Review: Outspoken: The life and work of the man behind those signs

By Father Rod Bower, Penguin Books, 2018.

Born to a young unmarried mother through to his adoption, Father Rod Bower shares his struggles to establish his identity in the midst of bullying and his stepfather’s early death. He finds acceptance within Anglo-Catholicism, eventually going to seminary, ordination and appointment to the Gosford Parish with a deep passion for social justice.

His theology of billboard signs reveals a deep empathy for Jesus’ mission to the marginalised which in the modern context involves challenging attitudes towards ‘illegal’ asylum seekers, Islam, LGBTQ and climate change. Fr Rod Bower demonstrates how billboards gives the church a platform for sharing the Gospel in the public square, exposing the ethical failings of Parliament. Continue Reading

Review: Burke and Wills: The triumph and tragedy of Australia’s most famous explorers

By Peter FitzSimons, Hatchette Australia, 2018

When the Murray-Darling River system is news, raising questions about how well we know our own environment, Peter FitzSimons’ Burke and Wills has particular relevance. FitzSimons tells of their expedition from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1860–1861. He makes it possible to have an empathetic response to the participants, with their strengths and weaknesses, hubris and  blindness.

Australia is a very urbanised nation, despite traditions about the ‘bush’. Part of the romance of the bush is that others go there and we did not have to learn the hard lessons about the  environment they faced. Europeans also mostly had closed minds to what Indigenous Australians could teach them. It remains so.

Given the jealousies and characters of the participants, it is amazing that the expedition managed to achieve its goal. The party had separated and established a base camp at Cooper’s Creek, so a  smaller group could travel faster and reach the goal. It was tragic to miss the rendezvous (by hours) which led to the deaths of Burke and Wills. They were so close. Continue Reading

Review: Christmas: Myth, Magic and Legend, by John Queripel

Morningstar Press, 2018.

Rev John Queripel is a retired Uniting Church minister in NSW with a varied career in congregations and chaplaincies. He is known for his social justice concerns and his scholarly approach to understanding Christianity today.

His latest book is informed by scholarly understanding of the differences between factual writing about what happened and the power of metaphor and myth to convey deep meaning. For many modern readers it will be a new experience to read the chapters that describe conditions in Judea when the
gospels were written and which show the very different agendas of the only two New Testament writers who provide more than passing reference to the birth of Jesus.

The chapters guide the reader through the strange world of first century story and myth to an appreciation of the meaning of the stories about Jesus’ birth for us today. We may also reflect, sadly, on the way many churches celebrate Christmas giving prominence to magical stories of a baby, but little focus on the transformative life and teachings of the man who gave rise to such stories.

For more about other publications by John Queripel at

David Merritt

Review: No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, by Behrouz Boochani

Pan Macmillan Australia, 2018

No Friend but the Mountains is a piece of literary genius, calling all Australians to account for the atrocities done in our name. The very way it was written, smuggled out of the Manus Island detention centre through text and Whatsapp messages, then painstakingly translated from Farsi to English, is astounding.

Written by Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani who has been incarcerated in Manus Island detention since 2013 and translated by Omid Tofighian, it is a first-hand witness account of – and an act of resistance to – our nation’s policies of detention and deterrence.

Behrouz Boochani tells his own story – and that of his friends – with empathy, respect and vivid descriptions bringing them to life through the pages. He mentions by name only those who have died on Manus Island, referring to others by nicknames and monikers. For those of us familiar with the men who have sadly lost their lives; The Smiling Youth (Hamid Khazaei) and The Gentle Giant (Reza Barati), his storytelling brings back the grief and anger we experienced when these avoidable tragedies occurred.
Each story is heartbreaking, personal and political.Continue Reading

Review: The Wind Blows Where it Chooses

The Wind Blows Where it Chooses, by Kevin Treston, Coventry Press, 2018

Kevin Treston’s passion is communicating faith in our context. His focus on emerging Christianity might be summed up in words of Bernard Häring: “If the church does not listen to the world, the world will never listen to the church.”

Treston seeks to listen well, noting consumerism, materialism, loss of ultimate meaning, disconnection between humans and the natural world, and Christian reluctance to reframe the Christ story within the universe story, among others. He advocates engagement with the paradoxes and ambiguities of life.

Treston also seeks to read the Gospels for this time and a need to reconsider tradition. For instance, he sees an obsession with sin as needing to be reframed, and describes resurrection as a  cosmic event – for the whole of creation and not just humans. He follows with discussion about the life of the church and personal spirituality, ending with ‘Reflections,’ where he offers specific  means of enriching spiritual life.

Treston aims at enabling conversations that promote holistic approaches to Christian faith and life. Although a Roman Catholic, he seeks to speak to all Christians to encourage connection with people, so that the gospel may be shared in this context.

Ian Tozer

Review: The Girl in the Ice

The Girl in the Ice: by Robert Bryndza, Hachette, 2017

The Girl in the Ice, an international bestseller, is the first book in the Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Erika Foster by British writer, Robert Bryndza.

Erika returns to work prematurely after some time off from a botched drug raid, where her bad judgement resulted in the death of her police officer husband and some team members. This traumatic experience leaves her a changed woman, harbouring a sea of guilt. Known for her skill in closing rape and murder cases, she answers a call from the South London police department to  step in as the lead investigator of a highly publicised homicide investigation.

Andrea Douglas-Brown, found frozen in a lake in South London, is a beautiful, wealthy socialite and daughter of a prominent businessman and influential Labour Peer who demands justice for his daughter’s brutal death. Erika’s mission is to find the killer, manage police politics, deal with Andrea’s family and patch up her broken life. Despite the push back from her police peers and Andrea’s family, Erika is tenacious and her nononsense style made me want to high five her.

“Now, DCI Sparks, you are in danger of contaminating the crime scene. If you wish to continue to observe, I’ll ask that you follow proper procedure, suit up and shut up.”

She does comes across as cold, sometimes irrational, but as her story unfolds throughout the book, we see her vulnerability beneath the hard exterior. I admired her determination to do the right thing, even if it means pushing for answers until it physically hurts. The closer she was to connecting the dots, the more her life was at risk. Continue Reading

Review: Marathon Wheeler

Marathon Wheeler, by Heather S Coombes, Westbow Press, 2014

Now retired with the leisure of hindsight, Heather Coombes reflects upon her marathon journey in a wheelchair for the purpose of enriching life for those obliged to follow a similar rocky path.  Born with cerebral palsy, Coombes traces her family background to acknowledge the strength and inspiration she has received from the family into which she was born.

The author reflects on her adolescent turmoils in the years of her childhood and adolescence. Despite her father being the parish minister, her teenage thoughts were her own as she tried to make sense of being born into a body with physical disadvantages. Continue Reading

Review: Never again

Never Again: Reflections on environmental responsibility after Roe 8, edited by Andrea Gaynor, Peter Newman and Philip Jennings. UWA Publishing, 2018

The Roe 8 Highway extension and the related Perth Freight Link was a hugely contentious public issue in the lead-up to the 2017 WA State election. Never Again outlines, purely from the perspective of the project’s detractors, the reasons why they believe it should never have happened and, as the title suggests, why it should never happen  again.

Whilst it is narrowly focussed on the Roe 8 project, the implications of the discussion broaden its scope. Significant questions (and solutions) are raised about the state of our democratic  processes, transport planning, environmental protection and respect for Aboriginal culture and heritage. Some of the chapters, contributed by an impressive array of leading academics, give serious pause for thought across all of these issues. There is also an account of activist strategies, legal proceedings and citizen wildlife monitoring revealing how politicised the project became.Continue Reading