Sunday, 8 November 2015

An Important Restatement

Increasingly over the past few years, and particularly in recent months I have been criticised, and in some cases vilified, for the attitude I have towards my own disability. Particularly from those who also have a disability, who should know better. The following is something you've probably read from me before in different forms, but this needs to repeated yet again.

My disability does not define my life. I refuse to be known, labelled and identified by my worst physical characteristics. I also refused to be defined by the lack of control over my life (although I do have access to more choice that I had previously since moving into supported accommodation nearly 3 years ago). I refuse to wear my disability as a badge of honour. I am not proud to be disabled, and I never will be. How can I proud of something that has caused so much anger and pain to my family and I over an almost 32 year period?

I do not deserve special attention for simply living my life as a disabled person. For doing this, I am not your hero, inspiration, guiding light, or role model. I am simply a man who has made the best out of a shitty situation. Nothing more, nothing less. I am just doing what I'm meant to be doing.

I have a right to be angry about this situation. Failure to deal with this anger for the majority of my life was a significant factor in triggering my extreme bout of depression. In acknowledging this anger, I have not only become healthier, but it has enabled me to become a more well rounded person.

People who have come in contact with me may not understand or agree with any of the above, but no one has any right to tell me how I feel about my disability. No one can possibly understand, the good, the bad, the ugly, and introspection it has created. I have no right to judge any other individual with a disability, and their feelings about own individual experience, because their journey is vastly different than mine.

I am not disrespecting any other person with a disability because I have a negative attitude towards my own. Lots of people with disabilities have, and will continue to do great things with their lives, but they shouldn't be considered 'great' because they achieve these outcomes simply due to the fact that they have a disability. People with disabilities deserve equitable treatment. I am one of those people. First and foremost I am a human. Treat me as such, whether I have a disability or not.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Master of One: There is No Doctor In This House

On October 8th 2010, I was nervous.

I was presenting a PhD thesis confirmation paper to an audience of political academics, most of whom I had referenced in the document. Normally I am confident. I am usually a good public speaker, and because I can't write with a pen, I usually speak without many notes. But this was my academic livelihood I was presenting. Luckily I did well, and received universal praise. I assumed that it was the first time many had seen an academic with a disability, and so self consciously I figured that at least some of my good feedback was a direct result of simply being surprised that I was there, and that I had performed well. Regardless, I was ready to move on to my next challenge.

The next five years were the hardest of my life in every sense. Away from academia I became seriously ill, just two and a half months after that confirmation day. For a further two years I was still living with my parents, 100 kilometres away from campus, and the city where I wanted to be. And I had a severe mental illness. Then I moved out of home, and began to have the type of life I wanted to live. All the while the earth continued rotating.

There were five different changes of Australian Prime Minister, three different Queensland Premiers, three different Australian Test Cricket Captains, three different coaches of my football team, and three albums recorded by Taylor Swift in the time I took to write the PhD thesis.

In all that time I kept writing draft after draft of the chapters of my thesis, which was to be 100,000 words long, and comprised of 6 chapters. Between 2009 and 2015, I submitted 43 draft chapters. I still have them all. Yet when my two wonderful supervisors would come back with the comments, none of the drafts were anywhere near perfect as final copies. Some were of higher standard then others, and each time my supervisors would do everything in their power to make the drafts better.

Without getting too academically technical, each draft would have a variation of the same fundamental flaw. Each time I would submit a new draft, the same problems would emerge, and between my two supervisors and I, we could not solve that problem. As hard as we tried, and as skilfully as we tried the problem had become insurmountable.

On October 8th 2015, I was nervous.

I knew the dream of obtaining a PhD was over. What was once a very possible dream could not be achieved. After asking for three extensions, I had used up all my chances. I am not going to become a Doctor.

In reality, I knew this the week before. When I received my feedback on my last draft, I knew I could not finish it. I knew I had run out of time. I spent the week trying to work out ways I could possibly finish in the time allotted. It was like a giant math puzzle in my mind of which there was no solution. My supervisors had sensed the same thing, at the same time I did.

I spent an hour in their office, the sole topic of discussion was what I could salvage out of my nearly seven years of work.  I have worked far too long and far too hard to come away with nothing. For now, my supervisors have told me to take some time off, rest and recharge, before I redesign it into a Masters thesis due some time next year.

I am devastated. I've put all my energy into achieving a PhD, only for it to never materialise. I wanted to become a Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science more than anything. You may not see this as a failure, but I do. Being disabled I have to be half as crippled and twice as good to succeed in life, and I am just not good enough to do a PhD.

However, I have enough perspective to know that I am in a better place in every other aspect of my life. I have freedom, I have choice. I am healthy. I am loved. I am in the place I am meant to be.

I just won't be a Doctor. And that hurts.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Peter Singer, PWDs and the Elite's Approval of Murder.

A few weeks ago some friends with a disability registered a muted protest on social media during the Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF) expressing their outrage at the festival's inclusion of Peter Singer. I joined them in expressing my disapproval, but living in Brisbane, I couldn't do much. Then last week I discovered he was invited to the Brisbane Writer's Festival (BWF) too. Then, I got really angry.
For those of you who don't know where this outrage stems from, Singer is a man who believes all foetuses that show physical abnormalities (re: disabilities) should be aborted in ALL circumstances.  Not only do I find his views offensive, but I'm deeply disappointed that an institution that I love is endorsing these views. In putting forward this view Singer advocates that the lives of people with disabilities should be terminated, and are not worthy of life. This is selective genocide. Singer's views are not a matter of promoting diversity of opinion, this is marginalising and actively shunning people with disabilities. 

As the late Stella Young wrote in 2012.
In his book Practical Ethics, Singer argues the case for selective infanticide. He deems it unfair that "At present parents can choose to keep or destroy their disabled offspring only if the disability happens to be detected during pregnancy. There is no logical basis for restricting parents' choice to these particular disabilities. If disabled newborn infants were not regarded as having a right to life until, say, a week or a month after birth it would allow parents, in consultation with their doctors, to choose on the basis of far greater knowledge of the infant's condition than is possible before birth." His perspective also takes account of a disabled child's place within their family.  
"The birth of a child is usually a happy event for the parents. They have, nowadays, often planned for the child. The mother has carried it for nine months. From birth, a natural affection begins to bind the parents to it. So one important reason why it is normally a terrible thing to kill an infant is the effect the killing will have on its parents.  
"It is different when the infant is born with a serious disability. Birth abnormalities vary, of course. Some are trivial and have little effect on the child or its parents; but others turn the normally joyful event of birth into a threat to the happiness of the parents, and any other children they may have. "Parents may, with good reason, regret that a disabled child was ever born." 
If you some point in your life you need reading glasses, should doctors abort you in the womb because you will not have perfect vision?

When I found out that Singer was going to present at BWF, I decided to put my money where my mouth was. On Friday, I wrote an email to the BWF director Julie Beveridge echoing the above arguments. This morning, I got a lengthy, thoughtful response, the beginning of which read:
Thank you for your email, and for bringing to my attention this particular view point of Peter Singer, it’s not one I was familiar with.  
I empathise deeply with your position...   
Peter Singer has been engaged at the festival to discuss this latest book The Most Good You Can Do, a call to action for individuals to live a life of effective altruism that involves doing the most good possible. Altruism is a topic that is extremely popular amongst Brisbane audiences and Peter’s Good Thinking lecture is a continuation of a discussion BWF has been having over a couple of years on the topic. Previous conversations in this area include Inspire Happiness, with Matteiu Ricard who discussed holistic giving.   Festivals like BWF are made up of hundreds of writers with different viewpoints on a variety of topics. It’s my job to program thought provoking content for audiences, and the topics discussed in Peter’s book The Most Good You Can Do are reflective of broader conversations about living more meaningful and connected lives. By programming a particular individual BWF is not endorsing any or all views held by those individuals, but providing a platform for conversation, debate, inspiration and entertainment.
The rest of her email recognised the lack of content regarding disability in the festival program, and to her great credit Beveridge invited me to establish a session specifically regarding disability and writing. I am going to take her up on the offer.  I wasn't expecting it, or for her to take Singer off the festival program at this late stage, so the response to my initial correspondence far exceeded my expectations. Beveridge went as far as she could go, but it still doesn't address the larger problem.

As a friend of mine, ASN, posted on her Facebook yesterday:
If any other minority in Australia was targeted in the work of this man he would be shunned! Could you imagine if he suggested selecting against children with 'gay genes'? He would be accused of genocide of the gay community! Or what about race? He would be Hitler reincarnated. Not one of these groups or their allies would stand for it. It would be called unacceptable and rightly so. 
To believe that an entire group of people have no right to life is sickening. Human variation is normal. If he targeted these people so many people in the community would be outraged, they would have boycotted these events. They would have publicly complained and the man would have been asked not to come. Just like when the American's were invited to preach hate speech about women at Hillsong here. What he preaches is no different. It is hate speech about disability and it is just as wrong as if he was sprouting that we should select against gays or race...
How is this possible? It is a really shit time to be disabled in Australia right now for many reasons, but to have this man allowed to publicly discuss his eugenic ideas has taken it to a whole new level. Before you tell me he has a right to his opinion please tell me how you would feel if this was your gay child they were discussing, or if someone was advocating for the eradication of your different genes? You remember how the holocaust happened? It happened when the good people allowed bad things to happen to those who were different to them. We already have doctors who advocate the termination of disabled children, or the pulling of life support for people with disabilities...

Forums such as BWF and MWF are designed to be places that act focal points for cultural debates in this country. In allowing Singer to participate they are condoning his opinions on selective genocide. These festivals represent a reflection of the political and cultural classes in this country, and their participants regard themselves to be 'intellectuals'. If these 'intellectuals' willingly support Singer and his murderous views, what hope have we fourth class citizens got? It is indeed a shit, shit time to be a person with a disability in Australia. 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

I Am A Fourth Class Citizen

This week 94 years ago Franklin Delano Roosevelt was first diagnosed with the polio virus. So began a history making period of reflection and perseverance that would change the world. Less than twelve years later he would begin his term as President of the United States while being unable to walk and instead utilising a wheelchair for movement.

Every day I and my compatriots with physical disabilities are treated as fourth class citizens. We are shunned, ignored, bullied, forgotten and constantly undervalued.

The most important figure in modern history and I share comparable movement of our legs. Because of this, our brains were forced to compensate. A society that underestimates the more than 1 million physically disabled Australians, is a society that undervalues the crucial values of human life: courage, tenacity, fortitude and a sense of realism. Our nation not only disregards these assets, they wilfully ignore them. If the progress of our community is judged by how we treat those who are disadvantaged, then it is truly a cesspool of self interest and greed.

If only the majority were forced into an compulsory period of reflection so they could truly know what it is like to struggle, maybe those of us who have physical disabilities would gain the respect we are entitled to. Instead most equate 'struggle' to menial day to day concerns that are based upon economics and social standing.

Humans cannot truly empathise until they have been through pain and emerged stronger from the experience.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Russell Ebert: Not Just A Champion Footballer

At the age of 6 in 1990, I remember playing Balloon Soccer at Regency Park Centre (commonly referred to as a 'special school') when I saw a middle aged man off to the side. He had a mullet with a slightly grey tinge. You could tell the older kids knew who he was, you sensed that they loved him.

"Who's that?" I asked

"It's Russell Ebert!"

Russell Ebert, as even a passing fan of South Australian Football would know (and I would find out just moments later), was my home state's best, most consistent and is its most decorated player. On Saturday a statue of him will be unveiled at Adelaide Oval​. He was not only a champion footballer, but he is champion human too.

Russell turned up to my Electric Wheelchair Sports Awards Ceremonies every year and presented all the trophies to us. My favourite year was 1995, when I picked up 9 trophies, including sweeping all of the junior categories. At that awards night I was 11. I had surgery 3 weeks before to lengthen my already tight hamstrings and was forced to wear splints with my legs outstretched. I was in pain and despite my successful night, still not very happy. As I collected my last trophy Russell shook my hand and said something I will never, ever forget.

Now you've got more trophies than I have

All my pain was gone.

If you're wondering why I follow Port Adelaide Football Club​ so passionately look no further for a better example. The club's greatest player ever gave his time, and more importantly his respect, to us. We didn't ask him to come. He wanted to.

This was long before footy players were posting all their good deeds on social media. He just did it. No Camera crews, no promotions, he just cared.  

Friday, 19 June 2015

Two Killings, One Show.

Over the last two weeks, The ABC has aired the first two parts of a political documentary series The Killing Season, which purports to focus on the last two Labor Governments, but is in actual fact a portrait of the two leaders of these governments Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. On this blog I documented the first Rudd Government in some detail. Initially I was not going to post a blog on this series, but after watching the second episode of the series late on Tuesday night I posted a rather detailed rant, and given the events are contemporaneous with this blog, it seems appropriate to share my thoughts here. 
While some may view the ascension of Kevin Rudd with a sense of fading nostalgia, I've been researching the period covered in the first episode almost since the events occurred. 
With this in mind, Killing aspires to be the offspring of the far superior 1995 ABC documentary series Labor in Power, but lacks the real wisdom and analysis to achieve it. While Rudd and Gillard have Keating and Hawke's pomposity in abundance, they lack their predecessors clarity of thought and candour. All 'Killing' really does is highlight the hypocrisy of 'The Leader and his Loyal Deputy' (the title of the first episode) with hindsight in an ironic and clunky fashion. Much of the important aspects of the 'Kevin 07' campaign were overlooked, and the section on the importance of Rudd allocating the Ministry is valid but entirely wrongheaded.
The second episode comes the quote We just killed ourselves' 
So says Martin Ferguson, old school Labor Warrior and Minister of the first Rudd Government about two thirds of the way through the second episode of the series. You can see the utter contempt in his face and hear the disgust in his voice. We knew full well no one came out of the Rudd coup looking good, but the constant thoughts coming to my mind throughout the episode were questions addressed to all participants of the program in the Australian Labor Party?

'How the fuck can you do this to my country?'
'Why do I deserve any of you to represent me?'
It is clear that Rudd displayed poor behaviour towards his colleagues across the board during the last six months of his Prime Ministership. It is purely subjective as to whether you think that this behaviour warranted his dismissal. It is something that initially I believed was not worthy of a coup, but as time passes I think that if a majority of his colleagues believed they couldn't work with him, sacking him might have been the only thing they could do. However Rudd has every right to feel aggrieved at how events played out.
I never believed that Gillard was telling the truth and this episode only solidified my view. Every single word she uttered I believe to be a lie. Rudd is only just barely better at telling the truth, and he did not do it much either. Their collective behaviour is a disgrace to the Australian political system, its history and the office of the Australian Prime Minister.
It's a good thing that only 'the political class' watches The Killing Season, because if every voter watched that compelling, intriguing, despicable, deplorable hour of television, Australia would have a Liberal Government for the next three decades.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Part of 'The Machinery of Government'

A few weeks ago I was asked by the Griffith University School of Government and International Relations (at which I'm currently completing my PhD) to contribute to their new blog The Machinery of Government (MoG). The conveners of the blog had seen my coverage over at The Conversation during the recent Queensland State Election campaign, which consistently ranked in the top bracket for both page views and unique visitors amongst contributors from Griffith University. Based on these results, I was asked to write an analysis of the UK Election, a week after results had been finalised.

A person or a number of people in the department must have been impressed with the content of the blog and/or the traffic it generated. On the back of the first piece, I was offered a part time job as a regular contributor to the blog. Since then I have written two further posts: one on the dilemmas of public service officials trying to combat terrorism and another on the role that smaller or 'minor parties' play in the federal governments of Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada.

MoG only launched a couple of months before my recent arrival and has already accumulated 1000 subscribers worldwide. At the pace I'm going at now it looks like I'll be contributing to the blog on a weekly basis. I would encourage readers who like my political writing to head over to MoG and subscribe to regular updates.

Monday, 1 June 2015

My Private is Not Your Private

Everyone who needs to know this, already knows this. Or so I think.

But after literal years of searching for the right girl to date, I found a girl, and she found me. It's early days, and in certain circumstances some might not feel the need to tell people. But the nature of living with a physical disability that requires 24/7 care means that lots of people already know by now. This is not through my own choice, but because I have needed to tell them. Those who don't understand the burden of relying upon someone all day, every day for the most basic tasks do not realise that these kinds of things are never truly private, no matter how much I might wish they could be.

I also can't share all my constant failures with dating, without showing you that sometimes it may work, beyond all my frustrations and battles with low self esteem. I don't know how long it will last, but I hope it is for a long time.

I've learnt from my mistakes of the past and won't be documenting our relationship at all on this blog. I will, when appropriate, mention FRG because she now is a part of my life, as this blog will be.

Monday, 25 May 2015

'And While I'm Away...'

Someone asked me yesterday: Why aren't you blogging much recently? There are several answers to this.
  1. Perhaps the most important of these is that I use the blog to constructively sort through my shitty negative emotions. Lucky for me I haven't had much of those recently. In the past week my mother and I shared the sometimes unbelievable journey that my family has been on since my birth, in front of an audience of women for Youngcare. When I hear my parents tell the story of my diagnosis it always makes me emotional, hearing the pain that my parents went through, and the despair they must have felt. It has nothing to do with me, it's like they are talking about a different person. Hearing the story once more made me so overcome with emotion that I couldn't finish telling my own story. I started to break down and cry. It made me realise that I will never be comfortable with my disability, but I've reached a point that my feelings on my disability are as good as they are going to get.
  2. I've not had the time recently. One of the main goals with my PhD thesis this year has been to have a quicker turn around between drafts, and therefore less dead time where I'm not productively working, which means there is less time to blog. It's working.
  3. This productivity has flowed into other areas as well. I'm currently working on a journal article for Social Alternatives about the 2015 Queensland Election. Last week I was also offered a long term part time job by Griffith University writing and researching for their political science blog: The Machinery of Government based on my analysis of the recent UK election. Make sure you visit MoG if you like my political writing
  4. There's not been many events to write about. Nothing has ignited my passion, and I write best when such passion is ignited.
  5. I have not felt the need or want to write about the things that help me understand my emotional intelligence. There are several positive reasons for this, but I'm not ready to write about them yet, because I want to see if these positive reinforcements last in the long term and don't resemble a passing fad. I've learnt through past experience I need more time to process things in my mind before writing about them.
In the meantime enjoy some tunes I've been loving recently.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Youngcare Turns 10 But There's More To Do.

10 years ago today on April 21st 2005, Shevaune and David Conry with the support of close friends established Youngcare. Shevaune was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in her mid twenties, and by the age of 33 was forced to live in a nursing home, because as hard as her family tried no one could provide the physical support that she required. Two and a half years after Youngcare was founded, in December 2007, Youngcare opened a two level fifteen room complex in Brisbane's Southwestern suburbs: the very building I live in now.

Youngcare first came to my attention back in 2007 when both Shevaune and David were profiled on Australia's 60 Minutes program. I can remember watching it with both my parents so vividly, because there was absolutely no way that anyone could possibly forget that story. The love and respect between the couple was so genuine and heartfelt. I remember thinking "I wish I could live there, but I don't have an acquired disability, so I have no chance."

Turns out I was wrong, although I didn't know it until five years later. Unfortunately, Shevaune passed away before I arrived, so I never had the chance to thank her for creating an organisation that has saved my life. Although Shevaune's story and her experience was the initial impetus for Youngcare, the creation of the organisation was the ultimate unselfish act. Youngcare is no longer just the basis of one story, but a vitally important organisation that is designed to change Australian society for the better.

At the moment there are currently 770,000 young Australians between the ages of 18 and 65 who are living in places that they should not be in, either in aged care, or with the support of a carer who has insufficient resources. For the past two and a half years I have made it my mission to share this important statistic to anybody who would listen.

In an environment where the NDIS is (unfortunately) government policy, it is great to give people with disabilities and/or their carers access to funding theoretically, but there are questions that arise in terms of infrastructure. In an ideal world, the NDIS would aim to provide independence to those 770,000 people, but even if they were to supply funding to half of those people, what accommodation do you provide so they can use their funding appropriately?

There is a clear shortage in this country of accessible housing for people with disabilities. Although Youngcare has another complex open on the Gold Coast, two more to come in Brisbane's northern suburbs, and a further one being developed in Western Sydney, these sites only go a short way to addressing this housing shortage. Though Youngcare will always continue to do fine work, and I will continue to push the cause for as long as I live, the larger problem of the overall shortage is one of the central public policy challenges in this country, and both State and Federal governments have not even begun to address the issue.

Now that I am safe, secure and happy my next quest is to continue Shevaune's legacy. Like she did I realise that now my dream has been achieved, my job is to ensure that others can live their dream too.

Thursday, 9 April 2015


Have you seen Whiplash?

It's the story of a young guy who spends his entire college life attempting to pursue his dream of being the best jazz drummer in the world. The majority of his time is either spent practising in front of a teacher who abuses him at every opportunity, or practicing so this student can win the teacher's approval.

As an audience member watching this movie you slowly begin to realise that the student will never ever receive the teacher's approval no matter how hard he tries. That is until the student realises that winning the teacher's approval is no longer necessary.

Whiplash, I've come to realise, is a broader metaphor for my dating experiences. I spend hours and hours trying to project the best version of myself that is not really even me, and no luck. I've tried an honest and direct approach by telling girls exactly what I've been seeking, still no luck, I've tried not to get attached to girls: no luck. I've even had what I refer to as 'dick brain' (which is exactly what it means): no luck. Through each of these iterations, each girl, and through each bad experience J.K Simmons may as well have been throwing a chair at my head.

I've had a notion I've been kicking around for a few months now that I articulated for the first time to a friend last week.
I'm in a different space than any of my contemporaries. Though this space might be influenced by my disability, I don't occupy this space because of the disability. A thorough examination of what my friends are doing, and based on the women I'm attracted to on dating sites (brains, looks, political awareness in various orders according to the individual) say that they want, the majority of women around my age want kids (No, just no), travel for exploration purposes (Too difficult, too expensive and never will be of interest to me anyway), and active people who "want to do things on weekends" (Give me my books, my TV, my movies, my music, and my football and/or cricket, and I'm happy, unless I am seeking out more of these things)  They might just be after one of these things or all three, but they are always the deal breakers.  
While I've been desperately searching for a relationship, I've learnt that I'm not willing to compromise on these aspects. Especially since I've been living on my own.
So, now I've learnt that unless something akin to a miracle happens I probably won't be in a relationship for at least another decade. By my reckoning, the potential mate would have already travelled, would have already had kids, or decided not to have them, and quite possibly would have gotten all her adventuring out of her system. She will come to value me because of my (seemingly) admirable qualities and they are ones that she has actively sought out: my hyperactive intellectualism and my dependability, chiefly. It's taken a long time for me to realise that girls in their late 20s and early 30s simply don't want the things that I offer.
So now, its just a matter of enjoying the freedom I fought so hard for. However this freedom, at least for the foreseeable future, comes with the caveat: it is destined to be fulfilled alone. It doesn't mean I have to be happy with that, or that I will stop chasing the women who interest me, it just means that I have to learn to be content with wishing that I could be with that friend of a friend, but realising intellectually that it will never happen.

I'm just tired of chairs being thrown at my head. I know that at least for right now no one is ready, not even me, to satisfy the want that will always be there but is so difficult to explain.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Last Five Years: The Musical as Emotional Realism

Virtually every year since this blog began I've chronicled my feelings on Valentine's Day. In recent years sadness has turned into frustration, as I've moved past the need to be in a relationship for its own sake. Instead, the source of the misery concentrated on February 14th has been my failure to form a suitable connection that leads to the emotional intimacy I need, even it is brief.

At the end of the last year, I watched the trailer of The Last Five Years and discovered that it would be released in the United States on Valentine's Day. From that moment on I resolved to track down the first copy I could find on the internet, and attempt to watch it on that horrible day. I downloaded the movie on Friday the 13th, because sadly there is not yet a release date for the movie to premiere in Australia. The next day I had my first wonderful Valentine's Day.

As a devotee of the musical I knew that this movie contained something special. For me, the beauty of The Last Five Years is that the movie subverts the conventional musical, both in plot, and in tone.

I adore the classic movie musicals of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, which were all about emotional uplift. Most of them followed the same basic plot pattern. Boy meets girl: cue the 'meet cute' song: girl crushes on boy: cue the longing ballad, an obstacle emerges: cue the song that restates the purpose of the protagonists' love affair, finally girl wins boy: 'LET'S PUT ON A SHOW'.  

The Last Five Years is not a musical about the boy and girl getting together. It is about the boy and the girl getting together, falling apart, reconciling briefly, then falling apart once more: forever. 

The Last Five Years is only about a single relationship (told entirely in song), between Cathy and Jamie. The story is told through alternate songs from each character. Cathy's perspective of the relationship is heard in reverse order, while Jamie's version is told in chronological order. The song are fractured and biased, with the true perspective of the entire relationship only becoming clear once the movie is finished. The genius of this structure lies in the fact that each characters' point of view only up matches once: for the duet in the middle of the movie.

Not only does the viewer understand why Cathy and Jamie fell in love, they also understand why their relationship was toxic for both of them. It tells the audience why they need the power of human connection to survive, but it also tells them the damage that this power can do. It demonstrates to me everything that I have been scared of for my last five years. I want the first blush of love, and the euphoria that it provides. But I am not prepared to feel the devastation that occurs when it all ends.

The Last Five Years perhaps represents the apex of musical sub-genre that I've become attracted to in recent times that does not conform to the traditional plot of a movie musical. Whether it be God Help the Girl or Begin Again, the three best musicals of the past 12 months tell its audience that a few delightful songs cannot cure emotional devastation. This conforms to my worldview wholeheartedly.

Yet, my favourite movie of all time, Singin' in the Rain, is the pure opposite of this archetype. Seeing Singin' in the Rain for the first time was a revolutionary experience. I saw the movie at the beginning of 2011, right in the middle of my darkest depressive episode. Gene Kelly's unbridled optimism in the midst of loneliness helped convince me that I could become well again.  That feeling ignited my passion for musicals. Seeing The Last Five Years for the first time both reminded me of, and surpassed, my experience of watching Singin' in the Rain four years earlier.

I can only speculate why this is so.

Perhaps it is because The Last Five Years was the kind of empathetic musical I was waiting for?
Perhaps it gave me an insight which allowed me to forgive myself for the horrible mistakes I've made?
Perhaps it normalised those mistakes?
Perhaps it represented kind of rational argument I needed to allow myself to fall in love again?
Perhaps it is telling me that I've moved on from the idealised version of love I've held on to?
Perhaps I can't explain why I connected to The Last Five Years at all?

Perhaps that is beauty of the movie?

Monday, 23 March 2015

Malcolm Fraser: The Lifelong Opposer

Malcolm Fraser, Australia's 22nd Prime Minister, who served between 1975 and 1983, died on Friday, just five months after his immediate predecessor Gough Whitlam. This seems fitting because Fraser and Whitlam became intertwined in each other's legacies as a result of The Dismissal. As a consequence, Fraser always seemed to suffer in comparison to the more charismatic Whitlam. Where Whitlam experienced fervour wherever he went, Fraser was met with quiet respect.

As I pointed out five years ago, perhaps Fraser's legacy was always going to be overlooked:
Academics and historians for a variety of reasons often neglect the period of the Fraser Government between 1975 and 1983. This is largely because nothing could possibly match the drama of the Whitlam Government’s dismissal from office, which immediately proceeded this era. Furthermore, the Fraser Government is largely seen as a non event retrospectively... particularly because he is wedged chronologically between two of the Labor Party’s most mythical figures in Whitlam and Hawke.
Over the past week commentator and historian George Megalogenis has continually noted that Fraser governed in a divisive era, and suffered as a result. I would argue that Fraser was not nearly divisive enough. Fraser's parliamentary career can really be split into two halves, his career prior to his Prime Ministership, and his career after he won Australia's highest office.

Fraser was elected as the member for Wannon in 1955, as Australia's youngest ever parliamentarian. Even though he remained on the backbench during the final decade of the Menzies Era, he would shape the Liberal Party for a generation thereafter. In 1971, Fraser sensationally resigned as Minister of Defense, and openly criticised his party leader, John Gorton, on the floor of parliament. Fraser said that he could no longer support a government led by Prime Minister Gorton. Fraser's speech precipitated events that would lead to Gorton's resignation a few weeks later.

This chain of events often remains neglected when commenting on the political life of Fraser. It suggests more about his political career, than the events of The Dismissal. It is one thing to challenge a political opponent and cause his demise, as Fraser did to Whitlam in 1975. It was however quite another for Fraser to challenge a sitting Prime Minister on the sacrosanct floor of parliament, when he served as a Minister of that government. Fraser's speech opposing Gorton should rank as one of the most Machiavellian acts in Australia's political history.

With the knowledge of that event in mind, it is therefore no surprise that Fraser chose to become the major antagonist in the dismissal of an elected government. In retrospect Fraser's tactics against Whitlam seem hasty given it is likely that Fraser and his government would have won the next election anyway if he waited until an election was called by Whitlam in late 1976 or early 1977.

Fraser's politics was not defined by what he supported, but rather what he was against: whether it be Gorton's leadership style, the incompetence of the Whitlam government, the racist policies of various international governments, or his eventual repudiation of the modern Liberal Party. This did not make Fraser a bad leader, but rather a limited one.

It also explains why the Fraser government squandered the opportunity to implement long lasting domestic reform, despite securing two enormous election victories in 1975 and 1977. It is very rare that a Prime Minister has two consecutive terms where he has control in both houses of parliament. The Fraser government had a five year period in which it could implement any policy reform it wanted, largely unchallenged. Yet the media are hard pressed to name a domestic policy that was created between 1975 and 1980 which remains a legacy today.

Even though Fraser won three consecutive elections, a feat that is unlikely to be replicated any time soon, his Prime Ministerial tenure almost seems like an after thought.

That is the reason why Malcolm Fraser was an average Prime Minister, rather than a great one.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Leadership Vacuum

Recently I've been doing a lot of writing over at The Conversation. While I've mainly focussed on the Queensland election campaign, all my writing in the last four weeks has been concentrated through the prism of leadership: what the leaders might do during the campaign, who might take over should the Premier fall, predicting the outcome of the campaign (wrongly, I might add) and documenting the shock result.

Today I assessed all the ramifications particularly given the fact that Prime Minister Tony Abbott looks set to lose his job as well. If he does, Australia's two major parties will have changed leaders seven times since 2007. There is something seriously wrong going on here. Although it is great for my academic career,  I hate what is going on at the moment.

While its citizens watch Australian democracy implode yet again they should ask themselves when was the last time they saw two opposing members of parliament (State or Federal) debate policy positions? The current 'leadership' culture is simply ridiculous. 

I'm sad, angry and frustrated for our country, and for the legacy it leaves us. There have been five years of instability on both sides of politics, and there have been no policy achievements in that period (Don't you dare say the NDIS!).  There is nothing that you can point to since the economic reforms post the global financial crisis and say 'The Government did this. This is its legacy.' 

We, the public, deserve better, and so do the politicians we elect.

The media, the politicians and the public all need to realise that politics is HARD. There will be mistakes. There will be differences of opinion. Not everything that we would like to happen, will happen. This doesn't make politicians dishonest, tricky or ineffective. Nor does this mean we have to buy into the horse racing elements of political discourse, where one ''leadership contender' is placed up against another for no discernible reason.

The only way you can achieve change, in life and in politics, is through incrementalism. Just as we teach our kids the skills of perseverance and determination, all of us must learn that these are vital ingredients in political life.

We all need to take responsibility for our democracy: the voters, the leaders, and the media. Don't wimp out at the first sign of negativity and look for someone else to take over. Admit your mistakes, learn from them, and move on.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

January 26th: Not My National Day

Fellow citizens of Australia:

What are you doing tomorrow?

It is our supposed national day.

Are you?:
A: Waving the British flag with pride?
B: Feeling lucky you have a public holiday?
C: Partaking in a barbecue lunch?
D: Watching the Cricket or Tennis?
E: Listening to the Hottest 100?

Ironically, January 26th is Australia Day, but its also India’s Republic Day. On this day the people of India celebrate the day in which they were free from their British colonises and formed an independent nation in 1948. Contrast that to what Australia celebrates on January 26. It is actually the day where British colonists first settled in this country, and chased its native people away, slaughtering many of them, and claiming the land as their own with a smug sense of entitlement. Yet more than 200 years later we choose to celebrate this as our national day. We should not. It should be looked upon as a national day of shame.

I am proud of the majority of Australia's citizens, but it seems that anytime one chooses to criticise our great nation that person gets called ‘un-Australian.’ For me at least, being called ‘un-Australian’ is itself that very thing. One of the great things about our country is the ability to openly criticise and question things. If I lived in some countries I’d get shot for writing what is below, calling the stereotypical members of our population short sighted and myopic, calling our supposed ‘national day’ a complete and utter disgrace.

Even when the general populace fail to grasp what the significance of the day actually entails, a vocal minority choose this day to behave in an appalling manner. They display our nation's flag, a British flag, (not an Australian one) with the same sense of superiority as their forefathers. Rather than the flag becoming a source of national pride, it is rapidly turning into a symbol of militant nationalism. Our British flag was and continues to be a graphical representation of all that is wrong with this nation, our shameful past, and now it has become a symbol which people use to malign those from Non-European backgrounds.

A national holiday should celebrate the things that define our national character. A celebration of our past, present, and future: a day when we as a nation can truly celebrate an event which defined our national character. We already have this day. It's on May 9th.

That's the day Australia's Federal Parliament was opened for the very first time in 1901. The day we were born as a nation, when all the disparate state colonies on one continent federated together and formed Australia. It is a day that signifies the best parts of Australia: diversity, the right kind of positive nationalism, the importance of both regions and urban areas with their different objectives, and the strength of Australian democracy.  Yet 99.99% of the population don't consider this date important. Why not, you may ask?

Think about that on your day off.