Saturday, 30 September 2017

Interview with Peter Woods: On West Papuan independence

Over the past two days we have heard news of a petition with 1.8 million signatures presented by West Papuan political activists seeking national independence, to the United Nations.  I have written about West Papua on the blog before but I wanted to find out more, so I approached Peter Woods, an Australian, to ask him some questions. This interview is the result.

MdS: Ok, so [the voice recorder is] running. Can you, Peter, just give me a little bit of background of yourself and how you got involved with the West Papuan people?

My involvement goes back a long way. My wife and I went with our little baby girl to Indonesia at the beginning of 1977 and we went to teach at a church school, a school for lay pastors, in West Papua. We first, initially, went to Java, to Bandung, to study the language, and then at the beginning of ’78 we were in Manokwari, the city of Manokwari, on the western part of West Papua, the eastern side of the bird’s head, quite a large town there. So, we were there from ’78 til 1983 and because of my wife’s health problems – she got chronic malaria – we ended up moving.

First, we got medical attention and then we went to central Java. We were aiming to go to the highlands but for various reasons it didn’t work out to go back to West Papua, which we were very disappointed about but that’s just the way it all worked out for us. We never thought that we would be involved again and while I supported financially some students for some years, it wasn’t until I made a brief trip in ’95 back to the Indonesian Council of Churches – they had their general assembly in Jayapura – I went back as the Anglican Church representative. And then it wasn’t until the end of ’99 and the beginning of 2000 that I began to be more actively involved, voicing my concern about human rights and the issue of self-determination for West Papua, which all of [the] Papuans who had spoken to me during the time that we lived there had actually told me about (and I said I couldn’t be involved while I was actually in the country otherwise I wouldn’t last very long). So that’s just the way it worked out.

And so, really, I suppose my involvement more fully has been since I met Jacob Rumbiak, who was a political prisoner for 10 years in Indonesia, and he came to Melbourne. So I’ve been, I suppose, advocating for West Papuan self-determination and drawing attention to their plight for a long while. While I was pastoring in the Anglican Church I brought two motions to our general synod in Melbourne about West Papua and both of those times – I think it was 2002 and then 2009 – they were supported unanimously by all clergy and lay people. So that was really good, because they had that on the books. In terms of what it does? Not a lot. However, it’s been useful for me to open some doors.

MdS: Jacob Rumbiak, when did he come to Australia?

He came in 1999 and he was - ostensibly - under house arrest. With the downfall of Soeharto, he’d been in – I don’t know how many - prisons throughout those 10 years and he was then released. The last time he was in Cipinang - I think - Prison with Xanana Gusmao. They were negotiating together as to who was going to push first, and so East Timor was to be first [followed by] West Papua, but it hasn’t happened yet for West Papua. So, he made his way to East Timor posing as a Papua New Guinea observer for the United Nations, and was able to get smuggled aboard an RAF flight out and got to Darwin. And he was given papers to stay. He’s now an Australian citizen.

MdS: So, he lives in Melbourne?

He lives in Melbourne. To be honest, despite my friendship with him, I think that he probably is the intellectual architect of the movement, has been for a long time. Together with those who were ex-political prisoners inside, [they] were able to form some unity organisations and then finally that culminated in the Third Papuan People’s Congress in 2011, which I went to. I was an official attendee though I didn’t actually go in because it was surrounded by 2000 troops and tanks and the whole deal, but I was able to get my recording devices in and so was able to bring out a lot of interviews and a lot of film [and] photographs about what happened there. And out of that the declaration was made, the one that wasn’t made in 2000 when they had their second congress, they never declared independence. They’d made the declaration then and they declared a Federal Republic of West Papua.

MdS: In 2011?

In 2011. The five key leaders of that were put in jail for over three years and Forkorus Yabaisembut was the president, prime minister Edison Waromi. And since then there’s been ongoing activism within the country and outside. And the good thing is the culmination of the three political groups – the Federal Republic [for West Papua], the [West Papua National Coalition of Liberation], and the [West Papua] National Parliament, all representing different resistance groupings - they came together in Vanuatu and formed the United Liberation Movement for West Papua. They signed what they called [the] Saralana Declaration [on West Papua Unity]. And so that was in Vanuatu. That was facilitated by the West Papuan group within Vanuatu and also the Pacific [Conference] of Churches. They facilitated that series of meetings and after three days they were able to come together.

So that’s the thing which really has put the international movement on a strong footing because over the years – and we’ve heard it said constantly, the Indonesians have said it and other international groups have said it – “We don’t know who to talk to because there’s so many groups.” But over these last three years there’s been the one united political grouping and as a result of that significant things have happened, for instance the admittance into the Melanesian Spearhead Group as an observer – hopefully they’ll be having the same footing soon – they’re now noted in the Pacific Island Forum (in the past they’ve been ignored), and a significant thing that’s happened which is what I’ve just noted recently on Facebook, was the presentation of the petition with 1.8 million signatures. There was a petition within West Papua, and also a petition internationally. And so Benny Wenda in the name of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua … that [petition] has been presented. That’s going to have huge repercussions, I think.

MdS: What’s actually happening? Where is that being presented to, which country?

Presented in New York. In September, they have their general assembly each year. That was presented in New York.

MdS: They have presented it [already]?

Yes. And so even though the vice-foreign minister of Indonesia said there was no petition – his name is Mr Fachir – but in fact it has been presented. Part of the terms talk about issues of human rights but mostly there was no genuine referendum given to the West Papuans in 1969. The New York Agreement was signed over their heads anyway in [’62]. And so that opportunity for self-determination is still to be played out and the West Papuan nation needs to be put on the list of countries yet to be decolonised. So that decolonisation committee, which is still a body within the United Nations, has to be activated for this.

And now, also, the good thing is that for the last general assembly four different prime ministers from Pacific nations raised the issue of human rights, and self-determination, for West Papua. There is a growing momentum and there is good relationship with that other political body which is called the [African], Caribbean, [and] Pacific [Group of States], they are going to find increasing numbers in that group to bring something to the United Nations. To make any change there has to be two-thirds anyway, so there’s got to be a lot of lobbying. But I think these things take a long time and it has been going on a long while. There seems to be a momentum now which hopefully will carry.

MdS: There was an ABC story about the petition that came out yesterday and it had a quote from the foreign minister saying that Australia recognised Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua. I was wondering what is the best way to go about addressing this … It seems like they did one thing for East Timor … And you’ve already linked East Timor with West Papua when you said that the two fellows were imprisoned together in Java. What’s the best way to go forward to change the mind of the Australian government about West Papua?

It seems to me that nothing’s really going to happen easily to change the policy of either the Coalition or Labor. That has been the stated position for governments since Menzies’ time. Menzies initially supported the Dutch plan.

MdS: What was that?

To bring West Papua to independence. So initially we supported the Indonesians, at least the unions did, in doing blockades to the Dutch, whatever, when the Indonesians after WWII declared independence and wanted independence from Holland. But then once Indonesia was settled (I mean, there was a variety of things that happened in their history) … So Indonesia, which of the islands were going to be in this new creation – because there was no such thing as Indonesia – once all that was more or less settled, Australia supported the Dutch in retaining West Papua because it was never part of the original Dutch East Indies, and it was in a different category. There was all of that history and then in 1960 the Dutch set about a plan to, over 10 years, bring the West Papuans to independence.

And so they had elections. They were more localised elections, but there was something called the New Guinea Raad – or the New Guinea Council – on which Papuans sat, and also local Dutch. That’s when they chose their flag - Nicholas Jouwe and others were the ones who were part of that – and a national anthem, and an emblem. There were a number of things written down, not exactly a constitution, but what’s tantamount to a formal preparation of a nation state.

Soekarno objected to that, declared war, made a number of invasions, incursions, in which they were soundly beaten by the Dutch, and also the West Papuans who were a police force, as well, and in the army.

But in the end they were bulldozed by America and there was a variety of reasons for that. Two principle ones, one [being] the political scene. Soekarno was seen to be cosying up to both China and Russia in terms of - they were non-aligned, but – coming under the influence of the Communist Bloc. And of course, this was Cold War time. And of course, the Communist Party was a huge party, [of] over three million members in Indonesia. And then also the advisor to Kennedy was good friends with a man who was the chairman of a mining company called Freeport Sulphur, and they were aware of the assaying that had been done by the Dutch in the 1930s, that there was gold and copper in the mountains. And so, for economic reasons America also chose to not support the Dutch.

And that’s when Australia, after initially sending representatives to the inauguration of the New Guinea Council, with the Papuans, changed its tune. And so, we no longer then were going to support the Dutch but we in fact were part of the architects of the New York Agreement, done in ’62. So essentially no government in Australia has changed its position since then. [Australia] raises issues of human rights behind the scenes but we’ll only publicly support Indonesia. And a few years ago, after the 43 refugees arrived and were given asylum here, and not sent back - from West Papua - then there was [a] tremendous diplomatic furore over that.

MdS: From the Indonesians?

From the Indonesians. They withdrew their ambassador for six, nine months and whatever. But out of that came the Lombok Treaty between Indonesia and Australia. And that’s pretty much locked us in to supporting Indonesia. So, there’s no sign whatsoever of Australia changing its position. And the things that were said by Gareth Evans and other foreign ministers about “the fools who were supporting [the] East Timorese quest for independence”, all of those exact things have been said about those who support West Papuan independence. There’s no difference. You can line them up side by side. Bod Carr said the same thing.

So, Australia would not encourage a move by the Melanesian/Pacific nations to increasingly support West Papua in those forums but in the past, [Australia has] been able to shut it down. But they have been unsuccessful now, especially because of the increased momentum through the Melanesian Spearhead Group and that’s why I say the Pacific Island Forum is now focusing on West Papua. In the past Australia has been able to shut that down.

MdS: You sent me that PDF about the Saralana Declaration, that’s a pretty important step forward because it unites all of the West Papuan independence groups under one umbrella, and so it gives more force to the things that they say. Would you agree with that?

Absolutely. All the significant international developments have happened since then. And there have been a few prime ministers from the Pacific that have spoken up at the United Nations, at the human rights hearings in Geneva, but not much has happened in the general assembly. And that’s why these latest public speeches by four Pacific nations including [the] Solomon [Islands] and Vanuatu have been so important and significant.

MdS: What’s the position of Papua New Guinea?

Papua New Guinea and Fiji at the moment are holding out. Papua New Guinea is a little bit like Australia. We’re very close to Indonesia geographically and therefore it makes it very difficult for them but there’s been multi- multi-millions from Indonesia pouring into these countries to seek to sway opinion and to stifle any support for West Papua. Indonesia has an unlimited budget.

MdS: You mean bribes?

Bribes and development, I gather. But I think they own the taxi companies and the markets. So, there’s a tremendous presence of Indonesia in Papua New Guinea. However, the grassroots level in all of these countries greatly supports the Melanesian people of West Papua and their right to self-determination. So that doesn’t always translate into parliament, however [there are] mixed messages: sometimes they say that they’re pro-West Papuan pursuing this, other times they’re not. And so, it’s probably difficult for the Indonesians to try and figure out what’s happening next.

So that’s where Australia is at. I think that if push comes to shove we will probably abstain in any decision that might be made at the United Nations, and maybe privately, behind the scenes, as they have been for many years, talking with independence people. That’s how it works, isn’t it? They have to say one thing publicly, diplomatically, and then other things also happen behind the scenes.

MdS: It’s a big thing. To get the Australian government to change its policy, especially let’s say, the Labor government, which is probably going to be elected in 2019, is obviously an aspiration of people like Jacob Rumbiak and the others.

We’ve spoke with many politicians over the years and we’ve made delegations to Canberra. The Greens have a policy of supporting self-determination. And there is a group called International Parliamentarians for West Papua, and there are a number of parliamentarians on this. And so, we’re really hoping that the people of conscience and of principle will in a sense cross the floor over this issue. People like Russell Broadbent who is a backbencher but I think a significant one on the Coalition. He’s very critical of the refugee policy. And I’ve seen him a couple of time about [the] West Papuan issue, he’s more pessimistic about whether there’ll be any change there. We don’t hold much hope but who knows. Anything can happen.

Who would have expected that John Howard facilitated the referendum in East Timor? No-one expected that. He was leant on by the Americans, who said, “You have to handle it over there.” And there was significant upheaval within Indonesia that allowed that possibility to happen. And if things had been different with Wahid - the president of Indonesia who was there for a while - around the turn of the century - he was very supportive of West Papua, allowed them to change their name back from Irian Jaya to Papua or West Papua - I think that things could have been different.

But Soekarno’s daughter got in and she changed her tune and so there we go. One thing that has had impact over the years is when there’s been pressure on Indonesia through sales of armaments – embargo - and also non-cooperation with the military. Those things in the past have impact. But currently America and Australian don’t have any energy for that.


Above: West Papuan independence activists holding boxes containing part of the petition that was sent to the United Nations in September.


Above: At the signing of the Saralana Declaration. From left to right: Jacob Rumbiak, Leonie Tangghama, Octo Mote, Benny Wenda, Rex Rumakiek.

Friday, 29 September 2017

A few observations on inequality

This blogpost started with a graph showing the way that incomes in the United States have become gradually less equitable since the 1980s, up until which time increases in productivity were matched by increases in real median family income. This graph is quite well-known and has been discussed in detail in some Wikipedia articles on inequality in the US.


The reason this graph and its message are so topical is because, of course, it’s outcomes like this that have fuelled the kind of middle-class discontent that led to the election of Donald Trump, who, we are assured, will take steps to further increase income inequality by cutting taxes for the rich.

Inequality is often measured internationally by what’s known as the Gini coefficient, which is an index that functions on a scale where 0 means that everybody has the same income and 1 means that all income is controlled by one individual. The US does quite badly in the OECD ranking using the Gini coefficient, as you can see in the following graph. The US is the country with the fourth-highest Gini coefficient, after Costa Rica, Mexico and Turkey. Australia is further down toward the middle of the pack.


The Gini coefficient for the US is demonstrably worse now than it was in the 1990s. I found figures comparing the US in the mid-1990s, when the Gini coefficient before taxes and transfers was 0.477, with the late-2000s, when it was 0.486. An even bigger difference can be seen if you look at the Gini coefficient after taxes and transfers (0.361 in the mid-1990s compared to 0.378 in the late-2000s). This second index represents income once redistribution has taken effect; “transfers” is used here to indicate things like welfare payments. So, in the US lower-income families are worse off now because they are getting less benefit from wealth redistribution. In other words, fewer taxes for the rich, such as Trump is recommending, is exactly what the US does not need.

Other things have been working to erode average incomes in the US as well, such as competition from workers in lower-wage countries, who cost less to employ.

In Australia, the Gini coefficient before taxes and transfers in the mid-1990s was 0.467, and by the late-2000s it was 0.468. So, it didn’t change much over that 25-year period. However, the Gini coefficient after taxes and transfers in the mid-1990s for Australia was 0.309, and by the late-2000s it was 0.336. This means that income inequality over that 25-year period has favoured the rich while the less-well-off have lost access to redistributed wealth.

Here’s another graph, this time from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), and it shows real median income over time. It shows that lower-income Australians have done worse than higher-income Australians over time. In this graph, the numbers go up to 2016.


The ABS numbers for wealth tell a similar story, as you can see from the following graph. In this graph, which includes numbers from the early-2000s and compares them to more recent numbers, the wealth of the middle of Australia has grown much less rapidly than the wealth of the wealthy. The wealth of those at the bottom of the chart has remained virtually unchanged over that 13-year period, while the numbers for the middle have increased only slightly.


In France, the Gini coefficient before taxes and transfers in the mid-1990s was 0.473 and by the late-2000s it was 0.483. But the Gini coefficients after taxes and transfers for the same time segments were 0.277 and 0.293, meaning that while lower-paid French people have also done worse over time, they still get a larger slice of the redistributed pie.

The following table shows the Gini coefficient figures used in this blogpost, all in one place. The table shows how redistribution works in a European country to even out inequality. Whereas in France inequality before taxes and transfers is the same, approximately, as it is and has been in the US, once redistribution takes effect there is far less inequality in the economy. It also shows that Australia is coming in at about half-way between the two extremes: between the US on the one hand and France on the other.


Thursday, 28 September 2017

Reinventing government one click at a time

Dominic Campbell of FutureGov appeared at this Rising Minds event in Sydney this morning. Campbell said that questions of power and equality drive him. He said that what he does is work against privilege.

"Digital is a paradigm shift," he went on. He wants to use the disruptiveness of the internet to increase fairness, but government so far is "really just spoofing it", he averred. They are mostly just wrapping a digitised veneer around a broken system.

To truly transform government means truly understanding citizens' needs, Campbell said. "How do you totally redefine government?" He likened the task to keeping a heritage facade but knocking down the rest of the building standing behind it but, he asked, can you ever truly recode the DNA of an organisation?

"Human-centred design is the way to unlock this stuff in the hearts and minds of leadership," Campbell said. He suggested trying to build organisations around the terms people google, rather than sticking with the existing definitions and silos of an organisation. You have to restructure along customer journeys, he went on. And as soon as you get into service redesign you get into organisational redesign, he said.

To achieve real change, you need to build parallel structures, then switch off the old one and transition to the new. He mentioned several times a Melbourne startup called Casserole Club, which matches people who need meals with people nearby who are willing to share their cooking. Casserole Club, he said, is the Tinder for feeding people. This kind of model takes out 50 to 100 percent of the cost of providing the service, he said.

He also mentioned the Public 100 accelerator program in London, and said that "no data about me without me" is a goal of his work with governments, citing his involvement in the child protection area.

About the personal profiles that social media companies, and other internet plays, keep about individuals living in the community, Campbell said that people don't really care about losing control over their online profiles, and that we need stories in the media to raise awareness about the dangers of control over this information by private companies who use it to turn a profit. Social media, he said, has already won the battle because of the user experience it provides to people.

Campbell mentioned an initiative by Steve Ballmer called 'Where does the money go?' Canberra could do with just being levelled, he said wryly. Government, he went on, should be an inverted triangle. "Those bits of government that deliver for people will be most legitimate," he said.

He also mentioned the rise of city states, and asked rhetorically how London can separate itself from Britain because of Brexit.


Above: With humour, Dominic Campbell showed the Rising Minds audience a 10-year-old slide that he had once used in presentations to government.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Some facts about the study of homelessness

Earlier this week I contacted the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to find out when the 2016 Census’ homelessness figures would come out. I was told the figures would appear in early- to mid-2018. International homelessness figures only cite the 2011 Census, notably an OECD report  on affordable housing, and I wanted to know how things had changed in more recent years.

In the OECD report, which looks at the cost of housing generally, and homelessness as a part of that, Australia comes out looking reasonably good in the housing affordability stakes compared to its peers. Compared to Finland, say, or France, or Sweden, the amount of income spent on housing in Australia was not high in 2013, which is the year the figures point to. The definition:
This indicator presents information on the final consumption expenditure of households on housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels, as a percentage of overall final consumption expenditure of households.
When it came to homelessness, however, Australia did worse than Finland and Sweden and France, with almost 0.5% of our population reported as homeless in 2011. There are differences in the way the figures are collected across national boundaries, however, so it’s very difficult to make neat comparisons between how different countries deal with homelessness.

In Australia, people living in institutions are not counted among the homeless, for example. Australians who are counted as homeless fall into the following categories:
  1. Sleeping rough
  2. In emergency accommodation
  3. Living in accommodation for the homeless
  4. Living in non-conventional dwellings due to lack of housing, and
  5. Living temporarily with family or friends due to lack of housing.
Using these categories, Australia had 105,237 homeless people in 2011. France counted 141,500 people (0.22% of the population) in the first three of these categories, which means that the government didn’t count people in the other two categories as being “homeless”.

Finland also counted people in the first three categories and not in the last two, but it also counted people living in institutions, in its 2015 survey, finding 7200 “homeless” people (or 0.13% of the population). Sweden counted 34,000 homeless people (0.36% of the population) in 2011 including all categories used by Australia as well as people living in institutions (this included prisons, healthcare institutions, and treatment centres).

New Zealand uses the same categories as Australia, and found 41,207 people (0.94% of the population) to be homeless in 2015.

Australia’s homeless in 2011 were up on 2006 (89,728) and on 2001 (95,314). There were more people living in boarding houses in 2011 (21,258) compared to 2006 (17,329) but fewer people living in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out in 2011 (6813) compared to 2006 (7247). Most of the increase in homelessness between 2006 and 2011 was accounted for by people aged 25 to 34 years.

The ABS has spent time and effort finding better ways to count the homeless. It is clear that governments are trying to improve their responses to homelessness. In an ABS fact sheet: “In Europe this has led to the development of the European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion (ETHOS) definition (European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless, 2011). Closer to Australia, the ETHOS definition informed the development of the Statistics New Zealand definition of homelessness (Statistics New Zealand, 2009).”
In 2008, following widespread discussion in Australia about the meaning and measurement of social inclusion and exclusion, the ABS recognised the need to develop robust and transparent homelessness statistics across a range of ABS datasets. This decision coincided with the release of the Federal Government White Paper on Homelessness (The Road Home) (FaHCSIA, 2008a), which highlighted homelessness as an important social issue in Australia and identified the need to "turn off the tap", "break the cycle" and arrest chronic homelessness.
An article by Yale Global says that a shortage of comparable numbers is holding back efforts to fix the problem:
Obtaining an accurate picture of homelessness globally is challenging for several reasons. First, and perhaps most problematic, is variations in definitions. Homelessness can vary from simply the absence of adequate living quarters or rough sleeping to include the lack of a permanent residence that provides roots, security, identity and emotional wellbeing. The absence of an internationally agreed upon definition of homelessness hampers meaningful comparisons. The United Nations has recognized that definitions vary across countries because homelessness is essentially culturally defined based on concepts such as adequate housing, minimum community housing standard or security of tenure.
Second, many governments lack resources and commitment to measure the complicated and elusive phenomenon. Authorities confront a dynamic situation with frequent changes in housing status, and many communities have not established accurate trends of homelessness.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Brutalism three: Sydney Law School

This is the third in a series of blogposts about brutalist buildings in Sydney. Since starting this series, I have met with the scholarship of Sydney architect Glenn Harper, who exhaustively studied brutalist architecture in the city. In his Byera Hadley Travelling Scholarships Journal, Harper wrote:
Given the recent demolition of so many Brutalist buildings across Sydney and the limited recognition from various Governments, these buildings require significant community support to persuade government in their recognition and ongoing protection.
For the former Sydney Law School building at 173-175 Phillip Street, which was bought by Galileo Group and ISPT in early 2015, time is running out. The developer’s Stage 2 development application has been given conditional approval by the city council and ads for luxury apartments have already appeared. Units will be available for purchase on 23 of the building’s planned 26 floors. Fairfax Media’s Domain gave the development free publicity with a piece of soft-sell in August. Property marketer CBRE is pushing ads out on Facebook. One that appeared in my news feed in August included a link to a website for the development, named ‘King and Phillip’, which has a video featuring lead architect Richard Francis-Jones of FJMT Architects enthusing about 19th century heritage structures in the vicinity, especially St James Church.

“The culture and the history of these beautiful heritage buildings is directly reflected in the materials and the proportions of the new building,” Francis-Jones intones in the video, despite the fact that in order to build the new block of high-end flats a unique and irreplaceable example of 20th century brutalism will have to be demolished. “History reimagined,” promises a newspaper advert. “I would adjust the title to read ‘History un-Reimagined’,” wrote Harper in an email to me in September. He wrote:
I too have been critical (at various public lectures and via Instagram) [of] the University of Sydney’s treatment toward their Brutalist campus buildings. Their 2014 ‘Improvement Plan’ has most of their brutalist buildings (on the Camperdown and Darlington Campuses and the former School of Law) identified for demolition.  
These actions by the University [raise] the question [as to] whether there is indeed a prejudice towards their post-war campus architecture; and you would like to think that there is always an opportunity for adaptation within an age of sustainable use of resources. My views about the current flight of the former [School] of Law, an important Sydney Brutalist building, is not be to the liking of University of Sydney, especially as their decision to sell off one of [these] important assets was undertaken knowing that the University (to have a presence within the city) is leasing (?) floor space within Stockland’s building on Pitt Street.
Sydney City Council, which has gone into bat for another brutalist building, the Bidura Children’s Court in Glebe, has abandoned the Sydney Law School to its fate. I asked the council why there are different approaches to buildings that are both examples of the same design style.

“The City is currently investigating listing the Bidura Metropolitan Remand Centre [as a heritage item on the Sydney Local Environmental Plan 2012] in response to requests from the community and the Heritage Council of NSW,” a City of Sydney spokesperson wrote to me in an email in September. “The City has not received similar requests for the former law school building on King Street.”

To build its new law school, in the 1960s the university had a bill debated in state parliament, the University of Sydney (Law School Site) Bill, 1967. In a letter to J.H. Luscombe, town clerk, the VC and principal of the university, Emeritus Professor Stephen Roberts, noted that the minister for education and science had informed him that the bill had passed into law.

Previously, a 4-storey and basement building at 148A/152 King Street and 94 Elizabeth Street had been used since before 1951 as a licensed hotel with two lock-up shops and a restaurant in the basement. A three-storey building at 154/160 King Street had been used since before 1951 as a licensed hotel. 173/175 Phillip Street was a five-storey building used as two shops on ground floor and as commercial offices on the upper floors. Tooheys Limited was owner of the premises at northwest corner of King and Phillip Streets. On 26 February 1965 by notice in the Government Gazette, the property was resumed by the minister for public works for the university.

Brambles got a blasting license to use in preparation of the site. Blasting of 500 cubic yards of sandstone went ahead. The license was granted for Monday to Saturday inclusive.

The new building was estimated to cost 1.4 million pounds, and would be completed in 1969 with 10 upper floors and three basement levels, including off-street parking for 12 cars, and with an FSR of 10:1. The architects were McConnel, Smith and Johnson of Ocean Street, Edgecliff, and the partner responsible for the overall project was R.N. Johnson. Civil & Civic was involved in the project, as were engineers Woolacott, Hale, Corlett and Jumikis.

“In [the Sydney Law School] the volumetric form of international modernism was adopted to include large precast panels of exposed aggregate in Brutalist detail,” writes Harper in his study.

Harper will be giving a talk on brutalism this Saturday at the Amphitheatre, Peter Shergold Building, Western Sydney University, Parramatta, for the Sydney Architecture Festival.



Above: A surveyor's plan showing the buildings that were at the site before demolition began in 1967.


Above: A drawing showing the spaces that were inside the building once it was completed in 1969.



Monday, 25 September 2017

'Vote yes toot sweet' sign, Lansdowne Hotel

Up at Broadway on Saturday I snapped this photo. The sign looks out over the intersection of City Road and Broadway, which is very busy all the time, so I thought it was a fun play on words, from the French meaning "hurry up".


Sunday, 24 September 2017

'Yes' graffiti, Broadway

A week ago I had seen this kind of graffiti further down Bay Street and in Wentworth Park, but it seems that the artist has expanded his or her territory. With the larger territory came a bigger number of graffiti, it seems, as you can see from this photo. The word 'Yes' was even visible on the footpath up in Newtown yesterday.


Friday, 22 September 2017

With Richard Gingras, Google's head of news

This morning at Google’s Sydney headquarters about 80 journalists came to hear from the source, the man who is spearheading the search company’s engagement with the media industry.

Gingras said at the outset that Google is working to foster a healthier, open environment. “Why does Google do this?”

He said that his career has been about the evolution of media. He worked for PBS under Hartford Gunn, and said that he had always wanted to be on the cutting edge of technology. "Technology enables things," he said.

Gingras said that Google is a child of the open web, and that 98 percent of the company’s business derives from that. “That drives a lot of our strategies.” He said that the world has changed radically in the past 20 years. “We've swapped out the central nervous system of our culture," he said, and attributed part of the credit for this change to his company. "We have indeed given free expression to everyone." Google, he said, has enabled many, many more voices to appear in the public sphere.

But he thinks there is more work to do. “How do we rearchitect the web for speed?” he asked, and mentioned AMP for ads.

Gingras said that we are now operating in a media environment that is quite levelling, and this has had casualties. One of these casualties has been a quantity of trust. “We see continued declines in trust in media,” he said. He then mentioned The Trust Project. Gingras is working with Sally Lehrman, a senior scholar on journalism ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at the University of Santa Clara, in California, on ethics policies. There are 90 news organisations involved. The project is, for example, encouraging the visibility of ethics policies on news websites. Also, media organisations should ask themselves how their journalists are made to appear credible. Can readers access their full body of work? “People talk today about the need for media literacy,” said Gingras. “It comes down to expertise and motivation.” What is the journalist’s background and what is their agenda?

“I believe that journalists should be advocates and be unbiased,” he said, encapsulating an apparently contradictory pair of priorities in one sentence. This, for me, was the most important thing that Gingras said during the morning’s proceedings, and it was almost the last thing he said.

On monetisation, Gingras said that advertising is not necessarily enough anymore, so subscriptions come into play. “We're seeing good growth there,” he said. The New York Times has 2.25 million digital subscribers, he said. “What can [Google] do to help drive subscription growth?” He said that the company is looking at “the full funnel from discovery to payment”. They are going to evolve the sampling program. He said Google is also looking for propensity to pay among the readership, and studying how to take the friction out of the purchasing process. It is necessary to eliminate abandonment, he said. Media companies need to tell Google who is a subscriber so that they can be served better during the search process. He said that it might be possible to highlight for the reader whether an article that appears in a search result is from a media outlet they already subscribe to, so that they can then click on it. But he said he is cautious about setting expectations.

Part of the burden in future must lie with media organisations themselves. “You have to be offering a product that people can immediately see the value of,” Gingras said. “What's the value proposition?” He added however that the internet is challenging the very foundations of democracy. “How to find consensus between conflicting points of view?” The media has the job, he said, of building a bridge of commonly understood facts that people can use to come to their own conclusions in any debate.

Anita Jacoby from the Australian Communications and Media Authority asked Gingras some questions, and conducted the Q and A with the audience.

“What does journalism mean in the world?” Jacoby asked Gingras. “How do you form an independent perspective and give people what they need to know?”

“We're seeing far more partisanship than ever before,” replied Gingras. “Also, a greater degree of opinion content.” Trust is based in getting mundane things right, and in the old days newspapers had various ways to do that, such as the weather page, the sports page, and stock market information. Back in 1980, he went on, opinion was about 3 percent of a newspaper’s content, but now a media website may be 60 to 70 percent editorial. “Our role in search is to give people the information they need to make their own decisions.”

Gingras also talked about the modern phenomenon of fake news. “I don't think we're ever going to see the end of it,” he said. “Fake news on social networks is a different thing,” he said. But: “It's one thing to not rank content, it's another thing to eliminate it. This is legal content.”

“What is Google doing about journalists losing their jobs?” asked Jacoby. “Google did not kill the news industry,” Gingras said. The internet has allowed virtually free distribution. “The news industry is going through a very, very challenging transition.” Gingras notes that the golden era of news was disrupted by TV because when TV entered the market a lot of newspapers went under but the ones that survived, thrived. “How are people consuming news? It's never too soon to start innovating.”

One question that came from the audience was from the ABC. “Are paywalls dangerous for democracy if people cannot afford to pay?”

Gingras pointed back in time to journalist I.F. Stone, who ran a small subscription paper and who Gingras called "the original blogger". Even though his paper was only distributed to about 10,000 people, it had a large impact in the public sphere. Stone is famous for reporting on the Vietnam War. 

“How do I succeed in this new marketplace?” Gingras asked the audience rhetorically. “We don't live in a world with a lot of gates.” A New York Times journalist once suggested to him establishing who was a legitimate news source, and filtering out those results that were not from such sources. “What the fuck!” he whispered.


Gingras (left) and Jacoby at Google's Sydney HQ.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Fred Williams, minimalist Romantic

This positing of the famous Australian painter using terms that might at first glance seem to be contradictory was suggested to me by an article I read written by Mark Dober in the Sydney Morning Herald last week. I got in touch with Dober and spoke with him for this interview because I wanted to explore in more detail the ideas he had put forward in his article. Dober has a PhD in Fine Art (Painting) from Monash University and in addition to painting he also writes articles for magazines.

MdS: Can you tell me a little bit about your own practice? You’re an artist and you also do some writing about art.

I’m a professional artist, a painter. I paint in the landscape. Until about a year or so ago I was living in Flemington in inner Melbourne and driving down to the You Yangs - I was doing that for two to three years – to make works on location at the You Yangs, which is a rocky outcrop near Geelong. I was making a lot of work there for a while. I’ve since then, from about a year ago, my wife and I moved to Castlemaine in central Victoria and so I’m not painting the You Yangs anymore. They’re too far away. I’m painting in the region around Castlemaine. The culmination of my project at the You Yangs is the work that’s currently being exhibited at Geelong Art Gallery and it coincides with the Fred Williams in the You  Yangs exhibition.

MdS: Can you tell me a little bit more about your understanding of Fred Williams in relation to the sublime, that you outlined in your article? Where does the sublime fit in – obviously it’s part of the Romantic moment – how does that fit in as part of art history and where does that take you when you think about things like beauty and the landscape?

I’ve always enjoyed Fred Wiliams’ work even though I don’t have any special affinity to abstract painting. And what it is about Fred’s work that strongly appeals to me is the actual handling of the paint. There’s a great beauty in his paint, the opposition of a thin glaze support with thicker, more sensual use of paint in dabs and marks to indicate the presence of bush and fence lines and a horizon line, this sort of thing. So, I respond to Fred Williams’ painting very much in terms of paint, and what he’s able to do with the materials and the colour and so on. It’s very much a visual thing. Now, that kind of sensual expression is very much a feature of much Romantic painting. It’s expressing an idea of engagement with nature, a sense of being there, engaged, responding with joy and delight in the presence of nature. Now, the You Yangs series have tended to be framed in terms of what was happening in New York, which in the 60s and 70s was the world centre of art. In New York, in the 1960s, among the leading styles were Abstraction and Minimalism. Fred was able to take these and apply them to the Australian landscape. But even when his work was quite minimalist, it still had this sensuality, this beauty that is still very much a Romantic thing and I think connects him, places him within this much larger Romantic context which comes out of England and Europe, originating about 200 years ago.

MdS: You know that there’s a statue of Robert Burns just near the Art Gallery of New South Wales that was erected in the middle of the 19th century?

Oh, yeah? Well, the Romantic movement, which is generally dated from late-18th century through to, say, maybe up to the mid-19th century, is in many ways still with us because that sense of the sublime really tended to continue, albeit in different ways. Even abstract expressionism, the work of an artist like Mark Rothko, has this quality of the sublime about it. So, Romanticism as an art-historical movement, although it may be seen in the history books as ending around 1850, as a kind of a way of responding to the world, and particularly as a way of responding to landscape, it doesn’t go away. And it will continue probably far into the future because it’s intrinsic to how we feel and respond to landscape.

MdS: It’s a sense of awe and inspiration, isn’t it?

Yes, that’s right. It’s kind of universal, really, because it seems to transcend time and culture. We’ve got people, I mean, people today hike up to the Flinders Peak to get a view from the You Yangs and they’re wanting to take in the expansive view. This is very much a part of the sublime, feeling yourself small in relation to the vastness of nature, the beauty of nature, and within Fred Williams’ painting you’ve got that sense of distance … You seem to be hovering above the landscape looking down on it as if in an aeroplane, or there’s an emphatic horizon line and your eye goes to the horizon line, taking you into the far distance. The paintings seem cropped as if they could expand indefinitely left and right. They’re not framed by trees or anything like that. So, there’s this wonderful feeling of spaciousness in a Fred Williams which is very much a quality of the sublime. You know, a Casper David Freidrich, Rothko, so many others have dealt with that. And I think it accounts better for why Fred Williams is such a loved painter, than this rather narrow focus on minimalism.

MdS: And when I think of Williams I also think of people like Pollock and De Koening, their really gorgeous use of colour and line.

Yes. That’s right. I think it’s very much to do with paint, the expressive potential, the physicality, of paint. The way the mark-making suggests that you’re present to nature, even if the work is abstract, there’s a sense of responding to the experience of nature. Fred actually went to the You Yangs a lot and made a lot of gouaches, a lot of studies, down there. The larger paintings were made back in the studio in Melbourne but they’re based on a direct experience of nature.

MdS: Your exhibition is on alongside the Williams exhibition at the gallery in Geelong. Is that right?

Yeah. We had an opening at Geelong Art Gallery for the Fred Williams show, and my work was there for the opening. The Fred Williams show ends on the 5th of November and my show ends on the 15th of October. My work shares with Williams a Romantic sensibility – apart from the subject – we have that in common, that Romantic sensibility and concern for colour, concern for sensuality of the paint, and engagement with the landscape. But of course my style is very different. My style is far more observation-based, and it’s all made plein-air, it’s all made entirely on location. I don’t work back in the studio, I work onsite.

MdS: In my email to you I mentioned this idea of Louis Hartz, the fragment theory, that he has about colonies that split off from the main trunk of the political entity. I wanted to go back and maybe talk a little bit about some of those Romantic artists and especially people like Turner and Bourke, who first intimated – well Turner was later, obviously – but people like Edmund Bourke, who wrote about the sublime. Bourke’s treatise was something of a reference point for the Romantic poets. When you talk about the sublime are you thinking about the way that … [I mean, the] world was changing at that time so much because of the American Revolution, and there was something awe-inspiring about the things that were going on. I think that the Romantics at that time responded to that and reflected that in their art. Would you agree with that?

Yeah, it’s a bit of a paradox but at the very time that the Industrial Revolution was kicking in the appreciation of nature became all the more intense. It’s as if the Romanticism was oppositional to industrialisation. But it was happening across all the arts. It was happening in music with Beethoven and musicians like that. It was happening in poetry with Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, the great Romantic poets. And of course it was happening in painting with Turner, Constable and others. So, you have this discovery of nature and a sense of the individual finding freedom and beauty, a kind of truth, even, that Keats talks about, in a direct response to nature. This was quite new. Like you say, it seems to partly [be] a response to ideas of freedom and individual liberty that were coming out of France and the American Revolution, and also a kind of oppositional stance, I think, to industrialisation.

MdS: Blake’s dark, satanic mills.

Yes, that’s right.

MdS: Wordsworth spent a lot of time up in the Lake District just like Williams used to spend time down in the You Yangs.

That’s right, yeah. I think that feeling about nature is still with us. It can be expressed in different styles but the underlying content, the underlying idea, is the same. I don’t see any fundamental difference in the ideas that Fred Williams is advancing compared to earlier expressions in a more observational-based way. He is of course applying it to the Australian context, and so the landscape has [a] more scattered, afocal appearance. You don’t get that display of mountain scenery and whatever that’s associated with Turner and the Europeans. So, he’s wanting to apply the Romantics to an essentialist Australian landscape, which he views as flat, brown, dry, spacious, and non-picturesque. All those things sound not particularly Romantic, but the way in which he paints, the way in which he composes, the features, the colour, the use of paint, it’s all Romantic. And as I say, the way that your eye goes to the horizon line, taking you into deep space, it’s really an application of the sublime idea, which is European-derived, to the Australian landscape. And really that’s the great achievement. It’s a wonderful achievement. And sure, it’s true that the minimalist thing coming out of New York was also a major force of ideas for Fred, and he himself acknowledged that, but there’s no need for us to limit out appreciation of his work just to that historical moment in the 1960s.

MdS: It’s almost as if the minimalism as a quantity comes out of the landscape, rather than coming from New York.

Well, this is the thing. The reason why the work’s so convincing is that the idea coming from New York has a natural affinity with the Australian landscape as Fred saw it. The two kind of bond together. It doesn’t seem a forced idea. It doesn’t seem in any way alien. It seems to fit. It seems to fit the Australian landscape. This is why, quite justly, it was celebrated as an achievement in the 60s and 70s. Australians could see that it was new and that it amounts to something. But that sense of the sublime tended to be played down or entirely ignored. Partly because the sublime was an old idea, 200 years old, and the desire was to emphasise the new, the current, hence New York. And partly because the Romantic, it sort of, I suppose, in some ways, muddies the water a bit with the emphasis [being] on what’s happening “now”. But I think we’re far enough removed from that period to look at the broader context.

MdS: I agree. I think that your insight is particularly interesting, and I thank you very much for spending time talking to me.

Mark Dober, Fawcett's Gully 1, 112cm  x 380cm, 2016, watercolour on paper. Posted with the permission of the artist.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

'Yes to equality' sign, Crown Street, Surry Hills

Yesterday up in Surry Hills we had breakfast - mine was a salmon bagel and a flat white - in one of the many cafes there, then walked down to Oxford Street. My friend and I passed this clothing store, called Pigeonhole, and I snapped a photo of the sign in the window.


Saturday, 16 September 2017

'Yes' graffiti in Wentworth Park

Yesterday as I was walking back from Newtown down Bay Street I saw the word ‘Yes’ written in a familiar script on a construction site hoarding. And there it was again on a concrete stanchion nearby. Further north, in Wentworth Park, I saw it again and again written on the footpath as I headed home. The word was written in the same script as was used for so many years in the middle of last century by Arthur Stace. That word became historically important for the city, and the script was even trademarked. Now, it has been used for another historic moment in Sydney’s journey.


Friday, 15 September 2017

Do we need to legalise illicit substances?

Today in the Sydney Morning Herald there was another story about drug gangs laundering cash through Australia's big banks. A few weeks ago the same charge was leveled at the CBA only but now it seems there are other banks involved as well. This is a major story, involving three journalists. The second story is from 2011, and it took two journalists to write it. It's about the State Crime Commission, and it tells another tale of dysfunction: of an unaccountable organisation that operates outside any democratic control.

On the one hand in NSW we're paying expensive public servants a ton of money to fight so-called "crime" - the drug business is a classic example of a market finding ways to operate despite obstacles put in its way - and on the other hand the criminals they chase continue to find ways to conduct their business.

Demand from within the community continues unabated, as we know from stories in recent years about water treatment authorities that monitor the contents of our household waste. These measurements are part of an official program of scientific surveillance, the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program, operated by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

It's ludicrous. We might scoff at the Americans and the virtual war they are prosecuting in Mexico - one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to operate in - but we are also wasting unimaginable quantities of resources in order to prop up outmoded ways of dealing with the use of "illicit" drugs. Drugs should be treated as a health issue, not as a crime.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

ACCC will look into damage from Facebook, Google to media

Last night the government's media reform laws were finally tagged for implementation after securing the support of Nick Xenophon, the independent from South Australia. The government had earlier secured support from the far-right One Nation for the laws. Labor would not support them, which necessitated the support of the cross-benchers. In return for his support, Xenophon has got the government to agree to hold an enquiry through the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) into the effect that American internet giants are having on Australia's media ecosystem. Xenophon today on TV spoke of "the crisis that occurs because of Google and Facebook", and said that when these companies use content made by people working in the media in Australia "there needs to be fair recompense for that". As he pointed out, this will be the first time anywhere in the world that such an enquiry has been undertaken. The laws are expected to pass through the Senate today.


IT movie balloon, Sydney

I snapped this photo at the beginning of last week just up the street, and I guess it did the job because I had never heard of the movie when I saw it. I haven't seen any clowns around the place, and anyway it's a pretty quiet neighbourhood apart from the hoons who scream up and down this road in their cars late at night on occasion. The movie is showing in cinemas here at the moment and it is getting mainstream media coverage. I am not a fan of horror movies, so I won't be going to see it.


Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Fairfax corporate archives to go to State Library of NSW

About two weeks ago I sent an enquiry to Fairfax Media, publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), about Archer Russell, a journalist and naturalist who died in 1960. Russell, I believed, was the editor of the ‘Outdoor Australia’ page of the Sydney Mail, a Fairfax publication that ran from 1860 to 1938. There are papers in the State library holdings under Russell’s name that suggest this was the case, including letters to the editor signed by people living around the state who wanted answers to questions they had.

That email wasn’t answered so on Monday I phoned the media liaison for the company and left a message. At the same time, I went to the SMH website and initiated a chat to ask for help. The SMH staffer on the chat function gave me the Readerlink email address, and I sent them an email with the same question I had asked earlier. This time there was a response, and I learned yesterday that the SMH corporate archives will be given to the State Library of NSW. “Next year you can look them up with the State Library,” they said.

This will be of interest to many people because Fairfax has been around since 1831. The company’s recent fortunes have led to it getting by without an on-staff archivist. A stark difference compared to the way things were in 1931, at the 100-year mark in the company’s corporate journey, when Fairfax published a big, fat book titled ‘A Century of Journalism: The Sydney Morning Herald and Its Record of Australian Life’. The foreword is signed “John Fairfax and Sons Limited, Proprietors [of] The Sydney Morning Herald, The Sydney Mail”. It’s an enormous book, running to over 800 pages, with an index and black-and-white photographs with captions.

Above: Russell and Marion, his wife, make camp on Cooltong Reach along the Murray River, as shown in this photograph. From ‘Murray Walkabout,’ Melbourne University Press, 1953.

The following is the transcript of an article published in the Murray Pioneer, October 1920:
On Monday morning (says The Register) Mr G. E. Archer Russell, traveller and writer, left Adelaide on what he termed “a little wander trip”, along the back track to Sydney. He purposes journeying up the Murray to the Murrumbidgee, whence he will cross the Riverina to the mountains and Sydney. Among other places comprised in his itinerary are Blanchetown, Renmark, Mildura, Yanco, and Burrinjuck, and later when Sydney has been reached, Mount Kosciusko and Canberra. He expects to be away about three months. Mr. Russell, besides having published books and articles on travel and nature in other parts, is the author of the series of the River Murray sketches, entitled “Gumland and River,” now running through the Saturday Journal. Mr. Russell has travelled unbeaten tracks in many parts of the world, notably in Africa and the further East. He intends to write a further book on his wanderings for publication in England. 
Mr. Russell is a very attractive writer, and his “Gumland and River sketches” (inspired by a sojourn at Berri) are among the best of their kind anyone has done.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Vaxxed rally, Martin Place

Up at Macquarie Street at lunchtime today there was a rally for the campaign against vaccination, with probably 100 people gathered around a speaker who used a PA system to amplify her words. There were also tables with printed material on them, with a petition for concerned citizens to sign on one table. I saw some signs placed around the thoroughfare, such as one which read "No jab, no play, no way", and another which said "Not all vaccines are safe". A man held a sign saying "Herd immunity? Individual rights override science and society! - UNESCO. Who has the rights?"

I heard some of what the woman with the mic was saying, near the end of her delivery. She said, "These politicians will have blood on their hands, without a doubt." She then started up a rallying chorus, getting the assembled crowd to repeat her words. The things she said included: "Where there's risk there must be choice," "Vaccines cause harm," "Please listen to our plight," "My child, my choice."


Monday, 11 September 2017

'Yes' for Marriage Equality rally, Town Hall

Yesterday as I was walking west on William Street, Woolloomooloo, there were people with rainbow signs, hats, flags and feather boas. The young, carnivalesque folk were walking west in the same direction as I was. The council’s rainbow banners were hanging along William Street.

At the corner of College Street I talked with a young man wearing a rainbow flag around his neck who told me about the rally at 1pm at Town Hall. He had heard about it on Facebook, he said. I headed down Park Street and merged with the thick crowds of people on the street. The mass of people got heavier the closer to George Street I moved, and I had to slow to a crawl outside Woolworths at the corner of George and Park. The store guard was busy managing the crowd, which spilled into the store.

I worked my way through the tightly-packed mass of people south onto George Street, and walked along to Bathurst Street. In Sydney Square there were thousands of people, 30,000 according to organisers ‘Yes for Marriage Equality’, and I asked a man there who had organised the rally.

On the street I saw people holding West Papuan and Chilean flags as well as rainbow flags, and there were rainbow banners mounted all the way down Bathurst Street. Bill Shorten, the Opposition leader, was there today addressing the crowd, I learned when I got home, because I didn't try to get into the square to see who was speaking. The ABC said there were “thousands” of people in the afternoon, in their news bulletin. On TV, Shorten congratulated the prime minister for backing the ‘Yes’ side.

A marriage equality rally was also held in Brisbane yesterday.



Above two photos: Walking west along William Street, Woolloomooloo.



Above two photos: Looking northwest from the southeast corner of George and Park Streets.


Above: Looking north toward Sydney Square and the Town Hall.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

George Gittoes exhibition, The Yellow House

Up at The Yellow House on MacLeay Street in Potts Point there is an exhibition of George Gittoes paintings until 29 September. I met with Waqar in the gallery and we talked for about ten minutes about Gittoes and his work. The last exhibition I went to by this artist was in 2007, and it was titled 'No Exit'. In that exhibition the works were pen-and-ink drawings. In the new exhibition the works are mainly oil paintings. This time, Waqar told me, the artist will be taking his new film to the US before it will be released for viewing in Australia. He also said there will be a screening on Netflix on 12 September of a documentary on Gittoes. Waqar comes from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.


Above: 'Bringing Heaven Down to Earth', 2015 ($18,000)


Above: 'Study for Two Worlds in Harmony', 2015 ($1800)


Above: 'Sufi sings out the dark and in with the light', 2016 ($2500)

Friday, 8 September 2017

New social housing plan in The Hills Shire

The photo shows an aerial view of the Castle Hill train station, currently under construction. The state government, in order to maximise the benefits of its new investment, has changed development restrictions along the rail corridor, raising the height to which dwellings can be built. As a result, groups of residents are selling combined lots of properties to developers for astronomical sums. Developers are then putting up blocks of flats for Sydney commuters.

But the local council has come up with a plan to leverage some of this activity for philanthropic purposes. The mayor, Yvonne Keane, has worked with developers, the state government, social housing providers, and the police to come up with a plan to provide “transitional housing” for people who find themselves without a home.

“For some time, I’ve been thinking of ways in which The Hills Shire Council might play a key role in delivering tools to help our community respond to domestic violence. We have a wonderful women’s shelter, The Sanctuary, but the missing link is transitional housing,” Mayor Keane said.

“Transitional housing provides safe, comfortable and secure accommodation for women and their children to recover, re-build and make informed and empowered decisions about their lives and their future.”

The way the plan - which is yet to be approved by the NSW government - will work, is that developers will give the council some of their new housing stock in applicable developments for a period of ten years to use for social housing. In return, the council will allow the developer to increase the number of units they build in each applicable development. This is what the Government News story calls “an ‘uplift’ in development yield”.

“The model allows for transition dwellings to be provided in well-located and serviced areas at no direct cost to council, federal and state governments and the community,” according to the story in Government News.

I have been writing a series of blogposts on homelessness on this blog, since July. The story the current post is based on appeared one day in my Facebook feed, in a clear case that the site is “listening” to me, and wants to deliver things to me that make me happy, so that I will spend more time on the site. This is what Mark Pesce calls “the weaponization of influence”.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Sign at Cuckoo Callay cafe, Surry Hills

On Monday I walked along Crown Street through Surry Hills from the south and took this photo. The sign was there on the pavement again today. On the obverse of the sign there's another message: "I'm interested in fitness. Fitness whole burger in my mouth." Chuckles aside, I thought today was a good opportunity to put up this photo because the High Court has just decided that the government's postal survey asking for the popular view on marriage equality could go ahead. O frabjous day!


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Protective barriers, Pyrmont Bridge

This morning workmen were installing steel bollards on the western edge of Pyrmont Bridge. The barriers come after official decisions to change the streetscape to prevent terrorist attacks on pedestrians. The City of Sydney has already placed several enormous concrete barriers on the pavement in Martin Place. Such plans are taking shape in the wake of an attack in Melbourne in January this year, when a man drove a stolen car in a pedestrian mall, killing people, and equally destructive attacks in Europe in recent times that were linked to Islamic State.


Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Weekend operation of the Pyrmont Bridge

On Sunday I went for a walk and took the route that goes across the Pyrmont Bridge into town. When I was near the middle I saw that one of the gates used to close the thoroughfare when the bridge opens - it has this special swing mechanism that displaces part of the span so that, in the old days, ships could get in and out of Cockle Bay - had been shut. I sped up my pace and then asked the city ranger standing next to the gate if there was a reason for opening the bridge. He said they open the bridge for tourists on Saturdays and Sundays. "We do it four times," he went on, at 10.30am, 12.30pm, 2pm and 3pm. Over the loudspeaker installed on the bridge I heard the announcement. "The historic Pyrmont Bridge is about to open for a scheduled demonstration."


Monday, 4 September 2017

Roxanne the dog, Pitt Street Mall

Yesterday I stopped by to say hello to Roxanne and her owner where they were sitting on the pavement in Pitt Street Mall, and after giving the man five dollars I asked how the dog was doing. "She keeps jumping on people," he said. "Central police said that if she keeps jumping on people they're going to put me in jail and put her down." Roxanne took a drink of water out of the full ice cream container that was on the ground, and ambled over to sniff at my shoes placidly. You often see police in pairs standing over some poor devil sitting on the pavement outside a shopping centre with the pedestrians walking around them, oblivious.


Sunday, 3 September 2017

Gayageum player, Darling Harbour

This young woman was playing the Korean instrument today sitting in the sun on the pavement as pedestrians walked around her. She had the cover of the instrument on the pavement with a collection of coins on it, and a sign with her contact details written on it in front of her on top of the cover. I gave her the change that was in my pocket and stood listening to her for about five minutes. The instrument is similar to the Chinese guzheng and the Japanese koto. You play the instrument by plucking the strings with one hand while the other hand moves back and forth and up and down the soundboard, shortening the intervals of the strings. I felt a bit sorry for the woman because it was hot in the sun in early spring but she seemed to be comfortable enough to carry on.


Performance art, Martin Place

As I approached the northern extremity of Pitt Street Mall I heard a brass band playing somewhere down the street, so instead of turning up King Street to go up the hill I continued along Pitt Street. Near Martin Place I could see from a distance there was a group of people and I could also see some placards being held in the air. As I got closer I could see that the members of the band I had heard playing 'The animals went in two by two' - a well-known song from long ago - were standing in a line holding their instruments, but they were not playing them any more. Also on the footpath were some young people in red T-shirts holding clipboards, and they were talking to people passing in the street as though they were doing a survey. As I came around the corner into Martin Place I could see a line of young people standing silently holding blank placards in front of the fountain (as you can see in the first photo).


Soundlessly, after standing there for a while, the line of people began to move in procession up the hill past the office buildings on the grey pavement. They then reformed further up Martin Place and stood dispersed on a flat part of the thoroughfare next to some stairs (as you can see in the second photo). Some of the young people faced south, others faced west, and one was even lying down on the pavement on his back. The band, meanwhile, had also moved up the hill and stood, as before, in a line beside one of the office buildings playing music.



A young man with a satchel and with a label around his neck on a lanyard was standing facing the line of young people and I asked him if he was involved in the performance. He said he was, and told me that the name of the artist responsible for the performance is Anne Collod. He also gave me a booklet with information about his organisation, La Magnanerie, when I told him I wanted to blog about the event. Anne Collod's performance is a recreation of Anna Halpin's Blank Placard Dance, which was first performed in 1967 at the time of the Vietnam War. The booklet says that Collod's performance is on alongside the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, but according to Wikipedia this event was last on in 2016 and news reports online say the Opera House discontinued the series. Now, they have a new series of events called Antidote, where the website indeed has a page for Collod's performance.

The young man who gave me the booklet, whose name is Martin Galamez, told me that all the people involved in the performance were recruited locally, including the band, which is called Riff Raff.

The people with clipboards talking with pedestrians on the street, the young man called "collectors". "What is the meaning of protests in the city?" Martin said, referring to the blank placards, when I asked if the protest had to do with the emancipation of women. The collectors were collecting the things people want to protest about. The suggestions were posted at the Opera House today. I asked how long they would stay there but Martin didn't know. He said that Collod arrived in Sydney on Wednesday to set up the performance but would just be here as a tourist from today.

The booklet says that La Magnanerie is a multidisciplinary production office.