Meet the winner of the Herald’s short story competition Stephanie Holm

Winner of the Herald’s short story competition, Stephanie Holm. Picture: Peter StoopSTEPHANIE Holm’s gripping tale of a childhood memory blurred by a tragic event has won the Newcastle Herald’s annual short story competition.
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Read the winning story here

‘‘It’s very exciting and nice that people liked reading the story and could appreciate its dark undertones,’’ said Ms Holm, who was a finalist in last year’s competition.

‘‘I’ve always wanted to be a writer so to have other people reading my work and for the story to have a life of its own is great.’’

The judges said Ms Holm’s story The Witness was a standout among the 125 entries.

The judges wereNewcastle Herald editor Chad Watson, Herald journalist and director of the Newcastle Writers Festival Rosemarie Milsom and best-selling local writer Wendy James.

‘‘The Witness is an evocative response to the image of the lone figure in the rain,’’ they said in a statement.

‘‘The Witness is an evocative response to the image of the lone figure in the rain,’’ the judges said in a statement.

‘‘The narrator does not experience a happy day at the beach, but that is what makes the story so appealing.

‘‘Ms Holm brings both the narrator and setting to life with an eye for detail.

‘‘There is underlying tension and mystery that keeps the reader engaged.’’

Ms Holm, 25, said she had been putting pen to paper ever since she was a child.

She took creative writing courses as electives in her Natural History Illustration degree at the University of Newcastle and is planning this year to juggle her PHD studies with attending a course at Sydney’s Faber Writing Academy and drafting a mystery.

‘‘I try and create an illustration – through words – of a place,’’ she said.

‘‘I do a lot of reading and just like telling myself fictional stories and building worlds.

‘‘I eventually want to combine writing and illustrating – not necessarily in children’s books – but in some form, perhaps in the same vein as The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen.’’

Ms Holm was rewarded with a library of 50 new-release books valued at $900, a weekend pass to the 2015 Newcastle Writers Festival, as well as a Kobo Touch e-reader and silicon case package valued at $110, courtesy of Domayne Kotara.

The highly commended stories were The Scented Flower of Chiang Mai by Annie Freer, of West Wallsend and The Blow by Kynan Cliff, of Cooks Hill.

The judges also made special mention of Driftwood by Janet Haigh, of Mayfield, and Crooked by Kelli Hawkins, of Hamilton East.

The two highly commended entrants will each receive a $150 voucher from MacLean’s Booksellers, Hamilton.

All three winners will receive a 12-week subscription to the Herald.

Game for a go at outback school

HARD YAKKA: Former Newcastle Herald journalist Deb Richards during her outback adventure.
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WHEN Deb Richards received a playful email from a friend she had no idea it would send her packing for the South Australian scrub to become the next ‘‘jillaroo’’.

‘‘Are you kidding?’’ was all the former Newcastle Herald sub-editor could utter when she received a follow-up call from an ABC producer informing her she had been chosen out of 800 applicants to be one of five trainee farmers for the documentary show Jillaroo School.

‘‘I’ve always had a fascination for the outback and I love adventure’’, said Richards, who describes her experience as funny from day one and crazy ever since.

The show, created in response to a need for female farmers, documents an intense four-week training program where five women ditch their former lives and head for the Flinders Ranges.

They ride horses, quad bikes and learn what it takes to work on the land under the guidance of horse master Bill Willoughby.

‘‘I knew of Bill’s reputation and all I could think was holey moley,’’ Richards said of the man who is famed for his work with animals in programs such as McLeods Daughters and Rabbit Proof Fence.

Under Willoughby’s instruction, Richards acquired skills alongside women she now shares a bond like no other with.

‘‘We’re like sisters now,’’ said Richards, whose favourite part of the experience, other than working with Willoughby and his wife, was forging an amazing friendship with her fellow jillaroos. The program, to air on ABC on February 1, will also depict the many trials farmers working in such harsh conditions go through on a daily basis.

It also highlights the serious employment gaps within their community.

‘‘Unless you live their life for a month you have no idea what they go through’’, Richards said.

‘‘It’s a real employment option. It’s a good life but you have to be really adaptable.’’

Richards, who was ready to run in the beginning after experiencing the trials of that lifestyle, said she now feels more grown up in her mid-forties after being part of the program.

‘‘I loved talking to the women in the community we were in [and seeing] how they survive on each other’s support,’’ she said.

Eagerly awaiting the program to air, the former journalist can’t wait to see how women especially react to what she calls one of the most confronting emotional and physical experiences of her life.

‘‘It shows what women can do’’, said Deb.

‘‘We weren’t thinking about what our hair looked like, there was no make-up, nothing was sugar-coated … it was just women doing great stuff’’.

‘‘I just kept telling myself ‘if you can get through this you’re gonna be amazing’– and I did,’’ Richards said.

EDITORIAL: Let fans pay to sit on the grass

THERE is a good reason the Asian Football Confederation insists all tickets to its Asian Cup games should be for numbered individual seats.
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The confederation never wants to be involved in a repeat of past soccer disasters, where spectator stampedes in over-filled grounds have led to deaths and injuries.

It’s a rule deserving respect, but like any rule it really should contain scope for flexibility in special circumstances.

Like the Asian Cup sudden-death showdown being played at Newcastle next Tuesday night, for example.

Thanks to a quirk of circumstance, Australia’s Socceroos will play in Newcastle, instead of in Sydney as most had expected.

Had the Socceroos beaten South Korea last Saturday, they’d have been playing their semi-final in the capital in front of 83,500 seated fans.

But South Korea beat Australia 1-0, changing the script in an instant.

The Socceroos got the better of China in their match in Brisbane on Thursday night, meaning they will play in Newcastle on Tuesday.

That’s fantastic news for Newcastle, where excited fans had already revelled in the chance to watch champions Japan defeat popular underdogs Palestine 4-0 at Hunter Stadium.

The fly in the ointment is the Newcastle venue’s limited seating capacity.

Sticking to the strict confederation rules, only about 23,000 tickets can be sold. But that ignores the wide-open grassy spaces at each end of the ground where another 10,000 or so people can be – and have been in the past – accommodated with ease.

It seems a terrible shame, and an unnecessarily wasted opportunity, not to take advantage of this space. Demand is sure to be massive for such a crucial game involving the Socceroos.

Indeed, the match is generally considered to be the most important ever played at the stadium and, apart from spectators at the ground, it will be watched by millions of television viewers across the world.

Anybody looking at the ground and its layout will quickly see that Hunter Stadium isn’t a likely venue for a crowd stampede. The ground has held almost 33,000 at times in the past, with a third or so of the spectators happy to watch from the grass and with no particular problems arising.

Respected Australian international football veteran Ray Baartz has summed the issue up very neatly, noting the confederation rule is entirely sensible for most major venues in many parts of the world. But, as he points out, Newcastle’s stadium and ground is quite different, making a waiver of the rule not only reasonable, but appropriate.

Waiving the rule would be a deeply appreciated goodwill gesture to soccer-lovers in Newcastle and the Hunter.

GREG RAY: Liberal dose for cronies

The way Tony’s going, it will only take another couple of stuff-ups to put him so far on the nose that not even Uncle Rupert will be able to keep dressing him up like a hero.IT’S a bit funny, in a way, watching senior Libs pumping out off-the-record briefings to the Press, explaining that all the dumb ideas the federal government keeps coming up with are entirely the Prime Minister’s.
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One minute the government is never going to back down on its Medicare attack. Next minute the alleged ‘‘reforms’’ are off the table.

One minute the government is determined to turn Australia’s universities into a laissez-faire corporate free-for-all. Next minute it’s willing to compromise.

Now the government has moved on to welfare (cough, cough) ‘‘reform’’, with hard man Scott Morrison declaring war on rorters. Unless they wear white collars.

And to ‘‘tax reform’’, with the government’s de facto policy greenhouse, the Business Council of Australia, lining up with its transnational members like Rio Tinto to promote the idea of hammering ordinary folk harder to make up the revenue shortfall caused by corporate tax dodging.

And, happy days, to industrial relations ‘‘reform’’ where the usual suspects are demanding the usual things: lower wages for mug punters, fewer legislative protections for mug punters and more ice-cream for fat cats.

Oh, and don’t forget superannuation. It needs reform too. The big banks that own a vast chunk of the industry and have demonstrated in scandal after scandal how trustworthy they really are, want the government to make life miserable for industry super funds, because they have trade union representatives on their boards.

Nothing to do with the fact that bank-owned products rip so many fees out of their account-holders that their market performance looks bad compared to industry funds.

All this government seems to do is try its butt off to deliver everything on the wish-lists of its corporate sponsors. Big banks, big mining companies, big whatever.

Abbott is busting himself to bits trying to deliver for the corporate cronies. Every time he charges another brick wall and falls down dazed, his own ministers shake their heads and look at the ground, embarrassed.

His mates in the financial press blame the Senate. Bad senators! How dare they not just step out of the way and let Australia get shoved down discredited US-style pathways in healthcare and tertiary education?

But for once the smug corporate propaganda isn’t working, not least because most voters, even dyed-blue Libs who’d die in a ditch rather than ever be seen voting for anything other than the party of the upper crust, can’t see any sense in much of what Abbott is killing himself trying to do.

Australia doesn’t need a Margaret Thatcher in tight red underpants right now. It just needs a competent administrator with a bit of goodwill and decency. Somebody who doesn’t only stand for a narrow elite.

It’s hard to see anybody who could fit that description in either of the big parties at present, but you never know, I suppose. Anyway, the way Tony’s going, it will only take another couple of stuff-ups to put him so far on the nose that not even Uncle Rupert will be able to keep dressing him up like a hero.

Who’s next in line? Scott Morrison? That would be good for Labor. Malcolm Turnbull? Could the Coalition hard men get that desperate? I doubt it.

Julie Bishop? Worth watching, ever since the foreign minister reportedly ‘‘went bananas’’ at the PM in December, having found out that she was going to be compulsorily chaperoned at the United Nations conference on climate change.

Apparently the government was worried she might depart from the script laid down by the mining companies. The one that says coal is always the answer and that renewable energy is the work of the devil. I don’t think she did depart from the script, so that worked out OK.

This week Bishop was in Washington at a business conference where she came out with the remark that if some transnational corporations stopped evading tax in the countries where they actually made most of their money, those robbed countries wouldn’t need to put their hands out for overseas aid.

She figured that the tax evaded by the big corporates from the affected countries could be up to $US160billion a year, more than the $US135billion in global foreign aid transfers.

Is she pitching for a job, or what?

Where to eat on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland: Chef Cameron Matthews

Chef Cameron Matthews. Cameron Matthews: The Sunshine Coast is a world-class food destination.
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Chef Cameron Matthews.

Chef Cameron Matthews.

Cameron Matthews has built a stellar reputation in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, establishing The Long Apron at Spicers Clovelly as one of Australia’s finest dining experiences and cooking schools. See spicersretreats整形美容医院m/spicers-clovelly-estate. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE TABLE ON THE SUNSHINE COAST?

Berardos at Noosa is iconic, but King Ludwig’s at Maleny captures the Sunshine Coast landscape brilliantly. You can feast on the Glasshouse Mountains while enjoying a stein of lager and sauerkraut. See berardos整形美容医院; kingludwigs整形美容医院  THE LOCAL FOOD DISCOVERY OF THE PAST YEAR?

Mojama cured and smoked tuna out of Mooloolaba. It’s called the “jamon of the sea” because it is like a Spanish ham. We shave it and use it almost as a seasoning on seafood dishes and pasta.  WHAT IS THE SUNSHINE COAST’S BEST-KEPT FOOD SECRET?

Cedar Creek Cheeserie’s Love Supreme cheese. Trevor Hart is well known for his buffalo mozzarella and haloumi, but the Love Supreme has a delicious soft, ricotta-like consistency with a citrusy finish that is really special. Cedar Street, Maleny.  PLACE TO GO ON A DAY OFF?

For beaches and food, it is Noosa or Caloundra with a coffee at Lamkin Lane (Tim Adams’ joint and one of Australia’s best baristas), but I also love Eumundi for its market and its Berkelouw book store, which not only has an incredible range of cooking books, but also great coffee and a kids’ park across the road. See timadams整形美容医院.au; eumundimarkets整形美容医院; berkelouw整形美容医院m.  FAVOURITE INDULGENCE ON THE SUNSHINE COAST?

There is a very atmospheric patisserie in Cooroy called Maison de Provence. Eric Pernoud makes all his chocolates and pastries in-house and there’s always something different and special coming out of the kitchen. No website; 9/13 Garnet Street, Cooroy.  WHAT SHOULD A VISITOR AVOID, FOOD-WISE, ON THE SUNSHINE COAST?

Any restaurant that doesn’t offer fresh and local Sunshine Coast produce. There is no excuse, given that we are such a world-class food destination.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

OPINION: Silent majority must speak and be heard

THE passion of Novocastrians for their city has inspired change. Locals speak of a vision and ambition for Newcastle’s future, and are fatigued by endless procrastination. They want a living, breathing city that will support progress and thrive on initiative.
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Sadly, for too long, progress has been stymied either by indecision or vested interests intent on maintaining the status quo.

After years of talk but no action by successive Labor governments, the message from Novocastrians I speak to is: “Just get on with it.’’

Well, now we are. As a Liberal and Nationals government, we have made a decision to invest heavily in reinvigorating Newcastle, and to bring the state’s second city back to life.

We can argue until the cows come home about the minutiae, and also about the merits. But let’s face it: that debate has raged for over a decade and resulted in very little.

I acknowledge there have been some difficult times for Newcastle recently. It has caused us to pause and think, but as a government, we ultimately believe investing in Newcastle is the right thing to do.

It’s the right thing to do for all those people who have been crying out for progress, crying out for investment, crying out for a future for their children in such a proud city.

Of course, after last year, it could have been easier for the government to walk away. It would have been especially easy if we were to accept the loud shouts of a few as the voice of the many.

However, we have not just made a commitment to the Newcastle CBD. It is also a commitment to thousands of families around Lake Macquarie and Maitland who will benefit from having a vibrant harbourside city centre on their doorstep. A bustling city, connected to the water, and opened up for the enjoyment of all.

I understand not everybody agrees, but we are in government to look forward, not backward. For decades, we listened to the debate, we participated in it, and now we are in government, it’s time to take action.

We will reconnect the city to the foreshore. We will build a state-of-the-art light rail system. We will create vibrant spaces for people to live, work and play in what has potential to be a jewel in NSW’s crown.

Early indications are that our positive commitment to Newcastle is producing results. The Property Council reports more than $1billion of private-sector investment in the city since we announced our revitalisation plans. BIS Shrapnel released its prediction this month that Newcastle will see as much as 18per cent growth to mid-2016 in Newcastle’s housing market due to increased investment in the inner city.

There is a wonderful future in store for Newcastle, and I cannot bear the thought of it being derailed by yet another decade of talking down change.

As you know, there are some very loud voices shouting out against the government’s plans for the city. No matter how loud the shouts, the majority is often very quiet.

If you support our vision for Newcastle, if like me, you want to bring the city back to life, I encourage you to speak up and make your voices heard.

Pru Goward is the State Minister for Planning

OPINION: Medicare isn’t all about GPs

UNSUSTAINABLE: All health sectors must contribute to fixing Medicare.THE Abbott government’s budget last May brought big cuts to the health sector and surprise new policies, most notably the $7 GP co-payment. The government has partially retreated from some of those plans since the budget, but they remain nonsensical.
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The government’s reasoning appears to be that Medicare – in its current form – is not sustainable in the long term, and that all health sectors must contribute to fixing the deteriorating budget position. This does not stand up to even cursory analysis.

General practice has been targeted for savings of $3.8billion over the forward estimates but GP is not the problem in health expenditure. GP accounts for $7billion a year of health expenditure, but expenditure in GP in real terms has been flat for five years: GP has done more work, but costs are unchanged. Public hospitals account for $40billion in spending a year and this expenditure has increased 20per cent in the last five years, without evidence of productivity improvements.

Furthermore, the estimated savings from GP cuts are not going to the budget bottom line. They are being diverted to an industry slush fund (no matter how much lipstick you put on it, that’s what the Medical Research Future Fund is).

It is unclear how Medicare is made sustainable by undermining its most efficient and productive sector, and it is unclear how robbing Peter to pay Paul helps the budget position.

The practice of the proposed changes in health policy is also flawed. In order to attack the so-called ‘‘GP factories’’ in capital cities – whose business model is based on bulk bill turnover – the rebate for privately-billed or bulk-billed non-concession patients will fall by $5. Regardless of choice of medical practice, all private paying health consumers will have to pay an additional $5 (at least) per consultation come January 19.

This is inequitable. Self-funding retirees, residents of regional centres (which have high private billing rates), and higher net worth individuals – who already shoulder most of the tax burden – will be required to pay more, on top of what they are already paying.

I guarantee you that GPs won’t be picking up the tab.

Moreover, to attract the standard ‘‘level b’’ rebate all consultations were required from January 19 to be a minimum of 10 minutes duration. No swings and roundabouts, shorter here longer there – a 10-minute minimum for everyone. While at first blush this proposal seems reasonable, the devil – as ever – is in the detail.

In a nutshell what this regulation will mean to patients is: longer waits to see your GP; no ‘‘squeeze in’’ appointments; increased diversion of injuries, accidents and emergencies to public hospitals; no simple procedures on the day of a consultation; curtailment of provision of wound dressings and much increased out of pocket costs – to name but a few.

GPs – by and large – are very decent people but we are not chumps. Our business costs are high and fixed – and goodwill towards the current government is approximating zero. Our costs will be passed on.

It doesn’t have to be like this. There are multiple workable alternatives, including – but certainly not restricted to – the following suggestions:

1. Introduce a flat $2 reduction in all private practice medical consultations. Doctors can recover at their discretion. The existing safety net provisions to remain in place. All the proceeds to go off the bottom line of the health budget.

2. Introduce a non-recoverable $10 cut in the rebate for any bulk-billed consultations for public patients in public hospitals (in most industries getting paid twice would be considered a rort).

3. Restrict the process of bulk-billing to under 16s and concession card-holders.

4. Have a Senate inquiry into what is going on in our public hospitals. Why do we have one of the highest hospitalisation rates in the world? (a little hint – follow the money).

5. Have a very careful look at PBS expenditure in terms of value for money. Statin use for those without coronary artery disease would be a good starting point.

6. Reward GPs for providing structured participatory care instead of paternalistic ad hoc care. At present the Department of Health is actively campaigning against structured care.

7. Introduce the concept of a ‘‘patient budget’’, that is patients have a specified budget for investigations. Normal results come out of your budget, pathological results do not.

8. Start the discussion about medical savings accounts for old age. If you want expensive care that has limited prospect of success in old age you need to contribute to the cost from your medical savings account. If you decide you don’t want the treatment the money in your medical savings account goes to your kids or beneficiaries.

At present federal health policy is an election losing mess: I fear a neophyte minister has been handed a poisoned chalice.

Dr Michael Reid has a mixed-billing general practice in McLaren Vale, South Australia. He sees about 150 patients in a six-day week

Margot Spalding steps down as head of Jimmy Possum

Jimmy Possum eyes international market Alan and Margot Spalding at Jimmy Possum Emporium in Bendigo.
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Alan and Margot Spalding at Jimmy Possum Emporium in Bendigo.

After 20 years at the helm of Jimmy Possum, Margot Spalding will step down. Photo: LIZ FLEMING.

TweetFacebookOne of the things I am most proud of in the past 20 years is our apprenticeship program … we have had 70 apprentices ranging in age from teenagers to people in their 40s…

Jimmy Possum co-founder Margot SpaldingAs a family we have strong values and that is reflected in the running of the business and what we produce.

Jimmy Possum co-founder Margot Spalding

Jimmy Possum remains unique in today’s market with all support functions, including design, manufacturing, marketing, freight and ICT remaining in-house, which ensures all department’s “operate as a cohesive unit”.

Work talk can happen at a social occasion, she says, acknowledging that it’s hard to separate business from pleasure when so many family members are invested in its future.

“We are a creative and lively bunch. We care about the product, it’s our name and a reflection of us.”

With nine grandchildren and more to come, it is possible another generation will soon be involved in running Jimmy Possum. “Never say never, as we have plans for the future and intend to be here for a long time,” she says. “I am proud that we have created something that as a family we can all enjoy and take an interest in, and I am proud of what all of my children have achieved and become.”

Meanwhile, Margot Spalding’s departure from the boss’s chair will be marked in true Possum style with a party next month. For such a colourful and passionate character anything else wouldn’t seem proper.

Georgia travel guide: The land of milk and honey

Storybook setting: Ananuri architectural complex on the banks of the Argavi River, Georgia. Photo: Michael Gebicki Storybook setting: Ananuri architectural complex on the banks of the Argavi River, Georgia. Photo: Michael Gebicki
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Storybook setting: Ananuri architectural complex on the banks of the Argavi River, Georgia. Photo: Michael Gebicki

Storybook setting: Ananuri architectural complex on the banks of the Argavi River, Georgia. Photo: Michael Gebicki

A nun lights candles inside the Church of theAssumption, Ananuri. Photo: Michael Gebicki

The national fast food: Khachapuri, is a common sight on dinner tables in Georgia. Photo: iStock

Since we are only seven for lunch, our hosts have laid out a modest table beneath the vine arbour that runs along one side of their house outside the village of Gavazi, in Georgia’s eastern Kakheti region. Tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, spinach, fried potatoes, bread, pork rissoles made with onion, garlic, coriander and egg fried in corn oil and two kinds of cheese. To drink, we have four bottles of homemade red wine, “I hope this will be enough,” says my guide, Mariam Khukhunaishvil, of the one bottle of chacha, a clear firewater that tastes like grappa, and a bottle of local cognac.

It’s not quite ready. Pork skewers are sizzling on the barbecue so I wander among the beehives and under the apple, blood orange and fig trees in the family’s garden. Extending from the eastern shores of the Black Sea, at about the same latitude as northern Spain, Georgia is a land of milk and honey, once the balmy southern rump of the Soviet empire, the source of walnuts, cheeses, stone fruit and, before the fragmentation of that empire, most of its wine. On the drive here, through the flatlands east of Tbilisi, the capital, we pass through villages with roadside stalls selling strawberries, cherries and white peaches.

The hospitable traditions of the Georgian table are rich and inescapable. At the far end from me, the moustachioed man wearing a traditional long tunic has been appointed tamada, the toastmaster. It begins with a long and elaborate toast to one another, moves on to the enduring fellowship of all people regardless of language, colour or creed. We drink to the mothers who gave birth and nurtured us, to love and I forget what else. The traditional Georgian drinking vessel is the horn of a mountain goat and the idea is that you down the contents in one go, since it’s impossible to put the horn down without spilling it. The glasses are smaller these days, but the all-embracing tendrils of the Georgian feast, the supra, ensure that you rarely leave a table without swaying.

With the debris of lunch all around us, the singing begins. Including the tamada, four of our party are polyphonic singers, a Georgian specialty. Deep and sonorous, their baritone voices pick up the chant that comes from deep in the belly, a powerful sound that makes you think of mountains and wild places and a time before history. A sound that is emblematic of Georgia itself, and it demands an audience.

Stubborn, tenacious and stridently independent, Georgia might be small but cuts a fiercely individual presence on the world stage. Georgia’s religion – its own brand of Orthodox Christianity – sets it apart from the Islamic countries to the south and east and from Russia to the north. Its Kartvelian language is unrelated to any other language family, and rarely heard outside its borders. Its people are Caucasian, and racially distinct from the Turkic and Slavic people that surround it, and it sits in a messy part of the world’s geopolitical map. Georgia is surrounded by names that spell trouble – Dagestan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Chechnya, Abkhazia and Russia, ever a looming shadow – and these truculent neighbours nibble at its borders.

When I climb to the heights of the hill above the cave monastery of David Gareja there are four soldiers cradling AK-47s, looking furtive and slightly spivvy. I am reminded of ferrets. “Rossiya?” I ask, knowing they’re not. “No, no” they say, “Azerbaijani”, pointing to the shoulder flashes on their camouflage. This is a disputed border, the heights of the monastery complex claimed both by Georgia and Azerbaijan. “Ah, Eurovision,” I say, and we share a laugh, recalling the pop-fest that took place in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, in 2012. We’re getting along but when I point to my camera and raise an eyebrow, “Nyet,” they say.

Christianity came early to Georgia, and it stuck. At the beginning of the fourth century, a woman later to be canonised as Saint Nino began preaching the faith and converted Nana, the queen of the eastern province of Iberia, and later her husband, King Mirian III, who made Christianity the state religion.

In the sixth century, David Garejeli arrived on the scene at the head of a company of Assyrian monks and established a monastery in a harsh and remote part of the Kakheti region that suited their ascetic tastes. Over the next few centuries, the complex grew to incorporate hundreds of monk’s cells, chapels and living quarters hollowed from the rock face. Despite damage inflicted by Islamic invaders and during the Soviet era when the hills around the caves were used as a military training ground, the monastery remains the crowning achievement of Georgia’s early Christian period.

At the bottom of the hill, Lavra Monastery consists of a walled compound with a church and monks’ cells above, but the real treasure here is the Udabno Monastery, the caves cut into the brow of the hill. A snaking path along the edge of the cliff links caves where monks once prayed, slept and ate. Inside, these rough stone chambers and the frescoes that cover the walls and ceiling convey a palpable sense of the rigour but also the exultation of early monastic life, with a few surprises along the way, such as the image of wild deer being milked, a reference to the deer of this region that gave the monks sustenance when they were wandering in the wilderness.

The road to David Gareja monastery doglegs at the village of Udabno, established in the Soviet era to provide work and homes for Svan people, from Georgia’s mountainous north-west, a tough and unproductive part of the country. It’s a social experiment that failed the test of time. Today, the town is a wreck. Most of its houses and factories are hollow shells left to the weeds, a monument to the soulless, blighted aesthetics of Soviet communism that is repeated countless times throughout the Georgian countryside.

The landscape around the town is unusual for Georgia. Udabno means “desert”, yet this blonde grassland is far from the bleached aridity that the word conjures to an Australian ear. However, relative to the rest of their luscious landscape, Georgians might be forgiven for thinking that this prairie is truly desert.

Kakheti, in the east, is the breadbasket, a patchwork of farms, orchards, forest and vineyards, and its wine cellars are the place to try Georgian wines. As early as 6000 BC, farmers in the South Caucasus region discovered the happy process of fermentation that takes place when grape juice is buried in a shallow pit over winter, and Georgians have been enthusiastic consumers ever since. Georgia uses more than 500 indigenous grape varieties to make red and white wines, and not one of them familiar to the average Western consumer.

What makes Georgian wines intriguing is their continuity. Georgian winemakers have never really departed from the natural, preservative-free traditions of their ancestors. Some wines are still fermented in wax-lined clay jars that the Georgians call qvevri, and the result is astonishing. The rest of the world might have a standardised view of what should go into a wine bottle, but along come Georgian wines to waken the taste buds with a world of difference. The red Saperavi wines are the standouts, robust, ruby-coloured wines operatic in scale, with the  lighter Tavkveri and Shavkapito varieties as the runners-up. In a profound statement of national identity, the 20-metre aluminium statue of Mother Georgia that overlooks Tbilisi carries a sword in one hand and a wine cup in the other.

Tbilisi is the focal point in the Georgian mosaic, the capital and home to a quarter of the country’s population of around five million. The city takes its name from the word for “warm” and there are still hot springs and bathhouses below the ruined Narikala Citadel. Tbilisi teeters between East and West. In the Old Town, an anarchic tangle of shops and houses with teetering balconies, are caravanserais that would once have seen spices, silks, porcelain and glass, the luxuries of the Eastern and Western worlds.

The city’s showpiece is Rustaveli Avenue, a cultural promenade and home to the Georgian National Museum, The Tbilisi State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, the Rustaveli State Academic Theatre, the Georgian Academy of Sciences, the former Parliament building and the Tbilisi Marriott, the city’s only five-star hotel.

So Tbilisi might have remained, scruffy and slightly dowdy, but then along came a merry prankster by the name of Mikheil Saakashvili, whose reign as president between 2008 and 2013 was marked by a determination to chart a new, Europe-friendly course for Georgia. In particular his fascination for glassy modern architecture left the old city strewn with surprises. He even plonked a glass dome on top of the neo-classical Presidential Palace, which creates an odd effect, like a chap in a pinstripe suit sporting a pink Mohawk.

Most fetching of all Saakashvili’s fantasies is the Peace Bridge. Under a white steel honeycomb, this glass suspension bridge is implanted with thousands of LEDs that blink in unison at night, ushering pedestrians to the other side of the Mtkvari River in a wave-like crescendo of light. Another Saakashvili surprise awaits on the far side in Rike Park, its fountain lit by coloured lights, squirting and spurting in time to music, Ravel’s Bolero one night, Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World the next. The effect runs along the border between high camp and hallucinogenic.

The other inescapable fact about Tbilisi is religion. Orthodox churches are everywhere, a staunchly conservative anchor in the Georgian psyche, and if you happen to be in town on a Sunday, you might as well do as the rest of the city does and head to church. There are no pews so everyone stands, but this facilitates the free flow of the congregation. Church attendance is a social occasion, and leaving the service to chat to friends outside, make a phone call or smoke are all permissible. In the Metekhi Church on Sunday morning, I happen to stand near the men’s choir, eight mostly bearded young men who are furtively messaging until the very last moment when their voices are called into action and they begin as one, in a harmony that would make the herald angels stop and listen.

Despite its powerful religious streak, Georgia does not take its name from Saint George but from the ancient Persian “Gurg” or “Gorg”, meaning wolf, and in the north is where Georgia unsheathes its fangs. Running in a chain from north-west to south-east, the Caucasus Mountains rise skyward to form a border with Russia, Europe’s highest mountains. For anyone who travels in search of wild places in which to walk, climb or observe a unique and intact mountain culture, the Caucasus are an eye-opener.

In Svaneti, in Georgia’s rugged and harsh north-west, I’m walking across a sodden alpine meadow dotted with gentians in a wind iced with the snow breath of the peaks around me. A stream wanders through the throat of the valley and into muddy Ushguli just below, one of the highest villages in Europe. A walker approaches, coming down from a stone-ringed chapel where women are forbidden entry. He’s Polish, brimming with energy and we exchange enthusiasms. “Wow, Australia,” he says, “that’s a huge trip.”  Georgia is a fresh concept for both of us, and we struggle for the words. “But their hospitality,” he says, “you have to have a strong stomach. They can kill you with kindness,” and I watch him pound away over the tussocky grassland and into the mountains. Five must dos in Georgia

1. Admire the brilliant frescoes of Georgian saints and kings in the 900-year-old Cathedral of the Virgin at the monastery of Gelati near Kutaisi.

2. Hike to Gergeti Trinity Church, a 90-minute walk from Kazbegi township. The church sits dramatically on a ridge silhouetted against the massive bulk of Mount Kazbek.

3. Sample khachapuri, the national fast food, a kind of flatbread stuffed with cheese, frequently seen on the dinner table.

4. Spend a night at the Tbilisi Mariott Hotel, cosseted in luxury. There are two Mariotts in the capital but on Rustaveli Avenue is the deluxe version.

5. Visit Svaneti, a severe and potent region in Georgia’s mountainous north-west where stone towers protect the villagers against avalanches, invaders and one another, since blood feuds have traditionally been a major cause of death.  TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

eetbtravel整形美容医院mGETTING THERE

Emirates has one-stop flights from Melbourne and Sydney to Istanbul, from where Turkish Airlines operates daily flights to Tbilisi. Return airfares to Istanbul with Emirates start at around $1912, from Istanbul to Tbilisi costs about $285 TRAVELLING THERE

Visit Georgia is the biggest tour operator in the country, with a range of individual tours as well as organised group tours. Special interest tours with themes from adventure to wildlife, mountaineering, culture and archaeology are also available.

In Australia, their tours can be booked through Sydney’s Eastern Europe Travel Bureau (eetbtravel整形美容医院m)

The writer travelled to Georgia as a guest of Emirates and Sydney’s Eastern Europe Travel Bureau.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Australian YouTube stars are million dollar hot property complete with agents

Veritasium’s Derek Muller delivers a TEDx speech on how to make great science videos. Photo: YouTube Trent Stanley at his home studio in Falcon, Western Australia. Photo: Philip Gostelow
Wuxi Plastic Surgery

Trent Stanley turned a hobby into a nice earner, thanks to YouTube. Photo: Philip Gostelow

Ashley, five and Charli, eight, rising stars of Charli’s Crafty Kitchen. Photo: Screen shot

Whether it be stupidity, comedy, cooking or gaming, making YouTube videos has become a real profession for a number of ordinary Australians – and big business wants a cut.

Australian Trent Stanley has been making YouTube videos since he was 13 – parodies of the original Thomas the Tank Engine kids’ show famously narrated by Ringo Starr.

Now on the cusp of 20, Stanley has never had a day job at all: advertising revenue from his YouTube channel, DieselD199, is his only source of income. It’s essentially a five-figure salary, part-time job supporting him through university.

“I’m happy to say I’ve never had to flip burgers as a teenager,” he quips.

Stanley, from Perth, Western Australia, says he is approached “several times a week” by multi-channel networks (MCNs) – YouTube-approved agencies that help build a channel’s subscriber base through cross-channel promotion and branded content. Essentially, talent scouts for the YouTube generation.

Australia’s number one YouTuber, in terms of subscribers, makes how-to videos with a difference: they don’t teach you anything.

HowToBasic “shows” its viewers how to twerk like Miley Cyrus or rap like Eminem, aided by revolting props such as chicken carcasses and urine. Each “tutorial” invariably ends with smashed eggs.

While not for the faint-hearted, its elusive creator, also based in Perth, has hit on a winning formula that has allowed him to quit his day job in pursuit of YouTube fame. HowToBasic boasts more than fourmillion subscribers, and YouTube tracker Social Radar estimates it’s raking in as much as $1 million a year.

HowToBasic is signed to major US agency, Fullscreen.

Boom Video, the first YouTube-approved agency in Australia, also counts some of the country’s top YouTubers in its stable.

Among its channels is the current Australian number two: 19-year-old Perth boy wonder Troye Sivan, who played a young Wolverine in X-Men. His YouTube fame helped propel his first music releases high into the charts.

Boom co-founder Tim Cooper says Sivan had “about 60,000” YouTube subscribers when he joined the agency; he now has more than three  million.

Google, which owns YouTube, recently promoted Sivan’s channel on Australia billboards and on Melbourne trams – just as a TV network would an upcoming series. saw troye at town hall today and we shared a moment it was magical ily @troyesivanpic.twitter整形美容医院m/n30yCXDGO7 — A R / A N A (@princesstroye) October 5, 2014Charli’s Crafty Kitchen, a cooking show starring their daughters Charli, eight, and Ashley, five, is quickly working its way up the ranks thanks to a collaboration with already popular Boom channel, Simple Cooking Channel. The agency helped it gather some 250,000 subscribers.

She won’t discuss income for the kids’ sake, but suffice to say, her husband gave up his job in phone sales to help build the business.

“In the last six months or so it’s just gone crazy,” Mrs Kelly says.

Others, however, are finding great success by going it alone.

Controversial teen pranksters The Janoskians, who regularly pack out shopping centres with screaming fangirls, claim the 8th most popular local channel. Originally from Melbourne, they’re now pursuing fame in Los Angeles.

Australia’s number five channel Veritasium, meanwhile, has been a resounding success for Sydney-based former science lecturer Derek Muller.

The full-time YouTuber says he earns six figures from advertising revenue, on par with the salary of an established university professor – only he’s able to reach about 100 times the number of “students” with his popular science videos.

“It’s an incredibly powerful way to scale what I do,” Muller says.

In fact, Muller gets extra income on top of his YouTube advertising revenue, thanks to the profile he has built on the platform.

He’s just finished filming a three-part documentary for SBS on the history of uranium, that took him across the globe. He has also appeared on ABC’s flagship science program, Catalyst.

This week the Australian Tax Office noted local YouTube stars need to lodge their earnings as as any other actor, comedian or musician would.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.