Blogging and human rights

Protest in Iran – photo by Christopher Rose

By Bob Wilson

In case you were curious, the word blog in Farsi looks like this – وبلاگ. Iranians who didn’t like the way things were going in their country started وبلاگ’ing (blogging) like crazy after the 2000 crackdown on Iranian media. Iranians who interact with the internet are by definition risk-takers.

As recently as late 2016, five Iranians were sentenced to prison terms for writing and posting images on fashion blogs. The content was decreed to ‘encourage prostitution’.

The Independent quoted lawyer Mahmoud Taravat via state news agency Ilna that the eight women and four men he represented received jail time of between five months to six years. He was planning to appeal the sentences handed down by a Shiraz court on charges including ‘encouraging prostitution’ and ‘promoting corruption’.

The immediacy of blogging appeals to those who live under oppressive regimes. They use the online diary to inform the world of the injustices in their country as and when they happen. I cited Iran (Persia) as just one example of a country where expressing strong opinions contrary to the agenda of the ruling government is extremely risky business.

The founder of Iran’s blogging movement, Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian blogger, spent six years in prison (the original sentence was 19 and a half years), before being pardoned by Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. Derakhshan also helped promote podcasting in Iran and appears to have been the catalyst that spawned some 64,000 Persian language blogs (2004 survey). Clearly there is/was a level of dissent among people who think the right to free speech is worth the risk of incarceration or worse.

Blogging can be a lot of things in Australia, but risky it rarely is, so long as you are mindful of the laws regarding defamation and contempt of court. Not so for bloggers or citizen journalists of oppressed countries who try to get the facts out.

It is no coincidence that most of the countries guilty of supressing free speech are among the 22 countries named by Amnesty International as having committed war crimes. They include Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan and, closer to home, Myanmar, where persecution and discrimination persists against the Rohingya. Amnesty’s national director Claire Mallinson told ABC’s The World Today that not only are people being persecuted where they live, 36 countries (including Australia) sent people back into danger after attempts to find refuge.

Amnesty’s Human Rights report for 2015-2016 does not spare Australia from criticism, particularly our treatment of children in custody, with Aboriginal children 24 times more likely to be separated from their families and communities. We are also complacent when it comes to tackling world leaders and politicians accused of creating division and fear.

Still, at least if you live in Australia you can openly criticise something the government is doing (or not doing), apropos this week’s Q&A and the Centrelink debt debate.

According to literary types who seem to have warmed to my turn of phrase, FOMM is not a blog as such, but an example of ‘creative nonfiction’ which I am told is not only a genre, but also something taught at universities.

I never knew that.

Bloggers in comfortable democracies like ours use blogs to write about cats, dogs, goldfish, cake recipes, fashion, yoga, raising babies, travel adventures and produce how-to manuals about anything you care to name.

The definition of a blog is ‘a regularly updated public website or web page, typically run by an individual or small group, written in an informal or conversational style.’

Scottish comedian and slam poem Elvis McGonagall, who you met last week, satirises the blog format with this entry.


Woke up. Had a thought. Dismissed it. Had another. Dismissed that. Stared at the cows. The cows stared back. Scratched arse. Shouted at telly. Threw heavy object at telly. Had a wee drink. Had another. Went to bed.

Tuesday to Sunday – repeat as above

The definitive blog is an online daily diary, kept by people while travelling, carrying out some stated mission like preparing for an art exhibition, producing an independent album, dieting or training for a triathlon. Most of these literary exercises are abandoned at journey’s end, or on completion of the mission. A fine example of this is folksinger John Thompson’s marathon effort to post an Australian folk song each day for a year. He did this from Australia Day 2011 to January 26, 2012.

Some of the tunes have ended up on albums by Cloudstreet, Thompson’s musical collaboration with Nicole Murray and Emma Nixon.

The social worth of a blog, though, is when an oppressed human being writes a real time account of what atrocity or infringement of human rights is happening in their third-world village, right now.

There are millions of blogs circulating on the worldwide web, many of which are concerned with marketing, selling, promoting and luring readers into subscribing to the bloggers’ products and/or clicking on sponsors’ links. It is nigh-on impossible to find a list of blogs independently assessed on quality, although some have tried.

The Australian Writers Centre held a competition in 2014 to find Australia’s best blogs, dividing entries into genres like Personal & Parenting, Lifestyle/Hobby, Food, Travel, Business, Commentary and Words/Writing. The competition attracted hundreds of entries which were whittled down to 31 finalists.

The AWC told FOMM it has since switched its focus to fiction competitions but has not dismissed the popularity of blogging. Even so, continuity is an ever-present issue.

The 2014 winner, Christina Sung, combined travel and cooking, two topics which spawn thousands of blogs worldwide, into The Hungry Australian. But as happens with blogs, the author has somewhat moved on since then. As Christina last posted in September 2016: ‘Hello, dear readers! Apologies for my lengthy absence but I’ve been working on a few writing projects lately.’

Likewise, the author of The Kooriwoman, the Commentary winner for a blog about life as an urban Aboriginal in Australia, has not posted since January 2016.

It is not uncommon for finely-written blogs like those mentioned to have a hiatus or disappear without notice, for a myriad of reasons linked to other demands and distractions in the authors’ lives.

The few lists of Australian blogs you can find tend to rank them on popularity (numbers of followers or clickers). The top 10 blogs in this list are all about food or travel.

Hands-down winner Not Quite Nigella is a daily blog curated by Lorraine Elliott who according to blogmetrics has 28,523 monthly visitors. It’s not hard to see why – the blog is constantly updated with recipes, restaurant reviews, travel adventures and the like, featuring mouth-watering photos and a chatty prose style.

So there are those like Lorraine who make a living from blogging and those who start with a skyrocket burst of enthusiasm and fall to ground like the burnt-out stick.

Whatever your absorbing passion in life happens to be – cross-dressing, wood-carving, wine-making, writing haikus, collecting Toby jugs, quilt-making, proofreading or growing (medicinal) marijuana, you can bet someone out there has created a blog.

Just yesterday for no reason other than a bit of light relief after months of heatwave conditions, I searched for ‘grumpy spouse blog’ and got 22 hits. Have a look at this one – it’s choice.




Maleny house concerts update

Sunday April 23, 2017 2pm:

Kelly Cork & Brad Butcher

Unplugged house concert in Maleny, also featuring:

The Goodwills $15/$12 Bookings open March 23.

Maleny alt-country songwriter Kelly Cork returns to our living room after a popular concert in 2015. This time he is in company with Brisbane songwriter Brad Butcher. The pair last played a song-for-song gig at the Maleny Music Festival in 2016. Kelly has just completed another CD, produced with Kevin Bennett which will be available at the gig.

Brad Butcher has been touring Australia and the US promoting his album Jamestown. After appearances in Tamworth 2017, this tireless performer headed south. In March he is a guest at the Man from Snowy River Festival in Corryong, Victoria.

If you want to know what to expect, have a listen to this song “The Old Man’s Gone” music starts at 0.33.

While you’re here, make a note in your diaries for these other dates for Goodwills house concerts.

Mr Chuck and Miss Chrissy

Sunday June 25, 2pm: Brisbane singer-songwriters Mr Chuck and Miss Chrissy are founding members of Brisbane band Stockade. Last year they performed at Neurum Creek Festival, where Chrissy also held a very popular harmonica workshop.

Sunday August 6 2pm: Irish songwriter Kieran Halpin (All the Answers, Angel of Paradise, Mirror Town), makes a welcome return to Maleny. He is visiting from Germany and on a tour of Australia. If you are not familiar with his work, go to his website and be amazed.
November: A 20th anniversary surprise. Date and details to be revealed.

Cloudstreet Maleny concert Feb 19

Internationally renowned folk group Cloudstreet return to Maleny on Sunday February 19 for their fifth appearance as guests of The Goodwills (Bob & Laurel Wilson).

Original members John Thompson and Nicole Murray, now teamed up with fiddle player and singer Emma Nixon, performed six times at Woodford Festival 2016. Their latest CD, Clouded House, the 8th Cloudstreet album since John and Nicole began performing together in 1999, was launched in late 2015. Clouded House includes a bizarre song about a colony of beavers relocated to a new home – by parachute! Here’s a more serious trad song from the same album – The Catalpa – performed in two time signatures.

Cloudstreet perform New Australian folk music, a combination of Anglo-Celtic and Australian traditional songs and tunes, coupled with trad-styled original songs. Their music is arranged for an array of instruments including guitar, concertina, flute, whistle and fiddle and now includes the fiddle playing brilliance and vocals of Emma Nixon.

Nicole and Emma have also performed at a Goodwills’ house concert as The Wish List. The duo performed at the Illawarra Folk Festival last month and taught fiddle at the festival school.

Host Bob & Laurel Wilson (The Goodwills) will present a preview of their latest project, a collection of essays written by Bob, each based on the topic of a song. Bob is aiming to publish the book with an accompanying CD, “Goodwills by Request” before Christmas 2017.

This is the 20th year The Goodwills have held concerts in their home, first at Fairfield, Brisbane, then for the past 14 years in Maleny, mostly to full houses so it pays to book ahead.

The Cloudstreet concert starts at 3pm. Tickets are $15/$12 and afternoon tea will be available. Bookings are essential. Email Laurel [goodwills at] or use the contact page.

Goodwills house concerts are sponsored by the Queensland Folk Federation (QFF).

Penny Davies and Roger Ilott Nov 20

Penny Davies and Roger Ilott

Penny Davies and Roger Ilott made their second appearance at the Goodwills’ house concert series on November 20.

The Granite Belt-based folk duo last performed at Bob & Laurel Wilson’s home in February, 2014, fresh from appearances at Woodford Folk Festival. Penny and Roger are stalwarts of the Australian folk scene and have performed at most major festivals and many smaller ones. They are known for their long association with folklorist Bill Scott. This collaboration produced classic Australian folk songs such as Hey Rain! and Where the Cane Fires Burn. They have released more than 20 albums of Australian contemporary folk music since 1983. Their lengthy association with the ABC radio programme Australia all Over brought them critical acclaim and a loyal following. Songs aired on Australia all Over include Hey Rain, Where the Cane Fires Burn, Beside a Railway Line, Ridin’ on the Fruit Train and The Monkeys Sing Soprano. Three of their songs were included on Macca’s Top 100 album in 2012.

The Goodwills (Bob & Laurel Wilson) performed an opening set, including songs from their latest album, The Last Waterhole, followed by afternoon tea then a set from Penny & Roger.

Goodwills house concerts are sponsored by the Queensland Folk Federation


Fred Smith in concert

Fred Smith image by Geoff Dunn

Australian diplomat, singer-songwriter and newly-minted author Fred Smith was our house concert guest on Sunday October 16. Fred’s gig sold out again. He was here in 2015 with Liz Frencham playing to a full house (we had people sitting on the veranda too).

Fred has recently published a book, ‘Dust of Uruzgan,’ through Allen & Unwin and is now on a solo tour to promote the book and sing songs from his many albums. The most recent album, Home, was recorded after Fred completed his two-year stint as a diplomat in Afghanistan. Fred has recorded six other albums based on his experiences as a diplomat in the Solomon Islands, Bougainville and other exotic locations. He has also recorded an album of songs with the Spooky Men’s Chorale and a CD called Texas based on a residency in the US.




The Goodwills at the Danish Club August 20

Goodwills on bridge3We are part of a great line-up at the 79th FolkRag Old & New Concert held at the Danish Club, Newstead (Brisbane).

Doors open at 6.30 for a 7.30 start.

$15 Admission / $12 Concession

Excellent light meals, licensed bar

Featured acts:

The Goodwills with Helen Rowe
Jodi Murtha
Karen Law & Family
Sadie & Jay with Suzanne Hibbs

Info: Michael 07 3855 1091

Rebecca Wright and Donald McKay RWDM wall mid-reswere guest performers on Sunday August 14.  Donald’s traditional and original songs from his native Scotland were beautifully complemented by Rebecca’s insightful Australian originals and thoughtful selection of contemporary songs. Accompanied by requinto, cello, acoustic guitar and bodhran, their show brought us all back to the heart of folk.

Rebecca is well-known on the Australian folk circuit for solo performances, inspired songwriting and sensitive cello playing. She has played at countless festivals and folk clubs, including the world-renowned Woodford, National and Port Fairy Festivals. In 2008, Rebecca met Donald while touring in the UK as guest cellosinger with Aussie group Cloudstreet, and soon found herself living in Scotland, immersed in traditional Scottish music and culture.

Since joining their songs and lives together, Rebecca and Donald have toured in Scotland, New Zealand and Australia, with highlights including Woodford, National, Cygnet, Newstead Live!, Palm Creek and Wintermoon festivals. They have released two albums, “Over Burns And Braes” (2016) and “Joys that never weary” (2012).

The concert on August 14 starts at 2pm with an opening set from The Goodwills (Bob & Laurel Wilson). Tickets are $15/$12 and bookings are essential. Contact us via the website or call Bob on 0438 525119.