Melbourne’s Daughter

Deep with the first dead lies London’s daughter

(Dylan Thomas)
The newspaper article was short, buried at the bottom of an inner page: Man Sought in Child Death was the headline. Ambulance officers were called to attend an infant who was not breathing. They found injuries described as Non Accidental. They detected a feathery heartbeat and commenced resuscitation and brought the baby to hospital.
Following further treatment the baby underwent scans of the brain. These demonstrated Injury Incompatible with Life. Police wished to interview a man in connection with the matter. 
Nearly forty years ago I became intimately familiar with that hospital. At the age of fifteen months our youngest child was treated there for Aplastic Anaemia. I had learned enough of this invariably fatal disease at medical school to dread it. Over three miraculous days and three intense nights nurses and doctors worked on our infant as if she were their own. Three days following her admission our baby was home again, her condition in spontaneous remission. It never recurred.
I witnessed at that time what a friend describes as the operation of ‘an edge’. He says a hospital like that is a line where the worst and the best meet and rub up against each other. The worst, he suggests, is the suffering or death or loss of a child; the best is the application of skill and care and discipline in opposing the worst. The line where the best strains against the worst is a hospital like this one. My friend describes this as ‘OUR best’. By extension the loss or suffering of the child is OUR worst. I mean we are all implicated.

 
What must we learn from those pregnant expressions: ‘Non Accidental Injury’ and ‘Injury Incompatible with Life’? Horribly intrigued I sought more news in the next day’s paper. I found nothing. For the first time in my life I went to the news on-line. I googled ‘non-accidental injury to baby’. Straight away I was sorry I had done so. Case after case, headline after headline, BABY AFTER BABY, the web told of the slaughter of our very young in Australia. RecoiIing, I quickly ungoogled. A phrase from the biblical book of Numbers came to me – ‘a land that devours its children.’
Another friend is a senior doctor at that same hospital. He is the person with whom the buck stops, it is he who has to confront the adults in whose watch a non-accidental injury has taken place. Too often the x-rays show the many non-accidental fractures that have healed or half-healed or never healed in a baby’s short tenure. He sees the scans that show the brain bruised and bleeding from multiple sites. Calmly, civilly, he must direct questions to the adults. He says, ‘Your baby has been injured in ways that cannot occur by accident. Can you explain the injury to me?’ The adult partnership fissures along one of many fault lines, the truth emerges. And the truth is braided of many rotten strands. The perpetrator – sometimes more than one perpetrator – is almost never the simple monster we like to imagine. The perpetrator too often had himself been monstered – his life fractured, his brain contused by one evil or by another or by many.
I read, over the days that followed, a scattering of further details, most of them horrible beyond my imagining. And finally, this: the injuries being incompatible with life, the parent of the child had agreed the doctors should turn off the machines. But before that, she donated the baby’s organs. Injuries incompatible abruptly became compatible with saving half a dozen young lives.

 
I described babies who are killed as OUR babies. I felt, as I read Helen Garner’s, ‘This House of Grief’ that the three murdered boys were in a real sense Garner’s children, they were mine, they were all our children. And in my moments of google horror I felt the same shock of personal responsibility.

In the small South Australian town of Penola people built and tend a park to remember their babies lost.

Blue Label

My brother Dennis presented me with a blue carton containing a bottle of whiskey. I had never heard of Johnny Walker Blue Label. Whiskey did not interest me. All I knew was I couldn’t afford good whiskey, I didn’t like cheap whiskey and I couldn’t tell the difference between cheap and uncheap. 

Dennis died ten years ago but the box and the bottle survive, unopened. Dennis died poor and intestate after forty-five years working in Finance. Dennis didn’t drink whiskey either. Strong drink was not his weakness. His loves were his weaknesses. One of his loves was for this brother, the one who survives him, healthy and unpoor.

 

I picture my firstborn brother in an airport palace of luxury items for sale duty free. He looks around for something good, something precious to buy for his loved brother. His instinct draws him to the most expensive items. A man of the world, Dennis recognises the blue label. He takes the box in one arm, reaches for his credit card, approaches the cashier. He makes the purchase he cannot afford, with funds he does not yet own, for the brother who will see no occasion to drink it.

 

To paraphrase O Henry’s closing remarks in ‘The Gift of the Magi’:

 

The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of an unwise child who most unwisely sacrificed for the brother other the greatest treasures of his house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.
 

Report of the World Preview of ‘A Threefold Cord’ 

 
they came from barwon heads

they came from the usa

they came from king david school

they came from haredi schools

they came in their numbers

they came with their foreskins and without
they numbered ten – plus adults
they fell instantly and hard in love with tali lavi, my interlocutor

she told them the book was exciting

and rude

and scary

and funny

and sad

and wonderful
i said the same – especially wonderful
i read, tali and i spoke and discussed, kids made comments
and i collected phone numbers and email addresses to advise attendors – there is no such thing as attendees (in this context) – of publication details
it was a triumph

NOW I HAVE THE PLEASURE OF SHARING THE TRIUMPH WITH YOU, DEAR READER OF THIS SOMETIMES SLUMBERING BLOG:
I’d be grateful if you would open the link below and watch and listen to the video in which the author reads from the first five chapters of this quite outstanding work.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5WiuKpPeWv9RHlTQlRTeWdjTEk/view

IN RETURN I HAVE A FAVOUR TO ASK OF YOU: After enjoying the viewing of my video would you very kindly respond to two questions:

1. Please indicate whether you would buy a copy of the E-Book of ‘ A Threefold Cord’ at $5.00
2. Please indicate whether you would buy a copy of the print book at $15.00
3. (Yes, this is the third of two questions): Would you purchase additional copies as gifts?

Invitation to a Preview of my Next Book 

I INVITE THE ENTIRE WORLD TO 
THE WORLD PREMIERE
OF 
 A THREEFOLD CORD 
THE LONG-AWAITED NOVEL BY HOWARD GOLDENBERG FOR CHILDREN OF 8-12 YEARS

AND THEIR PARENTS 

AND THEIR GRANDPARENTS 

AND THEIR CHILDREN

AND ANYONE WHO HAS EVER BEEN 8-12 YEARS OLD 

AND ANYONE WHO HAS LOVED A PERSON 8-12 YEARS OLD

AND ANYONE WHO LOVES A TERRIFYING, EXCITING, HILARIOUS, RUDE, OR INSPIRING STORY
COME TO LIMMUD OZ AT 5.30PM AT MONASH CAULFIELD, TOMORROW, 27 JUNE, 2017
CHILDREN WHO ACCOMPANY A PAYING ADULT ARE ADMITTED FREE OF CHARGE

while the adult is ripped off to the tune of 30-40 bucks  
http://sched.co/77uX
Limmud Oz Melbourne #books #literaryevent #authorreading 

High Achievers

My Principal, a man of immense self-discipline, said to me in an unexpected aside; ‘I think the fruits of that man’s loins consume too great a share of this world’s goods.’ By this my Principal meant me to understand he somehow felt such liberal procreation as an affront to his Protestant ethic. Greedy, appetitive. I thought the policeman was just a Catholic who, after a long day of fining speedsters and charging car purloiners, liked to come home and enjoy a conjugal root.
 

 

I received a letter today from a doctor whom I have not met. The doctor wrote to inform me of the specialist obstetric practice he has set up. The description made my mouth water, if that is not an incorrect metaphor to apply to a birthing service. The doctor offers every thoughtful amenity for babies and mothers and extends a warm collegial hand to all referring general practitioners. How exemplary, I thought. Impressive too was the doctor’s post-graduate training at the Mayo Clinic and Harvard.

 

 

At the foot of the doctor’s well-crafted letter was a lengthy postscript. It was a list of her – his? – qualifications. Let me list them for you:

MBBS, B Med Sci (Hons), LLB, LLM, PDLP, FACLM, FFLM,(RCP, Lon), MHSM, FRANZCOG, FFCFM, (RCPA), MAICD

 

 

Golly, I thought. If each post-graduate qualification required only one year of study – and I do know that MBBS takes six years; and FRANZCOG takes another six or so, and the two degrees in Law would take another handful of years – this doctor must be starting private practice after twenty years of study. I marvelled at the doctor’s scholarship and academic thirst.

 

 

Some study, some copulate. As one who has trod only the shallows of learning and of reproducing, I am in awe of their stamina

 

People Tell Me Things, People Show Me Things

Coles opens at six in the morning. The usual early checkout lady is here, speaking her accented English. (As if I do not, as if we do not all, declare our origins whenever we speak.)
‘Are you from Israel?’ – I ask.

‘Where should I be from?’

She’s Israeli alright.

I tell her my wife and grandkids and I estivated in Israel just a couple of weeks ago.

‘To visit Israel is wonderful’, she says. Her voice works fractionally harder on ‘visit.’ Her emphasis is to teach me something undeclared: to go there and stay is not so wonderful.

Her busy face looks up at me: ‘Do you really want to pay $7.90 for this celery? Organic?? You don’t look so rich. Go, get normal celery, two dollars fifty.’

I obey.

‘That celery is better. Sometimes organic is not organic.’ Her face, usually set too dour for conversation, opens. The checkout lady finds time this morning to soften our transaction, to confess whatever it is she has been carrying for this long time: ‘To live in Israel is hard. The stress, the bombs, every day – the stress.’

 

 

 

***

 

 

Grey day. Not cold, just damp, a case of Melbourne having weather instead of a climate. Striding along Collins Street to keep an appointment, I sight ahead of me in the gloom a lone figure sawing away at a violin. The sounds, initially thin, fill and broaden as I near the performer, a slender young woman. Closer now, and the sound is rich and spacious under the leaden canopy of wet cloud.

The violinist stands alone in her parallelogram of space as Melbourne’s skulkers scuttle to shelter.

I chuck a coin into her empty violin case, thanking her for beautifying this unbeautiful day.

 

Further down Collins Street, I stand in the drizzle awaiting my appointed meetee. A thin man approaches, veers towards me and slows: “Wanna buy a diamond ring?”

Seventy-year old ears don’t pick up such fine print.

Did he ask for money? He looks like he could go a feed.

My hand locates the ten dollar note in my pocket.

Uncertain, I ask: “What did you say?”

“Do you want to buy a diamond ring?”

The thin man flashes a thin silvery band before clenching his hand around the ring.

“What? No thanks. I don’t need a ring. Thank you.”

The man peers. He is shorter than I am. He sights my kippah.

“Are you a Jew?”

“I am.”

“That’s good”, he says. Reassuring me. “You wouldn’t have a spare dollar…?”

My ready hand finds the ready note and produces it. The man palms the note, opens and considers it, then says, “You wouldn’t have another ten, would you?”

“Piss off!” Smiling.

The man extends a skinny arm. His paw pats my shoulder –

“Thanks sir” – then slopes away up Collins Street.

 

 

 

***

 

 

Two young coppers stand at the corner. Both wear guns. Sundry hardware hangs from their belts. One of the two carries a slim metal cylinder in his gloved hands. The latex gloves are sky blue, the shiny cylinder. He walks to the wheelie bin and drops the cylinder delicately before turning to join his friend and a tall, thin, older man. The thin man gangles and sways. He is grey, all grey – his hair, his beard, his bushy eyebrows, even his track suit pants. (Is there any garment more expressive of neglect than track suit pants? Apparel for vomiting in!)

 

The young officer walks up to the thin man, takes the older man’s arm gently in his hand and leads him to the Police wagon. The second officer opens the door to the mini-cell that is the prisoner’s compartment. Tenderly the officers hand the man into the interior. They protect his head from the low sill of the cabin, they bend his legs, then straighten him up before belting him in and closing the door carefully. The young men could not handle Mister Thin more tenderly if he was their grandfather.

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

My patient used to be a copper. He works now for the Council, in Security. He injured his spine at work a couple of months ago and as his spine is about sixty it heals slowly. In the course of those months I have come to know him moderately well. We have established a routine: he comes in, he sits down and complains a little. I listen, examine and record. Then I complete tedious worker’s insurance forms. While I write the security officer confesses. He tells me how certain police of his former acquaintance would be a little ungentle while interrogating a suspect. He winks. He tells me how acquaintances would visit brothels where favours were expected and received. ‘Police and brothels, bad combination.’ He winks. I am to understand he is giving me his confession.

 

 

 

***

 

 

People tell me things. I remember the man who told me how brutally the hospital staff manhandled him when all he did was threaten to cut someone’s throat. The patient told me how he planned to go back to that hospital with a bomb. I asked my patient not to tell me things like that. I told him I have to report conversations of that sort to the police.

 

My patient told me he would ‘fucking kill those bitches who work for you.’ Those bitches were young women. They left my employment.

 

I wonder what prompts my patient to tell me these things. I wish he did not.

 

 

 

How to Recruit an Ordinary Australian, How to Torment Her, How to Drive her to madness 

Sitting watching Eva Orner’s movie, ‘Chasing Asylum’, I fully expected to be appalled. I anticipated I’d feel the old outrage. I feared I’d see things that would shock me.What took me unprepared was the vision of Australian workers on Manus and Nauru as they disintegrated before the camera. Three in particular found the courage to expose themselves before the slow, careful camera of Eva Orner. Two of the three were young women. The camera never revealed them full face, their names were not mentioned. Like their charges who subsist behind Boat Numbers, these are humans without names. Their voices told us what was happening to the people seeking asylum; but it was their hands that gave them away. Nail-bitten fingers worked continually. A writhing was seen, a slow dance of agony. Voices hesitated, speech fell away as the young women spoke. I watched these young people as they struggled to shed a burden that will never leave them. The third beanspiller was not young. A former prison guard, he was a man in his fifties, a man surely innured by his past experience. He spoke to the camera of what he saw. He recounted carefully and precisely his attempts to bring about change from within the system. How he spoke to superiors, how he complained of wrongdoing, how anonymous threats to ‘shut up’ mounted, until he feared for his life. Finally he fled his island. He returned home and lay low. For some time he did not speak of what he’d seen, what had happened to his detained charges, how he had been threatened and lived alone in fear. Finally he decided he could keep silent no longer: “I was brought up to know right from wrong. I couldn’t live in silence.” The man’s face worked as he spoke. He struggled for composure but grief and pain defeated him as he wept his honest tears.    

Elsewhere in my life I have a colleague, a mental health worker, who has been engaged in the repair of a wounded offshore worker damaged deeply by trying to protect and support detained refugees. Hired by the government, that worker can never safely return to the work that is his vocation, which is to care for vulnerable people. He is now counted among the vulnerable. Innocent casualties, these, like the mates of the former detention worker who told me of two fellow guards who attempted suicide, one successfully.

What are we doing? What have we done.? What price do we demand of our own people? How we disgust ourselves!

When, at some time in the next century, I become leader of this nation I will do some things urgently. Apart from what ever I do to abate our present cruelty, apart from preparing for the Next National Apology, apart from prosecuting the Prime Ministers and their Border Control Ministers for crimes against humanity – apart from all these necessary steps, I will seek out these whistle blowers and offer them honours in the highest echelon of the Order of Australia. But I will not be surprised if they decline any honour offered in the name of a nation that betrayed itself. 
Chasing Asylum is screening now. See it and learn where our taxes are going and what is being done in our name. 

http://www.chasingasylum.com.au/