tag:mullins.id.au,2013:/posts MICHAEL MULLINS' TINY LETTER 2023-11-05T00:36:55Z tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/2028865 2023-09-24T17:34:33Z 2023-09-24T17:34:33Z The house gets a makeover There were no obvious signs of deterioration, but I was concerned that my 25 year old gas hot water system must be reaching the end of its life. I could imagine it suddenly failing.

That would force me into a rushed purchase of a new unit, to maintain the supply of hot water. It would frustrate my desire to make an orderly switch from gas to electricity.


So three months ago, I decided to act immediately, even though the old unit was still performing well. I called my longtime builder Jesse to ask him to recommend a reliable company to install an electric heat pump.

What I didn't realise was that he was finally available to tackle the long list of repairs and improvements that I'd been requesting him to attend to for a least five years. Jesse had done the previous renovation of the house, two years or so before I purchased it in 2001.

He hadn't been able to come to my house in recent years because of the labour shortage and COVID, and it was seriously run down. A few years ago my neighbours in the adjoining terraces were worried that our row was literally falling down.

I'd been putting aside funds for the day that Jesse would come, though I stopped believing it would happen. He ended up fixing the cracks in the walls and attending to many other structural and cosmetic issues that owners of 19th century terrace houses can expect to face. The task list kept growing and he worked in my house five days a week for two and a half months.


It turned out to be an opportunity I thought I'd never get. I was not limited to repairs, but I could upgrade the house after two of us had lived in it for 22 years. I was not interested in a luxury upgrade, but instead wanted to make the move from gas to electricity.

So there is now a heat pump, induction stove and electric heating and cooling. I have solar skylights to brighten the dark rooms, and a new set of solar panels with a battery on the way. The promise is the elimination of energy bills, though it will take up to 20 years to recoup my investment.

After the long intense focus on my house for much of the winter, I'm now facing the first part of the northern winter, spending two months in my tiny 5 square metre alternative residence in Paris.

I very much enjoy my environmentally responsible 'small footprint' existence, though there's no escaping the reality that the flights to get here and back have me leaving a large carbon footprint.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1987852 2023-06-14T04:43:43Z 2023-06-14T04:43:43Z The two Johnnys

When I returned from Paris a few weeks ago, I brought with me a gossip magazine titled Johnny, for the member of my household who grew up in francophone Mauritius.

It revealed hitherto unknown details about the life of the late French rock and pop idol Johnny Hallyday, who was sometimes described in English-speaking countries as 'the biggest star you've never heard of'.

Johnny Magazine

This morning I mentioned that I was going to the local Dendy cinema to see the documentary John Farnham: Finding the Voice.

My friend looked at me quizzically until I pointed to the Johnny magazine, which he had devoured.

Farnham was of course not recognised outside Australia until the international success of his 1986 Whispering Jack album. That followed Johnny Farnham's career-saving rebrand as John Farnham.


The rebrand was necessary because he'd never managed to live down the ridicule he continued to suffer due to the overwhelming success of his first release, the 1968 novelty song Sadie (The Cleaning Lady).

His promoters couldn't get it out of the minds of Australians who were growing up during the late 1960s.

It seems that the emotional resonance of the unsophisticated tunes of our childhood remains, no matter how hard we try to populate our conscious and unconscious selves with cultural content of greater depth. That's probably not a bad thing.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1971253 2023-05-01T07:40:56Z 2023-05-01T07:40:56Z Discontent in a free society

Today is May Day, a public holiday here in France. It has added significance this year, with 300 marches expected as part of a mobilisation exceptionnelle against the Government's move to raise the pension age from 62 to 64.

Friends in Australia have seen media images of the sometimes violent protests. They've expressed concern that I may be affected. As it happens, I have kept away and only heard them in the distance.


I have witnessed just one orderly procession, two weeks ago in Avignon. But it is impossible to avoid seeing the damage to public and private property, such as burned rubbish bins and cracked glass.

I assume most foreigners are unsympathetic because they don't receive the pension themselves until around 67. Many would see it as an arguably dignified but unattractive display of a French sense of entitlement.


I agree. But it's what you get when you have widespread discontent in a free society that values the right to protest.

I have read about of the struggles of working class families in northern France, in the autobiographical novels of the young contemporary author Edouard Louis. He sees President Macron representing the privileged classes, and wrote a New York Times op-ed a few years ago with the title 'Why My Father Votes for Le Pen'.


In selecting when to travel outside Paris, I've had to mindful of the protest days that have occurred roughly once a week, with reduced rail services.

I decided to purchase a Eurailpass for this two month stay in Paris, and have been travelling to cities in France including Amiens on Saturday, and Tours, Avignon, Lille and Chartres earlier. I've also been to the Netherlands, Zurich for my first visit to Switzerland, as well as Liechtenstein and Innsbruck in Austria.


Amiens in particular offered a view of the two faces of France. There was the beautiful Cathedral, canals and grand buildings that tourists love to see, but also evidence of the ordinariness of the lives of many people in a large city not far from the town in which Edouard Louis grew up.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1960662 2023-04-03T08:13:25Z 2023-04-03T08:16:42Z The purpose of forgetting

I'm about to leave the Dutch beach town of Zandvoort after a five night stay. It's currently 2 degrees and I didn't come here for the beach. The main attraction was a four day contemplative photography retreat.

The focus was Miksang, a practice of taking photos that is not about documenting or telling stories. Instead its goal is 'pure' seeing.


I have learned a lot about sense-perception in general, including deeper appreciation of everyday delights such as good coffee and wine.

Applying the Miksang principle, I don't pre-judge the wine by studying its label or provenance. I taste it.


I don't attempt to apply sophisticated terminology such as acidity or aroma. I just appreciate it in the moment. The wine has a story, but knowing that does not really help my enjoyment of it.

In the same way, Miksang photos don't tell us much about their subjects or context. They're not meant to. They are close-ups of everyday objects. They often appear artful, but beauty is not the intention.


I heard about Miksang last year during a conversation with a friend who lives in Kyoto, Japan. That led me to read about it and discover that a retreat was taking place at a convenient time and place.

I have always prided myself in my ability to analyse. But the teacher Helen would caution me against thinking and identifying and naming.


She was teaching me to be more alive to visual perception, and encouraging me to communicate it through photos rather than words or concepts.

When posting our photos on her website, she insisted that we not give them a title. I had always thought that artists who called their works 'untitled' were being lazy. But now I understand they are simply helping us to perceive their art without pre-judgment.


The loss of mental agility associated with getting older is usually a source of regret. I remember my mother developing dementia and referring to 'that thing' when she couldn't name an object. I regretted her loss. But now I can see a silver lining in moving beyond the need to name things, talk about concepts and tell stories.

Link: miksang.eu


tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1955891 2023-03-21T08:11:50Z 2023-03-21T10:43:24Z A gloomy springtime in Paris

This is a tiny letter from my tiny five square metre space in the first arrondissement, my base for the next two months.

The city is almost a month into spring, but you wouldn't know it from the mood of the people. Swarms of police and piles of uncollected garbage are the most visible signs of the malaise.

There are a frequent protests and strikes aimed at thwarting President Macron's resolve to increase the eligibility age for the country's unsustainable pension, from 62 to 64. Whether or not it is successful, there is likely to be a groundswell of support for the election of a far right government in 2027.


I arrived on Thursday, before getting out of the city a day later on Friday. I travelled 80 minutes south-west by train to the famous cathedral location of Chartres.

The city's well preserved and restored cathedral was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, three and a half decades after it was mercifully left intact by an American World War II colonel who defied an order to target the German soldiers who were supposed to be holed up inside.

I had long wanted to visit Chartres Cathedral after being intrigued when, in the very secular setting of Melbourne University, one of my lecturers presented it as a pillar of Western civilisation.

Upon arrival, I experienced it as just another cathedral populated by tourists taking photos. Initially its stained glass windows and other features and artefacts lacked surprise. But, as one of them, I soon got to see why tourists go there to take photos. I found the experience of being in that space remarkably transfiguring.

Perhaps being on that higher plane has affected my appreciation of the art and cultural exhibits I visited in the days since.


These have included an exhibition of photos and objects relating to the colonisation of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I spent two hours pouring over its contents, in an unpretentious setting in a relatively small room at the base of a suburban apartment block.

The following day I viewed a most unexpected sexually explicit exhibition of queer art at the Arab World Institute. The Institute is an organisation founded by France and 18 Arab countries 'to research and disseminate information about the Arab world and its cultural and spiritual values'.


It is pleasing that these values are culture embrace LGBTQIA+ living that has to be hidden. I was moved by the obvious courage of these legend artists being at the same time 'out and proud' and Arab.

Yesterday's exhibition was appropriately bleak for this moment in history. It showcased the mixed media works of Chilean artist Eugenio Tellez, at La Maison de l'Amérique latine.


It was a curiously matter of fact inglorious celebration of war that was in fact anti-war. If Chartres Cathedral was about the making of human civilisation, these works represent its 'disarticulation'.

Links: Chartres | Abyssinie-Tigré-Erythrée-Somalie | Arab World Institute | Latin American]]>
tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1936717 2023-02-03T04:57:30Z 2023-03-05T01:45:41Z Silence over St Mary's Cathedral remembrance ribbon cutting

Following yesterday's funeral of Cardinal George Pell, I was disturbed to read this from a Sydney Morning Herald letter writer: 'I went to St Mary’s Cathedral to tie a ribbon on the iron fence for a friend who was raped by a priest when he was seven years old. My ribbons were cut off by men and women who were physically and verbally intimidating.'

I have wanted to believe that the persistent removal of the memorial ribbons in the weeks since the cardinal's death has been the work of fanatics, and not anybody acting on behalf of the Church.

I have been waiting in vain for the current archbishop to publicly acknowledge that the ribbons have a place in the remembrance of Cardinal Pell and the Church's child protection failings under his leadership.

'We hear you,' is what he might have said, and it's all he needed to say.

Pell was not my kind of church leader. I preferred the preceding Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Edward Clancy.

Clancy was every bit as conservative as Pell - but inclusive - in that he would sometimes embrace as policy, positions other than his own. It seemed he was the shepherd who also cared for those he disagreed with. He was not at war with them.

The example that comes to mind was his support for the Kings Cross medically supervised drug injecting centre proposed by the Sisters of Charity around 2000. I understood it as part of a harm minimisation strategy that was based on the progressive 'proportional reason' thinking in Catholic moral theology, rather than the more traditional 'moral absolutes'.

Pell killed the proposal when he became archbishop in 2001, and the Uniting Church took over and had success with it.

Clancy's approach strikes me as similar to that of NSW Liberal Party leader and Premier Dominic Perrottet. Perrottet is a far right conservative whom, it seems, governs for all, not just his Catholic Opus Dei friends, as was feared when he took over in 2021.

I am particularly heartened when I see him working positively with his political adversaries including the independent Member for Sydney and leading assisted dying campaigner Alex Greenwich. Perrottet's style can dismay conservatives and cultural warriors who expect some kind of loyalty from him.

Pell's biographer Tess Livingstone wrote in The Australian yesterday that Perrottet's no show at Pell's funeral 'beggars belief given his background as captain of Redfield College and the Cardinal’s warmth towards Opus Dei'.

Cynics suggest he's just calculating support ahead of next month's state election. But I think he's showing more feeling for the Church's sex abuse victims than the supposedly contrite church administration presiding over the cutting down of the memorial ribbons.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1927645 2023-01-11T01:58:55Z 2023-01-11T01:58:55Z Outsourcing our dirty work

Later this month, I'm seeing a cousin in regional Victoria. On my previous visit just before the pandemic, she mentioned something her mother had told her.

It was that her mother and mine shared a bedroom during their childhood years. Her mother said that my mother was a good student but she was untidy.

According to my observation of the trajectory of their adult lives, that was true. Her mother was in fact the epitome of domestic virtue, and my mother less so.

Thanks to my cousin's anecdote, I have a better understanding of why my mother paid more attention to our education, than cooking and cleaning the house, while we were growing up.

The state of my house suggests that I inherited her instinct. My bookshelves offer plenty of intellectual stimulation, but there is dust and disarray elsewhere.

Last week my brother sent me an article my niece Mahalah Mullins had published in the most recent issue of the Undergraduate Philosophy Journal of Australasia.

The title is 'Life’s a Chore: Menial Household Labour, Aristotle, and the Outsourcing Dilemma'. She explores the 'moral discomfort' associated with 'paying someone to do your dirty work'.

I have reached the stage where I could afford to pay a cleaner to do my dirty work. I have thought about it. But I've concluded that my moral discomfort would be greater than the physical and spiritual comfort of living in a professionally cleaned house.

However, as Mahalah suggests, it's not so much about avoiding moral discomfort as embracing domestic virtue as a positive, in the form of promoting social cohesion and 'well-rounded human flourishing'.

It seems she is using Aristotle to reflect on sharing chores among the members of her student household.

I wish that I had been able to apply such principles to my life as I was studying Aristotle when I was her age.

But I have a companion in my house, and it's not too late for me to employ domestic virtue to achieve greater social cohesion between the two of us.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1924146 2023-01-02T05:28:04Z 2023-01-02T05:28:05Z Authentic social media

This morning I was asked if I'd made any New Year's resolutions.

I said no, I don't need them. I've got diet, exercise and alcohol consumption right without such help.

But then I thought I could do with a gentle prompt to motivate me to write a TinyLetter at least weekly.

That was on my mind because another person had just asked me when I was going to write my next.

I like to think I'm no longer susceptible to nagging and pressure to perform. Rather it's the enjoyment of a task that gets me moving.

With my low carb diet, I've made a pleasure out of weight loss and its maintenance over four years.

My BeReal

That's because it involves a minimum of self-denial, at least in my mind. I enjoy the taste of cheese and fatty meats that has proved to be 'slimming' with this strange food consumption regime.

I sense that I've evolved to become non-performative in my writing in the way that I don't attempt to create a grand artifice but simply articulate what's on my mind. Some might call it self-realisation, an act that is by definition satisfying.

That is largely what the rising social media platform BeReal is about, in its attempt at being an antidote to Instagram's emphasis on beautiful images.

BeReal's users post a daily photo that is preferably boring. It is judged on timeliness and not aesthetic appeal.

What is important is that they post within two minutes of their randomly timed app notification. Late posts are allowed but looked down upon in the way that boring photos don't belong on Instagram.

Your BeReal friends don't care about whether you can produce beautiful images. They just want to know that you're alive.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1905107 2022-11-18T05:28:46Z 2023-11-05T00:36:55Z Remembering Father Peter Maher

Yesterday I attended the funeral of Father Peter Maher, who was the priest in my local parish of Newtown for 20 years until 2017.

That's when he retired. He was then 67, which is unusually early for a priest. Sometimes I think I might have been a bad - or good - influence and inspired him to take early retirement. I'd retired two years earlier at the age of 55.

Peter Maher

I would have lunch with him - at my house or his - three or four times a year. He was fastidious in his catering for my low carb diet, especially with his swede mash.

I can't remember exactly how I got to know him, as I didn't attend Mass. Perhaps it was the Interplay play therapy sessions he conducted in the church on an occasional Saturday afternoon.

Personal development was a common interest, as was editing and writing for publication.

I was editor of Eureka Street and he edited the National Council of Priests publication The Swag, where he would occasionally republish my Tiny Letters.

In 2015 he was honoured with an Order of Australia in recognition of his service to religion and the community through 'programs promoting acceptance and diversity'.

Like me, he admired Pope Francis' stress on inclusion and his resistance to clericalism.

In a piece for The Swag earlier this year, he suggested that he was not bothered that Francis doesn't seem to care as much for change in church governance or doctrine as he does 'the basics of listening'.

While Peter was well able to hear the cry of those who were 'silenced, marginalised or erased', he also had a well-ordered appreciation of some of the finer things of life, including high end whisky, and overseas travel.

He liked being able to offer me a whisky or two, I think because he didn't drink alone. Before we imbibed, he would give me a briefing to ensure I knew the basics, such as the difference between single and double malt.

A few years ago he stayed in my Paris room. Sadly his return visit that was planned for mid-2020 was thwarted by COVID and the treatment for his cancer diagnosis.

He never got to make that final overseas trip, though he was able to accept this with his characteristic equanimity.

Link - petermaher.org]]>
tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1901137 2022-11-09T06:01:30Z 2022-11-09T06:01:30Z Tunnel boring machine Dame Whina Cooper

Often on a Wednesday morning I'll see a film at my local Newtown Dendy cinema. Today it was the New Zealand biopic Whina (pronounced Feena).

Whina Cooper was a Maori social and political activist who died in 1994 aged 98. She is best known for leading an inspirational and consequential land rights protest march from the tip of the North Island, to Parliament in Wellington, in 1975.


In 2020, a tunnel boring machine working on Auckland's City Rail Link tunnels was named 'Dame Whina Cooper', to honour her strength and determination.

She was a devout Catholic who applied her characteristic peaceful resistance to the dogmatism of the Church when it stood in the way of her dignity and that of her people.

She reacted with stoicism when the priest publicly denounced her for becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Then on a later occasion, she stood up and challenged him at Mass when he railed against a set of Maori carvings that were 'idolatrous' and sexually explicit.

Her stand against the hectoring Irish missionary reminded me of the outrage provoked in Ireland by 80 year old Father Seán Sheehy's condemnation of same sex marriage and abortion rights. Sheehy delivered his outspoken homily ten days ago at St Mary’s Listowel, in his native County Kerry.

Commentator Derek Scally suggested in Monday's Irish Times that 'the problem of old Catholic Ireland was not priests preaching rampant sin but ordinary people feeling – and making each other feel – rampant shame.'

The film showed Whina's ability to lift her people up and make them feel proud.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1897682 2022-11-01T02:38:30Z 2022-11-01T02:38:30Z The little rituals in our daily routines One of my greatest current achievements is a 1,905 day practice streak in the Duolingo language learning app.

I'm currently doing Spanish, but - aside from some Latin - have focused mainly on French.

I don't think I've actually learned much of any of those languages. But I have discovered how to get ahead in Duolingo rankings.

I worked my way to the top 'Diamond' league and stayed there for nearly two years.

I did this by endlessly practising the same basic lessons, before deciding that - for me - being a Duolingo high flyer was pointless.

I wasn't improving my language skills, and I didn't even have such a strong desire to do so.

I tell myself that I use it as a waking up exercise the moment I open my eyes each morning, and that is true enough.

But I was somewhat enlightened by a piece in this week's Economist magazine, on the Western adaption of a Japanese concept - ikigai - which refers to a sense of purpose in life.

The article begins with the example of a Canadian businessman who felt empty after spending most of his life climbing the corporate ladder at a global shipping firm.

His moment of truth came when he discovered a Venn diagram with four circles labelled 'what you love', 'what you're good at', 'what the world needs', and 'what you can be paid for'.

At the intersection of the four circles was the word ikigai.

For me, there were questions to ponder which help discern the purpose there is for me in continuing a modest level of Duolingo practice.

So I can acknowledge that I am curious about languages. I have staying power. The world needs people who are aware that many others are most comfortable in languages other than English. And there is some utility for me if I'm travelling and manage to build a bridge with someone by using a word or phrase of their language.

But it turns out that the Western corporate life coaches have a more calculating understanding of ikigai than the Japanese, who see it as a simple honouring of 'the little rituals in their daily routines'.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1895030 2022-10-25T01:33:02Z 2022-10-25T01:33:02Z Charlie Bird's life without fear

I rarely watch TV talk shows, so I haven't bothered to tune into the new ABC talk show Frankly.

But sometimes I take a look at The Late Late Show with Ryan Tubridy, on RTÉ Player, the Irish national broadcaster's equivalent of ABC iView.

I'm always curious to learn more about the land of my forbears, and streaming a local TV program from another country makes me feel like I'm travelling there.

A recent episode included an interview with the 73 year old intrepid journalist legend Charlie Bird, whose life has changed radically since his Motor Neurone Disease diagnosis last year.

Charlie Bird and Claire on the Late Late Show from their home in Wicklow Image RTE

His mobility is compromised and he can no longer speak. But his mind is as sharp as ever.

So Ryan Tubridy journeyed to his home in County Wicklow to conduct the exceptionally moving interview alongside his partner Claire, using artificial voice technology.

Bird told him: 'I don't feel cheated, I have been very fortunate in my career in broadcasting. I have travelled to many parts of the world in my amazing life.'

One part of the world he travelled to was the Philippines, in 1983. I know, because I was there, and met him.

It was during the summer break from university. The Jesuits had sent me to travel around the Philippines for three months.

I visited the Negros Nine in a regional jail on the sugar-producing island of Negros, in the Visayas in the centre of the country.

The Negros Nine was a group of church activists that included Australian priest Brian Gore, Irish priest Niall O'Brien, Filipino priest Vicente Dangan, and six lay associates.

They had been falsely charged with multiple murders. In reality, they were being punished for emboldening oppressed workers to stand up for their rights.

I met the three priests, along with three journalists. They included Charlie Bird, an ABC correspondent and a journalist from the Brisbane Catholic Leader.

I did not know what had made him so famous in his home country in the intervening decades. So earlier today, I took a look at his Wikipedia entry.

Summarising his eventful career, it says that for many years in the 1990s, he was the point of contact between RTÉ and the Provisional IRA.

Then in 2006 he was injured while covering the Dublin Riots of 2007. As a youth, he had taken an interest in far left politics as a member of the Irish Young Socialists.

It's clear that he lived at least the first part of the journalist's ideal to act 'without fear or favour'. It seems that has prepared him well to face death without fear.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1892050 2022-10-18T01:09:49Z 2022-10-18T01:09:49Z From the sectarian divide to the culture wars Yesterday a friend said to me in an email: 'I miss your Tiny Letters as they were always thought provoking'.

I'd written to tell him about a talk I'd been to on Sunday about religion on Australian radio in the 1940s and 1950s. The speaker was Professor John Potts of the Centre for Media History at Macquarie University.

It would be an obscure topic for most people, but not my friend and I. We worked together on religious programs for commercial radio and television in Melbourne in the mid 1980s. Then I was a producer at ABC religious radio in Sydney for four years from 1988.

The talk painted a picture of the sectarianism that divided Australian society for much of the 20th century. Unlike today, most people identified as religious, and there was deep enmity between Catholics and Protestants.

The divisions were breaking down by the time I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. But I have vivid memories of feeling an outsider when I was a cub in the scouting movement.

Akela (the leader) looked at me disapprovingly when he was completing my admission form and I revealed I was a Catholic. 'You mean Roman Catholic', he corrected me with a tone of admonishment.

Radio Replies

My father was young in the 1930s. He'd tell us about his cricket heroes Don Bradman and Stan McCabe, making it clear that he much preferred the devout Catholic McCabe to Bradman, who was said to be hostile to Catholics.

What most interested me about Sunday's talk was its depiction of the difference between religious broadcasts on the ABC from those of commercial radio.

In those days the commercial stations were controlled by interest groups, most notably the churches. In Sydney, 2SM was the Catholic station while 2CH was the voice of the Protestant denominations.

Their broadcasts upheld the sectarian divide with a style that was often combative. This is evident in the print version of 2SM radio priest Dr Leslie Rumble's Radio Replies, which is on my bookshelf as a relic from my father.

On the other hand, ABC religious programs maintained standards that attempted to avoid division. Even if it produced content that was bland in comparison with that of the commercials.

The long time departmental head Kenneth Henderson strictly forbade sectarian sledging. He was more interested in appealing to listeners who were more questioning. This was evident in his program Plain Christianity: A Word to the Wayfarer.

It's quite a blessing that the sectarian divide has all but disappeared. But perhaps the culture wars have taken its place, complete with the difference in styles of coverage between the ABC and commercial media.

Link: John Potts Radio Journal article]]>
tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1769797 2021-12-11T22:06:08Z 2021-12-11T22:06:09Z Anthropology and institutional sex abuse During the week I discovered that one of my Melbourne University lecturers, Chicago-born Donna Merwick, died a few months ago.

She taught me American History, I think in 1983. Then - in my honours year in 1985 - I did History and Anthropology, the course she taught with her husband Greg Dening.

Being a Jesuit student at the time, what interested me most was that Donna had been a nun and Greg a Jesuit priest. While they never mentioned it in the class, I learned from Donna's obituary that they had remained lifelong Catholics.


My first memory of Greg was when he would visit my school to research his 1978 book Xavier A Centenary Portrait. I remember him operating out of a store room in the boarding house in the South Wing, and it was an education in itself to witness a historian at work with the various papers he'd gathered.

He died in 2008, two years after the publication of Church Alive, his history of the North Sydney Jesuit parish. I recall him writing to me after I reviewed the book in Eureka Street, congratulating me on how well my review had grasped his anthropological method. I suspect he hadn't realised I'd been in his class years earlier, after which I was strongly influenced by his teaching that institutions were essentially cultures.

This shaped my view that institutions are often more culpable for child sexual abuse than the individuals who committed the abuses. I think many of these people have been made to carry total blame for actions that accorded with the profoundly evil cultures of the institutions, which can appear to carry on as if they and their leaders have nothing to atone for.

Cultures prevail on us, telling us how to act and behave. There are particular and often unspoken ways of thinking, feeling and believing that are either OK or not OK.

The anthropologist ascribes deeper meaning to everyday aspects of a culture. I remember Donna and Greg introducing us to Clifford Geertz's idea of 'thick description' and his book The Interpretation of Cultures, perhaps the most famous text of ethnography from the 20th century. I found it dense and hard going but its teaching, and that of Donna and Greg has endured.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1766995 2021-12-04T21:41:06Z 2021-12-04T21:41:06Z Chasing the post-lockdown dream On Friday I attended the 'Writers Picnic' organised by a friend, in Sydney's Domain. It was my first social event since 'Freedom Day' ended our 106 day lockdown a few weeks ago.

The most memorable conversation concerned how a person knows if he or she is 'a writer'. The consensus was that we are writers if we experience composing text in any form as a source of pleasure and not a chore. This includes reports and other functional writing. We don't have to be any good at it, though practice makes perfect, as it does with most pursuits.

During lockdown, most of us were out of practice with many of our regular activities. Strangely this often included things that give us pleasure and don't require social distancing (writing, for example). Our wings were clipped by the need to do our bit to avoid the spread of the virus, and we lacked a sense of pursuit in our life generally.

With lockdown over for now, we can at least contemplate a return to life as we knew it. However tentatively, we can once again chase our dreams.

That was the subject of the other conversation I most remember from the Writers Picnic. Most of those present were travel writers, a dream occupation that was among those most frustrated by the lockdown. We talked about travel that was possible but also responsible.

Responsible travel can be about stimulating the economy, which is why the NSW and other state governments are encouraging us to travel in our own backyard. But there's also the challenge to consider whether local and overseas travel is something we need to do. Something that is beyond a consumer want.

Do we have loved ones to visit, or mental health or other life issues to address? Or are we just bored and footloose? That's a question for each of us to think about.

The good news is that we're beginning to have options, which is something we lacked during lockdown. A few weeks ago I purchased a flexible ticked that allows me to travel to Paris in March, or any time within the next two years. I am prepared to chase my travel dreams and visit family on the other side of the world, but I am also ready to put my life plans on hold once again.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1703506 2021-06-14T23:13:38Z 2021-11-14T19:46:30Z How do I know I'm still a Catholic?

On Sunday I went to Canberra and enjoyed a semi-regular walk with a friend from my days training to be a Jesuit priest.

We both left the Jesuits a little more than 30 years ago, and I think it's true to say that each of us walked away from the practice but not the positive humanitarian values of Catholicism.

I won't hesitate to identify as 'Catholic' when I complete the Census form later this year. But I studiously avoid participation in the life of the Church because it triggers a form of PTSD related to obedience.

So how do I know I'm still a Catholic?

For a long time I wasn't sure how to answer that question. But some time last year I stumbled across the English Catholic weekly publication The Tablet in the Readly electronic newsstand.

The Tablet

As I did many years ago, I now read it from cover to cover and can find interest in almost every article. I'm able to identify with the concerns and the lines of enquiry and particular curiosities of many of the writers. That's what tells me I am still a Catholic.

The Tablet has been published for 180 years and is part of a genre of news and culture reviews that also includes the New Statesman and The Spectator. It is proudly independent and is tolerated by many church leaders even though it does not hesitate to criticise the Church.

This week's cover story looks at Boris Johnson's recent Catholic marriage, which was 'conducted after due process and entirely within the laws of the land and of the Catholic Church'. It argues that Catholic teaching on marriage is full of anomalies and inconsistencies, and that those who were angered because they felt the Church gave the British PM special treatment denied them, are sadly mistaken.

Another article sees a path for the affirmation of transgender women through an analogy with transubstantiation, which is the Catholic teaching that bread and wine are changed into Christ's body and blood substantially - not symbolically - during the eucharistic part of the Mass.

It asks: 'Could we think of transgender as in some sense analogical to transubstantiation - not capable of scientific proof, but constituting a real presence which is different from the material appearance?'

It seems The Tablet can always find a sweet spot that is captive neither to ideology hostile to religion nor the entrenched obstinacy of many religious leaders.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1699908 2021-06-06T22:33:36Z 2021-06-06T22:33:36Z Wingham remains strong after fires and floods

Often on a Saturday morning I'll walk to the nearby Carriageworks farmers market. I will usually buy meat from Linga Longa Farm, which is located about 350km north of Sydney in the Manning River Valley just outside Wingham.

I am always impressed with their commitment to the seven hour round trip that enables city dwellers to enjoy fresh unprocessed meat direct from the farm. It is a pleasure to support them.

I hope that their business model makes them profitable because they've had to face a lot of adversity in recent times. They could not come to Carriageworks for more than a month because they were restocking and rebuilding fences after the destruction caused by the floods earlier this year. That was after the horror bushfires they suffered in late 2019.

Old Butcher Shop

I'd hardly heard of Wingham until I started buying meat from Linga Longa. But I became curious about the town and decided to make it the destination of my day trip by train from Sydney yesterday. I spent ten hours in the train and two and a half hours roaming the town on foot.

The highlight was the Wingham Museum, which friends had told me about. It is recognised as one of the finest museums in regional Australia, a fitting counterpart to Sydney's Powerhouse and other museums of applied arts and sciences. It was opened in 1968 in an old commercial building by the renowned aviatrix Nancy Bird-Walton.


There are many stories of pioneers of the district. Painted on the side of the museum's building is a portrait of the Irish-born pastoralist Isabella Mary Kelly, who purchased her property in 1838 and ran it with the help of eight convicts.

She was a noted horse woman who 'often stayed overnight in the bush with her loaded gun and brandy flask'. But she was disliked by some of the men of the district, who resented a woman who was unmarried and did 'men's work'. She was known to have a temper and would not allow men to stand over her.

Isabella Mary Kelly

So in 1851 her house was mysteriously burned down while she was away on business. Later forged documents saw her falsely imprisoned in Sydney's Darlinghurst Gaol. But, according to the display notes at the museum, she overcame the humiliation and adversity to remain strong.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1691679 2021-05-17T03:43:21Z 2021-05-17T03:43:21Z Present moment mysticism I'm writing this from the Palace Hotel in the declining but always fascinating far west NSW mining town of Broken Hill, which is subject to extreme temperatures because of its location in semi-desert country. I was here in January 2019 when it was in the mid 40s. This morning the mercury got down to 2.2 degrees.

Palace Hotel Broken Hill

Tomorrow I will appreciate the many transitions in the landscape during my 13 hour trip back to Sydney on the Outback Explorer train, after being away for ten days.

My first stop was Melbourne, before taking the 130 year old Overland train journey to Adelaide, where I stayed for six nights before boarding the NSW railway bus to Broken Hill through the mostly arid countryside of South Australia's mid-north.

Adelaide to Broken Hill Bus

I had a few important reasons to visit Adelaide. I wished to spend a day with a cousin whose existence I discovered only about 15 years ago. I also wanted to catch up with a work colleague from 30 years ago. But what was most pressing was the landmark Clarice Beckett exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia, as it was due to close yesterday.

Beckett, who lived from 1887 to 1935, is one of Australia's most important modernist painters. Like most Australians I'd never heard of her. But my attention was drawn to her work when I read a review of the show by the Sydney Morning Herald's famously grumpy art critic John McDonald.

Clarice Beckett Sunset from Black Rock

He said: 'It’s not often I feel the urge to visit the same show on three successive days, but Clarice Beckett: The Present Moment at the Art Gallery of South Australia, is one of those rare, inexhaustible exhibitions.'

I saw it twice, and I've joined the waiting list for the catalogue, which is being reprinted after selling out. It turns out that they've postponed its closing by a week and extended the daily opening times.

Viewing her paintings, what resonated with me in particular was the setting of the majority of them not far from her longtime residence in the beachside Melbourne suburb of Beaumaris. I grew up in country Victoria but my family went to the neighbouring beach suburb of Black Rock several times, for seaside summer holidays.

Clarice Beckett Summer Fields

I was also interested in the spirituality that underlies the paintings. The exhibition notes describe Beckett as a 'visionary mystic' who was 'receptive to international trends in science, literature, philosophy and spiritualism'.

Beckett would often rise at 4:00 am and walk up to five kilometres from her home to capture the effect of the early morning sea mists. The creator of the musical soundtrack to the exhibition writes of solitude as the central inspiration for her track choices, as she sought to contribute to the creation of 'an intimate space for viewers to contemplate The Present Moment.'

Beckett never travelled beyond Victoria, though she did some of her most renowned paintings during the six months she spent at Naringal Station in the state's Western District. As I sat in the bus travelling through arid regions of South Australia's mid-north yesterday, I wondered what she would have made of them.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1686882 2021-05-03T23:11:26Z 2021-05-03T23:11:27Z The film festival that never ends Last weekend saw my Mubi film previewing job come to an end. The streaming company had paid me a small amount of money to look for technical imperfections in a total of 358 films over the past four years.

At one stage I had a larger role with Mubi, creating English subtitles for English language films. But for the most part I was a member of a community of around 30 amateur previewers. Last week my contact notified me that they'd decided to move the preview tasks inhouse.


Mubi offers a variety of arthouse, classic and experimental films. You may have seen the Mubi icon on the menu of your smart TV or Apple or other streaming box. I have been a subscriber since 2011, when I owned an early streaming device called Boxee.

What I like most about Mubi is the way they curate and present one film each day and give subscribers a month to watch it. In this way they school their subscribers in film appreciation and provide the perfect antidote to many people's experience of Netflix - thousands of films available but nothing worth watching.

This Boys Life

Mubi is like a film festival that never ends. I've been a subscriber to the Sydney Film Festival since 2004, and I deliberately opt for the 'set menu' of about 33 films chosen by curators. I make a point of seeing them all and have not missed one since 2008.

Labyrinth of Cinema

I was first introduced to arthouse films back in the 1980s by a friend who was a graduate of the directors course at the Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS). He'd also trained as a sculptor at the Sydney School of Art and was much inspired by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's philosophy of film as 'sculpting in time'.

For many viewers, the problem with Tarkovsky is that they could not understand what was going on in his films. For me, understanding a film is always a work in progress.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1683337 2021-04-25T23:10:25Z 2021-04-25T23:10:25Z Honouring infamy Yesterday I enjoyed a day trip to Bathurst, three and a half hours west of Sydney across the Blue Mountains. It is an old gold mining town that is currently experiencing rapid population growth.

Like Ballarat and Bendigo in Victoria, the wealth from gold mining gave Bathurst a legacy of impressive buildings, and today there is no shortage of cultural institutions.


I visited the Regional Art Gallery, the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum, and the Bathurst Rail Museum, which was opened only last year. The city once had a railway workforce of 500, including former prime minister Ben Chifley, who was an engine driver.

But because it was Anzac Day, the focal point was the Bathurst Town Square, where the war memorials are situated. There was the main memorial tower, which is famous for its bells. Yesterday they were peeling with identifiable tunes in an extended concert performance.


But of more immediate interest to me was the Boer War Memorial. That is because, while on the train from Sydney, I had read a Peter FitzSimons opinion article in the Sun-Herald newspaper. It concerned local war criminal Peter Handcock, who is disgraced but controversially honoured there.

Strangely it reminded me of my 2018 trip to Stalin's home town of Gori in Georgia, where they honour his infamy.

Handcock was executed with Anglo-Australian Lieutenant Harry 'Breaker' Morant, after being court-martialled and convicted of committing murder while on active duty in 1902. Lord Kitchener unveiled the memorial in 1910, but apparently agreed to do so only after Handcock's name was removed from the list of heroes.

Disgraced lieutenant deserves no honour - The Sun-Herald 25 Apr 21

However Handcock's name was restored in 1964 after lobbying from his son. Yesterday the memorial was adorned with flowers, perhaps put there by his great grandson, who maintains a website to tell the family's side of the story.

Breaker Morant was brought to prominence a few years later by Bruce Beresford's 1980 Australian war drama film Breaker Morant. Beresford told film critic Father Peter Malone in 1999 that he had 'never pretended for a moment that they weren't guilty'. He expressed dismay and said he was 'amazed' that so many people mistakenly thought the film was about 'poor Australians who were framed by the Brits'.

FitzSimons has attempted to demythologise Breaker Morant through his 2020 book Breaker Morant. I hope that Bathurst locals can quietly lay aside attempts to lionise Handcock and instead focus their energies on paying tribute to their real hero Ben Chifley.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1677998 2021-04-12T22:38:16Z 2021-04-12T22:38:17Z Photographs out of focus At the weekend I visited two exhibitions of blurry photographs. On Saturday it was Stuart Spence's 'Truro' at Nanda\Hobbs gallery in inner-Sydney Chippendale (first photo), and on Sunday I saw Bill Henson's travelling exhibition 'The light fades but the gods remain' at the Newcastle Regional Gallery (second).

Stuart Spence Dancer

The aesthetic which refers to deliberately out-of-focus images is known as 'bokeh'. I don't know much about the theory but I do know that I have a deeper response to a photo that is off focus or off colour or imperfect in some other way.

Perhaps we relate better to imperfect photos than perfect photos if we are aware that we are imperfect ourselves. Or it could be that the blurriness represents a state of unconsciousness in which our own unconscious feels at home. Whatever it is, I find imperfect images more deeply satisfying than those that are perfect.


While I was at Nanda\Hobbs, Spence was giving a talk to a group of architecture students. He quoted Miles Davis' answer when he was asked how long it had taken him to learn the trumpet. 'Thirty years to learn it, and the rest of my life to forget it'.

For Spence, photos are 'acts of forgetting, of shutting down the monkey mind and allowing whatever the hell looks after this stuff, do what it needs to do'.

I find that as I walk around a city or some other location, the photos take themselves. Without much effort, I make images that have a deep resonance which either I can't or don't want to explain.


On my walk after seeing the Henson exhibition, I took a photo of Wal Young House, the headquarters of the Newcastle District Bowling Association. Obviously I experienced beauty and significance in what for many would be an unremarkable 1960s building.

I think I also had an unconscious fear that it would be demolished before too long, and taking the photo was an act of love or solidarity. Sure enough, when I got home I googled Wal Young House and found a Newcastle Herald report of a proposal to put a modern indoor sports complex in its place.

vietnam woman

It takes a lot of work to achieve the artistry of a Stuart Spence or Jim Henson photograph. If I had the patience, I would probably exaggerate the colours rather than blur my Wal Young House photo. But I rarely have the commitment to give myself to such a task.

But I did about ten years ago, when I was bored on a flight back from Vietnam. The result was an image that has endured, of my fleeting acquaintance with an old woman carrying a load on her shoulders.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1671829 2021-03-28T22:14:45Z 2021-03-28T22:14:45Z The joy of abstract art

Yesterday I took another trip to Canberra and found myself in the National Gallery of Australia (NGA).

For a third time I visited 'Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now', one of my favourite exhibitions for some time. But I gave most of my attention to the NGA's current blockbuster 'Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London'.


I don't enjoy the crowds - and often predictability - of blockbusters. But I saw it yesterday because I was there, and nobody passes up an easy opportunity to witness such a big event.

The Italian Renaissance painting was beautiful but didn't speak to me. The Grand Tour - the right of passage where wealthy young Englishmen would tour Continental Europe - seemed grotesque. But I very much liked some of the other parts of the exhibition including 'France and the rise of modern art'.

This section took me back to the Saturday morning art classes I did as a child at what is now the Albury TAFE. I have retained much of what I learned about this period from the teacher Mrs Smith, including the characteristics of the works of painters featured here, such as Monet, Gauguin and Cézanne (above).


These painters departed from realistic depiction of landscapes and other objects in favour of more abstract forms, including broad brushstrokes and geometric shapes. I was fascinated by cacti as a child and Mrs Smith guided me to use broad brushstrokes to paint a Mexican desert landscape that currently hangs behind my bed (pictured).

The progression from realism to abstract in that show provided a good background for the Australian Women Artists' work in the next room (including Dorrit Black's cubist painting The Bridge from 1930, below).


The works here held particular meaning for me, articulated here in a section of the exhibition notes:

'Abstract work is a great joy... If you can empty your mind of chatter, and just live with the work for a few minutes, you find this enormous release into a mode of thought that is beyond speech.'

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1668883 2021-03-21T20:55:17Z 2021-03-21T20:55:18Z Sexual empathy Recently I was asked what I thought about consent, in light of the rape allegations that the Federal Government is being forced to confront.

It is difficult to answer this without preaching, and preachers on this subject often fall into hypocrisy.

But having said this, I have strong views about consent in sexual relations that I don't mind sharing.

Specifically I believe that the most important aspect of having sex is our reading of how the other person is feeling - at every moment of the encounter - and our physical and emotional response to this.

Indeed this sense of the other is integral to the pleasure we get from sex. If that's not the case for you, my advice is that it could be better to use a sex robot or a sex toy instead of a real person.

You may wonder where I get this from. It's straight from the moral teaching of the Catholic Church, which gives priority to respecting the person.

My view is that if we don't do this, we become utilitarian and start to think pragmatically about the sex act. We might consider that society is going to be better off if we lay aside that isolated consent transgression and hope that the other person gets over it. That is perhaps how the Government is playing the current allegations.

But while I believe the Catholic Church gets it right on uncompromising respect for the person, I think its leaders got catastrophically lost along the way when they decided that human reproduction had to be the basis of the Church's sexual ethics. That is, you can't have sex unless you're making babies.

To my mind, this does not sit easily with their more important principle of respect for the person, which has made its own contribution towards western society's valuing of sexual consent.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1665763 2021-03-14T22:22:53Z 2021-03-14T23:19:38Z Old school ties After being re-introduced by a mutual friend, I spent a very satisfying three hours on Friday visiting a fellow student from primary school. We've lived in the same part of Sydney for 30 years but hadn't seen each other in 40.

It made me think about our lost opportunities for meaningful human connection, but also the well-intentioned but unwanted attempts of third parties to have us reconnect with our contemporaries.

A few years ago, I was annoyed by the old boys association of my Melbourne high school. They'd kept including me in invitations to their Sydney dinner events, even though I'd demonstrated my disinterest by never attending.

I was uncomfortable with the upmarket venues, the dress codes, and the culture surrounding the occasions. I indicated this when I grumpily replied to them saying that I didn't own a dinner suit and the cost of the evenings exceeded my budget. I disingenuously implied that I would attend if they changed their tune, not expecting them to do so.

Subsequently I was floored when they began holding dinners at a lowbrow club in the city with minimum dress standards. I was impressed but nevertheless have not considered attending.

A year or so later I asked to be removed from the main mailing list of the association, explaining that receiving their newsletter was for me an occasion of 'retraumatisation'.

I didn't give any detail. They responded cordially and stopped sending the communications. I did not wish to enter into dialogue with them but simply remind them that school provided a mixed or negative experience for some.

I hoped that they would be challenged to consider my view that it was more likely than not that the old boys association - as it has traditionally operated - was most likely to reinforce rather than atone for that.

My high school was an elite all boys institution. Fairly or unfairly, I associate such institutions with the kind of entitled sexist alcohol-fueled exuberance that the Federal Government is currently being forced to face up to with the rape allegations.

I always felt alienated by that culture. That is why I have become increasingly selective when I revisit those times by meeting up with old school friends. Nevertheless it's worth the effort, as I discovered on Friday.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1660514 2021-03-01T23:12:09Z 2021-03-01T23:12:09Z John Howard and the culture wars Last week the ABC's Tom Switzer interviewed former Prime Minister John Howard ahead of today's 25th anniversary of his history-changing ascension to power in the 1996 Federal Election.

Listening to Howard's reflections, what struck me was his virulent opposition to an apology to the Stolen Generations. 'I didn't think one generation could apologise for the claimed misdeeds of an earlier generation.'

I've had a life-long curiosity about the 'claimed misdeeds'. As a child, I used to wonder about the Aboriginal people who vacated the land that became our farm outside Wodonga, less than 100 years before I was born.

I had one primary school teacher who taught us that there'd been tension between the original inhabitants of the land and the European settlers. But the prevailing attitude was that how the land got to be ours was not something we needed to be concerned about.

Over the years, education fed my curiosity and I came to regard the claimed misdeeds as a stain on our peace of mind about the land we inhabit, not unlike the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin.

For now, I believe that the least we can do is to inform ourselves and support the acknowledgement of country that often takes place at the beginning of meetings and events.

I like to study the Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia, and currently I'm reading Henry Reynolds' Truth-Telling: History, Sovereignty and The Uluru Statement, which was published last month.

Reynolds, who is now 82, was a young historian when I was studying Australian history at Melbourne University. This was not long after his landmark book The Other Side of the Frontier was first published in 1981.

Reynolds' arguments were rebutted by Keith Windschuttle in The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (2002), which is often credited with precipitating the 'history wars' and - by extension - the 'culture wars'.

Windschuttle was a contemporary of John Howard's at school. In 2006 Howard appointed him to the Board of the ABC, which is often recognised as Australia's premier cultural institution. Windschuttle's ideas have clearly fuelled Howard's skepticism regarding the earlier generation's 'claimed misdeeds' against the indigenous population. The culture wars - which are the major source of social and intellectual division in Australia today - have subsequently come to loom large in Howard's legacy.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1657431 2021-02-23T02:05:59Z 2021-02-23T02:06:00Z Celebrating madness There have always been euphemisms to describe people living with mental illness.

In a conversation a few days ago, a friend referred to a mutual acquaintance as being ‘on the spectrum’, as if he was not like the rest of us.

In the past, these people were called lunatics and ‘put away’ in an asylum. But more recently we have come to accept - and even celebrate - the reality that we are all mad or crazy to a degree.

Indeed the tag ‘Keep Newtown Weird’ has been used - with pride - to promote the part of Sydney where I live. My neighbourhood is a lunatic asylum!

The Scream

Yesterday the Guardian reported on an inscription - ‘Can only have been painted by a madman’ - on one of the versions of Norwegian expressionist painter Edvard Munch’s famous work The Scream.

The article said that Munch is now thought to have made the marking himself after attending an 1895 meeting in which a medical student said the painting must be the work of someone who was mentally disturbed.

It quoted a curator’s belief that the inscription is ‘a combination of being ironic, but also showing his vulnerability’.

The tortured face of the person in the painting is one of the most iconic images of modern art. It is a famously eloquent depiction of the anxiety that is characteristic of the human condition.

Coincidentally, last week I watched British director Peter Watkins’ controversial 1974 docu-drama on Munch, which has been lauded as one of the best films about art of all time.

The legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman called it a ‘work of genius’, but the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK tried to suppress its distribution. It is remarkable that the ostracism of Munch by Norwegian polite society seems to have persisted from his time until the late 20th century.

His legacy is the now widespread acceptance that it’s OK to externalise our tortured emotional and psychological state, in art and other forms of expression. Munch’s stubborn refusal to keep his mental anguish under wraps ensured that his work would continue strike a chord with subsequent generations of citizens of the modern world.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1654555 2021-02-16T01:27:36Z 2021-02-16T01:27:36Z Making Google and Facebook pay would break the Internet I’ve been following the Federal Government’s media bargaining code legislation, which could have a profound effect on the circulation of news in Australia and beyond.

It seems the Government is on the side of media organisations in wanting to force Google and Facebook to pay for the right to provide the public with links to content that is not theirs.

I found myself torn. On the one hand I was wanting to see Google and Facebook broken up. I didn’t want them to become more powerful than the governments which are meant to regulate them on behalf of all of us.

But on the other, I strongly believe in the right of all Internet users to freely link to the content of other users’ websites.

Having formed the opinion that Google and Facebook were destroying the Internet by their dominance, I was dismayed - but eventually heartened - to see the inventor of the Internet Tim Berners-Lee apparently siding with them, in opinion articles and his submission to the Australian Parliamentary Committee.

Likewise ‘father’ of the Internet Vint Cerf told the Committee (admittedly on behalf of his current employer Google): ‘Links are the cornerstones of open access to information online; requiring a search engine (or anyone else) to pay for them undermines one of the fundamental principles of the Internet as we know it today.’

They were affirming the basis upon which I developed the CathNews website in 1999, which still publishes links and synopses of news stories concerning the Catholic Church.

We would publish snippets of the article, with the idea that we were sending the reader to the original source and not ‘stealing’ the media organisation’s content. Of course the length of the snippets was the key factor in determining whether the content was being stolen.

I never imagined that the Australian Government might one day require us to pay to publish links to other websites.

Sometimes other Internet users would write to me to ask permission to link to our content and I would reply quite definitively that there was no need to seek permission to publish links, because that was what the internet was all about.

I remember Rupert Murdoch asserting at some point many years ago, that websites - like ours perhaps - were stealing his content. He did not acknowledge that they were also delivering him a broader audience. That remains the sticking point of his battle with Google and Facebook today.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1651104 2021-02-08T00:54:32Z 2021-02-08T00:54:32Z Banks that listen to their customers

When I was a child, my father took his business from the Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) and switched to CBC Bank (now NAB).

The Bank of New South Wales had obviously done something to incur his displeasure. But the reason - which I have never known - was less important than the reality that he had a choice and exercised it.

Loyalty to banks was a big thing. My grandfather - and probably his father - had banked with the Bank of New South Wales. I understand that in those days, banks were generally loyal to their customers.

My father’s exercise of choice could have something to do with the fact that I have accounts with 15 different banks and use many of them for different purposes. In Australia we are lucky that fees are easy to avoid if you have the time to be vigilant.

Until now my favourite bank has been the neobank 86 400. This is mainly because it is not one of the ‘Big 4’ banks, all of which had their predatory behaviour exposed by the banking Royal Commission.

Neobanks are startups with the potential to spoil the party of the Big 4. They have proper banking licences but no branches, and therefore can afford to charge almost no fees and be innovative.

They are more in touch with their customers, and 86 400 has even adopted some features I have suggested.

I told them I’d like to avoid the 3% fee most banks charge for foreign transactions (it adds 3% to the cost of items such as a subscription to the New York Times). They said they’d have to absorb what it cost them, but they did remove the charge a few months later.

The bad news is that NAB announced last month that it has acquired 86 400. NAB has tried to head off competition from neobanks with its comparatively nimble UBank division. Now the scene is set for it to close 86 400, rejuvenate Ubank and further reduce competition in the banking sector.

86 400 is currently my ‘main’ bank, so I am likely to move my activity elsewhere. The most interesting candidate in my suite of bank accounts is Bank Australia, which positions itself as an ethical bank that is owned by its customers rather than profit hungry shareholders. It commenced in 1957 as the CSIRO’s staff credit union.

So far my research suggests the ethics claim is justified. Moreover it seems they listen to their customers.

A few months ago I urged them to adopt Fitbit Pay, so that their Fitbit wearing customers can make tap and go payments with their watches. A few days ago they sent an email announcing their cards are now compatible with Fitbit Pay.

Now I will see if they will come at moving even closer to the nimble and innovative neobanks by absorbing the 3% foreign transaction charge.

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1647850 2021-01-31T23:41:16Z 2021-03-02T10:26:40Z A trip to outback NSW

I'm spending a few nights with a friend in the historic river town of Wentworth, at the junction of the Darling and Murray rivers in the far south western corner of NSW.

As part of our 11 day rail and road journey, we were to stay in Mildura rather than Wentworth. But that was across the Victorian border, which closed after we booked and reopened following our arrival in Wentworth. As a result, we've had the experience of a small community instead of a large provincial city.

I enjoy a mix of spontaneous and planned activities. We've had a half day tour of the Lake Mungo indigenous archaeological site planned for several months, and we're doing that later today after heavy rains caused caused it to be postponed for 48 hours.

Perry Sandhills

On our first day here we visited Orange World, where a citrus farmer named Mario takes tourists on a tractor train tour through his orchard. Although he is good humoured and obviously enjoys performing as a tour guide, life is hard. He makes only 40 cents per kilo from his oranges, so he's gradually switching to mandarins, which earn $1 per kilo.

We were the only tourists on his train, which looked to have capacity for 60 or more. That is the story of our holiday. Due to COVID-19, the motels, restaurants and other attractions have been near empty. Yesterday we were alone in our exploration of the ancient Perry Sand Hills formation near the Murray River (pictured).

It has been a pleasure to give patronage to local business owners. Yesterday I bought a scarf from a Wentworth weaver. I didn't need it but will enjoy it for its comfort, style and memory of our time here.

Surprisingly there is some optimism. We met a restaurateur who is about to open an upmarket eatery in Wentworth and did not seem too worried about the uncertain times. I hope his instinct is correct.

2BH Radio Station Broken Hill

Our previous stop was Broken Hill, to which we'd travelled from Sydney on the weekly Outback Explorer train. The highlights for us included the Silly Goat cafe, which has coffee as good as any we've tasted in Sydney. They are so proud of it that they give their patrons a 'tasting notes' card.

But sadly the business is for sale. Times are tough also for the local commercial radio station 2BH, where we struck up a conversation with the advertising manager when we went to admire the unique studio building that was built to resemble a vintage radio set (pictured).

For most of the day 2BH networks shock jocks from Sydney but they have an engaging local breakfast program where you get to hear about power blackouts, extreme weather events and listener birthdays.

After Wentworth, we're driving through a few remote semi-desert towns including Balranald and Hay, before spending two nights in Griffith before our train journey back to Sydney on Thursday.

More images at http://photos.mullins.id.au

tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1641480 2021-01-17T23:47:42Z 2021-01-28T19:51:03Z Deplatforming ourselves The deplatforming of Donald Trump has brought this new word into prominence. Twitter, Facebook and several other social media platforms have effectively silenced the outgoing US president by suspending him from using their services.

While that is of course very significant, I’m more interested in the idea of deplatforming ourselves, which is sometimes referred to as social media ‘detox’.

I have a history of this. I was an early adopter of various forms of social media, but then just as quickly abandoned them as I became aware that they were taking over my life and exploiting my usage data.

I remember my Twitter consumption being at its peak when Julia Gillard successfully challenged Kevin Rudd for the Labor Party leadership in 2010.

Shortly afterwards, I realised that I was checking my Twitter feed whenever I had a spare moment. I marvelled at how well informed I’d become.

But I was also aware that my total wellbeing had taken a hit. I had to either moderate or effectively abandon my use of Twitter. I chose the latter, though I agree that moderation is always the best way to curb addictive behaviour.

About two years ago, I decided to work on improving my skills as a photographer by posting a photo a day on Instagram. I kept it up for a year but stopped because I didn’t like it that Instagram was part of the ecosystem of Facebook, which I’d strenuously avoided because I genuinely believed it was more evil than good.

In November 2019 I decided to remove Google from my life as far as possible. You can’t do that completely if you own an Android phone as I do. But you can try.

I googled ‘no more Google’ and found a website listing alternatives to Google. Now my googling days are over and I use the DuckDuckGo search engine and many other services that do not send my usage data to Google or Facebook.

I’ve been a constant user of Fitbit health and fitness monitoring devices for nearly six years. So I was dismayed when Google purchased Fitbit a year or so ago. I could see Google monitoring my weight and trying to sell weight loss products to me whenever it sees I’ve gained a kilo or two.

An email from the Fitbit CEO last week promised that wouldn’t happen. But the Australian regulatory body the ACCC looks like it will only be able to achieve a moratorium on such predatory practice for a limited period of time. It is about to rule after receiving submissions from members of the public including myself.

If I count podcasts, I’m still as addicted to social media as anybody I know. This morning I decided to switch off my podcast feed while I was at the gym and give my full and satisfied attention to my body’s reaction to the weights I was lifting.