Friday, June 25, 2010

You go, girl!

It’s great to hear that Australia’s new Prime Minister is on the left of the Labor Party and clearly an operator, given the circumstances of her appointment. And yes, she just happens to also be the first woman Prime Minister of Australia.

Julia Gillard was born in Wales but her family emigrated to Australia when she was four. They settled in Adelaide, the capital of progressive South Australia, which in 1894 was the first to give women the vote in state elections, and one of the first female enfranchisements in the world. After a career as a solicitor, she now represents a Melbourne suburb in the Federal Parliament. Gillard is childfree by choice and unmarried; she cohabits with her (male) hairdresser partner. No children and no bad hair days – I think we’d get on. But of course the lack of marriage and children have been used against her by the media and will be again as she gets down to the tough business of governing Australia.

The new Prime Minister is clearly a terrific role model. I remember when we were in Australia for Christmas 2008, reading about her being sent hundreds of Christmas cards and presents from women who admired her. I can’t imagine any UK or Irish woman politician being regarded with that much affection. There was also great excitement for a week around that time, when both the Labor and Liberal leaders were out of the country and both deputy leaders were women (Julie Bishop was, and still is, the Liberal Party’s Deputy Leader). Much was made of that week’s Question Time, with the two women head to head. It may have then that the possibility of a woman PM caught the popular imagination.

Of course now is a terrible time to be a politician anywhere, and in Australia the next federal elections have to take place by April 2011. I do hope Gillard won’t go down in Australian history as one of the shortest serving PMs as well as the first woman.

P.S. Thanks to Seymour Major for this list of woman Prime Ministers

Friday, June 4, 2010

Note to culchies

To a work residential at a location outside Belfast, set in beautiful countryside, seen at its best in this weather. The event went well and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful, including providing us with a delicious evening meal based around the theme of the day, and a late bar.

The next morning, myself and a colleague were chatting to the receptionist after returning our room keys, saying what a good time had been had by all, and how suitable the venue was for the mix of study and socialising which we’d succeeded in providing for our students. I thought it was fairly obvious from the direction of the conversation that we were both with the group from Queen’s.

And then she turns to me and says, pleasantly, ‘are you on holiday here?’

I take a look behind me, in case someone else wants to join in the conversation. No, she means mé féin. And then the penny drops – it’s the accent. The accent I forget about 90% of the time and was most aware of a couple of weeks ago when visiting England, because it’s so unusual to be in a place where everyone else speaks like me.

Leaving aside the question of how I could be either a member of staff or a student at Queen’s if I were on holiday, I assured her that no, I’d lived in Northern Ireland for ten years, that I was the fifth generation of my family to live in Belfast, and that I hold dual nationality.

‘And I do find that kind of question a bit annoying, to be honest’ I added, with typical English understatement.

Obviously she apologised and said she hadn’t meant to cause offence, but the incident took the shine off the visit for me. It drew a line. It said, if you are different, even if the circumstances make it overwhelmingly likely that you are a resident of the jurisdiction, you probably aren’t. And this is the ‘hospitality’ industry.

A more serious point is that this institution has quite a lot of contact with universities, but doesn’t seem to realise that we recruit internationally for staff, and increasingly also for students. Certainly, if we use the place again for work functions – which I still hope we will – I’ll have a word beforehand about diversity awareness.

The incident reminded me of this one a couple of years ago, which also took place outside Belfast. Nowadays, in Belfast itself, I don’t think anyone is surprised to encounter foreign residents. Some people may not like them very much, but the automatic reaction to someone with a different appearance or accent is no longer an assumption that they’re just visiting.

So here’s a note for culchies:

There are some people living in NI who weren’t born here.

Some of us have chosen to come and live here, strange though it may appear to you.

Some of us quite like it.

And some people even make us feel welcome.