“I’m just a boy whose intentions are good; Please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

Picture: Ray Strange Source: News Corp Australia

Picture: Ray Strange Source: News Corp Australia

A photo in the current issue of The Monthly shows Bob Hawke and John Howard seated together at a public event to honour the memory of a deceased Prime Minister. Their old faces deeply creased, their bodies close, Hawke’s right arm entwined with Howard’s left, the picture of two old men united in deep sympathy – and in Hawke’s case at least – showing characteristic demonstrativeness, as his hand gently grasps Howard’s thigh. The image arrested me. I thought of Yeats’ Lapis Lazuli:

‘There, on the mountain and the sky,
On all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies…
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient glittering eyes…’

In the same issue of the magazine I was arrested by an equally unexpected image: Noel Pearson the leading Aboriginal intellectual seated close to Tony Abbott, our Prime Minister. Pearson looks past the PM, gazing severely into the distance; Tony Abbott, smiling tightly, looks upward to Pearson’s face. I spent some time interrogating their expressions. In Pearson I found depth, a sober realism. In Tony I saw yearning. I wondered how it was the PM appeared to be the supplicant, the client, while the man from disadvantage wore such self-assurance.

Tony Abbott is co-author (along with predecessor PM’s and a succession of underlings) of our World’s Worst Practice towards human beings who arrive in Australia by boat and seek asylum. That policy is cruel by calculation; it is calibrated torture. Our practice is a precise antithesis of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Now, would-be-good Tony knows this and only by a sustained effort of moral contortion and will can he manage to unknow it.

Along with Morrison, Ruddock, Howard, Beasley and Rudd, Tony Abbott is an avowed believer. He belongs to a claque of believers who perpetrate this unchristian – indeed antichristian – policy. How do they all do it? What do the believers believe?

In Tony’s case the face I see is an innocent face. He gazes towards his grownup interlocutor, his expression seeking approval: he seeks a word or a sign: “Good boy, Tony, you’ve done well.” Like a small boy Tony seeks affirmation. By means of sustained effort he has gained this, successively from the ghost of Bob Santamaria and from Cardinal George Pell. From such firmly formed personages Tony learned notions of goodness. He would be good and thereby be approved.
The child looked for affirmation from John Howard and the Liberal Party. He sought our approbation too and, in opinion polls and at the last federal election we gave it. We became complicit in sustaining the ego structure of this needy child. Patently we no longer show approval to this immature person. He locks himself inside a tightening circle of insecurity, looking to spouse, offspring and advisors, some of them women, to whom he seeks mothering.

On Mother’s day I will muster all the compassion I am capable of and try to think kindly of Tony Abbott, the child leader who just wants to be good (just so long as we’ll approve).

Mother’s Day – or Mothers’ Day or Mothers Day

This announcement was born as a boast but I make it today as a confession: I DON’T BELIEVE IN MOTHER’S DAY.* I don’t honour it, I don’t observe it (unless with quizzical disdain), I don’t respect it, (excepting as a smart marketing exercise. What began as a means of selling greetings cards in the off-season found eager recruits in floristry and in restaurantry – as well as in cafetery and lingerie. Mother/s Day has all the hallmarks of Hallmark and the hallmarks of the pulsing of empty cultures in new countries and guilty sons in the pub, at the footy, at work, at play – at living outside extended family.)

Climbing down from my lofty position of cultural oversight into the kitchen of my own life, I can identify a serious gap: my mother and I have not spoken to each other for almost five years.

I have dreamed of her. I have dreamed she dreams of me. Mum died in June 2009 and I miss her. I do not mourn for Mum: I grieve for my loss, for the delight of her company. Mum always made me smile. Always. In her breathless dying week I watched as Mum suffered one particularly horrifying attack: she gasped at air. It went on and on, as her lungs filled higher and higher with the fluid that would drown her at week’s end. I called a nurse, Nurse squirted a diuretic into Mum, the breathing slowed and Mum pulled off her oxygen mask, grinning: “You thought I was going to croak, didn’t you, darling? Well” – Mum was cackling now in the hilarity of the merry joke that was all her existence – “I didn’t, did I?”

In my kitchen of now, I fry tomatoes and eggs and red kidney beans with onions fried in oil with garlic and smoked paprika and cumin. I serve this and avocado bathed in fresh lime juice and garlic-infused olive oil on a mountain of fresh bagels and specialty breads. All is prefaced by a glass of orange juice squeezed by my grandchildren. We serve this to the children’s grandmother and great-grandmother. Everyone gives gifts, festoons and cards (handmade, unHallmarked) to the old ladies. And I watch, a non-combatant. I look at my mother in law, fulfilled, filled with years. I come in, in from my chill principles, and I celebrate with them all.

*I’ve always felt the same away about Fathers Day and Valentines Day too.

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