When I started talking with Samilya and playing with the idea of writing her story I envisaged a historical novel. My fantasy included crafting turbulently romantic scenes and bold acts of heroism. I soon realised that this was not the pathway for recounting the abuse and neglect that had been foisted on Samilya. I needed to place Samilya’s story in a historical context and provide a psychological overview of the impact of trauma on her life. The reality became hours of library and internet research and ploughing my way through tombs of government documents.
I had no idea how to write a novel and even less idea of how to write a biography. Yet still, I persisted. I needed to become a better writer.
I asked for feedback on my writing
I am blessed to be surrounded by a group of intelligent, educated, thoughtful readers in my life and so I reached out for help – I asked for feedback on my writing. Handing over my draft manuscript was terrifying. Here was my best – what if it wasn’t enough? I was tentatively stepping into the arena and asking for criticism. I could no longer see what needed work in the manuscript, I was drowning in it.
And so started a process where I would edit the manuscript, hand it to a carefully selected reviewer, listen to their feedback and make more changes – or not. Then I would repeat the process with the next reviewer. It was often hard to hear what my readers had to say. Sometimes it was excruciatingly painful. Always it was useful and they made me a better writer. The manuscript is far richer for their input.
I asked for a lot of feedback. By the time I finished 15 people had read and provided feedback on my writing – psychologists, social workers, academics, a well-known author, those with legal backgrounds, some who saw the bigger picture, some who were detail-focused, a few who loved me and one who didn’t know me.
During the feedback process, I became better at asking for what I needed my reviewers to look for. I learnt to listen without becoming defensive. I became adept at choosing which feedback was useful and which wasn’t. I was full of gratitude for the time and consideration they took to share their thoughts with me. I have since given feedback on another writers manuscript and it’s a tough job.
Samilya has volunteered at LECNA for over 10 years. LECNA is a special place for Samilya, inspiring a chapter in the book – Somewhere to be and Something to do. As Samilya writes:
The Centre has been a lifesaver for me, they’ve helped me more than any Royal Commission or Forde Foundation. I did the Knowledge, Networking, Intervention and Training Program with them, they call it the KNIT program, it’s a positive behaviour management program. That was good. For a while, I went to the Centre just about every day. They gave me somewhere to be and something to do.
They clamoured for signed copies
While we always envisaged launching the book at LECNA, nothing prepared us for the love and support shown to Samilya on the day, and the days following.
The launch took place after the volunteers monthly lunch. Before we even had the books ready for sale we were besieged by Samilya’s colleagues and friends wanting a copy. Everyone clamoured for Samilya to sign their copy.
For a moment we felt like movie stars as we lined up for photos, with our own paparazzi.
Finding joy at a book launch
Gillian Marshall, Executive Community Manager interviewed us and we did our first ever book chat to a wonderfully supportive audience. We finished with the painful, and seemingly endless silence that happens when you ask “Any questions from the audience?” Then the real magic happened – one by one audience members stood up.
They did not ask questions but instead, they made heartfelt addresses to Samilya. Recognising the importance of her story, the courage she has taken to ensure all Forgotten Australians are remembered, the contribution she has made to the centre and the work she had done in the community. There were promises to promote the book. There were tears of sorrow and joy.
We never expected to find such joy at a book launch.
In 1954, two-year-old Samilya was abandoned by her migrant parents and placed in St Joseph’s Home, known as Neerkol Orphanage, outside of Rockhampton. After suffering years of insidious abuse at the hands of the Catholic nuns and priests, at age 10, Samilya is returned to her mother’s care where the trauma continued.
Not Forgotten: They called me Number 10 at Neerkol Orphanage, as told to Samilya’s friend, psychologist Anne Moorhouse, lays bare the lifelong effects of horrific childhood abuse and neglect. A psychological overview places Samilya’s trauma in developmental context, and explains Samilya’s mental health diagnosis, dissociative identity disorder.
Samilya is one of 500,000 so-called “Forgotten Australians” who were placed into childhood institutions from 1920–1970. Not Forgotten follows her marathon fight for elusive justice from the 1999 Forde Inquiry through to the 2013 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Each day Samilya fights to survive, to work, to have a home, to be a good partner and a loving mother. All Samilya has ever hoped for is an ordinary life.
Eight long, long years ago we started writingNot Forgotten: They called me Number 10 at Neerkol orphanage. Now I can reveal that Not Forgotten is the biography of Samilya Bjelic, who is referred to in past posts as Ms Forgotten Australian. We had to do this as there were current legal matters which meant we could not disclose her identity. We were silenced for two years. I swore and ranted against this suppression, yet the legal team assured me it was in Samilya’s best interest. For the first time, I felt my voice silenced by the Catholic church, for Samilya it was a repeat experience. Endured multiple times throughout her life.
Yet now here we are, free from legal constraints and tantalisingly close to having the book in our hands. This week, Covid-19 lockdowns permitting, Samilya and I will pick up our first copies.
So let me introduce you to Samilya Bjelic. She is an extraordinary woman who has endured more than most in her lifetime. She is a Forgotten Australian, volunteer, activist, mother, grandmother, friend. You will only really know and understand why she is my hero after you read Not Forgotten: They called me Number 10 at Neerkol Orphanage.
The end is tantalisingly near. I can almost feel the weight of the book in my hand and smell the print on the page. This eight-year journey of narrating Ms Forgotten Australian’s biography has been much longer than I expected. We’re not quite there yet and I feel so impatient! I’ve sat with frustration and a sense of injustice as we were delayed by legal matters. I’ve struggled to harness my patience while those who matter needed time to reflect on the impact the book would have on them. I’ve been exhausted and bored by the seemingly endless hours of work. Now, as we get much closer to having a book, alongside excitement I feel the bubbling cesspit of anxiety and fear.
Self-doubt makes an appearance
My mind wanders to thoughts like “What if people tell me the book is terrible?” “What if no one reads it” “Who am I to think I can write a book?” “What if my peers, or clients, think I’m an awful psychologist?” “What if there are mistakes I haven’t found?” “What if I’ve misrepresented Ms Forgotten Australian?” “Self-publishing is not the same as being a real author!”
We all experience self-doubt but I refuse to allow self-doubt to ruin this time for me. I was musing over how to manage these thoughts and feelings when a client mentioned the Man in the Arena quote by Theodore Rosevelt and a talk on the topic by Brene Brown.
The woman in the arena
It is not the critic who counts; not the woman who points out how the strong woman stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends herself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if she fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt (of course he wrote it about a man… but I like it better about a woman)
Invite your critics into the arena
The quote resonated with me. I am about to step into the arena. I will be vulnerable and exposed as I present the best of me to the world in the form of a book. Why wouldn’t I feel some fear? There will always be critics in the audience, both real and imagined. Brene urges us to reserve a seat for the four critics who will undoubtedly turn up.
Shame – the universal feeling that we all experience. As a critic, it tells you you are not good enough.
Scarcity – This critic tells you that what you are doing is not original, that there are better educated, trained and articulate people than you. That what you are doing does not matter.
Comparison – it’s the death of joy. My comparison critic will undoubtedly tell me I should not even mention the name, Brene Brown alongside my own.
Yourself – the critical internal voice with its familiar messages, known only to you.
So come on in critics and take a seat up the front. You will not tell me anything I haven’t already thought of. You are so familiar. I will see you and I will hear you but I will continue. I am ready. I will dare greatly. I will step into the arena and if I falter, as I may…I can always watch Brene Brown again, pick myself up and continue.
“Did you push her?” has been the awful question frequently addressed to my husband, in my presence, after I broke my ankle 5 weeks ago. I fell down our stairs, he wasn’t home.
When I first heard people ask him “Did you push her?” I was shocked but assumed it was a one-off tasteless comment. Now I’ve heard it multiple times, from both genders. Often from strangers who know nothing about us, but sometimes from friends who should know better.
Even a health worker asked him “Did you push her?”
Yesterday I went for a blood test about an unrelated matter. The phlebotomist, a health worker, asked him “Did you push her?” She had just been alone in the room with me and certainly had not checked for domestic violence. That was the only time I’d been alone with a health worker, without my husband, who has been transporting and caring for me since my accident.
“Did you push her?” is not funny.
“Did you push her” is not a joke. I’m not laughing and neither is my husband. It minimises domestic violence and it’s silencing of victims. Imagine being a victim of domestic violence and someone jokingly asks the perpetrator (in your presence) if he pushed you. He’s certainly not going to admit it and she’s likely to be too fearful to say anything. The question itself may increase her danger by antagonising the perpetrator.
Don’t assume you can recognise a victim of domestic violence
Maybe you’re thinking they’re only asking my husband “Did you push her?” because its so obvious I am not a victim of domestic violence. That argument assumes a domestic violence victim can be identified at first glance by a stranger. None of my recent clients who had been attacked in their homes by their partners had a sign on their heads saying “victim of domestic violence”. They do not have downcast eyes. Their clothes aren’t torn and bedraggled. They do not have obvious bruises. They were all women – a busy, thoughtful mum of 4 children, a successful businesswoman and an older semi-retired woman (who looked a lot like me). All were in dangerous situations.
Don’t assume you can recognise a perpetrator of domestic violence
“Did you push her?” also assumes that a perpetrator can be identified easily. I have lost count of the times clients have told me that violent perpetrators in the home, were upstanding community citizens. You cannot recognise a perpetrator through a casual interaction.
“Did you push her?” belittles the high rate of domestic violence in Australia.
On average, one woman per week is killed by a current or former partner.
On average, one male per month is killed by a current or former partner.
Stop giving tacit approval for domestic violence
“Did you push her?” along with the nudge nudge, wink wink, that I’ve often seen accompanying the question, seems to carry with it tacit approval that it’s ok to push a woman down the stairs. Is this really 2021? Have we learnt nothing? The question disgusts and saddens me.
How you can help if you suspect an injury was caused by domestic violence?
First stop asking “Did you push her?”
Take the victim aside. Privately and quietly ask them what happened.
Never have I been so focused on borders as I have during 2020 and now again in 2021.
Covid-19 and a broken ankle reduced the size of my world. In my smaller world I’m rebelling by not completing the borders on this jigsaw. I’m defiantly leaving them undone and mostly open! Though I have closed some!
The jigsaw was a gift for my 60th Birthday, made up of photos of my family. It’s kind of weird picking up a piece of your face and struggling to know where it goes! But weird fits these times. I had no desire to finish the border as I now have a love/hate relationship with them.
We were overjoyed to be able to spend Christmas at home in Queensland with our daughter and her partner from Melbourne, but I kept a watchful eye on the border news. I was fearful they would have to rapidly return to Victoria when Covid-19 raised its ugly head there again after 60 days of being virus free. I was saddened by friends who did not get time with family when our borders were closed to parts of NSW after an outbreak just before Christmas.
Like many of us, I can’t cross international borders and visit family and friends overseas. I find it difficult to see when overseas travel in and out of Australia will be easy.
As the pandemic hit Australia I submerged myself in learning to crochet and making six Pandemic Christmas Wreaths. I finished them when I was forced into lockdown due to a broken ankle.
A Pandemic Christmas Wreath of Connection and Optimism
Remember those first weeks of lockdown early in 2020, before we got jaded and screened out? That’s when it was still fun to do zoom calls. I hadn’t yet done 8 weeks of telehealth as a psychologist and wondered how many tears I had missed.
Like many others we connected with family overseas, particularly my nephew and his wife from Wellington, New Zealand. They had visited us in January 2020 with their gorgeous baby son. New Zealand entered a harsher lockdown than we did in Australia at that time so we supported each other by catching up on Zoom, playing trivia quizzes, sharing lockdown stories and Covid-19 stats. It was during one of these zoom calls that I launched my Christmas Pandemic Wreath project. I stitched love for my New Zealand family into to this wreath along with my hope that, as they hang the wreath each Christmas, they would look back at 2020 as a year of connection and optimism.
A Pandemic Christmas Wreath of Grief and Love
The impact of the pandemic hit my son and his fiancé with an unexpected ferocity. She was unable to return to the UK for her mother’s funeral and her sister’s wedding was cancelled. The ease of living overseas, where a trip home is just a day and some hard earned money evaporated overnight. If she went home for the funeral, she would not be able to return to Australia. I’m so glad she stayed. I’m also glad they had travelled to see her mum when she was ill earlier in the year.
There is no way my son and his fiancé will forget 2020. As they hang this wreath each Christmas I hope they honour their grief and remember the love they share together, with others who are not always present, and that we share it with them.
A Pandemic Christmas Wreath of Grit and Thankfulness
I worried more as I stitched this wreath. My daughter and her partner were locked down in Melbourne. Basically they’d been in lockdown since 21 March 2020 and restrictions didn’t begin to ease until November 2020. I worried about their mental health, their relationship and their jobs. While they found it tough they also flourished creating art, furniture and gourmet meals. They embraced a buy local strategy and our birthdays were celebrated with bundles of gifts found within a 5 km ring of where they lived.
The Melbourne lockdown saved Australia from a rampant attack by Covid-19. This wreath embraces the thanks I have for all Victorians who kept the rest of us safe. I hope when my daughter and her partner hang this wreath each Christmas, they look back with pride at the intense time they spent together, the determined grit they displayed, and all they achieved and created.
A Pandemic Christmas Wreath of Family Resilience and Caring
This wreath is for Ms Forgotten Australian’s youngest daughter’s family who hold a special place in my heart. The family underwent 4 Covid tests this year, whereas I had none. Like any family, the kids, 4 and 6 years old, bought home coughs and colds which resulted in multiple tests. I don’t know any child who looks forward to having a stranger stick a swab up their nose! It takes fortitude and integrity to turn up for yet another Covid test with fearful children, who probably just have a cold.
Families like them helped keep Brisbane safe. This family, like many others, coped with disruptions to their home, work, school and leisure routine and yet they continued to care for the vulnerable in their community. They got on with the task, complaint free, resiliently adapting to the changes. As they hang the wreath each Christmas I hope they remember their collective resilience and the way they cared for each other through this time.
A Pandemic Christmas Wreath of New Beginnings
Our nephew, his pregnant wife, their 9 month and 4 year old daughters started the year living with us as they made the move from Sydney to Brisbane. Then they bought a new home, he started a new job, she upstaged him by giving birth to a new baby girl during Covid, and of course were separated from interstate family. Its been lovely watching their excitement and joy at each new adventure. As they hang their wreath each Christmas, I’m sure they will remember the many new beginnings of 2020, not just that they lived through a pandemic.
A Pandemic Christmas Wreath of Friendship
As I stitched this wreath, I thought of the times we have shared with these friends this year. We started this year together in South America, a lifetime ago. While there we watched the fires burn in Australia, never thinking that this would be just the beginning of a year like no other.
As the Covid-19 raged, we were separated from family and supported each other.
As family members broke bones, we checked in with each other! Thanks for the loan of the crutches!
Together we snuck a brief holiday to Caloundra, not a destination we would normally have chosen, usually planning trips much father away. As we walked and talked, it helped eased the stress of the year.
As they hang this wreath at each Christmas, I hope it reminds them of our friendship, the good times we’ve shared and how we survived a pandemic!
I could make more wreaths, as I am blessed with family and friends who have helped me endure the devastation of the Australian bushfires, the pandemic and now a broken ankle, but I think I’m done. Lets hope 2021 is remembered as a time we all paused, focused on what we want for our lives and made some lasting changes.
I hope you all made the most of Christmas, wherever you were, whoever you were with.
I’m an avid traveller and 2020 has been no exception. This year I’ve travelled unexpectedly to places I’ve never dreamed of like the Transit Hall of the Princess Alexandra Hospital, a bed at the Mater Hospital, and their operating theatre. All good travel includes enduring some sleepless nights, getting lost, a hefty dose of discomfort, placing your safety in the hands of others and being unsure of what to do next. My 2020 trip did not disappoint.
Hostel vs Hospital
I spent two nights in a room with three others, reminiscent of backpacking around Europe and Asia in my 20’s. How’s this for similarities?
There is no real privacy.
Everyone is high on some type of chemical substance.
The man in the bed next to me is snoring like a pig.
The woman in the bed opposite is sleep yelling.
The guy in the corner is making all these weird groaning noises.
I’m still the person with the loud voice who can’t talk quietly even though its the middle of the night.
People come and go, waking me up, no matter what time of day or night.
Others encourage me to try free drugs repeatedly throughout the day.
The shared toilet and shower are always full when I desperately need to go.
As I restlessly try to sleep I tell myself to just relax and enjoy the “life experience” but all I really want is my own bed and pillow.
The food is a mystery, you’re never sure what you’ll end up with.
Transit rooms are dull soulless places, where you’re shuffled between monotonous waiting spaces. I spend endless hours waiting and whiling away the time. I’m positioned in front of a television which is stuck on a channel I’d never watch at home. It feels more like torture than entertainment, and I’m trapped! I doubt if my transport will ever turn up.
Community is where the healing happens
I broke 3 bones in my ankle after sliding down the bottom two steps of our internal stairs, a small fall with big consequences. Suddenly I was in need of some mobility aids. So, while in my hospital bed I reached out through Facebook to the Tarragindi neighbourhood community for some assistance. I knew that there was a great community close by ready to help out.
Hi community I have two requests:
1. Anyone have a wheelchair they would be willing to lend me for 8 weeks.
2. Anyone have experience of using a non slip varnish on bamboo stairs?
By the time I’d been operated on and reached home a day later, I’d been offered a number of mobility aids: wheelchairs, knee scooters, crutches, hoppers and bath stools. I didn’t need the crutches as a friend with five sets lent me a pair.
Within 5 minutes of being home my lovely neighbour, who I used to walk with regularly, delivered a luxury wheelchair, a wedge pillow to sleep with between my legs and a shower wheel chair.
The next morning we collected another wheelchair and a knee scooter, gifted to me by a stranger. Now I have a wheelchair upstairs and downstairs. I’ll ride that knee scooter fearlessly, just like I used to ride my motor bike through the windy roads of Wellington, New Zealand as a teenager….or maybe not!
I also have a range of ideas to help make the stairs slip proof, given that I’m not the only one who’s slid down them.
Sweetest of all was the message from a stranger
Hi Anne, saw your post in Tarragindi community group. I work at home, so does hubby… please reach out if you need any help … its so hot as well ! I’m happy to drop by any groceries etc …. or make the bed etc
This fills my heart with joy
I’m a strong advocate of laughter as part of healing and this card provided a belly laugh. It may well be the best card I’ve ever received.
I’m back at work for the last two weeks of the year, sitting sedately in my therapist chair. Grateful that my job is sedentary and I can continue to work. Thankfully I’m allocated an easy access room and will not have to display my new skill of butt scooting up stairs. My lovely colleagues fetch and carry for me, after all I work in a beautiful space focused on healing.
It’s going to be a tough 6 weeks, managing without putting any weight on my right leg, but its already been made much easier through the help of friends, neighbours, colleagues and strangers. I’m well on the way to recovery.
Hopefully I can pass on my stash of mobility aids to the next community member in need though I hope they sit unused and unneeded for a long time.
Merry Christmas to all. May you all be more mobile than me.
Wow, what a year! As a psychologist, the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic barrelled through my work, rest, and play, leaving me besieged with questions.
One week I was delivering face to face therapy, the next week I was huddled in my spare bedroom providing telehealth on the phone and through video for 8 weeks. Clients embraced the technology, and therapy continued much the same as it had before, or did it?
What happened to that space where clients travel to and from therapy?
The coming to and going from therapy is part of the reflective process. You make space and time for yourself, travel there, arrive, settle in, engage in therapy, and then travel away. What is the impact on the therapeutic process when you just move from the lounge to your bedroom, or when you continue doing chores or parenting while you talk?
How many times did I interrupt the process of therapy?
I would barge in asking “Can you still hear me”? Or ask clients to repeat themselves as I strained hearing only every fourth word on a video call because of that annoying delay. Those spaces of time where no one speaks have a multitude of meanings in therapy: “I don’t know what to say next”, “I’m overwhelmed”, “I’m angry or sad or tired”,” I’m reflecting and processing”, “It’s too much”, “Stop, “Go on”. The silences were much harder to navigate on the phone or even by video.
How many tears did I miss?
I learned that the glistening of teary eyes is impossible to see over the phone and difficult over video. How many times did I not pause to honour the tears? How many other emotions did I misinterpret or not notice?
How do I hold space for clients when I am navigating the same storm?
As therapists, we become adept at tracking and managing our own emotions during sessions so that the focus remains on the client. I’ve been aware of an increased need to do this as clients express their fears, grief and anger of living through a pandemic. I could so often say “me too”. I’m continually checking in and asking myself (and clients) “What do I need to do to care for myself today?”
What will work look like in the future?
Clients, friends and family have shared how they loathe or love working from home. Some feel released from the cacophony of noise, people and demands. Others are grieving the loss of human connection.
I cringe when I hear organisations stating how wonderfully productive working-from-home has been and how they will be implementing it for their employees in the future. I’ve heard too many stories of people overworking due to boredom during lockdown or fear of job losses. We are only at the beginning of this forced work-from-home pandemic experiment. What may have been expedient in the initial sprint of the pandemic may not be sustainable in what is turning out to be a marathon. How will friendships develop with reduced work socialisation? How do you build trust in a team when you are rarely in close contact? How many more lonely people will we have in Australia? Will employers make workplaces leaner and meaner and perhaps insist employees work predominantly from home as a cost-cutting move? How can we design better lives for ourselves as we come out of this pandemic?
About 30% of my work continues to be telehealth which is fantastic for clients who, for whatever reason, cannot come in for face-to-face sessions. I am grateful the intensity of delivering telehealth has eased for me and commiserate with colleagues delivering telehealth full time, even though I know some like it. After a day of telehealth, my body was stiff and ached with the increased concentration, my eyes were sore as if I was trying to use them to listen and I was emotionally spent. Do I need to upgrade my computer and earphones or source an ergonomic chair designed for telehealth? Would it make that much of a difference if I did?
How can we maintain the sanctuary of home?
I’ve vigilantly kept home separate from work, and I like it that way. During my work-from-home period, my haven was temporarily invaded, not just by my work but also by my noisy husband. After 35 years of marriage, I learnt my husband talks a lot at work, much more than I ever imagined! His voice echoed through the house until I banished him to a bedroom. What did others learn about their partners during this enforced episode of closeness? How did others maintain the sanctuary of the home, or was it not important to them? Is delineating between work and rest important? Are people now sleeping and being intimate in their workspaces?
Why didn’t I buy shares in home renovation and craft businesses?
Before we went into lockdown I encouraged my family to buy what they needed for those small home reno projects and to stock up on art and craft goods. I celebrated rooms painted, pots decorated, furniture made and first-time attempts at embroidery. I received the most beautiful hand made mothers day card. I feasted on new menus. I heard songs broadcast by those who had been too scared to perform. I learnt to crochet via youtube and created a Pandemic Christmas Wreath. Each year as I hang it I will remember 2020 as the year that was like no other.
As people experience the rhthym, creativity, passion, problem-solving, absorption and satisfaction that art and crafts bring will they be re-valued and retained in our post-pandemic world? Are art and craft the richest form of mindfulness?
How do I socialise?
For me, play is dominated by spending time with others, particularly those I love. I hold increased gratitude for those who live geographically close to me and to those who have continued to include me in the rhythm of their lives. Friends who meet me regularly for walks help provide a missing structure. I find it unexpectedly difficult to organise meeting up with others. It’s as if spontaneity has seeped out of me. How will I rekindle it? And what about the planners who love to see a full diary, how are they managing? What are people looking forward to? It’s as if I’m looking at the world through dirty glasses, something is not quite right yet I can’t wipe it away. How would others describe their experience?
Have communities changed?
My Tarragindi neighbours organised regular pandemic drinks in our cul de sac on Sunday afternoons. Initially, we social distanced, calling to each other from across the road. As the pandemic eased in Queensland we became closer.
On ANZAC Day my husband trumpeted The Last Post from our driveway, neighbours joining us from a distance, telling us it was the most moving ANZAC Day they’d attended.
I now know my neighbours far better than I did at the beginning of 2020. Will we continue with these new social traditions? Do communities feel closer now or more distant? Will the way we make and sustain relationships change?
When will I see my family and friends?
My arms ache to hug my daughter, brother, sister, parents-in-law, nephews, nieces and friends. No matter how many video calls we have my most pressing question remains “When will I see my daughter again?”.