By Magella Blinksell
Black Summer was an epochal moment. Pyrocumulus changed the skies to red. Day turned to night. Mother Earth was on fire.
I, like many, felt the radiant heat of bushfire on my face and skin. Albeit for me, from the safety of the grounds of an evacuation centre. Sensing a wind change became an instinctive, hard-wired response. When the rain finally fell, the only exhaustive remedy for three months of fire fronts, our smoked clothes hung joyfully on the washing line, soaking in a blessing from the heavens.
Here in Yuin Country, Eurobodalla, where I live, the sacred Women’s Mountain Gulaga remained largely untouched. Yet 79 per cent of land of this shire, and its life-giving habitats was burnt. To our north in Shoalhaven, and to the once-lush south in the Bega Valley, homes, lives and the illusion of ‘business as usual’ were reduced to fine ash.
In a season where mega-fires made their own weather, fuelled by rising world temperatures and a government’s failure to respond, our Prime Minister insisted on grabbing the hand of a young expecting mother, a bush-fire survivor in Cobargo. His attempt to shake her hand was resisted.
The wrongness of the move, its tone-deafness, its awkwardness, was as internationally reported as Morrison’s absence in Hawaii. And the bushfire smoke that encircled the world.
The former Mayor of Bega who had escorted the Prime Minister into Cobargo, would attempt to hold the young woman aside, a movement, perhaps half embrace, part paternal silencing, was caught and replayed endlessly in media-feeds for the world to see.
Now on Monday March 15, at another epochal moment, this time signalling a deep challenge to a culture of silencing and violence - and a rupturing of the Prime Minister and Attorney General Christian Porter’s idea of ‘business as usual’ - women from around Australia are seeking to ‘circle’ Parliament House.
I will be there at #March for Justice. For I too, have been touched by the scourge of misogyny, the sting and slap of disrespect, and the effects of gender-targeted violence on friends and loved ones.
Like thousands in Australia, my family has felt the radiating impacts of sexual assault and domestic violence. We have felt just a little too, of what a violation of cultural lineage means. A very small taste of the gendered and colonial violence wreaked on generations of mothers and stolen children.
My grandfather lived his life disconnected from his Koori roots; a sense of absence felt but unacknowledged; a raft of corrosive outcomes marking his 91 years. Finally too many decades on, we know that his mother was taken from her Ngunnawal /Yuin mother and family at a young age.
I understand better now, with age, the inter-generational impacts of sexual violence as a tool of war and occupation. I appreciate too, why my Eastern European grandmother spent hours pickling and bottling, rechannelling her trauma into jars of preserves, stockpiled for safety in a dry, earthy cellar. Much like the one she hid in to escape ally bombing, or the Nazis.
But I understand less why the basic issues of respect and consent are so contestable today. In 1988 I was at a university too, where young party-political men, bullied, threatened and assaulted. I never imagined things would regress to this new low point of victim-blaming.
Similarly I failed to imagine that there would be such an awkward and ineffectual shielding of those holding high office, seeking to protect them from due process or scrutiny. Or that a cabal of ‘big swinging dicks’ would think of themselves as anything other than risible in the year of 2021.
I do not understand why a woman is being killed every week in Australia, yet we lack federal leadership. Why are our First Nations women and girls still carrying the burden of an over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders in Australia’s prisons?
I cannot reconcile why children can be indefinitely detained in immigration detention on Christmas Island - or why rape and violence remain unaddressed through years of locking away refugees in Australia’s offshore and onshore detention facilities. Why are older women so at risk of sexual abuse in aged care? Secrecy, power over another, and cover up are the components that make sexual violence endemic.
These are all the reasons I march. Most importantly, as the message for this encircling of Parliament House explains: “The #March4Justice isn’t about a single accused or a single survivor: It’s about equity for all women.”
While a physical circle around parliament is now not possible with covid restrictions, its metaphorical symbolism is a powerful one.
Under the glare of the media’s spotlight, and as a result of the bravery of women like Grace Tame, and others like Brittany Higgins speaking up and out, the secret recesses of power and predatory behaviour are under intense scrutiny. This is a movement. It is not dissolving or going away.
“Trauma does not discriminate, nor does it end when the abuse itself does.” noted Tame.
“First Nations people, people with disabilities, the LGBTQI community and other marginalised groups face even greater barriers to justice. Every voice matters.”
Sadly, it has taken devastating reports of alleged sexual assaults, and a floodlight trained on Parliament for women in their homes, in their cars, on the street, on Country, in aged care homes, in public housing, in their workplaces and neighbourhoods to feel their voices elevated at such a national and public level.
Professor Marcia Langton AO was right to ask on International Women’s Day 2021, “Why do so few women show their support for Aboriginal women who are victims of sexual violence? Victims of murder? Victims of domestic and family violence? Incarcerated for retaliating against the men who perpetrate violence?”
How can there be justice for all women, without justice for our Aboriginal sisters?
From this moment forth, it is essential we touch and act on this truth, and actively dismantle the barriers to equality experienced by so many of our sisters facing battles for self-determination and the most basic of human rights.
Just as Black Summer’s mega-fires dissolved boundaries, the winds of change, and the growth of a powerful bipartisan social movement are palpable. The heat is on as we stand at such a decisive moment between epochs.
‘Business as usual’ just won’t cut it. It’s time to hang out the washing, to unpack the dirty laundry, to join forces against shaming and secrecy. To find our freedom together. To share fresh clothes. To help each other to touch a new, bigger sky.
March4Justice rallies will be held across the country on Monday 15th March, 12pm. On the South Coast there are local events in Bega and Nowra, and busses and car pooling operating from Wollongong to Canberra. See the full list of events here.
If you need support 24/7 please contact NSW Rape Crisis phone line 1800 424 017 NSW Domestic Violence Helpline 1800 656 463 Homelessness Link2Home 1800 152 152 Lifeline 13 11 14 For confidential information, counselling and support on sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
Feature image: March for Justice poster from march4justice.com.au