On this New Year's Eve, 4 000 people took refuge from bushfires on the beach at Mallacoota in Victoria. The dramatic pictures - full of burning, smoke, and red skies - understandably drew forth words such as 'apocalyptic'. With two more lives lost today, together with many houses, the unprecedented series of bushfires across Australia cast a strong pall over the nation. The evacuation on the beach is but one powerful symbol, but, in the apocalyptic mood, it vividly makes fact the fiction of the famous film On the Beach (released in 1959, starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire), with its Melbourne 'end of the world' scenes. This is not the product of nuclear devastation however, but of the wilful neglect of decades of climate research and the 'she'll be right' blinkered stubborness of so much Australian and worldwide 'leadership'. It is a fierce verdict on such self-obsessed, and ultimately self-destructive, politics which have been so prominent in so much of the world this year. At the turn of this year therefore, lament, rather than looking forward, may seem most appropriate. What hope do we find?...
It is said that, faced by an immigration officer in apartheid-bound South Africa, the great(est) English cricket commentator John Arlott heard the question asking 'race' and simply replied 'human'. I have a similar reaction to my Prime Minister's encouragement to belong to 'Team Australia'. In the face of the breadth and complexities of international politics, violence and the abuse of religion, the only 'team' I would really want to belong to is 'Team Humanity'. Yet, like John Arlott, I wonder whether such mixing of politics with sport is actually good at all. It both diminishes the seriousness of the one and destroys what is life-giving in the other. This is not to say that the politics of sport is not a serious and important matter. John Arlott, a lifelong Liberal in the very best British sense, was himself a major opponent of apartheid within cricket, not least in his efforts to support the young, Cape Coloured, Basil D'Oliveira and to combat D'Oliveira's dismissive treatment by the cricket establishment at home and abroad. For power corrupts in sport, as it does anywhere else. FIFA is just one of today's preeminent modern examples. Sport is ultimately however only entertainment. It is not war or violence, even though it may often be a relatively peaceful way of handling those impulses. Tony Abbott is quite right that we need to work together to address violence and exclusion. Yet over-use of sporting metaphors is not entirely healthy, especially when it risks dividing those of different faith, race or national background into separate camps and also obscures our failures to meet our international obligations to refugees.
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.