. A” or “Arab with attitude” and allegedly has a long history of uploading content taunting and mocking NSW Police.
This language of the American gangsta is not what you’d expect from a fanatical student of The Koran. It’s possibly even a bastardised version because in standard gangsta, “bahaha”, the sound a sheep makes when it’s getting shot with a machine gun, has no ‘j’. Those who talk of cultural clashes or seek answers to Islamic terrorism in Islamic texts or a ‘maoist’ N.S.W. school curriculum are barking up the wrong tree. This type of language springs a great deal from long term governmental failure to inculcate adequacy in the English language. There is no excuse for this.
He is typical of many young men both in the Middle East and to a certain degree in Australia. With bleak futures, either unemployed, underemployed or heading that way, from working-class families, and not religious at all. They do not know the Qur’an very well. They are not religious zealots who are willing to die for Islam and are not recruited in mosques. They join because their buddies joined. They saw stuff on social media. They all have mobile phones. Like many young American men who fire drones they have played military games on Play Station. And they have all seen the ISIS videos and believe like many young men with a built-in resentment against the West that it’s better to live large for a couple of years with the power and the so-called glamour that comes of carrying a gun. Then they can worry about what happens in the future two or three years down the road. These motives are more akin to why somebody might join like an inner-city gang or why in Mexico they might join a narco gang. It’s this kind of despair at seeing any sort of future. But it’s not political, it’s not religious. It’s just this impulse to, it’s awful to say, in terms of ISIS, adventure.
Brendan Trembath: ‘The Federal Government has been spending millions of dollars on this radicalisation problem, combating online propaganda, countering violent extremism. There’s a recently released Radicalisation Awareness Information Kit for schools. This was a school student, is this program not working?’
Michael Keenan: ‘Well it is a very multi-faceted program and as I heard when I was in the US talking to like-minded countries, Australia’s program is world leading and we are doing an enormous amount to make sure we’re equipping communities with the tools that they need to work with the Government to address this.’
Me: ‘The police were equipped to cut down the young assailant. Wouldn’t that have been as far as that particular tragic event went?’ Barsad had paid with his life doing the dirty work of others afraid to stain their own hands with blood.’
The NSW Premier: ‘I wish to acknowledge “the bravery of some very special men. We strongly believe they saved many lives,” he said, referring to those who cut down the young assassin.
Me: ‘No one doubts the bravery of these men. But let’s not fool ourselves. They didn’t save any lives other than their own. Just as anyone else couldn’t have .
How could they have acted otherwise? Who could anyone have expected any typical looking Australian kid to do such a thing?
And a Kurdish boy of all things. Someone from the same ethnic group as Aylan Kurdi, from a community targeted by the so called ‘Death Cult’.
Someone the sight of whose fate caused the Premier profound shock and sadness.
Police Commissioner Scipione: “There is no way you can describe the hurt inside that building and right across the NSW Police force at the moment,” he said outside Charles St headquarters.
Me: ‘The Commissioner speaks of the loss of a ‘much loved’ worker.
My family and I have a much-loved friend working in that building and would dread such a loss ourselves.’
This has helped create an environment for radicalized Muslim youth to emerge in disproportionate numbers, some experts say. The securitisation of school space will more likely lead to further isolation of Muslim kids, racial profiling and more ‘radicalisation’ which these authorities are supposed to be trying to combat.
Let us not forget that this state’s biggest terrorists were homegrown.
Wade Frankum, a thirty year old taxi driver took out his rage against society by taking out seven victims at Strathfield Mall in 1991.
Brenton Tarrant, the perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre, described himself in his Brevik styled manifesto as an ‘ordinary white man’ from ‘a regular family’ whose parents are from Scottish, Irish and English stock.
What factors if any were common to Frankum, Tarrant and the errant truant Jabar? What was there in their educational and personal experience that may have led to their taking such fateful decisions? What kind of breakdown in communication took place?
If nothing was learned, nothing was taught.
Terrorists do not just fall from the sky. They don’t pass through a membrane from another reality. They don’t resemble wild brutes with horns. They were all some mother’s baby.
They are human beings who react to society’s changes and make their decisions accordingly.
Could anyone have forecast that such actions as theirs could happen in the future as a result of knowledge about them?
Coroner Kevin Waller and forensic psychiatrist Dr Rod Milton both found that Frankum’s killing spree was impossible to predict.
Dr Milton found that he was ‘without severe mental disorder or previous evidence of severe aggression’.
He proposed anger, guilt, conflict and having no money as motivating forces behind Frankum’s rampage.
He was angry because he was a failure and emasculated by his parents, he felt guilt over his mother’s suicide, he had conflict with his sister over his grandmother’s estate and his money had run out so he could no longer alleviate his loneliness with prostitutes.
Dr Milton said those factors alone were not sufficient to explain his actions and that a society which increasingly glorified violence may have pushed him over the edge.
He had no criminal record, showed no signs of violence. Frankum was raised with a strict upbringing, low on affection and approval.
He attended two prestigious secondary schools. He went to Newington College whose motto is To your Faith, add Knowledge. He went to Homebush Boys High School whose motto is Upright and Strong .
Neighbours at the time described him as a loner who was friendly, quiet, did not stand out and who only left home to drive his cab.
Frankum told a family friend his assault rifle was for protection because “it’s a f***ed up world out there and there’s some weird f***ers out there”.
There’s nothing unreasonable or out there about concluding that. But how in heaven’s name did the logic he inherited from his schooling lead him to think and act like those people he’s referring to?
In surpassing Frankum’s record for the number of innocents he slaughtered, Tarrant had little interest in education, ‘barely achieving a passing grade’.
I mean, think about it. He’s talking about what should be the most exciting time of his life where he’s learning to unlock the mysteries of the universe and find the bluebird of happiness. Where he discovers all things bright and beautiful, all things wise and wonderful.
Instead he dragged many citizens of Christchurch and his own family into a big black hole.
Like the others mentioned above he wasn’t on any watch list.
Like the other most vulnerable, marginalized, broken,unstable individuals whose poor educational outcomes render them vulnerable to taking in extremist narratives,propaganda and conspiracy theories. Looking in vain for identity, community and purpose in real life, their extremism fulfills and empowers them to a certain degree. But the end result is always violence.
Let’s now look at three local wannabee violent extremists. On the list, they failed in their attempt to blow up an airline departing Sydney and carry out a lethal poisonous gas attack.
Following the lead of Catholic terrorist Pablo Escobar they, another brother overseas and a man called ‘The Enforcer’ conspired to hide a bomb in the luggage of an unsuspecting passenger. No simple shoe bomb for these hapless, hopeless Four Lions and no unwitting family outsider targeted. The armchair ‘warriors’ placed the bomb in a meat grinder inside the luggage of their unsuspecting brother who was flying to Abu Dhabi.
Their choice of a meat grinder was highly symbolic. The United States military had dropped copies of a graphic leaflet near the northern Syrian city of Raqqa that depicted potential Islamic State recruits being fed into a meat grinder. Under the command of Gen. William Westmoreland the same military had used the phrase to refer to their strategy of killing off Viet Cong fighters faster than they could be replaced. To decimate the population ‘to the point of national disaster for generations to come.’
The judge who handed down their lengthy sentences said even though nobody was injured or died as a result of the plan, the brothers succeeded in creating terror in the minds of the general public.
‘By their conduct they have jeopardised the sense of safety members of the community are entitled to expect,’ she said.
‘The conspiracy plainly envisaged that a large number of people would have been killed … no-one would have survived … no-one would have had time to say goodbye.’
It was as if in some twisted, maniacal manner the inept brothers were acting to embody the educational shortcomings of the public and resettlement sectors. To provide examples that they truly do exist.
Let’s look at their downfall in terms of two categories of skills.
Firstly in terms of the basic skills that our schools are being driven by and which are systematically assessed.
Basic numeracy skills that apply to everyday life.
They failed to check the weight restrictions of their luggage. It was found to be overweight at Sydney airport.
They failed to call the airline before the flight or to do an online check-in and ask what their options were.
They failed to consider buying a set of handheld luggage scales to help them manage the weight of the luggage and stay under the limit.
The brothers panicked and removed the explosives at check in.
The brothers failed secondly in terms of what influential Australian educationist Geoff Masters calls ‘higher-order thinking’.
They misread the limits of tolerance for IS activities by Turkey. The ‘high-end military grade explosive’ the brothers hoped to detonate had been sent by air from an IS operative there.
They underestimated the links forged by the Turkish state and the Israeli military who tipped off Australian authorities.
The brother who was set up to die had long time in a Beirut prison to reflect on the pick ‘n’ mix approach to sacred texts. He has denounced Islamic State and terrorism: ‘That’s not good. God, he doesn’t tell us to kill our people.’
Unfortunately his brothers failed to understand that. Religions and ethical systems in general rarely promote violence as an end in itself since violence is universally undesirable.
His brothers caused immense grief and cost to themselves, their families and society.
In February 2022 the head of ASIO would declare the number of under-18s being radicalised was increasing. He said children as young as 13 were embracing extremism, both religiously and ideologically motivated.
“At the end of last year, on average, minors represented more than half of our priority counter-terrorism investigations each week.”
He added that ASIO and law enforcement were not the answer to stopping teenage radicalisation – “we do not belong in the classroom” – and urged parents, schools, clubs and community leaders to step in early if children were acting out of character.
What can be done and by whom?
In the lead up to 2019 the NSW Counter Terrorism Minister reminded us that the risk of future terrorist attacks is an “unfortunate” reality for the community.
His words came sadly true. The monstrous attack came so close to home, carried out by a NSW boy.
Home Affairs has warned of our complacency against further attacks by both new arrivals and Australian citizens who have lived here for years.
At the same time those who answer to this Department express satisfaction with our educational standards.
Past attacks bring up yet again the same old factor.
The failure of educational outcomes in NSW.
They brought up again the risks posed when young, poorly literate males, chips on shoulders, feel left out of things.
Feeling they are under attack because of their membership in a particular group, like their religion, their nationality or their race, they become more attached to that identity, and more hardened and suspicious toward outsiders. That can promote what social scientists call “outgrouping” — fear of outsiders and a desire to control or punish them.
That fear can eventually divide and poison societies, hardening people against perceived outsiders, even causing them to abandon key values.
When people who are usually open and trusting toward outsiders feel they are at risk of a terrorist attack, they become more likely to support harsh, authoritarian policies and more willing to sacrifice civil liberties in exchange for perceived safety.
That feeling of “us” versus “them” divides society, heightening prejudices and creating social battle lines — precisely the sort of politics championed by right-wing populists in Europe and the United States.
Left to their own devices young embittered outsiders can rise to the bait of haters and make mightily misinformed decisions.
‘Countering Terrorism and violent extremism is not a goal that can be achieved by government alone. It is a shared responsibility that requires the cooperation of business, non-government organisations and the community,’ the Counter Terrorism Minister Minister said.
After the massacres of Muslims in Christchurch, Catholics in Sri Lanka and the expected return of Australian ISIS fighters, our Minister for Home Affairs fired another fusillade of fear, warning against Australians being too complacent about the domestic terrorism threat.
‘People think it can’t happen, what took place in Christchurch or Sri Lanka recently, it can’t happen in our country—it can.’
What he fails to see is that despite their poor literacy those numbers who can’t read adequately can’t but have heard about our homegrown terrorists. Those such as Martin Bryant who couldn’t read or write and former Australian Army officer cadet, Julian Knight, member of a force with such a low level of literacy, as well as those NSW citizens I’ve mentioned.
‘We’re dealing with that threat every day, the Minister adds.
Those citizens he’s particularly worried about are returning ISIS fighters and their families.
He warns of the risk of returnees donning suicide vests to carry out terror attacks but offers no clues as to how to deal with such a scenario. Presumably it’s still about reporting suspicious behaviour. Are people to inform the police whenever they spot a man with a dark beard and a thick coat? When they see cars parked in the wrong places? When they see people carrying bags.
Of course, astute policing and public co-operation are essential here.
The first thing in any kind of policing is knowing who you’re up against.
The hardline Coalition Minister for Home affairs saw the greatest threat as coming from’ left wing terrorism’ which he sees as including Islamic extremism. This is in direct contradistinction to ASIO which sees the threat as coming from the other end of the spectrum.
The Minister refutes the reality that fanatically dogmatic religionists will be loath to seek alliance with those who generally are secular minded.
The Opposition took him to task over this:
‘Nowhere beyond the mouth of the Home Affairs minister have people been talking about so-called left wing extremism,’ one member told Sky News.
The shadow Home Affairs minister pointed out to the ABC that Islamic terrorism “doesn’t sit upon a left/right continuum.’
So we’re being told not to be complacent about a threat coming from a direction other than that warned of by those entrusted to know and that neither we nor the government can do anything about it.
The Minister should look at an example of successful resettlement of refugees previously feared as ‘enemy agents’ from our own postwar history.
Couldn’t the Minister dispel the complacency in the resettlement sector? That regarding education about Australia amongst the migrants, refugees and citizens he’s responsible for?
This would diminish the fear of foreign interference in Australian politics and education some in his party express. They worry that the maoist interference they perceive as dominant in our schools has spread to our universities. That agents of influence abound in all departments.
The Minister says this interference goes against his principles: ‘We want university campuses to be free, we want them to be liberal in their thoughts, we want young minds to be able to compete against each other but we don’t want interference in that space.’
He could counter the impinging on freedom of thought he attributes to the Chinese government by eliminating it among those who are answerable to him.
The problems posed by returnees are undeniably real and complex. There is no cure-all.
‘We can’t just take those children back, plonk them into school, expect that everything’s going to be OK,’ he says.
Of course we can’t. They’d have the same low chance of gaining adequate literacy as many other Australian children.
Why not offer them special attention in which their chance is high. Where they can learn to love their country and not feel as if they don’t matter. Where they don’t have to fall back on other languages and external influences. Where they can speak their mind, open their heart and ask questions even if they’re not welcome ones.
This process would facilitate determining which returnees might pose real fears and those who wouldn’t. It would help winkle out any who might be pretending to be who they’re not.
Even if this were to stop just one from harbouring deep resentment of their perceived malefactors, harbouring thoughts of harming them, then that, to paraphrase the Minister, is ‘obviously worth the effort.’
What skills should our children be taught?
Since stimulation and excitement are basic human needs, it behooves us to channel them in beneficial directions. If we expect people to consume leisure intelligently, we had better start teaching them the necessary skills. Consumption skills do not occur naturally and, according to Scitovsky, people who are “devoid of those skills tend to restrict their choice to sources of stimulation and excitement that require no special skills, such as sex, rape, drugs, violence, and crime.”4 That’s not a pretty picture.
Robert J. Stonebraker, Winthrop University.
The Joy of Economics: Making Sense out of Life
Dr. Anthony Bergin from the Federal Government financed Australian Strategic Policy Institute: ‘A key priority should be to provide the critical consumption skills to our kids so they’re able to see through extremist propaganda independently. That requires a greater focus by schools on teaching critical thinking as a measure to prevent radicalisation.’
Typically, of course, schools take it as their core mission to teach critical thinking anyway. Learning to think clearly is one of the reasons for educating students in the first place.
‘But we shouldn’t ignore the benefits of that core mission in the counter-radicalisation field, says Dr. Bergin. ‘ Extremists see things in black and white; if students are able to think critically, they’ll be more resilient to extremist messages. [ABC The Drum, June 3,2015]
Me: ‘It’s not a given thing that schools in the state of New South Wales take teaching critical thinking as their core mission.
The results in terms of universal literacy indicate otherwise. All children should be learning creative skills, not fobbed off with so called ‘consumption skills’ in the implicit belief they won’t have jobs.
The rewards of universal literacy would validate the risks of critical thinking perceived by those in charge. It would improve their families’ security, not lessen it.
In suburbs like Punchbowl and neighbouring Bankstown, the economic and social conditions provide fertile ground for recruitment of marginalised youth by Islamists. Young people from Middle Eastern and other immigrant backgrounds face worsening levels of unemployment and poor educational and social facilities. Youth unemployment in the area officially exceeds 20 percent, and many more young people have been pushed into low-paid casual or “cash-in-hand” jobs, or forced to work in unpaid internships or traineeships.
As for the benefits of that core mission in the ‘counter-radicalisation field’. Who gets them?’
The Baird government announced a $47 million package to pay for so called experts to be deployed across NSW schools to help counter ‘violent extremism’ in them.
Specialist teams and trained counsellors have to identify students at risk of ‘radicalisation’. Five expert teams were deployed across NSW schools to respond to incidents of violent extremism and help schools that have been ‘identified’ as being ‘at risk’.
The teams include former principals, psychologists and student support workers to help schools develop ‘strategies’.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said school staff were to be given “awareness training’’ in ‘radicalisation’ and encouraged to report “concerning student behaviour’’ to authorities.
Why not get the authorities to become aware where school children are when away from school and attract them back?
The Federal Education Department hosted a series of community youth forums across Australia in early 2016. Such events ‘provided young people with the opportunity to explore this complex problem and to consider how we can work together to help reduce marginalisation and further support young people,’’ Senator Birmingham said.
The teacher training is based on research by the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Monash University. The centre’s former international director, Greg Barton, who now leads the Australian Intervention Support Hub at Deakin University, said young Islamic youth workers should visit schools to help troubled Muslim teenagers.
“Often the imams are too busy or too old and disconnected from the youth cohort,’’ Professor Barton said. “A lot of the practical expertise in terms of a grassroots response will come in the form of Muslim youth workers.’’
He said principals, counsellors and teachers should be taught to recognise the potential signs of radicalisation.
“The changes they might be concerned about is if a student breaks off old friendships and forms new ones, lock themselves away from friends and family, and begin to express strong convictions,’’ he said. “They might be acting more aggressively in a way that’s out of character. That’s a warning to pay attention.’’
Me: ‘Children should already be encouraged to have strong convictions about the right things. Attention should already be paid to them.’
Professor Barton said schools should be a “safe space’’ for students to question international politics. “Giving a safe space in school for kids to ask angry questions about foreign policy — like ‘why has the war in Syria been going for five years?’ and ‘why did we invade Iraq ?’ — means they’re less likely to go into hidden discussions online where they’re much more vulnerable,’’ he said.
Me: ‘Well put, Professor Barton. And one can add the angry question of why we are bombing the bejesus out of Syria in this poxy proxy war.
Professor Barton: “We’ve had more people radicalised in the last 18 months than in the last two decades.’’
Me: ‘As more people have been butchered and blown up, mainly in the Middle East.’
The Australian revealed last year that a student at Epping Boys High School in Sydney had been preaching extremism.
A subsequent audit of school prayer groups by the NSW government found that barely half had been supervised, as required.
‘Violent extremism is a willingness to use or support unlawful violence to promote a political, ideological or religious goal,’ Premier Mike Baird said.
Me: ‘Many if not most would say our ultra violent attempts to overthrow the Baathist regimes and the barbaric ‘mowing the lawn’ strategy in Gaza fall into this category.
Will the N.S.W. government attempt to stifle discussion of the war as did Howard?
Will students such as the boofhead student hooning the Christian school be free to discuss these matters and hopefully arrive at a less frightening conclusion?
Will those in schools be free to ask why we are bombing the so called ‘Death Cult’ while one of our so called allies is bombing the Kurds, those most actively fighting it?
Will they be encouraged to discuss the so called Cult’s simpleminded and mischievous nonsense, to separate out any valid arguments?
As we know, the Department has the power to suppress information relating to alleged violence in schools. Those said to be involved in it have no right to appeal.
Will this power countermand the right of the expert teams to know the facts?
Will these latest powers bring about a spiral of violence as the Department claimed with the previous ones it brought in itself?
Will the Islamic youth workers brought in include young Sunnis, the main concern of the Government?
Another counter-terrorism expert, Andrew Zammit from University of Melbourne, also recommends programs that encourage ‘critical thinking’ among students rather than suspicion by teachers.
Mr. Zammit, who has been consulted by the federal government on deradicalisation in schools, said asking teachers to spot the signs of ‘radicalisation’ was likely to be counter-productive.
‘The resulting stigmatisation and atmosphere of fear could feed extremist narratives,’ he wrote .
‘The false leads generated by teacher guesswork could divert attention from the small number of genuine threats. The distrust bred could inhibit cooperation in the cases where it is really needed.’
Me: ’What we need are teams of experts coming to schools at risk, not because they have children from the Muslim faith, but because they are have so called ‘staffing difficulties’. We need teams coming not to gather ‘intelligence’ on children but coming to develop the children’s intelligence. What we need are teams of teachers free to teach all children how to read and write.
An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. It’s easier to build a strong child than repair a disturbed man.
Which brings us back of course to our black and white image. Highly offensive to many because while employing the acceptable caricature of the enemy representing Death, it crudely characterises a formation of mindless Muslim Australians. Bloodthirsty zombie sleepers switched on by the musical [sic] charm of the Pied Piper of Radical Islam. And brought to attention on such a sensitive, sad occasion.
‘Who’s protecting who? And what is this big business about being ‘radicalised’.
As former British Conservative minister Baroness Warsi commented, “There are many proud parents who cannot understand why their children find an affiliation with Isil… So often we have lazily defined those attracted to violent ideologies promulgated in far-off countries as mad, bad misfits and yet the reality is far more complicated.
We need to be vigilant not against young people who have any developed ideology to be radicalised in but against those who are fed violent extremist ideas irrespective of its ideological wrapping.
Basard was less ‘radicalised’ than corrupted and yes sent along a dark, dehumanising path, not the shining one promised by any so called maoist teachers or islamic scholars.
The original sense of ‘radicalised’ means going to the root of the matter. We mustn’t allow the meaning of this term to be distorted and misappropriated by the simple minded and mischievous. The root of the matter is that this was a crime involving a child. He was perverted rather than ‘radicalised’. He had gotten mixed up for various reasons, gotten behind in his studies and was highly susceptible to indoctrination and manipulation.
In the first instance gun merchants took advantage of him. Whether those who put him it up to it are in league with those transnational criminals who practise cruel and barbaric behaviour in the name of a god is for the police to ascertain.
There are always those, whether on their devices or not, dumb enough to praise such senseless actions. They shouldn’t be seen necessarily as ‘supporters’. Some people have a negative thing about police and the law. But it’s not against the law to think that way. Most people don’t act on their primal impulses. That there is any number of those who think this violent way towards any others at all is a sad reflection of our social life but it’s a bit of a stretch to see this as an great menace and distort its nature.
We can respond without wasting millions of dollars for police and so-called experts to chase children. Children should be off the streets and in their classroom seats free to read, write and discuss openly and without fear the issues of the day. We have nothing to fear from our children.
As for the Syrian refugees coming to Australia Nicole Hasham, environment and immigration correspondent from The Sydney Morning Herald raised the important question: ‘Where will they go?’ [Sept 9,2015]
The next logical question is: ‘How will we fare’?
Nicole: ‘While Australia extends bombing raids deep into Syria, NSW is prepared to welcome at least 4000 Syrians from ‘persecuted minorities’ to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis. Officials confirmed planeloads of refugees would arrive by Christmas, 2015.
Resettlement agencies say they have the capacity to house, feed and care for the influx of 12,000 displaced people, which almost doubles the current annual humanitarian intake.
Syrian refugee Anwar Rostom (right) with his parents, wife and children. The family arrived in Australia last year. Photo: Brendan Esposito
For Syrian refugee Anwar Rostom, who arrived in Australia with his family in November last year after 18 months in a Lebanese camp, Australia is now his country, ‘Syria is gone’.
Although his [Anwar’s] family struggled with poor English skills in the early months, they are all happy to be in a nation that is ‘beautiful and peaceful’.
“I love Australia very much. It’s a great country, great people. Day by day I love it more and more,” he said. “I want to feel peace, I want to see my kids with a smile on their face. We must do our best [here], this is our country.’
I wrote the following message to welcome Anwar hoping Ms. Hasham might forward it to him:
Your children already have a lovely smile, Anwar and can only continue to have such.
I appreciate your feelings towards Australia, Anwar. Indeed Australia is now your country and its people your people.
Like most peoples, Australian people like to travel abroad but most like to return home. Syrians must be the same. Some will want to return when the war is over and reconstruction begins. I’m not a fortune teller but it will happen. Other Australians will want to go there too. Australia should aim to facilitate this possibility.
I wouldn’t like to think of Syria as having ‘gone’.
Sadly it is being cindered just like the land of its present German protectors was. War is so terribly sad for humankind.
None feel this more than the Germans.
Syria will awake like the Phoenix. Out of the ashes. Not for the first time. Syria goes back to antiquity, that which is shamelessly being destroyed.
It has been violently transmuted. Having divided, it lives on in other forms. Syrian Australians. Syrian Germans. And so on.
I’m hardly surprised you weren’t provided with that so called ‘very effective educational program’ to allow your smooth entry into our society. Many of our local born aren’t either.
Those in the influx in most danger of missing out that program are not happy families like yours. They will be mostly young single people, particularly men. They will live alone often, working long shifts or hanging around with others, talking their mother tongue. In the words of the Australian Citizenship Minister, Alan Tudge, they are isolated, living in their own “cultural bubbles”, and limiting their interactions with broader society.’
They will fall under the radar of some of those official experts studying them. These ‘experts’ are not interested in them from an educational perspective. They’re not interested in their difficulties in speaking Standard Australian. The brains trust will look for other things, overlook these, leave the young adults to their own isolation and devices. Problems of communication will remain..
Australians should follow the lead of our trans Tasmanian cousins. The French self-confessed terrorists who blew up ‘The Rainbow Warrior’ were observed by the local people and quickly detained. The word had spread. Everyone spoke the same language.
You might like to compare your success in picking up English with mine in Arabic. I welcome any assistance of language support from speakers of Arabic.
I’m writing about Faisal, that influential figure, both in English and Arabic. That’s the task he set me.
He himself spoke the Queen’s English.
Sans parler de sa connaissance du français.
Here is a question that arises. What would happen if I sought refuge in an Arabic speaking country? Would I have to struggle with poor language skills or would I proceed in leaps and bounds?
Would I be able to ask, ‘Take me to your leader!’ And be taken, as were my thoughts, to Faisal.
NSW Premier Mike Baird, who had urged the federal government to do more for Syrian refugees, applauded it’s ‘bold and generous decision”.
“I am certain that people right across NSW will welcome our new Syrian neighbours with open arms and open hearts,” he said.
How can you be so certain, Mr. Baird? I ask. What about their minds? What will they be holding at the end of those arms? Are the locals of Cronulla, Mackay or Bendigo so different than Buda or Pest? Lesbos or Athens. Heidenau or Bavaria. The list goes on. The many places where people express disquiet. Fears of being forced out of their jobs and homes. Fears of seeing their ‘lebensraum’ shrink. Fears that have some basis in reality.
Sotto voce at first because so many understandably fear for their jobs.
Full bore if assembled in formation.
A fellow representative from the Coalition has said they are not welcome in his electorate owing to paucity of jobs. He set the pace, opening the climate for the next such comments … like those who argue that those of particular beliefs be favoured. A discriminatory policy will only sustain here the divisions people are fleeing from. It will create resentment and probable bitterness here.
It would appear many refugees have been forced to leave their country for good.
Syria must be recreated here in spirit, not its old divisions maintained.
Then there are comments like that of another of our parliamentary representatives. He has a hypothesis about Aylan Kurdi’s fate. It’s that Aylan’s family risked the travel to Europe in search of affordable dentistry.
That’s hardly the point, is it. The man should have a closer look at what washed ashore. And to think again carefully about what where desperation can lead .
Then again, he says that he himself may have done the same thing in search of a better life.
Over the past decade, more than 34 per cent of those coming here in search of a better life under Australia’s refugee and humanitarian visa program have made NSW their home.
A spokesman for Mr Baird said this would translate to about 4000 Syrians from the emergency intake, “but the Premier has made clear NSW is prepared to take more”.
“We will do everything we can to ensure that we have arrangements in place to assist with this,” he said.
“We’re looking at sites to house refugees and are working with the federal government to determine ideal locations.”
The spokesman said NSW already had a variety of programs to help humanitarian entrants in areas such as health, education and transport.
A Victorian government spokeswoman welcomed the decision to accommodate more displaced Syrians. “Victoria will play its part to help resettle these refugees, so they and their families can start new lives in our state,” she said. “We have a long history of welcoming people from all walks of life and we are proud to have them call Victoria home.”
Senior federal government officials said the entire 12,000 refugee intake was expected by mid-2016, mostly from camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. The measure was expected to cost $700 million over four years, plus processing costs.
Once refugees arrive in Australia, they are provided cultural orientation, housing, health care, English classes and other assistance.
These are largely provided by existing refugee settlement services, and it is understood the Department of Social Services is prepared for an increased workload.
AMES Australia chief executive Cath Scarf, whose Victoria-based agency helps resettle refugees, said Australia was well placed to accept the increased Syrian intake, and the federal government decision had broad public support.
Chief executive of NSW-based Settlement Services International, Violet Roumeliotis, said humanitarian settlement service providers were “ready and willing to play [their] part, together with the community, to support people given humanitarian entry to NSW”.
‘How ready?’ I ask in light of the difficulties of my involvement in this area. ‘How well placed are we really?’
Townsville MP Scott Stewart, a veteran educator, said there would be room to take refugees in his area. He has suggested wisely: “I think what we need to do is look at the current service providers and see how many we can take and still provide the services.”
Townsville has welcomed a number at a time of great local economic uncertainty.
Could Sydney and NSW with their rich pool of human resources follow suit?
Many Australian people are ready and willing to assist those in this exodus.
inner West Council keeps a register of volunteers to draw upon. I am on it.
Humanitarian settlement and migrant service providers must stop to consider their resources carefully. They must liase with each other in terms of resources and priorities. This is a time of great national uncertainty.
Our federal government has declared a state of emergency, it has declared our children to be on ‘the frontline’ of the so called War of Terror, Asif!
Schools are to be further securitised, less liberalised. The Coalition Minister for Immigration, on the way to become the revamped Minister for Home Affairs, believes that unemployed and illiterate refugees would be “taking Australian jobs’.
Others conflate refugees with terrorists.
We should heed the sad but wise words of the Belgian Ambassador to Australia.
To confuse them is to do so at our peril.
Others are adding migrants to the mix, calling their allegiance also into question.
This then becomes a really volatile mix, difficult to control.
It is the responsibility of all citizens to promote an informed and alert populace.
The question arises ‘Why did Anwar Rostom’s family have to struggle with poor English skills in the early months?’
Why couldn’t the Sydney Morning Herald allow any follow up to this question?
How as a citizen and as a professional worker in this area can I be insouciant and not motivated to participate.
How many more will have to suffer this if the problem is not solved immediately? How will we cope teaching the new arrivals English and our culture if we still cannot achieve it for all our own citizens?
Language shortcomings can lead to some serious misunderstanding between citizens.
We must take steps to ensure outcomes such as Anwar’s early one are not repeated? I invite support to offer all newcomers the best provision for community study of our language and culture. As a deeply satisfying procedure, not a burden.
I believe that any newcomers and their families who have food and shelter should be keen to study actively about Australia and its culture. They should be able to enjoy this and be involved in passing it on.
As initially wary Australians encounter them, their wariness would melt away. They would realise they’re ‘just like us’.
Call itself interested humanitarianism if you like but everyone has to benefit.
I wanted to invite, Anwar and his family to take part. With any others to help me, a volunteer educator in the community, assisting a settlement service provider, to help prepare the way for this influx. To offer the language skills the arrivals will need for negotiating their way. To teach them knowledge of local sites, customs and taboos.
I set out my stall clearly. The nature of my mission, my methodology and Sydney-wide professional experience. This included coverage of my association and activity with the migrant resource provider. If the reader were to have looked at my website, one that deals with my life so far, they would have noted my lifelong preoccupation with tackling wastage of public resources.
I called on all resettlement agencies to support a scheme facilitating rapid achievement of universal literacy and expansive knowledge of our land. A scheme that would ease their workload, not increase it.
Say Yes to migrant resources. No to endless meetings. No to austerity. No to war.
I contacted Nicole Hasham from Sydney’s newspaper of record regarding my quest. I drew attention to estimates of the NSW Coordinator-General for Refugee Resettlement and resettlement service providers as to the official system’s capacity to deal with the influx. I saw them as glaringly over optimistic
She suggested this ‘micro’ matter would be better taken up by a local newspaper. My local paper, the Inner West Courier, proved to be uninterested so I had to leave it at that.
I interpreted her response as a fob off. The matter involving the Middle East which Nicole brought to public attention and already has contacts about is a serious national one. When those with authority and responsibility try to put the fear of God into the populace while simultaneously trying to lull it into a false sense of security, the journalist should expose this not evade it. His or her own integrity is on the line. My argument after all is largely substantiated by reading between the lines of scores of Nicole’s colleagues over a long period. Providing a yardstick against which to measure the refugee’s skills advancement is a necessary one.