A picture is worth a thousand words – some memories from 2018

35 days on the chemin
In May and June this year I spent nine weeks on a wonderful adventure in Europe – the first 35 days walking the Chemin de St Jacques through Southern France followed by three weeks on a singing tour through Greece with our Aquapella choir. The chemin is one of the feeders to the well known pilgrimage Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Last year I had booked a place on the Greek tour and I was discussing a possible trip with  our daughter Lana before our time in Greece. Lana suggested we walk some of the Spanish camino together and after some research we settled on a  walk in France – the chemin Voie du Puy which commences at Le Puy en Velay and finishes at St Jean Pied de Port. Lana wanted to walk ten days – I liked the idea of a longer walk so decided for the full 35 days.
In early May, three of us – Lana, my cousin Stephen and I – met in the French city of Lyon and travelled to Le Puy en Velay. Usually around 200 people set out each day but on the day we started walking there were only 60. Next day we discovered why – there was heavy snow overnight and it continued for four days.

(Surprised by “la neige” – Selfie in the snow)

The French people walking with us were upset by the snow but coming from Australia we thought it was magic. The first morning I ran around the hostel calling out “Joyeux Noel, Joyeux Noel” and they all thought I was crazy.
After ten days Lana headed back to Australia and Stephen went to Portugal to meet his daughter. I continued on alone and it was the most amazing experience. Unseasonal snow in the first week and record rain and floods in the last week. I did less that I planned – walking a total of 600km not 720km – but I will go back in 2020 to complete my walk and possibly walk some of the Spanish camino.

Facebook Event for chemin
(Images from the chemin – the way, the people and the places)

Singing our way through Greece
Our tour of Greece was also very special. The Aquapella choir brings together singers from Townsville and Magnetic Island separated by – you guessed it – Aqua – and we sing acapella. Our tour commenced with five days in Athens featuring visits to many of the well known archaeological sites and our first concert at the International School of Athens.

choir 6(First concert of the tour at the International School of Athens)

From Athens we went to the Greek islands of Syros and Tinos where we performed in concerts hosted by local choirs. We returned to the mainland and journeyed to Nauplion on the Peleponnese Peninsula where we performed in a joint concert with the Mixed Polyphonic Choir of Nauplion.  We sang in the building that housed the first Parliament of Greece following independence from the Ottoman Turks in 1830.
On the way to Nauplion we stopped at Epidauras, a theatre that is 2500 years old and is still used today for classical performances. The theatre seats audiences of 15000 with no sound amplification required. We were allowed to sing two songs in the amphitheatre and found out later how lucky we had been. No commercial performances are allowed and recently Nana Maskouri had been not allowed to sing there as she was considered by theatre management to be a”pop singer”.


(Aquapella sing the Russian Orthodox hymn Tebe Poem in the 2500 y.o. amphitheatre)

From Nauplion which is on the Greek Peleponnese Peninsula we journeyed to Patros, Volos and Meteora before our tour finished in Thessaloniki. There were so many highlights of the tour – concerts with local choirs, swimming in the crystal clear waters around the Greek islands, wonderful hospitable people, great travelling companions…

Working for human rights
In May I became President of the Amnesty International Australia Queensland Northern NSW Branch. This is my second term – I had been President from 2005-2008 which seems a long time ago now. The photo below was taken at the AGM of Amnesty International Australia (AIA) held in Sydney in October.

Write for Rights
(Participants at the AGM take part in Write for Rights action)

Our local action group has continued to work tirelessly for Human Rights in 2018 and my favorite project has been our Amnesty Human Rights Ambassador (HRA) Program. We recruited students from James Cook University as HRAs to take the human rights message into the JCU community and to local high schools. The photo below was taken at our end of year gathering.

IMG_5475(2018 Human Rights Ambassadors: Andrea, Marisa, Dulce, Sharon, Jacky, Andile, Lisa and Denise)

Where is our humanity?
The Australian Government continues to trample on the human rights of those most vulnerable – the people on Manus and Nauru, and the 20,000 people seeking asylum in Australia who live here on temporary visas with the the ever-present threat of being sent back to face persecution and possible death. The case of Priya, Nades and their two daughters pictured below who face deportation in six weeks illustrates how inhumane our policies have become.

Priya and Nades
Passing of an icon
On Tuesday 16th October 2018, Margaret Thorsborne, one of Queensland’s most revered and beloved champions of our wildlife and natural heritage passed away. There was a wonderful celebration of Margaret’s life held at the House of Prayer and Spirituality in November.

2000s_MT and Wren Cottage_Newscorp

One of the tributes read out at the celebration came from Ngawang Tenzin, now a  teacher of Buddhism living in Melbourne.
He wrote: “Margaret remains for me a sort of guiding light; for her selfless and tireless devotion to conservation in the far north, but also the simple generosity with which she shared that warmth and energy, even to idealistic and impatient PhD students who turned up to her beautiful little cabin in Edmund Kennedy N.P, to drink tea and pester her about cassowaries.
I remember clearly the picture she had on her wall of the Dalai Lama.  I also remember times sitting drinking tea and eating cake on her leafy verandah, surrounded by the forest filled with bird song, and the light and love she had in her eyes when she related stories of visits to her house by the local cassowaries and all sorts of other wildlife, which came and went through her open doors and windows as they pleased.  I remember being amazed at hearing stories of how, frail as she seemed, she would still put on her cassowary suit and visit school children to share with them her knowledge and concern for those ancient and magnificent birds.
I am sure she was a Bodhisattva, a being who had awakened not for her own benefit, but for the love of others, especially those beings without a voice of their own; the wild creatures and forests of the far north.  She will stay in my heart always.”

Follow this link to read more of Margaret’s amazing life.

One in a Billion!
While in Sydney for the Amnesty AGM I visited Bondi Sculpture by the Sea. Townsville’s version of Sculpture by the Sea is our biennial Strand Ephemera. On the plane home I came up with an idea for the 2019 Strand Ephemera – a giant 3 metre high takeaway coffee cup. This is to highlight the fact that every year Australians use then discard over one billion coffee cups!
Together with three others we submitted our plans for our installation entitled “One in a Billion”. On 14 December we received the exciting news that we have been successful – more than 100 applications for 28 places and we got one!

One in a Billion reduced
(“One in a Billion” – look out for our entry in the 2019 Strand Ephemera)

Mum doing well at 94
My mother was living in a granny flat under our house but in August had a fall and broke her hip. For a while after the operation it was touch and go – but she rallied and has recovered reasonably well.
She is no longer able to live independently and in October moved to the Good Shepherd Nursing Home which is around one kilometre from where we live. She has settled in pretty well, all things considering, and is taking full advantage of the wide range of activities available there.
(Mum, Lana and I at our place on Christmas Day)


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Looking back on 2022

Our Christmas was quiet this year – I am recovering from prostate surgery and Lana arrived in  Townsville only to test positive for Covid the day after she arrived. Lana spent her first week here in isolation and will have another week here before she returns to Sydney.

Below are several photos that give the flavour of our year.

This photo was taken during our visit to Sydney to stay with Lana for several weeks. While there we enjoyed body surfing at Bondi, a trip to the NSW South Coast and Easter at the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross. After more than ten years working with Baptist World Aid Australia, Lana has moved to Caritas Australia – the Catholic Church’s overseas development agency. Her role at Caritas is Associate Director for Africa and the Pacific. She will still be based in Sydney and looks forward to the challenges of her new role.

This is my favorite photo from 2022. I felt a great weight of darkness and mean spiritedness lift from our country that evening in May when we found that we had a new Government. 

In the spirit of the change was the granting of permanent visas to the Biloela family.

What do you think Tharnicaa might be saying about Albo’s tie?

In July, Ladda’s sister Phoungthong (Aow) passed on after a long illness.The photo above shows Aow’s coffin decorated with flowers at the Manorom Buddhist Temple. Aow was a Christian and  a Christian memorial service was held in the temple grounds before her body was cremated according to Buddhist rites. Ladda was able to get to Thailand shortly before Aow died and then stayed on for three months to be with the family as they came to terms with Aow’s passing.

A highlight of 2022 for me was my first trip to the Kimberley region of WA. Two friends David and Cheryl Fillmore had planned an around Australia trip with 4WD and camper trailer and kindly invited me to join them on the leg from Alice Springs to Broome. We travelled from across the Tanami Desert to Purnululu (Bungle Bungles) and then on to Kununurra and Wyndham. We then followed the Gibb River Road across to Derby and from there to Broome and the Dampier Peninsula. The photo above shows the three of us at the Waterfall Reef on the Dampier Peninsula.

Bell’s Gorge – one of my many favourite places on the Gibb River Road. On our journey we took our time – spending three nights at most places that we stopped in. 

Ladda and I both met up in Sydney in late September – Ladda on her way back from Thailand and me from Broome. We travelled back to Townsville together.

This photo is of the candle-light vigil our Amnesty group organised for World Human Rights Day on 10 December. At the vigil we were joined by members of the local Iranian community who are devastated by what is currently happening in their country. As I write at least 21 people face imminent execution in Iran – their crime being their participation in peaceful demonstrations following the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini. 

This photo proves that you’re never too old to enjoy a visit from Santa Claus. Mum turned 98 this year and is looking forward to her postcard from King Charles in 2024.

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“Lives in limbo” – graphic stories of lives wasted through Australia’s asylum seeker policies

This story begins with a strange connection between the Sydney Opera House, a horse race, and asylum seekers living their lives in limbo.

In October 2018, some advertising bright spark had the idea of using the sails of the Sydney Opera House to promote the Everest horse race.

Initially the idea was rejected by the Opera House Trust, but after radio shock jock and race horse owner Alan Jones lobbied NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, the Opera House Trust were directed to comply.

A mock-up of #KidsOffNauru campaign projected on to the Sydney Opera House, as used for the crowdfunding campaign. Photograph: Simon Holmes a Court

At the time of the controversy, refugee advocate Simon Holmes a Court had the idea that if the sails could be used to advertise a horse race, why could they not be used to highlight the plight of children of asylum seekers incarcerated on Nauru. He applied to the Opera House Trust for permission and and started fund raising. In one week the Appeal raised $118,000.

After some negotiation, the application was rejected by the Opera House Trust and Simon Holmes a Court set out looking for worthwhile projects to fund with the $118,000 – projects such the campaign by Dr Kerryn Phelps that lead to the Medevac legislation.

Simon Holmes à Court and Dr Kerryn Phelps on the morning her medevac bill was passed with a full page advertisement giving doctors a voice.
Photograph: Guardian Australia

In 2020 Holmes a Court approached Guardian Australia with the intention of using what was left of the money to fund journalism that would increase the public’s awareness of the plight of asylum seekers both in Australia and in off-shore detention centres. The “Lives in limbo” series is the result.

I first came across Lives in Limbo when trying to find out what had happened to the 3127 people who had been sent to off-shore detention centres since Kevin Rudd’s declaration in 2013 that “Arriving in Australia by boat will no longer mean settlement in Australia.”

I found the answer to my question in an article published on 10 December “1,500 people in limbo under Australia’s ‘bizarre and cruel’ refugee deterrence policy”.

Here I discovered that of the 3127, 290 people still remained in detention either on Nauru or in Papua New Guinea, 851 had been resettled (mainly in the US), 1204 were living in Australia on temporary visas and 632 had returned to their country of origin.

Other articles in the Lives in Limbo series teased out the details of these broad statistics.

One little known fact is that two in every five asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat after 19 July 2013 were not sent to offshore detention. In reality, of the 5191 asylum seekers who arrived by boat since the policy was introduced, 2074 were not sent to Nauru or to Manus Island. This bizarre lottery of life, conducted by Australia’s Border Force in the seven years since Scott Morrison told boat arrivals “You will never live in Australia”, is exposed in an article by Michael Green on 16 December.

In Green’s words – “The government argues its hardline deterrence policy must be absolute: there are no exceptions. But in fact exceptions are the rule. It is a rarely acknowledged fact about offshore processing but a matter of deep torment for those who were sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru”.

Perhaps the saddest article is Hannah Green’s “What about my child?’: children born to refugee parents caught up in harsh offshore policy”. We read there that more than 175 children face uncertain futures under the Australian government’s offshore processing policy. Some may face permanent separation from their parents or even statelessness.

Eshal Haider with mother Mehreen Ibrahim: Photograph: Kelly Barnes/The Guardian

Hannah Green recounts the story of two-year-old Eshal Haider (photo above). Eshal was born in Australia and has never left the country.

Her parents, Pakistani refugees Zijah Haider and Mehreen Ibrahim, met and married on Nauru. In 2017, Ibrahim was sent to Australia when she was pregnant. Haider was transferred in 2019, when Eshal was a year old. Since then, although he does not understand why, he has been held in an Adelaide detention centre. Visits were banned in March because of Covid-19, so his only interaction with his toddler has been through video calls.

“OK, this is the punishment for me that I came by boat, though I did not kill anybody and I did not harm anybody,” Ibrahim said. “But what about my child?”

Eshal’s immigration status piggybacks on her parents’. She and her parents are what the government calls “transitory persons” – people who are in Australia temporarily from an offshore processing country and cannot stay.

Hannah Green quotes Amnesty International’s Graham Thom who said that when the Australian government decided to move asylum seekers offshore, it failed to consider that people would continue having children.

“You have children who are born here and who have now spent a number of years growing up here, who are considered to be boat arrivals and transitory persons even though they’ve never been on a boat and never transited from anywhere,” he said.

After reading the stories in the Lives in limbo series I am left feeling very sad. Australia once was seen as a champion of human rights around the world. Now we have become infamous because of the inhumane treatment we have shown to people who came here seeking our protection.

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Seeing Australia from the North Down

It is no accident that the famous Mabo case that changed the course of Australian History was mounted from Townsville. That was just one of the many fascinating things we learnt from a recent lecture given by eminent historian Henry Reynolds.

Henry Reynolds – Photo: The Guardian

On 28 October Professor Reynolds presented the combined JCU Last lecture and the 2020 Roderick lecture on zoom to an audience of more than 400 people from around Australia and across the globe. This lecture is essential  viewing for anyone who wants to understand the history of Race Relations in Australia and the important role that JCU and Townsville had to play in the historic Mabo decision of the high Court in 1992. It is also a wonderful insight into what led Henry Reynolds to Townsville and to his taking  a central role in the Mabo story.

At the beginning of the lecture, Henry Reynolds described the circumstances that led to him taking up the role of History Lecturer in 1965 at what was then the University College of Townsville – a branch campus of the University of Queensland. He had not applied for the job. Several months previously Henry had applied for, and been short listed, for a teaching position in the History Department at the University of Queensland. He was not offered this position but several months later, when UQ management had difficulty filling a similar position on the Townsville campus, they offered it to Henry – and as they say the rest is history.

When Henry arrived at the Townsville University College in late 1965 he was given the Australian History subject to teach in 1966. He soon discovered that the Australian History course on the Townsville campus was the same as that taught on the St Lucia campus of UQ. In the course there was little or no mention of events in North Queensland. The implication for students was that nothing important had happened in North Queensland (NQ) which as Henry said was an unfortunate thing to have to tell students.

Henry decided that his students were going to learn something about NQ History and invited local historians to give guest lectures about the history of the region as part of his course. To make up for the absence of published material on North Queensland history, the History Department began publishing these lectures and the research projects of students who were studying in the Department.

In 1970 James Cook university became a University in its own right and the next 20 years saw the blossoming of interest in Australian history with the publication of several volumes of lectures on NQ history, 14 articles about NQ history , 13 research theses, five books and a number of essay collections.

Henry told us that during this time he had two epiphanies related to place and race. The first of these was that he realised that to teach history you need to deal with the place where it is being taught. And the second was that in North Queensland it was important to address the issue of Race Relations.

Henry told us that in Australia in the 1960s there was little interest in the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people either in academia or in the wider community. In the book “Why Weren’t We Told” (1999) Henry describes his surprise when arriving in Townsville to find that 10% of the population were of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island descent.

Henry discovered that while Aboriginal people were mentioned in histories written in the nineteenth century, they had been ignored in anything written since 1910. Anthropologist W. Stannard referred to this phenomenon as the “Great Australian Silence”. Stannard said it was a “cult of forgetfulness practised on a national scale”. Presumably if the conflicts that occurred in the invasion of Australia by the colonisers were not recounted, Australians could continue to behave as if they never happened. Henry told us that in the 60s the JCU Library contained virtually nothing about Aboriginal History.

Over the next 20 years Henry devoted himself to breaking this silence. He received little encouragement in this task from the History establishment. He told us that when he shared his plans of researching Aboriginal History with an eminent historian, the response was “there is not much in that is there”. When time came to publish his ground breaking work “The Other Side of the Frontier”, it was at first rejected by publishers because they expected that there would be little demand for such a work. When JCU published the book and sold 5000 copies on release, the publishers realised their error of judgment and were soon queuing up to publish this and later books written by Henry.

Henry then spent some time outlining his unique relationship with Koiki Mabo. For several years in the 70s, Koiki Mabo worked as a gardener at JCU and would often meet for lunch with Henry and fellow historian Noel Loos. Up until this time, while Koiki understood that Aboriginal people on the mainland had been dispossessed of their land, he was sure that things were different in the Torres Strait. Koiki was shocked to discover from Henry and Noel that the land on his home island of Mer was Crown land and the doctrine of Terra Nullius applied to islands in the Torres Strait just as it did to the Australian mainland. At one of their meetings Henry joked with Koiki – “If you have a court case and you win, you might become famous!” Little did they know!

Eddie Koiki Mabo – Photo: SBS

Henry told us how the 1981 Land Rights Conference organised by the JCU Student Union brought Koiki together with constitutional lawyers and academics who understood native title. Together they presented the case in the High Court that in 1992 led to the recognition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to the land – rights that existed before the British arrived and still exist today.

Henry said that Australia has been transformed by the Mabo judgement. It has changed the way we view history, and the understanding that recent Australian History is a story of invasion is slowly gaining public acceptance.

In his concluding comments, Henry said that is historical terms, place is important. There is a rich history of interaction between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in North Queensland but it required intense effort on the part of Henry and his fellow historians to uncover that history. Once this history was revealed, Henry said that it not surprising that the Mabo case came out of Townsville.

The questions that followed Henry’s lecture covered a wide range of topics. Henry was asked about the results of the 1967 referendum that recognised Aboriginal and Islander people in Commonwealth Law and importantly gave the Commonwealth the right to legislate on behalf of Aboriginal and Islander people. Henry said that it was a myth that the majority people in Townsville voted No in the referendum. Henry told his audience that there was strong support for the Yes case from the people of Townsville as there was in all provincial cities in Queensland. He said that there was a strong No vote in some rural communities in the North.

Several questions related to the Culture wars and the downgrading of the teaching of history in Australian schools and universities. Henry said that it “broke his heart” to witness the decline in the importance of history at James Cook University – a university that had once boasted one of the finest history schools in the country. He said that similar things had happened in universities across Australia and that it was not only an academic thing but was of great cultural importance. In Henry’s words it represents a “terrible weakening of our cultural capacity”.

Interested in hearing more – please listen here to “one of the most stimulating lectures you will hear this year” – this was one of the tributes read out at the end of Henry’s presentation.

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It is better to light a candle…

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness” – Reflections on the 2020 AGM of Amnesty International Australia

Peter Benenson, the founder of Amnesty International, included this saying in a speech he gave on 10 December 1961, the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and now observed around the world as International Human Rights Day. Since that speech, the image of the candle circled by barbed wire has become the emblem of Amnesty International.

This image was everywhere to be seen on Saturday 31 October at the 2020 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Amnesty International Australia (AIA) held for the first time on Zoom. More than a hundred Amnesty members and supporters came together for an online event that lasted five hours and included activist reports, financial reports, the election of Board members, the passing of resolutions, and the opportunity to interact with other participants in breakout rooms. I had the privilege of attending the AGM as a General Meeting Voter which meant I got to vote in the elections and on the resolutions.

In the hour preceding the formal AGM was a session where activist leaders from around Australia reported on their activities in the past 12 months. As expected, COVID 19 had a big impact on how activism was done for much of this time. We heard lots of creative examples of online activism developed as a response to lockdown conditions. A great example of this was the “Stitch and Resist” event organised by the Amnesty group on the Sunshine Coast. People were invited to email the group and several days later they would receive in the mail the materials and instructions on how to sew their own Amnesty logo or whatever other symbol they wished to make.

In July this year our Townsville Amnesty group celebrated the tenth anniversary of our First Friday Vigil for Refugees and Asylum Seekers. At the AGM we heard about other groups around Australia who held similar vigils – they included the Hobart group, the Lismore group and several groups in rural Victoria. Nationally many groups had been involved in the #GameOver campaign which called on the Australian Government to end our shameful treatment of asylum seekers in PNG and Nauru.  Earlier that week, former NRL star Sonny Bill Williams and Socceroo Craig Foster had presented a petition to the Australian Parliament signed by more than 65,000 people calling on the Australian Government to accept New Zealand’s offer to settle 150 asylum seekers a year.

(Narges Mohammadi – photo Al Jazeera)

AIA National Director Sam Klintworth in her report to the AGM shared some of the good news stories resulting from our campaigning. Narges Mohammadi was recently released from Zanjan prison in Iran after serving eight and a half years of a 16 year sentence. Her crime – she was one of the founders of the Human Rights Defenders Centre in Iran. Narges was one of the human rights defenders featured in the first Write for Rights campaign in 2016. As part of her presentation, Sam shared a video recording in which Narges thanked Amnesty International groups for campaigning on her behalf.

The AGM included a human rights action. At the close of the meeting participants were invited to share a photo of themselves on social media holding an A4 sheet with the message #Free Chau Van Kham. Chau Van Kham, a 71 year old Vietnamese Australian, was detained within hours of arriving in Vietnam in 2019 and sentenced to 12 years in prison for being a member of the political party, Viet Tan. Kham’s wife and children have grave concerns for his well being, especially as he suffers from several different health problems.

(Photo – Myriams-Fotos at Pixabay)

At the AGM we were reminded that next year is the 60th anniversary of the founding of Amnesty International. Participants were invited to begin thinking about how we might celebrate in 2021.

In Townsville we are planning a series of art exhibitions throughout the year on the theme “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”. We will be approaching other regional Amnesty groups around Australia to see if they might be interested in staging similar events in their regions.

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Can we achieve justice out of the present Covid chaos?

At the end of June, when much of Australia was still experiencing the first Covid lockdown, the Centre for Australian Progress held their annual conference – this year named Virtual Progress to indicate that the conference was held entirely online.

The mission of Australian Progress is to revitalise civil society movements and so enable us to win environmental and social progress, at the same time strengthening our democracy. Their belief is that together with hundreds of partners, we can make sure that community interest can shape our nation’s priorities.

In previous years, the Australian Progress conference has brought together thousands of people in Melbourne to be inspired by the belief that community based activism can effect change. I was one of a group of ten activists funded by Amnesty International Australia to attend the 2020 conference. This year thanks to Covid, people like me in Townsville were able to attend Virtual Progress for a fraction of the cost of attending in person. The virtual format also meant that more International speakers could be featured in the program. One of the presenters was Marshall Ganz, one of the gurus of the community organising tradition, and it was great to be able to hear Marshall’s thoughts on community organising.

One of the plenaries that had a profound impact on me was entitled “Climate and Disaster Capitalism”. I was familiar with the term Disaster Capitalism which was first referred to by Naomi Klein in 2007, but I learnt a lot more when listening to Antony Loewenstein talking about what he defined as making money out of misery. Antony says that capitalism is no longer able to sustain itself by selling dreams, so in many places it now thrives on the management of nightmares. Here is the link to a review of Antony’s book “Disaster Capitalism – Making a killing out of Catastrophe”

In his presentation, Antony brought us up to date with more recent examples of how corporations are doing very well from disasters. Antony reminded listeners that Australia is the only country in the world that has privatised and outsourced our entire immigration system. One advantage of this is that when something goes wrong, the Government can blame the Corporation, the Corporation then takes no responsibility because it was only doing what it had been told, and everything goes on as usual. A sad example of this has been the continuing tragedy of our outsourcing of the operation of immigration of detention centres – both on-shore and off-shore.

This move to privatisation and outsourcing of government responsibilities is not confined to the right of politics. Antony pointed out that the ALP in Australia, the Democrats in the US, and the Labor Party in Britain have all become devotees of what Antony talks the Bipartisan Neocorporate Agenda. He gave the example of the pop-up hospital built in the ACT at the height of Covid fears. This Hospital that most likely will never be used in the ACT, cost $23 million and was built by Aspen Medical – a corporation that has close links to the Liberal Party (surprise, surprise!).

Canberra’s field hospital, build in response to COVID-19, may never be used in the ACT.(ABC News: Greg Nelson)

And don’t expect anything to change soon. Antony Loewenstein said that this move to privatisation and outsourcing really took on in the 80s championed by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (two people Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says are his economic heroes). Then in the 2000s we witnessed the phenomenon of “privatised war” in Iraq and Afghanistan and now the same corporate interests are lining up to make money out of climate change.

Another speaker at the Disaster Capitalism plenary was Tadzio Mueller, a climate justice activist based in Berlin. Tadzio announced that he was an advocate of climate communism which he defines as making justice out of chaos – much to be preferred to making money from misery. Tadzio pointed out that the current Covid crisis was the first time in the last 150 years that the planet has been given some respite from the rampant consumerism associated with economic growth. He also reminded us that the Covid crisis has produced a reduction in greenhouse gases for the first time in 15 years – although even these reductions will not be enough to achieve the Paris targets by 2050.

What Covid has shown us that emissions can be reduced if there is International resolve and commitment. Our challenge will be to enlist the same resolve and commitment from our leaders to address climate change as they have given to the Covid crisis.

Some of the other speaker at Progress addressed the changes we will need to make to our system if we are to have a future that realises both climate and economic justice. Richard Dennis and others at the Australian Institute have also given much attention to this topic. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/04/australia-can-be-a-better-fairer-place-after-the-coronavirus-if-were-willing-to-fight-for-it

Before attending Progress I was pessimistic about the likelihood of any serious response from most of the world’s nations to the threat of climate change or to the ever-present scandal of global inequality. Tadzio Mueller and others at Progress have shown me that it might be possible to meaningfully address the challenges we face – what it will need is for us to convince our fellow citizens of the importance of bringing about these changes. In Tadzio’s words we need to work for a future where we make justice out of chaos which is preferable to one where corporations continue to make money out of misery .

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Gîtes – places to stay along the Chemin de Saint Jacques

On the chemin there is a variety of accommodation to choose from – all set out in the invaluable walking guide “Miam Miam Dodo” (Eat,Eat Sleep, Sleep). You can choose between hostels (gites d’etape), bed and breakfasts (chambre d’Hotes) and hotels. All gites provide accommodation and breakfast. The cost for accommodation in a dormitory with breakfast was around 15 euro. Some gites offered a demi-pension – accommodation, breakfast and dinner -and this was usually around 30 euro. Some gites are owned operated by local communities and some are owned by local residents. Some gites had pelerins (pilgrims) written in brackets in the description. This indicated that the people operating the gite had walked the chemin themselves at some time in the past.
One thing all gites had in common was the large cup of coffee that was the centrepiece of the breakfast provided.

Breakfast at Gite Lou Parpalhou in the village of Eauze

Here are some of the gites I stayed in – all memorable for a host of different reasons.
In terms of hospitality it would be hard to go past La Flore at Saugues operated by Florence and Regis. They told us that they had opened the bed and breakfast six months ago and they prided themselves on the amazing service they provided to their guests. The price was quite reasonable because at that time I was still walking with Lana and Stephen and we were able to share a room. The meal was exquisite, the wine good and plentiful and there was cake! One of our fellow guests, Lucie a doctor from Normandie, was celebrating her birthday. Nine of us – Florence and Regis, Emma and Henrietta from the UK, Lucie and Margot from Normandie, Lana, Stephen and I – celebrated the birthday until well after 10 – a late night for the chemin.

Birthday celebration for Lucie at La Flore

Then there was the Gite de l’atelier des Volets Bleus (the gite with the blue shutters) in the village of Grealou. When preparing for the chemin, I watched a DVD of the walk made by my friend Peter Kearney. The Gite with the blue shutters and the host Esther figured quite prominently in the DVD so when I met Esther it felt like catching up with a good friend. I told Esther of her starring role in Peter’s DVD and she was quite chuffed, playfully preening and taking on the airs of a French film actress. Esther told me that she had bought the house not knowing it was on the chemin. She had intended it to be an art studio. Staying there the first time she could not help but see the walkers passing through and decided to convert the house into a gite. Peter later sent her a copy of the DVD which pleased her greatly.

Enjoying lunch with Esther in front of the Hostel with the Blue Shutters

Andrea an Italian and his Basque partner Jani operate the Bio Gite La Vita e Bella – a gite with a difference. Both Andrea and Jani had walked the chemin themselves in an earlier life and are committed environmentalists. Each year they choose an environmental project – sometimes in France and sometimes elsewhere. The cost of accommodation at the gite which includes breakfast is 15 euro – but there is no set charge for the evening meal. Guests are invited to contribute what they wish and all the money goes to the environmental project for that year.

Full house for breakfast at “La Vita e bella”

And then there were surprises. A group of us spent a balmy afternoon at the farmhouse at Trigodina around 15 km from the major regional centre Cahors. After the meal our host Remy treated us to a hour of exquisite classical piano music. He had been a concert pianist and made the green change from the city to operate the hostel in rural France. Earlier that day when I booked in, Remy laughingly told me that he could squeeze me in but I would have to share the dormitory with three attractive women. Later he apologised again – more guests – I would need to share with five women. “Ah” I said – “them’s the breaks.”

Remy entertains guests following the meal at the Trigodina farmhouse

Some gites were memorable because the host went out of their way to make you feel at home. When we arrived at Saint-Chely- d’Aubrac the weather was cold and bleak. This was more than made up for by the vivacious personality of the manager Karine who operated Gite Le Relais Saint Jacques and the brasserie attached to the gite.

Karine in the Brasserie Le Relais Saint Jacques

Laurence operated the Gite Lou Parpalhou in the village of Eauze. When I stayed with Laurence, my journey was coming to an end. Laurence helped me plan my journey from Aire Sur l’Adour where I would finish my walk back to Lyon where my journey had started. Laurence also introduced me to Sylvie who operated the Gite du Pied Leve in Nogaro where I was to stay the next night. Sylvie was invaluable in guiding me through the intricacies of Bla Bla Car – a ride sharing service that was essential to getting around France at that time because of major rail strikes.

Selfie with Laurence at Gite Lou Parpalhou

My final night on the chemin was at La Presbytere – a gite that had been the priest’s residence of the adjacent church in the village of Lanne-Soubiran – back in the days when French people went to church. The gite was operated by Marinette, a former pilgrim who made the green change from a high powered job in Brussels and bought the gitte. Marinette was assisted by a volunteer John from Melbourne. John told me that in the past ten years he had spent many months walking along the network of walking trails in Spain and France associated with the camino and the chemin. He was spending a month at the Presbytere assisting Marinette in providing hospitality to pelerins in return for food and accommodation. Following the evening meal Marinette invited her ten guests into the adjoining church where she invited each of us to sing a song from our own country to show off the beautiful acoustics in the church.

My walk finished in the town of Aire Sur l’Adour where I stayed in La Gite La Maison des Pelerins (House of the Pilgrims) operated by Isabelle and Alajandro from Spain who had been pilgrims themselves. That night dinner was a real International affair with guests from France, Germany, Holland, Austria, the United States, the UK and Australia (that was me). The two Austrian women told me they had commenced their chemin ten years ago from their home town in Austria. Each year they would walk around ten days, taking up where they had finished the previous year. So far they had walked around 2000 km on their journey which commenced near Salzburg and had taken them through Austria, Switzerland and now France.

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Memories from a long walk – “La neige”

Two years ago I spent 35 days walking more than 600 km along the “Chemin Compostelle du Puy” – one of the French feeder paths to the well known “Camino Santiago”. For the first ten days I walked with my daughter Lana and cousin Stephen. The beginning of our journey was made especially memorable by an unseasonable fall of snow (neige). Here is the story of that experience.

The first day of our chemin was fine and we walked 16 km from Le Puy en Velay to Montbonnet where we stayed at the Gitte l’Escole where our host was Marie. We could not believe our eyes the next morning when we looked out the windows on what looked like a scene from a Northern Hemisphere Christmas card. I walked around the Gitte greeting everyone with “Joyeux Noel” to the amusement of our fellow guests who were all from France, and were quite put out by the unseasonal snow. “It never snows in May”, one of them said to me.

A number of the other guests decided to take the School bus to the next town to avoid walking through snow. Stephen, Lana and I decided to walk the 15km and began making preparations. Marie (our host) was horrified when she saw that Stephen had not brought a pair of long trousers with him and gave him a pair of trousers from a box of clothing she kept that had been left behind by earlier pilgrims. Stephen also did not have waterproof pants to put over his trousers and improvised with a plastic garbage bag. Following advice from friends who had walked in similar conditions in Tasmania, we all wore plastic bags over our socks inside our shoes and this proved very effective in keeping our feet warm and dry.

We set off along the path from Montbonnet following the distinctive red and white markers that show the way along the chemin. Snow was falling steadily and the path was covered by 10-20 cm of snow. The scenery was extremely beautiful and we all were enjoying the experience. All was going well until around three km from Montbonnet, we took the wrong turn and ended up walking through a farm. When we found ourselves walking through a metre of snow, we realised something was wrong and retraced our steps to the entrance to the farm. There we found a marker and continued our journey – this time along the correct path. By this time Lana was freezing and telling me that she was sure she had frostbite. I assured her that she needed to be much longer than an hour in the snow to get frostbite, and we walked the two km to the village of Le Chier.

The marker that we missed on the tree to the right of Stephen – resplendent in his Surf Lifesaving Jacket

Our spirits lifted quickly when we discovered a kiosk selling hot coffee and chocolate croissants at the rear of the community hall. Lana’s joy turned into ecstasy when she spotted the card for the local taxi service on the noticeboard in the Hall. Stephen and I did not need much convincing and 30 minutes later we were in the taxi on our way to Monistrol d’Allier, our intended destination that day, 9km from Le Chier.

While we had only walked five km the first day – seven if we included our “detour” – we felt more confident in setting out the second day, especially as the weather forecast was for the snow to ease. There was certainly less snow falling but it was still bitterly cold.

Walking through the snow on our second day

Our guide book did not show any places of respite between our starting place, Monistrol d’Allier, and our intended destination of Sauges, a distance of around 14km. Imagine our delight when eight km into our journey while walking through the tiny village of Le Vernet we sighted a sign “Café chaud”(hot coffee) pointing down a laneway. We walked down the lane to a large garage type building that had a counter with a large urn at one end and several tables grouped around a gas fired heater at the other. We gratefully took off our wet outer garments and huddled around the heater.

An elderly man in a wheel chair, who I will forever remember as “the angel of Le Vernet”, busied himself making coffees and noodle soup for us. After an hour warming up and drinking hot beverages we felt invincible and the remaining 6km to the town of Sauges were no problem.

“Angel of Le Vernet” behind the counter – Stephen and Lana in the background

On the third day there was a light snow fall in the morning but the afternoon was fine. For the next few days there was quite a lot of snow along the path but thankfully none fell from the sky.

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35 years history of the Townsville Amnesty Action Group in nine photos

On Sunday 31 May, the Gold Coast Amnesty Action Group organised an online celebration of Amnesty International’s 59th Birthday that focused on both the anniversary of the founding of AI on 29 May, and Sorry Day 26 May . I was invited to speak about changes in Amnesty International Australia (AIA) and activism in AIA from the perspective of 35 years of activism in the Townsville Amnesty Action Group. Here is a summary of my reflections.

Pre-history – an Amnesty International group was formed in Townsville some time in the 70s. The only record we have of that group is a receipt book from a Wine and Cheese evening held in October 1981. Several of the receipts are shown below. A number of things stand out – the first is the ticket price $6! Another is the guest list – mainly politicians and James Cook University staff. The politicians include Jim Keefe – then ALP Senator for Queensland, Gordon Dean, member for Herbert in the House of Representatives, and a number of Townsville City Councillors including Mike Reynolds – the Mayor at that time.

Among the JCU staff was Peter Burns. When Trish Johnson set out to re-establish the Townsville group in 1985, Peter Burns was one of the first to join. In a message read out at the Celebration of Peter’s life in 2018, Trish recalled that Peter was “a skilled letter writer, a passionate supporter of human rights, and a constant source of varied information and perspectives, with a quirky sense of black humour sometimes thrown in.” Trish told us that Peter and his wife Beverley were great supporters of Candle Day and other Amnesty events at the time.

The Townsville group in the late 80s and early 90s was very active and staged numerous public rallies and vigils in support of human rights campaigns. The photo above shows group members gathered outside the office of the Townsville Bulletin in 1988 in support of an Amnesty campaign on Colombia. The newspaper clipping below invites readers to a birthday party for Amnesty International at the local Sunday Market in May 1991. Candle Day held each year in October was the most important event in the Amnesty calendar and involved months of preparation. On the weekend closest to United Nations Day, 24 October, volunteers would fan out across Townsville selling badges and collecting money for Amnesty.

Newspaper Invitation to AI’s 30th birthday celebration

One of the Amnesty International important principles at that time was the Work on Own Country (WOOC) Rule. Amnesty International activists were not allowed to campaign on human rights issues in their own country. This was to protect activists in countries where speaking out on local human rights abuses could lead to them being imprisoned, tortured and possibly killed.

By 1996, group numbers dwindled and it was decided to concentrate on letter writing. We met at the Thai International Restaurant on the first Wednesday of each month and wrote urgent action letters from 6pm to 7.30pm and then stayed on for dinner. This proved a successful formula that has continued until the present.

Letter Writing at the Thai International Restaurant

By the early 2000s numbers in the group increased and we regularly participated in public events such as the Eco-Fiesta and the annual May Day Parade. For several years the group staged a weekly vigil “Fridays in orange” in front of the office of our Federal MP Peter Lindsay, campaigning of behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks. Peter Burns (mentioned earlier) would bring a sign that he updated each week that displayed the number of days that David Hicks had been incarcerated.

Fridays in Orange Vigil

By the mid-2000s the “Work on Own Country” rule was dropped and internationally the Demand Dignity campaign was launched. The Australian Amnesty International section decided to make campaigning on justice for Australia’s Indigenous people a top priority but his took some time to translate into local human rights activities.

One of the priorities for the Townsville group in the last ten years has been the Refugee Campaign. Since June 2010 the Townsville group have held our First Friday Vigil for Justice for Refugees and People Seeking Asylum outside the office of our Federal MP. Since then the Member’s name has changed three times but we have been there each month right up until the COVID-19 restrictions were introduced.

In 2015 the long awaited AIA “Community is Everything” Campaign was launched. This campaign seeks to address the high levels of incarceration of Indigenous young people, among other goals. The photo below shows members of our group meeting with Queensland Community Services Minister Coralee O’Rourke to discuss the Community is Everything Campaign.

In 2013 we decided to approach the JCU Administration with a view to holding an annual Amnesty International Human Rights Address at the University. The University agreed to the proposal and offered in-kind support which included local publicity and provision of a suitable venue. The inaugural 2013 Human Rights Address was delivered by refugee advocate Julian Burnside. In 2017 the Address was given by Linda Burney – the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives.

The phrase “prisoners of conscience” stands out for me in our 59 years of history. Peter Benenson coined the phrase in 1961 when he called on readers of “The Observer” in London to take action on behalf of that first group of prisoners in Portugal. In an earlier post I suggested that AI activists today are all “prisoners of conscience” and this is what keeps us taking action on behalf of victims of human rights abuse.

So much has happened in the 35 year history of the group but let me leave you with one last photo. As of March 2020 (pre COVID-19) our monthly letter writing meeting is still being held at the same location but the venue name is now the Wild Rice Lao-Thai Restaurant.

Follow this link to view the recording of the Gold Coast Sorry Day – 59th AI Birthday celebration.

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A Tale of Two Portraits

In early 2015, Townsville artist and friend Donna Beningfield asked me if I would like to sit for a portrait exhibition that she was putting together to celebrate Townsville’s 150th Anniversary.  Called “The Face of Our Community” and set to open in May 2016, the exhibition was to feature a selection of diverse people from Townsville representing different professions and life interests; however, we were all to be connected through our contribution to the community.

Each sitter was asked to identify someone from Townsville’s past who represented for them their position, personality, career or aspirations in life. The exhibition was to honour people in our community both present and past.

For my person of inspiration, I chose Thankful Percy Willmett (1831-1907). The first thing that attracted me was the name Thankful – for me gratitude is central to my spirituality and the way I see the world. Thankful Percy was Mayor of Townsville on several occasions and a committed community activist. When he was Mayor, Thankful Percy was responsible for the planting of the Anzac Park Banyan trees which became known as ‘Willmett’s Follies’ – obviously not everyone at the time thought it was a good idea. Today they are a physical reminder of Thankful Percy’s contribution as Mayor.

When time came to paint my portrait Anzac Park was the obvious location. No paint touched paper on the first day – Donna made some sketches and took a number of photos of me in that location.

In the next few weeks Donna invited me to visit her in her studio several times when she would show me the progress and get me to sit for a short time. The final sitting was in February 2015 and not long after that Donna invited me to view the finished portrait.

“The Face of Our Community” Exhibition was located in the foyer adjacent to the Pinnacles Gallery in the Riverway Arts complex. The opening of the Exhibition was on 15 May 2016. It was exciting to be there and see my portrait set among the other 17 portraits in the Exhibition.

At the opening Donna (shown in the above photo) shared with us the exciting news that she had been offered the lower floor of the Perc Tucker Gallery for a portrait exhibition in three years time. This Exhibition would feature portraits of Townsville people with links in the paintings to the past lives of the sitters.

Donna has the gift of being able to discern “past lives” of people in a vision that she shares with the person. Her “past lives” exhibition at the Perc Tucker Gallery from 15 March to 28 April 2019 was a great success and excited by the reception she began planning a portrait exhibition with a difference.

In this new Exhibition to be held at Umbrella Studio, the sitters would all be people Donna had painted previously and the portraits would evolve out of marks made by each sitter and incorporate one of their past lives. Donna asked me if I would be willing to have my portrait painted a second time and I enthusiastically agreed.

Our first meeting was in late February this year. At that meeting Donna gave me a sheet of paper  that had a grid of eight squares. She nominated eight emotions: anger, joy, peace, depression, human energy, femininity, illness and regret.  Donna gave me a piece of charcoal and invited me to make a mark for each in one of the squares in relation to how I was experiencing these emotions within my body.

Donna then recounted my past life reading that had come to her in the middle of the previous night – not in a dream but as she was waiting to go to sleep. She invited me to make marks as she told the story. I was a native American Indian who was taking a long canoe journey along a large river that ran North South. I was paddling from North to the South and the journey took a number of days.

She recognised me as someone high up in my tribe because I was wearing a large feather and it was a very important journey linked to marriage. I was at home on the river and I was familiar with my surroundings. At one stage of the journey Donna saw me paddling through a gorge with high rock walls on either side as the sun was setting. As Donna was giving me this reading, I was making marks with charcoal on the piece of paper in front of me.

Our meeting lasted several hours and and after I left Donna began working on the portrait using the marks I had made as her starting point.

Two weeks later on 12 March I was back to see what Donna had come up with. I was astounded by what I saw. I was paddling the canoe on the river with an enormous full moon behind me. Donna described to me the evolution of the marks I had made into the painting now before me. The marks I had made originally suggested a landscape to her which she began painting but she was having difficulty incorporating the feathers which she knew were important. As she worked on the feathers they formed into a circle which then transformed into the full moon! The marks remain in the painting throughout the sky and moon, in the vegetation in the foreground of the painting.

Donna asked me what I thought of the painting and I said I was thrilled by the beautiful image she had produced. The painting was now finished and I am looking forward to Donna’s Exhibition titled “A Question of Counterpoint” which will take place from 28 May to July next year at the Umbrella Gallery.

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Let’s not be overwhelmed by the news in this time of COVID-19

Can you have too much news? In the case of COVID-19 many of us would answer yes. How do we cope with the flood of information about this crisis from around the world. It may help to remember that it is not a new problem.

In the 1960s, Thomas Merton the Catholic monk and mystic, used the phrase “bombardment of the senses” to describe the impact of the popular media. In his diary he commented that he avoided reading newspapers and did not listen to radio or television. All his news came from individuals – he maintained correspondence with peace activists leading the anti-war movement in the US, with civil rights activists in the US Deep South, with Vietnamese Buddhist monks and with ordinary people struggling to live responsibly in a world that was slowly losing its humanity.

Photo: Thomas Merton with Dalai Lama – taken shortly before Merton’s death in 1968

This approach works pretty well in this time of COVID-19. Most nights I still watch the daily ABC news and read the occasional newspaper article, however I give much greater emphasis to what I hear from “ordinary people” in the networks I belong to.

Here are three recent conversations that have helped me better understand the impact that COVID-19 is having on the world.

The first was with my friend Christine who lies in Colmar in the region of France that is close to the German border. Christine is one of the few people I know who has contracted the virus.

On 11 April Christine wrote: “We have been in lockdown for about three weeks.  I no longer see my family or my friends. I continued to work since I am a caregiver. And since I didn’t have any protective equipment, I caught the Corona. I’m sick, alone at home. It’s very hard. But I have family and friends who help me by dropping me food and medicine.”

Two days later and thankfully things were looking up: “Since this morning I am a little better. Almost no fever but still this terrible tiredness. Tonight I even played a little piano. What a pleasure!”

Photo: Christine (right) with friend Stephanie in happier times walking the Chemin, 2018

Christine is not in an at-risk group but it was obviously a horrible experience for her. In other correspondence, she told me that she is very angry at the French authorities because she feels certain that it was the lack of protective equipment that led to her catching the COVID-19 disease.

The second conversation was from a letter sent to our daughter Lana who works for Transform Aid International, an International Development NGO. The letter was from Andy, a colleague from a partner organisation who works with Syrian refugees in Lebanon. In the letter Andy explained that in Lebanon, of a total population of seven million people, 1.5 million are refugees from the war in Syria. Unlike other countries in the Middle East, the refugees are not living in designated camps, but are spread throughout the country living in makeshift shelters or in the remains of bomb damaged buildings. For survival they depend on handouts from aid agencies and the generosity of their Lebanese neighbours.

For most of the people living in Lebanon the priority is survival. There are few resources available to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Lebanon.

Photo: Makeshift refugee shelters in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley

There are seven million people living in Lebanon which has an area less than that of Greater Sydney. I wonder how Australians would cope if there were five million of us living in the Greater Sydney area and 1.5 million outsiders came and camped in our streets and in any deserted buildings? Not too well – if our heartless treatment of the 30,000 refugees living here on temporary visas is anything to go by.

The third conversation is from a series of posts on the Facebook page of Hilda Audubo, a dentist in Papua New Guinea. I met Hilda when she was in Townsville studying for a Master of Public Health and Master of Business Administration at JCU. Hilda’s page reflects the frustration many health practitioners in the two thirds world must feel when looking at the emphasis given in both the local and international media to the COVID-19 crisis.

From one of Hilda’s posts: “The media reported yesterday that there have been only seven cases of COVID-19 in Papua New Guinea so far. These have all been mild and all have recovered. Can we get an update on how many positive TB cases tested as of yesterday, how many admitted in the wards all across the country as we speak, how many died in the past year and past month. How much funding, efforts, manpower and PPE did we put into containing the spread of TB among the communities? …

I wish everyone from the top of government down to every doctor and scientist reporting on Facebook would put in the same level of energy, passion and resources into eradicating TB in our country once and for all too..”

Photo: Hilda with a colleague in her dental surgery

Hilda shared a post from local businessman Thomas Opa: “The ‘new normal’ is a western and foreign concept. We have been living with TB, Measles, HIV/AIDS, Polio, Diabetes, Malaria all our lives. Corona Virus is here to stay for a while. We don’t have to change our way of life because of Corona Virus. Soon it will come and go and we will forget that it came and is gone.
We don’t have to pretend to live the ‘new normal’ as if we are a well developed and affluent country. The majority of our people, in fact almost 85 per cent of our people live and dwell in rural areas in small villages, hamlets, scattered villages, and isolated islands with zero access to roads.
They don’t commute in trains, live in concrete jungles, congested cities, share elevators with thousands and millions of other people.
They only touch the palms of sago, buai(betelnut) palms, coconut trees, tapioca leaves, kaukau(sweet potato) leaves. Let us not put fear into our people.
Let’s not tackle COVID-19 the way all the big developed nations are doing.”

Photo : sweet potato farming in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea

What message do we take from these three conversations? Christine’s story from France reminds us that COVID-19 is a dangerous disease and something that none of us would want to catch. From Papua New Guinea we learn that while a lot of attention has been given in the media to COVID-19, its impact  has been inconsequential compared to endemic diseases like TB that take the lives of thousands every year. In Lebanon 1.5 million refugees live in quiet desperation wondering where the next meal will come from – COVID-19 would be hardly on their radar.

People say that the world will never be the same again. When this preoccupation with COVID-19 ends in the rich world, Donald Trump, Scott Morrison and their like will no doubt want things to go back to the way they were. This certainly will not benefit the majority of people in the world. What we need is a New World Order where people everywhere are treated with compassion and where our way of life respects the rights of future generations.

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