Telling the stories of our lives

I was very struck yesterday to hear how our visiting speaker at the senior school assembly described her job. Professor Mary Crock, Professor of Law at Sydney University, and a specialist in immigration law, described her work as the telling of stories about people’s lives, and said that she felt honoured to be working in a place which stood on a site where indigenous peoples had told and shared stories for thousands of years previously. She painted immigration law – both its use and its abuse – almost as a weathervane, indicating how a society functions, and emphasised the importance of people and their life stories within these structures.

She asked us all to stand up; those who had been born abroad were asked to sit first, then those whose parents had been born abroad were asked to sit, and then those whose grandparents had come from overseas were asked to sit. By this time, there were few – very few – left standing. The stories of these ancestors, and the journeys that they had undertaken, hung in the air.

Later yesterday I watched a series of amazing Year 12 drama performances that had been prepared for the HSC examination. The group performances were innovative and challenging; it was in the individual pieces, however, that I saw, picked up again, the strands of the same power of story-telling. Such was the strength of this story-telling that as an audience we were drawn, forcibly, into the lives of others – an autistic child dying of cancer, a French madam, a disturbed juvenile, amongst others. We were confronted, challenged, moved, repulsed, captivated … The power of the drama led us to experience a glimpse of different lives, different stories.

Each insight into these lives changed us slightly – it gave us an alternative perspective on the world, on history, or even on who we are. As we were wrenched from one life to another, made to see the world through different eyes, I was reminded of the words of Professor Mary Crock, and what they implied for us in this political age where it is easy to sanitise the world by parcelling people into groups – including asylum-seekers and refugees. I certainly can’t pretend to have the answer to the problem of the boats and the people-smugglers; yesterday, however, reminded us all in school that when we take the time to look inside people’s lives, and to appreciate fully who they are and how they view the world, this can create change in ourselves. Out of this change – who knows? – we may find our creative solution that ensure that the weathervane of our society is pointed broadly in the right direction.

I learn every day; it is a huge privilege to be sharing this and guiding young people on a great learning journey through their lives, as they write their own stories, and as they contribute to the stories of others.


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