‘Our waste, our responsibility’: Federal Budget’s $250 million step up

I wrote this for Clean Up Australia after this year’s Budget announcement.

Last Tuesday’s Budget, although short on environmental measures, included some good news – an extra $250 million to update Australia’s recycling infrastructure. 

Turning waste into jobs

Clean energy and recycling were listed as one of six priority areas for manufacturing in the next 10 years. Treasurer Josh Frydenburg framed the measure in terms of creating 10,000 jobs and helping the environment. He said the improved infrastructure would stop more than 600,000 tonnes of waste ending up in landfill. Improved infrastructure would help the industry to sort, process and remanufacture paper, glass, plastics and tyres.

By 2024, the plan is to spend $190 million on the new Recycling Modernisation Fund and $24.6 million to improve waste data and reporting.
Federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley called the measure ‘A once in a generation opportunity to remodel waste management, reduce pressure on our environment and create economic opportunity.’
Australian-made recycled products in government infrastructure projects compulsory. ‘All of these actions continue to encourage at best a closed loop system. If we are serious about transitioning Australia to a circular economy, then emphasis must be given to the design of products’, she said. 
Josh Frydenberg quoted Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the August 2019 ban on exporting our waste – plastic, paper, tyres and glass – ‘it’s our waste, it’s our responsibility’.

So what can you do to take responsibility and help close the recycling loop? 

Clean Up Australia’s National Packaging Targets include to have 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging in use by 2025 and 50% of recycled content included in packaging. To truly close the loop, we need to grow the demand for recycled materials. Take a look at our guide to buying recycled and Step Up by buying recycled.

To win a medal at the 2020 Paralympics, just train like crazy and then try your heart out. Oh, and make sure no pandemics shatter your plans

I interviewed Ella Jones, Paralympic contender, in 2019. Now the games are postponed to 2021.

Ella Jones’s selection to represent Australia at the World Para-swimming Championships after only three years as a swimmer is evidence of her extraordinary persistence.

The 18-year-old has never let conforming – or her disability – get in the way of success.

Three short years ago, Ella Jones would not have picked herself as representing her country in an international swimming competition. In April she got the news that she’d made the Australian Dolphins team.

The teenager is heading for the World Para-swimming Championships in London in September, one of nine new members of the 34-strong squad.

A good showing in London will see her in line for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. The achievement is all the more extraordinary as Ella, who has cerebral palsy, only began swimming at age 15.

“The most exercise I’d done before I started swimming was running after the ice-cream truck,” she said.

“If you’d told me as a chubby 15-year-old I’d make the world para championships, I’d go yeah, righto.”

Ella’s mum, Sharon, persuaded her to try swimming because she needed something to do.

“I was being a right 15-year-old ratbag, every parent’s worst nightmare,” Jones said.

“I’d tried other sports but nothing really clicked.”

She’d had a go at swimming at 14, in a class with six-year-olds near her home in western Sydney. After a few lessons, the instructor told Sharon that she was never going to be a very good swimmer.

Sharon was having none of it and took her to the pool at Springwood in the Blue Mountains. Nick Robinson, who specialises in coaching kids with disabilities, spotted her potential. He arranged with Sharon to train her.

“From the first session I knew she had the ability to go all the way,” he said.

She’s lost 23 kilograms since then. Sitting at the side of the pool in her gym training gear, her blonde hair piled on top of her head, she looks every bit the athlete.

As well as swimming, losing the weight meant cutting out daily trips to the fish and chip shop with her school friends.

“I was so unfit,” she recalls.

“When I got to the end of 25 metres I would hang over the edge, absolutely dying.”

She can now swim five or six-kilometre sets for hours each day and fits in several gym sessions a week. Since her selection for the Dolphins, she has added weekly strength and conditioning sessions with a trainer with who specialises in training athletes with cerebral palsy. She’s had to sacrifice a lot to get there.

For one thing, conventional school had to go by the wayside. She signed up with the TAFE Pathways last year but has had to let that go too.

“I was really struggling to get it all done; struggling to get help. When you train by yourself and you’re doing all your schoolwork by yourself, you want a bit of human interaction,” she said.

She’s now completing a bridging course to study midwifery at university.

Her biggest sacrifices, however, have been social. The bubbly and gregarious teenager finds missing out on birthday parties and the like can be isolating but it’s the everyday interactions she misses most.

“It’s the little things, teenage normalcy stuff like going to the pub for the first time,” she said.

Because of her heavy training schedule and swim meets, Ella didn’t have her ritual first night in the pub until three months after her birthday.

It’s given her wisdom beyond her 18 years.

“You definitely lose friends, she says, ‘but the ones that you lose are the ones you don’t mind losing. I realise now that they weren’t friends anyway. You have to grow up really quickly, but it’s totally worth it.”

Her drive is extraordinary.

Her coach Nick said, “Of every swimmer I’ve had, there’s none that wants to give more time and effort than Ella. I’ve seen her lie on the edge of the pool, shaking like a leaf, not able to move.”

Ella is one of triplets with Daniel and Georgia, and also has an older brother, Joshua. The family is sporty. Mum Sharon and Dad Chris were keen netball and soccer players, and her siblings have followed in their footsteps. They’re close-knit and like to get together with their extended family.

“We don‘t have to do anything big, as long as we’re together,” she said.

“We’re all a little bit crazy and so it’s a lot of fun.”

Her family never treated her differently because of her cerebral palsy, for which she is hugely grateful.

“They’ll have a joke about it, and that’s really helped me to be okay with it and take the piss out of myself.”

Early childhood was tough at times. Her mum would stretch Ella’s legs each morning so that she could manage to get out of bed and get ready for school. Teachers aids would help her move around, but this didn’t stop her being shoved down the stairs on one occasion. Girls didn’t want to play with her because they thought her cerebral palsy was contagious.

“I didn’t have my own understanding of how CP affected my body, so how could I explain that to another kid? I thought you can’t catch CP. If that was the case my brother and sister would have it right now. I was obviously different and got picked on a bit.”

Ever wise and resilient, she adds, “But hey, I think maybe everybody’s got a story like that. I don’t think it was specifically because of my CP.”

Ella’s classification for the para-swimming is S8, for swimmers with full use of their arms and trunk and some leg movement because of how CP affects her, she swims freestyle and backstroke and finds breaststroke too painful on her legs.

Freestyle is her strongest stroke, as she’s predominantly arms-based.

“I lack spatial awareness below my waist,” she said.

“When I ‘m in the water, if I’m not looking at my legs I have no idea where they are.”

Her starts and turns are the same as for an able-bodied swimmer, but she doesn’t get the same distance and thrust from them. Although cerebral palsy affects everybody differently, one of the characteristics of swimmers with CP is that they fatigue easily. Tiredness increases clonus, a neurologically induced muscle spasm that causes shaking.

In London, Ella will swim against only those in the S8 class for the first time.

In Australia there are not enough para-swimmers to hold separate events in each category, so places are determined by times swum. The closer a swimmer gets to the world record in their classification, the more points they win. She’s the only competitive S8 swimmer in Australia and the only female S8 on the team.

For the first time, Ella will swim a race where the winner is she who hits the wall first.

“After a race, I physically can’t hold myself up,” Jones said.

She has a wheelchair waiting for her at the end of the pool, which she uses to get herself over to the warm-down pool.

“I’ll shake for a little bit, and then I just put on my fins, plop into the pool and do my warm-down. And then I’m pretty much good again.”

That’s a good summation of Ella’s approach to life. Train like crazy and then try your heart out. Have the help you need close to hand, fall down in a shaking heap when you need to, and then get up and just keep on going until you win.

A love letter to my gym

Dear Gym,

I have to get this off my chest.

I didn’t appreciate you until you weren’t there, and for that I’m truly sorry. Please forgive me. I admit I took you for granted, acted like you’ll always be there for me. Until you weren’t. Even though it was circumstances that drove us apart, I missed you. At first the longing was vague and occasional – a glimpse of exercise gear in my drawer, my gym bag in the back of the car. These things made me remember you and smile. Then the longing became intense, and I ached for you.

Sure, there were other ways to exercise. Online classes and walking the dog filled the void for a while. At times I thought Zoom classes were right for me. But when the novelty wore off, Gym, all I wanted was to have you back.

And so to be with you again now is a joy. I’ve missed your smooth carpeted floors, the clunk of your weights in their rack, the embrace of cool water in your 25 metre pool.

I know we have to take it slowly for now, not get to close, meet only by appointment. That’s okay with me. You deserve my full effort – I know that now. I’ll never treat you with indifference again.

You may not look like much from the outside, but inside you’re truly wonderful. With you, I’m  strong. I can take on the weight of the world. You keep me afloat. You make me more flexible. I never want to be without you again.

I love you, Gym. 

John Hockney’s memoir The Hockneys: Never Worry What the Neighbours Think to be published in October

John Hockney’s memoir is to be published in October 2019 by Legend Press. I was honoured to edit it before submission. It’s a very satisfying aspect of my work to help writers  get their book published.  Legend Press includes top Australian writers Mark Brandi and Alice Pung on its list.

John Hockney is a professional storyteller and brother of the artist David Hockney. He  helps others to write their life stories. I met him at a wonderful workshop he ran in the Blue Mountains. I went on to work with him on his manuscript before he submitted it for publication. That it took only a couple of months before it was snapped up is testament to what  a great story he has told.

John Hockney: storyteller

Before I did his workshop ‘Your Life – Your Story’,  I heard John talk about life with his brother, world-renowned artist David Hockney. David’s exhibition Words & Pictures opened at Blue Mountains City Art Gallery in October 2017. I remember thinking, ‘He should write a book’.

John Hockney tells his story going back two generations. His grandfather was a founding member of the Salvation Army in Bradford in England’s industrial north. His grandmother would made him a cup of cocoa with whole milk – not the watered-down variety he had at home – after he had dragged home her shopping in his billycart.

You would expect that the world-famous artist David might dominate the book, but John gives every member of his brilliant and eccentric family their due.  His father, who liked to wear brightly coloured stick-on dots on his bow tie, was always true to his moral compass. His sister Margaret produced an art work of a squid squashed on her scanner. It was accepted in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The theme that they never worried what the neighbours think runs thorough the book.

With his closely observed detail and exceptional storytelling,  John Hockney combines the two essentials of memoir or autobiography: have a great story to tell and write it well. It’s often funny and always honest and true. My understanding of what life was like in  post-war Britain was so enriched. My appreciation of what it means to be part of a family – in all its crazy complexity – was deepened immeasurably.

The book is available in hardcover from Book Depository.

(Not) Remembering Bob Hawke

I didn’t live in Australia during the Hawke years. I knew nothing about Australian politics; I was caught up in the turmoil of my own country, South Africa.

But I went to the memorial service for Bob Hawke. It was by chance, really. I was in Sydney and the morning news reminded me that this was the day. I was catching the ferry to Circular Quay anyway, so I strolled over to the Opera House for a bit of a stickybeak.

After an hour or so of celebrity spotting, chatting to friendly strangers and snapping politicians alighting from their official vehicles, I felt compelled to stay for the ceremony.

I left feeling rather emotional, and with some unexpected reflections on my adopted country.

After Tiananmen

I can’t claim to be as deeply affected by Hawke’s legacy as the 40,000 Chinese students he allowed to stay in Australia after the Tiananmen Square massacre. One of these told me, tears welling in his eyes, how he owed his life to Hawke. Another was there with his wife and daughter. They each carried a bouquet, his daughter’s made up of natives and wildflowers; his with orchids. He showed me the condolence card which read: ‘Always in my heart. As many Chinese students, my life changed forever when Mr Hawke offered us to stay in 1989.’

Xuesu Dai with his bouquet for Bob Hawke

My homeland, South Africa, owes a debt of gratitude to the former PM for his support of economic sanctions against the apartheid regime. I was ambushed by a rush of emotion when he and Nelson Mandela, who was beloved to us as Hawke was to Australia, appeared on the big screen in front of the Opera House steps. Back in the 80s, sanctions were one of the prongs of attack that that led to Apartheid’s downfall. Trade unionist Bill Kelty told the crowd how Nelson Mandela had been buoyed by Hawke’s support. I was a hopeful twenty-something in South Africa at the time. A woman who had travelled from Hobart specifically for the memorial service confided that Hawke had shaped her and her generation. Across the Indian Ocean, he had also played a part in shaping mine.

I had many conversations outside the venue. We agreed: Penny Wong for President, we missed Malcolm Turnbull in the light of subsequent events, and didn’t Quentin Bryce present as the epitome of elegance. The easy friendliness, the lack of pomp and ceremony and relaxed, happy atmosphere was striking. Those who had come to pay our respects and to spot a politician or two mingled with MPs, actors, media personalities and past politicians. Security was undoubtedly there, in the form of police patrols, a helicopter circling overhead and security details for many of the guests. But there were none of the machine guns and flak jackets we have come to see as normal in a post-9/11 world. I reflected on how lucky were to live in  a country where you could walk up to an MP or an ex-party leader and shake their hand and say hi, love your work.

Australia before Hawke

I hadn’t been aware of just how significant the changes Hawke brought were. Before him, Australia didn’t sound much like a place anybody would want to come to. It was shut off from the Asia-Pacific region and in ways to the rest of the world, far away and insular and with a government that wielded more power than is comfortable. Hawke’s granddaughter Sophie Taylor-Price reminded us that Antarctica could have been a mining site were it not for her grandfather. One of her first memories is of sitting by her Pop’s side as he pleaded for rejecting the destruction of one of Earth’s last wild places. The four-year-old with a coloured pencil in her hand credits this moment as the start of her journey to being an environmental protector.

As we sat on the steps, around us life went on as usual. People jogged by on their lunchtime runs, groups of schoolkids made their way to the ferries and trains at Circular Quay, looking mildly curious about the crowd of mostly grey-haired citizens on the steps; not concerned enough to stop. Bob Hawke understood that we owe it to these kids, the young office workers out for their midday runs, the baffled tourists, to do better.

‘I don’t exude morality’

Most of the audience would remember a kinder time when politicians were not crucified for their imperfections. Anthony Albanese remembered Hawke saying: ‘I have credibility because I don’t exude morality’. Hawke could be a bit of a boozer, loved a punt on the horses and could lose his temper with people in his office – including Paul Keating – without being excoriated on Twitter. I don’t think Scott Morrison would get away with synchronising parliamentary adjournments with the races, as Hawke did with the Arbitration Commission according to Bill Kelty.

Blanche d’Alpuget, Bob Hawke’s widow, asked that we make his death a turning point in the history of Australia. Everybody who spoke pleaded for us to listen to the young, to take a long view on our children’s future, and to remember that the reforms of the eighties, tough as they may have seemed, made Australia a better nation.

Writing True Stories


Patti Miller has created the complete guide to writing autobiography, memoir, personal essay, biography, travel and creative nonfiction

Great cover design!

People who have attended Patti Miller’s highly rated memoir-writing workshops have recommended this book to me to me more than once. I’ll admit to not having read it cover to cover yet. But I want to approach it like a course in creative nonfiction writing and work through it systematically.

Writing True Stories grew out of writing workshops the author ran at Varuna, the Writer’s House in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. And this shows in its practical approach, as it is written as a series of workshops, covering sources, voice, structure, narrative and style and editing.

Take the masterclass

Part Two consists of masterclasses that extend the skills in the first part. It deals with genre: memoir, creative nonfiction, essay and more. The last (brief) chapter is about publishing. Miller writes about commercial publication and self-publishing and how to present your work to agents and publishers. Although there’s a lot more that could be said about publishing, that’s best left to a another book.


A reading list and a page of useful contacts rounds out Writing True Stories. I can’t wait to get started on honing my skills before I get my project, now at the research stage, underway.

Listening to ‘Truth, bullsh*t and weasel words’


It has nothing to do with love, and everything to do with the fact that I can’t stand corporate speak.

Anybody who loves clear writing knows – and loves – Don Watson. I took the opportunity to hear him speak as part of Sydney Ideas, the University of Sydney’s public events program last week. His books on language include Weasel Words, Bendable Learnings and Death Sentence: The decay of public language.

This question-and-answer session focused on language in political discourse, about which there is plenty to lament. We’ve seen a profound change in news media in the last while, Watson argued, which has changed news into a combat between talking heads. And while there has always been lies and trickery in politics, we are now less able to judge truth and lies as politics has become so tribal. The suggestibility of the public has risen at the same rate as the lies.

And along came Trump

Trump, of course, had to be discussed. Watson pointed out that he ‘didn’t drop from the sky’: Bannon et al figured out that what we saw on our screens was what was important. All he had to do was make sure Trump was the centre of the story. And we can agree that Trump has been pretty good at keeping himself there, front and centre day after frustrating day.

So what’s the answer?

The refreshing thing about hearing this witty, accomplished and intelligent speaker and writer is that he didn’t pretend to have the answers. Is it education? That’s part of it. Better journalism? It would help, and it would go a long way if journalists bothered to consult academics when writing their stories. Are independent candidates making things better? At least they save us from the party operatives who are presently running the show, and make us begin to think again.

And those weasel words?

I discovered that a book is to be referred to as a ‘cultural externality’. When he was asked what his (least) favourite weasel words were. Watson listed:

  • impact, and more particularly impactful learnings
  • window of opportunity
  • appropriate and/or inappropriate

You can contribute your own to Don Watson’s website. The next day I noticed this one in Sydney’s Hyde Park:

‘For your safety we advise you not to visit the park during or just after heavy rain and strong winds because of the risk of tree failure.’

If I’m not wrong, that’s a piece of tree falling on your head, whether anybody’s there to hear it or not.

Who Touched Base in My Thought Shower?

A Treasury of Unbearable Office Jargon

By Steven Poole

We hate it, we laugh about it, and then sometimes we hear it come from our own mouths. The horrible jargon that was once confined to office life slowly ekes its way into everyday language. So ‘leverage’ started in high finance, and now it’s everywhere. The first time I heard somebody say they’d ‘reached out’ to a colleague, I was alarmed; now I think I might have said it in a meeting, once. I’ve created a list of alternatives for some of the worst words.

An A to Z of unbearable jargon

I bought this book because I do find office jargon unbearable. I also love a good laugh, and this provides an A to Z of amusing entries. Here’s one of my favourites.

Going forward helpfully implies a kind of thrustingly strategic process, and moving forward perhaps even more so – even though none is likely to be made as long as the work-day is made up of funereal meetings where people say things like ‘going forward’.

Who Touched Base in My Thought Shower, p. 91

The alternatives to ‘going forward’, ‘in future’ or ‘from now on’, don’t have the implication that the slate is being wiped clean. Using them might sound rather like owning up to a mistake. ‘We won’t charge dead customers in future’ has a different ring to it.

If you write in your job, get your hands on this book. Every time you want to use a tired office cliche, such as bandwidth, leverage or deliverables. You’ll find an alternative. Or if you work in an office and want to know what a brown-bag session is, or what they really meant by saying they would ‘open the kimono’, look it up.

Then circle back to me with your favourites.

Mark Tredinnick’s Little Red Writing Book

There are many books, courses and workshops that teach writing. I’ve found many of them inspiring, motivating and full of great tips. For my money, this book is the best.

I’d advise anybody who wants to write better to sign up for a face-to-face course in the first instance. In Sydney, Writing NSW and the Australian Writers’ Centre both offer excellent courses on a range of genres, both creative and for business purposes. Varuna in the Blue Mountains has wonderful literary programs. In any face-to-face course, you’ll benefit from the interaction with other writers as well as from the course content.

Great add-on to a face-to-face course

The Little Red Writing Book is a great add-on to any writing course. And if you can’t do a course in person, it’s an extremely good substitute. It’s approach is that good sentences are the basis of all good writing. Any writing, from business reports to scripts for your podcast, starts with sentence construction. Clarity is vital, style is everything.

Tredinnick writes both clearly and poetically, so working through The Little Red Writing Book is a joy. It has plenty of writing exercises (do them!) and examples, and processes to help you get your writing project out of your head and into shareable form.

There are six chapters. Try setting yourself the goal of working through one chapter a month. By September you will be a much better writer, guaranteed.

The Little Red Writing Book has a sibling: The Little Green Grammar Book. Catch up on everything they should have taught you in school.

Why you should always have an atlas to hand


Which is larger, Corsica or Sardinia? Which is the least densely populated country in the world? Where exactly is Yemen?

I bought this atlas to answer questions like these. After a couple of school trivia nights, I realised my geographical knowledge was scant and outdated. I find I can browse its maps for hours and it has readily accessible information about all things geographic. Basic map symbols are explained and things like time zones and national flags are included. There are interesting facts to be found, such as that in 1950 there were 82 countries and by 2011 there were 196, South Sudan being the newest. The smallest is Vatican City, at only half a square kilometre.

Use a concise atlas for quick fact checks

A concise atlas like this one is useful for an editor in checking facts: latitude and longitude, capital cities, rivers, lakes and other landforms that it’s easy to get wrong. What’s the correct way to write Russian or Korean names in English? The Collins World Atlas has used the name forms approved by the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Use. These are the accepted way to display non-Roman alphabet names in English. The atlas’s comprehensive index makes it easy to check spellings and pinpoint exact locations. Be sure that there will always be a reader willing to alert you – and the world – to your errors if facts like these are not correct.

Another good use of the atlas is for leisurely browsing, placing characters from novels I’ve read in their landscapes, following the course of a river I hadn’t heard of before, wondering about the seemingly arbitrary nature of borders and marvelling at the intricacy of our little blue planet.