Stories, Questions, and Mysteries

Stories, Questions, and Mysteries

Wednesday, 7 November 2018


The Melbourne Cup.
Scanning world festivals I no0ce the Melbourne cup does not feature with Christmas, Hogmanay, Ramadan, Bas0lle Day etc. I am relieved. As the day approaches and excitement swells not only am I not touched; I feel bemused and almost resentful. How come all of Australia is heading to Melbourne and I am heading to Darwin, figuratively speaking?
At the outset, and this is where you may wish to leave me, I have a sort of personal maxim that anything which is unques0onably popular can’t be much good. Eli0st? Probably. But I have to try to understand why when almost everyone else is included or wants to be, I am a self constructed isolate.
Celebra0ons vary in popularity. Usually they have religious or historic origins like Christmas or Easter or the Death of Buddha. Those of other faiths, or of no faith, do not object to a day off work.
Another group, usually not concerned about maQers of faith is the marketeers. Brewers, airlines or anyone unconnected with horses can, via a fee to the marketeers, pretend to own the annual racing event. This is curiously not called appropria0on but sponsorship.
There is nostalgia, emo0onalism and a desire to go along rather than be let out of these celebratons. That means that individual choice is challenged by the desire to be in it.
But to be in what? There is no Saint Melbourne nor venerated drinking vessel like the Ardagh Chalice. Is the aQrac0on the same as an open gate for a mob of sheep? I dare not answer.
Could it be a day when the rest piggyback on the Irish con0ngent of the na0on and thumb their noses at the non conformist ascendancy by getting on the turps and gamble? Both indulgences are normally forbidden to the elect.
How do you explain getting dressed up for the cup? You can watch the gee gees in old clobber. Or put on a bet or get sozzled in comfortable gear. Men can and do dress in the uniforms of English formality. The womens’ hats go the other way to flights of fancy beyond good design or good taste. Maybe headgear extravagance is safer because it is perched above the spilling line of cup or lip. But what would you do with those crea0ons post cup? Wear them to work? To a football or cricket match? Maybe just let them go in the chook pen and see what happens. Is the licence to dress up an ins0tu0onalised opportunity for the timid to wear what they like but deny themselves every other day. Or it could be compe0ng to spend barely affordable money to buy something you don’t want to impress people you don’t like?
Shakespeare’s admoni0on on taste, via Hamlet to ‘seek only the opinion of the judicious, the one of whom in your opinion must outweigh a whole theatre of others’ does not apply here.
Spies get caught in honey traps. Traps are set for the unwary to engage in illicit but enjoyable pursuits, supposedly secretly. Maybe the Melbourne Cup is a giant honey trap where folk, in full sight abandon secrecy, to do what they would like to but never dare do, along with others in the same boat who will not tell because they do it too.
The cup’s intoxica0on spreads far beyond Flemington, enveloping the na0on and far away expats. Though if you are a new arrival to Oz culture you will need a local to explain what is going on. ‘Like a victory?’ ‘Not exactly.’ ‘Like celebra0ng a great hero?’ ‘Not quite’. ‘Like an equinox?’ ‘No’. ‘Well what then? Why then?’
Why does it have to be the fastest? What is special about speed? It’s the horse which runs. Are the human ingredients, the skills or experience transferable to other areas of life? Like applied research? Can this help save lives? Increase our access to beauty? Tell me I’m dreamin.
Surely happy to dream without inhaling the intoxicant which sucks my na0on Lethewards to communion from the shared Cup.
Michael D. Breen Robertson NSW

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Booklaunch: Shaking the Family Tree & When the Bough Breaks.



  “When the Bough Breaks” and “Shaking the family Tree”
Margaret McMahon.

Book launch.

       Good evening all and thank you Margaret for asking me to do this important job launching not one but two results of your hard work and courage.
       First a permission. In a town just west of Burrowa an unprepossessing local was to address the citizens in the School of Arts about his overseas travel. The mayor gave an overheated introduction and your man commenced. “G’day everyone.” Mumbled unenthusiastic “G’day.” “Can youse all hear me?” “Emm” mumbled. “Can you down there hear me?” Pointing. “Yes I can but I am willing to swap places with someone who can’t”. So feel free to do such a swap.
       “When the Bough Breaks” and “Shaking the Family Tree” cover similar areas. The genres of autobiography and family history are vulnerable territory. It is also an impregnable area as no one can deny or contradict a writer’s reaction to incidents.
       Margaret’s territory is also pegged by her father Barry’s writing, and that of her sister and her brother. So unsurprisingly there is a tinge of having to justify the writer’s unique version.  





              “When the Bough Breaks”
       Takes two little children from the care of their mother, to their maternal grandparents, to their paternal grandparents and then to a blended stepfamily. That is a lot.
       But it is further contaminated by the grandparent asking a child to promise not to love her new stepmother. That seems to block the possible nurturing warmth from a new maternal person.
       Barry, Margaret’s father, must have been shattered by the death of his wife while he was a new enlistee in the army posted to Western Australia. Adding to his pain was the charge that he was just trying to get out of an army for which he had volunteered. One doubts if Barry ever really grieved for his wife or instead used denial, workaholism and whisky. Perhaps too he was terrified of losing a second wife’s affection and so gave priority to his new family over Margaret and her sister. Work is such a respectable defence against living a fully human life. Philosopher Joseph Pieper, in “Leisure the Basis of Culture” talks of work; negotium in Latin as the negation of otium meaning rest which is our default state.
       “Strong women” or tough women surrounded Barry. He physically sparred with his daughters. Margaret laments his underdeveloped feminine side. Whence though would he have had the models to be more feminine? Margaret’s ambivalence toward her semi absent father, who was scant protection against his second wife, is evident. But he was the only parent she had to love and she did.
       Her mother Bunty dying young achieves canonization along with priest Uncle Robert.

“Shaking the Family Tree”.
       The second launch is “Shanking the Family Tree”.  Margaret is still a bit behind Kim Jong-un but this is her fourth launch in two years.
       Convict ancestor James Barry emerges from the family mist like the convict in the opening scenes of the film of “Great Expectations”. He looks scary but becomes more human as we get to know him. Margaret provides details of Irish history and nineteenth century occupied Cork. This is the landscape from which James Barry moves to primitive Australia.  (And there are still Barry families in Cork).
              Governor Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane said of people like James, “…every murder or diabolical crime, which has been committed in the Colony since my arrival has been perpetrated by Roman Catholics. And this I ascribe entirely to their barbarous ignorance. And total want of education, the invariable companion of bigotry and cruelty as well as the parent of crime”. A bit rich coming from a Scot who left his country to join the British Army and who collected his wife’s name to enhance his status. Governor Brisbane calls the Irish Roman Catholics ignorant. It was the British government who forbade them their schools from about 1695 though they conducted illegal “hedge schools” a risk they took because they valued education. The British also made it a punishable offence to speak their own language. As in our days with Aboriginal people? Asylum seekers? Punishment for the effects of what we have done to people?
       James had two children with his wife Margaret Barry who died aged 24 from tuberculosis in 1853. Margaret McMahon’ sympathy for the two bereaved children Margaret Mary and William patently parallels her own loss of a mother at as a little child with a younger sister.
       Outside the family and intermingled with family perceptions is the cultural context. That context is as fickle as fashion. Cultural norms are like good glasses they change focus and are imperceptible to the wearer. Just think how society’s views on gender have shifted in the past thirty or so years.
       There are also the pervasive social barbed wires of family/religious judgments based on societal norms. Often the connections one has with a respectable person can be redemptive. But should not always be relied on.     
My grandfather, who was asked to change his German name during two world wars, had a story of a well-known Sydney identity that was chairman of the water board. The said identity got into an argument with a tram conductor. At full charge he demanded, “Do you know who I am? I’m so and so. I’m connected with the water board.” The unphased conductor replied, “So’s my dunny”.
       These days you can cut corners for social renovation. You can be a criminal banker and use your gains to enrol children at private schools thereby elevating  your and their status.
       Religious intolerance, which threads through both books, has declined along with religion itself. However, racial intolerance in our multicultural society is alive and well. It is a highly inflammable seam of gas ready for politicians to ignite for their own benefit. 
       Reading, “When the Bough Breaks” and “Shaking the Family Tree” I enjoyed what I learned about nineteenth century life, rural life in Ireland, in Australia, about the Hunter Valley and its prominence in the Colony. About Mudgee, and the goldfields their miners and suppliers as well as learning about moves to the city and back to the bush again. At times I could smell fresh cow’s milk or leather dressing on harness or saddles or the smell of a horse. Or I could imagine the view to the side of a bush track curtained with thick flora now gone.
       Margaret’s work is impressive. It is the grinding, lonely unsure work of writing. Her children and their grandchildren can be grateful they have so much to go on.
       Margaret deserves our attentive reading and appreciation for sharing her paths, and that is why we are here

Michael D. Breen,
Newcastle,
May11th 2018
      

Friday, 4 May 2018

Graduation Address UTS May 1st Kate Kamkong Breen



Graduation Occasional Address UTS   Tuesday May 1st 2018.
Catherine Breen Kamkong
Deputy Representative
United Nations Population Fund

I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land upon which the UTS campus stands, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. My respects also to Deputy Chancellor, Provost, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President, University Secretary, Associate Dean of the Faculty, Chair of the Academic Board, staff, family, friends and graduates.
What an honour it is for me to be with you all here today to celebrate the end of your foundational education as nurses and the beginning of the careers that lie ahead of you.
I wanted to share a little bit with you about the lessons I have learned on my journey since graduating with my Bachelor in Applied Science, Nursing back in 1993, not because I feel that what I have done is anything outstanding  or significant but more because I want each of you to believe that the world is at your feet and there are infinite possibilities which lie ahead for each of you , huge contributions that each of you have the potential to make …….and need to make.
 Mother Teresa once said that Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.
Nursing is much more than a job. It offers the opportunity to be a vocation and one where you support people at critical moments in their lives. What each of us might consider small can make a big difference to a person’s experience of pain, fear, loss and life itself. I remember once at St Vincents here in Sydney when I was working in the oncology ward. There was a women from the Solomon islands who had been brought to St Vincents with uterine cancer that had metastasised. Her prognosis was poor. She was away from family in a new environment and culture. I remember one night doing rounds of the wards, and was startled to find her on the floor. I assumed she had fallen out of bed. She cried and told me she was lying on the floor as she wanted to feel the healing warmth of the sun from the earth. There was no sun heating up the 10th floor of that old building at St Vincents.
 I sat with her on the floor, crying also as I saw the pain she was in, her loneliness, her prognosis, and the lack of what she needed to bring her comfort..  That moment has stayed with me ever since – as I learned many things – I learned that there are often moments when we want to help and make everything better but the best we can do is just to be with that person and show them that you care. No clinical procedure at that moment could help. It also taught me to understand how important Respectful care is, and the importance of understanding difference..
During my experience working in a public hospital in Sydney, a Tibetan refugee camp, with refugees from Myanmar, with street children in Vietnam, young adolescent mothers in Nepal or rural women in Cambodia. The lesson for me has been the same   try to do Small things with great love.
The second lesson I have learned and wanted to share with you is of the importance of gratitude and finding a way to express that gratitude. Sometimes one has to experience something else to really know and understand the privileges one has.
 In around the year 2000, when I was working in a Burmese refugee camp on the Thai Burmese border training community health workers, I was struck by the desperate situation faced by these people and why it is that some in life must suffer so much. That health worker said to me that it was the “lottery of birth” and that though we are all given the same chance in life – a lot depends on where we are born, when we are born and to whom we are born. The race of life starts at the same place but all of those things have a very strong influence on the path after that.
I was so lucky in the lottery of birth to be born as an Australian, in a good family and to have many opportunities including the chance of a wonderful education. The foundational base that studying nursing here at UTS gave me has really created so many opportunities for me and it is that opportunity that also has motivated me so much to give back whatever I can and to contribute to making the lives of those not so fortunate a little more dignified and for their right to health to be somewhat realized.
And this leads me to the final lesson that I wanted to share with you.
The importance of finding your purpose. 
I had a good job in critical care at St Vincents Hospital back in the mid 1990s and the prospects of saving enough to put a deposit on a small place in Balmain. Yet I remember feeling that there was something more that was calling me. I handed in my resignation, bought a ticket to Ho Chi Minh , Vietnam and went volunteering as a nurse to a clinic in an orphanage where babies and small children were being brought in after being found abandoned on the streets and found dumped in garbage bins. I used to come home and cry, feeling helpless, homesick and upset at the plight of these children and also the way the other health professionals treated these babies . It sparked something deep within me though that I wanted to do be able to do more. This searching took me to India where I continued to volunteer and had to draw upon everything I had learned at UTS and in life!  Just being from Australia, and trained as a nurse led me to be called upon to assist in all sorts of situations I felt unprepared for –  women giving birth in a small hut in fields in the mountains of Himachel Pradesh,  Tibetan refugees children coming to me with totally burned hands from lighting the fire to cook in their house, resuscitating a newborn of a refugee women in a health centre at night with no light and no other equipment than my mouth and 2 hands . I became passionate about refugee health and global health and have continued on this journey of trying to harness all my brainpower and capacity to make a small difference.  I studied further and  worked even more in humanitarian settings after cyclones and also ethnic conflicts in Myanmar, post conflict in Nepal and then to Cambodia.  I became passionate about trying to make sure that no woman dies in pregnancy and childbirth and that every baby that is born has a chance of more than survival. That is why my work has taken me to the United Nations . None of this is important in itself but what I am trying to impart on you is that I found my purpose and I encourage you to find yours also. I love the words of Eddie Woo, the amazing mathematics teacher from Cherry Brook high school who gave an address on Australia day. He explained -  
“If you’re a young person trying to find your way in the world, I don’t think you need to follow your passion. I think you have to become passionate about following need
So if you will allow me, I would like to ask each one of you to think about these words and the lessons I shared.
Do small things with great love. Look outwards at the world around and find what matters to each of you. Consider all that you have and try and give back to others some of what you have learned and taken away from your studies here at UTS. Make a contribution in whatever way you can to some of the needs of our people here in Australia and in our shared world. Put your heart, soul and all your skills and capacity into that and you will have found your purpose!
I wish you the best of luck in all your endeavors and congratulations.

















Sunday, 8 October 2017

Zen Practice.

In 1986 I joined the Zen Group of Western Australia. This meant meditating with the group as close to weekly as possible, making a Zen retreat or Sesshin almost yearly and the daily practice of Zazen (meditation).
This has been my spiritual practice my Way or Tau since then. My first teacher was the respected and remarkable Robert Aitken Roshi who came from the Diamond Sangha in Honolulu to assist Zen students and incipient teachers in Australia.
John Tarrant Roshi from California also returned to his native Australia to lead Sesshins here on several occasions which I attended. 
Ross Bolleter, musician, composer and music teacher was authorized to teach in 1992 by John Tarrant, and received transmission from Robert Aitken and John Tarrant in 1997. He has taught extensively in Australia and New Zealand and has successors in both places.
When I moved to NSW in 2001 Ross was still my teacher and I had telephone Docksan (Interview with the teacher) fairly regularly.
This year I visited my teacher Ross in Perth and he recommended I contact the Sydney Zen Group and teacher Gillian Coote. 


I visited and meditated with the Sydney group at their place in Annandale.
Then I enrolled for the spring Sesshin this month at their retreat center Gorrick's Run on the McDonald River out from  Wiseman's Ferry. The Sydney people led by architect Tony Coote built the meditation hall, teacher's residence, kitchen, dormitory toilets and shower block over thirty years.

On the opening evening I said that I was both excited by the opening world of Sesshin while also apprehensive of the pain and frustration which accompanies intensive growth work. And thus it panned out, though I felt held and supported by the members of the Sangha (group[) and the practices which structure the Sesshin day such as chanting, meal rituals, walking meditation and visiting the teacher. It is strange how so much which happens in silence has such effect.
I am grateful to the group of fellow students and  to Gillian Coote and Maggie Gluek for the strength and authenticity of their teaching and their cutting away of non essentials so that there was just one focus point.
Sydneh Harbour stone Buddha in Paddock.
Zendo Meditation Hall
Spring Sesshin 2017

Sunday, 28 May 2017

John Warhurst on Church reform

John is an intelligent and credible Political Scientist. Here I wish to further the discussion he invites about reforming the Catholic Church in Australia. The approach needs to be radical and systemic.

An organization like a good building needs to have a form which supports and enhances its function. From follows function. So what is the function of the Catholic Church? What kind of form does it need and need to fund to progress the message of Christ? What do the members of the organization need to advance their spiritual lives? What form do reformist Catholics need to embrace to do what? And if there is something wrong it is a good idea not to make changes without adequate diagnosis.
A couple of observations or questions from one who has worked with organizational structures and cultures for several decades.
Anyone ever thought of asking a bishop if he says his prayers? What has been the effect in a secular world of the vacuum where genuinely spiritual matters ought have had primacy? And no I do not mean dogmatic, or scripture study, or moral reflections. Certainly not prayers of petition. I mean sharing and learning from the great tried and true spiritual traditions many of which surround Australia in our Asian setting.
What would happen if the structure gave first place to The New Testament and those best able to support it and leave the bureaucratic structure to managers? Does ordination confer any special administrative skills? So the bishop could be the dogmatic/spiritual/prayerful leaders of an area and with a lay management system.
 





Why do Australian Catholics imagine in their widest dreams that the the Hierarchic cadre which have mismanaged can have some remarkable change of hearts, skills and investments in their egos to now turn around and exercise leadership reform? They have had the blueprint from Vatican ii for years and been tardy or reactive.
Why, especially when the Pope has invited Catholics to experiment with change not try a few things? E.g. invite divorced people to come to communion, if a priest wants to get married let him announce his intentions and see if the community still want him as their pastor and on and on. The Pope knows enough about organizations and the Vatican not expect change from the center. He knows as organizational experts know that much change comes from the periphery.
And finally, I find it remarkable that Catholics, now that the Royal Commission has put the hierarchy and provincials in the stocks in the village square and shamed them that the laity throw stuff of their own. Some form of distancing? The laity  have been slavishly obedient, colluded with bad decisions,(administrative, managerial, financial, political, cultural and educational) seen their leaders punished by quisling informers to Rome. They have winged to one another but supine in their confrontation of the offending cleric who was the more appropriate target of their complaint, since the formation of the colony. Few have ever walked out of an offensive sermon. It was not just the clergy, but teachers, coppers, parents, lawyers and judges who managed the cover ups of abuses. No, if the laity wish to operate with integrity they must acknowledge their complicity, their collusion in corrupting the body which needs reform. That would put them on a more humble footing with the clerics they now want to change and leadership in the acknowledgment of the sinfulness of us all.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Still missing some points? Catholic reform?

http://johnmenadue.com/?p=9759#comment-51714
This is a fairly long speech. It is from an expert, however there are two problems which I address in my response.
OK Francis Sullivan knows more than most about this matter and has had to be a front man conduit for so much criminal dysfunction. Corruptio optimi;pessimum. He makes sense in this speech and his blueprint for the future looks good. However the question is are there now any or enough people of initiative, who have not already left the in the church, to do anything about the mess. Most it seems have given away so much power for so long in childlike dependency on the clergy and hierarchy that they will be unable manage or work around the authorities appointed in the last few years by reactionary Vatican officials.
One serious omission in this and other ecclesiastical matters is spirituality. Most of what was said or taught bout prayer followed the same dependency dynamic as you would expect from a bovine; sheep and shepherd leadership. The spiritual development of the person was about faith, morals and dogma. None of this is necessarily spiritual. Australia sits in Asia which has several rich spiritual traditions of meditation and spiritual development. Learning from these might be a way to reform from the inside out.