Category Archives: nonfictionissue9

Person of the Forest, Teri Jane Boldizar

I crossed the rickety handmade bridge precariously, one of the last in our group of nine; sent into the Sumatran Rainforest by Sydney’s Taronga Zoo as part of their “For the Wild” campaign. My hands grasped at the thin stretch of rope that followed my path on both sides. The day pack on my back was tiny compared to the 55L backpack one of the village ladies had carried across that very bridge for me the night before, but every step I took still sent it swaying on my back. One of the girls ahead of me stumbled slightly over the thin planks, causing the entire bridge to sway violently beneath us and bringing my attention to the riffle that sauntered along below us. A nervous laugh wove its way through the group as our team leader standing at the other end of the bridge, feet safely planted on solid ground, yelled back that she’d make us wear helmets for the rest of the trek if we weren’t careful. We were looking for semi-wild Orangutan that day; with one of Taronga’s Orangutan keepers, and our local Indonesian guides leading the way.

Often forgotten or overlooked in the grand scheme of apes that humans share similar DNA with, the orangutan may be one of the most fascinating. Named for the Malay words Orang, meaning “people” and Hutan, meaning “forest”, the orangutan is literally the person of the forest. The similarities between ourselves and these forest dwelling apes appears to agree. Not only do orangutan share 97% of our DNA, they also display a variety of amazingly human-esque traits. For the first two years of their lives, orangutans are completely dependent on their mothers for everything. Other than humans, no other animal is known to spend so much time dependent on their mother. In fact, baby orangutans will cling to their mothers the same way toddlers do during the morning daycare drop off. Like many great apes, orangutan have developed tool use and arboreal though they are, construct nests for sleeping in, complete with “umbrella” style coverage to keep the rain at bay. The term semi-wild isn’t a term used professionally but you’ll find that organisations, and even locals to the area will often use the term. It simply refers to orangs that were captive but have been rehabilitated and released. It can also refer to parts of the rainforest that are tended to or have been built into for eco-tourism as we experienced that day.

We trekked through Bukit Lawang, a small village on the edge of the looming rainforest, greeted the kind locals who waved, smiled and complimented us on our pale skin and took note of the stalls selling beautiful handmade clothing. Those that live on the boundary of the rainforest and understand the importance of the rainforest and its animals rely on eco-tourism to bring guests and income that we gladly offer for such an opportunity. However, it was not just the kind people of Bukit Lawang nor the nearby orangutan that provided such an extraordinary experience. There were also the hundred or so long tailed macaques scampering around the village.

They darted in and out of house windows, travelled across clothes lines and stole the fruit of those who didn’t hide it away well enough before leaving their home for the day. It was our first glimpse of a Sumatran animal that wasn’t a cow hovering along the edge of a potholed dirt road. Looking to discover even more of the native wildlife, we continued on and into the depths of the Gunung Leuser National Park, a protected area of the Sumatran Rainforest.

It wasn’t long before we were completely enveloped in the beautiful tall trees of the rainforest; Damar, Rubber and Meranti, the few identified by our guide, Lily. It was our second day in Sumatra and the intense humidity and heat had already begun to take its toll as, under strict time constraints, we made our way up hills so steep we were essentially rock climbing. Perhaps the helmets wouldn’t have been such a bad idea after all. After roughly an hour of hellish trekking we reached a plateau onto which a platform had been built. Lily invited us to sit on the felled logs facing the platform, ‘quietly, quietly,’ he whispered.

We watched on as one of the national park ranger’s deposited cups of water and bunches of banana onto the platform in front of us, and as he made his way back towards us, we readied our cameras.

‘No orangutan for two weeks’ he advised us, ‘maybe none today either.’

Prepared to see nothing, a thought that hadn’t crossed my mind as I counted down the days to the trip, we sat and made quiet small talk. While it felt as though we had sat for hours, it was only minutes before the rustle of leaves in the distance made its way to our ears. A hush fell over our little crowd as slowly the sound moved closer. Heads swiveled wildly as we searched for what we could only hope was actually an orangutan and not a troop of macaque.

Finally, a blur of red swung through a distant break in the canopy just away from us. It moved closer and closer, until in a whirlpool of beautiful red hair, an orangutan finally dropped down on to the platform. My heart skipped a beat and in shock and awe, my mouth made a surely comical “O”. Before us, a mere metre away, sat a female Sumatran orangutan; and clutched to her chest… Her baby.

With hair my ideal shade of red, the beautiful mother nonchalantly drank water from a child’s blue plastic cup while her little one eyed us off from the safety of her hip, eating a banana he had snatched up from the platform upon their arrival. Apparently satisfied with his fruity finds, the baby orang decided to put on a show. The urge to squeal like a Justin Bieber fan at one of his concerts overwhelmed me as I watched the little one climb a tree, swinging and jumping back and forth between the nearby branches and the planks that made up his platform. Carrying her banana treats, his mother made her way over to sit within arms reach of him and this became a routine. He would frolic; she would follow, inching her way back and forth across the platform in his mischievous wake. Watching this orangutan show such concern for her child was such a sight. But it was one that was cut unfortunately short by the arrival of a much colder spirited mother and child duo. In quite a contrast to the behaviours we had just observed, the new arrival pulled the water bucket from the hands of the ranger and swiftly stole the remaining fruit, sadly causing our first orangutan and her baby to swing away into the canopy. These wild orangutans face such potential dangers, and yet there, sitting on those logs, we saw two mothers, with their children, acting in the carefree way that any orangutan should.

 

*

 

Orangutan face a great many dangers from humans. Population estimates from the most recent transect survey suggest that there are as few as 14,000 Sumatran orangutan left,[i] and only approximately 54,000 Bornean,[ii] leaving both species endangered, the Sumatran critically so. One major threat to the animals of Indonesia in particular, is palm oil. The destruction of palm oil plantations, in the last few years alone, has resulted in more than half of the Sumatran Rainforest – once the third largest rainforest in the world – being removed for palm or acacia tree plantations. And the Indonesian government has approved the removal of another seventy percent of what remains in the near future.[iii] The threat of unsustainable palm oil farming is no longer the tightly held secret that it was in the past though. More people are being educated in the dangers of unsustainable farming and make the active choice to buy sustainable palm oil or palm oil free products from their supermarkets.

Within Indonesia and Malaysia, the illegal wildlife trade of orangutans, most commonly below the age of two, is also booming amongst a select population of locals. The wildlife trade of orangutan occurs both domestically and internationally with most international trade occurring between other nearby islands, particularly in association with zoos that do not comply with the international ethical standards for captive animal care.

A mother orangutan is incredibly unlikely to willingly leave behind or surrender her baby. This means that for a young orangutan to be captured for the pet trade, its mother will most probably be killed while her baby clings to her. This is not only traumatizing for the young kidnapped orangutan but is also massively detrimental to the ability for repopulation of the orangutan populace. It is estimated that every year around one thousand Sumatran and Bornean orangutan are trafficked overseas and that as many as twenty thousand have been caught or killed for the trade over the last ten years. For every one baby orangutan that makes its way into a home as a “pet” or into a market to be sold, two other young and five mother orangutans have died. [iv]

Sixty percent of all orangutan that currently reside in sanctuaries and rescues within Indonesia have been confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade.[v] One particular orangutan, now under the protection of an Australian organisation, The Orangutan Project, was sold into the pet trade by a local fisherman for only $10.40 AUD. The orang was found malnourished and weak, and was confiscated. One of the lucky few, he now resides temporarily in a sanctuary where he is being cared for. Through social learning among his own species and a special forest school under the safe eye of his rescue carers, he will learn necessary skills before being released back into the rainforest to live a natural, semi-wild life.

One of the most intriguing facts about orangutan is their self-awareness. A study which was first carried out in the 80’s, found evidence of self-awareness at a level that is not present in humans until around 18-24 months of age. Orangutan marked with a safe and indelible dye while asleep, were placed in front of mirrors. Upon seeing their coloured reflection, they proceeded to touch their own faces and bodies. The conclusion of this study was that orangutan are more self-aware than human infants. [vi] With this in mind, it is easier, or perhaps harder, to conceive the horrific trauma that a baby orangutan suffers when taken from its mother and thrust into such a situation as the illegal wildlife pet trade.

 

*

 

I had been seconds from deciding on the perfect spot to use as my jungle toilet when I heard a rustling to my left. Somewhat terrified, I did exactly what all the people in horror movies do and approached the foliage and squinted, staring out into the darkness. Unbelieving, I threw myself back into camp in a frenzy. The orangutan I had spotted flinging herself through the trees just behind me. The rest of the team spotted her in the same moments that they saw me and we all paused for a moment before racing to our tents to grab our cameras.

To our great luck, she stayed where she was; hovering in the trees above the little kitchen tent that had been set up in haste that afternoon as the rain had begun to beat down on us. She stood upright, very human in her stance, one hand and one foot fastened to a vine. Her other hand fell upon the baby that clutched at her chest. That was our third mother orangutan and at the time we were just halfway through out trek.

 

She graced us with her and her little one’s presence for close to an hour before she swung off into the forest to make her nighttime nest. That wasn’t the last time we saw her though.

The next morning as we packed up camp that all too familiar rustling worked its way to our ears yet again and, prepared as we were, we stood waiting for her reveal. She met us in the exact location she had occupied the night before and we soon discovered why as she made her way to the ground – a very unusual behaviour in orangutan – and stole our watermelon scraps. She stayed low to the ground eating the entirety of the watermelon skin while her little one suckled at the corner of a smaller piece, sucking up the last of the juice from our dessert of the night before. None of the guides recognized her as a re-released orangutan, she was just a mother taking advantage of her surrounding environment.

 

*

 

During my trip to Sumatra, thanks to Taronga Zoo, I had the chance to see ten orangutans. Four were dependent infants; and one was only around five years old and still learning skills from her mother. These young orangutans are just a small number of the population lucky enough to have relative safety in their protected jungle home within the Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra. The helpful income provided through eco-tourism, donations from establishments such as Taronga and the forest rangers of the national park, attempt to protect them from people involved in this harmful trade. Not all orangutans have such luck, however.

Were orangutan faced with only the threat of deforestation and their population decline continued at it’s current pace, the entire wild population of Sumatran orangutan would be completely wiped out by 2100.[vii] Deforestation is not their only concern, however. Organisations such as The Orangutan Project (TOP) which is run out of Australia and was first founded by an orangutan keeper at Perth Zoo, operate to rescue, rehabilitate and re-release orangutans that were taken into the illegal pet trade or became victims of forest burning or felling for unsustainable palm oil plantations. In fact, Perth Zoo recently became the first zoo to ever release a captive orangutan into the wild, to much success. The orangutan in question, Temara, now resides semi-wild within the Sumatran Rainforest.

So how can you help organisations like TOP and Taronga and Perth zoos save those orangutans who find themselves suffering at the hands of the pet trade and/or desiccation of their homes? You could choose to adopt a young orangutan online through organisations like The Orangutan Project, visit the zoo and adopt an animal or even donate to conservation efforts on a more general scale. Our support assists organisations tremendously in their attempts to protect these amazing animals either by leasing land for sanctuary or funding rescue centres.

The orangutan shares 97% of our DNA and possesses a level of self-awareness comparable to human toddlers but these people of the forest rely on us to triumph in this battle, to be able to live in their natural rainforest homes.

 

 

Works Cited

[i]Wich, S., et al. “Land-cover changes predict steep declines for the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii).” Science advances. 2.3 (2016): e1500789.

[ii]Meijaard, E., et al. “Not by science alone: why orangutan conservationists must think outside the box.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1249.1 (2012): 29-44.

[iii]Vidal, J. “The Sumatran rainforest will mostly disappear within 20 years.”The Guardian Australia. (2013): N.P. Web. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/26/sumatra-borneo-deforestation-tigers-palm-oil Accessed: 9 Oct. 2016.

[iv]Afrida, N. “Orangutan: From Illegal Trade to Conservations.” The Jakarta Post. (2008): N.P. Findings also used at: http://www.orangutans.com.au/Orangutans-Survival-Information/Illegal-Pet-Trade.aspx Accessed: 1 Sept. 2016.

[v]CITES/GRASP. (2006). “Orangutan Technical Mission Indonesia”. https://cites.org/common/prog/ape/ID_mission06.pdf Accessed: 1 Sept .2016.

[vi]Suarez, S., and Gallup, G. “Self-recognition in chimpanzees and orangutans, but not gorillas.” Journal of Human Evolution. 10.2 (1981): 175-188.

[vii]Marshall, Andrew J., et al. “Orangutan population biology, life history, and conservation.” Orangutans: Geographic variation in behavioral ecology and conservation (2009): 311-325.

 

 

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Adjust Your Sets, Olivia James

Chinese filmmakers recently made their first ever foray into the International movie-making scene. The Great Wall is an action and fantasy movie directed by Zhang Yimou, an acclaimed Chinese director. The cast features young Chinese stars Wang Junkai, Lu Han, Jing Tian and Andy Lau as the supporting cast. The lead of the film –a film funded, produced and directed by Chinese individuals, starring a Chinese supporting cast, filmed and set exclusively in China–is Matt Damon. Matt Damon as in Oceans Eleven Matt Damon. Matt Damon as in about a hundred of those Bourne action movies Matt Doman. Matt Damon as in very, very white, so white that he probably eats casserole at least once a week Matt Damon. Damon responded at New York’s Comic-Con, ‘it was a f—king bummer…When I think of whitewashing I think of Chuck Connors when he played Geronimo. And look there are more nuanced versions of it and I do try to be sensitive of that.’[i]

Matt Damon’s role as white savior is nothing new in film. For decades movies have not only featured overwhelmingly white actors, they have also cast white actors to play people of colour. From Mickey Rooney’s vaguely Asian Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffanys to Jake Gyllenhal’s portrayal of Middle Eastern royalty in Prince of Persia, whitewashing runs rampant.The 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report believes that this casting has become the norm. In the report, it is detailed that between 2011 and 2014 protagonists were white in more than 80% of films.[ii] During this time, casts were always predominantly white with most films featuring a cast with only 10% or less people of colour.[iii] Gender was also imbalanced with roughly 74% of films featuring men as leads during this time.[iv] What has caused this massive underrepresentation of women and minorities in film? If you ask Hollywood you’ll be met with a huge range of answers and a whole lot of awkward stammering.

Actress Viola Davis, star of the wildly successful television series How to Get Away with Murder and a physical manifestation of the #blackexcellence twitter trend,believes that the issue extends beyond recognition through awards. ‘The problem is not with the Oscars, the problem is with the Hollywood movie-making system…How many black films are being produced every year? …The Oscars are not really the issue. It’s a symptom of a much greater disease.’[v] Michael Caine, a self-described bourgeois nightmare, has made comments suggesting that diversity shouldn’t be forced. ‘You can’t just say, “Oh I’m gonna vote for him, he’s not very good, but he’s black”… you’ve got to give a good performance.’He has also said that non-white actors need to be ‘patient’.[vi] What Caine’s comments are indicative of, is how a dangerous disregard for the historical treatment of minorities continues to disadvantage POC actors and actresses today. With already overwhelmingly white casts, it’s understandable that minority actors are frustrated when the few roles reserved for them are instead handed to white people.

So why are people of colour endangered in film? Why do moviemakers continue to believe that white led and predominantly male casts are a guarantee of cinematic success? Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings was completely overwhelmed with criticism as the film, set throughout the Middle East and Africa, featured a wholly white lead cast slathered in fake tan like an Aussie teen on schoolies. Scott defended his choice by saying, ‘I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed.’[vii] Despite showing an immense amount of cultural insensitivity Scott’s opinion supports how the problem has been institutionalized. Still, Scott maybe should have considered caring even a miniscule amount about the historical accuracy of his movie, which had a $140 million dollar budget didn’t even make half of that domestically. It only ended up bringing in $65 million.[viii]

Is there a direct correlation between whitewashing and a movies financial failure? Pan, a live-action prequel to the famous Peter Pan drew criticism after they cast Rooney Mara, a white actress, as Tiger Lily, a Native American character. Whilst Mara defended her choice to play the role, ‘I feel like there really hasn’t been a proper interpretation of the character’[ix], critics and audiences canned the film. Even Hugh Grant, Australia’s greatest export, couldn’t save the movie, with it only earning back $35 million domestically of its $150 million budget.[x] Whilst is did make a final international total of $128 million, this doesn’t make up for the total budget or the extra marketing budget, which has not been disclosed.

A departure from the action genres was Aloha. The choice to cast Emma Stone, who played Allison Ng, a character who was a quarter Chinese and a quarter Hawaiian who instead looked like a British person two months into winter, was heavily criticised. The film only made back $26 million globally of its $37 million budget.[xi] The 2014 film The Lone Ranger starred Jonny Depp, notable white man and dog smuggler, as the Native American Tonto. A poor casting choice? Definitely. Worsened by poor writing? Absolutely. Throughout the film Depp spoke in disjointed sentences such as, ‘do not touch rock. Rock cursed’and ‘it better you not hit him. Him plenty weak from journey.’The movie domestically made back $89 million of its $219 million budget,[xii] which was presumably a nice change of pace for Native American activists who are still struggling to change the name of the Washington Redskins.

So why is there a perception that white-washed and non-diverse films are successful? Star Wars: The Force awakens is perhaps the greatest piece of proof that diversity is not a roadblock to success. The Force Awakens was already due to be a financial success, but critics praised the fact that of the new trio of protagonists, not a single one of them was a white male. The LA Times lauded the casting choices; ‘Part of the power of “Star Wars” movies has been how they have invited generations of audiences to imagine themselves as heroic characters in the fantastical, detailed world George Lucas conceived nearly 40 years ago. In 2015 —spoiler alert —it is not only white males who get to harness the power of the Force.’[xiii]

When Star Wars introduced aspiring Jedi master Rey, young girls felt welcome in a space usually reserved for men, despite the fact that a woman, Mary Shelley, created the genre. When Finn pulled off his storm-trooper helmet, black children felt that they could be heroes in a world that was, until recently, overwhelmingly white. When Oscar Isaac flew his X-Wing into the Starkiller Base and completely destroyed budding Sith Lord and continual disappointment to his mother Kylo Ren’s dreams, Latinx children were reminded that they have the capacity for greatness. And the films showcasing of diversity certainly paid in dividends. Whilst it was always set to be a box office success, the total earnings of over 2 billion, for a film with a budget of 245 million, was aided by the positive press surrounding the casting choices.[xiv]

Despite the overwhelming success of Star Wars, both financially and creatively, film is still being left behind in regards to diversity. This year’s newest blockbuster and to-be-expected flop Ben Hur features a predominantly white cast despite the Middle Eastern setting. Similarly, Gods of Egypt only just made back its production budget, despite its token casting of African-American Chadwick Boseman, scene-stealer of Captain America: Civil War. Ground has been made in diversifying casts on new forms of media. Viewers have applauded Netflix’s self-produced content and the lengths taken in diversifying casting. 2015s Sense8 featured a main cast with a transgender woman and tech guru, a Kenyan man trying to cure his ill mother, a Korean businesswoman and kick boxer, an Indian pharmaceutical worker disinterested in her arranged marriage and a gay Mexican film star in a long-term relationship with his boyfriend. The diversity of the cast and the effort taken to film at locations all around the world made the series a success.

Also released in 2016 was the sci-fi hit Stranger Things, which was celebrated for its portrayal of female characters. It featured Eleven, an earnest young telepath, Joy, a mother desperate to find her missing son and Nancy, a gun toting teen on the warpath to avenge her friend’s death. The three main female characters were applauded for having their own emotional and fleshed out storylines that were not reliant on male intervention to progress the plot. The women were also given their own agency throughout the eight episodes. When Jonathon, elder brother of the missing Will Byers, realized that Nancy was a better shot than him he quickly handed the gun to her. Chief of Police Hopper never wrote off Joy’s belief that her son was alive as her being ‘crazy’. Mike, Lucas and Dustan never once questioned befriending Eleven because she was a girl. In fact, women go on to save the day. Nancy orchestrates the plan to trap and wound the show’s monster, the Demogorgon. Joy ventures into the alternate universe titled, the ‘Upside Down’, a horrific dystopia, to save her son Will. Eleven ultimately destroys the monster by sacrificing herself and saving her friends in the process.

Netflix’s dedication to diverse characterization and casting has led to the generation of a great deal of exciting content. In the next year alone they’ve already slotted a sizable list of shows. The revamp of Gilmore Girls will be released in late 2016, and is known for its sundry portrayal of women. A Series of Unfortunate Events will also be released in late 2016, featuring Indian and Black actors in lead roles. Season two of Sense8 is set to air in 2017, along with Marvel’s Luke Cage, which will showcase a predominantly African American cast. Also rumoured for a 2017 release are season two of The Get Down, season two of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, the continuation of Orange is the New Black, part two of Stranger Things and Marvel’s The Defenders, which has a main cast of superheroes comprising of a disabled man, female rape survivor, and Luke Cage, as well as an immensely diverse secondary cast.

Why is a dedication to diversity in film and media necessary? Film theorists Laura Mulvey and Anna Backman Rogers assert that film is a reflection of the world and as such should be honest in its portrayal of the human experience.‘If the ethics of film are to do with understanding how to live, how to die, how to speak, and how to listen – then surely difference, and understanding, respecting and recognizing that difference, needs to lie at the heart of that thinking.’[xv] In some circumstances an authentic reproduction of our world can be quantified. Hailed as an example of feminism ruining the sanctity of iconic movie making, the Bechdel Test was created to highlight the inequity of development given to male and female characters in film. Critics of the test have argued that it sets an unnecessarily rigid standard for creators and believe that the test is incompatible with iconic moviemaking. So what does a movie need to do to satisfy the Bedchel Test? Two named women in the film have to talk about something other than a man. Once.

No, the other elements of the test haven’t been forgotten. That’s it.

American Beauty, Requiem for a Dream, Donnie Darko, Jaws, Pulp Fiction, The Godfather Part II, Star Wars: The Force Awakens–these are just some of the movies that pass the Bechdel test, most of which are acclaimed. Many of them went on to win Oscars. Jaws won three Oscars and a Golden Globe. American Beauty won five Oscars and three Golden Globes. It is curious that there is a belief that the Bechdel test is placing unattainable standards upon filmmaking. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask that two female characters in Jaws, whose names we happen to know, have a single conversation about the giant shark gobbling up children and scantily clad teenagers. It isn’t too much of a burden, to expect that at some point, while saving the galaxy from a tantrum-throwing adult male who fundamentally misunderstands the beliefs of his grandfather, that Leia and Rey have a quick chat about how they’re going to destroy the Starkiller base.

Female characters should not be used as props and devices for the development of their male counterparts. If filmmakers are meant to accurately reflect society, then they should do so by showing women that they are more substantial than an untimely death at the hands of their partners arch nemesis. To do otherwise is dangerous, and perpetuates societal beliefs that women exist as an extension to men. Similarly, theorists Carole Gerster and Laura Zlogar believe that images of race depicted in films can contribute to the disenfranchisement of ethnic minorities. ‘Hollywood learned its lesson…Euro-American audience consumed a steady stream of images whose function was to marginalize African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos/as and American Indians.’[xvi] In today’s shrinking world issues regarding gender, sexuality and ethnicity are no longer separate. The rise of intersectional feminism across cultures has meant that critiques of racial diversity in films go hand in hand with feminist critiques. The need for representation is universal.

To not care about honestly portraying the world in media is dangerous. Visibility creates attainability. It allows a young girl who watches the revamp of Ghostbusters to imagine herself existing in a space traditionally reserved for men. It allows a young black girl who sees the trailer for Hidden Figures to believe that her dream to work for NASA isn’t impossibility. It allows a child of colour who watches Luke Cage or the upcoming Justice League or Black Panther to see themselves as a hero. When it is normalized for children to see those who they identify with as heroes, they themselves will grow up believing that they can be the hero of their own life. Film and television is one of the most easily digestible sources of information, and informs our opinions and understandings of the world in which we belong. It has immense power in shaping our interactions with one another, both positive and negative. Surely we want film and television to influence the world to be more tolerant, peaceful and compassionate. Unfortunately, we still have a lot of work to do before diversity in film is universal. Thanks Matt Damon.
Works Cited

 

[i] Christopher Rosen, ‘Matt Damon: Great Wall whitewashingcontroversy was “a f—ing bummer”’Entertainment Weekly (October 8, 2016) Web. Accessed October 8 <http://www.ew.com/article/2016/10/08/matt-damon-great-wall-whitewashing-controversy>

 

[ii] Ralph J. Bunch Centre for African American Studies, ‘The Hollywood Diversity Report’UCLA (2016) Web. Accessed August 25 <http://www.bunchecenter.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-Hollywood-Diversity-Rport-2-25-16.pdf>

[iii] Ralph J. Bunch Centre for African American Studies, ‘The Hollywood Diversity Report’UCLA (2016) Web. Accessed August 25

<http://www.bunchecenter.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-Hollywood-Diversity-Report-2-25-16.pdf>

[iv] Ralph J. Bunch Centre for African American Studies, ‘The Hollywood Diversity Report’UCLA (2016) Web. Accessed August 25 <http://www.bunchecenter.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-Hollywood-Diversity-Report-2-25-16.pdf>

[v] Eliza Berman, ‘Insiders Reveal How Huge Hollywood’s Diversity Problem Really Is’Time Magazine (January 25, 2016) Web. Accessed 30 August <http://time.com/4192594/hollywood-diversity-problem-oscars-academy-awards/>

[vi] Yohana Desta, ‘Every Major Celebrity Who’s Commented on the Oscars Diversity Controversy’Mashable (January 26, 2016) Web, Accessed August 30< http://mashable.com/2016/01/25/celebrity-diversity-oscars/#jn68xyNoKPqk>

[vii] Nick Allen, ‘”I can’t cast Mohammed so-and-so from such-and-such”says Ridley Scott’Telegraph (November 28, 2014) Web. Accessed September 2<http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11261784/I-cant-cast-Mohammad-so-and-so-from-such-and-such-says-Ridley-Scott.html>

[viii] Box Office Mojo, ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings: Domestic and International Movie Totals’Web. Accessed September 5 < http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=exodus.htm>

[ix] Sean O’Connell, ‘Why a White Tiger Lily Works According to Rooney Mara’Cinemablend (2015) Web. Accessed September 2 <http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Why-White-Tiger-Lily-Works-According-Rooney-Mara-70870.html>

[x] Box Office Mojo, ‘Pan: Domestic and International Movie Totals’Web. Accessed September 5 <http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=pan.htm>

[xi] Box Office Mojo, ‘Aloha: Domestic and International Movie Totals’Web. Accessed September 5 <http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=crowe2014.htm>

[xii] Box Office Mojo, ‘Lone Ranger: Domestic and International Movie Totals’Web. Accessed September 5 <http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=loneranger.htm>

[xiii] Rebecca Keegan, ‘Star Was: The Force Awakens reflects our diverse, modern World’The LA Times (December 21, 2015) Web. Accessed September 8http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-star-wars-diversity-20151221-story.html

[xiv] Box Office Mojo, ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Domestic and International Movie Totals’Web. Accessed September 5 <http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=starwars7.htm>

[xv] Laura Mulvey and Anna Backman Rogers, ‘Feminisms: Diversity, Difference and Multiplicity in Contemporary Film CulturesAmsterdam University Press (2015) p 136

[xvi] Carole Gerster and Laura Zlogar, ‘Teaching Ethnic Diversity in Film: Essays and Resources for Educators in History, Social Studies, Literature and Film Studies’McFarland and Company (2006)p 22

 

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Giving Up Glamour: The Magic and Mayhem of Ice Addiction, Angus Dalton

 

Nevermore

 

Will and I walk along the gutter after a summer party gone dull, our bare feet dodging redback webs and shards of glass catching streetlight. An almost empty bottle of vodka swings between us. My hair reeks of chlorine. Will had shoved me into the pool after I swatted a lit fag from his mouth; he’d never have wanted one sober.

He broke the silence. ‘Do you remember that book I lent you?’

‘Book?’

Tithe or some shit.’

I did remember – a black hardback inlaid with a metallic-green butterfly. He’d lent me his copy years ago when we became friends in early high school. I’d never given it back. My slowly sobering brain reached for past imaginings sparked by Tithe’s pages – like remembering a dream with the texture of paper. I get flashes of a girl scorching the underside of a teaspoon with a match, melting a substance the colour of earwax. She draws it up into a syringe and pushes the steel into the inside of her elbow. As a line of beaded blood trails down to her wrist the dark around her manifests into shapes: ogres with hulking muscles, fae wielding swords, changelings with manic faces.

The book is a suburban fantasy novel by Holly Black about a girl named Val who discovers an underworld of fae living in the train tunnels and abandoned spaces of her New Jersey neighbourhood. Humans can access to this faery world – and are afforded the use of magic – under the influence of a drug called Nevermore. Once injected, the human characters become aware of sweet voices drifting out of drains and snarling beasts that skulk in train tunnels. Plumes of coloured light spew from fingertips and ignite alleyways. This magic is called Glamour.

I’m about to tell Will that I do remember the book, it’s at home gathering dust, but he says:

‘I think one day I’ll be an addict.’

‘What?’

‘Yeah. Get on the hard shit. I feel like I have that personality. That it’s inevitable.’

We walk past patches of pale grass guarded by mailboxes printed with NO JUNK MAIL. I run up to one and cover the last word with a finger.

‘Hey,’ I gesture to the sign, grinning. ‘No junk. Okay?’

He doesn’t smile.

When we’re almost at his house he lobs the vodka bottle against a garage wall. He turns around, hugs my stunned frame, and leaps through the open window of his bedroom. He draws the blind behind him. The road is scattered with wet crystals.

That was four years ago. We lost contact soon after.

I wish I had taken that post-midnight conversation more seriously. I thought it was post-HSC anxiety, a brief flash of existentialism in the haze between school and uni. But it proved to be more. The last I heard, Will had moved to Bathurst, and was dealing ice.

In his memoir, The Ice Age, Luke Williams describes a similar conversation he had with his best friend during high school who was comparably disenfranchised with school and the society she was growing up in. At 3am by the fireplace, she said: ‘I don’t really have an identity – I’m not really anyone … I am thinking about becoming like a junkie – it makes you somebody.’ [i] (66)

Almost a decade later, she was regularly taking ice, and Luke moved in with her and some other addicts in Pakenham, an outer suburb of Melbourne, for a journalistic investigation into methamphetamine addiction. But he became addicted himself. The process of becoming hooked on crystal meth and the resulting psychosis and aggression he experienced are all detailed in his memoir. He sees addiction not as a result of one bad decision, but rather a result of a troubled past, and a symptom of his dissatisfaction with suburban living. He writes:

‘It is an anti-anxiety drug in the age of anxiety: a depression-busting, awe-inspiring chemical that brings a tribe, adventure, and excitement to an often monotonous, uneventful suburban life.’ (25)

Reading Tithe was one of the ways I escaped the brain-rot of suburban school holidays. The premise of a gritty faery underworld lurking in the shadows of construction sites and sleepy newsagents was impossible to resist. But I think what appealed to Will about the story is the fact that there is no ‘Chosen One’; no hero elected by fate or by some inheritance of magic from an ancient bloodline – anyone could be fantastical. All they had to do was make a small tear in their veins and let the magic in. Luke writes:

‘I hate rules and limitations, such as the fact that humans don’t live forever, don’t have wings and can’t fly, and I can’t deny that a syringe full of meth brings me pretty close to flying and feeling immortal.’ (33)

Fascinated with his story, I found Luke’s contact email and sent him a tentative string of questions about how and why he got addicted. He wrote back within the hour.

‘I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to change your consciousness,’ he wrote. ‘But my advice would be: don’t do it with crystal meth. It is too addictive – you often very quickly confuse reality with fantasy.’

 

Soon We’ll All Be Brilliant

 

‘I think there’s too much clandestine glamour attaching to drugs just now,’ said Ted Noffs in a grainy Four Corners episode from the mid-1960s as he opened Wayside Chapel, one of the first community centres to respond with empathy to drug addiction. ‘I believe that by bringing the issue of drugs out into the open a lot of the glamour will disappear.’[ii]

Noffs’ efforts were valiant in a time where the Church looked disdainfully at his attempts to provide counselling services to the addicts of Kings Cross. But 50 years later, the perceived glamour of drug taking remains. Luke tells me, ‘There are many different reasons why people take drugs – glamour is one of them. I am surprised how interesting people find me because I was a druggo – my goodness, if I had of known all I needed to go was use needles and have psychotic episodes to get people to read my work I would have made it all public a decade ago.’

One of the first incarnations of amphetamine was accidentally boiled up in 1887 by a Romanian chemist who was trying to synthesise fabric dyes. When the chemical arrived in Australia three decades later, it was sold freely on pharmacy shelves. From the 1930s-50s, amphetamine was the most popular anti-depressant in the world.

Australian newspapers touted the chemical, then marketed as Benzedrine, as ‘The Drug that Will Banish Shyness’[iii]. An article appeared in a 1937 issue of The Mail in Adelaide with the headline, ‘Soon We’ll All Brilliant’[iv], reporting that the drug increased confidence, initiative, and articulation. After waxing lyrical about the reported benefits of Benzedrine, it finishes abruptly with: ‘The danger of addiction is stressed.’

After reports of people taking over 200 tablets per day and an epidemic of pharmacy robberies throughout Australia in the late 1940s, distribution of Benzedrine was restricted to prescription, and then finally made illegal worldwide by the UN’s Psychotropic Substances Act in 1976. In city clubs, partygoers started taking Benzedrine, now rebranded as ‘speed’ on the black market. Increasingly pure versions of amphetamine began circulating worldwide, until, in 2011, its purest known form arrived on Australian shores in the form of the crystallised methamphetamine – ‘ice.’

When Luke moved in with his mates, he thought he’d be reporting on the powdered meth he’d partied on in previous years – he’d even planned to take some. But he didn’t realise a far more potent version had infiltrated the suburbs.

‘Crystallised meth is totally different – you are awake for days at a time and often go psychotic – I was pretty much hooked from the get-go. I didn’t realise I was taking crystal meth until after I moved out of the house and started talking to researchers,’ he says.

Taking ice inflates your ego to its highest point, into a state that Luke describes as ‘fantasia’.

‘Crystal meth is a very ugly, atomising, ego-maniacal drug that gives a false sense of achievement leading to a sense of personal superiority and sometimes psychotic delusions of grandeur,’ explains Luke.

The hyper-charged ego boost that characterises a meth high is the result of a dopamine spike a thousand times stronger than a naturally induced rush. Despite that we’re a society increasingly disassociated from the natural world, we’re still at the mercy of a force that has driven every organism since the first cell split 3.5 billion years ago: the manic urge to survive and reproduce.

But we’re evolution gone haywire. Where our ancestors fought fang and claw for calorie-high foodstuffs, we line up in a drive-thru, bark orders into a speaker, and a minute later, a huge dosage of salt and sugar drops into our laps. Macca’s is a juggernaut simply because it has tapped into our basic biological desire for high-calorie foods. The rest of the animal kingdom battle, perform and kill for sex, but a potential partner for us is as close as the swipe of a finger. The reason we spend hours curating Instagram feeds and Facebook profiles has a similarly biological basis. As social creatures, the more people we surround ourselves with, the greater access we have to resources and safety and the more protection we have for our offspring – #safetyinnumbers. Social media tricks us into thinking that we’re part of a huge group, which is why a phone vibration can trigger a jolt of excitement – it makes us feel as if we’re increasing our chances of ‘survival’.

The dopamine-fuelled motivation to chase evolutionary success still churns away in our brains and through our bloodstreams, even if it’s been rendered superfluous by our hyper-successful civilisation. An upsurge of dopamine is the most raw, animalistic and biologically vital feeling we have access to. It is this feeling that is unleashed by an injection or lungful of crystal methamphetamine.

Is the ‘war on drugs’, then, a vain fight against the primordial impulses of evolution?

 

Scare Tactics

 

Luke’s answer to the question of how we should tackle widespread meth addiction is curt: decriminalisation.

It’s a conclusion that’s hard to stomach after you read about the violence that ice users are capable of, and the manic throes of psychosis Luke found himself at the mercy of during his time as an addict. One of the hardest parts of writing The Ice Age was picking through the flaky tatters of memory left over from his bizarre psychotic episodes.

‘There was a weird subtext of men – including myself – becoming sexually obsessed with adolescences when we were on the drug and this collided with the fact I began having psychotic episodes believing the local Coffee Club was operating a paedophile ring in town (possibly an expression of my own guilt). So much of that was left out, because it was all just too confusing.’

Around a quarter of ice users come to suffer from methamphetamine-induced psychosis, which can involve intense paranoia and hallucinations. As Luke succumbed to psychosis, he became convinced that his parents had paid his friends to murder him by slipping small doses of cyanide into his food.

When the dopamine begins to ebb away after a meth high, an abnormal amount of adrenaline lingers in the blood. This, paired with psychosis, can result in astonishing violence.

One case involved the murder of an 18-year-old girl in Ultimo, Sydney[v]. The coroner who examined her smashed ribs and the torn tissue of her heart made the initial conclusion that she had been involved in a high-speed car crash. But the injuries were actually administered by her boyfriend’s bare hands. He was high on crystal meth at the time of the attack.

However, the evocation of the ice-user as a violent ‘monster’ has become a stereotype, to the detriment of the addicts, the victims of violence, and the fight to reclaim regional towns from crystal meth as a whole. The anti-ice ad[vi] currently circulating in movie cinemas and on YouTube features a haggard man elbowing his mother in the face after he robs her, a girl crying on her bed and digging bloody craters out of her skin with her fingernails, and a man head-butting a doctor and hurling a chair at a screaming receptionist before being tackled by two policemen. Similarly, the first hit you get on Google if you search ‘crystal meth’ is the website drugfreeworld.org[vii]. A colour-leached video plays, showing a pale, snarling young man raise a gun at a convenience store worker.

These advertisements are obviously using scare tactics to discourage potential users, but for regular users and people already dependent on crystal methamphetamine – of which there are over 286,000 in Australia[viii] – who are portrayed in this way, the result is alienating and reductive. How can you speak out and search for help if you’re portrayed as a monster?

The installation of a supervised ice-smoking room in Liverpool has been met with outrage and petitions from local residents worried about a spike in violence[ix]. What could be a progressive step forward in increasing user safety is being blockaded because of the alarm these media campaigns proliferate.

Luke says that this ice-smoking room and its staff would’ve actually seen a reduction in ice-fuelled violence, as the people who staff institutions of the sort are trained specifically to deal with drug users.

‘There is so much violence in hospitals by ice users because public hospital staff offer no empathy, no patience and very little understanding of what it means to be in a drug-induced psychosis,’ he says. ‘I have on occasions been into hospitals and actually had nurses antagonise me while I was on drugs – it’s bloody disgusting.’

Prior to reading Luke’s book and our back-and-forth email conversation – during which he was courteous, thorough and courageous with his answers – whenever I thought of Will, I cast him in one of those bleached anti-ice ads. In my mind his eyes were underscored with grit and purple circles, dead skin lodged under fingernails, split knuckles, teeth the colour of Tithe’s ageing pages. In my dreams, he wandered alone in streetlight flinging bottles at walls, watching the glass scatter. What if he was caught dealing – was he now pressed against the cold concrete of a cell writhing against the venom of withdrawals?

Now my imaginings are far less dramatic. Will is not a monster. Nor is Luke. We know that humanity reacts with violence and fear towards things we don’t understand – perhaps another undesirable leftover from our evolutionary instincts – but the greatest leaps forward in terms of human rights are propelled by empathy.

I can’t remember if the characters in Tithe ever manage to untie themselves from the addictive tendrils of Nevermore, or if they ever overcome their lust for Glamour. I pick up Will’s copy from my bookshelf. Mould scatters the cover like track marks. Its pages bloom with fading yellow bruises and the butterfly is decaying in lustrous flakes. I go to read the last page. Then, I stop. I turn to page one and curl up beside a window that looks out over the streetlights hovering in a grid above my suburb.

To understand the end again, I must start from the beginning.

 

Works Cited:

[i]Williams, Luke. The Ice Age: A journey into crystal meth addiction. Melbourne: Scribe Publishing, 2016. Print.

[ii]Four Corners. Facebook. 7. Sept. https://www.facebook.com/abc4corners/videos/vl.335220750154562/10153920129330954/?type=1. Accessed 08/09/16.

[iii]Author Unknown. ‘New Drug Will Banish Shyness’. Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA : 1861 – 1954) 4 August 1936, pp.6. Web. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article77934134. Accessed 10/10/16.

[iv]Author Unknown. ‘Soon We’ll All Be Brilliant’. The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 – 1954) 15 May 1937, pp.2. Web. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article55930408. Accessed 10/10/ 16.

[v]Meddows, David. ‘Sean King bashed teen girlfriend so violently she looked like a car crash victim’. The Daily Telegraph. 9 December 2015: Web. http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/special-features/in-depth/ice-addict-killers-sean-king-blames-the-toxic-drug-for-brutal-bashing-murder-of-jazminjean-ajbschitz/news-story/eb97687dcb45a6e7e958ab4264558c2c. Accessed 09/09/16.

[vi] ‘Ice destroys lives Australia Government Commercial 2015 HD’ Youtube, uploaded by Commercials HD: Abantec, 15 May 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfB3iK9jQ_I. Accessed 15/08/16.

[vii] ‘Crystal Meth’ Foundation for a Drug-Free World, 2006-2016, http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/crystalmeth.html Accessed 15/08/16.

[viii]Degenhardt L; Larney S; Chan G; Dobbins T; Weier M; Roxburgh A; Hall WD; McKetin R, 2016, ‘Estimating the number of regular and dependent methamphetamine users in Australia, 2002-2014′, The Medical journal of Australia, vol. 204, pp. 153. Print.

[ix] Metherell, Lexi. ‘Liverpool community members express unease with plans for Australia’s first ice inhalation room’. ABC News. 24 August 2016. Web. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-24/liverpool-community-uneasy-with-plans-for-ice-inhalation-room/7780070 Accessed 10/09/16.

Black, Holly. Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. Print.

 

Download a PDF of ‘Giving Up Glamour’

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The Golden Mile in Sticky Shoes, Victoria Marin

It was a mild September night as I walked from Kings Cross station toward Victoria Street. There were people who really ought to be wearing a jacket, lining Darlinghurst Road handing us coupons for their venues. Free drink! Free entry! Each one seemed just as enticing as the next to a young crowd starting out the night. I was with a group of friends – it was my first time in Kings Cross – and I felt reassured by safety in numbers. Young people flooded the area as we headed down Bayswater Road, congregating in packs as though marking their territory. With arms slung over each other, groups of mates stumbled around to their next party stop. Perhaps it is my own lack of interest in getting intoxicated beyond recognition, but the volatility of nightlife in Kings Cross made me feel uneasy. Growing up watching news segments that showed the worst of the Cross’ nightlife put me on edge. I knew it could change from pushes and shoves to punches being thrown in the blink of an eye.

Still onwards I went, following the leaders to World Bar. A popular venue where they sell shots of vodka that taste like Skittles. It was the overwhelming smell of tobacco that hit me first. Shuffling through the narrow gaps in the crowd to get inside, the soles of my shoes stuck to the floor with each step. With two drinks for the price of one in each hand, we wondered around looking for a table. What a prize to find a table. They are few and far between in any venue. Spare stools were lying around which we slowly accumulated until all four of us were comfortably seated…more or less. By the time I went back for a second round of drinks the atmosphere had shifted towards the sloppy end of intoxication. This was only the beginning.

 

*

 

In 2001, when Kings Cross was in its golden age where bars, pubs, and brothels kept their candles burning well into the early hours of the morning. Helen and Arthur – my aunt and uncle – started up an Italian pizzeria on Victoria Street. It was previously owned by family friends who had decided to move back to Argentina. My aunt says at the time there were ‘half as many restaurants on Victoria Street.’[i] At first the restaurant was nothing but a shell. The sour smell of fresh insect poison stung my eyes. The kitchen was tucked away behind the front counter, concealing huge steel ovens and benches that still had their plastic labels on them. The dining room had been cleared out to polish the tiles. Delivered tables and chairs sat stacked outside. My cousins sat in the upstairs dining room polishing cutlery. The sun had just begun bowing its head for the day, leaving polluted rays to light the street which was preparing itself for another big night. Above the restaurant was a small apartment that my aunt and uncle began renting in 2003. After their nightly dinner service they would retire upstairs to their apartment. Being so close to the main road, they watched nights disappear into mornings where people eventually stumbled their way home. My aunt says she remembers that from around 2010 onwards, more and more young girls were getting themselves into strife. She and my uncle have witnessed some horror stories, she says; watching young girls struggling to stay upright, and even restraining a young woman whom they presumed was high on something, from attacking their dinner guests. Christie, their daughter, was 21 at the time and just beginning to venture into the Kings Cross nightlife scene. She recalls the queues for nightclubs – Hugo’s in particular – wound all the way down the street and around the corner. Despite being completely ‘packed,’[ii] and ‘messy,’[iii] there was a distinct ‘community feel,’[iv] she says, but that deteriorated quite quickly in the following years.

 

*

 

By round three, I was a little cloudy. My fingers were numb, my tongue wasn’t working properly and it had gotten very warm. Perched on my stool, I recall thinking that people were really enjoying themselves, maybe even a bit too much.

The scene began in the 1920s when the residential landscape began to shift. New apartment buildings were being constructed across the Kings Cross precinct in Darlinghurst, Woolloomooloo, Potts Point, and Elizabeth Bay. They replaced the existing boarding houses and residential chambers that had largely occupied the area. With the rising number of residents in the area, the commercial sector began shifting too. Kings Cross was a becoming a Bohemian place, not just in its new living style but also in its food and entertainment. Bars, restaurants and cafes were the platform for the emerging atmosphere; where artists, writers and musicians began crafting the scene. Murals sprung up on the sides of buildings, both local and international bands and musicians made regular appearances. The Australian poet Kenneth Slessor based much of his poetry on life in Kings Cross during the 1920s, when its seedier, more dangerous side began to emerge. In the journal article Home in 1923, Slessor wrote that Kings Cross ‘is a chasm, echoing with romance and adventure – and hidden drunks.’[v] There has always been something about these streets that make Kings Cross so alluring. Anne Summers, a long-time resident and author wrote that ‘the romance of the place is that it embodies the tougher, edgier side of life.’[vi]

The 1920s brewed an illicit trade of razor-gangs and thuggery in a violent territorial war. Assaults and shootings were all the more frequent. An Australian drama series, Underbelly: Razor that aired in 2011 documented the crimes in the underworld of Kings Cross; from notorious brothel owners, to assassins and corrupt police officers. The show had massive success and was ranked ‘the highest ever drama to have screened,’[vii] in Australia since 2001. While the troubles of the 1920s soon dissipated after countless Royal Commissions, there remained an undercurrent of criminal intent well into the new millennium. Between the late 1980s and the early 2000s, another bout of organised crime surfaced where corrupt police officers and prominent night-club owners were caught drug dealing and organising prostitution. The ‘King of the Cross’, John Ibrahim, was a leading figure in this new era. The Underbelly franchise capitalised on his reputation in another series, Underbelly: the Golden Mile,which traced the 1995 Woods Royal Commission into drug and prostitution crimes. He would frequent the Cross, enough for my aunt and uncle to see him ‘hanging around with his mob’[viii] on their way to Coles. Christie comments that she once saw him pull up in front of Show Girls to pick up his money shortly before leaving. ‘It was like a movie.’[ix]

 

*

 

From this cultural landscape came a series of events that forever changed nightlife in Kings Cross and most of wider Sydney. On my way home from my first night out in Kings Cross, even in my haze, I watched security guards throw young men out of the venue and quite literally shut the doors in their face. It seems I turned 18 during one of the most violent times in Sydney’s nightlife history. Kings Cross was a place that got wild even on a school night. Anne Summers describes it as a ‘place of risk, full of gamblers who seldom win much and who often lose everything, including their lives.’[x]

In July of 2012, a young couple were heading out for a birthday on Victoria Street. It would later be revealed that the young woman was apprehensive about heading into the Cross that night. One random and unprovoked punch from a violent man was enough to fatally injure her partner. It was early in the night, just after 10pm when the incident happened. At the time I was 17. It’s hard to forget the shock of such vicious attacks at that age. The name, Thomas Kelly, still strikes a very sensitive chord.

Similar fatalities were occurring around Sydney. In an interview with Gordian Fulde, the head of the emergency ward at St Vincent’s Hospital in Kings Cross, he described the scene in the emergency ward during this period as ‘really busy,’[xi] and the longer people were out the busier it got. Generally speaking, 10pm onwards saw young girls, typically in their 20s, come in who had ‘drunk too much on an empty stomach.’[xii] Midnight onwards brought in testosterone fuelled young men, whose bodies were toxic with alcohol.

In March of 2014, the NSW government introduced alcohol laws to Sydney’s CBD, in an attempt to ‘crackdown on drug and alcohol-fuelled violence.’[xiii] These laws had been used in other parts of NSW. In 2008, Newcastle experienced ‘something of an element of the Wild West.’[xiv] Young people would pre-load on alcohol before heading into the city and nightclubs, where they would be topping up until all hours of the morning. When they were eventually asked to leave, violence broke out on the streets. It was called the ‘Newcastle experiment.’[xv] The Newcastle coalition ‘scaled trading hours back to 3am in the CBD and instituted a lockout that prevented patrons entering licensed venues after 1am.’[xvi] Much like Sydney, assault rates dropped and violence in the CBD had considerably reduced.

In the eight years since, these laws have become known as the ‘Newcastle solution.’[xvii] In Sydney the effects seem to have succeeded in keeping patrons safe and reducing violence in venues and on the street. The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research ‘found that the reforms were associated with an immediate and substantial reduction in assault in Kings Cross (down 32%) and a less immediate but substantial and perhaps ongoing reduction in the Sydney CBD (down 26%).’[xviii] Fulde says the scene on the footpaths of Kings Cross was the first positive change following the lockout laws. ‘They are safe now,’[xix] he says. Reports gathered by the emergency department at St Vincent’s hospital showed a ‘25% decrease in the most critically injured patients coming in over the weekend,’[xx] which Fulde calls ‘high alcohol time.’[xxi] There are few worthy arguments against a policy that ensures fewer lives are lost, however like every political decision, it has its opposition…

 

By February of 2016 it stood at 16 licensed venues had shut down in Kings Cross since the 2014 lockout laws. The loss of local businesses has had ramifications on trade, employment, and culture. NSW Premier, Mike Baird, describes opposition to the laws as ‘growing hysteria.’[xxii] When the popular nightclub Hugo’s closed its doors, in August of 2015 something of a panic swelled among protestors, with signs reading ‘locked out of venues = locked out from jobs,’[xxiii] Kings Cross businesses are going as far as seeking compensation for the impact the new laws have had. ‘The streets became bare,’[xxiv] my aunt says. Victoria Street had developed into a bar and restaurant metropolis on its own. It was only in May of 2015 when they arranged their liquor license. Prior to that they had been operating as a BYO business. People would just ‘walk out,’[xxv] because venues that sold alcohol were what patrons were looking for. Already tough times were made tougher.

On the 31st of May 2016 my aunt and uncle closed their restaurant. While my aunt says it wasn’t a ‘direct decision’[xxvi] to close after the lockout laws, the downturn was obvious. ‘It wasn’t going to get better.’[xxvii]

Businesses all over the Kings Cross precinct have felt the slow burn of a culture being locked out. The decrease in patronage, particularly of the male variety, has hit the brothel industry hard. Kellet Street, once full of brothels, has seen several adult establishments shut their doors. There are simply not enough young men to make a profit anymore. The new owner of number 16 Kellet Street, formerly known as Cleopatra in the City, ‘plans to turn the space into a licensed boarding house,’[xxviii] transforming it back to what Kings Cross was once known for. Plans for redevelopment of sold-off brothels include high-rise apartment buildings, more boarding houses, and bars and restaurants. Kings Cross was always a modern place. It makes sense, but the thought of knocking these historical buildings down to build more high-rises is depressing. Victoria Street has always been home to bars and restaurants as opposed to nightclubs and brothels, some lasting longer than others. My aunt says ‘the true picture comes from seeing every second shop on Darlinghurst Road with a for lease sign.’[xxix]

 

*

 

Newcastle is now a thriving coastal destination with a nightlife to match. Commissioner of the Newcastle lockouts, Tony Brown, revealed that ‘there has been a 100% increase in the number of licensed premises, which has led to more jobs.’[xxx] In Los Angeles nightclubs close for good at 2am. While my cousin is cradling her first baby boy she says ‘where don’t you see the odd fight? In a mass of nightclubs in the space of a few meters you’re bound to encounter violence.’ She kisses her son and smiles ‘But he isn’t allowed out.’[xxxi] The Coca-Cola sign that dominates the Cross is the last remaining survivor of Sydney’s most iconic suburb. Its flashing red light is about the only red light left in the district. ‘We never thought this is how it would end,’[xxxii] my aunt says.

Lockout laws have now been part of my nightlife experience longer than they haven’t. The trend for young people now is to head to the lockout-free areas of Sydney; Newtown and Surry Hills precincts. Gordian Fulde reveals the local hospital in these areas, Royal Prince Alfred hospital, have seen a decrease in alcohol-related injuries. This may signal part of a cultural change.

Perhaps these laws are doing more than we think? Despite their unpopularity, the laws did their job in reducing alcohol-related injuries and deaths. It’s difficult to think of a good enough rebuttal to that result. It is a great shame it had to play out as fatally, and as abruptly as it did; that we couldn’t see this problem coming sooner, or chose to turn a blind eye and have another drink instead. Not just in the loss of life, but in the loss of a family business, and others alike; that held birthdays, graduations, and baby showers over the years. Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves now is why people need to be heavily drinking past 3am and why they are violent when they do…

 

 

 

Works Cited

[i] Lanza, Helen. Personal interview. 2 October 2016.

[ii] Lanza, Christie. Personal interview. 2 October 2016.

[iii] Ibid, p 2.

[iv] Ibid, p 2.

[v] Dunn, Mark. ‘Kings Cross.’ Kings Cross. Dictionary of Sydney. 2011. Web. <http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/kings_cross>

[vi] Summers, Anne. ‘In the Gutter … Looking at the Stars. A Literary Adventure Through Kings Cross (Edited by Mandy Sayer and Louis Nowra).’ Preface. In the Gutter … Looking at the Stars. A Literary Adventure Through Kings Cross Anne Summers. Web. <http://www.annesummers.com.au/speeches/in-the-gutter-looking-at-the-stars-a-literary-adventure-through-kings-cross-edited-by-mandy-sayer-and-louis-nowra/>

[vii] Channel Nine. ‘Underbelly: Razor Sets New Ratings Record.’ Web blog post. Underbelly: Razor Set New Rating Record – Throng. Throng, 30 August 2011. Web. http://www.throng.com.au/2011/08/underbelly-razor-sets-new-ratings-records/

[viii] Lanza, Christie. Personal interview. 2 October 2016.

[ix] Ibid, p4.

[x] Summers, Anne. ‘In the Gutter … Looking at the Stars. A Literary Adventure Through Kings Cross (Edited by Mandy Sayer and Louis Nowra).’ Preface. In the Gutter … Looking at the Stars. A Literary Adventure Through Kings Cross Anne Summers. Web. <http://www.annesummers.com.au/speeches/in-the-gutter-looking-at-the-stars-a-literary-adventure-through-kings-cross-edited-by-mandy-sayer-and-louis-nowra/>

[xi] Fulde, Prof Gordian. Phone interview. 2 October 2016.

[xii] Ibid, p4.

[xiii] NSW Government. ‘New Alcohol Laws in Place │Sydney’s alcohol laws.’ New South Wales Government. 2016. Web. <http://www.nsw.gov.au/newlaws>

[xiv] Stephens, Kim. ‘Lockout laws: How Newcastle stopped the bloodshed.’ Brisbane Times. 10 January 2016. Web. <http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/lockout-laws-how-newcastle-stopped-the-bloodshed-20160109-gm2lfg.html>

[xv] Ibid, p 5.

[xvi] Ibid, p 5.

[xvii] Ibid, p 5.

[xviii] Weatherburn, Dr. Don. ‘Media Release: “Lockout” law evaluation.’ NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. 16 April 2015. Web. <http://www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au/Pages/bocsar_media_releases/2015/mr_cjb183.aspx>

[xix] Fulde, Prof Gordian. Phone interview. 2 October 2016.

[xx] ABC News. ‘Alcohol-related injuries down at St Vincent’s Hospital since Kings Cross lockout laws introduced.’ Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. 2 November 2015. Web. <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-02/alcohol-related-injuries-down-since-kings-cross-lockout-laws/6904450>

[xxi] Fulde, Prof Gordian. Phone interview. 2 October 2016.

[xxii] McKeith, Sam. ‘Sydney Lockout Laws Have Had A ‘Massive Effect’ On Community, Jobs.’ The Huffington Post. 13 February 2016. Web. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/02/13/sydney-lockout-laws-have-had-a-massive-effect-on-community-jo/>

[xxiii] Dumas, Daisy. ‘Kings Cross businesses seek compensation for impact of lockout laws.’ The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 August 2015. Web. <http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/kings-cross-businesses-seek-compensation-for-impact-of-lockout-laws-20150806-git5gh.html>

[xxiv] Lanza, Helen. Personal interview. 2 October 2016.

[xxv] Ibid, p 5.

[xxvi] Ibid, p 6.

[xxvii] Ibid, p 6.

[xxviii] Gorman, James. CENtRAL. ‘”People don’t come to Kings Cross for sex”: Lockout laws killing off famed red light district.’ The Daily Telegraph. 15 April 2015. Web. <http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/city-east/people-dont-come-to-kings-cross-for-sex-lockout-laws-killing-off-famed-red-light-district/news-story/801c558035d74b393a6780218fe9ad54>

[xxix] Lanza, Helen. Personal interview. 2 October 2016.

[xxx] Stephens, Kim. ‘Lockout laws: How Newcastle stopped the bloodshed.’ Brisbane Times. 10 January 2016. Web. <http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/lockout-laws-how-newcastle-stopped-the-bloodshed-20160109-gm2lfg.html>

[xxxi] Lanza, Christie. Personal interview. 2 October 2016.

[xxxii] Lanza, Helen. Personal interview. 2 October 2016.

 

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Pub Grubs, Rohan Viswalingam

Sydney is dead. That’s what you’d hear people say and everyone seemed to agree. I didn’t. It was Sunday, the ninth of October 2016 and I was standing in Belmore Park, a two-minute walk from Central Station, Sydney. The park was filled with people, mostly young. They were all there for the second ‘Keep Sydney Open’ rally.
I looked around and saw people talking, smiling and some dancing to minimal tech being shot out of a couple of speakers in the centre of the grass.

The speakers framed two DJs working their decks in the back of a hired Ute, their equipment festooned with rainbow ribbons. I didn’t know their names.
When the lockout laws were first rolled out in Sydney in 2014, I like many others, was afraid nightlife in the CBD would flat-line. I was afraid because I loved to go out and I thought I’d lose the ability to make sparks fly when the hour was late. But a setting doesn’t dictate the experiences you have and the ones you want – your attitude does.

I wandered through the groups of people, looking at the signs they’d made and chuckled to myself. I saw: ‘Baird – Culture Vulture’, relating to our turbulent premier Mike Baird, ‘Sorry Nightlife Is Currently Unavailable’ and a personal favourite of mine and a well known classic, ‘It’s Not My Baird Time’.
I then saw the back of someone I recognised. Sam Hansen. A guy I met on a whim at a university party. I’d offered him pizza for no particular reason and invited him to a party I was having. He turned out to be a good presence with all his faculties in check. What made him different was his noticeable proclivity toward protesting. So, I smirked as I walked up behind him. A roll of white card stuck out of his backpack.
‘Of course you’re here!’ I announced. He turned and looked at me for a moment. It’d been a while since we last spoke so I was a stranger to him at first. Then he smiled back.
‘Rohan, mate, how’re you?’ I shook his hand.
‘Very well, you packing heat today?’ I asked as I motioned to his rolled card behind his head. He recognised it.
‘Haven’t written anything yet, gotta come up with something good you know?’
‘What about “No Lockout Laws and Happy Greyhound Paws”?’ We both laughed and Sam pointed to the centre.
‘Let’s go to the middle, people are dancing there.’
‘Amen.’

Dancing in the midday summer heat would have been favourable had I not had work in two hours. I predicted I’d make a little of the march then would have to leave – a shame, as the vibes of democratic protest were starting to become intoxicating. The music beat was fast and the bass was muted and deep – just the way dancers liked it. It blew my mind that so many people could rock up to a place like this on a weekend, voluntarily. So I celebrated and bopped and swayed among the forest of wooden posts, sporting their signs high up like a canopy of leaves. Someone tapped me on the shoulder, it was Sam.
‘I’m gonna find my friend I’ll see you around.’ I gave him thumps up and returned to solo exhibitionism. Learning how to dance and have a good time on your own is a slowly-learned, vital skill that I had acquired. I’d recommend it to anyone. Losing your group of friends while you’re out is a common experience and a potential downer. But if you know how to operate alone the stakes get a lot lower when you find yourself adrift. For girls this was different, and this is why many of them stuck together like industry-strength adhesive. But issues of gender are another story, not this one.

The music suddenly stopped. Groans galore. A man named Tyson Koh swapped places with the DJs and spoke into a mike. He was the spokesperson for the campaign, this was the first time I’d heard him. His eyelids were sleepy but his eyes were not and they beamed out through his beady, hipster rim glasses. He spoke words of stealing Sydney, the death of culture and live music, of fat cats and casinos, of violence and of friendship and creativity. He also spoke of Melbourne, a city south of us that had so far avoided the dreaded one thirty AM lockdown.
The march began and the crowd, in a slow current, started plodding north. We moved onto Hay Street, under the train overpass where our voices echoed for a moment and out onto Elizabeth Street.
I called Ben. He was to meet me up at the corner of Liverpool a few hundred metres up. The crowd wasn’t too loud but I had to yell into my phone. The corner came and I waved to him from the side of the worm and he joined in. He was well built and walked with a gladiatorial eagerness, his forearms would swing high and both hands were open like they were about to catch a footy. He had pug eyes but that didn’t seem to be a flaw, merely a singularity in a beautiful and jovial face. Of course physical beauty had its place, but there’s no sin in luxuriating in it, like a girls waterfall hair or sand dune legs, or a man’s knife edge jaw line and craggy brow.
We walked up to Oxford Street. People watched from unit blocks above, tiny people way up in the sky looking down at the swirling mass of people below. Cars sounded their horns on the other side of the road, raising cheers from the crowd. A guy in front of me brandished a handheld speaker, held it over his head like a trophy, spitting out more EDM, fuelling the spirit even more in his radius. I saw so many beautiful women, dressed up in lively summer denim and baggy white shirts with those knots done at the torso. The men were all so sanguine, striding up the white lines of the road, with their revamped nineties snapbacks and Mac DeMarco rat moustaches. There were a few older folks dotted here and there, veterans of the night, still bobbing their heads to the plumes of music wafting in the air.

Over the past year or so I’d been out with Ben at night so often that he’d become a best friend. I only had one other from school but Ben satiated my underworked impulsive side. He was the best host, a better drinking buddy and if you could weather the rollercoaster then you’d have a great time. He, like me, could keep his head screwed on no matter how wild things got, which made for some interesting and well-remembered stories. There was never any memory loss; we enjoyed it too much for that to happen.
He was one of the many Sydney nightlife success stories that the anti lockout crowd chose to ignore. I loved all the signs I saw but one at the first rally. It said this: “F**k this, I’m moving to Melbourne”. There seemed to be a sentiment of faithlessness in Sydney. Like these people wanted it to provide them everything they needed to have a fulfilling nightlife. And that if it didn’t deal out a winning hand every single time they went out, they’d simply pack their bags and move to a very similar city. I’ve been to Melbourne and it’s a hoot but that was because of my attitude, not because the bars and clubs were open twenty-four seven.

For better or worse, my attitude was uncompromising in having a good time and sharing that with other people, making them feel included whoever they were, making them feel thankful they got on a train and hiked it all the way into the CBD. Ben shared the same impulse and I had made so many good memories with friends and also strangers before the lockout laws. After lock out laws were introduced in February 2014, my memories and the experiences that forged them actually got better. This was because I now had to be mindful about the way I planned my night.

With fewer resources one is forced to be more creative and I was able to do that on my own or in league with Ben. We sort out different venues, different events for different crowds. I got into the deep house dance scene, jazz bars, whiskey bars, poetry reading, book clubs, performance art, rock metal gigs, late night film screenings and festivals, warehouse parties, dress up parties (even though I hate dressing up) and even a fetish party. Plus the old faithful beer and footy with mates at the pub. The nightlife never went anywhere, it wasn’t dying off under the stairs, and it was all still happening, waiting for people to dive in.
So why was everybody so angry? Because a lot of crowd were cynics who saw Kings Cross as the face of Sydney nightlife and that if they didn’t fit into that scene, all two-to-four streets of it, they would give up all hope and write off the rest of the city as a sloppy failure. The angst would permeate most social groups as the groups’ themselves couldn’t be bothered, or were for whatever reason unable to go to places other than the now deceased workhorses Bar Century and Soho.
If we were so against the lockout laws we should have been protesting but also filling up the dance floors, bars and stages of the venues we loved, great and small, mainstream and underground.
Jimmy Barnes, lead of Cold Chisel, spoke out about the forty percent drop in attendance to live music events. That was our fault. How can you make a stand if you show up to protest, but not at the locations the protest aims to protect?

The crowd plods up Oxford Street, a place where I had seen a decline in populace happening at night.
‘We’re going so fast aren’t we?’ said Ben.
‘Yeah like F1, I have to go work soon.’ I said and then proceeded to make an F1 sound with my mouth. Ben and I did this together. You squeeze your lips tight and then tense your stomach and force air at high pressure through your lips while trying to keep them closed. The sound is like the old V12 engines the cars used to have – the ear splitting, earthquake sound. But for us it sounded like slowly letting the air out of a balloon.
‘Two o’clock right? You’ve got ten minutes to walk all the way back to Central’ He asked, I nodded like a head banger and made a face.
‘Yeah got caught up in the vibes, everyone’s all about our generation not caring about things, but look at this shit.’ I gestured to the masses. Ben jumped, peeking at the line snaking ahead, and then he did the same to see the rear.
‘Quite a lot of people.’
‘Yes.’
‘Protesting the fact that it’s a little bit harder to get a shitty drink past one thirty.’
I laughed. He did have a point.
‘Only the biggest issues in this country.’
‘Oui, you know what else is big?’ No joke is too shameful for Ben.
‘You’re a big dumbass, that’s what’s big.’ I deflected feebly.
‘Nah my dad was a big drinker, sort of became another person after a few. He wasn’t bad, just annoying and like, loose and everything.’ I changed tact, came down to his level.
‘Oh right, well yeah the issue goes back to that I guess. You know our cultural love affair with the bottle. And guys are getting hurt, and dying as well. I mean how can people protest against a decline in violence? Everyone just kinda gleans over that here.’
I did remember seeing a sign advocating to keep Sydney closed.
‘Well yeah they sorta do, but ‘Keep Sydney Open’ want better than blanket solutions. Like Oxford Arts Factory was a graveyard last week.’ He pointed behind me to the Factory, we passed it a few minutes ago.
‘Yeah there were less people.’ I said half to myself. ‘I reckon two thirty or three might be the sweet spot, so places don’t lose so much money, I never knew it would have such a tangible effect in some places.’
‘It’s a bloodbath in some joints.’
I sighed, ‘If Baird can back flip on the greyhound issue everybody suddenly cares about then maybe he will for this. I still love this city, it’s ridiculously beautiful and I’ve been able to satisfy myself and lockout laws haven’t changed that. We’re invincible, matey.’
Ben laughed knowingly, kind of like he knew it wasn’t completely true, that we were unbeatable at times. Ben was Gatsby, Jordan Belfort and Chopper Read all in one but still managed to actually be a proper friend (and also didn’t assault people or commit crimes if you’re worried about the latter moniker). That’s what was just in that knowing laugh. He had all the excitement and almost rabid thirst for experience but also the same fears and insecurities as Joe Blow from down the street. I wasn’t Joe Blow but I certainly wasn’t Gatsby.
But I loved Ben and what we’d done, him as pilot and me as co. Two pub grubs screaming through the sky in a jet made of taxi parts, running on beer, cigarettes and other disparaging substances. There was no destination, just spending time together. I suppose that’s all I ever wanted. Not to miss out on things like that. For us, lockout laws were a non-issue. I said goodbye to Ben and left the crowd.

I rang work to say I was running late, they were okay with it. I cut back down south toward Central through Pelican Alley and then Goulburn Street. My stomach rumbled and I realized that I hadn’t eaten that day.
I slumped into the chair in the newsroom, sizing up the eight-hour shift in my head. The rally would end in Taylor Square where they’d probably have some big bands and more speeches. I had a responsibility to be there but also to work. A reporter I’d seen down at Belmore Park brought in camera cards; the story would feature on the bulletin that night. I perused through the footage on the computer, none of my fantastic face in there but I suppose the crowd made up for it. More attractive women wearing John Lennon shades and daisy chains. I smiled to myself and closed the window.

I’d probably end up going out with Ben that night, maybe to Mali Bar, or Side Bar, Midnight Special, The Bank, The Different Drummer, World Bar, The Palisade, Bungalow 8, Sweeney’s, White Horse, Beresford. Onwards I would go in an endless search for love and human connection, of silence after the noise of voices and music, of the quiet humming of a nourished soul at the end of a good night out.

Sydney is not dead, but perhaps it’s just transitioning between stages of life in certain areas. There are still buckets of the hopes of youths running through our streets – you just have to leave the house to find it.
To re-appropriate a platitude: If you can’t handle the heat, learn to love it and get cooking in the kitchen, because Sydney can still whip up a raging feast. And we can all peacefully sit down and dine. Are you hungry? Because I sure as hell am!

 

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Isolation Stations, Benjamin Breadon

Who in sweet hell thought a mixture of steel and grey paint would make a good start to every workday? I’d always thought graffiti was supposed to be a sort of colourful revolt against dull concrete and metal, however the daily rotation on the clock tower across the road is certainly no Michelangelo. Unreadable black spray-paint is only so inspiring.
The positioning of Woy Woy’s 128-year-old train station will always count for something; a picturesque entry and exit point for the south Central Coast’s Peninsula, just 10 metres from the bay that shares the town’s name. But the structure itself has become as contradicting as the people that use it.
I walk down the ramp to where a crowd has gathered, on the Newcastle-to-Central platform. It’s a sunny yet cold Wednesday morning, and the majority have crammed under the shelter to avoid the sun’s glare – mostly men in suits and women in pencil skirts, gazes fixed upon the dark asphalt, or the darker headlines on their phone screens. Some pore over thick books with eyes that look like they will fall onto the page. A recent study from Lifeline Australia says over 80% of Aussies believe that society has become a lonelier place than it was in the past , and here it’s not hard to see why. How can so many people be so close together, yet still be so isolated? You would have better odds of a first-ever Central Coast snowstorm than seeing someone smile in this crowd.
But I suppose that’s painting the scene with a broad brush. Further down the platform, a group of elderly couples are sitting with hiking packs, chatting away. Crowds of kids in green uniforms shout and grab each other’s backpacks as they wait for the 50-minute trip to their school in Asquith. Nearby, a mum and dad try to keep a hold on four luggage bags, as well as the hands of their young children. Those interacting with somebody else seem so much happier than those standing alone.
Having skipped brekkie, I feed $5 into the Up & Go machine next to the hiking couples. It graciously returns me just a 50c coin. Awesome. But I can’t help smiling, remembering how train station vending machines have never been cooperative with me. When I was around fifteen, my mate Lewy and I used to take our bikes to visit another friend who had moved to Warnervale. We had just discovered the miracle of coffee, and decided on our way home that I would have enough time on a stopover to jump off and grab us two from the machine at Gosford Station. The vending machine didn’t appreciate our urgency and I ended up catching the next train home, arriving at Woy Woy twenty minutes later with a cold coffee in each hand, only to find Lewy holding a bike in each of his.

 

*

 

I’m headed into the city to visit friends and I need to get some Uni readings done. In one of the ‘quiet carriages’ that make up the front, back, and two centre carriages of the train’s eight, I sit next to a tiny old Asian woman. She frowns like I’ve sat on her birthday cake. The air – the only part of the train’s insides that isn’t coloured a kidney-purple – is thick with a hostility that only the twice-a-day repetition of hour-plus train trips can bring.
Then the worst happens – a phone rings. The default iPhone tone echoes throughout the carriage. Everyone looks up to glare holes through the person responsible, this abuser of our right to remain silent. In their defence, this is probably the early-morning alarm tone of 90% of the people here. The culprit – a lady with greying brown hair and a bright pink cardigan – looks around nervously, waits for the ringing to stop without taking the call, and shrinks into her seat.
I sit and watch her for a while, with my web design readings open on my lap, thinking of what the call might’ve been about. Could’ve been anything really – a neighbour calling to let her know her dog, Spud, had pulled off a great escape by leaping a two-metre fence, or a friend wishing her a happy birthday. It could have been the hospital, ringing to say that a loved one had been in a car accident. Maybe it was a bank rep, calling to ask if she was aware her credit card had been charged $400 for the purchase of 800 low-grade Yo-Yos from a shady eBay seller based in Sweden. Who knows? Who would ask?
She puts her phone back into her not-purple handbag. I look out the window at the Hawkesbury River as though playing a part in a 90’s music video. Work? The aquarium? The casino? I wonder who the woman is, and how anyone even defines that. A man with a belly forced into a light-blue shirt and tie starts snoring across the aisle. Where does he work? Is he at the bottom or top of the corporate ladder? The woman on my left shifts in her seat as I start scribbling words onto my book margins with a highlighter: TRAIN TRIPS. SILENCE. HOSTILITY. PHONE. PINK CARDIGAN. My highlighter squeaks, and she exhales loudly. Why is everyone so cranky? sunder
The word sonder comes to mind; a term I’d come across for the umpteenth time through a Facebook meme the night before. The word doesn’t seem to belong to any dictionary andI tracked its origins to a webpage that was later published as a book, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig . Sonder means the realisation that every other person has their own histories, loves, hates and attitudes; their own friends, families and enemies. It means that even though in the overall scheme of things they may just be one random passenger sharing a train trip, but every stranger is just as complex as you – which also means there are thousands of reasons as to why someone might be in a bad mood.
I shove my book into my bag and stand up – it is way too quiet and it’s doing my head in.

 

*

 

The ‘quiet’ carriages mean well. They aim to make trips more bearable and ‘provide you with a quiet environment when travelling longer distances’ . And the stress that comes with commuting is by no means an imaginary thing – a direct link has been found between psychological stress and both rail and automobile commutes: longer trips tend to increase passengers’ stress levels, with crowding and noise said to be particular contributors .
But it is hard to judge whether staying quiet in a carriage crammed with people is truly helpful, or if it fosters an atmosphere that makes you worry about getting king-hit by a stranger for sneezing. If we’re all glued to our phones in silence, will that silence really be more beneficial than talking to each other? The CEO of Lifeline Australia, Pete Shmigel, summed up a recent Lifeline study on loneliness: ‘for a society that is more technologically connected than we have ever been, these [survey] results suggest we are overlooking good, old-fashioned care and compassion when it comes to our mental health and wellbeing.’i
Tiptoeing my way down the aisle, I realise that a prohibition of noise reads like something dystopian out of V for Vendetta. Especially when that silence now spans half of almost every train in NSW. We live in a time where a whole train carriage might antagonise you, simply because your phone went off. Is breeding a culture of isolation really the answer to the stresses of everyday commuting? More importantly, is this change dangerous on a wider scale? Nowadays it takes insane courage to strike up a conversation with a stranger in public, spending two days afterwards critically analysing every word you said. It’s just how it is, right? We were raised not to talk to strangers. Nobody told us to try again at an older age when we could judge our own safety. But loneliness has become rampant in modern culture: Australia’s suicide rates are at a 13-year high, with loneliness also being linked to higher instances of heart disease, stroke and generally shorter lifespans .
We are in mortal danger of falling out of touch with each other.
But how can we battle this culture of isolation? Just yesterday, as I drove 45-minutes along the M1 from work, although I was just listening to the radio on my own, I’d thought about how time seemed to pass so much quicker while listening to completely average people call in and tell stories on the Hamish and Andy show.
I’m not alone in finding pleasure in other peoples’ stories. It’s human nature. Clinical psychology theorist Miller Mair argues, ‘Stories are habitations. We live in and through stories. They conjure worlds. We do not know the world other than as story world. Stories inform life. They hold us together and keep us apart.’
Mair went on to argue something very similar to the recent term sonder: ‘We are, each of us, locations where the stories of our place and time become partially tellable.’
How can it feel lonely on a train packed with people, whilst being alone in the car listening to people sharing personal stories is inclusive and entertaining?
Paul J. Zak of the Harvard Business Review pins this on the release of our feel-good chemical: ‘Oxytocin is produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others. It does this by enhancing the sense of empathy, our ability to experience others’ emotions.’
Zak says that the tension of a good story creates empathy between the teller and their audience: ‘If that story is able to create that tension then it is likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviours of those characters.’
What if the characters Zak mentions, are ourselves? If we are in the company of others each day, full of stories that make us feel good to tell and hear, then why not take advantage? Even if they are silly stories, like someone missing a train at Gosford Station ten years ago for a crappy vending machine coffee. And of course, not everyone sitting silently on the train is sad to be doing so. Mny people would prefer to just read a book or sit on their phone. But these, like us, are just containers of stories. Encouraging ourselves to at least be open to a chat might be helpful. You never know what one conversation could do for a person. Plus, if a culture of storytelling takes off, it’s only natural that we’d all get better at it.

 

*

 

Unfortunately, it seems the culture has spilled over. I’m moving down the train through carriages that aren’t officially “quiet” but you’d still hear a pin drop. I have to walk down a few before I find one that’s comfortable. And it isn’t just one or two people talking in here – it’s the majority of the carriage, and the tension from the beginning of the train is nowhere to be found. I flop into a spare seat and soak up the noise.
Across the aisle, an elderly man with slicked brown hair talks on the phone. He is trying to jam the handset inside his earhole without realising it’son loudspeaker. He has a thick accent that makes it tough to figure out what he’s saying, and by the responses he’s getting from the speaker it seems the other guy’s struggling too: ‘What?’ ‘Huh?’ ‘What?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Yep.’ ‘Righto.’
From the seat behind me, one elderly woman is trying to convince another to go to the Avoca Picture Theatre for the Melbourne Cup in a few months’ time.
‘It’s only $48 per person,’
The other woman gasps.
‘But you get to have champagne in the garden, have some fish and chips from the nice shop nearby, and you get to watch the race on the big screen. AND you get dessert! But I’m not sure whether that’s before or after the race. So it’s not cheap, but it’s not expensive if you look at what you get for it.’
The other woman doesn’t respond, likely just as confused as her friend’s last selling point.
The city’s skyline comes in view. The lady rambling about the picture theatre makes me think of the places we go. They too are just containers of stories: how many people have passed through the doors of the theatre over its’ lifetime, and what lead them to go there? All the questions in the world are answered with stories. The amount that must be held within the walls of every building here is mind-blowing. The sky-high apartment buildings, small shopfronts, the old brick factories that seem abandoned but have new Hilux’s in their parking spots.

 

*

When I exit the train at Central, the atmosphere again turns hostile. People crowd toward the exits or to other platforms to switch trains. You half expect to see a lion named Mufasa being trampled somewhere in the middle. It’s also kind of like how I’d imagine the inside of a beehive; everyone too busy to talk, and there’s a sort of buzzing hostility hardwired by efficiency.
The bees swarm past around a dozen or so people, huddled in sleeping bags on the station’s stone floor. How did they come to be here, in this position? I pause for a moment, but then keep walking. Even after reflecting on the value of being open to other people, it still seems too weird to ask and too out of place to strike up a conversation.
There’s more than just our daily commute that would benefit from hearing other people’s stories and understand deeper understanding of each other.

 

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Free Love: The Death of the Artist, Louis O’Neill

My finger presses once more against the refresh button. Yep, still there. Wow, who would have thought that my writing would lead me to the big leagues? I continue staring, attempting to digest the fact that at a mere twenty years old, my dreams have finally been realised. My name has been immortalised beneath the heading of an online article. I have become a literary god.

I make myself a celebratory coffee, pull my curtains back and sit down again in front of the computer, keen to see the world through my newly-acquired eyes of a published writer. Sure, I’d run my own blog before, and wrote for some Facebook pages, but this was different. This was an established website. I had written about the issue of political correctness in today’s hyper-sensitive age, and to my surprise, people agreed.

As I soak in my own glory, the mouse beneath my fingertips makes its way onto my Facebook, where I can publicly announce the news of my latest advent into stardom. Ah, these poor plebs, I think to myself whilst scrolling through the lives of my acquaintances; stuck in their nine-to-fives, no accolades, no articles publish-… wait, what’s this? Another girl on my Facebook, the same age as myself, has just shared news of her own published article! The nerve! Doesn’t she know that I am the only writer in town?

I click on the link, and to my dismay the girl has not one, not two, but five published articles on the site. My overwhelming feelings of glory and self-satisfaction begin to dissipate. Here I was, thinking I’d made a name for myself, all the while some other shmuck had beaten me to the punch, and five times at that.

Wait a minute Louis, let’s not be selfish. There’s room aplenty in the world of writing, we can all get along, can’t we?

 

*

 

My answer to that question becomes less certain as the days go by. As I continue to look, I find that several times a week – if not daily – another person on my Facebook or Instagram will start a blog, or have an article published somewhere. Now admittedly, I don’t think anyone I’d come across was actually being paid for their work. And there was also the little known fact that I wasn’t either. But the worst part? I had to accept this wasn’t just happening near me. This was happening worldwide.

Though such is to be expected. Pretty much everyone has access to a computer with Internet now, and these are seemingly the only prerequisites needed to become a writer. Perhaps not a good writer, but a writer nonetheless. Well to that I say, power to them! No… to us! Writing is a beautiful thing, it’s only fair that everyone should have the capacity for their writing to be seen and heard. But what exactly does this mean for people who wish to make themselves a career from writing? More importantly, what does this mean for me? More writers creates more competition doesn’t it?

First one must distinguish from those who write as hobby, and those who write to pursue longevity. While Facebook has more users than there are people in China, and thousands of new blogs enter the ether daily, very few of these mediums actually lead to consistent, established writers.[i] Blogging is often used recreationally by teenagers as a form of expression, usually only temporarily, and often with no intention or aspiration towards financial gain. Though there are of course exceptions to the rule, with a wide array of occupational blogging seen in the public sphere, from ‘blawgs’ for lawyers, to blogs run by school library teachers, who explain that their use of blogging leads to a more ‘refined audience.’[ii] Blogging is an accessible medium for both writers and readers, and so undoubtedly they will come in handy for aspiring writers won’t they? Well, yes and no. In the search for hope, I interviewed Graham Young, owner of Online Opinion, a contribution-based news and opinion website, seeking direction in this new world of writing.

Graham somewhat confirmed my doubts by saying that while marketing methods such as blogging, Facebook and smaller contribution-based websites do assist in creating a  ‘sense of collective identity’ for the author, they are largely a ‘secondary way of making a name for yourself outside of getting into one of the popular, more established forums.’[iii] Blogging and other similar pathways to publication are primarily forms of advertisement, rather than an actual endpoint or financially viable career. And even when using a blog for promotional purposes, Max van Balgooy of the National Trust says that ‘maintaining a blog requires continuous activity,’ warning that ‘many blogs eventually fail when the owner stops posting frequently, most often due to time constraints,’ or ‘lack of personnel.’[iv] The Internet has pried open the floodgates of information, and as a result, both writers and media companies alike have to produce at superhuman rates just to stay in the race for readership and attention.

 

*

 

These newly opened avenues of media have led to a deterioration of previous business models, specifically in the print journalism industry which has been forced to make its way into the online arena. To their credit, this has been somewhat of a success. The readership of online journalism now exceeds that of its print predecessor, leaving newer generations wondering why anyone ever bothered with those impractical, ink-covered newspapers of the past. Though while ink-free it may be, the shift to online journalism has not been without its blemishes.

Newer generations not only expect to read the news with the touch of a fingertip, but they largely have no intentions of paying for this information. Online publications have been forced to lower their subscription costs, often ranging from between a few dollars a month, to flat-out providing their articles for free. An egregious example of this is the decision of eighty-year old Newsweek magazine to stop publishing its print edition, substituted with an online-only digital subscription. Tina Brown, editor-in chief of Newsweek, explains how the Internet affected her work. ‘When I returned to print with Newsweek, it did very quickly begin to feel to me an outmoded medium. While I still had a great romance for it, nonetheless I feel this is not the right medium any more to produce journalism.’[v] Brown continued to say that ‘Clearly, the digital revolution is fundamentally transforming news as business. So much so that while the old model is breaking down, there is no clear alternative in sight.’

The media’s free-for-all for attention has become just that: free, for all. Emerging writers now depend upon unpaid contribution work as a means for getting their foot in the door, but as late songwriter Elliott Smith once sang, ‘Got a foot in the door, god knows what for.’

Jane Singer in her essay ‘Journalism ethics amid structural change’ states that with the shift online, ‘staff cut backs mean fewer – perhaps far fewer people, with some newspapers losing half their journalists – available to handle all the tasks necessary to sustain multiple news products.’[vi] There are more avenues for writers and artists than ever before, and yet the room upon the stage seems to be dwindling.

 

*

 

This technological tidal wave has not only hit journalism, but too the industries of music, movies and literature, who are quickly losing their place upon shelves and within physical stores. Downloads and e-books have come to the fore, which may save on production costs for companies, but raise new challenges. The biggest of which, is piracy. While piracy has been possible essentially as long as print has been alive, new online programs such as BitTorrent, uTorrent, and websites like ‘The Pirate Bay’ make this process almost too easy. Users can now share and download music, videos and novels for free, instantly. Granted this process is illegal, it still remains difficult for industries to clamp down such a widespread phenomenon. An example of this is television company NBC, who upon complaints about Apple’s one-size-fits-all pricing methods, removed their products from iTunes. This attempt to reclaim profits only backfired on the company however, as piracy then increased 27% since their detachment. NBC subsequently returned to using Apple’s iTunes for their distribution.[vii]

These results provide news and media outlets with a clear message: provide a high-quality product for a few dollars, or watch as your users and consumers happily turn to pirated versions for free. From the perspective of an aspiring writer, reading things such as this can be disheartening. But from another perspective, the increasingly free media industry can be seen as a good thing.

When analysing this increase of piracy within the music industry, Professors Felix Oberholzer-Gee of Harvard Business School and Koleman S. Strumpf of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have found their way to less pessimistic outcomes. The professors remarked that ‘While [illegal] downloads occur on a vast scale, most users are likely individuals who would not have bought the album even in the absence of file sharing.’[viii] This brings up an interesting point. Whilst artists may see their products pirated more frequently, or be forced to release their work for next-to-nothing, they are also able to reach audiences who would otherwise have not paid to access it at all. Producing and consuming art is now more accessible than ever, and this can definitely be seen as a good thing. No longer are individuals limited by their paycheck when satisfying their appetite for the latest song, movie or novel.

Though free art and literature can be seen as a win for society, there remains a big decline in profit margins within creative fields. Despite their praise-worthy adaptability, these industries and artists are continually forced to innovate in order to survive in the constantly changing online marketplace. The journalism industry for example is forced to make up the lost profits of reduced physical sales and prices through advertisement, which Graham Young argues threatens the ability for news companies to maintain an objective and honest approach. ‘Advertising gives [news companies] an incentive to gravitate towards those articles that have the most views. This has led to a sensationalisation of the news with click bait tending to be much more frequent.’ These are fears commonly echoed in regards to the oligopoly of Australian media, largely held by the Murdoch press, in which concerns of corporate interests and monetary biases arise. This ethical resistance to financial intervention means that news businesses must address their own challenges, namely those brought on by the Internet. And as C.P. Chandrasekhar writes in his essay entitled ‘The Business of News in the Age of the Internet, ‘providing online content for free is not only difficult, but evidently “not viable”, and so if a company wishes to charge for content, they must ‘not only be unique but of high quality.’ [ix]

 

*

 

The demands placed upon media and creative companies have never been so high, in that they must not only produce higher quality, more unique products in an industry awash with more competition than ever, but they must also do so with dwindling profit margins. The big question now is whether or not these industries can withstand such pressures. A report written by Pew research states that 31 per cent of readers have stopped turning to a news outlet because it no longer provided them with the news they were ‘accustomed to getting,’ as lower profits have led to fewer reporting resources and a compromised level of journalistic expertise and content as a result.[x]

Every industry has felt the effects of the Internet, for better or for worse. For musicians, releasing records has now become simply a means of promotion, kick-starting a new tour in order to garner interest in that particular musician so that their live performances can gain bigger crowds, with live performances being one of the few elements of music which eludes piracy. Likewise within film, despite having a similar experience to concerts that cannot be captured in MP4 form, film companies have also been forced to shorten the time between their release in cinemas and in digital form, in order to keep up with ever-awaiting pirates.

The Internet has afforded everyone access to media and new means of self-expression, but this has come at a cost. Creative industries are met with an array of new challenges that at this point have largely yet to be overcome, much to the detriment of those working in the field. The clock is ticking on whether or not traditional forms of media can adapt to these changes in time to preserve themselves, or if we may be seeing the death of such industries as we’ve come to know them. As an aspiring writer myself, I have no solutions to give, being as[xi] much in the quagmire of uncertainty as anyone else. All I can do is urge those who pirate programs, songs, and literature to think for a moment about what effects this has upon the hard-working creators of our society. And if you enjoy a free subscription to a magazine with writers who spend hours of their time producing content, spare yourself the extra coffee, and instead donate those few dollars. As one day in the distant future, I might be living off them.


Works Cited

[i] https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/

 

[ii] Dilsworth, Andrew I. “TECHNO ETHICS: Blogs: Online Practice Guides Or Websites?”. American Bar Association 24.8 (2016): 54-56. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.

 

[iii] Young, Graham. 2016. Via Email

 

[iv] Grove, Tim. “HISTORY BYTES: To Blog Or Not To Blog”. History News 63.3 (2008): 3-6. Print.

 

[v] Chandrasekhar, C.P. “The Business Of News In The Age Of The Internet”. Social Scientist Vol. 41.No. 5/6 (2016): 25

 

[vi] Singer, Jane B. “Journalism Ethics Amid Structural Change”. Daedalus 139.2 (2010): 90. Web.

 

[vii] Danaher, Brett et al. “Converting Pirates Without Cannibalizing Purchasers: The Impact Of Digital Distribution On Physical Sales And Internet Piracy”. Marketing Science 29.6 (2010): 1138-1151. Web.

 

[viii] Kusic, Don. “Technology And Music Piracy: Has The Recording Industry Lost Sales?”. Studies in Popular Culture 28.1 (2016): 18. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.

 

[ix] Chandrasekhar, C.P. “The Business Of News In The Age Of The Internet”. Social Scientist Vol. 41.No. 5/6 (2016): 34

 

[x] Chandrasekhar, C.P. “The Business Of News In The Age Of The Internet”. Social Scientist Vol. 41.No. 5/6 (2016): 35

 

 

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Games for Boys: The Myth that Women ‘Don’t Play’, Kaitie Andrews

The jaws of the dragon swing open and waves of blue flame envelop the dungeon. Black scales shine, and bones protrude through the leathery skin, rippling with each slight movement of muscle.

A colossal figure emerges from a stone archway and plunges a battle-axe into the gaping mouth of the shimmering beast. The Barbarian’s chainmail coats his muscular frame and blood seeps through cloth on his arms and legs. An Elven Ranger flings a careful arrow directly into the dragon’s icy blue eye, sending it reeling. The roar shakes every inch of the stone dungeon the party had just struggled through.

From the back of the room, a tiny man, with a lute, begins to strum, empowering the efforts of the attackers before him. The dragon bares his murky yellow teeth and claws at the Bard.

At the edge of the party a tall, slender Elven Sorcerer adorned in flowing robes of navy and gold lifts her wand. Cosmic energy flows through the dungeon as the rest of the party turns and waits for the Mage to unleash her devastating power.

The Sorcerer is elegant, proud, sexy; a fourteen-year-old girl’s fantasy avatar. My fantasy avatar, actually. A deep, too-dramatic backstory involving Fae ancestry weaves in and around my head as she speaks with words that are mine.

‘I cast Burning Hands on the drag –‘

My speech is cut off as the party collectively groans. I’m sitting at a makeshift table of books, which is covered with chips, dip, soft drinks and mobile phones. Halo and rock band posters adorn the walls, and I’m resting my head on an unmade bed. Crumpled clothes are spread across the floor like the autumn leaves outside. There is a d20 clutched in my hand as my body slowly begins to deflate.

‘You can’t use Burning Hands. You’ve already used your level 1 spell slots, remember?’ The skinny boy, with a shaved head sighs. ‘Seriously, how many times do we have to go through this?’

‘Leave her alone, she’s getting it,’ my friend the Bard, sitting to my left, gives me a thumbs up. I smile back at him and look down at my cantrips instead.

‘I’ve got this.’ I nod my head and pump my fists a little, hoping that I’m assuring the group.

This was my first Dungeons and Dragons campaign. We were at Matt’s house, our Dungeon Master. I’d only been invited because the Bard wanted to get in my pants. But I’d begged to go because the idea of a group of people sitting together and tapping into our imaginations was intoxicating. At the time, it seemed worth it to put up with the pimply bag of hormones waiting eagerly for his turn to play.

I wondered if, months after starting Dungeons and Dragons, when the friend who brought me along tried to plant a sloppy kiss on my neck and grope my breast that perhaps I’d gone too far in my quest to regain entry into this magical world. I tried not to let this ruin my love of the game, but suddenly every newbie mistake I made was no longer endearing in his eyes. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the seductive Sorcerer had become a liability to the party. I quit a few weeks later.

Growing up, I used to play Power Rangers with boys in my class amongst the grim concrete of our schoolyard. I would go to my next door neighbour, Steve’s house, and we would trade Pokemon cards. My friend Nick had a Nintendo 64 and sometimes Mum would let me go over after school to play Banjo Kazooie. These experiences and my sense of play and imagination were ruined so much earlier than my friends for one reason: If you’re a woman in a male-dominated space, whether it be in the corporate world, your home life or just in the hobbies you enjoy, there is a danger.

For years, I felt that sometimes I was reconciling my sense of personal safety just to be ‘one of the boys’ – innocent neighbourly visits as a young girl turned into late night walks to a friend’s place with a console with a group of guys I’d just met. Where were all the fellow women?

In 2014, The Internet Advertising Bureau published statistics that 52% of all UK gamers were women.[i]

I found this statistic only weeks after it was published. It was a hot topic on many online message boards, including Reddit. It rocked the minds of many young nerds, especially those used to the sausage fest that gaming discussions and events had become. Despite the pervasive and unavoidable belief that women are endangered in gaming culture – to some extent, they represent or are, approaching the majority.

Did the possibility of a more inclusive future of gaming where women wouldn’t have to feel at risk excite these guys? Nope – it terrified them.

Why? The myth, that women just ‘don’t play games’ or that it is a male-dominated hobby, seeps through every nook and cranny in gaming literature and representations in popular culture. Let’s be real – the first thing many people, myself included, think about, in relation to ‘Dungeons and Dragons,’ are losers who drink copious amounts of Mountain Dew and don’t have girlfriends.

The idea of girls playing Dungeons and Dragons is unheard of in popular media. I had little interest most of my teen years. The image of dweebs with no social skills sitting around playing fantasy games is not enticing to a young girl. Comic book stores? According to pop culture, always run by lonely, fat men. Not flattering portrayals of people who just have shared interests.

This perception has not gone unnoticed by its participants. Men who identify themselves as gamers have gone so long being referred to as losers that when a woman finds interest in the same area, she’s often met with hostility. What gives her the right to intrude on their safe space? Why is she allowed to openly declare she loves World of Warcraft when I’ve been ostracised for it? She hasn’t earned it.

This idea sounds silly, and rightly so. But it exists. And it’s expressed through misogyny. I have a lifetime of experiences to show for this silliness. When working at EB Games, I had a customer roll his eyes and ask, ‘Okay, well, can I talk to a male that works here?’ when I admitted I was unsure about Yu-Gi-Oh cards.

It runs much deeper than just my experience playing Dungeons and Dragons. The gaming industry, as a whole, is still obsessed with producing games for boys.

You wouldn’t be wrong if you assumed that gaming is dominated by male audiences. Most forms of gaming and geek culture in media have had a heavy focus on being a male past-time, or an activity for boys. The gender bias is obvious. In a 2009 study of the 150 most popular games across nine platforms, it was found that 81% of all characters were male and 80% were white.[ii] In 2013, Variety reported that only an estimated 12% of the video game industry workforce was made up of women.[iii]

The issues with the 18% of characters who are female have been well documented. There are gallons of ink spilt over the topic. There are endless examples of troubling female representation in games: outfits and posturing for women are especially notorious. Women, such as Rydia in Final Fantasy IV, are overtly sexualised and pitiful in terms of protection, whereas main male characters, such as Cecil and Kain, are given practical protection – armour. The women in Mortal Kombat are interesting to look at, with their large breasted and barely-clothed bodies, they are expected to engage in bloody combat with heavily armoured brutes. Games such as World of Warcraft, constantly parodied for their rarest and strongest female armour, also happen to be the most revealing.

Perhaps we are reaching the crux of the reason that we assume women don’t enjoy video games. The impracticality and over-sexualisation of female bodies entrenches the idea that women are objects to satisfy the male gaze. Who cares if her ‘boob plate’ armour actually directs a blade to her heart, as long as she looks good?

Sometimes, being a woman of note, in an industry that caters to men, is dangerous. Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist blogger, runs a channel on Youtube called Feminist Frequency, which dedicates approximately one forty-minute video a fortnight to examine the harmful representations of women in video games. She has examined topics from the clothes of characters to tropes such as ‘Damsel in Distress,’ which exists in movies just as often. Pretty standard critiques. Yet, the amount of vitriol she’s received from self-professed ‘gamers’ has been horrific. Amongst public death threats, coordinated brigades to ‘downvote’ her videos and Twitter abuse, Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a speech at Utah State University in 2014 due to an anonymous bomb threat called into the venue.[iv]

It goes much deeper than just the physical sexualisation of women. Cultural ideas and harmful tropes are plentiful in all facets of the game industry. Developers can conjure up elaborate fantasy worlds in realms where magic, advanced technology, and aliens exist but still, somehow, retain the barbaric gender roles of current society. The Mass Effect series includes several races of aliens, which come from various points in the Milky Way all conjoining in one place called “The Citadel”. One of these races, the Asari, are an all-female race who, implausibly, have almost identical body shapes to humans with blue skin and minor variances. And what are the Asari known as being, besides the diplomats of the galaxy with a weird mating pattern? Negatively and notoriously sexually active. And strippers. Seriously – Asari are the only species shown being strippers in the strip clubs on various planets. How is it, that in a culture we’d expect to be drastically different to our human norms, a race with feminised human bodies are considered the sexual objects of the entire galaxy?

Video games currently surpass television in terms of time spent in some populations, with approximately one in five adults playing every day or almost every day.[v] It wouldn’t be unfair to say that the troubling representation of women in these games could influence players’ impressions of social reality to some extent.

Deep investigations into the psyche of a regular video-game player aside, the most important thing that the industry can do at this point to encompass 52% of their player base is to reverse the toxic mindsets excluding women. I can’t emphasise my passion for representation enough. As a young woman who enjoys the hell out of seeing cool women represented without tiny outfits, and needlessly sexualised backstories, I want young girls experiencing this in their media as early as possible. Badass female protagonists have been kicking around in indie titles for years, and we are witnessing an emergence of critically acclaimed AAA titles such as The Last of Us, Beyond Two Souls and Life is Strange that feature interesting women who are grounded, who struggle with real problems and aren’t defined by their relationships to men. Despite the clear abundance of men in the gaming industry, amazing initiatives to encourage women to become involved in the industry are springing up. Macquarie University offers a ‘Women in Games’ panel once a year, and international groups such as WIGSIG (Women in Games Special Interest Group) in the IDGA are fighting the good fight.

But, overall, why is the game industry still stuck in the frustrating mindset that their audience is majority men? Why are 80% of these characters white and male? It all comes back to the ‘loser theory.’ Game developers know that ‘gamers’ have gone so long being perceived as non-powerful social outcasts. Young, white men want to be powerful white adults. So, fantasy is created out of these preconceived notions of gamer demographics. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle.

Gary Alan Fine wrote a book, ‘Shared Fantasy,’ that discusses role-playing games and the separation between reality and fantasy. It notes that, in Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, it was common behaviour that ‘non-player male characters who have not hurt the party are executed and female non-player characters raped for sport’.[vi] There’s a separation between the game world and real life – the ‘magic circle’ if you will. But ideas and values are capable of oozing through, venomous and sticky.

In the campaign in Matt’s room, when I was 16, and because I’m a girl, my character was allocated unique tasks by the rest of the party. The party stood in front of a merchant, snow beginning to pepper their skin. They had just defeated the monstrous beast in the dungeon, and upon emerging victorious were greeted with another pressing quest on the mountaintop. The mountain in question loomed behind the rickety stall, plastered with weapons, food, clothes and survival gear. The merchant, a Dragonkin with a thirst for gold, hisses at them. ‘That’s 20 gold for a coat, and that’s the cheapest thing I can give you.’

‘Surely we can get it cheaper than that,’ the Bard pleads. Beside him, the monstrous Barbarian scoffs.

‘Look, we don’t need this. Listen dude. We have an Elven girl here. She’s top of the line. She can get us a discount right?’

The Elven Sorcerer, who had been examining a glass pendant at the stall, froze. ‘Get a discount how, exactly?’

‘You know, give him a favour. Something to remember us by. I’m sure it’ll be better than any gold.’ The Barbarian winks.

The entire party starts guffawing. The Elven Sorcerer joins in before the Bard pushes her forward with glee.

‘Make it nice and wet!’ he laughs.

At the time, I thought it was funny. I just wanted to fit in and not ruin the fun. But a part of me knew my proud Elven Sorcerer would want no part of this.

I play Dungeons and Dragons with another group now – they’re awesome. We’re guys and girls playing a patchwork of genders with no boob plates allowed.

I’m in love with my imagination again.


 

Works Cited

[i] Internet Advertising Bureau 2014, More women now play video games than men, viewed 24 August 2016, http://iabuk.net/about/press/archive/more-women-now-play-video-games-than-men?_ga=1.227578909.1233071847.1411029683, para 5.

 

[ii] Williams, D et al. 2009, ‘The virtual census: representations of gender, race and age in video games’, New Media & Society, vol. 11, no. 5, pp. 815-834, pg 827.

 

[iii] Graser, M 2013 ‘Videogame Biz: Women Still Very Much in the Minority’, Variety, 1 October, viewed 28 August 2016, http://variety.com/2013/digital/features/womengamers1200683299-1200683299/, para 3.

 

[iv] Wingfield, N 2014 ‘Feminist Critics of Video Games Facing Threats in “GamerGate Campaign’, The New York Times, 15 October, viewed 28 August 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/16/technology/gamergate-women-video-game-threats-anita-sarkeesian.html, para 2.

 

[v] Williams, D et al. 2009, ‘The virtual census: representations of gender, race and age in video games’, New Media & Society, vol. 11, no. 5, pp. 815-834, pg 816.

 

[vi] Fine, G 2002, Shared Fantasy: Role Playing Games as Social Worlds, University of Chicago Press, pg 4.

 

 

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The Heaviest Matter in Australia, Michael Sturtridge

It’s Saturday night at the Bald Faced Stag, and the seedy inner-west pub is awash with black t-shirts, flat-caps, bullet belts and ripped jeans. The familiar faces of local metal-heads crowd out the bar while they wait for the first band of the night to start playing in the adjacent room. In the meantime, the bourbon and coke flows freely as mops of long unkempt hair wax lyrical about their favourite bands and who they’re seeing next. The answer is usually, ‘me too!’ Followed shortly by, ‘are you going to X?’ There are one of two local punters determined to tune out the sea of head bangers as they watch Saturday Night Football on the wall-mounted widescreen TVs.  Before long the thundering distortion of a guitar prompts a slow migration to the stage next door, giving the locals a brief respite. The band tunes up their instruments and sound-check their amps while the crowd of bearded beer-swillers looks on with stony indifference. The front-man nods to the sound guy at the back of the room and approaches the microphone: ‘We are Dispossessed, and Australia is under military occupation.’

Vocalist and lead guitarist Birrugan Dunn-Velasco’s antagonist display of righteous anger continues throughout their set, in stark contrast to his otherwise unintimidating stature. His modest height and slender figure are only further diminished by the guitar he wields with ferocious precision. Despite being the main point of contact for the audience, he tends to avoid direct eye contact as he summons hell from within his lungs, preferring the wall running along stage right where the group’s entourage watch on dutifully.

Serwah Attafuah and Jarred Osei round out Dispossessed’s lineup, forming the tight rhythm section which frames Birrugan’s violent rejection of white Australia. Sans bass player, Serwah is left to round out the bottom end of their aural assault. She remains effectively stationary throughout the performance, her eyes darting between Birrugan and drummer Jarrod Osei. Her withdrawn presence is challenged only by the loudness of her guitar and the long dreadlocks that weave down the left side of her face from a loosely bound top-knot. Jarred appears the most at ease, perched on his drum stool-throne, he breezes through blast beats and an array of splashy drum fills. The two remain silent throughout the performance. As it would happen, the majority of the talking this evening would be given to the band’s entourage of guest speakers.

And there’s every reason for their audiences to listen. Indigenous Australia faces a constant uphill battle for the kind of recognition and respect becoming of the world’s oldest known culture. Somewhat ironically, the average life expectancy of an Aboriginal or Torres-Strait Islander is on average 10 years lower than that of their non-indigenous counter-part[i]. Structural inequality is still an everyday fact of life for Australia’s first people – more children were being taken from their families during the Rudd Labor government than during the stolen generation[ii]. Fast-forward to 2016, and the Turnbull Liberal government refused to consult with indigenous leaders before forming the royal commission into youth detention in the Northern Territory. Only after former Supreme Court judge Brian Martin resigned as commissioner for perceived bias did the federal government appoint Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda alongside Justice Margaret White.

It is for this reason that Sydney-based heavy metal band Dispossessed are so vital to the modern music scene. Traditionally an overwhelmingly white genre, with (ironically) subgenres such as black metal promoting white supremacy, the presence of an aggressively black band has made many a mayonnaise metal fan uncomfortable. So we should feel uncomfortable – hard rock and heavy metal is derived from the blues, which is a black form of music. The entire history of rock music in the Western world is built on cultural appropriation. Elvis Presley made rock and blues palatable for white audiences in the 50s. The Beatles and other British Invasion groups did the same for England in the 60s. As Mos Def once wisely espoused, ‘You may dig on The Rolling Stones, but they ain’t come up with that shit on their own.’ In 1982, MTV allegedly only began playing Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean after CBS Records Group President Walter Yetnikoff threatened to pull all CBS videos. I reached out to Dispossessed multiple times for an interview, hoping to get some insight into their firsthand experience with racism in music (and specifically, heavy metal), but was met with silence. I can hardly blame them for being trepidatious about the motives of a 24-year-old white boy.

Heavy metal itself was born with the arrival of Black Sabbath, a group of disaffected white teenagers from Birmingham with an interest in horror movies. Lower-middle class suburbia in England offered little in the way of job prospects, which left academic under-achievers with nowhere to turn but factory labour. It is these foundations that have helped perpetuate the status of heavy metal as a predominantly white genre. People of colour are scarcely represented throughout the genre’s history, with a few notable exceptions: Brazil’s Sepultura helped to pioneer thrash and death metal in the mid to late 80s, before redefining groove metal in 1996 with Roots. In America, Run DMC revitalized Aerosmith’s career with their 1986 remix of ‘Walk This Way,’ whilst Living Colour’s 1988 album, Vivid, gave funk metal an authenticity sorely lacking in the likes of Faith No More and Red Hot Chili Peppers. They too experimented with rap-rock alongside Public Enemy’s Chuck D on ‘Funny Vibe’. Then there was Rage Against the Machine.

Australia is no stranger to this exclusionary approach to rock. Just last year, critically lauded two-part documentary, Blood + Thunder, detailed the evolution of the ‘Australian’ sound guided by the vision of pioneer Ted Albert (founder of Albert Music and Albert Productions). Albert helped the careers of now iconic artists like The Easybeats and AC/DC. Conspicuously absent is Albert’s hand in introducing Australia to jazz and blues, when he brought the Sonny Clay Orchestra to our shores in 1928. As The Conversation notes, they were deported 9 weeks later after a directive from the Musicians Union to ban visas for ‘coloured’ artists[iii]. This ban wasn’t lifted until 1953, a full 25 years later. We are expected to accept the notion that Australian (read: white) musicians simply discovered and mastered the blues through divine providence.  This is before we consider indigenous Australians, who weren’t even granted personhood until the 1967 referendum.

There are a select few indigenous rock acts to have achieved varying degrees of mainstream success either before or after the referendum: Jimmy Little, Yothu Yindi, Troy Cassar-Daley, and the Warumpi Band are largely recognizable. Narrow the focus to heavy metal, however, and the list becomes essentially non-existent. Nu metal act NoKTuRNL, who won The Deadlys’ Band of the Year in ’98, ’00, and ’03, and toured nationally with Spiderbait, Powderfinger, and Regurgitator, appear to be the only real antecedent to Dispossessed. Even then, NoKTuRNL fall more in line with the hip-hop stylings of Shepparton rapper Briggs than anything resembling Dispossessed’s hardcore-tinged extreme metal. Despite this, hip-hop and extreme metal share commonality through their inherently political worldviews. Both speak to the socially maligned and downtrodden, albeit in different ways. It’s amazing Dispossessed didn’t happen sooner.

‘Alright, after this us black fellas are gonna tell you off,’ Birrugan murmurs. A collective chortle emerges from the crowd. ‘I’m serious,’ he retorts with indignation, before introducing a tune tentatively titled ‘Kill All White People’. A second chortle is drowned out by screeching guitar distortion flooding the room as Jarred’s double-bass reverberates through the floor, sending every beer-addled bro off balance for a single moment. Windmills of hair turn in unison as fast as their hardened necks will allow, struggling to keep up with the rapid-fire snare. The song crashes to an abrupt finish and the walls look as though they’re about to cave in around us. As we gather our composure, Birrugan tells us to shut up and listen as he introduces each guest from his entourage. A night of killer riffs evolves into a demonstration before our very eyes.

These extended breaks are a feature of all their gigs, and often provoke defensive indignation if not outright hostility. We are treated to a poem and a rap. The whole room fell silent, and each performer was applauded as they concluded their piece. This, from the same audience that is presently mad at Rihanna for unveiling a metal-inspired type-font at this year’s VMAs, and previous abused Kanye West for doing the same for his Yeezus tour merchandise. Such viciously insecure reactions might lend itself to the view that such a scenario as this could never take place. Even as the last speaker, a slightly older indigenous man who is unmoved by liberal platitudes, tells us in between sips of his drink that we’re all complicit in systemic racism, everyone nods silently. ‘I’m probably going to be harassed by the police the moment I leave this venue. I have every other night.’

This is not a surprise. Since the tabling of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody 25 years ago, rates of indigenous incarceration have doubled, and their risk of landing behind bars is 13 times that of non-indigenous Australians[iv]. In between 1989 and 2013, 365 indigenous Australians have died in custody[v]. It is hard to believe that the current royal commission into youth detention will yield any real results considering the country’s history of inaction on indigenous issues. The terms of reference remain confined to the Northern Territory, meaning that any abuse happening outside the state will continue unperturbed.

The revelations aired by Four Corners have sparked a slew of protests nation-wide against torture in detention. Dispossessed has been actively involved with the promotion of these protests. In an interview with Vibe, Birrugan stated:

‘I see the work we do as Dispossessed and the work we do on campaigns, speeches at rallies, grassroots stuff like that, as one and the same. The band is a platform for a wider movement.’[vi]

This is in stark contrast to the tendency for musicians and bands to distance their art from their personal views. For Dispossessed, their political ideology is an integral part of their music, not a subtle undercurrent. They are a band with a purpose.

Indigenous Australia needs a band like Dispossessed right now. A study conducted by the Larrakia Nation (representative of the Larrakia community in Darwin) in conjunction with the University of Sydney and the University of Tasmania which suggests many indigenous Australians feel they have to abandon their culture in order to succeed. According to the ABC, more than 500 Darwin residents took part in the study, ‘ranging from long-grassers to university students.’ The report indicated that over 50% of respondents felt unwanted in Darwin[vii]. One anonymous participant is quoted as saying:
‘We get our power from knowing we are connected … knowing who your family is, who your background is, got the country, how you’re connected, what your totem is and your dreaming is like.’

‘But there’s this other culture that says no, that’s not power.’
Dispossessed command your respect, and refuse to take white Australia’s dismissal of indigenous culture. Every gig they play is a violent reminder that black Australia isn’t going away silently.

This lack of respect for indigenous heritage is also part of why constitutional recognition is not perceived within the community as the fix-all the media would have you believe. In an interview I conducted with Jenny Munro of the Redfern Tent Embassy last year, she stated: ‘I don’t want recognition in the constitution – I want that racist document torn up.’ More recently, The Guardian reported on a survey conducted by social media channel IndigenousX which found that of 827 respondents, only 25% supported Recognise. This in stark contrast to Recognize’s claimed 87% support[viii]. The overwhelming sentiment amongst those surveyed by IndigenousX is that their lives are unlikely to improve with constitutional recognition. However, the notion of a permanent representative body within parliament garnered widespread support. It’s pretty simple, really – indigenous people want their voices heard when the nation makes decisions.

The recent death of a 14-year-old indigenous boy, Elijah Doughty, in Kalgoorlie has only further illustrated the need for greater consultation with the community. WA Today reports that the boy was riding a scooter when he was involved in a car crash with a Nissan Navara[ix]. Protests erupted outside Kalgoorlie Courthouse demanding justice for the deceased boy, a ‘well-loved community member and local football team player.’ The protests ended in violence as riot police were brought in to control the crowd, many of which believe the death was a racially motivated murder. Elijah’s aunt is reported as telling the Kalgoorlie Miner his death was the third in the family in the last few weeks[x]. It is in situations like this that indigenous people feel their lives don’t matter to white Australia. It is the reason Dispossessed sees no hyperbole in writing a song called ‘Kill All White People,’ because white people have done nothing but kill black people since first invading ‘Terra Nullius’ in 1788.

This predicament is not unique to Australia, however, which the group are often highlighting through their Facebook page. Racial injustice is a systemic problem on a global scale, which greatly affects indigenous communities and people of colour all over the world. Whether it is the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA, or Ethiopian runnerFeyisa Lilesa’s protest against government killings at the Rio Olympic Games, Dispossessed are consistently among those expressing international solidarity and pushing against discriminatory power structures designed to maintain white supremacy. As Desmond Tutu astutely proclaimed, ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’

Dispossessed and their guests receive a round of applause as their mid-set showcase comes to an end. The segment has soaked up most of the allotted time for their set, and they’re left with just enough to perform one more song. The lights dim and the band dive into a cacophony of frantic riffing and vocal howls. The crowd returns to causing ourselves irreversible neck damage as if nothing had happened. One can only hope the message sunk in, and wasn’t lost in a drunken haze of indifference. Their final song collapses under its own weight as the final chords are struck and distortion rings out before being abruptly cut off, and the band walk off stage without a second thought. They don’t need to say anymore, they’ve already cemented their place as the most vital metal band in Australia.

 

 

 

Works Cited:

 

[i] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2016). Life expectancy (AIHW). [online] Available at: http://www.aihw.gov.au/deaths/life-expectancy/#indigenous [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[ii] Australian Government Productivity Commission. (2016). Report on Government Services 2014. [online] Available at: http://www.pc.gov.au/research/ongoing/report-on-government-services/2014/community-services/factsheets/rogs-2014-volumef-chapter15-factsheet.pdf [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[iii] O’Connell, D. (2015). Blood + Thunder: patriotism whitewashes Australian music history. [online] The Conversation. Available at: http://theconversation.com/blood-thunder-patriotism-whitewashes-australian-music-history-44081 [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[iv] SBS News. (2016). ‘A national crisis’: Indigenous incarceration rates worse 25 years on. [online] Available at: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2016/04/15/national-crisis-indigenous-incarceration-rates-worse-25-years [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[v] Booth, A. (2016). Stop Indigenous incarceration rates from rising by ‘addressing poverty’, says Mick Gooda. [online] NITV. Available at: http://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2016/04/13/stop-rising-rate-indigenous-incarceration-addressing-poverty-says-mick-gooda?cid=inbody:royal-commission-into-deaths-in-custody-25th-anniversary-whats-changed [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[vi] Collins, S. (2016). Meet The Radical, Indigenous Metal Band Out To Destroy The Status Quo. [online] Vibe. Available at: http://www.vibe.com/2016/07/austrialian-metal-band-dispossessed-angry-band/ [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[vii] Lawford, E. (2016). Aboriginal people ‘pressured to lose culture’, report suggests. [online] ABC News. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-27/aboriginal-people-pressured-to-lose-culture-study-says/7790928 [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[viii] Liddle, C. (2015). 87% of Indigenous people do not agree on recognition. You’d know if you listened | Celeste Liddle. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/19/87-of-indigenous-people-do-not-agree-on-recognition-youd-know-if-you-listened [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[ix] Young, E. (2016). Enraged crowd attacks police at Kalgoorlie court after Indigenous boy’s death. [online] WA Today. Available at: http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/crowd-threatens-violence-outside-boulder-court-after-local-boys-death-20160830-gr4bzn.html [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

[x]Hickey, P.,Kelly, J. and Campbell, K. (2016). Community mourns Kalgoorlie teen. [online] Perth Now. Available at: http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western-australia/man-accused-of-kalgoorlie-boys-manslaughter-to-face-perth-court/news-story/71b352036131fce8f26a38654a85001d [Accessed 1 Sep. 2016].

 

 

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