The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

[Published in Quadrant April 2019, and on Quadrant Online as Memoirs of an Abused Altar Boy, which included links to various documents.]

…so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.                                                 Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In May of 2015, the royal commission came to town, and opened public hearings in the Ballarat Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday the 19th, with Justice McClennan presiding. Counsel Assisting, Gail Furness SC, outlined the evidence that was expected to be given, and a number of victims gave evidence about the abuse they suffered. The next day’s proceedings opened with the evidence of Gordon Hill about his abuse at the hands of priests and nuns while he lived at St Joseph’s Home in Sebastopol near Ballarat. He was followed by number of other witnesses, some of whom alleged that they had informed the then Father George Pell about abuse centred on the Ballarat East parish, where Pell was, for some time, an assistant priest. David Ridsdale also repeated his allegation that Pell attempted to bribe him to keep quiet about his abuse at the hands of his uncle, the then Fr Gerald Ridsdale.

All of these allegations about Pell had been widely canvassed before, but Gordon Hill’s opening statement, completely unrelated to Pell, was sensational, and coloured all of the reporting of the day. The Ballarat Courier headlined Ballarat abuse survivor Gordon Hill tells of ‘dungeon’ assaults; Melbourne’s Age had Memories of abuse at St Joseph’s Orphanage, Ballarat still haunt Gordon Hill at 72. Online, The Daily Mail had two stories: the verbose ’Father wants to cleanse you, 29′: Nun’s chilling words to a young boy, 5, who was given a NUMBER instead of a name when he was raped by a priest in ‘horror room’ for the first time; and the more succinct Nun laughed after priest’s abuse: victim. This latter headline was also used by’s online site. ABC News online had Child sex abuse inquiry: Victim had teeth pulled out by nuns with pliers, royal commission hears. Later in the year, the ABC got down to brass tacks with Abuse survivor Gordon Hill calls for Catholic Church to properly compensate victims, not offer apologies.

Gordon, at a very young age, was placed in a home in the town of Gordon. Just before his third birthday, he was taken to St Joseph’s Home by bus. He has “vivid memories” of other toddlers entering the bus as it travelled to St Joseph’s. In Gordon’s telling,

[t]here are three categories of kids in St Joey’s. There were kids who came to St Joey’s during the day for school, then there was other ones that still had outside links with a relative… Lastly, there were the kids that didn’t have anybody outside at all…

Gordon was in the last category, the “drones,” as he called them. The drones received no schooling. He did not discover his surname until he was 10 or 11, when he was told he had a younger brother in the Home, and that he had had an older, who was by then working in the associated home for the aged. Until then, he was known only by his locker number, 29. It is unlikely that this depersonalisation applied to the day pupils or, by extension, to the category two pupils, but only to the 25 “drones.”

The first assault against Gordon occurred when he was 5 or 6. A nun told him, “Father wants to cleanse you, 29.”

I was thrown into one of the horror rooms where I was made to strip off and get into an old fashioned small bath. A priest gave me a drink…I have no memory of what happened after that. When I came to, I hurt like bloody hell. I was bleeding from the top of my back, down to my shins. My genitals and my bottom were the worst, they hurt like they were on fire. I later discovered I had bite marks on my privates. I don’t know how long I was out for. When I woke up…the nun…was waiting outside. She was laughing – big joke to her…

There were three stages to progress through the Home, as also described by other St Joseph’s old boys: nursery until 5, school dormitory from 6 to 13, and farm-boys’ dormitory for those 14 to 17 years old. The locker number by which Gordon was known would not have been assigned in the nursery. Gordon says that the abuse he endured as “29” continued while he was in the school dorm.

As well as his regular “cleansing,” one of the three priests who abused him during his stay devised a devilish, if less physically traumatic, form of abuse when Gordon was 9 or 10.

I was chosen to be an altar boy…The priest used to strip me down in the vestry, touch me and dress me in the altar boy outfit, which was a pink smock. He would then make me sit on the floor beneath the padded bench in the confessional box. I used to enter the confessional box before the parishioners came in for Saturday night confession. The priest then used to come in and sit on the padded bench. He would pull me by my hair, rub me, and I had to play with his genitals while he listened to confession.

If I made a noise as I was sitting beneath the priest’s bench in the confessional box, he would whack me across the face to shut me up. If any Catholics had known what was going on, they would have been horrified.

One of the things I noticed during the confession was that the women got off lightly when getting absolution from the priest. The guys sometimes had to pay out money in order to get absolution. The priest told the men how much he wanted from them. He asked some of the guys for up to 5 pounds, in those days it was a lot of money. I used to hear the person confessing slip through a piece of crinkly paper beneath the meshing that separated the priest and the public in the confessional box. The priest took the money and put it in his pocket; I could hear it crinkling.

The “crinkly paper” is a problem. Paper currency, even when near-new, could not be described as “crinkly.” This is a detail too far. If the priest had demanded £5 for absolution, then given absolution without further fuss, payment of the bribe can be assumed. Every adult Catholic in the 50s would have understood that the priest’s demand for payment was a grave sin, and even if he didn’t, he would have resented the five quid. Did no-one complain to the Bishop?

Again, the bodies are hard to locate in the confessional. Cramped under the bench, out of sight behind the priest’s legs and cassock, how is Gordon to access the priest’s genitals? How is the priest to “pull him by his hair,” and rub him? Consider also the intimacy of the confessional. Confessions were usually spoken at barely above a whisper, with the heads of both confessor and penitent close to the grill. While the grill obscured shapes, movement revealed them. If Gordon had made a noise, it would have been heard by the penitent; if the priest had been able to whack him across the face, the movement would have been seen and the whack certainly heard.

The story of the “horror rooms” was not over.  Gordon has himself graduating to the farm-boys at the age of 11 or 12.

…the sexual abuse got worse… as I got older it went on to the physical and dungeon type of thing. The horror rooms, they had medieval paintings, a big wooden X cross on one wall. I used to be stripped down and tied up and sexually abused by it.

If this description does not give readers pause, nothing will. This scene, with the addition of black latex costumes, would not be out of place in a sadomasochistic dominatrix fantasy.

Extreme forms of corporal punishment were practised by the nuns. For serious offences there was “battle stations.”

In the hall we would be stripped off in front of all the other kids and made to lie down on the ground. We were stretched out with a big kid on each arm and a kid on each leg and held up in the air. The nuns hit us with drill sticks… They were about 1.5 metres long or sometimes we would be hit with a small whip…

I was thrashed with a drill stick across the bare skin of my back and buttocks. About after 10 whacks the drill stick broke. I still have scars on both sides of my torso because the sticks broke on an angle. When I started to bleed on the back, they turned me around to the other side and whacked me again. I have the scars on my waist straight across from where I was beaten, and I was bruised everywhere.

While this punishment was public and, to an extent, ritualised, there were severe ad hoc punishments.

Sometimes the nuns would punish us by pulling a tooth out with a pair of pliers or whacking us across the face with an engineer’s hammer, which broke a lot of our teeth. I’ve even got scars to prove that. This happened to me a few times. On one occasion I was hit across the mouth for eating carrots from the garden I was weeding in with a lump of wood, and I still have the scars on my face.

“Battle stations,” because it was a special punishment for special infringements, was often accompanied by solitary confinement.

…what we called a dungeon…was a four by four room away from the orphanage down by the incinerator. That was where I was left with a bucket, a soundproof door, a light above me, there was no windows. For a bed, I had a concrete slab and three or four hessian bags for blankets. I stayed down there for about a month.

There was still one punishment in the armoury. In the mid-50s (Gordon was 11 in 1954) he follows some “bigger kids” into a blackberry patch outside the grounds. With threats to keep him quiet, they throw him into the briar patch. It’s getting dark, so he follows a light,

…but it turned out it was a little hut where they used to clean the cans from the sewerage. … The weather was freezing, so I got up on the bench and there was two or three old bags…which I got underneath and slept there for the night.

I woke up with a very sore head and realised I was lying in a clean and comfortable bed…in…the Ballarat Base Hospital. I must have fallen off the bench and hit my head, because I had a headache – I had bandages on my head. I heard the door open and a woman in a white coat came in, followed by…the matron, then a person in plain clothes and a policeman.

The woman…asked me how I got so bruised and battered…I had about six or seven teeth missing…they couldn’t work out how…the mouth was so badly damaged. They asked me why nobody had reported it. The doctor asked me my name…All I could say was ’29’. … I tried to tell them about the abuse…I tried to explain to them that I came from the home, because I didn’t know it was called St Joey’s, that I was physically and sexually abused there and how I’d gotten scars on my body. The copper in uniform turned around and said, ‘No, he’s just a runaway kid that we’ve been looking for, for nearly three or four days…we’ve picked up runaways before’. I said, ‘I wasn’t running away…’

…From that day on, I trusted no one.

There are a few things to note about this incident.  If Gordon is, indeed, the runaway they are looking for, he has been unconscious for three or four days. He is from 10 to 13 years old, but he doesn’t know the name of the Home. By the age of 10 or 11, on his own telling, he had discovered his surname, and he has presumably known his Christian name from the nursery, or even the home in Gordon.

Back at St Joseph’s, there is retribution for this disappearance.

…they tied me down on a bed and had pads on my head and neck with wires coming out. … they put a catheter in me and then another tube in my bottom so they didn’t have to clean up the mess after me. There was a big light that shone into my face when I felt intense pain as my head bounced off the bed. Then I heard noises again and I started to feel the pain again. It was like some sort of electric shock therapy.

This is not punishment; it is interrogation by torture.

They wanted to know what I had told them at the hospital… I don’t know how many days that went on for. (My italics.)

After that, I was taken down to the dungeon…and locked in a room made out of limestone. There was a thick door with a peephole and a slot down by the floor, and I had wheat bags for blankets. I got bread and water morning and night. Sometimes I could not eat because my teeth hurt so much and I ended up feeding the bread to a little mouse, it was a little pet mouse I found.

I was there for about over a month. Bloody cold down there too.

This is another show-stopper. The nuns had an ECT machine in a back room somewhere, and they would bring it out only in the most exceptional circumstances, such as interrogating runaways. This interrogation could go on for days, and was administered without anaesthetics or muscle relaxants, for obvious reasons. This was in the mid-50s.

The Child and Adolescent Unit was established in the Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital in New Zealand in 1972, and closed amid controversy in 1978. In a widely-reported scandal, the psychiatrist in charge of the unit was accused of having administered ECT without anaesthetics to two complainants. Two enquiries in 1976/7 investigated the complaints. The psychiatrist, Dr Selwyn Leeks, resigned his position. As a result of extensive publicity, the setting up of a class action, and the Government’s provision of a large compensation fund, the number of complainants steadily rose, until by 1999, there were 120. It is not known whether Dr Leeks had been consulting with the nuns of St Joseph’s Home on the management of difficult children. At least he was trained to administer ECT.

The farm-boys were sometimes “farmed out” to work in businesses and properties in the region.

This is some of the places I went to: I travelled to Merbein near Mildura; Wentworth; a sheep farm in Hamilton; an eel farm in Apollo Bay.

In the 1950s, I was about 14 years old, I got sent to work at the priest’s dad’s place. This was the priest that sexually abused me in St Joey’s. His dad was in his 60s and ran this [REDACTED]. … The priest and his relative used to come into the shed together and sexually abuse me. One of them would hold me down and the other tied my legs up and blindfold me, so I had no chance of getting away. The priest and the relative took turns to abuse me. …I used to try to think of other things while they were abusing me. I used to think about the babies and the kids I helped look after at St Joey’s and try to put the abuse out of my mind.

When he leaves St Joseph’s, he goes to live with his mother in Echuca, and works in the ordnance factory for three years.

After I finished…I got a job on the farm, and…I was out there for about six years. I only used to come into town once every three months… One day my boss asked me, ‘You can’t read and write, Hilly, why don’t you bloody well learn?’ He took me into an ABC shop and I picked up a set of books with attached cassette tapes so that I could teach myself how to read and write, since I had never been taught at St Joey’s.

Gordon worked on the farm between the ages of 20 and 26.  He turned 26 in 1969. The first ABC Shop opened, not in Ballarat, but in Sydney, in 1981, when Gordon was 38 or 39 years old.

On the basis of the contradictions and incredulities in this statement alone, there are numerous grounds for scepticism. The casual reader with internet access and a quizzical frame of mind would quickly find reasons for serious doubts about it. Yet it was presented before the royal commission apparently without being queried by Counsel Assisting or the small army of commission support staff. Half a billion dollars and four years should buy a more rigorous process than is obvious in this instance.

The commission’s job in this respect had been made considerably easier by Gordon Hill himself and the efforts of the Senate and the Victorian Parliament. In 2005, the Senate Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care issued its report. This was nine years after then Archbishop Pell had initiated the Melbourne Response, and eight years after the Australian Bishops had adopted Towards Healing. The Inquiry drew responses from former residents from 2003 to 2005. St Joseph’s Home was mentioned in a number of these submissions–those of Bryan Cronin (submission 290), Kevin Crouch (454), Alan Coleman (471), Gordon Hill (501), and an anonymous submission, number 130.

Eight years later the Family and Community Development Committee of the Victorian Parliament tabled the report of its Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations. The Inquiry took submissions in 2012 and 2013. Gordon Hill made a submission, and he, along with another St Joseph’s old boy, Joseph Saric, gave testimony to the Inquiry. Unlike the royal commission, testimony was not merely the reading of a submission. The Ballarat District Group sent a joint submission. It is in the form of a catalogue of abuses and the responses to them and no incidents of abuse are associated with any individual victim or perpetrator. The list of schools attended included “St Joseph’s Orphanage,” Ballarat. One of the primary signatories was a Gordon Hall.  Given the inclusion of St Joseph’s in the list, I suspect that “Hall” is a typographical error, and that this signatory was in fact Gordon Hill.

Apart from the joint document, Gordon has made three submissions to inquiries and given off the cuff testimony to one. This enthusiasm lets interested parties see the remarkable development of Gordon’s memory of events at St Joseph’s. Both Kevin Crouch and Alan Coleman received the type of punishment which Gordon Hill calls “battle stations.” Kevin was three years older than Gordon, so their terms of residence overlapped significantly. Alan was older, arriving in 1936, and leaving in late 1945, a few months before Gordon arrived. Bryan Cronin, on the other hand, was at St Joseph’s during the 60s. Gordon left in 1959 or 1960.

Most of the personal submissions by St Joseph’s old boys were to the Senate inquiry, but the group submission to the Victorian inquiry throws some interesting light on Gordon’s story.

Gordon was the only one of all these old boys to make a public submission to the royal commission. That is probably because none of the others alleged sexual abuse by priests or nuns at St Joseph’s. Bryan Cronin told a terrible story of sexual and physical abuse, but it was conducted by an older generation of alumni who, in the 60s, would volunteer to look after the residents on weekends. It is possible, indeed likely, that by the 60s the order was feeling the effects of aging membership and a drying up of vocations.

Most interesting of the earlier testimonies are those of Gordon himself. In his 2005 Senate submission, he mentions only one instance of sexual abuse, while on placement at a “pub owned by the parents of the orphanage’s priest.” This abuse, which Gordon does not go into the details of, links to the more elaborate description in his commission statement. He adds a paragraph.

Actually, looking back I now realise that these was sexual abuse at the orphanage. The priest used to make us do things for what he called ‘purification purposes’. The nuns would also whack you across the genitals and bum while lining up for showers.

This aside on “purification,” bundled with being whacked across the genitals and bum by nuns, will morph into the “cleansing” incidents in later versions. Gordon does not mention “29” at all.

Alan Coleman, in his submission, gives the rationale for the numbers. When he was six, he moved from the nursery to the schoolboys’ dormitory, which housed children from six to thirteen years old.

it was run like a prison, every child had his own number I was number ninety six and all clothes were marked with your number even when we went for meals

Names were not forgotten.

when I was in grade three the nuns told us we were getting some boys from Nazareth house in Melbourne, one of the kids was named Alan Coleman, the nuns said we had to work out who was going to change his name, so the other guys changed his name to Joseph Coleman (Senate Inquiry 2005; A.Coleman)

Regarding his education, Gordon asserts to the Senate that he had received only one year of schooling, and he introduces his story of learning to read and write with tapes from the “ABC shops.” However, he relates a curious incident.

…if you were good enough to get in the band you would get to go outside sometimes. I was in the band and once we went to a Corpus Christie procession at St Pats. About 30 kids and all the instruments etc were loaded onto the back of a semi-trailer to get there and on the way back, the driver took a bend too fast and we all went off the back, instruments and all. We were battered and bruised (not enough though to go to hospital)…(SI 2005)

It’s not so much the great good fortune of the 30 in not being seriously injured, as it is the fact that Gordon was in the band that is interesting here. It is inconceivable that he could be excluded from school, yet learn to play an instrument well enough to be in the school band. By 2013, Gordon seems to have forgotten about the band and the accident.

Alan Coleman was more isolated than Gordon. He never knew his parents; there was certainly no-one for him on the outside. Yet Alan was educated through eight grades of primary schooling to the point where he topped the class in an exam to determine which two pupils could progress to St Patrick’s College. Bryan Cronin, in the 60s, claims to have been put into a grade for classes more or less at random throughout his school years, but he was in class.

Physical injuries are witnessed to by an apparently inordinate amount of scarring carried by Gordon’s body, though its provenance may be uncertain.  In 2005’s testimony, the side of Gordon’s mouth was scarred when a boy in the scullery threw a fork at him, penetrating his cheek. A nun dragged him out by the still-embedded fork, removed it, and stitched him up with a needle and thread. In no subsequent testimony does the fork reappear.

After his “battle stations” beating, he was thrown into solitary for three weeks, with another needle and thread to stitch himself up. He had “a bucket for a toilet, a bench for a bed that had no mattress and one blanket.” Food was kicked through a kick plate at the bottom of the door. Arrangements for the bucket are not revealed.

In later tellings, the penalty for eating carrots from the garden is so severe that one wonders why anyone would risk it.  But in 2005, memories were not so stressful.

One time I was caught in the garden eating carrots by the nuns – I got 6 hours solitary after being belted with a cane…(SI 2005)

There is no mention of pliers or hammers, broken teeth or jawbones, but the hammer does make an appearance elsewhere. In the submission of the Ballarat District Group to the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry, one of the abuses mentioned is hitting on the face and head with a ballpein hammer, but it is one particular Christian Brother – no-one at St Joseph’s – who is responsible.

Neither is there any mention of blackberry patches or night soil cans or waking in hospital. No mention either of ECT punishment or interrogation.

Gordon’s story does stabilise by 2013, the time of the Victorian inquiry. Most of the elements of the commission testimony are there, but in very different colours. Even in the two months between his submission and his being called before the inquiry, the first abuse story changes. In the submission, he is seated in a small bath; in verbal testimony, it becomes a chair; and for the commission, it reverts to a bath. Another significant change occurs in the newly-remembered blackberry story. In his submission, he runs away, staying in the washing shed for two weeks, and being discovered when he becomes ill. Two months later, he is away for two days, and then only because he becomes too ill to return.

There is no mention even in 2013 of the abuse in and of the confessional: it is unique to the commission statement, one of the most shocking stories for the rump of believing Catholics. Not only does it demoralise Catholics, but plays to the paradigmatic complaint of the Reformation.

Compiling this catalogue of inconsistencies and contradictions is only possible because Gordon Hill has been such an enthusiastic witness at every inquiry that has been conducted over the past fourteen years.  Even so, the final version of this tale is so extreme, and in some details so caricatured, that any normally attentive listener, let alone a barrister or a judge, would be sceptical. All of Gordon’s previous documents were publicly available, but it seems commission staff have not availed themselves of the opportunity; or worse, they have seen them and chosen to ignore them.

The introduction of Gordon Hill’s sensational testimony immediately before allegations of Cardinal Pell’s involvement in cover-up cannot have been coincidental. It makes the commission’s failures of diligence all the more culpable. Nor is it the case that Furness SC and Justice McClennan lack stubbornly persistent scepticism; it was on display, for example, in their refusal to believe that Cardinal Pell was not in on what the commission seems to view as a Church-wide criminal protection racket.

Justice McClennan is using the platform provided by the royal commission to push for legislative changes to constrain the directions provided by judges according to “empirically validated” views of the reliability of evidence from children in sex offence cases, including, critically, the reliability of memories. Justice McClennan’s own views are, of course, empirically validated, and the commission has issued its own commissions for research, so far publishing fifty reports, none of which seem to have challenged the views of members of the commission. A constant theme in Justice McClennan’s recent speeches is the unreliability of “common-sense” views about the reliability of memory, and the unreliability of judicial views of the common-sense views in jurors.

If the common-sense of jurors is to be denigrated, what is the point of having juries in these cases? If both the common and judicial senses of judges are to be likewise denigrated and in pressing need of redirection by members of Parliament, what is the point of having experienced judges? If the existing case law relating to sexual offences is so polluted by empirically invalid assumptions, what is the point of the common law in these matters?

There are tremendous difficulties in replacing the creaking structures of the law and the intellectual limitations of a dozen ordinary folk with a system in which scientific expertise is given its rightfully prominent place, though judicial radicals can but try. The current royal commission provides a rare opportunity to advance this process. One assumes that the testimony of Gordon Hill is an example of the evidence that would be stamped with the judge’s nihil obstat in an empirically enlightened court, even as it was in Justice McClennan’s empirically enlightened commission. Still, as the Justice complained to the Australian Lawyers Alliance NSW Annual State conference, some court decisions concerning child sexual abuse are problematical.

They derive from what judges’(sic) thought they knew about how genuine complainants behave and what they thought they knew about how memory works.

Those assumptions have turned out, with the benefit of empirical research, to be flawed. However, they became embedded in the fabric of the common law and proved difficult even for Parliament to dislodge (my emphasis).

Here’s a toast, then: to the common law!

Video Secrets

[An edited version of this article was published in Quadrant Online as Bile! You’re on Qatar’s Candid Camera.]

Two weeks ago, Comedy Central’s Jim Jefferies responded to the Christchurch massacre with a hit piece on Avi Yemini, who is one of the emerging breed of conservative citizen reporters producing videos on social media. Jefferies had interviewed Yemini a few months prior to the massacre, but rushed his heavily edited footage to air as an exposé of Australian white supremacism. It was built around a portrayal of Yemini as an anti-Muslim activist and an anti-black racist.

Unfortunately for Jefferies, Yemini had secretly recorded their conversation. When Jefferies had aired his ambush, Yemini followed suit with a short series combining segments from Jefferies’ piece with unedited sequences from his own. The results are devastating for Jim Jefferies and Comedy Central, as you can see here.

The glaring dishonesty of the editing was bad enough, but after all, such is the stock-in-trade of television “journalism.” More damaging to Jeffries, and the trigger for a bout of twitter-rage, was the footage of Jeffries using a less well appreciated technique of interviewers: provocation.

Say, for instance, that an interviewer wants his subject to reveal that he hates Muslims, or that he is a conspiracy theorist about 9/11, or any of a dozen other real or imagined PC crimes and misdemeanours. He lulls his subject into a sense of camaraderie and complicity by revealing, off the record, that he shares these opinions, or has doubts about the “official” line on one event or another, hoping that the subject will then open to his newly-found comrade about his own beliefs. Such revelations, however deficient in damning content, can then be worked up into a case for the prosecution by teleological editing.

The best laid schemes gang aft agley; and so did this. Jefferies’ purpose was evident to Yemini, and the former’s open videoing was thwarted by that which the latter concealed. Jefferies’ provocations, though they were secretly filmed, though they were never intended to be broadcast, and though they were designed to elicit desired responses, were taken by the dim bulbs of the social media madhouse to be his actual opinions, because they were secretly filmed.

Take another scenario. In these circumstances the provocateur is the one secretly recording. He does not reveal that he is working with a reporter, and he pretends to be a person of some influence with many people in the community who share a common interest in guns. His subjects, Pauline Hanson and her staffers, who take him at face value, are unaware, and unsuspecting, of his purpose. He arranges meetings with others who share some of Hanson’s concerns, and some of the concerns that he pretends to. All the time, he is after some quotes that will damage the politician. He maintains his pretence for three years.

Politicians talk to a variety of special interest groups and influential individuals. Unfortunately, great personal integrity is contra-indicated for today’s politicians. A degree of adaptability is regarded as a very good thing. When politicians meet influential people, they are always looking to benefit to some extent from that influence; to minimise negative attitudes in some, to gain more enthusiastic support from others. One might expect, then, that politicians in a private meeting and being goaded and cajoled by the company, might say some things that they would not say in public. No conclusions can be drawn, though, as to whether those words represent the actual beliefs of the politician.

And so it came to pass, after three diligent years, that a minute or few of video clips were released in such a way as to cause maximum damage with an election pending. A few clips of video seem like a poor return on three years of investment, but these clips were gold for Hanson’s opponents. The media howled at the moon, and set off after the prey.

After the release of the second batch of videos, I happened to see Shari Markson, who was filling in for Peta Credlin on Sky. She was interviewing Andrew Bolt about the videos. Bolt expressed his reservations about the circumstances in which these had been recorded, and the need to see the full context before making a judgement about them. His deliberate reasoning shone almost as brightly as Markson’s high-wattage good looks; but she was having none of it. The words!  The words! She might have mentioned the thrill of the chase, or the glittering prospect of shooting down the Hanson bogey – nightmare of “progressive” journalists, irrespective of where they happen to be working.

The implicit assumptions about these particular words, words, was that, because they were secretly filmed, they must represent the actual beliefs of Pauline Hanson. They may do; they may not. Context is everything.  One hallmark of Hanson’s public career, and the one that both sets her apart from other politicians and explains her popularity, is that she spoke her mind in public. Would that more politicians did. That is not a conclusive consideration, but it does weigh in the balance in her favour.

Cui bono? The main beneficiary of this media setup is the Coalition. The release came in the midst of an attack on One Nation led by the Prime Minister. The operation was designed by a former ABC staffer working for Al Jazeera, and was financed by the network. Al Jazeera has, as one of its primary purposes, the dissemination of the worldview of the ruler of Qatar. Qatar is a pariah among the Arab states because of its support of the Muslim Brotherhood. It also provides funding for Hamas. At a time when the other Arabic Gulf States are realising that the djinn of Islamist terrorism needs putting back in the bottle, Qatar is an outlier.  How sobering is it to think that, if this persistent undercover operation of Al Jazeera helps Scott Morrison to victory, Al Jazeera may consider that the Coalition owes it a favour?

Men, Improved

[First published in Quadrant Online as Gender Quotas, Merit and Faux Equality.]

Since the outbreak of #metoo hashtagging in the Federal parliamentary Liberal Party, Peta Credlin (among others) has been promoting targets for Liberal women in Parliament.  Simultaneously, she decries quotas as promoted by, for example, the Labor Party.  Women, she says, don’t want a handicapping system for men; women want to win entirely on their own merits; women don’t want to walk into the party room aware that there were better candidates whose shoes they are not quite filling; etc, etc, etc.  Women who are like Peta only want to get into Parliament by their own honest and honourable efforts.

What’s the difference between a quota and a target? A target has a handbrake.  That’s it.  The rationale of each is identical.  It starts with the  unchallengeable premiss: the country must have equal numbers of women in the Federal Parliament (and just about everywhere else, to boot.)  A target is designed to achieve the same result, but more slowly, and with a little bit of wiggle room.

If the aim is the same, what’s the logic of claiming that targets are better?  Your guess is as good as this one of mine.  A quota forces the pace, and the women who are injected into Parliament suffer all of the detriments to self-esteem that Ms Credlin has sketched out (although they seem to manage it bravely.)  A target, on the other hand, can be accompanied by a development program, which will bolster the skills, the confidence, and the network of the participating women.  By the time the target dates roll around, they won’t be needed, because the women will be competing on an equal footing with the men.

I don’t know whether the thinking about targets actually ascends to the level of some such theory – any such theory – but looming behind this theory is an out-of-focus vision of the restored state of nature, with the elimination of all the handicaps that have been clamped onto women like so many electronic ankle bracelets to confine them to house arrest.  In that wonderful day to come, women will realise their full potential and compete, unimpeded and uninhibited, with men.  And if restored womanhood finds that its natural level is to have greater representation than men, well, let the lines fall in such pleasant places.  It’s Rousseau in a pantsuit.

Whether elaborated or fuzzy, conscious or unconscious, a semi-androgynous utopianism underlies all thinking about “equality”: that women have all of the aptitudes, interests and drive of men, alongside what might once have been called “feminine” traits.  Women lack nothing useful to men in the pursuit of careers, but they soften the edges of aggression and  merciless competition, preferring a certain group consensus which, far from inhibiting, actually enhances the success of their enterprises.  Women are just men, improved.

At the femmunist parousia, when every tear is wiped away from every woman’s eye, and women occupy at least half of the positions in every career in every field, who will be responsible for the manufacture of new humans?  How will these new humans be fed, watered and sheltered?  How will they be raised to become ideological clones of their perfect mothers; each perfectly un-straight, perfectly un-white-privileged, and, for the boys at least, perfectly non-toxically un-male?

It’s a ridiculous notion, and everybody knows it’s a ridiculous notion, yet no-one dares to connect the dots.  While the species remains viable, women will never be equally represented in the workforce, thanks be to God.  All of the high-profile women who agitate for “equality” understand this biological and mathematical inequality.  What, then, are they agitating for?  Far from being a cry for equality, their demand is for systematic, legislated inequality, of which they are the beneficiaries.  For if, among those who pursue their careers with uninterrupted vigour, the ratio of men to women is, say, four to one, then the demand for equal representation at each level of management amounts to a demand that women be privileged for promotion in the ratio of four to one.  Four times as many men as women will compete for every job, yet every second job must be given to a woman. You may argue about the ratio, but short of the abandonment of the very notion of raising a family, it will never be one to one.  Femmunism, like its grotesque progenitor, will remain Orwellian.  War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Inequality is Equality.

Men Are Mortal

[First published in Quadrant Online as ‘Slut-Shamed’ Victimhood’s Loose Logic]

Men are mortal.
ScoMo is a man.
Therefore, ScoMo is mortal.

Is there anything wrong with this argument?  A stickler for logical forms would insist that the first premiss should be All men are mortal.  Fair enough.  But if you put the initial form of the argument to a large sample of Australian voters, how many would object?  A statement like men are mortal will generally be accepted as a class attribution.

Now try this one.

Men are rapists.
David Leyonhjelm is a man.
Therefore, David Leyonhjelm is a rapist.

How does this one hold up?  That depends whom you offer it to.  To my mind, if you’re talking to those who retain some grip on common sense they will become sticklers for form, and reject the argument.  While all can be implicitly added to men are mortal, the same cannot be done here.

On the other hand, there is an increasingly large group, almost exclusively university educated, who will accept the argument, along these lines.  There are men who have committed rape, and are therefore unarguably rapists.  On the other hand, there are men who have not committed rape, per se, but who benefit from the intimidation of women by toxic masculinity and the rape culture, and who therefore are empowered by their male privilege. One has only to look at the rape crisis at Australian universities. This dichotomy effectively partitions men as a whole. The first premiss of the “rapists” argument is implicitly All men are rapists (by virtue of being men.)  Those who believe this have lost their grip on reality, but there are plenty of them.

Which brings me to Sarah Hanson-Young, or SH-Y as the woman-child is ironically known.  Is there a group in Australian politics in which the “men are rapists” mantra will find more enthusiastic support than among Greens?  Admittedly, it’s a close-run thing, what with the Labor Party en masse, and with much of the much-bullied women’s caucus of the Parliamentary Liberal Party, but the Noes have it.

On Thursday, 28th of June, the Senate was debating a motion from Fraser Anning that the Government allow citizens import tasers, mace and capsicum spray for self-defence. The motion was spurred by the raw memory of the rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon, and was directed mainly to the self-defence of women.  The major parties and, of course, the Greens opposed the motion.  It was lost 46 to 5, but all five supporters were men.

The argument against the motion picked up from earlier outrage that women walking alone at night be advised to exercise prudence.  To suggest that women take responsibility for their own safety, it went, was victim-blaming.  The problem, as Greens women loudly insisted, was men.  The rape and murder of women, an immemorial crime, can be eliminated by fixing men.  The connotation is apt.  “The priority,” said Senator Janet Rice, “must be to eradicate men’s violence.” No quantifier or qualifier attached to the word men. Nor was this rancour towards men a novelty in the red chamber.

SH-Y barracked on the sidelines.  Peta Pan, the girl who never grew up, sprinkled pixie dust and flew off to Never Land.  Anchored nearby, though, was mean ol’ Cap’n Hjook.  Senator David Leyonhjelm, across the corridor and two seats away, says he heard from SH-Y the comment, “men should stop raping women.” In response to another display of toxic femininity, he offered the now infamous suggestion that she “stop shagging men.”

There’s logic in the riposte.  If specific crimes like the rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon happen because of men, if men’s violence must be eradicated by Governments, if men go about raping women, then shagging a plural subset of men is surely the worst kind of fraternisation and gross hypocrisy.  But the barb depends for its force on the facts of SH-Y’s behaviour.  Does she shag men?  The following Sunday Leyonhjelm underlined his point by telling 3AW and Sky’s The Outsiders that around Parliament SH-Y was known to “like men.”

His attempt to buttress the logical structure of his comment just poured fuel onto the fire.  The story was all about a man’s callously bad manners and the offended feelings of a woman.  Up to that point, though, no-one, least of all SH-Y, had argued that she was actually a chaste woman, hence deeply offended.  This may simply have been an economy: why address that point when Leyonhjelm was being attacked on all sides for daring to make his original comment at all?

Then, on Tuesday, the Senator from South Australia put the question beyond doubt.  She accused her fellow Senator of slut-shaming her.

Slut-shaming is an inherently absurd product of the femmunist word-mill. Once upon a time, slut conveyed severe opprobrium. It was the obverse of chaste, when a chaste woman was a pearl beyond price.  In these enlightened times, the values have been reversed.  Behaviour befitting a slut is now applauded and encouraged in girls and women.  They now wear their promiscuity as proudly as the temple prostitutes of Babylon displayed their sashes.  It’s the right thing to do, so there can be no shame in it.

Curiously, femmunists remain squeamish about the word, though not the behaviour.  Slut is one of those words which is held to reflect poorly on the one who utters it, rather than the one it is uttered about.  So what is slut-shaming?  It is drawing attention to perfectly acceptable and widely encouraged promiscuous behaviour of the kind that used to be called sluttish, in order to call down no-longer relevant opprobrium upon the woman so named.  The only way the term makes sense is as ridicule of the person attempting the shaming, and thereby humiliating, not the woman named, but him- or herself.  So why is it presented as something that causes humiliation to the slut-shamed woman?  The concept is irredeemably incoherent. One salient fact pops out of this.  A woman bemoaning her slut-shaming is not complaining that she is accused of something she did not do.  SH-Y is not disputing the truth of the Parliamentary scuttlebutt that she “likes men.”  If, in fact, she does “like men,” then her anti-male rhetoric, in Parliament and out, is hypocrisy, as Senator Leyonhjelm pointed out.

Whether Senator Hanson-Young can grasp this point is moot.

I’ve Had a Few

I’ve Had a Few

I’ve had a few. Regrets. A few too many.
I’m hung over with that ache, the burn
of unrecoverable loss; I yearn to get it back
so I can put it right, but turn away. That is a sight
for strong men.

I’ve binged on other things that took my sense away.
Life’s T.A.B. next door, I gambled on my sozzled nous.
That worked out how? I have those slips still somewhere,
worthless, now as then.

I’ll crack another bottle of cold memory.
A minute’s silence, please: remembrance of
events long-dead, in effervescence of regret.

A swig. Those bubbles scour my sinuses and
In my cups I taste the salty sacrifice historians
don’t taste, while bringing back to life the dead.

I pawned time for another shot, time and time
again I’d do it. I still have some here somewhere.

Ah, those tickets.
But I know,
some day, like fallen leaves returning to the tree,
on that counter, my tickets all arrayed
will be, in antique red, marked, “Paid.”
Continue reading “I’ve Had a Few”

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.”

Continue reading “A Modest Amendment”

Schrödinger’s Baby

Ms Schrödinger is pregnant; and Ms Schrödinger is not.

Her pregnancy confirmed, she experienced joy or resignation; and she cursed the inconvenience or shrugged her shoulders.  She sought advice from her friends about obstetricians; and she sought advice about clinics and prescription drugs.  She has expectations of new life; and she has expectations of her old life. She is immersed in a whirlpool of change and growth, of ultrasound images and another heartbeat, of wonder and retching sickness, of anxiety about the future; and she has recovered the status and statis of the recent past.

Continue reading “Schrödinger’s Baby”

Redefining marriage

Brendan O’Neill raises a point which I have never heard in the discussion before, but which I have always felt is critical. This unprecedented redefinition of the basic building block of human society rewrites the contract that the State entered into with every currently married person. How’s that for retrospective legislation? I will return to this point below.

Continue reading “Redefining marriage”

Identity Theft

On the 10th of October, 2010, Natasha Mitchell interviewed Thomas Metzinger on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National network program All in the Mind. The show was titled You are not a self! Bodies, brains and the nature of consciousness. The ABC is the Government-financed public broadcaster in Australia. Radio National (RN) is an AM radio network dedicated to cultural and scientific topics that do not get much airplay on commercial radio. Metzinger was introduced on the programme like so:

Professor Metzinger is based at the Johannes-Gutenberg University in Mainz in Germany, and has long collaborated with neuroscientists and artificial intelligence researchers and others. And in his new book The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self he makes the case that there is no such thing as a self.

Continue reading “Identity Theft”

‘A Perfect and Beautiful Machine’

Daniel Dennett published an article titled ‘A Perfect and Beautiful Machine’: What Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Reveals About Artificial Intelligence in The Atlantic on 22nd June, 2012. What follows is the text of a post of mine on the Polanyi Discussion List, polanyi_list.

Daniel Dennett is performing conjuring tricks for his Atlantic audience.

To this day many people cannot get their heads around the unsettling idea that a purposeless, mindless process can crank away through the eons, generating ever more subtle, efficient, and complex organisms without having the slightest whiff of understanding of what it is doing.

How true. Drop the last couple of clauses, and he’s describing Polanyi.

In order to be a perfect and beautiful computing machine it is not requisite to know what arithmetic is.

This in bold, no less. I’ll come back to this. Continue reading “‘A Perfect and Beautiful Machine’”