Please prepare to write a letter. Gather your wits. Gather pen, paper, envelope and a stamp. Or prepare your keyboard. Now read on:
Around 1985 my former classmate Hilary rolled her car and fractured her seventh cervical vertebra. The damage to Hilary’s spinal cord resulted in her quadriplegia: for the past thirty-odd years – half of her lifetime to date – Hilary has ridden a wheelchair.
When your legs don’t work, when your hands are too weak to crack an egg, when your bladder and bowel are deaf to the commands of the brain, you need a lot of help. Hilary receives a lot of help. Good help is proverbially hard to find. And easy to lose. Hilary is about to lose Ilaisaane, one of her two good helpers.
I visited Hilary a couple of days ago and I met Ilaisaane. I hadn’t seen Hilary since we left school. That was half a century ago. It’s not as if Hilary lives far from me. It is not as if I had not heard of her situation. I felt a horror, the primitive horror of looking misfortune in full gaze and I kept a coward’s distance, a guilty silence.
I walked through the door and there was Hilary and there was the schoolgirl grin. As a child Hilary grinned at life; nothing and no-one seemed able to cow her. Plenty of us tried. And here was Hilary, offering me a hand, thin as a wafer, the fingers fine and delicate and very white. Her handclasp light as fairy floss. And that grin, so vital, so charged with – there! I can’t avoid it – charged with hilarity. Hilary introduced me to her carer.
The name is Tongan. With her ready smile and her winning manner Ilaiasaane may be hard on the tongue but she is easy on the eye. The two ladies gave me some Tongan elocution training. You pronounce the name, ‘ill-eye-saah–neh’. Hilary calls her, ‘my beloved Saane’.
I asked Saane, ‘What do you do for Hilary?’ Uncertain how candidly she should respond, Saane looked towards Hilary. Hilary said, ‘Everything.’ ‘Everything’ includes cooking, preparing, serving, clearing of meals. It includes showering, dressing, undressing. It includes the most intimate elements of personal hygiene and toilet. The needs of a human body arise by day and by night. The carer needs stamina and a sense of humour. The person cared for depends utterly upon the carer; she must surrender autonomy. Dignity hangs in the balance: either party can fracture it. Rage must be the natural state of a person whose body will not obey her, but grace is the quality she needs. Few would possess that quality. I wondered that this person, known until now only as that unformed being, the schoolchild, might.
As Ilaisaane and I talked, I wondered who’d want to deport this charming, mild, good humoured person. She didn’t strike me as a danger to Australia. The opposite seems to be the fact: while here she has become a State Enrolled Nurse, studying in her Hilary-free days. She plans to become a Registered Nurse. Meanwhile she works, Hilary pays for her help, and Ilaiasaane pays taxes. Hilary herself works from home, spares the government costs of institutional care and pays taxes.
I asked Hilary how she earns her living. ‘I’m a social worker. I see and counsel clients here, at my home. I specialise in working with male family violence. I also run reflective supervision groups for other therapists.’
I nodded. Numerous psychologists of my acquaintance are her paying clients. I had a further question: ‘So, all three of you – Iliasaane, you and O.G. – all pay taxes. And losing your carer could tip you into institutional care? In that case, the Commonwealth of Australia foots endless bills for your care while losing three sources of income tax?
‘If those are questions they are three not one. And the answers are “yes”, “yes” and “yes.”’
So what is the problem here? The problem is the man smiling in the photo. His name is Ogolotse. ‘You say the ‘G’ as ‘H’, Ilaisaane informs. Hilary refers to him as O.G.
O.G. comes from Botswana. Years ago he studied Multimedia at RMIT. After graduating he returned to Botswana and worked in television before returning here, completing a Masters degree at RMIT, then working in his professional field on a skilled worker’s visa. That employment has evaporated in a mist of obfuscation. As a result O.G.’s visa lapses. And we will shortly evict him.
Why should we care?
Hilary explains: ‘It takes a long time to find a good carer, a longer time to train her. She needs to be able to work around the clock. Saane works 38 hours over three days, plus 3 sleepovers. She’s been with me five years…’ Unspoken is the bond, the intimacy and the trust between the two women. I feel it flow as I sit between them, like a warming current of regard. Hilary continues: ‘We have a hearing at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on August 28. That’s a favourable sign; we have a chance. On the other hand our lawyer has sacked O.G. because he can’t pay the legal fees. We’ve been advised we need one thousand physical letters of support to appeal for ministerial discretion to produce at the hearing.’
I WOULD NOT NORMALLY ASK A READER OF THIS BLOG TO FORWARD ANY POST OF MINE TO EVERYONE SHE KNOWS, BUT I DO SO IN THIS CASE.
HILARY ADVISES WRITING A LETTER TO THE MINISTER THEN EMAILING IT TO HER SO SHE CAN PRINT AND PRESENT A LARGE BUNDLE AT THE HEARING. AND IF THE TRIBUNAL RULES AGAINST THEM, ALL LETTERS WILL BE FORWARDED TO THE MINISTER TO BOLSTER A MINISTERIAL REVIEW.
1. Address letter to:
The Hon Peter Dutton
Minister of Immigration
2. Copy letter to Hilary at firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Draft letter (sample follows)
Dear Minister Dutton
IN SUPPORT OF OGOLOTSE NTWAAGAE AND ILAISAANE POPUA KALAVI
I, the undersigned, wish to express my alarm that this couple, named above, could be dismissed from Australia. I believe them to be excellent, honest, hardworking people.
I have heard about Ms Kalavi’s employment as a carer for a social worker who has quadriplegia. Ms Kalavi shares this job with one other person, so her work there is vital to the woman’s wellbeing and continuing to be a productive member of society. I have no doubt that if Ms Kalavi had to leave suddenly it would cause a damaging crisis in this woman’s life.
Ms Kalavi works as the woman’s carer for 38 hours a week plus sleepovers. She has been with her a long time, for 5 years. That level of training and familiarity would be extremely hard to replace, especially given how hard it is to find compatible staff for such a close relationship.
I urge you to grant residency to this couple as soon as possible.
(Passport No. – OR – Driver’s Licence No. – OR – Medicare No.)
4. Hold your breath, say your prayers, hope that your ordinary goodness will pierce a minister’s heart.
And accept my heartfelt thanks,