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

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

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

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

Why GWS will never win the intercode battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take the case of the Giants.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But onwards, more crowd numbers and mistakes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite this, the Giants will inevitably win a flag.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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


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


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


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



To Set Aside Cynicism

A poem…


Walk out the door and cynics can be fed

The grinding grim happiness of morning media grins

There’s a path down which to be led

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


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

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

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

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


There remains the dream – become a true optimist instead

Be aware of the pain, but work for emotional gain

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

Bring some absolute empathy while others feign


There is the rub

How to gather this spirit before you reach the hub



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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

Negative Gearing – Why Boomers and Gen X Need to Let It Go

There’s been a great deal of chatter about negative gearing in the wake of the new ALP policy in relation to the tax break.  It’s a brave thing for the ALP to take on a policy instrument that is essentially middle class welfare, making it easier for those with some means to get into Australia’s wildly over inflated housing market.  But it’s a necessary move, in order to address a gross generational inequality and help out the Australian construction and steel making industries.

In terms of the issue of negative gearing, I am part of the audience being pitched to by both major parties. I am someone who uses negative gearing.  As I wrote in my post about selling my old flat, I have, for the first time, bought somewhere purely as an investment.  I also – completely by chance – have fallen into the pattern that the ALP want investors to follow, as in purchasing a new property.  Hence I will be able to take advantage of the taxable reduction afforded by depreciation on that new property, as well as other benefits that will come with the reduction of my taxable income.  Reflecting on the process of buying the new property, I can see the advantages of Labor’s plan to have people being encouraged to buy new housing stock and making it available to tenants – as well as keeping the other benefits of negative gearing.

Where the problem is negative gearing, however, is that there’s something questionable with the current system where people are encouraged to buy existing properties, rent them out until they accumulate in value, sell, and gain a 50% discount on the Capital Gains Tax made on the property.  It’s a pretty sweet, low risk deal, especially if the rental yields are low and you can reduce personal income tax to well below Scott Morrison’s magic $80,000 figure.   From my personal experience, it encourages the type of investor frenzy caused by the selling of Preston Towers.

My old flat in South Penrith should be the type of place that would be perfect for first home owners. It’s 30 years old, with no depreciation potential. It’s close to shops, schools and public transport.  It’s also small, in the middle of an area filled with apartment blocks of varying ages and should be cheap, as it was for me as a first home owner in 2009.  I did ask my real estate agent during the process the type of people who would be buying the property – I was thinking of the tenants, who had taken great care of the property, but were also of Indian heritage, which may have made finding another property in Penrith difficult (I remember being asked when I was renting out the property whether “it was ok that they were Indian”).  It was made very clear to me early on that only investors would be in the market for it, as only they had the means necessary for an offer battle.

So it came to pass. On the day of the first open home, there were multiple offers, and at prices I could barely believe. The “winner” was a baby boomer investor using superannuation proceeds.  So that small flat will continue to be a rental, out of reach to first home owners, as will any other property in that area.  There will be negative gearing, as the price that was paid cannot be covered by the rent for that area for some time.  Under the current system, whenever the market goes up again in the same way it did between 2013 – 2015, the investor will sell, pocket the half of the gap with the discount and move onto somewhere else, denying even more first home owners a chance for a foot in the door.  With the ALP system, the owner will be forced to be very sure that he is ready to shift his investment to new housing stock, with its reduction of the CGT discount.  Or he will just hang onto the current place under the grandfathering provisions and be happy with the rental returns and reduction in taxable income – one day still being able to pocket the CGT discount.

For this kind of problem to occur in Penrith, its should show us that negative gearing policy change is a generational shift that should occur.  It’s wrong that baby boomers are able to swoop in and deny Gen Y first home owners chances to buy their first home.  There will be ridiculous scare campaigns directed at boomers and Gen X middle class voters, such as Malcolm Turnbull’s “Middle Class People, Your House Value Will Drop!!!!!”  Even if that happens, that would be a good outcome for younger generations wanting to buy. It is difficult to see, however, with the grandfathering provisions for the people currently using negative gearing, how prices would drop dramatically. It would be hard to see why people who own investment property would panic sell before the changes come, risking a dropped value in their properties.  The shift might be more gradual, however, as people investing in property will have to consider how to do their investing in the future.

Another criticism of the plan will state that may also be a bit of an increase in value in new developments, but that will also be interesting to see – there’s a great deal of building going on around the country which will need investors and it’s difficult to envisage a huge battle between investors driving up prices artificially.  This way, channelling investor cash towards new property will have the impact of helping to grow working class jobs in construction and steel, rather than just helping to artificially driving up prices on existing properties.

There’s more qualified people than me to be looking at such things, using graphs and data.  This is just one taxpayer’s questioning of funnelling possible taxation receipts into the pockets of wealthy property owners from the Baby Boomer and Generation X just willing to get more low risk cash. Meanwhile, the younger generation wait while such people count their tax breaks and advantages.

Trollentine’s Day – An Antidote to Commercialised Romance

Valentine’s Day. It’s everywhere, it creeps into conversations, it dominates TV, shopping centres. It also inspires Google searches like this

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Yes, it’s such a central part of our culture that people think it could be a public holiday.  But this is not a post going into the history of Valentine’s Day, whether he is a Saint, all that we already know (except – Valentinus means worthy, strong, powerful, which brings with a whole lot of ideas of what Valentine’s Day actually means in terms of shows of power).

I have had a strong dislike of Valentine’s Day for most of my life.  I remember it vividly as a time when I never received a Valentine’s Day rose / message at high school. Then later, I remember the pressure from society that it was the socially expected time to shower my first wife with gifts / chocolates / flowers / booking at an expensive restaurant.  So then all the flower sellers, chocolate manufacturers, courier companies, restaurants all benefit as people (usually men) attempt to outdo each other with their expensive, sanctioned public shows of affection.  As we were pretty much on a financial abyss throughout our marriage, we just ignored the whole farrago.

My feeling then was the same as it is now.  This madness needs to stop.  Apart from anything else, it emphasises to all of those without a “Valentine” that they are alone. The secret Valentine thing is also weird and vaguely creepy.

So, this is the proposal – people should celebrate Trollentines Day.  Find a loved one and give her / him a present that is guaranteed to drive them up the wall – in a fun way.  Then, sling the money you save to Sweetheart Day – an initiative designed to research children’ heart disease.

Fortunately, my second wife, Claire, is also as unimpressed by the Corporate Affection Time as I, so we have started this tradition. That is, we buy for each other the most inappropriate present we can dream up for each other.  The present we know the other person will never want or use.  As in, deliberately trolling each other (teasing, provoking, whatever else you want to call this in an age where the term “troll” is used indiscriminately by various media outlets).  Last year, Claire bought me a DVD copy of 20,000 Days On Earth, the self indulgent Nick Cave project (though for me, saying “self indulgent” and “Nick Cave” is just tautology).  I bought her a Kardashian leopard print bag. Pretty much everything Claire is not.


This year, we are pushing out the concept to be playing and showing things that the other person really doesn’t like.  I’m tossing up the possibility of putting on some back issues of the Matty Johns Show, playing Nickelback or reading out excerpts of the future autobiography of Barnaby Joyce, My Life with Alpacas (though, that might be entertaining). For Claire, that could mean any number of things – though having us both drink VB would be trolling herself, which is not part of the deal.  We are also going to eat lunch at a restaurant we would not normally consider the ideal venue for a romantic Valentine’s Day meal. One idea for us was the restaurant that helps define what actually is Western Sydney

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Or maybe Rashay’s family restaurant, that uniquely Western Sydney franchise (with which we can do a similar line to the Red Rooster line), where every steak meal is served with the same mushroom sauce.  Great for families (especially ones that like mushroom sauce), but not a place one would normally associate with Valentine’s.

Rashays Line



Trollentines Day is tricky to do, to an extent. You need to know exactly what irritates your partner, but not in a serious way, but more in a light hearted way.  So, TV, movies, music and the like.  It’s actually also surprisingly romantic – a good troll means you really need to know your partner. (And in our case, the restaurant location has had to be a mutually agreed thing.)

But honestly, the day can be whatever you make of it – it’s meant to be a bit of fun, highlighting just how absurd it is that society believes that Romance has to occur on an appointed time and with the appropriate spending of money.

Whacktivism and Whacky Ibises – The Newish World of Online Campaigning

This week has seen one of the bigger Auspol Twitter meltdowns of recent times.  It springs from the recent resignation of ABC tech writer Nick Ross and his story of ABC editorial “suppression” of his work whilst there. The issue is covered well, but still in a general form, in the Huffington Post.  It’s certainly an important story about possible editorial interference with the coverage of the National Broadband Network in the lead up to the 2013 election.

I remember seeing the original tweet from Ross, announcing his resignation and that he inferring that he would be allowed to write about the NBN again.  I then saw how a group of people immediately gathered around him and claimed him as their champion – a group that contained amongst its number, a group of hardcore, passionate NBN supporters who liked using the megaphoning technique.  That is, they have been claiming since 2012 – 13 that media outlets have deliberately played down / ignored / suppressed how bad the Coalition’s NBN plan was in comparison to Labor’s plan. I can understand to an extent where they came from – there’s many, especially in various regional and suburban areas, who believe the NBN could have been a great piece of infrastructure and it became their No. 1 political issue.  And here was Nick Ross confirming the suppression of “the truth of the NBN” for them. As a result, he was encouraged by them to spill the beans, to show the evidence.  Hence the creation of a Reddit, where Ross went into detail about his story.

Now, personally, I felt at the time that this was a mistake, because Reddit is more a forum for all sorts of uncontrollable discussions and responses, rather than a reliable news source, especially if the intent is to get the story disseminated further than Twitter, Reddit and and insular political internet.   It was at this point, however, that we had the Buzzfeed story by Alex Lee and Mark Di Stefano about the Reddit.  I can understand what tone was being struck in the piece – it was meaning to be lighthearted and mocking, like a number of Buzzfeed pieces are.  The problem was that in including the images and the published tweets that mocked those passionate about the NBN, Buzzfeed were possibly unconsciously feeding into a feeling of conspiracy and suppression that has existed for more than 3 years.  Hence the responses of those people to, it seemed, more Mark Di Stefano than to Alex Lee.  Therefore, people then saw this now notorious tweet, whose impact has possibly surpassed his more deliberate stirring efforts in regards Taylor Swift and the Hottest 100:

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The response has been 10 solid days of responses, reactions, blog posts, and images such as this:


The theme from many was that they had never seen this term used before, and I can understand why.  It wasn’t widely used.  I did see, however, “broken” being used by a group of Twitter users for 2 years or so to describe those I have previously described as megaphones – that is, people who either RT the same message, or constantly bombard the mentions of journalists and others with the same messages over and over.  In addition, the term is used for those who seem to be not actively listening to any responses provided by these journalists and others. It’s a shorthand term.  I can see in retrospect why Di Stefano would use it out of frustration at the level of abusive responses he would have been getting from the NBN supporters.  I believe, however, he was wrong for lashing out – mainly because he is widely respected and has a considerable audience. It’s also fed the conspiracies further about the media and being compliant with the Government.

In terms of the word broken, I had used it a couple of times some time in the past in conversations with others, though I still preferred “megaphone” or “megaphoning” throughout.  When this issue of “broken” came out into the open, however, I could see the many problems surrounding the use of the word.  As we discovered in the ensuing discussion over these almost two weeks, it is a word that is used to describe and negatively categorise the mentally ill, people from a variety of minorities and racial backgrounds. It acts to punch down at the powerless.  I could see that the word’s usage might not have been originally intended to have that meaning, but as we know, the power of words so often go beyond their intended meaning. The word “broken” clearly hurts people, and really, on reflection, people should stop using it due to those connotations.

The problem is that you can’t just stop using a word with no alternative. The phenomenon of abuse and repetition continues.  There needs to be a shorthand word for Twitter users who will go into an exchange with people and post abuse, or just attack people without wanting to engage in a meaningful manner. For those willing to do this:

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Or this kind of high horse riding:

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And using shots of children like this in order to compare themselves to victims of terrible and violent oppression, which is a strange and offensive style of martyrdom.


I am suggesting, therefore, that perhaps we could call such campaigning “Whacktivism” – a style of activism where people are wishing mainly to whack others with whom they don’t agree. The kind of discussion where people are ready to whack people they believe are part of a conspiracy of suppression and censorship.  It’s like the playing a grand game of whack-a-mole, where activists are seeking to have journalists and others submit to their truth via a forcefully and frequently placed mallet.


That way, if we adopt that word – or something like it, we don’t have people feeling rightfully offended at the use of a term that wasn’t meant for them. We can have a term for the adoption of a communication technique that uses one sided, one way repetition of messages. An approach that has at its heart the mistaken believe that people will agree and believe in a cause through the attrition of being whacked over the head several times.

In all of this, I am concerned about the future of the Nick Ross story. It is clear he feels vulnerable and hurt in the aftermath of his ABC days – as can be seen in tweets like these:


With all the talk of “brokens”, it has acted to bury the story that sparked this internecine, self regarding language argument. The difficulty with the story’s reportage is that it now has many moral layers wrapped up in the allegedly illegal recordings made by Ross that were reported in New Matilda and the problems for more risk averse media outlets wishing to pick up the story, if they wanted to.   There’s also something to be said for the view expressed on Media Watch that Ross had become more activist than journalist about the NBN, especially in the piece that was “suppressed”.  Having the line “This is misleading and wrong” at the start, for example, would not really help to show that the article is an ABC style dispassionate look at the facts.  The content and facts in the article as compelling and interesting, but could have been phrased and framed better, so those facts could better speak for themselves, loudly and clearly.

All in all, it’s going to be a long year in political twitter. Hopefully, the term “Whacktivism” can help delineate those who are passionately, but rationally interested in political discussion and those intent mainly on whacking others over the head with their views.


Or even better, as I have discovered today, my phone autocorrects “Whacktivist” to “Whacky Ibises”. So, Whacky Ibises it is. (With thanks to Matthew Beggs for the picture). They certainly can be seen as a bit of a garbage bin searching pest, so the name is fairly apt.