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Why telling stories is so important

14 October 2012

Unlike the backless red dress worn by one woman, the red Anthurium, the predominant flower decorating the evening and the stage, didn’t work for me.

This year, the President, Belinda Hutchinson, announced CEW would more than double the amount of scholarships being offered to women to attend some of the most prestigious business and leadership courses in the world. (A good friend of mine, Suzanne Dvorak, attended Harvard Business School on one recently and found it immensely fulfilling. Suzanne has been the CEO of Save The Children Australia since 2009, but I first met her when she began Marie Stopes International, driving the start-up to become a multi-million dollar organisation and Australia’s premier sexual and reproductive health brand.)

Another noticeable increase was men in Penguin suits, including the likes of Lachlan Murdoch on the table next to us. Women in business are no longer a force to be ignored.

The keynote speaker was Therese Rein, who told a moving story of her father – a paraplegic following a flying accident in which he was the pilot – and how his drive and determination and her mother’s unfailing care and determination set her pattern for success for life.

The word “can’t” it seems was not one into which the Rein family invested much time or effort.
I must admit I also wanted to hear how she felt about shutting down her very successful business when her husband was Prime Minister in order to ensure no conflicts of interest. Such a driven and determined woman; a woman who has made such a go of things in business and life would certainly have felt something. Perhaps, the story behind those decisions is one for another time?

We’re investing in the stories of people in a big way this month. There’s our NBCF drive in October to further develop the Register4 network and get family members to tell their health stories for the benefit of researchers looking into genetic markers for breast cancer and hoping to find a cure. There’s also our much applauded and awarded Ruby of the Month, Australian writer Anna Funder, who is making a career of uncovering facts, guarding the truth and telling compelling stories as bravely and forthrightly as possible.

And then there are the stories ordinary Australians are writing down in what I think might be the new century’s equivalent of our past preoccupation with family trees, the memoir. It’s a bit like TV’s Who Do You Think You Are?. A program I adore, especially the British version.

Sitting on a plane flying up to Queensland recently, I met two wonderful women: a mother and her daughter on their way to meet up with the mother’s mother (the daughter’s grandmother) for a short break in the sun and a welcome escape from Melbourne’s Winter, which really does get you down by the time September rolls around.

We struck up a conversation following the song and dance I’d made around some poor guy who was storing his cabin baggage in the overhead lockers, and who I swear was about to squash my very new Helen Kaminski sun hat. (He didn’t… squash it, but you can never be too careful.) My new BFFs, who agreed and were also amused by my indignant hat-saving antics, chatted with me the whole flight and when we landed offered to drive me to my hotel. It just so happened that’s where the grandmother was also staying.

Over the course of my stay I met up with all three women a few times, had dinner with them, and spoke at length with the older woman round the pool. She was elegant, thoughtful and so comfortable in her own skin. Secretly, I think it’s all I hope to be one day and it occurred to me I might even have a little family envy. She was also in the process of writing her memoirs, recording her story and the facts as she knows them for the benefit of her family and future generations.

Maybe, like Woody Allen’s Zelig character and Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump, chameleons who manage to turn up in every shot and meet everyone worth knowing, I can just get into that family picture and no one will ever be the wiser.
Unlike a-fade-into-the-background Zelig type, Germaine Greer, has decided the only way forward is to be as loud and controversial and aggressively unpleasant as possible. It’s hard for me to say, and I have to agree with the writer Mia Freedman in her recent assessment of the once-great feminist icon, but Germaine’s recent behaviour, especially around insulting the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and also on the subject of genital mutilation and cosmetic surgery, has finally lost me. And I was one of her biggest fans and advocates.

Germaine’s appearance on ABC TV’s Q&A cemented what has been coming for a while for me. A few years ago, as one of the sponsors of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, when Germaine was one of the key speaker events, I invited some customers along to see her with me. Within the first few minutes we all looked at one another and decided to leave for an early dinner. Her strident, cranky remarks were just alienating. I can see why younger people might wonder at her relevance.

Feminism for me is the right to be treated with respect and to be viewed an equal on all levels. Put like that, who wouldn’t be a feminist? Germaine’s new attitude is a real turn-off, rather than a turn-on. I’m going to continue telling the story of the fantastic work she did for us all in her younger days… and hope she drops the new look.
In the second week of October the Finacial Review will announce our 100 Women of Influence nominees. Over the years these awards will substantially add to a very valuable and growing pool of women role models in all walks of life, telling their stories and marking them up to history. Bring on the day.

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4 comments

  • Jennifer Bailey

    Jennifer Bailey 6 years ago

    Hi LarkeLooking forward to the Xmas Breakup,I haven't seen the date for it yet. I will bring someone I would really like you to meet.Have a great weekendJennifer

  • Larke Riemer

    Larke Riemer 6 years ago

    Hello Jen and Kasia - Hope all is well with you Jen I haven't seen you for awhile. Hopefully you will get to our Xmas breakup in November at Union Dining. Kasia it certainly would not be a dull flight who knows we may just do that one day. Enjoy your week. Larke

  • Jennifer Bailey

    Jennifer Bailey 6 years ago

    Insighful as always Larke!

  • Kasia Gospos

    Kasia Gospos 6 years ago

    Larke, your stories are always so engaging and amusing. I wish you are sitting next to me on my next flight...