I’ve been to Muse café before. Just over three years ago. I walked in there, a pit in my stomach, unable to finish my meal. It was the pit of something new – I had just moved from the Northern Territory to Canberra, away from home and all I knew – and was physically anticipating all that was to come.
Walking into Muse on the 27th of March, I felt the same way. I felt heavy anticipation of something to come. It was the presence in the air, the atmosphere, the way the audience held themselves. All in anticipation, weighty anticipation, of whatever was to come.
In large parts, we knew what that would be. Political reporter for The Guardian, Amy Remeikis, had funnelled a portion of her sustained rage into an essay, part of the ‘On’ series by Hachette, titled On Reckoning. Signposted by Prime Minister Scott Morrison quotes, it walks us through her rage – every ounce of it laid out on paper, shared with us.
On this day, we gathered for a moment in conversation – to hear Amy speak on this essay, on the rage that fills its pages, and what led her to place it there.
As I look at the room, it’s a rage shared – each audience member earnestly looking forward in anticipation, muttering away, their voices simmering on the surface of a foundation well laid – big ideas live here, big feelings live here – and the rage of Amy, and the rage of this audience, finds its home here too.
The walls are lined with books. Floor to ceiling. In an arc, we sit, as Amy and interviewer, The Australian Financial Review’s Tom McIlroy, sit on a richly blue velvet chair. They are mic’d up, and start by introducing themselves – Tom, Amy’s first desk buddy, who helped her navigate the news world in all its intimidating glory – and Amy, the unicorn, a constant source of encouragement and fearless reporting. The groundwork is laid; it is intimate, and it is the foundation on what comes next is built.
Tom starts the question asking, I’ve brought one of my closest friends along with me. As I look around the room of 30 or 40 people, I can only spot one or two who might’ve come alone.
There is reason for this. The conversation is heavy. It’s a burden best shared.
As Amy begins and speaks of her rage. Outlining the rage she felt as she watched the Prime Minister stand and politicise an issue so personal to her, and so personal to so many of us – I see them nod. The audience, in a quiet affirmation – yes, that was me; yes, that is someone I know; yes, as he said those things, I felt the same dagger.
A woman a row in front of me wipes away tears through her mask, as Amy details the writing process. How, as she wrote, it was rage that poured out on her page, and how she often discovered that she had been crying and hadn’t even noticed.
From my stool in the back of the room, I watch the audience nod. I do, too. As Amy walked us through her story, of why the dagger was branded for her – she invites us into her story, again, to understand why this rage exists for her. Why it exists, now, in this essay.
Many of us in the room had been familiar with the Amy Remeikis story for some time. She has taken us to these shadowed parts of her being before, in articles published in the midst of the storm, and in her advocacy even when the winds have quietened. That’s how I came to know her – in the storm – as a speaker of such harrowing truth, but truth that we recognise to exist in our own lives. As the audience subtly writhes in their chairs, agreeing with their earnest gaze, I see that here too.
The floor opens up for questions. I know, that with an audience 75% over the age of fifty at least, there’ll be no trouble with participation.
And it’s telling of the environment, of the space that has been created, that the first question opens with a thank you.
“Thank you,” the audience member said.
“Thank you, Amy, for sharing your story.”
The first question asked whether, if there had been a female Prime Minister, the response to those allegations made by Brittany Higgins would have been different – or, if they would have felt the need to tamper down their anger to appease those men in the building.
Amy didn’t think it would have been.
The second, a younger woman, details that she’d been waiting with anticipation for weeks ever since she had seen Amy Remeikis’ appearance on the current affairs program The Project. It was there where Amy confronted Peter van Onselen in an articulate, rage-filled way that only she could.
The questioner noted the rage she shared with Amy in that moment, but also the hope it bred in her. Does Amy share that same hope, seeing those people move from the ground up?
Yes, she does.
And they went on. Multiple questions, from multiple audience members. The atmosphere so understanding, so open, that one woman opens up and discloses a personal story of her own.
It was a room of strangers, married together with a common understanding – we’re angry, rage-filled and grieving. But we’re hopeful, too.
Attention is drawn to the people in the room. There are men, yes – “But you don’t get a cookie,” Amy said. Their presence doesn’t guarantee them the good book position. The lifetime of work required to combat the issue does.
The air is heavy, yes – but a look to the front, and at the earnest way in which Amy listens to each question, takes diligent and thoughtful care in her response, and so generously invites us into her own journey – it is something I won’t soon forget.
As the conversation winds up, and the clock ticks down – “A couple more questions”, the host calls from the back – I put up my hand.
“You speak about rage a lot. It’s the premise this book, and the premise of a lot of this work,” I said.
“But rage is hard, and it takes its toll. I know I’ve seen you use this phrase – to me, you’ve said it, the signed version of my copy of On Reckoning says it, the phrase ‘take care of you’. It’s a bit of a slogan for you when it comes to talking about this.
How do you take care of you? What does that look like when so much of this conversation is really hard to handle and to deal with?”
And as she answers, giving the audience a chuckle as she cites her phrase to be from Pretty Woman, but again inviting us into what reliving trauma, what re-walking this road and what taking us to this place with her is like – I am reminded again of why we gather ourselves in spaces like this.
It is a way of taking care of you. Of me, or of your friend. The community of people who choose to spend their Sunday afternoon nestled within the four walls of a book café in Griffith are people not seeking the cookie, but doing the work.
Our anticipation was met with honesty. With earnest, and with an open heart. With a weighty room, and a weighty spirit, because the weight of this is real, and tangible, and heavy.
But like each person who put up their hand in bravery and solidarity – thank you, Amy. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for doing this work. And thank you – for inviting us into this book café on a Sunday afternoon. For the weight is heavy, but it is shared – and sometimes we all need to be reminded of that.
I know I was.
Original photos by Lara Stimpson