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THE MANY CONCERNS
"You don't stand around,
you have a job to do . . . " She was talking about her work with refugees, but
she has the same attitude to anything she tackles,
from investigating social
problems to making TV ads
ll^^"he other day my daughter
Georgina told me she'd had a ? nightmare that a man was threatening her with a gun. She called out to me and although I came quickly I didn't take the gun away. Instead, I said to him: 'Tell me how you feel!' "
Anne Deveson's work for the Royal Commission on Human Relationships obviously has had a lasting effect on both herself and her family!
The report, based -on information from thousands of Australians, has be- come accepted as a responsible document on the family, social, educational, legal and sexual aspects of male and female relationships.
It was handed down in 1978 and be- came instantly controversial. Anne's book, "Australians at Risk," was pub- lished in the same year to enable those unlikely to tackle the five volumes of the report to understand what it was about and why there were 511 recommenda- tions for social reform.
"The report has not been debated in the Federal Parliament, except for a brief late evening session in the Senate," says Anne. Although disappointed and angry, she is aware that it is used constantly in universities, colleges, and welfare and voluntary agencies as material to back up submissions to governments for funds, facilities and changes.
"For a year I spoke about the Com- mission where and when I was invited, often to hostile audiences," she says. "In the end I was drained. I felt I had nothing more to give. I was in danger of being calcified into a walking, talking Human Relations expert."
Anne Deveson is down-to-earth, pro- fessional and articulate. She's also the Omo Lady, doesn't take herself too seriously and is fun to be with. A self confessed feminist and the mother of three children - Jonathon, 16, Georgina, 15, and Joshua, 12 - she says the children don't let her get carried away. They tell her when she's putting on her Human Relations voice!
Anne believes that part of her is fairly commercial. "I want to make a pro- gramme, write a feature or book, make a film, but I also want to make sure it will
Anne at work filming part of the television series, "A Matter of Chance.
RIGHT: "You never become immune to starvation." Pictures: Craig Lamotte.
sell. People are short-sighted and scath- ing about the mass media. I don't believe we should underestimate the public."
It must be Anne's commercial instinct that led to her soap powder commercials.
But surely this is taking advantage of her ability to project sincerity?
"I do it because it's extremely well paid," she says. "I'm financially respon- sible for three children. And it gives me a measure of independence to do other things, like working with World Vision."
Anne laughs and adds: "I was
sunbathing on a remote beach on LDunk Island, nothing on except my hat and sunglasses, when I heard the putter putter of a motor and looked up to see a woman on the prow of a boat point- ing at me and shouting: 'Oh look, there's the Omo Lady!' "
Anne says there's been no master plan in her life, no specific goals, that one pro- ject tends to evolve into another. Since the Commission she has worked for the Anti-Discrimination Board in NSW and made a documentary film on child abuse. She has visited both Uganda and Somalia for World Vision and is present- ing a series for ABC TV, "A Matter Of Chance," about our attitudes towards people who are either physically or men- tally disadvantaged.
"I've been commissioned to write a
book on child abuse and I'm working on the script for a feature film based on an; incident of ritualized rape in a country town," says Anne. "And I'd like to spend] four or five months in a refugee situa^ tion. The whole question of international aid needs exploring."
It was in Ethiopia in 1975 that Anne; first came across devastating famine.] "The first time is the worst, but you never become immune to starvation," she says.
"But you don't stand around. You have a job to do and it's bloody hot and the wind is blowing and the medical supplies haven't arrived ..."
After Ethiopia Anne felt all our prob- lems were irrelevant by comparison.
"Of course they are not," she says now. "Poverty is purely relative. I remem ber doing a TV documentary and dis- covering a whole range of poverty: the top professional man whose marriage is busting up; the deserted wife; the middle class man who loses his job ... I believe we have a responsibility towards Third World countries in the grip of famine.
"But everyone has the right to an opinion about international aid, to have
his own priorities. The situation of thej Aborigine in Australia is disgraceful. The conditions in which they live lead td the social problems we condemn theml. for, not the other way around."
Anne was married to broadcaster Ellis
OF ANNE DEVESON...
Blain in 1959. Two years ago they were divorced and last year Ellis died. Anne and the children miss him.
"Everyone has a basic desire to be a good parent," she says. "Fm okay. But people expect too much. They are too
hard on themselves.
"When Fm thinking about going away on an assignment, we talk about it. My 15-year-old says Fd go anyway, but it's not true! I do feel concern. On several occasions Fve turned down jobs. I don't like short-changing the children.
"Guilt? Fve none, really. I don't think being a parent is easy at any time, but I think it can be fun. The more you learn from your children and vice versa the more everyone will grow."
Anne began her professional life as a journalist in London. "I met an ex-war correspondent who was free-lancing for several American papers and agencies. She needed a typist, I went for an inter- view, stayed for dinner and we became partners for seven years."
American editors taught Anne where to put the commas; her husband coached her in radio; a Sydney newspaper gave her a column, "Anne Deveson Report- ing," in which she could be controversial; Radio station 2GB gave her a programme called "Newsmakers;" and "Beauty and the Beast," the TV show which ran and ran, gave her the confidence to approach a television station and suggest she make her first documentary film.
Anybody, who was anybody was inter- viewed in print, on radio or on television by Anne. She conducted in-depth inter- views with Malcolm Fraser, Don Chipp, Gough Whitlam, Sir John Gorton, Sir Billy Snedden. She says she became more and more aware of the frailties of the powerful, but she herself became powerful.
"That was a gradual awareness," she says. "In the beginning I didn't know I had power. I thought I must have had a measure of it when I got instant editorial approval."
Anne describes the choice of Justice Elizabeth Evatt, the then Anglican Arch- bishop of Brisbane Dr Felix Arnott, and herself to conduct the Royal Commission into Human Relations as a marriage of unknown partners selected by the Gov- ernment. It worked and the three are still friends.
"I know we have brought into the open issues that had never been covered before. And I know our report is a sign- post for the process of change. I think it's a scandal that it has not been debated in the Federal Parliament when it cost the taxpayer $1.75 million." CU
- BUNTY TURNER