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Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 23-Jul-2008

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Opinion

Page: 11

Wordcount: 869

Cutest little nipper under the Southern Cross

Elizabeth Farrelly

My God aren’t you fed up with critics, whingers and naysayers? I mean, the Holy See sends us more than a hundred thousand pumped-up tourists and all the glass-half-full types can talk about is cover-ups, child sex and a bunch of old rape. They even accuse Catholicism of bad taste, just because it’s material, sensual, demotic. Just because it’s popular.

But be honest. Didn’t it warm your cockles to see that painting, Paul Newton’s Our Lady Of The Southern Cross, splashed across the front page of the Herald? Didn’t you love how her tiara of yellow wattle set off the apple pink of her skin and the sky blue of her robes? Red, blue, yellow; the primaries as God made them. The colours of World Youth Day. Like McDonald’s-on-Sea. Like gold and opal gleaming at you from red earth.

Of course it made the latte lot gag on their gluten-free muesli. A triumph for mediocrity, they called it. Not aloud, in a Catholic-heavy town like this. Not with His Holiness around. But behind closed doors, sure. I caught them in the local cafe, likening Newton’s painting to a Huggies advert. Sentimental, crude and one-dimensional (however they work that out. I mean, duh, obviously any picture has two dimensions, right? Length, breadth? Didn’t they go to school?)

They said it was a travesty, considering the church’s history of commissioning the greats like Fra Angelico (which I reckon sounds like some kind of liqueur) and that guy Michael Angelo, who did the picture of Adam getting struck by lightning you always see? On the ceiling of some cistern? I dunno, they were some deviant dudes, those guys.

It was embarrassing, they said, for the church, but also for Australia. Up there with Bindi dolls and blow-up kangas on bikes. Ridiculous, putting the Southern Cross in the sky behind Mary; ridiculous to have an Australian landscape, as though Jesus’s manger was in some Aussie desert, with Aussie sheep and oxen. Three Aussie kings, oi, oi and oi. They loved that. Laughed themselves sick.

But I reckon it’s snug to be in the global flock. I like how the World Youth Day logo took the Opera House as the Holy Spirit’s flame, red against the yellow outback and real Aussie sky blue sky. And I like Australiana in art. Like those nice gum leaves in the floor at the new airport car park. Some people take them for grease marks but I like them. Or the green gumnut pattern splattered over the glass on the Sydney Uni footbridge. It’s brilliant, using technology to copy nature like that. I mean that’s what old William Morris got famous for, right? So I reckon OK, even if he is from Melbourne.

But those no-collar art-school black types say it’s childish. They say Christian music pretending to be transgressive is vanilla posing as double-choc. Decaf as ristretto. They say Christian rock, Christian punk, Christian salsa-rap: with the sex and drugs gone, why bother? Hardly Bach’s St Matthew Passion.

They went on about how organised religion was like organised crime – not the religion bit, the organised bit. They called the Pope the ultimate organisation man.

This, they said, was how he could say the individual’s “innate dignity” grew from their “deepest identity”, and ban gay sex. How he could apologise for child abuse and head an organisation that routinely protects its pederasts, grinding the victims in the dust? Could oppose homosexuality and encourage all that cross-dressing, all those fancy hats and haute-cute frocks, in the priests. Could deplore idolatry then bask in mass adulation of his person, with hordes of youngsters chanting the name, straining for the glimpse, swooning at the touch.

False idols? The church is its own false idol, said one, before he criticised the Pope for flying so many people here for a message on climate change, like that was some kind of hypocrisy. Like we should strive for something better.

But I say this. Would God have given us a country full of stuff we can just dig up and sell – gold and opals, coal and uranium – if He’d wanted us to strive for excellence? No way. God wanted us comfy. That’s why He put us here.

Sport? Well sport’s different, like obviously. Sport is about winning. Painting isn’t about winning. Painting’s about something nice to put on the wall, right? Painting is meant to make you feel good. And the Holy Mum with her baby, it makes you feel good. So if God likes that picture, if it makes Him feel good on the wall of His house, I figure He’s got every right to hang it there.

Tell you what, though. I was pleased the artist put some clothes on that baby. I mean, what with the whole pederast priest thing, all those people whingeing over old wounds – and no, thank you, I don’t mean in their hands and feet – another naked kid painting first up on the evening news might give completely the wrong global message. Right? Let us prey.


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