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"Most of all, Stella, I miss my friend..."

Hey lady-face,

Last week, I was strolling through Fitzroy and saw a lamp post wrapped in a lovingly knitted jumper. Some thoughtful hipster must have got it in their head that the concrete pole was either (a) cold or (b) in need of artistic decoration and decided to get the retro knitting-needles clicking.

Stella would freaking love this shit,” I thought before snapping a photo on my iPhone, applying the appropriate filter and selecting to send picture via SMS. It wasn’t until I started typing out the accompanying sarcastic commentary that I remembered you were dead.

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Stella Young: Knitting enthusiast. Image: Stella Young’s Facebook

It’s been a year since we lost you. A year since you departed this world swiftly and without warning.

Rudely, you buggered off just two weeks before my wedding.

After insisting that I hire the rolls-royce of disabled-access buses because you wanted to travel in style, it ended up being used exclusively by ungrateful able-bodied types. You left me with an empty spot on table number five, right between our gorgeous mate Clare and the best looking single man on the guest list (I always have your back, girl). Worst of all, you left a giant Stella-shaped hole on the dance floor.

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Jamila and her husband on their wedding day. Image: Supplied
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I know, I know, I have to stop making everything about me.

But seriously, while those other guests did try their best, the bridal dance rug was just not properly cut without you.

You once told me that it was a political statement for a woman who uses a wheelchair to dance. The world is so unused to seeing disabled bodies portrayed as sexy or beautiful that somehow you boogying on down was surprising to people; confronting even.

Watch Stella’s TED talk on why she’s not an inspiration here.

Video by TED

We spoke for hours that afternoon, consuming many ciders and ultimately agreeing that any over-priced outfit you bought for a night where there would be dancing was not consumerist or vain. We justified your expensive shoe-buying habit as essential for the cause of disability rights.

The absence of your voice from public debate is keenly felt, my girl.

Our friend Toby said just the other day that recent discussions about domestic violence haven’t encompassed the acute vulnerability of women with disabilities. The same is true for so many issues of importance, where you would have helped progress the debate towards a better informed, more inclusive conclusion. While of course there are other voices — wonderful other voices — commentating on and campaigning for better outcomes for the disabled community, none of them are quite like you.

Because you were unafraid of speaking the truth, even if it meant pissing people off.

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Image: Stella Young’s Facebook
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When your opinion didn’t fall into line with what the world expected from you, you’d go ahead and shout it even louder. You challenged community perceptions about disability, about feminism, about ageing, about race, about healthcare, about transport, about sex, about politics and about inspiration. You refused to be boxed in, you defied expectation and laughed in the face of simpering, sympathetic idiots who thought you deserved or needed their pity.

Australia desperately needed the informed, eloquent voice of Stella Young for much longer than we go it. Our country remains so far away from delivering on the promise of the same opportunities for our citizens with disabilities as are afforded to the able-bodied. I remain confident that one day we’ll get there but that day is a whole lot further away now that we don’t have you. I miss what you did and what you were going to do for this country. I miss the fights you would have started, the stereotypes you would have challenged and the debates you would have damn well won.

But most of all, Stella, I miss my friend.

I desperately want to be able to call you up and go for coffee. I want to introduce you to my baby and dress him in the booties you were knitting for him when you died. I want you to email me because ‘some idiot’ we’ve published on Mamamia has used a photo of you and described you as an inspiration. I want to talk about boys, bitch about conservative governments and complain that there aren’t enough sequinned tops at Gorman this season.

I want to text you a picture of a knitted light post and know that you’ll message me back.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop being mad that you won’t.

Big love,

Jam x

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