SUE JACKSON Therapist/Writer/Photographer/Activist

Last year, as the unofficial blogger/photographer to the anti-East-West Link campaign, our battles were my blog's entire focus. But by Christmas, with the electoral win for people power and the dumping of the dud Tunnel, I was suddenly at a loss. What to write about now? Not sure yet. But there will be ongoing musings and images from this Australian life. So please leave a message. (No need to sign into an account. Simply comment as ‘anonymous’; then leave your name within the comment itself.)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Dignity Not Debt: End Centrelink Debt Debacle rally

Today's rally, at lunch-time outside the State Library of Victoria, was hosted by the Unemployed Workers' Union which is protesting the Federal Governments' outrageous changes to Centrelink. As they put it: We work hard and pay tax our entire lives - so when we or our families hit hard times there is a safety net. But this blue tie government wants to rip away our safety net - so it can gift multinationals tax free profits and fearful workers.
The Union's demands are 4-fold: 1 Abolish Debt Recovery Scheme; 2 Dignity for social security recipients; 3 Restore adequate funding to Centrelink; 4 Lift payments above the poverty line.

A word about the Debt Recovery Scheme: Passed into law in December 2016, it ensured that last Christmas was a particularly harsh and scary one for many already-marginalized people across Australia. Centrelink staff had warned their management that the new system was fatally flawed - that people with no debt would inevitably be falsely accused. In many cases that is exactly what has happened. And challenging or attempting to reverse Centrelink decisions is proving a harrowing, humiliating and time-consuming experience for thousands of our fellow citizens.

Centrelink staff member at protest

That this experience has echoes world-wide was captured in a must-see British film, 'I Daniel Blake', which coincidentally was released in Australia also late last year. Below is a letter from my friend Francine McCabe, published in The Age, which eloquently makes the link:

I have recently seen the excellent and hard hitting Ken Loach film: I Daniel Blake. Primarily, this film concerns the struggles of a widowed middle aged carpenter and a young single mother who meet at government offices in England when seeking state welfare and income support.
We see an inordinate number of hurdles, some rigid staff and complex processes to navigate as they desperately seek a listening ear and assistance - very similar to the nightmarish experiences of many people seeking income support in Australia. 'Clients' may believe a primary function of Centrelink is to minimise the number of people receiving or seeking assistance.
I would recommend that this movie be used for mandatory orientation and on going development activities for policy makers, management and staff of the Commonwealth Department of Human Services (Centrelink) and contracted Job Services Agencies.
Considering and discussing issues raised would be beneficial for staff - most of whom are trying to do a good job in a difficult and complex environment.

The great thing about the protest was that so many of the unions have endorsed it - the Electrical Trades Union of Australia, Victoria Branch and the National Tertiary Education Union to name just two.

Unions, unions everywhere

There were some inspiring speakers, including the Federal Leader of the Greens Richard di Natale.

Richard di Natale

 But the show stealer for me was Willing Older Workers' Marilyn King, who spoke from experience and from the heart about the plight of older unsuccessful job seekers.

Marilyn King

Daniel Blake, frustrated and impotent in the face of heartless bureaucracy, eventually in defiance scrawled his name in huge letters on the wall of his local Centrelink-equivalent building. Passing strangers shouted their support as he was pulled away by the police. Today's rally is a demonstration that, here in Australia, people in Daniel Blake's situation need no longer stand alone. They have numerous supporters who will march with them until this unjust situation is rectified.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Survival Day: Belgrave-style

I spent Australia Day in beautiful Belgrave, a small town nestled in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, 45 kms from the Melbourne CBD. I went there as a volunteer photographer/ blogger to cover Survival Day, a festival which presents an entirely different perspective on what should be celebrated on this famous public holiday.

My 'media' lanyard
On 26 January every year for the last ten, locals and visitors from further afield have come together under the glorious canopy of cypresses and redwoods in Borthwick Park Belgrave to 'celebrate Indigenous culture and the survival of Australia's First Nations people through 228 years of white settlement'. I wanted to be part of it. And I had no idea in advance just how much fun that would prove to be.
There were some terrific performances:

Mullum Mullum Indigenous Hip Hop Troupe
The Deans of Soul
The standout for me was the Didge Meditation by Gnarnayarrahe Waitiarie (Uncle Joey), who is an elder from the Indjibundji nation in Roeburne, WA. Uncle Joey encouraged us to lie back on the grass and let the digeridoo bring the animals of the bush to us.

Gnarnayarrahe Waitiarie
I was delighted to accept his invitation. And as I lay on my back with my visor covering my face I had no trouble hearing the frogs and the bell-birds that the music evoked. But I kid you not - as the meditation reached its conclusion several kookuburras in the trees above our heads actually joined in the harmonies!

There were also some great speakers.

Tallara, a Gudang woman from Cape York
 Tallara is an activist from Seed, the Indigenous Youth Climate Network, which is building a movement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people for climate justice.

Uncle Bill Nicholson (in possum cloak) with Tim Kanoa, the MC (in hat with feather)
Uncle Bill, a Wurundjeri elder, is a passionate speaker with a deep knowledge of Wurundjeri history. Uncle Bill suggested that Australian Indigenous culture represents 'the best balance between humans and the environment that has been seen on this planet,' and for that reason alone the rest of us have heaps to learn from our Indigenous fellow citizens.

This was the first, but it will certainly not be the last, time I attend Survival Day. The atmosphere was just so warm and caring. I felt part of a real community, where Tim Kanoa, our MC, treated us - even though we were in excess of 4,000 participants - like one big family, or perhaps I should say one big mob.
There were regular reminders to keep hydrated. At the end of their performance the Mullum Mullum Choir made a point of saying to any young people in the audience, who wanted to talk to an Elder, that they were always available. People temporarily losing possessions or a child were reminded to take care. When a dog went missing, Uncle Joey quipped that that would present no problem as there were undoubtedly plenty of trackers on site! And as I learned early on, performers and volunteers, of which I was one, were treated brilliantly. There was a space reserved for us - the Green room - to rest or rehearse, with the most gorgeous free food and drinks prepared fresh for us all day long.

Mullum Mullum Choir rehearsing in Green Room

You can see why I am determined to go again next year. The Belgrave Survival Day is a truly 'deadly' event. 

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Bad Santa: Handmade Christmas

'Although we found it to be an interesting read, unfortunately it is not quite right for publication in The Big Issue.'  As you can no doubt see, our veteran, lovingly hand-varnished Christmas tree bird was decidedly underwhelmed by this response to 'Bad Santa' (below). I'd love to hear your reaction!

I can remember the exact day Claribel arrived. It was a full two weeks before Christmas. Our ‘rich’ aunt in New Jersey, who knew exactly how much real American presents meant to her ‘poor’ Australian relations, always sent them early. When my younger sister, the lucky recipient, finally passed Claribel to me for a hold on Christmas morning I too was instantly smitten.
Claribel had creamy dappled fur, real eye lashes that lifted and lowered over her soft brown eyes, and a huge rubber udder with prominent teats. And best of all, each time her tail was lifted, she emitted the most doleful ‘moo’. Young city dwellers that we were, we just loved that cow. So much so that many years later, after noticing the perforations on her rubber udder, the bald patches on her fur and the fixed stare of her lash-less eyes, our mother took the unilateral decision to throw Claribel out, my sister and I were distraught. So I know all about the joys of mass-produced toys. And like everyone else back in the day, I was oblivious to the layers of wrapping paper, bubble wrap and cardboard that Claribel arrived in, the ‘toy miles’ she represented, the rubber and plastic she was made from, or the fact that her eventual permanent home would be in land fill. It has taken a long time for me to appreciate it, but our beloved cow could have been the poster child for Bad Santa.  
But times have changed. For one thing we no longer have rich relatives, American or otherwise. And these days, as adults, we are more likely to spot Bad Santa and avoid him where we can, especially where gift giving is concerned. So much so that one Christmas a few years ago our family decided to go cold turkey - make our own presents, re-gift or recycle them or buy them from poor third-world communities.
Emboldened by a big gift success the previous Christmas, I was one of the advocates for this change. I had donated money via Oxfam on behalf of my brother-in-law for construction of a toilet for villagers in a remote region of India. Having trekked in the area and being a plumber by trade, he said that it was the best Christmas present he had ever received.
So I was very cocky as the inauguration of our changed family Christmas gift regimen approached. A true zealot, with no concern for potential pitfalls, I decided to source all my presents from Oxfam. However, that confidence proved short-lived. My first mistake was presenting my 3-year-old great niece with the gift of a chicken for a child in India. Despite repeated explanations that there was no ‘actual’ chicken on site, this precipitated a lengthy disconsolate search of our back garden, culminating in an hysterical reaction to the poultry centrepiece at lunch - and that was just from the mother.
Then another of my favourite choices unravelled. I had bought my adolescent daughter a padded fabric jewellery roll made in Thailand. Initially a dead silence greeted the item’s emergence from its wrapping paper. What was it? Ignoring her elder brothers’ jibes of ‘mouse’s coffin’ and worse, my daughter smiled bravely as she gingerly untied the wrap’s ribbons. But as she lifted it up for general inspection, out flopped the long flaccid ring holder within, mortifying her and giving her brothers the biggest laugh of the day.
Following these experiences the group consensus was that the children in particular needed to be cut some slack. We decided that descendents of Claribel and her like could occasionally be offered a home, especially when they were second-hand or liberated from an op shop. We also officially welcomed parents’ gift suggestions for their children – although so far, sadly, no one has requested a jewellery roll. But I am a big fan of this year’s suggestion that non-parent adults give the child an IOU for an outing or activity (of any price or free) to be shared with them during the coming year.
As for the adults, our ‘reuse/handmade’ Kris Kringle (with its pact of no requirement for virtuosity of manufacture) is working well, coupled as it is with a donation to an organisation of choice. 
This year's KK 'in progress'

Personally I have greatly enjoyed this transition to handmade. I tend to opt for a theme, last year’s being succulents planted in a variety of pretty or zany objects. And I look forward to the day when a relative gets hooked on making ancient tools, because I really fancy the prospect of a bow and arrows awaiting me under the Christmas tree. Despite those lovely limpid eyes and the plaintive ‘moo’, I feel I have finally left Bad Santa and his dear poster child far behind.

Wreath - handmade of course!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Hazelwood: Au Revoir!

I had fully intended to go tonight, to meet up with the other protestors, also responding to the Greens' call, near the Rialto Building. We were to assemble there at 5.30. to give Engie, the French co-owners of Hazelwood, whose offices are located in the tower, one last push. The timing is crucial because a board meeting scheduled for early this week will make the final decision on closure of Australia's most polluting coal power station.

The Greens, in collaboration with other community groups including Friends of the Earth and the Environmental Defenders, as well as numerous concerned individuals, have been mounting a campaign for years now to have the power station closed. And to replace it with more sustainable, non-polluting job opportunities for the beleaguered residents of the Latrobe Valley.

I had intended as usual to take pictures of the protest, which I would post later tonight on this blog. But the elements have defeated me. My camera doesn't like the rain, and positively hates thunder, as do I. So, instead, to mark this final push, I decided to briefly revisit an earlier sun-drenched protest to present some of the key figures who have worked so hard for this imminent victory:

With the angels on our side

And god

With energetic committed new MPs

And savvy veterans

And with indomitable people power

No wonder a mere company like Engie will finally meet its match. Au Revoir Hazelwood!

Friday, September 09, 2016

Melbourne Observatory in the Spotlight

Melbourne's Observatory: not 'stand-alone', but simply part of the Botanic Gardens

Like so many millions of people, I have always found the stars fascinating.
I knew Melbourne had an observatory but I thought of it, as the signs above indicate, as a lesser- know aspect of the Botanic Gardens. It is certainly a poor cousin to its Sydney counterpart, located in all its glory in a stand-alone heritage sandstone building in the heart of the Rocks. With its wonderful old instruments and loving restoration, clearly the Sydney Observatory has received loads of funding and support over the years. No wonder it rates as one of Trip Adviser's Top Picks for Sydney.
When I learned, via Julianne Bell of Protectors of Public Lands, that our Melbourne Observatory was under threat, I was alarmed. Julianne had passed on the concerns of Dr Barry Clark, a great supporter of the Observatory, who feels that recent planning by the Botanic Gardens Board could further undermine the Observatory's integrity and put paid to its prospects for World Heritage status.
I decided to check the situation out. Within minutes of arriving at the Observatory site, I could see why Barry argues for its unique claim to fame.

Photoheliograph House & 8" South Equatorial House

These two buildings had been designed specifically with the Transit of Venus in mind. As the signage puts it: 'Never perhaps in the world's history, did morning dawn on so many waiting astronomers as it did on the the 9th of December 1874.' And Melbourne, at the time the world's southern-most observatory, was right in there, providing its own unique readings as Venus passed in front of the sun, as it does so very rarely.

Magnet House

Magnet House, constructed only with copper nails as iron nails might have undermined the readings of the house's instruments, was devoted to the study of planetary magnesium.

Astronomers' residence - thank you very much!

This lovely building, home to a succession of Government Astronomers, was part of the package for those highly valued members of the community.

Part of Observatory building abutted by information centre and cafe

Although Aboriginal astronomers had known about the stars for aeons, the settlers had lots to learn, and the Observatory building assumed a key role in that education. It provided star charts, crucial for ships bringing supplies to the colonies. Weather forecasting was part of its role, as was assisting with geographic charting of Victoria. And Observatory personnel even provided life-saving training in heavenly observation to others, such as the team on Douglas Mawson's expedition to the Antarctic.
Having immersed myself in its rich history, I really began to appreciate the unique charms of this under-rated site. I can only agree with the words of one of the signs: 'The buildings stand as testament to the history of our fascination with the stars and to the scientific achievements of the early colony of Victoria.'

I must confess that I know nothing about the resource issues, the politics or the constraints facing the administrators of the Royal Botanic Gardens.  However I can't help thinking that the proposed changes to the Observatory site, because of their significance, need a public airing. At least until I hear the other side of the argument, it is difficult not to conclude that having the site further subsumed within the structure of the Gardens would inevitably negate its unique place in Australia's history. 
This is probably a pipe dream, but how wonderful if the Melbourne Observatory could be returned to its former glory, independence and centrality, just like its rich cousin in Sydney!

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Candlelight Vigil Melbourne Parliament for Don Dale Kids

Tonight Melbournians gathered in freezing sombre clusters for a vigil on Parliament steps. Clasping our candles, we had joined this Aboriginal-initiated and led event to demonstrate solidarity with children in detention across Australia and in particular at Don Dale Detention Centre in Darwin.

The recent expose by the ABC's 4 Corners, featuring videos of children at Don Dale being tortured and abused - in one case hooded, Abu Ghraib-style, on a restraining chair - have sickened and shamed Australian viewers and sent shock waves internationally. The statistics are indisputable: while Indigenous Australians comprise slightly less than 3% of the total Australian population, half of all children in detention are Indigenous. And in the Northern Territory 95% of all children locked away are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.

This horrifying situation has spawned numerous protests across the country, of which the Melbourne Vigil is just one example. As Darwin's Don Dale campaign organiser, Matthew Bonson, put it so eloquently: 'Anything the Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people can do would be great for these young boys, soon to be young men, soon to be husbands, soon to be fathers. It really made a difference for us. I hope you turn out in force again... we need change for these boys.'

Unfortunately I had to leave the Vigil early, even before the music started. I only got to hear one speaker, who told the story of his own journey and his struggles with racism.

I don't know what followed but I imagine people talked about the Royal Commission and some of their reservations. After all, at their speediest, Royal Commissions tend to be slow in reaching conclusions, and children are suffering now, their futures sullied and hopes destroyed.
The larger problem of incarceration as the knee-jerk response to juvenile offenders, and the paucity of other options such as rehabilitation or community service, I'm sure, would also have been highlighted.

Tramming home after the Vigil, I kept hoping that the recent spotlight on the sufferings of the boys at Don Dale will lead to substantial improvements in the day-to-day life of its current inmates and of children in detention everywhere in Australia.  And also that government resources will at last be channeled into developing a range of alternatives to incarceration for children.  

Monday, April 25, 2016

PhotoMarathon Practice

Next Saturday 30 April is the big day. PhotoMarathon is being launched in Australia and the hosts are our very own Susanne and Michael Silver of Magnet Gallery.
How the marathon works is that, over the course of the day, participants report in to the gallery on three separate occasions. Each time they are given 3 previously undisclosed topics as subjects for their pictures. They are then let loose on the Melbourne CBD.
Everyone has to start the day with a fresh memory card,  and no 'post-production' like photoshop or cropping is allowed.  At the end of the day we all have to present 9 images exactly in the order allocated. All of the pictures will subsequently be put on display in the gallery and judges will choose some for special mention.
I am lucky to have a wonderful camera - a Fuji Film - but even though I have owned it for over a year now, I still find it technically intimidating. So I decided to put the Anzac day holiday to good use by having a practice run for Saturday.
I asked my partner, Peter, to come up with 9 topics, none of which I saw in advance or influenced him to include - I promise - and then I headed off on the train. His topics were 'light', 'happiness', 'windows', 'speed', 'weariness', 'doorway', 'cold', 'corner' and 'friendship'. I only had half the time that will be available next Saturday. This was actually a good thing because - as you will soon see- I faded early. Here is what I came up with:




Weariness (my selfie)

 Cold:I know it's a long bow, but I reckon you could be if your shoes ended up suspended rather than on your feet


I had a lot of fun doing this exercise, and  I wonder what I would have come up with had I moved beyond the one city block I found myself occupying!  
Watch this space to see how next Saturday's real PhotoMarathon unfolds. 

UPDATE: Sadly, I fell at the first hurdle. 
My wonderful camera started shooting continuously. Although I have now discovered it is a simple matter to rectify, on the day I sat in Exhibition Street trying to sort it out for a whole hour. Finally, realising that I had missed the deadline to collect the second set of images, I gave up. I walked glumly to the nearest tram stop, and managed to avoid all eye contact with my fellow passengers all the way home. Next year...  

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Only in Fitzroy... or Southern Namibia: Emma McEnvoy's Sand Castles

'Sand castles'

Just last night, at the closure of our 'No Lilies' Photo Exhibition at Magnet Galleries in the CBD, we photographers were talking about alternative ways to showcase our work. That's when someone mentioned a unique exhibition opening off Brunswick Street today. It only took a reminder from my son Alix and his partner Jode this afternoon and I was off. This was the view that confronted me as I locked up my bike near the venue:

Classic inner-city street art

And that's when I noticed a long snaking queue of adults and kids waiting patiently, and not so patiently, to enter Emma McEvoy's 'Sand Castles' photo exhibtion:

The venue

The artist, who was stationed to greet guests at the entrance to the soon-to-be-demolished house explained how she had lucked on such a perfect setting for her exhibition.

Emma McEvoy

McEvoy's extraordinary images were taken in Southern Namibia, where she travelled to photograph the ghost town of Kobmanskop. The town features many examples of traditional German architecture, built by and for German miners who came to the area hunting for diamonds. But when the diamonds disappeared so too did the miners, leaving their houses to fill with sand as the desert inexorably reclaimed its own.
McEvoy wanted to hang her pictures in just such a sand-filled place and when she saw a developer's sign on a house she asked the developer if he knew of any space she could use. He generously offered this very house for a 'pop-up' exhibition in advance of its demolition this coming Tuesday. The artist seized the opportunity and in so doing created the perfect setting for her photos. I'm sure I'm not the only one overawed and inspired by this demonstration of ingenuity and entrepreneurial flair.

That the exhibition and the story behind it has captured the popular imagination was evident in the droves of people who changed their weekend plans to include an impromptu visit to Fitzroy beach. And did the kids love playing in that sand!  Congratulations Emma.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Close of No Lilies: Women and Work Photo Exhibition

Cleaning, Havana

The 6th annual fundraiser exhibition by women photographers in honour of International Women's Day opened on 3 March at Magnet Galleries in the Melbourne CBD. Thanks to Susanne and Michael Silver, the gallery owners, for their vision.

I was delighted to be invited to participate, to join Pam Davison, Margot Sharman, Helga Leunig, Ilana Rose, Jill Frawley, Cheryl Lucy, Wendy Currie, Judith Crispin, Joyce Evans, Carole Hampshire, Maggie Diaz, Susan Henderson and Amy Feldtmann, who produced a fascinating diversity of images in response to the theme.

After I got over the stress, opening night was great. It was a thrill to be in such company and to be buoyed up by the loving support of the family and friends who managed to attend. It was a real buzz to join the crowd looking at my fellow photographers' work and to discuss my own pictures with a range of different people. And I loved the fact that my kids were so proud of my efforts.

Listening to Bronwyn Halfpenny MP who launched No Lilies (photo courtesy Gina Perry)

Much as I would like to talk about everybody's work, space doesn't permit. So here is the artist's statement and 5 other photos of mine (number 6 is the header) that were in the exhibition:

  Sue Jackson is a photojournalist with a particular interest in social justice and environmental activism.

 Sue also loves food, particularly of the fresh, organic variety, and those who grow it. But as any departure from the inner city tends to bring on light-headedness, Sue’s particular interest is the numerous urban dwellers worldwide who are farming their streets.

With 70% of its food produced within city limits on footpaths, balconies, bathtubs, windowsills, even buckets and in community gardens of every description, Havana proved a ‘must’ on her travel itinerary. ‘Home Grown Havana’ is a picture of the tiny stall for city-grown bananas on the corner near her hotel in downtown Havana. ‘Cleaning, Havana’ (header) is a picture of Claribel who always had the entire outdoor dining area spotless before hotel guests arrived to breakfast on their locally-grown tropical fruit platters.

Much closer to home, in fact within a mere 10 kilometres of the Melbourne CBD, the old public housing suburb of Heidelberg West is home to a small cluster of farmlets, run by the ‘Hoodies’. This inspiring group of young permaculturalists are living ‘almost self-sufficient lives’ amidst an array of vegie gardens, fruit trees, worm farms, bees, rabbits, chooks, ducks and, of course, their beloved goats.
‘Goat herders Heidelberg West (1) and (2) captures two of the hoodies tending to their ‘girls’.

Sue was the unofficial blogger/photographer for the successful campaign against the environmentally disastrous East-West Link project that was dumped by the incoming Victorian Labor Government at the end of 2014. The daily Tunnel pickets, integral to the campaign’s success, started earlier and earlier. ‘Keeping the Peace’ captures a police officer, guarding a test-drilling site at 5am, asleep on her feet.
‘Disturbing the Peace’ is a photo taken at last year’s ‘Reclaim Australia’ rally where the police, and their horses, acted as a barrier between the ‘reclaimers’ and their many opponents.

Sadly 'No Lilies' had to come to an end. And last night proved a fitting farewell. We all sat together at a long table in the darkened gallery sharing great food, wine, conviviality and talking about why we do what we do. And why we will never stop.