Tag Archives: Anne Summers

The Backstory

Every story has a backstory, every forest an undergrowth, every river formed by an avalanche of drops of rain. I am intrigued by how far back the narrative reaches before the story comes into view for the world to see. I want to share a backstory of mine with you Hildegard.

Several weeks ago Dr Anne Summers, a prominent elder in the realm of Australian feminism hosted two conversations with Australia’s first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard. During the lead up to the events the hosts invited those unable to be there to send through questions that might be used in conversation. Having an insatiable appetite for social media, conversation and prophesy I sent my question via twitter as requested: It’s 2050 what does Australia look like? Among the hundreds of questions tweeted in, two were chosen and mine was one of them – I was suitably chuffed! The answer was well constructed and thoughtful (you can see it on You Tube my question is at 54:41), and the backstory deserves a mention.

In the front row of the audience was the first woman Premier of Victoria, Hon Joan Kirner who had been a great support to me when I ran for Parliament and it was heart warming for me to know she heard my name after more than a decade. I received several tweets that night from women in the audience letting me know my question was asked – each woman has a different backstory that intersects with mine, politics for one, community engagement for another and another a twittersphere only connection. One of the features of the conversation that had transpired was around the issues of misogyny and sexism and its role in politics. My backstory here was very real as well. When I campaigned with four children in school, I was subject to vilification by some saying I should be home with them and a whispering campaign was mounted in church and community groups that leaked its way into talk back radio and impacted on my campaigning. I advised the local political apparatchiks of the issue and they didn’t really see the problem and very little was done. I forecasted this was the tip of the iceberg and the level of organisation we were seeing around the issue would grow and indeed it did. In addition the cloak that was thrown over the abuse was done in the name of God (a God who bore no resemblance to the one embodied by Jesus). The political wing even gave itself a name Family First, and in good time the candidate opposing me left his party and joined Family First where he remains a member of Parliament (another backstory for another day).

I love social media and its capacity to influence and organise at the micro and macro level in real time. My skills and experience in these media, set me apart from many others in my age group who use some of the platforms like Facebook to mainly keep in touch with younger family members (and I definitely do that as well).  Tools like twitter, facebook and instagram, are charged with dynamic properties for advocates and activists like me. So it is then that the Melbourne Town Hall, and now embedded in You Tube, my question of less than 140 characters was asked by a leading light and answered by a former Prime Minister. The accessibility of these tools in the hands of ordinary everyday people like me are ground-breaking. The Arab Spring will go down in history as the first twitter fed revolution. Without filters and editorial, questions can be posed, thoughts shared and amplified.

When I finally got around to watch the You Tube of the event last weekend, and saw Anne Summers peer into her mobile device to read my tweet I enjoyed seeing the next chapter unfold, knowing that without a back story no question can be formed or asked.

Just as we see the light breaking through at the end of a lane, so  my little tweet connected me back to the story that had taken me along that lane in the first place and by being asked got a whole new audience to consider what the future might be like.

Every tweet has a backstory as real and as true as any other kind of narrative.

And there are backstories down every lane as se hace camino al andar (you make the way as you go, Antonio Machado, Spanish poet).

Lane at Glenstal Abbey

Lane at Glenstal Abbey

Playing with Fire

Learning how to play with fire is one of the essential lessons on the path to adulthood.

There are so many lessons to learn:

–       don’t stand too close or you’ll get burnt

–       begin with small combustible items to get the fire going

–       there needs to be space between each piece of kindling so that air can circulate

–       air is fuel for the fire

–       a good wind can get the fire going in places you weren’t expecting

–       it has the power to burn

–       it has the power to destroy

–       it leaves a pile of ash after its over

–       some seeds can only explode and come to life in a fire

–       green shoots look amazing on the burnt out black stumps after a bushfire

–       it can kill everything in its path

–       it only takes a spark to keep the fire burning

–       it glows, gives warmth and inspires

I am sure there are many more lessons fire teaches, but these are some of the ones I have learnt. I have learnt them over the years from campfires in the desert, standing by for evacuation during bushfire season, listening in to the news and operation rooms where wild fire disasters were unfolding, watching my own children learn their own lessons (sometimes very anxiously).

Hildegard for you, the fire was within, you combusted with passion and for generations we have been basking in that glow and been fuelled by it. Your Fire of Creation is stunning and this is a little taste for readers who haven’t ever had the treat of listening.

The fire can burn brightly to show us where to go, and guide us to a safe place as well. The eternal flame, a long time symbol of remembrance and reflection of hard won battles and promise of a peaceful future.

And so it was that theidea of playing with fire that lit me up this week when Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard  (who had certainly been flame grilled) gave her post  parliament interviews to adoring fans in Sydney and Melbourne. Around the campfire of our TVs and twitter-feeds women like me who weren’t there in the flesh, hung every word, seeking our own closure to the circumstances of her demise.

As a “first” Ms Gillard had a baptism of fire.  The fact she is a red head was mentioned more than once.  We heard her speech that ricocheted around the world, denouncing misogyny as the theory and sexism as the practice. And with the fire in her belly, many others if us were warmed – many of us have stood to close to those flames and been burnt.

Gillard urges us to have a sophisticated conversation and to look for the shades of grey in the issues. There maybe shades of grey for the educated and resourced, but it is pretty black and white if you don’t earn equal pay, if you face domestic violence, or if you are being sexually harassed at work.

And then there are all the women and girls who won’t ever get to make or hear a speech like that, murdered at birth because of their gender, not getting to school because of their gender or being sold in a market place because they are female. For these women and girls it is shades of blood red.

There is still plenty more to do before there is the inclusion, respect and equality frame that  Anne Summers kindly put around the analysis of what we all witnessed and for some also participated in (nb Germaine Greer).

I want to fan the flames that will grow up more women in leadership, that will inspire,  warm and comfort us all. I want to fan the flames that will bring down institutions and practices because their patriarchal foundations are crumbling. And I want to do all of that with songs of joy, with justice in my heart and having learnt the lessons of playing with fire.

PS  Hildegard, I love that your scribe was a man.

Hildegard channelling the Holy Spirit and her scribe taking it all down!

Hildegard channelling the Holy Spirit and her scribe taking it all down!