Isabelle is the twelve-year-old daughter of Amanda, who talked about domestic violence in the episode Red Flags.
Resilient and insightful, Isabelle talks about her mother's abusive partner stealing her teddy bear when she was six years old.
“I was just an angry child because I lost my teddy bear.”
On the cusp of adolescence, Isabelle has already learnt a great deal about herself and emotion regulation. She is unapologetic for a justified anger and, at the same time, understands that lashing out in anger is not often effective.
"Emotions rub off on people. If you’re angry all the time, no one will want to talk to you. If you’re calm, people wll rely on you."
“Why doesn’t she just leave him?”
Trigger warning: Domestic violence.
Amanda Cosgrove describes how it took five years to leave a man who was abusing her and the strategies that he used to manipulate his way into remaining in her life, including using her children and slowly undermining her belief in herself.
After the relationship ended, she went through counselling to rebuild her self-worth and self-respect. Forgiving herself, despite it not being her fault, took a long time. She also did courses to learn ways of identifying the red flags that can be a warning of abuse.
Despite all this work, Amanda found herself in a relationship that turned violent. Her son had to step into to save her while she was being seriously assaulted by her partner.
A woman of remarkable strength, insight and resilience, raising five healthy and happy children, Amanda shares her tale as a lesson in how, under the right circumstances, we are all vulnerable to abuse.
“Hopefully with more and more people speaking out about it, hopefully women do listen and don’t try and pretend everything’s fine like I did for so long.”
Nivelo started Equally Wed in the faith that one day, Australia would enact marriage equality. A wedding directory catering for gay, lesbian, queer and transgendered couples, Equally Wed reflects Niv's belief in equality and civil rights.
"The reason why I really started this business was so that everybody had the same rights and option."
The inspiration for Equally Wed came seven years ago, when Nivelo's brother and male partner opened a package containing a cake topper. The expression on their faces of joy and happiness really struck Nivelo. They had found something that represented them, something they could see themselves in.
And that, to Nivelo, is important.
* This is not a paid endorsement of Equally Wed. I just admired the imagination and motivation that it took to set up this business years ago and hold faith that one day Australia would get its act together.
A child with a disability taught retired teacher, Elizabeth Appleyard, an important lesson on mental health and wellbeing.
In a class exercise, when other children were wishing for material items, this child wished for a new hand.
At the same time, this child appeared to be an essentially happy soul. He had friends, he laughed, he played.
The lesson for Elizabeth is that happiness is transient. To be happy means that, at some point, you will also be sad. They are emotions on the same spectrum.
Underneath them is contentment and peace. You can feel sad and know that, basically, you're alright.
Contentment is about enjoying day to day existence, about experiencing each day as a present to be unwrapped.
"I can pay my bills and I can do what I like with my day. That," says Elizabeth, "is a luxury."
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.
If you’re not able to listen, you could email me to ask for pdf of the transcript: admin at creatingspaceproject dot com
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.
This episode is part-two of Bearing Witness: The backstory to Creating Space where we hear the inspiring yarn behind Ruth Nelson and how this podcast came into being. In the first episode we followed Ruth who, as an 18-year-old, inadvertently signed up to volunteer in community work with refugees leading her on the path of studying psychology.
She survived a brain encephalopathy, and in not choosing the path of least resistance, Ruth headed to northern Uganda at the age of 26 to work in community outreach as an NGO. It’s in this episode where we pick up Ruth’s story as she struggles with the futility of her presence, as a young inexperienced community worker, in an active conflict zone. Ruth saw her role, initially at least, as bearing witness to the atrocities of this insidious and complex conflict but over the two years she initiated and facilitated many programs, some of which had surprisingly comedic outcomes.
After Ruth returned to Australia to complete her qualifications as a psychologist and to work in the field, life happened, and she made a difficult decision to put her career on hold to dedicate her efforts to raising her child. It was during this period, Ruth felt like she was losing hope as social media reflected a world of growing ignorance and intolerance. So she decided to share stories. What was supposed to be a blog, became a podcast and Ruth searched far and wide to ask women to share their own stories at the virtual campfire. Ruth believes we are sentient bags of saltwater who just love a good story, and in listening to others we can readily identify shared values despite coming from different, seemingly alien backgrounds.
Since the Creating Space Project started in June 2016, Ruth has facilitated, so far, the sharing of stories, in a narrative framework, of 73 ordinary, yet extraordinary women. It was my opinion Ruth’s story needed also to be shared and she eventually acquiesced to my appeal for an interview. I think it makes for a particularly inspiring listen … enjoy!
This is the last episode before Ruth takes a break for a few months, as she is due to have another baby. But fear not - the Creating Space Project will return!
It seemed remiss - to me at least - with all the stories that have been shared by this project of ordinary, yet extraordinary women, it had not featured the captivating journey of its creator, Ruth Nelson.
It took 12 months and some gentle persuasion for Ruth to acquiesce to my appeal for an interview. The notion that she would become the object of interest left Ruth feeling ill at ease, yet her experience, I argued, was at the essence of the Creating Space story.
I knew Ruth’s personal story would make for a fascinating and inspiring episode, but as it transpired, the yarn - much like Ruth herself - proved difficult to contain and so, I proudly bring you the first episode in a two-part series.
We start with Ruth at 18 lying to nuns about her experience and inadvertently signing up to volunteer at a charity, Josephite Community Aid, with refugees. Following a stint in Tanzania, an encephalopathy left Ruth with three weeks to live and the prognosis of a living in a group home after she failed to die. Not content with just surviving, Ruth completed a degree in psychology and left for Africa, this time, again inadvertently, landing an active conflict zone. She spent two years in Northern Uganda and witnessed the region transforming from a state of war to post-conflict society.
When listening to Ruth, in her characteristically understated manner, we might be fooled - for just a moment - to believe her story is anything other than extraordinary, because it is. She possesses a generosity of spirit, that leaves very little room for ego. There is also a joyfulness in her manner, and despite the sometimes-horrifying and traumatic experiences, Ruth delivers humour and hope.
We hope you enjoy episode one of Bearing Witness: The Backstory to the Creating Space Project
Guest host Sarah Down interviews the usual host of the Creating Space Project, psychologist Ruth Nelson.
Rachael Vincent talks about the emotional impact of the postal survey on same sex marriage, or marriage equality, in Australia.
It has been frightening and deeply upsetting for the GLBTQIA community to be confronted with people's level of fear and hatred.
"The license given to people to say things that would not normally be accepted."
Swastikas painted. People assaulted.
"This is a state-sanctioned homo-bashing festival."
For Rachael, a white woman quite a long way up the privilege ladder, it is an insight into what it is like to always have to fight for your rights and your identity.
Most of us aren't very good at changing our minds. Beliefs that we have held since childhood can be very resistant to change. If we have been raised to understand that marriage is between a man and a woman, we often believe that to be “natural” or the “way it should be.”
This is especially true if we have been taught to link such a belief to our faith in God. It is easy, under those circumstances, to be swayed by fear and worry to say that change is wrong. It is easy to take on board the messages that children will be endangered, that society will be endangered, and to be closed to any evidence to the contrary.
Rachael Vincent talks, with great love, of the three very conservative Christian women who very strongly shaped her as she grew up: Her two grandmothers and her godmother. When they realised that she was homosexual, their belief that God is love and their faith in the power of love, transcended any prejudice that could have led them to reject Rachael.
It is, what she describes, as “the miracle of changing one’s mind.”
Rachael is hopeful that, over time, society will simply come to increasingly accept and welcome the queer community. Marriage equality, or same sex marriage, is simply another issue that modernity has brought to consciousness. As she says, “Gradually over time, just as the sea erodes a rock, we come to terms with these things.”
Mary is Chinese Australian, born in Fiji during World War Two. Mary believes her life is blessed. She is 76, the mother of 7 children, the grandmother of 5 children.
Her Catholic faith strongly shapes the way that Mary sees the world. The three most important things in her life are loving God, your neighbour, and yourself.
To her, loving yourself is very important.
"I like this bit... We need to do the right thing by ourselves, look after ourselves."
Despite the strength of her Catholic religious beliefs, she also believes that all religions are essentially good,
"If we go back to their teachings, it is love God, love your neighbour as yourself."
She also acknowledges that Catholicism is far from perfect.
"A lot of harm has been done in the name of the church."
Mary feels it is important to accept people for who they are. She says that she tries to be accepting, especially as she herself is not perfect, although sometimes, she finds that hard.
Her deep faith in God leads her to have a basic trust in life, that things will work out for the best, even if that is not the way that we would have wanted. She loves life and hopes to be around for much longer, although she is not afraid of dying.
"Basically I think that’s my life and I like to think I’m happy about it."
I interviewed Bern in her beautiful four-bedroom house, to the accompaniment of a budgie called Snowstripe. Like my home, it was strewn with toys and the walls were adorned with photos – a little child, loving parents.
We were a few days late getting to the interview. Bern’s five-year-old child had been sick with the gastro bug going around Sydney. Bern works from home and had managed to squeeze me in between meetings on a warm spring morning.
So, a normal mother, busy with work and parenting, in a normal family. As Bern said,
“We have a 5-year-old child. Property, investments, insurances, wills, we have everything every other loving couple has. Apart from the right to have our relationship recognised by [Australian] law.”
Bern volunteers with community organisations, including Park Run and Rainbow Families. She is warm, kind and welcoming. The values she learnt from her family of origin, in particular her father, are abundantly reflected in the life she leads: The importance of commitment to family, raising a child in a loving environment, treating others with respect and compassion, leading a life of integrity.
It makes it feel very strange to know that GLBTQIA families like Bern’s are “on the receiving end of the negative feedback of this postal plebiscite debate, there’s lots of hate and horrible things being said about ourselves and our family and members of our community.”
When it comes to marriage equality, in the words of Bern’s five-year-old, “Wouldn’t it be a really nice world if everybody voted yes?”
Imagine a teacher from primary school remembering you vividly, fifty years later.
Sister Josephine Mitchell is a Josephite nun. A renowned champion of human rights and social justice, she is, among other roles, a former teacher, both in Australia and East Timor.
Educare, she says, means to grow. Teaching means helping young people to grow and realise their dreams. Providing education and being a small part of someone’s life is, to her, a privilege.
Sr Josephine tells a story about a little boy that she taught 50 years ago, on the banks of the Richmond River, in northern NSW. It seems, to me, remarkable, that she remembers individual students from so long ago.
“I can remember that little kid and many many little kids like that.”
“Most of the ones we dealt with in Timor really wanted to make something… they wanted to go further, but didn’t have any way to do it.”
The criteria for accepting children into the schools she taught in in East Timor were simple: The children couldn’t afford to pay for an education. Sr Josephine is fiercely passionate about working to alleviate poverty and to respect human dignity.
“A human person who is inhibited because… they’re not respected, they’re being persecuted, oppressed, living in poverty - in such poor conditions they can’t break out of that.”
To her, such injustice is intolerable. She doesn’t see it as helping though. There is a condescension to helping someone. It’s about working towards freedom, and that is a mutual process.
“They can reflect back to me who I am. Sometimes I’m not the most desirable sort of person and they can let me know that things aren’t going too well. They can affirm me. Their values, they can share with me, some things that I have not considered. Some of them overcome huge difficulties to keep developing. That’s heroic, some of them have very big obstacles.”
Sonia Muir is one of two women responsible for the Rural Women's Network, a government department in NSW, Australia.
Set up in the 1990s in response to the isolation experience by women during the drought, there is still a need today to facilitate the connections between rural women, reducing isolation, acknowledging their hard work, and developing their confidence and self-esteem.
This year is the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Network, and Sonia has been there for each of those years. She has met thousands of people in the course of her work. And each of them has meant something to her.
For Sonia, this is meaningful work. It has an impact on people’s lives. It allows her to feel that the energy she expends is making a difference to someone. And, as she says, “When you give of yourself and you give of your community, that comes back to you tenfold.”
“Through music you can express something that you can’t express in words and that you maybe don’t even know… it’s a line to the soul”
Professional horn player, Carla Blackwood, performs Nocturno by Franz Strauss.
From listening together to this short piece of music, a conversation opens up about the importance of music. Food for the soul, music reveals to us something of what it is to be human. Music lets us engage with the abstract and the intangible and, especially in a modern society that encourages us to focus on what is tangible and material, this is more important than ever.
“There’s more to being human than our conscious reality.”
Carla also talks about how music exposes that very human struggle between striving for perfection and the acceptance that, actually, perfection can never be attained. It’s a valuable life lesson, this notion of “listening kindly to yourself.”
She reflects also on how music, memory and place become woven together and help form our identity. The importance of recognising your roots and where you are from, is one that is perhaps downplayed in Western cultures. But our “soul country” powerfully shapes the person we become.
Jill Asquith runs her own business in recruitment and employment.
She started from her bedroom, just looking to make an income. Within a couple of months, she moved from being a sole trader to being a company.
Two years later, her business works with a lot of big corporations. They have an Indigenous division where they focus on pre-employment and Indigenous participation.
Jill talks about the importance of creating opportunities, not just for herself, but for others too. She talks, as well, about how you deal with failure and stay focused on your dreams.
Jill's attitude provides fabulous insight into a growth mindset, and into the importance of hope and courage in pursuing challenges in life.
"I’ve just got this belief that it’s going to happen and I’ve just got this hope that some way I will work out how it’s going to go or how it’s going to happen."
Cherie Johnson is passionate about Aboriginal education.
I interviewed Cherie at the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, while she participated in a program for entrepreneurs. While we spoke, she brought to life the landscape around us. Sydney Harbour is the traditional land of the Gadigal people. Long before colonisation by the British, this was a harbour into which whales came to breed. It had a rich social history, a shared space that saw peaceful trading with many other nations, including the Dutch and the Indonesians.
When I studied history in Australia in the 1990s, we covered aspects of the histories of many nations. In Australian history, while certain aspects of colonisation were addressed, the Myall Creek Massacre being a notable stand out in my memory, this was not a focus of our education. The white settlers were the focus. I have no memory of being taught anything about Australian history prior to colonisation, which was often, and still is, referred to as the “early days” of Australia.
Cherie believes passionately in the importance of Indigenising the Australian school curriculum. For example, Cherie means that we need to include much more Aboriginal content, such as teaching a history that doesn’t start with the colonisation of Australia.
Cherie feels it is also important to recognise that, while Australian education is typically focused on verbal ways of learning, Aboriginal people, and many non-Aboriginals, learn much more through kinetic and visual ways: learning through having a go at a process and then solidifying the learning with the written process.
These are topics that can be uncomfortable for non-Aboriginal Australians. An Aboriginal perspective can be a “narrative that is foreign.” Cherie wants to support non-Aboriginal Australians to implement these perspectives, to talk about “topics that they don’t find completely comfortable but [are] navigating anyway.”
Her sense of herself as an Aboriginal woman is ever-present in her story. For me, a settler woman, it was a privilege to listen to how Cherie’s understanding of her identity is located so strongly within her culture. A Wailwan woman, part of the Gomileroi language group, her family is from northern NSW. From a strong line of women, Cherie lives now on the land of the Awabakal people, not far north of Sydney, Australia.
As Cherie says, “at the base of who I am, I’m an Aboriginal woman.” That means she will always ask herself what is important for her people, her community, her family network. It means being strong in herself.
Cherie doesn't devalue the existing Australian education system. In fact, as well as raising her children and running her business, she is completing a PhD, seeking to empirically validate her beliefs about the importance of Aboriginal education. She hopes to bring together what is important in both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal perspectives.
As a non-Aboriginal, I am steeped in the settler narrative. My education and upbringing enculturated me into that focus. And, as Cherie said, it can be uncomfortable to take another perspective.
But discomfort, really, is where growth lies. Sitting and listening to Cherie's perspective of this land created an expansive feeling. It was a glimpse into the way another person, another group of people, view and make sense of the world.
As Cherie says, of the way her cultural identity shapes her life and her perspective, “it’s like the steering wheel of my life and my body.”
If you need a good yarn, Jacqui Cosgrove is your woman. Here, she tells a story about catching a burglar with her sister, many years ago.
The story reflects the importance of community in Jacqui's life. She spends a lot of time volunteering, participating in community events and fundraising. Community provides her with encouragement and support.
As one good story tends to lead onto another, it was fascinating to hear Jacqui talking about her early life.
Jacqui was raised on a farm in the bush, in rural NSW, Australia. Her first home was a mud hut, made of rammed earth.
Her mother and father were very community-oriented. She remembers family outings often being interrupted in order to help somebody they had come across.
Her father, like his siblings, received his education by working at the school to earn it. This was a situation not uncommon in the bush at this time. He left at 13 to go out to work.
Through the stories that Jacqui tells, it's not hard to spot the passing on of values through the generations of a family: Community, compassion, courage, and hard work.
This is a story about potential, effort and achievement. It’s also a story about disability.
Peta Leseberg, from Bathurst, a country town in NSW, talks for the first time in her life about her disability.
When she was born, she couldn’t breathe. As a child, she had slow development.
Her childhood included a lot of time with specialists and therapists. Bullied in primary school, she chose MacKillop College, a private girls school for high school. Despite the loss of funding this entailed, her parents respected her decision.
Her disability impacts on her life in many ways.
Peta has some trouble speaking, due to poor muscle tone. This can lead to misunderstanding and frustration. Peta, in conversation, can be unsure whether people understand her or are just being polite.
Another impact is the value she places on effort and achievement. Peta has a Bachelor of Arts degree, specialising in history. Education is important to her. Also, she spends much of her time volunteering in the community. It’s important to her to give back to the community, in part out of appreciation for the Disability Support Pension she receives.
Peta understands the importance of not judging other people. Rather, always explore their potential. Peta realises it’s easy to judge another person, to see disability and assume that person lacks potential.
The people who taught Peta to value herself were her parents, her godmother, and some teachers in high school, who encouraged her and valued her potential. Peta remembers vividly being told by her ancient history teacher, Mrs Kanarakis, that she would be a good teacher.
While sometimes she wishes she didn’t have a disability, it strongly shapes her identity.
“Sometimes I think I wish I didn’t have it, and sometimes I think, well, my disability’s got me this far, it hasn’t hindered it, why am I so afraid of it?”
Marghanita da Cruz is standing as a Greens candidate for the Leichhardt Ward in the forthcoming Inner West Council election. She took time from her campaign to talk to the Creating Space Project about cumquats.
Cumquats are a small citrus fruit. The variety grown in Sydney can’t be eaten fresh, it’s too sour. Marghanita has a cumquat tree in her backyard. The fruit, she gives away to people who make cumquat jam.
In this story, simple though it may seem, cumquat jam becomes a metaphor for the networks that emerge between people and between generations. I give you the cumquats from my tree, you give me some lemons.
The making of cumquat jam is knowledge that is passed down through generations. There is value in holding onto this knowledge. Modern Western society often encourages us to purchase so much of our diet and to waste what we do not consume. The women who gather to make cumquat jam are custodians of a wisdom that took a long time to be achieved. It is the techniques for cooking that are learnt only through observation. It is the understanding that in times of glut, we can preserve our food for the future, rather than letting it spoil.
The time spent together over an activity like jam-making is valuable too. It is time in which stories emerge. Marghanita recounts some of the stories of Hilma, an elder of Marghanita’s community who passed away two years ago, stories that teach us about the resilience of the human spirit.
If you think about the wise women in your own life, when were the times during which you got to hear their stories? What were the activities in which you stood side by side while they imparted their wisdom? I loved listening to Marghanita. It got me thinking about my grandmother, the stories she would tell while we cracked almonds or made Christmas cake.
In this episode, we talk about mental health, suicidality and abortion. If you are triggered, please seek the support of caring people. In Australia, you could call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
While Katie was at university, she became pregnant. Having children is something that Katie takes very seriously. It is not something to undertake lightly.
Katie carefully considered all her options, thought them through, discussed them with appropriate people, and came to the conclusion that an abortion was the best choice for both her and for the potential life of the foetus. She was simply not the right person, at that time, to raise a child.
Katie, a community lawyer and co-host of the Progressive Podcast Australia (https://progressivepodcastaustralia.com), is deeply committed to the values of justice and compassion.
In this episode, we talk about how a person who is supportive of early abortion and a person who is opposed to early abortion may, in fact, hold very similar values.
In issues that are potentially very polarising, we talk about the importance of seeking a balance of emotions and reasoning, of listening to people who do not share the same beliefs as us, and of acknowledging the truth, or validating, of experiences of people from all perspectives.
Have you heard of the Cove in Taiji, Japan?
Ashley Avci has not only heard about it, she has been there. She has stood for long hours, days, weeks and months, a horrified witness to slaughter. She is a Cove Guardian with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. In this episode, she talks about her personal experiences in Taiji.
Ashley has put her head into the water and listened to what can only be described as screaming, from pods of up to eighty dolphins and whales. And then, the silence when they are all dead, from great-grandparents down to the smallest calves.
Passionately and fiercely opposed to the hunting of whales and dolphins, Ashley was quite prepared to accept the emotional toll that it has taken on her. It seemed an acceptable price for attempting to bring to the world’s attention and so, hopefully one day, stop this practice.
To her, it is simply unacceptable to turn away from suffering and injustice.
“I cannot sit back while I know there is so much hurt going on in the world.”
Aurelia Roper Tyler talks with Ruth Nelson about the damage to her family, home and community on learning that her house in Homebush was to be significantly impacted by the Westconnex development.
Homebush Lost is the audio of a short film, of the same name, produced by Paula Rix and Ruth Nelson for Disconnex: Reframing the Resistance, an exhibition at the Chrissie Cotter gallery, showcasing art and salvage items connected with the Westconnex project, an urban motorway extension project in Sydney, Australia.
Clare works in a travel agency in a small town. She tells a story about a lady who had to leave where she was staying and was looking for new accommodation. Everything in the town appeared to be booked out. Rather than giving up, Clare persisted, eventually finding something with the assistance of a neighbouring shop.
For Clare, the story reflects just how much she appreciates connection to other people. It also reflects how deeply she values people.
“People are important and need to feel like they are cared for and connected to the rest of society.”
In childhood, her parents frequently took in foster children, exchange students, and strays who just needed somewhere to stay. Clare believes this has powerfully influenced her.
“My parents always put people before money and before possessions.”
Clare acknowledges that this approach to the world can lead to her feeling as though others sometimes take advantage of her, and that she can have trouble saying no. For the joys that connection and helping bring her, however, Clare remains committed to her spirit of openness and making room for others.
“I’m always willing to give things a go and assume the best in people.”
This is a story about finding the right religion.
Sirisha respects all faiths and non-faiths. However, the religion of her childhood, Hinduism, did not resonate with her anymore and she embarked on a journey to find the core values in her life.
“I needed something to ground me.”
The religion she found was Islam.
“It really made me a better person”
She started to value the so-called little things of life, “the little blessings that I have in my life, clean water, and the people that I have and the relationships that I hold.”
Becoming a Muslim has come at a cost. Sirisha lost friendships. She is frequently expected to justify her choice and encounters the hostility which routinely meets Muslims in Sydney.
Sirisha also has the ongoing internal struggle to separate her religion from the people who claim to represent Islam and use it as an excuse to commit heinous acts of violence.
“You’re constantly dealing with a lot of grief.”
Sirisha uses the teachings of Islam to centre herself.
“The way you find hope is stick to why you chose that path in the first place.”
Sirisha examines her conscience daily, holding herself to a very high standard.
“What are you doing? How are you responding to your own self? It’s constantly a struggle with yourself really.”
Contributing to society, in small ways and large, is extremely important to Sirisha, from the relatively small acts of smiling at people, to larger projects of working to alleviate poverty.
This is important to her because it is central to her personal value system. It is also important because, in a climate where Muslim and non-Muslim appear increasingly polarised, it is necessary work to demonstrate that the majority of Muslims are good, hard working people, who follow the teachings of their faith and are a positive force in the society in which they live.
As Sirisha concludes, being part of the society that you grew up in is important.
"Even if you change something personal about you, that shouldn’t really change who you are."