White Privilege?

This book was published in the UK in 2017. Its written by a London-based journalist about race relations in her country. It won quite a few awards for non-fiction work. The title is provocative and draws the reader in to explore eradicated black history, the link between class and race and what exactly “white privilege” is and why white people are often oblivious to it, or worse, become defensive or angry when it’s pointed out.

Reni Eddo-Lodge, the writer, asks how can it be defined and responds with, “It’s so difficult to describe an absence. And white privilege is an absence of the negative consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost, an absence of ‘less likely to succeed because of my race’. It is an absence of funny looks directed at you because you’re believed to be in the wrong place, an absence of cultural expectations, an absence of violence enacted against your ancestors because of the colour of their skin, an absence of a lifetime of subtle marginalisation and ‘othering’-exclusion from the narrative of being human”.

Although British, the book describes attitudes and structures in the dominant white culture that exist in all Euro-centric countries. Its valuable reading to make us stop and pause and ponder our privilege and what it means and what each of us can do about it.

The writer sums the book up by saying, ” I know that, at first, talking about race is uncomfortable, because too many white people are angry in denial. And I understand that after white people begin to get it, it’s even more uncomfortable for them to think about how their whiteness has silently aided them in life. A lifetime learning to empathise with white peoples stories means that I get it. But I dont want white guilt. Neither do I want to see white people wasting precious time profusely apologising rather than actively doing things. No useful movements for change have ever sprung out of fervent guilt…We cannot escape the legacies of the past, but we can use them to model our future. The late Terry Pratchett once wrote ‘there’s no justice. Just us.’ I can’t think of any other phrase that best sums up the task ahead.”

I recommend the book to any reader interested in racism, how it feels, it’s history in the UK (and hence its roots can be found for the countries that England colonised?), what it looks like and without providing what she describes as a “magic formula”, what can be done toward dismantling it.

Well worth a read!

Safety

As you know, unless you’re visiting my blog for the first time, I’m a nurse in a remote corner of north-east Arnhem Land. I work in an Indigenous community and live at the edge of another, half an hour away. Recently some young kids broke into the nurses house next door. They took a small blue-tooth speaker and some food. The Aboriginal Medical Service I work for quickly responded by installing security screens on the windows and doors on both our houses. Nurses safety is a priority.

When I started working in remote Australia the Cape York community of Aurukun was my first job and home for two years. It was often in the Queensland media for riots or some other violent infringement. Family and friends used to ask me if I felt safe working there. I always replied that I would feel safer walking down the main street of Aurukun in the middle of the night than my home town of Maryborough because the locals fought among themselves, long standing family feuds that had nothing to do with me.

Safety can be an illusion though. Last Monday morning I woke to a Facebook message from a friend, only it wasn’t really her. Her account had been hacked. The message was about her winning a lottery and my name being on the list. “She” directed me to accept a friend request from a “Ruth Edward” who was the Facebook manager of “360 National Lottery”. But I had to pay an administration fee to collect my winnings. An old scam dressed up in a new guise and yes I fell for it. I was so certain that the first message was from my friend I didn’t even think to pick up the phone to call her and check. I lost $15,000, my savings for a new car. I hadn’t heard of this scam and the only place on the internet I found anything about it was WA ScamNet, a government consumer affairs site that has since been very helpful.

Safety is multi-faceted. Physical safety that needs to be guarded by screens, fences and commonsense. Emotional and mental health safety which needs protective behaviours from high conflict or manipulative people. And Cyber-safety from fraud and identity theft with the resultant violation left with victims of this crime. Is safety from Cyber-crime a priority of the Australian government? In Western Australia alone 18 cases of this Facebook scam have been reported since April this year and over a $100,000 lost to it. The 360 National Lottery website is still on the internet.

So while remote area nurses continue to appeal to state governments and health agencies for safer housing and work safe policies, domestic violence organisations promote having a safety plan and therapists and writers suggest learning behaviours to protect ourselves from high-conflict people close to us. I suggest that Cyber-safety also become a priority  by learning all we can about it and spreading the word.

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Difficult People

I’ve just finished reading this book by Bill Eddy, president of the High Conflict Institute. He is a family law specialist and a clinical social worker. He’s seen his fair share of difficult people. But you don’t have to be a specialist to have encountered people at work, socially or in our private lives who disrupt things and cause us problems.

Before I took up my first position as a nurse in a remote area clinic I attended a workshop in Brisbane called, “Dealing with Difficult people in the Workplace.” I met the manager of the clinic I was soon to fly to there. In what I later understood , she said in her straightforward and abbreviated style, “I’m here because I’ve got a difficult person in the clinic. She’ll be in charge when you arrive, just avoid her!” There’s a vast number of books advising how to leave, avoid or manage high-conflict people in our lives. If it were as simple as “just avoiding them” we’d all have peaceful lives.

Bill Eddy notes that, “…you can’t identify an HCP (high conflict personality) by their profession or by how much other people trust them. In fact, highly admired leaders and members of the helping professions (teachers, physicians, therapists, nurses etc), may be slightly more likely to have personality disorders than people in other lines of work, because of an attraction to the intimate relationships and authority positions in these professions.” Interesting thought. I’ve certainly come across disruptive people working in hospitals and clinics among vulnerable patients and kind-hearted staff.

I recommend this book for at least becoming more aware of, spotting warning signs and managing relationships and stressful interactions with difficult people, wherever we might find them. And for recognising when we ourselves might be that person.

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Aurukun Visitors to Yirrkala

Its been a year since I’ve written anything here. I have no good explanation for that except maybe I thought my attention would be so taken up with trying to publish my book that I wouldn’t have time for my blog. As it happens I’ve had time for neither. I’m still working at the health clinic in Yirrkala which takes most of my energy.

I had a surprise this week, when an old friend from Aurukun showed up in the clinic. Vera, along with six other women, were visiting Yirrkala this week to learn about Bilingual schools. I got to spend an hour or so with them at a bush medicine demonstration and had a quick chat. Now, after reading up on both Yirrkala and Aurukun schools I wish I’d spent more time talking with them. Education in both these schools is a vast and interesting topic.

Yirrkala is in the East Arnhem land region of the Northern Territory, Aurukun is on the Western coast of Cape York Peninsula in Queensland. I’ve spent almost equal time in both as a remote area nurse. I’ve learnt a lot about Indigenous health problems, learnt some things about local cultures and been privileged to be part of some people’s daily lives. But my understanding of both communities is very limited, my knowledge of the Yolgnu and Wik languages scant and my comprehension of the problems the local people deal with exists mostly in my own imagination and thoughts. I already knew this at some level, but after reading about Bilingual schools and looking at the websites and facebook pages of both schools, I’ve realised yet again how very little I know about both communities.

Dr Marika, from Yirrkala, in the 1998 Wentworth Lecture is quoted as saying, “The Methodist missionaries came to Yirrkala in 1935…they banned the use of our languages in the mission school.” Over 40 years ago Yirrkala adopted a bilingual program that used Yolgnu culture to teach children to become literate in their own language while learning English and Western culture. Yirrkala is one of nine bilingual schools left in the Northern Territory, once there were 30. Lack of resources is the reason given for the reduction. There is extensive research available to read about the benefits of bilingual education. In the 2007 Little Children Are Sacred report, on page 147 it says, ” Schools teaching and instructing in English alone…develop a failure syndrome for many children as they return home at the end of the day often unable to remember what was taught that day-which causes them to become depressed”. Which can lead to non-attendance and the social and personal problems that result. Banbapuy Whitehead, a Yolgnu teacher at the Yirrkala school, says in an article for The Conversation, an on-line newsletter, “If I know what my language is, I know who I am, then I can see the others clearly…without language I cannot tell you a story, I can’t think. I can’t cry.”

Aurukun State School was opened in 1974. Vera told me the government wouldn’t allow the Wik language to be taught or used for instruction. Obviously the problems faced in Indigenous communities are much more complex than whether language is used in schools or not. But it is undeniably important for the maintenance of culture. I’ve seen first hand the loss of culture in Aurukun and the strength of culture in Yirrkala. Almost 10 years ago a system of teaching called Direct Instruction, a patriotic US privately owned system, was introduced into Aurukun schools. “It was developed for English speaking children with cognitive dysfunctions that inhibit their capacity to process language. The children in Aurukun do not have learning disabilities, they are simply learning English as an additional language. They speak Wik as their first language. Many also speak additional dialects in their daily lives…D.I. is, quite simply, the wrong intervention for the children of Aurukun.” (Dr Misty Adoniou 8/7/16 The Conversation). The Aurukun State School was closed twice in 2014 due to violence against teachers and the recommendation has been to reduce the use of D.I, in the school.

I can only assume, from my friends visit to Yirrkala, that the Aurukun community is now looking towards it’s own solutions based on the recognition of the importance of the their Wik language. This can only be applauded. Its to be hoped that the Federal and State governments can see the long-term value of continuing or instituting Bilingual education in it’s schools.

I’m so glad to have met old friends this week and to see their engagement and interest, strength and involvement in their community. So much depends on the continuing work of strong women.

 

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Memoirs

The nest of the Bower bird is an intricate weaving of grasses. I was shown this one recently by a nursing colleague who is also a passionate birder. It’s just on the outskirts of town, a miracle of nature. Looking at it and becoming aware of its’ builder in a nearby tree warning us to clear off made me suddenly aware that whole worlds of life must go on around us all the time and aren’t dependant on humans at all. How does a small bird manage to weave a nest this size as well as collecting his stones and coloured paraphernalia of choice?

I can’t weave a nest like this but finally my Remote Area Nurse memoir has been submitted to a publisher. It has been four years of writing and editing memories, travels and thoughts. Highlights and dark strands of story woven together while living my day to day life; existing not unlike the parallel world of nature that lives alongside us. There may be many more submissions to other publishers yet, or I may decide to self-publish but the creating of it is done.

For anybody writing or wanting to write memoirs or fiction I can recommend a few book companions:

“Still Writing-The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life” by Dani Shapiro. This book got me through the final edit.

“How the Light Gets In-writing as spiritual practice.” by Pat Schneider. The perfect inspiration to put words on a page.

“How Writing Works-A field Guide to Effective Writing” by Roslyn Petelin. The nuts and bolts of grammar which I suspect I will always be learning.

“Writing Without Teachers” by Peter Elbow. Again very inspiring for simply putting words on a blank page and being OK with it.

I will keep you posted on here about publication. Thanks for reading my occasional blog during the writing journey!

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Give up your endless searching

Lay down your map and compass,

and those dog-eared travel guides.

Rest your weary eyes from so much looking,

your tired feet from so much looking,

your aching heart from so much hoping.

Lay down on the soft green grass

wet with morning dew, and watch as

the tree heavy with pendulous pears

bends her long branches toward you,

offering you perfection in every sweet bite.

Give up the weight of knowing,

for the reverence of quiet attention

and curiosity, for the delight of

juice that runs in generous streams

down your chin.

Christine Valters Paintner

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Storytelling

Last May I went to as many events as I could at the Northern Territory Writers Festival in Darwin. The highlight for me was a panel of speakers discussing memoir writing and how family might react to the stories shared. All four women had published a recent memoir.The questions asked ranged from, “Do writers edit out parts to protect feelings?” to, “How much time has to pass before dirty laundry can be safely aired and can it ever be aired?”.The consensus was that you have to tell your own story and navigate the “hard stuff” about who it’s going to affect, the wisest, kindest way you can. There was no easy answer to any question raised. Each writer recognised the problem and each had worked out for themselves how to tell their own story with minimal negative impact on family.

Magda Szubanski reminded us that Aboriginal people are very conscious of not telling a story that doesn’t belong to them.She struggled with writing her fathers story, balancing her words carefully so as not to disrespect the Polish Jewish and Catholic communities the family had been a part of. She taught herself to write by finding her own voice and thus making the telling her own, if not the story itself.The memoir took her eight years to complete.

Each person has a unique story, unlike any other. And to be able to tell it freely enables a person to make sense of their life’s experiences. To clarify their emotions, to heal from losses, to inspire and encourage and to preserve cultural identity and so much more. Storytelling is fundamental to human experience. As listeners or readers we are entertained, we learn, we experience vicariously and we are enlarged by the contact with another person’s world. But, for all the benefits it’s still a balancing act to be honest in our telling and to share our story, without taking away from those closest to us what is rightfully theirs. Their story, their perception, their life. And isn’t that the same compromise we face day after day, whether writing a memoir or living our lives.

 

Belongingness

I don’t think “belongingness” is a real word. But I found an essay with this title on the internet and like the idea of being in a state of belonging. I like the way the word makes me feel, it’s inclusive. I’ve recently begun again to edit my book about my experiences as a remote area nurse. I began it over three years ago and began my blog at the same time, to accompany it visually. I thought I’d have the project finished in a few months but creative efforts have their own timeline and with this one there’s been gaps of months with no writing.

What a writer sets out to write and what a reader perceives are not always the same thing. I asked a good friend who I respect as a reader to read the first draft of my book and he said “oh it’s really a love story isn’t it?” I met my husband during the time I’m writing about and he features in the book but I hadn’t meant it to be any sort of love story. That comment of my friends confused my sense of direction for awhile, probably necessarily so. After a break in writing of many months and after only editing two or three chapters the word “belonging” came to me. And with it a flood of questioning thoughts all around what it means to belong.

In particular I was thinking of what it means for a non-Indigenous person to live and work in an Indigenous community. But the topic is much broader than that. Monty Pryor, an Indigenous Australian writer, in his book “Maybe Tomorrow” tells this account at a school:

White kid: Can you make me an Aborigine?

Pryor: I can’t make you an Aborigine. But I think deep inside you’re asking questions and you’re listening and you’re learning. It’s sort of making you into an Aboriginal person in your heart. Because that’s what everybody has to do, is to be open. Then the learning will come.”

To know what it is to belong we need to listen to ourselves, deeply, and to what’s going on around us, closely, and learn what it is that makes us glad to be alive. The ancient poet Rumi said to follow what we love and it will never lead us astray. I think it will also lead us to the serene state of “belongingness”.p1030137

 

Poverty and Opinions

I’ve been interested in health and wellness for as long as I can remember. My kids weren’t allowed lollies, I made them homemade fruit and nut thingies, my husband wasn’t allowed the skin on his chicken, those were that days of low fat and preferably the Pritikin diet. I studied both popular and natural health books and recipes long before the days of internet and so had a vast paper collection of many opinions, hints and guidelines. And, mostly, for the past 30-40 years I and my kids, and now my grand-kids have been fit and well. But, in the last year my body has taken it’s vengeance on all these ideas and gone off on it’s own path. I’ve been diagnosed with pericarditis, MS and melanoma all in a year. Now, with the aid of Google and books I’ve studied even harder and I’ve found that more ideas and opinions abound than I ever imagined! I am also a Chronic Disease nurse so it behoves me to know a thing or two.

I’ve learnt that the idea doing the current rounds (and it does have it’s basis in history as well) is the benefits of a low (very low) carbohydrate diet with healthy fats (the subject of what constitutes a healthy fat is a whole other sub-strata of opinions). The theory goes like this, carbohydrates, especially simple carbs, are broken down into sugars by the digestive system, insulin is released and turns a lot of that sugar into fat which is stored in the body’s fat cells. That’s the simple version, there are many books on the subject which give careful explanations of the process. What I’ve read so far, plus a phone consult (I’m still living and working in a remote part of Australia) with a dietitian in Tasmania and a naturopath in Queensland, makes sense to me and I’ve been eating like this for a month and have lost 5cms off my waist! Wonderful and I hope it continues.

But I also want to mention something in the book I’ve just finished reading (pictured), it explains the same theory of carbs=sugar=insulin=fat, but makes the observations that poor people the world over, according to his research, eat high carbohydrate diets because they’re cheap, easy and readily available. Foods made with white flour such as breads, pancakes, damper, scones, pasta etc. He then gives examples from American Indian tribes since the early 1900’s of overweight mothers and undernourished babies and children and bases the cause on high carb diets they’ve eaten since colonisation. I’ve seen this phenomena in many of Australia’s Indigenous, and people, in other low socio-economic situations,and  have wondered at the reasons for it.

He writes, “The coexistence of thin, stunted children, exhibiting the typical signs of chronic under-nutrition, with mothers who are themselves overweight…poses a challenge to our beliefs-our paradigm.If we believe that these mothers were overweight because they ate too much, and we know the children are thin and stunted because they’re not getting enough food, then we’re assuming that the mothers were consuming superfluous  calories that they could have given to their children to allow them to thrive. In other words, the mothers are willing to starve their children so they themselves can overeat. This goes against everything we know about maternal behaviour”.

Interesting theory and if it’s true, which it well might be, even though it turns accepted food theories, triangles and advice on their heads. Health professionals and most of us are going to have to think long and hard about our opinions and prejudices and the enormous inequities in our societies, not to mention whats best for our own, and our families health.

One last thing this writer incidentally mentions about the Sioux, one of the tribes studied, in South Dakota, is as follows…’These Sioux lived in shacks “unfit for occupancy, often 4-8 family members per room…15 families, with 32 children among them, lived chiefly on bread and coffee’. This was poverty almost beyond our imagination today.” The writer might be shocked to know that many of Australia’s Indigenous people still live in similar overcrowded accommodation and lived mainly on tea and damper.

An excellent resource is the film “That Sugar Film” and it’s accompanying book “That Sugar Book” by Australian actor, Damon Gameau, who gives carefully and humorously explained, health advice and an interesting story about his own 60 day experiment with “healthy” foods. And, who also continues to do positive work in Indigenous Australia.

 

 

Fragments

Do you enjoy fragments? I do. A glimpse of a strangers face, a remembered line of an old song, a whispered conversation on a bus, a delicious aroma teasing from someone else’s house, the middle of a movie you haven’t got time to watch till the end, a dream that vanishes on waking, a phrase you just have to copy down…

They arouse my curiosity and imagination more than any completed experience.

Australian writer Elizabeth Jolley, wrote fragments  on scraps of paper for years before she was first published in her fifties. She was too busy raising a family and working at an assortment of jobs to have enough time to write at length and at leisure. I was one of her many correspondents whom she  encouraged to write short notes about the weather, landscape, overheard conversations, because I too had a full life with little time. She was quoted in 1986 as saying: “If anybody had asked to see a work in progress it would have been lots of bits of paper with scribbles on.”

A fragment is defined as “an isolated or incomplete part”. But, although incomplete, it is at the same time complete in itself because it contains the potential of what it may become…a story, poem, song, healing memory, nourishing meal, something understood, a puzzle solved.

Fragments allow mystery into our lives and curiosity leads us on….