Wednesday 3 October 2012


I've long been an admirer of Tim Costello. CEO of World Vision, Australia's largest charity, social commentator, who is always a rational, educated and humane voice on a wide range of topics. Like 400,000 Australian families we sponsor a child through World Vision and I hope that she and her community in Colombia benefit from our sponsorship.

I will always read a piece about him, or by him in a newspaper or magazine when I find one, but I wasn't aware that Tim Costello was an author until I walked into the bookshop at Melbourne Writers Festival recently. There were several huge piles of his new book Hope. A lovely hardback edition with a brown ribbon for a bookmark. I always love a book with a ribbon, I wish publishers would use them more. Autographed copies! And so naturally I walked away with one. 

And I'm very glad that I did. A broad ranging book, part memoir, part travelogue, but also delving into the theological, political, economic, conservation and social themes of our times. It is personal too, about family, marriage, love and work. Hope is a collection of what could be stand alone short essays, but together make for easy yet thought provoking and enjoyable reading.

Tim Costello grew up in Victoria. He studied law before theology, has been a pastor a Baptist Church in St Kilda, and even mayor of St Kilda in the early 90s. He became CEO of World Vision in 2004 not long before the devastating Boxing Day Tsunami. Law and religion seem somewhat conflicting bedfellows until he explains. 

For me, my calling always had to do with injustice. That is why I gravitated into law, until I worked out it did not necessarily have that much to do with justice. Most lawyers are businessmen. 

Wherever the calling started, I have always been driven by a visceral sense of righting injustice. It is the thread of calling that has led me into whatever work I have undertaken, from law to ministry, from local politics to aid and development. 

Tim has travelled widely. To wealthy countries of the world to meet with world leaders and the rich and powerful. Yet he travels economy as a matter of pinciple, and takes only carry on luggage, which seems to be a passion and predilection for men of a certain age. He attended the 2009 Climate Change Conference. He has travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo where he contracted malaria, to Uganda in 2006 where he met a boy forced to kill his own uncle, and to Jerusalem to meet grieving parents, both Arab and Jewish who come together in The Circle of the Bereaved to talk of their children who have died in the conflict. It's not glamorous work. But these stories are so fascinating. And make for sobering reading. 

Tim Costello has a number of favourite subjects it seems. Poker machines. Modern slavery. Not things that I think about all that often, but clearly Important Things. It is startling to be told that there are more slaves alive today (21 million worldwide) than ever before- more than during the entire 450 years of the Atlantic slave trade. Apparently there are an estimated 12 million child slaves in India today, many of whom are bonded, third generation slaves, living lives of misery because of a debt incurred by their grandfathers. 

Seventy percent of the world's cocoa comes from Ghana and the Ivory Coast, and child slave labour is often used in the harvesting of pods in remote jungle cocoa trees. The ridiculous thing is that it would take 10 cents extra per chocolate to ensure proper wages for farmers. Ten cents. World Vision had a Don't Trade Lives campaign about this and have released a very interesting chocolate scorecard- most applicable to chocolate available here in Australia, but most of these companies are multinationals, so I'm sure some of it is applicable elsewhere. They must have ruffled some feathers as Tim said that for 18 months he was dogged by the chocolate lobby, following him to speaking engagements and defending the industry!

You'll have to read Hope to learn many other interesting tales, such as the link between Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King's famous I have a dream speech, and the intriguing last words of Tim's grandmother as she invoked Henry Lawson, and urged us to water the geraniums.

Interesting to note whilst Googling images that Merridie Costello
is coauthor on some covers, but not on mine


skiourophile said...

I am still grinning over your comment on men with carry on luggage, "a passion and predilection for men of a certain age". So true!

bermudaonion said...

That sounds very disturbing. We do have a shop here that sells fair trade items and they carry quite a bit of chocolate. I think I need to do all my shopping there now.

Paulita said...

This book sounds admirable. We should all consider how our actions affect the world. I know, from the Paris in July meme, that you love everything about France like I do, so I wanted to tell you about my book The Summer of France which is now available Here on Kindle or
Here on Nook or
Here in Paperback

Sim Carter said...

What a very important post! What an admirable man Tim Costello seems to be; his opinion on the legal profession strikes me as being disappointingly accurate and the fact that he left it in order to do some good is really praiseworthy. The slave stats are disturbing and honestly, I didn't realize how much the chocolate industry was involved. That's really troubling - it's not something that gets much play here. I think many of us like to rattle with outrage but most of us are too comfortable to contribute to making changes. Really sad. Thanks for all the great info.