Justice for Melissa

Twenty five years ago last month my sister Melissa Hunt (Hallett) was beaten to death and her body dumped in a remote dam in the Newcastle region, NSW, Australia.

An inquest had two main suspects before it was ended abruptly and information handed to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Unfortunately nothing has happened since.

There was some attempt we believe to examine DNA evidence in 2000 and Operation Impey was created in a renewed effort to find Melissa’s killer.

Still nothing.

Recently an unknown person left comments on another post on this blog, speculating about who might be implicated. Obviously this was disturbing, the information was given to Crimestoppers.

Still nothing.

On Anzac Day April 25, 2019 – 25 years to the day since Melissa’s body was discovered in Burrenjim Dam, I visited the dam with some family members, to reclaim that place and that day and to bring (symbolically and spiritually) dark secrets into the light.

This video tells the story. Please watch, share and come forward if you know anything.

PLEASE VISIT JUSTICEFORMELISSA.COM FOR FURTHER UPDATES ABOUT THE UNSOLVED MURDER OF MELISSA HUNT (HALLETT)

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Live in the moment and forever

Some things are intended to be fleeting, to finish, to fade away. Others are forever, eternal, of enduring value.

Too often we confuse the two. We grip a New Year’s Eve sparkler and hope it will light the year ahead. 

We invest our emotional security in passing things, such as possessions or fame or wealth, holding them too tight, and then struggle with a persistent sense of despair.

Or we commodify the deep things of life, such as relationships, beauty or belief, discarding them too easily, and then find ourselves living in a murky shallow pool of want.

Many modern societal structures (including some that should know better) push us to view the world this way because it is good for business. 

Often people are lost in this reversal but others have quietly realigned their thinking, perhaps when confronted with suffering or loss, and learn again how to live in the moment and forever.

New Year's Eve, sparklers, fireworks,

Oh and love yourself

‘I love you and you and you and you and me and you and you and me and you and you!’

Pointing at four of my grandchildren in turn and occasionally at myself for comic relief – it was a fun game with a happy message.

‘Funny Pa Pa, you love yourself?!’ said the oldest who at nearly 4 has a remarkable grasp on the subtleties of life.

‘It’s good to love yourself,’ I said, ‘Because God has made us amazing and loving ourselves helps us to love others.’

The moment moved on quickly but it stuck in my mind which means it stuck in her eminently more absorbant mind.

Loving self is the third of three loves forming part of Jesus’ Great Commandment. It is as hard to get right as the other two and in fact all three are contingent on the reason for it all – God so loves us.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30‭-‬31 NIV

Two hand-made cards and nearly a parking ticket

I pulled up on Norton St near the Palace Cinemas on my way home from an early Saturday morning appointment.
Two skim whites from Berkelouw were in my sights and as I took my free half-hour parking ticket and placed it on the dash, I noticed the little, older man who is often seen around Leichhardt selling hand-made cards.

He was wearing an unzipped tracksuit top over a t-shirt and below were a pair of long, shiny soccer shorts that were at least three sizes two big. Some thongs over socks completed his attire along with a bag slung over one shoulder.
It was a cold morning, he was under-dressed and I decided I would buy the inevitably proferred card. As I walked down Norton he noticed me, and began his distinctive card selling routine. He reached deep into his bag and pulled out the small paper card. His arm then snapped out to full length with the card facing him and he stared at it intently. Satisfied with what he saw he then extended his arm in my direction with the face of the card towards me, and waited.

As I drew closer, I stuck my hand in my jean pocket and pulled out a dollar coin, said hello, smiled, exchanged the coin for the card, wished him a good day and headed towards the cafe. He didn’t speak or smile. Everyone else I saw on the street walked past.

In the more comfortable world of the cafe, with the smell of Campos and the buzz of conversation, the chasm between our worlds opened up and I felt guilty for my one dollar.

Walking back, the thought crossed my mind that I could stay on the opposite side of the road and cross closer to the car, avoiding the card man. There was a slight yearning for this within me, I didn’t really want to bother with the card man’s need. Although it was morning at the start of the weekend I was deeply tired.

But I owe too much to Someone else to give in so easily so I headed back towards the man and he went through his card presentation routine.

As I juggled the coffees and pulled out my wallet, I reminded myself I was doing no great thing, that the man had brought his hand-made cards to stand for hours in the cold to be ignored by most people to earn a few coins. This was were the courage and commitment lay.

‘I’ll have one thanks,’ I said. There was no sign of recognition of the previous purchase. 

‘I’m Peter, what’s your name?’ There was a harsh throaty reply but I couldn’t make it out.

‘Sorry?’

The same reply and I was none the wiser. I looked at the card, it had on it just the word ‘love’.

I fiddled in my wallet, saw a ten – still that persistent reluctance – but grabbed the twenty.

As I gave it to the man he looked at me, and then looked at the note for several seconds. He looked at me again as if to confirm I was sure, and then in one motion the note was flicked out of view as he turned and walked quickly down the street, presumably happy now with his morning’s work.

As I walked towards the car I reminded myself that I didn’t pay the money to have the man fawn over me or so I could look good. Any act of kindness or generosity must be enough for its own sake.

Nearing the car, I saw a flouro-vested, female parking inspector standing near the bonnet.

‘Hello, is everything okay?’

She looked at me with an expression of fear and astonishment. I realised she was about to book me, and confused, I opened the car door, still balancing the treasured coffees, to show her the ticket I had placed under the windscreen.

It was then I realised I had placed it upside down, distracted at the time by watching the card man. These could become very expensive cards, I thought.

I held the ticket towards the parking inspector, in a proferring routine reminiscent of the card man’s.

‘Sorry I didn’t realise it was upside down!’

‘Well I can’t read it if I can’t see it can I love,’ she said, finding her voice after realising I wasn’t going to yell at her.

She studied it intently and gave me a small nod and seemed to clear an entry in her little hand-held machine.

‘Thank you’ I said realising how close I’d come to a fine. I wondered how quickly my feelings of mercy and resolve to do good would have evaporated when faced with a parking ticket.

I laughed at myself, sipped my coffee and reflected on who had been kind to who and the apparent randomness of life which is less random than we may think.

Sydney Central Pedestrian Tunnel #4

For nine months of my life I walked this tunnel twice a day and sometimes I wrote down the snippets of conversation as a kind of random urban poem. I decided to do it tonight for old time’s sake. And something unexpected happened at the end.

central-station-pedestrian-tunnel-sydney

Two male office workers, in Friday casual:

‘Yeah yeah yeah. Yeah exactly.’

Twenty something female to friend, both with headphones:

‘And I was like, “My mum made the decision.'”

Man to women wearing hajib and looking skeptical:

‘Don’t know, probably.’

Twenty something man in high-spirits to two friends:

‘Yeah but actually she doesn’t live there anymore.’

Curly haired young woman on the phone at the bus stop:

‘I’ve just hopped off at Central and I’m waiting for the bus… actually I’m pooped.’

Man who approached quietly and is standing close to me:

‘ I don’t like to do this but my son and I haven’t eaten… I lost my job and… [hand out clasping gold coin].

Me: [reaching for wallet deciding with joy I’ll surprise this man with a note]. What’s your son’s name?

Begging man: ‘His name is Sean. S-e-a-n.’

Me: [Giving meagre $5] Well my name is Peter and I’m a Christian and God loves you whatever the story. [I don’t believe his spoken story and I don’t care].

The Presence of God

After community breakfast yesterday I visited the home of a friend, clambered over belongings 60cm deep and took in his joy at his painting on the wall.

The Presence of GodEarlier he had arrived late for breakfast but we unpacked again so we could chat while he munched on a large bowl of cereal.

We prayed for his parents and he told me that Mary backwards stands for both

You’re Really A Mess
You Really Are Magical

because life isn’t static but we are always coming out of tough times, recovering; or doing better, enjoying life.

I said it reminded me that we are made in the image of God (magical) but fallen and broken and frail (mess) and that Jesus gave his life to forgive and heal our mess and to restore and discover our magical.

My friend thought this was a reasonable interpretation of Mary backwards.

And I still count it a privilege after all these years to be asked for the simple act of brotherhood of a shared meal and to be given the honour of a private artistic viewing and to discuss the profound meaning of words backward.

I know we in the church (and more broadly) argue a lot about the presence/reality/felt existence of God and some say we only need our faith in the Scriptures and others that we find him as we sing or pray and maybe others think that a pilgrimage is required and perhaps all are correct together.

But I remember Jesus said what you do for the least of these you do for me as if he would be intentionally present to renew and reassure us and that’s what I felt after just a few hours sleep, an hour of setup, serving 40 breakfasts including one home delivery, two after we closed, praying with troubled souls and discussing backward anagrams.

Not tired. Renewed, reassured.

And I know whose presence I was experiencing, right where He said He would be all along.

Likewise the day before nursing a baby in the cool of the night waiting for him to settle into sleep. Likewise the next evening being alongside a daughter and her aged  mother as they negotiated the challenges of daily life and shared grief with nobility and tears and laughter.

The presence of God is everywhere when we forget to look at ourself. Life is not one long selfie.

And just as well… I take a terrible selfie…

The deepest parts

Baby_in_womb

Consider how much human energy is expended in discovering what’s inside us.

Entire industries, advancing technologies and schools of learning exist to help us peer into our physical beings.

A billion words have been written in developing insight of our emotional and psychological beings.

If our skin and organs were transparent and our thoughts and feelings were unflinchingly displayed in speech bubbles above our head, many people would be out of a job and the world far less mysterious.

Read More »

Hunger is where you find it: fine moments from a free breakfast #2

image

George has a long history of telling me jokes that I cannot decipher and last Sunday was no exception:

George: Did I tell you the one about the man who went into the burger shop?

Me: No, I don’t think so, fire away.

George: See a man went into a burger shop with his friend and said to him, ‘Gees, I’m starving!’ His friend says, ‘You can’t possibly be starving.’ ‘Why’s that?’ says the man? ‘Because your Australian!’

Those of us who heard the joke were left scratching our heads but the playful grin on George’s face was worth a thousand jokes and I had to laugh.

I’ve pondered this joke since and know it has a deeper meaning (but possibly not a punchline…)

Told by a man who frequents free meals around the city, it’s a reminder to the comfortable classes in this blessed land that we are privileged and well-off and that by world standards we have little to worry about, including starvation.

But maybe it also reminds us that despite our taking for granted the abundant provision we enjoy, there are all around us people who are starving.

Some who spend their few dollars each week on alcohol or drugs and as a result know they will face several days with nothing to eat. Some who have seen their family, home and identity leach away until they are disheveled wanderers of urban deserts. Some who were born into nothing, have not dealt with it well and now cannot conceive anything different. Some for whom mental illness has isolated, ostracised and disarrayed until life is a constant chaos or a mundane coma. Some who were born into plenty, have not dealt well with it and now cannot conceive anything different…

And it is with these friends and others I will surround myself on Father’s Day morning because if a father cannot demonstrate compassion then what good is he to his children.

I may have to listen to more of George’s jokes, or worse – the despairing tales of men who never see their children or women who never knew a decent man. But maybe I can be something of what they have lost by the sharing of my life.

Photo: The staff of a local community project, having recognised something of value in our little breakfast, created this ‘billboard’ for local people. It warmed my heart when I stumbled upon it.

Breakfast at the Booler is on this Sunday from 8.30am and we’ll join in the festival in some way on September 21. But where to go from there??

Fine moments from a free breakfast

community, bteakfast, things people say, kindness, random acts of kindness

Brian*: ‘Oh, and I’ve found Jesus.’

Me: ‘Yeah? That’s great.’

Brian: ‘He was on the corner of Ross St and Pyrmont Bridge Road.’

Me: ‘Mmm, well that’s as good a place as any.’

 

* named changed for privacy

Stories from the ‘sharing our lives’ community breakfast being held at the Booler Centre, Lambert St Camperdown, August 10, 17, 31, September 7.

 

 

 

‘She was the most wonderful woman that I ever come across’ – farewell Margaret Somerville

Many people have treasured memories of Australian missionary Margaret Somerville, none more so than the Aboriginal children she guided across the continent to safety during World War 2.

Connie Cole, one of the last survivors of this epic journey, said of Margaret:

‘She was the most wonderful woman that I ever come across.’

Margaret died last week aged 101 at a nursing home on the Central Coast.

A Memorial Service for her will be held at Rockdale Uniting Church on Friday, August 8 at 2pm.

My memories of Margaret go back to the early 1980s when I was a journalism student at the Institute of Technolgy (now UTS ) and we both attended Newtown Mission.

She seemed old to me then but in a sprightly, energetic way. Then again I was still in my teens so most people seemed old.

In preparing a radio documentary on the history of Christian mission among Aboriginal people, I interviewed Margaret at her home about her experiences. Her remarkable journey with a group of young Aboriginal children clear across the continent was, it seemed, just a small part of a long life of caring for others.

She understood that missionary endeavour among first Australians was criticised by many at the time but I remember, even in those early days of land rights protests, she was a compelling defender of Christian mission.

To see why, watch this trailer for Croaker Island Exodus:

Read more about Margaret Somerville’s life and legacy here

‘It is nothing’ – the assassination of Franz Ferdinand

To mark 100 years today since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinaz of Austria and his wife Sophie, here’s a chapter from my unpublished WW1 novel, Shot: a great war story, that among other things retells the events of that day.

 

June 28, 1914

‘One comes here for a visit and is received with bombs…. It is outrageous!’

Franz had never felt so furious. How could this be, how could they let this happen? To think that his life and that of his Sophie had been in mortal danger from the actions of some fool in the crowd.

He saw again the slow loop of the explosive as it headed towards them, first bouncing off the bonnet of the car, before he had instinctively swatted at it, knocking it away. Then only to learn that Eric and the Count had been badly wounded in the car behind. And now this simpleton of a mayor is intent on giving a welcoming as if nothing has happened.

The scorn of his uncle and the Imperial court over this debacle would be insufferable, Franz thought, when he felt Sophie take his hand. She was standing by his side at the top of the town hall steps, where they were supposed to be basking in the warmth of an official welcome and the appreciation of the people, and where a stunned mayor stood fingering his notes.

What point is there after what has happened? Franz thought. Someone has tried to kill us! The realisation of how naïve he had been, how unrealistic, began to dawn on him. He turned to Sophie, feeling her trembling, seeing her lip quiver, and reached to wipe a tear, then noticing a slight graze on her cheek.

‘Sophel, oh my dear wife, I see you have been injured in the blast. My God, how close we have come to tragedy!’

She flinched from his touch, produced a handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at the graze.

‘I am all right, Franz, do not fuss. We must not be overcome by this. Look, the people do really love you,’ Sophie said,  whispering in his ear.Read More »

Robert Kennedy, fighting into positive territory, letter to daughter

Fighting back into positive territory

Fighting back into positive territory is a cliche associated, most commonly, with the share market where it describes stocks, or indeed the whole market, moving from loss into gain.

Of course shares and markets are not personal beings that can fight back into anything and so it is a pity this phrase is so often wasted on the endless statistical variations of markets.

Where it is truly significant is in the story of human beings all over our planet who, against the odds, deliberatley and intentionally, fight back into positive territory.

An example I heard tonight was Senator Robert Kennedy, who shortly after the assassination of his brother, President John F Kennedy, wrote to his 12-year-old daughter:

‘Dear Kathleen, You seem to understand that Jack died and was buried today. As the oldest of the grandchildren, you have a special responsibility. Be kind to others and work hard for our country. Love, Daddy.’

‘Be kind to others and work hard for our country…’ – fighting back into positive territory.

This is one example among millions where people – confronted with loss, disability, disaster, sickness, suffering and tragedy – doggedly fight back into positive territory in their lives by choosing well on what to focus, on the words they speak, and the memories they entertain, or the perspective they maintain.

These are courageous, redemptive acts, all of them, and follow the great Redemeer at work in the world.

Keep fighting.

Difference between ‘feeling’ and ‘being’ anxious unlocks an answer

“…for nothing be anxious.” *

I think there is a difference between feeling anxious and being anxious.

Photo by Jesse Therrien

Anxiety is a normal, perhaps even healthy, feeling when faced with the unknown, the unsafe or the unwanted. Usually this feeling of anxiety resolves when you pass through the situation and relief follows or, if your anxiety was justified, more concrete thoughts, actions and responses are required.

Sometimes it is the psycho-emotional effects of feelings of anxiety that help guide you through challenging situations – heightened vigilance, physical alertness (adrenalin), cautious progress.

But what if it is not so much that you ‘feel’ anxious, but that you are ‘being’ anxious; that you find yourself continuing in anxiety with or without an initial trigger.

Many of us in life can find ourselves weighed down with all the mental and physical responses of anxiety for hours, days or months. We are being anxious and we have forgetten how not to be anxious.

At such times, phrases such as the Biblical epigram for this post, “for nothing be anxious”, can seem infuriating and mindless to the person who would rather do anything but be anxious.

When our friends or spouses or colleagues tell us to ‘get over it’ when that is the one thing we can’t seem to do, we feel even more anxious. That is presuming anyone but ourselves even knows. In most cases, these predicaments are carried with silence, a supreme act of the will considering the turmoil inside.

So when the Bible says ‘for nothing be anxious’ do we have yet another voice condemning and consigning the anxious person to deeper isolation?Read More »

Let the little children come to me, echoes Barbara in life and death

The funeral of Barbara Holborow today showed that she was a woman of faith as well as the woman of constant action that we all knew her to be.

No doubt planning the event meticulously, she included a welcome to country by Millie Ingram and then the funeral continued with the ‘negro spiritual’, Shine On Me:

‘Shine on me
Let the light from the lighthouse
Shine on me’

Phrases such as “Therefore in faith and hope we turn to God, who created and sustains all things” sat alongside Scriptures such as “I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die.”

The congregation was invited to pray:

“Heavenly Father,
in your Son jesus Christ
you have given us a true faith and a sure hope.
Help us to live as those who believe in the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
and the resurrection to eternal life;
through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen”

Beautiful hymns, the Lord’s Prayer, Scripture readings from Ecclesiastes 3, Amos 5:24 and Psalm 23 accompanied perhaps the most fitting passage for a woman who devoted her life to the protection and nourishment of children: Mark 10:13-16, which includes the well-known words of Jesus:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

One sign of Barbara Holborow’s guiding hand was the involvement of clergy from the Anglican, Catholic and Uniting Churches and the Salvation Army. The tributes from Father Chris Riley AM and Reverend Dr Bill Crews AM, both close friends of Barbara’s, were deeply moving as they spoke of the sadness and challenge and love felt as she approached death.

There were many other highlights for the those gathered, including the Irish recessional and Goodnight Sweetheart sung by Col Joye as young men – perhaps some who have benefitted from Barbara Holborow’s benevolence – carried her towards her last earthly journey.

Armondo Hurley sang What A Wonderful World which connected with a radio interview with Richard Fidler in which Barbara had spoken about her hopes for a wonderful world. Hear it here.

One memorable quote, in response to the question, “Have you upset many of the lawmakers over the years?” Barbara answered, “Oh yes, and I still am. The day I stop is the day I know the marrow of my bone has melted.”

Many have asked the question since the death of Barbara Holborow, who will step up and continue her role as a champion of the most vulnerable of society. Probably it will not be just one, but will take many, similarly equipped – as she apparently was – with a faith that brings hope and love.

As my wife and I go through the process of becoming foster carers, we hope in some very small way to be part of continuing her legacy.

John Cleese’s favourite joke

Monty Python‘s fish slapping skit (below) was described by John Cleese, speaking on Seven’s Sunday Night program, as the silliest skit the comedy group ever did.

But when it came to the funniest joke, he offered this, towards the end of the interview:

‘How do you make God laugh? You tell him your plans…’

He was commenting about whether he would be married for a fourth time. In context, the joke suggests that we know so little about what will actually happen in our lives that to tell God what we are planning is hilarious.

But I guess you got it.

Visualising God at 300km an hour: Senna

Watching cars go round and round has never been a favourite pastime – I get enough of that in Sydney traffic – but as in every facet of human existence, there are personal stories embedded that make even Formula 1 racing interesting.

Asif Kapadia’s new documentary, Senna, tells one of these stories and while there is a fair bit of round and round, there is also an interesting investigation into the life, talent and faith of one of the sport’s most revered figures, Ayrton Senna.

The Brazilian Senna was a superbly talented, and some would say, a dangerous risk taker who had 41 wins and three World Championships which earned him the reputation of being one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all times.

He was well-known for his religious convictions which seemed to heighten for him as he raced.

“Somehow I got closer to God and this was very important to me. I visualized and saw God who is a part of me,” Senna said after one race. When reflecting on his love of racing, Senna says, “I think God gave me this chance.”

Frenchman Alain Prost, one of Senna’s key rivals, held an equally strong belief: that Senna’s personal companionship with the Deity made him a hazard to other drivers.

In one confrontation between the two, Prost says, “Ayrton thinks he can’t get hurt.” Senna responds, “Just because I believe in God does not mean I’m immortal. I know I can get hurt.”

The documentary shows the fulfilment of these words when Senna is killed in a crash  in 1994 at the age of 34, while leading the field at the San Marino Grand Prix. The crash was caused by a mechanical fault and a camera strapped to his car continued to film throughout the tragedy.

Many people from all walks of life talk about the experience of feeling close to God when engaged in an activity that they sense to be their very specific calling and gifting. I once hear a rugby league winger say he felt he was born to score tries. As strange as it seems, maybe Senna was born to drive, and there was no other way to die.

Senna is showing now at Palace Leichhardt – check guides for other cinema times.

Father Bob neighbour of next year’s The Block

The producers of The Block may have a thing for living near celebrities but they certainly no how to make Father Bob angry.

“While this year’s houses in Richmond back on to Molly Meldrum’s lavish Egyptian-themed property, the four houses believed to have been bought for next year’s show are opposite the home of renegade priest, Father Bob Maguire,” the Herald Sun reported yesterday.

Father Bob tweeted that he was “Not happy me”. Well known for his media appearances and run-ins with Catholic authorities over his retirement, he clearly resented the renegade title.

The four side-by-side terraces in South Melbourne are located on Dorcas St, overlooking the parish of St Peter and Paul’s.

The properties were recently sold and came with planning permission for a third storey, to maximise city views.

See the Herald Sun story.