Tag Archives: politics

Weekend Coffee Share 26th February, 2017.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Quite frankly, I think the dog’s got the right idea. He’s lying on the floor beside me with his paws twitching in the air, evidently having a wonderful dream. I spoilt his other half yesterday. I spotted a very posh dog leash at the charity shop…a string of pearls with gold bling. Lady would look quite the part if she wasn’t such a scruffian and I hope she doesn’t roll around in dead stench while strutting her stuff.

We’ve had a big week.

Friday, as my daughter’s birthday. While we’ve put off her party until after “the test”, we still had festivities. It’s customary here for kids to take cupcakes in for their birthdays for the class. My daughter had found these uber-colourful rainbow cookies called “Unicorn Poop” on YouTube.  While seriously aghast at the “intense” colours and all that entailed, I was also concerned with her trying to make an American recipe for the first time for a special occasion. My mother hasn’t given me heaps of baking advice that I’ve taken to heart. However, she says you never make something for the first time for something special. I thought this advice went double when the recipe was in “American” and we had to translate the lingo and measurements. We opted instead for an English variation. With the end product looking like very pretty rocks, I not so subtly suggested she also makes cupcakes. Turned out that the biscuits weren’t as hard as they looked. She meticulously and artistically iced and decorated them and had a hit.

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Happy Birthday, Miss!

Last night, my parents came over and we all went out for dinner. It was the first time my Mum’s come over since her back went out last year and it was so good to see them up here. While we went out for dinner, we came back here for rainbow birthday cake and we shared some of our Tasmanian treats with them. That was so much fun and very yum!

Quite aside from my daughter’s birthday, much of my head space and time has been taken up with getting her prepared for the selective schools’ test, which will be held 9th March…only about 10 days away. Our daughter is in a selective primary school class and just from the perspective of staying with her friends, the test is at the very least an issue. I don’t believe in hot-housing kids and yet there’s that pressure, that anxiety, that not knowing. Believe me. It’s tempting to get all caught up in the panic/fear and throw all “distractions” aside and treat my daughter as a widget passing along an assembly line. So what about nurturing and developing the whole child?

I am hoping that we’ve trod the middle ground  and have done enough while staying somewhat sane. She’s been doing a bit of tutoring and some work at home but has still kept up with her dance and violin.

Strangely, the rest of the known world is not revolving around “the test”. Our State MP developed serious cancer and had to resign. This means we have a local by-election. I have to admit that I wasn’t enthralled with all the hoopla that entails, especially as we’re a marginal seat and experience what could best be described as an “Election Blitz”. You can share my shot at humour  here: Oh no! Not Another Election!

You know how hard it can be keeping the blog up with real life. Well, before writing about my frustrations with the political process, I’d actually found out that a friend and much valued role model, Liesl Tesch, is running as the local Labor Party candidate. That was quite a surprise and quite a thrill. Liesl is a Paralympic gold medalist and like me, juggles disability with movement and she showed me how you can use equipment as an enabler. Liesl teaches at our local High School and rides her bicycle to work but uses a wheelchair during the day and then cycles home. I first met her as the guest speaker at the International Women’s Day March and she was wheeling along the main street in her chair. However, when I next met her talking to our scout troop, she was standing and on her feet. That was good for me to see, because there are times when I could use a wheelchair to boost my accessibility and yet I’ve only done it once attending the Sydney Opera House.

I attended Liesl’s campaign launch on Friday morning. That was an eye-opener as it was more of a press conference. It felt quite strange seeing the political juggernaut back in town and I’ll leave it at that.

Meanwhile, I’m still following up from our trip to Tasmania. I don’t know whether I mentioned that I’ve told Geoff that he’s related to all of North Tasmania. He disagreed with me and it’s become a bit of a running joke. However, I’ve worked out that James Newton the convict I’ve been researching, had around 30 grandchildren and I’ve recognized quite a few names from the trip. It seems the degrees of separation get pretty tight down there historically speaking. Yet, many descendants have moved to the Mainland. So, it seems they could be infiltrating our ranks.

Well, on that note, I’ll head off.

I just realized that I’ve been a dreadful host and haven’t offered you anything to eat or drink and haven’t even asked how you’ve been or what you’ve been up to. My sincere apologies and I really didn’t mean to yawn at you then either. It looks like I’ve become so chilled today, that I’ve almost passed out.

So, how was your week? I hope you’ve had a good one.

This has been part of the Weekend Coffee Share and you can click here for the link-up.

xx Rowena

Oh no! Not Another Election…

Just when I thought we were getting a commercial break from the endless electioneering (ie Trump, Brexit etc, which don’t even involve us!!!), we’re having a local, State by-election.

That’s right. We’re heading back to the ballot box.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, before they’d even announced the candidates, my phone had already started ringing…who are you going to vote for?

The pollsters were out.

You see, being the most marginal seat in NSW, this isn’t any ordinary election! We might have huge potholes in our roads which the local ducks use as swimming pools, yet when election time comes, the big wigs roll in. Sometimes, it feels like the aliens have landed.

Indeed, perhaps they have.

Back when my son was a baby, he even had his photo taken with then Prime Minister, John Howard. You should have seen his minders clearing the decks for the baby. Mind you, his mother was pretty keen as well. Although we’re a marginal seat at both State and Federal levels, it’s not often the PM comes to town.

Yet, all those suits can be a bit of a culture shock.

In many ways, we’re a casual, and even alternative, beach community. It’s not that we don’t have our local businesses and I used to work for one. However, the overall feel here is a lot more relaxed than Sydney. Moreover, commuting to Sydney for work is a way of life. My husband works in Sydney.

Anyway, last weekend before the candidates had even been announced, the pollsters were already hitting the phones. After being a market research interviewer all through university, I always answer a survey. That’s how I found myself giving my opinions on the upcoming election.

The only trouble was, that I haven’t exactly been in the land of the living lately. Early in the New Year, we headed off to Tasmania for three weeks and to be perfect honest, although the kids are back at school and Geoff’s returned to work, I haven’t quite returned yet. I’m still printing photos, researching Geoff’s convict origins and family ties and eating my way through Ashgrove Farms Cheese, Anvers chocolate and drinking Spreyton’s Hard Ginger Beer (and already planning my next trip to restock!). The trees around here are also looking short and while it’s a relief not to be dodging multitudes of Bennett’s wallabies beside the roads, we’re back watching out for the local ducks, who’ve trained the cars to stop. And while I’m missing Tassie, I should point out that I’m glad to be home and back to our beach.  We do live in a slice of paradise.

Anyway…

When the market research interviewer called, I was hardly primed with all the right answers. In addition to being wrapped up in our Tassie experience, I was also stuck on my usual dilemma…what to cook for dinner! They actually hit me with a long list of names and asked me what I thought of various people. Some I knew, some I didn’t but had the feeling that I should. The whole thing was also a bit tricky given I didn’t know who was running and they were almost insisting that I pick a party. I know this might make sense to them when they’re trying to uncover “the mood of the electorate”, predict which party is likely to win and forecast which issues are going to be the tipping point. However, all this becomes quite semantic in a marginal seat.

After all, if we knew who we were going to vote for before they’ve even announced the candidates, we wouldn’t be a marginal seat. At least, that’s my thinking and it’s my thinking that matters because I’                                                                   m an undecided voter. Not necessarily a swinging or apathetic voter. More of an idealist…a visionary. Who are these people running and what do they really stand for? What are they going to do for our community? I’m not so sure I trust “the party”. Any party.

So, rather than describing myself as “unpolitical” as I have done, I’m actually uber-political and I’m not going to let someone else make up my mind. I’m going to do my research. Check these candidates out and find out if they’re people of substance…or not.

I owe our community that conscious vote, because when you live in a marginal seat, your vote really does matter. It counts.

Well, at least your vote can help determine which of the major parties gets in or perhaps even an independent.

Meanwhile, there’s still the pen and the keyboard at my disposal.  Quite frankly, the pen is more powerful than the ballot box any day…a place where every underdog can have their say and at least self-publish. Yahoo!

What are your thoughts about the place of the individual in the current political scene? Do you think we actually matter or has the machine wiped out the individual? Please share. I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rumi & Me…the US Election.

Like millions around the world, I was shocked to hear that Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States.
By now, there’s not much left to say, which hasn’t already been said. That is, other than to share my son’s insight on the fiasco: “Mum, did you realise that Donald Trump was elected President on 9/11?!!” Not a good omen, but we already knew that.
While doing some research today, I came across this quote from Rumi:

“If in the darkness of ignorance, you don’t recognize a person’s true nature, look to see whom he has chosen for his leader.”

-Rumi.

That Donald Trump wasn’t a lone voice calling out in the American wilderness, is only one of the scarier aspects of Trump’s victory. That he has millions of followers and like-minded people who may not agree with all of his policies, but agreed enough to get out there and vote. Vote in a country where the hard won right to vote, is optional and millions bail out. Where voting requires a lot more political and philosophical motivation than it does here in Australia (we get fined if we don’t vote.)

So, these people really chose to vote for Donald Trump. Or, they chose not to vote for Hillary Clinton.
2016-election
In addition to those who voted for Donald trump, there were those who didn’t vote in this critical election, even though the future of the so-called “free world” may depend on it. These people potentially trouble me more than those for voting for Trump.
Moreover, while I’m being critical of the US elections, let’s address the question of whether America is truly democratic. After all, is it democratic when you have to be a zillionaire to have any chance of being elected President? If the system is rotten to the core, how can you expect to elect good fruit?
This rot isn’t confined to America, of course.
Britain has its Brexit.
Australians have elected controversial Pauline Hanson to the Senate.
If our elected leaders, as Rumi suggests, do reflect who we are as a people, what do these choices say about us?About them?
It is a concern.
Yet, of course, it doesn’t say an awful lot about those who didn’t vote for him.
Indeed, many of these folk fought long and hard to block Trump’s quest for the White House.
So, what can they do now when they’re forced to live under his Presidency? How do they and those of us around the world,  stand up and fight for social justice when our faith seemingly flies against the wind?
Unfortunately, I am a woman of words, not of action. However, I know that I am not alone and neither are you. A  few grains of sand can gain momentum, building up into a mighty storm. However, we have to find the courage and strength to act.We need to get up out of the couch and plant ourselves somewhere we can make a difference. I don’t know where that is for me. As a writer, I hope that these words become seeds and get people thinking about what they are planting…seeds of love or seeds of hate. After all, those seeds will grow tall and strong fueled by sun, rain and soil and then they will bear fruit. We need to be very careful about the kind of fruit we’re mass producing as this is definitely not a game.
seed
If we plant two seeds of love, for every seed of hate, anger and fear… then collectively we can overcome these negative vibes which are spreading throughout democratic nations which value freedom, truth and justice. We can defend the values our countries have always held dear, even under the terrorist threat.
After all, we don’t want to change our stripes and become what we hate…especially when we as nations have fought long and hard to defend democracy, freedom of speech, equality. Values which could see someone as small as an insignificant mustard seed rise up and become the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of Britain or Australia based on merit instead of money.
Evidently, the US election, as well as elections in Britain and Australia, have given me much to think about in terms of our political systems. Obviously, I’m idealistic but I’m not about to throw out my rosy-coloured glasses yet. How about you? What are your thoughts? Let’s keep this constructive. I’m wanting to encourage the good stuff at a time when it’s seemingly under threat.
xx Rowena
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The Corgi Republican.

Further to the hypothetical dog, we had an encounter with a Corgi last weekend and cries went out for a Corgi. When even Geoff joined in with the throng, I was gobsmacked. After all, Corgi’s are THE Queen’s dog. Not just any ordinary queen either. We’re talking about Her Royal Highness, the Queen of Australia, who just so happens to live on the other side of the world at Buckingham Palace. Nothing wrong with that…unless you’re an Australian Republican!

young-Prince-Charles-Princess-Anne-got-silly-sand

After all, the Corgi is no ordinary dog…a dog of the people. Of course, the Queen’s Corgis wouldn’t have an ordinary kennel bought from the local pet shop. No doubt, the entire Palace is their domain. Indeed, these Royal Corgis would have blue blood. Or, maybe its even red, white and blue just like the Union Jack.

Naturally, I am not into such cultural elitism.

Moreover, as much as I might love the Royal Family, I strongly believe it’s time Australia grew up and moved out of home. Stands on its own two feet. After all, we don’t need the Queen to hold our hand crossing the road anymore. We can cross the road all by ourselves.

You could call this an: “Austexit”.

If it’s good enough for the English to leave the EU, why can’t we leave them behind?

So, now I’m left pondering whether it’s okay for a Republican to have a Corgi. Is a Corgi just another breed of dog? Or, if we have a Corgi, are we surreptitiously representing the monarchy? Is owning a Corgi a sign of allegiance?

I don’t know. However, I’m not the first person to question what a dog’s breed represents.

Surprisingly, this is an age-old question.

Daschund

During WWI, the Dachshund’s popularity crashed due to its German origins and popularity with the German Kaiser.

Daschund + kaiser

Kaiser Wilhelm II with his Dachshund.

So, a breed of dog can come to represent something much larger than itself. In this case, I’d be better of getting a more “Australian” dog…some sort of Dingo mix, a Blue Heeler? Personally, I think the Border Collie has also been sufficiently “Austracised”.

Dingo pups

Dingo Pup. 

However, you can take things too far. Although I love Vegemite and Tim Tams, that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy my cup of Twining’s English Breakfast Tea.

Moreover, now that I’m looking more deeply into the Corgi, I’ve actually started to wonder whether the Queen’s endorsement of the breed, actually reflects positively on the breed instead of being such a negative.

After all, the Queen could have any dog she wants, and she has consistently had Corgis. While her love for the breed has been parodied, there must be some reason for it. Indeed, the Corgi comes with the Royal Seal of Approval.

Moreover, as my husband pointed out, being a big dog on short legs, does have it’s advantages. A Corgi would have trouble jumping up and stealing food (which could also endear it to the Queen. Could you just imagine a dog jumping up on the Royal Dining Table at Buckingham Palace? Obviously, this is why the Queen hasn’t gone for the Border Collie x Cavalier…Hello Lady!!

So, last night I decided to check out Corgis on Gumtree,  an Australian classified’s site. You could say this is the canine equivalent of ordering a Russian mail order bride. All these puppy faces flash up at you and your heart completely melts!

However, this search looks like it’s ended all thoughts of a Corgi. There were no ads for pups. Indeed, there were only ads for people seeking Corgis. We found a breeder elsewhere, and it looked like it would be easier to get a job at Buckingham Palace looking after the royal corgis. This was a serious interview process. No doubt, we’d have to take Bilbo and Lady to the interview and they’d take one look at her Royal Scruffiness, and give us the flick. Lady would no doubt steal the afternoon tea straight off the plate and heaven help us if any rabbits were hopping by: “She ain’t nothing but a farm dog”.

Lady on kayak

Lady…Hardly royal material.

Considering our quest for another dog is semantic at this stage, current availability doesn’t matter anyway.

However, if the kids were trying to encourage me towards Corgis, they set their campaign back this morning.

Our son told me: “If we get a corgi, we have to call it Doge”.

Doge? What kind of name is that?

doge-much-help-pls_o_3233637

Sounds like something straight out of that British comedy Keeping Up Appearances where Mrs Bucket is pronounced: “Mrs Bouquet”. Yes, a rather pretentious rendition of “dog”. Not my scene at all. I’m very down to earth and you can’t get much more down to earth than dog beach. Sand and salt water are a mighty leveler.

Well, if you know anything about memes, you’ll know that Doge was a hit. Went “viral”.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, a background check has ended thoughts of a Corgi. The Corgi is considered a high shedder:

“Heavy shedding. Pembroke Welsh Corgis shed a lot. You’ll find hair and fur deposited all over your clothing, upholstery, carpeting, under your furniture, on your countertops — even in your food. Frequent vacuuming will become a way of life.”http://www.yourpurebredpuppy.com/reviews/pembrokewelshcorgis.html

We’ve had Border Collies and an Old English Sheepdog and our carpet could almost wag its tail and they’re not high shedders. I’ve also read warnings about dogs before, and let that puppy face deceive me. Not again.

So, it looks like the Queen can keep her corgis. That said,  I’m wondering how The Queen gets out the door without Corgi all over her coat?

So, for now, we’ll keep walking past that Corgi in the window and keep feeding our dogs those vitamins.

Any views about corgis? Dog breeds?

xx Rowena

Beyond the Call of Duty: Australia’s War Time Prime Minister.

Last week, I shared about helping my son out with his project about Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin. I also mentioned that I’d become so interested in that period in our history, that I just had to do a project of my own, resulting in a couple of posts for the blog. Otherwise, I knew I’d do his assignment for him and both he and his teacher would be after me. .

Here’s my previous post: WWII What I Learned From My Son’s Homework  https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/australia-during-wwii-what-i-learned-from-my-sons-homework/

Thank you blog. You provided me with that much needed blank canvas to paint my own word portrait of Prime Minister John Curtin, whose selfless and passionate commitment to our country and our freedom, ultimately claimed his own life when he died in office.

This isn’t going to be some stuffy history essay but more of an informal portrait of the man I discovered.

John Curtin Becomes Prime Minister-  7th October, 1941.

On 7th October, 1941, John Curtin became our 14th Australian Prime Minister. Being new to the job, I’m sure he would have appreciated a few weeks to settle in before the proverbial @#$% hit the fan at full blast. After all, we all know what it’s like to start a new job. You’ve got to find the bathroom, the lunchroom and get to know a bunch of strangers. Naturally, you’d like to have enough time to get on top of all of that before you faced a major challenge.

John Curtin at his desk in The Lodge

John Curtin at his desk in The Lodge

However, when John Curtin came into office, Australia was already at war.  Then, on the 7th December 1941 only 6 weeks into the job, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. A day later, the Pacific War was declared. His headaches didn’t get any better as the  Japanese forces swept across the South Pacific and country after fell like tumbling dominoes . Australia was obviously facing a severe security threat and being “The Boss” he was at the helm. It was ultimately his job to save the country.

Yikes! What a job! I certainly wouldn’t want to be in his shoes! They were such big shoes that  quite frankly, my feet would have been swimming laps.

Australian War Time Poster.

Australian War Time Poster.

The War in the Pacific

Although I studied Australian History at university, there are always gaps. You can’t know everything. Despite studying the Causes of the Russian Revolution twice and the same with the Causes of World War I, I never studied the actual course of either World War. Of course, I knew the big events and had heard family stories. However, the magnitude of what was going on only hit home once I drew up a time line of events for my son, which suddenly connected a disparate group of dots and formed a much more cohesive picture.

A damn scary picture if you, like my grandmother, were living in Brisbane in 1942!

I was also reminded over and over again that while it’s all very well looking at history through the benefit of hindsight, the person on the street had no crystal ball. They had no idea how the war would end or who would win and everything was pretty much hanging in the balance.

Defending Australia.

Defending Australia is still challenging with it’s vast coastline and comparatively low population. John Curtin was looking at defending a mainland coastline of  35,876 km with a population of only 7,180,736 and most of our troops were off fighting Hitler. The situation as dire.

Put simply, our entire defensive strategy rested on the British and their base in Singapore and while our focus was naturally on the Pacific War, Britain was wanting to beat Hitler first.

In a famous article in The Melbourne Herald on December 27, 1941, Mr Curtin insisted that Australia “refused to accept the dictum that the Pacific struggle was a subordinate segment of the general conflict”. HV Evatt later reflected: “Certainly, Mr Curtin’s words, if read fairly, were in no sense critical of Britain; on the contrary, they merely stressed the principle that as Mr Churchill was resolved that Britain should never fall to the enemy, Mr Curtin was equally resolved that ~Australia shall not go”….The Courier Mail, 14th November, 1950 pg 2.

Before the Fall of Singapore, Australia looked to Britain for our national security. Like some desperate gambler placing all their chips on one number, Australia’s defense rested on Singapore and the bulk of our troops were over in the Middle East under Churchill. However, John Curtin realising this enormous risk, took Churchill on and brought the bulk of our troops home.

The Fall of Singapore.

The Fall of Singapore.

The fighting in Singapore lasted from 8 to 15 February 1942. It resulted in the capture of Singapore by the Japanese and the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history.About 85,000 British, Indian and Australian troops became prisoners of war, joining 50,000 taken by the Japanese in the earlier Malayan Campaign. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the ignominious fall of Singapore to the Japanese the “worst disaster” and “largest capitulation” in British military history.

Bombing of Darwin

Bombing of Darwin

Four days later, on 19 February, 1942 the Japanese substantially bombed Darwin. The Bombing of Darwin, also known as the Battle of Darwin,  was both the first and the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australia. On this day, 242 Japanese aircraft attacked ships in Darwin’s harbour and the town’s two airfields in an attempt to prevent the Allies from using them as bases to contest the invasions of Timor and Java. The town was only lightly defended and the Japanese inflicted heavy losses upon the Allied forces at little cost to themselves. The urban areas of Darwin also suffered some damage from the raids and there were a number of civilian casualties. The two raids killed at least 243 people and between 300 and 400 were wounded. Twenty military aircraft were destroyed, eight ships at anchor in the harbour were sunk, and most civil and military facilities in Darwin were destroyed.

The raids were the first and largest of almost 100 air raids against Australia during 1942–43.

While Britain’s approach to the two-pronged war was to beat Hitler first, in March 1942, Australia’s salvation came when President Franklin Roosevelt  ordered General Douglas MacArthur, commander of US forces in the Philippines, to organise Pacific defense with Australia. Curtin agreed to Australian forces coming under the overall command of MacArthur and passed the responsibility for strategic decision-making onto MacArthur who was titled Supreme Commander of the South West Pacific. From MacArthur’s point of view this was a workable alliance – he told Curtin to ‘take care of the rear and I will handle the front’.

This was a dramatic shift in our defence strategy and a very gutsy and heroic move.

Yet, Curtin’s headaches continued.

Japanese midget submarine retrieved after attack on Sydney Harbour.

Japanese midget submarine retrieved after attack on Sydney Harbour.

On the night of 31 May – 1 June, three Japanese midget submarines, each with a two-member crew, entered Sydney Harbour, avoided the partially constructed Sydney Harbour anti-submarine boom net, and attempted to sink Allied warships. Two of the midget submarines were detected and attacked before they could successfully engage any Allied vessels, and the crews scuttled their boats and committed suicide. These submarines were later recovered by the Allies. The third submarine attempted to torpedo the heavy cruiser USS Chicago, but instead sank the converted ferry HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21 sailors.

As history records, however, eventually the tide began to turn and the dominoes started to fall in our favour.

Yet, the stress of the war had taken a major toll on Prime Minister John Curtin. On 3 November 1944, after one of his rare breaks at his home in Perth, he suffered a major heart attack in Melbourne on the long train journey back to Canberra. When he was strong enough he was driven back to Canberra to complete his recovery. On 8 January 1945, he celebrated his 60th birthday at The Lodge. Although he returned to parliament in February, Curtin was by no means back to normal.

On 18 April 1945, he moved the parliament’s motion of condolence on the death of President Franklin Roosevelt. Soon after, severe lung congestion forced him back into hospital. Deputy Prime Minister Frank Forde was in San Francisco and Ben Chifley was acting Prime Minister. It fell to Chifley to announce the end of the war in Europe on 9 May 1945.

Curtin was released from hospital on 22 May. That day he was driven back to The Lodge, and he and Elsie Curtin strolled in the garden together for photographers. They then walked back into The Lodge together for the last time.

On 5 July, 1945 John Curtin died at The Lodge, just six weeks before the end of the war in the Pacific. That he didn’t live to see the end of the war in which he fought so hard, maybe not out in the trenches with “our boys” and the women who supported them as nurses etc but he gave his heart, his mind and this battle ultimately consumed him. Naturally, there were a multitude of tributes when he passed away and I’ve chosen to quote the one that best represents my thoughts:

“The Prime Minister saw his country through deadly invasion peril and sacrificed his health in his intense devotion to the national defence. He saw to it that literally everyone had a war job and the nation entered it’s national defence with the fervour and energy which characterise its activities in national causes.”

– The New York Herald Tribune.

What an incredible man and I’m so glad I took the time to get to know him better.

xx Rowena

Brain Plasticity & Saving Two Australians on Indonesia’s Death Row

Frankly my dear, I do give a damn!!

When it comes to fighting for justice, I will personally stand up and be counted, even when the case is rather controversial. After all. it’s easy to have compassion for someone you love. It’s much more challenging when someone has a few prickles…or a past. Yet, sometimes our journey takes us down that road and we are forced to argue the points backwards and forwards inside our heads until we can make sense of it all and hopefully judgement turns to love.

I don’t know if the imminent execution of two convicted Australian drug smugglers in Indonesia has made International news. However, as citizens of the world, this case affects each and every one of us who believe in the sanctity and importance of justice and the capacity for humanity to change and redeem itself.

We are all called to stand up and fight.

The case I am referring to is the imminent execution of two convicted Australian drug smugglers in Indonesia: Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, who were part of the notorious Bali Nine. Since their conviction, these men have completely turned their lives around and deserve a second chance. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be punished. Just that they don’t deserve to die.

Portrait of Andrew Chan by Myuran Sukumaran.

 

My justification for clemency lies in the science of brain plasticity or neuroplasticity. If you know anything at all about brain plasticity, you will know and understand that these men have changed the very physical structures of their brains through rehabilitation and are no longer who they were. That they are, indeed, very different men. After all, if you have a different brain, how can you possibly be the same?

Victorian Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry , summed  this up well when he addressed the Melbourne vigil held on 18th February, 2014. Lasry had been involved in the case of Van Nguyen, the Melbourne man who was executed for drug trafficking in Singapore in 2005. Lasry said that he has visited Chan and Sukumaran in jail in Bali several times and was in no doubt the pair had redeemed themselves.

“The reality is that if Indonesia go ahead and execute these two men, they’ll be killing an artist and a church pastor,” he said.

“The drug traffickers have gone. The drug traffickers left in 2005. “4.

About Brain Plasticity

Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity “refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behaviour, environment, neural processes, thinking, emotions, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury.[1] Neuroplasticity has replaced the formerly-held position that the brain is a physiologically static organ, and explores how – and in which ways – the brain changes throughout life.[1]

In The Brain Which Changes Itself, Norman Doidge M.D. a psychiatrist and researcher set out to investigate neuroplasticity. “He writes that the brain can change itself. It is a plastic, living organ that can actually change its own structure and function, even into old age. Arguably the most important breakthrough in neuroscience since scientists first sketched out the brain’s basic anatomy, this revolutionary discovery, called neuroplasticity, promises to overthrow the centuries-old notion that the brain is fixed and unchanging. The brain is not, as was thought, like a machine, or “hardwired” like a computer. Neuroplasticity not only gives hope to those with mental limitations, or what was thought to be incurable brain damage, but expands our understanding of the healthy brain and the resilience of human nature”. http://www.normandoidge.com/?page_id=1259

This brain plasticity isn’t just something for the laboratory or people experiencing chronic medical conditions or disability. It affects us all and is a more “scientific” explanation for what we have always known: “Use it or lose it!!”

To get an idea of how brain plasticity works, picture an old fashioned telephone exchange with all those cables plugged in. Our brain is built of these cables. So for example if we keep getting angry, those anger pathways will keep getting bigger and bigger just like exercising a muscle. Moreover, the bigger these pathways become, the angrier we will become unless we take action.

Conversely, each and every time we appease our anger and breathe deep, count to three whatever it takes, those neuropathways shrink and actually disappear. These are actual, physical changes in the structure of our brains. The brain map is different.

I have experienced these changes myself after undergoing brain surgery to treat hydrocephalus. I have experienced many changes but probably the most surprising is that I can actually play the violin and I now play in an ensemble. That takes some pretty complex brain and physical developments, which I never thought possible. I only took the violin up to help my daughter.

My argument is that through rehabilitation, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have demonstrated that through such brain plasticity, they are no longer the men they were.

Therefore, as an exceptional case and while not dismissing the severity of their crime, these new men deserve a compassionate response…jail not execution!

This quote from US President John F. Kennedy sums it up well:

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.”

Background to the Bali Nine

Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were the ring leaders of a group of Australian drug traffickers known as “The Bali Nine”. On 17 April 2005, the Bali Nine were arrested for planning to smuggle 8.3 kg (18 lb) of heroin valued at about A$4 million from Indonesia to Australia. These men were no angels and heroin, as we know, is a hard core drug which destroys lives. Authorities must do whatever it takes to get heroin off the streets. While people do dispute the death penalty, they are not advocating a more relaxed after to stopping the trade of heroin.

Going back to the time of their arrest, I didn’t have any sympathy for the Bali 9. Due to the very publicised case of alleged drug trafficker, Australian Shapelle Corby, the severity of Indonesia’s drug laws had been front page news for some time. I might not agree with the death penalty but Indonesia’s tough anti-drug laws most definitely weren’t a secret.

Australian Shapelle Corby had been arrested in Indonesia on 8 October 2004 when she was found to have 4.2 kg (9.3 lb) of cannabis in a double plastic vacuum-sealed bag in her unlocked bodyboard bag. Corby was convicted on 27 May 2005 and sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Denpasar District Court and imprisoned in Kerobokan Prison. To this day, Shapelle maintains her innocence and there have been numerous theories about how the cannabis got into her body board bag. Her case became a “cause celeb” and during that media frenzy, the severity of Indonesia’s drug laws was made very, very clear.

From where I was sitting in front of the TV, you’d have to be a complete idiot or have a serious death wish to even consider smuggling drugs in or out of Indonesia. I know people talked about making their luggage more secure after Shapelle’s arrest. Indeed, I’d even be checking the paperwork on my prescriptions before heading to Indonesia…especially given the amount of pills I take in a week. They could easily be perceived as trafficking quantities!

Those were the sorts of precautions your average Australian traveler was taking when the Bali 9 were arrested. Nobody wanted to be another Shapelle Corby and we were leaving absolutely nothing to chance. The consequences were just too great.

Given the historical context, the Bali 9 did come across as a bunch of idiots who had earned themselves what’s known as the Darwin Award: http://www.darwinawards.com/ After all, they didn’t need to be Einstein or have some kind of mystical crystal ball to know what they were getting themselves into. They just needed to turn on their TV. Shapelle Corby’s face was everywhere. Remember: Shapelle Corby was arrested on the 8th October 2004 and on the 27 May 2005 she was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Bali Nine was arrested On 17 April 2005, the Bali Nine were arrested right in the middle of Shapelle’s trial. You do have to wonder what they were thinking and if they were even thinking at all and certainly you would never expect these men to amount to anything much at all!!

That was then. This is now.

Self-Portrait by Myuran Sukumaran

Self-Portrait by Myuran Sukumaran

Fast-forwarding nine years, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan are changed men and are inspiring other prisoners and leading exemplary lives. These are not the same men who were convicted back in 2006. Their names might be the same and they are older versions of themselves but in terms of their soul, spirit, character and no doubt even the neurofibres in their brains, they are not who they were. Therefore, executing these men would be a great travesty of justice.

Victorian Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry has long campaigned against the death penalty and was involved in the case of Van Nguyen, the Melbourne man who was executed for drug trafficking in Singapore in 2005.

 

Julie Bishop, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs  outlined how much the men had changed when she addressed Federal Parliament on 12th February, 2014:

“Both men are deeply, sincerely remorseful for their actions. Both men have made extraordinary efforts to rehabilitate.

Andrew and Myuran are the model of what penal systems the world over long to achieve.

Successive Governors of Kerobokan Prison in Bali – whose prison has given Andrew and Myuran the opportunity to reflect and change – have testified to their remarkable transformation.

A decade on from their crimes, Andrew and Myuran are changed men. They are deeply committed to a new path.

Both men are paying their debt to society. With dedication and unwavering commitment, they are improving and enriching the lives of their fellow prisoners.

Andrew has completed a theology degree in prison. As a pastor, he now provides religious counselling and guidance to fellow inmates. On the day he received the President’s rejection of his clemency application, Andrew’s Australian lawyer Julian McMahon said he was nowhere to be found, for even at this moment of undeniable personal anguish, Andrew had taken time out to comfort a fellow inmate who was seriously ill.

Myuran – referred to by many as the ‘gentle giant’ – has nearly completed a fine arts degree in jail. He has had the opportunity to become an accomplished artist; his raw talent recognised and fostered by his friend and mentor, renowned artist Ben Quilty.

In prison, Andrew and Myuran sought permission from prison authorities and began an array of courses to benefit fellow inmates, and to prepare them for their return to society.

They have led extensive and varied arts, cultural and vocational courses. Some of their courses are aimed directly at drug addicts, equipping them with the skills to beat their addiction, saving their lives and giving them real prospects in the future.

Andrew and Myuran have raised money for fellow inmates’ medical procedures; for victims of Typhoon Haiyan; for Indonesia National Day festivities.

Indeed, such is the profound effect of Andrew and Myuran’s inspiring humility and service, their fellow prisoners have come forward to lend support, even offering to take their place in execution to President Widodo…

Their remarkable rehabilitation, and the circumstances of their arrest, has prompted five successive Australian Prime Ministers to make representations in their name. [2]

What Brain Plasticity Means For Chan & Sukumaran. Why Spare These Men?

If somebody completely turns their life around and becomes an entirely new and different person on the inside, should they still be judged and sentenced to death because of crimes they committed in the past? Although they have the same name and DNA, they are a different person and things become very problematic.

Would justice truly be served and can we as a global community just stand back in good conscience and do nothing to spare these men? Or, do we both as a society and as individuals need to do whatever it takes to prevent such a tragic and unjust loss of life?

The answer is a resounding “yes”!! After all, two wrongs have never made a right!!

Although I have never met these men and I certainly don’t support the use or sale of such drugs, there is such resounding evidence that these men have significantly and are now dramatically improving the lives of those around them as well, rehabilitating and educating other prisoners much more effectively than other methods.

“Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek, whose husband was charged and convicted of a similar crime to Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, spoke out in Parliament saying: “criminals can be redeemed – my husband is proof.”

She adds that the laws which underpin the executing these men is the basic “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” law that has influenced the Old Testament and earlier legal codes in countries around the world. But that’s 3,700 years ago. We’ve moved on a great deal from an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-12/plibersek-these-men-deserve-restorative-justice-not-execution/6088334.

I also thought it was interesting that at last night’s vigil, emotional statements were read from the pair, which acknowledged their original stupidity,  saying that  the “compassion and kindness from people forgiving our stupidity” has made them feel “truly blessed” 4″

Their Last Words

Andrew Chan: “Thoughts from the Edge

“Thank you Jesus that you give me the strength and courage that I need to stand strong and to trust in you when the waters arise.”

“I thank you Jesus that you never give up on me and that your faithfulness is what helps me striving forward. I thank you for all the family and friends you surround me with in life and how your love pours out from them.”

“The Lord is revealing to me through this scripture is about how he’ll fight the battles for us and that we won’t be defeated if he goes ahead of us… The truth is God is remind us that when all seems helpless and you feel as though the enemies army surrounds you, God is telling us to stand still, take up our battle stance but do not move.[3]

Myuran Sukumaran – Thoughts from the edge

“When you are young you think money is the only way to get happiness … after being here for eight years you realize it is not.”

“After being in prison for eight years I only realized when it comes when it comes to drugs nobody gets rich – there are a few people – most get caught and end up in places like this and that’s the lesson.”

“I want to become a better person and I want to help everybody else become a better person as well. It is like a vehicle for everybody to travel in to better themselves.”

Last Words or a New Beginning…

Time is running out and I don’t know what any of us can do at this late hour. I understand that over 30,000 Australians have written to the Indonesian Attorney General pleading for mercy and many many people have spoken publically. Last night, a vigil was being held in Sydney to pray for the men and their families and this was just one of many. I can sense a collective heartache if these efforts fail and these two young men are put to death.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are in my heartfelt prayers.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”.

*Please reblog this post and spread the word. It now looks like the lives of these men rest on divine intervention and people power.

As the saying goes: “Never give up”!!!

Love & Blessings,

Rowena

[1] · Pascual-Leone A., Amedi A., Fregni F., Merabet L. B. (2005). “The plastic human brain cortex”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 28: 377–401. doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144216.

[2] Parliamentary motion: Chan and Sukumaran, Address to House of Representatives Speech, E&OE, Parliament House, Canberra,12 February 2015.

[3] http://www.news.com.au/national/six-living-former-prime-ministers-make-united-final-plea-for-doomed-bali-nine-duo/story-fncynjr2-1227222259664

4) www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-18/vigils-held-for-bali-nine-pair-facing-execution/6143978

Paintings: http://www.news.com.au/world/asia/bali-nine-member-myuran-sukumaran-paintings-in-melbourne/story-fnh81fz8-1227049488225

I apologise  for any breaches of copyright regarding the images used in this post. I am merely trying to support their cause.