Moments of Grace

Its Monday morning at 9.00am and I have wandered down to the local business centre where we held our fledgling church gathering for the first time the night before.

I am going there to make sure all is well and we haven’t left any unseen mess. I want to make sure relationships are good and we are doing our bit to keep the place looking nice.

I chat with ‘P’ and all is fine. My friend ‘F’ who lives at the top of the street is working there in the shared office space.

‘Feel like a coffee at Locals?’ I ask.

‘Always’ he responds – Ha -I knew he’d say that… so we wander across the road to a grungy little coffee shop in the light industrial area.

We catch up on the weekend and general life trivia and as we do ‘W’ walks in – another local surfer and artist. Suddenly an hour and a half flies by as we drink coffee and share stories and laughs and some dreams for our community.

F has hopes for an ethical business network to form and he is feeling inspired. I’m dreaming of a church that will engage deeply with the community and be an essential part of it. W has an art exhibition happening soon and he is going to hire a bus to get some of the Yanchep crew down to it.

‘We need a non-drinker for a driver…’ he says. ‘You don’t drink do you Anrdew?…’

Ha… I guess I’ve got that gig!

At 10.30am it feels like time to call it a day and so the boys leave and I stay here to do some writing, but also to ponder how good it is to live in a community where 3 men can have such a joy filled and inspiring conversation at 9am on a Monday.

I realise its one of those moments of grace and it seems worth sharing with the world.

Backyard Missionary For Ever

Some of you have been following this blog since its beginnings way back in 2003 when it was, (see the pic above from the wayback machine) where I was deeply engaged in the ’emerging missional church’ conversation. This was where it initially gained traction and found its niche. From there it moved to Typepad, before I finally got my very own shiny domain name!

Over the years the missional / emerging church conversation waned, but my personal commitment to the ‘backyard missionary’ sense of identity never did.  Mission in Oz was the undergirding motivation for all of my musings and provocations.

I have considered numerous times buying, re-inventing myself and being more discrete about my vocation, but I also feel like that would be saying the days of ‘backyard mission’ have passed. I have ‘moved on’ so to speak.

But I haven’t. In fact if anything I feel clearer and more passionate about that sense of identity than ever before.

It is so deeply formed in me that to lose that particular sense of vocation and purpose would (I imagine) see me completely adrift and lost. I’m not really a retic bloke… I’m not really even a pastor…I’m definitely not a Phys Ed Teacher any more…  I do those jobs and fill those roles usually with a sense of joy and fulfillment, but at core I sense God has put me here to communicate the message of Jesus to ordinary Australian people (those outside the church) in ways they can understand.

I remember saying that exact sentence when I was 29 years old when trying to explain to a friend what my job as a youth pastor involved. And those words and that precise way of expressing my vocation has stayed with me.

I want to communicate the message of Jesus to ordinary Australian people in ways they can understand.

That’s what I do. Its who I am. It aint ‘grand’ or ‘visionary’ as such, but it gives clarity and form to my everyday identity and purpose. It gives shape and focus to how I live my life

As I unpack that in my own mind it has a 3 significant elements:

  • Communication – I want to make sense of a message that may be unfamiliar and even odd to people outside the church who are often indifferent or hostile. The Christian message has definitely gone out of vogue, so its going to take some skill and capacity as a communicator to articulate deep and often confronting concepts in ways that make sense and that can get a hearing. I feel God has gifted me to communicate both with writing and speech and to connect particularly with the earthy, unpretentious and sometimes vulgar, larrikin types who may well otherwise dismiss faith.


  • The message of Jesus – its not rocket science. But it is a message of both love, grace and forgiveness as well as one of surrender and bowing the knee. Its both a beautiful message but one that calls for a complete re-orientation of life, so it has a ‘pointy end’.. I want to be faithful to both aspects of the message as well as speaking it in language that gets a hearing. If people reject it I want it to be because they ‘got’ exactly what I said.


  • Ordinary Australian people – I can speak to people who are dyed in the wool Christians – I do that a lot – but I think the far bigger challenge and the task that really lights a fire in me is to communicate what we are on about to average garden variety Aussies with no religious background – to use clear language, stories and metaphors that resonate. And yeah – the ‘Australian’ part is very deliberate. For several years I considered overseas missionary work, but what formed deep in my gut was an awareness of Australia as a dark and difficult place for the gospel to take root. I began to see the need for ‘stay at home missionaries’ very clearly and I sensed that was what I had been called to. And I love doing it…

As I consider those elements it helps me understand why I come alive in everyday conversations with ordinary people about life, spirituality and meaning.

It helps me understand why I gain energy when I’m doing a ‘big brekkie’ conversation on 98.5FM, because in my mind’s eye are a bunch of Aussie tradies driving to work and hearing me speak about some aspect of faith. I want their ears to prick up and for them to turn the volume up and tune in.

And recently as I started to put together a book of stories and reflections based on this blog I stumbled and stuttered for months, for some reason unable to get a start, but then as I pictured my ‘audience’ – ordinary Australian people who are outside the church – it was like someone pulled a starter cord in me and suddenly I had fuel in the tank to burn!

So while I stumbled on the term ‘backyard missionary’ way back in 2003 as I was trying to find a name for a blog I get the sense it was fortuitous as I really can’t think of a clearer or more appropriate description of who God has made me to be.

So here’s a question (for all 5 of my remaining readers) – if you had to choose a domain name that most clearly articulated your sense of vocation what would it be?

(I just asked Danelle what she would choose and she said ‘www.loveGodloveothers-anddon’t She asked me to let you know that apparently she was joking about ‘don’t be a dickhead…’ Yeah right…


Cold Turkey









I wrote a similar post to this one 5 years ago, but this is where life is at 5 years on…

Around the middle of 2013 I stopped drinking alcohol – just totally cold turkeyed it.

It was a massive decision because I loved alcohol – although that was the problem – some days I loved it too much. Over time a single glass of red wine with dinner had become a ‘big’ glass, then two glasses, or three… And some nights it just seemed a waste not to finish what was in the bottle. It would go stale and that would just be silly.

I didn’t touch a drink until I was 28 years old, but over a period of 15 years from then I knew my alcohol consumption had grown from occasional and rare, to daily and usually more than was healthy. On the days I wasn’t able to open a bottle of red I missed it. I felt tetchy and irritable… One night while home alone I ploughed through a bottle of red on my own and then fell asleep on the couch. I woke up feeling ashamed and hid the bottle. I knew that was a problem but I decided I wouldn‘t drink that much again (until next time). Some days I would drink cask wine rather than bottled wine because with casks there is no telling how much you’ve had… Like all addicts I learnt some tricks.

In hindsight I didn’t consider myself to have an ‘alcohol problem’… not me! Although I realised that stopping and moderating was harder than I thought. At times I would talk with Danelle about how much I drank and we’d agree that I needed to be a bit more disciplined. Truth is she was deeply concerned but knew that getting angry with me wasn’t the answer. The fact that these conversations cycled around every few months was a sure sign that I wasn’t actually being more disciplined. I was losing the battle and I knew it. I just didn’t want to admit it.

I hated losing and I really liked wine. It was a bad situation to be in.

I considered just giving up many times, but I always came back to the belief that it was healthier to learn the practice of moderation than of abstinence. Abstinence would have been an admission of failure. I still believe that and I would rather my children develop the capacity to enjoy a glass of wine rather than having to avoid it altogether.

The problem was that moderation just didn’t work for me.

Then in the midst of my struggle I woke early one Sunday morning with a bizarre memory reverbing in my mind of a friend who was struggling with (literal) demons and who couldn’t get free. We had prayed for her, sent her for counseling, tried every kind of exorcism we could think of, but nothing worked. I had never been able to understand why.

As I woke early that morning I sensed God say ‘You couldn’t get rid of those demons because she didn’t want you to. She didn’t want them to go.’ My friend had been used by her father as a ‘medium’ since a very young age and these demons had become a part of her life back then. They had been with her for 30 years and while they tormented her from time to time, they also gave her an odd sense of security, comfort and familiarity. It was as if they had become her companions and she couldn’t see her way to clear to living without them.

I wasn’t scheduled to speak at church that Sunday morning, but I woke with a strong compelling sense that God wanted me to speak to our people about the demons in our lives that we allow to remain because they bring us comfort in some shape or form. I’d call it a ‘prophetic’ type message and I guessed that God woke me up because he really wanted to speak to some people in our community about their ‘demons’.

So I rang our other pastor, Ryan, who was scheduled to speak and who had done the prep work and explained what I was feeling. He ‘got it’ and was happy for me to bring the message to the church. I was glad as I felt someone really needed to hear this stuff!

As I spoke I felt like I was saying something potent and true. I spoke of recognising the things in our life (our demons) that hold us back from the full life that God intends and just ruthlessly excising them – showing no mercy. I didn’t hold back with calling people to deal brutally with their demons.

After the service I was drinking a coffee and chatting with some friends who (completely out of the blue) began to tell me how they had given up drinking and it was the best decision they had ever made.

‘You should try it Hamo!’ they said enthusiastically.

They didn’t know anything of my struggle, but they were telling me of their own freedom. In that moment I sensed God speak again and it dawned on me that the message today wasn’t for some lucky person in the crowd – it was actually intended for me.

God had put his finger on my life and literally said ‘alcohol is one of your demons and you can choose to excise it and live free or you can live with it and be in bondage to it.’

I wish I could say it was a quick decision.

That morning I realised that I needed to make a brutal choice – to leave alcohol behind – most likely for ever – and to find the better life that Jesus had in store for those who follow him.

That was an embarrassingly hard decision – because I loved my evening red – but I believe it was a choice between life and death – not physical death – but a slow spiritual death that would ensue if I chose to ignore God and simply do my own thing. Jesus said “you can’t call me ‘lord’ and not do what I say.”

It took me a week to make the decision – a week of wrestling with who I wanted to be and the shape I wanted my life to take. As I played out the different future scenarios – one with alcohol in the mix and one without it – it was a ‘no-brainer’ logically speaking. But when it came to making the actual decision I just couldn’t do it.

I didn’t want to become an alcoholic. I didn’t want to have to resign my leadership role because I had a drinking problem. But more than anything I didn’t want to be one of those Christians who lived a double life – who was a fake. I realised I was either going to quit drinking or quit being a Christian altogether – because you don’t get to pick and choose which things you will say ‘yes’ to God on. It became that stark for me – I couldn’t lead people into ‘Christlikeness’ while I chose not to go there myself – what a sham that would be!

Eventually I surrendered – took a deep breath and made the call.

I shared my decision with some friends. In telling the story to them I realised I was in essence offering a confession of a life that hadn’t been what it should have been. I was also drawing a line in the sand and saying ‘stand with me on this one.’

As I write this we are 5 years on and I haven’t had even a sip of anything alcoholic since the day of the decision. Oddly enough it hasn’t been that difficult. I am better at the ‘all or nothing’ decisions and not so good at the moderation ones.

People have asked me if I miss it. I do. I miss it a lot. I sometimes crave a good wine. I watch others drink and I wish I could too… but I can’t… not yet…

I didn’t sense God saying I needed to stop forever and one day I may enjoy a glass of wine again. But right now when I imagine opening a bottle of wine I don’t see myself enjoying one glass and then putting the cap back on. In my mind’s eye I see 2, 3 or maybe 4 glasses getting downed and I realise that time definitely hasn’t come yet.

I believe alcohol – like so many things in life – has been given to us by God as a gift to enjoy -but not all of us are equipped to manage it well. I still believe moderation is the best approach, but I also know some of us can’t do moderation well. In years gone by Christians didn’t drink alcohol. It was considered evil. Now we have got past that, but in our freedom we often run the risk of indulging more than we should.

My observation is that this ‘freedom’ has come at a price as many Christian folks who previously would never have touched alcohol now regularly drink to excess. Its a problem for us folks…

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has this struggle. Maybe you find yourself battling the same issue and need to make a tough call. Maybe it’s something else that has a hold of you.

The simple challenge is make sure nothing controls us other than the Spirit of God himself. I found it almost impossible to be a moderate drinker but when I quit altogether I found I had power to resist that I never knew existed. I believe God has given me the ability to do what I couldn’t do on my own and I believe he will give you that power too – if you want it – if you need it.

No Escape

I woke at 2.30am on Friday morning with a food hangover. It was my birthday on Thursday and I may have overeaten just a little… or a lot…

So at 2.30 I lay in bed unable to sleep and after half an hour of tossing and turning I decided to get up and go do some preparation for what I was teaching on Sunday – a talk on contentment – part of a series on ‘Living Well’.

I do the major part of my teaching prep on Fridays and I quite often wake at 4 or 5am and get the jump on the day by working in the quiet hours. But on this particular morning I was about an hour into the work when I noticed something curious happening. I was preparing a talk on the importance of contentment and the constant niggle of discontentment that seems to infect our western lives.

So I took some screenshots of the Bible passages I was working with. Check the screenshots below and see what you observe…


So you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see the Gumtree ads in the sidebar showing me advertisements for old cars. There were four ads for classic cars followed by an ad for spare parts for old cars – because anyone who is gonna buy one of these suckers is going to be forking out plenty in that department!

But then the final page I get shown is for a Maserati – complete with $154K price tag. It seemed to be saying ‘well if these old girls don’t impress you then surely this will!’ CLICK NOW!

I must confess I have a love for old cars and I have skimmed Gumtree occasionally sniffing around seeing if there are any XA Ford Coupes going cheap – see the top pic. (Not that I have anywhere to store one…)

Bu what struck me was the great irony of sitting in silence at 3.00am and preparing a talk for a church community on the perils of discontentment and even in that space I couldn’t elude the hooks of desire for something more. Someone knows me and sees me and is going to hook me in with the hope of something better out there…

And I did click!

I saw an ad for an old Monaro for $6K. The car looked spectacular – too good not to look – so I left the sermon on discontentment and went to see what this car was like. It turned out the seller had used a picture of an already restored car to show what his could look like if the purchaser had a bottomless pile of cash and endless time to spare! Ha…

But for me it was just a valuable picture of the world we live in as we seek to follow Jesus and live differently. There is no escaping the lure and promise of a better life, and unless we engage deeply with the biblical story and a Christian community I’d suggest we are going to buy that lie too easily. We are constantly being ‘discipled by the culture’ and it is not leading us into contentment.

An old proverb says “When we pursue happiness we flee contentment”.

By contrast when we see all we have to be grateful for we can live with peace and joy, but you have to get past the lies you are fed every day by the clever people in advertising!



The Stone of Madness

When I was away over Christmas I read Magda Subanzki’s autobiography ‘Reckoning’. You might know Magda better as Sharyn Strezleckie (from Kath and Kim – she is Kim’s second best friend) or Esme Hoggett from Babe, or to take it back a bit you may remember Michelle – the super-bogan from the Comedy Company with her mate Ferret? And there is of course Magda the Irish dancer…

Subanszki is one of Australia’s most successful comedians and her book is a gem. A really honest and raw piece of writing as she tries to come to grips with who she is in this world.

The opening of the book tells the story of her Polish father – who she describes as an assassin – because that’s what he was during the war. He killed people – many people – as a young man in the Polish undergound resistance army . And she writes about how she felt a terrible weight of shame because of her father. Later she felt shame from her migrant background – her struggle with weight gain and her sexuality.

But the book opens with a powerful image. She writes of a painting she has seen in the Museo Del Prado in Madrid, by a guy called Heironymous Bosch around 1494. It’s called ‘The Extraction of the Stone of Madness’ and it depicts the ‘medical procedure’ called ‘trepanation’ which was in those days supposed to be the cure for insanity.











What that means more specifically is that the surgeons drilled/hacked into your skull and then removed – something – what they called the stone of madness – and surprisingly many people survived… I doubt anyone went back for further treatment, but people made it out alive.

It was this curious belief that part of our brokenness was found in our physiology and if we just sort that out all will be well.

What Subanszki writes next is what I found intriguing. She says:

I swear sometimes I can feel that presence in my head. A palpable presence, an unwelcome thing that I want to squeeze out of my skull like a plum pip, using nothing but the sheer pressure of thought and concentration. If I just think hard enough… 


That stone was my father’s legacy to me, his keepsake. Beneath his genial surface, somewhere in the depths, I would sometimes catch a glimpse — of a smooth, bone-coloured stone. A stone made of calcified guilt and shame. I could feel it. I can feel it still.


This highly competent, very successful and much loved Aussie icon speaks in a very honest way of her struggle with guilt and shame – a struggle that goes on to this day – and those themes play out through her book.

And it’s a struggle beneath the surface of an otherwise apparently all together life.

What I love about Subanzki’s book is that she has been gutsy enough to say what plenty of other people feel but don’t dare say. ‘I’m not ok – there is something wrong with me – I can’t even articulate it properly – but it ends up with me feeling guilt and shame. And I wish I could shake it – but I can’t…’

I think if we were having this conversation with her, many of us would just want to reassure her – ‘you’re ok – there’s nothing wrong with you – just believe you are ok and you will be fine’.

But… I think she mighta tried that…

I’d want to say two things to Magda – two things I believe we can take from the Bible that speak to who she is – in fact they speak to all of us because what she experiences is not unique

The first is that yes you are ok – you are much more than ok! You are made in the image of God. You are created in the likeness of God and that is good! You aren’t a random evolutionary misfit that popped up on the planet by chance. The Psalms says he knew you before you were born and he has plans for you – he wants the best for you. More than that he loves you.

The creator of the universe sees you and loves you

You matter to him – you are of immense worth.

But I’d also want to say ‘you’re right – in your feeling that something is wrong – that you’re not ok – you’re spot on – none of us are ok.’

Sooner or later we all feel what you described – that sense of guilt and shame about our life – that somehow it doesn’t stack up – that somehow we are less than we could be.’ That we have done things we never thought we’d do and been people we never thought we’d be…

And we bear the guilt and shame of our stuff ups. And no matter how we try – Nothing we do can fix it.

Perhaps you might have either seen the movie The Kite Runner or read the book. It follows the story of a young boy called Amir who abandons and betrays his friend Hassan. Hassan lives in his home where his father is a servant. One day Amir watches him get brutally beaten up and assaulted and he says nothing – he does nothing. In fact when he gets home he has Hassan’s father dismissed from his job because he can’t live with the shame of his own failure.

The book opens with these words ‘there is a way to be good again’. And the rest of the story looks at how Amir seeks to atone for his failure and his betrayal to help his friend – how he tries hard to erase his guilt and shame and find his way in life again – to be ‘good again’.

That theme of redemption is common in literature – and my hunch is that it’s so common in our stories because it is so common in humanity. The quest for a life that is noble and honourable and good and the desire to overcome the evil that lurks in us – to somehow ‘right the ship’.

None of us wants to live a bad life. None of us wants to screw up our own lives or the lives of others. But because we are naturally self centred – because it is part of our DNA to seek our own interests first – that is the trajectory our life will take unless there is another power at work. Unless a new imagination of life can grasped, we will inevitably find our lives veering in that direction. Like a car with dodgy steering it takes all of your effort just to keep the thing on the road.

Most people live trying to balance the scales of life so that the ‘good’ they do outweighs ‘bad’ but they never really know if they’ve done enough – or if they’ve done enough if that ‘enough’ was done with the right motives – and will it count?

How do you become ‘good’ again? Can you become good again?… How can you erase guilt and shame? What does it mean to live well – to live a full life – to live in ‘shalom’ – peace – wholeness and goodness as God intends?

With your iphone you can plug it in and restore it – take it back to its factory settings. How can you do that with life?

It begins with accepting the reality that you are broken – you are not the person you hoped you would be. Sooner or later as you go thru this life you come to the dark realisation that you are messed up and your brokenness affects everything about you and everything you do.

Some of us hide that well – we appear to be ‘together’ – while for others of us it just leaks out all over the place and there is a big ‘mess’. And I’m not talking about being criminally messed up – I’m just talking about realising that because of who you are life does not seem to work as it should.

Because of who you are you never feel content. Because of who you are your marriage is always on the edge. Because of the person you are its hard to keep a job – or its hard to have friends. Because of who you are your finances are in a mess. Because of who you are your kids are living dysfunctional, destructive lives.

And you despise your part in your own dysfunction, but you don’t know what to do… You don’t have an answer…except to try harder next time.

And even if your life is not in chaos – you still know in your guts that something is not right. The quest to attain to the kind of life we hope for feels always out of reach.

It’s where the Jesus story offers such great hope. There is a ‘way to be good again’, but it doesn’t stem from our own efforts and our own ability to right the ship. It comes from his willingness to take the penalty for our sin and to rise again and offer that power to us to follow him and live differently.

There is way to be good again, but it’s rooted in God’s love for us and his grace rather than in earning our way back into his favour. I’ve said it before ‘Grace trumps Karma every time!’ The Bible says in Romans that God has shown us how much he loves us in that while we were sinners – broken and messed up – Christ died for us.

There is a way to be good again, but it finds its energy in the salvation God offers through Jesus rather than in our own moral actions. In his letter to the church in Ephesus Paul wrote that it is by God’s grace we have been saved through faith in Jesus so that no one can boast. It is Jesus who is the source of life – the source of salvation and nothing we can do ourselves.

Its totally counterintuitive and this isn’t a theme we see in much literature. Most of our redemption stories are people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and ‘making good’.

If you look at your life with a degree of despair sometimes, then that’s not a bad thing. It’s an acceptance of reality – that you are broken. Plenty of people can’t see their own brokenness. – plenty of people feel their own ‘stone of madness’ deep in the psyche. But it’s where you go from there that matters. You can’t fix yourself, but God can.

God wants to – its why he sent Jesus to be the one who dies for us – the one who takes the hit for all of our stupid choices and terrible stuff ups. He takes what was due to us and allows us to walk free into life – right with God and empowered to live in a whole new way.

There is a way to be good again and that way is Jesus.

Doing it For the Boys

I’ve read it twice now, but I still haven’t really got my thoughts together on Winton’s latest novel, The Shepherd’s Hut.

The first read I was in page turner mode and just chasing the story to its end, but after getting there I wanted to read it again to savour some of the insights Winton offers on the struggle to be a good man in a world that is often against you.

Whatever else he is gifted at by way of writing there’s no question Winton can choose some wonderful names for his characters. Mort Flack, Quick Lamb and Pikelet are just a few, but in his most recent work Jaxie Clackton meets Fintan McGillis and both are as wonderful, colourful characters as their names would suggest.

Jaxie is a broken, angry kid from a one horse town in the mid west of WA, whose mum has died leaving him with a violent and screwed up alcoholic father who he describes like this:

“He wouldn’t give you the sweat off his balls, the old Captain, but when it come to dishing out a bit of biff when you weren’t looking, well, then he was like f…ing Santa.”

As the story begins Jaxie comes home to find his abusive father dead under his ute. Being a tightarse the old man had tried using the kangaroo jack for his mechanical work instead of axel stands, but the car had tumbled on him and crushed him. While everyone in town hated him, Jaxie fears he will be blamed for the death and so hits the road on foot bound for ‘Magnet’ where his girlfriend (and cousin…) lives, hoping to escape the madness and find a proper life.

He is a badly broken kid – but a kid with hopes for a better life – a normal life – even an appearance of a normal life – but he doesn’t know how to get there.

His journey takes him across the Mid West salt flats where he discovers an old hut with its one inhabitant – Fintan MacGillis, a ‘defrocked’ priest who has been dropped out here for his crimes (we never find out what they were – but Winton makes the point of telling us he wasn’t a pedophile) and has lived alone now for years with only the occasional food drop as human contact.

MacGillis is a good man – but also a flawed man and the remainder of the story explores the relationship between these two. Jaxie is cagey, suspicious and relates to MacGillis like a dog that has been kicked too many times. MacGillis seems at ease with himself – settled in his identify and with no need to impress or win Jaxie over. There is no posturing with MacGillis – he is too old to be bothered, but he seems to know what Jaxie needs – a man who will do the righty by him and not screw him over – someone who will listen and not judge – who will ‘be there’ and put up with his shit – and Jaxie dishes out a fair amount of it…

I remember once buying a rescue dog on Gumtree and seeing this timid, frightened dog come alive as it realised it was safe and it was loved. Its that kind of slow burn that we see in Jaxie as he relates to MacGillis. It seems Winton has been doing some thinking and writing around the idea of ‘Toxic Masculinity’ and this novel is one of his foils to the devastating  brokenness we see in so many young men.

Winton describes what he sees happening with young men:

Boys and young men are so routinely expected to betray their better natures, to smother their consciences, to renounce the best of themselves and submit to something low and mean. As if there’s only one way of being a bloke, one valid interpretation of the part, the role, if you like.


There’s a constant pressure to enlist, to pull on the uniform of misogyny and join the Shithead Army that enforces and polices sexism. And it grieves me to say it’s not just men pressing those kids into service. 


These boys in the surf. The things they say to me! The stuff I hear them saying to their mates! Some of it makes you want to hug them. Some of it makes you want to cry. Some of it makes you ashamed to be a male. Especially the stuff they feel entitled or obliged to say about girls and women.


What I’ve come to notice is that all these kids are rehearsing and projecting. Trying it on. Rehearsing their masculinity. Projecting their experimental versions of it. And wordlessly looking for cues the whole time. Not just from each other, but from older people around them, especially the men. Which can be heartbreaking to witness, to tell you the truth. Because the feedback they get is so damn unhelpful. If it’s well-meant it’s often feeble and half-hearted. Because good men don’t always stick their necks out and make an effort.


Winton’s picture of the broken teenage boy is as tragic as it is accurate – the pressure to conform – to ‘renounce the best of themselves and submit to something low and mean’ – or as he puts it so well ‘to join the Shithead Army’ and continue to enforce the destructive culture they have grown up in.

This is tragic stuff he is writing about and if it were a piece of non-fiction it would be a lament about the state of masculinity in our culture today.  I’ve also sat in the surf and heard those same conversations, and the unashamed misogyny he describes .I’ve literally paddled away at times because I’ve been at a loss for what to say and all I’ve had left in me was rage.

I’ve had a few conversations with friends about this book and several times found myself fighting back tears because I’ve been so close to the impact of this abuse on a kid like Jaxie and I’ve seen someone fighting thru, trying to be a ‘good man’, but all the time having to resist the script that is so embedded in their psyche. There have been days this summer where I have felt like a MacGillis type listening silently as the vitriol and anger spills out, as the rehearsed script gets enacted, but then listening more deeply to the raw pain of someone who doesn’t want to be ‘that bloke’. Its broken my heart at times.

I’ve had someone suggest the ending of the book is unsatisfying, as if he got bored and just wound it up so he could move on to something else, but I found the ending every bit as powerful as I am guessing it was intended.

Read on if you wish… it might spoil it for you…

You see in that critical moment MacGillis doesn’t let him down – he doesn’t give him up.  MacGillis – for all his flaws does the right thing by Jaxie at the cost of his own life – and Jaxie sees and experiences that a new way is possible.

You don’t have to be a selfish prick to be a man – you can be a good, kind, gentle, courageous man. I love that Winton has wrapped this message in such a raw and brutal story because it highlights the beauty of MacGillis sacrifice. In the end the reality is we are all broken but we still get to choose how we deal with that brokenness, but if you’ve never seen an example of a better way then you are stuck. I get the sense this novel is ‘for the boys’, the Jaxie Clackton’s of Australia (and elsewhere) who need men in their lives who will show them a different way to live.

MacGillis doesn’t ever get preachy – but his life speaks loud to Jaxie. There is another way to be a man.

Because Peace is Always a Win

After a 40km drive down a dusty corrugated road we arrived at what was once the town of Wittenoom – in its day the largest town in the Pilbara region – but now literally a ghost town – a town site with run down houses that have simply been vacated and the contents left to rot or be looted.

We cruised in and parked up near the old convent and guest house – 3 carloads of us – and got out to take a walk around and see what the place looked like. It had been a few years since we were last there and I was curious to see what had changed. Since first going there back in 2011 it has become a bit of a favourite place of mine for solitude and quiet.

But on this particular morning it was anything but quiet.

We got out of the cars into the blazing sun and within seconds heard an angry Eastern European voice yelling expletives. Many of them – aggressive and clearly directed at us. At first we wondered if the bloke was yelling at his dog – but slowly we realised – nope… it was definitely us… Essentially he was telling us (in vernacular vocabulary) to get out of there.

What to do?…









A rumble went around the group – maybe we just get back in the cars and get out of there – is it safe?. This one resident (one of three or four who still remain in the town) clearly didn’t want us there and who knows where it could go… More than likely he would have a loaded gun in that house of his and we really didn’t want to be on the receiving end of his anger.

I was for taking a walk around – but I didn’t want to put anyone in danger – or have people feeling scared. Then Danelle said to me ‘Do you want me to go over and talk to him?’

‘Yeah’ I said ‘That sounds like a good idea.’

You’re probably thinking ‘Really?… What part of sending your wife to speak to a crazy dude sounds like a good idea?’

I know it may seem like an odd course of action, but over the years we have discovered that there are times when Danelle can walk into a volatile situation and bring calm and this just felt like one of those moments.

Another murmur around the group about whether its wise / safe etc, but by the time we had agreed she was already half way there. She walked slowly towards this older man with his wild bushy beard and menacing tone and said ‘Hi – sorry – were we disturbing you?’

He launched into a rant about the place being private property and people coming and running amok and leaving a mess. She responded by agreeing that what had happened wasn’t cool and then let him know she grew up in the area and wanted to show her friends around the town if that was ok with him.

Instantly he softened – she had found some common ground and shown she wasn’t there to fight him. They chatted about where she had lived, her memories of the area and as their conversation ended he said ‘ok sure – look around but close the doors after you.’

She strolled back and gave us the green light – now somewhat of a hero in the group for disarming Mr Angry.









So what happened there?

We hit a volatile situation and she made peace. In that moment there was a choice to ignore him, escalate the conflict or to run away. In each of those scenarios no one wins, but by walking over and speaking to him she gave him an opportunity to be someone with real concerns and she allowed him to see reasonable people who didn’t want to destroy his town. I’d suggest she showed him a different way to deal with conflict.

And why didn’t I go with her?

Because she’s good at this stuff – at disarming angry people and bringing calm. There have been other testosterone charged situations where I have hung back – not out of fear, but out of wisdom, knowing that Danelle will be able to get a hearing and often bring peace, whereas my presence (as a bloke) could just antagonise and bring more conflict.

In the end we went for a walk and explored some pretty quirky old buildings, and enjoyed a piece of West Oz history that may not be there for much longer. We took a drive out to the gorge and the old mine site and then made our way out of there, but the talk of the day was how Danelle had the courage to go and talk to the angry bloke and brought peace

I’m sure there are times when it wouldn’t be wise to do what she did, but for the most part it just takes a bit of courage and kindness to see not a madman – but a man – a man who wanted to be heard and taken seriously.

So many times in life when conflict hits we have the opportunity to make peace or to seek a ‘win’. I like what the Bible says ‘as much as it depends on you live at peace with everyone’, appreciating we can’t control what other people do but we can choose our own course of action and a ‘win’ is always when we find peace and relationship rather than one person getting their way at the expense of the other.