Published Work

John Safran

Scrolling through his Facebook feed back in 2015, John Safran came across a picture of a “skinhead” with a swastika tattoo and a “cool-as-fuck black dude” in a standoff. The photo was taken at the first Reclaim Australia rally, and caused enough intrigue in Safran to attend the next one held in July, 2015.

Similar images to the one Safran saw on social media manifested at the event, but what was particularly surprising was the amount of non-white Australians in attendance supporting the Reclaim Australia movement. In response, he tweeted a photo with the caption: “Don’t mean to awkward everybody out but heaps of non-white people rallying in support of Reclaim Australia”.

An article for news.com.au was written by him in response, and after some kind words from friends and the general public, it helped shape the introduction to his newest book ‘Depends What You Mean by Extremist’.

“I wrote this article and it got really great feedback and then my friend said, ‘Oh John, you should always write like that because it’s funny and that’s what you should do’,” John mimics.

“And she was basically subtly slamming my first book [Murder in Mississippi]: ‘John it’s fine to go poking around and investigating things but it’s better if you were to be funny about things because a lot of people wish they could do that. So why don’t you just be funny’. And I thought that was a pretty good argument.

“I went to Penguin and they liked it and I really liked it because it was really Aussie. Usually with most of my stuff there’s a lump to convince people. Like, ‘This is when I grew up at Yeshiva College but I swear it speaks to bigger things and not just me’ and this was bang in the middle of white Australia and flags and not my usual novel gazing Jewish stuff,” he says.

From the day that article was published, the next 18 months for Safran were spent following rallies, drinking with the “enemies” and speaking with many of the personalities who attended the first rally – including Pastor Daniel Nalliah, a Sri Lankan immigrant supporting Reclaim Australia.

Raised as a Jew with grandparents who escaped the Nazis, Safran was taken to having tequila shots with members of the United Patriots Front and the Nationalist Alternative in his quest to discover extremist Australia. It’s an unconventional setting, but Safran confesses he’s always felt drawn to racism.

“The fact that there’s real meaningful bigotry in the world, I think the kind of interest and fascination came from that: the darkness that’s floating in the background. I guess that’s a big reason why I was fascinated with the dark world of racists,” he says.

Early on in writing the book Safran became a target due to his Jewish heritage and public profile with Nazi jokes thrown at the satirical writer at rallies. As Safran says, “this is the game I’m in”. Rather than letting the insults slide, he challenges them at the right moments, putting himself front and centre in the discussion of race and religion.

“It’s almost about making it really personal for the reader, and me making it personal in this environment is to talk about Jewish things. It’s coming from that perspective. A reader is more likely to engage in the book more because that’s what my existing audience want,” he says.

Having worked on various television projects including John Safran vs God, Music Jamboree, Race Relations and the Goddam Election! Safran is relishing the experience in writing rather than filming.

“It’s more the opposite, where for all sorts of reasons I’m really enjoying this way of researching and this way of writing,” he says. “Partly just because of my skill set. I’m not a technical camera person or anything like that, and if I was to leverage my skill set being on my own I know how to weasel into situations. It’s less of an ask when you rock up with just your Dictaphone saying, ‘Oh, you know, I’m doing a book can I talk to you?’ I can just get into cracks and little spaces rather than if I was bringing a film crew.

“I like new ways of being thrown into these worlds and having to solve new problems, so throwing yourself into a book means I have to think about things in a different way and I find that exciting – it keeps my brain alive,” he says.

This August Safran returns to one of the key scenes in his book, where the two sides of Australia’s extremism collided in Bendigo. He joins the likes of Clementine Ford, John Marsden, Maxine Beneba Clarke and more at the Bendigo Writers Festival. And he assures us, there won’t be a repeat of last time he was there.
Photo by Penguin Random House

Published in Forte Magazine and online.

Valerie’s Pantry

While Katherine Reynolds lived a relatively eco-friendly life, it wasn’t until she lived in London for three years when her appreciation of sustainable produce and living was truly formed.

“Living in the UK really opened my eyes to the intensity of waste and the impact supermarkets have on us as consumers and the environment – which allowed me to look into it more back home,” she says. “Since coming home I’ve honed in on what I would want to do, where I would like personally to shop and that’s how Valerie’s Pantry started!”

Valerie’s Pantry is Belmont’s newest bulk wholefoods and liquids store on the bustling High Street strip, offering an alternative to the chain supermarkets sharing the same space.

“I felt there was a real gap in Geelong for a specialty store like Valerie’s, that caters to a large audience of people wanting to reduce their waste, be more mindful about the food they’re buying and eating, and even reducing toxins from their home and body products,” Katherine says.

Named after her grandmother, the store stocks organically and locally grown produce, Zeally Bay baked goods daily, dips, pies, the Pana Chocolate range and many other planet-friendly choices you can make for your home.

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The first thing you’ll notice stepping into the building, which was previously a real estate office, is the many tubs and containers that line the far wall. Filled with everything from organic tri-colour quinoa to roasted salted pistachios, this element of the business encourages shoppers to reduce plastic packaging by bringing in your own reusable glass containers.

It’s a choice that’s being adopted by many, with the recent revelations of just how much waste traditional supermarket shopping puts into the world. Every year Australians use 3.92 billion plastic bags while shopping (CleanUp Org) and we’ve all seen the recent War on Waste series with Craig Reucassel where it’s revealed 50,000 coffee cups are binned every 30 seconds.

“I’ve been hunting for stock for the majority of my planning,” Katherine says when discussing the importance of each item. “I have especially been looking at if the product is organic, and if it’s not, what the brand or company is doing to work towards that, or what practices they’re using instead, or if they are striving towards sustainability or using ethical practices. Also, if it tastes great!”

Having worked in a green grocer in Australia for six years before spending three years in London working for various start-ups, with this store Katherine has paired her knowledge developed over the years with her passion to make it possible. Of course her family igniting the spark by purchasing organic vegetables boxes when Katherine was a child and the more physical help they’ve instilled in the store fit out has made Valerie’s Pantry a reality.

Where: 138 High St, Belmont
When: Mon-Fri 9am-6pm; Sat 9am-3pm; Sun 10am-2pm
Ph: 03 5245 8656

Published in Forte Magazine and online.

Pakington Cottage

After looking for opportunities to create a social enterprise in Siem Reap, Cambodia, mother and son duo James and Tracy Skilbeck decided to do something a bit closer to home.

Within around eight hours of the Cottage cafe going on the market and a call from James’ business broker, the pair had found the perfect location to make their socially conscious business dreams a reality.

“We came and sat down with the owners for three hours, had a big chat with them and we said, ‘Let’s do it’. We could see it had a lot of potential,” James says.

Before taking over the business late last year, James worked hands-on for three weeks with the previous owners and staff in gaining a full understanding of the Pakington Street favourite – what worked and what didn’t. From there the mother-son duo were able to apply what they’d hoped for the venue, as well as what they’d learnt would be best for the customers.

As a result, the newly renovated space boasts a homely feel, a fresh coat of paint, a new look menu catering to dietary and allergy needs and an emphasis on supporting local. Remnants of the old cafe remain with menu favourites the eggs Benedict, the burger and original corn jacks still available to order.

With the concept of the business originally inspired by Tracy and James’ connection with a young Cambodian man, the Geelong cafe is currently working on partnering with a charity focused on helping the Cambodian community.

“I met Somnang a couple of years ago in Cambodia and he just came across as a really hard worker. But just like a lot of people in Cambodia, he had been dealt with a hard hand,” Tracy says. “The scale of the poverty there is just mind-numbing.”

Pakington Cottage also stocks Thank You water and soap, Who Gives a Crap toilet paper and donates leftover food to Spare Meals Geelong.

“They just do the most incredible job. If we don’t have food leftover on a Monday or a Friday, I’ll just take $50 out of the till and be like, ‘What do you need?’” Tracy says before adding. “We’re just trying to look after this area as much as we can.”

With Tracy and James both passionate about good food and good company, James in particular honed his skills making his way through university while working at Aireys Inlet’s A La Grecque and ensures his passion lies in good customer service.

Pair their passions with the fresh, expansive menu and Pakington Cottage is a venue that’s good for you and the community to eat at.

Where: 359 Pakington St, Newtown
When: Mon-Sun 8am-3pm
Site: www.pakingtoncottage.com.au
Ph: 03 5229 1599

Published in Forte Magazine and online.

Ali Barter

In a bookstore in New York City in 2012, Ali Barter squeezed her way into the shop to hear Patti Smith speak. She couldn’t see the artist, but simply listening to her talk inspired Barter to write and later earned a spot to be featured as a prominent artist on Barter’s Facebook.

“She spoke so beautifully, just the way she writes; and hearing her made me want to write too,” Barter explains in the online post about Patti Smith. “Smith is the embodiment of art, androgyny and rock’n’roll.”

For the past few months, Barter has been sharing the musicians who have influenced, not only her, but who have paved the way for women in the industry. Yes, they are female, and deserving of every spot in the history books in which Barter found them lacking when she studied her 20th Century music history class.

“We’re not seeing the variation of women and that women can be so many things in the industry. Also we’re not learning about the incredible stories of the things these women are doing, where people didn’t want them to be there. They had to work so much harder,” she says.

In an essay penned for Junkee on the same issue, Ali Barter wrote, “While growing up, I learned that a women’s chief purpose in music is to play the supporting role to men.”

Really launching her career with the release of Girlie Bits, which featured lines like “Give us a smile princess/it’s better for business ” and “you don’t understand what it’s like to be a man ”, Barter has hardly played a supporting role and in ways has become a voice for women not only in the industry but in the world in general.

“It’s not a role that I set out to wear and I think there are lots of people doing it at the moment,” she says. “If I see something and then write a post about it, it’s a conversation starter. I would be hesitant to say that I’m trying to be a poster girl or something, but I’m definitely learning and sharing life. That’s the thing that is really important; I want to be inclusive and I want my songs to be inclusive and I’m glad that men sing along, and that people ask questions because it should be a conversation starter writer than an accusatory conversation.”

Her newest single Cigarettes, which was picked up by triple j and landed #1 for the most played track on the radio station at the time (“I’ve never had that happen to me before”), continues along the theme of Girlie Bits, in which she captures frank emotions in stripped back songs that can be described as nothing else but completely honest.

Both songs come from the soon-to-be-released debut album, A Suitable Girl (out via Inertia Music on March 24), which is significantly more focused on Barter’s voice, guitar and lyrical honesty than before.

“It was like I wanted to cover my voice up, I would cover it with effects, and this time I was really listening to myself – which was uncomfortable too – but I really wanted to hear myself rather than the other bits,” Barter says.

“In AB-EP there was a lot more going on – production wise – and we tinkered a lot in the recording process and incorporated a lot more influences. For this record I wanted it to be short sharp and to the point.

“I wanted it to be clear and based around the core things; which was me, my singing and the guitar playing. So in that way we went in and recorded for a week in the studio and then we only put what was necessary on top of the songs. I did add some things, but not the layers and layers that were on the previous EP – this is much more immediate. And it was a conscious decision. And anytime, we were recording and things were getting out of hand I’d be like, ‘Take that out, take that out’, because sometimes the song can get lost in all the sparkly things you put on top.”

As a result the release is honest and echoes the practices Barter has put into daily life. Who knows, Barter may just feature in another budding artists key female musicians in history on their Facebook page.

Published in Forte Magazine and online.

Rob ‘Millsy’ Mills

Rob Mills has lived what seems like a plethora of lives for a 34-year-old. First entering Australians’ television sets on Australian Idol in 2003, Mills has since been on Celebrity Apprentice, read the weather on morning television, guest starred on neighbours and been an ambassador for suicide prevention organisation R U OK?.

With each new role, it’s been a welcome challenge. As Mills confesses he’s willing to say yes to just about any opportunity: “If you put the work in and jump in the deep end you’ll learn how to swim”.

His biggest test, and the turning point of his career, came with the chance to audition for popular theatre production Wicked; which involved a rigorous training process from a singing and acting coach.

“I found that really hard to do but I wanted it so, so badly,” he says. “If you practise enough anything is possible.”

Through sheer determination, Mills landed the coveted lead role of Fiyero in the Stephen Schwartz production and reviewers unanimously remarked that the former reality star was actually “surprisingly good”.

In light of the reviews, in 2015 Mills created his own theatre show taking inspiration from the critics’ remarks. Rob Mills is “Surprisingly Good” was Mills’ creative response to the critics. “As soon as you take ownership of something it loses its power,” he adds.

Since then, Rob Mills is longer acclaimed as surprisingly good, and instead is heralded as Australia’s golden boy of theatre.

puttin on the ritz 2 if there's room

First beginning his musical theatre career in 2008 with Wicked, Mills has starred in Legally Blonde, Grease, Hairspray and Ghost the Musical. His newest role sees him bring life to the classics of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and George Gershwin in the David King production of Puttin’ on the Ritz.

“I grew up listening to those old school musical theatre movies; Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Fred Astaire,” Mills confesses. “My grandma and I would always watch those together back in the day, so I have fond memories of sitting around watching those old movies.”

With the likes of the Sound of Music and Mary Poppins playing a big role in Mills’ childhood, he’s been blessed in having an upbringing that brings awareness to the power of music and live performances.

“The thing that gets me when you’re watching a film, people think it’s the text that creates the movie, but it’s actually the music that sparks that emotion within you. There’s something really special about story-time through song and dance,” he says.

“People want that escape, and that’s what we offer as singers and dancers – an escape from the everyday world. You don’t get that from a movie you’ve downloaded off the Internet or streamed on Netflix. Sure it gives you something, but there’s nothing better than live entertainment.”

From his early days performing in a band, heading to karaoke with his “classic karaoke queen” mother, and his stint on Australian Idol, music has played a constant role in his life.

His love of music and his upbringing meant this new role in Puttin’ on the Ritz was something the theatre star “jumped at”.

Before Mills heads to Bendigo and Geelong for Puttin’ on the Ritz, he joins the Production Company for the first time in Jesus Christ Superstar in Melbourne from July 29 – August 6. All that’s left for you is to take Mills’ sage advice and experience it. Perhaps escape the real world a little while you’re there.

Published in Forte Magazine and online.

Slightly Stoopid

First starting out performing backyard gigs with friends, to soon be taken under the wing by Bradley Nowell and the rest of the Sublime crew, Slightly Stoopid haven’t lost their charm as the skateboarding, ocean-loving group from Ocean Beach in San Diego.

“What you see is what you get with us,” Miles Doughty says. “What we’re wearing during the day is what you’ll see us walk out on stage with. The only thing that switches, is the light switch that turns on. If you’re tired or whatever place you are in your mind, it’s like a switch flips and here we go, the ride starts now. You get to the top of the hill on the rollercoaster and all of a sudden ‘woooow’ – you fly down that hill and it’s all going nuts when you play a show.”

Fresh from the rollercoaster of performing at Costa Rica’s Jungle Jam festival, in which they also took time out to plant trees for the festival’s initiative, the reggae/punk-rock/infamous-genre-bending band will be swapping the tropics of Latin America for Australia’s Byron Bay when they head to Bluesfest in April. And as it turns out the tropical locations are a great source of inspiration for the coastal natives.

“Oh yeah, how can you not?” he says of gaining inspiration from his environment. “I think just in general the whole country down [in Costa Rica] is beautiful and you really just enjoy life. You get to take a minute to absorb the life that’s going on around you, because as a musician you’re travelling so much, you’re in a different city every day. When you get to a place like Costa Rica, using an expression, you’ve got to stop and smell the roses and look around. It’s just incredible.”

The last time Slightly Stoopid paid a visit to Byron Bay, also for Bluesfest, saw them touring around the region, led by an American friend who had relocated to the idyllic town. An adventure down the coast saw them stop by the local secrets and by no surprise it gave Miles a greater appreciation of the location, as he says the “vibes are great”.

And while performing in front of the 100-thousand plus crowd of Bluesfest is something they have done before, it’s a long way from the everything-goes attitude of performing the low-key backyard gigs when they were starting out.

“Back then you have a complete carefree attitude as a kid; you’re like set me up anywhere and I’ll play. I don’t care. Just get out there and have a great time,” he says.

“Obviously the shows now we do are amphitheatres in the summer and there’s anywhere between 3-15,000 people and you do festivals that are upwards of 30,000 people. The adrenaline that you get playing those bigger shows is completely different than what you would have had in those backyard shows. The intimacy is cool with the smaller venues but it’s really chaotic and it’s the ultimate high when you’re on those big stages. Even if you were nervous, you just get so much adrenaline that it rides you through.”

A change, aside from the size of the audiences the band are performing to, is also the sound they’re producing. Starting out as a punk rock band with the “F the world attitude”, the eight-piece have expanded their sound, covering everything from reggae, to jazz and even pop on stage.

“I think just as musicians and as people you evolve and you mature,” he says before adding, “we like to play everything”.

Testament to the band’s ability to play just about everything, is drummer Ryan Moran acquiring the skills to play the Indigenous Australian instrument, the didgeridoo.

“He does pretty good,” Miles laughs. “Because you’ve got to have that crazy circular breathing thing when you’re doing the stuff with your nose and mouth – it’s pretty crazy. He’s just that kind of guy. He loves percussions and drums and piano and he loves that sound for some reason and was like, ‘I’m going to learn how to play this’. And one summer he brought it on the road with him and started to actually learn how to play it and he’s been playing it ever since. It’s pretty incredible actually, I tried to play it and I couldn’t get that damn thing to make any noise.”

As for whether or not the instrument will make an appearance on stage, Miles laughs it off, though adding that Ryan would most likely be up for a jam – which is something the band has based their new sound off.

Published in Forte Magazine and online.

Keiynan Lonsdale

“I forgot how intense the show was,” Keiynan Lonsdale laughs at the thought of the 14-hour schedule of Dance Academy. “We were all dancers four years ago, but now we had to pretend that we were just as good, if not better. So that was quite a shock. I don’t know about the others, but I wasn’t as good as I was back then! More importantly it was so much fun to get back together with all the cast, because we were all best friends and like a family [during the series].”

Dance Academy is the newest Australian film to be revisited several years after the series finished up in 2013. The story picks up where the series left off, and sees what each character has done since their time studying at the National Academy of Dance. And while there’s clearly a history for those in the film, it’s something that can be enjoyed by new and old fans alike.

“I don’t know how the writer did it, but even without knowing the characters you’re still so invested in them. You’ll watch the movie and then you’ll want to know where it all began,” Keiynan states.

For fans of Keiynan’s character Ollie Lloyd, watching his career since the last episode aired on July 8, 2013 has been quite a ride. During his last moments on Dance Academy he became the face of MTV Australia and New Zealand, interviewing the likes of Miguel, Jessie J, and Disclosure. Serving as the catalyst for his zest for the industry, Lonsdale moved to America and landed the role as Uriah in The Divergent Series: Insurgent. When we speak, he is currently in Vancouver filming for The Flash television series in which he stars as ‘Kid Flash’ (aka Wally West), and what looks to be his biggest achievement to date.

As the Dance Academy series was underway and with each acting opportunity that has come his way, his passion for music has been brewing behind the scenes, that is, until he officially released the single ‘Higher’ in October, 2015. Something he has been working towards since he started writing music when he was 12.

“I’ve been working on music and recording music since I was 15/16 and I’ve been writing from earlier on – It’s just something I’ve always been working on and super passionate about,” he says. “I released the Volume 1 EP about a year and a half ago before I started working on the Flash. Once I started the show my focus was going to be so heavily on that and acting, so I just wanted to make that body of work. Now I’ve come to a place where I’ve figured a balance where I can [do both]. Just to keep creating and share all of it.”

Though Dance Academy ties are still woven in with this project, as fellow cast member Jordan Rodrigues has been a source of motivation for his love of music.

“Jordan was one of the first people I felt confident to sing in front of,” Keiynan admits, before continuing “which is why we started doing covers together. Then eventually I was putting stuff online and I was about 18, and without people knowing me they started saying they really loved my voice. I had put so much work into it because I really sucked in the beginning.

“That’s always what I wanted to do but I wasn’t the strongest singer growing up and I knew that. And so I was very shy and didn’t want to sing in front of anyone, and so I was like I guess with the equipment I can just record and practise and practise. And so I did it every day.”

Listening to Keiynan nail a falsetto in his track ‘Higher’, you’d never know singing was a weak-point for him. But as with most achievements to date, for the star it seems it’s all down to practise, patience and the time being right.

“After my voice had broken I completely lost my falsetto for two or three years and nothing would come out; it was just air. And it was when I was writing ‘Higher’ that I was trying to think of a melody and I found my voice again. It was so right for the track I couldn’t change it,” Keiynan says.

With a new respect for taking time on each project (“I’m just going to keep working away”), Keiynan is set to thrive no matter what he does.

Published in Forte Magazine and online.