A short piece of fiction to mark ANZAC Day:
The Grey Girl from Kojonup
They called her “La Fantôme grise”. One of the first acts of the new French government in 1946 was to award her France’s highest honour, la Croix d’or, the golden cross.
Emily Louise Brown was born at Katanning in 1918 and grew up near Kojonup in Western Australia. She attended the one-teacher school at Brokerup. If you visit there today, you will see only a few acres fenced off and a plaque. The little school was Emily Brown’s window onto the wide world beyond her father’s farm.
Her reading developed early, and by age 10, she was enjoying Gulliver’s Travels, and A Tale of Two Cities. The worlds depicted in Oliver Twist drew her imagination. Not only did she want to see the vast, teeming cities of old Europe and the mother country, but she wanted to change the world. She knew that living on their tranquil farm, with plenty to eat, safety from violence and freedom to dream and choose was a privilege, and she wanted every child to enjoy the same abundance that she experienced.
In 1928, Mr Trevelyan, a Cornish veteran, arrived at Brokerup to teach in the one-teacher school. He boarded with the Browns and guided young Emily’s reading, telling her a heady mix of stories of Cornwall and King Arthur and Celtic mystics. At her parents’ church, Father O’Reilly woke in her a sense of mystery, and introduced her to the concept of God’s care for the poor.
The only high schools were in Perth. Perth Modern awarded her a scholarship, and Emily excelled in her studies. Perth Modern was probably the only school in Perth in the 1930s that took seriously the teaching of languages, and Emily loved Monsieur Roland, the old eccentric Frenchman who taught her French and Latin. On the netball and tennis courts she showed a fierce determination.
Three years at The University of Western Australia followed. The University’s motto is ‘Seek Wisdom’ and its message seemed to be as engraved on Emily’s heart as it was on the stone near the Reflection Pond. Emily graduated with a degree in French and Modern History. Young women in 1936 could then become a monitor in a school for a year before returning to the Teachers’ College in Claremont to complete their training.
Emily, strong-minded as ever, had another plan. Her parents did their best to dissuade her from setting off for Europe on her own, but she got her way, as she usually did, and her parents supported her financially. After the war she learned how much they grieved when the steamer left Fremantle. On the wharf that day they had a premonition that Emily was going into a war-ready continent to her death.
Paris delighted her, but she wanted to see where the real poor people of France were, so she set off south to Marseille. She stayed with a welcoming Catholic family, the Germains, from where she devoted part of her time, like a missionary, to helping the poor.
Emily was only eighteen. The vibrant night-life in Marseille drew her to clubs and parties. Older men introduced her to the private dance clubs which only the very rich could afford. Her life became a contradiction: by day, devout Catholic volunteering in soup-kitchens; at night, the wild, out of control socialite. It couldn’t go on.
One night, in the Club de Danse de Marseille, Jean-Laurent Renoir asked the young Australian girl to dance. Renoir was 28 at the time, absolutely wealthy, but a steady and thoughtful man. He liked what he saw.
Emily fell in love with Jean-Laurent, just as she had fallen in love with the Marseille‘s poor. Emily and Jean-Laurent married in August 1938, just before the Germans turned their greedy tanks towards Paris.
Emily’s French by this time was excellent. She spoke with the twang of Marseille, called herself Emilie-Louise, but could easily switch to the deep tones of Paris and then to the rolled r’s of the Riviera. She was, in short, a linguistic chameleon.
Jean-Laurent’s house had always been a centre for parties. Emilie-Louise had a talent as a hostess, and all Marseille rhapsodised about the glittering soirées at the Villa Renoir and the sparking Mme Renoir at its heart.
Jean-Laurent and Emily both watched with horror the events in Europe in 1939 and 1940. The Renoir family had deep roots in the Midi, and Emily had come to love the French people, especially the poor she had met in her role as a Catholic volunteer. When Paris fell to the Germans in June 1940, this young couple were ready to resist however they could.
The Germans occupied only the northern part of France, and so in Marseille, they were in Free France. They seized opportunities for resistance knowing that they would be different from those trapped in Maréchal Pétain’s Nazi-controlled France.
The Renoirs’ war began with channelled large sums of money to the displaced and hungry in occupied France through Catholic Aid agencies. Then, as intelligence about incipient Resistance groups in Paris arrived at the Villa Renoir, they began financing them.
A Tract Society in Marseille called La Société Catholique de la Vérité distributed devotional tracts through the south of France. Emilie contributed to these, especially those with cleverly disguised addresses of safe houses. What would Pope Leo XIII have thought of a footnote in a small devotional tract referring the reader to “Section 10, paragraphe 12, vers 42” of his encyclical on Unity, if he knew that the numbers combined to give 10-12-42, the phone number of Villa Renoir!
Inevitably, Emily’s role became more personal and more dangerous.
Escape routes like that through the Château de Chenconceaux across the Loire River began to deliver downed airmen to Marseille. Shortages meant that these aircrew would arrive in the south exhausted and famished.
Most of them were determined to return to England. The port at Marseille was blockaded, and the Germans controlled all the Atlantic coast of France. Their only escape route was over the Pyrenees into Spain and onto neutral Portugal. Their lack of condition meant that they would never make the journey. Emilie-Louise took them in and fed them.
This became more and more dangerous as German officers searched houses regularly. Emilie-Louise decided that the best way to hide them was in plain sight. She invited the Germans to lavish parties, encouraging them to drink the best wines and liqueurs. They obliged by dampening any suspicions they may have had of the taciturn waiters.
On one occasion, an RAF pilot dressed in the Renoir livery was serving drinks. A bellicose German was demanding more whisky. It was clear that the “waiter” didn’t understand the officer’s accented French, and the demands became more insistent. The attentive hostess noticed that the pilot’s hands were shaking with fear, so she pushed past, sending the tray flying, and apologising profusely in the ensuing embarrassment all round. She saved the pilot.
The Germans ferreted out the large sums of money coming to the Resistance. They began to suspect Jean-Laurent and began watching his movements. A series of betrayals brought tragedy to Emily’s door. In the local parish church, one of the priests had been helping channel some funds to Paris; another had begun collaborating with the Germans. To his shame, he was identifying to the SS Jewish families from the area. Jean-Laurent realised that there was a blockage in getting the money out of Marseille, so he chose to test the possibility of carrying the cash himself.
He and Emily said their emotional farewells at home. He caught the Paris train. When the train arrived at the Gare de Lyon Jean-Laurent was found alone in his first-class compartment with his throat slit. The French police found a huge number of francs secreted in his overcoat and suit.
News got back quickly to Marseille to Emily. Her life in danger, she searched for a way out.
One of the RAF pilots was due to make the crossing to neutral Portugal across the Pyrenees. Emilie persuaded her resistance colleagues to let her take on the tough role of guide. Three months later, London was briefing her for a mission with the Special Operations Executive. Emilie’s perilous journeys into occupied Paris as a clandestine wireless operator are now well-documented, as is her escape from Paris after she seduced a suspicious German officer, and then shot him.
La Fantôme grise was not able to return to Paris until after the war, but for the remainder of 1944 and 1945, her voice on the wireless from London steadied many S.O.E. operatives and saved many lives.
Emily Louise Brown stands alongside Nancy Wake, “the little white mouse” as a great Australian war hero. She claimed that she only did what she had to, and followed the values she had learned on a farm near Kojonup in Western Australia. We call her bravery stupendous.
- Ted Witham
Claude Beausoleil’s Winter
Translation by Ted Witham
First published in Azuria #5 (Autumn 2016) by Geelong Writers Inc.
on the white river a whistling complaint in words
is torn from the fallout of a winter’s night
the city is shaking
the city is creaking
and the city is shivering
on this white river pale cries of smoke rise
blotting out the buildings
from a sky in the grip of the north
to this sky you ask who speaks in this silence
for how many centuries
from what mythical place
with what energy
you who watch the wind
do you know her quests her headings and her deviations
her fantasies and her festivals do you recognise yourself there
beyond the snow driven like explosions in tornadoes
the soul of your cold
without melancholy when rubbed does it tremble
into the white lines of a new beginning
clamouring for a story
in which is pronounced naked the word winter
and the season carries it away in its mad spinning where lures
give birth to a book that pulverises the memories of the freeze
***** ***** *****
Claude Beausoleil (born in Quebec in 1948) is a French-Canadian poet and novelist writing mainly in French. He holds Masters and Doctoral degrees in literature and teaches literature. His poetry is influenced by the Beat poets, gothic themes and a strong sense of Quebec, its landscape and culture. The author of Black Billie has won many prizes and honours; in 2013 he was a finalist in the Académie Française’s poetry prize.
***** ***** *****
L’HIVER de Claude Beausoleil
sur le fleuve blanc de mots siffle une complainte
arrachée aux séquelles d’une nuit hivernale
c’est la ville qui chancelle
et qui frémit
sur ce fleuve blanc se hissent
des fumées en cris pâles détachant les immeubles
d’un ciel en proie au nord
à ce ciel tu demandes qui parle en ce silence
depuis combien de siècles
depuis quel lieu mythique
avec quelle énergie
toi qui regardes le vent
connais-tu ses quêtes ses lignes et ses errances
ses délires et ses fêtes t’y reconnais-tu
par-delà la poudrerie de tensions en tornades
l’âme de ta ville
sans mélancolie tremble-t-elle frottée
aux courbes blanches d’un recommencement
réclamant un récit
dans lequel se prononce nu le mot hiver
que la saison emporte dans ces vertiges où des leurres
naît un livre pulvérisant les mémoires du gel
Louis Dantin’s Optimism
Translation – Ted Witham.
First Published in Azuria #5 (Autumn 2016), by the Geelong Writers Inc.
Everything suffering and vile the Ideal can lift
And shine refracted through Beauty’s prism:
The windflower’s aroma becomes the tomb’s petalled chrism
And all mud is gold in the sun’s dawning shift.
Things that are shredded shine in their splintering;
Corruption is a catalyst for nectar’s distillation.
In the murdered brain is the masterpiece’s creation
And in the night the heart’s flame is a torch glittering.
Bloody battles turn to smiles on the lips of History
And the blood as it’s spilt floods into rivers of glory;
Mudflats are transformed by Art’s chaste fingers;
Tears are rubies in the poems of their singers;
Death is beautiful in Mozart’s heavenly harmonies,
And even hell is divine in Dante’s crowning ecstasies.
***** ***** *****
Louis Dantin (alias Eugène Seers, 1865-1945) was a Québecois priest, poet, novelist and literary critic. He straddled Romantic and Symbolist styles.
Optimisme de Louis Dantin
Rien n’est souffrant ou vil qu’un idéal n’élève
Et qui n’ait son reflet dans le prisme du Beau :
L’anémone parfume et fleurit le tombeau
Et toute fange est d’or quand le soleil se lève.
Tout être déchiré rayonne en son lambeau ;
Toute corruption élabore une sève ;
Dans le cerveau meurtri le chef-d’œuvre s’achève
Et dans les nuits du cœur l’incendie est flambeau.
La bataille est riante aux lèvres de l’Histoire
Et le sang répandu coule en fleuve de gloire ;
Laïs se transfigure aux doigts chastes de l’Art ;
Les pleurs sont des rubis dans le vers qui les chante ;
La mort est belle aux sons des harpes de Mozart,
Et l’enfer est divin dans l’extase du Dante.
High Point of English
I went to school with a character called A.P. O’Strophe who used to punctuate a lot of my work. With a name like O’Strophe, we kids thought he might be Irish or Russian, but our English teacher assured us his family originated from Greece but had been in England at least 500 years.
A.P. was the high point of our compositions. Disconcertingly, he did go all through one’s belongings. He tagged one’s books, one’s hair, one’s friends, one’s parent’s cars – and he was interested not only in people’s possessions, but also in things’ things, like one’s bike’s brakes, and birds’ nests, Mr Kenilworth’s Rover’s motor, and ARIA’s Hall of Fame!
A.P. appealed to the rebel in me. We used to escape formal English, and A.P. knew every short cut: there wasn’t a contraction he didn’t know how to compress. Only he couldn’t hide from the teacher who could see that he’d changed to informal register because he left the O’Strophe tag wherever he’d shortened a word.
The Guidance Officer couldn’t easily advise A.P. on a suitable career. A.P.’s father had been really busy in the old sailors’ navy, making short work of the bos’n, and hacking into the fo’c’s’le’s timbers. The Royal Australian Navy however had discharged A.P.’s family in the middle of the 20th Century. They now write all ranks either in full, or with capital letters with no punctuation: CAPT, LEUT, PO, etc.
A.P. would be lost in the greengrocers! He would never understand why apple’s could not sell at $4 a kilogram. The best option the Guidance Officer came up with was for A.P. to go into midwifery or gynaecology where his proficiency with contractions might prove useful.
This skill with shortcuts made him good at sports like orienteering and geo-caching, where knowing where the GPS’s apostrophe should go saves hours of confusion. But for the same reason, A.P. was thrown out of the cross-country race, his ability at shortcuts seen as the cheat’s way.
These days, A.P. gets into arguments about whether he’s wanted to make plurals of non-standard words. Should he mind his Ps and Qs? Or should be he mind his P’s and Q’s? We were at school in the 1950s. No: we were at school in the 1950’s. I think he’ll lose that argument!
All the signs point to the fact that we’re coming to the end of A.P.’s life. Poor A.P. He’s beginning to be ignored and not just at the greengrocers. A.P. is nowhere to be seen in directional signs like DOCTORS SURGERY, and welcome signs telling the driver YOUR NEARLY THERE.
A.P., like a cancer, is also every place he shouldn’t be (SPEED CAMERA’S, SPA’S AND POOLS, PERFECTION HAS IT’S PRICE), indicating that sign-writers will soon give up in despair and just leave A.P. out everywhere.
I’m in a state of preparatory grief for A.P., who used to be such a high point of one’s writing, and is now dotty, old and showing early signs of dementia.
Published in Limelight, January-February 2016
DOROTHEA ANGUS –
CHAMPION OF MIRIAM HYDE AND DULCIE HOLLAND
In 1938, noted Australian composer Miriam Hyde was a student at Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium. She had completed the University Diploma (AMUA) and was embarking on her Mus.Bac. degree. She made a pact with fellow-student Dorothea Angus to exchange new compositions. Dulcie Holland in Sydney joined the pact.
Dorothea Angus was soon reputed to have the largest collection of Australian music. She also became an accomplished sensitive accompanist and pianist. Her piano teacher was H. Brewster Jones, and in 1934, she shared the A.M.E.B.’s Licentiate prize with Lloyd Vick. After Brewster Jones’ death, the noted organist John Horner became her teacher, and after recitals in Adelaide and Sydney, Dorothea was feted as ‘Australia’s top organist’.
The ABC recognised her talent. She made over 250 broadcasts first in Adelaide, and then in Perth, after shifting to Perth in 1938 to establish music teaching at Perth College. She broadcast live mainly on ‘Australia Makes Music’. Often after a long day of teaching, she would ride the tram down Beaufort Street to the old ABC in the Stirling building in the Supreme Court gardens to perform on air, or technicians and announcers would come to Perth College for live broadcasts from the Chapel organ.
In these concerts, she frequently accompanied the contralto Phyllis Everett, and the pair were often joined by rising violinist Vaughan Hanly. Dorothea played the classic repertoire, Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. She also championed Australian music. Her former pupil Pam Hesling (née Mawby) describes how tattered and dog-eared her Australian sheet music was from vigorous practice and rough thrusting into her music case.
Little remains now of her vast collection of music. Pam Hesling has her letters and papers, but no music. I met Dorothea in 1975 and she gave me some of her organ music, which is now in the National Library in Canberra. Those 16 pieces are all that is left.
Dorothea Angus appointed in 1936 as ‘Assistant to the Precentor’ in Adelaide’s St Peter’s Cathedral. J.M. Dunn had been cathedral organist since 1891, and he died in 1936. The vacancy was given to Canon Horace Finnis, who was also Precentor and Bishop’s Vicar. It is not hard to imagine the talented Dorothea being called anonymously to the organ console or to lead choir practice while Finnis took the credit.
In Perth, Dorothea Angus is remembered now by a group of former Perth College music students who still meet annually to reminisce about the woman they call ‘Fungi’ or ‘Gus’. They are proud of the fashionable woman who encouraged their music and to take leadership in their music club. Pam Mawby gasps when she remembers turning the pages as Dorothea sight-read a Brahms sonata one morning for a performance that afternoon. Jean Bourgault du Coudray (née Macgregor) remembers Dorothea’s insistence on clarity of expression. They remember how their Principal, Sister Rosalie, would sit quietly in a corner of the Studio in the late afternoon during Dorothea’s personal practice time.
Dorothea continued to develop Perth College’s music program for 32 years. As the West Australian Symphony Orchestra found its feet in the 1950s, Dorothea began the custom of whisking the boarders off to symphony concerts. The author accompany the school to a performance of Sibelius’ Finlandia in 1975 and was astonished as they gave WASO a standing ovation, cheering and calling ‘Bravo’. They had been well briefed by Fungi! Some of them may even have known that ‘Finlandia’ was her favourite piece.
Dorothea too stretched her range and was a not infrequent concertist with WASO, playing, for example, Mozart’s A major piano concerto (K488) under Henry Krips.
But all the time, Miriam Hyde and Dulcie Holland were sending their compositions to Dorothea and Dorothea was playing them on the ABC and in concerts around Western Australia. During these years, Dulcie Holland’s music grew in reputation from being regarded only as set pieces for A.M.E.B. exams to worthwhile compositions. Pam Mawby claims that other composers, including London- and Canada-based Arthur Benjamin, regularly contributed to Dorothea’s Australian music collection.
The names of Miriam Hyde and Dulcie Holland figure largely in Australian music of last century. By her indefatigable broadcasting Dorothea Angus was one of their key interpreters and champions.
This is the long version of the review that appeared in the June Anglican Messenger
Reviewed by Ted Witham
Jews and Christians first found out about God in the harsh environment of the desert: God’s generous provision of water and bread, meat and safety, all flowing out in abundance when scarcity was all around, and an unbreakable commitment to God’s people.
We look back to the long 40-year learning about God in the Exodus and to the bedrock of teaching surrounding that motif of Israel’s history: our God is first a desert God.
The Rev. Dr Ian Robinson, currently the Uniting Church’s chaplain to The University of WA, has been journeying through the Australian deserts for decades listening for resonances of our desert God. His latest book, If Anyone Thirsts: Biblical spirituality from the desert, systematically explores the theme of desert in the Old and New Testaments, and in the Desert Fathers and Mothers. He introduces readers to Desert movements today trying to reclaim the centrality of desert spirituality in their Christian faith.
Dr Robinson claims that we have missed the emphasis on desert spirituality in the life of Jesus and in the centrality of the Feast of Booths (Sukkot), which is an annual renewal of the learnings from the desert. Not only did Jesus retreat to ‘desert places’ to pray, in John 7 – 8 he went up to the Temple for the days of Sukkot and disrupted the high points of the festival to make his claims that he was the manna from heaven, that living water would flow from him, and that he was sent by God to be like Moses and greater than him.
Ian puzzles as to why we Christians have picked up the Jewish Feasts of Passover at Easter, of Weeks at Pentecost, but not Shavuot. He hints that October would be a good time to add a major feast to our calendar to renew our foundations in desert spirituality. Perhaps this feast could take the form of camping out in a desert place, symbolic or real.
There have been a few attempts to develop a specifically Australian Christian spirituality. From the Anglican Community of St Clare, Sister Angela’s Gumnut Spirituality was promising, but probably only in the areas of aesthetics and environmentalism. The Rainbow Spirit elders in an Indigenous context have focused more on finding the parallels between Christian theology and Indigenous Dreaming.
Dr Robinson concludes from the Desert Fathers and Mothers that the key is not so much to develop an intellectual framework for desert spirituality, but to do it. In the Diocese of Perth, Anna Killigrew and Peter Harrison at Koora Retreat are themselves putting desert spirituality into practice and inviting others to experience with them God in the desert.
Each chapter of Ian’s book, Exodus, Elijah, Ezra, Jesus, etc. begins with a story engaging our imagination, for this is the huge task of desert spirituality: to reshape our imagination. Our pictures of faith are often northern European (snow upon snow at Bethlehem, rolling green pastures in Galilee!) and so tend to sentimentalise our experience of God. But Australia resonates with Palestine’s deserts, and Ian’s book takes us to the desert and excites us about the sturdy God who finds us there.
If Anyone Thirsts would make an excellent gift for your pastor or for any Christian looking to deepen their faith in the Australian context.
First published on the Starts at 60 website.
Kids join Islamic State (ISIS) because they are hungry for a passion. In the grey world created for them by their adults, they want something exciting to believe in, some dramatic good they can achieve, something great they can create, a cause to give their whole life to. Of course they do. They are adolescents.
And they are also ignorant.
Teenagers these days know so many things, and they can Google what they don’t know, but we have failed them dismally in teaching them about religion and about the religions expressed in cultures around the world. For various reasons, we have been afraid to have any religion taught in schools, and yet this is the very learning area that would prevent the radicalisation of young people.
I mean, of course, religion taught well, and taught by competent teachers. This is so urgent as to be the fourth ‘R’ of the 21st Century: young people need to know about religion alongside reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.
They need to know why billions have embraced religion and found that religion provides wisdom, comfort and direction for their lives. They need to know what motivated Mother Theresa of Calcutta, and what produced the luscious religious art of the Renaissance. In a word, they need to know something of the passion, commitment and engagement in life that religion brings to many people.
They also need to know why millions reject religion. Religion is not just passion. It’s not just a response of the heart. It requires thought and discernment as well. Agnostics have reasons for questioning, and atheists have reasons for believing that religions have got it wrong, and students need to grapple with those reasons and see if they too are convinced.
It’s our fault that our young people don’t know about religion, don’t know its complexities, don’t know how rule of law, democracy, and science all came about through the work of devout Jews, Christians and Muslims, and how the modern world could not have come into existence without religion.
They have not been introduced to the proposition that morality, morality like reverence for life, arises from the pages of the scriptures of the great religions.
It’s our fault as a community. Rectifying that error will not be easy. When he was Minister for Education forty years ago, Kim Beazley Senior proposed a National Curriculum with nine Learning Areas, one of which was Religion. He foresaw that Religion needs firstly to be taken seriously as a curriculum area.
Countries such as Denmark that seem to be doing better in embracing minorities, including Muslims, are currently strengthening their ‘identity-carrying subjects’ such as history and Christian studies. Australia will get a similar result through serious teaching about all religions.
Politicians, principals and academics should publicly champion the teaching of Religion Studies as a national priority.
The Year 11 and 12 courses that now exist like ‘Religion and Life’ in WA need boosting into greater visibility in order to create a bigger demand.
We need to identify competent teachers to mentor other teachers who, though highly trained in other areas, feel inadequate to teach religion. There are such master teachers, particularly in church schools and in professional associations like the Australian Association for Religious Education.
Universities should review teacher training programs to make sure that they prepare teachers thoroughly to teach Religion. Sadly, the Universities I know have dropped successful courses because administrators have been indifferent. That should change!
The aim should be to make the teaching and learning of Religion as engaging and fascinating as religion – and the debates about it – are.
Schools need to make sure that there is sensible space in the time-table for Religion. Students cannot take seriously a subject that is allowed only 45 minutes a week. Imagine if Science or Maths had only one period in a week! ISIS has had runaway success in meeting its educational aims. As a community we can do better than ISIS.
In other words, our community needs a plan to end the ignorance by creating and nurturing a new, a ninth, Learning Area. Every student who sees through the extremism of ISIS because she learns that Islam is something different altogether is a treasure saved for Australia.
Ted Witham is Immediate Past President of the Australian Association for Religious Education and a retired Religious Educator.
I have just discovered this article of mine was picked up by the Curriculum and Leadership Journal as a leader in 2005! Some of the details, therefore, maybe a little out of date, but the thrust of the article still stands.
Religion and the curriculum Curriculum & Leadership Journal, Volume 3, Issue 7, Front page, 24 March 2005
Ted Witham [Then] President, Australian Association for Religious Education Inc. (AARE)
In each of the States of Australia, the school curriculum rests on a list of eight learning areas. These lists are remarkably similar, with only a few phrases separating one from another. That they are so similar is no coincidence: they all derive from the list set forward in the mid-eighties as the basis of the hoped-for National Curriculum. They are similar, but there is no doubt that they are arbitrary. The number is arbitrary: why not five? Why not sixteen as proposed by the liberal theorist Philip Phenix in the sixties? Why not three? Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic? Why eight? Why these particular eight? There seems to be no common criterion for inclusion.
Take the case of English, for example. What is this learning area: literature or linguistics? English as a subject has been at different times everything from grammar to history, from textual studies to character education. (Reid 1996) No one doubts that English will remain in some form on the school curriculum. At the very least, business and universities stipulate that students coming to them are able to read and write well enough for commerce and to produce intelligible university essays. But English is hardly a coherent discipline. Students who have enjoyed English or English literature as a Year 12 subject will be unable to find English listed as a course offering at most universities. They will have to make do with Textual Studies or Communication.
Equally puzzling to some is the exclusion of Religion from this list. I am referring to the critical study of religion as a way of knowing the world, rather than the confessional religious education taught in all States (except South Australia) by visiting representatives of faith communities. It’s not difficult to justify religion’s inclusion in a rounded education, especially in a post 9/11 world in which it has become clearer how vital it is to understand the faith and motivations of people next door or around the globe.
To exclude the study of religion is in fact to censor a child’s education: how can they otherwise understand Australia’s Muslim neighbours in Indonesia, or come to grips with mediaeval theocracies in Europe from which modern democracies derive? What sense can they make of condemned bombers who are overjoyed because of their zeal for God?
The study of religion is a powerful instrument for exploring one’s own developing values and beliefs. When taught well, religion places at the student’s disposal the amazing wisdom of Taoist sages, Zen Buddhists, Jewish ethicists, Christian and Muslim mystics, scholars and theologians of all faiths and none.
In addition, a pragmatic justification for including religion arises from the teaching of values. The curriculum of each State, in a variety of ways, mandates the inclusion of values in both the content of the classroom and the processes of school administration. Many educators, including Professor Brian Hill*, argue strongly that values make no sense to students without a critical exploration of their origins. Students may learn that the taboo against sex before marriage is a value held by their elders. But unless they see the original purpose of the taboo as promoting the positive benefits of marriage, the value is simply a nonsense, and unlikely to affect their choices and behaviour. The result is apparent.
In a more general way, the values promoted by state curriculum documents derive from the Judaeo-Christian tradition. It is dishonest not to hold up the Christian and Jewish contexts in which the values originated, so that students can evaluate them for themselves, and then make informed choices in their lives.
Religion’s place in the curriculum
You may concede that religion needs to be included in a full education, because of its pervasiveness in human society and its role in creating the values of a fair and open democratic society, and yet see no need to add a ninth learning area to the curriculum. Can’t all these things be covered in Society and the Environment? Those promoting a greater inclusion of religion in the school curriculum need to convince the community both that religion has a place in a public school curriculum, and also that it should be a separate learning area. (The argument has obviously been won in most faith-based schools.)
With the liberal theorists of the sixties, I would argue that religion is a distinct way of describing the world, a distinct field of knowledge. Its use of symbol and myth to give meaning to individuals’ and communities’ lives, and its use of ritual to help people interact with fundamental realities are unlike any other discipline. The coalition government’s policies are blurring the boundaries between public and private schools and thus between those who have and those who have not included religion as a learning area. Its search for national standards will create pressure to kick-start again the idea of a national curriculum as it makes little sense to require assessment national tests separate from the full educational cycle of outcomes, pedagogy and assessment. This blurring of school types and federal and state responsibilities provides a moment of opportunity to re-examine the completeness of the education we offer to Australia’s school students, and the place of religion studies in it.
* For example in papers presented in 2004 to the Conferences of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), and the Australian Curriculum Studies Association.
Hill, Brian V. (1991), Values education in Australian schools, Hawthorn, Vic: ACER.
Hill, Brian, V. (2004), Exploring Religion in School: a national priority, Adelaide, SA: Open Book.
Nord, Warren and Haynes, Charles (1998), Taking religion seriously across the curriculum, Nashville: First Amendment Center.
Phenix, Philip H. (1964) Realms of Meaning, New York: McGraw-Hill.
Reid, Ian (1996), ‘Whatever Happened to English?’, Chapter 6 in Higher Education or Education for Hire? Language and Values in Australian Universities, Rockhampton: Central Queensland University Press, pp 97–112.
To honour Thomas Aquinas, I re-post my attempt at paraphrasing one of Thomas’s great Eucharistic hymns:
Lord, we do adore you; deep in love we’re falling.
You in bread, in wine, are hiding, heat as in the flame.
Lord, you feed us wholly, for our hearts you’re calling;
But, Lord, we’re nothing, nothing can we claim.
Taste and touch are failing; seeing is deceiving,
Only in the sense of hearing do we know it’s you.
I believe our God’s Word, memory retrieving
Truth from the Scriptures, Jesus tells it true.
On the cross you’re hiding, God as human here,
You are God and human, and both death and life exist.
I believe, and trusting that my faith is clear;
I pray the prayer of the terrorist*.
Thomas touched your woundings; those I cannot warrant.
My faith depends on trusting in the here and now.
Help me then to know you with a heart transparent,
Seek hope: I love you more in every hour.
Bread ignites our memory of our Maker dying.
Bread and wine are living, and burn with His life afire.
Help me journey forward on our God relying
And find the sweetness people all desire.
*The two bandits crucified with Jesus were probably armed rebels, in today’s word, terrorists.
Paraphrase of Thomas Aquinas Adoro Te Devoto.
Metre: 188.8.131.52 Tune: Nicæa TiS 132
Originally posted in 2012 at https://franciscanhymns.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/hidden-god/
The [North American] Religious Education Association took for the theme of its 2013 Conference, “Coming Out Religiously”: Religion, the Public Sphere, and Religious Identity Formation. As a member, I received my invitation, but the cost of travel from Australia, both financial and physical, was too great. So I am grateful to read some of the papers from the Conference in the current issue of the Association’s journal.
There was evidently a rich exchange between Diane Moore and Charles Foster; Diane Moore from the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School is acutely conscious of the need for citizens to become religiously literate. She takes as an aspirational point the American Academy of Religion’s definition:
… a religiously literate person will possess 1) a basic understanding of the history, central texts (where applicable), beliefs,
practices and contemporary manifestations of several of the world’s religious traditions as they arose out of and continue to be shaped by particular social, historical and cultural contexts; and 2) the ability to discern and explore the religious dimensions of political, social and cultural expressions across time and place.
The more global citizens who can understand the cultural context of the world’s religions, she argues, the more violence – direct, structural and cultural – can be reduced.
- Quoted in Diane L. Moore, ‘Overcoming Religious Illiteracy’, Religious Education, 109(4) July-September 2014, 380
Charles Foster was keen to add to Dr Moore’s analysis. Not only do we need to learn from religions, we also need to be changed by our encounter with the sacred. As participants in religious traditions, we can live at greater depth, and we can be informed by the wisdom of our own and others’ religious traditions.
The ability to identify and compare religious traditions in other words, is not the same thing as recognizing in depth – or being confronted by – the sacred dimension of the mystery embedded in their practices. …
Religious education in this instance emphasizes the learning integral “to becoming” practicing participants in a religion’s traditions. Others among us are engaged in what might be called a religious education to draw on the wisdom and practices of their own religious traditions to participate competently in the mutuality of dialogue and critique with those of another religious education tradition. Still others among us join Diane Moore in a religious education in the public square to cultivate in persons capacities for discerning and analysing the role and place of religion in society.
- Charles R. Foster, ‘An Abbreviated Response to Diane Moore,’ Religious Education, 109(4) July- September 2014, 391 and 392.
Both Professor Foster and Dr Moore encourage me in my vocation as a religious educator. Just because I am technically retired does not give me a leave pass to stop teaching, or to cease writing. These issues are too important to leave alone.