The Ninth Life of a Diamond Miner
Pan Macmillan, $49.99
The Ninth Life of a Diamond Miner, the memoir of 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame, is a fascinating look at the person behind the headlines.
As a 14-year-old, Tame was groomed and, by age 15, sexually abused by her then 58-year-old maths teacher at a prestigious private school in Hobart. Her advocacy on behalf of countless other such survivors has been widely praised, though her refusal to smile for the cameras has also brought her derision.
Tame’s memoir does cover the harrowing story of her abuse at the hands of a man she should have been able to trust. Yet that is only part of the book, just as being a survivor is only part of her identity. She is also funny, creative, deeply thoughtful, tenacious and a talented writer. She has travelled, struggled, fallen in love, spoken truth to power. She has known, loved and lost devoted friends and family members. She is also a survivor of abuse who refuses to allow that abuse to define her.
What I found striking in the description of the abuse she suffered was just how cunning her abuser, Nicolaas Bester, was, how he skilfully and manipulatively used psychology to keep his victim silent and compliant. Until, that is, Tame spoke out and disclosed the abuse. As Tame puts it: “Child abusers are among the most sophisticated of criminals.”
By the time Bester began his abuse, Tame’s parents had already met with the school twice, expressing concerns about his inappropriate behaviour. Yet Bester went on to rape her repeatedly (on school premises). The school, Tame later discovers, hid a lot – including the fact that there were other victims of abuse dating back some two decades prior to hers. If this level of abuse can continue against someone who is surrounded by family and friends, and where alarms have already been sounded, what hope do those whose abusers totally fly beneath the radar have?
Some commentators, most notably writer, psychologist and men’s rights advocate Bettina Arndt, have expressed support for Bester and sympathy for middle aged male teachers endangered by teasing teenage temptresses. Tame’s response to this line of thought is crucial to understanding the difference between affairs and abuse.
Tame says she wanted the book to be called Diamond Miners and Rock Spiders, but her editor wouldn’t let her. The diamond miner of the title is the sixty something year old Jorge, who occupied the attic of a share house she lived in for a summer in Portugal. With few physical possessions, he had immensely rich life experience (diamond mining being just one of his many adventures.) “Jorge’s irreverent authenticity helped reinforce for me what is truly important in life, and what has genuine value. People. Places. Experiences. Love. And connection.”
It seems from her memoir that Tame, in less than half of Jorge’s years on earth, has done pretty well on those counts.