Indigenous people find solutions within themselves Reply

Shane Phillips Photograph: National Centre for Indigenous Excellence

Shane Phillips
Photograph: National Centre for Indigenous Excellence

by Elaine Duan Ye

“Here we are at Sydney University, speaking not about deficits but success, about the achievements of our people,” said Shane Phillips, Chief Executive Officer of the Tribal Warrior Association, who gave the Dr Charles Perkins AO Annual Memorial Oration, entitled ‘Youth in Our Community’, at the University on 17 October

In his speech, Mr Phillips emphasised the occasion was an opportunity to celebrate what Indigenous people can do, what they have done. “Looking back at our grandparents, we saw how hard they worked, we saw them struggling for almost nothing but they made sure we were fed and they made sure we were proud of who we were as people. And we are proud of them.”

The Oration was launched in 2001 by the University of Sydney in collaboration with the Koori Centre to commemorate the life-long achievements of Dr Perkins, the first Indigenous Australian graduate of The University of Sydney.  Each year, a leading spokesperson within the field of Indigenous and non-Indigenous race relations is invited to give the Oration.

Mr Phillips talked about the importance of fostering respect and responsibility among young Indigenous people and pointed to the success of the Tribal Warrior. He said that since its inception in 1998, the Tribal Warrior Association had trained “thousands” of young people as crew members on the Tribal Warrior ketch.

“At the present moment, many guys and a lot girls are offshore working with shipping companies. They are working for captains all over the place.” He said that was a simple truth and one that should be told to young people all the time, not only to Indigenous people but to all Australians. 

The Tribal Warrior Association was established by concerned Aboriginals to promote Aboriginal culture, and to provide economic and social stability. It offers quality training for employment skills, to train Aboriginal people to gain the Master Class V commercial maritime certificate and other qualifications including Radar certificate, and Marine Engineer certificate.

The training program on the Tribal Warrior is targeted at Aboriginal people, especially those of low income and with limited formal education although non-Indigenous Australians, Torres Strait Islanders and foreign students may also be included in order to foster reconciliation and understanding between cultures.

Mr Phillips said Indigenous people need to be involved in change, that “solutions have to come from within”. He said he has devoted himself to the job. “I work hard every day for them. We know we are not changing the world; we don’ have a solution for everything, but we know something we do have – we have a belief that we can make a difference, and each of us is valued.”

Dr Charles Perkins Photograph: Courtesy of the Perkins family and the Charlie Perkins Trust for Children & Students, and photographer Robert McFarlane 1963

Dr Charles Perkins
Photograph: Courtesy of the Perkins family and the Charlie Perkins Trust for Children & Students, and photographer Robert McFarlane 1963

Mr Phillips also praised “Uncle Charles” (Perkins) and other Indigenous people who he said “have done all the hard work”, people who had jobs of work in every industry. “They were the raw models, they set the pathways to change,” he said. 

He said Aboriginal people have seen change in the past, and they are seeing change now, and they are growing with it. “There are hundreds of Aboriginal doctors, Aboriginal poets, Aboriginal lawyers, great Aboriginal artists and Aboriginal business people, builders and academics.” 

Mr Phillips suggested that everyone should focus at the great things Aboriginal people have done, and look at the positives, and doing so, play a role in sustaining Indigenous people as great people.

At the end of the evening, the Dr Charles Perkins AO Memorial Prize was awarded to three Indigenous students who completed a Bachelor or Honours degree with outstanding results. The 2013 winners are: Todd Rowling, Bachelor of Engineering (Honours); Janelle Evans, Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours); and Emma Hicks, Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours). 

Creative gifts from the dilly bag Reply

Leah Purcell, Non-Fiction Writer in Residence at UTS

Leah Purcell, Non-Fiction Writer in Residence at UTS

by Jackie Keast

“I find it hard to describe myself as a writer as I’m still sort of learning the process, but apparently I am!” Leah Purcell says, with a laugh.

The audience laughs too, because while Leah may be best known as one of Australia’s leading actors, it’s her writing that has helped to pull the crowd to her recent lecture, ‘From Page to Stage, The Scouse, the Murri and my Dilly-Bag’, at the University of Technology, Sydney.

In a career spanning over 22 years, Leah’s never shied away from a challenge, bouncing from medium to medium and often juggling several at once: actor, singer, director and writer. This year, she has held the esteemed position as the Copyright Agency’s Non-Fiction Writer in Resident at UTS, a position she says she took on with some trepidation.

She says the education system scares her and that she was an average C-grade student at school. “I wasn’t very good with grammar, punctuation and I couldn’t spell. I still can’t spell.”

However, she’s pleased that she can now say that she’s taken it on. As part of her role she has mentored UTS’s creative writing and animation students to improve their story-telling techniques and find their “voice”.

“I’ve loved working with the young people and seeing their lights click on,” she says.Gif

Leah’s first foray into writing was in Grade 7 when she entered a competition that asked students to write about their neighbours. Leah described the Aboriginal family on one side, whose house was often her second home, and grumpy Mr Mullen on the other, a considerably less welcoming man who stabbed her netball with a pocketknife when he found it in his yard.

“I did the story and when I got it back there was red everywhere and a big “see me later” from the teacher,” she says. Used to running into trouble at school, Leah steeled herself to have to make an apology. Instead, the teacher sung her praises.

“I remember walking home feeling really proud, thinking ‘wow, I can do something’,” she says. She went on to win the competition and her story was published in the local newspaper.

It’s the stories of her life growing up in the small town of Murgon, Queensland that continue to inspire. Her opening slide in her lecture presentation is titled ‘Home is Where The Stories Begin’.

As a child, she recalls listening at the feet of the elders as they drank beer and told her of their lives. Some stories were of good times and some stories were of bad times, but they were always told with large servings of “blackfella” humour. At family barbecues, she’d take these stories and turn them into performances, directing her cousins to play the different roles.

“All my stories are based on fact and then creatively fictionalised for whatever medium I’m trying to put it in,” she says. “With Box the Pony, we told people it was ‘semi-autobiographical’. Well, there’s only one thing that’s a fib in it.”

Box The Pony was a one-woman stage play that put Leah Purcell on the map during the late 1990s. It opened at the Sydney Opera House to five standing ovations, before touring the world to critical acclaim. It was the story of three generations of women – Leah’s grandmother, who was a child of the Stolen Generation, her mother, and herself. Leah played 15 characters.

Co-writing with a white male, Scott Rankin, she describes an emotional writing process that at times better resembled therapy or confession.

“When you’re writing for theatre, it’s all about the truth of the story,” she says. “Ninety-nine point nine per cent of my paying audiences are going to be non-Indigenous. I want them to come and connect to the story and feel they are a part of it, although it’s coming from the eyes and the voice of an Indigenous woman.”

Black Chicks Talking was Leah’s next endeavour, a project that started as a book, expanded into a documentary and finally, a stage play. Having already told her own story, Leah sought to find the stories of other contemporary Indigenous women from all works of life. She found nine women with “mighty voices who need to be heard” and the process was no less emotionally difficult, with some interviews moving her to tears.

“I was very honest with the girls, because as a blackfella I don’t own these stories. I’m just the guardian, I’m the custodian they’ve trusted. So I had to keep going back to them to get their permission. I let them read it. My publishers nearly fell over when I said I’m going to let them read the book and have the final edit,” she says.

More recently in 2011, Leah wrote and starred in with the Sydney Belvoir Theatre stage adaption of Ruby Langton’s book Don’t Take Your Love To Town.

To the audience’s delight during her UTS lecture, Leah took the opportunity to give an insight into her adaptation process. She read an excerpt from the book, then acted out how the same scene was developed for the theatre, with added rhythm, transforming it into a monologue in a slam poetry style.

Having known Ruby personally, Leah explains that she put so much into the role that she became “spiritually sick” and for the time being has had to step away from it all. When Leah speaks of Ruby’s story, it’s as clear it has developed as much personal meaning to Leah as any of her other stories. She knows she will come back to Ruby’s story eventually, with hopes to turn it into a mini-series.

“I love writing black on black issues. There was a time and a place where there were all those plays, all those books and all that historical stuff where we looked at white history and its impact. But now, we as blackfellas, we have to turn it around, question who we are and what we want for the future,” Leah says.

The ABC’s award-winning Redfern Now does just that. Having acted and directed during the first season, Leah jumped at the chance to write an episode during the second, her first time writing for television.

On set she was given the opportunity to workshop with ‘the scouse’ Jimmy McGovern, BAFTA-award winning scriptwriter. She credits him with helping her to find the emotional truth in her script-writing. She laughs when recalling how he’d often send drafts back to her covered in red ink, taking her back to her primary school days.

“Lucky I love a challenge,” she says. “It was a beautiful process. He’s blunt, but then you have the beauty of sitting in a room and getting the banter going back and forth. You’d get the excitement, the young spirit that would jump out of him and he’d start shuffling around like we were two prize fighters.”

Having now made her television-writing debut, Leah says she constantly has new ideas floating around in her “dilly-bag of things”. She’s just finished filming on her debut feature film Netball and is in the process of writing a play, Seven Deadly Gins and a script called Darby, based on Aboriginal jockey Darby McCathy.

No longer just a toy Reply

by Aly Hayashi

Hairdresser’s cars: Anthony Grant’s restored classic Toyota Celicas (left and centre).  Photo: Aly Hayashi

Hairdresser’s cars: Anthony Grant’s restored classic Toyota Celicas (left and centre).
Photo: Aly Hayashi

Think of a classic car show, and maybe rows of muscular Mustangs or curvaceous Jaguars gleaming in the sun come to mind. Where previously the term “classic car” may have referred to those made in countries that use the Latin alphabet, recently a different trend has emerged: Japanese classics have started to gain a loyal group of followers.

This was evident at Toyotafest 2013 at Home Hub Castle Hill, a celebration of the Japanese marque that has often been equated with household appliances by motoring loudmouth Jeremy Clarkson, of BBC Top Gear fame. 

On show were 178 Toyotas from throughout history, from an early 1960s Toyota Tiara to the latest Toyota 86, all displayed with pride and joy by their owners.

Anthony Grant, 40, president of the Toymods Car Club that organised the show, has seen the shift in Australian motoring culture. He says that a couple of decades ago, the only cars people were proud of owning were Holdens or Fords.

“If you had a Japanese car, you were a weirdo in the car scene,” he says.

He exhibited a pair of beautifully restored 1970s Toyota Celicas, the model he had driven when he was young.

“If you had a Celica 25 years ago, it was laughed off as it wasn’t really a man’s car; it was a hairdresser’s car,” he says.

“These were the cars that my generation had as P platers. Now we’re getting into our middle years and we’re going back to the cars that we loved so much when we were younger.”

Nostalgia is a major driving force behind this appreciation for Japanese classics: although the youth of his generation may have dreamed of V8 Holdens and Fords, they usually ended up being driven in their parents’ Toyotas and Nissans and in turn bought cheap Japanese cars when they got their licences.

Anthony says Japanese classic cars attract a younger crowd with a more hands-on approach, facilitated by the advent of the Internet and easy information sharing.

Raymond Forghani, 27, who exhibited his recently-bought classic Toyota Crown, says the trend has only taken off recently. 

“Prior to this there was generally a negative impression of the Japanese car hence the term ‘Jap crap’,” he says.

According to Raymond, the appeal of Japanese classics is due to their accessibility; they are considerably less expensive than comparable Western classics, and represent a less-explored avenue in the world of classic motoring.

“To find a vehicle that’s different, that’s not well-known, that’s something that appeals to a lot of people.”

His 1989 Toyota Crown, a V8 Royal Saloon model privately imported from Japan, fits the bill. Not only does it have plush velour upholstery, it has a dashboard monitor for navigation, TV and vehicle diagnostics and computer-controlled air suspension that automatically adjusts the car’s height.

“To me, it symbolises the pinnacle of design and engineering of the Japanese automobile industry at the time,” he says. “The engineering is above and beyond anything that was produced locally, and that appeals a lot to me.”

Taro Moriya, 46, a Japanese journalist who attended Toyotafest 2013, explains how these old cars, while thought of poorly by the Australian public of the time, were a significant milestone in his country’s development.

“In 1960s Japan, people who worked hard could for the first time achieve the dream of owning a car, maybe a Toyota Publica, or Corolla. They were tiny, toy-like cars to foreign eyes, but they were very important to Japanese people of that day and age,” he says. “I was very surprised and impressed that Australians would take care, and be proud, of these old Japanese cars.”

Yet even Australian enthusiasts never expected these old Japanese cars to come into the limelight several decades later. The idea amuses Anthony Grant.

“In the 70s, when the muscle car boom was on and Japan was coming out with four-cylinders? I would have laughed at ya.”

Stomping their way to the top Reply

by Michael Fairbairn

Sons of the East: from left to right Dan Wallage, Jack Rollins and Nic Johnston. Source: Nick Chadwick

Sons of the East: from left to right Dan Wallage, Jack Rollins and Nic Johnston. Source: Nick Chadwick

You know it’s a good gig when the banjo player’s mother can’t get in. Last Thursday, the Sons of the East played to a capacity crowd at the Moonshine Bar in Hotel Steyne Manly. The three-piece folk band is popular for their lively sets and boot stomping original tunes.

“We formed in 2011, then started jamming out a bit. Our first gig was in March 2012,” said band member Dan Wallage.

Success doesn’t come easily in the Australian music industry, so it is impressive that all three members of the band are also university students.

Chris Johns, founder of the music label Sunday Morning Records, said, “The music industry is not as cut and dry as it used to be. With indie bands trying to make their mark, it’s really 50/50. They have to have focus and know who they are as a band and what they want to be.”

The music industry anywhere is a hard one to crack but in Australia it is particularly difficult; it’s hard to get gigs as a band starting out let alone with the sort of following that the Sons of the Easts has acquired so quickly.

“We realise it’s a hard industry to crack, that there are so many bands, so we are happy with how it’s gone so far. So many people have watched the video clips and listened to the songs,” Dan Wallage said.

The Internet plays a massive role when it comes to a band’s exposure – for the Sons of the East, a simple post on The Cool Hunter resulted in a marked spike in views for the band’s Youtube music video of ‘Hold On’.

“The great thing about online is that it’s cost effective. I believe you need to get street buzz complemented not just with online but also post-print and being very active, for real success,” Chris Johns said.

Having the right people behind the scenes is also important.  The Sons of the East decided to source its own team using money from gigs.

“We got a producer and a publisher, and an agent kind of built our own team,” Dan said. “At the moment it’s difficult, but in the long run hopefully it might pay off.”

The band eventually hopes to support itself through its music. “The dream would be to play full time, be able to play overseas and support ourselves through our music,” Dan said.

Chris Johns said a simple and honest approach to music is what’s needed, “The modern era of artists need to spend less time trying to make it, and more time making music and enjoying themselves.”


Watch what you say on social media Reply

by Siqi Yuan

Social media makes for great communication – with care

Social media makes for great communication – with care

Be careful how and when you use social media, especially if you are a public servant. Two public officers have become involved in lawsuits, leading to their possible dismissal.

Michaela Banerji, a public affairs officer who worked for the Immigration Department, is facing dismissal after she criticised the Government via an anonymous Twitter account. And in Canberra. Darrell Morris, who worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs, is being sued for being involved with a Facebook page, named ‘The Anti-Bullying and Discrimination League of Australia’, and may lose his job.

Both of them do not think their comments have offended, damaged or threatened the Government. Instead, they emphasise that their comments are personal opinions.

The tension between public servants’ responsibilities and their rights of speech online is increasingly evident.

“I didn’t defame anybody or I didn’t reveal confidential information. This is about being able to be free as a private citizen to make political comment in my own time,” Ms Banerji says.

Hundreds of people have shown their support on the basis that individuals have the right to voice personal opinion.

However, some legal experts believe Ms Banerji and Mr Morris breached their contract of employment.

Federal Circuit Court Judge Warwick Neville said Ms Banerji’ s critical comments on Twitter have breached her contract of employment. Geoff Holland, a law lecturer at the University of Technology, Sydney.

“A public servant, like all other employees, owes a duty to their employer. Special duties arise in an employment relationship,” he said.

In other words, their dismissals are for criticising the policies of their employers in contravention of the terms of their employment, not for posting critical comments about governments.

Further, the Public Service Commission believes that even if the public servants posted comments anonymously, they may be recognised, and problems may be raised.




Three words to start a conversation Reply

by Matt Dawson

The Conversation Pit, Customs House, Circular Quay. Picture: Matt Dawson

The Conversation Pit, Customs House, Circular Quay. Picture: Matt Dawson

Circular Quay was a sea of yellow T-shirts on 12 September, as volunteers asked morning commuters one simple, thought-provoking question: “Are you okay?”

R U OK? Day, the brainchild of advertising executive Gavin Larkin, who died at 42 of lymphoma, aims to raise awareness about suicide prevention by encouraging people to start a conversation about mental health issues.

According to Janina Kearns, Chief Executive Officer of R U OK? Foundation, post-event awareness has increased from 11 per cent in 2010 to 68 per cent in 2012.

“R U OK? Day in 2013 was all about creating year-round conversations. We wanted people to talk, tweet, text and blog about the conversations that change lives, and encourage one another to ask people ‘are you ok?’ regularly and meaningfully,” Ms Kearns says.

The centrepiece of this year’s public display in Sydney was a conversation pit filled with yellow and black rubber balls outside Customs House. Ambassadors like singer Damien Leith and NSW Mental Health Minister Kevin Humphries were miked up and thrust into the pit for a good old yarn.

“R U OK? Day works so well because it is simple, fun and people can identify with the concept. It is also a reminder that we get better outcomes when there is a community response and ownership of the solutions. Suicide prevention cannot be dealt with by the healthcare system alone,” Mr Humphries says.

In 2012 R U OK? Day Foundation won the inaugural Don Ritchie Suicide Prevention Award, receiving $10,000 from NSW Department of Health. The award recognises Mr Ritchie’s efforts to stop suicide attempts at the Gap, near his home in Watsons Bay. Over 45 years, Mr Ritchie saved hundreds of lives by convincing people not to jump. He died in 2012 aged 86.

Irish born singer Damien Leith worked with Gavin Larkin’s brother Aya, in the music industry in the United States and has been involved with the event since it began.

“Most of us know someone who was been afflicted by depression and seen them go through difficult moments in their life. If nothing else, this event reminds us that a simple conversation goes a long way,” Mr Leith says.

Research suggests that people experiencing suicidal feelings are less likely to act on their impulses if they have strong relationships.

Gavin was motivated to act after the suicide in 1995 of his father Barry, a well-respected figure in the world of advertising. Gavin Larkin launched the initiative at Parliament House, Canberra in 2009.

Gavin’s emotional tale was told on ABC’s Australian Story in September 2011. During the program he said that when diagnosed with lymphoma (stage 4) in early 2010, he began to re-evaluate the priorities in his life.

After enduring over a dozen rounds of chemotherapy, Mr Larkin died just days after Australian Story went to air.

Joe Hildebrand, a News Limited journalist, is another media identity putting his name to the cause this year.

“When a friend is in trouble, we need to ensure the lines of communication are open. We need to do more to de-stigmatise mental health conditions and ensure that if someone gets into a place of helplessness, they know it is okay to talk about it,” Mr Hildebrand says.

Asked what experience he has had with mental health issues, Mr Hildebrandt quipped, “like most journalists and writers, I suffer from many of them”.

On a serious note, Mr Hildebrandt described the recent funeral of “a friend of a friend” who committed suicide as a harrowing experience and “an event that no one wants to go to”.

“If he felt he could have talked to someone, maybe the outcome would have been different,” Mr Hildebrandt says.

Commission president champions people power Reply

by Pasko Vrbat

Behind the wire, a recreation yard at Villawood Detention Centre: 10,000 asylum seekers are being held indefinitely in Australian detention centres. Picture credit: M

Behind the wire, a recreation yard at Villawood Detention Centre: 10,000 asylum seekers are being held indefinitely in Australian detention centres.
Picture credit: M

Professor Gillian Triggs, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, has urged Australians to speak up for asylum seekers. Before 200 people at St Scholastica’s College in Sydney recently, Professor Triggs argued that the Federal Government’s policy on illegal asylum seekers had to change.

“We’re years beyond standard practice in what are comparable jurisdictions,” she said. “No other country has this policy.”

According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the detention of individuals without charge or trial by a tribunal is illegal, yet about 10,000 asylum seekers are being held indefinitely in Australian detention centres.

Professor Triggs said such detention is “antithetical to the Australian spirit” and that, during her recent visit to Villawood detention centre, it was “really heartbreaking” to see Sri Lankan boys subjected to security checks before they attended a nearby school.

She said the only way to resolve the issue is to establish an impartial tribunal that will authorise the release of asylum seekers who are not viewed as a threat to the community.

Currently, such decisions are the prerogative of Government ministers.

However, Professor Triggs acknowledged that the Commission could not force the Government to adopt its recommendations.

To overcome this obstacle, she encouraged the public to write to their local members of Parliament and their local newspapers about the issue.

“We have to speak up to our political leaders,” she said. “We have to get ourselves into the public arena. All over Australia, groups are saying ‘enough’.”

Sister Elizabeth Murray, a member of the religious congregation Good Samaritan Sisters, emphasised that a “doable humanitarian solution” could only be effected by a Government with a conscience.

“What’s needed is leadership with integrity,” she said.

Know thyself: journeying inward through meditation Reply

by Pasko Vrbat

Meditation: an inner journey. Picture credit: dazzygidds

Meditation: an inner journey.
Picture credit: dazzygidds

Who are you? No, I don’t mean your name and occupation, or your age and gender. Rather, I mean your ‘essence’ – the stuff that propels you from, say, one job or relationship to another – that’s the focus here. So, do you know who you are, really?

Maureen Cannon might be able to tell you. A teacher at a meditation centre in Sydney’s inner west, Maureen organises short and multi-day meditation courses for the public. Last Tuesday, she conducted a 90-minute class on positive thinking and meditation.

“It’s very good for the soul,” she said, during a break.

Judging from the variety of people who attend her classes – from 30-something professionals to retirees – the benefits of meditation continue to appeal to a wide spectrum. Beginning in India around the middle of the third millennium BC, meditation has now spread far beyond the subcontinent to become an integral part of treatment programs for cancer and other illnesses in the west.

But its benefits may also be felt at a more personal level. Various meditation techniques have been adopted by mental health professionals in their treatment of depression and other mental illnesses. While acknowledging that it isn’t appropriate for people with schizophrenia, Maureen believes people who face other mental health issues, such as those with depression, “will find meditation very helpful”.

Whatever the reason for attending a meditation session, the goal of a session is always the same: to bring people closer to their true selves.

“Peace, love and happiness – these three things we all look for in life,” Maureen says.

A stroll through the self-help section of any bookstore indicates the popularity of these prized qualities. So, too, do the numerous meditation classes that are held elsewhere in the city. Jen Sionillo, a meditation teacher at a suburban community centre, includes various breathing techniques and the chanting of mantras in her classes to help her students achieve the mental clarity they seek.

“If you’re stressed out too much, you can’t think clearly,” she says. “Meditation can calm your mind, help you to connect with yourself.”

Perhaps it’s this yearning to improve our lives – and its implicit belief that we’re able to achieve this – that lies at the essence of a person’s identity. By investing the time and effort to practice meditation, Maureen says, it’s possible to take greater control of your thoughts and emotions and, in turn, your life.

“If you change the way you think, you can change the way you feel,” she says.



Victory in the battle for the Kimberley Reply

by Tory Crabtree

The Kimberley wilderness just north of James Price Point, photograph by Yaruman5.  The pristine beauty of Crocodile Creek, photograph by Austronesian Expeditions.

The Kimberley wilderness just north of James Price Point, photograph by Yaruman5. The pristine beauty of Crocodile Creek, photograph by Austronesian Expeditions.

Environmentalists and Indigenous communities in the Kimberley region of Australia have won a rare victory against the West Australian Government and a mighty oil consortium.

In April 2013. the Browse Basin consortium – headed by Woodside Petroleum and including Shell and BP – announced it would not develop its planned LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) plant at James Price Point, 52 kilometres north of Broome. Instead, the gas will be processed offshore in an innovative floating gas factory.

Back in July 2012, former Greens leader Bob Brown described the proposed LPG project as, “another Franklin dam, a furore over natural and cultural heritage threatened by political hubris…”

Just over a year later, Glen Klatosvsky, of the Wilderness Society, agrees with this statement, though he feels it does not go deep enough. 

“In some ways, James Price Point was bigger and more complex than the Franklin, because it was not just about the Government, it was about industry and it really demonstrated the conflict that now exists in remote Australia between the interests of Indigenous Australians, the massive global mining boom and the environment.”

Mr Klatovsky became involved in the movement against development in 2010.  A veteran of the mining industry and an environmental activist for many years, he had intimate knowledge of the difficulties facing those trying to stop a project he describes as, “backed by the State and Federal Governments and … companies with balance sheets bigger than many countries.”

In 2010, the Wilderness Society was invited to Broome to help in the fight against the project.  Glen Klatovsky travelled there regularly from his home in Sydney to assess whether it was appropriate for the Wilderness Society to become involved.  The Kimberley is a beautiful, unspoiled area but the same cannot be said for the conditions of many of the Indigenous families who live there.  Poverty and the evils it brings are rife.

“In one week I was up there earlier this year, seven young people committed suicide in a population of less than 20,000,” Mr Klatovsky says.

At first he was wary about becoming involved in the project.  The amount of money and jobs the LPG plant could bring would be a boon to the local community. He strongly felt that he had no place supporting a move against a project which could benefit so many. 

However, this changed when the Premier of Western Australia, Colin Barnett, began proceedings to overturn the Native Title of the area with compulsory acquisition legislation. 

The Kimberley Land Council held a vote. If members voted ‘yes’ then it would sell James Price Point to the Browse consortium and receive $1.3 billion. If they voted ‘no’ then the land would not be handed over. A ‘no’ vote also meant that the land would be compulsorily acquired, and the community would receive no money.  The vote was Yes: 60 per cent, No: 40 per cent.

Nonetheless, there were several powerful reasons for the strength of the ‘no’ vote. James Price Point is a very sacred site in Aboriginal culture. A song cycle emanates from there, and would be damaged by the development which would affect all the song lines in Australia. Dinosaur tracks that had become part of local legends are scattered across the area. 

And the reasons were not just cultural.  Community members had seen how few benefits flowed into the Aboriginal communities from the similar Karratha Gas plant, which had been operating in the nearby Pilbara region since 1984. They also felt that they shouldn’t have to sell their land for $1.3 billion to support their own community when the Government was cutting back on funding for local schools and hospitals.  The community felt it was entitled to the same government support as anywhere else in Australia.

Seeing that these sentiments were widely held, Mr Klatovsky and the Wilderness Society decided it was appropriate to support opposition to the project. They began lobbying State and Federal Governments, stirred up public opinion across Australia, got high profile Australians involved, and even held a free concert in Melbourne.

These tactics put James Price Point into the minds of many Australians, but it was the actions of local community members that really stopped the project. Their unrelenting opposition saw a $30 billion project quickly escalate to $47 billion and beyond. The Browse consortium couldn’t ignore the costs or the public relations disaster that had landed in its lap. 

Mr Klatovsky recalls the turning point in the saga. “I was in Parliament House in Canberra with four Aboriginal people from the Kimberley and we were trying to have meetings with politicians and then the images came in of the police dragging black grandmothers into paddy wagons. They’d been sitting for a month on the road to stop Woodside’s machinery.  It’s amazing how many doors opened that day and how many politicians wanted to talk.”

In April 2013, the Browse consortium announced that the James Price Point project was not a viable option due to high costs, and that they would be mining the gas using a floating gas processing platform.  Colin Barnett was widely quoted as saying he’d failed the people of Western Australia, and vowing to make it difficult for the consortium to change the various agreements it had with the State Government.  However, following the lead of the Federal Government, the changes at state level went through uncontested in early August.

So the battle was won. It is a victory that has given hope to other Indigenous communities facing conflict with huge mining companies but it has left an impoverished community divided. Enduring some of the worst living conditions in Australia, they are trying to find a way forward, past the deep hurts and shattered dreams of what might have been, but probably never was.

Australia to kickstart crowdfunded creative projects Reply

by Andreas Suranto

Marina DeBris – Beach Couture: A Haute Mess

Marina DeBris – Beach Couture: A Haute Mess

Creative minds will soon have a new platform to kickstart their creative projects. People with innovative ideas will have greater opportunity to gain support from public, instead of well-suited investors, to fund their projects.

Kickstarter, the biggest crowd-funding platform in the United States and the United Kingdom, has been available in Australia and New Zealand from 13 November although people have been able to post their projects since early October. According to Kickstarter, the one-month gap between posting and the official launch was to give people plenty of time to build and tweak their projects.

Kickstarter also used the time gap to conduct Kickstarter School to instruct people on how to properly use the crowd-funding platform, including posting a project and marketing it well to potential backers.

A project launch is deemed successful only after the pledged money reaches the sum the project starter needs.

A backer who pledges funds may get a reward, in the form of finished product, vouchers, an official thank you or getting a character in a book named after the backer.

Kickstarter has a 43 per cent success rate globally. It has supported up to 50,000 successful projects, with the total of money raised exceeding US$850 million.

So far, 26 of the successful projects have been Australian.

‘Aquarium of the Pacific Gyre’ by Marina debris, is one of them. She constructed an aquarium containing a mass of oceanic trash found washed up on the beach that was included in Sculptures by the Sea along the Bondi to Tamarama Coastal Walk. She used a smaller version indoors when conducting workshops with Sydney school children.

Ms DeBris launched the project on Kickstarter to raise some money to help her fund the project; Sculpture by the Sea also provided some funds as did corporate advisory firm Greenstone Partners.

She was also invited by Sculpture by the Sea to display selections from her collection ‘Beach Couture: A Haute Mess’. The collection features mannequins wearing fashionable clothes made from trash found on the beach.

Another successful Kickstarter project was that of American-born artist and a painter, Kim Leutwyler. “My first Kickstarter project was to find homes in Sydney for all of my paintings, and to establish my practice here. I was lucky to gain the support of 84 backers, who pledged a total of over $5,000,” she says. “The second campaign, I need to fund three exhibits for which I raised $3,237.”

Ms Leutwyler is excited to see Kickstarter expanding to Australia. “Kickstarter will enable artists and creative thinkers to make their dream projects into reality,” she says.  “I’ve already had a number of Australians reaching out to me for advice on Kickstarter campaigns.”

The expansion of Kickstarter will allow people to launch a project without having to create a US or UK bank account and Australian backers will no longer pay through Amazon, as in the past. Pledges will be paid directly to Kickstarter through a third-party payments processor.

However, the fee remains at 5 per cent for successfully funded projects, with no fee for unsuccessful projects.

However, as Ms Leutwyler says, “It’s important to note that Kickstarter is not a magical source of funding. Starters must work hard to spread the word about projects through social media, press releases, local events and good old fashioned word-of-mouth.

“Kickstarter is a great platform to set your goals and get your friends involved, while also expanding to new audiences,” she says.