Ride for the Little Black Dress
13 March 2012
Last Saturday, it was my pleasure to join a group of men who were riding for the Jodi Lee Foundation’s ‘Ride for the Little Black Dress’ from Canberra to Melbourne. The ride set off from the forecourt of Parliament House and among the leaders were Nick Lee, husband of the late Jodi Lee who died two years ago; his friend Andrew Poole; cancer doctor David Rangiah and ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher. It was a sunny day but we were speaking about one of the darkest topics in Australia.
One of my favourite writers, Christopher Hitchens, died of cancer recently. Before he died he did a couple of extraordinary interviews with Lateline‘s Tony Jones, and in one of them he described his cancer. He said:
‘Well, obviously it can’t have emotions and as far as we know it can’t see. It is a being. The thing is, it can’t have a life of its own, but it is an alien and it is – it is alive as long as I am. Its only purpose is to kill me. It’s a self-destructive alien.’
He went on to say:
‘… having something living inside you that is entirely malevolent and that wishes for your – doesn’t wish for, but is purposed to encompass your death. And keeping company with this is a great preoccupation. Once you think about it like that, it’s hard to un-think it.’
Christopher Hitchens’s experiences are, sadly, so common for Australians across the country. Bowel cancer claims 5,000 victims a year—one every two hours. Each of them is someone’s loved person—a wife, a mother, a friend, in the case of Jodi Lee.
For many of us, I think, the natural inclination would be to retreat into our own inner sadness. But there is something wonderful about a group of blokes who, when faced with the scourge of bowel cancer, decide that the best thing they could do would be to put on little black tutus and ride from Canberra to Melbourne. There is something funny about it, and there is something that fits the spirit of those who downed weapons on a Christmas Day in World War I to play a game of soccer with the other side.
The Ride for the Little Black Dress by all accounts is going well. I confess to this House that my participation was limited to two laps of the parliament. I am sure that Parliamentary Secretary Dreyfus, who is at the table, would have gone a little further. But I, unlike him, am not such a cyclist. They have, however, now ticked off day 4, according to their Twitter feed: 145 kilometres finished in 29-degree temperature. They are tired lads. But they are tackling Mount Buller tomorrow, because they have decided that, if you are going to ride from Canberra to Melbourne, you should not take the Hume Highway; you should go over the mountains.
This is an extraordinary bunch of blokes. There are 21 of them making the second ride this year. The first ride attracted 14 men last year. They are riding to raise money to fight bowel cancer but also to raise awareness. We know that early detection does save lives and that, if diagnosed, early bowel cancer is 90 per cent curable. We know that testing is important. The government currently funds the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program to check on people aged 50, 55 and 65. Individuals who want to do a test can obtain one from a community pharmacy for around $37, and that includes the cost of analysis. It is also important for those considering getting tested to know—and there is no other way of putting this—that getting tested for bowel cancer does not involve having anything put up your bottom. And this is important if we are to raise screening rates for bowel cancer.
I commend the Ride for the Little Black Dress, the enthusiasm and energy that those who have organised it have put into the activity, and their commitment to making sure that research and early detection of bowel cancer are priorities and that we as Australians do everything we can do to reduce the impact of bowel cancer on our community.