It’s autumn, and a young lady is on a Sydney train, headed for the inner city. She’s fresh out of university and it’s her first day of work. The anticipation and nerves of what’s ahead are familiar to many of us—but her situation is vastly different. “Twenty-one”, as she’s immediately nicknamed by her colleagues, is a social work graduate, and she’s about to be catapulted into a world of heartbreak, loss and profound suffering.
This begins E P George’s The Bidura Effect, a fictionalised memoir which won her SparkLit’s 2017 Young Australian Christian Writer award. George, who does not disclose her full name and photograph for privacy reasons, worked with Aboriginal families affected by Stolen Generations policies, and said her experiences inspired her to write The Bidura Effect—a story that’s compelling, inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time.
Told through the perspective of Twenty-one, The Bidura Effect offers a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes in Australia’s foster care system. The narrative, which follows a social worker’s year-long journey employed by the Department of Child Services, is centred largely around Twenty-one’s relationship with Doreen, an Aboriginal grandmother in her 60s who, as a “half-caste” child, was removed from her family by government authorities.
Although the facts and names in the book have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals, all of the case studies used are, unfortunately, quite real. Doreen was taken from her mother when she was only six years old, and has been abused by the state ever since, eventually losing her own children. James is a teenager with Down Syndrome whose foster mum is unable to take care of him anymore. Hunter is just a baby, but his father is an alcoholic, and he’s at risk if he stays at home.
As Twenty-one becomes closer with Doreen and gets involved with the heartbreaking cases assigned to her, she seeks to answer a question many of us have wrestled with: How can we reconcile our faith with all the suffering in this world? Through her relationships with her clients, her colleagues and her church community, Twenty-one draws the empathy of the reader as she navigates her way through her own faith journey.
One of the most chilling and sobering realities is that The Bidura Effect is set in the heart of Sydney’s Redfern community, making these very real issues difficult to ignore. Along with Twenty-one, we’re allowed access into a world many of us are aware exists, but few have immersed themselves in. A quick Google search reveals the Redfern “Suicide Towers” where Doreen lives are real; as is the namesake of the book—Bidura is the children’s court in Glebe, where “some of Australia’s most infamous criminals had their initiation into custody”.
These very real places, combined with the fact that the book handles heavy topics such as paedophilia, domestic violence, depression and substance abuse, does not make for an easy read. But it never feels completely overwhelming or crushing. Twenty-one’s relationship with her work colleagues Ben and Lucy bring lightness and a much-needed breath of fresh air at just the right times. With each day that passes, Twenty-one learns the true meaning of forgiveness and mercy, and the power of unconditional love.
As an avid reader, I devoured The Bidura Effect in one sitting and was left wrestling with the book’s semi-abrupt ending. The case studies were no longer files; they were faces and names I’d become invested in. Some of the stories had happy endings, some didn’t and others were never mentioned again. At first, this irritated me, until I realised E P George was painting a picture of reality with her words—unanswered questions, unfinished stories.
Life, for many people around the world isn’t going to have a fairytale ending. This is reality. And, as Twenty-one had to remind herself after wrestling with the highs and lows of each case, the best we can do to keep our humanity is to treat others the way God has called us to—offer people a safe space, listen without judgement and seek the best for them.
The Bidura Effect is more than a story; it’s a call to action. It’s a heartfelt appeal to compassion, a celebration of a journey and a timely reminder of the thousands of stories in our own backyard that are yet to be heard.
Maritza Brunt is assistant editor of Adventist Record. She and her husband live in NSW’s Lake Macquarie region and are expecting their first child soon.
The Bidura Effect was published in 2017 by Initiate Media.