Category Archives: Nonfiction

The search for Lycaon pictus, the African wild dog, Keira Chrystal

Egypt, Naqada III: Cosmetic Palette

Addax bulls clashed by the acacias, trampling the savanna. They gnashed and snorted, grumbling up dust, and leaving pits in the dirt. Females and non-contenders ruminated around them, as if oblivious. Giraffes observed from their troop, swishing their tails, and smacking their jaws.

Before the pharaohs of Egypt, wild dogs welcomed the flush of the Nile with each monsoon season. The flooded banks were silty and lush, and the dogs lifted their prints abundant in the soil. A short distance away, out of sight and downwind, a young man squatted in the grass. He turned over a smooth slab of stone in his hands, thumbs tracing invisible, circular patterns on its surface. The energy of the season runs rampant on the Nile plains after the flood; he had come to watch nature’s competition and rage. The energy of the wild has long drawn humans in, has long been carved into cave walls and flat stones.

 The bulls grind their horns and swung one another with the weight of their bodies, with the sort of force would shatter a human spine.

The giraffes swayed their necks as they scoped the grass. Out on the plain, the wild dogs padded low to the ground, attracted by the stench of the addax herd. A juvenile addax stood close to her mother, her swollen eyes following the pacing of the dogs. The troop of giraffes had noticed, idling by the acacia trees, gumming slow at the greenery. Perhaps too tall and large to be threatened, the giraffe has long been a lookout for herds while the antelope are distracted by their rituals.

Four dogs stooped out from the spindles, teeth like splinters; they yowled and panted with impatience. The man had not seen one himself in many years; they had become more uncommon around the Nile banks at this time, driven away by the yelling and brashness of new farmers. Addax tails flicked and hooves stamped, compacting the dirt in a brave defiance. He watched as the calf is swallowed by the herd, and the bulls break apart, bowing their heads, rubbing their muzzles.

All eyes lingered on the circling painted dogs, pressuring calm upon the herd, now docile like cattle. He searched for the calf but could now barely see her tiny hooves through the dirt and knees and grass. She ducked her head to the pasture. All about her, there was a stillness, and she was at ease with the dogs’ distance. In his hand, the man turned his stone over again, and envisaged the dogs as natural shepherds of the desert creatures.

*

Ethiopia, Middle Ages: Tigrean Shepherd

‘Your blood is the blood of a wolf,’ the shepherd had told his son, when he was old enough to help him watch the herd. The Tigrean people once carried their speared weapons and fought off the wolves in jabs and gashes. Tribesmen would hobble home with game strung across their shoulders, legs and arms bloodied with the indents of wolf teeth. It was said that contact with wolf blood was deadly, and wolves have always been cunning. They dip their tails into their own fresh wounds, smearing and flicking their blood to their attackers. It would only be a matter of hours until death.

The boy had never known the death of a tribesman by wolves in his lifetime, and his father confessed neither had he. He said it was because their people do not take chances anymore. Once revered as a hunter, wolves had almost been banished from the region in an intentional persecution. Hearing of an encounter was rare; seeing one even rarer.

Ears like broad leaves sprouted round and brown against the grass, visible for only a moment before they ducked out of sight, down low to the soils. The sweep and sigh of the savanna hushed the footsteps of stealth hunters. The cattle shuddered their hide, and trotted wearily together, straying from their shepherd. He hissed and clamped a hand to his son’s shoulder. ‘Wolves’, he said, and the boy’s eyes darted, searching for a resurface of those ears, a snout, any soft sound or crackle of grass to give the wolves away. But there was nothing.

His father had told him when he was young that wolves would plunder their farms, gut their livestock in mere moments. Burdened by the increasing weight of riverbed stones, feet caked in clay, the boy had toiled through dry rivers much of that morning. The stones were chosen for their bluntness and heaviness, and were carried by his father in a leather pouch. Stoning the wolf was the only way, his father had told him, so that they could avoid the splash of blood.

A lone wolf, smeared with ochres and white, made a dash from the grasses. The cattle dispersed flightily, snorting, tossing their heads and brandishing their horns. The boy’s eyes were trained on the wolf; he watched the tail, held high like a white feather, and the legs, true strength underestimated as they pranced and pounced about the bull. The wolf was more beautiful than he imagined; the coat was painted like the rocks and trees under foliage shadows of the summer Sun. Seeing the beast, he did not doubt the magic of its blood — indeed the blood running through his own body. He gripped his wrist as he watched saliva drip from the peeled back lips of the wolves, with more emerging from the grasses. His pulse was warm and alive, in time with the hammer of his heart. The wolf gaped a yawn, tongue curled and long, teeth too large for its mouth.

The shepherd thrusted some river stones into his boy’s hands. The boy clenched them, clenched them tight until his palms ached. He watched the wolves, dancing around the cattle as though magical beasts. His father threw the first stone.

*

Botswana, Holocene: Abathwa Shaman

Crocodile mouths mustered at the banks, basking together in the afternoon. The Okavango Delta was a great reflection of the skies, vegetation sprouting from the waters in a patchy network of greens and yellows. Lechwe cautiously waded through the shallows, nipping at reeds, but the crocodiles were lethargic in the warmth, their jaws agape.

A lone wild dog laid in the shade of fig trees. His nose twitched with the scents of the lechwe on the wind. He had come far from his den in search of food and water; back home, even the blood of brawny bucks soaked the soil and spoiled the waterways. Great predators brandished spears, and stamped their feet, howling sounds that stirred his dwindling pack. They brought anguish to the lands, and herds, and packs.

It was to be a bountiful time for the Abathwa. The Moon shone full at night, and the sunshine beat onto the delta in the day. A young woman rattled through young sycamores for figs and flowers. She would collect enough to bring to her family, and the shaman, out of gratitude for what he had done for her. It had been early when the shaman set out alone, toward the rivers of the delta. Now, the Sun was high, and the plains were dreary. She intended to meet him by the first fork in the river when the Sun was peak overhead. Clutching her weaved basket, she called a notice to her brothers, and headed toward the river.

The wild dog was strewn through exertion, though he had not hunted. The wealth of prey animals at the delta showcased individuals too fit and fine for him to take down alone. The heat made him languorous, and he wobbled on shaky legs as he trod back through the mud and to the solid bank.

The woman traversed the low grasses, gently batting aside the katydids that leapt up in her foot-worn path. She idled by the rain trees at the first river fork, taking in the buzz and warmth of the sun-soaked waterways. So far on the horizons, elephants wallowed a path through the shallows, lifting their trunks like animate pythons.

She called for the shaman softly, wanting to remain unobtrusive to the creatures around her, but she was answered only by the rasp and gargle of wetland birds. Kneeling down in the shade, the woman waited. Lechwe grumbled and huddled by the water’s edge, utterly alerted to her. They poked up their heads, turning to the side for a better look, their ears flicking in each and every direction.

There was a deft patter by her side. A wolf, beautifully painted with the ochres of the land, eyed her with a fiery yellow gaze. He dipped his head low to the ground, nose pressing to the dirt as he heaved and huffed for her scent. The woman slowly rose from her place in the grass, ducked low, and held a fig in her outstretched hand. He lifted his head and retreated to the shrubs, sniveling. Quietly, she followed, watched as the wolf padded into the grasses and finally to a clearing, where he slackened his steps to a halt.

She squatted by the shrubbery and observed the wolf sink and sprawl his legs across the loam. He laid his head to the ground and closed his eyelids, whiskers twitching away flies that tried to settle on his muzzle. Perhaps he wanted more time alone, she had pondered. Should she have left him for when he was ready, or was this a test? Of trust? Of loyalty?

Patiently, she waited. The wolf paid her no mind, only the occasional flick of his white-tipped tail any sign he was still living. The wolf was all ribs and hips. She rolled the fig out into the open, and the dog heaved himself up just enough to look at her. But he only lay back in the dirt. She could imagine him a dusty cavity, mummified by sunshine, and sand, and time.

*

Madikwe Reserve, Anthropocene: Lycaon pictus

I set out in the early morning, just as sunlight seeped through the Boscia trees. At first light, the pups play, gnawing at their lazing mother’s ears and toes. She wiggles them off, gently kicking her legs in irritation. Her name is Smilo, and she is currently the alpha female. Her mate is Zenzo, and together they have eight pups of six weeks old.

It is good to see a new generation in the Madikwe pack. There were concerns that the populations of South Africa would not bounce back, but the enforced borders of the park have reinvigorated the grassland ecosystems, with the African wild dog playing a central role in its health and sustainability. The wild dog is critically endangered, seen as a pest to cattle in many agricultural African tribes, and it has been this way for many hundreds of years. Once a common and successful predator, the population has fragmented over thousands of years; the clustered distributions whisper of ancient unity, in a time where wild dog populations ranged from Egypt to South Africa. It is my duty to make logs on the Madikwe pack and its members, track their health and monitor their safety.

Pack life of African wild dogs is unique among carnivores; it revolves around the pups’ care, and a strong social cohesion among all members. The mature individuals watch one another, and all participate in the protection of the pups. The alpha pair will eat at a kill to regurgitate to their pups before they are old enough to eat solids or partake in hunts. A pack of African wild dogs is more than a dynamic social hierarchy. A pack of African wild dogs is a family unit.

In the last few months, I have observed and documented a bond between brothers, strong yet unsurprising to me. The African wild dog is sorely misunderstood, particularly within its own nations…

It was a mid-morning hunt. The African wild dog is one of two exclusively diurnal predators in Africa (the other being the cheetah, needing visual acuity to chase down antelope at such great speeds). At night, the savanna belongs to the lions, leopards and hyenas.

The dogs were snarling, snapping at the ankles and hind of a warthog by the water. Their tails were held high, and their heads low. They lunged together in rhythm-like fashion, from all sides. Zenzo, as the alpha, took front and centre. The alpha of wild dog packs bears responsibility that is unknown to male lions and matriarchal hyenas. They place themselves in danger’s way, holding hazardous prey down while their pack launches attack after sharp attack. Zenzo bared his teeth, biting at the snout, clamping the boar in a bone vice.

They were head to head, predator and prey, tusks protruding beyond Zenzo’s ears. I can imagine the snorting aggression between the two, all spit and humid breath. The boar flicked his tail, swung his head and shook Zenzo side to side. Zenzo wailed loud and long, scampering back from those tusks. The pack hovered around him as he recoiled, tails furious and ears flat to their heads as they form a wall to protect their alpha.

I wanted to throw myself between them, too — the stupidity of it – I know I would be easily perceived as a threat or prey.

As the Sun set, the pack retreated to their den. Zenzo distanced himself, likely to keep predators from investigating around Smilo and the pups. He was gashed, and the scent of blood was a sickly-sweet stench to nocturnal creatures. We monitored him closely from our van, praying that he would get through the coming night. He was barely in condition to walk to safety.

The pack had managed to bring down a young kudu that same evening, after Zenzo was injured. Lead valiantly by his brother – Sipho is his name — they brought the kudu down and devoured most of it within half an hour. African wild dogs are small and must eat their shares quickly. The stink of an open carcass attracts much larger, and more ferocious, predators from miles around.

The team and I watched as Sipho gnashed through pelage to the guts of the kudu calf. The pups propped themselves on their paws and scoffed at the meat, but Sipho ate his fill as priority. This was curious behaviour. He slunk off from the feeding pack, and we tracked him to an outcrop in the rock. In the dying light, with tender vocalisations, were both brothers.

We watched as Sipho approached the alpha, began panting and gagging, stretching his neck. He bent down to Zenzo, regurgitating into his mouth as if the alpha was a pup. We watched, grasping each other’s sleeves, and at our binoculars, and our digital cameras.

This detour from an afternoon kill to the rock outcrop became habitual, and we were privileged to document this behaviour. Each evening we would observe from afar as Sipho padded away from the group and made the (sometimes long) trek back to the place Zenzo rested. We watched as Sipho nursed his brother and nibbled his ears, even laying with him hours after dark.

I had mentioned this bond was unsurprising, but it filled me with a sense of pure compassion for the Madikwe pack, for Zenzo, for Sipho. The day we saw Zenzo follow his brother back to the den, we celebrated. And with frantic sniffing and wagging tails, the Madikwe pack celebrated the return of their alpha.


Endnotes

Baines, J. (1993). Symbolic roles of canine figures on early monuments. Archéo-Nil: Revue de la société pour l’étude des cultures prépharaoniques de la vallée du Nil, 3, 57—74.

Fraser-Celin, V., Hovorka, A. J., Hovork, M. & Maude, G. (2017). Farmer-African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) relations in the eastern Kalahari region of Botswana. Koedoe, 59(2), 1—10.

Littmann, E. (1910). Tales, customs, names and dirges of the Tigre Tribes: English translation. Publications of the Princeton Expedition of Abyssinia, 2, 79—80.

Lyamuya, R. D., Masenga, E. H., Fyumagwa, R. D. & Røskaft. (2014). Human-carnivore conflict over livestock in the eastern part of the Serengeti ecosystem, with a particular focus on the African wild dog Lycaon pictus. Oryx, 48(3), 378—384.

Morell, V. (1996). Hope rises for Africa’s wild dog. International Wildlife, 26(3) 28—37.

Parkland, Melissa Bartel

My lens twinkles as it takes in the unfolding scene before me. Never before had it seen such a vast array of creatures huddled so closely together in nature.

A 7×20 ought to do the trick.

I observe my favourite to start off my parkland excursion. Corvus coronoides – known by its English name as the ‘Australian Raven’, though no one calls it this of course. In this sun-scorched country we simply call it ‘crow’. Its cawing was a sure sign of rain – my parents frequently reiterated this old wives tale. This magnificent creature is known in Australian Aboriginal culture as a trickster and of course it is known worldwide as a bringer of death and bad luck. My lens presumed a different aspect of this sleek Aves.

KAW!

Oh, look at him strutting back and forth, his brilliant feathers glow in the sun. What gives them their shine? Rafael Maia and Liliana D’Alba (2010)[i] would agree that these ‘black’ birds are of a different feather. According to their research, the lustre stems from a unique arrangement of nanometer-scale parts. Their feathers harbour such a distinctive nano-structural form that is similar to the iridescent feathers found in a pigeon’s neck.

But wait, what is he doing?

His white all-seeing eyes are keenly focusing – I follow his line of sight. The abrupt movements of some feasting humans make him cautious as he approaches. Some unwanted crust from an ill-favoured sandwich – the texture of which is least desired. Its taste is similar to the centre of the bread, though the texture slightly ‘chewier’. It surely is a curious thing to which some humans despise. With a flap of the arm, the human warned the approaching crow that this was their temporary picnic territory. To what end did they ward off the persistent creature. This was his home after all – your unwanted scraps can surely be his. Alas their movements left him unperturbed, for they had not sung to him of their intention to stay. In one striking movement he lunged forward and hauled away his crust victoriously.

*

What next should I observe? My lens wonders left and right, up and down. A-ha! The pesky rock dove waddles about with his stumpy legs and stout body. His scientific name would appear much too fancy – Columba Livia. Such a name does injustice to the great Livia Drusilla – wife of Roman Emperor Augustus, mother of Tiberius, grandmother of Claudius and great-grandmother of Caligula.[ii] These disease ridden swine known simply as ‘pigeon’ are regarded as a feral pests and of course for good reason, for they are not simply transmitters of avian flu. No, these dull coloured fiends with their boring grey backs come baring many nasty gifts in the shape of ugly white splatters on windshields and sidewalks.

What diseases do they carry? Of course, you are curious.

Histoplasmosis, to name one for starters. A rather nasty respiratory disease caused by the fungus in their leavings. This nasty bugger can definitely be fatal.

Candidiasis, since we are on the topic of fungus, or rather yeast, is well known, for it affects many areas of the body from the skin to the mouth, to the respiratory system, even to the vagina.

Cryptococcosis, another yeast of course, which can affect the central nervous system.

The list could surely go on, given that they are carriers of over sixty known diseases, though I’d rather not continue for want of not causing myself depression.[iii]

Enough of their issues, but what is he doing? Is that some browning apple piece, discarded for its bruising? I watch as he pecks tirelessly, absorbing the sweet nectar of this mushed mess. Which human had it come from? I couldn’t help but wonder, for I could not see a soul who had just consumed this cheap fruit. Perhaps it had been a young child, whose parents would insist that eating one a day could help keep the doctor away? Perhaps it was an adult who didn’t want to pay extra for the mango?

A flash of white and my attention moves elsewhere. What had flown past just now? My binoculars move, searching for the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. There he is! Hanging upside down from the branch above.

His name is ugly – Cacatua Galerita – but his appearance screams ‘beauty’! These old buggers can live for eighty years – almost as long as humans nowadays. His screech is nasty as he informs his nearby friends that the picking is vast and the bounty is glorious below. His favourite are berries and seeds, though if we are being honest, he won’t mind.[iv] He will take anything, so long as it is edible.

Movement ensues as he swoops back to the surface, his elegant white feathers strut forward with too much confidence. Crest up, he approaches the perched humans who are enjoying their mix of his favourite nuts on the greying park bench. Gym clothes on, their food is most suitable, for they are trying to have a ‘healthy’ snack. His big black beak moves as he approaches their feet, then flutters up to the back of their seat. Overly-friendly, their advantage is clear. A certain ‘hello’ in bird talk, he imposes on their snack practically asking if they can spare a bite.

‘Aaahhh!’

One screams almost as uglily as he had, though the other girls laughs. The seeds spill as she jolted back. He’ll have those, he abandons his post. A friend comes to join as he munches away at the ground. Silly clumsy human, say goodbye to your morning tea, for the dirt has tainted it but not for he. My attention shifts as I look for his mates. Surely at least one is keeping watch to ensure no danger is present and pending. I search from tree to tree, hoping to spot this guardian, though I have no luck, that is until I hear—

“Aaahhh!”

 Where did it come from? I see him above. Nestled in the gum tree he warns to his friends of the incoming dog bounding forward despite his restraints. His owner is jolted as he pills at the lead, sniffer to the ground, tail wagging furiously. To him it is a game, to them it is danger, so off they go to join their friend in the safety of the trees. It is funny really how they see us as harmless. Perhaps it is the lack of sharp teeth and the ever-fading ‘predator instinct’? With their crackle[v] flying away, I observe another species.

*

Oh my, what is this? Is that a rooster? A red junglefowl? His name is boring and appears to be given little thought – Gallus Gallus, oh what a drag. His feathers on the other hand, are far more impressive. With fourteen tail feathers that can reach twenty-eight centimetres in length, he is surely a sight to behold. His body harbours many colours, such as the deep orange on his neck, reminiscent of a fiery sunset. These feathers contrast nicely with the cool metallic green covering his tail and chest. His little white patches create interest and his brilliant red crest creates visual perfection. The way he struts forward demonstrates his lack of fear. He halts for no human, scouting for food is more important. A herbivore and insectivore, his favourites are worms, grass and grains. His sense of taste is funny though, as he cannot detect sweetness, however he hates the taste of salt.[vi] He spots a human with a treat in their hand. He is drawn to the strawberry tops – the part where red meets white. Here the sweetness one tasted before turns bitter and disappears. The human discards this part, for it has not value. His sharp claws propel him forward as he approaches his lunch. He digs in swiftly, feasting on his salt-free nutrients before another bird dare take it. Vitamin C, Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium – they are all his now.[vii]

*

To the left, I observe once again, the overly-excited Labrador and his owner sipping her coffee. ‘Sit for your treat,’ She insisted ever so casually, though his attention span caved and he sniffed the ground excessively. The smell of something forbidden was much more tantalizing then his generic kibble he gets every night. The first mistake of dog-training is to not entice with something yummy and of course something with strong smell as this is always the dog’s favourite.

What has he found?

My lens follows his nose as I spot the upturned can of tuna oozing its contents all over the grass. Who would leave that there? How carelessly rude. The dog pulls to the length of his lead, though it is not quite far enough, and the Myna bird swoops in on enemy territory.

The Acridotheres Tristis has an agility that is unmatched here. The ever-increasing population of this omnivorous woodland bird means that he has learnt to be ballsy, given the increasingly ‘urban’ landscape with which he works. He is listed in the world’s most invasive species list and threatens native biodiversity. He has nasty territorial behaviour, which increases his inherent dauntless nature.[viii]

With more tuna still left, the dog bounds more, hoping to reach it and perhaps catch a bird for lunch. The crafty Myna swoops back and forth, snatching this feast not far from the great jaws of the longing dog.

‘Ugh, stop pulling!’ Her coffee had spilt and was now dripping down her hand.

‘What is your problem?’ She stands with anger, pulling the golden dog away from the scene, leaving the Myna uninterrupted to feast.

What have we here? A lingering creature who hangs back in the tree line I spot up ahead. Ah the Alectura Lathami, or Australian Brush Turkey – I would recognize that ugly mug a mile away.[ix] Its long, sharp claws are something to behold, thought its oddly proportioned body and wrinkled neck and head leave the eyes wanting to turn. His big size doesn’t seem to matter to him, for he fears that dog who just left, knowing too well how tasty he would be in its jaws.

Scavenge or flight? I could see him question, though the dog’s disappearance did somewhat help provide him with an answer. He crept slowly forward, looking for some spat out flavour that had left some miserable aftertaste in a picky human’s mouth. Perhaps that banana would do the trick? He pecked at the little browned stub left in the banana peel – yuck, it was far too bruised. Delicious. I suppose one man’s trash is another birds treasure. He feasted on his mouth-watering meal then cautiously crept away, drawing no attention from the self-absorbed teens behind him who were too preoccupied with taking selfies to notice all the wildlife.

*

The Australian Magpie sticks close to the humans, though he remains cautious of the already gathered muscle of other birds. This Cracticus Tibicen is a medium-large songbird who prefers open habitats. Its beautiful melody of carolling is the common reminder of the Australian bush in which I sit.[x] His black and white patterns are drained of all colour, save for his glowing red eyes. Their colour stares intently at the ground, dancing in and around the feasting people. A piece of un-popped popcorn – Yes please. A half-munched cracker – Yes please. This crafty creature sure knows how to beg, though only the suckers toss him a bite.[xi]

*

I could think of only one who was missing this epic party. The Dacelo, or as it is more commonly known, the Kookaburra. Surely there had to be some, for the number of suitable trees surrounding this park would make a fine habitat for these laughing beauties. I searched the trees, hoping my lens’ might spy one. Oh, where are you hiding, my favourite little friend? Perhaps they are too busy, bashing the heads of small snakes against the ground or a tree branch in the depths of the bushland before me?[xii]

Koo-koo-koo-koo-koo-kaa-kaa-kaa!

Alas, I spoke too soon!

The mighty laugh of the kookaburra resonated throughout the treetops above. My lens’ search and spotted his off-white and brown feathers. He had a beautiful splash of blue down his wings, and his beak was keen to feast. Below him he spotted some unattended sausages, from the group of friends who were barbequing on the public grill. Oh, big mistake silly humans, for this friendly creature has no boundaries. The man’s back was turned and without any warning, the crafty joker had snatched his tasty meat. The women laughed as he turned around all angry-like.

‘Why didn’t you shoo it away?!’ He blamed the girls, though it was doubtful they had noticed the clever little guy waiting for such an opportunity in the first place.

 My lens’ followed the kookaburra, as he aggressively bashed the sausage against the tree. Bits flew off and feel to the ground, though he still managed to get a good taste of the meat. Delicious. I could see the satisfaction on his face. Well done my favourite, well done. Enjoy your feast, you crafty bugger.


Endnote

[i] “Researchers Discover How Feathers Get Their Shine, Inspire Ideas For Creating Gloss”. Phys.Org, 2010, https://phys.org/news/2010-12-feathers-ideas-gloss.html. Accessed 3 Oct 2019.

[ii] Wasson, Donald. “Livia Drusilla”. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2016, https://www.ancient.eu/Livia_Drusilla/. Accessed 6 Oct 2019.

[iii] “Birds And Their Droppings Can Carry Over 60 Diseases”. Medical News Today, 2014, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/61646.php. Accessed 6 Oct 2019.

[iv] “Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo”. The Australian Museum, 2019, https://australianmuseum.net.au/learn/animals/birds/sulphur-crested-cockatoo/. Accessed 6 Oct 2019.

[v] “Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo – Whatbird.Com”. Identify.Whatbird.Com, 2019, http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/1232/_/Sulphur-crested_Cockatoo.aspx. Accessed 6 Oct 2019.

[vi] Gautier, Zoe. “Gallus Gallus (Red Junglefowl)”. Animal Diversity Web, 2019, https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Gallus_gallus/. Accessed 6 Oct 2019.

[vii] Cherney, Kristeen. “Strawberries A-Z: Nutrition Facts, Health Benefits, Recipes, And More | Everyday Health”. Everydayhealth.Com, 2019, https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/diet/strawberries-nutrition-facts-health-benefits-recipes-more/. Accessed 6 Oct 2019.

[viii] “Fact-Sheet: Common (Indian) Myna – Pestsmart Connect”. Pestsmart Connect, 2014, https://www.pestsmart.org.au/pestsmart-common-indian-myna/. Accessed 6 Oct 2019.

[ix] “Australian Brush-Turkey”. The Australian Museum, 2018, https://australianmuseum.net.au/learn/animals/birds/australian-brush-turkey/. Accessed 6 Oct 2019.

[x] “Australian Magpie – Song & Calls | Wildlife Sounds By Wild Ambience”. Wild Ambience, https://wildambience.com/wildlife-sounds/australian-magpie/. Accessed 6 Oct 2019.

[xi] “Australian Magpie | Birdlife Australia”. Birdlife.Org.Au, http://birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/australian-magpie. Accessed 6 Oct 2019.

[xii] “Laughing Kookaburra | BIRDS In BACKYARDS”. Birdsinbackyards.Net, http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Dacelo-novaeguineae. Accessed 6 Oct 2019.

True Colours, Bohdi Byles

Disclaimer this personal essay contains potentially triggering content relating to hate crimes, self-harm, and suicide.

 

March 3rd, 2012. I’ve never seen anything so vibrant, so spectacular, or so expressive before. It is the night after I’ve come out, and Mardi Gras felt like a symbolic way to embrace my new, authentic life. There’s every colour of the rainbow in all different shades, from azure to cerulean, indigo to violet, lemon to lime; colours in the hair, on the naked bodies, on the clothing, the floats of the parade. There was something about the rainbow that was transcending the physical — it was like there was a rainbow flowing through each person and connecting them, bringing together a community to celebrate who we are. How is it, though, that a rainbow had come to hold such symbolism for people?

Scientifically speaking, a rainbow is a blend of colours typically in the order of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. They occur when light is refracted through the water droplets floating around in the air and are commonly associated with storms and the sun emerging from behind the clouds. Personally, I find that explanation boring. For me, whenever I see a rainbow in the clouds, it is like the universe is nudging me a little more forward on my path, or reminding me that I’m not stuck, I’m just pausing to take a breath.

A rainbow flag was an image adopted by the LGBTQ+ community in 1978, originally designed by the late Gilbert Baker. Prior to the rainbow flag, a pink triangle defined the gay community during the Gay Liberation Movement. However, the triangle was a symbolic reminder of how Nazis identified homosexuals in World War II, and so with the triangle came the emotions connected to what it had been. For Baker, the rainbow flag was a way to deconstruct the solemnity attached to the gay community. When openly gay politician, Harvey Milk, was assassinated in November 1978, the flag became a symbol of the gay community. Since its genesis, the rainbow flag has become a constant image of resilience and strength.

I want to take you back to May 2010, when I didn’t know about strength or resilience or pride. I am sixteen-years-old, sitting in a theatre, waiting for the lights to dim and the movie to start. My friend and I are chatting as my phone buzzes. I open it up to Facebook. One unread message. I see the name of the person sending it to me and inhale before opening it.

‘Use all should be shot in the head and burned you queer kunt.’

My fingers tap wildly on the screen as I respond.

‘When the fuck are you going to understand. . . I. AM. NOT. GAY.’

I silence my phone before shoving it back in my pocket. My heart is thumping in my chest and my stomach churns. It’s hard to draw in air. The lights dim, and the movie begins as I start getting tunnel vision. I smile at my friend, but all I can think is how I have school tomorrow, and the next day, and the next month, and the next year. I want nothing more than to curl up under the seat in the darkness and stop existing. I’m not going to make it.

It’s effortless for me to recall this experience and many others, like the Facebook page made about me saying I had sex with another male student in one of the high school blocks, only for people to shout it at me for weeks during quiet classes. Or being harassed in the change rooms for looking at the boys when I was standing as far away as possible, staring at a corner and changing as fast as humanly possible. I was still in the closet, still hiding who I knew I was. For me, to be out in high school would’ve meant more than just being vulnerable and authentic. It’d be like bleeding in a lake full of piranhas. They would’ve smelt me out, and they would’ve come in full force to tear me apart even more than the chunks they’d already stolen.

Bullying is bullshit. It’s deeper than just a mean remark or a nasty comment. It’s a way to police people’s behaviours and try to force them to conform to an ideal person. In my case, that ideal was to be straight. It’s not an uncommon story either, and it often has tragic endings.

Seared into my mind is the story of 9-year-old Jamel Myles who came out as gay, full of pride and joy, only to endure four days of constant bullying, to which resulted in him committing suicide. Four days is all it took for people to take this boy’s pride and irreparably shatter it along with his life. The other names tattooed on my soul went the same way – Tyler Clementi (18), Jamey Rodemeyer (14), Phillip Parker (15), Jadin Bell (15). All young, all beautifully queer, all gone. These names never fail to bring tears to my eyes because they are like a mirror to me of what could’ve been.

While I was walking on a tightrope for 4 years, I nearly fell off. Along with that list of names could’ve been Bohdi Byles (18). My name has had a total of four opportunities to join that list, three of them in 2012, each attempt etched into my brain along with their unforgettable sensations. The pills washing down my throat and being forced back up. The sharp sting of a razor blade slicing over flesh. The belt-tightening around my neck. My lungs burning with my head underwater. The shame. The prickly shame of failing yet again.

The day I came out, I was terrified. I was scared that those closest to me would abandon me. I was suffocating. It’s like my body was ready to emerge from the cocoon but the cocoon wouldn’t break, so it was just getting more and more claustrophobic. However, fear and anxiety were not good enough reasons to carry around a 50-ton burden anymore. I was going to come out and the chips could fall wherever they damn well pleased.

Gratefully, I had an easy coming out experience, albeit a little anti-climactic. While I thought everyone would be shocked and have their perceptions of me absolutely blown apart, for the most part, the opposite happened.

‘It’s about time, now go clean your room,’ Mum said to me. The fear I had wasn’t real anymore, and frankly, no one cared.

Except for Grandma.

Grandma didn’t want one bar of it. Even now, six years later, she still is optimistic that I will one day realise I am straight and want a girlfriend, regardless of how insistent I am and how much I externalise my queerness. She’s grown though, from the woman who cried and told me I was going to get AIDS and die.

AIDS has always carried a stigma with it. In the late 1980s, during the AIDS crisis, it was linked entirely to gay men. That stigma, while it has shifted over time, has never fully been left behind, as proven by my grandmother’s fears. It was her fear that drove her reaction, not her disapproval. Her love has never been in question, only her acceptance.

When my uncle was 13, he was placed in a boy’s home for stealing a car. While there, a gay security guard sexually assaulted him, and from that, my uncle contracted HIV, which later developed into AIDS. He passed away when I was two, so I have no recollection or memory of him. I only have photos, but to me, they might as well be photos of a stranger. I never had the opportunity to know him.

I spoke with my grandmother recently to try and scope how that experience was, particularly because it was happening during the AIDS crisis and just afterward. I wanted to know, partially out of my own curiosity as a Gender Studies major, what it was like, what the beliefs were, and how they were enacted. Through her tears, she told me about how all her friends abandoned her when they found out because they were terrified they would catch AIDS. She wept and spoke about the deep shame she carried.

‘How could I tell anyone?’ she asked, her voice croaky as she wiped a tissue over her eyes. ‘How could I possibly tell anyone?’

I understand why she feels the way she does. Through that understanding and empathy I have is a driving force for me to own my authenticity and my identity with pride. I am proud of who I am, and I want to make it known to people that there is pride to be had as an LGBTQ+ individual. With that pride comes a community, a chosen family who accepts one another.

In June 2016, a shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, went down in history as one of the worst shootings to ever happen in modern U.S. history. 49 people in a gay club were killed, another 53 injured. I was in a house alone, watching the constant stream of news through Twitter unfold.

I was shell-shocked for weeks. I was numb and felt so completely powerless. I lit candles, I cried, I even gave an impromptu speech at a vigil (even more powerful given how I detest public speaking). I cried some more, and I was just a cloud of confusion and fear. What helped me walk down that cloudy, scary path though was the rainbow I was walking with, the people I looked to for inspiration.

For the months that followed, the rainbow flag was not just a symbol of pride, but one of remembrance and grieving, connection and compassion, not just in Florida, or in the United States, but worldwide. People mourned as a community where their brothers and sisters, their chosen family, had been attacked. These were my people. My community. My family.

The words from my high school bully rang through my head after the shooting, and still do. ‘use should all be shot in the head.’ Bad grammar and spelling aside, if this person had their way, I would’ve been one of those injured or killed. Yet, reflecting back on those experiences of the many others who came before, like Harvey Milk or the victims of Pulse nightclub, I think that there is solidarity in our struggles, and there is power in our stories.

In 1939, in The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland (a much beloved gay icon) sang the lyrics, ‘Somewhere over the rainbow / Skies are blue / And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.’ Beloved popstar of the 70s and 80s, Cyndi Lauper, sang in her powerful anthem, True Colours, for her friend lost to AIDS, Gregory, ‘I see your true colours / And that’s why I love you […] True colours are beautiful / Like a rainbow.’ During her life, the late Maya Angelou would often sing a 19th-century African-American song: ‘When it looks like the sun will not shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds.’

I wonder if perhaps there isn’t something waiting over the rainbow, but maybe the rainbow itself is the dream that really does come true. Maybe it isn’t so much about the rainbow, but about who is within that rainbow that you find.

What I know for sure is that coming out as gay was so much more than liberating. It was a golden ticket to life, permission to not just survive but thrive. Pride wasn’t a sudden response, but a gradual and internalised feeling that reached the deepest, most unloved parts of me and brought them to the surface to shine.

 

Endnotes

“9-Year-Old Boy Killed Himself After Being Bullied, His Mom Says.” The New York Times. 4 Oct. 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/28/us/jamel-myles-suicide-denver.html

“Cyndi Lauper Lyrics: True Colors.” AZ Lyrics. 3 Oct. 2018. https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/cyndilauper/truecolors.html

“Dr. Maya Angelou: “Be a Rainbow in Someone Else’s Cloud” | Oprah’s Master Class | OWN.” YouTube. 27 Aug. 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nYXFletWH4

“Jamey Rodemeyer Bullied Even After He Died.” Total Life Counselling. 3 Oct. 2018. https://www.totallifecounseling.com/jamey-rodemeyer-gay-teen-bullying-tips-suicide/

“Judy Garland Lyrics: Over The Rainbow.” AZ Lyrics. 28 Aug. 2018.  https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/judygarland/overtherainbow.html

“Oregon teen hangs himself in schoolyard ‘because he was bullied for being gay’.” Daily Mail. 3 Oct. 2018. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2270457/Jadin-Bell-Oregon-teen-bullied-gay-hangs-schoolyard.html

“Orlando Shooting.” The New York Times. 28 Aug. 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/news-event/2016-orlando-shooting

“Phillip Parker, Gay Tennessee Teen, Commits Suicide After Enduring Bullying.” Huffington Post. 3. Oct. 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/23/phillip-parker-gay-tennessee-teen-suicide_n_1223688.html

“Rainbow Flag: Origin Story.” Gilbert Baker. 27 Aug. 2018. https://gilbertbaker.com/rainbow-flag-origin-story/

“Sixty Minutes: Cyndi Lauper/Kinky Boots Special.” YouTube. 3 Oct. 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtVR7jX6P7I

“Tyler Clementi’s Story.” Tyler Clementi. 3 Oct. 2018 https://tylerclementi.org/tylers-story/

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No Woman’s Land, Teresa Peni

There were no spaces left to lay down on the grass, so quite a few ladies sunbathed on the rocks that circled the women’s sea pool, like lizards, like litter, like a colony of seals. Their luminous arses wreathed the giant sandstones.

I looked at them and thought, I was twenty-something, once. I debated taking up residence in the old handball court up the back corner, usually the reserve of saddle-bagged pensioners or hairy-lipped lesbians. Rocks or court?

The court was supposed to be a quiet space, there was a new sign—no music, no talking, no phones—what wasn’t specified but everyone knew, no clothes. One woman was already there, baking herself like an overcooked gingerbread. This snug, private corner was created by two adjoined concrete walls; this had once been a space for fit girlies to bounce balls around when it wasn’t the done thing do in public.

The woman slept. Thirty-ish, was my quick assessment. A sliver of shade cowered in the corner. I put my things there, as far away from her as possible.

Down the steep cliff steps to the sea pool; time for a swim, time to cool off and get a feel for the place. Time to fit in. The water was busy. There are too many people in the world already. One or two strokes were all I achieved before some Russian dame with her hair piled up nearly kicked me in the head. All shapes and colours, some of the women were swimming topless, others kept themselves discreet in shorts and singlets. A Muslim mother and daughter explored the rock pools in their burkinis. We all frog-kicked, floated, caressed the clean seawater, and avoided putting our feet down on urchins.

Talk, talk, talk, so many women, so many words. Beside me I heard Chinese interspersed with English: ‘Never again, I said!’

Crones exercised their flabby arms with aqua punches; ultra-slim teens minus any pockmarked cellulite slid their perfect thighs into our cool green world like elegant herons. They’d never drank alcohol, you could see it in their skin.  I took possession of the pool corner that poked out into the ocean, carved straight into the rock, and faced a blue horizon. Cleansing waves spilled over the edge, I let the frizzy foam spray all over my face. Like my husband’s gush. I thanked the sea for its Merlin healing tricks, Mother Earth for her massaging wetness.

Back up the cliff in the hot court now lazed three Arab women: a pair of sisters or maybe best friends, twinning, had arrived and spread out in the space between the lone lady and my sarong; two designer handbags bullied my beach bag, competing for the shade. Perched on their elbows in unison, their set of buttocks were lithe shiny olives intersected with G-strings. Why did women show their bottoms at the beach nowadays? I found it a bit off-putting. I remembered when going topless was all the rage, but we don’t really do that anymore, except down there in the Ladies’ Pool where men can’t particularly see us unless they’re kayaking past, hell-bent on a fitness mission. Everyone used to do it, didn’t they? Or was I remembering it that way because I was young back then, and that’s what we young people did. Getting your tits out in public had felt rebellious, even though it was okay by law; it was a political freedom. They’re just nipples, get over it! Blokes didn’t seem to mind at all, although it wasn’t something you did in front of your Dad. These days it’s a bit outrageous—my kids died of embarrassment and begged me to put my top back on at Cave Beach. Ahh, I see now—you do it with your friends. But now my friends were more inclined to cover up their post-baby bosoms, wracked with hard labour and gravity. I wondered if there was a link between the feminisms of the day and which body parts we exposed when sunbathing… perhaps there were also variations depending on one’s age.  I tried on a bummier costume in my mind.

The pair started chatting at full volume, waking the first woman from her sun trance.

‘You look like my friend Fatima,’ I couldn’t help but overhear. She was indeed a Fatima, but not the one from Bankstown. This nude Fatima kept her knees together enough to keep her secrets.

In my head I pointedly re-read the rules under the QUIET sign. It distinctly said, no loud talking. My jaw wobbled but I decided not to be a fussy old cow, in case they thought I was being a bit racist. Then, one of the sister-friends turned her phone volume up to torture me with some shitty dance-pop. I stuffed my earpods in and stripped my wet swimmers off, resigning myself to bronzing the parts of me that still looked Irish.

The summer holidays were over; I was free again. This trip to McIver’s Ladies Baths was to celebrate my kids going back to school. Nourish myself. I needed to un-tether from their universe. God this was lovely. It was so hot, the twins decided to go for a swim.

I finally gathered the courage to turn over, I needed to cook my other side. My pubes were sparse—it’s a fact of life they don’t tell you that happens after forty—balding. All those years of waxing etc and now I wish I had more lushness down there; it’d be ironic if Seventies-style bush became a thing again. Lying flat on my back, my tummy-fat roll stretched out in a less offensive way. Sweat dribbled down between the cracks. A big floppy hat covered my face to protect it from burning. I am a naked flower.

A timeless minute went by.

Sloshy wave sounds and cicada drone rolled through the heat.

Then, a little boy, maybe three or four years old, climbed the short fence separating the handball court from the grassy area where his mother sat, and perched himself up there, hovering right above my face. This was not how my day was meant to go, I had just dropped my son off at the school gates, I’d done my time. He was ruining the moment.

The Arab girls were back and cooed sweetly, giving him the attention he craved, ‘What’s your naaaame?’

Don’t encourage him.

He clung like a monkey to the fence, making toddler chirrups, settling in for more of their girl-love. A helicopter buzzed along the coast so I shifted my hat to hide my yoni from the sky.

‘Go see Mummy,’ I urged, ‘Bye bye.

‘No, no, no,’ he shot back, and rearranged his penis, staring at my nipples as if it were lunchtime.

That. Was. It.

Excuse me, is this your son?’ I thrust my head over the fence to locate Mum. She was mid-conversation with a girlfriend, having a good old time. My boobs wobbled under my sarong as I spoke: ‘He’s staring at me and I don’t like it.’

He was probably only two, but I had not driven all the way across the city to this sanctuary for women, only to have a boy feel a throb. I didn’t care if he was just a kid. I registered the look of horror crawl over her face when she realised I was accusing her baby of being weird just now.

Words kept spilling out of me: ‘I have just dropped my child off for his first day of high school, so I don’t feel like babysitting,’ and promptly lay down again like a collapsing deckchair. I felt like crying.

All that mediation was obviously not working. I had failed some test. I remembered a meme from Instagram earlier in the day: It’s a lot easier to be angry at someone than it is to tell them you’re hurt. Your son is hurting me.

I miss my little boy.

The Arab sisters couldn’t believe it. There was a ‘discussion.’ They included Fatima. All three looked at me as if I’d levitated. I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying because (a) the language barrier, and (b) I’d jammed the earpods back into my boiling head. Instead, I caught the eye of the presumably elder sister and held up my hand—flat palm facing down to the ground, then twisting the wrist so my palm faced up again, then flickered it back and forth—palm down or palm up? Was that okay, what I just did?

She grimaced and gave me a weak thumbs-up.

You young ones, you’re people-pleasers, I thought.  But her eyes said, Wow, you just did that?

Yes. Yes, I did. He was annoying us all, admit it.

That was another thing about aging, you give different zero fucks.

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The Space Invader and the Mud Lotus, Teresa Peni

 

SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

When did my midlife crisis begin? Before the tears on the tiny plane, or the farewell party? Wait, no—let’s go back a bit—maybe the painful arrows and the street battle. Okay ‘battle’ is a slight overstatement. It might have been the moment my husband brought me in a breakfast tray.

He must have wanted my ‘company’. There was even a red rose in a champagne flute, which did make the breakfast look very pretty. Too bad his timing was off. I was mid-paragraph into the fresh ideas of my hero, Pacific scholar Prof Epeli Hau’ofa.i It was not time for sex, oh no, no, nooo. It was time to get angry, get organised, and save sinking Polynesia from climate change or being nuked by Kim Jong-un. The coffee was good though, he got that right. When he flopped into bed beside me I dipped the croissant into jam, turned a page, and kept reading.

He sighed, presumably about my lack of attention, and picked up a random book from the bedside table.

‘Are you going to keep wiggling that foot?’ It was vibrating back and forth as he read, making the bed wobble.

The foot stopped.

‘I might go play guitar,’ he said, strutting off. He wasn’t getting any action in here. The house was still; the kids were no doubt lazing in their beds, hooked up to YouTube. I heard the crackle and buzz of the amp being switched on, down the hall. But it wasn’t that which threatened my serene ladyspace, it was the anthropologist, author, artist, agitator, legend, Hau’ofa, that had got me all riled up.

A walk would do me good. I squeezed into my spandex tights, laced the Adidas, and cranked some electronica into my earpods to fuel my turn around the harbour.

Wind disturbed the mangroves and a black cormorant dove under the ruffled water surface. It reappeared with a tiny silver fish slung from its beak.

I mused and fumed over Epeli’s words as I strolled along. About how the Pacific Ocean, lapping almost everywhere on the planet—even right here at my feet in Sydney—was peppered with awesome Polynesian explorers for millennia before those pesky nineteenth-century colonisers arrived, divided, and dominated the vast Polynesian network—some, my motley ancestors. They carved it up with their invisible imperial boundaries into ‘tiny, needy bits,’ to be developed.ii They didn’t appreciate the wholeness of the Pacific Ocean; it was to them, the middle of bloody nowhere.

Hole in the doughnut,’ is how they saw us, warned Epeli; ‘If we do not exist for others, then we could in fact be dispensable.’iii It was as though the sea connection was worthless.

A man was jogging along toward me. Instead of staying on his side of the track, he made a sudden 180-degree turn. He jogged across my path, over my feet, as if I were invisible. He didn’t adjust his route for me one iota. A surge of outrage compelled me to curl my foot into a sneaky hook and discreetly ankle tap him as he barged through my personal space. He was quick enough to work out what was happening—adjusting his stride so he didn’t fall.

I maintained original course and bearing.

He jogged backwards, glaring at me like I blew out his birthday candles.

‘You tried to trip me!’

I death-stared him through my sunnies.

‘Watch your step,’ I said.

Jogging Man looked ready to pop a vessel.

‘You’re a bitch.’

Very slowly, I raised my two middle fingers, 1 and 2. There. You. Go. I cranked it a notch higher.

He looked me up and down with an overdone head pivot, as if his eyes couldn’t do the task themselves.

‘I hope…I hope your children get run over by a bus!’

He was seeking some part of my identity to trash. Mother, he figured.

‘Why don’t you hurry up and fuck off,’ I said.

I’m not scared of you, I thought, although I was shaking. I considered the likelihood of him thumping me—no one was around—and he was bulky. His blue eyes burned, incandescent with rage. No doubt, we both had adrenaline careening through our systems.

He stayed up in my face, trying to intimidate me, but I did not slow my step, smile, nor apologise. Do not fuck with a Maori lady when she is mad.

Then, it was as if the wind suddenly abandoned his sail; he knew words would not hurt me. He performed a theatrical manscowl and ran off, huffing.

I threw the parting punch:

‘Next time watch where you’re going, cockhead.’

 

MUTATION

Later that night, back at home; all nice and calm again, I felt very bad for Jogging Man (idiot). Of course I was proud of standing my ground, but my good shoulder-angel was more harpy than usual, making me ashamed of the way I’d done it; reaching for that familiar weapon—anger—so powerful yet so terrible. I blamed it on insightful literature, poured myself another red wine and tried to forget about it.

So I wasn’t shocked when Facebook analytics, which knows us better than our own mothers do, magically delivered this video to my feed; because it had digested and diagnosed every procrastinatory rant, preach, like, and share I’d tapped out since 2005. It submitted its sum total knowledge of me that night:

Transform Your Anger’ with Thich Nhat Hanh.iv

I hit [Play].

The Vietnamese Zen master is sitting in brown robes, beside a girl wearing a pink dress. She looks about ten. He’s holding up his fist to his own face and has a mean look.

‘You want to give that boy or girl a punch.’

Sprung bad, I thought.

He smiles as he jabs the air around his head. She smiles back.

‘Punish him or her. That is the anger in us… that anger is a kind of mud, it will smear everything.’

He’s got a strong, Vietnamese accent, so I’m grateful for the subtitles.

‘We need to be aware that the mud of anger, we must handle.’

He brings both hands together as if gripping a hefty mud marble.

‘But without the mud, you cannot grow lotus flowers.’

[Insert time-lapse video of an incredible pink lotus flower opening]

‘So the mud is useful somehow.’

The video cuts back to the monk and the girl surrounded by a luscious array of tropical flowers and candles. Cue bamboo-flute music.

‘So your anger is useful somehow, maybe you should not… let it out.’

He gently cocks his head at her. Maybe she laid into her little shit of a brother?

‘You should not throw it away. If you know how to make good use of your anger, you can grow the Lotus of Peace, of Joy, of Forgiveness. And if we look deeply, we’ll be able to understand. And when we understand, there is love. And when there is love, anger must…’

His palms open like lotus petals.

‘Transform itself.’

The girl gives a simple nod. She gets it.

I, on the other hand, was trying very hard to work out how he got from mud to love.

Google: Booktopia: ‘Thich Nhat Hahn Mud Lotus’. I pulled out my credit card and ordered his book. It was obvious I needed to stop spraying mud everywhere.

 

DIVERSITY

My street-stoush with Jogging Man was a tremor that heralded a quake. He was like a small dog that had got hold of my trouser leg. I wanted to kick the fucker off to fix the problem. But seriously, what was my problem? Was it really because he was a Pale-faced Manspreader invading my Ladyspace?

The next level of my mud quest came at me via another scholar. My two majors were, like the Pacific and the Atlantic, meeting at last. The anthropology of art was meandering into creative writing territory. We read Michael Jackson’s (yep, cool name) ethnographic-poetry, which veered away from desiccated academia. I was immediately fanboyant—more so when I discovered he came from my grandparent’s sleepy seaside town (Nelson, New Zealand), which I reckoned his poem, Making it Otherwisev was about:

 

‘… silt spread on the estuary

like a map of darkness

to be read by those

journeying toward clarity of speech.’

 

A small prophecy that held no meaning, yet—but I digress.

I was intrigued by his sweet-tempered explanation of the human condition. Apparently we are plural creatures, constantly trying to balance the seesaw between ‘our sense of what we owe others and what we owe ourselves.’ We want to be our own bosses and have all the things, AND we want to share nicely with our group, for the common good. Everyone struggles with this in a myriad of individual ways.vi

We tend to employ a bunch of simplified categories to frame our battles (for resources and ideologies). You can imagine all the variations on us/them: Raging Feminist Maori Mother Abuses Misogynist Second-Australian Fitness Addict.

Jackson agrees identity labels are helpful in getting us what we want—we should definitely study how we adopt them for good effect—marginalised people can be especially ravenous for identity.vii

Jackson says good anthropology (and writing, I presumed) will shine light onto the nitty-gritty ways we struggle with these tensions, mixed feelings, and contradictions. Nuanced description can unmask, and is more meaningful than, simplistic either/ors—when we write the life we actually live.viii

This was the kicker for me: ‘Any one person embodies the potential to be any other.’ix

Wait. What? Sounded like Jackson was saying someone can simultaneously carry the worldview of an adult and (a very needy inner) child; or exhibit the prejudices of the asshole and the victim. I am actually Maori and Irish. Goddamit, it’s possible Jogging Man was a nice guy who wasn’t wearing his glasses, just being a dick that day.

Epeli Hau’ofa soothed me, too—with his messier, oceanic view of our modern regional identity. Our diverse group—including new arrivals—were clever buggers, aye, once again regularly visiting each other, via Virgin Air; taking more than bags of cava or packets of pineapple lumps across borders. We were exchanging jobs, spreading welfare dollars, swapping sporting cups, and lovers. Epeli claimed our survival could depend upon us acting in concert to protect the Pacific Ocean (and by extension, Earth) from usurping ratbags who don’t respect it, who don’t see the real value of our epic space.x His warm voice wants to reunite criss-crossing Oceanians… who are all who love her, by being more expansive and tolerant, so we can transform ourselves: from being belittled ‘islands in the sea’, back into ‘a sea of islands’.xi

Heh. I started to like myself again. A roundhouse-kickass style had helped Oceanian women survive their dunking into the realm of nowhere. But, perhaps I could venture beyond the margins of stereotypes or monoculture; maybe morph into a more genuine creature, rather than some abstract, divided identity thrust forth in order for there to be only one winner.

 

GENETIC DRIFT

Finally, the new book arrived, No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering.xii

It was really excellent timing because my spunky little grandmother had just died, unexpectedly.

Breathe, incanted the ninety-one-year-old Zen master.

Thích Nhất Hạnh knows his readers’ mud is not limited to swearing at joggers. He did not promise to deliver anyone from suffering, but would teach me how to suffer, properly. The first arrow of pain, he soothingly explained, is pain you initially feel: anger, rejection, failure, injury, separation. The death of someone you love.xiii

Mum asked me to speak at Nana’s farewell: ‘I am somewhere I have never been before: Nelson without you.’ There was a lot more in that speech; but for some reason losing Nana also meant losing the whole town and occupants.

After seven happy-sad days spent setting up and conducting Nana’s funeral street party (Photoshopped invites; TV slideshow; where to park the Portaloo? red or black serviettes?); as well as catching up with hordes of cousins and uncles (beer and burgers; cycling along the river; reminiscing Nana over G&T’s; weeping while weeding her chic garden), it was time to return home to my little family in Sydney.

But grief opens up a hole; it irritates any festering, untended wound, makes it weep. The death of a matriarch can get the pus up.

The wound, what was it?

Breathing in, I know suffering is there.

Breathing out, I say hello to my suffering.xiv

Nhất Hạnh dropped a magnificent truth bomb: the second arrow of pain. Usually self-inflicted, it may take the form of judgement: the crap we tell ourselves to make our suffering much worse.xv

I belong nowhere, throbbed the arrow in the wound.

I pined like a lonely dog, seeing Nelson disappear through the airplane porthole, the din of the twin propellers masked my whimpering. As it banked over glacial blue water whorling into the estuaries below, I started crying up in that lonely airspace and could not stop for four days. I leave my extended family, again, and again and again.

Nhất Hạnh writes: ‘Some of our ill-being comes from hurt and pain in our own life; but some has been transmitted to us by our ancestors… you are the continuation of your parents… your body and mind contain their suffering and their hopes as well as your own.’xvi

I’d moved away from serious Buddhism a few years back when it got a bit mystical in the reincarnation department, but this guy was making things clearer. Nhất Hạnh explained how my body transported the genes and stories and happenings of all the people who came before, who had made me. I carried in my cells all their luck and habits. I was just the next step in all our journeys.

Jackson’s poem, Pioneers,xvii seemed to acknowledge their presence:

 

‘I am theirs and of them and for them speak.

My hands have gone over the roofs and gullies

of their names.

These hills I love under are their doing.

I have been given what they got.

I am what they became.’

 

I was seven when my parents vamoosed New Zealand to explore the world. Economic migration—ah, exciting new opportunities!—meant three nations, six primary schools, and ten houses changed before I slumped into high school. Boring, lovely old Nelson remained my spiritual basecamp, where I clambered a concrete blue whale to see the beach. I posted Nana and Pop regular airmail about our adventures; they were my first readers, and always wrote back. Letters were all that anchored me to their silver-haired kindnesses.

I had lost my huge family and beautiful land, and I never had a choice.

Why must I keep denying the wound? I squinted through my murky grief and saw broken arrow heads deeply embedded beneath my lifted chest armour.

Mindfully breathe, lulled Nhất Hạnh, it will create space to recognise suffering energy, then embrace it, ‘like a mother taking care of a crying baby… in her arms, without judging or ignoring it… with the energy of tenderness.’xviii I hugged my wailing mud baby, just by breathing.

Stacked on Nana’s coffee table had been family albums stuffed with hundreds of photos. One in particular—transported from 1973—gave me pause. Dad was standing on the dock, before his soon-to-depart frigate, hugging two-year-old me; I’m wearing his sailor cap and looking très grumpy. I didn’t know then, what I know now; that he was serving aboard the HMAS Otago, a Royal New Zealand Navy ship sent to protest the French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atol. Their military attention helped send those nuclear tests underground.

Our family line of warriors, sailors, explorers, and migrants seeking harbour stretched back through time. My uncle had shown me illustrations of the nineteenth-century tall ships that carried my great-grandmother from Ireland to New Zealand, a late arrival after the ocean-going migration waka had brought our iwi here, the Te Arawa and Ngāi Tahu Maori. I carried inside me more cheeky-sad travellers than one person could own.

How do I connect us? How do I belong?

Remove the second arrow.

Jackson, who knows something of being a bridge between art and social science, says, ‘When we don’t have power to materially change something, one power we can use is via the work of imagination, to rethink and reconstruct our reality, “undo deeds of the past,” with forgiveness’.xix

Could I revere my conflicting moods, be a breathing paradox? Notice, I imagined Jackson whispering to me, notice it all: the ancestors within me / the daughter left on the wharf / the girl torn from Aotearoa / the Oceanian who surveyed the world / the Sydney woman who battles space invaders. I am not either/ors—these are parts of a whole, spacious Sea of Me, and she has many expressions.

All this sounds a bit like the ethereal lotus.

Jackpot. Mud into love.

 
 

Works Cited

i Hau’ofa, Epeli. 2008. We Are the Ocean. University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu.
ii Hau’ofa (p. 38)
iii Hau’ofa (p. 46)
iv ‘Transform Your Anger with Thich Nhat Hanh’, Goalcast, Facebook, accessed 1 October 2017. https://www.facebook.com/goalcast/videos/vb.897393153671209/1536207029789815/?type=2&theater
v Jackson, Michael. 1989. ‘Making It Otherwise,’ Duty Free: Selected Poems 1965-1988. John McIndoe, Dunedin. (p.27)
vi Jackson, Michael. 2011. ‘Not to Find One’s Way in a City,’ Life Within Limits: Well-being in a World of Want. Duke University Press, Durham and London, pp.359-383. (p.375)
vii Jackson Michael, 1998. ‘Here/Now,’ Minima Ethnographica: Intersubjectivity and the Anthropological Project, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, pp. 189-209. (p. 199-201)
viii Jackson, Michael. 2012. ‘On the Work and Writing of Ethnography.’ Between One and One Another. University of California Press, Berkeley, pp.167-214. (p.172)
ix Jackson, Minima Ethnographica (p. 208)
x Hau’ofa (p. 42)
xi Hau’ofa’s essays: ‘Our Sea of Islands,’ and ‘The Ocean in Us,’ in We Are the Ocean, express all these ideas, throughout.
xii Nhat Hanh, Thich. 2014. No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, Parallax Press, Berkley, California.
xiii No Mud, No Lotus (p.46)
xiv No Mud, No Lotus (p. 23)
xv No Mud, No Lotus (p.47-48)
xvi No Mud, No Lotus (p.33)
xvii Jackson, Duty Free (p.28)
xviii No Mud, No Lotus (p. 27)
xix Jackson, Minima Ethnographica (p. 203)

 
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Planet Earth, Red Alert, Rima Martens

A woman draped in purple stands ankle deep in the shallows, and the waves break around her. It is only her body that interrupts the clean line of a sky that meets the water’s horizon. The rest of us are gathered up on the rocks. A black veil covers her head, one arm is up in the air, and her hand is something of a constant wobble. At first, my novice ears mistake her war cry for wailing.

I’m standing on Whakatane’s pebbled beach in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. It’s Waitangi Day, and a crowd has gathered to watch the Wakas go out to war.[1] Even the group of boys with gang emblemed bandanas over their faces has turned from their intimate circle. Their cool cigarettes are dropped and snuffed out with the latest air soled sneakers. Their attention shows respect.

Although Australia has Indigenous people, we do not have an equivalent to Waitangi Day. For those that share views with Tony Abbott, it might be a concept a little hard to grasp.[2] Waitangi Day celebrates the signing of a treaty between the Maori people and the white settlers. And even though Australia does not currently have an Indigenous treaty, I cannot imagine an equivalent day would be very joyful.

As we listened to the chants of rowing men and women echoing around the bay, it is incredible to know that in exactly two months the area would be flooded so severely that even evacuation centres would have to get evacuated. In April 2017, Whakatane homes filled with water two metres high, treasured letters and books were sodden, photo albums washed away and the woodcarvings of Maraen, rotted.[3]

For New Zealand this would be deemed a ‘freak’ accident: Mother Nature lashing out as she occasionally does (of course, she has lots of reasons too). However, some 3000-kilometers away, the island of Tuvalu feels these lashings a lot more fiercely and frequently.

The saying, ‘trouble in paradise’, seems a cruelly shallow way to describe the small nation, though it is fitting. If you google Tuvalu you will be met with pictures of swaying palm trees, bountiful reefs and aqua waters that look like they are straight out of a luxury travel magazine. Alternatively, googling ’Tuvalu climate change’ presents an entirely different colour pallet, of children standing ankle deep in brown waters brimming with trash and holding signs saying: To the rest Of the World Please Could you Prepare a place for my country to stay.

Tuvalu is one of the smallest countries in the world, after the Vatican, Monaco, and Nauru. It is an island group in the South Pacific Ocean, halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Its name, Tuvalu, translates to ‘eight standing together’ and refers to the eight traditional islands of Tuvalu (Nanumea, Niutao, Nanumaga, Nui, Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti, and Nukulaelae), the ninth island is tiny Niulakita. With a total land area of ten square miles, it consists of nine coral atolls, four of them being reef islands the other five being true atolls. As Tuvalu is low lying, rising no higher than one-point-eight-three metres above sea level, it is particularly threatened by a rising, warming ocean.

Tuvalu is considered one of the world’s countries most susceptible to climate change. In the last five years, its media coverage has been dwindling. This is possibly because it is a story that no one is interested in anymore, or perhaps because it only has a population of approximately 11,000. It may also be because our current world leaders don’t know how to sustaining their economies while dealing with the critical needs of current science.

Tuvalu could be depicted as a contemporary Atlantis, soon to crumble into the bubbling seas. The thought of a country disappearing altogether seems a part of the way-off future—when the fish are belly up, and we go to museums to see trees. The forces working against Tuvalu are far too many, with beachhead erosion, coastal engineering, environmental mismanagement, overpopulation, deforestation, and deteriorating coral reefs just some of global warming’s teammates. A 1989 United Nations report on the greenhouse effect stated that Tuvalu would entirely recede into the ocean in the twenty-first century unless our attitudes and practises affecting global warming dramatically changed. Yet it is the United States that is the world’s largest overall polluter, and Australia takes the trophy for highest greenhouse-gas emissions per capita, and both countries continue to take scant action on climate change.[4][5]

The spotlight first fell on Tuvalu in 1997. While I was in nappies, crying about a dropped dummy, Tuvalu Prime Minister Koloa Talake addressed a collection of world leaders at the Kyoto conference in Japan. Talake pleaded that immediate action was required, in order for the effects of global warming to stop from growing. While most nations agreed to reduce their emissions, neither the United States nor Australia supported the Kyoto Protocol at the time. Again, in 2000, then Tuvalu Prime Minister Ionatana Ionatana focused international attention on Tuvalu by addressing the United Nations to speak on global climate change and the impact it would have on indigenous cultures, security, and sovereignty. Australia finally ratified the agreement in 2007, but it is clear this reluctant attitude still lingers. Since then, there have been multiple global conferences that have grown in frequency, where the leaders and members of the Tuvaluan public have campaigned for climate change action.

I was already touched down dry in Sydney when I heard of the floods in Whakatane. It was at home that I began to wonder about the surrounding Pacific Islands. I wondered about the phone calls being made, whether any crackly lines voiced that it could be contributed to climate change?

Amongst the stalls nearby Whakatane beach that February I first became aware of an organisation called 350 Pacific. It is an organisation dedicated to connecting individuals from the Pacific islands who are trying to campaign and raise awareness about climate change. As a Maori girl, I was intrigued. Scrolling through the Facebook groups, I stumbled upon that of Tuvalun multiple global conferences that have grown in frequency, statuses of some of their young and active members, such as Betty Melton.

When I Skyped Betty, she was in Perth where she studies at Murdoch University in Engineering, majoring in Renewable Energy. She believes renewable energy is how we will save the world. Hesitantly, she told me of what life is like in Tuvalu, her home.[6]

The biggest change, she says, is that there are no longer seasons. ‘It’s more than thirty most of the time, it didn’t use to be that hot’. What I’m most interested in, however, is not so much the physical. I want to know how the community feels living where the impacts of climate change are so tangible that they are forcing people to leave. In 2014, for the first time, New Zealand granted a family from Tuvalu legal residency as refugees from climate change.

‘Yes, a lot of people have migrated because of this, gone to Fiji New Zealand. They go in packs. But even the people that have stayed have had to move their homes more than once.’ Most of the people are anxious, she tells me. Mothers and grandmothers are worried about their children’s future. ‘They are worried that, in the future, Tuvalu won’t be there. You know what the scientists say, that Tuvalu will be the first to go.’ Yet when I press her about the perspectives of the older generation she continues that in fact, ‘most don’t agree with what the scientists are saying. They say that climate change is happening but they don’t believe it [Tuvalu] is going to go. They say scientists have been saying that for a long time, but yet we are still here… Back home, they are really religious… they have the hope of what God provides. We do believe in climate change because we are experiencing it, but we still have the hope.’

Since 1990 scientists have mapped the increasing number of tropical storms and cyclones that Tuvalu experiences. In the years between 1970 and 1990, only three tropical storms, hurricanes or cyclones struck Tuvalu. However, between 1990 and 2005, the islands experienced thirteen. 2015 then brought on what Betty described as the worst that Tuvalu had seen, causing over $360 million dollars of damage.[7][8][9]

High tides are probably one of the biggest problems that Tuvalu faces on a daily basis: the constant creeping water. I canreepingly one of the biggest problems that Tuvalu faces on a daily basis over $360 million dollaring. How could you plan for a future so uncertain? ‘Yes,’ Betty agrees, ‘the government talks about it a lot, on social media and they use the radio for educating people about climate change, most of their trips overseas… Most of what they do is for the climate. Our government and our people do not want to move… that is not a choice.’

Fifty-Fifty seems a rather casual way of describing the chances of your nation surviving, that’s how Betty puts it. ‘We are working on the fifty increasing,’ she laughs.

‘Do you believe it is possible to undo the damage?’ I ask.

‘Reversing the effects are impossible, but we can minimize,’ she says through the screen. ‘If we are sinking, there will be another island next.’

‘Do you think these effects will have an impact on Tuvaluan culture?’

‘It hasn’t had any effect on the culture. That is still there.’ What I was hinting at though, was what the possible impacts might be on the culture of a community spread across the globe.

As she tells me these things, I wonder why it is the first time I have really heard them. Is it because the populations are small that these stories do not receive sound? Perhaps, once in a while when the Very Important (Orange) Man takes a break from his tweeting:

‘Global warming is an expensive hoax!’[10]

Some days at the bottom of the pages a mention of the changes the earth is going through will appear through vicious scrolling. Perhaps a picture of a polar bear will win some kind of award, and we will all nod our heads ‘how sad, how sad.’ We won’t hear though, about the man who moved his brothers grave three times because of the changing tides. As Vlad Sokhin, a photographer of the effects of climate change in the Pacific said, “this is a story about people who stand to lose everything—people who may need to flee their native home and never come back. These people are refugees, but they’re not running from war or an oppressive government. They’re seeking asylum from climate change.”

It is easy to think that New Zealand is untouchable, that the home of the skyrocketing Mount Cook will be a refuge for the other smaller nations to cling too. However, the recent flooding in Whakatane is a reminder that New Zealand is also, just a collection of Pacific islands like Tuvalu. Two larger islands, to be specific. As Betty said if Tuvalu goes, who will be next? 10,800 residents of Tuvalu are by no means the only ones at risk of losing their homes to climate change. While the estimates of future migrants vary widely, from tens of thousands to one billion, there’s little question that an increase in climate refugees is on the way. There is meaning in what Betty and 350 Pacific campaign say, that if we save Tuvalu, we save the world.

As I write this, a past leader has just made a statement about climate change being good. He believes that climate-related deaths will be beneficial.

Injustice to the planet, injustice to the people.

The threat to the Pacific islands is more than a means of measuring how truly troubled our planet is, this threat to Tuvalu is a threat to all countries. And given the much greater connection to the land that Indigenous people have, their loss will be the greatest. It is also somewhat frustrating that places like Tuvalu with the smallest contribution to climate change are receiving the consequences. Kylie Loutit, who wrote her thesis on Māori interactions with Climate Change and discussed how vulnerable populations, such as indigenous people (like that of New Zealand and Tuvalu), face risks that are disproportionate to the relatively small contributions they make to greenhouse gas emissions.

It can be considered, however, that climate change may provide a stage for Indigenous empowerment and advocacy of Indigenous worldviews through involvement in climate discussions. Empowerment and cultural understanding might even contribute to Indigenous resilience against climate change. As despite making up only four percent of the world’s population (between 250 to 300 million people), Indigenous people use twenty-two percent of the world’s land surface.[11]These areas reflect eighty percent of the planet’s biodiversity and are near eighty-five percent of the world’s protected areas. [12] Maintaining important fisheries, water systems and regenerative forestlands are all part of Indigenous peoples profound knowledge base.

There might be one way that climate change can be addressed, by listening to the people who are being most affected. To change the perspective that Indigenous peoples are merely victims of climate change. That they are the drowning people. The knowledge of Indigenous People should offer them certain opportunities and platforms. That there is the potential to mitigate the risks and disintegration of their lands, such as those of Tuvalu, as well as address the centuries of marginalisation.

It is unlikely that climate change will mean a group of Indigenous people rise to become the world’s most powerful players, but I wonder what that world would look like?  Though, when I watched the woman stand in the shallows of Whakatane beach, I did not think of the waters as rising. I was watching the Wakach ride the bay.

 

[1]Canoe

[2]“This outrageous and completely over-the-top attack on Australia Day by mad leftie council”.- Tony Abbot 16 August, 2017.

[3] Maori meeting house

[4]Justin Gillis, Nadja Popvich ‘The U.S. Is the Biggest Carbon Polluter in History. It Just Walked Away From the Paris Climate Deal’, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/01/climate/us-biggest-carbon-polluter-in-history-will-it-walk-away-from-the-paris-climate-deal.html.

[5]Uma Patel and Naomi Woodley, ‘Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions rising, Government figures show’http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-22/australia-greenhouse-gas-emissions-increasing-environment-report/8143110

[6]Betty thought I was a scammer when I first got into contact with her about Tuvalu.

[7]AJ Smith, Klima Tuvalu ‘http://klima-tuvalu.no/tuvalu-and-climate-change/the-consequences-of-climate-change-on-tuvalu/’

[8]AJ Smith, Klima Tuvalu ‘http://klima-tuvalu.no/tuvalu-and-climate-change/the-consequences-of-climate-change-on-tuvalu/’

[9]United Nations Development Program, Crisis Response, http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/crisis-response/past-crises/tuvalu.html.

[10]Tweet by Donald Trump, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/6/1/15726472/trump-tweets-global-warming-paris-climate-agreement

[11] N Alexandratos, World Agriculture Towards 2030/2050: the 2012 Revision. http://www.fao.org/3/a-ap106e.pdf

[12] The World Bank, The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Biodiversity. https://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTBIODIVERSITY/Resources/RoleofIndigenousPeoplesinBiodiversityConservation.pdf

Planet Earth, Red Alert, Rima Martens PDF

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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.

 

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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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