Alan Jones and the power of one


Alan Jones and the power of one Travel broadens the mind—so they say. But I had some difficulty thinking expansively on the plane home just after Easter. The season should have filled me with new thought that springeth green. But the lithe young fellow next me was thinking different territorial imperatives—his. So as his biceps shoved me off the armrests during the flight and his person shoved me out of way as soon as we landed, I found myself biting my tongue instead of smiling with reconciliatory goodwill.

When I bite my tongue I compensate the small gods of psychological necessity by breathing strenuously though my nose—it's a habit picked up from my Presbyterian father. But the lithe fellow couldn't hear my coded, suppressed fury because he was communing with his mobile the minute the wheels hit the tarmac. And as he disappeared up the aisle, thrusting a few more passengers into his wake, I was left with the bitter aftertaste of an opportunity lost. No human exchange—not even a mute smile—had come of our chance hour together.

The news I'd been reading (with difficulty, given the squash) in the Canberra Times provided on the plane was mostly of Alan Jones and the Australian Communications and Media Authority's findings on Jones' contributions to enlightenment during last year's Cronulla riots.

Acres of newsprint have already been devoted to the issue so I won't rehearse it here, except to say that Jones' reflexes on air were not unlike those of my aggressive travelling companion: assertive and territorial. A 'power of one' he may be, but Jones also makes a powerful appeal to the tribal in all of us.

When we retreat into the tribe we lose the chance to experience of the kindness of strangers.

After the miserable flight a kindly Punjabi taxi-driver took me home. We didn't have much language in common but it didn't matter. There was enough to exchange some road gossip—Punjabis are regular drivers in my neck of the woods, so we share a territory. Before Easter one Punjabi driver showed me where the speed cameras were on the Western Ring Road, so after Easter I reciprocated with first-hand experience of the streets and underpasses where police camera cars lurk. It turned out that we'd both been booked on the same downhill trap. Shared adversity is a great obliterator of difference.

My cabbie had a long spade beard and a black turban. The wary might have avoided a driver who looked so stereotypically like Osama bin Laden. I experienced him only as the smiling young man who now has three children at school in Australia and who was born near Amritsar twenty years after I lived in India—a fellow sufferer who was booked at 68kph where I was booked at 67kph! I shall carry his rueful smile in memory.

On the same day I shared a meal with the Polish-born Melbourne writer, Jacob Rosenberg, whose memoir, East of Time, has just won the 2007 National Biography award. Jacob's family all died in the Holocaust. On a perfect Melbourne autumn day he could remember the full horror of the experience—evil far beyond my imagining—and smile the smile of a man who does not seek scapegoats, who can laugh and tell the truth about evil and evildoers, who comes of a tribe but who is not locked inside a tribe.

Alan JonesAt home again I reread a passage from Dreams of Speaking, a splendid new novel by the West Australian Gail Jones. In it she describes an incident in the Paris Métro where the novel's protagonist, Alice, witnesses an assault on a young woman. Alice picks her up and wipes the blood from her nose with her own woollen scarf. The young woman shrugs off the help and limps away after the man who abused her. An old woman who has also witnessed the attack tugs at Alice's sleeve and murmurs to her in a language Alice does not know.

This is what happens next: "She may have been speaking Polish, or Yiddish; in any case, it was an expression of friendship and approval. Alice nodded, submissively. The encounter with the bleeding woman had left her with a giddy anticipation of despair. Random violence, no matter how minor, had this predictable effect: the shuddering sensation of watching the concussive recoil of flesh, the general collapse of civility, the reminder, above all, of graver, sorrowful things that exist beneath the hyper-shine and fast-motion of cities. Alice smiled at the speaking woman, and they waited together, side by side, for the next underground train."

While the train comes, the two women get on board together. The older woman pulls up the sleeve of her coat and shows her arm to Alice: "There, on her forearm, were blue tattooed numbers. The woman nodded at the numbers, then smiled sadly at Alice. She knew, Alice thought. She knew what all this meant. It was the barest of communications, a wordless understanding."

In a world of babble, and collapsing civilities, we might look for more such wordless communications.



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Existing comments

A friendly smile crosses all language barriers.

Peg Saunders | 17 April 2007  

Give me Morag Fraser's relections any day in prefernce to Alan Jones' rants. I happened to HEAR Alan Jones on air conversations that day and I was UNBELIEVING that anyone could get away with what to me was blatant incitement to violence and hatred. I hope the recent findings against his behaviour are upheld.

Kate Maclurcan | 17 April 2007  

Thank you for foregoing the opportunity the devote yet more space to the roaring pipsqueak, and instead give us this thought provoking reflection. Gail Jones' book sounds like a womnderful read.

Lily | 17 April 2007  

Thank you, Morag.
Living overseas I don't get to hear any of Alan Jones's broadcasts, so have no comments regarding him. However, life teaches me that your reflections on the benefits of opening up are spot on.

Adrian Jones | 17 April 2007  

What a great read! As the coach said recently..."..there is no "I" in team..".
The Team needs more tolerance, acceptance, understanding, sharing and love. Opportunities do abound. And yes....Shared adversity is a great obliterator of difference. How astute and well communicated.

Robert | 17 April 2007  

We need more of these beautiful stories in a world that is so much forgetting the personhood of our neighbours.

Brendan Scarce | 17 April 2007  

Having experienced middle eastern hatred whilst living in the Cronulla area prior to riots I was alerted by friends to Jones broadcast and listened for a few days. A lot of callers wanted revenge for the ongoing violence and intimidation prior to the riots. It amazed me to hear that Jones incited anyone as I heard him to urge callers to leave it to the police and not go to that fateful day. I wonder which broadcast the authorities listened to as it was not one of Jones. I have since purchased Jones Town and it seems there is a section of our society willing to vilify Jones and bend the truth. I,m still shaking my head.

David | 17 April 2007  

What a beautiful article. My spirit is uplifted. Thank you Morag.

Renata Byra | 18 April 2007  

Thank you for passing on these stories and comments, Morag.
There is so much "good news" in the world, wherever we are living, I believe, but so often all that we read/see/hear in the media is about "bad news".I have very recently encountered great consideration, care and thoughtfulness in the Emergency Department of St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne, over 48 hours and I'm one of many! Thanks again.

Maryrose | 18 April 2007  

A wonderful Easter story that speaks so much of what Jesus had to share with us about His Father. There is an underlying incivility in us that begs for control and reconciliation.

Jim | 19 April 2007  

A sad man amoungst sad men whom support him. Thank God we have an off switch!

Rob | 20 April 2007  

At last a balanced comment on Alan Jones. 10 seconds listening to him makes me turn back to the ABC.


A beautiful reflection Morag - what a shame about Jones - how bitter some people become.

Nick Ramage | 30 April 2007  


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