The Accident

Sunday, 26 October 2014
Well, it's been a bit of a crappy year for us luck wise. Everything that could have gone wrong has, pretty much - career, health, financial issues; a much-wanted move back to Sydney delayed by one complication after another. Way back in January I bought a car, anticipating it would take me a couple of months to learn to drive and then I could pay my way through uni as a youth worker; instead it took nine months, five tests, and a minor bump in a carpark that cost $1200, before I finally passed last week.

We pencilled in the move for next week, and yesterday DH was doing some packing; I took Baby G to the pool to get him out from underfoot. We had a lovely time, and I was driving us home feeling positive our luck had finally turned and things would be okay now, when my car apparently blew a tire in the worst possible place - the hairpin bends over Waratah station. I wasn't sure what had happened, only that the car was handling funny. I tried to get it under control before we could pull over on Hanbury Street, but I lost control and we slammed into a power pole.

I couldn't quite believe what had happened (I still can't) - crashing after having my licence for five days, and not hooning around like a P-plater stereotype, but driving my kid home from the pool doing 40km at 2pm. There was a huge bang, and shards of things flying, and I sat there stunned for a second or two until Baby G started to scream and scream from the fright. Then a lovely lady from a nearby house came and startled unbuckling G and told us we were going to be okay but we needed to get out of the car now; it was leaking petrol. Having seen too many Crash Investigation episodes, I assumed this meant the car was about to blow up.  My door was jammed; I climbed out the passenger side, in the rush losing my shoes and glasses. G screamed, and I screamed a little too, until the nice lady sat me under a tree, plonked G in my lap, and said it was all fine and the fire and ambulance were on there way.

G calmed down very quickly - someone had a friendly dog - but instead of going to pieces, I felt like I was floating above it all. The firies arrived and deduced there was no danger of the car exploding; we'd need to arrange towing (I didn't really take this in). DH was summoned, and the paramedics arrived, and said as a precaution, Baby G and I were both suspected spinals and we'd need to go to the John Hunter, being the major regional trauma hospital. As we waited for the second ambulance for G, it became apparent that he really wasn't hurt at all (I'm glad I researched the child seat with the best safety rating), and that he was in fact having the time of his life. He asked and answered questions about the equipment and the broken car - trucks and playing doctor being his favourite things, so this on top of the earlier waterslide ride, this was his perfect day. For me, not so much. Lying there in an immobility collar, unable to see what was going on, I kept worrying about what happens with the move, with the car?

At length we made it to hospital. It was a long wait, but the paramedics waiting with us were lovely. Everyone was really, but one guy in particular waiting with me made sure I had ice chips and was always next to Baby G and encouraged me to have a bit of morphine, which went down very nicely. I had a stiff neck and a very sore sternum and no one was sure how bad it was, so we waited. Baby G didn't need to stay in his bed and was soon singing and chatting and wanting to go home. DH hovered over, worried, in between tending to Baby G. It's funny the things you remember - he noticed that my feet were dirty and covered with gravel from when I lost my shoes; he tried to clean them, as he knows I hate having dirty feet. (It hadn't bothered me at all).

I had to wait till I got the all clear - the long wait was a good thing, as it meant my injuries were classified as low priority. The police came, took a statement. Moved to a bed. Finally the doctor came and said stiffness and bruising but no real damage, and I could go home. We had to get the bus, but I didn't care (the drugs helped). I was thirsty at the time of the accident and cold water never tasted so good.

Today I'm pretty much okay (and G is just fine). I've huge seatbelt shaped bruises across my chest - my left bosom looks like an overripe plum - and stomach. (Seat belts save lives, never forget it - we were at low speed and nearly home). The car, not so much. It's a write off, inasmuch as it would cost more to repair than it would to replace, and till I get a job we can't afford either. It was towed here last night, and I went out and had a little cry - the cabin is still completely clean and undamaged, contrasting with the crumpled front. It's a bit heartbreaking that for 9 months I had a car and no licence; after 5 days of driving enjoyment, now I have a licence and no car.

There's a scene at the end of Four Weddings and A Funeral where Andie MacDowell, standing in the rain with Hugh Grant, says there's a point where you're so wet you can't get any wetter. That's how I feel about this. I'm past peak load for disappointment. I'm grateful that Baby G and I are both okay, and that after some tense times this has made DH and I see how horrible it would be to lose each other, and that however we get there, I now don't have to drive to Sydney on moving day with a 3 year old and a howling incontinent elderly cat in a car that can't have air conditioning and go up hills at the same time. I'm grateful for the wonderful treatment we received from onlookers, the paramedics and hospital staff. (DH wondered aloud if I'd develop some mild PTSD from this; I said I don't think so. No one hurt me, you see).

I've been trying to focus more on faith lately, but all the things that keep going wrong make me wonder if I'm going down the wrong path (DH is firmly of the belief that none of it has meaning, it's just a bunch of stuff that happens). It could though have been so much worse; if we hadn't hit the power pole, we'd have kept going into the concrete office block five foot further along. On Baby G's side of the car. Oh my. Who knows what it all means. Drive safely and look after each other.

Newcastle Hosts The Climate Warriors

Saturday, 18 October 2014

It's pretty irritating living next to the coal train line in the shadow of the world's largest coal port. The outside walls of our house are constantly covered in a later of coal dust. I have to wash the dust out of the laundry baskets every time we use them (and yes, we do regularly do laundry). I quit smoking over five years ago and don't have asthma, but I've a constant hacking cough that spurs strangers to tell me "those ciggies will kill you, you know", and endless chest infections.

So that's not much fun, but it's even to scarier to think what happens at the other end of the coal chain, such as the lethal air pollution in Beijing cause by burning Hunter coal. More dire, if possible, is the very real and immediate threat that Pacific Island nations could disappear entirely due to rising sea levels - destroyed by climate change caused by the very coal seen for so long as the lifeblood of the Hunter.

So a group of activists from the threatened nations known as the Pacific Climate Warriors have vowed "we are not drowning, we are fighting", and came to Newcastle to take on the world's biggest coal port and show the very human reality of what stands to be lost. In the face of our head-in-the-sand federal government and a Prime Minister who declared this week that coal is good for humanity, hundreds of locals showed up to lend solidarity and join the canoe blockade of the coal port. I decided to give the canoes a miss - didn't want to sink one of the darn things - but headed along to lend my voice. The day's events got underway with a Welcome to Country, then a prayer from a minister from the Pacific Islands, then the climate warriors performed a blessing of the canoes which was very moving and drew great applause (though one little man found it all too much and burst into tears because "the man was loud" - bless).

In a reflection of the reality of the situation, there was then advice on what to do if arrested for carrying out non violent civil disobedience , with many protesters writing the lawyers' numbers on their arms. The formalities over, the first canoes hit the water. Now, at this stage the police had kept a fair distance, but then word came through the first departing ship was due to come through, they took a more active role, with the rubber duckies and jet skis seeming to herd the protesters away from the approaching ship. As Luke Pearson, founder of Indigenous X (whom I got to meet!) said, we have the sight of the police protecting corporations from the public. It seemed fairly benign - the police were bringing canoes and protesters onto the rubber boats and bringing them to shore, but then letting them go - but it got me to thinking.

A frequent argument seen against this and other protests of its kind is that, whether or not you agree with what the coal industry is doing, they are carrying out a legal activity and should not be impeded. There's two issues here. First is the confusing of legality and morality - smacking is legal whilst medical marijuana isn't, and I'm firmly of the belief it should be the other way around; legality is not an indication of worth. But more crucially is that the law just isn't fair. I've seen commentators say the protesters should take legal means, such as petitions, to change laws they disagree with. But that's to ignore the enormous and inequitable influence vested interests have in society. The coal industry has enormous influence in Australia - especially in NSW, where we have Liberal governments at a state and federal level, so strongly entwined with the interests of the mining industry they deny the threat of climate change and seek to shut down the renewable energy sector. When the law is unfair, you can try to change it; when the mechanism behind the law is unfair, civil disobedience becomes the only option.

Not that I engaged in civil disobedience myself. I stupidly neglected to bring sunscreen, and despite knowing I needed to leave stayed put for nearly three hours, to which I have a terrible sunburn. So I missed that later in the day ships were unable to get through the blockade, and also apparent injuries to protesters at the hands of police (which police have denied). There's a real momentum here, and I look forward to participating in more actions in future.

To donate to the climate warriors, click here.

How Tony Abbott Made Me Irish Again

Monday, 6 October 2014
I was born in Ireland, becoming a small part of the history of the Irish diaspora by migrating to Australia as a young child. (And for what it's worth, the processing and approval for my parents' application took over a year; they did things "the right way" and I still don't hate people who try to seek asylum by boat in Australia. I digress).

I didn't think much of it until a brief spell of anti-Irish bullying in late primary school - nothing compared to what people of colour face, of course, but still enough to make me rather ashamed. Then as a teen in the Britpop years, all I wanted was to move to England. They had the good music and Madchester and The Face, which I read religiously in my high school in a dull part of coastal NSW, fuelling my dreams. What did Ireland have - dancing with arms by your sides, jokes about being dumb, postcards of cows captioned "An Irish Traffic Jam"? I couldn't see anything interesting about Ireland, anything to be proud of.

And anyway, apart from those initial two years in Ireland, I've lived my whole life in Sydney and Newcastle. I was Australian. I briefly served in the Army Reserve. All my experiences, references, personal history were Australian. I knew the squawk of a magpie, to shake my shoes in summer before putting them on, that everything costs too much and that the Aerogard is worse than the mozzies. I got tired of people, well-meaning, offering to buy a round and coming back with a Guinness for me (I don't even like Guinness), let alone putting on a silly accent and telling jokes I've heard dozens of times before. People judge the Irish as backwards, adorable accents sure, but incapable of having any serious opinions. After a while, I just gave up. I was Australian, not Irish. Full stop.

But in the past year, I've become Irish again. I've embraced my heritage and ethnicity, announce it loud and proud, read Irish blogs and websites and am planning to visit as soon as we get back on our feet. So what happened? 

It was two things. First, in my search for spirituality, I seriously considered conversion to Reform Judaism. The circumstances that led to this and what I learned over a year of intense studying are beyond the scope of this post, but what came back to me over and over again was Jewish people describing how they felt connected to 5000 years of culture, history, connection to their fellow Jews. I thought that was beautiful, but a little voice began to ask me "aren't you, if you convert, cutting off your own culture, history, the hundreds of generations of Catholicism?" 

This played a definite part, but the main factor that has led me to embrace my Hibernian roots is Tony Abbott and his government. I'm ashamed, truly ashamed to be Australian for the first time ever, and at a level I've never felt before, not during the endless reign of John Howard. Where to start? First there's the actions f the government, cruel, contradictory, damaging and pointless; from imprisoning asylum seekers whilst abandoning others in open water; the shutting down clean energy programs and subsidising the fossil fuel industry; cuts to education and raising university fees to levels where many workers, especially women, may never be able to pay off their debts; defunding science; heading off to war when we're not wanted or needed; cuts to welfare that will make it even harder for the most disadvantaged to get out of poverty; cuts to indigenous services; ramping up fear of Islamic terrorism whilst completely forgetting the 38 Australians who were blasted out of the sky by non-Muslim terrorists less than three months ago; and just last week a needless and inflammatory debate on the burqas no one was wearing to parliament house.

I got depressed just writing that list, and that's all off the top of my head. I'm sure there's a bunch of worse stuff my memory has suppressed.

Then there's Tony Abbott himself. The man is an international laughing stock (incidentally he insults the Irish in that clip). Every time I see him board the RAAF jet he head overseas, I'm simultaneously glad he's out of the country and cringing at the thought of how he'll embarrass us this time. What is with the man? I watched the NRL Grand final last night and seeing Abbott was...odd. He stood there like a plastic statue, not looking quite human (and before anyone thinks this opinion of Abbott is due to my political beliefs, NSW Premier Mike Baird, standing next to him, is cut from the same political cloth but at least looks like a person). I understand awkwardness. I do. If I ever took public office I would explain my condition and how it affects me. Abbott hasn't said a word. Something is amiss. He bumbles around insulting everyone, and I'm so ashamed he's the PM.

So I'm Irish again, well Irish Australian, and whenever someone says they're ashamed to be Australian these days I think me too, but at least I have an "out". And if the government gets much worse - conscription, say, which I wouldn't put past them - we're out of here. We'll just leave. I've loved Australia and paid my taxes here and served, and I never thought it would come to this, but I never thought Tony Abbott would be Prime Minister either. Whilst it seems he'll be a one term wonder, you never know, and I love knowing there's an escape clause. And I'm loving too getting in touch with my heritage, reading Irish history, about which I know shamefully little and about Irish life. I can't quite bring myself to go to Catholic Church - I attended mass a couple of times, till I learned the priest, who I'd liked, was involved in the cover up of sexual abuse, not surprising really as the Hunter is ground zero for the Australian sex abuse scandal, but it was still a stinging feeling of being let down; at least I know no one in Ireland goes to mass any more either including, for the first time in nearly 90 years, my devout grandmother, so disgusted by the scandals of the church there. I'm learning Ireland is far more complex than cows and fervent pro-lifers praying the rosary, that there's a complexity I'm ashamed I never opened myself up to before. So thanks Tony Abbott, you've given me a gift of my heritage, which may be the only thing you've given anyone apart from an increased drinking problem.
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