“MAJNUN,” they call. “Majnun! Majnun! Majnun!” The word, meaning ‘crazy’ in Arabic, comes from The Story of Layla and Majnun, an Islamic folktale about a young man sent mad with love. If ‘crazy’ is another way of saying ‘unusual’, then Maile fits the description. For the young Australian is standing in a car park wearing a bright red dress and holding a tray of baklava swaddled in wrapping paper. Today is her 22nd birthday: to celebrate, she’s hosting a party in an immigration detention centre. Majnun Maile, indeed.
IN THE RECREATION ROOM at Broadmeadows detention centre in Melbourne there are four computer terminals. Teenage asylum seekers, dressed in tracksuit pants and jumpers, sit in front of screens browsing Facebook. But for these boys, the social networking site is more than just a place for sharing gossip and posting flattering profile portraits — it is an essential link to the outside world.
MY PHONE’S stuffed, and I’ve got to buy a new one. Being young, white and middle class, I’m genetically predisposed to Apple products, so the iPhone seems the natural choice. And oh, I’ve seen what these babies can do. I’ve salivated over the full-colour GPS maps, marvelled at the pinch-zoom and blushed over the vibe app. And yet, I can’t bring myself to buy one of the things. In the back of my head there’s a little voice that says, “Do you really need all that crap?”
I call this voice my inner old codger.
YESTERDAY three asylum seekers at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) in Broadmeadows sewed their lips together and posted the photos on Facebook in a protest at their continued detention.
THE YEAR is 2001. You live in a large sharehouse on the south side of town. The place has millions of rooms and people are always coming and going. One day a stranger knocks on the door. ‘Help!’ he shouts. ‘The people in my house are trying to kill me! I need to hide here for a while.’
Instinctively, you reach for the door handle. A wrinkled hand, old yet firm, grabs your wrist. You look up and see your landlord, a bald man with thick rectangular glasses and bushy eyebrows. ‘We will decide who comes to this house and the circumstances in which they come,’ he says, sternly.
He locks the door.
HE WAS the angry driver from Hell.
The green Commodore screeched to a halt, and out stepped a hulking bogan with a shaved head, wraparound sunnies and tattoos from head to toe. He lumbered down the road, stopped face-to-face with the shocked cyclist he had almost run over, drew back his fist and screamed ‘I’m going to punch your head off!’
YOU know an animal is in serious trouble when you start counting its habitat trees individually. David Blair, a member of the Australian National University team monitoring the federally endangered Leadbeater’s Possum, stands on a dirt track in gumboots and a green vest, pointing out old grey eucalypts one by one. “Probably 14,” he says when he’s finished counting.
THE Spirit of Tasmania isn’t a ship. It’s a floating civilisation. The giant ferry has a disco, a food court and even a movie theatre. The cabins come with all the usual conveniences – clean sheets, thick blankets, and mints on starched pillows. Outside it’s near freezing and the gales are upending gulls, but in here it’s a comfy 25˚C and the only breeze is steam billowing from the shower.
The first Europeans to make this trip braved Bass Strait without heaters or hot water to keep them warm and cosy. But that’s not to say their boats were without technology. On board were the most advanced tools and weapons ever seen in these waters, technology the Europeans used to overpower the inhabitants of the island and change its ecosystem forever. The landing was an alien invasion, unexpected and irrevocable.
As I leave the boat and board a waiting bus, I’m acutely aware of my place in this, the story of Tasmania. I am a descendant of those aliens. I have come to visit a world my ancestors conquered, to drive along the paths they cleared through the bush, to camp in the forests they claimed as their own. Most tourists travel to see a foreign culture; but here, on this island at ‘world’s end’, I have come to see how my own culture is faring in a foreign land.
YOU’VE heard the phrase “you are what you eat”. Well, psychologist Dr Bob Rich thinks you are how you act. “Habits are everything,” he says. “Your very personality is a network of long-standing habits. Everything that can be said about you is something you do.”
In fact, almost 50 per cent of behaviour is habitual, and those habits can take many months to form. One recent study found that the average time for an action to become fully automatic was 66 days. Even simple behaviours, like eating a piece of fruit with lunch or running for 15 minutes before dinner, can take more than two months of daily repetition to become ingrained.
Breaking your old, wasteful habits and forming new, sustainable ones isn’t easy, but this article will give you the psychological know-how to achieve that goal. So take your typical route to the lounge room, settle into your favourite armchair, adopt your usual reading posture, and let’s get started.
With the silly season just around the corner, we put the question to every environmentally conscious shopper: can buying green save the planet?
YOU’RE standing in a store facing a shelf of sustainable products. Their earthy green packaging beckons. For many an ethical consumer, a heated inner dialogue ensues. If you vote with your dollar, you’ll be supporting sustainable industries, runs one argument. But what happened to the message of reduce, recycle, reuse? Do you really need the item or is it just a waste of resources cleverly marketed to make you feel like you’re doing your bit for the planet?
Touring a supermarket and eco-store with advocates from both camps, G opens the debate and welcomes your opinion on when to fill your trolley with green goodies and when to walk away.
THREE make-up artists. Four producers clutching clipboards. Five cameramen. I’m sitting in the studio of SBS quiz show Letters and Numbers, trying to count how many people are working behind the scenes. The glare from the coloured stage lights casts everything in magenta and cyan shadows, like a 3D image before you put the glasses on. It’s hard to see, but I can spot at least 15 crew members.
When the episode goes to air, viewers will see only five people. They’ll be seated around a semi-circular desk against a blue background. One of the regular panellists will be David Astle, playwright, novelist and long-time freelance journo. Right now the cameras are rolling and he’s flicking through a massive Macquarie Dictionary propped up in front of him. He’s my first profile subject.
‘Borzoi,’ he says. ‘A Russian Wolfhound. Very tall, long nose, extremely quick.’ Remove the Russian reference and Astle could be describing himself. Lean and lofty, he has shaggy, salt-and-pepper hair, a rapid-fire wit and a dominant proboscis. In this, I’m sure he can weather the insult. This is a man who once described an Italian chef as ‘built like a gnocchi ball’.
MANY teenage boys are embarrassed by their mothers. I had good reason to be. When I was in high school, my mother became a professional clown.
As a young woman, she was the person you would least expect to spend her days playing the fool. From what I’ve been told, she was an introvert. She went to teachers’ college, got married and settled into a life of domesticity. Then she hit middle age and flipped out. She threw off her apron and, with it, others’ expectations. She was over 40, she had had her kids, and she would do whatever she wanted, thank you very much. Unfortunately for me, what she wanted to do was wear silly costumes and act like an idiot in front of my friends.
CONTROVERSIAL Victorian climate change protest laws breach freedoms of political expression and are “stifling democracy”, a prominent barrister and Greens candidate has claimed. Brian Walters SC, who is running for the seat of Melbourne in the Victorian state election on November 27, told Crikey that new penalties relating to “critical electricity infrastructure” specifically target climate change protesters.
JOURNALISTS and politicians like to talk about the human face of a conflict. But when it comes to the war in Afghanistan and the Australian Government’s arbitrary discrimination of Afghan refugees, we don’t have a human face. We have a series of human numbers. The first is 1005628.
TWELVE days after usurping the Labor leadership, new PM Julia Gillard outlined her “boat people” policy to an anxious public. The plan? A “regional processing centre” on East Timor.
There was nothing new about the idea – regional processing has been part of Australia’s response to asylum seekers since the first wave of Indo-Chinese refugees in the late 70s. The only novel aspect of the policy was the astonishing speed with which it was cobbled together. A hasty call to Timor-Leste’s President Jose Ramos-Horta, a quick chat with the UN, and Gillard was ready to strike asylum seekers from her pre-election to-do list.
Yet the issue of “boat people” can’t be swatted away so easily. Australia needs to develop a considered, long-term approach to asylum seekers and refugees because they could be heading our way for a long time to come.
STEVE looked up from the dinner table to see a panda standing in front of him. It was his wife, Margaret. She had synthetic fur – black for her paws and hind legs and white for her belly – up to her neck. Above that was her face, red and sweaty from wearing the costume all day. Under her arm was the panda’s head, its eyes rimmed by inky bruises, the pupils plastic but somehow alive.
Steve stared at his wife, speechless. He was surprised because she usually came home dressed as the arse-end of a hippo.
‘Cutbacks,’ she explained. ‘A hippo requires two actors to look convincing. A panda, just one. Guess the zoo went with the cheaper option.’
The first problem is getting here. The second is getting permission to enter. Then asylum seekers living in the community must find somewhere to stay. Greg Foyster meets a group of people constantly on the move.
SORIYAN SPENT a year and a half travelling on trains to nowhere. He would wake up early, haul himself off a bench at Cheltenham Station, in Melbourne’s southern suburbs, and shuffle, tired and cold, onto the six o’clock train. Dressed in jeans, sneakers and a red-and-black jacket – a gift from a friend – he would stretch out on a row of seats and close his eyes while the suburbs whooshed past the windows.
He would spend three, four, five hours on the train, travelling on almost all the lines, passing all the stations. Craigieburn, Cranbourne, Sydenham, Glen Waverley, Lilydale, Pakenham – this 28-year-old man from India has criss-crossed the city more times than most locals. At night he would return to Cheltenham or Watergardens Station, in the city’s northwest, and lie on a bench, a backpack under his head for a pillow, a brown blanket over his body for warmth. Sometimes, neighbourhood kids would come and abuse him, shouting racial taunts or trying to grab his bag. Sometimes, he would be left alone. At dawn the cycle would start again: another day riding the rails to pass the time; another night chasing sleep at a train station.
YOU might have seen the odd electric bike or two roaming around the streets (especially uphill), but you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s a new trend about to explode – at least for the time being. Despite technology pushing ahead, e-bikes have taken a long time to gain momentum.
Patented as early as 1897, power-assisted pushies are only now taking off, with more than 120 million electric scooters, bicycles and tricycles zipping along the congested bike lanes of crowded cities, mostly in Asia. Not even the financial downturn halted manufacturing – last year electric bicycle production in China soared 8.2 per cent.
On the other side of the globe, Europeans have also caught the battery-powered buzz.
I WAS born in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. I was born in Kashmir, between India and Pakistan. I was born in Iran. I was born in Iraq. I was born in Sri Lanka.
I worked as an architect, building up my business. I worked as a negotiator, liaising with the government. I worked as an engineer. I worked as a veterinarian. I worked as an accountant.
I am a member of the Hazara ethnic group. I am opposed to the government’s occupation of Kashmir. I am a firm believer in women’s rights. I am a whistleblower for government corruption. I am an ethnic Tamil.
I was held down while I watched my father beaten to death. I was kidnapped by the government and taken to an interrogation room. I was knocked out with the butt of a rifle. I was shot three times. I was arrested and put in a camp.
“We’re going to focus collectively as a group to streamline our growth so we can hit the ground running with a win-win. You know what I mean?’’
No. I have absolutely no idea. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat in a meeting, heard a manager regurgitate buzzwords onto the boardroom table and then nodded as if what he said was perfectly understandable.
CHANCES are you’re reading this magazine with your mobile nearby, switched on and ready for action. The second it beeps your attention will be yanked from this page, pulled by the invisible cord that connects us to friends and family, work and the web. It’s an electronic lifeline that nourishes with texts and tweets, news and gossip. It’s infiltrated every aspect of our lives and, according to some experts, it’s driving us to distraction.
So if your mobile beeps, just ignore it. Better yet, switch it off. Because for the next five minutes, we’re going to look at how technology saps your focus and what you can do to get it back.
A HALF-EATEN sushi roll. Paperwork stacked in different-sized piles like a bar chart measuring inefficiency. A computer desktop strewn with the debris of some digital cyclone. These are the first signs of Obsessive Compulsive Multitasking (OCM), a disorder that affects hundreds of thousands of clerical workers around the country.
THREE o’clock at the office. The sounds of clerical work reverberate through densely packed cubicles. The familiar clackety-clack of fingertips on keyboards, the laboured breathing of printers under the duress of impending deadlines, and the mechanical slurping of a hungry paper-shredder form a percussion track that’s been playing since morning. Among it all sits a young woman, attuned to the rhythm of industry. She types, files, tends to chirping phones. She’s a typical office worker in a typical office, except for one important distinction: she’s not getting paid.
Talulah is a volunteer; one of a growing number of laid-off workers looking for something to fill the empty pages in their yearly planners. You might expect the recently redundant to be confirmed misanthropes, oozing spite from every pore. But, in some cases, the opposite has occurred.
WITH all the hullabaloo about the Kindle™ and the iPad™, it’s easy to overlook the e-reader’s centuries-old rival. But the Book™ is alive and well, with a sleek new design, lightweight packaging and wireless mobility to suit today’s busy bibliophile.
I have to admit being a little baffled by the Book™ at first. No matter how hard I looked, I just couldn’t find the ON button. After much fumbling I managed to start the device, and all it took was turning the front cover from left to right. No loading screen, sound effect or grand hurrah. It was an elegant beginning to what proved to be a charming piece of technology.
CAN newspapers get any more desperate? Since Apple launched its newest bit of consumer electronics a week ago, newspaper editors everywhere have dedicated acres of space to the gadget, hoping to hold the attention of “tech-savvy” younger readers.
The day after the world’s least aesthetically pleasing dresser, Steve Jobs, released the world’s most aesthetically pleasing hunk of metal and glass, the iPad, the Age ran four articles in the “Focus” section, the Herald Sun ran a double-page spread asking if this product will “change the world” and the Australian ran three reports, an editorial and an online survey.