Frail Mandela farewells his great-grandchild

JOHANNESBURG: Nelson Mandela has made a rare public appearance to attend funeral services for his 13-year-old greatgranddaughter, whose death in a car accident on June 11 brought a sad start to the World Cup.The frail 91-year-old hero of South Africa’s freedom struggle wore a long black overcoat to fend off the winter chill. A pink corsage was pinned to his lapel.Emerging from a black limousine, he was transferred to a golf cart that ferried him to the brick chapel of the school once attended by Zenani Mandela. Relatives helped him as he took small steps to a front pew.He sat sombrely during the farewell on Thursday, occasionally smiling when anyone recalled moments of joy and laughter in Zenani’s short life.The chapel of St Stithian’s College was crowded with hundreds of mourners, including classmates dressed in their blue uniforms. The song Lean on Me was played while a slideshow displayed images of Zenani with her family and friends.She was an ”old soul who knew things even adults didn’t know”, her grandfather, Oupa Seakamela, said. Zenani, the greatgranddaughter of Mandela and his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, died in a single-car accident while returning from a kick-off concert for the soccer tournament.A close family friend, Sizwe Mankazana, 23, was the driver, and police suspect him of drunken driving and culpable homicide. His appearance in court has been adjourned until July 26 as an investigation continues.Mr Mankazana is the son of Zwelakhe Mankazana, who is in a relationship with Zenani Mandela Dlamini, a daughter of Mr Mandela and the great aunt of her deceased namesake.The young man’s involvement deepens the tragedy. A statement from the Nelson Mandela Foundation said Sizwe Mankazana was ”considered part of the Mandela family”.The funeral service, lasting for several hours, followed an earlier private burial. Mr Mandela left the service early. Several speakers praised Zenani and expressed their grief. A message from Zenani’s mother, Zoleka Mandela-Seakamela, to her daughter was read aloud.It said she wished she had indulged Zenani more, letting her sleep in late and wear make-up. ”I should have given you more hugs, more kisses,” she wrote.”If I did all this, would you come back to me, if only for a few seconds?”Zenani is said to have once told her family that she was so content that ”if I die, I will die happy”.Telegraph, London, with agencies
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Popping off to an opening? Try a pop-up

They are here today, gone in a week or two. They appear in unlikely locations, feeding off landlords’ leftovers and vacant spaces in high-value retail avenues as well as areas with maligned reputations.They quickly draw in crowds who come for a sense of exclusivity and surprise. Then they disappear. And one leading Sydney gallery owner says they offer an alternative for jaded opening-night crowds who increasingly want more spectacle and less cheap plonk.The pop-up gallery has been the calling card of the virtual art gallery, allowing collectives or groups of emerging artists and artisans to exhibit in the real world two or three times a year. Without the traditional overheads, the pop-ups have become showpiece events.Now the temporary exhibition is gaining credibility and impetus, thanks to erosion of the business model for the established gallery and attempts to re-energise failing retail precincts.Impromptu contemporary art exhibitions have been opening all over London, including Covent Garden and Carnaby Street – even inside Selfridges – as the creative community makes merry with the effects of deep recession.In Sydney, where recession has been shallower, the marriage of commercial opportunism and the quest for that ”buzz” factor is creating momentum, the latest example being a pop-up exhibition-retail spot planned for King Street, Newtown.Dendy Newtown and Urban Uprising, the Darlinghurst gallery that represents street artists, will open a pop-up gallery in a former bookstore when the film by the graffiti artist Banksy, Exit Through the Gift Shop, opens this month.It will exhibit and sell prints and books by Banksy, Shepard Fairey and Mr Brainwash, among others, and remain open only as long as the movie screens next door.It is the first pop-up venture for gallery owner Rodney Lay, who has watched the concept evolve in London – from pop-up galleries, to pop-up performance spaces to pop-up shops. ”It’s all about location, location, location,” he says. ”My customers are working professionals with a decent income who have a sense of individualism and want different experiences from their main streets. I have to find the right balance between the type of people who like this art and finding available space … from the big generic centres.”Michael Reid, who owns Michael Reid Gallery in Elizabeth Bay, sees short-term exhibitions as part of a more fluid world of exhibitions.Since the global meltdown, the art buyers who took the market to stratospheric levels have not returned in the same numbers, leading Reid to suggest that the traditional model of gallery business is doomed. He sees a world in which commercial galleries will exhibit the works of artists other than those they represent, and artists will show their works beyond the gallery doors.In a recent newsletter to clients, he wrote: ”Pop-up exhibitions are expected to create marketing fission while at the same time broadening the normal geographic reach of galleries’ exhibition programs … Pop-ups equal a new spot, a new audience and possibly new collectors to the gallery.”The temporary exhibition is part of the trend that has rendered opening night a ”total waste of time and money”, says Reid, who represents artists including the Archibald Prize-winning Adam Cullen.The supremacy of the web means that people are no longer enticed to an opening night by conversation and ”cheap red wine”, he says. They want more; they want spectacle. In any event, he says, collectors will do their buying after viewing pieces online, one image at a time, rather viewing them on a gallery’s walls.The key to pop-ups is the availability of short-term space. Lay is looking for a neglected corner in Sydney to stage another pop-up but has found it difficult to convince commercial real estate agents of the value of short-term leasings. ”Darlinghurst, Surry Hills and Paddington are perfect for pop-up galleries. All it needs is to get … the ball rolling.”Possibilities have widened with the launch last month of a resource guide for artists to help them hook up with landlords and councils to revive failed commercial heartlands. The Empty Spaces project, funded by Arts NSW and led by the University of Technology, Sydney, follows the success of the Renew Newcastle project, which established a template for sourcing, negotiating and housing pop-up galleries, studios and performance spaces to revitalise failing high streets. The model, which aims to reverse the cycle of dereliction, vandalism and vacancy, has been exported to Parramatta, Wollongong and Lismore.When Coffs Harbour museum was flooded for the third time in three years, the museum negotiated with the local shopping centre to stage a one-off exhibition of bridal gowns in a vacant shop. It ran for six weeks, attracting 10 times the usual number of museum visitors. The museum plans to show old radios in another empty shop.The downside of pop-ups is what makes them attractive: their transience brings added set-up and marketing costs. And be prepared to exit in a hurry.Lay also warns that it makes little sense to connect with new audiences if you can’t keep them: ”One of the dangers is that without a permanent address, the very people who have found you … may lose sight of you.”The pop-up is an add-on to galleries, rarely a replacement.
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Canopied-glass stations make light work of design awards

THE soaring glass canopies rising out of the new stations on the Epping to Chatswood rail link and the powerful way they draw light deep into the cavernous spaces are two features that have helped the designer, Hassell, win the state’s most prestigious public architecture prize, the Sulman Award.The honour was announced last night as part of the Australian Institute of Architects’ 2010 NSW Architecture Awards. Projects combining modest footprints, big social agendas and striking sculptural forms dominated the 42 awards and commendations, selected from a record field of 200-plus entrants. In awarding Hassell the top prize, the judges said the stations set a new benchmark for transport design in Australia.”While the station planning is highly rational and easy for all users to understand, the spatial experience is rich and exciting,” the judges said.The stations “are bathed in natural light during the day and dramatically lit after dark, while the ticketing halls, major circulation spaces and platforms are skilfully inserted into cavernous spaces”.Despite the pubic uproar about the demolition of the former Baron’s building in Kings Cross, its replacement designed by Durbach Block Architects won the Sir Arthur G Stephenson prize for commercial architecture. The judges described the four-storey Roslyn Street design as “a poetic sculptural element that gathers and unifies the building’s surroundings”.The Surry Hills Library and Community Centre by Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp emerged as the night’s most honoured project, winning a public architecture award while also taking out the Milo Dunphy Award for sustainable architecture and the John Verge Award for interior architecture. The judges said the building “eschews conventional notions of contemporary public architecture for local communities”.Another multiple-award winner was Paddington Reservoir Gardens by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer with JMD Design and the City of Sydney. The design team won the Greenway Award for heritage and the Lloyd Rees Award for urban design.Tonkin Zulaikha Greer’s work on the Glasshouse Arts, Conference and Entertainment Centre in Port Macquarie also earned it the Blacket Prize for regional architecture, along with a commendation for public architecture.On the housing front, Tzannes Associates won the major residential architecture award for new houses or alterations and additions, the Wilkinson Award. Tzannes’s entry was the “sober and robust” Bilgola residence on Sydney’s northern beaches. It was the fourth Wilkinson Award for the head of the practice, Alec Tzannes, since 1988 – an honour only rivalled by architects Harry Seidler and Glenn Murcutt, who have won four and five Wilkinson Awards respectively.The Charles Sturt University School of Dentistry in Wagga Wagga by Brewster Hjorth Architects won the Colorbond Award for steel architecture. Two other regional projects – the Maitland Regional Art Gallery by Paul Berkemeier Architect with Barry McGregor and Associates, and the Junee Library by Workshop 1 Dunn + Hillam Architects – were awarded the 2010 Premier’s Prize.
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Nationals left holding baby in paid parental leave policy split

THE National Party is promising to double the baby bonus for stay-at-home mothers if the Coalition wins the federal election.The promise will be made today at the party’s federal conference in Canberra where much opposition is expected over Coalition paid parental leave policy.The Nationals oppose paid parental leave on the grounds it discriminates against stay-at-home parents who receive the lesser-paying baby bonus.Today’s policy promise is designed to help mollify those concerns and help avoid embarrassing debate at the conference.This week, the Senate passed the Rudd government’s historic universal paid parental leave scheme which, from January 1, will pay all parents who stay home the minimum wage of $570 a week for 18 weeks. This is worth twice the baby bonus which is paid in 13 fortnightly instalments.The Nationals’ promise, which would cost an extra $1.36 billion, would create a new allowance that would be paid in 13 fortnightly instalments at double the rate of the baby bonus.The Nationals would still have to convince the Liberal Party to adopt the payment as policy.The Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, has already promised that, if elected, he will increase the company tax rate by 1.7 per cent for more than 3200 businesses to fund a universal paid parental leave scheme that would pay parents their full salary – capped at $150,000 – for six months.As Mr Abbott vowed yesterday to push ahead with the policy, the Nationals leader, Warren Truss, said his party would back it, even if members thought it too generous, to ensure Coalition unity.Also today, the Nationals are expected to endorse a motion opposing Mr Abbott’s policy promise to hold a referendum for a federal takeover of the Murray-Darling Basin.
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O’Farrell pledges clean campaign for the election

BARRY O’FARRELL has moved to seize the moral high ground before the Penrith byelection today, promising a campaign free of smear and personal attacks through to next year’s poll after his candidate, Stuart Ayres, was targeted by the Labor Party.”I think the public has had a gutful of the politics of personal denigration, attacks and smears,” Mr O’Farrell said.”What the public of NSW want, after 15 years of government that’s promised everything and delivered nothing, is to know what the parties are offering them that is going to improve the state come the next election.”Labor accused Mr Ayres yesterday of a secret preference deal with the Australian Democrats candidate, Jose Sanz, who only joined the Democrats last month.Labor accused Mr Sanz, who served as an air force cadet with Mr Ayres, of being a ”dummy candidate” who was running in a bid to split the non-Labor vote.The claim was dismissed as a smear by the Liberal state director, Mark Neeham.Mr Ayres has been the subject of claims that he does not live in the electorate, despite the fact he and his partner, the Liberal senator Marise Payne, are building a house in the area.On ABC TV, the Labor candidate, John Thain, was questioned about Labor’s ”dirty tricks” campaign and responded by criticising Labor head office. ”I would have rather they didn’t,” he said. ”I would have just rather we kept it grass roots.”However, a senior Labor source told the Herald it was a ”strategic decision” to have Mr Thain ”distance himself from any negative campaigning and focus on the positive.”Mr O’Farrell said his team had run a ”strong and positive campaign that presents practical ways to address local issues” in Penrith. He rejected the suggestion voters would remember the Liberals’ anti-Muslim smear campaign in the federal seat of Lindsay, which covers Penrith, before the 2007 federal election.”The point there is that one of the first things I did as Leader of the Opposition is, not only did I distance myself from it immediately, but secondly I went and personally apologised to the Muslim community for what I described as unacceptable and un-Liberal,” he said.”That’s been dealt with in the way it should be dealt with.”Mr O’Farrell said there was a ”different state leader, different state focus, different view of the leader about what people in NSW and Penrith want. There’s been no hint of that, no suggestion of that and, frankly, it would not have been tolerated.”Labor has forecast a swing of up to 30 per cent to the Liberals, so it can claim any smaller swing is a positive result. It publicised internal polling last month that predicted a 27 per cent swing and a 68 per cent primary vote to the Liberals.The result is set to be worse than the previous greatest swing, when the Liberals won John Watkins’s former seat of Ryde in the 2008 byelection with a swing of 23 per cent.The senior Labor source said: ”It’s the worst set of factors imaginable. We’re going to get punished for making the public go to the polls twice in 10 months.”At the next state election, the Coalition needs to gain 11 seats on a swing of 7.6 per cent to achieve majority government. On the electoral pendulum, Penrith would be the 13th seat to fall.
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Show may not be over at Academy Twin

THERE may be a few more reels to come in the story of the Academy Twin, despite the announcement that the arthouse cinema will close at the end of the month.The Paddington building’s owner, the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW, says it is still considering a deal with the operator, Palace Cinemas, and will make a decision at a meeting on Tuesday.The Greek community’s president, Harry Danalis, said even if Palace’s latest offer was rejected, the community was in talks with two other chains to ensure the venue continues as a cinema.Palace says that after five years of negotiating, it has no choice but to proceed with its plans to close the Oxford Street cinema on June 27.The sticking point is the rent. ”The problem is they want us to reduce the rent by about a third of what they’ve been paying for the past five years,” Mr Danalis said.”Our aim is to keep Palace there but they have to pay a commercial rent. The Greek Orthodox Community is not in this to make a profit. We’re a charitable organisation.”Palace disputes that it will not pay a commercial rent, but says it cannot run a profitable operation paying what the community is asking for.The company’s executive director, Benjamin Zeccola, said: ”We’ve offered a rent to them that would leave us in a loss-making position, albeit a small one. What they want is outrageous, given the amenity of the cinema and their lack of interest [in giving] it any care.”Offers to revamp and expand the cinema had been rejected, he said. The company had to proceed with its plan to close. ”We have to notify staff, book removalists for the seats and projection equipment, get engineers and techies to decommission the cinema. All that takes time.”
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New engine parts give Google more vroom

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, Google’s search engineers meet to talk about the algorithm that forms the heart of the company’s multibillion-dollar business. They discuss the tiny tweaks, of which there are about 600 each year, that keep Google in its place as the world’s favourite search engine. These are the people who guard the company’s status as, in the words of ranking team head Amit Singhal, ”the biggest kingmaker on this earth”.With that unique position, however, comes responsibilities – when Google makes small changes, users’ behaviour can alter enormously. The fortunes of whole companies and countless careers live and die by their rankings in search results.”We deal with those responsibilities by having very concrete principles,” says Singhal. ”All rankings are decided algorithmically, and the focus is on user benefit, not advertiser or commercial benefit. We ask ourselves, ‘Can a random company that does not want to be part of any Google system be harmed by a change we’re proposing?’ If they are, we won’t do it.”Last week Google said it was finally implementing the new way of looking at the web that it had announced last year, called Caffeine. The idea is that the company crawls the web constantly producing an index in real-time – which means that users’ search queries are always being directed towards a new version of the index, rather than, as previously, a version that could be up to two weeks old.The change, imperceptible to Google’s end users, should lay the groundwork for the site’s continued place at the forefront of search technology, handling upwards of 400 million inquiries a day.Udi Manber is the company’s vice-president of engineering, and he has been studying search for more than 20 years. ”People’s expectations have grown,” he says. ”Ten years ago, when you looked for something and found it, you’d be really impressed. Now, when you don’t immediately find exactly what you want, you think something’s broken.” He points out that the equivalent process took aircrafts a century.Now, however, results are almost a given – from Microsoft’s Bing to Ask出售老域名, the race has evolved. In part, it is about producing real-time results from social networks such as Twitter, but the challenge, too, is to work out what people want to search for next.Manber estimates each internet search requires the same amount of computing power as was available globally in the ’50s, and queries are getting more complicated.The problem Google faces is not simply finding a mathematical model for language, however. ”When it comes to human language understanding, we are still at the toddler stage,” says Singhal. ”But over the next 10 years we will attain the level of an eight- or nine-year-old. We’ll be able to perfect experiences we don’t fully trust today.”That means speech recognition that works, and putting databases together so that they play nicely. The results, Singhal says, ”sound like science fiction”.”A search, say, for chocolate milk on your internet-enabled phone,” he says, ”would produce directions to the nearest store that had it in stock – any information, anywhere you are, comes to you before you need it. The world is not web pages – it is entities and things.”Indeed, it seems what excites Singhal today is this integrated experience. ”It will be important for machines to have a good grasp of what you really want. So currently, when I am logged in Google knows what sports I’m into. In a privacy-preserving manner, devices should be able to know a lot about me, because that brings a good experience.”The issue of privacy, however, is crucial, and after controversial problems with Google’s Facebook rival, Buzz, the company is keen to be seen to be transparently honest.With that ambition, says Manber, Google has made copies of the web for its own use. ”If an engineer has an idea, they can run their own experiment from their own PC.” He compares it to Boeing’s engineers being able to build their own aircraft and fly it all over the world. ”Which actually they can do now because you can do anything on a computer.”Telegraph, London
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Now women can be mothers and work, too

FOR mother-of-three Susanna Westling, coming to Australia from Sweden has been a bit like travelling back in time to her mother’s generation.”When my mother had me it was not long after they first brought in three months’ paid parental leave – now they are introducing it here,” Ms Westling said as her Australian-born son Oliver rolled around the floor of the family’s Collaroy home.”It’s like Sweden 40 years ago – mum did the laundry, the cooking, the cleaning and dad goes to work. Sweden is very different now.”With the Rudd government’s paid parental leave scheme clearing its last major legislative hurdle this week, Australia is finally set to join countries such as Sweden and Norway in paying both parents to take leave during the crucial early months of infancy.In northern Europe, highly developed parental leave schemes offering up to 13 months off have wrought dramatic changes to society.Men are not only allowed but expected to take time off when they become fathers, with family, friends and even employers looking askance at those who choose not to take up the option.In Sweden, academics and commentators are heralding a new conception of masculinity which they say is partly responsible for lower divorce rates and greater co-operation in the custody of children. Having raised children in both countries, Ms Westling is in a unique position to compare the treatment of parents in Australia and Sweden, including our first tentative steps towards paid parental leave.”Sweden is a country where everything has to be equal and fair – from the family to the company board to Parliament,” she said. ”Almost all women go back to work after one year. Even if you want to stay home with the child you have to go back to work.”Here it is more the other way. It’s harder for mothers to work because childcare is so expensive. The Swedish mothers I know like the fact that they don’t have to work full-time, but they would like to have the choice.”So will Australia experience the same fundamental societal changes as our northern cousins?Some experts, such as Dr Sara Charlesworth, an expert on work and family issues at RMIT, say the shift has already begun.”The passage of this scheme gives legitimacy to the idea women can work and be mothers at the same by introducing a basic structure which allows that to happen,” she said.”The vision of the family that John Howard was so fond of – the policeman father and the mum who’s a part-time retail worker – perpetuated the idea that a good mother is one who focuses on her children rather than work.””That idea is still out there. But in a couple of years people will no longer be talking about whether or not we should have a paid parental leave system, but about how it can be improved.”A review of the new scheme is still two years away, but experts already have a long list of changes they say are needed to bring Australia up to speed with the rest of the developed world, particularly when it comes to men.”If you really want to encourage men to take time off, you have to give them specific and time-determined leave entitlements,” said Juliet Bourke, an expert in gender diversity at Equus Partners.In Sweden, two months of leave are set aside exclusively for men, and they can take all of the 13 months available if the mother gives up her share.”That’s when you start to see the broader benefits, not just in the home, but at work as well,” Ms Bourke said.”That is the big hole in the scheme as it stands – it will be used almost exclusively by women.”with agencies
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Outcry over killer’s death by firing squad

DRAPER, Utah: The niece of Ronnie Lee Gardner’s victim has said her uncle would not have wanted the death-row prisoner executed.Donna Taylor’s uncle, Michael Burdell, a lawyer, was shot through the right eye on April 2, 1985, by a convicted criminal who was trying to escape from the city’s central courthouse after he was on trial for a previous murder.Ashley Gardner’s uncle was Ronnie Lee Gardner, that same convicted criminal. In the early hours of Friday, just minutes before the two nieces, whose uncles are now both dead, embraced, Gardner was executed inside Utah State Prison, becoming the first person in the US in 14 years to be put to death by firing squad.There was precious little of the positive to be garnered during a long night spent waiting outside the prison for Gardner’s execution to be announced. We learnt that the prisoner had spent much of his final hours sleeping and talking to a Mormon clergyman. We heard that at midnight he had been restrained in the execution chair with six straps applied across his head, chest, wrist and ankles.We discovered that the expert marksmen who had volunteered to be the executioners had been issued with Winchester 30-30 rifles. We were told that they had taken aim at a circular target that had been attached to Gardner’s jumpsuit by a doctor, who used Velcro to exactly position it over the condemned man’s heart.We found out that the executioners were given a countdown but that for some unexplained reason they had decided in advance that they would all fire at the penultimate number.Five. Four. Three.And on the count of two they opened fire. He was pronounced dead at 12.17am.Gruesome detail piled on top of gruesome detail. But then there was this: the simple embrace, away from the cameras, of two bereaved nieces, brought together across a massive and violent divide by their common loss and their common disgust towards the death penalty.”I love him … he was a great guy,” Ashley Gardner said about her uncle, whose body was even then being wrapped in a black bag, placed on a stretcher and sent on its way to a local morgue to await cremation. ”I’m hurt because I don’t believe murder justifies murder.”The execution of Gardner has caused an outcry in the US and reignited the debate about the death penalty.While Donna Taylor wouldn’t speak after the execution she had said beforehand that her uncle had opposed capital punishment.”Mike was totally against the death penalty,” Ms Taylor said. ”He would not have wanted this; he would have said this doesn’t do any good.”It was only the third time since 1977 that execution by firing squad had been practised in the US. All three occasions took place in Utah, a state that is unashamed about its fondness for guns and has a history, dating back to its Mormon roots, of equating justice with the principle that blood begets blood. Of 49 executions in Utah over the past 160 years, 40 have been by firing squadThat confidence in the rightness of judicial killing was reflected outside the prison on Friday morning by some of the people gathered there, as a counterpoint to the sentiment reflected in the two nieces’ embrace.
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So loudly they cannot be ignored

Simon Sheikh comes bounding up the stairs of a Sydney CBD restaurant looking completely unbowed by the burden of responsibility resting on his young shoulders. At 24, he runs a national organisation with more than 350,000 members, and has a brief that requires him to tell the nation’s political leaders where they are getting it wrong.But if the young executive director of GetUp! finds anything daunting about his job he’s not showing it.As we order lunch, he is tempted by a glass of red but changes his mind and opts for water instead. He is to meet the Greens’ leader, Bob Brown, straight after lunch and wants to keep his mind fog-free for the encounter.Sheikh has spearheaded more than two dozen campaigns since taking on the top job at GetUp! two years ago, tackling such topics as global warming, internet censorship, paid parental leave, the rights of same-sex couples and the planned Tasmanian pulp mill.He has even bigger plans for the looming federal election. GetUp! will run targeted marginal seat campaigns on four issues that its polling has identified as members’ top concerns: climate change, asylum seekers, mental health and forest protection.All of which leads to an obvious question. How does this precociously assured 24-year-old convince himself that he is experienced, wise and capable enough to help shape the national agenda? Does he ever fall prey to self-doubt?”Of course there is doubt sometimes along the way,” he concedes. ”But I’ve approached that by surrounding myself with experienced people. Once you have actively listened to them, and taken on board what they are saying, then you have got be willing to back your own judgment. You’ve got to be ready to make the decision.”The key to this self-belief seems to lie in an extraordinary childhood, both blighted and blessed.Sheikh’s surname alludes to distant family origins in Saudi Arabia. His father, Michael, was an Indian-born industrial chemist and avid inventor who came to Australia on a university scholarship via Pakistan more than 40 years ago. He became ”the kind of man who really only wants to be known as an Australian … so Anglicised now that we have very little contact with our family’s historical roots.”Michael Sheikh left Islam and became an atheist, eventually pairing up in Sydney with Rhonda Badham, an Anglican of New Zealand and British heritage.The couple had a daughter, Belinda, who died of leukaemia aged 10. Two years later Sheikh was born but Belinda’s struggle had taken a terrible toll on Rhonda. Never fully recovered from an earlier bout of encephalitis, she slid into chronic mental illness.By the time Sheikh was 10 he was in effect his mother’s primary carer, as his parents had never lived together. Then his father, too, became incapacitated after a heart attack.Looking back, he says: ”I think a lot of my instincts about how to look after myself and about how to look after others were formed at that time.”One of my earliest childhood memories is of buying train tickets for my mother and myself to travel to various appointments, and people at the station wondering why it was the kid they were talking to and not the adult.” The idea took root that he was ”someone who can get through any situation”.The one thing he could not face as a young boy was visiting his father in hospital during the year of the latter’s heart attack. ”It is one of the sad truths of my life that I didn’t rise to the challenge of caring for both my parents,” he says, as if a child should have managed such a task.If those early years imposed heavy responsibilities they also allowed heady freedoms, sometimes with chaotic results.One day he decided to lead a posse of primary school friends on a day-trip to the Blue Mountains so they could ride their bikes down an invitingly long hill he had once glimpsed from a train window. No parents had been informed and, by the time the weary party returned in the evening, the neighbourhood was crawling with police officers looking for them.”I used to love trains,” he says, somewhat sheepishly. ”They had good pensioner passes then. My mother and I could travel cheaply all over … At one point I had literally memorised the entire CityRail network.”Living with his mother in Newtown, Sheikh attended Camdenville Public School, which was officially branded ”underprivileged”.He has a vivid memory of the headmistress popping into class one day, handbag under her arm, to take a needy child shopping for a pair of shoes. ”Those early primary school interactions shaped the views that I have today. There were so many situations I thought were far more difficult than mine ever was.”It would have been easy to have slipped into the vicious cycle of poverty and educational underachievement that engulfed so many of his classmates.He failed the opportunity class test, which the school encouraged him to sit. But the guardian angel headmistress did not give up.She called his father in and told him that with enough work, Sheikh could and should get into a selective high school. Michael Sheikh had by then recovered sufficiently to take on the challenge.”My father bought a whole heap of textbooks and literally spent every single afternoon from 3 till 6, and then again from 7 till 8 or 8.30, hitting the books with me,” Sheikh recalls.In the hour between, his father cooked the boy dinner and at the end of each evening he would return to his own lodgings.This herculean effort paid off and Sheikh gained entry to the prestigious Fort Street High School, a ”life-changing” experience. Yet now he harbours reservations about the separation of academically able children into a few exceptionally well-resourced schools.”Of course in my case it did me good. But what I am really in favour of is offering extra support to people within all comprehensive high schools.”He says there should be a new promotion path devised for the very best public school teachers, which would put them in front of the neediest students. At Fort Street he was not interested in politics and was concerned to hide his mother’s affliction. He was ”primarily interested in making trouble”.A visit to the school by the old boy and prominent judge Michael Kirby helped nudge him back on track. As Kirby described wrestling with the secret of his homosexuality at school, Sheikh saw parallels in his own attempts to conceal his mother’s condition.”Hearing this speech got something ticking in my mind about change-makers out there, people who had done things and stood up,” he says.Once again good teachers intervened, one steering him towards the United Nations Youth Association, another towards the study of economics. The association introduced him to debating in his last years of high school. He became so adept he travelled to The Hague for the association’s global assembly in 2003.He developed a belated passion for economics, which carried him to university on a scholarship and then swept him on to the NSW Treasury. While he enjoyed the policy work he was drawn more deeply into volunteering. He became the national vice-president of the United Nations Youth Association, and an increasingly dedicated climate change activist.”More and more of my friends were becoming involved with GetUp!, which was growing at a rapid pace,” he says. ”I remember thinking, ‘This is all really exciting.”’.He was headhunted for the national director’s role when his predecessor, Brett Solomon, left to work with the global social issues campaigner Avaaz.Sheikh thinks those who recruited him had the view that ”the particular hours and intensity of the job” made it more suitable for a young person. So it is a surprise to learn that the average age of GetUp! members is 55.It is an accident of history, he explains. Its earliest campaigns were on saving the ABC, and the abortion drug RU-486, issues that most struck a chord with educated older Australians. He also lets slip another GetUp! secret: its huge popularity in the national capital. He says one in every 30 Canberra residents is a member.That delivers an informal network of sympathetic political staffers and public servants who tip him off about critical windows of opportunity for influencing policy.”It’s not exactly Deep Throat but there are lots of people willing to engage … The public service in Canberra are a big part of the our membership. It’s a community of people who are passionate about this organisation and we’ve put the energy into making sure that that community remains healthy for us.”Sheikh says the offices of Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull actively engage with GetUp! – and have little choice but to do so. ”They understand the size and the power of the movement.”He aims to have more than 400,000 members by the federal election.”Our challenge is to raise issues like climate change so loudly that they just cannot be ignored, that there has to be a mandate for the next government to take action.”The issue is close to his heart in other ways – his partner is 27-year-old Anna Rose, who has only just left the job of convening the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.Sheikh’s plans for GetUp! include more targeting of corporate players, buoyed by the successful campaign to deter banks from funding the proposed pulp mill in Tasmania. And the Minerals Council is firmly within his sights for its opposition to the resources rent tax.He also wants GetUp! to begin offering its campaign tools to members to pursue their own causes. ”At the moment there is a maximum of 10 to 15 issues a year that we can run. That’s because we own the tools, our members own the action. What if our members owned the tools and the action? What if they were able to use our tools to make their own TV ads, their own petitions, their own contact with politicians on issues they cared about? That is something I’m really energised by.”Is he interested in joining the political rat race? ”Luckily I know that my answer would be no,” he says. ”When I look at politics I think it’s in a sad space at the moment. I really worry about the level of personal invasion.”As for Sheikh’s dogged father, Michael, ”he is generally supportive of the work I do, though he had other aspirations for me, being a doctor or a scientist. But he loves seeing his son as part of such an important movement of people.”Coups not on the agendaSHEIKH declares he is no ”internet utopian”. So why the zeal with which GetUp! opposes the government’s proposed mandatory internet filter, which would block access to child porn, terrorism manuals and other illegal sites?He denies it’s about attracting more young supporters into the movement. He says GetUp!’s objection to the filter is philosophical and practical. Philosophical because of the curb on freedom. Practical because the proposed ban is clumsy, will unintentionally ban some legitimate sites and will effectively advertise the banned sites to ”uncensored” users overseas.Yet while insisting the campaign has become ”just as passionate for our older members”, he concedes it was originally geek-driven and has delivered an influx of younger members.Which leads to another question: how vulnerable is GetUp! to Trojan horse manoeuvres? Could a well-organised lobby group masquerading as grassroots campaigners hijack its agenda? ”With 350,000 members now it would be very difficult for us to be skewed one way or another,” Sheikh says. ”Sometimes we have noticed concerted attempts to shift our agenda, organisations using email campaigns to get us to target issues. But our protection is going back to our monthly surveys of members, to see what’s important to them.”So what about a mass joining by a group seeking to take it over? ”By the time you did that, you might as well start your own organisation,” he laughs.
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