Heroes that Aren’t!

I realised early on in my life that the men I was supposed to look up to were not deserving of my admiration. To be fair, kids don’t always get the ‘full’ or ‘back’ story to a scene they witness, so may not have a rounded perspective on a situation. However, unlike adults, many kids respond instinctively to experiences; they haven’t learnt to intellectualise. For example if a child sees a man hit a woman, then the child’s fight or flight response is triggered. Other emotions such as wanting to protect the victim may also be evoked, but may be secondary to the child’s need to survive. They will not think about whether there is a valid reason for that act to take place (there isn’t) or that the aggressor is deserving of empathy. (Knowing someone’s story does not excuse their behaviour, but may be useful in preventing further violence). They are afraid of the aggressor and act accordingly. If the child is a victim of an adult’s abuse or aggression, they are not going to analyse the actions of the aggressor except in relation to themselves as being somehow responsible for what happened (they aren’t).

The results of childhood abuse are many and if perpetrated by a trusted adult then that violation of trust incurs an understandable suspicion of other people who may fall into the category of a potential abuser as identified by the victim. Whether or not they are abusers is not the issue; if trusted, respectable, powerful men abuse, then any man can.

With the second wave of Feminism in the 1960’s to 1990’s and the establishment of Rape Crisis Centres, Women’s Refuges and Women’s Health Centres, women broke the silence surrounding abuse and began speaking out about their abusers. Feminist lawyers and advocates lobbied for Australian law reform, reflecting the wider community’s call for more just and equitable treatment of women under the law.

The long held belief that women and children lie has been challenged and proved wrong. This notion was enshrined in Australian law as sexual assault complainants (mainly women) and children were not considered reliable witnesses by themselves and needed corroboration. Corroboration warnings by judges about the potential unreliability of categories of witnesses are now recognised as discriminatory and based on prejudice rather than empirical evidence.

While the fight for justice for all women in both the criminal and family law courts is by no means over, the process of exacting justice has meant that many myths about sexual abuse and violence have been shattered. The truth that resonates strongest in me is Rape is about Power not Sex.

Once that is understood then we are no longer surprised by celebrities, statesmen and leaders being abusers. Their use of sex as a means to threaten, humiliate and punish a woman or child is effective in reinforcing their power. The fact that they may derive sexual pleasure from their abuse is an added incentive for them.

 The exposure of more abusers has come to pass not because there are more of them, but because the victims are testifying to that abuse. More women are feeling empowered to speak out. In our own families and communities we may offer our support personally to the victims of abuse, and in the world-wide community we may send messages of support, but how do we respond to the perpetrator, if he is a celebrity?

Do we separate the abuser from his work? It was easy for me to deal with Gary Glitter. Yes I loved his songs as a teenager, but I don’t listen to them now. Rolf Harris was harder. I had grown up with his songs, his personality on TV shows and I often performed his songs. I will never sing Six White Boomers at a library christmas party again!

I am sure there are many artists who, if I knew what they did in their personal life, I would turn my back on. As a musician I am clear on not performing material that is created by abusers. (I may do so unknowingly but upon discovery I literally turn my back on them as a protest at their acts.) But what about the ‘good guys’ who turn out to be ‘bad guys?’

I had a recent experience with liking the work of an ‘environmentalist.’ His social media presence was a positive one…many photos of him doing good work. Until I discovered his role in one of the grossest acts of racism perpetrated on the Aboriginal people of Australia. He told lies about the perpetration of sexual abuse of children by community members and numerous other malicious tales of abuse that served the political agenda of a government who enacted the Northern Territory Intervention over a decade ago. The community he slandered is still suffering from the damage caused by this man and nowhere have I seen him take responsibility for his actions.

Is his present work an attempt to redeem himself for the suffering he caused to so many Aboriginal people?  Unfortunately not, because for all the animals he purports to be saving, he has used his privileged position to deny that deforestation is a key factor in the destruction of habitat and subsequent endangerment of wildlife. He continues to serve a lobby group with an agenda at odds with conservation, protection and justice, in much the same way he did a decade previously to impel the Northern Territory Intervention.

So I have ‘unliked’ his facebook page! The equivalent of turning my back on him. Given that I have written primarily about sexual abusers in this post, it may seem odd that I have included him. I have no evidence that he is at all, and I do not make that claim, however for my purposes he fits into the realm of men who abuse their power and inflict  misery on their victims, and profit from it.

In researching him, I was reminded of the following folktale about mischief-making.


More information on the Northern Territory Intervention and Habitat Destruction.






Teaching Young Children about Australian Native Animals Through Story, Song and Poo

Everybody poos! Well animate creatures anyway, and this can be endlessly fascinating for young children and many adults alike. So how does this fact reflect my philosophy of celebrating diversity and promoting literacy and compassion through story and song?

Aside from the poetic licence used in the title of my CD celebrating Australia’s unique wildlife, The Koala Went Cooee,  the content of each song is scientifically correct, with ‘facts’ embedded in their lyrics. Please note that having lived next to a koala habitat for the past 4 years I can readily testify that the sounds they make, (not a Cooee) particularly when mating, are more suited to a punk CD rather than a children’s one!

Poo is referred to in a few of the songs and the CD’s accompanying booklet. It not only serves an educational purpose but challenges ideas of ‘cuteness’ in Australian marsupials. Ringtail possums eat their own poo, but only their soft, daytime poo, koala joeys eat their mother’s poo (pap) and the poo of flying foxes contains the seeds of rainforest plants. Perhaps the most exciting poo fact for me was discovering the shape of wombat poo. As I don’t live in wombat country I was unable to check it out for myself, so I enlisted the support of environmentalist Kelly Coleman for documentation.

As a child I grew up on a sheep farm at the foot of the Snowy Mountains in NSW, so was familiar first hand with various types of bird and animal poo. While I never thought much of this at the time, I realise now how lucky I was to spend so much time outside observing not only farm animals but native animals and birds. What is a normal way of life for many children, i.e. spending time in the bush, is fast disappearing and being replaced by a virtual experience of the natural environment. (TV and internet)

Understanding about extinction, conservation, predation, domestication, native and feral animals is essential knowledge for everyone living in Australia. The traditional owners, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, passed knowledge on to children from the earliest age, to keep them safe and living in harmony with the land. However as more and more people live in urban environments, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people become disconnected from the natural environment. When this happens, then everyone misses out.

I acknowledge that singing songs about animals is not the same as ‘real life’ experiences of being in natural environments, however, if a song can create a sense of delight and inquiry in a child then it is fulfilling its teaching role; if it inspires educators to actively connect children with their natural environment then I am happy.

Pictured are participants from Armidale Community Preschool who attended a Koala Went Cooee workshop.


Fruits of the Earth

Roman has been coming to photograph the Straubs each year for the last four years. Today we sit in their living room while Frau Straub sets out coffee and biscuits for us. I smile a lot and nod at what I hope are appropriate moments. Herr Straub dominates the conversation and Frau Straub sits beside him.  I throw in the odd question that Roman translates and I am rewarded with Frau Straub’s presentation of the pears she has drying in the oven, followed by a sack of cherry stones. The fruit and nuts from their trees are made into preserves, pies and cider or eaten fresh.The cherry stones are dried and sewn into packs. They are also placed in the oven to be heated and used as bed warmers. Herr Straub’s mother gave them a cherry stone bed warmer as a wedding present in 1963. Frau Straub has been making them ever since.

The Straubs valued self sufficiency, recycling and organic farming long before these phrases were even used. Herr Straub proudly tells Roman that their bedroom furniture is fifty years old and there is nothing wrong with it. And he is right. It is functional and in good order, but not fashionable. The same goes for the car and the tractor. Many of their purchases can be traced to the year they married.

We go outside and Herr Straub goes to his bicycle. Roman is surprised that he is still able to ride it as his back is bent. He isn’t. Last year he fell off and his doctor has forbidden him to ride it anymore, so now he wheels it for support, refusing to succumb to a mobility walker.

Frau Straub, walks ahead and brings back Flecki, their cow, who is treated more like a family pet than a stock animal. Finally we walk down to the trees, which Herr Straub defended against removal. He hugs the Linden tree his father planted in 1918 to celebrate the end of World War 1 and then shows us the walnut tree he planted beside it in 1945, commemorating the end of World War 2.

Laden down with a bag of apples and pears and a handful of walnuts we bid farewell to these gentle people of the land and hope that next year we will have the privilege of visiting them again.

Herr and Frau Straub in their living room in Stachen, Switzerland

Frau Straub displaying a tray of dried pears

Herr Straub reminiscing

Herr Straub wearing his traditional Swiss Farmers outfit

Beloved Flecky the 26 year old house cow

Herr Straub hugging the Linden tree his father planted to celebrate the end of WW1 in 1918

Herr Straub standing between the two Peace trees he and his father planted

‘Love Letters To Trees’ at the Yew Chung International School in Qingdao, China.

Roman, Moriah and I have just had the privilege of presenting ‘Love Letters to Trees’ at the Yew Chung International School in Qingdao, China, to celebrate Earth Day and Environment Week. What a joyous experience of children’s creativity and compassion. Here is the talk I gave at the concluding concerts with accompanying pictures of the sculptures from Qingdao and Huangdao campuses.


Long before any of us were born, trees were venerated throughout the world in stories and rituals. In Ancient Greece the story was told of the mythical King Ceecrops who wanted to name the capital city after whichever God or Goddess gave the best gift to it’s people. Poseidon, the God of the oceans, struck his trident into a hill overlooking the Aegean sea. Out gushed a torrent of salty water. Wave after wave rolled out and galloping on the foaming crest the first horse appeared. This powerful steed symbolised war and the people, in fear, shrunk away from it. Then Athene, the Goddess of wisdom, brought forth an olive tree and planted it on the rocky cliff now known as the Acropolis. The Olive tree was a useful gift, giving fruit for food and oil that could be used for perfume, light, heat and medicine. The people declared Athene the winner and King Ceecrops made her the Patron of the city, naming it Athens after her. It was said that all of Greece’s olive trees descended from the tree in the story and they were considered sacred in Greece.
In the Christian religion the olive was a symbol of peace. This derives from the Old Testament and the story of the Great Flood, where Noah released a dove in order to find land and it returned with an olive branch in its beak, signifying an end to the anger of God against humankind.
In Nepal, 2,500 years ago, Prince Siddhartha Gautama went in search of the answer to why there was suffering in the world. For six years he walked and walked until he finally came to rest under a Bodhi tree and here he begun to meditate. After a long time truth came to him and he was filled with a great peacefulness. He experienced a release from all the things that were troubling him. He had become enlightened and became known as The Buddha, the enlightened one.
In the 1970’s in Kenya trees were continuing to change the lives of whole civilizatons. Wangaari Matthai had just received her science doctorate and was active in supporting her husband’s election to parliament. She listened to his prospective constituents voice their concerns, particularly the women. There were no jobs, the women had to walk long distances for firewood and water, people were poor and children were suffering from malnutrition.
Wangaari Matthai recognized that these were all symptoms of deforestation and environmental degradation and that they could all be addressed with tree planting projects.Trees could prevent soil erosion, protect water sources, provide fuel and building materials, and fruit trees could give food and fodder. Planting the trees would also provide jobs and an income.
Over the next thirty-four years she was instrumental in mobilising thousands of people in Africa and around the world in a campaign to plant millions of trees. The United Nations named 2011 The International Year of Forests, and in that year Wangaari Matthai died, but not before she had received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in forming the Green Belt Movement.
Wangaari Matthai made the connection between good government and environmental degradation. She said that the state of any country’s environment is a reflection of the kind of governance in place and without good governance there can be no peace.
In the 1970’s in China deforestation was happening on a massive scale as trees were cut down to build cities and plant crops. What Wangaari Matthai described as the desertification of Africa was also happening in China. In the 1980’s the Chinese government set about remedying the devastation of the previous decade and in 1981 began a tree planting programme. Over the next thirty years China planted 61.4 billion trees; that’s 2 trees per person per year.
However many of the trees are not seedlings that will take decades to grow. Huge plantations have been grown and mature trees are greening China’s cities. March is tree planting month in China and farmers are employed in cities and rural areas alike to plant trees. President Hu Jintao sees the tree planting campaign throughout China as a means of coping with climate change, improving ecological environment and achieving greener growth.
When we look at the trees, they are all held up with wooden structures to support them. As the trees give support to us, we must support them. It is this symbiotic relationship that is reflected in the construction of the tree sculptures
The children listened to folktales about trees from various countries and were then asked to express their thoughts and emotions in words and/or pictures on a leaf. The leaves were then hung on the tree. The leaves were ‘love letters’ expressing gratitude, understanding and appreciation of trees. Like a tree, each leaf was unique and yet all the leaves collectively formed the tree sculpture.
Overwhelmingly the leaves express love. Exploring the children’s tree sculptures is both a moving testament to their compassion and also offers hope for a sustainably green future for our planet.


Just enough left


Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed. 

Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)


Boxing Day, December 26. 2009 was the Non-Profit organisation, Do Something’s inaugural National Leftovers Day.  Their goal is to reduce food waste and its environmental and financial costs, and they believe that Christmas time was the ideal time to launch their campaign.  Their research shows that Australians waste over $5 billion worth of food per year, thats over 3 million tonnes, and that food waste peaks in the festive season when, according to 2008 figures, Australians spend $7.6 billion on food in December alone. Their FOODWISE website http://tinyurl.com/y9429hw includes information about cutting down on food waste with a good selection of recipes for using leftover food. 

When I first saw the website I couldn’t believe that people needed to learn how to use leftovers! But then food has always been like a chain story for me, for example roasted meat leftovers become cold meat sandwiches or topping for pizza and the carcass is boiled up to make stock for soup.  Fritatas are filled with leftover vegetables and curries and noodle dishes are the repository of many a leftover pulse, vegetable or meat. The process of food metamorphosis continues, until leftovers of the leftovers of the leftovers find themselves in the compost, feeding the worms. 
But then I’m someone who buys and wears second hand clothes… and I mend them, I reuse containers and get my books from the library. Cooking leftovers is endemic to my lifestyIe. I have my parents to thank for this. Growing up on a farm in the 1960’s meant knowing where what you ate came from, and where everything ended up. There were no garbage or recycling trucks. What couldn’t be used was burnt or buried. As most of the food production was on the farm, there was little packaging and what tins we had became pot plant holders or containers, glass jars were used for housing homemade jams and pickles, and as for plastic? What plastic? Our clothes were passed down from one kid to the next, and when finally worn out they went into the rag bag. Underpants were my mother’s favourite dusters. So as a beginner storyteller, when I heard the following story, I was enraptured. Not only did it tickle my sense of humour, it was a story that spoke of my life. Thank you to American storyteller, Colleen Sutherland, for telling this story. Since I first heard it I have told it to many groups of older women who have loved it, because it is the story of their lives too. There are versions of this tale in many traditions and cultures. It is one of the stories that can help guide us in our choices to help save our planet.

Just enough left


There was once a young woman who worked from sunrise till candle stump sewing clothes. She darned socks and patched shirts, she mended trousers and hemmed skirts. Day in, day out, plied her needle, all the while hoping that one day a customer would bring her material so she could create something beautiful.
One morning just before dawn, she wakened to the sound of knocking, She left her bed and climbed down the stairs from the attic and opened the door. The street was deserted and yet at her feet lay a bolt of material. Who could have left it? The girl lifted it up lugged it up the stairs to her room.  She opened her curtain to let in the first rays of sunlight, then laid out the cloth on the floor.  She sat on her bed and looked at the shimmering white silk in wonder. Before her eyes she saw a vision of what it could become. The tailor went to her sewing box and took out her scissors and immediately set about cutting the cloth. 
Snip, snip snip. There was just enough material left to make a wedding dress.
And as fate would have it, it was the tailor herself who wore the dress the following Spring. One of her customers, a gentleman, very impressed with her invisible mending had come courting the young woman and fallen head over heels in love with her. And when she appeared in her wedding dress, everyone gathered to celebrate the union gasped in amazement at its beauty. None more so than the groom himself.
With goblets brimming with sweet red wine, they drank to the health of the bride and groom, but when the bride, in her nervousness, took her own cup, it slipped and spilt down the front of her wedding gown.
That evening she soaked it but knew that no amount of salt would be able to removed the stain. Sadly she dried it and bundled it away in her trunk, determined to do something with it after her honeymoon.
Upon her return from travel, the tailor moved into the house of her husband and took with her, the scant belongings. She set up her sewing room and opened the trunk. There was the stained wedding dress, which she laid out on the table. It was such a shame to not use it, but as she stared at it she had an idea. She took out her scissors and immediately set about cutting the cloth. 
Snip, snip snip. There was just enough material left to make a cape.
Now that she was married to a gentleman, she was invited to many balls. She and her husband would dance the night away and arrive home in the early hours of the morning. All the ball goers remarked on the shimmering  twirl of her cape. It was one morning in late autumn when she sat in the warmth of her kitchen with her feet up on a stool, that she chanced to look down at the hem of her cape. It was  mud stained and tattered. She removed it and lay it over a chair.
‘Such a shame,’ she thought, knowing she could no longer wear the cape, ‘if only there was another use for it.’ But as she examined it, another idea popped into her head.  She took out her scissors and immediately set about cutting the cloth. 
Snip, snip snip. There was just enough material left to make a baby’s gown.
As Fate would have it, the following summer a bonny baby boy was born to the young wife, and to celebrate his birth, she dressed him in the beautiful silk baby’s gown. Over the next eight years, three more babies were born and each of them wore the silk gown. The last child was a little sickly, nestled in his mother’s arms in the midst of all the family and friends gathered together to celebrate his birth. Without warning he possetted over the gown. That evening she soaked the gown and dried  and then she looked at the stains on the front and as she carefully folded it up to put away she thought, ‘what a shame to put it away. There must be some use for it.’ 
But as she examined it she had an idea. She took out her scissors and immediately set about cutting the cloth. 
Snip, snip snip. There was just enough material left to make a hat.
Over the next twenty years the mother was very busy raising her children and her attendance of balls was curtailed and replaced with activities more in keeping with that of a bustling wife and mother. She went to  fetes and garden parties and always wore her white silk hat. One evening after a hectic afternoon helping out at a charity party she returned to her kitchen and sat down on her favourite chair and took off her hat. She was just about to place it on the table when she spied the perspiration marks around it’s band.
‘How unseemly,’ she thought ‘for a lady to wear a sweat stained hat. I must get rid of it. But what a shame when it has served me so well.’ It was then she had an idea.
She went to her sewing room, fetched her scissors and returned and  immediately set about cutting the cloth. 
Snip, snip snip. There was just enough material left to make a pocket for her apron.
The birth of her first grandchild was an occasion for celebration, and soon it was followed by another and another. It seemed the grandmother was working harder than ever and was never seen without an apron on and a duster or tea towel in her hand. But she always found time for the grand children clustered around her ankles. She would reach into her apron pocket and retrieve a sweet or a toy, a magic string or a finger puppet to amuse or console the little ones. One day she reached in and found her fingers had slipped straight through what had now become a frayed patch.
With great sadness she took off the apron and stared at the pocket.
‘Such a shame,’ she thought, knowing the pocket was no longer useful, ‘if only there was another use for it.’ But as she examined it, she had a thought.  She took out her scissors and immediately set about cutting the cloth. 
Snip, snip snip. There was just enough material left to make a covering for a button.
When she had made the white silk button cover she attached it to the waistcoat of her youngest grandchild’s vest. The little boy looked very proud in his brand new outfit sewn by his grandma. He jumped around the house, ran outside and wrestled with his older sister on the grass and then it happened.
The button flew off the vest and rolled down the path until it fell with a splash into a mud puddle. The grandmother arrived just in time to see its demise. She walked down the path and fished it out of the water. She held it in her hands and remembered what it had been. 
‘Such a shame,’ she thought, knowing the button was no longer useful, ‘if only there was another use for it.’ But as she examined the mudstained, soggy scrap, she had a thought. 
‘There is just enough material left to finish the story.’


Artwork Inconstans by Roman W. Schatz