Walks with Margaret and Jonty

Twelve years ago I bought a little cottage in a village far away from everyone. Margaret was a near neighbor. She was the first person to knock on the door and welcome me.

Margaret walked her dog—Katie at the time, later Jonty—past the house every morning at eight and every afternoon at four.

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Zen & the Art of Washing Dishes

They say life is a series of imperfect facts with many things we can’t control.

But the sequence of washing dishes is not one of them.

Glassware first. Continue reading

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, hidden in plain view.

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Goes down easy and explodes at a pre-set level

The Prophetic Fiction of William Gibson

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.

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Powerhouse PJ Harvey on Hope Six Tour

Performance Review: 22JAN17 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. Continue reading

Military Blunders in the War Against Terror



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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.

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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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

The Fracture & Other Shorts

The Fracture and other short stories contains seven original works by Danielle Spinks including:

• Dystopian fantasy cult-classic, The Fracture

• A mindfulness meditation in Zen & The Art of Washing Dishes

• Irreverent Australian humour in The 45-Minute Chair and The Benley Acquisition

and other short pieces.

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Reckoning by Magda Szubanski

I love Magda Szubanski. I’ve loved her since I was a kid. She’s a true comic. Her humour is borne out of acerbic intelligence and astute observation. She can pull a fully formed character out of the collective unconscious and breathe them into being.

Reckoning is expansive and it covers all of her life from early childhood to today. Instead of being delivered through a ‘story of my success’ type framework, Magda is ensconced in her heritage and history. Continue reading

Panic Hour


It’s eight in the morning. An escalator pulls me down from the street into the intestinal darkness. Streaks of lightning blue rush past my left shoulder, Photoshop motion-blur. Same in orange on the opposite wall, like this is an immersive internet advertisement. This tunnel is the cable. We are the particles. A unitary quantum system with a single wave function. I adjust the weight of my satchel and start plodding into the dim crowd. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

The Benley Acquisition

I’m at the bar, chugging orange juice with my mates, and we’re laughing at each other’s pov jokes. Nuns Frightened by Change. That’s the name of Friday night’s band at the Landula Criterion. Our band, as it happens. It’s our first gig. ‘The Nuns’ are two mates in my year and me. I’m called the percussionist. That means I play drums and, occasionally, I whack a thong on a bongo. Continue reading

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.

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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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading


Lying on a white bed

in a wooden room

listening to the silence

watching her read

and there is an inkling of a rumble.

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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 naive

July 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.

Letter to my Accountant

Thank you for your very kind letter.

My initial tax meeting with your very pleasant sub-contracting accountant concluded with a statement I was not expecting to hear. Not the mellifluous, “you’ll be getting a refund of a grand.” Rather, the strong and discordant, “you owe the tax office two thousand dollars.”

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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

A Future Now in HER

HER is a film that is both entirely formulaic and completely original.

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a soulful, depressed introverted 30-something who works for beautifulhandwrittenletters.com in a city some time in the very near distant future.

By day he writes personal letters between parents and children, lovers, and others who don’t have the time or poetic skill to communicate with those closest to them.

Theodore is nursing a broken heart and a divorce impeded by his unwillingness to sign the paperwork.

At night, he plays his 3D video games; a world that is holographed impressively into his apartment lounge room. After trialling a new computer operating system with ‘intuitive’ capability, Theodore soon finds himself falling in love with  Samantha, the intimate, intelligent, supportive voice of the new OS (spoken by Scarlett Johansson). Samantha helps him clean his in-tray and boost his confidence – the perfect woman.

What follows is a typical love story. There’s the cautiousness at first, the flirtation and coyness, the union, the honeymoon period, the misunderstanding, the jealousy and a somewhat predictable denouement.

Belief in the absurdity of the relationship can be suspended for the ride because the voice of Samantha is so sexy and the dialogue is far better than the average rom-com.

The Art Direction is also great – with effective matt painting of sets that create a city like a laid back New York with elements of Shinjuku.

Theodore learns that his best friend (Amy Adams), with whom he regularly falls out of contact, is also in love with her operating system (Alex). Soon, we notice that everyone on the street seems to be talking lovingly not only with but to their phones.

It reminds me of something I once heard, “People use their PCs. But people love their Macs.” I don’t think anyone can fail to consider this incited by Apple’s cult brand.

HER holds a mirror to what we have now – people disengaged with people. The love affair is with the technology that binds us together with a most tenuous adhesive. It allows insomniacs to have phone sex with strangers and be complicit in auto-asphyxiation ritual using a dead cat’s tail. Real human contact is undesirable and unnecessary.

People are routinely enamoured with their machines and as machines make quantum leaps in capability, this tale could be cautionary. Even Telstra now advertises a new phone every year so you can enjoy the hedonic ‘new phone feeling.’

The cars, the computer games, and the voice-activating ear buds all add fun and depth to a simple story. It’s a compelling film. It is a stretch of credibility, but only a small one.

I’m off to see if the domain beautifulhandwrittenletters.com is available. I’m positive the market already exists.

HER was written and directed by Spike Jonze. It also stars Amy Adams and Scarlet Johansson as the voice of Samantha.

Fred Cress Exhibition

Fred Cress PaintingGaleria Aniela, Kangaroo Valley

What strikes you first about Fred Cress’s latest exhibition is the richness of colour; pure blacks, pure whites, and every jaundice yellow and bloody red in-between. His large, caricature-like depictions are iconic images of people known to us from society; recognisable, but unidentifiable. 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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Philomena (2013)

Philomena (directed by Stephen Frears) is a film based on the book by Martin Sixsmith about the true life story of Philomena Lee, who as a pregnant teenager, was forced into Roscrea Sacred Heart convent for four years. Continue reading

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