On Christmas Day I went to The Scots Church in Collins Street, where there was a surprisingly large turnout of more than 100 souls. Perhaps Christianity is making a comeback, despite the efforts of governments to intimidate its adherents into hiding their faith, with bans on nativity scenes and public demonstrations of Christianity, lest our multicultural brothers be offended, even to the extent of insisting on given, rather than Christian, names. This nonsense has been carried out most recently to the accompanying shrieks of the mad mullahs of Lakemba who have now issued a fatwa warning their followers against any celebration of Christmas, even to the point of not wishing your friends a Merry Christmas. I am grossly offended by that threat, but will the Human Rights Commission and the Federal Court protect me from being offended and mollify my wounded feelings? Hardly. It is like my trip to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva when I was refused entry to their building. As the guard put it: ‘This is for the human rights of the people who work here.’ Only minority groups are allowed to be offended. Actually, it does not much matter in my case, as I quite like being offended by others; it shows you have their attention. But what is really starting to offend me is that when I send a Christmas card to associates in the US and Europe I now receive a card in reply saying ‘Happy Holidays’ and, even then, I feel more sorrow than anger. The poor darlings are so terrified of the thought police who stalk the land that they dare not mention Christmas or anything else that invokes the faith that dare not speak its name.
Anyway, back to church, where three Scottish divines with delightful brogues worked their way through the old hymns, appropriate Bible readings and a simple sermon that, for me, summed up the whole reason why we were at church and what it all meant: modern materialism, the preacher said, means you will receive a gift for Christmas, but only if you have been good; Christianity will give you gifts all year, especially if you have been bad. The final touch about the service that seemed to round it all off was that I was sitting near a mother who had brought her baby to church, bound in swaddling clothes. At the appointed time she disrobed (well, in all essential areas) brought out her ample bosoms and gave a fine demonstration of practical breastfeeding while I tried to concentrate on the wording of ‘Away in a Manger’. Members of the congregation more conservative than I might have been taken aback. For my part, as the baby gurgled and smiled at me, almost but not quite with a halo, I felt how privileged we were to have our own nativity scene in Collins Street and that I was closer to Christmas than I had ever been before.
A few days later I went to commiserate with Mammon at the closing of Dimmeys department store in Richmond. I was determined to be there on the last day and see the end of another era, sad though it is. If ever there were a building that deserved that overworked word ‘iconic’, Dimmeys takes the prize. And it is not just the building, although the mammoth 150-year-old structure with its bizarre dome is unique enough in its own right. It is more that Dimmeys is a symbol of a time when we had factories and jobs, when working men and women could walk to the local department store and buy goods made in Australia for reasonable prices, when Richmond and places like it were inhabited by normal people who lived normal lives and made their own fun with a trip on the tram to the zoo or to Luna Park. Alas, Richmond, like Fitzroy and Prahran, is giving way to the relentless march of gentrification: New York apartments, Pilates classes and expensive restaurants where only the new rich can afford to eat. Dimmeys above all was the working family’s store, the home of chenile bedspreads and dressing gowns, tartan pyjamas, fluffy slippers, beige cardigans, strange undergarments, football colours, basic furniture and anything that could be crammed into a flexible definition of manchester and haberdashery and put on the lay-by. The fire alarm rang for virtually the hour I stayed at the store, a sort of warning that the end of the world had really arrived. But even then the old lady fought back with a last cry of defiance and ordinariness as a shop assistant came on the public address system to announce: ‘It’s a false alarm folks. Someone has burned the toast in the staff room and we can’t turn the toaster off.’ You would never hear that at Myer or David Jones. One task remained and that was to buy something I could keep that summed up the whole of this decline and fall. I found it, in the last barrel of bargains reduced in price almost to vanishing point. An Australian flag. Made in China. $1.35. Plus GST. But then I had to get back to the modern word, grab an organic guava juice and dolphin-friendly sushi roll and get to my yoga class.
At the start of a new year we might just reflect that we are now in an era controlled almost entirely by the state. The Federal government claims that the hung parliament has passed more than 400 new laws, thereby proving how marvellous it is. I regard this as a disaster and another 400 nails in the coffin. It means more controls, more costs on everyone, more freedoms eroded and more extension of the dead hand of government. There should be a matching rule: no new Bill without repealing at least one other law. It would be good policy for the Coalition and would show it is serious about reducing the intrusion of government into virtually every area of human activity.