Source: An Open Letter to Rev. Franklin Graham from a “Small Church” Pastor

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Two stories in the media caught my eye this morning and left me wondering about humanity’s collective sanity, and in both cases the problem was a political and social myth rooted in a thoroughly irrational ideology. It’s pernicious, partisan and – notwithstanding the adherence of archbishops and evangelical Christians to this mirage – thoroughly unChristian and anti-humanist.

What has raised my ire, this Saturday morning (I hear you say)? It’s this desire to look backwards to some myth of a better past that has been expressed in the Trump victory and Archbishop Fisher’s diatribe on the evils of contemporary sexuality to the local Marriage Conference. Both events see a group of the thoroughly indoctrinated indulge in a view of the past that is absolutely at odds with the facts as we know them, pursuing some dream that will see them restored to a dignity and primacy they believe has been stolen from them, but was never more than the plaything of elites.

The first article was in the New Yorker. I can’t claim to be a regular reader but I do get the odd tidbit on the Book of Face, and a piece looking at responses to Trump’s victory in West Virginia. I hesitate to call it a victory, because it is quite clear that Trump has not amassed a popular majority and that his electoral college votes have depended on the poor turnout in the Democrat ‘special interest groups’; and the high turnout among what has been labelled ‘poor rural whites’ but is a far more complex group. Trump appears to have gained a majority in the older ages groups (giving the finger to Gen X, Gen Y and the  grandkids); among non-College educated males, who have borne the brunt of the economic transition; whites, who have lost their social and economic primacy in this new economy; and less-educated women who haven’t read Betty Friedan and see the traditional family, where they reigned, as threatened and who have never seen the workplace as a path to affirmation and power.

As an onlooker, I’m struck by the rear-vision implicit in Trump’s slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’. The implication is clear: the past was golden and need to be restored to the present. No wonder that refugees, Hispanic migrants, gays and the modern world of employment have been ignored, erased or rejected from Trump’s new America: they weren’t there in the sixties and seventies, or at least weren’t permitted to be acknowledged, so they should have no place in the present.

In the New Yorker article, a young Afro-american West-Virginian reflects with wonder on the ecstatic response of his white (vast majority) neighbours. Almost overnight, the civic politeness that restrained the incipient racism of the area dissipates. Racist graffiti has appeared. But for others interviewed in the article, the election seems to promise and end to the ‘softness’ of political correctness, a return to unrestricted coal-mining and full employment, and a re-engagement with Christian values in this most un-secular of secular societies.

This scenario is echoed elsewhere in the media, with a Pearson world history textbook under threat of banning because the students are expected to be brainwashed with learning about the Prophet and the Five Pillars. Repeal of Obamacare promises better health care; rejection of free trade promises a return of manufacturing to the rust belt; America’s security is enhanced by a withdrawal from engagement with the world; the deficit will be fixed by a company tax cut — paradox on paradox, non-sequitur upon downright lie, a vision of the past through Trump TV, the comb-over version of history.

All golden ages are myths, and dangerous ones. The Elizabethan Age is Golden notwithstanding that much of its cultural richness emerged from insecurity, paranoia and war. Spain’s Golden Age was founded in the blood of indigenous peoples and, lest the irony is lost, stolen silver. The French Revolution is less about Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité and more about a lazy susan of despotism and blood, culminating in Napoleon and the death of millions. For all its social and technological triumphs, Victoria ruled a Britain marked by the squalid lives of the working class and the suffering of oppressed peoples throughout the Empire. 

And the United States? It has rejoiced in possibly three golden ages, in my view: the amazing expansion of the Frontier in the late 19th Century; the Roaring Twenties; and the post-war society that ended with Johnson’s acknowledgement of the failure of the Great Society, a world that some Americans remember as an era of full employment, military might, careful social mores and a much simpler view of the world. Small-town American as a symbol of world hegemony: but it wasn’t real and the desire to return to it threatens the future.

It is in the myopia of the myth of a golden age that we find its greatest danger. The blue-collar worker pines for the factory and the mine and forgets that both were conducted with a callous disregard for his occupational health and safety. He remembers his place at the lathe or the coal-face and does not realise that operating equipment in those environments now requires post-high school qualifications and an understanding of basic programming, because it’s all been computerised. Less-educated women pine for family structures that cannot be maintained in the modern economy. Making America great cost a generation of lives, a river of gold, and three decades of waiting for the bomb to drop. And what of those hidden, erased or expunged from the record? Let us not forget the LGBTI community whom Reaganites would not even acknowledge in the depths of the AIDS crisis, the women whose potential contribution to America was largely ignored by the Mad Men of the Fifties and Sixties, the immigrants who came to realise that the Statue of Liberty told a lie; and Black America, who suffered povery, apartheid and death as America failed to live up to its rhetoric. Does anyone who really looks back with a clear view really want to go back to the Cold War FIfties, the Civil Rights conflicts of the Sixties, the Vietnam hangover of the Seventies? Only if you have a piece of Ron Reagan’s Alzheimer’s approach to civil society

The post-Cold War era has seen Imperial America asserting its right to determine the world order, and so it is not too long a bow to suggest that the Gulf Conflicts, the ill-advised adventure in Afghanistan, and the steadily worsening relationships with Russia are all symptoms of the Golden Age Myth, made all the more dangerous by the re-emergence of two other powers with their own equally mythical Golden Ages to motivate them: China and Russia. We are not immune to these false foundation stories either: witness the ANZAC myth, founded on the recasting of a defeat as a victory and proposing as supermen the untrained and poorly led militias who scrambled ashore on April 25, 1915, to fail and fall back after fruitless months of siege.

It all strikes a peculiar chord when I read Archbishop Fisher’s diatribe at the Renaissance of Marriage Conference in Sydney this week. To entitle a conference with the term ‘renaissance’ is to invoke another version of the golden age myth, a fact acknowledged by Fisher with no apparent sense of irony (but then Tony is not what you would call a nimble thinker). In short order we were given the Tony view of the history of sexuality – not from first hand experience, of course! We are, in his eyes, in a Dark Age of Marriage, with that most vital of institutions undermined by the ‘sex-of-demand’ Sixties, the ‘divorce on demand’ Seventies, the ‘children-on-demand’ Eighties, and the ‘wedding-on-demand’ Nineties. Now, says our favourite Prelate, we have gender and sexuality on demand. Hence, 

So buffeted have they been by the series of sexual tides and marital waves that post-moderns are more muddled about the very meaning of marriage than any culture in history, more ambivalent about the desirability of marriage than any society we know of, and less able to embrace and sustain marriages (and marriage-based families) over the long haul than ever before.

Now leaving aside the complete failure to engage with the very nature of a post-modern society, with its actual desire to bend rather than break social institutions in order to express the truth, what an irony it is to see Fisher decry the best evidence that marriage, far from being broken, is highly-regarded — by all sorts who are currently excluded from this vital social institution. It’s because Fisher does not want any marriage: he wants the myth of the Golden Age, his conservative parents 1950s marriage — and for those who do not look like his parents and believe like his parents, he wants them excluded.

The renaissance of Fisher’s marriage is the rear-vision view of a society that restricted divorce even when it created deep unhappiness; that forced professional women from the workplace on marriage, ignoring their legitimate right to participate in the economic and intellectual life of society. It tolerated domestic violence. It forced women into sexual slavery if that was the wish of the husband. It denied both partners access to sound information about reproduction and relationships; and woe betide the failed parent, because the children were adopted out or institutionalised. It was not a society that tolerated unions across religious or racial divides. The role of marriage, in the reality of the Fifties, was to ensure stability and social compliance — an entirely suitably symbol and vehicle for the sort of society that patriarchal bullies like Fisher would like to see recovered and perpetuated.

Let’s destroy Golden Age Myths before they destroy us, as they will surely destroy American over the next four years. The past contains much that is good and true; but it remains another country. Every institution, from the abstract to the constitutional, is only as good as its capacity to grow and accommodate itself to the needs of today and the potential of the future. As a historian, the past informs me, the present engages me; but, like Josiah Bartlet, I am thinking of tomorrow.

The title is a misnomer, because we woke on Monday to find that the worst of the rain and wind had disappeared and Great Southern was looking something more like we had expected. The ocean had abated and was no longer an angry mass of whitecaps and the local kangaroos were grazing peacefully in the paddock in front of the apartment.

While candlelight had been very romantic during the blackout, it was nice to have power and, remarkably for us on holidays, we’ve been eating at home. Our candlelit dinner featured a pasta sauce and artisan pasta from the exquisite Margaret River Providores. We discovered that the local IGA was one of those amazing ones you find in country towns, which put the local Coles and Woolies to shame (if they had opened on a Sunday), so we grabbed a vegetarian quiche that was really quite special, and it did for a lunch and a dinner. We lunched at one pub yesterday, but really it was an excuse to try the local lager from Albany Brewing Company.

Monday was a day for looking at historic Albany and, weather permitting, getting some miles under our walking shoes. Where we are staying is tucked under West Cape Howe, midway between Denmark and Albany, so we have a 25 km drive into town; but it is well worth it to be out behind the dunes and away from the busy-ness of the Port. The Harbour front is still very much working, with grain elevators, timber, wood chips and various minerals all loading into the two bulk carriers in the inner harbour.

Our first stop was the National Anzac Memorial, on a hill above the town and overlooking King George’s Sound. For an easterner, it’s hard to see why you would put a national monument and museum here, in a town of 17,000; but when you realise that this was the last bit of Australia that one in four of those 30,000 who embarked on the first two convoys saw, then it takes on an added significance. It also serves to remind one of the history of the place: until Fremantle got its harbour just before the war, this was the mail port for all of Western Australia and the only decent harbour between Cape Town and the Eastern States. For Western Australians at the time, with no Trans-Australian Railway and just a telegraph line to the rest of the Federation, Albany was a lifeline from complete isolation. It’s pretty isolated even today.

The Memorial itself is a brilliant piece of architecture – the Entertainment Centre down at the Harbour is almost as good, with its sails and windjammer prow jutting along the jetty – which cantilevers over the steep slope down to the sound. It sits in front of the old garrison artillery base and is a stone’s throw from the coastal artillery batteries on the head. Its picture windows are designed to help you visualise what the Sound must have looked like crowded with lines of ships in December 1914, as the first and second convoys in turn swung at anchor, waiting for the last of the fleets to arrive before steaming slowly in line ahead out of the heads, past the islands and off to Egypt for the Great War.

The Memorial is modern museum curation at its best, using technology creatively and engagingly to tell the stories of the soldiers from Australia and New Zealand who left on those first convoys (after December 1914, they didn’t sail in convoy because the menace of the German raiders disappeared after HMAS Sydney defeated the Emden and the remaining German squadron was defeated in the Battle of the Falkland Islands). As you enter, you are handed a nifty audio guide that responds to swiping across special buttons on exhibits, and a card that allows you to follow the career of Aussies and Kiwis who started their war on the convoys (or, in Paula’s case, a German officer who fought all the way through the war on the Western Front and survived to be an author and entomologist!). Very much like Flanders Field in Ieper, I thought. In front of a panoramic view of the harbour, LED screens under a water sculpture scrolled the names of all those who had left Albany in 1914.

I was handed a card for Major Iven McKay – jackpot! Here was a genuine ANZAC legend: science graduate, volunteer militiaman, enlisted as Major in the AIF, ending the war highly decorated and a brevet Brigadier. And, of course, the revered leader of the 6th Div in World War Two in North Africa, after a career as a Headmaster between the warm (I could go on about how many of Australia’s great soldiers have been teachers!). Though not a big space, the Memorial allowed views of the pick of the items from the West Australian Museum and the AWM in Canberra, and told the story of many of those who suffered and died, or suffered and survived.

Two of those great characters stood out: ‘Pompey’ Elliott, one of the real characters of the era. passionate, brave and loyal Brigadier; and Hugo Throssell VC, a hero many times over. Both ultimately committed suicide (I think all the VCs struggled except Harry Murray, who buggered of into the bush and farmed). Throssell’s story I knew a little, but hadn’t realise that he became a passionate pacificist as his health failed, but totally embittered by his treatment at the hands of the ‘Repat’, and had no idea he was married to Katherine Susanna Prichard, author and feminist. HIs story was heartbreaking and I want to know more; but sadly, Australia has always struggled to care for its returned men and women.

We walked through the Naval memorial and through the artillery fort and stared at the Sound, gradually returning to some kind of calm as the wind from Antarctica started to abate. Certainly, a time to reflect.

The afternoon was spent walking nearly nine kilometres through the dunes and up onto the headland behind the apartments, relishing the fresh air after all that rain. Albany is at the end of the Bibbulun Track, the thousand-kilometre walking train from Perth through Busselton, Margarito River, Denmark and through the Albany. The south-west is wild, wild country with few townships, so I think it is a bit more adventurous than I would want to try.

When we planned this trip, we had visions of driving through Spring-time in the West, with the predicted sunny skies and temperatures in the twenties. So far, that vision remains unrealised, and we have staggered from storm to storm as the locals apologise for the unseasonable weather. It’s still been stunning country, just not the walking and swimming weather we thought we would get!

Our last night in Margaret River was spent listening to the rain lashing down and 60 knot winds howling through the area. We didn’t hear any trees come down, and that gave us a false sense of security, because the moment we got out of town we were dodging debris blown down from the trees and no less than five trees across the road in the first 150 kilometres. Paula had bravely decided to do the first stint as the road looked a bit better on the map, but she copped what could only be described as the dangerous bit, as the tail of the gale buffeted the car and various large chunks of timber crashed down.

At one stage we thought we were going to be held up for a couple of hours as a tree had fallen right across the road, but there were busy grey nomads at work dragging enough of the tree away so that half the lane was free. All sorted after ten minutes. Then we travelled two hundred metres down the road and discovered why there was not much in the way of traffic coming the other direction – and even larger tree had snapped off four metres above ground leve and bridged right across the road. Nothing for it but to drive under the trunk, but that stranded the motor homers with us, so I hope the local SES got to them. Nothing but a major clean-up crew was going to shift that trunk.

Most of the rest of the four-hour trip was rain and wind until we got to Denmark, which is 45 minutes from Albany and has all the food and wine in the region. We raced into IGA, grabbed some provisions, and shot out the door so we could listen to the AFL Grand Final. This was not going to be our weekend for footie, as the Swans lost, The Wobblies failed to kick themselves to a win in Pretoria and Cronulla won the League. Brendan’s most despised part of Sydney holding the trophy? Give me strength.

Tucked up in our very nice holiday apartment under West Cape Howe, all seemed set for a relaxing afternoon, but our adventures weren’t over. We then had an 18 hour blackout as the storm came back for seconds – but we did better than ALbany, who had to put up with nearly 36 hours. The winds were ferocious and, once the power was back on at 7 on Saturday morning, we found out how strong when we dared to drive along the ocean side and saw the Southern Ocean in complete random chaos along the cliffs.

So that was it: no walks as the rain kept coming back for random showers and the wind nearly lifted Paula off her feet. My camera was soaked as we tried to get some sense of what the sea was doing, and even Albany looked a bit blown inside out. Tomorrow for the ANZAC Memorial – I keep trying to picture that convoy of troops in the Sound in 1915, so entirely remote from the rest of Australia. Even today, we feel a long way from home.

Margaret River has joined the list of amazing food and wine regions we have visited in Australia and New Zealand, and has made a fairly definite case for being at the top. Probably only Beechworth comes close to the quantity and quality of stuff we’ve come across, but how isolated  can a town be? It’s not just the distance – after all, it is only four hours from Perth and the roads are good – but you feel transported back. The town itself is enveloped in the old forest and the remaining stands of Karri and the other timbers we have been reading about make it feel primeval.

There is obviously a conscious effort here. Our cottage in its Bushland Retreat is an eco-preserve, something we were very aware of on the first morning when there were wallabies within three metres of the front door. The national parks and nature reserves make a concerned attempt to give you a sense of what it must have been like when the giant trees dominated everything and scorned puny humans before chain saws laid them low.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the complete lack of climate change identified by Pauline Hanson and her idiot crew has led to perfectly normal variations in climatic patterns in Southern Australia. Floods in NSW, cyclonic storms in South Australia resulting in power cuts caused by sustainable energy, wintery conditions here in the South West and a Labour government in Victoria. Actually, forget the last one, it was just random. Seriously, the weather is terrible for Spring, but we’ve tried to get out and about in the weather. We’ve had a wood-fired stove to warm the house and our hearts and we’ve eaten at home a couple of nights – especially tonight, when the wind is howling a gale and the rain comes through in squalls.

We’ve spent far too much on wine, but how often do you get it so nice and so cheaply? We’ve bushwalked and wandered around the coast a bit, but probably not enough because of the unseasonal weather.

I’m left thinking about the magic of such places: absolutely commercial, in the sense that no-one does it to lose money, but  much of the development around here is relatively small and decidedly driven by passion. Wine is big business for some of the bigger operators like Cape Mentelle and Xanadu, but so is beef and seafood and tourism and timber. In places like this, you get the sense that there is a belief in the value of what one does and a commitment to it. We’ve two conversations in restaurants – the quirky Arc of Iris and the more commercial Katch-up – which revolved around the mission of the establishment and what the owners and staff were trying to do. Wine regions like Margaret River seem to be full of cellar-door staff who want to talk to you about the art and science of wine-making, about the miracle that occurs when you take some stainless-steel tanks and some grape-juice and start to play in a creative but scientific manner. I like it when art meets science and science doesn’t dominate. It’s like the opposite of alcohol-free wine, probably the most pointless produce ever developed. Like commercial packaged beer, you end up wondering why anyone bothers to make it or drink it; but when the craft of the maker is to the fore, and there is an attempt to create something rather than manufacture something, then both the maker and the consumer have something to share that is immensely enjoyable.

That’s probably why we like visiting food and wine regions! And when the weather is as bad as this, at least there is somewhere to get warm…

There’s a funny thing about travelling in one’s own country — one tends to think that there is less to write about than when travelling overseas, but perhaps the opposite is true. Ruminating philosophically, perhaps after a glass of the Swan Valley’s finest, perhaps one can speculate that journeying amongst strangers is extroversion, and journeying among one’s countrymen/women is introversion. What utter bullshit … what am I drinking?

The fact is that Western Australia should be another country. The French should have taken it while they had the chance. At least one would have had a level of consistency in the Westralian character. The French would have linked the love of wine and fine food with a Gallic approach to mineral exploitation. We would seen Perth renamed Nouveau Bordeaux and garlanded with nuclear reactors. Kerry Stokes would speak bogan Francais rather than that peculiar rasping noise redolent of a chainsaw under pressure. Alan Bond would not have been allowed to migrate. The America’s Cup would have been won by a yacht designed by a government department with sails developed under contract by a fashion house. The indigenous peoples would have been oppressed by native protectors in kepis. And so on.

But I digress. No, really.

This is just a great place. Yes, tourists always see the face the locals want you to see, but we could easily say we could live here, and that is before we got into the Tim Winton thing (we got off the plane and started to notice that literary credibility in the West seems to focus on TIm – no one remembers Randolph Stow and the older generation). Everyone has got over trying to leave Australia in 1933 and decided that they should be nice to us. We haven’t been asked for a GST refund at any stage and, unlike that other lost state of Australia — New Zealand — they don’t know they play Rugby and don’t boast about making passion pop (Marlborough Sav Blanc). 

Note to New Zealand: bring back Richie and all will be forgiven if you reduce the price of Otago pinot and export Speights in casks.

So, to return to my theme: love Freo, walked all over it.

Rottnest Island — aka Rotto — pretty amazing, sore bums from riding bikes designed for teenagers, strange quokkas that I’m convinced smoke weed —when not confusing Chinese tourists.

Swan River wineries – closest region to a major capital city, apparently; in the capital city most isolated in the world… that could cause a huge issue with drinking alone. Still, you could do worse than a case or two at Olive Grove wines. As for the micro-breweries, far too many and far too good. Well, with a history of conservative governments that seem to operate like a branch office of BHP-Billiton, there should be something to cheer one up.

Just love it, and so different from preconceptions – a bit like the weather, which has been confuddling the Bureau of Meteorology and the locals. It should be in the high twenties and it’s nowhere near. Rain, storms,wind and 15º. Wednesday in Margaret River – another nod to Tim. Still… “the river, the river”.