John Menadue. Insiders and Outsiders.

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As social beings, we usually like to be part of the group, an insider. We are cautious about being outsiders, on the periphery. Yet being outsiders has some real advantages.

Growing up in country towns in South Australia, I felt what it was like to be an outsider. As the son of a Methodist manse, I often felt an outsider in the socially conservative country towns of South Australia where we lived. I was able to join the group however through sport. As a university scholarship holder I also felt different to those in the mainstream. I felt I had to work harder so that I wouldn’t lose my scholarship.

At the age of 41, working for Malcolm Fraser, I felt very much an outsider. But by that time I found I didn’t really care. I vividly recall a lengthy evening discussion at the Lodge in the early days of the new Liberal Government with Malcolm Fraser and senior members of his private office. The evening was informal and quite friendly, but I had a strong sense that I didn’t belong. But I didn’t feel perturbed as perhaps I would have earlier in my life. Belonging, being an insider, was no longer so important. It was transforming, that if push came to shove I knew that I could survive as an outsider, not comfortably but I could manage.

As a board member of Qantas and Telstra, I felt the strong pressure to be one of the ‘club’ with my eye fixed on re-appointment. That caused problems and disagreements with the boards of both organisations. But I felt content to be an outsider and as far as possible be my own self.

I remember many years later at a social gathering I was asked by James Strong ‘how many boards are you on’. It was not a subject which I had ever asked myself but it suggested to me the importance placed on being an insider, being in the directors’ ‘club’.

I have never felt an insider within the Catholic Church of which I have been a member for over 30 years. In all that time only one Catholic has ever asked me what it was like growing up in the Methodist Church. I am not one of the Irish tribe. But I am content. I often rationalise to myself that being an outsider gives one a perspective that insiders do not have. Popes and the Catholic hierarchy have lived almost their entire lives within institutions of the Catholic Church. This cultural grip is a particular problem for Catholic clergy. Invariably they are brought up in a Catholic home, attend a Catholic school, join a Catholic seminary and then are ordained as celibate priests to serve for the next 50 years. It is hard to break free of the cultural grip of that upbringing. Some do but many don’t.

The Polish have a proverb that the visitor sees in ten minutes what the host does not see in ten years. The Chinese have a proverb that the mountain is seen best from the plain.

There are advantages in being an outsider, even if uncomfortable from time to time.

John Menadue


John Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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3 Responses to John Menadue. Insiders and Outsiders.

  1. Avatar Kieran Tapsell says:

    Being an outsider often gives rise to greater effort and creativity. One only has to look at the Catholics in the Federal cabinet and the High Court after a century and a half of being regarded as outsiders by the Protestant majority. There is another advantage in being an outsider which is expressed in the Polish proverb John quoted. The American anthropologist, Ralph Linton said something similar: “the last thing a fish would notice would be the water.” I have deliberately chosen to be an outsider to another exclusive club by writing a book on canon law without doing the “hard yards” of becoming a trained canonist. There are advantages in looking at the water from the outside, rather than being a fish. The Murphy Commission in Ireland found that canon law lacked one of the “basic features of a coherent legal system”. There are other problems with it that I have identified in my book: Potiphar’s Wife: The Vatican’s Secret and Child Sexual Abuse. There are, of course, disadvantages in not doing the “hard yards”. A layperson could become well versed in contract law by buying a text book, but the solution to a particular contractual problem might come out of left field, such as equity. However, one can usually avoid this pitfall by reading the literature widely. Whether I have read the literature widely enough to overcome that disadvantage awaits some informed criticism of my book. That opportunity might arise in Melbourne on 29 October 2014 at 7.30pm when Dr Ian Waters, a canon lawyer from Melbourne will be responding to my address to a meeting organised by Catholics for Renewal and Catalyst for Renewal at the Pumphouse Hotel, 128 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy.

  2. Avatar narelle gaudry brown says:

    I too am an outsider catholic and I struggle with that because you are so right you experience it so differently always from the outside. Thats the irratant for me, I will never be able to reproduce what it is to be a catholic from conception.

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