Women of Letters: Take risks, scare yourself stupid and have a shitload of fun

Between Us, curated by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire.
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Co-curators: Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Between Us, curated by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire.

Co-curators: Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Between Us, curated by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire.

Co-curators: Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy. Photo: Kate Geraghty

“By the time I get to you,” Stella Young wrote in a letter to her 80-year-old self, “I’ll have written things that change the way people think about disability. I’ll have been part of a strong, beautiful proud movement of disabled people in Australia.”

The fourth Women of Letters collection, Between Us, opens with this contribution, which has since taken on a meaning that Young, and the books curators, could never have foreseen. Just a couple of weeks after its publication in December, the comedian, commentator and disability activist died at age 32.

“I suppose I can’t really write this letter to you without talking about the assumption, the expectation, that people like us die young,” Young had written. With her typical wit and verve, she wrote that her aged self would “almost certainly have a hover-chair by now”.

“I will do everything I can to meet you, eighty-year-old Stell.”

Michaela McGuire, co-founder and curator of Women of Letters with Marieke Hardy, says while the publicity surrounding Young’s letter has brought people to Women of Letters who might not have been aware of it before, the pair are also dealing with the death of a close friend.

“For someone as stubborn as Stella, I think it’s actually quite fitting that she has written her own eulogy and that her word would be the last word on the subject,” says McGuire. “I think she would have been quite happy about that. Obviously it’s hard, especially this early on, not to feel just very saddened that she was taken from us so soon.”

McGuire and Hardy had come across Young after she had urged them to move their Women of Letters monthly readings to a wheelchair-accessible venue, which they moved to in 2013, Melbourne’s Regal Ballroom. “That was specifically because Stella had been so wonderful about it, not bossing us around but being quite firm in telling us we could lead by example,” says McGuire.

The two curators have led by example in many ways with Women of Letters. It began in Melbourne in 2010, with author McGuire, and Hardy, a writer, broadcaster and panellist on the ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club, seeking a way to spotlight women writers and raise money for Edgar’s Mission animal sanctuary in Victoria. Participants write and read out a letter on a theme set by McGuire and Hardy and on the understanding that readings will not be recorded, although with the writer’s permission, some letters are published in the collections.

Women of Letters has become an ever-growing success story, with a tour last year to Britain, Ireland and the US, including a sold-out New York show that has led to a new monthly event in the city. Most importantly, it continues to attract high-profile names – women and men – from the worlds of literature, entertainment and the arts to take part. It is difficult to imagine, under the relentless scrutiny of social media, that these famous names might feel safe enough to disclose personal, painful and private stories and thoughts, but this is what Women of Letters has achieved. More than a tip of the hat to the lost art of letter writing, it’s a mixture of the confessional, a session on the psychiatrist’s couch, a diary entry, a chat with a close friend.

It’s where people such as The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie actor Edie Falco read a letter A Letter to the Last Time I Ever Drank. It’s where Tim Flannery read a letter he’d wished he’d sent two years earlier to his father, who died soon after the emotional reading at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in October.

Readings are powerful because of the intimacy and trust struck up between writer and audience, with a privileged few sharing this moment of catharsis.

“The C word is a good one,” says Hardy. “We never set out when we started the shows to be emotionally manipulative or say this is going to be a great event where we make our audience or readers cry, it’s going to be a tearjerker. But about four shows in, we realised that people were being very emotionally honest in a way that we hadn’t expected.”

Hardy says they have examined this outcome a lot and says it’s partly due to the intimate act of letter writing and the no-recording policy which creates this “weird safe space” for writers.

What emerges is something of great value not only to the audience and readers, but to the writers themselves. Says McGuire, “[It gives writers] the chance to get something off their chest that maybe they didn’t know was that important to talk about, but once they have, they realise it was important to unpack something that’s happened to them or how they feel about something.”

Between Us includes a letter by the author Cate Kennedy who appeared at a reading just days after her mother’s funeral. She wrote about clearing her mother’s house out, in another letter themed around writing to the 80-year-old self, and told Hardy and McGuire she absolutely needed to do this.

“She’d just packed up her mother’s house,” Hardy says. “She said ‘I’ve been surrounded by stuff, stuff that my mother left behind, all the good china that was never used. All I want to leave behind is stories, so when I die, I want to die with a cup of tea in my hand and none of this. I don’t want my children to be packing up all these things when we should have been using the china and making it dirty.”

“It was so raw and beautiful. It’s an amazing piece of writing. She’s a great writer, but being in the room while she was delivering it was incredibly powerful.”

In the letter, Kennedy writes: “Have you done the things that give stuff its life, so that any descendants you may have inherit a treasure-house of stories rather than objects?… Please say yes…”

Between Us stretches beyond the heavy emotions of death and grieving across a wide range of topics. Actor Rhys Muldoon swaps jovial love letters with Kram, the singer of 1990s rockers Spiderbait. Actors Claudia Karvan and Jeremy Lindsay Taylor write about relationship counselling as their characters Judy and Martin from Puberty Blues. Jane Caro writes about ageing and life now that her children have fled the roost.

Contributors here and overseas have come about through personal connections, leveraging off the rocketing profile of the project, and good old-fashioned hassling. “We’ve really disgraced ourselves begging everywhere around the world,” says Hardy. Their current wishlist includes Julia Gillard, Cate Blanchett and Maggie Beer.

“We’re the most annoying people in the Australian literary scene,” says Hardy, admitting they’re probably on “some sort of shitlist” with Blanchett’s publicists. “But until she takes up a restraining order on us, we’re trying for Blanchett.”

One imagines it’s only a matter of time until Blanchett can find space in her schedule to take part, joining a long line of people creating incredibly powerful readings in conversely ephemeral settings, leaving permanent records of secrets, wisdom gained and personal pledges.

“On my path to reach you,” wrote Young to her 80-year-old self, “I promise to grab every opportunity with both hands, to say yes as often as I can, to take risks, to scare myself stupid, and to have a shitload of fun.

“See you in our hover-chair, lady.”

Between Us: Words of Wit and Wisdom from Women of Letters is published by Viking, $29.99. 

And another thing

The first international edition, Airmail: Women of Letters, featuring Lionel Shriver, Moby, Tim Minchin, Martha Wainwright, Monica McInerney and more, will be published in April.

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Tim O’Brien’s bush horses join National Museum of Australia’s ‘Spirited’ exhibition

Tim O’Brien and palomino Roxy at Boggy Creek, Tumbarumba. Photo: Heidi Pritchard, National Museum of AustraliaCanberra Life: Your home for the Canberra arts
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A resourceful bushman, Tim O’Brien once used his four dogs to keep warm while injured on the ground on a remote Snowy Mountains cattle station after being thrown from his horse.

The fourth generation cattleman and shearer is riding high these days, about to join the National Museum of Australia’s Spirited exhibition which honours horses, in Canberra from January 15.

But years ago, while riding a young horse to move cattle between Tumbarumba and Corryong, he fell and was knocked senseless. He came to unaware of what had happened and waited hours before he was discovered lying on his back, hanging on to the reins of his horse.

“Lucky I couldn’t get up because if I did I would have headed in the wrong direction, because I lost all my bearings,” O’Brien says. “It was getting dark near the middle of winter, I had four dogs with me, laying on me keeping me a bit warm, it was cold.”

Eventually he was found and taken to hospital. He recovered and, growing tired of working away from home as a shearer and stockman, developed a horse show at Tumbarumba.

O’Brien’s journey is typical of the bonds between people and their horses which feature in Spirited.  He will show his close relationships with four horses in shows at the museum’s loop amphitheatre.

The O’Briens came from Ireland to Tumbarumba in the 1880s after gold had brought settlement to the area. These days he runs an Angus cattle stud. He has bred and trained brumbies which he trapped with his father for the forestry commission. They lure the wild horses into temporary yards with a salt block.

“Because of the high rainfall the area lacks in salt up here. That’s how we muster most of our cattle out of the  mountains as well, using salt.”

He bred a foal from a brumby mare and palomino stallion brought from a neighbour for $50. He named his buckskin horse ‘Minstrel’ and has developed his training methods from there.

“We used an old-fashioned method, we roped her, whereas now we know a lot more and work a lot more on their natural instinct to want to be a herd animal,” O’Brien says.

“You present yourself as a leader and they want to follow you because you are the leader of their herd, so to speak.

“You put pressure on a horse. I might step in on its hindquarter which makes it want to face me and I will take the pressure off [by walking away] and the horse realises  I am not going to hurt them, but is comfortable to look at me and be with me.”

These days he performs with Ramjet, a quarter horse gelding he brought from a neighbour [“he’s named Roger”] for $250. The early training was to prepare for the Man from Snowy River bush festival at Corryong.

“To do those challenges you have got to be really good and your horse needs to be good, so that got him started. I started teaching him tricks, so I could do all those challenges. I could ride him around without a saddle or bridle. He lays down, picks things up.”

The skills form O’Brien’s Boggy Creek show, which draws groups of between 30 and 60 tourists.

“What we do is real Australian,” he says. “We have pack horses, working dogs, I’m a shearer so I shear the sheep. There’s a lot of history in what we do, a lot of comedy too. We have kids here, school groups, pre-school up to seniors.”

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Security measures won’t be ramped up for ANZ Stadium Asian Cup fixtures

Not a high risk: security will be as normal for the Uzbekistan/North Korea clash on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium. Photo: Dallas Kilponen Not a high risk: security will be as normal for the Uzbekistan/North Korea clash on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
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Not a high risk: security will be as normal for the Uzbekistan/North Korea clash on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

Not a high risk: security will be as normal for the Uzbekistan/North Korea clash on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

Socceroos get off to flying start in Asian Cup with 4-1 win over KuwaitThe perfect start as Socceroos show glimpses of Ange Postecoglou’s visionPostecoglou has reason to smile after Socceroos blitz Kuwait

Security for the first Asian Cup game held in Sydney will be vigilant, but no excess measures will be in place for those heading to ANZ Stadium on Saturday night for the match between Uzbekistan and North Korea.

A normal police presence for a football match at the stadium will be present but no increased checks, searches or screening measures will be in place around the precinct for Sydney’s first hosting match. Forecasts based on ticket sales indicate a crowd of between 12,000 and 15,000 is expected to walk through the gates for a match between two nations with no significant diaspora in Australia.

The predicted attendance and nature of the Group B clash means security officials and NSW Police do not deem the game as a “high risk”.

“We continue to liaise with NSW police and our security plans are in line with NSW Police and the organisers of the event,” a stadium spokesman said.

The predicted crowd figure allays fears of an embarrassingly small attendance for arguably the lowest profile match of the tournament. While North Korea and Uzbekistan are hardly minnows in Asia, neither were considered a “drawcard” team for the tournament and have few players known by the public. The draw for the Asian Cup was made after the selection of venues and dates by the local organising committee.

The two nations form what is regarded by some as the tournament’s “group of death” alongside Saudi Arabia and China. With no powerhouse or whipping boys in the group, it is contested by four teams of a similar calibre. Uzbekistan and North Korea share recent history, being pitted together in the qualification process for the 2014 World Cup. In both games, Uzbekistan registered narrow 1-0 victories over “Chollima”.

“I think every team is dangerous if you think you’re going to win the match before the game; it’s not right and you can lose. Every team is dangerous for us but hopefully we will win all the games in the group,” defender Vitaliy Denisov said.

Uzbekistan fancy their chances of progressing further than the group and set a target of reaching the final of the tournament. “I hope we go to the final, we have a really good team now, experience and youth,” centre-back Anzur Ismailov said.

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Tributes flow for Kep Enderby: ‘Champion for the ACT’ dies

From left, Gough Whitlam, Sir John Kerr, Tom Uren, Kep Enderby and Jim Cairns at Government House. Photo: Fairfax LibraryFormer federal Labor politician Kep Enderby was described as a champion of the ACT by his admirers after his death on Wednesday at age 88.
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The former QC, NSW Supreme Court judge and attorney-general in Gough Whitlam’s government was a major player in the governance of the ACT.

He was minister for the ACT under Whitlam, the MP for the seat of Canberra and as attorney-general brought forward a bill decriminalising homosexuality and abortion in the territory.

His death coincided with a move by the ACT Government to expunge historical convictions of gay men having consensual sex.

Fraser MP Andrew Leigh said it was appropriate “we should be looking at this with the passing of Kep Enderby this week”.

“He was a great champion for the ACT,” Dr Leigh said.

“He was somebody who drove important legislative reforms on racial discrimination, on no-fault divorce, and indeed on legalising sexual relationships between consenting adults in the ACT.

“He was somebody who never fluctuated in his principles, somebody who held fast to his view as a social democrat.”

Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann said Mr Enderby had been described by the ACT Labor family as having a gifted mind.

“As the current member for Canberra, I pay tribute to Kep for his vision for our city and nation (and) commitment to social justice,” she said.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr he was deeply saddened by the news of the death.

“He was a passionate Labor man who fought strongly for Labor values,” Mr Barr said.

ACT Labor MLA Chris Bourke said Mr Enderby championed the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people during the Aboriginal Tent Embassy protest which Mr Bourke called “one of the most effective political actions in Australian history”.

“In 1972, as ALP spokesperson for the Interior, Enderby stood up against the McMahon government’s attempts to tear down the Tent Embassy,” he said.

Mr Enderby, a skilled golfer, studied law at Sydney University and lectured at the Australian National University.

He moved to Sydney at the end of his political career.

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Socceroos get off to flying start in Asian Cup with 4-1 win over Kuwait

Australian captain Jedinak suffers injury scareThe perfect start as Socceroos show glimpses of Ange Postecoglou’s visionPostecoglou has reason to smile after Socceroos blitz KuwaitSecurity measures won’t be ramped up for ANZ Stadium Asian Cup fixtures
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The Socceroos got off to a flying start in their Asian Cup opener, defeating Kuwait 4-1 on a rainy night in Melbourne – but not before giving the 25,000-plus crowd an early scare.

Ange Postecoglou’s team trailed for more than 20 minutes in the first half after conceding an early lead before getting on top of their  game but outclassed opponents

Tim Cahill – who else – spared the nation’s blushes when he levelled in the 33rd minute after Australia had been rocked to  its foundations when the Kuwaitis, whom few had given any chance, took a shock lead in the eighth minute.

Cahill’s leveller steadied nerves. Massimo Luongo put Australia in front shortly before the interval and captain Mile Jedinak wrapped the game up with a penalty in the 62nd minute. James Troisi iced the cake with a fourth in stoppage time.

The margin could have been greater as Australia twice hit the woodwork, through Mathew Leckie and Nathan Burns.

Kuwait had barely got out of their own half in the opening minutes as the hosts, inspired by a vociferous crowd bedecked in yellow team shirts, roared them on. But when they did the visitors made the most of their opportunity.

Sultan Alenezi broke down the right and played a backheel to teammate Khaled Alqahtani, who returned the pass before Alenezi played it forward to go out for a corner.

From the resultant set piece Australia’s defenders stood and watched as Ali Hussain Fadhel ran unchecked to stoop and head the cross past Mat Ryan in the Australian goal.

It was hardly the start the hosts had expected and a stunned silence fell  as the pessimists in the crowd began to wonder if history would repeat: the last time Kuwait played the Socceroos on Australian soil they had pulled off a stunning 1-0 win in Canberra in an Asian Cup qualifier in 2009.

The Kuwaitis, long on endeavour and commitment but short on adventure, parked not one but a fleetload of buses in front of their own goal and sought to hold on to an advantage they could only have dreamed of enjoying so early in the game.

Would the Socceroos panic? Would they have the quality to break down the massed ranks of Kuwait resistance and find a way to avoid being on the end of the sort of upset which is all too common for host nations in the opening games of major tournaments.

Postecoglou’s side enjoyed the bulk of possession but were frustrated on numerous occasions by desperate Kuwaiti defence and their inability to find the pass that would thread  a way through.

Postecoglou had sprung a surprise in his starting line-up, leaving out the experienced Mark Bresciano and starting young Luongo in midfield.

It was a move that raised eyebrows but was to pay dividends. Luongo, a former Tottenham youth team player now at pace-setting League One club Swindon Town, may lack the guile of his seniors. But his energy, dynamism and drive added zest to the attack and it was he who set up Cahill for the equaliser just after the half-hour mark.

Luongo received the ball from an Ivan Franjic throw on the right and powered away from three opponents before pulling the ball back for Cahill to sweep a rising shot past Hameed Youssef, who in truth had had little to do to that point.

The goal was the least Australia deserved for its pressure, and having broken through once it always looked likely to go on and get a second – as it duly did just before the interval.

And it was Luongo again who made the difference, this time applying the finishing touch himself when he rose to head home from a Franjic cross, getting away from defenders and connecting with the ball just before Cahill could launch himself in its direction.

The second half began as the first half had ended, with the Australians buzzing and looking to put the game to bed with a third goal. Cahill almost got a second just before the hour mark when the ball broke to him inside the penalty area and he drove low, only to be denied by a good save from Hameed.

Then  Leckie came agonisingly close with a thunderous drive which beat the goalkeeper all ends up but crashed to safety off the underside of the crossbar.

The third goal came shortly after however, and it arrived from the penalty spot after Robbie Kruse, who had drawn a number of fouls all evening, was brought down in the area.  Jedinak calmly sent the goalkeeper the wrong way and stroked the ball into an empty net. Substitute  Burns went close, Hameed produced some good saves and although Kuwait showed some more adventure as they sought to reduce the deficit there was only going to be one winner.

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Sri Lankan leadership change should refocus Australia’s relationship

The surprise defeat of Sri Lanka’s longest serving leader should force Australia to review its immigration policies and “unprincipled and problematic relationship” with the country, human rights advocates say.
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On Friday, the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa was overthrown by his former health minister Maithripala Sirisena who made the shock decision to run against Rajapaksa in the election just six weeks ago.

Until now, Australia’s increasingly cosy relationship with Rajapaksa, who was in his 10th year of power, has been heavily criticised by human rights groups under both the Labor and Coalition governments.

In November 2013 the Abbott government gifted the country two boats to help stem the flow of asylum seekers and then refused to back an independent international investigation into the country’s alleged war crimes in February.

“As part of its one-eyed obsession with stopping the boats, the Australian government has ignored, condoned and even abetted human rights abuses in Sri Lanka,”  said Emily Howie, Director of advocacy and research at the Human Rights Law Centre.

“Hopefully a new president means a new start, but whether Australia will grasp that opportunity remains to be seen,” she said.

Australian director Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, said Australia needed to now consider the voices of the Sri Lankan people rather than making “dodgy deals with authoritarian rulers”.

“For too long, the Australian government simply accepted and regurgitated the Rajapaksa line about improvements in Sri Lanka after the war. But this vote calls that into question, and provides an opportunity for reassessing issues that both governments should take advantage of,” she said.

The Tamil Refugee Council said Australia should shift its focus from “stopping the boats” to stopping the persecution of Tamils on the small island nation.

Tamil asylum seekers are one of the few groups of migrants who are subjected to “enhanced screening” if they arrive in Australia without a valid visa, meaning they are immediately returned back to the country.

“Up to now, Australia, under both Labor and Coalition governments, has backed Rajapaksa and his cabal of war criminals in order to bring an end to the flow of Tamil asylum seekers to our shores,” said the Refugee Council spokesman Trevor Grant. 

“If Australia really wants to stop Tamils fleeing in the long term, then the root cause must be addressed, which is the persecution. We can only hope that this forms part of the discussion in Abbott’s congratulatory phone call to Sirisena,” he said.

In July a boat load of 153 Tamil asylum seekers were intercepted at sea by Australian customs vessels and returned to Sri Lanka, while in late November another boatload of 28 Sri Lankan nationals were handed over to Sri Lankan authorities.

The Abbott government has consistently deemed it safe to return Sri Lankan nationals to the country, saying the Civil war has now ended and the country is “at peace”.

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Western Sydney Wanderers striker Tomi Juric on cusp of record transfer deal

Western Sydney Wanderers striker Tomi Juric appears certain to break the Australian transfer record this summer after his club received a $2 million transfer offer from an unnamed Chinese club.
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Juric is in the final five months of his contract with the Wanderers, but may have played his final game for the club with Shanghai Shenhua and another Chinese Super League club submitting lucrative offers of $1.5 million and $2 million respectively to make him a January acquisition.

The 23-year-old forward will become a free agent when his contract expires in June, but the Wanderers could still land an incredible windfall with a late sale.

Regardless of which deal they choose, the club appears certain to create a new transfer record with both offers in excess of the $1.3 million Central Coast Mariners received from Guangzhou R&F for Rostyn Griffiths.

Juric was close to sealing a move to Shanghai in December before negotiations stalled, but the club has since submitted a renewed offer to the Wanderers with a transfer fee of $1.5 million.

The contract on offer to Juric would make him the highest paid Australian footballer; he could earn as much as $18 million over three seasons. The deal includes a minimum salary of $3 million, with bonuses and other benefits on offer.

Club sources suggest Juric is eager to finalise a deal with Shanghai despite a rival Chinese club – from a smaller city – offering a salary worth more than Shenhua’s proposed contract of more than $3 million a season.

However, the player could be set for a clash with the Western Sydney hierarchy, which is understood to be ready to accept the offer from the rival Chinese club, rather than Juric’s preferred destination.

The club has informed Juric’s representatives of their preference to accept the $2 million offer with no guarantee of allowing him to move to Shanghai.

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Emergency departments feel the new year pain

“The emergency department can’t admit patients if there’s no flow at the other end. Now everyone is involved”: Dr Sellappa Prahalath, with nurse unit manager Daryn Mitford. Photo: Nick Moir “The emergency department can’t admit patients if there’s no flow at the other end. Now everyone is involved”: Dr Sellappa Prahalath, with nurse unit manager Daryn Mitford. Photo: Nick Moir
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“The emergency department can’t admit patients if there’s no flow at the other end. Now everyone is involved”: Dr Sellappa Prahalath, with nurse unit manager Daryn Mitford. Photo: Nick Moir

“The emergency department can’t admit patients if there’s no flow at the other end. Now everyone is involved”: Dr Sellappa Prahalath, with nurse unit manager Daryn Mitford. Photo: Nick Moir

Five days after Christmas, the emergency ward at Royal North Shore Hospital was heaving.

More than 220 patients limped, lurched and wheeled through the doors. Ambulances piled up outside. One person waited at least 18 hours to be seen by a doctor. Others not much less.

A medico observing the packed waiting room was alarmed.

“It can’t go on like this,” he said later. “The system will implode.”

The fortnight over Christmas and New Year’s Day is notoriously busy for emergency departments. Boxing Day is the busiest day of the year.

General practices, pharmacies and all the places that people usually go for minor ailments are closed, so instead they drive out to the hospitals and perch on plastic chairs among the bleeding and rasping.

These patients build up like a dam in the emergency department, which has a reduced capacity to feed them through to specialists within the hospital.

Many of the wards have closed. Doctors, nurses and administrators have gone on holidays and there are fewer beds for the patients that need further care.

Those that move into the hospital take longer to be discharged. The entire system slows down.

Mona Vale Hospital’s director of emergency, Andy Ratchford, said the predictability of the Christmas crush did not alter its course.

“Even though we know it’s going to happen, we don’t increase our staffing because we can’t afford it,” Dr Ratchford said.

“We don’t open up more beds because we can’t afford it. So obviously if you’re going to have the same number of beds and the same number of staff and more people coming in, you’re going to run into trouble.”

Patients arriving at Blacktown Hospital on Monday felt the brunt of that trouble as they waited in corridors, on stretchers and waiting room beds as night turned to day and back into night again.

One 63-year-old woman, weak from days of vomiting, waited close to 40 hours to be moved into a ward.

During that time the paramedics who delivered her to hospital needed to be relieved by another team, because they are not permitted to leave patients until beds are found for them.

Health administrators declined to comment on reports that 60 beds out of a total of 450 at Blacktown Hospital were closed over Christmas. Other sources have put the figure at closer to 40.

One staff member says while this might be reasonable in a hospital with extra beds, Blacktown has no surge capacity to cope with the straitened resources.

“Closing large numbers of beds over the Christmas period was always going to result in [delays],” the source says.

Australasian College of Emergency Medicine’s Simon Judkins says trolley blocking – leaving patients on stretchers until they can be admitted – is less an emergency department problem than a hospital problem because it cannot be fixed without everyone working together to improve flow.

A 2013 analysis by the NSW Auditor General found it was increasing. An average of 20 ambulances spend their days in hospitals instead of on the road, the report found, a figure that has tripled inside a decade.

Some emergency physicians believe more surgeons should be encouraged to continue working over the summer to open more beds for people flowing through from emergency departments.

Evening the spread of elective surgery would also reduce pressure in the flu season over winter, when it often has to be cancelled for spikes in admissions from elderly patients, Dr Judkins says.

“They do save a hell of a lot of money at that time by putting people on leave and closing theatres,” Dr Judkins says.

“The problem with what happened at Blacktown is it probably got to the point where they just closed too many beds.

“And to try and ramp up the whole hospital machine, to try to get people discharged, is just impossible because all those people who would normally be there – the social workers, the pharmacists, the physiotherapists – are all on annual leave.”

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner is familiar with the argument that hospitals should not shut down over summer, as she made it herself in opposition. She says hospitals use algorithms to calculate the demand and ensure they have enough staff and the problems at Blacktown were caused by an unanticipated spike in demand.

“We’ve stopped the long, long shutdowns that Labor used to implement – eight to nine weeks,” she says.

“This Christmas New Year, most hospitals shut for two to two-and-a-half weeks and that’s just normal.”

One year she invited surgeons to volunteer to continue providing elective surgery over the Christmas period, but only two took up the call.

“I’m not going to force doctors to work when they want to spend time with their families,” she says.

As the population ages, emergency department presentations are forecasted to increase  10 per cent annually.

The scale of the looming influx has forced health administrators around the world to seek new ways of alleviating pressure on emergency departments.

Most hospitals now recognise that emergency department blockages are not just a problem for the emergency department, but that the whole hospital needs to work together.

NSW Health introduced the Whole of Hospital Program in 2012, which includes strategies such as ensuring that appointments are set aside for emergency patients to have x-rays and MRI scans, so they do not wait all day for appointments, and that beds are cleaned and ready.

One study identified 24 to 33 per cent of latent capacity in Australian hospitals.

Campbelltown Hospital, which is  upgrading its emergency department facilities, has reported huge improvements since it started on the program.

It now offloads 92 per cent of patients from ambulances within 30 minutes, compared with 60 per cent before it joined the program, and with 160 to 180 presentations per day, it is one of the busiest emergency departments in town.

Director of medical services, Sellappa Prahalath, said the hospital previously struggled to meet its key performance indicators.

“We wanted to get the whole of hospital involved in the process. The emergency department can’t admit patients if there’s no flow at the other end. Now everyone is involved.

“Systems were put in place which expedited flow.”

Dr Ratchford said the Whole of Hospital Program had led to a huge improvement at Mona Vale Hospital, but the forecasted increase in emergency presentations loomed large.

“Whole of Hospital can help patients get through a bit quicker, but it’s never going to keep pace with that amount of presentations.

“There are definite improvements that have come about in the last couple of years, but in a way it’s just chipping around the edges.”

The scene at Royal North Shore Hospital on December 30 was not outside the usual range for the busy festive period. It took an average 29 minutes to be seen by a clinician on that day, a further three hours to be admitted and another hour before a bed was ready on the ward.

The local health service was not able to comment on the patient who waited 18 hours.

At St George Hospital, 250 patients swung through the doors on each of their two busiest days, Boxing Day and January 2, but in a sign that patients were flowing, ambulances were waiting only 15 minutes to transfer patients.

Campbelltown Hospital fielded 218 presentations on Boxing Day and a similar number on New Year’s Day, but nearly all of them were off their stretchers within 30 minutes.

Dr Judkins says sometimes closing down beds for surgery over summer means less competition for emergency patients.

“But it’s a fine balance. If you get the mix wrong, you end up with a situation like Blacktown.”

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The perfect start as Socceroos show glimpses of Ange Postecoglou’s vision

Socceroos get off to flying start in Asian Cup with 4-1 win over KuwaitPostecoglou has reason to smile after Socceroos blitz KuwaitSecurity measures won’t be ramped up for ANZ Stadium Asian Cup fixtures
Shanghai night field

Ange Postecoglou has always hoped  that Australia would play a certain way but the process of regeneration – and a string of difficult opponents – has meant his vision has been a slow, often frustrating burn.

But on the first night of the Asian Cup on home soil, against an opponent of dubious quality – who sacked their coached after a 5-0 defeat to Oman only six weeks ago – the time for deliverance had come. They didn’t disappoint.

It must be frustrating for the coach to not have elite technical players like his predecessors but, regardless, he’s committed to forging ahead with his possession-based style until it becomes second nature.

Kuwait, finally, were a team that allowed the Socceroos to practise what they preach. They did not press, instead preferring to hanging as deep as the AAMI Park margins allowed.

Harder for Australia to break down, yes, but offering enough space for them to grow in confidence. Postecoglou has seldom been afforded that luxury. His players gobbled it up.

A 4-1-4-1 formation doesn’t sound attacking but it actually meant the Socceroos had five players pushing up at any one time – four attacking midfielders just behind Tim Cahill. And, almost every time you looked up, the players had rotated with each other without looking out of place.

Mathew Leckie and the sharp James Troisi swapped on the left, Robbie Kruse was mostly as a number ten but drifted wide or helped Tim Cahill if he so desired. Massimo Luongo was fairly committed to the right flank – and was probably Australia’s best – but Ivan Franjic’s energy gave him ample support.

What does all that mean? An avalanche of numbers in advanced positions, perhaps the most an Australian team has had in years. It can’t always be this way, certainly not against elite football nations, but Australia, at last, set out to dominate a team they should dominate.

It could have all gone to pieces, too, had they lost their heads when Kuwait went 1-0 ahead.

Herein lies the problem with man-marking. It sounds – to our traditional Australian sports mind – to be risk-averse. But if one defender makes even so much as a half-mistake, the attacking team has the upper hand.

Australia set up fine at the corner, but when two players went to same man, the Kuwaitis had a spare. That spare was Hussain Fadhel, who was lost by Trent Sainsbury and Matthew Spiranovic. Mat Ryan was stranded as Fadhel scored the tournament’s first goal.

But the goal came so early that Australia had time to re-group. Overloaded with attacking players anyway, the Socceroos needed no tactical adjustment. They just had to stay composed and stick to the plan.

Mile Jedinak’s free kick, won after Kruse was brought down, was inches away. The interplay, back and forth, in the middle of the park and the edge of the box, only increased.

Fahad Al Ansari – the 195 centimetre man-mountain in the centre of the Kuwait midfield – did all he could to clog the space and organise his teammates. The wing-backs, Fahad Al Hajri on the right and Khaled Al Qahtani on the left, were fighting to stay above water. Something had to give.

Soon after, Luongo beat out three Kuwaitis to pick out Cahill, who stabbed the ball home with a Totti-like finish. You just cannot deny his ability to find an extra gear in the national shirt.

Now they wanted the lead before half-time and that’s exactly what they got. Franjic, who used to play down the road in a local competition until a few years ago, showed great ability by switching onto his left foot and delivering a cross that Luongo somehow rose to meet.

Mile Jedinak added a third from the spot in the second half but Al-Azraq were already beaten.

That gave Postecoglou the ultimate luxury as the game wore on, resting Cahill and Kruse, bringing on Tomi Juric and Nathan Burns. He then brought on the old stager, Mark Bresciano, for Luongo, for some feel-good home-town minutes. Troisi merely iced the cake in injury time.

The Asian Cup has begun, and for Australia, it couldn’t have started any better.

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Meet Luke Foley: Labor’s reluctant leader

Luke Foley is under no illusion about the scale of the job ahead. Photo: James Brickwood.
Shanghai night field

Cricket tragic Luke Foley enjoys time in the members’ enclosure at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Photo: James Brickwood

Cricket tragic Luke Foley enjoys time in the members’ enclosure at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Photo: James Brickwood

Luke Foley is under no illusion about the scale of the job ahead. Photo: James Brickwood.

Cricket tragic Luke Foley enjoys time in the members’ enclosure at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Photo: James Brickwood

Luke Foley is under no illusion about the scale of the job ahead. Photo: James Brickwood.

Cricket tragic Luke Foley enjoys time in the members’ enclosure at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Photo: James Brickwood

Early last Wednesday morning, Luke Foley hit the footpaths of suburban Auburn, meeting residents of one of Sydney’s most culturally diverse communities in the rapidly rising western suburbs heat.

By day’s end he was rubbing shoulders with the city’s elite in the air-conditioned comfort of the members’ enclosure at the Sydney Cricket Ground, nestled in the affluent eastern suburbs.

Among those keen to congratulate the newly appointed NSW Labor Party leader were his friends, former National Australia Bank chief executive Cameron Clyne and John McCarthy, Australia’s Ambassador to the Holy See.

“He brings Pope Francis’s best wishes to my leadership,” Foley jokes of McCarthy as he strolls around the SCG in a vain attempt, given the number of people congratulating him, to snatch a few hours watching Australia put India to the sword on day two of the Sydney Test.

Such is the breadth of experience for NSW’s new opposition leader, fewer than three days into the job.

In reality, Foley’s appearance in the members’ has little to do with his new status.

A cricket tragic, he has been an SCG member since 1991-92, after his mother, Helen, put his name on the waiting list when he was a child.

He has tried to attend all five days of the Sydney Test ever since that January in 1992, when he saw Shane Warne take his first Test wicket – that of current Indian team manager Ravi Shastri.

A day with the members is just part of who he has long been.

A day in suburban Auburn, it could be argued, is a comparatively new experience.

Foley, 44, his wife Edel and their children Aoife, 8, Niamh, 6, and Patrick, 5, live in Concord West, half a kilometre outside the boundary of the Auburn electorate.

Until now he has had little need to immerse himself in the neighbouring community, enjoying as he has a comfortable seat in the NSW Legislative Council, where members do not directly represent electorates.

That is about to change, after Foley  was preselected on Thursday as  Labor’s candidate for Auburn at the March 28 election, so he can   move to the lower house.

From now until polling day, Foley will need to devote a large chunk of his time to getting to know the people he hopes will make it happen.

After effectively having the decks cleared for him by ALP head office, he also needs to counter the impression Auburn is nothing more than a port of convenience for the new party leader and the Labor machine.

Fortunately for Foley, Auburn is a relatively safe Labor seat, because doing so would otherwise be quite an ask, given the pressure already building on him less than three months from polling day.

It’s all a far cry from how Foley envisaged his summer break only a couple of weeks ago.

“I was looking forward to a Christmas break and then John [Robertson] unexpectedly resigned two days prior to Christmas,” Foley says.

“That threw everything into a state of flux.”

Soon after Robertson quit as opposition leader – after it emerged he signed a letter of request for Lindt siege gunman Man Haron Monis as his local MP in 2011 – many eyes turned to Foley.

Would he finally succumb to two years of urging from his colleagues, who hoped he would take the leadership at some stage?

Foley says his immediate reaction was to feel “both sorry for John and immediately apprehensive that the party would turn to me”.

“Before December 23 all of the approaches were in the realm of the hypothetical,” he says.

“When John resigned suddenly it wasn’t hypothetical any more. It was very real, it was immediately real. And I knew I had a decision to make.”

Apprehensive. It’s not a descriptor you would expect from a career politician effectively being handed the leadership of the NSW Labor Party on a plate, thanks to the strong support – many would say intervention – of ALP officials in Sussex Street.

But Foley insists he has never coveted the leadership. Yes, he has “given it some thought”, but says he has long seen himself in something of a consigliore role, serving as an adviser at the right hand of the leader.

“I was happy to be an important figure but a step out of the limelight,” he says, much in the style of the man to whom he is closest in politics, the respected retiring ALP Senator John Faulkner.

“I just never thought [leadership] was me”.

This will come as an incongruous statement to anyone who has observed Foley at close quarters in his first few days as leader.

He exuded confidence at his inaugural news conference and ever since has carried a remarkable lightness of being.

“A wise man taught me the importance of flicking the switch to vaudeville when the time comes,” Foley jokes.

“Now that I’m doing it, it’s no holds barred. I’m out there. I know what it involves – living my life in the full public glare. And I will give it my all.”

The line, “flick the switch to Vaudeville” was of course famously uttered by former prime minister Paul Keating, who said it was required from leaders “every now and then”.

Keating, along with former prime minister Bob Hawke and the late former NSW premier Neville Wran, are three men Foley mentions as leadership role models.

This is because they “brought a breadth to Labor’s agenda”. Indeed, at that first news conference, Foley raised a few eyebrows when he announced he was “not an ideologue” when it came to privatisation of state assets.

He says it was a deliberate statement as part of an outline of his personal vision and values.

“I don’t want to run simply a narrow industrial agenda,” he says.

“I want to run a broad Labor agenda that talks about social policy, that talks about the environment, that talks about the arts and culture and that relates to business, supports private sector activity, with all of it underpinned by Labor values, in particular a compassionate heart.”

The privatisation statement will also be read, at least in part, as an attempt to deflect a label the Coalition government is already applying to Foley: just another union hack.

Foley spent seven years as an organiser and then secretary of the Australian Services Union.

This, and his subsequent role as assistant secretary of the NSW Labor Party, have been used to frame him as a party drone bereft of life experience beyond politics.

In contrast, Premier Mike Baird spent many years in investment banking before entering Parliament.

Foley rejects this as “a tired old refrain from the Liberals”.

“I’m very proud of the years I spent representing community workers,” he says.

“This is a workforce that is the lowest paid in the country. An 80 per cent female workforce in disability services, refuges, drug and alcohol rehab. These people work with the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised.

“I think it’s a strange old world when working with people in the welfare sector is marked down as not real-life experience but working for a merchant bank is.”

This is about as close as Foley has come to a chip at his new opponent, Baird – for the time being, at least.

“I respect him,” Foley says. “I have no dislike for Mike whatsoever. We’ve never exchanged a cross word – that will change. I’m determined that this will be an election contest about ideas without ever being personal.”

Foley is under no illusion about the scale of the job ahead, with fewer than 11 weeks before polling day and the task of convincing voters to dump a first-term government with a 68-seat majority in a 93-seat Parliament.

Like every leader before him he will not countenance defeat: “No team ever runs on to the sporting field aiming to lose. I have to aim to win.”

But he acknowledges it’s “a huge mountain to climb and I don’t underestimate the scale of the task”.

“But I enter the campaign with the good wishes of the entire Labor movement and I will proudly lead them into this contest.”

 

 

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