School of Population Health

Chaos of my mind – I don’t think I can blame COVID

Image Faye McMillan

Associate Professor Faye McMillian AM from UNSW School of Population Health reflects on how the luxury of time is both a blessing and a curse as it highlights the racism that is across every facet of life, from the footy to the fashion industry and beyond, and the pain it causes. Associate Professor McMillian is Deputy National Rural Health Commissioner.  

As I sit to write this in the comfort of my rural life, that sees me living in Country (Wiradjuri), I’m challenged with the luxury of being able to write and the struggle that comes with finding the right words to convey the feelings about the luxury of time and the issues that weigh heavily on my mind - the oscillation between chaotic thoughts and the desire to use my voice to share my own truths.  

Time it has been said, can be a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing to have time when you feel that you have something to contribute within that time.  Yet, time can be a curse when you struggle with value, sense of purpose and belonging. 

The impact of COVID-19 on the psychological and social emotional well-being of almost every member of our communities is hard to argue against. Individuals that have been clinically diagnosed with COVID-19 are being offered the opportunity to inform research regarding the impact of long COVID. What happens if you haven’t been diagnosed with COVID-19? What are the long-term impacts of the pandemic as we move forward? 

We have seen the increase in mental health services as people are experiencing lockdown, however lockdown in and of itself brings its own set of complexities.  Can you do your job from home, not just physically but mentally? Do you feel safe to go to the workplace if you are an essential worker/authorised worker? How do you juggle all the aspects of family life if you are blessed to have a family life to juggle?  How do you work through the impact of being alone in a world where we are so connected through online platforms such as Zoom, MS teams, Instagram Tiktok, Facebook, LinkedIn…… (too many to mention)?  Yet, what does that mean if you don’t feel connected even when you have access to the plethora of technologies or society more broadly?  

This time has given me the opportunity to read more (not all good) and to connect with others (without real human connections) by reading their social media pages to see what they are writing about, and which burning issues are impacting them and resonate with me (and, that I can experience even if vicariously). Whilst COVID-19 tops the list for many of my connections and for my First Nations miimis and gambangs (sisters and brothers), the thing that I come back to is the issue of RACISM.  

Over the last few days, I’ve read the writing of others of the impact of RACISM (I am being very deliberate with the use of Capitals) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, particularly those in positions in the public eye.  RACISM continues to prevail in Sport (again AFL is in the spotlight), the fashion industry, the education system, and the health system; in fact, RACISM prevails in EVERY facet of life where race is seen as an opportunity to ‘other’, rather than an opportunity to ‘belong’.

Whilst not unique to Australia, RACISM within this country is a national embarrassment. I am tired because it affects me even when people would like to think otherwise. I see it. I hear it. I feel it. It hurts beyond the capacity of my words to articulate the pain.  

On the 10 August 2021 when Eddie Betts appeared on Fox Footy’s AFL 360, I did not watch this because it hurts to witness the impact of ongoing trauma that Eddie faces because he is a Wirangu and Kokatha man that is a gifted sportsman. In the same way that it hurt to watch Adam Goodes being forced to leave ‘the game’ and the pain that lurked in his eyes if you were brave enough to look! However, on reading the press coverage that has come from his appearance on the show, it is not hard to realise that Betts’ heartfelt message is one that reverberates across this nation and felt viscerally by so many mob. Betts urged the multitude of AFL fans and the AFL establishment that were watching (and then reading) to take a stand against racism. 

"I've been dealing with this (racism) my whole life, my mother has, my father has and it's tiring... it hurts and it's draining," he said. “It just keeps happening, I’m sick of it."

Come on, Australia. We recently celebrated the Olympics and, for many, this was a moment of standing united. Nagmeldin ‘Peter’ Bol, captured the heart of the nation, (well the media would have us believe that he did). His words stating that he thinks it would be better if we have better conversations to ‘get to know the person, instead of the assumptions’, were echoed by Betts in his appearance on Footy 360: “Start those conversations at home, start it with your friends, your family, call out racism when you see it because there’s no room for racism in Australia.” And then there are the experiences of RACISM for Adam Goodes, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Nova Peris, and Cathy Freeman (and the multitude of  First Nations people, families, and communities that experience RACISM everyday). 

Juxtaposed against this is the headline in the media about Vogue Australia’s September issue celebrating new beginnings - “Vogue delivers stunning and quintessentially Aussie cover starring Indigenous model Magnolia Maymuru and baby daughter”. The irony of this cover with Magnolia, a proud Yolngu woman holding her daughter, Djarranran – the next generation from the oldest surviving culture - was not lost on me, especially with the Editor-in-Chief at Vogue Australia, Edwina McCann, lamenting that she was ‘ashamed of our lack of Indigenous storytelling’ in the 60-year history of the publication.   

I can’t finish this on such a deficit – that would not honour my ancestors, nor the amazing richness and diversity of Australia’s First Nations Peoples.  

We are more than statistics. We are more than the confines that society would like to shackle us with. We are the descendants of the world’s oldest surviving culture. We are the custodians for future generations. 

We extend all of this as a gift to ALL Australians to share and be part of, however, in doing so we ask you to respect that gift, to respect us, to recognise and acknowledge our strengths, and to pledge to do better every day.  

Hear our voices. Feel our pain in the culmination to the crescendo that leaves this gift in your hands. It’s up to you make the change and let us rest in the knowledge that we are safe in your hands and free from RACISM. 

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UNSW School of Population Health