Refuge in a harsh landscape – Australian novels and our changing relationship to the bush



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Summer afternoon, Templestowe by Louis Buvelot, 1866. The bush was commonly seen by 19th-century writers as a place of despair.
Wikimedia Commons

Margaret Hickey, La Trobe University

In 1790, Watkin Tench, the first officer with the First Fleet and a member of the fledgling British colony, stood on what we now know to be “The Heads” of Sydney, hungry and pining for news of England:

Here on the summit of the hill, every morning from daylight until sun sunk, did we sweep the horizon in hope of seeing a sail. At every fleeting speck which arose from the bosom of the sea, the heart pounded and a telescope lifted to the eye…

Tench’s palpable yearning for the mother country is an early account of British despair upon first settlement in Australia. One hundred years later, the sentiment remained. Many settlers were still unhappy with their surrounds, as evidenced in Edward Dyson’s musings in his 1898 short story The Conquering Bush:

The bush is sad, heavy, desparing; delightful for a month, perhaps, but terrible for a year.

In Barbara Baynton’s works, meanwhile, tales of harsh female experiences were set against even harsher Australian landscapes, devoid of respite or pleasure. In her 1896 short story The Chosen Vessel, a young wife and mother left alone in her bush home is stalked, raped and murdered by a swagman:

More than once she thought of taking her baby and going to her husband.
But in the past, when she had dared to speak of the dangers to which
her loneliness exposed her, he had taunted and sneered at her.

For over 200 years, the white sentiment of desolation and anxiety about this “untamed” land has pervaded much of Australian literature. Children went missing, men went mad, and women suffered what writer Henry Lawson called the “maddening sameness” in The Drover’s Wife and Others Stories. “Oh, if only I could go away from the bush!” wails Lawson’s central character in The Selector’s Daughter.

Desolate refuge

The works of these early writers did much to reveal the challenging realities of the bush. Those eking out an existence in a land where soil and weather disagreed with European sensibilities and practices were met with hard work. And what a place to work! There was little room for bucolic tranquillity in a land of drought, flood and searing heat.

Tim Winton’s Dirt Music.
Picador

But, in the 21st century, there has been a change in how Australians read and write about the bush. Author and ecologist Tim Flannery, for one, urged his fellow country men and women to “develop deep, sustaining roots in the land” in his address as Australian of the Year in 2002 – which is what many of our contemporary writers seek to do. Unlike their predecessors, they’re increasingly likely to write about the bush as a destination for escape, rather than a place from which to flee.

Author Tim Winton’s Dirt Music does exactly that, as told through the tribulations of protagonist Luther Fox. After being forced out of his small south-west Australian town White Point for the crime of theft, he does not flee to the city; instead he journeys to a more remote region: the Kimberley.

Lost, injured and starving, Fox does not curse the land for his fate. Rather, he accepts his minor place in the universe and begins to come to terms with his family history through listening to and appreciating the powerful land:

He knows he lives and that the world lives in him. And for him and because of him. Because and despite and regardless of him.

Others, like Peter Temple in the The Broken Shore, highlight the beauteous potential of working with the land, as opposed to fighting it.

When the novel’s protagonist, Joe Cashin, leaves the city to return to his home town on the cold, south-west coast of Victoria, he does so a shattered man. With only the battering winds, shrieking cold and his dogs as company, Joe attempts to rebuild the home of his ancestors. He does not curse the sea for the death of his father or bemoan the land or its conditions. Rather, he finds a way to live in it alongside the people he grew up with:

Cashin walked around the hill, into the wind from the sea. It was cold, late autumn, last glowing leaves clinging to the liquid ambers and maples his great-grandfather’s brother had planted, their surrender close. He loved this time, the morning stillness…

Other authors such as Robert Drewe, Kate Grenville, Cate Kennedy, Murray Bail and Jenny Spence also create plots that entail leaving the city and finding refuge and peace in the Australian bush. This is a markedly different trajectory from that of Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife or even the doomed schoolgirls in Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, who journey through the scrub and rock to never return.

For the love of farmland

This sentiment toward the land does not aim to romanticise one’s “return” to nature. Rather, it’s as much concerned with exploring the cultural practices intrinsic to Australian land.

This is most apparent in literary interpretations of farming, or “pastoral” literature (writing that idealises country life). UK scholar Terry Gifford has coined a key term to consider here: “post-pastoral”, which is a “discourse that can both celebrate and take responsibility for nature without false consciousness”.

Gifford’s view is that post-pastoral is provisional and can be adapted to different regions. It does not idealise rural life. Nor does it exist only to highlight the harsh realities of life on the land. Rather, it seeks new ways of looking at the pastoral in all its forms.

In Australian writing, we appear to have an emerging “co-pastoral” discourse – a place where humans and the land co-exist. Humans do not, after all, always have to be the agents of disaster, and the land does not always have to be mundane and unforgiving.

Christie Nieman’s 2014 novel As Stars Fall.
Pan Macmillan Australia

This is the case for Winton’s follow-up play to Dirt Music, Signs of Life, where we learn that Luther Fox and his partner Georgie return from the Kimberley to live and work on the Fox family farm. At the end of the play, Georgie resolves to harvest olives on the land.

Christie Nieman’s 2014 novel, As Stars Fall, follows the story of a family stricken with grief after the death of a mother in a bushfire. The children and their new friend, a daughter of farmers, begin to heal by uniting to save an endangered bush stone-curlew – an injured bird whose chicks also perished in the flames. The farming father is an avid birdwatcher who, in the end, suggests building a native refuge for the stone-curlew on his property.

“Farmers aren’t what a lot of people think they are,” writes the mother who dies in the fire.

They care a lot about their land and the wild animals that live there. They really do want to know the best things to do, and how to help the natural environment in a way that doesn’t hurt their own livelihoods.

Here, Nieman attempts to cast new light on farm culture, as one deserved of respect rather than contempt.

Another key figure is Australian bush romance writer Rachael Treasure, whose work fits firmly in the co-pastoral lens. The bestselling author of five books and self-confessed “bushland babe” supports sustainable farming and partly uses her work for advocacy. Treasure says she “consciously writes for a wide audience, because storytelling is the most powerful vehicle to convey your message”.

The Farmer’s Wife by Rachael Treasure.
HarperCollins

Her message is that regenerative agricultural practices, such as pasture cropping, are the only way forward – not only to feed the country, but to heal a damaged land. If this needs to be told with a healthy mix of humour, tragedy and passion under the gum trees, then so be it.

“For the first time in her life, she saw the land with clear vision,” Treasure writes of her main character, Bec Saunders, in The Farmer’s Wife – who against the wishes of her husband and father, begins to farm without fertiliser, pasture crop, and build ground cover. Bec hopes that her children will “never see a sod turned again in their lifetime” and vows to “celebrate the seasons, not fight them”.

In this sense, Treasure’s work in The Farmer’s Wife is not environmentalist “green” literature. Farms mean clearing, crops, machinery, pesticides and animals whose hooves destroy the fragile landscape and whose methane contributes to greenhouse gases.

Co-pastoral literature does not dismiss the manufactured gardens, the introduced plants or the people who admit to wanting to work the land for profit. Nor does it forget the original Aboriginal landowners whose agricultural practices we now value. It does, however, seek to establish harmony between humans and the land.

Australian literature has long straddled this line between interpretations of bush life as harsh and incompatible, or of mutual benefit and interconnectedness.

The ConversationBut in fleeing to it, seeking refuge from it and working with it, our authors allow us, unlike the homesick Tench, to turn the telescope inward, toward the land and to ourselves.

Margaret Hickey, Lecturer in Academic Communication, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Explainer: what is ‘fair dealing’ and when can you copy without permission?



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Fair dealing allows Australians to use copyrighted content for news and reporting.
antb/Shutterstock

Nicolas Suzor, Queensland University of Technology

Copyright law sometimes allows you to use someone else’s work – as long as it’s fair. In Australia this is called “fair dealing”, and it’s different to the law in the US, which is called “fair use”.

These exceptions are safety valves in copyright law – they allow lots of beneficial uses that society has agreed copyright owners should not be able to charge for, or worse, prevent.

There’s a serious ongoing debate about whether Australia should update its copyright laws and introduce fair use. The current law is not easy to understand – our research shows that Australian creators are often confused about their rights – and many think we already have fair use.

Fair dealing: What can you do in Australia?

The key difference between “fair use” and “fair dealing” is that Australia’s “fair dealing” laws set out defined categories of acceptable uses. As we will see, “fair use” in the US is much more flexible.

Australian copyright law sets out five situations where use of copyrighted material without permission may be allowed:

  • research or study
  • criticism or review
  • parody or satire
  • reporting the news
  • provision of legal advice.

We’ll explain the first four, as they’re most useful to the average Australian.

Research or study

You do not need permission to copy a reasonable portion of copyrighted material if you are studying it or using it for research. You do not have to be enrolled in school or a university course to rely on the research or study exception.

For example:

  • you can make a copy of a chapter of a book to study it
  • you can print or take screenshots of content you find on the web for your research
  • you can include quotes or extracts of other work when you publish your research.

The main thing to watch out for is how much you copy. It’s fair to photocopy a book chapter but not the whole book.

Criticism or review

It is lawful to use a work without permission in order to critique or review it.

Criticism or review involves making an analysis or judgement of the material or its underlying ideas. It may be expressed in an entertaining way, or with strong opinion, and does not need to be a balanced expression to be fair.

For example, a film critic does not need permission to play a short clip from a film they are reviewing. They may also use film clips from other movies to compare or contrast.

Ozzy Man Reviews runs a popular channel that reviews existing material, relying on the fair dealing exceptions.

It’s also legal to quote an excerpt of a book or song lyrics, or to reference a photograph in another publication as part of a review or critique of the work.

You need to be really critiquing your source material. So, for example, a review video that is really just the highlights of a film or show probably won’t be fair.

This is something that tripped up Channel 10 in its clip show, The Panel. When the panellists discussed and critiqued the clips they showed, it was generally fair dealing. But when they just showed clips that were funny, a court found them liable for copyright infringement.

Reporting the news

You don’t need permission to use existing copyrighted material while reporting on current or historic events. The law is designed to ensure that people can’t use copyright to stifle the flow of information on matters of public interest.

The key issue to check here is whether a work has been used in a way that is necessary to report the news. If the material is just used incidentally, to illustrate a story or provide entertainment, it won’t count as fair dealing.

Parody or satire

It is legal to use another person’s copyrighted material without their permission to make fun of them, or to make fun of another person or issue.

Making something funny is not sufficient to rely on this exception. The use must be part of some commentary (express or implied) on the material or some broader aspect of society.

FriendlyJordies is known for his satirical videos that comment on and criticise politics and everyday life in Australia.

When is a use ‘fair’?

Fair dealing only applies when the use is “fair”.

When assessing fairness in Australia, there are a number of relevant considerations, including:

  • how important copying is to your work (“nature and purpose of the use”)
  • the type of work being copied (less original works may not be protected as strongly as more creative works)
  • whether it is easily possible to get a licence within a reasonable time at an ordinary commercial price
  • the effect of your copying on the potential market for the original
  • the amount taken from the original work
  • whether attribution has been given to the original author.

Generally, a use will be fair if you are copying for a valid reason, you don’t copy more than you need, you give attribution where possible, and your work is not directly competing in the market against the original.

Things to remember:

  • Is copying necessary? Copying has to be necessary for one of the purposes above. This means that it might be fair to copy part of a song to review it, but it won’t be fair if you’re just using the song as background music.
  • Copy no more than you need. Sometimes you need to copy the entirety of an existing work – if you’re critiquing a photograph, for example. Usually, though, you should only copy the parts that are necessary. You can’t get away with showing a whole TV episode in order to critique one scene.
  • It’s usually not fair if you’re competing with the original. This is often the most important factor. When you copy existing material for your own study, to report on the news, or to create a parody, you usually won’t be undercutting the market for the original. But if you’re just repackaging the original material in a way that might substitute for it – a consumer might be satisfied with your work instead of the original – then your use probably won’t be fair.

How is ‘fair use’ different – what can’t you do with fair dealing?

In the United States, the law is more flexible, because it can adapt to allow fair use for purposes that lawmakers hadn’t thought of in advance.

Some of the things that are legal without getting permission in the US but not in Australia include:

Adapting to new technologies: Fair use is flexible enough to adapt to change, but fair dealing is not. For example, in the US, fair use made it legal to use a VCR to record television at home in 1984. In Australia, this wasn’t legal until parliament created a specific exception in 2006 – just about the time VCRs became obsolete.

Artistic use: In Australia, it’s legal to create a parody or a critique, but not to use existing works for purely artistic purposes. For example, Australian law makes it largely unlawful for a collage artist to reuse existing copyright material to create something new.

Machinima uses game environments to create new stories – but is not legal in Australia without permission from the game’s publisher.

Uses that document our experiences: Media forms a big part of our lives, and when we share our daily experiences, we will often include copyright material in some way. Without fair use, even capturing a poster on a wall behind you when you take a selfie could infringe copyright.

In a famous example, Stephanie Lenz originally had an adorable 29-second clip of her baby dancing to a Prince song removed from YouTube, due to her use of the song. She was able to get it put back up under US fair use law – but an Australian wouldn’t have that right.

Stephanie Lenz’s “dancing baby” video is legal under US “fair use”, but would likely infringe copyright in Australia.

Technical and non-consumptive uses: The internet we love today is built on fair use. When search engines crawl the web, making a copy of every page they can in order to help us find relevant information, they’re relying on fair use.

Under Australian law, even forwarding an email without permission could be an infringement of copyright.

The copyright reform debate

Two recent government reports, from the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Productivity Commission, have recommended that Australia simplify its copyright law by introducing fair use.

Many of us copyright academics have written here extensively in support of fair use over the past few years, but there are still many myths about what the law would do.

It’s been suggested that introducing fair use here would provoke a “free for all” use of copyrighted work, but that hasn’t happened in the US. In fact, some of the same major studios that oppose fair use in Australia are at pains to point out that they support fair use in the US because it is vital to commercial production that happens there.

The Motion Picture Association of America, for example, says that “Our members rely on the fair use doctrine every day when producing their movies and television shows”.

To put it simply: we don’t think that fair use will harm creators.

The “fair” in fair use means that it’s not about ripping off creators – it mainly allows uses that are not harmful. But we do think that fair use would provide an important benefit for ordinary Australians – both creators and users.

The ConversationKatherine Gough, a musician and law student at Queensland University of Technology, co-authored this article.

Nicolas Suzor, Associate professor, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Read, listen, understand: why non-Indigenous Australians should read First Nations writing



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Alexis Wright won the Miles Franklin award for her 2006 novel Carpentaria.
AAP Image/Dean Lewins

Meera Atkinson, University of Sydney

Do you read Australia’s First Nations (Indigenous) writers? If not, why not? People read for many reasons: information, entertainment, escape, to contemplate in company, to be moved. Reading can also be a political act, an act of solidarity, an expression of willingness to listen and to learn from others with radically different histories and lives.

In his new book, Australia’s Unthinkable Genocide, professor Colin Tatz writes that Australia suffers from “wilful amnesia”; storytelling is a way of remembering.

Despite good intentions, Royal Commissions, and endless policy initiatives such as Closing the Gap, conditions for many First Nations people remain unacceptable. During National Reconciliation Week, the Uluru Statement from the Heart was released, calling for “the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution”. Even if there remain differences of opinion within First Nations communities as to process and aims, the onus is on non-Indigenous Australians to respect First Nations demands to speak and be heard.

The time is well overdue for non-Indigenous Australians to engage with the First Nations of this country, and their narratives, on their terms. Interest in the experience and concerns of others is crucial to combating social ills like racism. Writing and reading literature can be acts of intimacy, and as such reading can be a vital form of listening.

Where to start?

In Australia, white writers and scholars are more read than writers and scholars of colour. Non-Indigenous Australians often simply fail to seek out other voices and perspectives. Sometimes it’s a case of not knowing where to start.

Tony Birch and Sandra Phillips have offered excellent suggestions for those keen to explore First Nations writing, and as Michelle Cahill points out, literary journals are also a rich source of discovery.

My own list is by no means definitive or exhaustive. It is but a handful of books I view as important reading. These are unique literary voices that command attention.

Don’t Take Your Love to Town
Ruby Langford Ginibi (Penguin Books 1988, UQP 2007)


Goodreads

This bestselling autobiography precedes the impressive entries into the emerging 21st century First Nations canon that follow. It is a contemporary classic of Australian literature, and it was the first book I read by a First Nations writer. Published the same year of Australia’s contested “bicentenary”, Langford Ginibi’s story continues to test the learned indifference of white Australians. Written during the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Don’t Take Your Love to Town tells the tale of a woman caught at the intersection of gendered and raced injustice with admirable and endearing honesty.

Carpentaria and The Swan Book
Alexis Wright (Giramondo 2006, 2013)


Goodreads

I’ve written about Carpentaria in an essay for Reading Australia, and I discuss both books at length in my forthcoming academic book The Poetics of Transgenerational Trauma. In short, these books matter. This is innovative writing forging cross-cultural trauma testimony that portrays a country in crisis and in desperate need of recovery from the devastating realities of colonialism and racism. There’s no way around it, Wright is not an easy read. These two novels are as far from literary comfort food as it gets. But those able to relax into Wright’s wildly experimental world-making are rewarded with insights and nothing less than a renewed vision of this land and appreciation for the complex communities that inhabit it.

Dirty Words
Natalie Harkin (Cordite Books 2015)

One of my favourite books of recent years, Dirty Words is a whip-smart conceptual collection of poems about the state of the nation and the spectre of its shameful history. Authored by a Narungga scholar and creative practitioner, this slim volume may well knock your socks off and leave you questioning everything you read and hear. Harkin’s poems about the domestic servitude of her Narungga forebears might even move you to tears.

Smoke Encrypted Whispers
Samuel Wagan Watson (UQP 2004)

“Childhood anxieties would eventually help me realise the power of imagination”, writes Wagan Watson in “author’s notes # 1”. This generous, award-winning collection of poems later became a multi-modal arts project when its cycle of 23 poems served as inspiration for musical compositions. Poems like “white stucco dreaming” evoke familial ties within societal divides and the daily rituals of suburbia, while “a verse for the cheated” depicts the hidden tragedies of Queensland’s glamorous coastal tourist traps. At times Wagan Watson turns his muscular lyricism outward to consider the world at large, but he soon circles back to home-grown griefs and wonders.

Other highly recommended titles

Heat and Light
Ellen van Neerven (UQP 2014); Inside my Mother
Ali Cobby Eckermann (Giramondo Poets 2015); Mogwie-Idan: Stories of the Land
Lionel Fogarty (Vagabond Press 2012)

These books do the crucial work of testifying to transgenerational trauma and representing and celebrating surviving First Nations cultures and peoples. Each demonstrates, as Tony Birch puts it, the “potential for Aboriginal writing to productively shift the national story”.

Witnessing trauma

Australians, generally speaking, have an inadequate understanding of transgenerational trauma and underestimate the effects of the extreme and sustained traumas experienced by First Nations communities. Transgenerational trauma is the process by which trauma is passed down through successive generations.

There is some debate about if and how this takes place, but transmission likely has various pathways through families, individuals, and culture at large. Colonialism and its aftermath – frontier wars, slavery, dispossession, and stolen children – proved a hotbed for severe traumas and legacies of transmission. The challenge is for non-Indigenous Australians to take responsibility for their own education and become familiar with the voices and concerns of those who have peopled this continent for eons.

Given the depth and scope of the inequity, clearly much more than reading alone is called for. But reading truth-telling accounts of our history and contemporary Australia by First Nations writers is one way of participating in a national dialogue.


What’s your favourite book by a First Nations writer? Leave your recommendations in the comments below.

The ConversationRead also: a Warlpiri translation of ‘Dreamtime’ and ‘The Dreaming’ – an introduction.

Meera Atkinson, Sessional Tutor, Creative Writing, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Science journalism is in Australia’s interest, but needs support to thrive



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Interviewing scientists – shown here is physicist Louise Harra – is a skill that takes experience and in depth knowledge on the part of the journalist.
uclmaps/flickr , CC BY-SA

Joan Leach, Australian National University

The oldest known human bones; the first detection of gravitational waves; the successful landing of a rover on Mars, and the discovery of the Higgs boson particle: all of these highly read global science stories illustrate the public’s thirst for the latest research and technological innovations.

But is science journalism in the public interest?

Specialist science journalists are vital in our society in a few key ways. These include as public disseminators of sound science that can lead to policy, as identifiers of flawed journalism and “dodgy” (even life-threatening) science, and as gatekeepers between public relations departments in research institutions and the general media.

And yet the number of specialist science reporters in Australia is in serious decline.

Journalism can drive science policy

Over 2012 and 2013 a range of media outlets teamed up with the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Academy of Science to coordinate a national immunisation campaign.

Channel 10’s The Project presented evidence-based coverage of the science of vaccination. The Roast (ABC TV) also took a humorous approach to covering the story.

Not only was the story given robust and prominent coverage across Australian news media platforms, the Daily Telegraph and news site MamaMia also ran campaigns encouraging readers to pledge to immunise their children.

In 2013 the Daily Telegraph followed up with a “No jab, no play” concept, promoting the idea that childcare centres should ban children who had not been immunised. State and federal governments have subsequently introduced legislation to effect this proposal. The program is still being monitored.

Linked to this coverage, a successful case was mounted in the NSW Office of Fair Trading against anti-immunisation activist group the Australian Vaccination Network. The network’s name was found to be misleading and the group has now re-badged itself as the “Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network”.

Journalism as a gatekeeper for “bad” science

Sound peer review and editorial procedures are in place in many research journals, but sometimes what can best be described as “dodgy” science is published, and this can lead to disastrous results.

The classic example is the (now falsified) study in 1998 that reported on autism-like symptoms and gastrointestinal abnormalities in children associated with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccination. The study was small (only 12 children), observational, and submitted for publication without key disclosures from lead author Andrew Wakefield.

In a subsequent press conference, Wakefield expressed his concerns about the MMR vaccine. The media’s enthusiastic reporting and less than critical response to these claims took an ethically and scientifically unsound report and turned it into what has been described as “perhaps the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years”. In 2008 measles was reported to be once again endemic in the UK, a development that has been linked to reduced MMR take-up.

Don’t open the floodgate! Not all science deserves media attention.
from www.shutterstock.com

Had the journalists at that initial press conference been equipped to appraise the findings critically, the poor science may have been revealed from the start. The paper was later found to be fraudulent by investigative journalist Brian Deer, who published stories in print and made a documentary revealing the hoax.

Science journalism vs science PR

Science journalism and science public relations (PR) can be difficult to distinguish. The job of the PR specialist is to maximise eyeballs on each story. The job of the journalist is to find the story and report the evidence behind it, no matter whose story it is.

Stories that are written with a university press release – rather than a peer-reviewed science paper – as the main source of evidence can easily cross the line into infotainment rather than independent reporting.

It’s also the case that some stories that look like science journalism are heavily sponsored by universities and research institutions. This so-called “native content” – in that it looks appropriate for its context – is becoming more prevalent.

It’s a trend exacerbated by the movement of journalists from media organisations into communication roles in academic and research institutions. While the writing style is journalistic, the focus is to promote the science from the institutions that employ them. This bypasses robust and independent examination of the evidence.

There may be more of this to come as science journalists become an endangered species.

An endangered species

Embedded in Australian news rooms, the investigative science journalist is a rare beast; the most recent in a long line of casualties are Marcus Strom from The Sydney Morning Herald, and Bridie Smith of Melbourne’s The Age, who left Fairfax last week after 16 years.

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It seems the ABC is the only mainstream media outlet with a science unit. Here, specialists Anna Salleh and Jake Sturmer along with experienced science journalists, communicators and broadcasters (Robyn Williams, Natasha Mitchell, Joel Werner, Bernie Hobbs, Ruben Meerman and Dr Karl amongst others) present regular science content on various platforms.

Journalists in specialities such as environment, health and technology do still hold positions at major media platforms, and Cosmos Magazine provides another platform for science content in Australia. Freelance science journalists including Bianca Nogrady, Leigh Dayton and Graham Readfearn work on specific projects across a variety of platforms.

Specialist correspondents develop a deep and complex understanding of their round over time, and carry a knowledge of what’s gone before that surpasses a quick internet search. They might, for instance, recognise that a particular “breakthrough” is simply an old study repackaged, that a study is very small, or that its promises have been made before without amounting to much. Or that the “faster than light” neutrinos were a statistical anomaly (and an error) rather than a tested matter of fact.

The disappearance of the specialist science correspondent means a loss of personnel with the time and the expertise to probe deeply and to ask uncomfortable questions. The consequences are declines in the breadth, depth and quality of science coverage. Pair this with an increased workload, the need for journalists to apply multimedia skills and the constant pressure to publish (driven by the 24-hour news cycle), and the opportunities for genuine investigation are slim.

New ways to cover science

As the number of science correspondents has fallen, the science sector has rushed in to fill the online void with blogs and social media sites (some terrifically successful).

Facilities such as the Australian Science Media Centre now work to support and facilitate evidence-based science journalism. The Centre boasts 1,600 subscribers and informs hundreds of reporters who attend regular briefings.

According to chief executive Susannah Elliot:

When the Australian Science Media Centre started in 2005, there were around 35 specialist science reporters in mainstream newsrooms around the country. Now you need less than one hand to count them.

This loss of specialist reporters means that there is no one to fight for good science in editorial meetings or look for science angles in everyday news stories.

We’re all going to have to do everything we can to help general reporters cover science and make sure they don’t miss the important stuff.

The Australian Science Media Centre is a not-for-profit resource that supports evidence-based science coverage.

The future of science journalism

It may be that science journalism has never enjoyed a consistent position in media outlets – some report that “peak science journalism” happened in 1987. In an important review of the history of popular science, writer Martin Bauer points out that science journalism is prone to a “boom and bust cycle”.

The call for more and improved science journalism is based on an assumption that lives are worse off without it. This is an easy leap for academics to make; after all, our very existence is based on the idea that more knowledge is better than less knowledge.

But how can we convince the general public this is the case? Studying the “decline of science journalism” – fewer numbers of journalists, diffuse science reporting, the rise of branded and native content – will not be enough to show that we need more science journalists. We must be able to clearly identify a public good, and convince media-saturated consumers that science deserves a place in their lives.

We must also develop a clear business case that supports science journalism. Relatively new media platforms such as Nautilus and narrative.ly provide some evidence that blending science with creative nonfiction, philanthropic funding, subscription services, paywalls, and hybrid models of journalism and public relations are worth further exploration.

Supported primarily by the university sector, The Conversation publishes science, technology, environment and energy stories that are written by academics.

However there has yet to be a convincing case of overwhelming public support for robust science journalism. In our view, this is a shame. We think academic and media groups, and those private sectors that rely on science and technology, should start articulating the public value of science journalism.

A colleague in New Zealand, Rebecca Priestly, has put some money behind finding out, though establishing a fund for science journalism. Perhaps it’s time to do the same in Australia.


The ConversationThis article was co-authored with Kylie Walker, Chief Executive Officer of Science and Technology Australia, and Visiting Fellow at the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, Australian National University.

Joan Leach, Professor, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Government can support public interest journalism in Australia – here’s how



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The government should restore funding to public broadcasters SBS and ABC enabling them to produce more public interest journalism.
http://www.mediaday.com.au

Johan Lidberg, Monash University

Independent journalism’s importance to healthy democracies is undisputed. In a time of rising autocratic tendencies around the world, this independent check on power is more needed than ever. This is well illustrated by US President Donald Trump’s disrespect for the balance-of-power doctrine in general and for the US judiciary in particular.

So, it’s not a coincidence that the Australian Senate has set up an inquiry into the future of public interest journalism. This was prompted by the latest round of redundancies at Fairfax. To this should be added Network Ten’s precarious financial situation.

But what is “public interest journalism”? From a journalistic point of view, this covers topics that are vital for citizens to make informed decisions and choices. There is a clear distinction between what the public is interested in, which includes gossip, celebrities and lifestyle topics, compared to what is important to the health of our democracy.

The Ethical Journalism Network puts it thus:

The public interest is about what matters to everyone in society. It is about the common good, the general welfare and the security and wellbeing of everyone in the community.

As I have argued before, without this kind of journalism a lot of corruption, maladministration and abuse of power would not be known to the public. We would then risk sliding further down the slippery slope towards autocracy.

So, what can and should governments do? Many submissions to the Senate inquiry will argue that it’s time for governments to step up support for public interest journalism.

Fortunately, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. There are plenty of models around the globe where governments are supporting public interest journalism at arm’s length.

It’s important to point out that a significant amount of research clearly shows that in mature liberal democracies government funding for such journalism does not equal government influence over reporting.

The first and most obvious thing to do is finance Australia’s public broadcasters, the ABC and the SBS, to a level that enables them to consistently produce public interest journalism. The minimum is to restore, and index up, the funding to the 2013 level before the current severe cuts instigated by the Abbott government.

Public broadcasting is a tried and tested source of public interest journalism. It will be a repository for such content until market-financed journalism has transitioned to new business models. Australia has a national and global responsibility to fund the ABC and SBS, as there are only about ten properly funded public broadcasters globally.

The rest of the sustainable funding models will, most likely, be a combination of government, market and private altruistic funding. There are a number of international models:

  • The most obvious indirect funding model is to exempt public interest journalism companies from GST and payroll taxes.

  • A second option is to make donations to such journalistic organisations tax-deductible to encourage private altruism.

  • Another option is to introduce a version of the “low-profit limited liability corporations” (L3Cs) that exist in some states in the US and the UK (community interest company). L3Cs are businesses that produce a social good. Investments in such companies receive various tax breaks.

  • A fourth option is to introduce a government-funded base operational fund open to public interest journalism ventures. This could include a special grant for start-up companies.

All of the above already exist in a number of countries with a long tradition of funding public interest journalism. Here it’s important to point out that Australia, for more than 100 years, supported such journalism via printing and distribution subsidies.

Another option drawing on international experience is an Australia Council-like fund that could contribute to journalism residencies at universities. This would create a win-win situation in which experienced journalists would work with students to create public interest journalism.

Finally, and most importantly, a sustainable funding model must involve Google and Facebook in some way. As Ben Eltham has eloquently argued in The Conversation, Google and Facebook have hoovered up the advertising money that used to fund public interest journalism. They have effectively created a global media oligopoly partly based on journalism they are not paying for.

A levy on Google and Facebook advertising revenue would be a very important funding source for public interest journalism. The bonus is that this would encourage the social media giants to acknowledge that they are publishers rather than just platforms.

Engaging with the two global media companies illustrates the core challenge for domestic policymakers: media policy that used to be predominantly national is increasingly global. Domestic policy may prove to be a blunt policy tool in meeting the challenge of supporting public interest journalism.

The conclusion from this international survey is that, historically, market forces on their own never have been able to carry public interest journalism. Now more than ever governments need to help carry it across the morass that is the current transformation of the industry.

The ConversationThe Senate inquiry reports in early December 2017. It would be a tragedy for democratic accountability in Australia if government inaction is the outcome.

Johan Lidberg, Associate Professor, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Miles Franklin Award 2017 Shortlist


The link below is to an article that looks at the shortlist for the 2017 Miles Franklin Award.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/18/miles-franklin-award-shortlists-five-first-time-nominees

Philanthropy is funding serious journalism in the US, it could work for Australia too


Bill Birnbauer, Monash University

Non-profit investigative journalism centres have invigorated watchdog reporting in the United States over the past decade, a period commonly associated with despair over the state of serious journalism. My research attributes a sharp increase in the number of such centres in the United States directly to philanthropic funding, made more attractive by tax deductibility, and this same model could work in Australia.

This rescue mission of quality journalism has seen philanthropically funded news centres winning the most prestigious awards in journalism including several Pulitzer Prizes. Millions of Americans access stories written by non-profit investigative journalists, either on non-profit websites or published in mainstream media such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, PBS and other outlets.

Three key ways exist to fund the labour intensive and time consuming work of investigative journalism. The traditional media model, which today is characterised by market failure. Funding by government such as the ABC’s Four Corners program – a model that has worked well in Australia but that elsewhere raises questions of independence and funding security.

And there’s funding by foundations, wealthy benefactors and individuals. That’s different from crowd sourcing which may finance a specific story project but does not fund the necessary infrastructure (office, computers, rent, salaries etc.) or build the journalistic capacity required for a sustainable model.

In the United States, there are about 150 independent non-profit centres doing investigative and public interest journalism. The budgets of the biggest centres such as ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity and Reveal at the Center for Investigative Reporting are about US$10 million a year; smaller centres less than US$100,000.

Non-profit investigative and public interest news centres see their work as a form of public service. In the United States, these centres are recognised by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as eligible for non-profit status under Section 501©(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Non-profit status enables these organisations to avoid federal and some state taxes and donations to them can be tax deductible. The IRS does not have a distinct category for media organisations. Instead, investigative and public interest news organisations attract non-profit status under a broad education category.

There has been a profound cultural transformation in the way mainstream media organisations regard non-profit centre stories. Collaborations between legacy and non-profit media are commonplace in the United States because non-profit journalists have the same ethics, news values and editorial practices as journalists in the commercial and public media.

Foundation-funded journalism does not come close to replacing what has been lost due to staff and other cuts by mainstream media since the financial crisis. But it has been embraced by key media outlets as a means of boosting the quality of their stories. Non-profit centres do not compete with mainstream media; they complement it.

How this could work in Australia

A recent study found only a handful of Australian not-for-profit news organisations have been granted deductible gift recipient status by the Australian Tax Office and that news organisations face seemingly challenging obstacles in gaining such status. This may well discourage the creation of news organisations.

Given the diminished resources of Australian media to hold power to account, other measures to bolster democratic processes should be considered. Investigative journalism cannot readily be monetised.

It is expensive to do, takes a long time, sparks legal action and upsets powerful interests. It takes a big commitment by media organisations.

But the societal benefits can be huge: lives saved, corruption exposed, environments improved, governments and corporate interests held accountable. A recent book by a media economist found that for each US$1 spent on a specified investigative story, US$287 in policy benefits resulted.

Tax deductibility for independent journalism centres would provide incentives for individuals and philanthropic organisations to donate to producers of quality journalism.

The availability of tax deductions has the potential to increase the sum of quality journalism in Australia, enhance our democratic processes and better serve the community. I believe legacy and digital media in future would enter collaborative partnerships with non-profit investigative and public interest centres, ensuring a wider distribution and impact of their stories.

The Public Interest Journalism Foundation has some recommendations for the Australian Tax Office to consider when it comes to determining who should be granted deductible gift recipient status.

First is the history and background of the journalist who is applying, particularly their adherence to professional and ethical standards and whether the organisation they work for has conventional editorial practices. The organisation should create stories that are in the public interest and educate audiences rather than covering news of popular interest.

Another is introducing a commitment that the media nonprofit lists funding sources, including publication of the identities of donations of more than A$1,000, on its website. It also says anonymous grants, or funding from political and other entities where the source of the funding is not transparent, should be banned.

The foundation emphasises that individuals and organisations that advocate particular causes, should not be granted non-profit status under any media category.

No-one knows how sustainable the non-profit model will prove over time. However since 2007, I estimate that more than US$350 million has been donated to US non-profit investigative news centres; others have said closer to US$500 million.

The ConversationWe are in the midst of financial and technological disruption of traditional media models. No-one has yet worked out how to bolster accountability journalism that is essential to healthy democracies. The United States’ experience to date offers a potential solution that we should not ignore.

Bill Birnbauer, Adjunct senior lecturer , School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Indigenous picture books offering windows into worlds


File 20170602 8008 xu0xn4
Front cover of Tjarrany Roughtail – the book features a collection of Dreaming stories.
Magabala Books

Ambelin Kwaymullina, University of Western Australia

In this series, we’ll discuss whether progress is being made on Indigenous education, looking at various areas including policy, scholarships, school leadership, literacy and much more.


In a town by the sea that lies in the homeland of the Yawuru people, there sits a small publisher. But in the scope of its ambition, the depth and complexity of its range, and its commitment to bringing the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to all Australians, Magabala Books looms large on the Australian literary landscape.

The Broome-based publisher was established in the 1980s, partly in response to concerns that Indigenous stories were being taken and published without permission by non-Indigenous academics and storytellers.

Today, Magabala has the most extensive list of Indigenous children’s literature of any Australian publisher. So for parents and teachers looking to introduce children to the many worlds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Magabala Books is a good place to begin.

And anyone who buys a Magabala publication also has the comfort of knowing that they are purchasing an ethically published book. Indigenous peoples hold copyright in their stories and there is a return of benefits to the Indigenous storytellers and/or their communities.

While it is not possible to cover the depth of Magabala’s range in a single article, I offer here, as a starting point, five picture books that have wisdom to share with all ages. While most of these books are listed as suitable for lower primary, I’d suggest this is the point at which children can begin reading the books but not where enjoyment of these texts ends.


Magabala Books

Tjarany Roughtail

By Gracie Greene, Joe Tramacchi and Lucille Gill

Ability: lower primary

First published in 1992, this book is rightly considered a classic. A collection of Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) stories of the Kukatja people of the Kimberley region of Western Australia, Tjarany Roughtail is a bilingual illustrated narrative in which the pictures speak as powerfully as the words. It is also a book that can grow with children through the layers of knowledge it offers.

Young children will enjoy the stories of the Dreaming ancestors. Older children can explore the diagrams that explain the meaning of the symbols used in the artwork, as well as the maps of the Kukatja kinship system which shows the web of relationships between Aboriginal peoples and their homelands. And all ages can treasure a book that is at once a culture, language, art and philosophy text.


Magabala Books

Stolen Girl

By Trina Saffioti and Norma MacDonald

Ability: lower primary

This is a Stolen Generations tale written by Trina Saffioti (Gugu Yulangi people) and illustrated by leading artist Norma MacDonald (Yamatji and Nyungar peoples). It is told in nuanced, sparse text accompanied by illustrations that convey the warmth of family, the terror of removal, and the loneliness of life in an institution. The book ends with the hope of returning home, captured through the image of a girl stepping through a half open door into a sunlit landscape.

Stolen Girl is a moving tale that gently introduces children to a traumatic aspect of Australian history that echoes through the lives of Indigenous peoples today.


Magabala Books

Fair Skin Black Fella

By Renee Fogorty

Ability: lower primary

This masterful work by Wiradjuri writer and illustrator Renee Fogorty addresses Aboriginal identity, and in particular that being Indigenous is about culture, community and family rather than skin colour. The story is brought to life by illustrations that sensitively and appropriately capture the message of a tale that speaks to the importance of inclusiveness and belonging.


Magabala Books

Our World

By the One Arm Point Remote Community School

Ability: Upper primary

What is life like in worlds different from your own? This book tells of the Bardi Jaawi people of the Ardiyooloon community, weaving together history and traditional stories with the seasons and rhythms of everyday existence.

Our World features the children’s artwork as well as photographs of them undertaking activities such as fishing, constructing windmills from pandanus leaves, and learning animal tracks. As a whole, the book conveys a wonderful sense of Bardi Jaawi children speaking of their lives to the child-readers of the text in a meeting of lives and worlds.


Magabala Book

Once

By Dub Leffler

Ability: lower primary

This reconciliation tale by artist and writer Dub Leffler (Bigambul and Mandandanji people) is an evocative tale of friendship across difference, with the poetic text given full expression in illustrations that capture the beauty of the story and speak straight to the heart.

These books, along with the many other narratives by Indigenous storytellers, offer opportunities for children and adults to journey through diverse Indigenous realities – and in so doing, to begin to build bridges across worlds.


The ConversationRead more articles in this series.

Ambelin Kwaymullina, Assistant Professor (Law School), University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Reading Survey


The link below is to an article that takes a look at a survey conducted by the Australia Council and Macquarie University on Australian reading habits.

For more visit:
http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/research/reading-the-reader/

Australian copyright laws have questionable benefits


Beth Webster, Swinburne University of Technology and Mitchell Adams, Swinburne University of Technology

As the Australian Copyright Agency comes under pressure for appearing to use member royalties to enshrine self-serving copyright laws, it’s time to question the purpose of copyright. Some argue current laws ensure artists are fairly paid and make more local content. The evidence doesn’t support this idea. The Conversation

Copyright is primarily concerned with creative works.

Exploitation of copyright occurs when the author of a creative work excludes all others from reproducing or otherwise using their work for up to 70 years after their death, unless they, the authors, agree to authorise any such use (i.e. pay a fee or a royalty under voluntary or compulsory licences).

On the pro-copyright side, we have the global movie and music industry, many IP lawyers and prominent authors.

Opposing copyright, we have academics, economists and other public policy analysts.

Does copyright encourage more creative work?

The intention of copyright laws is to encourage people to create cultural products such as books, songs, movies and fine art etc. The argument goes that if the authors of these works (or their owners) can charge royalties to those who enjoy these works, then more people will decide to work as authors.

The author gets an income and can therefore spend more time creating works.

However, there are strong arguments that copyright may have gone too far. Royalties only go to a small amount of people, and they mostly prop up the incomes of “rent seekers”. Rent seeking is when income from copyright just makes existing creators wealthier and does not encourage more people to become creators.

The contra-copyright group see some advantage from copyright lasting a few decades, but not the current system, which grants copyright for life plus 70 years after death (there are some exceptions).

Royalties should not be paid beyond the point at which the income stream has an effect on decisions to create more now. Existing copyright laws (which can give control for over 100 years) are merely lining the pockets of movie houses and the heirs of dead authors, without having any effect on the current group of artists.

Australian culture will falter without copyright

The next argument in favour of copyright is that the true value of copyright is the ability for the owner to control the use of their work through licensing.

Given the ubiquity of the internet, it is now very easy to copy works and local authors will not be able to make a living from their work.

Hence, any time or effort they put into creations will be in their spare time after working elsewhere. Enabling authors to receive some royalties goes some way towards providing them with independent income.

But the contra-copyright group say the fact that most royalties go to very few authors, or go overseas to the big music and movies houses and publishers, means copyright does little for emerging and local artists.

In fact, the best way to encourage the local cultural sector might be to offer stipends or grants directly to local artists.

It is not to use copyright to overcharge the ordinary householder; prosecute those who illegally download movies; or to waste the time of students and school teachers filling in royalty forms.

A right to control your creation?

Another pro-copyright argument is that copyright is needed to ensure authors are credited for, and control, their work. This is also known as “moral rights”, and creates the obligation to attribute creators and treat their work with respect.

But we could question whether this is the role of copyright. Gifting moral rights does not necessarily mean the artist should be able to decide who can read or watch his or her work for the purpose of genuine enjoyment.

Authors should be paid for their contribution to society

The pro-copyright group claim that royalties are justified on fairness grounds. People should be rewarded according to their contribution to society and as royalties are linked to use (reading or watching), it is a clever way to link contributions.

However, in terms of value to society, a case can be made that primary school teachers, civil engineers or surgeons should be paid more. And as copyright only delivers a living wage to very few artists, we can question whether the current laws are a fair system.

Fair use

The Productivity Commission recently agreed with the Australian government to reform the education statutory licensing scheme, but commented that this decision was missing a recommendation to move to a “fair use” system of copyright exceptions.

Fair use allows for certain circumstances where people can use copyrighted material without the copyright holder’s permission.

Australia does not have a fair use exception. It only has a more limited “fair dealing” exception which means we can only avoid permission for uses that are on a list.

A fair use system would allow users such as schools and universities to use works in some situations without paying any royalties. Maybe, we should limit copyright to 20 years and increase our stipends to local artists instead.

Beth Webster, Director, Centre for Transformative Innovation, Swinburne University of Technology and Mitchell Adams, Research Fellow in Intellectual Property Law, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.