‘Smile love’ — it’s a phrase almost every woman has heard from a stranger as they’ve walked down the street minding their own business. But on Tuesday, Grace didn’t.
“Smile love, it might never happen.”
It’s a phrase almost every woman has heard from a stranger as they’ve walked down the street minding their own business.
But on Tuesday this was nationalised on a grand scale. 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame was told to “smile” by half of Australia and the thing that “might never happen”, already has.
When Grace Tame met Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Morning Tea for 2022 Australian of the Year finalists, she did the one thing that appears to drive the public berserk. As a young woman she dared not to mask her true feelings and paint on a smile.
The backlash was swift. Journalist Peter van Onselen described her as “ungracious and rude” and Queensland Liberal Senator James McGrath criticised Ms Tame for her “childish” behaviour, suggesting she should hand back her award.
Anyone criticising Grace must have forgotten why she’s Australian of the Year and what she had to go through to stand where she is today.
In a powerful acceptance speech for the award last year she said: “I lost my virginity to a paedophile. I was 15, anorexic; he was 58, he was my teacher.
“For months he groomed me and then abused me almost every day. Before school, after school, in my uniform, on the floor.”
Tame found the strength to report and jail that vile man. And then through the Let Her Speak campaign, Tame had to fight to be able to legally tell her story and helped overturn draconian law that prevented her from speaking her own name in the media.
She didn’t do that by smiling and nodding her head when she knew something was wrong. She didn’t find the strength to speak out by being meek and agreeable.
Then, just weeks after Tame accepted her Australian of the Year award, news.com.au’s Samantha Maiden broke the story about Brittany Higgins who was allegedly raped by a fellow staffer in Parliament House. Mr Morrison floundered in his reaction until he went home and appeared to realise how serious it all was.
“Jenny and I spoke last night, and she said to me, ‘You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?’” Mr Morrison said of the issue.
“Jenny has a way of clarifying things. Always has. And so, as I’ve reflected on that overnight and listened to Brittany and what she had to say, there are a couple of things here we need to address.”
Tame said of this: “It shouldn’t take having children to have a conscience.”
And she’s right. To have the PM listen to Tame’s powerful Australian of the Year speech and then within weeks need educating about the trauma of sexual assault seems baffling.
Tame then teamed up with Higgins and they marched outside Parliament House for one of the many women’s March 4 Justice rallies taking place across the country as women’s anger boiled over and they fought for an end to gender-based violence.
“I watched as the Prime Minister of Australia publicly apologised to me through the media, while privately the media team actively undermined and discredited my loved ones,” Higgins said in a speech.
Mr Morrison told parliament he had no knowledge of any backgrounding “and would never instruct that”.
To add to this, Tame has also had to spend the past year retelling her story, retraumatising herself.
“Just because I’m been recognised for my story doesn’t mean it’s fair game anywhere, any time. It doesn’t get any easier to tell. I may be strong, but I’m human, just like everyone else,” she told the Australian Press Club in March.
Tame is an Australian of the Year who’s fought to survive, who’s been through something unthinkable and risen to thrive. It isn’t always easy to hear what she’s got to say but it’s damn well important she’s given a platform.
As our Australian of the Year she had a right to be at that morning tea and meet the finalists who will take on next year’s tenure. She also had a right to show how she really felt as she stood beside our Prime Minister who she may well feel has let her down.
Tame being given Australian of the Year was a triumph. She’s a trailblazer and a true force.
So what if she didn’t want to smile.