on fear & loathing


I love my hairdresser. I love her not just because my head is in her hands but because she’s a compassionate, very funny lady who treats members of her staff as family – and that’s only partly because some of them are.

She is also a loving wife and mum who cares deeply not only about her own kin, but her community.

Whenever there’s a cause to be supported she’s there: flyers in the window and collection tin on the counter; first table booked for the fund-raising ball.

It might be a child with a chronic disability who needs an expensive piece of equipment to improve their life, a dying single mum who wants to leave a legacy for her kids, a teenager with a disorder so incredibly rare that they can be treated only by one very special specialist in the United States.

Warm-hearted is this woman’s middle name, and yet I’m afraid she’s the start of something very ugly.

People wonder where hate begins … it begins with fear-mongering: a viral bullet moulded by pragmatism and political expediency then shot into a crowd with the utmost disregard.

My hairdresser, who would cheerfully admit she wouldn’t know the difference between a dirndl and a drachma, has been listening to the news with her family and is now very concerned about ISIS and burqas.

Ruby (her nine-year-old daughter) asked me if they (Muslims) were going to kill us,” she said as rubbed shampoo into my hair a little vigorously.

I mean it seems unlikely but …”

It doesn’t help that Public Transport Victoria has removed the garbage bins at Flinders Street, Southern Cross, Parliament, Melbourne Central, Jolimont, Richmond, Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong railways stations in response to the “heightened terror alert”.

Fear is creeping across the countryside like a cancer.

One of my colleagues, Melissa Cunningham, who works for the The Courier (Ballarat), reported recently how a woman crossing the street was yelled at by a ute driver spewing profanities and racist slurs who demanded she “go home”.

She was totally mystified until she realised she must have been mistaken for a Muslim because she’d wrapped a scarf over her head to protect herself from a sudden downpour.

Then last week another colleague, Virginia Millen, reported how a Muslim woman’s arm was broken after she was pushed to the road in a sickening, unprovoked racist attack.

Our federal government is encouraging people to turn against their neighbours with increasingly hysterical rhetoric.

But Tony Abbott buddying up to the big boys as some kind of anti-terrorist hall monitor is a distraction.

It’s a distraction from people dying in Australian detention, a distraction from a budget which punishes the poorest, a distraction from the many contradictions between what this government claims to stand for and what it does.

We have a government that doesn’t hesitate to spend $500 million a year to send Super Hornets to drop bombs on Iraq, but awards the contract to supply boots for our troops to Indonesia ahead of the Australian company which has kitted them out since World War II just to save a lousy few hundred thousand dollars.

Noisily repatriating bodies from the wreckage of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and chest-thumping in the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin might win approval at home, but won’t stop the world from noticing Australia’s refusal to help fight Ebola or how we push boatloads of refugees back into poorer countries’ waters.

Why have we become so small and mean?



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