When I picked up Julia Gillard's book, I didn't know what to expect. While I never trusted the fictional narrative painted by the ultra-right leaning Australian media, I confess that I didn't actively seek out the alternative, and the perspective presented in Julia Gillard's My Story exceeds all expectations, and with her collected and charismatic demeanour, the Q&A session I attended at Newcastle Town Hall today left me surprised at her candour, resilience (a recurring theme in her book), and warmth.
Attending the sold out Q&A at Newcastle Town Hall only made this experience better. The mood among this crowd was one of great gratitude for Julia and her work in office, and one of longing for a governmental situation better than our current one, and a situation that might have been different, fairer, for Julia herself and for Australians alike.
The conversation held by Rosemarie Milsom was an easy one, Julia was laid back but measured, cheerful but realist, factual but charismatic, and it's not hard to see why she became a lawyer, and a good one. There were things about her that weren't captured by the cameras during her time as Prime Minister, her expressive hands and vivid imagery, her ability to embrace the factual and the personal without sentimentality but with a personal warmth. It's this woman that I am ashamed to say I didn't see before, even when witnessing her passion in the battle for the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme, which gave more government-backed treatment options to disabled people and their carers) and resolute insistence on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
With much of the campaigning for this Royal Commission done in Newcastle and by Novocastrians, the conversation about it was a salient one, evoking a certain energy from the crowd, a commanding one and a supportive one. She was candid about her internal conflict about the situation, her desire to inflict no pain on the victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of the church and the realisation that there was no way to remove the pain already being suffered, leaving her with a painful decision to make - do I risk having the victims of abuse relive the worst moments of their lives in a public forum so an investigation into systemic abuse and cover ups can be exposed and those involved brought to justice, or do I save them from that need, forcing them to suffer in silence without recourse to their abusers and those who assisted them, leaving the potential for more abuse to occur? A Royal Commission would be painful, difficult and costly, but the recognition of victims and exposure of the systems that failed them was a move that she felt she had to make.
Julia proved herself today that she is authentic, witty, and very interesting speaker, and speaks of her time in parliament without malice, blame or bitterness. With members of the public asking questions, she was kind and patient, even with the obligatory "what about the men?" question, and those asking her to rehash something she'd already said. In meeting her, she was kind, cheerful and fascinating, and it's this side of Julia, the warm, human side, devoid of media spin, that I can't wait to see more of. She may have made a fine Prime Minister, but she will make an excellent addition to Australian discourse in years to come.
Alicia Thompson is an illustrator and designer living in Newcastle (also known as "not Sydney"), Australia. She is also the web and print monkey behind Quaint Magazine's beautiful facade.
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