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The word ‘buffet’ can only mean one thing…

You know you’re from Melbourne when:

  • You’ve spent Christmas day in the scorching heat, summer rain, and winter wind without having to leave your humble abode (and possibly all on the one Christmas)
  • You have no idea there is another ‘football’ final this weekend
  • You’ve experienced the fascination with Degraves St before realising there are equally as good if not much better cafes in other haunts around the city
  • You struggle to find a bookshop other than Dymocks and Readings
  • Your school excursions included at least one if not multiple trips to Sovereign Hill, Melbourne Zoo, Melbourne Museum and the IMAX
  • You hate mykis
  • You hate the train but you hate the bus more
  • You think St Kilda has a beach
  • You’ve spent family holidays somewhere along the Great Ocean Road
  • You holiday regularly in Queensland
  • You’re pretentious about Melbourne’s food and coffee scene
  • You endorse the city’s rivalry with Sydney
  • You connect with people by asking what school they went to
  • You understand the North/South of the river divide
  • You’ve never even considered having a dip in the Yarra
  • You’ve experienced water restrictions but have taken the longest showers anyway
  • There is always a new restaurant, cafe or bar to explore
  • Your childhood included trips to Smorgy’s (RIP)
  • And The Royal Melbourne Show
  • And the Drive-In
  • You refer to ‘our’ Cate, Rove, Kath & Kim, Hamish & Andy, Gotye, Kylie, Danni (to a lesser degree), Missy, ONJ, Bert and Geoffrey, regardless of whether they were born here, lived here once (for a day), or live here now
  • You know the difference between a good market and a tourist market
  • You’ve taken guests to parts of the city you’d never venture to alone such as the Aquarium and Luna Park
  • CHADSTONE
  • You appreciate multiculturalism (well, at least  you SHOULD)
  • You enjoyed and sent around the ‘How many (insert your school here) students does it take to change a lightbulb…’ chain email
  • You have no knowledge of rugby, soccer, or any kicking sport that doesn’t involve a silly shaped ball that bounces funny
  • You’ve been to the Australian Open during your summer holidays come rain, hail or shine
  • You know Ramsay St rules over Summer Bay any day
  • You live, love and will die in black
  • You don’t understand the novelty of trams
  • You consider your city to be European, and therefore more classy than any other Australian city
  • Knew who Steve Bracks was before a few weeks ago (and that he has a ‘model’ son, pun intended)
  • Wore a uniform to school
  • Have taken ‘fitspo’ pics at the bottom of the 1000 steps
  • Have been to Moomba/The Comedy Festival/any other of the million festivities our city hosts each year
  • Acknowledge that while 40 degrees is uncomfortable, it is not the worst it can get
  • You went to Buller, Lake Mountain or Falls for winter sports
  • Get confused as to the proper name of that station after Flinders St on the Loop (is it Spencer St or Southern Cross?)
  • You hate Docklands
  • You relish 10 minutes of sunshine
  • You have been to The Rooftop Bar/Cinema/The Toff/Cookie and can empathise with anyone needing a good drink and a lie down once getting to the top
  • Eat Yum Cha
  • Eat Frozen Yoghurt
  • Love Able and Game’s gifts and cards
  • There are only two acceptable pastimes for December the 27th – shopping or shouting (at the MCG)
  • You have been to the Races or at least appreciated the long weekend they bring
  • You turn off the news before the weather report
  • You worship Collingwood
  • Or Father Bob
  • Or WOULD if it meant Collingwood would lose their next game
  • You know Woolworths is actually just Safeway in disguise with some sheep
  • You can’t get a job, buy a house or afford rent
  • But will always be able to find new and exciting ways to spend your dwindling supply on money on the weekend
  • You use the underground tunnel that goes from the Belgian waffle place to the centre of Flinders St station
  • You have had Italian on Lygon, Chinese in Chinatown and something Middle Eastern on Sydney Rd
  • You went on school camp to the Murray
  • You know what and where The Edge is
  • You can say you live in the world’s Most Liveable City 

I am writing a series of pieces documenting my thoughts on the lead up to the Australian Federal Election to be held on 7 September 2013. As a young woman, it will be my first experience of voting in a Federal election. I am not endorsing any particular party or politician. All opinions are mine unless stated otherwise, and while I will try to include honest information at all times, nothing should be taken as fact without further investigation. You can view my first post here and second post here.

Men in Black

Men in Black

With the election less than five weeks away, the Government and the Opposition are well and truly into their campaigning across the country. Both parties seem to be most concerned with the state of the Australian economy, and the action of the Reserve Bank today, has only given the economy a more prominent position in the debating arena. The Australian dollar is down, as are interest rates, but so is spending. Australians are saving their money, and as a result, the retail and business sectors as struggling. Shops are closing, private organisations are going into voluntary administration and liquidation sales seem to be on every second street corner.

Asylum seekers are making every effort to enter our country in the hope of a better future. Both major political parties are doing their best to ‘Stop the Boats’. I am currently reading Geoffrey Robertson QC’s Crimes Against Humanity. Robertson speaks in detail about the UN’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the agency’s ‘hurculean task’ of supervising millions of asylum seekers and processing their claims.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’. Yet politicians are deeming these so-called boat people, ‘economic immigrants’, therefore denying the legitimacy of their asylum seeking.

It is interesting in the context of the 2001 Tampa case where Australia had the humanitarian duty to consider those on board the sinking boat’s claims to asylum. I am reading the 4th edition of Robertson’s book, published in 2012.

Robertson writes: ‘Many Asian countries refuse to sign the [International Convention on Refugees] and have become notorious for pushing ‘boat people’ back to sea as prey for pirates (Malaysia) or for turning a blind eye to the bribery which makes them a transit point for people-smugglers (Indonesia).’

He then comments on the Tampa case, saying the country bribed Nauru to take the majority of the refugees, which ‘may be explained by the fact that the government was in the throes of an election, and took the opportunity to boost its popularity at the expense of refugees and respect for international law’. Sound familiar? It’s great to see how much progress our nation has made in the name of equality, acceptance and diversity, (note the sarcasm).

Labor says it will increase the country’s refugee intake from 13,750 to 20,000 per year, inline with the recommendation of the Expert Panel of Asylum Seekers. The Coalition argues any increase in the quota is both unaffordable and would send the wrong message to people smugglers. The Greens say they will boost capacity of UN in Indonesia and Malaysia to speed up assessment and resettlement, yet as mentioned above, these countries have not signed the Convention, and thus are less likely to be open to much negotiation.

The Solomon Islands are also uninterested in being a part of the Australian Government’s new ‘Pacific Solution’ for processing and resettling asylum seekers. However, the country’s Prime Minister makes a good point: ‘We have to respect the choice of asylum seekers, and the choices that these people have made is that they want to come to Australia.’

The state of mental health care in Australia and across the world is dismal. This piece published in the New York Times is incredibly poignant in describing the urgency of improved and expanded mental health care in the States, but translates easily to other nations, including Australia.

Labor has the $2.2 billion mental health packages announced in May 2011. The funding aims to provide ‘genuine, practical and sustainable mental health reform to ensure that Australians living with mental illness get the care they need, when they need it’. Both the ALP and the Coalition will back EPPIC, an integrated and comprehensive mental health service model aimed at addressing the needs of people aged 15-24 with early psychosis, and promote the growth of treatment and opportunities for those with mental health conditions, including employment prospects.

However, progress and action in regards to mental health seems to be happening on a smaller, state-wide basis. New South Wales police will receive specialised mental health training from as soon as next month, while in Victoria, Labor’s mental health parliamentary secretary Wade Noonan has said ‘Our acute mental health services have reached breaking point under the Napthine Government, which increases the risks to both staff and patients’. In a similar response to assaults on nurses, the ACT government will speed-up the timetable to build Canberra’s first secure mental health unit after receiving Opposition support for the proposal.

Yet despite all of this, Former Australian of the year Pat McGorry, Brain and Mind Research Institute head Ian Hickie, and former chairman of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health, John Mendoza, have today called for and end to political talk without subsequent action and voiced concern that neither parties had ensured adequate funding for mental health.

Tying two issues into one, the Greens will commit to setting up an independent panel of medical and mental health experts to monitor asylum seekers sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru under Labor and Coalition policies, after reports of suicide threats, hunger strikes and severe trauma amongst asylum seekers.

Of course, there are other significant issues and policies in this year’s federal election including education, jobs, a price on carbon, transport, and DisabilityCare. The ABC is hosting an educational tool called Vote Compass, that is designed to help you ‘discover how you fit in the Australian political landscape’. By answering a few short questions, you will be given a numerical and visual representation of how your values and interests sit in comparison with those of the major political parties. You can find Vote Compass here.

Additionally, make sure you’re enrolled to vote. You must be enrolled by 8pm on Monday 12 August. Visit the Australian Electoral Commission here.

Player Three: Fee’s already dropped Ben off at school for swimming practice and Bec at before-school sports tennis training before getting on the 7:16 at Greensborough. She’s relieving at the moment which kind of suits her. The agencies usually call early in the morning when she’s already awake taking the kids off to their respective sports and she enjoys being with kids. As Ben and Bec grow up, Fee knows she’s going to struggle with letting go and so teaching has already been of help to her in this regard. When her ex, Buck, moved out three years ago, things were rough. Centrelink was contacted and unfortunately, thanks to the government at the time, were not all that helpful. But Fee’s thankful that she now has her life at least somewhat sorted.

 

She’s started seeing a guy called Bill (how many Bs can a girl have before it’s bad luck?) a few months ago. He’s a sports teacher at one of the local primary schools Fee temps at and he’s a really good-hearted guy with a sweet, personable nature. He’s slept over a couple of times and gets on well with the kids. He’s helped take them to practice early in the morning when Fee’s wanted a sleep in too, which always goes down well.

 

Fee’s working this morning at a local secondary college just a few stops down the train line. She’s mainly a maths and junior-secondary science teacher, but every now and then she gets asked to cover a music class or two. Music works well with maths and science, her mind likes the logic, the rhyme and reasons behind each of her crafts (or sciences, depending on how you look at it). She loves counting out the bars, clapping rhythms and beating her palm against a drum, getting some control over her thoughts and her emotions.

Fee takes her lunch usually as staff rooms at public schools aren’t known for their generous hospitality. Today’s package (prepared “incasa” as Bec used to always say) includes a vegemite sandwich, some celery sticks with peanut butter for dipping, a slice of camembert cheese for desert and an apple and banana for the train rides to and from home.  Fee savours that thick swab of Camembert like you’ve no idea. Thank goodness for the French.

 

But she’s made her train just in time. Who knows what naughty children the day holds for Fee, but she’s settled and contented with her life at that point, and that’s all that matters. 

Player One: To get in the car to drive to the station to find the park to buy the ticket, to top up the myki to touch on and get on the train at 6:54am, Jack gets up at 5:50am. He’s an early riser. Catches a whiff of the fresh, mountainous air and he’s out of bed. His wife, Lydia, sleeps idly by, a housewife with a life as far from his as any could imagine. Who knows how she keeps herself occupied during his time at work? Jack sure doesn’t know. Sure, when the kids were younger and at home she at least had driving duties – to soccer, to the slumber party, to the calisthenics club based at the Eltham YMCA. But, now? No idea.

 

Up at 5:50. Jumps on the stationary bike for halfa’ at 5:52, breaking a sweat by 6:06 thanks to Les Mills and his pre-programming of a man’s programed morning. Jumps off and straight into the shower at 6:22, out by 6:25. Always one for water saving, especially when you’re living on such luscious land as Jack is. A good 10 minutes are dedicated to donning on a clean, freshly pressed – ah, there’s something Lydia does well during their mutually exclusively-lived lives – navy blue business suit. Pin-striped pale blue shirt and straight, thin, navy tie. Finished off by freshly polished and dusted black Jack London tie-up work shoes. Who said Jack London’s only for the young? Not Jack.

 

In the car by 6:36. Down the long, greenly decadent driveway that circles their semi-mansion before traversing down the long track to the automatic gates at the opening of their private estate.

 

Down the road, a few rights and a left turn. A park, perfectly timed and just waiting for his sparkling Beemer. A perfect trip.

 

A myki topped up thanks to online automatic transfers a la internet overnight works and the briefcase picked up by the door just beside the garage and the car is filled in files and piles of sheets necessary to complete the tasks of the day, just like a CEO of a major rural transportation company should be. Lunch will be provided at desk and a breakfast meeting in the CBD’s lawyerly Queen/Elizabeth Street end at one of the nice newly opened organic constructions. A perfect day, all thanks to the 6:54 from Hustbridge station. 

On the train home from university this afternoon, I boarded a carriage with very few spare seats. I set up shop (read: positioned myself in a corner with The Age) opposite a distinctive group of individuals, who were chatting excitedly with smiles miles wide on their faces. Usually I try to steer clear of noisy groups, whether it be business men, school kids or screaming children, because I like to read in peace and relative quietness. But for some reason, I decided to stay put and have their conversation as a background soundtrack to my travel home.

The train took off and I started to read. But I was soon taken by the conversation this group of people were having. The first thing I noticed were their accents. Each person seemed to speak our mother tongue with their personal flavouring on top. Some were sweetened and drawn out, others spoke in sharp consonant soundbites. One man I found quite difficult to understand, yet another spoke clear and precise English, as if it was a language she’d known from birth, with just a hint of something special on the side. As I studied their faces, I noticed the diverse ethnicities they represented. Of the six people, some were dark, some of Asian heritage, and another appeared to be Middle Eastern. I heard one man speak of his hometown in Saudi Arabia. He was a hardware worker. One woman thought he’d said ‘hairdresser’ rather than hardware worker, and after clarifying his profession through adjectives they both understood, they had a laugh about their mixup. They bonded over their struggle to learn English but their pursuit of it, regardless.

I came to realise that among this group, one woman seemed slightly out of place. She was an Indian woman, significantly older, spoke of navigating Melbourne’s public transport system, and with correct grammar and articulation. She asked questions of the others, and stimulated conversation through these open-ended inquiries. The other members were only too happy to answer, practicing their English and enjoying the interaction and celebrating their achievements in managing to construct appropriate and coherent responses.

They discussed what might happen if they missed their exit station the next time they took the train, alone. The older woman pointed to the map on the train wall behind them, and used her finger to guide them along the line as she explained how to navigate the map of Melbourne. They were to get off at Parliament, today, and the group carefully named the stations before and after their stop, to familiarise themselves with the suburban stations surrounding the city loop.

As the train pulled up to Parliament, what I had thought to be a group of six suddenly ballooned into a group of a much larger scale. The woman turned around and announced to the seats behind her that they were arriving at their station, and to get their Myki’s out, ready to touch off upon exiting the station. As I scanned those I’d previously ignored in the nearby seats, I began to realise what they had in common. I can only assume, but I’m fairly confident, that each of those youthful individuals were new arrivals on our shores. These people were migrants from war-torn countries, others coming from backgrounds of poverty and hardship. Some had left behind their families and friends, and all were making an enormous change in hope of a better life in a land more prosperous and filled with opportunities, than their home.

It was incredible to see how excited they were. They were so full of energy, hope and delight. They were making friends, overcoming obstacles and making the most of what life has given them. And I was able to gauge all of this from about five minutes on a train. Not even speaking with any of them directly. Just overhearing their conversation.

As they left the train and stepped onto the ground at Parliament, my eyes turned back to my newspaper. I scanned the page titled World. Bombings, corruption, hope for basic human rights and democracy, suicide. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt. Bulgaria, Myanmar, Libya, and Syria. So much violence, and seems so far away. But it’s closer to home than many of us care to realise. We are a multicultural society, and it is so important that we continue to welcome people to our country. They may be escaping, fleeing, or simply looking for a better life. Some will stay, others may return to their homeland. But we should accept people not just for who they are, but because they are who they are. Everyone has a different story, and it is only through sharing these stories that we enrich our own lives and in turn, the lives of others.

These people appreciate what we take for granted, they persevere and fight for their human right to be treated with respect.

So in the midst the politics of 457 visas, stopping the boats, illegal immigrants and the like, maybe what we need to consider is the value of our culture as a melting pot. We should consider the risks people have taken and the choices they have made in coming to this country, and treat them as whole, and special, people. We need to stop treating people like abused animals; herding them, dictating to them,  mistreating them, and start to speak with them, as our equals.

Because that’s the right way forward for Australia. And politicians aren’t doing us, or themselves, justice, if they choose to act otherwise.

TheAge_690x300

Dear Fairfax Media,

Oh, what has come of this new Age?

Today marks The Age’s first edition in a new ‘compact’ format. But, unfortunately the paper I opened this morning seems to have been filled with more advertising than quality journalism one would expect from such a longstanding source of professional news reporting. I appreciate the arduous process you’ve gone through to establish, edit and produce this new Age, but the result is something much more like those trashy tabloids it sits next to in Victoria’s news agencies. The font, the increased type, the colour-coding system… they’re all lost on me, I’m afraid. And despite your claim that this evolution will make the paper ‘Easier to pick up, [and] harder to put down’, my personal track record is telling otherwise.

Maybe it was just the kind of day I’ve had: first day back at university for the year, new subjects, new people, early morning trains to catch, no seat to sit on on a peak hour train, conversations to be had, internet to distract me and breakfast to be eaten. But as I’ve mentioned I’m a loyal, daily reader of the printed news. And this paper is far from welcoming.

You say you ‘Got the answer, no questions asked’, but maybe you should have asked some questions.  You used experts (tick) to monitor readers (tick) using neurological technologies (tick) to gain insight into their unconscious (tick). It sounds impressive when you put it like that, I’ll admit. But consider this sentence – page 20, teal coloured News section of today’s edition – ‘More than 100 readers of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald were asked to read both broadsheet and compact versions of the newspapers in real-life conditions…’. More than 100 readers of two major newspapers? That’s all you could manage? And real-life conditions? Shit, that must’ve been hard to emulate! Now tell me, Fairfax, what was the demographic of the sample you ‘asked’ to participate in your ‘research’? Were they representative of your current readership? The readership you’d like to gain? Or maybe those you’d like to lose? And you say results found compacts were ‘considerably more engaging…”obviously [with] great results for our advertisers too”‘. Well from what I can tell, the greatest advertising source in today’s paper is you, yourselves. Yes, you must have some kind of explanation as to why you’ve made this terrible decision to move to a more ‘engaging’ format but I highly doubt it warrants five pages of advertising within the first 21 pages of space used for NEWS reporting. Is this really the biggest news of the day? And if it’s not news, then your colour-coding is lying to me. On day one!

Additionally, instead of having maybe, six or seven articles to a page, we now have one, and that one report takes up half the space while the other 50% is filled with advertising (and as we established, mostly yours). Your paper is now more ads than news, and the funny thing is, on pages 20 and 21, you’re advertising your new format to those who’ve already made it that far into the paper. Chances are they’re wanting more real news and less ads at this point, yet the surprises today just keep on coming. You explain Matt Martel “spent a couple of hundred dollars buying up French newspapers, Spanish newspapers, Dutch newspapers…” to see what ‘worked’ and what didn’t. But maybe that money could have been better spent interviewing Australians, your primary readers, and you could have applied those findings to your investigation.

And the thing is, it’s not the compact format I am against. I am a frequent user of Melbourne’s public transport system. I like to read my news, in the morning, in print. The broadsheet was awkward to hold and its pages were messy to turn in such close proximity to other commuters. But what I am challenging here, is the content. The way it is presented. The news to advertising ratio. The commercial look. The cheesy use of colour. The font that reminds me of comic sans even though it’s not. The weather page is hard to understand. The ‘cheap factor’ has increased and the aesthetic appeal has been washed away with last week’s rain. And now a footy fanatic must wait until their spouse/friend/family member has finished reading about global politics before they can analyse their team’s victory from Sunday’s twilight match. Or vise-versa. And clealry, that is about as far from Melbournian as it comes.

So, Greg Hywood (CEO and MD), David Housego (CFO) and the Board of Fairfax Media, I ask you, what would the late David Syme, founder and cultivator of your fruits, say about this new Age? Or maybe you could just ask some of your loyal readers, that might be easier.

I want to coin #bringbackbroadsheet and set it off on Twitter. I want you to know how I feel, and how I’ve no doubt, many of your thousands of readers feel. Because today is no doubt, one of the Darkest Days in Australian Media. Stuff sport, politics and the ‘big banks’ lies’ you speak of. You’ve topped the lot. And prepare for the onslaught and retaliation you’ve sparked. Because you can’t change a Melbourne institution without hearing from the people. So hear you will.