It didn’t occur to me to be sentimental about leaving Sydney. At 13, I was too young to appreciate how a person’s childhood is sculpted by the landscape in which it is formed. We were harbour-city dwellers, my family, habituated to its geography, weather, busyness, good looks and ostentatious landmarks through several generations, as though encoded in our DNA. I can still recite every train station on the Northern line from Berowra to Central and back again.
Perhaps that’s why after 30 years I remain squeamish about calling myself a Queenslander, despite accumulating five degrees from Queensland universities, giving birth to my daughter in Ipswich Hospital, and writing a PhD novel about Brisbane during World War II. So, I am fond of the place, admittedly, and my parents will certainly never leave. But we would never have uprooted our life on Sydney’s northern outskirts and headed north to the Sunshine State if not for a fringe right-wing, religio-political group called Logos Foundation.
Logos Foundation earned some national renown in the mid to late 1980s for their political campaigning on issues such as the Bill of Rights, ‘Voters’ Veto’ (Citizen Initiated Referenda), and the usual ‘moral concerns’ that so get under the collar of fundamentalists: homosexuality and abortion. Media reports often referred to Logos as a cult. And while it degenerated into something resembling one, its original intentions were more innocuous. Founded in New Zealand in 1966 by Paul Collins and Howard Carter as a charismatic teaching ministry, the organisation and its founders emigrated to Australia with their families in 1969, where Collins established Christian Faith Centre in Sydney (the church my parents joined in the early 1980s), while Carter established Logos Foundation and the Covenant Evangelical Church (CEC) at Pennant Hills, before moving to the Blue Mountains in 1972. Logos and the CEC would later subsume Faith Centre, which is how my parents came to be caught up with the group.
My parents, now divorced, are circumspect when talking about our involvement with Logos. Neither can articulate precisely why or how it happened, except to say it was, in Mum’s words, ‘like boiling a frog’ – it all happened so gradually, they never appreciated what they were involved in until they leaped out of the fryer.
Media reports often referred to the Logos Foundation as a cult…while it degenerated into something resembling one, its original intentions were more innocuous.
‘Operation Scatterseed’, an enterprise cooked up by Howard Carter in 1987, was not an evangelical scheme to spread the ‘good news’ of man’s redemption through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nor was it, as you might expect of a sect or cult, a recruitment drive for Logos Foundation. Not as such, anyway. Its agenda was entirely political. (It’s perhaps no surprise that Lyle Shelton – the former director of the Australian Christian Lobby and now wannabe Queensland senator for Cori Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives – is a product of the Foundation and CEC; his father, Pastor Ian Shelton, was second-in-command to Howard Carter.) Scatterseed was a program designed, pre-internet, to disseminate far-right, ‘morals-driven’ and Dominionist propaganda (think Margaret Atwood’s Republic of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale) to audiences likely to be receptive to its message. Essentially, that meant other churches, particularly liked-minded fundamentalist ones, in more conservative regions of Australia.
Foundation members like my parents were subjected, firstly, to a month’s training at a ‘School of Tyrannus’ at the Foundation’s headquarters in the Blue Mountains at Blackheath. During this time, we lived at Westwood Lodge in Mount Victoria: a crumbling Victorian manor house owned by the Foundation that was used to accommodate families enrolled in the Bible School. At the end of this training, my parents were told they were going to Nambour, Queensland, along with two other families, an older couple, and one single woman. The ‘Nambour group’ attracted the envy of those packed off to places like Murray Bridge in South Australia. My parents and siblings left at the beginning of June, while I stayed on at ‘The Lodge’ with a few other Scatterseed teens to finish out the school year at Mountains Christian Academy.
To us – and I suspect most Sydneysiders in the 1980s – Queensland was a foreign country. My knowledge of the state came from a plastic souvenir ruler my parents bought me on a kids-free trip to Surfer’s Paradise a few years earlier, which had a strip of images along the middle depicting tourist attractions such as Magic Mountain, Seaworld and Dreamworld. Nambour, though, may as well have been Neverland. We’d never heard of the place. I soon learnt it was near the Big Pineapple, which then became a totem of this promised land; a land I imagined as one long summer holiday, festooned with acres of palm trees and never-ending golden beaches, bountiful with tropical produce – and, because I’d just turned 14, populated with bronzed surfer boys with sun-bleached hair.
The illusion of this sun-drenched, tropical paradise was heightened by my parents’ letters, which I received while living through one of the coldest Blue Mountains winters on record. The way they acclimatised to the Sunshine Coast of 1987 is more vivid to me in some ways than my own memories of this period. Mum’s early letters catalogue all the kitschy tourist attractions they visited: The Super Bee, the Ginger Factory, the Big Cow and, of course, the Big Pineapple (‘We didn’t go on the Pineapple Train or Nut Mobile because they cost “MONEY”!’). She also makes much of the warm winter weather, and the fact of my brother and sister ‘swimming in the middle of June!’.
My only knowledge of Queensland came from a plastic souvenir ruler my parents bought me on a kids-free trip to Surfer’s Paradise a few years earlier.
For the first few months they lived in a caravan park in Bli Bli until they found an affordable place to rent in Nambour. Both my parents struggled to find work, Dad especially. He once wrote about going to a friend’s property in Woombye to pick strawberries and cherry tomatoes for free: ‘We got buckets full of them to share with the other [Scatterseed] families.’ For a long time, it was a hand-to-mouth existence for them, and though this was always couched in terms of God’s purpose for their lives, Mum’s letters at times betrayed a profound homesickness for Sydney. Still, there was a sense of exoticism to living in a small sugarcane town we all revelled in.
When I joined my parents at the end of the year, I was primed for this heady, sensory experience, too. Buoyed with enthusiasm for this novel phase, I adapted quickly to life in the semi-tropics, settling into my new school, skipping Year 9 and going straight into Year 10, and making friends with ease. Our reason for being there – the Foundation, the Scatterseed project – was a secondary concern to me; I was too busy being a teenager in 1988, the year Expo brought the world to Brisbane.
But neither was I oblivious to our mission, or the Foundation’s Dominionist ambitions (though I only learnt that term in recent years). I was an astute and interested teenager, who was also well-indoctrinated into the cause, as evidenced by a mock newspaper cover I did for a Year 10 school project. The front page of The Friday Freak (September 2, 1988) displays an eclectic mix of current affairs and my own interests at the time. ‘Fitzgerald Inquiry’ is the headline article:
Yesterday, Andrew Beast, the rather large owner of several brothels, was given a life sentence. He pleaded guilty to charges of fraud, selling of naracotics [sic], abuse of employees, and murder. All of these involved police officers in some way. A young hooker (who wishes not to be named) testified against him saying “he’s a greedy pig, he has physically abused several of us who have worked for him in a brothel, give him what he deserves”.
The accompanying picture is a headshot from a (real) newspaper of an unhappy Alan Bond to whom I’ve added beard stubble and a scribbly toupee with black biro. ‘Andrew Beast – not happy with his sentence,’ the caption reads.
I was an astute and interested teenager, who was also well-indoctrinated into the cause.
My ‘In Sport’ header makes clear where my allegiances lie (‘Cockroaches Kill Cane Toads – State of Origin’), while at the bottom of the page, under ‘Inside Today’, I promise the reader two incisive editorial pieces: ‘Women the better sex: Find out why,’ and ‘Church & Politics: Do they mix? Logos Foundation gives reasons why it does’. Had I written the latter piece – though the title might suggest an even-handed look at the separation of church and state – I would have argued for the affirmative. The origami layers of personal contradictions are not lost on me, but in my defence I’d been sucking down the Logos Kool-Aid from a young age.
I was very much aware of Logos’ attempt to muscle in on Queensland’s political scene. At the end of 1987, Logos moved its entire operation, members in tow, to Toowoomba, which offered more fertile ground for their brand of Christian conservatism and right-wing politics. They soon began a relentless and expensive political campaign on platforms espousing ‘family values’ and a conservative moral agenda – their ‘public aggressive phase’, as Carter labelled it. This included buying a first-class ticket for the ‘Joh for PM’ train wreck. Logos Journal (June 1987) featured a sycophantic interview – ‘The Faith of Sir Joh’ – with the Queensland demagogue: ‘In our view, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen epitomises the traditional values of Christian commitment, family life, strong leadership and personal sacrifice,’ writes Carter in his editorial, less than a month after the Four Corners report into widespread corruption that sparked the Fitzgerald Inquiry.
After the inquiry delivered its findings, Logos spent up big on newspaper advertisements in the lead-up the to the 1989 Queensland election in support of the National Party. In these full-page adverts, they claimed the election issue was ‘not the Fitzgerald Report, the environment or the gerrymander, as some would have us believe’ – these were petty concerns compared with the Foundation’s ‘primary concerns’ of pornography, abortion, homosexuality and capital punishment. In these ads they called for the three main party leaders and all candidates to respond to the following:
I support the removal of pornography from public displays.
I support the abolition of abortion on demand.
I support capital punishment for premeditated murder.
I believe homosexual acts should remain a criminal offence.
——(Sunday Mail, 22 October 1989)
Wayne Goss, wisely, did not respond and directed other Labor candidates to likewise ignore the Foundation’s moral grandstanding and attempted hijacking of the election. Academic John Harrison suggests Logos’ failure was due to ‘a lack of genuine political sensitivity to the mood of the Queensland electorate after the corruption revelations of the Fitzgerald Inquiry,’ and that ‘they failed to realise that there was a mood for change and reform’. Academic convention prevents Harrison from calling us crackpots, though he gets away with ‘a holy huddle of fundamentalists’ and ‘religious carpetbaggers’ to let us know what he really thinks.
‘Religious carpetbaggers’ is a particularly apt descriptor of my father’s experience. I’m astonished now at how spectacularly ill-equipped my father – a sweet, self-effacing man with no appetite for confrontation – and his fellow team members were to shore up support for the Logos agenda on the Sunshine Coast. When I asked him about it recently, he admitted that moving to Queensland was ‘a big cultural shock’ and that its ‘politics were utterly foreign’. Yet, as interlopers from Sydney, they were expected to agitate local church leaders to uphold Queensland’s rancid and draconian political status quo – that many church leaders were ready to see the back of – in the midst of a major inquiry into police corruption and in the dying days of the Bjelke-Petersen dictatorship.
As interlopers from Sydney, my parents were expected to agitate local church leaders to uphold Queensland’s rancid and draconian political status quo.
The Foundation itself quietly dissolved when it was revealed that the very married Howard Carter – and traditional-family-man lodestar – was having an affair with a female parishioner in August 1990, which devolved into a 20-year history of adultery. He died almost exactly a year later of eye cancer. There are rich deposits of irony to be mined here. Needless to say, my father has regrets, which extend to ever getting involved with Logos in the first place.
That my own coming-of-age story is so intimately connected with that of my adopted state has played no small part in my begrudging fondness for this promised land. As I’ve educated myself and matured, so has Queensland. As my core values and political convictions have shifted from right to left, so, on the whole, has Queensland. This is not to deny the fact that the religious right still holds significant sway in parts of the state, particularly west of Brisbane and in the far north – as evidenced by the procession of male LNP and Katter’s Australian Party members who spoke in opposition to the Termination of Pregnancy Bill recently debated in the Queensland Parliament – or that the grotesque spectre of Pauline Hanson is not a particular Queensland manifestation of our ugliest impulses. But as I watched, with breath suspended, the eloquent, forceful parade of mostly female MPs getting up to defend a women’s right to choose on the parliament floor, I could not have been prouder of this state I call home. And I hope Howard Carter and Joh were somersaulting in their graves.