I am delighted to be able to share my story with Inclusive Australia. Although I’m just an average Aussie, I’ve had many extraordinary opportunities throughout my life and have been fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of quite a few of those. Of course, life hasn’t always been easy - but without the trials, we can’t jump the hurdles!
From as long as I can remember (around age three I think), I know that I loved seeing men with their shirts off, but somehow I also knew that was “wrong”. Growing up on a farm in Northeast Victoria, I had absolutely no access to information about what being gay meant - I just knew that “I didn’t fit in”. I cried myself to sleep every night for many years, though I don’t really remember why. Fortunately, the concepts of self-harm or suicide were also totally outside my realm of knowledge or experience. Throughout my childhood and youth I resisted what I now know was homosexuality, having had several girlfriends during my period of denial, and only finally coming out in 1979 at the age of 25, while living in Brussels (in “safety”, on the other side of the planet)!
I have been fortunate to have loved my software development career, and of having matured alongside that industry, which was very much in its infancy when I studied Computer Science at Monash University. I attended Monash on a Teaching Studentship, but abandoned my teaching aspirations for a more enticing computing career. That opened up doors to allow me to follow another great love, travelling, so at various times I worked for extended periods in Belgium (1 year), Switzerland (3.5 years), Germany (1.5 years) and the UK (3 months), and became fluent in French and German.
I retired a little nervously at the tender age of 53, not being sure whether my savings would last as long as me! My lifestyle isn’t lavish though, so it doesn’t seem to have been a rash decision, and once I retired, my life really began to flourish. In 2006 I started volunteering for Midsumma Festival (Melbourne’s queer arts and culture festival), which has connected me with another great love, theatre-going, whilst also allowing me to keep my IT skills up to date. Earlier teaching aspirations came to the forefront as I completed several projects with ICV (Indigenous Community Volunteers) to implement websites and provide training for remote Aboriginal communities, then started teaching English to asylum seekers at the ASRC (Asylum Seeker Resource Centre) in November 2007. I also learnt Spanish, which has enabled me to travel extensively throughout Latin America, as well as Spain, and be able to communicate well with the locals. Hopefully one day I’ll get to spend an extended period volunteering in a Spanish-speaking developing nation. To balance things out, I am also on the committee of the (queer) Nomads Outdoors Group, where I organise cycling tours on most Fridays in different parts of Metropolitan Melbourne.
I applaud Inclusive Australia for taking the initiative to help bring communities together. Australia has made enormous progress during my lifetime, with every aspect of our society having been enriched by successive waves of migrants. Acceptance of LGBTQI people has increased tremendously, from the situation where homosexual acts between consenting males were a criminal offence when I was young, to today when same-sex couples can marry. It’s impossible to quantify the immense positive impact this has had on us, but homophobia is still very much present, and Trans and gender-diverse people are still given an extremely raw deal. Enormous progress has been made in changing community attitudes to violence against women (and others), but that battle also hasn’t yet been won. The 1967 Referendum to recognise Aboriginals was an incredibly important milestone, but until we heal the gaping wound created by European invasion of the Aboriginal land we now call Australia, and as a society truly appreciate the important contribution that Aboriginals could make in a unified Australia, our country’s problems can’t be resolved.
It does seem that although our wealth has increased greatly over the past decades, there are still unacceptable levels of prejudice and intolerance, and in fact our society has become more fearful and less generous in recent times. How often is a job offered to a white, anglo applicant rather than to a more deserving person, just because their English isn’t as good, or because of their race, religion or some other irrelevant factor? No statistics will give us the answer, but I fear this happens all too often. One day it will hopefully become general knowledge that giving an outsider “a chance” actually enhances, enriches and strengthens our society. On the flipside, it’s precisely the types of prejudice that make it difficult for certain people to get a job, or more likely to receive fines or jail terms, that breed terrorists. By levelling the playing field, we not only construct a fairer, healthier, more robust society, but also reduce fear and anxiety levels, and create a safer world.
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