Don’t judge a book by its cover

By Paul Pritchard 25 July 2019
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Australian Geographic Society Spirit of Adventure 2018 awardee Paul Pritchard is tackling prejudice head on.

Ever since a big rock crushed my skull on the Totem Pole [a rock climb in Tasmania] I have experienced prejudice first hand. You see I am now disabled. Whether it be the youth shouting ‘spaz’ at me in the street, or the parent challenging me while taking pictures of my son at soccer, or the teacher confronting me while looking for my daughter in the school grounds. I do shrug them off and laugh about it afterwards. However, it’s hard to see humour in physical abuse. I have been attacked twice.

In one attack I was taking my children to a matinee performance of Wind In The Willows at a Hobart theatre. My lurching gait attracted the attention of a man who, unprovoked, punched me in the ear from behind, knocking me to the ground. My head hit the pavement. The man ran off, and a passer-by helped me to my feet. I’m just grateful my kids were already in the theatre and didn’t see what happened.

That is why I volunteer for the Hobart Human Library program where I feel I am making a real difference for empathy building, social inclusion and the breaking down of stereotypes. A Danish concept, the Human Library uses the art of storytelling to break down barriers and lessen the harmful effects of prejudice and discrimination. This ‘living’ library was first developed in 2000 and has since spread to more than 45 countries. There are currently 32 human libraries around Australia.

It is an unbelievably powerful and yet simple concept. The ‘books’, people who have experienced prejudice or discrimination first hand, visit schools and workplaces and tell their stories. The Hobart Human Library has people who have experienced the negative effects of stereotyping due to their culture or religion, their gender or sexual orientation, or in my case their physical appearance and perceived ability. The library provides a comfortable space for the ‘reader’ to speak informally with a living ‘book’.

My experience of prejudice and discrimination has made me less confident. Now I am wary of unpredictable people and try and stay away from them. Obviously I had bags of confidence when I was climbing mountains.

With 57% unemployment nationally for people with disabilities I feel I have to constantly prove my worth to society by pushing myself to every greater goals. Since my accident I have cycled from the lowest point to the highest point in Australia and cycled to Mount Everest, rafted The Franklin River, completed a university degree and I am writing my fourth book. Also, I finally climbed the Totem Pole. All while raising a family.

The Hobart Human Library is supported by A Fairer World, a social justice hub that empowers schools and the wider community to take action for social justice, peace and a sustainable world future.

Paul was the 2018 Australian Geographic Spirit of Adventure award winner. Read all about his award-winning adventure exploits and hear from Paul himself here.

Learn more about the Australian Geographic Society Awards here.

To attend the 2019 Australian Geographic Awards, on 1 November at the Shangri-La Hotel in Sydney, and be inspired by this year’s awardees, book your tickets here.