Australia Day 2015.

A couple of locals visit the garden.
A couple of local Kookaburras visit the garden: their song makes me laugh.

Growing up in Australia, I was only vaguely aware of Australia Day: it merged, like any other hot summer’s day, into the long school holidays. There was no flag waving back then, no commercial marketing of Aussie Kitsch, no singing of anthems or fireworks.  Since 1994, when the public holiday consistently marked the day, January 26, things have changed. It is only in very recent times that patriotic symbols such as flags, stubby holders, shirts and thongs have been mass produced and marketed for the day. Along with this, supermarkets promote stereotypical Australian cuisine such as lamingtons, sausages and prawns for the BBQ, pavlova, sausage rolls and beer drinking.

A daily visitor, the gregarious King Parrot.
A daily visitor, the gregarious King Parrot.

There are some moving and remarkable things about Australia Day, and it doesn’t have much to do with senseless patriotism or fun in the sun. This year’s chosen and honoured Australians of the Year are an inspiring lot and hearing their stories brings a tear to the eye and reinforces my love of country which, sadly, has been waning lately.

Applause and admiration go to these four beautiful and inspirational Australians:  Juliette Wright, who builds bridges between the haves and the have nots, was honoured with the Local Hero’s award, the Young Australian award went to a profoundly deaf advocate of Auslan, (Australian Deaf Sign Language- a cause very dear to my heart)  Drisana levitke- Gray, the Senior Australian of the year award to Jackie French, a prolific writer and advocate of the importance of reading to children, and Australian of the Year to Rosie Batty, who champions against domestic violence after the tragic loss of her son. I include these links as a reminder to myself as much as anyone else, that great Australians spend their time giving and caring about others more than themselves. 

The not so welcome local cockatoo
The not so welcome local white Cockatoo, the barbarian, noisy Aussie of the bird world.

And on a much lighter note:

And a link to my brother’s inclusion on the theme:

Last night I was reading a book when…..

Last night I was reading a book in bed. When I came across this passage, I stopped in amazement. Something sounded shockingly familiar,

Nothing was as it had been. Martin Place, where once she had happily browsed the fine designer shops, now appeared to her as empty and strange as the ruins of an ancient city that somewhere, sometime long ago, stopped making sense. For a moment she stood surrounded by colourful bunting and beautiful images that communicated nothing. Dolce & Gabbana. Louis Vuitton. What did any of it mean? On vertical banners pushing a designer label, models, no more than kids, were reproduced with their strange unfocused gaze, as if they had witnessed a massacre or horror they still could not comprehend.

p 169. The Unknown Terrorist. Richard Flanagan, 2005.

Although written some years ago, this novel is a timely reminder of the complicit and nasty role that politics and the fear mongering media often play in society, especially after events such as the recent Sydney siege at the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place by a lone lunatic and the tragic outcome for two innocent victims.

I recommend this novel, and as we are saddened by the loss of Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson, we might also strongly express our opposition to any sensationalist media coverage which, like piranha, feeds off these events.

Vale Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson
Vale Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson

Footnote. from letters to the editor, Sydney Morning Herald. Dec 18,2014.

It ill behoves our Prime Minister, the head of our political decision-making process, to lead the charge of divisive recrimination against the administrative decision-makers, police and judicial officers who have determined matters relating to Man Haron Monis (“Abbott’s open question: how was the gunman ‘at large’ in the community?”, December 17). To second-guess decisions relating to issues as complex as refugee status, surveillance and bail knowing little more about those decisions than that something went horribly wrong at some later time is to succumb to the seductive lure of hindsight reasoning, the most insidious threat to logic and the calm analysis of evidence. This is a time for our leaders to encourage healing and cohesion, not blame.

Justice Lucy McCallum Sydney

Take Me to the River

Sitting on the banks of the ancient Murray River, the day is hot and still: I pass the afternoon with a glass of vodka and Passiona on ice, sunning my legs, followed by a dip in the water,  while chatting with my daughter/best friend. Oh Happy Day.

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I’m on a mission to explore the many beaches and banks of the Murray River, camping off the grid where possible.  As the river is 2,508 kilometres in length and runs through three states of Australia, this could be mission impossible.  Earlier Murray river posts can be viewed here and here.

Isolated beach on the Murray River
Isolated beach on the Murray River

This time, we set up camp on a sandy bank between Cobram and Yarrawonga in Victoria, one day after a holiday weekend. We had this glorious beach to ourselves, bar two canoeists heading down stream, and one tourist passenger boat. I’m glad I wasn’t perched on the throne of my river view toilet/shower on that occasion.

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Thanks to Kyle, who should be cloned and packed away in everyone’s tool box, we had hot water on demand, many other unusual and handy camping gadgets, as well as ready help with anything to fix or adjust. His gadgets included a vacuum cleaner, a high pressure hose, an electric fan, radios, mobile phones, tablets and iPads, shower pumps and portable fridges, to name just a few. Solar panels supplied power to the 12 volt battery systems that had already been charged by our vehicles in the trip to the river. An inverter took care of converting 12 volt power from the batteries to 240 volts for those appliances that required mains power.

Our hot water service was fired up each morning and evening. Cold river water is poured into a funnel inserted in the top of the keg which is then heated on the campfire. A short time later, boiling hot water comes from the outlet, providing enough for showers and dishwashing.

Kyle's reprurposed stainless stell keg hot water service.
Kyle’s repurposed stainless steel beer keg hot water service.

Camping trips require good but simple food. Sometimes we cooked on gas or used Kyle’s Dutch ovens, partly buried in a shallow layer of hot coals with more hot coal on the lids enabling roasting, casseroling and baking.  Lunchtime catering on hot days consisted of sandwiches and salads: the kids picked out the bits they liked. The pescatarians ate stuffed peppers with leftover Pesto Mac ( a variation of Mac and Cheese for pesto lovers) as well as curries and salmon burgers.

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The family took the week off, cashing in on Melbourne Cup Day Holiday to take time out in a great month of the year. What did the kids learn? The oldest (10)  learnt about solar energy and sustainability and the basic law of physics, via the water heater service. He observed our camping solar panels in action and asked the pertinent question, “If this is the sunniest spot in Victoria, why aren’t there more solar panels around? This area could produce enough power for the state of Victoria!”  Good question Noah.  A child can see the common sense in solar energy after a camping trip like this.

Are our political leaders slow learners, are their heads buried in the sand or inserted into another orifice of the dirty brown coal industry providers?  At 10 years old, kids ask questions, at 18 they vote. At 50 what will their world be like without a radical change to address climate change?

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The younger ones learnt to use the currents of the river to move downstream (with safety jackets on). They watched the full moon rise each evening. The girls found some instant $1.00 fashion in the op shops of a nearby town. The children had no need for shoes, they were always hungry, and they played and looked after each other. The cards came out, Ollie found a handmade sling shot, Lottie found an off cut of redgum wood which became an oiled cheese board. They skip jumped rocks on the river and dug vast holes in the sand and joined in night-time campfire conversations about dreams.

We wound up with a moonlight ballet concert on the beach, spot lit by one of Kyle’s camping toys, with Daisy doing a great dying swan act on the banks of the river. 

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How nice it would be to take a tinny or kayak down the river from Yarrawonga to Cobram.

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Song plants to go with this post, because camping is also about singing:

  • Take Me to the River, Al Green, nicely covered  by Talking Heads.
  • I See the Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival.
  • Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky -you know the one!
  • Oh Happy Day,  18th century gospel song first popularised by Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1969.
  • Love is a Battlefield, Pat Benatar, a good tune to dance to in the wilds.

 



What’s Happening in Italy?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen many of us think of Italy, we fantasize about the good life, la dolce vita. For some of us, it’s the cuisine: others are attracted to the ‘Italian house in a village’ fantasy. Historians love to seek out the layers of history seen in every region.  For many, like myself, it is a love affair with the language inextricably entwined with Italian history and culture.

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Midst this romantic ‘outsiders’ view of Italian life stands an awful ongoing problem. Youth unemployment, which applies to those aged between 15 and 29,  now stands at 49% nationally and 60% in the south.
Many try to emigrate. Italy is experiencing a “fuga dei cervelli” or brain drain.

‘Last year, some 44,000 Italians requested a National Insurance Number in the UK alone, more than 80 per cent of them aged 34 or less. And yet the UK is the fifth largest European emigration point from Italy with Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium receiving more.’

My young Italian visitors feel that Italy is a sinking ship. Those who attempt to migrate to Australia face a rigorous process, and despite their training, skills and English language ability, find it almost impossible. When they return to Italy, they get by and make do,
often by continuing to work in the family business, or spruiking outside department stores for a few euro, their degrees and untested professional training slowly fading into the background, becoming increasingly obsolete.

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‘According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) 2013 report on well being, Italians placed their own happiness at about 5.6, lower than the OECD average of 6.6 – and only just above that of Russians.’

Back streets of Barga
Back streets of Barga

So when you think of Italy, its wonderful architecture, glorious art and history, the fashionable streets of Florence, Milano and Lucca, the wine, food, and people, spare a thought for the 49% of young people who cannot work. The effect, in the long-term, on Bell’Italia is a disaster.

I have extracted some facts from this excellent article, which can be read in full here.  http://www.smh.com.au/national/joblessness-in-italy-no-country-for-young-men-20141007-10rfb5.html#ixzz3HToI1LW9

 

And You Can Be My Cowgirl.

I love that old 80s song, “I wanna be a cowboy” but it does remind me how much I loathe the term ‘wanna’ which seems to be creeping into our language and is promoted by many a famous blog. ‘Wanna’ is up there with ‘kinda’ and ‘gonna’ as commonplace contractions in spoken English, but when these ‘common’ contractions occur in considered writing, my rant radar goes off,  along with the misuse of ‘like’, ‘awesome’ and ‘guys’, the latter lazily thrown about as if a non-gendered form of address.

Resist the destruction of written English! Or just sing,

Yippy yippy yi, yippy yippy yi yo yo

Oh, yippy yippy yo yo!

Brand New calf, Dougie the Dexter and his Mother Delilah.
Brand New calf, Dougie the Dexter and his mother, Delilah.

Have you also noticed this ‘wanna’,’kinda’ language appearing too often for your liking?

Just Call Me Allan

A quick peruse of  a recent Aljazeera press release reveals a most interesting article. Non Muslims in Malaysia are not allowed to use the word Allah! It’s a blanket ban, it seems, which the Catholic church has challenged in the high court of Malaysia, and lost.

Thoughts of Allah are often on my mind, as I settle back on my stunning verandah, perched high above the hypnotic harbour of Labuan Bajo, on the island of Flores, Indonesia.  Allah makes his presence felt here, via the nearby mosque,  in a loud and most annoying way at 5.00 AM, then more pleasantly at 3.00 PM and then again, with a long, mystical call at 5PM, ( this one I quite enjoy), which symbolises a “Call to Drinks” for me.

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Flores is a Catholic island  sitting in vast islamic Sea , except for Bali which is Hindu, but Allah has a small foothold here in Labuan Bajo. particularly around the harbour and fishing port.

 IMG_1876Mr Tranquillo, a patient and generally tolerant man, talks often about wire cutters at 5 Am or whenever he passes a hardware. He fancies the idea of sneaking out in the dead of night and cutting the speaker wires of the nearby Mosque.  The volume of Allah at 5 AM, via his earthly agent, the recorded Iman, is extraordinary and it is not a coincidence that the shop next door to our nearest mosque specialises in loudspeakers and stereo equipment.

Mr T suggests, in response to the ban of the use of Allah’s name by Non Muslims, that we just call him Allan.

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Anzac Day 2014. Commemorating Slaughter with a Biscuit?

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“We are about to commemorate the slaughter of millions of young men between 1914 and 1918.”

So begins John Hirst’s provocative piece on Anzac Day and its place in military history since then. Hirst recommends reading James Brown’s new book, Anzac’s Long Shadow, as well as Marina Larsson’s Shattered Anzacs for an understanding of what this legend really means:

“The hidden history of Anzac is the lives of the men who returned severely wounded and handicapped. The government supported them, but the daily burden was borne by their families.”

 Hirst suggests that:

” the second way to sidestep the commemoration of death in battle is to check out your family history for men who served and came home alive, even if damaged. The dead are commemorated in graves tended by the War Graves Commission. The tombstones of returned men usually have no mention of their war service.”

In recognition of wartime’s lost and ruined lives, those who were killed, maimed or psychologically damaged in WW1 and all subsequent wars, I perform a few rituals on Anzac Day (April 25th).

Firstly, I think of my father and his service in WW2.  On most Anzac Days, especially in his later years, he marched with his mates from his army regiment, not to commemorate Gallipoli, or the mythical values of the digger,  but in memory of the efforts of those who fought in WW2 and to recall the five years he spent in the jungles of New Guinea.  Below: My parents during wartime.

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Secondly, I play a few important tunes. I recommend that you listen to these, if you aren’t already familiar with them: Eric Bogle’s moving folk song,” And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda and  Redgum’s  I was only Nineteen,  a lyrical exploration of naive young men at war and the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam Vets.

The foundation of historical analysis is interpretation, no less so in the case of war.  As a student of Australian History in 1971, during the height of the anti-Vietnam war movement in Australia,  I became a pacifist like many of my fellow students. Consequently, concepts such as patriotism – and by extension, the Anzac Day march, and military legends surrounding the day- were seen as jingoistic and nationalistic.  Latrobe University’s history school was a thriving and intellectually exciting place to be.  I vividly recall my father being annoyed and upset at the tone of the final examination questions, and took to my copy of the 1971 examination paper with a forceful pen!  My views have mellowed since then, and so did his!

These days I think of the fallen and injured from all wars, including the current war in Afghanistan. And, like many others, I would prefer that more of the Anzac Day budget be spent on the rehabilitation of soldiers ( Have Anzac celebrations become a military Halloween?) and that the huge pool of profit from RSL ( Returned and Services League ) gambling dens be questioned.

And finally, I make a batch of Anzac biscuits, and in this activity I am unbending in the interpretation of the recipe. There will be no added chocolate, nuts or heaven forbid, quinoa!! The sugar is white, not brown. And they must be flat.  I make them as my mother and grandmother made them before me.

Image The recipe below is the one that my mother has always used and comes from the Margaret Fulton book of the sixties, who , no doubt, got it from her mother.  My mother, now 91 years old and featured in the first photo above, still makes them this way. Hers are always the best. Her hint for baking great Anzacs? Don’t use baking paper, it dries out the biscuits, and heat the oven to slightly under moderate. 

The Recipe.

Heat oven to 150c/300 f.

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cups desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 125 grams butter
  • 1 Tablespoon golden syrup ( not maple syrup)
  • 2 Tablespoons boiling water
  • 1/1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
  1. Mix the dry ingredients
  2. Melt the butter and golden syrup over gentle heat, then add the boiling water and bicarb soda. Watch it fizz.
  3. Add wet ingredients to dry, mixing thoroughly.
  4. Drop heaped teaspoons onto greased trays. Flatten slightly.
  5. Bake for approx 20 minutes. (check as they cook for doneness)
  6. Cool on trays for a few minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely

Store in tins. Image For another great article on this topic from a brilliant historian, see Don Watson’s article from the Monthly, 2008.  If you can’t read it all now, save it for a rainy day.

http://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2008/may/1335251549/don-watson/digging

Just Like Parsley

The Italian language is full of colourful idiomatic expressions and over the last 20 years, I have collected many that relate to cooking and food. Essere come prezzemolo, to be like parsley, is a very visual example of this, which roughly signifies ‘ to be everywhere, to be present in different places and situations, or in many institutions, such as parsley, which is widely used in many different recipes. It also means to put oneself in the middle, to interrupt things, to meddle’.

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I am a great fan of parsley and I also enjoy a good simile. What I no longer like, nor even tolerate, is the misuse of the word ‘like‘ in the written context. Just like parsley, the misuse of this word interrupts and gets in the way, is common and overused.

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You will probably hear this ubiquitous language filler, stutter, speech impediment, spilling out of the mouths of teenagers. Travelling on trams or trains in teen hour, I become aurally fixated ( not much choice in a crowded tram) with the dreaded ‘like‘ word. It seems that young people today cannot utter a sentence or phrase without copious sprinklings of  ‘like‘ between each and every other word.  No, these ‘likes‘ are not used as similes, nor are they expressions of enjoyment or desire. They are not used to compare anything in particular. They have become a speech disorder a little akin to Tourette’s syndrome. I sometimes find myself counting the number of ‘likes‘ that appear in one sentence. The record stands at 19. I  also wonder whether these young people will be able to succeed in interviews, and whether they can turn off the ‘like ‘ button when under stress.

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We tolerate this in the young. Perhaps it’s a bonding word, a generational code, despite the stammering effect on expressive language. At what age should one grow out of the ‘like‘ phenomena? I ponder this question when I hear the occasional adult hampered by its overuse.

Seeing the word used, deliberately chosen, in writing, such as in popular blogs, makes my ‘like‘ meter go right off the radar.Image

Please make the word go away and save our language from annihilation. Just like parsley, it’s everywhere.

By the way, that parsley salad, straight from Ottolenghi’s ‘Jerusalem’ is a real winner, and what would a lovely salsa verde be without parsley?

Feel free to comment, I won’t bite! grrrrr

The Mad Tabouleh Lady

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You may have heard of Kevin McCloud‘s drinking game. There are a few versions but a simplified version goes like this.  Whenever Kevin mentions the following words in his programme, Grand Designs,  bespoke, artisan, the build, integrity, take a big sip. Extra drinking points are acquired if he says it in French or Italian. In the world of food, I propose a board game: the rules are similar, you score a drink when you read or hear the following: artisan, (the Italian artigianale deserves two drinks), quinoa, kale, ancient grains, and gluten-free. There are probably more buzz words out there and I hope someone will let me know so my bored, no board game can expand.  I have nothing against these foods per se, but I am tiring of their takeover. Normal, sensible eating is now dominated by these faddish foods. Why has barley become an ancient grain? Or brown rice? Farro has been used in Northern Italy forever. As for quinoa, it’s overrated and tasteless and has an unpleasant texture.  Kale? A common enough plant in my veggie garden which enhances a good minestrone or risotto. But kale chips, kale smoothies? Kale and eggs for breakfast? National Kale Day? Gluten- free products are important for celiacs, but now every normal non gluten free product carries this selling tag: gluten-free jam, gluten-free eggs, gluten- free tomatoes – the marketing departments are having a field day with labelling for the naive and gullible.

Nothing like a good rant after cleaning out the pantry – an onerous and tedious job, involving small flying creatures and much waste.  Whilst there, I found a packet of unopened “Ancient Grains” bought on a whim at some stage  The packet is labelled, in capitals, ‘gluten- free rice plus‘ and contains a ‘powerful blend of rice, nutritional ancient grains and seeds which includes brown rice long grain, white basmati, red basmati, buckwheat, white quinoa, and millet, and black sesame seeds. Putting aside my cynical self, I whipped up a tasty tabouleh, adapting the recipe from the back of the packet. I served it with a little side of chopped boiled eggs with Dukkah. All Gluten-free, and not like chook food at all!!

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Powerful Tabouleh

  • Cook one cup grains with two cups of vegetable stock ( or water) using the absorption method. ( 15 minutes) ( I used a good home-made stock as these grains need help with flavour)
  • 6 chopped spring onions, including lots of the green part
  • 1 cup or more of Italian parsley, chopped
  • a handful of mint, chopped
  • a handful of currants
  • some small tomatoes, chopped, preferably ‘heirloom’ ( whoops, another buzz word ).
  • 2 -4 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbls lemon juice
  • 1/2 teas Dijon mustard
  • salt/pepper.

When the rice blend has cooled, add the other ingredients to the bowl, and let them sit for a bit to absorb the dressing.

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The original recipe called for far too much parsley and used dried cranberries, which I find too sweet.

Serves two as a big lunch or a side salad for four or more.

Verdict? I liked it more than a regular Tabouleh and was pleasantly surprised.

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Life of an intellectually bereft blogger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday the power was off all day and my usual pastimes were just not available! Internet, writing, blogging, researching – the computer battery only lasts an hour or so; watering the garden, no- we live in the country and our tank water is supplied via an electric pump, vacuuming, no- this is a joke, Mr Tranquillo always does this, baking cakes, cooking farro salad, pasta, no electric oven, no water. And so on.  After a cleaning frenzy, reading and some handwriting in an exercise book (!), I ventured out for a drive and purchased, amongst other things, Vogue Living Magazine ( November/December 2013) . My enjoyment of enforced leisure and the new glossy mag slowly faded after reading the editorial by its Melbourne editor, Anne Marie Kiely.

Anne Marie Kiely opens her article “The War Against Cliché ” with reference to the clichéd use of language, a topic close to my heart and of interest to many bloggers. She notes the overuse of words such as ‘iconic’, and expressions such as “it’s not rocket science” and “at the end of the day”. Hang on, didn’t Don Watson expose these exact words and phrases in his excellent ‘Weasel Words – Contemporary Clichés, Cant and Management Jargon’ back in 2004 and subsequent editions?  Or did Anne Marie just discover this 10 years later? But I digress.

She continues, “clichés are the currency of publicity machines, in the full service of capitalist consumption. They are the trend forecasters that have made pattern recognition into the big business of future prediction….They ( clichés) are suburban homes hung with hunting lodge trophies. They are the Hans Wegner ‘Wishbone’ chairs made mainstream by replica merchants … they are neo-19th century faces with full beards; library cards printed with business credentials; boxed moths; bottled gardens; flowers as food; pop- up shops; and endless typography installations ( if Eat is essential provocation in the kitchen, will POO do above the loo?). They are Keep Calm and Carry On posters ( a trend as tenacious as teenage acne); bowls of string balls; numbers stencilled onto gym- locker storage; clusters of empty frames; ‘artisanal’ everything………… clichés are the intellectually bereft speak of bloggers ( not all, but most) who think that something is good because they like it, rather than something being likeable because it’s good….. Oh, it was so much easier when a clearly defined culture of criticism placed talent in an understandable hierarchy. That was before ‘digital’ went and democratised media and destabilised structure such that all sentiment assumed equal weight.”

Hmmm. All very clever, except that Anne Marie, it seems, as Melbourne Editor of Vogue  Living, is an employee of News Corp Australia. It’s hard to find many ‘publicity machines’ that are not owned by News Corp, ie Rupert Murdoch, in Australia.  Media which (at present) lies outside this insidious monopoly, include privately owned blogs, many foreign newspapers, and a wealth of other online news and resources. I have recently enjoyed reading the blogs of talented writers from Italy and intriguing storytellers from Sydney, press articles from newspapers around the globe, and so on, all free and beyond the clutches of News Corp and its mighty taste sculpting, clichéd machine. Talented bloggers must present a bit of a threat to the exclusive domain of journalists such as Anne Marie Kiely.

A quick browse through Vogue Living will reveal a cluster of empty frames used as decor, (the back side page of her editorial) large advertisements for Matt Blatt replicas and Milandirect, both companies specialising in knock off designs. I am sure that other clichéd homewares were once featured in Vogue Living before they became suburban and therefore less desirable and exclusive.

As well as Vogue Living,  News Corp owns the following media assets worldwide.  Quickly scroll through this long list of Murdoch media assets  and then decide, fellow bloggers, readers, and friends, who has the more ‘authentic’ voice? A humble blogger, talented or not, or Ms Anne Marie Kiely, employee and pawn of News Corp, arbiter of fashion, taste; exclusivist?

*Photo of me doing my Munch SCREAM face again.

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