Should we let them glutton and lust?

Christmas is meant to be a time of celebration. Families come together to enjoy the company of those they may not have seen in a while and diets are chucked out the window in favour of the rich seasonal foods one can only sample at this time of year. Christmas can also be a time where romance rains supreme, prompting the kind of sex that is hurried, intense, and frequent. On the surface, Christmas is a holiday cherished as a time for family and giving, but make no mistake, it is also a time for gluttony and lust. One particular family that embraces these two deadly sins are the Anoplognathus family, that’s right, the bloody Christmas beetles.

I remember Christmas two years ago not by the people I spent it with, but by the sheer volume of Christmas beetles that decimated my poor eucalyptus trees. A report from the State Forests of New South Wales says that Christmas beetles feed on trees as adults for the duration of their mating season, particularly favouring eucalyptus foliage. This report also says that upon emerging from the ground, these beetles form swarms to find food and breeding sites and that the females can lay 20 to 40 eggs each. No wonder my gum trees died.

Sydney Morning Herald writer Deborah Smith talks about the prolific number of Christmas beetles in the 1920’s within the Sydney area, saying that the weight of the insects on tree branches around the harbour foreshore areas caused the branches to dip into the water. I don’t live in Sydney, but I do live in an open woodland area where Dr. Chris Reid of the Australian Museum says Christmas beetles prefer to feed and mate. Smith also writes that Christmas beetles appear at Christmas because of the summer rains which soften the ground so they can dig free of the soil. She goes on to write that if a lot of rain falls throughout the year, then they can drown in the boggy soil. If you have issues with the Christmas beetles you better pray for rain.

For those who want to protect their trees from being eaten to death, there is really no point. “By the time you see a Christmas beetle, they are almost at the end of their life cycle, having spent a whole year as a soil-eating grub,” Nicole says, “It would not be advisable using pesticide to get rid of these insects… in any case, these insects are seasonal and the infestation does not last long.” If you do want to try to do something about your Christmas beetles this year, then you can always follow Nicole’s suggestion. Lay a sheet below your tree and spray the beetles with water to dislodge them, shake the tree for good measure and collect the beetles in the sheet before disposing of them. Should we let the Christmas beetles glutton and lust this coming Christmas? I for one will commit the sin of murder if it will keep my newly planted eucalypts alive.

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Tang’s Chinese

Mother’s day, is probably not the best day to walk into a restaurant and expect to be able to get a table, yet this is what various family members and I battled to do on this special day. Walking up and down Addison Street, ducking into numerous restaurants, was no good for my Grandma’s heels. After reaching the crest of a seemingly never ending hill, we ducked into a yellow oriental structure, complete with koi, and asked someone if there was a table for five, we were told to wait. Five minutes and one relocation of a family to another table later, we were in. Praise Tang’s Chinese establishment at 31-33 Addison Street, Shellharbour for going out of their way to slot us in.

Being led through the restaurant to our table was an experience in itself. An irate dragon and radiant phoenix depicted in paint danced among crashing waves against a wall, the eyes of countless fish could be felt scrutinizing our backs, the rich scents of Chinese cooking assaulted our noses, and the loud sizzling of chicken and beef rang in our ears as it passed by on hotplates with clouds of steam billowing up to the ceiling. The atmosphere of this restaurant can intoxicate the senses of sight, sound, and smell, really opening you up for the experience of taste as aromatic and colour adorned dishes pass you by.

After being seated, a waitress promptly brought us a jug of water and the all-important menus before disappearing into the throng, only to return a few minutes later to inevitably take our order to the kitchens. We only had to wait 20 minutes before our entrées arrived. The crunchy pastry of the spring rolls complemented their steaming vegie filled insides beautifully, their flavour, accented by a drizzle of sweetness in the form of plum sauce.

Shortly after finishing the appetiser, the main dishes were unleashed upon us. I ordered the beef in black bean sauce, which I like to order whenever I go somewhere I’ve never had Chinese before. I think that each and every beef in black bean sauce tastes differently and I like to compare them. Tasting Tang’s version, I can safely say which my new favourite is, it’s Tang’s for sure. The generous amount of beef and green capsicum lay in an ocean of thick and glossy black bean sauce, waiting to be tasted and contemplated. The moment the beef touched my tongue, its tenderness was apparent as it practically melted, the rich taste of umami it provided flooded and overloaded my tastebuds. As if this weren’t enough, a pleasant salty flavour provided the finishing blow.

My time at this restaurant was unforgettable. No eatery I have ever been to has provided a better experience. Tang’s Chinese is a model establishment that deserves the highest of praise for its incredible service and Chinese cuisine.

He was good then, will he be again?

Ed Sheeran (news.com.au)
Ed Sheeran (news.com.au)

The last concert I attended was back in 2013. My second cousin really wanted to go but needed a chaperone. As a result, I ended up being dragged along to a concert I wasn’t sure I’d even enjoy. We rocked up to Win Stadium and were immediately assaulted by the screams of teenage girls and young woman pushing and shoving in long lines to get inside the venue. Their male counterparts stood stoically or in groups chattering excitedly.

We finally got inside and bought some promotional items before entering the arena. The air was charged with tension and anticipation as we climbed the stairs right up to the back where our nosebleed seats awaited. Settling in for the show, the joint soon filled with the masses, all waiting to see the award winning singer.

The lights dimmed, and red-headed British artist Ed Sheeran stepped onto the stage with an acoustic guitar. He warmly welcomed the audience and thanked us all for being there before launching into his first few songs which included A Team and Lego House.

Gabrielle Aplin (official website)
Gabrielle Aplin (official website)

Sheeran stopped for his applause and asked if we were all having a blast, we screamed affirmation. Delighted with our response, he presented us with a dark eyed beauty, Gabrielle Aplin took the stage. This English rose kindly introduced herself and began to extract melancholic notes from a piano while adding another layer of depth with her hauntingly beautiful and smooth voice. Aplin mesmerised us with her songs Salvation, Power of Love, and Panic Cord. After singing her own songs, Aplin performed Kiss Me as a duet with Sheeran before exiting stage right.

Michael Rosenberg/Passenger (Fox)
Michael Rosenberg/Passenger (Fox)

The next to take the stage was Sheeran’s mate, Michael Rosenberg – better known by his stage name Passenger. I’m sure Passenger performed some of his own music with his interesting vocals, but I didn’t really catch any of the song titles. The only song I clearly remember was Passengers I Hate which he performed as a duet with Sheeran, and I remember because the pair had the audience, and me, completely in stiches as they sung about things they hate from “pointless status updates on Facebook” and Hollywood stars using Botox because it “makes them look fucked,” there definitive example being Cher’s face which they sung “looks like it’s been hit by a truck.”

Ed Sheeran (The Quietus)
Ed Sheeran (The Quietus)

Passenger left and only Sheeran remained. Waves of purple light filled the arena as a loop pedal was brought onto the stage. Sheeran began to layer sounds and rhythms created by tapping on his guitar, strumming cords, and using his voice. From the euphony of sound emerged the song Give Me Love, which became an intense performance filled with emotionally charged phrases.

Overall Ed Sheeran was a model performer who respected not only the artists supporting him, but also the audience. Musically he played songs that differed from each other creating an interesting and never for one moment boring experience. This brilliant young artist was amazing then, I wonder if he will present an even better performance in the later months of this year.

When is it our turn?

Australia manages to make its way back onto the Human Rights Watch list for its second year in a row. Journalist Max Chalmers of New Matilda writes that Australia is on the list because of five large issues the country is currently facing, with marriage equality being one of these five.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the 2011 Census showed that there were approximately 33,700 same-sex couples in Australia, with 17,600 same-sex male couples and 16,100 same-sex female couples. The Australian Bureau of Statistics also says that same-sex couples only represent 1% of all couples in Australia, but even so, should not all Australian people have the opportunity to be able to marry the person they love?

Freedom to Marry say that there are currently a total of 19 countries that allow same-sex marriage nationwide, which include the: Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, Britain, Luxembourg, Finland and Ireland. There are also two countries that “have regional or court-directed provisions enabling same-sex couples to share in the freedom to marry” with these countries being Mexico and the United States of America.

The Netherlands were the first country to legalise same-sex marriage back in 2001 when the parliament voted 107 – 33 to end the discrimination of marriage laws. The law took effect on April 1, 2001 and requires that at least one member of the union be a Dutch national or live in the Netherlands.

It is now 2015 and Australia still does not have marriage equality for the LGBTI community. According to ABC News, back in 2013 on October 2, the ACT’s Marriage Equality Bill passed the legislative assembly. This allowed same-sex couples to marry in the ACT and a total of 46 couples registered to be married. However, the ACT Marriage Equality Bill was challenged by the Commonwealth, and as a result, the bill was sent to the High Court to be deliberated. Australia’s first same-sex marriage took place in Canberra on December 7, and among the many unions that day, Ivan Hinton of Australian Marriage Equality married his husband, Chris Teoh, and said it was “an amazing experience.”

But it was not to last as the High Court decided five days later that the ACT’s same-sex marriage laws were inconsistent with the Federal Marriage Act and therefore unconstitutional. All 31 marriages were annulled. However, the High Court has now said in a statement that “whether same-sex marriage should be provided for by law is a matter for the Federal Parliament,” meaning that the power to resolve this issue exists and lies in the hands of the federal government. But it has been almost a year and a half since this decision and nothing has been done, it has only been talked about.

The most recent country to legalise same-sex marriage is Ireland, which achieved this on May 22, 2015 by asking the Irish people to approve the following statement: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.” Ireland approved this statement with 62.1% of people saying yes to change the country’s constitution to define marriage in this way, making Ireland the first country ever to approve marriage equality by popular national vote. Some people are supportive of the decision such as Vice President Joe Biden who says the country took a “courageous stand for love and family when they overwhelmingly chose marriage equality,” while others such as Cardinal Raymond Burke suggest that it “is a defiance of God… Pagans may have tolerated homosexual behaviours, they never dared to say this was marriage.”

Despite what others may think, it is the truth to say that this development is incredibly encouraging for Australian couples which Tony Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, said “watching what unfolded in conservative Ireland… to see that astounding result… that would have told any thinking opponent of this reform that it is inevitable in a developed Western democracy like Australia.”

Legalising same-sex marriage is an important issue that needs to be resolved. Beau Donelly of the Sydney Morning Herald interviewed a man named Shawn Callahan about his stance on same-sex marriage who says he is all for it, more so now because of his daughter coming out to him. Callahan says that he is afraid his daughter will face discrimination because of her sexuality and that Australia’s political leaders need to do more to support gay people, including legalising marriage equality. He says that failing to legalise same-sex marriage reinforced prejudices and that it created a sense of unequalness among the LGBTI community.

Although at least 64% of the Australian population support same-sex marriage, there will always be those that do not. It is generally the religious argument that stands in the way of same-sex marriage, but what if this is no longer really the case? Dr. Abigail Rine teaches gender theory at George Fox University, an evangelical school, and says that her students find the conjugal view of marriage in an essay entitled “What is Marriage?” intolerant. Rine says this conjugal view is expressed as “the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other… that is naturally fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together.”

The students in Rine’s class “hate” the essay and struggle to understand the full argument that it presents. They are more in favor of the revisionist view of marriage which says marriage is “an emotional, romantic, sexual bond between two people.” She goes on to say that marriage has an “arbitrary relationship to reproduction,” meaning that married men and women do not always fulfil their marriage “by bearing and rearing children together,” and goes further to say that “children have become an optional add-on to married life rather than its primary purpose.”

Above all, marriage should be based on the love you harbor for your significant other. Ivan Hinton expressed this message beautifully when talking about his partner Chris, saying “the relationship that we have is as deep and as personal as any in this nation. I love him with all my heart and there should never be any rule in this country that disrespects the commitment that two people like us wish to express to one another.”

No parent should have to bury their own child

No parent should have to bury their own child, yet, that is what Kathy Bianco found herself doing on the 13th of January 2009. Her daughter, Tamara, had died three days earlier from her six year battle with cancer. At the funeral, the grief was palpable. Tears fell from shadowed eyes, sobs echoed and tore at the hearts and ears of loved ones and friends in the hallowed space. Shades of lilac and turquoise clothed hunched and grief stricken figures, while the coffin sat on high, white roses spilling over its marbled sides to the cold floor. After the service, the coffin was placed in the hearse, and as it left the Albion Park church for the crematorium, butterflies were released into the crying crowd.

The Mercury - Tamara Bianco
The Mercury – Tamara Bianco

Six years later, Kathy entered the darkened room. A large wood framed bed dominated the space while a singer sewing machine, decorated with a music box, numerous chests, and candles sat off to the side. Before her, waiting, were two straight backed chairs, a young adult, and a microphone. The rich scents of cooking chicken, herbs and apricot wafted down the hall into the room before being abruptly shut out by the closing door. The 51 year old mother’s eyes were murky and framed by black glasses, she tucked a lock of chocolate brown hair behind an ear and cast a nervous glance at the microphone, her olive fingers plucked anxiously at the sleeves of her blue and white knit sweater. She shuffled over to the young man and sat across from him in the open seat, and waited for the interview to begin.

They started with her origins, she was raised in Australia but was Italian through and through. Her parents, Bruno Zucco from Monfalcone in northern Italy and Rita Guidice from Calabria in southern Italy, moved to Australia separately in the 50’s, fell in love, and had a spring wedding in September 1962. Kathy described her childhood as a typical one, filled with happy memories and loving parents who taught her their natural tongue as part of her heritage, which turned out to be a problem. Because she could only speak Italian, she couldn’t understand her teachers and had to learn English, making the start of her school life tough.

But it didn’t matter that she had a tough start, as she successfully completed her schooling at Corrimal public school, Tarrawanna public school, St Columkille’s school and Corrimal high school by 1980. Since then, she has worked at various delicatessens, an Italian Centre, the Unanderra Marco Polo nursing home, and St Joseph’s Catholic high school in the uniform shop. Kathy is currently unemployed but wants to get back into the workforce, she says she wouldn’t mind getting back into something with catering because she enjoys the type of work that is hands on.

Next they discussed her spouse. She first met her husband, Eddy Bianco, in January 1983. She was out with some friends at the Spanish club on a Saturday or Sunday night – she can’t remember which – when they were introduced to each other. Three years later in June 1986, she had a winter wedding. She said, “It was a full wog wedding! It was good!”

Kathy jumped in her chair, startled out of her reverie, as two men laughed boisterously, their feet thumping heavily on the wooden veranda as they walked past the bedroom window calling for beer. By this point, she was starting to get a little more nervous than she was before, she clasped her hands before focusing back on her interviewer, waiting for the next question. Did she have any children?

Left to Right: Olivia Bianco, Adrian Bianco, Tamara Bianco
Left to Right: Olivia Bianco, Adrian Bianco, Tamara Bianco

She did as it turns out, three in fact. Her first child, Adrian, was born in November 1989. Her second child, Tamara, was born in August 1992, and she was soon followed by Olivia 13 months later. Kathy described her time being pregnant as happy and exciting. “I enjoyed that stage of life,” she said, looking wistful, but also edgy.

Silence filled the room, seconds ticked by as the interviewer gave Kathy a few minutes to brace herself for the next question. “Did you ever think you would live to see one of your children pass away before you?” he asked. “No, no, nope, never,” Kathy said, “It’s just one of those things that happens in life which is hard to deal with. When she was first diagnosed I didn’t think of the worst case scenario to it, I thought she would have gotten better, gone beyond it, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

Kathy described Tamara as a fun loving person who cared for others deeply and enjoyed life, and even though she was sick, she didn’t let it stop her from having a good time. Tamara had a good network of friends she used to go out with and who all stuck by her and still do today says her mother. She also had a strong interest in dance and took part in interpretive storytelling dance called rocko doing tap, ballet, and jazz. Kathy said she used to dance as all different things, like a prisoner or cloud and would perform scenes from Monte Cristo and Moulin Rouge. She also used to like her art classes and photography. Kathy enjoyed art too and used to do folk art which she found very relaxing and allowed her to escape the stresses of life, if only for a few hours.

Kathy doesn’t understand why her daughter developed cancer. Growing up, all of her children were heathy, “and she was the healthiest of all three,” she said. The Bianco family first discovered Tamara had developed cancer after she had been complaining about her neck feeling stiff for a few days. Kathy looked at her neck and found a lump which turned out to be a swelled up lymph node. They had a scan done and were told it was viral, the doctor performed his tests but couldn’t find anything. In the end, it was a paediatric surgeon who discovered she had a mass growing inside of her abdominal region beneath one of her kidneys. Tamara was rushed to Sydney to have a CT scan performed, and that’s when the family discovered she had neuroblastoma, stage four.

“When they told us it was cancerous it was pretty distressing,” Kathy said, “it was full on then.” At the time, Tamara was given a 30% – 70% chance of survival because her cancer had progressed to stage four, the point that it had spread from its point of origin. Kathy said as soon as it was confirmed cancerous, they removed the lymph node, put in a central line and began chemotherapy all in the space of a week. Over the course of nearly a year, Kathy stayed with Tamara at the Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick for nine months of chemotherapy, one month of bone marrow transplant, and 21 days of radiotherapy. By the end of Tamara’s treatment, they reduced her tumour from the size of a grape fruit to that of a large egg, the tumour was named Fred, and placed in a jar by Tamara’s bed.

“We were really happy when she beat the cancer, because in her age group, not many kids do get through it. The older you are with neuroblastoma the less your chance of survival is, but she beat all the odds and was in remission for 2 and a half years,” Kathy said, her eyes slightly glistening in the dimly lit room, “but then it came back, and that’s when they couldn’t do anything for her.” She says this hit the family particularly hard knowing that Tamara had beaten all of the odds the first time round. Kathy was extremely upset when Tamara’s cancer returned, to think of all the treatment her child had endured only for it to return threw her for a six. Kathy and her family turned to Chinese herbal therapy and adopted an organic diet to fight the cancer, but in the end, it overpowered her daughter. “The Chinese herbal therapy did help her,” Kathy said, “you usually only survive between 3 weeks to 3 months if your cancer relapses, but Tamara went for a further 2 and a half years, so it did help her.”

“You don’t have to answer this question, but what were her last moments like?” the interviewer asked.

“Not good, she was in a lot of pain. I had a bit of an argument with her,” Kathy chuckled, “but not intentionally. She was getting frustrated and couldn’t get comfortable. I said to her, ‘you’re driving me insane, you’re just a bloody pain in the ass’, but not in a bad way. She was restless and didn’t say much. Not long after that, she was gone.” Kathy says she felt numb when Tamara did go. She wasn’t expecting her to be gone so quickly, but she feels it was a good thing that Tamara did go quickly instead of her suffering being dragged on for weeks. As a Catholic, Kathy found comfort and strength in praying to her God throughout the turmoil of her daughter’s uphill battle. When asked today about her feelings, she said she was mad because something like this isn’t meant to happen, and even though she believes in her faith, she questions if there is a real god because he shouldn’t be letting this happen.

Kathy believes that Tamara has impacted strongly on the lives of those around her and has changed Kathy herself for the better. She says that Tamara has had a big effect on her life and has taught her to forgive and to not be bitter, she thinks she has also learned to become more of a positive person. Kathy’s experiences with Tamara have also taught her to look at life differently, “Life is short so enjoy life,” she says.

But how do you cope with the loss of a daughter? “The pain doesn’t go away, but you learn to deal with it a little bit better then you do initially,” Kathy says, “I try to keep busy by doing things, distract myself, so I don’t have to think about it all the time, because if I do, it’ll drive me insane.” But this doesn’t mean that Kathy never thinks about her, she also has her quiet days when she likes to think about Tamara, and she also has a shrine in honour of her memory. Kathy says she keeps the shrine, along with Tamara’s ashes, in the family room so that her daughter can be around them. “Whenever I see the little table with photos of her and the little things people bring for her, I feel like she is around us,” Kathy says, “she’s watching over us all the time, what we’re doing, and I’m sure she tells us off whenever we do something that she doesn’t like. It’s hard but it’s good as well.”

After all Kathy Bianco has been through, she has become a great role model in several ways. She is a role model for other families who face similar circumstances, a role model to all of Tamara’s friends whom she has always welcomed into her home even after her daughter’s death, and a role model to all who are involved in her life for displaying deep compassion. This remarkable woman is loved by all of her family, friends, and community for her emotional and spiritual strength, the courage she has shown throughout a most difficult struggle, and the strength of her devotion and love only a mother can have for her child.