One Week Later

I did go to Canberra. I took the names of 48 people with me – friends, family members, colleagues, church people, and a few precious strangers who found me here or on social media and asked to be represented.

I stood among the others at the protest, with my sign, and listened to the speakers. Afterwards, I took myself and my sign to the smoking ceremony offered by the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, before adding my own name to the sign, and depositing it with the National Library of Australia. We are all part of the record of history, now.

And then I flew home, and went back to work, where I was promptly buried in grants and the logistics of in-person seminars, followed by an extremely full weekend of singing and writing work. It feels like there has hardly been time to think, let alone to write anything here.

I’ll be putting up a couple of backdated posts in the next few days, with my thoughts from just before and just after the rally. But it feels right to reflect a little on where we are a week later.

Mostly, I am a week angrier.

I mean, I didn’t really expect immediate change. I didn’t even expect that Morrison would come to the rally. Listening to women isn’t something he does. If he couldn’t even be bothered to read the accusations against Porter, he was hardly going to bother with the likes of us.

On the other hand, I really didn’t expect him to come out with that line about protestors in other countries being met with bullets, either.

He has been saying since that he was misunderstood and mis-characterised, but every woman I know (and plenty of men) heard it for what it was.

Aren’t you lucky we are letting you come and protest like this? Aren’t you lucky we are only raping you and not killing you? How good is Australia? Now, go home and be quiet and be grateful that we aren’t hurting you more. Because we could, if we wanted to.

I actually do believe that Morrison didn’t mean it the way it sounded. I think he is genuinely so utterly oblivious to the idea that women might have thoughts that are not his thoughts that he really just thought he was cleverly distracting us with talk about Myanmar. No wonder he is so offended to have been misunderstood.

(Though… you would think a guy who used to work in advertising would be a little better at communicating his message, wouldn’t you?)

I also want to talk about how it feels to be a woman, and a survivor of sexual assault, reading the news in Australia right now.

While there are some really fantastic journalists (mostly women, but a few good men, too) and politicians who are saying the right things, I am seeing plenty of messages like this:

What if it wasn’t true?

Look at her diary, she’s clearly crazy.

How can we believe her? It’s just he said, she said…

This should be left to the police.

The poor man is devastated by these accusations.

She was drunk, what did she expect?

Let’s create an app to record consent and prevent misunderstandings.

I think the people who write things like this are afraid. Afraid that they will be misunderstood, or lied about. Afraid that maybe they have done something that wasn’t quite consensual, and they will get called out for it. Afraid that suddenly, something they did a long time ago which they have mostly forgotten about will come back to haunt them. They are thinking of one specific person or one specific incident.

The trouble is, they are talking to all of us.

Here’s what survivors see when they read these messages.

You’re lying.

You’re crazy.

You’re overreacting.

It’s your fault anyway.

He probably didn’t realise you didn’t want it.

Do you really want to ruin his life over a misunderstanding?

If you come forward, nobody is going to believe you.

One friend tweeted that it’s like being raped all over again. It’s definitely re-traumatising. We already have the voices inside us that say maybe we really are over-reacting, maybe we are being unfair, maybe we are crazy. We already have that fear that if we say anything we will be forced to justify our clothes, our location, our activity, our reasons for associating with that person in the first place. We already suspect that we won’t be believed.

It’s really not helpful having senior political figures and journalists reinforcing that.

And speaking of things that are unhelpful, here is a tangible example of where this sort of denial and stonewalling leads to. Kenja Communications, a spiritual self-help group, has refused to join the National Redress Scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse, citing the Porter case as precedent:

“Anyone can contact the scheme and say they were abused as a child and without due process, in fact it appears without any real process, can receive up to $150,000 in compensation,” the statement said.

“We are of the view that recent events including the Christian Porter case confirm the legitimacy and appropriateness of the position we have taken regarding not joining the National Redress Scheme. In our respectful opinion, if it is proper for the Attorney-General to invoke the rule of law, it is also proper for us.”

Thank you so much, Mr Porter.

As for today’s revelations… look, I think it is essential that we do not conflate consensual sex acts (even ones in extraordinarily inappropriate locations) with sexual violence. We cannot allow today’s reports to turn the narrative from one of sexual abuse into one of sexual scandal.

But it cannot be denied that a workplace where men feel free to masturbate on the desks of their female colleagues and share the photos with their friends is clearly a workplace with some extremely concerning ideas about sex and gender. And while these may not rise to the level of condoning rape, they are absolutely indicative of a culture that has a big problem with women in power.

It’s telling, I think, that the wanker in question was a staffer, and the desk was that of an MP. It sends a message that says “You may think that you are more powerful than me, but you are still beneath me. You are still just something to be used for sex.” It takes an interesting combination of insecurity and confidence to need to send a message like that, I think.

(It is, of course, also an example of unwanted and unsolicited sexual behaviour. The MP did not consent to this. She may not have been present, but it was something that was done with the intention of humiliating her and ‘putting her back in her place.’)

So what happens now? I have no idea. This has been going on for a month now, but it feels interminable. I think the government really is hoping it will blow over soon, but I don’t think it can. It is too personal for too many people.

(On a lighter note, I just want to note that the last time I went to Parliament House, Tony Abbott was gone a week later. The magic doesn’t seem to be working so well this time, but I want you to know that I did do my very best.)


Sexual assault support services:

  • 1800 Respect national helpline: 1800 737 732
  • Lifeline (24-hour crisis line): 131 114
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636

Marching together

I’m going to the march in Canberra next Monday. I don’t do marches very often, but I’m going to this one.

I’m going because I’m angry and I’m going because I’m sad and I’m going because I’m tired. Because this shouldn’t still be happening. But it is. And I can’t bear the idea that this is just politics as usual, and that the government will get to move on as if nothing ever happened. It’s important to me that they see that we are here, and that this means something, and that we will not forget. It’s important to me that my niece doesn’t grow up in a world where a woman’s life is less important than a man’s career.

One thing that happens when you share your story of sexual assault is that other people come forward to share theirs. And there are so many people with these stories. These past few weeks, my DMs, my twitter feed, my blog comments, my email, my ears have been a clamour of women’s (and a few men’s) stories of pain and abuse. So I’m also going to Canberra because I feel like I’m carrying a lot of new stories now, in addition to the ones I was carrying already, and I’m hoping that if I take them with me they will start to mean something.

But speaking of carrying stories…

There are marches all over Australia, but I know that for many people, taking time off work or from caring duties to go to a protest just isn’t possible or practical. And I know that for others, attending a march isn’t feasible because of health or other issues. Marches simply aren’t accessible for everyone. (Which… is a problem, I think, but not one for this post.)

So if you really wanted to go to a march next Monday, but you can’t make it, drop me a comment. I’m not sure what the front of my placard is going to say yet (nobody who follows this blog will be surprised to learn that my mind runs more to essays than to pithy slogans), but the back is going to be the names * of the friends who can’t make it in person this time around, but who are with us in spirit.

I reckon those names will be a lot lighter to carry than the stories have been.

* Full names, first names or nicknames are all fine. And if you want me to screen your comment so others can’t see it, just let me know in your reply, and I’ll make it so.

When the political is personal

This is the post my brain keeps on trying to compose at three in the morning these last two weeks, instead of letting me sleep. Let’s see if finally writing the damn thing will help. This post is personal, and it’s angry, and it’s bitter and honestly kind of horrible.

Survivors of sexual assault might also want to give this post a miss, or at least proceed with care. Let’s face it, especially if you are in Australia, you’ve probably already had a rough week. And you probably don’t need to hear any of the things I’m going to write about anyway. Please, go watch something wholesome on YouTube instead. Or listen to some music, or read a book – I can highly recommend T. Kingfisher’s work if you want something light and funny and feminist and deeply kind – or do something else nice for yourself. Alternatively, this article has some good tips on taking care of yourself if the news is triggering you at present, including a list of numbers for support lines. What a rotten fortnight this has been.

Continue reading

Stage 4

I’ve spent the last five days attending CoNZealand, the annual World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention.

Of course, by ‘attending’, what I actually mean is that I’ve been sitting in front of my computer or my phone, sometimes in my pyjamas, watching and listening to panels and presentations, and participating in workshops and Kaffeeklatsches. This was going to be my first trip to New Zealand, but the closest I’ve got is shifting my timezone forward by two hours…

But such is life in the Time of COVID-19, and I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to spend most of a week being totally consumed by an event that has absolutely nothing to do with COVID-19 or lockdown restrictions or idiotic Australian politics (note: I do not say that WorldCon was free of idiotic politics in general. Just idiotic Australian ones.).

One of the best conversations I had at WorldCon this week was about time travel and World War 2. We were talking about Connie Willis’s time travel books, particularly Blackout, and how the time travellers in that book were historians from the future, and thus had the advantage of knowing when and how the war would end, while the people around them did not. And we, the reader, knew the same. We knew, no matter how dark things were getting, that if it was November 1944 in Britain, they were on the home stretch, they just had to hold on for a few more months and it would all be over.

Well, here we all are, living through history the long way round. If there are time travellers among us, they may well know when how this ends — actually, if there are time travellers among us, that would be awesome, because it might be proof that civilisation survives all the scary things that are happening right now. (Or, of course, they may be from the very far future, after the apocalypse and the rebuilding of everything that some of us have been able to take for granted all our lives.)

… Sorry, I’m tired, and this post is perhaps excessively whimsical.

What I’m trying to say is this: I’m the sort of reader who will turn to the end of the book when things get bad, just to make sure everything is OK. I can’t do that now, and I’m finding that stressful. While Stage 4 restrictions will change absolutely nothing about how I currently live my life, seeing the date when restrictions may lift (and it is may, not will – nothing is guaranteed) recede further into the future is still difficult. I’m good at doing what needs to be done, so long as I have an endpoint. It’s much harder without one.

But I don’t know how this ends. I can’t. I am not a time traveller from the future (and of course, I couldn’t tell you if I was – you just don’t want to know what sort of paradox that would create). I am just … someone who has to keep on going.

I have to hope that the end is in sight, that the work my wonderful scientists and scientists around the world are doing will lead to the treatments, the diagnostics, and above all the vaccines we need. And I do have faith in that. I don’t know how long it will take, but I know that given enough time and resources (and someone to watch the kids – parents out there, you are in my prayers), they will figure this thing out, because they are very, very clever people and they want this as desperately as any of us.

I have to hope, too, that the work we all do together in staying home as much as possible, wearing masks, keeping our distance, and washing our hands will be able to hold the virus at bay until they can get this done. And it is work, and important work, even if it feels like doing nothing. I saw someone a few weeks ago make the analogy of firefighting: our healthcare workers are at the front line, fighting the fires – putting them out directly, with all the associated risks that this brings. For rest of us, who don’t have the skills and equipment to fight the fire directly,  the job is to be the firebreak. To be the place where if the virus reaches you, it burns itself out, with nowhere to spread. I really like that way of looking at it.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is this: I have many friends and family members who I love and miss terribly. I miss seeing them face to face. I miss hugging them. I miss having them around to my house for excessive meals and sending them home with leftovers. I miss that so much.

Love is supposed to be a selfless thing, but I’m not very good at that. Maybe none of us are. It’s hard to be utterly selfless, and I think most acts of love involve a degree of reciprocation – I may bake cakes and biscuits for my friends and my family and my scientists because I love them, but I also get pleasure from watching people eat what I’ve made. I might read a picture book to my four-year-old niece because she likes being read to, but if I get a cuddle out of it (or even just a giggle and ‘you’re silly, Auntie Catherine’), I have my reward.

But right now the most loving thing I can do for the people I care about is stay away from them, and that feels counterintuitive. It feels unloving. And it definitely doesn’t come with the endorphins that come from our normal ways of expressing love and affection.

Of course grandparents and aunties and uncles are trying to find ways to bend the rules to play with the small children in their lives. Of course they are. It feels so unnatural, so unloving, to be out of contact for so long. I’ve been sending my niece postcards, because she hates Zoom and Facetime, but she loves getting mail. I know that this makes her happy, but I wish, I really wish, there was a way to make this conversation go in two directions.

I don’t quite know where I’m going with this, except perhaps to say that I think the hardest part of all of this is that it feels like we have to fight not just our natural human instincts for social contact, but our even deeper instincts to give and receive love and affection.

But that’s not entirely true. We can still love and care for each other, we just have to do it differently. And sometimes we have to do it the hard way – sending out our love like postcards into the distance, not knowing when or if we will receive a reply.

I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe. I hope you have at least some of the people you love in your bubble, even if some are still far away. We may not know how and when this will end, but it *will* have an ending. This isn’t forever, even if it feels like that.

Thinking of you all with love. But from a very safe distance.

***

This is the bit where I usually have links or a call to action. My only call to action today is this: please do something nice for yourself. Check out my Self Care page if you are low on ideas. Astonishingly, all but two of the items on that list can be done within the limits of Stage 4 restrictions! There are also links to a number of helplines if you are having difficulties.

Also, if you are looking for a book recommendation, I read an absolutely fantastic, glorious book last month, by Jo Walton, called Or What You Will. If you like fantasy novels with glorious food, and Florence, and characters from Shakespeare living out their queer and magical lives in an alternate version of Renaissance Florence, you will enjoy this. It’s like a holiday you can take without leaving your house… and let’s face it, those are the holidays we are getting right now. (Link is to the ferociously expensive hardback, I’m afraid. The ebook is cheaper, but maybe a library copy is the way to go until the paperback comes out. Though, honestly, for me it was worth every cent.)

Another recommendation – This is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Gorgeous time travel novella, poetic and funny and romantic, and nicely on theme with much writing of letters and waiting for replies…

Whose lives matter?

Content note for any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers: this blog post contains the names of people who have died.

Content note for everyone else: This post is mostly me, as a white person, trying to grapple with racism, privilege, complicity, and what my responsibility is at this time (though there is a list of resources and content by Black, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors at the end that I can recommend with a clear conscience). I didn’t want my blog to be silent on racism, especially now, but I’ve almost certainly mucked it up, probably more than once, and for that, I apologise.

This is the sort of post which starts with me staring blankly at a screen, because saying nothing feels like complicity, but anything I do say feels inadequate. Because, dear God, America. I don’t even have words.

And… dear God, Australia. Because OK, true, we do at least have a health system and gun control, and our police force isn’t out shooting protesters in the street, so yay, points to us, but have you looked at how many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders die in police custody every year? Or how we treat asylum seekers? Or the charming way we have been treating Asian Australians, particularly since the start of this pandemic?

Which is to say, we might want to think twice before we shake our heads over the state of the USA, because it turns out there is enough racism to go around, and we definitely have our share.

(Also… if you don’t like the way police are treating protesters in the US, you might want to keep an eye on some of the legislation the government is trying to push through while we are distracted by the pandemic, because they would like to expand police and ASIO powers in a number of ways that are pretty concerning.)

This post isn’t going to be about the situation in the USA, because while I am absolutely in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter there, I feel as though these stories can best be told by those who are present.

I also feel, strongly, that our primary duty is to clean up our own backyard. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have come out strongly in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA, and have drawn parallels between the situation there and the treatment of Indigenous people here.

The parallels are not hard to draw.

We have plenty of work to do within our own borders.

I’m white. I’ve never been on the receiving end of racism, either institutionalised or individual, and it’s unlikely I ever will. So the story of racism is not mine to tell. As much as possible, here, I’m going to link to what Black people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are saying about the current situation. But I do want to talk a little bit about the work people like me need to be doing.

That last sentence makes me want to weep. Because this shouldn’t need to be stated in five hundred different ways all over Twitter.  Saying ‘All lives matter’ denies the difference in the way white and black lives are treated in the US, in Australia, and in so many countries around the world. It takes a statement that should not be revolutionary (but which, horribly, still is), and turns it into a meaningless platitude.

That rather gets to the heart of it, don’t you think?

And look, I understand the appeal of ‘All Lives Matter’. It is uncomfortable, very uncomfortable, to sit here as a well-meaning white person, feeling complicit and guilty and also vaguely resentful of this (because after all, *we* aren’t out there being great big racists, and how dare you suggest at we might be?), listening to these stories of abuse and harm caused by people who look like us. And  ‘All Lives Matter’ sounds so lovely and inclusive, and leaves all the uncomfortable race stuff out of the equation, and anyway, are white people even allowed to say Black Lives Matter, and isn’t it maybe a little bit racist if we do?

But I have a nasty feeling that the job of white people right now is precisely to be uncomfortable.

I don’t mean that in a nasty way.  I mean… it’s really, really uncomfortable and shocking and unpleasant to witness – even to read about – the way people of colour, and especially Black people, are treated by our society and our police force. It’s really, really tempting to look away, to not read books like Dark Emu or Talking to my Country, to avoid any close encounters with what it feels like to be Black or Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander in our world.

And the reason it is tempting is because the things that Black people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are suffering are absolutely horrible and cruel and one hundred percent unnecessary.  There is no good reason why Aboriginal people are dying in custody at the rate of one per month.  There is no legitimate reason why Black people and Aboriginal people are over-policed. There is no justifiable reason why so many Black men and women have died at the hands of the police and the justice system.

There is only racism.

And it’s absolutely shattering to read about.

The thing is… the closest white people like me are ever likely to come to this experience is reading about it, or seeing video footage, or hearing eyewitness accounts.  Being able to not think about it is actually an incredible privilege.

And that’s something to think about right there, because I don’t want to read all of this stuff which I know full well is going to traumatise me and make me cry and give me nightmares, and yet Black Americans and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders don’t get the choice of switching off from that trauma because it is their lived experience.

(And now I’m thinking about how much of an emotional and intellectual load that must be – I mean, we were all talking about how it was hard to be fully productive when dealing with the stress of the pandemic, but the stress of racism is there ALL THE TIME. There are some amazing, clever, funny, delightful Black writers whose books I love, and I’m just trying to imagine how brilliant they must be to be able to write what they do while at the same time living with a level of stress that I am terrified even to experience at second hand. Imagine how much more they could do – more importantly, how much happier they could be – if they didn’t have that stress and that pain in their lives.)

And look, mental health is real and important, and I am not here to tell you that justice and solidarity demands that you must do things that will be harmful to you. I want everyone to be safe, physically and mentally.

But it is important to acknowledge that if you are white like me, being able to choose to take care of your mental health by not exposing yourself to the harm done to people of colour… is in itself a privilege. And that is a whole extra horrible thing in itself, because the ability to protect your mental health ought to be a right for all of us, not just those of us with a particular skin colour.

In fact, perhaps that’s the thing in a nutshell:  things that ought to be basic human rights – things that white people believe are basic human rights, because for us they are – turn out to be privileges that are only extended to us as a matter of genetic luck. I don’t want to lose my privilege. I want everyone else to have the same privileges I do. I want my privileges to be rights.

So yeah. I’m uncomfortable. And I think I need to be, because 432 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have died in custody in Australia since 2008 and I had absolutely no idea. I thought we had a Royal Commission and fixed that.

I mean, I donate to charities which work to fight racism, and I’ve always felt like that excused me from digging too deep into what racism feels like when you are on the wrong side of it. But I’m realising – rather belatedly – that I don’t have the right to remain ignorant, because ignorance means that I am likely to do harmful things through a lack of knowledge – or if not that, it certainly means that I’m not paying attention to the harm that is happening, and therefore I’m not able to work against it.

I do not like this conclusion. I do not want to read all those books I have been so studiously avoiding.

But I have the privilege of not living my life in a world that views me as something less than human based on the colour of my skin. The least I can do is bear witness.

~~~~~

Things we can do

Note that the links and charities below are primarily around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.  I’m listing a handful of US-based charities and bail funds at the end, because God knows, they need all the help they can get, but I’d encourage you to make local action your priority – because God knows, we need to do a lot better than we’ve been doing so far.

Places to donate in Australia

  • https://paytherent.net.au/ – As a descendant of immigrants, I live on stolen land. Paying the rent is both a symbolic gesture of solidarity, and a practical way to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.  You can decide how much you can afford to contribute per month, or support them with a one-off donation.
  • https://sistersinside.com.au/ – Sisters Inside supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders women and girls in prison. Many are imprisoned for non-payment of fines (think 19th-century-Debtors’ Prison, but with extra racism), and they have a specific GoFundMe which raises money to pay these fines so that these women can be free.
  • The families of several Aboriginal men and women who died in police custody or at the hands of police are seeking justice, and have fundraisers to which you can donate
  • Welcome to Country has an extensive Aboriginal Charity Guide which lists charities that work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in areas from health and education to activism and the environment. Whatever your favourite cause, you will find it there.
  • https://www.asrc.org.au/ – The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre supports asylum seekers with material aid, legal aid, housing assistance, and help finding work. Asylum seekers in Australia face discrimination on a number of fronts, not least from the government, which denies them access to Medicare, financial assistance, and in some cases forbids them from working. And if you don’t think racism plays into that… well, I suppose I have to admire your ability to think kindly of people who don’t deserve it.

Some articles I have found helpful

Some books I need to read (and maybe you do too)

  • Dark Emu, by Bruce Pascoe – if you were taught at school that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people didn’t practice agriculture or have technology… this book will enlighten you.
  • Talking To My Country, by Stan Grant, talks about his experience as  an Aboriginal man in Australia. It’s highly acclaimed and needs to find its way out of my ‘To be read’ pile and actually get read by me.  He has also written a follow up book, Australia Day, which I gather talks more about reconciliation
  • Welcome to Country, by Marcia Langton – this is a travel guide to Indigenous Australia, with information about Indigenous languages, customs, history, and more, as well as cultural awareness and etiquette for visitors.

Other actions you can take

  • An amazing woman named Zoe Amira posted an hour long video on YouTube filled with art and music from black creators. It has a heap of ads, and is basically designed to rake in revenue that will be used to support Black Lives Matter organisations.  This is a great way to support the cause if you have no money and can’t get to a protest. I’ve had it running quietly in the background while writing this list (because I don’t actually want to hear the ads).
  • Buy some music on June 19 to support racial justice, equality and change.
  • Sign the petition calling for an end to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody.
  • And here’s another petition to prevent deaths in custody caused by improper restraint.
  • There are a number of protests tomorrow.  Honestly, I’m really torn about this. Protest IS important right now.  But I’m also super concerned about the public health risks of having large groups of unscreened people gathering during a pandemic.  It looks like the organisers are trying to do this responsibly, but ultimately, I don’t think there is a responsible way to hold an event of this nature in this context. I don’t think I can, in good conscience, link to them. However, I *have* seen a number of Ministers and politicians out there telling us, with varying degrees of sincerity and self-righteousness that the best way to exercise our right to protest right now is to write to or call your local MP. I think we should take them at their word. So here are some suggestions from my friend Emily about people to contact and what to say:
    • Prime Minister, Scott Morrison – (02) 9523 0339
      Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt – (08) 9359 0322
      Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese – (02) 9564 3588
      Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney – (02) 9587 1555
    • In Victoria: Premier, Daniel Andrews – (03) 9548 5644
      Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Gabrielle Williams – (03) 9096 8587
      Leader of the Opposition, Michael O’Brien – (03) 9576 1850
      Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Peter Walsh – (03) 5482 2039
    • Talking points:
      • I fully support the important protests that are happening across Australia/in Melbourne tomorrow.
      • Governments must move immediately to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody and police violence toward Aboriginal people, and police who have killed and harmed Aboriginal people must be held to account. I am asking you to take urgent action to make this happen.
      • I am asking you to guarantee that all protesters tomorrow will be able to protest freely without fear of police violence.
      • When you call the office, ask the staffer who answers the phone to take a message for the MP. Give your full name and postcode, and then proceed.

Read, Listen to, and Watch Content by Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and Black creators

  • Check out some of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bloggers listed at deadlybloggers.com – you will find blogs on a huge range of topics art to politics to health.
  • Here’s an article listing some great social media accounts to follow from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • My friend Heath made this excellent list of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers, actors and musicians. (I would add that Adam Briggs, in addition to being a muso, is a fantastic comedian)
  • Did you know that we have a National Indigenous TV channel? You can find it on Channel 34. I am terrible at remembering to watch TV shows, but we really enjoyed Ready For This, which is just a nice, well-done teen drama series about a bunch of Aboriginal kids from various parts of Australia who come to Sydney for their final years of school, to pursue their dreams. It was very good, and lots of fun.
  • I read a lot of romance novels, and some of my favourite writers right now are Black women.  If you are in the mood for some escapism, check out Charish Reid Alyssa Cole, Talia Hibbert, Farah Rochon and, Rebekah Weatherspoon, for starters. (I especially like them because… not all fiction centering People of Colour needs to be sombre – indeed, writing happy endings for people in demographics who are often denied them is a subversive thing in itself.  Also, as Tom Lehrer so accurately pointed out, dirty books are fun, that’s all there is to it.)

Actions you can take in the USA

  • Donate to a Bail Fund. Lots of people are going to need help with bail in the near future.
  • Black Visions in Minnesota wants to dismantle systems of oppression and violence and to develop Minnesota’s emerging black leadership.  It is Black-led, queer- and trans-centering, and my friend in Minnesota tells me they do good work.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union is recommended by pretty much everyone I know in the US as an excellent charity for justice.
  • Black Lives Matter has a very comprehensive list of actions you can take, from petitions to protests to calling politicians to donating.

Distantly Social

Hello, my friends!  I hope you are all keeping well, and that if you are stuck at home, that you are not going completely mad and have plenty of toilet paper (what is even with the toilet paper hoarding? Myself, I hoard chocolate. And, apparently, garlic.  But that is another story.).

I don’t think anyone needs to read any more articles about Coronavirus (though if you do, this one is pretty good). But as someone who is now practicing social distancing, I thought it might be worth sharing some of the many, many links I’ve seen go past on my social media of things to do if you are stuck at home. I mean, beyond the obvious of reading, cooking, sleeping, and, of course blogging. I’m sharing these as much for myself as for you – I don’t want to lose track of them. And if I see anything else good go by, I’ll add to it.

Please do look after yourselves and each other. Check in with friends and family, especially those who live alone, by phone or by Skype – I’m planning some Skype gatherings with friends, and we are also thinking of going to some of these exhibitions and other bits and pieces together. Do your best to eat properly and get some exercise and see some sunshine, as far as this is possible. If you can afford it, donate to charities that provide material aid – a lot of people, particularly casuals, are without income at the moment. If you are someone who can leave the house, do some shopping for someone who can’t. This is a time to really practice being a community, because a lot of people are vulnerable and scared right now.

And look, you know all of that already. Let’s get on with the fun stuff, eh?

Edited: Note that I’m updating this every so often, as I see or am sent more links. 

Ways to leave the house while you are at home

Music and Dance

Art Galleries and Museums

  • Visit one of the many Art Galleries with online exhibitions through Google Arts and Culture.
  • Or try a museum.  How does the Louvre sound? And here are some other immersive museum experiences.
  • Ooh!  Turns out that the Musée de la Musique in Paris has virtual tours of their collections, which includes samples of music for many of their instruments – I’ve been to this museum, and the experience of wandering through listening to music is wonderful – I highly recommend this virtual tour. (Descriptions are in French, but if all you want is beautiful musical instruments and classical music, you will be fine)
  • Or if you want a whole different view of museums, here’s a rabbit hole for you – the Great Museum Dance Off. There are some true gems on that blog.

Theatre, Films and Books

  • Visit the Virtual Cinémathèque, presented by ACMI and Melbourne Cinémathèque for a weekly movie night.
  • OzFlix is trying to get streaming happening for every Australian film if you want some local culture.
  • Neil Gaiman has a bunch of cool free stuff on his website, including some fun things for younger readers.
  • Listen to a Story – Amazon has made their Audible collection free until schools (presumably in the US) open.
  • Watch some Shakespeare from The Globe Theatre
  • The New Decameron Project – science fiction and fantasy authors are posting new stories during this time of plague. You can read the stories for free, or support authors plus a refugee clinic in Rome via Patreon. Added 25/3/20
  • Sir Patrick Stewart is reading a Shakespeare Sonnet every day on Twitter. You can find him on Twitter here, or look for the #ASonnetADay hashtag. Added 25/3/20
  • London’s National Theatre now has an online broadcast every Thursday.  Added 30/3/20
  • Cosmic Shambles is having a Stay at Home Festival – this is a comedy show with episodes focusing on books, science and music. Added 30/3/20

Science and the environment

Education

Socialising & Spirituality

  • Netflix Party lets you sync up your Netflix watching with friends, so that you can have a viewing party together.
  • Couch choir!  Their first event is over, but I think there will be more.
  • A friend of mine made this lovely prayer resource for people who can’t get to church due to quarantine or social distancing.
  • Tips from a cloistered nun on coping with self-isolation. (You don’t need to be religious to find some of these useful!)
  • I’ve used Discord to set up a virtual living room for my friends, and you might want to consider doing something similar – it took me just a few minutes to set up and to invite people, and now I have friends in multiple time zones dropping in when they are bored or the toddler is napping, or they just feel like socialising, and it’s low-key and lovely. Slack and Teams are other apps that allow you to do similar things… they don’t just have to be for work! Added 25/3/20
  • I’m also using Zoom to do tabletop readings of Shakespeare plays (something my circle of friends used to do in real life before it all got too tricky). You can find scripts here. The trick is dividing up parts for a small group when a play has a lot of parts, so that nobody ends up talking to themselves (though this can be mitigated with hats and/or silly voices). But if Shakespeare isn’t your thing, what about virtual Storytime with picture books, or a virtual soirée where people take it in turns to sing, or read short stories, or recite poetry, or juggle, or whatever? Or keep it simple and just have a dinner party. You can use Zoom for free for 40 minutes without a subscription – Skype is free and unlimited, I believe, but I’m finding Zoom works better with our terrible NBN. Added 25/3/20

Exercise

  • Here’s a round up from a romance review blog that I’m very fond of with fitness options for when you are stuck at home.  It includes everything from yoga to push ups to dancing, and also links to a collection of truly evil romance-novel-inspired workouts.
  • My talented friend Lyndall is doing online warm-ups daily on her YouTube channel (I’ve linked to the first of them – you can subscribe to the channel on YouTube). Added 25/3/20
  • Barre classes at home!  Only my fellow Australians will understand why I laughed and laughed and laughed when I saw this one… Added 27/3/20 – 3am tomorrow for us, so hopefully they will record it.

Little things

More lists

Keep well and keep safe!

Catherine

State of Emergency

The photos and videos coming through from New South Wales and from East Gippsland are honestly hard to comprehend.  They look like scenes from some sort of apocalyptic film, not from reality. The fact that people were literally being told to get into the sea to shelter from the fires is just… I honestly don’t have the words for this.  Four thousand people sheltering on beaches shouldn’t be something that happens.

This is what a climate emergency looks like.

And our government, with their cheerful lines about how Australia “should be proud of its climate change efforts” (it… really shouldn’t), and “there’s no better place to raise kids anywhere on the planet“, while watching the Sydney Harbour fireworks from a harbourside mansion are coming across less as tone-deaf and more like Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

I posted something about the need to declare a climate emergency on Facebook yesterday, and someone replied to ask what would actually happen if such an emergency was declared.  It’s a fair question – even if it is one that is often heard from people who want to use it to show that we inner city Greenies know nothing about what is needed or how disaster relief works – so I figure it’s worth chatting about here. Especially since the alternative is writing another rage-filled post about our government, and I think we can pretty much take that as read at this point. (Incidentally, I have updated my previous rage-filled post about our government with a few more charities to donate to, and would welcome suggestions of any charities I’ve missed from others.)

There are two reasons to declare a state of emergency, one symbolic, and one logistic. I’ll start with the symbolic one, because, unusually, I think it might actually be the more important of the two.

You see, the government is working very, very, hard to preserve a narrative that says ‘this is normal, this is business as usual, we have always had bushfires’.  Which leads inevitably to ‘we don’t need to do anything different to what we are already doing’.

This is normal, so we don’t need to lease waterbombing planes from the US Forest Service.

This is normal, so we don’t need to to upgrade the equipment and respiratory masks provided to our volunteer firefighters.

This is normal, so we don’t need to activate the legislation from 1991 that allows us to pay our volunteer firefighters.

This is normal, so we don’t need to meet with all the fire chiefs to come up with long-term strategies to deal with the situation.

This is normal, so we can keep on mining coal and gas both for our own use and to export to other countries so that everyone can continue emitting carbon while the world burns.

That last one is the reason for all the others, frankly.  We have a government that can’t afford to admit that we are helping to make climate change worse in ways that is affecting us severely, because it’s afraid of the mining industry.

And that’s a problem, because this wilful blindness, this determination to lean on the ‘Australian spirit’ and pretend that everything is just as it always has been means that we can’t do the things that are necessary to protect people right now from the disasters that are already happening, because that would mean admitting that maybe something has changed, maybe this is different, maybe we need to address not just our response to this emergency but the underlying policies that have allowed us to reach this point.

Maybe we need to talk about climate change.

Maybe it’s too late to talk about mitigation, and we need to talk about adaptation.

Maybe we need to do this even though it is going to have an economic cost in the short term.

Maybe we need to accept that, because the alternative is a human cost that cannot be counted.

***

As for logistics, it’s true that I don’t know a lot about how disaster relief works.  But I do know a bit about how organising people works. And it generally works better if everyone is agreed about who is coordinating things, who is in charge of what, and what the priorities are. Our bushfires cross state borders, and we have volunteers coming from other states (and in some cases, other countries) to assist with the effort.  Leaving this to the States to organise piecemeal just isn’t a particularly practical thing to do.

It seems to me that there are several things that a government could do, if it had the will to do so (above and beyond what I’ve mentioned above).  Just off the top of my head, they could…

  • Accept the help we have been offered by other countries
  • Liaise with the state governments and state emergency services to coordinate efforts to fight fires that cross state borders or that are large enough to require help to be brought in from less-affected areas.
  • Convene experts in emergency management, ask for their recommendations, and act on them.
  • Get the Navy and Army Reserve involved in coordinating evacuations and getting supplies to areas that have been isolated by the fires – logistics is a big part of what the army does.  Let’s make use of that. (The Andrews government in Victoria has requested and received military aid for evacuations. But this should be something that is offered up-front where needed, rather than requested ad hoc.)
  • Budget more money for disaster relief, and coordinate with state and local governments to make sure it gets where it needs to go in a timely fashion and with a minimum of red tape.
  • Build a fleet of waterbombing aircraft (we currently lease ours from California, but as our fire seasons get longer and begin to overlap, this will become a logistical issue)
  • Review building standards for new houses, particularly in at risk areas – consider whether some areas are too risky for rebuilding to be wise.
  • Create a strategy to ensure that vulnerable people (the elderly, the disabled, people with low incomes, people without personal transport) are able to be evacuated early and to places with the resources to look after them in an emergency.  Coordinate care needs for people with chronic illnesses or disabilities who have been evacuated.
  • Create a plan for domesticated animals displaced by fire – if you evacuate people but can’t take their pets or livestock, you are going to have issues.
  • Make sure nobody is being kicked off their pension for failing to check in when their house was on fire or when they were off fighting fires themselves
  • Once the fire season is over, sit down and create a serious policy about climate change and how we are going to have a country that is still possible to live in ten years from now.

I don’t want Scott Morrison on the front line holding a hose or making sandwiches.  I don’t want his thoughts and prayers.  There is nothing wrong with any of these things in principle, but they are not his job right now.  His job is to lead, to make decisions, to provide his ministers, the states and the people on the front lines with the support they need to to do their jobs.

That’s what he signed up for, and that’s what he should be doing.  But the first step in the process is to acknowledge the reality of our situation.

This is not normal.

This is new.

And we need to take it seriously.

Burn for you

It’s that time when we look back at what the year and the decade – though this year has felt like a decade – and contemplate where we stand and what has changed.

I’m not going to do that.

Australia is on fire – literally on fire, this is not a metaphor though it certainly makes a good one for the state of our politics generally – and apparently that’s normal now and we don’t need to do anything about it?

Map from Geoscience Australia at 10:48pm on December 29, 2019

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Priya and Nades

I think everyone in Australia pretty much knows about Priya and Nades and their family, but just in case you were living under a rock, they are Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka.  Nades has links to the Tamil Tigers; Priya saw her fiancé and several other men from her village burned alive.

Nades came here by boat in 2012 and Priya in 2013, and they settled in the town of Biloela in Central Queensland.  They met in Australia, married, and had two daughters, Kopika and Tharunicaa, now aged two and four.  While they were waiting for their claims to be assessed, they integrated into the local community.  Nadesh worked at the meatworks and volunteered at St Vincent de Paul; Priya was active in the community and would bring curries to the doctors at the local hospital.

In other words, aside from coming here by boat, they did everything that we ask immigrants to do – they moved to a rural area, they became part of their local community, they worked in jobs that are undesirable and hard to fill.

Priya was on a bridging visa that was about to expire and had been told that a new Visa was in the mail.  But instead, on the day after it expired, she and the family were arrested at home at 5am.  The family was flown to Melbourne and Priya and Nades were separated and made to sign voluntary deportation papers or risk being deported separately.  They have been held in detention for 18 months while their appeals were heard, during which time there have been reports that the children, in particular, have suffered from ill-health and not been given access to proper medical treatment.  Last Thursday night, they were told they were being deported.  An emergency injunction forced the plane to land in Darwin; the family was subsequently flown to Christmas Island.  There is some fairly harrowing video footage of the children screaming for their mother as she was dragged away by Border Force Personnel.

It is worth noting that the official DFAT advice on travelling to Sri Lanka right now is ‘exercise a high degree of caution’.  The state of emergency lapsed only a week ago, and could resume at any time.

It is also worth noting that the UN is pretty dubious about human rights in Sri Lanka at present.  Their Special Rapporteur on Torture noted in 2017 that torture was routinely used against Tamil security suspects, and a report from December last year on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism tells us:

In his report, the Special Rapporteur shares several key observations and human rights concerns with regard to the continued use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979, despite the long-overdue commitment of the Government to review and repeal it. The Act, inter alia, provides for an overly broad and vague definition of terrorism, lengthy administrative detention and ineffective judicial review, and extremely broad rules concerning the admission of confessions. He also expresses his concerns about the routine and systemic use of torture and ill-treatment under the Act and the conditions of detention. In particular, he found the conditions in the high-security wing of the prison in Anuradhapura that he visited to be inhumane.

Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur assesses that the progress of the new counter-terrorism legislation, together with the management of past cases under the Act, has been painfully slow, and this has, in turn, delayed the wider package of transitional justice measures that Sri Lanka committed to deliver in 2015. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur observed a pervasive and insidious form of stigmatization of the Tamil community. Tamils are severely underrepresented in all institutions, particularly in the security sector and the judiciary, despite the importance of ensuring that all institutions adequately reflect the ethnic, linguistic and religious make-up of the State.

So Priya and Nades would appear to have pretty strong grounds for concern.

But you probably know that already.

I’m mostly putting this here because I’ve seen a bunch of information about what people can do shared on Twitter and Facebook, which is useful, but it disappears very fast if one is having a busy day.  I’m hoping that if I put everything that crosses my timeline here, it will be easier for others to find.

If you see something cross your timeline that I haven’t listed below, please comment and I’ll add it to the list.  Note that comments are screened, but I’ll try to keep a close eye on this over the next few days.

THINGS YOU CAN DO

Ring the relevant ministers

David Coleman, Minister for Immigration – (02) 6277 7770

Peter Dutton, Minister for Home Affairs – (02) 6277 7860 (I’ll note that when I rang his office, the person answering the phone was pretty rude and uninterested.  So if you get a similar response, it isn’t just you.  Please do not be deterred.)

Scott Morrison, Prime Minister – (02) 6277 7700

If you aren’t sure what to say, the HometoBilo.com website has some good talking points here.  Believe me, you can’t possibly be as tongue-tied as I was this morning.  (Except when I was talking to Dutton’s phone-answerer, when I got so angry at his clear implication that I was wasting his time that suddenly it turned out that I had no nerves at all and quite a bit to say.)

Ring or email your local Coalition members

The Home to Bilo crew are asking people in Coalition-held electorates to ring their local members.  The feeling is that pressure from the party room might be enough to swing this issue.

You can search for your local member’s contact details here. If you aren’t sure of your electorate, you can search by your postcode (or you can look up your electorate here).

It would be rude to neglect our Coalition Senators, don’t you think?  You can find a list of Senators by state here – just scroll down to ‘Search Senators’ and put in your postcode.

Ring or email your local Labor and Greens members

And encourage them to keep the pressure on.  (And maybe to come up with a more humane asylum seeker policy, because you shouldn’t have to be a model family not to be sent back to torture, imprisonment or death.)

Send an email to the Big Three

This excellent website has quicklinks for you to email Morrison, Dutton and Coleman.  Personalise your email if you can, but really, every bit counts.  There are also contact details for Ken O’Dowd, the Member for Flynn, which is the electorate in which Biloela is located.

Not sure what to say? I’ve put the text of my emails below – feel free to use anything you feel works.  Don’t worry about making it perfect – imperfect and sent is better than perfect and sitting in your drafts folder. 

Follow the HometoBilo campaign

This is run by the Biloela community, and they have the most current information on how you can help.

Website: https://www.hometobilo.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/solidaritywithBiloela/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hometobilo?lang=en

Tweet, Facebook, and get your friends and family on board

Use the hashtags #HomeToBilo, #BringThemHere #LetThemStay.  And be aware that a lot of our favourite politicians are on Twitter and only an @ away…

Stop blaming the last election on rural Queenslanders

This may seem off-topic, but I did see a LOT of hate for rural Queensland after the last election from my left-wing friends.  And yes, there were clearly some people in regional Australia who voted for some terrible people.  But as we are seeing, there are also clearly some communities in regional Australia who are willing to devote an enormous amount of time and money and effort to protect a vulnerable family whom they have taken to their hearts. Good, caring people who will go the extra mile (or in this case, 1,800km) to look after their neighbours.  I think it’s really, really important that we remember this, and stop blaming regional Australia for everything that is wrong with our current government.  The government is big enough and ugly enough to be blamed in its own right…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sample email to the PM (note that the PM’s email inbox doesn’t seem to be working, and we are advised to send to the address below)

To: media@pm.gov.au

Subject: They’ve had a go.  Please give them a go.

ATTN: Prime Minister of Australia

Dear Prime Minister,

I’m writing in support of Priya, Nades and their children, the young Tamil family who have made their home in Biloela.

This is a family who have embodied what we ask for from our refugees. They have settled in a regional area, taken up jobs in areas where more workers are needed, volunteered for local charities and become beloved members of their community. Given the opportunity, they have the capacity to contribute enormously to Australia.

I understand that the legal situation is complex, and frankly not promising. But the minister has the discretion to intervene, as indeed he did for the Rajasegaran family only a few weeks ago. Such an intervention does not affect the laws around seeking asylum or other cases – it merely recognises that in some situations, a strict interpretation of the law does not lead to the most just outcome.

You have often spoken about the importance and value of families and of regional communities. I ask you to listen to the community of Biloela, who have taken Priya and her family to their hearts, and to advise the Immigration Minister to exercise his discretion and let this family stay.

Yours sincerely

 

Sample email to Coleman (just a few differences)

Dear Minister,

I’m writing to ask for your intervention in the case of Priya, Nades and their children, the young Tamil family who have made their home in Biloela.

This is a family who have embodied what we ask for from our refugees. They have settled in a regional area, taken up jobs in areas where more workers are needed, volunteered for local charities and become beloved members of their community. Given the opportunity, they have the capacity to contribute enormously to Australia.

I understand that the legal situation is complex, and frankly not promising. But you have discretion to intervene on compassionate grounds, and on the grounds of national interest – as indeed you did for the Rajasegaran family only a few weeks ago. Such an intervention does not affect the laws around seeking asylum or other cases – it merely recognises that in some situations, a strict interpretation of the law does not lead to the most just outcome, or the best outcome for Australia.

I ask you to listen to the voices of the Biloela community, and let this family stay in Australia.

Yours sincerely

Grief, anger, and micro-actions

So, how is everyone doing this week? I’ll be honest – I’m not doing brilliantly.  I try to make this blog as positive and hopeful as possible, because I don’t see that there is much to be gained by afflicting everyone else with my depression, but yeah.  It’s been a rough week.  (Also, work has been both busy and chaotic, and all my joints have decided they hate me, which is not improving my mood.)

Also, it turns out that underneath the depression I’m actually really angry, which is an emotion I find hard to manage constructively.

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