A burn mark in the Shorten kitchen has been seized on by social media and now the Opposition Leader’s wife reveals what happened.
1979 marked the International Year of the Child — and the year of my worst ever haircut.
At that time we were a family of five children under 10 — and I remember clearly how closely my dad stood by, watching. Standing sentinel.
An architect and designer with a full beard and flares, he was everywhere. Poolside, watching like a hawk. Holding the ladder as soon as someone stepped on. Stopping the car if a seatbelt wasn’t clicked in.
But it was three shocking tremors that moved him from active parent to active campaigner. The first, his one year old darling goddaughter drowned in her family pool, the second, a dear little boy we knew, hit by a car and killed, and third — his youngest child hospitalised as a result of a bad burn in our own backyard.
Each terrible accidents, each in loving, caring, attentive families, and each, preventable.
When there is such grief and trauma, there’s nothing to do but comfort and console the families involved. And while it shouldn’t take tragedy to change things, quite often it’s only tragedy that sparks change.
While my little brother was in hospital, my dad met two exceptional paediatricians — Professor John Pearn and Professor Fred Leditschke, outstanding pioneers dedicated to promoting the cause of child safety. They inspired my parents to do more in the community to prevent childhood accidents.
While nothing should replace personal responsibility, risks to children can be reduced with good design and standards. And a society that seeks to improve training, manufacturing and education all help to prevent incidents that harm little ones, often admitted to hospital and many with lifelong implications.
It was this mission that led to the establishment of the Childhood Accident Presentation Foundation — now known as Kidsafe.
They worked together to put the issue of child safety onto the national agenda. These experts advised governments on the practical solutions for builders and architects and to help manufacturers design safer products from baby gates, car seats, and bunk beds.
They advocated for reforms mandating seatbelts in cars and fences around pools, and the introduction of standards around children’s products such as cots and clothing.
As an architect and designer, my dad was consulted for his professional advice and knowledge on safe design of buildings and products.
Since the establishment of Kidsafe, the number of child deaths and hospitalisations has more than halved.
However there’s still more to do and we cannot be complacent. More children die of injury than of cancer and asthma combined. Each year, more than 150 Australian children are killed and over 68,000 hospitalised as a result of preventable injuries.
I know it all too well — I have nursed a kid who got their finger stuck in a drain, one had a fall from a highchair, and one fell through an old glass door — each changes us as parents- makes us more vigilant, and hyper aware of risks.
When I snapped a picture of the back to school prep-work in the Shorten household, the last thing I thought was that it would go viral. I mean vegemite, Ryvita and blueberries can only be so interesting.
Until the scorch mark on the wall was spotted.
Within a couple of hours there was a lot of online speculation about the burn mark on the stone splashback.
The mark was the result of one of our eager kids in the kitchen a number of years ago — something that brought about one of those household lectures that isn’t quickly forgotten.
So not one to miss an opportunity to “teach” my kids about safety in the home, I brought it up again last night.
It took me back to my childhood dinner table where Dad always emphasised the importance of personal responsibility, telling us, “If not me who, if not now, when?”.
During her six years as Kidsafe patron, Mum once said that “preventing childhood injuries isn’t about wrapping children in cotton wool, instead “it’s about supervision, creating, maintaining safer environments, where kids can learn and grow and play.”
I think this is as relevant as ever.
As the kids go back to school and summer holidays turn into sports routines, there’s no better time to visit the Kidsafe website for more information on how to look for household hazards, and make sure a scare doesn’t turn into a scar.