Words by: Jonathon Davidson
There was nothing in this world more beloved to our Father, a petrochemical refinery plant engineer, than what he would frequently refer to as his Australian Values. For Dad, Australian Values were not simply some list of individual values that were respected within Australia; a catalogue of closely held sentiments and beliefs, the likes of which are held by most men and women and best suited to be brought up arbitrarily in any kind of political disagreement in the workplace or public space.
He would do this kind of thing, too, of course – by which I mean, he would often disagree arbitrarily, like the next person who has beliefs they align with- but for Dad, there was more to it. There was always more to it, maybe not from the very very beginning, but sooner into it than we realised – but we didn’t know that until later.
I’ll get to the point: Dad’s ‘Australian Values’ relatively quickly transformed into a toxic ideology of colonial backwash and misogynistic overtones, which in his defense was due to a string of bad events and mental health concerns over a handful of years, but ultimately, he is still responsible for the outcomes which almost destroyed our family, and destroyed 19 others. Not everybody who was living with him before these times enjoyed his company, either. But when it all got really bad, Dad changed as a person, and he wasn’t nice to any of his children. None of us, but particularly not the girls, whom he became particularly cruel and derogatory towards.
There were better times when all of us were blind to this in one mechanism or another. Even if we know now we were blind, they still were better for us. Let me start back on my last point. Dad was never overly warm to the girls in the family, but back then, it seemed more typical boy-girl/father-mother-power-imbalance-tier discrimination. I was allowed to bring girls over, and they weren’t. The double standard that drives all girls to indescribable bouts of fury, right? Looking at it now, though, – every time a boy visited Toni or Claire, he’d interrogate them for hours afterwards about whether or not they were having sex with the boy just left, and no, then what about everybody in high school? These days, Mum says if she’d known he ever said that shit just over having a boyfriend, she’d have taken the girls with her to Denmark to grow up there. Not sure If I would have been part of that, but whatever.
Anyway, Dad – he’d often apologise for these outbursts of his some moments later, after he went downstairs to go and look at himself in the mirror, and undergoing his nightly bout of remorse, slowly climbed back up the stairs and stood at Claire or Toni’s door like a sad schoolboy, apologizing in that pathetic voice through the door for his knee jerk reactions and unfair judgments until there was no more Toni or Claire could do until they meekly forgave him, despite having no option, needing to have manners as young girls and all.
You know, that type of thing.
I started advising Toni and Claire to have their future first few dates with boys (or bloody whoever they’re into this week according to their tumblr bio) in public places and then move onto guys houses when they know them, and not to worry about whatever biased crap Dad says. Toni listened, and now has at least one decent rendezvous a month or two, but Claire isn’t the type of girl to initiate things with poise. Claire is the type of girl to fall in love with a small time crew of marijuana dealers and lay on her back getting fucked by whoever has the dankest buds in the shed that night. This sounds crude, but it’s often her advertising what she did on the weekend – in those terms, sometimes worse – and Toni and I just ignore it, because Claire never had it easy and knows how to keep herself out of trouble, and because if Dad knew just what behavior Claire got up to on the weekends, we’re scared there’d be some kind of honor killing.
We used to joke about the honor killing thing, but the joke is often followed by uncomfortable silence where we try to shake the image of Dad getting worked up one night and taking things too far with his anger. These days, we don’t know what he’s capable of.
Things weren’t so bad when his Australian Values were relatively relaxed.
“Dad,” my sister Toni and I would find ourselves cheekily asking more often than not, especially when we were bolder as teenagers,
“What exactly are your Australian Values?”
Dad would always smile and take a moment to think about it, like he truly was calling on every little thing in his life that he was grateful for.
“Kids, what aren’t Australian Values?” he said back to us.
This was his signature move. When we were really little, we’d giggle. Silly Daddy. But then all those years later, when we’re now self-serious young adults looking for proof that everything in school was a lie, this is still what he always came back with to this initial question, after his smug-pondering-look routine. It was never enough, and likely calculated to be so when we were children, because he knew that the older we got the more questions we’d ask and the more time he’d have to talk about Australian Values.
But when we started getting older and were still getting answers meant for us as children, we started paying more attention to what was happening to Dad.
Inevitably, Toni – or anyone else – and myself, would find ourselves not able to go on so unsatisfied by his response – particularly when he repeated it a few times when we tried to ask the same questions, imploring him to “get real” now that we were teenagers. Still, his attitude was as if we were missing out on some mystic knowledge that only he understood. I would become frustrated and say something more or less equal to:
“Come on, seriously. Can you actually name one of your values Dad?”
Toni would always look down and up then down again whenever I did this, stifling glee, glancing between his facial reactions and mine. Toni had never been the one to push him, but always glanced to see his face whenever his Australian Values came under threat.
It was a rare event.
“Kevin, son,” he would say, staring at me with a look of neutral contempt.
Here, he’d do a weird frown-grin, then pause, then try to think of something funny to say. If he came up with something witty in time, he’d reply, we’d usually eye-roll-laugh, and just move on. Lately though, those witty comments are increasingly rare. These days, it’s more like:
“Don’t try and get a head start on me, Kevin. You don’t know anything about this Country. Your sisters fill your head with the wrong Values.”
Which only begged more of this:
“But Dad, I thought head starts were really Australian?”
It was worth doing this shit just to see Toni hide a smile, even though I’d just gone into Dad’s bad books for the week.
“Head starts don’t sound very Fair Go, now, do they?”
Despite it not meaning anything, Fair Go was Dad’s way of telling me that his heels had just been deeply thrust into the taut sands of fierce, nationalist debate, and that further questioning would result in increasingly hurtful comments about Moral Decay, Immigration and Social Justice, directed at the personal level, and probably involving tirades against Mum, or, the Money-Stealing-Feminazi. Which does call into question again whether or not he ever really cared for this family as anything more than his flock.
Anyway, talking about those old days again before Dad went downhill – where we’d take the piss out of him and give him a bit of shit, and it didn’t lead to a manic political preacher state – he’d not exactly laugh it off in those days, either. Dad will always be a proud man – but we could tell that ultimately he believed there was something we weren’t seeing in our age, he deflected all of our arguments by filing them under “amateur”, so to speak. In those days, even if we did get really cheeky – like that time I was calling out Dad on something or other when the entire family were sat there at Christmas lunch, all of them uncomfortably listening to him go on about protecting Australian Values– when I made a side comment, he grabbed me by the shoulder, and sort of tucking me under his arm so I was facing everyone at the dinner table, in a soft headlock and unable to speak, said: “little Kevin here thinks he knows Australian History. Little Kevin, my son. You know that birthmark of his is actually a bullet wound from the Boxer Rebellion!”
Cue laughter and consequential relaxation of vibes around the table. Because Father, even back then, often put the family on edge with his monofocused conversations – and because by this point some of the more observant older relatives in the family were worried about where this whole family was going – this display of cutesy Father-Son bonding, at this one particular lunch, was enough to humanize us in the eyes of the family, saving us from that awkward moment where relatives quietly reflect on a couple in case they missed out an obvious sign of abuse. What was lost on the adults there, in retrospect, was that:
a) His discussions on Australian Values went into the home with Toni, Claire and I, where they regularly occurred and piled up in Dad’s mind to fester for years to come, which would allow the hate filled man who emerged from the other side to undergo his metamorphoses far quicker than had the ideas come organically and without hours of late night research.
b) The in-joke of Dad’s Australian Values, even at that age, was something not entirely beyond the realm of puzzling to us, and on some level, Toni and I both agree that around this time we started going through a ‘ghosts in the house’ phase. We put this down to the subconscious awareness that something was wrong with our Father.
Anyway, despite what was lost on the adults: what happened with the family lunch situation in particular, is that what followed was a whole series of jokes about my -little Kevin’s- big ideas. This is just one example, but probably the most pertinent of Dad ultimately manipulating situations to delegitimize any family members who disagreed with his domineering presence. The girls get it worse, but it still doesn’t make you ecstatic to recall. It was the way he’d often said Little Kevin, the way he made some comment in that arrogant tone – Oh, the Boxer Rebellion! – or some other informed comment, designed to exploit my lack of Australian History awareness, as if it was some underlying proof that the absence of an Australian History Degree disqualifies one to truly talk about Australian Values.
His perception of our age and incapacity to understand all this when we were younger was the crux on which he allowed himself to build his Australian Values charter over the years. He bounced his monologues off us, and I think I remember quite a lot of questions about our thoughts on interracial sex in Australia in the early days. It’s funny, the more you swim through the past, the more red flags show up.
Actually – that could indeed be the point where things began to go downhill. Incidentally, this was when his marriage began to show signs that it was headed for a shipwreck, and I remember that Toni had never been more uncomfortable in her life than when being asked if she’d fuck a black boy for her country by Dad while he took us on a road trip to Bindoon. I said “Dad what the fuck” to try and get him to stop, but he didn’t really take our protests seriously, and he especially didn’t listen to me. He made some comment under his breath. Toni cried. I knew for a fact that she had been sleeping with a black boy, which she briefly mentioned to me, which of course made her think the entire rest of the drive that I’d said something to him.
This is probably the key original event where I raised a serious alarm bell. Instead of saying anything though, I drove home next to him in the passenger seat facing forwards the entire way, listening to Toni try not to cry in the back.
In the car later that night, Toni told Dad she didn’t want him to ask those questions and she even said that at school she learned Australian Values were accepting people of other skin colours. All he really said was “wait and you’ll see”.
Because I was angry that night and knew he was just being rude, I asked him what he meant.
“What I mean,” he said, “is that one day you will realise other races do not belong in a white crib.”
We drove in silence for the rest of the way home.
I don’t think Toni ever felt the same way about Dad.
I don’t think I did either.
Don’t get me wrong –I am a writer, but too a son, and I must defend my father, even while I expose his deepest flaws – as mentioned, at one point, in the early days, despite a questionable number of traits and attitudes towards his daughters, it was fair to say that Dad’s Australian Values were closer to just simple pleasant ideals, concerning proper conduct in the world and in a community, which didn’t really have anything to do with Australia specifically, beyond the fact that is where we happened to live. What I’m trying to say is that there kind of was a point where Dad’s Australian Values were just offhand comments, a loose stream of vaguely connected sentiments more or less categorically democratic, and the same reference towards values that all politically minded folk express.
They had not yet become staple part of the household discourse.
In those days – when his version of Australian Values was actual values and not the strange cultish manifesto which would emerge later – Dad had great sayings and lessons like:
“Australians are the only people in the world who will give the time of day to an angry driver on the side of the road. We can cop a mouthful of abuse from a stressed out bloke and immediately understand that he’s just had a bad day is all.”
There were more.
- On fortitude: “Australia is a thick skinned country, with armour like the croc, and that passes onto its people.”
- On Politics: “I don’t care what party the lot stand for, I will always just vote in the most decent lot. Left and Right both look the same when neither party can put a charismatic leader in charge.”
- On Dating (for men in the family): “There are plenty of Sheilas out there, and while you never have to put up with bullshit, you should always take her for a nice time out. Let her win a disagreement, especially if she’s wrong. You’ll get it later, but trust me.”
- On Dating (for women in the family): “Look. Just remember to look after your reputation, but have fun. That’s what Australia is about – getting your hands dirty, having fun, washing off and coming back inside your own full person. I only ask that you keep aware of your surroundings.”
- On Cultural Appropriation: “It’s not offensive just to have the thing sitting there and I don’t see what harm having a Buddah in the house will do. If they do bring good luck, then what’s the problem?”
- Dad’s Australian Values on Lottery: “Why bother buying into this rubbish, I sure don’t. I’ll buy the occasional scratchy if I’ve the afternoon to myself, but it’s so unlikely that you will be lucky, there is no point bringing them into the house.”
- Dad’s Australian Values on Food and Produce: “You can only trust 1/10 nutritionists, and no diet fad will ever fix the problem. Cook for yourselves often, but don’t be scared of the junk, OK?”
So yeah, there were times where Dad was perfectly normal. Almost fantastic.
Right now, however, I’m painting this a bit too happy families.
I’ll be the first person to admit that Dad was always too hard on Toni and especially Claire, which is why I got an extra kick out of stirring him up whenever Toni or Claire were with me, because I felt they deserved to see Dad, and what he’s really like – just how he gets when he slips up in conversation with a man, which is where he stutters and interjects and loses face. While he was perfectly capable of being a loving father to his daughters, he would often dominate arguments by deflecting everything back onto Toni or Claire, driving it to the point they would begin to cry, and then wax lyrical about drama queens. Delegitimization.
Just in my mind, I’ve always felt that Toni and Claire deserve to know that he is not some master in control of his own mind. That’s why I would always push it, though in retrospect, it didn’t help anything. But having them confide in me so many times the struggle of simply existing as a woman in the modern world, at school, on the street, and then with their own Dad – I figured that it wouldn’t hurt for them to know that the family patriarch was not infallible, especially as his Australian Values began to slowly creep into increasingly misogynistic and xenophobic realms, which we all just ignored until it became too much of an issue.
The girls don’t know about what he was like when he was a teenager, either, but Mum has told me all about that. I’ve seen the photos that he thought he threw out thirty years ago. Of course, Dad hated who he was when he was a teenager. He was once soft, of the bong and left-wing. But oh, the things that changed when he became a man. A change of heart thanks to both a rekindled primary school friend in the financial sector, and a surprisingly allocated top executive board position on the local Chemical Manufacturers Union, saw very suddenly the once anti consumerist synth enthusiast, wanting to be viewed as a strong man, a 4WD driving man, a financial-advisor man in the real estate market, the antithesis of his ex-self. A man who wore the pants, who expected subservience from his wife because that was the natural order of things. He was the decision maker, the accountant, the man of rational thinking and logic. Dad presumed himself to be right about everything.
Dad did expect subservience from his wife, but he was none of those things. He did however become convinced of himself being those things after an unplanned purchase of a $35,990 Range Rover he bought with his rigged Union money – and now Dad, a petrochemical plant engineer, drives between work and inner suburbia in his diesel smoke belching off-road utility vehicle, a commute which contains absolutely no offroad segments at all, and every day as he speeds up to accelerate into our driveway – a favorite little pleasure of his – a big black cloud of carcinogenic smog wafts into the organic, WA-climatised, specially cultivated gumtree and wattle bushland feature on our verge, designed to collect black cockatoos and Galahs, who are just far enough away from the sudden movement to remain foraging, but not far enough away to escape the daily black plume of smoke which has definitely by now given a good percentage of them cancer.
I have brought this up, it did not go well.
Dad says that Australia was built on red meat and lamb, and when I tried to point out that this has nothing to do with suffocating endangered birds, Dad just said:
“Stop hanging out with your sister.”
I bit my tongue.
“Australia was built on the struggle between Man and Nature.”
I unbit my tounge, and mentioned that conservation and bushwalking groups started as early as 1930 and that environmental protection is arguably one of the most Australian Values we have, but Dad’s Australian Values do not consider the advocacy of wildlife as canon.
Because ultimately, there are Australian Values, and my Dad’s Australian Values.
These are all the strong, hard-boiled traits that Dad decided he wanted to have as his internal idea of Australian Values grew and grew, and he ultimately killed his marriage with Mum by trying to make his her perceive him that way. Where Toni and Claire take a kind of joy out of my pestering Dad, Mum would always give me quiet frantic looks to shut up and go away.
Mum doesn’t talk about it, but between the lines, we’re fairly sure that Dad had begun to hit to solve fights.
At the end of the day, Dad just doesn’t take women seriously. Not Mum, not Toni, not Claire. And he will not listen to any man under his age – which leaves me out, despite a few privileges that my sisters don’t get. I mean, He’s a brilliant Dad with kind and understanding things to say – he knows more about which tampons the girls use than Mum does, to be fair – but that’s as good as it’s going to get. Even though they are his offspring and under the same roof of the house he lives in, Dad always saw any woman in the house as a kind of permanent, lesser guest. There was always a distant reservation he had with the women that I never experienced while communicating with him as a son.
Though, not once was he ever pleased with anything I did.
I asked him once if he didn’t think he should let Mum make decisions around the house for once in a while, but he got quite vindictive and started accusing me of being brainwashed by politically correct feminist media. These days, this is the type of thing you can expect from Dad.
We were too scared to ask him about meth. We didn’t want to know.
“Kevin, I love your damn Mother, name one day I even let her out of my sight. And son – Son, I really don’t want to say this – but if all you can do is poke holes, you’d better shut your mouth. You don’t understand what this country Is all about,” he’d say.
“Dad,” I replied, but he cut in.
“Dad nothing. Who pays the rent in this house? Not your mother, that’s for sure. She looks after your messy little sisters all day, sure, but that isn’t a real job. I’m working hard while your mother sits around listening to CDs and baking in the oven. I know that she doesn’t just sit around all day, but she isn’t busting her ass on a refinery plant to make ends meet. I had to risk my life today just being at work around that machinery. Whose house do you think it is now?” He said this in a way to signify that the discussion was over, but I kept going.
“Okay but what would you do if she stopped cooking and cleaning?”
“Your mother won’t stop cooking and cleaning,” he said, this time with a degree of legitimate malice that took me off guard.
“What if she doesn’t want to cook and clean tonight?”
And then it happened. The breaking point. Dad looks at me with hatred in his eyes and pushes me against the wall. He says:
“If she doesn’t want to cook and clean like a good wife, you won’t have a fucking mother.
The grapple went on for what felt like eons. I couldn’t do it, my chin quivered and the tears started rolling. He said: “I thought so.”
So, yeah. This was kind of where Dad and his Australian Values started to go downhill.
And then, like it could no longer contain itself, it all exploded. It changed both at once, suddenly, and slowly, over time – with no real pattern or reason, but with a definite turn towards a colder and more stern kind of man than we had already had to endure growing up.
The most important thing to note is that Dad’s Australian Values only existed as loosely connected sentiments– AKA, normal values – for the last few years of his marriage.
But then, one day (something must have happened), Mum walked into our rooms with two huge bags over her back, didn’t give us any time to rouse and speak while quickly snatching trinkets off of our shelves to remind her of us – Toni’s headband, and a gemstone paperweight I had long turned into an ornament – before leaving a piece of paper with a new address and phone number on it, placed onto each of our beds. Then she kissed Toni and I on the head – a Mother’s love, she did it swiftly, with complete accuracy and in complete darkness – and told us that we were welcome with her at any time, but that she could not do this anymore, with that man upstairs, that she had been freelancing on the internet as a copywriter for the last 3 months to make just enough cash to put down a deposit, and that government welfare would probably be less controlling than Dad’s allowance.
Looking back on it now it’s funny, but that was a really uncomfortable moment for the both of us, the speed with which it happened, her bitterness. And we didn’t say anything, but both left our rooms the next day thinking of our mother as a quitter. I think we both just wanted to be taken along with her.
But, It was following the formal divorce – which came not long after the wall pushing incident – that this ideological manifestation of Dad’s began to grow truly to a state most unhealthy.
We’ve never been too sure at which exact stage Dad’s ultra-nationalism streak started – like, what particular event set it off – but we’re confident that it was between the new divorce and the corresponding breakdown he had, which was three summers ago, now. This was Dad’s Cottesloe Incident.
He was heavily arrested – he resisted – by police at Cottesloe Beach when he refused to stop reading the diary of Ned Kelly to predominately underage female beachgoers walking up and down the strip in bikinis, as teen girls with something to prove are ought to do. People complained that there was a crazy man harassing young girls in bikinis (as good people ought to do), and before he knew it, Dad was complaining about the loss of Australian Values in modern Australia, except right into the face of three cops, a detective, and Channel 9 and Channel 7’s cameras, who of course rushed out to broadcast him that night, an event which caused over a month of social media harassment, which did absolutely no single shred of good for our Father’s uncertain mental state during that already rough window period. It was during his time as a social pariah, we’ve learned in retrospect, that his ideological rants began to take on different forms: plans. Well thought out plans.
Following the incident, when he came back home from the hospital – where he was for almost 2 weeks, no doubt seeing every single mean thing people said about him on Twitter while he scrolled his phone each day in the psych ward, it became extremely clear to both Toni and I that something in Dad had changed.
We wondered at first – jokingly, in that cruel way that one jokes about tragedy because they don’t know how else to handle it – if he hadn’t simply traumatized himself into a right wing patriot sympathizer. The legend of Ned Kelly does curious things to a man. But across many hushed family discussions we had when Dad couldn’t hear, or when he wasn’t around – those kinds of hidden conversations you know are important to have, but which also feel super, super wrong – we all slowly realized that the Cottesloe Incident was not the catalyst for Dad’s transition into hardline conservatism. This had come earlier, though we weren’t sure when. By no means had it exacerbated the entire phenomena, but these ideas had been building in Dad’s head since before we were born.
For instance, Dad never liked it when you tried to call him out on his values. One night he got really drunk and after a particularly regrettable session of piss-taking – which I am guilty for – he roared up from the table, knocking over bottles of Jim Beam in deliberate chaos, inferred that we were terrorists, and stormed off. Some hours later, we realized that he had plastered “fuck off we’re full” stickers over my sister’s car, and also mine.
We thought it was a one-off sort of thing, like, “Dad got WAAAAY too drunk” scenario, but it occurs to me now why the hell he had a whole stash of Reclaim Australia stickers in the first place.
But now, things were far worse and very different. Dad still loved Australian Values more than anything, but he sure didn’t like the Chinese. We knew that already, but his hatred seemed to have been revived. Whatever happened in hospital, he came out fully prepared to blanket judge entire races.
On many occasions, Toni and I tried to figure out what this was all about, this reignited fear of the Chinese.
“They’re not going to steal our jobs, Dad,” we would tell him.
“Chinese immigrants have been coming over here for a long, long, long time,” we said.
“People have been saying that China will start World War 3 for the last seventy years”, Toni said.
“Immigrants on welfare clearly aren’t stealing too many jobs and immigrants who have a job probably aren’t abusing welfare, Dad.”
But no matter what sense of his we tried to appeal to, it was never enough to take the conversation in a direction that we wanted. Dad was like that.
“Kevin, Toni, sit down, get ready to hear this” he instead told us in the same conversation.
We looked at each other hesitantly, knowing that if we agreed, we had just expressed consent towards one of his long spanning pontifications on Australian Values, and that this was the first one since his hospital release where he got so much new content from, so it was likely to be indicative of a whole lot of shit about our Father that neither myself nor Toni wanted to deal with at this stage in our lives. But if we didn’t, it would prompt him to launch into a tirade on the downhill trajectory of Australian Values among young Australians, which was a tirade far more uncomfortable than the Chinese thing, because whenever Dad thought that Australian Values were being rejected, he always found a way to turn the topic to Muslim immigration and Welfare. It was far easier to just take the Chinese option.
Instead, we sat down, readying ourselves for just a normal sermon on Australian Values, which is always better than actually being there whenever Dad gets upset about something and starts going on.
What happened instead, was the conversation that made Toni and I finally decide to move to Mum’s.
“Muslims are invading this country with the help of CIA infiltrators and the Jewish banks. I’ve figured it out, ISIS don’t hate jews – they work together. So they send their young men suicide bombers to our good country. Suicide bombers. Towelhead little fucks. That’s not what Australia is about. It isn’t. Aboriginals produce the meth in the remote communities. Chinese are too stupid to make the good shit, it’s the coons, kids. The coons are pumping Australia full of the fucking gas.”
This was a new level of outright hatred, and neither Toni nor I knew quite how to respond. We let him keep talking. Both of us sat up in our seats and clenched our thighs, half expecting Dad to lunge at us violently to make some feverish point.
“Malcolm Robertson is the only one who knows what’s going on. Murdoch Media try to silence One Nation. Kevin, Toni – yes, they do. Pauline Hanson is what will be best for this country. Death camps. None under her. She will stop the immigrants, she will get rid of the camps, she will tell the truth about UFOs. Sovereign citizens. Pauline Hanson understands that Australia is no longer under the property of the crown, you see. The US own us now, but they have no jurisdiction. As all courts are crown, but we’re independent, the rule of law in Australia is actually just a scam. You see all of these Sri Lankans moving in lately? Let us reclaim. All the Muslims are in Indonesia. You think it will be a Syrian who blows you up in the bank? Wrong, children: Gooks, Gooks, Gooks. Niggers, Kikes, Gooks. Jakarata Niggers and Refugee gooks. All of these people are being looked after by our government, while we sit and suffer. The good white Australian man sits and swallows shit and piss from niggers and women all his life. The white man is turned into a cow for milking, a fat hot fuck cow for the jew to rape us….”
I can’t remember how much more I heard, but Toni and I left almost immediately with all things we cared to carry at that moment, walking as fast as we could without breaking into a full out run, just trying to get away from that man in there.
During his rant, Dad had pulled out a meth pipe and sucked back big tokes in between talking about Sri Lanka and UFOs. To what end Dad had been using methamphetamine, and for how long, is something none of us in the family care to know anymore.
I’d never realised what my closeness to dad had done to my Mother, because when she first saw me arrive with Toni, she looked at me like I wasn’t really there, and cried and embraced me like she had been waiting for me for years on a platform.She looked at me like I’d been gone for 50 years.
That night, we called Claire around, and told her what was going on. We invited Jethro and Mark and told them to be aware that Peter was going through a manic episode, and was probably not far off from being dangerous at any given point. We had an amazing dinner that night, but I think all of us were pretending to not think about Dad suddenly rocking up with violence in his eyes. Jethro and Mark even staked out the house for us, but this was needless: – Dad knows where she lives –but he never rocked up. Not for two weeks, not for three. Then a month.
Then, two months.
We all started to feel a little different. What Toni and I relayed to Mum as a racist, hate filled white supremacist rant, we started thinking, was likely just a bipolar episode of Dad’s that we took way too seriously. Toni and I began to wonder if we hadn’t blown the whole thing out of proportion (even though that didn’t seem like the case at the bottom of both of our hearts). We tried to reach out to him.
I can’t say it filled me with pride for my mother, after learning what had gone on behind closed doors with my father Peter, but it still shook me all the same to see her still so worried about the man whom she had loved for so long, despite all of the horrors that Dad’s obsession with Australian Values brought along.
And horrors they were: Dad started a blog site, and we found it.
We reported it to the AFP.
Dad’s website – a blog named after our family, with a profile picture of himself standing with three other tattoo laden, emu-export belly bearded old men in nondescript Australian wasteland, brandishing assault rifles – was the last straw for Mum, who immediately began to look into the Witness Protection Program. She was receiving violent text messages from him about stealing us (Toni and I), about manipulating our minds to make us hate him, about working with his Pakistani neighbor and fucking his Pakistani neighbor for drugs and all other kinds of delusions, escalating in intensity, which Mum, Toni and I began to dread receiving.
The website got worse. Within 2 days, photographs had evolved from poorly composed “posing” shots with my dad standing among bikie looking types holding rifles, to close up pictures of dead animals they had hunted in the forest.
When the AFP saw the blog uploaded with pictures of dead animal carcasses – photos which accentuated bullet and stab holes in the creatures, mostly feral cats – our papers started moving a lot quicker, and we were issued our fake identity forms within a matter of hours. Just like that, we had a new address sorted, thanks to Dad’s animal torture videos. Trucks had begun taking our possessions to the new locale, and it was as we all stood in the house we grew up in for the last time – uncertain if we’d ever return – that an AFP staffer took a last poke around Dad’s room and opened up one of his files from work – one from the oil refinery, tucked away in a shelf behind a family photo – and after spending some 60 seconds looking at the document, and suddenly flipping back to one page and reading it intensely, she suddenly began talking rapidly into a microphone in her collar. Almost immediately, her colleague comes in, looks at what she shows him, she whispers something to him and he goes wide eyed and whispers something into his collar microphone.
Then the two of them abruptly left, hopped into their cars, and sped up the road. The three of us were stunned. Mum knew who had gone through what, and despite the AFP taking the file, she knew there was a duplicate, and decided to go back into our Father’s room and look at what the agent saw. She thumbed reports on fertilizer products which the AFP left behind, documents which highlighted which chemicals were made at what facility next door to Dad’s work, a few aerial scans of a multi-plant facility – a fence in the bottom corner had been circled, but that was it -and after not being able to figure out what it was that had caused the AFP agents to rush out the door, Mum – a woman who quit her journalism job when she fell pregnant and never really got over it – did something incredibly stupid.
She called Dad’s work with some fake name and asked to speak to Dad’s manager.
“Hello, is this BPCS Refinery? It’s Linda from the City of Kwinana’s new Industrial Relations committee. I’d like to speak to the current floor operator.”
Toni and I did everything but bat the phone from her hand in trying to stop her, but it was too late.
Mum had already rushed into the adjacent room and tucked the phone tight against her head, so the person on the other end of the line would not hear Toni and I making exclamations of protest about what she was currently doing. She closed the glass door to the tea room and locked it behind her before we tried to get wise and snatch the phone away, turning back around at us and even giving us an almost joyful look as if to say “too slow”. In this brief moment it occurred to me that my true parent was my Mother – it had always been her I’d thought of before anyone else. It quickly began to dawn on me that despite his capacity for decent behavior, my Father was simply a cold, unimpressed man with his own set of internal issues that he himself could never solve and thus let that internal sense of judgement manifest its way outwards into the rest of the world.
While this was all occurring to me and Mum talked to Dad’s work on the phone in the other room, it took me a moment to realise that Mum’s face and posture changed. Suddenly changed. She stood dead still. The look on her face, it changed into a deep concern. It softened into a blank stare. And then her eyebrows rose back as the face of worry took over her face.
Gingerly, she says goodbye to whoever is on the phone, hangs up – tries to put the phone neatly in her silk dressing gown pocket, but misses and the phone drops to the floor. She does not react to the phone on the floor. And then she looks at Toni with a certain look in her eye that I can’t describe but clearly signifies bad news, a certain kind of bad news where everything else in your life pauses for that moment that the bad news processes through your mind. She slides her eyes to me, now, with the same worried concern. She purses her lips, and opens the tea room door, walking between a totally confused Toni and I, and going on into the kitchen where she stands at the stove and begins to wash a cup.
“Mum? Are you alright?”
“What’s the matter Mum?”
Mum nods to say she’s hearing us, but doesn’t come up with an answer. She just nods, and places one, then two ceramic cups on the drying rack. She only rinses them in water. Slowly, she turns.
“Your father hasn’t been at work in two weeks.”
We all look at each other uncertainly.
“That means he won’t have much money. He is still paying off that Range Rover. We don’t talk to you much about finances because we – I mean, I – I don’t want to stress you out. Only a small piece of your Father’s paycheck goes to him for the next few years,” Mum tells us, looking at Toni and I with a slight squint.
I run it through my head but scoff, and come back at Mum with something like:
“But that means he’ll just end up in hospital right? He’s gotta come down off all this and see straight eventually, this weird hunting stuff can’t be serious. He’s always been half jokey about his ‘Australian Values’, he’s got to be playing a weird kind of revenge for the divorce right? He is just going way too far because it’s his midlife crisis, or something right?”
I say these things to Mum, and I see the look she gives me, so I look to Toni for support, who is giving me the same look Mum did.
Internally, I give myself the same look.
“There was something else, Kevin,” Mum says after a long pause.
“Wait, what? What do you mean Mum”? Toni says, speaking for the both of us.
Mum bites her lip and looks up at the ceiling like there should be an answer there.
“Mum. What is it?”
Mum looks back towards Toni and I, standing there in the kitchen, just waiting to hear whatever it is she just heard on that phonecall. Finally, she speaks.
“What is…Ammonium Nitrate?”
“What?” Toni says.
“I think that was what he said, on the phone. Ammonium Nitrate.”
I can’t take it anymore.
“Mum, holy fuck! Why are you asking us about this? Tell us what happened.”
Once again, I don’t get words back from Mum, I just get another worried kind of look for a moment before she finally shakes her head to get unstuck from her thoughts.
“The man on the phone said there was a robbery 15 days ago.”
“Yes. That was when your father was last seen at work.”
“Dad stole something from work 15 days ago?”
“They have him on camera, Kevin.”
We all look at each other again.
“What did he steal?”
Mum takes a deep breath in.
“The man on the phone…the man on the phone said that your father, is on camera, stealing roughly 22kg of Ammonium Nitrate from a chemical storehouse nextdoor to his work.”
That snap silence you get when every single person in a room suddenly has no idea what is going on suddenly permeates.
“Nextdoor to BPCS?”
“How did he do it?” Toni asks.
“The man on the phone said that he broke into the storehouse, filled up a bunch of canvas sacks with the powder that was sitting in a vat for export, and then wheeled about 8 to 10 of those out of the building on a wheelbarrow.”
“What the hell does he want Ammonium Nitrate for?”
In the end, Australian values – true Australian values – are the values that fall outside the isolationist, heteronormative, masculinity-fetishized fringe cultures of Australia, who despite being so small, are still so effective at recruiting the disaffected, and making it seem as if things are worse than they are, making it seem like global instability is at the tip of our noses at any given moment, and which tell those dark parts of us that it’s okay to hate. The lure of regional communities where one can start an armed vigilante group, the lure of unchecked white power groups, the lure of coward punching an 18 year old in the back of the head of Northbridge and dropping his face onto the pavement.
This is what I know now, some years on: My father never understood true Australian Values.
Just before Christmas in 2016, my Father set off synchronized bombs at every mosque in the Perth Metropolitan Region. Those two weeks he disappeared? He had already made the bombs within the first 24 hours. The next 13 days were planning. Scoping out. Placement. Literally, just driving around for 2 weeks, waiting for the perfect time to hide big bags of fertilizer in Mosques everywhere. He did the actual placements all in two nights. Three guards in three different locations saw him – none found the bags of fertilizer- but it was too late by the time they came out to the media.
There’s a paper trail for him, and what he did. In the weeks leading up to it, he tried to access blueprints for various mosques in almost every shire and city 100km within the CBD. Some handed them over, some didn’t. He set up an account on Ummah and encouraged Perth based “muslims, including Indonesians, and also any brown folk and ladies” to attend mosques heavily in the coming weeks. On those forums, people make fun of him.
“Who the hell is this guy” one one of the comments says.
In the week before my Father terrorized the state, his internet search history showed a massive increase in hate group website usage and participation. We’ve since found my father’s old account and looked at the messages he was making on these white supremacist websites even when Toni and I were younger and thought that we had lost a Dad to that time of our lives.
It turns out that Australian Values had mattered to him for a long time.
Anyway, I’ll wrap up. Ammonium Nitrate. You mix it with LPG to make bombs. Proper scary bombs too, like, take-down-the-entire-WACA-stadium-with-80kgs-of-fertiliser tier bombs. I didn’t want to know this. I didn’t know this, but I was taken into a cell by the AFP for 3 days where I was asked if I knew this, how to make bombs in any other way, and I didn’t, right up until they told me everything while they questioned me. All you need is a dozen fertilizer bags full of Ammonium Nitrate, mixed with a certain ratio of a certain fuel, and a detonator for each bag which we think was just phones attached to it – legit, like you see in the movies – other people have told us that he did it by setting a long timer on a flare which would spark magnesium ribbons or something or other, to be honest, I’ve had enough of Dad’s terrorism bullshit. I didn’t want to know this. Apparently, he also spent $75 at Bunnings and made Mustard gas too, which he tried to attack a school full of Jewish kindergarteners with. He put the solution in bottles with small holes punctured in them, and assumed that the force of them being thrown through the window would produce a rapid gas expansion to occur. It didn’t. This is something my Dad taught me. And it will be the last thing.
The last time he got to talk about Australian Values, or anything really, was in Mosque #10.
These days, I like to imagine that he stood there crouching over bomb #10, muttering under his breath about Australian Values and refugees and feminism the moment it exploded in his face, obliterating him into an instant volcano of red and white multicoloured streams, kind of like a party popper, which would be maybe the only time since I was 9 that Dad resembled anything fun.
The family hate it when I say that, though I’ve never been told to take it back.
Never forgotten will be the 19 Australians whose lives were taken by my father’s actions.