Steve Parish: Mental health and the healing power of nature


Originally published in U on Sunday magazine in The Sunday Mail.

When Steve Parish recently delivered a photography workshop in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast, many people came up afterwards wanting to talk to him. But they weren’t there to ask him about lens selection or shutter speeds or how to capture the perfect shot of a cormorant mid-flight. They wanted to talk about mental health.

It’s a dialogue that the renowned multi-award winning nature photographer and Order of Australia recipient recently opened up and since then the response has been overwhelming.

Many know Steve for his stunning photographs that have graced calendars, postcards and walls, capturing a defining vision of Australia and its amazing natural diversity. But the man behind the camera admits he has long struggled with mental health – whether dealing with divorce, cancer or the loss of his business in the 2011 floods.It’s something he has felt since growing up a disenfranchised young boy in a strict household in Adelaide.

For him, nature has provided a great healing respite and it’s that which he hopes to share with others in his project Nature Connect.

“The whole planet is this ball of anxiety and stress and of course the population is growing and growing and growing, and so I guess at 70, with a lifetime of nature connection and experiencing things like, oh wow, isn’t this possum wonderful? isn’t it wonderful we’ve got 50 kinds of macropods, kangaroos, and aren’t they fantastic creatures?, I wanted to step out in my 70th year and say hey, I’ve had blessings along the way through this nature connection, I can see people are suffering, wouldn’t it be good to get a conversation going on how we can release and reduce our emotional suffering?”

The project – in which he hopes to generate a dialogue about mental health and the healing powers of nature – is being launched with Steve’s first fine art exhibition As One at the Brisbane Powerhouse. Part of the proceeds will go to Bush Heritage and the Queensland Alliance for Mental Health.


It’s his first fine art exhibition because while Steve may have covered Australia coast to coast in his 50 years as a wildlife photographer, turning his photographs into fine artworks via digital manipulation is a recent endeavour. From cute koalas, wide-eyed possums, curious frogs and jaw dropping landscapes, nature has been his palette. But recently he has has turned to creating fine art from his photographs through digital manipulation, bending the pixels at will to capture not only the beauty of what he saw but the emotion he felt in the moment.

“For 50 years I’ve never seen myself as an artist,” he says. “I’ve seen myself as a naturalist expressing the beauty of nature.”

In the hall of his home in Brookfield, outer Brisbane, hangs a picture that inspired the title of the exhibition – As One. Lively and colourful asSteve himself, it shows a network of tributaries coalescing into one which eventually finds its way to Lake Eyre. He remembers the moment flying overhead. “It’s staggeringly beautiful,” he says.

The artwork is a metaphor for human consciousness and the power of what can be achieved collectively, something Steve hopes to encourage through Nature Connect.

Steve shares his home with his wife and business partner Kate Prentice and one of his step-daughters, Jessica, a fashion student. The 60s style bungalow is decorated in warm earthy tones; a fire crackles in the living room. Outside is the bushland that Steve loves yet in reach of the city. South East Queensland has the most diverse greater metropolitan area of any in the world, Steve says. Quincy the dog patters the kitchen floor which leads to a veranda outside where cockatoos come to visit statues of other birds. It’s a rental; the house they owned is down the road, but they lost all that in 2011 flood.

“I went from being a multi-millionaire to worth a few thousand dollars overnight,” Steve says with a rueful chuckle.

The flood took out the offices of Steve Parish Publishing in Oxley, destroying photography equipment, $600,000 worth of books and about 150,000 transparencies. The claim for insurance of three million was rejected as the insurer argued it wasn’t a flood but an inundation. At the same time, the company which owned Bookworld, Angus and Robertson and Borders went into bankruptcy owing them close to a million dollars. There was nothing for Steve to do but declare bankruptcy himself, something which he has only just come out of this year.

Steve shrugs that off as if that wasn’t the worst of his problems. Dealing with bowel cancer in 1996 or break-up of two marriages was far worse. But Steve isn’t talking about these things to elicit sympathy, rather to highlight the very human struggles that life can throw at us.Steve knows he’s not alone and wants to make sure others know they are not alone also. By opening up about his own life, he hopes to encourage a conversation about mental wellbeing. It was late last year when he decided he wanted to get the conversation going.

“I actually had an epiphany,” he says. “I had a major depressive bout at Christmas. And I guess it has been as a result of career change and appreciating that I was entering my 70th year, and while I had preached and taught in my books the importance of nature connection, I’d never really done something to generate a conversation.”

Mental health is a constant topic on our televisions and newsfeeds. Almost half of all Australians will experience a mental health issue of some kind in their lives. Mental health services costs Australia more than $7 billion dollars a year. Six Australians die from suicide each day.

The benefits of nature on mental health are well documented, yet it’s easily shrugged off. But Steve says connecting with nature doesn’t necessarily mean going to Kakadu.

“Even at lunch time, leaving the office going into the park, it could be a cooch lawn and a

British tree, but its fresh air, it’s green, it’s a blue sky, it’s white stunning clouds, and whether you realise it or not, sitting there on the park bench having your sandwich, you are giving yourself mental respite you are giving yourself a healing. You then take yourself back into office on 47th floor staring at computer screen and you at least can extend your mental capacity for the rest of the day. So nature connection shouldn’t be seen as being as being at Uluru or diving on the Great Barrier Reef, it’s a mind state and you can do it anywhere.

“The creation of gardens, growing native trees that are more likely to attract native birds and being blessed by a visit on a Sunday morning by a cockatoo, while you’re having coffee on your back veranda probably with your tablet these days, and feeling elated and blessed. Humans need to be blessed.

“A connection experience is a state of mind. It’s got to do with going into the present moment, and you can do it in front of a pot plant, you can do it looking out a window if you’re in hospital.

“I remember when I had bowel cancer in 1996, waking up after surgery I didn’t think I was going to make it, and when I opened my eyes after the 12 hour operation, heavily sedated, I saw a blue sky and a green tree outside the window. It wasn’t even a native tree. But every time I see blue and green it triggers that moment.”

Steve grew up in Melbourne and Adelaide in a strictly religious family which was far from warm and fuzzy. His mother was a Pentecostal preacher who was very dogmatic. His father, an engineer, was a “sweet old man” who was “Elizabethan” in his attitudes and never expressed emotion.

In his youth, before his love of photography took hold, his passion was for firearms. He had 17 of them by the age of 18 and worked as an apprentice gunsmith. There were moments when he was tempted to use them on himself. Instead he fired a shot that blew the tiles off the roof and “frightened the shit” out of his family. He still has ringing in his ears to this day. When he hears about disenfranchised youth today he feels nothing but sympathy.

When he was 16 he was invited on a diving trip with the South Australian Museum to Kangaroo Island with underwater photographer Igo Oak. Igo handed him the camera and he took his first shot of a small silver fish. It began a life-long passion. Steve continued to photograph marine life for the Australian Museum in Sydney and his diving skills increased when he joined the Navy at the age of 18. In 1965 the Navy stationed him in Jervis Bay on the New South Wales coast.

The work he was doing for the Australian Museum was pioneering – and the encouragement he got from museum leaders gave him a sense of purpose. That came into focus on a diving trip with renowned underwater naturalist Neville Coleman, when Steve was around 20.

“I remember sitting on a clifftop in Jervis Bay and Neville turned to me and said, Stevie isn’t it fabulous that we have a reason for being?”

That concept of a reason for being is one that resonates with him today – the power of having a purpose beyond the day to day – and it’s a core value in mental wellness and something he hopes to encourage in others.

In 1974 he moved to dry land and to Queensland where he began working as a photographer for the newly formed Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service.  He set up his business Steve Parish Publishing in 1985. His career has been full of not only inspiring plants and animals but inspiring people, many of whom he talks about in his book 50 Years of Photographing Australia.

Steve knows what it’s like to wake up at in sweats at 4am worrying and wondering, what will become of me? He calls these mind stories, calamitous narratives about our problems with which we frighten ourselves.

“You wake up and think, oh shit, what’s going to happen? Am I going to have my job at the end of the month? What’s going to happen next year? Does my partner really love me? Or historical mind stories: my mother didn’t love me and I’m feeling sorry for myself. I call those poor little me stories. I’m just as guilty as suffering these things.

“So if the story you’re telling yourself in your head that means you wrote it, so you can rub it out.

“I was 65 before I realised there was such a thing as a mind story. And I remember what opened my eyes was listening to a CD by (mindfulness teacher) Eckhart Tolle.”

One thing that helps, he says, is feeling a connection with something outside of ourselves, whether that be family, community or nature.

“The natural world is riveting, it’s exciting, it’s full of awe, it’s full of colour, it’s full of form, in fact all of the colours on the planet, all of the design elements that we look at every day, have been inspired by nature.

“Unfortunately the majority of people on the planet don’t see themselves as part of nature. So when we flick on our screens at night we see disconnection. We see when we drive from Darwin to Kakadu massive land changes, feral plants have taken over, mining trucks pouring up and down the highway, so for me seeing these events occur on a regular basis over a very long period of time, I can see that if nature is to be protected or defended it can only happen if the broader population has some reason to want to defend it.”

Sharing his passion with others through the dialogue his workshops have generated has been rewarding for Steve. He has been delighted to see the impact on others, from the 14-year-old boy who went from photographing out of focus fuzzy ducks to pin-sharp birds on the wing, to the ordinary blokes who felt brave enough to share their stories of hardship, to the women who are leading the charge sharing the photographs they have taken on social media, reliving the thrill of their encounter with the natural world now that technology has made that more accessible than ever. There are countless examples of it.

“When you do tours, you take people out in the bush, you see the housewife that’s raised children and supported her husband all of a sudden has got this hobby, this ability to experience an emotional exchange between herself and a dingo drinking or a sunset on a big old gum tree and make images and process them and create with them and write about them and share them. All of a sudden her life is, ‘wow’ – it’s pretty simple stuff.”

And it’s available to everyone.

“The opportunities are there,” says Steve. “We have a choice in life. We can either wallow in our self-pity and anxiety and stress, or we can choose to step out and do something creative and create a reason for being. And I think through the exhibition, through the workshops that we’re running, I want to motivate people, I want to create an army so then with Bush Heritage we’re then going to take that story to Canberra, to Melbourne to Adelaide to Sydney to Hobart to Perth and keep it going and hopefully through these kind of opportunities we’ll get that conversation going.

“So instead of talking about ISIS let’s talk about reason for being, let’s talk about fun, let’s talk about connecting with each other and sharing the joys of connection.”

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Sigmund Arj: Arj Barker on thoughts, courage and happiness


Originally published in The Courier-Mail.

In his new show, Arj Barker is asking audiences to get inside his head.

“It’s a pretty fun place, although at times it can get a little weird,” the Californian comedian and honorary Aussie says. “But that’s what makes the show fun.”

Get In My Head, which opens at Brisbane Powerhouse this week, traverses a landscape of all manner of weird and wonderful topics the witty comedian has thought about over the years, from the social evolution of humanity to non-sexually derived boners to fondue.

He admits the insides of people’s heads are probably much more bizarre than we’d like others to know, despite what we reveal on Facebook.

“I think the amount that we reveal to the outside world is a lot less than what’s actually happening,” he says. “There’s a level of politeness that keeps us from saying a lot of our thoughts out loud.

“And then sometimes you don’t agree with your own thoughts. You think something and then you think well, actually I don’t think that but I just thought it.

“There’s the part of you that thinks and there’s the part of you that can analyse the part of you that thinks. It gets really convoluted the more you think about it.”

Barker, who writes all his bizarre ideas down in mountains and mountains of notebooks, has been making Australian audiences laugh for more than 15 years. He first came to the country in the late ’90s, performing on TV’s Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday, hosted by Daryl Somers.

“I got to meet Deep Purple, which was pretty cool. I think there’s a picture of us somewhere. This was back in the day when you had to get a photo developed. Daryl was friendly.”

Some of his friends back home are surprised by how popular he is in Australia, though he doesn’t like to talk it up. He thinks that maybe his exoticism was part of his early appeal, although the cultural differences between California and Australia aren’t too broad.

While he still calls California home, right now he is based in Melbourne, though he has also spent a lot of time in Australia’s laid-back capital, Byron Bay. It’s an area that reminds him of where he grew up in the offbeat and geographically picturesque county of Marin, north of San Francisco. For 18 days this month, however, he’ll be based in Brisbane. In the evening he might stop off at his favourite restaurant Taj Mahal in New Farm. During the day he hopes to be productive, working on a new show as well as a television idea.

Now in his early 40s, Barker is not slowing down, although he admits he’s less of the party animal he was in his youth. A good night these days might include settling down with some good food and a movie with his girlfriend and pet bulldog.

“I still have a lot of fun. I just don’t feel as bad in the morning,” he says.

Turning 40 was no big deal.

“It was not really a major event. I just went out to dinner with a few friends. Nothing felt like it changed really. I thought maybe it would be a big deal but it’s really not. It’s like New Year’s Eve, just another day on the calendar.

“I don’t need that much to be happy. Mainly, just my friends and I like to eat tasty food and I’m thankful for doing the job I love. I get great audiences. I’m not playing stadiums, but I get an intelligent, respectful audience. I have a little mini family with my dog and my girl, so I’m pretty happy about that.”

He’s glad that he followed the comedy muse in his youth, taking and making opportunities where he could.

“I can’t say I don’t have any regrets but one thing I’m glad of is that I went for it,” he says.

“I decided not to let fear dictate my life – (thinking) ‘I’ve got to get a college degree or I might not get a job’. Being in comedy is so fun. I dropped out of college very early on and just hit the road.”

And you can see Barker in action from next week, with his buddy Joel Ozborn in support. Barker will be signing DVDs and selling “sticker packs” afterwards, so come on down, he says.

“I guarantee people are going to be glad that they come out. I’m doing a lot of shows, but I think sometimes people get complacent. They go, oh yeah, plenty of time, and the next thing you know I leave town. Then I get emails all year long, ‘when are you coming to Brisbane?’ I’m coming now!”

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Age of innocence: Gremlins’ Zach Galligan


If you ever wondered what happened to Gizmo, the cute furry star of Gremlins, co-star Zach Galligan can tell you that he is safely tucked away in his cupboard.

“He likes it where it’s darker and dryer,” says the actor who played Billy in the iconic film, which turns 30 this year.

Anyone who has seen the movie, which includes most grown-ups in their 30s and 40s, will remember the rules for looking after the cute little mogwai. If you have one in your company, never expose it to bright light, never get it wet, and whatever you do, never, ever feed it after midnight.

These days Galligan mostly devotes his time to teaching acting at New York University, but in the past year he’s been busy celebrating Gremlins’ 30th birthday.

“This year we had a cast and crew get together engineered by Empire magazine. We took the models out of mothballs and took pictures with them. In Los Angles where we did an outdoor screening of Gremlins in a park on a big screen and 1800 people showed up.”

The film, apart from being a 1980s classic, the kind of scary comedy that would lull you into submission before having you throw your popcorn in the air, also has the honour of precipitating the PG13 rating in America.

“There were two movies out back to back, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins and they both had very disturbing sequences in them,” explains Galligan. “In Temple of Doom there’s the scene where the guy pulls the beating heart out of his chest. Then in Gremlins there was the sequence where we blew the gremlin up in the microwave. And the microwave goes ‘ding’. That was supposed to be funny, but a lot of people thought it was appalling, and were like, ‘you’re going to have people putting their cats in the microwave now’.

“I think the other legacy about Gremlins is it’s still one of the better horror comedies that’s come out of the Hollywood studio system. It’s a very difficult genre to get right.”

Working with the creatures was a blast, and Galligan got to know them rather well.

“I felt it was a very believable creature. Obviously it was complicated the way I had to hold it – I had to have wires taped to my body. That’s a little bit suspension of disbelief when you’ve got 14 cables running down your pants. But there were times when I was interacting with the Gizmo that you did get the sense that it was kind of like a real creature. So I just started treating it like it was a real pet.”

Galligan’s other cute co-star was Phoebe Cates.

“Phoebe was so cool and approachable and nice and kind,” he remembers. “We were just good friends and we’d hang out. We loved movies and could talk about acting. So I could relate on other levels instead of just staring at her.”

Cates now runs a boutique, The Blue Tree, in New York.

Despite its gory jokes, Gremlins, which came from the Spielberg school, recalls an innocent time for anyone who grew up in the 1980s. It helped set the tone for a genre of teen movies.

Zach Galligan

“Hollywood is basically a bunch of imitators,” says Galligan. “Now you see people are making comic book movies and they’re very successful so everyone is making comic book movies. So back then in the beginning what you had was teen movies, so everybody made teen movies. Because nobody has an ounce of originality in that town. I think people assign a lot more artistry than is really there.

“What the Spielberg movies did is they tried to create a sense of wonder that you had when you were young and innocent, before you got cynical and jaded. And now most movies start everything very cynical and jaded. And when you have a movie with sweetness and innocence in it people really like it because that’s what they go to the movies for.”

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Back to the future: Jesus Jones


Jesus Jones were one of my favourite bands of the 1990s. Pre Britpop, they came along in a wave of acts like Pop Will Eat Itself, The Shamen and Carter USM, fusing rock guitars and dance beats with sampling and new technologies.

It helped that their singer Mike Edwards was cute.

I had their song International Bright Young Thing on a travel compilation I made for myself when I left the country at 21. But you might remember them for their best known track Right Here Right Now, which was used to promote Brisbane’s Treasury Casino, as well as Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and was a No. 1 hit in the US.

They came to Australia in 2011, performing with other ’90s favourites the Wonderstuff and the Clouds, and had such a good time they’re returning to play Brisbane at the Zoo on March 12.

So now I’m chatting to Edwards, my teenage crush, who at a surprising 50, still looks the part. He spent his post band years reinventing himself as a fitness instructor and now runs cycling tours abroad. He might not have the sexy long hair he once did, but then, I’m not 21 anymore.

The album that made them international stars is called Doubt and it’s that they’re playing in full on this latest tour. Released in 1991, it came with a noise warning: “This album contains extreme sounds which could damage musical equipment.”

“It was by far and away our most successful album,” says Edwards. “It sold 2 million copies around world and entered charts at No. 1 in the UK. It was massively significant for us, and by and large I’m sitting in a house that was pretty much paid for by that album.”

Performing the album in full also means revisiting some of their lesser known tracks.

“Some of those songs I hadn’t listened to in years and when I did so I realised why,” says Edwards. “So for the live shows we’ve completely reworked them, which is great for us and for audiences as well.”

In the early 1990s, Edwards was a floppy-haired 20-something living in a rented flat in London opposite a railway station. A skate fan, as well as a music enthusiast, he was very driven.

“I knew what I wanted and was out to get it,” he says.  “The flipside to that is if I met myself from those days on the street now I’d probably want to give me a bit of a slap.”

On the ball and ahead of their time, the band were always interested in technology, not only sonically, but lyrically, with songs such as Info Freako and Zeroes and Ones. Interestingly, I owned Doubt on cassette and CD, which shows the era it straddled.

“The rate of increase in information technology is exponential and it’s racing ahead so much that these days I feel less like I’m interested and on top of it, and much more like I’m just racing to keep up,” says Edwards. “I do feel like we’re living in the future. But I feel that it’s run away from me. It’s like a horse that has thrown me off.”

With a body of work including albums such as Perverse, Already, London and Culture Vulture, they’ve got a lot to proud of. So I thought it would be fun to ask these magazine cover stars and international bright young things some questions from an old Smash Hits from back in the day. Edwards was up for it.

Q: What’s your room like?

1990: It’s cluttered. It’s got a load of recording stuff and skate stuff in it.

2015: These days very well tidied by my partner.

Q: What’s your favourite word?

1990: I’m usually an articulate person, but this’ll be something very unarticulated. Em, unarticulate! Inarticulate even! Thwack is a good one. Thwack! It’s got to be something onomatopoeic.

2015: Blimey. At the moment it would be digame, which is a Spanish word for when you answer the phone.

Q: Are you in love?

1990: Yes. Totally. With my girlfriend.

2015: Oh yes, my answer about how tidy my room is reflects that.

Q: Do you like yourself?

1990: No, not really. I don’t really like photos of me. I don’t often like the way I’ve treated people. I often look back and I think I could have done better. I’m going to look back on this in two hours’ time and think, ‘Damn! I could have shone  I could have been brilliant!’

2015: Hmmn… Some days. Always room for improvement.

Q: Who do you get on with best in the band?

1990: Probably Gen because I’ve known him for so long. He lives in the flat with me and my girlfriend.

2015: All of them. It’s the same line-up that we had at the very beginning – so after 25 years there’s got to be something there.

Q: Tell us a secret about one of the others?

1990: Jerry de Borg is a Satan worshipper. He sings Paul McCartney songs in public and makes no secret of it.

2015: Alan doesn’t have any secrets, he’s loud and proud, but he has found himself arrested on a number of occasions in the most ludicrous situations. Usually in Japan. He’s been arrested for riding a moped without a helmet going the wrong way down a one-way street in Japan. And waking up wearing someone else’s business suit in a duck pond in the Imperial Palace gardens in Tokyo.

So now for your listening pleasure and mine, the gang are going to be bringing it all back to a jumping night at the Zoo. Edwards is thrilled to be doing this again.

“It was a real privilege to be able to come to Australia and play and I absolutely loved it. It was like the Spinal Tap quote – we’re having a good time all the time.”

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Spoon: Coming soon


Some of my favourite ever songs sound like they come from the soundtrack to coming of age movies.

Songs such as Pretty in Pink by the Psychedelic Furs, the theme to the John Hughes ’80s classic starring Molly Ringwald. Or New Slang by The Shins, from the Zach Braff-directed Garden State, in which Natalie Portman’s character plops a pair of headphones on Zach’s ears and says, “This song will change your life”.

Foster the People have a song like that, actually called Coming of Age which, although I don’t think it appears on a film as yet, sounds like it should.

Some bands have a knack for writing songs that can send you on an emotional ride in the space of a few bars, setting your soul adrift like a kite on the breeze, reminding you of the exciting or moving moments of life.

One band that does that is Spoon, from Austin, Texas. Tracks such as Do You from their latest album They Want My Soul will make you feel like you’ve been listening to that song since you were a teenager.

Ahead of their visit to Brisbane this week, I asked singer Britt Daniel what kind of film a Spoon film would be.

“I’d like it to be dark and dramatic, with some black humour,” he said. “And maybe some juvenile humour as well.”

The talented bunch have been one of the most highly praised bands ever – even being named by website Metacritic as Artist of the Decade for being the best reviewed band of the 2000s.

I’m not alone in my love of them. Fellow Courier-Mail scribe Noel Mengel put They Want My Soul in his top 10 albums of 2014.

They’re playing Brisbane on Tuesday night at The Hi-Fi and it’s a gig you shouldn’t miss. Definitely worth adding to the soundtrack to your life.

While we might remember our favourite films, it’s the songs that really get stuck in our heads.

“Music works in a singular way that no other medium does,” muses Daniel. “I would guess that it has a more direct tie to our emotions than a visual medium.

“But it’s weird because visual mediums always seem to trump the audio medium. If you have the two going at the same time, the video of what you’re seeing is probably going to lead and the music is sort of the undercurrent that might get to you without you knowing it.”

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Hanging up his crown: GoT’s Jack Gleeson


I told Jack Gleeson I sometimes listened to philosophy lectures in the car. “Who are you into?” he asked. “Well, I’m getting through the Greeks, the Stoics,” I replied. “Oh, the basics,” he said. : ) Here’s my interview with this very bright and thoroughly nice young man, as published in the Sunday Mail. Come visit the LUV Comics stand at Supanova! Where Jack will be, probably with a longer queue than us.

Being in TV show Game of Thrones is a bit like being a member of royalty: millions of loyal subjects and you get treated with reverence wherever you go.

Jack Gleeson would know. He plays the young king Joffrey in the popular HBO series.

“Definitely,” the 22-year-old says. “They really look after us on set. It’s funny to see the progression. Not like we were being abused in season one, we were very well treated, but as the show grew in popularity, in season two we got a few extra chocolate bars in the green room. In the last season we had very plush surroundings and everyone was very polite to us. So yeah, it did feel like people were being a bit deferent towards us, which is kind of uncomfortable, but, you know, it’s a comfortable job.”

Gleeson has played Joffrey – the sadistically minded young king who commands fear if not respect – since the beginning of the series until he took his final bow this year. The young theatre lover, who grew up in Ireland, has been acting since the age of eight. But recently he surprised fans by announcing that after his character’s timely demise he would be hanging up his crown and sceptre and retiring from acting – at least for a while.

Instead, he’ll remain on home turf in Dublin to finish his degree in philosophy with a view to potentially doing a Master’s.

“To call it academia would be a bit of a stretch. I’m studying philosophy at the moment. It’s not exactly a vocational study unless you do want to be an academic. I suppose I’m at that weird crossroads where everyone finds themselves at 21-22-23 where you’re kind of out of college and just excited to go with the flow.”

Is there a philosopher that resonates with him in terms of how to life a good life?

“It’s funny you should ask that. I could really go off on a ramble. I’d have to say yes and no, I enjoy (Austrian philosopher) Wittgenstein because there’s a certain Buddhist tendency to his first book that he wrote during World War I, which is kind of like a liberation from getting befuddled and transfixed by language and the ordinary banalities of life, where you really just live in the moment, that’s what I like.”

The other thing that will keep Gleeson busy is Collapsing Horse, the theatre company he co-founded with three friends in 2010.

“I kind of have a free-floating role, where I can be as hands on as I want to be and help with the writing, the directing, the publicity and the producing,” he says. “It’s nice to have the freedom, when one has the time, to devote yourself fully to something that’s a passion project.”

Many were surprised that he decided to step away from fame and fortune and walk a different path.

“They definitely do seem surprised and I’m not surprised that they’re surprised, because it’s obviously something that everyone dreams about, and it’s what I dreamt about. One of my big aspirations as a kid growing up, and even as an adolescent, was to be a famous actor, and that was always my goal.

“So it’s kind of one of those weird things where you get there and it’s not as fulfilling as you’d like it to be. I suppose for me it just didn’t fit in with how I was feeling. But I think for other people it’s a great life.”

For now it’s onwards and upwards for the young actor who is definitely playing against type. But his time on Game of Thrones will go down as an unforgettable experience. While their characters may always be at war, the clichés of the cast being one happy family are indeed true, says Gleeson.

“Even though we split up a lot and we film different scenes on our own or with one other character, whenever we get together for a big scene we always just hit it off. For me, it’s a matter of whoever I’m hanging out with. I have a lot of scenes with Peter Dinklage (Tyrion), Sophie Turner (Sansa), Lena Headey (Cersei), Natalie Dormer (Margaery), Conleth Hill (Varys). It’s just a blast and it sometimes doesn’t feel like work at all. It’s like hanging out with your friends.”

Conleth Hill and Peter Dinklage are the jokers in the family, he says.

“They are a little comedic duo. They bounce off each other very well. They do little impersonations and crack very funny jokes. They keep the morale high on set.”

Gleeson can be proud of taking the character of Joffrey to new levels. While he may the one that everyone loves to hate, surprisingly some fans come up to him who are pro Joffrey.

“Sometimes they do, actually, which is refreshing,” says Gleeson. “I don’t think they ever condone his actions. I think you have to have some kind of symptoms of psychopathy to do that, but some of them say, I find the scenes exciting, I find his motivations intriguing. That’s nice to hear because obviously as an egotistical actor I enjoy my scenes and I like my character, so yeah, it’s nice to have someone see past the superficial evilness of him and appreciate him as a well-written character.”

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Robot overlord: MythBusters’ Grant Imahara


Grant Imahara’s home in Hollywood is a veritable workshop. The robotics engineer and star of MythBusters has all manner of toys in his garage.

“I have a lathe, a 3D printer, a vacuformer. It’s like a mini mad scientist workshop,” he says.

And he has put them to good use. Recently he created a steampunk ring-bearing robot for his friends’ wedding.

“He had tracks that he could drive around on like a tank, and he had a copper head with a moustache and a monocle. He had one ring in each hand in test tubes. It was awesome. It got featured in a bridal blog.”

Imahara has developed a knack for tinkering and tailoring since he first took apart the remote control at home when he was a kid. After studying electrical engineering at university, he worked for film companies Lucasfilm and Industrial Lights and Magic before joining the team as a host on one of the world’s most popular science entertainment shows MythBusters.

This year, however, he and his co-stars Tory Belleci and Jessi Combs say good-bye to the show as it returns to its original format with hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage.

“I’m sad to go,” Imahara says. “It’s sad to no longer be on the show and see my friends every day, but I feel so privileged to have been able to work on this TV show. The show’s been on 11 years, and I’ve been on the show for eight of them, and in TV years, that’s a long time. TV years are like doggie years. And that’s a tremendous amount of time to have the best job in the world, to be able to blow things up and crash cars and jump out of planes and shoot guns and all of this while teaching science.”

Imahara isn’t letting his engine idle however. Already the offers are popping up. As well as attending events such as the Supanova Pop Culture Expo in Australia, he has a number of projects on the cards.

Imahara likens it to breaking up with someone on Facebook. Suddenly, all these other people are asking you out on dates.

“Tory, Jessi and I have the same agent. After the announcement, several networks contacted our agent. So we’ve got numerous pitches into several networks. Nothing solid yet. But it’s kind of neat to be in that position.”

Imahara already has a strong CV. His geek credentials are solid. His tinkering techniques have been put to good use on such films as The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Galaxy Quest, AI: Artificial Intelligence, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, The Matrix Reloaded and the Star Wars prequels. For Star Wars he updated R2-D2 giving him a makeover for the prequel trilogy. A Star Trek fan, he has also stepped onto the bridge of the Enterprise, playing roles in web series Star Trek Renegades and Star Trek Continues.

In Renegades he plays the assistant to popular character Admiral Chekov, played by Walter Koenig. In Star Trek Continues he fills the impressive shoes of Sulu, originally played by George Takei.

“It’s like my childhood dreams come true,” Imahara says.

Imahara, who grew up in Los Angeles – his mum was a chief financial officer and his father was a motorcycle mechanic and carpenter – says he was always “that kid”, playing with Legos, building things and taking things apart to see how they worked.

“Once I figured out how to use a screwdriver, nothing was safe. It wasn’t until I got older that I learned to put things back together.”

To be able to do that for a living, and to inspire other young kids in the process, has been a real thrill. While he’s sad to wave goodbye to the MythBusters team, he can’t wait to see what happens next. Is there anything left on his bucket list?

“Oh my goodness, I’ve driven R2-D2 for Star Wars, and worked on the Star Wars movies, I played Sulu in Star Trek, worked on MythBusters,” he says. “I don’t know really if there’s anything left. Maybe if I had enough money, I would build a giant robot that I could ride around like Pacific Rim.”

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How to enjoy your midlife crisis

37 going on 17
37 going on 17

I think I’m having a midlife crisis. And I’m loving it. Here are a few signs signs: I have redyed my hair with purple streaks. I have started going out a lot. I have developed appetites that could be described as cougar.

My driver’s licence, if the cops pull me over, might indicate that I’m actually 37, but I think I’ve been acting more like I’m 27. Or 17.

I choose not to call it a crisis, but a renaissance. Over the past 12 months I have felt I’ve had a reblooming. I’ve rediscovered all my favourite things. I’m more confident than ever. And I am embracing life like a long-lost friend.

What is going on? Last year I officially entered my late-30s. While more of a gnaw than a shock, it was a strange experience, like trying on an outfit that didn’t quite fit. Forty bobbed on the horizon like a Goodyear blimp.

Some things hadn’t quite been working out and I had to face some big decisions. I wondered where the past 10 years had gone. Life had hurtled by – so fast, I hadn’t been able to admire the view. And yet I felt I was standing still.

In my 20s, I felt like an adventurer, but now I was settled in my hometown contemplating my cat’s next neck scratch. I hadn’t written the Great Universal Novel. There was no husband or kids to speak of (just a very nice ex who still comes over and  fixes things – I call him my “nusband” or non-husband). And life was a little, well, meh.

But on the plus side, no husband or kids!

I decided to look on the bright side and took myself off on a jaunt around the world. It was kind of like Eat Pray Love, but with less praying and more partying. On my adventures I met many inspiring people. In Portland, I hiked to beautiful waterfalls and stayed with a
cat-loving yoga teacher who let me borrow her couch and her cats. In a small town, I bunked in a house full of young men, who played computer games well into the night. I remember thinking, what am I doing? This is ridiculous. But it was a lot of fun.

I took some writing courses and met other frustrated novelists from around the world.

In San Francisco, I went out dancing all night. I’d forgotten how much I loved to dance. In New York, I watched the sun come up over the rooftops in Chinatown talking to a bunch of new friends – who were, shock horror, my age.

In London, I asked my friend, “Am I too old for pink hair extensions?” I didn’t wait for his reply. “Bugger it,” I said, “if I’m going to have a midlife crisis, I’m going to enjoy it.” I’d recently met a punk woman knocking on 60 who still had rad hair and stories of rubbing mohawks with all these cool bands.

The trip reminded me of a lot of things I’d forgotten I loved. When I came home, I tried to keep up the momentum. I wanted to go out and try new things and have adventures and go dancing. So I have been. I’ve met some swell people I wouldn’t have if I’d sat at home with Tim Tams and a tabby. And it’s been a fun ride.

A midlife crisis shouldn’t be a bad thing. If you’re at the top of the hill, stop and admire the view. It’s not about what’s lacking, but appreciating what you do have. And if you really think those things are lacking, well, go out then and get them. It’s never too late.

As usual, I like to take inspiration from comedians – they’re modern philosophers.

Here’s a couple of quotes I enjoyed recently. Ellen DeGeneres: “It must be around 40, when you’re ‘over the hill’. I don’t even know why it’s a bad thing. When I go hiking and I get over the hill that means I’m past the hard part and there’s a snack in my future.”

And Ricky Gervais said: “Got a proper job at 28. Gave it up to try comedy at 38. Decided to get healthy at 48. It’s never too late. But do it now.”

So a midlife crisis might be about discovering a second youth. But it’s much better than that. When you’re older, you realise time is finite, so spend it wisely. Life is short. So embrace every moment. Sometimes that just means embracing a cat. But if you want to go out and dance till dawn, do it. After all, you’re only young twice.

Posted in Adventure, Brisbane, Goals, Life, London, Portland, San Francisco, Travel | Leave a comment

New riffs mend old rifts: Veruca Salt


It’s a reunion that no one ever thought would happen – least of all the band involved. Veruca Salt were kick-ass alternative act in the ’90s, a girls-with-guitars band that earned a devoted following with songs like Seether and Volcano Girls, and were always on high rotation on Triple J.

The band was led by Nina Gordon and Louse Post, two best friends in sync and sympatico, who created awesome harmonies on stage while having a ball off.

After two albums, however, the wheels fell off. The group split, not over musical differences, but personal ones when their friendship imploded over relationship dramas. The friends stopped speaking. Post continued in Veruca Salt without Gordon, and Gordon embarked on a solo career, but the dynamic duo were no more.

Until now.

Now 16 years on, they’ve repaired the rift, rekindled the friendship and re-plugged in their guitars. A fresher-than-ever Veruca Salt are back on the road and rocking out with fantastic new songs that sound just as good or even better than their old stuff. They’ve reformed with the original line-up including Gordon’s brother, drummer, Jim Shapiro and bassist Steve Lack.

Excited to share their new sound with the world, the band is coming to Australia this week to revisit some old fans and maybe make some new ones.

“I am really enjoying it,” says Gordon, on the phone from her home in Chicago, with an exhale of genuine enthusiasm. “It is such a surprise to be doing this again. It’s sort of like this little miracle and it’s thrilling on so many levels and from so many angles.”

She says hanging out with Post again feels “shockingly familiar”, bringing back memories of sharing rooms and being on the road for 320 days a year.

“Our senses of humour and our sensibilities, they’re very similar, so we have a great time together. We have this capacity to talk for hours and hours and hours and we always did,” Gordon says with a laugh.

“I remember back in the day we rarely slept because we’d stay up all night talking, whether we were on the road, or on the phone back home in Chicago. Now the same thing happens and we have to stop ourselves, we have to force ourselves to go home.

“We’re having a great time. We’re having so much fun, on tour recently, being on the bus together, listening to all our favourite songs, putting on our make-up, we had a ball.”

Louise and Nina’s friendship repaired slowly. It began with a little email here, a birthday wish there. Occasionally they might send each other songs they liked. Then they sat down to dinner one night and had a “what if” conversation. Gordon had recently seen a reunion show of the band Mazzy Star at the Cochella music festival. Everyone was tweeting and talking about it. It sent some tinglings down her spine and and rumblings through her system. Could Veruca Salt possibly play again?

“I got this pang, this feeling that I hadn’t had, because that was really a closed book, I never considered it. And then all of a sudden I considered it, I was sort of scratching my head, going huh that’s funny, I have this desire to be in Veruca Salt again and play with Louise again.”

They found that not only was their friendship intact but their musical chemistry was as strong as ever. Veruca Salt 2014 have already released two new singles, It’s Holy and The Museum of Broken Relationships. The later song is inspired by an actual museum in Zagreb, where people can hang remnant memorabilia of their broken hearts, Gordon explains. And It’s Holy is a life-affirming song which talks about the reparation of their friendship and the awesomeness of life in general.

“When we first got together we were playing our old songs from our first album. Then Louise played a song for me, a song she had written recently and I was blown away by it and I knew at that moment we had to make a record. We were practising in my basement, and immediately I came upstairs and I said to my husband, ‘Louise wrote this incredible song and I think I want to write music again’, and he was so happy because it had been a while.”

In the 1990s, leading by example, Veruca Salt wrote the kind of songs, like the cryptically amusing Seether, that became unintentional feminist anthems.

“I don’t think that was something we were conscious of originally, certainly in the first album we were empowering ourselves, that’s all we were doing. And empowering each other. We were very conscious of the fact that at the time it was not as common for women to be fronting their own bands.

“We had a history of writing these team fight songs – on our second album there was a song called Awesome that was meant as just a little anthem for ourselves, a Team Salt anthem. So I guess that’s what It’s Holy is in a way, our 2014 version of our own team fight song.”

Now, as well as the music, they have other things to bond over. Post and Gordon are both mothers of young children. But not everyone is keen that band is getting back together. Before getting on the phone to do interviews and putting her kids to sleep, Gordon got a teary protest from her seven-year-old daughter.

“She said, ‘Mommy, why do you have to get the band back together again? Why do you have to make music again?’ The idea that I have things to do, that we’ve gone on tour, we’re going to Australia for two weeks…”

But for Post and Gordon it’s a second chance, a happy miracle

“We were young when we met and we had a very intense ride together. We split up in a very dramatic way and we never talked it through. So there was all this unresolved stuff, then time went by and it’s true about time healing all wounds.

“We were always yearning for that bond that we had with one another, and harmonising together was always special for the first day in 1991 when we met and were playing acoustic guitars in the living room. That was always something that was really precious and we just kind of trashed it. We trashed that whole aspect of our lives over something petty and personal, so I think we both with time realised this is ridiculous, life is too short.

“It really was a big surprise and a gift, not just in terms of what we are now able to do with one another musically, but also just in terms of life and perspective and the whole world and friendship in general and the feeling that anything can happen. It’s a cliché, but never say never.”

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