Say Hello to the Fratercula Australis Stercus (the Australian Shitpuffin)


Welcome to puffins.  They are cute.  They don’t move much.

In Australia, we have a mutation of the puffin. The Shitpuffin. But just what is a shitpuffin?

In order to define just what the The Australian Shitpuffin (Fratercula Stercus Australis) is and does, we need to understand the behaviour of its originator.  Puffins (Fratercula) tend to gather around and not move all that much. They are known to squawk a bit. They seem to like to potter around and that’s pretty much it. They are generally inoffensive – and there’s many admirers, because they are generally cute and inoffensive.  The question we need to ask is, most of us like shitpuffins, but what purpose do they really serve, evolutionarily speaking?


  • Seen most behind a computer or phone screen
  • Often witnessed pursuing high paying careers
  • During weekends, pottering around the house, online or perhaps a rally
  • Rarely seen venturing beyond their community into poorer areas


We experience the Stercus Australis mostly as an online based entity. They are generally professionals, or casuals who want to be professionals with some time on their hands to scour things online. Or sit down on a Monday night and watch the ABC. They like to think of themselves as being progressive and making a difference, to the extent of undertaking the following behaviour:

  • Building a Social Media Brand focused on being Progressive, Edgy, Passionate or being gripped by the daily commentary by those who are
  • Going online and expressing outrage about the latest progressive issue
  • Watching Q and A and grumbling about its guests online, thinking that the discussion does actually sum up “the national conversation”
  • Using phrases like “the national conversation”
  • Watching Insiders, hoping it may become relevant and sensitive to everyday lives -despite it never happening
  • Tweeting about Question Time as if Question Time shenanigans actually mean anything
  • Going to rallies
  • Going on Facebook and ranting about the media ignoring rallies
  • Go to the “Festival of Dangerous Ideas” hosted in the plush surrounds of the Sydney Opera House, to be aroused about Dangerous Ideas like Andrew Bolt speaking
  • Say they care about the environment, about social issues. But the extent of their support is generally “awareness”, tweets and Facebook posts.
  • Read particular columns in Fairfax papers and the Guardian if an older variety; Junkee, BuzzFeed and Pedestrian if younger.
  • Watch The Project and is happy when Waleed Aly “Nails It” – retweeting the video of it
  • Hand out how-to-vote sheets at elections, in order to show support, “wave the flag”
  • Can be passive aggressive if challenged on their views
  • Make / share bad memes (like this one)


The Stercus Australis are generally friendly, inoffensive and harmless.  They are much preferable, for example to creatures such as the Aegypius Monachus Stercus Hildebrandia, whose entire existence is spent writing bad columns about the Fratercula Stercus Australis. Their intentions are good.  Many of us exhibit their tendencies from time to time.  It is also possible to see other examples of Fratercula Stercus in other wealthy first world nations.   For things to happen in society to bring progressive change, however, the Fratercula Stercus needs to evolve from being an ineffective, slow moving puffin to being able to affect change in the environment around them.  Otherwise, they may suffer the same fate as their cousins in Iceland.



Knott Getting It Right – Why the Media Got the Election Wrong

I am annoyed at myself. Long ago, long before this election was even called, I was convinced that two of my local seats – Macquarie and Macarthur – were going to be Labor once again. That was my instinct based local knowledge. For Macquarie, it was because of the long term campaigning in the Blue Mountains of Labor’s Susan Templeman whilst her opponent, Louise Markus, was a poor campaigner and local member. In Macarthur, because local candidate Dr. Michael Freelander was a very well known local paediatrician against the slightly clownish former mayor Russell Matheson. That and a general dislike for a government that had been tinkering with welfare payments and Medicare.  Lindsay, I wasn’t so sure about. That area keeps increasing in gentrification and wealth, which usually leads to a higher Liberal vote. But it did have state election candidate, Emma Husar, who simply needed to continue her doorknocking.

I am annoyed about myself because as the election campaign started, I lost that local instinct and bought the national media’s line about the western suburbs hook, line and myopic sinker.  The western suburbs weren’t shifting, they said. Liberal Party strategists said Lindsay was in the bag, even with both party leaders visiting the place very often.  And NO-ONE was talking about Macarthur and Macquarie.  We had lots of articles and thinkpieces about Batman and Grayndler, though.

Why? Because the media circus who report on elections don’t seem to care about such areas unless they are told to be by media and political insiders.  It was the same in 2010, when I started this blog. It was the same in 2013. And now we are here, in 2016.

What we did see what rubbish like bookies’ odds, bus selfies, Fake Tradie hunts and journalists on Twitter tweeting back and forward lols at each other.

No wonder they were surprised at the result. There was a lot of evidence available showing that they were out of touch and unwilling to accept feedback to that effect.

Maybe, however, they may be willing to listen. Today, Matthew Knott of the Herald has come out with this piece, positing the idea that maybe they did get it wrong.  It’s a good piece, despite still mostly relying on insider analysis.  His words in the boxes.

It’s not just politicians searching their souls after Saturday night’s surprisingly close election result.

Those political reporters not too hubristic to engage in self doubt are asking: did we get it wrong? Did we, as a collective, miss the story?

The consensus, speaking to colleagues in the Canberra press gallery, is a reluctant yes. Some insist they got it spot on. But many admit they expected a more decisive Coalition victory than occurred. And they concede this influenced the way the media covered the campaign.

Those who insist they got it spot on are fooling themselves.  There was a consensus that this was a long, boring campaign where there was some improvement from Labor, but that was it.

One gallery veteran put it simply: “We didn’t believe the polls.”

This election campaign rained polls. Week after week, media outlets published national polls showing a 50-50 tie or at best a 51-49 Coalition lead.

The results barely shifted from week one to eight. Yet, as the campaign progressed, a view solidified that the Coalition was on track for a relatively comfortable victory.

Yet the Coalition suffered a sizeable swing against it on election night and is struggling to hit the 76 seats needed to govern in its own right.

So what happened?

One thing – there should be much more to media coverage of elections than polls. Detailed knowledge of the regional areas that are more likely to swing is much more valuable than just looking at various poll results and making lofty pronouncements.  It turns out that the one poll that was discounted more than the others – a ReachTel seat poll commissioned by the NSW Teachers’ Federation, was actually the most accurate poll of the lot – and was wildly different from national polls.  But because the consensus was to listen to Liberal strategists and to each other, reportage of that poll disappeared.   Again, I was convinced that those ReachTel numbers were out of whack, because media coverage was spun that way.
Stupid, really.

“No one believed us!” a senior Labor Party strategist says, insisting he warned journalists they were writing off Bill Shorten too soon.

“We were projecting a confidence that many people thought was bravado.

“The commentariat fell into a bubble and were reflecting what each other thought.

“A narrative caught hold and everyone started reporting it.”

With hindsight, there’s much to support this .

As Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Don Cobb says in the film Inception: “What is the most resilient parasite? A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm?”

No. It’s an idea.

“Once an idea has taken hold of the brain,” he says, “it’s almost impossible to eradicate”.

Yes it is. And no matter how much people outside the bubble talk about the contrary, it’s common amongst those inside the bubble to ignore and / or dismiss contrary evidence, views and opinions expressed on mediums like Twitter and the various commentary blogs. This was partially because most of the journalists were on the same bus, literally in a bubble. That was also because many were committed to gotcha moments in inner city seats, such as trivial stuff like David Feeney’s property portfolio and Richard Di Natale’s au pair arrangements. But it was, as ever, a complete waste of time to offer this critique on Twitter, unless you are one of them. This deliberate cutting off from the world outside the bubble definitely led to various ideas.


Several ideas took hold quickly in the gallery’s collective brain. That Australians don’t kick out a first term governments (despite this happening recently at a state level). And that Malcolm Turnbull’s personal popularity was a decisive advantage against the less prime ministerial Shorten.

During the campaign, several events became seen as “turning points” for the Coalition despite the polls never really budging. Labor’s admission it would increase the budget deficit over the next four years was one. So was the UK’s departure from the European Union.

The Australian Financial Review‘s Laura Tingle spoke for many in the gallery in mid-June when she wrote that “the sense that Labor is a serious challenger has faded”.

And The Australian‘s Dennis Shanahan on the day before election day: “Malcolm Turnbull is coming home with the wind in his sails, Bill Shorten is running out of puff.

The Daily Telegraph, already foreshadowing a challenge to Shorten’s leadership, reported on Friday that Malcolm Turnbull was on the “brink of victory”. Fairfax Media highlighted a 50-50 poll result but with an unusually strong emphasis on voter expectations that Turnbull would win.

Leading commentators on Sky News predicted between 80 to 85 seats for the Coalition, with Peter van Onselen saying he would quit in the event of a hung parliament.

Many had picked up a “vibe” in the community that voters were disappointed in Turnbull, but not sufficiently angry to remove him. There was also the confidence exuded by Turnbull and his advisers.

Many of us even convinced ourselves that the low-energy, small-target campaign was a clever way of “boring” voters into backing the Coalition.

There’s an inherent issue here. The Australian and the Daily Telegraph have been anti Labor for as long as anyone can remember, so looking for any direction from them raises considerable questions.  In addition, all of these are vague feels, rather than concrete knowledge or understanding of public perception or belief.

One such issue that exposed this gap between the media coverage and voters was that of Medicare (which is now, quite vapidly, being referred to by the Coalition’s word for it, “Mediscare”). Two elements made that particular campaign work for Labor. One was that the Coalition did fiddle with Medicare. It flirted with a co-payment. It put bulk billing at risk – most doctors in the outer suburbs bulk bill, so that was important.  Journalists may have been distracted by inner city people on Twitter saying “who bulk bills anymore?”.  That, like much of Twitter’s daily chatter, was irrelevant to the experience of those in swing seats.  The Government did look at the privatising of elements of Medicare’s operation, so that wasn’t made up. The other element was Abbott’s last minute “there will be no cuts…” speech, which was perceived by many in the same way as Gillard’s “No carbon tax” promise – proof that the Government couldn’t be trusted. It may have been a new man in the chair, but it was the same government. So the Medicare attack line worked because it was based on a grain of truth and a whole lot of perception.  But we didn’t hear that type of analysis during the campaign. It was mostly verbatim repeats of what politicians said and trivia.  Back to Knott, quoting from Jonathan Holmes.

“You got the impression they were confident and confident for a reason,” former Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes says of the coverage. “There was very little scepticism of what was behind that”.

But if the media were wrong they were hardly alone. Two days before election day the bookmakers – often hailed as more accurate than pollsters – had Labor at $8 and the Coalition narrowing to a near guarantee of $1.08.

Many political insiders, too, were surprised by the scale of the swing.

Strategists from both sides agreed early on that Labor would pick up 12 seats at best. A week before polling day Labor strategists were telling reporters they expected to pick up eight to 10 seats. They picked up 14 seats, and may win up to 16.

Bookies. Journalists love repeating bookie odds, even though bookies would be basing their info on media reports, rather than detailed knowledge of areas and seats.  It’s a silly echo loop, perpetuated by people like Stephen Koukoulas, who on Twitter is part Tom Waterhouse, part Angry Boomer complaining about The Young People.  These kinds of people should be seen as the Twitter carnival acts they have become, rather than serious analysts, until such time as bookie odds and fights with other Twitter carnival acts become a thing of the past.

Plus, which strategists were they talking to? I talked to many who were confident of a shift to Templeman in Macquarie, for example – yet we never heard that from any source.

For me, the dumbest moment of the campaign was this –

Meanwhile, the Coalition was talking up gains in seats such as Werriwa (easily held by Labor).

As. If.  Not in Green Valley, which has some of the poorest people – including a number of former refugees – in Sydney.  I doubt most journalists would even know how to get to Werriwa.  Back to Knott, quoting from Barrie Cassidy, who is perhaps not the best at knowing what happens outside the journalistic bubble.

So, as Insiders host Barrie Cassidy asked, were journalists shown to be “gullible”? Or were they being lied to?

Neither, a Coalition strategist says.

“Everything I heard indicated the swings for Labor were not happening where they needed to be,” the insider says.

Serious questions are now being asked in the Liberal Party about the accuracy of its polling and who had access to it.

But Holmes says the media shouldn’t let themselves off too easily.

“There is certainly a lesson for the gallery about whether they should be less credulous when it comes to internal polling,” he says. Particularly when it is being briefed anonymously.

“Everything I heard”. That’s what comes of listening to strategists and not having detailed knowledge and understanding of the areas in which the votes may well change.  And that doesn’t mean endless articles and stories talking about Western Sydney or Regional Queensland. That means talking about specific areas and specific issues, which didn’t happen.

Blaming Liberal strategists for getting things wrong is an absurd excuse for journalists who needed to do their job properly – which means being less credulous and resisting the urge to just report what they are told by insiders. They should have been doing stories and investigations of possible swing seats during the last three years, so such stories and research could have been used during the campaign. The shallowness of the stories that came thick and fast during the campaign was mind boggling.

That shallowness, however, was not present in the many pieces we saw about Batman, which was a largely irrelevant seat when seen in the national picture.  Whether Batman is Green or Labor won’t have an impact on the direction of the nation when compared to the possible swing of seats in WA, Qld and NSW from the Coalition to Labor. Yet that seat received a disproportionate amount of coverage.  I say this as someone who likes Alex Bhathal and thinks would make a good MP. But Batman should not have been covered as much as it was.

One of the good features of Knott’s piece was quoting Margaret Simons, who had the best insights to share.


Margaret Simons, Director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism at University of Melbourne, says: “I was struck by how everyone was so wise after the event and so all-knowing.

“It’s easy to write in retrospect where everything went wrong but I didn’t see many people pointing it out as the campaign was happening.”

Simons offers the example of the eight-week long election double dissolution election campaign itself. Originally hailed as a political masterstroke, it was only after Saturday that many commentators started questioning how wise the decision was.

“Journalists,” Simons concludes, “were too quick to become part of Malcolm’s fan club.”

Leather Jacket Syndrome is a very real phenomenon amongst the press pack, with Peter Hartcher suffering with one of the worst cases of it.  “How could anyone still like Tony?” was the consensus amongst the press pack. Yet stand with Fiona Scott more than a minute at pre poll, like I did in the last week and they would have seen angry people saying to her “I didn’t like what you did to Tony”.   There was even an Onion Man loving (and Mosque hating) candidate in the seat, Marcus Cornish, who stood as an ex Liberal purely so he could exact revenge on Scott by taking volunteers away from Scott’s campaign, as well as direct preferences to Labor. His 2.4% was enough to put Labor’s Emma Husar over the line.  This kind of detail was missing from any analysis of seats in those marginal swing areas.

Finally, in an interesting and refreshing new twist, Knott listened to people on Twitter, which does have its pluses and minuses.

In preparing this piece, I asked readers on Twitter and on Facebook for their views of the coverage.

Some dominant criticisms emerged:

  • An insistence the Coalition was on track to win (despite the polls predicting a tight result) and a consistent under-estimation of Shorten’s performance;
  • Overly “insular” coverage dominated by conversations with political insiders and other journalists rather than voters
  • Coverage that was too “presidential”, with an intense focus on daily movements of both leaders;
  • Too much focus on the colour and movement of campaigning rather than the policy offerings of the two main parties;
  • A lack of co-ordination by journalists, especially in the travelling media pack, to demand answers from the leaders;
  • More focus on campaigning techniques by third-party groups such as GetUp!

Journalists may quibble with some points. If the campaign is light on policy, blame the politicians’ and not us. Others might argue that, despite what readers say they want to read, many more will click on a story about a “fake” tradie than a plan to save the Murray Darling Basin.

Still, that doesn’t mean those in the media shouldn’t listen – and reflect.

Yes, all of these critiques hold true.  The political media need to have that list pasted somewhere to remind them in future elections.  Yet there’s also the idea posited at the same time that the reason why policy is trumped by fake tradie garbage shows a problem for that media – the idea of clicks driving the media.

Their readers may be inner city political tragics who enjoy clicking on trivia, but where the media get this stuff wrong was in being focused on entertaining those clickers, rather than on the issues and the people who actually swing elections.   People in such seats make a judgement call based on service delivery and hence swing hard.  In the inner city seats lived in by most consumers of the news, those swings are small in regards to conservative / progressive changes.  Yet such minor swings get blanket coverage.

Even now in the wash up, there’s a proliferation of articles that ask “what does this means for the Greens”,  which should be of minor interest in terms of the ramifications of the election.  The Greens as a party did well in this election at holding on – and in same cases growing – their vote in an election that was again about shifting from one major to another. However, they remain largely irrelevant to marginal swing seats, except as a help to Labor in terms of preferences.  Richard Di Natale’s pragmatic approach to building the credibility of the Greens may have long term benefits in those seats, certainly more so than in the recent past. The party needs to stick to that long term plan of gaining economic and social credibility, rather than be distracted by critiques from activists who continue to validate and push the affluent Sydney baby boomer belief that the party isn’t socialist enough.  But right now, the relevant and vital story that needs to be told is that of Liberal and Labor and their appealing to the working class and middle class of the swing seats.

It’s encouraging to have journalists such as Matthew Knott to want to genuinely seek feedback from people in regards journalists and reportage. They can’t say it hasn’t been available – Andrew Elder has been talking about this issue for years, and has been largely rebuffed, partially due to his (understandably) furiously frustrated tone, but the substance of his critique generally holds true.  I used to do that as well, before I gave up.  Being responded to in a snarky and dismissive style tends to make people discouraged from offering critiques.  There’s a fair few on Twitter who have experienced the same.  I don’t mean the Whacky Ibises in that, who often drown out rational voices.

As the last quote in Knott’s piece says,

As Simons says: “A little humility goes a long way.”

Yes. I hope there is a touch more of that shown and felt by people wanting to provide a full and comprehensive view of Australia in their coverage.   This may surprise some, but I believe one of the best journalists through this campaign was Buzzfeed’s Alice Workman, who listened to feedback as well as did some very good live interviews with politicians during the campaign – while using an engaging and non self important tone. More of Workman’s style of coverage, focused in certain regions, would have worked well. Because out there, beyond the bubble, there’s still people after detailed and well researched journalism, no matter the outlet.

Brexit’s Silent Victim – The Hope of the Derry Peace Bridge

In the wake of the Brexit business, I have been thinking all week of a wonderful couple who live on the east side of the River Foyle in Derry.  They run an outstanding B and B  – and supplied the best full Irish breakfast we had. They were “Irish” living in a 50/50 area. The husband had run various pubs on the west side of the Foyle for some years and had also worked for British Olivetti (he told a story of how the fact his British sounding name and the fact he worked for a British company had saved his life in a Unionist Belfast pub). The couple were proud of what Derry was becoming – a peaceful place with a bright future. So were the Irish speaking couple, one of whom lived and worked in Derry, the other in Donegal, whom we met in an “Irish” pub (as in, for those of Irish background) in Derry.  This in a town still where the police still used armoured trucks, carried machine guns and there was barbed wire around the Gaelic football grounds.  But there was still a huge feeling of hope.

The symbol of that future was the Peace Bridge, connecting the west and east sides of the Foyle.  It was half funded by the EU, as part of its commitment to the ongoing peace process.  There were many who speculated that not many would use it – as many generations of the “English” hadn’t wanted to go to the west side. But by the time we went there in 2012, plenty were using it every day to walk or cycle. Or just be there.

Here’s my original post from 4 years ago.

Across the River Foyle, £15 million was spent on a bridge that was built between two quite different communities.  On the west side of the Foyle has the city centre, but also an almost entirely Catholic community – including the well known Bogside area, which, amongst other events, experienced Bloody Sunday.  On the east side, the community is roughly 50 / 50 Catholic / Protestant.  There were objections raised, communities questioning whether people from both sides would cross to the other, the cost, the name.  Fortunately for the city, all barriers were overcome and the bridge has been built.

In a city as contested and troubled as Derry / Londonderry has been, such a project has become a symbol of the optimism and the movement of the city to a new era.  It has, for a start, witnessed a large increase of people wishing to cross from the east over to the west, either by walking, running or on cycle.  When I was there near sunset, there was a lot of foot traffic. Our wonderful B and B hosts (from the East Side) also told us about the pride people had for the bridge. We could see why.  The design has helped with the success of the bridge for the community.  Its curve and seats have been crucial for its stunning look and encouragement to sit and enjoy the river and surrounds.

The Curved Peace Bridge

How Derry looks behind the bridge

Also important are the seats – the Peace Bridge has two long seats, ideal for sitting and enjoying the view.  During the day, the view is beautiful too.

One of the seats on the Peace Bridge

The view from one of the seats

And just in case you haven’t realised just how stunning the Peace Bridge really is from the bridge itself …

The Peace Bridge is rapidly becoming a tourist attraction by itself – and so it should. Like the city of Derry / Londonderry, it represents how people can rise above adversity and have a new, interesting future.  Bridges can inspire and act as a magnet to an area.  The Peace Bridge in Derry is one such project.

But now, due to some insular nonsense sparked from all the way in London, all of this hope may just evaporate.

Battling the VFL Mentality – The Success of the Giants and Victorian Media Opposition

It’s been a fascinating experience, being a part of something new, the project around the Greater Western Sydney Giants. A club being built from pretty much nothing and copping buffeting from media outlets that mostly still show little interest in the second Sydney team, radio networks that are openly hostile to the Giants where it suits them and so on. That is settling down now, helped by fairly even handed pieces such as this by Herald league writer Andrew Webster.

This year, however, with the success of the Giants on the field, we supporters have discovered a new field of hostility, heat and largely irrational criticism, Victorian writers and fans who think that it’s unfair that the Giants may win a premiership. Silly things like this from a Herald Sun writer.

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 1.09.46 PM

The most heated of these was a recent piece in The New Daily by Tom Heenan of Monash University.  It’s a handy go-to guide for any student of football coverage for every lazy Victorian anti – Giants cliche.  Let’s go a-Fisking.

Why GWS will never win the intercode battle

ANALYSIS: The AFL have bankrolled and manipulated their success but the locals still don’t care, Tom Heenan writes.

The idea that there is an intercode “battle” is the first cliche off the rank – the idea that the Giants must destroy every other code in order to “win”.  This is fairly superficial analysis of the ability in Sydney for a number of sporting codes to have their own niche.  Rugby Union (which most Victorians seem to confuse with rugby league) survives healthily without destroying rugby league, for example.  Also standing out there in the subheading is the idea that “the locals still don’t care”. That’s a fairly blanket statement based on no evidence – it reads more like a Twitter comment about the Giants during games, or a grumpy SEN talkback caller complaining about draft picks going to a “team in a rugby state”.

(N.B. That is not the last time this analysis sounds like one of those callers)

As the sporting universe grows more manipulative and corrupt, a new term has surfaced: the fairytale.

A few weeks ago it was the English Premier League’s Leicester City. Next month it might be the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. And in September, it could be the AFL’s Greater Western Sydney Giants.

Sitting 7-2 after nine games, the Giants are the talk of the footy world.

A curious parallel being drawn here, with the other two teams being entirely different in their cultural contexts.  The Cavaliers, in particular, are a successful one team in a city franchise that is 45 years old and have been a successful team for a while with a superstar player – not sure how their victories are a “fairytale”.  And as for the “talk of the footy world”, he means the Victorian footy world, which seem to infer a belief that everyone should be talking about the Giants in NSW in the same way that are being talked about in Victoria and the other AFL states, and if they aren’t, why aren’t they, dammit?   But let’s go on with the next group of assertions.

But let’s get a few things straight. Most sporting fairytales are bankrolled by billionaires, or written on the back of institutional and financial support from administering sports bodies. They massage their competitions to ensure their fairytales come true.

Take the case of the Giants.

The club has 12,780 members and draws, on average, around 10,300 to its home games. The numbers aren’t flash, but there are reasons. For most of their short history, the Giants have played terribly.

Across the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the Giants lost 21 consecutive games. Four years later, the Giants are premiership contenders, having beaten premiership favourites Geelong, three-time defending premiers Hawthorn and the rising Western Bulldogs.

Even though they’re playing good footy, the locals don’t seem to care. Just 9,612 showed up on Sunday for their win over the Bulldogs.

“They massage their competitions” doesn’t quite ring true for Leicester, where whilst the club was funded by a billionaire, it’s not a team of millionaire players.  But I digress. Let’s look at the “don’t seem to care” assertion.

The most disappointing part of this piece is contained within the dismissive “the locals don’t seem to care” – an assertion based on nothing but crowd numbers, and without any of the context about the historical relationship between Sydney and sport attendance.

There is some truth behind the assertion that poor performances in the first four years of the club have been matched by poor crowd numbers.  But there is more to the development of the Giants crowd numbers than poor performances.  The Giants are still developing a cultural sporting footprint in Western Sydney, which has been centred around making the region aware of the code, comfortable with the code and then encouraging the people to get along to a game or two – with the hope being that this expands to membership. It’s a slow process involving schools programs, developing the Sunday suburban competition and the like.

As a look through the Sydney sport history context would reveal – even a look at the history of the Sydney Swans – development of crowd attendance at sport aren’t just about teams winning the previous week.  It’s not as if crowds will magically appear overnight when a team like the Giants wins against teams that are still not all that well known in Sydney.   The Bulldogs game is a perfect example of this.  There were a number of factors mitigating against a larger crowd.

  • The Bulldogs don’t have a large number of supporters who live in Sydney, unlike bigger clubs like Hawthorn, Collingwood and Richmond. Nor do they have a large number of supporters able to travel to Sydney to support their club, unlike those larger clubs
  • There’s not the brand recognition with the Western Bulldogs football team as being a big champion team in Sydney – their success has been relatively recent
  • There was, at the same time, an NRL game playing next door at ANZ between the Canterbury Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters, which had a crowd of 18,000. Two Sydney clubs on a Sunday, attracting a crowd only double that of a club that is young, playing a code that is just beginning to build.

That NRL crowd should be telling a sport historian a great deal about the context of sporting support in Sydney and the historically low numbers of fans willing to go to live sport, especially in the Olympic precinct.  There are other clubs in the NRL, such as Penrith and Cronulla, to whom 9,000 would have been a decent sized crowd – and that’s with their home grounds being easily accessible in their regions.  That kind of analysis and understanding of the Sydney sport context would have been welcome in Heenan’s piece.  Heenan, like a number of Victorian commentators, seem to believe that the Giants should be filling its stadium with 25,000 + in the same way Victorian clubs when they are successful. Context, though, is everything.

Let’s continue with the nub of Heenan’s Victorian – centred complaint. The academies fallacy.

Of course, the Giants’ rise is no surprise. The club has had a dream run with its academy system.

In the early days, the Giants got first option on 12 elite 17-year olds. Included in that list is midfield star Dylan Shiel, a Brownlow Medal favourite, and star forward Jeremy Cameron.

The Giants’ biggest coup, though, was taking the code’s top talent through the AFL draft.

They had the top five picks, and 11 of the first 14 in the 2011 draft. They had the top three picks in the 2012 edition and the first two in 2013. In 2014, they had three of the first seven selections.

Backed by the AFL and with a million dollar salary cap allowance, the Giants have had enough financial muscle to retain most of its talent – and top-up its list with players already on the system.

Callan Ward, Tom Scully, Shane Mumford, Heath Shaw, Phil Davis and Steve Johnson have all proved their worth.

There has been a lot of talk about the perceived unfairness of the Riverina Giants academy zone, with chief critic of northern states club success, Eddie McGuire, again leading the Victorian grizzling choir.  That main theme in attitudes towards players coming from the Riverina being picked for the Giants is that the Riverina is really just like a Victorian area, strong in AFL. This is despite the evidence to the contrary that suggests that successful AFL players from the Riverina has been a piecemeal phenomenon for some time – yes, Wayne Carey came from Wagga Wagga, but that was some time ago.   The Riverina area is still a contested code area that needed development money and an academy to help bolster a NSW club. That is what the Giants academy is about.

This paragraph by Heenan, however, about “the academy system” is not really about the academy system. He seems to be confusing recruitment, draft picks and the academy system. Dylan Shiel and Jeremy Cameron did not come from the Riverina Academy, for example.  There were a lot of favourable draft picks, and many of those players are now being successful for the Giants – as have the recruits mentioned.  To mention all of this as a part of a critical piece about the development of the Giants does not take into account the problems faced by northern states football clubs in their early days – the Brisbane Bears and Sydney Swans faced many near death experiences in their early years, due to a lack of consideration of what would make a successful club.  The Giants project, along with the Suns, were both built with consideration of that history. As has been pointed out by Luke Beveridge, coach of the Bulldogs:

Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge felt discussion about the issue was disrespectful of the Giants’ recent development.

“It’s disappointing we don’t recognise the great job that they’re doing at the moment. They’ve lost some players (to other clubs and to injury),” Beveridge said.

The development of the Giants has been more than just draft picks and superstars, as the relative disappointment of the Suns have shown. That does not seem to be a part of this Heenan discussion, because he wants to smack the Giants down, not present a balance analysis of the issues around the development of the club. This is shown later on.

The real story will be not when the Giants win a premiership, but if they don’t.

The Giants have been bankrolled by the AFL to the tune of $20 million per year. Despite this, the club still recorded a $341,000 loss in 2015.

The AFL recognises that a Giants premiership offers the best chance of cracking the western Sydney market and recouping some return on its hefty investment.

Having a foothold in Australia’s most competitive football region was a vital bargaining chip in the AFL’s latest $2.5 billion broadcast rights’ deal with Seven, Foxtel and Telstra.

Yes, all of this is true. Again, though, it appears as though these facts are just there to infer that this is an expensive experiment for people “who don’t care”.  To suggest that AFL doesn’t have a wider commercial goal with the Giants and the Suns is to display a overly naive view of sport and business.   But back to Heenan and more of his curious assertions.

But it’s going to take a big effort to crack a market which is geographically and ethnically diverse, and rugby league and soccer heartlands.

Given their ethnic diversity, league and soccer are more reflective of Sydney’s greater west than the AFL.

The NRL’s Penrith Panthers and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs are two of the richest football brands in the country, while the A-League’s Western Sydney Wanderers has a membership of over 18,000 – 5000 more than the struggling Giants – and the most tribal fan-base in the country.

The problem is that few people in Sydney’s greater west are interested in the Giants. For starters, the team is not located in the greater west.

Spotless Stadium is closer to Circular Quay than Penrith or Campbelltown.

On a good day, you can see the Bridge from Spotless. You can’t see it from most of the west.

The first two sentences here are correct – and go back to the fallacy that there some kind of “code wars”, where there can be only one victor.  He mentions the Panthers and Canterbury as being two successful clubs – yes, they are – but doesn’t mention their crowd numbers, which aren’t anything like Victorian AFL attendance numbers.  As can be seen here, 2015 average attendance numbers for Canterbury was 19,684 and Penrith was 11,544. This is not to say that both clubs are not successful clubs with deep roots in their community.  They both are, but their supporters don’t necessarily make the trip to go to their games.  This is why Heenan’s use of crowd numbers to denigrate the Giants is fallacious. As is the comparison of the Giants to the Wanderers. The two competitions are run at different times of the year, so the comparison is largely irrelevant. In any case, the Wanderer membership stated is 5,000 more than the Giants’ membership number for this year, good considering that it is true that soccer has deep roots in Sydney’s west.

And then again, we see a repeat of the assertion “few people… are interested”, a feelpinion based on no other fact other than a context-free reading of crowd numbers and now placement of the ground.  Homebush is considered the greater west by people in Sydney, but that seems to evade some Melbourne commentators (including many of those who still seem to think the club is based in Blacktown).  It’s also debatable that Spotless is closer to the Quay than Penrith – maybe as birds fly, but birds don’t catch trains or drive cars through Sydney’s traffic.  It’s quite a strange argument when one considers where people travel from in Melbourne to get to the two home grounds of all AFL games.

The absurd “you can see the Bridge from Spotless” is pure Sarah Palin.  You can spot Spotless from the M4 too…

But onwards, more crowd numbers and mistakes.

In 2014 the Giants played the Swans in an AFL derby. Marketed as the Battle of the Bridge, the game drew a crowd of 17,102.

At the Sydney Football stadium on the same day, the Wanderers-Sydney FC derby drew 40,208.

The Battle of the Bridge is symptomatic of the AFL’s problem in Sydney. The Bridge runs in a north-south direction, and not to the west.

It suggests that the AFL doesn’t know the terrain or the market.

In Sydney, it’s still true that the Swans have by far the largest member base and so selling out a venue depends on their attendance at derbies.  It is also true that some Swans crowds are reluctant to make the trip to Homebush – and a member vote opposed including a Giants Spotless Stadium derby option in their membership packages.  That goes some way to contextualise Spotless derby numbers. We can only hope to see more into the future.

Again comparing crowd numbers to A league derbies is a touch unfair, considering the deeper roots of soccer throughout Sydney.  Comparison to rugby league derbies, such as the Canterbury Roosters game that attracted 18,000 would be more apt – but would act against the central thesis of this piece.

And finally, the “bridge” of the Battle of the Bridge was the ANZAC Bridge, which does run east to west and separates to an extent the Swans and Giants areas of Sydney. I didn’t think it was the best name for the derby, though.

These points all seem to suggest that Heenan may need to do more work researching the context, terrain and the market.

Despite this, the Giants will inevitably win a flag.

It has been preordained by the draft and seemingly signed off by the AFL.

But they won’t win the battle of the codes in Sydney’s west. League and soccer are too well-entrenched, socially and culturally.

In the long run, it’ll be a fairytale if the Giants survive at all.

And at the end of the piece comes the wish from Heenan – the failure of the Giants and the repudiation of the AFL’s project.   Like the rest of the piece, the tone is more grumpy feelpinion from someone who is against developing the code outside “traditional areas” than argued with detailed evidence.

What is also ignored by Heenan is the possibilities provided by the possibility of a Giants’ women’s team and its development of a netball team with Giants branding – both show a lot of potential for the club and its development of deeper roots in the region, with whole family involvement in the club.

Ultimately, the story of the Giants in Western Sydney is not a “battle” – there’s co-existence possible. Crowd numbers are up, memberships are up and the word is getting out about the Giants in Sydney.  The development of Womens’ AFL has a lot of scope. The increase in media interest is in evidence with pieces like the Webster piece.  It seems to be difficult, however, is to have “analysis” pieces from Victorian sources that present knowledge and understanding of the Sydney sporting context.

It’s All About the Metrics, Baby – TL;DR

I’ve just added my thoughts to the Federal Election to Ausvotes, in regards the election and how it’s ruled by metrics, not feelings, nuance and discourse.  But if you don’t read to read all of it, here’s a summary.

  1. Elections are ruled by blokes and attitudes like this.  They don’t give two fucks about your feelpinions, blogs, tweets, attitudes, discourse. They want to know the numbers, the maths, the outcomes.



2.  Dutton’s bigoted nonsense isn’t a dead cat, it’s like every other bit of trivial gossip being offered by the likes of James Massola and his ilk – a ball of wool thrown at the cats of the internet – reporters and Twitter commenters. It’s all bullshit to keep people busy with gossip while actual politics happens.


3.  Bill Shorten’s entire metrics based election strategy can be summarised in one picture – trying to appeal to blue as well as red. It always is. This a conservative country focused on money and houses.


4.  The Greens’ metrics depend on them supporting what national metrics decide against – compassion to asylum seekers. A positive metric for them is fruitless, but passionate opposition to infrastructure projects that have a personal impact on potential voters in key seats.  So, NIMBY boomers are important to their metrics.


5.  Liberal metrics decide that Turnbull needs to be this guy.  Always this guy.



To Set Aside Cynicism

A poem…


Walk out the door and cynics can be fed

The grinding grim happiness of morning media grins

There’s a path down which to be led

They have, like many, their job that spins and spins


Cities bear the scars of their divides, history, temporal walls built from centuries’ toil

Aware of it all the cynics are as they whizz by in whatever metal box

They hear “All you see is heartache, all you do is spoil”

To be a cynic is to be placed in the faux optimists’ stocks


There remains the dream – become a true optimist instead

Be aware of the pain, but work for emotional gain

Bring some joy, not lock plans of it in your head

Bring some absolute empathy while others feign


There is the rub

How to gather this spirit before you reach the hub



There’s Never Been A More Exciting Time To Run a Country – Our Charles Foster Turnbull is lost

(Originally on Ausvotes 2016 – new title suggestion from @patstokes)

It’s been a strange couple of weeks for Malcolm Turnbull, with many things changing and unravelling about “his” government.  The suave, leather jacket wearing Point Piper sophisticate seems to have already forgotten why it is he was made leader and what his job is as Prime Minister.   The shifts and back peddling by Turnbull are clear to see – and are being catalogued by cartoonist Dave Pope with his sharp eye for details.  With this week’s acquiescence to the homophobic wing of his party in allowing an inquiry into the Safe Schools program, Pope posits that Turnbull is allowing himself to be bullied by the homophobes in order to keep his job as Principal.IMG_4176.JPG

A bit different to the Pope image from a couple of weeks before, where Turnbull was the sophisticate getting ready to make the switch to election mode, though still tied to Riverview’s old boy combo, Abbott and Joyce.


The most telling cartoon from Pope for me this year is the one where Turnbull is handcuffed to Joyce whilst driving the Abbott car – it’s both amusing and chilling, with the “boot full of asylum babies” line.


If we’re talking characters, though, overall Turnbull can be seen as being more like Charles Foster Kane from Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.  Turnbull himself is a vastly talented person who has flitted from place to place, able to achieve any number of things. Kane may have inherited his fortune, unlike Turnbull, who made his own – but Kane could have gone anywhere, done anything, but he chose to focus on building up a broken down newspaper, because it would be “fun to run a newspaper”.  He did so partially in order to fight for the disenfranchised and underprivileged, because, as he puts it, he can because he has money and power.  Our own C.F. Kane, though, has created his own feckless catchphrase – “there’s never been a more exciting time to run a country” would be more accurate.

Turnbull seems to have decided, like Kane, that it would be fun to run a country.  And he fought his way to do so, continually sniping in a variety of subtle and not so subtle ways at the previous incumbent throughout his time as leader, chiefly by presenting himself as the leader of moderate thinking. One such way was being a leader in the marriage equality issue, suggesting a private members’ bill introducing the change, which saw him come into conflict with Bernardi and others.  Another was his continual support for action on climate change, which included him being a passionate advocate for scientists who would address climate change, as opposed to the “climate change is crap” stance of his predecessor.  These stances from the outer made him the popular figure who continually topped opinion polls.  The sensible moderate who should be leading the country instead of the clown who was.  The Man of Principles.

Unlike Kane, though, Turnbull doesn’t seem to have written them down and have them published – only to be reminded of them later.  Turnbull’s principles all seem to be evaporating in a very short time.  He supports the ineffective Direct Action policy, the ridiculously expensive (and pointless) Marriage Equality Plebiscite is going ahead. This week, it is reprehensible that, unlike old Malcolm, he isn’t speaking out against the kind of comments being made by the likes of  George Christensen accusing the Safe Schools Coalition of “grooming” children.  Instead, he is making meaningless comments about people “needing to be careful“.  The squibbing on this necessary discipline is highlighted by Cathy Wilcox’s outstanding cartoon, which highlights why Turnbull should be speaking as he used to.


It is, as Jacqueline Maley has said, as if Turnbull is becoming the “incredible shrinking man“.

Another aspect of Citizen Kane is when Kane runs for election and loses.


He is, like Turnbull, charismatic and charming.  We never really find out, however, why he runs, except for vague promises to help the underprivileged.  He doesn’t really seem to know why he’s running for political office.  He does it for the same reason he wants to run a newspaper – it would be fun and he may get the chance to help people.  His old friend Leland, however, points out how patronising his rich man paternalism is in one of the best scenes in the film.

The problem with Turnbull is that it’s rapidly becoming clear that he doesn’t seem to quite know what he needs to do, now he’s Prime Minister.  He is letting people like Bernardi, Christensen and Abetz run rings around him.  We expect him to give them looks like this –


But he doesn’t. He hasn’t been able to stop the Onion Man from staying in parliament, doing his sniping not sniping act.   In terms of showing they actually believe in something, Labor has well and truly got the jump on him with their Negative Gearing policy.  They have snookered him in terms of showing they have ideas about how to both address first home owner house purchasing and the revenue loss currently occurring with the tax break (I outline my reflections on their policy as someone who uses negative gearing here).  His response was to become nothing more than a confused 2 Dollar shop scaremongerer about the issue, diving into his weakest persona, Retail Politician. As pointed out here, his “opposition to Labor’s plan is full of contradictions and has been made on the run for political purposes rather than sound policy judgements”. This is because, like Kane, Turnbull is playing at being a politician, rather than truly believing in what he’s doing.  He needs to remember, however, what it was that got him into the chair in the first place, his popularity as a moderate. He is running the risk of spurning those who supported his rise. These supporters must be increasingly thinking they are doing this whilst giving their support:


Turnbull himself needs to get some passion into his politics. He needs to stop acting like a feckless wealthy patrician hobbyist and have some idea of the principles he may have had at some stage in his life. Or maybe he never really had them.

Postscript – There’s been some discussion about this analogy. In it, Jed Leland is Chris Kenny, a close confidant who is now drifting his own way. Rosebud is maybe the Republic…