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Past is present for the Catholic Church

  • 31 August 2018


When I have the chance to come to Australia from the States I always like to check out what's on television. The last few weeks I've been watching the recent Annabel Crabb-helmed history-meets-foodie reality show, Back in Time for Dinner on ABC iView.

Over seven episodes the Sydney-based Ferrone family is asked to live, eat and dress the style and customs of the past, from the 1950s through the 2000s. Crabb is always value added as far as I'm concerned; whether she's interviewing politicians while they make her tea or talking to Leigh Sales about books and The Americans, she brings a keen mind wedded to a merry subversiveness.

As for watching some suburban family struggle over the lack of a microwave or wifi, well, it all seems very much the purview of the privileged. You want a reality check, try asking your family to live seven weeks with the refugees on Nauru.

But amid the frothy wonder of it all, as the family experiences moments like the 1956 Olympics — they listen to Dawn Fraser's race on the radio with Fraser herself — or the advent of push-button telephones (which the children have to be taught how to use), come unexpected moments of pain and dislocation.

Mother of the family Carol knew she probably was going to be stuck in the kitchen for at least part of the 1950s, but in fact her entire existence is spent in the home, cooking and cleaning using devices that remind one more of medieval dentistry than modern housewares. It's actually quite brutal on her. Meanwhile husband Peter is also frustrated, as he's forced to eat by himself, the kids having been fed earlier and Carol with hours of cleaning still to do.

In the 1960s daughter Sienna is told it's time to leave school and get a job, as at age 15 girls' schooling was considered unnecessary; time to find a man. And oldest son Julian is reduced to silence as he struggles to understand the idea that young men his age were forced to go to war on the basis of a random lottery.

Again and again, the Ferrones' struggles lead us to the same question: How could people have ever thought this was a good idea? How could it be, within living memory, that women could be afforded so little independence? That people would slather themselves — or worse, their children — with oil and lie