I suspect I need to give a trigger warning for today. The first few paragraphs are fine, but after that…
I’m writing this on Thursday because we’re getting three blasts of cold air from the Antarctic, starting around now. The morning sun is sneaking in and telling me that there is no snow for Canberra from that, today. This is not so unexpected. What blasts of air from Antarctica give Canberra is snow on the mountains. Since we’re in the mountains (I live near the foot of one) that means the wind chill factor is not something to rejoice over. Outside right now, the actual temperature is seven degrees above the temperature one feels.
I love telling you about the cold, because so many people nod at me when I say “I’m from Australia” and inform me that it must be nice to live in a land with no winter. They also ask me what it’s like to have the sea at my door. They continue asking even when I say “Actually, I live in Canberra.”
Australia has many seasons, different ones in different regions. And our national capital is inland.
I both love it and hate it that the world’s view of Australia tends to be the perpetual summer and the land of the relaxed people who are short on education, high on rudeness, but very kind. I want to argue the beach thing, though, because what continent is all beach? We have so much inland and it’s so varied and interesting.
This week I’m writing non-fiction about how some of the major stereotypes in the West were developed. I’ve been exploring it in my fiction, too. This is partly prompted by me coming from a minority background, but I strongly suspect that I want to know where people get ideas from because of the sheer number of people who will be surprised we have cold weather this week.
It’s not that cold, to be honest. The days are going to be around 10C and the nights will be above 0. Cold is then the nights go down to -8 or -10, which they do here. I explain this with such ease, precisely the way I’m doing now and still non-Australians will tell me how warm it is where I live.
Summer is hot. Winter is cold. Canberra has a climate that would be very familiar to those who know certain parts of Europe. Spring and autumn are short these days, but we have flowers and autumn leaves and fruit.
I explained in another post that it’s more six seasons than four, but it’s still very like Europe here. Europe is upside down, but apart from that… and yet… and yet…
The moment I feel that cold blast of air I’m reminded that people will tell me about what I am experiencing and they are not. This may be frustrating, but it’s also useful.
Every time I feel that blast of cold air from the snowfields I use it as a reminder that I need to listen. When someone says they’re experiencing something, I need to stop and listen. Unless they are demonstrably liars (and very few people I know are that) then I need to trust in their own descriptions of their own lives.
Why is this so important and what has it to do with Australia?
It’s so important because if someone has been hurt by someone else and I tell them “Your personal experience isn’t what you think it is” then I am compounding the abuse.
What has it to do with Australia? Pell is appealing his conviction. He’s the most prominent person (hard to get more senior than him, anywhere in the world – he was one of the Pope’s offsiders until he retired and he only retired when the case started to become public) to be put on trial for sex abuse here.
I was going to write a long description of what’s going on, but I think I will leave this post as a simple metaphor. We need to learn to listen.
We don’t have to believe everything we’re told, but when someone tells us about their personal experience, telling them that they are wrong and cannot possibly have experienced their own lives is like telling me it’s warm today. The wind chill factor today means that I can’t go outside without my big, windproof coat. And right now Australia has a giant problem relating to abuse by people who hold institutional power. We need to listen to the victims and their supporters. Believing the possible abusers and telling the possible victims that we know their lives is not only hurting a lot of people but it’s giving Australian society metaphorical frostbite.