Sharing a moment from the lives of real women. A moment used to uncover their personal values and beliefs.
It’s about encouraging a respect for women, and a solidarity among women; the dignity and validation that comes from having an audience, albeit invisible, bearing witness to the story you tell; creating a moment of shared understanding of emotion between very different kinds of people. It’s Michel Foucault’s truth effect. That's why CSP talks to Aboriginal women, Muslim women, environmental activists, neuroqueer and queer mothers, women married to each other, old women, young girls. Any woman you see, any person you see, has a story, if you can be quiet long enough to listen.
May 29, 2018
Rebecca Langley is an Australian woman who has become involved as an ally in the movement for freedom in West Papua.
Recently, she has been a supporter in the Let's Talk About West Papua campaign that has been launched in Australia, which aims to address the ways in which Australia supports Indonesian
occupation of West Papua, including funding, arming and training the security forces.
She talks here about how she became involved in this community, inspired by the music of Blue King Brown, the activism of Izzy Brown, the 43 West Papuans who came to Australia by outrigger canoe,
and the Freedom Flotilla.
It's problematic that we are two white Australians taking up space to talk about the oppression facing Indigenous people. Rebecca and I are both uncomfortable about that.
There were particular reasons at the time why it wasn't possible to talk to a West Papuan (including time restraints), and I decided I would rather talk to somebody, given the timing of the campaign addressing human rights violations, even if I couldn't talk to a West Papuan woman.
"Hope is a spacious place. It's so full of possibility."
Chantale has a way with words that is a little hypnotic. And she has a way with ideas. Hope, for her, is a red balloon that expands your chest so you can breathe a little more easily.
Much like her balloon, or more accurately, because of her balloon, this is a conversation that expands - into mental health, the vagaries of babies that interrupt interviews, what keeps us awake at night, climate change, what a better future means, Brene Brown's vulnerability hangovers, messiness - and into a conversation about conversation, stories and words. About the things that make us human.
And here is the poem that she shares with us - it's worth lingering over:
357/365 // the balloon // #365daysofpoetry
Love, mistaking my heart
for a balloon,
took a deep breath
and blew and now it sits
uncomfortably tight in my chest,
swollen against ribs
that creak under the strain
until my toes barely
touch the ground
I am adrift
in newly awoken hope
Dei Phillips is a Bundjalung woman.
Fierce and compassionate, she is relentless as an activist and advocate for Aboriginal people in Australia. In trying to arrange this interview, we kept having to postpone. Dei is always busy,
whether it be marching on Invasion/Survival Day or seeking legal representation for young Aboriginal first offenders.
She is a passionate educator about pre-colonial history and geography. When I finally got to talk to her, it was more than worth the wait. I got to hear about the importance of language, story,
and place. These things form our culture and identity. I felt that I understood more about how utterly devastating it is to have them stolen.
And it all began for Dei back in early primary school.
As a little girl, she found herself attacking a boy tormenting a small girl with cancer. While she regrets being in a physical fight, she learnt, in that moment, the feeling of strength that accompanies protecting someone else.
It was a defining experience, in terms of becoming an activist.
“That singular moment of watching this young girl, who was a white girl, be dehumanised for something that was completely out of her control.”
The basis of activism, says Dei, is the desire to protect.
The only Aboriginal child in her inner-city primary school, Dei would sometimes be sent to stay with her grandmother, a thousand kilometres away. Here, she went to school with family and cousins. The contrast between the two experiences was quite stark. Going to school with her mob was freeing.
“You don’t feel frowned upon, you don’t feel like people are making judgements on you as much as when you’re the only Aboriginal in the school.”
I’ve tried a few times to write up more of the interview for these notes. I thought I was just struggling to condense all the themes of it down to a short piece. But I’ve realised that, as a Settler woman, a descendent of English and Irish, I don’t feel it’s my place to write up the knowledge that Dei gifted me in this interview. So, I hope you are able to listen for yourself.
Teresa Benetos was a nurse in Baghdad when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. She’s writing a memoir about her time as a hostage in Iraq.
Growing up in a traditional Irish Catholic household, it has taken many years for Teresa to realise that, as a woman, her story is of interest. After thirty years, she says, it is time to tell the story of ‘The Accidental Hostage.’
As a teenager, she battled with her father to be able to finish her Leaving Certificate at school and study to become a nurse. Against the background of an economic recession, Teresa was compelled to seek work in London, during the era of “No blacks, no dogs, no Irish.”
She left London and went to work in Belfast during the Troubles, the thirty-year armed conflict and political deadlock in Northern Ireland.
Then, in 1990, she took a job in a hospital in Baghdad. Before she returned to Iraq after some leave, she had her fortune told: She would be surrounded by uniforms and there was months of worry ahead for her parents.
On August the 2nd, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and decided that foreigners were not allowed to leave. Teresa was one of about 200 Irish nurses held hostage. So long as they continued to work in the hospital during Operation Desert Storm, they were relatively safe.
As well as the fear of their own position, they experienced the vicarious trauma of treating the civilians impacted by armed conflict, including the pre-invasion gassing of Kurds, with children being carried on foot from Mosul with horrific injuries. Following the trade sanctions imposed by the UN, people were running out of food; the hospital was running out of medicine and supplies.
This is a story both harrowing and inspiring, as well as bearing historical importance. Reflecting on family, career and recovery from trauma, the interview reveals Teresa's strength and resilience. It also provides tantalising hints into her skill as a writer.
The conundrum of the story is a familiar one: Family. We flee into the world and sometimes end up longing to return. What Teresa wanted most, trapped in Baghdad, was the family and the parents she’d so desperately wanted to leave.