All posts tagged feature-writing

  • Backchannel story: ‘The Troll Taunter: Emily Temple-Wood’, February 2017

    A feature story for Backchannel. Excerpt below.

    The Troll Taunter

    A young Wikipedia editor withstood a decade of online abuse. Now she’s fighting back — on Wikipedia itself.

    Backchannel story: 'The Troll Taunter: Emily Temple-Wood' by Andrew McMillen, February 2017. Illustration by Laurent Hrybyk

    The “fuck you” project crystallized one Friday night last year. As Emily Temple-Wood video-chatted with friends, an email pinged in her inbox:

    “There are alternate realities where I raped you and got away with it,” it read. “In those realities it’s legal for me to rape you as long as I want and as hard as I want. I am dead serious.”

    The note came from someone with a history of harassing the 22-year-old medical student. This man hates women, Temple-Wood thought to herself. Then she had another thought. What do misogynists hate more than successful women?

    Nothing.

    She’d been receiving vicious emails for a decade. Sometimes she sought solace by commiserating with friends, or by stomping off to do something else, or occasionally—after the cruelest messages—by lying on her bed and crying. Temple-Wood became a frequent target of abuse merely because she is the rare female Wikipedia editor who has been active on the site for years. She manages to let much of the harassment slide off her. But many women eventually find the bullying to be too much, and leave the site.

    Across the internet, trolls disproportionately target women and members of other underrepresented groups. On Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, Wikipedia, and other open platforms, victims of harassment are forced to make a difficult choice—go silent and preserve their mental health, or try to ignore the abuse and continue expressing themselves openly online. As the wounds deepen, that latter choice becomes harder and harder to justify.

    When people get forced off the web, their voices disappear from the internet’s public squares. The ideas and memes that dominate skew even further toward a white male perspective. The web becomes less interesting, less representative, less valuable. We all lose.

    But on that Friday night, Temple-Wood had an idea. For every harassing email, death threat, or request for nude photos that she received, she resolved to create a Wikipedia biography on a notable woman scientist who was previously unknown to the free online encyclopedia. She thought of it as a giant “fuck you” to the anonymous idiots seeking to silence her.

    To read the full story, visit Backchannel. Above illustration by Laurent Hrybyk.

  • GQ Australia story: ‘Does Australia Care About Saving The Great Barrier Reef?’, January 2016

    A story for GQ Australia, published in January 2016. Excerpt below.

    Does Australia Care About Saving The Great Barrier Reef?

    Australia’s most valuable tourist asset grows weaker each year. What’s being done to save the Great Barrier Reef?

    GQ Australia story: 'Does Australia Care About Saving The Great Barrier Reef?' by Andrew McMillen, January 2016

    “Daddy, is the reef dying?”

    Hearing those five words from the mouth of his five year-old son was enough to bring Professor Justin Marshall to tears. Silver-haired, bespectacled and the owner of tanned skin that exhibits his enthusiasm for the outdoors, the 54 year-old is a neuroscientist who specialises in animal vision.

    The son of two marine biologists, Marshall knows the Great Barrier Reef better than most, which is why he had to tell his own son the truth when he was asked this question seven years ago.

    “Yes, Ben, it is,” he replied, eyes welling.

    “Why?” asked Ben, mystified.

    Seeing no point in sugar-coating his answer, Marshall said, “It’s dying because we’ve been poor guardians of it, and we keep doing the wrong thing.”

    A slightly more detailed way of putting it is that rising global sea temperatures are killing the billions of individual corals that comprise the reef. The chief cause? Man-made global warming.

    Or to get a little more technical: it’s dying because of a process called ‘coral bleaching’, in conjunction with complicating factors such as pollution runoff from Queensland’s farmlands, shipping channel activity linked to the state’s coal mining exports, and the proliferation of a tough, hardy critter named the crown of thorns starfish, which eats stony coral polyps and thrives in warmer water climates – such as those linked to the carbon emissions of human industry.

    None of these complicating factors is making the Great Barrier Reef healthier, by any stretch of the imagination, which means that Marshall’s son, now 12 years old, will bear witness to the continual decline of Australia’s greatest natural tourist attraction during his lifetime.

    In 2001, Marshall co-founded a non-profit citizen science project at the University of Queensland named CoralWatch. This program allows visitors to the reef to use the colour of coral as an indicator of its health, and report their findings.

    Equipped with a waterproof chart developed by Marshall and his colleagues, divers and snorkelers can inspect the creatures – which, together, form the planet’s biggest single structure made by living organisms – up close, in order to provide meaningful data on the extent of bleaching.

    In turn, this information is fed back to researchers at the University of Queensland and elsewhere, for the program is used to gather reef data not just in Australia, but in 70 countries.

    Like all citizen science projects, from bird-watching to mapping freshwater turtle activity, CoralWatch is founded on a simple principle of inclusivity. Its ethos is based on a memorable concept: tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I will learn.

    By handing the average punter a simple mechanism to evaluate coral health while diving, then allowing them to upload their findings to a centralised server via website orsmartphone app, the effect is one of empowerment. Rather than the Great Barrier Reef being a faraway, abstract notion that occasionally flashes across our screens before disappearing again, for those involved with CoralWatch, it becomes a three-dimensional, concrete concept.

    Importantly, it becomes something they’ll discuss passionately with those closest to them.

    To read the full story, visit GQ Australia.

  • The Monthly story: ‘Dogs On The Inside’, March 2015

    A story for the March 2015 issue of The Monthly. An excerpt appears below.

    Dogs On The Inside

    The BARK program at Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre sees prisoners taking care of dogs

    The Monthly story: 'Dogs On The Inside' by Andrew McMillen, March 2015. Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

    A handful of inmates are gathered in the library of the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre in Wacol, 20 kilometres south-west of Brisbane. The centre of attention is Kia, a boisterous young Staffordshire bull terrier. As the dark-brown dog does laps of the group, sniffing at thong-shod feet, gratefully receiving rough pats and gulping water from a plastic bowl on the carpet, the four men follow her with their eyes.

    “There’s a lot of bravado in here,” says Ricky, a muscular, tattooed man with a shaved head. “When we have a dog, it tones the unit down. To pat a dog, you’ve gotta soften your heart. You can’t be looking tough when you go, ‘Hello, good girl! Why’s your tail like that for?’” His voice rises an octave as he addresses this last part to Kia and forcefully pats her flank. The dog looks up at him, confused.

    “It’s good responsibility for us as well,” says the big, bearded Alex. “Cleaning up after poo and wee, picking up rubbish lying around. People throwing stuff in the unit – you’ve gotta stop that when there’s an animal around.” On the outside, Alex bred Shar Peis, a breed known for their wrinkled features. In here, his favourite is Pippy, a fluffy, white Maltese aged three. “She’s lovely all round.” He grins at the anxious animal as she’s led into the room on a leash, warily eyeing off Kia. “She’s perfect.”

    Pippy was donated to RSPCA Queensland through the Pets in Crisis program, indicating that she and her owner were fleeing domestic violence. Since early 2013, the RSPCA’s Wacol campus has teamed up with staff and inmates at Arthur Gorrie to run the Bars and Rehabilitation Kanine (BARK) program. During that time, 54 abandoned or surrendered dogs, some with behavioural or medical problems, have been placed in prison units of up to 70 men, who act as foster carers for the animals until they’re adopted in the community or can be returned to their owners. A similar program at the nearby Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre partners cats with female inmates.

    In the prison library, Ricky is the only one not wearing a uniform of green shirt and shorts; a red shirt denotes his role as a mentor for inmates struggling to adapt to their new environment. “There’s a lot of mental illness in here, believe me,” he says. “And most of us guys have trust issues.” He raises his hand. “I, for one. This program does help instil that little bit of trust again. It may be with an animal, but it’s a start.”

    To read the full story, visit The Monthly. Above illustration credit: Jeff Fisher.

  • Mess+Noise ‘Icons’ interview feature: Robert Forster, May 2010

    My first feature for the Mess+Noise ‘Icons’ series, wherein Australian musicians of cultural significance are profiled at length. In this case, it’s a three-part story that consists of two hours in conversation with Robert Forster.

    Brisbane-based singer, songwriter and journalist Robert ForsterIcons: Robert Forster

    In the first of a three-part interview with Robert Forster – spanning his years in The Go-Betweens, his solo career and his new life as a producer and rock critic – ANDREW MCMILLEN chats to the Brisbane icon about his early years in The Gap, the Bjelke-Peterson regime and meeting longtime collaborator Grant McLennan.

    A group called The Go-Betweens emerged from Brisbane in the late 1970s. One half of its songwriting core was an arts student at the University Of Queensland named Robert Forster. With a head full of ambition, a desire for glamour and a hard-earned talent for writing pop songs, Forster would – alongside his best friend, Grant McLennan – eventually lead the band to cultivate a significant, yet disparate following across the world. While there was a decade-long gap in the band’s history during the 1990s, when both songwriters pursued solo careers, critical applause was loudest following the release of what would become The Go-Betweens’ ninth and final album, 2005’s Oceans Apart. A year later, McLennan passed away in his sleep, aged 48. Forster knew immediately that the band’s career was over.

    Since The Go-Betweens’ demise, Forster has occupied himself with an ongoing solo career – 2008’sThe Evangelist, his first solo effort in 12 years, was widely noted as among his best work – and an unexpected entrance into music journalism via an invite from The Monthly. That regular album review column led to the publication of his first book The Ten Rules Of Rock And Roll (2009, Black Inc Publications), a collection of his best reviews, and some additional prose, both fiction and non-fiction.

    On a rainy morning in May, I meet with Forster at a bakery nearby his home in The Gap, a suburb to the west of Brisbane. He had been briefed by his manager that I intended to discuss his career at length for this piece, and he more than played his part, proving an amicable conversationalist and answering my many questions thoughtfully and at length. Midway through our conversation, he pauses the interview and asks about the reliability of my digital voice recorder, as he’s looking to purchase one for future journalistic endeavours.

    As we talk, I come to realise that – although he denies as much during our interview – Forster’s exaggerated, livewire stage manner is very near to the off-stage persona he presents. Both sides of the man are informed by a relentless undercurrent of dry humour, deeply rooted in a sense of irony. He often responds in triplets – “Yeah yeah yeah”, or “No no no” – before confirming or clarifying my research. We speak for more than 90 minutes at the bakery, before he realises he’s late for a meeting. Three days later, Forster again slips into interview mode over the telephone with the ease of a man who has spent the majority of his adult life in the public eye.

    Full interview at Mess+Noise in three parts: part one here, part two here, part three here.

    Researching, conducting and editing this interview is the highlight of my journalistic career thus far, as I alluded to in my interview with Plus One. Speaking with Robert was a true pleasure.

    [Further reading: Forster in conversation with John Willsteed at Brisbane bookstore Avid Reader in November 2009.]

  • The Big Issue story: ‘Sounds Of Our Town’, March 2010

    The Big Issue #350 coverHere’s my first story for The Big Issue, which is published fortnightly and distributed by a network of Australians experiencing homelessness and/or long-term unemployment. Half its $5 cover price goes into the pocket of vendors, who sell the magazine in capital cities across the country. Coincidentally, this is issue #350 of the magazine [pictured right], which has been published since June 1996.

    ‘Sounds Of Our Town’ is about an initiative called Brisbane Sounds, whose goal is to promote my city’s best independent music on the world stage. It was founded in 2007 by 25 year-old Blair Hughes, who is travelling to music conferences SXSW in Austin, Texas (this month) and The Great Escape in Bristol, England (in May) to promote a compilation CD of the best two dozen tracks chosen among 140+ submissions.

    I’m passionate about the Brisbane independent music scene, so it was a joy to describe Blair’s goals and ambitions to a national audience.  I look forward to many more stories for The Big Issue.

    Click the image below for a preview of the story.

    The Big Issue story, 'Sounds Of Our Town' in issue 350, by Andrew McMillen

    If you live in an Australian city, I urge you to buy a copy of The Big Issue from vendors on a fortnightly basis. It’s filled with compelling stories of real Australians. It’s fast becoming a favourite publication of mine, and it’s an honour to be involved.