Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Way We Live Sunday 29 August 2010 – The one about ruts

I had one of those moments this week where I realised – yet again – I’m an idiot. Not that I needed reminding quite this soon.  After all, I’m still hurting from the  “612 ABC footy tipping incident”.  (I may be leading their NRL footy tipping competition but that doesn’t take away from the fact I confidently told Spencer Howson – live on air – that Brendon Fevola was in the Broncos.)  Embarrassing? Yes.  And yet sadly still not my most humiliating moment.  That took place in 1993 when as a budding publicist I sent out a media release describing a young Irish singer as Ireland’s answer to Van Morrison. Who, I later discovered, was in fact IRISH.

Anyway, my latest embarrassing moment happened just last week when I ran into an old school friend at Indooroopilly Shoppingtown. So I run into the lovely Anna and she says, “Oh so you still live on this side of town?”  And I say, “ No.  No I actually live about an hour away on the other side of town. It’s just that I know my way around here.”

Anna looked at me blankly for a brief moment.  I considered feigning going into labour.  But I ran away instead.  Who drives for an hour to go to a shopping centre they used to hang out at when they were sixteen?

Um, yeah that’d be me apparently.

And that’s when I realised it. I’m in a rut.  Here I am in this vibrant, dazzling city and I’m going to the same old places and doing the same old thing when there’s so much else to discover.

Sometimes familiarity leads to complacency.  I’ve lived in this city most of my life (give or take brief periods in London, Sydney, the Gold Coast and Townsville).  And yet I only discovered the fabulousness of Franklin Villa this month.  It’s an historic guesthouse – built in 1892 – in Highgate Hill that does the most spectacular high teas on a Sunday.  The whole shebang (complete with big floral tea pots and home-made goodies) is overseen by the equally spectacular Lainey Loneragan and Bernadette Bagley-Proctor.  I used to live within walking distance of Franklin Villa and yet I never knew it even existed. I probably drove past the house hundreds of times. On my way to Indooroopilly.

Musically this month I’ve discovered the genius of Eddie Perfect (yes, about ten years after everybody else) and his talent for fresh, tongue-in-cheek tunes.  And by accident I stumbled upon the brilliance of the BBC TV series, Outnumbered on ABC2.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for routine (when it comes to toddlers in particular). And I’m all for rituals (Christmas Eve just isn’t Christmas Eve in our family without brandy and cinnamon panacotta).  But ruts are never good.  They can take the shine off our lives, give boredom a wormhole to sneak through and … cost us bucket-loads in petrol.

The Way We Live: 22 August 2010 BEING AUTHENTIC

Not so long ago I was asked a rather interesting question.  The delightful Erica Bartle, creator of the wildly popular Girl With A Satchel blog , was in the midst of penning a piece on authenticity. Wanting to include a few quotes, Erica emailed me and a few others one morning to gauge our opinions. What does it mean to be authentic?, she asked us.

Naturally I agreed to give Erica my opinion.  Just as soon as I worked out exactly what that opinion was.   And ate a piece of cake (hey, I’m pregnant. Cake helps me think.)

One entire chocolate mud cake and three days later, I still didn’t have an answer.  Is being authentic about being comfortable in your own skin? And if so, does that mean that women who do botox and acrylic nails and hair extensions and who lipo their thighs are disqualified?  Or does appearance have nothing to do with it? Is authenticity about being consistent with your opinions and values? Men and women about whom you can say, “What you see is what you get”? But if we’re all “works in progress”, aren’t we allowed to change and grow as we go through life?

I never really had a definitive answer for Erica other than authenticity is about being yourself. Your real self. The self that likes to listen to REO Speedwagon in the car.  And finds taking the kids to the park really, really boring or conversely dreams of being a stay at home mum or dad.  The self that occasionally cheats when doing the crossword and reads Mills and Boon and isn’t afraid to reveal that sometimes life sucks. Big time. That last bit can be very hard for some people.  We live in a society that celebrates winners and success.  Being brave enough to tell the truth (I’m on anti-depressants/I’m not enjoying motherhood/ I’m in more debt than the entire African continent/I own a Justin Beiber CD) can sometimes make others uneasy. Plus we live in a time when cynical is the new black. Everything gets mocked.

But when you’re brave enough to tell the truth, to be authentic in your tastes and passions and to reveal your struggles, what you’re really doing is opening yourself up to deeper connections with other people.   The personal is so often universal.  And, lets face it, perfection can be alienating. There’s nothing more intimidating than someone who seems to have every inch of their life under control. At least that’s what they’d have you think.  Those types – putting all their energy into keeping up the façade — are not always the people we feel like we can open up to and share our own concerns with.  I mean who would you rather have move in next door –  Angelina Jolie or Julie Goodwin?

I’d take Julie every time – after all, at least I know she’d have a corker of a  mud cake recipe.

The Way We Live: 15th August 2010 DEFINING MOMENTS

I’ve worked from home for the past ten years. What this means is that I’ve watched an unnatural amount of daytime TV (usually while avoiding calls from my editor). Several years ago I heard the world’s favourite bald Texan (that’d be Dr Phil not Britney Spears) say there are ten defining moments in your life. Moments –positive or negative – that have “changed the very core of who and what you thought you were”.

I immediately tried to work out exactly what my ten were.  I’m still wondering if not being allowed to audition for Young Talent Time counts as a defining moment.

Personally I think we have more then ten defining moments. I think life hands us moments all the time when we get to show who we really are.  Our true colours.  They are those moments when we must decide whether we will do the right thing, get involved, put our values into action. Or slink into the shadows, head down, pretending we didn’t notice.

Fifteen years ago I was on a packed peak-hour train when an older gentleman started to abuse a man of Asian heritage sitting near me.  The older bloke started ranting that “Asians were taking all our jobs” and were “ruining Australia”. He accused his target of not being a true Aussie and said he probably couldn’t even speak English. The Asian man just sat there, taking it.  And every other commuter in that carriage just sat there, eyes cast downwards, not wanting to get involved.

Me included. Until suddenly I found myself standing up and berating the older fellow. I can’t remember exactly what I said but I know I told him that unless he was of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent then he wasn’t an “original Aussie” either.  I think I ended my speech asking him to sit down and be quiet. Perhaps not quite that politely.

I remember I was shaking. And I remember that the older man immediately turned his venom on me.  I also remember that the train continued to remain silent.  Still I look back at that moment and know that I stood up for what I believed in. Sadly, I haven’t always done so. And when you turn a blind eye to wrongdoing, it can haunt you for a long time.

First Sunday Club – August 2010: Bravehearts

So what is the greatest moral challenge of our time? It’s a heavy question for a Sunday morning, I know. But if you had to name it, pin it down to one thing, what would you say?  Climate change?  The AIDS epidemic in Africa?  The sky-high illiteracy rates of women and children in developing nations? The obscene amount of waste in developed countries compared to the extreme poverty of the developing world?

All of them? None of them?

I know my answer.  It’s a problem that – like cancer – shows no discrimination. It’s a problem that’s happening right now, possibly in the house across the road from you. It happens behind closed doors in churches and temples and school boarding houses. It’s in our aboriginal communities and country towns and in million dollar homes at Broadbeach.  It’s whispered about in Bangladeshi slums and council flats in London and high-rises in New York. It’s happening around the world. Anywhere, in fact, where there are children.

I’m talking about child sexual assault.

In Australia, the statistics are hard to comprehend. One in five children are sexually assaulted. And that abuse has a ripple affect that society is scrambling to deal with.

The fact is children who are sexually assaulted frequently start failing at school, begin binge drinking, taking drugs and become sexually promiscuous as a result of the abuse. They also often face a lifelong battle with depression and self-loathing when they try – and fail – to process the feelings of what has happened to them.  There is the abject shame and filth they feel about themselves.  The blame they carry that somehow they are at fault, that they encouraged or caused the assault.  The hollowness of feeling forever changed and of having an innocence about the world stripped away.

And let me state the obvious now – no child is ever to blame. Not even a little bit. It is always the adult’s fault. End of story.

Since it’s the first Sunday in August I’m nominating Bravehearts as our First Sunday Club charity.  Founder Hetty Johnston is fighting the good fight.  I’m not sure you’ll meet anyone more passionate about protecting our children.

“We remain the only children’s charity dedicated holistically and specifically to the issue of child sexual assault in Australia,” Hetty tells me.  “We offer counseling, public awareness campaigns, community education for children, young offenders counseling, media, research, advocacy.  Our interest is both in victims and offenders and in every element involved in the issue of child sexual assault.”

Like all small charities Bravehearts runs on the smell of an oily rag and Hetty and her team need more financial help.  Ten dollars can pay for a child to attend Ditto’s Keep Safe Adventure School – Bravehearts’ personal safety program. So if you’ve never donated to our First Sunday Club before – start today.  It’s just ten dollars.   You can spare ten bucks. And if we all get involved — $10 will make a huge difference.

Go to www.bravehearts.org.au to donate or call 07 5552 3000.

The Way We Live – Sunday 25th July 2010: women in media

Recently I’ve been talking with someone who is planning a “women in media” seminar for Queensland high school students.  The idea is to have a panel of women from a variety of fields – radio, print, TV, magazines and the blogosphere –come together to share their collective wisdom. It’s always interesting to hear how people got their first jobs.  What they wish they’d known in the early days.  The biggest stuff-ups they’ve made. It’s the type of event I would’ve loved to attend when I was a teen in the 80s.

In the 20 years since I left school it’s easy to think the way women are represented in the media is changing for the better. And it is. I think.

Turn on the Channel Seven news at night and you’ll see the superb fifty-something Kay McGrath.  I love the fact McGrath’s been reading me the news since the 80s when she was at TV0.  But it says a lot that McGrath – an award-winning journo in her early 50s – is apparently the oldest of the female newsreaders on Australian TV. We seem to be perfectly comfortable allowing older men on our TV screens for as long as they want to be. But a fifty-something woman reading our news? For starters, she’d better look good. Really good. And even then the media will routinely speculate when her time is up.  Meanwhile her male co-anchor can have a BMI of 35, the face of a dropped pie and be wearing a toupee.

When Channel Ten announced it was doing its own female talk show, The Circle – some media commentators predicted the show wouldn’t work unless there was conflict amongst the women. This is the strategy behind the US talk show The View where staunch Republican Elizabeth Hasselbeck has been known to fly into a rage at her left-wing co-hosts. But Ten management and Executive Producer Pam Barnes knew better, opting for laughter and inclusiveness over catfights when choosing the hosts (Denise Drysdale, Chrissie Swan, Yumi Stynes and Gorgi Coghlan). As a result the show’s ratings have doubled since it started six months ago.  Perhaps this time it was media commentators rather than a network that under-estimated what female viewers truly want to watch.

Meanwhile in radio, it’s only been in recent years in Brisbane that a woman’s name has actually led a commercial breakfast radio team.   In 2006 when 97.3FM started seriously chasing the female listener market they hired the formidable Robin Bailey and put her in the driver’s seat.  Today “Robin, Terry and Bob” are the number one station amongst women aged 25-54. Similarly on Nova, it is the hilarious Meshel Laurie whose name leads their breakie crew.  It may sound insignificant but when women have been – and continue to be – hired as the ‘ha ha’ girls in commercial radio, it’s refreshing to see smart women given top billing for a change.

As for the Women In Media seminar, I’ll let you know more details as they come to hand. As they say in TV-land … stay tuned.

The Way We Live – Sunday 18 July 2010

It was one of those unforgettable dinner party moments. But not in a good way. Not in an I-was-on-fire-with-witty-one-liners kinda way. No it was one of those uncomfortable moments when I nearly chocked on my osso bucco. I was a single gal about town and I’d been invited to a dinner party where I knew only the hosts. I’d just thrown in a job as a travel writer, was attempting to write my first novel and was living back with my parents in a bedroom that was still celebrating 1987.  So yeah – heaps to discuss when the spotlight was on me.  Except when the spotlight did fall on me, my travels, my manuscript, my once deep-seated love of The Bangles wasn’t the number one topic of conversation. Instead I was quizzed on when I planned to have kids. (Did I not mention I was single? Pass the wine.)

Ask anyone over the age of 35 and I can guarantee they have a similar story. A single 36-year-old friend of mine was chastised by her GP to “get onto it” if she wanted a family.  Get onto what exactly?  A Canadian backpacker next time she’s ovulating?  Aside from maybe freezing some eggs, what exactly is my friend expected to do?

There’s this assumption that those who are childless have deliberately chosen their careers ahead of having a family.  Yet for many people I know its more been a case that life has taken them down an unexpected road.

Now, author Justine Davies has given those people a voice, releasing, “An Inconceivable Notion” – a collection of interviews with men and women who are coming to terms with being childless.

I know there are many people who choose not to have children and are very happy with that decision. Let me say, this book is not about them. It’s a book that gives a voice to the couples and singles, men and women who are coping with infertility or the shock reality of not meeting an appropriate partner in time.

I asked Davies what surprised her the most when writing An Inconceivable Notion.

“One thing that astonished me was that every one of the female interviewees made the comment that she feels like a failure. It didn’t matter whether they were attractive, smart, highly successful in their careers, part of a large or small extended family – every one of them made the unsolicited comment that she feels like a failure. Having children, for those who want them, is such an integral part of our self-worth.”

Davies brings to light a difficult, often painful issue and deals with it with great sensitivity and compassion.   Ultimately though the book offers comfort. For childless Australians it’s a reminder they’re not alone and that there’s still great joy in life to be found whether you’re a parent or not.

Davies and a colleague have also set up a website www.childless.com.au to help develop a global community of men and women to share stories and provide friendship and support.