Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Prayers for Cynthia Banham

Back in 1992, I joined a close circle of friends, students at Macquarie University Law School. We came from a variety of backgrounds, and went onto work in a variety of fields. One recruited a whole bunch of us to his Young Liberal branch!

Quite a few of us were suffering lawyer burn-out. One went off to join a legal publisher and hasn’t looked back. Another toyed with the idea of teaching in an independent school and forming his own Dead Poets’ Society.

I had my own style of burnout in early-2002. One of this group of friends sat me down one day and suggested this: “Irf, you’re good at writing. You know how to sniff a story and put an angle to it. Why don’t you consider journalism?”

I didn’t believe it was possible. Going from legal practice to journalism? My friend persisted.

“You remember Cynthia from uni? She didn’t stay in law for very long. She went off to write stuff here and there in smaller publications. Now she has a small gig in the Good Weekend. Who knows where that might take her?”

I started looking out in the Good Weekend for the familiar name. Sure enough, there was Cynthia Banham doing some kind of trivia thing in the magazine.

Years later, I was helping a lady with a rather difficult matter involving her deceased husband. We weren’t getting anywhere with government authorities. The lady wanted to approach TV tabloid current affairs programs. I had other ideas.

I rang Cynthia Banham at the Canberra office of the Herald and introduced myself. She remembered who I was. We made arrangements to meet with my client in Parliament House in Canberra.

Cynthia went through my client’s story patiently and thoroughly. She checked and double-checked every single aspect of my client’s story. She then advised my client of what steps she would have to take and who she would have to approach from my client’s ‘opponent’.

I know few lawyers who would be this thorough, let alone journalists. Perhaps this reflects the stereotype I have that journalists are more able to play fast and loose with the facts. Cynthia certainly didn’t meet that stereotype.

Then late last year, I e-mailed Cynthia to get some advice about making the move she made out of legal practice all those years back. We arranged to meet, and then one of us had to cancel at the last minute. A few more rendezvous were planned and cancelled. Then on the afternoon of 7 March, as I was entering Canberra to attend a lecture at ANU, I thought I would give Cynthia a call at her work number and arrange to meet. No one picked up the phone.

At ANU, I saw my fiancĂ© who told me about the plane crash. Within a few hours, it was clear why Cynthia hadn’t picked up her office phone.

I can’t claim to be a close friend of Cynthia. I was part of a large circle of friends which she was also part of at university.

Cynthia is now battling away in Perth, surrounded by family and loved ones. Please remember Cynthia, her partner and her family in your prayers.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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