I woke late to a crisp, clear, autumn Melbourne morning. The weather here is remarkably mild which is great luck for this Queenslander who, effectively, has no winter clothes!
I spent a leisurely morning blogging, then fluffing about with clothes for tonight before heading out the door around 11.30am for the Secular Party Lunch at the Waterside Hotel.
I was met with a massive hug from Andrew Skegg (@askegg) from the Stop the National School Chaplaincy Program Facebook page. Andrew introduced me to YouTube vlogger, AronRa and I scored a big hug from him too, and a stroke of that frankly, magnificent head of hair!
The Secular Party lunch was wonderful and many thanks to John Perkins and team for arranging it. Around 50 people attended and the room was so noisy I turned to Andrew Skegg and said, “We should record this and send it to those people who wonder what atheists find to talk about!” The noise was deafening!
Also at my table with AronRa, my dear friend Jin Oh Choi from Tasmania, a new friend, Nigel McNie (@nigelmcnie) from New Zealand. Next to me was Margaret Morgan with her friend Suzy, a policy advisor for the Greens. Suzy broke the news that Senator Bob Brown had just resigned as leader and that Christine Milne would succeed him. What a scoop!
Robert Tobin was at the lunch, too. Robert has had a rough 12 months suffering from oesophagal cancer – the same illness suffered by the late great Christopher Hitchens. Due to the incredible generosity of my Facebook friends, we were able to bring Robert to Melbourne from the Gold Coast to enjoy all the ungodly delights of the convention. Hitch would have been proud, I think.
After lunch, I hooked up with Hilton Travis from Brisbane Skeptics in the Pub for a quick stroll back to the Hilton. There, we met up with David Leaf from Dying with Dignity NSW and the wonderful Nelson Lau who was the official photographer for Ron Williams’ High Court Challenge. Drinks in the Hilton bar brought another PZ Myers sighting. PZ, surrounded by Pharyngulites looked every bit like a shark surrounded by pilot fish!
Ron Williams had sent me some DVDs of his fabulous song, Why Don’t Bees Go to Heaven, with a special request that I give one to PZ. So, I was happy to climb through a crowd of Pharyngulites to perch next to PZ, thank him on Ron’s behalf for his support of the case, and present him with his personal copy.
A quick nana nap in the afternoon and a hot bath revived me for the GAC opening at the Melbourne Convention Centre.
As I walked across from the Hilton, I ran into Jane Caro and her daughter. More hugs!
I knew that this Convention was going to be bigger and better than 2010 but I don’t think I’d quite got my mind around it. At lunch, John Perkins mentioned there would be 4000 people at the Convention – that’s nearly double the numbers from 2010 – but still it didn’t really sink in … until ….
I approached the MCEC from a first floor escalator. Below me was an absolute sea of people! It was, as Jane had warned me, like a supermarket food court – only much, much bigger. We filled the whole lower level of the MCEC! You’ve never seen so many heathens all in the one place!
It was also amazing that I managed to find so many people I knew – or that they managed to find me! There was Mitch Sullivan (@mitchsully), and the divine Michael Barnett (@MikeyBear) and Gregory Storer (whose TV wedding many of you watched on ABC’s In Gordon Street recently). Steve Payne was there (after nearly walking my poor legs off in a five block sprint to dinner last night), as was David Leaf and his beautiful mother, Rose. Yes, Rose Leaf – what a perfect name.
It was great to meet the famous Marty Pribble (@MartinPribble) in person as it was he who ORDERED me to attend GAC 2012 when I was prevaricating. Also Gina Carmady and the too often elusive Jake Farr Wharton (@JakeFarrWharton).
Max Wallace, author of The Purple Economy said hello and I got to have a brief chat with Russell Blackford, author of Freedom of Religion and the Secular State. Richard Dawkins was just behind us within spitting distance, but I wasn’t going to risk one of his icy stares by approaching him!
Just before 7.30pm we trooped into the huge auditorium that’s going to be our ‘home’ for the weekend.
As I peered down into the front rows, I could see, standing together, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett – the three surviving ‘horsemen’.
A video was played first, positing the question “Why?” as the most powerful force in all existence. It was, the video informed us, the question which drove the likes of Hypatia, Galileo, Ingersoll, Darwin, Shelley and Wollstonecraft.
“Remember the question-makers,” intoned the voice-over, “We fan the flames. We never stop asking, “Why?””
AFA President, David Nicholls was the first to speak and began, appropriately, with a tribute to Christopher Hitchens. Ironically, today (13 April) would have been Hitch’s 62nd birthday.
Nicholls quoted Bertrand Russell: “To save the world requires faith and courage: faith in reason, and courage to proclaim what reason shows to be true.”
Nicholls noted the incredible growth of interest in the Convention since 2010 and warned governments to take note of ‘this overt display of godlessness’.
Kylie Sturgess and Lawrence Leung were next to take the stage.
“Welcome to the second coming of the Global Atheist Convention – something even Jesus hasn’t managed yet!” said Kylie.
Laurence, cheekily, reminded us that this was a huge gathering of freethinkers – who all happened to think the same thing!
Kylie noted that for a country with an openly atheist Prime Minister, it was notable that she hadn’t bothered to put in an appearance.
Kylie quoted from Christopher Hitchens recent message to American Atheists:
“Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.”
Looking at the size of the gathering, Lawrence dubbed it Woodstock for Reason.
Mikey Robins was our host for the night. Jovially greeting all us ‘godless bastards’ Mikey noted that we were the stuff of George Pell’s nightmares!
Speaking of Tony Abbott, he suggested that someone so opposed to gay marriage really shouldn’t wear that much lycra. Take note, Mr Rabbit!
On a serious note that will reverberate with my dear friends Warren Bonett and Kylie Bruce of Embiggen Books, Robins noted that, in Australia, “We’re opening more Krispy Kremes than bookshops, people! We’re THAT close to turning into America!”
He also mentioned the general lack of knowledge of bookshop staff (Embiggen being a notable exclusion of course!)
Mikey said he went into a bookshop looking for a book about war. The assistant told him they had a few books on World War I but absolutely HEAPS of books on World War Eleven (II). Oh, dear!
Ben Elton was next up. He said he felt strongly about being here at the GAC. He said there was a problem in people trying to impose their religion on to others – and then, they don’t want to be criticized either. What’s the matter, said, Ben, is God scared of Richard fucking Dawkins?
Ben had an imaginative method of convincing creationists that God couldn’t possibly have created the world in six days. Take them to Ikea, he said. Give them a child’s desk and bedroom set and say, “Here. Build it. You’ve got six days.” They’d soon find out how improbable the creation of the universe was!
He also objected to the religious trying to cloak their superstitions in a ‘spurious display of rationality’ – e.g. intelligent design.
“If someone’s designed it,” he said, “there’s a few questions I’d like to ask ….”
For example, who the hell thought of having something as big as a baby come out of something as small as a vagina????
Everyone’s deserting the ‘mushy centre’ of mainstream belief, bemoaned Ben. Those who aren’t embracing fundamentalism are turning to new age superstitions like astrology.
“How come no-one’s born under the sign of ‘Dickhead’?” he wondered.
He then made the excellent observation that the ‘God’ that people worship today is themselves. What they call ‘God’ says what they want him to say and thinks what they think. They have created God in their own image.
Ben said he didn’t have a problem with people thinking of ‘the unknown’ as ‘God’ but, he said, “I have no problem with faith,just don’t tell me what God thinks because you can have no fucking idea.”
Stella Young, a comedian with osteo genesis imperfecta (brittle bones), was next up and she was just brilliant. Defiantly using the ‘c’ word – cripple – Stella refused to take any crap from anyone.
“I’ve been an atheist since I first heard there’s only a stairway to heaven,” she said.
She applies the same rule to God as she does to her friends, “If you can’t provide access, I won’t come to your party.”
I didn’t take a lot of notes during Stella’s gig – she was so good I just wanted to listen. But, if you see her name on the comedy circuit, don’t miss her.
Jim Jefferies was the final act for the night.
Jim noted that Christians are all too ready to draw our attention to the ‘beautiful rainbow’ that God made but when God makes a tsunami that kills thousands we’re told that kind of event is part of God’s mystery.
“There’s nothing mysterious about acting like a c***”, insisted Jefferies.
It’s interesting, he said, that the writers of the Bible only tend to talk about things ‘within a five mile radius’. They seem to have left some things out – like a whole hemisphere!
Jefferies reckoned if God turned up at a party he’d be the least popular person there. Then, in a tour de force performance of a vengeful, petulant, bogan God, he demonstrated why it would really not be a good idea to invite God over to your place for a barbie. He tends to be a tad attention seeking and disruptive.
It was a brilliant night of biting comedy and the atmosphere in the room was electric.
After the show closed, I met up with Dave the Happy Singer from Dave the Happy Singer dot com, Jason Brown (@ADrunkenMadman / Drunken Madman) and their beautiful partners, Jasmine Marosvary and Esther Trenowden. It was also great to catch briefly with Graham and Tina Hannigan, long time Facebook friends.
We all trekked a few metres outside of the MCEC to a lovely little pub on the Yarra where I was delighted to run into OJ Lesslar from the Bond University Rationalist, Secularists and Thinkers group. Linley (@PostieLinley) and Kieran (@dolmiogrin) were there. Kieran still basking in the fame of his video question being featured on Q and A with Richard Dawkins and Cardinal Pell! I met @ReallyEdBrown who turned out to be REALLY Ed Brown – it was one of those “I can’t believe, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, is not, in fact, butter!” moments! And, of course there were more lovely hugs from photographer extraordinaire, Geoff Cowan (@themaskedbobo).
Geoff had a wonderful story to tell! He had noticed that a photo he took of Dawkins at the 2010 Convention was featured in the program. He approached Dawkins during the evening and pointed it out to him. Dawkins replied, “I remember you!” and proceeded to recite details about Geoff including where he lived and his interest in horses.
“It’s my favourite photo,” said Dawkins. Wow! Wasn’t Geoff chuffed!
Dawkins told Geoff if he could get some print outs of it, he’d be happy to sign them for him. Typically generous, Geoff intends to auction one for Doctors without Borders.
I must have met dozens more people and abject apologies if I haven’t mentioned your name – it’s not because I don’t love you! But it’s past 1pm now and I really must turn in. It’s an early start tomorrow and we’re all looking forward to a whole lot more godless goodness.
Night for now!