Dont judge a book by its cover

Some of the books who volunteered to be borrowed last week at Lismores Living Library were (l-r) Mathew Wiggins, who has an intellectual disability, farmer Alex Hunter, senior constable Amanda Bazley, Muslim convert Hadia Goldhawk and Buddhist Kathie Chodron.

Fourth generation Corndale farmer Alex Hunter said he agreed to be part of Lismores Living Library on Friday because it was important to understand other peoples problems and their point of view.

Creed or colour doesnt matter, he said. Were all human beings. We all have feelings. Everybody wants to live a happy life. Its very important that we understand other peoples points of view. Thats what its all about.

Alex was one of around 30 books who volunteered to be part of Lismores Living Library last Friday a first in Australia.

The concept began in Denmark in 2000 and allows library patrons to borrow books for a half hour chat in a safe environment with someone they wouldnt normally meet in day-to-day life.

Books available last Friday included a Muslim convert, a gay man, people with a range of disabilities, police officers, a sexual assault survivor, a Catholic nun, a lesbian feminist and a Sudanese refugee.

Alex said in his everyday life he talks with whoever he can, as its the best way to challenge his opinions and discover new ways of seeing the world and its people.

The more we communicate with each other, the more tolerant we become, he said. What I think is not always right, and whatever you say to me, Ive got to go away in a quiet moment and analyse it and think you might be right.

Lismore City Council community development officer Shauna McIntyre said the Living Library had been an emotional experience for a lot of people.

Against a global background of fear and division, here in Lismore people from very different backgrounds were willing to take risks and come together and talk, listen and learn, she said. I think thats what was extraordinary, and what really touched peoples hearts.

The concept clearly resonated with Lismore MP Thomas George, who officially launched the Living Library. He spoke of spending the first five years of his life speaking Arabic as the child of Lebanese migrants and he agreed to be a book at the next Living Library session.

Its one of the biggest honours of my life, to be asked to be a patron of this organisation, he said. Please never judge a book by its cover.

Year 12 students from St Johns College Woodlawn were amongst the many readers taking out books on the day.

Alyce Taylor-Brown said it was the first time she had had an in-depth chat with a gay man and she found it interesting to hear of his experience growing up in a Catholic family.

I found out that gay couples cant adopt and that was a bit of a shock to me, she said. Also that there are different views on marriage within the gay community. He personally doesnt want to get married. Hes in a stable relationship and hes got legal agreements, but he knows couples who have gone overseas to get married.

Her classmate Zoe Thornborough said she was surprised to discover, after talking to a Sudanese refugee, that they use the dowry system even in Australia.

A lot of Sudanese people are coming to Lismore and it was nice to be able to ask questions without them feeling offended, she said. It was a very open conversation. There should be more of these sorts of things.

Speaking from a books perspective, Australian-born Muslim convert Hadia Goldhawk said her throat was dry from talking about herself so much.

Everybody has been really friendly, she said. And theres been no awkward questions I couldnt answer. People have been very keen to find out what Muslims do.

Josephine Hobbs was surrounded by a group of year three and four children from the Rainbow Ridge Steiner School, who were all fascinated with her wheelchair.

They wanted to know if my life was interesting or boring, she said. I think its fantastic that people who are a little bit different to normal society can tell people what their lives are like. Although I might be in a wheelchair I still have a husband and a family. There are still lots of things we can do.

Lismores Living Library was given a plug on Andrew Dentons Enough Rope website recently, and since then Lismore Councils Shauna McIntyre has had calls from people in Adelaide, Geelong and the Central Coast who want to start their own libraries. She said Friday was a pilot to see how the project was received, and given the enthusiastic response, they now plan to run many more. Another possibility was making it mobile so it could visit schools or aged care facilities.

Were creating social cohesion, Shauna said. By bringing people together in a safe environment were breaking down barriers. We hope people will realise weve actually got more in common than our differences.

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