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Lunch with Julian Burnside – barrister & human rights activist

Lunch with Julian Burnside – barrister & human rights activist

Julian Burnside is probably the most approachable barrister you’ll ever meet. Only hours after our social coordinator, Margaret, invited him to meet with us to discuss how the Melbourne Shapers could contribute to constructive refugee policies, he responded to accept.

We later found out that he takes the time to conscientiously reply to every single email he gets (even the hate mail and death threats). And he gets a lot.

A self-described “bleeding heart”, Julian is vehemently vocal about his opposition to the Australian government’s treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum. He has been a bit of a black sheep in the legal profession (you don’t see many QC’s publicly espousing their opinions) but that’s exactly why Australia needs him. His unwavering commitment to fight for moral decency has given many other advocates, activists, lawyers, doctors and teachers the courage to stand up and demand better.

For this and many other reasons, Julian is one of my personal heroes and it is wonderful that through Shapers I have had the opportunity to meet and learn from him.

Our conversation with Julian was deep but also wide ranging, with heavy political discussions interspersed with philosophical quotes, anecdotes and discussions about art and culture.

His response to a question about his own personal resilience has stuck with me: “I would rather die knowing that I have tried than wishing I had done something.”

Here are some of the other shapers’ reflections on the lunch:

“Julian is incredibly knowledgeable and inspiring. Being able to hear his musings was a massive privilege. One of the things I took away was that we do have a role to play in our own communities in changing the conversation and we need to live up to that responsibility.”

“Hearing him talk about his experiences has really crystallised some of the ideas I’ve got to work on projects around language education and cross cultural sharing.”

“We do tend to talk about the issue of refugees and people seeking asylum in ‘echo chambers’. If we want to see real change we need to be looking further than that. This starts with having empathy for those with different views from you.”

“Julian made these complex issues very real for me and he did this through telling us stories. It really reinforced to me the power of storytelling.”

“Listening to how he expresses himself will help me have these conversations with other people.”

“It was incredible to have an the insights of an expert but I also feel quite despairing about the fact that I think we need to be very serious about the challenges we face and not complacent about them.”

“I personally identified with his sense of justice. This reaffirmed how I should live my life.”

“Hearing Julian’s career experience and also the other shapers share their perspectives for changing the conversation in Australia was great. “

“Right now Australian politics is about holding power and protecting parliamentarians and not necessarily about principles. We need to change the conversation about refugees today.”

Here is some of the literature we discussed:

  • ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omellas’ by Ursula Le Guin
  • ‘Middletons Rouseabout’ by Henry Lawson
  • ‘Road to Ruin’ by E.S. Turner
  • ‘Geek Love’ by Katherine Dunn
  • ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ by C.P Cavafy

The Melbourne Shapers hold a monthly leaders lunch to learn more about the issues facing the world and the leaders who are making a difference. Occasionally a few spots will be available to young people interested in joining the shapers community. To find out more, sign up to our mailing list.


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