Upstaging Barnaby

Even Mrs Joyce wants her husband’s love affair to be subsumed by the national interest. Isn’t it a shame that so many writers are enjoying the scandal so much that they can’t leave it alone? Many women would identify with Mrs Joyce, and some, I believe, would identify with Ms Campion. We’ve all known men who seem unable to keep their pants zipped. Wouldn’t it be great, if instead of banning bonking, the federal government banned hypocrisy?

It was heartening to read of the attention being momentarily shifted from this scandal that everyone finds so entertaining, and onto a real matter like Closing the Gap. I wasn’t watching Q&A last night, but read about Ms Clanton’s comments. Hers must be a remarkable family, with reason to be mightily proud of their achievements. It shouldn’t be unusual, but of course it is, for all the siblings in an indigenous family to achieve so highly academically.

I’m not wanting to cast a pall over this miracle, but nevertheless feel bound to point out that getting a university degree doesn’t ensure success in life. There will still be many hurdles for the indigenous graduate to tackle, as others among the oppressed in Australia have found.

Between us, our Forgotten Australian family of five held eight university degrees, three at Honours level. Only one of us is practising the career for which they qualified, and he had to distance himself from our family chaos in order to survive. We felt the irony as early as 1982 one day in Gympie, when Lew and I consulted the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) to find out what jobs might be available for a former research neurochemist with an Honours degree. Lew couldn’t even get a job sweeping factory floors. Oh, and what about someone with a performer’s degree in Music? Surely I could get a job teaching piano to kids? Well, the problem was that only a few parents had faith in a piano teacher who lived in such a hovel. What useful pedagogy could I impart, in the midst of washing four people’s laundry by hand, cooking family meals on a two burner camp stove, avoiding bonking black snakes on the way to the outside toilet, and other challenges? I didn’t look the part.

Sadly, being gifted and motivated in Australia doesn’t mean you are guaranteed a livelihood. One of my children, whose intelligence eclipses even her siblings’, mourns the fact that she would never be able to ‘work in an office’ owing to profoundly disabling PTSD and chronic fatigue. She can comprehend scientific research at a level many could not approach, although she would never be well enough to study at university. She grasps concepts the rest of us can only guess at, and reads Ancient Greek philosophers for entertainment. Yet she struggles to stay in the world. She cannot see how she fits into a society that rewards people for conformity with neoliberal ideals.

When I look at my daughter, I despair, because in another kind of world, her gifts would be celebrated, as Lew’s would have been if he hadn’t succumbed to State-conferred early mortality. When we begin to publish his extensive writings, artwork and scientific discoveries, others may be able to share in what he tried so hard to offer the world.

My daughter is not alone in her dilemma, but feels isolated because so few in the community understand the inter-generational trauma that threatens her survival. She can’t tell her friends why it is impossible for her to go to a cafe (severe eating disorders among many other factors). At school, when the class was given Rabbit Proof Fence to study, her emotions became intolerable for her. She had heard her father’s stories of escapes from Children’s Homes. We live in fear of Welfare, because Welfare doesn’t get it. I guess it would be difficult for the State to admit that it has created disability in so many people. Blaming the victim is so much easier.

Meanwhile, over in the US, the students are beginning to see that nobody is in charge, that rampant greed and corruption have killed any hope of a fair society. Maybe it isn’t too late to stop the rot.





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