Thursday, July 23, 2009

Save Aussie Books

Between homebirthing, uranium mining and whether or not Michael Jackson was murdered (oh, sorry, everyone was over that one before it began, really, weren't they?), there's a lot to be fired up about at the moment.

But top of my list right now is the issue of parallel imports for books--because there's still a chance we can do something to stop the Government going ahead with these ridiculous changes.

If you haven't heard much about the proposed changes to local laws on the importing of books, I urge you to take a look at Saving Aussie Books to find out more about the devastating impact these new laws will have on the Australian publishing industry.

Despite an outspoken campaign by authors, publishers and even many booksellers, the Productivity Commission last month recommended the Federal Government lift all restrictions on parallel importation of books on the basis that it will result in cheaper books for Australian consumers.

Publishers and authors would retain territorial copyright on works for only the first 12 months of a book's life, after which time booksellers could purchase any edition from any source in the world. Foreign editions characteristically pay a much lower royalty.

The US, Britain and Canada all support territorial copyright for books--so why would we put our own authors and industry at risk?

Writer Sally Rippin told me she was talking to a NZ author recently who said the independent bookselling scene has been annihilated there because of the introduction of these same laws.

One of the other risks of this new globalised market is that publishers will probably prefer bland books that can easily cross borders.

As writer Sheryl Gwyther has said: “Do you want to see Australian children reading books without Australian content and Americanised with Mom instead of Mum or faucets instead of taps, and vacation instead of holiday?”

Children’s writer Mem Fox agrees: “It’s tantamount to firing the entire writing workforce in Australia and outsourcing it to other countries, who will in turn change the vocabulary and cultural references that the outsourcing country finds difficult to grasp.

“This, in its turn, would mean in our case that particularly Australian books would not be published. … No go for a book like Possum Magic, then, with a huge loss to readers and local cultural capital.”

Fox earns 5% for each book sold — 64¢ on a $12.95 paperback of Possum Magic. Losing territorial copyright would reduce her royalty to 29¢. “It makes my old WorkChoices contract look like a gift from a fairy godmother,” she says.

Australian publishers including Text’s Michael Heyward, Scribe’s Harry Rosenbloom and Hardie Grant’s Sandy Grant have all defended the current system, crediting it with creating the “energy” in the nation’s most successful cultural industry and encouraging publishers to nurture their writers.

The changes would transform Australia from a publishing centre to a marketplace, Grant has warned.

Gwyther is leading the Saving Aussie Books campaign to increase the pressure on the Federal Government to reject the commission's report. “This corporate campaign to do in Australian authors and small independent publishers and bookshops is being ably run and organised by the giant corporations,” she says.

“Are we prepared to let Coles and K-Mart monopolise the economic, political and cultural agendas?”

Please get involved. This issue is too important to ignore.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Counting our Blessings

Ana Kokkinos’s upcoming new feature, Blessed, is a film that gets under your skin. In fact, it is easily one of the most powerful documents on motherhood that I have witnessed, and for days afterwards I was sucking in my breath and fighting back tears each time it came to mind (which was often).

Adapted from the award-winning stage play Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?, the film tracks seven children from five different families over 24 hours as they roam the suburbs and backstreets of Melbourne. The film then switches to the mothers' stories, following them across the same day as they work to keep their families intact and their children safe. All these characters are disempowered in some way, but universal is that each is bound by the force that connects mothers and their children.

Each young person is in some form of danger or distress due in part to their mothers’ distraction as she struggles with her own issues. As for the children, there can be no real understanding of the impact of their actions on their families. The storylines intersect tenuously but with powerful results.

While some will experience this as a film about poverty, or about racism, or the perils and confusion of adolescence — all of which are true — to me, this film is ultimately one about motherhood — in all its overwhelming pain, tenderness, ambivalence, fear. And profound love.

Writers Andrew Bovell, Melissa Reeves, Patricia Cornelius and Christos Tsiolkas have adapted the play for the big screen, and while its history is at times detectable, it did not take away from the compellingly gritty cinematic experience. The film replaces some of the more overt polemics of the play with deeper psychological portraits of the characters, with Frances O’Connor, Miranda Otto, Deborra-lee Furness and Victoria Haralabidou leading an exceptional ensemble cast.

Be warned: Blessed is a film which will make you feel like someone’s cracked open your ribcage, taken hold of your heart and tried to wrench it from your chest (or at least given it one almighty twist). There are moments I found literally painful to watch. But like all good art, it leaves you with a profound sense of what it is to be human.

(Sorry, bit of a formal review--but that's one of the things I do in my other life as hack for hire...)

Blessed is on as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival and opens nationally 10 September. Hurrah for the recent/current spate of great Australian films! I will be doing interviews with some of Blessed's cast and crew later in the week and will post links…

Friday, July 10, 2009

Who said 'footy mum'?

I have recently discovered that I've been keeping some of my friends amused by the fact that I can now talk football.

I have to admit, on this matter, I have been a bit surprised by my own capacity to adapt. But what do you do when you have a seven-year-old who is so utterly obsessed with football (in our case, AFL, being Melbourne), your only hope of a decent conversation is to start talking shop?

My son is now a walking encyclopaedia of footy scores. Perhaps he’ll hit 13 and we’ll suddenly be plunged into the ins and outs of his favourite music (bring it on!). But for now, it’s all “So, Mum, who is your fourth favourite footy player?”

May as well have an answer.

Even more amazing (to myself and others), is that I have now completed my first Auskick training certificate. Yes, I actually know how to put spin on the ball. It was that or stand around shivering on a frost-encrusted oval at 9am on Saturday morning. (Goodbye weekends…)

I have to admit, this Auskick set-up is impressive. I understood what one of the other mothers meant when she said: "We could learn something here, Rachel. Us lefties — if we were as well organised as Auskick we'd have kicked out Kennett two years earlier."

When our son first started showing an interest, my partner warned me about mothers like me. "You'll have to hang out with those footy mums...". "Oh, God, you're right," I thought. "Shit, no."

Now look at me. There is that simple thing that, as a mother, I want to be enthusiastic about whatever my kids are enthusiastic about — to genuinely engage with their interests and support their endeavours. It's just that when I thought about having babies, I stupidly envisaged that they'd be a bit like me — bookish and introverted.

Ha, ha, parenthood 101 — your kids will be their own going concern.

At this stage my son is too young too be aware of the suspect culture that exists on (and all too often off) the field. But it doesn’t take much to know that aggression is inherent to the game — exactly the thing that has always made me rail against it.

I can admire the athleticism involved, but what of the masculine (read, sexist) culture so evident in a sport like AFL? How do I counteract this at home when it is so much a part of the scene?

We don’t have a TV, thankfully, so I don’t have to deal with my son coming across programs like the Footy Show (so aptly described by the fabulous Catherine Deveny as hosted by pigs in suits for pigs in suits).

And fortunately my son has chosen to support a team that is on a serious losing streak, which not only makes me a tad more sympathetic but, for him, has enforced some useful lessons in humility.

The other great thing about my son’s age group is that there are still girls doing the Auskick training alongside the boys and this so far goes unquestioned. I am full of admiration for those fearless girls in their pink trackie-pants who can cut it with the best of them. What a shame all their visible role models have to be male.

In Melbourne, being part of the footy culture is like joining a club ('scuse the sort-of pun) — one that almost everyone else has already signed up to but to which I was almost completely oblivious, before now. Everywhere we go, if Griffin has his footy gear on (which is most of the time), people will tussle his hair and mumble: “Go, tiges!” (For those in the know, he is a Richmond Tigers fan, if that wasn’t already clear.) I can find this ridiculously endearing.

Right now I feel torn between wanting to support my son in his genuine love of the sport — which to him is about physical striving and personal achievement — and my concerns that the dominant culture in AFL is one that is in strong part to blame for the conduct of so many of its players. Even if it is working to change its ethos.

Plenty of women do love footy, I know. Funnily enough, on the fan front, AFL seems a pretty egalitarian sport. But just like I think it’s a form of denial to say that women’s magazines are just a bit of fun that don’t impact on women’s self-esteem, I think footy culture has problematic implications for our broader culture.

Anyone else out there confronting how to raise a son who loves footy and respects women? It was not a challenge I was expecting...

Friday, July 3, 2009

Doctor knows best, sweeties

Yesterday I received a text from the darling Clare Bowditch to tell me her blood was boiling.

The source of the heat was this unusually soft interview on Radio National's Life Matters yesterday with the first female president of the National Association of Specialist Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (NASOG), Dr Hilary Joyce.

I suppose there was no point expecting that a female gyno would suddenly be transforming the entrenched, male-dominated attitude of the profession. But Dr Joyce may as well be a man, considering the paternalistic attitude she has towards “our women”. So much for the milestone.

Statistics must be maintained at all costs, it seems — after all, women can’t be trusted to make sensible, considered choices about the kind of birth they want to have.

“What is important is that the wonderful obstetric safety record of this country is not undermined by any … alteration in delivery of models of care.”

The fact that we enjoy the safest services in the world is directly attributable to the majority of births being medically led, according to Dr Joyce.

Homebirths are chosen by a “tiny percentage” of the Australian women, she claims, but receive undue attention largely because “of the over-representation of tragedies that occur”.

She has "grave concerns" about those “willing to put themselves and their unborn children at such risk” by avoiding medical intervention.

“We mustn’t be looking at turning the clock back in any way to perhaps more so-called natural childbirth…. It’s essential that there’s a doctor in the loop.”

And then the hypocrisy to complain that the Government is taking away a woman’s right to choice in getting rid of the safety net for private hospital birthing!

Medical intervention is not required in the vast majority of births, and midwives are trained to assess the risks. To imply that a return to “natural births” would be a return to the mortality rates seen at the turn of the century is misleading in the extreme.

While occasionally a baby dies during a homebirth — and this is desperately sad — is this a good argument for ruling out homebirths altogether as an option? Babies also die in hospitals.

I have had one of each — a homebirth and a hospital birth. Both have their place. Surely what’s most important is the right for women to make informed choices about how and where they give birth.

It is taking away this right that will send us back to the turn of the century for women.

You can read Clare's very eloquent open letter to Minister Nicola Roxon here. And if this issue matters to you, please sign Homebirth Australia's petition.