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Showing posts with the label Australia

New Kevin

This week another politician sent me an email just to say hi. Kevin Rudd wanted to let me know about his new site, Kevin PM. Australia's prime minister said he'll
be using the site to speak frankly with you about the big challenges facing Australia; the global economy, education, climate change, and the health of Australians, but just as importantly it will enable me to hear your ideas for the direction of the nation.
It all sounds very exciting, but when you click through it's a bit thin. You get a welcome video that farewells the Kevin 07 site with some fair dinkum guitar strumming that Aussie politicians envoke as their soundtrack of the genuine. It's always a danger with putting up a new site that has little content that users will switch off, particularly when the Kevin 07 site so successfully riled the Opposition.

As videos go though it's a reasonable waste of a minute of your life and you might even post it on Facebook for Kevin's cheery "G'day&quo…

Crikey, it's a blog

Last week, Australian web darling Crikey soft-launched its blog network. Crikey has delivered up-to-the-second news and gossip on the web and by email for years, so why go in for a blog now? What does a blog give you that you can't see on a comment-enabled web article?

The boundaries between blogs and 'real media' are too blurry to tell. Just go visit the blog-based Huffington Post which like Crikey often scoops traditional media and gives better commentary and opinion than traditional papers. Crikey have pulled over their big name contributors to support the new venture like Guy Rundle's popular coverage of the US election and their must-read cartoonist for First Dog on the Moon with a chat about favourite animals.

Crikey has been one of the few Australian web outfits to have success with subscriber content. Their site is a mix of free content and 'read more with membership' articles, including Rundle08. But with the blogging platform, they're giving away th…

Neverending festivals

Missed Sedaris at the festival? Wanted to see what Watson is like in the flesh? Over at Slow TV they've put a couple of festival sessions online so the festival can keep going. These readings by Watson and Sedaris (more inflight fun) kick off with David Rakoff, a Canadian working his way into America.

The three readings make an interesting sketch of the States by outsiders who get a better view with distance.

Slow TV is the video version of The Monthly, a magazine that relishes the longer form and gives Australian politics, culture and society a regular examination. Slow TV grabs lectures, debates and talks that last longer than the YouTube attention span. With broadband take-up creeping over 50% in Australia, Slow TV is one of the few Australian outfits creating content for a new audience.

Another festival is looming with the National Young Writers' Festival program up. This year marks ten years of the festival and they've produced Herding Kites, an anthology of writing from…

Festival 2.0

"Being a gatekeeper was a great gig," Margaret Simons told the Melbourne Writers Festival crowd, "but it's over." The session was once called Buyer Beware but later Where are the Gatekeepers? - about the rise of bloggers with Simons joined by Anthony Loewenstein and John Quiggan.

In both these session names bloggers don't fare well. Either as a commodity of dubious value or something to be kept outside the gates. With conservative estimates at 112 million blogs worldwide, the barbarians are well and truly inside the gates. Quiggan has his own interesting response to the topic (including the line from The Aussie 'we understand Newspoll because we own it') which is more articulate than anything I can add.

It's interesting the role of blogging in a festival. Live blogging can create not only a new audience but give greater feedback to include mumbles from the crowd. The Guardian's Charlotte Higgins gave it a go during Edinburgh's festival sea…

The Ten Dollar Sandwich

It's Cheap Eats review time again. I've been reviewing for them for about five years, but this year I'm finding that inflation has pushed a lot of places out of the $30 for 2-courses category. Waiters shrug and mumble about fuel prices and troubles on the land, but there's been a slow creep.

It started with the humble sandwich. With the discovery of the focaccia, bread-based meals jumped the $5 mark. Cafe owners warmed to the idea like the slabs of bread pressed under a griller and soon you could get the Italian bread in almost every two-bit place for a price of seven bits. A couple of iterations followed - the baguette, the panini and the wrap - nudging the price up a dollar or so each, but no-one ever thought they'd actually break the ten buck limit. It was the hospitality equivalent of the sound barrier.

I thought there would have to be some new innovation to do it: styling sandwiches into a dosa cone or throwing on an unecessary side dish ('Do you want a side…

Melbourne Festival of Travel Writing

The very first Melbourne Festival of Travel Writing is on soon and has a great program from Brian Thacker dossing globally with couchsurfing to Tony Wheeler tackling the ever-thorny issue of Burma.


Between the Lines

When writer/illustrator Bruce Mutard heard that his publisher wouldn’t be releasing his first comic, Street Smell, he didn’t give up. “I was naturally disappointed but self-publication was always an option,” Mutard says. “My dad helped me out as I didn’t have enough money but I just wanted to get it out there.”
Distributing it through the zine networks of the early 1990s, Mutard produced the comic for four years under his own steam, learning to write and draw as he went along. “I wanted to do it on my own terms. I wanted to tell the stories I wanted to tell. They weren’t commercial. They weren’t genre and couldn’t be easily pigeonholed so the perks of fame and fortune never came my way, but I doggedly stuck to my guns.”
With the release of his 250-page graphic novel, The Sacrifice, Mutard has both guns blazing. The first of three ambitious volumes, the book follows Robert Wells, a pacifist who finds himself gradually drawn into World War II. The book has already drawn comparisons with…

Son of Booktown

In southern Scotland there's a town that's worth visiting for the name alone. Wigtown was once a royal burgh of the Machars of Galloway, which explains the grandness of this tiny town with its large central green presided over by a library. When the town's Creamery and distillery closed down some locals thought it was all over for the village. Others looked to the library.

When I visited the town had renewed itself from economic woe by becoming a booktown with secondhand sellers of every genre crowding around the green. It was an easy drive from Edinburgh and Glasgow, but also doable for the more intrepid Southerner especially if they wanted to snap up a hard-to-find comic or collectible volume. I left with volumes that would over-burden my baggage allowance and cause a frantic Heathrow re-packing.

In Australia, the small post-gold rush town of Clunes has taken a leaf out of Wigtown's folio with 2008 marking 'Back to Booktown', the second year of a bibliophilic e…

Bring out the good China

I'm off to China for a semi-business trip and I'm reading the excellent book by Ouyang Yu , On the Smell of an Oily Rag in preparation. It's loaded with cross-cultural references and observations of what it is to be a Chinese Australian. My favourite cultural confusion so far is that the Yahoo! search engine is mixed up with the Chinese ya hu meaning an elegant tiger.

The introduction makes an interesting point about our cultural exchange: China purchases 50,000 titles from the West every year, while the West returns the favour by buying only 2000 titles. The imbalance is surprising. With the Chinese diaspora and the increasing interest in all things Olympic, you'd expect a few more titles to come our way. Apparently not.

Ouyang's book approaches both audiences and hopefully isn't an example of another of my favourite Chinese expressions: dui niu tanqin, which according to The Meaning of Tingo means "to play the lute to a cow".

Drought buoys town

In the midst of Australia's drought, many small towns were frightened of disappearing completely. Only one re-appeared.

Falling water levels in Lake Eucumbene saw the shores of the man-made lake revealed ghosts of its past. Old forests poked their way out of the water (below) and local fisherfolk hooked rusted pieces of machinery as often as the celebrated trout.
The small town of Adaminaby was moved to make way for the Snowy Mountains Scheme. In 1957 most of the towns 100 buildings were picked up and plonked roughly 50km from whre they were originally built. Along with Jindabyne and Talbingo, the tiny township would be flooded to make way for the hydro-electric scheme that still supplies power to NSW and neighbouring states.


The towns re-emegence has seen new tourists going out to sift through the ruins buried in the long grass along the water's edge. The foundations of St Mary's Church have returned spooky some superstitious folk who think it's more than a coincidence t…

The Mouse that Roared

It was television that shutdown Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s. Jumpcutting between a mean-faced senator and a falsely accused US serviceman, the See It Now TV program brought the power of a new media against McCarthy.
Flashforward to our own election with jumpcuts between perspectives as Kevin Rudd interrupts the TV ad in which Howard brands him a unionist. Howard quickly YouTubes back with “Grow Up Mr Rudd”, hitting the remote and pausing KRudd so he can give him a stern talking-to. Both ads use the web to switch off the old media of TV.
But can netizens engage with Australian politics? Kevin07 gives a good impression of interaction. An estimated 25,000 Kmails and texts were sent out when the election was called, urging “Ruddrats” to enrol to vote. In political product placement, Kevin07 posts photos of T-shirted supporters in front of Uluru or the Taj Mahal, plus there’s a blog, petition and Facebook page. Rudd’s MySpace page features a snappy music…