God Only Knows – Brian Wilson


Set List - scored by Mr 13

I’m a firm believer in the adage that experiences are more important than things and that investment in meaningful experiences that enrich your life in some way are a greater source of happiness than the latest gadget or iThing. Don’t get me wrong, gadgets and iThings are very nice, but I suspect my sons’ memories of the time their mum lost her job and flew them to Paris to eat a jambon beurre baguette at the top of La Tour Eiffel will remain with them for their lifetimes. And besides, who doesn’t like a nice ham sandwich!

I also do this with them with cultural experiences. Not to the point that they find it a pain in the neck (hopefully), but certainly to the point of being exposed to far more than I was shown as a child. I want them to see people doing cool stuff that, as a child, I only thought ‘other’ people did. So my kids are growing up knowing people who do real science for a job, or make music for a job, or paint or write for a job.

As part of their ‘compulsory music education’ I took them to the Sydney Opera House last week to see former Beach Boy, Brian Wilson, performing the iconic Pet Sounds album live on stage. Most people would be even vaguely aware of Brian Wilson’s mental health challenges throughout his lifetime and the impact that various treatments have had on him over those decades. I think we’re lucky to still have Brian Wilson alive, even if now he’s showing signs of how troubled his life has been.

The show was wonderful with Brian accompanied by a group of stellar musicians, including former Beach Boys partner Al Jardine, and Al Jardine’s son, Matt Jardine. Part of Matt’s role as a backing vocalist was to take over the vocal parts that are just too challenging for Brian these days. It was beautiful to watch and to hear the son of his lifelong band mate have his back. There were numerous standing ovations throughout the show from a full-house of just under 3,000 people.

Brian Wilson live

Yet one high-profile critic wrote in his review, “Beach Boy was once genius but it’s time to let it go” and on Twitter wrote, “This has to stop.”

My kids probably won’t quite understand for another 30 years what they saw that night, but one day it’ll dawn on them that they saw one of the greatest songwriters we’ve ever had perform for them. Yes, he was physically past his prime, but his gifts to us are extraordinary. The kids often accuse each other of having ‘shit taste in music’ and that’s about the time I always chime in to point out that this is exactly the point of any form of art. It’s subjective. One of the things I was most sure about during my radio career was the simple fact that no matter what I did, or what I said, or which song I played – SOMEONE would hate it enough to want to tell me about it. Often abusively. 

That Brian Wilson is now a senior who has been through some really, intensely rough stuff is without doubt. That his life has had negative impacts on him is also without doubt. But that he still wants to join us and play for us is his choice, and only his. We simply don’t have the right to tell people that they should stop doing the thing that has made them who they are just because they’re getting on a bit and aren’t as sharp as they once were. I couldn’t give a flying f*ck about Madonna or the fact that she’s still performing in not-very-much-at-all at however old she is. Her choice. Don’t like it? Don’t go!

To the critic who thinks that Brian Wilson is now too old and too damaged to go on and should stop performing for the rest of us because it apparently makes you, Dear Critic, a wee bit uncomfortable to see a person who is less than perfect doing their thing – you can only dream of 3,000 people standing to applaud you with tears of joy streaming down their faces. On numerous nights. 

Neil Finn gets it.

Neil Finn on Brian Wilson live



FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInEmailSina WeiboWordPressBuffer

Dan Lepard – Good Food Month

Dan Lepard’s 2004 book,  The Handmade Loaf, gained a cult following amongst bakers and remains the ‘go to’ guide for anyone seriously interesting in baking.

In Sydney for the SMH Good Food Month, Melbourne-born Dan regularly visits family in Australia and was a judge on Channel 9’s ‘Great Australian Bake-Off’.

Dan’s career has been extraordinary and I recommend you explore his own website and his Wikipedia listing (which contains numerous factoids I suspect Dan Lepard is far too lovely to blow his own trumpet about).

I spoke with Dan as he was preparing an exclusive dinner at Sydney’s two-hat Ester restaurant in Chippendale featuring ‘… forgotten grains and rare spices with the very best of Australia’s new season farm produce, cooked in a wood-fired oven’.

As one of the many people around the world who live by The Handmade Loaf, it was great to finally meet and chat with Dan about how the boy from suburban Melbourne left home to embark on an incredible journey.




FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInEmailSina WeiboWordPressBuffer

Newcastle Walking Tours

Some very clever and lovely Novocastrians have created a series of fabulous, self-guided walks around the city.

These have been prepared and written by David Hampton, one of the splendid people who make Newcastle Museum amazing.

The audio of the walks has been recorded by a couple of very well-known Novocastrians – me and Garth Russell!

The full set of walks is available on Visit Newcastle.

Meanwhile, let me take you on a couple of walks – the Shoreline Walk and the Newcastle Architecture Walk.



FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInEmailSina WeiboWordPressBuffer

Newcastle Shoreline Walk

Free printed maps are available at the Newcastle Museum or the Visitor Information Centre located at the Maritime Centre both located in the Honeysuckle precinct.


Heavy Walk – 3hr / 3.2km

Explore Newcastle’s maritime and surf culture through a self-guided walking tour of the city.

With its spectacular harbour and coastline, the Pacific Ocean has always played an important part in Novocastrian’s work and leisure.

Explore the city through its relationship with the shoreline. Visit places that once formed a crucial part of Newcastle’s working harbour and maritime culture. Enjoy the city’s spectacular coastline and discover places that Novocastrians have been visiting for generations to swim, relax and play.

This walking tour begins on the Newcastle Foreshore, at the viewing spot for Destiny, a sculpture that commemorates Newcastle’s role as a commercial port. It concludes at the Newcastle Memorial Walk, a spectacular walk that offers 360 degree views of the city and its coastline.

Click here to download the map.

Click here to download the full brochure and map.


Please click here to listen to the audio introduction of this tour.

1. Destiny

Julie Squires’ sculpture Destiny was commissioned in 1999 to commemorate 200 years of commercial shipping operations in the port of Newcastle.

Located on the former State Dockyard site at Dyke Point, Destiny was inspired by the traditional figure heads on the bows of sailing ships, believed to protect and guide ships. This contemporary form symbolises the spirit of the future: Destiny steps forward confidently yet protects and nurtures the past. She stands atop a globe and draws strength from the earth, and the strands of her hair represent the seven seas.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

2. Newcastle Mercantile Marine Memorial

This memorial is dedicated to the memory of all merchant mariners lost in times of war.

During World War II the sea was a crucial transport route, bringing resources into and taking completed products out of Newcastle. Japanese submarines operated along the East Coast of Australia during 1942 and 1943. They sank 18 vessels and attacked another 15, killing 277 merchant mariners and 223 medical personnel.

The crews of two ships with strong Newcastle connections are remembered here. The S.S. Iron Chieftain and the S.S. Iron Knight, both owned by BHP and crewed largely by local men, were both sunk with loss of life by enemy action. The Iron Knight was torpedoed by Japanese Submarine I-21, the same sub that shelled Newcastle in June 1942.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

3. Customs House

The Newcastle Customs House was designed in the Italianate Renaissance Revival Style by New South Wales Colonial Architect James Barnet in 1877. On top of the clock tower is a Time Ball.

Up until the Second World War the Time Ball would fall and Fort Scratchley would fire a gun at precisely 1pm. This practice was carried out in ports around the world during the 19th century to allow ships’ masters to adjust their navigation instruments.

The Time Ball has since been refurbished and still marks time daily above the Customs House. The Fort Scratchley Historic Society has refurbished a replica field gun that is fired daily at 1pm to keep this significant maritime tradition alive.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

4. Queens Wharf

In 1858, work began on the first major government structure along the Newcastle foreshore for berthing ships and loading coal. This became known as Queens Wharf. It was 1240ft long by 1861.

The exchange sidings of the Great Northern Railway ran parallel to the wharf, and coal from all over the region was transported in wooden hoppers to this point. A row of steam cranes would lift the bodies of the wagons out of their frames to be emptied into the holds of the waiting ships.

As expansive loading facilities opened around Carrington and Stockton, Queens Wharf ended its days as a loading point for wool and general cargo. It was demolished in the 1960s.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

5. Tugboats

After Queens Wharf was demolished four smaller berths were constructed along Wharf Road for Newcastle’s Tugs. The first tugboat to arrive in Newcastle was the Huntress in 1854. Underpowered and overpriced, ships refused to use her and she left Newcastle within a year. More powerful tugs soon arrived and fierce competition emerged between the rival boats for towing jobs and salvage opportunities.

Tugs of all shapes and sizes have called Newcastle home. One of the most famous was the Champion. Built in 1895 for local mining magnate John Brown, she was not only one of Australia’s most powerful tugs, but also its most luxurious. Lavishly decorated and fitted with a piano, she was often chartered to take her owner and his guests on deep sea fishing trips. She sank at anchor in the harbour in 1954 under suspicious circumstances.

The harbour’s modern fleets of tugs now dock further up river and carry on the long tradition of safely guiding ships into Newcastle Harbour.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

6. Boat Harbour – Newcastle Pilot Station

Newcastle is a very busy port, with 4600 shipping movements per year. The Port of Newcastle is a compulsory pilotage port, which means that a ship’s pilot, employed and certified by Newcastle Port Corporation, is transferred to all ships entering and exiting the harbour.

Pilots provide advice to the ships’ masters (captains) to assist vessels arriving and departing from the port. The marine pilot takes charge of the conduct of the navigation of the vessel while the master retains command of the vessel. About 80% of Marine Pilot transfers to and from ships are completed by helicopter, the remaining 20% being by pilot cutter vessels, which are often berthed here.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

7. The Lifeboat

For 136 years the Newcastle Lifeboat Service went to the aid of the crews and passengers of vessels in danger. The first lifeboat arrived in Newcastle in 1838. The NSW government did not finance a full time lifeboat service in any port and as a result, the crew of the Newcastle lifeboat was made up of volunteers from the harbour department, dredge service and customs service. The volunteer crew received little or no payment and were uninsured for their dangerous task.

During the service’s long history the lifeboats responded to hundreds of distress calls and saved thousands of lives. From the 1860s onwards, the boats were stored here at the pilot station. Newcastle’s last lifeboat, the Victoria II is now in the Newcastle Maritime Centre collection.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Feature Story – The Wreck of the Adolphe

One of the lifeboat’s finest rescues took place on Friday 30th of September 1904.

The Adolphe, an elegant four masted French Sailing Ship had arrived from Antwerp at about 9am. She was met by two Newcastle Tugs – the Hero and the Victoria. The Tugs secured lines to the ship and began towing her towards the harbour entrance.

Conditions at the Harbour mouth were dangerous. A strong wind blew from the south and the seas broke heavily across the entrance. When it came round the southern breakwater, the Adolphe was struck by huge seas that caused the Victoria’s tow line to snap. The Hero struggled on alone but could not hold the ship up and another succession of big waves lifted her onto the remains of a ship previously wrecked attempting to enter the harbour.

The lifeboat put to sea. Battling the huge swells, and carefully navigating the remains of other ships wrecked in the same place years before, the lifeboat came alongside the Adolphe, secured two lines to the stricken ship and dropped anchor. One by one, the French crew came aboard the lifeboat, and once 47 people were on board the lifeboat set off for safety. The rescue took only half an hour.

The crew of the lifeboat were hailed as heroes and the Consul-General for France made a special visit to Newcastle to thank the crew and reward them with a purse of sovereigns. The Adolphe’s remains can still be seen on the Stockton Breakwater today.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

8. Grounded

On Friday, 8 June 2007 the coal ship Pasha Bulker ran aground in heavy seas on Nobbys Beach. Her enormous red hull interrupted the beach and the city skyline until she was successfully re-floated 25 days later, leaving nothing behind save a section of her rudder in the surf, which was later salvaged.

This sculpture was commissioned to commemorate that dramatic episode in Newcastle’s history. Created by renowned Sydney based sculptor John Petrie, Grounded is an abstract representation of the ship’s bow, reflecting both the shape and colour of the Pasha Bulker.

An original section of 22mm plate steel from the salvaged rudder of the ship is included at the base of the work.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

9. Newcastle Ocean Baths

Newcastle is firmly associated with shipping, industry and mining but it is also a place of spectacular natural beauty.

During the early 20th century a decline in the local mining industry forced Novocastrians to consider projects to diversify the local economy, attract tourists and capitalise on the city’s beautiful coastal landscape.

The Newcastle Ocean Baths was one such initiative.

The construction of the pool began in 1910 and the distinctive and architecturally significant Art Deco pavilion was built in 1922. The Baths provided the main swimming facility for clubs, school carnivals and the general public for decades. It continues to be a popular swimming spot today.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Feature Story – The World Pool

Just next to Newcastle Ocean Baths is the Canoe Pool, the site of one of Newcastle’s most enduring urban legends.

In 1936 a wall was built on the southern end of the Ocean Baths to protect it from rough seas and sand. Within this space a circular pool boasting a pigmented cement map of the world was constructed. The continents of the world were raised 60 centimetres from the bottom, 20 centimetres being above the water line. Countries of the British Commonwealth were coloured red, with other nations in green.

Much about the Pools’ construction and final fate remains a mystery. Considering the Depression of the 1930s it may have been a project to stimulate employment. However, the designer of this unique creation remains unknown. The construction of a map in a public pool was certainly unique, and no similar pools are known to have existed in Australia.

It is generally believed that the World Pool, as it became known, was removed after being damaged beyond repair by a cyclone in the 1970s. However, rumours persist that remnants of the map are still uncovered after big swells.

What is known for certain is that many Novocastrians who grew up between the 1930s and the 1960s have fond childhood memories of playing in the pool and journeying ‘across the globe’ with their family and friends.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

10. Newcastle Beach – Surfest

Newcastle Beach hosted the first ever Surfest and for two decades was the competition’s home beach.

Surfest began in 1985 when Newcastle was still striving to cast off the city’s grime-ridden industrial image and showcase the unheralded beauty of Newcastle beaches and its fantastic surf breaks. Surfest was originally called the BHP Steel International and was the richest professional surfing event in the world at that time.

Surfest has become Australia’s largest surfing festival and part of the international world tour of surfing. It has made Newcastle and its surf culture famous not just nationally but internationally as well.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

11. King Edward Park

By 1860 the area of King Edward Park was clearly identified on maps as a ‘Reserve for Public Recreation’ but it was first proclaimed a recreation reserve in 1865.

During 1898 the park gained a Rotunda and many of the spectacular trees that now define the park were planted. During the Second World War a gun battery was established in the park and bomb shelters were erected. They were finally demolished in 1978. It continues to be a focal point for community recreation to this day, with picnics, wedding parties and gatherings taking place in this spectacular park by the sea.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

12. Newcastle Memorial Walk

Newcastle Memorial Walk was constructed to commemorate the Centenary of ANZAC and was completed in April 2015.

With its striking 360 degree views of the city and coast, the walk commemorates those who enlisted in World War I and features the family names of men and women from Newcastle and the Hunter Valley who served during the war. It also recognises the contribution that BHP Billiton made to the war effort in supplying steel rail, ship plate and munitions.

The Newcastle Memorial Walk provides a striking connection between the City’s CBD and the walk to Bathers Way, which continues south to Merewether Beach, home of the largest ocean baths in the Southern Hemisphere.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Please click here to listen to the audio on Susan Gilmore.


FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInEmailSina WeiboWordPressBuffer

Newcastle Architecture Walk

Free printed maps are available at the Newcastle Museum or the Visitor Information Centre located at the Maritime Centre both located in the Honeysuckle precinct.

Easy Walk – 1hr 30mins / 2.2km

Explore Newcastle’s Architectural heritage through a self-guided walking tour of the city.

The architecture of Newcastle is defined by a rich diversity of styles that reflect the city’s prosperity and growth throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Explore buildings that have acted as cultural, political and economic icons for the people of Newcastle. Discover the works by architects not just of local, but national and international significance.

This walking tour begins at City Hall, which has been at the centre of Newcastle cultural and political life since it was completed in 1929. It ends at the Civic Theatre, Newcastle’s premier live theatre venue and one of the last great remaining examples of picture palace architecture in the state.

Click here to download the map.

Click here to download the full brochure and map.


Please click here to listen to the audio introduction of this tour.

1. Newcastle City Hall

Newcastle City Hall has been at the centre of Newcastle’s cultural and political life since it was completed in 1929.

The first actions to establish a new town hall were recorded in 1888 but a final site and design for the hall was not agreed upon until 1925. Newcastle City Hall was designed by acclaimed architect Henry Eli White. The building contains a concert hall that seats 844 people, a dining room and servery, office spaces and the Council Chambers. The Hall is constructed of Sydney sandstone, adorned with Roman Doric and Ionic columns and dominated by its tower and four sided three metre diameter clock.

City Hall has performed a variety of roles in the decades since its construction. During the Second World War it was the nerve centre for the civilian response to an attack on the city and hosted free concerts to international and local troops seeking entertainment.

During the 1970s Newcastle City Council Offices were moved off site and replaced with conference spaces. The City Hall continues to host concerts, ceremonies and meetings of the elected Newcastle City Council today.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

2. Corm

Corm was presented by BHP Pty Ltd to Newcastle City Council to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of City Hall in December 1979. The 1.5m tall bronze sculpture was inspired in both title and form by the fleshy stem found in plants. The sculpture was created by artist Marilyn McGrath who has described the work as an organic sculpture designed to provide a link between the constructed environment and nature.

McGrath was born in Sydney in 1939. She was training to be a registered nurse at the Royal Newcastle Hospital when she began attending evening classes in Sculpture and Drawing. McGrath went on to teach at the Newcastle Technical College Art School, and her work can be found in both public and private collections across Australia, including The Art Gallery of NSW.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

3. City Administration Centre

Known by many Novocastrians as The Roundhouse or The Champagne Cork, this building was constructed to accommodate the various departments of Newcastle City Council in 1977 as the City Hall could no longer accommodate the growing workforce. A roughly triangular parcel of land next to the City Hall was chosen to construct a purpose built administration centre.

With deep recessed windows to cut down on heat from the sun, the building’s precast concrete columns were finished to match the colour and texture of the City Hall stone work. The basement carpark spirals down from street level and had to be constructed like an underground dam, due to its proximity to the harbour. The water table beneath the building is very high and special construction techniques had to be used to prevent the water logged earth from collapsing into the excavation.

It continues to support the city as Newcastle City Council City Administration Centre.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

4. Newcastle Art Gallery

Newcastle Art Gallery was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on Friday 11 March 1977. It was the culmination of decades of work to realise the belief that Newcastle, a city known for industry, could also be famous for having the best art gallery in the country.

Newcastle Art Gallery is a pioneer. It was the first purpose built regional art gallery in Australia. With its sharp geometric shapes and exposed concrete walls the gallery reflects the Brutalist aesthetic that flourished in the decades after the Second World War. The Gallery has collected over 6000 works since its inception, and is considered one of the most significant public collections in the country.

Today the gallery hosts a variety of exhibitions drawn both from its own collection and from other institutions via travelling exhibitions.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

5. Music, Literature and Art

Paul Beadle’s relief sculptures adorn the entrance to the Newcastle War Memorial Cultural Centre. His heavily stylised work is designed to fit into tight spaces. The two reliefs show aspects of music, literature and art. Beadle included a unique self-portrait carving a male bust in the top of the right entry. The works reflect the community’s desire to be a place of creativity and learning.

English born Beadle was the head of the Art School at Newcastle Technical College from 1951 until 1957. He taught and exhibited widely in Australia before migrating to New Zealand in 1961.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

6. Baptist Tabernacle

The Baptist Tabernacle was designed by one of Newcastle’s most prominent and popular architects of the late 19th and early 20th century, Frederick Menkens.

Constructed from 1889 to 1890, the buildings elaborate painted plaster neo-classical Corinthian façade was inspired by the Spurgeon Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.

It was threatened with compulsory demolition during the planning of the neighbouring Newcastle War Memorial Cultural Centre in the 1940s but both legal arrangements and the Tabernacle’s trustees prevented the building’s destruction.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Feature Story – Menkens

Frederick B. Menkens was born in Germany in 1855. Few could claim to have had as diverse and striking an impact on the look and character of Newcastle as this creative and versatile architect.

His first trade was bricklaying but he went on to study Architecture at the Royal Polytechnicum at Hanover. He migrated to Australia in 1878. In 1881 he set up an architectural practice in Maitland for a year before moving to Newcastle. Here his practice flourished, and Menkens would go on to design over 100 buildings in the city and throughout
the Hunter.

Menkens developed a reputation amongst local builders as uncompromising and demanding. Having learnt bricklaying as a trade, it is said he would remove his hat and coat, snatch the trowel from a bricklayer and proceed to demonstrate the proper technique for laying bricks if what was being produced did not meet his standards. Menkens even spent time in prison due to his relationship with one builder, sued in the Supreme Court over a dispute with the contractor regarding the quality of their product.

Menkens died aged 55 from cirrhosis on 10 March 1910. His legacy can be seen across Newcastle in the buildings he designed.

His skills as an architect and his ability to adapt his style to meet the needs of his clients are well demonstrated here on Laman Street. Menkens not only designed the Baptist Tabernacle, but in the very same year designed the very different Gothic influenced St Andrews Presbyterian Church on the corner of Laman and Auckland Street.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

7. NESCA House

Newcastle City Council began to generate electricity for street lighting in 1890. Within two years it was increasing electrification and a district supply was established. By 1937, the Newcastle Electricity Supply Council Administration was providing over 87 million Kilowatt hours of power and had out grown its office space in City Hall.

The Council decided to construct an administration centre for the electricity department on the parcel of land next to the City Hall. Emil Sodersteen, the architect responsible for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, was chosen to produce the design.

Sodersteen’s new building was designed to complement the City Hall, and was constructed from similar sandstone. Despite its consideration of the grand and traditional building next door, NESCA House demonstrates strong influence from Art Deco and European Modernist styling.

The building housed a demonstration theatre, showroom, administrative and business offices and staff accommodation. It opened in 1938 and performed a variety of roles until The University of Newcastle took over the site in 1995 and it became known as University House.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

8. The Workers Club

The Workers Club forms the legacy of one of the most prominent cultural, political and social hubs in Newcastle, as well as being the site of one of the city’s greatest tragedies.

The Newcastle Trades Hall Council Workers Club otherwise known as the ‘Red Inn’ and ‘The Newcastle Workers Club’ opened on this site on the 8th of October 1948, to prepare and teach skills for workers in preparation for the revolution.

During the 1950s and 60s the club played an important role in the local Labour movement, and acted as a platform for organising and staging community events.

By the 1980s it was a popular live music venue. On December 28th, 1989, the Workers Club was due to host a performance by popular band Crowed House, with thousands expected to attend. Hours before, however, at 10.27 am, the city was devastated by an earthquake. Parts of the Workers Club collapsed resulting in nine deaths.

The new Workers Club building was officially opened in 1992 by Prime Minister Paul Keating.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Feature Story – The Earthquake

The Earthquake that struck Newcastle at 10.27am on Thursday, 28 December, 1989 was one of the most serious natural disasters in Australia’s history.

Registering 5.5 on the Richter scale, the earthquake claimed 13 lives in total. In addition to the nine people killed at the Newcastle Worker’s Club three people were killed in Beaumont Street, Hamilton and one person died of shock. A further 160 people were hospitalised. The death toll could have been far worse. At this time Newcastle’s CBD was a dominant commercial and retail hub. Thousands of people would normally flock to the CBD to take advantage of post-Christmas sales, but a public transport
strike meant that fewer people were in town than usual.

50,000 buildings were damaged and approximately 40,000 of these were homes. 300 buildings had to be demolished. 1,000 people lost their homes and the damage bill was estimated to be about four billion Australian dollars.

Novocastrians found that the earthquake altered not only the built environment but also their sense of community identity. The Earthquake, and the devastation it brought to Newcastle’s CBD became a catalyst for decay, change and rebirth that continues to influence the city today.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

9. Miss Porter’s House

‘Miss Porter’s House’, a distinctive Edwardian Terrace, was the lifelong home of Ella and Hazel Porter.

The Porter family built this house in 1910. The building and its contents are representative of the middle-class urban lifestyle of the early twentieth century. It retains Edwardian and 1940s period furnishings, unique stencilled ceilings and a collection of thousands of objects acquired by the sisters over the decades.

Before she passed away in the mid-1990s Hazel bequeathed the house and its contents to the National Trust of Australia (NSW) who now maintain the property and open its doors to the public.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

10. Bank Corner

The acutely angled intersection of Hunter and Hannel Streets was occupied by a bank for over 100 years. The previous building stood for 50 years before being replaced by the one before you in 1940.

Described in the press at the time of its opening as a simple modernised version of the Classical Traditional, the building also has Art Deco influences in the detail and decorative elements.

The building was a branch of the Bank of New South Wales.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

11. Art School and Trades Hall

This building was opened in 1896. Generations of Novocastrians enrolled here to learn trades and skills, as it hosted courses on everything from free hand drawing to steam engine maintenance.

The building was designed by W.E. Kemp, who also designed the Sydney Technical College in Ultimo. Federation Romanesque in style, the College’s frame is constructed from Red Cedar. The building is asymmetrical, with the right side being larger than the left.

The tradition of training on this site continues today. The TAFE Hunter Institute Newcastle Art School is a combination of the 1896 Art School building, the 1895 Trades Hall building and a 1997 extension that joins the two architectural highlights into one.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

12. Steggas Emporium

Built in 1886, this row of seven shops represents one of Frederick Menkens’ earliest designs in Newcastle.

The shops are typical of Victorian commercial street architecture of the period. Menkens added a touch of flair by putting a dramatic stress on one of the central bays by giving it a crowning triangular pediment surmounted by a raised parapet and broken segmental pediment. Unfortunately this feature has been removed, along with the original single story veranda.

Steggas, with seven separate businesses occupying the same building, was a forerunner of today’s department stores. The shopping habits of Novocastrians changed in the 1880s due to the introduction of efficient public transport networks, including the city’s tramways and the Great Northern Railway, which allowed people from outlying
areas to travel with ease into the city centre for shopping and recreation.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

13. Civic Theatre

Dominating Newcastle’s Civic Precinct is the Civic Theatre, built in 1929.

The theatre was designed by Henry Eli White, the same architect responsible for the City Hall. White was one of the most successful theatre architects in the country with Sydney’s Capitol and State Theatres also to his name.

Originally designed internally in a dramatic Spanish Baroque style for both cinema and live theatre, the building went through many modifications and operators. By the 1960s the Civic was in decline, due to competition from television, and its patronage fell by 63%. It closed in 1973 and Newcastle Council made the decision to transform the Civic into a dedicated live theatre venue. This decision saved one of the last great remaining examples of picture palace architecture in the state.

Today the theatre is Newcastle’s premier performance venue, hosting a diverse program of shows including dance, drama, comedy, cabaret, film and children’s shows.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Please click here to listen to audio on Civic Park.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInEmailSina WeiboWordPressBuffer

Working through 2015

Republique Paris
Je Suis, Charlie.


2015 has been an interesting year and, fortunately, most of it has been OK. Not easy, but OK.

The hundreds of redundancies forced upon my colleagues at the ABC have been a shock to a lot of people and very difficult for some. Losing your job is incredibly stressful. Upsetting. Demoralising.

I was chatting with one of my fellow former ABC colleagues recently and she was confiding her hurt, her grief, her feeling of humiliation. She had recently applied for a job that she was well-qualified for only to be told, ‘It might not be exciting enough for you …’

I’m fairly certain the organisation in question would have loved to have had her join their team and I know she’d have made an incredibly valuable contribution, but someone else made the decision about how she might feel. They should have just asked her.

I know that many of my former colleagues are still not employed, and I know that there are to be still more job losses.

Yet I remain optimistic.

I took advantage of my redundancy and took my children travelling. It was the first time they’d been on a plane, let alone to find themselves sitting at the top of the Eiffel Tower with their mum, lunching on jambon-beurre and thé glacé!

I’ve continued to work as a content creator and copywriter for several local, national and even international organisations and I enjoy the puzzle that words can be. I’ve had a lovely year working anywhere between Newcastle, Sydney, Paris … and my sofa!

All forms of media continue to go through great upheaval and I have no idea where the cards that have been thrown into the air will fall, but I suspect that for people like me who simply enjoy the processes of storytelling, of communication and discussion, discovery and collaboration – there will continue to be wonderful opportunities. I enjoy helping others translate their own stories and to make connections.

I have been working as a journalist at the University of Newcastle but continuing to accept freelance writing jobs as they become available – there are a lot of people and organisations who need words! ‘Content’ is a funny word, but content really is king.

The world is digital, digital spaces need words, images, sounds, thoughts and ideas – and for my ABC colleagues who are feeling bruised and bewildered at what so many of us have been through this year, I think we all have reason to feel that the future will still be bright.

But I don’t think I’m where I need to be just yet.

So I’m just going to keep saying YES as I explore new opportunities with people who are supportive, enthusiastic and offering goodwill. There’s been quite a few of you.

Thank you.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying my gentle forays into this new world of self-employment and I’m enormously grateful to those individuals and organisations who have been helping me on my way.





FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInEmailSina WeiboWordPressBuffer

Malcolm Fraser

Damn you, Malcolm Fraser.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 2.01.42 pm

You’ve gone and died on us just when we needed you most, but I’m fairly certain you’d be pretty pissed off with your timing.

During my many years with the ABC I strived to ensure that whilst my humanity was always on show, my voting preferences were not.

But in recent years I have despaired and the source of my despair has not just been Tony Abbott and the Liberal/National Party, but also the shenanigans and foolishness of the previous Labor governments. I heard Anthony Albanese recently refer to that time in both federal and state politics as he said, “Some of them have let us down. They do not deserve to be remembered.”

I think I’m far from alone in my despair about Australian politics and the national discourse in 2015. I am sick to death of being lied to – by politicians and shock jocks, of being used and abused for the interests of a few.

I have been playing with the idea that Australia needs its own group of ‘elders’, like the international organisation ‘The Elders’ that was established by the late Nelson Mandela. But, of course, what can I do about it. Seems like a good idea but no-one gives a toss what I think.

I ran the idea past former Australian senator Cheryl Kernot on my (former) show, asking her what she thinks Australians are afraid of.

“I think as nation we’ve been encouraged, by leadership at many levels, to lose sight of our empathy and we’re ready to fall for an appeal to our most base instincts – instincts of fear, of difference – all the sorts of things where you can just push the worst button. I would like leadership to NOT pander to that.”

I gently suggested this to my radio audience, ‘If Australia had a group of Elders – who do you think these Elders should be?’ There were numerous suggestions including Malcolm Fraser, Gough Whitlam and Michael Kirby – just to name a few.

Oh how we laughed! Cheryl continued, “Sometimes I think wouldn’t it be good if we just get rid of all of them (politicians) and maybe we could put Australia into administration with all the people we’ve ever thought were fantastic running it!”

“Australian Elders!” I said!

Cheryl Kernot replied, “I don’t think we could do worse than what’s happening at the moment. In fact we might even do better because we might all have actually had enough experience of it at its worst  to know that we could work together to do something that might actually think about the country first.”


My kids have been raised with lots of encouragement to think about stuff. Our household is obviously a news-consuming one – you can’t avoid it with parents like us. But we also try to encourage the kids to think about what matters to them and not just regurgitate their parents’ ideologies. I want them to know that politics isn’t something that just happens to you, but something you can be a part of and attempt to have influence on. I want them to know that politics is not passive.

Until recently, that has meant for me that my influence has been kept to election day and the polling booth. Mostly.

I did run the idea of a group of ‘Australian Elders’ past one highly-respected Australian who thought the idea was ‘very interesting but perhaps too political’. I actually think the idea is for this group to be above politics. To be an esteemed group of Australians who, together, can simply say, “No. This is not who Australians are.”

A respected group to call bullshit on politics. Because it’s needed.

Malcolm Fraser loved Twitter. He loved conversation. He loved stirring the possum. Many of us had the opportunity to engage with him in this way over the last few years and I’m incredibly grateful that I was one.

A couple of months ago we were tweeting about the fact that “Operation Babylift” – the mass evacuation of children from the war in South Vietnam by the US, Australia and other countries – was 40 years ago next month. 1975. I remember this.


I can’t begin to count the times I drafted a private message about the need for ‘Australian Elders’ to Malcolm Fraser but promptly deleted it because as if he’d give a shit what I thought and surely I was being an idiot.

But one day I did it. And I sent it.

And nothing happened.

Until a few weeks later when his assistant tracked me down via my website and asked for my contact details as, “Mr Fraser would like to talk to you.”

I replied with my phone number and, again, nothing happened.

Except for that time I was in my car in Sydney and my phone rang and this deep, dark voice said, “Carol Duncan? It’s Malcolm Fraser here – I’m acting as agent provocateur!”

Carol Duncan

Malcolm has been described by many as ‘droll’. Yes, that’s probably accurate. Droll, dry, and very funny whilst at all times very serious.

“I’m an OCTOGENARIAN! I’m too old for this!”, he declared, “I need some young people to be involved.”

I guess to an octogenarian my mere 49 years indeed classify me as ‘young’.  Whatever.

“I like your ‘elders’ idea, Carol, but there’s something else I wanted to seek your thoughts on.” Because, you know, former Prime Ministers of the nation seek my counsel every day of the week.

“Mr Fraser,” I said, “It’s easy! All you have to do is get half a dozen of your besties together, call a media conference, and go nuts! Tell us what you really think!”

The man who didn’t laugh laughed and said, “The problem is, Carol, that no-one cares what former Prime Ministers think. This is why we need young people.”

“May I email you and you tell me what YOU think?”

And he did. And my heart leapt a little because I read about kindness and compassion and inclusion and hope and fairness and and and …

And today I wept a lot.

I didn’t know Malcolm Fraser at all. I’ve seen a lot of comments today along the lines of, “I hated him in 1975 but I loved him today.” He had the courage to grow and learn and change and to examine his own beliefs unlike some politicians today who doggedly hold to the party line for fear of … well, what? For fear of being seen as people who think? Who learn? Who grow and change? For fear of being seen as leaders?

I do know he wanted to make things better for all of us, not just the few. Because he told me so and I believed him.

I joked to a friend that, “Malcolm Fraser perhaps sees this as his last great blast. He’s gonna go out sideways with his balls on fire!”

His work was unfinished and as such it’s inappropriate that I share the details of it here, but I hope that it will be finished. And successful.

And the point of me sharing my feeble thoughts with you is that if, like me, you despair – there is hope. Be part of it. Be active. Be involved. Vote. Join a political party. Contact your politicians. Raise hell. (Nicely.) Do not be passive. Do not just let it happen to you.

If Malcolm could still get his cranky pants on as an octogenarian – you can, too. He wanted you to.

Who do you think would be an essential Australian Elder?

Vale, Malcolm Fraser. Apologies for the pants joke.



Postscript …

Yes. Yes he was. I hope this work is able to continue now that he is gone.






FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInEmailSina WeiboWordPressBuffer

Vale Tom Uren – the ‘conscience of Parliament’

'Gloves Off', Ralph Heimans, 2006.
‘Gloves Off’, Ralph Heimans, 2006.
Tom Uren lived an incredible life and I had the privilege of speaking with him in 2007 prior to his trip to Maitland to deliver the annual Harry Boyle Memorial Lecture for the National Trust.

Tom served during WWII and witnessed the bombing of Hiroshima. He was a prisoner-of-war on the Thai-Burma railway with Sir Weary Dunlop.

Coming from a very poor Newcastle family but raised in Balmain in Sydney, Tom’s greatest concerns as a leading Australian politician included environment, heritage and the ‘national estate’.

In this interview he speaks of his fondness for the Japanese in spite of his war experiences, his determination to protect Australia’s environment and heritage, and his affection for Gough Whitlam.

Tom Uren was 86 when we recorded this interview but sounded as enthusiastic about life as he ever did. Indeed he said, “I’m 86! That’s 86 springtimes!”

I hope you get time to have a listen, I greatly enjoyed speaking with him.

You can listen on Soundcloud:

or via YourListen:

Upload Music - Embed Audio - Carol Duncan speaks with Tom...

FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInEmailSina WeiboWordPressBuffer

Rob Hirst – The Sun Becomes The Sea

 Rob Hirst
Rob Hirst has a new solo album out – released under his own name instead of one of the innumerable musical units that he’s part of.
The Midnight Oil drummer and songwriter celebrates his new songs with an unexpected collaboration with his artist daughter, Gabriella Hirst.

Rob Hirst oozes ‘proud dad’ as he talks about the achievements of the offspring of some of his bandmates.

“We’ve all got very talented sons and daughters now, all very grown up, and my daughter Gabriella is now in Berlin after finishing her courses at COFA in Sydney and the National Art School. She did very well, got a travelling scholarship and went to Berlin.”

Gabriella Hirst’s art is, indeed, striking and beautiful. And perhaps unsurprisingly, her work seems to share her father’s social and environmental concerns.

“She was looking out over a wasteland where she was in north-west Berlin, went for a walk in the afternoon and asked one of the locals why it was so deserted. He told her that until recently there had been a poplar forest full of birds but that despite the protests of locals the little forest that had acted as a buffer between quite an industrial area and the local residences had been levelled to put in a department store or factory.”

“But he also told Ella that he’d gone for a walk on the day they cut the trees down and found 24 birds’ nests. He sent them to Ella and she painted them as part of her Berlin projects in watercolours on silk flags, which the man then attached to bamboo poles and put back where the forest once was as a symbolic gesture to remind people of what was lost. Being ephemeral artworks, she expected them to be souvenired, which they quickly were, but they fly now from the balconies of neighbouring apartments overlooking this area.”

Rob’s album, ‘The Sun Becomes The Sea’, features 24 of his daughter’s bird artworks in the hardcover booklet version of the album, which he had made to protect Gabriella’s artwork but there are a few of them online.

“I was just finishing a bunch of songs that I’d been doing over a couple of years down at Jim’s (Moginie) studio and I thought for the first time that I’d put it out under my own name rather than under the Ghostwriters or whatever. It’s just one of those lovely synchronicities where she was finishing her artwork at the same time and agreed that I could use these beautiful watercolour birds for the sleeve of the book and for the new website which finally links the Oils, the Backsliders, The Break, Angry Tradesmen, Hirst and Greene, Willies Bar and Grill, etc.”

Unusually, Rob made the decision to make all of the songs on the album available online for free.

“I just thought it would be a nice gesture and I had such fun making these songs.”

I point out that a similar ‘nice gesture’ recently backfired somewhat for U2.

“I would never be so presumptuous as to upload these 11 songs on people’s iTunes!” Rob laughs, “It’s available for those that seek it out and like it and there’s the option for people to go to a few of those old-fashioned record stores that still exist, and which we really want to support, and get the hardcover booklet with all of Gabriella’s birds and other information on it.”

The exhibition of Midnight Oil’s incredible place in the Australian music industry was a huge success at the Sydney exhibition hosted by the Manly Art Gallery and Museum and will be hosted by Newcastle Museum early 2015. How does Rob Hirst feel about his life’s work being treated as a museum piece?

“We had so many people come through and they were pleasantly surprised. I think they thought, ‘Oh Rob’s dug out a few old posters and stuck them on the wall with blu-tack’ or something. In fact, we spent about two years working on it; this is me, curator Ross Heathcote, Virginia Buckingham, Wendy Osmond who did the art direction on it.”

“We’ve got a special film which runs an hour and fifteen minutes made by Rob Hambling about the making of ’10 to 1′ with Nick Launay producing back in London all those years ago, and we’ve sourced all this film from 1984 of the band backstage in South Australia at Memorial Drive, and at Main Beach on the Gold Coast. There’s a lot of home movie footage, the Exxon banner from New York City, a full stage set-up of the band with the exact drums, guitars, amps, backdrop, lights and even the PA to be authentic from 1987 to 1989 which we toured on the back of the Diesel and Dust album.”

“There lots of little early recordings that have never been heard, a song we’ve never released before, and the pièce de résistance is a replication in a box which has sticky carpet, three screens when you walk in and a curtain you pull behind you. It has footage of the band playing at the Tanelorn Festival in 1981 and there’s two sets of headphones you can choose from – one is loud, the other is really loud – and you can stick to the carpet. There’s elbows that come out from the side of the box so that you can be elbowed in the ribs. What I was trying to do was replicate what it was like coming to see Midnight Oil back then at the Mawson Hotel, the 16 Footers or the Ambassador or whatever.”

I enquire as to whether the box also has the special scent that some of our more notorious venues had. Rob Hirst assures me it does.

“I’ve poured so much Tooheys New into that carpet, you’ve got no idea, and I’ve ground some lemon chicken and sweet and sour rat or whatever into it. Remember in NSW in those days the liquor laws stated that the pubs had to pretend to provide a meal if they were serving liquor late. No-one would ever touch those meals but they’d be knocked off the bar and into the carpet. So after three months in Manly it’s getting quite fruity in there!”

“It’s funny, one of the last surviving venues down here (Sydney), The Annandale, has just ripped up there carpet. The carpet was legendary. It was despicable. They could have scraped it for a new form of penicillin! But they shouldn’t have thrown it out. I’d have taken a square metre of it and put it in what became known as ‘Rob’s Folly’, but is now known as ‘The Royal Antler Room’ which is the Narrabeen pub that Midnight Oil first started playing all those years ago.”

“The curator, Ross Heathcote, named it ‘Rob’s Folly’ because he was bemused by the idea. He didn’t think I’d ever build it, but over six months with a couple of hard-working, underpaid friends we actually made it. It looks like a giant road case but it’s big enough for two or three people to cram in and get blasted by Midnight Oil at the Tanelorn Festival.”

Rob describes the opening of the Midnight Oil exhibition at the Manly gallery with great affection and it’s obvious that he still finds great joy in every tiny connection that his career has afforded him – from those with names to the ‘unknown’ members of road crews. Indeed for just a moment he sounds a bit misty when reminiscing about the night of the opening and the loyalty of the huge crowds who were not only Midnight Oil fans but turned out in droves to see the exhibition. I gently accuse him of getting mellow and soft in his dotage as he describes this ‘gathering of the tribes’. This quickly turns his thoughts to Newcastle.

“Newcastle will be the same. After all, Newcastle meant so much to the band. We went time and time again until we finally did a huge gig on Redhead Beach. We expected to find maybe a couple of thousand people, but there must have been 25,000 or 30,000 people on the beach. That kind of paid us back for all the hard work. We’d spoken to The Angels and (Cold) Chisel who’d just preceded us a little bit, and they said, ‘If you get places like Newcastle you’ll get the most loyal audiences on earth’, and that’s what happened. And of course a few years later was the earthquake benefit and we were lucky enough to be on that bill as well, and that gig goes down as one of the great shows we’ve ever played.”

Midnight Oil, of course, achieved success with not just a lot of hard work, but what Rob Hirst describes as an ‘anti-plan’.

“We’d heard all these terrible stories of bands that we’d loved that ended much too early, before their time, through no fault of their own. They were brilliant musicians, songwriters, performers, but through management or lousy agency deals or record company stuff-ups they hadn’t fulfilled their potential. So we looked at them and because Pete and I had done law – Pete finished law, I didn’t – but we knew our way around a contract a little bit. So when we signed with an independent label, even though we were being chased by the majors at the time – that made us too anxious, so we signed with an independent label which we called ‘Powderworks’ after the first song on the first album and gradually eased ourselves in.”

“I think that stood us in good stead because we were able to build this very loyal live crowd – initially in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong and then interstate. But because we took it softly, softly, I don’t think we made the horrendous mistakes that some of the other great Australian bands had done.”

I point out the obvious that Midnight Oil weren’t trying to seduce an audience with songs of sex and drugs and rock & roll like every other band, but were insisting we have a look at contemporary Australian issues.

Again, Rob is amused, “Yeah, we were decidedly unsexy and we didn’t take anywhere near enough drugs although I was on ascorbic acid (vitamin C) for about 15 years.”

“Probably two of the most maligned rock managers of the time were Gary Morris who looked after us, and Chris Murphy who looked after INXS, although Gary also looked after INXS initially but then just us once he realised we were more than a handful.”

“Those managers were much feared and not very liked in the industry, but they were fiercely loyal to their bands and Gary not only was a real strong-arm, Rottweiler kind of manager which you need to protect a young band that has big ideas but no money in the bank, but he also threw all these crazy ideas at us all the time. One in every 100 of his crazy ideas was brilliant and we’d actually do it.”

“The best bands seemed to have been the most unlikely bunch of people – and I include their management in that – all thrown together and all providing different talents to an end that make the sum much stronger than the individual.”

“With Midnight Oil and Cold Chisel, for example, the songwriters weren’t the singer. In the case of Chisel it was Don Walker writing for Jimmy (Barnes), and with the Oils it was Jim (Moginie) and myself writing for Pete (Garrett). There were others in the band that were great performers – Pete was this extraordinarily charismatic singer, Jim was a whiz in the studio, Martin (Rotsey) was great with arrangements … and everyone kind of had their place.”

“Back in those days you actually sold albums, they weren’t all pirated or downloaded for free so we could quickly pay back that poor bank manager in Chatswood and get going and make our own career even thought we didn’t play Countdown and we didn’t play the industry game.”

They most certainly didn’t. And I suggest that to a then-young and female Australian music-goer, Midnight Oil could appear a bit intimidating. A bit cranky.

“We were a bloody-minded bunch of bastards back then and, yeah, we were cranky all the time. If you look at photos from that time we look really cranky. A lot of bands want to look cranky but we were actually cranky because we were tired and probably hungry and pissed off about something.”

Yes, I detect Rob Hirst pulling my leg a bit, but only a bit. He admits that if you were anywhere near the front of the stage during a Midnight Oil gig, or The Angels, or Rose Tattoo, Cold Chisel, whatever, you were a member of a fairly tough breed. I assure him I was happy at the back of the room but I suspect the safest place may have been behind the drum kit.

False rumours have just done the rounds that Robert Plant had knocked back $500-$800 million to reform Led Zeppelin. Big numbers. What would it take for Midnight Oil to perform together again?

“Robert Plant. I really admire the man, he keeps reinventing himself. It’s long not been about the money for people like that. But it’s one thing cruising around the pubs and just playing a medley of your greatest hits and a lot of bands fall for that trap. But I think Midnight Oil is among that bunch of bands that would be much too musically curious to have ever done that.”

“If we were ever to get back together, it would almost certainly be with new material and we’d have to feel we were contributing something rather than just some nostalgic act in sparkly jackets doing the clubs. Whether that will happen I have no idea.”

Rob Hirst’s new album, ‘The Sun Becomes The Sea’, is a beautiful personal work recorded in memory of his later mother, Robin, who ended her life a few years ago after decades of living with depression.

In a recent interview Rob pointed out that it’s important we talk about depression, that we acknowledge the importance of mental health in order to help people.

“It’s not just my mum, there are other members of the family who have suffered from it and it is as strong as any other inherited disease. And possibly more lethal because we don’t talk about it and don’t address it.”

Rob and his daughters sang ‘Someone Scared’ at his late mother’s funeral and he suggests that this song was the catalyst for the full album.

It’s a terrible thing to admit, but as a high school work experience kid I spent a week at Powderworks when Midnight Oil’s ‘Bird Noises’ EP was being pressed on to gooey black vinyl. I simply wanted to know how music worked.

I wish I hadn’t been such a good kid and had actually nicked one.

And frankly, I’d have pinched one of Gabriella Hirst’s beautiful silk birds from the poplar forest, too.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInEmailSina WeiboWordPressBuffer

Breaking the poverty cycle with education

Nearly 640,000 Australian children live in a ‘jobless’ family. These children are, on average, up to three years behind their peers in reading and maths by the time they’re 15 years of age. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

HSC completion rates in lower socio-economic backgrounds are still much lower (58%) than for students from higher socio-economic backgrounds (77%).

Lisa O’Brien is the CEO of The Smith Family which runs programs purely directed toward supporting education from early childhood through tertiary study and says that with 1 in 10 children growing up in a house where there is no adult working, it puts enormous pressure on the financial resources in the home and the consequences are far-reaching.

“Today in Australia, 1 in 10 children are growing up in a house where there is no adult working. That puts enormous pressure on the financial resources in the home and there are far-reaching consequences of that.”

“We’re seeing young people growing up in households where there have been multiple generations of unemployment and financial disadvantage, and growing up in a home where there aren’t strong moral models around employment.”

“That’s not through any lack of desire on behalf of the parents it’s just that they haven’t been employed, so the things that are often taken for granted such as seeing someone get up in the morning and get dressed and go to work – kids don’t grow up with that kind of role model or example and so it tends to become a self-perpetuating cycle.”

“It’s partly because of the role-modelling, partly access to resources and also a sense of aspiration, that ‘I’m at school and I’m going to work hard so I can go on to university and get a job’; it’s just not the language in those households.”

“So we are seeing that these communities of long term disadvantage are growing around Australia. That puts a lot of pressure on young people who want to break out of that cycle.”

Over 20 years ago, The Smith Family changed its support model from one of welfare and charitable handouts, food parcels, etc, to one of supporting education.

“Our mission has always been to support kids and families with emergency help when in crisis, but it was recognised that we were just seeing the same families coming back through the door and we weren’t achieving sustainable change, that we weren’t making a difference in the long term to these kids and families. Research told us the key was education.”

“So we refocused all of our operations from passive assistance support to early intervention, focusing on supporting young people with their education. We start that support when they’re young and we will stay with the child all through the journey providing them support with the ultimate aim of them completing school and ideally going on to some further study, but definitely with the aim of transitioning into employment.”

“We recognised that there were others that could provide that sort of immediate emergency help and welfare support, but over time we realised by us giving additional financial support targeted to education that they were able to make a long-term change and they (the families) really valued that this money was quarantined to support their kids with education and wasn’t just getting subsumed in the needs of everyday existence.”

Anne Hampshire is the head of research for The Smith Family and she says even something most of us take for granted – internet access – can be a major problem for many Australian families.

“ABS data shows that lots of children are unable to access the internet at home. Research shows that 1 in 5 children aged between 5 and 14 had no internet access at home over a 12-month period and in some communities it was as high as 1 in 3 children.”

“Why that particularly matters, the major reason children use the internet at home is education-related activity. Yes, they might download movies and music, but the predominant reason they use it is for education, and assumptions are made that everybody has access to the internet.”

In our own region, the principal of Irrawang High School (Raymond Terrace) recently told 1233 that 25% of his students had no internet access at home and are earning about $200 per week less than the state average.

Anne says these figures reflect their own, “Around 40% of our families don’t have an email address.”

Newcastle mother, Lu*, says the support of The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program has taught her children more than the basics.

“When they were younger, they had a reading group where someone would phone them and have the kids read with them over the phone. We’ve learnt to budget and it makes a big difference knowing that the money is going to help our kids learn.”

“I’m not as smart as my children, I only went to Year 10 and then to TAFE, but I didn’t really have much of an education. My kids know that they need an education to get a job, to make a career, to get further in life, to have a good home and survive. They know it’s hard.”

“If we didn’t have this little bit of support, it would be another struggle. People say, ‘Oh, just put $10 aside’. Well, what $10!? I need $10 more! It’s a struggle.”

Lu now has a child at university, another doing his HSC and a little one yet to start school, but it was tough to hear Lu say that she’d actually told her kids not to be like her.

“I always say to them, ‘You don’t want to be uneducated like us and not be able to afford things. Look at us, we’re struggling every day, but with your education you’ll be able to do whatever you want and help others.”

Alex* is Lu’s son and this year completing his HSC. It speaks highly of Lu’s work with The Smith Family to support her children through education that Alex doesn’t consider himself to be ‘disadvantaged’.

“I think disadvantage is when someone doesn’t have access to the same resources as someone else. I don’t think I am too disadvantaged, I have a lot of positives in my life and I know there are plenty of others that don’t have the benefits that I do.”

How does Alex feel about being sponsored?

“It gives me education. There’s quite a range of social groups at school but most of my friends want to go to university. I want to study a social science degree, philosophy, theology, a few things because I like to learn and I’m fascinated these topics.”

Research by The Smith Family shows that completely Year 12 ‘increases a young person’s likelihood of continuing with further study, as well as entering the workforce.’

It also leads to higher annual earnings for individuals, greater community involvement and economic benefits for the country as a whole.

But not completing Year 12 can lead to:

Increased crime and poorer health outcomes among early school leavers
Nationally lower levels of productivity
Reduced quality of the labour force
Increased unemployment
Lower growth in income tax collections

Indeed, the Victorian Auditor-General’s Report, November 2012, said:

Education attainment is an important predictor of future employment, welfare and health prospects – and it improves [a person’s] ability to contribute socially and economically in the community.

Lisa O’Brien says that helping children obtain an education is good for all of us.

“There are some kids and families in Australia who are doing it really tough, but with the right support at the right time they can turn their lives around. That’s in everyone’s interest. If we have young people who are well-educated and focused on completing school and going on to employment, we’ll all prosper. It’s a great investment.”

(*names changed)

FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInEmailSina WeiboWordPressBuffer

Don Walker talks Cold Chisel and other words

Don WalkerDon Walker is a notoriously private man. He just does not talk about the personal stuff. But he does talk about himself, about music and words and prose and work and Chisel and just about anything else you choose to throw at him.

He speaks slowly, deliberately, and laughs with a quiet, low rumble. Don Walker is also very dry and very funny.

Once a scientist who worked on Australia’s F111 program, Don says he worked for a little while with “whatever modest skills I acquired in aerodynamic engineering. I can’t say I was very good at it.”

Words matter to Don Walker and it’s obvious that language is a great love for the man who has written some of Australia’s most iconic rock songs, “I think my love of words, language and humour – which is very much part of it – comes not so much from reading but from listening to regional speech in Australia, listening to the way people talk.”

“I love the enormously intelligent use of language that you get in regional and grass roots Australia. I like to laugh and Aussies say stuff that makes me laugh all the time. I try and write in a way that’s close to conversation, and the conversation that I know is the way that I talk, and the people around me whose company I enjoy, talk.”

Don Walker grew up in Grafton on the north coast of NSW and says there was little choice in radio listening, “Where I grew up there used to be two stations. 2NR was the ABC station on the north coast, and the local commercial station was 2GF. So 2GF was where you went for music; they didn’t play any music on the ABC except for classical programs, so the music that was played on the local commercial station was the music we heard.”

“It was a peculiar kind of faux-country music; a lot of American stuff, but some Australian stuff, and in that curious period between Elvis and The Beatles. Elvis hit and then it all went quiet when he joined the army, but The Beatles hadn’t happened yet, so there was a fallow period there where all sorts of wild and wonderful but now-forgotten things happened in music.”

“Last year, a mate of mine who grew up in the Wheatfields in WA told me he’d seen a movie called ‘The Tree of Man’ which I haven’t seen but apparently it’s the greatest movie of the last 10 years or so. In this movie he was shocked into that period of 1960 listening to commercial radio. He and a friend who worked in a record shop gathered three CDs of what was on the radio in that period and gave them to me. It’s a real shock to listen to them because these are not songs that are widely played since, so to listen to three CDs of them now plunges me straight back to sitting on a verandah on a farm when I was 10 years old. It’s wonderful stuff. ‘Big Bad John’, quite a bit of Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline.”

‘Big Bad John’ is one of my own musical memories so I suggest to Don that I could probably sing him all the words of it and throw in a bunch of bad trucking songs about the ghosts of little girls to boot.

“That’s right!” laughs Don, “Six days on the road and I’m gonna see my baby tonight’, or ‘Wolverton Mountain’, or ‘From A Jack to a King’, all that kind of stuff!”

Our memories are strongly driven by sounds and smells and I suspect that as we get older, the guilty pleasures we have in music from years ago and may not have admitted to previously, are now songs that we love and will play loud in the car with the windows down, perhaps to the horror of our kids.

Don Walker is one of Australia’s most esteemed songwriters so of course I had to take the opportunity to try to get him to confess his musical sins to me.

“There’s plenty of stuff that I can go back to and I’d only admit between you and I that at a certain stage I was very passionate about ‘Blood, Sweat & Tears’. It is interesting to go back and listen to stuff now and see if it sounds as good as I thought it did at the time. ‘Blood, Sweat & Tears’ now sounds appalling! If you put on ‘Bitches Brew’ (Miles Davis) now, it sounds pretty good. So, there are examples like that, ‘bad fashion’ things that you do in any era.”

“I’m sure among the stuff I’m listening to and liking now there’s some pretty horrible stuff. You’re going to ask me what?”

Yes. But Don isn’t telling.

I share with Don that I had recently played The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’ in the car for my kids to listen to because I think it’s one of those things that pre-dates my own record collection but still sounds wonderful. Indeed, ‘Pet Sounds’ was released in the year of my birth. So even if the lyrics are a bit cheesy, if something was beautifully recorded and produced does it redeem it somewhat for him?

“Well, you can’t dismiss something just because it has cheesy lyrics, any more than you can dismiss something because it has cheesy music. Often in those combinations there’s treasure.”

“But The Beach Boys, I never got it, or I never bothered. I think because when I was young, nobody in the banc could actually play – nobody could do a solo – and when I was 20 or 25 that was important. But I’ve been doing a lot of long car trips over the last few years and a couple of years ago I bought a ‘best of The Beach Boys’ and listened to it and started to wake up as to why so many of my musical friends are fanatical Beach Boys fans. Not so much musicians, but people in the music business, radio people and music journalists. I started to get it, to realise that this wasn’t just another pop group, there’s actually something unique and extraordinary that’s happened here and everyone else is just imitators. I kinda knew that, but I never got it myself. Now I do.”

Don Walker is perhaps best known as Cold Chisel’s main songwriter and through that band gave Australian rock music fans a new voice. With 40 years of songwriting under his belt, does the legacy of songs like Khe Sanh – released in 1978 – weigh on him?

“Well, it’s nice! There’s a good living in that kind of thing. But once songs like that go out and are adopted by people as part of that canon of what they like to listen to, then it becomes a little bit remote to me.”

“The last five years or so, occasionally, I’ve done Khe Sanh myself with just piano, but that sounds utterly different so I can kind of own that again. It becomes a story with some chords, but it doesn’t sound remotely like Jim (Barnes) and Cold Chisel on the radio because I can’t sing like that. I’m very proud of it. We were a bunch of young guys and we did some good stuff. It’s good that people like that and it holds up decades later, but it’s a little bit remote from my daily life.”

“I didn’t sing Khe Sanh originally. I just wrote it and showed it to the other guys in the band. Jim’s been singing it as an integral part of what he does live, but not me. Neither are any other Cold Chisel songs. It’s just in the last few years I started doing this other piano version of it. I wasn’t avoiding it in all that time, it’s just that it’s not something that sounds like what I do, and it’s not the way that I sound when I sing.”

“With such a song that’s as widely loved as that, if I get up and sing it somebody might yell out, ‘That’s not how it goes!’ he laughs, “The other thing is it’s gotta a lot of words and everybody else knows them better than I do so what if you get half way through and you get stuck?!”

In 2009, Don released his book ‘Shots’ – a collection of short autobiographical pieces. Reading ‘Shots’ reminded me of the way Leonard Cohen uses words, but Leonard Cohen makes me wonder just which words are lies.

“I don’t think songwriters lie, but they certainly make stuff up. Is that lying? It’s an essential part of songwriting.”

“Many years ago I was listening to someone do an interview with Paul Kelly, and they were digging in way beyond, ‘What comes first, mate, the lyrics or the music?’, they were digging in to just what happens and how do you come up with lyrics,”

“Paul said, ‘I make stuff up.’ I burst out laughing, I thought that was brilliant. Of course, you make stuff up. Is that lying? Yes, definitely. Sometimes it can tip over if you pretend it’s the truth. So if me or Laughing Lenny write something that is not fiction but purporting to be a factual account, but that tips over into something that didn’t actually happen, well … you’re on the edge.”

Where does Don Walker place the Canadian wordsmith, Leonard Cohen?

“The big attraction for Leonard Cohen, and like The Beach Boys I’ve become a Leonard Cohen fan late in life – never took much notice of him before the last five or ten years but the big attraction is his humour. I don’t think anything has got much legs if it hasn’t got humour. You can look around and look at all the recording artists in history and divide the ones who have humour from the ones who don’t. And that’s a pretty profound thing, that really sorts them out, and Leonard Cohen is one of the funniest people out there, and one of the driest in his lyrics. And that’s why now, late in life, I buy every Leonard Cohen album.”

Jimmy Barnes, of course, has deflected a lot of the heat of Cold Chisel’s success from the rest of the band, but after Chisel disbanded Don Walker has put himself up front.

“It’s never all about me, even when you’re up there in front of a band. It’s about the songs and the story. You’re trying to put that over and connect. You’re trying to whisper in the ear of everybody who’s listening, whether you’ve recorded something that’s being played on the radio or if you’re playing a big show and there’s thousands of people there. It’s just one person trying to communicate to one other, and in some situations there’s a lot of ‘one other’. It’s not about ‘you’, the person standing up there.”

“The fascist thing about it is that people can’t talk back,” laughs Don, “And for people in our position, the beautiful thing.”

I find it interesting to think about how songwriters see their own work given how precious it can sometimes become to others. To fans. To listeners. We listen, we love, we lose. We perhaps get married to the words in these songs. Live our lives through them. Die. We carry them with us and consider which of them we’d rescue from our burning house or take to a desert island. But how does the songwriter, the storyteller, see them?

Don chips me about just wanting to ask what his favourite song is, but I think it’s more complex than that and he concedes it’s difficult to answer.

“There’s a lot of stuff over the decades and I don’t think of them as valuable or otherwise. Although there’s a few things I’ve written that I would regard as ‘value-less’, but I’m not going name them. I admire people who use their songs to help people – that has value – but the songs I value most often have no correlation between how good a song is in my eyes and how well-known it is or how much money it’s made or anything like that. It’s not an inverse correlation either.”

“Probably one of the most – in my heart – beautiful songs I’ve ever written I wrote about 15 years ago – at the turn of the century! When I wrote it I thought, ‘This is going to be massive all over the world because it’s such a beautiful song’, and I wrote it about a personal situation but it was universal, it had what I thought was a beautiful melody, it was simple, and it had everything that I thought was good about songcraft. And yet, everybody who heard it in the publishing world acknowledged how good it was but I couldn’t get it recorded.”

“So that’s what I’d call one of the top five songs that I’m proud of and yet nobody knew about it for 13 years.”

“But Missy Higgins has just recorded it and done a stunning version of it (The Way You Are Tonight) and now people are hearing it. In the meantime, there’s a lot of other songs I’ve written that are enormously popular and have been all over the airwaves that I didn’t think were nearly as good.”

Don Walker is a storyteller, but are there stories he hasn’t been able to get out yet?

“Yes, yes there are. There are things like that that have hung around in the back of my head for a long time, but they’re difficult to describe because describing them will be in the song or in the prose writing and I haven’t figured out a way of doing that yet. Where they live now is in pictures and movies and landscapes and feelings and maybe a few scraps of words.”

How does he know when the song is done. When the words are finished. When to stop and leave it alone.

“You just know. It’s like a big bell goes off. ‘This is right now.’ And it’s something that is the same with a piece of prose writing. I can’t explain that but I utterly know when something’s right. At the same time, the reverse side of that is that you utterly know when something is not right. But knowing it’s not right doesn’t mean that you know how to get to where the bell goes off. I’ve put things out without waiting for the bell to go off, when they’re not quite right but good enough.”

Will he tell me what they are?

“No. But there’s an internal thing that defies all logic. Surely, all of these things are subjective. What is right to one person is not right to another, but there is something in me – and I know it exists in others – where it’s not a subjective thing, there’s an utter certainty when something is right. And a nagging, cold dissatisfaction and itch when it’s not.”

Meanwhile, after a 40-year career in the music industry, Don Walker is still touring larger shows with a full band, and smaller intimate shows to just a few dozen people.

“The beauty of doing things like that is to deliberately put myself in a situation where I didn’t know if I could pull it off and I had to do some work. I had to do a lot of preparation and figure out a lot of things I hadn’t had to figure out before to make a show of that length work with just me and the piano.”

I suggest that to do so is gutsy.

“It’s not so much the size of the audience. It doesn’t really matter. It’s what’s going on onstage. In that situation I have no band and nothing to hide behind. So I have to make it work with those few tools. That’s confronting. I did a night in Nundle and it worked. The night I did in Mayfield, the first set didn’t work. I just couldn’t make it work. The second set worked and everybody got it and we all had a good time.”

“I’m hoping that they didn’t feel like it was a waste of their time. That they’re thinking, ‘That was a worthwhile thing to do’. That’s what I’m wishing and hoping for. People’s time and attention is valuable and if you’re going to use it up you’ve got to do something worthwhile, make it work, and try and figure out a way of transporting them into the stories. Sometimes you don’t manage that and if you don’t manage that, well that’s a failure and instead of transporting them somewhere, you’ve seat-belted them into a dark little room for an hour when they could have been enjoying themselves.”

When all is said and done, what does Don Walker feel he’s gotten right?

“The things that I’ve done right have nothing to do with music because they’re far more fundamental things than that, and they’re not public things. There haven’t been many of them and there’s a lot of things I’ve done wrong. But they’re the things in the end.”

“While I’ve been doing this interview, I’ve got a call from my daughter. It’s in that world where you really succeed or fail. If there’s a couple of things I like myself for, it’s in that world.”

And with that, I encourage Don Walker to go and call his daughter.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInEmailSina WeiboWordPressBuffer

Being a Muslim woman in Newcastle

After a recent visit to Newcastle’s Mosque I was invited to take my family to the Newcastle Eid al-Adha celebrations. I took the opportunity to try and bust a few myths about being a Muslim woman by asking a group of them to tell their own stories over vast quantities of cakes and sweets.

Diana Rah is the vice-president of the Newcastle Muslim Association and I joined her along with a small circle of Muslim women as she explained the celebrations underway at the University of Newcastle.

“We have two Eids each year; one is Eid al-Fitr and that’s the celebration at the end of the fasting month of Ramandan, and we have this second celebration which is Eid al-Adha, this is a time that Muslims perform the Hajj pilgrimage, the pilgrimage to Mecca.”

“As Muslims, and you can see that we’re from so many different cultural backgrounds, our God is the God of all and we send, on this day especially, our best wishes to everyone from every race culture and religion.”

The group of women gathered to chat on this warm Saturday look like a tiny United Nations. Diana points out that there are 28 countries represented among the families busy with barbeques, conversations and children swarming over the jumping castle.

This small group of women, amongst other things, includes a dentist, a science student and a fitness instructor.

There are many questions I want to ask them, but firstly I want to know how they feel in the Newcastle community, given the broad discussion of all things Muslim at the moment – and not much of it positive.

Despeana has lived in the Hunter all of her life, and is not a Muslim by birth, or marriage.

“Newcastle has always been a lovely place to live in, I’ve noticed that some of the sisters have mentioned to me that they’re a little bit concerned about stepping out on their own.”

“I came into Islam as a choice, prior to finding out about Islam in 2002 I had no idea who Muslims were. I became involved with the Muslim community and discovered what beautiful people they are and I became one of them because of the love I felt here.”

“I don’t see what all the hype is about, I don’t understand it, but now we, and me myself are in a position that we feel threatened.”

Avelina doesn’t actually wear a veil, “I don’t normally wear a veil, my husband would like me to I’m sure but he’s happy with me to not wear a veil. It’s up to me 100 percent and he supports that decision.”

Avelina says when she has worn hijab in public she has always felt safe and hasn’t experienced any problems, but she does say she notices how people behave when she is out in public with her mother-in-law who does wear hijab, “When I walk with my mother-in-law who wears a hijab I often see people – she doesn’t notice, I notice – if anyone was to approach I would definitely say something.”

“I think people just need to realise it’s (hijab) part of who we are and whether we wear it or not it doesn’t make us any different.”

Avelina is a fitness instructor who works in women’s gyms and with children in schools and relates what is probably a common experience.

“I was actually in the gym doing my own workout and waiting for the class to start when the lady next to me commented on the stories in the news, “It’s terrible what’s happening with these terrorists around our country,” she said. I asked what she meant and she said, “These Muslims, they’re taking over and the women are wearing burqas and they’re scary and they frighten me.”

I said, “I’m a Muslim, do I frighten you?’ and she said, ‘No, I don’t mean you, I mean like those other Muslims!’ I explained to her that we’re all the same, that we might wear hijab or burqa and that I don’t but that we’re no different. She was shocked.”

There has been a prominent social media campaign over the last week or so called #WISH – Women in Solidarity with Hijabis – in which non-Muslim women are sharing photos of themselves wearing hijab.

There has also been some criticism of #WISH so I sought the opinion of the Muslim women I had in front of me – what do they think of it, is it offensive?

Unanimously the women assured me that it wasn’t seen as offensive. Indeed Diana Rah thinks women are doing an excellent job with #WISH, “No-one in our community is offended by it, we actually feel very supported by it and we love them for it.”

Dalia agrees, “I believe this is very supportive, you should try it yourself and see how the Muslim woman feels.” I assured her I did on my visit to Newcastle’s Mosque a week ago but that I got hot and sweaty.

Dalia says women at her gym often express concern about her being too hot, but she laughs, “I’m used to it! They keep telling me, ‘You must be very hot’, and I understand but when you’ve been wearing it for years you get used to it.”

Gym instructor, Avelina, “I can’t imagine (wearing it at the gym). I get so sweaty and so hot, even my hair I wish I could cut it all off let alone wear a scarf! I admire every woman who wears a scarf, their faces just glow and they look so beautiful, it’s admirable.”

Farida has come to Newcastle from Cape Town but is originally from Burundi in Central Africa, “I left my country 15 years ago because of the war but I just arrived in Newcastle two years ago.”

Generally the women I spoke with have had mostly good experiences of being Muslim women as members of a minority. Diana Rah says it’s only recently that problems have occurred.

“So far in Newcastle we’ve had a very good relationship with the wider community and we haven’t really ever had these problems that have happened in the last couple of months. I think that they’ve seen that in Newcastle and they do feel safe here but I think there are isolated instances of abuse like verbal abuse and the odd finger (gesture) here and there.”

Farida is concerned that this may change in the current environment, “I hope and we pray very hard that the government must find a solution to see how they’re going to protect the country because Australia is a peace(ful) country. We have the right to choose any religion we want and to wear what we want.”

Dalia has found the recent media discussion of what Muslim women wear to be shocking, “What I’ve known is that Australia is a free country and they support women and I know that the government usually supports women rights. So the idea of discussing what to wear is not what I expected. I wear hijab because I’m a Muslim lady and this is what I believe in. I believe that a women should cover her hair and it shouldn’t be seen by strangers.”

It is often claimed that Muslim women who wear a veil are oppressed. Despeana begs to differ, “No. We are not oppressed. It was my decision to wear the veil. Yes, I decided to become a Muslim in 2002, I wasn’t married at the time, my husband didn’t have a say (in it) – nobody’s pushing me to do this, it was my choice. Yes, it was a bit difficult becoming accustomed to it after being a non-Muslim and not wearing one, but I believe Allah gave me the strength and I just want to please my God. No-one is forcing me to do anything.”

Diana Rah agrees, “There is no compulsion in our religion and wearing a hijab is entirely a woman’s choice. There’s a huge misconception put out by the media and others to say that a women is forced to cover her head by her husband, by her son, her father, whoever, but this is entirely our choice.”

“I had an incident in Beaumont Street last week when we were stopped by two men who wanted to teach us about Christianity. He was very loud and overpowering, very tall and wanted to tell us what he thought about his religion. We accept that because we believe everybody has the right to converse and exchange ideas. But we need to respect each others opinions without becoming angry. He disagreed with something I put forward and then he refused to speak to me further. There is no need to be aggressive. But we need to converse and learn from one another. He was looking to agitate me but I walked away.”

What I have taken away from spending the morning with these women is that, for them, wearing hijab is simply an act of faith – the same as a Christian may choose to wear a crucifix or other religious icon.

If you want to know what a Muslim woman thinks – just ask one!

There is a national Mosque Open Day coming up around Australia on October 25, however the Newcastle Muslim Association will be opening their mosque to the public on Sunday 19 October so as to not clash with state government by-elections in Newcastle and Charlestown.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInEmailSina WeiboWordPressBuffer

Megan Washington

Carol Duncan - Australian broadcaster and journalist
Megan Washington


Megan Washington says that ‘Skyline’, one of the tracks on her new album ‘There, There’ is about ‘choosing hope’.

“I think that’s a choice we have to make daily. Choosing happiness and choosing positivity is something that you have to make a priority. For me, it’s a daily thing.”

“That song was inspired a few years when I became very ill and woke up in hospital, figuring out how I felt in that moment and what it meant. Those moments can be extremely formulative? Is that a word? The highest of highs and the lowest of lows is when you galvanise your resolve to overcome things and that was one of mine.”

Whilst not new to the music industry it would be surprising if her audience hadn’t increased substantially after her appearance on ABC TV’s Australian Story and her frank discussion of growing up with a stutter. It was wonderful to watch the flood of support from many thousands of people sent to her via social media after the program aired.

“To be honest with you, I cried a lot after that. I watched the show – because I couldn’t not watch it – with some friends and we made a dinner and watched it.”

“Afterwards, the overwhelming – you used the word ‘flood’ – and I think that’s a great description of it, all these people … it wasn’t so much the goodwill that struck me, it was the resonance, the ‘me toos’, that I heard and I found really moving. I found it incredible that people could see some of themselves in what I had said.”

“You’ve got to understand, I don’t know any other version of life than my life. It isn’t like I never had a stutter and then I suddenly got one. This is how existence is. To see that brought so many other people together with each other, not so much with me, there was a real sense of us being on the same side, the same team. It’s great.”

“I think it’s universal. When I meet anybody the first thing they want to do is tell you their story. People like to tell each other who they are. It’s not surprising to me when people do this and drop the act, stop acting out their role.”

The shortest song on Megan Washington’s new album was written in just a few minutes and she says she had the aim of trying to describe a sensation.

“There must be a word for that like ‘onomatopoeiac’ but that describes the sensation, the sound reflects the sensation. There must a word for it, a German word!”

“I wanted to write a song about falling in love that was less about falling in ‘lurve’ than literally FALLING in love, falling down the stairs or something. The dizziness or giddyness that comes with that. That was the plan. It is the shortest song I’ve ever written.”

Megan Washington’s new album ‘There, there’ is out now and is our 1233 ABC Newcastle Album of the Week.

You can hear Carol Duncan’s full interview with Megan Washington in the audio attached.

If you missed Megan’s exceptional TedX talk, the link is here.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInEmailSina WeiboWordPressBuffer

Eddi Reader on Scottish Independence

Scottish musician Eddi Reader has spent decades travelling the world after leaving Scotland for England at just 18 years of age. Having been back in Scotland now for the last 13 years, Eddi says she’s had to make the effort to learn about what the deal that created the United Kingdom actually means for Scottish people. And she says it’s a dud deal.

“It’s quite a massive control of your life. You pay your tax and it all goes 600 miles away and someone else decides what to do with it. I lived in England for 28 years and I lived in Scotland until I was 18 and then came home just 13 years ago, so I’ve really had to get to know this place again. What really struck me was the terms of the deal – I didn’t realise that we weren’t equal. I’ve been voting for Labour or left-wing parties all my life because that’s what my family voted for, I just continued to do that. But what I discovered is that it doesn’t affect what gets in or out of parliament in London.”

Scotland matters to a lot of Australians. The 2011 Census showed that 130,000 Australian residents were born in Scotland and there another 1.7million with Scottish ancestry.

“I think there’s a lot of affection for Scotland and it’s clear to me in my travels is a real affection for Scottish people. I noticed in Australia recently that people feel a real connection to Scotland, every time I opened my mouth people wanted to ask me about it because they perhaps have a grandparent from Scotland. I was very touched by that.”

“But I think a lot of people have been unaware of the terms of the union, the contract. I myself wasn’t aware, so I think this debate that really took off a couple of years ago has actually made a lot of Scottish people ask the question, ‘What is the terms of the contract and why don’t we know that?”

“Most Scots are incredibly generous and most Scots want a union. I believe in a union. I am committed to unity, generosity and sharing, but there’s no sharing going on in this deal. Scotland receives a grant. For every public service pound spent by the government voted into westminster England gets 85 pence, Scotland gets 10 pence and Wales gets 5 pence.”

“The parliamentary union, as our democracy has grown, as women got the vote, as people who were not rich became people who could vote – nobody ever reassessed what the deal was so we’ve been living in this blind association which has caused frustration, resentment, blame and actual division – if Scotland is allowed to have the government it chooses, and spend its money the way it chooses, then I think we can create alliances with England which are much more solid and real. A true relationship is people that compromise with each other, this union we have isn’t really a union.”

Eddi Reader has been very vocal about her support for a YES vote for the referendum, but has been strongly criticised for doing so.

“I couldn’t believe it! When we were asked to make a democratic choice, I thought it was just a case of analysing what the deal was – it’s either yes or no. It was my duty to look at the deal and make a decision. I realised that I was falling down on the side that says ‘yes’ because I want my children to be confident, I don’t want them to leave like I did when I was 18. When I left at 18 there was no record industry in Scotland, there was no big publishing company – but now we’ve got amazing art. There are young people out there who know more about Scottish culture than I was taught. So there’s a confident nation happening here.”

“As soon as I said I was taking the YES position there was a headline in The Scotsman saying that my family were associated with the IRA. I was also told that in the House Of Lords, in the Hansard minutes, a Lord said that ‘if we had an independent it would be full of people like Eddi Reader murdering Robert Burns songs. Now I don’t mind if people don’t like my music but to stand in a public forum and attack my livelihood – I was getting a kicking by people who are very powerful. This is a powerful force that are against people making a democratic choice – it’s not like having 200 people on Twitter saying, ‘your music is rubbish’.”

“We have 59 MPs (out of 650), then there’s the additional layer of the House of Lords. There are about 775 of them, NONE of them elected. ALL of them appointed. So that means we have 4% voting power in the Westminster parliament.”

Eddi hopes that the rest of the world is bearing witness to Scotland as the referendum nears, “We’re a grassroots people. I’m an ordinary citizen making a democratic choice. I’ve been called a Nazi. I’ve been called a nationalist and I don’t even care about tartan! I just want to live in country where my vote counts.”

“There are a lot of scare tactics at the moment. Apparently people over the age of 75 have been told to stockpile food because they won’t get their pensions! We’ve been told all the banks are going to move out of Scotland, the businesses are going to move out of Scotland.”

“There are some people who have been really scared. But I’m not scared because of pragmatism. Finland is the same size as us, doesn’t have oil, and is doing fine. I just don’t understand why they think everyone is going to stop working if we vote YES. I’m still going to pay tax. I’m still going to do tours. My neighbours are still going to work. Why do they think Scotland can’t run an economy?”

“Scots in their voting patterns have voted for far more left-wing policies than they’ve ever been allowed to have but people say, ‘How are you going to pay for it?’ Well, the same way anyone else does.”

“My only worry is that if it’s a very narrow majority for YES, every single one of us will need to make sure we don’t get ripped off.”

Does Eddi think the referendum will be successful?

“I don’t know, I only have my one vote, but it can be powerful. I think that for people who vote NO, a lot of it will be because they’ve been scared.”

FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInEmailSina WeiboWordPressBuffer

Fat is flavour

Jennifer McLagan says she grew up eating fat and never realised it was supposed to be bad for her, “We bought lard from the butcher’s store and I think it was through the 1970s in Australia that it started to change. In the US, people were trying to find out why heart disease was increasing and all of a sudden something we’d been eating from the beginning of time became ‘bad’ for us. If they’d been right we should now all be very healthy and fit and heart disease should have disappeared, but it’s not like that.”

Growing up in Australia, Jennifer is now based in Toronto, Canada, and says the manipulation of foods to make them ‘lite’ in itself creates a problem, “Once you take the fat out, you have to put something back in because fat carries flavour – fat is flavour. When fat is taken out it’s usually replaced with sugars, they replace the fats with carbohydrates. Replacing expensive animal fats with cheap vegetable oils only benefits industrial food manufacturers.”

Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma has said, ‘Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food’, and while Jennifer McLagan agrees with that statement, she says it’s not quite that simple.

“My grandmother didn’t eat starfruit, or ginger, and hardly any garlic so I think we have to be a little careful of that, but I agree with him that if we’re shopping at the supermarket we should be shopping around the outside where the fruit and vegetables are. The yam and the sweet potato doesn’t have a sign on it saying it’s fat-free or gluten-free. Science doesn’t have all the answers and when it comes to diet it’s very complex and complicated and each one of us is our own organism and what we eat will react differently with our bodies.”

Why does fat contain flavour? Jennifer says there are a lot of things that can only be carried by fat-volatile oils, “It’s also a way to deliver vitamins, a lot of our vitamins are only fat-soluble so when people buy skim milk or 0% milk – which isn’t milk at all – and it’s got added vitamins A and D, they’re fat-soluble vitamins. You need fat for your body to be able to take them in! What’s wrong with whole milk? I grew up with milk that had cream on the top of the bottle and it’s only 3.8% fat – it’s not like it’s a huge amount of fat and it’s very good for you. Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. Fat is wonderfully satisfying, so if you eat something with a good amount of fat in it you get pretty full and you don’t have a second or fourth piece of pork belly, but those fat-free cookies? You could eat a whole package!”

Jennifer McLagan has released several fascinating books about food – ‘Fat’ is just one, there is also ‘Odd Bits’ and ‘Bone’, so where does her fascination with the bits that are often considered waste in a Western diet come from?

“I grew up with split pea and ham bone soup, Irish stew, brains and bacon, we ate ox tail. These were the foods of my childhood and they were delicious. I worked in North America as a food stylist for a long time and everything was boneless, tasteless chicken breast and it was driving me crazy. Why aren’t we eating the bone? Why are we throwing the best part of the animal away and thinking the lean fillet is delicious when it isn’t. I went on a quest to bring that back, to try to convince people that these were the most delicious parts of the animal to eat. Organ meats are full of vitamins and minerals and people are scared of them but they’re absolutely delicious.”

“It isn’t that far back that we were eating all those things but with industrial farming meat became very cheap so we could all eat steak all the time and thought it was better, but it isn’t. It’s much more interesting to eat heart and lung and liver and ox tail and there’s lots of ways of cooking them and eating them.”

“It’s interesting how we now see them as second-rate cuts when we should see them as the prime cuts.”

Jennifer points out that fats are not equal. Pork, for example, is unsaturated fat.

“Everyone thinks animal fats are saturated fats. But there’s saturated and unsaturated – unsaturated you can break down into polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat. Every fat is a mixture of those things.”

“In something like pork fat there is more unsaturated fat than saturated. Any fat that sits at room temperature and gets soft or more liquid – the more unsaturated it is. I never cook anything in vegetable oil. I cook with olive oil, which comes from a fruit, and I like to cook with animal fat because I like to cook beef in beef fat, chicken in chickent fat, and I like to carry that flavour through. I like to work with a fat that I can smell and see if it’s rancid or not, with a vegetable oil I have no idea if it’s rancid. You don’t want to put rancid fat in your body.”

FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInEmailSina WeiboWordPressBuffer