Under the Blanket

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I found this image on the Facebook page of Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra OAM, senior elder and Dhurili Clan leader of the Yolngu peoples of Northeast Arnhem Land. It represents the reality he, and  Aboriginal families, face daily.

In a recent interview, frustrated by the incapacity of successive Federal Governments to understand and respect the rights of Aboriginal people for self-determination, he said that the situation was like the Government holding a blanket over them. The rest of Australia only see the blanket. They cannot see what happens underneath.

This short edited section of a video message to the Labour Party Conference in 2011 expresses something of the frustration and sense of humiliation of the Aboriginal people, from their point of view.

Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra message to ALP conference, 2011. (edited section)

Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra responds to the ‘second Intervention’ otherwise known as ‘Stronger Futures in the NT’, a new Commonwealth Government initiative which will maintain key powers introduced through the NT Intervention. This message was screened in Sydney on Saturday December 3, at a meeting hosted by the CFMEU Indigenous Committee, “The Case Against the NT Intervention”. The meetings was part of the official Fringe program of the ALP national conference. Dr Gondarra is a Senior Elder from Elcho Island.

You put something on the spoon, and then you put the spoon in our mouth…like a child.

More recently, the present Federal Government dismissed out of hand, the considered will of the Aboriginal people for Federal political representation, expressed in the ‘Uluru Statement From the Heart’.

In doing so, I believe we see the continuing determination of colonialist interest to maintain control and superiority, while paying lip service and ‘buying off’ the original owners and custodians of the land.

I see these issues through the lens of the spiritual. Western culture seems to have cut itself off from its spiritual values, incapable of appreciating the deep meaning of ‘from the heart’, reduced to the tangibles of black letter policy and regulation to maintain the material interests of the few – making sure that the blanket of such protectionism looks beneficial to the rest of us, while hiding away the spiritual pain of the powerless beneath.

And most recently, more colour has been added to the blanket, by maintaining citizenship purity – of who can be elected to Parliament on the basis of an outdated section of the Constitution, interpreted by ‘black letter’ judges appointed by a ‘black letter’ government!

The situation of refugees on Manus Island, ‘The Pacific Solution’, is completely congruent.

Friday Post

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Re-learnings this week –
1. to first be the chaplain for others, the body plasma that enables others to make their unique contributions and ‘be the experts in their own lives’. (Michael White, David Epston and The Dulwich Centre). Rather than going straight to what I think.

2. to balance my critical side with positive contributions to others, even if I feel estranged from their elitist culture.

‘Wow’ moment this week – 
book launch of An Encyclopaedia of young people’s knowledge and lifesaving tips – how we overcome bullying, survive the ocean of depression, try not to take hate into our hearts, and much more, by The Dulwich Foundation.
‘Wow’ because the Dulwich philosophy is to go to and value primary sources – the experiences of people themselves and encouraging its sharing!

Thought I’m pondering –
What would be the effect if I considered the flip side for any action I’m considering?
So, for example, rather than lobbying the Lord Mayor to get behind the provision of an ‘Oasis for the City’, to invite him and his wife home to dinner to listen to his dreams and frustrations in achieving them.

Recipe of the week – 
Day-starter lemon drink.
Brew half a cup of green tea.
Squeeze a couple of lemons and wash into the cup with some of the boiling water.
Add a squeeze of honey.
Stir in a teaspoon of strawberry jam.
Night cobwebs gone!

Hospitality and the Herod Principle


More often than not, when we are invited to someone’s home, we will ask if we can bring something.  A bottle of wine, flowers Cadbury ‘Roses’…?

It’s a hark back to the Abrahamic understanding of hospitality; that when hospitality is offered, the invited guest unexpectedly turns out to offer, or be, a gift to the host. However, as modern-day guests, we have slightly corrupted the paradigm by anticipating gift-giving to the host. In the Abrahamic tradition, the giving occurs spontaneously and responsively by the guest from their being, rather than the offering of anticipatory tokens – which can become like a kind of tit-for-tat payback – so we are all on the same power level! (or is that too cynical?)

Indigenous cultures are organised around cycles of the seasons and the natural world. So in the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus, some astrologers, who noticed a new star appearing in the sky, decided to set off toward it. For them, the appearance of a new star heralded the birth of a new king. So they took gifts with them, to show their respect.

They are full of wonder and excitement to find the new-born child. They offer their gifts. They are un-phased by mixing with smelly shepherds, who had also been given a miraculous vision of the birth-place. Shepherds were the dregs of society – unclean non-citizens, not allowed to vote, and marginalised to the fields by society – a cycle of exclusion. Maybe the homeless today might fit that cycle. The astrologers were elated at having fulfilled their vision, and went home with great joy (as did the shepherds)!

But there is a dark side to the story, preserved for our edification.

On their journey, the astrologers come to Jerusalem, the religious and political heart of Israel. They naively ask if anyone knows the whereabouts of the baby that will become the king of the Jews. (Interesting that no-one knows – maybe too busy and self-interested to keep an eye on the stars?) The reigning king, Herod, takes their enquiry as a threat. And so does the rest of the civil and religious establishment.

Herod makes some enquiries with the Department of Theology. They consult the literature and come back with the answer – Bethlehem.

One could pause the story here and reflect on the two presenting paradigms. One is nature-based, experimental, almost ‘crazy’. Who, these days, would decide to take leave of home to head off in the direction of a star, expecting to find what they believe the star signifies to them? A needle in a cosmic haystack!

But for Jewish readers today, this story resonates with the story of their ancestor, Abraham, who took off with his family on a ‘blind’ journey to Palestine – and the rest is history, as they say! Hard to believe that Abraham’s ‘craziness’ has led to where we are today with the state of Israel!

Both of these dreamers, the astrologers and Abraham are no colonialists! That strategy of exclusion and extinction was taken up by Moses and his successor, Joshua, coming after a period of setting up laws and principles that would establish their identity as a nation.

The other paradigm is of a different kind of authority – the exercise of power by institutions and hierarchies that comes from settlement. Their attitude is that following stars is for the fairies! Does not compute!

Institutions are constructed with certain purposes in mind. Boundaries (laws and principles) ensure the maintenance and progress of the institution. Such institutions invariably create a culture of protectionism. They might call it sustainability! Others might call it resistance to change!

And so it was, for Herod.

No doubt he was all smiles as he received the eastern visitors in his luxurious office to get the information he needed to eliminate the perceived threat to his kingdom. He holds a secret meeting with them (‘commercial in confidence?). He lies to get what he wants, feigning affirmation and collaboration: ‘Go and make a careful search for the child, and when you find him (sic), let me know, so that I too may go and worship him’. Crafty!

The astrologers leave Herod and go on to the achieve their mission. But they have a dream which tells them not to go back to Herod, and they go home another way.

Now the Herod Principle shifts to a new level. From the illusion of self-important status and its inherent hubris, comes the protectionism of the entitled that is capable of ruthless violence.

Ultimately, those who live in the joy of dreams and visions cannot be controlled. They go their own way. It may be because those who offer fake hospitality are not able to receive their gifts – they live outside the paradigm of unconditional gift-giving. Gifts are understood as bribes in this regime.

Desperate to maintain his kingdom, Herod has all the children in Bethlehem slaughtered – and in the immediate vicinity, to be on the safe side! But the dreamer parents have escaped with the baby, having being forewarned.

The Herod Principle – do what it takes to maintain power – is alive and well. Men over women, managers over subordinates, political parties, commerce…
But there are also dreamers, trying to evade the Herod Principle, who are looking for a better way!

I think that way begins with an understanding of radical hospitality – likely best understood by being ‘caught’ as well as ‘taught’.

Friday Post


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What thought has helped me this week –
Exercise is the training I must do to enable me to continue to do what I like doing.
(rather than a boring interruption!)

‘Wow’ moment this week – 
Interchange between Sam Neil and Jimmy Barnes on QandA last Monday night.
Followed later by an electrifying unplugged performance of ‘Working Class Man’ by Jimmy.
Shames all past political-bickering QandA’s into obscurity.

Quote of the week – 

What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. Victor Frankl 

(Victor Frankl was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War 2. He observed that it was not necessarily the physically strong who survived, but those who held hope in front of their minds. His book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ is a classic.)

Thought I’m pondering – 
‘Unconditional acceptance’ or ‘unconditional love’ is not a passive or irresponsible attitude, but a spiritual discipline.
– a practice that must be practised – recognising and empowering the other to grow and contribute their unique life in their own unique way toward human flourishing.
– a discipline reducing a tendency to control or micro-manage others to satisfy my needs.
– a discipline serving the interests of the other for the greater good.
– ‘Am I taking responsibility away from the other?’ may be a key question in a presenting situation.

What I’m listening to – 
Revisiting OK Compter, Radiohead – moments of fragile beauty, overwhelming power, irony and satire – darker commentary on the human condition – musically innovative, brilliantly conceived and performed – simple melody lines belie highly complex musical arrangements. (Put on headphones and you’ll hear things you never heard otherwise!)

Book of the Week –
Journey to the Common Good, Walter Brueggemann.
They say that Brueggemann is the Bruce Springsteen of Theology – people come from everywhere when they hear he is speaking and some follow his gigs all over the country!
I confess to being a big fan! I gave away my last copy and I’ll probably give away this one that just arrived, once I’ve read it again! He digs through the Biblical records in search of perspectives to this question: Can the simple concept of Neighbourliness show us the way toward a greater common good?

Encouragement of the Week – 
From friends on The NOW Tribe on Facebook. I think I’ve found my tribe!

Surprise of the Week – 
Discovering the Oasis philosophy in full swing among a group of younger people in Moscow. (See my post: Moscow)

Have a great weekend!


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Unwinding in front of the TV on Tuesday night, I found myself watching The Busiest Cities on ABC.TV – a revelatory picture of the life of Muscovites today.

45 minutes into the program I was gobsmacked to see before my eyes, images of the conception I had for Oasis at Flinders University some ten years ago – the same kind of images I see for an Oasis in the heart of Adelaide, with its 34,000 international students and culture of festivals that bring visitors to the city.

Please have a look! (4 minutes)


What these young people are offering is a true expression of the tradition of hospitality – making space for strangers to become friends. It’s what the world needs. And it is learnt through experience.

Some of the dialogue that I resonated with included:

  • embracing the future yet drawing on the past
  • it looks like a cafe, but it feels like someone’s apartment
  • there’s no prices on food or drink*
  • it’s difficult to explain…the whole idea of the place is big and deep
  • cosy
  • longing for community and wanting strangers to become friends
  • you can do whatever you want…but together
  • I feel like I could live here
  • you learn different things from different people
  • it’s like being in someone’s living room
  • I feel like I’ve been allowed in
  • I feel like I’ve experienced something touching
  • what an amazing place!
  • and why not be able to sit with strangers?
  • she has a global outlook
  • it will spread to the rest of the country

*At Flinders, everything, including (limited) food/drink and salaries for two staff, was provided free to students, funded from student fees via the university administration.
I think an Oasis in the city could be funded by the city and the universities, with an initial aim of bringing together those living away from home – international students and visitors, and supported by volunteers and complementary organisations.

I could write a book expanding that dialogue!

Takin’ it to the Streets


I’ve just come home from a workshop conducted on behalf of the Adelaide City Council to develop a plan of action aimed at addressing the well being of young people living in the City of Adelaide.

I sense there is something fundamentally wrong with the whole approach. It seems so text-bookey! So politically correct, maybe? I don’t know…

I sit down for a late afternoon cup of tea to try and work out why I feel uneasy. Some music for ambience … how about the Doobie Brothers?

The fourth track has these lyrics:

You don’t know me but I’m your brother
I was raised here in this living hell

You don’t know my kind in your world
Fairly soon the time will tell.

You…telling me the things you’re gonna do for me
I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see…

Chorus: Takin’ it to the streets…

Is it this ‘we’re doing this for you’ mindset that could be troubling me?

Could it be that we need to change our own attitudes, from the established ‘solving other peoples’ problems’, toward solidarity, empowerment and relationship-building, rather than more programs?

Friday Post

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My first attempt at letting my friends know a bit more about me on a regular basis.
(Thanks Nick in London for this suggestion and template to begin with!)

Purchase I’m enjoying — Breville Nespresso coffee machine.
Nespresso now recycle their pods; but in the meantime we’re using up cheap, out-of-date pods from one of those bulk stores that sell out of date things that are still useable.

What I’m listening to — Declan O’Rouke, Gold Bars in the Sun
A gift from Kathy Kirkpatrick, his Australian manager, for hosting her and ferrying her and Declan to gigs on ABC Local Radio  and Radio Adelaide. Much better live than the CD – Irish singer-songwriter with a rich voice, beautiful poetic imagery and superb guitar playing.

What I’m readingWhite Working Class – overcoming class cluelessness in America, by Joan C. Collins. One of those well-researched but easily readable post-Trump books, shedding light on the rise of Populism.

What I’m watching — ‘Look Me in the Eye’ and ‘Riviera’, SBS Wednesday nights.
Frederic Laloux on Soulful Organisations, https://youtu.be/GxGGkrtKZaA
I am gradually ploughing through his many lectures and interviews to get more of  a handle on alternatives to hierarchical management structures, beyond the techy Agile and Lean systems. Ways that engage the heart and soul in constructive work outcomes that make the world a better place.

My Podcast of the Week – Richard Florida: the new urban crisis
Florida explains how the creative economy has produced a deepening urban crisis characterised by inequality and profound social and cultural divisions

Quote I’m pondering

“Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems.”
– Peter F. Drucker

I’m always hoping to engage with others about promoting human flourishing.