I remember the day I first met Munchkin. She was nestled in Rose’s lap as we all sat in a circle at Moving On. Moving On was the name of a program of meetings devised jointly by the Aftercare Resource Centre and Griffith University.
What we later discovered was this: ‘ex-residents’ (and their family members) were to be guinea pigs for the empirical investigation of exciting new ideas being floated in social work academic circles. Questions such as: “how do they act when you talk about the past?” etc, would be of interest and totally new! Observed and noted behaviour of ex-residents would form grist for the mill that churns out journal articles.
The chain wire zoo fence between other animals and humans was almost visible in the room that day. The sides were about equal; on one side ex-residents (or their family members), and on the other, ARC/Relationships Australia personnel and the Griffith University team. The air was thick with kindly facilitation. Some ex-residents clearly loved it, and who could blame them? Just throw them a few morsels now and then so they stay quiet!
In the room the TV cameras waited… Few of us noticed them until Dennis pointed them out. Banishing the fleeting look of irritation from her face, the lovely lady from Griffith with the patient voice and stuck-on smile sought our approval…
Do you mind if we record any of this?
People did mind.
About the only thing that made the day at all interesting was the presence of Munchkin.
She was passed from one delighted pair of arms to another.
It was clear from the frown on the face of the boss bully, that he did not welcome therapeutic interventions from a puppy. Any therapy going on that day would be strictly according got to the guidelines laid down by The Funding Body. We were specimens in a jar.
The boss bully had a brutality about him that went beyond his size (which was considerable). It was rumoured he’d once locked an ‘ex-resident’ in a room until she wrote an apology to someone. In a confrontation with the author in the lead up discussion to Moving On, he challenged me: “Well! If nothing we’re doing is right, then what should we be doing? It was the only honest remark I ever heard him make. My response was something like “this very conversation between you and I is a start”.
The boss bully was renowned for hurting feelings. How did he get where he was? Today, he did something unspeakable. He hardened his heart against Munchkin and her owners and friends. Why? Because the crime we committed was the only one ARC/Esther/Forde would not tolerate: we ignored them! Muchkin was much more interesting!
When I think of the harm it caused that day, it strikes me that what they were doing, this Moving On project, was pathetically irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. One or two academics had dreamed up a research project, using the very latest disadvantaged group to hit the scene – Ex-residents! (patent pending, Micah Projects).
Already, some Masters degrees and even the odd PhD had been won. This seam could prove rich beyond the wildest imaginations of social workers everywhere! And it was only the beginning!
The research project ran as follows: A couple of years before, ex-residents and their families had been mailed an A4 sheet: Would we be interested in taking part in creating a theatrical production dramatizing the experiences in Children’s Homes? This very idea had been mooted several times in earlier years, when ex-residents were sometimes called Home Kids (at one point, some of them were FICH members). A couple of our members had been involved in theatre and TV work, and we had always wanted to see a dramatization of escape stories from the different Homes.
It was therefore heartening to my innocence to hear that ARC (who, after all, was Given The Tender – never mind; Esther could just eat them eventually, with a bit of help from mother church), had taken up this sterling idea of ours!
Of course Moving On was nothing to do with us, beyond any curiosity we aroused as clinical specimens. Moving On was merely a conduit to academe, or rather from academe to us. I saw the gradual disillusionment dawn on Dennis’s face, then on the faces of my friends, as we realized this was a guinea pig show, masquerading as something to help our families in our struggle.
The climax of this sad event would come later. Our hero, the big boss bully guy, made a remark to my friend, Munchkin’s mummy, that brought her childhood trauma right back to the present. He delivered words that would wound her, and her healing would be delayed that bit longer.
A long time before, a terrified child had watched in horror as her grandfather killed her pet by bashing its head. Simultaneously, she was removed to a Home. The two events would always haunt her. It may have seemed to this vulnerable child that one single, disastrous blow had descended, not just on her pet, but on her.
The boss bully was annoyed at Rose, for bringing Munchkin along to what was, if you please, a controlled experiment! This would not do! Those Who Must Be Obeyed, the funders of academic projects, would not take kindly to shoddy research methods.
Both the sample of specimens AND the environment must remain constant. A puppy introduced into the environment was an uncontrolled variable; it would confound the equations. The research findings could be invalidated by such an event.
Perhaps unsurprising then, that Barry the bully was ready to put a stop to future participation by four-legged actors (other than human laboratory rats). Causally he beckoned to Munchkin’s owner.
“I think we’ll hit the doggie on the head” he said.
Today’s post is a story I wrote in 2012, called “Munchkin’s Day at Moving On“.
Forgotten Australians might know why the name ‘Moving On’ was so infuriating.
Here is the original document advertising the so-called “Theatre Production” which in reality was to be a freak show for academics. Notice that the project name, “Moving On” isn’t mentioned anywhere?