The snakes and ladders of our lives

Address to the University of Queensland graduating class - December 12, 2013


Chancellor, Acting Vice-Chancellor, members of Senate, members of staff, distinguished guests, graduates of 2013, parents, ladies and gentlemen.

I have a question: why are you here?

If I were to ask every single graduate why you are here tonight, I’d receive a range of responses.

You’d tell me you’re here because you wanted to celebrate, to commemorate or maybe just draw a line under a few very important years of your life. You’d tell me you are here because you were graduating and, like turning 18, getting a drivers licence or taking your first overseas trip, it’s an event worthy of some note.

You might say you’re here because you wanted to join with that bunch of strangers you met during first semester first year who ended up becoming your friends. Or perhaps you’re here because you studied hard, slaving away over textbooks and dreading group assignments, and that you earned the right.

Or maybe you’d simply tell me you arrived here tonight because you caught the number 66 bus from town.

They seem like different answers. Varied. But they are not.


Click on the title to read the whole speech.

Reading Ugly for your book club?

If you’re reading Ugly for your book club, drop me a line via email. I’d love to chat via Skype or FaceTime or maybe even visit if you’re in Brisbane (I can be tempted with Tim Tams and a nice cup of tea, or maybe a beer on a hot day). I’m really happy to chat about my life and writing the book. And I’d love to hear your stories too.

A quick Ugly media wrap

If you’d like to hear a bit more about what I’ve got to say about being ugly and having a disability, check out some of the interviews I’ve done recently.

Talking with almost-Wynnum-locals Moyd and Loretta on 4BC: here.

Chatting with the wonderful Warren Boland on 612ABC: here.

A fun interview with Natasha Mitchell from ABC Radio National Life Matters: here

Helen Chryssides at the Good Weekend magazine wrote a lovely piece with me and Vince:  here

Josh Alston at the Wynnum Herald brought out the proud local in me: here.

There’s also a review of Ugly in The Australian here and in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age here.

Because what else are you going to do with an old prosthetic?

If you’re in Brisbane, there are a few days left to check out Spare Parts. The exhibition, presented by Priscilla Sutton and the Brisbane Powerhouse, aims “to not only recycle pre-loved arms and legs into new and exciting artworks but also to create an open and positive conversation, celebrating prosthetics and how much can be achieved by using them.”

Check it out.

On the fence with a peg-leg


Grade one pic of me sitting on the fence.


This is one of the photos appearing in my memoir, Ugly. It was taken for a feature in The Australian when I was in grade one. I normally wasn’t allowed to sit on the fence – my mum was worried I’d fall backwards and bang my head – but I think the photographer convinced her it would be okay. (photo courtesy Newspix)


All the ugly photos of my youth


Last week I sent a bunch of photographs to my publisher for inclusion in my memoir, Ugly.

Many, like this one, probably won’t cut it quality-wise. But for six months while I wrote the book I had all the sundry papers of my life – report cards, old exercise books containing untidy writing and drawing of spaceships, school magazines and photographs – sitting beside me. It was a strange experience having it all there – being able to dip in and out when the writing got hard – and some of it is worth sharing.

This is a photo of me and my sister Paula, in our backyard. In this photo I’m two-and-a-half. It was before my big operation that amputated my deformed legs and reconstructed my face.

I’ll share a few more pics every now and then. Be warned though – no amount of medical brilliance can fix big ears and bad haircuts.

Some quick and dirty data on Julia Gillard’s “misogynist” speech

In this week’s back and forth about the PM’s speech and the mainstream media’s reporting of it, there hasn’t been much reference to available data.

On one side, many in the press gallery reported the most important aspect of the events was Gillard’s decision to back Slipper after his grubby text messages were revealed. On the other side was a more diffuse group of commentators (and many argue the broader public) who believed the PM’s decision to call out Tony Abbott’s behaviour was much more significant.

Well, we’re several days in now and we’ve got a few sources of data that are worth having a quick look at. While it’s not decisive, it’s informative, and worth taking a quick look at.

First, Google Trends.

Google Trends is a service the lets you examine the comparative rate of search queries in a particular region, over a particular time. It doesn’t provide raw numbers but expresses the highest rate of search over the given time period as 100, and the other data points as a factor of that.

So what does it show?

It shows that rates of search in Australia for “Peter Slipper” rose sharply on the Tuesday (though Google Trends shows dates in American time) and falling off over the next few days. Similarly, rates for “Julia Gillard” or “Gillard speech” rose sharply after she spoke in Parliament and fell off over the next few days.

It gets interesting when you start to dig into specifics, though. Searches for “misogynist” in Australia over the last seven days were pretty non-existent before the speech. After the speech they increased 50-fold, peaking that day and remaining high the next day. Two days after the speech searched for misogynist had dropped off somewhat but were still about 20 times at the start of the week. Searches for “sexist” in Australia returned similar rates of results over the first two days, dropped but then started rising again.

The rate of searches for “Tony Abbott” experienced a small bump over the period too but nowhere near as pronounced.

When you look over a longer period, Google Trends also reveals that searches for Julia Gillard are at their highest rate since she became the Prime Minister and won the 2010 election.

Perhaps the most informative result though is when you ask Google Trends for the data on “Peter Slipper resignation” or “Peter Slipper sacking” or “Peter Slipper removal as speaker.” When you ask for that Google returns the simple message: “Not enough search volume to show graphs”

Second, You Tube.

You Tube provides good statistics for each video posted, including views over time with references to the Google search terms that brought people to the video and when, websites where it’s hosted, and views from mobile devices. Unfortunately the ABC has disabled public statistics on the copy of its copy of the video. It would do a great service if it reported the data or simply let people see it for themselves (the national broadcaster should probably leave the data unlocked by default).

But there’s another copy of the speech here that has (as of Oct 14) more than 100,000 views. As of Friday (the most recent data available) views were still rising.  For every one “dislike” it has gotten so far, the video has received 19 “likes.”

It shows search terms that people used to reach the video, including “Julia Gillard misogynist” – about 1.5% and views from mobile devices – about 11.6% and views from Facebook – about 7.3%. I doubt many of the one-in-five people viewing the video on Facebook or on their smart-phone are Alan Jones listeners. But you never know.

I cannot find a copy of Tony Abbott’s speech to compare results.

The numbers don’t prove any politician was wrong or any politician was right. They do suggest, however, that much of what the mainstream media told us about what the public should be interested in, does not appear to be connected with what the public was actually interested in searching for and viewing.