Monthly Archives: February 2016

Dancing with Speeches #9 Stella Young

Stella Young was a national broadcaster, teacher, advocate for human rights and very funny. She died at 32 from a suspected aneurysm. Her TEDx talk : I’m not your inspiration, was a speech about objectifying people with disabilities.

Objectification is all around us, and it could well be the source of some of the deepest experiences of alienation and de-humanising. It is the reason pornography is an epidemic. It is the reason child abuse is in our courts day after day. Young said it best, when she called inspirational posters of people with disabilities doing ordinary things like throwing a ball or swimming in the ocean was objectifying and was really inspirational porn, and no amount of changing attitudes towards people with disabilities was going to bring a ramp to a building!

I have had some amazing teachers in the anti-objectifying movement, some of them did it in wheelchairs, para Olympian, administrator, grant maker and mum Libby Kosmala and arts patron and administrator, adviser to architects, builders and developers, dad and grandfather, Richard Llewellyn. I learned such a lot about building access and building codes from Richard, the quality of toilets, access to public spaces and turning up to all the conversations. One of my first encounters with Richard was when I drove him to a meeting, and after using a very cool hoist attached to the government car, we got to the meeting in the city and had to park around the back of the building, I them had to move rubbish and rubbish bins to access the only entrance of the building a wheelchair could get in. He was a very senior public servant, and the only one who turned up to the meeting through the tradesman’s entrance. I was in my early twenties and that day I got a great lesson in what access really means. It is practical not attitudinal, it is the subject not the object in a sentence. We worked on all sorts of access issues over many years and I refused to talk about access as a disability issue – access is access, equity is equity. (I used to have a cartoon of a battalion of daleks, those mythical invasion beings created by Terry Nation, from Dr Who arriving at a planet where every building is equipped with a set of stairs. Confronted by this phenomena the daleks recognize the stairs undoes their plans to take over the planet.)

Access all areas, to end objectification will require more than stairs being removed, we need ramps to the hearts and minds. Ironically Stella Young’s ABC show was called Ramp Up. She died not long after the show was axed by the ABC, and I have often wondered if it might have broken her heart and been a cause of her early and unexpected death. An attitude code can’t be legislated for (as MLK taught us) but we can get the buildings right, the books with braille, voice activated instructions and new technologies are happening every day. Young’s preference was for use of the term disabled people (people not enabled), while Lllewellyn’s preference was people with disabilities (people before disability) – both work for me and reflects the generational difference between the two advocates. By the time Stella was working in a classroom, broadcasting and entertaining us with her sharp and dry wit, many of the barriers Richard had in his lifetime were no longer there. But there certainly weren’t and aren’t all gone and inspirational porn is not a new frontier, but is one of the last.

It is not only disabled people who experience this, the poor self-made achiever is sometimes held up for having achieved when equity is a right for everyone. The refugee who has made good is seen as the exceptional individual who has overcome a challenge. Surely this is another form of objectification – the human right issue of safety, participation, asylum shouldn’t be down to an individual’s capacity to deal with smugglers, high seas, war, torture – these are all human rights. And what about the person who overcomes through their own efforts and a few odd and possibly random events to make their millions or rise to the highest levels of education and attainment being held up as special – surely the human rights to a roof over your head, food and an education – are for everyone.

Get out the building code for your heart and work out what needs to be changed in the system that is getting in the way of access and equity. Turning people into objects, numbs us and dumbs us down. Objectification is a dis-ease and inoculation starts with a big dose of access and equity.



Dancing with Speeches #8 Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth is perhaps the most famous African-American woman of the 19th century. Fuelled by her religious conviction for justice as a child of God, for over forty years she traveled the country as a forceful and passionate advocate for women, slaves and the dispossessed.


sjTemporary and transitional, passing through as a guest, the sojourner goes on their way. Speaking with poise and clarity about conditions and the real life experience of what it meant to be a woman, a slave, black Sojourner Truth, named herself and claimed a place in history as a woman of influence, persuasion and passion. Choosing her own name to describe what she was doing is such a powerful way to stay on message! The theological underpinning of her famous “Ain’t I a woman” speech is recorded as her saying “can’t read, but I can hear. I have heard the bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well, if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again.” Restorative justice – right there!

Sadly human rights, slavery and women’s rights are still on the agenda and what names do we have on the ledger trying to get these wrongs turned around? The movements of our time, are full of good and great women like Sojourner Truth, stepping up and stepping out into spaces to be heard. I immediately think of women who like Sojourner are naming themselves. How about Pussy Riot – what a perfect name for our time and for their message spread through punk, anarchist

Finding our name and finding our voice does not need the genteel permission and good manners shown by Sojourner, politely asking the audience listening at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, on May 29, 1851. We can burst onto small screens with images, sound and voice, but having some clarity about who we are and what we want to say is certainly worth leaning on Sojourner’s example. Who you are, what you stand for and what you want to achieve by speaking out are certainly worth clarifying.

Sojourner is alleged to have cleared her throat, take off her bonnet and stand tall (like an Amazon it is reported). Again, great instruction to prepare to be heard – ask permission from the audience, walk forward, clear your throat, stand tall and start proclaiming. The biblical proportions of speech making are all there – the parting of the Red Sea (making your way to the front with people moving to the sides and you walk through); clearing your throat (John the Baptist, clearing the path for Jesus to walk); standing tall (in the temple before Jesus’ acts of proclamation to declare who he was) – the power of the lessons heard embodied taking shape in former slave – the instruction continues! There is no need to go looking for a better example of how an activist can lead in the public space and the lessons are still applicable. Asking for permission seems such an unreasonable and unlikely step these days, yet this simple act of requesting to be heard is everywhere from on line petitions to the making of appointments with a local member of parliament. It is a step that begins a conversation, an act of listening and being heard.

For the sojourner to speak truth to power is an act of nonviolence and a declaration of war on injustice. Prepare to be heard.  And taking the lead from Sojourner Truth, what is the name you might give yourself?

Dancing with Speeches #7: Jesus


There are a few famous speeches attributed to Jesus, none more famous and more universally acclaimed than what is known as The Beatitudes or Sermon on the Mount. In the Christian Bible, it can be found at Matthew 5: 1-11.

Instead of going to a hillside to share the good news of the riches of being blessed by trouble, toil and strife, a modern day Messiah might get his or her sayings in  bite sided tweeable grabs. Millions can be reached and within hours the planet could be showered with the messages.  What kind of be – attitudes are we seeking in our times?  How are we being challenged to be- have?

Poverty of spirit is all around us, loneliness, fear, anxiety, lack of eye contact and whole-heartedness manifests itself in shallow souls and mean-ness.  These are the ones to be filled with riches and bounty to be found in the home of love. How might they find their way to this home? I certainly want to shower blessings on those who have this poverty and give them a glimpse of the love they are seeking and in all honesty I think this starts with the simplicity of a smile.

For those who are mourning, and grief too is all around us. People losing their jobs, their ambitions, their homes, their lives and their loves.  Seeking comfort in the arms of another, and being comforted in real material ways with the basics of food and shelter when there that immediate need is there. I think of the front line workers in disasters and after emergencies as well as those who sit on the bus and hear a tale of sorrow and loss, or open their Facebook feed in the morning to the arrival of news of death or illness to a friend, or friend of a friend. For the ripples of grief go out beyond the first circle, and our own mortality comes palpable with that kind of news. We gather up our connection and touch deep into our selves with that kind of news. Our times of mourning apprentice us to be comforters in times of grief for others.

The simple and unsophisticated, the meek and mild, are often ripe for predators of pain and purveyors of oppression.  Those who loose all they have with scams, on the pokies might be taken advantage of by the ease by which they submit to the aggressive and relentlessness of callers and machines that drive the meek into submission.  They are the children who end up as victims, the women who have the scars inside and out – meekness comes in many forms.  The gentle and the patient ones wait and wait as if they know tomorrow is an act of hope, a maybe things will be better day to come.  In a world which is complicated and moving at a pace few can keep up with being meek is a curse and no wonder will need to be blessed.

The work of justice is long and suffering, it is never finished. The poor will always be with us. There are disappointments around every corner, some that lead you to deep and dark despair.  Years of campaigning, lobbying, building a movement, sustaining your longing for what is right, fair, equitable can be exhausting. Having a heart full of love, a head full of ideas and a body equipped to go the frontline for what is morally right is a big ask on the days refugees aren’t offered shelter in our land, or Aboriginal children are displaced in their own land or decisions to make our state a nuclear dump are pending. A blessing to be satisfied when you have an insatiable thirst for righteousness is the one you need on a bad day.

Those that have forgiven know the blessing that comes in that act. The sense of a return to centre and a completion of what it means to be whole. Coming from the french – merci – is thank you, a yes to the transaction of something being delivered to you, arriving and now with your consent, received. The giver is dispensing the mercy first, before they have the experience of receiving. This is a blind trust with no guarantee of reciprocation. Haven’t we all had that moment of our gift being dismissed and times of betrayal?  To keep giving in a vacuum is an act of trust for when you need to have mercy shown to you there will be enough mercy credits in your mercy bank to receive the mercy due -but maybe better still though to just receive and hold that space of welcome and blessed acceptance.

To have an innocence and to be without blemish is to be like a little child seeing everything for what it is without cynicism or spin.  Only with those eyes is it possible to see all of creation in its purest form.  How hard it is to ignore the hole in the ozone layer, the price of fabric made in sweat shops, the children being refused an education, the old ones being left behind in their last days. The blessing of clarity, of being untainted by the world so you can see the fullest and biggest versions and possibilities of God.

A friend, Fr John Dear says that when you are in the peace business you travel with others, it is a small group, and destined to get smaller! He laughs when he says this each time and the chuckle comes from experience. His activism has led him to gaol, loss of family and friends and of his community of religious sojourners. He is not alone and he definitely feels like he has all the love and support he needs from the one he call Father. Not everyone in his band of merry men and women share his faith or draw from the same well – it doesn’t matter – all that matters is the peace making.  This is a discipline, a practice, it is what comes first, to do the work  consistently and with joy that brings a blessing of deep knowledge of our inter-connectedness to each other in the quest for justice, as there can be no peace without justice.

It is virtually inevitable that hostility and ill treatment will come with the practice of sticking up for what is right. The reserves needed to sustain yourself in times of persecution need topping up regularly as they run low when you are being relentlessly flogged, and you find yourself deserted. I remember speaking out once thinking I had a room full of ordained clergy right behind me and then turning around to see several of the most influential having literally stepped right back and feeling so vulnerable. Everyday, all around the world, whole countries step back instead of stepping up, meaning those who are persecuted in their efforts for justice and dignity are left to fend for themselves. To be blessed under these circumstances by the kingdom of heaven need not be placating metaphor of a promise of a better world in the next, but maybe an invitation for those of us not persecuted, to bless them in this world with the fruits of the good times we have. Could it be an invitation to us to share in our blessings do that they are blessed?

The last of the be-attitudes is the blessing that comes when you are falsely accused because you stand with goodness and love personified. The old saying sticks and stones may break your bones but names may never hurt you is easy to recite and hard to believe in those moments when the jibs and jabs hail down like spears in battle.  To dance with joy as you dodge those bullets, does bring its own blessings and strength as we see in the likes of people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu who still managed a skip and a smile when his Cathedral was being targeted and bullets were being fired because of his stand on apartheid due to his belief in his God. Or the courageous and initially reluctant Archbishop Oscar Romero who made the air waves of El Salvador his microphone for Christ and met his God in his church saying Mass on a fateful day in March 1980.  His people knew he was a saint long before he was recognised by the Vatican.

To bless and be blessed that is what it means to live with a be-attitude.



Dancing with Speeches #6: Keating

On Human Rights Day in 1992, the Australian Prime Minister, Hon Paul Keating, gave a speech in Redfern to launch 1993 as the International Year of Indigenous Peoples. It set the tone for a new era of relationships with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. He forecast the 90s as the decade to right the wrongs.

Gentrification of Redfern is characterized by the cranes in the skyline. Black pride is pumping in the veins of the locals. Australia is still failing the test, still no recognition in the Constitution, still dying decades younger, still no treaty. There’s been some progress along the way the colonist’s sorry business side of the equation has taken a few steps marked by the apology to the Stolen Generations (13 Feb 2008) but we have not lived up to Keating’s ambition.

Australia will not be grown up, and I would argue, is not ready to be a Republic until we have righted these wrongs. As a non-Aboriginal person I say recognition in the Constitution has to come first and that recognition has to include the sovereignty of Aboriginal peoples in the land the First Fleet of British colonists called terra nullius.

Recognition is an antidote to invisibility, bringing what was hidden in shadows and behind closed doors into the open and into the light. The deep long shadows that stain the soul of the land of Australia can not be erased. A legacy of destruction, disease, displacement … death. As a non-Aboriginal person I cannot pretend it didn’t happen, because it keeps happening … on my watch too.

How do I stand, sit, walk in solidarity?

How am I silent to the past, by not recognizing into the now?

How do I hold the knowledge there was no just settlement?

First things first, recognition. It begins with being able to recognize, to see the signs in the landscape, understand that statistics are people, find the backstory in the pages, being witness to tears, standing still to enable others to go forward. Seeing my own racism and noticing how that unfolds consciously and unconsciously in what I say and what I do. It means learning, relearning and applying the lesson of putting myself in their shoes (one first learnt as advice from Atticus to Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird I think, a text from the US not my own land):

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. – Harper Lee

Recognition leads to equity. There can be no justice without equity, it is the foundation for any kind of fair go the heart of what so many of us consider a fundamental Australian value.

Can we imagine an Australia where there is equity and the oldest living culture on the planet is universally recognized and that recognition brings the same health and well-being outcomes, the same chance at making a living, the same potential for education and housing … the same human rights of non-Aboriginal people?

Igniting an imagination for recognition needs the eyes to be open wide, the heart to be vulnerable to face into the horrors of the past and the mouth to bring respect, acknowledgement and deep appreciation of the past, so the wrongs get righted and more importantly stop happening.


Keating in Redfern Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

When Keating gave his Redfern speech he said he couldn’t imagine that we would fail, but fail we have. He had a big imagination and a belief in Australians being able to imagine equity beyond the ballot box and founded on recognition. There is still so much to do and having an imagination is the first step to making it possible.

Where’s your imagination Australia?






If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.

William Arthur Ward