Sheli Nagas

Dubbed ‘Soul Sista’ by regulars at the Winsome soup kitchen, where she played piano and sang for six months after moving to Lismore in 2013, Sheli Nagas is a fourth generation of the South Sea Islander people ‘blackbirded’ from the Pacific to work in Australian sugar plantations in the late 19th century.

Sheli’s forebears came from the island of Tanna in Vanuatu and were among the few - estimates suggest around 2500 - who avoided deportation when it was decided their labour was no longer needed. In all around 62,000 islanders were tricked or kidnapped onto company ships and brought to northern NSW and Queensland to cut cane for miserable wages.

Sheli grew in Bundaberg, the heart of sugar country.

“We were sugar-slaves,” Sheli says, without bitterness but keenly aware of her people’s terrible history.

She fondly remembers her parents, Rev. ‘Tiger’ Gordon, a cane cutter himself, although long after the slave era ended, and a fine Rugby League player, hence his nickname. A cousin is former Canberra Raiders star Kenny Nagas.

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With expanding options of home care and palliative care services we can expect to see more deaths outside our hospitals and aged care facilities.

The latest research shows that 70 per cent of Australians now wish to die at home, surrounded by friends and family. However, only 14% of people are passing away in the comfort of their own home often because advanced care planning has not been put in place. (Source: Dying Well, Grattan Institute 2014)

‘Offering for the King’s child’ from Series 18: the Countess of Suburbia

A recent show at Hobart’s MONA gallery prompts Dr Andrew Binns to reflect on the influence of ‘madness’ on art creation.

The linked question of what is art and who is an artist is forever under challenge and this came to the fore in a recently concluded exhibition at Hobart’s now-legendary Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Featuring a collection of nearly 2000 artworks from 200 non-professional artists from around the world, the so-called “Museum of Everything’ was first exhibited in London in 2009.

The founder and collector James Brett described it as the world’s first wandering institution for the untrained, unintentional, undiscovered and unclassifiable artists of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, adding that it questioned who can be considered an artist.

Green Dot

In early January 2018, licensed cannabis retailers opened their doors for recreational sales in California and not surprisingly business boomed. Dispensaries previously selling cannabis for medical use only  have expanded to include recreational sales and are reporting record breaking profits. A veritable crop of new players have entered,  and there is even a new bill in front of the California Senate that would allow marijuana companies to deliver their products to your door - think Uber Eats but for cannabis.

As an Australian living and working in Los Angeles from 2014 to 2018, it was fascinating to witness Californians’ relationship, consumption and broader cultural attitudes toward cannabis. In comparison to more conservative Australian sensibilities, recreational marijuana use was far from frowned upon and in some cases seen as a more sophisticated and even “healthier” alternative to drinking, or at least to being drunk.

It has taken Gratian (“gray-sh’n”) Punch more than two decades to return to Alstonville, the plateau village between Ballina and Lismore, where he was raised. He now lives less than a kilometer from his old family home, and on weekends, out cycling with his wife and young son, is likely to run across his mother.

If this sounds like he’s led a sheltered life, take note… after moving from Lismore’s Trinity Catholic College to a boarding school in Sydney (St Ignatius, Riverview) he entered the University of Sydney, completing degrees in Medical Science (First Class Honours) and Medicine before undertaking specialty training in general surgery, incorporating invasive training across all disciplines.

There were, however, unexpected diversions along the way.