A journey into openness and honesty… Distilling truths about ourselves, others and life from shared experiences… Learning to live consistently with that truth… Becoming free to be who we truly are…

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Painful Lessons I Did Not Want to Learn

It’s been a sobering week. I’ve had insights and learned things I didn’t want to learn. Initially I didn’t want to heed them, but now I’m very grateful.

This article contains a lot of information. It’s important information that sets the context for the insights I want to share. I believe they’re relevant to all of us. It’s also very personal, especially the most recent insight late last night… that’s at the end of the article.

We’re at the beginning of a worldwide pandemic. For most of us it’s still all ‘out there’, somewhere a long way away, dramatic events we see only on TV or online. We know it’s happening. We’ve seen the impact of panic buying, and our leaders are doing unprecedented things. But it’s still in our heads, it’s yet to really touch us. The penny has yet to drop.

I’ve been doing a lot of research for reliable data on coronavirus in the past two weeks. The data is readily available and the impacts predicted are steadily becoming harsh reality.

So what have I learned? And why is it painful?

(1) Coronavirus could kill me

I could die with coronavirus. I am over 60 and this bug is vicious. I thought having an excellent set of lungs meant I wasn’t at risk of dying, but lungs are exactly what the virus attacks.

We’re all wired to think it won’t happen to us. Dire things happen to other people, not us. But the facts are now telling us that coronavirus is very different to ‘most things’.

Coronavirus is highly contagious. If left unchecked, 50 to 65% of Australians will be infected, a staggering 13 to 17 million people. It means we’re all more likely to be infected than not. If we do, 80% of cases being mild sounds reassuring. But don’t be fooled. 20% being severe cases and 5% requiring intensive care is a huge danger when you work out the numbers.

If our country fails to take drastic, successful action to stop the virus two things are certain. Our hospital system will be totally overwhelmed. And well before that, the number of people needing intensive care will totally dwarf the number of ICU beds available.

Seem impossible? That’s a very normal response. But don’t stop reading in disbelief. Let me explain with a simple explanation of exponential growth.

The number of cases in Australia is doubling every 3 to 4 days(1). At 3 days, the number of cases will double almost 5 times in 2 weeks = 32 times! There are 5 x 3 days = 15 days in a little over 2 weeks. Double today’s number of cases 5 times and you get 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 32 times today’s figure. As at 3:00pm today 29th March, there were 3,966 confirmed cases in Australia (2).

If we allow this rate to continue, there will be up to 32 x 3,966 = 126,000 cases just two weeks from now. Two weeks later it will be 32 x 126,000 = 4 million, and in 6 short weeks it will be 32 x 4 million = over 100 million. Of course that’s impossible for a population of 26 million. But it shows how quickly we’ll reach peak infection numbers of 13 to 17 million people!

Now think about our hospital system. If just 10% of infected people need hospital that’s 1.3 million people. Our hospital system will collapse. If 5% need intensive care, that’s 650,000 people for only 2,200 beds. Our ICU capacity is minuscule compared to the beds we need. In fact it was announced on Fri 27/03 that we could run out of ICU beds in as little as 2 weeks.

This means medical staff will be forced to choose who lives and who dies. The decision criteria is already being worked out in preparation. At this point the number of deaths will dramatically increase because the vast majority of severe cases won’t be treated.

So yes, coronavirus could kill me. And it could kill you too.

And untreated respiratory deaths are not pretty. You slowly drown in your own mucus as it clogs up your lungs. It’s one of the most horrible ways to die.

(2) I really DO have to take this seriously

Clearly I MUST take the situation seriously. It’s essential for my own survival, and that of all other Australians. I must play my part and follow whatever social restrictions are implemented. At present it’s staying at home and stopping all unnecessary contact with others.

Every time I go out is another opportunity to become infected.

But that’s not the main issue. If I am infected and go out with mild or no symptoms, I risk infecting a cascade of other people. Every time I have close contact with others, every time I inevitably touch the many surfaces that lots of other people touch, I’m putting other people at risk. Think carefully about all the things you touch in shopping centres.

To reinforce the point, University of NSW modelling(3) shows at least 80% of the Australian population must stay at home to have any hope of containing the virus. For your own sake, and the sake of everyone else, DON’T be one of the people pushing Australia over the critical 20% non-compliance threshold.

If you’re younger, don’t think you won’t be a severe case or die. The severity does increase with age but worldwide there are far more people aged 18 to 64 who are infected, and far greater numbers in hospital, than people 65 and older. And ask yourself, what if the hospital system collapses before I need it?

Then there’s the death rate. The estimates vary widely. Many cases will never be detected, and of the known cases we don’t yet know how many will recover or die. Medical experts in the UK(4) predict 0.5 to 1% of the total population will die. For Australia this equals 130,000 to 260,000 people. But the final figures could be worse… we just don’t know yet.

(3) I’ve got to practice what I preach

I’d had a sore throat on and off for over 2 weeks prior to last Friday. I thought two weeks with no other symptoms meant it couldn’t be coronavirus. I decided to collect a parcel from the Post Office then go to the supermarket. When I saw the sign on the Post Office door I stopped, “Please don’t enter if you’ve got any symptoms”.

I’d stayed home for the previous 9 days because of my throat. I allowed no-one in my house, so I could not be carrying the virus. But, hold on, I’d made one exception. Two older family members came to visit after staying with their daughter’s family in the suburbs. They were keen to see my new house before returning home. I was keen to make it very clear to both of them that it was essential they minimise all contact with others. Both having chronic health conditions meant their lives could depend on it.

The second realization hit hard at the Post Office door. My sore throat had gone days ago but was back again that morning. I thought it was just a recurrence of the same bug. But what if my new sore throat was coronavirus that I’d picked up from my visitors? However unlikely it was, it actually could be coronavirus, and I could be risking other people’s lives.

I hesitated for a moment, then, sad to say, I rationalised it away. We all love picking up parcels and I allowed my desire to overrule the possible risk.

I went inside and picked up the parcel, all the while knowing deep down I’d made a choice that contradicted what I’d been passionately proclaiming to others… If you’re showing any symptoms avoid all close contact with others!  Contrite, I drove straight home… definitely no more shopping for me until I know I’m clear!

I know many of you will identify. We’re all human. We don’t like stopping activities that bring us pleasure. And if we’re honest, we often do things we know aren’t wise, especially for our health. Most times there’s no immediate consequence. But coronavirus is different. It’s no overstatement to say this is a critical moment in history. We all need to work hard on not letting our desires lead to choices and actions that put ourselves and others in danger.

(4) The reality hits home

I took a break from working on this article late last night. Only partly finished I wanted to be fresh today to finish it.

TV is something that helps my brain slow down enough to sleep. I selected SBS. You’ll probably laugh, but I love zombie movies. I find them so over-the-top that they’re hilarious and a great way to relax. “The Road to Tuhan” was on. This movie was great. Hilarious moments were interwoven with a heartwarming drama. Well into the movie, the most recent realization hit out of the blue. I had a mental picture of sitting on a precipice watching the world fall over the edge.

How could I possibly be watching something as inane as a zombie movie when the whole world is facing a life-threatening crisis? What if I’m one of the casualties and have only weeks or months left to live? Is watching a zombie movie what I want to do on one of my last remaining nights?

It sounds very dramatic, but it’s possible. In balance however, there’s absolutely no value in worrying about the worst possible outcome. Far better to ask what can I do to achieve the best outcome for myself and everyone else?

There’s a lesson I learnt from my late wife Rosie. She had a 16 year journey with breast cancer. The whole time, right up to the day she died, she remained realistic about where the cancer was taking her. Rather than hiding behind positive thinking, or allowing herself to become morbid, she faced every downward step head on. She was determined to make the most of every day, always enjoying life and being an encouraging, supportive friend to literally hundreds of people. I want to live like Rosie did.

So what can I contribute in the face of coronavirus? This article is Chapter One of my coronavirus journey. It is part of what I can offer. If I can convince just one other person to play their part, or even save a life, it is abundantly worth it.

Where to from here?

Australia has reached the stage of community transmission of coronavirus. An antiviral drug is still a long way off. The most effective, and possibly only way, of stopping coronavirus is now total lockdown.

Ideally we would have been in lockdown at least two weeks ago. But no government (apart from the Chinese) can take a whole nation from life as normal one day to total lockdown the next. It takes time to convince a whole nation that a course that devastates our economy and has severe social impacts is the best way to go! Leaders can only lead if the nation chooses to follow them.

Our leaders are not idiots. Put aside your political opinions. They are doing their absolute best to lead Australia through to the best possible outcome.

Conservative governments like ours have the economy flowing in their blood. Even with the facts staring them in the face it takes time for them too to believe that total lockdown, whatever the economic cost, is the fastest way to get through this pandemic with minimum social and economic cost. But give our leaders due credit. Don’t be quick to judge. They are only human too.

But don’t wait for the government to tell you it’s time for total lockdown. The more people who voluntarily do it now, the better the outcome will be.
Help lead the pack rather than drag your heels behind it.

Final thoughts

Think of people on the front lines

If you think total lockdown is tough, and it certainly will be, think of the people who still have to go to work so the rest of us can make it through. Health workers at every level, those keeping us supplied with food and essentials, law enforcement. They are all at higher risk than you.

Our health workers especially are at risk. They don’t want to die either, and yet they’ll make the sacrifice turning up day after day to perform very high risk roles. They may well run out of protective gear long before the pandemic is over. Look at Italy now. Many will be totally exhausted by their selfless work and traumatised for life by what they see. They will face the likelihood of taking the virus home to their loved ones after every shift.

It won’t lessen how difficult things are for us at home, but it helps get our own sacrifice in perspective.

We all need each other

Lockdown has to be longer than two weeks to beat the virus. At least 4 weeks, perhaps even months, will be necessary(5).

Social isolation is going to take a terrible toll. There will be spikes in the number of people suffering anxiety and depression. Domestic violence and suicides will rise dramatically. There will be no lack of people who need your support.

If you can, don’t despair, that will not help you at all.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking only about yourself and how tough things are for you. Endless video, binge eating, porn, or whatever you’re into will work for a while. Ultimately it will leave you bored, depressed and worse off.

Instead recognize WE ALL have an essential job to do. Think of everyone you know who could be doing it tougher than you. Think of your family and friends. Connect with other people. Make calls, send messages, or chat online to encourage and support other people. You will lift their spirits and help them through. You too will get a ‘buzz’ each time as your brain releases feel good hormones. It will help you make it through as well(6).

If you’re struggling, reach out to others. Don’t try to go it alone. People will never be more willing to support you than now.

Be grateful. Choose to enjoy life. Grasp this opportunity.

Your attitude is the key to your own emotional survival.

Be grateful for everything you can. Be grateful for your loved ones. Be grateful for the food you eat and the roof over your heads. Be grateful that the end of the crisis WILL come. If nothing else, being grateful means you’re still alive!

Keep enjoying everything in your life that brings you joy. Music, photos, books, all the things you can learn from online, things you can create, your pets, and of course, other people… the list is endless.

Use this time to learn and grow in every way you can.

Initiate new friendships. Build deep connections with others. Repair broken relationships.

You will never have another life changing opportunity like this (we hope) to achieve so much.


  1. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-17/coronavirus-cases-data-reveals-how-covid-19-spreads-in-australia/12060704
  2. https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/coronavirus-covid-19-current-situation-and-case-numbers
  3. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-25/coronavirus-covid-19-modelling-stay-home-chart/12084144
  4. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-51674743
  5. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/how-to-stop-covid-19-find-test-isolate-treat/
  6. https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness

A Tough Gig on Mother’s Day…

It’s a tough gig to be on a panel of women at church on Mother’s Day when you are still wrestling with the grief of losing your own mum only a few years ago.
It’s even harder when it’s four services in a row in front of large numbers of people.

Along with three other women, my daughter Merryn was asked a range of questions on the topic “Women of Influence”.

Merryn’s mum, Rosie, was such a woman of influence, having significantly touched many people’s lives through her unconditional love and acceptance for people of all backgrounds and circumstances, her unfailing joy and faith amidst all life could throw at her, and the inspirational way she lived for 16 years in the face of the slow but relentless progression of breast cancer.

The questions to the panel ranged from the light-hearted to the deeply personal. Merryn was asked the toughest question of all… “What did it mean for her to have recently lost her Mum? How did she handle this?”

Church is a place I am rarely seen these days but I really wanted to hear what she had to say and be there for her, so I attended the fourth service. After three earlier services Merryn still spoke as if she was being interviewed for the first time. The question clearly still tugged at her heart and she spoke openly about the depth of pain and grief she felt. She displayed deep, authentic feelings while framing them in a very personal, safe, sacred space. Without trying to embed ‘a pastor’s message’ in her words she demonstrated a wise, practical approach to dealing with the grief of losing a loved one.

I was extremely proud of my daughter (as always!) not just because she is my daughter but because she too is already a “Woman of influence” who shares her mum’s deep compassion for others and combines it with leadership skills well beyond her age.

Go Gracie Go!

I love you heaps, Dad



Ian James 14th May 2018

© 2017 Ian James, http://www.onlivingauthentically.com

Yes & No voters… Go gently with each other

People are getting angry… and angry people hurt others.

We all need to take the marriage equality vote (aka known as Same-Sex Marriage) very seriously.

We also need to go gently with everyone around us, regardless of who they are and where they stand.

Very vocal, impassioned (sometimes angry) people on BOTH sides are saying “WE have the Truth” and frequently imply “God is on OUR side”. However, while the vote may be black and white, the issue and most people’s thinking on the issue are not.

We are all on a journey that involves a major transition in our personal and nation-wide thinking. Ten years ago I would have voted No, five years ago it would have been a very difficult decision for me. Today I will vote Yes without hesitation, but that doesn’t mean I have no questions and concerns about some implications of this change.

All of us, wherever our thinking is at, need to keep respecting and listening to one another. Judging one another causes people to respond defensively and will often hinder people making the transition because they ‘dig in’ where they are at.

And be aware, some people will never change their minds… but that’s okay. Perhaps we actually need these people to help ensure we carefully address and manage the profound implications of this transition as we move into the future.

Ian James 01-09-2017

© 2017 Ian James, http://www.onlivingauthentically.com

Life’s encounters… Heartfelt questions…

Two very different life encounters touched my heart on the same day last week.
While the common thread was love, the two were in stark contrast…

A little boy’s love…

My daughter Liesel needed to be in the city until early evening and asked if I could pick up Flynn from care. When I arrived a very tired little boy was almost asleep on the floor surrounded by other children. His head was at the foot of a couch so I reached over from behind and tickled his hair. He turned around, saw me, and without a word climbed onto the couch and into my arms. He wrapped his arms tightly around my neck and gave me a hug that only a young child can give. He has given me many such hugs from a young age… the joy and deep love that surges through my heart every time never diminishes.

A little later, as we drove home, a voice from the back seat said, “I love being your kid (grandkid)”. Again he touched my heart with the innocent, uncomplicated, totally unconditional love of a child.

After we’d had a two course dinner (a bowl of Weetbix followed by a bowl of spaghetti!) my phone rang. Liesel was on her way home and we talked until she pulled up outside.

I said to Flynn, “Let’s go and meet Mummy at the front door!”. Flynn and I ran down the corridor and as we arrived at the door he said, “We can scare her!”. This was not quite what I had in mind so I suggested we yell “Surprise!” instead. Flynn responded with a precious alternative, “No, we’ll say ‘I love you!’” and, “You say it when I say it Grandad!”.

I squatted down next to him and we waited while Liesel got organized to come in. A car door closed outside. I looked at Flynn and said, “She’s coming!”. Flynn focused on the door with frequent quick glances in my direction. I’ll never forget the look on his face. He was glowing with excitement, his eyes were bright with joy, and his body was shaking as he could barely contain himself.

Soon a shadow crossed the window next to the door and the door opened. We both yelled, “I love you!” and Flynn wrapped himself around Mummy’s legs. I think Liesel melted on the spot.

How incredibly precious these moments are! The beautiful innocence and unfettered feelings of childhood pass so quickly… thankfully we have memories we can hold onto forever… provided we make time to be part of them.

An old lady’s sadness…

The other encounter occurred while I was visiting Mumma (Rosie’s Mum) at her retirement village earlier in the day.

While there I happened to sit next to a very elderly lady in a wheelchair. We got talking and she shared a little of her story over the last few days… She began with a smile, “My family came to visit on Sunday (Mothers Day) and we had such a wonderful time!”

Her face began to fall, “But since then I’ve been feeling flat.” I gently enquired why and she replied, “When I lived in independently in the village I had so many friends. Now that I’m in The Manor (the high care facility) and I’m restricted to a wheelchair I can’t move around on my own. The staff take me to the daily activities but I no longer see my old friends and it’s been difficult to make friends here.” I suspect her apparent deafness had a lot to do with this.

She continued, “Since Mother’s Day I’ve been feeling lonely and bored. I have a very nice room here but I spend so much time there alone. Very few of my family visit… most of them don’t come at all. I tried to contact one of my grandchildren two years ago but they never got back to me, so I thought I would just let them be.”

She was now quite sad. I had no words to relieve her sadness. Feeling very awkward the best I could manage was, “Yes, everybody is so busy these days, it seems they find it hard to make time to visit”. Knowing that all I’d done is tell her what she already knew, I added, “But that does not make it right”. I felt so inadequate and knew my words had only reinforced her sadness. But what else do you say??

The conversation continued a little longer but she soon drifted off onto a completely different topic.

My thoughts turned to what life must be like for Mumma, and the many other elderly people around her, all facing the same situation.

Isolation is such a problem for our elderly people. The wider family circle has long broken down in our broken society. Knowing I had no answers to offer left me with a sad heart and painful questions I want to answer.

I then thought about my own elderly years, still quite a way off, but inexorable in their approach… Will my experience be the same? What can I do now to make it different when I’m elderly?

And, food for thought… Will your experience be the same? What can you do now to ensure you don’t find yourself isolated with diminishing life quality in your elderly years?

The common thread…

All of us, young and old, have an inbuilt need to connect with others at a deep level; connection with family is especially important.

Deep connection is the essence of love and meaningful relationships. Lack of this connection stunts the growth of young children, causes elderly people to die, and creates a yawning vacuum within anyone in between.

But relationships cannot exist unless we are prepared to invest time.

We live in a society where everyone is under stress and time poor; there are so many demands, so many ‘important things we have to do’, and not enough time to do them all.

So what falls off the edge? Often it’s quality time with other people. Family get taken for granted, our children get displaced by our work, we put our elderly folk in ‘care’ homes where they risk becoming isolated and alone. Quality accommodation, good food and excellent medical care can never replace the one thing they really need… love in the form of deep connection with family and friends.

The bottom line is that all our loved ones, friends, family, young, old, need US.

I’m not aiming to create a sense of guilt or regret here. Neither of these help us resolve this problem. Instead we need to face the question of what (more correctly who… our children, the elderly, each other) is most important in our lives and how we can give quality time to those who need our time and our love.

Every relationship we have in life comes to an end at some point. The only time we have to invest in them is now.

Something worth all of us thinking about.



Ian James

© Copyright reserved

Remembering Rosie…


Tomorrow would have been Rosie’s 60th birthday.
It’s not an easy time.

I’m keenly aware that Rosie’s facebook friends will receive a Birthday Reminder notification for her tomorrow. For many this will arrive unexpectedly and cause the grief of losing her to return.

I haven’t yet deactivated Rosie’s account as this would mean we could no longer access it. Rosie’s facebook page is a place where we can still share memories of Rosie and the feelings of joy and grief that come with those memories. It also captures the later years of her life… the tough cancer journey, important events with family and friends, funny life experiences, all wrapped up in her unfailingly positive, joyful approach to life.

Rosie’s page is an invaluable record of how she lived her out life motto…
“Live Well, Die Well”.

In the coming month I will arrange to have Rosie’s account memorialised. This will still allow us to post on her page but we will no longer receive birthday reminders.

This morning I unexpectedly came across Rosie’s address book.
I opened the first page and saw her written instruction at the very top…
A big asterisk tagged with “People to ring… when I reach heaven”.
She had then asterisked and highlighted peoples’ names throughout the address book to ensure I didn’t miss any of them.


It hit me pretty hard… this was one of the contact lists we had put together in the months before she died.

But it also reminded me yet again how much Rosie cared for so many people in so many ways… she wanted to make sure no-one was forgotten when the time came, including those with no access to email or facebook.

I was especially touched by the words “when I reach heaven”… Rosie’s unwavering faith in her God brought her deep joy and security in life. Death for her was not something to fear… it was not the end, but rather the beginning of a whole new life.

It reminded me of the quote she wrote out and stuck in the front of her Notebook…


For Rosie these were not just inspiring words, they were her guide to living life to the full… She indeed made her torch burn as brightly as possible… right to the very end.


Ian James
29th Sept 2016



When compassion breaks through…

A friend in need… Manaf…

I have a friend. His name is Manaf. He has been living with his pregnant wife, Qamar, and three young children in a Syrian refugee camp outside the city of Thessaloniki in Greece in terrible conditions for months.

The refugee camp is in a disused warehouse… broken windows, a concrete floor, lines of tents along the walls.

The warehouse floods in heavy rain. One night much of Manaf’s family’s bedding and their few possessions were saturated.

The camp facilities are rudimentary. A row of washbasins line an outside wall for basic sanitation and washing clothes. Waste water flows away in an open drain. A row of portable toilets line another outside wall. Overflow from the toilets runs across the concrete pavement.

The mosquitoes were very bad. Qamar’s legs were so covered with infected mosquito bites they feared their unborn child could be affected. Qamar is due in September. Manaf wants to take her to a hospital. They are hoping the birth is not difficult. They have no access to an ambulance.

In summer the warehouse became so hot that Manaf’s children were unable to sleep… now the cold winter is approaching.

Manaf’s youngest child, Minas, was born in a tent in an earlier refugee camp. Manaf feels sad that his daughter has never lived in a real home. He does not want the new baby to be born in a tent.

Why they left Syria…

Manaf and Qamar lived in Idlib, near Aleppo, a focus of intense fighting throughout the war. Manaf worked as a mobile phone maintenance engineer and a truck driver. When the communications network failed and his truck was destroyed he resorted to collecting scrap metal from the streets to survive.

One of Manaf’s brothers and 13 of his relatives were killed by aircraft bombing. Daily heavy shelling made work impossible and life intolerable. They left Idlib after their home was destroyed.

Manaf took his family to Turkey. Europe offered the hope of a new life for his family. It took three attempts to reach Greece by boat.

They almost drowned on the third attempt. The people smuggler said he would take 34 people. He loaded 40 adults and 38 children people on a rubber boat designed for 24. Part way across heavy seas flooded the boat. The engine failed, women and children were screaming, everyone was terrified, Qamar fainted. Then a large wave overturned the boat and dumped them all in the sea in freezing conditions. They thought they were going to die. After two hours in the water a German rescue team arrived and took them to safety.


Manaf’s hopes for a new life in Europe were shortlived. Soon after they arrived the European borders unexpectedly closed leaving them trapped in the refugee camp in Greece.

Manaf is not allowed to get work and has run out of money. He can no longer provide for his family. He feels he has failed his parents and disabled brother back in Syria… they depend on money from him to survive. He believed he could get work in Europe to support them along with his own family.

Our response to other’s suffering…

The media constantly bombards us with images of war, devastation and human suffering. The number of refugees worldwide is estimated to be 65 million and growing.

When we see people suffering…

We feel pain… compassion is hard wired into us.
We want to help but we feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of the magnitude of the problems.
We can’t bear to feel the raw pain of other people’s suffering indefinitely so we shut it down to protect ourselves.
We become immune to the plight of others.

But from time to time an image breaks through…

Like Omran Daqneesh, “the boy in the ambulance”, a 5 year old Syrian boy dug out of the rubble after his house in Aleppo was destroyed in an airstrike, his bloody face and clothes covered with dust… his stunned, blank expression tearing at our hearts.

We feel grief. We feel outraged. This little boy’s suffering grabs the raw nerve of compassion within us. But what can we do?? We know real people just like us are suffering but they are half a world away.

But when we turn off our screens they fade from our thinking.

But what if one day you woke up and Omran Daqneesh was sitting in your lounge room instead of the back of an ambulance?

What if you opened the front door and a refugee family was standing there? Homeless, no money to buy food, their clothes their only possessions?

Compassion breaks through…

The ‘front door’ to my home was a Facebook friend request. Normally I delete unsolicited requests but this time I was curious.

I ‘opened the door’ and found a refugee family standing there. Manaf and I started exchanging messages. I asked a lot of questions. It became very clear that Manaf and his family were in desperate circumstances.

How could I ignore them? They were no longer unknown faces of suffering in a remote country… I was exchanging personal messages with another human being living in inhumane conditions.

Nonetheless, I was wary. How could I be sure that Manaf was genuine?

I told Manaf I wanted to help but needed to verify his identity first. Manaf sent me a photo of his passport, other identity documents, and photos of the refugee camp. He also entrusted me with a copy of his wife’s passport and photos of her as well, asking that I not show photos of Qamar on facebook as this could bring shame on her family.

The photos of Manaf’s children showed the camp in the background. An internet search verified they were indeed in the Sondos camp.

I checked for aid agencies working in the camp and couldn’t find any. This was consistent with Manaf saying there were none working in the camp and their reliance on assistance from the army.

Taking a risk…

No amount of photos and documentation could be a 100% proof.

In most life decisions, the facts only get us so far… often our intuition is the final decider.

The more I communicate with Manaf the more I am convinced he is genuine.

Manaf’s grasp of English is not great… but his rudimentary use of words conveys a powerful message.
Manaf loves his family… this clearly shines through his facebook page and messages.
He is very reluctant to ask for help despite being in great need… he expresses both shame and a great deal of gratitude. (I’ve asked what he needs and how much it will cost before sending money… a couple of days later I receive photos of a smiling family with what they have managed to buy.)
Manaf cares for others despite his own circumstances… he bought two fans and gave one to his neighbour.
Manaf has a sense of social justice and openly campaigns against ISIS on facebook.

I have so much, Manaf has so little. I live in comfort and security. Manaf lives in terrible conditions with no security. My excess gives me security… but still it is hard to give it away.

The amount I could lose was minimal compared to the benefit I could provide.

What I’ve given so far has cost me one cappuccino a day for a few months, but it has provided Manaf’s family with life-changing essentials… nourishing food, a pushbike to save him walking 17km to town to get the food, mosquito protection for Qamar, and a fan for his children.

Out of the frying pan … into the fire?

Recently Manaf messaged me with a very tough decision. Four pregnant women in the camp had been offered small apartments rent free for 6 months by a benefactor with a big heart . Manaf desperately wanted to get his family out of the hell-hole.

But there are consequences….

They will not be allowed to return to the camp under any circumstances. So what happens in 6 months if he cannot pay the rent??

The camp provides food (subsistence level), some medical help and basic provisions. Manaf is not allowed to work so how does he feed and provide for his family?

They need basic furniture and bedding for the apartment .

They need to provide for the new baby (due very soon).

I asked him to estimate the cost of providing for his family… 7 to 8 euros (about $12AUS) a day. I doubt any of us could provide the basic needs of 2 adults, 3 young children and a baby for $84 a week!

I told him I could provide a third of this for a year and encouraged him to get his family out of the camp. A significant risk for him, but an opportunity that may not come again.

He chose to move into the apartment. A big step forward (hopefully)… but what of the future?

The Challenge…

Don’t let overexposure to suffering steal your compassion and make you immune.
Those who suffer are all real people like you and me.

Material wealth does not make us rich… it is the people we allow into hearts and lives. People in need may give us far more than we ever give them.

Am I asking you to help Manaf? Yes, but I’m not sure how best to approach it.

Yes, I want to appeal to your heart. If anyone is moved with a genuine desire to help then it will be greatly appreciated. A little from us can make a huge difference… it can even change other people’s lives.

However I don’t want to manipulate or pressure anyone. So if this not for you feel free to let it pass.

If you have questions feel free to ask. If you want to help please message me privately.

Manaf’s photos…

All the photos have been sent to me by Manaf or posted on his facebook page (except the Google maps image). They tell the story from his perspective.

I have tried to capture the essence of Manaf’s descriptions in the captions.
I’ve written the captions as if Manaf is speaking…

(Initially Manaf asked that I not share photos of his wife… he has now given me permission.)

Manaf and his family…

My wife Qamar and daughter Minas...02-manaf-and-wife


Meet my wife Qamar and our
youngest daughter Minas…









Qamar is pregnant… she is due in September.
I hope the birth is not difficult… we have no access to an ambulance…




I love my three children... Yasser, Rose and Minas...


My three precious children…
Yasser, Rose and Minas…

Minas was born in a tent.
She has never known a real home.









Why we left Syria…

The daily shelling in Idlib became relentless…
Our home and my livelihood were destroyed…

One of my brothers and 13 of my relatives were killed…32-syria3

Idlib at night… these memories are distressing…Idlib at night...




We left my parents and elder brother in Syria… there was no money to take them with us.

I am their only support but I am not allowed to work in Greece.







My brother has twin boys. He is disabled and in despair.
“They have stones and scraps to eat”…
My brother has twin boys... "they have stones and scraps to eat"

The boat trips…

The three attempts were all made at night so Manaf has no photos of the trip. 

This photo was taken one hour before we left the Turkish city of Izmir. We were attempting to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece.

Part way the boat capsized in large waves. We were in the middle of the sea for 2 hours. We felt icy cold. We were terrified and felt on the verge of death.

We were saved by a German rescue boat and taken to Greece.

The Refugee Camp…

The refugee camp (bottom right) is in the industrial part of Sondos, outside Thessaloniki, Greece… The refugee camp in Sondos (outside Thessaloniki, Greece)...

Our front door... the shadows express how I feel...


The front door of our home…
The shadows express how I feel…









Rows of tents in a disused warehouse…
Broken windows, concrete floor…
It floods in heavy rain…
The refugee camp - rows of tents in a disused warehouse...

Our home...


Our home…








Where our children sleep…Our bedroom...


Our food…

Food from the camp... pasta one day...


Food provided by the camp…

Pasta one day…
alternates with rice the next…







Rice the next day... rotten rice makes you cry...



One day the rice was rotten…








Our health…

Manaf has an abscessed haemorrhoid from the camp diet.



My wife’s feet became so badly infected with mosquito bites… we were afraid for the safety of the unborn baby…







My children get sick too. Minas has asthma... she was very hot...



My children get sick too…
Minas suffers from asthma.
She was very hot…









It was very distressing seeing her like this…I feel distressed when I see Minas like this...

Facilities at the refugee camp…

Our bathroom and laundry...


Our washroom…










Open drains...


                       Open drains…










Our toilets...


Our toilets…






Chemically treated overflow...


Chemically treated overflow…








Qamar preparing to bathe Minas...



Our childrens’ bathroom…









"I love Minas so much!"



                  “I love Minas so much!”










Where do the children play?

The inside playroom... a cold, rough concrete floor...


Our children’s indoor playroom…








Our backyard…Our garden and clothesline...

The garden playground... lots of safe, modern play equipment...


The children’s playground…
lots of safe, modern play equipment…








Providing help…

Manaf is reluctant to ask for help… he feels a great deal of shame.
When I have offered he and Qamar are incredibly grateful and send photos of what they buy…

Now I can feed my family with healthy food…Now I can feed my family...

Fresh fruit and vegetables!Fresh fruit and veges for my family... thankyou!



A fan to help my children endure the heat…

Sadly it was damaged when the warehouse flooded…

Manaf also has compassion for others. He bought a second fan to give to a neighbour.








Thankyou for my new bike... now I don't have to walk 17km to get food...



Thank you for my bike!
Now I don’t have to walk 17km to get food for my family.








Manaf’s call for justice and compassion…

Photos from Manaf’s facebook page… 

We could not stay in Syria…
We believed Europe would help… but the refugee camp is a hell-hole and we are treated like cattle.
We have found no humanitarian care in Greece…35-sj3-isis1

Omran Dagneesh (left), “The boy in the ambulance” pulled from the rubble of his house in Aleppo.
Alan Kurdi (right), the 3 year old Syrian boy who drowned when his family tried to reach Europe by boat.

Meanwhile, world leaders keep talking…37-sj2-omran-daqneesh3

Images that break through…

The images behind the “Choices for Syrian children” sketch on Manaf’s facebook page.

Omran Daqneesh and Alan Kurdi in real life (and death)…omran-daqneesh-alan-kurdi






A very different birthday…

This week I turned 59…

It was a birthday like no other…

I was on my own.

I was driving in a remote part of Western Australia I’ve never been to before.

I’d forgotten to book my accommodation for my next destination and had no mobile phone reception.

I figured there’d be no gifts or birthday celebration.

But it felt good…

I was alone, but far from feeling lonely. Being alone and loneliness are two very different things.

I spent most of the day driving north from Kalbarri to the coastal town of Denham on Shark Bay. The weather was perfect… a brilliant blue desert sky set against the deep red outback earth and the low scrub… just a smattering of clouds, temperature in the mid 20’s.

I was doing something I love… exploring territory I’ve never been to before.

The desert countryside is never boring… a wide array of vegetation still manages to survive in this arid area. The wild-flower season is beginning… much of the roadside featured yellow wattles… in places the ground was covered with carpets of white flowers, then yellow flowers, interspersed with bushes displaying purples, pinks and occasional reds.

I’ve never been a wildflower enthusiast I found myself constantly on the lookout for new colours, and in some places the landscape took my breath away.


Unexpected birthday gifts…

Life has a habit of bringing surprises… it had a few in store for my birthday…

A long distance celebration…

My phone rang very early while I was half-dressed. My day started with a cheery Happy Birthday from a friend. For her sake and mine I’m glad it was audio only… my waist down got progressively colder during the call but it was well worth the birthday greeting!

Once I left Kalbarri that was it for mobile reception. When I arrived in Denham early afternoon my phone burst into life with a host of text messages and facebook notifications.

By evening I’d received a profusion of birthday wishes, messages and phone calls. I think more people wished me Happy Birthday this year than ever before in my life! I’d been blessed with a long distance birthday celebration… lots of love, care and encouragement ‘over the wire’… I really felt touched!

It’s the little things that count…

A free cappuccino. The young waitress making my coffee asked about my day… I told her it was my birthday. “That’ll be $4.50 thanks”… then a smile, and “No need to pay… it’s your birthday!”

The big things count too…

The key tourist attraction at Shark Bay is Monkey Mia… a beach 25km from Denham where wild dolphins come in every morning to be hand fed. Originally it was fishermen who fed them. Since then a whole resort has been developed along the beach and the dolphins are fed by staff.

According to Google the nearest Backpackers/YHA hostel was in Denham. Hostels in urban settings are not my ideal, but I was pleased at least there was one.

After leaving Kalbarri I realized I’d forgotten to book the Denham hostel. There would be no mobile reception until I arrived. A remote location… no accommodation booked… if all else failed I’d be rolling out the tent!

I stopped at a roadhouse for petrol and a coffee and spotted a brochure for a “Flashpacker’s Hostel” in the Monkey Mia resort complex.

The Flashpacker’s Hostel was a total winner! It’s located right on the beach where the wild dolphins come in. The hostel is clean and modern and I’ve got access to all the resort facilities… a restaurant, café, two bars, dining areas overlooking the beach, kayaks for hire and free WiFi to top it off. And so far I’ve had an 8 bed dorm to myself! To top it off it’s actually cheaper to stay here ($35/night) than in Denham!

My surprise accommodation was a BIG birthday blessing!

The biggest surprise of all…

A very precious birthday gift came the morning after I arrived… you don’t always get your birthday gifts on the day!

I woke much later than usual. The sky looked stormy and there was a strong, cold onshore wind… a total contrast to the day before… time for jeans, shoes and socks.

I wandered along the beach to get a coffee at the restaurant. I noticed people gathered at the water’s edge with a bloke in the water speaking to them. The dolphins had come in and it was feeding time! I hurried down to join them and got my camera ready.

The instructor explained only people chosen by staff would be permitted to feed the dolphins. Anyone who stepped into the water, waved their arms to get attention, or called out ‘Pick me!’ would be excluded. Most people were in shorts and bare feet. With jeans, socks and shoes on it never entered my head I’d be in the running.

Only two dolphins had come in. I stood there taking photos hoping for some good shots. One of the staff had a dolphin swimming next to her. She looked at me and called out “The guy in the green hat”. I was stunned, “You mean me??” I gave my camera to the lady next to me and tried to get my shoes and socks off as fast as I could. I could hear someone saying “You’ll have to hurry!” and almost fell over in excitement and haste. I waded out into the water, getting my jeans thoroughly wet, and had the superb experience of being up close to a dolphin and feeding it!

I could hardly believe what had happened! I wasn’t even heading to the dolphin feeding… I wasn’t dressed for it… I totally expected to not be picked given my attire… and here I was standing in the water in wet jeans just having fed a wild dolphin. What an incredible gift! Totally unexpected and literally ‘out of the blue’!


At a deeper level…

I sometimes say bushwalking for me is a spiritual experience.

Some people no doubt think this is a bit weird. Years ago in my Christian days I’d hear other people say this and think, “Sad, misguided … they’ve replaced faith in God with a poor, illusory substitute”. (It is so easy to be judgmental!)

Interacting with Nature has always been a spiritual experience for me. I don’t know how to understand it or explain exactly what ‘spiritual’ means for me in this context. What I do know is when I’m in the midst of the Australian bush, or surrounded by a beautiful rainforest, or working hard to reach the top of a mountain and then stand on the summit surrounded by incredible views, or walking along rugged coastal cliffs with huge waves pounding in below, or soaking up an awesome sunrise or sunset… my spirit is deeply touched.

I find myself in a special place… deep stillness on the one hand, deep awe on the other. I feel connected to something far greater than me and I am part of it.

It’s like I’ve come home.

The dolpin…

All the wild dolphins have been named according their personalities as observed by the staff. How ironic then, I had been totally surprised by a dolphin named ‘Surprise’.


One of the staff told me this was not ironic at all… the dolphins themselves have a role in choosing who feeds them. I felt my spirit being touched again.

Some gifts don’t bear analyzing… they are what they are… our spirit rather than our mind is the primary receptor. All we can do is accept them and appreciate the wonder they bring.

There’s many things we still don’t understand. For me it’s far better to stay open to new truths, whatever form they may take, rather than locking myself into a belief framework that may deprive me of new understandings of life.

A big thankyou…

I had a great birthday. Another memorable milestone in my life.
So many unexpected gifts from family, friends and Life itself.

A big thankyou to everyone who turned a very different birthday into an unexpected celebration!

Ian JamesIan + dingo

Discovering the new Ian…

A reflection on the last 18 months since losing Rosie… prompted by events of the last 6 weeks…


The last 6 weeks have been difficult and challenging.
Losing my step-mum Dot brought its own grief. It also caused the even deeper grief of losing Rosie to resurface, along with the pain of many other life events going right back to my childhood.

However, this time has also given me two profound gifts…

  • The opportunity to face and deal with unresolved issues in my life.
  • Something I have never experienced before… surrounding the grief and turmoil… a deep overriding sense of peace.

Losing Rosie thrust me into an unfamiliar, empty place.
I had no choice but to go there. Much of what defined ‘me’ disappeared.
Alongside grief I was faced with the need to redefine myself and my life.

This recent turmoil has also helped me see how many changes have already occurred. I’m standing on the threshold of a new life and I’m so grateful to be here.

However I dare not take it for granted and so remain vigilant. Life never stops challenging us with tough times and I have no desire to take the ‘downward’ path again. 

My life is changing…

The grief of Rosie’s death is slowly giving way.

An energy I’ve never had before is creeping in.

I’m beginning to discover a new identity;
the freedom to make choices and set a new course.

I’m filtering my beliefs about life and myself…
Keeping the beliefs that are life-giving,
Discarding the beliefs that brought decades of fear and depression,
And giving myself freedom to question them all.

I’m learning what it means to love and accept myself for who I am right now.

I’m forming new relationships and deepening existing ones.

Peace is replacing anxiety,
Insecurity is giving way to quiet confidence.

For the first time ever…

I’m starting to dream of the future,
and wake most mornings with
Hope and Anticipation.

And occasionally,
I experience two strange new feelings…
Excitement and Joy!


 Ian JamesIan + dingo

Nana / Nana-the-Great… …alias Dot James

Rachel is Dot’s first-born grandchild and gave this touching reflection at her funeral on 6th June 2016.

A Reflection on the life of Dot James by Rachel Ploegsma

For those that don’t know me, I’m Rachel, Dot’s eldest granddaughter. Today I would like to share some special memories of my grandmother who we called Nana, and her great-grandchildren called Nana-the-Great.

When my oldest daughter was born, my sister Miriam, coined the name Nana-the-Great instead of Great Nana. Everyone else had a Great Nana but ours was special so we had a Nana-the-Great.  This was a lasting term of endearment that Nana was especially proud of.

And great she was for so many reasons, including her gentle nature, kindness, acceptance of all people, along with an attitude to life to simply get on with things without complaint. Sometimes I think how amazing it would be to emulate all these qualities.

Something most relatives and close friends here today can relate to is how Nana always remembered our birthdays. She had a unique way of making each person feel special after carefully selecting the words for each card. Hers was usually the first card to arrive and always by mail even if she was seeing you for your birthday. Nana knew the exact number of grandchildren she had, as well as the ever changing number of great-grandchildren who she was always proud to tell people about.

As a child, my sisters and I spent many weekends staying in Healesville with Nana and Grandie. These were happy times where we were given money to spend at the shops, which usually culminated in us having enough provisions for a midnight feast. Nana would spend time lovingly brushing our hair and always obliging when we asked for a longer hair brush. She would supply us with fruit loops for breakfast and cook pikelets for lunch and marvel at how many we could eat in one sitting. We would giggle away when Nana would iron our socks and undies yet enjoyed the warmth of putting on these freshly ironed garments.

There was a huge a tree in Nana’s backyard where I’m sure most of the grandchildren would remember climbing and making their own fun and games amongst the branches. One time we even had a family Christmas gathering under the tree. Much time was also spent at Queens Park just down the road, and being so fond of this place I chose to have my 11th birthday party there.

A special treat was to take a ride on the ‘diesel’ train that ran from Healesville to Lilydale, and scare each other as the train went through the tunnel. Nana enjoyed watching the rabbits scamper along the tracks and loved pointing out varies sights along the way.

Sometimes on these weekends, we attended church services which I believe were held in this very church. Nana would provide so many of her handmade items to the church fetes such as her fruit jams, her lacy coat hangers, lavender bags and potpourri bags made from her own flowers from her well kept garden.

One thing I do still feel bad about though was a time when Nana and Grandie took us to the local swimming pool. I was a fairly competent swimmer, whilst Nana was very hesitant around water. This resulted in us only being allowed to swim in the shallow pool, much to my annoyance. One time, and probably the last time we were taken to the pool, I took it upon myself to swim down to the forbidden deep end. As I was swimming I saw the panicked look on Nana’s face and pretended I couldn’t hear her calling out to me. When I reached the end, I decided to hold my breath for as long as possible at the bottom of the pool and act as if I couldn’t swim. From the bottom of the pool I could see both Nana and Grandie leaning over the edge. Needless to say I was in trouble and must apologise to the subsequent grandchildren who probably weren’t taken to the pool.

I really also need to apologise to Nana for one other thing. When  Nana was offered a glass of wine as a bottle was being shared, Nana would always say “No thank you, I’ve never put alcohol to my lips!” We all knew this, but also knew that Nana loved to be included and was always offered a glass just like anybody else. What Nana perhaps should have said was that “I have never knowingly put alcohol to my lips!” At my 40th birthday party, Nana came up to me with a glass of punch in her hand, remarking how lovely it was and “What do you put in it?”. I didn’t have the heart to let her know about my secret ingredient, except that it was noticed that at the age of 89 she took to the dance floor and karaoke machine like someone half her age.

For the last 21 years my husband and I have run a football tipping competition from home, and from its beginning Nana has always been a member, including this current season. In the earlier years Nana wasn’t necessarily an avid football supporter despite always having a loyalty to Footscray, now known as the Western Bulldogs. As the years progressed, when I would either ring or see Nana to put in her tips, she would enter a tip before offering an explanation of why she was tipping a particular team. She would use terms like “they are injury plagued”, “not enough inside 50’s” and “the coach has them rattled”. It soon became apparent that Nana was keeping herself well informed and when I asked her how she knew this she said “Well on Thursdays I stay up late and watch the Footy Show!” Having never won a major prize in the competition, I felt Nana loved just being a part of things and being included in what the family was doing. Interestingly, Nana’s chosen password when the competition went online was ‘Nana-the-Great’.

Nana will leave a lasting legacy that will shine on through the generations. One grandson described Nana as being ‘accidently inspirational’ after she inspired him with her love of fine fabrics, sewing and corsetry. My sister Catherine tells how her passion for flowers was ignited by watching Nana arrange her beautiful floral arrangements for the mantelpiece. For others it was her love of God and her quietly encouraging ways that inspired them. Another grand-daughter mentioned the endless love in her heart. This love extended to our spouses and friends who also described Nana a kind, gracious and elegant lady.

Finally, I would like to thank my mother Del, for overseeing Nana’s care for the last 6 years whilst she was in residence at Monda Lodge.

It would be remiss not to mention that incredible smile that captured every essence of Nana’s happiness whenever a loved one walked into her room. Even on the morning that I said my final goodbye to Nana, she  still mustered one of her smiles. This smile is how I will always remember my amazingly kind-hearted Nana. Thankyou.Rachel+Nana1

Rest in Peace Nana



Rachel Ploegsma
6th June 2016

NEGATIVE GEARING…why I can’t support either major Party…

This post outlines my thinking on  NEGATIVE GEARING and why I can’t support the policies of either major Party in the 2016 Federal Election.

Negative Gearing and its Impacts…

  • Negative gearing is a tax deduction for people who already own their own house and are buying another house as an investment.
  • By definition it cannot be accessed by first home buyers.
  • This inherently favours those who have accumulated enough wealth to both own a house and invest in a second house, i.e. it favours the the wealthy in our society and is mostly inaccessible to poor
  • Many people who invest in buying or building a second property do so with the intent of renting it out so that the rental income pays off much of the mortgage for them. The ‘ideal’ situation is to have the tenant pay off your investment property for you. This is a perfect example of using money to make money… at the expense of other people.
  • High house prices along with high rental costs (particularly in Australia’s cities) mean that many of the young in our society, along with those who don’t earn high professional salaries, will never be able to save enough money for a house deposit while paying rent.
  • As a result many of our children and grandchildren will never be able to own their own home and will spend their lives paying off investment properties owned by people at the wealthier end of society, i.e. the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.

My conclusion:

  • At a personal level, negative gearing is making it more difficult for my own children to buy their own homes.
  • At a national level negative gearing contributes to the growing divide between the rich and poor in our society.
  • I therefore believe negative gearing should be stopped for the purchase of both existing properties and building of new homes.
  • The substantial tax revenue saved can then be diverted to implementing other policies that will benefit our children and grandchildren instead of harming them, e,g, reducing the accumulated deficit we are leaving them to pay off.

The bottom line (for me):

I cannot support either the Coalition’s or Labor’s policies to retain negative gearing in any form.

Have I got it wrong?

Have I got it wrong? Is my understanding too simplistic?
I’d welcome your feedback on this.
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Ian James