Myke Bartlett on June Factor
I know first-hand the impact June Factor’s work has had on the lives of children. As a seven-year-old, I was one of millions of Australian kids transfixed by her book Far Out, Brussel Sprout—a very funny and rather naughty compilation of playground rhymes. Growing up in Western Australia, I always had this sense that life was happening elsewhere. Books, films and telly were awash with images and accents from places I’d never been. These books were different. This was my language, my folklore, made canon. Reading this book was like being told that I truly did exist, that my way of life was just as real and valid as the lives which typically dominate our culture.
Far Out and its sequels are still in print, more than 30 years later, but these days June is using books to change the lives of children in a very different way. Like many Australians, the academic was horrified by government policy that saw asylum seeker children indefinitely imprisoned in places such as Nauru. Unlike most Australians, June decided to do something about it. With the help of a few friends, she established the Befriend a Child in Detention project. This group sends books (initially donated by bookshops and publishers and then from people around Australia) to children kept in detention at home and offshore. Schools across the country have been keen to participate, with local kids writing letters to their imprisoned peers.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. June has had to work hard, negotiating with tangled layers of bureaucracy to ensure the books reach their young targets. Recently, she discovered that the letters of support, which were placed inside the books, were being confiscated by those responsible for running the detention centres. These difficulties don’t seem to have discouraged June. This is a battle she intends to win. She tells me of her plans to visit Nauru and, despite recent changes to the visa situation, I don’t doubt that she’ll find a way to get there.
As might be expected of someone who has spent her working life at the University of Melbourne, June is foremost an intellectual. Her first loves are history, language and theories of childhood play. But during the hours we spend together, I come to see her as a woman of fierce and stubborn passion, guided by an unshakeable sense of what is right. And when it comes to the needs of children, there are few people so well equipped to know exactly what is right for them.