My friend and colleague Craig Wallace delivered this speech this week at the White Flower memorial. That memorial in Sydney was significantly organised by powerful disability activists Samantha Connor and Suzy Keene with assistance from some others. I commend Craig’s speech to all who weren’t aware of the level of death and violence perpetrated to people with disability. Thank you to all of you who remind us of this because we must NEVER forget.
Sincerely – Suresh Rajan.
“We Remember” – by Craig Wallace
Thanks, Suzy and like you I acknowledge that we meet on the lands of indigenous people.
That is an important acknowledgment because today we are speaking about other events that have been parked for too long in our history.
Because when my European ancestors came out here 227 years ago they didn’t just bring convicts and invasion. They also brought the borstals, the Asylums, the orphanages and the cruel history of places like Bedlam. They brought the misguided therapies.
They brought buildings that had attics and imported attics of the mind that fed us the lie that disability and illness was something to be feared, enclosed and shut away.
And it was Paul Keating who said in a speech not far from here in 1992 that the atrocities committed against first peoples resulted from a failure of the imagination. An inability to imagine these things being done to us.
Well the disabled people we remember today are us but for the grace of god. They are disabled people like us. They were human beings like us. They had feelings like us. So it’s about time we named it. Under the guise of law, medicine, therapy, family and charity terrible things were done.
People like us were chained in cots and forced to lie in their excrement.
People like us were beaten.
People like us were starved and denied water.
People like us were raped.
People like us were imprisoned.
People like us were murdered.
And it wasn’t called murder. And it wasn’t called rape.
And all of these things were done and wrapped in euphemisms for one real reason. Because they were like us. Because they looked like us. Because they communicated like us. Because they had bodies, genes and minds that were disabled. They had disabled minds that didn’t fit the mould. And disabled bodies like our bodies. Like my body.
So today we say we are with you. We remember you. We reclaim you. We are not ashamed of you.
We love you and believe you to be worthy and capable of love. You are our kind.
And in your name we shall fight for those who are still beaten, imprisoned and chained. And we will never ever stop until every institution is closed and all of us are free.
There are years when the arc of history turns and an issue becomes central and irresistible. When many forces crash into place. In 2013 that arrived for disability support through the NDIS. Australia said no person with a disability should be forced to survive on two showers a week. That we should not beg for equipment or respite.
This year we confront another truth. We say that no person should ever be assaulted, imprisoned, murdered or tortured because they are like us. We say there are no exceptions. We reject the idea that disability is a provocation for parental murder in the same way that what you wear is a provocation to rape. Or that gay panic is a defence for murder. We did not invite our persecution.
This is the year that we heard time after time about abuse of children with disability in institutions through the Royal Commission.
A Senate inquiry into abuse and neglect of people with disability heard from hundreds of people with disability.
The Uncounted told the stories of people without names living lives of pain buried without mourning.
And this collective shame demands a response. I call for redress. I call for a national royal commission into abuse in institutions. I call for a national day of mourning and monuments to the dead to be erected at the places where they were neglected by the State and ploughed into the ground.
But first of all, I call for them to be remembered. For their names and stories to be said out loud in the sunlight amongst people who loved them. For them to at last be granted the most basic grace and dignity of a memorial. Music to be played, white flowers laid and bells to be tolled. And at least today we can begin this as a disabled community.
And I invite Samantha Connor who for more than a year now has been slowly piecing together the stories of the uncounted people with disability to share these with us & for you to join with us in granting them a moment of prayer, memory and remembrance.