Claiming condemnation as vindication spares you from introspection.

Mental gymnastics can be a useful skill.

Being able to approach questions from different perspectives and tease them out in unique ways can make you a deeper, more thoughtful person.

But cerebral dexterity can also make you impervious to reality or reflection.

They’re a lot to unpack regarding the Israel Folau saga, but frankly others have already done that. I won’t try.

I’m interested in the mindset required for somebody to boldly claim criticism as endorsement (politicians, we get to you later).

Appearing on SKY for his first TV interview since being sacked, Folau was asked how he has been able to “endure” what’s been thrown at him?

“It states in the Bible, as a Christian, and following after God’s word, that you will encounter [a backlash],” he told Alan Jones.

“So it’s kept my strong.”

After consulting some Christian friends, my best guess is Folau is referencing these Bible verses:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:10

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
2 Timothy 3:12

The Folau interpretation seems to be that the more people object to your views the more correct you are. (Jones didn’t ask if the public outrage had prompted any self-reflection from Folau.)

Some have described Folau as ‘playing the victim’ but I’m not convinced. Playing suggests a level of awareness or strategy.

I think Folau truly believes what he’s espousing and his search for Biblical guidance to comprehend and process the criticism appears genuine.

But, regardless, Folau has let his faith act as an inhibitor to self-reflection. He hasn’t been able to look at himself with the same critical eye he’s turns on others.

I’m no Christian scholar, a failed alter boy at best, but is there not an obvious link between introspection and that much-hyped Christly virtue of humility?

2 Corinthians 13:5 even tells us “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?

Embracing Folau’s broad intellectual shield, you become one of those fictional monsters that only gets bigger and stronger the more people attack you.

It’s the ultimate get-out-of-jail card. Pass go, do not accept any criticism.

You simply excuse yourself from the rigours and responsibility or self-reflection.

What a super philosophy!

The parallels with Donald Trump are obvious and boring. Trump draws strength from the outrage of progressives, but yawn.

A more mundane expression of this super philosophy is made by our local political class, and it’s just as worthy of analysis.

Here’s a scenario: Politician A unveils a new policy. Two sections of the community—who normally disagree on everything and maybe even despise each other—both criticise the policy.

“See,” proudly declares Politician A. “We’ve got the balance right.”

Well, no.

Just as Folau is no more correct because of the criticism he receives, a politician is no more correct because diverse stakeholder groups are all critical.

The notion that every possible avenue of concern exists on a neat and linear spectrum is wrong.

What if the politicians’ stakeholder groups both think the proposed program is poorly structured? What if they both think governance arrangements are deficient? Or what if they simply oppose the program for wildly different reasons?

Seeing how specific groups react to policy changes can be instructive. But there’s no mythical sweet spot between the denunciation of stakeholders.

Broad public condemnation—for a policy proposal as for an Instagram post—doesn’t magically mean you’re right.

Maybe your policy is just average.

Maybe your views are plain hurtful.

Maybe you’re simply wrong.

Surely we can all do better?

Death, dying and the pursuit of control

Victoria’s landmark Voluntary Assisted Dying laws are now in force and, for most Victorians, won’t mean a thing.

They will probably never use them or know anybody who does, for the eligibility criteria is so narrow.

But for the unlucky few who will eventually exercise their rights under these new laws, they mean an awful lot.

My sister Kate had almost everything: intelligence, humour, compassion, a thirst for adventure, a love of animals, art and music.

The one thing she didn’t have was time.

Cancer changed all that. Osteosarcoma, to be exact. The most common type of bone cancer.

Kate died a few years ago. She is my big sister, but at 36 I’m now older than she ever was.

Kate and her study notes for veterinary science exams at Melbourne University.

Kate was a science student and, later, a veterinary surgeon. Early on, one of her doctors offered her a choice: “Do you want us to treat you as a medical professional, or not?”

That is, did she want them to distill her diagnosis and treatment options into layman’s terms, or communicate absolutely everything: all the scientific detail and nerdy medical complexity?

She chose to know as much as possible. It allowed her to reclaim a small amount of power and control.

When you’re fighting for your life and, later, preparing for your death, you grasp at any power and control you can.

Years later, Kate’s family and friends raised funds to help with the cost of medical treatment and to send Kate and her husband on the “holiday of a lifetime”.

We asked for donations, held a big trivia night and auctioned off items donated by local businesses.

(She probably won’t remember, but Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy—then an opposition MP and now one of the senior government ministers charged with overseeing these new reforms—kindly donated a voucher for High Tea at the Victorian Parliament.)

Thousands of dollars were raised, and we were so thankful for the immense generosity of those who contributed.

But I detail this at length mainly to reflect on the futility of it all.

We gave my sister distractions, adventures and comforts because that was all we could give her.

What she wanted originally, a healthy life, the cancer robbed from her.

And what she wanted at the very end, a good death, the state denied to her.

My sister knew the end was coming.

She made a kind of peace with it, as much as I suspect anybody truly can.

She managed to say goodbye to almost everybody she loved and this gives me great comfort.

But, when the time came, Kate’s death was lonely. It was even more tragic than it needed to be.

She exercised the only power and control she had left.

Nothing was going to make my sister well again. But I will forever wonder how much better her death would have been if her family and friends had been there to hold her hand.

If my sister was alive today she would be applauding these new laws and thanking those who have campaigned so tirelessly to see them realised.

There are legitimate debates to be had about safeguards and implementation. But for those who oppose Voluntary Assisted Dying outright I have only envy and pity.

I envy anybody who hasn’t had a loved one so sick that they longed for the simple salvation of death, only to be denied this basic dignity.

And I pity anybody who has endured this awful experience, but still wishes to deny people the right to die in a manner and at a time of their choosing.   ■

Thanks for reading to the end. I heartily recommend this beautiful piece Kate’s good friend Dougie McGuire wrote on ABC Open just months before her death.

“We argued about everything over long boozy dinners, politics particularly, Irish matters especially and raged about the big things that really don’t matter, safe that our friendship was strong enough to be strengthened by the many small acts which do.”


When racism is in fashion.

Running commentaries on media stories are boring at the best of times, but occasionally an exception is warranted.

Not because something is so egregious or overt (there’s plenty of people ready to be outraged about anything over on Twitter) but because it’s subtle and missable, potentially even unintended—but definitely still damaging.

So here goes.

A young woman with African heritage is excelling in her field. Subah Jok is a young model who just strutted the catwalk in Paris for Giorgio Armani. So of course a newspaper story about her success must include a response to “crime problems in Melbourne”.

Is there any suggestion this woman is a criminal? No. But she’s black.

And because the notion of an ‘African crime crisis’ has been hard-baked into many Victorians’ minds, this woman is now fair game for a question about crime.

The same way every person of the Catholic faith should be asked about pedophiles at every opportunity, right?

Only they’re not.

But lets go with the theory for a moment longer.

An analysis of the raw data tells us Victoria’s biggest criminal offender group by “county of birth” are actually Australians. Boring, white-bread Aussies. Followed by Kiwis!

So by this new standard… next time Geelong superstar Paddy Dangerfield rips a game apart, he should be asked about Australian crime.

And next time Lorde is touring Melbourne we should ask her about Australia’s Kiwi crime wave.

Only we shouldn’t. And we wouldn’t. And we don’t.

That would be misguided and misleading at best; racist and offensive at worst.

But in Victoria—black people are fair game, didn’t you know?


Duncan – Issues vs Distractions

“I’ve got a disability and a low education, that means I’ve spent my whole life working for minimum wage. You’re gonna lift the tax-free threshold for rich people … Rich people don’t even notice their tax-free threshold lift. Why don’t I get it? Why do they get it?”

Victorian man Duncan Storrar asked this question on the political debate TV show Q&A soon after the launch of the 2016 Australian election campaign. Soon after, his life was turned upside down. Before long the country’s most read newspaper declared him a “villain” on its front page.

I don’t plan to relitigate these events here. That’s been done enough elsewhere.

For me, the most disappointing element of this whole saga was how some people, wilfully or otherwise, ‘played the man’ and simply ignored the issues Duncan so bravely tried to put in focus.

I wrote the below statement in my capacity as Media and Communications Manager at VCOSS.

There has never been a more dangerous time to be an Australian. Just ask Duncan Storrar.

We now live in an age where simply having the temerity to ask a Government MP a question about tax relief makes you fair game for public ridicule. After his appearance on Q&A, some have elevated Duncan to the status of a national hero. But Duncan didn’t ask for that. Others have sought to tear Duncan down. He certainly didn’t ask for that.

They say never to pick a fight with somebody who buys ink by the barrel. And that may be true. But all Duncan did was ask a question.

The truth is this isn’t about any individual. A federal election is upon us and every minute we spend debating whether or not Duncan is a good bloke is a wasted minute.

Its 60 seconds we’re not discussing the future of fairness in our country or how to make our tax system more equitable.

Instead of dissecting Duncan’s life, we could be discussing how in Victoria alone we currently have more than 650,000 people living in poverty. We could be musing on the fact that, of these, almost one third are earning a wage but it’s just not enough to pay the bills.

We could be outraged that 22,000 people are homeless in Victoria

We could be discussing how entrenched social disadvantage is mighty difficult to fix, because social problems are complex, with multiple, interrelated causes.

And, specifically, we could be discussing proposed changes to Australia’s tax regime. And how such changes might affect those who are doing it tough.

So why don’t we focus on the issues? That is what Duncan asked for.

(This post originally appeared on VCOSS’s Facebook page.)

In defence of Days of Thunder

In defence of Days of Thunder (1990)

On Saturday, when all the chores and errands were done, I had an urge.

Days of Thunder was calling my name. I wanted to get out there and hit the pace car.

Earlier in the month, I’d watched a TV news story about drag racer Phil Lamattina who had survived a horror crash and has now quit racing.

Days of Thunder had been floating around in my subconscious ever since.

It was a film on high rotation during my childhood. Mum had taped it off the telly on VHS and my brother and I quickly embraced it. Phrases like “I’m dropping the hammer!” became common in our home. We’d ‘slipstream’ on our bikes.

For those unfamiliar with the text, IMDb says Days of Thunder is about “a young hot-shot stock car driver [who] gets his chance to compete at the top level”.

Even I think that sounds shit.

The film has long been derided as ‘Top Gun on wheels’, full of two dimensional characters and wooden dialogue. Insert your phrase of condemnation here (though, be warned, they’ve all been used before…)

Should I even revisit this film? Or was it best left in my childhood?

With some trepidation, I decided to show some faith and rewatch Days of Thunder. 

I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, but among the extended action sequences, perfunctory character development (and, it must be said, an uncondemned instance of what’d we’d now call sexual assault*) what I encountered was a pleasant surprise.

Indeed, in retrospect, the film even acted as a petrol splattered Trojan Horse for a few pretty valuable life lessons:

1) Real heroes admit their flaws.
The Days of Thunder plot setup hinges on a single moment where arrogant and supremely talented race car driver Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) admits to industry veteran Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) that he’s in over his head.

Cruise-Duvall“I don’t know a lot about cars,” Trickle says in hushed tones in a blokey bar. “I’d like to help out but I can’t. I’m an idiot. I don’t have the vocabulary.”

In the context of the film, this is a massive and embarrassing confession. The movie’s prototype hotshot driver (“There’s nothing I can’t do in a race car”) is admitting he’s oversold himself and is begging for help from a man he hardly knows, but whose reputation he obviously respects.

Admitting your flaws? Respecting your elders? Asking for help? You wouldn’t find many other ‘action heroes’ embarking on such a conversation.

Cruise and Duvall’s characters quickly slot into the protégée/mentor dynamic and success soon beckons.

2) Men, talk to your mates about their health.
When Trickle and the film’s early villain, the perfectly named Rowdy Burns, are involved in a serious crash, the two adversaries soon develop a fractious friendship. Rowdy suffers a subtle but debilitating brain injury from the smash and ends up hiding away in his country retreat popping painkillers.

Burns makes it very clear he doesn’t like hospitals or doctors—especially female ones—and has no intention of engaging with the medical system. Sound like any men you know? Pressure is put on Trickle to go “talk to Rowdy” and convince him to get treatment.

Eventually, he does.

Cole Trickle: What’d you win this one for? This one right here? What’d you win this for? [Points to a big trophy in Burns’ room.]

Rowdy Burns: Doesn’t it say?

Cole Trickle: Yeah, that’s a Winston Cup, buddy. Hell, that’s an easy one to forget. What’s your name, or has that slipped your mind too?

Rowdy Burns: Screw you, man.

The dialogue is hardly Sorkin-esque, but the conversation is nonetheless tense and layered. Neither man wants to be there. Cole doesn’t want to be probing his new friend’s health woes (and reminding himself of his own mortality), and Rowdy doesn’t want him there putting pressure on him. Frankly, it’s a conversation men never enjoy.

But the scene happens (below). Rowdy goes to the hospital and agrees to have minor brain surgery. Their friendship is elevated to a new level. The lessons are that real mates talk to each other about their health and that awkward conversations are sometimes necessary. If more men had learnt this lesson in teenagehood the world would be a better place.


3) “I’m more afraid of being nothing than I am of being hurt”
Cruise’s character delivers this memorable line in the buildup to the movie’s final race sequence at the Daytona 500, “the Super Bowl of stock car racing”, which he, of course, wins.

On face value it’s a statement of recklessness and hubris. But, in the context of the film, this somewhat cheesy line is a declaration of genuine self-belief.

Coming at such a crucial moment in the film, it’s also instructive in understanding Trickle’s wider character arc. It’s the sentiment of a young man who’s respectfully learned at the foot of his mentor, honestly contemplated the risks of his own profession through watching the suffering of his mate Rowdy and—weighing up the dangers—has made a calculated decision to pursue his goals.

The lesson here needs little decoding. It’s okay to dream big and even take risks to achieve your goals.

Days of Thunder isn’t a work of genius. It’s closer to good than great, but it certainly doesn’t deserve the trash reputation it’s developed over the past 25 years. Which is why I felt compelled to pen this defence.

If you love a brainless action sequence then please watch Days of Thunder immediately.

But, equally, if you look beyond the fast cars and slick race scenes, and ignore the now-cliche Tom Cruise smirk, you might just find a film with equal parts heart and horsepower.

*- This is a big asterisk. The scene referenced involves Cruise’s character grabbing his female doctor’s hand and shoving it on his crotch, because he mistakenly believes she’s a prostitute wearing a medical costume. The incident becomes a source of embarrassment for Trickle and his mentor Hogge, who later apologises to the doctor (played by Nicole Kidman). Interestingly, she doesn’t really condemn his act and actually enters into a relationship with him. This film’s views on acceptable sexual behaviour is dated, to say the very least.

How did the Right lose ownership of marriage?

Look around the world and you’d be forgiven for thinking marriage equality, gay marriage, equal marriage (whatever you want to call it) is a progressive notion.

Calls for reform are often heard from the so-called Left: greens, students, academics and connoisseurs of cold drip coffee served in moody laneways. It’s easy to forget marriage is intrinsically conservative.

Britian’s conservative PM David Cameron
When British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the Tory faithful in 2011, he said this:

“Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”

His speech, widely reported at the time, put marriage equality firmly in the conservative tent. Cameron went on to emphasise marriage wasn’t just a piece of paper, but something that “pulls couples together through the ebb and flow of life [and] gives children stability”.

The most progressive thing anybody can do—be they gay, straight or otherwise—is to live away from the shackles and trappings of marriage. Marriage is, after all, an institution historically associated with property deals, military alliances, dowries, arranged unions, the general oppression of women and, more recently, soaring divorce rates. FTW.

(As a married man strongly in favour of reform, I’m not suggesting people give up on marriage equality. But, strictly speaking, that would be the most progressive thing to do.)

This perspective is hardly new.

“When I went to university [in the 1980’s] we weren’t talking about gay marriage,” former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in 2013, shortly after losing office. “As women, as feminists, we were critiquing marriage.”

Oh how the debate has flipped. Now progressives push for couples to declare their union under the banner of marriage, and conservatives demand couples live outside its bounds. The Conservatives have won! But they now don’t want the victory.

Conservative Senator Eric Abetz and the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, both oppose marriage equality.
Which brings us to the politics of all this. New Zealand, Britain, Ireland and the US have all embraced gay marriage, and the sky hasn’t fallen in. Everybody (well almost everybody) accepts it’s inevitable in Australia too. Given this, the Right is cruising for a massive defeat.

With ever hysterical attack on gays and lesbians, their love, their sex lives and their ability to raise kids (arguments all purportedly mounted in defence of the institution of marriage) conservatives are digging a massive, wrong-side-of-history sized hole for themselves.

It simply doesn’t have to be this way. The Right should start framing marriage equality as the conservative victory it will be. It’s not too late to snatch a political victory from the jaws of defeat.

Along the way, and with the correct leadership, we might just build some consensus, heal some wounds and make a better Australia. Anything less would be a missed opportunity.


(Feature image: Reuters.)

My Pa ‘bullshitting’ Ray Martin on national TV (1992)

As a celebrated bullshit artist, it’s really no surprise my charismatic grandfather Laurie Sheales ending up on national TV in May 1992 telling Ray Martin one of his tallest tales.

My 87 year old and gloriously hirsute Pa was sitting in a pub one night, swilling beer and telling those assembled how he’d been completely bald as a younger man, but how he’d managed to turn things around by applying cow manure to his hairless head.

A producer for Midday just happened to overhear this tale and invite Laurie into the studio to retell his story, and give a live demonstration.

The result is a piece of Sheales family folklore. We particularly love how the old fella kept his hands firmly behind his back the whole time and — after a tentative start — even began cracking his own jokes.

By the end it was The Laurie Sheales Show.

I hope you enjoy it.

Did the promise of pudding swing the Victorian election?

THE internet engaged in a collective ‘isn’t he adorable’ a few months back when it transpired actor Benedict Cumberbatch couldn’t say the word “penguins”. You can watch the video here.

B3o3twUIUAMYxp9(The fact Cumberbatch had just lent his voice to a nature documentary about penguins — or “pengwings” — and is currently starring in the Penguins of Madagascar movie made the whole thing even better.)

So what does all this have to do with yesterday’s Victorian election, which swept Labor’s Dan(iel) Andrews into the premier’s office?

While conventional wisdom suggests the controversial East West Link and disputes about pay for ambos and firefighters played a key role in Labor’s win, it’s also possible Daniel Andrews flicked the switch to ‘evil genius’ and employed a bit of highly strategic, Cumberbatch-esque linguistic subterfuge in a bid to sway undecided voters.

Stick with me here, and check out this video of the Labor leader promising Victorian voters PUDDING. Yes, as in the moist cake stuff. Moreover, enough pudding to fill Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium.

(Post continues below video)

On the surface Andrews simply can’t say the word “putting”, which is unfortunate given the ALP’s campaign was almost entirely built around the slogan ‘Putting People First’. But let’s not be so naive.

These political catchphrases are debated, dissected and focus group tested before ever being uttered in public.

danWhich means two things have happened. The first is that Labor strategists adopted this slogan in the full knowledge that Andrews couldn’t pronounce a third of it. This seems cruel, odd and somewhat self-defeating.

The second option is that the ALP’s savvy election strategists devised this particular collection of syllables in the hope some voters would be subliminally swayed by the promise of baked goods.

It’s so crazy it might just be true.

(H/T Daniel Bowen.)

This woman who I’ve never met made me feel better about the world

Racist rants on your bus, dodgy builders on your street, scammers on the internet… sometimes you just shake your head at humanity.

(And that’s before we even consider the meatier issues of war, famine and the persecution of the needy.)

This is Nikita.
This is Nikita.

But not today. Today I refuse to shake my head at humanity, and all because of the tiny (some might even say insignificant) actions of one woman I’ve never even met, Nikita.

When I stupidly left my wallet and iPhone — packed with photos, contacts and audio recordings — on a commuter train a few weeks ago, Nikita found it.

Did she hack my bank account? Sell my phone at Caribbean Gardens? Extort money from me?

No, she tracked me down on Facebook.

Unable to actually message me because of my insane privacy settings — hey, I remember what happened to Sandra Bullock in The Net — she went to a police station and handed in my belongings.

She then found my email address online and dropped me a note.

There are a lot of people in the world that aren’t evil, but are just plain indifferent. Or self interested. People who wouldn’t bother helping an old lady cross the road (or assisting a silly young man who’s lost his iPhone).

After all, what’s in it for them?

But, Nikita, you’re not one of those people.

Thank you for your good deed.



(Feature image via Ucwepn)