A city’s bright, sparkling eye blinks on New Year’s Eve

​In countless nooks and crannies around Sydney, locals come out onto the streets for a glimpse of Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks. To see the Sydney Harbour Bridge while just wandering around the corner in bare feet brings a kind of suburbly pride that mixes with warm humid midnight air, mobile phone photography and a temporary congregation of neighbours. Some carrying glasses of champagne, many with their kids and we with our step-ladder and a milk crate to see over the crowd – a trick learned from the Parisians at a Bastille Day parade we once stumbled upon.We are joined this Sydney night by our little grand daughter whose passion for life never ceases to amaze but who nevertheless nearly falls asleep as Sydney’s one great eye sparkles, eyebrow raised, blinks several times, then calls it a night.

Sydney New Year's Eve fireworks 2016, Lilyfield

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].

Australia’s most hipster suburbs less so for the poor

Sydney inner west suburb Camperdown has been named among Australia’s most hipster suburbs, according to an article in Domain.

I know Camperdown exceedingly well and spend time with people who are invisble to hipster wealth and ideals.

Domain refers to Wikipedia for a definition of hipster:

“[Hipsters are] broadly associated with indie and alternative music, a varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility (including vintage and thrift store-bought clothes), generally progressive political views, organic and artisanal foods, and alternative lifestyles.”

And as a result these suburbs of hip young adults are:

According to Urbis’s Hip List, a hip suburb is at the “leading edge of cosmopolitan trends”, and offers an “unusually rich source of information on future consumer directions”.

In the middle of Camperdown’s hipsterness are a couple of buildings set aside for those who must have missed the hipster memo. Or maybe they are where hipster goes when life falls off (the wrong side of) the tracks.

I dropped in on a few on Christmas Day… home alone in small apartments where they had watched television all day or happily returned from a free Christmas lunch at Newtown.

Some will join us for our monthly Camperdown Community Breakfast at which strangely enough I’m yet to see any hipster representatives.

Not surprising that a real estate website would drool over the property values of a place like Camperdown and not include a paragraph like this:

‘Alongside the artisan cafes, boutique pubs and million dollar apartments, about 400 people live at the heart of the suburb who have never owned any property, do not sip lattes (soy or otherwise) at Deus ex Machina, may wear someone’s preloved clothing (not hipster if you have no choice) and who are variously seeking to overcome the ravages of homelessness, substance abuse, sexual abuse, unsupported mental illness, repeat incarceration, sickness and/or generational poverty. If you walk quickly with your eyes averted, you’ll barely notice.’

That wealth and poverty can coexist with so little genuine interaction is commonplace in the inner city but a tragedy none the less.

If we simply remembered the wisdom of ‘loving your neighbour’ and of ‘sharing our lives’ we might really have something to be proud of. Less hipster perhaps but more just and kind.

So if you live in Camperdown and can afford the rent or mortgage, come along to breakfast on January 4 from 8.30am at the Booler Centre, Lambert St, Camperdown. Hipsters welcome along with everyone else…

Entree to Transit of Venus: partial lunar eclipse on tonight (June 4)

Moon
Partial lunar eclipse in Sydney, June 4.

With all the Tranist of Venus excitement which occurs from about 8am June 6 (and then not again until 2117) there’s been little mention of the partial lunar eclipse occuring tonight.

The moon is passing through the eath’s shadow and will be mot affected at 9.03pm.

It’s a beautiful clear night in Sydney so step outside and see our collective shadow on the moon and pray for this mysterious round ball we call home.

More details here: http://nightskyonline.info/?p=3676

Oh, and the Tranist of Venus is June 5,6 and occurs when Venus crosses the sun.

More details here: http://www.sydneyobservatory.com.au/transit-of-venus-6-june-2012/

Dymocks enters self-publishing domain with launch tomorrow

Authors will be able to publish their own books in print and ebook format with possible release through Dymocks’ stores thanks to the bookseller’s own online self-publishing tool to be launched tomorrow, December 7.

Known as D Publishing, it will be similar to Amazon’s Kindle Direct or Blurb with the added bonus of possible sail through Dymocks’ 90 strong retail bookstore network, 70 of which are located in Australia.

Announced earlier in the year and originally expected to be rolled out as early as October, D Publishing “aims to support all Australians with stories to tell”.

In announcing the launch, Dymocks Chief Executive Officer, Don Grover said the new publishing service, allowing Australian writers and authors to create and publish books, was a logical extension for the business.

“We believe that D Publishing has the potential to significantly support and grow the book industry in Australia by providing more opportunities for Australian authors to create, publish, and sell their books,” said Mr Grover.

“Unlike the traditional publishing model this service is driven by the author. If you are thinking about publishing your first, or one of many books, you should think of D Publishing.

“D Publishing will be an opportunity for all budding Australian authors to see their works in published form and available for purchase online, while a selection of titles may also be available in Dymocks stores across Australia.”

The launch will take place in Dymocks’ George St, Sydney store tomorrow and is expected to be available online to registered Dymocks Booklovers.

Having self-published two books through US-based Blurb, I will be interested to compare quality, costs, turn-around time and author’s rights. The process by which Dymocks selects titles for sale through its bricks and mortar stores or online will be another point of interest.

Check out my Blurb books here and here

Hang on, that’s a balanced Hillsong article!

July 7, 2011 was a big day for Hillsong. Not only was it the penultimate day of its 25th anniversary Hillsong conference at Darling Harbour, but also the day the Sydney Morning Herald printed a reasonably intelligent, mainly positive article about the mega-church.

Having taken to task the SMH several times for its mindless bias against Hillsong, which has seen the paper link the church with negative stories to which it has no actual connection, I thought it only fair to highlight the opposite.

Writer Ross Cameron describes how some friends visiting from England explain “they want to see Hillsong” and concludes with:

“Hillsong avoids many of the excesses of American TV spirituality. It’s delivered in the Australian vernacular and it respects the audience enough to make sure speakers know how to communicate. There are elements that don’t suit me, but Hillsong is changing people’s lives for the better. Some theological custodians argue Hillsong is just the power of positive thinking with a patina of Jesus. But even if that were true, would it be a bad thing? I would prefer being uplifted than depressed and it’s clearly better than my default position – lying on the couch with a coffee, The Insiders and three newspapers.

“Sydneysiders have taken a certain pleasure in finding fault with this church, and most have no idea of its impact. Hillsong is throwing modern Christianity a lifeline, while reaching out to others in a life beyond self.”
At last glance, there were 163 comments on the article with many agreeing that it is good to see a “positive Hillsong article from SMH for a change”. As usual, wherever there is a positive potrayal of Christianity, the evangelistic atheists are in a commenting frenzy with their usual taunts of “imaginary friends” and “sky fairy”.
Read more at the Sydney Morning Herald.
Previous Hillsong posts:

 

Space provides hope for street sex workers

My only encounters with brothels and sex workers have been organising to have flowers distributed outside one of Sydney’s largest brothels in Camperdown during random acts of kindness events and trawling the area around Hollywood Boulevard, LA, in the early hours of the morning with a Dream Centre team.

In both cases the intention was to bring the kindness of God to an otherwise unkind corner of our society, hopefully surprising people with the news that God loves them.

Oh and there was one occasion on the bus from work when two young women, looking like uni students, sat behind me and begun discussing their ‘clients’. Being a consummate eaves-dropper I was soon shocked and got off feeling a little shaken about the world we live in.

So it is good news indeed to see a Christian community group featured in the Sydney Morning Herald because of complaints against sex workers – not making the complaints but being the object of them.

Baptist Church urban compassion ministry, Hope Street, has raised the ire of inner Sydney residents for running a support service for sex workers out of a Bourke Street, Darlinghurst terrace.

Established in April 1995, Women’s Space is described by Hope Street as a “safe place where we provide support for street-based sex workers and other women involved in the sex industry in inner Sydney, with a focus on encouraging those women who choose to make a change in their lives and supporting these women during and after the changes they make.”

About five street-based sex workers visit the centre each morning, according to the SMH report, and may seek counselling have a shower, get a new set of clothes or just sit in the sunny courtyard.

Coordinator Kay Syonesa said the women “can come here and have someone treat them as an individual whereas other places it’s: ‘just a sex worker’… they come here and it’s: ‘you’re human’.”

As the service only moved to the Bourke St location at the start of this year, the were asked to submit a development application to the City of Sydney and local residents have contributed 84 objections out of 88 responses.

One representative of the East Sydney Neighbourhood Association came up with this ‘impressive’ list of objections: “the street sex workers are homeless… it does not service the residents, it’s not compatible with the permissible use.”

Compelling reasoning… not. Kings Cross police have no problems with the service, street prostitution has not increased in the area and some residents are seeing the bigger picture: “It’s just pathetic, this idea of ‘not in my backyard. It will make absolutely no difference to these residents but it could do a huge amount of good for these women,” the resident told the SMH.

Let’s hope compassion wins over ‘not in my backyard’ as City of Sydney planners assess the development application.

Find out  more about Hope Street’s Women’s Space.

Check out this previous post:

Paul Moulds – into the dark places.

Faith by billboard conversation continues

If you happen to commute along the M4 and also Victoria Rd (you are to be deeply pitied for that commute) then you may feel like you’re in the middle of a friendly, billboard-sized banter between a Christian and a Muslim. And the topic? Jesus.

Check out the full story at Australian Christian News.

Original billboard post
Forget billboards, they want to ban the  Bible

Islamic billboard benefits from Australia’s freedoms

Imagine a large billboard in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan saying, ‘Jesus Christ, greater than Mohammad’. Not going to happen.

Happily, Australia is a land of freedom of speech and religion which is why the Islamic group, MyPeace, is able to display a billboard on one of Sydney’s busiest roads, declaring, ‘Jesus A prophet of Islam’.

My Peace also plans other advertisements to join the first on Victoria Road, with slogans such as ‘Holy Quran – the final testament’ and ‘Muhummad: mercy to mankind’

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the organiser of MyPeace, Diaa Mohamed, as saying the campaign was intended to educate non-Muslims about Islam. He said Jesus was a prophet of Islam, who was to come before Muhammad. ”The only difference is we say he was a prophet of God, and they say he is God,” Mr Mohamed said. ”Is it thought-provoking? Yes, it is. We want to raise awareness that Islam believes in Jesus Christ,” he said.

Interestingly, many Christians use the same tactic (referring to Jesus as part of Islamic tradition) in communicating with people of Islamic faith, but with the reverse conclusion. The pivotal issue being not if you believe in Jesus, but who you believe him to be.

Bishop of South Sydney Rob Forsyth, also quoted by the SMH, rightly points out that the Islamic group is free to express their views and if he could afford it, he would put up billboards countering those of MyPeace and suggested atheists put some up as well, in the spirit of engendering discussion. At some point, we all need to make a decision as to whether Jesus is God or just another man.

Another important discussion would be the relative freedoms of people of different faiths in Islamic countries…

Read the full SMH report
Leave a comment describing your view of the billboard.

Bridge protest coincides with the end of a caseworker

Sydney Harbour Bridge at sunset

On the day a frustrated father protested on the Sydney Harbour Bridge over access to his children, I finished a nearly nine month stint as a Community Services caseworker.

Although Mick Fox’s grievance centred on custody arrangements after divorce, Community Services, forever to be known as DoCS, was also a target of his outrage.

A former girlfriend said, ‘I was with him for a lot of the time when he was trying to get in contact with DOCS [the Department of Community Services] and the police, purely because his kids were in danger every day.’

However the police and even the Minister for Family and Community Services Pru Goward denied it was a case in which Community Services were involved.
 
Without commenting on this particular case, it is sometimes one of the less attractive strategies of battling partners in divorce and custody cases to ring the child protection Helpline to accuse the other party of harming the children.
 
For a child protection system already stretched to the limit, these calls are always investigated thoroughly but soak up the precious time of caseworkers.
 
And so the day began on that dramatic note and proceeded to by a relatively typical day for my final one as a caseworker. Read More »

Politics aside, it was two blokes surfing

The coverage of Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s surfing lesson with former refugee Riz Wakil focuses heavily on the ‘political dialogue’, with most media outlets using exactly that term courtesy of AAP’s report.

And while there was indeed a sharp political edge to the event, due to the Federal Government’s current bungling efforts to come up with their own ‘non-Pacific-solution-Pacific-solution’, I am more interested to learn if there was any ‘personal dialogue’ between the two men.

It is amazing what can happen when we get to know someone from another stream of life. Our tightly held prejudices, misunderstandings, ignorances and apathies often fall away.

Many differences in society could be resolved if opposing sides actually got to know one another as real people rather than stereotypical objects.

This was an opportunity for such an interaction to occur, but at this stage, the only reports show two men shoring up their so-called political agendas.

‘Mr Abbott can teach me a thing or two about surfing, and I’ll teach him about what refugees go through to build a new life in Australia,’ Mr Wakil was reported as saying before the event.

Likewise, Mr Abbott was widely reported as looking forward to the surfing lesson largely because of the political mileage he would gain amidst the Government’s woes.

Read More »

New Year’s Eve pictorial from Yarranabbe (Darling Point)

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A work colleague who I’ve only known a few months kindly invited us to share the Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks from her harbourside location at Darling Point.

I calmly mentioned would she mind if seven of us showed up and in the great Australian tradition of hospitality, she warmly welcomed a few Halletts and relatives from Canberra.

During the wait between the 9pm and midnight fireworks, I was reminded of the new world of technology in which we live when my brother-in-law rang from his header on his farm near West Wyalong.

As the GPS system guided his large grain header through the heavy but rain-affected crop, I stood a hairbreadth from Sydney harbour and we chatted about our shared lives.

Grateful to hear that it was dry enough (for now) to harvest without getting blog, I wished him a happy new year in time to turn around and see my nephew playing with another boy on his iPad, seated on the lawn, surrounded by the panorama of Sydney.

Darling Point… originally named Mrs darling Point after Governor Darling’s wife. And previously known to the Aboriginal people as Yarranabbe, the name of the street we were in…