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Boat – by Jane van Beek

When I pray on Sunday and then turn the other cheek once too often the other six days, my moral compass becomes a little unsteady. Right now, it’s wobbly.

There are a few of us in this boat. We’re adrift. Sometime after 07 things began to unravel, then became intolerable, and we had to take the painful decision to abandon all we knew and seek a new place to call home. Our small boat is letting in some water now – it’s a bit leaky. But let me go back a little…

I grew up in Chatswood. It was nice. It was white. I was white, and nice. Good fit. Whitewashed picket fences too. Everyone knew everyone. Saturday mornings we played netball and afternoons were smoky as dads burnt off rubbish in our backyards and threw a few snags on the barbie for us kids. Sundays we dressed up in blue velvet and went to church, nearer my God to thee. 

On Tuesday afternoons, handsome cadets from St Pius X College would march down our street, Malvern Avenue.  We little ‘uns watched, admiring their left, left, left right left, as we straddled bedraggled fences, licking lemonade ice blocks. I was secretly in love with Patrick, the tallest cadet, who led them down the street, twirling his baton in a magical flourish then tossing it into the air and – I’d hold my breath – yes! catching  it again, scarcely missing his step at the head of the marching band. Left, left, left right left. 

Now, years later,  I return to Chatswood some Thursdays after work for a haircut. I walk the familiar slopes of Victoria Avenue, as chinks of softening evening light slant the day towards night. Enticing spices waft from Asian food street stalls.  Dawdling families and hurried commuters mill together, snacking on satay sticks and peanut sauce  in the warm outdoor mall, blissfully unaware of their differences, or that no fewer  than 97% of those with whom they rub shoulders are, or their forebears were, aaaaaaaaaaah! boat people. After all, we all are.

Don’t say that. Just joking. That wasn’t nice. Spoil a good day. Hey, what am I saying? Boats? We Aussies love a good boat race! Take the Sydney to Hobart. And we won gold in London at it – didn’t we? Not good at remembering those details…. Yeah, history not our strong suit really. But who could forget the America Cup? I mean, the Prime Minister declared it a bloody national holiday when we won that one. No crooks at the helm in those days. All goodies, eh. 

‘Things were simpler then’, as Harper Lee said. Remember the goodies and the baddies? Goodies wore white, baddies black. Easy. 

Anyway, back to now. The boat. The wind has turned and the sky is glowering.  A few of us have been tinkering with the engine while others try to untangle the sails as a tearing wind tosses us in all directions so the boat lurches in the swell. I reckon we’re about 3,814 kilometres north ofChatswood but no worries mate, Christ…. no,  make that Christmas is coming. Soon we’ll be celebrating. A saviour, born again. Good cause to celebrate. Just need to get some of this water out of the boat. Slightly unsettling. Bloody slippery.

Oi. Water’s rising. We’re tipping o- v  –  e….. r………………….. So much for all those Sunday prayers. If they REALLY want to save lives maybe those churches should be in the life jacket business. This is not funny. 

Hang on. Yes! A boat.  In the nick of time. Blessed relief: there IS a God. I knew it.

A voice calls, windwhipped but clear, “Get in the queue!”

“What f…… ing queue?”

“There’s meant to be a queue.”

“Are you insane? We’re drowning here. Lend us a hand …mate? Oi, mate, I’m not one of them. I’m from Chatswood!”

..And in news just to hand, yet another boat has released a distress signal to the north of Australia, off Christmas Island, in unchartered waters. The Australian Defence Force, busy in Afghanistan,  is unable to locate, intercept and turn it back. 

Recognising The Will Of The Australian People and The Need To Act in the midst of the election campaign, the two most powerful men in the land, Biff, an ex-priestly Catholic, and Flick, a staunch don’t-talk-to-me-while-I’m-at-church-just-watch-me Anglican, have put their differences aside and  issued a rare but heartfelt joint, bipartisan policy statement: “Let us pray…” 

Jane van Beek (17 August 2013)

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