25 years

It’s 25 years since my last grandparent passed away. My Grammy. Our Marj. I was eight years old.

It doesn’t sound like such a tragedy. People get old and they die. Death of a grandparent is, if you’re lucky, the first death of someone who meant something in your life. She was 65. That sounded old when I was young. I always felt her absence but now it doesn’t seem very old at all.

Marj was so beloved, did so much, knew so many people, left so many behind. Nine children, seven still living, an absolute crowd of grandchildren and if she and George, Father, were still around, more than a few great grandies now.

Here’s a very short and incomplete list that shows a little of who she was. Went to high school when most girls didn’t. Selected while still a teenager for intelligence work in World War II. Only woman on the board of Campbell Hospital. Worked with (and had great respect for) Aboriginal communities before there were social workers. Organised programs and funding for young unemployed people to work before there were green corps and work for the dole schemes. Ran meals on wheels and countless other community initiatives. She had an incredible, ahead of the times understanding of the environment, she was an environmentalist long before the word existed. (How many in my family share that passion, too many to count.)  Wrote beautiful poetry and scattered, profound diaries. She got so much done and I now know she wasn’t well for the last ten years of her life while she was still getting so much done.

I work in communities she once worked with in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and people still remember her and immediately soften towards me. Who you know, who you’re related to: it’s never got me anywhere in the business world, as I come from a long line of (steady) tradespeople and (committed) public servants. But when you work in the community, people care about who you are and where you grew up and who you’re related to in all the small communities of the far north coast. Just as much, if not more.

One of my favourite stories about Marj is her, in hospital, after a stroke, typing letters one-fingered to the editor of the local paper. Still going through sheer bloody-mindedness.

Another is a quote I read of an interview in the Northern Star. They were interviewing her about her employment program for young people, Hendo’s Army. She said that she did it because she ‘thought it was better than having them sitting in cafes, drinking coffee and listening to dirty stories’. Gives you a bit of an understanding of her motivation. She was a very strong Presbyterian and she took the work ethic seriously. There’s a lot of work to be done in life, a lot of people to be helped, better get started.

Women in my family particularly revere and miss her. We all want to be as amazing as her, we all share photos online, we look and relook and say how stunning she was (we are biased, but she was), we compliment each other and say how you have her hair or her eyes or her cheekbones. We know she loved comfy, practical clothes and but she was so stylish too. I don’t think it’s an accident that two of my cousins and I (I have a lot) are really into vintage clothing (big skirts!!) and hair. Or that all of us seem to be absolutely strident with our feminist views.

We all miss her. Grief. 25 years’ worth. Grief is pain but grief is also love.

Grief is love.

What this first grief in my life has taught me is that bad days remind you to be kind and to remember the lessons. Good days show you that real, true love lasts; your loved ones are always there, somewhere.

Not with a bang and not even much of a whimper

The Australian Democrats were deregistered on 16 April 2015.

It’s a sad time, one marked by a sprinkling of articles.

I don’t think it’s only nostalgia. I’m old enough (just – I’m still quite a youthful aunty) to remember the Democrats as a serious option in politics; to me, there was Labor or Liberal, then you voted Democrats or Greens, or Independent. (I’m very sorry to report, Nationals, that despite growing up in a Nationals seat and being avidly interested in politics from a teenager, I had no clue the Nationals existed for a long time.)

In particular I remember how inspiring I found Natasha Stott Despoja and how intense the contention over leadership into Meg Lees’ time. I also remember being struck that Stott Despoja decide to step back due to her children. It was probably the first time I’d come across that. I saw them at the beach in Adelaide one time (the only time I’ve been to Adelaide). They looked happy. Now I see how old she was when she went through all that and I think… Damn.

To say the least.

There’s a chance the party could be registered again – they have 28 days to appeal.

It’s interesting to see how choices make the history. Maybe it was the difference in leadership changes – for the Greens, when Bob Brown stepped down, it seemed sudden, but it was done well and the Greens have definitely swum when they could have sunk. Back then I would have said without hesitation that the Democrats were the stronger party, that Greens were more single issue. Nothing wrong with that either – I’ve always thought the environment was important; I learned from my parents and my grandmother, who were environmentalists before the word existed. I just also think that we need to look after people as well as where we live. And years ago, that’s something I would have said the Democrats would do.

Slave to the cliche

Thought it would be fun for a change to post something … well, fun.

:insert sound effect of lone party whistle: 

Lismore has an extremely awesome thing called the Back Alley Gallery. Basically it is a collective of artists who have turned the little laneways of Lismore into a fantastic and giant site-specific artwork.

Juuuuust as the Back Alley Gallery was getting started a few years ago, however, there were things like this, which is absolutely, hands-down, til-the-end-of-time still one of my most favourite street artworks / pieces of graffiti in Lismore (yes Lismore gets its own special art category)


Is there truly nothing better than a text based artwork

 Slave to the Cliche. Lismore laneway, April 2011

The sentiment. The increasing font size. The juxtaposition of the anguish against the fact that I thought this sentence was definitely going to end in ‘machine’ the first time I read it, and so I laughed out loud.

It’s long since been painted over but it remains forever in my heart (and, um, this photo).

You can buy a French castle for less than the cost of a Sydney unit

No, really. You can buy a French castle for less than the cost of a Sydney unit.

I suppose the implication is that hello, French castle. I like this because it makes Sydney the less desirable option. Usually when looking at expensive real estate, I think of Canberra, which has similar prices to Sydney but as people say ‘At least you get to live in Sydney’. I am the first (often only) person to bang on about how great a place Canberra is, but even I cannot say that Canberra’s property prices are value for money. Not only are they ridiculously high like much of the rest of the country, the ‘recovery’ that has been touted is probably due to Mr Fluffy asbestos-filled houses fading out of the headlines.

For real: One of the major reasons that prompted me to leave Canberra, taking nearly a 20% pay cut, was that I knew I’d never be able to afford to buy a house or flat on my own, despite my very good salary. I figured if I moved to Brisbane or Lismore (or Darwin or back overseas), and even if I never met anyone to split an enormous home loan with, I’d be able to have a lower cost of living and be able to save up.

Of course, that may be a pipe dream – according to Lindsay David, the housing bubble ensures that we’re all saving up for house deposits at a rate that we won’t be able to sustain a mortgage anyway.

From the article:

Based on median multiples, new home buyers in Sydney will spend the better part of 6.54 years savings (using 30 per cent of their income) for a 20 per cent deposit to buy a median-priced home.

When it comes to servicing the first 12 months of a 25-year/80 per cent LVR mortgage, it will cost roughly 65 per cent to 70 per cent of household income to service that debt at current record-low mortgage rates. Melbourne is not too far behind.

I mean, it’s not like we didn’t know. Whenever I talk to friends about housing in Australia, it’s one of two choices. You scrape together the cash for a deposit, crossing your fingers and hoping that inflation doesn’t go up too much and that there isn’t really a housing bubble; or you rent forever. Even if you can afford repayments, that initial deposit is the killer for a lot of people. And you also have to deal with those who have managed to buy, who can get very indignant, insisting that it is possible if you just do this or that or the other. And of course it is – but it requires actions that many can’t do or are unable to, like moving interstate, help from family members (ooh controversial), buying very, very far away from your workplace. These can be so unrealistic for some as to make building a time machine and popping back to 1995 to purchase a property seem like a reasonable option.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to buy a house – it’s just it’s got so much emotion attached to it in Australia, and renting is such a maligned option, that it doesn’t feel like a particularly fair or equal debate when it’s discussed.

Besides the slight problem that if David is right – and there’s a bloody good chance he is –  Australia’s property market is heading for a shocker of a correction.

All for the sake of our culture

Culture’s a funny thing. Been thinking about it a lot this week.

There are different kinds. 

There’s the kind that Anglo Australia thinks it doesn’t have. Traditional clothing, meaningful rituals, unique language. In reality we do, it’s just it’s a glorious (yes I choose to believe it’s glorious) mishmash from other cultures, and it hasn’t been around on this land for very long compared to most other countries, so we don’t feel confident about it. (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, of course, can boast the oldest culture.)

There’s the kind of culture that people believe Melbourne and Sydney have in spades – the art scene, the general atmosphere of the place when we think about what makes up the character of these cities. Of course they don’t have a monopoly on this, every place has its own version of culture. Think about the phrase ‘beach culture’, or ‘political culture’. Brisbane’s scene is very laid back. Darwin is bustling and buzzing but in a Wild West sort of way. Lismore (yeah Lismore deserves to be on the map) has a wonderful mix of a traditional farming culture and a zany alternative vibe.

And yes – culture’s on my mind because of this – the entire populations of Leeton and Canowindra has been angry this week because a non local came in and completely violated their peaceful, small-town culture… which is now reasserting itself with togetherness and pleas for good memories and love. In fact [tangent for rant] he didn’t just violate their culture, he violated their perception of their culture, which could be just as hard to deal with as the reality of his violent and despicable act. You have to question how this happens, you can’t just hope it’s because he wasn’t local and he didn’t get the memo that we don’t murder people when we get mad.  It fits a broader pattern (ie culture) of violence of men towards women in Australia (and globally) and it makes people uncomfortable because they have to ask: what clues are we missing?

[end tangent]

Anyway. Going back to the culture of a place: it’s two things. Strength in numbers, and branding. You combine the Australian tendency to cut the other poppies down with the relatively small size of every city or town compared to our most populous two, and we simply have the two biggest kids on the playground using their size to intimidate the others. Canberra is an excellent example of this. The 98% of the population who has never lived there either think nothing much in particular about Canberra, or they parrot the classic line, ‘Canberra is boring’. Those of us who have lived there know the boredom is a veneer: that Canberra is actually a great place to live is one of Australia’s best kept secrets.

Both of these kinds of culture can have subculture. This is when culture or subculture talks about tv shows, or trends in fashion, hair and makeup. This one is almost like an etiquette – a list of things to believe in or discuss, a list of ways to behave in a defined subset of people who identify with that group. This kind of culture finds its home in phrases like geek culture, gaming culture, Star Wars subculture, webseries subculture. This kind of culture likes to feel good about itself: to feel underground, a bit different, or to enjoy presenting in a particular way. 🙂

Then there’s the kind of culture that we find around behaviour. You’ll find this in the phrases ‘a culture of silence’ or ‘a culture of violence’. I’m struggling to think of positive examples right now, but happy to acknowledge any given. This is where you have a group of people who fit an agreed set of behaviours, but those people don’t necessarily consciously choose those behaviours, or identify with the group or culture. Rather, the culture or behaviour is identified as problematic by someone who considers themselves as outside the group. (At least it is with these two negative phrases.)

This is part of the problem that leads to such horrific events as 31 women murdered in Australia to April 2015 … that’s right… It hasn’t got much media attention, but there’s been another woman added to this terrible count… We – and when I say ‘we’ I mean ‘many people around the world’ – are reluctant to look at ourselves and ask, what are the actions that lead here? We hope we can just cut it off at the pass. But in reality, it’s men who have a lifetime of anger and resentment built up from the encouragement of small aggressive acts, the sense of entitlement we give to men, the little ways we encourage men to feel they own women (and kids). It’s when they graduate to more serious forms that are still easily hidden (hitting, yelling, pushing, emotional control, financial control), and we still let him go back home. It’s when we provide shelters for women – and then take them away – while never trying any intervention with the guy who is causing the ruckus. It’s when we kindly and politely give a swimmer a fifteenth chance in the unsullied spotlight and say well, it was only alleged when the photo evidence leaks back out again.

When you think about any of these cultures, we think that culture is fixed, it has rules, we always wear this, we always do that. When you look at the kinds of culture we have, and how many there are, it’s easy to see – culture is important to us. We punish people who step outside the rules, and we make ourselves feel better when they have – we say I Belong – by saying, that isn’t part of our culture. In reality, we need to realize culture is ever changing – and change our culture, our behaviour before we get to the point of death.

Otherwise women (and people of colour, and GLBTIQ people, and poor people, and people with disabilities) are dying every day for the sake of our culture.

The quiet, pleasant, murdering men

‘Neighbours living next to Stanford said he was a quiet, pleasant man.’ 

Always with the fucking quiet, pleasant men who murder. So quietly and pleasantly murdering…

Destroy the Joint, with their count of 30 women murdered in Australia in 2015, are helping us all see the epidemic of violence against women in our country, and we hear so many reports of terrible violence against women around the world. There are so many similarities in these stories.

We won’t stop this by avoiding the park or avoiding going to work or thinking we’re safe at home.

We need to address the culture and the mindsets behind these issues.

Here’s a guess: Stanford has acted inappropriately before.

Here’s another guess: someone was afraid to speak up.

Here’s a devastating guess: Stanford felt his right to Ms Scott’s attention, his right to do things to her body, far outweighed her right to life, her family’s privilege to love their daughter, her fiance’s future.

We need to start early with rejecting the attitudes that violence is an acceptable response to something in your world not going the way you want.

We need to stop letting the men so quietly and fucking pleasantly murdering.



Minor parties will rid you of the scourge of multiculturalism

So I did some obsessive compulsive googling of all the little parties to prepare for my pre poll vote, and I wanted to share some things I found.

The Uniting Australia party’s website stood out to me for two things: one, the frothed-mouthiness of its policy statements, gradually sliding into incoherence; two, the random picture of a koala on the policy page (make sure you scroll down). Alert readers in the Lismore area may say ‘Perhaps they have a stance on a nation-wide koala management plan?!’ (Going on 17 years of revisions for Lismore’s plan, for anyone outside the area who is interested, which is one of my three readers at least.) No, my friends, it’s just a koala, there to signify the complete interestedness of the party in Australia.

And all these little parties are interested in Australia. I can’t fault that, except, of course, it often stands as the more palatable expression of that hatred of the other – I love Australia and you can’t love Australia like I do, vile person who arrived later than I did, so fuck off unless you can go back in time and be born me. Or some such other unreasonable idea, I never can find out exactly what people want asylum seekers and immigrants to do to ‘assimilate’, realistically. I imagine that no one could love Australia quite like an asylum seeker trying to escape a war zone with or without loved ones in tow, but I suspect that’s not these Australia-loving parties are going for.

And this is the bit that saddened me, after I stopped laughing at the koala and the otherwise sane-seeming Future Party’s plan to build a charter city halfway between Canberra and Sydney and call it Turing.*

These parties say clearly that they are ‘against multiculturalism’; one clumsily tried to say it was for multi-ethnism which is basically an assimilation policy.

I know this all ties in with the media beat up of the decade, the ‘stop the boats’ utter crap. I know I shouldn’t be taken aback. But it still makes me sad because I’m the fucking living, breathing product of multiculturalism, ok? I’m the 5th generation born of Italian immigrants who were fleeing famine. Long story short, it was the 1870s, Italian version of 10 pound Poms, getting fucked over by their government and emigrating to Australia on boats via Papua New Guinea with more than half the 300 on board dying in the attempt, basically. And you would think that wouldn’t affect me, but it bloody well does. My family eat Italian food, waving your hands around when you talk is a given, and when I was younger my dad had some really strict ideas about what is appropriate for girls vs. boys (it’s super fun for him that I turned out a raging feminist… Hi Dad love you 🙂 ). I hear whispers of how people were prejudiced against my dad when he was younger, based on his stereotypically-Italian looks and fondness for salami. And I see the prejudices that earlier-arrivals have against recently-arrived immigrants, from, say, Lebanon. Or Uganda. And it breaks my heart because that is exactly how people have always treated more-recent arrivals in Australia.

And the point has been made so many times before, it’s obvious, but this country has got so, so much from people who were forced to come here and people who chose to came but it turned out to be a shitload harder than they thought it would be. We’re happy to eat pizza, sushi, and churros, but we aren’t keen on the people who brought us these delights bringing anything else? And how is the British originally invading not creating a ‘multicultural’ society?

But sure, minor parties. Go right ahead and tell us you will rid us of the scourge of ‘multiculturalism’.

Honestly, there’s an argument to be made in favour of voting for a minor party (major parties get no excuse, they have the resources) who said honestly ‘We care about one issue (eg building Australia party) and we are trying to get publicity for that – we don’t have a policy stance on other issues’. Or at least I’d rather read that than shit which purports to reach out to a privileged few by pushing away others.

*I love Canberra but a mini Canberra is not the way to go.