[Photos: Flickr, Amsterdamized, 'Any other (Satur)Day']
I am preparing a news commentary piece for a unit in my master of media practice (USyd) and it's going to be looking at...yay you guessed it...Australia's bike helmet legislation!!
As we all know...(ho hum you just have to put up with the next little bit...I'm practising being a dinky-di journo, right!!)...mandatory bicycle helmet laws were introduced into Australia in 1991 on a state by state basis. Whilst there was general compliance amongst people who continued to use bicycles, there was an unexpected consequence that ought to have been of great concern - cycling numbers in Australia dropped by 40%.
Moving right on by a couple of decades, numerous folk across the board in Australia have clamoured to have the regulations repealed, and to date only the Northern Territory has done this in a manner of sorts by repealing the requirement to wear helmets when cycling on separated bicycle paths. Unsurprisingly the Northern Territory has the highest participatory rate of cyclists than any other state or territory in Australia.
I'm really interested in the Australian media’s 'pretty much' unquestioning support for these regulations even though 22 years on academics across the world still hotly contest the efficacy of such laws, and even though very few other nations have been convinced to follow the Australian cycling position.
First up in the piece and before I write anything I will definitely disclose to the reader that my interest in this angle goes beyond that of an ordinary bystander!!! Hehehe!
A keen bicycle and public transport activist, I'll mention that I've been an anti-helmet law campaigner for some time and that my position has thrown me under the scrutiny of the police and the courts, which in turn has attracted media attention. I'm thinking of doing the disclosure in a mini slideshow format (soundslides)!!!...hmmmn new territory in the multi-media department for me but gives potential readers the option of not having to listen/read/hear all about that 'shit' again!!!
Since I am really keen to explore what exactly convinced Australian mainstream media that mandatory helmet laws were a good idea (aren't we all?) and what evidence in particular proved to them they were a good thing, for my primary research I conducted 4 interviews with peeps working in and/or contributing to and/or observing Australian MSM.
I interviewed Wendy Carlisle, ABC investigative reporter (interviewed me on bicycle helmet laws nearly 3 years ago), Adam Spencer, host of ABC 702's 'Breakfast with Adam Spencer' (soon to be calling it a day!), and Dr Michael Dinh, coordinator of trauma at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and occasional contributor to 'The Conversation.'
For alternative expert opinion taking another view (yes, my view), I interviewed Dr Paul Martin, a specialist anaesthetist from Brisbane, Queensland, who despairs at increased levels of obesity, diabetes and heart related diseases (already impacting hospital theatres as evidenced by complete overhaul of many hospital theatre-beds due to massively increased size of hosptial theatre-bed users) and mainstream media's scare-mongering portrayal of cycling as an activity necessitating helmets.
Now that those interviews are complete, I'm also thinking it could be good to get a comment from outside Australia too...maybe from Marc of Amsterdamize who took the fabulous photographs at the top of this post...(hmmn, 'good thinking, 99!')
...I'll drop him a text or a tweet!!!
So who's going to be interested in my news commentary story? I'm guessing people who either use bicycles now or would like to, in addition to other road users apart from motorists...maybe I'll pitch it to the Guardian Bike blog again after their interest in my bicycle escapades last year.
Naturally I will also publish it here!!!! - stay tuned...
It doesn't matter how 'state-of-the-art' new pens are or how passionate the keepers are, zoos are cruel.
Yes the views are spectacular...
...but look back over your shoulder and you see cramped cages full of animals who ought to be in jungles or mountains...
- not Mosman.
It is impossible to mask their misery.
The mood is one of overwhelming despair and it envelopes the hillside. You cannot fail to appreciate how boring their lives are and what a far cry they are from the ones these animals ought to be leading.
Essentially their lives are puctuated by food - yes, I know you could say the same about us, but even their food moments have been questionably uninformed.
They cannot forage or hunt for themsleves, nor can they choose their mates, nor their social groups, nor even the odd time out moment that some animals crave.
And when you're thinking all of this and remembering what you've read, you can't help wondering about the whole operations of zoos en masse - why?
Yes the spiel is convincing - conservation, rescue, breeding...who can agrue about any of these plans?
But then pesky little questions start popping into your head.
What are we conserving them for?
What home exactly will these 'zoologically-saved-animals-down-the-track' be going home to one day?
Given the extensive levels of deforestation and loss of habitat is this an utterly loopy insurance policy?
Why are we breeding so much?
Is zoo breeding an industry in itself?
Isn't trading of elephants and tigers just plain wrong?
Is it done purely for crowd-pulling purposes and our thirst for entertainement?
And where do the traded animals come from?
A database? A zoo-broker? The wild?
...and if zoos walk the talk and do everything they're cracked up to do, why is the state of the world's biodiversity in a worse position now than it's ever been before?
I'm not convinced that the Captive Animal Industry does anything in terms of conservation...
I would love to believe it but I can't...those animals are miserable, clipped, imprisoned...
They're freaks and we're encouraged to 'ooh' and 'aaah' and then go home and think warm fuzzy thoughts about lovely humanised animals, and all-animal-knowing keepers, and architect-designed-zoo-palaces, and to-die-for views (literally).
...but meanwhile we really know that just across the harbour a snow leopard paces her endless figure of 8 and an elephant rocks sideways as her baby watches on and a giraffe stares listlessly across the harbour to the Opera House, far removed from the Himmalayas, far removed from a rainforest in Kerala, far removed from a savannah in the sub-Saharan region of Africa.
Content of my email sent to Australian Research Council May 7, 2013.
Dear Ms Howard,
Please could you provide me with the following information:
Details of all Australian Research Council grants that have been given to various academic institutions for bicycle helmet studies over the past 25 years.
If there are certain administrative processes that I need to perform to facilitate my access to this information, I would be grateful if you could let me know.
Thank you for your assistance and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
------------------------------------------------------------------- (to date, not a peep from the Australian Research Council which in my opinion is particularly poor form given the public resources they have at their finger tips - even just a reply email to say 'thanks we'll be in touch soon' would have been fine)
To expand a little on yesterday's tweet, BN2 was waiting at the King Street intersection on Elizabeth Street when this 'clop clop clopping' noise came rapidly up behind her! Suddenly a high-heel-wearing woman using the pavement appeared alongside and started to scream at her:
'Look at you...you're not wearing a helmet!!!!! And look at you in your heels...you're not even dressed for cycling!!!!!!! Look at you!!!!'
'I'm sorry, who are you?' said BN2
'I'm a lawyer and a human rights advocate, and you should be wearing a helmet!'
'Thank you for concern; it has been duly noted.'
With the lights still red and a posse of other pedestrians pooled in this little corner of Sydney, there followed an awkward silence until finally BN2 got her green light and self-identified lawyer got her green man...
Oh dear ...that love of nanny, so very very Australian!!!
It has taken 8 days to locate an inner tube in Scone!!!!! ...sigh... which basically meant a reshuffle of this week's engagements, then too much time near a kitchen, a dangerous spot of baking...and now full slice tins...not good
But finally yesterday at lunchtime, one was located 26 km away in nearby town of Muswellbrook, taken to the tennis club in Aberdeen during the late afternoon, and then brought home to me last night. It'll be back inside the tyre later on today and then I'll be on my bike in a jiffy hotfooting it off to town with a 'to do' list as long as my arm!
Note to self: when next in Sydney, stock up big time on inner tubes!!!
- never am I going to be without a cupboard full again
Dr Dinh has had a letter published in this week's Medical Journal of Australia (MJA 198  - 6 May 2013), which he then reports on in his article on The Conversation subsequently syndicated to the Brisbane Times...
Nothing he says extinguishes the fact that cycling here has yet to be made 'irresistible' as it has in the Netherlands (currently still a helmet- free country - don't do it, guys!!!), Denmark and Germany .
Somewhat weirdly though, I felt pretty chuffed when I noticed that he'd hyperlinked me in his article at 'publicised court cases'...clearly we (anti-helmet law campaigners) are getting under his and his colleagues' helmet promoting skin.
Oh...but it's so tiresome playing these little games - and expensive...
...ah...now that reminds me to get a wriggle on and submit my freedom of information request to the Australian Research Council (ARC) for details of all ARC grants provided to various academic institutions for bicycle helmet studies over the past 25 years...so...
Dear Joel (my federal member for Hunter) and George (my state member for Upper Hunter),
I have written to you before on this matter, and this terrible trade is still going on. You said you were going to stop it. To watch the cruelty exposed on The 7:30 Report is unbearable.
How can you let this happen?
How can Australia sit by and pretend that it'll be all ok once we've sorted it out (which we never do)?
How can we be so arrogant to think that we can keep an eye on these poor animals and guard them against acts of cruelty from our sunny shores?
How can we ever be sure what exactly happens to these poor wretched animals when they are so far away in other lands?
Enough is enough - ban live export now. Open up the abattoirs here again, make the meat producers pay proper Australian wages - ban live export now.
From here on in, I refuse to vote at any election state or federal until you, our elected representatives, provide solid assurances that this wicked practice is to be stopped now.
Any animal leaving Australia ought to leave 'already dead' - I cannot bear being part of this commercial cruelty. Whilst Australian governments refuse to ban this ghastly practice, their dreadful tortuous deaths are done in our name.
Beware of ever introducing bicycle helmet laws into your countries.
Here is a taste of some recent comments left on a Youtube film made nearly 4 years ago by the highly-acclaimed documentary maker, Mike Rubbo, detailing the lead-up to my first court case.
Nasty, gutless, ignorant...but sadly not unusual in Australia...
...and these same types of comment are made on the road too...this is Australia.
Only last week I had one prize charlie with hand on horn pass me at great speed with only millimetres to spare, gesticulating like there was no tomorrow all the way to...the red traffic lights just ahead!
Naturally when I joined him at the still red lights I tapped on his front passenger window and asked him "what is your problem?" The coward could not even look at me and was as quiet as a mouse. What a lily-livered wonder! He hadn't planned on being stuck with me - no, he was zooming past in his 4 wheel drive - he was a business man - he was going places fast...but he was in Newtown and inevitably at the mercy of Inner West congestion.
Anyway, I digress...the internet prize charlies often claim to ride bikes but when you read the content of their comments you often discover that they can't - they always seem to be falling off and yet these incompetent numpties have the cheek to lash out against others who do things differently to them.
This, dear World, is Australian cycling and this is why those of us here who want to bring riding bicycles back to the realm of normal know that we have a massive uphill battle.
And so, dear World, my message to you is...be very very afraid...helmet laws kill cycling...period
Trying my hand at a little film making...not an easy project what with Biggles and Miffy (family dogs) having lots to say, and cockatoos overhead, and wind, and me not having a tripod and having to do it at arm's length!!!
No matter - done anyway because I thought I just might document the whole process this time from whoa to go...
So what we have is a pretty rubbish attempt at directing and producing with the camera way too close and a touch wobbly...but all that aside...