Wilful naïveté?

It’s been more than a month since my last post so let me bring you up to date with activities around the book, author’s talks, and reader feedback.

We’ll know by 13 October whether the 2022 Walkley Awards (for excellence in journalism) have short-listed Betrayed (its first category nomination), and then by 3 November (its second category nomination).

The first nomination is under the Audio Feature category and relates specifically to the two-part radio documentary (now a podcast) — Too Old to Run: the Drug Grannies — broadcast on ABC Radio National’s The History Listen program. The two half-hour documentaries I produced and presented were based on extensive journalistic research featuring in-depth interviews and actuality from the two women during their time in prison as well as after their release, much of it archived on old audio cassettes which relied on the production brilliance of ABC sound engineer Matthew Crawford to recover sufficiently and mix for a 21st century audience’s ears and expectations. Turning historical material as well as newly recorded interviews with key players in the odyssey into a well told story with good analysis and public impact relied on the editorial direction and creative talents of ABC editor Michelle Rayner who rounds off the documentary team entry in these 76-year-old awards which compare favourably with overseas journalism honours such as The UK Press Awards, and the US Peabody Awards or Pulitzer Prize .

And get this: the two-part ABC series will likely top 40,000 downloads sometime this year!

Betrayed has been nominated in a second 2022 Walkley Awards category — the Book Award
— for which the shortlist will be announced on 3 November. The awards are announced a fortnight later on 17 November.

In 1974 I became a member of the then-Australian Journalists’ Association (which continues today as the Media section of Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the Walkleys sponsor) as a cadet at John Fairfax and Sons Ltd (Sydney Sun) and remained a member for most of my 40-year working career as a journalist, diplomat and member of the senior executive service in the Australian Public Service, through to my retirement in 2014.

I rejoined earlier this year as a freelance journalist and am proud to have been able not only to continue writing and contributing to the media (including Michael West Media, Australian Women’s Weekly, the ABC [Radio National, ABC Online]and Sydney Morning Herald (Sunday Life), but also to be nominated for two different Walkley Awards categories as a result of the publication of Betrayed.

At a recent author’s talk in Bega, well supported by the local ABC South East (NSW) Breakfast Show and Candelo Books, attendees engaged in a lively question and answer session after my presentation. For some, the grannies’ tale was all too familiar while for others, there was a sense of disbelief such treachery could occur within one’s own family. It’s this latter point which I’d
like to take up in a little more depth because it’s also the subject of recent readers’ feedback. Nephew Vern Todd’s betrayal was treacherous, despicable, and horrible on so many levels, but one reader has suggested the naïveté Vera Hays (Toddie) and Florice Bessire (Beezie) displayed might equally have been of a specific type: “wilful naïveté “. I’ve researched the definitions and explanations of wilful naïveté to which psychologists sometimes refer in their patient assessments, and it makes some sense. It seems some people engage in wilful naïveté when it is useful, convenient, or even preferable to recognising the reality or truth of a situation facing them. Some describe it also as wilful ignorance because if they were to instead acknowledge the information or facts facing them, they’d likely arrive at a different conclusion.

Overall, the prospect that especially Toddie engaged in wilful naïveté is a conclusion I can  understand a reader drawing. However, I tend more towards interpreting Toddie’s refusal to believe Vern would be so treacherous as to set them up and then betray them when the operation fell into a heap and the police were on their tail, as a sign of her unworldliness. It was also a sign of her deep trust in family — a concept which might seem a tad old-fashioned to some but which, 45 years ago was a given. Clearly there was a conscious denial of the creeping reality the women had become deeply compromised as a result of being betrayed by Vern Todd.

Another reader told me of her hippie trail experience in the mid-1970s. She

“I was interested to read Betrayed
because of a similar situation I found myself in without, fortunately, the dire
consequences the drug grannies experienced. I was in Kathmandu in 1975 hitching
a ride down to Goa in November just as it was getting cold. There were a few of
us getting a free ride with a charismatic German couple who had a 3-ton ‘Camel
cigarette van’ they’d driven overland to Nepal. On the van was the famous
illustration with “I’d drive miles for a Camel” on the side. It was decorated
in a classic hippy manner with exotic carpet, cushions, and wall hangings etc.
I remember we had to get out at the Indian border for the van to be searched. A
few days after we arrived in Goa, I saw the Germans. They told me that the van
had 24 kg of hash hidden under the floorboards, to be delivered to the party
crowd in Goa. At the time I didn’t think much about it but reading
your story I realise how close we came to getting busted and ending up in an
Indian jail! Thank God I made it back home to Melbourne with just a bad case of
hepatitis and nothing worse! Good on you for giving your support to those poor
women over so many years. Dreadful situation for them and thankfully they could
return home before they died. Amazing the ratbag nephew got away with it!”

There are three more author’s talks scheduled for 2022 (4 October at Batemans Bay Library; 5 October at Narooma Library; and 29 November via Zoom with City of Monash Library, Melbourne), while Betrayed goes on sale in the UK from 1 December … just in time for Christmas!

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