Is Australia a democracy when millions cannot vote?

I was leaving my flat in Cambodia for the last time and was wearing my heavy woolen kilt to reduce flight luggage weight. As I was stepping into my friend’s tuk tuk, a car stopped and an American asked me whether I had voted. It was the day of the Scottish independence referendum of 2014.

I was unable to vote in that referendum because I was not living in Scotland at the time of the referendum, despite having been born and bred in Scotland and a citizen of the UK. Most foreigners found this instinctively strange, and maybe even wrong that I was being denied a vote in my country’s future. This feeling only heightened when I explained that people from other countries living in Scotland at the time could vote. A Cambodian student living in Scotland could vote on Scotland’s future but a Scottish man living in Cambodia could not.

Whilst many people may believe, or at least unquestioningly accept, that people voting in elections is the best way to form a government, people do not often consider the rules for who should be able to vote. This lack of consideration creates surprise amongst people when they hear that other democracies have different ways of deciding who can vote and who cannot, as if the way that their country organized it was the only possible form of democracy.

Of course, there have been historically significant debates about who gets to vote that have happened in most democracies that led to women and people of colour being able to vote. In Australia, it was in the 1960s that Aboriginal people were allowed to enroll at the federal level to vote and not until 1983 did it become compulsory for them to vote as it was for other Australian citizens.


In Australia, only citizens are allowed to vote meaning that of the 24 million people living in Australia, only 15 million or 63% are eligible to vote. Of the UK’s 65m population, nearly 47m are eligible to vote (72%). Not being a citizen of Australia, I am not able to vote. Nor, was I able to vote in Cambodia as I was not a citizen and it is very rare for a white foreigner to be granted citizenship there.

Athens and other Greek city-states are often cited as the birthplace of democracy, but it was restricted to men who were not foreigners or slaves. The Great Reform Act of 1832 in the UK meant that many more men were able to vote by reducing the level of wealth to be required to vote. The link between wealth, tax and representation was at the forefront of the wars of independence that led to the USA becoming separate from the UK. Americans believed it was an infringement on their rights to be paying tax created by a UK government in which they had no representation.


The UK Parliament passed laws regarding taxes on imported tea was a pivotal moment that led to the no taxation without representation campaign.

That argument still seems pretty strong to me and would mean that anybody paying income tax should certainly be able to vote. As people have become more mobile and are more likely to live in a country other than their birth, somebody paying income tax may not be a citizen. And indeed, as the system of taxation has changed, the system of deciding who should vote should change too.

In Australia, like most other countries, there is a tax paid on most goods or services purchased. In Australia, this is the General Sales Tax and is 10%. In the UK, it is called Value Added Tax and is predominantly 20% of sale price. This means that even somebody paying no income tax, including international students living in Australia, can be paying thousands of dollars in tax but don’t have a say in how that is spent. This is taxation without representation.

Considering these things, it seems abundantly fair that anybody living in Scotland, including people who may not consider themselves Scottish, were able to vote in the Scottish referendum. They had chosen to live there, were paying taxes and would be greatly affected by the result. I, on the other hand, had chosen to live elsewhere, was not paying any taxes and would be less affected by the result.

What some people felt was unfair for me was that I am Scottish, even if not a resident of Scotland, and this nationality should qualify me to vote. Even if I am not paying taxes, I am invested in the country in other ways through identity, kinship and attachment to places. However, legally, I am not Scottish. I was born in Scotland and Scotland is a nation, but it is not a State – it is part of the UK so legally I am a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. My passport does not say I’m Scottish, it says I am British.

Because of this, it becomes very difficult to judge who is Scottish and who is not. I have a friend who was born in England but has spent his whole life in Scotland and still lives there. Would he be considered Scottish? The American who spoke to me in Phnom Penh had Scottish ancestry and told me that he hoped Scotland would be free at last. Would he be considered Scottish?

The limitation with basing who should vote on whether you pay tax or not is that it characterizes the relationship between citizen and state as an economic transaction, whilst for most people, the country they are living in has much greater meaning than that. Cambodia, and now to an extent Australia, has greater meaning to me than just a country I paid taxes in. I am invested in the future of these countries, just as I am in the future of Scotland and the United Kingdom. It is because of this notion, that I am able to vote in the UK elections as an overseas elector. I am legally British and can therefore vote.

In some ways, Australia has an open approach to deciding who can vote. People who hold dual citizenship can vote, whilst some countries would see this as a risk; a person could try to undermine a country due to a greater loyalty to another. This is a rationale for countries like India not allowing dual citizenship and people holding a second passport to be able to vote.

The Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, recently talked about Australian values and Australia’s democracy was mentioned as part of this. He raised this issue because he wants foreigners living in Australia to adopt Australian values and prove it so. He wants them to prove their commitment to Australia, however being able to vote could be seen as a way of building commitment, of building  connection, duty and responsibility to Australia. It is not ridiculous to think that if you have a say in something, you are more invested in it.

Australia’s conception of democracy has obvious restrictions and is exclusive rather than inclusive. It also has the rare characteristic of being compulsory. People have to vote and are fined if they don’t. Whilst that may appear undemocratic, such a system makes it far more likely that those eligible to vote are registered to vote. The difference between the two is most often highlighted in the USA where there are some 20million eligible people not registered to vote for a variety of reasons, including questionable barriers, and it affects millions in the UK too. It has even affected me in this latest election.

After being unable to vote in tumultuous Cambodian elections; watching a nailbiting Australian election from the sidelines; I now sit and watch a UK election unfold without me. Although I am registered, my proxy nomination expired without me knowing about so I am unable to vote. The kick in the teeth? This very morning, I got a letter from UK Revenue and Customs demanding taxes paid for when I was volunteering in Cambodia for 2.5 years. I’m not paying until I get my vote back.





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Trump wins with Melbourne’s hipster as metrosexual man fades

Fitzroy is a suburb of Melbourne that used to be known for its edgy, artistic, bohemian vibe that had it’s own sub-culture if not counter-culture. There are still remnants of this with examples of striking graffiti art and longstanding haunts still being favoured by non-conforming patrons. In a generous comparison, Fitzroy may have been the Haight-Ashbury of Melbourne at one point.


However, as others find the attractions of this suburb – close to the city, cool bars and restaurants – the bohemians are being replaced by a more mainstream form of sub-culture. Hipsters. Melbourne itself has a reputation within Australia of being a bit painfully cool. It is certainly regarded as being pretentious and for those in other parts of Australia, the phrase “that’s very Melbourne” may not always be a complimentary. Rather, it may strike at a city trying too hard and with a predilection for the latest fad. This means that the Melbourne hipster takes hispterism to its highest form, and Fitzroy is the heart of Melbourne’s hispter.

Being a Thatcher baby, born in 1979, I would be one of those sad ageing wannabe hipsters not quite able to pull it off. The man of my early adult years was quite different to the hipster; he was the metrosexual.

I had not thought much about metrosexual man until I read an article comparing him to the hipster. Metrosexual man was slightly androgynous and had a love affair with himself, appreciating efforts in presentation. Metrosexual man was a global man living in a metropolis and he was distinctly modern, maybe even futuristic. But the future did not pan out for metrosexual man and he is no longer the man of the moment, and  this article suggests that his passing indicates a change in our view of masculinity. However, I wonder whether the change and primacy of the hipster is not limited to masculinity but has broader social and political meaning.

hipster - bike

The Hipster


The Metrosexual

The hipster does not want a corporate job in a tower block in the city. The hipster wants a job that allows him to make something from his own endeavour; from his own craft. He values the physical labour of an individual craftsman and how the product is imbued with the maker’s mark. He does not want to buy a clean, sleek, sharp-edged table produced by machines and a system based on division of labour; he wants to make it with his own hands, and preferably from rescued timber. The hipster wants to be an artisan.

When growing up, the only time I saw the word artisan was on a small, slightly decrepit wooden hut of Perth Artisan’s Golf Club, which I imagined only had members older than my grandpa. Now, there are artisans that who still have a thick thatch of jet black hair. The local bakery is now an artisan bakery; the hairdresser is  an artisan groomer; and, of course in Melbourne, the hipster serving you coffee is an artisan barista. The hipster is rejecting that notion of mass-production for individual craft, and such is the hispter’s dislike of modernity, he is even buying bread made from ancient grains.


If the job of a metrosexual man was a city worker; the job of a hipster is making coffee.

Allied to the rejection of modernity is the rejection of metropolis. The hipster does not want to live a 24 hour city life but rather has a desire to reconnect with a simpler life. Cities like Melbourne have had rapidly rising property prices but that does not explain the attraction of moving miles past outer suburbs to rural towns like Ballarat, Bendigo and Castlemaine. Even though hipsters are still an urban phenomenon, and Australia’s home of the hipster is Melbourne’s inner city suburb Fitzroy, the hipster is ignoring the expanse of the city to root himself in his locality, even if it is an adopted one. He will have his local barista, local brunch place, local barber, local bar where he can drink beer from his local microbrewery, local park and local friends. On Saturday mornings, he will walk past the cheaper supermarket to load his canvas bags full of food from the local farmer’s market.


Veg Out Market in nearby St Kilda

Melbourne has surprised me by the ubiquity of its local markets and farmers markets. I don’t have to go far to find a farmer’s market on the weekend and South Melbourne Market is open 4 days a week with food, clothes, restaurants and other shops. Other suburbs have their own markets and even outer suburbs attract weekly farmers markets. They may not be quite as busy and central to shopping as those markets from my time in Cambodia, but I can still go months without having to venture into a supermarket – something I would have found difficult to do in the UK.

Hipsters do not only dislike supermarkets for their focus on mass production, but their preference for places like South Melbourne market, and farmers markets in particular, is a preference of the local over the global. The hipster is not a fan of globalisation, of which the supermarket is surely an emblem.

The previously mentioned article concludes that the hipster is focussed on reclaiming something, something from the past, whereas the metrosexual man was about re-imagining, re-imagining the future. And it is at this point that I begin to see how the hipster may not be so far away from politicians he may not identify with. The value of traditional labour and production; the value of the local over the global; the value of direct, unvarnished truth over a polished presentation are all themes that Trump in the US or Farage in the UK more greatly represent than those who they have defeated. In the UK, Farage’s victory was defeat for David Cameron; he who was a politician with a modernising agenda, clean presentation, and smooth skin possibly enhanced by botox. Cameron was a metrosexual.

The hispter may recoil from such a link but to what extent is there a difference between a hipster seeking out the local in favour of the far away, and protection of national production over global trade, which Trump has based his popularity on? The hipster is not alone in this however as the whole of Australia has a strong preference to buying Australian. Products proudly display “Made in Australia” stickers and a relatively new beer (Furphy) proudly advertises that all of its ingredients come from the local state. Foreign ownership of farms is a hot potato and Chinese housebuyers are blamed for rising house prices and a shortage of homes.

Australia’s PM, Malcolm Turnbull, would doubtlessly see himself as a modern politician and with a home in New York and having worked internationally, he is comfortable with a global metropolis. He sees technology as the white hot future. Others in Australia, such as Cory Bernardi or Pauline Hanson are about reclaiming something from the past,and  the Australian people are not yet wholeheartedly sold on Turnbull’s future over a reclamation of the past. Although Macron, a modernising, clean cut, intellectual man of the world, won the French election, I’m not sure whether it was a vote for Macron or a vote against Le Pen. Her reclamation of the past won many but not enough. In the UK, my characterisation of the different camps falls down slightly. Where does a women, Theresa May, fit into my masculine focussed clash of metrosexualism and hipsterism? And although Corbyn has a beard and a tendency to hark back, I don’t think Jeremy would be considered a hipster.

But the UK may provide a fruitful lesson for politicians keen to win the vote of hipsters. Before David, there was Tony and Tony Blair in his desire to prove that Labour was a new, modern, corporate friendly, clean, well presented party, made a rule about beards. He didn’t think voters trusted people with beards so senior politicians were told to shave them off. Forcing the shaving of a beard would surely be the easiest way to lose the vote of any hipster.






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Mateship and diggers: will ANZAC values survive as Australian values?

Prime Minister Turnbull recently created headlines by making it more difficult to become a citizen and introducing questions to the citizenship test and about commitment to “Australian values”. When quizzed what Australian values were, Turnbull initially faltered before reciting “freedom, equality of men and women, mutual respect, the rule of law, democracy, a fair go”.  Turnbull acknowledged that these are shared with many other countries “but they are in and of themselves unique” and that “there is something uniquely Australian about them.”

Other than these pithy phrases, Turnbull has not explained what the unique something is and there has been little meaningful conversation about what values are particularly Australian, or values that Australia would particularly want to hold. There’s not even been much debate about to what extent Australia exhibits those values stated by Turnbull.

Asylum seekers in Australian detention centres and those forcibly sent to detention centres in other countries like Papua New Guinea may struggle to see Australia’s love of freedom from behind locked doors. Democracy has no tax without representation as a central tenet but despite paying taxes, I and a million others do not have the right to vote. My last blog talked about the patent inequality of men and women and it would be a unique interpretation to think that gender equality exists in Australia today.

I previously wrote about Australian values of blokiness and being able to have a fair go. Closely related to blokiness is the value of mateship, a word that I had never even heard of until coming here. It’s a value that embodies loyalty and friendship, and also a sense of the common; common in the sense of together and interdependent, but also common in the sense of being in common, being equal. It is generally used in reference to men and has roots in the military and World War 1.

Australia became a single confederated country on 1st January 1901. Before then, Australia was a collection of British colonies and it was not long before this “new country” was fighting alongside its “mother” country in World War 1. Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty in the UK government and was pressing for a landing at Gallipoli in Turkey. On 25th April 1915, Australian and New Zealand forces landed on the beaches of Gallipoli in the first major combat for these young countries. On that day, a British general wrote to the General of the Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) forces that they had to “dig, dig, dig” until being safe. Despite digging in, they began a campaign that would leave many dead, injured and imprisoned amid stories of heroic courage, determination and resolve.

The notion of a “digger” had been around before but became a prominent phrase during World War 1 and the values of a digger are closely related to the social egalitarianism aspects of the mateship concept. Sometimes it is in times of fortitude that we exhibit our true selves and I think many Australians, certainly men, would want to see themselves as diggers – straightforward blokes who have strong bonds of mateship which demand loyalty.
Wars are a significant part of British history, and London especially is home to many monuments marking these and the passing of those who died in them. I used to often pass by the Cenotaph in London and my legs, whether walking or cycling, would always slow down as I did. The sombreness emanating from such monuments would weigh upon passers-by like a heavier gravity. However, in terms of scale, monuments, like the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, are gigantic compared to those in the UK.

The Shrine in Melbourne sits atop a hill with an unbroken view from the city centre. An eternal flame burns in front of it and within it is a museum that would take you a day to take in fully. It reminds me more of a pyramid than the columns or statues that the UK holds.

Shrine of Remembrance

At these shrines around the country, tens of thousands of people will attend dawn services held on ANZAC Day (25th April). I went to one in Melbourne arriving in darkness at 5:45am to be near the back of a 30,000 crowd of grandfathers and granddaughters; of mothers and sons; of wives and brothers; of fathers and children.

April is the second month of Autumn in Melbourne and if it is a clear night, there can be a bite of chill to your face. If not, the darkness can be accompanied by a dampness or drizzle that befits the occasion. Because the shrine is atop a hill with the crowds on the grassy banks around it, the setting is the opposite of a normal amphitheatre meaning that people are craning necks or gently worming their way to the front. But it is not what you can see that draws people to this, it is what you can hear, and more importantly, what you feel.

A General may speak of the service given by many men and women and a veteran may speak of friends lost and lives changed forever. A bugle will sound and a piper will play the magnificent Highland Cathedral. Throats will gulp; eyes will look skyward, or downwards at feet; hands will seek solace in a tightening clasp; and grandfathers will pull granddaughters closer into their embrace.

Lest We Forget is a part of British identity focussed on Remembrance Sunday or Armistice day, both in November and linked to the end of World War 1. However, in Australia, it has taken on a more frequent and omnipresent value that appears even more central to the national identity. It is the phrase that surrounds ANZAC Day, which is a time of the year much longer than a single day.

As well as multiple shrines around the country, as you drive down a road entering a rural town, you often find that you are driving down an Avenue of Honour with trees and small crosses or headstones commemorating people from that town who had died in war. There are constant reminders lest we forget.

Bacchus Marsh Avenue of Honour

The Avenue of Honour in Bacchus Marsh, near Melbourne

At the dawn service, the master of ceremonies informed us that the traditional ANZAC Day parade would be led by Vietnam veterans. I thought to myself that including veterans from the Vietnamese army who now live in Australia was an amazingly inclusive decision. It surprised me but since many of these people could now be Australian citizens, I thought it could be a wonderful gesture that Australia was remembering all of its people who had fought in wars, not just those who had fought for Australia.

This was obviously a bit stupid and naive. I’m not sure if the MC said Vietnamese veterans or Vietnam veterans, but what he meant was Australian veterans of the civil Vietnamese war that America and Australia fought in on the South Vietnam side. He didn’t mean South Vietnamese people now living in Australia (and even less likely north Vietnamese, which was the communist side), even though there are hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese-born people in Australia.

Each country has a film that is held up as speaking of the essence of that country, often around a particular time. For many Australians, the film Gallipoli with Mel Gibson is that film. But it struck me at the Shrine that the Australian identity forged in World War 1, and felt by so many people at ANZAC Day services or walking an down Avenue of Honour, may not be something that Australians of the 21st century will continue to identify with, and if so, will the values of that identity also fade?



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Making sure that Sheila can have a fair go

The Aussies I’ve met are generally good natured enough to lightheartedly laugh at a foreigner putting on an Australian accent and asking for another shrimp to be put on the barbie. It is generous of them given that they actually call them prawns, not shrimps, and what us foreigners are parroting is a tourism advert aimed at Americans who do use the word shrimp.

My grandfather would often call women “hen”, a particularly Glasgow term of endearment. He may also have used lassie, and you may still hear people talking about lassies even though, nowadays, it would be rare to hear a specific woman being addressed as “lassie”. Similarly, I’ve never heard a woman in Australia be called “Sheila” who isn’t called Sheila – and in fact I’ve never met a Sheila.

Maybe the time has passed when it would be appropriate to call women “hen” or “sheila”, and as my mother says “she” has a name, implying that it may be polite to use it rather than a pronoun, and better than using a name given generally to all women.


Rosie Batty, Australian of the Year 2015

The prominence of gender equality as an issue has surprised me since I arrived in Australia, aided by Rosie Batty being named Australian of the Year at the same time. Australian of the Year is not an award for deeds done in the past year but more a title given for the year ahead to promote the issue(s) that the person is most closely associated with. Rosie Batty had become a famous campaigner regarding family violence and women’s equality after experiencing sexual, physical and mental abuse from an ex-partner who also killed their son.

The public debate and consciousness of women’s inequality and its link to violence against women had already developed but with Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year, politics and media focussed on it even more. Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and then Malcolm Turnbull both identified inequality and violence against women as important issues and in the State of Victoria, where Melbourne is, the State Government established a Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Rosie Batty is not an isolated case. On average, at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia and one in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15. You may find these statistics shocking but you shouldn’t find them surprising even if you live in a different country to Australia. The World Health Organisation estimates that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence in their lives. In the UK, an average of two women every week are killed due to domestic violence.

My job involves me in this issue and my organisation runs programs to prevent violence against women and support those who have experienced violence so I’m am certainly more aware of it as an issue than when working in the UK. There, I don’t remember violence against women ever being talked about to the same extent and I didn’t expect it to be more prominent in Australia where there is a celebration of mateship and blokiness. Despite the celebration of these and other masculine characteristics, such as directness and ruggedness, gender equality and its relationship to violence against women is part of the national social and political discourse.

This conversation has been spurred by campaigners such as Rosie Batty but also events that have provoked discussion and highlighted inequality, sexism and violence. Cricket is Australia’s national game and the Big Bash league attracts top international cricketers like Chris Gayle. Being interviewed on live TV after having just batted, Gayle asked the interviewer out for a drink after the game, saying he wanted to interview her and then told her not to blush “baby”. The TV channel initially tweeted that this was a “smooth” approach despite the interviewer being visibly uncomfortable.


Smooth? Maybe condescending and belittling. You can tell who the joke was meant to make laugh – him and his teammates right behind, at the expense of the interviewer.

Next, the President of Collingwood AFC and media presenter, Eddie McGuire, joked that he would pay $50k to see a particular female journalist stay under a pool of iced water and an extra $10k for somebody to bomb her (jump in near her). And the epitome of Australian blokiness, Sam Newman, who presents The Footy Show, has asked his female co-presenter at various times if her dress was see-through; if she would be under him; to get down on her knees; to lie naked on the table; and other comments designed to make her feel uncomfortable and derided.

This could all be brushed off as blokes being blokes on a show for blokes, but the effect of this blokiness on women is inferred by the recurring question put to Rebecca Maddern (the co-presenter). Will she will continue working on the show because of the ridicule that she is subject to? That it is a reasonable question to ask, and one that elicits surprise when Maddern says she will, illustrates how women can be pushed out of jobs that they may otherwise want to do.

There are some in the Australian Football League who are serious about promoting the game as a game open to all, and games generally are family-friendly with opposing fans sitting among each other without harm. Except, if you are a woman in Perth who asks a man to tone his language down and you end up being punched in the face. Hopefully, a more significant influence will be the success of the new Australian Football League for Women which has kicked off this year with thousands of spectators and good TV coverage. My neighbour has said his daughter is already talking about a new career path opening up for her.


Unfortunately, Government often lags behind changes in social attitudes and the Australian government, whilst supporting people who have experienced family violence, do not seem intent on creating gender equality, which may help create a culture where women are respected in the first place. The Abbott government charged mothers as being “double dippers” who were “rorting the system”. Mothers were cheats because parents who received a parental leave payment from their employer could also receive a parental leave payment from the government, which is available to all. The cheat was accepting something that the Government had told them they should receive. The attack on mothers also revealed the Government’s assumption that they expect women to always be the main parent caring – the benefit is actually open to fathers too if they are the main parent caring.

The government’s change in policy was despite parental leave and parental leave payments in Australia being among the lowest of all wealthy countries. Other countries recognise that women are more likely to be affected by the loss of earnings, promotion opportunity, and pension contributions that comes with parenting. Prime Minister Turnbull has compromised a little but when woman are absent from decision making roles, the biases can cause attacks like the above and bizarre policies such as tampons being taxed as luxury items.

The clash between Australian blokiness and a changing understanding of what men and women should be able to do had a lightning rod when Julia Gillard became the first female Australian Prime Minister. Gillard was subjected to pretty vitriolic comment that often went beyond her professional role to attack her personal life, culminating in her being asked live on radio if her partner was gay because he was a hairdresser. A male prime minister would not have been asked that question nor treated more generally in the same way, and the question itself would not be asked of a female hairdresser.

Australian blokiness will continue to clash with a growing understanding of gender equality unless it begins to redefine what it means to be an Australian bloke – what should an Australian bloke be able to do? But considering the role of men is only half the story, or even less when we consider transgender people as well as women. What women and transgender people should be able to do needs to be redefined in Australia; and the redefinition could start by considering another Australian value – giving everyone a fair go.



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Life on show; life on the beach

We live by the sea, although it’s really a bay, and Australians don’t really consider the beach to be one worthy of mention. I’m not even sure they would call it a beach. However, Middle Park beach is listed as a “thing to do” on Trip Adviser scoring a healthy 4 stars out of 5, although this does place it only 138th of 343 things to do in Melbourne. I also noticed that two of the 4 stars came from the same person. Regardless of it not being a picture postcard beach, living by it does create a different kind of lifestyle.

Perhaps unsurprising given their love of meat and barbecues, 63% of Australian adults are overweight or obese, 10% more than were in 1995. Yet, a friend who lives near me jokingly asked where all these fat people are because all we see are lycra-laden joggers, cyclists pumping their legs, skateboarders trying tricks, walkers with exaggerated movement, and rollerskaters showing their cool. The beach seems to attract people who are happy to be seen baring flesh and in fact may actually be there specifically for that reason.


Every Saturday and Sunday morning, squads of cyclists pedal along the road that runs beside the beach in a middle-aged version of Tour de France.

In other words, the beach attracts people from the one-third of the population that is not overweight or obese. Apart from the night that The Proclaimers came to play in nearby St. Kilda and attracted hordes of people from a country that has an adult obesity rate of 65% – Scotland. It seems that you can take the person out of Scotland, but there is always a little bit of Scotland, its lifestyle and genes still in that person.

There are some Scots who come here to live a different life to the one in Scotland, a life outdoors. Australia loves sports and some say to an extent detrimental to other more culturally refined activities. Walking through a park in summer and you will see a few organised cricket matches being played. Autumn to Spring is when Australian Football rules Victoria and soccer is played in winter and watched in summer. The Irish diaspora have Gaelic football and hurling leagues and there are boot camps in parks and personal trainers barking at people on the beach.

There is an outdoor gym opposite my house and in the mornings I take my cereal bowl across the road and, humans being creatures of routine, I see the same people doing their morning exercise routine. There is the older, balding, white-haired guy who looks as though he wants to breakdown and cry every time his personal trainer pushes him to do one more squat, one more high kick to a pad or one more press up. I judge that he has had a health scare and is working his hardest to avoid dying – that can surely be only explanation for him withstanding his apparent anguish.


I liked this guy. No fancy equipment. No shoes. Just jump from a standing start up onto the picnic table a few times and that will do the job.

At the weekends there is a guy who turns up and impresses with his ability to do handstands, gymnastic type movements and core strengthening balance exercises on the pull-up bar. He appears careful to avoid sweating by taking time between exercises to puff his bare chest out and survey who was impressed by him. However, the most impressive balancing act I’ve seen was by a woman who did a Dirty Dancing type pose facing out to the sea balancing on the pull-up bar on her midriff only. I could nearly hear the song coming in with the waves.

The most serious exhibitionist is a man in his mid-40s who turns up with his own equipment and a ghetto-blaster in his bicycle trailer. Having cycled to this outdoor gym, he ignores all of its bars and poles, and sets about conquering his own set of exercises. My favourite is the spiderman crawl on all fours along the pavement whilst keeping as flat to the ground as possible. With his shades on and smile off, he gives the air of an off duty Kevin Costner in Bodyguard character for whom exercise is is a serious business.


This is the guy lowering himself down from a handstand, in which he spreads his legs like a star, and from here his legs will go parallel to the ground.

I prefer a little swim in the surprisingly cold bay, which is best in the morning when it’s calm and you can look back at the city whilst gently bobbing in your wetsuit. In the afternoon you may see young men standing in the water doing their version of an ice-bath to aid recovery from football training, the benefits of which vanish with the first few beers that they have soon after. There are proper swimmers out there though who appear out of nowhere and then plough remorselessly onwards until being a dot in the distance.

Most of these swimmers are triathletes in training. Triathlons did not exist when I was growing up and until recently I would have said that only superhumans would be daft enough to attempt a triathlon, never mind complete one. And then you come to Melbourne and there’s a triathlon every other week and your colleague at work who doesn’t even use the stairs is doing one at the weekend. A friend tells a wonderful story of being on a stag/bucks party the night before a triathlon that he couldn’t do due to injury but whilst on this stag party, meeting somebody else who took his place. The chances of meeting somebody on a stag party wanting to do a triathlon the next day would be pretty low anywhere other than in Melbourne.

The triathlons do bring a surprising benefit though – silence and peacefulness. Every second Sunday or so during the summer, the road in front of our house closes due to some athletic pursuit such as a triathlon, fun run or sponsored walk. I wake up in the morning and before even opening my eyes, I sense that something is different. There is a quiet like when there is a carpet of snow soaking up any noise.

Being Australia, you would think that the main watersport would be surfing and it’s kind of true but not as you would expect. When the wind blows, which is often, the sky hosts a dance of kites blaring a kaleidoscope of colours. The kitesurfers race across the water, often jumping metres in the air, being pushed by a howling wind and yet always managing to remain untangled from each other.


Seeing somebody soar like this – who wouldn’t want to go fly a kite?

Despite what I said about 63% of the population being absent from the beach, it is actually a place where all sorts of life becomes entangled with each other. There are families playing on the beach, old men walking together, and couples enjoying a romantic sunset. It is this entangling of different people doing different things that brings the beach to life – a life outdoors on show for us all to embrace.




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Escape to Melbourne and a changing city

When I was growing up in my late teens, occasionally, somebody would suggest that it would be good to do something other than going to the pub. We could all see the sense in this but couldn’t imagine what else to do. We could go bowling and all we needed was a volunteer to drive so the rest of us could have a beer whilst there. Or we could go to the cinema, which would end up being sandwiched between trips to the pub sits next door to it. We could drive through to St. Andrews and go to the beach, and sitting watching the sunset with a few beers is a pretty pleasant thing to do. More often than not, we would end up going to the pub.

When I lived in Cambodia, the youth culture was very different to Scotland, as was the whole country of course. Shopping centres, late night eating and snacking, coffee shops, and computer games were popular among young people. However, it was karaoke that was king.

Whilst karaoke is growing in popularity in Melbourne, and not just amongst the Asian population, it is another Asian invention that is taking Melbourne by storm – escape rooms. Groups of friends enter a locked room  and have to solve a series of puzzles to escape from that room before the times runs out. The games are themed with a narrative explaining the situation that you and your friends find yourself in, which add to the atmosphere and sense of occasion. For instance, you could be trapped in a mine and have to solve puzzles to get your way out.

I first heard about this shortly after moving to Melbourne. The creators of the first game in Melbourne are a couple of psychologists who set a game up in the shed of  one of their Mum’s garden. Since that first one, increasing popularity has been matched with increasing professionalism and design.

The first one we did was in an Alice in Wonderland themed room and after the blindfolds came off, we looked around and wondered what it was that we had to do to escape. The quest is not just to solve a puzzle given to you, but to work out what the puzzle is in the first place. Bit by bit, through reading bits of paper, books, messages and things in the room, you gradually work out what you have to do.


Kellar’s Magic Emporium of Escape Rooms Melbourne with a genius little twist at the end, which thankfully we worked out so that I could escape to write this blog.

We failed the first one despite finding the right book and accompanying code required to interpret the book so that we could find the 4 digit number to unlock the door. Unfortunately, we didn’t work out in time that the series of numbers 148/65/32/79 meant that we were to take the first letter from each of those page numbers that would spell a word such as “nine”. Doing this four times would have given us the final 4 digit code.

Escape rooms began in Japan and quickly spread to Singapore., and now across the world. There are a couple of escape rooms in the Central Business District (city centre) of Melbourne and when I’ve been there, it’s been interesting that the majority of guests are Asian or of Asian descent. Melbourne’s city centre is home to a vibrant Chinatown which brings colour and bustle to what can be a quiet place at night and it’s interesting to see how different parts of Melbourne attract different groups of people.


Melbourne’s Chinatown

At the St. Kilda festival recently, a friend noticed the complete lack of Asian faces amongst the tens of thousands of revellers. If I was out in Prahan or Fitzroy, which is close to the city centre, I would struggle to see many Asian looking people. If I go to an Australian Football League game, or a soccer game or the tennis, it’s mainly white Australians in attendance. But if I was out in the shopping malls of the city centre or Chinatown late at night, I would be joined by many groups Asian people.

A while ago, a friend told me about a huge increase in sales at a shop during a late night special sale. The shop is popular amongst Asians and Australians of Asian descent and we talked about how popular late night shopping was amongst Asians, who may prefer to shop and go for dinner or snacks rather than going to the pub. And it seems that young Australians as a whole are drinking less than they used to.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics found through surveys (always a little bit unreliable) that drinking in Australia has been declining, including amongs amongst young people. A survey of secondary school students aged 16-17  found that only one-third had drank in the last week, down from nearly half in 2002. This trend was backed up by another survey looking at 18-24 year olds that also found a drop in risky drinking amongst in recent years.

Having only been here for just over 2 years, I don’t really know what the city centre was like 10 years ago although Melburnians have told me that it’s changed quite a lot. It will be interesting to see how the city centre responds to an increasing population of Asian-Australians, and Asian students in particular, and changing habits of young people. Providing entertainment and leisure opportunities for people who may want to do something other than go to the pub could be a puzzle worth solving for us all.



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UK sorry colonialism of Australia

I believe that the crimes of our fathers should be passed onto ourselves. It is easy to deny my responsibility for something that happened before I was alive, but the change from the plural “our fathers” and “ourselves” to the singular “my” and “I” is an attempt to deny the existence of a collective of which I am a part.

I readily lay claim to being a part of a larger collective when I proclaim to be Scottish and talk about the time that we beat Netherlands 3-2 in the football World Cup. Or that we invented the telephone and television, or that we beat the English in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn. I was alive for none of these, can claim no contribution to their success, and can’t even say that I know anybody who was involved in any of them. Yet, I still take part ownership of these achievements when I say that we gave the world the first cloned sheep. We cannot proclaim our achievements and wriggle away from mistakes or failures.

When hosting external meetings or even formally organised internal meetings, I give an acknowledgement of who the traditional owners of the land are. This is standard practice for many organisations. Although the words said in the acknowledgement may differ slightly, they all acknowledge Aboriginal people as the traditional owners or custodians of the land. My organisation’s script acknowledges this and also the sorrow of the Stolen Generations and the impact of colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


In Cambodia, I half-heartedly joked that it was good not to be French and feel the guilt of colonisation. Australia’s colonisation was so complete that the outcome was worse for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia than for Cambodians during colonisation. In Cambodia, Cambodian society and culture survived colonisation, and they won independence and a chance to rule their land again. There has been no handing back or independence given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; independent rule was given to the people who were doing the colonising.

Australia has a National Sorry Day to apologise for the generations of Aboriginal children stolen from their families. It has struck me how remarkably low key it is. It is not a national public holiday and last year seemed to pass without major news coverage. I felt that the other meaning of the word sorry could be applied to this day, as it is a sorry day that such occasion passes unremarked. Years after Sorry Day was first marked, Australia’s then Prime Minister gave an apology on behalf of Australia’s federal government; the first to do so.

Whilst much happened after independence for Australia to be sorry for, the colonisation, killing and stealing began under a different government: the British government. My government.


The Ranger Mine in the middle of, but separated from, Australia’s Kakadu National Park; lands of the Bininj and Mungguy people. Modern industry and wealth creation meets traditional custodianship of land.

My family is from Glasgow and some Glaswegians proudly recall the days of Glasgow being the “Second City of the Empire”. It was so-called because its industry built many of the boats in which the colonisers sailed. Glasgow was the steam engine that drove the Empire’s global reach and Glasgow did well out of it with wealth erecting magnificent buildings. I wonder if I will see those buildings in a different light the next time I pass them by. The settlers themselves were often Scottish and great Australian men such as Lachlan Macquarie were Scottish.

When I give the Acknowledgement of Country, I now add a phrase. I acknowledge the sorrow of the Stolen Generations and the impact of colonisation by my people on the people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities. It as an apology.


Like the message of the cartoon above, when I first heard that a formal Acknowledgement should precede every meeting, I wondered whether it was a cheap way of trying to make up for the past. The ambiguity of the phrase “traditional custodians of the land”, or even sometimes “traditional owners”, infers something historic but not current. This was tackled directly by one speaker who omitted “traditional” because he said Aboriginal people were still the rightful owners, and another speaker went further and said that they “always have been and always will be”. There conference broke into applause, including from me. Shortly afterwards, I questioned myself.

I am a Scot but the land of my birth was not always mine. The Scotti were a Gaelic tribe from the island of Ireland that raided the west coast of Scotland in the 4th century. Gradually, their dominance grew, pushing the Picts northwards and eastwards. By the 11th century, the land which had once belonged to the Picts was now Scotland. The land had not always been Scottish and it may be difficult to argue that it will always remain so given that since 1707, you could say it was British.

Over the eons of human existence, change does happen. Empires rise and fall; tribes fight and triumph; languages explain and then disappear. In the age of our lands, humans are a brief visitor arriving in the last five minutes of a long day.

However, accepting that change can happen is not the same as accepting invasion as a legitimate method of change. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had been living and caring for this land for 50,000 years before invasion. In a very short time it was then ripped away from them. Acknowledging this fact may not repair the death and hurt caused by that, but in a country that has still not resolved how to deal with its past, it keeps the issue alive.

Discussions about what Australia should be doing to recognise and recompense for past misdeeds continue in fits and starts, but they continue without the UK acknowledging our role. The UK should not hide from our past failures because we can only do so if we also deny our achievements and the very being of us as a nation and collective. By acknowledging our forbears, we accept their feats to celebrate and their failures to apologise for.





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