What even counts?

I read a great book this week that got me thinking about penile-vaginal sex. Not in that way, you seedy beast, but in how much it rules what we do in terms of sexual health education, societal norms and perspectives.

at all good bookstores…

Please note – I’m going to use the term penile-vaginal sex a lot. If that makes you feel uncomfortable – I want you to know and understand that I could not really care.

Karley Sciortino’s book Slutever is part memoir, part sociological critique of gender and sexuality through a sex-positive lens. It is not for the faint hearted and not a perfect book – but I really enjoyed some of the questioning moments in the book. I particularly enjoyed the section on what is sex and what isn’t. It is something as a researcher I think about in terms of education and information. Its a fascinating thing we’ve constructed as far as our societal definitions and cultural norms.

As a society, we place such a misguided amount of weight around penile-vaginal sex. It is what “counts” in losing your virginity. It is all all our relationships and sexuality education in schools often dares to focus on. Sciortino talks about how it is often the “goal” in sex between cisgendered heteronormative couples. Its great fun, but is it all that sex is? We’ve been having different types of sex since time began, but rarely educate on it.

Within my own research (as in, published scholarly, not google/wikipedia), young people voiced a desire for relationships and sexuality education that acknowledged same-sex attraction as well as diverse sexuality – and they wouldn’t mind some information that they actually need. (gasp) In another paper about to be published in Sex Education, stakeholders I spoke to who deliver sexual health promotion in the community, either as a job or as accidental experts – also talk about the need for education that is relevant and meets young people’s needs [edit: it is now published. read it here]. There is also a fair bit about being afraid of stigma and backlash – but both groups agreed it needs to be more than cross section diagrams of genitals.

So much of our relationships and sexuality education focuses on biology. It targets penile-vaginal intercourse with laser like intensity. Heaven forbid we acknowledge that sex is much more than that. God only knows what would happen if we acknowledged in our education that lesbian, gay and bisexual people have sex that may not involve either a penis or a vagina. Or that penile-vaginal intercourse is just one way to get off. I know the sky would fall in if we delved in to the pleasure zone, so lets keep things functional for now.

We could start by looking at what young people are actually doing. We, as a society could acknowledge that more than 50% of young people in years 10 to 12 have received oral sex (surveyed as part of the 6th National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health). Or that 50% have given oral sex. Or that 65% have already been off touching genitals and/or having their genitals touched. Experience in penile-vaginal sex comes in a lowly 44% of all genders. So what counts as having sex? Does oral sex? What about a hand job? What information is important?

If we think of sex in purely pro-creative and biological terms – of the young people surveyed, 66% were still virgins. And their future partners will be so happy to hear that. Or something. No one wants to marry a sullied “non-virgin”. So with that in mind, how do you lose your virginity if you are gay, lesbian or bisexual and only engage in same-sex relationships? Are you always a virgin, regardless? Frozen in time.

barf

Maybe all these young people are just saving their “Technical Virginity” by giving handjobs, having oral sex and anal sex. If you’ve never heard of “Technical Virginity” – its where you abstain from penile-vaginal intercourse while engaging in everything else. For some reason. Morality probably. It ensures that when they hold your sheets up Day One of your honeymoon that the awaiting crowd can be reassured you were a virgin. If you were a women. Because guys can slut it up as much as they want. Cause that doesn’t matter. Duh!

I find the most confusing part about it all this, is the focus around this coveted virginity test (I am aware the sheet showing doesn’t happen now). Does counting your sexual partners in terms of penile-vaginal intercourse really make sense? Aside from the fact that counting sexual partners in some form of chaste morality contest is pretty strange – does it really make sense saying that giving blow-jobs doesn’t count? What is sex? If blowjobs and going doing aren’t sex, then we don’t need to cover them in education after all. Or, maybe our education can get with the program and start focussing less on preventing pregnancy, and more on giving young people information they need. Lets dump our societal baggage and get real.

To be clear – I think if you’ve chosen to safely and consensually enjoy your body and someone else’s – that is awesome! If that is with a heap of people over time – great. Seriously, who cares? If you’ve decided to wait for “The One” to have penile-vaginal sex with – that is really super too! If while waiting, you’ve decided to have oral sex with a heap of people – again – that is great. But can we please move on from defining sex in terms of penile-vaginal intercourse? Can we perhaps even move on from competitions that spring from maintaining “Technical virginity” and gate-keeping morality and get real?

To true Mr Badger

Sex comes in a heap of different sizes, shapes and styles. Its a heap of fun and it is for a lot more than procreation. Young people for ever and a day have been having oral sex and jerking each other off in the back of their cars/wagons/etc. It is all sex. If you’ve been having a really fantastic time with someone and engaging in oral sex (giving and/or receiving) – I don’t know or care if you’re a virgin (and to be honest, no one really knows – or cares – so get over it). But I do know that it is sexual activity. You are or have been sexually active. You have sexed with people/s. Surprise!

Now you’ve gotten over that shock – we need to think about what we can do about all this sex that is going on.

We all need to learn about sex, about being sexually active and about how to negotiate consent. Preferably before we start doing it. We all need to learn how to do it safely and hopefully well, so everyone involved has a good, wholesome, fun ole’ time.

As adults, we need to advocate for real relationships and sexuality education – stuff that will actually help. When it’s needed. Lets get real and give people what they want. Useful information with a lot less slut shaming.

So hard hitting it hurt

Hard-hitting adverts change behaviour. You have to shock people in to altering their behaviour. Just like the Grim Reaper adverts right? Right?

This week the Heart Foundation launched its new ad campaign targeting everyone who has made a poor life choice in a hard-hitting campaign that drilled in on the idea that if you don’t look after your heart health, you are selfish and don’t love your family. Now, that is not my cynical take on this – the ads were incredibly direct, incredibly focussed on the individual and incredibly brutal.

Its is fair to say, the response online was a little less than supportive of this brave campaign move – with people from advertising panning it (especially Dee Madigan – who called it a “monstrosity”), and public health luminaries also questioning the angle. The Heart Foundation doubled down on their content early on and backed it to the hilt – extolling the fact that so many people had gone to the website and there was a “discussion going on” as proof that this campaign had hit the mark.

Brave move *heart emoji*

Now, overnight – no doubt after a few frantic board discussions, the Heart Foundation has walked their decision back and decided to edit part of their advert, deciding to remove the opening scene of the mother tucking her son in and apologised for offending basically everyone. They stand by their stance that if this campaign drives people to have their heart checks than its a job well done. I don’t begrudge them for feeling the need to do something drastic. Something that shakes up the conversation. I’m just not sure this is it..

Did the baby go out with the bath water?

So is there anything wrong with this kind of hard-hitting mass media if it gets results? Well, putting aside from the heartbreaking tweet I saw from a father who was now stressed his eight year old daughter with congenital heart disease might hear this advert and think her disease is because she didn’t love her family enough; and putting aside the thousands of loved ones who are left behind to hear this message after their family has died from heart disease – what’s the problem?

Everyone gets really excited about the Grim Reaper campaign in the 1980’s that saved Australia from the AIDS epidemic. It was ground breaking advert content that changed the direction of modern Australia and saved many deaths – particularly amongst men who have sex with men. Except it didn’t really do it alone. This ad campaign was incredibly memorable. Definitely striking. It did lead to increases in testing – particularly in people who didn’t need to be tested – but what prevented an rapid increase in the spread of AIDS was not this ad. I feel the Heart Foundation response to double down on this campaign lines up with the champions of the Grim Reaper.

The Grim Reaper ad campaign ran for three weeks on TV, had short run in print marketing and was on the radio for a couple of months. Around the same time there was the early implementation of policy for testing of blood donations. Very solid sexual health promotion work particularly focussing on condom usage. The increase of needle exchange programs. Attempts to improve sexual health education in schools (still a work in progress). Policy and health promotion programs made a difference. Advocacy and interventions made a difference. The Grim Reaper gets the credit.

Surely that is ok though – the work got done. Who cares who gets the credit. Well – some people do. Like the community that the Grim Reaper ad campaign was supposed to help – the men who have sex with men. Who reported significant issues and ongoing negative impacts from this campaign – that continue on.

Mass media health campaigns that focus on fear, stigmatisation and shame are really popular and have been since the 1940s (when the original Grim Reaper campaign ran preventing road trauma – told you it wasn’t ground breaking). Politicians love it – Kevin Rudd’s launch of his government’s “Don’t turn a night out into a Nightmare” Binge Drinking Campaign in 2008 was heavy on negative messaging, fear-based content and targeted a group of young people who thought they were “bullet-proof”. It even had a video game. Neato. Campaigns before and since on everything from road trauma to obesity to smoking to methamphetamines take the same route. This are ongoing questions over the efficacy in actually changing behaviour (Soames Job 1988, DeJong 2002, Stylianou 2010) and while there is evidence and support of its efficacy (Fairchild, Bayer et al. 2018)- employing fear harnesses stigma and must be done with great care

What do you want – love and rainbows?

I know how much people love punchy, scary ad campaigns to “scare ’em straight” – but can we just try and be a little more inventive? I know that is hard when a Minister wants something punchy that “will make a difference” – so advocacy and education is needed.

I’d personally love to see more campaigns that actually addressed some of the Social Determinants of Health and swam a little upstream from blaming individuals and creating stigma and shame. (Tell him his dreaming).

I’d really love to see some that consider the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion when they are developing a campaign. I’d really love to stop seeing marketing that focuses so purely on the negative and is aspirational and inspirational – that connects with us more at a intellectual levels than through primal fear. That enables us. That creates a supportive environment for change. That strengthens our community – rather than telling people who have had heart conditions they don’t care about anyone else. Would it kill everyone to use some humour for a change?

I’ll leave you with my favourite Grim Reaper advert – and perhaps my favourite injury prevention advert ever. It deserves to be a template of thinking out side the box, but it doesn’t tick enough fear boxes. Social Death is a real winner in my eyes as it taps in to something other than brutal fear of death. Its a little aspirational. A little bit call to action. A little bit funny.

DeJong, W. (2002). “The role of mass media campaigns in reducing high-risk drinking among college students.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Supplement(s14): 182-192.

Soames Job, R. F. (1988). “Effective and ineffective use of fear in health promotion campaigns.” American journal of public health 78(2): 163-167.

Stylianou, M. (2010). “The Return of the Grim Reaper.” History Australia 7(1): 10.11-10.18.

Fairchild, A. L., R. Bayer, S. H. Green, J. Colgrove, E. Kilgore, M. Sweeney and J. K. Varma (2018). “The Two Faces of Fear: A History of Hard-Hitting Public Health Campaigns Against Tobacco and AIDS.” American Journal of Public Health 108(9): 1180-1186.

Avoiding greedily snaffling the low-hanging fruit

Sporting clubs are easy pickings for health promotion. They are a captive audience of collective individuals vaguely interested in health and well-being. They are the obvious choice for the latest intervention, program or campaign and provide great bang for buck – but we need to consider when to give clubs a break from being the target.

And you thought low hanging fruit would be easy

Sporting clubs are amazing places – community hubs filled with engaged individuals and plucky volunteers keen to make the world a better place one week at a time. Great venues for social change, for community engagement, for communicating to the masses. Sporting clubs bring people together in a way that many other organisations can not and they allow individuals from varied backgrounds to connect and enjoy their time together. And for forever and day, because of these facts – sporting clubs are the most obvious low-hanging fruit for health promotion programs to target. I should know, I’ve one it several times and been on the receiving end as well.

The problem with targeting sporting clubs is not targeting sporting clubs – but the manner in which you engage them and the long-term sustainability of whatever you are hoping to achieve. One-off funding and sponsorship that gets a club to sign up to a program might sounds great; but I’ve been in many a club that has a health promotion banner tucked behind the bar, or worse, on the wall next to an sign supplied by Big Alcohol. Your Great Health Promotion Message paired with Bush Chook. If there is no ongoing engagement with clubs to keep them on track – a season or two after the funding has ended, once a new committee or batch volunteers rolls in, the message can be very quickly lost or discarded.

If your program does not adequately engage the very fabric of a club – it will not survive long-term.

You can not bring a new idea in to a club and hope it will live on once you’ve left. You can not expect completely under-resourced volunteers to implement a new program or idea (on top the other programs they already run) if you don’t build their capacity. You can not expect clubs to champion your cause if they don’t believe in it and see the clear benefit. Your idea or program might be amazing and really well funded and make everyone in your industry nod with approval – but if Beryl who runs the canteen doesn’t really give a stuff because your idea is going to make her already hard and long day a bit harder and longer – she isn’t going to get on board long-term. Sure, she might do it to help the club secure the funding – but she will outlast your program. Like the last one. And the one before that.

If your program does not ingrain and endear itself to the sporting club champions, you are in trouble.

You ain’t no Gordon.

Sporting club volunteers want to believe in your programs. They want to run them. They really do (well, maybe not Beryl, but someone can sideline her long enough to put up the signs – Geoff behind the bar is trickier to move). The thing is – many sporting clubs are dying. Volunteers are so thin on the ground that they struggle from year to year to find people to do the things that actually HAVE to do. The administrative workload of running a small business for free eventually takes its toll and clubs need more work like a hole in the head.

The next five years are crunch time for clubs.

People don’t want to volunteer to do what has to be done to run a club these days. From ensuring insurance is appropriate and paid, securing coaches, finding players, organising registrations, paying fees, affiliations and memberships to State sporting bodies, organising umpires and game-day helpers, buying uniforms and merchandise, approaching and engaging sponsors, finding or training medical personnel, dealing with internal club politics and regional league or association issues – there is so much to do. Something as simple as putting a team on the park for a weekend requires determination, grit and a bloody minded will to achieve in the face of adversity. And a laptop with a 4G dongle, because everything has be done on a computer these days.

Did you bring the oranges?

Club volunteers are under the pump. Something as critical as becoming the coach of the under-16s footy team requires a full day of face-to-face (unpaid) training with an accompanying online module and work-book; as well as yearly re-registration and proof of competency. All clubs in WA are required to engage with the local department’s own club development program, an online toolkit and management system that is a great idea, but takes huge effort to really sink your teeth in to. If the club has a bar, everyone needs RSA training and you need a trained manager and need to run your cash bar to high standards around documentation and resourcing. Canteen staff are being recommended more an more to do food-handling courses and their are issues around food-preparation and local government. Sometimes food that needs no prep (hot chips and some pies) is just easier than an amazing quinoa salad – especially if your canteen is a bit dodgy. Never mind the fact that you may not have enough time to prepare healthy food options because you picked up the canteen supplies on the way home from work, and are running the canteen in between running water for the juniors and playing your self.

Sporting clubs are struggling to keep up with what they have to do. Volunteers are also players or umpires. There is never enough help. And even getting players is getting harder and harder as our lives get busier and busier – and more interesting options become available. Mountain biking, surfing, trail running, kayaking, mauy thai – all really interesting physical activities that do not involve ensuring 40 other people are ready at the same time (and all are things I now do instead of organised team sport). Plus, you also won’t be asked to volunteer in the canteen after your jog or have to join a committee. People are looking to do sport that fits their lifestyle. Blocking out a large chunk of Saturday to play and then run a canteen for the greater good doesn’t appeal.

Can someone take over in the canteen? I need to go home…..

Does this mean we do nothing? We leave clubs alone? Let sporting clubs run amok. Let them serve wild boar on a bed of hot chips with mead? Well, no – but if you want to set up a program that engages sporting clubs in health promotion – you need to ask yourself a few hard questions first:

  • Is your program going in on top of existing programs? Perhaps long term programs? If you think a club that already runs two programs is ripe for the picking because they are already engaged in health and social change and another wouldn’t hurt – consider what capacity is left in that club?
  • What has been rolled out already in that region?
  • What hasn’t worked or why didn’t it work long term?
  • What real connection does the club have to your program beyond the carrot or money or resources at the start?
  • Do clubs actually believe in your message, or do they want the cash?
  • What is the real human cost of your program? On the volunteers that have to implement it? How easy have you made it for them?
  • Do the local club development officers support your program? Is their department on board?
  • How much does society as a whole care about what you are selling? Have you done the ground work of outlining the problem in a real and relatable way that clubs have already engaged with? Basically, are you answering a need, or providing a solution to a problem no one knows they have?
  • Have you over or underestimated the clubs you are dealing with? No two clubs are the same, and the volunteers within a club drive its direction and motivation.
Consider how your program will meet these areas before you inflict it on unsuspecting volunteers

Once you’ve answered those questions and put yourself in the shoes of a busy parent juggling responsibilities – then you can probably get your program going. However, don’t forget to continually re-evaluate your program implementation and how it is engaging with the volunteer club workforce. Don’t be naive. Don’t be short sighted. Don’t preach. Definitely don’t preach. There is nothing worse. And for goodness sake, don’t think your program will survive without curation, care-taking and support. Unless it really is amazing. Then you might be lucky.

Feminism is a cancer?

Man-hating women are trying to destroy men’s lives when everyone knows that there are biological differences between men and women that are so genetically coded that the very idea of some form of simple equity completely ignores evolution, history, culture and every good movie I’ve ever watched. Or something.

I finally had the chance to read Clementine Ford’s second book: “Boys Will Be Boys” this week while in Yogyakarta. I bought the book on pre-order but have been so dedicated to working on my PhD and my role at my boy’s school (and another chance to dance) that I didn’t try to read it until I had some time. This is not a book review – more a comment on some of the things that the book raised for me, particularly if I can call myself a feminist. In the name of full disclosure, I thoroughly enjoyed Clementine’s first book, “Fight Like a Girl” – despite how uncomfortable it made me feel. I am quite a big fan of Clementine in general and had the chance to meet her (and get her to sign my book) when I presented at SexRurality in 2017. For a man-hating Femi-nazi that wants to fire all men in to the sun with a giant cannon, she really is nice.

I enjoy reading texts and engaging with content that forces me to interrogate my way of thinking and examine the way I go about things. Challenging yourself is a fantastic thing. Accepting that challenge and using that challenge as a lens to explore your own character and behaviour is an even greater and more powerful thing. I have always been taught critical analysis – from my high school days through university through life – I have always wanted to know the why. Why do I react in certain ways? Why does society? Why can’t I change my behaviour? What motivates me to change it? Is it intrinsic or extrinsic motivation? And as a man, particularly a white cisgender heteronormative identifying one (sorry if you rolled your eyes, but GTFU if you did) – why am I allowed to do things, say things, behave in certain ways or even change them – especially when others can not? What privileges do I have at my disposal that others do not? Do I need to check myself? Do I need to speak? More importantly, do I need to shut up and listen?

“Boys Will Be Boys” was at times depressing – particularly for being so accurate and at times familiar. How much people conform to gender-norms based on their child’s biological sex is one explored well in the book. This section really resonated with me – especially discussions around the clothing, toys, play and roles boys in particular are expected to have because our society is so rigid and confused. It resonated with me because we have TRIED as a family to avoid these stereotypes. You cannot control outside influences, but from giving our boys dolls and dollhouses to play with; to supplying dresses for the dress-up box; to letting them wear pink (gasp); to role modelling diversity in our household domestic roles; we have tried to challenge what is normal. The chapter reminded me of the time a friend was shocked we allowed our son to play with a doll and pram – he told us he would buy his a lawnmower. I asked him was he worried all that playing with a pretend baby would make him a good dad. There wasn’t a strong answer.

There are some other great sections on the book – the stark raving madness of the Men’s Rights Advocacy Movement is not something new to me – but a great read all the same. Those groups sit somewhere better misguided fanaticism and terrorism (literally calling for men to suicide outside their local MP’s office to show them your pain) and Ford does a great job of looking at the history. There are more comprehensive books on the topic (“Angry White Men” by Michael Kimmel) but this is a great take with some hilarious points. The sections on rape, the way our culture shields men from their crimes and victim blames are incredible uncomfortable reading – but again, not new. Anyone that has listened to a news report after a rape-murder, when the police call for women to “make smart choices” rather than asking men to have a break from raping them knows this.

Clementine does a great job of breaking down many aspects of our own society and the fucked up, yet incredibly privileged place men occupy within. Ford looks at how many men are broken, oblivious and hurting ourselves and others as they go along. Is it all men? Surely it is #notallmen. I know from my own lived experience, its not all men – but its plenty of them and not enough men are doing enough in terms of real action to change things for the better. This book, as well as Ford’s last one is really uncomfortable reading as a man. They are both not written for us. In a world that the majority of the content I have access to is written or created for straight white men – it nice to have to listen for once, rather than have things provided and pitched right at me. I’m not the expert here. Or the target audience. Or the champion. Its not the way things normally are.

Reflecting on this, “Boys Will Be Boys” and a few other texts I’ve read relatively recently has made me interrogate myself on where I sit as a feminist – and namely if I am one. I mentioned at a party the other day that I could not consider myself a feminist; much to some surprise at the time – but this relates more to feeling comfortable beholding the label rather than my ideological standing on the issue. Just to be very clear on my perspectives, feminism is not a cancer. It is not scary. It is not evil. It is not targeting men or enslaving men. Men are already enslaved.

I long for a world:

  • in which men can have more of an engaged and equal role in the raising of their own children without scorn from society for failing to be the major bread-winner.
  • where men actually do their meaningful and fair share of domestic labour – especially carrying the mental load of their families domestic lives instead of “helping around the home”.
  • where men take actual responsibility and play a fundamental role in the reproductive labour in their relationships – like being active in contraceptive choices, not relying on women to “take care of it” and considering a vasectomy when you’ve bred sufficiently.
  • where empathy and compassion are considered important male characteristics.
  • where it is ok to cry and hug and be physically touched by another man without being called a poof.
  • where we can shed this bullshit Ocker-AF attitude of what “men are” and stop being slaves.

Equality is needed in our world and men are often too dumb to realise that fighting for it will actually benefit them. Men are drunk on the power we withhold from others, rather than enticed by the possibilities of sharing the burden.  

So why not label myself a “feminist”? Despite my belief in the ideology and the goals that the movement is fighting for – I don’t do enough advocacy in that space to call myself a feminist. It must be more than a few words and basically doing the right bloody thing. Sure, we can have a discussion about intersectionality or the role that the patriarchy has in the enslavement of men and the oppression of women – but words are cheap. I don’t deserve a cookie for that.

I also don’t get to choose that I am “one of the good men” (if you haven’t watched Hannah Gadsby’s speech – or her incredible work Nannette: go do it now) for doing what I basically should. I don’t get to call myself a feminist for wanting social justice and equality – I get to call myself a human.

Premier Perth Good Man Factory that lacks any self awareness

There are far better people (particularly women) out there doing far more work that deserve recognition, praise and all the cookies that men get for doing something that is “vaguely feminist. Until I can do more to earn my stripes – which is doing more then interrogating myself, exploring how to be a better human, and doing what I already should be – I’ll have to wait for my cookie. I’m a definite ally. I’m definitely a believer. I’m just not convinced I’m doing enough to earn the label.

More on this: http://theconversation.com/am-i-a-feminist-simple-ways-to-tell-19801

A Useful Skeleton: a Thing of Beauty

Every dancer has their forte and my Creative Director, Annette Carmichael was just highlighting mine. Sure some can spin and leap and have amazing flexibility – but I was in possession of a “very useful skeleton!”

“Just let him jump on to you, don’t try and catch him”. Simple instruction. Focus. I tried to relax as Scott again tried to put his right leg over my left shoulder and gracefully leap on to my useful skeleton. We were at the start of our intensive journey together. We had a week to recreate the duet in The Beauty Index.

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The duet we were working on was a core part of the performance and the source of a lot of adulation and adoration (and the best photos) in the original performance. For the remount, I was assuming a part held by the very talented Sam le Breton last time around. This was my second time as part of a production and to say the rise was giddying is to put it lightly.

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In the months after Annette confirmed that we were getting (most of) the band back together to remount “our” work, The Beauty Index, I had worked incredibly hard to get myself fit. I wanted to hit “the Sixty” so much harder this time around, so there were months of weights and fitness classes in the lead up to our first rehearsal. I was going to tear my old role apart! As performers, we all held a lot of ownership in the work – being involved in so much of the original choreography had elevated our sense of engagement in the piece – all those who were returning wanted to lift this remount higher than the original. Never mind the fact that we were opening up for a group of flexible, talented young people as part of a two-show bill. Our pride was at stake!

At the first rehearsal back, Annette told us that Sam would not be able to come back and perform in the remount. This meant someone could come forward – or someone would be tapped to step up. I though about this for a while. Last year was my first time dancing on stage. I was not sure I was up for the physicality of the role. I refrained from stepping forward and committed to thinking about it. There were serious doubts.

I got home and there was a missed call from Annette and a message. Would I step in to Sam’s role? Would I perform the solo? The duet with Scott Elstermann? Play such a key role in the performance? I sat on the couch and stared at my phone. I was a lot fitter than last year – but could I actually do it? The performing? Holding the audience? It is a role that demands intensity and focus. I walked in to the kitchen and asked Jas what she thought. We chatted. Was I comfortable? Was I capable? Was I up for the challenge?

I messaged Annette: “Just got your message. I’m keen”.

Mind is keen, body is….

Annette and I went through details, organised rehearsal schedules, chorography, scores, musical cues. I was bursting with excitement. We had a series of one-on-one rehearsals scheduled to nail down the gruelling solo early. Annette was sick for a rehearsal, so I decided to head in alone and work through some dancing. About forty minutes in to the session, I leant forward innocuously, and my breath left me. Pain surged through my chest – wrapping around me like two hot wires stretching around me from between my shoulders – one around my chest, one down my spine. This was bad. My back was screaming.

I chatted with the physio after my second session with him. It had been two weeks. I’d been swimming as often as I could to free up my back. I was still in pain but recovering. He reassured me I would be fine for the dancing– it was probably a 4-6 week injury, so I was ok to ease back in to things. Six weeks had me up to the last week before working with Scott. Five days of intense rehearsals – two hours a day with Scott, two hours with the rest of the cast. There was not a lot of wriggle room if I pinged it again – but I had an entire show to re-learn, a solo to master and a duet to prepare for. There was not time to rest. Only time to recover.

There were weeks of hot and cold packs. Intense stretching. Intense hope that my fitness work before rehearsals would leave me in good stead to not just recover but be at performance standard. As the performance inched forward, my back freed up increasingly and I was able to perform more of the choreography with an improved range of motion. I would hopefully be fine. Hopefully.

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Screaming on the beach. Totes normal

A box, the corner of the shed

One week of intense rehearsals with a professionally trained dancer is a privilege that my football playing, punk rock loving teenage self would never have considered, but here I was. Warm-ups were a treat. Led by some woman who I begrudgingly met in Broome six years ago as I was dragged for an obligation (the incredible, hilarious and talented Sandi Woo) we explored space, movement, our body.

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The Woo Technique

Scott and I worked on our connection as dancers. How to work together. I was in a space that many professional dancers would’ve happily traded for. We worked hard in warm ups to learn how each other moved (well, Scott learned how I moved, I learnt how to move). In footy parlance, we trained bloody hard.

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Scott leaping on the waiting #usefulskeleton (Pic: Alison Bennett-Taylor)

We worked and worked. I slowly got more and more of the details and nuances I needed. Not all, I never got it 100% there – but that is the beauty of working with someone like Annette. No matter how good I got it down, there was the next way to improve. It wasn’t meant to be good enough. It needed to be the best I could do it. And finding that best takes exploration and improvement right up to the final time I did it on stage.

Performance mode

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Acting calm (Pic: Nic Duncan)

We did two shows for this remount – a Friday and a Saturday night in the Albany Entertainment Centre. It is a pretty serious venue. Early rehearsals had gone well. Dress rehearsal not so well. I, personally, was a mess and as a collective we misfired a bit. Didn’t bring the passion. We needed to step up for opening night.

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On stage, pre-show, final words of encouragement (Pic: Nic Duncan)

I’d convinced a few personal VIPs to come both nights – all incredibly supportive individuals that have a special place in my heart. All a long way from contemporary dance devotees. There were some serious personal nerves, but I felt like I could do a solid job. The solo was the killer for me – to go too hard meant being too exhausted for the duet and “the angel” later in the show. There was no recovery time off stage after my solo. Not go hard enough and the solo lacked impact. It was a pretty fine line – the solo channelled anger and hate. Keeping a lid on that is not easy.

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Backstage at the AEC (Pic: Nic Duncan)

The first night, up to the solo felt solid. I was concentrating well. Keeping in time. Keeping myself together. “The Sixty” was so imprinted on my mind and body now that it was ingrained in my muscle fibres. Intensely familiar and personal. There was a zone. I was in it.

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The Sixty – a beast (Pic: Nic Duncan)

The performance progressed, I hit the solo incredibly hard. I screamed, the tortured scream of a broken man. I contorted as my body broke apart. I collapsed in a sopping pool of sweat. Shattered. Chest heaving. I rose for the duet, making my way through the lifts as best I could while my quadriceps screamed at me for rest. Scott and I connected. We broke apart. I focussed on my role. My embodiment of hate and fear and terror.

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My solo – finding all the rage and pain from my life and expressing it on stage (Pic: Nic Duncan)

We hit the crescendo of the duet. A backwards hinge. During rehearsals it had been decided this part needed more action during the remount. We were to run backwards before quickly connecting and hinging backwards together. Annette had wanted us to be more “reckless”. Adrenalin surged through my body, dripping with sweat I came to the point that I ran backwards.

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The reckless double hinge (Pic: Nic Duncan)

I neglected to look back and relied on the fact that I had a highly skilled professional on the other side who would (should) connect and catch me. He always did in the rehearsals anyway. We brushed arms. I threw my head and body backwards. We flicked in to position. We held. My chest heaved. I squeezed my glutes and abs to effortlessly rise in to a standing position and walk into our next position. I fell. Slumping to the ground. Shit. There would be a note for this….

A little less man-love

We ran through notes of the performance the next night. Scott saved me the night before, scooping me up of the ground in a tender embrace. We paused. I walked off in to the next position and tried to forget about it. To move on. We covered it well, but it was not right. The rest of the show had been great – our returning performers had stepped up to a new level. Our new guys were incredible. There was a lot of excitement within the group to go better on the second night, but the duet needed to be perfect. Thankfully, we (I) had a final chance to make amends. We got our note on what to work on for tonight. I would try to not fall over. A little less man love.

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Notes

It was a big night for me. A front row filled with family and friends. There was a lot of nerves. My eldest brother had come along. Tony was a long way from his comfort zone attending and I felt a lot of internalised pressure to perform well. I felt like I couldn’t just be good tonight – I had to go to another level again. This of course, failed to recognise how far I’d come in the eighteen months since I decided to give dancing “a bit of a go” for the first project – but family, ego and emotion aren’t really logical things.

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Side stage

There was also my brother-in-law and good friend who had travelled from Perth just before flying out of the country to make the show. Mikey had attended the previous year’s show (and also Annette’s Creation of Now, which Jasmine had a large part in). He may be the “Manpack’s” greatest fan and is well known to the cast. His infectious enthusiasm and desire to understand the work has made him stand out amongst our impressive throng of groupies and admirers.

Mikey knew Sam wasn’t in the show. He knew rehearsals had gone well. He knew I was pumped up to perform again and he was surprised to hear that there had been changes to the show overall. We had breakfast together that morning, but I still hadn’t told Mikey I was now in the lead role. I was excited for the surprise to hit him – as it wouldn’t become apparent until just before the solo. There were a lot of things go through my head.

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Stay calm, stay calm, stay calm (Pic: Nic Duncan)

Breathe, breathe
We were on to the second round of the Sixty and I realised I wasn’t breathing. My heart was pumping so hard I could hear it above the snare in the music. Adrenalin was reaching towards redline. I had gotten myself a little too wound up.

This wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to me. In some games of football and soccer, if it was too big an occasion and I got myself too lathered up, I would struggle to get “in” to the game. I would float through, not performing at the level I wanted. In those situations, I needed a reset. Either a long break or a big hit to the body. I careered through the rest of the Sixty, missing a beat, slightly out of time here, slightly fast there. Imperceivably to most in the audience, screamingly obvious to me. We lurched in to the second last group of sixty beats, a time to “break apart”. I bent my back, almost falling. I broke again, arching and driving my shoulders back. And again. I fell. On to my back. Fuck that hurt. I looked up and flipped myself to continue to dance. I think I was back in the zone now. I could hear the music again. Feel the timing. My head was back in the game. Just. I found my hit to the body.

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Me resting at the back while the Manpack hyperventilates (Pic: Nic Duncan)

The performance raced though time and space. The solo didn’t exhaust me this time. Scott and improved our duet. The reckless bend was just right. My body allowed me to unhinge. There was less man love. There were small moments of panic. Of adjustment. Of problem solving on the fly. I didn’t dance as well as I did the first night, but I fixed my mistakes better. Our duet was better the second night.

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Scott looks light, but is not. Here I am gracefully lowering his impressive bulk to the stage with my very strong legs and back (Pic: Nic Duncan)

And most importantly in a team sport – the rest of the cast were more solid the second night. As a group we had improved again. The young performers in A Light Shade of Red hit their straps too, shining and rising to another level. We joined them onstage for the finale, took our bows and danced on stage. We’d done it. Somehow.

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What a team (Pic: Nic Duncan)

Final reflections
Community dance is incredible. The growth I’ve felt within myself is immeasurable. The bonds and friendships that develop priceless. I’ve been able to role model to my two young boys that men can dance and choked back tears during their stage debuts perform just a few weeks after our remount. I’ve been able to show to family and friends that dance is a lot different than they may think it is. Even if the appreciation is mainly on the physical requirements – a lot of those who came would never have come to a dance performance without a community connection.

This remount was a huge moment for me. Last time around was a leap out of comfort zone to discover I enjoyed dance. This time around was a nervous return to explore a new level. It was like SCUBA diving after learning to snorkel. There were serious moments of doubt. There was a strong feeling of being held by those around me. There was just incredible support from everyone–  James with his genuine words of support, Sym, Rob and Nic’s notes on my progression, all the other critical components that got this off the ground and me on the stage.  I refuse to list you all in an arbitrary shopping list – but these productions require many hands, many minds and many hearts.

The Manpack 2.0 was incredible. What a group of talented, well rounded, supportive and empathetic Aussie blokes who happened to do a bit of dancing. Everyone a brilliant person – everyone in their own way, critical to the success of this show the second time around.

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The amazing A Light Shade of Red cast with the wisened (old) The Beauty Index Cast – and Annette (Pic: Nic Duncan)

Community dance has given me the chance to interact with some incredible professionals. Some incredible gracious, generous and genuine individuals who created an environment for me to step up and thrive. Sandi Woo was a reassuring force for me in both performances. We have come a long way since our first meet and greet and I would like to think I’ve stepped up the quality of our interactions since then. It was such a privilege to have had such a quality human being and seasoned professional support our cast through these two seasons. A talented champion.

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Sandi Woo, keeping it serious in the high pressure zone back stage (Pic: Nic Duncan)

Pina Busch Fellowship Alumni Scott Elstermann. Our bro-love got a bit too much for everyone else by the end, but what a bloody talent. Seriously. My admiration (bordering on adulation) was not unusual – the ManPack were transfixed whenever Scott rehearsed with us. To have not just the honour to rehearse so closely was so special, let alone watch him perform. And personally, to actually have the chance to perform a duet alongside Scott is something I’ll never forget. I don’t know what Scott is going to achieve over the next few years, but I’ll watching. You should too.

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Scott (Pic: Nic Duncan)

Finally, the force that is Annette Carmichael. Annette has an amazing ability to turn everyday people in to performers. It is not about 15 minutes of fame – but an opportunity to expand their personal identity. It draws you in and allows you to grow. Annette convinced us that we were worthy of the audience’s gaze. She built us up to be ready to take on the challenge – and stepped back as we stepped up. Her ability to weave a special place of magic for everyday humans to do something extraordinary is unique. Denmark and rural WA is fortunate to have her.

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Annette found a way to turn a footy player in to a dancer. I still don’t know how (Pic: Alison Bennett-Taylor)

I love this project. It has given me far more than I feel that I have given it, as the returns were so great. From the mental health benefits from expanding my creative mind; to becoming part of a Manpack; to taking up a new challenge. The physical benefits. The new opportunities. The improvements and impacts for our family and my relationship. The joy of seeing two small boys take to the stage a few weeks after my own show – the original reason to jump off and be involved was to show my sons they too could dance if they wanted to.

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Jack performing a solo onstage

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Henrik onstage

This project has brought me so much and genuinely made my life better than it was. I owe this project. I owe Annette for believing in me to fulfill my role in it. There is no pressure or obligation to repay the debt, but a passion to ensure that others have the chance to challenge themselves and reap their own personal benefits.

The next chapter: Annette is seeking Two hundred women (!) to perform in her next dance performance called Chorus (Denmark, Albany, Mandurah, Bunbury, Perth and Ravensthorpe) Workshops will take place across the South of WA July – Dec 2019 leading to performances in March 2020. Don’t make excuses – if I can, anyone can. Email your interest at projects@annettecarmichael.com.au.

A beautiful and honouring documentary from Rob Castiglione from last time around:

We made the paper:

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Another review:

https://www.seesawmag.com.au/news/youthful-exuberance-creates-a-future-from-the-past/

And the full show on Youtube:

 

Mike Nahan and a cynical attempt to grab votes

“The Government has come and cut a whole range of programs to fund Safe Schools. My statement is — the better allocation is going back to the programs they cut, rather than Safe Schools.” Thanks for the statement, Mike Nahan. You’ve inspired me to write to the Education Minister after she shot you down.

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We’ve seen how effective targeting Safe Schools was for conservative politicians Federally and on the east coast – so it is no real surprise that WA conservatives have finally caught up. Hell, everything from policy, to road safety campaigns, to health systems to education initiatives comes from Victoria about five years late – so there shouldn’t really be a surprise. In fact, the Safe Schools Coalition launched in WA years after it had been running successfully over east since 2010.

An in some ways – you have to give Mike some credit. He hasn’t JUST attacked Safe Schools.  He didn’t just come after a program that has run in one form or another in WA since 2015. Mike rolled this in to the Moora College issue to make it really difficult to argue against if you love rural kids. A side note, what he is referring to is actually called Inclusive Education WA here – but conservative voters wouldn’t recognise that, so I understand why he didn’t used the right name.

So lets have a look at some things.

We’ll put aside the details on the program it self – the ridiculous and often homophobic/transphobic claims around the material and how it is implemented have been answered elsewhere.

Just to be clear: If you think Safe Schools has anything to do with Marxism, sexualises children, brainwashing kids in to being lesbian/gay/bi/trans/intersex or parents don’t have a say – you are an idiot. Seriously. You are. Sorry (not sorry) you are offended, but you obviously lack to ability to critically analyse the homophobic hate propaganda peddled by disgusting creatures such as Lyle Shelton.

If for some reason you need to be convinced, go read any of these and come back:

Welcome back. So – this program won’t turn your kids gay or trans – but what it aims to do is create school environments where every students can learn, every teacher can teach and every family can belong. Bloody shocking.

Mike Nahan has done a great job this week of reminding WA that this program exists. It existed under his government of course, running while he was Treasurer since 2015 – but why get caught up on that. I know he hasn’t:

“There are very few new programs that the Labor Government has come up with, one of them is Safe Schools”- Mike Nahan (quote from ABC)

Mr Nahan also cares a lot about rural people and the Moora College. So this hugely expensive program will be cut to fund the Liberal Government’s refurbishment of the College. Just so we are clear, Inclusive Education is funded for $1.2 million dollars. Over 4 years. Costs of refurbishing Moora College are predicted at being somewhere between $700k (Mike’s estimate) to $7.2 million (Labor’s numbers). This doesn’t include ongoing running costs or the existing maintenance budget ($350k).

“If we win government, [we will] renew the funding for Moore Residential College, no operating costs. Landsdale College, Herdsman Eco Centre and the farm schools, not a large amount of money, by cutting back at Safe Schools and putting that money back into existing programs for education.”  – Mike Nahan (quote from ABC)

If we win. Great line. Only issue with this, of course being the next election isn’t due until around 2021. Inclusive Education WA would’ve been funded approximately $1 million dollars in that time, with $350k left to put towards the refurbishment. Other small issue is that Moora College will close at the end of the year, so Mike’s new Liberal Government 2021 will have to refurbish it, and reopen it and set it up with a maintenance budget.

“The Government has come and cut a whole range of programs to fund Safe Schools. My statement is — the better allocation is going back to the programs they cut, rather than Safe Schools,” – Mike Nahan (quote from ABC)

Now, good on Mike for sticking up for the rural kids at Moora College. The problem is – Mike can’t help Moora now or next year. So why pledge funding to it three years out from the next election? Why target a program that was running (admitted Federally funded by the Liberal Government) when Mike’s party was in power?

Well – I my personal take is that it is a dog whistle to conservative voters. This paired with his attack on mainstream media reeks of Trumpist populist politics.There are other things he could’ve focussed on to “cut” once (if?) he regains power in 2021. Its a big budget. Targeting Inclusive Education WA is not accidental.

This is the reason I was moved to write to Education Minister, Sue Ellery today supporting her rebuttal of Mr Nahan’s comments. Calling for her to continue to support Inclusive Education WA. It is why I’m pleading with you to write to her, or email her and thank her. Today.

“Safe Schools is an important program designed to ensure safer school environments, for those public secondary schools that decide to access it,” Education Minister Sue Ellery said. (quote from ABC)

Don’t let populist politics impact on vulnerable WA kids. LGBTI kids experience some terrible outcomes without support from families and schools. Programs like Inclusive Education WA. So stand up, step up and stick up for these kids.

They are our future, they deserve to be loved and supported – don’t let them down.

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Contact details for Sue Ellery

How to address an MP

Letter to Sue Ellery

Plastic bag ban and other ways make less waste

WA just banned lightweight plastic bags and the whole word imploded as dog poo was left on grassy parks, bins became filthy and nappies spewed their unrestrained contents in to the streets. The NT banned plastic bags six years ago, but here in WA it is a day-by-day struggle to survive in this new landscape.

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So now, as WA joins South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory in banning lightweight plastic bags,and in preparation for when Victoria gets its act together, I’m looking at how our family has tried to make some small changes to reduce our plastic use and waste generation.

Full disclosure on these ideas: we did have a head start, being in the NT when the ban came through there; and we do live in a town that pro-actively decided to #BanTheBag early; and we do hang out with a lot of really environmentally conscious humans who don’t have a blog to share their ideas on.

Now, personally, I think this ban is great. Is it full-proof? No. Will it remove all plastic bags from waste – of course not. But we have to do something.

Making the argument that other’s won’t change so why should we – especially if it personally costs us puts you in the same category as Tony Abbott on climate change and Malcolm Turnbull on paying taxes. Or Andrew Bolt on plastic bags. Have a look at the company you are keeping before arguing with me about needing plastic bin liners or the fact that Indonesia and China will keep producing plastic. Save your breath. Go explain your position to a drowned turtle on the beach somewhere.

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I am looking at you. You and your whole damn species.

Now, in my local town, one little store took the plunge and went early banned the bag before the mandatory period. People continued to shop there and despite the other IGA in town abandoning a voluntary scheme one day in to it after failing to prepare its staff in customer service and education; the IGA X-Press kept its doors open and hordes of angry shoppers didn’t ransack the store. Amazing.

How any store around the state is coping day-today now the ban is mandatory, is anyone’s guess; but I’m sure they survived the initial looting.

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In the wider world, in what can only be described as an amazing example of a feckless corporate entity being completely unable to read the room, Coles launched its Little Shop Collectables. I assume it all ties in with Coles “Better Bags” scheme in a move that just leaves you shaking your head. Seriously, who is running the joint. If you ever needed a reason to not shop at a major store, that would be it. Coles and Woolies have struggled with the banning of the bag, and will no doubt slowly adjust. How places like Aldi, or Bunnings, or farmers markets keep people from burning the place down is anyone’s guess.

So, how do you survive without a bin liner?

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Bin liners

News flash. You don’t actually need one. I know this is a hard concept to understand, but the “necessity” of a bin liner is a lie. Bin liners were a solution to a problem we didn’t have and using plastic bags from the shops as a bin liner is just an extension of that. the outcry that the ban on plastic bags will lead to more people buying heavy plastic bin liners is right in one sense – except it doesn’t make sense because you don’t NEED a bin liner.

Now, I hear you – my bin might stink, or my bin might get sticky, or my rubbish won’t be a neat little bag of waste to carry out. It will be ok. We use newspaper to line the base of out bin, and shockingly, just empty our bin in the big bin when it needs to be emptied, and horrendously, give is a little wash with some vinegar and water if it needs a rinse out. There are great videos on line of how to make a bin liner out of newspaper. Aint no body got time for that – I just jam it in there.

Now, you might not buy the newspaper. Then use what comes through your junk mail. But that’s not recycling Carl – no its not, but wrapping biodegradable food waste in a plastic bag and putting it in the bin is not a better solution. Got dripping meat carcass that you need to put in the bin? Wrap it in paper first and empty you bin before it starts to stink.

Don’t buy newspapers ever or get junk mail – grab one of the free community newspapers that is available in your shopping centre – there’s the sweet little “good news” ones if that takes your fancy. Or, save your how to vote cards from the by-elections we seem to have every second week and use those.

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You don’t need a little bag when you are buying fruit

You know how you have to put your apples in a little plastic bag before you take them to the counter to get them weighed? You don’t. Its a bit more hair-raising dealing with a couple of dozen loose fruit at the counter (not a euphemism) and can take more time – but you don’t HAVE to use the little bags. Use your own reusable bags and wash your fruit at home if your worried your bags aren’t super clean (you were probably going to wash your fruit anyway).

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Same goes for meat. Our local butcher encourages people to bringing in their own containers to reduce the amount of plastic bags he uses. Have a chat to your local butcher, or your supermarket and see if they’ll let you do that too.

Handling nappies and dog poo

Now, we were pretty obnoxiously good about nappies and used bamboo cotton washable nappies for 90% of the time with our boys, so are pretty smug and annoying on this. Part of that effort was a desire to not contribute to landfill in a massive way when we moved to Indonesia for six months with a three month old. Not, again, I know that washing nappies takes energy, which is normally supplied by fossil fuels, but I did seem better than disposable nappies ending up in the river behind our house.

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But when it comes to disposing of your dirty nappies – just ask your self: do I NEED to put this in a nappy bag, or can it go straight in the bin. Sometimes, things have gotten explosive and a bag is needed – but if your using scented nappy bags to keep your bin smelling “fresh”, you are a) misunderstanding the use of your bin, and b) spending too much time near it.

What about dog poo? Well, this might shock you – but wrapping biodegradable poo in a plastic bag and throwing it in the bin might not be great for the environment.

Even biodegradable bags aren’t that great at biodegrading in landfill with your tightly rapped schnauzer shite in it. So, again, use newspaper. Seriously, if you think using a couple sheets of community newspaper is any more gross that picking up a huge steaming dog turd with a sheer plastic barrier between you and the faeces – you don’t own a big dog. At least using a sheet of newspaper gets the turd out of your line of sight.

Just buy less plastic

Obviously. Yet not that obvious. Try and buy things in glass, or at worse recyclable plastics. Try to avoid buying pre-wrapped fruit and veg – don’t give in to the stores. I know people with disability or the elderly need some pre-cut vegetables to diversify their meals – but it should not be the norm.

Likewise, think about recycling and reusing – what can you get from you local op shop that is plastic that you need. We can all be better at this, but next time have a look and see what you can grab – from containers to office supplies.

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What goes in my bin

Between our compost bin (and before they got foxed, our chooks), recycling and reusing – we’ve dramatically reduced what does go in to our bin each week. To the point we’ve now reduced our bin pick up to fortnightly. Yep, you can do that in some places, it saves you money on your rates and forces you to evaluate what goes in to the bin. Call your Council and ask. We also use a much smaller wheelie bin. Just don’t forget on your on week.

Composting is amazing. There are ways to do it in the inner city and you can get composting in your apartment too. We use our composted material in our garden beds for growing vegies (and self-seeded pumpkins) and it dramatically reduces the amount of fresh waste you throw in your bin. You start analysing everything that goes in. The City of Melville is even letting residents use their green waste bin as a compost bin – which is just amazing in my book.

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Shaving and toothbrushes

I’ve just recently made the switch over to dual edge razors and I’m angry at myself for not doing it sooner. It always bothered me that I was throwing out so many disposable razors. Even the reusable handle style ones have a plastic head. I tried an electric razor for a while, but that just left me with short stubble. So, after years of living off of a three-to-four day shave cycle to minimise my razor use, I jumped on to Beard and Blade and bought a double edge razor and some shaving soap (to get away from the mass produced stuff).

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I have to say, its early doors, but the shave I’m getting is much, much closer (first one was too close, but once you have the knack on pressure, the shaving rash subsides). I’ve doubled down sive then an ordered some more blades for my razor. I’ve been really impressed with how long they’ve lasted, but i also wanted to buy myself a wooden toothbrush. Again, early days – but I’ve been really impressed with it, and every time I brush my teeth I know get to look at myself smugly in the mirror in the knowledge that my tooth brush handle (the bristles aren’t wooden, unfortunately) won’t end up in landfill for centuries.

That is what this is all about. The smugness reduction of what ends up in landfill and doing our bit – despite those who aren’t doing there bit.