I have just returned from holidays and I am happy to report that I am feeling refreshed, energetic, and ready for lots of improvements in MercatorNet this year.
My idea of a good holiday activity is a hot and sweaty bushwalk culminating in the discovery of an Aboriginal rock carving. The hot and sweaty part is too easy lately. Right now it is 44.8º Celsius outside the office – that’s 113º Fahrenheit for US readers. A few days ago, the average temperature for the whole country (ie, the whole continent) was 40ºC (104ºF).
Bushfires happen when it gets this hot. The word “apocalyptic” is getting a stiff workout in the evening news lately. But when you see TV footage of incandescent skies, treetops exploding into balls of flame, towering walls of fire racing through the bush, and houses collapsing into ashes in minutes, the anchors can be forgiven for the poverty of their vocabulary. It really does look like the world is about to end.
It was on one of those days that I foolishly chose to visit Cattai National Park. The rangers had blocked the road and expelled the campers to prevent fires. So we walked in. A hundred metres from the entrance was a sign pointing to an “Aboriginal site”. Sure enough, half-hidden off the main track a life-size rock carving of a kangaroo had been etched onto a bare patch of sandstone.
I always find sites like this eerie. Between 200 and 5,000 years ago, a group of Dharug people gathered near the Hawkesbury River and celebrated a complex and time-consuming ritual. But after 1788 the tribe was all but obliterated by smallpox epidemics, violence and alcohol and with it died the secret of their kangaroo carving.
Who were they? Who sent this mysterious message from a lost culture? We’ll never know. Only that men and women lived here for thousands of generations, turning land into landscape, animals into art, dreaming the same dreams as we do about love and family and the hereafter. And vanished. Utterly. Except for these enduring works of art. A pity that most Sydneysiders are ignorant of the treasures of their sunburnt country.
Since there was no newsletter earlier in the week, we have accumulated ten articles. Lorna Tilly, an Australian archaeologist working in Vietnam, describes how much care hunter-gatherers put into caring for disabled comrades. Disability is also the theme of James M. Thunder, who comments on the euthanasia of deaf and blind twins ain Belgium.
Raffaele Chiarulli reviews an Oscar nominee, The Master, a thinly veiled portrait of the founder of Scientology. Francis Phillips reviews a touching book drawn from a cache of love letters written from Stalin’s gulag.
Margaret Somerville and William West both take up the cause of prison reform. George Friedman and Denis MacShane ponder the dangers of radical Islam. From London, Peter Smith writes that religious freedom has taken a hit in British courts.
Finally, a world exclusive: an interview with Timothy Reckart, the 26-year-old director of an Oscar-nominated animated film. It has a strong pro-marriage message! I hope that he wins when the awards are announced at the end of February.