In Conversation with Lannah Sawers-Diggins

In 2014 we are honouring Ambassadors for “The Decade of Lateral Love™ Around the World 2012 – 2022” with a special Interview Series

Lateral Love™ Ambassadors are talking about their life journey especially for you.

Join us as Lannah Sawers-Diggins shares some of her amazing life with us.

Lannah Sawers-Dickens

Who are you?

I am Lannah Sawers-Diggins. I am a wife (of 32 years – very proud of that) and mum to two very successful adult daughters (also that). I am a published author, columnist for several publications, freelance journo, photographer and advocate for a couple of causes. I am absolutely passionate about all that I do – well, just about all – not sure about the housework and ironing!

Where are you from?

I originate from a sheep station in the outback of South Australia. But I have lived in Perth for most of my life.

Where and when were you born?

I was born in Medindie, Adelaide in November, 1955. Making me 59 years young!

Tell us about your family

My husband is a born and raised Western Australian. He is in the public service and is involved in his local Rotary Club, also a keen rower and he plays tennis regularly. My eldest daughter (who got engaged on New Year’s Day) is a successful architect living and working up in Broome – she LOVES life up there and her lovely fiancé, also an architect, also lives up there. They have the best lifestyle. They are the parents of a gorgeous Eclectus Parrot. Youngest daughter is a journalist and has just landed a position as journo/writer for a couple of local magazines. She is also a published author and has done a stint as journo for WTV in Perth.

As for my parents – both are deceased. Our family station was managed by my father and his brother for many years – we did our primary schooling by School of the Air (as it was then) and correspondence school, before being sent down to boarding school. My eldest brother now lives in the Philippines with his girlfriend. Middle brother lives alone in Melbourne (loves it) and youngest brother and wife commute between Adelaide and the station and Tasmania where my sister-in-law’s family comes from.

Can you share with us about your early life and upbringing?

As mentioned above, my childhood and teens were spent on our family sheep station in South Australia. I absolutely loved my childhood – and school holidays during my teens were nothing short of fantastic – superb memories. But as for boarding school – therein lies a nightmare of six hideous years of bullying. But that’s another story. On the station, we were pretty well raised in isolation – we did not mix with any other children – being too far away from any and with roads and transport being what they were in those days – well, it just wasn’t possible. My cousins lived next door to us (a short walk) and we did have them, but while we all appreciated each other and did enjoy their company – we were all completely different and clashed a lot. Not easy when you are living out there. I developed a love for art and writing early in the piece and this has been resurrected now with everything that I do.  Our only real contact with other children was our very rare visits to Adelaide and the annual get-together for School of the Air. And in those days, that was pretty well it.

Who played the biggest role in your upbringing?

Now, this I am not sure about. Given the above and that I had very little interaction with anyone much up until I was sent to boarding school at the ripe old age of 11. So I guess my parents would have been right up there – and my cousin who was six months younger than me but had huge self-confidence, something which I lacked badly. We are no longer close.

What do you remember most about your schooling?

Believe it or not, one of the biggest memories that comes to mind from my childhood is the old radio set and microphone which we used for School of the Air. I can clearly remember the smell, touch, feel, sound of it as if it was yesterday. Amazing. That love of art and writing also remains a big memory from those days. As for my senior schooling – my bullying.  Those entire six years are a nightmare and I am now writing a book describing the whole thing. The happiest memory from secondary school is the school holidays – and the very last day of school EVER.

Are there any particular High School memories that have stuck with you?

Ooooh, yes – as mentioned above – school holidays, that last day of school ever and bullying.

Tell us what experiences you encountered growing up?

Isolation – but didn’t know any better until I went to boarding school – then I LONGED for that isolation compared with the nightmare I endured from 11 years onward. There are a lot of good experiences, too, which occurred during the school holidays – which, as mentioned, hold some of the best memories possible for me. I recall some professors etc. from the University of Adelaide coming up to the station and visiting, searching for and researching the aboriginal carvings on the property as well as finding a few graves (on our station and nearby) and heaps of flints and other tools used by the aboriginal people who were on the land well before my family settled there. That was fascinating. My mother was a long time president of the local CWA and I do remember accompanying her for some of those meetings – and then the local races, which were always fun. They would have provided some of the rare chances we had of interacting with other children in the area.

Describe your personal life journey to date?

Goodness – how long have you got? I have briefly described my ‘unique’ childhood and nightmare secondary school life. After leaving school I held a variety of positions in Adelaide before finally being sent to Canberra to help out at the branch of the bank I was working for.  That gave me a taste of life away from Adelaide – and I LOVED it. I then went to Melbourne to work for their branch of the same bank. Then I left and headed overseas. I lived and worked in London for some months, travelled around the UK, did some family tree research in Scotland, travelled around Europe and Scandinavia before running out of money and flying home completely broke. I came back into Australia via Perth – and decided I wanted to settle here. And so I did.

I met and married my husband less than a year later and was a stay at home mum while raising our daughters. But doing this – I got bored. I really got bored. And sometimes I do wonder about myself as when I used to talk with other mums, all I would hear is how busy they are – with one or two babies. I think they were normal – and I was anything but. I was bored. I love my daughters to bits and think I did all the right things – they seem to have turned out OK – but I was bored. I tried various hobbies etc. – all of which bored me. The only thing I didn’t try and sorely wish I did – was turning back to my writing. As I say there is a lot to this and I have written about it – just everywhere but here, probably.

Can you tell us about some of your work history from your earliest jobs to some of your most memorable ones?

One of my very first jobs was as a nanny nurse in an orphanage in Adelaide. It was interesting but I realised quite early that I wasn’t cut out for that – not then, anyway.  Another position was with an engineering firm also in Adelaide – but I was fired due to lack of experience – in those days, there was nothing like ‘work experience’ that the kids have now – and there wasn’t any way to gain that experience except doing what I did – and then risking being fired for ‘lack of experience’! Then I began with a bank there – not as a teller – I was behind the scenes – again a position which no longer exists. That was the start of my interstate moves. Overseas I worked in a typing pool, briefly and when I returned to Perth, I went back to another bank – then I got married.  I had a position with Woodside for a while, then I temped for HBF and a couple of other little ‘things’ – and finally my most recent position had been for six years with a dietician in Perth – which ended last year – on rather an ‘odd’ note. I now work basically from home as a freelance journo, author, photographer and columnist.

Have you experienced Racism throughout your life?

Believe it or not, this question makes me feel quite ill. YES – absolutely – I have experienced racism. On a personal level, I have experienced it due to the fact that I am from the county – God forbid!! I also have a tinge of red in my hair – annnnnd – I have freckles! I am not sure that these would be considered racism but they certainly made me ‘different’, apparently.  But when it comes to background, skin colour, nationality, ethnicity – yes, it is there – hard and strong. Many of my family members (not my brothers but my parents were very racist) and my out-laws – all generations. Very rarely does a family function pass without some racist comment or other – I very often have to leave the room in pure disgust. But I also air my opinion – and it does not go down well. My husband is not racist – he is the only one in his family who is not racist and we have raised our daughters to be anything but. But it is well and truly out there.

What forms of Racism have you experienced?

As mentioned above – my own background – I am a country girl, I have freckles and that tinge of red hair. And as I say, while I am not sure that that constitutes Racism, apparently it did point me out as being ‘different’. But I am seeing Racism in relation to skin colour, background, ethnicity, religion etc. all the time.  And it is worldwide.

What do you see as some of the biggest barriers for people living in the outback including Aboriginal people?

They are from the country – the outback – which seems to be a barrier for all Australians, whoever they are. This is actually a difficult question to answer because what I ‘feel’ doesn’t seem to be the ‘normal’ way for non-Aboriginal people to feel. I deeply admire and respect people who have overcome adversity throughout their lives and are now reaching for the stars, some very successfully – and this admiration and respect is trebled when it comes to our Aboriginal people. People I would love to have more contact with and share my journalism skills to provide more outlets for positive voices – share with the world all of the achievements and true histories – despite colonisation. We have many Aboriginal people in the public eye in Australia – I would love to know their personal stories – how they got there – what they did to achieve their success. I do feel that the all people of outback Australia are overlooked and treated as ‘dumb country people’ – simply because of where we live.  Sorry but it all just makes me feel sick.

What do you see as the potential solutions to the barriers you have identified?

Again I am not sure of the answer but it is certainly something I would love to be involved with solving if it is at all possible. I would have to think about it. I am actually considering becoming involved with some of the political parties to see if I can help ‘make a difference’ somehow or other. I hate politics but if that’s one way to help, so be it.

What is the one thing you do to get your through the darkest of days when they present themselves?

Write.  I write.  And write and keep writing. That gets my mind away from it and normally pulls me right up. I do that when I am depressed and angry – and in any sort of negative mood.

What are your plans for the future?

To write, to help all people living in the outback, however I can, and to try to make a difference in the fight against bullying.

What do you think is needed to allow for Aboriginal people to equally contribute within Australian society?

I am not sure. Until the general attitude of white Australia changes – which is something I would hope we are all working towards – I’m really not sure. But then, many Aboriginal people are pure examples that it can be done and they are equally contributing – which is why I would love to interview some of them and find out more about their own experiences, but having said that it is the attitude of mainstream society that must change for this to be fully realised.  Given the chance, I feel that our Aboriginal people have a mammoth treasure trove to offer but until they are more accepted, until racism is far less common, if not completely wiped out – I think it’s going to be an uphill battle – but one that we should never give up on.

Who are your role models?

I would say any of our Aboriginal people who are reaching for stars successfully and reaching their full potential despite all the hardships. Aboriginal actors, those in the entertainment industry, in politics – anyone prepared to be in the public eye.

What do you believe are the most important aspects of true leadership?

Having absolute empathy for everyone, understanding everyone that you are trying to help and lead – strength, loyalty and an absolute belief in what you are striving to achieve, and helping your followers to feel the same.

If you had 10 million dollars how would you use it to benefit Aboriginal people?

I would actually try to visit Aboriginal communities around Australia and find out exactly what they want, where they feel the government is lacking in respect to their welfare and lives generally – and then spend whatever it takes to help in these respects and whatever else that may be need. Ten million is a lot of money but it probably would not go that far where needed. There could be ten million beneficial answers to this question too.

What is your passion in life?

To write, to support and empower Aboriginal people however I can, also the people of the outback generally and the elimination of bullying.

What motivates you?

A lot does actually. I get very motivated when I hear about anyone from a less fortunate background that is getting somewhere – achieving something. I also become demotivated and purely angry when I hear about people who are filthy rich and have the worst attitude possible – towards everything. But then I just have to change my thoughts and it’s all onward and upward.

What are the top 5 important things you would do immediately if you became Prime Minister?

Oooooh – hold me back! This one – I really would not know where to start. My biggest hurdle would be that I would want to concentrate on my passions – people of the outback – and bullying. And not on anything else at all even though there are just soooo many things that need attention so very badly. But health, welfare and education would be top priorities, I think. And anything else that people want and need. In a word I don’t think I would make a good PM.

What do you feel children must have to reach their full potential in life?

A decent education for a start – and that’s something I am trying to find out at the moment– what education is like for kids in Aboriginal communities and those in the outback. I have recently witnessed School of the Air in action in Queensland and while it is good, I am not sure that it is actually helping a lot in setting kids up for later in life – if they ever want a life away from the country. And given that I am talking about white Australians here – I have no idea how the Aboriginal children are supported with education, I am presuming they are able to attend schools? Not the kids who are far too remote to do that I imagine. Do all of the communities have schools? I am terribly ignorant about this but that is one of the many things I intend to invest my time in learning about. Also health – obviously health is of prime importance – and again I do not know how effective the system is out there.  There would be a huge amount to answer this question properly as well.

Share one of your proudest moments?

I guess I’ve had some but I honestly cannot think of any. I am naturally extremely proud of my daughters and their achievements but as for my own – hmmm…maybe that’s yet to come. Watching my eldest graduating was an extremely proud moment. Becoming an ambassador for Lateral Love Australia would be right up there – so thank you.

Share one of your saddest moments?

I think when I have actually witnessed my youngest daughter being bullied. Also when I learned of the sexual attack my eldest daughter endured while in Italy some years ago – she told me afterwards that she just called for me constantly. Yup, that brought tears to my eyes. My parents’ deaths and of some of my pets. I guess there are a lot when I think of it – so I try not to think of it.

If you could create the perfect society what would it look like?

No bullying, no Racism, no hunger, no crime, you name it – everyone, everywhere would get along and be happy. Not possible I don’t think – but anyone can dream.

Do you know about Cultural Safety?

I think the concept is a fantastic one – second to none actually.  But, I guess over the years I have become negative in many ways – I am not sure if it is the answer. I think it has terrific scope – amazing potential, but again, everyone has to co-operate and I do not believe that this is necessarily going to happen.

What does it mean for you to personally feel culturally safe?

I think it would be the most amazing feeling. I actually cannot imagine it. I feel that if there is going to be Racism and crime, violence toward each other – it’s not going to stop overnight and people are going to continue feeling unsafe, culturally or any other way. I did feel much safer when I was travelling in the outback but in some of the towns and cities – forget it.  And I am referring to the normal feeling of being unsafe etc. – no cultural barriers even involved there.

How do you see Cultural Safety being of benefit to society?

When anyone, irrespective of background, ethnicity, religion, race, colour – anything – can walk safely down a street, into a building, shopping centre – anywhere – and feel really safe – that’s when I see Cultural Safety will have been a benefit to society. And to be honest, I am unsure as to whether the current programmes are a huge help. The concept is excellent but we need action. Just like with bullying – which is part of this anyway. The government departments offer all sorts of amazing and wonderful resources and specialist advice – which I applaud, wholeheartedly – but it’s not action. I admit that I do need to look at Cultural Safety programs more thoroughly but from what I do know about them….

What do you see as the necessary foundations for mutually respectful relationships to be formed between all Australians?

To me, it’s obvious. Eliminate Racism completely, bullying, crime, hatred – the lot. All the negative things – I think it can be done but we’ve got a long way to go. There’s so much that the government can do but I also feel that all Australians need to work together to achieve this.

What does your role as a Lateral Love Australia Ambassador mean to you?

I am hoping that it means that I will be able to get a much clearer idea of what is happening with and for Australia’s First Nations peoples, both in the settled areas as well as those in remote communities. I also hope that I might finally be able to contribute to positive change, however I can.

How important do you feel Lateral Love is for the future of our families and communities?

If it helps achieve unity among all Australians, irrespective of those things mentioned above – ethnicity, colour, political and religious persuasions – then I think it is possibly the best thing that could happen – for everyone.

Tell us about your community involvement?

I have had considerable community involvement over the years.  More recently I have had a ‘heavy’ hand in the area of migraine and headache sufferers (having personally been a chronic migraine sufferer in the past – as are both my daughters and my mother before us), and now in the fight against bullying. Doing what I can to help with the people of the outback – and hopefully, from now on more involvement with Aboriginal people and communities.

What would you say to people who are reading your story and may have been through or be going through similar experiences to yours?

NEVER GIVE UP.  Keep following your dreams – and if you don’t have one, make one and follow it. Do your darndest to achieve it. It is also never too late, in my opinion.

What is your understanding of Lateral Violence?

Basically means bullying to me – of any kind. It causes unpleasantness and unhappiness, disillusionment wherever it occurs.

What is your interpretation of the Colonial impact for Aboriginal and Islander communities?

The colonial impact?  Aboriginal and Islander (including the Torres Strait) peoples were here in Australia thousands of years before whites stepped foot here – and yet they are still not recognised in the nation’s constitution, or in many other ways. So many white Australian’s feel that they own the land – that the Aboriginals and Islanders should learn to respect the whites – but, really, I do feel all should be treated equally – which is not happening. Certainly the First Peoples should be afforded a mammoth amount of courtesy and respect than they get – which wouldn’t be hard – when they don’t get any. I would like to say the colonial impact should never have happened – but to me, it should have, it’s just that the whites have gone the wrong way about everything.

How do you think we can improve the future for our young people?

Another question that really does not have a short answer, there is so much that could and should be done to improve the future for Aboriginal young people. I feel the governments have an enormous amount to answer for – but then so do most Australians. Improving life generally just might help – but how and when is that going to happen???? As mentioned previously, I would love to be more involved in the area of gauging how effective the health and education systems are in our outback and Aboriginal communities.

How do you feel about recent statistics in the media regarding Aboriginal youth suicide?

Absolute and pure tragedy.

Has suicide touched your life or your family?

Not immediate family but more distant, yes and a few friends. I also now know that I would have considered it when I was enduring my own nightmare – and probably would have had I not been so naïve and, to be honest, I didn’t really understand suicide.

What advice would you offer to a young person who is struggling or having suicidal thoughts?

To tell someone about their problems, preferably naming the cause of them as well if they are aware of it – but that’s far easier said than done. Also to suggest counselling – it seems to work for some but not for others. But above all – it’s just not worth it. It’s very final, very tragic especially for those loved ones you leave behind. And that’s something I don’t think many consider when their thoughts are heading in that direction – all they can think is the sheer bliss of escape. But they don’t realise there is no turning back. Once it’s done – that’s it. It’s final.

Do you believe there are links between youth suicide and Lateral Violence?

Absolutely. I wouldn’t have thought there was any question about it, sadly. I believe there are other factors involved as well – but it could all lead back to lateral violence anyway.

Colonisation and the manifestations of Lateral Violence are difficult topics to comprehend.  Where do you think is a good starting point?

Encouraging the ‘victims’ to speak up.  But yes, the question is a very real one – and incredibly difficult to comprehend. I think they are actually difficult for everyone to comprehend – whether you are a victim, or know of one or have never had anything to do with lateral violence. From my own experience, I couldn’t understand what was going on, why I was being targeted and why, following my solitary cries for help, the blame either came back on me – or I was ignored.

What help you to feel empowered to lead a fulfilling, meaningful life?

For me, helping others in every way that I can. To make a difference. And to continue doing what I am and extending it.

What is your life purpose and when did it come into focus for you?

I think to continue the fight against lateral violence, particularly in schools and to use my writing to help others in as many different ways as possible. It all came into focus in 2010, exactly a week after my mother passed away. Another long story…

Any other issues, questions or topics you wish to discuss that have not been covered yet?

Probably heaps, if I give myself time to think about it. There is so much I want to learn about the lives of our First Nations people and how the ‘system’ generally works/doesn’t work for them. But it will all take time. I would really like to get out there and visit some of the communities but I also believe that this is a very ‘indepth’ thing to organise. I would dearly like to include a chapter devoted to the First Nations peoples in my books, including interviews and that above-mentioned visit – but will see what eventuates. Maybe I’ll devote a complete book to Aboriginal people in the future.

In reality, I am just extremely honoured and feel very privileged to become an Ambassador for such an amazingly inspirational group and will do everything that I possibly can to help.

Thank you.

Lannah Sawers-Diggins

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