Monday, July 4, 2016

The Journalist

She writes. She interviews and makes podcasts about eye-opening subjects. Sometimes you see her on TV, too, talking about topics close to her heart, like the PANDSI cake off.
She has a soft but determined voice and a great work ethic. She is passionate about social justice – she lends that voice to those that need to be heard. Her stories are always compelling and make you think harder about the world and about yourself.

As a journalist, I have been following her work for quite a few years now but I never really dreamed I would meet her in person. Until I did. The night before our meeting I was so excited, that I couldn’t sleep much. And during the few hours I did sleep, I dreamed about our photo shoot. Twice.

In real life, she is even more remarkable than I imagined her. She has a great sense of colour and she wears the most amazing frocks, completed with unique jewelry. And she bakes, did I tell you that?
She goes by her nickname as her professional signature. (just one of the things I found that we have in common).

Her eyes light up when she talks about the things that matter to her and her passion is contagious. In fact, I found that we have so many things in common – have you ever had that feeling? When you start a dialogue with someone, when things make sense and you are almost able to end their sentences?
Despite her awards and all the amazing things she achieved in her professional career, Ginger is quite modest in talking about herself.

When I was 4, I wanted to be a nurse. Later on, coming out of high school, I wanted to be a textile artist. Both my grandmothers loved sewing. My maternal grandmother was very good with crochet. My paternal grandmother loved to embroider dresses. I grew with this passion for fabrics; in fact I loved the idea of painting with fabrics. I especially loved making textile sculptures. As a teenager, I just wanted to write and make things with fabric. I ended up choosing journalism as a career though, as opposed to textiles. One of the reasons was because I never wanted to try and sell my artwork and make a living from it. I questioned whether anyone would ever pay for those hundreds of hours of cutting and stitching in my work …

I still think that the arts are fundamental to a society’s health and happiness. Unfortunately, Governments and funders can see it as superfluous, which it certainly is not. For instance, we know that people with dementia respond better to music. People who read fiction are more empathetic.

I always believed the world should be a just place - a better place - and that is why I decided to be a journalist. I still like working with textiles; I just feel that I can contribute more with my words towards this better place. 

“Who are You?” – It is a startling question, but I always ask my sitters at the beginning of their interview to give it a thought.
I’m a social justice journalist and a mother. I love the first bit. It’s my passion. The second bit I find rewarding sometimes, but super hard even though I love my kids. After I had my first daughter, I had to deal with postnatal depression and my journey as a mother started in a dark place, unfortunately. I picked up along the way but in the end, I’m not that interested in the domestic drudgery, the fish fingers, the washing up. The society has made this neurotic, perfect mum culture; I am not interested in that culture. It is a very uneasy balance that I struggle with at times. My work is my passion and I feel that I can make a difference through my words. 

My innermost dream? I’ve got two: That my children will grow up in a world where equality exists, but climate change does not. I want to bring up my children in a way that will teach them how to relate to others and be kind. I want them to live in a world that is more just.
I want to fight for a more just society; the question I always ask is “how do we treat the others?” When others aren’t treated equally, that upsets me. I feel the urge to write those stories and tell the world about those injustices. They are the hardest stories to tell; these people are already hurt, they can be afraid to talk to a journalist. I take ethics incredibly seriously in my work and I go to a lot of trouble to make sure my interviewees feel heard and represented. There are lots of journalists that aren’t interested or don’t have the time or inclination to treat people with the courtesy they deserve and that makes me despair.

I am always interested in how people would use their 15 minute of fame – it’s one of the set questions in this project. Although Ginger is already well known, I was still interested to know her answer.

Ha ha ha ha. It’s hard to have 15 minutes of fame. You have to wear piles of makeup and shapewear. I’ve been expreincing this lately. For exmaple when you are on TV, it’s hard not to feel insecure and to get over how you look and simply say what’s important! I would use the 15 minutes to talk about the things that matter to me – usually making marginalised people heard. For eexample, the people I interview might have mental health problems, be facing poverty and homelessness or be expereincing bullying or domestic violenece. They are people who are on the fringe but shouldn’t be. Society must be more inclusive.

Safe Schools. Transgender Children. Prosthetic limbs as wearable artworks. Teens suicide. Women in media. Postnatal depression. Sexual and domestic violence against women living with disability. These are just some of her stories and even if the topics may be uneasy for some, Ginger lends them her voice to raise awareness.

Recently, she has covered one of the most honest accounts about a young woman dying rapidly from bowel cancer. It is – in her words –“the ugly conversation about cancer no one else is having. It's not brave or inspirational. But it is honest and unflinching. I can promise you that”.

(click here to read the full article)

Ginger is a cancer survivor herself, and she remembers vividly the times when she herself struggled with the idea of fighting the cancer or being seen as inspirational, or as a heroine.

I was very pragmatic about having cancer. During treatment I just put one foot in front of the other. I accepted that dying was a possibility, even though the prognosis was good. I certainly never thought of myself as being ‘brave’ or in a ‘battle.’ That kind of cancer dialogue never had a meaning to me.

I am genuinely interested to find out about my sitters’ first role model; I think it’s a part of their life that defines who they are. Maybe it’s the sadness that I don’t know when I will see my own father again, or maybe it’s the fact that we have this affinity; either way, Ginger’s answer resonated deeply with me, because I have the same role model – my father.

My Dad was my first role model. He still is, even though he’s deceased. He came from a very poor Catholic working class family in Melbourne. He knew from when he was very young that what he wanted most was education. He started as a teacher and ended up being a diplomat. He always hammered into me how important is to learn. Even if he is no longer with us, I think every day about the things he taught me. I also understand that we are not all born into privileged families, that some people do not have the same opportunities.
My biggest regret is that my Dad is not here.

Books – in my opinion – are shaping us more than any other medium. I have been a bookworm all of my life. Naturally, it’s a question I like to explore and by asking each sitter about their favourite book (then and now) maybe I am secretly hoping to compile a new, ultimate reading list. I am truly amazed at how many books I haven’t read or known so far. And believe me, I do read a lot. 

The first favourite story that I can remember liking as a child is Tottie and the Dollshouse. I was mad about dolls’ houses and I still love them. I still have one that belonged to Steven Fry’s mother. This doll house must be more than 100 years old; it was given to my grandmother – my mother and her sisters played with it. When my grandmother passed away, I asked for it to be shipped to me from England.
My favourite book now is “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy.

I always ask my sitters to name a place where they feel at home, where they feel themselves.

I don’t have a home because I travelled all my life. I lived in several countries and there are some places around the world that resoante with me – like Bangkok. I can’t honestly say there’s a place where I feel “me” anywhere.

Talking about career and being a mother, I asked Ginger how she manages to keep all the balls juggling.

It’s not glamorous; it’s sometimes a messy balance between family life and work. My children are the heart of my life. But I also work from home. Sometimes it’s a crazy spinning wheel. It’s not neat, ordered or systematic but in the end it always works out. I don’t believe in Super Mums. Our society really has to do a lot of sorting out in terms of how family life fits with working parents. Most work places need to transform, in order to reflect how all these pieces fit.
The most challenging act is keeping all the balls in the air. Sometimes after writing a story the whole night, I turn up at my kids’ school looking like death warmed up and wearing terrible clothes. It does make me wonder what the other parents think!
I take my work seriously but I try to keep my family happy too. It’s a strange dichotomy – trying to remember to make sure there’s toilet paper in the cupboard and milk in the fridge while working on a powerful story where people’s lives are at risk.

I recently went to a feminist conference and had to facilitate a discussion panel about women and the transformation of work. The women on the panel were wonderful and articulate. However at one point I was thinking: I wish I could show the young women in the audience a picture of my filthy bedroom right now. We all operate on many levels but I am pretty sure no one has all the balls in the air at all times. 

(Click here to read Ginger's brilliant take on working mums and house work).

 – What was the most interesting story that you ever covered?

There isn’t just one. There are a lot of stories that I covered that have affected me. I stay connected to those people I interview. To me, they aren’t just stories. Media is a hungry beast, on a 24 hours cycle. It seems to chew stories and spit them up .It’s the opposite of how I like to interact. I feel incredibly privileged to witness and record people’s stories. Therefore people’s stories often stay with me.

I don’t have a favourite media; I use them all as needed. I am not crash hot on TV sometimes, but I love radio and writing.
There is a hint of magic about writing. On a good day you can choose the words and craft the story in a way that goes straight to the heart. I also like audio – it’s such a domestic, almost intimate feeling, having your voice heard in people’s living rooms and cars. A person builds in their mind the story you are telling them. It’s a privilege being in a listener’s domestic life in this way.

– Do you find your stories or do they find you?

A bit of both. I’m always listening and watching and questioning.
I have been a journalist for 16 years now and I always thought that “churnalism” isn’t the right way to do things. I never write from press releases.

Since I left ABC, I find myself listening more. I think a lot. Things come out of nowhere and if you really listen to someone, there’s often an untold story hiding in there. Even on social media, there’s a million possible stories people are trying to tell – but often no one is listening. They are just “shouting” at each other.

I find that if you listen and you are open to stories, they come to you. For instance, I was investigating a story about failed IVF. This initial, devastating story came from a conversation with two friends who had unsuccessfully tried IVF. One it was published, someone asked me on Twitter why I don’t write about men’s grief? No one seemed to want to talk about that grief, about the men who will never be fathers. That question became a second powerful story.

 Ginger's portrait has been taken in the Sculpture Garden  near Bert Flugelman's "Cones" sculpture.
Many thanks to the National Gallery of Australia - and in particular to Nick Nicholson for his guidance.


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