Week 2, vigil, 24th June 2013

Day 10 24th June 2013

I was not present on the Castlemaine Market Building Steps this past weekend but Thea was. On Saturday Thea and Eva sat in vigil, on Sunday Thea and her son Lane were there. Thea, thank you, you are a wonderful human being.

I was not on the steps as I was with Mr Barry Prior- a dear friend, an advocate for those suffering, a father, husband, grandfather, a carer, someone who quietly demonstrated love, someone who would always stand up no matter how uncomfortable it was, he was a Minister at the Church of All Nations, an organiser and setter-upperer of refuges for Pilipino Women in Hong Kong who, working as house maids, were afforded few rights and suffer much violence. He was a man who showed me how it is possible to be a man and be strong in gentleness, respectful and responsible; a man who – despite having had a difficult early life – being taken from his mother as a young child – grew up to embody courage, love, empathy and an active life-long commitment to remembering and respect.

Had Barry been able , he would have been sitting on the steps.

Barry Prior died on Saturday evening 22nd June at about 7.30pm. I was blessed to be with him and his family. Even in his moment of death the enduring image that remains with me is of this man , (not a big man physically, but still a big man), opening his arms wide – not only to hold his family but opening his arms, a safe space, to embrace to anyone who needed it.

Barry’s daughter, Jill Prior, wrote the following letter to Ms Gillard and has asked that it be shared. Please read it – it is extraordinary – and share with your networks.

I will be on the Market Building Steps tonight – Monday 24th June. I hope to see you there.

“Dear Ms Gillard,
We haven’t met. But I do feel your story is somehow connected to mine. When you were elected it prompted much discussion in our family– made up of a strong red headed mother with alabaster skin and a father who had always told me and my sister that we would grow up to be either the first female president of the ACTU or the first female prime minister.

I have been reflecting on that and wondering what he saw in us and what he would have wanted and expected of us as prime minister. I never took the opportunity to ask him that question but knowing him – and my mother – knowing who they are and how they live their lives I am guessing it would be that they would expect us to remember the past and have the courage to stand up where injustice exists – never allowing it to be acceptable that members of our community live such drastically unequal lives.

You don’t know my dad but Julia I will tell you a story.
In 1988 I was 16 years old. I was with my family at Mornington Peninsula having a lovely day – Australia day – and the ‘celebration of a nation’ – the bicentenary. We were visiting my mothers sister –and my cousins were there, my sister, brother and parents. Off we went to the cliff tops of Mornington peninsula to gather with the other families, what you might call “ordinary Australians” picnicking and taking up position for a vantage point – to see the re-enactment of the first fleet. The tall ships were due to pass through the peninsula and crowds gathered everywhere. You would have liked it Prime Minister – people were happy despite the boats passing with relative ease.

But that’s another story.

I don’t remember how I felt. But it was a beautiful sunny day and I recall at some point turning to see my father had taken up a spot pretty close to the cliff edge and square in the middle of a clearing – a perfect view. But nobody was joining him. I don’t remember anything else that happened that day – just the indelible image of a 60kg, 5’9 man struggling with every gust of wind as he battled to control the seemingly enormous 6 foot by 4 foot Aboriginal flag he had attached to a pole which seemed twice as big as he. And with every inch of his strength he swung it determinedly, rhythmically, silently – and stared at the passing tall ships. I moved slowly away from him. Why would he do this when everyone was just trying to have a nice day? Why couldn’t he just let it be? Why cause a stir? I was mortified.

Thankfully I have had over 20 years to reflect on this time and pass through my awkward teenage years. What he did that day was put his beliefs and his convictions in the uncomfortable place of public scrutiny. He walked his talk. He stood with courage and remembering, and called on every person to look at him and to acknowledge what this really was. It probably took me years to understand the courage of actions like these – to recognise injustice and to be brave enough to stand up and stomp my foot. I guess that maybe your dad wasn’t like that. That’s ok. You will take your influences from other learnings.

I was raised into an environment where I was given strength and love and never wanted for anything. I was told and shown that it is unacceptable that members of our community are not afforded the same privileges. I was taught of the injustices that exist and I was shown that the right thing to do was to stand up with courage. I reckon that’s what my dad would have wanted of his kids as PM.
But Prime Minister maybe you don’t realise what’s happening down here – maybe you can’t hear the voices of those you represent. Or perhaps there are not enough people standing in the uncomfortable spaces and holding themselves to account for their beliefs.

Prime Minister I don’t know if you see what we see. But I reckon if you did you would change things – wouldn’t you? Because there is inequality and injustice amongst the people you represent. I see it everyday. People you represent don’t have enough housing, safe places to be, and they don’t have adequate access to mental health services, or other health services.

Prime Minister, I reckon my dad would have wanted his children to recognise the trauma that runs thorough this country, carrying with it the memories of past policies of government. I reckon he would have expected that we would look to the spaces that we push the most marginalised and traumatised members of our community into. I reckon that he would have stood there, so that someone noticed.
He would have expected us to shout out so that we remembered and couldn’t ignore the vulnerability and desperation of those who flee their homelands looking for safety on these shores. What is occurring today in this country to those fellow human beings who seek asylum, who seek safety, who are trying to save their own lives, is a disgrace and the latest blight on our history. It will cut like razors through those scars of our history that continue to burn. Because, Prime Minister, we are all here together and we continue to suffer as a society.

It is not acceptable that people in trauma are dying on our watch.
It is unacceptable that people are being treated without a shred of humanity as they seek a modicum of care.

Prime Minister I implore you to stand up and have the courage to shout louder than the voices that simply pay lip-service to humanity.

You are the representative of every person in this community. You need to remember that it is you who can demonstrate the courage to stand up and wave your flag wherever you see members of your community being treated as though they didn’t matter.

Your job as Prime Minister is to represent the rights and values of this country and your obligation as a human being is to find that scratchy piece of dirt, brace yourself against the bitter cold and wave your flag. This is courage. This is humanity. This is leadership.

This isn’t so much what my Dad would want as what he would insist upon. “

Jill Prior.

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