Paul McClure


Every January, a line is drawn between those who celebrate Australia Day and those who protest it, raising important questions about our national identity and history.

In 1888, when then-premier of New South Wales, Sir Henry Parkes, was asked whether a centenary celebration was being planned for Indigenous Australians alongside the settlers’ celebration he responded, “And remind them we have robbed them?”.

Sir Henry Parkes did not want to remind Aboriginals that settlers had stolen their land. NSW State Archives.

Since that time, a debate has been ongoing: should Australia Day be celebrated or scorned?

For those who celebrate the day, it’s associated with a public holiday, fireworks, barbecues, and pool parties. It’s a celebration of Australianness. Those that protest it call it Invasion Day, Survival Day, or the Day of Mourning to reflect our brutal colonial past.

The origins of Australia Day: the non-Indigenous perspective.

On 26 January 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip, captain of the First Fleet of convict ships sent from Great Britain, raised the British flag in Sydney Cove to signal the creation of the colony of New South Wales.

‘The Founding of Australia’ by Algernon Talmadge (1937). State Library of NSW.

As Australia was being explored, John Batman, one of the pioneers in the founding of Victoria, settled at Port Phillip. He attempted to buy the land from the Indigenous people living there by entering a treaty with them.

Batman’s treaty was overridden by the NSW Governor, Sir Richard Bourke, who issued a Proclamation on 10 October 1835 that Australia was terra nullius – nobody’s land – even though Indigenous people had lived on the continent for at least 65,000 years.

John Batman’s treaty with local Aborigines which was later reversed by the NSW Governor. State Library Victoria.

Celebrating NSW’s founding 30 years later in 1818, the Governor gave all government employees the day off. Initially, only NSW celebrated the day of colonisation known variously as ‘First Landing Day’, ‘Anniversary Day’ or ‘Foundation Day’.

Other colonies celebrated their own beginnings in their own ways. In Tasmania – known then as Van Dieman’s Land – Regatta Day in early December acknowledged both the landing of Abel Tasman in 1642 and the state’s separation from NSW. In Western Australia, Foundation Day on June 1 celebrated the arrival of white settlers in 1829. South Australia held their Proclamation Day on December 28.

In 1838, 50 years after the First Fleet’s arrival, Foundation Day was declared Australia’s first public holiday in NSW.

Empire Day was introduced on 24 May 1905 – Queen Victoria’s birthday – to celebrate ties between Australia and England. On July 30, 1915, an Australia Day was held to help raise funds for World War I.

By 1935, January 26 was recognised as Australia Day in all states except NSW, where it was called Anniversary Day.

Agreement between Commonwealth and state governments to call 26 January ‘Australia Day’ across the country came in 1946 and, since 1994, Australia Day has been a national public holiday.

The National Australia Day Council (NADC), founded in 1979, views Australia Day as a celebration of “our nation, its achievements and most of all, its people”. It’s on Australia Day that new citizens are welcomed, and inspirational Australians honoured.

Australia Day: the Indigenous perspective.

On 26 January 1938, Australia celebrated the 150th anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet. As part of the celebrations, Indigenous peoples were forced to participate in a re-enactment of the landing.

As part of the celebrations, Indigenous peoples were forced to participate in a re-enactment of the landing.

Twenty-five Indigenous men from Menindee in western NSW were gathered up, placed onto a mission truck, and brought into Sydney. They were told that if they didn’t participate, their families would starve. To further ensure their participation, the men were locked in the Redfern Police Barracks until the re-enactment took place and, on that day, were chased by British soldiers with bayonets.

Indigenous men forced to participate in the 150th anniversary re-enactment of the landing of the First Fleet, 1938. State Library of NSW.

The re-enactments were only discontinued in 1988.

In response to the sesquicentennial celebrations, a group of over 100 Indigenous people protested the violence, dispossession, and discrimination that Indigenous people had experienced since 1788. They called it the ‘Day of Mourning’ and argued for citizenship, full rights, and better access to education for Indigenous peoples.

Aboriginal Day of Mourning, 1938. National Museum of Australia.

On Australia Day 1972, four Indigenous men set up a beach umbrella opposite Parliament House, Canberra, in protest of the government’s alienation of Indigenous peoples. Thus, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established.

First day of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Canberra 1972. State Library of NSW.

In 1988 – on the two-hundredth anniversary – when the country collectively agreed to celebrate Australia Day on 26 January rather than with a long weekend, Indigenous peoples renamed the day ‘Invasion Day’.

At the same time as Sydney’s bicentenary celebrations, more than 40,000 Indigenous people and their supporters staged what was the biggest march ever seen in Sydney.

The 1988 protest focused national and international attention to Australia’s ongoing history of colonisation and aimed to educate people.

Carried out in the same spirit as the 1938 Day of Mourning protest, the 1988 protest focused national and international attention to Australia’s ongoing history of colonisation and aimed to educate people about the poor conditions of Indigenous health, education, and welfare.

The 1988 Australia Day protest was the biggest march seen in Sydney. National Film and Sound Archive.

Why is Australia Day offensive to Indigenous peoples?

Aboriginal activist and lawyer, Palawa-Pinterrairer man Michael Mansell has accused Australia of exhibiting a double standard when it comes to Australia Day. While Australian soldiers who died at Gallipoli are revered with a public holiday and the erection of monuments, there are no monuments or holidays for the Indigenous people who fell victim to white settlers.

Protest by Aboriginal rights activists, Australia Day, Melbourne 2018. Getty Images.

Mansell points out that Australia is the only country that celebrates its national day based on the arrival of Europeans.

Australia is the only country that celebrates its national day based on the arrival of Europeans.

Australia did not become a nation until 1901 when the six, then-separate British colonies united to form the Commonwealth of Australia. Prior to the implementation of Australia’s Constitution, Indigenous peoples were not counted as citizens and, therefore, denied the vote.

It is argued that an official national day is meant to celebrate the beginning of nationhood which, in Australia’s case, is 1901. Therefore, for Indigenous peoples, the only significance of 26 January 1788 is that it was when the British set foot on, and took over, Indigenous land.

Gamillaroi and Torres Strait Islander woman, playwright/actor Nakkiah Lui, views Australia Day as a day of mourning for Indigenous peoples: mourning for the declaration of Australia as terra nullius; for those who were massacred; for those who were removed from their lands and oppressed; for those whose children were stolen. Lui also mourns the effects of genocide and colonisation that persist today.

Nun leading children of the stolen generation to march at the New Norcia Mission, Western Australia. Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation.

In 2019, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data showed 46% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had at least one chronic condition that posed a significant health problem. The ABS also reports that the life expectancy for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander males is more than eight years less than non-Indigenous males. For Indigenous females it is around eight years less.

Indigenous peoples are more likely to suffer chronic health conditions compared with non-Indigenous peoples. Australian National Audit Office.

For these reasons, many Indigenous peoples view Australia Day as painful, marking the beginning of colonisation. They have been protesting 26 January for a long time but, in recent years, more people – including local governments and community organisations – have joined the #changethedate movement.

Changing the date: will it change anything?

Calls to change the date of Australia Day have grown over the last five years. Much of the debate is drawn along generational lines.

In 2019, Australian National University’s Social Research Centre (SRC) found that 58% of Millennials and 47% of Gen Z were far less supportive of celebrating January 26 compared with 73% of Gen X and 80% of Baby Boomers who wanted to keep the date. The Silent Generation – those born before Baby Boomers – were almost unanimous in their support of retaining the date of January 26 (90%).

These figures demonstrate movement toward changing the date. Importantly, younger generations are more likely to be aware of Indigenous issues as there is more inclusive history taught in schools.

Woman at  Invasion Day march, Melbourne 2019. Chris Hopkins.

ABC’s Australia Talks National Survey 2021 found that a majority – 55% – of Australians are for changing the date “given the historical significance of that date for Indigenous people”. This was an increase of 12 percent since the last survey in 2019.

However, these results do not accord with a national poll conducted by Ipsos in January 2021 which found that half of Australians (48%) did not want the date changed.

Gamillaroi man Luke Pearson warns supporters of #changethedate not to forget that it is not just the date on which Australia Day is celebrated that is the problem; it is what is being celebrated on that date.

For Pearson, more needs to change before the date is changed. He considers changing the date to be the final item on a list that includes addressing higher incarceration rates for Indigenous peoples, health and education issues, housing, and unemployment. These things need to be dealt with first.

Changing the date does not change what happened on it.

The negative feelings Indigenous people have towards the date are not going to go away simply because Australia Day is moved.

Some, including some Indigenous people, suggest that the date should be retained, used as a time to reflect on our past and its injustices. That the day does not have to be either Australia Day or Invasion Day, it can be both: a recognition of the damage done by colonisation and a celebration of what a great country Australia is.

Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation says Australia Day celebrations still cause trauma. Darren Howe.

What should the new date be?

There are a number of dates suggested that still celebrate Australia and Australianness, just not on a day that is painful for many Indigenous people. Here are some possibilities:

  • 1 January: the day Australia came into being on the Federation of Australia, 1 January 1901.
  • 18 January: the day the Supply, one of the first three First Fleet ships to reach Botany Bay, arrived.
  • 13 February: the date, in 2018, the government apologised to the Stolen Generations.
  • 2 March: when in 1986 Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Queen Elizabeth signed the Australia Act 1986, making Australia a fully independent, sovereign nation (it came into effect the following day).
  • 19 April: the date in 1984 when ‘Advance Australia Fair’ was proclaimed the National Anthem.
  • 9 May: the date in 1901 when the first meeting of the Commonwealth parliament took place and the day on which Australia became a self-governing, independent commonwealth.
  • 27 May: the date of the 1967 referendum that removed constitutional clauses that discriminated against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (‘Reconciliation Day’).
  • 3 June: the day the High Court overturned the doctrine of terra nullius and acknowledged native land rights (‘Mabo Day’).
  • 9 July: the date Queen Victoria gave her acceptance to the Constitution of Australia in 1900.
  • 30 July: the date of the first Australia Day in 1915.

Do we celebrate the old or the new? Or both?

Ultimately, it comes down what is more important: the 65,000-plus years of Indigenous occupation before 1788, or the 230-odd years since. Do we celebrate the old or the new? Or both?

The question ‘Do we change the date of Australia Day?’ involves the weighing up of complex social issues. It a question that, unfortunately, is not easily answered.

Vape use has increased among young people. But while vaping may be considered less dangerous than cigarette smoking, it is not harmless.

In 2018, the global vaping market was valued at just over AUD$19.5 billion. It is expected that, by 2022, it will have grown to over AUD$40 billion.

Many companies target young people via social media, marketing vapes, or e-cigarettes, as a safe, socially acceptable way to inhale substances without the stigma that comes with smoking tobacco cigarettes.

Many vape companies target young people via social media.

It appears the marketing has been successful. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) reports that, based on research undertaken by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and Cancer Council Victoria, vaping by young people has increased.

48% of secondary school students had not tried tobacco cigarettes before they started vaping.

Cancer Council Victoria’s 2018 study found that 48% of secondary school students had not tried tobacco cigarettes before they started vaping. About 13% of 12- to 17-year-olds had used an e-cigarette at least once. Vape use increased with age, from 4% of 12-year-olds up to 32% of 17-year-olds.

An Australian study has found that, amongst teens, vape use increased with age.

However, studies about the long-term health effects of vaping are few.

The first e-cigarette was developed in the US in 1963. In 2003, the e-cigarette was patented by a Chinese pharmacist as an alternative to tobacco smoking, after his father, a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer. Vapes soon spread to the rest of the world.

It’s called ‘vaping’ because the substance inhaled is the vapor produced by the heating of a liquid – known as e-juice or e-liquid – to boiling point.

E-juice can be made with or without nicotine, a highly addictive stimulant. Usually, e-juice contains flavouring that is attractive to young people. Popular flavours include fruits, lollies, drinks like strawberry milk, coffee and cocktails, and foods such as donuts and desserts.

A 2020 US study found that young people vape because they think it’s cool and less risky than smoking cigarettes.

A 2020 US study found that young people vape because they think it’s cool and less risky than smoking cigarettes. However, the study also found that vaping caused statistically significant increases in heart rate and decreased blood oxygenation after 20 minutes of vape use.

E-juice contains flavouring that is attractive to young people.

In 2013, NSW Health tested e-liquids and found that, of the samples collected, 70% contained high levels of nicotine even though the label did not state nicotine was an ingredient.

Nicotine exposure during teenage years can negatively affect brain development, which continues until the age of 25. In addition to increasing the risk of future addiction to other drugs, nicotine can negatively impact learning, memory, and attention in young people.

In addition to increasing the risk of future addiction to other drugs, nicotine can negatively impact learning, memory, and attention in young people.

A literature review of online articles published between 2015 and 2019 found that vaping provided enhanced delivery of nicotine and increased the potential for young users to develop nicotine dependence.

The review also found that although e-cigarettes contained less harmful ingredients than regular cigarettes, there was no evidence these ingredients were safe for young people.

There is no evidence the ingredients in e-juice are safer for young people than cigarettes.

These potentially harmful ingredients include propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin or glycerol, and chemicals used to create flavours.

While propylene glycol is commonly added to food, it is also used to make antifreeze and paint solvent. Vegetable glycerin is used widely in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. However, when heated it has the potential to release potentially harmful aldehydes such as formaldehyde and acrolein, both known carcinogens.

A 2015 study by Harvard University found vape flavouring contained harmful chemicals including diacetyl and its precursor, acetoin.

Inhalation of diacetyl has been shown to cause a decline in lung function and is associated with the development of a condition called bronchiolitis obliterans or ‘popcorn lung’, named after workers at a microwave popcorn factory where diacetyl was used as flavouring developed the condition.

Australia has adopted a cautious approach to vaping and the sale of e-cigarettes and e-juice, where the advertising and promotion of vaping products is illegal.

In all Australian states and territories, it is illegal to sell, possess or use e-liquids containing nicotine unless prescribed by a medical practitioner for an established therapeutic need. However, e-juice containing nicotine could be imported from other countries.

As of 1 October 2021, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) strengthened regulations around the importation of nicotine-containing vape products. Consumers are now unable to import nicotine vaping products from an overseas supplier without a valid prescription from an Australian doctor.

Increased vape use by young people and the health risks posed have led to a change in the regulation of vape products.

The TGA cited the increased use of e-cigarettes by young people and the health risks posed by nicotine exposure as the reasons for this change.

For parents, it can be difficult to know whether their child is vaping.

For parents, it can be difficult to know whether their child is vaping. Unlike cigarettes, which have a distinct smell, e-cigarettes are harder to detect. Also, some vaping devices are made to look like regular, household items such as USB drives, pens, and markers.

Many vape devices are made to look like regular, household items.

There are, however, some tell-tale signs to watch out for:

  • Fruit or candylike smells.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Unexplained cough.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Increased thirst.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • Throat clearing.
  • Increased irritability and mood swings.

Many young people believe that vaping is safe, and it can be difficult for them to avoid peers that vape or eliminate exposure to social media that glamourises the practice.

The paediatric section of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recommends parents talk to their child about vaping and the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals. Parents can share resources the young person can understand.

Parents should talk to children about the health risks associated with vaping.

That advice is echoed by Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital, who suggest parents avoid smoking or vaping around children. It is important to note that in most Australian states and territories it is illegal to vape in cars with children under 16.

Discussing risky behaviours with teens is an important way for parents to keep their children safe.

Discussing risky behaviours with teens is an important way for parents to keep their children safe. E-cigarettes should be included in that discussion. The more it is discussed, the more likely young people are to listen and be educated about the facts regarding vaping.

Melbourne mum Michelle Sheppard speaks openly about the highs and lows of her gender transition, what she’s learned, and how her daughters have been invaluable in helping her through the process.

Michelle Sheppard, known affectionately to many as Mama Mish, came out as transgender eight years ago, at the age of 36. At the time she came out she was Daniel, a husband with two young daughters.

Although, Michelle says, her 13-year marriage was disintegrating. Both she and her wife had become complacent, spending less and less time nourishing their relationship.

Date nights and time spent together had dwindled away; they were just ‘there’ together.

As she started to explore her feelings about being transgender, Michelle realised it was not a place she and her wife could go together.

When Michelle eventually disclosed to her wife that she was trans, it wasn’t well received. While there was fear and hurt on both sides, she understood her wife’s reaction.

“It was very hard for her,” Michelle shares. “Her husband of 13 years who is this tall, 6’3” American who’s very masculine says they want to be a woman. It’s like, ‘What the fuck?’, you know.”

“In the early days, I had to allow my ex to express what she needed to, to get it out of her system. It didn’t matter whether it was aggressive, whether it was her expressing her hurt and her pain, I had to allow her to go through that, to feel that. It wasn’t easy, it was very hard to watch.”

Raised in the conservative US city of St. Louis, Michelle was exposed to well-defined gender roles early, which she says underpinned her decision to marry and start a family.

“Coming from the Bible Belt, gender roles were quite strong there. A man’s a man and he does this role, a woman’s a woman and she does this role. There was pressure to fulfil those particular roles.”

Michelle stuck to these rigid gender roles despite knowing from a young age that she had been born into the wrong body.

“I had known since I was about four. I remember in the playground at school saying things like ‘I should’ve been a girl’. But it wasn’t until near the end of my marriage that I decided I had to dig into this and understand further what was going on.”

The decision to transition was a fraught one, something she wanted desperately to avoid for fear of the repercussions it might have on her wife and children.

“I actually fought against it as much as I could. If I had a pill at the time to make it go away, I probably would’ve taken it. I was worried about how it would impact my kids and my ex.”

Ultimately, Michelle felt she had no choice. She had to live her truth.

Michelle’s overriding concern was how best to navigate the process of transitioning with her daughters in a way that did not negatively affect them. Airlie was about to turn seven, Peyton was three or four.

Michelle’s situation is not an unusual one. Despite the increased visibility of members of the gay, lesbian and bisexual community, the stigma surrounding gender diversity has meant that trans parents are likely to have had children in heterosexual relationships prior to transitioning.

The 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census revealed that just over half (54%) of people who identified as sex and/or gender diverse lived in a family household; of these, 49% were a spouse or partner.

When a parent comes out as trans, it can cause anxiety in the family unit as the person embarks on a quest to resolve that differentiation. Trans parents must navigate multiple, contradictory roles to integrate their parental and gender identities.

As a result, all members of the family, including children, end up transitioning with the trans parent.

Unable to rely on professional supports to assist with her transition, which were unavailable at the time, Michelle instead observed how other trans people approached their transition and how it had affected their familial relationships.

“What I found was that a lot of trans people come out – they’re telling everybody – and they want it to change overnight. For me, I realised that if I go one step too forward, if they’re not able to take those steps with me then I need to take a step back and let them catch up.”

So, Michelle adopted an organic approach, actively including Airlie and Peyton in her transition to make sure they felt safe and comfortable.

“We just let things grow and develop. As my hair was getting longer, I let them play with it and braid it. I’d already, a few years before, done a makeup artistry course and so we would do makeup and paint nails. We were allowing the play to happen, and it became a very normal thing like ‘This is what we do with Daddy’.”

Michelle’s girls continued to call her ‘Dad’, which was their choice. And they did so with an accepting caveat: ‘Well, yeah, you’re Dad but you’re a girl,’ they’d say.

The first time Michelle went out socially dressed as a woman, she put her children in charge of deciding what she should wear.

“I allowed them to be part of that. I said, ‘Let’s pick out some clothes.’ My daughters picked out this leopard print skirt, high boot heels,” she recalls with a laugh. “They did my makeup. This was them playing and being part of it. I slowly just let it happen.”

Sometimes, however, Michelle had to put her transition on hold for the sake of her children.

“No matter how much I was growing, and how much I was finally being myself, if I had to keep the reins on then that’s what I’d have to do. Because they need to be comfortable, and I need to make sure that they’re safe in this. As a parent, that’s what’s most important.”

“I let them call the shots because as a parent you don’t come first, they come first. You have to put your needs and wants, a lot of the time, behind when it comes to kids.”

While societal issues such as transphobia and discrimination can make life difficult for children of trans parents, Michelle says that neither Airlie nor Peyton have experienced negative reactions as a result of her transition.

When asked by school friends what they did on the weekend, her daughters respond with something like ‘I was at Dad’s house, hanging with her’, Michelle explains. When challenged – ‘you mean he, your dad’s a he’ – they correct their friends without a second thought: ‘No, my dad’s a girl.’

Adults have not been as understanding. Michelle blames the negative comments made by other parents to her daughters – ‘How disgusting, they’re tricking you’ or ‘The poor children will never have a father figure’ – on the media’s portrayal of trans people.

Big-screen characters such as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s (1975) Frank-N-Furter, and Einhorn in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) have helped to normalise transgender misrepresentation.

Trans representation is no better on television where, according to American media-watch organisation, GLAAD, trans characters were cast as victims at least 40% of the time, as killers or villains in at least 21% of storylines, and the most common profession for transgender characters was sex work.

Because many people don’t personally know a transgender person, they look to the media for information and understanding. Unfortunately, the media tends to portray trans people as deviants, criminals, and murderers, creating the misunderstanding that a lot of adults have in relation to trans people.

Stereotypes are a bit like air: they’re invisible but always present.

“It’s adults who respond the worst because adults subscribe to stereotypes and stereotypes are those over-generalised beliefs about a category of people,” Michelle says, her voice tinged with disappointment. “Stereotypes are a bit like air: they’re invisible but always present.”

Thankfully, children are less likely to subscribe to these stereotypes. Research shows that, over time, children develop a range of strategies to cope with parental role ambiguity, redefining and restructuring the child-parent relationship.

Family continuity, communication, and acceptance positively contribute to how children adapt to a parent’s transition. Often, children are aware of gender-atypical behaviours exhibited by a parent that, in retrospect, align with their parent’s gender identity.

That was certainly the case with Airlie and Peyton, given how young they were when Michelle began her transition. “They’ve never known me the old way,” she says, “this is all they’ve ever known.”

Michelle’s daughters have been crucial to her journey.

She recounts a particularly dark period early in her transition, where her daughters provided the impetus for her to continue.

“There was a point within the first year. It got tough. I couldn’t find work. And as a parent you don’t think so much about yourself or when you’re going to eat but you worry about them.”

“I was really at a low place, and I planned my suicide. I’d checked out. I was going to spend one last weekend with my girls. I went and had a quick nap. I woke up and at the end of my bed there’s my youngest and she’s got one of my wigs on and a little flower in there. She’s got my lipstick. She looks at me and goes, ‘Hi Daddy!’

“I walked into the living room and there’s my eldest, wearing another wig and another little flower and she was drawing me, her mum, her animals. She’s like ‘Here, Daddy, here’s you. Here’s a pretty dress for you. We’re all girls, even our pets are girls!’

“And I’m like, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’ I had this click,” Michelle snaps her fingers. “I had too many motherfuckers to prove wrong! That’s what shifted me. It’s the girls that have kept my tether connected.”

Michelle’s relationship with her children has continued to grow throughout her transition. One of the most interesting transformations for her had to do with changing her thinking around the sexualisation of her body.

“This space here,” she says, gesturing to her breasts, “I had to reprogram my brain because as a man there’s this sexual connotation with them.”

It was her daughters nuzzling into her breasts for comfort that led to Michelle’s change in thinking.

“This is their space, a nurturing space; non-sexual, comforting, warm. It was this weird journey that I went on, and my kids took me on that journey. It was really wholesome, and it really brought me into that woman’s space. My children took me there.”

Because I know who I am and I know my truth, as a woman I can teach my daughters the exact same thing.

“I let my daughters help me develop and grow so as I developed and grew inside, more of me changed and developed,” she continues. “Because I know who I am and I know my truth, as a woman I can teach my daughters the exact same thing.”

Given the open, loving relationship she has with her children, Michelle doesn’t regret her decision to transition. But she also recognises and embraces the masculine part of herself.

I see myself as more two-spirited. I’m Daniel and Michelle. I see Michelle as the evolution of Daniel.

“I’m still Daniel in a lot of ways. I’ve found a happy medium. I see myself as more two-spirited. I’m Daniel and Michelle. I see Michelle as the evolution of Daniel. I can live my life as I am. I think it’s important to hold on to parts of yourself and remember where you come from. If I was never Daniel, I’d never have had Airlie and Peyton.”

Michelle has this advice for other transgender parents: “This is not something to be afraid of. Please don’t subscribe to those stereotypes because they’ll give that sense of self-doubt. What you need to do is surround yourself with visible, accessible role models that are important to you.”

Michelle now enjoys an amicable relationship with her ex-wife. They have come to an informal arrangement as to time spent with their children.

Looking back, comfortable in her truth, Michelle wouldn’t change a thing.

“I couldn’t,” she says. “As shitty as it’s been, it’s also been just as brilliant and just as beautiful.”

Parental bonding affects mental, physical, intellectual, social and emotional development and influences how well a child does in later life.

By responding to a baby with love, warmth and care, parents become a trusted person in that baby’s life. The bond that is created is not based on the quality of parental love or care but on nonverbal communication between a parent and newborn.

The bond between a parent and a newborn is based on nonverbal communication.

The first few days of a baby’s life are the perfect time for bonding to take place. A baby is innately wired to initiate bonding relationships at this time. Crying, cooing and making noises, smiling, searching for the breast, and seeking eye contact are cues to which a parent can respond.

A baby’s brain development, as well as their social, emotional, and cognitive development, depends on a loving bond with a parent or primary caregiver.

A baby’s brain development, as well as their social, emotional, and cognitive development, depends on a loving bond with a parent or primary caregiver. Studies have shown that parental inconsistency and a lack of bonding can lead to long-term mental health problems and reduced overall happiness.

When a parent responds consistently to a baby’s needs, it nurtures a growing child’s ability to express a full range of emotions.

It is a myth that responding quickly to a crying baby by holding and nursing them will result in spoilt baby.

It is a myth that responding quickly to a crying baby by holding and nursing them will result in spoilt baby. Babies that are held and comforted during the first six months of life tend to be more secure, confident toddlers and older children.

A poor parent-child bond can result in limited social, coping and problem-solving skills, tantrums, clinginess, being withdrawn, or aggressive behaviours. The negative effects of insecure bonding often impact a child throughout their developmental years.

Bonding promotes confidence, enables a baby to tolerate separation from their parents, and eventually helps infants learn how to soothe themselves which results in less crying and fussiness.

The parent-child bond is strengthened through this attachment and the life-long emotional connection that is established helps a child develop independence.

Research has shown that secure bonds developed in childhood produces adults that enjoy stable, satisfying ties with their intimate partners and are better at resolving relationship conflicts.

Like mothers, dads need to bond with their babies, too. So do siblings.

Like mothers, dads need to bond with their babies, too. So do siblings. All members of the family should take some quiet time to hold the baby, gaze into their eyes, talk to them and comfort them when they are distressed.

It’s important that dads bond with their newborn, too.

Some ideas that can assist with bonding include:

  • Regularly touching and cuddling the newborn. By cuddling a baby on the left side of the chest they can hear their parent’s heartbeat, making them feel secure.
  • Gently stroking the newborn during bath time or nappy changes.
  • Responding to crying to let a baby know that a parent is always there.
  • Rocking or holding the newborn, skin on skin, or carrying them in a carrier or sling to keep them close.
  • Wrapping the baby to simulate the security they felt in the womb.
  • Talking to the baby in soothing, reassuring tones which helps them recognise the sound of a parent’s voice. When talking to a newborn, look into their eyes and make facial expressions so they can connect words with feelings.
  • Singing to the newborn or playing soothing music.

Some parents bond more easily with their baby than others. It’s okay for a parent to not feel an instant connection with their newborn.

Studies have shown that about 20% of new mums and dads feel no real emotional connection to their newborn in the hours after delivery.

Studies have shown that about 20% of new mums and dads feel no real emotional connection to their newborn in the hours after delivery. Bonding can be especially difficult if a mother has had a caesarean section, or the baby was born prematurely and spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Sometimes the connection between parent and child can take weeks or months to develop, so parents shouldn’t feel guilty or anxious about not beginning the bonding process immediately.

It can take time – sometimes weeks or months – for the bond between parent and newborn to develop.

An overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, or depressed parent may not be aware of the positive emotional interaction that a baby needs to bond. Parents should do the best they can to engage in self-care and deal with negative emotions, so they are better equipped to bond with their child.

It’s important to remember that given the speed at which a baby’s brain develops, it is possible to repair the parent-child bond.

Parents are not perfect. No one can be fully present and attentive to their child’s needs 24 hours a day. It’s important to remember that given the speed at which a baby’s brain develops, it is possible to repair the parent-child bond by figuring out what the baby needs and attending to it.

By doing this, parents can re-establish the bonding process and may even strengthen the bond between themselves and their baby.

These suggestions may help to encourage the bonding process:

  • Take the time to enjoy being with a newborn by simply cuddling, singing, or reading aloud to them.
  • Consider things from the baby’s perspective. Imagine what they are looking at, feeling, or trying to do.
  • When it comes to eating, sleeping, and playing be flexible and respond to the baby as they need. Most newborns don’t have a fixed day/night routine.

Raising children to speak more than one language has many benefits but is not without its challenges.

A parent or parents whose heritage language is not English may want their child to speak that language. Bilingualism benefits the child, the family, and the wider community.

The benefits of bilingualism include:

Children’s brains are most flexible between the ages of zero and three, which makes them uniquely suited to learning another language during this time.

Children’s brains are most flexible between the ages of zero and three, which makes them uniquely suited to learning another language during this time. Two- and three-year-olds have started to recognise speech patterns they’ve been hearing since birth, increasing their vocabularies in the process. So, the earlier a second language is introduced, the easier it will be for the child to learn its unique sounds.

The earlier parents introduce their child to a second language, the better.

Parents can start their newborn on the path to learning another language by singing to them in a second language. Singing is a fun, creative way to help the child learn and remember words and sentence structure. Songs with cultural significance – such as those passed down generationally – can have extra meaning for a child.

It’s easy to begin teaching a second language in this way: choose a simple song, incorporate hand gestures, and use lots of facial and vocal expression when singing. Explain the lyrics and praise the child when they sing along or copy the hand actions.

This mode of teaching can continue until the child is six, with the song being changed to suit the child’s age.

To nurture bilingualism, children need to be consistently exposed to two languages.

To nurture bilingualism, children need to be consistently exposed to two languages. A popular approach is the One Person, One Language (OPOL) method, where one person in a bilingual household – usually a parent – always speaks to the child in one language. This approach is particularly effective where each parent speaks a different language.

For example, one parent speaks Russian, the other English. If each parent speaks a language in addition to English – one speaks Italian and the other Greek, say – they can teach their child both languages. Ideally, both parents should understand each other’s languages so neither feels left out.

The OPOL method can be adapted to suit individual families. Parents should create a plan to determine at what age the language should be learned, whether the child has a real need for the language, how frequently the language will be used by parents, and what other supports parents can access.

Using the OPOL approach, one parent speaks to the child only in their heritage language.

Alternatively, if both parents speak the same heritage language, they might want to make this the language used at home while the child learns English outside of the home.

There are many ways that parents can support their child’s second-language development, whether at home, through play and games, or involvement in community activities:

  • Read, tell stories, or play games in a heritage language and encourage the child to join in. Some examples of games might be ‘I spy’, ‘Who am I?’, or bingo.
  • Play music in the chosen language. Melody helps children to remember things.
  • Download word game apps in that language.
  • Look for schools, childcare centres, or bilingual or multilingual programs that support the child’s use of the language.
  • Have playtime with other children that speak the language.
  • Visit countries where the language is spoken, which will boost the child’s interest in the culture and improve their ability to speak the language.
  • Take the child to cultural activities so that they gain a better understanding of cultural heritage and identity.
  • Connect with family living overseas online or through video-messaging apps.
  • Incorporate language into the child’s interests. For example, through sport, music, TV shows, or cooking.
  • Watch movies or sports in the chosen language.
Second-language learning can be incorporated into interactions with extended family and activities such as cooking.

In addition to being a long-term commitment, there are other challenges associated with raising a bilingual child, including societal pressure to speak only English.

In addition to being a long-term commitment, there are other challenges associated with raising a bilingual child, including societal pressure to speak only English. Parents needs to continue to teach their child their heritage language despite this pressure, and keep their child motivated to do so.

They can do this by explaining the cultural importance and benefits of bilingualism and by including family, friends, and other resources such as bilingual playgroups.

Australia-wide resources are available to assist parents raising a bilingual child, including SBS Radio, which broadcasts in 74 different languages, and the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters’ Council (NEMBC), who advocate for media diversity and help people connect with their ancestry, language and culture, and help counter racism. Harmony Week is a community event held in March each year to celebrate Australia’s cultural diversity.

Each state also has its own resources that parents can access for support:

How the tragic death of Hannah Clarke and her children shone a light on this often-hidden form of domestic abuse.

Content warning: this article discusses issues of coercive control and domestic violence which may be triggering for some readers.

On 19 February 2020, on a quiet suburban street in Brisbane, Hannah Clarke was preparing to drive her three children – six-year-old Aaliyah, Laianah, four, and three-year-old Trey – to school when she was ambushed by her estranged husband, Rowan Baxter.

Brandishing a knife, Baxter doused Hannah and her children with petrol before ordering her to drive to nearby bushland where he set fire to the car’s interior. Restrained by seatbelts in the rear of the vehicle, the children were burned alive. Hannah managed to escape the vehicle but died later that day in hospital. After watching his children die, Baxter stabbed himself to death.

Hannah Clarke and her children were laid to rest in a single coffin. Photo: ABC News

The horrific death of Hannah Clarke and her children made international headlines and sparked a nationwide discussion about an often-hidden form of domestic abuse: coercive control.

Coercive control, otherwise known as intimate terrorism, is a pattern of controlling and manipulative behaviour. These behaviours may not be present at the beginning of a relationship. They may develop over time, masked by flattery and charm.

According to Women’s Safety NSW, coercive control is about exerting power over a victim, undermining their independence and self-worth through fear and intimidation. It can manifest in abusive behaviours like isolation, emotional manipulation, physical or sexual assault, surveillance, humiliation and degradation, and financial control.

In 2020, Women’s Safety NSW conducted a survey of 72 victim-survivors of domestic and family violence, revealing that all had experienced psychological control and manipulation in their relationship.

This year the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) surveyed 15,000 women about their experiences of physical or sexual violence and emotionally abusive, harassing and controlling behaviour. Women aged 25 to 34 experienced the highest rate of coercive control in their relationships.

According to a 2021 AIC survey, women aged 25 to 34 experienced the highest rates of coercively controlling behaviour

The partners of 73 percent of women surveyed exhibited jealousy or suspicion in relation to their friends. 67 percent were constantly insulted and made to feel ashamed or were verbally abused and intimidated. In 65 percent of cases, abusive partners monitored the victim’s time and made them account for their whereabouts.

Sadly, just over one third of women who had experienced coercive control sought help.

Demonstrative of how insidious coercive control is, many women did not seek advice or support unless they had also experienced physical or sexual violence.

Anyone can experience coercive control. Here are 12 warning signs to watch out for:

  1. Isolation. A controlling partner will cut off or limit contact with friends of family. They may suggest shared phone or social media accounts, move the victim far away from family, spread lies about the victim to others, monitor phone calls, and convince the victim that their family dislikes them and doesn’t want to talk to them.
  2. Monitoring daily activity. Installation of cameras or recording devices, including in private areas such as the bedroom and bathroom.
  3. Denial of freedom and autonomy. Restriction of movement and independence, including not allowing a victim to go to work or school, restricting access to transportation, stalking, changing passwords on devices and social media accounts.
  4. Gaslighting. The abusive partner must always be right and will force the victim to acknowledge this through manipulation and lies.
  5. Name-calling and put-downs. These are designed to make the victim feel unimportant.
  6. Limiting access to money. Controlling a victim’s finances is a way to prevent them from leaving the relationship. It may include implementing a strict budget, limiting access to bank accounts, hiding money, stopping the victim from getting a credit card, and monitoring spending.
  7. Reinforcing traditional gender roles. An abusive partner will attempt to justify a woman’s role as homemaker and mother, often coercing the victim into doing all of the cleaning, cooking, and childcare.
  8. Weaponising the children. This can include telling children that the victim is a bad parent and belittling them in front of the children.
  9. Controlling health and body. The abusive partner may monitor eating and sleeping routines, require a victim to count calories or adhere to a strict exercise regime. They may control access to medical care and which prescribed medications a victim is allowed to take.
  10. Making jealous accusations. This is a way for a controlling partner to minimise a victim’s contact with others and make them feel guilty.
  11. Regulating sex. Abusers may demand how often they have sex with a victim, demand the victim take sexual photos or videos, or refuse to wear a condom.
  12. Threatening children or pets. This includes threatening to call social services to report neglect or abuse when there is none, threatening to make important decisions related to the children without the victim’s consent, and threatening to kidnap children or get rid of a pet.
Monitoring phone calls and texts and changing passwords on devices are telltale signs of coercive behaviour

Research has shown that victims of coercively controlling behaviour are attacked more frequently than victims of other types of domestic abuse and that coercive control is more likely to persist after separation.

Coercive control also has other negative consequences, beyond the violation of the human rights of women and children. It affects access to housing and employment, impairs the health and development of children, and is costly for women and the economy. In 2015-16, the annual cost of violence against women and children in Australia was estimated to be $22 billion.

The impact of coercive control on women is serious and may lead to injuries and homicide, poor mental health, reproductive health problems, and issues with alcohol and drug use.

Recently, there has been a focus on how Australia can best respond to the issue of coercive control, including calls for it to be criminalised.

Hannah Clarke had a domestic violence order (DVO) in place at the time of her death, after her ex-husband allegedly kidnapped their eldest daughter. He was due to appear in court on charges of breaching the DVO for allegedly assaulting Hannah weeks before he killed her.

But, for Hannah, a DVO wasn’t enough. Indeed, a 2018 national analysis of intimate partner homicides showed that about a quarter of men who killed current or former female partners were the subject of protection orders at the time.

This begs the question, if Australia had existing coercive control laws could Hannah’s life, and the lives of many other women, have been saved by earlier intervention?

At present, Tasmania is the only state that has criminalised aspects of coercive control: economic abuse and emotional abuse or intimidation. Other countries have already criminalised coercive control.

In 2015, the England and Wales became the first countries in the world to created a new criminal offence of ‘coercive and controlling behaviour’ designed to capture behaviour that does not include actual physical abuse. Scotland and Ireland followed suit in 2019, with Scotland seeing more than 400 crimes recorded in the first three months after the law was introduced.

For now, absent the criminalisation of coercive control in Australia, it is important for society to continue having a conversation about it. Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) has produced a webinar about how services can support women and help them respond to their partner’s controlling behaviours.

When having a conversation with a victim-survivor of coercive control it is important to:

  • Have the conversation in a safe, comfortable space
  • Ask if the victim is okay and actively listen to what they are saying
  • Encourage them to seek help if needed and let them know they are supported
  • Trust that they are the expert when it comes to their situation
  • Check in with them regularly
Support a victim-survivor of coercive control by initiating a conversation with them in a safe, comfortable space

Getting out of an abusive relationship can be difficult, even more so when there are children involved. But it is possible, with a bit of planning.

This includes maintaining communication with support systems – family, friends – whenever possible, regularly calling a domestic violence service, practicing how to get out safely, and making a safety plan.

There are a number of Australia-wide support services available to assist women subject to coercive control or domestic violence: 1800 RESPECT, Australian Childhood Foundation, LifeLine, Relationships Australia, and WESNET.

It’s normal to experience grief when a child comes out as transgender. Here’s some ways that parents can navigate the process.

Ambiguous loss is the grief parents feel when they lose a transgender child to the process of transitioning. It’s called ‘ambiguous’ because it is not the concrete, tangible loss that follows the physical death of a child. For that reason, ambiguous loss may leave parents with feelings of unresolved grief.

Grief and loss are natural feelings when confronted with a child’s transgender identity because it shatters traditional images of gender. What it means to be a man or woman, girl or boy, informs much of our behaviour. This is especially true in family relationships, where roles are based on a set of pre-determined expectations for how we are supposed to act.

How a parent responds to their child’s transgender identity is critical to whether the transitioning experience is a positive or negative one.

How a parent responds to their child’s transgender identity is critical to whether the transitioning experience is a positive or negative one. It is essential that parents reframe the way they feel about their child’s transitioning, from regret and sadness to excitement about what the future holds.

The process of transitioning often challenges parents’ traditional gender role stereotypes

It’s essential because transgender and gender diverse people experience incredibly high rates of mental health issues. LGBTIQ+ Health Australia’s April 2021 report provides some alarming statistics. Of 14 to 25-year-olds surveyed, 48% had attempted suicide, 79% had self-harmed, 74% were diagnosed with depression and 72% with anxiety. A staggering 90% of transgender people aged 14 to 21 reported high or very high levels of psychological distress.

Given these statistics, it’s clear that for transgender children family support can be the difference between life and death. This is supported by research which shows that gender-affirming behaviour by family members has a hugely positive impact on mental health.

Gender-affirming behaviour by family members has a hugely positive impact on mental health.

Parents act as models to their children, based on socially and culturally constructed gender roles. Before a child is born, parents have started planning the child’s future and, usually, it’s gendered. So, having an emotional response to such a big event as a child telling their parents they’re transgender is normal. It is reasonable for parents to grieve the loss of an imagined future.

Embracing a child’s nominated gender has a hugely positive impact on their mental wellbeing

A 2020 study looked at whether parents had an emotional experience, like mourning, to their child’s transition. It was found that parents’ reactions followed the typical grief response. Not understanding what their child was going through led parents to experience feelings of denial, fear, anger, and powerlessness.

What the study revealed was that parents who best overcame their grief had a support system in place. Involvement in transgender advocacy groups reinforced the fact that, despite being transgender, their child was the same child they’ve always known. Importantly, realising their child was happy with their chosen gender had a positive impact on parental resilience when dealing with the transition process.

Research shows that children who come out as transgender already have a strong sense of their identity … They know who they are because they’ve always felt like that.

Research shows that children who come out as transgender already have a strong sense of their identity, usually from a very early age. They know who they are because they’ve always felt like that. It is important that parents understand that children change their gender to fit their identity, their identity doesn’t change because their gender does.

A child’s identity does not change just because their gender does

While there may be things that parents had planned to do with their child that they can no longer do, they will discover many new and different ways to bond with and love their child such as joining their experimentation with new clothing, helping them choose a new name or pronouns.

It is possible to remain loving and supportive while simultaneously experiencing loss, sadness, fear and confusion. Working through these feelings takes time. Just as a child needs compassion and support to navigate the transitioning process, so do parents.

Here are some ways parents can support themselves and their transgender child:

  1. Don’t give in to fear. Fear can cause parents to push back or reject their child. This fear is underpinned by love, driven by a concern that the world is a harsh place for transgender people. Make sure the child knows they’re loved and supported.
  2. Encourage exploration. Gender exploration is a normal part of a child’s development. Give children the freedom to explore their emotions about gender before they consider a permanent change.
  3. Education is key. Get familiar with the information that is out there about gender expression. There are a lot of online resources available, such as Transcend, QLife, Rainbow Door, queerspace, and Transgender Victoria (TGV).
  4. Create a safe space. Transitioning takes a long time and can be difficult. Encourage the child to openly discuss their feelings so they feel safe and protected as they transition.
  5. Families need to transition, too. Each family member must shift their thinking and understanding. Take the time to process these thoughts and any feelings of loss.
  6. Seek help. Ensure access to a team of medical and mental health experts. Identify allies at school, so the child knows where to go for support if they are bullied or excluded.

Yes, having a trans child means questioning personal views on gender. And, yes, it usually involves a lot of – sometimes uncomfortable – discussions with friends, relatives and complete strangers about the process of transitioning and what it involves. These conversations can evoke strong feelings in others that parents should be prepared for.

While the world might not always be understanding, parents can be.

But, while the world might not always be understanding, parents can be. A child might wear different clothes and go by a different name, but they’re still the person you know and love.

An understanding parent makes a world of difference to a transgender child

It’s important to remember that a parent’s grief and loss is theirs, not their child’s. Accept these feelings for what they are: natural and normal reactions. Parents need to work with their feelings, not against them.

At the same time, parents need to support, comfort, and maintain an open dialogue with their transgender child as they work through the process together. Recognise their child’s bravery and show gratitude. Parent and child will be so much the better for it.