Sunday, February 24, 2008

Small People

I saw those two women last week. Both of them, a few days apart. Women who made my life hell a few years ago.

You know how there are times in your life that are very vivid in your memory, that seem to stay with you almost as if they happened yesterday? That you find yourself thinking about when you are alone, even if it was years ago and you have supposedly moved on?

I was a young, new public servant doing exactly the kind of work I had trained to do. I loved it. I left home every morning to go to work, a bounce in my step, looking forward to being there. I loved the people I worked with. I was good at my job and I worked hard, sometimes not getting home until the early hours. It was work so challenging that it consumed all of me. But even though I was tired, I hummed like a machine on song.

Then the new boss, Leslie, arrived. She rapidly took a dislike to me. Not to my work. She loved my work. It was me she hated. She was rude, she was bullying, she was barely civil. And because I was young and earnest and inexperienced in the ways of bullies, I thought maybe the problem was me. I thought hard about what I might be doing wrong and how I might be failing. I tried hard to make her like me more. I realize now that that was utterly the wrong approach to take. Bullies respect strength. Give them an inch and they take a mile.

I was, in fact, quite good friends with my boss's boss, Julie. We got along very well. We were often the only two left in the office late at night and we had a kind of intellectual chemistry. We had a lot of good ideas, which we promptly put in place. I looked up to her. I admired her. In a way, I loved her. She was tough, but there was a vulnerability there that touched me. She treated me like a combination of daughter and whiz kid. I loved that, too.

Things rapidly went from bad to worse, as Leslie became more and more extreme in her behaviour. For some reason, it had been bearable as long as she was only being horrible to me. I used to focus on not showing her how much she affected me. We laughed among ourselves about the BQFH - The Bitch Queen from Hell. But when my colleagues began crying at work, it got too much for me. Then one woman, who had been majorly stressed and sobbing at her desk every morning, had a miscarriage. The Bitch Queen from Hell wouldn't even let her take any leave to recover.

I tried to discuss it with Julie, very tentatively. Her eyes, which had always warmed at my approach, went cold and dark. Suddenly, oddly, she looked like a snake.

The next day, I found out that my scheduled promotion had been withdrawn and my leave cancelled. My supposed friend never said a word to me again. I found another job, but she wouldn't release me for four long miserable months. We were seriously worried about our colleague, and so three of us put in a formal complaint, documenting everything that had happened. We didn't really believe that anything much would be done, but we thought we could at least get her released and she was. Although part of our complaint was actually about Julie, she was given the investigation to run.

I'm glad now that I told her then exactly what I thought of her behaviour. She cried unrestrainedly through the interview. We were sort of reconciled. We shook hands, in a wary kind of way, at the end of that interview. But I found out later that she rang all of our prospective new bosses and warned that we were trouble makers. She tried to trash my career, just for trying to tell her the truth.

I was sick for quite a long time afterwards. Probably partly because of the hours I had worked. But really, I was sick at heart. Even after I physically recovered, I didn't recover mentally. For a long time afterwards, I was obsessed with what had happened. With the betrayal I had experienced.

It's clearer to me now why I was so affected. The truth is that what I was suffering was not a trivial work problem, but a broken heart. People often think that it's only in the area of intimate relationships that hearts get broken, but it's not true. I had given my whole heart and soul and mind and body to that work, and I had been royally fucked over.

That was five years ago. Although it's stupid, the whole thing has continued to loom very large in my mind. I hate bullies. It's one thing I truly hate. I have seen the Bitch Queen from Hell from time to time and we studiously ignore each other. If she walks into our work cafe, I walk out. I just hate being around her. But I often think about her, and my supposed friend. I shouldn't, but I do. They take up mental space that I shouldn't give them. Somehow they have seemed larger than they really are.

I saw Leslie the other day, in the lift. And instead of staring at my feet and pretending not to see her, I said, "Hi, Leslie". We had a civil conversation. I know she didn't want to talk to me, to acknowledge my existence, but I made her. After the conversation, I somehow felt better, stronger, for being assertive with her.

And yesterday, I saw Julie, for the first time in years, in a shopping centre. She looked ordinary, utterly ordinary. Just another tired middle aged woman. She looked small.

Bullies are small people.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

More, Please

The other day, as I complained about feeling crap from lack of caffeine and alcohol, my Big Dude said, "I will have to have sex with you. To live with an Emily who is doing without caffeine, alcohol and sex is unthinkable."

So last night, after three months of no sex, we did it. Four orgasms later, I was feeling much better, and he seemed to enjoy it, too.

I can't claim to be fully satisfied. Frankly, after a three month break, the only thing that would make me feel completely satisfied would be a 48 hour bonk-a-thon and the promise of sex three times a week without fail for the rest of my life.

But, for what it was, it was good.

The only problem now is that all I can think of is... more please.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Yesterday, I met a woman with a gentle face named Donna. She was cooling her feet in the lake at parliament house and we talked for a while.

She had been taken from her parents, along with her six brothers and sisters. She had been adopted by a kind and loving white couple, but her brothers had been sent to a home and suffered unimaginable abuse.

I wanted to say sorry to her personally, but in all honesty, I was too shy for such grandiose gestures.

But this is the apology that will be made today.

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

p>We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have changed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country.

I have experienced 36 Australia Days and 36 Anzac Days, and yet I can't remember when I have felt such pride and hope in my country.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Back in Black

Okay, so I am back from my tropical island. It was a great success. Things well well, I actually had fun, and the Little Dude was a little subdued but basically fine.

And I have come home to great news! The new Australian government is making its first order of business an apology to what we call the Stolen Generations. And the opposition, totally opposed in John Howard's day, is going to support it. Bipartisan support. A truly national event.

A fact that is not widely known about Australia is that, in the decades between about 1910 and 1970, thousands of Aboriginal children were taken from their parents. In some cases, this was genuinely because of neglect, abuse or concerns that mixed race children would be better off being included in white society.

But overwhelmingly, the main reason was part of the policy of assimilation. We genuinely (and very conveniently) believed that white races were superior, that Australia's Indigenous people were gradually dying out and that mixed race children, in particular, should be "rescued" from their parents and adopted into white society. It was part of a much wider policy in which Aboriginal people were not full citizens and many were under the control of protectors, marriages were supposedly controlled to gradually "breed out the colour" and that taking children from their parents was, essentially, being cruel to be kind. Somewhere between one in ten and one in three children were taken from their parents, many to homes where they were beaten and abused and prepared for a lifetime of menial labour.

There has been over a decade of argument about this in Australia. The Stolen Generations report in 1997 brought it all out in the open and called for a national apology. John Howard and his Coalition government argued that it had not been on racial grounds, that in many cases the children were taken for good reason and that, in any case, contemporary Australians should not take responsiblity for the actions of the "past" (even thought the 1960s is well within the lifetime of many Australians).

Outsiders might be surprised about how "stuck" Australia has been on this issue. We have gone around and around in circles for over a decade. And somehow, I feel like all the debate missed the point. Quibbling about how many were taken, in which exact circumstances, the exact extent of the impact is a trivial and pathetic approach. Like a drunk arguing about exactly how many drinks we've had on any one occasion, we have been defensive and shambling and only hurting ourselves. Just as we can be proud of our own and our ancestor's achievements, we can be ashamed and sorry for their and our failings.

The reality is that white society did a terrible, monstrous wrong to those children and their parents and their whole culture. We were wrong. We owe them an apology at the very least. And we finally have a government, and an opposition who admits it. We are going to apologise on 13 February.

My heart is very light. I am going to take the morning off work and go to parliament house. If my Indigenous brothers and sisters are willing to hear an apology, I will make them one and it will be heartfelt. And then we will dance on the lawns of parliament house.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Suggestions Please

Exhausted. Working 10 hours a day, coming home to be sympathetic and understanding to Pat, then crashing. My best times with the Little Dude are when the Big Dude brings him in to work to have lunch with me.

Although I did teach him to do somersaults this week. He was very excited.

Has anyone else noticed that, when the career is going well, the home life unravels, and when you finally have the Mummy act down well, your career is turning to crap?

I am guilt and worry-wracked about leaving him for three whole days next week. We have never been separated for more than a day before. I have always been home for dinner and story time.

By big worry is that he won't understand, as the days wear on, that I am still coming home and haven't left him. Apparently today, as the afternoon wore on, he said confidently, "Mummy home soon". But does a two year old understand that a Mummy who doesn't come home for three afternoons in a row is still definitely coming home to him?

I'm thinking about ways to make it clear that I'm coming home. Phone calls, obviously. Perhaps a calendar, marking off the days till I return?

These are the times when my inexperience as a parent really shows. Suggestions, please.