25
May
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

A couple of weeks ago I wrote some uncharacteristically harsh things about drug testing as a condition of support for unemployed people. The same day that I wrote harshly, the Prime Minister spoke of the issue as a question of “love”. He stopped me in my tracks. I spoke like a politician and he spoke like a spiritual leader! Some may have seen the PM’s words as naïve, or as an attempt to manipulate the naïve, but I know the man and he spoke from the depths of his heart. When has a Prime Minister ever used such language?

The PM sees the mechanisms of government to be perfectly congruent with love. I have a mate (a QC and an ex Attorney-General) who sees the law itself as a loving provision for a community. I get it. Without the law and all that government provides, the country would quickly descend into a chaotic and unlovely place. If we were a healthier culture; if we had not become a culture of victims, crusaders and opportunists, perhaps we could have heard his words and been elevated by them.

Keep reading here.
18
May
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

A text popped up on my phone today from a young woman whom I hadn’t heard from in over a year. When I first met her, she was only 11, a tiny, withdrawn girl whose beautiful smile could light up a room, yet her eyes rarely lifted from the floor. We lived next door to her in Mt Druitt and she would often come over to our house to talk with my wife Lisa. Initially I thought she came to play with our young daughters, who simply adored her. Yet in time, I realised she was escaping a household where abuse was a daily occurrence. It’s difficult for me to understand a father who could scream at his beautiful children until 2 in the morning. It’s even more difficult to understand why some nights she would take it upon herself to deliberately bait her father when he returned home in a drunken rage so that he wouldn’t turn on her mum and younger siblings. When we moved away from Mt Druitt this girl was the person we found it hardest to leave, we even quietly begged her to come with us. Her message today stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t a cry for help, it wasn’t a list of the latest failings of her father, it was a message full of hope. She thanked us for the years of love we’d shown her and talked of the happy times she’d spent in our home. She told me that she’d just finished a bushwalk through Tasmania with her school, a feat she’d never thought she’d accomplish. I’ve re-read her text about one hundred times today. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that leave a lasting impact.

When something human happens, at least two people are changed. This week a searching email made its way to my inbox from the partner of a fellow who was living on the cold streets of Melbourne 20 years ago. I’d walked past him on the same corner every day on my way to work until eventually I gave in, and ignoring some of my better judgement, asked him if he wanted to stay in our spare room for a few weeks. We took him in off the streets, but we...[read more]
11
May
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,


Costly kindness changes the world. The Kings Cross police were called to attend to a lady in the main drag the other day. The woman was in poor health and barely conscious, I presume under the influence of a bucket-load of alcohol. It was a sergeant who attended, so I guess things must have been pretty busy for police that day. The policeman engaged the lady with purpose but with the tenderness of a son dealing with a beloved Mum. As he helped her to her feet, she grabbed him on a part of his body that guaranteed maximum pain. She refused to release her grip and you’d have to forgive the man if he’d have put her on the ground as he could have easily done. In spite of the pain he was enduring, the policeman continued to smile and offer comforting words. After a few minutes, she released her grip as he made it clear he hadn’t come to lock her up but was interested in finding a better place for her. How often do you hear police commended for costly kindness? I can tell you that many times over this past thirteen years, I’ve witnessed such kindness on the part of police. There is sometimes a cop around who has seen too many American movies, but on the whole, certainly in Kings Cross, we have every reason to be proud of the police.

Earlier today a frail old man who had become disoriented through years of sleeping in bus stops and in parks, had reached a point where we had to organise medical treatment, whether the man liked the idea or not. Our John, the gentlest man in the world with the softest heart, did his best to assure the man that medical help would make him more comfortable. In reality, the lack of medical care would kill him in short order. The man resisted to the point where he threatened to strangle John with the telephone cord. Worse than this, he accused the kindest man in the world of every cruelty he could express. Most people would let it roll over and off them, but such things lodge in John’s...[read more]
04
May
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

A gorgeous young fellow who makes the world a better place just by waking up in the morning, was in the café today after some months away. I was delighted to see him but concerned because he’d clearly lost a lot of weight. I asked him about his health but he insisted first on discussing my health. I’ve had a few challenges with health this year and this fellow knew enough to prevent me from switching the attention back to him. As we talked, the kindest eyes in the world kept focus on me. I could have been talking to my father or my daughter. Eventually I needed to keep moving and I thanked him in a lighted-hearted way to almost balance the intense love in my face. His words too were light-hearted, and yet we both knew the depth and weight of the care we exchanged. “You’re a gentleman and a scholar,” I said. “I have my moments,” he replied.

A couple of weeks ago, our staff at Bondi travelled up to my office in an unusual gesture because they were so concerned about a woman whose situation was so dire, they believed it was a matter of life or death. The small unit in which she lived had become infested with bedbugs and all manner of insects. The person was handicapped and unable to move without the aid of a chair and someone to assist. Various agencies had been involved but they had mostly ceased any support out of concern for the health of their own staff. Our staff at Bondi had badgered government departments and various private agencies to the point of becoming a total nuisance. No-one felt it was their job to help. The person themselves had so lost the will to live that in conversations with our people, as bugs crawled over her face, no effort was made to even brush off the vermin. Wayside has no budget or capacity for such an emergency and yet I was convinced that death was a real possibility of inaction. I have a band of angels who have indicated from time to time that I can call on them in extraordinary circumstances. My...[read more]
27
Apr
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

Amazingly, culture seems to hold memory that has an affect long after the memory of actual events has passed. Isn’t it astonishing that children still sing, “Ring-a-ring o' roses, a pocket full of posies, a-tishoo! a-tishoo! We all fall down.” This rhyme was first published in 1881 but its origin seems to be much earlier. In the days of the Black Death or in the great plagues, it was believed that the plague could be caught through the sense of smell and so people carried rose petals in their pockets, but as soon as someone began sneezing, “we all fall down”. It is believable that this song is a living memory of the many plagues that swept Europe in the seventeenth-century. In 1665, nearly a third of London’s population was lost to the plague. That the great fire happened the next year makes me think that anyone of my age, has had a pretty lucky run. No one remembers these things yet we still sing the song.

This country began as a British prison and church attendance was essentially a punishment imposed by the establishment upon uncivilised prisoners. The early magistrates were often parsons who were rarely noted for the depth of their compassion. Rev Samuel Marsden was known to impose 500 lashes for relatively minor offences. It meant that an offender would be lashed until their back was pulp, carried away until their back healed and then returned for more. It might take five sessions before the sentence was completed. Do you think this early memory is not retained in our culture? We’ve long forgotten Marsden but when clergy are portrayed on TV, we usually see a sanctimonious character that is usually privileged and either pathetically irrelevant or viciously narrow.

Keep reading here.  
20
Apr
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

Exactly a year ago, I stood in the battle field of Fromelles, France. Fromelles was of particular interest to me because there was such shedding of Australian blood there. I’m not sure if bloodbaths ever have redeeming features, but this particular battle it seems, was designed to achieve nothing other than a distraction. It was hoped that this battle would prevent Germany from sending large numbers of their soldiers south in preparation for the massive culmination to be known as the Battle of the Somme. The plan failed. Fromelles was so poorly executed that Germany quickly recognised it as a decoy and moved their troops south anyway. Some of the soldiers killed at Fromelles had fought at Gallipoli but many were fresh from Australia with no fighting experience. I stood for ages in front of the grave of Private John Gordon, who enlisted in his older brother’s name, and who had landed in France in June 1916 and died on this field a month later. He was fifteen years and ten months old.

Very few Australian families a hundred years ago could imagine, let alone visit, the places where I stood last year. At Pozières, near the famous windmill sight, I found you could wander into any of the peaceful-looking fields, which were at the time freshly ploughed, and fill the boot of a car with shrapnel if you were so inclined. One hundred years later and still the ground is peppered with metal, now twisted and muddy, but then white hot and cutting through flesh like a butter knife. How many thousands of Australian people had wished to have stood where I stood, trying to understand what kind of circumstance robbed them of their boys, husbands and fathers? Many times, I stood quietly and shut my eyes as if I was communicating with thousands of Australians now gone, to say, “This is where it was”. Standing in peaceful fields, it’s hard to imagine soldiers deafened by artillery night and day without a break, wet, muddy and waiting for an order to...[read more]
12
Apr
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

All my life, I’ve nursed a special fear of needles. Never for a minute did I entertain the idea that I might put a needle into someone that I loved. My son became a diabetic when only six years old and while he was adjusting to the idea that only needles would keep him alive, I was adjusting to the idea that I’d have to learn how to give him injections. The day came when he was about to be discharged from hospital and I had to demonstrate that I could draw up insulin and inject it. I sat my little boy on a bench and gave him a long lecture about how, if I could only make him live by injecting into myself instead, that I would surely do it. It was no metaphor. After my longish lecture, I pushed the needle into his leg. After pushing the plunger, I withdrew the needle and threw my arms around my dear boy, stabbing him in the back. I thought I was the worst father in history.

Years later my daughter was wheeled out of an operating theatre to a bed where I was waiting for her. Initially she looked ok, but in just minutes, her face turned a sickly yellow with stark blue lines across her face, almost like a road map. I panicked and called for help. A nurse fetched a doctor who looked at my girl and proclaimed her to be “fine,” without even hesitating on his walk past her bed. I was both relieved, wanting to think the best of his professional judgement, and also horrified that he didn’t seem to understand that this was the loveliest little girl in the world, who in my view, ought not look like a road map.

Keep reading here.
06
Apr
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

A four-year-old girl stood next to her mother who had come to see me about a relatively trivial matter. The face of the little girl! Anger, fight, sadness and resentment all were clearly present in the face of this baby who clearly didn’t want to be in the room. I knew this little girl, somehow. My heart leapt from my chest at my first glance. This meeting happened many years ago and today, this little face is still with me. She didn’t speak and I’m not sure she could speak. She made noises. She seemed to be keeping her hands behind her back. “What’s going on with this little girl’s hands?” I asked. The mother pulled one of the hands to the front to reveal burns in the pattern of clear concentric circles. The little hand was dreadfully blistered. I could only imagine these burns came from a stove cooktop. I looked with horror to the mother’s face and she said, “She tells lies!”

I tell you that story because I’ve just been similarly captured by another face that will no doubt live with me to my dying day. Today I met a young person, perhaps in their late teens or early twenties and we struck up a conversation about gender identity. The words we exchanged were of peripheral importance to this meeting. Speaking was difficult, a stammering mixed with the sounds that a toothless mouth makes when forming words. But the face! Parallel lines met today. I know nothing of the backstory and yet I know everything. I lost something today. I lost all the things that I was worried about on my way to Wayside today. I lost my health issues; I lost the agenda of my next executive meeting; I lost the philosophy that I’d read last night, but I didn’t lose me. Actually, I found me in this precious face, contorted by hurt and yet with warmth and presence. My contribution to this meeting was nothing and everything. I gained nothing and everything.

Keep reading [read more]
30
Mar
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,


Flying is not my favourite pastime but this week at Melbourne airport, I found myself walking behind a young dad with a little boy, perhaps three years old. The little boy said, “Hey, why don’t you carry me to where we are going to meet Mummy?” This loving dad was on a mission but he clearly adored this little boy. “Hey,” he said, “Why don’t you carry Daddy to where we will meet Mummy?” The sense of fun between these two was beautiful. The plane I was waiting for turned out to be the plane that would bring Mummy to these two. While we were waiting, the dad started to lift his son up by the waist so that he was head height with his Dad but upside down and feet high in the air. This is what Dads do. The little boy was squealing with delight and every time he was put back on his feet, he’d yell, “Again!” The travelling public are not usually a fun crowd so these were the only squeals of delight to be heard in Melbourne airport on Monday. The crowd were even less amused when father and son joined hands to spin around to ‘ring-a-ring o' roses’, especially when they came to the ‘we all fall down’ part. My heart soared. I was lifted to heaven and would travel to Melbourne every day of the week to see this again. Eventually, Mummy appeared and dropped to her knees to catch the running hug from her little boy. In due course, Mum arose and gave her husband a hug like they were both in high school and on a first date. The little boy held his Mum’s case patiently waiting for this unnecessary affection to cease so he could get on with the next adventure. As they walked away from us, I could see the mother wiping tears from her eyes.


“I haven’t gambled for two weeks!” said a beaming face as I walked into the building today. I knew by the gait of the walk as well as the smile, that I was finally about to hear some positive news. Of all the addictions...[read more]

23
Mar
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,
The front of our building in Kings Cross catches some warming sun in the morning. For those who are wet and cold, this is a significant gift. It’s one of the few places where tired and shabby people will not be asked to ‘move on’. Sometimes I sit with the crowd early in the day just to remind myself of the difference between ‘big’ and ‘little’. It’s rather easy to let the machinery of serving people loom larger than the people the machinery is designed to serve. As we chatted this morning, a couple of cops walked past us and into our building. One cop was wearing a tazer-gun. I said to the fellow next to me, “Those tazer-guns give me the creeps.” “No!” he snapped back at me. “To be shot by one of those things is the best way in the world to clear your sinuses.”

In a single day, I often move from the gutter to the penthouse and back again. At 11am one day this week, I sat literally in the gutter with a fellow who is not long out of prison who had already broken every promise he’d made to himself while incarcerated. At noon, I was in the board room of DibbsBarker, addressing a most august gathering of executives and being served lunch to a standard that would do any three-hat restaurant proud. Just before I spoke, a senior lawyer sitting next to me asked, “Do you spend your time running welfare programs or trying to save souls?” There are times when my cackle becomes a laugh that is really too big for a board room. I said, “If ‘saving souls’ is to be concerned with ‘belief’ then I never worry about saving souls.” Arranging cognitive propositions to align to some orthodoxy seems like a ludicrous activity to me. Salvation comes through the feet not through the head. It matters where you go and it matters how you love others and make the world a better place. I observed that the greatest gifts to the world are often made by those who believe the wrong things, while often those who destroy the world are...[read more]