From a Commodore to an SUV: We can all be role models for an upgraded version of the Aussie bloke
“We had Christmas morning, and it was really good. She wanted to go over and see her uncle and auntie. So we drove over there, and when we drove over, they were all punching on. The brothers and sisters and everyone were having big punch on, and it really just shocked me.”
Garry Kafoa is recounting the ‘penny-drop’ moment when he realised that other people in his community had different values to the ones that he was brought up with. The moment he realised what family violence looked like, and how endemic it is in the Australian way of life.
He’s sitting across from me in the Men and Family Centre in Lismore. We’re recording a conversation for a series of podcasts about addressing the causes of domestic and family violence.
The room we’re in is like a small classroom, with a whiteboard and wooden floorboards. It’s a space that hosts a variety of group programs for men and women to help them build more respectful personal relationships and stronger families.
It’s a room where people, and especially men, have conversations that they would otherwise rarely have in their normal day-to-day lives. I’ve been here with men as they open up about their insecurities, speak candidly about their inner thoughts and their personal behaviour.
It’s not a room where men come to egg each other on, or to complain about how someone else has treated them. It’s a room where individuals are held accountable for their actions, and their reactions.
It’s a room where frank conversations often lead to similar penny-drop moments – moments when people realise just how their behaviour has affected others, and when rationalisations are exposed as mere excuses.
(And yes, I’ve had a few moments like that in this room too.)
It’s also a room where people get inspired. It’s where men and women find out that their own challenges are not unique. Where people find a sense of community, and find hope through the way other people have handled and dealt with adversity.
But this is a slightly different conversation. I want to know how we can change the template for Australian men.
Changing the template doesn’t mean killing off the Australian male, it just means changing our expectations, making the definition of an “ Aussie bloke” broader.
It means adding new some improved features to our model of blokedom, like being able to show extra compassion, and understanding – qualities many men have, but feel forced to shut down or hide.
It means changing our expectations of young men, so they stop taking their lives because they feel they don’t fit into, or haven’t lived up to, an overly restrictive stereotype of male success.
Trading up, if you like, from an old Commodore to a modern SUV.
LOOK INSIDE BEFORE YOU JUDGE
It seems to me that the way to spark that change is through the power of example, and through the power of positive role models.
And that’s why I’m talking to Garry.
His story is a remarkable yarn in itself. He grew up in the Tweed region as a Minjungbul man with Torres Strait Islander heritage. After years of working as a professional fisherman, a life-threatening health condition forced him to change course, and he dedicated his working life to helping others.
Garry now has a wealth of experience on the frontline of community services, working with drug and alcohol dependency, Garry knows a bit about the need for kids to have positive role models, and he also knows how to have uncomfortable but honest conversations.
“You’ve got to look inside people,” he says.
“You need to find out who they are, and find out what their trauma is, what’s happened to them in the past.
“A lot of people won’t tell you that, but once they get to know and trust you, they’ll open up.
“And once they open up … they don’t stop. They tell you everything!”
Garry says the best role models aren’t necessarily people who have lived faultless lives. In fact, people with “lived experience” can provide the powerful example for others.
“They’ve lived the life, they know what they did wrong, [and] they want to share that.
“These are the people who can really make a difference.”
In other words, the role of ‘role model’ is open to anyone who has made a mistake along the way. And frankly, that’s pretty much all of us.
If you’ve made a mistake, you can learn from it. And if you can learn from it, you can teach someone else.
Of course, the example we pass on to others can be good and bad. We are all role models to the next generation and our own, whether we like it or not.
We all have the power to choose the type of behaviour that we role model for others, and we have a responsibility to use that power wisely.
It’s important to think about this in the context of violence against women.
The statistics present a bleak story:
On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner;
1 in 3 Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15;
1 in 5 Australian women has experienced sexual violence since the age of 15; and
1 in 3 Australian women (34.2%) has experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by a man since the age of 15. (https://www.ourwatch.org.au/quick-facts/)
These horrifying statistics are underpinned societal attitudes that encourage men to be assertive, demanding and even violent in order to get what we want.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. We can all trade up to a better model of masculinity.
And we can all start having conversations about respectful behaviour with our kids, our colleagues and our mates.
Try it, and see how you go.
As Garry says, “you’ve just got to lead the way.”
Stewart Prins is the President of the Men and Family Centre, a not-for-profit community organisation that supports safe and respectful relationships, based on Bundjalung country in Northern NSW. You can hear his yarn with Garry Kafoa at https://soundcloud.com/the-bugle-aus