australian women

women in media tasmania launch

Virginia Trioli and Caroline Jones, speakers at the event.  Image credit

Virginia Trioli and Caroline Jones, speakers at the event. Image credit

Women in Media (WiM) Australia is  a nationwide initiative for women working in all facets of the media – from journalists, creatives and media advisors to those working in public relations and corporate affairs. Their mission is simple but profound: to improve the working lives of women in media by addressing fundamental inequalities in the sector - in pay, conditions and opportunities - and to empower women to achieve their professional goals.

WiM now has chapters in every state and territory of Australia, with the launch of the Tasmanian chapter at the world-renowned Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart a few Sundays ago making the initiative truly national. I was delighted and honoured to attend the launch as the guest of the Launceston Freelance Festival and spent a wonderful afternoon meeting new people, making some valuable connections and being truly inspired by some of the stories shared.

tasmanian-women-in-media-1

At a time when media freedom feels very shaky, it was a balm to be in a room bustling with energetic, passionate people who believe in the incredible power of storytelling, and the obligations we have to those who trust us with their stories to be brave and back ourselves.

The full room was testament to the generous spirit on which WiM was founded, supporting the wellbeing and advancement of women. “When I started in journalism, there was nothing like this. Women doing my job were very rare,” said Dr Caroline Jones, distinguished broadcaster, who gave the opening address. Caroline is probably best known for being the first woman to anchor the current affairs program Four Corners as well as presenting on ABC Radio National for many years. She is also one of my personal heroes!

Dr Caroline Jones

Dr Caroline Jones

“In my early years I would have loved a women in media group to belong to - to learn how to cope with information overload, how to stand my ground, how to avoid the dreaded imposter syndrome,” said Caroline as many heads nodded around the room.

And then there was the incredible Virginia Trioli, formerly of News Breakfast on the ABC and now host of Mornings of ABC Radio Melbourne, who gave a blistering, moving and powerful keynote address, sharing her experiences of being a ‘difficult’ woman in a very difficult industry. She spoke about the #metoo movement (“we keep men’s secrets, and we do it without even thinking”), about the need for support networks (or rather, escape hatches and safe rooms, as she put it) for women in journalism so it can be easier to stand up for ourselves when we have to, and about the need for truth in our stories, “even if it points out realities that might make you unpopular.”

Virginia Trioli

Virginia Trioli

I loved her honesty and courage and hung on every word (and live tweeted). “If we’re here for one thing it’s surely to be brave,” she concluded. “With others and with ourselves. In the end we can only ever make the calls we do, back ourselves and be brave...we have to be authentic and candid and let the cards fall where they may.”

Virginia Trioli’s wonderful speech was followed by a Q&A with her and Caroline Jones, and then we watched a wonderful short film from the ‘Women of the Island’ series by director Rebecca Thomson. “Everywhere you look, there is a woman with an interesting story,” Thomson said. So very true! Participating in this day really fired me up about storytelling and getting back into my own work, telling the stories I want to tell about the lives of women I’ve met through research, imagination, chance and circumstance.

The Tasmanian Women in Media committee getting some well-deserved applause!

The Tasmanian Women in Media committee getting some well-deserved applause!

It was a magnificent day - a testament to the power, talent and generosity of women in media - where I met so many interesting people and made lots of valuable connections. I even got to shake the hands of the two speakers and tell them how much their work and shining courageous examples have meant to me. “Just be yourself,” was Virginia’s Trioli’s parting advice to me as she left. Words I strive to remember every day, in my work and in life.

I can’t wait to see what the Tasmanian chapter of Women in Media does next!

I attended the day as the guest of the Launceston Freelance Festival and very much appreciate their support!

This weekend, Women in Media are holding their national conference at Bond University in Queensland.

belong to nobody but yourself

Simone de Beauvoir ( source )

Simone de Beauvoir (source)

‘In order to write, in order to be able to achieve anything at all, you must first of all belong to nobody but yourself.’ - Simone de Beauvoir responding to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One's Own, in a 1966 lecture called ‘Women and Creativity.’

I have been a (silent) fan of fellow Australian writer Louise Omer (formerly Heinrich) for years. Today, browsing through my Feedly in between bits of spicy leftover rice noodles at my desk, I saw she had updated her website, with a different name. Curious, I read on and clicked on the article she shared which explained why.

I find it interesting that we (and by we, I mean society) are always curious about why a woman changes her name, or doesn't. We assume so many things. If you've been reading me for a while, you'll know I didn't take Tom's surname when we got married eight years ago and no one has ever questioned that decision, least of all him. But sixteen years ago I did take my first husband's surname and I was very excited to, because the idea of being an entirely different person was kind of the point of the whole thing (something I can only acknowledge looking back). Strangely, I would have taken Tom's surname if he had really wanted me to…but he didn’t. And that signalled to me that I’d made the right choice. A man for whom that was vitally important would not have been the right man for me to marry. 

The world is no doubt on the cusp of change, and hopefully it won't always be this way, but it's weird that a woman changing her name or choosing what name she will be known by, still feels like a political act. But to me, and it sounds like to Louise as well, it was a deeply personal way to reclaim my identity and do what felt right to me, in my bones, not just what the convention was. It was time, as Louise says, "for my grown-up name." Which in my case had been my name all along. But for others, their "grown up name" is taking the surname of the person they love and have chosen to spend their life with. Which is totally fine too. We're all just making our private, personal choices. We are all different - a fact that hasn't really been reflected in how women have been treated and expected to behave over the past few centuries. 

Perhaps it comes back to this idea that many of us still feel inhibited when it comes to meeting our own needs. Being selfish, I suppose, which I was raised to think of as a bad thing to be and something to avoid at all costs. But the flipside of that is that you suppress your feelings and desires because you learn early on that expressing them is not safe. In the end you become numb to them and on the rare occasions you are asked directly what you want, you have no idea. 

And there's the "selfishness" you need, in order to create, in order to be an artist. For men this never seems to be an issue but for women it always surfaces at some point. I listened to a podcast a few weeks ago, an interview with American novelist Stephanie Danler, whose words stopped me in my tracks:

"The reasons I left my marriage were not clearcut but they had something to do with writing the book. And that has always felt like a very ugly thing to talk about. There was a point where I felt I had to either choose my life with my husband - the one we had spent six years building together - or I had to choose myself and my novel. And even with the success Sweetbitter has had, I still to this day don't know whether I've made the right choice. But this is the one I'm living with.....I couldn't have done it [written the book] in the relationship I was in, not because it wasn't supportive....but because I couldn't be selfish in the way I found was necessary for me to create. I feel that's a bit of a taboo, it's not something I find women talking about often - is that you actually might have to be deeply, deeply, painfully selfish in order to make art a priority."

 

It’s funny. As I get older and (hopefully) mature, I feel I know my younger self better now than I ever did then. Every time I'm brave enough to confront something in myself, or I read articles like this or listen to podcasts with people who have also been through a divorce young, another lightbulb goes off, another penny drops and I think, yes, that was it, that was what I did, that was what I thought, that was me too

I long for the day when it will no longer be radical for a woman to belong to nobody but herself.

white heart: my stella spark

white heart

A Stella Spark is the book by an Australian woman that struck a spark for you, igniting ideas, creativity and a passion for great writing.

That book for me is the novel White Heart by Heather Rose.

A year ago, whenever I mentioned Heather Rose as one of my favourite writers, I'd get a blank or curious look in return. Now, thanks to her most recent (and brilliant) novel winning last year's Stella Prize, her work has been getting some long overdue and much-deserved attention in Australia. I'm thrilled to hear it. I've been a Heather devotee since White Heart, her first novel.

It came out in 1999 and I read it in 2000, when I was 19. I have re-read every year since. I believe it's sadly no longer in print, which makes it all the more precious to me.

It’s a novel about a woman named Farley who grows up in Tasmania and who, in the face of a devastating loss (though we don’t realise exactly what this loss was until near the end), goes searching elsewhere - overseas and mainland Australia - for meaning, wholeness and love. 
It was one of the most beautifully written books I’d ever read and it still is. It was quiet in its beauty though, if that makes sense. It contained a wildness and a fiery spirit, yet was so gentle.

It sounds trite to say ‘it changed my life’ but it did. Before White Heart, the only glimpses of Tasmania I'd really seen in the literature I'd read was of a gothic, wild and quite oppressive place, but this novel had snapshots of the Tasmania that I actually knew and could relate to, as well as capturing its darker side. It made me realise that I could write about the Tasmania I knew as well.

It was also thanks to discovering White Heart that I started noticing other amazing Tasmanian women writers who had been somewhat unknown to me up to that point, and it opened up a completely new world for me. 

But in terms of actually changing my life…well, *I* had to do that. I was 19 when I first read White Heart and if you’ve read my own book, you’ll know that at that age, I really lost my way. It took a while for me to find my path. But it did spark something. 

And remembering that has reminded me, like Farley in White Heart, I too had to go on a soul-searching journey to heal and find my true self.

I love everything Heather Rose has ever written but I always, always come back to this one. If you ever see a copy, get it! You won’t regret it.

What's your Stella Spark?