I am in the middle of directing Tommy Murphy's new play, Mark Colvin's Kidney, for Sydney's Belvoir. It's been extraordinary.
I remember being glued to the Leveson Inquiry. All that rigorous
interrogation and the testimonies of the famous, including a
fragile-looking Rupert Murdoch. It felt like we were witnessing the fall
of a media empire. It felt like the world was about to change and that
‘truth’ and ‘ethics’ and ‘justice’ would somehow flourish.
Five years on, that feeling is foreign. ‘Alternative facts’ fight
with the truth, and justice for many seems more distant than ever.
I was not aware of Mary-Ellen Field’s story until Tommy Murphy, that
most intrepid of playwrights, brought it to my attention. Things struck
me with immediate force. Here was a very successful woman, a member of
the Conservative Party, who bit by bit had her natural faith in the
cornerstones of British justice eroded. More specifically, here was
someone who had been treated savagely by the media and yet decided to
give her kidney to a journalist. How does that happen?
Altruism is mysterious. Evolutionary biology and neurobiology tell us
that we’re hardwired for it, but that the trigger can be untouched. We
are often suspicious of those who say they expect no reward for their
kindness. The idea of absolute selflessness (is there such a thing?)
doesn’t quite gel in times when empathy seems to be in such short
But, it happened. Mary-Ellen gave Mark Colvin, that exemplary journalist, a kidney, that spectacular
centre of the body’s waste disposal system. That act of kindness, in its
private, personal way, helped to cleanse. It added, in its modest way,
to the sum of goodness in the world. Perhaps, in the face of crushing
malice and injustice, that is the best we can hope for. Perhaps, though,
such acts, however small, accumulate and cultivate.
Perhaps Mark Colvin’s Kidney can be part of that current, its own ripple of hope.
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of
us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all
those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from
numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is
shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the
lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny
ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers
of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down
the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
(Robert F. Kennedy, Day of Affirmation address delivered at the University of Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966)