Luscious book on Aboriginal Journey Ways

Even the arrival date (of Noongars in southwest WA) is still 35 to 40 thousand years before Homer, before Stonehenge was built, or scribes began to write the Old Testament.


Noel Nannup OAM and Francesca Robertson,
Aboriginal Journey Ways: How ancient trails shaped our roads.

Main Roads Department and Edith Cowan University, 2022

Reviewed by Ted Witham

It is no accident that contemporary roads often trace the paths of the ancient trails used by the Aboriginal people of this State for trade and ceremony. The topography of the land often dictates the best route to travel whether on foot or in modern vehicles.

This captivating coffee-table book explores the State from the Kimberley to the Eucla, from Gaambera country in the far north to Noongar country in the south-west and tells the story of the roads and trails of WA.

The details of these journey ways are depicted in clear maps, but what makes the book stand out for me is the lavish illustrations of Aboriginal art and glorious photos from many parts.

Stories from every time in our 60,000-year history are told: ancient stories, alongside the recollections of Indigenous folk and summaries of more Western knowledge are included.

It’s intriguing and humbling to learn that it took five to ten thousand years after first settlement for the First Peoples to spread from the north to the south-west. Even that arrival date is still 35 to 40 thousand years before Homer, before Stonehenge was built, or scribes began to write the Old Testament. These time-periods are truly astonishing.

I grew up in tiny Tambellup, a Great Southern town on the borders between Koreng and Minang Country. Of course I checked to see whether Tambellup was represented in the volume..  There are vivid descriptions of Tambellup and recollections of Elders from there – so I am well satisfied! I am interested to know that Aunty Gabrielle Hanson derives the town’s name from the tamar wallaby. I have heard other versions that say the town was named after the Nyoongar word for ‘thunder’. (Though that’s unlikely: the usual Noongar word for ‘thunder’ is ‘malkar’.)

Noongar knowledge-keeper Uncle Noel Nannup OAM and social work academic Associate Professor Francesca Robertson have collaborated on this and three earlier books (published by Batchelor Press) sharing their research of how people have moved around this State for tens of thousands of years.

I recall the research of Uncle Len Collard showing that about 50% of place names in WA are Aboriginal names. We have done better than other parts of Australia in remembering the names of this ancient country. But this current book brings to mind many more place names and how the places were connected one with another.

Indigenous people speak of their efforts in bringing language and culture back to life after nearly 200 years of colonisation in WA. Aboriginal Journey Ways revives even more of this Country for all of us – Indigenous and wajelah.

I am so enjoying the quality of the photos and artwork in this book that I wish I did not have to return it to the library! If you can find it in a library, it is a book I highly commend. 

Wisdom: My review of Jill Firth’s Honoring the Wise

. Sometimes wise, sometimes provocative, and sometimes surprising, Honoring the Wise displays the depth of influence the Hebrew Bible has on Christian thought and behaviour.


Jill Firth & Paul Barker, editors, Honoring the Wise: Wisdom in Scripture, Ministry, and Life: Celebrating Lindsay Wilson’s Thirty Years at Ridley, Wipf and Stock 2022.

281 pages + 25 pages Introduction

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-6667-3647-2
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-6667-9480-9
eBook         ISBN:  978-1-6667-9481-6

Paperback from $45, Hardcover $70. Kindle $11

Reviewed by Ted Witham
(first published in Anglican Messenger, July 2022)

Old Testament scholar The Rev’d Dr Jill Firth, a former West Australian, with her colleague Paul Barker at Ridley College in Melbourne, has produced this splendid collection of 18 essays to mark Lindsay Wilson’s thirty years as a teacher of Old Testament at Ridley.

Dr Wilson’s central area of scholarship is the Wisdom literature in the Old Testament, and the title, Honoring the Wise, reflects a wide scope: some of the contributions are specifically on Wisdom texts, others honour Dr Wilson as a wise teacher and scholar.

Honoring the Wise is structured in five parts: Wisdom as Narrative, Wisdom in the Writings, Wisdom in Prophecy, Wisdom in Preaching and Teaching, and Wisdom in Life.

As with all collections like this, some chapters appeal more than others to the reader. I was intrigued by Andrew Judd’s exploration of Judges 19 – an obscure horror story for most of us – and his insistence that this fable-like story is an invitation to seek wisdom and to infer better ethics in a society where there is a king, and where Levites behave with wisdom.

According to Judd, “We are invited to sit with the wise and observe the messiness of reality, with all its ambivalence and discontinuity; to get on top of it, take counsel, and then, only then, to speak out.” (26)

Dr Firth’s own contribution on finding relational wisdom in the book of Jeremiah concludes that “In his prophecy and confessions, Jeremiah comes to know God through apprenticeship, questioning, dialogue, and lament.” (58) This fourfold pattern suggest a workable framework for helping Christians come to wisdom in a world where there is conflict and pain.

Ridley College’s biblical theology has a strong reputation both for its academic rigour and its evangelical flavour: here you will find, for example, a consistent belief not shared by all scholars of the Hebrew Scriptures, that the “whole Gospel” is contained in the Old Testament. This collection of essays will appeal to all who wish to be refreshed and challenged in their understanding of the place of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The book has a striking cover by Victorian artist and theology graduate Dr Anne G. Ellison.

The publisher’s insistence on American spelling in a book showcasing Australian scholarship irritated me.

Honoring the Wise deserves an audience wider than the Ridley community and broader than evangelical Christians. Sometimes wise, sometimes provocative, and sometimes surprising, it displays the depth of influence the Hebrew Bible has on Christian thought and behaviour.  

Practicing Peace: Michael Wood’s new book


270 pages
ISBN 9781666735307
Paperback $45, Hardcover $60, Kindle $11.99

Michael John Wood, Practicing Peace: Theology, Contemplation and Action,
Wipf & Stock, 2022.

Reviewed by Ted Witham

Michael Wood’s eloquent new book aims to show how the non-violent practice of peace arises directly from God’s nature: God is love, and so we are to treat each other and all creatures lovingly.

The Rev’d Michael Wood, former Chaplain to The University of Western Australia, and a long-term priest in the Diocese of Perth, has written Practicing Peace as a handbook for peace-making, using, among others, the insights of Open Space Technology.

Practicing Peace emphasises the New Testament concept of a Christlike God; that God is in every way a peacemaker as was Jesus himself. Wood writes the clearest exposition I have read on René Girard’s theory of mimetic rivalry. We reflect the desires of others and want what they want, creating a conflict between people that can be overcome by ‘recognizing and releasing’ the conflict.

The second part of Practicing Peace is a handbook for peace. We engage in contemplative practices in order to shine a light on our own disoriented desires. We then listen to each other to create an agenda, share assessments of the situation and options for a more peaceful way forward, and commit to trying those options, a process Wood calls ‘collaborative emergent design’.

While the theology of Practicing Peace is profoundly Christian, the insights into peace-making can be used by any people of good will.

Each section of this book is written with a beautiful clarity and is summarised in a series of appendices and charts which turn the declarative theology into useful visuals. An extensive bibliography rounds out the book. West Australians will note references to local authorities and activities – like salsa dancing at Scarborough Beach!

Michael Wood’s book contains much for Christian leaders to mull, and more importantly, practise! All Christian leaders including clergy in formation and clergy in parishes will find here a way of Christlike leadership that will attract others to the dance. I wish I had this wise book when I served parishes and a not-for-profit!

Practicing Peace is a profoundly hopeful book. ‘Imagine the church,’ Wood writes, ‘as constituting an international academy for peace, focused on the Christlike God, shaped by contemplative prayer, and practicing the art of dialogue. This could be a small contribution that Christians could make to the world.’ (223)

Practicing Peace is itself a substantial contribution to a more peaceable world.

A Spectre, Haunting: Communism and the Christian today

A Spectre, Haunting is above all a masterly commentary on Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto, written with humour and compassion.


China Miéville, A Spectre, Haunting: On the Communist Manifesto, Head of Zeus, 2022

ISBN 9781803282244

Paperback from $29, Kindle $13.19

Reviewed by Ted Witham

For most bourgeois (and I have to admit to being bourgeois), becoming a Communist is a taboo, a step too far. Even for one with progressive politics, the idea of throwing out the whole system by which society governs itself, and starting again, is too, well, too revolutionary.

China Miéville is an English writer I look out for. His fantasy ‘steam punk’ novels explore the use of power and the experience of the underclass. His writing has vigour and joy, so A Spectre, Haunting appealed to me because of its author. If nothing else, it would be well written.

Miéville himself is active in socialist and communist circles in England, so his commitment was no surprise. A Spectre, Haunting is above all a masterly commentary on Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto, written with humour and compassion. The book includes the whole text of the Manifesto and Engels’ prefaces to later editions. It is rounded out with a comprehensive bibliography.

Miéville assures us that Karl Marx was the main author of The Manifesto. The central problem that Karl Marx discerns is that too much wealth is in the hands of too few. In order to create a fairer society, in which everyone has enough and has opportunities to develop themselves, that 1% must be divested of its money and power, so that all can benefit: a commonwealth.

The French Revolution, say Marx and Miévelle, did not go far enough. It replaced the nobility’s hold on the bulk of the wealth in favour of the bourgeoisie. The paysans and the urban poor still missed out.

The difference today is that the wealth is held not only by Queen Elizabeth II and the Sultan of Brunei, but also by Elon Musk and Rupert Murdoch, bourgeois capitalists who, like their royal forebears, have no intention of sharing!

So, the solution to the inequality Marx discerned in 1848 is still the same in 2022: replace the hegemony of the capitalists with government by the workers and the underclasses. Miéville claims that Marx was not idealistic about this. The working classes still need to grow into that role, because as exploited human beings, they have been conditioned by the rich capitalists into the view that they do not have the capacity to build a fairer world.

In 1848, a year of aborted revolutions, Marx whimsically described communism as ‘a spectre, haunting … [a]ll the powers of Old Europe.’ The Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Thirty-three years later, communism still seems to be a spectre, haunting the globalised world. Though technically dead, its persuasive analysis of capitalist society and its attractive vision of a world where everyone has enough to flourish, still sits in the back of our collective mind.

As Christians, we have a love-hate relationship with Communism. Our analysis agrees with that of Marx: that the greed of the very rich robs the poor of a dignified life. But we are suspicious of Marx’s non-violence. We know, right from the Cross, that non-violence resistance usually provokes the violence of the system, however, my reading is that The Communist Manifesto is too ready to condone that violence.  

Maybe China Miéville, writing so compelling about the revolution, will be part of a movement to bring the haunting spectre back to life. Given the ravages of capitalism, we should arise, because ‘we have nothing to lose except our chains’.

Caravanning around

…extremely funny and bitingly serious about the state of the arts in Australian society.


Wayne Macauley, Caravan Story, Melbourne: Text, 2012 (2007)

ISBN 9781922079121

208 pages

Paperback from $15. Kindle $11.96

Reviewed by Ted Witham

The humour is Australian; the settings are banally Australian. There is a lot to like in this savage satire by Melbourne writer Wayne Macauley. Caravan Story was his second novel.

Wayne Macauley

Since the original publication of Caravan Story in 2007, Macauley has published The Cook (2011)and Simpson Returns (2020). A book of stories Other Stories was released in 2011. He has received a number of prestigious prizes for his writing.

In Caravan Story, the writer, ‘Wayne Macauley’, wakes up one morning in a caravan being towed away. The destination is a country town on the footy oval turned into a caravan park.

He finds himself in an oval full of artists, carted here by the Government. They are instructed to make themselves useful members of society. They are fed and housed while they create.

The painters and the actors soon find ways of turning a dollar, but the writers are unable to be so enterprising. Their writing efforts are collected, but it turns out that the rejection slips have already been written. The plot shows ‘Wayne Macauley’ and his partner escaping home from this crazy world of disillusion, and on the way is extremely funny and bitingly serious about the state of the arts in Australian society.

As a writer, I revelled in this book, both for its questioning of the ‘usefulness’ of poems and stories, and for the loving attention to the details of footy clubs, high schools and caravan living. But it is a book for people other than writers, simply to have a laugh at Governments’ total incomprehension of the arts, and the importance of writers, and all of us, to ground ourselves, to have a place that is ours — a home.

Satire kicks our consumerist world

The Transition is the funniest – and best crafted – novel – I have read this year.


Luke Kennard, The Transition, Fourth Estate (2017)

Paperback (Used) from $10, Kindle e-book from $8

ISBN 9780008200459

Reviewed by Ted Witham

The Transition is the funniest – and best crafted – novel – I have read this year. Well-known in Britain as a poet, this is Luke Kennard’s first novel.

Millennials Karl and Genevieve are struggling to make ends meet. Locked out of the housing market with Karl unemployed, Genevieve is a Primary school teacher. She loves her job, and despite her day-to-day frustrations in the classroom, believes in its importance to society.

Karl writes online ‘cheat’ essays for university students of English literature. He is drawn more into the online world of writing for cash until he finds himself convicted for fraud for his almost intentional participation in an illegal scam.

Instead of jail time, the couple is offered a placement in ‘The Transition’, a program that invites a commitment of six months to turn their finances, and lives, around. They are billeted in the spare room of Stu and Jenna, who follow a mysterious Manual to reform their guests.

‘The Transition’ turns out to be not quite as advertised. As Karl explores the scheme’s underbelly, Kennard reveals a wider community based on inequality, where the poorer middle-class are shut out of the common wealth of their society, and where big data distorts and dictates their lives.

These forces override people’s compassion for mental illness, and Genevieve’s descent into illness is sensitively described.

The themes are serious. Kennard treats them seriously, but with a joyous lightness that helps us sympathise with a couple just trying to make it through the week.

I plan to re-gift my copy of The Transition this Christmas – and I have no feelings of guilt whatever in doing so. It’s the sort of novel you want to share!

Attractive snapshots of the Christian family: review of Greg Sheridan’s new book, Christians.

…an attractive portrayal of Christianity for those who do not share the faith


Greg Sheridan, Christians: The urgent case for Jesus in our world, Allen & Unwin, 2021.

From $26. Paperback.
Available from St John’s Books, Fremantle

Reviewed by Ted Witham

First published in Anglican Messenger, Perth, October 2021.

Greg Sheridan introduces his new book on the people of Christianity with his cheerful description of our faith:

‘On the inside, Christianity is full of feast days and family, full of fellowship, full of friendship. And everyone is welcome, surely never more so than at Christmas. It’s full of care for the sick and elderly, and for infants. It’s full of sport and play, hard work and rest. It’s full of good music and laughter, happy rituals and lots and lots of food (it’s very big on food). It is the principle of human solidarity. It’s the search for decency. It’s a conversation with each other and with God. As John Denver might have put it, in Christianity you routinely speak to God and rejoice at the casual reply.’ (Page 11)

Christians is Greg Sheridan’s second book in defence of Christianity. Sheridan writes of a large Christianity, catholic in the widest way. One of his principal arguments, first advanced in his 2018 God is Good for You, is that it is more reasonable to believe in God than not. The first book was mainly a rejoinder to the new atheists. In it, he took on writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and showed how much bigger Christianity is than the caricature Dawkins and Hitchens attack.

In this second book, Sheridan tells stories: the stories of Jesus, Mary and the remarkable Paul. Stories of the faith of Scott Morrison, Alpha’s Nicky Gumbel and the Melbourne Anglican founder of Converge, Jenny George. He tells the story of China’s Christians, and the difference they may make to the future of China. In London, he compares the neighbouring churches of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) and the Brompton Oratory, where traditional and informal liturgies, high classical church music and Matt Redman’s Gospel songs are all quite different and all nourish believers.

Christians compresses Christianity to its simple heart. For a reader like me, Sheridan sometimes makes Christianity seem too simple. But his purpose is to provide an attractive portrayal of Christianity for those who do not share the faith. In that, Christians reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity,and Christians is a more entertaining read than Lewis.

Greg Sheridan’ s writing is compelling and accessible. He works as foreign editor for the Australian newspaper. In Christians, he is open about his political stance (he describes himself as centre-right). In a throwaway line, he suggests that Christians are likely to be centre-right or centre-left in their politics. Extremes are likely to lack love.

Christians is endorsed by well-known journalists and by church leaders as diverse as Russell Evans from Planetshakers International, Peter Comensoli, Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne and Pastor Samuel Rodriguez, President of the US National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

It is a book that can be shared both with non-Christians and Christians alike. Those unfamiliar with our faith will find an attractive picture of how Christian faith is lived, and Christians will be encouraged that such a positive book will speak to such a challenging time.   

Fun and a frisson of fear in Mordew


Alex Pheby, Mordew, 2020, Galley Beggar Press.

312 pages
Kindle edition $7.59
Paperback $28
Reviewed by Ted Witham

Alex Pheby’s Mordew is a satisfying fantasy. Mordew (the name is said to be derived from the French mort and Dieu, death and God) seethes with all sorts of life and unlife. There is the Living Mud. There are flukes, non-viable life-forms in the shape of human body parts. Other babies and conceived and born in the normal way by human beings. There are chilling gill men who guard the city’s ports and the houses of the very rich.

A magic glass road leads up from the Slums, through the mercantile section to the Manse where the Master, the creator of this dystopia, lives and weaves his magic.

Nathan Treeves, a boy from the slums, is recruited into a gang consisting of the leader Gam, the Joeys (are they conjoined twins?) and Prissy, whose sister works as a prostitute. Nathan believes they may help him fund medicine for his dying father.

Nathan catches the Master’s eye. We don’t learn the reason for this adoption until much later in the novel. The Master sets Nathan up, under the eye of the faithful Bellows, in luxury in the Manse, where he is educated. The end point of the education is for Nathan to learn the Magic which sustains Mordew and the other worlds.

Where Nathan himself ends up is a surprise, and I am not sure that I liked Nathan’s destination, although the fact that his destructive spree is his destiny is clearly drawn.

The story is fast paced. The many weird and intriguing characters, the vicious Fagan-like Mr Padge among them, help or hinder Nathan on his discoveries.

The last quarter of the book, after the conclusion of the narrative, is a glossary setting out the world of Mordew in detail, how the Magic works, the connection between the material and immaterial realms, the place of time and some of the history of the worlds. I savoured this ‘theological’ section as well, even though it was not necessary to the telling of the story.

If you enjoy dystopian fantasy with a steampunk-like aesthetic, you will find much to like in Mordew.

Blessed are Christians through the Pandemic

We Christians will be stronger and our faith will be deeper – we will be more blessed – because of living through this moment.


Irene Alexander and Christopher Brown (editors), To Whom Shall We Go? Faith responses in a time of crisis, Cascade 2021

Paperback ISBN 9781725289550
Hardback ISBN 9781725289567
eBook ISBN 9781725289574

Available from the publishers, Koorong, or from the authors at holyscribblers.blogspot.com

Hardback $40, eBook and Paperback $25

Reviewed by Ted Witham

Part of us wants to pretend the Coronavirus pandemic has not happened, and that the Church can go back to its old ways after the worst of this is over. I have no doubt, however, that there will be enduring changes, not least in the way Church organisations use technology.

The collective of Christian writers behind To Whom Shall We Go, who call themselves the “Holy Scribblers”, are also convinced of permanent change. Their interest, as shown in this series of eleven essays, is in changes to our spiritual lives more than technology.

The book is loosely structured around the Beatitudes and this structure gives the book an optimistic feel: we Christians will be stronger and our faith will be deeper – we will be more blessed – because of living through this moment. Their grounds for optimism are historical. We have before lived through past pandemics and challenges and emerged changed and stronger.

The authors are an eclectic mix of academics and thinkers who are looking for thoughtful Christian readers, clergy and lay. Two Franciscan Tertiaries, Terry Gatfield and Charles Ringma, are among the contributors. As is always the case with essays from diverse authors, individual readers will find some essays stronger than others. For example, Chris Mercer’s explorations of Desert Father Evagrius’ “eight deadly thoughts” (gluttony and lack of thankfulness for food, sexual lust, sadness, boredom and apathy, vainglory and pride) resonate for me.

I have some quibbles with the structure of the book. Each section gave rise to prayers and questions for reflection. The reflection questions were at the very end of the book. In the eBook format, especially without hyperlinks, this rendered the questions almost useless.

The prayers were crafted along quite traditional lines, so some could be used or adapted, for example, for intercessions at the Eucharist. I found them a bit too stolid, with none of the creativity of the stunningly beautiful prayers of another Australian, Craig Mitchell, in his recent Deeper Water (Mediacom).  

To Whom Shall We Go is a timely book and will stimulate lively thinking about where God is now leading God’s Church.

Short and Narrow: the charming redemption of Silas Marner


George Eliot, Silas Marner, The Weaver of Raveloe, Capuchin Classics, 2009.

Paperback 250 pages

In Public Library System
New from $AU9.99, used from $AU8.99 online.
E-book from $4.

Reviewed by Ted Witham

George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans 1819-1880) wrote Silas Marner as her version of Pilgrim’s Progress. Like Bunyan’s masterpiece, Silas Marner also has the feel of a universal fable, the redemption of a man from desolation to love and riches.

Unlike Progress, however, the characters in Silas Marner are well-drawn and invite sympathy. Knowing how shabbily Silas has been treated and knowing the inner journey of Silas and the nasty young Squire, makes the reader care about the characters.

Eppie, the toddler who appears in Silas’ life after his precious gold has been taken, is less believable as an individual. She is beautiful in body and soul, humble in aspiration and devoted to Silas. But she is lovely because she is so deeply loved by Silas, her ‘Papa’.

The inner journey Silas makes is not like the ‘ascent’ of Pilgrim to the river and the City of Heaven. Nor is it in the tradition of the ‘ascent’ to God mapped by medieval mystics like Bonaventure and Richard of Saint Victor.

Silas’ journey to redemption stays in the gritty reality of Victorian poverty. Grace – in the form of the toddler he names Hephzibah (Eppie) – comes to Silas once and all at once. The name Hephzibah means ‘My delight is in her’, and it is used in the Hebrew Scriptures as the symbolic name for the restored Jerusalem (Isaiah 62:4). The redemption takes the miser, Silas, with his short-sight and propensity to fitting, and teaches him how to love deeply.

Eliot contrasts the emotional and spiritual poverty of his former state with the richness of loving and being loved: the gold is even returned to Silas and secrets, liberating once shared, are brought to light.

Names are important to Eliot: Silas is named for the companion of the Apostle Paul. The New Testament’s Silas and Paul are put in prison and God releases them. God also releases Silas Marner from the darkness of the cultish Lantern Yard and from his self-imposed prison and. Both the New Testament and the village of Raveloe rejoice greatly at Silas’ release.

Is the name ‘Marner’ a reference to Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner published 90 years earlier?  

Silas Marner is my introduction to George Eliot. I found the novel charming and satisfying. There is a central goodness in the novel which will be evident to readers whether or not they are Christian believers. But it is ultimately a Christian novel, an exploration of the journey we all in our own ways make in Christ.