The mysterious Exclusive Brethren - where do they come from, who are they, and where did they get all that cash? Of course, I am eminently qualified to answer all three questions, because I am from Mt Roskill.
Where do they come from? They come from the Brethren House on the corner of Rogan St and Sylvester Road in Hillsborough of course, dummy.
Who are they? They are three very pale flaxen-haired pigtailed girls I went to primary school with, who shall remain nameless. They dressed like they were gathering twigs in the forest of a Grimm brothers fairytale, while the rest of us were in stirrup-pants, bubble-skirts, trackies and, well, rags. I don't know if they were preternaturally pale or anaemic, but they stick out in my memory as being the whitest girls I'd ever seen. It could have just been relative, as my primary school was pretty brown, and even the white-trash part had dirty faces compared to those well-scrubbed cherubs. I walked home with them quite often, as they seemed to live somewhere round the Brethren House. Smart, cheerful girls, and freakishly disciplined. Once, two of them rounded on the other, falsely accusing her of having taken the Lord's name in vain, until she cried. Well, girls are mean. The one who cried, the frecklier, mousier-haired one, about seven years ago I was sure I caught a glimpse of her with an uncovered head, pageboy haircut and jeans, dashing through the university quad, looking stressed. I don't know. If it was her, no wonder she was stressed, because she would have been excommunicated from her entire community and family to have been there that day.
Where did they get all that cash? They didn't have televisions, which would have been less amazing had other kids also not had televisions because they couldn't afford it. I suppose they were squirrelling away their TV money for political leaflets twenty years down the line. Twenty years of television money - it builds up you know! And twenty years of wardrobe allowance. Also, pulling those three bright girls out of school after intermediate, putting headscarves and ankle length skirts on them, and putting them to work at home must have saved a hell of a lot on school fees and university tuition. My older brother's favourite girl at intermediate was an Exclusive Brethren - they always topped the class together. She got pulled out of school before puberty, thwarting geek love.
Imagine all the productive female brain-power being tucked away with regularity, into the Brethren House. That place must be an intellectual powerhouse. There's a perception that all those girls are being cloistered and brainwashed into subservience, but how do we know all that repressed braininess is not, in fact, powering a Pinky and the Brain-style global terrorist takeover to prepare for the coming Rapture?
So maybe it's their time. Their new leader Bruce Hales has apparently thawed the 'excommunication' policy slightly on access to family members, but has also thrown this otherworldly community into politics. He has:
told members before George W. Bush and Australian PM John Howard were re-elected that if they were not returned to power, "the rapture", or end of the world, would be near.
If those girls are being trained as terrorist revolutionary suicide bombers inside the Brethren House, like the womenfolk in other apocalyptic hellfire sects of other religions, at least it'd be more exciting than needlepoint and cleaning the oven. It'd even be more exciting than having a television or the internet.
Members are not allowed to have televisions or radios and they are forbidden from using the internet, because the book of Revelation tells them that the devil is "the prince with the power of the air". Although some run computer businesses, the technology is frowned upon for private use because it has the power to employ the satanic number 666.