Heavy as a History Book

by Aubrey Simmons

The lyrical artists Dry the River drones in one of their songs, “As heavy as the history books can be, come carry them with me.”  As I thought about a person that would be the epitome of an Australian born and raised citizen this song kept making me ponder, who is it that really knows what it means to hold the heaviness of the history book in their hands?  After coming to the young nation of Australia I became aware that the Australian history book is comparatively thin and sparse, however, it is still ink blotted with hardship and is heavy with grief.  As I began to get to know the homeless population in Sydney, I was bombarded day by day with the depth of hurt and isolation that they feel on an hourly basis.  They are on the outside, on the fringes, looking in.  The homeless are the people who tell the story of what it means to be affected and dejected as a result of various events in their history.  The homeless are the epitome of the Australian battler, which characterizes this country.

 

A wise fortune cookie once instructed me with the Chinese proverb, “We see what is behind our eyes”.  Before getting to know those people who sink into the landscape of the city, I had been seeing what was behind my own eyes.  I thought I knew what they were like and why they had ended up begging and isolated to the streets. Perception is a funny thing.  I have realized that most of the time my perceptions are truly tinted, tainted, and terribly mistaken!  I was not actually seeing the people who I walked past everyday on the streets in Sydney.  Homeless people do not have one face, nor is it their lack of address that defines them.

 

I cannot even begin to recall all of the stories that I was privileged to hear, but one man in particular changed my views of homelessness completely.  He said, “I am in an ebb and flow, one day I may be on the streets and the next someone might be by my side helping me to aspire to something better.  I’m just always trying to pay it forward.  Today you may be helping me, but tomorrow I might be in the position of helping you.”  Hospitality was being shown to me by the homeless in that one statement.  He was inviting me to see what it means to have true fellowship and community.  Another man said, “I am a very lonely man.  My heart is so filled with love that it hurts like hell and there is nobody to give it to – or to be more precise, I come across so very few people who will receive it…but sometimes another bloke tries to help you and you know that’s what mates are for.”

 

I realized that there is no pretense on the streets in Australia.  They treat each other with true comradery. On the streets is where true mateship occurs.  Coming into homeless ministries I felt naïve and the only thing that I knew for certainty was— that I did not understand any of them at all.  As my Mary-Janes became smoldered by the city streets, however, one thing I know now is that the face of the homeless cannot be pinned down, just as their address cannot be placed in distinctly one location.  The homeless are the true Australian battlers who have seen all there is to see in the Australian life.  It is not about coming to the homeless to try figure them out and to dissect them, but to hear about everything their history book contains, with all its pains and burdens, and to help them carry their memories and their fears.

Adultery at the Cross

by Sabrina Johnson

Kings Cross, or ‘The Cross’, as many call it today, has been know as being the “Amsterdam of the South Pacific” (Herald Sun, 2010) right here in a suburb of Sydney. If you’re anything like me, hearing the news that prostitution is legal was flooring. Each state in Oz has their own restrictive laws that control the prostitution industry, however the running of a registered brothel is legal throughout the whole of Australia. The catch here is that registered brothels are legal. Currently, there is a widespread issue of illegal brothels that are not only unregistered, but also using trafficked women and children as their employees. For Sydney, in 2010, there were 90 suspected illegal brothels being operated, and there is no doubt that this number has increased as the demand has increased.

Due to this uprising in illegal prostitution activities, many Australian’s today are questioning the decision of making prostitution legal in their country. All over the news you can see a rage behind the prostitution laws that Australia has implemented and how those laws have created more harm then good. The Daily Telegraph said, “legal brothels are out of control in western Sydney’s sex industry” (The Telegraph, 2012) and a West Australia article discussed the pressure that government is facing to vote down the prostitution bill.

The aspect of this current topic of debate that has been increasingly appalling to me is the fact that these laws are making a way for human trafficking to become an easier illegal activity. “High growth has forced pimps to forge international supply routes to source their ‘product’, which, in the case of the sex industry, is mostly women and children” (Sydney Morning Herald, 2011). Due to the high demand of sexual partners, pimps are beginning to see a profit in kidnapping or shipping females from other countries in order to sneak around fair pay wages and appropriate worker conditions.

Something noteworthy is that fact that there can be some pros when it comes to legalizing something as dangerous, yet popular, as prostitution. The registered, legal, brothels in Australia are run as businesses, thus, must report to the government and pay taxes. According to a recent report from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), “Ten brothels, the subject of a recent ATO project in the Sydney area, resulted in additional revenue of $480,000 [to the government]” (Gallagher, B). This is an incredible amount of money that is promoting the growth of the Australian economy. In addition, prostitution laws allow the government to better control and protect those working within the walls of registered brothels keeping the women safer and healthier.

Even with the positive aspects of the prostitution laws, I’m still not convinced. With Australia being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, do they really need the taxation revenue, especially at the cost of their nations moral and ethical standards? Even though the laws that claim to be protecting the women working within this industry, what about the majority that are not working in registered, legal brothels? If Australia began to form laws against prostitution, it would leave less room for illegal activity, allow for harsher punishments, and convict and decrease those involved in trafficking. So what do you think is more important: upholding a high ethical standard or creating a wealthier, more dangerous society?

 

 

Sources:

 

Gallagher, B. (n.d.) Taxation And The Sex Industry. [online] Available at: http://www.aic.gov.au/en/publications/previous%20series/proceedings/1-27/~/media/publications/proceedings/14/gallagher.pdf [Accessed: 4 Sep 2012].

Herald Sun (2010) Sydney The Brothel Capital of The South Pacific. [online] Available at: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/sydney-the-brothel-capital-of-the-south-pacific/story-e6frf7l6-1225952320313 [Accessed: 4 Sep 2012].

The Sydney Morning Herald (2011) Sex Trafficking In Australia. [online] Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/its-time-to-get-serious-about-sex-trafficking-in-australia-20111012-1lkzi.html [Accessed: 4 Sep 2012].

The Telegraph (2012) A Fight to Turn off the Red Lights in Rydalmere. [online] Available at: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/a-fight-to-turn-off-the-red-lights-in-rydalmere/story-e6freuy9-1225952354505 [Accessed: 4 Sep 2012].

The Western Australian (2012) Boost For Prostitution Reform Laws. [online] Available at: http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/breaking/13678448/boost-for-prostitution-reform-laws/ [Accessed: 4 Sep 2012].

Australian Obesity Rates

by Meagan Morrow

 

It was said in a study done by Monash University, 17 million Australians are overweight or obese, 4 million being obese.  That is a very large percentage of the 22 million alone in Australia, over 75% being overweight.  It has even taken over as the leading cause of premature death and illness in Australia.

 

In response to this epidemic, some have suggested that there be a “fat tax” on fast food and junk food.  This was presented after Demark imposed a similar tax. (Sacks) This is supposed to encourage people to lose weight. From the understanding of the economists, price incentives have an effect on society. (Irvine) In another blog on News Network, is was stated “Instead of getting off their fat bottoms and taking control of their own lives, they want the government to take care of it.” It makes them feel better about themselves, if they don’t have to be responsible for their own lack of will power. If the government continues to take control over every bit of the lives of its citizens, what will be left in the end? It’s sad how lazy people have gotten. Giving up freedoms little by little will give too much control to the government.

 

Another question arose in discussion with an Australian couple, where will the money from the tax go? If it goes into the health care system to help aid those that struggle with diabetes and other health issues that are brought about by obesity that would be extremely beneficial. But if it just goes into the general funds and is not used properly, what is the point? Making people take responsibility for their actions and indirectly pay for their own health care could be useful and encouraging to the economy. On the other hand, trying to force people to change their habits is not in the job description of the government.

 

Just because it costs more money doesn’t mean that people will stop. The cost and convenience of fast food would very possibly still outweigh that of healthy foods. (Irvine)  But many people think the fat tax is a great idea. Marianne Betts stated that 70% of Australians surveyed about the “fat tax” “support an increase in junk food prices and a decrease in healthy food prices, according to a survey by the Obesity Policy Coalition.” (Betts)

 

The article, noted above, in the Herald Sun stated that this tax would be combined with “subsidies on healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables.” This would increase the likelihood that people would buy healthier foods because of the cost, but the usefulness of pre-made or pre-prepared food is still there.

 

Health does not just directly relate to food either. “Half of Australian parents are  concerned about their kids not getting enough exercise. “ (Betts) It might take more than just a tax on junk food to bring about change. Education about healthy foods, including where and how to get them for good pricing, and how to cook them in a manner which is less of a burden is important to any society that struggles with health issues. (Irvine) Australia is not the only country or culture struggling with this. It is a world wide issue and many different approaches have been taken. Australia’s attempt to follow in Demark’s footsteps could be a chance to begin the fight against obesity, but it will not end there.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Betts, Marianne . (2012). Aussies support tax on junk food.. Available: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/aussies-support-fat-tax/story-fn7x8me2-1226358271940. Last accessed 27th Aug 2012.

 

Irvine, Jessica. (2012). Would a Fat Tax Curb Obesity?. Available: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/drive/would-a-fat-tax-curb-obesity3f/4144548. Last accessed 27th Aug 2012.

 

Kenny, Chris. (2012). My great big fat tax. Available: http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/goodlyfabric/index.php/theaustralian/comments/my_great_big_fat_tax/. Last accessed 27th Aug 2012.

 

Sacks, Gary. (2011). Is a ‘fat tax’ the answer to Australia’s obesity crisis?. Available: http://theconversation.edu.au/is-a-fat-tax-the-answer-to-australias-obesity-crisis-3712. Last accessed 27th Aug 2012.

 

Unknown. (2012). Obesity in Australia. Available: http://www.modi.monash.edu.au/obesity-facts-figures/obesity-in-australia/. Last accessed 22nd Aug 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

The Greatest Commandments

by Tim Cha

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating.  Noticing that Jesus had given

them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the greatest?”

Jesus answered, “The greatest and most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: 

The Lord our God, the Lord is One.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied.  “You are right in saying that God is One and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your heart, all your understanding, and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him,

You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

-Mark 12:28-34

Love God, love neighbors—simple enough, right?  But who exactly are our “neighbors,” and how should we love them?  For Australia, the matter of defining “the neighbor” has increasingly become an issue of heated debate as growing numbers of asylum seekers from all over the world seek refuge underneath the Southern Cross.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship defines an asylum seeker as someone who “is seeking international protection … whose claim for protection has not been decided by the country in which he or she has submitted their claim.  Not every asylum seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum seeker.”  Asylum seekers are people seeking to escape the unstable and threatening conditions  in their country (e.g. war, persecution) by fleeing to another country for protection.  Very broadly speaking, Australians generally view the topic of asylum seekers and immigration negatively from what I have been able to research and from those I have spoken to.  Australia has implemented strict regulations on asylum seekers and immigrants concerning processing and detainment, with a detainment period for refugees that is currently the longest and possibly the most controversial of refugee-accepting nations.  Claims to justify these policies are understandable—possible overpopulation, cultural and social clash that would ensue, national security being threatened, economic and political inability to sustain the increased population, unfair use of taxpayers’ dollars, authenticity of asylum seekers’ conditions,  a deteriorated national identity, among countless other claims.

Even though these claims are understandable, some are not completely justifiable when Australia’s refugee intake is considered on a larger scale.  Australia is a continent roughly the same size as the United States, however with a population of only 15% of the United States’ population, at 20 million.  Given that most of Australia’s land is desert and virtually uninhabitable, overpopulation still seems quite unlikely.  The possibility of invasion also seems small, as 84-97% of all asylum seekers are genuinely seeking safety from real threats and risk their own lives travelling to Australia.

Australia is ranked 13th in the global economy, 32nd of the 71 refugee-accepting nations, and 14th of the 29 developed refugee-accepting nations—per capita, the U.S. accepts twice the amount of refugees as Australia.  Australia hosts one refugee for every 1583 Australian people, whereas Britain hosts 1 for every 530 people, Tanzania hosts 1for every 76 people, and the poorest nations are the ones taking in the most refugees.

It is impossible to ascertain all the levels at which asylum seekers affect the Australian world, but these few statistics seem to prove otherwise to the general claims against asylum seekers.  Facts and logistics aside, I believe God’s command to love our neighbors should still take precedence.  Australia has a responsibility to give refuge to its asylum seekers, and realize that they are not strangers or enemies, but they are in fact neighbors, families with children, our brothers and sisters who bear the image of the living God.

However, my personal opinions are, I have to admit, utterly and completely biased.  In the early 1970s, a young girl and her family living in the mountains of Laos began their dangerous journey to flee the war-torn country.  Her shocking stories detail how she and her family had to escape from soldiers ordered to shoot at sight, cross the rushing Mekong River that had notoriously claimed many lives of those before her, struggle against the fears of rape, captivity and persecution, witness the loss of friends and family, and endure sickness, hunger, weariness, and death.  As an asylum seeker herself, she finally gained refugee status and citizenship in the USA where she met her husband, who had faced a similar struggle, and was able to begin her life anew.  Forty years later, her youngest son is writing the very blog post that you are reading.  If they had been denied, I most likely would not be where I am today.  It is impossible for me to choose otherwise when my entire life is a product of my parents being asylum seekers themselves who were given refuge and safety.  How can I deny to others what I have been given?

It seems so simple when Jesus puts it in that profound way that he does so well—(1) love God, (2) love neighbors … check, set, done, and off to heaven we go!  But if we briefly take a moment to look at our lives, it quickly becomes apparent that these two simple commands are much easier said than done.  I wish I could love God more than I do with all that I am, enough for me to give up my life in its entirety to him; and I wish I could love my neighbors purely without any trace of prejudice or selfishness.  But even though this may be the current condition of our hearts, I believe that as Christians, each day we should strive to live up to the standard that we are called to.  If it is in fact our prayer that the Kingdom of heaven come and that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10), then I believe our actions, indeed our lives, should be invested in a world where people from every tribe, nation, and tongue are standing in complete brotherhood before the Lamb (Revelation 7:9).  I recognize that it’s definitely not easy, that it may seem idealistic and naïve, that it even risks our own safety!  I admit that I don’t fully understand the economic, cultural, and political ramifications of what such a precarious lifestyle may have, but I do believe that God calls us to take a risk by living up to his call for loving Him and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Perhaps when it is the Kingdom of God that we seek first, then all other things will be given as well (Matthew 6:33).  When our response can finally echo the simple, bold truth that “to love God with all your heart, all your understanding, and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices,” then maybe Jesus will too reply: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

Sources:

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2195.html

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/national/live-coverage-expert-group-on-boat-arrivals-led-by-angus-houston/story-fncvk70o-1226449143760

http://www.erc.org.au/index.php?module=documents&JAS_DocumentManager_op=viewDocument&JAS_Document_id=64

http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/60refugee.htm

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1295782/asylum-seekers-where-australia-stands

http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/youre-not-welcome-town-tells-refugees/2006/12/14/1165685828180.html

http://teamoyeniyi.com/2012/02/07/asylum-seekers-in-australia-more-of-the-same/

http://www.unesco.org/most/apmrnwp5.htm

Our Giving Tree

By Sarah Omer

“And the boy loved the tree…” The Giving Tree, a Shel Silverstein classic, is a story of the relationship between a boy and a tree. The tree would give the boy anything it could; it provided shade on a hot day, its apples to sell, its branches to build a house, its trunk to make a boat, and in all of this the tree was happy, and the boy loved it. Among many things, such as God’s love for his children, or a parent’s love for their newborn, this story illustrates a selfless giving, one that can be seen as our own environment around us. Some times, as the human race, we can seem to be that boy who takes everything from the tree to make a better life for him. But do we “love the tree?”

Within my first couple of days here in Australia, I could see a difference in how most feel about what they need to do to help their environment. My host family went over the rules more than twice about leaving the lights on, taking faster showers, and drying laundry on a line outside instead of using the dryer. At first I thought it was just my family, but then I noticed Australia as a whole has been cracking down on the environmental issues such as energy consumption, water usage, and recycling. As of the first of July this year, a Carbon tax was put into place that makes the big energy spenders pay a tax for how much Carbon pollution they have. This in turn will increase the prices on some goods and services. Everyone in a way is paying now to help the environment from what they were doing to it with pollution from the beginning. Australia is among the top 20 biggest polluters in the world with about 500 million tons of pollution each year.

Australians in general have a certain connection to their land. They might call it hostile at times but it is a part of them. I can see the efforts of giving back to the environment by the lifestyles and attitudes of Australians. In the United States over the past 20 years you can see a change in environmental concerns. About half of Americans (48%) don’t really know what is in the future for environmental problems but say that their concern for the environment is somewhat serious. Also, in the past 20 years, twice as many Americans recycle and have become more environmentally friendly. However, even with the good number of recyclers, you don’t really find Americans that will take the next step and go without certain conveniences as Australian’s do, such as the use of the dryer. Can it really be that difficult to make a change in your own household in order to give back? As I talked with my host mom, she told me that as a parent, she thinks about the future and what kind of world her children will be in when she is gone. As a Christian, she thinks about how God put us in charge of the earth and how we are to look after it, take care of it, and be good stewards of it. This makes her more aware of her environment and what she and her family can do to help it.

Many people have different views on their environment and how they should treat it. We can see that those views are affected by where someone grows up and lives. Such as the Australians, who are use to the rough land and lack of water, and the Americans who are use to the land of plenty where taking from it is easy and giving back is inconvenient. Personally I think we can learn from the story The Giving Tree, and love the tree (our giving tree) back.

Sources

http://www.carbontax.net.au/what-is-the-carbon-tax/

http://globalwarmingisreal.com/2011/11/02/the-evolution-of-us-environmental-attitudes-and-behaviors/

Shalom, my Darling

By Liz Au

                If you are new to all things Australia or just a little bit clueless about the nation’s geography or both (like me), you may not have ever heard of the Murray Darling Basin nor understand even a fraction of its agricultural significance. No worries, me neither.

                Turns out, the Murray Darling Basin is this inspiringly massive expanse of land that stretches across 14% of the total area of Australia (a country of equal geographical size to the U.S., believe it or not). It is invaluable to the country, housing over 40% of all Australian farms, and producing one third of Australia’s food supply and supporting over one third of Australia’s total gross value of agricultural production of crops like rice, fruits and vegetables (things that I consume basically everyday, living here in Sydney!).

Water is absolutely essential for the Basin’s heavy agricultural life and is by far the Basin’s most valuable resource. Did you know that it takes approximately 1550 liters of water to produce just 1kg of paddy rice? Unfortunately, water only comes from a small percentage of the Basin’s vast territory, an amount dramatically lessened due to a devastating drought back in 1995. In the years after that until now, almost all parts of the Basin have suffered reduced crop output and diminished water supply. It has moved political parties to work seriously in revising the up-and-coming Murray Darling Basin Plan, which is an important effort to conserve and recover the Basin’s water supply by setting a capstone on how much water can be taken out of it.

Why is it that it’s only when we are about to lose something or losing it that we wake up from our apathy to see how important it is to us and how much better we could have treated it? Learning about the Murray Darling Basin is nothing but humbling. It has shown me how selfish and blind I am in my consumption of water, and continues to remind me of our Christian call to be stewards of creation, to be part of God’s effort to restore and reconcile all things to Himself in true shalom. Australians truly put me to shame when it comes to being that good steward.

I have been continuously struck by the way Australians consciously think about how they use water. It isn’t carelessly or selfishly. It is a lifestyle and commitment to preserving this dry nation’s limited supply of water by proactively trying to conserve it, such as with the Murray Darling Basin. For me personally, the change must begin with how I even see water. I have no entitlement to it. It is a gift to be cared for, even on the institutional level, and something I respect and will begin to use more carefully in light of the wider Australian—and even global—environmental picture. Thank you for that invaluable lesson, Murray Darling Basin. Aren’t you feeling proud right now, Captain Planet?

Sources:

http://www.murrayriver.com.au/about-the-murray/n-darling-basin/

http://www.water.nsw.gov.au/Water-management/Law-and-policy/National-reforms/Murray-Darling-Basin-Plan/murray-darling-basin-plan

Retreat Remixed

“…God once had Bach and Michelangelo on his side, he had Mozart, and now who does he have? People with ginger whiskers and tinted spectacles who reduce the glories of theology to a kind of sharing…”
-Stephen Fry

The disconnection of art and the Church is apparent to many. But one benefit to attending a Christian school of the arts is the opportunity for development outside of class. For the past few weeks, staff and students at the Wesley Institute had been hearing about the coming Retreat Remixed 2012, a chance for Wesley students to be challenged and encouraged by industry professionals and artists. Not only was there opportunity for education in the creative process, but also the possibility for networking and sharing ideas.
The payoff, for those in attendance, was great.

Simon Hunter, New York Film Academy, explains the breakdown of the Hero Cycle.


Story is a powerful thing, and it is obvious that this method of relaying information is changing the way the world communicates. Cinema is no longer the only place people go to see a good story. Youtube is full of narratives, ads are mini blockbusters, non-profits create visual parables, and the art of visual story is finding its way into the most unusual of places.

Retreat Remixed provided a place to not only dialogue about these trends, but also contemplate how we, as Christians and artists, can hope to interact in the changing world. One speaker put it well when he described that as Christians we should be involved in the kitchen of culture, not the dining room. The weekend involved speakers from several industries speaking on how those arenas were changing and that, in a world of stories; the Gospel is one that needs to be told.
Many speakers who had made successful careers in the arts industries told of their passions for storytelling, never ceasing to encourage storytellers to wrestle with questions the world was asking. A continual, resounding theme throughout the weekend was the importance of telling truth in story. If all truth belongs to God, tell it well.

Ralph Winter, holder of an impressive IMDB list including the X-Men films and Star Trek instalments, shot straight with the audience telling them, “Dive into the questions people are asking, why would you do antyhing less?” With mind for story as well as marketability, Ralph was an incerdible speaker both encouraging creative expression within the Christian faith as well as pruning bad storytelling habits.

“Like a country song played backwards,” he remarked, “‘got my house, got my dog, my family…'” His comment hit home to the reality of many films made my Christians. They simply don’t tell good stories, or they tell good stories in such a way as to make them no longer relevent to an audience in search of substance.

Other speakers included Simon Hunter, New York Film Acadmey, who drove home the importance of stepping into uncertainty in order to create. Simon shared a trailer for an upcoming film he directed titled The Custodian. The film was shot on a budget of nearly $0 AUS ($13.75 USD), produced and distributed on inexpensive digital equipment. “I just kept telling people how easy and cheap it was to make films now, even features. So I decided to give it a go myself,” he said.

Tash McGill, writer, digital communications strategist, blogger…(the list goes on) brought the power of words to the occasion, “Recognize an incling, apply a lens to it, frame it for someone else and thrust it back to the world.”
Some of the retreat took place at The Wesley Institute, but for much of it the Wesley students joined the larger SPARC conference in an old stone church in Darlinghurst, east of Sydney. SPARC is an organization of artists passionate about supporting each other and other artists to be the makers of culture on a local and global scale. To be in the same room with hundreds of creative professionals collaborating and celebrating was a rewarding experience.
The old stone walls could not contain the energy and excitement about what the possibilities could be for the future. With practical advice, honest challenges and passionate encouragement, no one left unchanged.
The possibilities are endless.

For more photos of the SPARC Conference 2012 follow this link.