What does it take to break new ground?
Tuesday, February 28, 2017 - 20:30

It only takes one person to change the game for everyone else, but what does it take for them?

IVF pioneer Professor Alan Trounson took his research on sheep and applied it to humans, leading to the first IVF babies born in Australia. With a booming industry, and millions of babies born through IVF worldwide, the game has well and truly changed since 1980 for would-be parents.

Deborah Lawrie fought for over a year in court to be hired by Ansett as Australia’s first female commercial pilot. Her determination made it possible for other women to fly, too – but aviation remains a male-dominated field.

When Bianca Timbers decided to try her hand as a mechanic, she was laughed at and hung up on by almost every workshop in the phonebook. The response from her peers and customers drove her to open her own workshop and become her own boss.

Some things haven’t changed as much as we might think. After coming out in 1995, Ian Roberts is the first, and one of the only openly gay NRL players in the world.

What happens when the game changes too quickly? Biomechanist Bruce Mason helped develop the high-tech Speedo LZR swimsuit, which saw swimmers such as Jessicah Schipper smash records and take home gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The sport had changed, but not everyone was happy about it.

Biomedical engineer, inventor and futurist Dr Jordan Nguyen is changing the game with technology targeted at improving the lives of people with disabilities. He developed a device that allows Jess Irwin, who has severe cerebral palsy, to play music controlled by her eye movements.

This week, Insight talks to the people who went against the grain, challenged the status quo, and changed the game. What makes someone a nonconformist? How does it feel to do things that others say can’t be done? And what are the repercussions? 




Related links

Dr Jordan Nguyen's business in assistive technology: https://www.psykinetic.com/

More information about Jess Irwin and her photography and design business here



JENNY BROCKIE:   Welcome to everyone.  Bruce, what have you got there? 

BRUCE:  Jenny, this is the suit that was worn by the swimmers in Beijing, something like 98 percent of medals were won with this and this is the same suit that was worn by Michael Phelps winning his eight gold medals. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how did you come to be involved in developing that suit? 

BRUCE:  I was one of many people.  First of all there's a fellow in the United States called Barry Bixler who developed jet engines, and he suggested to Speedo that they need to be look at doing something like this, I was at the AIS at that time and we talked about what we could do and how we could do it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Can I have a look? 

BRUCE:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So let's have a look at this thing. It's tiny, it's absolutely tiny and it's got hardly any give in it at all. So what were you trying to do in designing this? 

BRUCE:   Most of the aim was to produce a tightness of the body so what you're doing is you're compressing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Squashing everything? 

BRUCE:  Yeah, and so by squashing everything you're stopping a lot of wobble of the muscles, you're also reducing the swimmer into keeping their body rigid and straight in line with where they're swimming. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, and how quickly did you realise that was effective? 

BRUCE:  It took quite a while. We weren't totally convinced until all the medals started, in fact it was too, it was too successful, it should not have done what it did. The unfortunate thing was the fellow Barry Bixler that I mentioned beforehand, he died two months before the Olympics so he didn't see the success. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   This is Beijing in 2008? 

BRUCE:  That's correct, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jessica Shipper you were there, right? You were one of the swimmers? 

JESSICA:  Yes I was. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you wore one of these. 

JESSICA: I did. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What was it like? 

JESSICA:  I managed to squeeze myself into something this size. It was…

JENNY BROCKIE:   What was it like?  Was it a real game changer? Was it really different to everything else? 

JESSICA:  It was absolutely unique, to go from the suits that we used to wear where there was no compression, as Bruce was saying, with adult swimmers obviously so much power, so much strength, to be able to compress all of that strength and harness it to use it to, for forward momentum, when you got tired and fatigued towards the end of a race, these suits helped a lot. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What was it like getting it on? 

JESSICA:  Always a very fun challenge to get on, you had to…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Can we, just remind everyone the size.  So we'll hold it up in front of you.

JESSICA:  Anywhere up to an hour these took to get on. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And there is no give in this thing, I mean it's, you know? 

JESSICA:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   An hour? 

JESSICA:  Up to an hour, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So how many people helping you? 

JESSICA:  Um, usually it's a solo effort until you get to, up to your lats and then you've got to try to get them over your shoulders and zip them up so that becomes a team effort. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you won gold in the women's medley relay? 

JESSICA:   Medley relay, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And two bronze medals? 

JESSICA:  And two bronze medals, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How big a deal was the swimsuit for champion swimmers at the time? 

JESSICA:  They were fantastic, they were state of the art and very unique.  The psychological edge that they gave you when you walked out behind the blocks, knowing that you were wearing the best technology, just the power that that gave you was a great help. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And Bruce, what overall impact did that suit have on swimmers' times in Beijing in 2008? 

BRUCE:  Well there was only I think two world records in the men's that were there before the Olympics that stood after the Olympics.  So it made a huge difference.

JENNY BROCKIE:   So it was a game changer, the LZR was a game changer? 

BRUCE:  It was a game changer and not only that, the swimming community was very upset by the whole thing. In fact, it was the, the swimsuit, swimsuit nations, their coaches and the athletes that objected to FINA to the extent they said we want the swimsuit banned. 

JENNY BROCKIE: We'll talk about that a little bit later on. 

BRUCE:  Right. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jordan, an experience in a swimming pool led you to develop some ideas as well, very different ideas though. Tell us what happened? 

JORDAN:   Very different circumstances too, I was not wearing one of these suits. Yeah, it was about ten years ago now, went to a backyard swimming pool birthday party, there was a diving board,  I ran, jumped onto the board, and I went into the pool, and my head hit the bottom of the pool and I felt this massive crunch across the back of my neck. I got raced off to the hospital and x-rays were all good, I was lucky, I just tore a few muscles in my neck and then yeah, by the time I got taken home and put in bed just got stuck there, couldn't move for about a day. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what did that lead to, what did that lead you to think about? 

JORDAN:   Um, look, it made me think what would life be like if there was a permanent thing? And the next day when I was able to walk and move around I realised how lucky I got so I started looking into disability, I had no clue about it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How old were you? 

JORDAN:   I was about, I was about 21 at the time, yeah, I was studying electrical engineering.  So I started learning about disability, started reading a lot about it, started learning statistics and what I found was there were 4.3 million Australians with some form of a disability and 1.2 million Australians with severe or profound disability.  So that made me start thinking very differently about the whole thing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So what did that lead to, what sort of things have you designed? 

JORDAN:  Um, I followed my dad's footsteps, started working on smart wheelchairs, started working on…

JENNY BROCKIE:   He's going to love this? 

JORDAN:   Yes, he's great. My dad's a Professor in biomedical engineering, he was doing a lot of work on smart wheelchairs so what I started look at was how smart wheelchairs could find their way around, how they could steer themselves and I basically started meeting people, meeting people who were changing my perspective, changing my ideas about the world and I met people firstly with spinal cord injuries, then people who had had strokes and ended up with locked-in syndrome.  Then I learned all about the world of cerebral palsy and what I found was, I was finding people who were changing my perspective on life. People who were more motivated, who were more driven, who were doing more with my life than I was or anyone I knew, so I started thinking if technology could potentially provide a platform, then let's see what we can do with it.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Now you've also designed an eye controlled music system, classical music system, is that the right way to describe it? It's a kind of… 

JORDAN:   Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   A way of people being able to participate in music by using their eyes? 

JORDAN:   I have, yeah, I've got a social business called Psykinetic and what they do is we see how these different kind of technologies could particularly adapt over. So what we're looking at is creating music and my good friend here, Jess, is the inspiration behind all of this. So…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Tell us how it works, tell us how the system works that you're working on, that you've worked on with Jess. 

JORDAN:   So this system is, it's basically a tablet PC, so it's a tablet PC that uses a very cheap eye tracking device and that's the device that tracks your eyes as to where you're looking on the screen and then it allows us to control the computer using our eyes and in Jess's case what we wanted to do was to get Jess playing music with her eyes, and so we developed the systems so that it could be controlling classical music instruments.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Let's have a look at how it works and Jess, you put down your thoughts about this and you had your friend read them for this piece. Let's have a look. 




JORDAN:  Jess’s will and determination as she sets her mind to something and she wants to do it and she makes it happen and it’s really the power of the mind.

JESS:  When I was four I did a conductive education program which involved a great deal of music therapy and since then I found myself to be very passionate about music.

JORDAN:  I love this. We’ve got a common interest, we love a lot of the 80’s rock and rock from the past, so we went to a couple of concerts but I could also see that that was her dream, she wanted to be on stage playing, she wanted to be able to express her musical creativity herself and so that is where the idea came from.  What we developed allows Jess to play background flute and then she can play drums, she can play different individual sounds and then she can switch over to a violin.

JESS:  Jordan then approached me with an amazing opportunity, which was to play classical music at the Opera House.

JORDAN:  Last year, The Australian Piano Quartet, they told us that they are having a tour and they mentioned that they were doing one of their concerts at the Opera House.

MUSICIAN:  We had a meeting with Jess and it was an instant bond.

JORDAN:  They started selling tickets to it and then the concert sold out before we even started creating the device. We had about a two week time frame to develop it which then that would give her about four weeks to practice it.

JESS:  I had not used eye control technology before this and I knew absolutely nothing about classical music.

MUSICIAN 2:  There was quite a lot of tension in the lead up, we really didn’t know what was going to happen, everyone was a bit nervous.

MUSICIAN:  She didn’t believe that she could be a musician at the beginning and she absolutely blossomed.

MUSICIAN 2: It was a great performance and we had a standing ovation afterwards. Jess had them in the palm of her hand.

JORDAN:  I think we all felt so proud of her. 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Jess, how incredible is that? It must have been amazing.  Now you've prepared your answers to some of my questions and again your friend has, has voiced your answers. Tell us what it was like to play at the Opera House.

JESS:  Playing at the Opera House was a very surreal feeling.  Four months prior I would have thought it would be humanly impossible. It was very strange because this iconic building was where I had watched some of my favourite musicians play in the past. Then I suddenly was on the same stage. I remember our final rehearsal at the Opera House hours before the performance, I was sitting between Jordan and James and suddenly I exclaimed:  "Guys, we're on stage at the Opera House." 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how has Jordan's work affected your life Jess? 

JESS:  When you first meet Dr Jordan Nguyen, you just know he is a genuine good human being from the manner in which he converses with everyone he meets, to the values he lives by, to the way he brings his ideas into fruition.  Jordan has a saying:  One life, this is to improve many. I believe this sums up everything he does. Jordan's passion is to create inclusive technology to enable people with severe physical disabilities to gain more independence in their lives. This enables them to have an increase in freedom and people like myself he provides the technology to achieve our dreams. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well, well done you, fantastic, and I hope there are lots more, lots more music concerts for you. Jordan, what do you hope your work will do?

JORDAN:   The big idea is to work towards a more inclusive society. I think that, I mean I personally don't really like the word disability in general anyway, but I think what we have is people with disabilities basically are people waiting for inclusive design. We don't seem to think of ourselves as having a disability because we can't fly, we need technology to get us over to the other countries and we rely so heavily on technologies in different ways but society is built around the norm and that's the problem. It's society that needs to change. And when we have all the technologies available that we do, we can make them inclusive by making them open to everyone and sometimes it's as simple as a different interface.  Not everyone can use a keyboard so we need to think differently about how we're going to control a computer and all the amazing possibilities that computer systems open up. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Anthea, in the late '70's you were desperately trying to have a baby, how did you rate your chances at the time? 

ANTHEA: Well from what I'd been told, zero. I had blocked fallopian tubes I had resigned myself to not having children. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what changed that? 

ANTHEA: Um, a visit to my doctor, my local GP, who had been to university with a Professor Carl Wood from Monash and he said to me, you know, he's doing some experimental work on sheep. He said and I believe they're going to try some, you know, humans soon. I'll give him a call and see if he'll take you on.

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you were, so you were prepared to be a guinea pig? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Alan Trounson, you were on the team that developed IVF in those days. How did you get involved to start with? 

ALAN:   Well, I was doing a PhD. in animal reproduction, in sheep, and my supervisor suggested to Carl Wood, instead of making artificial tubes for women which he was attempting to do, that he should try the in vitro fertilisation because it started to work in mice and it was working in other animals and so Carl asked me to join the team, so I brought the technology, you know, that we'd developed in animals and I thought this would work in a human and not many other people thought that that was possible but …

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why did you think it was possible do you think? 

ALAN:   Well I'm a basic scientist and I'm an optimist and I could see, I couldn't see why the human would be that much different to the kind of animals that we were working on. And so yes, they are different but that's a challenge for a scientist, is to find how to work out those differences and make them compatible with the technology. And so the kind of things we were doing everybody else thought was crazy, but it worked and it worked well and these were the real, these were the real heroes, the patients, because there was no chance. You know, they came in, into these programs with zero chance.  They were there to sort of, you know, try and succeed, but without any possibility, but …

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you think it would work, Anthea? 

ANTHEA: I think, to be honest I thought I was going to be a bit of a guinea pig. I just, I think it's like all of us here, we never think it's going to happen to us. We don't think we're going to be the lucky ones. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But you were prepared to give it a shot? 

ANTHEA:  Well, I thought well, you know, when you want to have a baby. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What have you got to lose? 

ANTHEA: Exactly. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Alan, when did you first realise that it was working on humans? 

ALAN:   Well I always thought it was going to work and you know, you, I wanted to change the probabilities because what they were trying to do, and what had been successful in the first place, was to try and get that one egg that a woman ovulates once a month. Now that's a terribly difficult thing to do with any real probability, so I wanted to change that and that was really the, where it really, really altered that. Instead of just the one egg I can actually get a clutch of eggs, you know, five or six or seven, and I could get them at a pre-programmed time. So we then altered the probabilities for success dramatically and that then became, you know, the essence of the procedure. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Anthea, were you surprised when it worked for you? 

ANTHEA: I was flabbergasted to be honest with you. When it was Alan and Carl Wood that actually at midnight wheeled me down into the theatre to insert the fertilised eggs, two of them, I remember saying to Alan, you know, how far along do you have to get before you're sure. He said well we lost our last baby at sixteen weeks so you've got a long way to go, you know?  So you never, you know, you just always thought the worst was going to happen. 

ALAN:   I had a very good bedside manner. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you had a baby girl? 

ANTHEA: I did and we named her after Carl Wood, Professor Carl Wood, there she is there. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Look at her, she's gorgeous. We also have a photo Alan of you and Carl Wood with one of these babies and you look like you've had it together. You look like loving parents of this child. 

ALAN:   What I can say? You know, he was the genius who had the ideas and he brought me out of an animal discipline to come and work with him and he believed in what I was doing. He was an astonishing partner and, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And were you surprised when it worked, when IVF worked? 

ALAN:   No, because as I said, I'm an optimist.  I felt that was what, it was going to work I'd done this in animals, I'd done this in pigs and horses and sheep and cows and so, you know, I thought the human can't be that different.




BIANCA:  Anyone who is narrow minded enough to believe that a woman doesn't belong in a workshop, shouldn't be making statements at all. I love doing the big jobs, pulling an engine apart. They are always different, even if it is exactly the same one. There is always something different about every single job.

DAUGHTER:  My friends, when they hear that my mum is a mechanic, they are usually surprised because it is a male-dominated industry and they are not really used to it.

JARRED:  Five times out of 10 I'll be in here with Bianca and the customer may look at myself and will start directing an automotive question to myself and then I have to say, "You will have to ask Bianca I’m sorry, that is her field."

BIANCA:  It is the little things that count, I believe. Little things that a lot of people miss but customers notice that. I've had so many female customers tell me they love bringing their car here because they know they won't get ripped off. You know, I listen to them. They trust me.



JENNY BROCKIE:   Bianca, how many apprenticeships did you apply for before you got one? 

BIANCA:  Before I got one? Oh, at least thirty odd, I reckon. Back when I was calling around trying to find someone to take me on, I would have made, yeah, between twenty and thirty phone calls and just getting laughed at. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Laughed at? 

BIANCA:  Yeah, just oh, you do realise you're going to get your hands dirty, right? 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what sort of reasons…

BIANCA: I wouldn't be asking for one if I didn't already know this, but yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What sort of reasons were you given for why you didn't get those apprenticeships? 

BIANCA:  Oh, no, this wasn't even to come in and, you know, they would not even consider taking me on. This was a laugh just to hang the phone back up again. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So what kept you going? 

BIANCA:  Finally found in one that said yes, and that took a few weeks, obviously lots of phone calls and lots of time and being shut down wasn't an easy to thing to soldier on from, but determination is, you know, it's a good thing. So I finally found, found one that said alright, you know, okay, are you sure you know what you're in for rather than you do realise you're going to get your hands dirty. Yeah, so he offered to let me do a Saturday, see if I liked it, so I did and never looked back, that was it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What made you want to be a mechanic? Were you interested in cars? 

BIANCA:  Not at all, no, no.  Don't know, I wouldn't even know how to, you know, lift the bonnet.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Where did this come from because you really had to fight to get there? 

BIANCA:  Yeah, I did, I did, but you know, it was something because they were all saying no, so… ripping apart a photocopier machine actually while I was a receptionist, it wasn't working properly so I thought I could fix it, so as my boss said hey, I think you should probably go and look at doing something with your hands, okay?  So I did, I looked at plumbing or being a chippie and the mechanics and that fascinated me because there's so much involved.

JENNY BROCKIE:  So starting your own business was a way of kind of cementing what you were doing, being in control in a way? 

BIANCA:  Yeah, yeah, exactly, and you know, really proving to people that, you know, you don't have to be a bloke in a bloke’s world, it's not just a blokes' world.  So, and I think it's helped to do that. So it's little things like that which is why I wanted to have the workshop, just to keep pushing those boundaries.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Deborah, what did you want to be when you were growing up? 

DEBORAH:  A mother, actually. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what else? 

DEBORAH:  Well a pilot, yes. I guess by the time I was about fourteen years old I'd sorted that one out. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Why, how, what appealed to you about it, how did that spark begin? 

DEBORAH:  Well it wasn't a spark for me until my father took it up as a hobby and he said to me that when I turned sixteen that he would give me two lessons for my birthday and I went solo when I was still sixteen and after that I got what they called the flying bug. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   A lot of pilots say this, the solo flight you never look back? 

DEBORAH:  You never look back, no. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And that happened to you? 

DEBORAH:  I had it, yep. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What happened when you applied for a job as a commercial pilot? 

DEBORAH:  Well, after that time, you know, I started school teaching because my father had said even though you love flying and you want a job flying, it's not going to happen because women don't fly big aeroplanes around. And I just thought well, that's not going to stop me and I chucked in teaching and went full time flying instructing, mixed around with other colleagues and they were all applying to airlines and getting in and I thought well, I'll do the same thing. And threw my application and of course nothing ever happened. They were all going in and I was just staying where I was. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Were there any female pilots at the time?  You applied to Ansett, were there any female pilots at all working for Ansett? 

DEBORAH:  No, no, no. There had been women who had applied in the past but never heard anything and just didn't pursue the matter. I think in my case, the timing was critical because the Victorian government had the legislation, enacted the Equal Opportunity Act and through that piece of legislation I was actually able to challenge in the end Ansett Airlines. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Now what reasons were you given for why you weren't getting a job? 

DEBORAH:  Um, not strong enough, would panic very easily, yep, would have lots of children and never come back again and all, all those sorts of things. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Medically unfit once a month? 

DEBORAH:  Oh, yeah, definitely, yeah definitely out of action, yeah. I even, I mean, I mean I even wore some earrings to the interview that I did and they were the loop ones that you put in, the sleepers, and they were, this guy thought they were a permanent fixture and that these would impede my escape from an aircraft should I crash one, one day. 


JORDAN:   Probably catch them on things on the way out? 

DEBORAH:  That's right 

JORDAN:  And get struck. 


JENNY BROCKIE:   How did you react to being told those things about why you couldn't be a pilot? 

DEBORAH:  Well, I was rather pissed off actually. So you know, I thought that's, I'm not going to accept it, that's the first thing, I'm not going to accept it so I kept trying and trying and trying and it wasn't until we actually saw the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity and she contacted Ansett and came back and said to me actually she believes they've been guilty of discrimination and she advised that we should take this before the Equal Opportunity Board. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you were up for a fight by this stage? 

DEBORAH:  Oh, yeah, yes, but I thought it would only last a day. Now how naive is that? But I actually went and bought an outfit especially for the day in Court and it was I think a year and a half later. So!

JENNY BROCKIE:  Had you expected a big fight? 

DEBORAH:  I was warned that it would be, could get quite big and be, might get a little bit nasty, but I didn't have any idea of just how big and how long it would take and how much they would throw at it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What did they throw at it?  How did they react? 

DEBORAH:  Well for example it eventually terminated in the High Court in front of the Full Bench at the time.

JENNY BROCKIE:   So all the way to the High Court? 

DEBORAH:  All the way to the High Court. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Just for you to try to get a job as a female pilot? 

DEBORAH:  Correct.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And did you see yourself as someone campaigning for women's rights at that time? 

DEBORAH:  No, no, I just wanted to fly, yeah, I just, that was all it was about, ever what, all it was ever about, yeah. 

JORDAN:    Did you ever feel like giving up or what kept you going? 

DEBORAH:  Yeah.  Well lots of times I thought about it but then I thought, you know, you've come a certain point, there's a point of no return, that you've got everything to win and you'll lose everything if you stop.

JENNY BROCKIE:   So what was it like then taking your place after a fight like that and after that amount of resistance within the company?   I mean what was it like for you working with those people? 

DEBORAH:  Ah, because I started on the smaller aircraft in the company, the captains were younger and far more progressive thinking so in actual fact, once I broke the barrier down, I got treated quite well by all of the people who I flew with and in particular cabin crew were really, really supportive. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Let's talk a bit more about resistance because I think this is interesting, resistance with game changers. Alan, what sort of reactions did you get early on to the idea of IVF? 

ALAN:   Well, it was pretty variable. The scientists, first of all the scientists weren't very enthusiastic, they just didn't think it was going to work so there was the scientific community that was really doubtful about it. But then when, when we started to have some success, and the ethics really started to blow up, the conservative religious groups, in particular the Catholics, really felt that, you know, that a person began fully as a person at fertilisation, you know, that was a real difficulty if embryos weren't surviving for whatever reason because we were …

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you came up against this same thing with embryonic stem cell research as well? 

ALAN:   Yes, that's exactly right. There was also a radical feminist group that felt that people like Wood and I were manipulating women's bodies and they felt very strongly about this, so they were sort of combined and it was sort of a strange, a strange sort of to have the conservatives and the feminists sort of, you know, really going to town. 


ALAN:   Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Fighting against IVF? 

ALAN:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But the attitudes to IVF have changed a lot from those early days? 

ALAN:   Well, there were 7 million babies born by, you know, 2011 and probably 10 million by now.  So you know, it's really hard to argue because everybody knows somebody who has an IVF child or is an IVF person. You know, they're not that different to us. So we've sort of made it normal.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay. Ian, more than twenty years ago you became the first rugby league player in the world I think to come out publicly as gay? 

IAN:  Yeah, as far as I know, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What motivated you to do that? 

IAN:  See that's such a difficult question for me to answer, I've been listening to these wonderful stories, Jordan's, Deborah's, Bruce, Alan's, I mean I didn't really have to do anything except be myself. I mean I can play football and you know, that was just a given talent. But being gay, I mean I had always known I was gay and same sex attracted as far back as I can remember, so it was never, this is going to sound a bit strange but it was never an issue to me personally. I never had a problem with it, it just seemed like everyone else did. It slowly became, I suppose, more prevalent in my life when, through my teenage years when I was excelling at rugby league in the junior grades.  By that stage I was fully aware I was gay and I had wanted to give the game up. In fact, I'd made my mind up to give the game away when I was about 17. 


IAN:  Because I just didn't think it could mix. What I knew…

JENNY BROCKIE:   About yourself? 

IAN:  About and gay community and rugby league, and I suppose I played into that whole stereotypical image of what a rugby league player is, that level, and I hate this word, that masculinity that people put on it because I, you know, my belief nowadays is masculinity is however you identify. But anyhow, I told my father I wasn't going to play anymore and my dad's the one that really twisted my arm into giving it one more year. I had a few really good years at Souths in my early 20s and then, but I still, you know, I still think, I was still gay, I mean I was till openly gay. When I say openly gay, I was openly gay when I went out night life and I wasn't, I wasn't out to all my friends and family.  When I say I was openly gay, if I went out to a nightclub I was gay, I was camp, you know? 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Were you hiding it, were you actively hiding it from your team mates? 

IAN:  I just didn't speak about it. There was always a lot of stories about me being gay, it was probably the worst kept secret in rugby league up until, up until I was about 25, people, but I left Souths in '89 and went across to Manly and I made the decision there that I was going to be out within the team and everyone at Manly knew.  Like it was, I mean I used to, this is one of my favourite stories I actually dated the Manly Mascot, Shane Goodwin, he was the guy that used to run around in the big Eagle suit. Everyone knew about that, it was kind of cute, you know? 

JENNY BROCKIE:   That's a great story and what did motivate you in the end to come out.

IAN:  There was a young boy I was seeing in hospital named Blake Stenning, he was, Blake was nine when he passed away, ten when he passed away, but Blake had become HIV from the blood transfusion, he was born premature and I, we'd known each other for about four years at that stage and we were very close and I remember being a bit torn because I saw the discrimination and the prejudice, the exclusion that that young boy had to go through. It kind of made me feel that I was just being really fake, like it just, they're the kind of issues you need to deal with, you know, you need a deal with. Now like I said, I, it's not that I wanted to play football, I could play football, all I had to do was be myself so I've heard all these fabulous stories about people's drive and their willingness and their want to help people and justice and their passion.  I didn't have, I mean I didn't have to have any of that, I just had to be me and it's, so I kind of feel like very humble being up here with these people and particularly hearing their stories. They're just, I do realise that …

JENNY BROCKIE:   But you went through a lot in that exercise. I mean that was no small thing, really? 

IAN:  Well you know, I appreciate that now because it's given me an opportunity to have this conversation and to continue having this conversation. I mean twenty years ago, it's twenty years ago since I came out, apart from Gareth Thomas who was a rugby union player, he came out about four years ago, there's been no one else, no other males in a team sport, any professional team who has publicly declared, you know, they've come out as being homosexual. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And why do you think that is?  I mean statistically obviously there's going to be, you know, quite a lot of gay people in team sports. 

IAN:   Yeah, well they say it's about 10 percent of the population.  I can promise everyone here in this audience, it's 10 percent of all professions, you know, sporting, doctors, lawyers, labourers, you know, but unfortunately it's still, we like to think things have changed but they haven't really.

JENNY BROCKIE:   How did your team mates react when, you know, you were out, when there was no longer a pretence about this? 

IAN:  Yeah, I appreciate that but at this point also, I mean I was very fortunate that I was playing very good football, I was mostly in the Australian team, State of Origin teams at that time. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You tackled hard so if anyone gave you a hard time? 

IAN:  I mean I was man enough, if that makes sense, I hate saying that because I'm so against that terminology now, but it's, you know, and I'm not saying that everyone was 100 percent and patted me on the back, I mean there was some very awkward moments, but you know, by that stage it wasn't my, it wasn't my problem. I mean if someone got uncomfortable being in the showers with me, I was like don't flatter yourself. You know, no, but I'm being serious, it's just like there was more awkward moments for me. I mean I did not want to make anyone else feel uncomfortable.

You know, there was a young boy in Newcastle the end of last year, Tyrone Unsworth, who committed suicide, a thirteen year old for being bullied at school took his own life. I just, I can't imagine how lonely and how desperate, but this is not an uncommon story and the reason I can say that is because I've become a bit of a full stop for the gay issue. People, I'm the go to man, if there's anything sport related to any gay topic, I get the phone calls. If there's any issue, if someone's been called a faggot on the field over in the states, I get…  

JENNY BROCKIE:   That's because there's one of you, in a sense? 

IAN:  Yeah, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   As you know, there's one of you who's done that? 

IAN:  And that's what I've taken from this whole experience now. I mean I almost feel like we have to have this conversation, as a mature gay man I have to be, I have to be present. I have to be visible and I have to be accessible. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what the toll of that on you? 

IAN:  Yeah, I'm not going to say there's not but when you hear stories about that poor young boy Tyrone, then there's really no choice because I mean, like all these stories you've heard before, it's something that you have to do. It's a passion and that's become my passion. It's something we all share, it's we have to do this because it's almost, for whatever reasons I'm in this situation now. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I was interested when Ian was talking there that you were nodding about this idea that it's just something you have to do? 


JENNY BROCKIE:   Is that what it is, is that how you feel about it? 

JORDAN:  Yeah, I guess I'd describe my work in a very similar way. It becomes a passion and I think that initially came for me out of inspiration, from the people who I met, many people, amazing people, Jess.  But is the passion side, it is, it becomes a passion and it becomes also a responsibility, you feel that responsibility yourself. 

ALAN:  Very good. 

JORDAN:  And you know, and I absolutely understand that. You know that you can have that positive impact so it becomes both a passion and a responsibility. 

IAN:  Very eloquent. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So what you're saying in a way, I mean it's interesting what you're saying because you're almost saying it wasn't a big thing because it was who you were, but it actually was a big thing? 

IAN:  I'm only appreciating now, twenty years on, and I will say when I first came out I actually thought, I mean I thought there would be a trickle on effect. Not so much a flow on but I think that, I wouldn't have thought twenty years down the line that only one other player had come out at the end of his career. And I'm not, I'm in no way judging anyone for however they handle their situation, if they choose to come out, you know, while they're in the spotlight or not. I mean it's a very personal situation. But I do believe, you know, like I do believe that I have a responsibility to be visible and be real and be, I don't like to use this term but kids are killing themselves in the suburbs because they're desperate. And that's the point we're at, things haven't improved so much that it's fantastic out there to be gay now.

The advances in our equality has been fantastic, for women, for gay people, for people of different creeds and ethnicity, you know, there are laws now in place that you cannot discriminate against me because I'm gay. You know, but people do. It doesn't have to be about gay, and I'm sure you must feel that at some times, yes, they're not discriminating against you on those grounds but they will find other ways.  If they don't want you because they don't like that you're gay or you're female or you're African American or you're a Muslim follower, yeah, there are still issues. It is not, we have not moved that far. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Deborah, your landmark case was in 1979.  Has much changed since then for women wanting to be commercial pilots? 

DEBORAH:  It's a little easier. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   A little? 

DEBORAH:  Well, it's quite a bit easier I think in that women are given a fair go, they're not discriminated against. We have, in Tiger where I fly at the moment we've got 9 percent of women, it's low, but worldwide it's around about 3 percent. So it's not been a profession that women seem to race out and try and do and I've thought about why this is so and I think it's a lot to do with the way little girls are brought up.

Last year a passenger asked if their daughter could come to the flight deck after landing and this little six year old girl presented herself decked out in a homemade pilot's uniform, and at six years of age she was determined that she wanted to become an airline pilot. How she got to that point is what I would be interested to know because it's the passion that they need to have from that sort of age that will get them there in the end. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I hope her mum's watching, she might get in touch with you? 

DEBORAH:  That would be nice. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Davida, you were learning the fly the year of Deborah's case. 

DAVIDA: That's correct. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you remember that battle, her battle with Ansett? 

DAVIDA: Oh, incredibly. It was really important to follow it because I was so invested in the outcome because Deborah was the first female pilot that I'd ever met and she was such, so confident in her ability and courageous, and as well as what she was going through, was creating an opportunity for women to go through afterwards.  And when I look back at it now I think how crazy that we were worried that Deborah wasn't going to win? Of course she was going to win. These days it just seems ludicrous that it would have been anything else. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You were hired by Qantas in 1999.  What's it like now, are there enough women do you think? 

DAVIDA: There aren't enough women and I mean, look, being an airline pilot is an extraordinary career and we get to fly, you know, the latest technology, we get trained, first class training.  We also get to use the latest technology in simulation and it's the most fantastic career. But I think that there's a mental model in society of what an airline pilot looks like and Deborah and I don't fit that model. So subsequently, there's virtually no role models of female airline pilots in popular culture anywhere. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Ian, did you think that coming out would be a bit of a game changer in rugby league, in football generally, with sportsmen and women? 

IAN:  I think once you come out you never stop coming out for the rest of your life and by that I mean it's almost like allowing them to deal with it and how are you going to deal with it? I mean I'm playing rugby league and I was good at rugby league so they wanted me in the competition.  But it was then up to them to have to deal with that, that sense of what it is to be, you know, what it is to be a man and what it is to be a rugby league player. What is it that, that I present as? But I didn't know if it was going to be a game changer.  I wasn't doing it for that intent either, I was doing it for my own personal benefit. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Bruce, the LZR Racer suit caused a big fuss at the Beijing Olympics, all those world records were broken, what happened then? 

BRUCE:  The Beijing Olympics occurred in mid-2008. In 2009 there was world championships in Rome and it was there that the, I think something like 180 different nations got together and went to FINA and said we want the suits banned. FINA made some steps to try to appease them but it didn't really work. And then what happened was the, they decided  that the suits would be banned and that that would take part from the 1st of January 2010.  But there was a big problem at that point, if you couldn't use the high tech suits what could you use? And so they came up with some rules which they thought would suffice to say well, the men from the waist through to the knees and the women up to the shoulders.

JENNY BROCKIE:   So what's the situation now? 

BRUCE:  Um, FINA have a swimwear approval committee and any, any manufacturer of a suit that wants it in a FINA competition has to submit the suit for approval. This occurs once a year. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Are you on that committee? 

BRUCE:  I am, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So how do you work out what's allowed and what isn't? 

BRUCE:  Well first of all there's a lot of scientific tests, looking at the permeability, making sure it's not a floatation, look at where the seams are, so it’s a bit of a cat and mouse game.

JENNY BROCKIE:   So this thing that you developed that delivered all these world records being broken and all these swimmers, you know, posting record times, is banned, gone? 

BRUCE:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yeah, how does that feel? 

BRUCE:  Well to some extent I went into it because I wanted to show what biomechanics could do for a sport. But I recognise the fact that the swim coaches and the athletes, to a large extent, were against the suits. They believed that people had an advantage over them so I think going back, and now we've got a system whereby I believe swimmers think that it's a level playing field. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jess, as a world championship swimmer what do you think? 

JESSICA:  It's hard, I agree and disagree, obviously with technology we're always advancing, we're always moving forwards, we're always looking for ways to better ourselves in our professions and I feel that this suit was just the way that technology was taking swimming.  And to feel, I felt initially that to have that taken off us was pretty mean, it just felt like, you know, they'd taken off the, the, the tennis racket from say Pat Rafter and given him back that wooden one, you know, and it  just felt like they'd sent us back a huge step. But then to look at the overall picture, I'd say the amount these suits cost for people that weren't sponsored by these manufacturers … 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How much did they cost? 

BRUCE:  Up to a thousand, each. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how long would they last? 

BRUCE:  If you swam two meets…

JESSICA:  Two or three. 

BRUCE:  Yeah, two or three meets. 


BRUCE:  But there was also the problem with the children, they were wanting to have these suits when they competed so parents were faced with having to come up with money and then actually the Australian Swimming came up with the rule to say that people under a certain age couldn't compete in these suits. It caused a whole lot of problems. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You can change the game and then it can get turned backwards? 


BRUCE:  I think so. I think if you change the game too quickly, in this case technology took over and people were more concerned about what suit a particular swimmer was wearing than what the swimmer could do. And I think that caused a lot of problems and I think the federations, the national federations are now happy with what has come about.  Even the swimsuit manufacturers I think realise that what's happening is fair to all the manufacturers. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jordan, you have lots of ideas, what's it like listening to this story?  I mean you've got all these ideas for things you want to do? 

JORDAN:   Yeah, no, I'm just thinking through that whole thing.  I mean what you were saying about Pat Rafter's racquets, even the racquets since Pat Rafter was playing have changed and you've got to keep up with the technology but at the same time, I guess, obviously for sports and professional sports you've got to place some sort of boundaries on these sort of things to keep it consistent across the board. But that's the thing, we're always changing, we're always changing, we're always advancing when it comes to technology and it's funny that we're at the fastest rate of change than we ever have been but we're always at the slowest rate of change that we ever will be. It's only speeding up.

JENNY BROCKIE:   What's it like for you trying to get some of your ideas for technologies to help people with disabilities, trying to get those things off the ground in Australia? 

JORDAN:   I think Australia is pretty progressive. I think we can show what we can do to the rest of the world and it is difficult, it is a challenge. I tried to start this originally as a charity, and everyone, I was getting told not do it as a charity because no one does product development in the charity form but I thought I don't want it to be a normal not for profit businesses and then I started finding out for social businesses. I self-funded it for a while and we've just launched a crowd funding campaign. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Traditionally though Australia is very good at game changing idea? 

JORDAN:   Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But not so good at the commercialisation of that idea or the application of that idea? 

JORDAN:   Yeah, it's very difficult. I've just been travelling to China, doing a documentary there about the entrepreneurship and technology of China and what I found, the main difference I was finding between here and there is we've got a lot of good ideas looking for investment. Over there they've got a lot of investment looking for good ideas.  So I think there's so many things that you can learn from other areas in the world and there's things that we're moving very quickly with, like the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  I think it's another couple of years, two to three years’ time there should be more than a billion dollars spent on technology for disability which means that it becomes a competitive market because when I first got into it, what I was seeing was just shocking, atrocious technology, but that's all that was available.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Do you think there are things in common, listening to one another’s stories, Alan?

ALAN:   I think there's a lot of commonality here.  I mean you have to be an optimist number one, you have to believe in it and then you have to have support. You know, wherever that support comes from, it might be an internal support system or it may be a family support system or maybe a global scientific support system, you need it.  And you know, that's what we work in, that's how we do things and you need to be an optimist, I think we all are. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Are you, are you all optimists? 

ALAN:   And I also think all of us have been successful really. Now you take how successful Ian's been despite, you know, all those traumas and the pilots and everything. We've been successful, that helps a lot because that gives you, you know? 

DEBORAH:  The emphasis to keep going? 

ALAN:   It can happened again and it's a model for other people to, you know, try.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Lovely to be talking optimism.  So good to have you all here, thanks very much for joining us tonight and that is all we have time for here but let's keep talking on social media. Thanks everyone, thank you, great, really good.