Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates

In latter years I have occasionally wondered at how in some ways my life has resembled Forrest Gump’s, though at a lower profile, and I have never bared my rump to a national leader on television. 🙂

I have found myself at the cross-roads of many of the important social trends of our times, and my professional experience provided insights into major contemporary issues.

I was raised in a colonial family in the conservative North Queensland town of Innisfail, and I married into a Sri Lankan migrant family recently arrived to the mining town of Moranbah (only the second Asian family in town, and my wife was one of few people of colour at school, another being Cathy Freeman who was in her class).

We met at university in Townsville and so I resisted the pull from my parents to return to the farm after completing my degree, instead completing a PhD in marine science (pathobiology), which opened my eyes to the broader world and humanity and led me to join a cosmopolitan lifestyle and join the rural-urban migration.

Before leaving North Queensland we endured the emergence of Pauline Hanson and experienced family members proudly announcing their support for her. I also have endured regular subtle and overt racism within my family (the most recent examples being my father telling me “who would want to live next to Indians!”, and my parents relaying how they strongly objected to the commencement of a meeting beginning with an Acknowledgment of Country with “we don’t want that shit here!” which brought to tears the speaker, the mother of a school friend).

Professionally I worked in pathobiology and in biosecurity, spending 2.5 years in Canberra in biosecurity policy development (for prawns, crayfish, and other aquatic invertebrates).

Here again I found myself at the crossroads of globalisation and resistance to it as my family began growing bananas in addition to sugarcane, so the import risk analysis on bananas from the Philippines put us in conflict (as I was concerned for a fairer more equal world while also caring about my roots in farming).

Government policy development was not for me, and at the turn of the millennium – while it was the trend of the period – I joined the brain drain and took up research fellowships in France and then Germany. I was even mentioned in Australian Federal Government and industry reports on the brain drain.

Being an unofficial representative of this nation as a research fellow in Europe in the aftermath of the children overboard election was a low point. In Germany in 2002 we lived next to the US counsellor General in Munich and walked past machine gun-armed guards daily (always being slow to remove our keys from our pockets). 🙂

Returning to Australia two years later the then new housing bubble had pushed home ownership in Brisbane beyond the reach of a one income family dependent on a scientist academic wage, and after 1.5 years of unemployment, I retired from my profession at the age of 34.

I was considered an emerging world leader in aquatic pathobiology, but I failed to obtain financial security sufficient to support a family. We had delayed starting a family while I tried for that security, but when my wife fell pregnant time was up on my career.

I then became a stay at home Dad and have been for the past 17 years while I was the primary caregiver to two sons and the major support to my wife who has struggled to gain the professional recognition and reward she has deserved. The toll to her and our family has been profound.

Besides volunteering at school and at our sons’ sports, I have tried to contribute to society through blogging activities first from 2007 on the housing bubble including at a Community Cabinet meeting challenging Rudd and Swan to ensure their Government did not entrench a two-tiered, inequitable society. Rudd got annoyed, and Swan arrogantly told me face to face that anybody who thought negative gearing would be ended was dreaming.

After finally buying our own home in 2011, I concentrated on my family and working on our home.

In 2019 I founded which was to be a blog about socioeconomics and investing. But I realised in late January 2020 the challenge humanity faced with the impending COVID-19 pandemic and I intensified my blogging to influence public concern about our response and to pressure Governments to respect the value of human life (arguing for borders to close and rapid lockdowns over a herd immunity strategy by natural infections).

Soon I realised that a former colleague and friend was at the centre of the storm. In 2000 I had visited Dr Shi Zengli at the Wuhan Institute of Virology after meeting her in 1998 at the laboratory where she did her PhD – the laboratory where I received a fellowship to work in 2001. We had lost contact since these times, but I soon learned that she was the scientist credited with proving the link between bats and the original SARS virus, and in fact she was affectionately (at the start) known as the ‘Batwoman’.

Very early in the pandemic I recognised that this would be a major shock to the psychology of humanity, and I believe it is fair to say that I was the first to publicly speak up on the likelihood of a ‘reset’ in the way we would collectively perceive our lives pre- and post-pandemic.

I called it “The Great Reset” based on my essay of that title published 30 March 2020.

Presently I am writing about these impacts and especially as we search for greater balance in how we live our lives, our mental health and impacts on the environment, along with how we identify in this new era.

Through my writing I have been clear that I am progressive and ‘left-leaning’ but I came from a very conservative right of the political centre upbringing where racism towards First Nations people was endemic.

What I have not really discussed is how I undertook that personal growth. The truth is that, like anybody raised in a colonialist society with deeply ingrained systemic racism, this personal growth will never be complete until the day I leave this world.

The critical element, I believe, is to discuss the experiences and events that made me realise that I wanted to change.

It is natural to assume this came when I met the beautiful young woman of colour who recently migrated to this country and who has been the love of my life, but that is only part of the story.

I believe that three specific events – actually 3 conversations that I had – were key to opening my mind and heart.

The first was when I had just turned 18, 2 years before I met my wife, at college at university when I stated the most racist thing that ever came from my mouth. It was a statement that revolved around genocide of First Nations Australians – something so vile I am too ashamed to repeat it even for this retell – which I had heard said many times by my senior male mentors and which I had never witnessed them held to account for saying so I assumed most Caucasians (at least from North Queensland/Innisfail) agreed.

I believe I probably knew it to be provocative saying it aloud amongst first years and other second and third years in orientation week, though of course no non-Caucasians were present (including the group of First Nations women I had developed close relationships with in my first year).

I felt the righteousness surge through my stiffening back as the words left my mouth, as I had observed in my male mentors.

My words were not met with a response by the other young Caucasians, they were just met with awkward silence.

But the real message was in their eyes. I immediately saw their hurt and shock, perhaps even welling of tears which these teenagers tried to abate to hide their natural vulnerability in that intensely image-conscious phase.

My initial response, like I had observed from my mentors, was to maintain my righteousness and stiffness in my body as the conversation quietly moved on to another topic.

That moment lived on in me for much, much longer, however.

Though I was not especially introspective at this stage, primarily an avoidance mechanism from the trauma which I had experienced in my early teenage years as my family fractured under the weight of trying to save the family farm from financial foreclosure, that feeling that came from seeing their hurt sparked the impetus for change.

I knew I did not want to be the type of person that caused such hurt to other people. And I knew that the hurt felt by these people would be dwarfed by the hurt it would cause to the objects of the vile statement – indigenous Australians.

The second and third conversations happened after a further 7 years.

After marrying we honeymooned in Singapore and then went on to Finland where I stayed on for 10 weeks as a research fellow still studying for my PhD.

The group of Finnish postgrad students who I befriended were the brightest and most open-minded people I had ever met, and I soon realised the negative impacts of Australia’s relative isolation in terms of how the everday person understands the broader world. All of my friends were around 10 years older than me which exacerbated that gap.

I was in the centre of Kuopio with an especially liberal-minded friend and, again, I repeated a very conservative – clueless – statement that I had often heard said, in support of capital punishment. Immediately I was met with an eloquent and intelligent response to which I had no counter, which I find is often the case for conservative viewpoints which then elicit the retort “that’s my view and I’m entitled to it!”

I quickly realised that whereas I could hold my own very well in discussions with peers at home, out in the broader world my very narrow view would show me up to be naive and, frankly, ridiculous.

In that moment I truly understood the need to think through situations before forming an opinion and expressing it.

The third conversation happened a year or two later. My wife was working in the centre of Townsville (in the mall) and came home a little late at busy periods. One evening around dusk she went behind her building to go to our car parked in a public car park and a group of young indigenous boys were entering the carpark at the other end. My wife assumed they were associated with a group of indigenous people commonly referred to as the ‘park people’ – homeless and prone to substance abuse and violence.

When she saw the boys she quickened her pace, as did they, and as she got to our car and locked the door, the boys slid their hands on the windows as she reversed out and drove off.

By the time she got home she was shaking with fear and anger. And she was beginning to say angry things – things which in my experience are commonly said about aboriginal people in North Queensland.

My initial impulse was to join in with her. But something stopped me. I knew that being angry was not an answer. It was not reflective of the reality of why these people are living in this way. And I knew that if we were to continue that hate, then it never stops – it just keeps on growing. I recall saying to my wife that if we want a society where you/we can feel like you/we belong, and our future children, then we cannot give in to anger towards others, and we need to understand the reasons why these things happen.

At this time I really began to understand the importance of opening my heart as well as my mind to what is happening in the world, so much so that I understood that no mind is truly open if the heart is not also open.

I chose the photograph at the head of this post as my profile photo on my MacroEdgo page on Facebook because it has always had very special meaning to me.

It is me sitting on my Dad’s GTS Monaro, one of the original 200 made identical to the Bathurst-winning car, at my uncle’s home where we had an extended family and friends BBQ every Sunday.

When I was younger its meaning lay in connection with my Dad. Now it has also grown to express the journey I have travelled from that little boy.

You see, that uncle was one (of several) of my male mentors who role-modelled strong racism. Moreover, that extended family network fell apart when his brave grandchildren revealed he was a paedophile.

The photograph is a reminder of just how much life can and does change.

I do not know if it shows in the photo, but in it I can see my innate shyness mixed with internal strength (and the metaphor in holding the fly squat) that might emerge if I was fortunate enough to find myself in the right environment.

I am proud of my journey, and of my contributions to humanity and especially to those closest to me and the love we share.

But I live with the burden that many who were most important to me in my early life are not.

Knowing how my story went is the only way that I have learned to love that 18 year old boy that spoke vile racist words.

Sadly my own family (of origin) consider that I was at my peak or best when I was 18, and have told me in numerous verbal and other ways that I am not the person I once was.

Life changes – at my core I have not – I just found the courage to be authentic and live with the principles I learned through my entire life.

Not many have covered the ground I have, and that is why I always believed there was value to humanity in me sharing my journey in the best way I could.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2022

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