Avril at Romsey

… and Lancefield and Riddells Creek and Mount Macedon

Living in a “first-world” country

I went to bed at 6.30 pm last night. I wasn’t particularly tired, I didn’t think that I needed 12 hours sleep, but there just wasn’t anything else to do. The violent storm that had attacked the Macedon Ranges had brought down the powerlines and Romsey was without electricity. I discovered that everything I have here runs on electricity. Lights, stove, oven, fridge, microwave, tv, radios, computer, even my hot water. Although my heat comes from gas, and the gas comes from bottles that I buy every few weeks, the heater itself needs electricity to work. I do have a wood fire stove-heater thing, but I’ve never used it and I don’t have any wood for it. I did some reading by candlelight, but my house was so very cold that at about six I gave up, had a tub of yoghurt and an apple, and went to bed – under four blankets and a doona because my electric blanket was, of course, not working.

All this made me think about just how dependent I am on electricity. I could eat cold food, I could sleep, and the toilet was working. There was nothing life-threatening about my lack of power, although I can imagine that there are people on various machines for whom a lack of electricity could be deadly. But my life was not very comfortable without electricity, and I couldn’t do any work.

What does it mean to be so dependent on electricity? Apparently 80% of Australia’s energy comes from coal. And, as I wrote in one of my essays for Bossey: “Australia is in an unusual position, both perpetrator and victim of climate change, a country of the economic North and the geographic South. As an industrialised country, Australia is among the worst polluters of the environment. Australians are constantly told that we are responsible for “a mere 1% of global emissions,” without being told that we are one of the largest emitters per capita. Government ministers tell Australians that it would make no difference to global warming if Australia closed every power station it had, because China would create the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions in ten months, forgetting to mention that the average Chinese person produces 15% of energy-related emissions of the average Australian.” (If you want the footnotes the whole essay is available on the Lacuna Group website.) So, my extreme dependence on electricity contributes to climate change. I’m not happy about that.

My other experience of Australia as a “first-world country” came when I went to see a doctor here in Romsey. I had very bad pain in the left side of my chest. Because of where it was there was a very, very slight chance that I was having heart problems. So over the course of two hours I had blood tests, urine tests, chest x-rays and an ECG. Everything was clear, and I was finally diagnosed with inflamed cartilage around my ribs. I was glad that I had a chest x-ray. When I told my mother I had unexplained pain in my chest she panicked, because that was the way my step-father’s journey to his death from mesothelioma began – with simple, initially inexplicable, pain in his chest. It was good to be able to ring Mum and tell her that I’d seen the x-rays and my chest was completely clear. But two and a half hours of tests, all paid for by Medicare, because there was a slight chance that I was having a heart attack? Given the number of people who die throughout the world of completely preventable illnesses, and even the number of remote communties in Australia that are without doctors, how can I justify the time and energy and medical skill that was spent on me? I think there is something wrong with the way I live my life, or with the way that I, as a middle-class white Australian, am encouraged to live my life. And I’m not sure what to do.



June 28, 2007 Posted by | Life, etc. | 3 Comments


A feast day in the Church is always a good excuse for decorations and having fun. So, at Romsey, Pentecost was celebrated with lots of flame imagery, remembering the “divided tongues, as of fire” that appeared among the disciples and rested on each of them. (Acts 2:3) A good day for pyromaniacs like myself.

The altar

To prepare for Pentecost I had bought every red candle available in Lancefield. Sadly, there weren’t many. If I’d wanted cream (vanilla-scented) or purple (lavender-scented) or pink (no idea what they smelt of) I could have had dozens. But red – I found four.

Fortunately in Australia Pentecost comes at the end of autumn and we had been having some long-overdue and very welcome rain. So we could light an enormous great fire without fear.

The Pentecost Bonfire  Drinking Pentecost Soup

And standing around the Pentecost bonfire we drank Pentecost, flame-coloured, soup – pumpkin and tomato.

June 26, 2007 Posted by | Ministry | Leave a comment

I’m honoured, and touched, and a little weepy

Alex’s page in Luce

Last week I got a copy of Luce in the mail. Luce is the annual newsletter of Janet Clarke Hall, the wonderful University of Melbourne residential college where I lived for four extremely rewarding, extremely challenging, extremely exhausting years.

I had a lot of fun when I finally got round to reading it. I always knew that the other tutors, people with whom I shared the Senior Common Room, were brilliant – and now the rest of the world knows too. Leng Lee, with whom I had many an argument about the best way to provide pastoral care (he leaned more towards ‘tough love’ than I did), was Victoria’s Rhodes Scholar for 2006. The wonderful Anna Goldsworthy continued her career as a brilliant concert pianist. And my dear Alice Pung published her first book, the marvellous and widely praised Unpolished Gem. One of the things I found amusing about the brilliance of this tiny Senior Common Room was that it was Anna who reviewed Alice’s book for the Australian Book Review.

Part of the reason I loved tutoring at JCH was that I got to meet some amazing young people. In future years I am going to be able to boast about having known painters and musicians and authors and High Court judges and philanthropists and “the new Bill Gates” (but with free shareware) and politicians (well, I might boast about having known the politicians) when they were students at JCH. But I can already boast about knowing the people who were my fellow tutors.

Then, after enjoying all this, including the great photo of the extremely diminutive Alice presenting the extremely tall Malcolm Fraser with a copy of her book, I came to Alex Murphy’s report as Student Club President. In his article, Alex sought to answer the question: “What’s so special about JCH?” And this was one of his answers:

“Often, the answer I give is anecdotal. I tell people how I met the legendary tutor, law graduate, feminist, priest and now friend, Avril Hannah-Jones, on my sceptical first tour of college, and of the easy familiarity and deep friendship which was plain to see as we dropped in on students.”

I read this and found myself teary. I had no idea that Alex had written anything like this. I am in no way legendary, but it’s nice of Alex to write it.

I was very lucky to have the chance to live and work at JCH. I had previously been rather scornful of the residential colleges, places of such privilege. I still am a little scornful of the big colleges, described so accurately by one of my of my History professors as ‘the rugger-bugger colleges’. Colleges struck me as sexist, homophobic and extremely exclusive – and from the outside that is how many of them still appear to me to be. But they can also provide wonderful places of community and learning and artistic endeavour – at least JCH did.  The Principal, Dr Damian Powell, can be very proud of what he has achieved. And I’m looking forward to many years of turning up to events like the Woodend Winter Arts Festival and basking in the pride and pleasure of knowing a JCH-er like Alice Pung.

June 16, 2007 Posted by | Life, etc. | 5 Comments

Barry Jones – a bit of a pedant? But delightful.

On Monday the eleventh (the Queen’s Birthday holiday) I went to hear Barry Jones speak at the Woodend Winter Arts Festival. The wonderful Nicole Lourensz had given me his autobiography, A Thinking Reed, as a ‘beginning of ministry’ gift, with the note: “Because we minister to a world that is wider than the gathered church”. So I took my copy with me to get it signed.

I arrived a little late, and got into the Cafe Colenso just as Barry Jones was being introduced. The session was sold out, and more tickets had been sold than the cafe had chairs, so I snuck in and perched cross-legged on a table. (I think I’ve got another five years of being able to physically do things like this.) From there I couldn’t see Barry, but I could hear him and that was all that mattered. There was another person sitting on the table, someone who looked so familiar that I was about to ask him where I’d met him (since I moved up here I’ve met hundreds of people and they’re all jumbled up in my brain) until I realised that he was Michael Gurr and I knew him because he’d been speaking on a panel that day before, where I’d bought his book Days Like These and had him sign it for me. Near extremely embarrassing moment.

A Thinking Reed   Title page of A Thinking Reed

Barry spoke extremely well and A Thinking Reed has now moved several places up my “To be read” pile. But what amused and impressed me most was that when the talk was finished and we all lined up for his signature he insisted not only on signing our books but on correcting them. So there we stood, perfectly content to wait as our copies were edited. For those of you who haven’t had your copies individually corrected, the corrections I’ve found are (in bold):

Corrected page 160

p. 160 “…our low primary vote in 1955 indicated that the seat was unwinnable. We arranged a meeting at the St Kilda Town Hall …”

p. 274 “Départ dans l’affection …”

p. 527 “Hier ist kein Warum.”

There was one other correction that Barry made, but I haven’t found it yet. I presume I’ll discover it as I read.

So, there you go. I like living in the Macedon Ranges and going to local festivals like this one.

June 15, 2007 Posted by | Slightly Higher Culture | 4 Comments