Outsourcing danger: the freelancer’s war Reply

by Miriam Alveberg 

In Mortal Danger cover

As many journalism graduates decide to start work as freelancers, some will pursue international reporting to get their break into the industry. What awaits them may be confusing and dangerous. Since freelancers are not always fully prepared and briefed like journalists working for media organisations, being safe in hostile places is in their own hands. The world of freelancing in conflict zones can be a professional war of their own.

The year was 1975. Malcolm Fraser replaced Billy Snedden as leader of the Liberal Party of Australia; the Australian Embassy in South Vietnam was closed and staff evacuated prior to the fall of Saigon; Medibank was introduced; Papua New Guinea gained its independence from Australia; the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, dismissed the government of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser is installed as caretaker Prime Minister. And Indonesia started military incursions into East Timor. Tony Maniaty was there, on assignment for the ABC in Balibo, East Timor.

“I was 26, I’d never been anywhere near a war zone,” he says.

The assignment was supposed to be nothing out of the ordinary. East Timor, which had been a Portuguese colony up until then, was struggling towards independence. While there was conflict in the country, the assignment was not regarded as a particularly risky job. But when the Indonesians invaded, it suddenly became a very dangerous place. Few anticipated that the outcome would be so tragic and the danger so great. For a journalist who had worked several years both in Brisbane and London, Tony Maniaty found Balibo turned out to be something completely different.

Without training, or even a briefing of what to do if something happened, he and his news crew were very vulnerable.

“We really had no idea of what we were getting into. We had no preparation. I flew into East Timor in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and I took a copy of Moby Dick and a Swiss Army knife. We had no medical supplies, no radios, nothing.” More…

My week with domestic violence Reply

Saying ‘No More’ to domestic violence. Image  by Tom Eytan used under Creative Common licence.

Saying ‘No More’ to domestic violence. Image
by Tom Eytan used under Creative Common licence.

This is a story about seven individuals. They are the people behind the faceless facts, the women who form the statistics, the Australians who are standing up to say that one woman a week is one woman a week too many. KATE THORBURN spent a day with each person learning about who they are, what they do and listening to the stories they had to tell. These seven stories form one week– her week with domestic violence.

They call it DV. Two defiant clunky letters. They suit it. There’s almost an element of onomatopoeia in their pronunciation – the soft D curving into the sharp V, like the movement of a fist into a face. It’s a twisting shape shifter of a thing, a beast of indiscriminate forms. It is an act of discrimination yet it itself does not discriminate. There is no perfect victim, just victims. Any age, any gender, anywhere. Any one can experience domestic violence because domestic violence doesn’t depend on who you are; it depends on who your partner is.

This is a story about seven individuals. They are the people behind the faceless facts, the women who form the statistics, the Australians who are standing up to say that one woman a week is one woman a week too many.

Falling under the umbrella of family violence, domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, is the most commonly used term to refer to an abusive relationship that exists between two people. It is rampant at all levels of our society and has been for a long time. Even if you’re in the lucky minority of Australians – in that you’ve never experienced domestic violence or known anyone who has – it doesn’t take long to find.

Typically domestic violence invokes images of a heterosexual partnership but DV rears its head in every type of relationship under the sun – gay, straight, de facto, siblings, parents – and within each pairing there is a smorgasbord of different types of violence – emotional, financial, physical, psychological, sexual. Like the winning line in a bingo game, the combinations are endless. More…

The Buddhist experience in Australia Reply

by Tom Richardson

An aquatint, ‘Buddha’, created by Brett Whiteley in 1977

An aquatint, ‘Buddha’, created by Brett Whiteley in 1977

“We’re moving away from the view of Buddhism as alien and foreign to our senses. In the future I think it will integrate further into life here, like cricket and swimming,” says Venerable Varapanno. He’s an ex-Wall Street executive and rock band member who took a radical change of direction to become one of the nation’s most respected Australian-born Buddhist monks.

It wasn’t always so. The Banyan trees in Australia’s far north represent a slice of early Buddhist history in Australia that is little reported. Early Chinese and Sri Lankan Buddhist immigrants planted these cyclone-proof giants hundreds of years ago to acknowledge their spiritual homelands. One such tree reputedly stood in Darwin city centre for over 100 years, providing the community with a shaded place to gather in respite from the heat of the day. It was chopped down just before Christmas 2013, apparently incompatible with a proposed new car park. Some protested but Darwin Council said it was unable to act as the tree was on private land.

Still the early Buddhist immigrants’ legacy has now stretched far beyond its northerly roots to become the nation’s second most popular religion, largely the result of immigration from South-East Asia.

In fact, between 1996 and 2006, the Buddhist population almost doubled. In the 2011 census over half-a-million people or approximately two-and-half per cent of the population recorded themselves as Buddhist.

Buddhism started to develop rapidly as a movement when it helped settle economically-poor Asian migrant communities throughout the second half of the twentieth century. The establishment of Buddhist community centres and temples became a focal point of the new communities and their development across suburban Australia.

The movement has evolved on an organisational basis through the formation of the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils (FABC) and its regional state members. These are organisations designed to serve as ecumenical bodies for Australian Buddhism.

Brian White has been head of the Buddhist Council of New South Wales (BCNSW) for the last eight years and is responsible for Buddhism’s community development. “A Dharma community with open arms became my vision; Dharma meaning it’s driven by the teachings, and community as we must be inclusive of all traditions and people.” More…

Anita Heiss: an advocate for Indigenous literature Reply

by Emma Froggatt

Anita Heiss Lori Parish by Emma Froggatt -(1)

Anita Heiss (right) and Lori Parish, manager of Indigenous Student Services at Jumbunna, celebrate NAIDOC Week. Image: Emma Froggatt

Writing Indigenous issues into the forefront of Australian and literary culture is what’s on the agenda for writer and social commentator Dr Anita Heiss, the guest speaker at the Women@UTS event marking NAIDOC Week 2014.

A prolific author of non-fiction, historical fiction, poetry, travel writing and women’s fiction, Dr Heiss combines her passion for indigenous literacy, rights and reconciliation with her work in the literary and academic field.

An adjunct professor at Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, at the University of Technology, Sydney, she is an advocate for Indigenous literature.

She said NAIDOC Week is about celebrating and showcasing all that is wonderful, successful and joyful in the Indigenous community over a week.

“It’s a way of engaging non-Indigenous Australians in non-confrontational and non-challenging ways. And showing them how we contribute everyday to Australian society.”

Engaging the attention of non-Indigenous Australians is already something Dr Heiss does, having written 13 books on a range of topics from her home in “upper Matraville.”

Speaking about her latest book Tiddas, she said she was inspired to write about women “just like herself”.

“I was reading fantastic literature by the likes of Debra Adelaide, Kathryn Heyman, Rosie Scott…fantastic Australian authors with strong social justice platforms…but I never saw women like me on the page. I never saw women, the women I went to university with, the women who are now deputy commissioners of public service commissions, who are now running law firms, or governing indigenous bodies.”

Despite the large number of Indigenous people in living in urban centres, Anita Heiss said one would never know it from reading Australian literature or reading the newspaper.

“So I wanted to put us on the Australian literary landscape in a completely different way,” she said. More…

Composer uses birdsong as inspiration Reply

by Katrina Lezaic

Hollis Taylor: inspired by the song of the Pied Butcherbird

Hollis Taylor: inspired by the song of the Pied Butcherbird

Musician and zoomusicologist Dr Hollis Taylor has spent every spring for the last eight years living the life of a nomad in pursuit of the melodious song of the Australian Pied Butcherbird.

These mid-sized black and white songbirds, which are found across much of the Australian mainland, are a source of inspiration for Dr Taylor, who spends four months of the year sleeping in her car while observing and recording their vocalisations before re-composing the intricate melodies for her own musical performances.

Following a 30-year career as a string musician, Dr Taylor now performs her re-compositions on violin against a backdrop of original field-recordings featuring various birds, insects and mammals – including people – to create an authentic experience of the musicality of the Australian bush.

Her concert, ‘The Music of Nature and the Nature of Music’ which premiered at Violinale 2009 in Berlin, aims to celebrate birdsong in its most original form, free of interpretation.

“I am often dissatisfied when I try to put my creative hand in it too much,” Dr Taylor says. “I go back and listen to the birds and think, you know, they work with the material all year round. They know exactly what to do with it and they are already improvising with it. They’re like minimalist composers snapping together and recombining phrases in all kinds of fascinating ways. So for me to try and get clever is usually to fail.”

As a zoomusicologist, Dr Taylor uses her musical background to analyse the functionality of these complex songs, which she believes transcend biological requirements to bring into question the presence of an aesthetic awareness in animals.

“I had this epiphany in 2001 when I was in the outback in WA and I heard three Pied Butcherbirds singing a trio, and I didn’t know birds sang trios,” Dr Taylor says.

“It was such a glorious, clear flute-like sound and I was really enchanted. I knew there was something there and it wasn’t just to do with tone. I realised that these birds have a musical mind.”

According to ornithologist and member of Follow That Bird, Tiffany Mason, the Pied Butcherbird is a fantastic mimic and changes its song almost on a yearly basis. More…

Extreme hoarding: anatomy of an illness Reply

by Julian Goldschmidt

Hoarding is an issue when it starts to impact on a person’s safety or the safety of others.  Image courtesy of the television show, Hoarding: Buried Alive.

Hoarding is an issue when it starts to impact on a person’s safety or the safety of others.
Image courtesy of the television show, Hoarding: Buried Alive.

Mary Bobolas and her two daughters live in Bondi. Their home has pulling power, which, according to one resident, generates more public interest than Sculptures by the Sea. But far from attracting art lovers, the passing foot traffic and cars slowing to a crawl are the unwanted result of Mrs Bobolas’ extreme hoarding.

Waverly Council recently removed tonnes of rubbish from the property. The accumulated items, which reached the eaves and spilled over the low front fence, were taken to a tip in Alexandria to the distress of Mrs Bobolas. But it’s a temporary solution at best, the 14th such clean-up going back 30 years. The Council estimates the cost of repeated clean-ups and legal fees over three decades to be $365,000.

But is the cycle of hoarding, followed by the big clean-up, simply destined to be repeated? Arthur Kyron, Waverley Council’s General Manager, says, “We are attempting to engage various organisations to prepare ways to support the family and address the hoarding behaviour.”

One of the organisations is Catholic Care’s Hoarding and Squalor Intervention Program. According to Mercy Splitt, the program’s senior coordinator, “The big clean-up is not always successful. People don’t accept help because they don’t see there’s a problem. If a person is non-cooperative, there is no intervention. You can’t force anybody to accept support.

“People can hoard anything and everything. There are people who hoard bodily fluids. There’s old food that’s completely liquefied. Clients will say ‘I’m not going to eat it’, but it’s an inability to let it go. There’s animal hoarding – people with 150 cats – that comes from an unfulfilled need to nurture.” More…

Breaking down barriers for Gen Y Reply

by Blake Sharp-Wiggins

Most young people don’t seek help; they just want to be normal like their friends. Photograph by Dick Vos, used under Creative Commons licence

Most young people don’t seek help; they just want to be normal like their friends. Photograph by Dick Vos, used under Creative Commons licence

Recent studies by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that suicide is now the highest cause of death among Generation Y. The ABS recorded a total of 214 males and 110 females between the ages of 15 and 24 committed suicide in 2012. The ABS also shows that from 2008 to 2012, Queensland had the highest rate of youth suicides and that young Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders are almost five times more likely to take their lives. While the rate of suicide has decreased slightly over time, the statistics indicate the rate is has reached a plateau rather than a decline.

According to Martin Pearce, psychologist and family therapist at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance, Generation Y has high expectations placed on them by older generations as well as themselves but are often thought of as lazy, needy, materialistic and narcissistic.

“There’s this obsession with narcissism and the ‘selfie’ combined with the feeling that they aren’t what other people would like them to be. So they either diet on fad diets or guys who go to the gym might take steroids in order to look good. They’re caught between opposing forces: in one way be yourself, but be like everyone else,” Mr Pearce says.

But are these expectations a contributing factor to young Australians taking their lives? Brian Graetz, general manager of research at Beyond Blue, a national organisation raising awareness of anxiety and depression, says, “The number of options they have to consider, and their choices in life, are so numerous that it actually makes life pretty difficult. Their expectations of success are much higher than what older generations were.

“Success is pretty clearly defined in the media and gives them a fairly homogenous view ­– it is money, fame and glamour. It is certainly different from what it was for previous generations and I think they’ve got inherently difficult challenges which are probably quite unique in a historical sense,” he says. More…

Hip-hop star paints for pleasure at Bondi       Reply

by Julian Goldschmidt

Chali 2NA is famous for his two passions: hip-hop and street art

Chali 2NA is famous for his two passions: hip-hop and street art

Internationally renowned hip-hop artist Chali 2NA likes to paint, especially street art. “I could do this all day long,” he says, as he colours the beak of a puffin on the sea wall at Bondi Beach. Currently on a world tour with his band Jurassic 5, Chali says that creating street art, “It brings me back to my childhood. As a kid, I used to draw all the time.” Chali says his fascination for street art came long before his career as a rapper and hip-hop artist, although from an early age he saw painting as a way into the music world. However these days he doesn’t paint very often at home in Los Angeles.

“One of the things that got me into hip-hop, was this,” he says, rattling his can of spray paint. Chali grew up in Chicago and was around when hip-hop first started. He witnessed the birth of house music, although he was too young to understand what was going on, or take part in the sex or drug scene. Chali says that house music started in a Chicago club called The Warehouse, which only played that kind of music. Eventually, The Warehouse got shortened to just House, and a name was given to a new musical genre.

Chali, who has continued to build his network of friends in Australia since his first visit in 2004, let his friends know he wanted to paint while he was here. The message got through to local street artist Darren Stockwell who was happy to help out by sharing his section of the beach wall.

Street art is Darren’s passion, and he likes painting at Bondi because of the exposure. “Here, the photos people take of the murals will go back to someone’s home in Europe or America,” he says. Darren says his introduction to street art was through watching movies about New York gangs painting on the subway.

Bondi’s sea wall is operated by Waverley Council as a legal venue for street art, and those wanting to paint there must apply to the Council. The sea wall is the only site in the local area where street art is permitted. The Council notes the distinction between graffiti and “approved street art”, and says that in 2013, it received 4,866 reports concerning graffiti.


Counting birds leads students to science Reply

by Erinna Ford

Lakemba Primary School students use four key features – size, colour, behaviour and location – to help identify different bird species.  Photograph: Erinna Ford.

Lakemba Primary School students use four key features – size, colour, behaviour and location – to help identify different bird species.
Photograph: Erinna Ford.

Birds in Schools, a new educational program run by Birdlife Australia, is teaching literacy and numeracy to primary school students through bird observation. The program encourages students in grades five and six to become citizen scientists, with the final data submitted to a nationwide Birdlife database.

The Birds in Schools program is currently being taught in 18 primary schools within the Sydney area and is structured across a full school year. It includes regular guidance from the Birdlife staff and volunteers, with the opportunity to share their findings with other participating schools.

Starting off with an excursion to the Birdlife Discovery Centre in Sydney Olympic Park, students are taught practical methods of observing birds and how to identify different species.

Given a list of common species and a bird field book, students are encouraged to utilise their problem solving skills in order to identify the correct bird. By comparing the size, colour, behaviour, and location of the bird to familiar species, they are able to narrow down their search.

Elizabeth Noble, the Birds in Schools Project Manager, says it’s often a case of reminding the students of what they already know. “So an eagle is probably going to be flying high in the sky, and ducks are probably going to be near water.”

This can still be difficult, according to one student, who says that some birds look too similar to tell apart, such as crows and ravens.

Compared to traditional rote learning, this style of active participation encourages students to search for the answer, says Lisa Rothwell, Assistant Principal at Lakemba Primary School. The chance for students to get outside of the classroom and apply their knowledge in a hands-on manner was one reason the school applied for the program, she says.

During a 20-minute observation, students record the species and abundance of birds within an area of their schools grounds. Surveys are repeated regularly throughout the year. The results are brought back to the classroom and integrated into the maths and science curriculum through data analysis and graphing. More…

Uncertain labour market may be an opportunity for young professionals Reply

by Richard Brandt

Time for young professionals to consider the opportunities presented by flexible working arrangements to supplement their uncertain incomes. Photograph by Quinn Anya, used under Creative Commons licence

Time for young professionals to consider the opportunities presented by flexible working arrangements to supplement their uncertain incomes. Photograph by Quinn Anya, used under Creative Commons licence

Insecure. Unstable. Precarious. These are words commonly used in headlines referring to the increasing casualisation of Australia’s workforce. Although the ANZ’s job ad survey reported rises in job advertisements in February and March this year, many of these jobs were not listed as full-time. Statistics show that around 30 per cent of the Australian workforce remains employed on a flexible basis and a further eight per cent is under-employed.

But while 900,000 under-worked Australians might represent a significant under-utilisation of human resources in the economy, it is the social and psychological costs which affects individuals.

Primary school teacher Jacob Butler, 28, worked exclusively as a casual teacher for three years before obtaining a year-long temporary contract at a public school. Despite having fairly consistent work during those three years, he says working casually was stressful and that even now his future remains uncertain.

“It was tough at times, not knowing where I was going to be each day or if the phone would even ring. I had to save for my holidays and lost earnings when I was sick. Having a contract at least gives me holiday and sick pay, but this position has a finish date and I will be effectively unemployed again unless something else comes up,” he says.

Mr Butler says being employed on a short-term basis makes it difficult to plan for the future, particularly when it comes to big decisions such as buying a home.

“I try not to get caught up in the fact I am not a permanent employee. But not knowing where I’ll be year to year, it definitely makes it hard to make plans,” he says.

Mr Butler’s thoughts on short-term work are echoed by others. Figures published by The Australian Bureau of Statistics report that 52 per cent of casual workers would prefer not to work on a casual basis.

But while the rhetoric surrounding the trend is generally negative, others are taking advantage of the opportunities presented by flexible working arrangements.

Accountant Daniel Lyons, 25, has used the trend towards flexible working arrangements to begin building his own business. He says this happened largely out of necessity when a job he took close to his Surry Hills home became part-time.

“I like the company I work for and was happy to stay on in a reduced capacity,” Mr Lyons says.

“Rent in Surry Hills isn’t cheap. Working part-time wasn’t going to support my lifestyle and there weren’t many positions advertised to fill the void. I talked about my situation with friends and before long I began bookkeeping for a few people who run small businesses.

“In time, they recommended me to other people they know and things have moved forward from there. I’ve gained a few reliable clients and built myself a reputation. Now, my part-time job pays my basic bills, while my own work supports my living expenses.”

In the resources industries, such as iron ore and gold mining, there has been a trend towards contracting labour for jobs, rather than hiring in-house staff due to fluctuations in commodity prices and the Australian dollar affecting income.

Electrical engineer Dean Stobie, 30, lost his job in December last year following a slowdown in the east coast’s aluminium and copper production industries. Although companies were laying off permanent staff, Mr Stobie quickly received several offers of contract work.

“I was used to a consistent weekly income, so at first I wasn’t keen on the idea of moving to a contract arrangement. But now that it has been a few months I am enjoying it. My average weekly earnings are a lot higher and I have control over my own tax and work-related expenses,” he says.

Mr Stobie points out another benefit of going independent: he is now able to market his skills to meet demand in a range of industries, diversifying his work opportunities.

“In my industry I companies contract work out more often because they can buy a labour supply as they need it, rather than bear the cost of full-time staff who are laid off in the down times and re-hired in the upswings.

“The best part for me is that now companies in other industries, such as water supply and waste management, are interested in my skills. I am not restricted solely to mining opportunities like I was with my old firm,” he says.

Despite economists’ and politicians’ well-documented cons to non-permanent working conditions there, is no evidence to suggest the increasing trend in non-permanent work will reverse soon. It might be time for Australians to adapt by adjusting their expectations and consider the opportunities presented by flexible working arrangements to supplement their uncertain incomes.