Staunch is the fictionalised account of abandoned child Andy, a young boy placed in institutional care facilities in Melbourne and Ballarat throughout the 1980s.
The MWF session: Forgotten Children brings together the book's author Ginger Briggs and social worker Mary O'Brien (the basis of one of the main characters within the book) in a facilitated compelling discussion by poet and former social worker Nathan Curnow.
O’Brien opened the discussion by sharing her experience of losing the real-life Andy, and how her grief catapulted her into documenting his story. While he was alive she had encourage him to put his story to words, to "be a voice for all the other Andys out there"
Briggs talked about the process of novelising O’Brien’s account; how she approached the writing style, to try imagine what it was like to be in Andy’s circumstances… that "suffering is universal". Even though the odds were stacked against him, Andy was always trying - he was a good person. Briggs said it was terrifying, but she had to trust the process.
It was mentioned at several points during this discussion that Andy’s story was confronting. Mary remarked upon this, “Yes it is confronting and I didn’t want to have to take Andy back to those places”, but conceded that the overall purpose of his story being shared was too important to be kept silent. Briggs states “This [novel] isn’t factual, but it’s all truthful”; the implication being that this story is tragically not unique and needs to be shared. That we, as a society, have a duty of care to protect those who are vulnerable.
I would like to mention how compassionate I found all the speakers on the panel, the genuine concern and want for change was heartening. In light of the Royal Commissions, in particular that concerning the abuse in Ballarat-based institutions, Curnow acknowledged that this was a sensitive and unique time.
The Q & A session that followed discussed ways of writing non-fiction alongside the issues involved in Andy’s story. There were some heated discussions and many, many important topics were brushed upon. A testament to Staunch and the stories that need to be told.
Edited by Cassie Chilcott