The almost lost art of conversation, finding common ground and communicating with kindness

I had lost track of time paddling around in my sanctuary this particular late Spring evening.  The tide and increasing wind vied for my attention as the Sun tumbled effortlessly towards the horizon.  The oars dug into the cool, emerald green water as I changed course and headed towards shore.

Nearing the first intertidal sandbar and the shallows beyond, I altered course again to where I had wet my feet wet an hour, or maybe more, earlier.  I retrieved my kayak, its belly salty and dripping, and deftly bundled it onto its cradle. 

As I laboured to drag my kayak along the beach, the damp trolly wheels encrusted with sand and seaweed grabbing at beach beneath, I noticed my near neighbours walking towards me. 

This couple, husband and wife of more than half a century, are delightfully unassuming and ever-so skilful in the art of conversation.  We greet each other with a warm hello and remark about the weather.  They help me lift the trolly and its burden off the sand and onto the boardwalk – a task best shared. I am grateful for their assistance, admitting to my ‘paddling fatigue’.

We stopped at the top of the short boardwalk and chatted about the past week’s events.  We agreed how blessed we are to be living in this place and pondered the state of the nation.   The conversation flowed, family, life, work, COVID.  Each of us listening, leaning in, nodding and sometimes lightly prodding for more detail when clarification was sought. 

During the conversation there was a moment in which a most powerful sentence was spoken.  My dignified and distinguished neighbour, quietly spoken and ever so respectful, uttered these words, “You know, when my father had a problem he wanted to talk about, he simply picked up the phone to Tom” – Tom? I enquired, “Tom Playford” he said evenly. To be clear, not every problem, just the ones that he felt had the potential to impact more than just a few, his community.

He continued; I wish our current leaders would ‘simply talk about things’…. ‘none of this letter writing stuff’…and ‘why do they have the need to publish the letters?  His, was a rhetorical question.

This fascinating conversation ducked and weaved from years gone by to present day.  To people and politics, communities and caring and what the future might hold for our children, their grandchildren and maybe one day mine. 

Time, as it does in these moments, moved too quickly and as dusk fell around us, we cordially agreed to catch-up again soon and headed to the comfort and sanctuary of our respective homes nearby. 

Usually, the salty air and physical exertion of kayaking calms and soothes me, mind, body and soul.  Tonight though, I could not calm my mind and I wondered how things might be if the art of conversation, respectful conversation, was to be applied more lavishly these days, especially in the process of decision making. 

I thought about the elements of a conversation.  How one seeks information and how one gives. How one muses, asserts, proposes, supports, and summarises.  How one is inclusive, how one listens, truly listens; and how one tests understanding and nuance.  Importantly, how one adds to ideas and works collaboratively to broker solutions.

My thoughts then turned to the adversarial nature of our legislators and leaders.  The self-promotion, self-interest, exclusion of others, avoidance, refusal to listen or consider an opposing view.  The attack, personal or otherwise the defending of actions, often when there is no defence and the barries and blocks deliberately or unconsciously put in the way of finding common ground.

I thought about the last time I had had a conversation without the other party, admittedly sometimes me, did not break eye contact or lose track of the conversation to check their mobile device, respond to a call or message.  Sadly, those instances are few and far between. 

What has happened to the days of looking someone in the eye, making a human connection?  It is bad enough that COVID has all but robbed us of the connection of a handshake, a hug, a kiss but what of the conversations which would usually ensue?

Do our legislators, of differing colours, still sit across from one another, aside from when in their their House or Council, and attempt to nut out bi-partisan or multi partisan solutions to problems that effect their collective constituency?  

Do they rise from their seats, electorate or otherwise, and knock on the door of a fellow MP as seek counsel?   Do they admit they do not have all the answers and look to share the burden of issues that will likely live beyond their terms?

If they do, tells us about it.

Do not tell us about the letter you have written, published via mainstream media, and your strong opposition to or resistance to a plan, project of blueprint. Offer up your middle ground, common ground, your solutions.

It is a sign of strength, not weakness, to collaborate and cooperate on issues so much bigger than them, their party, or their personal view. 

A problem shared, it is said, is a problem halved.  A solution brokered, with the collaboration and support of others, is also far more likely to succeed.

I am, you are, we are Australians

I first posted this piece in November 2015, now some 4 years on, the momentum continues to build .

Next week I’ll be back in Adelaide for yet another gathering of ARM supporters so I felt it timely to re-post this….it’s still relevant… just add 4 years & plenty of press which supports Australia having a Head of State to truly call our own.

From 2015…..

“I am, you are, we are Australians” are the words Peter FitzSimons, National Chair of the National Committee of the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) opened his address to the National Press Club with in August.   

I attended a gathering of Republicans and likely some who were just curious to learn more, in Adelaide last week.  FitzSimons, the guest speaker, recited those same words and captivated the audience with his grass-roots approach to the important matter of Australia becoming a Republic. 

The ARM is non-party political.  It is a non-profit organisation that advocates an Australian Republic within the Commonwealth and advocates a fully and recognisably independent Australia in which all power belongs to the Australian people and in which nobody inherits power. Importantly the ARM advocates a Head of State who is Australian, who lives here and who can represent our identity, our values and our place in the world. 

It is 16 years since The Australian Republic Referendum was held on 6 November 1999.  Almost a generation later the approach is somewhat different to the approach used in the lead up to the vote in 1999.  Perhaps one could describe it as less academic in some regards but equally as feisty and as significant as ever.  

Indeed the Republican movement owes great debt to now Prime Minister of Australia the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, who was the driving force of the Republican movement at the time. Turnbull’s approach was, and in my opinion needed to be, sophisticated and refined.  

This piece from 2008 by Greg Barns who was the National Campaign Director for the 1999 Republic Referendum (and who was Turnbull’s successor as Chair) puts that into perspective.

Why a Republic? Principally it is about having an Australian as our Nation’s Head of State and about consciously uncoupling (as Gwyneth Paltrow famously used the term to announce the end of her relationship with Chris Martin) from our Constitutional ties with England and the Monarchy and to stand firmly on Terra Australis on our own two feet as a truly Independent Nation.  

To add more weight to this argument as recently as yesterday it was reported that the British Government is about to make it even harder for Aussies wanting to work in the United Kingdom.   

In the news item it states that in an unusually strongly worded diplomatic memo sent to Whitehall, Australia has warned the British Government its planned policy shift on visas was potentially inflicting “structural damage” to the “uniquely close relationship” politically, economically, culturally and security wise.   

It further states that “despite intense lobbying by the Australian Government to lift the cap and a debate in Westminster in January this year — that specifically asked how a nation with the Queen as its Head of State should count for so little — the British Government is now set to make it even harder to employ non-EU workers.” 

Alexander Downer, Australian High Commission to the UK said that “restricting Australians ability to live and work here (in the UK) has wider consequences beyond economics.”  

I concur and one has to question the level of importance placed on Australia’s significant bilateral relationship with the United Kingdom by the British Government if this is the position it takes.

Closer to home, those at the intimate gathering in Adelaide were offered a chance for questions and comments and it was heartening to hear the wide-ranging level of matters raised.  Clearly some of those present knew and understood the complexities of The Australian Constitution well.   

A relevant question was raised and it was around the opportunity for Australia to become a secular independent Republic.  Secular from a social perspective in that Secularism being the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries. I look forward to a more open discussion on this – time did not permit for a robust interaction. 

The ARM advocates a national conversation and democratic process for Australians to decide how our next Head of State will be chosen.  FitzSimons personally proposes a single change – the minimalist model with ‘no bells, no whistles and no postage stamp’.  This is his position and it is open for debate. 

I believe it was largely ignorance which played a part in the result of the 1999 Referendum and indeed the way the question itself was worded, some would even suggest a deliberate and strategic ploy by John Howard for the bid to not succeed.  This level of ignorance continues to permeate our overall political system. 

That said it was pleasing to hear FitzSimons clarify a common myth which leads people to believe that if Australia were to become a Republic we would leave the membership of the Commonwealth of Nations.   

So let me state that despite public opinion which suggests otherwise, Australia will continue to be a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and will be able to compete in the Commonwealth Games after becoming a Republic.  This matter appears to be hugely important to the Australian (sporting) public. 

Republics have been allowed as members of the Commonwealth since 1949, following the London Declaration made on 28 April of that year.  Think the Republic of South Africa, Singapore, Pakistan etc.  

This piece from 2011 by David Donavan will add clarity,3505

Change is challenging for most and I thought it was canny of Fitzsimons to reflect on Gough Whitlam’s legacy.

In particular Whitlam’s announcement in his 1972 Election speech that he would arrange with the British Government for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to be constituted by its Australian members sitting in Australia to hear appeals to the Privy Council from State courts.  As FitzSimons referenced, it took a decade to ratify but since then ‘we’ve run our own show, and we’ve done it very well.’  

A subject of personal interest was not raised and that is the concept of a deliberative democracy.  The South Australian Government is attempting to engage in better decision making through YourSay SA, the goal being to involve everyday South Australians in the decisions that affect their lives. More here:  I’d like to explore this further in a future blog.

In closing the evening’s formalities FitzSimons lead the ‘band’ in our National Anthem…it’s interesting to note that Gough Whitlam did not like God Save the Queen and was the First PM to attend a Socceroos match – but only on the proviso that Advance Australia Fair was played!  It became the official National Anthem on April 8, 1974.   

Now is a striking time for a fresh make-over of our identity and for Australia to be truly inclusive of our First People’s and of those who have come here from all the lands on earth.

Living in poverty & being unemployed in Australia – what does that really look like?

I first published this piece in July 2013 – Still we are stigmatising the unemployed and underemployed. Still governments use a punitive approach to ‘monitoring’ and measuring job search efforts. We must raise the rate. No question.

Many different approaches to eradicating poverty have been attempted in our country, however approaches which focus only on economic growth have proved to be unsustainable.

Our Government must create an environment whereby unemployed Australians and those living below the poverty line are able to re-claim their dignity and their basic human rights.

Human rights in Australia have largely been developed under Australian Parliamentary democracy but it would seem that our Parliament doesn’t really understand what it is like to be unemployed or in a cycle of poverty.    There is increasing international evidence that when governments adopt anti-poverty plans, they can make meaningful steps to reduce overall levels of poverty.

You may have heard the words before or even uttered them yourself, words such as ‘dole bludger’, ‘jobless’, ‘unemployed’, ‘idle’, useless and ‘redundant’.

These words evoke pain in the eyes of a parent trying feed their child or a carer who has not had a break from caring, not even for a minute, for months.  Those words are often interchanged and embellished with offensive language.  Those words cut to the core of most Centrelink Income Support recipients.  People who often don’t have the energy or self-esteem to respond.

I have a proud background in Public Service; in what some would regard as the most difficult of service delivery agencies our Government has in place to support our society, that being the Department of Human Services, Centrelink.

For many years I worked as a ‘customer service advisor’ in a regional ‘customer service centre’.  No two days were the same.  No two ‘customers’ were the same.

I unequivocally support the efforts of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS). I support an increase in the basic rate of income support for all welfare recipients.  There is an increasing demand for services but this has not been met by additional assistance from any levels of government. 

You only have to speak with any NGO involved in assisting people to overcome barriers to living meaningful lives to know that their finite resources are stretched.  These organisations also advocate for strong communities, and for justice and fairness in our society, these organisations understand that bringing a family out of poverty has so many tangible benefits.

One such organisation is ACOSS.  They are the peak body for the community services and welfare sector and the national voice for the needs of people affected by poverty and inequality.

ACOSS’ vision is for a fair, inclusive and sustainable Australia where all individuals and communities can participate in and benefit from social and economic life.

We, as a society have a moral responsibility to support the disadvantaged and impoverished and lift them out of poverty and welfare dependency.  You can’t achieve that on $32 per day.

I would encourage you to learn more about the remarkable work ACOSS and locally the work of SACOSS..


In the name of the Father (first published June 2015)


The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is investigating how institutions like schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.

The remit of the Royal Commission is to uncover where systems have failed to protect children so it can make recommendations on how to improve laws, policies and practices.

The terms of reference (Letters Patent) of the Royal Commission can be found at this link:

I have been following the investigations and resultant media with interest, a very personal interest.

Not long after my father was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer I decided that I wanted to tell his life story in a book, a personal family memento to hold dear.  Dad was more than happy to oblige, a gregarious story teller at the best of times, we got to work.

For the most part the recital of his life was him re-telling stories I’d heard some many times before and most delicately brushed with embellishments and augmented by old photos we poured over.  Whilst there was hardship and adversity, his life was predominantly contented.  It was a life of opportunities, which when they came knocking, were eagerly embraced.

Amongst the adversity lay a piece of darkness which was so dark no light could penetrate, Dad told me the story of his exploitation.  The abuse was perpetrated by a Catholic Priest and occurred when he was but a boy, an altar boy at St Anthony’s Church in Port Pirie.  It occurred in the 1940’s.

I know I should choose my words carefully and preface ‘abuse’ with ‘alleged’ because the claims are; and will remain unproven, indeed were almost unspoken.  However I won’t in this instance purely out of respect for my father.

Dad almost took his secret to his grave, I wonder how many have and how many will.  I told him, I promised him, I would seek answers but it wasn’t until 3 years after his death and following the airing of an ABC Four Corners program “Unholy Silence” that I chose not to keep mine or my father’s silence.

I sought an appointment with the Bishop of the Diocese in which my father spent his boyhood years. The meeting was cordial, respectful, business like almost.  I recounted the details my father shared with me and how his life was affected, immeasurably affected.

I wasn’t expecting answers or apologies but I wanted to be assured that if I, the mother of a young son and daughter, were to approach the church (any institution for that matter) with an allegation similar to my father’s claims that in this century I could be confident that the matter would be handled appropriately and impartially by the Church.

I received an expression of sorrow during the meeting which was later re-stated in writing along with findings.  My report was taken seriously and upon investigation it was discovered that there was a hearsay report about a priest in the parish in the early 1940’s, no actual report and no victim named.  It was also reported to me that a second priest was complained about for having ‘interfered’ with a young girl back around about 1920.

I was offered counselling “Towards Healing”, which I respectfully declined.  My wounds were superficial in comparison to those my father bared.

Remarkably, after the meeting and subsequent correspondence from the Bishop, I was not left with a sense of confidence that if a victim were to come forward in modern times that their complaint would be referred to the appropriate authorities for investigation.

I have tried to understand the actions of and I do have empathy for the (alleged) perpetrator.  I honestly can’t understand how a man or a woman for that matter can be expected to commit to a life of celibacy without support.  What that ‘support’ might look like is a mystery to me.

Celibacy, from the Latin, ‘cælibatus”, the state of being sexually abstinent, usually for religious reasons is, for most, is a foreign concept.  I personally struggle with how a human being can overcome the most primal urge to have sex.  I struggle with how some people of the cloth claim to practice and observe chastity but behind closed doors commit heinous crimes against innocent children to satisfy that primal instinct.

I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to choose or be asked (given orders) to take a path of chastity and in doing so how the Church cannot take some responsibility for the actions of their flock when they do commit horrendous crimes.

I accept that paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder and as such those who are diagnosed should be treated with respect as their illness is not something they fashioned but rather a disorder which can, in most cases I’m lead to believe, be treated.

What I can’t accept is the lengths the Church has gone to and continues to go to, to what I can only describe as to protect their brand, and power base.

I accept that Cardinal George Pell has been the target of many.  He has been scorned from within his Church and by the media.  That level of attack is not true justice but rather pursuit of the man and not the matter.  Despite that I do feel contempt for the Church despite what action has been taken.  For me it is personal, it is about what they have failed to do.

The total financial worth of the Church could never compensate the victims for the loss of self-worth, loss of dignity and for some the loss of their life.

I thought long and hard about writing this piece, however on this occasion I have let my heart rule my head. It is about my father, it is for my father.

I hope that in publishing this piece that if there are other men and women from my home town of around my father’s age (had he been alive today) that they may come forward in an attempt to get help and support.  Indeed anyone who has been a victim of child sexual abuse.

Maybe, just maybe they can find some peace by shining a light on their personal darkness.

If you or someone you know has been affected by child abuse there is much support available. Details of that support can be found at this link: