12 November, 2022
I recently watched the 1997 Bruce Beresford film Paradise Road at home on DVD. As the standard of free-to-air TV continues to plummet gutterwards, I find the urge to fossick through our old disc collections grows all the stronger!
Paradise Road is a triumph of the Australian film industry. It focuses on the horrors of prison life in Sumatra under Japanese occupation during the Second World War, but without confining its attention narrowly to the Australian victims only: one of the leads is our own Cate Blanchett, but other main roles are taken by Glenn Close (American) and Pauline Collins (English). I think it’s one of the characteristics of good Australian movies (and Beresford’s are up there with the very best) that they are patriotic without being nationalistic: we are right to be proud of our people bravely enduring the most appalling sufferings, but we’re citizens of the world and so must equally recognise greatness in others.
Glenn Close’s performance wins the palm in my view. She plays the part of the real-life Norah Chambers, a professional musician who established a sort of choral orchestra in the camp. The prisoners are forbidden to have musical instruments, but under her direction they hum their music, raise their own spirits – and occasionally even entrance their guards. Close’s performance is an awesome and incomparable piece of acting, I think, but the co-founder of the orchestra, the missionary Margaret Dryburgh (played by Pauline Collins), won my heart. She wrote a poem called The Captives’ Hymn which is featured in the film, most movingly at the funeral of one of that majority of poor POWs who lost their lives through sickness and ill treatment. Here are a few lines:
Father, in captivity,
We would lift our prayers to Thee,
Keep us ever in Thy love,
Grant that daily we may prove
Those who place their trust in Thee
More than conquerors may be.
May the day of freedom dawn,
Peace and justice be reborn,
Grant that nations loving Thee
O’er the world may brothers be,
Cleansed by suffering, know rebirth,
See Thy kingdom come on earth.
It is impossible for those of us living in Australia today to come close to imagining the privations endured by prisoners of a cruel regime, during a war that must have seemed never-ending, not knowing if lost loved ones were alive or dead. They must have hated their captors for their pitiless cruelty, yet so many of them probed beyond hatred to sympathy and eventually love: ‘grant that nations loving Thee o’er the world may brothers be.’
This is such a generous movie. It doesn’t leave us hating the Japanese, though so many of the things they did to the most vulnerable people were indeed hateful. Instead, Beresford allows us a glimpse of the humanity of the defeated enemy: the rare smile between soldier and prisoner; the occasional look of shame in the eyes of men implicated in horrible things; their final disgrace in the face of defeat. We know that Japan treated its soldiers cruelly too. Theirs was a world where few knew the Gospel, where might alone conferred rights.
With best wishes to all our readers,
SYDNEY DINNER 27 OCTOBER
Our very first major Sydney function at the Royal Automobile Club of Australia attracted 75 people. The Director spoke on Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition; you can read the full text of his talk here. The event was covered on 14 November by the Catholic Weekly.
AN AFRICAN VIEW OF ‘DECOLONISATION’
Prof Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò is a Nigerian-born academic at Cornell University is impatient with what he calls the ‘cult’ of decolonisation, witheringly describing it as ‘the latest fever of the American mind’! Read him here in the Times Higher Education. (You will need to register, but registration allows you to read three articles a month free of charge. Worth doing.)
BRITAIN’S TOUGHEST TEACHER
Gerard Henderson, executive director of the Sydney Institute, writes here about the recent visit to Australia of Katharine Birbalsingh, founder and headmistress of a London ‘free school’, Michaela Community School. By any standard of reckoning Michaela must be one of England’s top schools, but it’s hated by the ‘progressive’ left, and Birbalsingh herself has suffered much personal abuse from the cancellation lobby. Why? Because ‘they hate the idea of individuals taking away responsibility and power from the state.’
‘A GENERATION STARVED OF ITS GOODS…’
Karina Hepner reports on a Melbourne seminar aimed at reclaiming lost ground in secondary education, restoring the core skills to prime position. Incidentally we understand that Karina attended one of Birbalsingh’s recent talks in Sydney. Clearly they are on the same page. The ground is shifting worldwide, but not yet enough for the mainstream media to notice. Birbalsingh’s tour was not reported by the ABC.
‘DRAG QUEEN STORY HOUR’
Family-friendly activity or deeply subversive and calculated campaign against traditional society? According to Christopher Rufo this is seriously bad news for parents and children.
MIKE CANNON-BROOKES AND ENERGY
We got into trouble for inviting Ian Plimer to speak in Hobart because, it was claimed, what he had to say ‘had nothing to do with civilisation’. Engineer Paul Batten researches alternative energy sources and concludes that ‘Green isn’t carbon neutral, and carbon neutral isn’t green’. We think it important to provide some alternatives to the ‘existential threat’ narrative that so dominates the traditional media.
‘BE CATHOLIC FIRST’
Former US Congressman Daniel Lipinski wrote this interesting article on the challenge of being a Christian in politics. Full of wisdom extracted from bitter experience. We enjoyed this punchy remark: ‘Any jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a good carpenter to build one.’
‘THE AGE OF PRECARITY’
Anthony Howard writes here on what he calls ‘the chasm in society … the fault line between tradition and modernity, between conservatives and progressives’. Here’s a powerful extract: ‘The chasm between people is a manifestation of the abyss in the human soul … There are, of course, very good people doing very good things. Alas, they are in the few. How do they become the many? It starts with you.’
JOHN HALDANE TO SPEAK IN HOBART
Eminent Scottish philosopher Prof John Haldane spoke on Religious art and religious understanding (an illustrated introduction to art as a medium of philosophical/theological reflection) in Hobart at 6.00 pm on Thursday 10 November.
It was a remarkably fine address, well illustrated with examples of Christian art from antiquity to modern times. The whole presentation was filmed and will be uploaded to our YouTube channel soon. Details follow in the next newsletter.
SUMMER SCHOOLS JANUARY 2023
The Dawson Centre will once again offer three summer schools. A FULL DESCRIPTION OF EACH COURSE IS AVAILABLE HERE. Bookings are inching upwards, but we’d be glad of a few more!
16 – 20 January
THE WESTERN TRADITION: AN OVERVIEW OF 2000 YEARS OF HISTORY, LITERATURE, PHILOSOPHY, THEOLOGY AND ART.
23 – 27 January
NEW TESTAMENT GREEK: AN INTENSIVE INTRODUCTORY COURSE FOR BEGINNERS.
‘The Holy Church has cultivated and kept in highest honour the source texts of this wisdom, and especially the Greek and Latin languages, as if they were a sort of golden robe clothing Wisdom itself.’ (Pope John XXIII)
9 – 13 January
MEDIEVAL AND LATER LATIN: A READING COURSE IN SACRED AND SECULAR POETRY AND PROSE FOR PEOPLE WITH SOME PRIOR KNOWLEDGE OF THE LANGUAGE.
‘The Latin language is assuredly worthy of being defended with great care instead of being scorned; for the Latin Church it is the most abundant source of Christian civilization and the richest treasury of piety. We must not hold in low esteem these traditions of our fathers which were our glory for centuries. (Pope Paul VI)
Each school extends from Monday to Friday inclusive. Bookings can be made directly by email or on Eventbrite.