Made to Last: a compendium of artisans, trades and projects is my first book. Published by Hardie Grant in November 2017, it features 50 artisans from all around the world who are making useful, heirloom quality objects that will stand the test of time.
It was a partnership with a Singaporean bank that brightened life in Myanmar for local families – forever.
Sandar Win, a business woman in Mawlamyine township in Myanmar’s Mon State, warmly invites us into her living room where her husband, mother and a young girl sit on the floor, smiling as we enter.
Finding an alternative to phosphate fertilisers now so we don't face a global food shortage in the future.
Plant a seed, give it plentiful amounts of water and sunlight, and watch it grow. That’s all it needs, isn’t it? Not quite. Many plants, particularly high-yield food crops like rice and wheat also need phosphate-rich soil to flourish.
Questioning why conflict resolution processes fail can help make effective peace.
“After civil war comes conflict resolution processes and peace agreements. But they often fail to establish lasting and sustainable peace, and violence breaks out again. How can we help fractured societies to make more effective peace?”
Halting the advance of a muscle wasting condition called cachexia could improve quality of life for cancer sufferers.
For many years, oncologists and researchers thought the dramatic weight-loss of cancer patients was due to the cancer spreading through and consuming the body, with the loss of appetite and nutritional complications causing the body to waste away. But in fact, it’s cachexia, a severe weight loss and muscle wasting disease often devastatingly present in cancer’s later stages.
Research into early detection is helping children thrive.
Up to two per cent of the population is diagnosed with autism and researchers are continually working to uncover new insights and solutions to understand the autism spectrum. But what if the solutions were to encourage children with autism to really thrive in life?
The classic division between in and out of doors falls away in this tranquil north-facing dwelling, where the owners' twin love for Japanese aestheticism and 1950s modernism led the design.
Once a nondescript single-storey yellow brick house, today the new build that straddles this property in a quiet heritage pocket of Melbourne's vibrant inner north has both the grandeur and reclusive hush of a Japanese mountain retreat.
As I write, I'm having my third session at Melbourne's newest co-working space, Happy Hubbub. It has all the things you might expect from a shared entrepreneurial space: large tables for hot-deskers, loads of power points, wi-fi, meeting rooms, and copious amounts of coffee. But, in a first for Australia, it also has a dedicated short daycare space attached.
Vanessa Murray has always been a feminist. So why does she feel like she’s betraying the sisterhood by happily doing the dishes, vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, copious amounts of laundry, occasional ironing and even dusting?
I’ve always been a tidy person. Clean, too. The two go together – after all, it’s hard to keep a place clean if it’s untidy, and it’s hard to keep a place tidy if it’s unclean. A sparkling kitchen makes me feel happy; a newly vacuumed floor as though I’ve got everything under control. When I dust (my least favourite chore) I feel like Mother Theresa.
At a British science conference in 1987, a palaeontologist named Dr Bev Halstead's invited a woman on stage and politely asked her to drop her skirt.
A tense, collective breath echoed around the auditorium as the garment hit the ground. Halstead had a reputation as an eccentric, but, even for him the stunt seemed uncouth. What on earth was he up to?
Book, publisher: Hardie Grant Explore
Slow down. Simplify. Let go. 365 Nature does just this. It's your entry into a world that spins slowly and draws its inspiration from the earth, the ocean, the sun and the sky. Each turn of the page through spring, summer, autumn and winter will lead to a new discovery and a new project to help you weave nature and creativity through your everyday life.
The pair who built the opposite of a McMansion. Cheap, ethical and cosy - a couple embrace their 'tiny' house.
Andrew Bell was already living in a tent near Bendigo in a bid to simplify his life when his partner Alicia Crawford suggested they build a tiny together. A tiny? A tiny house; in this case, one measuring just 18 square metres, though technically speaking anything that comes in under 37 square metres qualifies as a tiny.
The gardens of most rental properties are sorely in need of love – but not the one out the back of a red clinker brick house in Seddon, in Melbourne’s inner west.
It’s the home of Travis Blandford and Harriet Devlin of artisan tool making business Grafa, whose range includes six aesthetically pleasing and practical gardening tools made from copper, bronze and wood. Of course, the pair work the soil with tools they make themselves, and you have to wonder if this is behind the garden’s rich, loamy soil and bumper crop.
Savvy and sustainable design solutions transform a compact 1970s townhouse in Prahran, Melbourne, into an expansive, light-filled home imbued with a subtle nod to mid-century style.
The modernist makeover of Wrights Terrace is the work of Thomas Winwood McKenzie, Principal at Thomas Winwood Architecture, who ably met his clients’ vision for a calm, light-filled space with creative thinking and refined detailing.
McKenzie took the modernist character of the existing building as his starting point, drawing this out with new features like timber batten ceilings, box frame windows and a stunning brass handrail on an exposed staircase. The refurbished interior feels uncluttered and spacious. McKenzie achieved this by implementing some savvy design solutions and creating an additional 21 square metres for the floor plan.
It’s not every architectural practice that seeks to go above and beyond the energy efficiency-focused requirements of the Building Code of Australia (BCA)’s Section J. Technē Architecture + Interior Design make a point of it.
“We’re always looking for additional ways to enhance the quality and internal climate of a space. It’s a key part of our overall consideration, from concept to completion,” says one of Technē’s two directors, Nick Travers.
Travers and fellow Director Justin Northrop lead a 26-strong team of architects, draftspeople and interior designers to seek longevity and robustness in design. This shows in their choice of materials – hardwearing ones like steel and timber. Only recycled or renewable timbers, mind you, and of the latter, only Australian hardwoods pass muster.
Performer Amanda Palmer talks about life on the road, the art of asking and her penchant for clunky old bikes
Talking with Amanda Palmer, you get the feeling that she falls a little bit in love a lot – bikes included.
She learned to ride in the early eighties in ride in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts on a “typical suburban tricycle”, then a two-wheeler with training wheels.
But the first bike she really fell for was a white BMX. It came the toy store in the mall, and it rocked her fourth grader world.
We've noticed a diverse range of grassroots bike events springing up around Australia over the past few years, and they're going off. Vanessa Murray picks the brains of three organisers to see how they make it tick.
“Being an organiser definitely detracts from being able to get fully involved. It takes a lot of enthusiasm, time and commitment. But it’s totally worth it,“ says Andrew Blake, one of five committee members of Melbourne’s Dirty Deeds Cyclocross.
A no holds barred bike race that pits contestants as much against nature as against each other, Dirty Deeds seeds road riders take to the tundra (and the sand, pavement, trails, hills and mud) in short, intense, circuits.
Christmas is coming. I can tell, because my local council has strung twinkly lights from lampposts on the High Street. Store windows are festooned with tempting trinkets, candy canes and the occasional, vertiginous smattering of fake snow, and a selection of headache-inducing festive tunes are on rotation at the supermarket.
When I was a kid, this sort of carry on filled me with so much excitement I could barely sleep. I fantasised about what Santa might bring me for weeks on end – and my parents made the most of my enthusiasm, reinforcing Santa’s preference for well-behaved children for all it was worth.
An innovative social enterprise and small business incubator is pointing bike culture in Brisbane in a delicious new direction.
When architect and design educator Helen Bird heard that the Gold Coast is set to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games, it got her thinking. About how the city – Australia’s sixth largest – will manage the descent of thousands of spectators on its beachfront and hinterland, about how it will move them around. About how it will feed them, and how to present Australia’s burgeoning multiculturalism.
Inspired by Asian, South American and North European hawker-style street food and bike culture, she came up with the concept of a kind of pop-up, bicycle-powered, mobile kitchen infrastructure that can be mobilised in line with local development, not just during but also after the Games.
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
“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.
Many a lost and lonely soul has departed this mortal coil by committing suicide, figuring, as Kurt Cobain did when he quoted Neil Young in the world’s most over-analyzed suicide note that it’s better to burn out than fade away. But self-annihilation at its most literal is not the only way to put an end to it all - there is also fake death, an increasingly popular coping mechanism for those that have not so much made a go of life as turned it into a festering pile of self destructive shite. Both are tinged with an unhealthy dose of desperation, but if suicide is for the pained and cowardly pessimist, fake death is for the brave and cunning daredevil optimist. Provided you really mean it, it’s not that hard to kill yourself. But getting away with faking your own death? Now that takes smarts.
Never one to mince words, I recently asked some baby making friends if they would be putting their wee man under the knife. Slicing his salami, chopping his sausage, paring his package. They looked at me with incredulity, as though I had the very same part of the male appendage growing out of my forehead, before patiently explaining that circumcision is a cruel and barbaric practice akin to grating your eyeball then dressing it with a squeeze of lemon. Except worse.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ official stance backs them up, stating that "there is no medical indication for routine neonatal circumcision." I take their point. It is a tad barbaric. But I worry for him. Or, more precisely, for his future self, the one that wants to use his penis for more than pre sexual self gratification and whizzing all over the place as soon as his nappies come off. I prefer my men cut. Surely his future women will feel the same? I asked twenty female friends what, if any, preference they have for penises of the cut or uncut variety.
Melbourne is a cyclist’s city. With its flat, well made streets and extensive network of on and off road bike paths, there’s always something on the go. For the past six months or so Sunday afternoons at the Carlton gardens has seen an ever expanding bunch of bike enthusiasts, also known as the Melbourne Bicycle Polo Club, going head to head with chicken runs and shoulder charges. They’re playing hard court bicycle polo, the fastest growing urban bike sport around.
Bicycle polo has been wheeling its way around the world since an enterprising Irishman by the name of Mecredy invented it in 1890. Not long after, it was being played by the British army and the Maharajas in Imperial India, and England was losing the first international to Ireland 5-10 at the Crystal Palace in London. Played this way, on grass and in uniforms it’s similar to horse polo, and it’s an internationally competitive sport.
Indigenous people comprise two per cent of the total Australian population. But in 2006 they made up 24 per cent of the prison population, and are, on average, 12 times more likely to be imprisoned than their non-Indigenous counterparts. In some states, such as South and Western Australia, the figures are far higher.
Most serve sentences of five years or fewer, and more than three quarters - well above the national average of 58 per cent - can be expected to re-offend. Such gross over-representation of Indigenous people in prisons is not unique to Australia. In New Zealand, Maori make up 15 per cent of the populace and 50 per cent of the prison population, while in Canada, 3.3 per cent identify as Indian, Inuit or Metis, yet comprise 22 per cent of people behind bars.
Death, life’s last great mystery, freaks us out. For the modern masses, rationalisation has vetoed death as a rung on the stepladder to heaven, the promised land, nirvana, or the reassurance of plain old samsara. Its science, not religion, that we’re turning to in our quest for immortality.
It’s all pretty sci-fi. But hey, when you look at it, so is what happens to the average (dead) Joe: a body is preserved with chemicals and encased in a decay resistant coffin reinforced with agents such as fibreglass, steel and plastic. No doubt anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one will agree that we can better accept and come to terms with death by seeing, touching and spending time with the body of a loved one post mortem. But do we really need to pump a body full of preservatives in order to make it look as life like as possible for as long as possible?