Those clowns

Posted August 28, 2015 by Cam
Categories: simplicity

Someone I know wrote to my colleagues and I awhile back about ‘those clowns’ in Canberra – I think his language couldn’t be more spot-on. I’m no expert on clowning and circus performance, but when I think of clowns I think of distraction, of trickery, of intentional foolishness. I think of passing entertainment.

Now I also think of our current government. they have become clowns – an absurd side-show, light relief, a foolish entertainment act, but scarily, about really serious matters.

When I wrote to the PM earlier in the year complaining about his characterization of remote Aboriginal communities as ‘an endlessly subsided lifestyle choice’, the three page letter I received back spelled out the importance of a mature national conversation about remote communities, connection to land, and economic sustainability. I absolutely agree, but I think it’s the government who’s not capable of this. Today I read that the PM, who trumpets his yearly visit to remote communities, was mostly wrong about what was going on at a ‘successful’ remote school – he said his government’s attendance officer policy had made all the difference – they hadn’t of course. Attendance was strong before, because of the things like working collaboratively with parents, having high expectations of students, and good quality teachers (I think we might have heard those suggestions before). He also misrepresented a key teaching philosophy they undertake, instead lining up their approach up with something else he and his people have promoted.

And then there was today and the operation for the ABF to target people and check their visas on the streets of Melbourne. Once it’s roundly recognised as a complete shambles, all of a sudden the decisions were made at ‘a lower level of the organisation’, and the minister is ‘not available for comment’.

We could apply the clown test to so many other situations: “Sorry, what action are we taking on climate change?” “Staff in detention centres could be prosecuted for reporting child abuse – really?” “How many billions of dollars are we spending detaining/torturing asylum seekers in neighbouring countries?” “And how’s that budget emergency?”

I wish we could cross-examine these clowns. I wish we could put them up on stage and make them answer our questions, and not allow them to get away with ‘on water matters’ and just repeating ‘it’s all about jobs and growth’.

I wish they would respect our democracy. And I wish they wouldn’t treat us like we’re just at the circus.


* My apologies to the people I know who have performed as actual clowns, and do a great job of it. To you I mean no disrespect.

lifestyles of the not so rich and famous

Posted March 12, 2015 by Cam
Categories: community, desert, land

Yesterday, in supporting the forced closure of over 100 remote communities in Western Australia, the PM said this:

“What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have”

#%$& !!

So I stayed up late and wrote him a letter. Maybe the staffer who reads it will think it’s too long and won’t get to the end; maybe they won’t like my stories. Deep down I’m not counting on any change of approach on the part of the PM, but in the face of deceit and oppression, we shouldn’t stay silent. (letter below)


Dear Mr Abbott,

I am writing to you regarding the comments you made yesterday about remote communities. I was moved to write because it seems to me you just don’t understand.

There have been many responses to your comments – anger, derision, disbelief. I feel many of those too, but mostly I feel sad. Sad that Australia’s Prime Minister can have so little understanding of what being ‘on country’ means to so many Aboriginal people, sad that in the midst of criticism you congratulate yourself for taking your office to a remote place for one week, sad that this seems just another episode in a long line of policy decisions and statements which negatively target people in Australia who are already vulnerable.

I trained as a primary school teacher, and my first teaching position was in a remote community called Tjukurla, a community in the tali (sandhill) country in the far east of Western Australia, not far from the Northern Territory border. I taught there for a couple of years, and have returned numerous times, to visit again with people who so welcomed me when I ventured there as a young teacher. Tjukurla is one of a number of communities, including Warakurna, Mirlirrtjarra (Warburton Ranges) and many others, which are part of the Ngaanyatjarra lands. The Ngaanyatjarra lands include parts of the Gibson, Great Sandy and Great Victoria deserts and cover over 250 thousand square kilometres. It is striking country – dirt tracks stretching to wide horizons, ranges and desert oaks and rock-holes, stark blues and reds and golds.

And it is home to over 2000 people. Let’s repeat that word: ‘home’.

These are Mums and Dads, health workers, artists, school students, hunters, community leaders, custodians. These are people whose language is alive, when so many others have perished. These are people who have a long and enduring connection to their land, a connection which fosters identity, well-being and sustenance. As somewhat of an outsider, I don’t have the words, or the conceptual knowledge, to describe this connection properly, but there are many members of communities all over Australia who can and have, and continue to do so. If we pay attention, we might start to understand what this means, at least a bit.

Tjukurla and the other communities in the region where I lived were not without their challenges – intermittent power supplies; rough roads; a government education service usually staffed by inexperienced teaching graduates (as I was); health services not well enough equipped for the challenging circumstances in which they worked; lack of access to fresh fruit and vegetables. These and other challenges, many of which still persist, are ones that require complex and long-term policy responses. They also require listening to the people for whom these challenges are most real. The blunt instrument of removing people from their ancestral lands, and all the associated grief and disruption that will bring, is what I would consider the complete opposite.

As one journalist commented today, maybe your idea of ‘closing the gap’, is that Aboriginal people just become more like white people. While this is not said out loud, that is the implication and that is profoundly disturbing.

In February 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spoke these words on behalf of the Australian Parliament:

“The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.”

You were in the parliament that day, and I imagine, like most of us, you would have applauded those words. Let’s not make those same mistakes all over again.

Prime Minister, the criticism your comments received from around the country should serve to you a warning, that there is an enormous amount of listening to be done, especially to Aboriginal people and their plans and worries and hopes. Instead of backing the closing down of communities which are people’s homes, I would think that as the ‘Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs’, meaningful listening and a genuine attempt to understand would be the best place to start.

Yours sincerely

Cameron Tero
Belmont, etc


Posted February 15, 2015 by Cam
Categories: simplicity

This morning I woke up early and took a long walk with my dog, and remembered my dear Dad; today is 10 years since he died.

My memory of that day, and of the days and nights just after, are crystal clear. The phone call from my brother, the drive home, the call I needed to make to my sister, the rushed flight to Albany, the embrace of my Mum, the visit to the hospital. He’d died earlier that day – his body was still there, but he was long gone. We knew it was coming, just not quite so soon.

And then there was the putting together of the eulogy, the gathering of the uncles and aunties and cousins, the telling of stories and so many old friends, so many. I remember my friends who came, or rang or wrote, I still have those cards and notes in a box I keep in the bottom of my cupboard, perhaps one day I’ll get them out again and read them.

I like to think further back too.

Terry Tero, lover of dogs, French cars, of Mum and the rest of us. A man of a deep and committed faith. A worrier – for us, for the future. A man of poor eyesight, messy handwriting and a sharp mind. Having his own emotional frailties, but brave under fire. Sometimes angry, mostly gentle.

I like to remember the words he spoke at our wedding.

I like to remember him in his study, surrounded by hand written notes and books, talking on the phone to somebody or other – sometimes listening intently, sometimes roaring with laughter. I remember Dad being on the front page of the local paper in Kalgoorlie when I was a kid, leading the charge against a proposed casino – adamant that the big losers would be the families in town who were already vulnerable. I remember him taking a funeral during the day and then dressing up as Little Red Riding Hood for the church concert that night. I remember him staying up all night trying to tile the bathroom floor; sometimes the frustration boiled over a bit. I remember his long walks, with the dog a constant companion.

A while ago, a mate asked if I still missed my Dad, even after all this time.

And I do. When he first passed, I missed him terribly. I just felt raw sadness that he was gone. No anger or resentment, just a loneliness that the man so dominant and shaping in my life wasn’t with me anymore. Certainly for me there was many tears, and it was unpredictable when they’d come. Every now and again, the sadness still creeps up and gets me.

But it changes, it does. It is not so much an ache as it was, it’s more a comforting memory now – of a dear Dad, of a life well spent, with it’s own struggles but full of such richness.

There are particular times I would rather he was here: at times of change, when there are decisions to be be made. And at times of sadness. Dad was a good man for a crisis – a good listener, a giver of wisdom, able to offer words and actions that offered comfort and hope in ways that were real. I often think of him on school prize nights too , knowing that he would be the proudest Grandad out.

Some memories fade, but a great deal of our relationship stays with me, a bit like an engraving on me of our life together. And it never really leaves. I feel heavy hearted about it sometimes, but the sadness isn’t dominant anymore.

I thought today of the Michael Leunig prayer we read at his funeral.

Dear God,

Give comfort and peace to those who are separated from loved ones. May the ache in their hearts be the strengthening of their hearts. May their longing bring resolve to their lives, conviction and purity to their love. Teach them to embrace their sadness, lest it turn to despair. Transform their yearning into wisdom. Let their hearts grow fonder.


Yes, amen to that. Longing, conviction, sadness, wisdom, fondness – words for my family and me today. It was good to sit with these memories, and to mark the moment.





Afternoon tea

Posted February 27, 2014 by Cam
Categories: transport

A few road trip stories at afternoon tea yesterday, highlighted by our 80 year old volunteer’s story of her solo trip across the US in a Kombi. But even that was trumped by Paddy from Oxfam and his drive across Thailand with two baby gibbons loose in the car.

Imagine that

To Tanya

Posted February 24, 2014 by Cam
Categories: refugees, unfair

light the dark

I pretty much gave up on the ALP some time ago, as it seems they gave up on many of the values they stood for. However, they still hold some power, and perhaps it’s worth petitioning them sometimes in the hope that they stand up for justice in some way … some of the time, perhaps, maybe …

Anyway, I wrote to Tanya Plibersek this morning:

Dear Ms Plibersek,

I’m writing to you today because I am increasingly angered and saddened by the way our government treats people who flee to Australia as refugees. Last night, like hundreds of others around Australia, I attended a candle light vigil to mourn the death of an asylum seeker in Australia’s care, and to register my continuing distress at the way we treat those who come to us for protection.

At the very least, you must aggressively hold the current government to account for their increasing cruelty, and the disdain with which they treat the Australian public by their misinformation.

I see that the ALP is in a tricky position here – it was your government which re-opened these offshore centres, and in some ways it is the direction your government took on this issue that has allowed the Abbott government to go so shamefully far in their actions. I understand this is a complex policy area, but there are other policy options available, the ideas written about by Malcolm Fraser in his article “Manus Island: so many questions, one simple answer” in the SMH last Friday are an example: There are many other policy alternatives too, and no doubt you are aware of them.

My hope is that the ALP might have the moral courage to change direction on this issue and show leadership that demonstrates the values of fairness the party so often says it stands for, and as you said in your maiden speech “to be a thinking party … of reform and progress”. I would urge you to listen to the stories of people who flee for protection and listen to those of us in Australia who want to cultivate a spirit of welcome rather than ignorance. I would also urge you to consider that history will, I believe, judge those in power during these dark times very very harshly.

Even though I have never met you, and I have only ever seen you speak via the media, I suspect you are a person of thoughtfulness and compassion. We can’t let this situation go on in the name of Australia. I urge you and your ALP colleagues to take some action.


Cameron Tero

Belmont , etc

Little Kings – a lament

Posted September 5, 2013 by Cam
Categories: belmont, unfair

In the nineties Paul Kelly wrote a gentle protest song called “Little Kings”

I’m so afraid for my country … there’s an ill wind blowing no good

I sung it once with a friend at a local school fundraising concert. It was hot sweaty night and the crowd was small and kind. But even now I remember thinking inside myself how deeply I felt those words – I was worried for my country, and that we would descend into a self-absorption from which we would never recover.

I think the back-story for the song was largely about past and present treatment of Aboriginal folks, but it was a theme that runs into many of life’s other places too. And it has run around and around in my head these last few days. The cuts to foreign aid the Coalition intend to make are savage, and they will have real consequences for people who are most vulnerable, people we will never meet, people who have lives that most of us can never imagine.

And most of our population either won’t care, or they will cheer on those who took these ‘tough decisions’. What bullies we are. There’s a pervading meanness in all of this. And it’s a meanness that’s cunningly wrapped up in a pretence of being ‘responsible’, and a series of lies about how ‘tough’ our life here is.

I live with my wife and three daughters in a soundly constructed weatherboard house in a Perth suburban street. We own a minibus, a trailer, shelves full of books, wardrobes full of clothes and some power tools. All five of us have a bike each that we can ride, plus a couple of extras. We live in a suburb listed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ ‘Index of relative socio-economic disadvantage’ as the second most disadvantaged local government division in the Perth metropolitan area. Despite this we have running water – hot and cold, tv and radio reception, a phone, a computer that connects to the internet, and at least seven different musical instruments that are played at many hours of the day and night. Within a kilometre of our home there are three beautiful parks with lawn and playgrounds and barbecues, and most of the time reliable public transport is available in a number of directions from our house. Our own backyard has a wooden cubby, a slide and a trampoline, as well a vegetable garden, seven chickens, three ducks, a dog and a corrugated iron shed. Our children attend a well-resourced school and when they get sick we can take them to the doctor or the hospital and we have our own first aid kit and medicines. We have many other possessions that are not listed here, and clearly have more than we need for survival. We have more than enough.

When the man who will likely be our treasurer says “we need to have a stronger economy to be more generous”, I think what he really means is “we’ll take care of ourselves first thanks very much; what we need is freeways. Those kids who die from preventable diseases, they can wait” – selfishness, barbarousness, right from the top.

Yesterday it was the Liberal candidate blaming clogged freeways and public hospital queues on the arrival of refugees – so misinformed, and again, so unkind.

We do live in a land of increasing economic disparity, but we also live in a land of plenty – and it seems a land where unkindness will become a national pastime.

“I was born in a lucky country

Every day I hear the warning bells

They’re so busy building palaces

They don’t see the poison in the wells

In the land of the little kings

Profit is the only thing

And everywhere the little kings

Are getting away with murder

In the land of the little kings

Justice don’t mean a thing

And everywhere the little kings

Are getting away with murder”


– Paul Kelly, Little Kings

Imagination, affection and preservation

Posted May 2, 2013 by Cam
Categories: community, land, neighbours

Well sir, I’ve looked with all the eyes I’ve got, and I wouldn’t trade the field behind my barn for every inch I’ve seen.

So said Wendell Berry’s grandfather after his trip across Kentucky into Tennessee; one of the few trips he took very far from where he lived. Berry’s recollections about his grandfather begin his 2012 Jefferson Lecture: “It all turns on affection”. The printed copy I have of his speech still loiters in the bottom of my work bag, and I read fragments of it over again when I have some spare minutes on the bus.

Berry still lives on his family property, as his ancestors before him have done. He tells stories of his grandfather, like when he would return from the market with nothing, having taken in the hard won tobacco crop, and been forced to sell at a price which left them “without a dime”. This was because of the way crop prices were controlled by a monopoly called the American Tobacco Company, which having eradicated market competitors could pay what it liked – an immense benefit for the profits of the corporation, and a source of pain for those who laboured to plough and grow and bring it to the market in the first place. He tells too of how his grandfather stuck on the land to repair and heal the damage he’d done when he ploughed a field on the lower part of a long slope and it was seriously eroded. Others may have left the damage behind, but his obligation of care for the land was deeply held.

In some senses Berry felt that in an age when urbanization and industrialization were taking hold, his grandfather was ‘the wrong kind of man’. Still, there is a great deal to learn from their ability to be stickers on the land, and their knowledge of and affection for it. From these stories emerge other questions about the opposite of affection, of exploitation, the role of agribusiness, the demise of small landholders, and the ramifications of a loss of intimacy with the land and its people.

In modern times we are largely all participants in this ‘absentee economy’ as Berry calls it; very often unconsciously. We may have comparatively little wealth, nor power, but we are more like the industrialist than the small landholder. This is so because we are largely removed or at least distant from the roots of much of what we consume. It is this distance, and a lack of imagination, that allows us not to see the suffering of a small landholder bankrupted at the mercy of the agricultural corporation. We may not see the small shifted to make way for the big, the vulnerable brushed away by the strong. We may not see the village downstream from the polluting factory. I do not see the seamstress who stitched my shirt, the boy harvesting my tea leaves, a long way from my home, and a long way from his. Or we may not even imagine the future, where the soil is degraded, the trees downed, the gullies eroded, the water cloudy.

Berry describes how the tobacco corporation, in the case of his family, exerted an oppression that was entirely economic. It wasn’t political in that it wasn’t personal or intentional; it was simply oppression because the corporation was following its ordained purpose of making a profit. And their family and those around them were the side effects.

Imagination is the idea on which much of this rests; it may even be what rescues us. By imagination Berry doesn’t mean make believe, or any suggestion of a lack of reality, but instead the idea of imagination is built around the sense of the root word – image – ‘to see’. Imagination, in its true sense, enables us to see what is real, even though it is not in front of us.

Imagination, real imagination, enables sympathy. Sympathy enables affection, and affection, Berry argues, is the key to a neighbourly and conserving economy.

He explains sustainability by two cycles – the cycle of nature and the cycle of culture. Nature being that of fertility and growth and the circle of life which sustains living things and the soil and the water. The cultural cycle is the passing of knowledge, between the young and the old. These things work in tandem to sustain our life on the earth. This speaks of a need for sustainable living that is based on connection, and in turn affection. Connection and affection is required in moral family and other relationships. And connection and affection are required for a sustaining and moral treatment of the land and landscape. Together, the passing of knowledge and the cycle of the natural world, are the means for survival and constant reinvigoration. Again, they are the keys to a neighbourly and conserving economy.

It is the imagination and affection concepts that stay with me – the idea that if we nurture that imagination, and that imagination turns to affection and preservation, an economy might grow which does actually ‘see’ – see the future, see the far away labourer, farmer, factory worker, and see them as a neighbour.

The whole text of the lecture can be found here:


1945: My mother (left), with her mother and young brother on their farm, north of Albany. That year they had to leave the farm and move to the city when my grandfather died.


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