This is one of the hardest columns I’ve ever written
“Good grief!” said the goose.
“Well, well!” said the pig.
“Who cares?” said the sheep.
“So what?” said the horse.
“What next?” said the cow.
This is the hardest column I’ve tackled in a long time. For days, I’ve taken different angles.
I started with the court case. Then I tried an open letter. Then I began with a few lines of a children’s book, dog-eared from the days when the kids were little and wanted just one more story before going to sleep.
But I think the best thing to do will be to say upfront why I’m writing it at all.
It’s because for months I’ve felt for children’s author Mem Fox.
Tricky one, I know.
Many will say I should be empathising with the victims of sexual abuse.
Victims such as Craig who, in the 1980s, was a 17-year-old student of Malcolm Arthur Fox when the pair had unlawful sexual intercourse.
Many will say I should be crying foul for the lack of justice meted out when people such as Malcolm Fox are found guilty of sex abuse, but spared jail. I understand and accept those views.
But this column is not about Malcolm Fox, or his former drama student, or the court case that has made headlines across Australia.
It’s about a woman who has been prepared to give up everything - including her reputation, but most importantly, her pride - for family.
The question I keep asking myself is this: Could I do it?
Could you? Could you jeopardise a well-earned international reputation as a children’s writer to stand by your husband if he was charged with sexual offences?
Could you cop the scorn, perceived or real, of people you’ve never met?
Could you repeatedly front the cameras, knowing they were focused more on you than the accused?
I’m not sure I could.
I’ve only met Mem Fox once - at a writers’ festival in Perth in early 2005. I was also briefly in a book club with her daughter Chloe, before she was a politician, but haven’t spoken to her in years. I don’t know anything about this family dynamic, but I know that everyone has a view on it and that the rumours circulating are about as contradictory as you can get.
In recent weeks it’s been suggested to me that Mem Fox’s appearance at court may have been a deliberate ploy to create the media circus that ultimately played a part in sentencing. Of course, others say that a more likely explanation is that she just believes he’s innocent.
I’ve been told that Mem and her husband are not particularly close. I’ve also been told that the two are utterly devoted.
What’s certain, to me at least, is that the woman was willing to put herself in the dock in the court of public opinion for this man. It was an act of selfless devotion if I’ve ever seen one, not just for Malcolm Fox but for their daughter, also in the public eye, who adopted a low profile throughout the trial. Interestingly, when I spoke to one bookshop owner, she said Mem Fox’s reputation had been undeniably damaged by the headlines surrounding the case.
But she also believed the public would rally around her by continuing to buy her books “and Mem deserves that”.
For decades, Mem Fox has used words for the greatest of ends - to foster a love of reading in bug-eyed kids, even those infants who are only old to absorb her sublime sounds and rhythms.
She’s written silly books about farmyard animals. And she’s written serious books about tolerance, drawing on her own experiences as the only white girl in a Zimbabwean school.
Now she finds herself assaulted by words that are not of her own making.
“Husband of children’s author guilty of sex with pupil”; “Husband’s guilt weighs heavily on Mem Fox”, “Husband of children’s author Mem Fox had sex with student”. This is, of course, the media dutifully
serving our vicarious interest in all things famous.
But you’d think she was the one on trial.
That’s why I’ve felt for her all these months. That’s why I felt the need to write this column.
She’s not on trial. Whatever you think about the court case and its outcome, Mem Fox is guilty only of being a wife, mother and devoted friend.
And they were all so surprised that no one said anything for a very long time. (From Mem Fox’s book, Hattie and the Fox).
NB: This column is about Mem Fox. Please feel free to discuss Mem’s role and work and support of her husband but in the spirit of the column we won’t publish comments about Malcolm Fox’s sentencing.
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