Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Weekend in Melbourne

Blogging on Ambertracker has become a bit spotty of late, for which I do apologize, having been on the road again and getting used to a new city (Sydney). Here's a recap of my Saturday and Sunday in Melbourne...


Through Carolyn Frohmader of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA), I had made contact with diversity consultant Margherita Coppolino, who had very nicely agreed to spend some time with me to do a couple of things: a) see the town of Werribee and b) help me get better acquainted with the Melbourne area. So, Margherita found a cab driver and picked me up to head off to Werribee.

Why Werribee? I've posted about my reasons for wanting to visit this town previously, but very briefly: back in 2006, a group of teenage boys (who'd formed a sort of gang and called themselves the Teenage Kings of Werribee) coerced a girl with a cognitive (or intellectual, whatever you prefer) disability out to a secluded riverbank, forced her to perform oral sex on them, set her hair on fire and threw her sweater and top into the rover. They then taped the whole thing as part of a series of stunts and sold the whole series as a DVD called C*** the Movie. Nothing whatsoever was done about it until the Aussie newsmagazine show Today Tonight got hold of a copy of the DVD and publicized it all, and then the boys were rounded up and prosecuted. Unfortunately as most (all?) were underage, they got a relative slap on the hand. Needless to say the whole thing traumatized their school and the community.

Just about every person in Melbourne that I mentioned this to had heard of the case and were unanimous in their revulsion for the crime and their deep disturbance that it had happened at all. Some mentioned that gangs and vandalism were a problem in some suburbs.

There are several reasons why I've felt drawn to the story, and it's not only because this was done by a bunch of boys to a girl who was alone and disabled. And it's not only because I want people in the US at least to know that the crimes against people with disabilities that happen in the US also happen to people all over the world. It's also because Werribee is the sort of town that many people could live in and be fairly confident that such things could not happen there.

Werribee was built and grown on farming, and relies on a train connection with Melbourne. Its shops reflect longtime Anglo-Australian ownership but also a great deal of diversity of immigrants as well. There is a football (soccer) field and some things for tourists, a zoo and a historic mansion and a local historical museum, which I visited. It's not the kind of town that strikes me as having great poverty. But it is the sort of town that could bore young people easily, and people do a lot of bad things when they are bored.

As far as I can tell, the boys involved in the incident were white English speakers, and the girl as far as I know is also English speaking and presumably white as well. The entire incident was arranged via Internet so they were privileged enough to have computer access. It seems to me that the entire incident happened because the boys knew they had enough power to take advantage of this girl with a disability, and that there wouldn't be much retribution as a result. And how many times, every day around the world, does a situation like this happen, in communities or at home? And are we watching carefully enough to hear when victims are suffering? Do we even see them at all? What actual work are we doing to support people with disabilities in abuse situations?

So that, I think, is the challenge I'm putting out on this blog as a result of this visit. Do you know someone with a disability who is in an abuse situation? If yes, how can you help? If not, why not and what can you do to stop the violence? What do you think violence IS? There's a whole bunch of women with and without disabilities looking to stop it, too. Do you know who they are?


After viewing Werribee, Margherita and I headed over to the port of Williamstown for lunch and a talk and a bunch of picture taking. Afterwards, we rode the ferry up the Yarra River to Melbourne to take in the architecture and development along the river. Thousands of people migrate to Melbourne every year (and to Australia in general), so Melbourne is addressing this through the building of hundreds of condos. However, Australia is feeling the impact of the worldwide economic fallout, so it will be interesting to see how quickly these developments sell.

Many thanks to Margherita for her time with me and for the very thoughtful conversation! I am sure I am doing less justice to her thoughts all in this brief description than it deserves, but how about thinking about this, in a nutshell: how does diversity benefit different specific people? Hmmmm...!!!

For Saturday night, I had a quiet night as the jet lag caught up and my body rebelled. Yes, I have a lot of energy and will drive myself to do whatever is necessary, but I do get tired out too. And reading lips in English with a different accent is really hard work!


For this day, I just took it pretty easy. My host, Justin, and I went out to the Healesville Animal Sanctuary to see things like koalas and echidnas and kangaroos and bilbys...all Australian animals in an Australian bush setting of lots of gum trees (eucalyptus) and things. The sun is very strong in Australia, I have to say and someone in Sydney mentioned that Australia has a high rate of skin cancer. Anyway both Justin and I are from California where many of the plants are similar to what is found in Melbourne, but the animals and birds are different and THAT blew our minds.

It turns out that the animal sanctuary is in the middle of the Yarra Valley, which is like Australia's answer to Sonoma or Napa. LOTS of wineries! So we stopped by a few and tried very good wines, and wrapped it up by stopping at a dairy for reeeeeallly good cheese and crackers. A very nice and relaxing day (did you notice I didn't have any meetings?!?!).

The following day, Monday, I was leaving for Sydney and so I want to shout out to Justin to THANK YOU for hosting me in Melbourne! And also thank you to everyone I met while there! Australia is pretty fabulous, don't you think? ;)


Gary M. Arnold said...

Hey Amber,

I haven't been following as closely as I should, but your narrative is really gripping. Congratulations for all that you've done. You are a great ambassador for disability in the states.

www.castellon-3d.com said...

This will not have effect as a matter of fact, that's what I suppose.

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