Words by Joshua Green
Here’s the thing: I love a Snapchat. It might be from a close friend, a family member, or even that middle-aged African-American woman whom I haven’t had the heart to delete. I don’t really care. All I know is that I’m thankful for the weird and wonderful world that is unveiled to me through this little yellow app.
Not that long ago selfies were considered passé and the domain of the teenybopper minority (and Kevin Rudd). Not anymore. Today they are being reclaimed by the masses and to great affect.
Snaps I have received include a magical melange of drunken singing (most regularly ‘Drunk In Love’), grotesque facial expressions, and artfully rendered drawings of penises over people’s faces.Who wouldn’t want that?
For ten seconds I am privileged with a snapshot into that person’s life, a shared digital moment that breaks down any time/space division between us. We are free to let our wild side shine like a beacon to anyone on our contact list.
To those who might scoff at the Snapchat enthusiasts among us, I ask you to consider the ramifications of a world without this platform. The risk of your parents seeing you singing Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’ atop a bed might be reduced (apologies Mum and Dad), certainly—but what else might be lost?
Snapchat is not solely for the imbibers and eccentrics. I’ve known entire relationships that have been conducted via the platform. Sending a bedtime selfie, a perfectly tousled morning selfie, even the occasional ‘bored in a lecture but still looking hot’ selfie. And while photographic traditionalists might snicker at this, I think it’s got something going for it.
As a member of Gen Y, I go mad for any new form of social media. MSN, Bebo, Facebook, Instagram,… even LinkedIn; I’ve had them all. But the real human quality is missing in all these platforms.
This is where Snapchat comes in: as the technological home base for sharing insignificant moments. An outlet for serial sexters who do not want their wobbly bits splashed across the frightening sphere that is the Facebook news feed. A digital vortex that is willing to forget the drunken shenanigans of a big night faster than you do.
This is not to suggest that Snapchat serves as some kind of Utopian platform, rekindling real human contact in the cold digital age. A dick pic does not a relationship make. However, in contrast to the highly edited, permanent realms of other social media, it is a step closer to reality. Ily Snapchat. Stay golden.
Words by Alexander Sheko
Snapchat, if left unchecked and unchallenged, will lead to nothing less than the collapse of Western civilization, if not humanity itself. I guarantee this, and plenty of my predictions have come true in the past. For example, the other day, I correctly foretold that Andrew Bolt would publish a laughable and borderline offensive editorial piece in the Herald Sun.
The first reason why Snapchat will lead to the end of life as we know it is that it promotes a frighteningly dangerous level of narcissism by encouraging its users (mostly those pesky and entitled Gen Y-ers) to pester their contemporaries with snaps (as it were) of their mundane and tedious lives. Many users even take “selfies” to send to their friends; such is the level of their self-fascination!
I once tried to take a selfie. It appeared there was something wrong with the front-facing camera on my phone so I had to do it the “old-fashioned” way. It was very awkward and I ended up dropping my phone. The fall of my phone to the ground was surely nothing but a portent of the fall of humanity that is to come because of this app.
Secondly, Snapchat discriminates against those with fingers that are less than dainty and nimble. I attempted to handwrite an amusing message earlier today, superimposed on a photograph of a bruise that was forming on my foot where I had dropped my tablet. Though a pleasant lime green, the letters were but indecipherable, triggering a traumatic flashback to being told as a child that I would fail at school, university and (presumably) life due to illegible handwriting. And handwriting practice. God, I hated that.
But this isn’t about me, of course. This is about civilization! For when we permit the marginalisation of those with clumsy fingers and inexpert fine motor skills, we basically go down the slippery slope that leads only to dystopian nightmares beyond belief.
Finally, how come nobody has sent me nudes yet? Seriously. I assumed this was a platform for the free (albeit fleeting) exchange of poor quality amateur pornography, but so far have received only pictures of a moustachioed cat and complaints about pharmacology lectures (in selfie form to convey deep angst). What a complete and utter letdown. And, of course, the whole civilizational collapse thing.
Every month, For & Against will tackle a different issue – some serious, some not so serious. If you have a debate you want to see resolved in Farrago, email us at email@example.com
Words by Christian Orkibi
Illustrations by Tegan Iversen
A few years ago a high school friend got a secret girlfriend. Being the nosy little bastard that I am, I decided to sit down and figure out for myself which of the girls in the year level he had hooked up with. Armed with a pen, a spreadsheet, a yearbook and a box of ‘Guess Who?’, I undertook the most useless amateur detective case ever conducted.
She either had red hair and a big nose or she was actually a bald Italian bloke called George. Perhaps we’ll never know.
‘Guess Who?’ was developed by popular British board game company, Milton Bradley, in 1979. The two player guessing phenomenon was designed by husband and wife team Ora and Theo Coster. They were, presumably, both visually impaired and struggling to figure out what the other looked like. I’m not exactly sure that joke works.
Each player receives a board with 24 little ‘windows’ that you can flap up and down. A card with a unique face and name is inserted into each window and both players select an extra ‘chosen card’ that slots into a window at the base of the board. Players then take turns attempting to Sherlock Holmes their way into the opponent’s mind (Benedict Cumberbatch not included) by asking questions regarding the appearance of their chosen card. If you ask, for example, ‘does your person have rainbow eyes?’ and the answer is yes, you can flap down all the people that don’t have rainbow eyes. This reduces your chances of getting your final guess wrong.
Once a player believes they have narrowed down the identity of the mystery card, they can call out the name. If they are wrong then it counts as a guess. If they are right, they win the game.
The real fun behind ‘Guess Who?’ lies in choosing the right questions to ask and the home wrecking poker faces that are traded across boards. True fact, True Detective was actually inspired by a family murder case over games of ‘Guess Who?’.*
You always start with ‘are they a man or a woman?’ If you decid to forgo this question and MacGyver your way into beards and noses straight off the bat, then you’re pretty much screwed instantly. The other person will drop half their board in a single question. After you get the standard questions out of the way, it becomes a challenge as to who could come up with the most creative questions.
My brother and I would end up creating personas and backstories for each face on the cards to make the game harder. Terry was a cross dresser from Liverpool with a cocaine habit and Linda was a hipster who worked night shifts at the abattoir. Of course, once you’re that far off the rails, it’s only a small step to all out fisticuffs.
‘Guess Who?’ was the first board game that celebrated diversity and unique physical features. Red hair was red hair and big teeth were strategic assets. Kids played the hell out of it and parents stepped into the ensuing fights. There was really only one feature that I thought was missing…really big ears. Kind of like those of a certain unpopular political figure at the moment. Guess who?
*Not a true fact.
Words by Jono Kennedy
Infographic by Kevin Hawkins
Words by Hamish McKenzie
Photography by Alice Fane
We Melburnians dwell in what was once a humble village. Perched on the edge of the world, we are protected from the violence and overpopulation that plagues many cities beyond our shores. And the world has noticed. In 2013 we won, for the third year in a row, the much-vaunted accolade of world’s most liveable city.
But when one digs a little deeper, the picture left of our metropolis gives less cause for celebration. We are growing at over 1000 people a week. We have had no major expansion of our rail network in what feels like a century. Our metropolitan area covers 8,000 square kilometres, larger than Tokyo, New York and Delhi combined. With the combination of a backyard-obsessed population and a road-addicted political culture, we are left with an expansive and unmanageable system that creates chaos at peak-hour.
And in the face of a looming social, environmental, and economic struggle, the Victorian government in 2012 made the decision to cut all funding to bicycle transport programs. Only months after, the $8 billion East-West Link was announced.
The future development of liveable and prosperous cities will be reliant on the prioritization of pedestrian, public and bike transport. Building freeways to solve congestion is akin to loosening one’s belt to solve obesity. It doesn’t. The fat must be shed.
The Copenhagenize Index is a biannual ranking of the world’s top cyclist-friendly cities. The 2013 ranking lists cities like Rio
The benefits of bicycle transport both to individuals and communities are well documented, but given our battle to accept the bike, they warrant redressing.
Economically speaking, spending on bike projects is a lucrative investment in productivity. A 2009 study found a benefit-cost ratio for cycling projects to be five-to-one. That is, for every dollar spent on bicycle infrastructure or programs, society accrues five dollars’ worth of benefits. Road projects often struggle to hit one- to-one, and by way of example, the East-West tunnel has a benefit-cost ratio of 0.7. That equates to a net loss. This is perhaps because freeways cost 100 times more to construct than off-road bike paths.
In many cases, bikes are actually faster than cars. 50 per cent of trips in urban Melbourne are less than 5kms, and under this threshold, cycling is usually a faster option than driving. For trips of between 5-10kms, the difference is negligible. A 2010 study found that average car speeds in the inner Melbourne morning peak were just 22.2km/h, compared to an average cycling speed of 20km/h, equating to a 1 minute difference for a 10km trip.
Single occupant vehicles on roads occupy 20 times more space than cyclists, meaning that transitioning to a bike-centered society could massively reduce the congestion that will cost the nation $6 billion a year by 2020. Furthermore, evidence from bike-centered cities overseas has shown that bike riding in segregated lanes to be significantly safer than driving, meaning we could cut into the $27 billion annual cost of road accidents in this country.
Catherine Deveny perhaps says it best: ‘It’s faster than walking, safer than driving, cheaper than public transport and it’s the closest thing to flying’.
And cities around the world have caught on to the fact.
Last year, London’s mayor Boris Johnson announced a 900 million pound policy to revolutionise cycling in the British capital. The plan involves a 15 mile bike highway through the middle of London, an expansive network of back-road ‘quietways’ for timid cyclists to gain confidence, and the creation of three suburban ‘mini-Hollands’ where concentrated infrastructural spending aims to completely transform car-dependent communities into Dutch-style bike-centered ones. London’s boroughs are now aggressively competing to be one of the chosen three areas for transformation.
More radical still was the January announcement of plans to construct SkyCycle, a network of elevated bike-paths across the metropolis, involving ten entirely car-free routes stretching a cumulative 220kms. Accessed by 200 entrance points, SkyCycle could transport 12,000 cyclists per hour, away from the danger of cars, and cut half an hour off journey times. Most significantly, the network would be suspended on beams above existing railway lines, meaning no new land would have to be acquired to construct it.
Meanwhile, on the world’s busiest cycling road, Copenhagen’s Norrebrogade, used by 38,000 cyclists daily, the council has instituted a fast lane, and a special ‘conversation lane’ allowing casual cyclists to chat and ride at leisurely pace. The strategy sees positive social interactions and increased cycling patronage as mutually reinforcing. It’s a far cry from Hoddle St road rage.
Additionally, Dutch planners have proposed the notion of a cyclist friendly ‘bio-mall’ where shoppers circulate on bikes. In the same way that the automobile encouraged the growth of the Chadstone-style malls, the idea is to reconfigure urban spaces that encourage bike access which would in turn encourage a more bike-friendly environment.
So what are the possibilities for Melbourne?
A SkyCycle Melbourne could be built over our radial rail network to construct bike-exclusive routes into the city from all directions. A SkyCycle network could enable trips from Footscray, Northcote or Hawthorn into the city in 10 minutes, without risking life and limb on the roads, with no traffic lights, no carbon emissions and no need for touching on or off.
The creation of ‘mini-Hollands’ in inner city areas, in suburban hubs like Dandenong, and in new developments on the city fringe, could shift the structure of our city away from its unexamined assumption that private car ownership is a desirable and indeed inevitable prospect.
The construction of a safe and continuous network of dedicated bike lanes along major arterials, but also the provision of quietways through the backstreets may encourage entry-level options for less confident cyclists. One study shows that only 8 per cent of Melbourne’s population feels confident to ride on the roads, whereas 59 per cent of people are ‘interested but concerned’. This massive potential cycling demographic must be accommodated. Quietways might be the way.
Furthermore, Melbourne is on the verge of developing massive swathes of prime inner city land into major new mixed-use developments.
Fishermans Bend/Grant Wyeth
The Fisherman’s Bend redevelopment is set to house around 80,000 residents by 2050 in a high-density area of 240 hectares just south of the CBD. The E-Gate redevelopment is a 20-hectare site over the West Melbourne rail yards earmarked for redevelopment into a mixed-use development for 10,000 residents by 2030. Both of these large scale urban renewal projects give the City of Melbourne and the state government a clean slate to design people-centered urban spaces by prioritizing bike transport. Who knows, in the same way today’s suburbanites drive to Docklands to hit up Costco, by 2050, we may see Melbournians flock to Fisherman’s Bend to shop in the bike-friendly bio-malls.
In 2014, the liveability of the world’s darling city lies at a crossroads. We can either pursue expensive and inefficient road options or invest in cheap, lucrative bicycle transport to maximise the social capital of city and stimulate sustainable economic growth. The Melbourne of today is still riding high on the good planning and heavy investments of the city founders, and we must now decide whether to emulate this example for our children. At this most important of crossroads, Melbournians, by which I mean all those, newly arrived and nearly departed, must vote with their wheels.
Illustration by Harry McLean
Everything around me makes me incredibly optimistic. I get that twilight feeling when everything in the world is a part of me and I am a part of it. At times I want to tell Fitzgerald to go fuck himself and his lost generation, and claim Gatsby’s green light all to myself. I forget who I am and fall into an endless love affair with life. I am so delightfully and unequivocally fascinated by everyone. I want to tear off my clothes. I want to write a novel. I want to clean the house attic to basement. I don’t sleep for days. When people start to notice they say I’m “just too much”. Then, I reach the tipping point—I am confused and agitated and angry. Why won’t they just keep up with me? Why can’t anyone keep up with me?
I feel nothing. Empty. Exhausted from the nothingness. I cry for hours and hours until I fall asleep. And then I continue to sleep. And sleep. Now it’s me who can’t keep up; life is moving too quickly. I lie in bed and retreat into myself. . When people start to notice I say, “I’m just tired”. The shame and guilt I feel does not compare to anything else I have ever experienced. Living is crushing, overwhelming, unbearable. Dreams of death and escape are more enticing than my own privileged existence. I am trapped in a deep, deep valley of hopelessness.
It never really occurred to me that this wasn’t normal.
Like most bipolar patients, I was initially diagnosed with major depressive disorder. The depressive state is the most common period for people to seek professional help. For me, it happened when I almost drank myself into hospitalisation. That was when I thought to myself that something might be wrong with me. Unlike depressive behaviour, mania can often be chalked up to simply being ‘high on life’—talking too much, being the life of the party, being enthusiastic and creative. It’s actually pretty great at first—like being on the best drug in the world.
That is, until a severe hypomanic or manic episode is triggered. It’s especially common while on antidepressants, as I was at the time. I was overseas, and I stopped sleeping for what seemed like weeks. I kept up the energy to keep bouncing from task to task. I exercised vigorously for at least two hours a day. But I wasn’t able to shake the feeling of agitation, insomnia and racing thoughts. I started hallucinating and I thought I was invincible. I made some terrible and admittedly, some brilliant life-changing decisions. I spent a ridiculous amount of money in a very short amount of time until my card was declined on the basis of ‘suspicious activity’. I was frightened.
What followed was a long and difficult road to recovery. Mental illness cannot be ‘cured’ by one magic pill or stint in a hospital—it takes trial and error to reach a correct diagnosis and an effective treatment plan. I ended up in the care of a psychiatrist. The cyclical nature and length of my manic and depressive symptoms confirmed a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Because of my insomnia and agitation, I was initially prescribed a drug called Ativan, which wasn’t effective. Worried that I might be hospitalised if I didn’t get some sleep, my doctor then prescribed Klonopin and Seroquel to help me sleep. While the drugs got me sleeping, I learned the hard way how complicated it is to treat bipolar disorder initially. Earlier, I’d been weaned off my antidepressants under my doctor’s supervision. But now the depression started to return even though I was still technically manic. I went into the throes of what is called a mixed episode. It was terrifying for both me and my family because I was depressed enough to be consumed with ‘suicidal ideation’, but still manic enough to have the motivation to try and act on these thoughts. I did some lasting damage to myself and ended up in hospital for some time.
Now I’m on lithium, which stabilises my mood. My illness doesn’t define me, but it is a part of me. I take a cocktail of pills every day, avoid alcohol, and am thankful that I have the support of those around me. If you’re concerned about someone, please, please encourage them to seek help. And if you’re worried about yourself, remember: you aren’t weak, and you aren’t alone. But you also can’t do it alone.
Words by Jeremy Nadal
Photography from Orin Zebest (Flickr)
When two graffiti artists drowned in a Sydney drain in 2008—allegedly after learning about the tunnel from the Cave Clan’s website—Deputy State Coroner Hugh Dillon recommended “that the New South Wales Police investigate the activities… of the Cave Clan” and its “shadowy characters.”
Wikipedia has it that the Cave Clan is a “primarily Australian group dedicated to urban exploration”. However, the internet offers few other clues about the Cave Clan. This is because the group communicates over their own semi-private forums, and because the mainstream media have buried the Cave Clan beneath an entire sewerage system of sensationalist shit about “a cult graffiti gang”. I figured the only way for me to fairly judge the Cave Clan was to speak directly to the ‘shadowy characters’ in question.
My initial email to their homepage, asking for an interview, yielded no reply. So I decided to try and apply to join instead.
As the public section of their forum describes, their initiation program is designed to keep people away who are “just looking to get new locations to make their Flickr account look cooler.” An applicant has to express their interest via email, attend one of three monthly beginners’ expos, get a probationary membership, and attend a certain number of explorations within six months before they can be officially admitted to the Cave Clan.
To my surprise, they got back to me within a week. I was invited to a beginners’ expo at a tunnel, 20 minutes by train from the city, called the Maze.
To be honest, I expected to meet a band of gamers with hunched-backs, greasy hair, and pale skin, who’d just hobbled out of their parents’ attic for the first time in twelve weeks, but it wasn’t like that at all. There were at least 40 attendees and only two of them were members. The others were people looking to join. In age, the applicants ranged from 18 to 40. In occupation they ranged from landscapers to telemarketers to training dentists.
The two members went by the aliases Ath and Black-Lodge. In a very Fight-Clubesque way, the members of the Cave Clan avoid learning other members’ real names. That way, if the police catch one member, they won’t reveal the identities of their compatriots. Despite this, the Cave Clan didn’t have a cultish atmosphere at all. The people who wanted to join were mostly the outdoorsy type, eager to find a new hobby. Ath, with whom I managed to strike up conversation, was passionate about the rich history of Melbourne’s storm water system. He told me about his adventure through the bluestone, colonial-style walls of the drain, which run from the Yarra River, beneath Flinders Street, and along Elizabeth Street all the way to Carlton. The tunnel was built during the late nineteenth century to contain Williams Creek, which was prone to flooding. He even told me he’d encountered markings on the walls of the tunnels that had been made by the convicts who built them.
The expo through the Maze took about an hour. The tunnel was about three metres in width and height. We entered at an opening in a park and exited near a river. The most memorable section of the tunnel was a ten-metre vertical drop, where we were compelled to descend a ladder. Even when it is not raining, a fast-flowing waterfall plummets down this precipice.
Since the Cave Clan was first established in 1986 by three Melbourne teenagers (Woody, Dougo and Sloth), a whole philosophy has flourished around it. As a lot of Melbournians lose interest in their old theatres, warehouses, and other antiques of the landscape, urban explorers seek to understand and appreciate the past. Cave Claners view themselves as lucky enough to have discovered that between the cracks of our safety-padded city are tiny little manholes that lead to a forgotten universe of underground waterfalls, colourful murals, and a general aura of freedom.
Words by Mikaela Davis
Photography by Emily Grundy
Easter is over for another year and the chocolate hangover is wearing off. For most of us, chocolate is a delicious treat, even though we feel a bit guilty for devouring that family size block. But are we feeling guilty for the wrong reasons? For chocolate to even reach our salivating mouths, cocoa has to be farmed, but not all of it under ideal conditions. According to research conducted in 2010 by Tulane University, over 1.8 million children in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana work in cocoa-related activities. While not all of these are victims of forced child labour (the 2005 International Labour Organization’s (ILO) report estimates that number to be at least 280,000 children), many work under hazardous conditions.
The Ivory Coast provides 43 per cent of the world’s cocoa supply and according to the ILO, houses at least 200,000 children working on the farms. Each day, these children are expected to perform perilous and sometimes life-threatening tasks, such as applying pesticides without proper protection. Beyond this, an investigative report taken out by the British Broadcasting Company found that children would work for at least 80 hours a week. To put that into perspective, most managers of Australian retail stores are only allowed to work 48 hours per week. This, of course, leaves little time for any sort of education.
But it doesn’t stop there. It has been reported that many of these children are victims of child trafficking. They would be either sold to human traffickers by their parents in poverty-stricken countries or stolen from their homes. The ILO found that 12,000 children in the Ivory Coast didn’t have any relatives in the area, indicating that they may have been trafficked.
A strong advocate for removing forced child labour from the cocoa industry is Oxfam Australia. Their shops only carry Fairtrade Certified products, including chocolate. As the evidence of forced child labour and trafficking in the cocoa industry piled up, the term ‘ethical eating’ gained traction. Society has gained a conscience when it comes down to what we’re putting in our mouths. Nandini Guharoy, manager of the Carlton Oxfam store, agrees. “I think ethical eating is trying to do your best and trying to purchase foods that have the Fairtrade tick,” she says.
Fairtrade makes sure that farmers in third world countries are getting paid an appropriate amount for their produce. Their goal is to first move the farmers out of poverty so that they can pay their workers. “We get asked questions like: ‘Why is a bar of chocolate $4.50?’ The simple answer is that…it’s a Fairtrade bar of chocolate and we pay [the farmers] a lot more than a larger, private company would,” Guharoy says.
In Australia, the highest selling block of chocolate is Cadbury DairyMilk. Since 2010, this block of chocolate has been Fairtrade Certified. However, according to World Vision Australia, Nestlé and Cocolo are the only two major chocolate brands that stock 100 per cent Fairtrade Certified products in Australia.
Since May 2012, the University of Melbourne has been a certified Fairtrade university, which saw the instigation of the Fair Trade Steering Committee (FTSC). Their job is to encourage the university community to use Fairtrade products in order to make a difference. On campus, 15 outlets serve Fairtrade approved tea and coffee. According to the FTSC’s annual report, “the number of Fair Trade tea/coffee units purchased from January to November 2012 was 585 and from January to November 2013 were 1,497. This equates to an increase of 273 per cent”.
Accordingly, the UMSU-affiliated Oxfam Group has thrown its support behind the initiative.
“We are planning a campaign about promoting Fairtrade approved chocolate and confectionery on campus, but that comes down to the shops’ discretion,” a representative from the club said.
Over the 13 years that Guharoy has been working in Oxfam stores, she has seen a sharp increase in Fairtrade products being sold. “[Awareness] keeps growing every year…thanks to a lot of the younger generation who are extremely aware of ethical eating, Fairtrade products and the cruelties out there,” Guharoy explains.
Despite Fairtrade’s best efforts to eradicate forced child labour from West African cocoa farms, the fight to stamp it out completely is far from over. For Guharoy, it’s horrendous that a child will put their life at risk so that we can enjoy a cheeky endorphin hit. “It moves you to tears.”
Words by Jakob von der Lippe
Sir Redmond Barry was not the kind of person you would expect to have been the first chancellor of The University of Melbourne. He was, in short, a wily old bastard. The first part of his life was pretty straightforward. Born in 1813 in County Cork, Ireland, Barry’s life was pretty standard for a rich-ish, pro-British son of a military man in Ireland. He attended military school from age twelve, and for the first 26 years of his life, showed every indication of joining the military. However, his failure to gain an officer’s commission (no doubt due to the mounting tensions surrounding British rule in the 1830) sent Barry along an entirely different course. In 1837 he graduated from Trinity College, and was admitted to the Irish Bar in 1838. As in he practised law, you stereotyping racist.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Throughout his time at Trinity, Barry made friends with a certain Isaac Butt, who was essentially the man behind the Irish Home Rule movement, a political force focused on Irish autonomy. Butt himself was inextricably linked with a lot of the movers and shakers of 1800s Ireland, including W. B. Yeats, so you can guess the class of individual Redmond Barry associated himself with. This man had absolutely no interest in fucking around.
Except he totally did have an interest in that. During his voyage to Australia in 1839, Sir Redmond Barry, future Queen’s Counsel and Knight Bachelor, was confined to his cabin aboard the Calcutta by the captain of the boat. The reasoning behind this was simple: Barry was having an open and incredibly improper affair with a married woman. News of Barry’s love of maritime adventure spread quickly upon his arrival in Sydney, and once the then Bishop of the Church of England found out, his prospects of employment basically dwindled to nothing in the established colonies. So, forced out of the genteel and settled parts of Australia by his audacious attitude and colossal balls, Redmond Barry did what anyone would do, and attached himself to the new settlement at Port Phillip Bay. Y’know, what would be called Melbourne.
Despite not being able work in civilised parts of Australia due to his inability to keep his pants on, Barry entered the new settlement with high ideals and expectations. As one of a few law types that far south, he worked tirelessly towards enforcing justice, sort of like a colonial Batman. Throughout this early period he also worked as a legal liaison and counsel for the local aborigines, usually without pay.
By pure luck and perseverance, Redmond Barry put himself on the scene in Melbourne. His tireless work in the early years meant that in 1851 he was appointed the first solicitor-general of Victoria, and throughout his time in Melbourne he’d cemented himself as a man of learning, the arts, and a generally alright dude. But there must have been some disagreement about this, considering he was challenged to a duel in 1841 by a certain Peter Snodgrass. Snodgrass got nervous and fired his pistol too early, missing completely. So Redmond Barry, being a magnificent bastard, slowly and majestically pointed his gun into the air, and fired.
Underpinning all of these events was Barry’s commitment to public learning. Barry offered up his own house as a library before one existed in the new colony. Unsurprisingly, in 1853 he became chancellor of the university he had worked so hard to found. Barry’s efforts to create a centre of learning in Melbourne followed a simple, but solid logic: his life had been shaped by the opportunities his education had afforded him, the development of the colony depended on offering more people those opportunities.
In the final two years of his life, Redmond Barry oversaw and prosecuted the infamous Kelly cases, making it his personal mission to apprehend and judge the outlaw. After sentencing Kelly to hanging, Kelly cursed Barry, proclaiming that he’d see him in hell soon. Within twelve days, Redmond Barry died of breathing complications.
Words by Christine Li
It’s the first day of April, and members of student-led activist group Fossil Free Melbourne University (Fossil Free MU) are gathered outside the Raymond Priestley building. They’re dressed up like professors in ill-fitting blazers and spectacles, and are here to give Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis a ‘schooling’. In their hands is a mock letter from a tutor, explaining to Davis that his most recent assignment was not worthy of a passing grade. It may sound like fun and games, but this is no April Fool’s prank.
Four days earlier, Davis announced—via an internal staff email—that the University of Melbourne would continue to invest shares in fossil fuel companies. Davis’ 1200 word statement, which appeared the next day in The Australian, was a response to seven months worth of campaign efforts from Fossil Free MU. Alongside university academics, the group has been pressuring the university to both disclose and divest its financial investment in assets that cause environmentally damaging carbon emissions. Although security staff prevented the group from confronting Davis directly on 1 April, their actions have raised important questions about institutions like the University of Melbourne, and how environmentally sustainable they truly are.
The sheer size of the University of Melbourne’s endowment fund is formidable. According to the 2012 Investment Report, its combined 830 charitable trusts are worth more than $440 million. How this money is invested comes down to third parties; the University’s Investment Management Committee handles decisions made on investment strategy, while operations are decided by an external funds manager, the Victorian Funds Management Corporation (VFMC). The VFMC spreads the money across a pool of domestic and international assets, although this is somewhat constrained by the university’s stated preference to invest in Australian equities. In turn, the generated wealth helps fund scholarships, student prizes and bursaries, staff fellowships, research, equipment, and infrastructure.
A Freedom of Information enquiry launched by Fossil Free MU confirmed to the group what they had suspected all along—that some of this money is being invested in businesses that burn fossil fuels. The university’s finance department has prevented the exact figures from being released, but Fossil Free MU coordinator and 350.org National Campus Divestment Coordinator Vicky Fysh believes this confirmation alone is enough to warrant action. For Fossil Free MU—and the 1400-plus students and academics who have signed their petition—the critical question now is not so much how much is being invested, but why.
In his email defending the university’s investments, Davis claimed that divesting would be financially irresponsible. He said that excluding all companies with an interest in fossil fuels from the university’s investment portfolio would likely result in higher management costs and lower returns. He added that this could increase costs for future students, and could create trust issues with past benefactors. Davis made some room for contingencies, stating that the university would establish a “separate specific investment fund” for potential donors who specified ethical and environmental conditions for management of their donations. However, Davis warned that returns from these investments would be subject to greater volatility in the market and hence the risk of lower return.
Fossil Free MU has since denounced Davis’ statement, criticising his inability to recognise the links between financial decisions and environmental consequences. “We think it is extremely problematic to frame divestment in a way that pitches ‘financial responsibility’ against social and environmental responsibility, as though these outcomes can be disentangled,” their response reads.
“A living lab”
Yet the university is tackling climate change in other areas. Davis argues that the university’s principal role in sustainability efforts is as an educator and research pioneer at its Melbourne Energy and Sustainable Society Institutes. Assistant Vice-Chancellor and co-Chair of the Sustainability Forum Tom Kvan points to the university’s targets to reduce carbon emissions by 50 per cent from 2006 levels by 2015, and the significant progress made since 2011. Projects to reduce energy consumption between 2008 and 2013, such as a shallow geothermal pilot at Parkville, have contributed an estimated 32,000 tonnes of ongoing annual carbon savings. Meanwhile, an urban horticulture subject lets students pitch designs for green spaces at two campuses.
“We see the campus as a ‘living lab’ for exercising sustainability and connect to it the expertise of all faculties and university governance. The primary impact that we can have is through education, and we have strived to embed sustainability principles in our curricula,” Kvan explains.
Another relevant interest for the University of Melbourne may be the need to preserve relationships with companies such as BHP Billiton, which has an office in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, co-delivers competitions, and provides funding for an annual research scholarship. Other companies absorb hundreds of graduates with the help of the university.
Fysh acknowledges that the university is tiny in the investment landscape compared to the superannuation and fossil fuel industries, meaning that it would be difficult to call the shots. She suggests that an ideal long-term strategy will be to engage another big supporter of the university, one large enough to face up to the fossil fuel industry.
UniSuper joins in
They appear to have some help in UniSuper, the mandatory superannuation fund for all tertiary sector employees. Up until the end of March, UniSuper offered only one investment option totally free from fossil fuels companies. Their Global Environmental Opportunities (GEO) fund, however, is not diversified among different assets and thus exposes environmentally concerned super contributors to a high level of risk.
Diversification decreases risk by adding to the number of investments in a portfolio. It is possible to diversify a niche portfolio in this way, as UniSuper has done with its other “socially responsible” offerings.
On 28 March, the fund announced that two of its ‘socially responsible’ funds, previously 50 per cent composed of investments in mining companies, would be cleaned up. The funds will be divested of fossil fuel related shares, along with gaming and weapons stocks. Instead, they will include Australian listed property, which are by definition carbon-neutral.
National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) General Secretary and UniSuper Board director Grahame McCulloch explains that attitudes within universities have had an impact on the change. “The representation of strong views about fossil fuel investments among the university employment structure—people who make contributions to the funds—is probably three to four times the national average,” he explains.
McCulloch considers shifts such as this to be decisive in the investment landscape. “Australian superannuation funds are the single biggest source of national savings. Much of our social and economic infrastructure is based on investment decisions. UniSuper is a modest player by global standards, but it has some $35 billion of funds under management. There will, I think, be an impact on other players.”
Stranded down under?
While financial investment by nature involves weighing up risk and returns, Fossil Free MU argues the university’s financial advisers are assessing the wrong risk. “Companies have pegged a certain amount of fossil fuels in their reserves to sell and burn them, but there’s a high risk they’ll end up being stranded and left in the ground,” Fysh explains. “What this means for the fossil fuel industry is that their assets are overvalued and we are sitting on a speculative carbon bubble unless we start to account for these risks in our financial system and act accordingly.”
Fysh is talking here about stranded assets, which refers to property owned by companies that has been unexpectedly or prematurely written down or devalued. A recent example of this is the oil lost by British Petroleum (BP) in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Looking at the resources sector into the future, there is a real risk that a catastrophic climate event or the rise of competitive renewables could affect the value of existing investments. If this is indeed true, then there is a certain irony in the university investing their donors’ funds with ‘financially safe’ fossil fuel companies.
Visiting economist Ben Caldecott is Director of the Stranded Assets Programme at Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. Speaking to a small group at the university, he warns that the primary concern for Australia is the slow-down of China’s demand for coal.
At present, China is our biggest coal export destination and its domestic coal trade dwarfs the international market by three times, but Caldecott claims that a confluence of environmental and economic risks are coming together to squeeze that demand in both the short and long term. In fact, he estimates that demand could peak as early as 2016. This would cast the future benefits of 89 planned coal projects here in doubt.
Among these risks is the rise of carbon pricing, changes in regulation, shifting social norms and disruptive innovation in the renewables sector (the discovery of abundant shale gas almost fits this category) – all of which contribute the decline of the fossil fuel industry.
In seven locations throughout China, including a few major cities such as Shanghai and industrial powerhouse Hubei, cap-and-trade policies are already being piloted with hopes for a national emissions trading scheme. March has seen the prices of solar and wind energy reaching price parity with traditional energy in Europe.
So why aren’t financial institutions that lend to mining companies, and the suppliers of their funds, like you and I, more concerned?
Firstly, fossil fuel companies have always been the investment of choice, and for good economic reason. Coal and gas, the two cheapest global energy sources, have had a crucial part to play in the development of countries and improved living standards in the last millennium. Before we see investment funds even thinking about divesting from fossil fuels, alternatives must be sufficiently developed to provide for world consumption, and it must make financial sense to invest in these projects.
And secondly, coordination is required between governments, financiers and business to get from here to a fossil-free future. This would ensure a gradual transition, rather than the ‘bursting’ of a ‘carbon bubble’.
Caldecott warns against taking up the battle cry of ‘carbon bubble’. “This is not very motivating to policy makers. Rather, we need to be talking about diversifying the economy.”
Where is the university in all this? It would be easy to say its investment board is just following the counsel of risk-averse financial advisers, but this ignores the forecasted danger of assets being stranded down under. It’s hard to know whether Fossil Free MU’s protest letter from 1 April ever reached Glyn Davis’ desk, but on it their demands are clear. “You have until June 30,” the letter reads. “Resubmit or fail.”
Words by Yuzuha Oka
Yining Ong is an international student from Singapore. She is in the third year of the Bachelor of Arts majoring psychology and sociology. After finishing her honours year, she wants to get a job in Australia She is also the president of UMSU International.
“I like the working environment in Australia. It is more relaxed than in Asian countries and people are really nice. Also, there are more varieties in types of occupation for Arts students [here] than in Singapore.”
However, she is worried because getting a job as an international student can be very difficult. “Many companies require graduates to have Permanent Residency (PR). International students cannot even apply for a job in those cases.” Even getting an internship was tough for her; she says that companies often don’t reply to her applications, while she knows of local students getting a reply and even a placement.
“It’s a dilemma. In order to get a job, PR is often required. However, you need working experience to get PR. As a result you can get neither of them and end up leaving the country,” Ms Ong says.
To work after graduation, international students must have an appropriate visa. If they cannot get one, they must leave.
Not many international graduates get a visa that allows them work. In 2013, only 15.3 per cent of former student visa holders were granted Temporary Graduate Visas (subclass 485). It’s the most popular visa option for international graduates wanting to work in Australia. With it, students can stay temporarily to look for a job without previous work experience, regardless of their field.
It can be harder to get other working visas. According to the Student Visa Program Quarterly Report released in December, 3.2 per cent of former student visa holders received the Skilled-Independent Visa (subclass 189) , and 0.5 per cent the Employer Nomination Scheme Visa.
Reasons for not being eligible for the 485 Visa can vary, but include that an applicant’s course was less than two years long, or that the applicant applied for a student visa before 5 November 2011 and is not on the Skilled Occupation List.
“Students who are not eligible for the 485 will have very limited visa options,” Diana Hemmingway, senior ESOS and Visa Support Officer at the university says. “The migration law is really complex, and students need to refer to experts.”
Supports system exist for international students, provided both by the university and by student-run organisations. The University of Melbourne ESOS and Visa Support Service holds fortnightly information sessions about post-graduation visa options.
Students can access one-on-one appointments (in person, via email, or via Skype) and attend career events on campus. The service is available to students while enrolled and for up to one year after graduating.
Students@Work sources employment opportunities on campus for all students.
UMSU International also provides support. One example is the Student Experience Fair, where students can explore services the university and the state of Victoria provide. “UMSU International works as a bridge between the university and students organising scattered information for students and giving feedback to uni,” Ms Ong says.
Most international students (27.9 per cent, the largest proportion) proceeded to Tourist Visas in 2013 after graduating, according to the Department of Immigration. People carrying a Tourist Visa are not allowed to work.
However, some become permanent residents. Nam Kim, Advocacy Officer of Australian Federation of International Students (AFIS) used to be an international student at the University of New South Wales. He now has a permanent residency and helping international students through AFIS.
Mr Kim says that the important thing is to find a mentor. He suggests international students from the same country can provide useful information if they have been in similar situations before. He found his own mentor in the Korean Society at university,. He points out that networking is the key. “Volunteer at the related field and get connected with the people,” he says. “You must be proactive and prepare.”