Growing up can come with a handful of challenges. Peter Timms and Steve Bisley cast a steady gaze on the pleasures and pains of adolescent life in their discussion Rites of Passage, while posing a darker question; is bullying a rite of passage in Australia?
Peter Timms’s book Asking for Trouble is written with a brightness of spirit that screens the darkness of its subject matter. It is a probing account of a damaged childhood, peering into the life of a10-year-old boy traumatised by bullying and personal tragedy in Melbourne during the 1950s.
He describes the book as a launching pad to explore bullying in Australian society. “Bullying is a whole system, our culture is based on bullying,” he said.
As gasps echoed through the hall, he went on to explain that Australians ignore the problem of bullying, often masking it with humour. “We have become accustomed to the idea,” he said.
Bullying is not just limited to children, he said, but is evident in many facets of society. “We are being bullied by politicians and religious organisations.”
According to Peter Timms, society is built on power and, in turn, this power is based on bullying. “Those prepared to abuse the power get on in the world.” He referred to recent incidents such as the government corruption and human rights abuses in Syria to further his point.
His comment “The bullies prevail, power prevails in the end” caused a ripple of unease in the audience.
Steve Bisley’s Stillways depicts his years as a happy-go-lucky boy growing up on a farm in rural NSW, but there′s a sinister thread running through the story. Bisley’s abusive father took out his frustrations by savagely belting him; he said he was irrevocably marked by his father’s anger. The account explores bullying in the family hierarchy.
He explained that kids from the country were expected to be tough, and his father made sure of this. “My father was violent man, you were expected to toughen up,” he said. He talked about his days slaving through chores on the farm, and how such events shaped who he is today, for better or worse. “We were physically tested all the time,” he said.
Not only did Steve Bisley experience bullying at home but he copped it in schoolyard fights and at the hands of his teachers. “It seemed that everyone had the right to punish,” he said.
Although both stories were set during the 1950s and 1960s, their themes are still relevant. Bullying continues to be a problem in be Australia today – this year the Federal Government allocated $10 million to establish an office to protect children from bullying online and in May the Abbott government allocated $7.5 million in its first budget to improve access to online safety programs.
Steve Bisley and Peter Timms may have experienced vastly different childhoods but they both maintain bullying is prevalent in Australian society and something needs to be done about it.