The best speaker I have EVER heard!

Over the course of my career, I have met a great many people and listened to a zillion public speakers ranging from royalty and heads of state to PTA Chairs and multibillionaires. Tonight, I heard the best speaker ever!

Michelle Hanton & Li CunxinThis evening I was very privileged to meet Li Cunxin. Many of you reading this post have probably seen Mao’s Last Dancer and may have even read the book which is his autobiography. I have seen the movie and read the book, but despite all this, nothing could prepare me for the man himself. He’s AWESOME! Personable, humble and approachable.

Why do I say he’s the best?
He’s got the X-factor – combined with his passion, his genuineness and his absolute authenticity which came through every inch of the way. He did not need notes and he owned the stage, holding the audience in the palm of his hand for the entire one hour presentation. I have to admit I shed a couple of tears as he recounted his reflections on going to bed hungry and the sacrifices his parents made for their children.

Li’s message is a simple one; have courage, be tenacious and anything you dream is achievable. He did not dream of being a ballet dancer, but he did dream of escaping from poverty and starvation. Ballet was an opportunity, grabbed with both hands. Even when he could have rested on his laurels, he didn’t and went on to achieve more and more because he believes in seizing the day and living life to the full, he thrives on a challenge to be the best he can be.

Thank you to the NT Government and sponsors of October Business Month for bringing us this wonderful speaker! I loved his message and whilst I’m fortunate to always have had food on my plate and never go to bed hungry, I do believe we should all live life to the fullest, believe in ourself and maximise all opportunities that come our way.

We should also always give thanks for being fortunate enough to live in Australia. Dare to dream, it can become your reality!

Michelle

Interview with a Mediator & Conciliator

A/N – I first met our inspirational interviewee when I took on the role of CEO at Lifeline Top End. 

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.
I had a good education in the UK and a mother who believed her daughters were entitled to be educated as well as her son. I did an honours maths degree Imperial College, London and went straight into secondary school maths teaching in 1957.

Sex without marriage in those days was a dicey option so I married in 1958 and between 1963 and 1967 had three children. Five years home as a full time mother drove me nuts so I was fortunate to be able to return to teaching part-time at an exclusive girls boarding school with a crêche!

My husband successfully applied for a job in Darwin in 1970 and migrated in September. The children and I followed in December (I had to give a term’s notice) and actually arrived on 1/1/71. Over the 18 1/2 years from July 1962 to December 1980 I was out of full-time work but involved in many things, including occasional teaching and studying for a Diploma in Secondary Education.

I spent 3 years with AMP discovering that I was better at teaching than at selling (but saving myself from 24 hours a day immersed in teenagers!) then returned to teaching.

By the end of 1982 my husband and I had separated and he subsequently re-married. I spent 1984 to mid-1989 in secondary schools, always teaching maths, of course! I was then fortunate to be accepted to the staff of the maths section of ITAFE, under the umbrella of the then NTU (now CDU) in mid-1989 and I remained there until January 2005.

From 1993 to 1996 I had completed a Master of Science (Science Education) [really maths education, but there was no separate category!] by thesis through Curtin University of Technology. During my last semester as a maths lecturer in 2004 I commenced studying law, continuing as a full-time student through 2005 until the end of 2007. I also undertook the LEADR Mediation Training Course in 2006 and during 2007 completed all the theory involved in the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice as well as the last 5 units in the law course.

Once I had completed the placement component of the GDLP, I was admitted as a Barrister & Solicitor at the Supreme Court of the NT in February 2008. I practiced as a lawyer, mainly in the criminal law area, until the end of June 2012 and retained my practising certificate until the end of June 2015 so that I could continue to provide occasional free legal advice at the sessions conducted by the Darwin Community Legal Service. Since 2012 I have been engaged in conducting occasional mediations through the Community Justice Centre and in August 2015 I completed a Conciliator Masterclass for the Anti-Discrimination Commission, again conducted by LEADR.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
My upbringing and the nature of the education which I was privileged to have (all free in those days!) left me with an unwritten obligation to put back into society. I was brought up as a Christian and have no problem accepting the ethical standards, it expects, but have too much of the scientist in my nature to accept blind faith. So I am an ethical agnostic and, as the Dalai Lama says, recognise that I am here to help others – as well as enjoying my own life!

I realise that I have had privileges not shared by all and have skills which I can use to help others. My motivation to study law – which built up over a 30 year period! – was driven by the many examples I encountered of people whose lives were damaged or destroyed because they could not afford legal advice.

Mediation requires the facilitation of a discussion between two parties in dispute in the hope of their arriving at a solution they can both live with. Mediations conducted through the Community Justice Centre (CJC) are free so the parties do not incur costs and can avoid the adversarial approach taken by lawyers.

Win-win beats win-lose hands down! Whether I am good in my chosen field is for others to say. I know I try to do my best to help others when possible.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
Over time I have been involved in a voluntary/honorary capacity in many organisations. Since coming to Australia I have been in various roles and representative capacities with the boards and committees of the Parap Pre-School Association, the NT Pre-School Association, the Inaugural Council of the Family Planning Association of the NT (including its Education Sub-Committee), The Housing Commission, the Mathematics Teachers Association of the NT, the CDU Law Students Society, Undergraduate Member of the CDU Council, Life Education NT, Lifeline Top End, Darwin Community Legal Service and the Environmental Defenders Office.

I am currently on the Human Research Ethics Committee of CDU and, some years ago represented the School of Technology on one of the NTU Ethics Committees. I guess all that adds up to feeling that I want to be involved and help with important decision making without necessarily having to carry the entire weight of an organisation on my own shoulders!

What can be challenging about your profession?
It is hard to now define my profession! I still take a strong interest in maths education and am appalled by the fact that the desperate need for maths teachers in 1957 shows no sign (in 2015) of having been in any way ameliorated by subsequent actions.

I personally feel that education needs a complete overhaul and teachers should not be regarded as surrogate parents! Parents need to learn how to socialise their own children (and I know from experience that is more easily said than done!) Bureaucrats with no recent classroom experience are not in a position to tell teachers how to do their jobs.

As far as the law is concerned, I am far happier with alternative dispute resolution methods. Law and justice are too often poles apart and enforced solutions are less palatable than ones reached from some degree of consensus.

More so today than at any time in my life, I want to change the world. Governments are making life harder not better for the majority of the population and the gap between the privileged and the desperate has become massive. Through Facebook and Twitter I am discovering how vast is the apathy of an alarmingly large proportion of the population who seem locked into the consumerism and ‘I’m all right” modus operandi. I will not despair, but it is a challenge!

What do you most like about your profession?
I think the most satisfying thing in my life these days are having the parties to a mediation shake hands, smile at each other and walk out putting their dispute behind them!

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
I had a matter before the Master in the Supreme Court. Because those at the bench have a microphone which enables recording of all that they say for the benefit of the transcript, I suspect they do not appreciate that they often do not speak loudly enough to be heard in the body of the Court. On this particular occasion, as I could not hear what the Master had said I asked him to repeat it. I got a curt “Are you deaf Ms Jacob?” to which I probably replied “yes” since it would have been inappropriate to suggest the fault was not mine.

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
My most embarrassing experience was when – as a very inexperienced lawyer – I took on a matter that had previously been handled by a lawyer in a different practice who was not free to continue with the client. I did not know enough about Court procedure and the complications which arose left me with nightmares. I knew I had not helped the client and was entirely mortified.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Train and practice as a mediator BEFORE you study law. You do not need to be a lawyer in order to mediate but the skills you develop as a mediator can be invaluable to a lawyer. The adversarial nature of the Court (and politics) is destructive and learning to help people talk to each other is more rewarding than fighting counsel for the other party! Incidentally – mediation has an approximately 80% success rate!

Is there anything else you would like to share? I think we all have a great many different personalities and which one we exhibit depends on the company and the circumstances. You may bring out the best in someone whereas I might bring out the worst. (I think our recently deposed PM brought out the worst in me and we have not even met!).

I am deeply concerned about the damage that extremism in religion is doing to the world. In my opinion, power corrupts and this can be seen in both religion and politics. Religion should help everyone to live as nearly as possible in harmony – accepting that some people’s brains are not appropriately wired for this goal – and if it causes wars and worse, how can you believe it is the right way to think?

For me, if I am remembered for a short while by a few people after I die, then I will have a life after death. It may not be for eternity, yet if my ashes return to the ground, then even eternity might be an option!

Rosemary Jacob & Michelle Hanton
Michelle Hanton and Rosemary Jacob

Rosemary Jacob (nee Melville) is today a practising Mediator and Conciliator available in Darwin, NT, Australia, through the Community Justice Centre, to undertake mediation and conciliation.

An Update from Australia

I’m writing this one especially for my Spanish friends to give everyone a quick catch up on what I’ve been up to since leaving Ecija on the 27th June. Big shout out of thanks to Arnaud for the lift to Cordoba railway station. I had to dash off on that particular date because I was bringing my 13 year old niece to Australia for the very first time. She is Spanish and lives in Seville and was already on school holidays so time was precious. I was thrilled, as I travelled, to receive emails and text messages from several students telling me how they had managed their speaking exam. Well done everyone!

Alexa chopsticksThe journey to Australia is not exactly short, but we broke our trip with a stopover in Singapore where I introduced Alexa to some aspects of her Asian heritage. Like most Spaniards, she’s not partial to spicy food and I think was a little overwhelmed by the Hawkers Centre, but she gamely tried using chopsticks and was successful!

Haw Par Villa, Singapore
Haw Par Villa, Singapore

She also enjoyed Haw Par Villa with the Chinese mythology scenes. It was fun for Wayne and I to see her reactions too.

We arrived in Darwin in the early hours of 2nd July, and had 12 hours here before flying on to Brisbane. Alexa really enjoyed meeting her cousins Sasha and Ellie for the first time and seeing her grandparents again.

Elie, Alexa and Sasha
Ellie, Alexa and Sasha

They spent a great week together but I came straight back to Darwin as I had a pile of work to sort out. I’d been gone almost 12 months, so as you can imagine there was a pile of paperwork and other business to attend to. Boring, but essential things like insurance documents, bank statements and so on the list goes.

I’ve had a hard time adjusting to how expensive everything is compared to Spain. No more lovely cheap fruit and vegetables, they are exorbitant here by comparison, but on the other hand the salaries here are much higher.

So what do I do with my days? I usually wake by 6 am most days. I sit out by the pool and have my coffee, the first cup of the day, as dawn begins to break. I like this time as I have a chance to sit quietly and think about the day ahead and my calendar before heading into the shower, followed by breakfast which is usually yogurt and fruit. No tostada con jamon and ham is definitely not the same as jamon in taste or texture.

I then get started on my work diary, checking emails, Facebook and touching base with US clients as they are 16 hours behind and it’s still the day before there. It’s then straight into my writing tasks, which includes blog posts, profile writing and editing for my clients. I do love the variety of genres I am able to tackle so the work is never dull.

By 10 am I’m usually onto all the local Australian tasks for the day, which I try to have cleared away by 12 noon. My afternoon work session starts at 4 pretty much like it did in Spain, but here it’s because I need to be available for European/Middle Eastern clients as they’re just beginning their work day. I’m also pleased that I am still able to work with a few students via Skype for the extra practice they need.

I do miss being in Ecija, sitting in the Salon having tapas, but I don’t miss the terribly hot weather there at the moment. My lifestyle in Spain was definitely more relaxed than it is in Australia. However, I do understand that I was in a very fortunate position to have a job when so much of the country is out of work. I was also able to maintain my freelance work so my life was very comfortable there. Even though I am back in Australia, I will maintain my Spanish rate for any clients from Spain as I know the burdens that everyone faces with the crisis and making ends meet.

My work day usually ends somewhere between 8 and 10 pm, a bit like in Ecija. It’s then time to relax and kick back with the family and enjoy a glass of vino blanco. I usually choose a New Zealand white wine which is very different to the wines of Spain.

Darwin is delightful in the Dry Season and of course it is lovely to see the dogs and be in my own house. Our entertaining in Australia is very different from Spain. We do a lot more at home, having friends over for meals.  It’s fun to cook in my own kitchen where I have everything I need instead of being in my little piso without an oven! We’ve had lots of baked goodies since I’ve been back. Alexa has also been cooking Spanish omelette’s so we’ve had touches of Andalusia here with us in the house.

Sasha and I really enjoyed watching the latest season of Game of Thrones the last few evenings before we went to bed. Last night we watched the final. It was  great to see the scenes filmed in the Alcazar in Seville, and the Osuna scenes. Now we are all in suspense for what comes next season.

Hasta luego,

Michelle

 

 

 

HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY

It’s already Australia Day but, where I am, here in my little flat in Ecija, Spain, rugged up in 4 layers of clothing with the heaters on, it’s not yet the 26th. I am however reflecting on my journey to becoming Australian.

I wasn’t born in Australia, but then again, neither were so many others that call this country home. My entry to Australia was relatively easy as I didn’t need to sit any IELTS tests, apply for sponsorship or come on a boat seeking asylum. I am very grateful and blessed!

I first visited Australia as a 19 year old travelling overland from London to Athens on a bus, flying to Bangkok and Singapore to visit friends and family before landing in Sydney and heading to Canberra before eventually travelling up to Darwin to visit more family members. Little did I know that Darwin was going to play a big role in my future.

It took me a great many years to become completely comfortable living in a country that was so totally different to where I spent my childhood – the Middle and Far East – even though I went to the UK for my final years of schooling. I felt like a fish out of water for a very long time because it was so culturally different to what I was used to. I didn’t really identify as any particular nationality even though my passport said British, and I rather suspect, this was due to my global upbringing and not having a fixed home base. Home was wherever my parents were.

On reflection, I was lucky to have ended up in Darwin as it’s undoubtedly the most multi-cultural city in Australia, a real melting pot where everyone lives side by side and there are no enclaves of particular ethnicities.

Today, I most definitely identify as Australian and consider myself extremely fortunate to live in a country that offers wonderful opportunities and provides, a predominantly, safe environment for children, as well as a warm welcome to those who manage to make Australia their home, even if there are lots of hoops to jump through and things are not always quite as some of us would like them to be.

I applaud all those who work so hard to make Australia a better country.  I give kudos to those in our armed forces who fight to protect our liberty and our freedom and I congratulate all the wonderful people who have been honoured in the 2015 Australia Day Awards. It’s especially pleasing to see Rosie Batty, a domestic violence campaigner named Australian of the Year, her story is truly inspirational and shines the spotlight firmly on a topic that is all too often avoided.

Australia Day Ball 2012 with special friends
Australia Day Ball 2012 with special friends

I’m missing the Australia Day Ball and other festivities, both madcap and serious, but I will be bringing a little bit of Australia into my Spanish classroom tomorrow.

Thank you Australia for all you have given me. I am proud to call you home.

Happy Australia Day!
Michelle

 

Reflections of 2014

I’m currently sitting at home, in Darwin, outside by the pool but under the cover of the roof as the first day of 2015 has begun with a wonderful tropical rainstorm. The dogs, Janie and Mollie, are curled up close to me, one at my feet and the other on the outside couch. We are all enjoying the coolness that the beautiful rains have brought this morning, the grass is almost growing right before my eyes and the pool is overflowing.

If you’ve never experienced a Darwin wet season it is indeed something very special. The senses come alive as you inhale the unique smell of fresh, tropical rain, the humidity seems to disappear and the chorus of frogs sing their joy at the arrival of the rains.

2014 has be10410992_10152931194254551_6878165051114676969_nen an incredible year and New Years’ Day is a time to reflect on how blessed I have been. 2014 was the year that included Sasha graduating in February from Bond University. We used the time to have a family catch up and all booked into the Sofitel at Broadbeach for 3 nights which was just lovely as precious time was spent with Mum, Dad, my sister Yvonne, niece Ellie and of course Sasha. The graduation itself was a very proud moment for everyone.

In June, my Uncle Harry, the eldest of the Van Buerle clan, passed away suddenly but peacefully in Perth which was a very sad but his funeral was a family occasion which allowed a reunion and reconnection with distant family members and the Van Buerle connections all over the globe were strengthened.

July saw me relinquish my role as CEO of Lifeline Top End as the time had come for me to concentrate my energies on other areas which included, hopefully, living in Europe for a year.

August was the biggest change of all as this was when I left Australia for the World Club Crews Dragon Boat championships in Ravenna with the Waterfront Warriors team. After the championships I remained in Europe catching up with former collegues and friends in Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels.

I ended up basing myself in Spain which has allowed me to have precious me time to take a well-earned rest from the last three and a half very hectic years in which so many things have changed in my life.

It’s been wonderful to be at home for the Christmas holidays, fantastic to see Sasha and Wayne again who’ve done a wonderful job of looking after the house. I’ve also really enjoyed spending my birthday with family and friends, Christmas Day with my cousins, and now having my brother Robert here from the UK.

Myself with Wayne and Sasha – my two beautiful adult children

I’m very fortunate to have two wonderful children who are always supportive of each other and our family, great parents, a wonderful brother and sister and 2 fantastic nieces.  Although we might not all live close by, or even in the same country we are always there for one other and in a time of crisis can be by one others side very quickly. This is the gift that was given to us by my parents – a strong family unit.

May 2015 be another year of wonderful opportunities for everyone and I look forward to sharing many more adventures, making special memories and helping many of you achieve your maximum potential over the next 12 months.

Michelle

Homeward Countdown!

Today is my last day in Spain for 2014 and I’m just a little bit excited about heading home for Christmas. My little suitcase has nothing in it except for my swimsuit and presents as all my summer clothes are waiting for me in Darwin.

Alexa Van Buerle Vargas
My gorgeous niece Alexa Van Buerle Vargas

Last weekend I had the pleasure of catching up with my gorgeous niece Alexa in Seville where we went Christmas shopping and despite the awful weather had a great time together. It was fun to explore the shops and I stand by my earlier opinion that the season is not as commercialised as in Australia or the UK.

Yesterday the Academy where I teach English took all the staff out for a lovely tapas dinner. It was a great evening that, in typical Spanish style, saw us head to the restaurant just after 9.30 where we sampled a variety of yummy dishes and finished off the meal with a very decadent chocolate brownie, complete with thick chocolate and strawberry sauce, cream and ice-cream followed by a sort of port with which we toasted Merry Christmas. It was well after 1 pm before I got home.

Sasha and Jonathon - many Christmas's ago!
Sasha and her cousin Jonathon when they were much younger.

Christmas is the one time of year when I feel it’s so important to be with the family as without them it is just not the same. This Christmas will be extra special as I have seen Alexa, my brother Robert is in Australia and my cousin Michael also has the holidays off for the first time in years. Sasha has done all the shopping ready for us to start making the rum balls, mini-cheesecakes, cupcakes and all the other wonderfully fattening delights that we enjoy at this time of the year. Can’t wait to get home!

The journey from Spain to Australia is not exactly a simple one and will start at 6.30 am tomorrow morning when a lovely chap is driving me from where I live in Ecija to Cordoba (45 minutes away) to catch the AVE, a wonderful high speed train, to Madrid. From there it’ll be a dash to the airport and then onto Dubai, Singapore and finally Darwin arriving at 5.20 on Monday morning. It reminds me a bit of the trips I used to make when at Rishworth and heading home to Nairobi for Christmas except that Australia is little further away than Kenya.

Michelle