As the dust settles on Covid, many Australians are still trying to make sense of the radical hysteria that has overtaken so many in our so-called laid-back larrikin nation.
This week a married couple told me the tragic story of their miscarriage earlier this year and how hospital staff refused to help them through their pain and distress until they pass a RAT test. Even then, the husband was forced to wait outside alone before hearing the terrible news.
In the grip of fear, entire cities have been locked up for months, causing deaths of despair and operating businesses, children’s education, youth mental health and community cohesion.
A ring of steel encircled not just our continent, but even our states, with loved ones unnecessarily cut off from Christmases, weddings, funerals – and most heartless of all, dying loved ones.
After a year of promises, the vaccine has been promoted – and widely embraced – as a silver bullet. But as evidence of its watertightness, diminishing effectiveness, and rumors of its risks reached our shores, anyone who questioned it was ostracized as social pariahs. Holistic health, natural immunity for those already cured and early Covid treatments were completely pooped.
The worst was yet to come.
After eighteen months of financial hardship, hundreds of thousands of Australia’s best employees have been laid off for refusing these vaccines whose dangers and benefits were still being studied. Doctors were silenced for any dissent.
A sizeable number of Australians forced to take the vaccines began to suffer from serious side effects. Along with world events, news emerged that Australians were dying from vaccines. Their stories were ignored. Those who sounded the alarm were censored on social media and branded as “conspiracy theorists”.
This all happened as a US public health agency sued to hide Pfizer vaccine trial data from public view until the 2090s.
Crowds took to the streets of the city to peacefully protest blockades and mandates in Numbers not seen since the Vietnam War. The media downplayed their size and misinterpreted their motives, while the authorities bombarded them with tear gas, rubber bullets and other deplorable Abuse of human rights. A majority of Australians apparently approved of this inscrutable answer.
Sadly, many churches have remained silent, even dividing their followers by vaccination status and degrading those who questioned the establishment.
Ask Lindy Chamberlain
What madness has taken us? Is there a precedent for Australia’s last-day frenzy?
Lindy Chamberlain is an Australian folklore legend: a mother wrongfully accused of killing her nine-week-old daughter, Azaria, while camping at Uluru in 1980.
Chamberlain and her husband Michael claimed to have seen a dingo leave the family tent where Azaria had slept. Nevertheless, a detailed prosecution case built on the brave new field of forensic science saw her convicted of murder and serving three years in prison.
It was one of Australia’s highest-profile murder trials, and it divided the country – even after new evidence was uncovered that ultimately cleared Chamberlain.
Decades later, a majority of Australians regard Lindy Chamberlain as the unfortunate victim of a miscarriage of justice. But it has not always been so.
In their landmark book on Australia’s Christian history, Attend the national soul, Stuart Piggin and Robert D. Linder recount how the Chamberlains were hated, largely because of their lack of conformity to mainstream norms. They were Seventh-day Adventists:
Soon the prejudice became a raging hell and a lawyer compared the second investigation to the Inquisition. The black dress, which Lindy had put on Azaria, became, in the popular imagination, a sacrificial garment. The small black coffin that Michael used as a prop for his lectures or sermons to help people kick the habit of smoking became a white coffin and was carried to Azaria’s bedroom. Lindy, it was said, has “killer eyes” and Aiden, her son, is said to have “really weird eyes”. The family Bible, it was claimed, had a passage (Judges 4:21) underlined in red which spoke of a certain Jael, wife of Heber, driving a tent peg into the head of an enemy. The Chamberlains, it was said, were linked to the cult that led to the mass suicide of Jonestown in 1978. They had a history of child abuse. They belonged to a strange sect that believed in child sacrifice. The child had been sacrificed to atone for the sins of the SDA church and a memorial erected as part of a religious ceremony.
Piggin and Linder note the role of trusted authorities in driving the anti-Chamberlain narrative. “The press and electronic media spread the rumors throughout the country and beyond,” they write.
Science, a secular idolatry
The public’s unhealthy fixation on scientific progress also played a large role in the mistreatment of Lindy and Michael Chamberlain. Pundits and ordinary Australians set aside what they had long known about objectivity and legal impartiality in a race to embrace the cutting-edge “science” presented to them:
Part of the anatomy of prejudice is the idolatry of science, the religion of secular society. When ‘expert witness’ forensic scientist Joy Kuhl said she found blood all over the interior of their car, a Torana, it was all over for the Chamberlains. Science can never be wrong. Not only are scientists never wrong, but they have all the answers. Kuhl demonstrated that a mixture of paint and bitumen was not just blood, but fetal blood. Never had the alchemists achieved so much. The jury accepted all of this as gospel.
The complicity of doctors, medical examiners and attorneys general in the persecution of the Chamberlains is a good illustration of the fact observed throughout history that persecution often began from above and not from popular prejudice. The fate of the chamberlains suggests that secularization is no guarantee of increased tolerance; the laity can be persecutors.
Piggin and Linder wrote their tome long before the Covid saga. Their interest lay in how traditional Australia cast Lindy Chamberlain into social outer darkness – and the parable this provided to contemporary Christians feeling alienated in a rapidly secularising country:
As evangelicals struggled in the 1980s to understand what it meant to be Christian in secular Australia, the Chamberlain case serves as a backdrop to that struggle. What does it say about the dark side of Australian character that someone like Lindy Chamberlain was hated with such intensity? What irrational fears do average Australians have of scapegoating someone like Lindy Chamberlain? It would seem from the Chamberlains’ treatment that secularism is no protection against prejudice and no guarantee of a rational and informed assessment of religious belief. In this case, secular distaste for religious faith opened the door to a primitive paranoia akin to the persecution of witches.
Nevertheless, what Piggin and Linder observed about the Australian psyche has other applications. When spooked by a sufficiently serious threat – which Covid clearly was for the majority of Australians – our cultural ghouls come out to haunt us.
The dark side of camaraderie
Another Australian scholar, historian Stephen Chavura, also argues that “there is a dark side to Australian camaraderie”. In one of the brilliant video comments he provided during the throes of Covid mania, Chavura explained:
We have this egalitarian philosophy of camaraderie prevailing. But the problem is that very often our friendship turns into a kind of tribal uniformity, where anyone who doesn’t conform – whether they’re overachieving (we call them “big poppies”) or they don’t just don’t fit in – we demonize them. as traitors. It happened with Lindy Chamberlain in the early 80s. She didn’t fit the Australian stereotype of a woman, so she had to kill her baby. This happened most dramatically during the First World War when we all rushed into war and those who questioned war or did not want to fight were demonized as traitors, given white feathers and were called cowards for the rest of their lives.
“Once in a while,” Chavura concludes, Australians “like to throw a maverick at the barbie.”
As with the Lindy Chamberlain case, I believe most Australians will end up judging our country’s Covid response as over the top, even bigoted. But not yet. The tide of Covid enthusiasm is still a bit high.
Kurt Mahlburg is a teacher and freelance writer. He blogs at kurtmahlburg.blog. This article first appeared in the Daily Declaration.
Source: Stuart Piggin and Robert D. Linder, Attending the National Soul: Evangelical Christians in Australian History 1914-2014 (Victoria: Monash University Publishing, 2020), 398-401.