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Good to see Mark Latham restore the simple metaphor to political life, even if a humble ladder seems a bit out of place in our monumental Parliament House. Of course, you can’t put too much weight on metaphorical ladders. They always speak of dreams of the unlikely. Unlike the real thing, you can’t fall off metaphorical ladders, feel faint when you are three steps up them, break the rungs as you climb, or find them swaying backwards as you reach the top. But ladders do have a long history that politicians might usefully draw on.

Mark Latham’s ladder is a typically modern model. It is a one-way ladder, made for going up. You can’t come down it, at least not while preserving your self-respect. This brand has a long history of use in moral exhortation. A Greek spiritual writer was even called John the Ladder. St Augustine used the ladder as a model for spiritual progress, admonishing his hearers to make a ladder by trampling down their vices. When the executive chair replaced heaven at the top of the ladder, the vices became other people who were to be trampled on as you made progress towards realising your aspirations.

and ladders

These one-way ladders are pretty frightening affairs. They create shame when you descend the rungs. And they also make you isolated on the way up, and fearful that the music might stop before you reach the top. And if it does, then with Yeats we are back to the world of Augustine:

Now that my ladder’s gone I must lie down where all the ladders start,
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.

Given the disadvantages of the one-way ladder, perhaps Mark Latham might ponder the virtues of the older model: the two-way ladder of Jacob’s dream. Jacob saw a vision of angels ascending and descending the ladder that joined earth and heaven, a vision of connection. Ladders of connection that bring together people at the top and at the bottom of society for their mutual enrichment have advantages. Certainly, they are better than the ladders of aspiration that you need to kick others off if you are to climb.

New views

The National Gallery of Victoria is a favourite landmark of Victorians. Many have childhood memories of running fingers across the iconic water curtain, seeing a masterpiece up close for the first time or being struck by the energy and life emanating from canvas. The St Kilda Road gallery reopened in early December, as the NGV International, after a four-year closure and a $168 million makeover.

Italian architect Mario Bellini has cleverly reworked the 1968 building, originally designed by Sir Roy Grounds. Its exhibition areas have been expanded, new light, open public spaces have been created, and a sculpture garden at the rear of the building has become home to many of the sculptures previously scattered around the city. The Australian Art collection has moved to the Ian Potter Centre in Federation Square, allowing the St Kilda Road gallery to display a greater number of works from the international collection. The space for contemporary art is now bright, white and stark.

To the relief of many locals, the most admired elements of the original building have been preserved. The much-loved water curtain (don’t call it a waterwall) still acts as a luminous filter between the noise of St Kilda Road and the contemplative spaces of the gallery. However, new technology has now enabled the architect to move the wall forward, separating it from its concrete pillars.

The Leonard French stained glass ceiling remains, restored for future generations to lie on the floor of the Great Hall and gaze up at the net of colour.

Taking over the asylum

Many of us were nurtured on the story of Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan who, as a prisoner in a concentration camp, gave his life so that a married man might live. He is a worthy example for the bishops of Australia. In November, 14 Turkish asylum seekers were repulsed from Australian shores. They were not exactly repulsed. The shores were redefined to avoid the need for anything so crude. The Governor-General was summoned from the Melbourne Cup for the purpose.

But 14 is not such a large number, even of Turks. It would be a fine thing if, instead of speaking up yet again, 14 Australian bishops offered to take their place. This would say more than words in the current climate. Some of our Christian leaders should hand their passports over to those in greater need and forfeit their citizenship to asylum seekers. This is not to disparage the episcopacy, although most people do recognise that it’s harder to replace a decent parish organist than it is to replace your typical bishop.

Indeed, the bishops could flourish in Turkey. If you take Gallipoli and the cities of St Paul, there is more Australian spirituality in Turkey than there is in Australia. On the other hand, there is more Turkish food here than in Turkey. Indeed, if the example of the bishops were to take on, an entire country swap makes excellent sense. It would save a lot of travel on Anzac Day and mean that the Prime Minister would never need to go far when he needed to mouth a few clichés. In time, Suvla Bay could become the new Bondi. And if anybody dared to step uninvited on our beach, we’d be waiting for them in the hills.



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