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Something about the world seems rotten to me today. In a country where child prostitution is common place, where murderers and drug kingpins can bribe their way out of prison, where rape and crimes against women get less punishment than petty crime, 2 reformed, repentant young men were murdered last night.

990082-6d5ec12a-9d4c-11e4-8f33-8e666e0016f7Australian opinions are fiercely divided about Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the infamous Bali Nine ring leaders. I understand the arguments for the death penalty and in this case, I understand that people are annoyed that these young men broke a law in a country where they knew the consequences and flaunted the rules.

What I don’t understand is the lack of compassion and the complete failure to see that these men had been completely rehabilitated and weren’t asking for a pardon for their crimes, they were simply asking for their lives. Lives which they would have spent behind the bars of one of the world’s worst prisons.

Waking up this morning to the confirmed reports that Myuran and Andrew had been executed I sat in silence and wondered, where do we draw the line on appropriate punishment for crime? When do we cross the line between keeping the streets safe and playing God? As jails get so crowded that the death penalty has become a way to make room, have we given up on the very reason the system was created in the first place?

Prisons came about because there is a need to remove dangerous people from the general population. They are there to keep the “good” people safe from the “bad” ones. The ultimate goal of a jail term is to rehabilitate and reform law breakers. The current system rarely works.

Somehow though, in the case of the Bali Nine ring leaders it worked! The corrupt and inhumane Indonesian prison system actually worked. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said this morning, “Indonesia has not just robbed two young men of their lives but robbed itself of two examples of the strengths of its justice system”.

To the families of Myuran and Andrew I put my voice with countless others in Australia and around the world and say that I did and always will stand for mercy.

While the world burns in Baltimore and shakes to its core in Nepal I hope the human race can rise above and thrive while its people and planet seem intent on destroying themselves. But who really stands a chance in a world where being sorry still has you facing the firing squad?


little white lie

Belle Gibson has got to be one of the most hated women in Australia right now. Not only did she lie about  having cancer, she defrauded thousands of people and splashed herself all over social media spending the money she claimed to be raising for charity on lavish holidays for her “healing”. It’s not just that she has insulted every person struggling through an illness battle or that she took us all for fools for so long. The most incredulous, infuriating thing Belle Gibson is doing is still lying.

Belle-Gibson-860x450Gibson launched a global business, including a top-rating app and cookbook, off the claims that she was a young mother healing herself naturally from terminal brain cancer.

The thing that annoys me most about this story, other than the fact that it’s become such a big story, giving this disturbed young woman more publicity than she ever deserved, is that she blames it all on a troubled childhood. “As a child, she says her mother changed her name five times for reasons she doesn’t comprehend.” Reports Clair Weaver of The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Gibson isn’t the first person to use their upbringing or mental illness as an excuse for bad behavior. How many sports people have we heard use the terms bi-polar and attention deficit disorder as an excuse to drink and take drunks in the last few years? It’s like a broken record playing over and over.

Stories like Belle Gibson make me angry, not because she lied and continues to lie, it makes me angry because I and many other people survived equally or worse troubled childhoods and didn’t turn out to be lying, manipulative sociopaths.

It’s widely accepted in society that children from broken and abusive homes will have a tougher time maintaining healthy relationships and holding steady employment as they grow up. Let me tell you something. I have had both for the majority of my adult life. I have friends from “healthy” and “normal” families however who are a complete mess! No childhood is an excuse to be a grownup douche bag.

Reading this story over and over today left me wondering, is this a woman a victim of society, or is society a victim of her? Obviously there are no winners in this story. Although she may have been riding the wave of fame and fortune, she has certainly neither in her corner now, and she’s dragging her young son down on the sinking ship with her.

Maybe Gibson isn’t so much a product of a tough upbringing, but a product of her own feelings of desperation and insignificance. A woman who felt so invisible she built herself up by tempting fate and lying about having a terminal illness.

I wouldn’t ever make an excuse for her actions and I think she should be prosecuted for fraud and made to pay back every penny but the woman is obviously unstable and needs help.

Maybe what started as a little white lie should have been seen as a big red flag!

innocence lost

On Monday 15 of December 2014, barrister and mother of 3 Katrina Dawson walked in to the Lindt café in Sydney’s Martin Place for her morning coffee with pregnant colleague and fellow barrister Julie Taylor. They had no idea that moments later, their lives and the lives of 15 other Lindt customers and staff would be forever changed.

As channel seven broadcast their live Sunrise program across the mall, a bearded 50 year old man entered through the café’s sliding glass doors. He was wearing a bandanna and carrying a blue bag containing a shotgun. The man was Man Haron Monis.

A woman trying to enter the café shortly after Monis found the glass door disabled and noticed patrons inside being ordered on to the floor. Believing she was witnessing an armed robbery she called police.

About a minute later a staff member arriving for work found he also could not enter through the main door and watched what was happening through the glass. He too believed his fellow Lindt workers and customers were being held up.

As police arrived, the faces of 17 terrified hostages appeared in the café windows. They were told to stand with their hands on the glass and their eyes closed. Some were forced to hold black flags against the windows. As Australia watched live on Sunrise, the flags came in to focus and a collective gasp rang out across the country. We’ve seen flags like this before. In that moment we thought, this is not an armed robbery. Australia, Sydney, is under terrorist attack.lindt

In the days following we would learn that Man Haron Monis was no terrorist. He was a man seeking fame and the attention of those he idolised. He was not acting as part of a political attack on Australia. He was not a soldier of the Islamic State. He was a desperate mad man wanting to make a name for himself and be a hero in a war he had never lifted arms for.

Man Haron Monis was a refugee who fled from Iran to the safety of Australia in 1996, claiming he was persecuted for his liberal take on Islam. In the years that followed he became a self-proclaimed spiritual healer and a self-anointed sheikh with no authority or standing in the Australian Muslim community. He was convicted of harassing the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan and an Austrade official who died in the Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta and at the time of the Lindt siege was on bail for his alleged complicity in the murder of his former wife.

Monis identified himself to his hostages as The Brother, and as police began evacuating Martin Place and the surrounding area, he began outlining his demands to them. It was only when messages and videos began appearing on social media that we began to understand what the faces in those windows were enduring inside the café.

Marcia Mikhael, a project manager and mother of three from Sydney’s north-west was forced to post to her Facebook page. “He is now threatening to start killing us,” Ms Mikhael wrote. “We need help right now. The man wants the world to know that Australia is under attack by the Islamic State.”

At 4:35pm, hope. Two male hostages made a break for freedom from the main door, followed by a male Lindt employee through a fire escape. Just before 5pm two female employees also escaped. Could this be the gun man relenting and letting hostages go? No.

Inside the café, Monis was now infuriated. He instructed hostage, 19 year old Jarrod Hoffman, to call radio 2GB and The Daily Telegraph to relay his demands: a direct line with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and an Islamic flag delivered to the café.

“He says an eye for an eye,” Mr Hoffman said. “If someone else runs, someone dies.”

None of Monis’s demands were met. However he persevered, instructing hostages Selina Win Pe and Julie Taylor to post videos shot on a smart phone to social media outlining his demands again. Other videos were also uploaded, with no result.

The demands would never be met.

By 2am Monis was tired. It had been 16 hours since the siege began. The hostages saw their only chance and ran for the exit. Monis woke. Tori Johnson, the café manager, attempted to wrestle the gun from him and Monis shot him dead. Reports also suggest that Mr Johnson was badly beaten before being shot.

At 2:03am six hostages fled through a service door. They included Harriette Denny, Jarrod Hoffman and software engineer Viswakanth Ankireddy, a 32-year-old from India who is living in Sydney with his wife and young daughter and working on a Westpac project.

Outside, police had heard shots and a sniper in the channel seven building had seen Mr Johnson go down, reports said. Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione later said that police now had to storm the café to stop more casualties.

At approximately 2:10am police shot out the glass doors and entered the café in a hail of bullets and flashes of light.

In those final, terrifying moments, they killed Monis. Barrister and mother, Katrina Dawson, who 16 hours earlier had entered the café for her morning coffee, was also killed in the firefight. Reports suggest she was protecting her pregnant friend Julie Taylor. Police believe it was Monis’s bullet that killed her.

Injured in those final seconds were Marcia Mikhael, shot in the leg, a 75-year-old woman shot in the shoulder, a 52-year-old woman who was shot in the foot, and a 39-year-old policeman whose face was sprayed with pellets.

Fifteen hostages were alive, but Ms Dawson and Mr Johnson became the victims of Man Haron Monis, a delusional lone wolf who wanted the world to believe he was an Islamic State warrior when he was nothing more than a wannabe terrorist and coward.

Nobody believed in him. No one thought he was a threat. But he was dangerous and, for over 16 hours, he held a nation hostage and stole our innocence forever.


pay it forward

I asked my Facebook followers this week to let me know what they wanted to read about, what was catching their attention in the media or what was bothering them at the moment that they’d like to talk about. Unfortunately I didn’t get a very good response but one that did resonate with me was from a girl named Kristy who said she had been affected by what she saw on the news about troubles in the Ukraine.

We all see stories on the evening news or in the media that disturb us sometimes. I often sit in front of the TV wondering what I can do to help communities in need or countries in crisis. For us as individuals of course the problems are too big, what can we do as ordinary everyday people to change things?

Kristy wanted to write a letter to the government about how Australia could help with what is going on in the Ukraine but she felt that it would be pointless, because what difference would a letter from one person make? My advice was to go ahead and write the letter. Yes, maybe Kristy’s lone voice won’t make a difference but imagine if everyone who had the same idea followed through with it.

Ghandi said, “be the change you want to see in the world”. If everyone who was affected by the trouble in the Ukraine, the war in the Middle East or the crimes against human rights in the Congo put pen to paper, government houses would be flooded with mail and would surely have to take notice.

Kristy’s simple message made me wonder, what sort of world do I want my son to grow up in? What can I do to make a positive change in our community?

giveMy husband and I were having lunch last week at a local café and when he went to pay the bill the cashier told him it had already been taken care of. To this day we don’t know who paid for our meal, although we have our suspicions. Without knowing for sure, we can’t repay that person or thank them properly. All I could do was write a heartfelt thank you on social media hoping they would see it and now we’ve commit to paying it forward.

I know the world’s problems and my free lunch may not seem connected at all but imagine this, if every time someone did something good for you, you paid it forward to someone else. All that means is that you do something good for someone with no expectation of being repaid or even thanked. If everyone carried on paying it forward, we could change the world.

So next time you think you are powerless to make the world a better place, think a little closer to home. Do something nice for a stranger and when they ask how they can repay you simply tell them to pay it forward. Or if someone does something nice for you, make a point of doing something nice for someone else.

We might not be able to change the world on our own but one kind act at a time, we can make it a better place.

what no one tells you about motherhood

A girlfriend of mine forwarded me this article this morning and I just had to share it. I hope all the mums enjoy…

Just after my first child, Kitty, was born (she is now nearly three), we had some visitors: a couple and their two children. The woman held Kitty and said “I’m not really a baby person.” She smiled as she said it. I thought it was a very weird thing to say. And especially to smile as she said it.Cinderella

After they left my husband, Giles, said “Oh yes. She went mad after both kids and had to go to hospital for a bit.”

Oh god, I thought. Poor thing. Post-Natal Depression, how terrible.

I bumbled along with Kitty for the next few weeks in the milky haze you get with a very new baby: we had visitors and gifts, Kitty basically slept all day and all night. My husband was on paternity leave. “This is easy,” I thought. “Tee hee.”

But gradually, as Kitty became more alert and demanding, as the eating-and-sleeping routine I was a slave to, (as it rewarded me with time to myself), started to drive me quite bananas, I wondered how much more mad I had to go before someone would cart me off to the peace and quiet of a nuthouse.

Giles told me more about Not A Baby Person: her husband worked very long hours, including some weekends, but they couldn’t afford help, her family did not live nearby, their house had no garden, the local park was some distance away, she had not met any soul mates at her baby group, her close friends did not have children.

I listened with mounting horror.

That woman, I said to my husband, was not depressed — or rather, I wasn’t bloody suprised that she was depressed! She was in a miserable situation! Even the hardiest marine, the most focused, mentally tough SAS soldier, the smoothest and most cunning spy, would go doo-lally in six weeks under those conditions.

The British Army would not allow its soldiers to exist for long periods under the sort of psychological trauma and sleep-deprivation that new mothers are expected to endure, unaided, cheerfully.

Let me put it this way: if you had a friend who chose to train for a marathon, or go into the army, or who is a barrister, or a teacher, or a social worker or a doctor and they suddenly confess to you that their lives are at times impossible and that they don’t think they can carry on, that they sometimes cry in desperation – you would not tell them that they were depressed.

You probably wouldn’t even advise them to quit. “You can do it,” you would say. “Tomorrow is another day. Hang in there.” And what you really wouldn’t say is: there is something wrong with you, I think you need help.

But if you’re a new mother and you go a bit wobbly under the pressure – you’re depressed. Especially if your situation is good – you might have a healthy, sunny baby and a bit of help (not too much) and parks and family nearby. If you are so blessed, if you dare to say that having a baby is at times horrible, then you are mad, you are depressed, you are possibly suicidal. Everyone, look! Look at the crazy woman who hates her baby!

I am one of those people who became down in the dumps about having a baby for no earthly reason other than I just found it, frequently, exhausting and dreadful. And I couldn’t stop talking about it. I told anyone who would listen about what it was really like. “It’s so tedious and relentless. I’m so TRAPPED! I don’t think she likes me. I can’t read anything. I can’t concentrate. I’m only really at peace when she’s asleep – and even then I often fret that she will wake up too early.”

I thought I was being brave. I thought that I was just telling the truth about the hardships of new motherhood. All I wanted in return was for people to say “You are so brave! It will get better.”

But from more than one person, I got anxious frowns, concerned looks. Two people, both childless, separately took me to one side and said “Do you think maybe you’re a bit… depressed?” It suddenly dawned on me: I was no longer me reporting back from an experience, like telling someone about a bad holiday – I was a mother now, and I was just supposed to say how happy I was, how beautiful it all was. How complete I felt. Anything else was verboten.

I suppressed a scream. I was deeply insulted – and angry. But I didn’t say that. I said something like: “No no, I’m fine.” Because I was fine, really. There was no loss of appetite, no suicidal thoughts. I knew Kitty was easy: she rarely cried, smiled a lot and slept fine. But motherhood was still hard. Motherhood was, at times, unbearable. The responsibility was overwhelming, crushing; the boredom was total, deep.

But from then on, I chose my words more carefully. I began to observe a kind of omerta. Ok, I thought. You don’t want to know the truth? I won’t tell you.

A lot of mothers observe this code of silence. First, you don’t want to frighten or bore people with no children; second, there is always a nagging feeling that you are having a bad time because you are doing it wrong; third, you don’t want people to think you are depressed. There’s nothing worse than pity. Sympathy and support? Yes, please. Pity? No.

So you huddle with other mothers, pre-selected for their own honesty and you talk and it makes you feel better. And you freeze everyone else out, for fear that they will point at you and call you a basket-case if you confess that quite often you powerfully wish that you were on a boat in the Bahamas, dancing to Rihanna. And because of this silence, so many women embark on motherhood blind and they are, in turn, deeply shocked by its downsides.

But this is not depression.

This is simply what happens when women are not brought up to be mothers. Once upon a time in this country, (and it is still the case in most other countries), women will have spent a lot of their girlhood caring for younger siblings and relatives’ babies. Small children come as no surprise. On top of that life is hard work, just generally, and having babies is no different.

We, now, in the West spend our lives up until the point we have children totally selfishly. We are a rich country – we eat out and lie in and see friends and luxuriate in our hangovers. We are shielded from any real hardship, or fear, or boredom. We are educated in order to have careers and be big shots, not change nappies and sing nursery rhymes. And hurrah for that!

But babies are medieval. They are from another time, which hasn’t changed and moved on with the West. Everything else has been tinkered with until is it as convenient as possible – except babies. They arrive as they would have arrived hundreds, even thousands, of years ago, ready for life in a Mayfair penthouse or in a Mongolian yurt.

And it had may never have occurred to you that you cannot give a baby a decongestant, or that they will spit out Panadol or refuse to be comforted with patting and stroking or that they are physically unable to watch television until at least 18 months old, or that they go completely berserk on airplanes or that some days they want you to carry them around all day. All. Day.

A culture clash is inevitable. Not least because we live in tiny family units of two and three. There is often no-one to help, no-one just to hold the baby for a sec while you nip to the loo. There is no-one to talk to except, if you are lucky, other actual friends who have babies or, worse, strange new people you are thrown together with who just happen to have started a family at the same time as you.

To go from a spoilt and pampered existence to this is a big ask. Especially as we are so used to buying our way out of trouble. But you cannot upgrade your baby to one that sleeps well, or who doesn’t whine, or projectile vomit, or one who will sit calmly in its bouncer while you fold laundry or not be constantly ill from September through to April.

None of us is prepared for this kind of uncivilised intrusion on our beautiful, hand-made lives. Not even if you are wildly maternal. My best friend Rosie is just that: she loves all children and babies – when she was little she cradled dollies and made a beeline for any infant (I did not do this). Her much longed-for son is now two.

She says “After Ben was born for weeks he screamed from 6.30pm to midnight then passed out. It was unbearable and I would cry and say ‘What do you want? What’s wrong with you?’ Eventually I worked out that he wasn’t sleeping enough during the day and needed to be swaddled. But to this day every evening I get a sinking feeling that tonight is going to be the night that he won’t sleep and there’s no-one to help me. I am often nervous that I will not be able to help him if he is very ill or unsettled in the night. But no-one cares. It’s all your problem. I know this sounds odd but sometimes Ben really scares me.”

Dr Spock told a generation of women that they didn’t need to learn how to look after their babies, that it was instinctive and that they knew more than they thought they did. He was completely wrong. When you have no proper experience of babies, as most of us don’t, and one arrives in your house, it is like suddenly being asked to re-sit your final school exams. In Russian.

I suppose I have to point out here that none of this means you hate your kids. Doesn’t it go without saying? Apparently not. Disliking many aspects of having a small baby around the house doesn’t mean you hate your baby, or your husband, or family life. Babies are beautiful and charming but also dementing and unreasonable – it’s like living with a Hollywood starlet who is in the middle of a nervous breakdown.

And yet it is simply not allowed not to suffix any complaint with “… but they’re so cute it’s all worth it…” or “…but I love them so much that of course I don’t mind…” The palliative “but it’s all worth it,” is a pretty pathetic offering to a woman whose children have croup and who has not read a book, had a haircut or been to the loo alone in 18 months.

The rest of the world needs mothers, badly, to say it’s all worth it, to say they love every second more than the last. The world doesn’t want to hear the truth, which is that when you’ve just had a baby and you are adrift and alone and exhausted and manic, you can wonder just what the hell “it” is, that this is all supposed to be worth.

But that’s not depression! Or madness! Stop right there with that straightjacket, amigo. That’s just motherhood, in all its monstrous glory. I made my peace with it long ago, but I worry others haven’t.

Please don’t think I am asking for help with my life, or asking for anything about it to change: mothers and motherhood are not problems that need to be solved. I am not a problem that needs to be solved.

All I’m asking is to be allowed to tell the truth, without being pointed at, to be allowed to talk about motherhood without having to sugar-coat it in order to make you feel better. Because that really is depressing.


Esther Walker is a London-based journalist who writes a popular blog about food and family.

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