crime capital

It seems every morning I open the Age newspaper website, at least two of the main headlines refer to another murder, stabbing, shooting somewhere in Melbourne. The other thing that is beginning raise alarm bells is the number of serious injuries or deaths on the roads, so often by young people still on their P plates acting like idiots.

I wondered if my concerns were just down to me getting older and more easily alarmed, or whether I was simply not used to this level of violent deaths. Coming from several years in London, surely this was all in my head?

So, sitting here on a Sunday morning with a coffee in hand, I decided to do a quick comparison of murder levels in London and Melbourne. I used to live in the Borough of Brent, which was reputed to be a tough place to live. Harlesden, my first address in this part of the city, was known at the time as the murder capital of London.

So how does Melbourne – and my new borough of Maribyrnong – compare?

I looked up crime stats for each city and each borough for the last two years, and the numbers were shocking. Since we moved here, so many people have told us how much safer it is living here than in London, and that they appreciate the feeling of security of living in such a safe city compared to London.

Turns out it’s all a myth.

Take the city comparisons first. London, a city of 7.6 million people, has had a yearly average of 142 homicides in the past two years. That is 1.9 homicides per 100,000 of population.

Melbourne on the other hand, a city of 5.2 million people, experienced a yearly average of  173 homicides in the same time period. That is 3.3 homicides per 100,000 people.

Looking at these figures, you are almost twice as likely to get murdered in Melbourne as in London.

The local government figures are even more interesting. The Borough of Brent has just over 260,000 inhabitants and has had a yearly average of 7.5 homicides per year in the past two years. That’s about 2.8 homicides per 100,000 people.

Maribyrnong, a borough of about 68,500 people, has had a yearly average of  6 homicides in the past two years. That comes out as 8.75 homicides per 100,000 people.

So, in my local government area compared to a borough once known as the murder capital of London, I am almost three times more likely to get murdered.

I was going to continue on to analyse road traffic injuries and deaths, and sex crimes, once I’d finished with murders, but my comfort levels are already so compromised I think I’ll stop there.

And people wonder why Orlando and I are so security conscious?

  Average Murders 2007-09 Average per 100k pop. Population of Area
Melbourne 173.5 3.3 5,257,576
Maribyrnong 6 8.75 68,571
London 142.5 1.9 7,500,000
Brent 7.5 2.8 263,500

a hot night

We lie in bed reading. It is after eleven at night and still in the high thirties temperature-wise. The sash window by my head is open, as is the back door and courtyard door, to catch any chance of a night breeze to cool the house.

“What’s that noise?”, I ask. It has been going on for about five minutes at this stage. I can’t place it, but it sounds like it is coming from immediately next door. I am a little irritated that they would be doing something so disruptive so late in the evening. It sounds like somebody is continuously breaking firewood, or unravelling a huge roll of lino onto the floor, so that it makes a smacking/cracking noise as it hit the ground. It is loud. What the hell is it?

The curiosity gets the better of Orlando and he gets up to investigate. Quite what he thinks he is going to see in the dark on a quiet suburban street without peering into a neighbour’s window I am not sure. Moments later he bursts into the bedroom.

“That noise is the house down the road burning!”

I leap out of bed and pull on my Japanese kimono. Right enough, the house four doors down is ablaze. On closer inspection it appears that something along the side of the house has caught fire. The fence is already alight and angry flames are licking the house. Luckily it is a brick house, one of the few around here, but it is surrounded by weatherboard homes like ours.

The embers catch my attention. A colleague’s home was threatened by fire only two weeks ago when a stray ember from a controlled burn (he lives in the country) set trees alight on his land. I know embers can travel miles, never mind yards, and our wooden house is only about a hundred yards away. I peer at the sky trying to figure out if the wind has changed yet. I think we are safe: what little breeze there is seems to be wafting the embers away from our house onto the wide street.

The fire truck arrives and the fire is controlled in moments. The smoke, on the other hand, is uncontrolled and I rush to the bedroom to close the window. Too late: we lie in the dark with the distinctive smell of burnt wood in our nostrils.

I sleep fitfully. The temperature doesn’t go below thirty until morning. What a hot night.

the bay #2

Christmas week, down at Altona beach. I have been avoiding exercise for weeks, but that means no quiet time time by the beach either. It is time to get back into my stride.

I park the car for the second time today under a shady tree, and start walking. Immediately I can feel myself relaxing, my stresses blowing away across the water. The tide is far in, although the water level does not vary much in the bay. The sun is shining through wispy clouds.

I power-walk down the boardwalk with Christmas songs playing in my headphones. Tinsel wreaths hang from balconies and I can see Christmas trees in some windows, but no twinkling lights so early in the day. Despite the heat of the evening sun it does not seem incongruous to my northern-hemisphere mind.

I see an entire family of Pacific Islanders (Tongans? Samoans?) sitting chest-deep in the sea chatting and hanging out. On closer observation many of them are literally picking mussels off the rocks and eating them. Now that’s fresh seafood.

I realise that I have been in Australia so long now that, not only can I differentiate between Greeks and Italians much more quickly, but I can usually identify Sicilians at twenty paces.

An elderly man walks towards me in what was clearly a Groucho Marx face mask of glasses, big nose and hairy moustache…. then as he walked past I realised that was his real face.

Young surf lifesavers are out training on their boogie boards and boats. I know how cold that water is, even in summer. I am glad somebody wants to do it.

I walk past a family about to share a big box of fish and chips from the place across the road. As I pass I get that divine waft of hot potato, vinegar and seaside. There is something perfect about that combination.

The kite surfers don’t have a gale-force wind this evening, but they are skimming along at great speeds, somersaulting and perfecting their jumps. Listening to Aled Jones singing “Walking In The Air” seems completely appropriate as I pass by.

Happy Christmas everybody.

the bay

Saint Kilda, early morning. I stand at the Lagoon Pier and stare out across the bay. I cannot see the horizon: the summer morning haze is perfect and it blurs the distinction between water and air. The bay is millpond-still and it feels as if I have the world to myself.

The water’s surface barely ripples, in colours of silver, grey and the palest blue. I peer downwards as shoals of tiny fish dart and swarm. An eleven-legged sea star rests on the pier leg. Mussels crowd on underwater rocks.

Behind me, a man and a woman stroll along the deserted strand with their dogs, and a cyclist joins me in my morning reverie at the end of the pier. In time the boardwalk will be thronged with rollerbladers, joggers, mums with strollers, wheelchair users, cyclists.

The sun begins to fight its way through the hazy clouds. The horizon becomes just a little more defined. Is it my imagination, or have the barely perceptible waves also become more pronounced?

For now, I stare out to sea and take in the silence.

and it begins

Adelaide, November. I arrive in the middle of the most severe November heatwave since records began. It’s not that hot when I arrive: only in the mid-thirties.

I move between a severely air-conditioned office and a severely air-conditioned hotel room, hardly noticing the relentless heat. A small army of volunteers in the meeting room below work through three shifts, calling the elderly and vulnerable, checking they are OK and giving them advice about surviving the heat.

The emergency services are called with alarming regularity: we save quite a few lives in the space of ten days, summoning ambulances and police to those whom we fail to contact. It is tedious but rewarding work.

In the evening I stroll through quiet city streets, enjoying the coolness of temperatures down in the low thirties. Christmas street signs still seem out of place to my northern hemisphere head: colourful lamp-post signs of baubles, candy canes and wrapping ribbon seem a little tame but there is no point in twinkling lights when we are approaching the longest day of the year. The odd storefront Christmas tree adds colour but I miss the darkness of Grafton Street turned to Christmas magic by red fairy lights and Georgian garlands.

Rigoni’s is one of my favourite places to eat Italian. I sit at the restaurant bar sipping a local GSM red, until the bar tender confesses she has poured a cabernet sauvignon by accident. Never mind. My bruschetta tastes good until I find one, then a second, human hair amongst the tomatoes. My dish is graciously swept away and replaced quickly, but no apology. A quiet top-up of the incorrect wine in my glass is appreciated as a gesture.

As I walk back to my hotel the beach volleyball place is buzzing. Dozens of people play competitively on the man-made city beach in the fading light, despite the heat. These South Australians are tough.

A day later the fires begin. Many regions across three states are at catastrophic fire danger levels. Temperatures soar into the mid-forties in Adelaide. I sit with my colleagues watching the fire service website and waiting. Every fifteen minutes the radio wails an old-fashioned but attention-grabbing siren. The announcer reads out the fire warnings for the Yorke peninsula. A scrub fire is heading towards a small town and people have been warned to activate their fire plan. Across the south-east of Australia, Red Cross volunteers are on high alert.

In South Australia we turn our focus away from the fire momentarily to watch the dry lightning approaching from the west, threatening more scrub fires where they hit land. Can this be only November? And yet it only seems weeks ago that the last fire season finally ended.

At the airport I sit and wait for my flight, hoping the dry lightning will not delay me. The powerful air-conditioning in the Qantas lounge does not work within a few metres of the plate-glass windows overlooking the tarmac. I sit at a rare empty seat and swelter. The cool change is coming, they swear. I watch a fellow traveller, a youngish man who is not as carefully coiffed and manicured and fashion-obsessed as many city men here. He is very well dressed but there is the air of a young fogey about him, an independence of style, a touch of dishevelment. I have a wave of homesickness for London.

A change of plane and four hours later, I touch down in Melbourne. The air is blessedly cool and smells of India. Must be all the jasmine in the air. Let’s see what the weekend brings.

waiting to exhale

We have great holidays. Since moving to Australia we’ve been to Japan, New Zealand, Cambodia, Ireland, Hong Kong,  London, France, and all over Australia. We cram as much as we can into the time we have off work. We’re experts at it.

This is the first time in a few years that we have a very relaxing, quiet holiday planned. My words to Orlando were that I wanted to get away from it all, not get amongst it. A new country, albeit seen through the lens of a tourist resort, will be a novelty: our first time on a Pacific island.

I am looking forward to it more than anything in recent years.

The closer we get to this trip, the more significant it becomes to me. Usually I look forward to the exploration, the travel, the new experiences. This time, I am focusing on space. Space to think, to live a few hours uncluttered by breaking news on the internet, the drip-feed of work emails, the queue of tv shows and movies waiting to be watched on the set-top box, the news feed on Facebook, the pile of books by the bed waiting to be read, two blogs to be updated, two mobile phones in my handbag.

I imagine sleeping and waking according to what my body says. Listening to the sound of the waves rather than my MP3 player. Figuring out what time it is according to the position of the sun in the sky, and not my work phone. Drinking water and not using coffee to get through the day. Spending time suspended underwater, silent, observing the aquatic life around me. Reconnecting with nature, with the water, with the stars, with my own mind and body, with Orlando. Not thinking about others, but about myself. Ourselves.

I kind of forget how to do all that.

I want to get to the point where all I think about is the next break  of a wave on the beach. I want to empty my mind.

I shall let you know how I go.


Portrayal of women in Good Health magazine

From: Mairead Doyle

Sent: Sunday, 18 October 2009 6:56 PM

To: Good Medicine

Subject: Good Health November 2009 issue

Hi there – Just bought the November issue of Good Health – it was my first time but I was tempted by the pedometer.

The one thing that struck me as I read through your magazine is that every single photo you used was of a fair-skinned Caucasian woman. The only exception to this was a single dark-skinned man in an ad from Grants of Australia.

In my experience as a Melbourne-dweller, this is not at all representative of Australia’s cultural or racial make-up, and the striking absence of any other race throughout the magazine made me wonder if this was a deliberate move on your part.

Surely the models presented to you for selection would include at least a small number of those from other races? And surely your magazine would seek to look like the women you are trying to reach? A smattering of beautiful women from other races would improve your magazine and probably your circulation too – bring on some more photos of fabulous women of Asian, Polynesian, African and Latina descent.

Regards Máiréad Doyle

From: Good Medicine

Sent: Monday, 19 October 2009 4:12 PM
To: Mairead Doyle
Subject: RE: Good Health November 2009 issue

Dear Mairead,

Thank you for your email, we always appreciate feedback from our readers.

Because we source models from photo agencies and don’t often cast models ourselves, our selection can be limited. Though I can assure you that we have used multi-racial women in previous issues and we will continue to do so whenever we can.

I do agree that women from all races are beautiful and fabulous and we love we love seeing them on our pages

Again, thank you for your feedback.

Warm regards,

Catherine Marshall