I am like a flower. I have so many petals that make me who I am, but at the centre of all those petals is my pistil – my Aboriginality.

I’m Jax. I’m 18 years old and I have had more interactions with the police than anyone my age should have. 

I am here to tell you that I am not the problem. 

I am like a flower. I have so many petals that make me who I am, but at the centre of all those petals is my pistil – my Aboriginality. This shapes so much of who I am as a person. My flower wouldn’t be my flower if it didn’t have this at its centre. 

My most cherished petal is my sexuality and gender identity. I am the first (very proud) gender-fluid bisexual in my family. The journey of coming out and discovering myself as a queer person while growing up in a society and family steeped in homophobia was, frankly, fucking tough. 

The freedom and joy I feel at being able to express myself is hard to capture in words. The first time someone validated my identity as a non-binary person felt like an out-of-body experience, except that I was more comfortable in my body than ever before. 

Another petal that makes me who I am is the fact that I am the oldest of six kids. From the earliest age I have been a caregiver, a protector, an educator and someone striving to be a good influence – but I am by no means perfect and I know that at times I’ve been both the hero and the villain in my siblings’ lives. 

I am also the oldest of too many cousins to count. As someone who has had to look after and nurture almost every one of them, I’ve always felt it was my duty to make our family a safe place for them to be able to live life on their terms and express themselves openly, safely and with pride. 

Looking at some of my younger cousins, I don’t think I’ll be the only openly queer family member for long. It’s a big weight to carry the responsibility of opening my family’s minds. They had been bolted shut to the idea that being gay, or trans, or a ‘feminine’ guy, or a ‘masculine’ girl isn’t just wrong or a phase, but is someone’s truth – someone stepping out of a hollow shell. That it’s someone choosing not to live and die miserably.  

Another petal that makes me who I am is the unique way that I view this world. This is something that would never have been possible without the influence of my mum. I didn’t get to live with my mum much while growing up, but she’s in my life now and that’s what matters. 

My mum is loving, generous, open-minded and so damn charismatic. Mum is understanding and fights for her beliefs and the beliefs of those she loves, even if she doesn’t always understand them. It was my mum who first taught me that expressing myself emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually was a radical act, and something to be proud of. 

It was my mum who taught me that being gay wasn’t a sin, or something shameful; that it was something to celebrate. It was me living my truth. 

My mum taught me that while the world is full of both good and bad, expressing myself and living life on my terms is definitely part of the good. 

Another petal that has shaped how my life has played out is the fact that I am the child of a criminalised man. I grew up bouncing between him and my nan. It pains me to remember him during my childhood as a sad, scary, shallow and money-hungry man. I also remember him being outrageously funny and an amazing woodworker. 

When my dad sings, he always finds a way to work himself into the lyrics like he’s Ice Cube or something. He is fiercely loving in many ways, and fiercely violent and harmful in others. 

Dad has always struggled with his mental health and addiction, and has often relied on things like drug dealing to support us as a family. When he was a kid, society forced him to learn how to provide for himself in a world that didn’t want to see him survive – a world that told him time and time again that he was the problem. 

It breaks my heart that my siblings and I also had to grow up in a world that told us time and time again that we were the problem. Despite my dad’s best efforts, he couldn’t protect us from this messaging. I hate that my dad grew up in a world that saw him as a criminal from a young age, and I hate that the world sees me and my siblings as criminals because we’re Black and we were born to someone society has painted as a villain. 


My great-grandmother and my great-great-grandmother were both part of the original Stolen Generations, and I know this is where my family’s pain started. I loved my great-grandmother deeply and remember her wisdom. I also remember the hurt she carried. 

I don’t think any kid my age should understand the term ‘generational trauma’ the way I do. My dad has spent a lot of time in and out of prison and our relationship is complex. This relationship is not simply good, nor simply bad – it’s both and everything in between. To my dad, I think I am many complicated things. I am his child, but I’m also the one who has had to step up many times. I’m the one who looks after him and who cares for him and his children, and sometimes I think he feels like I threaten his authority and his validity as a ‘man’ (whatever that means). 

As I write this, my dad has been in prison for two years. For about a year and a half of this, he was awaiting sentencing. He’s due to come home any day now and to be honest, I feel so many complicated emotions about it. I feel excited. I feel scared. I feel heavy. In so many ways my life is simpler without him around, and in other ways I feel his absence like a wound. 

Most of my childhood memories are traumatic. Some of the most vivid of these aren’t of trauma inflicted by my family, as the world so often wants to focus on, but rather trauma inflicted by the State. I have countless childhood memories of police beating down my door to arrest my family members: while in the loungeroom watching Nickelodeon with my younger brothers asleep in my arms; while dozing off to sleep on a Sunday night; while at a wake for one of our family’s Elders. 

The threat that my caregivers could be violently stolen from my life at any given moment always loomed large. I remember this one time police forced their way in when I was about nine or 10 years old. I knew the drill by then and bundled up all my younger siblings and cousins into one room and hid under the quilt cover. On this particular occasion, I heard the bedroom door open and felt the quilt being ripped from us. I opened my eyes to see a bright light shining in my face. It wasn’t until another officer entered the room and turned on the light that I realised that it wasn’t simply a torch, but the barrel of a gun pointing in my face. I was a child – no more than 10 years old. 

This is the same night my dad got charged for resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer as he struggled free of their grip to come to me, his child who was surrounded by police. This is the same night that I felt my heart rip in two as I saw my five-year-old brother, pinned to the window, screaming “Dad, Dad, Dad!” as he watched my father’s face being dragged along the concrete by four officers.  

My heart broke with the realisation that my baby brother was going to grow up in the same world that I was growing up in. I need you to trust me when I say that violence by police officers towards Aboriginal people is real and I need you to trust me when I say that if you are an Aboriginal child whose parents have been criminalised, police officers see you as a criminal, too. This message was drilled into my 11-year-old brain on another occasion when cops burst into my dad’s house, chaos ensued and my aunty ended up being held down by five police officers. I remember feeling rage boiling in my belly and eventually spitting from my mouth when, for the first time in my life, I told the police what I thought of them. 

“Oi, you fucking pig. My aunty doesn’t fucking deserve this. My family doesn’t deserve this. What you are doing is fucking wrong,” 11-year-old me yelled.  

Cool as a cucumber, through pursed lips, I remember this slimy cop’s reply: “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “That’s gonna be you one day.” 

Can you imagine hearing that as an 11-year-old? 


Another petal that makes me who I am is my ability to survive. Just like my dad, my nan, my great-grandmother and my great-great-grandmother, I’ve had to learn how to provide for myself in a world that doesn’t want to see me thrive. 

This means that I’m wickedly creative and it also means I can live off just oats, Weet-Bix and hot water for weeks on end. I’ve stolen more times than I can remember – sometimes to feed myself and my younger siblings, sometimes to keep up with the latest trend and sometimes because, if you were in my position, wouldn’t you, too? You need to know, though, that this still doesn’t mean that I’m the problem. 

Despite all of this – despite everything I have lived through, everything I have had to do to survive – I am still here. I am smart. I am funny. I am intensely loving and protective of my younger siblings, but man – I can be heartbreakingly cruel towards myself. I have a best friend who I love with the fire of a thousand suns. This best friend is teaching me how to accept love and care from others. 

At 17 years of age, I started living alone in a high-density public housing block and there’s not a week that goes by that I don’t open my door to someone in need. 

I am trying hard to finish school, but it’s not easy to write an essay on ‘Where I see myself in 10 years time and how school is going to help me get there’ when I don’t know where the money for rent or dinner is coming from. It’s even harder when you get suspended for two weeks for smoking a cigarette. I can’t help but think that if Mr Vice Principal was also living in unsafe public housing and had their 56-year-old alcoholic neighbour banging on their door and hurling abuse all night, he too might want a cigarette on his lunch break. 

Despite all of this, I am still here, sharing my story with you. Despite all of this, at 18 years of age, I can now call myself a writer. I had always dreamed of telling complex stories, like the one that I have lived and am living, but from a vantage point miles away from that of the average white, middle-class reporter or researcher – and here I am, doing just that. Here I am, sharing the stories that other people won’t let us tell, sharing the stories that help people understand that we are not the problem, sharing the stories that help other kids like me know that they aren’t the problem either. 

Because I am not the problem. 

We are not the problem. 

Bodies. Lives. Intertwined.

There is an invitation there to reflect on past relationships I’ve been in, with the non-Jews and the Jews. The textures of the bodies and the love that has flown between us. The passions and the hurt. The ambiguities and the incredible neuroses.

Two of my grandparents went to Expo 88 and brought me back a badge that I kept for a long time after.

Expo 88 was one among many ‘world’s fairs’ staged around the world since the 1790s, designed to showcase art, technology, industry, and the nation and empire, and to be spaces of leisure, bringing in economic benefit. Perhaps the most famous one was held in 1851 at the specially built Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in London, with the theme ‘Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations’. They’re a bit of an odd thing, really. Highly colonial. Expo 88’s theme was ‘Leisure in the Age of Technology’ and it had ‘Expo Oz’, a platypus, as its mascot. Expo Oz had a blue bill and yellow shirt and hat, and he stood on his hind legs. I highly recommend looking up pictures of him.

Along with lots of other older Jews, my two grandparents would go each winter to Surfers Paradise for a long holiday, so they would have gone to the Expo then I assume. A little exodus of Holocaust survivors and friends from Kulin country to Yugambeh land and water to warm their bodies and bones.

I imagine them sitting and talking and drinking coffee and walking slowly along the boardwalk. Sharing stories and wearing bathers and open shirts. Their bodies sitting differently for them. A certain sexual aura in the air.

I circle around and around my grandparents’ stories, even though I know very few. On the shelf in my apartment, I have a lovely photo of the two of them: they look at me when I eat my breakfast and when I sit tap-tap-tapping on my computer. This photo keeps me company, and I wonder about them as I go about my day, listening to music, reading news and stories and people and books, catching the tram to work down Lygon Street and past the streets where they used to live and walk. In the photo they’re beautifully dressed and nice and fleshy (they’re so different from the photos of them soon after the war). They have kind smiles. My grandmother is wearing a jumper and jewellery that I would absolutely love to be able to wear today. They look content. I wonder what role romance and sex and intimate relationships played in their lives. I wonder what love meant to them.

A couple of years ago my uncle wrote on Facebook, in response to a cousin sharing the ad for a panel on remembering the Nakba that I was participating in, that my grandparents would have been disappointed in me. I don’t know if he’s right, but I hope not. My body is so completely similar to my grandmother’s—our shoulders, our hair, our nose—that I hope she would have seen what I was trying to do, even if she disagreed. But I hope that she wouldn’t have disagreed.

Jewish bodies are not simple things. Early Zionists actively wanted to reform the Jewish body, to make it hard and fast and strong and lean: not rounded, soft, gentle, tender. To make it firmly heterosexual, masculine, aggressive. In this vision, Jewish bodies were meant to take up space through strength and assertion, but to neatly contained in how they were built. These ideas continue. They remain in how Zionism is lived in the everyday: with a conscription army inside the State of Israel and the mass use of security guards and the paraphernalia of security culture among Jewish Zionist communities in Australia, we see it every day. We see it too in Zionist youth movements and in the social demands on Jews to marry other Jews and have Jewish babies.

When I was in Palestine in 2007, doing research on cultures of Holocaust memory (a trip I wouldn’t do now, because of BDS), I stayed with a high school friend who had moved to Israel. It was scorching hot, and I was sweaty and hairy and unkempt, while she was lean, with short straight hair, everything in its place, no sign of sweat ever. It was stark and fascinating.

Lily Brett’s depiction of bodies, sex, food, neuroses, relationships and Holocaust memory was published in 1988, the year of Australia’s Bicentenary, and so it, in some ways, sits as part of that moment in time. Or, maybe to put it better, I want to think about it in terms of that moment. Invited into the vast archives of Overland’s past, I went straight to the 1988 editions to think in some ways about nation-building, about how Overland might have been thinking about this moment, in its time. I love that this piece might be part of that time, not because the nation should be built (it shouldn’t: Australia must end), but because this is something other and I want stories like this—that tell of a location in place, but which do not try to build the nation—in my collective past.

There is an invitation there to reflect on past relationships I’ve been in, with the non-Jews and the Jews. The textures of the bodies and the love that has flown between us. The passions and the hurt. The ambiguities and the incredible neuroses. Garth’s new trousers had three pleats on either side of the zip. Until now, he had worn skin-tight, pegged-legged Levis. Miriam looked at Garth. She found the loose space between his legs alluring. She started to think about what lay behind those parallel pleats.

I went for a walk along Merri Creek during the long lockdown in 2021, shortly after my boyfriend and I had broken up, with a friend who has three kids, two cats and a husband, and she told me how she constantly had someone touching her.

Read the full piece here.

Beekeeping as an Act of Resistance 

Counter to my more mindless hobbies is the attention that tending to bees inspires in me—attention that varies in its depth of focus, ranging from passive observation to meditative focus, unlike the homogenous, habitual energy I give Instagram.

Resisting the commodification of our lives can take many forms, and one that feels right to me is beekeeping. 

I first became interested in beekeeping when a friend I was living with had a hive that he would gently tend to in our back yard. I was attracted to the attuned seasonality of keeping bees, the endless fascination they provided and the way bees drew me away from overwhelming life to focus on something immediate and tactile. I also appreciated that back-yard beekeeping wasn’t profit-driven like so many aspects of our lives are now, whether for our own profit or the profit of corporations. 

Capitalism has created mounting pressure for our lives to be as productive and profitable as possible, and not just while we’re at work. I can feel the pressure permeating my everyday activities, pushing me to strive for ‘success’ in everything I do, manipulating my priorities and exploiting my creativity every day. Even simple hobbies—ideally intended as a break from the live-to-work grind—feel output-driven as we further succumb to what Marx would call ‘commodity fetishism’. 

Other times, the product is our own attention and emotion. Take doom-scrolling, for example. Social media’s addictive architecture is creating a vacuum that harvests our attention, time, energy and emotional responses to generate profit for others while barely gratifying us. With so many aspects of our lives being manipulated in a similar way—extracting our energy for profit while offering us the bare minimum in return—it feels increasingly important to learn to resist this influence on a personal level, to reclaim a sense of connection and calm. 

Jenny Odell, the artist and writer of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, might describe beekeeping as a form of ‘resistance-in-place’. Odell examines our relationship with the attention economy, highlighting that our attention is now a currency for corporations. ‘To resist in place,’ she writes, ‘is to make oneself into a shape that cannot so easily be appropriated by a capitalist value system. To do this means refusing the frame of reference: in this case, 
a frame of reference in which value is deterred by productivity, the strength of one’s career, and individual entrepreneurship.’ This has helped me understand the importance of making sure there are pieces of myself that can’t be so easily exploited. 

I began to see that ‘doing nothing’ in this context doesn’t mean sitting and staring at a wall or television all day, but rather reclaiming my own attention to connect more deeply with my immediate surroundings. As Odell writes, this is ‘a refusal to believe that the present time and place, and the people who are here with us, are somehow not enough’. And so I came to see my beekeeping as an important piece of my practice of resistance-in-place—a resistance that requires constant vigilance to fight the temptation of doom-scrolling or laying on the lounge room floor watching Daria reruns, which are all the more tempting in the mental health wake of lockdowns. 

Of course, beekeeping is an obvious act of resistance against ecological degradation, given that we can’t survive without bees, which was one of the main reasons I was drawn to beekeeping as a hobby. But in addition to the environmental benefits of managing a box full of happy pollinators, beekeeping is also imbued with a deepening of care, community, attention and connection to place. 

The history of ethical beekeeping reflects the respect that humans have always had for bees. Humans originally carried our bees on our backs as we migrated from country to country, and we have largely nurtured this relationship that has supported our survival for thousands of years. However, the commercial and arguably less ethical beekeeping practice required to keep food on our tables, where we can’t grow it ourselves, has heavily exploited this relationship. In Australia, up to 30 per cent of our fresh food is pollinated by bees, mostly in industrial farms across the country, and this is undoubtedly traumatic for the bees that are packed and shipped over and over again to pollinate crops, while also having their honey stripped for sale. 

But in the context of my back-yard beekeeping, I live in a gentle kind of co-dependency with the bees. With wild bee numbers across Australia declining each year due to climate change, disease and pesticides, I feel honoured with the privilege of tending to even one hive at my city rental. Their existence doesn’t depend on me, but I can be here to provide safe shelter for them in the hope of increasing their chances of survival without interfering too much with their needs. In return, I am increasing the rates of pollination in my neighbourhood and am given the opportunity to harvest free honey if there is excess available. This honey doesn’t exist for profit either. I never sell it, only trading a jar here or there for things like a fresh homegrown zucchini or a box set of Seinfeld DVDs for my mum. I become a passive custodian of the bees, our needs intersecting non-competitively instead of through demand or exchange for profit. 

For many back-yard beekeepers, opening the hive to work with the bees is a solitary exercise that calls for more care than many other routine activities. Bees can sense a beekeeper’s agitation, so the act of checking the hive requires a deep calm that I have struggled to find through other avenues. I move slowly and with intention, moving smoothly around the bees, listening to how they’re reacting, removing frames for inspection, surveying them with mindful visual notetaking, before returning each frame to the hive. The process is all-consuming, drawing me so fully out of myself that it feels like tunnel vision. 

Beekeeping also requires different kinds of care at different times of year, which deepens and diversifies the caregiving experience in ways that I think the commodified world struggles to do for us. For example, summer is by far the busiest beekeeping period, when regular checks are encouraged to monitor for disease, provide additional space to be filled with honey and baby bees, moderate potential swarming activity and to make sure the queen bee is healthy. But winter, when I can’t open the hive due to the cold weather, becomes a season of mindful observation and preparation for the coming warmer months. This rhythmic cycle provides a chance to reflect and improve my practice over time, which is something that feels rare in innovation-driven working environments, or on social media where you’re prompted to react immediately or lose the opportunity. 

While the tending is often solitary, beekeepers are anything but isolated, and there is an incredible camaraderie in the local beekeeping community. There are several online groups that are usually very supportive, but it’s the ‘offline’ groups that are especially enjoyable. When I started out, ten other beginners and I learnt the basics of beekeeping at a bee school, of sorts, through a local community centre. It was through this group that I eventually bought my first small box of bees to support. When I told the group that I wouldn’t be able to catch up as often because I was moving to Flemington, a suburb further away, they were excited that I would live near the roses growing at Flemington’s famous racecourses and told me to keep a tastebud out for rose-tinted flavours in the honey. I still call this group’s teacher whenever I need beekeeping advice. 

In a refreshing shift from the alienation that comes with living and working in an over-capitalised world, where it’s each for their own, these beekeeping groups act as a rare, lateral support network. Beekeepers are often charitable and generous with their time, always very happy to share their experiences with me and learn from my mistakes or lessons in kind. Stanislava Pinchuk, a Ukrainian-Australian artist, spoke eloquently in a 2020 episode of Australian podcast Mont Icons of the mutual, charitable friendship that beekeepers around the world feel towards each other. ‘There’s just such a curiosity about how you do it, what your bees are like, the nuances of your place and your seasons,’ she said. ‘You just learn by talking and doing. So beekeepers have this really amazing kind of charity wherever you go. And this real understanding of the care of what you do.’ 

Counter to my more mindless hobbies is the attention that tending to bees inspires in me—attention that varies in its depth of focus, ranging from passive observation to meditative focus, unlike the homogenous, habitual energy I give Instagram. Whereas a walk or housework might be accompanied by a podcast, there is no attention spared for multitasking while the hive is open. Through a growing admiration of these tiny creatures and a fascination with the never-ending complexity of a bee’s world, I spend more spare time quietly watching the front of the hive: alert to any unusual movement, listening to the gentle hum of worker bees and the slightly louder buzz of drone bees, smelling the sweet wafts of new honey, and admiring the rhythmic order that rules their lives. 

I find myself connecting more intimately to the environment around me as well—not to the buildings, roads or other industrial structures that usually define a suburb, but to the Wurundjeri bioregion that surrounds me yet often escapes my notice. When I watch bees coming and going from the hive with endlessly changing coloured pollen on their legs—often soft yellow or white, sometimes bright pink—I can’t help but wonder where they’ve collected it from. 

While bees use their foraged pollen to feed themselves in the short term, they are also carrying nectar that is used to make honey: a blend of nectar collected between one and six kilometres from the hive. Knowing this means that I naturally pay much closer attention to the blossoms in my local area each week, to see if I might be able to notice what the bees bring home. The colour of pollen and the flavour of honey of course changes with the time of year. From my own neighbourhood, bees forage from sweet-scented daphne flowers during winter and bright lemon or pittosporum flowers during autumn and spring. I am more inclined to notice autumn lavender and summer rosemary flowers bursting out of my neighbours’ front yards, ready to be foraged from. 

Council-planted peppermint or lemon-scented gum trees are dotted across the parks and streets, while silver banksia and river red gums line the local creek beds, keeping the bees busy and my attention pleasantly occupied all year round. Before beekeeping I would have walked to the tram stop with headphones blaring, face in my phone, but now I have the awareness to look for flowers in bloom and wonder whether I’ll be able to notice their flavours in my bees’ honey. Practising this level of sensory attention is not only a meditative reprieve from the daily grind, it also deepens my understanding and knowledge of my own spatial context and offers the salve of an enriched locality—a kind of therapy in my post-COVID mental health recovery. 

This return of attention to the meaningful detail of everyday life and how it intersects with commodity fetishism is captured in resistance poet Elena Gomez’s collection Admit the Joyous Passion of Revolt

I’ll forget to pay attention. The vines in my own backyard. 

Can someone recall what we named them? 

I’m always distracted. 

I’ve got Chelsea Blue jeans. 

But I remember. The vine that was ready to escape my backyard was called Electrolyte. I remembered because I would wrap it up around me when I woke hungover many mornings. 

Through the bees and the practice of keeping them, I can feel the status quo of ruthless competition, profit hunger and hyper-productivity briefly punctuated. Their passive power draws my attention away from the forces that commodify it, directing it towards something that feels slower and more meaningful: the gift of calm connection.  

Originally published via: https://meanjin.com.au/memoir/beekeeping-as-an-act-of-resistance/