Archive for the ‘simplicity’ category

Those clowns

August 28, 2015

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.



February 15, 2015

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.





You’re blocking the sun

October 18, 2010

When Alexander the Great passed through Corinth, he visited the philosopher Diogenes and found him sitting under a tree, dressed in rags, with no money to his name. Alexander, the most powerful man in the world, asked if he could do anything to help him. ‘Yes’, replied the philosopher, ‘if you could step out of the way. You are blocking the sun.’ 

(From ‘Status Anxiety’, by Alain De Botton, 2006)

In an age focussed on acquisition and comfort, what we often fail to recognise is that a decrease in possessions is not such a sacrifice as we might imagine. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, and folks who are deliberately choosing another road find some freedom that for others is hard to locate. 

The search for a life more simple is not without it’s complications and dilemmas. But the seeking of personal comfort and the piling up of ‘stuff’, as gratifying as it might be at the time, is in the end a pathway towards emptiness. If the unfairness and environmental degradation brought about by over-consumption is not enough to make our generation come to its senses, perhaps a realisation of the resulting hollowness might be. 

The hard part is seeing past our reality – to step out of the shadows of those piles of goods and into the sun.

The bus stop

September 24, 2010

At the bus stop on Friday I had an extra cause to smile. There was a young lady singing. Not so much singing to herself quietly, just singing. And not necessarily singing to those around either. Just singing and singing well – and it was a very pleasant Irishy* sounding ballad. When I commented that it was nice to here someone singing in public in such a way, she said she did it because it was a good way to finish the working day. The ballad was a most welcome counter to the drone of the passing traffic. She stopped when she got on the bus – perhaps the singing is reserved for walking along and waiting at the bus stop.

I liked the freedom of it – the thought that we can do things just for joy, not for recognition, or payment, or for attention. And it wasn’t offensive and it didn’t exploit anyone or make someone else feel smaller.

Just joy in a public place, unrestrained.

* I’m not sure ‘Irishy’ is a word, it just came to mind at the time

Part-time work

May 24, 2010


watching the waves


Recently I found a poem that my then eight year old daughter had written to me for Father’s Day a couple of years ago. Most of it was heart warming and predictable – “he tickles me, I love him, he fixes things.” I remember though, it was the last line that caught my attention the most – “my Dad works part-time and I love him”.

I know people who regularly work at least 60 hours a week, often on Saturdays and Sundays and only ever see their children on occasional days off or for a quick sleepy cuddle at night if they’re lucky.

They are not alone. According to Australian researcher Hugh Mackay, more than one fifth of Australian workers work more than 50 hours a week, and about a third work regularly on the weekend. Australia is second highest on a list of industrialised countries who’s citizens work consistently long hours.

I remember another piece of research, from the Australia Institute a few years ago, which interviewed children about family life and parent’s work hours. They seemed to understand that parents need some paid work, but also expressed a longing for more time together, rather than to be compensated with having money spent on them. The wonderings of a young bloke called Eddie, aged 12, said it best:

 He misses out on seeing us. He wants to see us heaps and heaps and to make up for it … he buys stuff and he can see you feel sad”

 A cycle of pressure to earn and spend, to provide bigger houses, more up to date gadgets and fancier holidays could well play a role in the sad end result. As wealth and income increase across a society, the ability of people to derive satisfaction from their economic gain is reduced – a bit like the way a $100 is worth much more to someone who only owns $100, rather than to someone who’s income is much higher. Therefore, those seeking satisfaction from material wealth need to accumulate more in order to be satisfied – feeding a cycle of acquisition as well as dissatisfaction. In a society such as ours where material acquisition is a major goal and pastime, this rings particularly true, and makes the need to find ways to scale back consumption more urgent.

Just this week, the Australian Institute of Family Studies released a study about the time children spend with their parents. This included research about time fathers spend alone with their children, and it showed that Australian fathers spend on average less than hour a day with their children, and often as little as half an hour. Even on the weekend, the time alone with a father was still fairly low – on average about an hour and half.

There are complications of course, like family structures and changing work demands. However, it is also true that many children are spending less and less time with their fathers, and in many cases they’re unhappy about it.

Not everyone can work part-time. Not everyone can share parenting and household duties. Not all children can have a dad at home. However, there is wisdom in a little girl’s observation that something good is going on when a dad chooses time with them over other pressing demands, and keeps on doing it.

I wish …

April 9, 2010



I wish more people rode bikes.



This beaut photo was taken by a mate of mine from Sydney called Geoff.

A pair of shorts

April 8, 2010

Last year I did some research about simple living – what people do, why they do it, and what difference it makes. One of the best parts of the research was listening to all the stories people told about their endeavours – their hopes and fears and ideas.

One a bloke told me a beauty from his time living in a remote community, out in the central desert near the Western Australian border:

I always remember this guy, one of our neighbours, I saw him get into a truck one day with a pair of shorts on and the truck was going to Kalgoorlie. And that’s all he had, a pair of shorts. He jumped on the back of the truck and we never saw this guy for 3 months, and then later he came back from Alice Springs and he’s done this big circuit from Wingellina to Kalgoorlie, across to Port Augusta up to Alice Springs and back to us. And I’ve often thought about that and thought, in one sense it was a good little reminder of simplicity and I thought well, extended family helped out and all that …

This story is far removed from the experience of most in modern urban environments, particularly in Australia. Still, it brings new meaning to ‘travelling light’. In a sense, travelling light is a useful metaphor for simple living. Those who travel light have less impact on the world around them, they take up less space and use less resources. Travelling light also holds possibilities for reliance on others, for sharing and the fostering of relationships of all sorts, within families and between strangers.

 * * * * *

 The research project about simple living yielded some wonderful stories and lots of ideas to think on more. It’s long, but the full document, “More or Less” is available here.