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."
In Women of Sudan Part Two, five Sudanese mothers talk with remarkable honesty about the struggles of learning to raise children in a society radically different to where they themselves grew up.
From a village lifestyle, without money and surrounded by people who know you and step in to help, to a Western city, where teenagers have debit cards and are not accountable to most of the people around them, these parents encounter problems they have never seen before.
Recognising that many of the techniques they knew in their homeland are not appropriate here, such as corporal punishment, and tired from the seemingly endless tasks of learning to integrate into a new country, such as learning the language, understanding the housing system and finding somewhere affordable to live, training for and finding work, learning to use public transport, all underpinned by the trauma which they carry from the civil war in Sudan, it is little wonder that the task of learning an entirely new approach to parenting sometimes feels impossible.
In a life where they no longer have an extended family network to turn to, these mothers often feel quite lonely and isolated, sometimes to the point of wanting to give up. Their resilience comes, in part, from gathering together, from the solace of friends.
The Nuba Mountains are a remote region of northern Sudan, in South Kordofan. The Nuba are various Indigenous tribes who inhabit the region.
Abyei lies further to the south and was also part of South Kordofan. It is just north of the border with South Sudan. Abyei Area, rich in oil, is disputed territory between Sudan and South Sudan. I remember being in Nimule in 2007, listening to troop carriers in the night driving north to Abyei, when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was allegedly in place.
Five women, Muslim and Christian, who arrived in Australia as refugees from these two areas talk to Jodie Heterick and I about their homeland. Jodie and I learn about the 99 mountains of Nuba, about building your home, scarification, dance, and war.
These are beautiful, strong women. From hiding in the rocks from aeroplanes dropping bombs on schools, to adapting to modern life in Khartoum where you must pay for things and are looked down on for your traditional practices, to building a new life in western Sydney, this is a fascinating insight into the tumult of seeking refuge.
Apologies, however, for the quality of the sound. With the number of children and number of languages* that the seven of us had between us, it is amazing that we got such a coherent conversation.
The Sudanese politicians referred to when the women are describing the topics of songs are:
Omar Al-Bashir - the President of Sudan;
Yousif Kuwa – the leader of Nuba;
Salva Kirr – the President of South Sudan;
John Garang – who led the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in the 2nd Sudanese Civil War, and then was the First Vice President of Sudan until his death in a helicopter crash in 2005. He is considered a hero in Sudan.
* I only had one of those languages. I am in awe of these women with their 3 or 4 languages.
Alison Harrington is a formidable woman. She is a woman with a great deal to teach the world about creating a life of meaning and purpose. Alison is also a fabulous illustration of Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset,” which is about the underlying beliefs people have about learning.
A social entrepreneur, Alison tells the Creating Space Project a simple story about getting seniors to dance around nursing homes with silent disco technology.
“I’m really fascinated by how we can use this technology to improve the outcomes for people with dementia and basically make people healthier and happier.”
Alison has a post-graduate degree in social impact.
“It’s incredibly gratifying to do something where you effect the emotional outcome of people, particularly people who may not have great circumstances.”
Alison has undertaken a number of entrepreneurial enterprises.
“It’s always great for me when I’m creating something entirely new.”
New business ventures are a risk. For some people, that is such a daunting prospect, that they retreat from their ideas. For Alison, it is a lure. She values testing the limits. She’s a pioneer and she values failure.
“It’s always a combination of fear and excitement. It’s that trepidation, it’s that stepping over the edge.”
Alison explains that failure isn’t something to avoid. It’s a necessary part of growth. It’s better to take an opportunity, to say yes and fail, than to let it go due to not knowing whether you can do it or not.
“Even if you tried doing it and you can’t do it all, you might get 80% and everything is about learning.”
Alison describes the sensation of taking the risk of moving forwards in business as like going over a cliff.
“The image I have is abseiling.”
But, she says, not only do you have to go over the cliff, the more you do it, the more accustomed to the sensation you become.
Being a social entrepreneur is about creating businesses or value in the social sector, Alison says. Using innovation to improve the outcomes for another human being.
“It ultimately comes down to impacting another person at the most basic level.”
It has taken Alison many years to get to where she is in her career now. She describes it as being a place where she is authentic to the elements that drive her: The creative, entrepreneurial side; and the social side, which is about providing something meaningful and purposeful for the world.
As Alison says,
“The funny thing is all the failures and all the experiences have all helped me, in a way, be where I am today.”
Climate change is impacting agriculture.
“We know it’s going to bring different weather conditions, and hotter conditions, less water, more freak events that will ruin crops eventually. It is scary but it’s interesting to see the way it will react with our crops in the future.”
Grace studied agriculture and now works as a microbiologist. She tests pharmaceuticals for the presence of bacteria.
“Which I’m hoping will give me experience for agriculture, because agriculture really relies on the use of microorganisms.”
At the moment, agriculture uses nitrogen fertiliser to increase crop yields. The problem is that this is bad for the environment and can be costly.
Grace is interested in how bacteria can be used to meet that nitrogen requirement instead.
“Because there are lots of bacteria that instead of using oxygen to respire, like we do, use nitrogen. And the product of that kind of breathing is that they basically produce fertiliser.”
She is fascinated by bacteria. They have interesting structures and colours.
“We grew one and it looked like this crazy alien spreading tree root shape… they’re incredible.”
Grace is also motivated to find ways to ensure food security, particularly under the changing conditions brought about by climate change.
“The environment is the most important thing that you deal with. It provides your land, your water, some of your fertiliser requirements. So obviously it makes sense to protect it.”
A lot of research is required to map the effects of climate change.
“They see more changes in the life cycle of insects that could damage crops, and also the migratory cycles of birds, they’re just seeing that here… subtle changes, but they’re mapping these changes.”
Grace explains that agriculture is also impacted by biotic stressors.
“It might be interesting to see how climate change might affect these types of beneficial bacteria as well. I guess, these bacteria rely on nitrogen in the air. So if that balance is thrown off by carbon dioxide in the air, I don’t think it would be enough to do anything, but it might be interesting to see what happens to them.”
Mikell works in technology.
“I’ve been in technology now for more than a decade professionally and this topic of harassment and sexism and discrimination in tech comes up repeatedly.”
As a teenager, in a robotics competition, she and every other member of her all-girls team were groped in a human tunnel. They were assisted by their male mentors to effectively address this situation. It taught her about the value of men who are prepared to listen to and accept women’s experiences.
“The reasons I’m in tech still and haven’t kind of given up is that I have had very good allies. I have had men who they do their best to be empathetic, they do their best to support me. They take me seriously when I say there’s a problem.”
At university, studying engineering, Mikell made friends predominantly with males. She identified it as a coping mechanism for being in a male-dominated field. She looked down upon traditionally feminine ways of dressing and behaving.
“It took a real mental shift for me to basically deal with what was effectively internalised misogyny and be willing to be overtly feminine and be willing to be friends with women and to try to nurture those friendships.”
Mikell has long prided herself on being skilled at dealing effectively with sexist men, in order to get her job done. It is a work in progress towards not taking responsibility for managing their sexist behaviours.
She reflected back to the experience of being groped as a teenager.
“Our whole experience really hinged on the fact that we were a group of women who had all just had the same experience. We talked to each other, we agreed that we weren’t crazy, that this had actually happened and we went together as a united front to deal with it.”
Mikell still experiences gratitude to the young men who were so supportive of the adolescent girls. She also draws the conclusion that in addressing sexism and harassment, male allies and female solidarity is crucial in effecting change.
“There is strength in numbers in these kinds of situations and not allowing women or other minorities in tech to leverage that is a dangerous thing.”
“Being an Aboriginal midwife is my absolute passion.”
Leona McGrath has just participated in the Walk with Midwifes, as part of closing the gap for Indigenous health outcomes in Australia.
“When I had my own children, I often say that if I had another black face in the clinic, in the birthing room, on the postnatal ward, I know my experience would have been a whole lot different.”
Her reason for wanting to become a midwife was to look after her own people. Leona was aware of the health disparities in Australia. But she was horrified to learn, at university, just how bad infant and maternal Aboriginal health outcomes are. This knowledge spurred her on, a single parent, to complete her Bachelor of Midwifery.
Leona’s family story shapes her as the strong and passionate person she is today.
Her great-grandmother, a Woppaburra woman from Great Keppel Island, was taken to the mainland in chains.
“I say I’m the person I am today because of her. There’s something that’s come from my Big Nanna.”
Her mother, a beautiful and incredibly strong woman, was born in 1952 and grew up at risk of being taken from her family by the government, as part of the Stolen Generation.
“My grandfather just kept moving everybody around. Because he… didn’t want them taken. And a lot of horrible things happened to my mum.”
It was a privilege to sit and listen to Leona talk. The sense she evoked of her family and culture was powerful, a spiritual experience. As she said,
“We wouldn’t be here without our elders and how strong they were.”