• "I realised just how unsafe my previous three workplaces had been." (E+)
Unsafe might sound like a drastic description but keeping my guard up almost every time I step outside the house was so exhausting.
By
Travis Akbar

12 Feb 2020 - 8:51 AM  UPDATED 12 Feb 2020 - 9:03 AM

I’ve never thought about how important a safe space is. Until now.

I worked in the retail industry for over a decade, but I recently left and have now been in media and communications for a just over a month. I remember walking into reception at the building I now work in. All of the Aboriginal clan names from within South Australia were written on a pylon. There was Aboriginal art on the walls. The offices were named in Aboriginal (Kaurna) language. It was so welcoming. I instantly felt my guard just fizzle away. I’m happier, more energetic and not as tired as I used to be, all the time.

I realised just how unsafe my previous three workplaces had been. Racism was a regular occurrence in the retail industry, and when I was working in the industry, it really wasn’t taken seriously when reported. Unsafe might sound like a drastic description but keeping my guard up almost every time I step outside the house was so exhausting. It can lead to burnout, depression and mental illness. I never realised it before because I’d never known anything else. Now when I go to work, my guard is always down, I walk in feeling calm, not rigid.

Unsafe might sound like a drastic description but keeping my guard up almost every time, I step outside the house was so exhausting.

Now, after realising just how important a safe space is, it’s obvious just how many people have them. Smokers have them anywhere they can light up, caffeine addicts have them in cafés, small kids have them in their mothers or fathers’ arms. It’s a natural thing. The only thing isn’t natural, is the label.

It wasn’t something people talked about when I was a kid. Yet I remember that when I was a kid there were a few that I would go to when I was upset. 

One of them was the post office. Being a huge movie buff, I would spend plenty of time sifting through the small section of VHS’s at the post office, which doubled as the video shop in the small country town I grew up in. My parents had split up, we were living with mum and barely saw dad anymore. He was a movie buff too, hence why VHS made me feel comfortable. It made me feel closer to my father. He also supported the West Coast Eagles, of which I am a huge supporter.

The other was anywhere near the ocean. The jetty, my boat, the beach. Just being near it calmed me, even sitting on the smooth sandstone rocks that followed the beach around some of the bay was enough to make me feel somewhat relaxed.

We used to go fishing with dad a lot, even after the split, mum would do all she could to ensure I got to go fishing as much as possible, although I think she was thinking about it more along the lines of ‘you need to get out of this bloody house’.

I still love fishing, although with a large family, not enough money and over an hour away from any beaches, trips are few and far between.

I still love fishing, although with a large family, not enough money and over an hour away from any beaches, trips are few and far between. Being a regular weekend worker in the retail industry really didn’t help either, so hopefully now I’m 9-5 Monday to Friday that will change.

Sadly, video shops aren’t a thing anymore, but I am lucky enough to have been reviewing films for the last few years, which means regular trips to the cinema, which has taken the place of the post office video shop. A beer and a movie are now akin to me as what a beer and a BBQ is to many Australians.

I hadn’t heard of the term safe space until there were conversations about the safe school’s program a few years ago, but I kind of liked the idea of them, everyone should feel safe. Two of my oldest sons are on the Autism spectrum, and I know firsthand how healthy a safe space was for me and can be for them.

I hadn’t heard of the term safe space until there were conversations about the safe school’s program a few years ago, but I kind of liked the idea of them, everyone should feel safe.

They’re not easy to find in schools, or in the workplace for that matter, it really just relies on you looking around and finding the right one. But I really think it’s the label that bugs people who aren’t keen on them, which I get, I’m all too familiar with labels, and who really wants to explain to their teacher, friend, boss or colleague that you have to go to your safe space?

I think people just need to remember we are only human and just because we need some time out every now and then, doesn’t make us anything less.

Travis Akbar is a Wongatha man living on Peramangk country. He is a film critic and freelance writer. You can follow Travis on Twitter @TravAkbar.

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