I haven’t done a Hero and Villain post for a few weeks. Unfortunately there has been no shortage of villains, but heroes have been a bit thin on the ground, and my intention with this category was to always balance good and bad. However, I’m happy to have one of each this week, and not a politician or sportsperson among them:
Hero: My hero for this week is anonymous, like so many true heroes. From the tombs of unknown soldiers through to people who do random good deeds and disappear back into the crowd, sometimes the most profound and long-lasting good works are performed by people whose names we will never know. Last year an American donor contacted the University of Sydney and offered a donation of an original Picasso painting, Jeune Fille Endormie. The 1935 work is of Marie-Therese Walter, who was just 17 when she met the master, then 45 and already a major force in world art, in Paris and was the model for many of his paintings in the late 20s and 30s. Jeune Fille Endormie was acquired, not long after it was painted, by Walter Chrysler (of the eponymous car company) and has been publicly exhibited only once, in 1941, as part of an exhibition of art works owned by the Chrysler family. It changed hands only once and has remained in the private collection of the donor until its donation to the University of Sydney. The conditions set by the donor were that he or she would remain anonymous, and that the painting should be sold and the proceeds used for scientific research. The donation was only made public only last week after the provenance of the painting had undergone extensiveexamination and the date for its auction by London auction house, Christie’s, had been set. The sale of the painting is expected to net the University of Sydney around $18million, most of which will be poured into the university’s new centre for research into obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, expected to commence full operation by 2015. With weight-related diseases fast overtaking smoking-related diseases as the leading cause of death in Australia and other developed countries, research into these areas of health is crucial. In making this astounding donation, the unknown American donor may indirectly contribute to saving the lives of many thousands of people and develop global science in health.
Villain: From one extreme to the other, one of the lowest acts of the week was not anonymous. In a country where pretty much everything is fair game for humour, Australians take Anzac Day seriously. It remains separate from politics and is perhaps the single annual event that unites Australians from all sectors of the community. Which is, I think, the whole point. So it was no surprise that the airwaves went into overdrive when the Managing Director and mouthpiece of the Australian Christian Lobby, Jim Wallace, hit Twitter on Monday morning with an Anzac Day message designed to offend and divide:
Just hope that as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for – wasn’t gay marriage and Islamic!
So, that’s what the Australian Christian Lobby thinks, huh? That only some Australians are deserving of being defended? That not everyone has a right to be called an Australian? I’m fairly confident that there are many, many Christians who repudiate this sort of offensive, ill-informed, racist, homophobic rubbish, but it does their religious cause no good to have it promulgated under the name of a religion that purports to preach love and brotherhood.
The ACL later released a statement clarifying its position but significantly not repudiating Wallace’s statement:
Jim Wallace is entitled to hold a view and to express it publicly. His error was to express it on ANZAC Day, when it was surely going to offend public sentiment and result in negative publicity.
Really? So, precisely when, I wonder, would it be appropriate for Wallace to express this opinion so that it wouldn’t cause offense and result in negative publicity? Yes, of course Wallace is entitled to his opinion and has a right to express it, but if the ACL thinks that this particular view can be aired publicly and not cause offence at any time, it really is completely out of touch with the reality of modern Australia. Jim Wallace, as its Managing Director, just proves the anachronism.