A new way to boost books

THESE days it’s not enough to write a book and hope it sells. In the fast-moving world of the internet and instant popularity, you have to push the right buttons to gain attention.

Just ask Rob Towner, a 30-year-old children’s book writer from Merewether.

Towner, who manages the website of national retailer Inspirations Paint from their Warners Bay head office, has this month launched his sixth children’s book, Animal Friends: Floating Orange Cubes.

He is hoping to generate interest in the book by offering it free in EPUB, PDF and MOBI files this weekend on Amazon’s website. To get the files, interested people need to share the book with friends on Facebook or Twitter.

He’s also chasing positive reviews via Little Book Owl on the YouTube internet channel and entering the book in award competitions.

‘‘This is going to be the big one,’’ he says. ‘‘I’m hoping to push it into the charts for free Amazon downloads. And people look at the charts.’’

The 13,000-word book, aimed at children ages 8 and over, includes illustrations done specifically for the book by students at St Dominic’s Centre for Hearing Impaired Children at Mayfield. The illustrations also come with the electronic versions of the book.

According to Towner’s Facebook page, the story is about a young girl questioning her father’s obsession with stockpiling fly spray, and his reply. The father explains ‘‘the completely true story of Patrick the Cicada, an insect living in 1956 who (with the help of plenty of other animal friends) stands up to the biggest bully in the backyard, a parakeet named Leslie’’.

The students at St Dominic’s were given single-sentence briefs on each illustration that was needed, encouraged to make them as colourful as possible.

He is negotiating distribution of the hard-copy edition of the book.

Despite his persistent effort (he began writing the book in 2009 and has rewritten it several times), the final result is not about the money.

‘‘This is a labour of love,’’ Towner says. ‘‘I’ve poured a lot of money into it already.’’

At full retail price of $16.95, Towner would make $4 per book. But he readily admits he’s looking to the future.

‘‘You can get it free [this weekend] just by tweeting about it. That’s worth $16.95 to me.

‘‘I’ve got a knowledge bank of sequels. The Outer Space Oyster is the next one. I’m building an audience.’’

The Amazon download page of Animal Friends: Floating Orange Cubes ishttp://bit.ly/robtowner

Playground stories

WHEN Islington Public School students were preparing for a recent four-day excursion to Canberra, Abdelelah Abaker’s excitement was tempered by anxiety. The 12-year-old had never spent a night away from his parents, Higazya and Mohamed, and they were just as anxious about the trip.

Having arrived in Newcastle in January as part of Australia’s refugee resettlement program, after fleeing conflict-riven Sudan, separation had long been a fear for the family of five. Trapped in limbo in Egypt for 12 years – Abdelelah and his younger brother, Abdelazim, were born there – it had been unthinkable to spend time apart.

School principal Matthew Bradley had tried without success to persuade Abdelelah to attend an overnight camping trip with classmates earlier this year. ‘‘He didn’t know us well enough in term one,’’ Bradley says.

But, when I meet Abdelelah after his return from Canberra, he cannot suppress a wide grin. ‘‘I saw snow,’’ he says, shaping an imaginary snowball is his large hands. ‘‘So freezing!’’

When he arrived for the start of the school year in February, he could not speak or read English and cried when told he would not be joining his older brother, Alaadin, at high school. Bradley recommended he enrol at Islington for one year to learn English and adjust to his new life in Newcastle. ‘‘He wasn’t very happy with me,’’ offers the dynamic, Doc Martens-clad principal in his tidy office.

Mohamed Abaker, whose own studies were cut short by the political unrest in his homeland, nods agreement. ‘‘He cried and cried,’’ the Arabic-speaking father-of-three says through a translator. ‘‘We trusted Mr Bradley. Now, Abdelelah and Abdelazim read for us and say, ‘That’s not right. This is the correct way’,’’ he laughs. Higazya, who sits quietly beside her husband, smiles.

The boys haven’t looked back.

THERE was a time when the reputation of Islington Public School was tainted by its location in a suburb known more for its discarded syringes and sex workers than innovative education. ‘‘I’ve actually been asked if I pick up syringes in the playground,’’ Bradley says, with a hint of exasperation.

In the past five years, Islington has changed. It has the best children’s playground in the city and has become a creative hub. You can browse through antique stores, a textile gallery, have an organic facial, or buy bespoke camping gear – and the coffee’s good, too.

Lisa Ogle, whose two daughters, Edie and Nico, attend the school, describes her evolving suburb as ‘‘bohemian Islington’’, with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek. ‘‘Seriously, though, it has changed,’’ says the long-time resident. ‘‘It wasn’t that long ago that if couples bought a house, they’d sell up and move out of the area before the baby arrived. Now, there are prams everywhere. People used to send their kids to school elsewhere, but that’s changing.’’

She says when nine-year-old Edie, who is severely disabled, was ready for kindergarten, Islington Public School wasn’t on her and partner David’s radar.

‘‘We were planning to send her to the Hunter Orthopedic School in Waratah, but [education] department changes meant it became a senior school and she had to go to Glendon at Hillsborough. It just wasn’t convenient for us, so we met with the local school counsellor, who happened to be based at Islington [Public School], and he explained that Edie could probably go there.

‘‘We didn’t think it was an option.’’

Then principal Andrew Price was all for ‘‘inclusion and integration’’ and modifications were made to accommodate Edie’s wheelchair. She has also been allocated a full-time school learning and support officer.

‘‘We didn’t want her treated like a baby,’’ Ogle says. ‘‘We always wanted her to do age-appropriate, modified activities and it works. She loves school; she gets excited as soon as she sees her uniform and she cries when I pick her up.

‘‘I can’t see it working at a bigger school.’’

Since 2011, enrolments at the 126-year-old primary school have increased by more than a third to 94, although it remains one of Newcastle’s smallest government schools. Forty per cent of the students are from a non-English-speaking background, or a ‘‘culturally and linguistically diverse’’ background, to use current education parlance. It is not uncommon for children to arrive part-way through the year with little understanding of English.

Some have never attended school before and, if they have, their experiences are vastly different to those offered in the lively, art-filled classrooms that greet them at Islington Public School.

Bradley’s focus as a teaching principal centres on the students and their parents.

At the weekly Monday morning ‘‘parent cafe’’, which was introduced last year to provide an informal meeting space for resettled refugees, Bradley listens to concerns. This week, a Hunter representative from the NSW Business Chamber speaks to the group about assisting with work placements. The men are especially desperate.

‘‘I just want to be busy,’’ Alex Mulamba says. ‘‘I have my forklift ticket and I went [to businesses] to get experience. I asked to volunteer, not get money, but everyone said no, it was too risky.’’ He tells Duncan Burck from the chamber that he will happily work as a farm labourer in the Hunter Valley. He has previously been a fruit picker, which is how he saved enough money to buy a small car.

Father-of-eight Clement Saiti previously worked with deaf people and has struggled to find work in this area since arriving in Newcastle. He worries he will have to leave the Hunter and his strong ties with the Congolese community to find a job. ‘‘It is very, very hard,’’ he says.

Talk then turns to the challenges of finding rental homes. Many resettled refugees are rejected by landlords because they do not have a rental history, but there are other reasons including family size and, undoubtedly, ethnicity.

It quickly becomes clear this is no ordinary parent get-together.

As the principal, Bradley is often called on to help. Recently, he dealt with a Glendale business that refused to replace a new appliance bought by a refugee family. It was broken when they switched it on at home. ‘‘The person who served them would not exchange it and comments were made about the family’s race. The family didn’t know what to do.’’

Bradley made a phone call and the business responded more positively.

The parent cafe has become an essential forum for helping to alleviate fear and address issues. ‘‘In some cultures, parents only get involved with the school if their child is in trouble,’’ observes Herbert Gatamah, a community information officer with the Department of Education who helped establish the cafe. ‘‘Here, it is different; parents are encouraged to participate. When Matthew comes into the parent cafe, he is no longer the principal, he is a father, and questions that are asked are often about parenting.

‘‘A few weeks ago, a parent explained their child was demanding an expensive cellphone and they didn’t know what to do. This parent actually had an a-ha moment. It was very visible when Matthew said, ‘I have the same problem, but I do this …’ The parent saw that the issues they were facing were also affecting other parents.’’

Gatamah explains the trauma experienced by some refugee families makes it difficult for them to trust others.

‘‘They can be anxious, hypervigilant,’’ he says.

Bradley later tells me that during a routine safety drill, a Congolese student crawled under her desk when the hooter sounded.

‘‘Her teacher had to scoop her up and hold for about an hour. She went into this other zone.’’

BRADLEY is a blue-eyed, silvery-haired whirlwind. During my three visits to the school, the only time I see the 36-year-old sit down is during the parent cafe. Our rapid-fire conversations are stop-start as he is called away to speak with a parent, a student, or a colleague. He often starts work at 7am so he can keep on top of the administrative load without interruption. The father-of-three is hard-working, compassionate, and an optimist.

‘‘Matt’s going to change the world,’’ quips the school office manager, Rebecca Bailey.

Originally, Bradley wanted to pursue a music career, but instead completed a bachelor of visual arts at the University of Newcastle. As a classically trained pianist, he releases stress on the occasional Friday afternoon – when all but the cleaner have left the grounds – by playing the school piano. Mozart is a favourite and Liszt remains special. ‘‘But my hands can’t cope any more,’’ he laughs.

This is his first appointment as principal. He has previously worked in Nexus, the child and adolescent mental health inpatient unit at John Hunter Hospital while at the Kotara School, which educates students in years three to six with emotional disturbance and behaviour disorders. He has also been an assistant principal (behaviour) in Lake Macquarie.

‘‘I’ve taught students with some of the most horrendous stories in their background – it would make your toes curl – yet the resilience they have is amazing,’’ he says. ‘‘There is hope for every child with the right support.’’

Small schools are more intense, but their size is also one of their greatest assets.

‘‘The school community doesn’t want it to get too big,’’ offers Bradley, who oversees 15 staff, some of whom service other schools across the region. The school also houses the Reading Recovery unit, a research-based early intervention literacy program that includes three tutors who help train teachers from Wyong to Merriwa. Bradley says it takes six years of formal schooling for a child to obtain the level of English skill required to cope in an academic setting.

‘‘We have kids who have never been to school before they arrive, and some do not have a print literacy background and they’re thrust into a classroom. They have to learn to speak and read, as well as dealing with a new country, customs … it’s a lot to take in. But my challenges here aren’t ones to do with the kids or community, my challenges are that if we are going to have an inclusive, supportive society, what can we do to achieve that?’’

Given his background in the arts – his partner is artist Sally Bourke – and commitment to engaging students from all walks of life, there is a distinctly creative focus at the school. Year 1 students – aka the Islington Rock Chickens – are working with David Bean, the heavily tattooed father of their classmate Lola, to record a song they have written called Animals on the Chase. When we pop in the children are having their hair and make-up done for the video Bean is filming for them.

‘‘We only live a couple of streets away,’’ Bean says. ‘‘We love the diversity.’’

Lola later tells Bradley of the Animals on the Chase activity: ‘‘It’s just like a normal literacy class only more fun’’.

On Mondays, Senegalese musician Fode Mane teaches each class drumming in the school hall. When I wander in, the kindergarten children are displaying that particular delight that springs from being able to make noise – and lots of it. They are surprisingly precise in following Mane’s energetic lead. ‘‘If they told me to come here and just teach the African kids I’d say ‘no’,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s definitely important to let the refugee children experience some of their culture, but it’s about unifying everyone.’’

There is also a homework club and a dance group. ‘‘My mum always told me,’’ says Bradley, ‘‘that knowledge and skills, while hard to attain, once mastered are easy to carry.’’

WHEN Mohamed Abaker was seated in a plane bound for Sydney and a new life in Newcastle, he was struck by the cultural divide. ‘‘Everyone was Western,’’ he remembers. ‘‘Am I going to feel this way in Australia? I will be different. The children did not worry; they watched movies and played games.’’

The family was met at Sydney Airport by a Navitas caseworker, an Iraqi who spoke Arabic. ‘‘I thought, OK, that’s good. I relaxed,’’ Abaker says.

The biggest challenges since moving to Mayfield in January have been overcoming communication and cultural barriers. His sons, who have quickly attained the ability to read and speak English, are flourishing. This can sometimes create tension.

‘‘Mum and dad are suddenly being dictated to by their kids,’’ observes Bradley. ‘‘The power balance shifts and this creates all sorts of issues. Parents end up relying on their children for help, but, as the saying goes, give an inch and they’ll take a mile.’’

Abaker intends to study law at the University of Newcastle once he completes the Adult Migrant English Program at Hunter TAFE. At 48, he is determined to gain the education he was denied in Sudan.

‘‘You have to settle first, get your house, get an education and look into your future,’’ he says, smiling.

‘‘Maybe there’s a view that we [refugees] don’t know anything, but we have experience and want to contribute. All I want is for my children to finish their education. They won’t have any excuses, because they have opportunity.’’

Ryde councillor tells ICAC of ‘inappropriate’ approach

Councillor Artin Etmekdjian leaves the ICAC hearing into Ryde Council. Photo: Peter RaeA former mayor of Ryde says he was approached about a contentious project by a developer acting as a “messenger” for fellow councillor Ivan Petch.

He says he told the developer that the matter was inappropriate and he would not get involved.

Artin Etmekdjian, the former mayor who is now a councillor, told an Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing on Friday that the developer and property owner John Goubran had set up a meeting with him.

He says Mr Goubran told him he was acting on behalf of Cr Petch, who wanted to resolve the council deadlock over the civic precinct project.

Cr Etmekdjian said Mr Goubran had suggested at the meeting, held in a Top Ryde shopping centre coffee shop in January last year, that consideration of the project should be deferred until after the council elections later that year – and that a committee should be set up to try and resolve the issues stalling the project.

But Cr Etmekdjian said he told Mr Goubran to relay to Cr Petch the proposal – and the way it had been broached – was “inappropriate”, and the matter should be a matter for discussion among councillors.

The commission is investigating a number of allegations involving former Ryde mayor Cr Petch, and others, about the alleged release of confidential council information, and an attempt to undermine council employees including the former general manager, John Neish.

The commission is also investigating an allegation that Cr Petch played a role in an offer conveyed to Mr Neish that his employment would be secure if he could delay consideration of the proposed redevelopment of the Ryde Civic Precinct.

Cr Etmekdjian told the commission’s last scheduled day of hearings that when he met with Mr Neish in February last year, Mr Neish told him that he had also been approached by another local businessman with the same proposal. Mr Neish said he had been told to make sure it was successful or his job would be at risk.

Mr Neish said, according to Cr Etmekdjian, that he also found the proposal inappropriate and that he would report it to the corruption commission once he had received it in writing from the businessman.

The commission was told that the civic precinct project was a hot topic and had been the subject of some fiery debate in council chambers the previous year, resulting in a 6-6 councillor deadlock.

But counsel for Mr Goubran, Stephen Stanton, put it to Cr Etmekdjian that the meeting he had described in January last year had never taken place. The proposal was rejected by Cr Etmekdjian.

Mr Goubran said the meeting with Cr Etmekdjian did not take place in January. He said it took place later in the year and it was not at the instigation of Cr Petch.

Mr Goubran told the hearing that the idea of setting up a community consultative committee to sort out the objections to the civic precinct redevelopment was his own idea, not Cr Petch’s.

He said it was in response to anger from the community that they felt they had not been consulted about the redevelopment.

The commission was also shown emails that included confidential information about a rezoning affecting land owned by Mr Goubran and others, which had allegedly been forwarded by Cr Petch to Mr Goubran via a mutual friend.

Mr Goubran gave evidence that he had received the email and forwarding it on to his business partners, but denied knowing it was confidential internal council information.

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What to drink … textural white wines

White wine. Photo: Jessica Shapiro Yalumba’s viognier vineyard.

Yalumba’s viognier vineyard. The 2010 is the best to date with its delicate bouquet and velvety palate.


Soumah Savarro Yarra Valley $25Savarro is Soumah’s name for savagnin. While an old variety, it was mistakenly called albarino in Australia for a while before growers had to revert to other monikers. Mostly savagnin sticks. Soumah produces one of the better examples, a fragrant wine smelling of buttery apple tart with florals, white pepper and spice. What sets this apart from other local savagnins is its terrific texture and savouriness. Chill this down and enjoy with a bowl of spaghetti marinara. From Cloud Wine, South Melbourne.


Kellybrook Estate Gewurztraminer 2012 $38Confession time: when did you last drink that most undervalued, wonderful and spicy white wine, gewurztraminer? It’s time to revisit this variety, especially when it’s made by someone who knows how to handle the fruit respectfully, like Rob Hall from Kellybrook in the Yarra Valley. This has all the allure of the variety with its distinctive aromatics of roses, ginger spice, geranium, musk and pear. It’s perfect with stinky, washed rind cheeses. From kellybrookwinery苏州美甲美睫培训.au


Yalumba The Virgilius Eden Valley Viognier 2010 $43The Virgilius is Australia’s most sophisticated and finest viognier. Yalumba with chief winemaker Louisa Rose at the helm is at the forefront of the variety, championing its beauty, flavour and gorgeous texture. The 2010 is the best to date with its delicate bouquet, a heady mix of creamed honey, butter biscuits, almonds, apricot kernel and white blossom. It’s super complex, rich and full-bodied with a velvety palate and superbly balanced. Pork rillettes or pad thai are neat combos. From Nick’s Wine Merchant.


Vigneti Massa Derthona Timorasso 2010 $60Every now and then I taste a wine that stops me in my tracks. Today it’s timorasso, a rare ancient variety from Alessandria in Piedmont, north-west Italy. The wine is glorious. It has a distinctly acacia blossom note with a fragrant burst of dried herbs. It’s fuller bodied with a creamy, leesy richness, plus a silky, moreish palate and its fine acidity and minerally texture lift it to a long, elegant finish. Savour on its own, at first, then think about matching it with pan-fried snapper. From Enoteca Sileno.

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JOANNE McCARTHY: It’s a woman’s world

THIS is what it feels like…

The new Prime Minister faced the media, her Cabinet members smiling in rows behind her. Their smart business suits presented a reassuring backdrop. The pearls, the polished heels, the glint of diamonds on earlobes sent a message – we’re women and we’re born to rule.

The PM beamed. After three years of turmoil under a, frankly, disastrous experiment with the country’s first male PM, things were back on track – a woman at the helm, flanked by women.

The PM addressed the media like a headmistress calling her charges into line. Journalists tried to ruffle the calm.

‘‘Prime Minister, how can you say your government speaks for all Australians and you’ve overcome your ‘man problem’, when 18 of your 19 ministers are women?’’ asked a TV journalist whose question was met with a ripple of laughter from the ministers’ ranks.

‘‘Now, now, Jason,’’ said the PM.

‘‘You know I love men. My father is a man. My husband is a man. My sons are stunning examples of manhood, or they will be when they find the right girls, get married, leave home and procreate. So really, Jason, aren’t you being a bit of a hairy-armpitted men’s libber about this?

‘‘It’s not the quantity of men in my Cabinet that matters, but the quality, which is why Cecil Priestley is Minister for Home Affairs. He’s perfectly capable of giving us a man’s point of view, if we ask for it. Plus you’re forgetting that I, personally, am going to be spokeswoman for men.’’

‘‘But you’re a woman,’’ said Jason.

‘‘All the more reason why I should be men’s spokeswoman,’’ said the PM. ‘‘I can be objective about it whereas a spokesman for men would get all emotional.’’

The PM caught a female journalist’s eye, but Jason had another question.

‘‘How did you select your Cabinet?’’

The Cabinet members giggled.

‘‘Nothing like a cranky men’s libber to put some pep in your day,’’ whispered the Attorney-General to the Minister for Ports, Roads and Odds and Sods.

‘‘Well, Jason, if you’re suggesting sex has anything to do with it, you’re wrong. Ministers are selected on merit, so it’s of course a disappointment that the boys just don’t stack up, but they’re close.

‘‘Heavens, a couple of them serve us afternoon tea, so they’re in the Cabinet room, at least until they clear the cups away. And we all say the newly-elected Member for Bulldust, Bob Farmer, will graduate from scones to a junior ministry some day. It’s just that there’s a few gals ahead of him with more experience.’’

The PM turned to the female journalist again, but Jason wasn’t finished.

‘‘I thought you said it was on merit?’’ he yelled.

‘‘Well, yes, merit, but you can’t just walk in as a new member of parliament and take a seat in Cabinet,’’ the PM said.

‘‘What about Beryl Smith-Brown, straight into Finance? Hasn’t she done that?’’ yelled Jason.

The PM’s eyebrows knitted ever so slightly.

‘‘Now, Jason, you seem to have a personal agenda here. Like I said the other day to our candidate in Woop Woop, ‘You’re going places little fella, because you’ve got sex appeal’. He won’t ever make it into Cabinet, of course, but a little eye candy in parliament can’t be all bad.

‘‘So, um, men are wonderful and I’m sure some day they’ll have what it takes to lead, but who wants to get caught up in that hairy old chestnut when it’s such a lovely day?’’

A week later the PM hosted the Australian Religious Leaders Conference. Up for discussion: the thorny issue of allowing men into the priesthood.

At a media briefing, religious leaders explained why, after prayer meetings and brainstorming sessions, theatre sports and earnest debate, the conference concluded that the status quo would remain – only women should head churches.

‘‘Why?’’ asked Brandon the journalist, and a silence fell.

‘‘It says so in the Good Book,’’ said Bishop Janet Straightback.

‘‘The Good Book also says we should stone fortune tellers to death, keep slaves and slaughter sons for their fathers’ guilt,’’ said Brandon.

The church leaders rose and shuffled off the stage, their high heels clacking on the timber floor.

A week later the PM’s six brothers were interviewed at the Australian Business Leaders annual conference, where organisers dealt with the shortage of male business leaders by dispersing them evenly across the room – one male for every nine females at each table.

The PM’s brothers were asked about their childhood and their famous sister.

‘‘She was a great sister, a wonderful role model,’’ said the PM’s brother Frank.

‘‘Mum and Dad always said she was destined to become Pope or Prime Minister. It used to bother me when we were young, why they never said that kind of thing to us boys, only to the girl of the family, but they were right, of course. She was born to lead.’’