Occident Prone

Welcome to Australia’s wild West

Archive for July, 2008

Can free rent for artists make the city cool?

Posted by occidentprone on July 30, 2008

There’s a plan afoot to turn dead retail space in the dead heart of dead Perth city into artists’ garrets.

The West Australian‘s paper edition today – but AGAIN not the website – reports property groups such as Hawaiian are making upstairs spaces in the Carillon and the Hay and Murray street malls available at low rent or even no rent to artists. Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi says the landlords are “good corporate citizens”.

More than 90 artists are on a waiting list for city studio space.

Can a place be made cool like this? Can a bohemian vibe be manufactured in this way by the city council?

I don’t see why not. Artists’ ghettoes have long been in places that were dead to the more materially minded and Perth city is in need of resuscitation. And by jewellers and painters and artisans moving in, paradoxically, it becomes cool again.

In a post a few months back I looked at some criteria for making a place desirable but outside the obvious shopping-cafe precinct kind of way. Free rent is another way to draw life back in.

Posted in Diversions, Perth | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Starbucks, I never knew you … and now I never will

Posted by occidentprone on July 30, 2008

WA has been blessed by being free of three scourges insidious in other states.

The cane toad is on the march and could be well into WA’s north within a few years.

Money and life-sucking Pokies are restricted to the Burswood Casino and are not filling every suburban gathering spot from Lockridge to Spearwood but it’s been a while since the Liberals stated their position on this so all this could change.

But Starbucks, which never made it west, looks like never coming here. The ABC reports: 

Coffee chain Starbucks says it will close 61 of its 84 stores across Australia by Sunday, shedding 685 jobs in an effort to shore up its international business.

The company says the stores will close because they have been under-performing.

Twenty-three stores will remain open in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, where Starbucks says it wants to refocus on its core operations.

The multi-national last month announced 600 stores in the United States would close as sales plummeted against a background of a weakening US economy.

About 12,000 jobs were lost.

In a statement, the company’s chief executive Howard Schultz says the company is well into the implementation phase of transforming Starbucks.

The statement says today’s difficult yet necessary decision will help support the ongoing growth of Starbucks’ international business.

In a prerecorded interview released by Starbucks, the company’s Asia Pacific president John Kulver says the company will help staff who lose their jobs.

“We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can as a company to support them with this restructuring,” he said.

It never came here so I never learned to love the coffee behemoth. But intelligent, interesting, creative people I love and respect were big fans. I couldn’t imagine that could be me but then I bet a lot of pokie addicts underestimated the pull of the flashing lights and mesmerising escapism.

No doubt writers and commentators the blogosphere over are combing the metaphorical significance of Starbucks’ ill-health. I’ll leave the obituaries to those who were passionate about it one way or the other and just be thankful I never had to care.

If you do care, these might be of interest: 

Posted in Diversions | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Forget the flat white, get yourself a good book

Posted by occidentprone on July 28, 2008

Yesterday I popped down to Cino to Go in Mt Lawley to get a feel for what Stephen Smith might have been thinking when he took the US Secretary of State there on Friday, and to just be where she had been.

This is by no means a plug for Cino because there are heaps of great coffee spots in Mt Lawley.  Though I found they’re sprinkling real chocolate on the top of the cappuccino so maybe that’s why our Foreign Affairs Minister finds it appealing.

But if he really wanted to make an impression he should have taken Dr Rice – chaperoned by his parents of course – to Planet Books. She has said she sends friends to do her clothes shopping but bookshop browsing is not something you can delegate. Even the endlessness of Amazon is no match for the smell, see, feel, hear assault you get by craning your neck through all the shelves and flicking through the ones that catch your eye.

Planet, along with the smaller Oxford Books in Leederville, are bastions for the slow browsers. I have easily spent an hour just looking – and not even buying in the end but still feeling as though it was an afternoon well spent.

I can see Condi, brow furrowed before the bank of political and current affairs books, pondering the anti-Bush and anti-US themes, and suddenly having a lightbulb moment – PING – Time for the US to get out of Iraq, time to use this international influence for good, to not just bide time by Bush’s side, to recognise America is no longer the prestigious hemisphere it once was, that its “brand” is tarnished.

Maybe Smith could point her towards a John Pilger rant or the Latham Diaries (any of those still around?) for a bit of perspective.

Or the talented pianist could just buy a biography on Brahms. Either way Rice could see there’s a lot going on outside Planet Bush.

Posted in Australian politics, Diversions, Foreign affairs, Perth, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

International relations amid the art deco of Mt Lawley

Posted by occidentprone on July 26, 2008

“And here’s one of little Stevie on the first day of school – yes he was potty trained, he was just nervous.” A proud mum tells her adult son’s new friend everything she needs to know for a fruitful relationship.

Here’s what it is: The most powerful woman in the world comes to Perth, home of Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister and he takes Condoleezza Rice to Cino To Go in Mt Lawley with his parents.

The Australian today has a pic of little Stevie with the very important Dr Rice and his mum and dad, in an ordinary Perth coffee shop.

For shame.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Cino To Go, hell I even like Smith. He’s been my federal member for some years and like his mum I’ve always believed in him and wanted him to do well. But this is an embarrassment and I’m not so sure he’s the man we need representing our sophisticated, modern face to the world.

Of all the hopes and aspirations political commentators and international affairs observers had for Rice’s visit – an insight into US foreign policy, a hint on future moves in Afghanistan and the Middle East – and Smith takes the US Secretary of State to his daughter’s school and his local cafe.

A few days ago commenter Skink said he too was represented by Smith and maybe the good minister could take Condi to Charcoal Chicken for a feed. I thought Skink was taking the piss but he must have had a peek in Smith’s diary. Maybe the chook shop was shut. Maybe Condi was over chicken after ASEAN. Maybe he’s trying to help Labor’s Karen Brown win the state seat of Mt Lawley. Maybe this is all a bad dream.

Here’s what The West had to say about the visit:

On lighter matters, Dr Rice revealed she and Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith had spent time explaining the rules of cricket and American football to one another.

She said she had enjoyed meeting Mr Smith’s family, and now loves “flat whites” after tasting one at a Perth coffee shop earlier today.

On an overcast day, Dr Rice’s luck held out with the rain starting to fall shortly after she left the park to head to the airport to fly on to New Zealand.

Dr Rice praised Perth as a beautiful city and a special part of Australia and said its openness and optimism reminded her of western America, which is her heart’s home.

Speaking of flat whites, maybe Smith had to cram the cringe-worthy family meetings into Rice’s itinerary (she also met his daughter and son) because he’s aware this gig is short-lived.

And if he wants the open and optimistic relationship with the States to continue Smith should start professing his love for long blacks.

Posted in Australian politics, Diversions, Foreign affairs, Perth, Politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Give the Liberals a bullet

Posted by occidentprone on July 23, 2008

The Liberals are a mess. From the backbench an old blue-blood threatens the leader, says he’ll quit and jeopardises stability. Today’s leader fears for his tenure, made all the worse by bad press and poor polls. Meanwhile, the Labor government has a blank cheque to do whatever it wants because voters can’t stomach the alternative.

WA Libs or the federal party? Well, both.

In the west, Troy Buswell had a meeting with former leader Colin Barnett “as speculation grew of a change in the Liberal leadership before the looming State election”, according to The West.

With Mr Barnett declaring that the “door was still ajar” for him to return to the leadership, Mr Buswell refused to reveal what was discussed at the hour-long meeting in Mr Barnett’s Stirling Highway office.

On a day when senior Liberals split over who should lead the party to the election in the wake of a damning Westpoll that put Mr Buswell’s standing as preferred premier at just 12 per cent, the Opposition Leader was adamant he would not stand aside for Mr Barnett.

After the meeting, which Mr Buswell said was organised on Monday and before columnist Paul Murray called in The West Australian for the Vasse MP to step aside, Mr Buswell said it was still “his understanding” that Mr Barnett intended to retire at the coming election.

“As far as I’m concerned, it was a private conversation and I don’t feel compelled to discuss it with The West Australian,” Mr Buswell said. “It was a wide-ranging conversation.”

Earlier, Mr Barnett accepted that he had not fully closed the door on a return to the leadership despite announcing his retirement and the party endorsing former Chamber of Commerce and Industry lawyer Deidre Willmott for his seat of Cottesloe.

It’s a spooky parallel of what’s happening in Canberra. Brendan Nelson scoffs at any suggestion he’s ready to stand aside as leader for Peter Costello, says The Australian.

Couldabeen Costello would be on the frontbench “with a bullet”, Nelson says. Curious choice of words from Nelson. As a doctor and ex defence minister he is surely across the damage bullets can do.

With some Costello supporters fanning suggestions in recent days that he would stay on and seek the Liberal Party leadership, Dr Nelson told The Australian he intended to lead the Opposition to the next federal election, due in 2010.

He said Mr Costello was entitled to announce his future in his own time.

“He and his family have earned the right to make a decision which is in their best interest and that of the people of(his electorate of) Higgins,” Dr Nelson said.

“Peter will announce his decision in due course. I will be very happy if Peter chooses to stay, but I will respect his decision if he chooses to go.

Nelson says all this while whistling “I’m not scared, what a beautiful day”.

What is it with the Libs letting the party haemorrhage in the polls while dithering over leadership? A good leader is worth gold but if you haven’t got that, go for stability, loyalty, unity. Voters love these things too.

Posted in Australian politics, Politics, West Australian politics | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Condoleezza Rice goes bush

Posted by occidentprone on July 21, 2008

Condoleezza Rice is coming to Perth on Thursday and Friday. The first and last time a US secretary of state visited Perth was 1985.

Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith says Condi’s visit will focus on energy security and minerals wealth. His statement, published pretty much the same on Fairfax, West, and Murdoch websites, is filled with vacuous platitudes about “alliance relationship” and “significant economic and social contribution” and “responsive to climate change difficulties” and other bureacracy-speak blah-blah. (He must have swallowed the same public service jargon manual as Rudd for all emotion and excitement to be stripped out of every event.)

Just as the Rudd Government is extricating itself from Howard’s tagalong with Bush’s wars, and Rice is coming to the end of her tenure, she is taking time to use all her travel chits:

“She describes it as a home town visit, she’s never been to Perth before and she wants to see the delights of Perth and we will do our best to accommodate that,” Mr Smith said.
“So there’ll be serious business to attend to but she also wants to see some of the beauty of Perth and that’s as it should be.”

Her complicity with Bush’s foreign affairs catastrophes aside, Dr Rice’s trip to Perth is a coup for the city and for Smith. Get your phone cameras ready for Condiwatch.

See Stephen Smith’s transcript of his meeting with Dr Rice in January here.

Posted in Australian politics, Foreign affairs, Perth, Politics | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Give me a home among the gum trees … or anywhere

Posted by occidentprone on July 16, 2008

The New York Times reports that more struggling Americans are taking in boarders to cover costs in the housing disaster over there. This helps the homebuyers battling to make ends meet and it gives cheap rent to the otherwise homeless.

Could this be a trend here in WA – as if the desperate haven’t already thought of it – where agencies mediate between would-be boarders and landlords.

Like other home-sharing agencies, St. Ambrose conducts background checks on both parties, screening out people with criminal records or histories of drug or alcohol abuse, or those who cannot afford to be stable homeowners or renters. A 10-point questionnaire sorts candidates’ feelings about pets, smoking, overnight guests and other points of compatibility.

“So far we’ve had no bodily damage,” said Annette Brennan, the program’s director (St. Ambrose provides a full range of housing services). “I say that quietly so as not to jinx it.”

In some communities, local zoning laws or homeowner associations may limit the number of nonrelated people who can live in a house. Ms. Brennan said that home-sharing could help some people caught in the housing downturn, but that its benefits were limited.

“Where we see it being of value is if someone is having short-term problems,” she said. “The average stay of a sharer is about a year, and some are much less. It’s good for someone leaving a marriage or a relationship, or going to school. You can’t count on it as a regular income. It’s a stopgap.”

Nearly 1000 people a week are moving to WA after hearing the streets are paved with gold, and experts and economists say the state needs that many to staff the boom.

There will inevitably be even more people falling in the gaps if their expectations are not met; if they can’t afford to live where the jobs are; if their relationship disintegrates after arrival; if they have health or other problems while isolated from friends and family interstate or overseas. It happens to people attracted to the bright lights of LA and New York and London, it happened to those who rushed to the gold fields in the 1800s, it’s happening anywhere there’s a fortune to be made.

Last year, Mission Australia said:

One of WA’s leading providers of crisis accommodation services has seen a large increase in the number of families needing housing support who are unable to pay the spiralling rents and mortgages brought about by the state’s booming housing market.
Between July and December 2003, Mission Australia’s Wattle House community service in Maddington received 329 requests for housing from families. Three and a half years later, between January and June 2007, the same service had 439 families requiring housing support – an increase of more than 30 per cent.
Mission Australia’s State Director, WA, Angie Paskevicius, said due to the large increase in housing prices and rents in Perth and WA over the past three years, more and more families were finding themselves homeless, at risk of homelessness, or living in overcrowded and unsuitable accommodation.

There’s another boom going on here too, a boom in social disasters, but it’s difficult to spot if you’ve got your eye on the stock market or your rental property.

Posted in Diversions, Perth | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

I like the new stuff better than the old stuff

Posted by occidentprone on July 16, 2008

Apologies to Regurgitator but the old media is getting a battering in the new media and it’s all their own fault.

An excellent piece in Crikey today led me to the author, Stilgherrian, who makes an argument for bloggers and why we should hail them even though they mightn’t be REAL journalists.

Here’s an excerpt:

What’s tiring about this false dichotomy is that it compares the highest ideal of journalism with the lowest grade of personal blogging about what the cat did yesterday and — lo and behold! — they’re not the same. Gosh.

How much everyday journalism actually conforms to the high ideal? Not much. For every Walkley-nominated episode of Four Corners there’s a hundred tawdry yarns about miracle fat cures or shonky builders with a camera shoved in their face. For every investigative scoop there’s a thousand mundane little 5-paragraph yarns that merely quote what someone said at a press conference, and then quote their opponent. Or recycle a media release, putting the journo’s byline where the PR firm’s logo used to be. Or misappropriate statistics to beat up some shock-horror non-existent “crime wave”.

What we should make of journalist “bloggers” attached to newspaper and broadcaster websites is another thing entirely.

Posted in Media | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Ledger frenzy builds

Posted by occidentprone on July 15, 2008

Batman fever is nothing in Perth compared to Heath Ledger fever. The two macabre pasttimes crashed last night when The Dark Knight, featuring home boy Ledger, premiered.

Now PerthNow reports that Ledger’s last will and testament will be played out in a West Australian court.

Heath Ledger’s daughter Matilda Rose’s claim to his estate will be decided in a West Australian court, after he left everything to his parents and sisters.

The executors of the late actor’s will, drawn up before Matilda’s birth, have applied for probate in the WA Supreme Court in Perth. 

While Ledger left everything to his parents and three sisters, it is understood they have legal advice that under WA law, the toddler is entitled to the lion’s share. 

However her mother, actor Michelle Williams, will have to officially lodge a claim with the court supported by an affidavit which could end up in the public domain, legal experts said.

The executors of Ledger’s estate, businessman Robert Collins and accountant Mark Dyson, late last week advertised in Perth’s daily newspaper for “creditors and other persons” having claims on the estate to lodge them by August 11.

This is to ensure all debts are paid before the estate is distributed, local lawyer Edwin Abdo said.

According to documents filed in a New York court after Ledger died in January, he only had $145,000 worth of assets in the US, but his entire fortune, mostly held in Australian trusts, is likely to be worth up to $20 million.

Perth’s share of hysterical and hyper-parochial media is frothing at the mouth no doubt. This morning PerthNow, WAToday and The West all had breathless reports about Ledger’s swan song and the premieres, including in New York and that other gothic metropolis – sunny Perth. A court case of that magnitude and featuring anyone who can even spell Hollywood, let alone met the troubled genius, will render the city’s professional gawpers paralysed.

PerthNow has even come up trumps with a story about another tragedy in ledger’s inner circle. Get this:

More tragedy for Dark Knight’s Heath Ledger

AS his lauded performance in The Dark Knight drew continued focus on his sad passing, more tragedy has hit Heath Ledger’s Hollywood circle.

The Aussie actor’s make-up artist, Lucy Crawford, is battling serious injuries after she was the victim of a hit-and-run car accident.

A woman driver was charged over the weekend in relation to the July 2 incident which has left the British-born creative professional with a crushed pelvis, head wounds and internal injuries.

I feel a conspiracy theory coming on.

Posted in Diversions, Media, Perth | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Kevin drops the F-bomb

Posted by occidentprone on July 12, 2008

Our Prime Minister has a bad temper and drops the F-bomb in the workplace, reports PerthNow.
Good heavens! The site said these “explosive” revelations about Kevin Rudd were contained in a new book by political analyst Peter van Onselen.

Dr van Onselen said there was a lot more to Mr Rudd than the church-going politician who was elected as Prime Minister last year.

He said that, in his office, Mr Rudd was as foul mouthed as any other politician he had studied.

“The book reveals Mr Rudd to be somewhat of a potty mouth behind closed doors,” Dr van Onselen said.

“During his Opposition leadership, our research reveals Kevin Rudd’s foul language and temper in his office and use of the F word.

“There are two Kevin Rudds. There is the Kevin Rudd that his staff gets to see and there is the Kevin Rudd that the Australian public voted for — and they are very different.

“He prefers not to swear in front of women, but does in front of men.

Dr van Onselen said the PM was accused of being a hypocrite for using bad language but kicking union boss Dean Mighell out of the Labor party for swearing. So here are Mr Rudd’s alleged crimes:

  1. He swears.
  2. He has a different face for workmates than for more formal occasions.
  3. He’s a politician but he’s two-faced and hypocritical.

Maybe in the genteel Edith Cowan University where Dr van Onselen is associate professor, no one curses. The uni name has a floral, Victorian ring to it and in that prim and upstanding vein van Onselen even says Rudd has a “potty mouth”. (We are not knocking early WA social campaigner and MP Edith Cowan or her namesake institution, just making the point that maybe Bond or Murdoch uni academics mightn’t have such an issue with rude words.)

I think Dr van Onselen has missed the hook on this one. Swearing is not so remarkable but an Aussie bloke who prefers not to swear in front of women and holds back – well that’s just weird. What is he, a poofter?

Posted in Australian politics, Politics | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »