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Best job in the world!

It’s not the first time my career has taken a swift and somewhat unexpected turn off course, but I reckon this may be the last change for quite a while. 10 years of professional swimming, 4 years in social justice, 2.5 years working in the Indigenous sector, and now a full time professional job as a Firefighter with Fire and Rescue NSW. I’m three weeks in, loving it, and excited to keep on learning!

But how did it happen? A rather extensive recruitment campaign, to say the least. I’ve heard stories of past recruitment campaigns going for much longer, so I should count my blessings in that, but there were still 6 stages involved! The process went like this: 1) 20 min cognitive online test and workplace health & safety test 2) 40 min emotional online test and workplace health & safety test, 3) physical aptitude test, 4) interview, 5) medical examination, 6) uniform fit. Rounds 1-5 went very quickly, all within 2 months. And then it went quiet… Yes, it’s fair to say I was shitting myself that something had gone awry. It took another two months to hear the all clear and get invited to stage 6, though I’m told that’s still very quick overall. Continue reading

Mardi Gras 2013

Last night was Mardi Gras 2013. No longer (officially) the “Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras”, it was gay and lesbian none the less. As before, it was a celebration in diversity within the community, and of LGBTQI pride.

Sydney’s Mardi Gras, proudly led and supported by Clover Moore, presents one day/night a year when I feel my love and relationship is truly celebrated by the greater society, in a way that is denied to my fiancé and I throughout much of the year due to discriminatory laws and beliefs. Walking down the street hand in hand we receive smiles from our passers by, and are embraced in a way that we otherwise don’t necessarily feel.

Last night, with my arm around my gorgeous lady, I loved watching the service men and women walk proudly in uniform, seeing the PFLAG float jam packed with families, and watching two men wearing little more than leather thongs pashing on top of an equal love float. Watching the religious groups walk past proudly supporting their LGBTQI members/congregates was inspiring, as was seeing Tanya Plibersek take time out of her incredibly busy schedule to march with Rainbow Labor.

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Change has been upon us for many years now. No longer is the Mardi Gras parade officially a protest march, but with political and historical references throughout, it continues to be a loud voice for the LGBTQI community to express our dissatisfaction with the inequalities present supporting exclusion, disadvantage, and marginalisation.

Will 2013’s federal election present an opportunity for gay marriage to be firmly placed on the agenda? Or are we still years away from legal rights? In reality it’s up to each of us to make our voices heard and ensure our elected officers know what we want, and support equality in Parliament.

The Flying Bats June Player of the Month: Michelle Engelsman

Lifted off The Flying Bats website, www.theflyingbats.com, June 25th, 2012

Michelle Engelsman is a former Australian Olympian, tireless campaigner for social justice and human rights, and all around awesome person! Read about our June Player of the Month and newest Div 2 recruit…

Name, age and brief history of your involvement with the Bats:
Michelle Engelsman, 32, and this is my first season with the Bats.

Your position on the field and best piece of game advice you can offer:
I play defence, usually left defence. I’m happy in the centre or playing left wing, but I’m completely useless as a striker. My best game advice when playing defence is to action the U swing. What that means is if the ball’s on the left side, I run up the left and support the wing, centre left swings over to support me, and centre right and right defence drop back to being the final two. If the balls on the right, we swing the other way. It helps the wings, and saves their legs a bit.

Best bats moment? Worst Bats moment?
Best bats moment? They’re all pretty brilliant. I just love getting out and playing with my team, training with them, and hanging at the pub after games.

Worst bats moment? that’s easy! Game 1, end of the first half, getting sent off with a red card for actually doing nothing beyond weighing 25kg more than the waiflike girl with no sense of balance. Was a tough blow and start to my first ever Bats season, but alas it’s now many games behind me! Bloody ref…

When you’re not a Bat what are you most likely to be found doing?
I work for the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy (NASCA). We’re a wholly Aboriginal governed not for profit organisation working to empower Aboriginal equality and cultural pride. We work in collaboration with communities and young people to inspire them through health, education, sport and cultural programs. We run Academy programs, where we have qualified teachers in the schools working with the kids throughout the school year. The program is focused around holistic development and supporting post school opportunities. We run Careers and Aspirations camps bringing up to 30 students from schools around the country into Sydney to support them to broaden their horizons, consider their career pathways, and map their aspirations in a culturally appropriate fashion.

We also run Athlete Role Model tours, which are AMAZING, where we take 24 role models into remote Central Desert communities three times a year for a week. We spend that week in the classroom with the kids supporting learning, inspiring them to come to school, and playing sport with them before and after school. Attendance goes up by 34% while we’re there. I reckon you Bats should check it out and consider coming along. We go out usually in April, August and October.

Back in what seems like a former life I was a professional swimmer. I competed at the 2004 Olympics in 50m freestyle, and can still be found enjoying swimming related activities (swimming, ocean swimming, surfing, etc).

Why is the Bats important to you?
It’s really important to me to participate in inclusive environments, whether it’s for work, sport or play. I opted to play for the Bats over other teams because it’s a predominantly lesbian team. It’s not to say that other teams aren’t openly inclusive also, but I liked that the Bats were present at Fair Day, and are reasonably open about the general sexuality of the team. I have a bit of a history of being politically active (managed political campaigns and have worked for politically campaigning non-profits before) and know the importance of normalising what can otherwise be perceived by society as different. Oh, and I also love that it’s a social team and we’re not highly competitive and ego driven – cause that’s just not fun for anyone! My most recent blog was about how lesbians aren’t that different, really. Have a read if you like.

Who is your hero?
I’m not sure I have just one hero, there are so many brilliant people out there. I respect people across a range of issues areas. Narrowing it down, I’d have to go with my Oma (grandmother) and great grandmother. Oma’s triply disabled with no legs and she’s blind, yet she’s full of smiles and beans, and has a kind word for everyone. Her whole face lights up when she smiles, and she has a brilliant belly laugh. She was born in Holland, and grew up during WW2. She was selected for the shadow swimming 1944 Olympic team, but those Olympics were cancelled due to the war. She was terribly malnourished, but she survived and is comfortably in her 80s now in Australia. I only had the pleasure to meet my great grandmother once, and she only spoke Dutch to me (unfortunately I don’t speak any) but she left a loving mark that I carry with me. She was a single mum when mum’s just weren’t single, she ran a business when women were meant to stay in the kitchen, and she actively transported Jews across the border to lead them to safety. She was caught by the Nazi regime and tortured, but she never spoke about those she saved. I’m pretty proud of that family history, and feel it has positively shaped me into someone so passionate about social justice and human rights.

What is your Bats coming out story (i.e. tell us the story of how you came to be playing with the Bats)
Fair Day! My gorgeous lady (Britt) and I were walking around Fair Day talking about how she’d like to play softball. We happened upon the Sydney Women’s Baseball League, only to discover the Bats tent right next to it! It helped that the lovely Jen Peden was standing out the front (I knew Jen from my professional swimming days, and when I was studying my Masters at Sydney Uni), so I figured the team must be pretty alright! I signed up, came to training, loved it, and the rest is history!

If you had a theme song it would be…
I will survive. Gloria Gaynor. Who else? She, quite simply, rocks.

Top post-game recovery tip?
Lots of water, a gentle jog, stretch, and some good energy food.

Animal, vegetable or mineral?
Animal. Polar Bear. Back when I was first at university we used to play “taper games” when we were resting up and getting ready for our big swimming competition of the year. One of those games we played was to pick the animal that members of our team most resembled. I was quite clearly a polar bear. As a sprinter (50 m freestyler) I was very quick when I needed to be, but I was otherwise very slow and preferred to conserve my energy. It probably helped that I was desperately pasty white, having just faced an Ohio winter, and we trained indoors. I’ve since rectified that situation and make a point to maintain a healthy tanned glow! I’m still a polar bear though.

Vaginas & civil unions: a backwards step?

Seriously now, how can using the medically correct term mean that a person has no respect for decorum? Especially when the use of the term is in the context of a bill concerning women’s reproductive rights.

In case you haven’t heard what all this fuss is about, in the US, Rep. Lisa Brown has been “barred from speaking on the floor of the Michigan state legislature for saying ‘vagina’ during a heated debate over abortions.” (NY Daily News, June 15). She is quoted to have said “Finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no’”.

She’s been told she has failed to uphold the decorum of the House of Representatives. How is the word vagina leading to such an offence? Would using the word testicle carry the same consequence? Somehow I doubt it.

It seems a desperate step backwards for freedom of sexuality and women’s rights that a word used to medically describe female genitalia is too uncomfortable to be used in the legislature.

I must admit I completely agree with the sentiment that I have heard from many of how can we legislate on something we can’t even talk about openly?

Women’s rights are unfortunately not the only thing facing a backwards step. On the other side of the world in Australia the new Premier of Qld (Newman) is promising to repeal the civil unions act. He said he’ll do so in support of the Christian lobby, who find civil unions offensive as them emulate marriage.

How is this even possible in a secular State? How far is this argument going to go? It’s not even about it being called marriage in Qld, as states can’t legislate on such a change (that falls under the banner of federal law), it’s about it being like marriage.

So is de facto, so are homosexuals going to lose that soon also? Should heterosexual couples in a de facto relationship lose their status as it emulates marriage, but isn’t? Are they ‘living in sin’ also?

Why is it that two consenting, loving adults, expressing their love to one another, is so offensive? Christianity does not hold all the rights to marriage and relationships, and they should NOT be in a position to so blatantly affect legislation in a secular country. They’re offended by civil unions? Guess what, I’m offended by their hatred and prejudice.

Well, at least there is good news somewhere in the world. Malawi’s new President plans to decriminalize homosexuality, which is a great step forward in human rights for both Malawi and Africa. Read about this positive development here.

- Please note, I do not believe all Christians feel this way, nor that they all support this bigotry. There is; however, a very loud voiced faction within the Christian community who do. I also do not believe this prejudice view is held only by Christians.

We’re not that different, really.

Imagine this: 5 lesbians in a car on the way to soccer training. But what did we talk about, I hear you ask? The usual: IVF, adoptions, babies, marriage, partners, love, and of course soccer. Oh wait, cats featured also. Of course they did.

What else would 5 thirty-something year old ladies talk about in a car ride for 45 mins? Ok, lots of options no doubt, but in reality it wouldn’t necessarily be greatly different if we’d been non-gay. I like that, non-gay. Everyone should be referred to in their state of gayness, after all it is a synonym for merry! Why not have that as the baseline?!

I must admit, I’m completely incensed and somewhat dumbfounded by the whole argument attempting to prevent gays from marrying.  Seriously people (those who are against marriage equality, not the rest of you fabulous people who have hearts), it’s in living memory that black and white weren’t permitted to marry in this country. Have we really not learnt from our horrible mistakes in the past?

A friend, a lovely gay Aboriginal man, tells of how his Aboriginal grandfather had to petition the government for permission to marry his white grandmother. And now he has the pleasure, in his esteemed gayness, of being denied what his grandparents nearly were – the opportunity to openly and legally express love for his partner through marriage. Hopefully that will change in 2012.

Ok, so not everyone wants to get married. We live in a modern world, with an unmarried modern (ish, if she supported marriage equality she’d get the full rights to modern) woman as our PM. That’s cool, heaps of gays don’t want to get married, just like heaps of non-gays don’t. But they do want the choice.

The rates of gay suicide, bullying, discrimination, hate crimes, family rejection, and deep emotional pain are all still incredibly high in this “modern” world we live in. There is still a dire need to fight for equality, for humanity. As long as there are oppressors in the world, there are those who are oppressed.

Time to learn, me thinks. Time to forgive. Time to grow up. Time to love.

Afterall, I’d very much like to marry my gorgeous lady. The government can’t stop me having a loving ceremony in which we express our love for each other. They merely can stop me having it legally registered at the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Oh wait, that’s right, marriage is therefore a SECULAR word. Funny, I thought the argument against marriage is because it’s a religious institution?

Happy Mardi Gras

Happy Mardi Gras!!!

Is it that time of year already?! What happened? I blinked and it turned from January 2 to February 25th!!

Wait, I know what happened…

A new kitten, my partner moved up, work has been exciting and busy, getting myself fit again, seeing the world’s greatest acupuncturists, and moving house, starting soccer again. Yep, that’s kept me busy.

Oscar joined us January 2nd and reminded both Britt and me of the value of emotional IQ. That little ginger boy, at 10 weeks old, had a higher emotional IQ that anyone I’ve ever met or could imagine. He tamed the highly-strung Rogue (kitten no. 1, a ferrel off the street), who certainly made it clear she hated his guts and wanted him outta the house! He put up with her hissing, squawking, scratching, and general bitchyness to tame her within 10 days to become his life long friend and sister. They do nothing but play together all day, and are deeply bonded. Yes, occasionally she still attacks him and hisses at him, but it’s short lived, and within no time she has him pinned and is “lovingly” (in a controlling manner) cleaning him. They’re gorgeous. Click on this link to watch a short video of her cleaning him – so cute! (the below pic is a screen shot from the video): Rogue & Oscar

My gorgeous partner has moved up to Sydney, and it’s fantastic. She’s settling in and getting to know her new home well. We went to the marriage equality march last December, and we’re both very much hoping that 2012 is the year that finally brings change. What’s frightening is that its in living memory that white and black couldn’t marry (which thankfully has changed, and people are now horrified at that past human rights violation), yet people are still think it’s ok to limit consensual adult love in same sex couples. Love is love, and two consenting adults should be allowed to marry, regardless of sex, creed or ethnicity.

Yes, I said marry. The government department is “Births, Deaths and Marriages”, making “marriage” a secular word.

Bring on Mardi Gras, and bring on positive change in 2012.

2011, what a year!

It’s been a very long time since my last blog post. So much has happened that’s kept me away from my keyboard and blogging! Perhaps I’ll start with what is most distracting to me right now… a 9 week old kitten desperately trying to jump on the kitchen table as I type, excited at the thought that my fast typing fingers might be potential play things. She’s ready to pounce.

Rogue: the new little kitten in my partner’s and my life. She’s been a wondrous blessing and gain to our lives, even in her 5 short weeks since joining us. If you’re wondering, no, we did not plan on having a kitten. She was a baby stray found crossing a busy road, who’s mum was likely to have met an unpleasant end. She now has a lovely safe home with her two new mums.

Speaking of her two mums, we went to a political rally last Saturday to support marriage equality. It’s amazing that in this day and age we are still fighting for such basic civil rights as marriage equality (not to mention true recognition of Australia’s first peoples in our Constitution!) At least the result has been that Labor changed it’s platform at the recent party conference – though unfortunately including a “conscience vote” that is usually only implemented when politics decides on life and death issues. Hmmm, funny that conscience votes aren’t allowed when we consider whether we’ll go to war. Pretty sure that’s about life and death. Some chicks marry chicks, some dudes marry dudes. Get over it!

Now, back to other change, with my political rant over.

I’ve had the amazing experience of attending the Garma Festival in Gulkula (East Arnhem Land). I had the privilege of attending with Reconciliation Australia’s women’s group, and met a fantastic group of ladies. It was a truly special experience, both professionally and personally, and I highly recommend anyone who has the change head out!

I’ve also enjoyed two more amazing “ARMtour” trips with NASCA. ARMtour stands for Athletes as Role Models tour, and NASCA is the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy (where I work). Both trips have been fantastic, with this latest trip to Papunya being a beautiful emotional journey of family connection. My uncle worked out there 30 years ago and played an instrumental role is setting up the medical service for the Pintabi people. It was beautiful to meet people who he had worked with in the past, and feel what high regard they still held him in. It was also fantastic and amazing to spend the week working with the kids in school, helping them with literacy and numeracy, and overall excitement to attend class. I highly recommend you check out the website (www.nasca.com.au). And if you’re in the Christmas giving spirit, share a few dollars to a fantastic cause.

On the whole it’s been a massive year of change, an exciting year of opportunity, and a beautiful year for love and family. I can’t say I’ll be sad to see the end of 2011, as it’s also been fairly exhausting, but I can safely say I’m a far better person for having lived fully this year.

Happy Christmas, happy New Year, and best wishes for a happy, successful and loving 2012.

ARMTour in Ntaria

What a brilliant week! I have just had a magical experience, and feel so grateful for the opportunity.

I spent this past week out as an athlete role model on the ARMTours trip to the Northern Territory. It’s a programme run by NASCA (National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy) and it involves sending athletes out into Aboriginal communities to serve as role models for the students.

Our job was to support the students in their education during school hours, and engage actively with them through sport afterschool. It was fabulous! I visited Ntaria and was lucky enough to go on a school excursion with a group of students on the first day. We had the opportunity to learn about bush medicine and bush tucker.  Lilly, our teacher for the day, brewed us up some drinking medicine, and it certainly was potent! It was specifically for combating flu, and I reckon I’ll give it a go next time I feel the early signs of a flu (and maybe even a cold?).

I spent a lot of the next few days with the littlies – the pre-school and transition kids. What a great way to spend the day! Play-doh, colouring, singing songs and piecing puzzles together. I simply fell in love with every student in the class, especially when they shared their big smiles whilst playing in the sand pit and kicking a soccer ball around during recess!

The evening of the second night in community the Ntaria ARMTours team headed out to Palm Valley for a gorgeous camp out in the national park. The NT is super green right now after all the rain, with an interesting consequence of a mouse plague! Needless to say I was far happier sleeping in a swag with a mossy net built in. Kept those little critters out of my bedding!

The next day was spent with some of the older students in a cooking class, and then doing a big of design with students during their computers class. That afternoon the Ntaria Roos (as we – the ARMTours team in Ntaria – decided to name ourselves) cooked up a storm and helped the school provide an all community BBQ (interesting job cooking meat for a vego!).  We later gave out awards for the students who had been outstanding in their attention in class, teamwork, attendance, or leadership.

The Ntaria trip was wrapped up with a fantastic session swimming with about 60-70 of the students at the Alice Springs swimming pool, and having an all round brilliant time.

The Ntaria team then met up with the other ARMTours team members who had gone to different communities for a group camp out and BBQ. It was a fabulous opportunity to share stories, learn from the other community experiences, and sleep out under the beautiful NT stars.

I can’t wait for the next opportunity to head out with the ARMTours team!

If you’re curious about the programme, or about NASCA, check out www.nasca.com.au.

 

Aurukun, A Second Visit

There is something truly magical about Aurukun, Qld. The dusty red earth, the magical and ancient bush, the wild river, and the kind hearted people: it certainly holds a special place in my heart.

Aurukun has also had a profound affect on me. The two occasions that I’ve had the opportunity to visit and spend time in community I’ve felt myself connect with my soul’s energy, shake off the noise and distraction of day-to-day life, and feel a beautiful stillness and clarity within myself. It’s a gift I am grateful to receive from Aurukun, and I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to offer gifts in return – inspiring local kids about the Olympics, playing in a swimming hole with them (equally a gift for me – if not more so!), and just being friendly and chatting with people while walking through town.

That’s not to say that Aurukun doesn’t have its issues. There is significant domestic violence, nowhere near enough housing, a severe lack of employment opportunities and self-empowerment, drugs and alcohol are highly problematic even though it’s a “dry community”, and most nights packs of camp dogs can be heard fighting or howling. It’s a strange and saddening dichotomy, which never fails to truly inspire me to the kindness and strength of the human spirit given that genuine acts of kindness occur under such challenging and often desperate circumstances.

It’s this beauty of the human spirit faced with such unnecessarydisempowerment and challenge that has made me passionately want to work within the field of Indigenous rights in Australia, and to use my skills and experience to help to provide opportunities that may otherwise be unavailable.

Next week I’m off to Ntaria in the Northern Territory with the ARMTours programme (Athletes as Role Models). It’s a programme run by NASCA (the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy). I’ll have the opportunity to spend about a week in community working within a team of role models, and engaging with young people in community through education, sport, and other activities. I’m really excited!

But for now, one thing I really want to say is thank you to my lovely friend Gen. It’s through her generosity and hospitality that I’ve had the opportunity to experience the beauty and challenge of Aurukun, and connect with this deep passion within myself. It’s through her strength of character, integrity, and genuine kindness that ensured she was deeply respected in Aurukun, and that as an extension of her I was welcomed kindly by many local members of community.

Thanks Gen xx

 

Gender, Idealism and Realism

I recently had the good fortune of travelling to Sumatra, Indonesia. It’s taken me over a week to consider how I might put that experience into a blog, and more importantly how to actually process my experiences. I’m not quite there yet, and feel there is much I still need to feel out, but I’m beginning to get more comfortable in my intellectual processing.

Sumatra felt such a unique experience for me. I realised, when I awoke for the first time ever to the beautiful call to prayer echoing from several minarets around my hotel, that in all my travels I’ve never been to a predominately Muslim country. I find that realisation quite staggering! I look forward to my next opportunity, not least because I found the experience of praying with countless other souls very peaceful.

The experience gave me the opportunity to open my worldview further, but also made me more aware of my gender than I have ever felt before. I was somewhat of a novelty to the businessMEN (stress men, no women) we engaged with on the work trip, and felt eyes trailing me everywhere I went. True, that could be because I was a foot taller than most, a rather large build, and the only white woman around… It would be rather naïve of me to discount that reality!

However, feeling pressured by requirement to cover myself to enter a Mosque, when my father didn’t have to change out of a collard t-shirt, felt entirely foreign and unbalanced for me. It’s not for me to place judgement given discrimination against women unfortunately transcends nation, religion and culture. I raise this to express that it was intriguing to be accepted differently and to feel men interact with me differently when I was veiled, and to have to cover to show respect made me feel that in some way I, as myself, wasn’t enough.

Another part of my trip was equally powerful, and again is challenging and changing my worldview and processing. I witnessed first hand the logging and destruction of the Sumatran forests. My heart literally hurt when flying over the hectares of newly logged forest, irrigated peat swamps, and burning dried peat. The plantations extend for as far as the eye can see. It was depressing.

And although it hasn’t diminished my commitment to ideals, to positive change, to the cessation of destruction, I feel within me a brewing awareness of realism. Not of embracement of that realism, per se, but of recognition that to reach the goal, steps have to be taken in today’s reality. Those steps may not always feel enough, but they can be important and purposeful victories on the journey towards the ideal. What the ideal is depends on the issue, but the need for a positive and proactive journey is a constant.

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