Playing tourist in Sydney reminds me why I call this place home…

March 6, 2015

IMG_5293[1]Last weekend I had a day to myself, a rare event, and I was at a loss for what to do. I could sit on the sofa and do nothing, I could lay on the ned and read all day or I could lay about by the pool, but no I thought to myself, I will get up and do something. That something turned out to be a walk around my neighbourhood…

Ok, so that does not sound too exciting I know, the walk was actually a way to discover some of the cultural history of the area I live in that I might not have taken notice of before. I downloaded an app “Sydney Culture Walks” and off I went. I live right by The Cross, or Kings Cross as it is officially called, in fact it was first called Queens Cross to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria (Victoria road being one of the main roads here), and is the site of the now heritage listed Coca-Cola sign which is now the key landmark of this area. I then walked down Victoria Street (Potts Point section) to 202 which is where Juanita Nielsen, the heiress used to live; she was so much more than that though. She was a publisher, activist for conservation and community issues, and very anti-development campaigns. She disappeared in Kings Cross in 1975 in mysterious circumstances and her remains have not been found and those who killed her have never been identified. It is thought her refusal to sell her house to make way for development is why she was murdered.

IMG_5285[1]It is thanks to Juanita Nielsen and her legacy that many of the very grand buildings along Victoria Street still exist, and a slow walk down here taking the time to really take in these building is worth it. A little way down this street you will find The Butler Stairs, these were built in 1870 to link Woolloomooloo and Potts Point, they are beautiful sandstone steps and will give your gels a real work out (these are not to be confused with the wider, less pretty, McElhone stars which are further down the street).

I then made my way to Embarkation Park, a park I did not even know existed! You get great views of the city and the wharfs of Woolloomooloo from here, this is actually a park built on top of a multistorey carpark. St Vincent’s College is right by the park, The Sisters of Charity acquired what was an old residence on this site, for a convent. They established a free hospital in 1857 (which is now the more modern hospital near Oxford Street) and a school for the local children in 1858, the college now has about 700 students, with 160 boarders in what must be one of the most regal buildings in the city. The college itself is on Challis Avenue, which is named after John Henry Challis, who arrived in Sydney in 1829 and became a successful local merchant. The Challis Bequest was his way of leaving all his property to the University of Sydney on his death. The street has some amazing town houses built in Greek Revival style, as well as Romanesque style terraces with elaborate colonnaded verandas, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Europe.

This was about halfway through my walk and it was a warm day so I decided to sop for some refreshment, and what a coincidence once of the spots on my walk was Yellow House, which just happens to be a very fine restaurant now. This 1897 terrace was once owned by Frank and Thelma Clune, who were patrons of the arts. In 1957 it became the Terry Clune Gallery, and artists who exhibited there included Russell Drysdale, John Olsen (whose work I know from staying at the Olsen Hotel in Melbourne) and John Perceval. For a short period in the 70’s it was an ‘artist community’ and in this time nearly every surface was painted with images inspired by the Surrealists and Van Gogh, which is where the modern name comes from, being named after Van Gogh’s Yellow House in Arles. In 2003 it was reinvented as apartments, with a restaurant space on the ground floor.

After my refreshment I walked on to Elizabeth Bay House, a place I have often walked past but never entered, if I remember correctly it was only $8 to get in and worth every cent. I went to the cellar, as instructed, and started my tour there buy watching a short vide that gives you a nice introduction to the house and its history. It was originally the home of Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay from 1839. The design is attributed to John Verge, who also designed Tusculum (anther spot on my walk) and Rockwall. It is a little bit crazy to think when originally built this was surrounded by lush bush land and was about a mile and a half from the nearest building of Sydney, given that it is now overlooked from behind by high-rise apartments. Before being subdivided into different lots it was a 54 acre (21.8 hectare) estate. Between 1928 and 1935 it became a squat where some of Sydney’s Bohemian artists lived rent-free with beautiful harbour views. The NSW Government finally restored and opened it to the public as a house museum in 1977. I love this kind of place, it is a real eye into a world from the past, and it is worth going in just to see the wonderful oval, domed saloon with its curving, cantilevered staircase, this is said to be one of the finest interiors of a 19th century Australian building and I am sure it is.

I then made my way up Greenknowe Ave to make my way back to The Cross and passed the Kingsclere Building on the corner with Macleay Street, now I have always loved this building, I would live in it in a shot. What I did not know was that it was built in 1912 and was designed by Halligan and Wilton, and was the first block of high-rise apartments built in the area and indeed was among the first in Sydney. They were the height of luxury when built, aimed at an exclusive market, with not just one but two balconies and two bathrooms for each flat (not so common back then), the apartments also included luxurious wood panelling and get this, automatic passenger lifts!!!!

I then made my way to Tusculum house on Hughes Street, when the first land grants were made in this area houses had to meet several conditions — they had to cost at least £1000 (see Sydney property prices have always been crazy), they had to face the city, and be approved by the Governor. Tusculum, as mentioned, was also designed by John Verge for the merchant Alexander Brodie Spark in 1835. It is very imposing today but was typical of the houses that once dominated this area. Since it was built it has been through many uses, becoming almost derelict before being restored in 1988 to house the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.

I then took a walk down Orwell Street, if you like Art Deco buildings, this is a must. The Metro building, designed by Bruce Dellit in the 1930s is a near perfect example of this style of architecture. Another great Art Deco building nearby is what is now the Kings Cross Neighbourhood Services Centre (No.52 Darlinghurst Rd), be sure to look up above street level away from the sex workers and drug addicts and you will see a beautiful façade.

IMG_5313[1]And I ended my little walk at the El Alamein Fountain, designed by Robert Woodward, and built in 1961. The dandelion effect of its bronze pipes has become a emblem of Kings Cross, this is on the site of what was Maramanah House, once occupied by eccentric aunts in Robin Eakin’s book Aunts up the Cross (1965). The house was sold to the City Council in 1945 and demolished to build Fitzroy Gardens.

Who would have thought I had so much to learn on my very own doorstep, playing tourist in my own city reminds me why I call this place home.

The books I read in 2014….

February 19, 2015

I would normally post this first thing in the new year but time ran away with me, there were only 27 this year compared to 33 last year ! I blame The Gold Finch for taking up so much of my time, and alas I was somewhat disappointed with it. If I had to recommend any overall it would be The Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling and Stoner by John Williams.

Listed in chronological order of having been read, and scored out of 5 where 5 is the highest score. A few got close to the top marks, but again no 5 this year:

  1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt = 2 ½
  2. Spin by Martin Sixsmith = 3
  3. May we be Forgiven by A.M. Homes = 3 ½
  4. Present Danger by Stella Rimington = 4
  5. My Policeman by Bethan Roberts = 3 ½
  6. A Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling = 4 ½
  7. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter = 3
  8. A Song for Achilles by Madeline Miller = 3
  9. The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham = 4
  10. The Report by J.F Kane = 3
  11. Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid = 2 ½
  12. Jack by A.M Homes = 3 ½
  13. That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo = 3
  14. The Mistress’s Daughter by A.M Homes = 3
  15. Smut by Alan Bennett = 3
  16. Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham = 4
  17. The City of Devi by Manil Suri = 2 ½
  18. Stoner by John Williams = 4 ½
  19. Mr Mercedes by Stephen King = 4
  20. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent = 4
  21. Scaredy Cat by Mark Billingham = 3 ½
  22. The Empress Lover by Linda Jaivin = 2
  23. TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
  24. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King = 4
  25. Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes = 3
  26. Burr by Gore Vidal = 4
  27. Red Moon by Benjamin Percey = 3 ½

Engaging with 18-24’s: Stop asking them to take selfies

February 3, 2015

Spoiled, selfish, ambitious, connected, immature, tech-savvy, demanding, open-minded, fame-seeking, over-sharing.

These are just some of the words that are commonly used to describe young consumers, (the so-called ‘Gen Y’ or ‘Millennials’).  And there is a perception amongst some marketers that this target audience is particularly enigmatic and hard to connect with.

With little understanding, the default marketing approach is often to just ‘do something online’ or ‘create a social media campaign’. Unfortunately it takes more than the inclusion of a hashtag, video, Facebook page or consumer-with-brand-selfie request to drive engagement with young people today.

In 2007, Jigsaw conducted a qualitative study into young Australians aged 18-24.

At the time, the issue of local youth identity was particularly hot, following the aftermath of the Cronulla race riots and the cultural cringe from Lara Bingle’s ‘Where the bloody hell are you’ campaign. The objectives of the study were to expose what young people were really thinking and explore the defining traits of this generation.

Seven years later, we have refocused on this audience; with the challenge of getting beneath current media rhetoric and stereotypes. Having previously conducted a similar study helped us pull apart ‘coming of age’ characteristics vs. traits which are a by-product of 2014’s unique technological, political, cultural and environmental landscape. This time we could also employ fresher methodologies (e.g. online communities, tasks involving Spotify, Tinder etc).

So what’s changed? Here are a few of the shifts we discovered.

Big goals vs big fails

2007: ‘No one wants to do something they don’t enjoy.’

Back then, we found that success for young people was defined by their own goals. The older stereotypes of success (e.g. high paying job, big house, flash car) no longer applied and instead success largely equated to personal happiness i.e. doing what you want and then making a living from this.

2014: ‘The voice in the back of my head says not everyone can be the next Zuckerberg.’

Fast forward and 18-24-year-olds are still rejecting their parents’ definitions of success. However what’s changed is that there is phenomenal pressure to not just do what you want, but to do it in a BIG way.

There are so many high profile young entrepreneurs, bloggers and vloggers who have changed lives, made millions/billions or simply become celebrities. So young people currently find it hard to justify doing things in an ‘average way’. They therefore appreciate anyone who can support them as they strive towards achieving their large-scale dreams.

Tweet, pray, love

2007: ‘I get stressed by how much there is going on.’

Young people told us that they were being buffeted by an accelerated culture in which everything seemed fast paced e.g. trends coming and going, new technologies, news stories constantly breaking. They also felt that their personal (uni, work, social) lives were too hectic. Incidences of depression and anxiety were becoming fairly prevalent amongst friends.

2014: ‘I find the Dalai Llama and his mind so fascinating. He can deal with whatever situation the modern world throws at him.’

Today there are similar gripes, however there seem to be more tools in their toolkit (e.g. yoga and exercise, healthy diet, socialising and sharing) for becoming more resilient to everyday stresses. It was also heartening to hear words like ‘wellbeing’ and ‘mental health’ being more openly discussed.

The e-tox challenge

2007: ‘It’s great being connected, I couldn’t imagine what it was like before the internet.’

Young people were fully embracing of online media for information, shopping, entertaining and connecting e.g. messaging platforms, social media, gaming.

2014: ‘Although it’s easy to Snapchat, nothing beats a drink at the pub.’

This time we noticed a stronger desire to grab opportunities to switch off and have more offline experiences. However the convenience and affordability of online often made it harder for young people to disconnect. For example, music festivals could set them back hundreds of dollars whereas YouTube offered alternative access to free performances. As such, young people told us about seeking out cheap and cheerful reality fixes e.g. hanging out in parks, crafting, dumpster diving.

Just do it, don’t just ‘like’ it

2007: “I don’t like how Australians come across as racist and behind the times. We need to change this.”

Back then, 18-24-year-olds were passionate about driving societal change. Although these are typical traits of young people across the eras (e.g. student protests in the 60s and 70s) 2007’s hot topics were uniquely focused on driving acceptance and tolerance (post race riots, post 9-11).

2014: ‘Occasionally you see friends going to protest marches on Facebook, but most people just ‘like’ stuff and don’t do anything real.’

Youthful passion is still simmering today. However simultaneously there is growing cynicism towards activist behaviour on social media, an environment which fosters ‘support’ but does not necessarily generate tangible real world changes. For example Michelle Obama’s push to get people behind #BringBackOurGirls brought to life the ‘slacktivism’ complained about by young people who were starting to rally against online talk, by walking the walk with physical change actions e.g. using apps to find ethical/enviro products and shopping in stores with socially aligned purposes.

So now what?

The 18-24s of today are clearly a unique product of their environment and their age/life-stage. In order to connect with them, marketers need to look past the stereotypes and into their motivations and tensions.

This can be achieved in a variety of ways.

Firstly there are opportunities to inspire and support young people in achieving their dreams. Red Bull does this via their sporting ambassadors (e.g. Ellyse Perry, Sally Fitzgibbons) who share their journeys towards success, including the wins and fails.

Then there’s providing consumers with tangible ‘real world’ experiences. The inner city precinct Central Park helps young people switch to offline with their physical hangout spaces surrounded by mirrored light wells and tactile green life walls. This shopping destination also strikes a chord with young consumers by supporting up and coming artists in galleries.

The Swisse Colour Run is another experiential example that young people talked positively about. The event which involves runners being pelted by coloured powders, not only addresses the e-tox challenge, but also sparks greater wellbeing as an outlet for fun, release and face-to-face connection.  Although social media (including runner selfies snapped and shared) is observed to extend the impact of the campaign, this appears to be just one part of the marketing strategy.

Lastly, there is the opportunity for brands to demonstrate commitment to real social change. American Apparel and Cotton On earn love through their support of social campaigns and charities. In the latter’s case, young people told us that staff can talk knowledgably about the Cotton On Foundation’s efforts in Africa and some have even donated salaries and volunteered, thereby enhancing the clothing label’s social cred.

In sum, requesting #SelfiePhotosWithYourBrand are great but they’re just one marketing tactic and let’s face it, they’re a pretty superficial way of connecting.  We need to tap into the insights hidden much deeper beneath the surface to truly engage with 18-24 year olds.

NOTE: This post was originally published in the December 2014 edition of Research News

The films I saw at the movies in 2014 and how I rated them…

January 13, 2015

So the Golden Globes are all over and the Oscars nominations are now just around the corner so what better time than to give a rundown of the movies I was last year. There 39 this year, that is 1 up on last year.

Listed in chronological order of having been watched, and scored out of 5 where 5 is the highest score…

  1. August: Osage County = 5
  2. Philomena = 4
  3. The Book Thief = 3
  4. Saving Mr Banks = 5
  5. Twenty Feet From Stardom = 5
  6. Last Train to Lisbon = 2
  7. Her = 5
  8. 12 years a slave = 4
  9. Wolf of Wall Street = 4
  10. Dallas Buyers Club = 4 1/2
  11. Grand Budapest Hotel = 4
  12. Other Woman = 3 1/2
  13. Fading Gigolo = 3
  14. The Finishers = 4
  15. Belle = 3
  16. Bad Neighbors = 2
  17. Chef = 4
  18. Godzilla = 4
  19. The Edge of Tomorrow = 4
  20. Maleficent = 3 1/2
  21. Under the Skin = 3
  22. Grace of Monaco = 2 1/2
  23. Broken Circle Breakdown = 5
  24. The Two Faces of January = 3 1/2
  25. 22 Jump Street = 3 1/2
  26. Dawn of Planet of The Apes = 4 1/2
  27. A Most Wanted Man = 4 1/2
  28. Lucy = 4
  29. Calvary = 4
  30. The Keeper of Lost Causes = 4
  31. Begin Again = 5
  32. Equaliser = 4
  33. Gone Girl = 4
  34. Boyhood = 4 1/2
  35. Skeleton Twins = 5
  36. Pride = 3 1/2
  37. Interstellar = 4
  38. Whiplash = 5
  39. Hunger Games: Mockingjay = 3 1/2

2014 in review, I was less active than before, might have to do something about that this year

January 5, 2015

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,300 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 55 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

I did a Super Mario impression all for a good cause

December 1, 2014

Movember14I did it, I let the Mo grow for the 30 days of Movember and yes I am clean shaven now for those of you that were keen to see the back of my tash.

I have always wanted to grow a beard, but alas don’t have the required hair follicles so I have not been able to take advantage of the still current fashion for facial hair, so Movember if the closes I get…

Movember is a great way to grow a moustache while growing funds for charity and you get to do it every year. It raises both funds and awareness for men’s health.  

Mine was one of  millions of moustaches around the world that were used to scare small children and reminding us that porn stars of the 1970’s were real men with real hair (unlike the shaved and waxed all over men of porn today, allegedly, I never watch the stuff).

I took part together with a couple of work mates to form The Jigsaw Crumb Catchers team and it is not too late to sponsor us, you can do so here.

And to all those that have already sponsored me a very big THANK YOU

Today is World Toilet Day…

November 19, 2014

Toilet_SignDid you know 19th of November is World Toilet Day, and no I am not joking, but trust me there is a serious message behind this auspicious day. World Toilet Day is a day to take action. It is a day to raise awareness about all people who do not have access to a toilet and hence this blog post from me.

Of the world’s seven billion people, 2.5 billion people do not have access to a clean and safe toilet (that is about 37% of the world’s population). 1 billion people still defecate in the open. Women and girls risk rape and abuse because they have no toilet that offers privacy. Did you know more people in the world have a mobile phone than have access to a clean and safe toilet?

This year UN Water have taken up the theme of ‘Equality and Dignity’, and have a campaign that is seeking to inspire action to end open defecation and put spotlight on how access to improved sanitation leads to a reduction in assault and violence on women and girls. See a bit more about it here.

Water.org also campaign on this issue and many others related to the effect of not having access to clean water throughout the year, their website is well worth a visit.

It was Jim Sim (aka “Mr. Toilet”), who founded the World Toilet Organization and the annual World Toilet Day back in 2001. He was named a TIME Hero of the Environment in 2008, and alas he died in 2009. He was described as “frank and entertaining” when it came to discussing the need for better sanitation. As he once said “No invention has saved more lives than a toilet. More than 80% of sewage in developing countries is discharged untreated, polluting rivers, lakes and coastal areas”, think about this next time you sit on a loo….

Study highlights risk of suicide among young people who are gender diverse, trans, and intersex

October 17, 2014

If you have seen the films Boys Don’t Cry, Skin I Live In or Transamerica you might think life for gender diverse and trans (an umbrella term which incorporates a variety of trans identities), individuals is a kind of hell on earth, and for some it certainly can be. Little is actually known about the mental health needs of gender diverse, trans, and intersex, young people in Australia which is why researchers at La Trobe University recently conducted a study called From Blues to Rainbows.

This study spoke to gender diverse, trans, and intersex young people aged 14-25 years old. The results found that half of the young people surveyed were diagnosed with depression and two thirds had experienced verbal abuse, a more worrying fact is that almost all of the participants had experienced abuse because of their gender diversity. This ranged from verbal threats to physical violence. Alas for many these threats and eventuated into actual physical abuse, with one fifth reporting this. Some of you will also know that I have written about the devastating effects suicide can have on friends and family, and what I found most shocking in the results is that 90% had thought about suicide in response to the physical abuse they had experienced.

The report also found:

  • 66% of participants had seen a health professional for their mental health in the past year
  • 38% had suicidal thoughts and a quarter had spoken to a medical professional about it
  • One in three did not feel supported by their family and suffered much higher rates of stress, suicide and depression
  • 45% were diagnosed with anxiety compared with an average 25% of the population

Encouragingly the report also emphasized that parental, peer and school support can make a enormous and constructive impact to their wellbeing.

With 66% of this at risk group visiting health professionals it is important that they receive guidance on how best to deal with these and what language to use, given the negative impact the use of incorrect pronouns to address them can have, they are there for help and understanding to getting it right at the very start is key. Many of these young people are subjected to embarrassing questions or simply have their gender dysphoria as a teenage fancy that they will grow out of.

This of course a complex issue but one that needs to be better addressed so that these vulnerable young people get all the support and help they need to live the full and happy lives we all want to live.

Scotland – to be or not to be, that is the question…..

September 17, 2014

Scotland-Countries-Flag-Wallpaper Both sides in the Scottish referendum debate are making their final pitch to voters on the last day of campaigning and from what I have seen they have both ratcheted up the rhetoric in the last few days, but then there is a hell of a lot at stake. Is the Yes vote wins does it mean Great Britain will be a little less great!? And what might it mean to peoples sense on ‘nationality’, will those that think of themselves as British be any less British if the nation itself is decreased? Actually if the Union loses Scotland it will lose 32% of its landmass and say goodbye to 8% of its population.
I have been incredibly engrossed by the debate and am desperate to know what my friends who can vote will vote. I feel oddly engaged in a way that surprises me, I feel like I ought to have some kind of a say, or at least a right to an opinion, but am I Scottish? Well what am I is a good question? One that has come up among my friends and I on several occasions.
I was born in England, but spent some of my early years living in Africa, I have a Scottish surname, my grandfather on my father’s side was very much a Scott but I live in Australia and am now an Australian citizenship, and I have two boys who are both Australian and British (although I have not yet sorted their passport – for either country). I feel a strong connection with my Scottish roots even though I have never lived there and hardly know my oh so Scottish grandfather, so am I entitled to a voice on this matter or not? I guess this blog post is just that so I have already answered that question.
If I were allowed to vote I am not sure what I would do, much like the latest polls suggest the results remain too close to call, with a slender lead for a “No” vote, I think I am leaning (just) to a no myself, but the Yes could still swing.
Alex Salmond, First Minister for Scotland, says the 300-year-old Union is no longer “fit for purpose” that seems a bit harsh to be me, it is a political union that has stood since 1707, ok I admit not always a smooth ride, but the union itself has evolved a hell of a lot over that time and especially of late. He also said recently “The people who for a few precious hours during polling day hold sovereignty, power, authority in their hands. It’s the greatest most empowering moment any of us will ever have. Scotland’s future – our country in our hands.” Those are powerful words which pack a real emotional punch and I would challenge any eligible voter not to feel the weight of these words.

Sexy men in shorts, what is not to like…

August 26, 2014

Bingham Positive RGBI have always liked rugby over football (or soccer as they call it here in Australia) and so naturally I have got myself some tickets to go and see the finals of The Bingham Cup that is currently underway in Sydney.  For those of you that don’t know The Bingham Cup, or as it is officially called the Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Tournament is a biennial international, non-professional, gay rugby union tournament. Yes gay men really do play rugby, but don’t take my word for it just ask Gareth Thomas, who was until 2011 the most capped Welsh rugby union player, with 100 test match appearances until. After an informal invitational tournament, held in May 2001 the International Gay Rugby Association and Board (IGRAB), came together with the objective of forming an informal invitational tournament which would be an international rugby union competition, or as it has become known the “gay rugby union world cup”.  The tournament itself came to be named after Mark Bingham, a former University rugby star who had played in the May 2001 tournament for San Francisco Fog RFC and was also a cofounder of the Gotham Knights RFC. Mark Bingham died in the September 11, 2001 attacks on board United Airlines Flight 93. He is generally accepted to be one of a group of passengers (along with Todd Beamer, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick) who fought with the hijackers, which eventuated in the crashing of the plane into an empty filed instead of an assumed target in Washington. Mark Bingham was just 31 when he died in 2001, and the Bingham Cup was established the next year in honour of Mark’s courage, strength and love for rugby union. Back in 2002 eight teams competed in San Francisco, and attracted sponsorship from Nike and Guinness, this year in Sydney over 25 will compete and there are an abundance of sponsors, namely Telstra, Commonwealth Bank, AussieBum, Cannon and Lend Lease and is supported by representatives from across sports, such as Wallabies Dave Pocock and Adam Ashley-Cooper, South Sydney’s Greg Inglis and Australian women’s cricketer Alex Blackwell. This years’ tournament is the seventh in the history of the cup, and I will of course be cheering for the Sydney Convicts. For more information and of course to buy yourself some tickets visit the official website: http://binghamcup.com/

Sober for a month and all for a good cause

June 12, 2014

I have decided tdj-logoo participate in Dry July again this year. No this is not as a consequence of all the alcohol I might be drinking over the next few days in celebration of my birthday (well maybe in a small way it is), it is far more meaningful than that, last year I lost 4k over the 4 weeks!

For those of you not in the know Dry July is an organisation that aims to improve the lives of adults living with cancer through an online social community of likeminded individuals giving up booze for the month of July (and raising money as they do it). So for the 31 days of July, I am hoping to raise funds while abstaining.

I have again chosen The Chris O’Brien Lifehouse at RPA as my chosen beneficiary for all the money I raise. Professor Chris O’Brien was an incredible man who had tremendous vision and courage.  He was inspirational in both the work he did as a cancer specialist and through his own three year battle with an aggressive brain tumour, a battle that he sadly lost in 2009.

Chris’s vision was for an integrated cancer treatment center so that patients would no longer have to navigate their way through all the different elements of dealing with their illness alone. His vision was realised with the completion of The Chris O’Brien Lifehouse at RPA back in 2013, more of which you can read about here: http://www.lifehouserpa.org.au/The_Chris_O_Brien_Lifehouse_at_RPA.aspx

If you would like to sponsor me you can do so here or you could always take part yourself ;-)

Student welfare in our schools should not be the domain of anti-gay religious groups….

May 27, 2014

Let me start this post by saying I am sure many of the chaplains involved in the Chaplaincy Programs in Australian schools do fantastic work, but money spent by the government, raised by all tax payers regardless of their religion, race, sexuality etc, should not be used for funding for particular religious groups to take the place of qualified mental health professionals or social workers in schools where ALL our children go, not just those of Christians.

There were many cuts in the budget this year that irked many of us, but some of the biggest were to health and education costs, if all goes to plan for the Government they will save $80 billion over 10 years by withdrawing the funding from the states that it provides for services in these two areas.

In terms of education, Tony Abbott’s government will not continue with the fifth year of Labor’s Gonski School funding reforms. This means that rather than increasing school funding by 4.7%, the Abbott government will increase school funding in line with inflation instead. What this means in reality in that they will spend about $130 million less on schools in 2017-18 than the previous government promised.

On top of this there are fundamental changes to University funding and student loans, referred to by Treasurer Joe Hockey in his budget speech as “once-in-a-generation reforms, the government will help build a sector that is more diverse, more innovative and more responsive to student needs”

So while we are on the subject of diversity in the education sector, and being more responsive to what students need, relative to other cuts made, how on earth does the government justify the continued federal funding of the Chaplaincy Programs in Australian schools?

Some of the organisations in the program have clear connections to homophobic campaigning and yet they will continue to benefit from the government funding. The proposed budget has allocated nearly $250million to this program over four years; it offers schools up to $24,000 per year to pay for a chaplain approximately two days a week.

ACCESS Ministries is one of the key providers of chaplains, providing approximately 330 schools in Victoria with “Special Religious Instructors”, yet it has been revealed that they have distributed homophobic materials that the Victorian Education Department’s own investigation concluded was “inappropriate and offensive”.

Rob Ward who is General Manager of Development and Communications at ACCESS Ministries, and the former Victorian State Director of the Australian Christian Lobby,  has campaigned against same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption and is on record as not wanting non-heterosexual orientations as being seen as ‘normal’.  When the “Fair go, sport!” program, an initiative aimed at increasing awareness of sexual and gender diversity in sport, was launched he said “The suggestion that the aim is to have the sexual orientation of gay, lesbian and transgender sportspeople…so public that it’s normal, so people don’t think about it is very troubling.”

In addition, Darren McMahon the Director and Presenter of Your Dream Incorporated in Sydney that runs chaplaincy programs through NSW, has significant ties to Hillsong Church, which has had a contentious relationship with the gay community regarding their involvement with the Mercy Ministries and the Living Waters Australia, which both ran ex-gay and conversion camps.

It is a documented fact that LGBTI youth have higher rates of suicide and depression than their heterosexual counterparts and as Jacqui Tomlins, a founding member of the Australian Equality Party, has said “Young people,  especially those who might be questioning their sexuality or sexual identity, need access to good, non-judgemental counsellors who can provide advice and guidance that is not based on any religious foundation”, yet it is via the Chaplaincy Program that these children would be dealt with.

To make matter worse the Abbott Government has changed the conditions to prevent School Principals from being able to elect a secular student welfare worker instead of a chaplain, non-religious student welfare workers could get access to funding under the previous Labor Government.

So just how Mr Hockey does the government propose to ensure we build a sector that is more diverse, more innovative and more responsive to student needs with this program?

Not only was I annoyed enough to write this blog post but I also signed this petition: https://www.allout.org/en/actions/australia-budget-thanks

Remembering Lex Watson

May 8, 2014

Lex Watson who passed away this week was the first president of the AIDS Council of NSW (ACON) and a Co-founder of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP), in addition to being the founder of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, in short he was one of the most important gay rights activists in Australia.

We forget how things have changed over the past few decades and the fact that we have so many rights not afforded us in the past is in no small part down to the work Lex and others like him did on our behalf. He played an important role in the foundation of many of the LGBT rights groups in New South Wales. In 1970 he was one of the first gay people to advocate openly for their rights on Australian television, a very brave act indeed back then, to many LGBT people in their teens, twenties or even 30’s just how brave and pioneering an act this was would be hard to comprehend in a world where an openly gay person won Big Brother in 2012.

Homosexuality was legalized in New South Wales in 1984, 14 years after the start-up of CAMP, and in that time activists like Lex were at the forefront of the fight for equality and endured more than most on our behalf to ensure our rights were recognised. For example in 1976 whilst on a current affairs program on ABC Lex was pelted with human excrement during a debate, his response to this act…. was to point out that that was precisely the kind of persecution that homosexuals had to put up with, touché .

In his later years Lex  served as the President of Sydney’s Pride History Group, Lex Watson is part of our history, he was a pioneer for the LGBT community and one I hope history never forgets.

Do you love Sex…..

February 19, 2014

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Love Sex Durex… now that is a tag line I like. Durex are sponsoring the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras this year and are embracing the promotion of same-sex relationships as part of the initiative.  They are not the only sponsors this year, other sponsors are ANZ (principle sponsor), SBS2 and 2day FM who are the broadcast partners and Fitness First, Air Asia, Google, Gaydar, Finlandia (it’s a vodka), as well as NSW NOW, Destination NSW, City of Sydney as strategic partners.

Not all partners are launching campaigns to tie in with their sponsorship, but Durex have taken the opportunity to do just that with their Durex Love Same Sex. It is primarily a social media campaign, which aims to focus on and celebrate the years of “love and commitment of long-term same-sex relationships in Australia”.

The brand is encouraging people in Australia that are in same-sex relationships to celebrate the number of years they have been in a relationship, they do this by visiting the Durex Australia Facebook page and pledge their years of commitment. There is a year counter on the Facebook page that tallies the total years all participating couples have been together, so far it stands at 4,345 years.

The brand was also present at Fair Day this year where they set up a booth and got over 3,500 couples to pledge there years of commitment, one such couple was Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s sister Christine Forster and her partner Virginia Edwards who celebrated seven years together.

This is a great fit with the Mardi Gras event and nice to see them doing this, but as mentioned before this is not new, brands have been targeting the LGBT communities more and more over the past decade, and especially around events such as these, as written about here before.


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