Listen To Older Voices : Simon Alsop – Part 3

 Welcome to Listen To Older Voices, a program produced 
by Rob Greaves for Uniting Melba and podcast through 
the Toorak Times and Tagg.

Listen To Older Voices presents the stories, views and opinions of our older citizens. It is predominantly in a life & times format, with interviewees reflecting upon their lives from earliest memories. An underlying principle of the program is to promote the concept of positive ageing, reinforcing the principle that older people have & continue to make a valuable contribution to both their local & wider community.

This is the final program in the Life & Times of Simon Alsop. In this program Simon shares with considerable pride, the story of the success of his son in his working life both in Australia and the USA. We also learn of his loneliness when he separated from his wife, but how on meeting Brenda, his life changed. In fact it was as a result of that meeting, they married. Once more we find his stories uplifting as he talks once again about his stroke and the help he received from others, including his wife Brenda.

We learn that Simon was nominated for a Premieres Award in the Disability Sector, was shortlisted, and found himself as the only individual nominee up against various groups. He didn’t win the award, but Simon is, very much a winner! 

Simon’s story is a great story, full of achievements, entertainment and we really understand that despite his stroke he has and continues to plan to, fit as much activity into his years as he can and to love as much a “normal” life as is possible.

Simon Alsop


Click  to hear Simon Alsop – Part 3

Previous LTOV Programs can be accessed clicking on this icon – 




[Listen To Older Voices receives funding from the Commonwealth Government 
through the Commonwealth Home Support Program Program]

Sunday essay: the complex, contradictory pleasures of pulp fiction

 Australian pulp fiction: these works can be
read as a symptom, laying bare the unspoken fears, desires, dreams and
nightmares of the time. Author provided

That Sergeant Peppers album cover roll call of heroes seems a rather quaint exercise now. We’ve still got lists of heroes and anti-heroes but indie culture watchers and streetcorner critics have long since worked their way past the big figures like Elvis, Marilyn, Marlon and so on to people and places further out and further down.

Cinephiles have combed the ranks of B-grade directors, low-rent auteurs and semi-forgotten character actors, working down to low rung schlockmeisters and trash merchants. Age of Rock geeks and music journalists forever trawl through little-played B-sides, obscure old jukebox records, the dusty outputs of small and regional record labels. Likewise, fans and collectors of pulp publishing continue to produce entire new canons and anti-canons of shadow literatures, starting with hardboiled and noir crime, and moving on to every possible sub-form.

Author provided 

The term “Pulp Fiction” refers to what is actually a sprawling category of cultural product, covering a wide range of mass publishing enterprises, mostly of the mid-20th century. There are competing definitions, but generally the term “pulp” is used to include magazines, comics, paperback novels, novellas, non-fiction books and booklets, cheaply printed on low grade paper, often in monstrous print runs, sold at newsstands, railway stations, corner shops, or distributed to armed forces, with the cheapest possible cover price – a dime in the US, sixpence or a shilling in Australia.

Product was offered up to the savagely Darwinian competition of the newsstand, with new titles appearing constantly. So pressure was always there to hype up cover illustrations, with saturated colours, sexy or even pseudo-pornographic illustrations.

Pulp was the natural home of genre narrative: science fiction, crime, romance, westerns, horror and “weird” tales, and nearly as much (purported) nonfiction, in the form of true adventure and crime stories and bogus ethnography of the shocking-exposes-of-carnal-practices-in-exotic locales type.

We’re talking trash, exploitation, flagrant misrepresentation, tastelessness, and a general striving for pure textual energy. With a high premium on visuality. Plenty of splash, bang, pop and shock, pushed to the limits of acceptablility. There’s a lot there to love.

Author provided

Like B-movies and rock’n’roll, pulp culture mostly came from the USA, with a substantial British contribution, and those two suppliers between them pretty thoroughly colonised Australian markets. But not totally: since the late 1800s there had been a trade in locally made paperback reading matter (such as the then scandalous “bushranger stories”, which were said to be inflaming urban delinquents to rebellion and lawlessness).

When the supply of US comics and paperback trash was abruptly halted in World War Two, local publishers rushed to fill the gap, offering hastily conceived superhero comics, crime magazines and a range of sexy novels. (The text rarely matched the salacious promise of the cover.) The content was nearly entirely Australian, providing a living or at least some extra pocket money for a bunch of artists, letterers, young wannabe authors and quite a few moonlighting journalists. It was the 1940s precursor to today’s gig economy.

A handful of local pulp publishers, mostly centered in Sydney limped on through the 1950s, fending off as best they could competition from bigger, bolder, newer and cheaper US product. Newsagent shelves of the time displayed racks and racks of material – much of it locally made – with some surprisingly raunchy cover art, and bold strap-lines promising lurid content within. (Australian pulp factories rigorously observed a few simple rules: show as much feminine breast and cleavage as possible, for example, but use careful shadows to hint at – never directly show – a nipple.)

Australian adaptations

The life of the freelance creative artisan was precarious anywhere, but in Australia it had its own special circumstances. Britain and the USA had populations large and dense enough to sustain entire industries devoted to all aspects of pulp production, often concentrated in specific districts. It was a much riskier game in Australia, with its dispersed population and smaller markets.

Still creative labourers did their thing, albeit in semi-isolation. Product was made and distributed; ideas, styles, genres, riffs, and tropes were adapted for local audiences, often crudely but sometimes brilliantly, or at least energetically – like the wonderfully odd, now highly collectible comics produced by Frank Johnson Publications and Frew Publications in the 1940s and 1950s.

Author provided

Foundational researcher Toni Johnson-Woods and more recently Andrew Nette and Kevin Patrick are building a growing and diverse body of research into the mysterious world of Australian pulps and comics. They move smoothly from assessments of the works themselves (often affectionately ironic in tone), to biographies of forgotten artist-authors-makers. (Very few of Australian pulp writers, it turns out, could ever afford to give up their day jobs, as journalists, school teachers, accountants whatever, or in the case of prolific author of westerns and detective stories, Gordon Clive Bleeck, a railway worker.)

The spotlight has recently turned to the entrepreneurs themselves – those fleet-footed, sometimes ruthless small businessfolk who by turns scammed and flattered their contributors and managed the government censors and risk averse national distributors, while keeping a sharp eye on trends and fads.

The survival of a local pulp industry at all is something of a wonder. Nearly anyone who was alive in 1950s or 1960s Australia will remember the ubiquitous, 300- plus series of detective novels written by “Carter Brown”, with their titillating cover art, carefully placeless, or explicitly US setting, written by a prolific local author Alan Yates. Publisher Horwitz indeed managed to turn the series into a lucrative export.

Author provided

A few years ago I was invited to put together an exhibition drawing on the sprawling papers of Sydney pulp outfit, Frank Johnson Publications, held at the State Library of NSW. The original idea had been to simply display the racy cover art and true crime illustrations, but my attention was also drawn to the volumes of correspondence between Johnson and his far flung network of authors, journalists, artists, illustrators. Whole working lives were revealed, if obliquely, in the nitty-gritty back and forth between Johnson and his schleppers. There was hope, disappointment, rejection, self-doubt, anger, sometimes a certain neediness, other times outright manipulation, and occasionally, great dignity.

A Peter Chapman cover for My Love, a 1950s collection of romance fiction. Author provided

It became clear too that for some freelancers, there was a living to be made. The late Peter Chapman, for example, was a comics author, cover artist and general illustrator who got his start as a teenager freelancing for Frank Johnson in the 1940s (at “30 bob a page” – pretty good money for the time), and went on to make a lifelong, four decade-plus career of it.

As well as possessing an appealingly loose but accurate line and a vibrant sense of colour, Chapman had storytelling nous. He authored a number of successful “true pirate” and superhero comics and invented the “Sir Falcon” character – a pistol-wielding medieval knight. His later western and war novel covers always retained a strong sense of unfolding story, often deftly encapsulating the narrative pivot-point.

Lost in pulp’s crazy labyrinth

For the contemporary reader, the pleasures of pulp are complex and contradictory. Start digging and it is possible you’ll find unexpected literary finesse – plenty of people who eventually graduated to high literary respectability, such as David Markson, paid the bills early on by writing serviceable pulps. The early work of Patricia Highsmith and William Burroughs first appeared in very pulpy editions. And there were plenty who never graduated, but whose work ranks high on modern literary criteria: balance, flow, economy, freshness of image and language. Natural writerly grace and all that stuff.

A locally made Peter Chapman cover for a licensed pulp collection of US Detective Stories. Author provided

You might find earlier versions of the punk aesthetic – the textual equivalent of harder, faster, louder. Pulp fictions regularly managed to be way more out there. Because no one was paying all that much attention. There wasn’t time to sand down the sharp edges.

I’m not a collector of any stripe, but I’ve done my time in the second hand shops, and have my own beloved finds, among them Dan J Marlowe’s, The Name of The Game is Death, from 1961, with its great cover art and back cover text which is almost rock’n’roll poetry in its own right – “On the day they sentenced Olly Barnes to fifteen years I quit the human race. I never went back to my day job and I’ve never done a legitimate day’s work since.” The novel is fast, the prose spare, but never rushed. The first person narrator is a sort of psychopath with principles. The story has three different time frames, and the switches are deftly handled. The plot is totally uncompromising. One of the story strands brilliantly narrates the character’s humdrum middle-class childhood, and his emerging outlaw weirdness. The author himself turns out to be a dark and enigmatic figure.

Blurb on the back cover of The Name of The Game is Death. Author provided

But pulps that stand the test for literary value are relatively rare. You might more commonly read them as symptom, to see laid bare the unspoken fears, desires, dreams and nightmares of the time. Doubly, trebly so when it comes to sex and sexuality. Among the preoccupations of 50s smut pulps there’s a dogged and recurring fascination with queerness, lesbian sex, bondage and sadism, gay sex, teen sex. Pulp as cultural Freudian slip, loony bulletins from the collective Id. Maybe not so loony.

Or you might say to hell with that, and just go with the flow, enjoy pulp for its couldn’t-give-a-shit attitude. There’s deep, dark, perverse mad – the amazingly twisted noir novels of Jim Thompson for example – and then there’s fun mad. John Franklin Bardin’s wacko novels (such as The Deadly Percheron) are the sort of mad that the author is complicit in.

And then there’s the naïve and unselfconscious, weird obsessive, medication-all-wrong mad, the kind the artist seems to be entirely unaware of. Great, but tormented US pulpster David Goodis, favourite of the French Nouvelle Vague might qualify, as might Richard Allen, British author of bovver boy youthsploitation classics including the much revered Suedehead.


Most cultural product – be it high, low or of the middle, nobly or cynically intentioned – sinks quickly into obscurity; headed for the dump, unread, unseen, unheard and uncelebrated. Live fast, die young etc.

Which means there’s a lot there for the latter-day cultural ragpickers. It’s not that easy to spot the diamonds in the rough. Most of us need a gently eye-opening pointer now and then in order to see the value. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time spent combing through junk shops, flea markets, eBay sales. It can be gruelling. You can find yourself soon hating everything – yes, it’s called trash for a reason. More scarily, a kind of rapture of the deep can set in, and you start loving everything. Finding virtue everywhere.


A recently released collection, Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980, edited by Melbourne-based researchers, Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette, shows wonderfully how trash can change, how new riffs can quickly emerge. How our contemporary understanding of it changes and evolves and how much careful husbanding and thoughtful interlocution the whole process demands. (Disclosure: I wrote a foreword for the book.)

It’s an old story now that successions of youth subcultures, each more bad mannered than the one before, provided so many of the panic refrains of post war public life in the west, publicised by ad hoc alliances of tabloid journalists, social workers and media commentators. In the early 1950s it was juvenile delinquents. Then came beatniks. And bikers. Gays and lesbians. Hard dope fiends. Later on hippies and countercultural types, mods, rockers, surfers, skinheads, revolutionaries. Trippers, potheads and ravers. Rock musicians and groupies. Portrayed as a kind of tribe, obviously. With secret rituals, which most likely involved something sexy and forbidden.

So, that’s a promising set of circumstances for the low-end fiction factories of the day: there’s anxiety mixed with genuine curiosity mixed with sexual frisson. The cheap paperback industry knew how to churn out some appropriate product. Nette, McIntyre and their contributors have assembled a dizzying catalogue of fascinatingly tawdry exploitation lit: stories about dark and forbidden doings among secret enclaves of artists, dykes, bikers, drug addicts, jazz musicians and the like. Novels would typically tell of an ingenue drifting into some cultish social underworld and being initiated into its forbidden practices. It would usually end with the ingenue’s ruination and death, often by murder or suicide.

Author provided

But the ground started shifting. Pulps in the 1950s and 60s had typically depicted the “other”. The people on the train to work who read about lesbians bikers or boho artists or ghetto dope fiends probably weren’t part of those groups, and that separation of domains was core to the cheap kicks the books delivered. But during the golden age of “tribe” pulps, the tribes themselves went from being weird and marginal to being visible and even central to global cultures.

By the early 1970s there was nothing very exotic about long haired young people who smoked dope, shared houses, played in bands and slept with one another. Queerness and genderbending were moving rapidly towards mainstream visibility, and the idea of “youth gangs” had lost much of its terror-clout.

A typical old school pulp writer might have been a World War Two veteran, maybe, or a middle-aged literary lady, turning their unsympathetic gaze to some upstart, youth craze or other. But by the 1970s that pulp author might be a pot smoker or tripper, a surfer or a hippie chick. Maybe of non-mainstream sexual orientation. Or a New Left sympathising, anti law and order, social change person. Or a crazed gun-toting survivalist. While that might help the authenticity, it could compromise the prurience.

Second life

Pulps through the 1980s went on to embrace ever more violent Serpico and Rambo-styled revenge sagas, as well as super tooled-up espionage, Mafia, mercenary and paramilitary adventure yarns – often with a massive gun barrel represented in hyper-perspective on the cover. Fans continue to debate where pulp went from there – maybe the internet simply consumed it.

So when that early material gets rehabilitated there’s a lot to deal with. There’s the whole artefactual package: cover art, strap-lines, back page, title font, colours, design. There’s the text content – the story itself. (Do we just go with it, or do we keep our distance, botanize it. Like a weird specimen?) And the author, should their life and career be attended to. Is it of interest? (Often resoundingly, yes.) And we might consider, or just enjoy the clever ways the whomp of the visuals interact with the wham of the story.


You could argue that pulp material culture is a direct precursor to the clickbait aesthetic. Digital screen culture is reconfiguring how image, design, text and story interact. Some media theorists believe this is way more than simply advancing the fashions and practices of design and publishing, but in a much deeper way is remaking the ancient distinction between “pictures” and “writing”. Looking at the work of pulp illustrators and comics makers of half a century ago we can see that they were quietly and cleverly dealing with the myriad problems, tensions and artistic opportunities that are commonplace today.

It takes a nuanced understanding, and a huge amount of time and energy to bring all that together for the time-poor modern reader. And to see the glimmerings of value there in the first place. To recognise that a thing can change: a thing which last month was junk, really was junk, has quietly become something else.

A selection of Peter Chapman’s art is the subject of an exhibition at Macquarie University Art Gallery, 16 May-29 June 2018.

This essay was written by:

Image of Peter Leo DoylePeter Leo Doyle – [Associate Professor of Media, Macquarie University]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via


Her Sound, Her Story shows that women’s voices are louder than ever in Australian music

Thelma Plum is one of many musicians featured 
in a new documentary that both celebrates the worth of women and 
discusses problems in the music industry. Michelle Grace Hunder

Over the last few years there has been a lot of discussion about the unequal nature of the Australian music industry. Amidst a plethora of opinion pieces, reports and initiatives, it has become well established that men still hold the lion’s share of the power in it. The documentary Her Sound, Her Story shows us how and why this has been the case. It also makes clear that a long, overdue change is coming.

The film puts the women artists that are its subject front and centre, including only their voices to tell their tales. This personalised approach taken by filmmaker Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore and photographer Michelle Grace Hunder gives Her Sound, Her Story an immediacy that lends more weight to the experiences being discussed. We see women speaking for themselves about the barriers that have been put in their way, and how they’ve overcome them.

Over 50 female musicians were interviewed for the film.

At times these stories are confronting, as when Dallas Frasca talks about being assaulted at a venue right before having to step on stage. Many of them are simply frustrating and infuriating, as artist after artist recounts men belittling or undermining them, refusing to take them seriously as artists and technicians.

But much of what we hear is inspiring, focused on what women have to offer and how they can be a resource and strength for each other.

The inclusion of some of Australia’s most iconic women performers, including Tina Arena, Kate Ceberano and Renée Geyer, brings a depth of experience to the film. Their perspectives show us how much things have changed but also how far there is still to go.

There is honest, raw anger in Arena and Ceberano’s accounts of constantly having to fight to be heard, to have control over their careers, and to even continue with their careers at all in an industry obsessed with youth.

Renée Geyer: brings a depth of experience. Michelle Grace Hunder

Age is only one of the many barriers to women’s success in music that the documentary highlights. One of its strengths is that it does not treat “women” as a homogenous group, but shows the ways in which their different experiences and identities shape the music they make, but also impact on the opportunities they are given.

The contributions of Indigenous, trans*, queer women and women of colour are celebrated without minimising the extra work they have to do to be given space and to be heard. The importance of making sure this happens is brought home by Okenyo, who talks powerfully about what a difference seeing people similar to you represented in culture can make to how you feel about yourself.

The documentary shows and celebrates the complexities of women who are challenging the industry orthodoxies of how women are supposed to look, how they should present themselves and for whom they should be looking attractive.

One narrative that this film might hopefully help put to bed is the one that tells us “there are no women making music”. While focusing on the fact that there are fewer women in the music industry can be useful in driving change and providing the impetus for initiatives that give women a leg up, this story can be – and often is – used to justify leaving women out of things like festival line ups. “We looked,” the organisers say, “but there just weren’t any women.”


Her Sound, Her Story features a large and diverse line-up of female musicians, including Western Australia’s Mama Kin. Michelle Grace Hunder

What Her Sound, Her Story shows us is a snapshot of the many and varied women who are out there making incredible music in all genres, as well as working behind the scenes.

Ultimately, it is a celebration of the worth of women. While the film’s up-front discussion of the problems in the music industry should make it required viewing for those in it (and all students in music courses), it conveys a sense of pride in and affection for its subjects that points us to a better future. The honesty – and, at times, vulnerability – of the artists interviewed gives the documentary a rare feeling of authenticity.

The only thing the film lacked was more time to let us hear these artists’ work. But this only means taking the time to make a playlist of Alice Ivy, Mama Kin, Mojo Juju, Jen Cloher, Elizabeth Rose, Ecca Vandal, Nina Las Vegas, Banoffee, Ngaiire, Olympia, Camp Cope, Clairy Browne, Montaigne, Simona Castricum, Vera Blue and the rest of the women included in the film. Do yourself a favour: make a playlist and listen to the future of music in this country.

Her Sound Her Story will screen at 6pm on Friday May 11 at Melbourne’s ACMI as part of the Human Rights, Arts & Film Festival. This session is now sold out but an encore screening is at the Nova on Saturday May 12.

This article was written by:
Image of Catherine StrongCatherine Strong – [Senior Lecturer, Music Industry, RMIT University]




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‘Sanitised’ nightlife precincts become places where some are not welcome

 Keeping up appearances at the Gold Bar  
in Subiaco, Perth. Paul j. MaginnAuthor provided

Nightlife precincts in Australian cities have come under intense scrutiny in recent years following a spate of “one punch” assaults and other incidents. Places like Sydney’s Kings Cross, Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley and Perth’s Northbridge have been framed as unsafe and unruly “problem spaces” – the kind of places that parents warn their teenage children to avoid.

Simultaneously, local politicians, urban planners and other policymakers have been spruiking the importance of the night-time economy to a city’s image and growth. A “vibrant” nightlife is seen as essential for attracting tourism and investment and creating jobs. If a city can get itself on some kind of “Most Exciting Cities in the World” list, this becomes a crucial part of its city boosterism strategy.

Kings Cross in Sydney came to be seen as a ‘problem space’. April Fonti/AAP

The championing and criticism of nightlife spaces create something of a paradox. On the one hand, the promotion of vibrant nightlife spaces may be seen as an invitation to people to revel and consume. It’s thought that failing to attract enough people to these spaces spells economic disaster for venue operators and for the city itself.

On the other hand, violence and fear discourage or exclude people from participating in nightlife. And labelling nightlife precincts as disorderly or “out of control” stigmatises these spaces and revellers, leading to more exclusion.

The policy challenge is to establish the right amount and types of regulation so that nightlife spaces allow for mild transgression in a safe environment.

When security excludes

Part of the response to these issues has been tighter regulation and security in nightlife spaces. “Lockout laws” were controversially introduced in parts of Sydney, following the example set in Newcastle and in trials in Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane. These laws wound back the operating hours of licensed venues in popular night-time precincts.

Thousands gather in Sydney’s CBD on February 21 2016 to protest against the New South Wales government’s lockout laws in the inner city. Richard Ashe/CrowdSpark/AAP

Other responses from governments and private operators have included expanding CCTV surveillance, introducing ID scanners at venue entrances, increasing police and private security presence, and slowing or suspending the issuing of new liquor licenses.

These measures are intended to make people safer and to make them feel safer, to reduce the exclusionary effect of fear. Ironically, these hyper-visible forms of security can in fact make people feel more unsafe.

These regulatory interventions are more than just about tackling violence and threatening behaviour. Ultimately, they are about imposing particular ideas of social and moral order not only within nightlife spaces but the city more broadly.

Gentrifying the night

Alongside the expansion of hyper-visible security, major public and private investment has flowed into nightlife precincts and surrounding areas over the last decade or so.

In Perth, as we have recently outlined, the impacts couldn’t be clearer. Four major redevelopment projects – New NorthbridgePerth Cultural CentrePerth City Link and Yagan Square – have drastically reshaped the built form and sense of place within the inner city.

These developments have “changed the face” of Northbridge, which has been gradually gentrifying. The rapid rise in the number of small boutique bars, high-end restaurants and apartments is evidence of this.

The gentrification of Northbridge and other nightlife precincts across metropolitan Australia – whether through new “sophisticated” venues replacing older downmarket ones, or through residential development displacing nightlife altogether – is not a recipe for less exclusionary spaces. Rather, these developments produce a different kind of exclusion due to two factors.

First, certain groups may be priced out of more upmarket venues offering an “exclusive” or “sophisticated” experience. Second, these venues and the types of customers they attract can make other individuals and groups feel out of place. If they don’t fit the written and unwritten admission criteria they may be denied entry altogether.

Making space for transgression

In reshaping the moral geography of nightlife precincts, securitisation and gentrification are suppressing one of the fundamental appeals of nightlife – the opportunity for behaviour that transgresses social, cultural and even legal codes.

Participating in nightlife spaces in cities has been a way to briefly escape the often mundane orderliness of everyday home and work life. Nightlife spaces have historically been important for minority, subcultural and countercultural groups – LGBTGI communities, minority ethnic groups, punks, goths, fetishists and so on – to socialise and to express their individual and collective identities.

The increasingly expensive cost and overbearing regulatory regimes governing nightlife seem designed to attract the “right type” of people and to make them feel safer.

The risk of all this is that we might be sleepwalking into the creation of sanitised and yet more homogenous and exclusionary nightlife spaces.

This article was co-written by:
Image of Alistair SissonAlistair Sisson – [PhD Candidate, Urban Geography, University of Sydney]
Image of Paul MaginnPaul Maginn – [Associate Professor of Urban/Regional Planning, University of Western Australia]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via


Listen To Older Voices : Simon Alsop – Part 2

Welcome to Listen To Older Voices, a program produced 
by Rob Greaves for Uniting Melba and podcast through 
the Toorak Times and Tagg.
Listen To Older Voices presents the stories, views and opinions of our older citizens. It is predominantly in a life & times format, with interviewees reflecting upon their lives from earliest memories. An underlying principle of the program is to promote the concept of positive ageing, reinforcing the principle that older people have & continue to make a valuable contribution to both their local & wider community.

This is part 2 of a 3-part program featuring the story of 70 year old Simon Alsop. The stories come thick and fast and despite Simon having suffered a stroke, we have no difficulty in following his story. He talks at some length about his feelings over our involvement in the Vietnam war, which as someone who was eligible to be called up in the birthday ballot, he had been forced to decide his position and he decided to take a stand. In the end, he joined the Naval Reserves which exempted him from the ballot.

Simon also expresses some powerful views on the treatment of Indigenous Australians as well as migrants coming into this country and he is sure to find many sympathetic listeners as he shares his thoughts. However, his story is not all serious as he also shares his tale of his amazing bus trip as a young man from Katmandu, through the Middle East to England. It is also when he shares the story of how his life changed when he became a victim to a stroke and how he has coped all of which is most touching and educational.

Simon Alsop


Click to hear Simon Alsop – Part 2

Previous LTOV Programs can be accessed clicking on this icon – 



[Listen To Older Voices receives funding from the Commonwealth Government through the Commonwealth Home Support Program Program]

Sunday essay: the remarkable, prize-winning rise of our small publishers

 Four of the six shortlisted books for the  
2018 Stella Prize were from smaller presses, as was the winner, 
Alexis Wright’s Tracker. 

It has been a big 12 months for Australian small publishers, who have swept what are arguably the three most important national literary awards. Sydney press Giramondo published Alexis Wright’s biography Tracker, winner of the 2018 Stella Prize; Melbourne’s Black Inc. published Ryan O’Neill’s Their Brilliant Careers, which won the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction; and Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions (University of Western Australia Publishing) won the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award.

Alexis Wright’s Tracker is published by Giramondo. 

Another work from a small publisher, A. S. Patric’s Black Rock White City (Transit Lounge) also won the Miles Franklin in 2016. Small publishers have dominated these awards’ shortlists as well, comprising 80% of the shortlisted titles for the last Miles Franklin and Prime Minister’s awards and 66% of the shortlisted titles for the last Stella.

This is a significant reversal: these awards have historically been dominated by large publishers. Since 2000, for example, only 21% of shortlisted titles for the Miles Franklin have been published by small publishers.

There are dozens of important and respected Australian literary prizes, which help to solidify authors’ reputations and subsidise their writing (this is not an exaggeration; as Bernard Lahire has demonstrated through sociological surveys in France even most “successful” authors draw the majority of their income through other, and often unrelated, work).

The first edition of Monkey Grip, originally published by McPhee-Gribble in 1977.Wikipedia


But these three awards — the Stella, the Miles Franklin, and the Prime Minister’s — are particularly important because they have broader recognition among the media and the reading public. These three prizes not only increase authors’ and publishers’ status within the literary field but also tend to increase book sales. This is particularly important for smaller publishers, where one successful book can cross-subsidise the publication of many others.

Small publishers have a long history in Australia, and have played a culturally important role. Many of Australia’s most famous contemporary writers started out at small publishers. Peter Carey’s early books were all published by University of Queensland Press. Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip (1977) was published by the influential small publisher McPhee-Gribble, which launched the careers of many other notable writers before being wholly acquired by Penguin in 1989. While large multinationals dominated much of the market for Australian literary fiction in the 1980s and 1990s, small publishers started to become particularly important in Australian literature again in the 2000s.

Retreat of the large publishers

There are many reasons why larger publishers have moved away from literary publishing, as Mark Davis discussed in his 2006 essay The Decline of the Literary Paradigm in Australian Publishing. As Davis argued, the big drivers of this change were increased competition and the rise of data-based decision making among publishers. With the appearance of book data provider Nielsen BookScan in Australia, publishers suddenly had good and fast data on what kinds of titles were selling and which weren’t.

The first edition of Monkey Grip, originally published by McPhee-Gribble in 1977.Wikipedia

Moreover, the rise of literary blockbusters in the 1990s, including series such as Harry Potter and, more recently, Twilight, has had a huge impact on the way publishers do their business. Blockbuster titles are worth an inordinate amount of the market. For example, Fifty Shades of Grey, at one point, sold one million copies in four days; a novel in Australia is usually considered successful if it sells 6,000 copies in total.

Not only do blockbusters sell in greater numbers, but the marginal costs associated with manufacturing books decrease as more are sold. For these reasons, large publishers have increasingly chased bestselling titles, rather than investing in literary works. The latter, although culturally important, rarely become blockbusters, unless they have won a major award or been adapted into a successful film or television series.

The retreat of large publishers from literary publishing is particularly visible in their virtually non-existent investments in low-selling but culturally significant forms, such as short stories or poetry. While large publishers occasionally publish high-profile collections of short stories, like Nam Le’s The Boat (Penguin, 2007) or Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign Soil (Hachette, 2014), they rarely bring out more than one or two such collections per year. Large publishers have basically no investment whatsoever in contemporary poetry publishing. Australian poetry, in particular, is kept in circulation by a handful of small publishers, such as Giramondo, Cordite, UWA Publishing, Five Islands, and Puncher & Wattmann.

Large publishers’ withdrawal from these areas of literary publishing has also left space for smaller ones to flourish. On the one hand, it has meant that a number of well-known Australian writers have decided to publish their later works with smaller publishers. J.M. Coetzee, Helen Garner, and Murray Bail, for instance, publish their books with Text in Melbourne. Gerald Murnane and Brian Castro publish with Sydney-based Giramondo, while Amanda Lohrey has published her last several books with Black Inc.

Rights to The Town, published by Brow Books, have been sold to Faber & Faber in Britain and Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the US among other publishers.

On the other hand, small publishers have also been very good at identifying new and unique voices. Steven Amsterdam’s first novel, Things We Didn’t See Coming(2009), was published by the (now-defunct) Melbourne small publisher Sleepers Publishing, and went on to win the (also defunct) Age Book of the Year award. More recently, the Melbourne-based literary journal The Lifted Brow has entered into book publishing, and had great success in selling overseas rights to Shaun Prescott’s The Town (2017). It has just published a new work, Axiomatic, by the lauded author Maria Tumarkin.

Small publishers have become so important within Australia that, as I have argued elsewhere, they now publish the majority of Australian fiction and probably have done so for about a decade. Despite their significance, they have not had particularly great success with major awards like the Miles Franklin and Prime Minister’s until quite recently. But these trends appear to be changing.

Crunching the numbers on major prizes

The chart below shows a strong upward trend for small publishers over the past two years in relation to titles shortlisted for the Miles Franklin. While the historical average since 2000 was only 21% of shortlisted titles coming from small presses, this jumped to 40% in 2016 and 80% in 2017. This is a particularly dramatic spike, and I would be surprised if small presses continued to dominate at this rate, but there are good reasons to believe that the general trend is real.

Indeed, the shortlisting data from the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction shows a nearly identical trajectory to the Miles Franklin data over the last two years, as the chart below illustrates. Like the Miles Franklin, this award saw a jump in shortlisted small press titles in 2016 (40%) and 2017 (80%). In 2017, in fact, both awards shortlisted the same four small press titles: Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions (UWA Publishing), Ryan O’Neill’s Their Brilliant Careers (Black Inc.), Mark O’Flynn’s The Last Days of Ava Langdon (University of Queensland Press), and Phillip Salom’s Waiting (Puncher & Wattmann).

On the one hand, this suggests an enormous shift in the way that the Prime Minister’s award values small publishers; on the other, the unusual — and even bizarre — correlation between the shortlists of the Miles Franklin and the Prime Minister’s awards suggest that this particular instance of small press dominance may be to some degree anomalous. Regardless, the trends are clear, and are also supported by data I have collected on longlisted titles for the latter two awards, which match the trends in the shortlist data.

The Stella Prize longlists and shortlists have also recognised small publishers, as you can see in the chart below. Moreover, despite a lower result for small presses in the Stella’s inaugural year (33% in 2013), at least half of its shortlisted titles have been produced by small publishers in every year since.

Small publishers comprise a slim majority of Stella Prize shortlisted titles, with 19 of the 36 shortlisted works (53%) coming from them. Similarly, three of the six winning titles have been produced by small publishers (Text, Giramondo, and Affirm Press). In other words, the Stella Prize has recognised small presses at effectively double the rate of both the Miles Franklin and the Prime Minister’s awards. The dominance of small publishers in the Stella is also replicated in the longlists, with 40 of 72 titles (55%) being produced by small publishers.

Small publisher acceptance

There are material reasons why the Stella Prize has probably been more open to small publishers. Co-founder and former executive director Aviva Tuffield is a highly regarded editor, who has worked at small publishers such as Scribe, Affirm, and Black Inc. Current General Manager (and original Prize Manager) Megan Quinlan previously worked at Text Publishing and The Monthly (which has the same ownership as Black Inc.) Many of the Stella Prize judges past and present, such as Tony Birch and Julie Koh, have published their fiction solely through small publishers.

It is also not coincidental that a prize championing women’s writing and gender equity would recognise small publishers. Indeed, these publishers, as Sarah Couper has demonstrated, have a significantly higher proportion of women in executive roles than large publishers do.

I suspect, too, that small publishers are probably more inclusive both in terms of the authors they publish and the kinds of views and perspectives they present. In this sense, the dominance of small publishers’ titles in the Stella is unsurprising given that it is an award that seeks to champion diversity as well as literary quality.

The Stella’s tendency to recognise small publishers has probably influenced the other prizes to do the same. The routine appearance of such works on the Stella lists has normalised the recognition of small press books by prestigious prizes and thus made it more acceptable for other such prizes to do so. While it’s unlikely that small presses will continue to dominate the major prizes at this rate, I nonetheless suspect that they will continue to be taken much more seriously by such awards than they have been in the past.

This essay was written by:
Image of Emmett StinsonEmmett Stinson – [Lecturer in Writing and Literature, Deakin University]




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‘Treatments’ as torture: gay conversion therapy’s deep roots in Australia

 Gay conversion therapy is often carried out 
in the name of religion. Shutterstock

Less than six months after Australia voted to legalise same-sex marriage, the topic of gay conversion “therapy” reared its head in Victoria. A proposal to debate the so-called treatment at the Liberal Party’s State Council was quashed by party president, Michael Kroger.

The debate was to include discussion of giving parents greater access to conversion therapy for their children to counsel them away from same-sex attraction or gender transition. Attempts to increase scrutiny of this “therapy” in Victoria, with a view to imposing legal restrictions, undoubtedly contributed to the proposal to debate the topic.

Australia has a long history of intervention into people’s sexual orientations and gender identities, including conversion therapy. Yet this therapy has not received the same level of public scrutiny as it has overseas.

There is no scientific or medical evidence to support the use of conversion therapies. In Stephen Fry’s documentary, Out There, “reparative therapy” founder Dr Joseph Nicolosi claimed he could convert the sexuality of his (predominantly teenage) patients by resolving “trauma-based conflicts”. However, Nicolosi was unable to find a single ex-gay he had “treated” for Fry to interview. Nevertheless, the lack of evidence appears to have had little effect on those calling for more debate on these therapies.

Psychological “cures”

In the 1950s, New South Wales led the charge to curb and control homosexuality. NSW Police Commissioner, Colin Delaney, claimed in 1958 that homosexuality was “Australia’s greatest menace”. Lisa Featherstone and Andy Kaladelfos have shown that homosexuals convicted for consenting sexual acts with other adult men were segregated and medicalised within the prison system.

Sydney-based Dr Neil McConaghy (who regularly published his findings in outlets such as the British Journal of Psychiatry) employed conversion therapy during the 1960s and 1970s with what Michael Kirby has described as “the most energetic attempts”. Leading LGBTIQ figures such as Sue Wills and John Ware protested against the danger of this therapy, citing it as a key motivation for their activism.

McConaghy’s practices included apomorphine therapy. This involved the injection of up to 6 mg of the morphine derivative to induce severe nausea when patients were shown photographs of men. He also required patients to read pleasurable words on homosexuality aloud, after which he applied electroshocks.

Historiam Graham Willett has studied the so-called “diagnoses” of LGBTIQ “conditions” in 1970s Australia and the eventual removal of homosexuality as a pathology from the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1987. According to Willett:

… the hostility of the medical profession towards homosexuality was taken as a given, and the profession was seen as one of the main enemies of gay people, and of sexual freedom more generally. … psychiatrists and psychologists spoke casually of “curing” homosexuals, and were capable of recycling the most offensive and stereotypical representations of gay people without batting an eyelid.

The “treatments” – or tortures – did not work, of course, because there was no scientific or medical credence to them. In effect, they amounted to quackery.

‘Disease’ of the mind or soul?

The human rights violation of such acts, performed under the guise of psychiatry, were more aligned to practices such as exorcisms and other extreme religious and spiritual traditions than to medicine. In fact, Christian conversion therapy has had a much wider and popular presence in the tradition of conversion therapy than its psychiatric equivalent.

While some psychiatrists saw homosexuality as a “disease” of the mind; some religious groups see it a “sickness” of the soul. To cure the soul, and to protect the soul of others from contamination, religious conversion therapy can involve ostracising the person from family and community, extensive prayer by, and for the individual, intensive “conferences” designed to “heal”. It can even include exorcism. Religious organisations have also promoted “reparative therapy”, drawing on psychology.

While Australia is arguably far less evangelical in its religious convictions and practice than the US, organisations such as the now-defunct Exodus International have been active here.

Survivors of gay conversion overseas, meanwhile, are winning legal battles and there is an increasing number of lawsuits. In 2017, in Henan province in China, for example, a man was awarded damages and an apology in a lawsuit he filed against a psychiatric hospital over enforced conversion therapy. Organisations are also being closed, such as US-based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, formerly Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH).

The opposition to conversion therapy will continue. While the legalisation of same-sex marriage does not legally prevent such damaging discrimination, it is a significant step in the right direction towards stopping it in Australia.

The government is currently inquiring into “religious freedom”, with a report due on May 18, addressing exceptions to discrimination laws in the name of religion. It remains to be seen if the report will discuss conversion therapy, often carried out in the name of religion.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Marguerite Johnson
Marguerite Johnson – [Professor of Classics, University of Newcastle]
Image of James BennettJames Bennett – [Senior Lecturer in History in the School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle]




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With support for arts funding declining, Australia must get better at valuing culture

 While the arts certainly have an economic  
benefit,they must also be recognised for their intrinsic value. JAMES HORAN

Governments at all levels allocate around $6 billion a year to arts and culture in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. While this is a low figure compared to the budget outlays of other wealthy nations, public support for arts funding here is, if anything, in decline.

A new Platform Paper by economist David Throsby argues that governments should remain committed to strong cultural policies, and suggests some specific, and eminently practical, policy ideas along the way.

They include an expansion of the state-based artist-in-residence programs in schools; increased funding for art centres in remote communities to expand their support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts; consideration of the establishment of a Heritage Lottery Fund (presumably modelled after the UK example) and the re-establishment of the National Centre for Culture and Recreation Statistics, which used to form part of the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The announcement of the latter’s disbandment in 2014 was lamented at the time with academics Simon Darcy and Bronwen Dalton noting, among other things, that “data shapes policy”.

Precisely what cultural data governments should collect, however, is a particular concern of Throsby’s. Over recent years he has traced what he calls the “economisation” of cultural policy across the globe. Expenditure on cultural activities by governments is, he observes, now primarily justified in terms of expected economic outputs.

While recognising the significant economic benefits of cultural activity can of course help bolster the case for government spending, Throsby argues it should not act as the ultimate reason for that support. Instead, the “core creative arts” of literature, music, performing arts and visual arts, should be valued, first and foremost, as public goods in themselves.

This may sound like old-fashioned cultural idealism, and thus a mode of thinking now out of sync with modern “economically rational” policy making. But is it really so far-fetched? Is not government spending in areas like health, education, and social welfare also ultimately justified to us by arguments that also lie beyond the merely economic? Do we not invest in such areas because, at root, they help define the kind of society we are and want to be?

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating seemed to think so when he argued that cultural issues should in fact lie at the heart of government decision-making. As he declared in a speech delivered just after he left office in 1996:

Culture and identity, the structures and symbols of our government and the way we define ourselves as a nation are not distractions from the concerns of ordinary people, their income, their security, their mortgage payments and their children’s education and health. Rather, they are an intrinsic part of the way we secure these things.

Yet it can seem difficult to talk about cultural policy in Australia in such terms. I suspect this is because we prefer not to think of ourselves as being significantly influenced by – and reflected in – our music, painting, dance, sculpture and so on. This apparent prevarication when it comes to matters cultural no doubt has many origins, but one must surely be our still unsettled relationship to both our European colonial past and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples that accompanied it. We are perhaps inclined instead to consider activities, such as sporting competitions, which present a more straightforward narrative about our place in the world, as being more innately “Australian”.

Enthusiastic government support of, and funding for, a national cultural policy can thus seem “counter cultural” to the wider Australian public. This presents governments wanting to act in this area with a political, as much as an administrative, challenge.

Even without a clear government vision, however, Throsby suggests there is still reason to be optimistic about the future of Australia’s cultural life. He notes, for instance, that:

new generations of consumers are using the internet, mobile telephony and digital media in ways that not only expand their range of cultural experience but may actually transform them from passive recipients of cultural messages into active co-creators of cultural content.

Nevertheless, as the recent scandal around Facebook’s manipulation of user data has made clear, any sense of personal empowerment facilitated by these technical developments must be weighed against the threat they create of corporate manipulation on an unprecedented scale. Not just our personal privacy but our very imaginative lives risk being corralled and entrapped by such technologies.

Such caveats notwithstanding, Throsby’s Platform Paper makes a valuable contribution to the debates that should underpin a government investment of vision and cash to develop Australia’s cultural life. I encourage all who have a say in shaping this aspect of our nation’s future – and ultimately that’s all of us – to read it.

This article was written by:
Image of Peter TregearPeter Tregear – [Honorary Principal Fellow, University of Melbourne]




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Earlybird registrations are open for the Melbourne International Singers Festival 2018

From the 7th to the 11th of June. Proudly presented by the School of Hard Knocks

Now in its 9th consecutive year, Melbourne International Singers Festival will be led by Guest Conductor RICHARD GILL AO and Australia’s finest conductors, musicians and singers including: The Song Company, Choir of Hard Knocks, MEN ALOUD!, XL Arts, Warren Wills, Claire Patti and Dr Jonathon Welch AM.


JOIN one of our wonderful Festival Choruses, led by Richard Gill, Claire Patti and Dr Jonathon Welch respectively.

BRING your School or Community Choir to a workshop or masterclass with Richard Gill, one of Australia’s finest, and funniest music educators.

SEE the internationally acclaimed, award winning The Song Company with Artistic Director, Antony Pitts, in “True Love Story” …. AND the exciting young talents of XL Arts under the artistic direction of Liane Keegan, as they perform in recital!

SING in a Festival Showcase Concert with your choir.

MISF has a proud history of presenting new Australian works, and will present TWO WORLD PREMIERES in 2018 under the inspiring creative direction of Olivier nominated composer, music theatre producer and performer Warren Wills with the School of Hard Knocks MEN ALOUD! and award winning CHOIR OF HARD KNOCKS.

For more information about the Festival program please go to

We can’t wait to see you all at MISF 2018 for another extraordinary weekend of workshops, educational experiences and performances that will leave you challenged, inspired and entertained! Dr Jonathon Welch AM, Founding Artistic Director

Book Now! Earlybird registrations apply if registered by May 25th!

An unforgettable weekend at #MISF18

Proceeds support the School of Hard Knocks in providing arts and cultural programs to the vulnerable and marginalised in our community.

Contact OR 0419 337 283

Where has Melbourne’s political graffiti gone?

 Graffiti comment adorning an image of a woman in
Brunswick. The comment was quickly erased, nearby tags stayed up much longer.
Author provided

On my daily commute from Brunswick to Hawthorn, I often look out the train window and ask myself, “Where has Melbourne’s political graffiti gone?” Growing up in Sydney in the 1970s, political graffiti was part of my everyday urban landscape. Organised groups like Billboards Utilising Graffiti Against Unhealthy Promotions (BUGA UP) systematically sprayed billboards advertising alcohol, tobacco or anything with sexist content.

Their statements were witty, satirical and clearly left wing: “BEER KEEPS WORKERS IN THEIR PLACE” was emblazoned on an advertisement for the now almost obsolete KB lager; “CANCER KNOWS NO CLASS” adorned a billboard for Benson and Hedges cigarettes.

Our family remembers with fondness the response to the declaration from another graffitist, “GOD HATES HOMOS”, at the corner of Missenden and Parramatta roads in Camperdown. “BUT DOES HE LIKE TABOULI?” someone sprayed back.

The walls of public and private buildings still provide a canvas for political voices but in Melbourne, where I now live, there is less of this overtly political graffiti and it is more ephemeral. What little remains is up against stiff competition from taggers (who could be read as making an oblique statement against draconian graffiti regulation).

Hunting for what’s left

The legacy of political graffiti lives on through stick-ups, short-lived slogans and officially sanctioned political content. Stick ups are rogue poster campaigns drawing on the artistic tradition of poster art born in Paris in the 1850s. They resemble collage by 1920s Dadaists, Russian Constructivist posters or 1960s Pop Art but are more politically charged.

Political Posters on Sydney Road, Brunswick, April 2018.

In recent times, stick ups have spoken out against issues such as Islamophobia, racism, police violence, environmental destruction and domestic violence. Others target individual politicians, like Peter Dutton, who became the object of “FAKEWIT” posters  from early 2017. There is something sweetly ironic about how much these posters resemble Andy Warhol’s screen print portrait of Mao Tse-Tung.

‘Fakewit’ a poster of the #dumpdutton campaign, near Glenferrie Station. Author provided

Stick-ups are quick and easy to produce but as ephemeral as the promotional campaigns for concerts, bars and universities they compete with. Still, at least they are there.

Recently in Brunswick, graffiti advocating for Indigenous land rights and the slogan “MAKING BRUNSWICK WHITE AGAIN”, a comment about gentrification that played on the name of a real estate franchise, were gone in under 24 hours. Yet tags on the same wall were left there for weeks.

In another case I witnessed in Brunswick, an expression of protest sprayed on a mural of a woman’s face that covered the side of a chemist shop: “WOMEN ARE NOT ORNAMENTS”. These words were painted over in less than a week. Whoever covered them was apparently not bothered by the tags further along the street – they are still there.

In 2016, meanwhile, the graffiti artist Nost “capped” (ie sprayed graffiti over) a 30 year-old mural in Northcote painted by the artists Eve Glenn and Megan Evans, which celebrated local women. Feminists responded, in turn, by graffitiing over Nost’s work, writing “FUCK THE PATRIARCHY” and “NOST IS A DICKHEAD [LOVE] THE LADIES.

Nost was later charged with a range of offences including criminal damage, burglary, trespass, and theft and remanded in custody. However, while the feminist protests were quickly painted over, Nost’s tag remained on the Northcote mural.

The 21st Century landscape of graffiti

The everyday urban landscape of 21st century Melbourne has been largely taken over by tags and non-political graffiti. Overt political graffiti is quickly erased, while officially sanctioned pieces or work with little or no political content is celebrated.

One example is that of graffiti production houses like Everfresh Studios. Members of the Everfresh crew do a wide range of interesting (and sometimes politically engaged) work but their Instagram feed also depicts the kinds of idealised women with parted lips typical of the advertising that BUGA UP used to protest about.

Rone, who recently painted silos in Geelong to celebrate Wadawarrung traditional owner Corinna Eccles, also has their work as a backdrop to models advertising Victoria’s Secret lingerie.

Other wall space is taken up by the work of graffiti artists for hire who create corporate graffiti to promote brands and businesses. In the case of Fitzroy, graffiti “brands” much of the suburb as in the “Welcome to Sunny Fitzroy” piece that covers the entire side wall of the iconic Night Cat club on Johnston Street. The brand of the suburb and the brand of the graffiti artists merge into one and the same image.

Graffiti is part of Fitzroy’s brand. Adrian R. Tan

Graffiti is a paradox. Often criminalised with heavy penalties, it is also part and parcel of the hype of corporate promotional campaigns or as an urban stage set for wedding photos. All this leaves less space and visibility for spontaneous political expression and begs the question: has political conversation moved online?

Elsewhere in the world, politics has played out on the walls of Rome (in ancient, Fascist, and modern times), IsraelEgypt and other northern African and Middle Eastern nations during the Arab Spring.

Ironic or perverse as it may seem, the lack of political content in most of Melbourne’s graffiti means it adds up to a singular branding exercise. The city and its cultural image meld together – an image that appeals to those who like their culture free of politics.

This article was written by:
Image of Flavia MarcelloFlavia Marcello – [Associate Professor of Design History, Swinburne University of Technology]




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