Australia Day: We Can Do Better

There’s a lot of controversy about celebrating Australia Day on January 26, and with good reason.

Some Aussies — in all honesty, mostly white ones – argue that there is nothing wrong with celebrating our country on that day as we do.

They would most likely be quite surprised to know that Australia Day wasn’t celebrated nationally until 1935: it’s not something we’ve been doing since 1788. Even more surprising would be the fact that it’s only been a public holiday since 1994 – not even thirty years.

A growing number of Aussies feel conflicted about the date. They are coming to understand that, as it is, it is a celebration that causes grief and hurt to the Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia. For them, it is ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Day of Mourning’, which is a very fair call.

January 26 marks the anniversary of the date in 1788 when the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour, set up camp, and began the first British colony in Australia. It is impossible to condense the history of the nation since then into just one sentence, but it’s fair to say that the story is characterised by dispossession, racism, violence, massacre and oppression toward the Indigenous people of the country. That is why celebrating that date is so offensive to them. Anyone who doesn’t understand that is either a. extremely white privileged, b. not trying hard enough or c. both.

It is common understanding that if one is doing something that hurt someone else, and if it is in that person’s power to stop, I should stop doing it. Even if there is an apology, the only way to prove the apology means anything at all is to refrain from doing it again. The only way to heal a damaged relationship is to change one’s ways.
This is as true on a national level as it is for an individual.

We have seen our national government issue an apology for the actions of the past. Now, as a nation, we must prove that we meant it.

There is no reason why we can’t change the date for celebrating our nation. There’s a lot to celebrate, but we can also do much better than we have in the past.

Some people suggest that we should celebrate Australia Day on January 1st – the anniversary of Federation. It’s a good idea, despite the complaints that people will be hung over from New Year’s Eve parties the night before. That’s a choice for each individual to make – but wouldn’t less drunkenness be a good thing anyway?

Alternatively, I suggest that the Australian government should commit to and sign a Treaty with the Indigenous people, as they have been pleading for the government to do for years. This Treaty, made in collaboration with Indigenous people, would acknowledge the past, shape the future, and enable us to move on together in a spirit of reconciliation and healing.


The date on which that Treaty was established and signed should be the new date for Australia Day. We could even call it Treaty Day, or Australian Treaty Day, to put the focus on the relationship instead of the painful memories of the past.

I’m not Indigenous, and I do not pretend to share their experiences or speak for anyone else.

I am, however, a History teacher who seeks to teach Australian history with empathy and awareness of the experiences of Australia’s First Nations people, and to encourage my students to understand that our nation’s story began long before 1788. I am an Australian who loves my country, but also one who is deeply sorry for the suffering of the Indigenous people, past and present.

As such, I cannot help but think that either one of those two ideas would have to be better than what we have now.

I will not be attending or watching any Australia Day celebrations tomorrow.
Instead, I intend to mark the day by signing the Uluru Statement From The Heart, which is a call to Australians to rally together to achieve constitutional recognition for our First Nations peoples and to establish an Indigenous voice to Parliament.

It’s high time we did better, Australia. Let’s change the date, and move forward in a common spirit of reconciliation and healing.

Australia Day: We Can Do Better
#changethedate #AustraliaDay

A Few Home Truths About Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech is a human right. 
It is the right to express  one’s ideas and opinions verbally or in writing, either publicly or privately.
It is the right to engage in public conversation about personal and public issues and events.
It is the right to communicate meaningfully with other people. 

Even so, it has it’s ethical limitations. 

All individuals have freedom of speech. It is not just the domain of one person, or one group. 
This means that the right is also accompanied by the responsibility of listening to, and responding thoughtfully to, the ideas and opinions of others. Freedom of speech is a two way street. 

It is not the right to cause harm or injury to other people. 
It is not the right to incite violence. 
It is not the right to abuse, slander, or misrepresent situations or other people. 
It is not the right to spread dangerous disinformation.
It is not the right to break the law or commonly accepted rules. 

The people decrying Twitter and Facebook for banning Trump need to understand these things. 

When he opened his social media accounts, he agreed to the terms and conditions. Nobody can have those accounts without agreeing to those rules, which clearly state that one cannot use that social media platform to break the law or encourage anyone else to do so. There is a clearly stated warning that infringement of those rules will result in your account being suspended or cancelled. 

There is no doubt that these are the rules invoked when the accounts belonging to a range of criminals and terrorists were cancelled in the past. People and governments actively and rightly demanded that this should be the case in response to the manifesto and live streaming of the actions of the Christchurch mosque terrorist, for example. 

It is illegal to use social media to promote illegal activity or post offensive material. 

Why, then, should Trump not be banned for inciting a riot or encouraging sedition? Why should his followers not be banned for plotting violence and premeditating murder and insurrection? 

The clear answer is that they absolutely should. 

Anyone using social media to plan or conduct a criminal act should be banned and then prosecuted to the full extent of the law. 

Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have acted rightly. 
They have not assaulted anyone’s free speech. It is not censorship. Those on the quiet end of a ban have invited that consequence for themselves. 

A Few Home Truths About #FreedomOfSpeech
#Rights2021 #SocialMedia

Remembrance Day

Today– November 11th– is Remembrance Day. It’s also called Armistice Day.

It is a day of remembrance of the fact that at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month– November 11th, 1918– the Armistice that brought an end to World War 1 was signed.

Back then, they called World War I ‘The Great War’ and ‘The War to End All Wars’.
It was called ‘The Great War’ because of its size and scale, not because it was good in any way. And, being the overachievers that humans are, we have since proven that it didn’t prevent any further wars at all.

Today is a day for acknowledging the devastation, loss of life, and tragedy of the war not just for Australia, or the Allies, but for all the nations involved.

It is a day for remembering the fallen soldiers, and those who came back broken and maimed. It is a day for remembering those who mourned them.

It is a day for giving thanks for their legacy.

Their soldiers’ commitment to fighting was anything but selfish: they fought for their country. Their service and sacrifice was for the sake of defending and preserving our freedoms.

Today, let us contemplate the horrors of war and how we can avoid them in the future. Let us reflect on those who gave their lives in loyal service of their country.

Lest we forget.

Original poem. All rights reserved.

Remembrance Day
#RemembranceDay #LestWeForget #blogpost

Why We Should All Celebrate International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is not just a day for feminists. It’s for everyone.

History is full of amazing achievements and world-changing events. It is also full of amazing women who accomplished incredible things, made discoveries and inventions that had significant impacts on the world as they knew it but also on the future, and did it all despite being suppressed — and sometimes oppressed— by social structures that gave the power, property and privileges to men. 

A photo of a statue of Millicent Fawcett, campaigner for women’s rights
Photo credit: dimitrisvetsikas1969 on Pixabay

Don’t get me wrong — I like men as much as the next girl, but it’s fair to say they’ve held the lions share of the power, wealth and privilege in times past. That’s why I have particular respect and admiration for those women who had the temerity and confidence do do their thing regardless of what men, and many other women, thought. 

I’ve written a number of posts about some of these strong and inspirational women, and I have honoured their legacy in poetry

Today, I want to encourage everyone to celebrate International Women’s Day by considering everything they have been taught or given by women – not just historical figures but, more personally, their mothers, aunts, teachers, carers, family members… and the list is endless. 

Women have spoken into our lives and invested in us individually in countless ways. Whether personally or professionally, casually or consistently, they all deserve our recognition and thanks. 

While we should be doing that every day, International Women’s Day gives us an excellent reminder to make a special effort to thank and acknowledge the women who have got us where we are today. 

Sure, there is still progress to be made and true equality to be achieved. But we’d be a whole lot further behind if it were not for those women who have gone before us and set alight the lamps that have shown us the way. 

Why We Should All Celebrate International Women’s Day
#InternationalWomensDay #WomensHistory #IWD2020

If you’d like to read some of the poems I’ve written to celebrate the strength and resilience of women, you can read Her Light Burns Brightly and Stained Glass on my wordynerdbirdwrites blog.

These poems are also available in my collection dedicated to strong women, titled ‘Stained Glass’.

Prejudice Is Ugly, Kids.

I was saddened to read what happened to Sharon Cathcart the other day in response to a blog post about racism. Nobody should have to put up with another person’s bad behaviour simply because they are standing up for what is right. 

Sadly, there can be no doubt that racism and white supremacy are still living and active in our world. 

We see their outworking on the news, on the streets, on social media, and in the actions of hateful people. It can be public or private. It can be overt or concealed. 

It seems the only thing it cannot be is eradicated. 

I do try, in my own sphere of influence, to teach and challenge others to embrace equality, acceptance, and empathy for what others have endured, and what is still experienced by many. 

I try to make people aware of what white privilege is, and why it’s wrong to perpetuate it. Yes, I’m fully aware that I’ve been a beneficiary of it all my life. I’ve had advantages others haven’t, simply because I’m white. That doesn’t mean I am willing to sit back and allow it to perpetuate.  

This is why I teach my students about the effects of European settlement of Australia on the indigenous people, then and now. It’s why I teach my students about segregation, oppression, and the Civil Rights Movement, and have them listen and respond to speeches by Martin Luther King Jr and JFK. It’s why I thave them study texts such as ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ and ‘No Sugar’. It’s why I teach about inequality, wellbeing, and social justice. And I make sure they understand that for everything that has happened in the USA, Australia’s track record is no better. 

It’s why I challenge people who tell racial jokes, or call people names, or avoid people who don’t fit their ideal. 

It’s why I object to the way in which my country continues to detain people who are legitimately seeking asylum on small third-world islands nearby. It’s why I object to policies and practices that continue to discriminate against indigenous Australians. 

And it’s why I write blog posts like this. 

I do not ever claim to be perfect, but I detest prejudice, discrimination, and everything that goes with them. It’s not just about race: nobody should be excluded, abused or marginalised for being different in whatever way. 

I, too, have had hateful messages left on a blog post or three. I know they are intended to upset me, and to deter me from posting something similar again.

Sadly for those responsible, it has the opposite effect. I always figure that if someone is vehement enough to threaten or abuse me over something I have written, I have probably touched a nerve that deserved touching. As my grandfather used to say, “If you throw a stone at a pack of dogs, the one it hits will yelp the loudest.”

He was a wise man, my grandfather. That statement was never made about actual rocks, nor about actual dogs. It was invariably made about bullies, and various other sorts of horrible people, and the way they would always lash out or blame someone else in response to any accusation or opposition directed at them.

That’s the same reason people leave nasty messages on blogs and social media. They resent the fact that someone is calling them out on their hate.

It’s okay for them to say what they want, though. They have rights, you know.

Sharon E. Cathcart

I was coming back here to write about something else, and found that I had a threatening e-mail (via my contact page) and comment (permanently deleted) from a white supremacist in reference to the link I shared about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Suffice it to say that this individual now has the rare distinction of having been blocked.

This is what white supremacy looks like: threatening anyone who dares to show support for people of color, or to speak out about what happens to them.

And that is actually what I came here to write about. When my dad died, I mentioned that he had given away the bride when one of his African-American students, Joe, married a white woman. Her own family refused to attend.

Anyway, we tried very hard to find Joe in time for Daddy’s funeral. The number my mother had was disconnected, and the…

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ANZAC Day, 2019

101 years after the end of World War I, people all over Australia and New Zealand gathered today in remembrance of our soldiers, the nurses and doctors who supported them, and all those who served to preserve our freedom.

At our local ANZAC Day ceremony, I witnessed some lovely moments. 

Members of the CWA had knitted poppies and used them to line the path to the cenotaph. They looked beautiful, but also served as a poignant reminder of those who had given their lives during the war.

Local men who had served stood proudly, wearing their medals. There are fewer of them each year, but their number was supported by the children and grandchildren of those who have passed, wearing their forebears’ medals with pride and reverence.

One of my own former students gave a beautiful heartfelt requiem for the fallen. He spoke so well, and really knew his history. He made me really proud. 

An elderly gentleman standing near me bent down, took his restless young grandsons in his arms and explained to them why they needed to be quiet and pay respect. He then pinned his own poppy on one boy’s shirt. The smile on that child’s face as he stood quietly beside his grandfather for the rest of the ceremony was a wonderful thing to see.

Several young people of my town raised the flags of Australia and New Zealand to half mast and stood with their heads bowed during the Last Post and the minute of silence before raising the flags to full height and saluting them. 

Over thirty local groups, organisations and businesses laid memorial wreaths at the base of the cenotaph. Young members of the local Scout group carried and laid wreaths for those who were too elderly or frail to do so, keeping pace with the older folk as they walked to and from the cenotaph. 

A teenaged member of my theatre company sang the national anthems of both countries with reverence and pride. Everyone in attendance stood and sang along with pride. Not everyone knew the New Zealand anthem, but plenty of folk did. 

After the ceremony, the local Scouts carried around plates of sandwiches and refreshments for the townsfolk who had congregated. Every single one of them said “Excuse me” before offering us something to eat. Every single one of them smiled and spoke respectfully.

I have no doubt that similar things happened in every locality across Australia at 11am today to commemorate all those who served to defend our country and preserve our freedom, because that is what Australians do on April 25th.  

Women In History: More Fabulous, Famous Femmes

History is full of amazing women who had strength, courage and determination and showed men a thing or two about how things should be done.

There are so many great women that I would have loved to write about, but I couldn’t get to them all because I wanted to focus on featuring some of the less heroines of history with whom many people would not be familiar. I did find this excellent post that includes quite a few ladies who were on my list, so I thought I would share it with my readers on this final day of Women’s History Month.

I hope you enjoy this great post from Nerdome featuring some fabulous famous femmes including feisty royals Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great, and two of my literary loves, Jane Austen and Maya Angelou.

Nerdome

Happy Women’s Day ! , Today we are going to remember , powerful and inspirational women who have been pioneers for women’s rights and racial equality and have defined the worlds of science, mathematics, aviation and literature.

Whether these famous females were inventors, scientists, leaders, politicians, or literal Queens, these  strong women undeniably changed the world for the better.

Cleopatra, 69 BC-30 BC Egyptian pharaoh

cleo.jpg

Cleopatra. (Photo By DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/De Agostini/Getty Images)

Final ruler of Egypt’s Ptolemaic dynasty, Cleopatra was more than the famous beauty her subsequent, simplistic portrayals often depict. A formidable, politically shrewd monarch, she was directly involved in the running of a kingdom that faced challenges on many fronts.

Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603)elizabeth.jpg

“Though the sex to which I belong is considered weak you will nevertheless find me a rock that bends to no wind.”

The Armada portrait of Queen Elizabeth I painted in 1588

Elizabeth called herself ‘The…

View original post 1,523 more words

Women in History: Nellie Bly

Picture: Public domain.

Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and having altered her name slightly by adding an ‘e’, Cochran’s began her career in journalism when she responded to a newspaper article which contended that girls were really only good for motherhood and housekeeping. 

Significantly impressed by her response, which she had written under a pseudonym, the editor of the paper ran an ad asking the author to come forward. 

When Cochrane introduced herself to the editor, he offered her the opportunity to write another piece for the newspaper, and when she impressed him again, he offered her a permanent job.  At that time, the convention was for women who wrote for newspapers writers to use pen names. Her pen name was taken from a popular song, and when the editor wrote ‘Nellie’ instead of ‘Nelly’, the name stuck.

Nellie wrote a series of articles about issues confronting women factory workers which resulted in complaints from the men who owned and ran the factories. When the editor reassigned her to articles on homemaking and gardening, Nellie soon became frustrated and left for Mexico, where she spent six months reporting on the lives of the people. She had to leave Mexico, however, when her article decrying the imprisonment of a local journalist angered the authorities, then controlled by the dictator Porfinio Diaz. 

Unwilling to spend the rest of her life writing about things in which she took little interest, Nellie moved to New York in 1887 where, after living in very poor conditions, she undertook a job for The World newspaper as an undercover reporter in the notorious women’s asylum on Blackwell’s Island. It took considerable effort to actually get committed to the asylum, where Nellie experienced all the horrors of the place firsthand for ten days before her release was secured by her editor. 

The conditions and treatment of patients in the asylum became known through Nellie’s articles, which were later published as a book. Cruel staff, poor sanitation, dreadful food and the fact that a number of the women were not insane at all — some simply did not speak English, others were sent there when their affairs with prominent members of society had soured— brought about reforms and made Nellie Bly a household name. 

In 1888, Bly suggested to her editor that she undertake a trip around the world inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the Workd In Eighty Days, to see if it could be done int hat time.

Picture: Public Domain. Cover of the 1890 board game Round the World with Nellie Bly

She left on November 14, 1889, in the clothes she wore, with some money in a pouch that hung on a cord from her neck, concealed by her clothes, and a small bag containing some basic requirements. She travelled by ship and rail, and actually met Jules Verne in France. Her tip was not without delays or complications, but she arrived back in New York just 72 days after her departure — then a world record time.

Later in life, Cochrane became an industrialist and then a reporter on both the events of World War I and the campaign for women’s suffrage in America. 

Nellie died of pneumonia in 1922. She had certainly led an interesting life and demonstrated quite powerfully that women were capable of far more than having babies and running a household. 


Women in History: Claudette Colvin

We’ve all heard of Rosa Parks, and rightly so. Her refusal to give up her seat to a white person on a segregated bus sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and was a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. 

The very bus on which she rode is in the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, commemorating her actions and their importance in the history of the nation. 

Have you, though, heard of Claudette Colvin? 
Probably not. But you should have. 

Nine months before Rosa Parks’ defiant actions, fifteen year old Claudette Colvin was riding a segregated bus home from school in Montgomery, Alabama, and refused to give her seat up for a white woman. 

Source: Claudette Colvin Biography, https://www.biography.com/people/claudette-colvin-11378 Accessed March 13, 2019

Colvin was arrested and tried in juvenile court for her defiance.  Her mother discouraged her from speaking publicly about her actions, preferring to let Rosa Parks take the spotlight. 

I have to wonder, though: just how much did Claudette Colvin inspire Rosa Parks to refuse to give up her seat? And why aren’t we taught with equal admiration about this brave young woman who made her stand by remaining seated?

I am sure of one thing, though: I will be including Claudette Colvin in my lessons on the Civil Rights Movement from now on. My fifteen year old students need to know that nobody is too young to change the world for the better. 

International Women’s Day: March 8th, 2019

“Happy International Wormn’s Day!” one of my students announced as I walked into the classroom today. 

“Ha!” said one of the boys. “How come women get a special day?

“Are you serious?” another girl challenged him.

“Yeah,” he said, “when is it men’s day?”

The girl who had welcomed me rolled her eyes. “Every day is men’s day!”

It seems like a lighthearted story. You could just laugh and keep doing whatever you were doing and not think any more about it. 

Still, there are deeper issues here that I felt the need to address.

These are teenagers. Without quizzing them to find out where they stand individually, some generalized conclusions can be drawn.

The girls are aware enough to know that inequality still exists, but have been raised in a generation that knows we can demand better treatment than what those who have gone before have experienced. 

The boys are less understanding of the issues that still exist.. there are probably as many reasons why as there are boys present in the room. 

So, we had a discussion about recognising and addressing inequality— of various types, about mistakes of the past and not perpetuating them, and about our concepts of respect, acceptance and difference.

Obviously, we didn’t manage to solve all the problems of the world during that lesson. We did, however, leave with the girls feeling both acknowledged and respected, and everyone more aware of the importance of treating one another as equals, regardless of what types of differences exist between us. 

As a Humanities teacher, that made for a happy International Women’s Day indeed.