Author Archives: Moira Were AM

About Moira Were AM

Founder @henHousecoop + Chooks SA co-founder @collab_4_good early adopter for Aus at Coralus formerly known as SheEO. Living with gratitude on Kaurna land, close to Witawali - Sellicks Beach

Visibility and Invisiblity 2022 #33

The Australian Human Rights Enquiry into Racist Violence was held in 1991. I was one of the people who Commissioner Irene Moss heard give evidence. The evidence I provided related to a series of incidents directed to me and impacted on my young family.

As an anti-racist activist I was subjected to violence because of my advocacy of human rights. The evidence Commissioner Moss gathered, indicated that this was perpetrated by organised extremist groups. It took the form of bricks through the windows of the bedroom my children slept in, graffiti on the walls of my house, being followed and abused verbally in the street, my children’s kindergarten having graffiti painted on its fence, my phone being tapped. I was working for the SA Council of Churches running a series of anti-racism campaigns with church, school, community groups and unions. The campaign was clearly effective. My children grew up for a number of years not being able to answer the telephone, open the front door.

As a white, educated, english speaking person I got a tiny, tiny, taste of what many have to endure everyday. It was not pleasant.

Fast forward to 2022 and for the past 30 years nothing much has changed for me. I continue to call out racist behaviour, find ways of building bridges and community to educate and eradicate ignorance. I seem to have a knack of helping racists come out of the woodwork and find me.

This week I can point to two instances. The first one was at a community meeting of a local business association. The meeting began with an acknowledgement of meeting on Kaurna land. The person making the acknowledgement then muttered under his breath that he didn’t think they were grateful for all the good efforts of their association’s endeavours. I was shocked. I have noted his behaviour.

The second incident was online. A post of gratitude about care of country and connection to the economic, ecological and spiritual values of the land to First Nations, was met with an oblique enquiry that had nothing to do with the original post. The only connection to be drawn was a connection to First Nations. This, not quite subtle reference, was “jarring” as one correspondent remarked in the comments.

I have taken to making longer than usual opening acknowledgements at public events, since the Prime Minister’s visit to the Garma Festival. I am making the most of the opportunities I am getting when standing out the front. This week it included a crowded room of about 100 people in our capital city, celebrating the conclusion of a circular economy program for budding social enterpreneurs and a seniors club meeting with about 40 people in one of our southern suburbs. I include in my remarks that we are in a pre-referendum period, where citizens are getting prepped to consider whether to vote for a Voice to parliament to be enshrined in our Constitution. I am remind audiences that I want us to go further than the voters in 1967 did and exceed their 97% vote for Aboriginal people to get the right to vote. I want us to prove we have not gone backwards and we are not more racist than this previous generation. I am worried though that we might be! I am doing what I can to innoculate as well as educate.

It is so very easy for slips of the tongue and keyboard warriors to poison the airwaves. It urges me to be positive, signal and send a message tothe mini-publics I am addressing. We can all do this whereever we are – in our homes, classrooms, board rooms, at bus stops and sporting grounds. That is the work we need to do while the legislators get cracking on their bit.

I always find my way back to Martin Luther King Jr in these moments and draw on this quote:

“It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also.”

– Martin Luther King, “The Other America,” 1967

The invisible racist, becomes visible when they make a snide remark or comment under their breath, or post a line in social media that hints of their values.

Be vigilant my friends as we head into these pre-referedum times. If my two little whiffs on the wind I experienced this week are anything to go by, our First Nations people are going to experience a lot worse during this time. We are going to be called on to make our solidarity visible.

Photo by Darold Pinnock on Unsplash

Visibility and Invisibility 2022 #32

SALA is here and that means I am out and about at exhibitions being drenched in the creativity of artists around me. I have been fortunate to be involved in a few of the openings, invited to speak and have an opportunity to reflect and introduce the art being shared.

The diversity of images and media chosen by various artists calls us voyeurs to come closer. I am not a visual artist or sculpture, but I can sometimes see things other people can’t in a situation or detect something emerging on the horizon. Artists have the ability to make visible what perhaps others of us can’t see. Their eye, their choice of colours, how they frame their subject, what media they use, are all portals of possibilities to enable us gazing on their work to get a glimpse into how they are seeing the world.

I opened an exhibition at the Willunga Uniting Church Bethany Hall called Breathe. I talked about the relationship between inspiration and expiration – breathing in and breathing out. Doing this simple exercise of breathing together has been seriously compromised in these pandemic times, and so I think it is more important than ever to find ways in which we can communally get an opportunity to share the air without causing us harm and the humble act of an exhibition opening in a church hall, is one such way. Masked up and suitably separated by distance, the assembled gathered to celebrate the coming out of studios where work was created, now being shared and made visible for all to see.

The artists I’ve seen over these first two weeks of SALA are incredibly diverse. I have seen the beauty of crayon and paint of a 4 year old Estelle at a school-based SALA event, the interlocking pieces of old car parts and industrial rusted components transformed into sea creatures, oil paints layered to recreate a memory of a lost love, weaving patterns as old as the Dreamtime being used for baskets, mixed media collages calling forth the seasons, glass mosaics, endangered lizard potrait in charcoal, bejewelled earrings telling a tale of surf and sand, mandalas in ink drawn by the steadiest of hands, abstracted landscapes in every shade of green, deep time reflected in ancient red gum hosting seed pods, sunflowers offering up a blessing to a blue sky in honour of Ukraine.

Just as the artist puts their work in the world, an expiration if you like, or what has inspired them, so we the viewer get to inhale their work and then exhale it through our interpretation. We don’t survive if we only breathe out or only breathe in! We can’t live on oxygen or carbon dioxide, it is the mix and balance of these gases that enables us all to survive and we need both.

I know a bit about what it is like to have one more than the other and it is very unpleasant. Regular readers over the years will know my husband died of a disease where the lungs capacity to transfer oxygen into the blood stream and deliver enough oxygen to the rest of the body failed, and it took almost a decade for that failure to end in death. It is not too dissimiliar to what is happening to us as a planet. If we don’t arrest this situation we too will literally won’t be able to breathe.

Artists and their creations are critical in helping us see what might be invisible. Get along to any SALA event if you can and open up to seeing something new, or being moved by a memory, or even repelled by an image that offends your sensibilities. What ever your reaction it is an echo of the relationship between breathing in and breathing out, and we need both.

Opening SALA exhibition at Tinjella, Lynn Chamberlain’s studio, Willunga, with Marisa Bell, Candidate for Southern Vales Ward, City of Onkaparinga.

Invisibility and visibility 2022 #31

The first time I heard Archie Roach was in 1990, on his first CD, Charcoal Lane. I had known about his song Took the Children Away but I hadn’t listened to it until it came out on CD. He had performed it for the first time a couple of years earlier. The album was on high rotation, and we all got to learn the songs, and along with Paul Kelly, it was one of the soundtracks to the 90s in our home.

Archie was a truth teller – he was talking about the Stolen Generation, domestic violence, suicide in communities long before many others. He had his own demons and trauma. His music helped heal others and shone a light for others to find their way.

I must have seen him in concert a dozen times on small and big stages. His final Womadelaide appearance was very special, we all knew were saying good bye to each other. None of us wanted the moment to end. We let the final notes and the echo of the applause hang in the air.

His death on the weekend of Garma Festival has its own kind of symmetry. I remember years ago, him calling on Tony Abbott the then Prime Minister, to end the Northern Territory intervention. This weekend Anthony Albanese, our current Prime Minister added his voice to the death of this legend, in a tweet saying, Our country has lost a brilliant talent, a powerful and prolific national truth teller. Telling the truth is at the heart of this moment in our journey as a nation.

We have a big year ahead as we make visible the truth of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We can rise to the occasion and as a nation pass a referendum not just to right wrongs, but to go to the next level as a nation.  I am optimistic it will be a referendum that everyone will be able to embrace, and passing it will be a moment of national healing, hope, pride and promise.

Archie made visible the pain and ache of the Stolen Generations and translated the personal experience which opened our hearts and taught those of us who had no idea about this awful practice.  When the Bringing them Home Human Rights Commission report was released in 1997, his famous song was already nearly a decade old. That report still has recommendations that are yet to be implemented and going back even further the Deaths in Custody Royal commission in 1987 has more recommendations not acted on, than actioned. Invisible recommendations waiting to be made visible.

There is so much unfinished business, so many gaps to close.

We are in a season of truth-telling and listening to Archie’s songs will help hold us through this season.  

Voice Treaty Truth

Vale Archie Roach

Rest in power

Sunset concert Womadelaide 2021

Invisibility and Visibility 2022 #30

I got an attack of the giggles over dinner with friends this week over the mispronunciation of a meal that had entertained me from childhood. The simplicity of a memory in another place, a completely different set of circumstances gave me great heart. The hidden  and invisible stories we all hold that sneak out in such moments are such a gift and invitation to discover or in this case, re-discover a lost joy.

Memories are powerful tools and weapons to hold us in place and take us to new horizons. The trick I find at play is to not get caught into sentimentality or melancholy. So the gooey warmth of a forgotten cheery moment holds a lot of comfort.

I am currently running for a public office and reconnecting with parts of my past lives in the process. One of the activities I am doing is a weekly photo on a social media platform entitling it #ThrowbackThursday.  I am getting more interest and commentary on these pictures than almost any other thing I am doing. People seem to be enjoying discovering something they didn’t know about me, or getting a glimpse into another part of my story.  There is a mixture of intrigue and intimacy in the responses. 

I have also enjoyed campaigning. I love the focussed project nature of it and the clarity of the result – someone will win and everyone else will lose. I try to reframe this competitive perspective – I feel like I have already won, by getting up and having a go. I am also coming off a strong base and deep roots decades in the making and long before a couple of my opponents were even born. I am not being ageist and I am supporting young candidates, but I do have the years on them, and it is a-kind-of, unfair advantage.  The invisibility of my story peeking out through old photographs, is just one way in which herstory can come through bringing a version of what’s gone before. As the curator I get to choose which pictures go with what weeks.  

As I have written previously, so many of the photos I have been sorting through don’t have me anywhere to be seen, as I am behind the camera. I am learning how to take reasonable ‘selfies’ now which is going someway to rectify the problem going forward. The looking out into the eyes of others versus looking into your own eyes and seeing yourself I am beginning to appreciate as a portal to introspection. The ‘selfie’ also has endless capacity to eek out  a giggle. Selfies are also in the business of making memories.  A lovely combination for the invisible and visible worlds to collide through giggles and digital mirrors.

Being in front of the camera, certainly makes for a different perspective.

Selfie taken in my bathroom before I headed off to a friends 60th birthday.

Invisibility and Visibility 2022 #29

The signal on the outside are bells ringing in the foyer, on the inside the lights go down and we know something extraordinary is about to happen.  What has been invisible is about to become visible. We know to get ready; our preparedness will be rewarded with the strike of a chord and our senses are called to attention the relationship between the performers and the audience has been consummated. 

I love live music. I deeply appreciate the thousands of hours of effort to get into a place to be able to walk on stage, the hundreds of people involved to enable this feat to take place and the community of support required to make it happen. It is so instructional to me. The over night success twenty years in the making or the random gift of a proud Mum leaving a message on Instagram that enables a 15year old to take the stage. The generosity and grace of seasoned performers is always on show by the ones who really know and embrace the privilege.

It is not just on the stage though that we can see this phenomenon. Earlier in the day I had been at my grandson’s seventh birthday where hours and hours of effort into making treats and games and a complicated Dragon pinata were on display and fully embraced by the young guests. Setting the scene for each activity requiring clarity about what was about to happen, how to fully prepare, participate, and bring your own appreciation to the moment. Between the tuile of princesses and masks of Minecraft characters, there were sugar fuelled squeals of delight, not too different to the audience at Thebarton Theatre later in the evening. The human experience of gathering to celebrate, appreciate, play being universal and not bound by age. The concert’s theme was Child in Reverse and it seemed a fitting bookend to the day.

There are a lot of stops and starts going on with COVID interruptus at the moment. Things not quite landing, work arounds, re-scheduling, disappointing-not-quite-right-a-bit-annoying is what we are all experiencing. Being a lifelong improviser, I do not mind the challenge of living inside these beautiful constraints, yet I see my social media feed full of unhappy travellers stranded or not quite arriving the way they want too in the school holidays.

These moments are offering up the opportunity to just stop, pause and start again. I loved how the singing pair last night in the concert, did just that, a tiny error, a wayward word, was the cause. And then with good humour, professionalism and absolute precision, they picked up where they had left off. I appreciated the lesson in front of a packed half-masked up auditorium. 

We all have times when things do not go our way, it doesn’t mean we can’t adapt. It is an invitation, a big wide invitation, to see what we can make of the moment.  When the seven-year-olds were waiting in anticipation their turn in pass-the-parcel and the music didn’t quite stop when the rotating gift arrived to their expectant hands and lap, some lingered with their hold, others passed it like a hot potato to keep it moving while others wistfully watched it go past with longing in their eyes. 

Not all our expectations will be realised, is a lesson learnt early, and often.  We always have a choice to pick up where we left off and draw on our invisible experience and strength to keep the show going.  We are never alone, entire battalions of people have enabled all of us to get to that point, they maybe invisible to us in the moment, but they have been there and getting up again is a way of honouring all the effort that has gone before to enable us to be ready and available to accept the invitation when it arrives.

Thebarton Theatre 16 July 2022

Visibility and Invisibility 2022 #28

You could make out the eyes closed on the surface, and the outline of the head, in the dark, that is all that was visible, but we could all tell that underneath was the body that belonged to that head, an ancient alligator. The zoo after dark was alive and crawling with plenty of human life in all shapes, sizes, and hues and many of the taller ones were holding onto to the hands of smaller ones to keep their micro community together and not lost among the crowds. There was one called Toby though that had taken his own journey and his grown up was yelling his name, a call into the night that was not yielding his appearance into her sight. All the while, the alligator did not bat an eyelid.

We tell ourselves all kinds of stories about where we are safe, where we hide, where we can be found, where we can hide. I have found that in crowds and in the dark holding onto someone’s hand is always a good idea.

I have held onto lots of little people’s hands over my lifetime and it still comforts me. I feel safer with this added responsibility. I feel braver. I feel protective. I do not remember the last time I held a grown-up’s hand and I notice how much I miss that experience, the simplicity of the touch. COVID has certainly been a barrier to that experience and of course my single status for nearly five years is the primary reason.

One hand I have had extended to me in this period, was at Kwartatuma Ormiston Gorge, Northern Territory, as I navigated the last of a long walk and had to cross a river and the water was above my waist and the rocks underneath slippery and not completely visible and a complete stranger offered his hand to steady me to take the steps I needed safely. He was very reluctant to offer his hand, but my vulnerability was indisputable, and he felt obliged to reach out. I still stumbled and fell. I was worried I was going to pull him in as well. He reached out again with more confidence, and I made it to the over side.

Holding hands is a signal to the crowd about who is connected to who and all that skin to skin contact and intertwining of fingers, making visible intimacy and possibility the power dynamics of the relationship. Close to roads my hand grips more tightly around the hand of my grandson. I watch others around me use their grip to confirm their ‘top dog’ status.

The simple act of hand holding makes visible love, fear, attachment, influence, control. Steering the direction of travel by the dominant hand holder might be a mutual decision of play or coercion. We all know what that feels like to pull towards and pull away from our intended course and allow ourselves to be led by the hand. It is sometimes a fine line between the squeals of delight and groans of reluctance by the person being led.

Then there are times we are like the invisible Toby, where we break away, go on our own adventure, and scare the daylights out of the one whose hand we were holding. Where we take off in a direction that no one else can see through the woods, or the crowd, or the density of feelings and fog. Where we set our own course and find ourselves perhaps out of our depth, looking for a hand to haul us out, or just find a place to hide in the shadows for a while not to be found and to have some respite from the crowd.

However we hold hands, the simplicity of this act helps us belong to each other. I will never tire from the comfort of holding the hand of a child, and all the more joy when that hand reaches out to me to be held, the visible invitation and trust offered in that gesture always, always warms my heart.

2018 Sellicks Hill

Visibility and Invisibility 2022 #27

In my garden, there is a self-sewn tomato plant that is heavy with fruit, green tom thumbs highly unlikely to ripen red on the vine as it is the middle of winter. It doesn’t look out of sorts, it is healthy, strong, with plenty of flowers and leaves, and there are a range of pollinators who seem to still be visiting as well.

This plant, out of place, out of time, but not out of sight, is my teacher this week. The temperatures are cool and getting cooler so I don’t see the fruit going red any time soon, so I may pluck them from the vine and get them to ripen inside … but I am not sure about that yet. And green tomatoes can still be harvested and eaten in all kinds of ways. Tomato chutney might be beckoning, and I keep remembering scenes from that extraordinary movie starring Kathy Bates, Fried Green Tomatoes.  The green tomatoes remind me that every one of us has a place to bloom and fruit and it does not have to be in keeping with the seasons. Times are changing.

Brushing against the leaves to stake up this out of season climber, releases that aroma that makes me think it is summer and harvest time. I have hung onto this smell and am treating the plant as a reminder that it is harvest time in my life. I am in a season of bringing together all I know about community and public service, about entrepreneurship and innovation, about gender and racial justice, about measurement and meaning.

This season might be short compared to other seasons in my life like motherhood, or daughterhood, but it is definitely a season. This season, like all others has its own light, temperature and weather pattern.  There is an afternoon glow, not unlike a Hans Heysen painting or a set of Colin Thiele paragraphs from Sun on the Stubble. This glow is soft, golden, lingering and close to the ground. The temperature is cool, but not so cold, that fruit will stop appearing on the vine, and actually fruiting in clusters and making themselves visible amongst the leaves. The weather is a mixture of storms, squally rain and bursts of glorious sunshine with rays occasionally creating rainbow smudges in the sky. I am not under estimating the task of ripening that might need to take place by being cut away from the vine.

As my campaign starts to take shape, I had one elected member ask me how come everyone seemed to know me? I was thrilled with this feedback and felt like some old networks had kicked back in and were starting to be visible. Another elected member mansplained something to me and a few other potential councillors to demonstrate perhaps his prowess and what it means to him to be an elected councillor. Again, I took this as a compliment as he clearly felt the need to assert authority, mark his territory, in what was an un-conversation. 

An un-conversation, is my new way of describing people who have something to say so they can be hear themselves into speech for their own audiences. It is not a dialogue, it is more like a soliloquy, and I am unwilling to be in the audience. An un-conversation requires a response that is completely off topic and take into another realm. Perhaps you were hearing about dalmatians, when you took the conversation to another place and another time completely disconnected from dalmatians? 

Try a topic that builds into your agenda if nothing else you can at least practice talking about it! Just like the tomatoes they are doing their own thing and not taking any notice of what the universe might be saying is the season.

Whatever invisible natural power source that is enabling the tomato plant to thrive and bear fruit is surely not too far away from the drive and energy that I am experiencing as I stand firm, rooted in my own story, able to branch out, be fertile, attract collaborators to pollinate and help flowers turn into fruit and maybe transform into something quite tasty, unexpected and irresistible.  

What is hidden in the soil that enabled this plant to take shape, cannot be under estimated. As any grower and farmer knows, everything starts with the soil.

Good soil is full of nutrients, knows how to hold water and how to let the water flow and drain away. The soil is invisible and indispensable. What turns up above ground is visible and thriving.

Thank you to the chooks who pooped on the soil that must have had a tomato seed stored, ready to unleash on an unsuspecting garden and deliver something quite fresh and unseasonal.

I love my lessons from the garden.

Visibility and invisibility 2022 #26

Gilead is a fictional place. Atwood only used content that had already happened in history, for the Handmaid’s Tale. I read it in 1986, not long after it was first published, I was 28 and pregnant with my fourth child (sixth pregnancy) and consolidated many of my early thoughts about women’s rights, women’s bodies, patriarchy as a system. I haven’t been able to watch the television series, the first ten minutes were enough for me. I couldn’t put myself through it. Seems the dystopian Gilead is alive and well in the land of the brave and home of the free. Bravery and freedom being values that exclude at least half the population, to say nothing of those who are not white and not of settler stock. 

I like to keep careful watch for possible danger or difficulties and sometimes this has turned out to be prophetic, mostly I think of my approach as proactive. It is so much harder to get rights back when they are taken away, so much harder to dismiss someone before appointing them in the first place, so much harder to escape from Gilead than enter it.

Vigilance matters.

Democracy is teamwork.

Politics is personal.

Mobilising is possible, because change is already in-waiting, ready, willing and able, to be ignited. A fuse is lit, and from that spark, people will and do rise up. There is a trust we inherently hold between us and when it is broken we yearn for it to be fused – it is where hope comes in. When we have a common enemy – a flood, a fire, a pandemic – we grab hold of what we have close at hand – each other. It is a kind of collective evolution that helps us be community, it is a form of inoculation, against Gilead. There is no real form of control, just a concertina-like calibration of collaboration, that breathes in and out (sometimes hyperventilating) to try to redress a wrong. 

This way of change-making always comes from the bottom, not the top, from deep roots informed, courageous and with plenty of muscle and fibre attached. Because it has been formed under pressure, there is often steam and some hot spots, sometimes people get burnt or at least a little bruised, but in the end there is change and that arrives with new skin, a little raw and shiny. This is visible and often a teeny bit fragile.

JFK used to quote the old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan. It is still true when things work out there are plenty to take the credit and when they don’t lots of finger pointing ensues. All the invisible help tends to melt away. We would do well to remember those on the journey into and out of Gilead, so we aren’t accidentally one of them. 

I think of the recent bevy of small L liberals who lost their seats in the last Federal election who would be seen by many as moderates, who gave it their best shot no doubt in trying to convince their leadership to be more inclusive and more progressive. Yet they were the ones who lost their seats … they were the ones who stayed in the party. The best example of this is Josh Frydenberg. The ones that left like former Mayor Da Li is a good example of this phenomenon.  

If it’s your name on leave form, your name on the invoice, your signature on the contract, your quote in the press release, there is every chance you are implicated in the process. Several years ago it was put to me when I made a complaint about a leader and got the  “but he’s a nice guy” argument, I still had to stand my ground. He may be a nice guy, but he did the wrong thing. And nice by whose standards? I am sure Josh is a nice guy, but he was hanging out with a bunch who made him look bad. 

Progressives in the US will be taking to the streets as they should to make sure Gilead doesn’t take up residency on a map. I will continue to remain vigilant, because if you give them an inch they will take a mile. And to the women who voted to support nice guys, or fail to see through the narcissists presenting with slick and shtick, and the recruitment firms who don’t do their homework because someone said he was a good bloke … you are all on the slippery slope to Gilead.

Hope rises from the bottom up and there are plenty of us out there who will be relentless in trying to nip things in the bud. Let’s keep Gilead to the writings of the prophets and the soothsayers. 

With Maya Angelou in our hearts and the instruction:

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

The groundswell of the recent Federal election in Australia and State election in my home state of South Australia, I am hoping will flow over into all the board rooms, classrooms, council chambers and community organisations as our inoculation against Gilead and the forces that enables Gilead to come into being and thrive. This requires a constancy and effort to keep bending towards evolving to our best selves and make ourselves visible.

“What is the difference between a squirrel burying acorns across the forest and humans planting potatoes across the globe? Who is master, and who is the servant? Is it the acorn’s or potato’s idea to be nutritious, or the creature that buries them? Evolution is not about design or will; it is the outcome of constant endeavors made by organisms that want to survive and better themselves. The collective result is intoxicatingly beautiful, rife with oddities, and surprisingly brilliant, yet no agent is in control. Evolution arises from the bottom up–so, too, does hope.”

Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming

Women’s March 2019 in front of Pilgrim Church, Adelaide

Visibility and Invisibility 2022 #25

Clay Shirky wrote, in 2008, a book called Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. I fell in love with it straight away and was so inspired about what social media might offer to organising and community development.

The promise of organising without organisations is here and now more than a decade later from his prophetic work, organisations that neglect the power of the people, may find themselves failing the pub test.  His work on digital engagement and collaboration set the scene for sharing on line which is so insidious now we do not even realise it is an act of collaboration and movement building. He identified the principle of synchronisation and continual reiterations until a whole project reached the next level through combined efforts (think Wikipedia). He also pointed to something he thought might happen in the future – collective action. This is of course we now know a familiar experience from a President tweeting to incite rebellion, to a hashtag like #metoo or #blacklivesmatter #fridaysforfuture radically bringing change. You do not need an organisation to organise – a hash tag might just do it.

This brings me to the idea of integrity. Those hash tags work because there is some kind of integrity about them. We can trust the meaning, they hold space, they drive action, give comfort.

The completeness of how everything holds together well and there is no fraying about the edges or internal collapse, is how you know something has integrity. When the wheels fall off, there is visible discomfort or edges losing their distinction as a boundary, they are all useful indicators of a lack of integrity, or perhaps just a piece missing that is needed to hold what ever it is, altogether.

I have been fascinated to watch how a collective decision this week, while following due process, getting highly paid and high-level professional advice and made no doubt with good intentions, completely failed to read the room. I have been wondering how, and more importantly, why, this happened.

Recently our nation has been subject to what I consider collective gas-lighting. Core values around gender justice, climate justice, racial justice have been shaken and we are in a period now of re-adjustment. There is a correction going on. As this correction takes shape, we are more able to hear, see and feel what perhaps we could not so easily hear, see or feel previously.

It makes complete sense to have the Aboriginal Flag and the Torres Strait Island Flag in view with the national flag at the podium when an elected official speaks … yet it has only been a couple of weeks … and if they were taken away, we would all be able to easily recognise our flag integrity had been compromised.  And so, it is with this recent challenge in my community.

An elected body have appointed a person to be the CEO of the largest council in my State. A highly paid team of consultants set about the recruitment process with a detailed and thoughtful brief. They no doubt would have done their due diligence checking referees, past performance, observed behaviour, scanned social media, done a personality test.

I do not actually know what they did in the screening and preparation process to get candidates ready to present to the elected members for choice, but this is a reasonable guess as I have been involved in such processes from both a candidate and employer perspective and been subject to all those processes myself. 

I do know part of the goal in these kinds of decisions is to pass what we like to call in Australia, the pub test. So what are failures to pass pub tests? Maybe using a car for inappropriate and non-work-related purposes, or, spending money on gifts for family and friends instead of employees, or, staying in accommodation that is expensive on the public purse … these are the actions typically fail the pub test. Choosing a leader who called an Australian of the Year, who endured years of sexual abuse, a spoilt brat, to lead a community where childhood sexual abuse is being tackled with courage and determination, on many fronts … fails the pub test. Digital footprints reveal attitudes and behaviours and this person’s case you can see some that are out of step with community standards and expectations, so I am perplexed at the decision.

I wonder about the integrity of the process when a decision like this made. I start to look for invisible threads and reasons behind the decision. Perhaps they are out of touch, perhaps the recruitment agency did not do all the due diligence required, perhaps there are invisible reasons that will not ever be known? 

So now community members are asking questions of their elected officials and some are rallying. No doubt there will be staff who will be packing their bags not wanting to hang around, there will be allies and friends who will feel shocked by the decision and choose to no longer collaborate with the City, and there will be those who hold Grace Tame up as a role model, who will be triggered once again and feel alienated and hurt once again – because this is how systems work. Systems like patriarchy and colonisation are designed to work for those who receive the benefits of those systems.

What is invisible about these systems, becomes visible when they lose their integrity.

March 15, 2021

Authorised by M Were PO Box 7 Sellicks Beach 5174

Visibility and Invisibility 2022 #24

There was sliver of wood caught near my knuckle on my ring finger, close to the surface, the splinter was clearly visible under the translucent skin. I was able to remove in one single complete, gentle, deliberate tug with my old pink tweezers. No blood was drawn. It was a simple act of acquisition in the garden on a tomato stake and a precision act of removal.  Another example of my body being a vessel for this never ending song of call and response. Something coming in – an inhale, and something going out – an exhale. The splinter took a nano second to go in and about ten times longer to pull out, a familiar ratio of life’s lessons!

I didn’t realise the stake would be the source of a gardening injury, the danger of the decomposing untreated wood completely invisible to me. I didn’t even bother to have gloves on, no prophylactic seemed necessary, another reminder, that not all dangers are visible and taking routine precautions are good preventative strategies.

My default is trust, and I have an expectation that trust will be understood, even rewarded, yet managing broken trust, seems to be a lesson I have learn and re-learn over and over. I do not readily take the hints, the minor splinter experiences offer me. I hope I never do. I hope I continue to take the risks of going into the garden of life, not always fully protected, to stay open to the splinters and the subtle, almost perverse, pleasure in their extraction. There is the cautionary tale of death by a thousand cuts and I’ve found my way to deep griefs more than once for failure to learn from the little injuries along the way, Trust being immovable despite evidence to the contrary. Trust has it’s costs when the splinters are bigger, wider, deeper.

The invisible injuries build our resilience, our courage, our hope, our aspirations, feed our drive, hold us steady when the seas get rough, insist on leaving a scar to remind us of their place in our story. They make themselves visible as butterflies in the stomach, teardrops on a cheek, gasps and sighs, sweating hands and clearing throats. They might even turn up as a cackle. They do arrive though, and make themselves visible to our deepest selves.

I worked through relatively quickly, one such experience this week. I moved from shock to acceptance, and the moved on, with the aid of a Crunchie bar followed by a gin and tonic. I laughed when I realised what I was doing and actively tried to reduce the incident, to splinter size. I felt encouraged that I had noticed what I was doing, even though not quite soon enough, as the bar was well gone and the glass half empty, before I arrived at that realisation. Yet another reminder of how the visible and invisible interplay works in my life, and the ratio of splinter arrival and removal continues to remain constant.

Following the grain in the wood, is one way to reduce splinters, yet maybe it is going against the grain we find the edges and connect with something greater inside and beyond ourselves. Hans Christian Anderson wrote about the splinters of wood that had turned into matches and were exceedingly proud of their single dignified origin from a great pine tree, deep in the dark forest. Perhaps the little splinter moments are a prompt to remember our deep rooted origins so we can draw up all we need from the ancient land and into ourselves? The humble splinter connecting me to the forest and the tree.

Photo by Johannes W on Unsplash