Whose problem is it? It’s all of ours

THE death of Brian Yao while his mother, Jie Yu, played poker machines followed a series of reported incidents involving Asian-Australians leaving their children in cars while they gambled.

It is unclear whether Asians have a greater problem with gambling than other ethnic groups. A small study done as part of research commissioned by the Victorian Casino and Gaming Authority found that Chinese-Australians were seven times more likely to gamble heavily than the wider community.

But this does not necessarily equate to gambling problems, says researcher Rick Yamine, because many Chinese have a high discretionary income and can afford their gambling. And usually, he says, they do not play the pokies, preferring traditional games such as pai gow and sic bo and lucky-number games such as roulette. He says Jie Yu’s case was not typical.

But Asians do make up a higher-than-expected proportion of families over whom there are gambling-related neglect notifications, according to Jenny McAuley, Victoria’s Assistant Director of Child Protection. “Our figures would reflect that the Asian community does struggle with gambling. Certainly this is reflected in the profile of people that are notified to our services … The Asian community is generally very aware of this problem, and is responding to it (by) supporting community members.”

But McAuley believes the problem of gambling-related neglect is probably under-reported, which means that the families who do enter the child-protection system might not be representative of what is happening in the wider community.

Ainslie Hannan, who contributed to the Playing for Time report, is concerned that Jie Yu and other Asians can be made scapegoats in the media for problems she believes are caused by state gaming policy and the availability of poker machines. (There are five pokies venues within a five-kilometre radius of Yu’s Ferntree Gully home).

Hannan says, “There’s a theory called the theory of exceptionality. It says that if there is a structure in the state that doesn’t work, like gaming policy, you get a marginalised group and say it’s about them, rather than saying it’s about the broader community and the amount of gaming … Who puts the state on trial?”

Julie Nelson, of Gamblers Help, says that viewing such a tragedy as a minority group’s problem helps ward off the anxiety a death such as Brian’s arouses in the community. “Part of that is about society saying, `It can’t happen to us; we are all normal. This couldn’t happen to me or anybody I know.”‘

Also see: Ending The Affair and Gambling With Life.

First published in The Age.

We must set limits, for the sake of little girls

There’s no place for ethnic arrogance, but genital mutilation is different, writes Karen Kissane.

NINETEENTH-CENTURY Westerners, confident of their cultural superiority, had no qualms about trying to stamp out ugly foreign customs. Britain’s empire builders banned the Indian tradition of suttee, in which Hindu widows were burnt on their husbands’ funeral pyres; Europeans led the fight against foot-binding in China.

Colonialism had many evils, but it shone a few lights in dark places, stopping some peoples from eating their enemies and others from leaving their girl babies out to die. But ethnic arrogance has no place in multicultural worlds like today’s Australia. How, then, do we deal with minority group traditions that the majority abhor, such as genital mutilation of little girls? How far should tolerance for diversity and respect for the values of others stretch? It has been known for some time that people in some ethnic communities, particularly those from Africa and the Middle East, are circumcising their daughters. Some girls are done on kitchen tables here, some are sent back to the old country and others, police alleged several years ago, are done by Australian doctors. “Female circumcision” ranges from removal of the hood of the clitoris or the clitoris itself to infibulation, in which the clitoris, the labia majora and the labia minora are cut out and the remaining flesh sewn together, leaving a small opening for urine and menstrual flow.

It effectively castrates women, leaving them with sexual pain instead of pleasure and ensuring their chastity as maidens and their fidelity as wives. It is a 5000-year-old tradition that parents still inflict on their daughters in order to make them marriageable and acceptable to their own communities. While no hard figures are available, federal health and legal authorities have heard anecdotal evidence of it here and say it is reasonable to assume that migrants such as African refugees are bringing the custom with them.

Australia has been slow to deal officially with the problem. Chief Inspector Vicki Fraser, the head of Victoria’s community policing squad, warned six years ago that the issue was being ignored because of a reluctance to create tensions in a multicultural society. Federal officials contacted for this story sighed that they knew the issue had been a time bomb, but that there had been concern about how best to deal with it without creating a racist backlash. How can you publicise an issue like this without arousing anger and disgust in other Australians? How do you convince women who have been circumcised that their daughters should not be deformed this way without making the mothers feel like freaks? Mutilation, after all, is in the eye of the beholder’s culture. Our criminal law does not recognise any right to consent to bodily harm, or any right by parents to consent to bodily harm to their children.

But we do have the right to consent to medical procedures that are painful and non-therapeutic, such as cosmetic surgery. The desire to have a nose broken and reshaped, a face cut open and tightened, or tissue removed from a large breast also springs from a longing to be accepted by the community. It may be sad but it is not, in our culture, considered bizarre.

But genital mutilation is different. It deprives women of a normal physical function, leaves them with serious long-term health problems and is done when they are children and cannot give informed consent.

Australian political leaders have long condemned it and threatened legal consequences for anyone involved, but its legal status is still unclear. The Australian Law Reform Commission has argued against special legislation criminalising it, saying that offenders could be charged under existing criminal law, and that, in any case, education would be a better tool for change than prosecution. The Australian Family Law Council, which advises the Attorney-General, recommends much stronger action.

The council’s discussion paper on the issue, due out next month, recommends federal legislation outlawing genital mutilation. It also proposes making it a criminal offence to send a child out of the country to have it done elsewhere. If the proposal is adopted Australia, like Europe, will jail offending parents. The council has rejected the argument that genital mutilation is a religious custom.

The chairman, John Faulks, says religious leaders deny that it is a Muslim practice or required by the Koran. Mr Faulks says it is important that laws be passed to clarify doubts about whether such cases can be prosecuted and in order for Australia to comply with its obligations under international conventions on the rights of the child. This, then, would be the limit of multicultural tolerance.

There have always been limits. We do not allow Muslims to cut off the hand of a thief or stone an adulteress. People from polygamous cultures must respect our bigamy laws and men from more patriarchal societies must learn that in this country, children of a broken marriage do not automatically belong to the father. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not permitted to refuse a sick child a necessary blood transfusion. The right of a child to protection outweighs the right of the parent to follow tradition.

Genital mutilation should be criminalised if migrants are to get a clear message about how serious a practice it is. Opponents of criminalisation argue that it sends the problem underground, causing more hardship for the girls. But that argument, like the argument against mandatory reporting of other forms of child abuse, makes no sense; the problem is already beyond the law. Even in the countries from which these migrants come, human rights activists oppose the practice.

But change must also come from within. Education programs should be set up to ask parents to examine their beliefs and to ask mothers to remember their own shock and pain and grief. The American writer Alice Walker, whose last novel was about a woman who had been mutilated, has been asked why women have helped weave such social and religious significance around what is, in essence, a horror. She said that people carrying an unendurable hurt create an alternative reality to make the pain more bearable, and that this is what must change if we are to stop attacks on the innocent face of the vulva.

First published in The Age.

The enemy within


THE worst in people has brought out the best in people. Staid, proper Oslo, faced with atrocity, has become a city of flowers. A bright circle of blooms on the cobblestones outside the city’s cathedral has swelled by the day; sheets of blossoms float in fountains; roses are tucked lovingly onto statues and signposts.
The pilgrimages continued all this week, long past the 200,000-strong “March of flowers” remembrance on Tuesday night. Most trams going into the city centre carry grown-ups and children clutching bouquets. Each laying of flowers is a small, individual gesture. But it is also part of a wider expression of two emotions shared by the rest of Norway: grief over the 76 lives destroyed by gunman Anders Behring Breivik, and the peaceful defiance of a people who refuse to be cowed.
Well, those emotions are shared by most of the rest of Norway. The western city of Fored, on the other hand, this week found itself tagged with triumphant Nazi swastikas. Jailing Breivik is not going to solve all the ugly problems exposed by his ideologically driven violence; not in Norway, and not in Europe.
While Breivik’s bloody slaughter of teenagers at a summer camp was repugnant to all decent people, it is also true that a good proportion of decent people quietly share some of his political views. Support for right-wing politics is on the rise across Europe, fuelled by economic hard times and fear of Islam. A rise in the number of extremists on its fringe is expected as a result.
Breivik had intended his massacre to be a “wake-up call” to Europe about what he saw as the danger of a Muslim takeover. Instead it has become a different kind of wake-up call, warning a Europe that had been preoccupied with the threat of Islamic terror that blond, Christian, home-grown threats can be just as deadly.
Many Norwegians say the only comfort over the lone-gunman massacre eight days ago is that Breivik must be crazy, a freak of nature, a psychopath; a product not of politics and culture but of a murderously disordered mind. “He could not possibly be sane and do what he has done,” one person after another will tell you.
But those who study such things say this isn’t so. The “lone-wolf” terrorist is rarely mad or psychopathic, says Will Hartley, the editor of Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre in Washington.
“Terrorists tend to be better adjusted [psychologically] than the average. They often have a surfeit of qualities that would otherwise make them respectable, such as empathy and the ability to act altruistically. Their background is often surprising — with the 7/7 bombings in London, one of the terrorists was a social worker who worked with children.”
A terrorism expert at the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Affairs, Helge Luras, says Breivik’s internet manifesto suggests he pumped himself full of steroids to heighten his aggression, and listened to music through earphones so he would not be moved by the pleas of his victims: “So he’s not a psychopath or lacking in emotion or empathy. In the manifesto he talks about how it will be difficult to kill these people in this manner because he has empathy. Psychopaths don’t struggle with that.”
Breivik’s meticulous planning over nine years, and his attention to detail, suggest he is well and truly in touch with the real world, if markedly paranoid. Some analysts see him as a man who became a killer not because he was overcome by any emotion but because he made a logical decision that this was the best way to spread his ideas.
“Breivik was doing a mass murder as a form of fundamentalist PR,” says Matthew Feldman, lecturer in history at the University of Northampton in Britain and an expert on the extreme right wing.
He is convinced Breivik killed to get publicity for his online manifesto and video, posted just hours before he set off a car bomb and hunted teenagers with a sub-machinegun. “If he had posted them two weeks earlier, they would have sunk without trace. It was a publicity stunt. At the same time, the documents, video and killings were the first salvo in what he thought would be a European civil war.”
Feldman sees the fundamentalist Breivik, calling on heroic figures from Christianity’s distant past, as the Western equivalent of the Muslim terrorist: believing that ideas are more important than human life, that violence will lead to revolutionary change, and that martyrs must offer their lives in defence of their besieged culture. “It’s a kind of crusading ‘Christianism’ that is the mirror image of jihadi Islamism,” he told The Saturday Age.
According to his 1500-page manifesto — much of it cut and pasted from other writers — Breivik believes that European governments are allowing Muslims to take over Europe through mass immigration that is diluting the culture. He claims to be part of an organisation called the Knights Templar dedicated to fighting for Europe. The original Knights Templar was a military organisation during the mediaeval Crusades to take the Holy Land back from Muslims.
His manifesto suggests he killed the young people of Norway’s Labour Party at their summer camp on Utoeya island because Labour deserved “the death penalty” for its multicultural policies and friendly approach to immigration, which were a “betrayal” of Europe. He predicts that continued immigration will lead to civil war and history’s third expulsion of Muslims from the continent.
Analysts concede that, even within the bizarre world of terrorism, Breivik is an unusual specimen. Most terrorists work in groups, partly because it is mutual reinforcement that leads to the gradual acceptance of radical ideas, and partly because competitive dynamics help push individuals into violence. But while police are investigating Breivik’s claims of two more cells, and of international contact with bodies such as the English Defence League — denied by the league — it seems at this stage that he conceived and carried out his massacre alone.
Hartley says this suggests he is highly self-reliant and has a massive ego, full of the importance of his own ideas, like America’s Unabomber. “He’s not mentally ill but he may have delusional fantasies. He likes to picture himself in the uniform and cross of the Knights Templar; there is an element of role-play, of conveying himself as knight in a long line of European crusader heroes who fought for their religion.”
He warns that solo operators such as Breivik are almost impossible to detect in time: “The lone-wolf terrorist is far, far harder to track unless he makes mistakes. The first you hear of him is when he carries out his first attack.”
Which is a big problem, because European police have been warning that exactly this kind of terrorist is becoming more likely, created by a new and volatile combination of factors: the technology of the internet, and a right-wing backlash across Europe focused on immigration, unemployment and national identity.
The internet provides the would-be terrorist with anonymity, global reach on information and the ability to spread material quickly and widely. Feldman says there have been two recent right-wing, lone-wolf cases in England, one involving a member of the white-supremacist Aryan Strike Force who made the deadly chemical ricin. “With the right amount of dedication, a credit card and a modem, you can make weapons of mass destruction from your home computer.”
Breivik claims he learnt how to make a car bomb by spending 200 hours on the internet in two weeks.
In Europe, Islamism has been the major focus of terror fears since September 11. Europol’s 2011 report on terrorism warned of a continuing “high and diverse” threat of Islamist terrorists, with 179 arrests in 2010 over plots to cause mass casualties. This was a 50 per cent increase on the year before. And it warned that more “lone actors with EU citizenship” were becoming involved in Islamist terrorism, with fewer plots controlled by leaders from outside the EU.
But the Europol report also said the threat of right-wing extremists was intensifying, and noted: “If the unrest in North Africa leads to a major influx of immigrants into Europe, right-wing terrorism might gain a new lease of life by articulating more widespread apprehension about immigration.”
Immigration is a focus of every mainstream right-wing party in Europe, although most have worked hard to eradicate any clear sign of racism. “Very few contemporary right-wing movements play with race,” Hartley says. “It is the fringe of the fringe. The mainstream has tried to move beyond that. Once you drop race and start focusing on levels of immigration, that concerns a much broader segment of society. That’s what’s behind their growth.”
Of course, the left argues that debating immigration is simply “dog-whistle politics”: those being called recognise it as code for “race”. But among extremists, Feldman says, there is no room for doubt: “The 20-century scapegoating of Muslims is something everyone on the far right can agree on.”
Far right parties have become a more powerful presence in mainstream politics across a range of countries. In Russia, says Hartley, “they are conventional nationalists, against migration from the former Soviet socialist republics”.
In Britain, “The British National Party has actually secured seats on councils and things like that, and is much closer to giving the conventional parties a run for their money in elections.”
It seems paradoxical, but the old left is part of the new far right. Hartley says most members of the BNP are “traditional Labour voters who no longer feel Labour is protecting their interests in terms of multiculturalism and the erosion of salaries. The right-wing parties are benefiting from being able to portray themselves as representatives of disenfranchised workers”.
Britain also has the English Defence League, cited by Breivik as an organisation he connected with, which has chapters in many European countries and a Norwegian Facebook page with 13,000 members, says Feldman. “The EDL is perhaps less uncompromising in its ideology, but that doesn’t stop hundreds of working-class young white men putting their hoodies up and shouting slogans on English streets.”
A sense of an in-group that is being economically threatened by an out-group is central to the resentment of far-right activists in Britain, while nationalist ideas are more the focus in Europe, according to research by Matthew Goodman, an associate fellow at Chatham house.
He interviewed one British far-right activist who said of migrants, “They’re getting post offices, shops, takeaways . . . The government’s way of dealing with deprived areas is by giving the biggest regeneration grants to the poorest areas . . . They’re winning hands down every time. We haven’t got a chance . . . So they’re getting their houses done up . . . new windows, new doors, new kitchens . . . they’re making people angry.”
And another: “They [mainstream politicians] don’t know what it’s like to live cheek by jowl with a Polish person, a Lithuanian person, an African person and then fight for a job.”
On the continent, far right-wing groups are gaining traction from Hungary to Italy, but their rise is particularly apparent in northern European countries such as Norway that previously had liberal immigration policies.
The rapid arrival of refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants, many of them Muslims, led to a significant backlash in Denmark, where the Danish People’s Party has 25 out of 179 seats in parliament, and the Netherlands, where Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom won 15.5 per cent of the vote in the 2010 general election. Wilders once compared the Koran, the holy book of Islam, to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. In Sweden, a man was arrested last November in the city of Malmo in connection with more than a dozen unsolved shootings of immigrants, including one fatality. The far-right Sweden Democrats entered parliament for the first time last September after winning 5.7 per cent of the vote.
The far right is getting better at recruitment in the digital age. Europol spokesman Gerald Hesztera told The Saturday Age that right-wing extremists are now more professional in their use of the internet, with stylish websites and clever use of social media.
“White Power” music groups hold concerts organised over the internet that attract hundreds of young people to listen to xenophobic songs with hate-filled lyrics, he says. “They have a general ideology of white supremacy and they are rock groups with a racist, sometimes fascist, orientation. Right-wing skinheads go to these concerts all over Europe,” he says.
On Oslo’s streets the racial mix is clear. Along with the ethnic Norwegians are Africans, Arabs, Indians and Pakistanis, as well as stateless Romany, who have drifted across from Eastern Europe.
Norway tends to see itself as an open, democratic, inclusive society of tolerance and shared values. Not everyone there agrees. One man of Pakistani background, who did not want to be named, says he is second-generation Norwegian but is preparing his children, who are third-generation, for the fact they will be made to feel like outsiders in their homeland. “They will get to school and be seen as Pakistanis and Muslims, as foreigners. If a person can function in a society, can follow the rules, can work and go to school, they are part of the society even if they have a different skin colour or religion or culture. That’s my opinion. But there are a lot of Norwegian politicians who want you to go and hold a sausage in your hand and want your woman in a bikini and only then are you part of the society.”
He was one of several Norwegians privately to express relief this week that the killer had not been a Muslim because that might have led to social fracture.
Forty-nine per cent of Norwegians questioned in a recent poll said they thought immigration had gone too far and too fast, says Helge Luras. This is not a reaction to immigration but the way it has always been in Norway. “People said pretty much the same thing in a poll in ’87,” he says.
Luras says he is not right-wing, and that he angered the right because he always argued that the threat of Islamic terrorism in Norway was overblown. But he does urge caution over immigration, simply on the basis of human nature’s historical intolerance of difference.
“This is not just something peculiar to Europe. This need for group cohesion and the issue of borders is so ingrained in humans. It ensured our survival in the very early phases. This is still with us and it creates problems in a phase of globalisation, but we are genetically what we were 20,000 years ago. I’m not saying that’s how it should be, but that is more or less how it is. We have to adapt our political and social system to the reality.”
He formed views partly while working “for a long time in the Balkans, with a multi-ethnic society that collapsed into civil war because of people’s perceptions of difference in identity and [economic problems]. This dynamic of finding scapegoats has been part of human affairs ever since we have been studying them.”
He says every culture has a threshold of tolerance for newcomers that varies over place and time: “If there’s massive unemployment, even if it’s not to do with immigration, then at the same time you have the immigration of large groups of people who live in separate neighbourhoods, definitely that’s a factor of instability and could lead to conflict.”
The Progress Party now holds about a quarter of seats in Norway’s parliament and is seen to have increased its support because of its criticism of immigration, which has become more restricted as politicians began to take note of the public mood. This week, the party — which is not as far to the right as those in other nations — was at pains to distance itself from Breivik, who was a member when he was younger. Breivik wrote that he left both the Progress Party and the English Defence League because he found them inadequate.
Himanshu Gulati is a 23-year-old Norwegian of Indian background who is vice-president of the Progress Party’s youth wing. He told The Saturday Age that it had less of a focus on immigration than conservative parties in other countries, and that its concerns were more about failures of integration, such as female mutilation and forced marriages.
Gulati said his party had been distraught over the massacre: “Even though we disagree with the Labour Party we do agree on core values and principles, and what this crazy guy has done is against what we all stand for. I am part of the Progress Party’s youth movement and all of us know many people who were on Utoeya. Most of the youth politicians of all parties have been there. They invited us to debates in their summer camp and we invited them to ours. We have all had the worst week of our lives, no matter which party we belong to.”
In typically Norwegian fashion — political debate here is strong, but so is the tradition of consensus — leaders of all the main parties agreed to suspend partisan politics for several weeks, and this week met at the Progress Party’s headquarters to discuss how best to manage the election coming up in September.
ANDERS Behring Breivik wanted to change the course of history. He thought he would light a fuse that would set fire to Europe. Opinion is divided on what effect, if any, he will have on the future.
Hartley says he has damaged the mainstream right wing because now some of its rhetoric is linked with his violence: “He reminds everyone of what they have been trying to bury, and now the right is being tarred as racist in the media because of his focus on Muslims.”
But Breivik could turn out to be inspirational to some who, like him, feel the system is rigged against the right and prevents ordinary people from expressing views considered politically incorrect, says Hartley.
Luras says the drivers for far-right-wing support — stagnating economies and pressure on borders — will continue, and Europe should be “prepared and concerned” about its rise. “It doesn’t mean that it would lead to terrorism but my sense at the moment is that Mr Breivik is the beginning of what may be a cult figure for some. He has described in detail how the movement should arise to be inspired by himself, and some will be inspired.”
Luras says the level of hero-worship will depend on whether Breivik cracks in prison: “If he can keep up the appearance that he is superhuman, able to stand completely on his own, still believing in himself even though he is in a cell, then the cult will definitely be created.”
And if that should happen, “I will be very surprised in 10 years if, looking back, not a single terrorist act has occurred connected to Mr Breivik.”

Teen adds tech touch to wrath of a woman scorned

It has become a parable of the internet age: a girl, a laptop and a swath of destruction through high-profile football careers. Cyberspace is full of mocking laughter over the posting of naked photos of St Kilda footballers by a vengeful teenager – ”The Girl who played with Nick playing with himself”, she’s been dubbed, while her enterprise is ”Dickileaks”.

Meanwhile, the combined might of several powerful institutions has proved hapless, if not helpless, in attempts to silence her. Even with her name shielded, the girl’s following on Twitter had last night swollen to more than 6500 followers (up from about 200 the day before) and the hissing spat that has developed between her and some of St Kilda’s finest reached new heights – or should that be lows?

St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt said it was hard to understand why a girl he did not know had posted explicit images of him and his teammates on social network sites.

In one image, Riewoldt is standing staring at the camera with a sheepish expression, his hands framing his genitals, while clothed fellow player Zac Dawson grins. Another photo shows Nick Dal Santo on a bed in a rapt state of self-communion. Both images have written across them in elegant, cursive script, in Santa-red ink, ”Merry Christmas Courtesy of The St Kilda Schoolgirl!”

Unsurprisingly, Riewoldt said yesterday that the publication of the pictures had caused him distress, shock and disappointment, and urged the girl to stop posting them. He claimed the photo with Dawson had been taken 12 months ago by teammate Sam Gilbert in a hotel in Miami and he had asked for him to delete it. Riewoldt, Gilbert and the club claim the pictures had later been removed from Gilbert’s computer without his consent.

If the naked boy-play was about male bonding, it has gone horribly wrong. Yesterday Gilbert had to issue an apology to the teammates hurt by the pictures.

The girl who kicked this hornet’s nest has another version of the truth entirely and appears to have, as yet, no inclination to mercy. In a series of media interviews, she said she planned to continue posting images and had no sympathy for Riewoldt, who she claimed knew her and had treated her badly.

She also said it was ”incorrect” to suggest that she had not taken the pictures herself. ”I took the photos and uploaded them on Sam’s computer and sent them across from Sam’s email address to mine,” she told The Age from Queensland, where she is on holiday with her parents.

Her Facebook profile was taken down following a Federal Court order to remove the photos on Monday. She said she had not broken the law because she still had not been presented with any court order.

”I don’t really see myself as an outlaw, more like someone who actually stands up to the football players. In a way, I guess it’s kind of bad what I’ve done, but I’m happy with it as well because I know there’s a lot of girls out there who thank me for having the guts to actually do it.”

The girl has made it clear she is acting out of revenge. She claims to have become pregnant with a child – or, in some reports, twins – to a St Kilda player, but to have lost the pregnancy to stillbirth in October. She laid a complaint and there was an investigation by the AFL and by police that found no grounds to proceed with charges.

She has said she was partially motivated by abusive Facebook messages and voicemails from footballers that she had received over the past few months.

When her Facebook site was closed, the girl went to Twitter and posted a link to the pictures.

For Gilbert and the other men, the court order to remove the photos came too late. The pictures had by then gone viral. A legal system designed for careful, leisurely consideration is flapping its black robes in consternation as it tries and fails to chase internet rabbits down their many and varied caches.

Meanwhile, the girl still sends out her 140-character messages-in-a-bottle on Twitter. Here, she complains about the burden of her newfound celebrity – ”29 radio interviews, 4 video interviews, so tired!” – and curses those who cross her with punctuation-free fluency. ”Want to know who the f—ing little snitch is that released something to the media. Can I trust no one?” she asked on December 20.

She likes Queensland and strawberry cheesecake, sings to herself ”when I feel I’m going insane”, and says to one contact, ”I’m used to being the one in control and the one that’s manipulating you, not the other way round.” She also tells one apparent critic, ”You don’t know either of us, so don’t judge.”

She earlier told The Age she was writing her autobiography – bridling at a suggestion that this might be a little early, at 17 – and is looking for an agent.

She said she was not concerned about what repercussions her actions would have on her later life. She said, ”I don’t really want to know what’s going to happen in the future. I take every day as it comes.”

Her online photo shows a lean, tanned girl in a bikini. She is on all fours in the shallows on a beach, her knees spread wide, gazing at the camera with a provocatively tilted head and the pout of a model. She describes herself as ”Athlete. Model. sex.love.fashion.power.fame.beautiful.fast.hot.smooth. strong”.

Last night she posted a video in which she said, ”I think girls should stand up more to football players. When the whole thing came out in May, I had more than 500 messages saying, ‘Can I have some of the football players’ numbers? I think they’re really hot.’

”I said ‘No you f—–g don’t, trust me, God.’ They are hot. They are famous. They do have money. I guess that’s what turned me on when I first met them. But basically I am saying to all the girls out there, unless you’ve been in a world like that before, I’m saying don’t get involved with them, honestly.”

She was unsure whether she would upload more photos, after all, she said, because she was confused about the legal hearing, but ”I am going to keep on saying what’s the truth, and I’m going to f— these footballers up, OK?”

She said ”mwaah”, kissed her fingertips and laid them gently on the camera lens.

A child of the age of narcissism, using the uncontrolled medium of the age, acting out the age-old wrath of a woman scorned.

Debate opens on ‘dangerous’ teens and licences


RESEARCH is needed about whether young drivers at risk of dangerous behaviour should be denied a driver’s licence, according to Deputy Police Commissioner Ken Lay.
Speaking after the smash on Sunday that killed five teenagers, Mr Lay said studies had found that young people who suffered from limited attention spans, poor school behaviour, hyperactivity and a propensity to commit criminal offences were more likely to be killed or seriously injured on the roads.
“We need to better work with the health professionals, academics, educationalists and the like to actually get to these people before they get behind the wheel of a car,” he said.
Mr Lay was asked whether he was suggesting that some young people could be denied licences simply on the basis of their personality traits, or whether he meant that they should be targeted only after they had committed a driving offence. He replied: “That’s the piece of work that needs to be done. I don’t know what the answer is there.”
Traffic safety expert Tom Triggs said tests that “predict” risk-taking behaviour in young people were blunt instruments that focused on qualities such as general aggressiveness and failure to participate in social situations.
With 50,000 new people gaining licences in Victoria every year, they would catch too many people, including people who would not offend, according to Professor Triggs, of Monash University’s Accident Research Centre.
He said it was necessary to detect young offenders early, perhaps through their demerit points, and then focus on them with vigorous programs that “would be challenging to design and very expensive”— which, he suggested, was “why jurisdictions have been slow to embrace them”.
Mr Lay said alcohol had been involved in the accident in which five young men died at Mill Park in the early hours of Sunday. A witness had come forward who had seen the driver drinking beforehand.
Police were frustrated that, despite widespread publicity over the horror smash, more young drivers were caught speeding overnight.
A car travelling at 165 km/h in a 70 km/h zone in South Morang was driven by a friend of one of those who had died in the Mill Park accident, he said.
“On top of this we had another vehicle intercepted doing 90 km/h in a 60 zone; another 160 in a 60 zone; and a pursuit in Ballarat, all within 24 hours of one of the worst crashes the state has seen for nearly three years.”
An uncle of one of the young men who died on Sunday yesterday suggested that hoons’ cars should be destroyed.
“The way I see it, you get caught, crush the cars,” Santo Sutera, uncle to Anthony Ianetta told 3AW. “They loved their cars the same way my sister loved her son. So by taking the cars away from them, they’ll know how it feels.”
Mr Lay said he understood that view but only 1 per cent of hoons whose cars were impounded for two days after a first offence later re-offended. And courts already had the power to remove a car permanently on the third offence, he said.
He said he was reluctant to endorse other possibilities such as a night curfew for young drivers because it was unfair to punish the majority of young drivers who behaved well.

City divided as a symbol laid to rest

IN THE age of reality TV, anybody can be a celebrity. And in the age of modern electronics, anybody can film one – never mind the manners. Just ask Kim Nguyen, who sat prayerfully through a funeral service that was foreign to her while ordinary people she had never met tried to snap her with still or video cameras held in the palms of their hands.
Her front-row position, with son Khoa and others, protected her for the first part of the service. But when the crowds lined up for communion and blessings from the priests, a throng developed in front of her.
Dozens wanted to express their condolences in person, but some had also come for the spectacle and were keen to immortalise their own small fragment of it. It took several minutes of quiet but firm instructions from presiding priests to hustle everyone back to their places.
That’s what happens when a person becomes a symbol for a cause; when a family’s tragedy has been media fodder for weeks; when incense swirls over the coffin the way controversy has swirled around the person inside it.
While those in the cathedral celebrated the life of the convicted drug smuggler they believed had been reborn on death row, many outside it were angry at the attention Nguyen Tuong Van’s case has drawn.
“Bill from Broadford” told the ABC announcer Jon Faine yesterday: “I’m absolutely disgusted by this hysterical worshipping of Nguyen . . . One-minute silence, praised by lawyers, attendance by politicians at the funeral, for a convicted drug criminal? . . . People are just conveniently skipping over the consequences of the actions of these people. They’ve done it for greed and profit and they don’t care how much suffering they bring back to Australia. So why should they be treated like they’re war heroes?”
A taxi driver ferrying a passenger to the church service was similarly irritated. “I got sick and tired of hearing about it in the media,” he grumbled. “He knew what the rules of that country were. You do the crime, you do the time.”
But the issue for many in the cathedral was that Nguyen was not allowed to do the time but was hanged at 25. His death – or the cause of fighting the death penalty – yesterday attracted an extraordinary cross-section of Melbourne: Hindus in saris, Muslims in veils, a Catholic philosophy lecturer, an Orthodox priest, a Buddhist monk in saffron robes.
Irene Wilson, a grandmother studying theology, had travelled 350 kilometres from Mount Beauty for the service. She said she wanted to “pay my respects to Kim and Khoa and Bronnie and Kelly”, and to show that Australians have a sense of compassion and mateship.
“Australians have put their hearts on their sleeves as people of conscience,” she said.
Reta Kaur, an ethnic Indian who came to Australia from Malaysia, said she was there to protest against state-sanctioned violence and said Singapore was “a city of stone with hearts of stone”.
Polish migrant Stan, who did not wish to give his surname, said, “He was a young man, and he made a mistake, of course, but it’s too strong a punishment. There are people who smuggle tonnes of heroin and are never punished for it.”
It is probably fair to say that Melbourne has not seen this kind of mobilisation against the death penalty since the demonstrations against the hanging of Ronald Ryan, which took place in 1967. Ryan’s funeral, though, did not allow for public rallying; he was buried in unconsecrated ground near the Pentridge Prison hospital with a brief 10 minutes of prayers. The only mourners present were his priest and his jailers. Like Ned Kelly – the other son of this state who is famous for finishing his life on the gallows – Ryan was Catholic.
In a strange twist, so was Nguyen. His family are Buddhist and they attended a Buddhist service for him in Springvale on Tuesday night. But Nguyen had converted to Catholicism on death row in Changi prison, and he was farewelled yesterday with all the pomp of an establishment Catholic: one cathedral named for the patron saint of Ireland, 23 priests dressed in the white robes Nguyen had requested, and even a bishop, Mark Coleridge.
The death notices and the order of service for his funeral listed Nguyen’s first name as Caleb, the name he took for himself when he was baptised. It means bold and courageous, Father Peter Hansen told the congregation.
Nguyen had been “the baby on death row”, his friend Kelly Ng told the congregation.
Lex Lasry, Nguyen’s QC, said Nguyen had changed enormously in the time he faced death. “He was no martyr. He was no hero . . . But in the last two years, selfishness gave way to selflessness, lies gave way to truth and indulgence gave way to spirituality, and anyone watching that couldn’t help but be moved by it.”
Kim Nguyen dabbed her eyes with tissues through most of the service. Mr Lasry’s wife, Elizabeth, sat beside her, stroking her arm or shoulders in comfort. When it came time for the unfamiliar prayers, Mrs Nguyen held her hands in prayer position and bowed her head, accepting whatever it was that this culture and religion were offering her.
In the same procession, a man with an Irish face struggled to keep his lower lip from trembling. A Mediterranean grandmother bent to kiss the coffin, wiping away a tear. An Indian man came up to accept a blessing.
Nguyen’s death has done more than unite many Australians against the death penalty. It united them in their sense of what it is to be Australian.
Applause for man ‘dear tomany’ NEWS 2
OPINION Chris Ellison NEWS 15
ONLINE Watch video footage from the funeral service at theage.com.au

First published in The Age.

A town farewells three small brothers

IT WAS such a quiet funeral, despite the number of people who came: 120 in the sweet little country church, another 400 or so on plastic chairs under the spring sunshine outside.
People sat still and silent, even though the crying began long before the service did, with women wiping tears from eyes reddened for hours.
But at the end of the funeral service, the church exploded with the Farquharson boys’ favourite song – Holy Grail by Hunters and Collectors. The music thumped with life as 12 young men in dark suits rose from the congregation and walked grimly towards the three small white coffins, ready to carry them out. Then there came another sound: a high, thin wail. Bereft mother Cindy Gambino was keening for her boys.
The coffin of her eldest, nine-year-old Jai, was carried out first. Then the smaller casket of his middle brother, Tyler, 7. And then the heart-rendingly small box in which lay Bailey, the baby, who was 2. Each had his own small bouquet of red roses and baby’s breath.
Behind them staggered their mother in a long black dress, her face contorted with grief. She leaned heavily on the arm of her ex-husband, Robert Farquharson, the man who had driven the car in which their three children had died. He stared straight ahead with a dazed expression.
The rest of Victoria knows these children for the way they died: drowned in a dam after their father’s car veered off a road as he was returning them from an access visit on Father’s Day. All three were later found to be free of their seatbelts and child restraints, and police think that Jai might have struggled to release his brothers before they died.
Police have questioned Mr Farquharson about the circumstances of the crash, which left no skid marks on the road. The car was found to have its engine and its lights turned off. Mr Farquharson told police he had a coughing fit and blacked out, waking to find himself in the water. His ex-wife’s family have told media he was a wonderful father and that this was a terrible accident. His ex-wife spent the first few days after the crash sedated in hospital for shock and grief.
Yesterday, at St John the Baptist Catholic Church in Winchelsea, mourners heard of the boys that their family knew. Family friend Wendy Kennedy gave the eulogy. Jai “was generous, like his father; he always wanted to look after his younger brothers”. He was a footballer and a cub scout and had a red belt in karate. He loved acting out moments from movies – “it was always the adult jokes he liked, the ones he shouldn’t have understood”.
He also loved money and was happy to earn some mowing his Poppy’s lawns, but preferred the “Tattslotto chair” on his Sunday visits to his grandparents’ house, where he would raid his grandfather’s chair for the change that had fallen from his pockets through the week.
Tyler had his mother’s grin and loved hot dogs and mudcakes and his grandma’s vegie soup, strained. His mother said of him, “Have food, will travel”. He was a joker, best known for his cross-eyed faces and the plastic dog poo he hid in his grandfather’s bed.
Little Bailey called the family dog “Woofy” and the family cat “Puss”. The cockatiel was simply “my bird” and would sit on his shoulder while he fed it cereal. Bailey was old enough to protest against anything he didn’t like with “This is quack, mum!” When told that that was naughty, he would play his strongest card: “But me just a baby, Mum!”
Outside the church, as the three coffins were loaded into two hearses, Cindy Gambino and Robert Farquharson clung to each other. His lower lip jutted out and trembled as he struggled to contain his distress. Several times he hugged her in a helpless kind of way as she gazed blankly at the hearses, as if she could not comprehend what she was seeing.
They both looked shocked and disbelieving to find themselves in a world without their children.

First published in The Age.

A spell in the country, a weekend Pottering around

THE long-legged coyote man had an animal tail hanging from his tail. The male witch had an ankle-length velvet cloak. The man who called himself Pixie looked like Braveheart.
“You should have been here yesterday,” he said. “My face was painted with woad” – the blue herbal dye the Celts used in warfare to terrify the enemy.
The 24th Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering was held on an extinct volcano near Daylesford at the weekend.
This was worship at its freest. Today’s paganism is a religious smorgasbord encompassing Wiccans and witches (who are not the same thing), pantheists, who call on ancient gods and goddesses of Greece, Rome or other cultures, and many others whose self-selected beliefs defy categorisation. (Paganism and modern witchcraft does not involve satanism, with witches pointing out that Satan is a Christian figure).
Common to many pagans is the use of “the wheel of the year” to link ceremonies to the seasons, a belief that the divine is both feminine and masculine, and a conviction that sacredness is centred on the Earth and the four elements of earth, air, fire and water.
The Mount Franklin festival is held each year on the weekend closest to Halloween. It recognises Beltane (“bright fire”), a festival that celebrates the fertility of earth and animals.
Pagans believe it is a time when “the veil is thin” between the mundane and supernatural worlds, an uncanny moment when the air is filled with spirits.
On Saturday night they lit and encircled a bonfire, which symbolised the increasing power of the sun, and invoked the lady of the moon and the lord of the sun. Yesterday, 15 men and 15 women danced ritually around a Maypole. When it was tightly wound with red and green lacing, they “read” its weave to try to foretell what the coming year would bring.
Many children were among the 230 campers, and medievalism mixed with modern domesticity: a blue hatchback parked among the tents had a sign offering “Mead for Sale”.
On weekdays, Pixie is John Biggs and works in a plant nursery with disabled people. Male witch Morphix is Paul Franzi, a youth worker for kids with drug and alcohol problems.
And the man with the coyote totem is Josh Orth, a medical scientist. He says he has adopted the coyote as his symbol because the animal is “playful, energetic, wild and free”.
Several people at the festival declined to be interviewed, saying they had lost jobs before when their employers found out. But there are signs of a dawning acceptance of alternative religion. Nicole Good says she is one of four pagans who have been registered as civil celebrants.
At the end of all the interviews, this reporter’s hand was aching from a tight grip on the notebook. What did witches recommend for arthritis?
Forget spells and chants and magical balms. The answer came in a pragmatic chorus: “Deep Heat!”

First published in The Age.

Joe Korp goes to meet maker

ONE of the first hymns at Maria Korp’s service last week had been Ave Maria. For the funeral of her husband, Joe, the man accused of having plotted to murder her, the choice was equally apt: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me . . .”
A gentle veil was drawn over the ugly months that led to the end of Joe Korp’s life – out of compassion for him, for his family, and especially for the youngest child he left behind.
Damian Korp, 11, sat drawn and spent, shadows under his eyes, in the front row of the church where he had only last week farewelled his mother. The orphan boy had been brought in through a side door of the church to protect him from the waiting media.
Joe Korp’s brother, Gust, wearing a Collingwood scarf with his dark suit, played chief mourner. He lit the candle to begin the service, and stood briefly at the lectern to speak.
His eulogy took only a minute. He talked of his brother’s love of sport, especially cricket and basketball, and how he would go anywhere any time to organise a basketball game.
“He brought joy to a lot of Victoria,” he said. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
It would have been a difficult service for a civil celebrant. What could safely be said about a man who had been outed, in a blaze of national publicity, as an adulterer, an internet-sex swinger, and an accused conspirator in a plot to murder his wife? About a media manipulator who had committed suicide on the day of his wife’s funeral, reportedly leaving behind a videotape and autobiography to be sold to the highest bidder?
But Father Justin Woodford, the associate priest at the Catholic Church of Our Lady Help of Christians, in East Brunswick, was not at a loss. He was able to turn to God. He reminded the 120 or so mourners – fewer than came to farewell Maria – that Joe had been photographed for a newspaper holding a crucifix. “Joe also knew crucifixion,” he said. “He knew pain and sorrow . . . We pray that he be embraced by a compassionate God, but also by a compassionate people.”
He said the judgements made by people were often harsher than those made by the courts, and suggested there was only one being in a position to know the truth: “He knew all sorts of people but, in the end, there was only one person who knew Joe inside and out and back to front, and that was his God.”
The service was at noon. Father Woodford would not have heard that, in this case, the Supreme Court had sheeted home a harsh judgement that Joe Korp bore a considerable moral responsibility for what had happened to his wife.
But here, Joe Korp was mourned. His younger sister, Val, whom he had wanted to speak at his funeral, stood to read a poem she had written, much of it strangled by her sobs.
“You’ve been the best big brother,” she told him, and: “We knew you were suffering, but we didn’t know your mind . . . Rest in peace.”
As his parents, his siblings and his three children by two marriages stood beside his coffin at the end of the service, Father Woodford read a letter from Damian. “I will remember . . . how you taught me to play basketball, how you taught me to use the computer . . . I’ll remember you because you are my Dad.”
Throughout the service, women sat with eyes closed and tears stealing down their cheeks. To an outsider, who knew him only through “Mum-in-the-boot” headlines, perhaps the strangest twist in the Korp case is the realisation that Joe Korp was deeply loved.
Maria Korp’s coffin had been wheeled out of the church. Joe Korp was raised on the shoulders of his brothers and friends, and carried high and proud down the aisle. In his wake, more than a dozen black-clad women, led by his mother, Florence, clung to each other.
A woman’s voice drifted over the mourners: He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

First published in The Age.

Accidental heroes

When tragedies happen, it’s the heroes we cling to. But what makes a hero? Karen Kissane reports.

Everybody loves a hero – except, for a time, the hero himself. Two months ago, after Cranbourne resident John Leusenkamp helped rescue children from a burning car, he started getting calls.
“You have people ringing up and straight away going, `Hero hero hero!’ on the phone, and I’m thinking, `Who are you? F. . . off!’
“A bit later on, it sounds all right; people appreciate what you’ve done. But in the beginning you don’t even want to know about that side of it because you’re pretty depressed straight after it, with what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard. I was face to face with what went on in that car; what you see on Hollywood movies with cars exploding and people burning, that’s nothing.”

He is still struggling with flashbacks of the children’s suffering – one of the boys, nine-year-old Chad Clay, later died from his burns – and with trying to make sense of such random destruction. “Why does it have to happen to children? They haven’t even had a life yet.”

Leusenkamp, a carpet tiler, is a hero in the classic Australian mode: an ordinary bloke suddenly confronted with extraordinary circumstances who hurls himself into protecting others. The Bali blast saw many of them, including some who might never be named because they died as strangers trying to rescue other strangers. This week’s shooting at Monash University, in which lecturers and a student tackled a heavily armed gunman, added three more to the list of local heroes.

Why do some people leap into heroic action while others freeze or flee? What is it like for them afterwards? Does becoming a hero, like winning the lottery, have as much capacity to ruin a life as it does to enrich it? And why does the rest of the world, as personified by Leusenkamp’s unwanted callers, have such a need to fasten on to them?

Dr Bob Montgomery, a Queensland clinical psychologist who counsels trauma victims and who has co-authored a book on coping with crisis, says many heroes have something in common: training. In an emergency, most people have the normal human response of emotional freezing; their thinking narrows and they become focused only on escape.

“They will do things to survive that they are ashamed of later,” he says. “A man caught in a football crush in Britain panicked. He clambered on top of everyone else and walked over their heads. Later, he felt immensely guilty . . . but he escaped while others were killed.”

The few who do heroic, constructive things “often are people who have had special training: off-duty firemen or policemen, ambulance officers”, he says.

What about the human bucket brigade in Bali, the group of young men who lined up to help others clamber over a fence to escape the Sari Club fire? One would have taken the lead and the others would have followed, he suggests.

“You only need a small number of people to set the pace, and that will come from someone with training or from someone who’s just a remarkably robust individual.”

It’s not hard to find examples to prove his rule. Lee Gordon-Brown, the lecturer who tackled the Monash gunman despite having been shot himself, was a former airforce engineer, and the student who went to his aid, Alistair Boast, was a kung fu expert.

Senior Constable Stuart White recently received a bravery award for hauling a would-be suicide out of the path of an on-coming train with only seconds to spare. He says he had been trained in how to tackle people and had experience of racing down train tracks. “I knew the stones were more solidly packed in the middle and loose on the side, and that if you’re on the loose stuff you’ll roll an ankle and go off.”

But there are also many heroes such as Leusenkamp who have had no preparation for their moment of truth. Katie Steadman was a 17-year-old Queensland high school student when she helped save her two nephews from a fire and raced back into the burning house to try to rescue her two-year-old niece, Mikayla. She was beaten back by the heat and later nearly died from her injuries, which included full-thickness burns to 70 per cent of her body and the loss of her lower left leg.

She is now a chirpy 19-year-old, with a spare waterproof prosthetic leg so she can water-ski. Despite her scarring, Steadman has no regrets about her rescue attempt, other than the big one: that Mikayla still died.

She is as modest as all the others interviewed for this story. Her mantra, like theirs, is “I don’t see myself as a hero. I feel I did something that any person would do.” But she acknowledges she has “talked to people who say that they would never have been able to put their life on the line like that”.

Altruism is a mystery to Darwinians, says Dr Karen Jones, lecturer in philosophy at Melbourne University. “There’s a puzzle about how altruism evolved because it looks like it might not enhance your own fitness to do altruistic acts.”

She says research suggests that altruism is a complex interaction between the person and the situation. Social psychologists once set up an experiment in which seminarians (trainees for the priesthood) were invited to Princeton University to lecture on the tale of the Good Samaritan. The need for good deeds should have been at the forefront of their minds.

On the way, they passed a staged situation in which a distressed person looked to be in need of help. But whether they stopped of help. But whether they stopped depended simply on whether or not they had been told they were running late for their lecture.

Australia is ambivalent about its heroes. People feel moved and proud to hear of them. Heroes are also comforting social tranquillisers; reassurance of good in the midst of evil and of the possibility of triumph, or at least integrity, in the face of catastrophe.

But according to Graeme Davison, professor of Australian history at Monash University, Australia also has a strongly democratic, anti-heroic streak. “Forty years ago, we used to rejoice in the fact that we had few heroes and the ones we did have were people like Ned Kelly or `types’, such as the Anzac . . . It’s a big sin in Australia to take yourself too seriously or place yourself on a pedestal.”

Heroes will wryly agree. Ask them how their friends and colleagues responded and it is always a tale of chiacking. When Inspector Peter Dinan and another officer rescued 11 people from a fire in 1980, their colleagues said: “The lengths some people will go to get noticed.” Stuart White was told: “There’s a thin line between bravery and stupidity.”
Perhaps it is that cutting down to size that leads to many heroes downplaying their achievement and the fulfilment it must bring them. But 20 years after his rescue effort, Dinan still cherishes the memory. “It’s an absolute privilege to have saved someone. There’s definitely three people still alive simply because we stopped to investigate (smoke). I’ll always remember it. I could imagine a brain surgeon would feel the same thing taking a tumour out of someone’s head. It’s terrific.”

Below the public teasing runs an undercurrent of admiration and, in the face of a tragedy as large as the Bali bombings, it becomes open and generous. Montgomery says: “Society wants heroes partly because we want someone we can admire and identify with, who sets a good example and gives us hope that if anything really dreadful happened there might be someone to help me, or I might be able to help someone myself”.

Heroes are particularly important as a reassurance of goodness when the emergency has involved deliberate harm, says Dr Beverley Raphael. She is the director of the NSW Centre for Mental Health and, as a pyschiatrist, has been called in to help after many disasters, including the Granville train wreck, Cyclone Tracey, the Ash Wednesday bushfires and the Newcastle earthquake. “Bali was different to a natural disaster; all of us are having trouble coming to terms with the horror of people’s malevolence, and that’s a whole stressor in itself,” she says.

There are cultures in which the great heroes of the nation are warriors, honoured for their triumphs on the battlefield. Australia is not one of them. After World War I, Albert Jacka received a Victoria Cross for the way he had taken on and killed the enemy in combat. Today few people know of him. Our household names are not fighters but saviours: Simpson and his donkey at Gallipoli, army surgeon Weary Dunlop on the Burma Railway.

Davison says the adulation of such men is sometimes an attempt to redress some kind of social imbalance. With the death of Weary Dunlop in 1993, Davison says many older people expressed concern that he was the last great Australian hero, and that young people would feel the lack. “They were looking towards heroes as providing of kind of moral centre for a society which seemed to be badly in need of it.”

He says this decade, heroes might be providing balance for the economic rationalist emphasis on individualism and personal success: “The hero is, above all, someone who does things for others rather than for himself. (The public’s response) might be partly born out of a sense of a need for community solidarity.”
The hero of myth, according to writer Joseph Campbell, was someone who was removed from ordinary life, had fabulous adventures and returned to ordinary life transformed, aware of the eternal truths and able to offer boons to others. Research suggests that the same can be true of real-life heroes, but that their odyssey might need to include a stop at a therapist’s.

Heroes are probably just as likely as anyone else to suffer post-traumatic stress, Raphael says. “People who have been able to be active often feel stronger afterwards, but they’re also often torn by feelings of `Why did I survive when others didn’t?’ ”
And, just like any victim of horror, they can develop post-trauma symptoms: reliving the event through nightmares and flashbacks; emotional numbing; and hyper-arousal, which leads to irritability, poor concentration and sleep problems.

Leusenkamp has found that becoming a hero “messes with your head, especially because there’s children involved. You have trouble sleeping. I still go into my own little world with thoughts and that. It’s hard to get motivated, concentrate on anything. I’ve shied off my mates. I just can’t seem to get back into my routine.”

And even heroes sometimes reproach themselves for not having done enough. Raphael says that, in a crisis, a person’s perception of time is distorted and reality unfolds in slow motion, leaving the person wondering if there had been time to do more.Katie Steadman agrees: “Although I was in the house for only about five seconds, my mind slowed down that whole process like I was there for 10 minutes.”

What was left undone might haunt some of the Bali victims, who told of walking past injured people begging for help because they were searching for their mates or loved ones. “They dissociated from those victims while they looked for people they felt a closer bond for. In a way, that’s what health professionals do every day when they deal with suffering,” Montgomery says.

As for the eternal truths, heroes, like other people who have faced sudden death and disaster, often emerge determined to spend more time with their family. Raphael’s research has found that many examine whether they are happy with their work, and some search for ways to make the world a better place.

Sometimes their hero status can be a heavy burden: “They have got to live up to this image, and their ordinary feelings of weakness and grief and horror and fear are hard for them to deal with. It’s stamped on them forever; it’s expected that they will keep on doing it when at other times they might actually be feeling fearful or depressed.”

It has helped Leusenkamp that he has made friends with the family he helped to save: “I get to see the kids a bit. I never knew them before that (car fire), so I only had one vision of what they were like, and seeing them sort of takes that memory away.”

Steadman has had to give up her dream of joining the police force – she is now a hero and a dental assistant – and the experience has changed her life in other ways, too. “I live for the day; I don’t look too far ahead.” She has also taken up again with her old boyfriend, who supported her strongly during her months of recovery. “Before, like any young teenage girl, I used to think, `I can get this guy, that guy’. Now I look inside people and not at personal appearances,” she says. She did have nightmares, but they stopped when she went home after three months in hospital. At home, she says, she doesn’t have to be a hero.

Karen Kissane is an Age senior writer.

Brave words

It feels good that I was responsible from stopping this guy from doing what he intended to do.

– Sandro de Maria (above), on helping to disarm convicted killer Peter Knight, who shot dead a security guard at an East Melbourne abortion clinic.

I know we’re all going to die.

Three of us are going to do something about it. Love you, honey.

– Thomas Burnett (above), on the phone to his wife, Deena, before he and others forced flight 93 to crash in rural Pennsylvania rather than the White House on September 11, 2001.

First published in The Age.