issue f our: fr eedom
Overcoat is an independent production publication. The articles appearing within this publication reflect the opinions of their respective authors and are not necessarily those of the publishers or editorial team.
Editor: Alexandra Gibson Sub-Editor: Hannah Grey Designer: Pete Saunders Illustrator: Sam Lyne Cover: Jonathan Crosby â€” Water drops collecting on the lens during a rainy Forth of July in Lincoln, Massachusetts email@example.com www.undercoat.net
contributors Sarah Boland (London College of Communication) Emma Byrne (London College of Communication) Rodney Croome (University of Tasmania) Melanie Hamman (University of South Africa) James Fagg (University of Tasmania) Becky Ford (London College of Communication) Elma Relihan (London College of Communication) Jaki Sainsbury (Deakin University) Mateo Szlapek-Sewillo (University of Adelaide) Sez Wilks (University of Melbourne)
additional images David Millington Conor Oâ€™Sullivan Matt Jenkins Matt Richards Pete Saunders Nipun Srivastava
Overcoat is an online publication that aims to share the highest standard of work being produced in creative and professional fields from different institutions globally. It is a platform designed to inspire and connect students and alumni within their own community and with like-minded people around the world. If you would like to contribute work to Overcoat, please send us an email.
freedom/editor I was having a conversation with my grandmother recently. A warm hearted, caring woman who has always strongly valued her religious beliefs — they provide reassurance, routine and a lot of her social activity revolves around church-related activities. Although my relationship with religion is extremely different from hers, having grown up exposed to a version of religion that seemed loving, inclusive and positive, my grandmother’s relationship to God has never seemed threatening, unreasonable or irrational in any sense. However, recently my parents and I were having a conversation with my grandmother. My parents have spent the last three years teaching in Jakarta, Indonesia — living within a majority Islam society. Islam, surprisingly one of the more peaceful of religions, has sadly been twisted and presented to the world from the perspective of a few extremists (as religion in general often is), particularly to the Western world. A discussion of religion in Australian schools came up. In relation to the teaching of Christianity in schools — in one swift sentence — my grandmother had referred to those Muslims as “terrorists” and had accused them of preventing Australians the freedom to study Christianity due to their claims of discrimination. We were shocked. The only source on information my grandmother receives about Islam is through Australian media and this was the conclusion she had pieced together. Not only is this an issue of freedom to factual information — which is deeply troubling, particularly for a country that boasts free press — but secondly, the idea that in a country as culturally diverse as Australia, the idea that schools would teach one, compulsory religion is unrealistic. I think the issue that struck me the most is the irrational argument, which applies to a broad range of issues, that by expanding our practises to be inclusive of others we would restrict or prevent our ability to continue those practices. If schools decided to teach a broad range of religions, or even allow their students the freedom to study their own religions (perhaps celebrate a range of religious holidays, etc.) Christian students wouldn’t be banned from learning about or practicing Christianity. I’ve often heard the same argument be applied to the restriction heterosexual couples would suffer if homosexual couples were permitted to legally marry. If homosexual couples have children, the nuclear family will suffer. Allowing equality for those oppressed doesn’t reduce the freedom of those already free to live their lives as they please.
alexandra gibson 6
Contents 09/ the activist
rodney croome 13/ ten girls doing it sarah boland emma byrne becky ford elma relihan 27/ playing the game james fagg 39/ kikuyu sez wilks 47/ the question of freedom melanie hamman 65/ freedom to be something more mateo szlapek-sewillo 75/ island fever jaki sainsbury
Fighting the law for the freedom to be oneself. rodney croome university of tasmania
The year 1997 is a date not too distant in the
to give blood. Transgender people are not
memories of most. It was the year Princess
free to be acknowledged as who they are.
Diana died, Tony Blair was made Prime
And we are not free to marry.
Minister of the United Kingdom, boxer Mike
What was it like to be a homosexual man,
Tyson bit the ear of Evander Holyfield and
living in Tasmania in the 80s?
the ski resort of Thredbo experienced a devastating landslide, killing 18 people. It is also the year, slightly more than one decade from our current date, that homosexuality between consenting adult men in private was decriminalised in Tasmania. In large part, this is thanks to the pioneering efforts of Rodney Croome. At the time, Croome was (and still is to this day) the spokesperson for the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group, which fronted the campaign to erase criminal sanctions against homosexuality
Criminal penalties against homosexuality (maximum 21 years in gaol) were alive and well. There was police surveillance and harassment. Government authorities discriminated against us shamelessly and with impunity. When we set up a stall in a public market to gather petition signatures for gay law reform, the Council shut down the stall and we were all arrested. Gay Tasmanians effectively lived in a police state What is the history of the Melville St car park?
in Tasmania. This campaign involved the
For a long time it was a beat like any other,
cooperation of the United Nations, Amnesty
where gay men gathered for social and sexual
International, the Federal Government and
contact. But in the late 60s it grew into
the High Court, and eventually led to the
something more — a place with a sense of
victory of decriminalization in Tasmania —
community. Gay men would gather there and
the last state in Australia to do so. Croome
have champagne picnics. When it was shut
has now set his sites on marriage equality
down the toilet doors were stolen and made
within Australia, and in particular Tasmania,
into coffee tables and men could be seen all
which he hopes we will see by 2013.
over the city wearing black armbands.
To what extent are lesbian, gay, bisexual,
Can you please take us through the lead-up
transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ)
and event of the arrests in Salamanca in 1988?
people free in today’s society?
The Tasmanian Gay Law Reform Group was
Many of the fundamental freedoms
formed in March 1988. We decided to set up
heterosexual people take for granted are
a stall in Salamanca Market in August that
denied LGBTIQ people. We are not free from
year. We went about the application process
hate-motivated violence at school or on the
like any other group but when the Council
street. We are not free from prejudice-based
found out we were there it shut us down
discrimination at work. Gay men are not free
because it didn’t want “homosexuals in its 10
family market”. When we defied the ban, the
How do you feel about the current state of
police were brought in and 130 people were
equality generally in the greater world in 2012?
arrested over seven consecutive Saturday
Recent victories in the US give me much hope
mornings. Eventually the Council backed
for the future. There have been some awful
down. In 2008, to mark the 20th Anniversary
initiatives from some African governments,
the Council officially apologised and funded
but even there I am hopeful. The responses
a memorial which will be opened in 2013.
from LGBTIQ Africans have been inspiring.
How did Toonen v Australia come about?
Where have we got the most work to do in
The Tasmanian Upper House angrily threw
terms of equality?
out legislation decriminalising homosexuality
In Australia, marriage equality is the big
in 1991. Not long after, Australia ratified an
issue but there are still many other isuses.
international treaty that allowed individuals
Challenging classroom homophobia is an
to take cases to the UN Human Rights
important one for me, as is removal of the
Committee (UNHRC). We saw our chance and
Red Cross gay blood ban.
seized it. We lodged our case on Christmas Day 1991. In April 1994, the UNHRC finally handed down its decision condemning the Tasmanian laws. That led to federal legislation to render the Tasmanian laws inoperative, and then a High Court challenge to have the laws invalidated. In 1997 they were finally repealed. What was it like to be part of the LGBTIQ community during the decriminalization in 1997? It was wonderful. After such a long fight against such strong resistance it felt like anything was possible. How do you feel about the current state of equality in regards to the LGBTIQ community in Tasmania? We are very proud that Tassie has gone from having the worst laws and attitudes on homosexuality in Australia to having the best. There’s still a long way to go, but our story has been one of hope and success.
How do you see the progression of marriage equality in Tasmania and the greater world? I’m very optimistic we will see same-sex couples marrying somewhere in Australia in 2013. I hope it will be in Tasmania first, but if not, it will be the ACT, NSW or SA. In the western world, marriage equality has an unstoppable momentum. What has been your proudest moment? I think it was when Tasmania’s old laws against homosexuality were repealed. It was a great moment for Tasmania, as well as for those of us who had fought so hard for reform. I had so many things to say but I was overwhelmed by the moment and shed a few tears on national TV. There were lots of tears shed across Tassie that evening.
iâ€™m very optimistic we will see samesex couples marrying somewhere in australia in 2013â€Śin the western world, marriage equality has an unstoppable momentum.
ten girls doing it 10 female design students, doing it for themselves. sarah boland emma byrne becky ford elma relihan london college of communication
The idea of the 10 Collective came about within the first few weeks of a Masters course in Graphic Design at the London College of Communication. It was the beginning of an exciting new course in an amazing city. However, it soon became tainted by the everpressing reality that there was no space in which to work and there just so happened to be 10 female graphic design students who felt the same way. A couple of factors in particular highlighted the need for space. Firstly, the very nature of a design course rooted in academia naturally ensured the endless dragging of heavy books around Londonâ€™s public transport system, as well as computers, chargers, cameras, tripods, leads, etc. Secondly, the idea of working alone for a year on projects was already debilitating. Designers tend to work well with others and collaboration is a very important aspect in design work. The 10 of us met in our first few classes. We chatted and discovered that we were not alone in wanting a common space to work with other like-minded graphic designers. The thought did occur to us that 10 female designers was a lot of one gender, but we all agreed to be vocal on any problems or issues that arose. Over time, this proved to be one of the 10 Collectiveâ€™s greatest strengths. The idea of finding a space to rent and use as a studio base while participating in the MA at LCC was born within the first few months of the academic year. We arranged viewings of various office spaces and studios in several locations around London and one was eventually selected as the most suitable. The rent was manageable between a large group of people, the space was huge and it was an eight minute walk from our University campus. It was nothing short of perfect. In the end 10 girls wanted it enough to sign the lease and there were 10 keys cut. The studio pretty much became our home for the next year. The apartments we all paid rent on soon became secondary dwellings we showered and caught up on a few hours sleep. The blow up mattress that lived in our studio was utilised on more than one occasion and sometimes we would even sleep underneath our desk well into 14
the cold winter months. We worked like mad women. I am talking 15 hours a day, 7 days a week and far more than that towards the end of the year. We sacrificed pretty much everything for our Masters degree. It all seemed so very normal at the time. In hindsight, I think we all went a little crazy that year. Solid and lasting friendships were formed in the dead of night, over endless cups of tea, many shared blocks of chocolate and quite a few boxes of Turkish Delight. We had a communal area where we often had lunch or dinner together, to talk about our work, but also our lives outside of the studio. Feedback was dealt that was often hard to hear, there were a few tears coupled with much internal stress and more laughter than any of us can remember. There were of course fraught conversations and the occasional tension, but we had been blessed with a kind of ‘studio family’ and were happy to call it our second home. It was here that we also had weekly critiques of each other’s work, as a group, alongside those at University. We realised we could reshape and redirect our own personal projects far more efficiently — which included presenting our final major project, giving us all the chance to evaluate the work and make any vital changes in the final weeks of our MA course. The criticism was not always easy to give or take, but by offering an objective viewpoint on each other’s work, we benefited enormously. An undoubtedly significant factor is the fact that we were 10 females. This was never intentional, but it was a coincidence that worked in our favour. In an industry never short of talented designers, we really wanted to make ourselves standout from the crowd and be recognised. The strength we found in being an all female collective, not only brought us novelty value, but also a real understanding and kinship which made us far stronger as a group. As the 10 Collective, we had a simultaneous brainwave to create our own solo exhibition. And that’s where the fun began. Finding a space and branding ourselves. The best decision we made was to take a risk in the way we marketed our exhibition. We knew we wanted to create
Photo: Conor Oâ€™Sullivan 18
a viral invite, as this was a cheap and effective way to communicate across the social media platforms, and after much deliberation we shamelessly decided to use sex to sell ourselves. Our exhibition was entitled “10 Girls Doing it”. Thank God, this paid off — it could have very easily backfired. In a complete tongue-in-cheek move we chose a really tacky 70s Turkish soft porn film and subtitled it to sell us. The VIP invites were packaged up in DVD boxes and hand delivered around London to our 50 favourite design agencies and the industry press channels. The following day Design Week blog published a post about us, “There are a lot of ways to get attention for a debut exhibition, but packaging your invite up as porn is not one that we see everyday. 10 Collective, a group of female graphic designers who met at London College of Communications MA Graphic Design course, sent us this invitation to their debut show, which was NSFW (not safe for work) in the extreme.” For us, this was the moment things really started to happens! A week later Twin magazine interviewed us, then a month later we appeared in Design Weeks Hot 50: Graduates list. We barely slept for the entire week leading up to the opening. We trudged through Central London in the snow to move our entire studio across to the gallery. We bullied people to sponsor us, organised a booze flow for the night, agreed and disagreed with each other, cleared out our space, built and painted walls, branded the walls with vinyl and finally welcomed our guests on the opening night. Lights, music, action, friends, family and the big shots. The walls of the Rag Factory Gallery on Brick Lane had been transformed into a prime example of visual diligence. The biggest learning curve for me here was to be proud of all my hard work. Do it, flaunt it and let the audience conduct their own analysis. The beautiful thing about individuality is that everybody has their own unique opinions. There will always be some that are drawn to your work more than others. It is the measure of your passion that the radar picks up on and at that moment in time 10 Collective were well and truly on the radar. All these fantastic opportunities were coming our way and raising our profile and credentials, but unfortunately none of them were making
us much money. It was lovely to think that we could carry on this way, but the reality of the situation was that we were all completely skint and starting to get more than a little stressed. We had quite a few clients approaching us for work, but they didnâ€™t want to pay much as we had next to no track record of commercial success. The small amount they were willing to pay was so minimal when divided by 10 that we really had to start thinking about how to deal with the situation. Socialism and business are not happy bedfellows! We began to freelance for other agencies and as smaller break-off groups seeking new business. Then our individual work responsibilities began to take precedence over 10 Collective projects. The recession in the UK led some girls to start looking for work overseas. Sarah was the first to leave the UK and headed to Dubai to take a position in an editorial house. Next was Gumrah, who travelled back to Istanbul, followed by Louise to Denmark, Elma to go find her fortune in NYC and the latest to relocate is Emma to Australia. Becky, Polina, Pelin, Marina and Gemma are still here in London. Regardless of the international spread-out, we know how much of an amazing achievement and how much hard work setting up the 10 Collective was. None of us want to loose that, or the friendship and support network we have created. We are using the international element as another strength, in true 10 Collective style, finding and using our unique selling points. We are now 10 Girls Doing It all over the world â€” let global domination commence!
playing the game
Maintaining freedom after a history of unrest. james fagg university of tasmania
Imagine you love playing a sport. You train once a week for three hours with a great group of people from all walks of life. The coaches have each been playing that sport at a national and international level for 30 plus years and share their wealth of experience at every turn. They tell you great stories about what you can expect when you finally get to play. Once a month you go away for a weekend training camp in an attempt to bring together what you’ve worked on over the past few weeks. Once a year you attend a two-week camp with people from all around the nation, training in preparation for that big game. Except the big game never comes. You never actually get to play; you never actually get to use your skills outside of anything except a friendly match at the end of training. Now, imagine you’ve done that for 10 years. Imagine that people you trained with during that time have had many opportunities to play competitive games at an international level, but you’ve had to always see them off and never play yourself. You feel happy, but jealous — like a child seeing people off at an airport, but unable to get on the plane. You put up with that until finally your personal, work and family circumstances are just right so that the next time an opportunity to play the game comes around, you can be a part of the team. Well that’s me, and that’s my experience with the Army Reserve. I enlisted in 2002 and for the first five years of my career, the Army Reserve didn’t actually participate in active overseas deployments as they were (quite rightly) handled by the regular army. I had no problem with that because it was how things were. Suddenly, in about 2005, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) decided that Army Reservists would be ideally suited to take over peacekeeping missions just outside our shores, in East Timor and the Solomon Islands. This meant that thousands of people, with years of training, had an opportunity to finally put that training into practice. The game was on. When the announcement first came out that volunteers were being sought for a deployment to the Solomon Islands, I felt bittersweet. I was extremely pleased that we would finally have a chance to use our skills and contribute to the stability of our neighbours, but I had 28
just graduated university and could not take the time off from my graduate program or new job for fear of upsetting my fledgling new career. My mates deployed, assisted, peace-kept, and came back with great stories; huge senses of fulfilment; skills and experience to share; and, of course, a medal on their chests at ANZAC day. I knew that I wouldn’t get a chance to take the required six months off for a few years — especially as I was working in a small business — and so I had to continue to contribute locally, watching guys with half my time in service come back and be what I considered at the time “better soldiers”. I felt like I wasn’t able to fulfil the real need I had inside to contribute to the world around me. That was why I joined the army after all, and it was just outside of my reach. The year 2011 rolled around and I found myself in the right mix of personal circumstances. My job could afford to let me leave and I had an amazing girlfriend who offered support and encouragement. The Army Reserve always says that your priorities are family, then work, then army. For the first time in my career the first two priorities were content and flexible enough to allow me to pursue the third. I signed up, and in March 2012 set foot in the Solomon Islands. It’s essential not to underestimate the importance of the peacekeeping operations that the ADF undertake. There are a range of national security concerns which arise when our neighbours are in a state of unrest, such as international relations, trade and tourism. However for me, it boils down to a moral obligation. I firmly believe that the strong should help the weak, and in this case it was allowing the people of a country, that in all honestly, no one else really cared about, to get back on their feet after civil war. Many Australians have no idea there was even a civil conflict in the Solomon Islands. They don’t know that people died, that militia controlled the streets, that the corrupt government failed the people, or that poverty and disease were running rampant. Why would they? It’s not Bali; no one goes there for schoolies. It’s not New Zealand, a developed country we flock to for adventure tourism. It’s just the Solomon Islands, which most people can’t point to on a map. To me though, that’s just the point. We were there to help people, not because we wanted to get tourism up and running, not because we wanted their resources or trade, not because
the country is a vital stepping stone in some international expansion, but simply because they were our neighbours and they needed help. The history of the unrest can be boiled down to tribal conflicts. During WWII large numbers of workers were brought from one island (Malaita) to another (Guadalcanal) to assist with construction efforts. After the war, these people had established themselves and these two very different island cultures were thrown together. Tensions simmered for many years. During this time the country gained independence and many Chinese immigrants established businesses which eventually became the economic backbone of the country, aside from forestry and mining. In 1999, on the capital island of Guadalcanal, Gwale militia forces began terrorising the Malaitan ‘immigrants’. The Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) was established to fight back, and civil war erupted. Various efforts for peace were made, but the government — always viewed as highly corrupt — were not able to accomplish anything lasting. In July 2003, a unanimous vote was passed to ask for international assistance. The fact it was unanimous was a very important point as it provided the international forces with greater powers to help deal with the conflict. It also had a vital bit of small print which meant that to renege from the request required the same level of unanimous support, essentially locking in the request until the problems were resolved. Australian Federal Police forces, along with New Zealand, Fijian and Papua New Guinean police, arrived as part of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and began to restore order. The changes were temporary however, and shortly after their arrival a massive, coordinated riot overwhelmed the fledgling forces and the Australian Army was forced to intervene. Upon the soldier’s deployment in the Solomon Islands the fighting stopped overnight, and the long process of recovery began. Fast forward 11 years and I’m at the tail end of a very successful stabilisation and rebuilding mission. I knew that we wouldn’t be doing a huge amount of active work — patrolling, targeted missions to apprehend key targets, stuff like that, because it had already been done. For the most part, we were in the background, aiming to ensure
that the few rouge elements that remained didn’t hinder the police operation too much. I was fine with that, and while I would have liked to get out and do more direct action, we had plenty of daily opportunities to interact with the locals, contribute to the mission, and finally put our training into practice. I visited multiple islands, went to many villages, met hundreds of men, women and children, and even managed to get in a dive or two (and I have to say, between the undisturbed coral reefs, WWII wrecks and “tropical island paradise” beaches, the tourism industry has a lot of potential!). My experience wasn’t life changing, but it was certainly something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my days. It was hard to summarise what I felt at the time, because I knew we were at the end of the whole stabilisation effort. Yet I still felt proud, highly fulfilled and energetic every day to see what we’d be doing next. It wasn’t until a trip to Savo Island, which is basically a semi-dormant volcano sticking out of the ocean with a string of villages around the shoreline, that I worked it out. We entered the village and were confronted with every single person who lived there, plus a few coming from other villages for a look-see. By everyone, I mean everyone — every man, woman and child was there, with coconuts in hand for the incoming soldiers. Our group leader met the chief who welcomed us into the village, and then they all sung us a range of traditional songs which was lovely! After the songs we had time to meet and shake the hands of the elders, plus say some personal greetings. It was then I had a particular elder man come up to me and, almost weeping, tell me how much he appreciated us being here, how much we had done for his country, and just how happy he was that we were still there helping to keep him, his family and his village safe. This was a truly amazing moment for me. It was worth the past 10 years of training: every minute standing in the rain, every hole dug in the desert of central Australia, and every bug that bit me in the jungle. Hearing these words I knew it wasn’t me personally who had delivered these things to him, no individual could claim that, but it didn’t matter. To him, I was Australia. I was the Australian Army,
I was RAMSI, I was the face of the people, resources, mission, planning and activities undertaken over the past 10 years to give this man his country back. It occurred to me that that is exactly what we’d done, given these people their country, and I was as much a part of that as anyone else. Living in Australia it’s justifiably difficult to even contemplate the desperate situation these people were living in. The country wasn’t just lacking basic government support and resources, but the people weren’t able to work, farm or send children to school. Add to that living in constant fear of militia raids and it added up to a very miserable daily existence. International occupation had reversed that. The Army Reserves had contributed to the removal of that fear and replaced it with hope. It sounds very idealistic, however it’s 100 per cent accurate, and it made me feel the most fulfilled, proud and accomplished I ever have in my life. As mentioned, I didn’t return to Australia a changed man, but I did return a more enlightened one. A 10 year training course had finally come to an end and with the most amazing conclusion. I had, in my own small way, contributed to the rest of the world, and felt absolutely wonderful for it. Subsequently, the only thing I’ve found difficult was getting back into the corporate world. Not because I find the work difficult, but because I know how great I felt to be helping others, and the standard 9 to 5 just didn’t cut it. Working for organisations which I feel help me to achieve that desire to directly help people, such as universities, community organisations or hospitals, are now my employment goals. The personal fulfilment that comes from helping people simply because they need help is enough. Now that I’ve played at the top level I’m hooked, and it’s a game I want to be playing all my life.
Photos: Matt Jenkins
Freedom through the manipulation of traditional form. sez wilks university of melbourne
Kikuyu is a small-scale pop project which first began in September 2009, when I salvaged an Italian electronic organ from a second-hand shop. Having cut my musical teeth booking gigs and blushing in a band for a few years, I was curious to see what I could create when left to my own devices. The organ — a late 1960s era Baleani Audiosonic — was stuffed awkwardly into the shop’s back corner, covered in dust with a couple of busted keys sprouting from its chipboard gums. When I turned it on it buzzed and shuddered like a fridge in need of defrosting. I looked at the organ; it hummed back. I pressed a key and a happy bleep sprung from the speaker under its belly, bright like the 8-bit sounds of a Nintendo game. “Bright in a good way,” I thought, and wrestled the 18kg beast into the boot of my car. Fast-forward to March 2010 and I’m recording bedroom grabs of small pop songs for a grant application. The Baleani’s cheerful keyboard tones and cheesy built-in beats are up front as I argue my case for the funding of an album demo. Using a gritty knock-off of a cheap pub microphone, I lay down vocal melodies and harmonies in stacks, panning them loosely left and right. The songs are short — two to three minutes, mostly — and limited by whatever cheerful orchestrations I can compose using the organ’s three sound patches, eight rhythm patterns and an auto-bass button. The limitation is self-imposed and a great relief. While like most people I support autonomy and freedom of choice, too much choice makes me anxious. As American psychologist Barry Schwartz points out, though modern society enjoys “more choice than any group of people ever has before, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically”1. The organ’s restricted sound palette and simple circuitry created a limited choice, low-stress setting and gave me freedom to fully experiment within these limits. I immediately recognised the mental and creative benefits of this approach. I’m pleasantly surprised by the diversity of people who like the resulting album, Hunter Gathered — particularly gamers! I definitely played a lot of video games as a kid and dug their soundtracks, but I didn’t intentionally set out to make a ‘lyrical chiptune’ record. Beyond the organ’s obvious bleepiness, I think there are mechanical 40
reasons underlying the Nintendo vibe and this comes back to limited choice. Focusing songs on one instrument and keeping in mind that I had to be able to translate them live with the use of only two hands had me facing problems similar to early video game composers — limited ‘channels’ to create full sounding pieces of music. Composers like Koji Kondo (Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda) and Yoshihiro Sakaguchi (Street Fighter, Duck Tales)2 overcame single computer channels (‘voices’) by using white noise as percussion and repetitive arpeggios to give the illusion of chords. Honing my songwriting and improving my very basic music production skills are my priorities for the next couple of years. There are brilliant, free courses available online now. It’s incredible. Some are taught by Berklee College of Music professors3. I’ve signed up to take a bunch in 2013. My hope is that by studying arranging and songwriting I’ll further my understanding. I’m at a point where I want to challenge my musical common sense. Everything I know about writing songs developed from my teenage self, who started creating basic piano arrangements for pop songs on the radio. I’d like to expand that. A fellow musician was playing four and five note chords on my piano recently and I was in complete awe. I thought, “I want to know how to make those chords!” People ask me how I managed to self-release a record and tour overseas. Well, I Googled it! At the start of 2011 I was typing in “How to release music + independent” and just took it from there. Google is the best thing for people who want to DIY and have little disposable income4. My motto for making Hunter Gathered was, ‘Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can’. As a self-taught singer and songwriter, this motto has become my mantra. Finding audiences for my music is another goal. To this end, things driving me are expression and exploration — traits of digital culture and the ‘attention economy’. I can’t escape the fact that I’m making music in an environment where content is increasingly abundant and available, and people’s attention spans are getting shorter (David Byrne has a lot of interesting things to say about how music adapts to fit its changing context5). In addition to the joy I get from being onstage, embodying music through live performance is necessary
to capture an audience’s attention. I’m personally not interested in making and releasing music that I can’t play live. I feel it is important that potential audiences are about to find and hear my music. Respecting that the Australian audience for lo-fi pop songs is (by international standards) fairly small, ensuring my music is discoverable by audiences around the world is also important to me. These intangible things have real implications on my musical style, especially live. Having a portable live setup becomes essential. After touring around Australia and New Zealand I had to ditch the Baleani organ because it was too fragile to transport on planes, and too heavy for me to lug about on trains and buses by myself. In its flight case, it weighed almost 26kg — a beacon for excess baggage fees. I sold the Baleani and replaced it with a 20-inch Yamaha Portasound minikeyboard for $40. Its organ tones are similar enough, and I’ve transferred what I can’t replicate onto a borrowed sampler, cutting loops from the album stems. My live performances are evolving as a result. As I was writing the songs that became Hunter Gathered, a friend let me borrow his loop pedal. It quickly became a tool for improvising vocal and instrumental harmonies over the top of the organ parts. There’s a perception that this improvisational approach flows over into my live performances, but there is actually limited freestyling in my live shows. By the time a song is presented to an audience it is well rehearsed and the structure is set. This isn’t to say the songs themselves are inflexible, just that any changes to song structure from one show to the next will involve the same rigorous rehearsal process. Timing the vocal loops to play alongside other set-tempo instruments, without a MIDI clock or other time-keeping device, definitely takes practice. One exception would be my attempts to live loop the audience into my performance, but sadly the average pub mic isn’t powerful enough to capture audience sing-a-longs. It’s a great way to personalise a show, though, so I haven’t completely given up on the idea. Right now I’m gathering ideas for Kikuyu’s next musical endeavour. I’ve learnt on tour which elements of my songs work well in both big and small spaces. Percussion carries — groove translates. I’ve enjoyed creating percussion from forgotten objects and want to bring plenty
of snap, crackle, pop and fizz into my next recording. I sense solid bass parts will also feature to give my songs more muscle. Having done away with the Baleani’s built-in beats I am on the hunt for a secondhand drum machine. Still, the question of how to strengthen my songs without accumulating too much gear sits foremost in my mind. My body’s offering hints: a shouty register of my voice has opened up and is pushing me towards less delicate vocal arrangements. Writing new work in a different setting feels important, too. Hunter Gathered was created in the house where I’m still living, so to challenge the gentle homeliness I want to get out of that space. I feel privileged to have the freedom to explore fresh songwriting spaces. I’m mindful that much of the world doesn’t have that luxury. My work through Kikuyu is important to me because it lets me play. It makes me happy. Singing is a delight; performing is fun. It is that simple. There’s a world of musicians communicating different things through their repertoire — anger, sorrow, longing, violence, desire and sexual appeal. As a genre, indie pop seems a good fit. For now, I’m hung up on communicating joy.
1 Schwartz, B. (2004) The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Harper Collins, New York. 2 Yoshihiro Sakaguchi (1990) DuckTales Music (NES)- The Moon Theme http://youtu.be/KF32DRg9opA 3 Coursera (www.coursera.org) is a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. 4 For more accolades on the benefits of Google for touring musicians, check out: Blink (2012) D.I.Y. Touring The World, http://www.alowhum.com/product/books/diy-touring-the-world 5 David Byrne (2012) How Music Works, McSweeney’s, San Francisco.
Photos: Matt Richards
the question of freedom
Human trafficking â€” incarceration through deception and fear. melanie hamman university of south africa
In both of these stories these two friends could have been considered to be ‘free’, and in the case of Elizabeth, was ‘freed’ and returned back home. However, I cannot fail to question this freedom. Due to their situation, both girls were forced into the snare of a trafficker, for lack of options. With no other choices available to them — without education and knowledge about the world — they were forced to rely on others; relying on others in this case implied little freedom for these girls. For Elizabeth, who returned to the exact same situation she was in before she was trafficked in the first instance — now with a baby girl of her own — how free is she now and how free is her daughter?
Sindiswa Sindiswa was 17-yrs-old when I met her late one night in July 2009, in a hospice in Bloemfontein. Sindiswa was unconscious, beaten up and had been left in the street, when she was found by Nomzi, an outreach worker from a local church that had been working with young women on the street to help them get out. Nurses at the hospital said Sindiswa would not make it through the week. Her story, like so many I’ve heard, was heartbreaking. Sindiswa had ended up in Bloemfontein after a ‘friend’ came to her village in Eastern Cape from the city and told her she could get work if she came back with her. With no parents of her own and never having finished school, she took the opportunity to try and make a life for herself. Sindiswa took her childhood friend Elizabeth with her. The friend said they were to stay with her and her boyfriend, but she disappeared after a few days leaving both Sindiswa and Elizabeth behind. After two weeks, unable to get jobs and unable to pay the friends ‘boyfriend’ for rent, they found themselves forced to work on the streets for him. From that point on, through violence and threats of far worse abuse, the girls’ lives were controlled and they received all their earnings from their ‘work’. In the hospital Sindiswa told us about Elizabeth. She hadn’t seen her for a long time and didn’t know where she was. Sindiswa also told us to tell people about her. She wanted to tell her story so that someone would know.
Sindiswa, a victim of human trafficking, lay in a hospital bed, perspiration beading on her forehead and soaking the pillow.
Sindiswa was too weak to even move and lay curled up in a tiny bundle. She stared intently at the camera, adamant to have her story heard.
Nomzi, a local outreach worker, comforts Sindiswa in her distress and pain. Nomzi had befriended Sindiswa before she found her discarded on the streets a few nights previously. 52
Sindiswa the next day. Her friend Elizabeth who was found the previous night came to visit her. The two girls cried together. It was the last time Elizabeth saw Sindiswa who passed away a week later, alone in the hospital, three months pregnant. 54
Elizabeth I saw a young girl in a red jacket standing on a
After she was rescued from Jude that night
dark and lonely street corner later that same
in Bloemfontein, she was shunted about by
night in Bloemfontein in July after meeting
the system. At one point, a social worker
Sindiswa. The young girl turned out to be
said she was not trafficked because she went
15-year-old Elizabeth, Sindiswa’s childhood
willingly — a clear sign that not even those
friend. She desperately wanted to go home,
who are meant to help fully understood
but couldn’t leave because Jude (her friends
the issue. Even though South Africa
boyfriend) had her clothes and she explained
does not have a fully comprehensive law
that if she left them behind he would ‘witch
against human trafficking, under the South
her.’ It was the first time I came across the
African Children’s Act, human trafficking is
threat of witchcraft as a form of manipulation
prohibited for all purposes and for minors
to entrap victims. Shadrak, Nomzi’s husband
“willing consent” is irrelevant.
and their church pastor managed to retrieve her stuff and get her out of the house that night. She was driven to Queenstown the next day and put into the care of police and social workers.
It was discovered later that Elizabeth like her friend Sindiswa was pregnant, her beautiful baby girl was born in the December after her rescue — both eventually ended up in the care of Living Waters, a safe house
Elizabeth had been lured to Bloemfontein with
and rehabilitation home in East London.
Sindiswa. Elizabeth, like her friend, had tried
Living Waters taught how to care for her baby.
to run away numerous times but each time
Elizabeth is now back home with her mother
failing and suffering her resultant punishment.
in Eastern Cape.
When Elizabeth was 11-yrs-old her mother
The woman that recruited the girls was
got ill and Elizabeth was forced to leave
found and gave evidence, which led to the
school to care for her. Upon recovery, her
apprehension of Jude and his business partner.
mother went to get a job in Cape Town and left Elizabeth in the care of her much older sister who forced her to clean her house and look after her children. Elizabeth was frequently beaten by her sister if she disobeyed. Sindiswa’s suggestion that they go to Bloemfontein was her window of opportunity to get away from her sister.
The first photo I took of 15-yr-old Elizabeth, standing on her street corner in Bloemfontein, July 2009
Both Elizabeth and Sindiswa came from one of the poorest parts of the country in the Eastern Cape.
The house that Elizabeth would return to in the Eastern Cape.
Snapshots of the home and life Elizabeth was trafficked from. The circumstances she would return to would be the same.
Elizabethâ€™s mother inside her house, she thought Elizabeth was dead and her grief and relief were tangible when she found out she was alive.
The rough concrete floor and makeshift stove in Elizabethâ€™s motherâ€™s homestead, where she would eventually return.
A photo of Elizabeth as a baby, hanging up in the house. 64
freedom to be something more The right to education and the freedom it allows. mateo szlapek-sewillo university of adelaide
“The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.” Lord Acton’s powerful and profound statement on freedom, further elaborated on by the American political philosopher John Rawls and his difference principle, is what underpins my own understanding of what it is to be ‘free’ in Australia. Our geography, politics and a century of economic diligence has meant that, by and large, the only group in Australia exposed to the sort of material wretchedness faced by so many billions around the world has been our Indigenous peoples. Clearly, this is not to be brushed over lightly (and I feel bad doing it here), but we live in a country that, by and large, respects human dignity and has amply provided security and material comfort for its citizens. In this respect, we triumph; Australia is the country that most regularly gets mentioned alongside Scandinavian nations as the ideal model for the welfare state. Materially sated, many of us pursue different freedoms. We have national conversations about plain cigarette packaging and the rightful limits of expression and our party leaders’ youthful political and professional indiscretions. Many of us complain about the apparent pettiness of many of our national conversations, but consider the subtext: we are in a distinct minority of the world’s people who are comfortable and prosperous enough to afford having those distracting conversations. The apparent aimlessness of
our political discourse can actually hide our economic and social successes. The quote that begins this article is the implicit motivation for those who, like me, work to make Australia a fairer and free society. We work for different organisations, accept and generate different sources of public and private money, but our guiding principle is the same: we cannot, with good conscience, live in an Australia that does not do all it can for its poorest and most disadvantaged. For all of 2012, I have been one of those foot soldiers, working at the University of Adelaide on a project called, wait for it, the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP). HEPPP is a scheme developed as a response to the ‘Bradley’ Review of Australian Higher Education (2008), whereby the Commonwealth distributed funds to public Universities to pursue greater low socio-economic status (SES) enrollments. The report concerned itself primarily with the economic importance of a broad and multi-skilled workforce, but it also employed a lexicon of equity, rights and participation in tertiary education as the best way to attain these outcomes. From the executive summary of the report: We must increase the proportion of the population that has attained a higher education qualification. To do this we need to reach agreement on where we need to be; provide sufficient funds to support the numbers we agree should be participating; ensure that the benefits of higher education are genuinely available to all; establish arrangements which 66
will assure us that the education provided is of high quality; and be confident that the national governance structures we have in place will assist us to meet these goals. If you’re still awake after reading that you’ll notice a fairly powerful normative sentiment. One of the recommendations (it’s recommendation #4, for those playing at home) made by Denise Bradley and company was to set targets for the “attainment of degree qualifications and for participation of low socio-economic status students”. That ambitious target was set at 20 per cent by 2020, meaning that by then a fifth of all undergraduate students were to be from designated low-SES communities1. Clearly, such a radical recommendation, made by a respected group of professionals on behalf of the federal government, resonated across Australian higher education. It brought a smile to my face, because I felt that the fortunes of Australia’s most maligned, impugned, misunderstood and underprivileged were set to improve. For those not convinced that there is a problem of access to higher education for low-SES communities, consider the following: in 2009, there were 245,215 undergraduate applications. Only 45,028 of those were made by the poorest 25 per cent of Australians. If income and opportunity were distributed equally, then that number would have been more than 61,000. Our Group of Eight Universities have, to 2009, consistently offered fewer places, even as a proportion of applications, to
low-SES students2. In 1999, a young person from the Adelaide suburb of Burnside (much-mocked as the silver spoon of our eastern suburbs; their shopping centre has a large tree in its atrium) was seven times more likely to make it to University than one from the outer north suburb of Elizabeth3. The northern suburbs of Adelaide have been where my work this year has focused, but more on that later. The situation is improving, albeit unevenly and indirectly. The deregulation (uncapping) of undergraduate programs has been a boon for low-SES applicants who, as popular wisdom goes, had been over-represented in the ranks of the ‘almosts’. More places for students in University programs inevitably means more offers to the underprivileged, and it shows: there was an 18.9 per cent rise in the amount of offers to low-SES students from 2009 to 2012. Depending on the definition of low-SES actually used (which is a problem; the government uses three different ones) the share of low-SES students in undergraduate degrees in 2010 was between 15.4 per cent and 16.5 per cent. This is not great, but is at least on the way to the magic 20 per cent, and a discernible increase from the estimated 14.5 per cent of low-SES students before then4. Keep in mind though that the second figure is relative to a population reference (of 25 per cent). There are issues with the measurement of all of this. Official government statistics tend to view socio-economic disadvantage as a function of geography, so they look at
it brought a smile to my face, because i felt that the fortunes of australiaâ€™s most maligned, impugned, misunderstood and underprivileged were set to improve
postcode data (i.e. no matter your family’s wealth or income, if you’re in a designated suburb, then you’re low-SES). This, along with the insistence of using 25 per cent as the appropriate standard for disadvantages, makes it all a little messy. The caprices of geography mean that for every well-off family in a poor area there might be a poorer one in a better area. But the long-term trend is indisputable: in 2001, before the Bradley Review was even contemplated, the son or daughter of a labourer, born in the 1970s was five more times to attend higher education than the equivalent child born in the 1950s. There are few doubts that, along with a genuine attempt to consider how Australia might be a freer place and then work toward that society, there are political considerations at play. The Rudd/Gillard Labor government’s much-touted ‘Education Revolution’ had realistically delivered little in the way of concrete outcomes until the Bradley Review (more similarly ambitious studies have since been commissioned). Our Prime Minister, both in her current job and when she was Education Minister, has staked a lot of their political credibility on delivering in education. The reasons given were those clichéd (and totally true) ones which are heard all the time: the better your education, then — on average — the better your income, health, security, happiness and contribution to your community and to the state. Although the numbers can be confusing, the literature seems to point to two clear and meaningful conclusions: the poorest 25
per cent of Australians do not have the same opportunities to access higher education, which flies in the face somewhat of our national claim to be a ‘fair go’ society, and that higher education is gradually, though perhaps inadvertently, becoming more representative. My work in 2012 has taken me to the northern-most suburbs of Adelaide: Salisbury and Elizabeth. Each city in Australia has suburbs like these: the unfortunate victims of misbegotten post-WWII planning who grow gradually alienated from urban life. Initially designated as a satellite city of Adelaide and occasionally still referred to as such, Elizabeth has, for much of South Australia’s history been a manufacturing hub, home to textile and automotive factories. The underlying frailties of that arrangement revealed themselves only when those same jobs declined in number. From there, Elizabeth, Salisbury and the surrounding far-northern suburbs have followed a well-worn path of declining stability of employment and a commensurate increase in various social pathologies. Recently, proactive local councils have drawn attention and government money to regenerate these areas and market them as ideal areas for young families, new arrivals and early-career professionals. As such, my own major project for the year has been teaching a Certificate II course in broadcasting, delivered at a community radio station based in Salisbury. The course, as well as the radio program we’ve all been
the poorest 25 per cent of australians do not have the same opportunities to access higher education, which flies in the face somewhat of our national claim to be a â€˜fair goâ€™ societyâ€Ś
producing since June (Monday Madness,
nurtured. It also taught me that although
Mondays at 6pm!) was my introduction to
it was an incredible professional and personal
the station as well as to a group of genuinely
experience for myself, it must have been
inspiring people. Although the cohort
for the students as well. Suddenly their
eventually dwindled from twelve to a core
entire, admittedly shaky, understanding of
group of six, I was repeatedly reassured by
what University is and what you need to do
colleagues and peers that this is just ‘what
to study there (sit year 12 exams, gain an
happens’ when teaching a group of students
Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR),
with very different, not always positive
and apply from there) had been turned
experiences of formal education. When I
upside down. They learnt about alternative
eventually overcame my own trepidation
pathways; getting to university not just by
about teaching a course I had only a vague
sitting the Special Tertiary Admissions Test
familiarity with, then I began to realise that
(STAT), but being admitted for holding a
I was actually embarking on one of the most
Certificate IV qualification. Crucially a lot
formative, meaningful experiences of my life.
of these girls now freely talk about going
Forgive what might sound like triteness, or
to university. They are allowing themselves
a fondness for cliché — my feelings about
to dream. That is the beginning of a truly
it are difficult to properly articulate. Teaching
profound and emancipatory freedom.
broadcasting to five young African girls
In late November, we had our graduation
and an older Elizabethan woman, seeing
ceremony. It was a chance for the girls to
the flickers of comprehension come across
dress up and bring their families along to
their faces when they grasped a new idea
the University of Adelaide campus to
or their gales of laughter when talking
celebrate their amazing achievements.
about something on our weekly show, has
I shook the hands of proud parents, older
utterly convinced me of the value of what
siblings, and partners, met and spoke with
we are doing. The final outcome — five full
excitable younger brothers and sisters,
certificates and one partial award — is almost
and was given the opportunity to talk about
overshadowed (though not, of course, to
each of the girls and what the course has
those who ultimately judge the success of
meant for me. A theme which I ought to
the initiative) by the fact that, from April to
have focused on more was that this, for all
December, I had a group of students, young
of us, was an incredibly liberating experience.
and older, who came virtually each week —
It was something that brought each of
after school, no less — to learn about radio
us into contact with people and places
and to participate in their community. It tells
we’d otherwise never have seen. It was a
me that an affection for and investment in
repudiation of the values of ‘negative’ liberty
community exists, it just has to be found and
— a lack of legal or financial obstacles to
seeing the flickers of comprehension come across their faces when they grasped a new idea or their gales of laughter when talking about something on our weekly show, has utterly convinced me of the value of what we are doing.
participation — and instead a celebration
message that it simply doesn’t care enough
of ‘positive’ liberty: equal access and
about access and participation to make it
opportunity. Given a chance to reflect
a real priority.
on the successes and shortcomings of
That’s what I want to be the take-home
the course has made me more steadfast
message. This year, I’ve been lucky
in my belief that this is an incredibly
enough to play a small part in a project
promising way forward for opening pathways
which is designed to grant young people
to tertiary education in Australia. It gives
from our underprivileged areas the skills,
those students not immediately identified
opportunities and, yes, freedom to shape
as the top students academically to express
their own futures. Whether that remains
themselves and pursue their interests,
the case in 2013, be it under the Labor
all while developing an engagement with
Party or under a hypothetical Coalition
government, might just say a lot about
Sadly, as I write this, it appears as though
what we, and our political parties, have
our program may have been a glorious
to say about freedom.
one-off. HEPPP at the University of Adelaide and nationwide appears to be in jeopardy. The ALP, committed to delivering a surplus budget to bolster its electoral chances in 2013, is in search of low-hanging fruit to pick from the tree. A program such as HEPPP, which caters for marginalised, disenfranchised young people (living in safe ALP votes, coincidentally), is invisible enough to be dropped without furore. But if it does get cut, then it’s worth taking action about. There are, of course, very real problems with the way the money was allocated and managed by universities,
including my own, and I don’t mean to
Higher%20Education%20Review_Executive%20summary%20Recommendations %20and%20findings.pdf, (18)
downplay what are serious accountability
and outcome shortfalls. But if our University
discontinues HEPPP, it’ll be breaking
promising partnerships with community
organisations and schools in northern
Adelaide while simultaneously sending the
a program such as heppp, which caters for marginalised, disenfranchised young peopleâ€Śis invisible enough to be dropped without furore.
The courage to achieve freedom. jaki sainsbury deakin university
Walking alongside the flustered tourists —
I collected my bags and met my colleagues
looking out on the coconut-palm bordered
at the terminal. The island felt like a hot
runway — I thought of the Melbourne winter
house, and it combined the tropical third-
I’d just abandoned in favour of the tropical
world buzz with a peculiar vibration that I
Africa I had just landed in. The jet lag quickly
can only describe in Swahili. I sank into my
faded in the heat and excitement; I was
bed that night listening to the hum of street
20-years-old, in Zanzibar and about to start
life and the muezzin calling out from the
my first professional writing gig — getting
local mosque loudspeaker. I was alone, in
paid to travel and explore an alien country
Africa. I slept for two days.
and culture. Years later I read an account of
The writing job was manic. The office was a
that same wonder as Roald Dahl described
chaotic arrangement of locals and expatriate
his arrival in Zanzibar in 1937. Like Dahl, the
creators, dominated by the most neurotic and
scent of East Africa intoxicated me instantly.
demanding publisher you could imagine; I had
I’d bought a one-way ticket to Tanzania, with
a third-world Devil Wears Prada experience.
the idea that I wouldn’t really know if
Between great and very peculiar assignments
I wanted to stay or leave; so why not just
— and daily power cuts — there was the
begin by thinking that I was staying for ‘a
staffs’ constant anxiety of Mr Boss’ arrival
while’? My philosophy was supposed to keep
in the office. Travel writing was only a small
me free of homesickness and committed
part of my job, and I quickly learnt that there
to my experience in Africa. Years later, I
were no media guidelines in place to prevent
overheard an acquaintance warn her daughter
cross-publication, copyright infringement or
never to fly overseas without a ticketed
any number of things that I was trained to
surety of returning home, but I never would
avoid while studying media law. With every
have listened to this advice. For me, a one-
unethical project placed on my desk,
way ticket to Africa was like making a secret
I felt more unease about participating in the
agreement with the continent — I’ll arrive
company. It’s no secret that you can buy
fearless and with everything I’ve got, if
your way around in many parts of the world,
you can show me what’s in your depths.
especially Africa where neo-colonialism 3.0
My greatest fear wasn’t a terrible job,
is booming. Control is now only a matter of
personal safety, or even that I might not get
commerce and in the case of emerging African
back to Australia easily (a thought on the
nations the fate of the people, politicians
minds of my family). It was living in a place
and the land can sometimes be dictated by
without ever really breathing it in; leaving
the highest bidder. Investors are the new
without understanding its character or letting
imperialists, and for the undereducated
it transform me. To be nothing but a ‘tourist’
percentage of the population — with no
was my only real fear before leaving Australia.
real political protections — whoever pays 76
the drummer calls the beat. Economics can be as brutal as any dictatorial regime. We ignorantly participate in it every day when we buy something like coffee. And if there are no longer colour lines dividing people, there are lines of literacy that are far more extricating, so that systems like Apartheid can really be seen functioning academically. Legal illiteracy is the best curfew of control.
green travel writer in a foreign land, I was naïve enough to hand over my passport to the office manager on the first day when she said, “we’ll get everything sorted out in a few weeks”. I had arrived in Africa wanting to be free of my norm, free to travel and stretch my wings as a writer, but ended up functionally imprisoned without the only important document I owned. I was livid.
Eventually the writing became too shameless. One assignment in particular involved casting models for a coffee table book. The photographer was using girls that were obviously desperate for money, without any idea of what being a model generally involved and had clearly not been versed on their professional rights; there is no definition or distinction between nude portrait art and porn in conservative East Africa. Other times I was asked to “copy and paste from Google” because we had too many book deadlines and not enough writers (I never did it, much to my boss’ wrathful displeasure). Then he barred me from writing about any businesses or organisations that were in direct competition with his own, or whose management he hated. It made writing for the magazine impossible, as the remainder that he didn’t hate were an exclusive group, coincidentally including many of his own businesses. Things stacked up higher and I seriously considered taking my pen back to Australia. My only obstacle was that I didn’t have my passport.
Three months of begging for it did nothing. I got responses from management like, “Why do you need a passport, you’re not planning on going anywhere”. Today, I would have called my embassy direct or engaged Amnesty International and flagged the company for a human rights violation. However, I was still green and patient — too patient.
I’d arrived on the island, prepared to have my paperwork stamped. Alas, the organisation had other priorities for their staff. As a very-
When the boss finally handed me my passport, I had cracked. I took the first plane off the island and took a few unannounced weeks to calm down on the mainland. The new scents and landscapes recalibrated me, and I returned refreshed and totally careless about the job. I wrote my copy and ignored management’s request to vacate the property. I wasn’t going anywhere until I figured out if I wanted to stay in the country or not. They had forced me to stay; they weren’t going to force me to leave as well. It was an awkward time, especially in a publishing house where verbal communication is crucial to work and management can revoke your visa at any time. I should have been panicking, but I wasn’t. I suppose that lack of anxiety freed me — my writing improved. Looking back now, I don’t recognize the person I was during those silent days in the office, five
minutes away from an immigration visit at any moment. My colleagues were very amused and supportive; they were ever ready to back me up. After a week or so, I received my usual monthly stipend and nothing was ever said of my solo sabbatical. I resumed editorial duties, but I was still creatively starving. On the weekends, I took road trips through the spice plantations with my boyfriend (now husband). I told him all about my job woes as we drove through the rubber tree forest, and he told me sternly, “Jaki — if you work in Africa, you need to work for yourself. You’ll never be free here unless you are your own boss.” His friend in the driver’s seat nodded in agreement. We all kicked around ideas about what kind of magazine Tanzania needed. The place is stunning, I thought, and I wanted everyone in the world to see the island culture from an inside view, abandoning the tourist clichés and emphasising the fringes of Swahili life. So online publishing seemed like the natural course to take. I wrapped up my work contract and meditated on starting the magazine, but I needed a push to jump. Opportunity came my way as I ordered a coffee in a beachside hotel one Saturday morning. I met a journalist, Rachel Hamada, from the United Kingdom. She had moved with her Tanzanian husband and their baby daughter from Scotland to a small fishing village on the East Coast of the island. She was freelancing for UK magazines from her porch, writing editorials among jasmine flowers and papaya trees. I told her about my e-magazine idea and she loved it. We clicked immediately
and started brainstorming Mambo Magazine. Then the government cut the electricity off and I started to vomit. The Tanzanian government had cut the electricity supply to the entire Zanzibar archipelago a few days after I’d started feeling sea sick on land. Cholera was up, people were choking on diesel generator fumes in the city, and the smallest whiff of every conceivable planetary smell made me want to die. But it wasn’t cholera. We took a local bus to the medical clinic and after finding out I was pregnant I spent three months incapacitated on a beach in rural Zanzibar, being unsuccessfully force fed mangoes and fish by a friend who lived in a self-made hut with no electricity or running water. Soud’s beachside retreat was the only place with enough infrastructure set up to guarantee a pleasant existence during that 93 day returnto-the-Dark-Ages. He had kerosene lamps, fresh fish and a spring-fed well. Soud’s dogs guarded me when he went to the village for supplies. Eventually the worsening pregnancy dragged me home to spend another miserable six months in Melbourne, running between my laptop and the bathroom. The power cut our meetings in Zanzibar, but we were determined to make the project work somehow. So Rachel and I designed and developed the online travel and culture magazine completely via Skype conferences. I was wrapped up in wool blankets and maternity jeans; Rachel sweated it out in the Tanzanian summer with a hand-held fan, while our web designer Duvien Trang dragged
himself to the keyboard before sunrise in Scotland. It was exhausting, but we managed it somehow. We returned to Tanzania with our daughter in early 2011 to begin running Mambo on the ground. The magazine was challenging, but for the first time on the island I felt free to create. I wrote about whatever the island inspired me to write. We published whatever we thought we could get away with, short of breaking Tanzania’s notorious and, indecipherable media legislation. We attended cultural conferences, film and music festivals. We interviewed political artists about their battles for free speech in African states. We met directors including some blow-ins from Hollywood, and a host of other musicians and creative minds from all over the continent. The best part was choosing my own stories and showcasing that secretive side to Swahili life that eludes tourist publications. One example was accidentally covering a public exorcism that I thought was going to be a drum performance; it turned out to be a unique and secret ritual that has been done by Afro-Shirazi bush doctors since the 11th century. I felt electrified to be watching this crowd of women falling into ecstatic trances, while listening to my photographer ask me plainly if he should, “take more pictures of the exorcist or the old woman dancing like James Brown?” How can I describe a job like that? It wasn’t all rituals, coconuts and sunsets though. The catch to living in a country as free-form as this is that it’s also free of any
structure as we know it. Just like there are no speed limits on the Zanzibar roads, there’s no regulation for life. You find yourself planning a working day and then somebody calls with a crisis and you just have to drop your plan. You drive to an interview and meet a woman on a roadside carrying a baby with a hernia. Suddenly you’re dropping her off at a clinic and trying to remember what your angle was. That basically sums it all up — me trying to remember my angle in the Swahili tableau. There is no other way of living in East Africa, not that I have seen or heard, other than impromptu interruptions. I was robbed four times, once at home as I was sleeping in the lounge room — when the closest Mac store is 1000kms away, having your laptop and hardware stolen is as debilitating to a digital journalist as malaria (an illness my husband got a lot that year). We also sadly witnessed the tragic sinking of the HS Spice Islander Ferry off the coast of Zanzibar. I tried to report it to the ABC in Australia, but we had people on the boat and I couldn’t talk about it professionally. Not while my friends — all in mosques praying for 2500 of their people — were in earshot. I really don’t think I’d make a good foreign correspondent at all; I like emotional stories and I’m too inclined to involve myself in whatever is happening around me. I like creative non-fiction; you don’t have to follow rules, your story just has to be engaging. You can’t be an impartial storyteller when you love everyone in the story. I suppose that ferry disaster revealed to me that I wasn’t as free in Tanzania as I thought. I’d traded my
autonomy for access to the country’s soul. I’d injected part of myself into Tanzania so I could see it from the inside; I never got it back. I don’t know if you can ever renege that kind of a deal with a place. In 2012, politics was heating up on the Swahili coast, and our productivity was hindered by unforeseen personal misfortunes. So in the end, we were tiring creatively and my co-founder decided to head back to the UK in favour of a life with constant running water in it. Now that I live in Melbourne, Tanzania is still inside me. I’m trying to merge the worlds I love, focus them together and somehow achieve depth-of-field. The first few months at home are always blurry. I now have so much space I’m sick of it; I can’t adjust to being on a train and not hearing a conversation involving the entire carriage of people. I’m a traitor to my country in a sense. I can’t say ‘there’, but I can’t say ‘here’ — even though I felt high to see old friends, ride the W-class trams clunking along Richmond and danced for joy in my first hot shower in over a year. There’s just a missing element. Maybe it’s our access to acreage. Something has created a big divide between individuals and generations here, and I find myself stepping through the spaces in Melbourne, relying on vanishing isthmuses to connect everything up again. I miss that Zenji flavour that I first tasted on the airport runway. That being said, at present we’re getting reports of more riots and tear gas explosions going off in Zanzibar. There are enough smoke plumes rising that my friends can’t leave town. I don’t know if the
tourists can even see it from the beaches, but the discontent will probably travel to them at some point. It’s been ignited by a desire for independence — political freedom as those particular Zanzibaris define freedom; nothing that Victorians didn’t experience during the Occupy Melbourne protests last year. After living in Tanzania I understand that hunger, that Bali Hai longing for a paradise that’s always just in sight. But I know that pursuing paradise outside of your ‘self’ is like chasing the sun. You can never catch up. Citizens are burning political offices because they want a little more of what I’m enjoying right now—unlimited electricity, education and decent hospitals down the road. They want nationality, identity and definition of territory. I’m left aware that this inevitably comes at a price. Individual freedom is having the space to express whatever of ourselves we need to, and how far out of our territories we are willing or even wanting to go. That urge to expand personal freedom against resistance is as much the struggle of artists as it is of revolutionaries. That is probably what I learned most in Africa. As a writer, I’m still struggling to describe the spaces I found, and define where my own borders are now. That conquest of inner space never really ends.
Photos: Nipun Srivastava
five: lo ve / c o
Published on Jan 13, 2013
Published on Jan 13, 2013
Overcoat Issue Four is themed 'Freedom'. We investigate what freedom means to people, be it internal, work-related or on behalf of others. F...