I was born and not long afterwards ‘misplaced’

Gerringong, NSW

I was born and not long afterwards ‘misplaced’

I was born on a Sunday afternoon at the Bethesda Hospital in Enmore, an inner suburb of Sydney, on the thirteenth day of August in 1961. Immediately opposite the hospital (named for the Pool of Bethesda in the Gospel of John) was the famous swimming pool where ‘wogs’ would go in search of ‘sheilas’ and where nine years later I would almost drown having miscalculated the deep end.

My Mother’s labour was both long and painful, beginning in the morning hours of the previous day. She hardly spoke English which made it very difficult to communicate her distressing condition to midwives. When my Father, who was fluent in the language of his adopted country but absent during my birth (he was “busy” at the shoppe), arrived to take us home he was in for a shock. The blond-haired blue-eyed baby boy bawling before him was evidently, not his son. On his first visit George had embraced a dark little fellow with the characteristic swarthy features of a Mediterranean newborn, but what was presented to him that morning was a fair-headed “Germanaras” as he would later say, a “German.” And in her broken English my Mother would cry out with hands swinging in the air, “This no my baby! No my baby!”

The nurses who at first were understandably hesitant to admit to such a serious blunder, hurried back to the neonatal ward to make the necessary swap. This incident which I have often reflected upon highlights two aftermaths which were to shadow me from that time onwards. First, the number of ‘lucky escapes’ that I would afterwards have from death; and second, my work as a privacy advocate has often meant that I have had to consider the terrible question on the microchipping of not only adults, but increasingly of newborns as well.  

The old man ‘Pappous’

I was to be the only child and named after my paternal grandfather, the old man ‘Pappous’. He was known as much for his homespun wisdom as he was for his big-hearted generosity. Afterwards when the disease would also come upon him, he would sit alone under his Carob trees and muse on the passing of the world. Similarly to me, he often found it difficult to distinguish between his gut feelings and the cold facts. I have a photo of the old man in my study hanging on the wall together with the Saints. He has the eyes of an owl. Like those in our tribe before us, we were both named in honour of the great warrior archangel Michael: “And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon…” (Book of Revelation, 12:7).

Every infant it is believed is born with two fears, one is falling, and the other of loud noises. I added a third: The fear of being misplaced.