Category: Articles

Articles by Danielle Spinks

The Choke by Sofie Laguna: Review

The title of this book is apt. The choke is something I felt from the first moment. It’s also the main thing you worry about when you have small children.

While the book is not about strangulation, it is about children and adults who have not progressed much beyond the infantile. The vulnerability is palpable.

It starts with a frantic kids’ fight. Justine (Jussy) has teeth that are struggling through the gums. She is about six years old. It’s so vivid you can feel the power in her little legs.

We don’t know much about her yet, except that she is playing with big boys and one of them has access to a rifle.

The Choke in the River

The Choke is a part of the river that gets so narrow it might choke. But let me break this to you gently. This is a story of abuse and neglect.

Justine lives with her grandpa. Her father is a good-looking dead-beat-dad who happens to be on his way home when we meet them.

Grandpa, her carer, it becomes apparent has PTSD from the war. They lives on three acres in poverty (Pop’s Three). She eats eggs from their chickens and talks to them like siblings.

I would have said this was not the kind of thing I would want to read. Except that it’s so good.

You go straight into the world of Justine. And because she lives on the border of wild natural landscape, she inhabits nature. There’s oxygen in these parts. It is so beautifully written.

Starting with a monologue

Sofia Laguna told Jason Steger, Books Editor at The Age that her characters “break her heart completely.” Children are usually the central characters in her novels, which explore the impacts of trauma.

Her writing approach is to start with them giving her a monologue. The character explains their thoughts and feelings to her.

Much of this I read on a commuter train to Sydney each day. By the end, I was freely letting tears of joy and relief stream down my face. The catharsis was profound.

This is a superb piece of writing. Structurally well-crafted with prose that’s full of the vigour of youth, the nasty resourcefulness of degrading poverty. All loose ends are neatly tied.

I won’t give the ending away. But I’ll say it is nice to have a vulnerable protagonist finding hope and power at the end. To crush some heads, so to speak. With the searing, scorching power of a girl done wrong, she does her best to show kindness and restraint.

Highly recommended.

Buy a copy

Sofia Laguna’s new book is Infinite Splendour.

Her previous book, The Eye of the Sheep won the Miles Franklin.

The Choke was published by Allen & Unwin in 2017

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Read the Magda Szubanski Review of Reckoning

 

This is What I Know Is Real

Philosophical breadcrumbs for my children about what is important in life

Lying

It’s going to happen that you won’t always tell the truth. Sometimes it is to be kind or protect someone. Use your good judgment about whether it is okay or not.

But always be honest with yourself. Essentially, there is only you. People will come and go. You might finish this chapter being rich, poor, old, young, sick, or well, it doesn’t matter. You don’t owe yourself anything except honesty. Continue reading

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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Military Blunders in the War Against Terror

Archival:

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. 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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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

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.

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.

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.