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Street Fighting Man

Published in Sydney’s Neighbourhood paper November 2017

Street Fighting Man – Lanz Priestly was the leader of the Martin Place occupation by the homeless of Sydney. He’s ready for the next battle.

Lanz Priestly was ‘the Mayor of Tent City’, the leader of the Martin Place occupation by the homeless of Sydney. He’s ready for the next battle.

Lanz Priestly’s office has one of the best views in Sydney. Sydney Harbour occupies the foreground, to the left the Coathanger and a massive cruise ship; to the right, the colliding shells of the Opera House.

There are no walls, windows or wi-fi, but it does have natural air-conditioning. Poised above Circular Quay it also has a view of the Sirius Building, which Priestly eyes speculatively from his berth beside the humming Cahill Expressway.

“We’re not necessarily looking at buildings as the solution that we’re gonna put on the table,” Priestly says of his plans for Sydney’s homeless, after their Tent City in Martin Place was shut down by the state government in August Correct.

“There’s a couple of ferries being made redundant, we’re making overtures about those. There are other wasted commercial spaces; car parks, train stations they’re so keen to sell off. But here we are discussing options and we’re looking straight at the Sirius building over there. I could take you there right now and show you entire streets of empty houses that are owned by the state government. There’s all this social housing and no explanation as to why we can’t use it.”

Priestly, dubbed ‘the Mayor of Tent City’ by the Daily Telegraph, is homeless himself; since Tent City was moved he’s chosen the Quay as his chief residence.

He received a lot of negative press after coming to public attention as a self-appointed leader of the homeless. The Australian newspaper published a story revealing his colourful past including violent criminal charges, jail time and allegations raised about his previous employment claims.

If some of his stories can seem far-fetched, the fact remains that he’s become a viable and radically creative advocate for the homeless in an environment that previously held little hope for change. The standoff at Tent City forced the NSW government and Sydney City Council into public dialogue about homelessness that elevated the issue –and Priestly, sometimes known as Priestley – into front page headlines.

While the NSW Government claims a record investment of $1.1 billion to tackle homelessness in its 2017/18 budget, the demand for homelessness services has risen by 30 percent in the past three years. Rental stress is affecting over 75 percent of lower income households in NSW, as NGOs scramble to cope. The terrible truth is many families, and older women with unsecure incomes are only one economic crack away from falling into life on the streets. Mostly people just try to get on with life and hope it won’t ever happen.

Priestly scoffs at the business models of major homelessness charities, part of what he scornfully calls ‘the poverty industry’. “The organisations involved are too endemically attached to the problem,” he says. “Their vested interest is to grow their businesses.”

He cites CEO sleep-outs designed to convince the heads of large corporates to donate more. “They’re supposed to be pretty hard-nosed businessmen but every year they’re told ‘the problem’s getting worse, so we need more funding’ and every year they buy it. Imagine if they ran their businesses like that.

“We need to hit the existing methodologies on the head,” Priestly says. “We need to say, ‘If the problem’s getting bigger, if we’re not looking for a zero problem solution then your solutions aren’t working.’”

‘The Office’, as Priestly calls the Circular Quay bench he sleeps on, has a power connection so he can charge his phone; the instrument with which he coordinates a not-for-profit 24/7 homelessness survival operation of (quote?) some influence and reach..

Back in March 2017 I spent my first day with him (at Tent City) (in the CBD – this prior to Tent City) and was astounded by the variety and breadth of his networks, the respect he was accorded by social workers, nuns and police. Today, months later, in the aftermath of the Martin Place occupation, he’s planning further autonomous solutions to a problem that no amount of money, NGOs or government bodies seem able to deal with. His methodologies are challenging perceptions about the nature of homelessness, the way problem is being handled and even the homeless themselves.

“On the Thursday night before we shut Tent City down there were 35 people that got up in the morning and went to work,” he says. “Over three days I counted 58% of the people living there worked full time.”

By contrast, the City of Sydney’s (most recent) registry survey for 2015 found that of 516 homeless people surveyed only nine per cent were employed.

But Priestly, a former construction project manager who still does maintenance work and organises teams of rough-sleeping furniture removalists, says the first misconception about the homeless is that they’re shiftless and lazy – the second being that they’re lost and lonely causes.

“In eight months we had over 800 people through Tent City. We had a churn rate of as high as 20 percent a week, so it wasn’t like people were settling in. A lot of them were people we’d never seen before. And they tend to be the people you get off the streets really quickly.

“They knew exactly where the cracks were that they fell through and guess what? They fixed it up themselves. They didn’t need any input from us. There was food, shelter, somewhere they could leave their things in safety. They had all those things in one place, which frees them up to go and get themselves out of the shit.  A lot of those people are coming back to help too.

“The reality is without Tent City or a replacement people simply don’t have anywhere to get these resources and help themselves.”

Priestly maintains that a sense of community was integral to the formation of Tent City and the ongoing activities he oversees. “There’s no committee, but people have shared concerns. I can’t possibly do all the stuff myself. If I put it out there; this is what needs to be done, people put their hands up.

“Even today, I’m sitting here talking but there’s furniture being moved to homes we’ve found (for homeless people). Two of the guys are couriers, one has a delivery business, they ring me and say where they are and ask what we have that needs picking up that can go to their next destination.

“By the time today’s over, since we shut Tent City down, we’ll have furnished 97 houses, as far north as Woy Woy, out Maroubra way, Campbelltown… On Sunday I did one in St Marys, another one in Revesby today, so it’s all over the place.”

In the wake of Tent City Priestly claims his community has housed 212 people while the Department of Housing found accommodations for about 136, but failed to create the sense of community that sustains viable living arrangements.

Organising community barbeques is one of the communal activities Priestly has instigated to help stabilize rehoused individuals and families. “The BBQs are just one part of it,” he says. “In some of the estates where there are a reasonable number of children we’re looking at breakfast programmes in conjunction with homework assistance for kids that have problems with school work. That’s not hard to put together.”

He cites the example of his own daughter, who he says lived for seven years on the streets alongside him while attending an elite private school. She now has, he says, her own family and manages a medical centre from home in the eastern suburbs.

Priestly is concerned that despite such success stories, any work he does is a temporary fix. “What we’re doing is dealing with (homelessness) after the fact. In order to stop it, we actually have to reach behind and turn off the tap. What we need to be looking at is taking housing out of the commodities basket.

“People would be shocked to hear me quoting Menzies but in his time as (Liberal) Prime Minister he took housing home ownership from 25 percent for people over 20 to 75 percent when he retired as PM and he did that all through social housing. Social housing, in his mode,l encouraged people to buy and Singapore liked his model so much that they copied it and their model today is one of the best in the world.

“Today I wonder just how different people who are renting are from people who are homeless.

“Most people who are renting don’t know whether they’re gonna be able to stay there for more than six months, whether they’ll have to move house at the whim of their landlord. Last time I did the math I worked out it cost about $4,000 every time you moved.”

“The power of the free market puts people in a position where they have to work two full time jobs just to keep themselves housed – that keeps people far too busy to engage in community, too busy to engage in their family. But if we want to fix the things that society finds problematic then we need to do it as a community.

“We need to get over the idea that getting government to do anything will ever work.”

Priestly’s ideas may be contentious; he’s accused by News.com of inciting ‘class war’ and his latest passion is the Disrupt 2017 movement, which aims to create “media stunts and antics across Australia to expose the corporate profiteers abusing human and animal rights, creating war and destruction across the planet”.

But the facts are on his side. Funnily enough, so is Jenny Smith, CEO of the peak NGO body, Homelessness Australia – at least to an extent. Smith says that amidst wage stagnation and the massive inflation of capital city rents, many low-income earners are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing, while one in every 85 Australians are now homeless.

“At the Federal level we’re not seeing the leadership that we need,” she told the Neighbourhood. “While the government is talking about the problem absolutely nothing is being done. There is still no plan and we still haven’t had any additional investment in housing or homelessness from the Federal government.”

A Family and Community Services (FACS) spokesperson told the Neighbourhood that claims that the NSW Government is not invested in reducing homelessness are inaccurate and unfair. In fact, the spokesperson emphasised the agency’s role in attempting to mitigate the problem, which was attributed to “domestic violence, unemployment, mental illness, family breakdown and drug and alcohol abuse”.

But an increase of 35 percent in homelessness services clients over the past four years in NSW does seem to underscore Smith and Priestly’s observations that external economic factors could well be the root cause, rather than the symptoms which FACS attributes it to.

Smith says that only fundamental policy change can shift this intractable issue. “It’s very clear the federal government needs to change its taxation settings in relation to capital gains tax and negative gearing. We treat investors better than we treat people on low incomes.”

She chuckles at the suggestion that autonomous movements can provide a solution. “Things like Tent City are protests and I don’t think anybody is proposing them as a viable alternative, but they bring to the public’s attention the inexorable fact that more and more people every day are finding themselves without a home. Just in the last year nationally 23,000 more came to our services looking for help. We’re turning away hundreds of people every day.”

Priestly, however, maintains NGOs are part of the problem.

“There’s a place called The Station (a government-funded drop-in centre) that barred me because of Tent City. The CEO said we were trying to undermine their business, but they shut at three in the afternoon and we were trying to provide all the services they don’t.”

Priestly is equally scathing about groups such as Bill Crews’ Exodus Foundation. “He originally set up in Ashfield as the destination to … suck up all the homeless out of the city. Didn’t work then and it’s not going to work now.

“We need something that’s a maximum of a ten-minute walk from the city circle railway stations. That transport link [is] absolutely vital. People who become destabilized and without a roof over their heads, a lot of those people have jobs that could be anywhere. The travel time added for most people to get to work is eliminated if we put it in the city.”

In the meantime, Priestly says there has been “zero meaningful engagement” from Council or government over the fate of the evictees from Tent City. “The level of engagement that we’ve seen is just them trying to ascertain what we’re up to,” he says.

Priestly claims he spoke to Clover Moore in person just prior to the forced eviction of Tent City. “She made a commitment to find (a permanent site for a homelessness community). No particular building or even a particular location was discussed,” he says of that meeting. “The opportunity to reach that point in those discussions was to a certain extent preempted by Berejiklian bringing in those laws with the speed she brought them in.

“Clover Moore then announced that the council would spend $100,000 and the state government also put up $100,000. In the wider scheme of things, $200,000 that’s catering to 100 people – how does that work? Where was she gonna put it? In a matchbox?”

That promise is yet to be fulfilled, while the homeless camp at Wentworth Park in Glebe is reportedly in imminent danger of being cleared out. Priestly says that this kind of uncertainty and prevarication is having an immediate impact on rough sleepers.

“There was an almost immediate increase in the number of homeless guys that have been bashed and robbed, including a guy who was hospitalized and nearly killed.

“One of the things I’m seeing is people really run down, just by virtue of having to carry their gear everywhere with them. It’s one of the important unseen things. I‘ve been on at [Sydney] Council for fifteen years to establish decent lockers, so that the guys can leave their gear there and go about doing things that enable them to get off the street. Doesn’t exist.”

In the absence of government action, Priestly says he has no option but to carry on with autonomous solutions. “Through social enterprise we’re now starting to see disruptive models emerging,” he says. “People in that space understand the concept of vanishing point models and that we should be setting up structures that have a vanishing point aim.”

He has specific ideas about what form this will take.

“There are people from some religious organisations I’m quite happy to work with. When we open our new centre there will be groups that helped out at Martin Place that will be part of that.

“The area we’re looking at is parts of Surry Hills that fit the picture. The building configurations there are more what we need. Not that we can’t fit into a skyscraper if we have to. We need outdoor space but it’s not hard to find a few metres of outdoor space in a high rise.”

In the meantime he’s getting on with a rigorous daily schedule.

“At the moment it’s very mundane. It’s about maintaining the guys that are on the street, it’s about getting furniture into houses. We’ve got nine vehicles running around today picking up furniture, taking it from those that don’t want it to people that do.”

Priestly consults his phone, a clear message that it’s time to wind up.

“Well, in two hours nothing’s gone wrong,” he says. “It’s usually people can’t find places, or washing machines can’t fit in buildings… there’s always something.

“At this stage we’re low key. We’re getting a footprint out there and everything we do is crowd sourced, y’know? So there’s an element of the community that is aware of what we’re doing and are supporting it. Let’s see what happens from there.”

“My end game is to go fishing,” he says, “problem solved. And I don’t have to do this anymore.”

Journalism

Sustainability struggles for its place in the Queensland sun – published September 18 in The Fifth Estate

Sustainability struggles for its place in the Queensland sun

Queensland – sustainability superpower or developer’s dream?

Google ‘Queensland’s future’ and you’ll be inundated by government and soft media sites promising a sleek, modern sunshine state.

You’ll find the ‘Queensland Plan’, a 103 page aspirational document whose 30-year sustainability vision is based on startling growth projections and climate change challenges.

You might linger over the Department of Energy and Water Supply’s target for One Million Rooftops to have solar installations by 2020. Or marvel at the Chief Scientist’s forward-looking appraisal of appropriate urban design and integrated floodwater management.

If you pay their digital subscription fee there’s a feast of features in the (Murdoch-owned) Courier Mail, breathlessly enthusing over how Queensland’s burgeoning population are being funnelled into carefully planned suburban corridors guaranteeing security and prosperity for all.

The Palaszczuk Government has ordained its Advance Queensland initiative as a $420 million driver of economic growth, employment and innovation projects. It seems a carefully calculated agenda; a big push across political divides to promote Queensland and Brisbane in particular as a glamorous flagship for sustainable developments and planning responses to climate change.

Such a concerted online presence invariably sets journalist’s alarm bells ringing. It prompts an analysis of what comprises an authentic drive for sustainable modernity and what might go the way of Tony Abbott’s desire to be the ‘infrastructure’ Prime Minister.

An opulent example is the planned $2.5 billion entertainment precinct at the Roma St Railyards, the brainchild of entrepreneur Harvey Lister. It’s a high-profile embrace of hi-tech, hi-life futurama, but amidst this big-spending optimism Greens councillor Johnathon Sri sounds a warning note;

“The problem with this whole construction boom is the profits are only flowing to a fairly small class of people, so ordinary Brisbanites aren’t really benefitting. The same goes for a lot of the infrastructure projects, where private companies are getting overpaid to deliver infrastructure.”

Queensland is certainly faced with formidable challenges. It’s set for massive growth, with the population at 6.14 million and rising. South Brisbane’s population is expected to treble as it welcomes 18,000 newcomers by 2031. It’s not alone.

Ipswich’s Ripley Valley will swell to 76,637 by 2031, with Ipswich itself doubling in size to 520,000 residents by 2041, to almost the size of the Gold Coast. Satellite towns like Logan and Moreton Bay will also double their populations by 2031, while Greater Brisbane’s will rise to 2.95 million.

The massive suburban developments are expected to be big employers, with 20,000 new jobs promised for the Ripley Valley building boom. But while the developments go up, Queensland’s extensive coastline and tropical climate will remain vulnerable to the worst outcomes of climate change.

The entire state is effectively in a cyclone belt, prone to storm surges and intense rainfall events. The 2011 Brisbane flood showed how much havoc the subtropical monsoon, amplified by warming oceans and inland drought, can wreak.

Scientists from the University of Queensland warn that new research shows a high likelihood of further such events, requiring mitigation planning of a sophisticated order.

Climate Scientist Andy Pittman of UNSW warns of the dangers of new constructions that aren’t future-proofed.

“When a category 5 storm comes through the Gold Coast it will be catastrophic. That’s not a climate change signal because they’ve been through before, but we haven’t built the Gold Coast to be resilient to cyclones.”

Brisbane, like any modern Australian city, is a vast construction site, constantly under development. Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk told the Courier Mail it’s in the process of redeveloping a massive “world-class transport infrastructure” including a new $944 million metro system and “90 congestion-busting road projects’’.
This big spending is emblematic of the state’s bustling economy, which earned $62.6 billion dollars in exports in 2015-16, becoming the nation’s highest export earner. A 23 per cent boom in domestic tourism delivered another $75 million to the local economy.
Another corollary is that Queensland’s public service is the fastest growing in the country, with public sector wages double those across the rest of Australia.

As planners takes steps to establish Brisbane’s international reputation alongside Sydney and Melbourne, they’ve issued a Brisbane City Centre Master Plan. The grandest feature of this (non-statutory) guideline is its aesthetic for new buildings in the CBD, emphasising an embrace of the subtropical climate. Eschewing traditional air-conditioned ‘eskies’ it emphasises the sustainability benefits of opening up walls and windows, using vertical and rooftop planters to create a ‘lush urban environment that attracts investment and tourism, celebrates our lifestyle and stimulates economic activity’.

It has its exemplar in the ambitious ‘building that breathes’ envisioned by top design firm Architectus at 443 Queen St, where ‘clusters of screened pavilions forming fluted columns’ will be embedded in Brisbane’s skyline by 2020.

These kinds of constructions fit the bill for a New World City glowingly described by Courier Mail columnist Greg Clark, an author and globalization expert, in a recent op-ed.

He emphasizes the role of exponential technologies to host future business sectors in agri-tech, sustainable energy, digital media, smart systems and urban design.

In short it’s an endorsement of the Palasczcuk’s Government’s bid for leadership in the New World City pecking order, a euphemism for muscling in on the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry, the throwdown of the new kid on the block.

There’s a telling paragraph about the ambitions of Queensland’s growing regional capitals in the Department of Energy’s blurb for its ‘Solar 150’ initiative;

“During the 21st century no other state will have as many large cities as Queensland. Sure, more people will continue to live in Sydney and Melbourne than in Brisbane. But Queensland dominates with more cities in the nation’s Top 20.”

Certainly its solar initiative has tangible successes, boasting that Queensland has the highest number of installations in Australia. You have to ask how many of the 425,000 households already connected did so despite the Federal and state government’s disinclination to support renewables while publicly endorsing coal-fired energy.

This enthusiasm for renewables seems a little disingenuous when set against the Palsczcuk Government’s fervent backing of the controversial Adani Carmichael project, which financial analysts have decried as untenable. The Climate Change Council of Australia has stated that the project will put the 2,300km-long ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef at extreme risk of extinction and will create billions of tonnes of pollution, use billions of litres of groundwater and push Australia’s carbon budget to its limit.

While the Queensland Plan is upfront about many of Queensland’s future trials, it’s rather light on detail as to exactly how these will be addressed. It discusses planning frameworks and long-term focus but remains a speculative public relations document whose aspirations to sustainability are not shared by resident’s action groups.

Elizabeth Handley of Brisbane Residents United says that the free market approach to development means there is a regulatory failure where developers have a free hand.

“The government would say that they have looked at climate change but you’ve just got to look at some of the developments they’re approving. For instance Queens Wharf, where one of the proposals is for building out into the river further. The Brisbane River is a serious river, when it floods it floods very badly. So the last thing you would think that any responsible government would do would be allow a narrowing of that river.”

Steve MacDonald of the Redlands 2030 group says the absence of governmental oversight means that the proposed Toonda Harbor development in Redlands is;

“… revisiting something that might have been possible in the 1960s. This sort of development has been banned in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.”

The project would mean building on mangroves in Moreton Bay, removing natural defenses that stop storm surges and flooding inland, as well as providing vital reservoirs of biodiversity and nesting grounds.

“There was no cost benefit analysis done, the land involved is acid sulphate soils, it’s a RAMSAR (wetland of international importance) area and a residential community,” says Macdonald.

He maintains it’s a legacy from the Newman government that’s been worsened by the current regime.

“The Newman government introduced Priority Development areas and councils were allowed to nominate projects that had been caught up in red tape. They planned about 800-1000 units on the land. After the change of government a new framework for development was struck where it allowed 3600 apartments.”

Elizabeth Handley contends that the new planning legislations remove any community input or right of redress from dodgy developments.

“Whatever the council decides, that’s it, you just have to live with it. So they’ve removed the rights of people commenting on a development but they’re approving developments that don’t comply with the codes. That’s a planning system that is really out of whack.”

Greens Councillor Johnathon Sri says some of these glamorous, high-end developments are deleterious to Brisbane’s inner city communities.

“I think the Queens Wharf Casino is probably one of the best examples of what’s going wrong with Brisbane’s idea of progress. This is a huge project on twelve hectares of river front land that’s been given over to several thousand new apartments, a couple of thousand new hotel rooms, poker machines and table games, so the whole business model revolves around problem gambling.

“In contrast that land could have been developed as river front parkland or a new education precinct. It’s almost like the political establishment don’t have a vision of how to develop Brisbane sustainably in a way that doesn’t revolve around giving more power and profit to multinational corporations.”

Peter Skinner, the Head of Applied Research and Design at Architectus stresses that there are always going to be growing pains with a major city, but that there are ways to bring the community with you.

“I understand the development in the city creates concern and people who have a house and lifestyle are eager that they remain unchanged, but change is necessary because our cities in Queensland are sprawling way too far.

“We need to find ways to reconfigure our middle ring suburbs to enable more people to live there, so they’re in striking distance of work and shops. It’s now possible to double or treble the population in those suburbs and to improve the transport systems and green space. My interest is how to do that well.”

Skinner’s concern is that Queensland’s Housing codes and emphasis on speedy development are ruining Brisbane’s green amenity.

“In all the recent development proposals you’ll see the area available to building is increasing, the areas available to cars is increasing and the area that remains for trees and people is diminishing very rapidly. The Queensland housing code does nothing to protect open green space,” he says.

“By contrast the NSW medium density design guidelines insist on planting areas on every private block of land, at the back and the front. Often 40 per cent of the site is open space, the rear is twenty metres from the building across the way. If these guidelines were applied in Queensland they’d provide a much better urban environment. Our codes have no restriction on the floor area of buildings, no setback requirements and ludicrously small open space requirements. This all adds up to the fact that building codes are encouraging the death of green space in the city.”

Between the macro and micro ends of the sustainability scale there is some room for agility by business innovators. Environmental Upgrade Agreements (EUA’s) are a means of funding sustainability upgrades tied into deals on council rates. Incorp, who have had successful EUA’s with corporations like Westpac and Vodafone, are currently in a deal with the Queensland government over its 13,000 square metre tenancy for its Department of Environmental and Heritage Protection at 400 George Street in Brisbane.

There is anecdotal evidence, particularly coming from the Sunshine Coast and Whitsundays of councils stepping up to meet sustainability challenges. The Sunshine Coast Council have been working hard to lift the bar in their own footprint by building a 15MW solar farm and implementing world leading waste systems. There’s a sense of a commitment to mastering smart city technologies and become more efficient in planning, mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change.

Striking a balance between development and sustainability needs to be more than an aspiration of the Queensland Plan. If a government is pushing for better outcomes then industry generally goes with them and developers have shareholders that seek to hold them to account. It seems like it’s starting to dawn on industry in Queensland that there’s a desire to do better. But in such a large scale project it’s vital to strike a balance. To urbanize, not to ostracise.

Bernard Salt, a social commentator and columnist for The Australian and Herald Sun, threw down the gauntlet in a recent op-ed in the Courier Mail.

“The doubling of our population base requires visionary planning. If we are moving towards a bigger Australia, and it very much looks like we are, then the planning and the thinking and the visioning horizon needs to lift a notch.”

Johnathon Sri believes that the vision needs to lift more than a notch. He cites the South East Queensland Regional plan which provides for a growth in population of two million people over 25 years. Sri claims it concentrates far too heavily on Brisbane and urban areas, and does not allow for the decentralization that would assist sustainable population growth.

“We should be looking at developing new regional nodes where there are good job prospects and high quality of life in regional towns.

“For that to work we also need proper investment in things like regional broadband and telecommunications infrastructure and rail that’s affordable. But the Palasczcuk Government are focusing too heavily on Brisbane, so we’re going to see overcrowding and associated problems with rapid urban compaction.”

You won’t find that analysis in the first 20 pages of a Google search.

 

Journalism

Review of ‘Connection to Country’; Film by Tyson Mowarin. For Aust Environmental Film Festival

http://www.effa.org.au/news-articles-2016/2017/9/12/connection-to-country-mick-daley

“I wanna tell you a story about why this country means so much to us blackfellas and why it should mean something to you, too.”

Through a drone’s eye view of the spectacular Pilbara country of Western Australia, this is the introduction to the timely documentary Connection to Country, from filmmaker and multimedia innovator Tyson Mowarin.

It’s an upbeat and light-filled production that examines the physical and spiritual bond of Aboriginal people with their traditional lands. The stories and living histories that animate its rocks, rivers, plants and animals are indivisible from the skin groupings that determine proper human behaviour.

Partly narrated in Ngarluma language by Mowarin’s Aunty Jean Churnside, it’s a family affair also featuring his daughter Charlia and cousin Patrick Churnside, a Tjaabi (traditional song) performer. His simple message; “You got to learn to have a balance – look after the country and in return the country will look after you”, eloquently sums up an Aboriginal world view.

The film also tackles grim truths about the provenance of our ‘lucky country’. Mowarin, a Ngarluma man undertakes a forensic but heartfelt examination of the arid interface between white society’s economic demands and the traditional cultural beliefs of the most venerable society on earth. Measured optimism and impeccable cinematographic technique maintain a steady emotional temper that never tips into pathos.

Without rancour Mowarin addresses a malignant secret at the heart of Australia. The antiquity of Australian Aboriginal’s unbroken cultural heritage eclipses that of any other civilization. Yet in their own country they are treated as third class citizens.

He depicts the deliberate destruction of the artefacts of Aboriginal civilization by successive federal and West Australian governments hell-bent on facilitating the demands of mining companies.

In the Burrup Peninsula west of Roeburne we’re shown thousands of rock carvings of animal petroglyphs far older than the Egyptian pyramids. Many thousands more have been relentlessly destroyed by mining company Woodside.

Mowarin’s graphic history lessons demonstrate how the slaughter and exploitation of indigenous tribes throughout white settlement was matched only by the dismantling of their sacred artefacts.

The closure of 150 Aboriginal communities by Tony Abbott’s Coalition Government in 2015 for what he sneeringly called ‘lifestyle choices’ is of a piece with the steady erosion of Indigenous rights. According to anthropologist Nic Green, owner of a most photogenic hat, there’s been a ‘whittling down of cultural heritage values’ to make an easier path for approvals for mining.

The Department of Aboriginal Affairs is notorious for deregistering heritage sites overnight, as Mowarin discovers when he talks to gnarled Aboriginal cattle man Ricky Smith, who shows him the location of registered site 7092, a ceremonial man made structure that’s been destroyed by local Shire council workers.

Greg McIntyre SC, a native title barrister observes that the WA government gives ministers the discretion to destroy sites of extreme significance. He also notes that Aboriginal heritage sites are designated less significance than a Perth sewage pipe from 1910.

There are vibrant scenes forecasting a dynamic future, such as the 2014 revival of the Yule River Bush meetings, rallying points for tribes-people who have been amongst the most politically active in Australia. The interaction between countrywomen and Indigenous man Ben Wyatt, WA’s newly elected Treasurer and Minister for Finance, Energy and Aboriginal Affairs in Perth is a showstopper from a wily filmmaker.

A buoyant soundtrack by David Bridie, with contributions by Indigenous musicians such as Stephen Pigram in no way diminishes the film’s sobering message. Rather it depicts the courage and optimism of Aboriginal people who have after all, survived over 50,000 years of adversity

While the plundering of WA’s traditional lands continues apace – the last Coalition government removed over 1300 Aboriginal Heritage sites by stealth – the overall sense of Connection to Country is that the spirit of the land is living and breathing still.

Cattlemen Reg Sambo and Ricky Smith, artist Allery Sandy and Tjaabi singer Patrick Churnside demonstrate that spiritually and physically it remains an essential part of the identity of Aboriginal people.

Finally, through the agency of his daughter Charlia’s budding interest in filmmaking, Mowarin reminds us that the future of Aboriginal people and indeed that of Australia lies in properly educating children to take on the responsibilities of looking after our country, so that it can look after us.

Breakout.

Most Australians would consider Mowarin’s hometown of Roeburne to be impossibly remote. Yet it’s the centerpiece and focal point of a one-man cultural industry that has generated a stunning array of multi-media productions.

 

Mowarin’s made a Welcome to Country app, a card game based on Indigenous skin groups (Who’s Your Mob?) and an album of songs in five indigenous languages. He’s also filmed and produced fifteen documentaries about the people of the Pilbara region.

 

 

 

 

 

Journalism

Homeless Truths – published in The Saturday Paper 9/9/2017

https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/2017/09/09/policies-failing-the-homeless/15048792005184

This is my, longer version.

Mayor of the Mean Streets

Mick Daley ©2017

Lanz Priestly, de facto Mayor of the mean streets of Sydney’s homeless, is a former building project manager. He organizes trucks and teams of tent dwellers to do house removal jobs, performs domestic violence interventions and maintains a roster of free kitchens across the CBD. He became the voice of the homeless in their stand off with the NSW Government in Martin Square in August.

He says Australia’s approach to the problem of homelessness is flawed.

“If we have a problem in project management we identify a point in time where we don’t have a problem and become redundant. We identify a methodology to get there and a diminishing cost structure along the way. But NGO’s and government … work the other way. Every year they say, ‘oh the problem is getting bigger, so we’ve gotta pour more money into it’. Doesn’t that mean that the methodology they’re using isn’t working? Throw it in the rubbish bin.”

Priestly is a hard man to keep up with. He constantly patrols the streets, keeping tabs on individuals and organisations.

“The fundamental problem is the government and NGOs do not look at it as a problem,” he says. “If you were the CEO of Mission Australia, would you seriously want to be the guy who put up his hand to say ‘I dried up the rivers of gold’?

“Their aim is to grow their business. Bureaucrats are incentivized to grow their departments so it grows their career path. There’s no zero problem end game.”

Priestly has been working on Sydney’s streets for thirty years. He knows them intimately. He knows the secret camping hideouts, the stashes, the coffee shops that will give a homeless person a free cuppa.

He took me on a tour through his Sydney. The streets dominated by traffic and office workers seem different from this perspective. Pushing a trolley loaded with sleeping bags, talking to workers at various shelters, drinking coffee with long term street sleepers, you start to see the homeless more and more. They’re everywhere.

NSW Homelessness peak bodies claim an increase of over 35% in homelessness from 2015 onwards. Priestly interprets those figures in rather more graphic terms.

“We’re seeing another 15 people a night that we’ve never seen before. Counting people that are sleeping in their cars with or without families, we’re seeing about another 25 a day.”

Priestly has worked these mean streets from both sides. He points out major buildings throughout the CBD that he has project managed to completion.

“I saw my role as the person that’s responsible for the delivery of quality to the end buyer. They’re depending on what I’m signing off on to tell them that they’ve bought a quality product. Well guess what, I haven’t seen a quality product go up in the last 22 years.”

“They have builder’s warranties that run out in seven years and there are a lot of materials that have an 8-12 year life. Part of the reason for that is it makes the property management more lucrative and therefore people will pay more for the property management rights, because they know in eight years time the tiles are going to go and then in nine years time it might be the seals on the windows and in ten years it might be the waterproofing on the garden beds and showers that go.”

Priestly sees that ‘free market’ approach to building as a perfect metaphor for the attitude of government to homelessness. It’s underscored by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s decision to bypass an amicable solution and instead send in the police to evict the homeless in Martin Square.

It’s an observation shared by some senior NGO’s.

“Social inequality is expressed through the housing market,” observes Dr Heather Holst, of Melbourne’s Launch Housing service.

“Our rental tenancy acts are geared more to the rights of the owner who has an investment than, as it is in other countries, it is geared to the rights of the tenant. There’s a basic issue.”

Dr Holst points to socially conservative governments such as that of Menzies, the idol of the Right, who ensured that by 1966, 75% of Australians owned their own home.

“So there have been settlements in Australia which meant that there was no effective homelessness. But when you just let the market rip on housing then inevitably you get more homelessness.”

Karyn Walsh, CEO of Brisbane’s Micah Projects have adopted the Housing First approach.

First trialled in Los Angeles in 1988, this aims to provide permanent housing and support services for the homeless.

It’s been particularly successful in Canada, where Alberta Human Services deliver for less than $35,000 per person per year, as opposed to the $100,000 required annually to keep a chronically homeless person alive on the streets.

“There’s recognition that there is cost benefit in the justice system, to the health system. We get kids in school and the parents work-ready,” says Walsh. “That’s recognized all over the world.”

Except Australia. Malcolm Turnbull’s outwardly rational appeals to Australia to place its trust in his economic management skills are based on the notion that they will trickle down to the poor and downtrodden, elevating them to work-ready status, presumably able to pay hyper-inflated rents.

His Coalition government is wrangling heavier penalties for unemployed people who fail to adhere to demands from private employment agencies – notwithstanding the $41 million found to have been rorted by fraudulent claims from such agencies in 2016. NSW University of Technology studies show one in four people on benefits have been forced to beg on the streets, as housing has become a major stress on the unemployed.

The Coalition under Tony Abbott axed all funding to peak advocacy body Homelessness Australia. Jenny Smith is the CEO of both Homelessness Australia and the Victorian peak body CHP (Council to Homeless Persons).

“There’s no doubt that investment in social housing hasn’t grown since Kevin Rudd’s injection into nation building around the global financial crisis,” she observes.

“That was 2008-9 onwards. Done. We don’t actually have a template about how to do what is required across the public/private philanthropic investment space at all. There’s not even a back of the envelope plan.”

“It is very sobering that we’re currently facing a federal term of government without those policies in place. Our sector has got $115 million that is still uncertain, from the end of (last) financial year.

“And that’s just making the wheels go round to keep supporting people.”

Lanz Priestly has seen the wheels come off. He worked through the Occupy movement in 2011, where his teams were feeding up to 450 people a night. The O’Farrell government was then ordering police to arrest homeless people.

“If a homeless guy was asleep on the street, provided he didn’t have a blanket they’d leave him there, but if he used a blanket or tried to do anything to take shelter they’d take it off him. You’re allowed to sleep in the streets as long as you don’t use a blanket. What sort of logic drives that?”

Priestly’s solution is to trust in individuals or small independent groups.

“We’ve got 38 outfits which service Martin Place independently. If we set up a single delivery structure something can take that outfit out and that’s that whole service gone.

“Whereas if any of those outfits go down the others can continue to operate. Some are church groups, some are family groups. There are Muslim groups, Hindus.”

Priestly sees these grassroots movements as far more effective means of welfare distribution.

“What’s in the best interests of the NGO isn’t always what’s in the best interests of the target constituency,” he maintains.

“When I look at the NGOs, I can’t say the CEO isn’t doing their job, but it might be a different thing to what the public assumes. They allow for broadsheet accounting where they can say ‘oh we spent that on the homeless’, but when you unpack it the money was spent on a brochure promoting a fundraiser.

“I’ve got firsthand examples of how 15 million dollar contracts end up with $1.5 million hitting the streets.

“Ultimately the most marginalized people in this conversation are the donors and the taxpayers. They don’t look under the hood to see what’s happening and they don’t stop to think that the problem’s actually getting bigger.”

 

 

 

Publicity jobs

Sara Tindley – Wild and Unknown

Sara Tindley presents Wild and Unknown

Publicity bio for album release of 2017

Sara Tindley returns to Australian stages this year with a fearless new album, Wild and Unknown.

Performed as a duo with Michael Turner (Wild Pumpkins at Midnight, The Drift, Durga Babies, Spike), the album was produced by Nick Didia (Bruce Springsteen, Powderfinger, Pearl Jam) at La Cueva, his beautiful Tyagarah studio.

Michael Turner is a songwriting and performing veteran who’s toured much of the world and could be said to know a few things about mortality. His distinctive, sitar-like drones and arrangements underpin a luminous production that hums with light and space.

Their collaboration germinated twelve wry, insightful tracks narrating the turbulent life Tindley’s endured since her last album, Time (2011). Produced by country music luminary Bill Chambers (who also produced Lucky the Sun in 2006), Time radiated the quiet beauty engendered through Sara’s friendship and musical partnership with Adelaide folksters The Yearlings.

That endeavor followed on from 5 Days, (2003), which catalyzed a huge ABC radio following and saw songs placed on the TV series East of Everything and Bondi Rescue. They add to Tindley’s extant soundtracks; ABC radio having included the autobiographical song Down the Avenue on its compilation album Best of Airplay and used it in a promotional video, starring Sara singing on the back of a ute.

Sara’s resurgence is a welcome return to crowds used to her warm rootsy performances at the East Coast Blues and Roots Festival, Mullum Music Festival, Gympie Muster, Splendour in the Grass and Tamworth CMF, among many others.

Wild and Unknown is a beautifully crafted album that stands tall in Tindley’s exceptional canon of fine musical works.

Like the title track, it’s bursting with wonder and joy; “I feel like I’ve landed on the moon”. It tackles Tindley’s resurgence with wry playfulness, faith in family and the transcendent qualities of music.

Twelve songs run the gamut of emotion, from the title track’s declaration of intent, “I’m gonna bring it all the way back home”, to the gentle, ukulele lullaby of Iluka; “this army walks beside me, no more damage can be done”.

While All your love is Gone jinks and twists through romantic chicanes, the gorgeous ballad Cities comes off like a lost Joni Mitchell masterpiece. Tindley’s voice has never been richer, more deeply steeped in emotion. Her songs have always narrated a compelling life; as she charts a course into the Wild and Unknown she’s certain to take us with her.