Building a Brand on New Media – A Few Tips for New Players

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.

 

The Selling of Preston Towers

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.

Jon Hamm as Don Draper - Mad Men _ Season 7B, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC

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.

mad-men-lost-horizon-712

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.

John Slattery as Roger Sterling and Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson - Mad Men _ Season 7B, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC

AusOpinion Reblogged 16 – Jump in My Government Subsidised Car, I Want to Take You Home

Here was me blasting my former workmates, rorting the tax system and leasing cars. It still revolts me to think of it. 

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.

AusOpinion Reblogged 7 – What is Western Sydney? Part Four – Culture and the Clubs

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 CosiOne 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.

AusOpinion Reblogged 4 – What is Western Sydney? Part One – Housing

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Six Places – Learning to Walk Away from Proselytising

This week I have had six different experiences, sat in six different places and I have felt as though they sum up where I am in life but also have taught me about the exhaustion of being a proselytiser.

When I started writing this blog and was developing my political twitter direction, I had the zeal of the proselytiser.  That person very keen to encourage others to consider another point of view in so many directions.   Part of me was even hoping to convert people to a different way of thinking.  Right now, however, I am exhausted by that effort.  Right now, I am wondering whether the work of the proselytiser is pointless because it’s very hard to change the paradigms of other people – and really, who am I to tell people that there’s a “better” way to do things?  Those six places told me all.

Place One – The City Recital Hall – Stephen Hough Piano Recital

I was listening to the first half of the piano recital being entirely bored – not because of the performance, it was beautiful.  It was about me – what kind of life experiences I had been having, the politics in which I had been involved, work.  And here I was, listening to Chopin Ballades that were really making me itch in my seat, wanting to be OUT.  I even rang my wife at half time, ranting about Chopin. I didn’t leave, however – it was Stephen Hough, who is my favourite pianist.

Then, after interval, a transformation occurred. The music had changed, but it was me that had changed the most.  I enjoyed the other Chopin Ballades, the Children’s Corner suite was beguiling (though I did reflect on what people on Twitter would think of the “Golliwog’s Cake Walk” that ends the suite), The Joyous Isle was glittering with the inner voices that Hough was bringing out of the music.  Suddenly, I remembered what it was that I loved about classical music recitals.  And then Hough did something remarkable (in my eyes, at least) – the last encore was a Grieg Nocturne that I used to play A LOT as a teenager.  I thought it was a great piece to both express teenage romantic yearnings and impress people (i.e. women)

It was a night that sang to me beneath all the layers I had built around me.  All the blogs, the tweeting, the engagement on social media platforms, all rendered irrelevant and without access to that part of me that will always love things that not all that many my age and younger are “into”.  It also occurred to me that I have spent a chunk of my time trying to proselytise classical music to people around me and through Twitter. It’s time for me to stop that. I love the world of “classical” music and it means something special to me. But it doesn’t serve any useful purpose to push that view towards others.  There’s worlds of music that mean all sorts of things to other people.

The twain doesn’t have to meet and we can go into our different music silos – or mix them up – whatever makes people happy.  It’s taken too long for me to realise that, and a lot of wasted emotional energy.

Place Two – Education Forum, Penrith

I attended a forum run by the AEU, NTEU and NSW Teachers’ Federation about the education cuts being made by the Federal Government and the NSW State Government. It covered the potential future of education, with deregulation in the university education potentially giving students a lifetime of debt. It also covered state governments wanting to make money that used to go to TAFE colleges into being “contestable” funding that could go to private companies running colleges.  It was a stark, worrying future laid out by the presenters, showing how conservative governments seem to want to make high education something for children of wealthy parents, rather than for all.

It struck me, however, that the room was filled with public sector teachers and politicians – after all, the aim of the evening was to empower fighters for the cause. To help those who wish to proselytise to the people in the middle in Australian politics just what will happen to education.  That’s a worthy cause but I can also sense the exhaustion that could occur with people trying to make their case yet again in the same ways of the past.  It occurred to me also that the room was missing a group – teachers in independent schools, many of whom (me included) are also wary of university deregulation and the degrading of TAFE colleges.   However, the false dichotomy built between public and “private” school teachers continues to exist in the realm of education.  I hope that the campaign to create awareness will work – but I have my doubts.

Place Three – Year 12 Farewell Celebrations

Away from Twitter and blogging, away from being accused of being “broken”, “butthurt” and the rest of the macho braggadocio shown by people pretending to be something they really aren’t, I am a teacher who tries my best at teaching students at being the best students they can be – as well as help them realise their potential as people.  One of the best guides for a teacher as to their impact is the Year 12 Farewell week.  Hearing from students as to where their lives are heading.  For teachers who have had a Year 12 class, it is usually an emotional week. Some of the nicest things a teacher can ever hear are said in this week. It’s also a fun week, with the formal coming around and getting a chance for a dance and a laugh or two.  Weeks like this make me realise that there’s life, the real stuff, the things one does in their every day has the real impact.

It made me reflect on my life away from this, taking on the role of proselytising for the western suburbs of Sydney.  This may have been presumptuous and I’m sure people are sick of me highlighting examples of poor pigeonholing and stereotyping of people from the west. I get sick me doing it, mostly because the coverage and representations hasn’t changed.  Journalists still rely on lazy stereotypes, stories in the metropolitan dailies focus their attention on Sydney.  So, really, the exhaustion factor has reached its zenith. Trying to change the way western Sydney is perceived is a waste of energy and time.  The attitudes towards the “racist housos of the west” remain and as does the reality, which varies from those attitudes and representations in so many ways.  I and others know what the area consists of and that should be enough for us. To try to change those attitudes is to make a useless effort.  In the process, though, I have made great friends.   But  Twitter and blogging is, for the most part, a curious hobby and an endless Beckett play that you need to walk out on from time to time.

Place Four – Colleague’s Place over a cup of tea

Sometimes one’s involvement with politics needs to be discussed with a deeply respected colleague who is outside that world but understands it completely. One should always get such opportunities.

Place Five – The AFL Preliminary Final at ANZ Stadium

I have been trying to proselytise the cause of AFL football in the western suburbs for some years now, encouraging people to just watch it, give the code a go.  I have heard these phrases often:

“I just don’t understand the game”, “I don’t understand the rules”, “I’m not interested – I just like rugby league”, “It doesn’t look good on TV”, “It’s not tough”, “I don’t know anyone else who watches it” – etc, etc.

I tried to proselytise in the beginning because I wanted people to go with me to games back in the days when the Swans were the only team in town and it was a slog to go to Moore Park.  That changed with the creation of the Giants, so the proselytising goal changed. I had become a fully charged proselytising machine in my workplace and out and about in the community.

What has happened, however, is that I have made great friends who are Swans supporters (despite me coming up with a few sledges about their team as a part of the emerging banter between the clubs).  I sat with them for the first time at the preliminary final and it was wonderful to see their passion for their club and their excitement in regards going to the Grand Final next week.   I will always have a big soft spot for the Swans – they were my club, even if I couldn’t get to too many games.  But I have also made good friends in the Giants’ cheer squad and around the club – it’s a group of hardy souls from other states who want the Giants to work, to connect with the community.  They are far from the description I have heard of cheer squads that they are filled with “broken people”.  No, they are people who enjoy being part of something bigger than themselves.   There was also a mysterious, overwhelming feeling of pride and being at home when I first pulled on my first Giants guernsey.  As much as I still like the Swans, that feeling will never leave.

It is past the time, however, for me to proselytise the AFL, to try to convert people to liking it, going to it.  As far as I can see, people will like it if it’s good, if there’s something in it for them.  And it’s all good if people want to stick to what they know.  As I see the pride emerging in Penrith in the rise of the underestimated Panthers, league is the game of choice in the western suburbs for many and they get a sense of something being bigger than themselves in that code.  The atmosphere at Penrith Park during a home game is intense and positive and that will remain for the years to come.  Over the next decade, however, there will be a shift in the balance of the codes, especially with the work being done by the AFL and Giants to show the kids of the west how AFL works – though that will never “kill” league and that should never be the goal.   What the AFL is doing in the west is the real proselytising, not me with a keyboard, a blog and a Twitter account.  Knowing that, I can sit back and enjoy the football.

Place Six – 1st Wedding Anniversary Lunch

Today is the 1st anniversary of the best day of my life – our wedding.  The marriage of minds and hearts, the wedding to the only person I know who truly understand me. I don’t need to proselytise anything to her (which I did feel I have to in my first marriage – never a good idea).  So, my priority today is not proselytising, trying to convert people.  Mine is to be happy, to be in a happy marriage – really, just be. And with that, off I go.

(Our wedding waltz song – but it wasn’t this Barry and Pav version)

Dinner Party Warriors – A Poem for Friday

Dinner Party Warriors

Amongst the inner city burrows there’s a stir

The moderately wealthy are texting and tweeting

There’s a dinner party to be had

The food and the wine will be flowing and organic

Better still, the political discussion focused and manic.

 

The dinner party warriors know their history

Their Marx, Engels and E. P. Thompson understood, ticked

Australian History? No, it’s all beards, hicks and sheep

The world outside their quinoa

Is under a European microscope while they drink the noir.

 

“Who is to blame?” is the question they ask

“It’s the Right, of course”, they’ll start

“Who would be attracted to a promise of individual liberty?”

They know what would be best for all

And it’s not shopping in an appalling suburban mall

 

“Who is to blame?” the question hovers in the air

“It’s the media, of course” comes the swift reply.

“It’s all about celebrities, sportsball and preening.”

Rocketing around the room comes “Did you read the post on my blog?

It was a sparkling riposte against the Media Watch Dog.”

 

“Who is to blame?” the question asked again

“It’s the Left, of course”, they’ll continue

“They have become captured to the evils of pragmatism.”

They used to be the power of the “left”

Until the neoliberals indulged in wholesale theft

 

“Who is to blame?” the question comes with a story

“It’s the corporate world of course” they will thunder

“They do terrible things in other countries, sometimes our own.”

Get out the boycotting signs

Take the iPhone photos of the angry ex-customer lines.

 

“Who is to blame?” the question continues

“It’s the political class, of course”, the answer almost complete

“They have no connection with the people outside their office.”

One of them remembered meeting people Out There

It was brief, “they” didn’t listen, even said he was a patronising lair.

 

“Who is to blame?” comes the dessert question

“The working class, of course”, the answer comes with final blow

“They vote that way because they are all easily duped.”

One of them recalls his own background of being working class

Not him, his grandfather, who used to grumble about management sitting on their arse.