I discovered gall-stones when I was eight. Only sixty-eight years later did I discover the functions of the gall-bladder, when after a bout of atrocious suffering I had the bladder and the stones removed. You probably detest, like me, organ-recitals and accounts of old fogies’ recent operations, but an explanation of the first sentence above may not be without interest.
The popular (and only) free entertainment available on Sunday afternoon in Sydney in the forties, apart from the occasional concert in the Town Hall, was to be found in a vast central park called the Domain. Speakers literally with soap-boxes knew they would find crowds ready to gather around them and listen to anti-Catholic diatribes on one side of the park, and on the other a fervent if not charismatic apologist, priest or layman, defending the Articles of Faith. Others would be analysing current events, crucial in post-war impoverished Australia, with outspoken defence of and attacks on government decisions, and proposals for the renewal of the economy through Communism (the Party, which controlled the trade-unions, almost came to power in 1949). Nearby there was always the Aussie Fulton Sheen, blasting Communism out of the water. People wandered from one soap-box to another, like me and my brother Jim, enjoying the ranting and the roars of approval of the convinced and the insidious objections of the militant, noisy opponents.
Some speakers had an entirely different spiel. One was famous for his weekly pitch on his patented method of painlessly removing gall-stones. I had no idea what he was talking about, except that it sounded like a better idea than getting sliced up on an operating table. I don’t remember exactly what methods he was proposing. I don’t know whether he had changed the labels on his bottles of Snake Oil, or proposed a non-invasive procedure based on a very reasonably priced course of self-therapy which he was prepared to teach the suckers out there. But, now I think of it – having encountered the pain of untreated gall-stones and imagined the motivation of many in his audience – I have to add this to my growing list of “Nonsense People are Prepared to Believe”. When you think of credulity like this, I suppose we should not be surprised by what non-atheists believe.