Confessions of a ‘sexist’

I emerged from a long meeting yesterday to learn Victorian police had charged St Kilda forward Stephen Milne with rape. My reaction? Rather pathetic.

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 9.06.15 AMAfter the initial ‘wow’ moment, I almost immediately engaged in a passionate discussion with two male colleagues about… football.

Has Milne been arrested? Bailed? I wondered aloud, but only as a prelude to my follow-ups: Surely St Kilda will have to drop him? Was there precedent for this? Andrew Lovett’s name was thrown about as we discussed how the AFL and St Kilda might respond.

We even mentioned Mick Malhouse, the veteran AFL coach who was fined $7,500 in 2010 for calling Milne a “f***ing rapist”. How would he be feeling today?

It’s been a big week in the AFL, we reflected, first Melbourne coach Mark Neeld is sacked and now this!

The closest we came to truly discussing the woman – the alleged victim – was musing about her age, dissecting claims the pair met at a St Kilda family day and asking if this woman was actually the ‘St Kilda Schoolgirl’. (She’s not.)

Only later, after a female colleague  pointed out the gross deficiencies of this initial exchange, did I truly reflect on the weightier issues:

  • How is this woman coping?
  • What an awful nine years it must have been for her!
  • If she made an accusation of rape in 2004 and police now believe there is enough evidence to lay charges, why did it take them so long to form this position?
  • Does the AFL have a culture of sexism and misogyny?
  • Etc etc…

Our original topics of discussion were valid.

This case has and will continue to span the realms of celebrity, sport and the media as well as those of power, crime, culture and sexism.

All these elements — their roles, characteristics, origins, relationships and shortcomings — should be scrutinized. We should discuss and debate them at length.

But we should also recognize that some of those issues are more important than others. Some have a greater claim for our attention. And which issues we (read: I) select to  consider first is extremely telling.
“The standard that you walk past, is the standard you accept,” Australia’s Army Chief Lieutenant  General David Morrison told us last week.

And he’s right.

We must call out blatant and ‘unintentional’ sexist behaviour. Beginning with our own. 



Why we miss the ‘old’ Game of Thrones

I ASSUME we’re all familiar with those trendy tapas restaurants where the food is brought out in annoyingly tiny portions which are consistently too small to ever really satisfy? One bite and the dish is gone, and you’re once more hungrily awaiting for the next (also unfulfilling) culinary instalment.

danyYes, well in a case of ‘careful what you wish for’ this is exactly what’s now happening to fans of the Prime Ministerially endorsed HBO series Game of Thrones.

After demanding the show be available locally as it’s aired in the US, Australian fans are suddenly missing out on one of the key ingredients that made the show so enjoyable to begin with: binge viewing.

Gone are those heady times when we could (morally, at least) Torrent a dozen episodes of this Westeroisi wonder and sit back as the gripping political power plays and gratuitous sex scenes kept us engaged for half a day.

No longer can we enjoy the quaint and guilty pleasure of borrowing a friend’s burnt DVD with back-to-back instalments of the Seven Kingdoms’ palace intrigue.

We brought this on ourselves.

And last night’s non-episode just added insult to injury. The mood was captured by my friend Zo Zo (reassuringly, not her real name):


The era of on-demand digital media and the notion of being drip-fed a “television show” seems grossly incompatible. Filming for Game of Thrones Season 3 was completed in November2012 – but still we wait! We have the technology, we have the demand… what’s the problem?

Of course, this is just the modern expression of an old urge. When I want to read a book I want to read the whole book. In my time.

I don’t want it serialised. I don’t want to purchase a few chapters, and then have to buy a few more later on. If I want to stay up past midnight to read a few more sneaky chapters, I damn well will.

Why should the small screen be any different?Game of Thrones … Peter Dinklage as Tyrion.

Wouldn’t it be great if the next frontier in “television” is direct and comprehensive distribution. A season at a time, as they’re commissioned and created.

Traditionalists could still watch episodes on the TV, and good on them. Their slightly archaic viewing habits wouldn’t affect me (and chances that demographic wouldn’t have their viewing experience ruined by spoilers on social media).

Everybody would win.

Well, nearly everybody. Just not the TV industry gatekeepers, who are already moving quickly in the other direction.

It seems those already in control are so busy preserving their power they’re ignoring the chilly winds of change brewing afar.

Sound familiar? Winter is coming.


Journey to belonging

An edited version of this article appeared in February VOICE, distributed through The Age.

Each year thousands of asylum-seekers try to settle in Australia. Most are fleeing persecution because of their race, religion or lifestyle. They’re looking for something simple yet sometimes elusive: a fresh start. Ryan Sheales reports on their struggles and triumphs.

Randomly stop 10 people in the street and ask for their view on asylum-seeker issues and you’ll probably get about 15 different responses. Some welcoming, some hostile, some confused, some somewhere in the middle.

Refugees arriving in Australia often encounter a climate where their legitimacy is bitterly contested.

Social researchers – like Melissa Phillips from the University of Melbourne’s School of Social and Political Sciences – see it as a problem across the whole of Australian society.

“Despite the Federal Government trying to distinguish between ‘good’ refugees and ‘bad’ asylum-seekers, most people make little distinction between them,” she says.

“As a result many refugees’ everyday interactions involve people questioning who they are, and why they have fled their countries of origin.“

The Australian Parliamentary Library, which produces independent research reports for politicians, has warned there is “a great deal of confusion and misinformation in the public debate” about asylum-seekers.

Its 2011 report Asylum-seekers and refugees: what are the facts? also found the terms ‘asylum-seekers’, ‘refugees’, ‘illegals’, ‘queue-jumpers’ and ‘boat people’ are frequently used “interchangeably and/or incorrectly”.

The study also dismissed the notion Australia is being “swamped” by would-be refugees.

It pointed out that Europe generally processes about 280,000 claims for asylum each year compared with roughly 49,000 claims in the US and 33,000 in Canada.

In comparison, less than 7,000 claims were lodged in Australia and New Zealand combined in 2009.

Despite this, a “treacherous combination of a lack of understanding, generalisations and misconceptions” still lingers across sections of the Australian community, according to the University’s Martina Boese, who’s currently working on a research project analysing the experiences of migrants and refugees settling in country Victoria.

Dr Boese believes refugees are often incorrectly portrayed as damaged, needy or burdensome for their new country.

“The focus often seems to be on a refugee’s history with trauma or deprivation, not on their skills, experience and resilience. In comparison, skilled visa entrants are more commonly represented as useful and entrepreneurial,” she says.

“This black-and-white imagery of ‘damaged refugees fleeing war-torn countries’ versus ‘skilled migrants needed by the Australian economy’ leaves no doubt about who is the more wanted kind of entrant.”

Even the very term “refugee” – which is as much a legal category as it is a social descriptor – can be a damaging label.

Invariably, some politicians and media organisations seem intent on exploiting the ‘refugee stereotype’ for votes or ratings. But there’s little focus on the less tabloid-friendly ‘success stories’.

Somalian woman Maimun Mohamed spent the better part of a decade in a UN refugee camp in Kenya, after fleeing the civil war that had gripped her homeland in 1991.

Maimun Mohamed

When she and her husband arrived in Australia in 1999 they knew nothing of their new country – and no one.

Her experiences in Australia were recorded in 2010 by Researchers for Asylum-seekers, a volunteer group of academics and students affiliated with the University of Melbourne’s Department of Psychological Science.

“At first she worked as a receptionist and gradually moved into community work where she developed a niche for assessing the employment needs of disadvantaged communities, including refugees,” her story reads.

“Slowly she made connections and figured out the way things are done.”

Ms Mohamed eventually started her own business, the Innovation Recruitment Agency, which works to find appropriate employment for resettled refugees.

Or take the example of David, whose journey from Sudan to Melbourne took 19 years: through Ethiopia, back to South Sudan, on to Kenya and finally to Australia. He arrived here safely in 2004, aged 22.

“Flying through Sydney to get to Melbourne, David could not believe that such a world existed. Everything felt like a dream,” researchers remarked of his experiences.


“The first challenge David encountered was to understand how to connect with people, services and just ‘live’ in Australia. Everything was completely new and each task, even a simple one like cooking or filling the bathtub, had to be learnt from scratch.

“Luckily, his cousin was here to help him figure things out and explain processes as simple as a meeting at Centrelink.”

Like many refugees, David also had to deal with traumatic flashbacks to the horrors he witnessed in Africa.

Refugee advocates believe there will be a greater acceptance of refugees when their motives are better understood.

Too many people still believe refugees make a voluntary choice to leave their homelands, warns Melissa Phillips who spent time working in the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in South Sudan.

“The idea that people voluntarily leave their homes with few means and little documentation is just crazy, and challenges our knowledge of contemporary conflicts and their effects on people,” Dr Boese says.

“Going further, it seems hard to comprehend that some people believe refugees leave their homes with a destination in mind.

“Refugees are focused foremost on removing themselves from precarious situations and it is only later that they may start to think of options for a permanent and safe future.”

David knows how he’d like Australians, and those seeking asylum here, to approach refugee issues.

“People from round the world look and think differently and it is easy to be misguided by stereotypes,” he says.

“Until you get to sit down with people and talk to them, it is important to extend respect and kindness to all people.”

“It is important that those who were born here as well as those that resettle here work hard, open up and accept each other.”

Hear an interview with David or read more of Maimun Mohamed’s story here

No journalist should have to report on their friend’s murder.

JILL Meagher’s death is an unfathomable tragedy. Her family remains in a state of shock and despair. My heart goes out to them.

But I want to pay tribute to Jill’s ABC colleagues. My former colleagues.

This has undoubtedly been one of the toughest weeks of their lives – both personally and professionally.

Journalists deal with tragedy on a regular basis. Road deaths, street crimes and a seemingly endless supply of harrowing stories retold in the

But rarely are they so close to the victims of these traumas.

“It’s hard to walk both sides of the street on this one,” 774 mornings host Jon Faine told listeners today.

As perhaps ABC Victoria’s most well known personality, Faine’s reactions and remarks have been instructive. He has given a voice to the whole ABC Radio team.

Days after Jill vanished police made repeated visits to the home she shared with her husband, Tom. They took away bags and cases filled with undisclosed belongings.

Unfounded mutterings began to surface on social media suggesting Tom was perhaps involved in some kind of foul play. Why else would they search the home.

Faine took to the airwaves to defend Tom. In doing so, the radio veteran acknowledged he was probably overstepping a line.

Perhaps he did go too far, perhaps not. But all the ‘lines’ which define acceptable behaviour have been blurred this week

The MEAA journalists Code of Ethics compel reporters to “respect private grief and personal privacy”.

Which is all very well – except when the grief is the reporter’s own.

The Code also says journalists should “not allow personal interest … to undermine [their] accuracy, fairness or independence”.

Which is fine, except when your “personal interest” is only in your mate’s safety, against all the odds.

774 Radio manager Cath Hurley paid tribute to her staff this morning, saying they have covered the issue “straight up and down” and she was “proud” of them.

She is right. They have been stoic. They have been brave. They have been exactly what they needed to be.

It’s all too easy for reporters to become desensitized to trauma and loss. To the trauma and loss of others. It’s natural, and often necessary.

This week’s events will have shattered any emotional barriers that ABC reporters may have built up over the years.

And the next time a woman is abducted, raped or murdered on the streets of Melbourne – and sadly, there will be a next time – the events of the past week will come flooding back.

There is a lot of grieving to be done, a lot of questing why and a lot of healing.

My thoughts are with everybody in the ABC family.

My long lost TV debut, age 11.

My mum recently digitised all our home videos. Gone are all those boxes of VHS tapes — my entire childhood now fits on a single external hard drive.

Amid the tedious hours of birthdays and backyard working bees, I found my very first ‘TV appearance’.

The year was 1995, I would have been about 11.

My voice was clearly yet to break, and I was looking for a good time at the Royal Melbourne Show.

The rest is cringeworthy, Sheales-family history.