I should have done something sooner


I should have done something sooner. That’s what my neighbour said. Best nipped in the bud. A good hard slap across the face will shut her up. Said she never had any trouble in the playground after that. But my best friend’s husband was right about me. I’m a coward. And cowards cower. They don’t punch or slap. I found that out about myself in my old school playground. Now I was a teacher with a demon of a boss who had never outgrown the playground thug.

I was working at a new school. The kids were friendly and polite. The principal had vision. And I didn’t mind that my classroom was a leaky old hut that was sinking on its stumps. I had a pleasant view of rolling pasture.  I made friends with the other teachers. Soon it was obvious the principal had taken a shine to me. And that was probably how it all began.

First it was a dismissive wave of her hand. Or a bollocking when I forgot to return the text books. I would swallow my humiliation. She was, after all, my boss.

She drew me into her warped little world, made me her ally and included me in her plots and schemes against her enemies. She even warned me off making friends with the entire geography department who were all loose cannons according to her. I can’t believe I never made a friend in geography. I love geography.

I should have done something when she stormed into class and yelled at me in front of thirty kids. I froze where I stood with the whole class staring until she left, slamming the door behind her. She apologised later but it’s hard to trust an apology when you know she’ll do it again.

I should have done something when my class of year twelves used my lessons to complain about the way she treated them. You should be the head, they’d said. We like you. Which was nice to hear but it didn’t change a thing.

I should have done something when she locked all the resources in the departmental  storeroom and kept the only key. She’s nuts, I thought  at the time and my union rep, who had a key for everywhere, helped me steal paper and exercise books from other departments. He had a weird way of dealing with things.

I did complain to the deputy principal and was told all department heads were the same and to take no notice.

Maybe I should have done something more but only the kids would believe me. Or more likely no-one wanted to hear it.

So I left. I left not before I slapped her – that was never going to happen. I left before she slapped me.

It proved a wise move. She left too, not long after, for slapping my successor across the face.

That slap had my name on it.

The thing my best friend’s husband doesn’t know is that cowards don’t just cower. They also walk away. And that takes courage.

Building bridges: asylum seekers in rural Australia


Just a little bit pleased to have published in e-journal On Line Opinion Building bridges: asylum seekers in rural Australia, reflecting on a recent home hospitality respite holiday for asylum seekers on bridging visas that I organised under the auspices of the Home Among the Gum Trees program run by Elaine Smith in Dandenong (Melbourne). Here are hosts Jon and Lou Oakes , who got involved in this project because they wanted to find out for themselves about refugees and provided the following feedback.

”There has been so much press about asylum seekers, but the human stories underneath hardly get a mention, and we really didn’t know what to expect when we met our young refugee family off the bus at Pambula,”  Jon said. ”Language was a major concern of course, but we needn’t have worried, as our guests had enough basic English for us to communicate the important stuff, and some things require no language at all – everyone is speechless when they first see Pambula rivermouth.”

”As an antidote to the look of incomprehension that sometimes arose during conversation, we both resorted to Google Translator, and while being mostly really helpful it also had some entertaining results, for example when one of our guests wanted a floor mop and the translator presented this in English as ‘salted peanuts’.  We’ve had a lot of laughs with our new friends, and have heard something of their story too.  They have lost everything in their journey to Australia, yet are so grateful to be here.”

”As migrants ourselves, we have a personal understanding of how it feels to be welcomed into Australia, the daily thankfulness that perhaps someone born here might not stop to think about.  Friends and businesses in the area have been very kind and helpful to our guests, just as they were to us when we were new arrivals.  Thanks to Bega Valley Rural Australians for Refugees we’ve had the chance to pass our welcome on to some lovely people we hope will become New Australians themselves one day.”

RefugeeGuestsSep2014 When Jon asked Mal for his thoughts on the experience, Mal said, ”I like the visit because my wife and I we have found kind new friends, Mr Jon  and Mrs Lou.  The two weeks have been very good for me and my family, very loving and kind for us and our son.  I know I have found good friends  and our frienship will last a long time, I would like my new friends to come to my home too.” And his wife, Marni said, ”My husband and I and our  son came two weeks ago to see a new family for school holidays.  Two families with different languages and different cultures.  With our hosts we  visted their friends and family, and saw the beaches and beautiful parks and animals.  We had picnics with friends and cooked meals together.  I am an artist, we talked about painting and learned to understand more.  Our hosts gave us time and patience, we were happy all together.  Everything is new and very special to us, very nice area, nice people and very friendly.  In general, I thank everyone for everything.”

All of the asylum seekers and their hosts had an enriching time. Arranging these holidays has to be amongst the most rewarding forms of activism, profoundly affecting those involved and changing  lives. (names of asylum seekers have been changed)

Domingo Díaz Barrios

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