Spicy and delicious forkfuls of pearl couscous, or Moghrabieh, are washed down with sweetened Moroccan mint tea served in glasses.
Our table-for-two overlooks Darling Harbour and is separated by thick glass from the bright young things on the terrace who are smoking shishas —or hookahs—using fruit flavoured tobacco – strawberry, cinnamon and apple.
“ . . . And that smell of sweet perfume comes drifting through
The cool night air like Shalimar . . .”
The World Health Organisation has warned that a trendy one-hour shishas session can be as harmful as smoking 100 cigarettes. Ah dear.
Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks was on my turntable when I was the age of these three girlfriends, sharing a pipe.
They are young as we are no longer young. Insouciantly young. Bullet-prooof young. Instead of a Bucket List, they have a Fuck-It list!
Dressed scantily, as is their fashion, they are at once out-and-proud about their bodies, but also anxious about their ‘high maintenance’ looks. Checking the mirror.
The thick white shishas smoke swirls around my reflection and becomes the lime green of the neon on the retired Manly ferry, the South Steyne. $50 a pipe. 200 puffs an hour—a little rite of passage for these suntanned back-packers, students, lovers, travellers or revellers who laugh and speak broken English on a sultry night in Sydney in March. Skin cancer, lung cancer, they are a million miles away. It is an Indian summer—a so called rare and extended period of unusual warmth—but it is not an Indian Summer. It is climate change. It has arrived.
I heard an astronaut puzzle over why on earth we are called Earth when from space, what you can see is water – mainly the huge blue unblinking eye of the Pacific Ocean. Our planet should be called Water. It is my totemic element and, in the vicinity of water, I revive – be it mist, snow, fog, frost, rain, river, sea, ice, lake, pool, pond or harbour.
Remembering my smallness in time and space is a comfort. I begin by thinking about the big blue eye. Our place. From space.
If, for even a moment, you can truly feel the fragility of life—the randomness of life—it is dizzying, your good luck at being here at all.
‘Being here’ is what I can give my love on this autumn evening in Darling Harbour. My presence is my gift. For each of us, the other’s absence is unthinkable. Yet she must think about it.
She pushes my wheelchair through the crowds thinned by the first slick of rain in 26 days and at that level I spot a fair sized rat slip over the side of the wharf timbers. A thin-legged black girl in a miniskirt had lain passed out on a pontoon where now the tourists were taking cheerful selfies. Cranes everywhere. Sydney on steroids.
Australia’s Chief Scientist said the world had lost the war against warming. Full stop. It was over. He said that on ABC’s Q&A on the very night of our 23rd anniversary.
In 1993, exactly 23 years previously, we had watched then Prime Minister Paul Keating win one for ‘The True Believers’. Climate Change was somewhere over the rainbow, but at least Keating governed a progressive Australia, a fairer Australia. He welcomed multiculturalism, pivoted to Asia ahead of the US, and gave arguably the most important speech in modern Australia at Redfern in Sydney in 1992:
“The starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians.
It begins, I think, with that act of recognition.
Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing.
We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life.
We brought the diseases. The alcohol.
We committed the murders.
We took the children from their mothers.
We practised discrimination and exclusion.
It was our ignorance and our prejudice.
And our failure to imagine these things being done to us.
With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds.
We failed to ask – how would I feel if this were done to me?
As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded us all.”
We have failed to imagine these things being done to us. Prejudice and cruelty, are failures of imagination.
Lately we’ve been sold on supposedly being centrist. What does that really mean? Wishy-washy, average, uninspiring? Are we really in the centre? Centre of what? Was Breaker Morant centrist? Mary McKillop centrist? Ned Kelly centrist? Matthew Flinders centrist? Dame Edna, Nancy Wake, Eddie Mabo, Germaine Greer, Vincent Lingiari, Dawn Fraser, The Morecambs, Dorothy McRae McMahon, Fred Hollows, Rosie Batty? Were they centrist— people of moderate views—or were they more truthfully people of passionate views?
Call it what you like, Australia is instinctively a progressive democracy – a fair-go society that not only gave women the vote very early on but also gave women a seat at the table, as parliamentarians. We are one of the world’s great culturally diverse nations. But we are in danger of losing our good name.
Sure racism lingers and reforms in Australia can be glacially slow, but are turbo-charged compared to the affairs of the Vatican nation state where the cardinal’s wintry smile offers no hope for justice for those abused as children.
I would leave such a church.
I did leave such a church. So did she. We joked that we were recovering Catholics. Cheers queers!
Twenty-three years on from the night we fell in love, she can be my girlfriend/partner/spouse/de-facto, anything but my wife. That’s because the church thinks we’re sick and sinful.
When did church and state get back into bed together? What about the doctrine of the separation of powers?
It’s more than 40 years since we first chanted, “Get your rosaries off our ovaries”!
In poll after poll, Australians mostly (70%) accept same sex marriage as just fine and dandy. And fine for dandies! They are affronted if people think they think otherwise.
So me and The Abomination must bide our time. Hide our love in plain sight.
Happy Anniversary Baby.
In a friendly omen, outside our hotel window were the neons of two giant corporations. Both of them had been specially good to us. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia gave us a housing loan when others wouldn’t and thus enabled us to build our future security. The other behemoth PwC (Price Waterhouse Cooper) had that very day released research showing the true cost to Australia of the upcoming plebiscite on gay marriage was to be half a billion dollars. Plus it would cause significant social harm!
Yes it will. It will sour the air as even now the marriage traditionalists have asked for the hate speech laws to be suspended while they campaign. Can they not see the irony of that? The moral bankruptcy of their position? Equality is a matter of principle, not a matter of conscience.
Young people coming of age will, in the next several months and years, be assaulted by a battery of anti lesbian and gay propaganda. Of course in my ‘bad luck, good, luck, who knows’ world view, it will not go the way of the hateful or the spiteful. They will be shrugged off the body politic like a louse, but we are slow to learn, aren’t we, pandering to a minority while the rest of the world has moved on?
Needless pain is, nonetheless, pain.
Can they guarantee not one person will commit suicide in the churn of their hate?
My marrying Frances, or not marrying Frances, will not affect them one iota. In another time people like them, people of goodwill, believed black and white should not marry. People believed the earth was flat. In fact half of what we know now will not be true in time, according to one study. Things change. We get it wrong. More is revealed.
For example, Alexander Graham Bell did not invent the telephone. Yet that was an article of faith in our schools. We learned it by rote. (US Congress has since apologized to the true father of the phone, Italian Antonio Meucci).
And lo! The number of the Beast is not 666, as has been mistranslated. The number of the Antichrist is 616. Tom Lehrer would love that.
In fact, I’ve been humming this old favourite all week: