Passing bull 118 – Bull about the Commonwealth Bank

The following letter was published in the AFR.

Dear Editor

We discuss CBA in a legal vacuum.  The law says the business of a company is to be managed by or under the direction of its directors.  We talk as if the CEO is responsible for managing the business.  That’s wrong.  The board might delegate some powers – it cannot devolve its responsibility.

If the directors are truly responsible for failures of management of CBA, they should resign.  But our business community lost that moral fibre two generations ago.  And because our discussion is premised on a legal fallacy, the board is allowed to pass the buck to the CEO.  That’s as satisfying morally or intellectually as a footy club firing its coach because of the weakness of the team.

But still, no one goes.  Executives lose bonuses – north of a million each.  But given executive pay levels, this will hurt executives less than a speeding fine would hurt me.  And a fine that is ten times the pay of high school teachers will be defended by those who say there is no problem of inequality of income.

So, we have a shot-duck government that no one believes, and a business community that is spineless at the top, corrupt in the middle, and bitterly deprived and discontented at the bottom.  That’s just the cocktail that gave us Farage, Hanson, and Trump.

It also makes the case for a full inquiry into our banks unanswerable – if only to educate company directors.

Yours truly,

Geoffrey Gibson

The following piece was published, with some amendments, in The Guardian.

Koalas at the tills

If I drive above the speed limit, I may be fined.  I may lose my licence, and therefore my job.  If I kill someone while speeding, I’m liable to go to jail.  In weasel terms, I’m ‘accountable’ or ‘responsible’ for my driving.  The CBA mess raises this question: are its directors legally responsible for that mess?

We talk in a legal vacuum.  The law says that a company’s business is to be managed by or under the direction of its directors – but we talk as if the CEO is responsible instead.  That’s wrong.  Directors can delegate powers – they cannot devolve responsibility.  The CEO is responsible to the board; the board is responsible to shareholders. But armed with a legal fallacy, the directors try to duck for cover.

The banks say their problems are ‘cultural’ and the law can’t fix cultures.  What nonsense!  What if there is a ‘culture’ of greed driven by remuneration schemes put there by the board?  What if a macho culture drives men to intimidate women?  Is the law then powerless?

No, the directors of CBA are responsible for all this mess – and here it’s strike three.  Two generations ago, directors would have been pushed to resign.  But that was when bank managers mowed their nature-strips with Qualcasts on Sunday arvos.  Now we do not respect the City, and it’s left to the regulator to tap the directors’ sense of decency.  Their licences may not be presently at risk, but might not a court rule on their legal responsibility?

The directors relied on management.  In court, they would have to show they made independent assessments of the executives’ advice.  This law is hard.  How many of the CBA directors knew enough about banking to assess independently what their whizz kids were saying?  Did the directors reasonably believe that their powers were always being properly exercised?

Here is the Volkswagen dilemma.  Either the directors knew what was going on or they didn’t.  The malefactors were either working under the directors’ direction or they weren’t.  Which is worse?  If the government was telling CBA that something was wrong, can the directors now say that they thought everything was OK?  Weren’t they at least put on inquiry?  Win, lose, or draw, should we not spend some taxes putting these directors in the witness box so that they can explain to us Australians just what they do for their money?  And as for winning – well, it’s curious, but the banks don’t often win in court.

If you watch The Big Short at the cinema, you will hear groans of resignation at the end – nothing happened to the crooks.  Big corporates never get to face our criminal justice system.  Two teams of ineffably urbane lawyers stitch together an evasive dissemblance of regret – apologies are so demeaning; the corporate pays an agreed sum to government, which would otherwise be called a bribe; the shareholders take the hit; and the executives collect their bonuses and move on to the next fatted calf.

We learned long ago that power corrupts.  We are now learning that wealth – itself a form of power – is even more corrupting.  Have those at CBA been allowed to get away with all their wrongs because so much money slushes around that no one will mind the odd little leak?  Is it possible to imagine a more corrupting sentiment in a bank?

So far as we know, no one has yet gone from CBA.  Some executives have lost bonuses north of a million dollars.  That’s more than ten times what we pay high school teachers.  That will have hurt them less than a speeding fine hurts me – and their ticket hasn’t been at risk.

Very few directors went to jail over the GFC.  We protect them like we protect koala bears.  Company directors’ status appears to put them outside the law.  This apparent privilege deeply upsets the punters.  Our criminal justice system really works over those at the bottom – but we don’t lay a finger on those on high.  Are these koalas, then, untouchable?  More invulnerable even than cardinals?

This class difference is very cancerous.  We should all have the same legal rights.  But, then, this company pays its CEO more than 100 times what it pays its tellers.  Do you see why inequality – in both money and status – is such a loaded word now?

So, we have a PM reduced to a grinning buffoon; a government that gets everything wrong by either instinct or tradition, and that just ignores us; and a business world that is indolent and protected at the top, greedy and corrupted in the middle, and deprived and angry down below.  Those are precisely the forces that generate a sense of caste and that gave us Farage, Hanson, and Trump.

They also make the case for a full inquiry into our banks unanswerable.

Warren Buffett manages differently.  A scandal at American Express left subsidiaries owing $60 million.  Should the parent voluntarily honour those debts?   Buffett said their business depended on trust.  We hear that truism a lot now, but Buffett paid the debts to set ‘standards of financial integrity and responsibility which are far beyond those of the normal commercial enterprise.’  For Buffett, it was not enough just to comply with the law; the CBA can’t even manage that.

And what happened to the good old bank set up to guard our common wealth?

Poet of the month: Walt Whitman

A Child Said, What Is The Grass?

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;

How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,

A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,

Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,

And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,

Growing among black folks as among white, Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,

It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men, It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;

It may be you are from old people and from women, and from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps, And here you are the mother’s laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,

Darker than the colorless beards of old men,

Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!

And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,

And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?

What do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;

The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,

And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,

And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,

And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

Why history? 6



The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are fundamental to what we call ‘western civilisation’.  The Greeks knew none of it.  Nor did Rome until it was too late.  Ancient religion was not about love.  As a result, the ancients look to us to be hard-hearted, to be missing something.  Aristotle said that ‘it would be strange if one were to say that he loved Zeus’.  It would truly have been madness – for a Greek or a Roman.

The Greeks did not see mankind as sinners requiring redemption; nor did they see people trying to behave according to their conscience.  Divine favour was won through ritual, by paying formal cult. The most important form of cult was the sacrifice, and the most important of those was the blood sacrifice.  (Our word ‘sacrifice’ comes from two Latin words meaning ‘make holy’.)

In imperial Rome, the poet Juvenal said that ‘the public has long since cast off its cares; the people that once bestowed … all else, now… longs eagerly for just two things: bread and circuses.’  In one show put on by Claudius, 19,000 condemned prisoners manned ships for a staged naval battle.  They saluted Claudius: ‘Hail Caesar, we who are about to die salute you.’ The audience got a say in whether the loser lived or died.  The defeated would then kneel with his hands behind his back or clasping the legs of the victor and ‘take the iron’ when the crowd would yell ‘he has it!’ It sounds rather like a bull-fight. Christians were thrown to the lions out of fear – that the local gods may have been offended and might retaliate. In the less vicious republic, a rebellion of slaves was answered by crucifying 6000 of them on the Appian Way.

Ancient Greece and Rome were by our standards barbaric. Barbarism is the reverse of civilisation. Their constitutional structures were also hopelessly  uncivilised.  The inability of Greek city-states to live with each other led to their demise.  The Romans never developed a decent policy for succession for their rulers. As a result, very few died in their bed.  The Empire was run in the way that the SS would have run the Reich after Hitler.

Why then do people say that the ancients or, for that matter, the medieval world, were civilised?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘civilize’ as ‘to make civil; to bring out of a state of barbarism, to instruct in the arts of life; to enlighten and refine’.  People who extol ancient Greece and Rome as ‘civilised’ presumably use the word in this final sense.  They see ‘enlightenment’ and ‘refinement’ as being enough to outweigh the barbarity of slavery, empire and their unholy religions.  They see civilisation even though neither Greece nor Rome had then been blessed with the respect for the dignity of each human life which is elemental to our concept of ‘civilisation’.  Unlike Hamlet, the ancients had not heard the beautiful notion ‘that there is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.’  They could not have understood Hamlet’s agony about ordained revenge.

In his book, Civilisation, Kenneth Clark said that he didn’t know what ‘civilisation’ was.  He then compared a tribal African mask to a sculpture of the Apollo of the Belvedere of the 4th century BC.  He said ‘I don’t think that there is any doubt that the Apollo embodies a higher state of civilisation from the mask’.  He acknowledged that ‘there was plenty of superstition and cruelty in the Graeco-Roman world’ but said that mankind had at times sought to ‘approach as nearly as possible to an ideal of perfection – reason, justice, physical beauty, all of them in equilibrium’.  There are at least three issues here

First, most people could not give a hoot about and do not appreciate the kinds of ‘enlightenment’ or ‘refinement’ referred to; indeed, most people in a pub would have as much trouble in following what Clark was saying as I do.

Next the relative terms are in any event very variable.  If I were choosing art for my home or place of work, I would much prefer the African mask to the Apollo; but, then, I like aboriginal art, which would have been foreign to Clark, and pop art, which would have appalled him.  The fact that the Apollo is a ludicrously idealised and stylised portrait of a vain pagan god that Napoleon looted from the Vatican does not add to its charms.

And, finally, it is not much good having a refined ear for Mozart’s Requiem if you can be murdered in your bed, or your having a Ph D for analysing the downward smile of the Mona Lisa if you can be raped or cast into prison forever on the mere say so of a prince or a bishop – or if you just cannot get enough food or water to live.

So, it’s time for the Oxbridge myth of the civilisation of Greece and Rome to be put to sleep forever.  Nor do I think this picture changed much during what we call the Middle Ages – but in my view we then reach a stage in our journey where we can see the beginning of what we call civilisation.

Here and there – Entertaining migrants


Some of us are old enough to remember just how cold and drab this dump was until we were blessed with waves of European and then Asian and African migrants that helped to break the choker hold of Saxons and Celts.  Arthur Boyd, A Life, by Darleen Bungey deals with some of the first wave.  The names are familiar to the art community, but their vibrant contributions to our national life deserve wider notice.

Yosl Bergner was a Jewish refugee from Warsaw.  His father had implored Polish Jews to quit Europe.  He had come to Australia looking for land for a Jewish settlement.  For that purpose, he explored the Kimberley with a young blackfella and a white truck driver.  It wasn’t the heat, or the wet, or the remoteness that put him off – the author tells us that he couldn’t imagine the new Zion with so many flies.  When Yosl got here, just in time, he did so with firsthand knowledge of the great art of Europe.  He quickly befriended Arthur Boyd and declared that most of Arthur’s work was rubbish.  This was new for Arthur.  He thought that Yosl, who scavenged the discarded vegetables at Victoria Market, was ‘a very forward bloke.’  Yosl described himself as ‘a Jew with a complex’ who saw anti-Semitism all around him.  He traded in his bike for three tubes of paint, but unlike the native artists, he didn’t like the bush.  Arthur looked at Yosl – who would surely have been at home in Catch 22 – as his first contact with Bohemia.  (He was I think yet to meet the Reeds and their set.)  It may have gone both ways.  I didn’t know this, but some hookers in Melbourne then used cigarette shops as fronts.  Yosl stepped into one – but he didn’t like what he saw.  So he asked for a packet of cigarettes!  That’s when Yosl learned the local terms of trade.  ‘First pay, then fuck, then buy cigarettes.’  To his enduring credit, Yosl complied.  He believed that ‘prostitutes have their professional pride and self-respect and you don’t have to hurt their feelings.’  What a noble expression of tolerance!   Could this perhaps be a true Australian value?

Stanislav Halpern was known as Stacha.  The author says this:

Halpern’s pottery describes Halpern: earthy, solid, with an alluring overlay of vivid decoration, applied with great eagerness and speed.  He was a Jewish-Polish refugee who spoke broken English through the side of a twisted mouth that usually sprouted a cigarette.  He was a blower of kisses, an embracer of life.  Stacha Halpern and Arthur became great friends.  They shared characteristics, such as shortness of body and strength of arms, and both worked with robust physicality.  Neither cared a jot about convention.  Both wore their hair long and both were amused at the abuse thrown one night from a passing car: ‘Get off the road, you poofters!’

There’s something inalienably homely about that story.

Danila Vassilieff hit town like a typhoon.  He was a Cossack peasant who had fought on the Eastern Front in the Great War and had become a Colonel in the October Revolution.  He was captured by the Bolsheviks, but he escaped to live with nomadic Tartars in Azerbaijan and Persia.  He travelled through India, Burma, Manchuria, and Shanghai.  This man of the world had an overpowering personality.  He was a ‘history-laden’ figure.  He helped build a railway line at Katherine, and he took up banana and sugar-cane growing before painting.  The Medici at Heidi (the Reeds) took him in for his ‘curious splendour’ and his expression of the ‘pathos and loneliness, the violence and tragedy’ of the human condition.  Nolan thought it was the man rather than his art that carried the whack.

Karel Zoubek was a gifted Czech musician.  He had been a soloist at both German and Italian embassies.  He was detained in Tehran and transported to Iraq.  From there he was deported to Australia.  There he was interned.  He got out in 1945.  His wife left him ‘after he beat her with hands he had declared too sensitive for manual labour.’  He was fined two pounds, but served seven days instead.  He entertained the inmates with violin solos.  He was a small man who had one other flaw.  He was a pathological pants man.  He just couldn’t help himself.  He propositioned every woman in the Boyd family.  He said ‘I am eunuch.’  This puzzled the ladies – until they realised he was saying ‘I am unique.’  Boyd’s wife answered the proposition with a flying tomato, but Boyd’s mum, Doris, fell for him.  This was too much even for the peace-loving Arthur.  He convinced the family that they should get Zoubek committed.  They got him before a shrink.  The meeting, the author tells us, went well – too well.  Zoubek sounded OK.  But just as the interview was ending, Zoubek lent across the table and gave the shrink the benefit of his mind: ‘The trouble with you is you fuck too much.’  Well, that bloody did it!  As he was bundled into a cab, Zoubek realised what the game was.  ‘Some party.  I’m surprised at you.’  The men in white coats were in the car behind.  Zoubek was sandwiched between Arthur and another in the back seat.  John Perceval was in the front in the death seat.  This was Arthur showing his cold side – but, in the name of heaven, this dude looked like he was having it off with Mum!  Later, Arthur painted Zoubek with mad fierce eyes – ‘he’d hypnotise you with his absolute madness.’  Some may have felt something like that while looking at the paintings Boyd and Nolan were painting around then.

Well, that’s how the land of the long week-end and six o’clock closing under an English monarch got some exposure to Europe.  This was about a generation before Victoria banned Playboy and some idiot proposed an entertainment tax on contraceptives.  God only knows what the matrons of Balwyn or Brighton may have made of these four migrants.  But the more important question is: would our government let any of them in now?  As best as I can see, they all arrived by boat, and their English may have been as doubtful as their manners – or their religion.

Passing Bull 117 – The ungenerous generalities of the IPA



Followers of the IPA are different to most Australians.  The IPA team revels in generalities, abstractions, dogma, and philosophy.  Most Australians are too sensible to take any notice of that sort of ideological stuff.  Our disinclination is, frankly, one of our pluses.  It was therefore a little surprising to see Mr Roskam of the IPA publish the piece below in the AFR this morning.  Mr Roskam there acknowledges why most Australians cannot be bothered with this sort of generalised political philosophy, but he then goes on to make the observations in the three other passages that I have underlined.  In doing so, he resets his own very high bar for bullshit.

After this country’s politicians eventually work out who is and isn’t entitled to sit in Parliament, hopefully they’ll turn their attention back to more important things – like the plebiscite on same sex marriage.

Despite the seemingly endless discussion about the issue and the cry from advocates for change for politicians to “just do it because it’s popular”, there’s been remarkably little public debate about the consequences if a majority of people vote “Yes” to change the legal definition of marriage.

Partly this is because both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage are for the moment arguing about the technicalities of what marriage is, and partly it’s because Australians take a narrow and utilitarian view of human rights and are reluctant to engage in philosophical arguments – unlike in the United States.

The debates around the free press and the Gillard government’s attempt in 2013 to regulate the media, and now the ongoing controversy about the appropriateness of legislation which makes it unlawful to offend someone on the basis of their race reveal that in Australia when it comes to fundamental issues of principle, there’s a tendency to pick a partisan side first and invent a rationalisation for it second.

In the wake of a “Yes” vote, how we talk about same-sex marriage and how we’re allowed by the government to talk about it, is part of a much larger conversation about how Australians talk about questions of sexuality, gender, race, and politics. Gradually the bounds of what by law we can and can’t say about these things are being limited, and at this stage there’s certainly the potential for the legalisation of same-sex marriage to reduce our freedoms rather than extend them.

The question to be asked in the plebiscite: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” is at best disingenuous – and at worst dishonest. The answer that many reasonable people would give is – “it depends”.  It’s completely consistent for someone to believe that two people who love each other should be able to get married, while at the same time also believing that those who publicly state that marriage can only ever be between a man and a woman should not be guilty of breaking the law for expressing such an opinion.

If the plebiscite passes, whether it will in fact be unlawful for say a Christian or Muslim school to teach the “traditional” view of marriage is unknown – as yet no politician has wanted to answer. The question is not hypothetical.  Last year the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart was alleged to have breached Tasmania’s anti-discrimination laws for distributing a brochure saying marriage was between a man and a woman.

It’s surprising the “conservatives” in the Coalition who were so eager to have a popular vote on same-sex marriage did not demand that the public should vote on the actual legislation implementing same-sex marriage. The result of a “Yes/No” plebiscite on same-sex marriage is as meaningless as that from Labor’s own proposed plebiscite on Australia becoming a republic.

Same-sex marriage is often presented as a matter of personal freedom. But freedom cuts both ways. At the moment anyone is free – without threat of legal sanction – to describe traditional marriage as a product of the capitalist patriarchy that enslaves women. In fact that’s exactly how marriage is labelled in more than a few critical theory classes at universities across the country. The advocates of a “Yes” vote in the plebiscite would increase their chances of success if they reassured the public that should the law be changed, same-sex marriage could be talked about in exactly the same way as is traditional marriage.

Marriage is more than a legal construct, it’s a cultural and social institution and it’s entirely appropriate the community should have a say on its future.  But it should be a real consultation about the specifics.  It’s incumbent on those who want change – whether to the definition of marriage, or our head of state, or anything else so significant – to explain how the change will work in practice.

One of the lessons of history is that the habit of authoritarians is to talk in generalities.

Is Mr Roskam really afraid that when this nation does recognise same sex marriages, which is just a matter of time, the law that grants that recognition may not avoid the possible consequence that ‘those who publicly state that marriage can only ever be between a man and a woman should not be guilty of breaking the law for expressing such an opinion’?  We hold our politicians in low regard, but could they really be as bad as that?  Or is Mr Roskam just giving new meaning to the term ‘scare tactics’?  I know that members of the IPA are morally and intellectually warped by their obsession with bans upon some kinds of discriminatory speech, but must that obsession lead to this kind of logic chopping?

In truth, what I think you see here is that sad wish of those who falsely call themselves ‘conservatives’ to find ever more complicated reasons for maintaining that we must never change.  That I think is what Mr Roskam meant when he said that ‘in Australia when it comes to fundamental issues of principle, there’s a tendency to pick a partisan side first and invent a rationalisation for it second.’  That’s not just the method of the IPA – it’s the whole bloody point of its existence.  They daily go into the trenches to ensure that we remain forever frozen in the cocoon so finely woven for us by the Holy Imperial Trinity of God, the Crown, and the Church.  It’s not hard to name a team that wants to genuflect at that throne or altar.  Messrs Abbott and Roskam, and Teams Sky and Murdoch, are up there with the best of them.  And the rest of us just have to put up with the nappies.

Poet of the month: Walt Whitman

A glimpse

A glimpse, through an interstice caught,

Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room, around the stove, late of a winter night–

And I unremark’d seated in a corner; Of a youth who loves me, and whom I love, silently approaching, and seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand;

A long while, amid the noises of coming and going–of drinking and oath and smutty jest,

There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little, perhaps not a word.

Why history? 5 MEDIEVAL



If you go from about the time of the sack of Rome in 410 to about the time of the fall of Constantinople in 1453, you span a phase that we call the Middle Ages, the period that comes between what we call the ancient world and the modern world.

Rome had ruled what we call Europe and when it lost Rome’s governance, the world was a mess.  England would be settled by Danes and Germans.  The now peaceful Scandinavian peoples sent out wild raiders called Vikings.  The murderous insecurity of these dark times – that we call the Dark Ages – is pictured in epics like Beowulf and The Poetic Edda.  People looked for protection.  One person would pledge loyalty to another in return for protection.  You can see this in the Mafia in the film The Godfather.  We now call this the feudal system.  Although the relations may have begun voluntarily, the burdens and benefits were passed on from one generation to the next.   They became issues of caste – whereas our law is seen to move from status to contract, here that process was reversed. The feudal system did lead to the institution of knighthood, and romantic ideas and ideals about chivalry, courtesy, and honour. Le Morte d’Arthur is very different to Beowulf.

Europe came to be dominated by the teaching of a Jewish holy man called Jesus.  The Jews believed that they had a covenant with God and that they were his chosen people.  Jesus taught that God was open to all – his teaching was therefore Catholic.  He took up with prostitutes and lepers and got right up the noses of the local religious Establishment.  He effectively signed his own death warrant when he took to the money people in the Temple. Jesus may well have breached the local religious law, but the imperial man on the spot had him crucified on a false charge of treason in an act of judicial murder.  The followers of the man called Christ – ‘Christians’ – believed that he had risen from the dead and that following him could lead to eternal life.  The creed spread very fast, in some part because of the way the Romans persecuted his followers.

As we saw, Constantine converted, and moved the empire to the east – although the church would remain firmly seated in Rome. The priests drenched the simple teaching of Jesus in Greek philosophy.  They loved casuistry. They claimed a monopoly of knowledge.  Only they knew the mystery. They even forbade people reading the words of Jesus in their own tongue.  It has always been hard for an establishment body to cope with the teaching of a man born to blow up the establishment.  The church became hopelessly corrupt and inbred.

In 570, an Arab called Mohammed was born at Mecca.  He too believed in only one God and that he had found the only way to Him.  Mohammed thought that he crowned the teaching of Moses and Jesus.  (Muslims don’t believe in the crucifixion, much less the resurrection.)  He was a fighting prophet, and he taught that his followers would go to paradise if they died fighting for their faith.  That faith was quickly carried by the sword across the north of Africa and Europe into Spain.  The surge of Islam was first stopped there and later outside Vienna.  The Arabs developed arithmetic and made paper, and served to store the bases of Western learning.

The religions of Greece and Rome look silly to us, but since they did not claim to have the answer, they were a lot more tolerant than the three that came out of the desert in the Middle East. Three does not go into one.  The German or French ruler Charlemagne was instrumental in stopping Islam’s advance into Europe.  In 800, he revived the notion of Caesar when the pope crowned him head of the Holy Roman Empire.  This curious body would endure for a thousand years, and muddy the development of the German nation.  But the church intervened more darkly to inspire crusades against Islam.

The popes also offered paradise to those who fell for Christ.  At the start of one crusade, the Christians got into practice by slaughtering Jews.  Wars between these three faiths are still going on. They all have blood on their hands. None of those religions was good for that half of humanity called women.  The Catholic Church made a woman the Mother of God, but did little for her daughters on earth.  The doctrine of Original Sin suggested that women were the source of evil, and infected the attitude of humanity to sex for millennia.  On the plus side, the Church was instrumental in setting up universities.

Genghis Khan led the Mongol hordes out of Asia in the thirteenth century.  There was then an empire from Beijing to Russia.  This opened Europe to Asia.  Marco Polo travelled in Asia and opened Asia to Europe.  One result of the Mongol risings was a drifting bunch of refuges called gypsies.  China went through a form of rebirth, but then kept to themselves behind their wall.  At least until the time when Constantinople fell to the Turks, China looked much more advanced than the West.  Some in Islam may have felt the same, but all that was about to change.

Here and there – Playing way from home


During the Vietnam War, the Americans forgot all the lessons that they had taught the British during the War of Independence about fighting wars on someone else’s land either for or against regime change.  Both America and Britain forgot the lot when they invaded Iraq to effect a change of regime.  The price we are all paying now is horrific.

A number of people have written books about the nature and grossness of the errors of the invaders (the most unrepentant of whom is Mr John Howard).  One of them is Occupational Hazards (2006) by Rory Stewart.  Stewart spent some time in the army before walking across Afghanistan and joining the Foreign Office.  He was one of the Englishman charged with bringing Western democracy to Iraq.  He is now a Tory MP.

As you read this book, you are torn between laughing and crying.  This note is a very anecdotal reflection upon that book.

Shortly after Stewart got to Iraq, a local told him that:

Uneducated people, tribal people, without reading and writing are now in the city…..They do not understand what is government.  Because they do not understand what is religion….Religion is about the respect for the other human being.  Each of us is created by one God.  Each of us is respected.  This is religion.  Even the Jewish religion.  But these men do not respect one another.  Things are very bad now…..We are not stupid.  We know what games your government is playing with oil and with Israel…

How could you overcome those misgivings?  They were, after all, justified.  Stewart soon lost his faith in our human quest for order.  The Iraqis insisted that only a police state could restore security.  But people back home thought Iraq could be both secure and democratic.  They thought they could get good order without secret police, brutality and torture.  They disbanded the army, sacked all senior Baathists and discussed the possibility of psychometric tests for senior officers and ‘gender-awareness workshops’. ‘We had arrived promising democracy not a warlord.’  It defies belief.

There was an ugly tribal murder. (Well, not many murders are pretty.)   One British officer spoke of the rule of law.  The answer was that:

Ninety-five policemen in my force are related [to the deceased] and they are in shock…We all know the best way to do this is through the tribal channel, and if people play fast – putting on police uniforms and taking them off, giving a few people a rough time – well that’s just how it goes.  I don’t know where you think you are living…..

There were always problems with interpreters – conscious and unconscious.  A bad example was ‘Coalition’ being translated as the ‘occupation’, ‘a word of great resonance for Arabs, conjuring the French occupation of Algeria and the Israeli occupation of Palestine.’  How did the Coalition expect the Arabs to forgive them for supporting ‘the Israeli occupation of Palestine’?  An opinion poll showed two thirds of Iraqis thought they were occupied.  How could they not?

This is how a local thanked the Coalition.

The occupying forces have proved that greed, cruelty and ambition are their guiding ideals; that insensitivity and stupidity are the only qualifications for your administrators; cowardice and pusillanimity for your soldiers; stinginess and prejudice for your development workers.  Large and small puppets on the hands of grasping fists of the elders of Zion….

Other than that, everything in the garden was rosy.

There were problems with clerics as well as with the tribes.  One cleric responded to the notion of the rule of law this way:

What matters is God, children, possessions, lives.  These things are more important than the law.  Forget the law.  God is above the law and I represent God.

Given that the rule of law in England was the product of more than a millennium, how could the English answer this invocation of God?  Well, the ‘democracy experts’ in the US were on the case.  They said Iraq was not ready. Bosnia had taught them that elections that were too early led to extreme sectarian parties.  That left the occupiers as king-makers and any model they chose was going to be controversial.  They were like blind men in a darkroom looking for a black cat that wasn’t there.

The power brokers were the sheikhs.  Stewart thought they were more ‘an irrelevant feudal remnant…[but]….little more than small-time rural gangsters, setting up extortion rackets under the pretence of security or skimming from contracts.’  But Stewart, who is now a member of Cabinet in Britain, managed to pay ‘them the respect they thought they deserved.’

Security – maintaining the peace – was the constant issue.  A new governor told Stewart that he intended to ‘take full control of the police, establish a secret intelligence service, ban demonstrations, arrest a journalist who had criticised him, and expel his Sadrist opponents from the council.’  What could be more natural?  One Iraqi policeman gave a response that was pure MFB.  ‘It’s not my fault that things are a mess – it’s your fault that we police are poorly trained and poorly equipped.’

An American ‘democracy expert’ came to Baghdad for ‘capacity-building’.  He put up a drawing that looked like a dog.   One sheikh said: ‘We are an ancient civilisation and they treat us like Congo cannibals.’  The democracy expert said: ‘Welcome to your new democracy.  I have met you before in Cambodia, in Russia, in Nigeria.’  At which point, two sheikhs walked out.  The expert had no runs on the board.

It was only after Abu Ghraib that Stewart saw ‘for the first time that they had always assumed that we were doing these things and had never believed my statements about human rights and the rule of law.’  The game was up.

Stewart wrote a speech.

We stand at the Ziggurat of Ur at the centre of the world’s first civilisation.  Within one hundred meters of us lie cuneiform tablets written in an alphabet invented here 5000 years ago, 85 generations before anyone in Italy, Britain, or America began to write…A little further and we come to the oldest law court in the world and the house where Abraham was born.  Here is the birthplace of civilised man, the foundation of our urban life and of our philosophy.

Shortly before Stewart left, the Sadr militia executed a female student at Basra University Engineering Faculty for wearing jeans at a picnic.  The Governor of Basra justified the militia.  The picnic had been ‘decadent.’  Women had sat with men.

The people who invaded Iraq forgot all their history.  What about the civil war we call the American War of Independence?  The older Pitt, by this time the Earl of Chatham, one of the most experienced war time leaders England has ever had, knew what the home ground advantage meant: ‘My Lords, if I were an American, as I am an Englishman, while a foreign troop was landed in my country, I would never lay down my arms – never, never, never.’

What about the French Revolution?  When it was first suggested that France go to war to export the revolution, Robespierre, the latter-day terrorist, said that no one ever liked ‘armed missionaries’.  Doesn’t that sum up the main problem for the absurdly named Coalition of the Willing in Iraq?

Why history? 4 ROME


The Greeks developed a myth about Rome being founded by a refugee from Troy called Aeneas. The apotheosis of that myth is reached in the epic poem The Aeneid by the great Roman poet Virgil. The other myth of the foundation of Rome was home-made.  The traditional date was 753 BC.  Romulus was said to have been born a bastard and to have been cast into the Tiber, but providence directed the river to swirl him ashore and a wolf to suckle him and a shepherd to rear him.  Later he would murder his twin brother, Remus, and provide wives for his settlers by raping the Sabine maidens. So far we have a militant warlike refugee who drives to suicide someone who trusted him and a bastard who is weaned by a wolf, who commits the primal crime of Cain, before completing his holy mission by raping the neighbours.  Those auspices were not so good – they are indeed very ominous. But some at least at Rome thought that this myth was worth recording as saying something about the eternal city.

Rome was divided into patricians and plebeians, words which have much the same meaning today, except that the division then was one of caste. The nature of the split is gorgeously framed by Shakespeare in Coriolanus.  The Romans got rid of their kings, and they always put great weight and faith in the word ‘republic’.  But then they fell into class wars.  They saw themselves as free, but power tended to stay with their senate, as they did not develop a form of representative government like a parliament.

Rome extended its power over Italy and near areas. The process is described in Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus, which tells of human sacrifice and other barbarities. The Romans were much better at dealing with allies and conquered people than the Greeks.  They were real empire builders.  They were also more business-like – they extended Roman citizenship to others.  In the third century BC, Rome fought long hard wars with its African trading rival, Carthage, which was led by the great Hannibal.  They defeated Hannibal and destroyed Carthage.  Their impact on Africa is described by Shelley in the poem Ozymandias.

The wars Rome undertook called for a paid army and the Romans themselves became weakened.  They looked to gladiators and turned killing into a game.  Their religion was not civilising.  Their soldiers had to be paid out of booty of conquest and that led to vicious faction fighting among the generals who returned to Rome to hand out the benefits of their conquests.  Cicero would later attack these mercenary generals, but Rome never found a way to stop the conflict between them.  The nature of this faction fighting, like territorial disputes between mafia capos, is described in Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. When you go from Gaius and Tiberius Gracchus to Marius and Sulla, you go from the butchered to the butchers – and to a march on Rome.

Internal division promotes the strong man.  Julius Caesar extended the Empire over much of Europe and North Africa.  It was bad luck to be in Gaul (France) when Caesar needed to curry favour to win an election.   He did so with butchery. Caesar was made dictator, but when he showed signs of becoming a king, the Roman republicans murdered him (in 44 BC).  There was yet another civil war.  Antony (like Caesar, a lover of Cleopatra) was defeated by Octavian (Augustus) who made himself Emperor.  The Roman republic was finished.

The emperors called themselves gods.  Many were degenerate, and most were put there by the army.  They succeeded where the Greeks had failed in imposing law and order.  Most of Europe would adopt their laws.  The language of Latin would also be used throughout Europe.  Their roads covered most of the known world.  They developed a literature from that of the Greeks, but deep down they were concerned with power and money.  They gave up enquiry and they despised science.  For the most part they had a well-organised army, but their religion was primitive and based on sacrifice.  It was ripe for a takeover.

The emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and moved to Byzantium (Constantinople) in about 323 A D.  The Empire had stretched the resources of Rome far too far.  It was sacked by nomads from the area of Germany – the Huns, Vandals and Goths.  The Eastern Empire, based in Constantinople (Istanbul), lasted for another thousand years.  This was the Byzantine Empire.  It gave rise to the Orthodox Church, maintained the learning of the Greeks, and offered a buffer between divided Europe and Asia.  It fell to the forces of Islam in 1453.

Gibbon said: ‘Such was the unhappy condition of the Roman emperors, that, whatever might be their conduct, their fate was commonly the same.  A life of pleasure or virtue, of severity or mildness, of indolence or glory, alike led to an untimely grave; and almost every reign is closed by the same disgusting repetition of treason and murder.’  That, sadly, was equally true of the Republic.  As an exercise in government, Rome was a disaster – as is Italy today.

Passing Bull 116 – Father does not know best



Donald Trump Junior made a fool of himself about a meeting he should never have attended.  If you believed in genetics, you might say something mordant.  He then made a bigger fool of himself by forgetting about the meeting and then lying.  When this was brought to the attention of pater on Air Force One, Dad immediately dictated a response for Junior.  We can just imagine pater bathing in the awe of his minions as he worked with granitic splendour in the crisis.  The President’s response was both stupid and misleading, and seriously damaging to Junior’s case – and the standing of the government.  The White House met the furore by saying that Dad had acted ‘as any father would’ and ‘with the limited information available.’

First, the President of the United States is not just ‘any father.’  Putting to one side that the President might be mad, our Prime Minister has the President’s personal assurance that he is the greatest man in the world.  Secondly, the son is of age, and allegedly capable of looking after his own affairs.  How many sane parents want to dictate to adult offspring indefinitely?  (Junior turns forty this year, more than half the biblical allowance.)  Thirdly, the case is a fortiori here, when Junior is supposed to be running the business of the family to the exclusion of Dad.  Fourthly, a person of average intelligence in a crisis with limited information would wait until he gets decent information before committing himself and others.  What if this idiot invokes the codes on limited information?

While on the subject of bullshit, a lot of people are calling for the head of Ian Narev, who is a serious challenger to Tony Abbott for the tile of the most loathed Oz.  He has presided over a disaster while being paid $12 million plus – the worth of 155 tellers.  The directors are responsible for managing the business.  Why don’t they resign?  For them to fire the CEO would have the same moral and intellectual value of a football club firing the coach for its failure to accept responsibility.

Finally, there is a group of embittered old men who are bigoted in religion and who are standing in the way of how ordinary people wish to conduct their lives.  They invoke God to do so.  Of whom do I speak – Parliament House, Canberra, or the Vatican?

Poet of the month: Walt Whitman

A child’s amaze

SILENT and amazed, even when a little boy,

I remember I heard the preacher every Sunday put God in his statements,

As contending against some being or influence.

Why history? 3



The Iliad of Homer tells of the Trojan War.  The myth was handed down by word of mouth until it was put in writing in about 700 BC.  Together with Ulysses, it became a kind of bible for the Greeks.  These myths looked back to times well before Moses of prehistoric cities at Mycenae, the seat of Agamemnon, and in Crete.  I said elsewhere of the hero of the Iliad: ‘Achilles is the worst kind of aggressor – he is super-sensitive to insult or affront.  T.S. Eliot called Achilles a ‘spoiled teenager’. The capacity of Achilles to sulk is limitless.  This is a characteristic of a high-born, spoiled brat.’  At bottom, things don’t change.  We now see Achilles in the White House.  That is apt for a book that links us to animal acts in prehistory.

Especially in the fifth century BC, the Greeks went through a phase of explosive growth that looks unique in the history of the world.  They lived in and about towns.  They never formed a nation, and their internal jealousy would be their undoing.  They went through phases of monarchy, aristocracy and oligarchy.  They wound up with a gentlemen’s club version of democracy – only male citizens need apply.

Athens at its height rested on slavery and a protection racket, a kind of empire.  Athens had achieved this pre-eminence by leading the defence against Persian invasions in battles like that of Marathon.  It was they who stopped an Asian takeover of Europe.  It was about the time Athens had its empire that Greece produced dramatists like Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, historians like Herodotus and Thucydides, and philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

But the Athenian confederacy became an empire, and an empire of free states is a contradiction in terms.  Then Athens made Sparta jealous. If you reflect on the English in Ireland, or the Dutch and other whites in Africa, and apartheid, or, perhaps, the Nazi occupation of France, you will begin to follow Sparta. The people Sparta conquered were called ‘helots’, state controlled but privately managed.  This Spartan form of slavery was cruel, greedy, and unique.

The State ruled this version of Animal Farm with an iron discipline that the Prussians admired.  The first object was to create invincible warriors, and their soldiers frequently adopted the Japanese model of atoning for defeat by suicide.  To pursue their ideals, each Spartan had to be relieved of having to maintain himself or his family.  Education and marriage were all conditioned to maintain a perfect army.  There was of course a Krypteia or secret police.  The young Spartans had to get practice at killing. They were sent out with the power to kill any helot who looked suspicious.  And as with any fascist state, corruption was everywhere.  Nor should we leave Athens out here.  The Republic of Plato is a blueprint for fascism.

The war between Athens and Sparta – the Peloponnesian War – dragged on for decades.  The Greek city states were exhausted.  A cunning ruler called Philip of Macedon had little trouble subduing the shattered Greeks.  His son found himself in trouble at home, so he went out and conquered the world.  This was Alexander the Great.  He got as far as India before dying in 323 BC.  The following period is called the Hellenistic period.  One city Alexander created, Alexandria, became a store house of knowledge in dark times that followed.  Otherwise, European intervention in that part of the world was about as useful then as it has been recently.

The blazing meteor of ancient Greece had just burnt out. It subsided into the Mediterranean, never to be revived.  Even now, it looks like a failed state.

Here and there – Injecting religion into the political stew


The German philosopher Immanuel Kant understood that of the conflicts deriving from religion, the conflict between believers in different faiths was far less toxic than the conflict between different sects in the one faith.  The first, let’s face it, just comes from the luck of the draw; but the second savours more of conscious choice, and of betrayal.  It’s one thing to be called an infidel; it’s another thing to be branded as a heretic.  People got burnt alive for heresy; infidels were usually just sent to the back of the bus, or over the border.  If a community finds sectarian hatred combining with ethnic differences and political factions, it has to deal with a very dangerous cancer deriving from three nasty sources.  It has happened at least twice in Australia, and one man, from a foreign land and subject to a foreign power, was deeply involved in each case.

Two of the most unpopular people in the history of Australia were Daniel Mannix and Bob Santamaria.  They were unpopular for at least two reasons.  They sought to inject their religious views into Australian political life, and they used their own special gifts for that purpose – and in the case of one of them, he did so with imported venom.  In the result, the Catholic and Protestant divide became almost as ugly here as it was in Ireland, and the party of the workers was split and rendered useless – so disenfranchising, in effect, a whole generation.  The divisions in our community festered like tumours, and caused serious damage to the standing of both Catholics and those of Irish stock in Australia.

In my view, the damage went further, and these two men made substantial contributions to the decline of religion here.  And I fear that I see the same happening again, and it is again being driven by the same faction within Christianity, in areas of public life where public opinion has shifted very considerably from the old dogmatisms embraced by the embittered and threatened faithful.  When the backlash comes, as it surely will, a lot people will recall the strife wrought upon us here by Daniel Mannix and Bob Santamaria.

All those thoughts came to me as I read Brenda Niall’s Mannix (2015) which struck me as a very fair, balanced, and sensible book.

Mannix was nearly fifty when he got to Melbourne.  His life had been sheltered – cloistered – in a teaching environment where his aloof sense of superiority was relatively harmless.  The teaching then was not conducive to allowing men consigned to loneliness to deal with the world as it is – a world of which half are women.  At the Seminary, Lectures in Pastoral Theology warned the young men about being seen in company with women – even their mother or sister.  ‘It is contrary to taste in clerical behaviour to walk with a lady in the street, no matter how near.  The laity do not like it.  It seems to them incongruous and it is so.’  The author comments:

The reasoning behind this is not just that female company means moral danger.  The priest must be a man apart from human ties.  That was clericalism, destructive then and ever since.

Just how destructive these attitudes have been is now agonisingly clear to the entire world.  The holy man known as Our Lord consorted with prostitutes.  Where in the life or teaching of Jesus of Nazareth is there any support for this exclusionary but poisonous ‘taste in clerical behaviour’?

The future Archbishop of Melbourne found his political feet quickly.  ‘To reason with the average politician unless you vote against him also, is about as useful as throwing confetti at a rhinoceros.’  The author says this was not tactful, but ‘Mannix could never resist a pithy phrase.’

In truth, God did not do Mannix a favour in sending him to Australia in 1913.  The young nation was about to heed England’s call to war at the very time when five centuries of England’s racist contempt for the Irish would finally come home to poison people on both sides of the Irish Sea.  The Irish attitude to the English and the war was the opposite of ours.  It became hopelessly toxic after the English shot those involved in the Easter uprising.  Any chance of Mannix reflecting any part of the Sermon on the Mount when it came to the English went clean out the window.  And yet the English Crown was and is our Head of State.  How was this conflict to be resolved?  What mattered more to Mannix – God or Ireland?

The book has good anecdotes about the principal opponent of Mannix – another foreign born Hell raiser, the Welsh Protestant, Billy Hughes.  At Versailles, Woodrow Wilson told Hughes he only spoke for five million people.  ‘I speak for sixty thousand dead.  For how many do you speak for, Mr President?’

It was on conscription and state aid for Catholic schools that Mannix nailed his theses to the door.  The first issue poisoned Australian public life during the First World War, although it did not stop a government fifty years later from imposing a viciously unjust conscription is an unjust and losing war, while the second issue continues to infect our whole policy on education.

These two public controversies created Mannix as leader.  Being seen in single combat with the prime minister gave him a status that no other churchman attained.  If there had been no war in Europe, and if Home Rule had come quietly to Ireland, would Mannix have been a hero to his people?  A priest who had known him at Maynooth thought not.  Mannix was not loved until he was reviled, said Father Morley Coyne.  Out of the hatred roused in the war years came a strong bond with the people.  An unlikely alliance between the austere intellectual and the working class Catholics was formed in 1916.  That was one element in the Newman College campaign.  It also brought the university closer to the aspirations of working class Catholic parents.  A Catholic college might open the door to privilege.  ‘My son the lawyer’, ‘my son the doctor’….these were better dreams than ‘my son at the front.’

Mannix ‘was not loved until he was reviled’ may be the key to the whole book.  Is a relation founded on revulsion sound for a man of God?  What about a chip on your shoulder about the Protestant Ascendancy?  The English Crown – our Crown – does have to be not just a Protestant, but a communicant Anglican.  How big a problem was this for this profoundly Irish man?

When Mannix went to England, they blocked his entry to Ireland.  He could not see his mother.  Lloyd George offered to allow her to visit her son in London.

She would have accepted Lloyd George’s offer if her son had allowed it.  She felt that his isolation in England was leading him astray; he simply did not know how it was in Ireland.  He made his choice, with what degree of pain or regret no one can ever know.  He put politics ahead of the family tie, and his mother never saw him again.

A man who puts an idea ahead of a person is flirting with Perdition.

There were some pluses.  Mannix became reconciled with Hughes in circumstances that are movingly recorded in the book.  The long serving prison chaplain Father Brosnan said that he learned confidence from Mannix and not to be concerned ‘with who people were.’  If properly fashioned, that is a very useful lesson.  But from time to time, Mannix was rebuked from Rome for his politics.  On one occasion, he was directed to refrain from ‘any statement whatever of a political character.’  Like throwing confetti at a rhinoceros.

This was at a time when Rome sent an envoy to Australia whose task was to dilute the Irish bias among Australian prelates.  The man chosen was Giovanni Pannico, whose English was far inferior to his Latin and who charged like a wounded bull for officiating at church functions.  Pannico was ruthless.  He despatched a man called Lonergan to Port Augusta.  The move killed him.

What the author called the Vatican chess game was lost by Mannix, but he did get his red hat at a time when a new ethnic front was opening up.  Italian migrants were landing in numbers, but ‘the Irish-Australian Catholic majority, rapidly rising in the world, kept its distance from this new underclass.’  It was ever thus.  I have heard Greeks complain of the Irish conspiracy to lock them out of the heights of the professions.

The relationship between Mannix and Santamaria was close and strong.  The ‘split’ came from the ‘Movement.’

The Movement, which owed its existence to Mannix and Santamaria, was an informal Catholic organisation.  Nameless and secret, it came to the rescue of the beleaguered trade unionists.  Santamaria saw the possibilities of the parish structure, and Mannix, who controlled the diocese, gave him the power to use them.  Every Catholic belonged to a parish.

This might remind some of the Freemasons.  What they got was ‘a straggling mass of spiritual infantry’, more militant than the Salvos, and feared and loathed by a large part of the nation.

They showed that almost helpless affinity with the Right that troubles so many Australians.  Most Australian Catholics sided with Franco who was a murderous dictator and an ally of Hitler – with whom the Pope had done a deal.  ‘They saw General Franco as the saviour of European civilisation which Spain embodied.’  The most polite term for that mindset from most Australians would be ‘warped’, but here again religion was driving some Australians into manic positions on another foreign quarrel.  The notion that Mannix expressed political views as a private person was risible.

And Mannix kept expressing views about foreign affairs.  He deplored the bombing of German civilian targets as well as Coventry, and he said that the use of the atomic bomb in Japan was ‘indefensible and immoral.’  If so, Truman and Churchill were war criminals.  Was this man of the cloth really so lethal?  Was he aware that Truman was advised that an invasion of Japan could well cost America one million of its men?  What did an Irish prelate know about ‘unconditional surrender’?

The part dealing with Mannix and Evatt is especially sad.  An authentic Australian stirrer meets an authentic Australian tragedy.  The dealings about funding schools do not make good reading.  The author says Santamaria was shocked by Evatt’s opportunism.  He said Evatt was ‘a man without a soul’.  (How many successful Australian politicians are remembered for their ‘soul’?)  But as the 1954 election drew near, Mannix was very much for Evatt.  He had been tempted by Evatt’s promises of almost unlimited sums for Catholic schools.  Then along came Petrov, and Labor lost.

In November 1954, he [Evatt] made his bid for survival as leader by denouncing Movement members and supporters for disloyalty, and by indirectly exposing the still unknown Santamaria’s role in undermining Labor Party independence.  Another Labor Split – the third in Mannix’s time in Australia – brought back much of the sectarian bitterness of the conscription period.

It’s almost too painful to read.  A generation – mine – was denied two party politics, and the broad sunlit uplands were overshadowed by religious hate.  The hatred was awful.  As one Caucus meeting became a melee, one leader jumped on a chair and screamed ‘Take their names’, and Evatt descended into a long night of madness.  One sane but bemused ALP MP said: ‘I no more like Australia receiving instructions from Rome than from Moscow.’

All that has gone now, but with it, most of the religion has gone too.  In driving to and from Ballarat the other day, by different routes, I passed about twenty churches.  Nearly all of them now are little more than relics.  It’s very sad.  Only God knows how much that decline owes to the misused talents of two clever zealots.

Brenda Niall’s book looks very sound to me, but it is not a pretty or happy story.  These are dark pages of a tawdry history that our children have been happy to put behind us.