Month: September 2018

After a long journey, writer has his day

Bowls of fun: Alistair Smith at the Bayswater Bowls Club with a copy of The Eighth Day. Picture: Sam StiglecAS a travel writer, Bayswater’s Alistair Smith has had the kind of international experiences many people can only dream about.

Those stories have helped shape the 69-year-old’s first foray into fiction, in the form of a novel titled The Eighth Day.

The award-winning former journalist’s debut book crosses international lines with scenes set in the ancient exotic Silk Road cities, as well as Istanbul and Melbourne.

It focuses on the central characters of Mack McDonald, a former Special Ops soldier, and Sally Chong, as they become key figures in the race to thwart a planned coup. Behind the scenes, a spymaster and the leader of a secret society are pulling the strings.

Smith was a reporter in the 1960s for the Sun and The Herald. He then tried his hand at other careers, including public relations, before falling into a career in travel writing.

Smith originally set out to write a non-fiction travel book about China in time for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 but couldn’t meet the time constraints.

Instead of wasting the extensive research he had carried out, he turned the story into a novel – “I didn’t want to let all the information go”.

Smith said writing a novel was an “incredibly different” experience so he sought out professional advice after writing a couple of chapters.

Once he got the go-ahead from those critics, he spent the next two years on his “labour of love”, writing the 90,000 words on 365 pages.

But it wasn’t all work for Smith and he still allowed himself to indulge his passion for lawn bowls.

The grandfather of four, who helped start up the Bayswater Bowls Club more than 25 years ago, said everyone at the club was “very excited” to read the thriller.

And with years of travel stories under his belt, Smith is certain he’s still got another novel in him.

The Eighth Day is available at the Booked Up bookshop at Knox City shopping centre.

Chemo patients take the taste test

Tasting time: Kate Henderson can now enjoy the full taste of a sweet, juicy watermelon. Picture: Lucy Di PaoloAS Boronia’s Kate Henderson underwent treatment for breast cancer last year, she went from loving fresh fruit and vegetables to a constant craving for pastries.

It was one of the unexpected changes she noticed during her chemotherapy.

Dietitian Anna Boltong was not surprised. After 15 years in the field, she had seen these sort of changes as many of her patients went through cancer treatment.

With the aim of improving the nutritional health of cancer patients, Ms Boltong started a research project for her PhD that looked at patients’ tastes and diets.

The collaborative study with Deakin University and the University of Melbourne is under way at the Maroondah and Box Hill hospitals and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

“If we have more detail about how tastes change during chemo, we can tailor our dietary advice and patients will have a better outcome if they’re well nourished,” Ms Boltong said.

The study involves 52 cancer patients whose taste sensitivities are tested before, during and after chemotherapy treatment.

Referred to the study by Maroondah Breast Clinic, Ms Henderson, 36, wants to do everything she can to help someone in a similar situation.

“The study made me more aware of the taste changes and my habits. Knowing them made a massive difference to maintaining my best health throughout chemo.”

Ms Boltong said an emerging trend from the study was that people liked sweet food less after treatment. “Anecdotally though, we’ve found that the regular tastes seem to go back to normal after two months.”

One surprising discovery had been that instead of losing weight during treatment, women with breast cancer put on weight.

Ms Boltong said the study was vital for cancer sufferers because food was such an important part of daily life.

“Food can be a vehicle for celebration; it’s the social aspect. People with cancer want to feel as normal as possible, and it can be distressing if they can’t eat what they used to at gatherings.”

E-books click as library visitors fall

Novel surf: E-book reader Annette Schlafrig using her Netbook to read at Rowville library. Picture: Ted KloszynskiONCE upon a time, libraries were places to hunt out an old and dusty book – but that image is quickly being replaced by e-books, free wi-fi and interactive websites.

However, as technology advances, the number of people visiting Eastern Regional Libraries branches in person is down by almost 500,000 in the past five years.

In the 2006-07 financial year there were 2.5 million physical visits to ERL branches, but in 2010-11 that dropped to just over 2 million. Website hits rose to 1.4million in 2010-11 from 478,406 hits in 2006-07.

ERL information services manager Paul Burden said this was because website redevelopments now featured e-resources and online learning for children.

E-books have been available on the ERL website since June last year and there have been 14,000 checkouts in that time.

Mr Burden said those numbers were rapidly increasing, with 2800 books checked out during February, and a spike in rentals just after Christmas last year.

Mr Burden said ERL had about 7000 electronic titles available, including e-books and audio books.

But Amazon Kindles cannot use the ERL software yet because of copyright problems with the e-book platform Overdrive. “There’s an 82-year-old lady in a retirement village who keeps asking when they’re going to be compatible because she has a Kindle she wants to use,” Mr Burden said.

Knoxfield bookworm Annette Schlafrig, 57, reads ERL e-books on her Netbook. Ms Schlafrig said the books were especially suited to older readers because they could change the font size.

“E-books have also been great for me while I’ve had a broken arm. I’ve read book after book but haven’t actually borrowed any physical books.”

Knox residents can learn how to use these new devices at a ‘technology petting zoo’ lined up at ERL branches.


Living with violence

Casey family violence unit. From left, Constable Jason Banfield, Sergeant David Sheppard and Constable Luke Ingram. Picture: Rob CarewHome is meant to be a haven but for some it’s a war zone. Catherine Watson meets those dealing with the mess of family violence.

Standing in front of the magistrate, some of them look sheepish, some defiant, some just plain scared. Not one looks scary. Yet they are all here because someone has been so frightened of them that they have called the police for help.

The strange thing is that the person they were hitting or threatening or abusing was almost certainly someone they loved dearly. And it almost certainly wasn’t the first time they had done it.

Welcome to the world of family violence, with all its messy contradictions. These are laid bare in the Dandenong Magistrates Court each Thursday morning as couples and families mill around waiting their turn to be called before the magistrate. On the day the Weekly visited the court, there were 80 family violence cases listed.

The numbers tell part of the story. In 2008, 489 incidents of domestic violence were recorded in Monash, either through the courts, police or hospitals. Up to 70 per cent of family violence goes unreported, however. Studies show that on average women put up with six incidents of physical violence before they report it.

Ringwood’s Pamela McConchie kept the violence in her home a secret for a long time, and never reported it to the police. At home, her partner would punch, kick and shove her, but he also cut her off from her support network.

“I couldn’t see friends as much as I wanted to, one because he would meet them and two because I never knew how he was going to react when we were there. He was just nasty and snide,’’ she says.

“I have the best lot of family and friends anyone could ever hope for. The shame of being in something like that is it didn’t allow me to tell them. I was living a lie in this relationship for 13 years.”

Finally leaving the relationship in 2009, Ms McConchie still doesn’t discuss it with anyone but her closest family. “There is such a stigma so it is easier not to talk about it,’’ she says.

Ms McConchie is a survivor advocate for Women’s Health East, working to ensure the issue of domestic violence comes out of the shadows. At first she was unsure about volunteering to take part in the program because she felt her story wasn’t ‘bad’ enough, but speaking out has helped her regain her confidence.

Sergeant Dave Sheppard polices domestic violence and is an ambassador for the White Ribbon campaign against violence against women. He says people worry too much about the unlikely prospect of assaults, thefts and murders.

‘‘Someone smashes your window and steals your laptop and that’s annoying. But the person you love most punches you then kicks you while you’re lying on the ground — that’s devastating.

‘‘I’ve wrestled a man off a woman. I’ve been called out to a lesbian couple where one’s got a pair of scissors sticking out of her back. I’ve got to a job where a woman’s been beaten up by her partner and when I’ve arrested him she’s jumped on me because he’s the love of her life.’’

Asked why he chose to work in this fraught area, he says that as a child he witnessed violence in his own family. ‘‘It forms part of who you are. I’m very careful in what I do in my family. It’s made me very black and white in my practice.’’

He says alcohol and drugs are a common factor in family violence, as is financial stress. When mortgage interest rates went up there was an increase. The same thing happens every time petrol prices rise. It drops over December and January but increases sharply over winter when people are stuck inside and can’t get away from one another.

‘‘As I tell my new guys, we’re never going to solve their problems. We are there to make sure the victims are safe.

‘‘If we attend three or more times we arrest them. You wouldn’t believe the number of women who breathe a sigh of relief because they’ve got a respite because he’s in jail — there’s an unbelievable change in them.’’

By the time a case gets to court the anger has subsided. The men — all but a few of the respondents are men — frequently enter the courtroom with their partners by their side. The relationship has been mended, at least for now.

Others enter alone, followed at some distance by their former partner, usually escorted by a family member or friend. The former partners’ eyes don’t meet.

You can feel the tension in the air but the ranting and raving and blows are gone. The atmosphere is calm and civilised, reinforced by magistrate Gerard Bryant’s courteous treatment of those facing court, like a bank manager addressing a customer.

Most of the respondents are being served with intervention orders that forbid them to assault or threaten a family member or members.

The beauty of the system is that they are not required to admit guilt or plead innocence; they merely undertake not to breach the order. Mr Bryant cautions each one of them that it is a court order, not a personal agreement.

He also advises them to seek help from the Men’s Referral Service. ‘‘I couldn’t count how many times men have made that call and gone to attend that service,’’ he says, ‘‘and come back almost evangelical about how it’s changed the way they treat women and children.’’

For many men, a single brush with the law is enough of a shock to change their behaviour, especially with the threat of two years’ jail and a $30,000 fine if they breach an order.

‘‘But you can’t be there 24/7. Some of them need to take responsibility for their own actions. I often ask a man who’s assaulted his wife or partner, ‘If you saw a woman walking down the street would you think it OK to punch her as hard as you could and stomp on her when she’s down?’


‘Well, why would you do that to the woman you love most in the world?’

‘‘You can see their faces fall.’’

* Men’s Referral Service, 1800 065 973 or 9428 2899. Lines are open 9am-9pm Monday to Friday.

* Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service, 1800 015 188 or 9322 3555. Call any time.

Knox needle exchange project closer


THE final steps towards a needle exchange program in Knox are almost complete with a decision due by the end of the month.

Responses to the proposed Knox Community Health Service project in Ferntree Gully closed on January 24.

Information and consultation packs were delivered to 1500 residents. While all results from the consultation are yet to be collated, early figures show there was a 7per cent negative response.

KCHS chief executive officer Chris Potter said there were a number of different ideas in the responses, with three main areas of concern raised, including the program’s close proximity to St John the Baptist Parish Primary School, the concept of a needle exchange program, and putting money into drug services.

About 20 of the negative responses received were ‘standard response’ forms that had been pre-made against the proposed project.

Mr Potter said the packs were also delivered to 73 businesses in the area. Only five of these responses were negative.

There were also some concerns regarding incidents of hepatitis C from syringes, however Mr Potter said a needle exchange program was the “most effective harm minimisation strategy”.

He said there were similar needle exchange programs in Maroondah and Monash, where statistics for hepatitis C were lower than in Knox.

Health Department figures show that in Monash between 2008-11 there were an average of 1.2 cases of hepatitis C per 100,000 people, while in Maroondah there were 1.9 cases. In Knox, the figure was 3.3.

Mr Potter also addressed the concerns of those who did not think public money should be spent on drug addicts.

“People who use drugs are a part of the community and they need services provided just like any other person.” He said all respondents would be kept informed.