Meaning and Anxiety: a reflection of Lee Hong’s work


file-22-11-16-12-25-02This week I had the pleasure of launching an exhibition of the work of Lee Hong. Lee is an Australian-Chinese artists who studied at the Central Academy of Art in Beijing. I find Lee’s art incredibly insightful. Below is the calatlogue essay I wrote.


According to Existential philosophers such as Soren Kierkegaard, we as individuals are responsible for creating a life with meaning. In a world that is absurd, unfair, irrational and often meaningless, it is one reason that we live with a sense of ongoing anxiety.

We have to traverse a complex world and are constantly confronted with decisions that may lead us into a charmed life or one of toil.

Kierkegaard describes this sensation in the following way: “Standing on a cliff, a sense of disorientation and confusion cloud you. Not only are you afraid of falling, you also fear succumbing to the impulse of throwing yourself off. Nothing is holding you back. Dread, anxiety and anguish rise to the surface.”

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The contribution of Indonesian Islam to Western Civilisation

file-4-11-16-13-22-03This week I delivered the opening keynote at the annual conference of universities that are overseen by the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) in Indonesia.

Though not an expert in Islamic Studies or religion, I was asked to attend to speak about the role of universities in the contemporary world – with a specific focus on the universities in the MoRA network.

It was an amazing experience and one that I was humbled to be part of. Below is a copy of my keynote presentation…



I want to begin my short presentation with a simple statement: the contribution of Indonesian Islam to Western Civilisation has never been more important. In fact, my argument is that the world is at a crossroad – arriving here by hawks that see religion as a way of manufacturing – and I emphasise this word ‘manufacturing’ – a clash of civilisations for political gain.

As the world stands at this crossroad, Indonesian Islam has the opportunity to heal the rupture between the East and the West – to build bridges that others have attempted to break down.

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Uni Graduations and… well, Pauline Hanson…


Last week Western Sydney University had its September graduations. It is always an important event for those graduating, their families and also the university – something that it true for all universities.

It is an event that the University takes seriously – and is always well attended by senior management and staff…

But last week was particularly special…

After walking on to the stage, the first part of any graduations ceremony is the national anthem. Whenever I take part in singing the national anthem, I always take a moment to reflect on the hopes of our nation: thinking to myself, ‘what would Australia look like at its best?’

It was a strange day because the night before, Senator Pauline Hanson had delivered her second maiden speech. You know the one  – and there is no link required… it does not need any more hits on youtube.

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Mutualism: Chinese Contemporary Ink Wash Painting Exhibition

IMG_3557Recently I was asked to curate an exhibition of Ink Wash Paintings at the Chinese Culture Centre. The work was launched in August 2016.

As the curator, I also wrote the essay titled Mutualism: a connection across worlds which I have reproduced below.

The exhibition, focussing on ink, reminded me how artists are connected across time and space by their method, tools and style.

I hope you enjoy the essay:

Mutualism: a connection across worlds

Mutualism is the way two organisms from different species come to exist in a relationship. In this relationship, there is a type of balance as each separate organism benefits in the actions, activities and engagement of the other. It is not just cooperation but moves beyond this – it is a symbiotic relationship in which these organisms thrive from the others actions.

 We can contrast this with a competitive environment where the actions of one group of organisms undermines, diminishes, weakens or even kills off another species.

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Sociologic #4: The 2016 fed election & Pauline Hanson

cover170x170It is hard to imagine that a few months have already passed since the federal election.

One of the reasons that it feels so recent is that it was only just decided. In fact, the  Senate puzzle was only sorted over the last week.

There are many talking points that emerge from the election – key amongst them being the re-rise of Pauline Hanson and her ‘One Nation’ Party.

For those of us who see the future of Australia as diverse, integrated, progressive and enlightened, the re-emergence of One Nation is concerning. Pauline Hanson has shown herself as an opportunist who is revisiting hateful rhetoric: moving from ‘Asians’ – the source of her fear-mongering 20 years ago – to ‘Muslims’ – the target of her campaigning today.

The absurdity of her statements cannot be over emphasised.

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Moral licensing: insights into personal justifications…

Sourced from the world wide web

Sourced from the world wide web


I am not sure if you have heard of the concept of ‘moral licensing’.

It is a fascinating concept and refers to the idea that if you do something positive – such as voting for the first black president of the United States, or go to the gym first thing in the morning, or march for reconciliation or the rights of refugees – then you may well be more likely to be able to justify immoral behaviour. As a consequence, you then more likely to make immoral choices! (See Business Insider for an interesting discussion.)

This is the focus of a podcast by one of my favourite authors, Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell has written some outstanding books including my personal favourite, Outliers. (If you have not read Outliers, it is seriously a must read.)

In his new podcast Revisionist History, Gladwell goes back and reinterprets “something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.”

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A scholarly life: reflecting on my week


Student notes from my presentation at Inspire Sydney 2016

Over the last week I have been fortunate enough to be involved in three inspiring events that have me reflecting on the life I get to lead as an educator and scholar – or a ‘scholarly life’ as I have heard it described.

The first event was the Inspire Sydney 2016 conference aimed at higher degree research students and was organised by the five Sydney-based universities. Over 250 students attended including many from outside Sydney.

The focus of the conference was on how to build a career in both academia and beyond. The message was clear: a career cannot be thought of in isolation but is part of a balanced scholarly life. I was so impressed with the students: their passion, their ethics, their insightfulness.

The second event was the Senior Management Conference of Western Sydney University looking at thriving in a time of uncertainty. While the focus was on the university itself, we undertook a whole of sector analysis.

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Brexit: Musings from a progressive non-expert…

BrexitThe decision of the majority of the population to leave the European Union – or the so-called ‘Brexit’ – has sent shockwaves around the world.


It seems that very few people expected this to actually happen: even the leaders of the ‘leave’ campaign felt that they did not expect to win.


Many people have written about what it means and the likely economic, social and political consequences. We have already seen the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, resign. Many in the extreme right across Europe have started celebrating as they see this as the demise of the European Union with the rise of ultra nationalism emerging – something that allows right wing parties to flourish.

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Western Sydney: existing for 365 days a year… not just during elections



In a fantastic piece written for Fairfax, columnists Peter Hartcher presents a compelling argument for the decline of Malcolm Turnbull’s popularity. He argues that there are two types of leaders:

  • Standard transactional leaders: that it, you vote for me and I will give you something; and
  • Transformational leaders: those that want to change the structures and shape of society.

According to Hartcher, Turnbull came to us as a transformational leader and has now proven himself to be a standard, run-of-the-mill transactional leader. In this way, Hartcher argues that there is nothing separating Bill Shorten from Malcolm Turnbull.

The last truly transformational leader, argues Hartcher, was Gough Whitlam – and no where is this truer than in Western Sydney. Whitlam saw the potential for the arc that is now described as greater western Sydney.

Every election, I get phone calls from media who are wondering what the people from the west are thinking. I keep on making the point that this is an incredibly diverse area and there is a complexity here that is rarely, if ever, captured by our political leaders.

I have been at Western Sydney University for almost 10 years and I have noticed a massive change in the region. While we all welcome announcements that improve the quality of life in greater western Sydney, many folk rightly ask: ‘why has it taken you until now to do this?’

In other words: an announcement about infrastructure is not doing the West any favours. Rather, it is simply a government doing what it was elected to do: serve the cultural, social and economic needs of the people. Continue reading

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Vanishing Point: The latest work by Luke Cornish (ELK)

xgdub6vpbegcqjs85zmvThe following essay is part of the Catalogue for the amazing Luke Cornish’s (ELK) latest work: Vanishing Point.

Luke is an amazing artist whose work has moved from the street into the gallery and back again. I have been honoured to work with Luke before and have written about his ability to reflect society through his art (essay is here).

His latest work takes us into the city… how we can vanish… it is must see work… I hope you enjoy the essay…


Vanishing Point: an essay reflecting on the work of Luke Cornish

It is easy to vanish in a big city. I do not mean disappear or go missing, but be lost and anonymous amongst the flowing tides of people.

Cities have now become the place where most of humanity lives. In the middle of 2009, the number of people living in urban centres surpassed those that live in rural areas. Across the world, people are drawn towards cities: sometimes by choice, and sometimes because of displacement. This is a trend that resulted in the emergence of 34 megacities across the world: that is, metropolitan areas with a population in excess of ten million people. They can emerge as a single city expands or when two or more metropolitan areas converge.

How should we understand these trends?

For some, it is a source of despair as cities are seen as alienating, promoting a sense of isolation and exclusion. Despite living in an environment where we are surrounded by millions – and sometimes tens of millions – social commentators such as Robert Putnum1 argue that we have never been more alone and unable to experience meaningful social contact.

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