ps. what I’m also taking with me

I had been reading Anita Heiss’ memoir, Am I Black Enough for You? AnitaHeissbut stopped about halfway through. I kept having to wipe the beginnings of tears from my eyes. I put it aside on my night table pile. Anita’s face, perched on her knuckles, smiled at me from the cover ever night. “Come on,” it said.

I read other books, did other things, wrote my own stuff, ranted on Twitter and Linked In, and on my blog, about my dismay at the behaviour of the Abbott Government. I’m up to my ears in tasks that need completing before I retire to the peace of the Swedish wilds, but yesterday I took up where I had left off.

I think what is happening is my dismay at my own ignorance about a whole shift that had started in Australia around the time I left in 1969 to the present day. Until the web in about the mid 90s made it possible to keep up with the news, I had been in the dark, and later was too caught up in other pursuits.

Oh, yes, I was working for a noble cause in an international environment, was in the staff union and fighting for our pension rights against the powers that be in New York, and feeling mighty proud of myself in the process. But now, I suddenly remember the four Australians in Geneva who had been good to me. The first was a woman who hired me for a short contract. “You are overqualified,” she said. “I need to eat,” I answered. “OK, 11 Months.” The 11 months were the loophole to give me a job and not have to commit to my entry into the pension fund, etc. (She became a dear friend and passed away far too soon.) The second was the fatherly Head of the delegation who, also because of a loophole, was able to support my application for a longer-term job (by this time I had been denied 6 years in the pension fund) and so subverted the need to have it go through the Ministry in Canberra. The third was the then Secretary-General, who refused to keep passing the buck, and through another loophole at last got me into the pension fund, much to the dismay, I might add of the forces that be in the organisation. There was also an Indigenous Head of delegation one year who soon left the telecoms field. He had me put on the Ambassador’s invitation list so that I could lobby for support for our pension concerns. The latter contact had been my only one with an Indigenous Australian. All four found ways to do what was right despite rules imposed by governments and organisations, that sadly are still loath to admit that they also can get things wrong. It just goes to show how what looks like an open international life is in fact a bubble of its own making, but there are ways out.

I criticised the Australian Government under Howard (Tampa et al was big news in Geneva) and vehemently criticise the one under Abbott, which to my mind is taking the country down a road that betrays everything I love(d) about it. There’s a saying in German that roughly translates as “You tease those you love.” I guess I take things just a step further and rant at what I see wrong with the country that formed me. I do not do that in Austria; perhaps because I’m a guest here, or because I’m a privileged “other” through my marriage to an Austrian, or just because Austria is not my country of identification. My criticism of the current Australian Government and those who condone its actions is perhaps also due to the frustration that, as an Australian citizen, my voice cannot be heard. I have been away too long and have lost the right to vote.

Anita Heiss came into my life via the Australian Society of Authors at a Christmas party around eight years ago while I was passing through Sydney. It was an Austrian-Australian connection. Heiss means “hot” in German and her father was from Austria, like mine was, albeit from another time. I saw her again this year and last, listened to her speak, chatted. I have her books on my night table pile.

I look at the cover of Am I Black Enough For You? And I read, now ignoring the tears of my own ignorance, learning, gathering food for thought in the Northern wilds.