Right Now received some standout stories in 2020 from both emerging and established writers. Our three most-read stories encapsulate the adage ‘the personal is political,’ exploring wider issues in the world through lived experiences. Look out for these writers in 2021.
Most Read: “I don’t dance like the other cats” by Katy Barnett
I don’t dance like other cats, by Katy Barnett was the story of resilience and courage that 2020 needed.
Katy tells me she wrote the story in part because she was encouraged by friends who had been following her rehabilitation journey on social media over the last few years, and they implored her to tell the story publicly.
“I had not written publicly about my disability until this year, but I decided it was important to be open about it for the sake of others who suffer from disability. Moreover, it seemed that 2020 was the time to tell a tale of resilience and hope. It has been a tough year for all. I’m humbled and delighted that it’s the most read (although one of my best friends said, “Not surprised” when I told her just now).
The most moving moment for me was when a Twitter follower read my piece, and posted a photo of his nine-year-old son who also suffers from cerebral palsy, and had recently had his Achilles’ tendons lengthened in a similar operation to the one I had at thirteen years of age. His son had read my story and was encouraged by it. It made me cry with joy.”
My first published work of legal academic scholarship (on native title law) was entitled ‘Two Steps Forward, One Step Back?’ Twenty years later, as I learn to walk, I wonder if the title should have been reserved for my own journey. To explain: I am a law professor, a mother and an author. I have had a mild form of cerebral palsy since birth. I have always had difficulties walking, hence why I am learning to walk like a normal person for the first time, at the tender age of forty-something.
But if you are expecting a description of my hard life and times intended to engender pity, I advise you to stop now. First, I am not going to write about pain. Pain is, frankly, boring; there is not much to say about it. Secondly, there is a reason I quote Ian Dury’s provocatively offensive song: as a person who is spastic, it makes me laugh. Dury himself was a polio victim whose left leg, shoulder and arm withered after suffering the disease at the age of eight. Since I was young, I felt kinship with him. I am not a victim. I am simply a person who is capable in some areas and not so capable in others. I am happy to be me. If I could wave a magic wand, I’d fix my lungs first—and then my legs.
My first name is brief because I was not expected to live. It’s not Katherine or Catherine or any variation thereof. It’s just four letters: KATY. I was born at 29 weeks at a time when such babies usually died. While my mother was in labour, they told my father to think of a name for the death certificate. The name that came into Dad’s head was ‘Katy’—my parents’ friends had chosen this name for their child, but had changed their child’s name to Sarah instead. Dad told the nurses my name … and promptly fainted outside the delivery room and had to be artificially resuscitated. Obviously, I lived, because here I am now, writing this.
What’s Katy reading?
“The Lord of The Rings” In Disquieting Times
Katy said her favourite article for this year was not directly human rights related but relates to her “long-held love” for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
“The article speaks of “defiant endurance”, which characterises both my own attitude towards my disability and the way in which the world has endured the hardships of 2020. At times of crisis like these, it is essential to emphasise our shared humanity and to ensure our human rights are protected. Hence, I am very proud to have published in Right Now.”
Second most read: “Freedom Street” by Alfred Pek and JN Joniad
“Freedom Street: A Documentary Journey into The Australian Border Policy” explores the shocking treatment of refugees who fled war and genocide only to be detained on the street with the Orwellian name.
The powerful story shines a light on the refugees stranded indefinitely in Indonesia by Australian Immigration policy. It’s also where Alfred meets JN Joniad, a 27-year-old Rohingya refugee, turned journalist and co-author of the story.
JN said that the story is important because very few writers report what is actually happening on the ground in Indonesia.
“It is important to educate the citizens of Australia that Manus and Nauru are not the only islands where Australia has created illegal detention centres to detain refugees who seek asylum in Australia. Indonesia has the largest number of active detention centres —which are indirectly funded by Australia — where thousands of refugees are imprisoned. Australia’s regional deterrent policies have destroyed the lives of many refugees in Indonesia. Those who have died in Manus and Nauru are countable but in Indonesia, there are 14,000 refugees and the true number of deaths are unknown.”
JN tells me that just last month, three refugees committed suicide after being used as pawns to deter and dissuade others who might think about taking a boat to Australia.
Alfred said the article is important to raise awareness and funds for the documentary (which is currently in production) and that he and his refugee friends and advocates are hoping the documentary will be an effective engagement tool that refugee and human rights advocates can utilise to campaign for change for the refugees who are trapped in our region by Australian policies.
“Through telling and representing the stories of my three refugee friends who are stuck in my former home country of Indonesia and the voices of experts contextualising their plights, we will shed the full context and history of Australia in dealing with refugees and inspire meaningful solutions that can empower citizens to take action.”
Tax-deductible donations can be made at the Documentary Australia Foundation website.
On 16 July 2018, I returned to my home country of Indonesia after being away for nearly a decade. I arrived into a hot and dusty Makassar as I headed towards the refugee accommodations. When I arrived at the address, I was greeted by my refugee friends at the front of their dreary, cramped, repurposed student hostel where a family occupies a single tiny room.
I wasn’t allowed to go inside the accommodation. A sign outside hanging on the gate read: “This is an immigration detention centre for foreigners.” There was a security guard on standby, but because of my Pan-Asian appearance, I could pretend to be one of the Hazara refugees. Joniad, a resident and friend, told security that I was his refugee friend and he hurriedly guided me to his room to settle down for some filming.
I first discovered the situation, in which refugees are stranded indefinitely in Indonesia, in 2016, two years after my accidental involvement in the refugee advocacy space and my work in video journalism. Eventually, after 2 years of further research into the topic, I uncovered the core of these policies. I was ready and finally able to develop my documentary in early 2018.
Initially, I was not sure what to name this project. The idea came to me after I asked for my friend’s address, and it was then that I discovered the biggest irony of it all. The street where the refugees live is called “Jalan Perintis Kemerdekaan”, which translates from Indonesian as Freedom Street.
Alfred and JN recommend reading:
Alfred and JN recommended a brilliant series of articles that are a great way to start the new year.
- Asif wanted to be a lawyer in Australia. Instead, he took his own life in Indonesia
- Refugees Stuck In Indonesia Are Experiencing A Mental Health Crisis
- Freedom Street: An Immigrant’s Journey into Australia’s Border Protection Cruelty
Third most read: It’s Always Stage 4 in Locked Mental Health Wards by Simon Katterl
Simon Katterl takes us inside a public mental health hospital where it’s a daily battle for power and control.
This short pithy story was shared widely and sparked much conversation after leaving our readers angry, shocked and wanting to find out more.
Simon tells me he wrote the article after having his own lived experience of mental health issues and from having walked alongside and supported people who’ve gone through human rights abuses in mental health settings.
“I wrote this article because there’s an underbelly of human rights issues that sit at the heart of our mental health systems, but in my opinion, there is little community understanding of it. If you have more questions about human rights issues occurring in mental health settings, you can read information — and join as a member if you identify as having lived experience — from the Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council, which represents people who are disadvantaged or oppressed by mental health systems in Victoria.”
An average day in a cordoned-off room of a public mental health hospital in Melbourne usually starts with me telling the group: “I don’t work for the hospital. I’m here to tell you that even if you’re on a compulsory treatment order, you still have rights.” If people stare blankly, I know to shift gears.
In Victoria, you can be placed under a compulsory treatment order if a mental health clinician – usually a psychiatrist – believes that you have a mental illness that requires immediate treatment to prevent a serious deterioration to your mental or physical health or to prevent serious harm to you or another person. It’s not as uncommon as you think.
Between 2018-2019, there were 6,297 treatment orders and a staggering 592 electroconvulsive treatment orders made by the Mental Health Tribunal – a tribunal set up to make decisions about compulsory treatment. But there is a lack of publicly available data for the more routine treatment orders, such as “temporary treatment orders” meaning the true number is much higher.
Simon said he was fortunate to assist 34 people in giving evidence to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System and added that the final report is essential reading. He also looks forward to the public release of Larissa Behrendt’s report into the Collingwood Football Club and issues of racism. “I hope Right Now can demand its release in 2021!” he said.