Recently, I shattered my elbow so badly that what I suspected was dislocated cartilage was actually broken-off skeleton. I was immobilised for weeks: my arm was in a cast and my bicep bruised until it resembled a sausage casing that had been haphazardly packed with thick clots of black-currant jelly. “We’re keeping you in a cast,” the surgeons explained, “to prevent your wound from exploding.”
During this period, some people were godsends. My best friend sat in the emergency room with me, bringing me fruit, juice and crackers, somehow knowing that I hadn’t eaten properly the entire day. She gasped over my arm’s wrong angles, before we joked and gossiped about other stuff to take my mind off things. Back home, my sister put fresh sheets on my bed. Friends SMSed their concerns, insisting that I needn’t reply.
Others expressed their concern in odd ways. Horrified by what they’d heard through the grapevine, they called me in hospital – at night – although I’d only just come out of surgery and the anaesthetic was just wearing off. When they finally got me on the phone, they insisted things could have been a lot worse. Others sent urgent emails pressing me for details about the accident, forgetting I had shattered my elbow and could not type. Still, one of the worst things was acknowledging that I probably would have reacted the same way: expressing concern while somehow managing to make the situation worse.
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Being asked to speak on ABC TV’s Q&A is a horrifying prospect. Well, at least it was for me. Going on that show is like engaging in a blood sport where audience members yearn to see you die on national television, mainly so they can tweet about it. Think The Hunger Games, with less blood (usually) and worse costumes, but similar amounts of sadism. So when the show’s producers summoned me in March I merrily said “yes”. Inside, though, my intestines felt like soup. What made things worse was being told one of my fellow panellists would be Germaine Greer.
Now, I’ve always been a fan of Greer. The woman has had her own goddamned postage stamp, for starters. Plus, anyone who has: (1) written such fiercely intelligent volumes of polemic; (2) blisteringly communicated complex ideas to global audiences; (3) posed nude in their youth with their ankles behind their head; and (4) posed nude in old age while looking magnificent, gets my vote. Sure, Greer has said some ridiculous stuff in her time, but when people dismiss her as a mad old cow, Greer wins, not the nay-sayers. Plus: people seem to forget there’s never been a time when Greer hasn’t said ridiculous things. She’s cantankerous and contrary, wild and rude. Even if those traits are considered negative, why should they cancel out all the times she’s been incandescently brilliant?
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Every time a new fiasco explodes out of Parliament House lately (press gallery journos just call them “Tuesdays” now), I have this pathetic urge to revisit some old photos. Call me a sentimental fool, but there’s one shot from 2007 that just kills me nowadays. Shot in the inner-city Brisbane suburb of Paddington, it shows around 40 of my friends and me gathered in front of the TV, right after the ABC called victory for Labor’s Kevin Rudd. In the photo, some of us pump our fists in the air. Others laugh so hard you can probably see our dental fillings and brains. Goddamn, we were all so hopeful.
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It’s raining softly across the Northern Rivers and everywhere is the smell of wet jungle. This region of north-east NSW – encompassing the Ballina, Byron, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley, Tweed and Clare Valley councils – is Australia’s organic heartland, a lush stretch of green that hangs like ivy over the Queensland-NSW border. Cynics often dismiss these shires as refuges for tree-hugging, granola-grazing hippies. Educated lefties who live here say it’s all about getting back to nature.
But the Northern Rivers is also a public-health black spot, notorious for flash outbreaks of infectious, preventable diseases. In August and September 2010, measles infected 14 people, mostly high school students, in the Tweed area, after an unvaccinated teenager returned from an overseas holiday. Last year saw a big jump in the incidence of whooping cough in the region, with 493 cases reported between the Tweed and the Clarence rivers.
Childhood immunisation rates here are among the lowest in the country. Many parents distrust conventional medicine. One in 10 kids aged under 10 doesn’t have a single vaccination recorded against their name. Similarly low vaccination rates can be found elsewhere in Australia, but the Northern Rivers can claim the dubious honour of having the highest percentage of parents who don’t immunise their children on purpose, believing vaccines may do their kids harm. In the Byron Shire town of Mullumbimby alone, a fifth of all parents identify as conscientious objectors to vaccination.
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Before I start, I should make one thing clear. I would rather be run over by a bus — a bus that was on fire — than marry my boyfriend.
Don’t get me wrong: Scott and I been together for a decade (longer than any heterosexual couple our age, not that we’re counting or anything) and I clearly adore the bastard. Hell, when he doesn’t shave for a week and serves me breakfast in bed half-naked, I’d even go so far as to say that I love him.
Still, the prospect of a wedding — the stress, the cost, being photographed a million times and making out in front of relatives — really doesn’t appeal to either of us.
The average Australian wedding costs $50,000 and if I had that kind of money, I’d rather buy, say, a round-the-world plane ticket. In fact, doing the maths, I could buy more than 20 tickets. We’d bring our friends! And maybe buy drugs!
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For many years now, I have loved cunt. Not vaginas necessarily (they’re wonderful and all, but hey: card-carrying homo here), but I’ve always thought the word itself was magnificent. Powerful and versatile, much like the anatomy itself.
Because my mother’s second language is English, I still remember when she first learned the C word. She was watching a foreign movie on SBS when one character accused her partner’s mistress of having one that smelled of eggplants. My mother still thinks the word is magical, but now knows not to use it amongst strangers or with her GP, even if—especially if—she needs to discuss a medical condition.
Of course, some people think the word should be off-limits and never uttered, lest the heaven’s open up and descends with a shower of them. Years ago, my boyfriend made a faux pas by dropping an F-bomb into conversation over lunch and someone’s girlfriend recoiled. “Oh my god,” she said. “That’s so rude! Next you’re probably going to say the C-word!” My boyfriend shrugged. “It’s a word,” he said. “It’s a strong word, but why should it be taboo?” The girlfriend bristled. To which my boyfriend said, “Maybe you could practise saying it to yourself in private. See how it feels in your mouth, so to speak.”
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In the 1960s, I was with my family—Mum, Dad, my brother—working as drovers and stockmen in southern Queensland. We worked as a family unit, droving, fencing, yard-building, wool pressing, cane cutting, 75kg backs on our backs. I was pulling that was I was 13 years old. It was just a different way of life.
On the droving camps, you would go through big stations with 800 head of cattle. At night, all the stockmen would come out and have a yarn with you. Such great conversation! It was a period of rapid transition, both socially in Australia and for us as Aboriginal people. There was a feeling of change, because we were also getting a hell of a lot of information from America on civil rights and the Vietnam War. Music was reflecting that and breaking through. Music had meaning.
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If director–playwright Simon Stone were to write himself into one of his plays, his entrance would read:
SIMON STONE, a scruffy man of about 27, although he looks five years older at least, from years of drinking and various other unseemly pursuits …
Stone stops himself and grins, clarifying the bit about “unseemly pursuits” is only an embellishment, though I may need more convincing. Otherwise, he’s just about nailed it. Australian theatre’s boy wonder is happily unkempt – a cross between handsome lad and friendly dog – and while he does look slightly older than 27, the fact remains: Stone is 27. Widely tipped to take over Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton’s Sydney Theatre Company gig when they bow out at the end of 2013, Stone was only born in the mid 1980s.
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