wollongong

A special kind of card this Christmas.

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She’s only a year older than me, and already, she’s been through and done so much.

Caitlin Bush is a 21-year-old from Unanderra, and this Christmas, she’s doing something beautiful—she’s writing heart-felt and meaningful cards, and sending them to those who are struggling; particularly with their own mental health. To the average person, this may not seem like much. But to someone who is suffering and alone, it can mean the world.

“I know first-hand how lonely and hard Christmas can be, especially if you are alone or have a broken family,” Ms Bush said.

“It really hits home at Christmas, so I thought I could try and help in any way. I wanted to make others know they’re not the only ones, and people do care.”

“If anyone would like some extra Christmas cheer this year or knows someone who’s suffering. Let me know, everyone deserves something at Christmas even if it’s just a card.” -The Silent Sufferers page.

While this is her first Christmas card run, Ms Bush knows it most definitely won’t be her last. The response to her campaign has been “amazing”, with over 200 hand-written cards already sent out—and this is all coming from Ms Bush’s back pocket.

“It’s great to know someone is thinking of you. Getting even just a simple thing like that [card] can make your day, week or even the whole Christmas month worth it,” one card receiver said.

Ms Bush said she has been called a “Christmas Angel” by some, a title she modestly turns down.

“[I’m] just a girl trying to make a difference,” she said.

Ms Bush also began a Facebook page, the Silent Sufferers, a few months ago in order to let people know they’re not alone. Ms Bush says she was sick of the judgement, alienation and the lack of understanding of what people with mental health issues go through. She intends to raise awareness, as well as provide support to those who are suffering.

Image via Facebook.

“Honestly, I just help people know they’re not alone, no matter how bad it seems,” she said.

Ms Bush has posted her own struggles on the Facebook page, with one particular video gaining over 80,000 views. She said the video’s intent was to urge people to consider their actions, and support those around them.

“If mental health wasn’t swept under the rug so much, people might be able to understand it instead of running from it.”

“If you see someone who looks like they need help, ask! Say hello to the random that sits at the back of the class or the bus, hiding themselves.”

“If people just took the time to dig a little deeper and look around, [they’d see] everyone is fighting a battle.”

If you wish to request a card, please private message the Silent Sufferers Facebook Page.

This post originally appeared on the Tertangala (written by me) , and has been republished with full permission.

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Team Quoll: Supporting Quoll-ity Research in the Illawarra

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A crowdfunding campaign is being launched by Team Quoll’s Elira Reynolds in order to determine the situation, and ensure the survival of the endangered spotted-tailed quoll in the Illawarra and Southern Highlands region. The University of Wollongong honours student hopes to raise $4000 in order to purchase necessary equipment, and access remote areas.

Since last year, Ms Reynolds and other members of Team Quoll have set up 109 camera sites around the Illawarra. Only three quolls have been detected, which is a success rate of 2.8%.

“It’s a lot less to expect than if the quolls were doing well in the area,” Ms Reynolds said.

The spotted-tailed quoll is the largest remaining carnivorous marsupial on Australian mainland. Very little is known about the species—particularly in the Illawarra region.

“It’s been estimated their range has contracted about 50% since European settlement,” Ms Reynolds said.

Ms Reynolds intends to use odour treatments and additional camera sites to study the quolls, as well as the impact of the red fox—no quolls were found in areas where foxes were detected.

“We don’t know if the population is stable, increasing or decreasing, and we don’t know how the species needs to be managed to ensure its survival in the region,” she said.

The spotted-tailed quoll is the only quoll species found on the east coast since the extinction of the mainland eastern quoll in 1963.

Team Quoll citizen scientist Craig Murrell said more studies are needed to determine how the situation can be improved.

“If we don’t do something very quickly, very soon, then we’ll also lose the tiger quoll, along with the eastern quoll,” Mr Murrell said.

“If you care about quolls, and if you want to see quolls return . . . the way they used to be here, then giving a donation is . . . a really good way to do that,” Ms Reynolds said.

You can donate to the crowdfunding campaign here.

Team Quoll are an animal activist group concerned with the sparse population of the endangered spotted-tailed quoll in the Illawarra and Southern Highlands.

QUOLL INFOGRAPH

Want more Team Quoll? Follow them Twitter.

Let’s Talk About Vaginas

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No, but seriously; let’s. We really don’t talk about them enough—especially in a non-sexual context. The word feels strange to write, and even stranger to say out loud. Even my phone corrects “vagina” to “cagina”, as if an inanimate object could also feel awkward. Well, that taboo ends here! This is an important issue that could save your life—and a lot of young women really don’t have a clue about it. Now that is awkward.

Okay, brace yourselves, ladies (and any men who were unknowingly lured into reading this through the word “vagina”) here it comes: pap smears. What a terrible name. Smear. Smear. They really don’t make it sound appealing, do they? But in all honesty, It’s not that bad. The procedure takes probably less than thirty seconds in all, and it doesn’t hurt even slightly.

You can get a pap smear by booking in an appointment with your doctor, or at a women’s health clinic. Basically, they take you into a private room, just like any other doctor’s visit, and ask you to remove your underwear and lie on an examination bed. This bit is rather awkward, but remember: they are trained professionals and have probably seen thousands of vaginas in their time. They use a hard plastic tool called a speculum (not to be confused with a spatula) in order for them to see your cervix. From there, they take a quick sample of the cells and send them away for testing. And then you’re done!

Now, I would definitely recommend seeing a female doctor—at least for your first time. It’s much less awkward. My usual doctor is male, and I’m also friends with his daughter. The vagina jokes he made certainly didn’t make me feel more comfortable. The female doctor I sought out, however, was kind and made general conversation and even gave me some information for this article.

So, what the Pap smear actually does is test for any abnormalities in the cells around your cervix which can eventually lead to cervical cancer, as well as testing for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is present in 99.7% of cervical cancer cases. HPV, which is an infection of the skin around think, moist linings of the body (like the nose, mouth, throat and genital) results from close skin contact, isn’t something to be overly concerned about: 4 out of 5 people will have it in their lives, mostly with no symptoms. Your body will usually clear it naturally in 1-2 years, but in some cases, it can stay longer and lead to cervical cancer.

According to the Cancer Council, about 1 in 10 Pap smears reveal abnormalities, though less than 1% of these abnormalities lead to cervical cancer. Even so, all women, regardless of age, sexual orientation or number of partners, should be tested every two years from the ages of 18-70 (or younger,  depending on what age she became sexually active).

In 2017, based on recommendations from the Medical Services Advisory Committee, the Australian Government will make some changes to the Pap test. Women aged between 25 and 74 will undertake a HPV test every five years, which may also include various other tests. These changes are estimated to reduce the number of cancer cases by a further 15%. Hooray!

However, until then, Pap tests are absolutely necessary. Soldier through that awkwardness, and it could potentially save your life! Eighty per cent of women who develop cervical cancer had not had regular check-ups. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers with a simple test—these tests have halved the mortality rate. Can you really ignore that?

Listen to your vagina, and don’t be afraid to talk about any problems you may have, no matter how seemingly miniscule. Don’t become another statistic because you were too embarrassed to ask. After all, happy vagina, happy life. Preach it, ladies!

Small Acts of Bravery, Small Acts of Kindness

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I still believe there is kindness in this world. Even though we are engulfed with war, disease, suffering, death, hate and torture, I still believe there is hope.

A few days ago, I somehow popped my tyre while driving. Don’t ask me how. I just heard a massive BANG and there it was. A flat tyre. Now, normally I would have called family friends to come and help me. The only problem was: I now lived three hours away from them.

Oh, dear! I thought. How is it possible that I can write thousands upon thousands of words and analyse philosophical ideas, but I can’t change a damn tyre?

I was freaking out—and kicking myself for not learning to change a tyre sooner. That was when a random guy asked me if I was okay—and he helped me, with no thought of himself, not even accepting my offers of money as thanks. I was bewildered—and grateful.

Similarly, a few years ago I was at a petrol station, and my cards declined—one of which was supposed to contain child support payments from my father. I tried $20 on each. Declined. $15. Declined. $10. Declined. Even $5—once again, declined. I was humiliated to the point of trying even $2, while counting up ten cent pieces from my wallet. And that was when a man stepped out from behind me and paid the rest of what I owed.

“Don’t worry about it, mate,” he said. “We’ve all been there.”

And then he left without another word.

A tyre and some money; for them, it may not have meant much. But for me, it meant the world. Could it be that there are genuinely good people out there? People who are willing to help others with no thought of themselves?

My mum once told me a story about how she saved a woman from a rather dire car crash accident. She crawled into the overturned car to pull the woman out of the wreckage. At any moment, the car could have burst into flames: but she did it anyway.

I can’t say if I’ve saved a life—I’d like to hope someone else would have intervened if I hadn’t. Two years ago I was holidaying in Vanuatu at a place known as the Blue Lagoon—essentially, a very deep, very blue swimming hole. A mother was there, waiting to catch her two girls who were jumping off the wharf into the lagoon—only, it was much deeper than she anticipated. She began to struggle. She began to call for help—scream for help. I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew I had to do something. Grabbing the girl—who couldn’t have been older than five—I slowly made my way to where I could touch the ground, banking on the idea that I could hold my breath for longer than she could. The mother cried, thanking me. Did I save her? I don’t know. But I did something, and that’s my point.

Something is all it takes, no matter how small, to change someone’s world. Small acts of kindness, small acts of bravery—that’s all it takes to change the world. So, what will you do? All it takes is one tiny step. Will you take it?

It’s a Vegetarian Wonderland! An Au Lac Review

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It’s hard to be a vegetarian sometimes—especially in a society dominated by the meat industry. I would certainly be very rich if I had a dollar for every time I’ve gone to a restaurant only to find no vegetarian options, other than a bowl of chips or boring garden salad. Fellow vegetarians, we know this feeling well. But fret no more: we have Au Lac’s Royal Vegetarian Cuisine!

I cannot express how amazing it is for a vegetarian to find a restaurant where you don’t have to worry about being stuck with a boring meal. A restaurant where you don’t have to worry that the cooks will accidently slip in some form of animal product. Where you know they didn’t cook your vegetarian meals with the same pans as they cooked meat in. A place where you feel at home—only with tastier food, fantastic and fast service, as well as a stunning, elegant atmosphere, complete with forest-inspired wall art and crystal chandeliers.

I stumbled across this place a few weeks ago, and was instantly greeted like an old friend. Despite the fact that I accidently entered the store half an hour before opening, the workers insisted it was okay—they were happy to serve me, despite not yet being open. All this was delivered with a smile. Of course, I declined and insisted I would come back when they were open—and I did. Even when I paid for my meal with dollar coins and asked for a tax invoice, they smiled (I’m an annoying customer, I know).

Au Lac is 100% vegetarian, with vegan and gluten and nut free options available upon request, and are dedicated to bringing customers the finest, healthiest meals from only the freshest producers. Because I know you’re probably wondering, the meat-free alternatives are made from a variety of products, including soy protein, wheat flour, mushrooms, and an extremely healthy Asian plant called konnyaku. Quality and health has been a part of Au Lac’s philosophy since it first opened in 2000 with two store locations: one in Dickson, Canberra, and the other right here in Wollongong—2/166 Kiera Street. Opening hours are Monday to Sunday, from a convenient and handy 11.30am to 2.30pm, and 5.30pm to 10.30pm.

So let’s get to the important stuff: the food. Honey soy chicken. Soy chicken nuggets. Soy chicken satay sticks. Satay soy beef. Soy chicken in plum sauce. Fried soy fish in a savoury ginger sauce. Fried soy squid with spicy salt and chilli. Braised tofu with vegetables and cashew nuts.  And let’s not forget dessert: banana cake, sundaes and deep fried ice cream. Okay, my mouth is now watering. But best of all about Au Lac? They’re affordable—affordable enough for even a poor university student, with prices ranging from $5-$18. The average main meal is around $15.90, with boiled rice a shockingly cheap $2.50 per person.

It’s the little things that really make a place special, and Au Lac is one of those places. Trip Adviser Australia rates Au Lac a 4.5 out of 5 stars—and I’m going to do the same. On a side note, I’m now starving and desperate for some vegetarian goodness. Try it—and thank me later!

Get Unhinged

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10930865_753727384740994_8226110819177030516_nLife is too serious—sometimes you just need to have a laugh; a philosophy Wollongong’s own heavy punk band The Unhinged live by.

“That’s our aim,” said James Flint, the band’s lead vocalist. “We just want everyone to have as much fun as we are.”

Think heavy. Think energy. Think fun. Think booze—your ideal party scene. That’s The Unhinged.

“We really just take the piss out of everything,” said James.

“Anything we can have a laugh about.”

It all began with a simple ad on Gumtree by James about 12 months ago, and has now become a band with a growing following—along with an upcoming East Coast tour.

“We’re pretty happy to see where it leads,” said lead guitarist Paul Appleton.

“None of us have big ambitions to be rock stars and make millions.  In reality that won’t happen.”

“It’s just something to forget about your day job and get into something you really enjoy doing.”

As the band crack open some beers, a very important step for rehearsal preparations, you can tell these guys are all great mates who love taking the piss out of each other.

Brandt Cattell, who drives a forklift by day, is the band’s bassist, and has been playing for six years. Well, trying to play, according to James. Brandt was the last member to join the band.

“Thought I’d give it a try and have a jam,” he said.

“They said I can come back, so I’ve been here ever since. Haven’t told me to piss off, so I must be doing something right.”

“Not that we haven’t told him to piss off,” James corrected. “It just hasn’t stuck yet.”

Paul Appleton, lead guitarist, is the most experienced member of the band, having been playing for over 20 years. Paul’s day job in clothing manufacturing allows the band to get the know-how of the merchandise business.

Michael Davies is the band’s drummer, and has been playing since high school. Mick works as a bartender, and according to his mates is an amateur comedian and quite frankly, “a top bloke”. Mick also once had a candle chucked at his head during a Sydney gig by a junkie—though the bigger question here is: who on Earth carries around a candle in the city?

Lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist James Flint works as a chef by day and is probably most remembered for his sense of humour.

“James got naked and mooned his ass at me once,” said Mick. “It was only embarrassing for his missus.”

THEUNHINGED

The band has come a long way since their first rough gig at Corrimal Hotel in July last year; Mick’s reaction was the general consensus.

“I was shitting myself,” he recalls. “I’d never played in front of an audience before.”

That particular gig was shaky as a result of an unfortunate pie incident. Said pie nearly cost the band their entire gig; it managed to put Paul in the hospital the night before.

“I bought a pie at lunch time and choked on it. Had a piece of meat stuck 2cm down my throat.” Paul remembers.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Brandt said, remembering the gig that almost didn’t happen.  “Didn’t know If he was going to make it.”

Understandably, Paul was no good for singing at their first gig. The band remember it as “a bit of fun”.

“We got to take his hospital gown off, too,” James insisted.

Like a true blue Aussie, Paul continues to eat pie to this very day.

The band have come a long way since then, with their 1st anniversary show highlighting their success; the audience jumped on stage while they played.

“For a band that’s been playing for 12 months, I think we’re going pretty good, really.” James said.

“People come to our shows and sing our songs. That’s always a good thing—it’s a start.”

The upcoming East Coast tour in May will be exciting and exhausting—seven shows in seven days, with a home show in Wollongong’s Dicey Riley’s on May 9, though the band are probably most excited for their Melbourne show.

“It’s going to be nuts there,” said Paul. “Everyone says the music scene is good there.”

James is also keen for the Gerringong show. “Everywhere else we’ve already played before. Well, except for Canberra. But fuck Canberra,” he joked.

The band are also set to play for the annual festival Creepfest on June 20 at the Corrimal Hotel, along with some other pretty big bands.

“Clowns is a massive band out of Melbourne who is headlining,” said James. “They’re pretty fucking good.”

The Unhinged members are happy to see where the flow takes them.

“If we can make a living off it, we’d be happy.” Said James.

“It’s a pretty hard gig, so we don’t have huge expectations.”

“At the same time, the sky is the limit, really.”

If you asked the band what their sound was, they’d each rattle off 10 different bands, and none would be the same—except for The Ramones and NoFX. They don’t really have a clue about “sub-genres”, and instead call themselves punk—it makes it easier.

Music is their outlet. Their way to communicate what irritates them about daily life—as well as more important issues.

“Drunk Again” is about alcohol abuse, and “Bully” is an anti-bullying song.

“’Deal with the Devil’ is about not selling your soul to a job, and actually enjoying your life, rather than working 60 hours a week and not enjoying it,” said Paul.

Even “Parking Inspector” ties into this theme, James said.

“No one wants to get a ticket off a parking inspector; it pisses you off”.

“We just play stuff people will get into and enjoy.” Brandt said.

“If there’s a bit of a message in there, cool. But we just want people to enjoy themselves and have a laugh.”

“We’re doing a public service,” Paul laughed.

Have fun, kick back, vent, and be able to have a laugh at yourself. That’s The Unhinged. What could be any better than that?

Get their demo here.