Churches, let’s remember the human cost of the NO campaign

It was with shock that I opened my local newspaper this week to find an advertisement for the “NO” campaign by one of the local churches. Priding myself on my open mindeness to different views, I quickly shut down my internal opposition to what was written, on the basis that a well functioning liberal democracy and society requires the expression of different views, no matter how much we find them distasteful or difficult.

However, I heard a woman speak on the radio yesterday which made me revisit this view. She was the mother of a daughter in a single sex relationship and the grandmother to her daughter’s child. She described the pain that her and her family have experienced, as long standing members of her local parish which is supporting the NO campaign. The anguish she felt seeped through her words, as she recounted how she had sat through sermon after sermon supporting the NO campaign. Members of her parish, her community and friends, suffocating her and her daughter with their silence. She then spoke of how finally it all became too much  leading her to finally decide to bring the matter up to discuss with her pastor.

What this example brought home so poignantly to me was the heart breaking human cost of the exercise that Australia has just been through with the postal survey. It was exactly what the single sex community feared and what indigenous Australia has always been concerned about in regards to proposals for a referendum on constitutional change. Such processes change the nature of discussions from abstract considerations of values and personal beliefs, morality, ethics and social norms to concrete judgments about how people live. Instead different beliefs about these issues become outwardly expressed through harmful actions against persons whose lives fall into the subject being debated. Asking people in this way to decide how others should live will always be fraught with this danger.

It is one thing to determine these questions in the abstract, and for oneselves and how one wishes to conduct ones own life. This is a right protected by the free democracy in which we live. It is another to expressly seek to condemn and judge others for how they live, affecting innocent people, including children who all experience the rejection of the society into which they were born. This is the type of behaviour we should fight against.

Unfortunately, this campaign, has as such things are want to do, brought out the worst of the religious world and exposed the underlying themes of judgment and intolerance which is often kept behind closed doors. No matter what the argument, a view that not only does not support attempts to lessen human suffering but actually lacks the awareness of its role in causing more suffering, will never be one that I can be a part of. As people feared, we have seen the ugly side of this campaign. Lets hope that as a community we can redeem ourselves to those affected.

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WAGs and Toxic Male Norms


Cassie Lane, former girlfriend of (I don’t really know who he is but apparently he is an important football star, who he is doesn’t really matter so just insert “Important Male Star” in here) has released a memoir detailing the reality of being the girlfriend of a football star in Australia. Nothing really that surprising in the article about the book, the usual “life as an object” in the spotlight revelations.

However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t an important story which needs to be told, and told, and told. For it doesn’t just relate to WAGs of sporting heroes. Essentially, pick any male ego-centric industry, add wife or girl friend and the tales will be similar. Women generally don’t know what they are getting into because they believe the fairytale (yes, that’s right – fairytales are not good for you!!). Furthermore, they don’t understand that men who are in some industries will generally not be able to resist the lure of the ego dominated spotlight and as a result, will not be able to resist feeding that ego with the usual stereotypical fare of alcohol, drugs and sex.

However, the problems raised by this behavior do not only relate to the women. The men in this scenario are also victims. Victims of a culture which encourages them to act in this way and refuses to make them take responsibility for their behaviour on the old “boys will be boys” refrain. Toxic masculinity is the term used to describe these social norms and both men and women are suffering at the hands of it.

Cassie Lane is telling a familiar story with a warning, one which all young girls dazzled by the spotlight should heed. However this story also contains a warning for men, men who are losing their lives because they too could not resist the pull of toxic male traditions which normalize self destructive behaviors.




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Turnbull’s laugh

During an interview with Fran Kelly this morning on Radio National in regards to the federal budget, Malcom Turnbull did something which surprised me greatly. When Kelly pushed him on a particular issue, Turnbull uttered a very quick and subtle laugh (so subtle it could have been mistaken for a cough), promptly followed up by his measured and diplomatic response to her question.

The laugh that Turnbull emitted during his conversation with Kelly can be categorised as a form of non verbal communication. These are also known as micro aggressions. Such communications can be intentional, however for the most part they are unconscious behaviours which accompany our social interactions. Some of these behaviours are relatively benign, forming part of our social personalities. However often, such behaviours play an important role in the maintenance of social hierarchies.

There is a very subtle social art to expressing power in conversation. Some of these expressions of power can be so subtle that they can be likened to an interpersonal infusion which sets a tone for the exchange. The messages conveyed however are far from subtle, confirming each participant’s respective place in the social hierarchy. In doing so, these messages covertly maintain the systems of social inequality which have been formerly rejected.

The uttering of a laugh in response to a statement to which one does not agree, is an effective way of establishing power in the exchange. The participant then uses this non verbal communication to amplify their verbal response, the message then accompanying the statement being one of authority, condescension and derision. Anyone who has experienced this type of response will understand the force of such messages.

The reason Turnbull’s laugh surprised me is that as Australia’s Prime Minister, I would have expected that he would not need to resort to these forms of non verbal communications to win an argument. However this reflects one of the interesting features of such communications. Very often, such non verbal communications are unconscious behaviours on the part of the participants to the social exchange. Not only do the participants not intend these behaviours, quite often they are not aware of them even after they have happened.

In today’s society, where egalitarian norms are formally endorsed in all sectors of life, such forms of communication enable covert expressions of power to maintain social hierarchies in a climate where the express stating of the message would not be permitted or tolerated (expressly our Prime Minister is required to show absolute support for gender equality).

The fact that this occurs greatly undermines the work being done in promotion of express egalitarian goals. In fact many researchers believe that these communications are one reason that social equality is not being achieved for marginalised groups such as race and gender groups.

One of difficulties with this issue is that one often needs to understand the phenomenon to see it. Further, it is often only those who experience the behaviour as done to them who will notice it. This difficulty only increases the divide between the various social groups who are subject to such communications. Recent research on implicit biases and microaggressions has contributed greatly to our understanding of why and how such communications can occur without our apparent awareness. However more needs to be done in the public sphere to identify such communications when they occur. With greater awareness and understanding, we can all consider our own participation in the web of social power hierarchies.


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On the experience of suffering….

There is not much which is good about waking up on Good Friday without your children. However, one unexpected benefit of this pain has been without a doubt my increased empathy for people who go through extreme suffering in their lives.

Not only am I reminded daily of my privilege as a white, educated woman living in a peaceful country with benefits, but in my experience of a common human suffering, my mind and heart often turns to those who have experienced sufferings far worse than I can ever imagine.

When at times I feel my losses deeply and painfully, I cannot help but think of the families who have been torn apart by war, starvation or the brutalities of an unjust world which has, by an unfortunate roll of the dice of life fallen upon them to endure.

The pain this invokes is more brutal than I ever imagined, not simply because of my own daily pain, but rather because I now feel more connected to the pain of others. There is a part of me that can no longer hide behind my fortunate existence. Although I had awareness before and a strong sense of social justice, this concern was I have to admit, largely on the intellectual side.

It is the touching of this experience that we fail so often to truly teach or communicate. This is why stories are the most powerful method of linking us with this part of human experience,  forging an empathy, care and concern for our fellow humans. For it is often not until we experience ourselves the brutality of the fall of the dice, that our gaze then turns to others.

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You caught me when I fell…

On this day, I recognise the absolute and unwavering love and support I have received from all the women in my life who have pulled me through.

This is a day for remembering all those women in the world who need our protection, advocacy and support. But also, for remembering that behind it all, there is a mother, sister, and friend who will hold you when you fall. It is to these women that I think of today. You caught me when I fell. Thank you.

You caught me when I fell,

with your words of support,

and whispers of shared tales which

connect, to the pain that I felt.

You caught me when I fell,

with your gentle pauses,

your knowing gaze and steady presence.

You gave me space to be,

as time came to pass.

You caught me as I fell,

you wrapped around me,

like a nest to contain my sorrow.

You taught me that life has more to give,

when we are stripped to the bone.

You caught me when I fell.

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Today, 26 January, is known by those who are historically descended from the first people of Australia as Invasion Day. The day that the land that those first peoples had always inhabited, was brutally invaded by white settlers with little thought or concern about the people who were here first. This fact exists as a historical wound to many Australians which continues to bleed each time insensitivity and disregard is shown to the existence of that fact.

Wounds occur and what is done is done. Nothing can change that. But what can occur and mitigate the damage is the process of repair, recognition, grievance. All the things which allow past hurts to slowly heal. There is no forgetting. There will possibly be never any forgiveness. But such wounds need to be recognised and respected for the damage they have done.

A day is just a day. The sun rises and sets, people are born and people die.These facts do not change. It is in how we choose to live that we can give what occurs a different meaning.

I choose to give this day a different meaning. As an individual, I choose to make this day different. To be one less participant in continuing the hurt.


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Billboards and Bullies


The above billboard in Melbourne advertising details of an RACV sponsored Australia Day event became controversial over the last few days as a result of extensive social media criticism regarding the featuring of two muslim women in the advertisement. Yesterday it was removed in response to threats made to the company behind it.

A key theme in the criticisms was the issue of “inclusion”, with many contesting the selection and focus on a minority group of Australian citizens, rather than the use of imagery which included representatives of all Australian people. Another concern was the idea that the Billboard represented a move away from the traditional Australian cultural narratives, such as the beach, BBQs and in one tweet, “thongs” (the type you wear on your feet).

Common to the concerns expressed was a strong reluctance to be directed to a new form of cultural identity, especially one which not simply welcomed other cultures, but rather placed such cultures as symbols of Australia and Australian life. Australians it seems, like to be multicultural only if multiculturalism comes as sideshow to the main attraction. New cultures are welcome as long as they conform, respect and keep quiet. Be who you are, but don’t show your face.

This attitude does not of course belong to all Australians. As the continuing outrage in social media shows there are plenty who think otherwise. At least enough to raise $30,000 in a crowd funding campaign now being run to erect a new Australia Day advertisment featuring girls in hijabs.

Despite displaying what at times might seem like shocking beliefs, the airing of the various opinions surrounding the controversial Billboard is not however the key problem in this situation. Far from it. It is a key principle of our democratic society that opinions be able to be aired and confronted, in the hope that genuine and reflective moral progress in social values might be allowed to occur. In fact, the response of the population in such situations enables the identification of areas of concern which need to be addressed to promote social cohesion and respect. That some people have concerns is something to be addressed respectfully and with consideration.

The real issues here concern the actions of those who bullied the company involved into removing the Billboard and the response of the company in removing the Billboard. To empower those that threaten harm to others in order to maintain their own view of the world is akin to allowing the school bully to control the classroom. It encourages a climate of fear against those who seek to challenge the status quo. This in turn reduces our chances of achieving a peaceful and respectful community.

Threats are bullying behaviours. They should be reported to the police and dealt with as unacceptable behaviours, rather than being accomodated by the community.  To do otherwise ensures that it is the bully’s voice, which will be heard the loudest.


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What if this were it?

Powerful words in the right context.

I am lucky enough to have just begun a research career and am experiencing the wonderful stage of ‘flow’, what psychologists term a feeling of “energised focus, full enjoyment and focus on a particular activity”. It is not that I have never had this feeling before, but this is probably the first time I have experienced it in a work context.

This is probably why Piers J. Sellers explanation of his decision to keep researching after receiving a stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis reasonated so strongly with me. (You can read his story Here)

To love what you do is an incredible privilege and nothing reveals that the passion more, than making the decision to continue your life endeavour when you know that your days are numbered.

Would I do the same? It is a question I have posed to myself since reading Sellers’ article. Probably, is the conclusion I have come up with. That realisation has offered me an unmeasurable amount of comfort that I have found my path. “What if this was it?” is now a question I can face, knowing I am no longer searching. To have that is the greatest privilege of all.

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The Shadowy Figure

The shadowy figure’s presence is hard to fathom,

neither here, nor there, there is no driver at the seat.

Responds rather than initiates, doing only what is necessary, but no more.

Takes but does not give, there is no identification with what it means to be a part of and to have responsibility for.

The lament cannot be expressed in words, words have failed many times before.

It is, rather, an absence of willingness or ability to feel one’s responsibility as part of one’s being. To refuse to take on the default role, secure in the knowledge that others will step in.

The shadowy figure is disappearing but still lurks in many homes.

[The “Shadowy Figure” was inspired by a reference to this term by Lawrence Mooney during his interview on Radio National (29.04.16) describing the role of fathers in the home during the 1950’s]

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Living, doing and having (more) time

The sink

Lately I have a new perspective on the things around me. Perhaps it is a matter of never having enough time to accomplish the things I want to do with my life, but I am starting to see everything in terms of the time a particular thing costs me. Take this sink for instance, not tidying the kitchen equated to 1/2 hour of research today! And not tidying up that half peeled off label on the flower jar – 10 mins. Of course the washing up still has to be done at some point tonight (Given that my home interior won’t be making an appearance on Instagram any time soon I’ll leave the glass jar for my next life)….but I’ll get to that when my brain has become fuzz (unless hubby does first ;)).

It is fair to say that most “homemakers”, “stay at home” parents and whatever other lovely term applies to those of us who spend a reasonable portion of their adult lives doing the lion’s share of the “at home” jobs without receiving a pay check have generally already worked this out, but where this approach gets really interesting is when you start applying it to the multitude of consumer items available on the market out there. Let’s start small, a new clothing item – 1 hours work, a new piece of furniture – 5 – 10 hours work, new sofa – 1 week of work. Going up to the bigger items, a swimming pool for instance would set you back perhaps 70 weeks of work or more when you account for tax.* Putting aside the actual amounts, which of course differ depending on one’s “value” in the market, you get the picture. All the items and possessions, as well as purchased experiences, can be translated into a time value to obtain it. Unless you fall into the category of people whose “value” in the market is so exceedingly high no thought needs to be given to this exercise (though arguably another sobering exercise can be undertaken in this case, being the cost of time (and perhaps other things) required to get to this value and maintain this value for one’s working life), it starts to appear as though we are spending “time” on consumer goods like we have unlimited amounts. Given that “time” is the one thing of which we can be pretty certain is limited for us, perhaps it is time for a rethink. Give it a go and see, ask yourself the question – what do you value more than the time it equates to getting it. If it doesn’t add up, then perhaps it is not necessary!



* (I am assuming here a pay of $40 per hour and a 35 hour work week).

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