Am I A Problem?

(Content Warning: Mentioned Homophobia)

Am I not your niece anymore?

It was as if in the span of two short seconds I had suddenly been possessed by some ungodly, vile, dyke demon. And it was such an awkward moment. Let me fill you in …

So, it was my Dad’s 62nd birthday BBQ.

Uncle Phil was shorter than the average male, with deep brown eyes and caramel brown hair. Sometimes I wondered whether we were really related, partly because of my blonde hair and blue eyes, partly because of our drastic differences. Ryan was a carbon copy of Phil, and Megan, with her hazel eyes and round face, looked more like her mother, who was no longer in the picture. We were having a normal, average family get-together. Nothing enjoyable in my eyes.

My Mum asked the group, ‘Do you guys watch Gogglebox?’

Megan beamed with excitement over the mention of the reality TV show.

‘Yes! I love that show!’

Okay, so good feedback already. I myself enjoyed the show, which was about other Australian families watching TV shows and giving their opinions on them. Our family had grown fond of the gay couple in the show who Mum had actually chatted to and taken photos with at an event for a historic house.

Then my Uncle voiced his opinion on the show. This is where it became awkward.

‘Nah, I won’t watch it. I can’t stand those fags’.

Yes, it did go quite silent at that moment, as you might expect. My family weren’t necessarily homophobic, but they weren’t in a hurry to protest the statement.

Megan said, ‘Dad, you can’t say fags, they’re part of the LGBT community.’

It was Phil’s turn again.

‘I don’t care, they’re still fags. It’s not right.’

Horrible, right? I thought so. I was an Allen’s mixed bag of emotions. I was angry, upset, and mostly embarrassed that I couldn’t hide the expression on my face, which was all of these things.

‘What’s that look for? Are you one of them?’

I felt myself go red at my Uncle’s interrogation. I wasn’t sure if I should cry or walk away.

You see, for years before this moment I had been struggling with my sexuality. A lot of talks with myself left me unsure, and mostly scared. I would say I’m still having these feelings now, as I move into adulthood. I thought I could label myself bi-sexual, but then I fell hard for someone who was neither. This threw me completely, and I felt weird giving myself a label, so I tried to stop thinking about it.

‘Would it be a problem if I was?’ I asked him.

My extended family looked at me with surprise. My immediate family minded their business, tending to the BBQ, looking at their empty plates. I know they’ve known for a while now. And I’ve hinted and said things that prove their suspicions. I think I’m avoiding a ‘coming-out’ scenario, as I’m still not sure if I should label myself anything without being completely sure that’s what I am.

‘No, of course it’s not a problem.’

The way he didn’t look at me… of course it was a problem. I felt like a problem, just for uttering a sentence in defence of myself, and my many LGBTQI+ friends.

I wonder what he thinks when my name is mentioned now? It’s been months since that ordeal and I haven’t heard a word from him. Does he think about it at all? Has my gay agenda perverted his rights as a straight man? He probably thinks it’s a phase.

 

Written and Submitted by Molly Herd.

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Infinite Avengers Discussion

(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!)

 

Last week I did something I haven’t done before. Something I was annoyed at myself for doing. I took a nap. A nap that resulted in me waking up 10 minutes before my Avengers: Infinity War session began. I was at my house—a 15-minute walk from the cinema.

I threw on clothes, grabbed a water bottle, and then half-sprinted-half-quickly-walked to the cinema. With barely any air left in my lungs, and a huge cough massing in the back of my throat, I got there with several minutes of ads before the film actually began. Which means, while I completely devastated my lungs and wouldn’t regain my normal breathing processes until a third of the way through Avengers: Infinity War, I had successfully made it to the film on time and could sit down and enjoy it. For the third time.

It’s important for you to know that I am a huge fan of everything comic books. I love the movies, the characters, the actual comic books. I love everything to do with them. It’s important to know this because I may be a tad biased in my opinions. But this isn’t a review. It’s a discussion about a film I really love.

So, where to begin? How about with everyone’s biggest complaint about this film: it has no emotional stakes—everyone dies but it’s all meaningless.

To elaborate, this is their full argument: everyone dies at the end of the film. Wow! I know, crazy. We know that Spiderman has a sequel in the works and Guardian’s of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is being written as I type.  And we know that Black Panther will definitely have another movie as it’s now one of the highest grossing films ever. So, people’s biggest problem with this film is that we know all the characters that died have to come back. It would be stupid if they didn’t.

But the people that say that are missing this: any kind of death, permanent or otherwise, is still death. It still creates change. The characters that die in Avengers: Infinity War will come back (though I’m sure some others will die, and we will have some proper loss, and all shed some tears) but even when they do they’ll be changed. They’ll have died. That death will mean something because they will have been deeply affected by losing their life and changed again by coming back to life. It will allow the characters to grow.

We shouldn’t forget that the characters in this film don’t know what we do. Which means when Rocket Racoon is sobbing from Groot fading into ashes or Cap touches the ground where Bucky just was or (and this is the part that made me cry twice) Tony Stark holds the hand of a Peter Parker begging for life, these characters are feeling real emotions for the people they are really losing.

For the first time in a long time a Marvel film has emotional stakes that we feel. As we are worried for the characters we care so much about.

Here’s another thing to remember when talking about this film: it should be an absolute mess. The disparate tones and characters that populate the Marvel Universe should be coming together in a convoluted ball of nothingness and disappointment. Having the weird, comedy space opera of the Guardians of the Galaxy shouldn’t mix with the espionage spy thriller elements of Captain America or the political ideological themes and ideas in Black Panther.

On the battlefield in Wakanda, Groot—with 10 alien monsters skewered on his arm, turns to Cap and says ‘I am Groot’, without issing a beat Cap replies ‘I am Steve Rogers’. Just like that the two worlds coalesce into something new, something better.

To steal a friend’s analogy: this film plays like a mix tape of the best things from the MCU. You have the zany fun of Thor going on a space adventure, a tone straight from Guardian’s of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok. You have the magic from Doctor Strange, the naïve hero out of his depth fighting for the neighbourhood from Spiderman: Homecoming, and so on with all the best parts.

All the heart and feeling and characters that have been built over 10 years all come perfectly together. Pulled tightly and focused properly by two incredible writers and two equally grand directors.

Sidenote: The direction across the board is excellent as the Russos treat this not as just some mindless form of entertainment but hold themselves to a higher standard and, in their own words, aim for ‘an emotional realism’. Which I think the film succeeds in delivering.

The cleverness of this film is that we can put aside our heroes for a little bit, we already know enough about them, and we can focus on a villain. A villain that makes us scared. That makes us fear for the people we love.

So, how about we talk about this villain: Thanos. Thanos is the driving force and the glue that holds and moves the film along. He doesn’t achieve this by being a moustache twirling bad guy; he’s the main character because he is made human. We are made to care about someone we should hate.

We spend much time with Thanos, with a huge portion devoted solely to building the relationship between him and Gamora, as well as flashbacks, and following him to get the soul stone.  We start believing in his cause. We start to understand why he wants to kill half of the universe. It may be perverse. It may be ridiculous. But it also makes a bit of sense.

Thanos isn’t the bad guy who wants to kill everyone because he wants to kill everyone; he wants to help people. He sees his way as the only way to a better world.

Josh Brolin brings a gravitas and emotional weight to Thanos, becoming one of the few villains in the extensive library of Marvel films that we connect with and can see his point of view. He is in many ways the reason we care. He is the threat and we get to see what’s so dangerous about him. He is a villain that is fundamentally human.

If Thanos is the reason for the film and the person we feel most for, then Thor is the reason to continue the film and the counterpoint to Thanos.

Thor wishes to avenge his brother and thus has the emotional vendetta that’s needed to pull us through the film, as one of the only characters to have witnessed the cruelty of Thanos. A cruelty that he should have stopped—he is after-all the king of Asgard and all realms. Thor in many ways feels personally responsible for the pain being felt across the universe. In a scene with Rocket we actually see Thor cry. Or pretend like he’s not crying. I was immensely affected by this. He is scared.  He’s seen the pain that Thanos can inflict and he doesn’t know if he’s up to it but he’s going to try anyway.

His arrival on the battlefield is a huge cheering moment for anyone who sees this film. The entirety of Thor’s arc is emotionally satisfying as he has a personal, affecting vendetta against Thanos and we watch, gripped by Hemsworth’s exceptional performance, to see it satisfied. And we slump in our chairs as all of his effort is useless. As even with his weapon embedded in Thanos’ chest he still fails.

Honestly, I could go on about this monumental movie all day. I could tell you about how excellent all these actors are in their respective roles and how ridiculously fun it is watching them hurl insults at each other and trade jabs and of course work together for the greater good. It’s a huge cultural achievement, as 10 years culminates in its most satisfying and darkest chapter.

Appreciate and notice the level of filmmaking quality that the Russos imbue into this film and the wit and skill it takes to plot and write such a huge film. Enjoy it for entertainment but also scrape below the surface and see what you can find. I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

 

Written and Submitted By Gaden Sousa

A Reflection on Moral Accountability

We are not responsible for the conditions of our births. In this way, we cannot choose to step from the void into living. Our histories, our environment and even our bodies are beyond our control. While this also extends to the nature of our education, childhood, and our subsequent moral values, at some point most people reach an age of legal accountability. Suddenly we seem to have a choice we didn’t before, and, more importantly, such legal accountability assumes we are suddenly freed of the conditions of our births.

The ideal of human freewill is not necessarily incompatible with the belief that everything in the universe is predestined—the foundation for fate. Even while our personalities, physical identities and environments are shaped by the sum of all human experience and physical law, to accept these factors as proof of inescapable destiny is to deny an individual’s responsibility for their own actions and beliefs.

If all people can be said to possess the faculties of freewill and reason, to what extent can they—or should they—be held accountable for their cultural values? I am not referring to ethnicity, but rather to the set of ideals to which an individual subscribes. Sometimes these values are never given reason for doubt. On the other hand, self-reflection and the external pressure of conflicting ideals may cause the individual to call their values into question. This forceful self-examination is something we encounter a great deal in issues relating to immigration, multiculturalism and questions of identity.

What makes one culture more legitimate than another? Perhaps it is just a historical perspective. We feel justified in looking down on, for example, the slave-owning South, the witch burning Puritans or the genocidal Khmer Rouge. Yet we tremble at the thought of judging existing societies—even those that don’t subscribe to our own cultural values of respect, multiculturalism, equality and human rights.

This comes down to a surrender of personal identity to those very conditioning factors of culture and environment. Is this even a problem? The alternative is a flimsy weather vane, condoning a corporate morality that panders to the masses for the sake of status—for fear of public backlash. To quote writer Alan Moore, ‘anything done out of fear has no moral value’. On the other hand, to stubbornly retain prescribed cultural values regardless of their questionable moral content is irresponsible, and denies the potential for radical freewill.

The irony, of course, is that along with my present morality and identity, my valuing of freewill is a product of a specific cultural heritage and conditioning. We can never step out of our own culture to judge ourselves or others objectively. An objective understanding of morality is impossible.

We must not pretend to be perfect. No culture is. Ignoring for a moment the application of technology and simply considering the moral perspective, no culture is more primitive or more progressive than any other. Each is an inconsistent organism, constructed from many varying lineages. Each contains aspects that can be considered progressive, and each those we might call primitive. For example, Nazi Germany, while promoting ethically-dubious scientific philosophies, still benefited from a strong sense of environmental awareness. Although this is a very complicated subject, such an example illustrates that moral absolutes do not exist in either form. Pure evil and pure good cannot be found in reality.

In practice, we only face the quality of our convictions, our morals, in extreme circumstances. While we all like to believe we would make the right choice, social experiments have shown that people given positions of authority in highly-structured and divisive situations can easily become abusive and sadistic. Likewise, most adults are, when trusting of the moral responsibility of an authority figure, willing to relinquish their own and commit torture or murder. Based on this, it is easy to see how entire societies can be motivated according misplaced fears and corrupted cultural values. Perhaps we are too willing to do away with the responsibility for our moral choices. Too much of this weight is upon us, so even at the cost of all we believe, we are willing to surrender to those who know best. If this is the case, how can we ever know if what we are doing is right, or if we have already, from birth, surrendered ourselves.

At the same time, this does not mean we should indiscriminately adopt conflicting or immoral ideals for the sake of self-discovery. Just as we must hold ourselves accountable for our own morality, so too does cultural progression demand the critical evaluation of ideas that enter our sphere of influence. Are they rational? Can we overlook, in the name of respect, the cultural institutions of slave-owning Confederates, or the cruelty of Japanese Whaling? Should we accept the homophobic practices of the Westboro Baptist Church simply for the sake of religious freedom and tolerance?

Ultimately, we must acknowledge the absence of a supreme moral high ground. It is only a mirage in the distance—an ideal for which to strive. Our progress is sometimes blind—we live in a world where the same document has been used, at different times in history, both to uphold racial segregation and then later to end segregation. Perhaps the past deserves our respect for having informed the triumphs of the present. Was not the first seed of universal suffrage once imagined among medieval peasantry? We must not forget that a thousand generations from now, our own values will seem primitive to the citizens of the future.

If we were to step out of our lives and into the future, would the people of this distant foreign country demand we evaluate ourselves, and cast out our biases and moral failings? Which begs the present question—do we have a right to demand the same kind of willingness to change from others that we demand of ourselves?

There is no clear answer to any of this, and no matter what choice is made, someone will always disagree on moral grounds. Perhaps I am simply shaping myself at the demands of popular morality. Unfortunately—until we encounter extra-terrestrials—all that we can ever understand about ourselves is informed by the very conditions that gave rise to our sense of self. Even across cultures we are bound by our common evolutionary genetics—by the very traits that gave us the world and us to the world. We are our bodies, our instincts, our pasts—we are not separate from the world, but simply an aspect of the world that has become aware of itself. It would be too easy to attribute moral authority to a higher power—god, nature, evolution, culture—but this is just another way of surrendering to fate. Regardless of whether we should bow to nature or rise above it, whether we should uphold our heritage or forge our own destinies, we are always, ultimately, chasing a mirage.

 

Written and Submitted by Mark Russell

Smile

‘Smile!’

It’s almost 1 am. The hotel bar is still swelling with a raucous crowd, glasses in hand, as the polite mingling from hours before turns into something more boisterous. I stink of stale beer, and my white shirt is stained with a few drops of burgundy wine. I’m exhausted from being on my feet all day. I really do not feel like smiling.

The man who ordered me to smile is swaying slightly on his bar stool, a sheen of sweat glistening on his forehead. If I smell bad, he smells worse. The professional façade he put on for the start of the conference is starting to slip, but it looks like he’s made a few friends since the start of the night. Patches of sweat the size of side plates ring his underarms, and his hair, in desperate need of a trim, is sticking out in all directions, rebelling against the layering of gel smeared through it. He and his mates sit in a cluster, reminding me of the boys in high school who used to sit by the lockers at lunchtime and catcall anyone who walked close by.

I force a small smile onto my face, glancing at the clock. Nearly time to close the bar. I hand him the beer he ordered, barely sitting it down on the bar mat before his hand swoops and raises the drink to his lips.

‘We’re about ready to call last drinks, just so you know.’

The man eyes me up and down, drinking his beer like he’s dying of thirst. He’s in for a big night, aided by the booze the conference has paid for. He’s not going to go quietly. My stomach turns—I’m not the best at confrontation. Training never seems to fully prepare you for your emotions at the time, and right now mine are threatening to bubble over.

‘Right, I’ll have another two pots then, love!’

‘I can only serve you one at a time, I’m sorry,’ I say, reaching under the bar and pulling out a cold beer glass from the fridge. ‘This will have to be your last one.’

He laughs as though he doesn’t believe I’m serious. Really, I shouldn’t be serving him anymore, but there’s only ten minutes to go. One more drink and then he can piss off upstairs to the rooms hired by the organiser of the conference. He can drink the contents of the mini bar up there, for all I care. As long as he gets out of my face.

‘Come on, where’s your smile gone?’ he asks, almost reaching over the bar to grab the beer the second it’s been poured.

‘Last drinks!’ I call, pointedly ignoring him and moving towards another customer. I’m spent, and my feet ache. I just want to go home.

‘You wanna meet my mate over here? I’ll bet he can get you to smile!’

Mr Profuse Sweater grabs an unfortunate colleague in a weak attempt at a headlock and erupts into laughter as if he’s the funniest person in the room. My workmate, Maddie, who is busy down the other end of the bar, glances over. I have no idea how she’s managed to make it through the night looking like she’s just started her shift—makeup still perfectly applied, hair in its proper place. She keeps a keen eye on the clock, and I know she’s counting down the minutes until she can get home too. She is supposed to sit an exam tomorrow morning at university, but she needs to take the shifts while she can. Casual work is fickle—we can’t afford to refuse shifts.

I push my fringe out of my eyes and give her a small shrug, like there’s not much we can do about him.

*

1 am comes around, and the loud chatter from the conference crowd is replaced by a quiet, bubbling noise that signals the end of a big night. The loud guy down the end of my bar is still here. He slams his pot glass onto the bar mat and starts beckoning to me with a slick palm, trying to get my attention. I ignore him and continue my restocking.

‘Hello?’ he slurs, words thick, waving his empty glass at me.

‘Sorry, sir, the bar’s closed.’

‘Fuck off!’

The disbelieving curse carries through the almost empty bar, prompting chuckles from his few remaining friends. I reach up and grab the empty glass from him.

‘Not even one drink? Come on, love!’

‘I won’t serve you more alcohol,’ I say, shaking my head.

I offer a grimace that doesn’t quite stretch to a smile. The tension is starting to build up. It starts in my shoulders, before working its way to my chest and lungs. Squeezing. Tightening.

He scoffs at me, a flush working its way up from under his collar.

‘What, you on the rag or something?’

My stomach drops. He laughs. His mates laugh. Like it’s the funniest thing in the world that he’s called out my weakness, and a man would be more understanding of his situation. As if he’s never been refused by a woman before, so the only reason for it could be that I’m compromised by my own embarrassing body. He’s waiting for a response, using a taboo subject for shock value, a bargaining chip to wear me down.

All for an extra pot of beer.

Any pretence of a smile slides from my face. I want nothing more than to jump the bar, and hit him in his smug, self-satisfied face.

‘Em, could you duck out the back and grab the mop for me please?’ Maddie asks, coming over as she wipes down the bar. ‘Time to head off, guys. You’ve still got a few days to go, you have to pace yourselves.’

‘We can handle it, love.’

‘That’s what they all say, but it always ends with me mopping vomit off the floor, regardless.’

They ask her for more beers, and when she refuses, they start with the same tactics they showed me. Maddie refuses to show her anger. They clear out after a few minutes, making a couple of lewd remarks to the night duty receptionist as they hurl themselves towards the elevators.

‘You all right, Em?’ Maddie asks, coming over and rubbing my arm for comfort. She’s been working at this hotel for two years longer than I have, but she isn’t that much older than me.

I nod and keep mopping, face still burning.

‘You can’t let them get to you.’

Irritation starts to prickle its way over my skin, but I force another nod. I can’t risk this job because of some drunk idiot with something to prove.

‘You let them see that you were angry. That only made it worse. If you pretend that you don’t give a shit, they eventually get bored.’

I don’t reply but continue to mop in silence. I just want to get home where I can be angry, but keep it private, hidden. I’ll keep my smile on for now and try to pretend like it doesn’t bother me at all.

 

 

Written and Submitted by Ash Leonard

Six Myths about Fair Trade

In an increasingly globalised world, Fair Trade is becoming more and more recognised and debated. With this recognition, there also comes many misconceptions. This article seeks to dispel some of the common myths surrounding Fair Trade and hopes to leave you with a better understanding of what Fair Trade is all about.

Myth #1 Fair Trade is one word

This distinction can confuse a lot of people. Fairtrade (one word) refers to the certification system, AKA the little green and blue logo we see on many products. This ensures farmers are paid a minimum price for their goods and their communities are supported.

Fair Trade (two words) is the wider movement looking at the principles of fair business. While the Fairtrade mark is the most well-known image we associate with Fair Trade, organisations such as Amnesty International and World Vision – who have strong campaigns to end child labour and trafficking – would be considered members of the broader Fair Trade movement.

Myth #2: Cadbury chocolate is Fairtrade

Cadbury’s milk chocolate did carry the Fairtrade logo, but as of 2018 it has replaced it with a Cocoa Life mark. There are concerns because the Cocoa Life brand – which has similar aims to Fairtrade – is owned by Cadbury’s parent company. Therefore, its objectivity may be clouded by a lack of independence and accountability. As Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand CEO Molly Harriss Olson puts it, they are effectively ‘grading their own homework’. As such, it is difficult to determine whether their standards will be as high as established Fairtrade standards.

That being said, results from Cocoa Life’s program have so far been positive, with Cocoa Life farmers in Ghana seeing increases in productivity and income, while the benefits farmers receive from other ethical schemes have been falling, according to Reuters.

 So, while Cadbury still appears to support sustainable and ethical cocoa production, the drop off in transparency is somewhat concerning.

Cadbury’s move away from a third-party label in Fairtrade does not seem to be a growing trend, with companies like Ferrero Rocher just recently increasing their use of Fairtrade certified cocoa.

Myth #3: All Fairtrade certifications mean the same thing

With so many different Fairtrade certifications and labels out there, it can be confusing when choosing a Fairtrade product.  We’ve looked into some of the most common Fairtrade certification labels in order to help alleviate some of that confusion.

The globally recognised Fairtrade Mark

1.pngThe blue and green symbol portraying a farmer in a field is displayed universally on products that meet strict Fairtrade standards related to social, economic and environmental criteria. These standards have been developed by the governing body, Fairtrade International, in cooperation with producers, traders, NGOs and other important players in the Fair Trade arena. Each time you purchase a fairtrade product, you are choosing to support and make a positive impact on the lives of producers and their communities in some of the world’s poorest countries, as they will receive what their work is really worth.

Fairtrade Certified

2

3

This label is similar to the Fairtrade Mark, with Fairtrade USA working very closely with farmers, companies and their suppliers. There’s transparency throughout the supply chain, ensuring adequate working conditions and fair wages.  They are also helping to conserve the environment. Additionally, an amount from each product sold goes directly back to the source in the form of a Community Development Fund.

Fair for Life

4.jpgHuman rights are upheld at every stage of production and both workers and the local community are empowered by resources used for social projects and other initiatives. It is distinctive in that it recognises that ‘existing systems for assurance of social and Fair Trade conditions unfortunately exclude many operations worldwide from independent verification and certification of their performance’.

Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA)

5For clothing brands that make most or all of their products in Australia and are accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia, a peak body which audits the transparency of supply chains of Australian textiles and apparel companies.

Fair Wear Foundation

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An international certification body that helps textiles and apparel companies achieve determined labour standard goals, including empowering producers with a living wage—which is one greater than a minimum wage and allows for savings.

Myth #4 Fairtrade is a rip-off

While Fairtrade products can be more expensive than their non-Fairtrade counterpart, it is important to remember that often this is because producers are paid enough to be able to sustain themselves and their families, which is otherwise not the case with non-Fairtrade products. Buyers of Fairtrade products must pay a minimum price towards producers. The minimum price is set based on a consultative process with Fairtrade farmers, workers and traders to ensure that they can build a decent livelihood off of their wage.

Many Fairtrade products are priced comparably to non-Fairtrade products, with Fair Trade organisations working directly with producers, and cutting out middlemen, to ensure that products are affordable while the producers are still paid decently.

Myth #5 Fairtrade takes away jobs from Australians

It can be easy to criticise Fairtrade initiatives overseas as harmful to Australian businesses and the Australian economy but the reality is that many Australian industries have long been moved off-shore in order to cut production costs. For example, garment production for Australian companies in Bangladesh has increased 1,500% since 2008. Generally, these industries are not employing Australians because production costs in Australia are too high. Fairtrade seeks to improve the lives of the poorest of the poor in countries who are often exploited by these industries by offering ethical alternatives to fast fashion.

At the end of the day, the choice often isn’t between Australian-made and Fairtrade, but is instead between Fairtrade and non-Fairtrade.

 

Myth #6 Fairtrade is a form of charity

Although Fairtrade and charity are both similar in their pursuit to improve the livelihood of workers everywhere, Fairtrade is not charity. Simply put, charity is about giving help (typically through monetary means), and Fairtrade is about paying workers a fair wage and empowering them to be able to help themselves.7

Fairtrade promotes a long-term and sustainable method of change through trade-based mechanisms that aim to pay a fair wage for work done. However, many Fairtrade organisations do support the Fairtrade premium—an additional paid sum that goes beyond a fair price into a communal fund for workers to use on projects that improve their social, economic and environmental conditions as they see fit.

—By Nathaniel Sage, Vivian Xin and Rebekah de Keijzer.

Interested in learning more about fair trade? Check out DUSA’s Fair Trade Vision Burwood today!

Faraway Tales

For all of their lives, Myna and Farren had heard stories of the sea.

From the time they were born, travellers had passed through their village and told tales—stories of red coloured earth, birds as big as humans and mountains as tall as the sky—of adventures through swamps and over deserts. They told of forests where everything was always green and wet, of lakes deeper than the light could reach, and of animals so strange and far away that the children could not even conjure images of them in their minds.

None of the tales, however, had captured their thoughts quite as much as those of the sea.

They longed to see it—the undulating mythically large expanse of water that was somehow the colour of the sky, the leaves, and the stones all at once. They longed with an almost hopeless but entirely unrelenting desire to see this story with their own eyes.

The desire was so strong that they began to make secret plans.

Although Myna loved her home, she had never really felt at home there.

When Myna thought of home, she thought of the thin brown creek that wove through the village. She thought of the warmth of the dusty earth in summer, and the shade of the trees that felt like family. She thought of Farren at her side.

She loved these things. She truly did. But somehow, every evening as she lay wrapped safe and warm, she would find herself looking at the sky and wondering if there was more.

She dreamt often of all the places they had heard of in stories. She imagined herself walking over rocks and sand and earth the colour of the red tree blossoms. She could sometimes almost feel the cold wind blowing on her face at the top of a mountain, so different from the wind that she knew. Each day the longing grew more intense, until one morning she realised the creek and the dust and the trees were no longer home, and she was trapped by the things that once made her feel free.

So they left. They walked and walked, and over all the miles and hills and plains, Myna would look out and think, is this where I belong?

***

Myna awoke to find her brother gone. She sat up, heart quickening as she glanced around.

‘Farren?’ she called softly. ‘Farren? Where are you?’

There was no reply but silence, whispering through the scrubby trees on the embankment and curling its fingers through her hair.

‘Farren!’ she cried again, loudly this time. ‘Farren!’

‘I’m here,’ she heard a voice call, and her brother appeared, stepping lightly from behind a bush.

Myna released her breath in a rush, and frowned. ‘Don’t just disappear like that!’ she scolded. ‘This isn’t our place. There could be many dangerous things around.’

‘Sorry,’ Farren said, and held up a bird. ‘I was getting breakfast.’

While Myna stirred the fire, Farren turned the bird’s meat over the coals. They ate, Farren smacking his lips, Myna chewing slowly.

‘What’s the matter?’ asked Farren without looking up. ‘You have your serious face on.’

Myna smiled, then paused. ‘We must be close to the ocean now,’ she said, curling her fingers around a stick and prodding the fire. ‘We’ve been able to smell the salt for several days.’

‘Isn’t that a good thing?’

‘Yes,’ said Myna, ‘but … well, for years we have been dreaming of the sea. Hearing stories of it, imagining it, longing to see it. And now we have journeyed so far. What if it isn’t all we have wished?’

For a moment Farren was silent, thinking. Then he said, ‘If all the stories are true, I don’t think we will be disappointed. A thing like that … it could never disappoint.’

***

For as long as Farren could remember hearing stories, he remembered hearing them with Myna. His big sister was as constant in his life as the sky and the stars, and he loved her just as much.

So, when she whispered to him one night that she was going to turn their dream of the sea into a real journey, he knew without even thinking it, that he would go with her.

He had always known that one day Myna would want to leave. As she watched the horizon he watched her, and tried to ignore the biting worry in his heart that when she left it would be to a place where he could not follow.

So he followed her, always, just in case one day he could not. Together they climbed trees and explored the muddy corners of the creek. They wove necklaces of flowers, and did handstands in the burning sun, and whispered secrets to the hidden frogs. They listened to story after story and told their own, until the world that they shared was different to the world everybody else could see.

When Myna told him that she was going to the sea, he reminded her that for him, they went together or not at all.

‘Of course,’ she whispered. ‘I wouldn’t want to see it without you.’

Unlike Myna, Farren was afraid to leave home. But he knew that if Myna left and he stayed, she would take that feeling of home away with her and it might never come back. So he followed her, as he had always done, and they created their home and their stories together as they walked, across the world, to the sea.

***

Farren buried the ashes from their fire in the light, sandy dirt as Myna took up their belongings. Together they struggled up the rise, using the twisted, gnarled trees and each other’s hands to support themselves as the earth gave way beneath their feet. Myna had lost track of the number of steps they had walked. Suddenly the feeling of impending change overwhelmed her. She gripped Farren’s hand a little tighter.

Then, panting, they crested the peak.

And there was the sea.

The images in their minds could never have compared. The water stretched past the horizon and all the way to the sky. In this one place was more water than all the water they had seen in their lives. And the colour! Except it wasn’t a colour at all, it was every colour all at once—grey as the stones, blue as the mountains, pink as the rising sun and its very own type of green. It seemed to fill the whole world, and the children wondered how until this moment it had not been a part of theirs. Farren wanted to laugh and sing and run, to sprint across the sand and crash into the waves.

Myna just wanted to breathe.

 

 

Written and Submitted by Tegan Benham Bannon

The Offering

‘Respect the old ones,’ my Granny used to tell me. ‘They’re far wiser than we could ever know, pet.’

I could hear her reminding me of this every day, her voice crisp and clear like morning air, just like when I was a little girl. Even though Granny had been gone for a few years now, I still had the loch, with its thick mist and black depths.

I still had Nessie too.

I don’t know what Nessie’s real name used to be, there were probably several. There were books, impossibly old and fragile that held Nessie’s true name, but they were written in Gaelic so old it was unrecognisable from the Gaelic we knew now. All I knew was what Granny had taught me, which she had learned from her own mother and her mother before that, all the way back since we painted ourselves blue. I was the most recent in a long legacy: guardians of Loch Ness.

For the women in my family, it has always been our job to champion for the loch, but more importantly, to protect Nessie. Through invasions from the Vikings to the Romans and eventually, the English, it was our family’s duty to protect Nessie’s home. These days the Loch is not just protected by our family; it’s a legally protected area, which makes it easier on me, but the one thing I make sure is done every year is The Offering.

It’s my favourite moment of the year, even though it only lasts for a few minutes. The Offering is when I get to see Nessie. Every November, an offering of fish is given. This is to renew our mutually beneficial relationship: we protect the loch and Nessie, and our family and our town continues to prosper. The only time I ever considered not going was when I was fourteen; the year my parents died in a car crash. I was so angry at Nessie for letting it happen. That’s when Granny tried to explain to me that prospering does not mean bad things never happen, it means being able to continue on, even in the face of hardship. To this day, I’m still glad that I went that year, even though I was aching to the bone. When I saw Nessie, it was the first time in months that I’d felt any sort of peace. I also felt grief—grief that wasn’t my own. It was Nessie’s grief at the missing presence of my mother. I haven’t considered skipping it since.

And today was the day, The Offering. My sole agenda was to meet Nessie on the bank of the loch. I had five kilos of fish, ready and waiting to be dragged to the beach below Urquhart Castle. Once upon a time our family had lived and served at the castle, but that was long ago, and now I had to stock the fridge and freezer in my little house with fish bought at the Inverness Farmers Market over the last couple of weeks. A nervous thrill jittered through me as I loaded Nessie’s fish into the trunk of my car. The sun was beginning to set and hopefully anyone visiting or working at the castle would be long gone.

I had half of the fish in my arms when I approached the bank and heard voices by the water. It was hard to see very far in the dusk, but I ducked behind some tall brush. I was surprised that there were still people lingering around, so I peeked through the plant shielding me and spied two men on the pier, a boat docked next to them. They seemed engrossed in the phone the older man was holding. Not sure what to do, I tried to slowly set down the box of fish I was holding. Not the greatest decision in hindsight as my attempt failed and the noise carried perfectly in the silent evening air.

‘Who’s there?’ I heard one of the men call out as I bobbed closer to the ground. I had to think quickly as my hopes of hiding and waiting them out were dashed when the men started to approach, their heavy boots clomping on the wooden pier.

My heart did double-time as Granny’s warnings raced through my head; Nessie might not come to shore if there were strangers about, or if strangers did see Nessie they could be hurt, or become a threat to Nessie and the loch. And worst of the worst: they could expose Nessie to the world.

Granny told me time and again of the ruckus a single photograph of Nessie caused when she was a small girl. It sent the town into an uproar, and has been brandished by monster hunters for over eighty years. My great-grandmother and Granny worked hard for many years to convince “the experts” that it was all a forgery. I couldn’t allow something like that to happen, especially in the age of the internet.

I was losing precious time in my panic and I needed both an excuse for being down here at this time of night and something dull enough that the men wouldn’t want to stick around to investigate further. In a panicked flurry, I wrenched off my scarf, ready to bluff my way out of the unexpected mess.

‘Oh, hello!’ I called, popping up from my hiding place. I took a couple of steps forward, away from the box of fish, leaving it obscured in the grass.

‘Hullo, Miss’, replied the younger man of the pair, both of them stopping in their tracks at the sight of me.

‘Bit late to be wand’ing doon here, luv,’ the older man said. I let out a laugh, slightly too hysterical from the adrenaline rush, I desperately needed this to be over. I raised my scarf in the air.

‘I lost my scarf down here earlier and I finally remembered where I’d put it,’ I lied hastily, hoping the men would be believe me. ‘I found it though, so not to worry. Good night!’ I turned and started to walk back up to the road without waiting for a response. I thought I would grab the other box out of my car and hoped the two men would be gone when I returned.

‘What a strange girl,’ I heard the younger man say to his friend as I retreated.

My hopes lifted when his friend replied, ‘Aye, doont worry about her. We best get back before it’s too dark.’

My plan had worked because by the time I had grabbed the second box of offerings and made my way down the hill to the bank again, the two men and their boat were gone. I dumped the contents of the boxes, all the fish I had collected, at the edge of the water and waited, keenly wringing my hands.

Despite the unexpected guests, Nessie didn’t make me wait too long. It started with tiny little bubbles. Little bubbles became big bubbles and then the water seemed to sway and shift to reveal Nessie herself, the moonlight shining on her skin and the seemingly weightless way she moved left me in awe, like she did every year.

‘Hi,’ was all I could say, struck breathless and dumb with her grandeur. Nessie cut through the water and reached the bank gracefully. She looked at me and dipped her head in acknowledgement of me and I felt her gaze reverberate in my bones. After that, she paid me no heed, turned to the pile of fish and began to eat. It only took a minute and a half for Nessie to eat the fish. Once it was all gone, Nessie returned to the water, looking back at me only once in farewell before diving into the depths where she spent the rest of her time.

I still felt breathless and shaken when I got back into my car. It would be another year before I saw Nessie again, but no matter what, just like my Gran, she would always be with me.

 

 

Written and Submitted by Elizabeth Ross.

Persephone

You are Hades and I am Persephone.

You were desperate for passion,

And took advantage of my naivety

As I mistook your lust for love.

 

Sitting in my field of endless flowers and sunshine,

The bright colours painted my dreamworld.

A violent wind blew the petals from their stalks,

Fiery fingertips gouged my shoulders,

You pulled me asunder.

 

Darkness permeates my body, taking possession.

I never realised I could speak the language of madness.

Surrounded by wilted plants, poisoned at the roots,

You look at me with ferocity in your eyes.

I realise it’s a reflection of my own.

 

You taunted my hunger with acid pomegranate.

The thick red pulp that ran down my hands

Was never enough to indulge my cravings.

As what I really wanted,

I could never fully have.

 

For now I will always dance with splinters in my feet,

Every flower I pick will pierce me with its thorns,

My lips will crave the blood acidity of pomegranates.

And my heart will long for the darkness, for the madness,

For you.

 

 

Written and Submitted by Julie Dickson

 

Ten Ways to Work through Writer’s Block

By Emily Grace

Has motivation left you standing in the cold rain with a bunch of wilted roses and a half-empty box of Belgian chocolates? Inspiration decide to take an unplanned, one way trip to Barbados without even the promise of a postcard?

Dear creators, do not fret nor fear. While these blocks may lend us untold amounts of frustration and misery, there are ways to abate and negate the undesirable curse that is Writer’s Block.

1. Write!

Wait! Don’t close the tab, just hear me out a second.

I’m sure we’ve all been given this advice before, and we’ve all tiredly reiterated that we’re ‘suffering from writer’s block and really could not write’. Well, I’m here to tell you that this insufferably simplistic piece of advice is actually pretty sage, in both theory and practice.

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘if you’re going through hell, keep going’? Writer’s block, and writing in general, is a bit like that. You’ll make it through eventually, but persistence is the winning ticket and the only way out is through.

So, write a page in your diary, or a scathing review of the coffee shop you checked out last week that didn’t offer any gluten free items. Anything to keep the pen in your hand steady and the keys under your fingertips warm. It doesn’t have to be good, or even make sense. It could be the same word written a thousand times over, until the word loses all meaning.

Just. Keep. Writing.

While doing so, of course, perhaps attempt one—or all—of the following suggestions to alleviate the sheer frustration of being in the middle of your own creative crisis.

2. Go for a Walk

Alas, I’m sure this advice is also overused, but just bear with me as I explain!

The feel of a cold breeze as the smell of freshly moistened gravel and garden waft tantalizingly through the swaying branches; the thick sound of traffic in the suburbs during peak hour; muffled laughter distant conversation flowing seamlessly together through the open windows and backyard barbeques.

There are many reasons why taking a walk might aid you in your quest for motivation and inspiration. It gives your body and mind something else to focus on, allowing your mind to process all the things keeping you from writing. It’s also a great way to engage with the world (more on this in the next step), giving you access to new settings and environments–no environment is the same from one day to the next; there is always something new, though you may not know what or how.

Even if you just wind up pacing around your own backyard–just get up, get out, and stretch those legs of yours. If that’s not a possibility, then perhaps simply try a change of scenery.

3. Go Somewhere Public

As with the previous suggestion, this involves leaving the comfort of your home–and maybe even your comfort zone in general. That local coffee shop just down the road from you where the coffee is too bitter but the smile of the barista is like a warm embrace; the library in town populated by students working off hangovers to the sound of crumpling paper and the smell of dusty pages. You could go to the museum, or to the zoo, and surround yourself with excited school children and exasperated parents and teachers alike.

Go somewhere where there is conversation. Take out those earphones and take your eyes away from your phone. Listen to your surroundings. Sometimes the greatest prompts come in the form of an overheard conversation. Who is that man talking to on the phone? What is the call about? What about that toddler babbling to the empty seat beside them? Who (or what) are they talking to?

And it’s not just dialogue! You can get some serious inspiration for how to write human interaction through the simple act of bearing witness to or experiencing it. Here are some examples for you: the man that rushes towards the door but bumps into the elderly woman entering and forgoing an apology in his rush. The child tugging incessantly on her father’s flannel jacket as they pace the garden section of the local supermarket. The group of teenagers draped carelessly over the furniture and each other in that dimly lit café. Anything could be that thing to bring a spark to your mind, and it’s the perfect excuse to hang out with a friend you’ve been neglecting during your attempt to cure the writer’s curse.

4. Read.

Sometimes, living in someone else’s fantasy is just what you need in order to escape from the ever-present agony of being unable to string together a single sentence.

Try reading something you wouldn’t have picked up under normal circumstances. You don’t even need to get through it, honestly. Read it and think about what you’d do differently if it had been you writing it. Read it out loud in the most obnoxious and exaggerated accents you can think of. Read aloud to your pet or read to the moon, nobody will judge you here, I promise.

5. Dictate or Record Rather than Write

Got a fantastic idea but not a clue how to write it? Or maybe every time you reach for a pen or your laptop your mind goes completely blank?

Sometimes it’s easier for us to simply speak our ideas.

So maybe you’ll take your phone and record the concepts that cross your mind at 2am, exhausted but unwilling to allow an idea to be lost due to sleep; or maybe you’ll download a dictation software and spend some time enacting dialogue between your characters. You might even decide to do both (though maybe not at 2am; you do need to sleep at some point, you know).

6. Do Some Research

Writing a short story that involves Victorian era aesthetics? What about a novel about a young mermaid drawn into a battle against climate change? If you’re struggling to write, researching things might help jog that stubborn motivation.

Sometimes the more we know about a topic, the easier it becomes to write about it.

It doesn’t even need to be relevant to the piece you’ve set your mind on writing: find the newest Attenborough adventure, or set yourself up with some serial killer speculation; or maybe whatever pops up first on Netflix or YouTube. You could spend a few hours trawling through Wikipedia one link at a time, or searching up conspiracy theories. While it may not assist you in the writing endeavour you’d initially planned, knowledge is power and the more you know the more you’ll be able to write confidently on (and, besides, it may push you into starting something new!)

7. Stay Hydrated!

Aside from remembering to drink plenty of water, take the time to make yourself a beverage of a different sort. Hot or cold, bitter or sweet, alcoholic or non-alcoholic. Preparing drinks, and even food, is a great way to relax while also focusing on a task. This gives your brain the opportunity to process ideas without agonising over them to the point of futility.

Whether you enjoy tea, coffee, or hot chocolate; fresh-pressed apple juice, or the bite of freshly juiced lemonade; or perhaps you’d prefer a fiction-inspired cocktail to take the edge off–take just a little time to grab some refreshments (not to be confused with the necessary ‘sustenance’, consisting of water and three square meals).

8. Write a List

You might be thinking, ‘Hey, why isn’t this a part of the ‘Write!’ section?’ Well, let me explain: writing a list, while an aspect of simply ‘writing’, adds a whole different spin on the action of putting pen to paper or finger to keys. It focuses your attention on a very specific cause that you can expand at will. Start with a short list of supplies one might need in a zombie apocalypse, and go further from there to include things one might find that could be useful.

You could write a list of openers for when you meet your favourite celebrity, or even the reasons why you think Steve Rogers (a.k.a Captain America) is an iconic Mary Sue character. Create lists for each of your characters. List their top five traits, or the seven things they find most admirable in an adversary. The list could range from strictly improbable to wildly impossible; or, you could simply stick close to the mundane and write a shopping list.

Lists are a very active aspect of writing and shouldn’t be dismissed as unimportant or thrown to the wayside. So, give it a shot. You may be surprised at the results.

9. Listen to Music

Listen to music—I don’t just mean the same ten pop songs you’ve heard a thousand times. Be as diverse in your auditory experiences as your reading experiences. Don’t stick with one genre; explore! There are millions—possibly billions—of things to listen to, and you might find something new you enjoy that you never would have expected. I, for instance, am currently writing this while listening to that horrendous hold music so coveted by the Centrelink offices.

For extra inspiration, look to soundtracks from your favourite movies (instrumental, of course), or even from your favourite video games. The Skyrim soundtrack, for example, is masterfully crafted to insight certain feelings within the listener/gamer as the soundtrack progresses, as is the case for a multitude of soundtracks available for streaming.

So, whether you open Spotify and choose a random playlist or search up lo-fi hip-hop livestreams on YouTube, music might just be the life-line you’ve been looking for.

For reference, here are some favourites of mine:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Syo9TBYwK4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhFS32B869Y

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXCTw8EhMYU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWv3DfoiigM

10. Don’t Give Up

What are we most likely to do when we’re struggling? That’s right–a lot of us might simply give up.

I’m here to tell you that, while you can certainly give up and let the block consume you, it’s better in the long run to just keep on pushing through. It might seem like hell at first, and it’ll pull at your confidence in yourself as a writer, but you’ll be writing, and that is the most important thing.

So, give a few of these tactics a try and keep up the good work. You’re doing great, even if you only manage to write a dozen or so words a day. Just keep on keeping on. I believe in you.

5 FREE Apps For Students

Words by Bonnee Crawford

It’s 2017 and just about everyone has a smartphone. While this technology is fantastic for letting people stay socially connected while they’re on the go or keeping them occupied during a long commute, a smartphone can often be detrimental to a student’s productivity. I’m no stranger to scrolling through Facebook or sending Snapchats when I should be studying or doing an assignment and I dare say, dear reader, neither are you.

However, as with most things, their usefulness and functionality boils down to how we use them. Although the initial purpose of buying a smartphone often is for the social-on-the-go aspects, it’s absolutely possible to make them beneficial for students. The best part? You can do it for free, starting with these apps.

* * *

  1. Calendar

If you own a smartphone, chances are you already have a built-in Calendar app. Even my ancient flip phone from when I was in high school had one. Forget keeping a paper day planner or physical student diary—you know you’re going to forget to check it or take it with you. Whether you just want to use it for scheduling study time, or if you want to use it to plan the rest of your life too, pick the date and time and your phone will remind you to do it. And we both know you’re 100% less likely to forget to check your phone than you are to check your student diary. Want something a little fancier than your standard Calendar app? Try downloading something like TimeTune (Android), My Study Life (iPhone), or any of the countless other free timetabling/scheduling/time management apps). Get a feel for what sort of features work best for you. Everyone’s a little different.

 

  1. Tide: Focus Timer to Study, Work & Relax

I found this app quite recently and it is amazing (like I am obsessed with this app right now). Tide combines ambient sounds like rain with the Pomodoro technique, which traditionally separates periods of focus into twenty-five minute sessions with short breaks in between. Pick your background sound (the lapping ocean, steady rainfall, forest noises, gentle piano, or café chatter), start your timer, and get down to business. Short focus periods with frequent breaks may sound unproductive at first, but when a timer is ticking you’ll be surprised at how much you can trick yourself into getting done. This app comes with pretty background pictures and inspiring quotes, as well as features that let you set goals and track how long you’ve focused each day. Tide is also great for unwinding—listen to one of the relaxing tracks while you get ready for bed to promote some restful sleep (which will help improve productivity the next day!).

Compatible with Android and iPhone.

 

  1. 30 Day Fitness Challenge

I don’t know about you guys, but I could not afford a gym membership during my undergrad. Going for a walk or a jog instead is a good way to keep active while you’re studying, but these activities get monotonous after a while. 30 Day Fitness Challenge is a great way to mix it up. It’s like having a little personal trainer on your phone, and you don’t need gym equipment to do the exercises. There are six levels to choose from based on your abilities, and you can choose to focus on particular muscle groups or do full body workouts. The app will time you while you complete each exercise and allow you to have a break between each set (and a rest day every 4 days!). The exercises can all be done at home and the gamification that comes with building up your streak keeps you motivated to return to the app each day. The levels start off short and sweet on day one and build in intensity over the 30 day period.

Compatible with Android and iPhone.

 

  1. GymBetter

Okay, so you don’t want to commit to a gym membership because damn that’s expensive, but you would like the option to sometimes go to the gym without spending the same amount on casual entry that you would have spent in a fortnight on gym membership anyway. GymBetter gives you discounted casual access to participating gyms (YMCA*, Fernwood Fitness, and Goodlife) and you can even go to a group class. If you don’t have the funds for a gym membership, or you know you wouldn’t go often enough to make it worth paying for, download GymBetter so that you can get casual entry without going broke.**

*The campus gyms at Burwood and Waurn Ponds are operated by YMCA.

**If you have private health insurance with Medibank, get an extra discount, because Medibank made this app.

Compatible with Android and iPhone.

 

  1. Groupon

Speaking of discounts … students deserve to go on cool adventures and eat at nice restaurants too! Groupon offers a smorgasbord of discounts on everything from fine dining to skydiving. The possibilities are endless and if you’re a poor uni student looking for somewhere cool to go or something fun to do, you should definitely check out what you can find on Groupon.

Compatible with Android and iPhone.

* * *

Although your smartphone can distract you from being a student at the worst of times, there are ways for your mobile device to help get you through. Whether that’s in the form of helping you focus and manage your time, or making sure you keep a healthy balance between studying and the rest of life without going broke, there’s bound to be something you can download for free in your app store that will help you justify to your parents why you’re glued to your phone. Oh, and it can totally help you do better at uni and feel better as a student—remember, it’s about how you use it.