I loved my childhood in Nigeria, but I grew up in Australia

Heywire winner Helen Odoemena, Canberra, ACT

Moving to Australia in 2014 was such an important event for me.

It has shaped me into who I am today.

I was born in Nigeria, where I was surrounded by a big loving family. And lived in a wonderful neighbourhood where everyone were friends.

We related with each other as family and I was a happy and bubbly 12-year-old.

But then my family moved to Australia.

I’d watched a lot of American and Australian TV shows, and I thought that everywhere outside Nigeria would be just like them.

I even remember an episode of my favourite kids’ show then “The Sleepover Club”, when a new girl came to school. And by end of the first day she was friends with everyone. So, I had high expectations.

However, my first day wasn’t exactly like that.

As time went on I started to feel isolated and lonely. I found the culture so different. Most people kept to themselves. And no-one in my neighbourhood even knew each other.

I started getting sad and upset so often.

Soon the happy and bubbly girl was gone.

While I had unrealistic expectations of what school in Australia would be like from TV, people often made incorrect assumptions about what my life in Africa was like, based on what they’d seen on TV.

Especially in areas such as my living conditions back in Nigeria.

However, things gradually got better as I began to understand and enjoy the culture here.

And with the help of God, growing friendships and parents to guide me along, I was able to push through each difficult stage and come out victorious.

Now that I look back, I see that coming to Australia had so many positives.

I now believe that I am capable of making myself happy and I can choose not to let people or situations get me down.

I have learnt how to be open to corrections and changes.

I love Canberra now and I have good friends. But I wouldn’t trade those difficult experiences for anything. Each one of them had a lesson that made me stronger.

I am now becoming that happy and bubbly girl again.

And I tell people that my Nigerian childhood was great, but Australia is where I have really grown up.

‘They will never heal’: Man raped by former St Edmund’s teacher speaks of irreparable trauma

Updated December 11, 2017 17:32:03

A man who was raped and indecently assaulted by a former teacher at Canberra’s St Edmund’s College has spoken of the irreparable and enduring trauma he suffers, saying it haunts him every night.

In August, Garry Leslie Marsh, 72, was found guilty of molesting the boy in the 1980s.

Marsh taught at the college and coached football to the then-13-year-old.

In a victim impact statement tendered to the ACT Supreme Court on Monday, the man said he still struggled with the embarrassment, shame and self-blame trigged by the events.

“Your actions and thoughts robbed me of one of the basic rights of all children, to be a child,” the statement read.

“The taking of my innocence for your personal pleasure can never be forgiven.

“The events of all of those years ago creep into my dreams every night … I cannot show the physical scars … but to me they are just as real, they will never heal.”

The man said the memories were an unwanted part of him that he could never remove.

The court heard following the abuse, he stopped enjoying school and instead saw it as something he had to survive.

He said the memories surfaced as he walked through the corridor, went to the gym or sat at the bus stop.

The man also detailed how he self-medicated with drugs and alcohol, dropped out of school and developed post traumatic stress disorder.

He said to this day he suffers erratic sleep patterns, alcoholism and severe mood swings — behaviours that have damaged his relationships with his partner and children.

“Sometimes it is easier for me to find a place and just cry,” the man’s statement read.

“Without my family I doubt I would be here today, as I suspect the demons and memories I carry would have won.”

Mercy not to be given because of Marsh’s sick mother: Judge

Marsh, who continues to deny the crimes, said he was in disbelief by the man’s statement.

He said being sentenced to prison would likely kill himself and his sick mother.

Marsh was found guilty of 11 charges over a series of incidents, including a serious assault when the boy was sleeping over at his house before a football match.

Prosecutor Jane Campbell told the court Marsh had shown a gross abuse of trust by grooming the victim slowly and gaining the trust of his mother.

“He assured [the mother] that she should have no concerns about him staying over,” Ms Campbell told the court.

She described how he used a sporting injury the boy suffered as an excuse to inappropriately touch him, and how he abused him at the college during school hours.

“The victim statement spoke volumes about the psychological impact of child sex abuse,” Ms Campbell said.

“That child was lost.”

Defence lawyer Greg Walsh asked the judge to consider the impact a full-time jail sentence would have on Walsh’s ill mother, as well as the difficulty of being sent to prison at his age.

But Ms Campbell said mercy should not be given because of his mother’s circumstances.

Marsh will be sentenced on Friday.

Topics: sexual-offences, courts-and-trials, canberra-2600, act, australia

First posted December 11, 2017 17:27:03

‘I’m still afraid’: Woman raped by relative as child wants spotlight on home abuse

Updated December 10, 2017 10:55:52

It has been 25 years since Hayley Blease was last raped by a family member, and all it takes is a certain scent or mannerism for the sickening memories to rush back.

“It can be something as simple as someone walking down the street who smells like him, or talks like him,” she said.

Ms Blease endured the physical abuse and callous betrayal of trust for eight childhood years.

She was told she would be killed if she told a soul.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

“I was so young, I didn’t know if it was right or wrong,” Ms Blease said.

“He would come and get me [from the lounge room] at certain times of the night and it got to a point where I would have to come to him.”

The Canberra girl suffered in silence until she confided in an art teacher who became alarmed by her drawing of a man’s eyes and arms towering over a frightened little girl.

“My mother was called, Year 11 and 12 were pretty much down the drain and it was straight to court,” Ms Blease said.

But the family member walked free, because at the time a guilty rape conviction required a witness to the crime.

Masking the abuse with a smile, Ms Blease developed severe mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and an eating disorder.

“Sadly I tried to kill myself twice back then,” she said.

But resilience prevailed.

Ms Blease has since moved to Sydney where she advocates for more support for sex abuse survivors all around Australia, including by starting her own support group called Be Brave.

When she is not raising tens of thousands of dollars for charity through extreme sporting challenges — including taking on a 100-kilometre bike ride — she is meeting with politicians around the country in an attempt to drive change for survivors.

Ms Blease has long been calling for the establishment of a special body of professionals and survivors to help protect children at risk of abuse.

But as a royal commission into institutional abuse prepares its final report, those in power are finally listening.

‘It’s not the monster in the dark’

Institutional child abuse has been in the spotlight since the royal commission began in 2013.

But with police figures showing more than half of all abuse occurs at home, Ms Blease wants the council to ensure the royal commission’s findings are applied to protect children abused in all settings.

“[Because] it’s usually people that you trust,” she said.

“It’s lawyers, it’s doctors, it’s fathers, it’s brothers, it’s uncles — it’s people that you know.

“It’s not the monster in the dark.”

Lack of specialised support

ACT Policing statistics show 58 per cent of all reported sexual assault occurs in the home and the latest Victims of Crime report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that family members are the perpetrators in one in five cases.

Carol Ronken from the child sex abuse victim charity Bravehearts said she believes a stronger focus on prevention is crucial.

And Ms Ronken agrees that a dedicated group of professionals, advocates and survivors is needed to drive the change.

“I think what we will see is government investing into these recommendations as they’re handed down,” Ms Ronken said.

“But we also need survivors and advocate groups like Bravehearts, like Broken Rites, like Forgotten Australians, all of us working together as a collective to ensure those findings are implemented in the best interest of survivors.

“We need … to use this as a movement of change.”

Bravehearts does not have the funding to run its education, risk management and child protection programs in the ACT, despite offering them in most other jurisdictions.

“If there was funding for us to open up here in Canberra we’d be here in a heartbeat,” Ms Ronken said.

“Unfortunately there is no specialised expert service that deals specifically and holistically with child sexual assault here in the ACT — and that’s the case in most states and territories.”

While ACT Health’s specialist Child at Risk unit delivers provides basic child protection training for ACT public school staff, Ms Ronken said there needs to be more comprehensive education and regular discussions with teachers and families, because stigma still prevents children from speaking out.

ACT Children’s Commissioner Jodie Griffiths-Cook has been in talks with Ms Blease about tackling her proposal locally and said it could be beneficial.

She said there was a need for more awareness around the signs of sexual assault and grooming.

“I think it is about knowing what those signs might look like, so if you see a bit of evidence they can put that together and say ‘this is something I want to chat to someone about, just to make sure’,” Ms Griffiths-Cook said.

‘I’m still afraid’

ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said he was confident the royal commission’s recommendations would go beyond legal reform to sufficiently improve education and counselling.

And he said the ACT Government would ensure those recommendations were implemented.

He said any specific oversight body would need the input of all states and territories.

“Because it can often take so much time for people who have been abused as children to disclose that, to be able to seek support, consistency across jurisdictions is important,” he said.

“The ACT Government is determined to do what we can [for] those people who have been through such profoundly painful circumstances.”

With Ms Blease’s trauma yet to fade, she hopes the spotlight on abuse will only get stronger.

“I’m still afraid that he’ll come back and get me,” she said.

“[But] I won’t stop talking and sharing my story until things change.

“Because once we stop talking then people stop listening and the kids can’t be heard.”

Topics: child-abuse, community-and-society, royal-commissions, law-crime-and-justice, canberra-2600, act, australia

First posted December 10, 2017 08:23:26

Zookeeping is more than getting up close with cute animals

Posted December 09, 2017 08:00:00

Zookeeper Bec Scott begins her day caring for the tallest animal at the National Zoo and Aquarium — Hummer the giraffe.

She hoists his breakfast of lucerne and wattle five metres up a pole.

“Hummer … gets quite hungry, so we head down there first thing in the morning to put his food out,” Ms Scott said.

She then checks and washes his feet before letting him out into his enclosure.

“Hummer is 16 years old and he needs work on his feet, they do get a little bit overgrown sometimes,” Ms Scott said.

“He might step on a pebble or get some dirt stuck up inside his hooves, so before we let him out we hose them out and do any care on them.”

Ms Scott then drives her buggy around to the deer where she rakes up all the droppings.

“It’s a pretty epic job; they have tiny little poos and they’re everywhere.”

The deer also need some extra TLC.

“Our deer get sunburnt ears over summer, so every three days we’ll pop a bit of powdered sunscreen on their ears.”

The tigers are up next, and again it is time to get out the pooper scooper.

“Every day we go in, pick up the poo, we scrub the water bowl and check for anything that’s in the enclosure that’s abnormal,” Ms Scott said.

It’s then on to the lions to clean their enclosure, check their teeth and feed them.

After lunch, it’s time to check on Hummer again.

“We give him some more food because he likes to browse throughout the day and if he runs out of food he gets a bit antsy.”

Ms Scott spends the afternoon running the Meet a Cheetah encounter where visitors get the chance to pat Jura the cheetah.

Hummer’s enclosure is then cleaned and the tigers are given access to their dens.

“We put something in their dens as well, whether it be a scent or some tree leaves or another toy,” Ms Scott said.

All of the animals are given a final check and observations are recorded before heading home for the day.

“A key part of our job is to report and make observations on all of our animals, whether there’s anything behaviourally different, they might be coming into season, or pregnant, or unwell,” Ms Scott said.

“It’s a busy day.”

Every day is different

Many of the keepers at the National Zoo rotate through looking after different animals which each have individual requirements.

“I like the everyday challenges; you don’t exactly know what you’re going to get until you turn up,” Ms Scott said.

“Animals are such incredible personalities to work with. You get the cranky ones, the ones who’ve had a bad day, or ones that are just playful that day.”

Ms Scott has been a zookeeper for 16 years and she enjoys how varied the job can be.

“Even picking up the poo is fun. You grow to love it,” she said.

“You’re being active, out in the open air and getting up close and personal with your animals.”

Hard work rain, hail or shine

But there is a lot more to being a keeper than pats and cuddles.

“A lot of people think that all we do is sit around and pat our animals all day, but only about 2 per cent of our day is that, if that,” she said.

“Zookeeping is quite a physical job, there’s a lot of hard work.

“We have to be out in the weather; regardless of whether it’s sunny or windy or rainy, the animals still need to eat and have their enclosures cleaned and so those days can be quite trying.”

And some days can be extra challenging.

“Sometimes you might come in and find that you have an animal that is unwell,” Ms Scott said.

“When you’re working with that animal every day, it can be quite trying to realise that your animal is not in its best shape.

“That is a reality that we have to face … and we work really hard to make that animal better as soon as possible.

“Seeing animals recover from an illness or an injury is quite rewarding as well.”

Topics: zoos, people, animals, human-interest, careers, canberra-2600, act

Couple feared only one of them would live to see same-sex marriage legalised

Updated December 08, 2017 17:18:52

Glenda and Jennifer Lloyd have endured an on-again-off-again marriage, but that all ends at midnight.

The couple were married for “five days of bliss” under ACT law in 2013 before the High Court ruled the territory was inconsistent with the Federal Marriage Act.

A small ceremony in the United States made their marriage official again, but that joyous moment in Baltimore meant their regular trips to the US took on a bittersweet tone.

“Every time we travelled to America the plane would come into land and we’d be like ‘we’re married again!'” Glenda said.

“And then when we took off we’d say ‘ah, now we’re not’, so that was quite difficult.”

But with the law taking effect in Australia in the first seconds of Saturday morning, that odd sensation of only being married when the geography is just right is coming to an end.

“I think we should just stay up … [and] wait until the clock comes around,” Glenda said.

“It’s a bit like waiting for new year.”

Glenda feared Jennifer would not live to see SSM legalised

And as they count down the seconds, it will put to bed one of Glenda’s biggest fears.

The Lloyds — Glenda changed her name to match Jennifer’s by deed poll rather than marriage — have been watching the clock on same-sex marriage perhaps closer than most.

Jennifer has terminal cancer and Glenda said the tears flowed freely after they watched the bill pass the House of Representatives.

“[Jennifer] was saying ‘are you alright?’ and I said ‘I was just so worried that this would happen after you were gone’,” Glenda said.

“It was a genuine fear that I would still be here and Jennifer would be gone and I would be seeing this enacted without her there to celebrate with.”

But now their marriage will be officially recognised by Australia and it is so much more than a symbolic gesture for them.

Gone are questions about next of kin, which are particularly important due to Jennifer’s stints in hospital.

“And even what’s written on the death certificate is different if you’re not actually married, so it’s really good to have that sorted out,” Jennifer said.

“We probably won’t really think about that until afterwards, and then you’ll think ‘oh that’s good that … it’s clear’.

“[There’s] no question about whether it’s marriage or not.”

Topics: marriage, gays-and-lesbians, cancer, canberra-2600, act, australia

First posted December 08, 2017 17:14:30