They’re fiddling while young lives burn

To fiddle while Rome burns (idiomatic) To neglect helping when one’s time is needed most; to ignore the major problem at hand (whilst doing something less important); to be idle, inactive, or uninterested in a time of great need.


The Emperor Nero certainly did not play the fiddle during the great fire that ravaged Rome for a week in July, 64 A.D., destroying 70 percent of the city and leaving half its population homeless.

Not that it was beyond him to be so insensitive, but because the fiddle, or any instrument like it, wasn’t invented until the 11th century.

He probably sang instead.

The posturing Nero fancied himself as something of an ancient rockstar. He loved performing, and craved recognition in the musical world so much he launched his own singing competitions (which he won himself, of course).

So when Rome went up in flames, even though he threw open his gardens and public buildings to the homeless and brought in grain from the neighboring towns, all anyone remembered was what Tacitus reported: “…he had mounted his private stage, and, typifying the ills of the present by the calamities of the past, had sung the Destruction of Troy.”

Can you picture it? The injured and dispossessed survivors of the firestorm who took refuge in the imperial gardens, having lost everything they owned, were forced to listen to a recital by the dictator of Rome.

Imagine the polite applause, the half-hearted clapping by the shell-shocked survivors, too frightened of the capricious king not to applaud.

This week we were treated to another kind of performance by our rulers.

It was an undignified game of musical chairs as various Liberal Party members jockeyed for the top job. One of them was Peter Dutton, the former Home Affairs minister responsible for overseeing Australia’s immigration policy, including the draconian program of mandatory and indefinite offshore detention that has seen around 119 children trapped on the island nation of Nauru.

Despite previous boasts by Mr. Dutton that he got every child out of detention, the 119 children trapped there are living in cruel and inhumane conditions without adequate health, education or employment options, and with no hope of release.

In other words, while Mr Dutton and his colleagues were fiddling in Canberra, hundreds of lives continued to be ruined in Nauru.


In at least three cases in the past seven months, Australian judges have ordered that young children be immediately brought to Australia for care, some suffering from suicidal ideation and self harm. We’re talking about children under the age of 12!

Greens senator, Richard Di Natale summed up the feelings of much of the nation when he said, “We have kids in a catatonic state because they had given up hope, locked away in those offshore hellholes. What is the Liberal Party doing? Focusing on vengeance, on payback. Focusing on themselves.”

You can get angry when uncaring politicians fiddle while Rome burns, or you can get busy. I’m going to take the second option. I’ve signed on to support the Kids Off Nauru Campaign.


Kids Off Nauru was launched on August 20, and is calling for the Australian government to bring every child and their family to Australia by Universal Children’s Day. That’s November 20. They should be either resettled in Australia or in another suitable country which welcomes them.

The message couldn’t be simpler, or more necessary. No civilized country should be allowed to imprison children. Ever. Even if you agree with the broader immigration strategy of the Australian federal government to stop refugees arriving in this country by boat, surely you would agree that children shouldn’t pay for the perceived “crimes” of their parents (bearing in mind that it is not actually illegal to cross international borders and claim asylum).

Kids Off Nauru is endorsed by World Vision, Save the Children, Oxfam, Love Makes a Way, Archbishop Glen Davies, Julian Burnside, Prof Gillian Triggs, and Kon Karapanagiotidis, among many others.

What can you do? Here’s some simple steps to get started:

  1. Sign the KidsOffNauru petition now. You’ll find it at
  2. Follow #KidsOffNauru on social media and jump on board posting updates on the designated days of action.
  3. Write a letter to the office of the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the office of the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten, demanding that children be evacuated from Nauru and brought to Australia with their immediate family, or alternatively allow them to be settled in a suitable third country that welcomes them. Draft letters are available at the Kids Off Nauru website.
  4. Contact your local MP about the campaign and voice your concern.

As a Christian, I’m always struck by the fact that the Greek word for ‘alien’ is the same as the word for ‘guest’. The customary law shared by all civilized peoples in the ancient world was to welcome the sojourner, the outsider, the refugee, to your table. Indeed, an indication of how civilized you were could be determined by how you treat strangers.

On current indications, either (a) refugees are inhuman, or (b) we are uncivilized.

As a brother in Christ, I urge Prime Minister Scott Morrison to demonstrate the Christian virtue of loving one’s neighbour by repatriating all 119 children and their families from Nauru immediately. The treatment of refugees in offshore detention has been a blight on our reputation as a civilised nation and I’m praying that Mr Morrison addresses this as a matter of urgency.

Please join Kids Off Nauru and let’s send a message to our self-centered politicians and our new prime minister that this treatment of children is utterly unconscionable in a modern civilized democracy.




Share to:

Subscribe to my blog


The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

Latest Blogs

Picturing the Resurrection

The best paintings of the resurrection don’t include Jesus in them. At least it seems that way. Seven years ago (was it really that long??)

The Perfect Ash Wednesday Picture

What an eccentric painting this is. Carl Spitzweg’s 1860 painting Ash Wednesday depicts a clown, dressed presumably for Mardi Gras, languishing in a dark and

The Fierce Mother Heart of God

My three-year-old grandson Jarrah has been unwell recently. Really unwell. He has been seriously ill with what we’ve now discovered was a horrible combination of

2 thoughts on “They’re fiddling while young lives burn

  1. Thank you for highlighting this campaign

  2. A timely commentary on the state of our political masters on this most capricious day. What are the priorities of our national leadership? That is the most vexing question in this game of well-paid musical chairs. One priority should be the readdressing of the national shame of Nauru – particularly re children. Thank you for the update and the link for action (I’m taking it and passing it on).

    In my early working life with World Vision, I visited a Mozambican refugee ‘camp’ across the river in neighbouring Malawi. There was no barbed wire and indeed no particular sign of where the refugee settlement and the neighbouring villages met and merged. The Malawians were astounded at the idea of walls and fences to keep refugees in (or out). These refugees had fled horrendous violence and bore the signs in amputated limbs and machete wounds on faces and bodies. Pregnant women had crossed the river holding infants. Though Malawi is itself poor – and the local villagers were typical of rural subsistence farmers in Africa – there was no concept that help would not be given. The national motto of Malawi being ‘The warm heart of Africa’ – fitting indeed. Hardly a national motto that Australia could claim at the moment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *