in shit, but free to be proud
was another grim week. In the Balkans the bombing and ethnic cleansing
rolled on in a wave of mutual rhetoric while refugee Kosovars piled
up on the borders. Integrationist thugs hacked people to death in an
East Timor church. And then the toilets backed up.
it's what I think ...", said Boris the plumber, "The big s-bend,
it's collapse, just near where it join the main sewer. He cost you four
thousand, or maybe just a coupla thou, if you dig it up for me yoursel".
Joadja and I got to work. It rained from time to time but by Sunday
midday we had dug down through nearly two metres of muddy soil, prising
out lumps of sandstone and old bricks.
went over to the cafe and came back with some lunch. She brought the
you see that Les Murray's rewritten his draft preamble? Says there hasn't
been a split with John Howard, but he reckons their first effort was
'rather baggy'", she remarked.
just the other day I wrote one of my rare letters to John, warning him
about Les", I replied.
been trying to figure out what that weird bit actually meant -- you
know, about 'equal dignity' never being invoked against 'achievement'
-- but now he's changed 'achievement' to 'merit'. Anyway, I got the
Macquarie Dictionary out and substituted the definitions of the key
words in Murray's new draft and this is what I came up with ..."
flourished a closely-written sheet of paper, cleared her throat, took
a deep breath, and continued:
democratic federal system of government exists under law to preserve
each person in an equal nobility of manner or style, stateliness, gravity,
nobleness or elevation of mind, worthiness, honourable place or elevated
rank, degree of excellence, (either in estimation or in the order of
nature), or relative standing or rank, which may never be violated or
transgressed, encroached or trespassed upon by an unfavourable opinion
or feeling formed beforehand, or without knowledge, thought or reason,
or disadvantaged as a result of some judgement or action of another,
or by conventional usage in dress, manners, etc., especially of polite
society or conformity to it, or by a body of doctrine or myth, or the
symbols of any social movement, institution, class or large group, nor
called for with earnest desire, made supplication for, or prayed for,
or appealed to, called for, or conjured against, any claim to commendation,
excellence, or worth, or anything which entitles to reward or commendation
or that which is deserved, whether good or bad."
Mother of Darwin, that's a lawyers' picnic", I said. "If this
gets through there'll be years of endless fun when the lawyers start
interpreting the intention of the Re-founding Fathers by weighing the
implications of that gibberish".
scanned through the words. "Just for a start it means you can't
trespass upon somebody's "honourable place or elevated rank"
with an "unfavourable opinion" or even a "feeling".
The pollies and business tycoons will love it", I said.
he's left in the stuff about how Australians will be "free to be
proud of their country and heritage", but there's nothing about
whether somebody will be free to be ashamed, if that's how they feel.
I think it's dangerous, because the right to dissent is the only real
test of freedom", Jo observed.
was something ominous about digging a trench in the rain, listening
to high-flown hokum like "hope in God" and "proud of
their country and heritage", as well as the latest news from the
Balkans on the radio something unsettling about the cycles of
history. The Serbs had closed ranks around Milosevic, muttering about
"honour", the "heavenly kingdom of death" and the
"Field of Blackbirds", which was an obscure battle they lost
in 1389. The Russians had re-targeted all their nuclear missiles towards
Nato countries in what was flippantly dismissed by Western commentators
as a meaningless gesture.
scraped away the last of the soggy earth around the s-bend. Sure enough,
the old clay fitting had shattered into pieces and collapsed under the
weight of the soil above it, blocking the sewage pipe. It had clearly
been like that for a long time.
was a sordid odour of urine and watery sewage seeped out of the crumbled
mess. I prised out the biggest chunk. Suddenly, months of accumulated
shit surged out of the pipe and filled the trench around my legs.
was some sort of moral there, if only I could see it.
in Whispers from the mean streets
-- Best of 1999