Extinguishing Native Title – Keating 2011

Extinguishing Native Title through 10-point Plan  (June 1  2011    Sydney Morning Herald)

The 10-point plan that undid the good done on native title – Paul Keating

As prime minister, the pastoral lease question was a vexing and torrid one for me. And for this reason: notwithstanding that the Commonwealth government’s legal advice was that the Mabo (No. 2) judgment had the effect of extinguishing native title on lands subject to pastoral leases – I did not agree with that advice. That is, I did not personally agree with the logic behind the advice.

I had lots of supposedly good people urging it upon me; like the former leader of the National Party Tim Fischer, who was doing his level best to turn pastoral leases into quasi-freehold titles at the expense of Aboriginal people.

I knew there was a massive potential loss here for Aboriginal people – because in 1993 a very large proportion of the land mass of Australia was subject to pastoral leases. In Western Australia it was 38 per cent of the state, in Queensland 54 per cent, South Australia 42 per cent, NSW 41 per cent and the Northern Territory 51 per cent.

Given the scale and importance of it, I was determined not to deny Aboriginal people the chance to test this question before the High Court. So to keep the naysayers at bay and to fend off the opportunists, I decided to record in the preamble of the bill that on the government’s view, past leasehold grants extinguished native title.

I had these words in the second reading speech and in the preamble to the act but I refused to make extinguishment a fait accompli under the operating provisions of the act.

I knew that the whole idea of pastoral leases over Crown land arose because squatters decided to move on to land for which they had no title and where their activities, grazing or otherwise, were uncontrolled. The motivation for the legislative regime, first in NSW in the late 1820s, was to put some control on squatters without conferring on them a freehold title to vast tracts of the country; country largely occupied by Aboriginal people. So I understood that when the various colonial and state governments came to issue pastoral leases they did so knowing that the pastoral activity would occur over lands where Aboriginal people were still conducting a traditional way of life.

I told officers of the Attorney-General’s Department at the time that I regarded their advice as black letter property advice, wherein they failed to understand how and in which ways the High Court was peering through the common law to the development of native title rights over the course of Australian history following European settlement.

As it turned out, in the Wik decision of 1996, the High Court held that the grant of relevant leases did not confer on the lessees exclusive possession of land under lease and correctly, in my view, made clear that, in the case of the Wik and the Thayorre people, that a relevant intention to extinguish all native title rights at the time the grants were issued was not present. That is, the grants did not necessarily extinguish all incidents of the native title rights.

Of course, that decision of the High Court was attacked mercilessly by the Howard government. That villain Tim Fischer boasted that there would be bucket loads of extinguishment, in the Howard government’s response to the decision.

Many will be familiar with the sorry tale that became part and parcel of the Native Title (Amendment) Act 1998. That amendment arose from the Coalition government’s so-called 10-point plan, a plan facilitated in the Senate with the support of Senator Brian Harradine under the advice of the Jesuit priest Frank Brennan.

As an aside, and as a Catholic, let me say, wherever you witness the zealotry of professional Catholics in respect of indigenous issues, invariably you find indigenous interests subordinated to their personal notions of justice and equity: because unlike the rest of us, they enjoy some kind of divine guidance. And so it was with the Wik amendments.

The amendments were titled ”Confirmation of past extinguishment of native title”. But it was never clear that all freehold grants and leasehold grants permanently extinguished native title. Mick Dodson said at the time: ”By purporting to ‘confirm’ extinguishment by inconsistent grants, the Commonwealth is purposely pre-empting the development of the common law – not allowing sufficient time to integrate the belated recognition of native title into Australia’s land management system. This does not require the obliteration of indigenous interests so as to favour non-indigenous interests.” Quite so.

The Howard government’s 1998 amendments cut across the spirit of the Keating government’s 1993 act; the notion that the legislation was, first and foremost, of a beneficial kind – enacted to redress historic inequities, rather than to compound ones sanctioned by earlier acts.

Paul Keating was prime minister from 1991 to 1996. This is an edited extract from the Lowitja O’Donoghue Oration delivered at the University of Adelaide yesterday.

 

Napoleon Bonaparte Quotes

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.
A leader is a dealer in hope.
Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.
Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.
Ability is nothing without opportunity.
Soldiers generally win battles; generals get credit for them.
(From BrainyQuote)

 

 

 

 

 

 

JAWAHARLAL NEHRU Quotes

Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will.
The policy of being too cautious is the greatest risk of all.
Action to be effective must be directed to clearly conceived ends.
Failure comes only when we forget our ideals and objectives and principles.
I have become a queer mixture of the East and the West, out of place everywhere, at home nowhere.
(From BrainyQuote.  Jawaharlal Nehru was the first Prime Minister of India and a central figure in Indian politics before and after independence.

I have read his book ‘Glimpses of World History’ – compiled from the letters he wrote to his daughter from jail. He had been incarcerated because he wanted India to be free of the British. I was impressed with his perspectives and knowledge.

 I was 13 when I used to read a chapter each evening to my family, just when the Japanese Army had begun to drive the British from Malaya. By the time Japan had conceded defeat – in 1945 – it was clear that European colonialism in Asia would end soon – thanks to Japan.)      

 

 

 

 

 

 

The myth of ‘racial’ discrimination (Part 2)

Instead of the confusing use of the semantically misleading terms race and racial, as argued in my previous post, statements of prejudice, as well as acts of discrimination, can sensibly refer to skin colour – a major trigger of hate (or stupidity). There could, however, also be an inherited cultural sensitivity associated with ignorance.

I do admit to being sensitive about colour in one instance. I will not eat beetroot because I do not like its purple colour.

Returning to reality, being a foreigner (or outsider) can be accepted as another trigger for prejudice and discrimination. This would include entering not only ‘white space’ but also British white space (although the latter is now seemingly superseded).

Another trigger is tribal superiority and prejudice. This would cover religion (a major source of claimed superiority); cultural values and practices (eg. the taboo in Australia against killing a goat in one’s backyard for a festival); and social mores (eg. spitting in public) – quite a catchall! Using ethnicity as a marker for abuse can have no future when there is so much cross-ethnic marriage (including partnership and cohabitation).

Countering prejudice and discrimination through the law is available only to the wealthy; or to those with access to pro bono lawyers. Education? The ignorant will probably ignore any media campaign (if they are aware of it); while the opportunists will do what it takes to achieve their ends. Morality (like Grace) needs to be bestowed; although it may of course be learned.

In the sphere of international relations, where there is no place for morality, there is a strange assertion about racial discrimination. Anyone criticising Israel for one of its policies (while clearly not anti-Israel) can be accused of being ‘anti-Semitic’. Yet Western Asia has speakers of a range of Semitic languages who subscribe to a variety of religions; they are all equally Semitic!

There is clearly a need to get rid of the concept of ‘race.’  Which government will dare take necessary action?  A recent attempt to go part of the way foundered on a confusion of semantics, politics, human rights, free (but responsible) speech, egoism and exceptionalism. There were hidden ‘sacred cows’ behind some of the waffle.

Is modern Australia lacking the necessary intellectual depth to deal with human rights and free public expression? When voluntary euthanasia is described during a recent debate as ‘killing’ (reflecting only a particular theology), I wonder whether there is a place for not only compassion but also for honesty in public policy.

 

 

“Of mice and morality – a parable for adults” (Part 5)

The path to peace

Taking House aside, Whicky explained that he was a member (even as a cat) of a Western family that had adopted Buddhism, the fastest growing faith in Australia. Together with Virginia, whose intuitive understanding of all things material and spiritual and whose grasp of the language of mice and cats implicitly indicated that she is the reincarnation of an old soul, he knew that Buddhist beliefs, like those of yoga, did not conflict with the teachings and rituals of the other major religions.

Whereas doctrinal differences have separated one religion from another – and such differences represent merely the egoistic pretensions of the guardians of the institutionalized faiths – Buddhism, by emphasizing the moral obligation of sentient beings, one to the other, encompassed the ethical teachings of Christ and all the other known religious and spiritual teachers. When one bypasses the gongs, drums, bells, chants, and the other rituals which had grown as encrustations to the Buddha’s original guidance – like the rituals purveyed by the priests of all the faiths – there is only one simple exhortation for one and all. And that is to offer love, protection, care, and compassion to others whose existence is also due to the universal Creator.

House was flabbergasted. Here was his old mate displaying so much wisdom, which also explained his tolerance of the tribe of mice sharing his home. Like Virginia, he too might be an old soul. Together, they would surely light the way for those not privileged to be so enlightened.

Whicky went on to explain his plan, which had been agreed to by Virginia. Both would lead House and his tribe in meditation – daily. Out in the open with the sun (another product of the Creator) bestowing its blessing upon them all, Virginia and Whicky would lead the Buddhist chant, “Om Mani Padme Hum.” This was only a variation of the “Om Nama Shivaya” chanted by the adepts of yoga or the simpler “Om.” Uttered through the back of the throat and drawn out over a few seconds, Om would reflect the primeval hum which preceded the Big Bang of the modern physicists’ cosmology.

With the support of the Committee of Wise Mice, House put Whicky’s plan to the tribe. Intrigued, a little confused, anxious, but desperate, the tribe agreed. The next day, out in the open, within sight of Max, the meditation program started. Max was intrigued. Closer and closer he came to the mice each day – merely to see what was happening. The closer he came, the more he was influenced by the aural aura of the chant. The more the chant engulfed him, the more he realized the peace which enveloped the mice. The more effective this peace on the mice, the more Max became absorbed spiritually. A warm, caressing, mist-like atmosphere bonded them all in a cocoon of mutual acceptance and tolerance.

Can mice and cats become imbued with spiritual peace or was Whicky’s plan an aberration? On the contrary, both mice and Max eventually became submerged into that ocean of consciousness from which the physical Cosmos arose. Thus was Max conditioned to change his ways; that is, not to eat mice. Thus did peace reign over the mice, the cats, and little Virginia. So says Virginia, the old soul.

…………………………………………..

Here ends the parable of mice and morality. Virginia’s sojourn into another improbable world awaits another day.

 

“Of mice and morality – a parable for adults (Part 4)

The Bell

The Committee met. They sat in a safe niche in the garden wall from which they could contemplate Max sunning himself. What was more disconcerting was that the mice could hear him purring in his lethargic state. Was he mentally visualizing his catch of the day? They were naturally aware that hunters, like sportsmen everywhere, tended, from time to time, to rehearse those actions which were essentially inherent in any success in their endeavors. Collectively, the mice then veered their minds away from such a debilitating and despairing vision.

When they began to consider their problem, their minds turned predictably to the idea of a bell tied to Max’s collar. This was normal. For minds, whether human or animal, tended, like cars and mountain goats, to follow the tracks already laid down. Some of the tracks of the mind would have been laid down generations ago, and genetically transferred. Like most of mankind, mousedom does not bother to ask, “How is it so?” I mean, who goes about asking, “Who made the sun rise today?” Of course, roosters in the farmyard (and humans born in the Chinese Year of the Rooster) intuitively know that they cause the sun to rise (when they start to crow). This they do when certain electromagnetic vibrations integral to both sentient life and the allegedly inert rock called Earth coincide. Such synchronicities are really not coincidences, but predictable – like the minds of House’s Committee of Wise Mice.

At their first meeting, they chose to live up to their name by deciding wisely not to call for submissions from the rest of the tribe. The thought of Mona (the moaner) and Porthos (the Insistent) offering relevant and sound advice was akin to believing that Max would suddenly fall dead. The morbidity of that menace, consequent upon some strategy concocted by the Committee, was to be deliberated upon later. Foremost in their collective minds was the bell. Virginia had already donated a light bell with a superior tinkle from her toy collection.

Their deliberations went thus. Logically, they first dealt with the question of how. That was easy. The bell would be tied with a loop of fishing line found in the garden to Max’s collar. The question of who led them unimaginatively to Virginia, but she was really too little. A Lilliputian solution was discarded as there was likely to result a great carnage. Mice are not like ants, capable of acting in concert. The prospect of achieving Nirvana prematurely through collective action, even in the interests of a common cause, was not enticing. The mice were not as foolish as those men described in the so-called World Wars of the twentieth century as gun fodder, and who seemingly periodically were sent to save empire, introduce democracy (even with a tribal twist), or to reduce the number of unemployables in the economy (dastardly as this may appear). Whicky, they knew, would not do it – he was an honorable cat. Conscripting an adult was to imagine the impossible. The bell was clearly out – never to be heard tinkling the arrival of terrible terror.

Deportation or death

Other options had to be considered. Could we, asked a Committee member, have Max taken away; that is, sort of deported? After all, some nations get rid of their unwanted residents by deportation. But then, the deportees-to-be first need to be identified as illegal residents. However, Max was a legal resident, adopted by his owners (Max’s imagined slaves). Ha, said the Committee, in our yard he is an illegal arrival like the boat people sailing onto Australian shores. Could we ban him from entry? What a lovely thought, the Committee said. But how? Have the garden hose turned on by a switch tripped by their infamous illegal as he hopped over the fence? No, this is beyond the capacity of mice, cats, and a little girl. In any event, mice too do not like to be made wet – not involuntarily.

Could we have the menace somehow removed, asked the Committee. I suppose the people living under the heavy heel of Stalin, Pol-Pot, or Hitler had asked the same question, said House – and in the same act of futility. Could Virginia’s family somehow convince the owners of Max to get rid of him? A parallel was the past practice of moving to another parish those members of the cloth accused of molesting some of their flock. Ah, that would mean, said House, opening the Pandora’s Box of the unusual connection between the normally unwanted fellow occupants of Virginia’s home (to wit, the mice) and the hitherto unknown and unbelievable communication (spoken and otherwise) between mice, cats, and their child. No, no, that would not do at all. Some matters are best left alone.

That Max might voluntarily keep away from Virginia’s back yard was not even considered, as it was totally improbable. Cats, like the Romini of old in mankind, are the most nomadic spirits in the animal kingdom, are they not? What then? Death? By suicide squad? A sort of jihad? Were there mice in Iraq or Palestine who might be consulted? Whereas there is no evidence of jihadist mice in these countries, perhaps they might offer advice based on their observations. House chuckled to himself at the thought of some of his tribe sidling up to Max with explosives strapped to their backs, ready to take their enemy and themselves to kingdom come – for no one escapes life alive.

The Committee met again and again – and found no solution. Unlike Senate Committees in certain parliaments in the Western world, the members of the Committee were one-pointed (in the vernacular of the Hindus); that is, totally focused on the point at issue. There were no divisive politics, no stage managing, no political mummery, and no bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. The urgency of their deliberations was indeed underlined by the daily loss of a constituent. If the mice had belonged to a religious institution, their priest would certainly have been very busy and the vendors of religious artifacts and icons would each have made a small fortune. For it is the nature of religion that the agony, fear, or uncertainty of the faithful provides the priests and profiteers with sufficient sustenance to submerge their own subliminal insecurities.

Finally, House and his Committee admitted defeat. Despondency descended. The derailment of the intended death-defeating drama of belling Max brought despair. House felt keenly the desolation of the failure of leadership. Then, hallelujah, a savior came to House’s aid. Miracles may be as rare as hens’ teeth, but they can occur. At a private meeting, Whicky suggested to House that he might have a solution. His idea was so problematic, he said, that the stars, which are normally value-neutral, might just take pity on the defenceless mice.

 

 

“Of mice and morality – a parable for adults” (Part 3)

Whicky, the Tolerant

Oh dear! Oh dear! Oh dear! What is to be done with Maxwell? There he is, resplendent in his shiny black coat and sleekly cuddly because of his skill in capturing a mouse-sized snack each day. Yet he is grumpy. He does so want the respect that he feels he is entitled to because of his Egyptian heritage. At minimum, he would accept his birth name Maxwell. He thus hates Virginia’s Maxie-baby. She likes him in spite of not approving his extra-mealtime foraging. He hates more being called Max by the family, although he realizes that many Australians have grave difficulty in articulating words of more than two syllables – something to do with their low-brow ancestry, he feels.

He most hates the name Mangy Max that House prefers. Yet he accepts me addressing him as MM – a sign of pure friendship. On the other hand, yes, on the other paw, who else could he talk to since he barely deigns to recognize his human slaves? Of course, being required to be celibate makes him quite cranky and a little vicious. He has heard of similar behavior in certain religious schools in his neighborhood – which enables him to be more tolerant of himself. Ah, the self-satisfaction of self-satisfaction! Only we cat-gods can understand that.

In his arrogance, MM is ignorant of House’s plan for him. Virginia is, however, well aware of all that is going on. How so? She is strangely gifted. She is able to hear as well as understand the language of mice and cats in all their simplicity (a little like the Malay language now known as Bahasa) – and tells me all she knows. After all, she is my pet slave. And I suspect that in lifetimes past we may have been together in old Persia with her as queen and me as god. It is of course possible that our roles were reversed then. Gods have indeed been transmogrified (no pun intended) into humans since Earth became inhabited.

Unlike MM, I am able to share my home with House the Mouse and his mob. This is because I am aware, as the followers of the Buddha have taught for centuries before the advent of Christ, that all sentient beings are worthy of respect and care. Since, in their philosophy of the meaning of existence, the bodies of all sentient beings (that is, beings with the power of self-perception) are interchangeable as temporary homes for our souls, the imperative of mutual respect, if not love, is paramount as a guide for living. Did not Jesus later talk of the imperative of mutual love and care for fellow humans? Those of us who have been gods and humans are empathetic to his teaching, although we believe that it is regrettably truncated in its compass.

I think that it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, for the mice to nobble MM by belling him. Could I help them? How? By holding him down while they tied a large bell round his fat neck? What would MM’s slaves say about that? Had the mice thought about that? MM’s slaves might indeed like MM to reduce the population of mice in the paddock, even if it is not their property. For it is the nature of the landed gentry, no matter how they had acquired their land, to exhibit an almost prurient (as in morbid) interest in adjacent properties. I wonder if in these circumstances little Virginia might be able to help. But how? She is indeed little and possibly not strong enough to either hold down MM or to tie the bell in a Lilliputian scenario with a horde of little mice tying down a sleek cat. Now that would be a sight, would it not – a descendant of one of the gods of ancient Egypt being held down by common, nomadic, foraging, lesser beings like mice?

House, the Leader

“My, oh my,” I said to myself soon after that tumultuous confabulation of the members of my tribe. “There’s that sleek slob of a sanctimonious, self-satisfied scum of the moggy breed, salivating in the sun, no doubt at the thought of a slight snack on the sly, so to speak.” To be fair, I realize that Mangy Max is only displaying an inherited instinct, neither greed, nor hunger, nor any viciousness. I am aware, even as a member of a lesser species of the animal kingdom, that the gods of yesteryear had already displayed an almost infinite capacity for destruction, acted upon with indifference (as is the right of the gods). It was their nature, as the ancient Hindus and early Greeks had been made painfully aware – the goddess Kali comes readily to mind. There were, of course, no pharmaceutical companies around then to modify or rein in an inherited behavioral attribute.

“What to do,” I thought, day by day, as Mangy Max pawed off yet another member of my tribe. There was, of course, no risk of total depletion of my mob. My tribe could indeed be compared with that major Christian sect which had, until recently, a great propensity to multiply. Eventually, in the same way that this sect would have out-numbered every other sect of every religion had its leaders been successful in their efforts to keep their women in the kitchen and perennially pregnant, so my tribe would have increased in a probably Malthusian manner; that is, where the available food could not fill all our empty bellies. I realize, only too sadly, that Mangy Max was thus in tune (even unconsciously) with the instincts of Gaia (the Soul of Earth). That is, I do realize that there has to be a balance between the capacity of Earth to produce nourishment and those bellies which need that nourishment.

Malthusian proclivities aside, there is the issue of fairness. Sneaking up on someone to kill, rather than to indulge in open warfare, is an act of a terrorist. My tribe has therefore started (perhaps in the manner of Emperor Bonsai) our own war on terrorism. However, just as European colonizers blasted their way around the world in recent centuries by using their big guns, so Mangy Max has the benefit of a big and heavy paw (or two, or four), each armed with sharp claws. My inoffensive tribe, like the poor so-called natives in all the ravaged continents, has no defense against a marauder offering pillage, rape, or sudden death. It must be recognized however that, in contrast with the destruction of whole economies and their associated societies (in the name of mercantilism and Christ), Mangy Max was, in reality, a relatively kindly soul. Yet, he had, as I have fervently repeated, to go or to be nobbled or to be made a Buddhist. That is, Mangy Max’s future has to be either conversion or containment or (as lesser options) deportation or death.

Being down-to-Earth, as good leaders are expected to be, I have set up a Committee of Wise Mice to inquire into the problem of who would bell this cat. Since we have no realistic way of belling our persecutor, I propose to widen the Committee’s terms of reference to examine appropriate alternatives. These (obviously) are to have Mangy Max destroyed, removed, reduced to incompetence as a mouser, or forced to change his ways; that is, not to eat mice.

………………………………

Virginia continued her narrative. She might have been modeled on Scheherazade, but her motives were different: her life was not at risk!

 

“Of mice and morality – a parable for adults” (Part 2)

The Who

“So, the tribe had ineluctably glided from an intended chatty confabulation straight through to the formulation of an action plan, bypassing that conference stage when all those present, or factions thereof, would have been consulted. House’s unilateral conclusion and decision now faced the tribe with a requirement to define a plan of implementation; that is, to focus on how now that the what had been set out as the desired outcome. If House had only been able to watch the news on TV, he would have noted the parallel path followed relatively recently at an international forum by that infamous trio, the Council of the Chilling.

Led by a leader for whom time is a fast flow of funds well lubricated with petrocarbons, this Council sought to impose regime changes and a form of democracy based on individualism upon tribalism-based theocratic or military-controlled governments, wherever they were to be found. Like the right-to-lifers genuflecting before the throne of a theocratic ruler way over the seas, who are prepared to kill humans who do not agree with them on matters relating to the netherlands of the female members of humanity in order to save what they choose, arbitrarily, to define as human life, the members of this Council of the Chilling were quite willing to kill (and maim) women and children, but only collaterally of course, in the name of Western capitalistic democracy. House’s decision making had an international precedent.

Not knowing that mice might mimic mankind, the tribe waited, quivering in a silence well larded with both uncertainty and anticipation. House’s authority was thereby multiplied a thousand-fold. With a wink toward Angelina (his wife number two), he spoke again. Knowing that brevity beats bombast and obfuscating oratory, he said simply: “We know what we need to do. But, we will not waste any time discussing how we will do this. The question for us now, to be dealt with in real-time, is who will do it.” In adopting this approach, House had another international precedent, although he was not aware of it (at least in his conscious mind). The Council of the Chilling had taken a similar path in attempting to put tribal governance to a cryogenic death; it knew what it wanted to do, but without working out how this would be achieved in a durable manner, it had decided who would do it.

In the silence that had reentered the scene, neither Mona the moaner (House’s number one wife) nor Porthos (who once thought that he had a clear and undeniable thought to offer) nor anyone else had anything to say. Their thoughts and feelings had all been forcefully exploded only recently in that frenzy of self-expression. Instead, they were busily thinking about life and death – death without warning and a certain predictability about it, a martyr’s death (although they had never heard about Islam), and whether there was possibly a pleasurable life after death.

However, like any good leader, House realized that stressful peregrinations through mental minefields needed a break. In humankind, this might involve a Bex (a headache powder of yesteryear), a cup of tea (a drink still in fashion), and a good lie-down (most fashionable with unionized workers in industrial nations of the Western kind). Mouseland offered a similar process of rejuvenation. He would recommend that. However, like every clever and manipulative political leader in mankind, he realized that a holding pattern of non-action had to be embarked upon immediately. This would be akin to a Royal Commission, whose report he would subsequently reject (as is done in many a democratic parliament) if it did not concur with his own views.

With this template in mind, he closed this extra-ordinary meeting of the tribe with these words resounding in the ears of his tribe: “I will arrange for a Committee of Wise Mice to inquire and report on our long-standing problem. Those of you who are of a practical nature will, of course, speak before this Committee. The question before all of us is simply: ‘Who will bell the cat?’”

 

Thus ended the parable recounted by little Virginia who had somehow learned to understand the language of mice and cats.

Since life, as experienced, can (and will) be viewed in different (and possibly contradictory) ways, the perspectives, complexities, and concerns of the major participants in this saga pertaining to mice and mortality are indubitably worthy of note.

 

Maxwell, I am

I am, I really am, I bloody well am, Maxwell – not Max, certainly not Mangy Max. It is bad enough to have a glorious name like mine reduced to something meaningless like Max, or modified thereafter to Maxie-baby by little Virginia. But the shame of it all to be now referred to as Mangy Max (by House) or MM (by Whicky). And this is in spite of my glorious black shiny coat, the result of my daily diet of a scrofulous mouse. These mice are so slow-witted as not to notice my right paw in its descent upon their hind quarters.

It was House the Mouse who first used that most disparaging appellation Mangy Max. He had spat out that derogatory nickname in an inflammatory intent to create a curse – somewhat in the manner of Montezuma’s Curse – when complaining about my behavior towards his tribe. His complaint had strangely been to Whicky, my neighbor and friend. Whicky, a long-haired Persian (cat, of course), whose historical ancestry is as glorious as mine, shares his abode with House and his mob.

Purely as an aside, why does he do that? Perhaps the eyesight of the Persians had been dimmed during the Dark Ages in Central Asia and the Middle East. This was the time when there was war in the heavens. Dragons then ruled (for a while) that part of the Cosmos in which Earth rushed unperturbed on its regular rounds while Earthlings trembled in fear or trudged through the deserts for decades in semi-darkness. Their gods (which included cats of course) and their farming animals also suffered from this blindness. Well, that might explain Whicky’s seeming stupidity. As a further aside, you will, I am sure, pardon my attempted alliteration as I have so little joy since my family jewels and then my competence to propagate my line of ancient gods were dedicated to the compost heap. I know where they were deposited because Whicky told me so. How did Whicky know? Because his principal slave Virginia (but who actually and foolishly thinks that Whicky is her pet) told him so.

Returning to human folly like the humans I had adopted and trained, Virginia and her family thought – oh dear, how shallow these humans are – that they were the ones who had adopted us as their pets. Mind you, it is a kindly intended description. The connotation of possessing a pet powerfully led to these humans being propelled into a state of smug satisfaction. Pardon the alliteration again, but they are so satisfyingly soothing in the light of that space in my netherlands. I am almost light-headed, indeed slight-headed as well, so to speak.

This unsuspected role reversal allows us gods of Egypt and Persia (and no doubt other places as well) to so dominate our humans. We can climb up curtains (something our Siamese brethren are wont to do), scratch and tear fabric-covered furniture (all of us enjoy that, even when there are trees with appropriate bark in our back yards), or disdainfully look askance and refuse to react when called, picked up, handled fondly, or otherwise shown affection. By these attitudes and actions, we indicate with such sweet subtlety that we, the descendants of the gods, cannot be ruled. Mealtimes are, however, a different kettle of fish (a heavenly thought). Even humans show respect for the cook, don’t they? I mean, a stomach which rumbles forever is so un-majestic!

My innate majesty requires me to regain my proper name and public respect. What is it about these antipodean relics of a eugenically-cleansed species of humans that they need to reject or at least to confuse those necessary gender, tribal, or other ancestral boundaries? For example, someone known as Ali is not a turbaned Turk, but a girl with the birth name Alison. Her modern-day surname of Mead has been truncated from Meadowcroft. I wonder why she chooses to discard the evidence of her tribal, cultural, and geographical heritage. She really should learn from us cat-gods as we surrealistically survey the scene surrounding us with sly satisfaction.”

 

“Of mice and morality – a parable for adults” (Part 1)

This last piece of bicultural fiction in my book “Pithy Perspectives” has entranced readers. I offer it in segments, because of its length, but also to allow ‘Wordpress’ readers to digest the events presented. The New South Wales President of the Federation of Australian Writers was quite entranced by this parable.

The Plan

House spoke. He had the right to speak first because he was the Elder of the tribe. Speaking first has traditionally been understood in all manner of societies to indicate unobtrusively, implicitly, and without further sign or signal the authority necessary to lead. Yet, it was also understood that age or seniority did not necessarily deliver that authority. However, House’s tribe had agreed in that democratic way that had been lost since the demise of the Athenians (who, one might remember, had resided in that location which, nearly 1,500 years later, had become part of a new nation called Greece), that House was entitled to speak first.

So, House the mouse spoke first. But, as soon as he started to articulate his scrambled thoughts, for rapidly advancing age does tend to scramble – as with an egg in a frying pan being man-handled (so to speak) – thoughts, both formed and preformed, Mona (his number one wife) began to moan. Her moaning did not, however, discomfit the tribe because Mona always knew what House was going to say – so she claimed.

Was she clairvoyant? On the contrary, she had lived with House long enough to anticipate not only his words but also his thoughts. Ah, so she thought! She really should have consulted his sainted mother, now in the land of the angels, and thereby able to guide her. For House was not a common house mouse (that is how he received his pseudonym) or even a garden mouse. He was indeed an intellectual mouse who, when the moon was in conjunction with Pluto (not the neighbor’s dog), could not only see into the future but also anticipate trouble. That might explain why he had not been eaten by Whicky, the Persian cat who shared the house with him.

Whicky, so named by little Virginia who, at age eighteen months, had displayed the normal age-related inability to say certain sounds, was a very relaxed beast. He must have been since he seemed unable to see or even sense the presence of House when they were only a meter apart in the kitchen. But Whicky was not the problem. It was Mangy Maxwell (MM), Whicky’s best friend, who lived next door, who posed an existence-threatening problem. Existence is, of course, as Whicky had already intuited, an ephemeral matter. Well, not so much matter as energy perhaps. For, as the ancient Hindus have taught, not only is matter interchangeable with energy, all existence is only Maya; that is, neither real (but not in a Platonic sense) nor unreal and that both real and unreal are merely transitory emanations from that ocean of consciousness from which all objects with form and name arise.

To counter MM, the mice in House’s environs had tried travelling en masse. Yet, after each foraging trip through the paddocks adjoining House’s domain, there would be one less member. They believed that cunning MM had somehow managed to side-swipe into his maws one of their lot.

House had finally decided to have a confabulation. He, in his Whicky-derived wisdom – because it was Whicky’s demeanor which had allowed House to grow old and thereby wise – knew what the solution was. But, before he could speak, Mona had risen with all the authority of ancient wives to speak for him. Big mistake! Wife number two, Angelina, much younger and not as bound by habituation, was not about to let Mona upstage House. So she broke into the moaning that had just begun to flow like water over-flowing a bathtub and insisted – ever so courteously and in that acceptable voice of gentility which is far more persuasive than any other kind of oral delivery – that House should have his leadership say.

Gratefully, House stood up (on his hind legs of course) and spoke. He spoke with that authority which can only come from leadership – whether imposed or earned. He uttered these words of profound wisdom: “We need to bell that cat!”

 

The Problem

Thus, in the beginning were the words. The words were: “We need to bell that cat!”

Then came the void – the void of ocean-deep silence. And what silence! Was there such a silence after God had said to her entourage, “I am, there I create”?

The silence convinced House that he had not dropped a clanger. His suggested solution for the tribe was sound. That terrible silence surrounded the mice and suspended all potential sounds in much the same way as a sea mist seeps onto its foreshore, engulfing, as it were, all other matter whether alive or dead, animate or inanimate, conscious or unconscious. The silence which had suddenly flooded the consciousness of the mice was not as heavy as that winter fog that can press down upon one with its weight of moisture about to be deposited without discrimination upon freedom-filled flesh or feathers. It was also not like the summer mist that filters the dawning light to produce an enlightening glow which yet renders insubstantial all that it subsumes.

Instead, in that deep void of silence, all the brains brought to the confabulation of mice suddenly went berserk. Never had these brains been so stimulated. Never had the normal chatter of trivia which so occupies the lives of mice (and mankind) been silenced by the enormity of this plan of concerted action. And thus and thereby, all the brains went into hyper-drive. If channeled into some kind of propulsive mechanism, collectively they could have found themselves in one of the inter-galactic “worm-holes” alleged by certain speculative cosmologists to link any one universe with another.

But then what would mice know about the Cosmos? On the other hand, how are we humans to know whether intergalactic or interstellar travelers (viz. anthropologists, members of the food supply industry, or armament merchants) have not already insinuated themselves into each and every life-form on Earth? If this has already happened, it would only be an extension of the now well-known path of neo-colonialism. This process of entrapment of the resources and minds of “others” (that is, those who are not “us”) is currently being propagated with a prodigious proficiency by the lust of the last of the white-skinned colonizers. As ever, similarly pigment-deficient accumulators of the assets of others had, over a few recent centuries, not accepted that all humans are but projections from the one and only Creator of the universe and that the urge to control resources that transitorily belong to “others” is truly futile. After all, one cannot even take one’s material body into the ether on Judgment Day. It must be admitted, however, that mice normally do not bother themselves with matters which preoccupy the minds of socially sensitive souls of the human kind, intergalactic and interstellar observer-participants of mice (and mankind) possibly (and probably) excluded.

After an extended silence of the void created by many minds in gear, one mouse started to speak. In his excitement at having suddenly produced a clear and undeniable thought, he forgot to ask for permission to speak from the chairman, his tribal leader. House therefore would not accept his right to stand up (on his hind legs of course) and to speak. As soon as the others saw Porthos (the mouse who thought that he had a clear and undeniable thought) stand up, they erupted. Vesuvius, that great volcano of ancient lore, would have been envious. Fortunately, unlike that eruption that had destroyed Pompeii, the eruption at the confabulation of mice was only oral. An observer of this aural reverberation might be forgiven for remembering, with some amusement, that famous childhood aphorism: “I tought I tought I saw a puddy tat”. For any vision of the pussycat MM, whether real, imagined, or illusory, would certainly have caused a comparable decampment.

The dam was now broken. All those mouse brains in gear, silently churning all manner of clear ideas and fragmentary thoughts as well as visions and feelings not quite ready to be transformed mentally into unspoken words now switched from processing to projection. All that mental grinding, not unlike the grinding of the tectonic plates below the surface of Earth, led to the uplifting into potentially vocal sounds, again not unlike the uplifting of ground-up magma within a volcano, and finally to that mighty explosion of sound. Vesuvius would indeed have been envious.

In the process, poor Porthos was drowned out, but only aurally. Even if the sounds were all near-subliminal squeaks, the uproar was truly deafening. But House cleverly allowed them all to jump up and down and have their say. This they all did simultaneously. He realized that all that brain-power had to be released. He therefore waited patiently for that strange phenomenon demonstrated by large vocal groups: when all the froth and fury of self-expression had been exhausted, there would be a silence – the silence of uncertainty. The unspoken question would then be: “Where do we go from here?” Or, more pithily (as that great Chinese sage Lin Yu Tang might have said to his porcine pet): “What now, old sow?’

 

 

‘Musings at Death’s Door’ – Extracts

Preface

“Today’s Australia is not the nation I entered in 1948.  Then, it was (ridiculously) officially racist; today, any intended racism is likely to be subterranean (the yobbo excepted).  Then, it was mono-cultural, mono-lingual, and mono-coloured, and very British (the ‘wogs’ of white Europe had not arrived yet); today, it is multi-ethnic and thereby multicultural, multi-lingual, multi-coloured (although recent black humanitarian entrants are viewed askance by some, mainly because they may not be economically viable for a long time), and traditionally egalitarian.

That is, while the nation has evolved into a modern cosmopolitan, generally integrated people, the ‘fair-go’ ethos of the ‘old’ Anglo-Australian underpins both official policies and much of interpersonal relations.  As a communitarian small-l liberal, metaphysical Hindu, and a card-carrying Christian, I applaud this.  I believe that Australia could become a beacon for our neighbouring nations were we to deal with them with our feet on this platform

Yet, because of the ‘Asian values’ which formed me in colonial British Malaya, I do not accept, as an all-embracing ethos, the individualism which underpins Western nations, especially those created by immigrants, viz. the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  Their human rights record is also deplorable.

These nations seek to shove a ‘one-size-fits-all’ Western view of human rights onto those nations of interest to us.  The intent of this approach is the destruction of tribalism and communitarian values.

In the meanwhile, exaggerated and often self-nominated individual rights have led to the breakdown of family, which has traditionally been the backbone of society everywhere.  Excepting those few involved in civil society (I am one of them), there is a rising tide of ‘takers.’  These are found at all levels – from foreign investors, corporate leaders and politicians, down to the many professionally work-shy welfare recipients.

Pockets of well-meaning individuals, seemingly unable or unwilling to consider seriously relevant policy issues, form glee clubs supporting the takers or those who seek to take, eg. asylum seekers.  Communal responsibility and personal respect are thinning out like an outgoing tide at the beach.  Since our politicians are pre-occupied with short-term politics rather than long-term policies – the current batch presenting themselves as the worst I have experienced – the community, by and large, reminds me of the movement of an empty stoppered bottle floating on rough seas.

Where goes my adopted nation, to which I have made a substantial contribution, especially in civil society?  With little time left, I ponder about those issues of interest to me.  These, I believe, are relevant for all thinking fellow-Australians.  My musings are naturally filtered through my bicultural values.”

Biculturalism

Being a bicultural Asian in a Western nation has given me a significant advantage.  I can understand the divide between those acculturated (as I was) in what the former Prime Minister of Singapore (Mr. Lee Kuan Yew) popularised as ‘Asian values,’ and those who were conditioned by life in an immigrant-created nation which could not provide extended families and their near-universal role.  Newly-inhabited countries such as Australia simply lacked the communal support that one is born into in Asia.

By necessity, I became acclimatised to living, initially alone, later within my own nuclear family, in a society which requires self-sufficiency.  In some of us, this situation engenders a wish to contribute to the welfare of one’s community by volunteering time and effort.  I have thus had my head in the clouds of Asian values (metaphorically speaking), with my feet firmly planted on the hard rock of individualism, which now respects not authority figures and even one’s elders.

For individual Asians in this bifurcated society, there is the solace of a spiritual life.  This assists me in achieving a necessary balance between two cultures.

Now, who am I?  What is my background?  And how am I enabled to ponder at some depth about my adopted nation?

I am 83.years old.  I am thereby well past my statistical use-by date.  No member of my extended family has survived longer.  Greater longevity may of course have applied to earlier generations living in our ancestral land in Jaffna in the north of Ceylon; we are known to be a hardy people.

As a tribe, we are also known to have earned an adequate living from a harsh land for more than two thousand years; to have competed more than successfully with the Singhalese majority of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in academe, in civil society, and in the public service, while living under British suzerainty.  Subsequently, we have adapted successfully to the diverse Western nations to which, as an on-going diaspora, we migrated.  Initially, migration was for economic reasons; later, for political reasons.

In Australia, to which I was despatched by either my personal destiny or the spirit world, I have adapted successfully.  Indeed, I have also integrated successfully, including holding leadership positions in civil society.  My initial preference was naturally for living with my own people in the land of my birth.  Why so?  Because the land of my birth was, already in my time, multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-religious; and with a mutual tolerance between the Asian communities there far in advance of that level of inter-cultural tolerance to be reached in Australia by the end of the twentieth century

It is highly probable that I will be ejected from the departure lounge of life fairly soon.  Because my observations of key aspects of Australia, from the vantage point of ‘Asian values,’ began more than six decades (or about two generations) ago, there should be some socio-cultural and historical value in the attached musings.  I need to highlight, however, that my thoughts have been filtered through my anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-communist (that is, freedom-loving) values.”