a force to be reckoned with

 

by Jessica Norris

 

Almost a year ago, I wrote an article that highlighted the necessity of validating women’s voices in the public sphere. A line from this article read:

“How we react to the testimonies of women, and their voices in society, will be the key to our battle against the patriarchal cultures in which these stories of sexual assault are born.”

As I reflect on International Women’s Day this year, I am reminded of how critical it is for the stories and testimonies of women to be upheld and valued – not just by society at large – but also by one another as individuals.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias, which aims to call out the biases, stereotypes, and gendered criticism that provide a platform for sexism and discrimination against women in Australia. There is no doubt that this underlying bias colours the stories of women’s lives with a patriarchal hue. Too often, women in the media, in workplaces, and even amongst their friends and families have their stories explained through a lens that is not their own – the lens of a patriarchal society.

We see this when the conversation surrounding gender-based violence and sexual assault is framed around how men are unfairly victimised. We see this when the story of female sexuality is told within the context of virginity and cis-hetero sex. We see this when stories of women meeting success in their professional lives are counterbalanced with a narrative that this is at the cost of their personal lives. We see this when Indigenous women and women of colour are excluded from certain privileges white women are afforded. We see this when trans, intersex and gender diverse people are excluded from contemporary conversations surrounding femininity and gender expression altogether.

Unfortunately to this day, myself and many other young women I know have experienced the most severe critique and shame in their lives at the hands of other women. It is certainly possible that despite how far we’ve come, many women still view one another as an entity to compete with or measure up against in order to stay ahead in a race that wasn’t designed for us to win. An integral component of patriarchy in action is women being used to call out each other – not that this serves as an excuse for that behaviour.

But when women come together without this bias, the dynamic is a beautiful, magical thing. Conversation can flow like a network of rivers across multiple topics at any one time. We can make sense of our bodies, our stories, and the world around us together. There is connection and sharing. There is emotion and empathy. There is laughter, dancing, cheese, wine, and whatever music, movie, or series we choose to allocate our attention to. There is freedom.

There is a special place in my heart for women who listen to and support other women – unconditionally. Not because it’s a good thing to do, but because they are genuinely passionate about seeing other women overcome obstacles and learn to thrive. A woman alone has an immense power. But women together are a beautiful and unstoppable force to be reckoned with.

If I could rewrite the line from a year ago for myself and every other woman on this particular day, I would say:

“Upholding and empowering the unique testimonies of one another is the ever-strengthening foundation to opposing the biases we face together.”

Women deserve the spotlight shining on them and the microphone handed to them, not just on International Women’s Day, but every damn day of the year. Not because we need it, but because we have earned it: we continue to fly despite all of the biases and structures designed to keep us on the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Mike Von on unspalsh. 

bbqs don’t mean that much to me

 

by Jessica Norris

Content warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and those belonging to Indigenous communities, are advised that the following article contains the mention of deceased persons and colonial violence.

I would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation, who are the Traditional Owners of the land on which this article was researched, written and published. I pay my respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. I thank those from whom I have learnt from and will continue to listen to. This land always was and always will be Aboriginal land.

 

Growing up white in Australia, my memories of January 26th can be summarised collectively as laid-back, hot, sticky (probably from trying to scientifically extract the last of my Zooper Dooper from its plastic) and for the most part, relatively uneventful. Looking back, I can picture a few polyester Australian flags waving lazily in the summer air. I can smell burgers on the BBQ and freshly cut watermelon. I can see a humble array of Savoys placed around a Coles-brand brie cheese, and I can hear the dulcet tones of the cricket playing on the TV inside.

Upon reflecting on these memories, I have come to realise that I am privileged to have experienced January 26th in this way for so many years. However, since then I have grown to understand the depths of meaning attached to this day. Today I am alert and sensitive to the reality that ‘Australia Day’ is a day of pain and mourning for First Nations peoples. It is a day that marks colonial violence and commemorates a structure of white supremacy in this nation. Today, I see January 26th still being celebrated as a national holiday as symptomatic of the institutionalised racism and systemic disadvantage faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia. There is a clear divide between those who feel free and empowered to celebrate, and those who feel hurt and excluded by this date.

Nakkiah Lui, a Gamilaroi and Torres Strait Islander playwright and actor, says, ‘Most people just want a day to celebrate the place that they call home, to be part of a community, and to guide Australia into the future. I am one of these people, so why can’t we celebrate this on a day that includes all Australians?’ This is the very heart of the ‘Change the Date’ movement – inclusion. The community is pushing to find another date on which we can celebrate our nation in a way that brings Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples together. (And there is a plethora of others to choose from that don’t represent the day this land was invaded by colonialists– May 8th anyone?).

Many that criticise the Change the Date movement say that it is just a ‘token’ or ‘empty’ gesture. They argue that moving the date we celebrate Australia will not help to fix the larger social, economic, and political disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this country. I would like to suggest that this argument is flawed: how are we as a nation going to build lasting and effective change on a macro-level, to truly heal and reconcile, until we start listening to Indigenous people when they are protesting and include them in our national day of celebration?

It is important to recognise that the deeply embedded systemic disadvantage faced by First Nations peoples remains prevalent not just on January 26th – but all year round. The 2016 Census demonstrates a desperate need for a shift in education outcomes, stating that ‘only 42% of Aboriginal people aged between 25 and 34 had had a tertiary qualification compared to 72% of non-Aboriginal people within the same age group.’ According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, ‘the potentially avoidable mortality rate for Indigenous Australians was over 3 times the rate for non-Indigenous Australians in 2018.’ According to the Guardian, ‘at least 474 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since the end of the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody in 1991.’

Changing the date is, in the grand goal of reconciliation, a small step. But it is an integral step down the right path for our government to make in order to signpost that we are listening, and by extension, that we care. The overwhelming majority of Indigenous communities have been calling for this date to be changed for years. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have gathered and declared January 26th to be a Day of Mourning since 1938, making it one of the first major civil rights protests the world had seen at the time, and one of the longest running protests today. For perspective, it should be noted here that January 26th has only been established as federal public holiday and celebrated as ‘Australia Day’ since 1994. Aboriginal civil rights activist and journalist, Uncle Jack Patten, said on the first Day of Mourning in 1938, ‘This land belonged to our forefathers 150 years ago, but today we are pushed further and further into the background.’ It has been over 80 years since that line was spoken and yet First Nations people still gather and protest to make their voices heard in 2022.

Now is the time for us as a nation to stop, sit on Country, learn about its history and heritage, and listen to what Aboriginal Elders and communities are saying. Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, Aboriginal Elder from Nauiyu (230km south of Darwin), activist, educator, and artist calls for us as a nation to practice the art of ‘dadirri’ which can be translated to, ‘inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness.’ She says this practice ‘is [a] gift that Australia is thirsting for’. I wonder, what would it look like for us as a nation to practice ‘dadirri’ and use January 26th as a day of quiet reflection? A time to reflect on our history, how we are treating the land, how we are treating others, how we are moving forward.

I do not consider BBQs, navy bucket hats or paddle pools to be a foundational picture of Australian culture to me, nor does it make up a large part of my identity as an Australian. My identity as an Australian means so much more to me now. It has been shaped by the wisdom of those who have looked after the land for thousands and thousands of years. It has been stretched by reflecting on my own experience of privilege and how I might covertly benefit from my ancestry. It has been spirited by witnessing the peace, courage, and strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This Australian identity is one that is founded, not on an image of a day on the beach, but in an evolving and fluid experience of learning about the rich and diverse culture of the First Australians. To be frank, I’m prepared to lose all the sausage-in-breads Australia has to offer until I see a nation that is ready to welcome everyone to the table, in heart and policy. How about you?

 

 

 

 

Further resources

To find out more about the Guardian’s ongoing investigation on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and see the faces of those who have been victimised in this way, click here.  

To read about how climate change is directly affecting the Torres Straight Islands, click here.

To learn more about the concept of why white Australians are encouraged to ‘pay the rent’, and to give to the Pay the Rent organisation, click here.

To bookmark other dates of significance for First Nations people in the 2022 calendar, click here.

To find out more information about this year’s NAIDOC week, click here.

 

Image by Jessica Norris taken on 26 January 2021.

claiming frontiers

 

by Milieah Brett

They said we had it all figured out. That it was our duty to take our message out there. To expand. Look outwards and forwards. But my dispatcher hasn’t contacted me for days, and no one even knows my name out here. How can I keep track of any message, how can I keep a hold of who I even am. I’m too far forward. I’m too far out.

The crash was 6 cycles ago now. Lt. Fifteen had transported us through the Lumin Sector of orange Lepidoptera lights and purple gas collectives. The second half of that sector is still uncharted, blackspace, but we’d pushed out further than that, past the C-boundary. He had pointed us down to the first Silver Class planet, just Twelve and I, after all the rest had been assigned to earlier celestial bodies, and we took the shuttle out as instructed, direct through orbit.

The Mothership was barely a dot in the sky when the engines malfunctioned and zapped our external vis. Gravity kicked out the landing gear and crushed the hull into surface debris — a solid landing if ever there was one. When we crawled out of the shuttle, it was clear the damage was enough to impede a journey through the outer atmosphere.

All the surface of the Silver Class was grey sediment, scattered with smooth circle formations formed by water movement from centuries ago. Twelve had to date it with a torchlight on his helmet and shaky hands on his line-laser, barely illuminated. A dark sun in the sky makes us feel unbalanced, untethered, despite any training.

‘It’s been too long,’ I’d said to him through comms, ‘There’s no life.’

Twelve’s sigh caused crackly feedback as he’d looked to the black horizon, our torches glinting perfect beams off the flat surface of the rocks.

‘We’ve been assigned to here,’ he’d replied. ‘There must be life.’

Three days we spent camping in the blackness, conserving our torches. We used them only to set up the sleeping dome on the first day, then to observe our equipment every morning. There was no sun cycle to adapt to.  A dark sun means no mornings and no nights, so we followed the Mothership time-loop on our suits, and used our sensors to navigate in our small radius. There was no sense in expanding exploration, not without a functioning exit off the planet.

I’d expected to see the fire-shine of another shuttle breaking through the atmosphere on the fourth day, after Mothership had registered the loss of the comm link, but there was nothing in the sky.

There was, however, something on the ground. It being so dark, the light in the distance was not hard to miss. It lit up the horizon as if the air was solid and concaved, amplifying its colour across the surface, turning smooth rocks to glowing stars. I pushed Twelve’s shoulder where he was sitting beside me, to alert him to look up from the data log he’d lent against the dome’s frame, and he did. I heard his breath halt over comms, the static crackling gone for a beat, my ears enveloped by the silence of the air around us. Then he was moving.

‘We need to establish a baseline,’ Twelve said to me, scrambling to pull out his responder.

‘Is it intelligent?’ I asked.

‘It’s the only thing seeking us out,’ he replied.

As it got closer, it got harder to see its form, our eyes straining to adjust. I polarised my filter, and when I held my gloved hand out in front of it, I could see its texture of imperfections. Pale green turning to white, turning to pale yellow, glowing around the outline of my fingers, eating up my shadow.

We weren’t scared then. This is what we do, and displaying peace in first contact is more important than our individual safety. Twelve set the emitter on the responder to the soft-humming four-time beat – communication A – and we waited for a response.

We couldn’t discern sounds from it. It became apparent that there weren’t any. The being seemed to roll along and float at the same time, no friction against the rocks despite touching them. The air was thick enough for sound to travel, and yet, aside from us there was only silence.

The light being stopped before us, and seemed to ooze outward, sinking across the rocks.

‘It must see us somehow,’ I murmured.

We cycled through the communication protocol carefully: the sounds, movements and visuals. All the while monitoring changes in air and energy spikes. Every reaction was the same, just a silent observer sitting before us. No movement or change.

The light was beginning to make my head ache.

‘It has to be light,’ I said. ‘Something about light. We could adjust our visuals, mix light, try to mimic their colour?’

‘That’s already been covered in communication Q to S.’

‘The Lepidoptera would’ve responded by now,’ I huffed.

In the following days, more of the Silver Class planet’s inhabitants approached, surrounding our camp. It made our torches obsolete, made reading our equipment easier, and gave us further opportunity to observe. However, we still hadn’t learned much about them. Twelve couldn’t find any differences in our readings from when we first landed to now, as if the beings weren’t there at all. I couldn’t discover how they were producing such luminosity, all the data defying analysis. Days were bleeding into each other, and nights were getting harder to sleep through as their numbers were increasing incrementally every few days, every cycle. The aggregate of their light grew brighter and reached further, but they never changed and never touched us, only watched us.

We made the decision halfway through the next cycle that we would push past their makeshift barrier. Mothership wasn’t looking for us, we needed resources, and we needed to be certain this was the intelligent life we were looking for. I couldn’t tell if it was the first being we had tried to make contact with, or another one that broke from the line that started following us. They all looked the same and they didn’t register in our readings.

When I walked between the beings, a phantom heat moved over me, mirroring the glow onto my suit, making the contrast of the dark horizon seem so cold and distant. I knew it was just my mind playing tricks on me, and I held my equipment more securely on my back.

The panic set in when we had walked two days and found nothing. We were forced to return empty-handed. The pale yellow light, still flittering over the rocks, guided us back.

On the third cycle, I’d had enough. Twelve could sense it in me, in the way I couldn’t answer his questions clearly and how I was fumbling the logs that day.

‘I’m going to touch them,’ I told him, and he’d baulked.

‘What?’

‘Think about it. They’re malleable, they sit by each other. How else do they communicate?’ The rationality was clear to me, the reason why they had been waiting around us so long, watching for something to happen. We had to make the move. ‘How else can we give our message?’

‘But…first contact protocol…’

He watched me as I walked out of the dome, directly to the line they still held. The light had gotten so bright I could barely see my hand as I lifted it to the being’s form, mound-like and blurry below me. I pushed, flat palmed, and met as much resistance as a sleeping pallet, its body curving about my hand.

The effect was immediate. Veins of deep green and blue spiralled out from the impression, and the being’s colour dimmed, fading from pale yellow to aqua to purple on the RGB spectrum. My heart dropped to my feet as I watched it dwindle before me, the surface of its form turning as glassy and dark as had been our reality for the first days on this planet. I pulled my hand back.

I saw Twelve run for me when I looked back, and I saw the row of light beings behind him expand in size, their width gushing out over the rock formations, their height reaching higher than the sleeping dome, higher than our shuttle. All their forms were joining, and we were flattened as they reached each other at the peak, closing out the darkness, blinding us in a whiteness as bright as a star.

That’s where I am now. Unknowing if my eyes are open or closed, unable to move. My suit AI has been tracking the days for me, and I’ve been writing my log through it, detailing as much as I can remember. I can’t hear Twelve, I believe our comms were muffled by whatever happened. I hope my suit will outlast me, and when the crew find me, they can access these logs still.

As for the message we were to pass on… I can’t remember it. Fifteen reminded us daily of the peace, of following the truth. But I don’t believe our truths apply to the beings here. So, then, what could be their truth?

 

Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

pride

This piece originally appeared in the Identity issue of SWINE Magazine

 

By Alex Edwards

I get asked every so often whether pride events are still important.

Do we still need to celebrate being queer?

When I hear these types of questions, I think about all the pride events I have attended and what they meant for me….the most recent being Midsumma Pride March, held on the 23rd of May, 2021.

The march was a great event which ended up having around 8000 marchers from about 240 groups and a couple of hundred spectators. As one of the marchers at the event, it was amazing to attend – especially after the wild year that was 2020. Being part of the march, you can feel the love and support that exists, and for a moment you forget about the rest of society and just focus on the fact that there are other people like you with similar experiences. When you live in a society that is run by rich cis white men, a society that doesn’t understand you or your experiences, being in an environment that makes you feel included and a part of society is a huge thing. Pride events are a celebration, but they still act as a form of protest against a society that doesn’t accept us.

This is what pride has always been about. Queer people fighting for equal rights and acceptance in a society that doesn’t understand us. That fight isn’t over but also, sadly, we have our own problems accepting others, which continue to persist in the queer community (as in the community more broadly), including racism, gate-keeping of queer identities, and ableism. These things work to further isolate queer people who don’t fit into the more widely understood boxes of queerness or who aren’t cis or white, and who don’t have disabilities. These are issues that the community needs to work on.

I love being part of the queer community, however at times I am ashamed by the behaviours of some of its members. Instead of letting this dishearten me though, I see it as on opportunity to become better informed and then pass on that knowledge – something I work towards in my role as the SSU Queer Representative. I try to pass on knowledge about our history to those who are new to the community or want to become better allies. I also work towards finding out how we can better assist those who are marginalised within the community.

All of us deserve to feel safe and accepted for all elements of our identity. While we continue to fight for acceptance and recognition from wider society, it’s also important for those of us who understand what it’s like to be excluded, to ensure that we don’t continue to perpetuate those feelings of erasure or exclusion in our own communities.

 

Alex Edwards is the current SSU Queer Rep.

Photo by Raphael Renter on Unsplash

father, child, brother

 

by Matt Richardson

At twenty-one, he was the father of a sixteen-year-old boy. His brother. Not for any conventional reason. His parents were very much alive and both boys still lived with them. In fact, not only was he his brother’s father, but he was his mother’s best friend and his father’s confidant. He wanted to be none of those things. He wanted to be a twenty-one-year-old man, father to no one and friend to those who weren’t twice his age.

But there were some things he was unable to change. His mother’s loneliness, his father’s emotionless demeanour, his brother’s hatred. And so, he appeased each one, because without him, the family would fall apart.

For his mother, he gossiped about people he didn’t know, watched shows he hated, laughed at jokes he didn’t find funny, and spoke in the particular tone she needed. All so she wouldn’t scream at him again.

For his father, he listened to the harsh insults about his mother, passed messages between them, and let him drink in solitude and silence even when others needed him. All so that his parents’ marriage wouldn’t fall apart.

For his brother, he did everything. He got him out of bed in the mornings, forced him to school and work, made sure he ate and showered and cleaned his room. He helped his brother with homework, soothed him when he cried, helped him find a therapist, scolded him when he did something wrong. All these things he did to stop his mother and father from doing them.

If they did them, if they suddenly decided they cared about the late arrivals and school absences, the tantrums and the insults, then his brother would no longer be alive.

There were rules to follow in the house. Speak a certain way, or his mother would guilt trip him, somehow believing that a slight tone could mean that no one wanted to speak with her. Put everything back in its particular spot, or his mother would yell that he was useless. Clean and clean and clean, or his father would scream until they were both exhausted.

So, he followed those rules, staying in the house only to look after his brother. If he left and didn’t take his brother, then he would never see him again. And that was the last thing he wanted.

There was a day, halfway through a long year, where his brother became his sibling, and ‘he’ became ‘they’. He was the only one to know, because he was the only one to understand. He too, had gone through a transition, but he had been accepted by their family. He knew from the start that his sibling would not be.

His mother came to him late most nights and demanded he tell her what he talked to his sibling about. She tried to make him believe that her knowledge of their secrets would make everything better. She was manipulative and, sometimes, he wasn’t able to stay silent.

When he came home from work one day to find his sibling in a screaming match with their parents, he knew exactly what had happened. In the face of his mother’s dismissal and his father’s disgusting rage, the boy—because that’s what he felt like at that moment—took his sibling’s hand and dragged them away.

They were poor, a man in his twenties and a child who was not quite an adult, and they would struggle, but they needed solace and safety. They needed to be free from the rules and the stress. He needed a place where he didn’t have to be anyone’s best friend or confidant unless he chose to be.

And as he walked down the hallway with his bag in hand and his sibling at his side, he ignored his mother’s probing questions about what they were doing, her tears and demands. He ignored his father’s jabs and insults, his disbelief that they would actually leave.

He ignored the urge to turn around and tell them everything, just to please them, just to make everything better, because that was so much easier than what he was about to do.

He did it anyway. Bag on his back, his sibling’s hand in his, he walked out the door. He turned his back on the screams that came from the driveway and searched for a place where his sibling—his child—could be safe. A place where he could be safe too.

 

About Matt Richardson:

Matt is a first year editing student. He writes short stories and novels about queer people being queer in every kind of universe imaginable. His work has previously appeared in anthologies for TL;DR Press. Any updates on his projects, including the novels he is working on, can be found at @MattRAuthor on twitter.

Photo by Hugues de BUYER-MIMEURE on Unsplash