A Good Life

A few months ago a man and I were engaged in a conversation. The talk ranged widely over the man’s new book and mine, over asylum seekers to indigenous health, then to my odd affection for running marathons. We visited the Boston Marathon of 2013 and the bombing that brought the event to a halt before I could reach the finish line.

While we talked like old friends, as occasionally happens with an engaging new friend, we were not alone. An audience of tens of thousands listened to us on local radio. Our conversation was coming to an end when the interviewer paused, mused for a moment, shot me a half grin and said: “Howard, I see you as an idealist, a person trying to do good in the world. So I want you to give me an answer to a question I ask myself every day: ‘How does a person live a good life?’”

The interviewer is an awarded journalist aged about forty, a father of young children. He smiled, acknowledging how his question had flown in and landed abruptly in a chat that had satisfied itself with surfaces. Stumbling, I gave a suitably useless answer. I groped for something wise but not too portentous and I came up with something incoherent.

Two months have passed since the challenge of that question. I realise I did have an answer. I have had it for ages. It is couched in religious terms but you could remove the divinity from it and still retain an essence that responds to my radio host. It comes to me from a fellow who lived more than two thousand years ago who had gathered an audience of his own (rather like a radio host of ancient day). His name was Micah. He distilled his understanding of life for his public, teaching them as follows: He hath shown you, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of thee – only to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God?

Road to Recovery – (my piece published in Australian Financial Review)

Road to Recovery Financial Review article

This article appeared in the Australian Financial Review 3 January 2014. It first appeared in the Griffith Review 10th anniversary edition in 2013.This story is an edited version of a piece that will be published in 2015, in an upcoming book entitled ‘Burned Man’.

Rod Moss and “One Thousand Cuts”

Rod Moss is a Ferntree Gully boy, a whitefella who found himself in Alice Springs thirty years ago and who stayed there.

In all the moral disorientation of the Centre, in its beauty, its grandeur, its squalor and its mystery; in the perplex of making and losing marriages, of fathering, of teaching, of reading deeply, of engagement with the dark cinema of darkest Europe, Rod Moss found friends in a clan of blackfellas living in Whitegate, one of the town camps.

Moss differed from most of us whitefellas who come to the Centre. He stayed. He painted (in a distinctive genre of his own creating) the lives of his friends. And through all the years of his staying and his painting and his friendships, Moss kept a journal. That journal gave birth to his first book, “The Hard Light of Day”. The book won the Prime Minister’s Prize for non-fiction. More significantly, the book won the praise of Ray Gaita, who described it as one of the best books he had ever read.

When I say Moss found himself in Alice Springs, I mean he found himself in ways most of us non-indigenous people never do: he found who he was, what he was doing here; he came to be in country.

When I say Moss found friends I also mean he lost them.

Those losses are recorded, drop by drop, blow following blow in Moss’ first book, and in the second, soberly titled, “One Thousand Cuts”.

I believe that in its swelling lament and its growing clarity, “One Thousand Cuts” surpasses even “The Hard Light of Day”.

In a remarkable sequence of events “One Thousand Cuts” will be launched at Readings in Carlton on Wednesday 9 October at 6.30pm. And a retrospective exhibition of Moss paintings will be opened at Anna Pappas Gallery two days later.

If Moss’ paintings are luminous, his writing a prolonged jazz riff,  the photographs are something else.

I invite readers of this blog to attend one or both of these events. I will be glad to see you.

Podcast of interview on Radio National with Waleed Aly, Howard Goldenberg and Rod Moss 8.10.13image

The Last Lover of The Age

Dear Age

I have loved you now for sixty years. I have loved you in all seasons, for good reasons and despite the bad. I have loved you in pleasure and in pain.
It was you who, in 1953, introduced me to Collingwood, the football team that would always run second to the very mighty Melbourne.
My family made the pilgrimage to Melbourne every September for the Jewish High Holy Days, the annual Season of Judgement. It was the judgement of the Age that Collingwood would challenge and would fall short. So it came to pass year after year: the Age proposed and God disposed. Collingwood was David to Melbourne’s Goliath ; and when the Pies went down to the brook they found no smooth stones for their slingshot.

Yes, I loved you. I loved you for the Junior Age in which you published the writings of young readers. I loved you for your literary judgement when you judged my own writings worthy of publication.
I loved ‘A Country Diary’, by Alan Bell. Churchill sent Alan here during the War. His was to be a British voice to keep Australia British. Every Saturday Alan reported on the Australia of his very English garden in Diamond Creek. He kept readers informed about the first duckling sightings in spring. This very British voice did its job: Alan Bell and the Age won the war for Britain.
I loved you when you introduced me to ‘Family Matters’, Martin Flanagan’s weekly report about his pre-school children. He taught anew the old truth that you do not know you have known love until you have sat through the night comforting a child delerious with fever.
I loved you through the seventies when I saw through your selective reporting on Israel and on doctors. In those days the Age pursued three public enemies – Nasty Israel, Greedy Doctors and the Painters and Dockers. If I met someone for the first time at a party and I had to answer the question – what do you do for a living? – I’d say I was a painter and docker. It made no difference.
You no longer pursue the Painters and the Doctors but you pursue Nasty Israel still. Martin Flanagan went to Israel with the Peace Team. To retain his independence he paid his own way. You published his generally favourable reports and I loved you for that.
For a period in the nineties I read Helen Garner’s column in your pages on Wednesday mornings. What joy, what variety, what excellence.
Helen and Martin opened chinks to reveal their human selves and we readers learned more of our own human selves.
I loved you because you were not Rupert. Someone has to be not Rupert or we’d all be in Deep Murd.
I read The Australian wherever I am in the outback, simply because it is available. Impressively, it is available all over Australia. You can read that newspaper from cover to cover and you can weep for bleakness. It is not a good news newspaper. Neither, dear Age, are you – generally speaking. But every so quite often your shrunken front page cheers a reader who yearns and searches for sightings of the goodness of human beings.
Now, and terminally, we have the Internet. Fairfax News can be obtained daily on a screen. (Who is this Fairfax-come-lately? I long for auld lang syme.) So no-one needs newspapers any more.
The Age is preparing for its own Death Notice, slimming down to fit a narrow pauper’s grave.
When you die I will mourn you. You remain necessary. You have been a friend. And as another friend once remarked: no-man is so rich he can afford to throw away a friend.

Postscript: this morning I lit a fire in my fireplace, using yesterday’s Age in place of kindling. The fire took and burns warmly as I write.