I smile and pretend
ANNIKA SMETHURST’S WORLD WAS TURNED UPSIDE DOWN WHEN POLICE RAIDED HER HOME. HER STORY IS ONE OF THE DRIVERS OF OUR RIGHT TO KNOW CAMPAIGN. SHE IS NOT JUST THE HUMAN FACE BUT ALSO THE HUMAN COST OF THE GOVERNMENT’S LUST FOR SECRECY
Initially it was the sound of a doorbell that caused a rush of anxiety. It’s taken many months but I am now comfortable opening the door to the delivery man and that’s a milestone I never thought I would need to celebrate. Other things have been harder to overcome.
In June my house was raided by seven police officers.
Perhaps it was a survival mechanism, but on that day my brain wouldn’t let me think about the impact this might have on my life. Even as the police started searching through my bathroom cupboards I failed to understand the magnitude of what would happen after they left.
Before June, unpaid parking tickets — I am terrible at life admin — were probably going to be the only reason I might end up in front of a judge.
Next month the High Court is scheduled to hear a case titled Smethurst v Commissioner of Police.
For four months I have woken up each morning knowing there is a possibility I could be arrested and even go to jail.
I don’t know when it might happen but the threat is always there. It’s difficult to explain the toll that can take on a person but I did find myself googling the average age women get grey hair recently if that is any indication.
Jail is a daunting proposition but now just feels like background noise — albeit loud background noise — in my now chaotic life.
Annoyingly in those blissful moments when I do manage to forget about what could happen, I am jolted back to reality by a radio broadcast, newspaper article or one of the many members of the public who now approach me, mostly with messages of support.
In order to survive I have limited my media consumption, which is not only limiting professionally but it has denied me something I have always loved.
My professionalism and ability to do my job has been challenged in parliament by senior government officials on a mission to discredit me and is now written into Hansard.
Lawyers, whom I had had very little to do with, now contact me each week.
They are nice people but I cannot wait to never hear from them again.
But that could be months, perhaps years away.
I decided to move house immediately after the raid as I was haunted by memories of police touching every item in my home. That modest twobedroom apartment was the first house I lived alone — without housemates or family — and I loved every day of living there.
Every day except one. As a journalist I have interviewed people who have been thrust into the media spotlight.
Sometimes it has been a choice but often it has been through circumstance. I have learnt the hard way that infamy is awful.
I didn’t want this to be about me and I never wanted to be a spokesperson for press freedom but I know it is important so I do it. Defending press freedom is about defending everyone’s freedom.
The responsibility of speaking up for something as important as press freedom is daunting and I constantly worry that I am not up to the task. I worry for my parents and for my friends. Worry is my new normal.
In the past four months I have also learnt a lot about Australians and how we use humour as a defence mechanism, often to avoid talking about serious issues that make us uncomfortable.
Jail jokes: I have heard them all.
Federal police arriving at the home.