Senate Committee Submission

Scott Morrison and the Abbott government want to pass a law giving them the power to incarcerate and torture asylum seekers without anyone being able to stop them in the courts. Make no mistake. This is not about “stopping the boats”. As Julian Burnside said, someone who gets shot at home or dies in a boat on the way here is just as dead. If they don’t get on those boats, they risk death or worse at home. They are not economic migrants, they are the most vulnerable people, in desperate need of our help and compassion.

The good news is that you can make a submission to the Senate Committee detailing your opposition to the bill. Make a stand. Go on record as being opposed to our monstrous and appalling treatment of refugees. Getup has made it really easy.  My submission is below, in case you need inspiration (only took me 5 minutes to pour my heart out onto the keyboard), but please put it in your own words, as it will be more powerful that way.

Make a submission today!

Here’s mine:

I oppose this bill most vehemently.

Australia has a responsibility, both moral and legal under the 1951 UNHCR refugee convention, to care for and protect asylum seekers, regardless of their mode of entry.

In the past, Governments have egregiously abused their powers and not only failed to protect refugees, but further harmed them, as indeed our government is doing now. The only way to prevent this is to have them answerable to the courts.

Detention without charge or recourse is fundamentally abhorrent to any person who believes in basic human rights, and any person with any compassion and decency, yet this is what this bill proposes to allow. Without oversight, without recourse, without a shred of human decency.

I volunteer at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Dandenong. I have met people who are so traumatized, who have been through so much, and who still have no hope of a normal life. I know one family who has been in detention for 24 years, first in Malaysia and now here. They have been released in to community detention where they cannot work. They are in a remote suburb with poor public transport, separated from other family members and with no community support, and they are told they will remain this way for at least 3 years, after which there is no knowing what their fate will be. This is absolutely unconscionable.

Australia has the capacity to support and help these refugees. To resettle them and welcome them in to our communities. Please reject this appalling bill as the travesty of justice that it clearly is.

Yours Sincerely,

Dr Linda McIver.

Better to try and fail?

I’ve been inspired by my students to renew my friendship with my lovely old piano. It’s probably around 100 years old with a beautiful tone and a wonderful feel to the keyboard. My playing doesn’t do it anywhere near justice, partly because I’ve never done enough practice to get really good, but also because I am woefully afraid of making a mistake.

This is a surprisingly crippling affliction. If you are so afraid of making a mistake that you can’t play a note, or you have to stop and fix the ones you stuff up, then you will always struggle to get through any piece complex enough to be worth playing. The gap between the music in my head and the sound flowing from my fingers is so wide that I get frustrated and give up, instead of barrelling through and enjoying the ride, focusing on what I can do, rather than what I can’t.

A psychologist told me years ago that perfectionists were often extreme procrastinators, largely because if they can’t do something perfectly, they would rather avoid doing it at all – and who has time to do everything perfectly these days? I was pretty sure my former teachers would have snorted their coffee at the suggestion that I was a perfectionist, so I found her comment rather startling.

Over time it began to make sense, though. I don’t dance, in spite of a deep and abiding love of music. I won’t play the piano in public. I berate myself for not being good enough, or organized enough, for not working harder, practicing more, or doing things better. I beat myself over the head with every class that doesn’t go as well as I’d hoped. This is classic perfectionist behaviour.

You have to learn to pace yourself
You’re just like everybody else
You’ve only had to run so far
So good
But you will come to a place
Where the only thing you feel
Are loaded guns in your face
And you’ll have to deal with

Pressure – Billy Joel

Yet last Tuesday I watched a student get up and perform in front of the whole school, singing and playing guitar for the first time in front of such a large audience. Once or twice he flubbed his lines, gave a grin, and kept going. The audience cheered him on, and applauded rapturously when he was done – and for good reason. His performance wasn’t perfect, but it was great. The audience loved it. The song was gorgeous, and his rendition heartfelt and beautifully evocative. I hope he is very proud of it.

He was brave to try something he hadn’t done before, and certainly courageous to make a mistake and not let it derail him. Really, that’s what life is all about, isn’t it? The ability to trip and get back up? The courage to try something new and not be daunted when it doesn’t quite work out the way you expected?

It’s not like I don’t try new things – throwing in an academic career in my late 30s and taking the leap into teaching was a chasm-crossing move that still takes my breath away, four years later – but sometimes the internal pressure to do something perfectly or not at all seems impossible to shake. I want things to be exactly the way I picture them in my head, and if I can’t do it RIGHT NOW I have to wrestle down an extreme urge to take my bat and ball and stalk off home.

Watching my students throw themselves into new endeavours on a daily basis – not necessarily worried about whether they sink or swim, but determined to wrest everything they can from the experience – is slowly teaching me that fear is one of the only things standing between me and the person I really want to be.

Where’s your village?

“Year 12 farewell assembly. The tradition is they walk up the middle stairs while staff form a kind of honour guard. One student was hanging back and I wasn’t sure why. Then his friend arrived who has a knee injury and can’t handle stairs. He was waiting for her, and he piggy backed her all the way up. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my school!”

On average my facebook posts probably gather 5 likes each. Even the cute pictures of sugar gliders get maybe 10 or so likes. But this post, by the end of a single day, had 44 likes. This story resonates. People go “awww! That’s beautiful!” There is something about people looking out for each other, going a little further to help each other out, and quietly being there for each other, that speaks directly to our hearts.

Do you know why? I think it’s because we know it’s missing from our lives most of the time. In general we live incredibly isolated lives. It’s not that we don’t have friends – most of us do. But we don’t see them every day. We don’t necessarily notice if we don’t speak to them for a few weeks running.  Huge upheavals can happen in their lives without us ever knowing, even though we love them very much.

I don’t believe we do any less, care any less, or love any less. We have friends, we have work, we have busy, busy lives. But what we really don’t have, most of us, is community. Many of my closest friends live 10, 20, or even thousands of kilometers away. We are pretty good at keeping in touch. We call. We email. We facebook. But we don’t live next door. We don’t always notice the pauses in the conversation that might mean something has gone badly wrong, because we are all so busy that pauses happen all the time. Packed into those pauses might be the death of a parent, an episode of depression, even an ambulance trip to the emergency room, and we might never even know.

If you ever find yourself stuck in the middle of the sea
I’ll sail the world to find you
If you ever find yourself lost in the dark and you can’t see
I’ll be the light to guide you

Find out what we’re made of
When we are called to help our friends in need
You can count on me like 1, 2, 3
I’ll be there
And I know when I need it
I can count on you like 4, 3, 2
You’ll be there
‘Cause that’s what friends are supposed to do, oh yeah

Count on me – Bruno Mars.

We don’t know our neighbours beyond a cordial chat when we happen to be getting into our cars at the same time. We certainly don’t drop by to borrow the proverbial cup of sugar. We don’t walk to school and get to know all the families on the way. We don’t shop at the local shops and know the shopkeepers’ children. We live in huge cities and commute from one side to the other for work. We shop at massive shopping centers surrounded by strangers.

George Monbiot argues that this is killing us. In our busy striving for individualism and wealth, we are losing contact with the very things that bring us the deepest satisfaction and contentment. I’m really lucky, I find many of these things at my school, with both staff and students. There is a sense of community there, beautifully exemplified by the piggy back, that fills a vast hole in my life. I can’t imagine leaving, and it breaks my heart a little each time we say goodbye to the next crop of year 12s.

But not everyone can work or study at my school. Not everyone will find their community in their workplace. And whoever we are, however introverted, however independent, we need community. We need that sense of people looking out for us, and that meaning and fulfillment that comes from looking out for others.

I think what we’ve failed to recognise is that friends are not the same as community. Community is, of necessity, a local thing. If you start to feel depressed and can’t bring yourself to call anyone, people who see you every day might notice and have the chance to help. But if your friends are all remote, they’re not likely to notice until the time between phone calls becomes obvious, which could be weeks, or even months. If you break your leg, have a sick child, or a sick parent, and you don’t call for help, community has the chance to notice because of the change in your routine.

The problem is that our cities are built in ways that actively discourage community. Our houses are getting bigger and our fences higher. Our local shopping strips are dying, to be replaced by huge, impersonal shopping centers miles away that we have to drive to. Our public transport, which at least allows us to walk through our neighbourhood on the way to and from our very remote jobs, is slow, erratic, and expensive. Everything about our town planning encourages us out of our neighbourhoods, into our cars, and away from any potential community we might otherwise build.

And the trouble is I think it takes a community to fix it.

What I’ve learnt from my students

Monday night was our valedictory dinner – a chance to say farewell and “keep in touch or else” to our amazing year 12 students. There were speeches, and dancing, and crazy selfies, but most of all, for me, it was a chance to reflect on the incredible impact these people have had on my life (and to promise not to cry – a promise I expect to break on their last day).

My job is to teach, and to do that I need to learn so much. Fortunately I have had the most amazing teachers.

They have taught me that first, second, and even third impressions can still leave you with no idea of what lies beneath. Sometimes all you have to do is provide the opportunities and stand well clear. When you give someone the chance to fly, rather than clipping their wings, that’s when you find out who they really are. Sometimes, without meaning to, teachers wind up nailing their students to the perch. Remove the nails, open the cage door, and the most unexpected students are capable of spectacular flight.

I have learned that teenagers get really bad press, but they are intensely generous and selfless. They care enormously about the world around them, and they change it for the better every single day.

I have learned that a sense of humour is far more important in a classroom than a carefully prepared powerpoint presentation. I have also learned that chocolate trumps both.

I have learned that while we are watching, caring for, and helping our students, our students are watching, caring for, and helping us.

I have learned about mindfulness and self control.

I have learned about leadership and teamwork.

I have learned that one of the most important things you can do for your students is connect with them and learn who they really are (and give them chocolate).

I have learned that one of the most important things you can do for yourself is connect with your students and show them who you really are (but they don’t give me chocolate very often).

I have learned that the spaces outside the classroom can often be the places where magic happens. The shared TED talks. The photos. The desperate waiting for the new series of Dr Who. The heart-stopping moments of shared panic (you know who you are). Those precious moments of human connection.

I have learned that my students have far more to contribute to my classes than I ever will. I have learned to follow where they lead, and be amazed by their insight.

I have learned that my worst and toughest days can be turned around by a conversation, a bottle-neck dolphin, a funny exam answer, or even a carrot. I’ve learned a lot about carrots.

I’ve learned that every group of students I teach changes my life.

Above all I’ve learned that my students may only be on my roll for a year, but they are in my heart forever. They will go forth and change the world, and I am, and will always be, proud to say “They are my students. They taught me so much.”

Behind closed doors

Astute readers may have noticed my posts have been more negative than usual lately. It’s not purely because Australian politics is so depressing that I would rather stab myself repeatedly in the eye with a fork than read the news. It’s not solely because the Australian media would rather write about Kim Kardashian than Elizabeth Blackburn. It’s not only because climate change is the most urgent and terrifying threat the world has ever faced, and we are largely ignoring it in the face of our desire to own newer phones, bigger tvs, and spa baths.

I am just too tired to be positive right now. Imagine dragging yourself through the day having had no sleep the night before. Now imagine feeling that way every single day when you’re getting a solid 10 hours sleep a night.

That’s where I am right now. In July I had a virus. It didn’t seem particularly severe at the time, but it left me with a mild heart condition and constant, dragging exhaustion. The heart condition is not life-threatening, and should resolve in time, and really there are many, many people with a lot more to fuss about than I have. But I am struggling.

Had I injured my foot, I’d have posted about it by now. Had I broken my arm, I’d have been telling people left right and center. But I have persisted in an uneasy silence that feels counterfeit. Saying “Fine, thanks” and turning the conversation to others when people ask me how I am. I’m not entirely sure why. I guess I hoped I would get better much faster than I had. I didn’t want to cause a fuss by saying “I have a heart condition.” And in my early 20s I was chronically unwell for several years, and I didn’t want to think I was going back there.

But I have to say no to lots of things. I have to sit still, to save my strength, to keep my precious, tiny energy reserves for just getting through each day intact. And I am starting to feel that by constantly saying “I’m fine” when I’m really not, I am distancing myself from the world around me, and particularly from my friends. I’m not very comfortable with deceit. I’m more a “shout it from the rooftops” kind of girl (surprise!).

It’s been worse since we got back from holidays, as I have come back relaxed and tanned, so everyone is saying “oh, you look so well!”

I haven’t had the heart to break it to them that sun-tan and energy levels are not correlated.

So here I am, dragging myself from one day to the next. I’m back to riding to work, so I must have more energy than I had last term. I’m hoping that riding regularly and eating better will help me climb back up to something approximating normal (at least for energy levels – can’t make any promises on behaviour). And I’m saying “No, sorry, I really can’t right now” to more and more things, and trying not to feel guilty about them. I’m trying to accept that my usual mission to be all things to all people is on hold for the moment.

But perhaps it’s worth considering my story next time you are grumpy with someone for not being there for you. For always turning down your invitations, or for not looking like they’re enjoying the dinner they finally did show up for. Maybe they just can’t. You never really know what’s going on in someone else’s life.


Snap goes my heart

I got home tonight to messages on my answering machine. Sad, tearful messages. She had left the hose on. She thought it might have been on for days. She hoped it wouldn’t cost too much. She was so sorry for causing trouble. She really didn’t know how it had happened. She never meant to cause any trouble. She would pay for it, it was all her fault. She never meant for it to happen. She was utterly distraught. We listened to the message, open mouthed at the confused and distressed child in her 70s, for whom the world was just too much. Whose tsunami of confusion and horror was breaking over her head every moment of the day. It shattered my heart into a thousand pieces.

The next message was calmer, matter of factly saying that the hose had been left on, she was very sorry, and there might be a large bill, because she thought it had been on for a few days.

By the time I called her back, only a couple of hours after the messages, the whole thing was forgotten, but she was lonely and tearful. We had the same conversation we have every time, where she told me I work too hard, and I need to cut down. Where she told me she wanted to see me but didn’t want to be a nuisance. Where she said she wanted to go to the beach, because she hadn’t been for ages, although she was there only a week or so ago. Where she asked when she would see me, and when I told her Monday, said it had been ages since she had seen me – when could we get together?

When I suggest she see a doctor, her fear and confusion turn to intense aggression. She is so afraid of doctors, of finding out that there is something wrong with her, that it turns her confusion into anger that can cause volcanic scale eruptions for days, so I don’t suggest that anymore.

Her fear and sadness clutch at my heart and make me breathless and tearful. I hold her and tell her it will be ok, but I know it won’t. I know that there will be ups and downs, but that the inexorable downward slide is gathering speed, dragging us all down into a morass of grief and trauma, with no way out, no escape for any of us in any direction I can see.

I want to tell my kids that it will be fine, but I can’t explain away the evil claws that clutch my heart when the phone rings. I protect her as best I can, but I have to protect myself and my family too. I distance myself to stay sane and functional, and I try to pretend that my foundations are not being eaten away by the corrosive demon that is dementia.

I forget things and ice stabs into my brain, whispering “it’s inherited, you know.” At 43 I know that changes may already be visible in my brain, and I don’t look for fear of what I might find. The research suggests staying mentally active is the best defence, so I push myself to the limit every day, desperate to build a seawall between myself and the imaginary rising tide that threatens to sweep my family away.

I want to protect her. I want to escape her. I want to help her. And I am as helpless as that confused and ageing child.

How could you, Mr Abbott?

I spent the holidays with my family having the most wonderful holiday I can remember. We went to Heron Island, where not only were our myriad food issues just brilliantly catered for, we made breathtakingly wonderful new friends, and relaxed properly for the first time in years.

The reason we were so relaxed, apart from bonding with fabulous people, was the Great Barrier Reef. We snorkeled for hours every day, and without fail we saw new and wondrous things every time. We didn’t have to leave the island, we just stepped off the beach, put our masks in the water and were overcome with the incredible biodiversity all around us.

We swam with turtles, who were magnificently unconcerned with our presence.

green turtle

We discovered sea beds carpeted with cow tail rays, shovel headed rays, and white spotted eagle rays, so camouflaged against the sand that we often didn’t notice until we swam right over the top of them.

sting rays

We saw fish and coral of astounding colours and variation, and learnt bizarre and wondrous things about the lives and behaviour of a myriad of weird creatures – like the sea cucumber who can squirt out its internal organs at you when it feels threatened (I do feel that “Stop, or I’ll throw my kidneys at you!” doesn’t sound like the most frightening of threats), the sea star who can casually drop off one of its legs and feast on it if it feels like a snack, or the beautiful reef sharks who are harmless to humans, despite their clear and slightly creepy resemblance to their larger brethren.

While walking among the coral at low tide we had an Epaulette shark swim right up to us and pose, helpfully, for photos.

Epaulette SharkAnd we saw brilliantly coloured sea stars just hanging out on the rocks. Sometimes literally, as they eject their stomachs in order to digest large food.

Blue Linkia Sea StarI could rave on for pages and pages about the astonishing and wonderful things that we saw, but overlaying the trip was an overwhelming, desperate sadness. This richly biodiverse environment is under catastrophic threat, and our politicians seem to be actively hastening its demise.

They do things like ignore the overwhelmingly strong evidence that human driven climate change will spell the end of this kind of environment in an alarmingly short time, doing away with an effective carbon tax and subsidizing coal and fossil fuels to an absurdly uneconomic degree. They approve coal ports in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. They decide that this stunning environment and all its creatures would be the perfect place to dump dredging spoil.

They are trashing our environment, our world, and our future, for reasons I cannot possibly begin to fathom. They may not be  playing dice with the universe, but they are playing God in an all too tangible and destructive fashion, and we don’t have long to stop them before this exceptional place is gone for good. And that will be just the start of our woes.

Fish and coral at Heron Reef

What right do we have to wantonly and irrevocably destroy this most remarkable place for a fistful of dollars? And how do we stop it??