As our Australia: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow series continues, Rockhampton writer and performer Jarred Kennedy reflects on the history of our nation, and his own personal journey.
Two Trajectories: Australia's, and mine
Nearly all my live I've called Central Queensland home. Born in Ipswich, I moved up here with my family at age one, and here I've stayed ever since. I've often longed to move back down south just for job prospects, but so far that hasn't been possible. Even so, I'm very proud of my community. I consider this region a prime slice of grassroots Australia: a smaller-scale reflection of the capital cities, along with an enduring link to the bush and its lifestyle, both of which have become permeated into Australia's cultural image abroad.
I turn 30 this year – indeed I was a Bicentennial baby, for better or worse – and history and politics have always fascinated me, so I feel I'm in a perfectly reflective and interested mood to ruminate on the Australia of yesterday, today and tomorrow. In my lifetime we've seen seven prime ministers (one of whom served twice, and another the first woman PM), seven Governors-General including the first woman, and Queensland has had eight premiers, two of them women who were both publicly elected. Nationally, we've had the parliamentary apology to the Stolen Generations and the legalisation of native title, gun control, and most recently same-sex marriage. But we have also had lingering issues of race play out, numerous Aussies being prosecuted overseas for drug trafficking, and the threat of terrorism reaching our
shores, to name but a few.
This decade has also seen the establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which could have helped my family and me all my life. That's because I have Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning autism spectrum condition. This inevitably made me largely a pariah at school and even at home, as the youngest of three. One good aspect was that I was diagnosed at 12 and therefore could at least know for some of my formative years why I struggled to fit in. For over a decade then, I was in the autism closet (with all due to respect to the LGBTIQ community, we also have one), and yet even as proud and open as I've become about being autistic, that fight to be accepted and to accept myself will stay with me always and is one which too many Australians still have to wage.
As if that wasn't enough of an adolescent burden, I've also had generalised anxiety disorder since I was 14. It first took hold through panic attacks most nights while I tried to sleep, which inevitably affected my schoolwork, and my family – my mum, particularly – also soon felt its toll. To this day I'm on anti-anxiety medication, but no amount of pills can truly make you happy or confident in the long term. I've recently read up on the history of the Kew Cottages, a former asylum in Melbourne opened in the 1880s and closed a century later, for children with disability and mental illness. It's quite disturbing and sobering to think that just two or three generations earlier, one of those kids could've been me, or any of my friends with disabilities. Just for starters, patients there often were sexually and physically abused, and forced to eat expired food. Australia should be deeply proud of, and not take for granted, the fact that we now have national charities and initiatives like beyondblue, Headspace and Kids Help Line tirelessly working hard to eradicate the challenges, stigmas and stereotypes of mental illness. But we cannot rest on our laurels quite yet.
And while I appreciate sympathy, I don't want your pity. My life is hardly perfect, nor am I, but in the face of everything upstairs I've achieved a great deal. I have a Bachelor of Arts with Honours Degree from Central Queensland University, I have my own car and an Open licence, a decent employment record, many close and longstanding friendships, strong familial bonds and I've been living independently since 2013. Both conditions will always hang over me, and sometimes it's like they gang up against me, but overall I genuinely feel this: I don't suffer from them. They suffer from me.
Now, let me tell you about just one of those friendships, and my adult reflections on it. One of my Year Four classmates was an Indigenous boy named Alex. We clicked immediately, and while he wasn't my first friend at school, I now know he was probably the most telling one. After all, we were both marginalised, and thus, we instinctively understood each other from the start. I love how hindsight helps to make sense of fateful things like that. And I know this may sound like white guilt on my part, but I now believe that connection Alex and I had was the first inspiration for my sensitivity for racial issues now. Our brains and skin come in many colours, but our blood? Just one.
I don't want to summarise or conclude all this with the usual cliches (“We all must join hands for tomorrow” et cetera). And I should emphasise that even on the matters I've covered here I'm no true authority overall; I just see, think and understand what I do. But it's a fact that like all nations, Australia is a broad canvas; hell, it's one of the broadest. You couldn't cover its whole history or culture in a book without it being longer than War and Peace. But that's an unmistakable reminder of our national endurance. And even for all its shortcomings and traditions and institutions I dislike (perhaps unsurprisingly I'm a congenital republican), overall I will love Australia forever. What lays ahead of her? I have no clue. But in fighting to make a difference and to keep Australia on the world stage, it's just like what John Farnham (even if he was English-born) once sang:
Our Australia: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow series continues all this week.