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The Sydney Morning Herald

STAY IN TOUCH

Author: EDITED BY DAVID DALE
Date: 09/01/1997
Words: 1480
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: NEWS AND FEATURES
Page: 28
PRECEDENTS

STARTLING evidence of the power of prayer has emerged from an experiment conducted by the Sydney Catholic private school St Ignatius Riverview. To understand how this worked, you must cast your mind back to September of last year, when Stay in Touch reported that Peter Ireland, the Deputy Head (Curriculum) of St Ignatius, had sent this newsletter to parents and friends: "Knowing the value and sometimes the miraculous power of Prayer, to assist a worthwhile cause I am in search of Prayer Sponsors for each of our Year 12 HSC students ... Each week, each of our Year 12 Students who wish to be sponsored in prayer is invited to submit his name and the times of his HSC exams to myself. I will then allocate his name to a Prayer Sponsor who has volunteered to pray for a Student at this time. Each Sponsor will receive a card with 1. The name of the Student; 2. The prayer offered; 3. The times of the Student's HSC exams."

We wondered at the time about the implications of this Prayer Sponsorship scheme, and asked these questions: 1. Does God award extra HSC marks to the Students who attracted the most Sponsors? 2. Does the method of prayer-delivery matter, so that a Student who gets low marks might ask for a recount on the basis that his Sponsor didn't put enough conviction into the prayer, or prayed at the wrong time? 3. Will the prayer be disqualified if it is copied from another Sponsor? 4. If it's a French exam, is the prayer more effective if delivered in French? If it's an English exam, does God deduct marks for grammatical errors in the prayer? If it's a science exam, does a sponsored prayer compensate for the Student having to write about evolution? 5. And what about Students whose relatives and friends are all atheists? Clearly, a scaling system must be introduced to ensure they are not disadvantaged - some sort of In Lieu Of Prayer Bonus."

Well, the HSC has come and gone, and a lot of prayers have passed over the bridge. Peter Ireland, the author of the newsletter, has now written to the Herald pointing out that the "sceptical send-up" by Stay in Touch was misplaced. And certainly the figures for his school's HSC results are impressive. Of the 14 students in NSW who achieved a perfect 100 score, three came from Riverview. And of the 196 Riverview students who sat for the exam, 50 got scores that put them among the top 5,000 students in the State. As Peter Ireland says in his letter: "Guess what? God was listening!!" We can only agree. We do, however, have some supplementary questions, viz:

1. Were all three Riverview students who got the perfect scores in the Prayer Sponsorship scheme? Or was perchance one of them an agnostic who dared to try it on his own?

2. If prayer was the explanation in all three cases, would Riverview, in the spirit of Christian charity, be willing to give details of the precise wording of the prayers so that these could be passed on to students entering Year 12 at Mt Druitt High School, which was kindly reported in yesterday's Daily Telegraph as achieving the worst HSC results in the State?

3. What was wrong with the prayers submitted on behalf of the 146 Riverview students who did not get into the State's top 5,000?

4. If prayers are the explanation for Riverview's excellent results, does this mean we can discount the role of a) a privileged family background which provided the student with all aids to learning; b) dedicated, intelligent teachers; c) hard work by the students? We will try to contact Peter Ireland today (by Earthly means) for guidance on this subject.

WHAT'S HAPPENING

TODAY is January 9, birthday of English thrush Gracie Fields (1898), US not-a-crook Richard Nixon (1913), US beatnik islander Bob Denver (1935); UK sex bomb Susannah York (1942), UK blues thief Jimmy Page (1944) and US Howard-favourite Joan Baez (1941) and deathday of UK genius Peter Beryl Cook, author of "I've got a bee in this box" and "I've got nothing against your right leg - the trouble is, neither have you" (1995). Today in 1799, the British Prime Minister, William Pitt (the Younger), introduced income tax at the rate of two shillings in the pound to raise funds for the Napoleonic Wars (surely now that Napoleon has been defeated, they can repeal the legislation); in 1868, the last shipload of convicts (279 of them on a ship called the Hougoumont) left Britain for Australia, landing at Fremantle; in 1911, an electric tram replaced the steam tram service between Curl Curl and Manly Pier; in 1958, Australia's first 45 rpm single record, Bill Haley's Rock Around The Clock, was released by Festival Records; in 1967, Australia's last use of capital punishment happened with the hanging of Ronald Ryan in Melbourne's Pentridge Prison for killing a prison worker.

IT'S Advisory Day for intending students at the University of Technology, Sydney, on Level 4, UTS Tower Building, Number 1 Broadway, from 9 am. 9514 1697.

THE Seventh National Summer School of Cartooning begins at 10 am, with workshops and film screenings for kids aged 7-17, at the State Library, Macquarie Street, Sydney. 9230 1566.

ROBYN Williams, the fairly funny ABC broadcaster, will discuss "Doing it with Science" at the Uni of NSW Information Day, Clancy Auditorium, Kensington Campus, at 3 pm. 9385 5750.

AND what do you call a French yachtsman? Bob. And how many French yachtsmen does it take to sail around the world? Cinq.

GOSSIP

YES, all right, we know we guaranteed that this section would be 100 per cent Michael Jackson-free, but now we must, as the politicians say, qualify that undertaking in the light of new facts that have become available. It seems that the musical millionaire father-to-be is preparing to become an Australian citizen. Well, that's if you believe The New York Post newspaper. The Post's gossip columnist, Neal Travis, reported yesterday: "The idea is that Jackson, who married the mother of his forthcoming child in Sydney three months ago, wants to protect his estimated $US150 million fortune in the event that he and Debbie Rowe end up in the divorce courts. As an Australian citizen, he would fare a whole lot better in a divorce than he would in California, where Rowe could lay claim to half of everything he owns."

Travis continues: "Jackson is immensely popular Down Under, where no-one seems to care about allegations of improper behaviour with young boys." (Travis is an Australian, so he must know.) Travis suggests that Jackson has already laid the groundwork for his regal arrival, "making out a large cheque to the Australian Government to speed the process of citizenship. In fact, the Government does have a policy of smoothing the way for rich migrants who will create jobs. It's said that an accountant in Jackson's Los Angeles business office was recently fired for showing around a photocopy of the cheque - for some $750,000 - Jacko allegedly signed".

The Herald's New York correspondent, Alan Attwood, says the report, which could have been immediately dismissed as an April Fool's joke had it appeared in three months' time, is given a semblance of credibility by the fact that Jackson appears almost to shun the US these days. He performed two concerts in Hawaii late last week, but these will be his only appearances on American stages during his current tour, which included huge successes in Australia and New Zealand.

Just supposing for a moment that there is some truth in the report, would Michael Jackson meet Australia's stringent entry requirements? The major attributes on which applicants for immigration must now gain points (needing a total of at least 115) are as follows:

English language proficiency: This is a problem, as anyone who has ever tried to make out the words of Beat It will testify. Jackson has certainly perfected the phrase "I love you all", but his linguistic abilities may have atrophied during long periods spent conversing with chimpanzees. Let's say 11 points out of 20.

Criminal record: None. All allegations were withdrawn on financial terms not to be disclosed. 16/20.

Independent wealth. No problem here, unless Debbie gets it all. 18/20.

Relationship to Australian citizens: None that we know of. But getting married in Sydney must count for something. Say 6/20.

Sponsor (must be Australian citizen): I. "M" Meldrum. 4/20.

Skills helpful in gaining employment in Australia: We already have plenty of singers, but very few performers who can moonwalk. Let's say 13/20.

Willingness to settle outside a capital city: Since Jackson currently lives on a ranch called Neverland, this should not be a problem. 15/20.

Age: At 39, he's getting on a bit to find alternative employment if the market for moonwalkers should dry up. The requirement for frequent nasal reconstruction is also likely to make him a drain on the health system. 9/20.

The points total 92. Sorry, Michael, try again next year.

AND on a totally different topic ... Queensland is famous for its BIG icons, but what happened yesterday took the concept in a new direction. The township of Kilcoy, an hour's drive north of Brisbane, awoke to discover that an enthusiastic penis had been attached to the neutered statue of Yowie, a mythical man-like creature which bestrides the local park. AAP reports that Yowie had been genderless for some time after his last appendage was snapped off. "In the past, Yowie has undergone some traumas," said Kilcoy newsagent Will Musken, who said the statue's penis had regularly been removed by people who were offended or who wanted it as a souvenir. "Once it was covered with a little lap-lap skirt and another time with a wreath of flowers. But overnight, a new larger than life penis made of steel has appeared, making spinsters blush, boys giggle and men look with envy." The statue commemorates a hairy creature which some locals claim to have seen over the years in bushland surrounding the town.

"We've never been able to capture the real Yowie, but we've seen his footprints quite close to town," Musken said. He hopes the newly rampant Yowie could become an attraction for motorists who travel through on the D'Aguilar Highway. "We've got the Big Pineapple and the Big Cow. What's wrong with having the Big Penis?" Musken said. "It could be a masterstroke for local tourism."

 
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