Greg Barila

Journalist. Editor. Social Media specialist.

Filtering by Tag: Columns

Why Adelaide should embrace the good old American diner

This is what I’m talkin’ about. The California Club sandwich with pickle and coleslaw at Scotty's Diner on Lexington Ave, New York. Photo by Peter Holmes. Source: Supplied

I miss a lot of things about living in the US. Most of them are food-based and at least five of them, specifically, are sandwiches.
The last thing I’d want to do is imply it’s not possible to get decent sandwich in Australia. But saying Australians make sandwiches is like saying we make feature films and reality TV and participate in wars. We do. Just nowhere near as well as the Yanks.
In the US, a sandwich isn’t a square stop-gap between breakfast and dinner. And it isn’t designed for mobile consumption. It’s a party on a plate and everyone’s invited; oh look, a stack of fries, side of coleslaw and big salty pickle!
TELL US BELOW: What do you think a sandwich should look like?
I used to get one of my favourite New York sandwiches (chicken salad with sweet potato fries) from another great American institution I miss - the diner.
The Evergreen Diner, just down the street from News Corp. HQ and NBC, is frequented by every reporter in a 5km radius.
A good diner is every bit as romantic an image as any one you’ve ever seen depicted on American television, from Happy Days and Seinfeld to Twin Peaks and NYPD Blue.
The long counters, the pots of coffee, the dessert case advertising slices of cherry pie, the bus boys lugging crates of dirty plates, the always-rushed-off-their-feet waitresses with their notepads and secret code.
Forget efficient transport, grand sporting stadiums, hip coffee joints and fancy restaurants. The mark of a truly great city is the ability to order bacon and eggs at 11am and a serve of lasagne at 7am – and on this score, Adelaide is sadly lacking.
A few weeks ago, after working a long shift, powered by bad coffee and two slices of pizza, I went hunting for food and a taxi.
I ran the gauntlet of tiny skirts and stumbling drunks but couldn’t find a cracker.
Not a waffle on Waymouth St, not a kebab on King William or a curry on Currie. At 11pm on a Saturday night.
Thank god Adelaide’s famous pie carts are still around. Oh, wait…
The pie carts went away and drunk people everywhere have been sad ever since. Photo: The Advertiser.

Yes, I could have walked to Gouger or Hindley, the only two streets in Adelaide to keep anything like unordinary hours. But I was tired. I went home and ate noodles.
Adelaide is over-serviced by fast-food joints and posh, expensive eateries. But where are all the Greasy Spoons? The late-night joints serving up bacon sandwiches, coffee and pancakes, without the frills and for cheap prices?
I think Adelaide has an appetite for a place like that.
This column was first published in The City Adelaide and on

Time Adelaide started thinking inside the square

Much fun: The Royal Croquet Club, which popped up in Victoria Square during the 2014 Adelaide Fringe. Source:News Corp. Australia

I don’t know what got in to me but I really had my Festival Pants on this Mad March.
I found myself going out more often than a dodgy back to enjoy jokes every bit as good as that, and many not nearly as good.
The patchy quality of the entertainment on offer is what makes the Fringe such a beautiful, unpredictable organism.
And even the scarring experience of an hour of bad experimental jazz puppetry is nothing a few stiff drinks can’t fix.
TELL US BELOW: What aspects of the festival would you like all-year-round?
In fact the ability to have a drink, a chat, a dance and a laugh at one of the many lively bars and clubs to pop-up around the city has always been one of the best bits about festival time.
Although it’s become so big it deserves its own postcode, the Garden of Unearthly Delights still offers a reliably good time, even when the act inside the tent fails to do what the label said.
All the more reason we should be mourning the fact Mad March has all but made way for As-You-Were April.
A council worker with an oversized knitting needle went out one night when you were sleeping and pricked all the places that previously had popped up. Pooh.
The only times I’ve planted a shoe on the all-new, sort-of-finished Victoria Square, were to frequent the Royal Croquet Club to sip Pims and marvel at how pretty the city looks at night through strings of coloured lights and fireworks.
Unless there’s a building fire, and we’re forced to evacuate to the nearest official assembly point, I can’t imagine I’ll have a decent excuse to enjoy this prime bit of public space for anything closely resembling a good time until the festival rolls around again, IN A WHOLE YEAR’S TIME. Sigh.
Adelaide is blessed with a network of big and open squares but, sadly, fewer ideas about how to make the most of them.
No tables or chairs for city workers to enjoy lunch outdoors. No outdoor library for a spot of summer reading. No ping pong tables for a midday distraction.
Does anyone really think, if a cool little bar popped up permanently in a corner of the square, office workers wouldn’t pop in on a Friday night for a cold beer and a debrief with colleagues before tramming or cabbing it home? I know I would.
For once, it’s time to stop thinking outside the squares and let responsible adults enjoy a drink inside them.
TELL US BELOW: What’s aspects of the festival would you like all-year-round?
This column was first published in The City Adelaide and on

One election certainty, SA will maintain its long history of male only premiers

Kissing babies. Isobel Redmond during her time as Liberal leader
SATURDAY night will be a historic moment, regardless who wins power at the state election.

For Weatherill, leading a 12-year old government (with more baggage than a cruise liner) to victory will be a win against considerable odds.

For the Liberals, a win with a political novice at the helm, after years of in-fighting, will be a minor miracle.

But no matter who’s running the place on Sunday morning, here’s one reason this election won’t go down in history.

With all that testosterone sloshing around, it’s a good thing so many women are falling over themselves to run for election this time around, right? Ah…. well, about that.

 Of the 204 people standing for a seat in the lower house this election, less than half - just 63 - are women.

On a party basis, the Greens are running the most female candidates (17 out of 47), followed by the ALP (16 out of 47), Family First (12 out of 42), the Liberals (11 out of 47) and Dignity for Disability (four out of seven).

“ALL THE LADIES IN THE HOUSE SAY YEA …..” umm where are all the other ladies in the house?

Things look worse in the upper house where female candidates make up just 22, out of 63 candidates. 

Compare that to The Advertiser’s politics team where State Political Editor Dan Wills is outnumber by his female colleagues four to one!

There are virtually more women writing about politics in SA than participating in it.

The last time SA came anywhere close to electing a female Premier was 2010, when Labor suffered an 8.4 per cent, two-party preferred swing to Isobel Redmond’s Liberals.

We all know how Redmond’s turn at the Leadership ended. Not well.

But neither did her term as leader begin all that smoothly, having been forced to answer questions about her physical appearance and makeover her image.

“On the one hand I have to listen in case there is something about my appearance which is off-putting and stops the message getting through,” she said at the time.

“But on the other hand, I don’t want to lose myself in this process. I’m me and I’m determined to stay me”. 

The iniquities in the way male and female politicians are sometimes treated are well known, but they’re not peculiar to South Australia.

Nor are the heavy demands and crushing stress that make being a politician Number 1 on my list of “Jobs You Couldn’t Pay Me Enough To Do”.

So what’s keeping women out of SA politics? Would more women bring some fresh new dimension to the social debate?

Do the parties have a plan to promote young female talent to their highest ranks? Does it matter? Do we care?

In the first State in Australia to give women the vote, surely it’s at least a debate worth having.

Don’t forget to vote this Saturday.

This column was first published in The City Messenger and on 

Seeing our city in a different light

Linear Park really is a city treasure. Photo: News Corp. Australia

IF you were born and raised in Adelaide, I bet you like to think you know your city inside out. But how well do you know your home town, really?
A confession up front: I’m not the world’s most avid cyclist. (Shocking, I know).
But when I do feel I’m coming down with a desire to exercise, I usually lie down until the feeling passes. Hardy har.
But at other times, when the inspiration strikes, I hop on my bike and cut into the Linear Park for the punishing 8km ride through the western suburbs to finish at West Beach.
If you’ve never bothered to take a stroll along at least the smallest section of the Linear Park, don’t worry.
You’re only missing one of the most beautiful walking/cycling trails in Adelaide and one of our city’s greatest assets, natural or manmade.
I’d call the Park world class. But plenty of cities would kill to have something so special and unique. World-leading might be a better way to describe it.
But as good as the Park is, variety is the spice of life.
So on a recent burst of energy, instead of beating the same old path to West Beach, I decide to point my wheels in a different direction and follow the Park east towards the city.
Now, unless you want all your friends to think you’ve turned into an anorak-wearing train-spotter who likes his sandwiches with the crusts cut off, you should use the term ‘be a tourist in your own town’ sparingly.
I’m going to use it just this once because it neatly sums up what it feels like to go wild and crazy and actually dare to explore somewhere different and new. It’s like being a tourist in your own damn town!
Passing the now-shuttered Brickworks (sad) and crossing South Road I hop off at the Hindmarsh Cemetery to stroll through avenues of crumbling headstones and where I learn something new.
Here lies Ronald Gladstone Mitton. Born in Hindmarsh. PhD from Oxford and gained “international recognition and received many awards for his researches into the chemistry and technology of leather”.
Past the Entertainment Centre, through Bonython Park and up behind the old gaol, the new RAH and oh… look, there’s the SAHMRI, from a whole new angle.
Through the Festival Centre, a spin around the Rotunda, over the bridge, pause to check out the stunning new Oval up close, then push on home.
A lazy few kilometers from home; so how come I’d never bothered to do head that way before? *Shrugs shoulders*
Being a tourist in your own town means seeing things you’ve never seen before. But also to explore the secret nooks of a city you thought you knew from a wholly new angle; from a pair of sneakers or a bike seat, not a speeding car.
There’s another reason to mix things up. Exploring new places can not only help cure boredom but make you smarter.
In the ABC TV series Redesign My Brain, presenter Todd Sampson meets a researcher who reveals that, by simply being open to new experiences – trying new foods, finding a new route to work - people could re-train their brains to make them more creative and better at problem-solving.
If you were born and raised in Adelaide, I bet you think you know your city inside out.
I bet you’re wrong.
Here’s my challenge to you, Adelaide. See your city from a different angle. Find a different way to drive or walk to work. Look at your city from above and below. And Tweet with me @GregBarila to tell me what you discovered.
TELL US below about your favourite spots in Adelaide.
This column was first published in The City Messenger and on

Breaking Bad in suburban Adelaide

Plotlines from your TV may be closer than they appear. A scene from Breaking Bad. Source: AP
BIG blue. Blue sky. Blue Magic. Fring's Blue.
Fans of the hit show Breaking Bad will get the reference.
For the rest, Big Blue was the most tangible example of the exacting standards of Walter White; a high school chemistry teacher who decides to pursue a life less ordinary by making drugs.
But not just any drug; the purest drug money can buy, advertising itself by its unique blueness, hence those funny names.
Breaking Bad was a superlative bit of television and I devoured every tense and shocking episode, just like I did The Wire and Sopranos.
But it was just television right? Things like that don't happen in real life. Or so I thought until a recent, strange encounter.
The scene: a near-deserted car park. Suburban Adelaide. Saturday morning.
Open with me, carrying a box of groceries from my local Italian delicatessen to the boot of my car.
Suddenly, a voice behind. "Pssst".
Turning, I see an Italian bloke on a push bike. He's wearing a tracksuit, helmet and an inquisitive look on his face.
"Did you just buy some olive oil in there?"
Me: Yeah, why?
"How much did they charge you?"
Me: Thirty bucks.
"Mate, that's not the pure stuff," he ventures in hushed tones. "If you want the pure stuff, I've got it. I make it myself".
I shoot a glance left and right to make sure the coast is clear. I've never done this before - bought olive products in a car park.
Me: Good is it, the stuff you make?
"Mate, it doesn't even compare. The stuff I've got is in a class of its own," he says.
Politely, I decline, explaining "I've already just bought my supply, thanks. But maybe I'll give you a call sometime."
Which was perfectly true, of course. I had enough cooking lubricant to last six months.
But my reasons for turning him down ran deeper.
Like, that a man could never really know where a spur-of-the-moment decision in a quiet car park on a Saturday morning might lead.
When it comes to olive oil, it's a slippery slope.
You start with a small sample on a piece of crusty bread and before you know it you're buying cold pressed, garlic infused and chili oil in some back lane in Campbelltown or Findon.
And then, one night, while you're eating garlic and olive oil pasta in some outside kitchen in Newton, with some Italian you just met, someone will bring out a bottle of homemade pasta sauce and it'll all be over.
"C'mon just a little taste. No-one gets addicted to this stuff". Yeah, sure.
Nah, if I want that kind of trip, I'll watch Antonio Carluccio on SBS. Or maybe I'll write a show myself.
Breaking Bread has a nice ring to it.
This column was first published in The City Messenger and on

We're building this city

Construction workers in Victoria Square. Source: News Corp. Australia

"NICE town you've got here. Can't wait to see it when it's finished!"
This must be what the tourists are thinking, surely?
If you've left your house at any time at all in the past two years, you'll know that Adelaide isn't so much a city right now as a dirty big work-in-progress.
They're digging up the square, transplanting the Mall's balls, slinging pipes down every second road, slapping bridges over the river and building the Starship Enterprise over South Road at Regency Park.
And that isn't the half of it.
Down south, they're carving a great superhighway, a second lane for our world-famous expressway, out of virgin tracts of countryside, while spring lambs and twittering birds scurry from diesel smoke and bulldozer tyres.
If Adelaide were a wounded soldier, they'd be operating on the head, heart, legs and arms all at once and the chief surgeon would be working with a hacksaw and a cigarette dangling from his lips.
Virtually there's not a corner of the city that's been left unmolested by road gangs and building crews.
When the roads get gummed up enough with irate drivers, I often wonder if the government shouldn't just put a giant witches hat over everything from Two Wells to Sellicks Beach and declare the whole joint a Building Site.
The only problem is the "Building Better Witches Hats" program would take at least two years and $4 million in the feasibility stage.
And anyway, that's to miss the bigger point, which is that while our city at the moment fairly looks like a teenager's bedroom, and while the vast grid of road and building works will be a major irritation for years to come, there is a sense that things in Adelaide, finally, are moving.
That peak hour delays and diversions are the growing pains of a city growing up - and growing out - and that the inconvenience will all be worth it, in the long run.
In actual fact, Adelaide is a city playing catch up; a city belatedly investing in much-needed infrastructure and half-decent public transport, after more than a decade of virtually unchecked urban sprawl.
Cripes, we're even talking about toll roads now!
And while I'm not sure that's a road down which we want to go, the fact we're even having the debate is a sign Adelaide is maturing.
I could feel it coming a year ago when I returned to Adelaide after 14 months in the US and found a small forest of cranes on the skyline, at least a half dozen new buildings and a wave of hip new bars, burger joints and lively laneways.
For that the City Council and State Government deserve a bit of credit.
It's not New York, but bit by bit, Adelaide is starting to feel like an actual city. And I can't wait to see it when it's finished.
This column was first published in The City Messenger and on

Who will you vote for this Federal Election?

A billboard of Steve Georganas on Henley Beach Rd. Source: Greg Barila

I WAS mowing the lawn when a cheery bloke in a crisp white shirt and tie peered over the picket fence.
"We've got a pantry full of religion, thanks, we're good for now", I thought as I killed the mower and popped my protective goggles on top of my head.
But it wasn't like that.
The friendly interrupter, as it happened, was Matt Williams, the Liberal Party's man in Hindmarsh, the Federal western suburbs seat held by Labor's Steve Georganas.
Williams was out doing what political hopefuls do - wearing out a bit of shoe leather going door-to-door and trying to get a handle on "the issues".
I must admit he caught me on the hop when he put the question and I fumbled some kind of answer about climate change, the cost of living and local crime.
It was a perfectly civil chat, we had.
But why I was ill-equipped to talk eloquently about the issues of most concern to me was partly a function of my age and life stage - I have no kids, don't run a business, and thankfully don't struggle to pay the bills.
But also partly because as an ordinary citizen, I'm rarely ever asked what it is I think, or how I think things could change or be made better.
By all accounts, Mr Georganas is an affable bloke, a good family man and a hard-working local member.
But if he's been door-knocking down my street, held a community gathering in a local park or simply chatted to constituents down at the local shops, I must have missed the memo.
I've never spied the bloke. I know his office is in Glenelg East, but only because I googled it.
Steve's currently looking down on Henley Beach Rd from a massive billboard near the local Centrelink above the words "Steve Georganas dealing with what's important" and a checklist of achievements.
The list underscores a certain dilemma in politics.
Steve may be right in pointing out his efforts in "Fixing South Road" and securing an "Airport Curfew". But can I really thank my local member for "Low Interest Rates" "Better Schools" and "Improved Superannuation"?
Last week, Labor's Nick Champion, whose Wakefield electorate includes the Holden factory, was forced to explain why, in a letter to constituents, he claimed he had "secured guaranteed support for GM Holden, Elizabeth, ensuring production until 2022". It was news to most.
Despite their efforts to woo electors, the fortunes of most local MPs, for better or worse, are tied to decisions made in Canberra and the popularity, or otherwise of their party leaders.
Good MPs will be looking for a new job on September 8, because voters favored Kevin Rudd's asylum seeker policy or hated Tony Abbott's company tax changes.
The good news is we all get a choice.
Mine is between a billboard on Henley Beach Rd and a friendly chat with a perfect stranger over the front fence.
Good luck making yours.
Do you know who your local member is? When was the last time you saw your local MP? Will you be voting for your local member or for the major party leaders? Tell us below.
This column was first published in The City Messenger and on

What the hell happened to Glenelg?

What happened to you, Glenelg.... you've changed? Photo: News Corp. Australia

CAR trips to Adelaide from Mildura in the 80s and 90s were a source of great excitement when I was a boy.
It felt like an exotic adventure, pointing dad's old blue Ford Falcon towards South Australia.
And when, after an epic four-hour journey, we finally rolled into the famous City of Churches we usually always stayed in that most exotic of places - Glenelg!
It was fun, staying in a palindrome.
Mum and dad often booked us into the Patawalonga Motor Inn, a stone's throw from the Buffalo and World Revolving Restaurant, and a couple of streets from Jetty Rd.
Glenelg, to put it mildly, was a different place back then.
One of the suburb's main attractions, for example, was a large, magic, fibreglass poo… er, mountain; the old Red Rattlers still made music down the main street and, where great Floridian-style apartments now stand, there was a simple carpark offering unencumbered ocean views.
I'm not sure how, when or why it happened, but someone buggered up the best bits of Glenelg in the years since I first visited as a kid.
I used to enjoy a trip down to the Bay in summer.
Now, I largely steer clear of the joint, visit only occasionally and feel sad when I do.
A friend calls the place "Hindley Street by the sea". A tad harsh, perhaps, but I take his meaning.
Moseley Square, with its palm trees, chain stores, Frappuccino's and golden arches, is the Times Square of Adelaide, the Gold Coast of South Australia. And then there's the pigeon poo.
Jetty Rd, even sans the lovely old cinema, is still a pretty strip. But the shopping precinct - a grab bag of take away food, clothing, chemists, jewellers and camping suppliers - lacks any kind of speciality focus to make a special trip a must, I think.
And then, when the weather's nice, the masses choke the streets with double prams and dogs on leashes which makes a recent push by the Member for Hindmarsh, Steve Georganas, to have huge cruise ships dock at Glenelg all the more horrifying an idea.
What's happening to Glenelg - through the proliferation of tacky shops, overcrowding and overdevelopment - is happening elsewhere on our world class coast and ocean towns, creeping like an insidious disease.
They built a high-rise apartment block at Henley Square and so diminished what used to be my favourite Adelaide beach. It is ugly, imposing and I hate it.
Recently, I visited Wallaroo for the first time in about 10 years and where I once found a country town, I found a sprawling city of man-made waterways and rows of double-decker holiday homes - not two of them matching in size, shape or colour.
It's not hard to see why people flock to our beachside towns and suburbs.
Anyone who's tried to lounge about on a stony 'beach' in Italy, or polluted bit of sand in Asia knows our beaches are the best in the world. And best of all free.
Let's not ruin it by turning our quaint and charming beachside towns into outdoor nightclubs and shopping centres by the sea. If I wanted that kind of experience, I'd go to Ibiza.
This column was first published in The City Messenger and on

The price is wrong

Supersize me... On second thoughts, don't. Photo: News Corp. Australia

Hi, my name is Greg. This is my first meeting and I've got a confession to make.
“Hi, Greg!”
Recently, I spent a year living in the US and now I can’t stop complaining about the price of sandwiches and washing powder, bus tickets and cups of coffee.
All day long I moan about the cost of avocados and dry cleaning and quite frankly I’m driving my friends and family spare.
The cost of living in Australia is out of control – and it took me living in another country to come to the conclusion.
But not just any country, mind you. We’re talking about a country where the cost of things, food especially, is inversely proportional to the size of the portion; where eating is considered a National Sport and the People are prepared to bear arms to protect their God-given right to drink giant sodas.
Americans are big on value for money – you kind of get that sneaking suspicion the first time you order a waffle and discover it is an inch thick, is bigger than your head, comes with two scoops of ice cream you can’t eat and didn’t ask for and, at just $4, is basically free.
No-one pays for bread or corn chips in US restaurants (I think it’s enshrined in the Constitution, or something).
And if you don’t feel like you may be having a heart attack at least once during a meal, well, you’re not really trying are you? Or you’re having a snack.
One time, in Chicago, at a family-run Mexican restaurant, I had one of the best and biggest breakfasts I’ve ever had and between the two of us the cheque was all of $13.
Everything was so cheap we spent the first 10 minutes uploading photos to social media to send back to our friends on Planet Earth.
A man could get used to a life like that.
That’s why my first trip to an Australian supermarket after returning home was not just a rude shock, it was an Outrage! A bloody disgrace! A cause for a violent uprising!
But even adjusting for cultural inflation, I’m not the only one who thinks the cost of living in this Australia has reached a tipping point.
Earlier this year, when the Federal Election was called, adelaidenow ran a survey asking voters in South Australia’s 11 electorates to nominate the issues of most concern to them. Health, jobs, education, roads; respondents named a number of topics.
But in all 11 seats, the cost-of-living was number one across the board.
Our leaders know this. That’s why, in March - a year before the 2014 State Election and a few months before the Federal poll - Premier Jay Weatherill invited us to help his government ease the squeeze by submitting feedback to a cost-of-living discussion paper.
“I know many South Australians are struggling with cost-of-living pressures,” the Premier said.
“I want to ensure South Australia remains an affordable and attractive place to live, work, do business and raise a family.”
The recent fortunes of iconic brands like Holden, Spring Gully and Trims, and the exodus of smart young people across the border to more expensive (but more dynamic cities) shows just how big a job the Premier has.
Exactly why Australians struggle to make ends meet depends on a matrix of complex issues. Maybe your water charges are high because your state invested a motza in a desalination plant it only plans to use one non-rainy day. Or maybe you’re just a terrible manager of your money.
But a few things are universally true. Like that prices are higher in Australia because our wages and conditions are good, and a high quality of life comes at a cost.
That our system of “free trade” isn’t really free, nor fair – because our farmers and manufacturers are forced to pass their rising costs of production on to us, while our markets get flooded by cheaply made imports.
And that the supermarket duopoly in some cities and towns is not only bad for consumers but bad for processors and suppliers – all of them, employers.
The arrival of Costco and Aldi should go some way to easing the stranglehold on choice and price. But we need to know where the line is.
Ask 50 million Americans if they’d rather easy access to cheap hamburgers and running shoes or a decent minimum wage and affordable health care.
Sometimes you have to ask yourself who really pays the biggest price.

This column was first published in The City Messenger and on

People who fear social media, fear something they don't understand

Greg Barila says social media can be a positive force in our community. Picture: Brad Hunter Source: News Corp. Australia

IT'S an agent powerful enough to wreck political careers, leave sports heroes red faced and musicians vowing never to go near it again.
But it's not booze, not drugs, not the thrill of breaking the law.
It's that bogeyman of the modern age - social media.
You've heard of social media? It is that dark force of evil, turning our teenagers into hate monsters and trashing the innocence of our children, while we look on horrified and helpless.
Great acreages of pixels and newsprint have been dedicated to the scourge of social networks like Facebook and the very real and worrisome problems that have developed in the few years since they were invented.
Cyber-bullying, trolling, getting busted chucking a sickie, tweeting while drunk.
Social media has left many victims in its trail and the media has been right to tell their stories.
It can be a dangerous and ugly force. But so too can fire, guns and electricity, and like them, social media has awesome powers to do extraordinary good.
Every day, millions of tiny transactions are taking place, which make a positive difference to people's lives but you won't read about them.
A few weeks ago, my friend Melanie took a Yellow Cab in the city and was so happy with the service, she decided to let her driver's bosses know by firing off a message on Twitter.
"Just wanted to thank cabbie Tony for great customer service this evening. My journey was Keswick Terminal to airport".
Melanie sent the message in hope that Tony's bosses might give him a pat on the back, if not a pay rise or promotion. Hope that others might see it and give the company a whirl next time they needed a ride. Recommendations from friends is one of the most powerful and positive uses of social media.
We used to turn to Google for the nearest shoe repairer, removalist or mortgage broker.
Now, we turn to our own social search engine, our friends and connections, for tips we can trust.
When it comes to social media our focus and energy shouldn't be on the dim, pimple-faced trolls who crave fame by causing others to be hurt and embarrassed.
They should be on ways in which social tools online petitions, sites and networks - and our being more connected now than at no other point in history can empower us, build communities and make our world better.
We saw them in use in inspiring ways after the recent Boston Marathon bombings.
In the editable spreadsheets allowing people to add useful resources for people in need, set up by organisations like The Boston Globe and Geeks Without Borders.
In Google's People Finder, the deceptively simple online noticeboard set up in 2010 following the Haiti earthquake that has since become an indispensable way for people to get news about loved ones in the wake of a humanitarian crisis.
Social media is making great strides in politics, education and health that, in time, will benefit every person, even trolls and bullies.
By analyzing tweets and Facebook status updates, researchers have begun to realize the predictive power of social media to understand which new film will be a hit at the box office or when and where flu outbreaks will occur.
Crowdsourcing platforms like Kickstarter and Crowdrise are tapping the people of the crowd to get new products and businesses off the ground and raise money for charity.
They sound like good things, right?
People who fear the evil forces of social media fear something they don't truly understand.
It's time we stopped worrying about what idiots alone are doing on social media and start imagining what we could do together with them if we tried.
This column was first published in The City Messenger and on

So appy living in the real world

Source: AP

WE get a lot of rain where we live; every night, in fact, and for hours on end.
Sometimes lightly, some nights like cats and dogs but still, every night, rain at our place, even when you haven't seen a drop at yours.
It's not climate change, not a glitch in the matrix or freak weather system casting a grey pall over a single Adelaide house.
It rains every night at our place because we want it to, because sleeping to the sound of large drops falling on a tin roof is one of life's great pleasures.
And because we discovered the joys of a smartphone app called Nature Sounds.
Just as the name suggests, the free iPhone app allows users to choose from a range of natural soundscapes, from crickets chirping and whales calling, to a ticking clock and the pressurised hum of an aeroplane.
The app also includes a mixer that allows users to pair a purring cat with a crackling fire or juxtapose a busy New York street with a Zen bell.
We like "Rain on a tarp" best and have grown used to crawling into bed and instructing one another to "Put on the rain" before drifting into blissful sleep.
It is a curious habit we've developed and kind of interesting too, I think.
Because while the sounds on the app are authentic and from nature the context (it rains in our bedroom 365 days a year) is weird and artificial.
And it raises some kind of deep, heavy, moral dilemma I once saw in a Michael Leunig cartoon about being so busy focusing on constructed realities you miss things that are true and beautiful and right under your nose. In the cartoon, a man and a boy are in a room watching a beautiful sunset over the ocean on TV, blissfully ignorant that the sun is actually setting right outside their lounge room window.
Whoa. I told you it was heavy.
The question is, are we getting so tangled up in technology we can't see the forest for the tweets?
And just because we can indulge our desire to hear the sound of rain any time we choose, is there something wrong with turning nature into a simulated experience?
Do we somehow cheapen the joy of events that used to be spontaneous and rare when we do?
The answer is yes. And no.
I'm old enough to remember when fruits and vegetables were seasonal, not perennially ripe and ready for your choosing.
I used to see cherries and know it was Christmas. Yep, technology did for seasons.
But how did it happen? We didn't storm the CSIRO demanding grapes all year round.
Science and commerce conspired to make it a reality and you said, "grapes in June? Oh well" and bought them anyway.
Ours is an impatient generation but only because technology made us that way.
We used to wait for summer fruits and new episodes of TV shows and for the pleasure of sleep with rain on the roof.
But why wait for a rainy day when you could be appy now?
This column was first published in The City Messenger and on

Shopping for the nephews - what a gift

Actor Sinbad (l) with Arnold Schwarzenegger in scene from film "Jingle All the Way" Source: News Corp. Australia

THE 1996 comedy Jingle All The Way, like many Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, is not a piece of film-making to remember.
Still, every December I find myself sympathising with Schwarzenegger's Howard Langston - a put-upon dad who decides he can win mega brownie points with his son by picking up this year's "must have" Christmas toy, a Turboman action figure.
Of course, every dad in America wants the same toy and so ensues a whole film's worth of hilarious antics and thigh-slapping high jinks as our hero goes to extreme lengths to get his hands on that plastic Holy Grail.
The film sucks, really, but as an uncle of three boys, Howard's struggle speaks to me.
And to millions of other adults, too, I suppose.
Every year at least one of my nephews sets me a Turboman challenge of my very own. And usually, I rise to it.
A few years ago, it was a toy from the animated series Ben 10. But not just any old toy, mind.
The object of desire that year was a super duper "Omnitrix" alien viewer wrist-watch - the Turboman of 2008.
My tactical error that year was leaving my run too late.
And that meant an epic midnight mission to every toy department in Adelaide, just to look at the empty shelf space where, a week ago, this apparently magical timepiece sat in bountiful supply. If you saw a man sobbing quietly in your local Kmart, it was me. I got one in the end, but that was an age ago.
We don't care about Ben 10 anymore.
Now we're into Nintendo Something-or-others, science toys and anything to do with reptiles.
"Have you got any lizard-related items?" I caught myself asking the girl in a Melbourne toy shop the week before Christmas.
A lady who was shopping looked up and giggled. She'd been there.
But this time, lizards weren't my problem.
My Turboman challenge this Christmas past was platypuses.
Nephew number two is currently obsessed with them.
In the course of trying to satisfy that obsession I made a discovery that should shock and shame every Australian; the platypus is this country's most under-represented native animal.
What began as a simple web search for a platypus T-shirt soon evolved into an epic quest spanning three states, four major department stores and at least three zoo gift shops.
They were all virtually monotreme-free zones.
Eventually, I decided my best bet was one of those souvenir shops specializing in "Australiana" you always walk past but never patronize ... until your nephew wants a platypus.
It is in these kinds of shops where Australia's active contempt for the poor old platypus comes sharply into focus.
Because not only are platypus products in desperately short supply, their availability is inversely proportional to the supply of those other rock stars of the Aussie bush - the kangaroo and koala.
You can buy those furry bastards literally by the kilo. And there's something not quite right about that.
Australia's most high profile platypus seems to be a cartoon character called "Perry", who for some reason looks like a green pig with a pine cone for a tail.
Worse, the series is made in America!
Oh, why do you hate the platypus, Australia?
Good enough for your small silver currency, but not good enough for a fully-fledged range of toys and products, beyond the odd key-ring or hard to obtain T-shirt or hand puppet.
Even the Bilby gets an Easter egg.
And what has the Bilby ever done for us?
This column was first published in The City Messenger and on

Crumbs, I don't care anymore

Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Mike (Jonathan Banks) in Breaking Bad. Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote Source: News Corp. Australia

THE other day I made toast for breakfast, munched it all up and spilled a bunch of crumbs on the kitchen bench. And I didn't care a bit.
I finished up my coffee and plonked my breakfast dishes on the sink, with total disregard.
I was irresponsible with the washing up. And it was brilliant.
You should know this. Life around our place is sometimes a bit like picking up hitchhikers for fun or plugging in appliances without making sure the switch is off first -  wild and a bit dangerous.
Sometimes we do the washing up right away, and sometimes we don't. Deal with it.
Yet, there was a time when our home lives weren't governed by this kind of reckless abandon. That time was when we rented.
Not once, but twice in recent years, my partner and I have found ourselves in a Today Tonight-style "Rental Hell", with experiences so scarring we couldn't get to a mortgage brokers quick enough and get ourselves saddled with a home loan.
I was reminded by our own horror experience last week when a colleague, frazzled and exasperated, told how her attempts to vacate her rental house were being frustrated by a pedantic agent who found it necessary to quibble over the cleanliness of every last fitting.
I saw the fear in her eyes and recognised it instantly. We've been there. Of course, there is nothing unpleasant about renting in itself.
And having more than two brain cells between us, thought we understood how renting worked: Find a house. Agree to pay the monthly sum. Live in the house like a normal person.
Being novices, we foolishly took point three to mean that frowned-upon activities might include a literal re-enactment of those meth-cooking scenes in the TV show Breaking Bad.
We had no idea they also included leaving laundry on the bedroom floor or crumbs on the sink on the morning of a routine inspection.
Besides the normal checks on the gardens and state of the house itself, we became accustomed to strange little notes from two of the most over-zealous real estate agents in Christendom, that were sometimes too personal, sometimes passive aggressive and which nearly always had nothing to do with well-being of the property.
Once, when I was still an eligible bachelor, sharing my house with a male student, our agent dared to suggest we should feel ashamed at the condition of our toilet bowl. "What if you have female guests?" she fretted.
At another property, after working hard to get the house looking spic and span before an inspection, we were gobsmacked to come home to find, according to the report left behind, that the "cleanliness throughout is still not up to standard".
There were comments about the cleanliness of floors, crumbs on the stove and stray hairs in the bathroom sink. It was our fault. We were living IN the house. *Slaps forehead.
But we did get a gold star in the sink department. "Dishes done" the report said with a happy tick. Yay us.
Property owners have every right to make sure their investments aren't treated like a pigsty and that problem tenants are punished when they break the rules, or worse, the doors.
But most people who rent aren't second class citizens (and, we readily admit 99.9 per cent of agents would be as aghast at this behaviour as we are) .
Renters are hard working people, trying to juggle busy lives.
They're people who want to make toast for breakfast and not feel bad if they wash the plate later.
Do they really have to buy their own home before they have that freedom?
This column was first published in The City Messenger and on

Getting back in the old routine, after returning to Adelaide from New York

Start spreading the news... I'm home! Photo: AP

A FEW weeks ago, I got back to Adelaide after a year at News Corp. headquarters in New York City and, naturally, people have been lining up to ask the inevitable; how does it feel to be back?

It hasn't been the simplest question to answer.

If I were prone to sarcasm, I'd say this. "How does it feel to be back?? In Adelaide?? After living in the Big Apple? No, it feels awesome! Thrilled. Couldn't wait to leave the joint, actually. Who needs all that excitement, anyway? Not me. No siree."

Instead, politely, I say this: "Good, thanks".

But the truth is, gearing down from the pace of one of the world's biggest, most exciting cities isn't nearly as difficult as people may think or I might have expected.

I miss New York, of course, but if people have been expecting me to sink into a black funk while sobbing over a picture of an Everything Bagel, I'm sorry to disappoint.

Things like that only happen when you get into the dangerous business of comparing and Adelaide, it will shock you to learn, is not New York. Because no city in the world is.

So how does it feel to be back?

Let's see. There's a new building or three on the skyline (hallelujah!), the Liberal party is still a rabble, football is still the State Religion and South Aussies still regard the weekend trip to Bunnings a national sport.

Everything seems to be in its place.

I did find one thing odd; coming back to a South Australia not helmed by Mike Rann for the first time in the decade I've called this state home.

I followed the changing of the leadership from my apartment in Manhattan and there composed my single funniest tweet (so far): "Just checked the Weatherill forecast for Adelaide for tomorrow. Fine, no chance of Rann".

Being back in Adelaide means pretending fast, efficient and affordable public transport isn't possible in 2012. It means renewing one's membership to that organisation to which we're all forced to belong the Cult of Car Worship.

I'm getting reacquainted with a city that, like most Australian cities, is less social by design.

Where catching up with friends on the other side of town on a week night feels too much like work.

Where, because most of us are lucky enough to have our own backyards, its parks and squares are for merely looking at or passing through and seldom for using regularly in any real way that says community. No outdoor libraries, ping pong, tai chi or swing dancing. No jug bands or games of chess.

Being back in Adelaide means the comfort of a real home and at least the opportunity to be saddled with a mortgage. Most New Yorkers will never have the chance to buy and will bleed rivers of money just for the chance to rent a shoebox.

When I'm sick here I'll make an appointment at my local doctor, same as they do in the Big Apple, only here no one will care much if I have insurance, and it certainly won't be the first question.

The coffee's better here, and while New York is a food Mecca, put me over a bowl of Pho from one of our many great Vietnamese eateries, or a plate of middle eastern grilled meat and flat bread from Lawash on South Rd, or an Ethiopian banquet from the Abyssinian on Henley Beach Rd and I am truly happy.

Happy. And home.

This column was first published in The City Messenger and on