Stop, smell the roses

Detail from Tara Badcock’s “Hunt Nature Birth” Solo Commission at the Devonport Regional Gallery

I hope Tony Abbott is sitting at home with his chin in his hand, gazing out the window, making a list of the things that led to his own demise. And, like a good liberal for whom the individual counts more than community, I trust he might consider, first, the daft things he said and did. And how what might be daft in an ordinary person is dangerous in a PM.

For me, the list is bookended by one of his first comments and one of his last.

His expression of regret, as both Prime Minister and Minister for Women, over the lack of women in his Cabinet was offensive to every woman and a twisted trouncing of his own leadership before it had even begun. Doomed, if you like, by his inability to make the female, the feminine, the woman matter.

Then, at the end, to admit to never being someone who wanted to “just hang around and smell the roses” and “that’s never been my idea of a day well spent”, you have to wonder why politics rewards this degree of soulless-ness. Those who boast disdain for roses should not inherit the earth.

On top of my list, I would place a disdain for roses because of the truth it tells about the man’s character.

One of the details in Tara Badcock’s Solo Commission, which finished this month at the Devonport Regional Gallery, is from ‘The Index of Her Mind’ – a luscious fabric rose furled inside a woman’s bonnet. It’s a metaphor for the arrival of the Chudleigh textile artist’s baby daughter, and a message of hope and possibility in life.

It’s just one part of an impressive exhibition that deals with the struggle of an artist’s identity after giving birth, of the tension between high creativity and domestic life, and with the role of the colonial female. It is a powerful woman’s work – as brave and as tender as the first rose in Spring.

Smelling roses is like poetry. It is agriculture and gardens, romance and philosophy. It is stopping to see the land around you and recognising beauty. It is taking time for human breath, to enjoy and appreciate what is so often ignored, to appreciate the kind of beauty that does not speak a word. It is where peace begins.

It’s about getting closer to nature so that when you meet an onion grower on farm you know the thing to do is to hold and feel the weight of an onion in your hands, to look at it, to press the top and bottom to see if both are firm, and peel the skin away to appreciate the colour and patina of the flesh. Not to eat it like an idiot.

I’ve not always smelled the roses. But one day I woke up. I’d once given my father a potted rose for his birthday that he planted in his garden. On one of my two yearly visits back from career days in London, he reminded me of the rose I’d given him, took me to admire it, noting how beautifully it flowered. I had completely forgotten my gift to him.

This awakening tinged by guilt was what taught me the truth of the rose, how taking care of the small things, takes care of the big. Not the other way around.

Later, smelling more roses led to regular visits to The National Rose Garden at Woolmers Estate in Longford. To ordering them from specialist rose nurseries, to growing them, cutting them, giving them… An appreciation of roses introduced me to the work of one of Australia’s most famous rosarians, Susan Irvine, and her forensic and engaging rose-lover’s diary called “Rosehips and Crabapples” – a book that opened up a knowledge and discovery of Tasmanian gardens for so many.

If he had followed, or even simply appreciated, the rose path, Tony Abbott might have found Susan Irvine’s choice of quote on the inside, from author Elizabeth Jolley:

“To offer consolation through beauty and harmony is to overcome certain weariness or a sense of futility in a world which contains so much human suffering in the face of which we seem to be utterly powerless.”

If Mr Abbott had more respect for rose lovers, he might have even noticed Arthur Conan Doyle’s exalted embrace in The Naval Treaty:

“Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”

We should judge our leaders by how much they stop and smell the roses. Dismissing both rose and rose lover in a radio second with a man who laughs and calls you “buddy”, Tony Abbott dismissed himself.

I’m reminded of a verse a friend of mine has hanging above the loo.

“If I had my life to live over,” it reads, “I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies.”

I would add ‘smell more roses’ because the person who can’t stop to smell the roses is the kind of person who is destined to eat an onion like an apple.

Tara Badcock’s ‘Hunt Nature Birth’ Solo Commission 2015, curated by Ellie Ray for the Devonport Regional Gallery, will tour in 2016.    

First published in Tasweekend, October 2015


When I worked for British Cosmopolitan in the 90s the magazine had a Political Editor and I wrote about “women’s issues”. For example, how women received, on average, 25% less for doing the same job; how so few women were in FTSE-company boardrooms; how only a quarter of Westminster MPs were women; how women were systematically raped during the Bosnian war …

I blame being a twin for my feminist awakening. Because when my brother and I became teenagers, I sensed my opportunities becoming curtailed while his were wider. His work options were painted more broadly, mine were narrower. His social life freer, mine focused on being safe. It seemed so unfair. In seeking to explore the causes of the unfairness, with the aim of changing it, I found my career.

My reports for Cosmo earned an honorary plate in the 1990 Media Awards from The 300 Group. Their goal was to reach 300 MPs in parliament out of a total of 650.

Twenty-five years on, it’s no surprise so little has changed. I decided I was on a hiding to nothing running women’s issues; that even if I aspired to earn a 48-piece Wedgewood dinner set, my journalist’s efforts would not make a speck of difference because this particular time in which we live rewards white, middle-aged men. It’s just how the system works. It’s not OK. It’s not most men’s fault, but all benefit while few realize.

I stacked my gold-rimmed plate with the everyday kitchen crockery and got on making my own way doing the things I loved with people I liked. I didn’t want to be angry anymore, constantly standing up for women’s issues when so little could be done.

The Matildas are in China next week. Our national women’s soccer team (one of the top ten teams in the world), has put on hold an ongoing pay dispute to continue its planned tour of preparations for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games qualifiers. Thanks to an interim deal struck by the players association, the Matildas are picking up where they left off in September, when a tour of the USA was abandoned over dismal rates of pay. Apparently, a new “Whole of Game” pay deal is in the wings, pending a players’ vote.

At the least, it’s embarrassing. Last season, the Matildas became Australia’s first senior team to win a World Cup knockout game with a 1-0 win over Brazil. While players were paid $500 in match fees, their male counterparts received $7,500 – for doing the same thing.

It’s a bit rich when it reaches the point when women can’t afford to play for their country, while women who frock up for their men steal the headlines.
As a new sporting season opens, images from last season’s are still fresh; Brownlow Medal night celebrating pregnancy style, enormous engagement rings and fashionable wives. How ironic that the ultimate winner, Nat Fyfe, brave enough to go dateless, had no chance of being upstaged by a gown split to the navel.

She is a qualified speech therapist with a Bachelor of Science, but Rebecca Judd has made a career out of being a footballer’s wife. After 11 Brownlow appearances she is powerful, styled as “Queen of the Brownlow”, and with today’s social media she’s managed to make it all about her. Her @Becjudd Instagram account posted a selfie on the night with her husband poking his head into the picture in the background.

I’m not criticizing women who want to realize their beauty through a man. It does all look rather glamorous. But it’s just the degree of attention they inevitably receive for doing so in public, when essentially their choice of a mate is about their own private life – nothing to do with us. Except, in raising their private life to the level of national importance, isn’t it time they realized they are making it harder for women who dedicate blood, sweat and tears to achieving something for themselves?

It’s not simply about being in the spotlight wearing posh frocks. There’s a knock on effect. If women’s sport fails to attract the right amount of media attention, then commercial sponsorship and overseas career paths are denied. Without the platform or profile that clubs can trade on when a talented player advertises a global brand, for example, would Tim Cahill have ever played for Everton, or Luke Brattan move to Manchester City?

If the career path isn’t there, women are discouraged, and it becomes a vicious cycle. It’s understandable why girls wouldn’t want to aspire to be the best soccer player in the world when they are so unseen and paid so little.

It must be more than galling for Matildas players to see complete Brownlow outfits and up-dos worth more than their annual salaries! (Most of the Matildas earn $21,000 a year on FFA contracts.)

Something, or someone, has to give.

I would respect Rebecca Judd more if, instead of thanking her outfit sponsors, she considered donating the value to supporting a Matilda get to Rio. This year’s Brownlow gown featured intricate Egyptian-style beading, with Rebecca confessing she “felt like Cleopatra” on the night.

We need to ask more from women who seek and attract the limelight as our national female role models. Follow Hollywood’s lead, where the #AskHerMore red carpet campaign is encouraging red carpet reporters to go beyond appearance and ask women about their achievements in Hollywood – not about the dress.

It’s taking a paradigm shift, one domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty has her finger on. It’s up to every woman in their own world to hope to make a difference, ask more of themselves so that, rightly, more can be asked of men.

First published in Tasweekend, October 17, 2015