At its simplest, open data is information that is available for anyone to use, for any purpose, at no cost. It’s propelling our researchers towards a future where openly shared data can be mined for trends and patterns that result in discoveries beyond the capability of a single researcher or team.
The Federal Government’s Super Science Initiative is investing millions of dollars in building world-leading data storage and collaboration infrastructure initiatives, but while it’s one thing to share observations of the southern oceans or climate data, it’s quite another to share an individual’s personal and health information.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, is currently on a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it speaking tour of Australia.
He’s here to discuss his current concerns: truly global access to the web; freedom of information and commercial net neutrality; the web’s potential as a conduit for extremism; and the shift towards a research culture where data is openly available to all. Of these, it’s perhaps the last — the open data movement — that is most challenging within the Australian context.
At its simplest, open data is information that is available for anyone to use, for any purpose, at no cost. The concept has existed since the late 1950s, when the International Council for Science (ISCU) formed the World Data Centre system to archive and distribute data.
Every Tuesday and Friday for the past century, Maybachufer Strasse, a pretty, tree-lined street running alongside the Landwehrkanal (Landwehr Canal) in Neukölln, has been coming alive with the hustle and bustle of Berlin's biggest Turkish market, the Türkenmarkt.
Locals of native German and Turkish origin alike haggle over freshly made breads and cheeses, dips and dolma, produce, fish and meat, and goods imported direct from Turkey: jams, yoghurts, spices, coffee, and more.
There's no need to wait until you get home to indulge: many of the munchies on display – like the wares at Hüseyin Ayvaz’s stall – are Turkish snack foods, designed to be eaten on the move. Hüseyin does a roaring trade in various types of dolma, or stuffed vegetables, börek pastries layered with spinach and tulum, a soft white cheese, and the house specialty, gözleme, an oven-baked, soft flatbread baked in a sač – a large, bell-shaped metal dish covered with ashes and live coals – that his niece, 20-year-old Gökçe Agezoğlu, deftly fills with cheese, tomato and rocket then rolls for easy handling and eating.
October 28, 2012
Joni Mitchell had it right; you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I’ve been experiencing this visceral if somewhat clichéd truth lately, as I deal with the sudden loss of a loved one who was there one moment, and not there the next; quite literally vanished into thin air.
If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have done things differently. I’d have made sure we spent more time together. I’d have been kinder. I wouldn’t have sworn at her in public, or kicked her when things didn’t go my way. I wouldn’t have left her out in the rain while I dashed into shops, or neglected her basic needs, or failed to take her for her annual checkup.
It’s been a busy couple of days, explains Kaye Howells, a slow walking, slow speaking woman in trackie-daks and glasses. As we – me, Kaye and a salivating bloke – unload crate after crate from the back of her freshly washed ute, a sweet, buttery aroma drifts up and hits me, right in the olfactories.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not me the blokes are salivating over, or Kaye. It’s the baker’s dozen of cakes we’re hefting into the brand new community sports stadium in Bunyip, a one-street, two-pub town lurking 80 kilometres east of Melbourne in the wake of the Princes Highway, like the mythological Aboriginal swamp creature the town is named for.
It’s not a big birthday bash, or a christening, or even an overly indulgent afternoon tea Kaye has been preparing for. It’s a competition: the Country Women’s Association’s (CWA) cookery competition at the Bunyip Agricultural Show.
It’s not every day you see two sportsmen tucking in to a friendly pub lunch together just hours before they’re due to battle it out for a prize pot worth $70,000 and a place in the final at one of their sport’s newest and most important ranking events. But that’s exactly what two professional English snooker players, Mark Davis and Barry ‘The Hawk’ Hawkins, did one rainy day in July just gone in Bendigo, Victoria, at the Australian Snooker Goldfields Open.
This is the second year running that the historic gold rush town, located just 150 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, has hosted the Goldfields Open. Last year it was Englishman Stuart Bingham who took the trophy, and this year?
Yoga is a wonderful thing, but it can sometimes take itself a little too seriously for my liking. Namaste* this and happy smiling face that … Just last week I had my head so far up my own asana*, I had trouble seeing the free-range wood from the hand-reared trees.
Finding a class to keep me on my yoga-loving toes is no easy task – but breathe deeply, yogis! I’ve found a class that will get your chakras* humming, and it’s taught by a yogi with her feet firmly planted in the modern world: Melbourne’s very own Jo Stewart. She bends, she blogs, she downward dogs*!
Marcus Veerman was in Chiang Dao, Thailand, looking around for something to do; something important, when the principal of a local organization, Makhampom, thatcommunicates and educates on issues like AIDS prevention through the medium of theatre, asked if he’d build them a playground. Veerman came up with a design comprising two see-saws, two swings, ad slide and a two-storey icosahedron cubby house thatched with leaves.
“All the materials were sourced from local shops,” says Veerman. “It cost around $600. It was a great looking project, but it’s pretty simple compared to the way we do things now.”
“Buda is like a garden, Pest is like a factory,” say the locals in Budapest, capital of Hungary. The pretty central European city is loved for its crumbling post-Communist grandeur, folksy culture and pocket-friendly prices. Yet, partying here in the non-political sense is a relatively new concept – from 1949 to 1989 the country was part of the Eastern Bloc and uncontrolled gatherings were forbidden. Now, the new generation of Hungarians, or Magyars, live it up like lab rats on caffeine, with an art-infused nightlife that’s possible to see any day or night of the week.
July 14th 2012
Pozdrav! Jesi li gladan? "Hello! Are you hungry?" shout smiling, bald-headed men who wouldn't look out of place on the door of a nightclub. Despite the smell of spit-roasting pork in my nostrils and their no-nonsense appearance, I'm too busy getting my bearings in the small, vibrant town of Guca (pronounced goo-cha) in Serbia's Dragacevo district to think about food - yet.
It's early, and the stallholders are still setting up. They hang opanci - traditional folk shoes - and T-shirts, and arrange sajkaca (military hats) and beer mugs as bunting in the blue, white and red of the Serbian flag flutters overhead.
Last year was a big year for protesting. Dictatorships fell with dramatic intensity in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen. In Russia, a disgruntled public railed against brazenly rigged parliamentary elections, while Occupiers in more than 82 countries pitched tents against rampant greed in the financial sector.
They’re the public face of protest, but you want to know where the real kick-arse, politician-engaging, change-making protest is at? Look to the folk operating behind the scenes to coordinate mass, online-based action: the armchair activists, clicktivists or, in their more extreme form, hacktivists. They’re not just the future of public protest; they already are public protest.
Second quarter 2012
The Social Studio in Melbourne uses upcycled fashion as a vehicle for social change
November, 2009. A small shop opens its doors on Smith Street in Collingwood, Melbourne. It looks like any other inner north-eastern fashion store; men’s and women’s clothing hangs in elegant folds from racks. Music spills from speakers, and there’s a tiny cafe serving coffee and handmade food.
But it’s a little different. The clothes are designed and made on site from excess manufacturing materials sourced locally, for a start. The food is mostly African, and it’s not a business as such, but a non-profit social enterprise called The Social Studio that uses up-cycled fashion to prepare former refugees for careers in fashion, retail and hospitality. They’re here now, young people from countries like Eritrea, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan, cutting and folding and sewing their visions into reality.
Second quarter 2012
When I was teenager, my mother sat me down and tried to teach me to mend. But I was about as interested in learning how to darn the hole in my jumper as I was in joining a sports team, or understanding advanced mathematics, or crossing the road properly: zilch.
It’s a skill her mother taught her and her mother before her, back through the branches of my family tree to a time before people even wore clothes. Back then, beyond the practicality of its verbal status, mending didn’t have a name. It was just the thing that was done to sustain the life of a garment, out of the necessity, desire and common-sensibility to get the most out of the least. But now, mending is an element of ‘Slow Fashion’, one of a clutch of movements in the art of slow – food, architecture, design, living – wending their way through Western consciousness.
Catalonia, Spain, September 2011. The morning breaks quietly, the sun rising from the Mediterranean like a god and slowly heating the sprawling metropolis; at noon the sun is almost painfully bright. By evening, though, it has cooled to comfortable temperature – a relief, as our tickets are for the sol side of the Plaza de Toros Monumental de Barcelona: the Monumental Bull Ring of Barcelona.
We arrive early, unsure what to expect. Four oval domes tiled in white and blue sit sentinel on the Monumental's upper perimeter, watching over thousands of well-dressed ticket holders milling about: politicians, personalities from the Catalan bourgeoisie, and lifelong fans who can't believe this day had come.
The Black Rock Desert in Nevada is too hot to sustain plant or animal life. There is nothing here; just a dry and cracked desert floor extending for miles in every direction and the sky, an electric-blue dome arching far overhead. The atmosphere is filled with an unearthly quiet; I could be on Mars.
Then out of leftfield comes a giant, iridescent-green chameleon shimmering in the relentless desert heat. I blink, but this is no mirage. As it slides closer, I realise it’s an aluminium-framed, LED-lit amphibious art car being propelled by four pedal-pushing people.
Of course. Of course it is, and to be honest I’m a little lost out here, so I wheel my bike around and tail the lizard – official name Cyclameleon – over bumpy alkaline terrain back towards Base Camp. But a few hundred metres in I’m distracted, again, by a phone box emblazoned with the words ‘Talk to God’. I pull over thinking, why not?
Heady aromas draw me in as I approach Gewürzhaus, a European-style spice store that opened on Melbourne’s iconic Lygon Street in June 2010. The closer I get, the stronger the musky medley of aromas becomes: the piquant tanginess of Asia; the citrusy zest of Morocco; the rich earthiness of Europe.
Owned and managed by 28-year-old Eva Konecsny and her 29-year-old sister Maria, Gewürzhaus has an exotic market feel. Large, airtight barrels containing more than 300 spices, sugars and salts from every region of the world line the walls, along with a selection of customised chocolates, cute kitchen aprons and stylish kitchen wares you didn’t know you were missing, but will probably have to have.
There are few stretches as treacherous as the 630 nautical miles between Sydney and Hobart, Tasmania that are raced every year on Dec. 26. Gale-force storms known as “southerly busters” hurtle through the Bass Strait making the sea choppy and challenging. In 1998, six sailors lost their lives. Six years later, only 59 of the 116 starters completed their journey.
"The competition is very close and very competitive,” says Jessica Watson. “On top of the competition, the race is infamous for its challenging weather conditions. It’s going to be tough, and it could be dangerous, but we’re doing it because we want a challenge. We know what we’re taking on."
Coming as they do from an 18-year-old skippering the youngest-ever crew to compete in the 66-year-old race, those words might be mistaken for youthful hubris. Of course, Jessica Watson is no normal youth.
Flakes of snow fall in lilting drifts around our heads and pile gently on the cobble-stoned streets while the sweet scent of candied fruits mingles with the rich, nutty smell of roasted chestnuts and the heady spiciness of hot glühwein, or mulled wine. We're loitering with intent at the towering, gothic-style City Hall in the Austrian capital of Vienna, where the atmospheric, open-air Christkindlmarkts (Christmas markets), have been in full swing since mid November.
Despite the subzero temperatures and an average of just two hours of sunshine per day at this time of year, they've been a must-do during the festive season as far back as the Middle Ages. Locals come here to socialise, enjoy the festively adorned trees and fairytale displays, shop for Christmas gifts, and indulge in seasonal treats like the aforementioned glühwein, which does much to keep us warm from the inside out.
A traditional Turkish breakfast consists of a cheesy potato dish called kremali patates, hard boiled eggs sprinkled with flaked red pepper, peppermint and thyme, meats, sliced cucumber and tomato, bread and butter dripping with honey and hot, sweet tea.
It’s autumn, but the sun is shining, so we dine on the balcony of our hotel. From here, we have a view out over the tumbling rooftops of the ancient, tourist-friendly heart of the old city, Sultanahmet, to the Black Sea beyond. Dozens of boats - cargo vessels, ferries and cruise ships - dot the sparkling harbour, while seagulls wheel and cry overhead.
For centuries, this city – which has been known by at least ten other names, including Byzantium and Constantinople – has been a major European trading port. It still is. Situated on the cusp of Asia and Europe, Istanbul is a designated 'alpha world city': an important node point in the global economic system with more than two millennia of UNESCO World Heritage listed history to explore.
When I ask museum director Diane Grobe to show me her favorite piece, she quickly indicates a gilt-framed painting of a wintery country scene. In the foreground is a wizened, bare-branched tree, while to its left, barren stone cottage pulls my attention into the snow-covered distance.
The work is by English artist Tom Keating, and is one of seventy or so fakes Grobe houses at the Faelschermuseum (Museum of Art Fakes) in a former wine cellar in Vienna's bustling Landstrasse district.
Wait a minute. Fakes? Yes, art fakes. This museum of creative criminality holds more than 70 artworks by forgers who made a living fooling art experts and ingénues alike.
When hardcourt bike polo first hit the tarmac in Australia in 2007, it was viewed as a sideshow novelty; the kind of 'sport' two-wheeling hobbyhorses with a penchant for all things bike whiled away their Sunday afternoons on, while the 'serious' cyclists donned head-to-toe lycra and clocked up the kilometres.
Three years on, and bike polo is played in every major city in Australia and New Zealand, and then some. It's played socially by mixed gender crews, and it's becoming a highly competitive sport in its own right, with its own acronymised governing body (the Australia Hardcourt Bike Polo Association, or AHBPA), national tournament schedule and rulebook.
History and modernity sit side by side in any European city, but especially in Berlin. On any given day, visitors can wonder at the grandeur of historical structures like the Brandenburg Tor (Brandenburg Gate) and the Reichstag, gain insight into the devastating impact of World Wars I and II at numerous museums and memorials, and immerse themselves in the city's internationally renowned art and design scene.
Berlin is a cyclist's city, so we make the locals and begin our day by renting bikes and cycling to the Eastside Gallery, where a 1.3km long memorial stretch of the art-strewn Berlin Wall still stands. Like Berlin itself, the Eastside Gallery is a work in progress, and is repainted regularly by both local and international artists.
“I hope you all like butter. We are going to be doing a lot of cooking with butter! Also garlic, and onions, and wine!” declares Frenchman Sébastien Piel, smiling broadly at the people clustered around his open plan kitchen in a warehouse tucked down a cobbled alleyway in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran.
We’re here to learn how to cook a three-course meal Piel calls ‘Rustic Fantastic’. It's the kind of traditional, slow cooked repas de fête, or feast, a French family might prepare for a leisurely Sunday lunch at their weekend home in the countryside in Normandy in northern France, where Piel grew up.
Ask any music-loving bedroom tinkerer what he likes to do in his spare time, and there’s a good chance he’ll tell you he‘s into circuit-bending. Last night he created an orgy of tortured sound in his bedroom with a bunch of evil aliens, and wired Barbie Karaoke until she screeched like a monkey on crack. What the f@*k?
Circuit-bending is the short circuiting of electronic devices to create sounds nature never intended. The domain of DIYers with little, if any, formal training in electronic theory and circuit design, circuit bending straddles the boundary between art and noise. Somewhere in the middle, there might be music. It’s like playing god with gadgets: you don’t know quite what’s going to happen, and you might just create a monster.
The future arrived at this year’s Australian wave kiting national championships
A fifty-strong crew of kitesurfers have blown in to Logan’s Beach in Warrnambool in Victoria’s south west for the Australian Kite Surfing Association (AKSA) Wave Kiting Nationals. They’re in the right spot: this is an unforgiving stretch of coast scattered with shipwrecks and revered for its swell. There’s just one essential ingredient missing: wind.
In fact, this windless, waveless calm is the state of play for nearly two of this competition’s three days. Them’s the breaks in this game ... But when the wind finally comes, it comes in full force, frogmarching towards the beach from the south west, blowing a bruised looking cloud bleeding sheets of blinding rain ahead of it. The kitesurfers know what’s behind the raincloud on the warpath: wind. And not just any old wind, but a cross-onshore sou ‘wester, coming at us at around 20 knots. They scramble to inflate their kites, lay out their boards, clamber into their wetsuits and harness up.
Lap up some five-star luxury at the Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales
Since it opened eighteen months ago, the $125 million Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa has played high-class host to some of Australia – and the world’s – hottest property: Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton, Oprah’s entourage, Jennifer Hawkins and Jake Wall, Zara Phillips. And those are just the people we’re allowed to mention.
Part of the Saudi-owned Emirates portfolio, it’s no surprise the Wolgan Valley is a retreat fit for future kings and queens... and me, your intrepid mX writer. I suffered people, I really did. After two days being treated like a princess at Wolgan Valley, I’m betting that when the newly hitched Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (a.k.a. Wills and Kate) visit Australia on their world tour this coming spring they’ll pop in to Wolgan Valley for a cup of tea and a lie down.
Discover the camels that draw a crowd and the Afghan settlers that led the way there in Marree, South Australia“Don’t stand too close!” warns Pete Chantler, looking over his troupe of dromedaries (one-hump camels) as a crisp desert dawn breaks in Marree, 685 kilometres north of Adelaide where the Outback anecdotally begins.
An impressive two or more metres high at the hump, Chantler’s 10 charges seem placid enough, but he is adamant they’re not to be trusted – and perhaps he’s right. Since arriving in Australia in 1860 to serve as the main mode of transport for the ill-fated Burke and Wills’ expedition into Terra Australis’ vast inland, they’ve gone feral. More than a million roam wild in our arid regions, and occasionally, Chantler and his best mate Greg Emmett catch one and race it in the Marree Camel Cup, held annually in July. It’s this sleepy desert town’s busiest weekend, and the first in a chain of camel races peppered throughout the Outback in the temperate winter months.
Be honest: when you first heard the term ‘cougar’, did you think it was any more than a silly buzzword that would soon buzz off? It was Canadian sex and relationship expert and social commentator Valerie Gibson – herself a woman with a penchant for younger men – who invented the term in her 2001 book ‘Cougar, A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men’. But back then, did we ever think it would stick?
No, we all tutted, pointed out how men had been doing the same thing for centuries, and expected it to burn itself out in a matter of weeks. Yet here we are, 10 years on, and we're hearing the term ‘cougar’ more than ever. T-shirts proclaim their wearer is ‘Cougarlicious’; out and proud coffee mugs tell the world ‘Cougars 4 Ever.’ In 2007, the cougar even made it into the Macquarie Dictionary.
Set your watch to island time up the Hawkesbury River in New South Wales
Home to a vibrant community of artists and writers, painters and potters, Dangar Island is just an hour and a half by road or rail, then boat, up the Hawkesbury River, from Sydney’s bustling heart. Its history precedes European settlement by hundreds, even thousands of years.
Once a birthing island frequented by the women of the Guringai tribe, today it’s the only residential island on the Hawkesbury River, with a permanent population of around 200, and a steady flow of visitors – day trippers and weekenders – who come to wind down on its 76 acres of bush and beach.
There are 27 different species of birds on Dangar Island, and it seems like they’re all outside my window, all at once, warbling and screeching a raucous welcome to a new day. But we’re here to relax, so we ignore them, and pretty soon the dawn chorus quiets down and we get back to the business of sleeping in. There are no cars on the island, which means there’s no morning traffic to interrupt our slumber, and by the time we finally arise morning has well and truly broken.
Heads, shoulders, knees and toesThere’s a scene in Kill Bill when Uma Thurman’s character, The Bride, awakens from a coma and struggles to get her paralysed feet moving*. And even though I’m not a kung fu expert or a ruthless, knife-wielding assassin I feel for The Bride, I really do. Because this is exactly how my feet feel after a few hours in heels: completely devoid of life.
For the choc-Olympian within
I’m not really the athletic type. My idea of working out is putting out the bins, and I’m breaking a sweat before I’ve even reached the gate. But if eating chocolate was an Olympic event, I’d win gold every time.
Imagine my delight, then, at finding a cosy and intimate cafe brewing strong coffee, baking fresh cakes and crafting an irresistible range of quality handmade chocolates on the premises. Comfortable chairs, funky beats and wallpaper featuring bambi lookalikes are bonuses. It’s the perfect place to train, and boy, have I been training.
‘I’m mad about birds,’ gushes our guide, Devon, as yet another well endowed specimen comes into view. His eyes glaze over and a dreamy grin spreads across his face. ‘Phoar! What a beauty!’ For a moment, I think we’ve lost him. But this man has the energy of Steve Irwin on steroids, and it’ll take more than a dose of ornithological excitement to get him off track.
Orni-what? Birds. Not womenfolk, but the two-winged, bundle of feathers kind, and here, at the Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa’s Kwazulu Natal, we’re spoilt for choice.
For the first time this year, the 12th annual World Solo 24 Hour MTB Championships travelled outside North America. It ripped up the track at Mt Stromlo, Canberra from 8th-10th October 2010, and Australia’s elite female 24hr champion, thirty-seven year old Jess Douglas was there. And by the end of the race Douglas was more than just there; she took out $5,000 in prize money and the title of World Solo Women's Elite 24HR MTB Champion 2010.
Paraic Grogan had never done any charity work before he went to Cambodia at the age of twenty-six in 2003; he wasn’t interested. He went to the capital city, Phnom Penh, because he’d heard it was a wild frontier city with no rules, and he thought it would be a cool place to live. He got the chaos he was after: there was a riot in his third week there when the locals burnt down the Thai Embassy.
He also got an eye opening introduction to the devastating impact of the wars, genocide, and totalitarianism still ricocheting through the lives of the Cambodian people today. Take your pick: the bombing and invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War; Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, which imposed a cruel system of slave labor, malnutrition, and executions resulting in the deaths of what some estimates place at three million people; the brutal Cambodian-Vietnam War that followed; or the years of UK and US funded controlled chaos – again at the hands of the Khmer Rouge - that came after.
It’s fair to say that death, life’s last great mystery, freaks us out. Rationalisation has vetoed death as a rung on the stepladder to heaven, the Promised Land, nirvana, or the reassurance of plain old samsara. The twenty first century has arrived, and it’s science, not religion, that we’re turning to in our quest for immortality.
It can take nature millions of years to make a diamond, but LifeGem, an American company on the make in Australia, can do it in less than twelve months. Synthetic diamonds are nothing new, but LifeGem are taking the technology to the edge by specialising in making diamonds from human remains.
Ruyad and Fasile are brothers, eleven and twelve years old. When I ask where they’re from I can tell it’s a question they get all the time; they probably know I’m going to ask it before I do. They’re ready. Our family is from Ethiopia, but we were born in Australia, Fasile says all matter of fact. They are smiling, happy, cheeky boys. They shout things at me from the field, playing up for my camera. Hey lady, watch this!
They’ve never been to the country their parents call home. The Collingwood Housing Estate in inner-eastern Melbourne, this is home. Three industrial era high-rises standing sentinel at either end of a large city block, an eight-laned river of traffic flowing up and down Hoddle Street on one side; Wellington Street reining it in on the other.
Each of the high-rises is twenty stories high, and each story holds ten flats: that’s 200 flats per building. Then there are the 350 or so walk-up flats packed into the land in-between, each home to between one and eight people: all up, the estate is home to around 3,000 residents. Most are of an ethnicity other than Anglo-Celtic, many are of refugee or asylum speaker origin. Vietnamese, Turkish, Chinese, Ethiopian, Somalian, Sudanese, Irani, Koorie.
I don’t know if you’ve been to Melbourne lately, but this city is a jaywalker’s paradise. Technically it’s illegal, but in reality, pedestrians rule the roads. Just loitering at the edge of the footpath will prompt oncoming drivers to give you an encouraging wave. Stepping out? Prepare to bask in the glorious sound of screeching brakes as every vehicle within a 100 metre radius skids to a halt.
This poses problems for any Melburnians foolhardy enough to leave city limits and travel to foreign lands, like Sydney. Last time I was in Sydney I made several ill-thought out attempts to cross the road and was hooted, yelled, and gesticulated back onto the pavement. One kindly older gentleman spoke very slowly and clearly as he told me, ‘We do things differently in the city, love’ and shooed me in the direction of the pedestrian crossing.
Let’s begin with a love story. Julie and Karl met at a party and became fast friends. They both liked boys and daydreamed they would meet wonderful men who would accept the special place of each in the other’s life. One day they kissed, and everything changed.
That was thirteen years ago. ‘We’d been sleeping together, just as friends, for two and a half years; we couldn’t bear to be apart. Then we realised we were in love. It was a surprise to us, but not to any of our friends!’ Julie laughs.
Now they’re engaged and thinking about setting a date for their wedding. They’re also considering how Karl’s live-in boyfriend Ben will be involved in the ceremony, not to mention Julie’s three significant others.
I’m an early bird. But don’t worry – I’m not one of those annoying types who might call at 8am on Sunday while you’re in the midst of a delicious early-morning dream to ask are you awake yet? And do you want to have coffee? Much as I might like to, I’ve learned that calling before 10am on the weekend is socially unacceptable, even if you have children. If the ten commandments got a modern day rewrite, this would top the list.
I don’t know quite how I turned out this way. In my teenage years the alarm clock was the enemy, the unwelcome herald of another day’s scholastic and parental control. In my twenties it meant work, work and more work.
These days, I don’t even need an alarm. My body clock has it all under control. Beaky twitters from outside the window? Check. Hazy light playing around the edge of the blinds? Check. Dawning awareness of the need to be somewhere or do something? Check. Good morning, sunshine.
Greg Walters makes his way through the hotel lobby with a satisfied grin on his face. It’s four in the morning, and less than an hour since he arrived and headed for room 101, where two women who checked in the previous evening awaited him. The guy behind the desk is looking at him sideways, but Walters doesn’t care. He’s used to it.
Walters, a butcher, has been coming and going from Melbourne’s hotels at odd times of the day and night for the past few years. He’s not a male escort, or a pimp, or a pervert; he’s a sperm donor.
He’s what’s termed a ‘known donor’, a man who donates to a mate or family member who’s found out he’s infertile, a single woman friend at the mercy of the man shortage, or, as is the case for the ladies in room 101, lesbian couples wanting to conceive, but lacking the obvious ingredient.
It’s a late November afternoon in Melbourne, and polo season is in full swing. The air is alive with the thwack of mallet on mallet and the baying of an excited crowd. Take him down! C’mon, be aggressive! I hope you’re gonna clean that up! Kill! Show us your - you get the picture.
Clearly these are not your average polo fanciers. But then, this is not your average polo match; there’s not a safari suit, a picnic hamper or a blade of grass in sight, let alone an actual horse. This is day two of the inaugural Australian Hardcourt Bicycle Polo Championships, the fastest growing urban bike sport around.
Sometimes life can seem like one big, long hangover. Especially at this time of year, when celebratory champagne, beers around the barbeque and living it up large on New Year’s Eve are all in a day’s – not to mention night’s - drinking for most of us.
But a growing body of teetotalers in our midst is choosing not to indulge in that most acceptable of modern poisons: alcohol. They’re flying in the face of recent research showing that Australian women are big binge drinkers, knocking back, on average, eight standard drinks per session.
Used to be that you had to head for the hills to find gold; these days you need look no further than your friendly neighbourhood vending machine. If you live in Frankfurt, Germany that is, where the world’s first bullion vending machines were installed earlier this year.
First sausages, now gold. Investors can satisfy their fiscal cravings by purchasing gold in pre-packaged one, five or ten gram bars that come in a metal case labeled ‘My golden treasure’. The $5 Canadian Maple Leaf coin and $15 Australian Kangaroo coin are also on offer. Prices are updated every fifteen minutes, and fluctuate at around 20% more than market price. Ker-ching!
It’s an overcast Queen’s Birthday weekend in Victoria, and I’m at an event that would tickle her majesty’s equine fancy - the Melbourne Three Day Event (M3DE) a top notch nag’s get together on the Australian equestrian calendar.
It’s Day Two, Cross Country, and horses and riders of all skill levels, from pony club hopefuls to bonafide Olympians, are traversing the custom designed and built course; 5.8km of 26 jumps multi-element jumps. An interested crowd of fresh faced, well to do country types looks on; men in stockmen’s coats and hats, women in jeans and designer gumboots, and jodhpur-clad, leather-booted teenage girls a plenty.
I’m just grateful I’m on the other side of the fence. A horse and rider round the corner and gallop full tilt down the straight, heading for a 1.2m high jump made from logs of wood stacked one on top of the other, chopping up the grass and making the dirt fly. They seem as one; the rider leaning into the horse, using weight and voice, perhaps a subtle pull on the reins, to communicate speed and direction, pace and reach.
Immerse yourself in Thailand's spiritual soul with a visit to the city of Chiang Mai, Thailand
High on a hilltop at the end of a curling mountain road, far above the glitter and smog of the city below, sits Chiang Mai’s must-see temple, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. I share my visit with hundreds of visitors: curious international tourists, devout lay-Buddhists who have made the pilgrimage to walk the 309 steps up to the temple, and its keepers; the serene, shaven-headed, orange-clad monks who live and worship within its gilt edged pagodas and walls.
Located in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains some 700km from Bangkok, at 40km2 Chiang Mai’s metro area is not even a tenth of the size of Bangkok’s, but it has nearly as many temples, or Wat. They sit at street corners and emerge from leafy enclaves, and are particularly enchanting at dusk, when the monks chant their evening prayers.
“Where do doggies go when they die?” My six-year-old niece, Stella, asked me this question a few weeks ago after the death of her beloved family pooch, Buster. After a hasty, huddled conference, her parents and I told her Buster had gone to roam the big dog park in the sky. Stella pondered this for a moment, then hit us with a barrage of follow up questions.
“So why are we burying him in the garden? Will his bowl be there? Who’s going to pick up his doo-doo?” And poignantly, “Who’s going to make sure he’s a good doggy?” We did our best, skirting the questions with typically agnostic flakiness, but we were woefully unprepared. Not only had I not known what to say, I hadn’t really known what to do with Buster himself. I decided to look into it.
I’ve been unwrapping online purchases, and I’m a little ruffled. Frustrated. Irritated, even. A little resentful, a little angry. Okay, I’m enraged. Enraged! It’s not because the bar mixer doesn’t look like the picture, or the special lash-lubing mascara is dry, or the CDs are scratched.
It’s because it’s taken me close to an hour to infiltrate the packaging. I felt as though I was playing a never ending game of pass the parcel, except I was the only one playing, and I already knew what treasure lay within. Please don’t ask me what the point was, because I don’t have an easy answer, and I might just bite your head off.
But I’m not alone. I am in fact suffering from wrap rage, defined by up to the minute online dictionary wordspy.com as ‘extreme anger caused by product packaging that is difficult to open or manipulate’. Exactly. I know that somewhere out there, a machine is laughing at me.
Anything that has to invent new words in order to explain itself should be viewed with suspicion. And interest. Suspicion because we’ve obviously made it this far without the word, why do we need it now? Interest because, well, there must be something going on here.
The word: polyamory. The meaning: having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time. Not to be confused with polygamy (so Mormon) swinging (so fifties), or sleeping around (so so), polyamory - also termed polyfidelity, or poly - is the new relationship buzzword, code for having your cake and eating it too.
Take Tom. Tom has been happily married to Cath for nine years, but spends two nights a week with Lucy, who is in turn married to Paul. Paul has been involved with Christina for eighteen months. Lucy is also in love with Martin, who doesn’t have another partner, but he’s happy to share Lucy.
Eat, drink and shop your way through Vietnam’s ancient trading port of Hoi An
“You buy more? You buy more?” variations on this refrain are as familiar as strange dreams on a sleeper train to the traveling ear in many parts of the world, but for once I’m not feigning deafness or trying to slip away into the crowd. I’m in a made to measure tailor’s shop in Hoi An on Vietnam’s South Central Coast, and I’m seriously tempted.
Hoi An has long been famous for its commerce. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was an important trading port for a medley of Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Indian and French sea merchants, and from the seventh to the tenth centuries its wealthy Champa residents controlled the regional spice trade.
Melbourne artist Ross Watson laughs as he remembers the time he thought his most famous patron, Sir Elton John, was about to blow his top. "When he came to the gallery I'd just had an exhibition and it had sold out. He was flicking through a portfolio and saying 'Well, where's this one? And where's this one?"'
"Finally he came to one that I'd kept. I was relieved; I could show him something! But I had to tell him 'This is the painting I've kept because my accountant advised me to a keep a painting from each series for my superannuation'."
"Then I looked at Elton and he had the blank look of Edina from Ab Fab on his face and I thought 'Ross, he doesn't understand anything about superannuation!' But he heard what I said and seemed to respect it.