Posh, but sandy
THIS column comes to you from my laptop on a beach in Western
Australia. If bits of sand fall out of the newspaper as you read
it, and get into your tea and toast, then I'm afraid you'll have to
blame me. Waving the sand-flies away sometimes causes me to knock
grains into the keypad; so it will be a miracle if this diary is
received in one piece. If it's any consolation, the sand is
terribly high-quality, and this part of Australia is terribly
I should make it clear that this is no mere holiday, but a brief
break in an otherwise demanding preaching tour in the Antipodes,
where I am ceaselessly sharing the gospel with the poor and
dispossessed of one of the wealthiest suburbs of Perth. I know that
I will garner clerical readers' sympathy when I tell you that I've
had to preach no fewer than two sermons in ten days, and be nice to
a number of parishioners who have forced me to endure onerous
hospitality by their swimming pools and in their beach homes.
The phrase "the sacrifice of the priesthood" has taken on a
whole new level of vividness.
Feeling the heat
I AM here to deliver a nourishing word to the faithful of Christ
Church, Claremont, in the diocese of Perth, for the feast of Christ
the King. Preaching on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Universal King, is not new to me, but this context is certainly
providing some novel experiences.
I am wearingmy summer cassock for a start: the outside
temperature is 34°. I am sure that I have preached at temperatures
of 34° before - but on previous occasions it's been 34° Fahrenheit.
The large and jolly congregation, far from having to hang up
umbrellas and wear warm coats, are mainly in shorts, and, if they
have to hang up anything, are putting their sunglasses somewhere
There is also that exceptionally rare phenomenon in the Church
of England: air-conditioning. The parish heating bill here would be
the envy of every parish priest I know, but the electricity bill
would be rather less so, thanks to the cost of pushing out cold
Perturbed in Perth
IN OTHER ways, however, it is all very familiar; and its
familiarity makes it even more disconcerting. For evensong on the
eve of Christ the King we had Herbert Howells's Collegium
Regale setting of the canticles; Bernard Rose's Responses; and
Ralph Vaughan Williams's setting of words by that well-known Aussie
poet George Herbert.
If that wasn't enough, the office ended with Charles Villiers
Stanford's Te Deum. If it hadn't been for the heat and the shorts,
I could have been at some English cathedral. Hearing the cantor
sing "O Lord, save the Queen" while I mopped my brow and awaited
the post-service barbecue was something that I will remember for a
This did not prepare me for evensong at St George's Cathedral
the next day, which was the annual Civic Service. The cathedral is
without a Dean at the moment; so we had the splendid Canon David
Richardson, the Archbishop of Canterbury's former "man in Rome",
filling in, which lent a dignified tone to the proceedings.
Such Anglican dignity was only enhanced by the hymnody. To begin
with, we had that national classic "Lord, while for all mankind we
pray", whose patriotic meaning was effortlessly reapplied to
Australia; but whatever inculturation the use of that hymn
indicated was trumped by our concluding hymn, "I vow to thee, my
Hanging from the bottom of the world in 30° heat, having prayed
for the cities, towns, and shires of Western Australia, shouting
out Thaxted with the cathedral choir was a special
No less special were the special guests at the service: the
monks of New Norcia. They were there because 2014 marks the 200th
anniversary of the birth of their founder, Dom Rosendo Salvado, and
so their superior, Abbot John, gave the homily.
New Norcia is not only a monastery, but a whole monastic town
some 90 miles north of Perth (a distance of nothing in a country -
nay, continent - of three million square miles). Salvado is famous
in Western Australia not just as the founder of Benedictine life
there, but also as an early collaborator with, rather than
oppressor of, the Aboriginal people.
Encountering ten of the brethren singing Sir Cecil Spring Rice's
stirring words at choral evensong lent new meaning to the phrase
"cross-cultural". All that said, it turned out that I shouldn't
have been surprised by all this, because, apparently, more than ten
per cent of the inhabitants of Perth are British.
DESPITE this expat feel, Western Australia has all the things
that you would expect from Down Under. I have seen plenty of
kangaroos (indeed, one has bounced past only a few feet from our
car), and many kookaburras (who look like grumpy old men, and have
the most infectious laugh you've ever heard). I haven't seen any
possums (which come out at night), or koala bears (these are not
native to Western Australia, I am confidently informed).
Sharks are a threat; but it turns out that it's just as well
koalas are not prevalent here, as they can be vicious little
creatures and scratch your eyes out when provoked.
It is difficult to imagine how anyone in Australia could scratch
your eyes out, given the marvellous weather, the beautiful scenery,
and the turquoise water of the sea. A little longer out here, and
it would be tempting not to come back. I'm even beginning to warm
to the accent.
No place like home
THAT said, the faithful at Little St Mary's need not pop their
champagne corks quite yet. Adorable though my new-found Aussie
friends are, I am not reconciled to celebrating Christmas in
scorching heat, or replacing my roast turkey with a barbie on the
beach. "In the bleak midwinter" is one of my favourite carols, and
would sound ridiculous sung by people swathed in suntan lotion.
So, on balance, I will begin the long journey home. Given the
likely jet lag, I suspect that "Wake, O wake! with tidings
thrilling" will be sung with especial imprecatory relevance this
The Revd Robert Mackley is Vicar of Little St Mary's,