A Year of Darkness and Loss

It’s been months since I’ve posted anything to this blog. What had started as a year of hope and opportunity has turned into a catastrophe.

I want to say it all started with the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25th, but it didn’t. He wasn’t the first unarmed black man to be killed by the police and there have been too many killed since then. Meanwhile, over 400 Indigenous Australians have died in custody since 1991, and no-one is paying attention.

I want to say it started on the 9th of January when the first person dies of Covid-19, but it didn’t. The origin of the deadly virus is still unknown, though there are reports of it as far back as November 2019.

For me, it started on January 24th when Aiki Flinthart, a writer I’d worked with and become friends with through an on-line writing community announced she had been diagnosed with cancer. She’s more than a wife and a mother, more than a brilliant and engaging writer, more than a fearless warrior, she is an inspiration. She has contributed immensely to the world of Australian Speculative Fiction through not only her many diverse series (The Kalima Chronicles, the 80AD series, the Ruadhan Sidhe series) but also through books like Fight Like a Girl, an excellent guide to help writing fight scenes for female characters, and How to Get a Black Belt in Writing. After reading several of her books and short stories, I was utterly convinced that there wasn’t anything she could write that I would not want to read. She proved me wrong with the words “metastatic melanoma” shortly followed with “three brain tumours and one lung tumour.”

The Black Lives Matter protests and counter-protests, the footage of over-the-top police brutality and people being dragged off the street and into unmarked cars by police officers, and the continual killing of unarmed black individuals by police – over four months later – has highlighted institutional racism and has changed how the police are viewed all over the world. And this is needed. In Australia, since 1991’s inquest into Indigenous Deaths in Custody, 439 First Nations people have died in police custody.
Guess how many police officers or correctional officers have been convicted of any involvement?
It appears that racism is so ingrained within our judicial systems that there can be no justice. There are many similarities between the institutional racism in America and Australia that have allowed this to happen. But the biggest similarity is that the problem isn’t going to be fixed just by sweeping it under the rug and hoping for the best.

For several weeks there, Victorians braced ourselves for the state premier’s daily update on the Covid-19 new cases. We had been hit by a second wave and hit hard – the figures were terrifying. But just as terrifying had been the public’s response. The Covid-deniers, saying it’s “no worse than the flu” while in the background their TV showed images of the mass graves being built in New York City. Horror stories of the Covidiots who have been diagnosed as having the deadly illness and have then proceeded to go into work or go to the shops. And worse still are those who blame the second wave on the premier, saying it is his fault that people have chosen to disobey the restrictions and refused to quarantine themselves, and decrying the restrictions that have been imposed in the same breath. While the Prime Minister has shirked all responsibility, while Trump has suggested it’s a hoax or used it to incite hostility against China, the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been listening to and following the advice of the Cheif Medical Officer. There is no doubt in my mind that of the three, it is Andrews who is least likely to win the next election and retain his seat.

This year I have begun working with the small publishing company Deadset Press. Through this role, I have proof-read and edited a number of Aiki Flinthart’s wonderful short stories for publication in the Zodiac series. Each time it had caused no small amount of heartache, and I haven’t been able to stop myself from wondering if that will be the last of her stories I have the chance to help publish. I may be biased, but I like to think that of all artists, writers share more of themselves than other artists. Through their words, they share their worlds. They tell the tales of their experience. They give us their hopes of a better future, of their perfect worlds. Each story is an insight into their soul; their passions, their fears, their hopes, and their past. The one thing I know for sure about Aiki is that she is a fighter. She is going to fight with everything she’s got. And who knows, she just might win.

In the end though, death comes for us all, and far too soon that we’d want it. It came for Breonna Taylor too soon. For David Dungay Jr, whose last words (while being held down by six corrections officers) were “I can’t breathe.” It came too soon for so many who could have been spared from Covid-19 had their leaders taken the threat seriously.
We are reaching the end of 2020, and I can assure you that the year is not done with us yet. Those of us who get through have an obligation to make sure no-one else is taken too soon. We must fight against Cancer, we must fight against Covid-19, we must fight against the systematic inequality that allows for so many to be killed by the police or while in custody.

*The Aussie Speculative Fiction group is creating a Charity Anthology with all proceeds going to the Melanoma Institute of Australia. Find out more here. Make sure you visit Aiki Flinthart’s website to learn more about her, her books and her writing guides.

*For more about Indigenous Deaths in Custody, go here.

(Originally Published September 2020)

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