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My war against the Salvos


Yeah, OK, sometimes you just have to go to war. At least that’s what my family and personal histories seem to keep telling me. Our surnames are more common on honour rolls than in phone books. My Indigenous family remains locked in a war over two hundred years old with no Treaty in sight. As I write this I have close kin on the front line of the war our civilisation is waging against nature and itself, fighting an inferno that has burst from myth and legend and is bearing down on their homes. As my sister-in-law said last night, “They’re in their element”. We’re that kind of family. Born to blood and fire.

So I get it that sometimes you’ve gotta lay down the lute and get ready to shoot. Maybe being a warrior is even some sort of spiritual path, as so many claim. Maybe I can use it as a sacred excuse for getting into fights all the time.

But fuck it, if your ‘path’ lies through conflict and slaughter and meaningless suffering, – and maybe all our paths do – it doesn’t mean you should celebrate the fact. You don’t have to militarise your religion. You don’t have to march around in uniform and grant yourself ranks like ‘major’ and ‘captain’. Goddammit, you don’t have to fucking like it so much!

Is that why I’m at war with the Salvation Army?

They mostly seem rather sweet middle aged and elderly people, fond of equally sweet tea and biscuits and being nice to others. They help out a lot of folk in distress and regardless of any personal or ideological leanings I’ve never heard them accused of turning away someone in need. Well, not right away. Their op shops are a fantastic resource for those living in poverty, one I’ve had reason to be grateful for more than once. As I write this I bet they’re mobilising hundreds of faithful to offer solace and comfort to those caught in the bush fires. For all I know my brother is even now setting aside his fire hose to replenish himself with their tea and biscuits. The Salvos even buried my Dad; a firefighter killed by his cigarettes. (Really they burned him, but that sounds a bit sinister.)

So I’d rather my family wasn’t locked in intergenerational conflict with all those well meaning ‘soldiers of the Lord’. And if it’s true your enemies reflect who you are I’d rather do without that particular mirror. It makes my ‘arse’ look big.

We haven’t been fighting the Salvos for as long as we’ve fought the settler invaders; only about a century. And it arose in the same sort of mashed up confusion as our war with Gubba did; because in some ways we are Salvos. The Gita is right. War is always fratricidal.

Maybe there were earlier skirmishes, but so far as I can tell our war began with the end of The Great War, when our warriors came marching home. A lot fewer than those who’d marched away and with a lot less enthusiasm for glory.



With both parents dead it had fallen upon great Aunt Lucy (named for our matriarchal forbear) to try to keep the children – including my grandfather – together and fed while the ‘men’ (as young as 15) were off fighting and dying for the Empire that had torn them from the Land and designated them less than human. Except it wasn’t just the men. We’re that kind of family.

Some came back minor heroes. Others didn’t come back. I guess great uncle Bill was half-and-half. He fought harder than most and sort of returned but left bits of his body and mind in the Flanders mud. He brought some war home instead.

He’d lost a lot, but maybe Uncle Bill had found something in the military. He’d never be fit for duty again but if the Army had rejected him the Salvos would not. He was soon back in uniform and in command of the family unit, something the Salvation Army generously supported socially and materially in the face of the extreme violence he used to keep discipline in the ranks. I’m told it was only Aunt Lucy’s talent for emergency medicine (also a family thing) that saved my grandfather until another veteran great uncle had recovered enough to drive his brother from our home.

Bill couldn’t have managed on his own. He was a fucking mess. But his beloved Salvos took him in and cared for him. For a while. Turned out the sort of ‘discipline’ they approved of in our family home wasn’t suitable for their hostels and Uncle Bill was soon out on the street. Then into Callan Park mental asylum where he lived out his days. He just missed seeing the outbreak of the Second ‘War to End all Wars’.

Is that why my sister – top of her passing out class with the F1 submachine gun – turned her healing talents to patching PTSD shattered veterans after she left the Army? Or is it because we’re that kind of family?

What had started in disagreement over domestic violence soon spread. Like so many ‘nice’ white people, the Salvos were keen my family should enjoy the full benefit of the Stolen Generations, but like the ingrate savages we are we emphatically declined the assistance of our betters. ‘Temperance’ too was a source of skirmishes, as were abortion laws – with the latter costing the life of a soon-to-be family member and plunging us into long-standing debt to corrupt police.

Naturally I absorbed the family lore of animosity towards the Salvation Army. My grandfather saw to that. But I had little contact with the Salvos and didn’t expect that to change. It wasn’t my war. Until I took up criminal justice activism.

Was it because I was facing them across the trenches of bitter policy disputes, such as sex work law reform? Was it my disgust over their collusion with police in subverting regulations meant to protect children under interrogation? Was it the way that somehow every political battle with them immediately became deeply personal? Fratricidal war sucks. Despite my traditions I truly believed I sought peace between us. I was kidding myself.

It was the injecting room that shattered the mask of detente. When I sat down with the Salvos I thought I was acting in good faith. I bet they did too. We all cared about drug addicts. We agreed they needed loads more help and loads more resources. We truly respected the efforts all of us were making on this. We didn’t need to agree on legal injecting rooms or needle-syringe programs in prisons. We just needed the Salvos to go a little softly, softly on it for a while and maybe some lives could be saved, though with a body full of HCV virus I suspected it was too late for me. War is always personal to us. We’re that kind of family.

Major Brian Watters fortified his hilltop and mobilised his Army against harm minimisation. “There are worse things than death when it comes to addiction!” he cried to the amenned assent of his SA storm troopers arrayed in their lovingly knitted cardigans. I looked back at the bodies of my friends and loved ones who had already died in the War on Drugs. Then I looked at the sweet old people of the Salvation Army. And I saw the enemy. It wasn’t for me to play peace maker. So another pointless war grinds onward to forever and nowhere over the corpses it creates. At least the warrior path offers secure employment.

Maybe right now my kin are putting down their beloved horses and cattle and saying goodbye to their homes and township as they lose yet another epic, hopeless battle. And maybe they’re in their element, just like they are when they’re teaching martial arts. But our fucking element is WAR and that includes the ashes and corpses it leaves behind. It’s nothing to celebrate, even in ‘victory’, because it’s not about medals and parades and the cheers of the crowds. Not for long at least. It’s not even about ‘surviving’ or personal empowerment or a spiritual journey – whatever the fuck they’re supposed to mean. It’s about kneeling in the ruins trying to tell what you’ve won from what you’ve lost. It’s about puking your guts up, gathering the shattered remains of who you thought you were, shouldering your agony and the indelible shame of the agony you’ve inflicted upon others and trying not to envy your enemies and brothers who have already fallen. And waiting for it to start all over. Because there are no winners; just losers and loss and endless tears. That’s the fucking warrior path that looks so fucking pretty in the samurai poster on your wall. If it’s chosen you, I am so, so sorry. If you’ve chosen it you’re either profoundly ignorant or a psychopath. And here I am parading it on my blog as if I was proud of it. And I am. Maybe we’re that kind of family too.

Is it one of those cosmic jokes that’s set the warriors of my family against the warriors of the Salvation Army while the whole fucking place burns down around our ears? Nice one universe. Ha, ha.


Postscript (14-Nov): The fires are almost out. They took another comrade. The houses and animals were saved for now. So were some ‘doomed’ settlements. The media says my brother is a hero. He is. We all are. Especially the womenfolk. So what? The Land chokes, burns and dies. Police murder with impunity. The war goes on.


From → hurts, rant

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