I decided some time ago that Preston Towers must die. But how to do it was the question. Why must he die? There’s a number of reasons why he needs to go, but I have been too gutless and weak to do it.
The Era of the Pseudonym is dying. When I started Preston Towers, it was a time when there were a fair few people using pseudonyms on which to comment on politics. The most famous in Australian political twitter was Grogs Gamut, who was working in the Australian Public Service and couldn’t tweet and write about ideas under a real name. Being a teacher, there’s always similar limits (though not as draconian) to social media output under one’s own name. Having the pseudonym gave me a freedom that made fellow teachers fairly jealous. Over time, however, the pseudonyms have disappeared. Grogs Gamut was famously doxxed due to his influence, but he managed to make his hobby into a full time paid living. I was never skilled enough or interested in doing anything like that. (This is not false modesty, I really could never do the things Greg Jericho and other people in professional media do). Most of those other pseudonyms have disappeared over time
Threats of Doxxing. One of the threats with using a pseudonym is that people who disagree with you can threaten to doxx you, in order to silence your voice. Van Badham and her partner, Ben Davison, tried this tactic some years ago, using my real first name in order to issue a barely veiled threat of doxxing me. There have been some other attempts over the years – always from so called “progressive” twitter. I suspect after a while that Van and Ben had realised that I posed little threat to them, so they stopped. I pose little threat to anyone, which is why no-one has never been persistent or serious about their threats to doxx me. That mildly surprised me during the 2013 election campaign, where I pissed off a lot of people with my takes about western Sydney and about the Labor Megaphones in the AusVotes / AusOpinion blog. But here I still am, 9 years later.
Screenshots! My latest project has been to expose the misinformation and lies of various people with large followings with screenshots of their publicly available tweets, whether it be on PT or on the Mill of Content. Misinformation and lies really annoy me, especially when people with good intentions are influenced by people who are acting out of bad faith and mendaciousness. And that activity to be the one thing that is driving the latest threat to doxx me. There is a person (I am not naming the person, but there’s a fair few who would know who it is) has been telling her followers that I have been “stalking her” for 8 years and that she is going to ring the police, ring my place of work, and doxx me. It’s just not true that I have been “stalking her”. (I’m pretty sure we followed each other on twitter not all that long ago, for a start.) Stalking is a serious criminal offence, and I have no interest in going anywhere near that person. For a start, I have read what can happen to multiple tricycles that are near her. But more seriously, I have had, for a bit over a year now, an alt account that has been following accounts of various political influence and interests. The account follows people like Rita Panahi, Caleb Bond, and PR Guy and the like – people I wouldn’t want to follow on my usual accounts, but acts as a way to find out what’s happening in Big Opinion Land. And even though I have never followed her on that account, her tweets appear all the time, liked and retweeted by all sorts of people.
It’s absolutely my own fault. Because twitter causes people to repeat dumb mistakes, I kept screenshotting and publishing her ridiculous statements and pronouncements, even though she kept repeating her lies about me “stalking her”. I just find it fascinating and a little bit galling how someone can spread misinformation at the rate she does, and have so many fawning followers. I didn’t think she was serious, though, until she found my real name professional account and possibly searched my LinkedIn one day. I realised that someone who would be serious about attacking me could do that. Plenty of people know who I am, and it wouldn’t be hard for those who loathe Preston Towers to tell someone who wanted to silence me. It’s really not that hard to do. And because that user has been laughed at and belittled by so many in the last two months, it appears that she decided that attacking me will make up for the comprehensive humiliation that she has suffered. And she can continue to defame me without correction because I can’t stop her, who am I? Just someone with a pseudonym. Mud sticks, especially amongst those who are as allergic to the truth as people who would continue to follow people like that, despite all they have done. It’s all so very twitter. But it’s not the real reason why I am Killing Preston.
The mistakes live on. I have made a lot of other dumb mistakes on twitter. Lots of attacks, arguments, comments, garbage acts, mistakes of comprehension. All sorts of dumb shit. And the stain left behind by those mistakes don’t always fade away. I regret what I have said to a whole bunch of people that I respect and admire for what they say and do. I was going to name people I have wronged, but me naming people has caused problems in the past, and that’s not my intent or purpose here. My various mental health issues have all been there to see, combining with arrogance and stubbornness to leave damage to how people see me. And fair enough too. I have been an absolute fuckwit at times. I would love to have the opportunity to apologise to all sorts of people, either in real life or online, but I burnt those chances some time ago. That makes me sad, because I know that in real life, I’m a fairly laid back and affable person, and I cringe when I look back at those actions, which I would never have done in person.
What else do I have to say? Aside from the mistakes, I have also realised that I probably don’t have a lot left to say with the Preston Towers account. There’s a number of middle aged, middle class white men with opinions out there. While I despise most middle aged, middle class white people (I hate golf, fishing, boats, horse racing, BBQ posing, and I love women’s sport), I know that I am forever grouped with that lot, and so my voice doesn’t carry much weight on twitter. And that’s a good thing – twitter should be a forum for the marginalised, those who haven’t got a voice on more commercialised and mainstream media sources. I am over-represented on all sorts of media. I also look at my commentary on politics and have realised for some time that I am repeating myself, and not bringing much in the way of new insights into anything very much. Compiling the Mill of Content has reinforced that fact.
Western Sydney No More. When I started the account named for an apartment building in Penrith, I was different to the other Middle Class Middle Aged White Men in one key way. I was providing an insight into life and issues in Western Sydney that wasn’t around all that much in media sources. And frankly, still aren’t. But that’s a fault with the traditional and new media that will never ben fixed. The jobs and HQs are all in the inner city, the media professionals mostly come from a small pool, and even they do come from “outside”, they are quickly initiated into the cliques that reinforce the norms. It’s a self perpetuating cycle. But there’s little point in continuing to bash my metaphorical head against that wall of indifference. Besides, Western Sydney can be discussed by others on social media, especially since I haven’t lived there for more than 2 years. I will continue to comment on where I live now, but I can do that on another account in a less pushy way.
Life! I love my life away from Twitter – personal and professional. Twitter has helped with the former and latter. I have met many great friends through twitter, and I will continue to talk to them on my real name accounts. Using the account has made me very adept at understanding contemporary society and language, meaning that I get what teenagers are seeing, saying, hearing and experiencing. It has made my more relatable and a better teacher. An example came this week in the VCE English Language course that I have started teaching. I ask the question – “remember blogs?”. I got a number of chuckles, especially from those who are adept and experienced users of social media. There’s even a student in that class who knows how to use Twitter – a rare person indeed in an era where Twitter is not all that popular with teens. This particular student has more followers than Preston Towers, so he knows what it’s like to have such an account. He knows that with more followers comes more fights, more annoyances. And that’s great for him. I have had enough of it all.
The Mill of Contentis Fun! More people like the Mill of Content than Preston Towers, that has become clear – and that’s good! Since I switched it to be an archive / media aggregator, I have realised that it provides a useful service, which is what I like to do in general. I like being helpful. I enjoy it a lot more than tweeting with constant looking over my shoulder and having to lock the account. Plus, who wants to hear my opinion any more? I don’t want to most times. With the Mill, I get the chance to produce a primary source hub. And if anyone tries to doxx that, what can they say about the account? It tweets publicly available tweets. One day, I will attach my real name to the Mill, because I still have the dream of making it a useful resource for students studying VCE English Language. And that would make me very happy. It would mean that my knowledge, insights, and memories accumulated as Preston Towers wouldn’t be for nought. However, it’s Time to Die, Preston Towers.
How inviting the house looks, how sparkling its windows!
And how brightly the sun shines from the sky.
Now, dear little brook, is this what you meant?
Halt! from Die Schöne Müllerin, by Johann Müller
The Ever-Pumping Mill of Content
If you’re relatively new to twitter, like a friend of mine, then it’s an alluring, bright, sparkling and confusing place. I know, because that friend is now asking me a lot of questions about the layers of meaning, codes and shorthand being used by seasoned twitter users. Last year, she obtained mastery of the TikTok algorithm and went viral with excellent, funny Content. This same friend has, this year, become even more incredibly passionate about social issues, especially about the way women have been sidelined and abused by powerful men. The events around the rape of Brittany Higgins and subsequent women’s marches has been her radicalising moment. As a result of this, as well as a sense of frustration about the portrayal of Melbourne across various media outlets, she has thrown herself onto the never ending (Tread)Mill of Content and it’s difficult to hang on. So this blog post is written partially for her, and for anyone else who wants to be a successful producer of Content, or perhaps want to understand their position as an audience member.
Turning People into Performative Products
For anyone not familiar with the notion of a Mill, it has become a metonym for anything that emerged in the production of goods and pretty much the advancement of society, whether it be the dark, satanic mills of Blake or the constantly whirring mills spinning through the imagination of poet Johann Müller and composer Franz Schubert in the song cycle Die Schöne Mullerin.
In this extended metaphor, the Mill of Content is the endlessly cycling, voracious requirement social media has for content. The most brutal and unforgiving Content Platforms are TikTok and YouTube, but also possibly its most pure, in terms of the distance between everyday human interaction and a performative version of it – most with sustained success on both of those have an artifice, brand and style that helps establish their engagement and fan base.
On Twitter, however, it is considered an insult if a twitter user is accused of being “performative” and that their interactions, and Content is a product of artifice, repetition and strategy, rather than spontaneously human expression. Understandably, as many with large follower counts are spontaneous and genuine, but also naturally gifted at attracting attention with that spontaneity and genuine warmth. However, these people are rare, and the timeline and archives of most successful twitter Content producers do show evidence of some consideration and positioning in the way they craft and pitch their tweets.
The product at the end of the day is performance, of people performing in response to issues and events of any given day. In order to have sustained success with a twitter account – especially for those without other media platforms – it is the result of daily, repetitive work in producing up to date, savvy Content. After a while, it is clear to see what serves as grist for the Mill of Content.
The Process of Content Production
Step One –The Initial Content
There are many approaches to becoming a Twitter Content Producer. And many that aren’t in this post. These are the ones, however, that have become obvious over my time on twitter. This also refers to Australian political twitter, as that is my experience.
Minor Media Figures/ Twitter Famous
What is remarkable about the bigger, more popular Content producers on Australian twitter is how big minor media figures are on the medium. People who have small or fringe jobs in on mainstream media, but pump out wildly popular Content. Examples are people like Tonightly writer and performer Greg Larsen, Utopia secretary Nina Oyama, sometime Chaser fringe dweller and occasional Feed sketch guest Ben Jenkins. Their roles might be small in the media outside twitter, but they really work hard on their Content, as to collect a big following. An advantage for them is that they aren’t known well enough outside twitter to attract a swarm of haters / admirers / stans which would give them more freedom to be edgy and critical of politics and the media. They aren’t being monitored by News Limited and Liberal Governments as much as people like Leigh Sales, and there is also less for them to lose if they make a mistake of tone. For the most part, these minor media figures will occasionally appear on panel shows, but mostly will stay stars of twitter.
An exception to this rule was Yasmin Abdel-Magied, who like the other popular Content producers was a largely unknown (and very happy, upbeat) presenter on a Sunday morning cultural program that sat somewhere near Offsiders and televised church programs. However, because she had worked for the ABC, and not on a comedy program, her innocuous tweet about Anzac Day meant that News Limited could feast on it for their own performative outrage purposes.
There are also those who have built their profiles with Twitter to gain larger profiles. Jan Fran and Mark Humphries are two in this category, successfully taking their relatively small roles and using twitter to make themselves and their Content better known more widely. Fran in particular is showing herself as being adept at understanding issues and repacking it as Content on the ABC’s Question Everything. Humphries has used his physical appearance of being an every(white)man figure from a John Brack painting to create extended grotesque (and accurate) presentations of the power given to such white men in Australian society.
Journalists Making TheirReputation
The same principle of minor players in media organisations being Big on Twitter also applies to media employees who are skilled Content accumulators and producers. The better ones are mostly younger reporters, making their name and reputation on the back of their twitter efforts. Eliza Barr and Josh Butler, for example, are particularly skilled at using twitter to create Content. Sophie Elsworth did the same thing with her twitter account in 2020, becoming a lightning rod for right wing dissent from the actions of the Victorian Government and thus obtaining more exposure in other News Ltd platforms. It could be said that Sharnelle Vella, Channel 7’s state political reporter, fits into this category, but her role on television was already fairly significant. Sharnelle is, however, one of the most skilled Content producers on twitter at the moment. Matilda Boseley, of the Guardian, as a contrast, is making her mark more on TikTok, perhaps recognising that it is a more attractive and accessible medium for younger media audiences.
The Gruen Principle
At this point, it would be instructive to see how the notion of minor performers using social media to make themselves as presences on Australia media are the people who appeared on Gruen / The Gruen Effect. It has proven to be one of the most successful engines for making minor media figures into players on other media platforms. Dee Madigan, Jane Caro, Rowan Dean, Russel Howcroft and Todd Sampson have all managed to launch themselves in various ways. It was probably natural for each of them to be good at providing content, as they are all advertisers. (At this point, I will not quote from TISM’s Greg the Stop Sign, as tempting as that may be).
It is useful, however, to see how they have all managed to set up their own Content pathway – and Twitter’s role in it. Sampson has barely used it, and has had multi platform success. Dean used it to an extent, but realised “editing” The Spectator Australia and being on Sky is more lucrative than Twitter. Howcroft doesn’t need twitter to build his brand, but has dabbled in projects that suit his business minded content.
On twitter, however, Madigan has managed to become strategist for Labor, and uses her twitter account to provide informal and colloquial Content that is intended to boost the party’s brand and set the agenda and tone for its supporters. Caro has managed to carve herself on twitter a position as a spokesperson for public schools, progressive issues as well as a reliable, regular commentator on The Drum, which continues to be a neat showcase for the takes produced by various producers of Content. Caro’s Content, usually, is not as calculated as many. Hers is more a natural ability to attract comment and response. A recent example can be found with this tweet.
Twitter had two days with of content in response to this tweet, where Caro was raising an ages old, classist dichotomy between liking sport and not liking sport. It wasn’t original, but it was timed well.
The people who have well known roles on the media – Dave Hughes, Leigh Sales, etc, have a different road to travel. Almost every one of their tweets attracts comment – praise, criticism and everything in between. They don’t need to work that hard to produce Content – there’s enough people out there to take their tweets and riff from them. One or two tweets is often enough – they have bigger platforms that demand their time and skills at producing popular Content.
The Professional Content Harnessers
There’s a number of people who work in media and outside it who are very good at harnessing Content. They are able to see the issues of the day and spin their takes to the extent where their views become the focus of discourse for the day on twitter. They are also very good at timing.
News producers and editors are very good at this. I got an insight into their world when, for five years, I used to catch a train to work from 6.40 to 8.10 am and then back from 4.20pm to 6pm (never again, by the way). My twitter account became very popular for Content, because I was able to set up a good timeline on Twitter for good news sources and was able to package up information and throw in a perspective as a tweet or retweet. This is why radio / podcast producers and editors like Matthew Bevan and Osman Faruqi are very good at seeing what is news for the day and how to set off a discussion about those issues. Their jobs are to read, understand, chunk down and then write short form explanations about complex issues on broadcasts. So it goes on twitter, they know how to attract attention. The latter in particular is very skilled at stirring discussion in all sorts of directions, including with the timing of his takes, so his work attracts attention throughout the day, from fans and dunkers.
The Experts and Specialists
One group of people who have benefitted from twitter are experts and specialists in fields that usually are not provided with much exposure in media outlets, due to their relative obscurity. Their content is usually valuable and helpful. There are many experts who are very good at chunking down their messages. They are also able to be personally engaging, like the next group of Content producers.
The Socially Popular
There are people on twitter who are just good at being engaging and popular, and all of their Content is liked. They generally aren’t in the media, just ordinary people, but ones whose lives, views and interests are similar to their friends, and later, their fans. They can look at the developing consensus view about issues, can pitch their take to fit into that consensus, and time their takes well enough to accumulate more agreement for that position. After a while, with a development of their popularity, support and confidence, they also make opening pitches for a consensus view about an emerging event and / or issue. They are also, as people, generally warm, personable, respond positively to those who agree with them. These are the kinds of people that have reached the height of popularity referred to in this tweet.
The Socially Popular –CONtent or conTENT?
The personas of these socially popular Content Providers can either be genuine or performative – or, in many cases, a mix of both. Is the persona a con? Or are being allowed inside the tent of their real life? Twitter, by its nature and demands requires a level of performance on a daily and weekly basis. In addition, exaggeration and hyperbole gets more attention and cut through.
This style of Content production that brings no financial or work benefit to the ordinary people behind the accounts does come at a personal cost, however. The sheer number of mental health cries for help, breaks, deactivations and alt accounts are testament to the pressures created for those who choose to place their heart and soul (even if it is a little bit exaggerated and / or performative) onto something like Twitter. However, even that could be performative. Truth is, we don’t know as audiences whether it’s CONtent or conTENT. And mostly, audiences don’t care – they just like the Content pouring out.
I have written extensively about “Megaphoning”, which is to take a simple message and continually repeat it, collecting more and more voices that agree. That process continues, even if the players on the Megaphoning treadmill change in time. The latest example of this phenomenon is PR Guy 17, whose Content is constant, calculated and frequent. There is enough evidence from the tweets that the account is run by an enthusiastic Labor supporter – whoever runs it has made too many mistakes and has strayed from Labor social media policy and practice for it to be a paid Labor operation. For all of the dunking and opposition that the account has attracted, it does produce a lot of very popular Content. Whoever uses it is also not afraid to do a bit of dunking of its own. A crucial part of the tactic being employed by PR Guy is the use of Hashtags, which helps to signal to the audience where the action is in terms of whipping up collective anger. Hashtags are deeply unfashionable amongst highly experienced twitter users, but for those who don’t use it as much, they act as a very handy search tool. Whoever runs that account it is also good at engaging with and responding to supporters and the odd critic when it suits their purposes, having a touch of the Socially Popular approach.
Step Two – The Feedback Loop
After these initial tweets of Content, the Mill then kicks into action, where the feedback loop kicks in. And it’s the feedback loop that can really punt Content into the trending stratosphere.
This process is one of the first steps of creating a social media brand, on the back of Content produced by others. The people who do this are the dunkers. These are the people who wait for a take from anyone that has been referred to – public figure, politician, media star or other well known person on twitter – and will come up with a clever dunk, as a quote tweet in order to get a block or snarky response, or via screenshot. Nick Schadegg is one of the great masters of the dunk – the second one being a dunk on Jane Caro’s take.
The Political Dunkers
There is a a subset of dunkers who have a political agenda and social media strategy behind their dunking. They are those people who seem to sweat over the tweets of politicians such as Bill Shorten, Anthony Albanese, Daniel Andrews, Gladys Berejiklian, Scott Morrison, et al, just so to dunk on them. They will either dunk by replying, or quote tweeting, depending on their intent. The speed at which some people respond to those tweets would indicate they set up to know when those tweets are issued. Then they are used as a rallying call for the supporters of that dunker to continue to spread the negative response, building a momentum of criticism. A look at the replies and Quote Tweets for politicians will reveal all sorts of social media approaches and tactics.
One of the most notorious seekers of affirmation for their views was Joe Hildebrand, who relentlessly tweeted supportive tweets for his takes. So much so that “Hildebranding” was the term for it. He is not the only one to do that, however, instead authors giving out likes and the occasional quote tweet, thus providing approval for their fans, as well as satisfying a need for affirmation by the authors themselves. This is not something restricted to the socially popular, but they are more likely to be appreciative of the support.
Another excellent producer of Content is the process of Shunning. One thing that the socially popular Content producers have as an advantage over many is that attract a number of passionate supporters who would do anything for them. It is often the case that this shunning process happens as a part of the feedback loop.
This is the way is works. If the socially popular Content producers decide that someone needs to be shunned by their supporters and fans, they can make that happen. It’s not a difficult process – it usually requires one of the following:
Someone responding out of spite, aggression or jealousy to someone who is socially popular. That person can then quote tweet, or screenshot that reply, ensuring that the supporters will then set upon attacking and / or shunning that person
Providing a quote tweet or screenshot of a tweet that is deemed to be offensive / out of step / not “reading the room” and then making it clear why that person needs to be criticised and / or shunned
Selecting to get into an argument with a critic, so to raise the stakes and temperature of the situation, exposing the critic to more attention, and hence, hopefully for the socially popular person, more shunning.
In this context, the term “cancel culture” is worthless, because people are not “cancelled” by twitter campaigns. Not all that much real world power is not wielded by everyday people with twitter accounts. Johnny Depp is still winning awards and living from his royalties, as is J.K. Rowling. Graham Linehan is still living from his royalties for Father Ted and IT Crowd. Pauline Hanson continually appears on various platforms, because she produces Content that attracts audiences. PR Guy has been the target of many “cancel” campaigns, and they plough on regardless.
What the shunners do have, however, is the power to shun people on their platform, just like any religious community, school playground or in the Mean Girls universe. That doesn’t mean that it can’t hurt to be shunned, but it’s not “cancelling”. Those who are “cancelled” can still have friends and supporters, just not with a certain group of people on Twitter. If they want that support, however, it’s usually too late. Shunning, if done effectively, lasts a long time.
What the process of shunning DOES do above everything else, though, is produce great Content for the audience.
Convo Twitter v Broadcast Twitter
There is another issue, however, with feedback – that nexus between audience response and Content producers who are of good faith. As the excellent expert Dr. Emma Beckett points out in these tweets, it would be nice if twitter was about talking to people as people, not at them. Convo Twitter as opposed to Broadcast Twitter. Twitter’s algorithm does hide a lot of replies, and can distort the tone of feedback.
What is “Good” Content?
Who are the audience for all of this? What makes “good” Content? What makes Content “good” is purely in the eye of the audience. That’s it. The Mill produces Content that appeals to all sorts of audience members. Like with radio, TV, movies, there are many demographics and interests. There’s fans of snark, fans of the earnest, fans of stirrers, fans of dunking, fans of “eating a burger!”
That is why it’s probably a bit of a waste of time complaining about people in those different demographics. Each of us pick and choose what we decide is lame and what is acceptable. For example, if people choose to cling on those outdated water drop emojis, it indicates they are still annoyed about the fact Angus Taylor is still a Minister. There are people still stung by plot line resolutions in 1990s television shows and movies. Others are still salty about the whole last season of Game of Thrones, which went to air at the same time Taylor’s water issue came to light.
Audience as Wannabe Content Producers
For most twitter users, they aren’t skilled producers of Content. Or at least, constant producers of continually high quality Content. As my opera singing mum would say to people who said they wished they had mum’s abilities, “performers need an audience”. There is a twist to this, however. For a lot of the audience of twitter, they are widely dissatisfied with the way “mainstream media” packages and features news. They sense that some stories and perspectives gain the upper hand while many stories they believe are important fall between the cracks. That is the narrative that the likes of Ronni Salt promotes, and her supporters believe. These same people also believe the illusion that Twitter is a platform that provides unfettered, unfiltered access to journalists and the famous for the ordinary person ; as well as a platform for anyone wishing to create Content.
It doesn’t, and it isn’t.
The Impotent Cold Call Fury of the Waterdrops
Most of the audience who use water drops as emojis are people angry about what they see as the unchecked corruption of the Liberal Party and go onto twitter for some sense of solidarity and support for their anger. Their @ responses to journalists they believe are biased is a misguided and attempt to have someone acknowledge that their concerns are being heeded. There are also a number of people who are the “I am just asking a question troll type” to which Dr. Beckett is referring. The combination of the anger, the Twitter algorithm, and trolls, these cold call replies to most experienced Twitter users have been rendered almost pointless.
Some media professionals, especially this year, have been annoyed (some performatively) by the flooding of their notifications of angry, powerless people. High profile people like Leigh Sales have struck back, criticising them and highlighting the numbers of people angry with her tweets and work on 730. It didn’t have the effect of stopping the criticism. It hasn’t stopped Sales from hosting 730, nor using twitter. It did, however, create more Content.
Likes – The Rorschach Inkblot of Audiences
If you want to see who the audience are for certain Content producers, one of the more reliable indicators is who likes what on twitter. While it is true that likes don’t necessarily mean approval or agreement, over time, patterns emerge of the audiences and fans of those key Content producers. And certain tweets stand out like Rorschach blots, revealing the personality of those who like them. Or, alternately, who dunk on them. That was certainly true of the Jane Caro football tweet, who flushed out supporters and opponents of her doing all kinds of rhetorical gymnastics as a response.
Getting On or Off the (Tread)Mill ofContent
If new or inexperienced twitter users are frustrated or confused by twitter, it is much easier to see twitter as a constantly moving treadmill of Content, dominated in Australia by savvy, experienced users. Some people are very skilled at persisting in staying on it each day. So many of them have to be.
For the rest of us, we need to make decisions about our approach and attitude towards the Mill. Do we continue to provide Content, or are just happy to consume it? Or just drop off completely?
On this point, I don’t really want to make this post about me. The intent also is not to settle old scores. These are reflections on my observations over the years of having an account that produced Content that developed a reasonable following. I used a number of the approaches listed above. My attitude and feelings about having such a position as a Content producer might be illustrative for others. And because I love classical music, I wanted to use bits of Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin to express that perspective.
I was once attracted to the sweet song of the Mill of Content, and encouraged to contribute to it – the dopamine hits were awesome. However, these days, I feel more like the wanderer from the opening song – seeing how the water never ceases to move, seeing how heavy the stones of the mill are. Unlike Schubert’s miller, though, I am going to now stick to my wandering. And I want to stick to Convo Twitter, rather than Broadcast Twitter. I can see, though, why being one of the Producers in the Mill of Content could continue to dazzle and fascinate.
To wander is the miller’s delight; to wander!
A poor miller he must be who never thought of wandering, of wandering.
We have learnt it from the water, from the water!
It never rests, by day or night, but is always intent on wandering, the water.
We can see it in the wheels too, the wheels!
They never care to stand still but turn tirelessly the whole day long, the wheels.
The stones themselves, heavy as they are, the stones!
They join in the merry dance and seek to move still faster, the stones.
O wandering, my delight,
Master and mistress,
let me go my way in peace,
Wandering, from Die Schöne Müllerin, by Johann Müller
N.B. Thanks to Anne, Ben and Dick for ideas and feedback for this post (and yes, I do realise they sound like characters from an Enid Blyton book)
Nationality “chooser”, Adam Goodes abuser, convicted racist Andrew Bolt has left Melbourne. Ordinarily, the tale of some rich, out of touch media columnist leaving the city that helped to build a career of deception and performative bigotry wouldn’t be worth looking at. But the farewell letter to Melbourne – from the Herald Sun of December 2 – and his desire for some living space is so funny, so crypto fascist, so swollen with pretention, that it absolutely needs to be read. I would like to thank the benefactor who sent me the whole text, so I didn’t have to pay to read it. And now, you don’t have to.
Here we go.
The house is sold and I’m heading bush, without a single tear, but I’m not alone in fleeing Melbourne after months of lockdown. That’s it. I’m out of here. Melbourne, I loved you once but it’s all over between us. So the house is sold, the boxes packed, and I’m heading bush, without a single tear.
Bolt has always thought of himself as a wordsmith, an artist. Goes back to his days of desperately trying to impress his colleagues at The Age and his wistful desire to work at the ABC. No tears! Sure there’s no tears.
Plus, so much for being a battler for the average man writing in the average man’s paper – being able to leave the city and work from outside the city, selling his $2.8 million home in Malvern East. Plus, here he is, trying to portray a love affair with Melbourne. One that was purely one sided, where one side is an abuser.
Blame maybe the coronavirus for the cold goodbye. I’m not alone in fleeing Melbourne after months of this virus lockdown. That didn’t just leave me feeling claustrophobic and wanting out before this crazy government’s next stunt. I was felt threatened by how eagerly so many Melburnians accepted home imprisonment and looked for people to dob in.
“Crazy government’s next stunt” is code for “a government using science based decision making”. Bolt has several issues with science, as in he does not believe in it. It’s a curious position for an admitted atheist being so enthusiastic in his faith that science is wrong about the world, while Bolt’s instincts are much more reliable.
The most astonishingly hypocritical part of that paragraph, however, is when he bemoans Victorians “seeking to dob each other in”, when Bolt himself has been encouraging people to vilify Indigenous people, Islamic people and others who don’t fit into Bolt’s own picture of acceptable behaviour and attitudes. He’s Melbourne’s biggest virtue signaller, and yet, he has managed to convinced himself that it’s other people’s “dobbing in” that’s the problem.
How I need more space, fewer people and a wide sky to let me dream I’m free. But, honestly, I was pretty much done with Melbourne already. I’d planned for years to bail out the moment I could. That’s now. Kids left. Savings topped up. Career optional.
What a way to build a connection with a working class / everyman audience – he’s made lots and lots of money from his act over the years. So relatable.
So part of this move is me — but part of it, Melbourne, is you. It’s more than 40 years since I moved from Murray Bridge to Melbourne, and my first real job. How I adored the capital of the Garden State. There was more green than I was used to. More flowers.
Bolt has been doing his level best to make sure Victoria is less green now and into the future with his climate change denialism. And we know about his first real job – working for the Age, a place for which he still clearly pines. Ironically, the way it is these Ninefax days, they might be ready for his brand of right wing demagogue act.
The city seemed sedate, too. Ordered.
The Germans in the build up to WW2 were also good at ordered cities.
Oh, it had flaws. The Yarra bank, across from the city centre, was an eyesore. I still remember seeing a giant rat there, before the warehouses went and restaurants and the casino came. Now the only rats are the human ones a casino inevitably attracts. Is that an improvement? Or just more “progress” to regret, like the rash of pokie machines that infected the city from the 1990s, the previous time a Labor government drove the state broke and needed cash.
The massive hypocrisy of a writer for the Herald Sun being opposed to gambling is one of the bigger guffaw generating moments. Has he read his own paper? Seen the ads? Seen the stories? Have never seen one of his beloved Liberal Governments wind any of that gambling back. Nor even seen Bolt himself write all that much about these venal places. But when you’re a fake, pretending to hate things when you have little to lose is easy to do.
The best part of this “farewell letter” is the giant rat. If that rat was still alive, it might well be the only true friend Bolt made. He would have known his kind when he met Bolt. Conversely, it could have been a different story entirely if the giant rat ate him, doing the city of Melbourne a favour, but sadly, alas, if he was still alive, he would now cut a tragic figure as a symbol of a lost opportunity.
I also remember when Melbourne boasted it was Australia’s arts capital, and few dared disagree. Back then, it had a new arts centre, and gloried in hometown playwrights like David Williamson and bred performers as wildly wonderful as Barry Humphries. But Williamson then moved to Sydney, as did others, and once-rollicking Melbourne grew so po-faced that the Melbourne International Comedy Festival last year stripped Humphries’ name from its top prize because he’d offended transgender activists. A city that swaps a Humphries for a Hannah Gadsby has had fun stamped out of it by a new elite that wants laughter to have a licence.And a city that insists it’s still an arts mecca because — look! — we have lanes coated with graffiti really needs a reality check
Old white writers is what Bolt loves and knows, and they are fading away. With Bolt, Humphries’ best character, Sandy Stone, is not a satire, it’s a life goal. There’s nothing rollicking about Williamson’s tired schtick about comfortable Melbourne middle class conversations. Bolt, though, would have got a sustained thrill being a subject of one of those scenes, even if it was criticising him. That’s because Bolt clearly loves being the villain of the professional middle class – the professional troll. He probably realised that when he was on the outer with the Age’s culture. Better to be discussed than ignored.
The commentary on Hannah Gadsby’s finely honed comedy is yet another example of Bolt’s misunderstanding that the world is no longer accepting the bigotry and aggressive apathy of a society unwilling to look at itself. And the last line is just dumb.
Then there’s the traffic. When I moved to Melbourne, it had 2.8 million people, and that already seemed plenty. But our politicians, addicted to macho-growth, doubled it to more than five million. Homes with gardens were torn down and replaced with apartments. The city spread like cancer, and Melbourne now has just too, too many people. Boy, have I noticed. Finding a break in the traffic to get out of my street got harder. Sunday went from a quiet day on the roads to jam-packed. And with so many newcomers crowding the city, you couldn’t talk any more about a “we” — people sharing the stories that turn individuals into a community. Stories? We barely share a language, now that immigrants no longer feel the pressure to integrate, as did my parents’ generation. In the virus crisis, the government translated health warnings into 53 languages, and still it wasn’t enough. Victorians born overseas were twice as likely as those born here to get sick. And have you noticed how brutal Melbourne has become? More gangs, more street violence, more home invasions.
This section is so laced with crypto fascist dogma that it can be used as a template for anyone seeking the ways racist writers position their desire for society to opposed non white immigration. It has all the ingredients.
Blaming traffic on the newcomers, Fiona Scott style
Replacing homes, that Anglo – Celtic desire, with apartments filled with foreigners, who are fine with that kind of thing
A city growing from immigration is “like cancer” – the analogy is clear, but even if it the connection wasn’t clear…
Jumping from a complaint about being trapped in “his” suburb to “newcomers crowding the city” – damn those new migrants
There is no community because these foreigners speak their own languages now
These new migrants are twice as likely to get sick. How dare they be poor people who live closer together, therefore being more susceptible to the spread of disease.
And clearly, by the placements of the next set of comments, these new migrants are vicious criminals
What Bolt clearly needs is some lebensraum.
Even the language is more brutal. I this week read of the “heartfelt” Instagram post of a footballer’s fiance, battling to get pregnant through IVF. “’Motherhood sounds so f..king magical,” she wrote. How that obscenity jarred next to “motherhood”.
One of the most mendacious tricks of these frauds like Bolt is a pretense to want “civilised” discourse, while they themselves preach layers of hate with civilised language. It’s also the refuge of the faux intellectual. Ben Shapiro belongs to the same vapid school of judgmental language critique.
True, Melbourne still does things well. It has the Richmond AFL club, for one. And no city can get more people to a big game so easily.
Bolta is a Richmond fan. Trust him to support a club that might make him seem like he’s connected to the “working man”. Also, can’t imagine him being all that much of a fan of the vocabulary of Dustin Martin.
PLUS, DOES ANDERS BLOT GO TO THE FOOTBALL? REALLY?
He’s fooling no-one. Blot will return to Melbourne when Wagner is on. Not to see his beloved Trent Riewoldt kick some steaks.
I’ll also miss the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square. Its Australian art gives me a happy outing a couple of times a year.
He would be ignoring the Indigenous art displays. And most of the modern stuff.
But the rest? What can Melbourne now offer me that compares to the joy of leaving it? You may know the feeling as you drive away. Houses finally give way to paddocks and soft hills, blue in the distance, or you crest a rise and see the great ocean at last. The horizon expands. The air freshens. The roar of cars gives way to bird calls. Breath in, tension out. Melbourne behind you, a gentler life ahead.
“Soft hills”. There he is, trying to be Les Murray again. Cringeworthy doggerel from someone seeking his gentle life of being able to produce his bigotry and hate from a safe distance, without having to run into people directly affected by his mendacious poison.
He’s found his room to live, having failed to stop the invasion of the Infidel. He’ll still write and get published, because the Hun is a vile organ, riddled with the cancer caused by this blot on the landscape.
In today’s streaming world, most of us don’t buy CDs anymore, it’s true. Especially if you are a tech minded person and use twitter to get your news. CDs? They are so old. Yet during this imposed isolation in Melbourne, I have turned to my CD collection a lot more, and placed the little plastic discs into my dedicated CD player. I am no audiophile – the CD player is an “entry level” Yamaha one I bought years ago, my amplifier is also “entry level” and my speakers are from a Philips stereo setup my dad bought in the early 1990s. Part of the reason why I have been using CDs is not because I am a Luddite – it arose because the bluetooth connection from my devices to the amplifier is glitchy. The cables that connect the CD to the amp, and the cords that connect it to the speakers has proven to be more reliable. Another significant reason is that I focus more on music played from a CD than through streaming. Psychologically, streaming is for background music, pop music and for the car. Not for really immersing in the music.
So it has come to pass that I have paid a more attention to my CD collection than I have for more than 20 years. And it has revealed a lot about what forms a person in their 20s, but also what it tells me about life as it stands at the moment.
Me as a Young Classical Fan
I was 16 when my dad bought me a CD player, mini stereo system and three CDs to go with it. Classical, of course – we were a distinctly classical only household (though that didn’t stop me from buying Kate Ceberano’s Brave soon afterwards). It was a revelation – great sounding music in my own room. Being the 80s, that was a big deal. Not long after, I drowned my awkward teenage sorrows in the Big Tunes of Rachmaninov and then explored the hard core stuff – Shostakovich’s 8th Symphony at full volume (Dad was starting to regret his purchase that that stage).
That was the start of an odyssey through music that was no longer bound to just listening to the radio. Through my early 20s and to when I got my first full time job as a teacher, my focus was on building a classical music library. To find out what to listen to, what to discover, I didn’t have access to a lot of sources locally. I also didn’t have a lot of classical music loving friends at school or even at uni. So, I listened to Martin Hibble’s Just Out on ABC FM religiously – I especially liked his inability to fall into line with what record companies wanted reviewers to say. I also used my lunchtimes at Fisher Library at Sydney Uni to pore through old back issues of the UK Gramophone magazine – generally the most respected storehouse of reviews and articles. It was the early 90s, so no internet databases, subreddits or google to help me. I investigated.
I look at the collection now and it tells me a lot about mid 20s me. I was a socially awkward 20 something manchild, I developed a lot of bad opinions, influenced by all sorts of things. I decided that I liked Georg Solti because he wasn’t a severe Nazi-looking bloke like Karajan. (I had also read excerpts of Norman Lebrecht’s Maestro Myth, so was influenced by his comments about Karajan). He was also on the Channel 4 Orchestra program with Dudley Moore. So there’s a lot of Solti there. There was lots of Ashkenazy, because Dad gave me a recording of him doing the Rach 2nd and 4th Piano Concertos, so that started me off with him.
I was also on Team Norrington when it came to the battle in the early 90s between period instrument ensembles – largely fuelled by record companies – between Roger Norrington at EMI, John Eliot Gardiner at Deutsche Gramophon / Archiv and Christopher Hogwood at Decca / L’oiseau Lyre. I plumped for Norrington because he seemed to be having more fun. Plus, he was genial and friendly on the BBC programs of him conducting the Beethoven 9 (which are, these days, completely unavailable anywhere). I grew up with Karajan’s Beethoven in my head – Dad had Deutsche Gramophon box sets at home – “the best of Beethoven”, and so on. That’s why I didn’t much like Beethoven until I heard Norrington. To me, it was also a bit of a rebellion against Dad and the older generation to be enjoying the earthier interpretations of the historically informed performances. It also helped that I was studying history at university and could see the worth of doing such research. It got so that I only listened to their interpretations of classical, baroque and early romantic music. I became a rusted on ideologue, believing the modern orchestra was not right for the music from that period. (I cringe now at those views).
There were also a lot of CDs that I could get on sale at Lawson’s and Ashwood’s second hand shops on Castlereagh St, plus at the Pitt St Virgin Megastore classical sales. I had read about the recordings in Gramophone first, of course. In those days, I was dedicated to getting one recording each of a whole lot of music – so I could have a wide ranging collection, not a whole lot of recordings of the one thing. The idea of owning 6 different performances of Beethoven’s symphonies or sonatas struck me as being indulgent.
As I said, I had a lot of Opinions. A lot of them not my own, but I stuck to them like glue.
In the late 90s, I got married (as it turned out, too soon for the both of us, and in my case, it was largely because of my terrible self esteem that I married the first woman who had shown an interest in me). As teaching, children and marriage took over – as did a massive array of bills and barely keeping our heads above water financially – the CD collection sat in boxes, barely listened to. Occasionally, if I was allowed to indulge every so often, I would buy the odd CD here or there if I was in Sydney. I was barely ever in Sydney in any case – my life was firmly entrenched in the outer suburbs, where classical CDs were usually Best Ofs or featured the likes of Richard Clayderman.
That marriage ended in a heap in the late 00s, I went into a new and much better relationship, plus I was a bit more financially stable over the next 10 years. The CD collection, however, stayed largely as it was, save for the occasional purchase influenced by Hugh Robertson at Fish Fine Music – he ran the only classical CD shop left in Sydney. I would also occasionally go onto the – appropriately named for me – Presto Classical site in the UK. At least though, this time, my other half gave me the present of a custom made home for them.
Enjoying and Enhancing the Collection
So we entered 2020 and at the end of last year we have moved to a different house, with a nice place to sit and listen to music. I need music a lot of the time – I have a streaming setup in my home office, even though Apple Music and Spotify aren’t all that great for classical music. At the end of the day, however, if I want to be freed from the restriction of that space, I go into the back room, get out a CD and sit in the middle of the sound and connect with the experience those musicians were aiming to produce. Not a playlist, not a shuffle – the CD. It has been different, as well as lovely. Though, as I discovered, a bit limited. Thing was, through all the years, it never ceases to amaze me that the full price of classical CDs is exactly the same now as it was in the 1990s. It always struck me that someone has to be suffering because of that.
Rethinking the CD collection has become my isolation hobby. There are gaps, I realised, which seems counter – intuitive for a collection of 800 CDs. That number, however, is small in comparison with people considered to be “serious” collectors. I don’t intend to be one of those, but I did want new things, different things.
One of the priorities was getting more CDs by some of the musicians I have heard in concert halls – if you want to listen to any artist with the English Hyperion company, such as Stephen Hough, Steven Osborne or iconoclastic harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, you have to buy the CDs – they don’t stream a lot of their recordings. That’s good news for their artists, if they can shift CDs to the swiftly dwindling CD purchaser – artists with companies like Hyperion (as opposed to Naxos, who pay a one off fee) receive much better royalties from CD sales than they do from streams.
Another priority has also been to find CDs of works I already have, but by different conductors and performers. Make me listen in a different way. As such, I have been able to do something I could only dream of doing in the 90s – buy whole boxed sets. That’s because, while the full price of new CDs has not changed a large amount, the cost of box sets more than 2 years old and second hand CDs has plummeted. Ebay and Amazon is a storehouse of historical gold. Plus, on physical CDs, there are some recordings that are hard to find on streams. For Apple and Spotify, it can hard to find specific recordings from specific artists – and tracks downloaded in the past can disappear. As a result, I have been able to pick up box sets of performances declared legendary by various sources. $25 for 6 – 8 new CDs sometimes. I have used Gramophone articles and reviews to lead me to get boxed sets of Beethoven and Brahms, as well as looking back over back catalogues of what I would have loved to be able to afford 25 years ago. What has also really made this process richer for me is that the research behind these purchases has been a lot of fun.
In these months, watching Mad Men led me to speculate which recording of Beethoven Pete Campbell would have bought. I decided Leonard Bernstein’s would be his go – the American with fashionable ideas, not the Karajan of Bert Cooper. That launched me on a journey to know more about Bernstein. I ordered cheap box sets of his Mahler and Beethoven, as well as other things he has done. I then went through the existing collection and found bits and pieces of his recordings I had forgotten I had. With the purchase of the DVD of his recording of Candide, I remember a time when I watched that performance with Mum. She loved it so much that she was driven to learn Glitter and Be Gay, one of the last songs she learnt afresh, and one that suited her style down to the ground. So that was nice. I have also now purchased books about Bernstein, and I’m sure that I will find out more about him in time. I’m looking forward to the Bradley Cooper film about his life.
My rabbit hole chasing lead me to the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics (I had no idea the Vienna orchestra uses different instruments to others), and then to Wilhelm Furtwängler, discovering his complex place in German history. It struck me as curious that Furtwängler’s place, with him protecting Jewish players, refusing to do the Nazi salute and other micro pieces of resistance saw his legacy questioned, while former party member and unapologetic rising star of the Nazi period, Karajan, is still lauded. I am happy to find out more about that – I am not the Norman Lebrecht fan that I was in the 90s – but it was a question that continually arose. It is important to me who is behind the CD. That’s why, for example, I have binned my Charles Dutoit and James Levine CDs. Aside from that, however, it also struck me how different Furtwängler’s approach to Beethoven was to Karajan’s. There was something plastic, shiny, empty and a bit dead to my ears in Karajan’s. And that was before I knew about his past. Or this garish car he asked Porsche to build for him.
With Furtwangler, while his sound was nowhere near as good as Karajan’s, there’s something spontaneous and human about his performances – flawed note wise, but a fascinating glimpse to another time when being right, disciplined and consistent wasn’t the be all and end all. His recording of Beethoven 9 done at Bayreuth, and the stories behind it, provides a glimpse of music that historically and psychologically is so different from today’s. Plus, it’s at variance with the historically informed performances that I was welded to in my 20s. Beethoven and Brahms are great enough to be played in all sorts of different ways and be enjoyed.
My current rabbit hole is a more joyful one – a rediscovery of French music. Inspired by watching Tour de France, I have discovered Les Siécles, a contemporary French orchestra who are playing uniquely French instruments from various eras and playing them to breathe new life into French music, as well as music from other nations. It is in their recordings of French music that I am finding new delights into the sound world and panache that their composers bring us. And then comparing them to other recordings that bring different insights. I am no longer a period instrument ideologue. As spring has started, the light, transparent and breezy glories of the French are wafting through the house.
As I sit in my lounge chair, with the music playing – sometimes with the CD booklet in my hands, learning more about the music – or being reminded about it – it is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon after work or have blasting when doing chores around the kitchen. Music becomes an immersing experience, helping me focus, helping me relax. No longer a background. So putting on a CD is quite a nice thing.
Every few months or so, a story that bubbles and spits around Twitter rises to the surface and reaches legacy media outlets. Like a fart in a bath. The most recent fart has risen from the work of Friendly Jordies, aka Jordan Shanks. It was decided at both at the Daily Telegraph and the Herald that his work was important enough to feature in stories. His presence, image and popularity are both explicable and understandable. His style and substance may need to be discussed and analysed, but perhaps not in the gotcha way both of those pieces attempted.
Who is Friendly Jordies? What is this all about?
When I have mentioned Shanks’ work on twitter in the recent past, I frequently receive responses of “who”, which probably is not a surprise, considering that most of my followers are Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. They are not Shanks’ audience. So, before I start, I will give a short summary of who he is and why he his bubble has risen. (For those who know he is, jump to the next bit).
Jordan Shanks is a graduate of Newtown Performing Arts High School and former model (for a fascinating and revealing read, here is an interview with him from those days) who decided, like a lot of people in their 20s, decided that podcasting and making youtubes might be fun. His thing – to belittle conservatives. To laugh at them, point fingers, giggle about their dress sense, personal style, physical features, accents. It probably helps that he looks like he could be one – such as in the video screenshot at the start of this. The big moments of a rise in his fame has come from being sued by Clive Palmer. Shanks’ gambit – that Clive Palmer was fat – was a door to open to wider critiques by Shanks of Palmer’s politics. He gained more fame recently by doing videos calling NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian “koala killer” in relation to land protection policies. More significantly, he added NSW Nationals’ leader John Barilaro to that criticism, but also being on brand by calling him Super Mario because of his Italian heritage.
These rises to fame is the main clue to understanding Shanks’ style and his popularity. He uses immature belittling tactics – teasing people for their looks, accents and personal style – to appeal to teens and their twenties who think that schtick is funny. His use of “funny” voices and bringing in assistants in pile-ons increases that appeal. His stuff, though, does have substance. It is often well researched and hits many targets successfully.
Ok, why is he appearing on the front page of the Sun Herald? Not a Twitter Thing.
Ordinarily, Shanks’ activities would assign him to the area of that of yet another youtuber, but why Shanks is important is why he is doing it and the impact of what he does. He uses these tactics to bring an audience in, so he can pursue a wider agenda – to promote the values and actions of the ALP to that young audience. His critiques of Palmer, Berejiklian and Barilaro are long and detailed – they show dedicated research and a plan to bring often politically neutral or disinterested people onboard. Hence why there has been support from within the ALP for Shanks and his continuing project – he has had a number of ALP figures as guests over the years. His style, however, has raised questions from within the ALP and elsewhere as to whether the party should be condoning and supporting what he does. Mostly though, I’m guessing, from people my age and older.
Shanks provides a dilemma. He is both a success and a problem. He is a loose cannon. As pointed out in the Herald piece, he recently spoke out against the treatment of former Labor leader Luke Foley, suggesting that his alleged assault wasn’t worth the punishment, showing a questionable attitude about sexual assault. He also tweeted a photo taken outside a journalist’s house, which caused unnecessary anxiety for that journalist. The sort of thing that makes him into a problematic figure for the party. And yet, his videos attract a lot of views, and the possibility for new Labor recruits. And that is why he we don’t see Labor people publicly distance themselves from him. The numbers.
Shanks’ most recent video, where he belittles Daily Telegraph journalist James O’Doherty, provides a comprehensive window on his agenda and style. Most of his audience – not only his usual ones, but the waterdrops on twitter who hate everything Murdoch – would enjoy the sight of Shanks and his assistant taunting and teasing O’Doherty as if they are in a schoolyard. To them, O’Doherty is a little short kid who deserves it because he works for Murdoch. For those of us who see and hear about this on school playgrounds won’t enjoy any of it. It’s unnecessarily nasty and cruel. That critique, however, does not hold up in a place where there’s no limits to what is seen to be necessary for the fight against the Murdoch media. I’m just an old uncool teacher.
But those people – like me – aren’t Shanks’ audience. Our comments are irrelevant. And the Herald piece seems to put him more in the limelight as someone of interest rather than anything else – no wonder Shanks’ spoke of it admiringly on his twitter feed. If the Herald authors were thinking that this would “get” Shanks with that piece, then they were wrong. He speaks glowingly of anything negative that is said about him in legacy media. He even did an accurate bingo card of what was going to be said in the piece before it was published. That’s the point with Shanks – he makes his reputation on being a critic of such media, and criticism of him in it just increases his popularity and makes him look even more credible.
The thing between him and the AUWU – A Twitter Thing continuing a wider agenda
The thing that has made Shanks more of a topic on twitter is his recent attack on the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union – the AUWU. It seemingly sparked from an unusual moment – Bill Shorten calling Scott Morrison a “simp” in terms of his relationship to the Trump administration. Shorten’s was a clunky moment, one which was laughed at by various Gen Y twitter people, who tend to be gatekeepers for words usually used by them. (I personally think Bill, like most Gen Xers, should never try to appear cool by using words like that unironically). Shanks, however, was having none of that – showing that he will go into the trenches to support Labor figures. One of the people responding to Shanks was Thomas Studans, one of the organisers for the AUWU. This fairly minor and pointless spat then prompted a rabbit hole of excrement being flung for the best part of two weeks.
That’s what twitter can do – but what it brought has become part of a wider campaign of Labor adjacent campaigners against the AUWU and other Greens adjacent campaigners.
Shanks seemingly decided to use this moment as an inspiration for a video outlining flaws, faults and problems in the AUWU – bringing up old arguments with previous organisers, issues of funding, the spending of small amounts of money. Trivial stuff. He said / she said petty stuff. I watched it, out of curiosity, and it featured Shanks’ tools usually used against Liberals and conservatives – his hectoring style, use of some facts to hammer home points and images scoured from the net designed to belittle and tease his targets. A video, though, that had 220k views. That’s some deep gaslighting made for a big audience.
Why the video was seemingly one of Shanks’ most pointless was that it was based purely on twitter. The whole issue appeared to come from pure Twitter – pettiness, trivial stuff that most people would not care anything about, childish name calling and voices.
That’s not a flaw, though, it’s probably the main point of the video. It seems to have hidden one of Shanks’ main agendas in targeting the AUWU – that its own social media activities is muscling into his own turf – making content that is attractive and significant to Gen Ys and younger. The AUWU is raising awareness of the problems faced by the unemployed, with mutual obligation requirements and with job agencies. The AUWUs campaign and agenda, however, is critical of Labor and its lack of support in the run up to the the 2019 election for issues such as raising the Newstart allowance. Its supporters on twitter are largely Greens and Greens adjacent supporters. There is also criticism from its campaigners of areas of the ACTU’s activities.
What Shanks has done with his video is now give ammunition for Labor supporters and members on twitter to fight back against the AUWU’s commentary on Labor policies. It’s become a proxy for the continuing battle between Labor and Greens supporters. What is has revealed is that in this battle, though, select members of the AUWU and their supporters, however, have not been their own best allies.
The Pascal Principle and the pitfalls of twitter crap
This is where we revisit a bigger issue about the way twitter is used and the bullying tone that continues to be used by mostly men in their 20s – and why it’s a problem. One point raised by Shanks on the AUWU video with which I agreed was his comments regarding the way people are personally bullied. Yes, it was highly ironic for Jordan Shanks of all people to be criticising how others are treated on social media. He did raise, though, the way minor people are dragged into the limelight and picked on – yes, another irony. As a part of this, he put up screenshots of tweets made by Thomas Studans relating to a Labor waterdrop called Pascal Grosvenor that cast a bad light on Thomas Studans of the AUWU and therefore cast a bad light on what the rest are doing on social media.
As a side note, I could do a whole blog post about Pascal – I know too much about him and his twitter existence, from what others have said about him. In the grand scheme of things, he isn’t all that important. However, what has been done to him and by him should show people on twitter how not to act.
Pascal – for those unaware of the thousands of tweets made to, from and about him – is:
An enthusiastic Labor supporter who used to live in Pendle Hill in Western Sydney, then moved to the mid Blue Mountains.
Was especially supportive of the NBN and was understandably angry about the way it was sidelined and treated after 2013.
Just another Labor supporter who stays under the radar, is not widely known in the Labor Party – even in the Blue Mountains – but turns up to branch meetings and will occasionally get out to hand out HTVs on election day.
Someone whose experience of the Greens is shared by a number of Labor supporters in that part of Sydney – that it is a inner city focused party that has appeared largely unconcerned with outer suburban issues.
He lives in an area where having a Labor controlled council has brought more tangible benefit to the area than a fractious, disorganised Greens presence on council ever brought.
I know these things because I share views with Pascal, and have also handed out HTVs for the ALP in the Blue Mountains. I, however, see him as a warning of what not to do on twitter. Pascal is an example of a well meaning campaigner that has become someone dragged into the whirlpool of excrement that auspol twitter started to become from 2013 onwards and has become a frequent target of Greens and Greens-adjacent supporters. Pascal has responded in kind – neither side is ever covered in glory. Stalking people’s Linked In accounts, for example, is not cool.
Pascal and his critics need to ignore each other, but they never will – just like kids in a schoolyard who are permanently stuck in Year 9. The problem, however, is that the silly schoolyard stuff that flies around leaves receipts. And this set of screenshots from Shanks’ video is pretty damning. If you are a fighter for progressive rights, you should never do stuff like this, no matter how aggravating a megaphone is. And I have seen worse said about Pascal by various progressives. It doesn’t stop and really, it needs to, because to the uninitiated and those out of the loop, it looks damning, because it is.
Yes, I am a Gen X Teacher
Twitter doesn’t have an office where bullies and children who fight in bad faith can be brought together and reconciled. Teachers like me know that – even though we try to create those offices on twitter, stupidly. Gen Y men on twitter and other social media do not care how they look to the rest of us. But I will still say – I can’t stomach any of it. Not the childish crap on Shanks’ videos, the memes, the sniggering. “It’s just bants” is never an excuse for being a dickhead towards people.
Most of this is not great. Jordan Shanks doing Super Mario impressions and laughing at people because they are short, fat or wearing stupid clothes is boring and puerile. As are most of the abusive memes and jokes that fly around on twitter from anyone who is professing to support those who are living in poverty. There does need to be some dignity, some respect around. Sad thing is, that there is some good substance. I like most of what the AUWU do, and have been happily retweeting things as a part of their campaigns – I worry about the way the unemployed are threatened by the way our welfare system works. I have also watched a few videos from Shanks in the recent past, and there’s good nuggets of insight. A bit like Mark Latham back in the days before he turned into what he is today. And if Shanks remains stuck in his snarky bully boy persona, that’s what may well become of him in his 50s. Running for One Nation, but doing impersonations of his opponents.
But, as I say, none of this stuff is for me. I’m not the audience, so what I say doesn’t matter much. But nor does what is written in the Herald or Telegraph. But at least if you were confused as to what this was all about, at least you now know. And can happily ignore it.
It’s been 5 years since I started to build the Preston Towers brand. A “brand”? Actually, no, it isn’t – the username was a joke name for a start. That’s a ridiculous expression that infers some kind of plan. No, there’s been no plan. Just tweets and words from whatever came into my head at the time. But in saying that, I have been able to see how exactly someone could build their “brand” – I have seen many built over these 5 years – people trading their wares to the right people on social media and landed themselves jobs as opinion contributors on anything that takes their fancy. So, here’s some tips.
1. Have a Unique Take on Things
There’s a variety of angles people have on issues. Mine seemed to be from the aspect of Western Sydney, as there didn’t seem to be all that many people tweeting about politics from the region. So, I tweeted about things that had not been reported in a time when there wasn’t a whole lot of accurate, detailed, specific information being communicated across various platforms. This wasn’t a brand building exercise – it came from genuine annoyance at the quality of coverage. But it became part of my “brand” as I noted that I was getting posts read and retweeted more when I did write about the region. I had become the Western Suburbs Guy. And continue that way for most. Personally, I’d rather be the anything that takes my interest guy – classical music, sport, literature, teaching, whatever. But I had little choice in people’s perceptions of me, as it turned out. It’s nearly impossible to shift perceptions that become fixed very quickly.
2. Use Twitter during the Working Day
One of the things about Twitter as a social networking tool is that the bigger traffic is in the evening, for a number of obvious reasons. Vast arrays of people tweeting about TV shows, especially Q & A. A significant chunk of my followers started to do so after episodes of Q and A if I managed to crack a half decent joke / popular comment or two. That, however, doesn’t gain you as much traction brand wise (or is that “cut through”) as when people tweet during the working day. If you really want to get into the inner circle, get your brand well known to the core media employers and influencers (yes, they actually exist, even if they express disdain for the word), tweet during the working day. Whenever I am on school holidays, I could see how many people spend the hours from 9 to 5 charming each other and from those conversations have come various writing and editing jobs. So, get yourself a job where you can throw bon mots and epigrams at people during downtimes. That will build your brand to the right people very quickly.
3. Write one killer post that gets you Known
There is, in most people who blog, a killer post that really gains a person a reputation and, more importantly, traction in terms of audiences. The one post that really gets people talking and sharing – even getting mass Facebook coverage. It’s often also the one post that gets a person’s brand embedded (yes, embedded – I use this term deliberately, not ironically – I have seen this happen in many cases) into particular media outlets. That means, it doesn’t matter how mediocre your other work can be – people will remember that killer post and forgive the lesser ones. For a while, anyway.
4. Don’t Use a Pseudonym
If I was serious about getting work through social media connections, I would have ceased being a pseudonym some time ago. It seems that pseudonyms are for a past era – these days, the brand needs to have a real, identifiable person behind the profile. That way, people can build a relationship with the person, rather than only the ideas. That way, things like beer choices, attitudes towards TV shows and photos of friendship groups become a crucial part of the way a persona’s output is appreciated and read. It’s understandable in an era that upholds interest in the personal as being on the same – or even superior – level as the political.
5. Don’t Take Things So Seriously
One of the most important things for a social media brand builder is that you must pick and choose the issues about which you can be serious. It’s quick to see how a critical mass on Twitter will consider your objection or views are deemed to be “too serious” or “too earnest”. They will respond to you sarcastically, storify your work and the rest. Pile-ons are ugly and it’s rare to get support from others. It’s safer to wait to see when key players on social media have chosen to be serious about an issue before you can join in. Unless, of course, you have succeeded in becoming a key player. Then you will have learnt when to be serious in the correct way.
Same goes for how you respond to people who follow you purely to criticise you. I had a fair few of them over the years, who generally said I was too earnest / serious / wrong and would not respond to me at any other time. My mistake was to respond to them with various levels of anger, frustration, confusion all borne of anxiety. I should have been cooler and either ignored them or learnt to do “fully sick burns” in response. That’s a key skill if you decide to speak out individually or continue to hold unpopular opinions.
6. Know the Cliques and Circles of Friends
It’s one of the important areas of making your way in social media – know who else is who and, more importantly, what circles of friends exist. If you want to build your brand, you need to gain the assent of some and maybe even the disdain of others in order to gain acceptance and opportunities. Just as crucially, if you disagree with particular people, you need to consider carefully whether you express that opinion on social media or decide to just keep the view to yourself. Having made the mistake of disagreeing with various people over the years, I would advise that it doesn’t help your brand to take them on and get the criticism raining down on your head. On that, it’s very easy to bring opprobrium on one’s head – anywhere between 1 and 15 minutes, depending on what you tweet and whose opinion piece about which you express an opinion. So, it’s important to really think of what the consequences would be.
7. Be Yourself In Real Life Meetings – Or at least, a constructed version
If you really want to make it as a person who makes money and connections through social media, you will need to meet people in real life. The tweetup is a vital part of that process. I’m fortunate in having met a number of great people and when I meet people, I’m not overly concerned about making a good impression on people I don’t really like all that much. That’s because I have a good life away from the keyboard and don’t need to make money or impress people I don’t like or respect. The brand builder, however, needs to be more cautious than that and be strategic on exactly what kind of persona they are projecting. And be ready to join in when absent people with Twitter profiles are being criticised / slammed. There is no quicker way to be accepted by the right people.
This is not to say everyone on Twitter is like this, a Brand Builder. Far from it. But it’s been clear to see who has been following each of these points and have been a success at doing it. Good luck to them – they enjoy their lives and have made some good connections. For me, though, it’s sometimes difficult to enjoy social interactions on the platform when you know there is this level of manipulation, control and game playing occurring behind the computer screens of others. For someone who suffers considerable levels of anxiety, it’s sometimes crippling. This is why, when it comes to it, I’m grateful for using a pseudonym. That way, it’s become easy to escape that world and not have to second think your opinions about life, politics and the wider world. In addition, it’s also great to know people in real life who are able to tell you to get off that high horse and be happier for it.
And if you want to be an actual person and not a brand, that’s the best advice that can be provided.
At the moment, there’s two fairly momentous things happening in my life. One is the end of the US cable show Mad Men and the other is that I am selling the flat that provided me with this name – Preston Towers. The end of both eras have provided me pause for contemplation on what exactly is Mad Men and what has been the whole point of being Preston Towers.
At the core of Mad Men has been the enigma of Don Draper – the prodigiously talented man who doesn’t seem to care all that much about what his talent means to others. Instead, he seems gripped by a wanderlust, searching for whatever it is that might actually make him happy. Or resolved. This was a powerful show to be watching for the first time as a man living in an apartment alone. The man who didn’t quite know why he was where he was. It was at this same time I was familiarising myself with the UK version (the only one!) of Life on Mars, also featuring a man – Sam – who didn’t quite understand where he was or what it was that was happening. This feeling was expressed most strongly in Lost Horizon, the third last episode – and one of the best of the show’s existence.
Not that I associated all that strongly with either protagonist – I am not as handsome, talented or as well paid as Don Draper (nor had his outside office life…). Nor was I as disconnected with reality as Sam. They did, however, feed my questioning of what it was that I was doing and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
All very self centred and self indulgent, indeed. As is this post (though, there are a fair few detractors out there who would say that’s not all that unusual for me). It was, however, a counterpoint to my previous existence where I was really feeling the stress of being the only income winner for a family, paying rent, struggling through. Yes, I know we weren’t as close to poverty as many around us in the Campbelltown area, but the knowledge that changing anything about our lives would result in disaster gave me a purpose in life, even if I was miserable throughout.
The flat didn’t really help with my feelings of misery, however. It was a ground floor, anonymous concrete cave in the middle of a part of Penrith where there’s whole blocks full of similar anonymous apartments. Standing at the backyard, putting washing on the communal line emphasised the imposing nature of the surrounding mid 80s era apartment blocks. The only thing that made the experience interesting was one day hearing very loud pleasurable moaning emanating from one of the apartment blocks. Otherwise, not so much. Seeing how hard my housing commission subsidised neighbour and her family was doing was a frequent heartbreak.
The dangers posed by my solo life in Preston Towers was brought home to me recently through a visit to the Wayside Chapel, where one of its employees spoke of the breaking of his comfortable middle class existence and how the break up of his marriage led him to complete self indulgence, arrogance, violence, drugs and then homelessness. In retrospect, I knew I didn’t have any of that drive in me to be that self indulgent and thoughtless, but it could have happened. The main point he made was that the central thing about his self destruction was the overwhelming loneliness. And I remembered that intense feeling when surrounded by the cold concrete walls of the apartment. Being sick and at home was the worst. I felt disconnected with the kind of warm bubble work had provided.
I was saved, however, by my Claire, as well as my children and a continuing pride in my job. There were many positives around and I needed to still be helpful. Plus, I could see a more positive life beyond the horizon in my moments of optimism.
Eventually, there were two people living in Preston Towers and it wasn’t long before we both escaped. It was during that time before the escape that I started to tweet and blog using that name. It strikes me in retrospect that the name I chose was significant in many ways.
I was living in a place in which I didn’t feel I fit into – Penrith, so I felt voiceless in my region
I could see that Penrith and the western suburbs in general didn’t seem to have that many voices, so why not start something with a name from that area
It sounded rather old school British
The flat was just some anonymous cave – I had intended to just be some anonymous voice out there in the wilderness
No-one is more surprised than me that I have gone from creating that persona to what has happened since. The articles, the followers, all of it still staggers me if I stop to think about it. With that kind of voice has come many detractors who hate follow me on Twitter or make stabs about my tastes – but after all, if I was just as anonymous and voiceless as the other people of Preston St, they wouldn’t be making their small minded comments that show little understanding of what I’m really like. I also have the thought that sometimes this persona is as much an creation as is “Don Draper” – someone not quite real, someone based on an illusion and really just all about the art of using words in a convincing fashion. In my more reasoned moments, I realise that this is an absurd comparison, that I am just a person who had to use a pseudonym and say stuff that comes into my head and some people seem to like, for whatever reason and that I am way overthinking this. In that way, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Getting back to Don Draper, however, it could be argued that he deserves his detractors because of his self destruction and inability to care for people. That’s a fair point. I sometimes look at his actions and shake my head. I then realise that there’s a self destructive streak within some men that isn’t just Don’s. It could also be argued that he never asked to be as successful and vital as he was to the world of advertising. These questions, however, are asked and answered by far better voices than mine in the recaps that I have only recently started to read. I was struck, however, by this image from Lost Horizon. This is something many of us in the world of offices fear. Being just another face.
Yes, I know this is classic #firstworldproblem stuff and that there’s people out there with real problems. I know, I used to live amongst that and teach in areas with big issues with the impact of poverty. It doesn’t make it any easier to cope with such questions and issues on a daily basis, living one’s life. Whether one’s life is to be fulfilled through being successful at one’s job while on the inside, a soul is being withered, despite the efforts of yourself and others. That, I have long surmised, is Don Draper’s problem. That’s because that was my problem, especially when I lived in Preston Towers. It still plagues me now from time to time. Difficulty is, sometimes that is played out on social media. My cringeworthy comments and times of striking out at people when I shouldn’t have is out there for all to see – and it’s nigh impossible to take it all back.
However, there has been one thing I can do in order to walk on from the years where these feelings were at their most chronic and crippling. So it has come to pass that I am now selling the apartment. It’s become, amazingly to my eyes, a valuable commodity. What it also became, more importantly, was a family home. Those first tenants of the flat have lived happily there for nearly 4 years now and have made it into a neat, cosy and warm place. It is for this reason that I asked that the people who bought it were investors, which was the case (people buying flats in Penrith at the moment are Baby Boomer superannuants looking for a safe growth investment). I hope that the tenants continue to have a happy life in there, in contrast with my loneliness.
Another shift in my life recently has come from me no longer being a member of any political party. Along with this blog, I started being involved with politics as a hobby and I’m not enjoying the mind numbing mediocrity of being part of partisan, narrowcasting politics. I still want to keep close to the many good friends I made in the process, however. I have realised that I struggle at personally conforming to a particular set of strictures and keeping quiet about those strictures, especially if it doesn’t affect my employment possibilities. My mix of a wish for pragmatic outcomes and desire to have disputes brought out into the open doesn’t fit with the vision and operation of the political party of which I was a part. I’m not particularly bitter about the experience and I sincerely wish the people inside all the best, but I did realise that I am not built for large party membership.
I continue to wonder what I will do next, and part of that contemplation is whether the end of this chapter of my life should also result in the end of this blog and the Twitter persona. I think this is an end to the way the blog has been. My days of writing about the day to day of the political cycle, I suspect, have come to an end. Frankly, I think people like Andrew Elder do a good job and is more committed to analysing it than I, even if he’s far more long winded and detailed than I would ever attempt to be. I don’t have the interest to throw my voice in that sphere anymore, because I also know I would be repeating what I have said in the past. Repetition for me is something I am very keen to avoid. I may, however, resurrect my long held desire to write longer form pieces about Australian political history and stuff about long term shifts. If that happens, however, it wouldn’t be very regular.
Amongst all the things I am walking away from, however, I will keep this blog as a personal thing and cultural thing. Do some music stuff, perhaps. Local Penrith and Lower Blue Mountains stuff. In that, I will hopefully feel a little bit more like these two, who have that carefree moment of happiness one can get, moving on and vacating a past part of one’s life.
When I worked in the outer south western suburbs of Sydney, there were colleagues who used to appear in a new car every second year or so. There was one in particular who had a new Audi TT, a Volvo SUV, and two others in between I can’t remember now. Many colleagues took up the opportunity to save on tax through leasing their personal cars on the novated lease program. The carpark had several gleaming, shiny new cars that had petrol and maintenance all part of the monthly package. These colleagues really loved the novated lease setup of which teachers could take advantage – though almost none of those cars were Australian built cars. European cars were pretty popular, followed by Japanese models.
One of the more absurd parts of the novated lease setup for these colleagues was that if they lived close to work, they had to take long driving holidays in order to clock up the kilometres needed to make the scheme work. Or lend the car to friends so they could clock up those kilometres. If the staff member lived an acceptable distance away from work, then it was ok – and certainly meant that catching a train was not an option. No point taking out the lease if you weren’t going to take full advantage.
I never took advantage of this scheme. Aside from never taking the time to fully understand what it was all about, I owned second hand cars because I really didn’t want to sink monthly money into new cars, whether there was maintenance and petrol or not. After my separation, it was also made clear to me I would not be under any taxation advantage if I was fiddling around with FBT. More importantly to me, however, was that I thought there was something drastically wrong with the whole thing.
I just did not see the fairness in a government giving what was in essence a tax cut to professionals wanting to sink money into a new car unnecessarily – what about those people who could not afford monthly novated lease payments and having to catch substandard public transport. It seemed to be just another piece of middle class welfare that encouraged car purchases and use above normal levels.
I could – and still can – see the use of novated leases for people using cars for work purposes, like mobile nurses, union organisers, sales representatives. But for people going to and from work and then ferrying kids to sport and so on? There was something terribly inequitable and environmentally irresponsible with the philosophy behind the scheme. Yet another way for governments to push people in the outer suburbs – the ones that could actually do the kilometres required – off trains and into cars.
So it’s come to pass that the Federal Government has decided to do the economically and environmentally responsible thing and cut the novated lease system to just people using their car for work purposes. The other cuts made due to the early switch to a floating carbon price – cutting environmentally important schemes – are poor moves in terms of long term, environmentally responsible action. However, this action could conceivably have a significant impact on the environment by cutting down on unnecessary uses of cars, apart from anything else. It also stops the taxpayer from subsidising shiny new cars for people who don’t really need them.
Predictably, the novated lease companies and car manufacturers have screamed that there will be “thousands” of jobs lost and the car industry will die in a screaming heap. The novated lease industry has not had these personal customers for all that many years. They will still have customers, just not the government subsidised personal ones. As for the Australian car industry, I can’t imagine them suffering as much as they are saying, especially as many who choose to lease a personal car choose imported vehicles, while government agencies and other massed work related leasing arrangements are still often done with Australian made vehicles. Any cursory look at ex-lease auction houses will show the acres of Falcons and Commodores from businesses that obtain work vehicles for their employees. I bought one of these vehicles once upon a time.
This may have an electoral backlash for Rudd and the Government in the outer suburbs amongst people who were taking advantage of this scheme. It shouldn’t affect their vote more than other actions, because the people taking out these pretty pricey novated leases are financially well off and don’t need to be having their car purchases being part of a tax benefit. For those who actually use their cars for their small businesses and for tradies, this shouldn’t make an impact, unless they are mixing business with pleasure at the expense to general revenue. This is why I hope that at least on this promise, Rudd and Bowen stick to their word and not buckle – it is one of the best things they have done in their short time.
This was one of my least read posts of my AusVotes 2013 series by some distance. For a lot of readers, this title would run contrary to their picture of Western Sydney – as just a place filled with angry NuBogues wanting more roads, alcohol and rugby league. These days, we see this set against the west continue, with recent opposition to the plan to sell the Sydney Powerhouse Museum in order to build a new version in Parramatta. Opponents of the sell-off say “why not build another one in Parramatta” without ever suggesting how this development could be paid for. People in western Sydney are used to such ways of stopping he west having permanent injections into its cultural life.
Whenever you hear the phrase “Western Sydney” and “culture”, the jokes come out. Cover bands, RSLs, Panthers, Rooty Hill RSL, UFC, V8s, etc. Cue pictures of Anglo Celtic men of a MMM listening age, or a touch younger, shouting at people and leering at scantily clad women. Or, from those Fat Pizza people, the “fully sick” Lebanese or the more recent Housos. It is as realistic as any other stereotype about the West – there’s a grain of truth, but it doesn’t ring true with the entire region. Over at The Preston Institute, I have blogged a fair amount about this topic – the Mythical Westbeing one such post.
There’s been some good work coming out the media this week in the way it has deal with the question of Western Sydney, and Jack Waterford’s piece in the Canberra Times provides a fairly apt and rounded picture of the challenge that the ALP face in Western Sydney. Waterford also provides an accurate picture of the West – that it’s 5 separate cities, rather than being a unified rump. Liverpool, Campbelltown, Penrith, Blacktown and Parramatta are the five – and these places provide a shifting and difficult to categorise picture of the cultural mix of the region. Each place needs to be considered on its own terms.
In terms of cultural mix, Parramatta defies the stereotyped “westie” image comprehensively, with the Parramatta Riverside Theatre, the annual Parramasala Festival, which celebrates the considerable Indian community in the area and a good set of cafes and restaurants that are rarely mentioned in Herald restaurant reviews; Penrith has the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre and the Lewers Bequest and Regional Art Gallery – more of which I talk about in this post; Campbelltown has a nice art gallery renovated with the help of the Carr Labor Government – along with the occasional visit by the Sydney Festival; similarly Liverpool was provided with an enlarged gallery and new theatre funded by the Carr Government. Blacktown also has a diverse range of cultural activities, most of which are seemingly attended by Ed Husic, if his tweets are anything to go by.
This area of cultural diversity and supporting community cultural projects is far too piecemeal in Western Sydney, one of the problems being that a number of culture funding bodies situated in the inner city, requiring organisations like community theatre groups, orchestras and musical theatre societies to rely on local councils. The result is that they often end up with nothing, like the theatre group with which I was involved, the Liverpool Performing Arts Ensemble. As a result, the group just scraped by when we performed Cosi, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Don’s Party together. Local Liverpool City Councillors were always invited to performances and never showed. Same went for local newspaper reporters. This problem of local cultural organisations struggling to survive is compounded when some venues in the west, such as the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, charge considerable rents as well as running the bar, which reduces the ability for groups to recoup costs. These are small concerns for many, but shows that governments over the years haven’t really worked hard to make sure Western Sydney culture is as diverse as it could be.
Another relatively forgotten group in Western Sydney are the homosexual community. For many years in the West, homosexuality was mostly considered to be shameful and something to hide. Being openly gay, walking down Main St in Blacktown or Queen St in Campbelltown is not something often seen. Indeed, when I took my Western Sydney high school students for excursions into the city that took us past Oxford St, the boys in particular would be amazed and a bit horrified at the sight of men holding hands. Showing television or film texts that contained homosexual themes had the same impact. This is why it was necessary for homosexual residents of the West to go to secret warehouses in order to dance and commune. My best friend, as he was discovering the truth about his sexuality, went to such places and took me along a couple of times. The atmosphere was great – and frankly more welcoming and less threatening than that experienced at a beer barn like The Mean Fiddler or at Panthers – but it struck me at the time that it was sad that this hiding was necessary. As my friend pointed out, also, some of the bigger homophobes in the region liked visiting various secluded spots in the area for covert homosexual activity. As I covered in this post, for some in the community, the West is still stuck in that 1980s / 1990s mindset that likes to pretend homosexuality doesn’t exist and that there are still teenagers and young adults scared to come out to their friends and family. Organisations such as Twenty10 are needed in the region, due to the misunderstanding and ignorance that is still present amongst many. There is still work to be done in order to address Western Sydney society’s attitude to homosexuality – maybe there needs to be a Parramatta or Penrith Mardi Gras, in order to give the community a voice and public acceptance. At the very least, it would be another chance for a party. I suspect, though, that such an event would be closer in spirit to the original Mardi Gras in the late 1970s.
What we see the most attention paid to by politicians and commentators, however, are clubs. Licenced clubs with their poker machines and rugby league clubs with their stadiums and poker machines. The clubs that loom largest are Rooty Hill RSL (complete with hotel, ten pin bowling and laser zone) and Panthers (World of Entertainment), because of their sheer size and their hundreds of poker machines – as well as the meagre amount clubs like Panthers gives back to the community. Following close behind are the two large Catholic Clubs at Campbelltown and Liverpool (I was a voting member of Liverpool for a number of years while I worked nearby). These clubs are less Jesus, more like the money lenders in the temple. They were also some of the loudest opponents of the Wilkie Pre-commitment Reforms – I remember Panthers having a screen in its foyer flashing up pictures of junior rugby league players, followed by slogans saying that the reforms would be threatening junior league funding. This was political lobbying at its lowest and most primal – and the Gillard government caved in to the pressure, causing them to turn to Peter Slipper as a way out. And we all know what happened next.
The clubs – both large and small – have a large hold over the cultural lives of those who live in Western Sydney. They are considered important social hubs, because they provide subsidised food, drink, gaming zones for the kids (yes, to get to the one in Panthers, one has to see the adult gaming machines), nightclubs, performances – as well as safe environment for families (until a certain time of the day). The Mean Fiddler, that giant overgrown pub in Rouse Hill, is another venue is great for families and other members of the community (again, until a certain time of the day, when it transforms into something far less pleasant). Despite the revenue it would be making from its patrons from food and drink sales, it also has a vast “VIP Lounge”. This makes the clubs and pubs in NSW different to, for example, many Victorian gambling venues, which don’t provide anywhere approaching the level of amenity provided by the clubs. There are also, in many smaller towns, the local RSL or Bowling Club, providing cheap food and drink and a place to catch up with friends. It is nearly impossible to avoid a poker machine venue in Western Sydney. Gambling as a concept, too, is hard to avoid, with many gripped with the idea of making money from gambling, so they can get something new, pay some more off their house, get ahead of the rest. It’s a false dream created by an aspirational desire.
It was of little surprise therefore that the Western Sydney MPs and Gillard faltered on supporting mandatory pre-commitment, considering that the number of poker machines in NSW rose by nearly 25,000 during the State Labor years – from 1995 to 2011 – the number being 97,000 when the O’Farrell Government arrived. They were an enormous cash cow for the state government – and when the treasurer Michael Egan tried to milk it some more in 2003, the clubs squealed in response. They pulled the same “we pay for kids’ sport” act then as well. Despite the fact the issue has disappeared from the books, the memory of the “a Government having to pander to One Man in Tasmania” lingers in the memory for many in the west, even though there are those in the community – especially those immediately affected by problem gambling – who are still bitterly disappointed in the squibbing by the Government on this issue.
The other type of clubs that attract political and media attention are the big rugby league clubs in the West – especially Wests Tigers, Parramatta and Penrith (and Canterbury is often included in these discussions). At each Federal Election in the past, they have become pork barrelling battlegrounds – as I cover in this post. The grounds that are built are adequate for the crowds that most rugby league games attract – there is hardly a need for more money to be spent on stadiathat won’t be utilised. They are also clubs that draw upon the goodwill of their communities to support them, even though they also use them to an extent. The Wests Tigers, for example, almost neglects their Campbelltown fans with 3 home games each year – and Penrith Panthers could easily fund junior rugby league competitions without worrying about poker machine revenue. After all, the AFL is spending considerable amounts of non-gambling money on a suburban AFL competition, both on Sundays and in various inter-school competitions. These issues, however, are often no-go areas for governments of every hue – forcing clubs to cut poker machine revenue or cope with an un-renovated stadium they have takes a brave politician – though these noises from the NSW Government are encouraging.
Also encouraging is the explosion of colour and light known as the West Sydney Wanderers – a club freed from negative baggage of past NSL team history, but is managing to draw upon the decades of love owned about the game of soccer by a diversity of cultural groups. These groups had to endure “wog ball” taunts from league fans for many years, even though the taunts quickly died away when Western Sydney players like Harry Kewell went to England and oodles of fame and cash. The club’s first season on field success has been as pleasing as it has been surprising. The club would have been a crowd success even if it didn’t go so well in its first season – it’s a neat fit for the region. If there is ever a push for a new rectangular stadium for Western Sydney, it will be the Wanderers who will lead that push – they would be more likely to get the crowds to justify its construction. The AFL, on the other hand, is starting from a much lower base of support with its GWS Giants concept, but is offering an interesting alternative. Its popularity may well hang on the children of their future, with many parents preferring the lower impact nature of the game when compared to league. As any regular reader of my blog will tell you, I am continuing to watch its development with great interest.
Ultimately, however, culture in Western Sydney still remains an under-appreciated and not often discussed issue. It is more than just clubs and V8s in Western Sydney and it would be pleasant at some stage if a newspaper like the Sydney Morning Herald had a regular Western Sydney cultural reporter, reviewing restaurants, going to performances and writing about them not as curiosities, but as good quality shows that the community of Western Sydney can enjoy and deserve. I suspect, however, that this dream is more fanciful than the others I have proposed this week.
While Julia Gillard wandered the streets of Western Sydney, accompanied by journos who showed next to no knowledge of the area, I wrote about what I knew – from experience and research. Part One was Housing. This is still very relevant today – and note the Liberal Party’s scare campaign on population numbers from 2010.
In this week of Rootyhillard, I will be writing five posts on this site about 5 different aspects of the Western Sydney experience. Hopefully it will add some insight into a week where there will be a lot of superficial Western Sydney coverage. My fellow Western Sydney resident, Bluntshovels, will also be contributing to this project. Her first cracking post about employment is already done. My first is about housing.
When the 2010 Federal Election was on, I was living in an apartment building in a pretty high density area in South Penrith. In the letterbox of that apartment building, deep inside the seat of Lindsay, came this leaflet, authorised by the Liberal Party’s Mark Neeham:
The 2010 campaign didn’t feature a lot of conversations about population – and certainly no numbers like this. It did speak, however, about the Liberal Party’s strategy designed to appeal to the residents of Penrith. That the ALP was all about bringing more people into Western Sydney, which will make housing more expensive, living more expensive, health care less accessible, transport under more pressure. When you hear the likes of Scott Morrison and others talk about asylum seekers, part of their message is that “asylum seekers will come into your suburbs and place more pressure on your services” – even though these asylum seekers make up a fraction of actual new residents of the area. A more than significant percentage of people in Western Sydney don’t care too much where people come from, but what does concern them is “where will they live?” Western Sydney has a serious housing availability and cost problem. It is important, therefore, to see what type of issues affect housing in the region.
I have lived in both Penrith and Campbelltown, which both provide some useful lessons as to what issues are present in the amorphous “western suburbs”. The most maligned type of housing – and the one often provided to new refugees – is public housing. The type like this in Ambarvale, south of Campbelltown, that we see regularly on TV – and lampooned in that dreadful step backwards into narrow mindedness, the TV show Housos.
Public housing tenants aren’t given the best treatment in our media. Nor are many of the children brought up in such areas provided with the best chances to get good schooling and job opportunities. It is difficult, also, for many to leave public housing to go to the next step, becoming a private tenant. To give some perspective to the cost of rental property in Western Sydney, the flat I lived in during the 2010 election – the one I jokingly call Preston Towers – was 5 minutes bus ride from Penrith Station – which in itself is some 50 kilometres from Sydney. The train ride on a train with seats (i.e. not the Mountains train) was an hour or so. Driving into Sydney in peak hour was madness. The rather modest 2 bedroom flat was at that time, would have been $230 per week to rent. That has risen to, on average, $300 per week at current market rates. It was a nice flat – aside from the occasional sound of shouting, partying and rugby league matches from the nearby stadium, it was a pleasant place to live. In that world of two story apartment buildings that was Preston St, there was a mix of many cultures and stories. In that street, there were also public housing tenants housed under a scheme whereby the government paid the rent to landlords. With the result, in at least one case, of no discernible desire from the landlord to upgrade anything inside the flat. That isn’t an unusual story for tenants, however. When I was a tenant in Rosemeadow, near Campbelltown, it was next to impossible to get things fixed. The powerlessness of tenants – especially public housing ones – is one untold story of the suburbs.
When I was placed in the unusual position of becoming a landlord, there were a number of applicants for the flat, all vetted by the property manager. On the no-go list were 17 year olds who had just moved out of home and had their first job – apparently Werrington was more suitable for that kind of tenant. Also on the list was a couple, expecting a child, who had to downsize due to that reason. They had great references too. I was asked, however, whether “it was ok that they are Indians” by the property manager. After being momentarily floored by the question, I said “of course”. That communicated to me that maybe some landlords aren’t as happy to rent out to people of various cultural background. It made me think that perhaps the landlords of the Penrith area are part of the problem in a society that still doesn’t quite understand multiculturalism. It also gave me pause to think how tough it would be for some people to obtain private housing in the area.
It is little wonder, therefore, the “aspiration” for many people in the Western Suburbs is to rise from being tenants in a suburb to becoming an owner – no matter the size of the mortgage. Anything that threatens that dream is therefore of great interest to people in the west. The way the suburbs are structured in places like Campbelltown and Penrith, public housing regularly sits near luxury housing. In that way, the luxury home is a regularly visualised dream for people from all walks of life. Two minutes away by car from the Ambarvale public housing shown in the photo above is Glen Alpine, briefly famous for once containing the home of Mark Latham.
These are the “McMansions” of legend, though that’s a pretty unfair title, in that each family makes it into their home – and there is a variety of design. As with 1990s designed suburbs, however, energy efficiency isn’t their strongest aspect. They shine as a way of showing tenants and owners of homes down the road in Rosemeadow and Ambarvale of what they should aspire to have. It is also brutally unfair, however, to characterise the West of consisting just of these types of homes. Just two more minutes down the road towards Campbelltown Hospital, there is a new set of more contemporary medium density housing.
A pretty pleasant place to live – and medium density near established centres should have swiftly become the norm for the middle class in Western Sydney. It isn’t however, as the NSW O’Farrell Government prefers the 90s style urban sprawl, which will see various greenfield sites taken, with little done to improve transport links – rather, again private transportation will be favoured. A model for this type of development is Oran Park Town, some 20 minutes west of Campbelltown Station – it is 65 ks South West of Sydney. Two of the main roads that service the area – Camden Valley Way and the Northern Road – are two lane roads, already placed under great stress each day. Only now is work starting on widening Camden Valley Way. The houses there cost between $450,000 and $500,000 – a sizeable investment. The houses sit on smaller blocks than the 90s homes – with the backyard largely replaced with the “indoor outdoor” area, which to the buyers of these new homes is an acceptable compromise.
It is for these reasons that available housing, the cost of housing, the cost of travelling from the house to work, the cost of heating and cooling one’s house – are all crucial issues to many people in Western Sydney. There are many with large mortgages to service – much larger than comparable suburbs in Melbourne and Brisbane. This is why scare campaigns designed to raise the spectre of population growth – whether that be asylum seekers or just generally new immigrants or about new taxes can have an audience.
As for a solution to the housing supply and value problem in NSW, it is hardly likely the Liberal Party will provide any better solution to voters. The O’Farrell Government’s commitment to urban sprawl over medium density high rise development in existing suburbs shows that in fact the Liberal Party is committed to taking up more land and increasing stress on existing infrastructure – already O’Farrell has flagged a new development in Catherine Field, a few kilometres north of Oran Park, next to Camden Valley Way. It’s decisions like these which make Tony Abbott’s support for the Wesconnex Motorway rather meaningless in terms of helping members of households move about. Incidentally, These developments aren’t all that far from Badgery’s Creek – another important element in the region.
When it comes to issues in Western Sydney, it doesn’t come much bigger than housing for a lot of voters in the region. Glib statements and plans is what the residents will most likely hear – and it won’t be of much assistance to them.