Who's watching?

‘Watchman, what of the night?’
The watchman says:
‘Morning comes, and also the night.
If you will inquire, inquire;
Come back again.’
—Isaiah 21: 11

At first glance, Clare Locke’s cover illustration for this issue of Eureka Street evokes a familiar image of summer, a time when our living is meant to be easy, our hearts light and our minds carefree. Our thoughts fly back to summers long ago, lazy days of sitting in the sun and watching the cricket.

But on closer examination some questions may arise. Where are the fieldsmen? Why is the sunshine only on the players, and the shadows beyond so dark? Just who is watching this game? Below the calm surface, something seems to be calling for an answer, something that makes the scene very much a reflection of the mood of our times.

That mood is largely one of uncertainty. Old assurances are fading—about how we work, how we ensure that those unable to work will be provided for, how we provide safe havens for those with nowhere else to turn, how we protect our way of life from those who might wish to destroy it, how we carry on the public conversation of a free society, and how we express our views on our government’s actions or intentions.

Perhaps the greatest challenge in times of uncertainty is to remain watchful—not only of the human injustice that is so often a by-product of a climate of fear, but of our own actions, motivations and sympathies, which can be selective.

The recent Australian outrage over the execution in Singapore of the young Australian Nguyen Tuong Van was understandable from people who believe in the sanctity of all human life and the barbarity of capital punishment. But few here would have been aware of a similar outcry in Singapore itself earlier in the year, before the hanging of an Indian-Singaporean man, Shanmugam, who had tried to carry traffickable quantities of cannabis into Singapore from Malaysia. Shanmugam’s case was equally heart-rending, as he was the sole parent of 14-year-old twins who had only their elderly grandmother to care for them after his death.

On a more mundane level, it is easy to see that our motivations are often dependent on the slightest switch in the prevailing winds, or the latest headline news. After the sharp escalation of petrol prices late last year caused by a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, a poll indicated that most Australians feared the threat of higher petrol prices even more than that of terrorism! How quickly that changed when the price of petrol began to drop and we were warned of an imminent threat of terrorist acts on our soil, then saw on our television screens people being arrested.

Many humane and rational voices spoke out against aspects of the Government’s proposed anti-terror legislation, but it became law, with little opportunity for debate in parliament, on 6 December. In this issue of Eureka Street, Alison Aprhys examines the possible repercussions for our society’s principal watchdog, the media, and more generally the media’s role in a democratic society whose freedoms have become more fragile.

Other writers provide the kind of informed, intelligent commentary on human and social issues that Eureka Street readers have come to rely upon: Andrew Hamilton, Michael McGirr, Jack Waterford, Brian Doyle, Dorothy Horsfield, Brian Matthews, Morag Fraser, Juliette Hughes, and many more. What they all have in common is a watchful, inquiring mind and a concern for their fellow human beings.

Also in this issue you will find the annual Eureka Street Index for vol. 15, 2005, inserted as a useful lift-out to provide ready access to the authors and subjects of each issue published last year. We hope in time to make this index, and earlier ones, available online as a searchable archive. Our fortnightly editorial update at www.eurekastreet.com.au has generated a flurry of responses, some of which are printed in this issue. We hope to provide a forum soon for email letters to be posted on our website, thus widening the dialogue between readers and writers.

Finally, on a personal note, I’d like to thank Marcelle Mogg for keeping such a diligent watch over Eureka Street for the past several years, and Andrew Hamilton for his wisdom, wit and generous support. It is quite unexpectedly, and with a sense of privilege, that I find myself, in this first issue of the magazine’s 16th volume, on the watch.

Robert Hefner

is the acting editor of Eureka Street.


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