Category: Articles

Articles by Danielle Spinks

Bush Medicine: a quick look at some medicinal and useful native plants

I recently went to a workshop in Bush Medicine that was run as part of Bundanoon’s 2018 Winterfest programme. Held in a sunny room at the local CWA, a group of about 9 adults and kids got to touch, smell, crackle and rub our way through an interactive two hours about fascinating local treasures.

All of my information below comes from Aunty Wendy Lotter (of Platypus Dreamin Aboriginal Cultural Programs and Bushwalks).

Bundanoon’s New South Wales is Gundungurra Country. Because Australia is vast and ecologically diverse, the plants used for bush medicine in one area may not be the same as another.  This information really only relates to the native plants that grow in Bundanoon and surrounding areas.

Hungry?

The seeds of Lomandra longifolia (Mat Rush) can be used to make flour.

Wide-leafed Geebung can be crushed into a damper. You can also make tea from the leaves.

 

Thirsty?

Mountain Devil flower (Lambertia Formosa) can be used for hydration. Pull off the red flowers and suck the bottom to make a sweet, honey-flavoured drink.

If you already have water but are after a treat, put in some red banksia for a sweet drink.

Rolling a seedpod from the casuarina plant around your mouth will stimulate your saliva glands and help you out in a hydration emergency.

Sanitation?

The paperbark tree has the consistency of many layers of tissue paper stuck together. Take a guess what it can be used for.

It is useful for many things, including as a canvas for painting and drawing symbols.

It was also used by our first peoples as toilet paper, sanitary napkins, and bandages.

Antiseptic?

For wounds and gashes, paperbark is great for the bandage, but you might also need some antiseptic. Tea tree (used for cleaning at my place) is great for helping stop infection. Place a wad beneath the paperbark bandage and tie it on with a blad of kangaroo grass.

Need Fire?

Even in rain, the string bark will be dry if you go down to the 4th layer. Pull strips off, crush them into fine kindling fragments, and then light with your rubbing sticks.

Need Light?

The candlestick banksia will light up and stay lit for around 20 minutes.

The old man banksia can stay alight for hours.

Stings

Mix the root of the Bracken fern with water and apply to stings.

Insect repellant

Bracken fern is also an insect repellant. You can lay some in the bottom of a large coolamon (a curved wooden tray) and put your baby on top.

Need a hairbrush?

If you need to brush your hair, the small and soft hairpin banksia will leave you with neater locks and a lustrous shine.

Head lice?

The red and purple banksia seeds can be crushed, made into a paste, smeared over the head to kill head lice.

Feel anxious?

Get a few nostrils full of tea tree fragrance. It will calm you down as well as being a good antiseptic.

Need soap?

Grab a handful of leaves from the Balck Wattle plant and dunk in water. Crush into a ball and rub to make a lather. The leaves leave skin feeling and looking clean. Anecdotally, this natural soap is especially effective for psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis.  Twice a day on the black wattle regimen and it all goes fairly quickly.

Tools

The versatile Kangaroo grass can be used for sawing and cutting when held at either end of a blade. It’s one of those grasses that will be fine to touch, but rub them the wrong way and you’ll get a fine cut.

Chronic disease?

Cook up the leaves of the Sarsparilla vine and make a little tea. This is used to treat pain caused by diabetes and arthritis.

Cold and flu?

I can personally vouch for this one. I attended the workshop with a nasty head cold, hoping to get some of the native good stuff.

Do this in sequence:

Tear a few leaves of the Blue Gum (aka Argyle Apple; Eucalyptus Cinerea). Inhale. Ah!

Next, do the same with a few leaves of kangaroo mint (aka native mint). Inhale. Again. Again.Mmm-mm. Mix them into a potpourri with the blue gum. The job of the kangaroo mint is to clear the chest and sinuses and headache. It also sharpens the senses.

Now, grab some delighted lemon-scented tea tree. I love this stuff. Add that to your hand. Breathe. Ahhh.

Last, do this step separately. Discard the other leaves first. Take a bunch of leaves from the bottlebrush (melaleuca hypericifolia) tree. This is the one with small orange and red flowers.

Crush the leaves your palm and breathe in. This will help move all those effects from the other aromas through your body.

Before you go…

Australia’s first people are the oldest continuing culture on this planet and never fail to amaze me. I am always learning incredible information about what is in plain sight. If you get a chance to do learn about the local bush medicine in your area, I recommend it highly.

And another thing… the first two people on Earth were not black. Definitely. If they had have been, Adam and Eve would have eaten the snake, not the apple.

Thank you, Aunty Wendy. Thank you also Yvonne Crofts for sharing photos with me.

 

Prophetic Fiction

Archival (1997, edited 2017)

I am no student of English lit, but when a writer like William Gibson’s prophecies are revealed every day in my newspaper on a daily basis, my jaw drops open and coffee showers into my cornflakes.

Forget the vagueness and ambiguities of Nostradamus, Gibson is explicit. Through the realm of fiction, he is able to plumb the effects and ethics of technological inevitabilities. Maybe it’s the absence of ethics that strangely brings them into the forefront of the reader’s mind.

Steve Beard from Arena describes Gibson’s latest offering of speculative fiction, Idoru, as “like a depth charge, it goes down easy and explodes at a pre-set level… primed to expose the pressure points of postmodern American culture.”

Gibson is the man who wrote about virtual reality before the technology had been invented. He foresaw the Internet and continues to see how it will shape and develop, remaining one step ahead in his books. In Idoru, set in the organic, polluted, Giger-inspired architecture of Tokyo, he foresaw the birth of a new music industry—one that is all marketing and no performer.

The ‘idoru’ of the title (Japanese for ‘idol’) is pop singer Rei Toei. She has legions of adoring fans, a magic voice, and she is beautiful. She has captivated another Japanese singer, a male, who plans on marrying her. Only thing is, she’s not human.

Rei Toei is a bit of an indictment on the superficiality of the music industry. A star created by a powerful corporate profiteer, Famous Aspect, seeking to manufacture a cultural product.

Rei Toei is the company’s child—a kind of holographic digital being. And perhaps a star that is not human may possess more depth and sexual mystery than people do. Theoretically, the premise deserves exploring through fiction. I have discovered, however, that this premise is now being explored in reality. Her name is not Rei Toei, it is Kyoko Date, and she was created by Holi Pro—a Japanese multimedia conglomerate who have happily dispatched her to an adoring and immense teenage audience market.

Hot coffee issues from my mouth in a fine spray, medicating everything in its trajectory.

The Spice Girls may be a blasé example of greed, superficiality and exploitation, but at least they’re human. Maybe what we need are lobby groups who will ‘out’ people who purport to be, but are not homo sapient. Pray may we see billboards with close-up faces and simple defamatory text like DIANA: DANCER. DIVA. DOT MATRIX.

It is interesting that Gibson confesses to being computer illiterate, even a Luddite—not that there’s anything wrong with that. It isn’t from the depths of his immersion in computer and VR technology that his revelations unfurl. It is, rather, from a detached overview, looking down, high on the heady fumes wafting up from the cooking circuitry below him, that he is able to make his prognostications.

Maybe they’re not prognostications at all, but his ability to recognise patterns and inevitabilities. He doesn’t know the specifics of certain hardware and software capabilities, although he fools his readers well, he sees the general direction of these technologies as an aggregate are taking.

What makes Gibson’s work so powerful is that he mixes futuristic images, scenarios, and technologies with those of the past and the present, unlike those sci-fi writers who boggle us with new this and new that and really detract from their own power by overwhelming us.

Let’s say hypothetically that we wanted to make a story about humans living in a post-human world. Why not have our characters use the arcane CB radio as a communication device instead of cellular phones. Sometimes a sense of disturbance, or of being disaffected, my favourite emotions of all, can be achieved much more effectively not be being totally foreign but by being uncannily familiar. Our aim then would not be to make the strange seem familiar but to make the familiar feel strange. In the future, we may not have holographic banking but even if we do we may still call such machines ATMs.

Aldus Huxley hit the mark with Brave New World. Maybe his prophecy was self-fulfilling. Perhaps it is possible that the alternative visions of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s dystopian world and the discourse that permeated through the decades that have ensued after their publication has left tracings on ur collective unconscious. What if anything else could “alternative facts” be than newspeak?

In order not to reproduce a society resembling Orwell’s concentration camp, there is a counterbalancing embrace of everything trivial (movie stars, gossip, consumerism) as a comfort and a distraction.

If so, we couldn’t have duplicated better. Movies are now feelies with gold class seats and Dolby surround sound that shakes and three dimensions are now de rigueur for the blockbusters. Soma is available on prescription under the name Prozac or any one of another selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and the covers of their product information brochures usually reveal lifestyle stock imagery of cooking, walking on the beach, basking in sunlight.

Huxley’s cage of exotic inhabitants who lead a very different lifestyle could be our refugee camps filled with those so blemished by trauma that they best locked from view let they interrupt our purchases.

His children were not born but decanted, much like the extra-uteral babies that will soon be on their way, not to mention the IVF generation and designer genes. The subsequent relegation of intellectual and social status via physical markers—from Alpha to Epsilon—is not just the class stratified society we live in and have always lived in, but a Huxley nod in the direction of cloning or ‘gated estates’ for the gene pools.

One hundred years ago people probably didn’t believe such progress was possible because they couldn’t comprehend it. They would think we were freaks.

We are freaks. It’s exciting.

PJ Harvey: Hope Six Tour Review

22 January 2017

ICC Sydney

As much a theatrical performance as a musical one, this show is high concept.

Accompanied by a ten-piece band with sections of brass, keyboards, and drums, the show is themed entirely around the newest album, Hope Six Demolition Project. It’s a profoundly dark and politically-infused protest.

The sound is bluesy, brassy and percussive. The show begins with the band in a single file, drumming, then opens with Ministry of Defence, a wall of amplified guitar. It’s loud but nuanced. Polly’s vocals are masterful and she soars over the industry sounds and the male voices to pierce the rafters—pitch perfect, every note. One forgets what an extraordinary vocalist she is.

The lyrics are vivid and disturb. For example, this from Ministry of Defence:

Broken glass

A white jawbone

Syringes, razors

A plastic spoon

Human hair

A kitchen knife

And a ghost of a girl

Who runs and hides

Scratched in the wall in

Biro pen

This is how the

world will end

And the druggy zombified wasteland of Washington DC’s Hope Six and Ward 7, in Community of Hope:

Here’s the highway to death and destruction

South capitol is its name

And the school just looks like shit-hole

Does that look like a nice place?

Here’s the old mental institution

Now the homeland security base

And here’s god’s deliverance centre

A deli called M.L.K

Subtle it’s not.

The set is drab. The costumes are black. Polly has strips of material billowing from her arms, black feathers, and a hornlike tiara, like some mythical creature of the underworld.

The music and the set imagery is Anselm Kieferesque. A prefabricated wall serves as a looming warlike industrial backdrop for the murky yellow, grey, and blue light projections. 

The bevelled squares in the wall also casts shadows that, by turns, cushion or entrap.

Where Kiefer referenced World War Two, Harvey references are Kosovo, the United States, and Syria.

The performance is tight and seamlessly executed, with few and small pauses only to reconfigure the players and lighting. It’s like watching a very good version of a Samuel Beckett play. The set direction and stagecraft are impeccable.

After the first hour of new material from the Hope Six demolition album, we get served an obliterating 50-Foot Queenie, which got everyone jiggling in their seats, and Down By The Water. The encore was Route 61 and Is This Desire?

PJ is less a musician than an artist who uses the medium of music and theatre. She’s a powerhouse who can transform completely from one theme to another, but not within the same show.

This is not cheeky, sexy PJ. This is a darker and edgier PJ than we’ve seen yet. And it’s electrifying. I am still fizzing. And I will be for some time.

This performance confirms her place as one of the great musician artists of our time.

Military Blunders in the War Against Terror

Archival: March 2002

LANDMINES

I recently saw a Super 8 video filmed by an acquaintance at a Cambodian hospital. The subject was a young man who had to have three men hold him down so that gangrene could be scraped from the inside of his amputated thigh.

It is easy to be caught in a western fog that amputations, which result from landmines are clinical, that anaesthetic is administered and that recovery is sound. In reality, the victim’s limb may be hacked off in order to get out of the minefield. Victims commonly lose both, not just one of their legs, as well as their penis and testicles. Some victims ask to be murdered as they lay in blood and shock, unable to move. Later, artificial limbs are usually rudimentary and awkward.

The aftermath of Russian, Taliban and Northern Alliance fighters, all of whom laid mines, has resulted in between 5 and 7 million landmines in Afghanistan, both anti-personnel and anti-tank. One adult male in every ten has been involved in a mine incident.

After all the devastation caused by the existing mines, aid agencies around the world pleaded with the United States Defence not to use mines in this conflict. Nonetheless, the US found it appropriate to employ thousands of mines, which they marked with yellow flags.

 

AIR DISPATCH OF FOOD 

Unfortunately, the US military logistics, for reasons unknown, decided to also mark the food drops with yellow tags. Against a backdrop of mass starvation (5,000,000 people), the measly 35,000 meals dropped to the ground by air dispatch were often soiled, landed on minefields and were marked in a way that may have made them indistinguishable from mines to many Afghan people.

Medicins Sans Frontiers, the Nobel winning organisation, described the food drops as ‘virtually useless and may even be dangerous.’

In a press information note of October 10, three policy analysts for the US Committee for Refugees called the action ‘cosmetic – ineffective and risky.’

 

THE VOCABULARY OF WAR

For the Gulf War, the US hired PR firm Hill & Knowlton (now Hill+Knowlton Strategies). There seems little need this time. The twin towers did that already and they were justification not only for this conflict but allowed Israel to adopt the terminology used by US Defence Secretary Rumsfeldt, Bush and Powell and thereby hitch a free ride on their soundbites. By declaring a nation of Palestinians as terrorists, Israel put Palestine in the ‘rogue state’ category with Libya, North Korea and Iraq. Bush should have felt suitably embarrassed after being publicly chastised for his “axis of evil” comments when Gareth Evans described them as “irresponsible… through some speechwriter in the thrill of the moment.”

Worldwide, however, the effect has spread. We oversimplify complex issues faced by our neighbours, extinguish their discourse, and label them ‘enemies’. The result is a black-and-white portrait of the good and the bad seeds that is so oversimplified it becomes a parody of the truth.

Israel’s jump onto this vocabulary to disseminate propaganda enabled them to stage a massive military action in the days following September 11, which was largely overlooked. At the same time, of course, Pakistan and India, both of whom have nuclear capabilities now, have the US as its role model, just when they were on the brink of evolving beyond a conflict mindset.

 

VIETNAM REVISITED

Other military blunders? For years, the Australian Army has been giving its young officers lessons from the Vietnam War as case studies of what not to do.

While it is a unique conflict in many ways, it bears many similarities with Vietnam. The enemy is faceless; a philosophy. The enemy is practically unlocatable. He is in every country; fragmented. The enemy cannot be confined to a theatre of war – it is simply spectacle.

All of these factors, as well as the lack of exit strategy, have been criticised by retired Brigadier Brian d’Hage. Most likely, there are many Australian commanders who feel the same way, but cannot speak out – it just doesn’t make good military sense.

Rupert Murdoch said in a 2001 speech that knowledge was, ‘the only force that can vanquish the ignorance that is the seedbed of terrorism.’ Ironic. Thanks Rupert.

The Natural Way of Things: Review

 

In the Natural Way of Things, Verla and Yolanda are familiar protagonists. Yolanda has been in a sex scandal with multiple football players (let’s assume NRL) and the highly educated Verla has been in a relationship with a married politician who has left her–the details are never crystal clear.

The two protagonists have both gained notoriety through their misadventures, as have the other eight they are with–it is a collection of ten hated women. All have been drugged and kidnapped and are held as prisoners stripped of any identity. They are given garish old-fashioned tunics with bonnets over their shaven heads. They find themselves surrounded by a high-powered electrical fence all around the very large periphery of an arid landscape, left in the hands of violent and verbally abusive captors, the cheap labour of a private company that’s holding them. It’s a boot camp without purpose–other than to make the women feel like the ‘sluts’ and ‘dogs that they are’.

One of the first jobs the women are given is to build a road from old concrete blocks for the company, which is called Hardings, to drive along on its much anticipated visit. The visit date comes and passes. And the next. Although the women lose a track of time, we learn from the changing seasons that several months go by. Eventually their captors learn that Hardings isn’t going to come. Soon enough the electricity becomes disconnected, except for the electricity around the high voltage perimeter. Now, prisoners and their captors, which include Teddy, Boncer, and a mean and ineffectual female nurse whose experience has been working in a hot dog shop, are all in a fight for survival with no means of escape.

It all sounds awful, but the prose is characteristic Wood. It’s beautiful, mesmeric and sensual imagery that belies the brutality of subject that include trapping and skinning of rabbits. The vivid and visceral descriptions are like the outback prose of Evie Wyld’s All the Birds are Singing. Much respect to the bunnies.

The Natural Way of Things is not set in a dystopian future, it’s now. There is a scattering of references to modern TV shows like Jamie Oliver,from which one prisoner remembers how to stew a rabbit, and foods like Vegemite and Vita Weets. There are more than passing resemblances to real life sex scandals that have demeaned the women involved, often victims, in high profile cases. It’s disturbing how close to home this all is.

The setting reminds me of three things: the Australian Armed Forces and the kinds of attitudes and language that I have been subjected to. The pointless subordination and deprivation of liberty rings like a glass today because of Australia’s offshore and isolated detention centres which are increasingly being exposed as profit centres in human misery. Lastly, the knowledge that Australian indigenous women just a few decades ago were subjected to similar but worse treatment is gutwrenching.

The characters, dialogue and male characters are entirely believable, including the narcissism and self-absorption of the sensitive new age Yoga-devoted asshole, Teddy. The repellant Boncer who is truly scary with his violence and lack of intellect; he doesn’t get or deserve readers’ empathy.

I didn’t particularly want to read The Natural Way of Things, except that it was chosen for my book club and was highly commended. The fact that it was written by Charlotte Wood made me feel in safe hands. She is a beautiful writer with poetry and accuracy in every detail.

Charlotte Wood has achieved a master work that is light and delicate in its imagery and language while being psychologically searing all the while. It is a challenge to read, but not a long read. It was helped along by the expert typesetting of 12.5 point Fairfield type with a 19-point leading, which made it seem larger and easier to keep reading past the stifling gruesomeness.

I have no doubt it will hold a significant place in the history of Australian literature. So far it has won the 2016 Indie Book of the Year Award and the award for fiction chosen by the Australian Independent Booksellers and the 2016 Stella Prize.

This is a book that resonates. Although it is ultimately validating, this was also the most disturbing book I have ever read. The final pages teach us that there will be no relief in sight for our suffering, we have to escape it in our own way.

I highly recommend it, but with a trigger warning. (Please be advised that this book contains rape, sexual abuse and verbal violence and misogyny and as such it could trigger an episode of post-traumatic stress in those susceptible.)

You probably know someone with MS who is keeping it secret

This World Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Day, you may spare a thought for those affected by this chronic, debilitating disease. You may not realise, however, that there are people you meet every day with MS who are keeping it secret from you.

Early this year, Jamie-Lynn Sigler – who played the daughter of Tony Soprano in the TV show The Sopranos – revealed that she has the disease. The announcement came 15 years after her diagnosis. Like me, she’s been in the closet with MS.

MS is a neurological disease. There are different types and they affect people differently. Some cases of MS progress rapidly and the disability can lead to mobility issues, paralysis and severe nerve damage that can leave the sufferer wheelchair bound.

The relapsing-remitting version that I have is possible to keep hidden. You can’t see MS by looking at me. You would see I wear glasses – the black-rimmed professional kind. If you were discerning, you might see that my right eyelid is heavier than the left – that’s the result of optic neuritis that left me blind for two weeks in the late 1990s.

You would see a fit person, someone who bounds up the steps at Central Station in the morning. You won’t see the pins and needles running through my hands and tight tingling bands around my chest and thighs. You won’t see that I often feel like I’m wearing a corset plugged into something electrical. When I tip my head forward, you won’t see the jolt of electricity shoot down my neck and buzz in my fingers.

I‘ve had multiple sclerosis for 18 years. If you knew, you would be one of a select few to whom I have ‘come out’. It’s not that I don’t accept that I have MS, it’s just that I don’t define myself by it and I don’t want anyone else to either.

Multiple sclerosis is the most common chronic neurological disease in the world. According to MS Australia, it affects around 23,000 Australians and three times more women than men. The average age of onset is 30. The cause is unknown and there is no cure.

The experience is different for everyone. At times my skin feels as if it is healing from bad sunburn. I’ve had the feeling that my jeans are wet, but only on one side. Water droplets that shoot from the sides of a showerhead can feel like the sparks off a blowtorch, much like sciatica feels.

A few years ago I was introduced to a distant relative who had obviously been told of my condition. He looked at me with amazement and said, “You look so well, considering.” He then asked: “How long will it be till you’re in a wheelchair?”

Stigma and discrimination is the key reason people like me keep it quiet. Why wouldn’t you keep it secret when you get a whole collection of flawed worst-case perceptions transferred onto you?

Erika North, a well-known radio announcer in London, kept her MS secret even while talking about many personal stories on air.

“I felt like damaged goods,” she told the Daily Mail. “I was worried people would view me differently.”  I feel entirely the same way. I want people to think of me as creative, focused and hardworking. Not disease-ridden. Not infirm. Not someone sleepwalking into oblivion.

The online forum thisisms.com has comments from people who choose to keep it quiet for different reasons, often professional. “I decided early on that I would tell my family, but not my work,” wrote one forum participant. “I don’t want to complicate the workplace with this because biases in the world are very real.”

Probably one of the most common and difficult symptoms of multiple sclerosis is fatigue. Fatigue doesn’t just make you feel tired; it saps your confidence. In the last few years I have come to the conclusion that confidence and energy are closely linked. Without enough energy, it’s hard for your brain to fire, let alone your body. Without a brain firing at an optimal level, it’s hard to think quickly in a stressful meeting and keep a clear and steady voice.

Jamie-Lynn Sigler may have at last come out, but it wasn’t until after The Sopranos filmed its final season. I respect and understand that. World MS Day is a day to change perceptions. If you have MS, I hope you have a wonderful day. But I can’t say I’ll recognise you.

 

Originally published for DailyLife, 25 May 2016.

Tabloid journalism impacts health and health policy

Australia’s  Murdoch-owned Daily Telegraph recently ran a front-page story titled Child Drug Room Lunacy in which it said “children as young as 16 and pregnant women” would be welcomed into Sydney’s supervised injecting centre to shoot up heroin.

People are afraid of the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre because they don’t understand what it does. When pregnant women are brought into the conversation, this fear predictably turns into hysteria. Shocking headlines which sensationalise the stories of desperate people are a major threat to the the supervised injecting centre, which otherwise operates quietly and unobtrusively to save lives and connect people to vital services.

The centre’s proposal that their help be extended to young people and pregnant women needs to be embraced, however unpalatable this idea may initially seem.

Language such as ‘drug room’ and ‘shooting gallery’ used by the Telegraph implies that the supervised injecting centre is some kind of fun but seedy hang out for the criminally deviant.  So what is it really like inside the injecting centre? And why should we “let” pregnant women and young people in there?

I was privileged to tour the medically supervised injecting centre as part of my employment for a  peak medical body. I have to admit that I was reluctant to take the tour at first, feeling that I didn’t want to enter such a “dark”, “seamy” or “underground” place.

Our guide was a registered nurse who had worked at the centre for several years. Situated on busy Darlinghurst Road, the centre has an inconspicuous facade that makes it looks like an unbranded accountancy office. If you didn’t already know what it was, you would be none the wiser.

Inside it has the appearance of an ordinary waiting room. Metal chairs with vinyl upholstery run  along two walls. There are stacks of dog-eared magazines. Clients come in through the front door and move through various rooms, then exit by the back.

Stage one is reception. Staff take the client’s name, basic demographic data, and the drug they are going to be using. It’s a condition that a client must be a legal adult. They cannot come with a minor. They also have to be proven a regular user.

There is a bank of eight stainless steel carrels, each with two chairs and a large plastic yellow sharps bin. Every surface has been wiped and sanitised. Clients are supplied with clean syringes (size depending on the drug they plan to inject), medicated swabs for the injection site, vials of purified water, and cotton for filtration.

In an adjacent room are oxygen and narcotic reversal machines that can be administered in the event of an overdose. These machines have ensured that although the centre has seen more than five thousand overdoses, there has not been a single fatality.

An enclosed courtyard at the back is called the ‘chill out room’. This is where a client can have a cup of tea or coffee and hopefully open up to staff about their life and their situation. Health promotion posters cover the walls. There are brochures and staff to help clients secure services they may need, such as accommodation support, drug and alcohol treatment programs, and detoxes. It is here that clients of the centre have also willingly participated in valuable research studies over the last 15 years.

“There is a real misconception that the people who use the injecting room are violent and inherently criminal, but they’re just people,”  says Dr Marianne Jauncey, Medical Director of the supervised injecting centre. “They’re people with their own set of stories and sadness. Often they have significant histories of trauma and abuse. It’s a real privilege to work with these people.”

Although it opened in a climate of public outrage, KPMG figures confirm that 78% of local residents and 70% of local businesses now support the facility. So do more than fifty related organisations including the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, NSW Nurses Association, New South Wales Police Force, and St Johns Anglican Church, Darlinghurst.

It is a compassionate and practical health service that seeks to connect with people who inject drugs. Its stated focus is on harm reduction. It is grounded in overwhelming international medical evidence that injecting centres save lives and improve community safety.

So what about these pregnant women? Why should we “allow” them to access the same services and facilities as other people in need? Let’s be clear, this is not the same as a shop trying to expand its customer base. These are prospective women in need, albeit in very small numbers, who have already been refused access to the service.

“It is a shocking situation that pregnant women are taking drugs”, agrees Dr Jauncey, “But it’s not a reasonable response to turn them away.” She believes the best approach is to actively engage women who are not on treatment or therapy and get them linked in to the services they need. She can’t do that if she has to refuse them entry.

“For someone who is already opioid dependent, the safest thing you can do is ensure she doesn’t go into withdrawal, which can lead to premature labour or miscarriage,” says Dr Jauncey. “This is the firm view of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and many other services. It’s a considered view based on evidence.”

Not only do such unhelpful articles as the Telegraph’s miss the point medically, they also paint a picture of a heartless woman who, because of her pregnancy, is somehow public property. This fuels dangerous views that the actions of such a woman should be criminalised.

In their book Transforming Addiction: Gender, Trauma and Transdisciplinarity, Greaves, Poole and Boyle argue that moralistic blaming and shaming narratives “create a situation where pregnant women with addiction issues are afraid to seek treatment.” The insistent focus on drug use in pregnancy “illustrates a conflux of sexism, objectification, stigma and social control”. The US Women’s Media Centre has also criticised the media’s reinforcement of stigma, stereotypes and sensationalism when representing women using opioids during pregnancy, whilst ignoring treatments that are known to work.

It’s easy to react to sensationalist reports about pregnant women using “ drug rooms” with shock and revulsion.  Ironically, the Telegraph itself quoted the proposal that the biggest risk to the injecting centre was “public perceptions”.

Despite the best efforts of the police and health services ready to help, it’s a reality that some people, including pregnant women, become addicted to prescription and street opioids like heroin.

Although we might not like the idea of such places, these people need support not vilification. Compassionate experts at the medically supervised injecting centre know much better how to direct vulnerable people into care than sensationalist journalists and politicians do.

Danielle Spinks (c) 2016

Things I Never Knew Until I was a Parent

A few years ago, I didn’t want children because the stakes seemed too high in the anxiety department. But my partner did. Let me tell you, my friend, there is much joy ahead. Relax. But do brace yourself for a personality transplant. And keep these things in mind.

You become less self-conscious

I recently attended the Rhyme Time class at my local library. Singing half-forgotten rhymes with accompanying hand actions in a circle of 30 people was an experience anathema to my personal sense of self. But I did it. Because when you’re a parent, you have to extend yourself.

Last time I did a VIA Institute personality assessment, my score for self-consciousness was off the chart. Now I sing in the street. I improvise new entertainment all the time. Furthermore, I don’t care if adult peers witness my inventions. Karaoke would once have been a private hell, but now I’ve been able to scratch it off the ‘Do Never’ list.

The unparalled power of distraction

Smoking cessation therapies are often about feeling the craving, acknowledging it, taking ownership. When I quit smoking years ago, my strategy was to become attention deficit whenever I had the urge to smoke. Brush TV. Watch teeth. The effects are now obvious. But I did quit.

I’ve learned that the same works with children. Forget focusing on good behaviour and bad. They don’t understand—they’re primal. Accept that they have fangs and wings, but when they do something disagreeable to you: DIVERT! DISTRACT!

By all means take away that ciggie butt she just picked up, but replace it with something better. Give her that water bottle lid. Just imbue it with magical mythology while you do. And make sure it’s not a choke hazard. Or you’re in trouble. You can only do the switch-trick once at a time.

If the water bottle lid is a choke hazard and you want to switch again to the AMAZING TOILET ROLL TRUMPET, she’ll call your bluff and go back to that nicotine-stained filter.

Gregarious and egregious may be one and the same

If you are not a natural conversationalist, you may find it easy if your child is your main conversation topic. But that, my friend, is a mistake. In the perception of others, these two similar-sounding words could become one and the same

Example: I am hopeless at keeping in touch with people. I recently sent a card to an old pal who had sent one to me. I lay the card on the floor and gave the child a pen.

“Draw a picture for BB?” I asked my one-year-old. “Just a squiggle or something.” She eventually made a scrawl over the floorboards, some of which landed on the card. I took a closer look. A jagged V and a half-swan swirl. Genius!

I drew a dotted line around the picture like the x-space around a logo, preserving the artwork’s integrity with a healthy clearway.

ORIGINAL ARTWORK BY SUSANNAH ROSE, I wrote in small uppercase letters. And in brackets below (Prodigy!)

About three the next morning, I thought about the eye-rolling gifs I had seen that day. Heed this warning: your child no doubt has highly advanced physical, intellectual and creative capacities. But please make sure some you have other conversation topics. Not everything is about the child.

The power of ‘the Thing’

“Have more,” I kept suggesting, pushing cubes of watermelon to her little mouth.

Thirty minutes and half a watermelon later, our one-year-old was wildly ricocheting off the walls of her ‘cubby’ (i.e. cage bed) like a loose ball-bearing in a pachinko machine.

Instead of calling an exorcist, my partner told me to do ‘the thing’. The thing’ is a fingertip head-and-eye massage and it works nearly every time. She was asleep in ninety seconds. Go tenderly and slowly so she doesn’t realise at first, then the gentleness and rhythm will suck her into a daze, and then into the sleep land.

There is a world of mind-expanding television

I used to enjoy watching surreal and arthouse films. Salvador Dali’s Un Chien Andalou, and Godard’s Alphaville were favourites. But In The Night Garden on ABC Kids TV is the trippiest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s mesmerising, sedating and has a dark edge. With colourful stuffed toy characters in cocoon-like sleeping pods, and an unseen narrator, it’s a richly polysemic text. I have banned the child from watching it because I am unsure of the messages. But I love it.

There is much anxiety and fear bringing a little ‘un into the world. But little gems lie along the path as well. Take these tips on board and be edified.

Can you add to my list?

Inside the Kings Cross Medically Supervised Injecting Centre

If anyone personifies the 1990s, with all its garbage couture and junky chic, I’d suggest Courtney Love. Bearer of lingerie street fashion. Reviled wife of Kurt Cobain. Heroin addict.

So as Courtney kicked off her Australian tour last month, I made a tour of the Kings Cross medically supervised injecting centre (MSIC).

I admit, I wasn’t sure about the tour. The idea of it put a bad taste in my mouth. I came close to cancelling.

The MSIC is the only facility of its kind in the southern hemisphere, one of only 96 around the world.  It opened at a time when much of Australia, especially places like Kings Cross and Newcastle, where I am from, were on their knees to heroin.

It’s a time I remember well. It seemed like every second person you met was on the gear.  The scourge spanned professions, cultural backgrounds, and social and economic groups.

I have heard people comment that because it’s illegal to possess illegal drugs, a place for them to inject them shouldn’t exist. Others argue that tax payers should not be funding a project that condones and supports behaviour that is illegal.

On busy Darlinghurst Road, the centre has a sterile and inconspicuous facade that makes it looks like an unbranded accountancy office.

Around 200 to 250 people visit to inject drugs each day the centre is open.

Inside it has the appearance of an ordinary waiting room. Metal chairs with vinyl upholstery along two walls. Magazines. A long front desk. There are about twelve people for this pre-arranged tour: mostly medical students.

Our guide, a registered nurse who has worked at the centre for several years, gives us the history of the centre. First, he clarifies the legal point.

“If you’re on the other side of that door, it’s illegal to be in possession of an illicit substance. Once you step inside, it is not. The Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act was amended to allow the centre to begin operations on a trial basis.”

In the ‘90s, a number of brothels started renting rooms for 15 and 30 minutes for the use of injecting drugs and became known as ‘shooting galleries’. At the time, there were overdoses every few hours. The sound of ambulances was constant.  The Cross was littered with capped and uncapped syringes. People injected on the streets.

In 1997, there was the Royal Commission into the NSW Police. Having a medically supervised injecting centre was the frank and practical recommendation of Justice James Wood. By 1999,  the problem was at its peak. NSW Drug Summit was held. Then-Premier Bob Carr sought to investigate Wood’s recommendation. Clover More supported the endeavour and the trial began.

Wood found that although the shooting galleries were exploiting people for money, one benefit  of them was that they saved many lives.

“If the user’s fifteen minutes elapsed and they were still in there, the manager banged on the door. If they didn’t respond, they called an ambulance.”

The facility is set up to operate in three stages. It’s a one-way journey. Clients come in through the front door and move through various rooms. Exit by the back. In the reception area, stage one, a client is met. We take their name, basic demographic data, and the drug they are going to be using.

It is a condition that they must be a legal adult and they cannot come with a minor. They also have to be a regular user. They won’t accept anyone coming in to start.

After the duty staff is satisfied they meet the criteria, they climb a narrow white staircase to stage two. Here, a bank of eight stainless steel carrels, each with two chairs and a large plastic yellow sharps bin, faces away from an injecting supervisor.

“Heroin is still around,” says our guide. “But the street drug landscape has changed. Eighty per cent of clients come to inject prescription drugs.”

OxyContin, the brand name for oxycodone, a narcotic analgesic prescribed for strong pain relief and also known as hillbilly heroin, is the most common.

‘Oxy’ is designed as an oral pharmaceutical. Clients may be shown how to filter out the insoluble microcrystals, which can do severe damage to the heart and lungs if crushed and injected.

In an adjacent room, oxygen and narcotic reversal can be administered in the event of an overdose. Clients are supplied with clean syringes (size depending on the drug they plan to inject), medicated swabs for the injection site, vials of purified water, and cotton for filtration.

According to the MSIC’s research, there has been over 5,000 overdoses and not a single fatality.

In state three, clients continue their move forward to emerge into the ‘chill out room’.

“Clients can have a cup of tea or coffee, read a magazine, rest, talk to staff, and get linked in to other services they may need, such as accommodation support, drug and alcohol treatment programs, detoxes, and general engagement activities.”

There are vividly colourful posters on the walls. The chill out room is the opportunity for health promotion, as well as things like the phone photography competition that is running when I visit.

“We’re seeing the cohort of users from the 1990s ageing, so there are other health issues than just drugs.”

The average age is 39.

“Most of the clients are homeless men. This is a very difficult to reach group of people. For most of the, this is the only service they use, so it’s important we try to engage them. We don’t try to force anyone to go into treatment, we give them information and help them organise it when they’re ready.”

So do you get any success stories?

“People come in all the time.”

The MSIC’s supports include: The Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Its trial status was lifted in 2010.

The MSIC is run as an initiative of UnitingCare NSW ACT.

Funding comes from the Confiscated Proceeds of Illegal Activity account, which is managed by NSW Treasury. MSIC receives no government funding.

A second facility is being considered in Brunswick, Melbourne, a place experiencing some of the problems Kings Cross had in the ’90s. I hope they get it over the line.

I toured the facility as part of the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine.

The Man Who Loves Music

With a name as unpretentious as Les Hodge, it’s hard to imagine the impact he’s had on the music industry. From marketing huge acts like Kate Bush, The Rolling Stones and Queen, to coming up with the name Ticketek, Les has left fingerprints everywhere. Now he is responsible for bringing some of the world’s most beautiful classical music into Australia, and the Southern Highlands is its first port.

We’re meeting at the EOS Music office and warehouse at the back of five acres in Fitzroy Falls. It’s an expansive shed outfitted with shelves of CDs, colourful point-of-sale stands, boxes and a playground of bubble-wrap.

“I’ve loved music since I was a kid,” says Les. “But I didn’t like school. I used to get on the train in my full school uniform and wag so I could read my book, The History of Music.”

“My first job was at Grace Brothers at Bondi Junction in the record department,” says Les. “Reps from major companies like EMI and Festival would come and talk to us about new releases. I was desperate to work in the industry so I used to talk to them and finally managed to get a job in a warehouse at EMI.”

EMI was the biggest music company in the world at the time. The job was to run around the facility, pulling orders from the shelves and packing the boxes for delivery.

After a year and a half, Les was promoted to the Artists & Repertoire division. Soon, he was producing music, including major recordings of Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, Albert Landa, Carl Pini, Donald Smith, operas of Margaret Sutherland, and performer Jeannie Lewis.

“Jeannie Lewis was an artist that I loved,” says Les. With classic psychedelic cover by renowned pop artist, Martin Sharp, Lewis’ first album went on to win the Best Female Vocal Album award at what would now be the ARIAs. “We did three albums together. She filled the State Theatre with her shows.”

It’s not hard to work out how the young Les went from factory floor to music producer. His manner is soft-spoken and warm. He radiates a gentle but irrepressible energy. Whether it is for the soaring euphoria of a Mozart symphony or the delight of being served his favourite mineral water (Badoit), Les is always seeking and indeed finding things of which to be appreciative.

In the early ‘70s, the Australian music climate was pulsing. A plethora of Australian artists were building big international profiles, including the Easy Beats, ACDC, the Bee Gees, and Little River Band.

By the late 1970s, Les was promoted to International Marketing Manager for EMI. He and his wife moved to London to be at the epicentre of the action.

“The Rolling Stones were already big. Mick Jagger was and still is The Man. Also Cliff Richards. Then another little band came along called Queen. Queen was a monster success. I used to travel with them on their tour buses.”

It was the young Kate Bush who really impressed him. “She was very modest and focused as an artist. She had a natural flair for art direction. She melded art, music, choreography – the whole package. Her rehearsals were awesome,” says Les.

“We started her European tour in Copenhagen. Wuthering Heights was her first single. At the end of the song there was deathly silence. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Thirty seconds later, the whole place went berserk,” says Les, casting shining eyes to the ceiling. “She was a star!”

After son Simon was born, the family decided to leave the rock-n-roll environment and return to Australia. Les was 33. In 1985, he found himself working for Kerry Packer at Consolidated Press.

“My goal was to rejig BASS – the ‘best available seating service’. I negotiated the rights for the software worldwide, but at the eleventh hour, the copyright owner refused to release the name and logo.

“We had to launch the new system at midnight. I remember sitting in my Park Street office at nine that night and having to come up with a new name. I wanted to use the word ‘ticket’ but also to convey technology.” Ticketek was born.

Les stayed there for three years. The CD revolution came. Les dreamed of distributing music.

“I couldn’t get the albums that I wanted in Australia, so I thought I would do it myself. I had two kids by then, a wife and a mortgage. It was a risk,” says Les.

Sonart began as one shelf in the family’s Killara garage. It grew from $35,000 turnover in the first year to over $5.5 million with staff of 18.

*

As a young woman in the family boarding house in Paddington, Les’ mother was raised in a Catholic environment. But her natural mother had been Jewish and had died during the childbirth. The family’s part-Jewish heritage remains much of a mystery that has intrigued Les for years.

“For a long time I’ve wondered why, as a civilisation, people have gone from having lots of deities and gods — like the sun and animals — to notions that there is just one God and that it is to the exclusion of all others. The fact that more people have died in the name of religion than from any other cause in history, I find staggering.”

After many years of collaboration with a transnational team, Les began work on a documentary tracing the origin of monotheism.

Interviews were conducted with the Knesset (Israeli parliament), orthodox Jewish rabbis, and a number of Catholic and Muslim clerics.

“We’d been filming in Italy and throughout Israel. One day we were walking toward the car and my mind went blank – totally. My speech was up and down and then gone.“

The stroke left Les in a Jerusalem hospital for 12 days. After this, he returned to Australia, sold Sonart, and undertook extensive rehabilitation.

“I had to learn how to use a knife and fork again. I couldn’t even remember my address. It was the love and support of my family that got me through.”

Speaking with Les, it’s hard to imagine just how incapacitated he was. The only trace of the stroke is a lingering stammer over the enunciation of a difficult phrase. His mind will find the perfect word from his vast, well-stocked vocabulary, but it may take him a heartbeat to begin articulation and at times his tongue may transpose a syllable.

*

The journey to Les’ property is a series of changes. There’s the Range Road split corridor of vaulting pines, then the bushland and dirt roads of Fitzroy Falls before Les’ verdant mini-oasis is revealed. Three jersey cows are at the gate. Beyond the entry is an olive grove plump with fruit, and a large cloud-reflecting dam jutting with water reeds.

The Hodge family discovered the property in 1993 on a weekend stay in the Southern Highlands.

“When we first came here, they were playing The Nun’s Chorus by Strauss. It was my mother’s favourite music,” says Les. “The cottage was totally ruined inside. Wombats lived in it. It hadn’t been inhabited for years. We loved it! We renovated it in keeping with the character of the farm.”

The intention had been to keep the property as a weekender. After the stroke, Les moved in and planned to retire. The plan failed. After two years, Les felt restored and energised to create his original dream.

In 2007, Les and son Simon began classical and world music distribution company, EOS, named after the Greek goddess of dawn. A suite of exclusive international labels and retailers including ABC shops are among their clients.

One of his joys is distributing the HUSH collections. Now up to the 13th in the series, HUSH recordings are used to reduce stress and anxiety for children undergoing painful procedures in hospital.

“At the age of 66, I am doing what I always wanted to do. I’m in the Highlands with a business I love. I get so much satisfaction from what we’re doing, especially the HUSH series because music is another word for love,” says Les.

“Sometimes you can’t find the words you need to say, but you can find them in music.”

####

 Published in Highlife, March 2014

Food, Big Pharma & Multiple Sclerosis

Clad in a tablecloth and fitted with a face cage and helicopter headphones, I am strapped to some vinyl upholstery and remotely rolled into the tube.

Continue reading

Bad Feelings on Good Friday

I hear a lot of people bemoan the secularisation of religious holidays. The Crucifix has been passed in for a chocolate rabbit. Children worship Santa, the deity of consumption, rather than baby Jesus.

I agree that the value of these substitutes is indeed dubious. My question is this: are we not surrounded by unwanted messages reinforcing Christianity?

Case in point: on Good Friday all the bottle shops are closed and licensed venues are forbidden by law to sell any take-away alcohol.

My two favourite radio stations broadcast Station of the Cross, a ritual accompanied by an unlovely wailing of the bereaved, no doubt intended to make the listener experience Christ’s prolonged agony.

The church on the hill features two huge beams of splintery wood bound with rope. Designed to shock and visible from the road, it’s a reminder of the violent origin of this holiday and as disturbing as any Anselm Kiefer piece of modern art.

I confess I have an unholy bias. I grew up a Christian. My childhood dreams were not of daffodils and rainbows. They were scenes of mass slaughter, public burnings and decapitations – a recurring nightmare that lasted fifteen years.

If you said I watched too many movies, you’d be right. The vivid imagery came thanks in no small part to the graphic depictions in the propaganda films screened in the clapboard church halls we went to. These gems were niche, arthouse splatterfests— stuff that would warrant stickers and extra packaging from any mainstream classification board.

Hell wasn’t my only worry. The stealthy fingers of fear would crawl up my neck every time I walked into my house if it were empty. It meant one terrible thing: the Second Coming, which was when Jesus would come back to Earth and take all the good souls up to Heaven. If you were left behind, you were left to Satan and his henchmen of the New World Order.

The New World Order could ignite and spread at any time. It could happen before the Second Coming or afterwards. The scriptures were ambiguous.

The ultimate trademark of the New World Order was the cashless society, a sign that our civilisation was about to end and the Mark of the Beast would soon be rolled-out. People would be forced to have their personal and financial identity barcoded into a tattoo on their hands or foreheads. Or a silicon chip.

Richard Dawkins says that indoctrinating children into religion is akin to child abuse. I won’t make comment on that. My point is simply this. If you tell a child something as their parent, they will almost always believe you. If their teachers at school tell them the same thing, and the church leader and Sunday school teachers reinforce it, I think that comes pretty close to anyone’s definition of brainwashing.

Next Easter, I’ll be making a healthy choice again – chocolate over church. The irony is, without dogma, I have a more deeply connected and moral life than before: one that can accommodate spiritual principles without intellectual cognitive dissonance.

The best explanation I ever heard came from actor, Nick Nolte. “Religion exists so that people fear hell. Spirituality is for those who have already been there.”

Melbourne Street Art

Hosier LaneAfter nearly five years since my last visit, Hosier Lane is almost unrecognisable. A few favourites (like Mum and Gun) are still there, but the lane is now coated in fresh ideas and fresh paint.

Last time, I had to shoot covertly, wore a coat, scarf, and backpacking, and was looking over my shoulder the whole time. The thrill of the shoot! This time, there was a group of school kids on excursion and an organised explanatory walk for tourists. Times have changed. But the ideas are as fresh and vivid as ever.

Graphic Designer and Street Artist, Deb, has a beautiful Deb-style Ganesh. Her work is also in Union Lane and Fitzroy. There is a load of subversive commentary on hot topics like Julian Assange, Tony Abbot, free speech and religion.

Many people complain about the unsightliness of street art, or the feeling of suppressed violence exuded by lashings of spray paint. Vandalism and graffiti are a disagreeable nuisance and there is no disputing that fact. Defacing private property is simply not cricket.

But to confuse the mindless tagging of roughly scrawled letters with the ornate, beautiful, insightful, hilariously acerbic, is to entirely miss the point.

It’s also to miss the opportunity to engage with the ideas of others you might never speak with in your life. To me it’s a reminder that, in a true democracy, this is a legitimate soapbox for the disenfranchised. And, gee, it’s interesting what they have to say. If these walls could talk… well here they do. It’s fascinating.

 

 

Versailles of Relief

parc versailles chateauInitially set up as a hunting lodge for Louis XIII, Chateau de Versailles became France’s grandest and most famous chateau by his successor, Louis XIV—the Sun King. Continue reading

From the Village to the Brothel

After nearly 30 hours of flights, the city of Kathmandu was awash with blood and there were headless carcases of horse-sized beasts on every corner. In my shock, I sent a sarcastic email to family saying that the entrails lining the streets to herald my arrival was an absolutely lovely gesture.

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Mining Industry Propaganda

The recent Australian mining industry campaign (not shown above) certainly looks impressive. The soulful, worried faces of mums and dads, average looking, average people. It seems so believable and important.  Even if the statistics are the result of heavy-handed play with definitions as basic as “tax”. Continue reading

Bundanoon Says NO to Bottled Water

evian label as naiveJuly 9th, 2009

“Australians spend half a billion dollars every year on bottled water that we could get for free from a tap, but we complain when petrol goes up a few cents a litre,” said Jon Dee, Founder of Planet Ark and Do Something at a public meeting held in Bundanoon Memorial Hall on July 8th.

“We’ve been conned and they’re laughing all the way to the bank.”

Residents of the Southern Highlands village, known for its national park, pristine water and cycling paths, voted almost unanimously to back moves which will see Bundanoon as the first bottled water-free town in Australia.

The initiative, known as Bundy on Tap, would see businesses no longer selling bottled water and fresh, clean drinking water available in shops, on the street, at school and at events. A reusable bottle will be manufactured which can be refilled, as opposed to the single-use plastic bottles manufactured by most water companies.

Bundy on Tap is the brainchild of local businessman, Huw Kingston, organiser of mountain bike race Highland Fling and proprietor of Ye Old Bicycle Shoppe café.

Huw, Jon Dee and local business representative, Peter Stewart, spoke to attendees about the environmental damage, health impact and marketing lunacy of the still, single use bottled water industry.

While local business is behind the idea, measures are still being explored for ways to ensure their sustainability.

“We will lose money immediately, but we hope that it will bring a few more people and they’ll buy a few more newspaper,” said Peter.

With support from the community, a working group was formed and Jon Dee became an enthusiastic participant six weeks ago.

“The catalyst for the plan has been the ongoing battle against NORLEX, a company that has been trying unsuccessfully for more than 12 years, to bore Bundanoon’s aquifer for the bottled water industry,” said Huw.

“Although this campaign is not an attack on NORLEX, it has meant that Bundanoon is very aware of water issues.”

It takes 1,000 years to decompose a plastic bottle with 70 per cent currently ending up in landfill or oceans. Conservative estimates state that more than 15 million litres of oil is used each year in the manufacture and distribution of bottled water in Australia alone. Others believe this figure is much higher.

At the meeting, health impacts were also raised. The conspicuous absence of fluoride in the 1,000+ brands of bottled water sold is raising the concern of some dentists, especially for children.

Jon Dee says that the belief that bottled water is somehow cleaner or better for health is a fallacious perception.

“They’ve been taste tests all around the world and no-one can tell the difference. The spin that goes into it, we’ve bought it hook, line and sinker. The fact is there are huge amounts of money to be made selling water, more than soft drinks or sugary drinks.”

After a morning that started at 5am with ABC interviews, the team of three had conducted some 70 interviews with global reach, including CNN, NHK Japan, Sydney Morning Herald, BBC, and the Times of London. Appearances were also scheduled for Channel 7’s Sunrise and Nine’s Today Show this morning.

The morning’s media blitz was followed at lunch time with an announcement by Premier Nathan Rees that he would be banning all bottled water from government departments.

“If we had have paid for this PR, the bill would be in the millions,” said Jon. “We haven’t even sent a media release yet. The media is behind us.”

Culligan Water and Street Furniture Australia, who have already installed public water stations in Manly, have promised to donate three water stations to Bundanoon, one of which is earmarked for the primary school, if the town goes bottled water-free. The combined value of the water stations is $18,000.

The crowded, standing room only meeting included residents, businesses, councillors including Pru Goward, journalists and camera crews, needed little encouragement to vgote yes for the initiative.

Jon Dee who helped Coles Bay in Tasmania be the first of many towns in Australia to go plastic bag-free, said “fifty councils are now in touch with us to do the same. They all want someone to do it first. Bundanoon will provide a role model for everyone in Australia.

Love Letter to Bundanoon

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d like it. It was quaint. But dinky. No place for a city chick.  The roads were narrow. You could hide an orphanage in the potholes. And it was creepy, all those doilies. Continue reading

The Big Spinout: Politics by PR

The corporate world has moved on. They recognise that PR is not a professional working title for an employee and that ‘spin’ does not work in a world of high information search power and acutely tuned radar for any lack of authenticity. Politics, however, seems to be lagging behind.

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War on Unconscious Sexism

Australia has a very small population compared with other countries. If we are to remain competitive, we must use our entire population to look for talent.
David Gonski, Chairman Coca-Cola Amatil, Investec (Australia), Ingeus

I recently saw the short French film by Eleonare Pourriat, Oppressed Majority. It’s a tragicomedy and the premise is simple: a day in the life of a man who is experiences the same that a woman would. In an inverse flip on reality, women rule.

Our protagonist absorbs the subtle sexism he receives from condescending females, and the sexual jibes. He rides a bike to see his friend, who has been forced to shave himself, wear a head covering and is not permitted to leave the home.

He encounters sexist comments on the ride home and is yelled at for talking back. Seeing a group of females peeing in a lane, he stops to berate them, becomes surrounded, and is molested. At the police station, the female officer clearly does not want to believe his story because there were no witnesses, and questions the appropriateness of his clothing — shorts and casual shoes.

When his wife picks him up from the police station, having left a business meeting early, she soon twists the conversation around to how well her presentation went at work, and what the positive implications might be for her career.

If this film was a realistic portrayal, a gendered mirror of the scenarios depicted, it would be hard to see the point. These power roles are not only overt, in fact it is easier to deal with overt sexism than sexism in all of its subtleties, but deeply coded into our collective subconscious.

It’s such a problem that major companies, including Qantas, Westpac and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, are conducting training of senior management in the war against it. Why? Because diverse workplaces are much more profitable.

Alan Joyce (Qantas CEO) says that diversity “allows you to tap into an unbelievable talent pool. If you don’t, you’re fishing in a very small pond.”

subconscious sexismIn the recent book by Tara Moss, The Fictional Woman, Moss describes a riddle you may have heard. A young man and his father are driving through the countryside when they have a terrible car accident. The father is killed, the young man is critically injured and flown to hospital. About to undergo theatre, the surgeon looks at him and says, ‘I can’t operate on this patient. This is my son.’

Moss asked a random number of people to solve the riddle, including a female medical student, and very few were able to provide the correct answer that the surgeon was his mother.

So deep is the codification of gender roles in our society that even current Minister for Education has said women would not be disadvantaged by the deregulation of the education system because they generally studied teaching and nursing where fees would be lower, and not law or dentistry, where fees would be higher. Even though the comments were factually incorrect, no doubt they will be dismissed by the Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, as a ‘gaffe’, rather than not the sackable offense that they should be.

A ground-breaking double-blind study by Yale researchers in 2012, unfortunately was able to prove that subconscious sexism exists in the workplace, and to a statistically significant level. Published in the Proceedings of the Academy of National Sciences, 127 lab scientists were given job applications for a lab manager position. The candidates had equal qualifications and experience, but one had a male name attached to it and the other a female name.

The ‘male’ applicant was deemed to be more competent, more hireable, and the scientists more willing to mentor them. The starting salaries offered were also different. No sexist reasoning was given by the recruiting scientists to justify the disparity, rather, they spoke of seemingly sound reasons like competence. These scientists were not all male, but female as well.

The problem is not just pay differences and employment opportunities, it extends into workplaces and all sorts of work-related social conversations.

A comment on Scienceblog describes what seems to be a common experience. When asked where she works, ‘Caro’ would say the name of the hospital, only then to be invariably asked, ‘Are you a nurse?’ Her female colleagues, also doctors, had experienced the same. Her male colleagues, however, would generally be asked if they were a doctor.

Perhaps there is something women in the workplace for which women can be grateful. I can certainly attest to this myself.

According to ‘Andrea’, you can speak up at meetings and have your idea ‘recreate’ itself anew in someone else’s mouth a few minutes later. It’s pretty amazing to discover you have the power of ventriloquism.

Awesome.

World Music: Areas of Negotiation

The simplicity of the term ‘world music’ betrays the enormous scope of what the music industry deems non-Western. Everything that is ‘Other’. Three concepts – westernisation, modernisation, and syncretism – are broadly indicate overarching trends. Continue reading

A Moment of Nihilism

Aparanoid street art self-proclaimed esoteric god that I used to encounter regularly told me one that the TV show The X Files, which was in its first season, was an attempt by the American Government to prepare people for the coming of the aliens and the Age of Aquarius.

If it was an exercise in ‘citizenry preparedness’, it probably came a bit late, given the alarming number of Americans per capita who claim to have experienced a close encounter of the Third or Fourth Kind.

Their fingers point tremulously to the now commonly held belief that most of the gaseous explosions that create suns, create other bodies such as planets at the same time.

The Milky Way alone has innumerable suns similar to ours in size and temperature and our galaxy, made more significant since sharing the name of a patented chocolate bar, is merely one of possibly infinite galaxies known and unknown to us.

It’s also not unlikely that human beings have wined extra-terrestrials into existence to the extent that they have adopted a physical manifestation that is conceivable to us, and have come to help the human race resolve its insurmountable problems.

Perhaps if we are truly not alone, it is due to the evolved human race travelling faster than the speed of light around our own planet. Physicists now believe that it is possible to travel through time, but intriguingly we won’t be able to do it until the future. After all, the conventional view of an alien does look quite like the way humans might evolve under Darwinian theory.

If that is so, I will look upon myself in that glaring operating room and win have no fear, but show great rectitude (sorry) if I do undergo an examination of the spindly ‘next generation\’ type, because I will not heed the unfair media image of primitive barbaric entities in the vessels of advancement. They are just You. Cousins. It might even be myself doing the probing.  In that case, I might be disappointed that I am not at the stage of evolution where I am simply pure thought.

Most victims of abduction describe the stereotypical alien as their examiner. It is a being with jaundice-green or grey oval shaped head with slit nostrils and large elliptical black eyes.

Centuries ago, when abductions either didn’t happen or we just lacked the mechanism to remember them1, spacecraft sightings were mainly described as winged chariots, or horse and carriages or fire.

They clearly suggest a life force of much higher invention, but one which is at once within our span of comprehension. In many ways, it is a screen upon which the insidious depths, invigorating heights and the anxieties of human consciousness are projected.

It is interesting to explore how the most commonly described alien experience reflects, with stunning clarity, major concerns like loss of individuality, loss of control, and technological fears that are increasingly confronting all of us the Earth-bound Residents.

In fact, those who have had the Fourth Kind (abductions) have been largely assessed as overwhelmingly ordinary. Dr John Edward Mack who spent long sessions with 800 such people, said  “the majority of abductees do not appear to be deluded, confabulating, lying, self-dramatizing, or suffering from a clear mental illness.”

The spindly alien (the Grey)  is the most ubiquitous and it is always coupled with the notion of  \’advancement\’  as being parallel, but ahead of the human scientific climate, when the two could be completely incomparable. Other types include the Reptilians and the Nordics (the most human-like). All of these share similar statures, and they are all bipeds and stand upright.

We consistently make the blind assumption that, because we are carbon-based, we should apply this model across other realms of existence, and all other civilizstions will be carbon-based too. Necessarily, they win be in many ways like us.

And why are so many abduction/ examination experiments, especially the most sensational. so technologically fetishistic?

But even if they are here, and they do abduct some of us, for most people, UFOs are distractions that help us escape the limitations of our personalities and function in the vital but neglected role as a form of transcendentalism. And most of our other forms of transcendence are illegal, we adopt the surrogate, which is projected everywhere for us, with rapture. And it is fuelled by the possibility that it could be true.

lndex fingers terse with accusation point to the government of the world’s greatest nation (not China, that other one). But the world’s greatest nation has cancer. Is it possible to separate the fresh daily extra-terrestrial examinations and the ever-increasing number of support groups in that populous land and say that this is not symptomatic of its decay, because it sure seems to festers like a mass neurosis and spread the same way.

Loungerooms are awash in blue as the Disseminator merchandises on our fascination / repulsion and with the subtlety of a bludgeon tool, Mulder hands the blame to Government. And subsequently, Sightings, (10/5/96, Network 7) revealed a ‘secret’ government file containing plans of what to do when the nation encounters extra-terrestrials.

I would think that these secret plans were IF plans, not WHEN plans. An \’if\’ plan outlines a case of action in the event that something occurs. A \’when\’ plan implies it\’s inevitable. It\’s amazing how such a simple word change can whip up such a frenzy. But, that\’s the job of sensationalist television.

Silly me, but perhaps the lads and ladies in Canberra decided that a meeting of such profound significance required some forethought. Might I add, there are hundreds of plans in bunkers beneath our capital. I have known people who on rare occasions have had to execute them. They cover possibilities that are extremely unlikely, perhaps even less likely than a inter-stellar union of civilisations.  But they need to be there. Just in case.

No, I think they’re barking up the wrong tree. We may live in a 1984 scenario of centralised power, but don\’t be misled into thinking it\’s in the hands of governments. Governments only ‘govern’ in the loosest sense of the word. Corporations do. And nothing could be more flexibly timetabled or efficiently distracting from the rolling of more and more corporations into fewer and fewer mega-entities.

We are all shaped by experiences and events that we can perceive as extremely positive or extremely negative depending on our perception of it. Your birth is an important example.

How would you recall your debut into this planet if you were clinically hypnotised back to the age of zero when you had a mind with no language other than the senses and possibly no thoughts to articulate it.

Would you say it was bright? Clinical? Was it extremely pleasant, embryonic and sensory-inspired? Were you in fear? Unable to comprehend fear? Would you say that even though you were not in fear, that you were nonetheless in the hands of big people with masks and white coats and big fish eyes wielding metallic instruments that touched you.

Like rebirthing, many Fourth Kind encounters are revealed through hypnosis. Clinical hypnotherapists assume objectivity is an achievable ideal and are intensely trained to ask neutral questions that aim to completely lack any form of suggestion.

Yet even many of those will tell you that hypnotherapy is in no way a reliable record of past events. It is also essential that a distinction be made between the clinical hypnotherpist and the more often sought counsellor-hypnotherapist, who as service-providers, actively seek ways to elicit traumatic experiences, albeit gently.

Consider that there are extra-terrestrials landing in high numbers, that they are evolved from our own carbon-based form, and that they have progressed technologically along a similar pattern to humans. You might visualise a Geiger-esque city that lies on the edge of a blossoming event horizon and is powered by channeling energy from the singularity (or of a black hole), as suggested by Heather Couper in her new book.
The appeal of technology and its literally universal application is an all-too convenient diversion to what is going on  down here on earth, especially when Earth becomes of less metaphysical importance.

Perhaps the threat of enslavement or annihilation by a hostile extra-terrestrial arrival en masse is not the embodiment of apocalypse, but partly explains the hideous inhumane treatment we afford asylum seekers, especially those who arrive by boat.  Another indication of the state of our society.

A comet that is 300 kilometres in diameter is scheduled to arrive in 1997 and smash us into oblivion. Perhaps we should focus on more pressing matters at hand, then.  After all, it may be that which hovers over the earth and casts the densest shadow. Apocalypse-stricken, we’ll look up at the blazing rock and at the last moment our cancelled eyes will radiate a dawning.

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