The achievements of the Whitlam Government, 50 years later

It was fifty years ago today (2 December 1972) that the Australian electorate came to its senses after 23 years of stodgy, backward-looking conservative coalition governments. Gough Whitlam led the Labor Party to a victory over a shrivelled and useless McMahon—Anthony coalition.

In three dynamic years, the Whitlam Government effected many overdue and very welcome changes, in so many areas:

Race relationships: the White Australia Policy was abolished, the Racial Discrimination Act began the move into multiculturalism for Australia

Land rights: returning land to the Gurindiji people in the Northern Territory began the process that led to the Mabo and Wik judgements; free Aboriginal legal services were also established

Education: free higher education was introduced, making hundreds and thousands of Australians the first in their family able to go to university

Civil rights: both conscription into the armed forces and the death penalty were abolished

Healthcare: Medicare brought universal healthcare for all Australians, providing access to GPs and hospitals at minimal cost

Rights for women: no-fault divorce meant that women could chose to leave an unhappy marriage without being financially burdened; removing the tax on contraceptives meant the Pill was made affordable and accessible; the equal pay case meant women would be more fairly compensated in employment

Foreign affairs: Whitlam was the first Western leader to visit China, reorienting our focus to Asia, leading to a flourishing trade with the region

The Arts: funding to the arts was doubled, the National Gallery, the Australian Council for the Arts, and SBS were all established

All of this, and more, to be thankful for!

See more at


On fantasy, mythology, and mental health (part II)

I have recently blogged about a most interesting series of conversations that I have participated in. I’ve been one of three members of the “Moon Knight Panel”, discussing the six episodes of this show, Moon Knight, which was released earlier this year on Disney Plus. The three of us—Will in Melbourne, Praxis in Hobart, and myself in Canberra—have recorded a series of seven podcasts that explore the issues that arise in each of the six episodes of Moon Knight. (Seven podcasts for six episodes, as the first podcast is an introduction to the panel members.) See

In that blog, I noted that it was not only the opportunity to discuss the condition of DID with others, through the medium of commentary on the Moon Knight series, that was what I appreciated about this recent experience. It was also the opportunity to talk at depth about the place of fantasy in our lives, and to explore matters of theology and mythology, the relationship of the divine to humanity, that was valuable.

Integral to the storyline of Moon Knight is the interplay between the divine realm—here expressed through the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt—and the humans in the story. Indeed, Marc Spector is engaged as the avatar for the Egyptian moon god Konshu. Whilst “avatar” is in popular use as the electronic representation of a person in online games, in the Hindu religion it is used to refer to an incarnation, or manifestation in human form, of one of the deities. That’s how it should be understood in Moon Knight.

Konshu, as portrayed in Moon Knight

In this series, as Spector is the human manifestation of the divine Konshu, the moon god, he is known as Moon Knight. His wife, Layla, becomes the avatar of the goddess Tawaret, the goddess of childbirth and fertility, and thus also of determining the onward progression of souls in the afterlife. Tawaret appears to perform this function in episode 5, when she takes the hearts of both Marc and Steven and weighs them to see if they are “in balance”.

Layla as the avatar of Tawaret

Some scenes are set in the “council of the gods”, where the deities debate the actions of avatars and discuss what needs to happen amongst human beings. In theory, the human characters in the story have no choice but to implement the will of their god or goddess; in Moon Knight, the relationship is portrayed in a more complex manner. These scenes provide dramatic tension; the out working of “the will of the gods” amongst humans provides action drama, with some great special effects amongst the conflict and violence that ensues.

National Geographic was apparently consulted with regard to the Egyptian gods and goddesses, and the mythology that has developed around them, as they appear in the Moon Knight series; see


The relationship of the gods to human beings is heightened by the work of the avatar of the goddess Ammit, whose role is to execute justice by examining the souls of people and assessing whether they are good or evil. Those who are evil are instantly put to death, to avoid them carrying out any future unjust actions.

That, in itself, raises some central ethical concerns; is it in any way right to take a person’s life on the basis of what evil it is believed that person will commit? On the other hand, if you have the power to know how a person is going to harm others, do you not have a duty to interfere with their capacity to do so, to prevent that harm being inflicted on other people? A difficult cluster of dilemmas, indeed.

Arthur Harrow with a portrayal of Ammit on his staff,
which he uses to adjudge the goodness or evil of people

The avatar of Ammit is Arthur Harrow, who behaves very much like a cult leader; in later scenes, however, he appears as Dr Harrow, the psychiatrist who is working with Marc Spector in a mental hospital to help him come to grips with his dissociative identity disorder. Now that’s an intriguing plot twist!

Since Will and I (two of the three-member panel) are both Uniting Church Ministers, the discussion in our podcasts inevitably canvasses the notion of divine judgement, as well as the relationship between humans and the divine, that we both experience in our lives and know about from our reading in Christian (and Jewish) theological traditions. Moon Knight invites its audience to explore how fantasy—storytelling, spinning a yarn, depicting a dramatic plot—helps them to explore the complexities of the human—divine relationship.

This bears many similarities with the way that Christian scriptures employ mythology—storytelling, narrating ancient sagas, recounting dramatic encounters and events—to convey attitudes of faith. Scripture, in my view, is not propositional or mechanical, conveying truth in a direct way through dogma or assertion. Rather, Scripture is a collation of stories which convey truths indirectly, through the art and creativity of myths. So there are many resonances between “interpreting the Bible” and “understanding Moon Knight”!

(On understanding the Bible as a collection of myths, see; on the Christmas story as a myth, see

Connected with this understanding of the nature of much of the Bible is the observation that DID itself is a “fantasy-like” way of dealing with trauma and the associated difficulties. The identities that are formed by dissociation from “the self” in DID are the result of the mind of the person, playing at the edges of reality, creating characters—who then, often take on a life of their own and become a “reality” within “the system” of the host person.

So the Bible, Marvel superheroes, Egyptian mythology, and Dissociative Identity Disorder form a neat cluster of areas in which fantasy, mythology, creativity, and story-telling combine, leaving us with the fundamental existential question in itself: what is real? what is unreal? and how do we make the distinction? Or, even: should we make such a distinction?


The link to the podcast on Episode Two is at

For Episode One, see

For an introduction to the Moon Knight Panel, see

I invite you to have a listen and explore these fascinating (and challenging) issues.

Good information about DID can be found at

On fantasy, mythology, and mental health (part I)

I have recently taken part in a most interesting series of conversations, on topics that are quite unlike others that I have participated in. I’ve been one of three members of the “Moon Knight Panel”, discussing the six episodes of this show, Moon Knight, which was released earlier this year on Disney Plus. The three of us—Will in Melbourne, Praxis in Hobart, and myself in Canberra—have recorded a series of seven podcasts that explore the issues that arise in each of the six episodes of Moon Knight. (Seven podcasts for six episodes, as the first podcast is an introduction to the panel members.)

The six episodes were released by Marvel Entertainment, which began life as the publisher of comic books (Spider Man, Doctor Doom, Captain America, She-Hulk, and Wolverine, amongst many others). It has now expanded to be a film production enterprise. Moon Knight is a character in Marvel comics, and this series represents a stepping-up from the role that Moon Knight has had in the printed comic books, for this character to become the star of his own television miniseries. The six episodes contain action, adventure, violence, drama, and suspense—it’s a really well-done artistic creation.

An early appearance of Moon Knight in the comics

Moon Knight first appeared as a character in a 1975 comic, Werewolf by Night #32, where his character was a villain, aiming to kill Werewolf. Moon Knight continued to appear in various comics in subsequent years, in which he turns to become a “good guy”. His first solo series, Moon Knight #1, was published in 1980. There is a whole complex story that has evolved over the decades, as Moon Knight has appeared, as himself and in various guises, in various comic series during that time. I entered into this podcast series, however, in blissful ignorance of that long history of Moon Knight; I was viewing the episodes with Paul Ricouer’s “first naïveté”.

My involvement in the panel has come about, not because I am a Marvel comic aficionado—I am not—nor because I am a Disney Plus subscriber—I am not—and not even because I am an action movie buff—I most certainly am not! It was because the episodes reveal a situation in which the human character who is to the fore at the start of the first episode, mild-mannered British gift-shop employee Steven Grant, is revealed to have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), and DID is something that I know about quite closely, from my own lived experience of the condition.

Steven Grant actually turns out to have been an identity created by Marc Spector, a Jewish-American mercenary who has been implicated in numerous murders. The series provides a gradual revelation of the relationship between Marc and Steven—and by the last episode, leaving us on the expected cliffhanger, we are aware that there is yet another identity, Jake Lockley, lurking in and around Marc and Steven. Jake is a ruthless Spanish assassin; how he figures in the complex scenario will, we presume, be revealed in the second series, yet to be recorded (although readers of the printed comics will have a good understanding of this already).


Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) was previously known as MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder), and it was MPD that I was diagnosed with about 30 years ago. The process of therapy that led to this diagnosis was a thoroughly challenging and deeply disturbing process for me. The therapy that followed, enabling me to deal with the dissociated identities that were lurking in my being, was a comprehensive and exhausting marathon over some years. I haven’t spoken about this before to many people in my life—and certainly never in such a public way as I have in the podcasts and now in this blog.

The series does a fine job, in my estimation, of portraying the confusion, disturbance, incomprehensibility, and fear that comes with a diagnosis of DID. Although I did not have many dramatic experiences of suddenly finding myself in a foreign and unknown situation—which is what happens, very dramatically, to Steven Grant in the earlier episodes—I certainly had the experience of complete and absolute confusion, of finding myself “gripped” in an intense way by a personality or force that felt quite alien, of enacting behaviours that were completely uncharacteristic for me and deeply troubling for others. All of these things are portrayed with vivid drama in the Moon Knight series—far more dramatically than what my own experiences were, but resonating deeply with the experiences I had, which still remember very clearly.

One of the other members of the Moon Knight panel, Praxis, also has lived experience of DID—although his experience is very different from mine. The “system” of Praxis that he is living with is quite different from the “system” that I identified in my therapy. His personalities identify in ways very different from the ways that mine did, and his “living with a ‘functioning multiplicity’ system of identities” is very different from the process that I undertook, of “fusing personalities piece-by-piece, seeking an ultimate integration into one person”. Talking with one another about our rather different experiences of DID has been mutually beneficial—and even through the differences, there are many key similarities that we have shared.

The series also accurately depicts the sheer exhaustion of the process of “switching” identities—something that was a very real experience for me in the height of the time when my “personalities” were emerging. Such “switching” would happen without warning, many times in a fierce, dramatic way. The sense of suddenly being “taken over” by another identity was an intensely draining experience for me, even when it happened in a relatively “smooth” way. So the dramatic portrayals of this aspect in Moon Knight, whilst not entirely “realistic” for me, certainly convey the intensity and dramatic impact of how such experiences felt at the time.

One critic of the comic book character made this assessment a few years ago: “When you look at Moon Knight’s story as a whole, it appears to be more and more of a story about perseverance, endurance, and coming to grips with who you are. That’s an extremely universal story. That’s something anyone can relate to, in one way or another. It’s a call to believe in yourself, and to never give up. And, really, that’s one of the most heroic tales you can get.” (Matt Attanasio,, 22 May 2018)

That is a very positive and affirming conclusion for me to take from this story, and from my own experience. I hope that this is sensed by those who watch the television series. You don’t need to have experienced the condition of DID to take this lesson to heart.

The link to the first podcast (introducing the Moon Knight Panel) is at

The podcast on Episode One is at

I invite you to have a listen and explore these fascinating (and challenging) issues.

Good information about DID can be found at


The post below comes from 2019. I have updated it here with statistics relating to 2022, taken from Deathwatch 2022.

Click here to read our Deathwatch 2022 Report.

It is important to note that this and previous years death tolls are almost entirely made up of the deaths we learn of from official race day reports. Countless others are taken away from the racetrack and killed behind the scenes when it is clear they cannot (or were chosen not to) be saved, indicating that although high and devastating, these findings are still grossly understated.

Key Findings

  • At least 139 horses were killed on track for a number of reasons, most commonly for catastrophic front limb injury (46)
  • On average at least one horse will die on Australian racetracks every 2.5 days
  • At least nine horses died from cardiac causes
  • The state with the highest recorded deaths was NSW (55) followed by VIC (37) and QLD (20)
  • Fifty-five of the horses that were reported to have been killed had been raced as two-year-olds
  • Ten horses were only two years old when they died on track
  • Two horses are still listed as ‘active’ on the Racing Australia website at the time of writing,
  • All states failed on several occasions to upload race replays where a horse died. NSW was the worst culprit, editing or failing to upload replays where a horse died on at least seven occasions.


Remembering Medora, Dispatch, Dulcify, Verema, Admire Rakti, Araldo, Red Cadeaux, Regal Monarch, and Cliffsofmoher–who each died during or soon after racing in the Melbourne Cup.

Today the Melbourne Cup takes place. It has become known as the race that stops a nation. But the reality is, it really should be the nation that stops a race—and all other horse races—because of the cruelty that is integral to the horse racing industry. A brief history indicates this.

The race was first run in 1861 to a crowd of 4,000 people. Two horses died in that first race. An article in the Australian Dictionary of Biography describes the race: Medora’s front legs gave way and she fell heavily, bringing down her jockey, Henderson. Dispatch rounded the turn and somersaulted over her, careered into the picket fence and threw her jockey, Morrison. Next came Twilight who collapsed on top of them, bringing Haynes down with her. Unhurt, she broke loose before heading off across the course and was disqualified. Nearby spectators anxiously dragged the fallen horses off the track before the others came round the course again. The jockeys also sustained injuries; Henderson’s shoulder was dislocated and Morrison’s right collar broken. The injury to his right side was such that he could only walk with assistance and had to be taken to Melbourne Hospital. (see

In 1881, Jockey John Dodd died as a result of injuries received while riding Suwarrow in the race. The horse survived.

In 1979, Dulcify broke his hip 400m from the finishing post in the 1979 Melbourne Cup and was taken to the Melbourne stables of his trainer, where he was euthanased by a vet in the back of a horse float.

In 2013, a horse named Verema was euthanased right on the Flemington racetrack, although green tarps prevented the crowd from seeing what was happening.

Two horses died due to racing in the 2014 Melbourne Cup. Cup favourite Admire Rakti, who was carrying the heaviest weight since Think Big (1975), died of heart failure in his stall after the race, and Araldo broke his leg and had to be euthanased after being spooked by a flag in the crowd after the race.

In 2015, Red Cadeaux, the only horse to finish 2nd in the race on 3 occasions, and a public favourite, did not finish due to a fetlock injury and had to be euthanased 2 weeks later.

In 2017, Regal Monarch broke his right leg and had to be euthanased. Such deaths take place because it is difficult for a horse’s fractured bone to heal. So a broken bone spells death.

In 2018, Cliffsofmoher had to be put down after fracturing a shoulder early in the Cup. He was euthanased on the track, right in front of the grandstand, behind a large green sheet.

In 2015, 132 racehorses died on race courses across Australia due to repeat injuries, according to the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses. That’s about one death every three days.

Has that terrible figure produced a response from racing authorities, to lessen the death toll? Not at all—in fact, the number of death has grown in the intervening years. From July 2016 until July 2017, 137 horses died on Australian racetracks. That is an outrageous number.

The most recent set of figures kept by the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses indicate that over the past year, the most common reason for a racehorse dying was catastrophic front limb injury (61), whilst 7 horses collapsed and died on the track, 10 horses died from cardiac causes, and 5 horses died from bleeds.

We need to stop this cruelty. This is actually the race that shames a nation. The whole industry, however, is riddled with practices and customs that perpetuate cruelty and cause regular deaths, as the recent ABC 7:30 report has demonstrated. (see

Say Nup to the Cup.

See also

World Mental Health Day, 10 October

Every year during October, Mental Health Month is held. It is based around World Mental Health Day, which was first celebrated in 1992, as an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organization with members and contacts in more than 150 countries. World Mental Health Day falls on 10 October every year and is now promoted internationally by the World Health Organisation.

The day, and the month, offers a way of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world through government health departments and civil society organizations across the globe. The WHO says that “World Mental Health Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.”

This year, the theme for World Mental Health Day is Making Mental Health & Well-Being for All a Global Priority. The hope is that focussing attention on the mental health of people will result in a better general awareness in society as well as improvements in services offered. 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was estimated that one in eight people globally were living with a mental disorder. So this is a much-needed focus on a long-established matter. See

Certainly, the years of the pandemic have exacerbated short- and long-term stresses, undermining the mental health of millions. As mental health services were disrupted by restrictions and lockdowns, so the treatment gap for mental health conditions has widened. The need for ongoing attention to providing good mental health support is even more evident.

In NSW, people are being encouraged to Tune In this mental health month, with resources providing Tips to Tune In (practise self-compassion, take time to rest, notice your boundaries, connect with friends) as well as tips for a less-stressed workplace and colourful posts for social media, to spread awareness of the month. See

In the ACT this year, the theme for the month is as simple as A—B—C: namely, Awareness—Belonging—Connection. Awareness is about understanding how to maintain and boost our mental wellbeing, realising when we need to reach out for help, and knowing where to get it. Belonging is about looking out for each other, feeling safe and supported, and knowing that we’re not alone: there are others going through the same thing. Connection is about our relationships: not just with our friends, families and those we care about, but also the groups, clubs, and networks we rely on to help us stay happy and healthy. See

Loneliness is one significant cause of mental health issues. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that most Australians will experience loneliness at some point in their lives. 1 in 3 (33%) Australians reported an episode of loneliness between 2001 and 2009. 40% of these people reported experiencing more than 1 episode. In surveys undertaken since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, just over half (54%) of respondents reported that they felt more lonely since the start of the pandemic. See

Friendship, care and support is something that the church can offer to people—especially to people who are experiencing loneliness. A supportive community can help lonely people to strengthen their mental health and have a more positive life. It’s something that every local congregation can easily do. Look around in your community; who are the lonely people? How can you offer them friendship and support? How can you live out the Gospel by giving compassionate care to such people?


For myself, I have lived with an awareness of the importance of taking care of my own mental health for some decades. Long before the pandemic, I recognised the importance of accessing support services and taking steps to ensure that my mental health remained robust. It hasn’t always been so—there have been some difficult periods of depression, anxiety, and dysfunction that I have experienced. Some of those times were really tough. Fortunately, there were other times—more times, I am pleased to say—that were positive, enjoyable, hope-filled times.

I am most grateful for the consistent, loving support and the always perceptive guidance that I have had over all those years from my wife Elizabeth. There have been a number of times when she has made sure that I was safe, helped me to seek professional assistance, and let people know that I wouldn’t be able to carry through some of my responsibilities at those times. I am sure that I wouldn’t have made it through all those years without her.

I was also very fortunate that the church made generous provision for me to have extended periods of leave when that was necessary, following medical advice. I am so glad that I came through those periods of time and was able to continue in ministry and have the opportunity to serve in a variety of roles.

There are various learnings that I have taken from these experiences. In the early times, when I had no explanation for what was happening, working with various professionals to explore matters was certainly very hard work. In time, when a clear diagnosis was made and then a workable treatment regime was put into place, there was a clear pathway to enjoying better mental health. But it would take quite some time to get there.

Those were difficult and, at times, scary times. Coming to grips with the realities of life—learning to be honest about myself, with myself, and with trusted others—was a slow process, full of challenges, but ultimately a very important pathway to follow.

Integral to my particular process of therapy was dealing with memories of the past that surfaced. This can be a real challenge—especially when there has been no clear, present memory of those traumatic experiences back in the past. I had to be prepared to learn new things about myself. This was hugely confronting. Eventually, realising that many of these learnings provide insightful explanations about “the way I am”, and especially my specific idiosyncrasies, proved to be a helpful process. Difficult, costly, but ultimately quite rewarding.

In this process, I learnt the importance of building resilience to engage at deeper levels with what life presents. Dealing with a series of shocks that surfaced during periods of deepened depression, increased anxiety, and gradually-clarifying memories, needed constant inner strength. It was draining and demanding. Over time, looking back, I can see how I learnt to accept and integrate those learning experiences into my sense of who I am as a whole person.

For myself, I found that balancing personal and professional needs was very important. In crisis periods, prioritising the personal over the professional was essential. As each of those crises lessened in intensity, the integration of specific professional tasks became possible, so a phased “return to work” could take place in an appropriate way.

At times, my work in ministry, either in educational or in organisational/oversight roles, presented challenging emotional situations. In the regular run of things, being aware of the saturation level of emotional intensity in my life was quite important. I needed to know when to plunge in to such situations, and when to step back from those situations and leave others to deal with them.

This has helped me develop, I believe, a growing capacity to balance honesty and care: to know when it was most important to confront the truth in a situation, and when it was wiser to offer pastoral care to a person, or persons, caught in such a situation. I like to think that my own psychological journey, exploring and strengthening my own mental health, has given me some capacity to empathise with hurting people, to engage sensibly with angry people, to speak clearly to confused people. I don’t for one second imagine that I am world’s best at these kind of things— far from it! But I have tried to develop skills in such things over the decades.

When I look back on the three decades during which good mental health has been an important focus for me, I think that I can see how I began to forge a new way of being, in the midst of realising that I was actually a rather motley collection of battered and bruised pieces dating from various incidents in my life, long, Iong ago. I have thus had a focus on “becoming integrated” as a person (or, at least, becoming “more integrated” than previously). I think that this has been important for me to do as a person, and it has helped me to function effectively as a minister. I hope that has been the experience of other people.

So this year, on World Mental Health Day, I join with interested people around the globe in emphasising the importance of taking care of our own mental health, being alert to the signs of stress in other people’s mental health, and advocating for the provision of strong mental health services in our society. I hope you will share in that same commitment.

It’s not over until it’s over. And at the moment, it’s not over.

Where is “the fat lady”? We know that, as the saying goes, “it’s not over until the fat lady sings”. So where is “the fat lady”? And has she sung?

Our state and federal leaders appear to think that she has been centre stage, singing her heart out. They are acting as if it is, indeed, over—that the passing of the virus through community spread has diminished, so that we can get back to “business as usual”. (Business being the operative word in government considerations about this matter—business, not health, not wellbeing, but business.)

“It’s not over until the fat lady sings”. It’s a terrible saying, actually, playing on unhelpful stereotypes about body shape and body size. The saying originated, it is often claimed, as a reference to the large-sized women who sang lead parts in operas. (Perhaps the large body size relates to the large lung capacity that is required to perform operatic arias?)

Wikipedia helpfully refers to Wagner’s grand opera cycle, Der Ring Des Nibelungen, and specifically, the last part of that long cycle, Götterdämmerung. It hypothesises that “the ‘fat lady’ is thus the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, who was traditionally presented as a very buxom lady. Her farewell scene lasts almost twenty minutes and leads directly to the finale of the whole Ring Cycle. As Götterdämmerung is about the end of the world (or at least the world of the Norse gods), in a very significant way ‘it is [all] over when the fat lady sings’.”

Others claim that it was a saying first uttered by an American sports commentator, who used the phrase at the end of a university athletics meeting in 1976; or at the end of a 1978 NBA playoff. Or perhaps it is a variant form of the phrase, “It ain’t over till it’s over”, attributed to the famous baseball player, Yogi Berra, at a baseball game in 1973.

Whatever the origin, the saying (in its various forms) is widely known. And, as far as I am concerned, it is very relevant to our current time. For we are now at a point when many people are acting, in relation to the COVID pandemic, as if “it’s over”. I hear this in what people say; I see it in how people behave—low levels of mask wearing, low levels of social distancing, less attention to ensuring that physical contact is minimised, less attention to diligent hand washing and to sneezing into your elbows, and high levels of assuming that we are back to “business as usual”. Goodness, now there is even no requirement that people stay at home when they are sick; saying that people “just need to self-regulate” is a recipe for disaster, especially amongst people who rely on the income they get each week to ensure that they “make ends meet”.

The plain truth is that it’s not over—and that it won’t be over for quite some time. And the costs of the continuing impact of the virus are many. First, we should not forget that deaths from COVID are continuing; they take place at an unacceptable rate; the latest figures show that 323 people across Australia died as a result of COVID in the week ended 21 September—that’s 46 each and every day. A week later, and the number of deaths was slightly lower, at 282, but still at a high level—that is still just over 40 people still dying each week; or 6 a day; or one every four hours.

Deaths in Australia due to COVID-19
Week ending 28 September 2022

One person dying every four hours. Think about that. All Ministers and lay people who conduct funerals and provide follow-up support to bereaved families know the deep and enduring emotional impacts that the death of one loved one can incur, spreading across the wider family, friends, and others connected with them through their life. That’s already a significant cost, both in terms of lives taken as well as in terms of ongoing emotional impacts, for one death. Imagine that recurring every four hours, constantly, without pause, day after day. That’s a huge cost in emotional, psychological, and thus medical ways. A huge cost for society.

You can access statistics relating to COVID since early 2020 at

Second, the consequences of Long COVID continue to be documented as medical studies take place; the Mayo Clinic notes that the long-term effects of “post-COVID 19 syndrome” include “fatigue, fever, respiratory symptoms, including difficulty breathing or shortness of breath and cough, neurological symptoms or mental health conditions, including difficulty thinking or concentrating, headache, sleep problems, dizziness when you stand, pins-and-needles feeling, loss of smell or taste, and depression or anxiety, joint or muscle pain, heart symptoms or conditions, including chest pain and fast or pounding heartbeat, digestive symptoms, including diarrhea and stomach pain! blood clots and blood vessel (vascular) issues, including a blood clot that travels to the lungs from deep veins in the legs and blocks blood flow to the lungs (pulmonary embolism), and other symptoms, such as a rash and changes in the menstrual cycle”.

That’s a wide range of issues which can each be very significant, causing longterm difficulties, and in some cases, contributing to an early death. That’s a second major cost.

Third, rates of absenteeism provide a striking indicator that the impacts of the pandemic are still with us. In February, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that “more than one in five (22 per cent) employing businesses had staff who were unavailable to work due to issues related to COVID-19”

In April, the Australian Financial Review reported that “absenteeism rates sitting 33 per cent higher than long-term averages, analysis of MYOB’s payroll data reveals”.

By July this year, this had grown to “absences already running at 50 per cent above average levels, as the highly contagious BA.4 and BA.5 variants drive a new wave of infections and hospitalisation”.

The media delighted in showing lengthy lines at airports because of staff shortages; perhaps many of us have experienced slow service at local cafes because of the same reason. The cost of extra sick leave payments is just one component of the cost in this regard. It is said that during pre-pandemic times, the “regular rates of absenteeism” cost Australian businesses around $32.5 billion a year. With increased rates of absenteeism, that cost has surely risen.

Of course, now that the requirement to isolate at home whenever a person is symptomatic has been removed, we will surely see further disruption to business enterprises—since people dependent on their wage will go to work when “just a little bit off”, and if infected with the virus, they may be infectious, and thus may well spread illness to their fellow workers—thus resulting in more people off, more time lost. I can see this. Why can’t our leaders see this?

All of which leads me to the conclusion that “it’s not over until it’s not over”—and clearly, “it’s not yet over”. We need to ensure ongoing protection from the virus in our day to day life. Of course, one hugely important way to provide strengthened protection against the COVID-19 virus is to be vaccinated— and to have each of the “booster doses” as they become available. It’s clear that widespread vaccination has contributed to a slowing of the spread of the virus.

Sadly, however, the rate of deaths due to COVID continues to be of concern. That’s simply because people who are more at risk of infection—the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, those with multiple medical conditions, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders—are thereby more likely to have a bad response to the virus, with more medical complications, and higher death rates.

I’ve found a recent study which sought to compare the efficacy of vaccination amongst healthy people with the efficacy amongst immunocompromised people. It measured the level of seroconversion, which is the capacity of the system to repel the virus. The study concluded that “the immune response to the influenza vaccine might not be as strong in immunocompromised patients, yet they appear to derive some benefit from vaccination. These findings reflect what is now being experienced with covid-19 and vaccination.”

See “Efficacy of covid-19 vaccines in immunocompromised patients: systematic review and meta-analysis”,

All of which means that vaccination is a wise move, but it in no way guarantees that a person once vaccinated will definitely not suffer ill effects; and a person with medical vulnerabilities, such as having an immuno-compromised system, will still be vulnerable to illness, serious medical,complications, and death.

Which means that we need to continue all those precautions that we learnt in early 2020: wear a mask; practise good hygiene; wash your hands; sanitise with alcohol-based hand rubs; maintain social distancing; don’t touch your face; cover your mouth or nose with your arm, not your hand, when you cough or sneeze; stay t home when you are sick; close the toilet lid before flushing. All of these things, even though they are not “mandated”. All of these things, because it is just common sense to continue to take great care. Because it’s not over. Not by a long shot. There is no fat lady, not yet. It’s not over.


A guest blog … a poem for the season, by the Rev. Jean Shannon, Uniting Church Minister serving on the Sapphire Coast in southern NSW.

(The scene from my front door in Canberra)

The sun warms my knees
while puffs of cool air 
tell me winter is
waiting in the wings. 
Holding her breath: 
a sharp intake of awe 
to the turning leaves – foreign but loving…
and the eucalypt speak suddenly silver or 
more blue than green.

The trees whisper softly of what will come. 
There is a smell that is cleanly autumn: 
of soil and nutmeg and some grounded spice. 
The air moves differently and tells a story – 
that leaves will fall and icy wind invade. 
Earth’s almanac predicting death and resurrection. 

How much life must die, 
turn cold
and pull the earth over them like linen.
Who will love them deep in their graves
and who will wait for emergence…so very far away? 
The earth cries for our patience. 
God’s time is so different from mine. 

But how I love the autumn with its golden light
slanted across long afternoons,
scented in the air,
expectant of the night. 
These days betray nature’s secret
a ritual of discovery and revival.  

Would I change a thing?

Jean Shannon, Lent 2021

The righteous-justice of God, a gift to all humanity (Romans; Year A)

Paul’s letter to the Romans is his longest letter, and is widely regarded as the pinnacle of his theological expression. It is closely related to the letter to the Galatians in its central theological concern for righteous-justice, law and faith. We have been hearing excerpts from this letter in worship in recent weeks, and that will continue for some weeks into the future.

The overall structure of this letter is very clear: after the usual introductory formulae (1:1–7) and thanksgiving (1:8–15), Paul declares his theme by means of a scripture citation (1:16–17) which he then expounds in a series of inter–related sections (1:18–3:20; 3:21–4:25; 5:1–7:25; 8:1–39), climaxing in his extended discussion of Israel and the Gentiles (9:1–11:36). Paul then conveys various ethical exhortations (12:1–13:14; 14:1–15:13) before drawing to a close with personal news and a direct appeal to the Romans (15:14–33), an exchange of greetings (16:1–23[24]) and a final doxology (16:25–27).

The opening verses (1:1–7) identify the author and the audience as well as offering a typically Pauline blessing of grace and peace (1:7b). This piece of writing is a contextual enterprise. It is not an abstract or theoretical undertaking. Paul offers words shaped for the situation he is addressing. (See my comments on this at

This opening is followed by a thanksgiving for the Roman saints (1:8–15), in another typically Pauline pattern. As Paul reports that he gives thanks for their faith and prays that he may be enabled to visit them, he introduces key elements of the argument. His prayer is oriented firmly towards what he knows of the believers in Rome.

In the body of the letter, Paul expounds a theology of universal righteous-justice, focussing particularly on its implications for Israel and the Gentiles (1:18– 11:32). The relation of Jews and Gentiles was a critical factor in the situation in Rome, as Paul is well aware.

First, he explores the nature of the human condition (1:18–3:20). This is based on keen observation and reinforced by a string of scripture citations (3:10–18).

Next, he considers the roles played by Jesus and the Spirit in making the righteous-justice of God available (3:21–8:30). The argument builds and develops, demonstrating how God has chosen to make righteous-justice available to all human beings, through Abraham as through Jesus, by means of the indwelling Spirit.

This was a critical issue for the diverse communities of believers in Ancient Rome—a city with inhabitants from all points of the Empire which had been conquered by the powerful Roman army, and which lived under the imposition of Roman governance. Many traders, artisans, merchants, and slaves in the city had come, willingly or by force, to this city. The gatherings of believers in the city reflected this diversity. The claim that the righteous-justice of God was available to all these people was an important aspect of the early Christian gatherings.

So, to conclude this section, in the midst of a string of climactic rhetorical questions, Paul erupts into a poetic acclamation of “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:31–39). That was indeed good news for all those in Rome who heard this message.

Immediately, Paul plunges into a complex reading of scriptural texts in order to sanction the claim that God’s sovereign mercy offers a universal righteous-justice, both to Jews and to Gentiles alike (9:1–11:32). This section, again, is contextually relevant, as the names of believers of Rome to whom Paul sends greetings, in chapter 16, reflect both Jewish and Gentile people.

This critical section comes to another fulsome doxological climax in the joyously prayerful affirmations concerning God’s “riches and wisdom and knowledge”, leading to the attribution of glory to God forever (11:33–36). This is the ultimate response to the singular grace of God’s gift of righteous-justice to all human beings. All those I; the house churches of Rome who heard this section of the letter would surely have rejoiced in the extravagant abundance of God’s grace towards them!

The subsequent consideration of ethical matters (12:1–15:33) covers a range of issues, introduced with a general statement about the need to live in accord with the will of God (12:1–2). Much of the first part of this section (12:1–13:14) contains traditional ethical teaching: a string of pithy proverbs (12:9–21) and short reflections on loving one another (13:8–10) and living honourably (13:11– 14); a truncated reflection on the image of the community of faith as a body (12:3–8); and discussion of responsibilities towards the governing authorities (13:1–7). This last section seems particularly pertinent for the city which was the administrative centre of the dominant empire of the time, at least in the Mediterranean region.

This ethical section continues (14:1–15:13) with an extended reflection on the ethical dilemmas posed by differing views in the community about what foods should be eaten. Once again, this section of the letter is strongly contextual: it reflects the situation in the city, and for the people of the various groups of house churches, for whom this was a live issue. There were different points of view; the believers needed to show respect to one another in the midst of these different views.

This section climaxes with a clear call to inclusiveness (15:2, 5–6, 7) supported by a string of scripture citations (15:9–12). Paul concludes this section of his letter with a reminder of his planned visit to Rome (15:14–29) and one last exhortation (15:30–32), before offering a brief blessing of peace (15:33). Once again, the contextual nature of the letter is clear.

The letter ends with an exchange of greetings, in the course of which Paul identifies quite a number of the believers in the various house churches that existed in a Rome, before he reiterates some last–minute instructions (16:1–23).

Then Paul offers a further blessing (16:20a; and some ancient versions added another blessing as verse 24). The letter concludes in high liturgical style with an exalted doxological formula (16:25–27), an ending most likely added by a later editor of the letter, in which some, at least, of the central motifs of the letter are reiterated.

From this survey of the contents and the form of the letter, we can see how focussed the argument is on the righteous-justice of God, a central element in how Paul understands the Gospel, and how relevant that message was for the diverse groupings of people who had come to recognise Jesus as Lord and who were committed to following him as faithful,disciples in their daily lives.

As God’s gift to humanity, this righteous-justice invites and enables all people to enter into covenant relationship with God, and thus to shape relationships with each other that are accepting and hopeful. That message was powerful in the ancient Roman context. It retains that potency in the contemporary world, where diversity can fuel tension and conflict. In this context, the good news offers hope and invites reconciliation, in celebration of God’s wide expanse of gracious inclusion.

See also

Acting for Peace—through the Christmas Bowl

My Christmas Morning Reflection in worship on 25 December 2019 at Queanbeyan Uniting Church.


Each week during Advent, as a congregation, we have been preparing for the celebration of this day. On each of the four Sundays in the season of Advent, we have affirmed our faith, and rejoiced in what Christmas means to people of faith. We have been oriented steadfastly towards this day; this day on which we recall and celebrate the birth of Jesus.

So, today, Christmas Day, we pause and ponder:

what does it mean, that Christ has come?

what does Christmas mean, for us, today?


1       At Christmas, we give presents to those we love.

You have no doubt experienced the delightful look of sheer joy on the face of the young child, receiving first one, then another, and then many, presents, one after another. If it is more blessed to give than to receive, it is surely deeply rewarding to look at the sheer joy on the face of the young child, receiving.

And at Christmas, we give in abundance, with generosity, to those we love. 

However, at Christmas we should not forget those who have received nothing, who have nothing, who exist on very little, who survive each day with little or no means of support.

Each year, during Advent, we recall the story of John the Baptist, who came as the messenger, to prepare the way, to announce the coming of the one chosen by God. In announcing the coming of Jesus, John the Baptist told us what God was asking of us. “If you have two coats”, he said, “give one to the person who asks you for it.”

This message, of giving to those in need from the abundance which we enjoy, has been a standard part of Christmas for churches like ours, over the past 70 years. It was that long ago that the idea of the Christmas Bowl originated, in the family celebrations in the Melbourne home of the Rev. Frank Byatt.

Over time, the simple bowl on the middle of the Christmas dinner table has become an organisation that is supported by all the major Christian denominations, as listed on the screen. This is the organisation that provides presents to people living in poverty, in temporary shelter, in areas ravaged by natural disasters, because of the giving of people like us, who have the capacity to give.

This Christmas, we are challenged to think about what we might be able to give away, and who it is that might benefit from our gift. The Christmas Bowl provides a simple and easy way for us to share the abundance that we are enjoying this day, with someone who has not been so blessed.


2       At Christmas, we enjoy feasting with those we love.

The table will no doubt be laden high, this day: overflowing with seafood, with turkey and ham, with vegetables; with Christmas cake, with mince pies, and Christmas pudding; with lollies and sweets in abundance.

When Elizabeth and I lived in England, we came to appreciate the way that the Christmas Dinner, in full northern hemisphere tradition, had developed. On the shortest day of the year, amidst cold, rain, perhaps even snow, with dusk falling at 3.00pm, then it just made perfect sense, after a late morning church service, to enjoy a big roast, with hearty servings, washed down with more-than-adequate glasses of liquid refreshment.

Australian Christmas dinners are different, in the heat and humidity of summer; glasses of wine are more often than not replaced with stubbies of beer—although we often continue some of the other inherited traditions. But whatever hemisphere we are in, we eat, and drink, and enjoy.

Christmas should mean that we do not forget those who have no food to eat. One of the things that the Christmas Bowl does, is provide food rations. It is doing this, right now, for Syrian refugees who have fled to Jordan, and Iraqis who have been displaced and are homeless; for refugees from Myanmar on the border with Thailand, and for the Rohinga families who have fled from violence and persecution into the camps of Bangladesh.

But the Christmas Bowl also provides the means for people to grow and harvest their own food locally. Act for Peace’s partner in Zimbabwe, Christian Care, works with farmers in drought-prone areas in southern Zimbabwe, where about 1,200 farmers are now directly benefiting from the conservation farming program that has been introduced. They have increased crop yields, which has dramatically improved the ability of these 1,200 men and women to meet their households’ food needs, as well as to unite farming communities around a productive development program, while at the same time improving the sustainability of the land.

But we do not need to go to Zimbabwe, or Bangladesh, or Iraq, or Jordan, to find hungry people. Every week, in this town, people from this church and other churches provide food for the hungry, friendship for the lonely, and a place of safety for those whose lives are fraught, just across the road, at St Benedict’s. And this important ministry to the local community ensures that people do not need to go without food, any day, any week.


3       At Christmas, we tell the story of the baby born in a manger, because there was no room in the inn; and then, the story reports that this family hurriedly fled to another country, seeking safety until the threat was over.

Christmas cards, and Christmas carols, have tended to encourage us to romanticise and sentimentalise this part of the story. We sing so easily about the scene that Luke recounts in his Gospel: the baby lying peacefully asleep in the manger, the adoring mother and doting father, the shepherds who come from the fields to worship. It all sounds so peaceful, so relaxed, so comfortable, so ideal.

As we sing all of this, I suspect that we forget that the newborn infant was born in the area that was shared with the animals; there were no homely comforts, but there would have been the sights and sounds and smells of the barnyard, all around. This was not the plan; this was a temporary, unforeseen situation, basic and crude.

The account that we find in the Gospel of Matthew, of the rapid flight that the family took, heading away from Herod, fleeing into the safety of Egypt, sets out very clearly that this was not a plan, worked out methodically in advance. Rather, this was a rapid response to an emergency situation, a hurried seeking of refuge.

Christmas, for us, challenges us to think about those who have no shelter; and especially, to think about those who have nowhere safe to shelter because their homes are beset by warfare, their lives are constrained by oppression, their families have been decimated by murders, their houses have been bombed or shelled.

This is going on in so many places around the globe. There are 70.8 million people around the world who have been forcibly displaced from their homes—that is almost three times the population of Australia.

There are currently 25.9 million people officially classified as refugees, meaning that they have a well-placed fear of persecution if they return to their homes. That is the category that Mary, Joseph and Jesus would have been in, had there been a United Nations High Commissioner for refugees in the first century.

The Christmas Bowl is working with the 100,000 Tamils who have fled Sri Lanka, precisely because of this fear of persecution. There are people today who still experience trials and persecution in far too many countries around the globe. The Christmas Bowl is one practical way that we can show we care, that we want to help such people.

4 Finally, at Christmas, let us remember the most unsavoury part of the story; the part we rarely hear on this day, this morning celebration: the part of the story that tells of a king who used his power to squash out what he saw as a threat to his power.

Herod was a tyrant, fearful of any pretender to his throne. Matthew tells that he decreed that all infant males should be killed, to ensure that the baby Jesus would not vie for his throne, or contest his power. That is the fundamental reason why the family of Jesus fled to another country.

Deep at the heart of the Christmas story, then, is the message that we should not repeat the errors of using violence to enforce power. As followers of Jesus, we seek the way of the one born to bring peace to the world. How can we sing “peace on earth, and mercy mild”, unless we work for peace in our world today?

Jesus was committed to the way of peace; the story of his adult life bears this out, and the end of the story is an account of submission to violence, of turning the other cheek and allowing his own life to be taken, rather than to respond with force, violence, and power.

The organisation which administers the Christmas Bowl is called Act for Peace. It is committed to actions which ensure that, as justice is enacted, so peace might become a reality, for countless thousands of people around the world. One of the projects that the Christmas Bowl supports is a peace-building initiative in the Philippines, where workers are educating Indigenous people on their rights, training local leaders and engaging grassroots organisations to monitor and report on human rights violations.

So, today, as we sing “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!”, let us work for peace in the world.  As we carol, “All glory be to God on high, and to the world be peace; goodwill henceforth from heaven to earth begin and never cease,” let us support organizations which advocate peace with justice and strive to bring that reality from heaven, here, on to earth. And as we join with those herald angels, who “sing glory to the new-born King, peace on earth, and mercy mild”, may we always act for peace in the world. And as we sing, may the Christ child come.

See also


Report on Queanbeyan Intentional Interim Ministry to Congregational Meeting on 24 November 2019

The Intentional Interim Ministry (IIM) placement at Queanbeyan Uniting Church (QUC) was established by Presbytery in consultation with QUC, for 2019, to address this time of transition in ministry and enable QUC to discern and embrace positive future ministry. IIM is a short term placement to address the Five Developmental Tasks of the Congregation:

A. Coming to terms with the Congregation’s history

B. Discerning the Congregation’s purpose and identity

C. Supporting leadership change and development

D. Reaffirming and strengthening denominational links

E. Committing to new leadership and new ministry

There are various matters that I have been involved with during the year: meetings with individuals, committee meetings, preaching and leading worship, leading study groups, convening workshops for the whole Congregation, reflecting intentionally on the process with skilled people, overseeing the process of discernment, nomination and election of new leaders, and participating in the wider life of the church (as is expected of all ministers in placement).

I have identified some key themes that have run throughout the course of this year.

In the liminal space

QUC had been in a transitional mode for some time before the IIM commenced. I saw my role in the early stages as naming this transitional space and providing ways for people to think about the experience and work towards hopeful outcomes through the process. Both studies and sermons throughout Lent and Holy Week related specifically to this. I have occasionally referred back to the idea of the liminal space, the transitional mode, in subsequent months; this sense will continue on into the period when new leadership develops and a new minister is placed into Queanbeyan.

The importance of story

Listening to the stories that people have told me, about “how it has been for me”, formed an important element in the earlier stage. Telling stories about our experiences is a fundamental need that every person has. Being validated for our views and our experiences is necessary. Talking things through so that we are able to identify, understand, appreciate, and let go, is a valuable process. That, too, will need to continue into the future across the congregation.

However, the stories that we tell each other, now, need to be, not only reflections of the past, but also projections into the future. So talking about our hopes for the future, the plans we would like to come to fruition, the dreams we have and the strategies we need to see those dreams become a reality—these also need to be part of the stories that we tell each other.

The centrality of core beliefs

We had a workshop that encouraged us to identify our core values and key commitments. Out of that process, we identified a commitment to being a Good Neighbour Church and alongside that a willingness to live as a Good News Church that was actively Discipling people. That vision is what the congregation needs to keep to the fore and work towards into the future.

Considering how we operate in conflict

In a second workshop led by Elizabeth Raine, we explored the ways that we operate when we find ourselves in conflict. We learnt the importance of understanding the various ways that people operate, and adjusting our own way of operating in the light of that. The challenge from such a workshop is taking up such new behaviours and bedding them down in the way that we operate. That’s also an ongoing process.

Identifying future possibilities

In the third workshop, we mapped our assets and began to explore how we might best utilise those assets. This work still stands ahead of the congregation. Knowing that we have a group of people with commitment and dedication, a suite of buildings on a prime location within the town, and an intention to reach out as good neighbours with a message of good news, needs to inform and shape all future planning.

A weakness that I can see at the present time is that we have not pushed through to specific planning and working for the kind of future that we hope for and envisage.

Strengthening leadership capacity for the future

The process of discernment, nominations, elections, and commissioning (still to come) of new leaders has pointed to the strengths and commitments that are alive within the Congregation. We need to find ways of working together that will leverage off these strengths and that will build a strong future. The formation of a Joint Nominating Committee (JNC) and conversations with prospective ministers still lies ahead.

The task of equipping and supporting lay leaders for the tasks of ministry continues on, as the interim period between longer placements continues. Lay people are needed to provide leadership within the Congregation, lead worship, look after the property, provide pastoral care, explore missional opportunities, continue existing viable ministries, pursue planning for Plan Agora, and relate intentionally to organisations and groups in the neighbourhood with a view to future collaboration. The multiple challenges and opportunities of ministry and mission continue!

The key moments throughout the year include:

Induction into placement in February 2019

Listening process over initial months

Lent-Holy Week-Easter journey, worship and study groups on Wilderness Journey

Working with Transition Team to explore History and Identity of the Congregation

19 May Service celebrating, letting go, looking forward

Second round of studies with two small groups

23 June Workshop I on “what sort of church are we?”

Sermons regarding Good Neighbour Church, Good News/Discipleship Church

Pastoral involvements with individuals, BS Group

4-7 July Synod meeting

6 August Workshop II on Constructive Conversations that transform relationships

8 September Workshop III on Mission Planning and Strategic Directions for QUC

Membership within QUC: position paper

29 September Membership commitment Service

Working with Plan Agora planning group

Leadership within QUC: consideration of future ministry configuration and future lay leadership

Nominations for leadership roles in September and conversations with people nominated

Discernment and Elections on 24 November

Commissioning new leadership group on 8 December

JNC and Profile, for seeking a minister in 2020

Conclusion of placement in February 2020

In addition, throughout this period, I have been involved in:

Monthly Church Council meeting, weekly meetings with Pastor Amy, preaching and leading Sunday worship on a 75% basis

My ongoing reflection on QUC situation with Transition Team, Reference Group, Professional Supervisor

John Squires, November 2019

See also