The base line: Alan Coleman, 1936 to 1945

In 1936, when he was four years old, Alan Coleman arrived at St. Joseph’s Home in Ballarat as a Ward of the State. He remained there until he was thirteen, and under the care of the Sisters of Nazareth in Geraldton until sixteen. When the Senate convened, from 2003 to 2005, an Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care, Alan made submission number 471. This story is taken from that submission.

Initially, Alan was in the nursery, but when he was six, he went “downstairs” to the school-age group of six to thirteen year olds. He realised that he was “in for a very hard time” because downstairs was “run like a prison.” Each child was assigned a number which was marked on his clothes. Alan was number 96.

The nuns delegated a great deal of authority to what Alan describes as “bully boys,” who were each in charge of from eight to ten younger boys. They had authority to administer some punishment and to refer offenders to the nuns to be given up to twelve strokes, or even more, of a long cane which had “pins in the end.”  The peak physical punishment was being stripped naked, held down by four of the bully boys, and flogged from shoulder to calf with a thick strap. If you twisted over, the strap was applied to stomach and genitals.  Sentences were up to a hundred lashes. Alan himself received this punishment at the hands of Sister Blandina, “the worst offender,” “sadistic and puritanical.”

In winter the boys were always cold and always hungry as, in Dickensian fashion, there were “never any seconds.” Any caught stealing food were punished either corporally or by being “made to stand in a dark passageway up to six or seven hours.” Saturday was weekly bath day. Three tubs and three towels served one hundred boys, youngest to oldest, in the same three tubfuls of water. Modesty was preserved by canvas towels worn round the waist. Only when it came to the bully boys turn were the tubs emptied and refilled with hot water.

In spite of the boys’ numbers, names were still important. Another Alan Coleman of the same age was sent up from Melbourne, so one had to change his name.  The new boy became Joseph Coleman, and in spite of the fact that, in contrast to Alan, “Joseph” was not very good at school and did not play sport, Alan gradually assumed the role of his protector for as long as they were in care together.

In Year 7 of school, Alan injured his hand while working in the laundry. He was six weeks in Ballarat Base Hospital, and though he had no visitors, he basked in the compassionate attentiveness of the nurses. After this stay, and a longer one due to rheumatic fever, he started to have visits at the home from friends made at the hospital. It’s a comment on his likability.

Alan’s eighth grade class, the last year of his primary schooling, was taught by Sr Blandina. The class was being prepared for an exam to determine the two pupils who would be eligible to attend St. Pat’s College the next year. Alan, to Sr Blandina’s dismay, topped the class and the eligibility. However, he heard a rumour that the Brothers at St Pat’s “could do what they liked” with the orphans, so he withdrew.

It appears that, after the school years, the boys went into either the farm boys’ quarters or the smaller group of college boys. The first allusions to sexual behaviour in Alan’s submission involve the farm boys offering personal instruction in masturbation. Alan and Joseph went to the college boys, who let them stay. “[W]hile I was upstairs we had no idea this types [sic] of thing happened…we kept this from the nuns because we were taught never to put anyone in.” That’s the extent of sexual abuse experienced, or heard of, by Alan Coleman at St Joseph’s between 1936 and 1945.

It was 1945, and orphaned farm boys from St Joseph’s were being sent to Nazareth House in Geraldton (apparently an old people’s home) to work in the kitchen.  In Geraldton, similar invitations to mutual masturbation were extended by the other farm boys and particularly the “manager,” a nineteen year old. The only more disturbing incident involved a visiting priest to whom Alan was sent on suspicion of “misbehaving.” The priest masturbated and asked Alan to “touch it,” but he refused. The refusal was accepted, “any way he was so excited he pilled [sic] out a large handkerchief and wiped it he told me not to say anything.”

Alan’s strong moral code and his moral courage shine through in these events: his protection of his adopted “brother;” his sacrifice of further education; his lonely refusal of the culture of masturbation among the farm boys; and his “no” to a priest. Alan’s life subsequently was that of a man adrift. He only settled at the age of sixty, in the Philippines, with a Filipina wife who bore him a son, although he still accused himself of an incapacity to show affection.

This is a picture of life for an orphan in St Joseph’s orphanage between 1936 and 1945, and it serves as a baseline for another story, or set of stories, about the same orphanage between 1943 and 1959.

A Modest Amendment


The bills I discuss below were withdrawn on the 27th of February, 2017, because they faced almost certain defeat.  The issue of reform was referred to the Queensland Law Reform Commission.

Two related private member’s bills are currently before the Queensland Parliament. The Abortion Law Reform (Women’s Right To Choose Bill) 2016 removes abortion from the Queensland Criminal Code, lock stock and barrel. This is necessary, as the Explanatory Note makes clear, because “[t]he current law in Queensland is causing great hardship and personal suffering.” Further, according to Dr Carolyn De Costa, “This is the only health procedure that is dealt with like this in criminal legislation. It’s way, way out of date and belongs in the 19th century. We’re practising medicine in the 21st century.” The “Benefits of the Bill” include the following. “The Bill will repeal outdated laws that can criminalise women and doctors for a basic human right and a medical procedure…These archaic laws are dangerous and have no place in modern society where women should always have control over their own bodies. This Bill will protect vulnerable Queensland women and the doctors that are currently risking prosecution to assist them.”

In his speech introducing the bill, Mr Pyne (Cairns—Independent) made some trenchant comments.
“A Cairns District Court jury took less than an hour to find Tegan Simone Leach, 21, and her partner, Sergie Brennan, not guilty of charges of procuring an abortion…They admitted…that Ms Leach took the pills…because they were not ready to have a child. It is my position that when a young woman is not ready to have a child and chooses to terminate a pregnancy that should be a matter for her and her medical practitioner, not a matter for the state.”

He goes on, “Surely a young person should not have to ruin their young lives by proceeding with a pregnancy if they are not ready and their family and their doctor think it unadvisable.” Well, and perfectly correctly, said Mr Pyne.

However, there was one disturbing element to Mr Pyne’s speech. “Should this bill pass, the decision for the doctor would simply need to be that continuing the pregnancy poses a bigger risk to the woman than terminating it.” One has to ask, “What’s it got to do with the doctor?” Is women’s control over their own bodies now to be handed over to the medical profession?

Apparently Mr Pyne took this into consideration, for shortly before the Abortion Law Reform (Women’s Right To Choose Bill) came back from committee, Mr Pyne introduced the Health (Abortion Law Reform) Amendment Bill 2016 to clarify matters following the presumed removal of abortion from the Criminal Code. Mr Pyne’s speech in introduction showed the development of his thinking.

“Section 20 provides that only a qualified health practitioner may perform an abortion…It also says a woman does not commit an offence against this section for performing an abortion on herself.”

“Section 21 addresses abortion on a woman more than 24 weeks pregnant. It states that a doctor may perform an abortion…only if the doctor reasonably believes the continuation of the woman’s pregnancy would involve greater risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the woman than if the pregnancy were terminated; and has consulted with at least one other doctor [to the same effect.]”

This is an enormous step backwards. Not only does a distressed and vulnerable woman have to plead with one doctor to provide her “basic human right” (in Mr Pyne’s words) to the control of her own body, but she must now plead with two. This may not be as bad as it looks, though, because there does not seem to be any requirement for the second doctor to interview the patient, unless a judge decides that “reasonably believes” unreasonably requires such an interview.

The section does at least make it clear that there is no artificial and arbitrary upper limit on the period in which a woman in physical or mental danger can obtain (doctors willing) an abortion.

What happened to that talk in the earlier bill about removing abortion from the Criminal Code? Well, it does get a guernsey in a note to Section 21. “A failure by a doctor to comply with this section does not constitute an offence but may constitute behaviour for which action may be taken under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Queensland), Part 8 or the Health Ombudsman Act 2013.” That is some relief.

“Section 22 concerns the duty to perform or assist in abortion. It says no-one is under a duty to perform or assist in performing an abortion…However, a doctor has a duty to perform, and a registered nurse has a duty to assist a doctor in the performance of, an abortion on a woman in an emergency if the abortion is necessary to save the life of, or to prevent a serious physical injury to, the woman.” The difference between the conditions applying in this situation and those of section 21 are quite clear. Section 21 only addresses “greater risk” of physical or mental injury by continuing the pregnancy than by terminating. Section 22 addresses an immediate threat. This provision will be worthwhile if it prevents the suicide of one desperate woman who finds herself at the mercy of the “consciences” of medical providers in, for example, a country hospital. It is important to note that this safeguard applies to all abortions, up to term.

The first bill is at least unambiguous and represents a great leap forward for Queensland. The second bill is something of a curate’s egg, but is overall a step in the right direction. There is, however, a glaring omission.

While this long-awaited clarification and rationalisation offers more security to women and the medical practitioners seeking to help them, including the important consideration that abortion is available until term, no-one seems to have considered the situation of women whose foetuses are delivered prematurely. Given that the justification for the great majority of abortions under current circumstances is concern about the mental, rather than the physical, health of the woman, this is a grievous oversight. Suppose a woman who, though in a desperate psychological condition over her pregnancy, holds off having an abortion through a certain reluctance and in the belief that she still has, say, eight weeks to decide. Suppose further that this woman has the misfortune to deliver the foetus at this time. If anything, this circumstance would render the woman’s psychological state more parlous. Yet at the very time of her greatest vulnerability and need, the state and the law turn their backs on her, denying her the undoubted benefits of an abortion in her troubled state, because of an accident of timing.

This anomaly and injustice could be addressed by defining a “nominal pregnancy.” While the details would have to be decided by extensive consultation, suppose that the minimum period of a nominal pregnancy were defined as 37 weeks. The mother of any foetus delivered before 37 weeks gestation could then seek to have her nominal pregnancy terminated on the same basis as a woman whose actual pregnancy was similarly advanced.

This is not a proposal for infanticide. Pregnancy properly lasts about 39 weeks; the foetus is not ready for the outside world until then, as the difficulties of the prematurely born attest. So such a pregnancy coming to term at the usual time reflects the proper transition from foetus to infant. A prematurely delivered foetus is physiologically, then, still a foetus, although one in more difficult circumstances than usual. Furthermore, any psychological and exacerbating financial stresses on the woman will be aggravated by the circumstances of premature delivery.

It goes without saying that the termination of what we might call an externalised foetus would be achieved in the most humane possible manner, involving no suffering to the foetus. This carefully controlled process would in fact be much more humane than the process of normal late-term abortion, with its necessarily confronting aesthetics.

Hopefully the opportunity presented by these bills will seized in full by amending the second bill to include the just principle of a “nominal pregnancy” and put Queensland at the forefront of progressive thinking on women’s issues.

find: files only with scm directory pruning

The version of find I’m discussing here is
find (GNU findutils) 4.7.0-git
I use this pattern frequently—
$ find . <conditions> |xargs grep <pattern>
to find files containing, say, a regular expression.  If the search tree contains mercurial or git directories, I usually want to exclude their contents from the search.

The -prune action prevents a search from descending into the pruned directory, but I also want to strip out all directories, because the filenames are being fed into xargs grep.  So the command feeding the xgrep looks something like—
$ find . -type d -name .hg -prune -o -type f -print
This works well.  All directory names are suppressed, along with the files contained in the .hg directory.

Because the default action on a find is -print, I often elide that action, so I end up with—
$ find . -type d -name .hg -prune -o -type f
Lo and behold, the name of the pruned .hg directory appears in the list of files passed to xargs.  All other directory names are suppressed.

What seems to be going on is this: the condition before the -o finds only directories named .hg.  Those it prunes, but the condition returns the names of the pruned directories.  The condition following the -o filters out all of the directories not named .hg.  The combined list of files and .hg directories (but not their contents) is passed to xargs.

So how is it that the first version works as I want it to?  How are the names of the .hg directories suppressed?

All I can surmise is that, in the absence of a specific -print action, the default -print applies to each of the conditions, but when it is specifically applied to the -o conditions, the default is suppressed for the initial conditions.

The man page says:
If the whole expression contains no actions other than -prune or -print, -print is performed on all files for which the whole expression is true.
That is ambiguous; in fact, it seems to be false. Neither of the versions above contain any actions apart from -prune and -print, and one doesn’t even contain a -print.  Yet they behave differently.

The command
$ find . \( -type d -name .hg -prune -o -type f \) -print
which pops the -print out from within the sub-expression, behaves the same as
$ find . -type d -name .hg -prune -o -type f
so that seems to be what is effectively happening in the absence of a specific -print on the or condition. (Incidentally, you seem to be able to use -or in place of just -o.)