There are so many songs about smiles. ‘Smile, though your heart is breaking’. ‘Smile, and the whole world smiles with you’. ‘You’re never fully dressed without a smile’.. It’s an extensive collection.
There is nothing nicer than seeing a genuine, heart felt smile. That unique expression that conveys a myriad of positive emotions. Love, gratitude, happiness, amusement, satisfaction, freedom, joy. It can also be an empty expression that represents nothing positive. A painted on shield and display of obligation. A mask to conceal pain. A determined veneer that conceals the most heinous of emotions. Fear, betrayal, desperation and emotional paralysis.
At some of the worst moments of my life I have possibly worn the most determined smiles. Something I retrospectively observe when viewing images from my past. An oddly frozen expression; snapped when recording occasions that were intended to inform the world my life was grand. In the ensuing years I have had others tell me they noted I often looked like a ventriloquist’s dummy. That my eyes looked scared or blank. Perhaps testimony to the fact you can’t always hide your emotions, even when you are extremely practiced at it.
The question remains .. why DID I always smile? Why did I try so hard to convey happiness and conform to social expectation? Quite a multilayered question. The first and most obvious answer is I was in a situation where I had no choice. A holiday snap on a social media post showing how fabulous it all is can’t be accompanied by an image where life doesn’t look sunny. The photo will be examined by the other party and you’ll be berated for not portraying the desired image. I didn’t just perform for the camera lens. I determinedly smiled at social occasions, at work, when cooking, when cleaning the house, when watching television. A smile was my armour. A smile was safe. Not smiling was a dangerous choice.
As children and young women we are told to smile for authority. To show respect. Smile at teachers, parents, pastors and policemen. A particular young woman recently refused to smile at our Prime Minister. She was authentic in revealing her emotions and has weathered a storm of criticism. Where were her manners? How hard could it have been to just smile and not create a scene? Why was she so arrogant? Didn’t she know her place at such an important event?
Grace Tame’s now infamous side eye has opened up an interesting dialogue. She herself has said that her innate programming to please and respect a powerful authority figure was insidiously entangled with the heinous abuse she suffered as a teenager. The wife of our Prime Minister has now publicly denounced Tame’s lack of ‘manners’. I certainly do not condone needless disrespect and random rude behaviour towards others. Yet, where are we as a society if we cannot express ourselves when we have justifiable cause? Why should a withering glance from a young woman cause such uproar? In mere seconds she challenged the status quo of the privileged male. She cast aside his authority and his power. She harnessed her own power.
She was authentic.
She was unafraid.
She was unapologetic.
It is my hope that in years to come, Tame’s response to a powerful male will be viewed as less out of the ordinary. The women of my generation often struggle to break the patterns imparted by our mothers, our mentors and our teachers. We bear the restrictions of long standing programming and social expectation. For all the progress I have made, my first instinct is still to smile. To not betray an internal dialogue which may be expressing fear, anger or revulsion. A female who scowls or verbally expresses such things is not ladylike. Our personal truth may incite a negative reaction from an observer. We could be labelled as a man-hater. A ball-breaker. An arrogant woman.
A Grace Tame. A Brittany Higgins. A Virginia Giuffre.
I am reminded of a moment five years ago when I had left my former life. I was returning to my first day at work since my flight and was both traceable and vulnerable. Within hours, the man I had escaped appeared at my workplace and was waiting for me. As I sat at a lunch table he approached, stood over me and pulled me aside. It was as I had feared and expected. As he walked towards me I instinctively did the one thing I was trained to do. I smiled. I still recall the cognitive dissonance of that split second. Filled with adrenaline I succumbed to social expectation and an engrained habit of self preservation. It was a hectic few minutes. I held my ground and walked away from him with the assistance of colleagues aware of my predicament.
It was the last time we ever spoke and the last time he was ever gifted an unjustified smile.
The time has come to discuss topics hitherto seen as either taboo or insurmountable. Domestic violence. Coercive control. Sexual assault. The corrupt mechanisms that prevent women from being safe and receiving justice. The failures in the system. If the established cycle of abuse and misogyny is to cease, archaic social norms must change for women. We have the likes of Grace Tame and her brave compatriots to thank for removing the lid from this mammoth jar of worms. These admirable women are making noise. We owe it to their bravery to join them.
Soldiering forward, let every smile be for the right reasons.
In the last few weeks I have learned that my childhood mentor is about to leave us. It has led me to reflect on what he gave me as an educator, a musician and eventually as a friend. How do you say thank you to someone who shaped your future?
One way I think we can say thank you to such a person is to tell their chapter in your story.
I grew up in the relative quiet of Adelaide, South Australia. At twelve years old I auditioned for a music scholarship at an expensive private school. At the time I had no idea that a short audition was going to shape my life. I was a studious, awkward child who played the piano and violin. My mother was fiercely determined that these instruments were going to be my career path. Accordingly, my parents rolled the dice on the private school they could never afford with a famous music programme, hoping for a scholarship.
On audition day I tentatively entered an imposing office in Kensington, Adelaide. Clad in my best royal blue skirt and waistcoat I found myself in ‘Angove House’, a grand old home which formed part of Pembroke School. I stood at the door of a large room with a long, beautiful wooden table flanked with red chairs and an upright piano in the corner. Books and music scores lined the walls along with school memorabilia. Greeting me was Colin Curtis, the school Music Director who was to become an integral part of my emerging adolescence. Charismatic and middle aged in a silver grey suit, Colin ran an impressive music programme. The jewel in his crown was the prestigious Pembroke Girls Choir.
Brimming with anxiety I played a Hungarian Dance on the violin, Chopin on the piano and was ‘voice tested’. I remember singing scales in a gormless fashion as Colin Curtis put me through my vocal paces. Completely unaware the man in the silver suit was deciding on the spot that I was the right fit for his music programme, his choir and the school.
The scholarship was awarded. My mother was blessedly appeased and I prepared to start high school life.
I was not a confident child. My home life was difficult and I struggled to fit in with my new peers. I was bullied and beholden at all times to my mother’s somewhat outlandish demands. Amongst all those troubles what gave me happiness was music. School Orchestras, string quartets and singing in the Pembroke Training Choir. There was something about singing that took me out of myself. In that first year I’d run to weekly rehearsal with all the vigour I could muster. Perched up in the chapel loft whilst Colin Curtis played the organ. Fervently following his instructions whilst he taught whatever work would be sung at the next service.
In my second high school year I moved up to the Pembroke Girls Choir proper.
In that instant I found my stride.
It was a fabulous ensemble. The choir had already performed around Australia as well as in Japan and Singapore by the time I joined. Colin fostered a sound almost like bells. Accurate, complex and disciplined. Six part harmonies in works ranging from Kodaly and Britten to Simon and Garfunkel. To say a choir sounds like angels is a hackneyed metaphor; yet in this instance it is completely apt. It was unique.
The group would rehearse one lunch time a week and always for several hours on Friday afternoons. Also on weekends when there was a major concert scheduled. Pembroke School was split into two campuses with rehearsals taking place at the Senior Campus. I would fly up the road to choir practice feeling special. I was a choir girl. I could sing. I was part of a group that accepted me and that group was mentored by a man I admired and respected.
As my maiden name was ‘Benger’, I was subsequently bequeathed the nickname ‘Beng’. Even my choir nickname gifted me a sense of belonging I had craved all my life.
When I was given my first solo I experienced being chosen for one of the very first times. I went on to be the principal mezzo soloist of the Pembroke Girls Choir from about age 14 until I left school at age 17. That fostering of my vocal talent shaped the identity I carry to this day.
Colin Curtis also conducted the school orchestras of which I was an integral part. At school concerts I would play in my section and then quickly rejoin my fellow choristers for the next vocal offering.
Those school concerts were legendary. Long, ambitious and notoriously stressful. Colin did nothing by halves. Our Carol Services at the St. Francis Xavier Cathedral were a part of Christmas everyone treasured. The processional down the aisle. Glorious music soaring from the choir loft.
All of us have bonds of memory and intense nostalgia we’ll carry for life.
Whilst he was much adored by his charges, like all leaders Colin Curtis had his inevitable faults. He could be impatient. He was prone to yelling when all else failed. He would occasionally choose works that were somewhat out of the reach of his young musicians. He was as fallible and flawed as we all are. His failings were part of the magic he created.
As the time draws near for him to leave us, he is remembered for his great strengths. Colin demanded hard work, loyalty and unerring commitment. He lived for his choir and the reputation it carried. With very few exceptions, every young musician in his charge rose to the standards he expected. There existed amongst us a camaraderie and love for what we were doing that in all my years as a performer I have never quite seen again. Just to remember it brings a wave of emotion that is hard to put into words.
I learned commitment and hard work from Colin. I became an adept sight reader. (I can hold a vocal line against practically anything after my years as an inner voice). I learned the joy of performing. I learned what it is to passionately love what you do.
In 1984 the Choir went to Europe and I was lucky enough to be on that tour. The experience created friendships and memories that at sixteen years old I did not realise were afforded to me via unique privilege. We traversed Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Hungary. Sang where Mozart’s parent’s married, sang ‘Silent Night’ in the tiny chapel where it was first performed. We walked in the snow, ate questionable food and I realised I didn’t just love singing in the Pembroke Girls Choir. I was a singer at my core and it was what I wanted to do with my life.
My mother was most unimpressed. Colin stood by me with the decision.
After I left school I continued on with my association with the school and Colin Curtis for some time. I performed as an adult soloist in religious works at concerts, still returned to occasionally play in the orchestra and I became a string and voice teacher at Pembroke School for several years. Colin made sure I earned enough from my teaching to keep afloat until I left Adelaide to branch out as a singer interstate. Searching through my memorabilia I found a card from him written around the time I left Adelaide. It shows he was no longer merely my old teacher and choir master. He had become my friend and supporter as I journeyed forward.
It is hard to accept that I am now the age Colin was when he offered a music scholarship to an awkward little girl wearing royal blue corduroy. An authority figure standing in his impressive office surrounded by photos, scores and trophies. It is hard to process he is about to leave us and an era ends. A golden time where a litany of girls discovered music and many went on to become professional musicians as a result. Colin Curtis will forever live on in my mind as a slightly chubby middle aged man in a silver suit driving a European car. A man who told me I could sing. A mentor who gave me the chance to do so.
We spoke on the phone the other day and I had a chance to say goodbye. It is a long time since I have felt the kind of sadness and poignancy that brief conversation engendered. Colin told me thanks to him weren’t necessary. That I am such a happy little person and I should never lose that. That he hopes we will meet again.
Many of the students who loved and respected Colin Curtis have visited to say farewell. A group of his choir girls went and sang some of the works he loved so much to show him he will never be forgotten. To assure him the love of choral music he fostered lives on.
I was unable to be there in person but I recorded a message and song for Colin as my own thank you. It was surprisingly difficult to do and the link is below.
I would like to write you a letter as an Australian constituent. I would particularly like to write you a letter as a woman. Under normal circumstances I’d not principally define myself as my gender. There is so much more to me than that. But these are not normal circumstances. As an Australian woman I find myself living in a time where my circumstances feel extraordinary. In this instance my gender is central to what I would like to say.
I have never been a person invested in politics. I was one of those citizens who voted, left the polling booth and got on with my day. In fact, voting was something of an imposition. An obligatory task undertaken to not receive a fine. A day every few years where there was a sausage sizzle and a bunch of persistent people championing their parties by shoving ‘how to vote’ flyers in my face. I’d check off my identity at the front desk, take my sheets of paper and fill in the minimum obligatory boxes with the pencil provided. I didn’t give it much thought. Folded tightly, I’d post my contribution to the fate of the nation in the boxes at the exit door and be on my way.
Mr. Morrison that has all changed.
Because of you.
When you won the last election I took little notice. My life was trundling on and I was still ignoring politics. After all… what real difference did it make to my day to day who resided at Kirribilli? Politicians come and go. You were not exactly inspiring but I never really listened to you. You were just ‘ScoMo’. ‘Scotty from Marketing’. An underwhelming, average, middle aged white man chairing my country. I’d seen a parade of those like you in my half a century.
Now I see you are in fact extraordinary. I have a keenly awakened interest in politics borne of hearing you speak. In the last few months I’ve listened to your words very carefully because they matter. They matter particularly because I am a woman.
You see Mr. Morrison, I am one of the women at the heart of the Women’s Safety Summit you just addressed. That summit was about my past life and my future. I am one of the faceless, depressing statistics of family and sexual violence.
My years of walking past the sausage sizzle and putting pencilled numbers at the top of a ballot form have now ceased. I don’t enter polling booths any more because I am a silent voter. I don’t have a registered address on the roll. Women like me don’t wish to be easily located. We keep our heads down and we create a new life with as much distance between ourselves and a perpetrator as possible. We may refuse to be afraid and we may fully embrace the freedoms we have achieved escaping a past life. Yet, we don’t really have all of our freedoms do we? As I absorb your rhetoric as my Prime Minister it would appear that as a woman I am solely charged with the task of keeping myself safe.
I think the first time I really sat up and took notice of your qualities was when Brittany Higgins came forward with her allegation of being raped at Parliament House. Such a bright, brave young woman. Such a difficult thing for her to do knowing her story and her life would be dissected under a microscope. I can see she took that step both for herself and for all the faceless female statistics who are not heard. After all, if this could happen at Parliament House what does it say about the plight of an ‘ordinary’ Australian? Surely this would be addressed in a definitive way. A swift denouncement that this could ever happen within the seat of our government. Suddenly politics was less remote to me as a disinterested observer. This was relevant on a level I had never experienced. I waited to see what you would do. What you would bring to such a heinous circumstance. Your response provided enormous clarity.
You did nothing. Placed under a pressure you clearly resented you gave the whole mess some lip service. Empty words whilst desperately trying to deflect what this crime (it remains a crime) meant in real terms. You did what every corrupt entitled male I have ever known has done when confronted with an inconvenient woman. You buried her truthful narrative as hard as you could go and waited for her to fade. Waited until yet another victim, exhausted from screaming into an abyss, might just run out of fight. After all this crime was just a problem to you. Not the life of a young, bright, ambitious and intelligent woman. Not her health and her future torn apart. Her bravery belittled and mocked by your mindless arrogance.
Women marched on your seat of power to stand behind Ms. Higgins. Women like me. The faceless statistics. You did not come out to meet them. I realised at that moment exactly who you are. Everything that gesture encompasses.
Mr. Morrison, since that moment I have watched you with a very keen interest. You have not disappointed me. A myriad of circumstances have arisen affording you the chance to win back a modicum of respect from women such as myself. The Christian Porter episode was one that gave extra clarity to who is at the steering wheel of my nation. Someone only interested in their own power. Their own ego. The Boys Club. Someone who should not be.
Someone I placed there through my own apathy as an Australian voter.
As we enter what I hope may be a pivotal time in the journey of Australian women I take hope from power houses such as Grace Tame. Articulate, strong, determined women who will not be cowed by the gaslighting tactics of a man such as yourself. Grace Tame. The only victim survivor placed at the table of the Women’s Safety Summit. A summit to which Brittany Higgins was not officially invited but added as a last minute afterthought. Well of course. Who wants an extra problem at a table merely seen as an obligatory exercise to appease persistently vocal females? Women who are dissatisfied with how they are perceived as the victims of abusers. Women wanting to address what is blatantly lacking in our system to protect and support them. The gender who need to learn more efficient ways to keep themselves safe.
Mr. Morrison. Next time I fill out a ballot form from the tenuous safety of my unlisted address you and the LNP will not be on it. I finally had my political awareness raised by your extraordinary performance as the leader of my country.
To anyone who was once also apathetic – I would ask that you join me. Find your political awareness and your voice. We owe it to Katherine Thornton, Brittany Higgins, Grace Tame and every faceless woman victim survivor. Like me.
I like to consider myself a reasonably well read individual. I have always taken great pleasure in writing. It follows that when I find myself pondering the mysteries of life, quotes from the great authors often spring to mind. One particularly iconic passage seems to be resonating as we move through a year that has proved quite extraordinary. The opening phrases of an epic novel penned by Charles Dickens in 1859.
“It was the best of times,it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….”
Whilst our modern day tale is not specifically one of a Charles Darnay or Sydney Carlton in the lead up to the French Revolution; we are similarly living a tale of chaos and upheaval. A snapshot of world events that will possibly also be spoken of by future generations under the the label of epoch. The epoch of a pandemic, social isolation, economic crisis and remarkable political events. The twentieth century saw its share of plague, war, poverty and political conflict. In the emerging third decade of this next century we have seen our globe tip once more with events experienced by former generations. Pandemic, economic depression, mass unemployment, racial tensions and landmark political events. History it seems really is inclined to repeat itself.
How will we as citizens of this time be remembered by future generations? Perhaps more pertinent to us as individuals … how will we ourselves remember this chapter of the 21st century?
From my own view point, I have found 2020 to be the year of defining moments. One of which happened in the little garden you see above. Without wishing to become all ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ (not my style of literature or philosophy), I have found 2020 to be the year of being extremely grateful. It hasn’t been a year of great career achievement, earning potential or social events. It hasn’t been a year of sumptuous shopping, travel and adventure. It has been a year of realising what matters and realising the value of what you have. Realising that what we all need most just might be a hearty dose of perspective.
On one of the first warm Spring afternoons of the year, I was sitting in my little courtyard with my dogs at my feet enjoying a sneaky wine. Some months ago now I purchased my ‘forever home’ and I have been working on my gardening skills (which are questionable). I have an outdoor space once more. Having moved several times since I left my marriage and after some juggling, 2020 brought the time when I ultimately settled into a place to call my own with my name on the deed. An oddly solid event in a universally uncertain year. As I smelled the newly planted jasmine and watched my dogs slumber in the sunshine, I was overwhelmingly struck by a wave of gratitude and happiness. I had a secure home, was not in poor health and had funds to feed and care for myself and my beloved pets. Joyfully, I had a hard won safe place to enjoy all of those things. COVID isolation, the close of a long standing career and fall out from various old life traumas were all undeniably part of the broad canvas of my 2020 landscape. But my painting had all the hallmarks of the famous Dickens quote.
You really can have the best of times and the worst of times melded into one experience. One might surmise that the end of a long career in one industry with a pandemic hot on its heels impacting your next career choice would be the worst of times. Perhaps, but that circumstance for me has meant an opportunity to study and discover my love for the law. It has resulted in extensive time spent with my little dogs. Indeed, one passed unexpectedly in May and that was the very worst of times. I was gutted. Yet the former circumstance meant she had many months by my side night and day before she left .. those are memories I would not have had otherwise. The best of times and worst of times are interchangeable.
Dickens’ words continue to resonate. 2020 is an age of wisdom with isolation forcing us to examine our unacknowledged selves. An age of foolishness watching humanity tear itself apart over such ridiculous choices as panic buying and refusal to adhere to social distancing. An epoch of belief in a cure for this virus with a return to better times. An epoch of incredulity seeing world leaders behave as children and our peers behave in ways that redefine selfishness. A season of light as we see heroes give of themselves for others and a season of darkness as millions fall victim to the pandemic with loss of life or livelihood. It is the spring of hope as we see good fortune in our own circumstances and the winter of despair as we contemplate the road back to a global recovery.
My faithful study companions (inclusive of my newest family member) are my three little dogs. I did not intend to increase my fur brood after the heartbreak of Bunny’s death. Yet her tiny cream grand daughter determinedly wormed her way into my home after being fostered last month … and who was I to say ‘no’. The pleasure of their trusting canine love is part of the deep gratitude felt sitting in a little garden on a warm Spring day. 2020 has given the opportunity of perspective and the view of a bigger picture which might have been missed under better circumstances.
I’ve never been one for lentil and incense laden philosophies, but there is one mantra I do keep in my repertoire. Abraham Lincoln famously once said, “This too shall pass”. Wise words. I strongly doubt that President Lincoln was particularly herbal. The well loved mantra he utilised is an ancient Persian adage and those guys were impressive philosophers. Who am I to argue with Dickens, Lincoln or the Zoroastrians. We are living in some of the worst of times which can oddly translate to some of the best of times. This too will pass and I certainly hope to take from this COVID era some gratitude for having the means to live, study and spasmodically work in the midst of a global disaster.
We’re a generation who will be remembered for how we came out the other side of a major catastrophe. One of my enduring memories will forever be that glass of rosé, the afternoon sun on my face, the sight of my little dogs peacefully asleep and the knowledge I am lucky to have a little place to call my own in the Lucky Country. Who wouldn’t be happy. What’s not to be grateful for.
I am not unique in having encountered grief in my life. Although I’ve had my share of it, I am acutely aware that many people have experienced heart break I cannot even attempt to envisage. Grief is something difficult to understand and a state of being we dread. For good reason. It carries with it a pain that even the best writer struggles to convey.
One constant that seems to be partnered with grief is love. The more love we feel, the more grief we seem to encounter as we move through life. It is said that love can be an exquisite pain. Perhaps that pain translates to the agony that comes with love lost or love betrayed. Indeed, those incapable of love are transparently incapable of grief.
In May 2020 I lost a little dog I loved very, very much. ‘Bunny’ was with me for less than five years (adopted as she turned seven), and losing her was yet another journey into the dreaded darkness of loss and grief. I had of course signed up for the inevitable catastrophe of losing her when I took her on. I did not expect her to pass away so soon. I also did not expect the revisitation of other griefs her passing mysteriously let back in. That was an unexpected trip I did not enjoy. Yet I am oddly grateful for it.
My little Bunny suddenly became ill and passed away on 16.5.20 less than 48 hours after becoming unwell. She was aged 11 years and 8 months. There really wasn’t time to prepare and the whole thing passed in a state of surreal numbness. For me, my pets are the centre of my world. I am divorced and childless .. not complaining about that state of being .. my daily company and maternal drive are all focussed on my fur companions. I have loved animals my entire life. For some people it is difficult to comprehend that bond. Others reading this are nodding with enthusiastic understanding. This could be where this screed inevitably moves on to examine how important animals are. That it’s not ‘just’ a dog or a cat, but a fur baby and adored family member. I could write endlessly on what an animal can mean but it’s not the focus of this article. We shall take that as a given.
Grief is an unpredictable process that takes a mental and often physical toll. In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross established and analysed the now widely accepted five (5) stages of grief.
She was later to write that these were not neat phases everyone who is grieving passes through. Some may pass through them quickly, some slowly, some may not experience all five. They can occur in a different order. Some people cycle back several times and re experience certain stages repetitively. Life events can re trigger the process at varying levels of intensity. A state of complicated grief can arise when acceptance is never reached and the person becomes depressed and unwell as an extended state of being. One may not just grieve the loss of a loved one. People grieve broken relationships, divorce, lost careers or shattered health.
Heart break is no fun.
After Bunny died, on the surface I appeared my usual calm self. I did a goodly amount of crying in the privacy of my own home and I also did some emotional cutting in the form of self torture. A delightful extension of the bargaining phase. Could I have done something to prevent Bunny’s death? What did I miss? Did I let her down? Did she know how much I loved her as I handed her to the vet at Emergency? Did she want me as she rapidly declined and I couldn’t go back where she was being treated because of COVID? Had she been in pain or felt sick and I wasn’t really a good fur mama because I didn’t notice? Academically I know the answers to these questions. However, 3.00am isn’t a fan of academic reasoning when the mind ruminates on things we can’t control.
To move through that phase, I used techniques I was taught by a psychologist I consulted when my first Pomeranian died in 2014. That Pom was named ‘Delilah’ and she was the sweetest little soul. Delilah faithfully stayed alongside me for 15 years and 8 months. Her death was expected but no less gutting. Due to the constraints of the married life I led at that time, I could not really indulge my grief when she died. It was very difficult to process. My showing distress was inconvenient to the person with whom I then shared my home. I would get up at 3.00am when he was asleep, hold Delilah’s bed and sob with a hanky shoved in my mouth so I would not be discovered. There were so many regrets. So many things that pained me about her life in that house. It was overwhelming. I eventually managed the grief to a point when Diva, Bunny and Bear entered my existence and the sun shone again. Bunny had similarities to my Delilah and I took enormous pleasure after I left my marriage in getting it ‘right’ for her and the others. I was Queen of my Domain and no-one was ever going to make these fur babies fearful from the moment we walked away from that marriage in February 2017.
Having attempted to process Bunny’s passing and having accepted as well as I was able that she was gone, I still really struggled some weeks after the event. Insomnia and a general feeling of malaise. I couldn’t study as my head held nothing and I had an all pervading sense of loneliness. Which was odd, as I have never really felt lonely in my home bustling with fur kiddies. Bunny’s missing presence was palpable yet I still had two other pooches relentlessly demanding my attention. It was as though something dark and hopeless was hanging over me I couldn’t identify. One morning I awoke with visual disturbances and an unnerving buzzing in my ears. I subsequently took myself to my ever competent GP who informed me I was experiencing a form of migraine. She took my blood pressure. It was impressive. I’m relieved my head didn’t blow off. I am now medicated for said blood pressure and am back on track. Bunny’s death had intensified what was probably already an issue and caused a hypertensive spike.
It was at that moment the blinkers came off and I realised what was at the root of the virtual and tangible pain in my chest. Unresolved grief. Heart break and memories left buried and unexamined that I had not been ready to see. The loss of something so loved as my Bun-Bun had let the genie out of the bottle and it was unwilling to go back in without having a say. My getting it ‘right’ for Bunny was releasing so much of what had gone wrong on my previous journey.
Much of the pain had to do with my first dog Jessie. A beautiful shepherd/labrador brought into my life by my ex as I entered that relationship. Jessie was a driving force behind many of the decisions I was subsequently to make. My helpless fur baby I had loved so desperately. A fur child I had not always been able to protect. To my surprise, pieces of jigsaw from that story still missing from my conscious memory forced their way forward whether I liked it or not.
What I remembered from Jessie’s final days is not the point of this article. Publicly revealing a perpetrator’s actions isn’t as cathartic as one might imagine and it gives their story an airing they don’t deserve. What I experienced in those days after Bunny’s death would doubtless be labelled as an episode of PTSD. Flashes of recall and memory like traumatic film. I am not too proud to say I have spoken to a professional about the process and gained understanding of how and why it all came back. The human brain is an incredible, self protective mechanism that shows us what we can cope with. One might surmise I am sorry I went through that. A horrible coda to an already sad event. I am not. It has helped me understand why I struggle with Jessie’s memory and the complexity of all she stood for.
Bunny was not only a key part of surviving Delilah’s death when she entered my life, she helped me understand untapped grief when she left it. Hers was a little soul that gave more than she ever could have comprehended. I know she understood she was adored and I choose to believe that happiness was with her until her final breath. In truth, hers is a loss easier to process than any other I have had. Because it is tinged with many less regrets and overwhelmingly happy memories.
Grief is a part of life and everyone goes through it differently. Things we think might cause us grief don’t always engender that response. Other losses are as overwhelming as a tsunami. Understanding how and why can be as mystifying as the riddle of mortality itself. Never be ashamed to reach out when grief creeps up on you. Horrible as it is, it appears to be a process with a purpose.
One thing I have learned is that our grief will be as powerful as the thing we lost meant to us. The loss is as great as the love.
Once Upon A Time there was a small, orange Pomeranian dog called Bunny. She had magical powers. However sad the people were, when they saw her they smiled and felt happy.
This is her story.
As I write this our world is in a very bad place. A virus tears through everything familiar and makes it unfamiliar. The news is teeming with worrying stats and trends. To combat that distress there are also uplifting posts and funny distractions to balance our anxiety and increasing isolation. I have always been aware that images and videos of Bunny bring people joy. Anyone who meets her speaks about how happy and loved they feel when they hold her. There seems no better time to share her with you, in the hope this will be a moment in your day that is brighter because of a very special little dog.
Bunny was born in September 2008 from two posh Pomeranian parents and her destiny was to be a breeding dog. She lived in not particularly kind conditions at the initial breeders for a year before going to a second. He was to own her for approximately five years. Her life there was very harsh and squalid. I do not have precise details and I do not particularly want them. I do know she had an inordinate amount of pups – far more than a registered breeder should have wrangled out of her. She lived in an extremely confined space, had her thick coat shaved and didn’t have a proper name. That breeder was finally notified he had too many dogs and Bunny was taken in by another registered breeder who gave her an actual name. She was there about 9 months before the magical day she was to become mine.
Having lost my precious Pomeranian Delilah after fifteen years, I adopted a little rescue six months after her passing. She was a Pom cross named Diva and my plan was always to have two fur babies. I began the search for Diva’s companion and was put in touch with the breeder where Bunny had gone to live. I was hopeful I could go on a waiting list for a Pomeranian puppy. After chatting with the breeder, I shared I would also be more than happy with an older, retired dog. She mentioned she had an orange girl who would be needing a permanent home. In my mind I did not want an orange Pomeranian as that was the same colouring as Delilah and too painful after mourning her so deeply. However, I made the jaunt out to see the breeder.
She carried out an orange Pomeranian whom she had called ‘Penny’. Penny was newly pregnant and would need to have her puppies before going to her forever family. When she placed ‘Penny’ in my arms my heart lurched as this rather worried little creature snuggled into me. Wishing to not seem hysterically desperate I nonchalantly said yes… I would probably adopt this dog and purchase one of her puppies as a package deal. What I wanted to do was run to the car with her in my arms and never let her go. She radiated love and a transparent need to have a human to call her very own. This tiny waif needed desperately to be the centre of someone’s Universe. I would move heaven and earth to be that someone. I reluctantly handed her back over to finish out her term and have the puppies. That night it was agreed upon that she would definitely be mine. I was beside myself with anticipation.
In truth I didn’t like her designated name. It was the same name as that of an extra marital affair my then husband had indulged in several times over his history. It was a name he delighted in hurting me with. My new fur baby had not had the name very long. Yet I didn’t want her to be confused now she actually had one, instead of merely being a number.
After some deliberation I decided to call her ‘Bunny’.
Bunny and her little puppy (who was to be subsequently called ‘Bear’) came home to me on August 9th, 2015.
Diva sniffed the new arrivals and they swiftly became a pack of three. There was the odd small tiff between the girls because Bunny was a protective mother over her diminutive, rather obnoxious son. If Diva had a toy or treat Bun thought her weeny Prince should have, she would bustle out of her bed and snap. Diva always backed down and it stays that way even today. Bunny is never challenged over a bed or a prize by the others. The days of her going in to bat for Bear however are long gone. She seems to view him more as an adult kid who still hasn’t moved out when she’s trying to have a pleasant retirement.
At first Bunny was rather puzzled by her new life. She was unused to beds and toys and hand cooked dinners. She soaked up cuddles but she also hid away in small spaces. Her little expression was often worried and a bit sad. I spent a lot of time reassuring her and trying to make her feel secure. She didn’t know how to walk on lead and outings rather distressed her. She never barked. She utterly didn’t understand toys. But she utterly knew I was becoming her person.
As the months went on some of these things improved. Her condition blossomed with good food and exercise. In February 2017 I ended my marriage and the four of us relocated to our new home. Diva and Bear were a closely bonded pair and a happy unit. And Bunny? Well.. Bunny finally came into her own. ❤ Already unrecognisable from where she’d started out at her adoption, Bunny was now in a quiet, stress free home. Everything revolved around her. An adopted pooch momma’s dream come true. The last remnants of the shy traumatised dog melted away and The Bun hit her stride to become one of the most charismatic orange fluff balls that has ever been.
In July 2017 we had all travelled to Melbourne as a family where I was performing with “My Fair Lady” at The Regent Theatre. Bunny came onto the radar of the cast members and a campaign was started to have her in the theatre for a show. After months of touring the Company was tired, missing home and it was a morale boosting exercise. To convince management, posters made by the performers went up around the backstage corridors. The ‘Bring in the Bun’ Movement was launched with rampant enthusiasm.
And indeed Bunny had her great day in the theatre. She was cuddled by the likes of the magnificent Reg Livermore, adorable Tony Llewellyn Jones and lovely Pamela Rabe. She got to come to stage warm up and spent her afternoon nursed on the laps of Company Management. It is something that show team remember as a highlight of a long run in a cold, mouldy venue. Three years on she’s still visited by some cast. In fact, one of them now owns Bear’s brother ‘George’ from Bunny’s final litter.
After sojourning back to Sydney in early August 2017 Bunny has gone from strength to strength. She’s become rather bossy and she’s also learned how to bark in protest. It is possibly the funniest sound I’ve ever heard. A petulant ‘”MEH” that demands instant attention. She bustles up for her meals and likes to be hand fed her breakfast. She scrabbles at my lap to be cuddled. She goes nuts for a walk and then, like anyone with a built in slave, demands to be carried for most of it. She will happily sniff and traverse certain stretches of path and and then parks her fluffy butt and refuses to budge until she is lifted and carried aloft like some small, revered orange Pontiff.
About a year ago I came home and found her playing with a toy. I cried that day. It was like she had finally forgotten all she’s been through and learned a final, wonderful thing. Her little face was so proud and excited as she busily rolled that treat ball. She beamed at me with all she had.
My other two dogs are extraordinarily happy, but it must be said that Bunny is the happiest dog I have ever known. I sincerely hope she does not remember the suffering of her first six years. I think not in detailed terms, but I believe she does express every day that she loves her life and she knows it is very different from where she started out. She certainly expresses that she loves me in a way that makes my heart ache. Every meal, every toy, every bed, every word of love and cuddle, every day is enjoyed to its fullest. She’s a living, breathing epitome of gratitude and being in the moment. She reminds me that I am lucky. Bunny also gives me purpose when life seems a little bleak. Purpose to make every day she has wonderful – to make up for when she was a forgotten little breeding dog living alone and untouched in a squalid box. Her look of love and happiness can change a fraught moment into a beautiful one in less than a second.
Bunny will turn twelve in September and it is my fervent hope that I have many more years with her. As a canine helicopter parent, I have the vet check her over carefully regularly (including blood tests) and I am assured she is in excellent health. Her hearing is going and she has had a couple of very transient minor seizures so common in Pomeranians, but she is something of a tiny Titan. Once a scared little forgotten dog – she is now The Bun beloved by so many.
My adorable, demanding, eccentric, joyful, ever smiling fur baby.
It is easier said than done, but I think Bunny’s message to us humans at the moment would be a simple one. Be happy and grateful for all you have that is wonderful in your life. She does not dwell on what has been because she’s busily soaking up what she has now. Dogs live in the moment.
Stay safe and I hope Bunny’s story brought you a smile at a time when they are a little scarce. This too will pass. The Bun guarantees it. xx
18/5/20 I am heartbroken to add to this piece that my most precious Bunny passed unexpectedly on May 16th, 2020. She became off colour for a couple of days and I took her to my vet the afternoon of 15/5/20 who diagnosed a tummy bug and found a heart murmur (which had not been there at her last visit only a few months beforehand). That evening I raced her into Sydney University Vet Hospital when she became very disoriented and had an episode of not breathing properly. She passed away at 5.20pm the next day on a ventilator and despite every effort, nothing could be done to save her. The staff did everything they could and she was kept as comfortable as possible the whole time. She was with me for just less than five years and changed my life and the decisions I made in my life irretrievably. All for the better.
With thanks to everyone who has loved Bunny and followed her stories. For all the dogs I have loved (and I am sure I may love in the future) The Bun will remain a unique, shining light of pure joy. If love could have saved her she would have been here forever.
Especial thanks to Dr. Rachel Soh from University Veterinary Teaching Hospital Sydney who showed such compassion and worked so hard to save her.
Rest Peacefully my Bun-Bun. Until I hold you again at The Bridge. xxxx
Greta Garbo famously said … “I want to be alone”. Actually, she was later recorded as saying that was a misquote. Her actual statement was, “I want to be let alone”. But let’s not ruin a great story with the truth.
Some of us like a bit of solitary time. Some of us absolutely hate it. Looming on the horizon is the fact that the current COVID-19 crisis is probably going to cause alone time whether you’re a fan or not. Rapidly coming to light is not just our innate human fear of illness or a lack of toilet paper. There is a genuine sense of panic at the prospect of self-quarantine and social isolation. To a point where counselling lines are taking a high volume of calls on the subject.
Greta it appears was not the norm.
In generations past we tended to live in bigger families. Mum, dad, an army of children and maybe the odd grandparent thrown in. Meal times were large, noisy affairs around extended tables and older brothers or sisters looked after the smaller ones if the load was simply too much for the adults. Entertainment was somewhat self generated with backyard cricket, board games and scheduled television watching hours as a family once the ‘idiot box’ hit our lounge rooms. Times have changed. 2020 modern Australia now sees a prevalent adult population living alone. Yes, there are still extended families, couples with various numbers of children, flatmates and/or considerable numbers who cohabit as a twosome. Yet – with an ageing population, people choosing the single life and/or with relationships that have ended many, many of us live alone.
Looming viral catastrophe has made clear that work hours with colleagues, time in shopping centres, attending sporting events, theatrical events and festivals along with dining out are an essential part of maintaining a solo existence. These daily interactions with others thread into an essential tapestry that staves off loneliness and isolation. Good old Coronavirus has come along to test just how well we might do without those taken for granted hours with our fellow humans.
It is a given that some people hate being alone and others crave extended time out. I am very much in the latter category and am rather happy to spend extended periods of time on my Pat Malone. (I do not actually classify myself as totally alone as I have three small, demanding fur children. Companion animal numbers have soared in recent years as people like myself opt for fur people as housemates). I am an only child which I think gears me somewhat towards these solitary life choices. I was not really allowed many playmates as a kid. Outside of school hours I was pretty much self sufficient. My childhood was one of reading, playing instruments and inventing games for myself. I was not allowed pets (which I resented) so I spent endless hours mugging the neighbour’s cat and chatting to it. I wrote poetry and made up story books and danced terrible ballets alone in my room. In hindsight I was a weird little creature, but children adapt to whatever circumstance they are given.
Science has proven that complete isolation is not just unhealthy. It can send you bonkers in a remarkably short space of time. In 2008, clinical psychologist Ian Robbins recreated a famous experiment undertaken years beforehand by Donald Hebb. Six volunteers were isolated for 48 hours in sound-proofed rooms in a former nuclear bunker. There was complete silence with no opportunity for any sensory stimulation. The volunteers rapidly suffered anxiety, extreme emotions, paranoia and significant deterioration in their mental functioning. They also hallucinated. Their visions included a heap of 5000 empty oyster shells, a snake, zebras, tiny cars, the room taking off, mosquitoes and fighter planes buzzing overhead. (www.bbc.com)
In studies of subjects who have undertaken long periods of solitude – be it self inflicted such as a solo maritime voyage or due to involuntary isolation with military capture or similar – the level of coping and mental deterioration seems intrinsically linked to the subject’s ability to keep their mind stimulated. The creation of mental tasks and distraction stops the spiral illustrated in the experiment outlined above. In the absence of an actual companion with whom to interact, some survivors of utter solitude have created fictional companions from inanimate objects. Think ‘Wilson’ to Tom Hanks in “Castaway”. (Speaking of COVID-19. Get well soon Tom). Where that may seem an act of madness on the surface .. it is rather a mechanism to maintain a semblance of sanity.
So the question is, why are so many of us freaked that we may have to self isolate for (optimistically) only 14 days? It’s not just because we might run low on Sorbent or drink all the white wine in the first week by accident. I suspect a factor may be that we have lost the skill to self entertain and self care. Humans are a social animal, and in evolutionary terms separation from the pack means vulnerability. I had a lot of practice at being on my own as a child (that poor cat); resulting in adult me being fractionally antisocial. I adore seeing people I care about. Then I love racing back home to my bunker with its three resident pooches. In truth, I’m much better as a single than as a couple. There is of course the glaring fact that the other half of my extended ‘couple’ phase was an unpleasant human. Which has engendered even greater enjoyment of being solo once more.
Amongst the fear and uncertainly of the coming weeks, looking after those we care about will be paramount. Not being face to face with other people won’t necessarily mean loneliness if that becomes our lot for a while. It’ll just be more of a challenge for some than others.
If you have a friend or family member who you know hates being alone, call them for a quality chat. Text them. Messenger them. Have a scheduled group text with your posse watching a favourite telly show from your individual homes each night. Science has proven a busy mind is a much healthier mind. We all have stuff we’ve meant to get around to but haven’t had time. That time is being forced upon us by the looks of it. Around the house jobs, cleaning out cupboards, that mystery pile of mending in the corner, books we’ve never got around to reading yet, DVD’s we’ve meant to watch or really want to watch again, emails we’ve meant to write, things of interest we’ve meant to research. For many working from home will fill quite a lot of time. If practical, perhaps get ahead with some work things to buy some more recreational time when this is over. Make some nice plans of stuff you want to do with your chosen people when the world rights itself again.
Maybe the world or your job won’t be exactly the same for a bit after the COVID-19 epic. Perhaps it’s destined to be rather a sh*t show. Perhaps it will be mysteriously improved in some respects. It is what it is.
Writer Thomas Carlyle said that isolation may very often be the “sum of total wretchedness”. Instead of wretchedness, let’s have a crack at being there for one another even if it’s from behind individual doors. Surrounded by adversity, the Italians have been singing from their balconies. History will doubtless record this world event as an epic disaster. Mass fatalities and economic mess are now unavoidable and that weighs very heavily on us all. Conversely, this may also be an unprecedented opportunity for self discovery and creating bonds that may never have come into being otherwise.
I’ll be chatting to my three Pomeranians like a demented old bat, eating cheese and praying that the gin lasts longer than any lock down. Stay safe and look after your tribe. xx
Well .. if one thing can be said for the first few months of 2020 .. they’ve been memorable. Not all of it negative and not all of it positive. We appear to be in an epoch of time that is continuously highlighting the various aspects of what it is to be human. Good, bad and downright mortifying.
We have had bushfires where Australians have covered themselves in glory. Great bravery saving people, animals and homes. Great generosity in monetary donations and an overflowing of goods purchased for those left stranded. Great people working night and day to search out injured wildlife and nurse the critters back to health. Great pride in Aussie community and spirit.
We have grieved the loss of a young woman and her three innocent children at the hands of a violent man. We’ve found our voices to clamour loudly at the plague that is domestic terrorism and have started pushing for change. Some people have shown their lack of humanity. Others have shown an outpouring of empathy and anger and stood up.
Now comes a third huge chapter in only the third month of this new decade. A pandemic.
I sometimes ponder whether as a species, human beings are heading further down our abyss of selfish behaviour. Or whether access to modern media platforms just makes it more visible for us to analyse. Of course, we have been capable of pretty appalling standards since the dawn of our evolution as far as the history books reflect. Yet what we are experiencing right now is a glaring spotlight on what ails us as a society. When we require security guards standing over pallets of dunny rolls and you can’t buy a packet of pasta – things are getting grim. Yes, we are facing a state of temporary emergency. Yes, it’s unsettling. The question is – why can we not seem to follow simple instructions to manage the crisis. Research and the memories of our older citizens demonstrate we have managed it before.
My mother used to talk about rationing when she was a child of WW2. She was a chubby little thing who got a couple of extra coupons a week as a result. Odd government reasoning, but good for her. (Who would say no to extra emergency bacon and chocolate). My grandparents also kept chickens for eggs and grew veggies to supplement what could not be bought. They were reasonably well off for the era. Grandpa was part of the essential war effort at home, (having already seen active service in WW1). Australia was not as impacted as the U.K. where things were extra grim. Britain was blacked out and scraping together enough to get by. The Queen’s wedding gown was paid for with ration coupons. People were scared, had large slabs of their family perhaps never coming home or returning physically and mentally maimed. Society had no idea when it would end.
It is idealistic to believe it was all tickety-boo with everyone playing by the rules. Humans are human. There was inevitable theft, blackmarket selling, crime, assault and cruelty. However, one is compelled to ask just how the Sydney women going at each other over a huge trolley of toilet paper would fare with rationed coupons to supply their family’s needs. Forming orderly queues to receive those precious goods. Hoarding was not even a viable option.
This is a nation of plenty with enough stock for everyone. We are not inevitably facing down years of war with an uncertain future. The future does appear wonky for us as a virus threatens our usual order and routine. It’s not a pleasant sensation. It all feels decidedly spooky. We are worried about catching a very nasty illness, about hospitals coping and looming financial hurdles of interrupted work and economic mess. (Plus some dead set dodgy political planning and decisions that inspire zero confidence).
But quite frankly, our behaviour as a collective worries me more than COVID-19. At least it has the excuse of being a soulless virus that is simply running through an evolutionary process.
Rationing began in Britain in January 1940. Final rationing concluded in 1954. That is fourteen years of limited supplies, waiting your turn and daily hurdles. Each man, woman and child received a ration book of coupons. Fresh fruit and vegetables were not rationed but fluctuated as to availability. Rationed goods included sugar, meat, bacon, cheese, cereal, biscuits, eggs, milk. Soap was rationed in 1942 as was petrol. Clothing was also bought via the coupon system. Post war, bread was rationed in 1946 as supply chains were greatly interrupted. Rationing of clothing ended in 1950 with final meat rationing concluding in 1954. I see no mention of toilet paper in my researches, but I doubt three ply was readily available in bulk.
Although slightly less restrictive, Australia also worked on the same system.
Goods were rationed as to specific need. Children, expectant mums and invalids received extra coupons for eggs and milk. Neighbours often shared or exchanged coupons according to who really needed what.
I would like to offer here that I am an avid, modern consumer. I am not saintly. I mean … look at my fridge photo. I am used to living in a way where if I want something, I go to the shop and I have what I desire. Good grief. My dogs eat steak, chicken breast, premium veggies and various types of rice and a smattering of pasta. Plus some form of gold plated prescription kibble. The little buggers even regularly dine on tinned red salmon. This isn’t some superior diatribe on returning to simpler times.
I am more focussed on pondering why we are in a state of mass hysteria and FOMO. ‘F-O-M-O’. Fear. Of. Missing. Out.
We are being bombed by a determined virus. We are not being bombed by a terrifying military force. Quite frankly, Lord help us if we ever are. We’ll be sheltering in bog roll forts clutching bags of rice and litres of hand sanitiser.
The outbreak of COVID-19 is a horrible event. Our comfortable day to day is under threat and politicians and media have made somewhat of a hash of it. Mixed messages and misinformation. Social media is a barrage of ‘this thing will kill you and we’re all gonna die’ interspersed with, ‘it’s a common cold and we should all still go to the footy’. ScoMo is merrily singing happy clappy tunes at a Hillsong Conference amongst a seething mass of religious humanity. Then BOOM. Hours later borders slam closed and self isolation really gets some traction. Kids are going to school, they’re not going to school, crowd gatherings are underway, then they’re cancelled, the dunny rolls are all gone and people are clobbering each other in supermarkets.
It might be a moment to reevaluate how we have responded to crises in our past. Britain was blacked out (covering all doors and windows along with low street lighting) from September 1st, 1939 to April 1945. In an attempt to make visibility poor for enemy bombers, people sat inside their homes at night with blacked out doors and windows, a radio to listen to and rationed food. Many of their loved ones were absent. Yes, it was a different time. Yet it was community doing what was necessary to see out a crisis.
They didn’t know how it all would end. We’re not all too sure right now either. That’s what defines a crisis.
Everything passes and this mess will too. If it doesn’t, then at least let’s try not to disgrace ourselves on the way out. Unlike some other nations mid COVID-19 battle .. we have plentiful food, modern comforts, in-home entertainment, means of easy communication and a solid history of getting our sh*t together.
To kick COVID-19’s arse FOMO has to go.
No comment on ScoMo.
In the meantime, as I am a casual employee in the entertainment and promotional sector I am in the same position as many others. Facing uncertainty. Writing my blog – starting out with a well stocked bar and an impressive stash of dog friendly cuisine.
We are about to have International Women’s Day for 2020. It is a much spoken of day bringing up issues of feminism, equal opportunity, women’s safety …. what it is to be a woman of our era. I consider myself very much a woman of my time. I have had an excellent education and continue to pursue further education even now. I have experienced a solid full time career, I am divorced and I am financially independent. With all the trials and tribulations life has thrown in my direction to this point; I have enjoyed advantages and freedoms many women of previous generations never even dreamed of.
It makes me think about the women who came before me in my family. Their hopes, dreams, aspirations and histories. Who were they really? What did they actually think? What would they have to say if they were here now to see how far we have come.
And how far we have yet to go.
I know surprisingly little in many ways about the women who have been my immediate predecessors. My grandmother married my grandfather after he returned from WW1. He was a gentle soul who served at Gallipoli and had given his promise to her before he joined up. Beatrice is remembered as an angry, unstable and rather cruel woman who subsequently had two daughters born 13 years apart. Yvonne in 1919 and my mother Geanette in 1932. By the time she appears in my conscious memory Beatrice is a very old lady in a recliner with advanced dementia. My grandmother passed away when I was fourteen. Because of her lifelong mental health issues I knew nothing of her personal history. She is remembered simply as a wife to a kind man and as a mother of two; who determinedly kept one daughter at home with her (whilst the younger was eventually permitted to marry).
Yet surely Beatrice was more than that. She would have once been a young girl with her life ahead of her. Was she always destined for a prison of mental illness? Or would a modern world have given her opportunity to address her demons. Was she frustrated by a society where her mind was not used to its full potential? The book of Beatrice’s life may have been a very different novel a mere two generations on. My grandmother, for all her grisly attributes, doubtless had talents and intelligence that went unseen and untapped.
As was to be glimpsed in her second baby who went on to be my own mother.
Whilst the older sister was a quiet and obedient girl who lived to pacify her volatile mother; Geanette was wilful and intelligent. She also displayed some of the same unstable attributes as Beatrice.
Yet again, what do I really know of these two sisters a mere generation before my own? Yvonne fell in love with a young man whom she met at a dance. He was Catholic and wanted to marry her. His religion made him wildly undesirable as a family member; although she quietly accepted his proposal. Snippets I have learned indicate he was vocal that things in the household were not as they should be. The man she loved was to finally walk away from the situation as it was impossible. Yvonne could not abandon her baby sister to her mother’s cruelty and she was mercilessly brow beaten until she broke off the engagement. I do not even know her fiancee’s name. One wonders how my aunt processed the fact a man she wished to marry gave her up. Yvonne never entered the workforce or met anyone else. She nursed both my grandparents until their deaths in the 1980’s and passed away in 2003 alone and still in the family home.
Who was Yvonne really? She is a single generation before my own and I have no real clue. An obedient daughter, a loyal sibling, a woman with very little education. We will never glean Yvonne’s true persona or potential. It went undiscovered at a time when what she wanted out of life was not part of the equation.
My own mother did well at school, but exited with a Leaver’s Certificate as was expected with girls of her generation. It is my understanding she was nearly dux of her year. She went on to secretarial school and topped the state in shorthand, before taking a job at the radio station where she was to meet my father. They began dating aged 23 but they did not marry until she was nearly 29. She was reluctant to marry and Beatrice fought to keep her at home. These family facts that I have known all my life take on a different perspective as I age.
Mum liked to act in amateur theatre, she studied piano, she liked her job and she wasn’t keen to walk down an aisle. These freedoms came at the cost of her sister’s continued subservience to their mother. By the time she married my father, Geanette was already displaying the signs of mental illness that were to ravage much of her later life. She gave birth to me aged 36 and her persona quickly spiralled into a vortex of depression, anxiety and frustration. Just one generation ago vital help was simply not there. Not there for my mother and not there for me either as her young daughter. Mum worked sporadically after my birth, but the wisdom of age and hindsight show me a woman with a bright mind who was incredibly bored and very unwell. There were no available tools to address either issue. She was a wife, she was a mother, she had a husband in the workforce, she cooked and cleaned and that was just how it was.
With each generation comes incremental change. I went on to finish high school, get a University degree and create the life of a more modern woman. I surmise that my mother lived vicariously through the opportunities made available to me in a variety of ways. Not all of them healthy …. she was often transparently resentful. That aside, one wonders who Geanette (with her evident intellect) would have really become with the stimulation of a tertiary education and a satisfying career.
I am grateful I was born into my own generation and not that of my grandmother or her daughters. It is unfortunate my own path has been somewhat derailed by a marriage that was not what it should have been. Despite that massive speed hump, I have my education and a burgeoning understanding of what I want to be. What I want to achieve to take me into my next chapter.
As women we are on the cusp of change. Readying ourselves and our younger counterparts to fight a perilous battle for what we deserve. What we want is not greedy nor should it be insurmountable. A wish to reach our full potential in a world where we are free to live safely and control our circumstances. As we once fought for the vote, accessible contraception and education; we now fight for the kind of equality that makes us truly create our own destiny. For some of our sisters in other cultures, the old battles are only just beginning. We are forging a path for them as well as ourselves.
Many men want what is best for the women they love. Their mothers, aunts, sisters, wives, daughters and friends. In troubled times, as we begin to address the abuse and mistreatment of women, we know so many good men who have our backs. International Women’s Day isn’t solely for the sisterhood. It’s for everyone invested in the future of women in our society. Simply looking back over two generations of my own line shows the incredible potential for rapid change.
To Beatrice, Yvonne and to my mother Geanette. I wish you might have enjoyed lives with many more keys to unlock your potential. To the girls to come after my own time line I would say …… imagine how it can be. Know your worth. Know your strength. We’ve already come so far.
After a hiatus of some weeks, I am back doing what I love. Writing.
Rest assured that despite blog silence and an element of personal crisis; my dogs, shoes and cocktail bar have remained a healthy focus. All is certainly not lost.
The personal angst to which I refer has left me with an interesting conundrum. It is now public and as is usual, there are supporters and detractors. I count myself as fortunate that the former seem to vastly outweigh the latter. I can use my skills as a writer to peddle my own barrow and reveal scandalous aspects of my situation to anyone who wishes to engage. Or I can remain ‘private’ and take the path of discussing, in a rational way, topics I see as relevant and important. Not just in regard to my circumstances but to our society in general. Let’s run with option two.
I had a whopper of a zit the day they took the photo. It didn’t show and the journalist was extremely competent, so all in all things went pretty well.
There are a few facts to clarify before I get to the purpose of my own article. Firstly yes, my ex spouse is incarcerated for child sex abuse. I was a witness in the matter and became aware of the investigation after I left him in rather fraught circumstances.
The facebook posts in question were made in 2015 and 2016 to a ‘secret’ group of extremely diminutive size, administrated solely by my ex husband. I got out of the marriage with my three little dogs in February 2017, he was arrested and charged in July 2017 and pleaded guilty to child sexual assault in March 2018. David Edward Lewis admitted to domestic spousal abuse on the stand at his sentencing in November 2018 and was incarcerated in December 2018.
His victim in the specific criminal matter was a children’s chorister at Opera Australia. The company were alerted to the assaults at the time. I was not at OA when the crimes happened, nor was I married to David Lewis at the time of the child sexual abuse which took place on company premises.
There is clearly much more to the tale, but I will not be making any other contribution as it will be dealt with through official legal channels and again… getting sued is a bummer.
So what do I wish to write about if not juicy details of child sex scandals, the murky world of show business and what happened behind closed doors in my marriage?
I would like to discuss the topic of Digital Coercive Control. (‘DCC’ or ‘TFCC’). You will most likely say ‘what is that?’ and that is not a surprise. A brief summary can be seen below.
Domestic violence is nothing new. It does not just take place between husbands and wives or boyfriends and girlfriends. It is a widespread plague that covers same sex couples, housemates, mothers and fathers against their children and even vice versa.
In my case it was a traditional husband and wife scenario, and it went on for many years. DV is insidious, debilitating and it leaves a train-wreck-like aftermath even when you manage to leave the perpetrator. Methods used by abusers are wide ranging and one coming into focus is Digital Coercive Control. Our world is now dominated by the internet, social media and we communicate on our electronic devices as a matter of course. That is all marvellous when you have autonomy over your life, your possessions and your own actions. It is not so marvellous when you do not.
When you first think about someone’s account being accessed or them being monitored by another, you think of hacking. Hacking is of course a huge problem in the digital age. In a domestically violent situation, that takes on a different complexion because there is physical fear of the person invading your digital world. They are in a position to obtain and demand passwords, use your devices and demand your loyalty without protest. They are in close physical proximity and are not just a distant threat or annoyance. They are next to you on the couch, in the car and you sleep beside them. The abuser’s aim is to control your life and keep you as a compliant and docile play thing . Your aim is to get through each day with safety.
“…….. is focussed on the form of domestic violence we refer to as technology – facilitated coercive control (TFCC). TFCC is violence and abuse by current or former intimate partners, facilitated by information and communication technologies (ICTs) or digital media, acknowledging technological aspects of abuse in the context of coercive and controlling intimate relationships (Dragiewicz et al., 2018; Harris 2018; Harris and Woodlock., 2018). TFCC includes behaviours such as monitoring via social media, stalking using GPS, video and audio recording, making threats via email, phone or other technological medium, surveillance of partner’s email, accessing accounts without permission, impersonation, and publishing private information or images without consent (Dragiewicz et al., 2018, Harris and Woodlock, 2018; Southworth, Finn, Dawson, Fraser, & Tucker, 2007; Woodlock 2017). These behaviours may be overt or clandestine. Unauthorised access may be achieved using force, coercion, deception or stealth. TFCC affects survivors’ mental health and causes or contributes to trauma manifesting in psychological and physical symptoms”. (DomesticViolence and Communication Technology. accent.org.au)
There are many questions often asked of DV survivors and although they are triggering, they are understandable. Why didn’t you just leave? Why did you let him/her do that? Why didn’t you tell someone? Why did you seem to agree with him and not speak up? What about all those photos of you together looking happy?
Reasonable questions which have long, detailed answers and one all encompassing one. It’s not that simple. Abusers are manipulative, frightening and more often than not warp your daily reality (also known as gas lighting). Your focus is to stay safe and appease them. You may be protecting others under the same roof as yourself from harm. You may be protecting those you care about from harm by not drawing them into an already dangerous scenario. You often watch your tormentor hurt others and are overwhelmed with powerlessness because to survive you cannot act. It’s just….. not that simple.
My 19 year story ended with escape and the ability to speak up. That escape has had costly ramifications; one of which seems to be the end of my (until now) unblemished career as an opera singer. This country has only one full time employer for experts in my field. It is a high price, a manifestly unfair price and the circumstances are extremely questionable.
I’ll never really know exactly what is out there in digital world penned under my name until I managed to change my locks and change my passwords in the January of 2017. All I can do is know my own truth and be grateful for the life I have now, with all of its hurdles.
Thank you for reading. If you know of someone or a relevant organisation who would benefit from the information on DCC as outlined in this blog, do feel free to share it with them. They say knowledge is power. I go onward with the knowledge I will not give someone who once had power over me that satisfaction any longer.