Why Companies and Skilled Workers Are Turning to On-Demand Work


CURT NICKISCH:  Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review.  I’m Curt Nickisch.

When you hear the words, on demand workforce, or gig economy, the first thing that probably comes to mind is an Uber driver, or maybe somebody who drops off an ecommerce package to your home.  Or maybe you think of a clerical temp worker or a freelance designer.  The reality is, the market for on demand workers is much bigger than that.  And in recent years, the demand for high skilled workers that can be hired for projects is booming.  Dozens of companies with names like Toptal, Catalant, InnoCentive, Kaggle and Upwork – have created marketplaces for workers such as software coders, manufacturing engineers, digital marketing experts, and logistics specialists.

This has been fueled by a rapid automation, this has bene fueled by rapid automation and digital transformation at companies, many of whom are located outside of talent centers for these skills.  But now there are also demographic changes pushing this trend.  And the COVID-19 pandemic only seems to be speeding it up.

But it’s still early days.  Most companies that hire just in time workers are doing it on an ad hoc basis.  They’re just beginning to grapple with what it means to be a company that works this way.

Here to talk through the trend and to give advice for companies and managers who want to be strategic about this is Joseph Fuller.  He’s a professor of management at Harvard Business School.  And Allison Bailey is a managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group.  They’re coauthors of the HBR article, “Rethinking the On Demand Workforce.  Joe and Allison, thanks to both of you for being here.

JOSEPH FULLER:  Thanks for having us, Curt.

ALLISON BAILEY:  Thanks for having us.

CURT NICKISCH:  So some listeners may have heard that intro and thought, well, there have always been doctors who fly around and fill in for other doctors.  There has always been skilled people in highly technical positions who have chosen that lifestyle of long term gig economy type worker, before the term, gig economy, was even around.  So what’s different now?  Like, what exactly are we talking about?

JOSEPH FULLER:  Well, I think, Curt, the first difference is that those were very specific types of jobs with, of a limited number, and they were not broadly distributed across the economy.  Today, with the advent of gig platforms that appeal to all different types of skill sets, you have a much more fluid market for this type of service.  And you have, since you’ve got that supply of talent out there, more and more companies have started to employ it, and as they employ it, they begin to see it as a valuable resource and broaden their use of the model.

ALLISON BAILEY:  And companies themselves, given the increased automation that’s occurring, the focus on a need for digital skills, are really struggling to actually match their workforce capabilities with their strategic needs, and finding themselves coming up short.  If you sort of combine that with the fact that the half-life of those skills in a digital economy are shortening, you see that there’s a real need that broader talent platforms and the on demand workforce can potentially fulfill.

At the same time as Joe mentioned, we’re seeing an explosion on the supply side of these talent models and talent platforms.  And matter of fact, there were something like 80 of these talent platforms back in 2009, and in 2019, we now have over 330 of them.  And combined with these sort of increased demand factors, we also see on the supply side that workers, many of them really, really like the opportunity that gig worker, on demand work offers them.

CURT NICKISCH:  It’s interesting to understand why companies are doing this, because there’s always been this concept of buy versus build – do you want to build this capability in house?  Or do you want to buy it from outside? How might this differ if you’re a company in St. Louis, versus a company in San Francisco?

JOSEPH FULLER:  Well, Curt, I think that’s one of the questions at the heart of this acceleration of growth in these talent platforms.  There’s a question about now merely, do you want to have the talent inside the four ways of your enterprise?  But can you get it?

And we have a couple of things that are at work here that are really making it challenging for companies with different characteristics to get world class talent to come and be a full time employee.  You touched on geography.  So we’re all familiar to the research of people like my colleague at Harvard, Ed Glaeser, that cities and specific cities are outsized winners in terms of attracting younger talent and all of these skills we’ve talked about tend to skew to younger workers.

The second thing is, as the world becomes more and more digital, you have this interesting phenomenon where everybody wants the same type of talent.  It doesn’t matter if you make ball bearings in Cleveland, you’re Emerson Electric, a great company headquartered in St. Louis, or you’re Apple or Google or any other one of the FANGs.

CURT NICKISCH:  Every business has become a digital business in that sense.

JOSEPH FULLER:  Absolutely.  It’s almost a universal language.  And that means suddenly, a company headquartered in St. Louis is particularly with, for remote, with the advent of remote work, is not just competing with other companies in St. Louis for talent, they’re competing with JP Morgan Chase.  They’re competing with Capital One.  They’re competing with Facebook.  And that makes it hard if you’re a midsize company, maybe not in the most intriguing industry, maybe not with a, working for a company or running a company that has a big brand reputation, which will really impress your friends you work there.  To get the talent they need.  And historically, companies have hired the best person that applied.  But what if the best person who applies for your job doesn’t have the skills you need?  You’ve got to turn to an alternative.

CURT NICKISCH:  Let’s talk about the supply side now, because at the same time, I think the half-life for workers who want to go work for a company and stay there for a long time has gotten shorter, too.  Right?  What market forces are becoming apparent on the supply side of these workers, the context for companies that are trying to hire them?

JOSEPH FULLER:  There are several, Curt.  One is that a lot of the skills we’re talking about are associated with having an advanced degree, certainly a college degree, if not something above that.  More than half of college graduates are women.  One of the things that’s fueling the growth of these platforms is that women, for lifestyle reasons, family formation, caregiving obligations, are just not able, often, to accommodate the parameters of employment as we think of them historically, the nine to five job, the business travel, etc.

A second is that young people are much more comfortable using these types of platforms.  And many of them are motivated in choosing the work by the intrinsic interest of the work, what we would sometimes describe as the moral purpose of the work.  They don’t want to just work on the most important project that their supervisor has.  They want to work on something that really engages their skills, that calls out the best, and it causes them to learn new things.

Now, obviously there are some real impediments to this. Gig platforms don’t have the type of benefits packages that most people expect.  And so whether or not this will extend into people’s lives as they get into their later 20s, 30s, they start forming families, is open to question.  There’s one other population I just want to throw out there.  The benefits from that, which is retirees.  We’ve got a graying workforce.  In a lot of industries, the workforce in management skews quite old.  For example, a specific example, we have program managers for defense and aerospace companies.  They have really hard to replace expertise.  They get offered a retirement package, or they take a retirement package.  Now they can stay active, and obviously some people had big dents put in their retirement savings in 2008/2009.  Others are now maybe experiencing business closure, if they have opened a small business after they left the formal workforce.  So this is an outlet for that demographic as well to stay engaged, and be accessible to companies that need their skills and expertise.

ALLISON BAILEY:  Just building on some of Joe’s points, if we think about digital skills and digital experiences, what we find is, say, among software engineers, that there’s a real desire to keep their experience base fresh and leading edge.  And so when we survey them about, are you interested in, for the employ value proposition, in more money, career progression up the managerial ladder, or other things, what you routinely hear back is, the most important thing to me is actually more varied, more leading edge experiences, because that’s what keeps me marketable, and that’s going to, what is going to make me attractive for my next job.

The other thing that I would say is, with crowdsourcing platforms, where people are able to contribute to really large, hairy, difficult problems in the world, many people like to dedicate part of their time to being a participant and solving some of those really, really difficult problems, whether it’s in genetics or aerospace or what not.  And so companies are realizing the power of this, and individuals are seeing this as a way to put their unique skills and capabilities to use on things which are much bigger than they are, and which they might otherwise not get access to.

CURT NICKISCH:  Yeah, what I find interesting is your research showed that the number of freelancers who say they consider gig work to be a long term career choice is the same as the number of who consider it a temporary way to make money.  So that’s pretty stark.  How is the pandemic factoring into this trend?

JOSEPH FULLER:  Well, one thing it’s done, Curt, that we’re all witnessing, it’s obliged organizations of all sizes to adopt distance work and put in the technical infrastructure to support that.  So it’s like fast forward has been hit on the capacity of companies not merely to rely on remote workers to do work, but also to accommodate the working groups outside the office.  And we’re all familiar with phrases like, acronyms like MBWA, managing by wandering around, and everyone piling into a conference room for eight hours to figure out what’s going on.

CURT NICKISCH:  And the business travel you mentioned before, too.  Right?

JOSEPH FULLER:  And business travel. If all those things are suspended, then the idea that we have to do our project planning, or do our project review, or do our analysis separately.  That really accommodates gig workers in ways that the suspended model of doing work didn’t.  On top of that, there are a number of kind of policies and procedures that various functions in big companies have enforced who have been reluctant to relax, like issues of cybersecurity for a chief information officer or chief technology that have had to be relaxed.

So some of the barriers have been reduced.  But the biggest one probably is just the nature of work itself, the nature of supervising work.  If I’m not going to be able to rely on the coffee klatch and the watercooler talk and stopping by somebody’s desk to manage a worker, I’m much more able to accommodate outside talent like gig workers who I’m going to deal with through Zoom calls or Microsoft Teams.

ALLISON BAILEY:  And I think another accelerant coming out of COVID is the fact that there have been such significant shifts in the demand for skills.  If you think about, for example, the rise of ecommerce or the importance of digital market, and so many organizations finding themselves flatfooted and without the necessary workforce to actually help them execute on those pivots, it makes them much more open to thinking about an on demand workforce to help them fill some of those gaps.

JOSEPH FULLER:  Curt, I also think that companies are being a little bit more cautious about adding talent right now.  They don’t really know what’s going to happen on the demand side.  You know, as Allison was saying, some companies have had a big surge of projects they have to do as they shift, for example, to more online commerce.  But this is a, gig platforms are a way to reduce your ongoing fixed expense of personnel and allow you maybe to staff a little bit more towards your more conservative forecast about a recovery in your marketplace than you might otherwise have been able to do if you were relying solely on full time employees.

CURT NICKISCH:  Let’s talk now about the difficulties companies have putting some of this into place, because in the past, you know, you work at a company, and they bring in some temp workers to do some things, or you bring in consultants to work on a project, and they leave again.  That’s different than when maybe you’re a data analyst at a company, and they say, well, we’re going to hire this outside team of people now, and perhaps on an ongoing basis in the future we’re going to keep reaching out to these folks to do the sort of work that you’re doing.  That can feel threatening to employees.  Do you see that as one of the stumbling blocks so far?

ALLISON BAILEY:  Well, I think it’s definitely a barrier.  But what I would also say is, it’s one that I believe organizations can actually actively work through.  You know, it’s for sure a fact that employees in these kinds of situations can feel threatened, especially because it sort of challenges in many cases the notion of managers’ employees saying, you know, we have a problem, and we can’t really solve it, and now actually people are thinking that we need to go to the outside to get help.

But if we actually step back, and we saw this in the case of a large global energy company.  They did a really nice job of educating their workforce on the potential benefits of this.  Meaning that, yes, it was OK, actually, to say that there were problems that maybe internally couldn’t be solved, and that we needed to go to the outside world to access more expertise, more thoughtful minds, to actually help us.  It required actually being humbler, but actually also educating people about the benefits.

The other thing I would say is that employees themselves need to be thinking about this from the perspective of, what is it that these talent platforms can do for me, such that I actually get more leverage?  Right?  There are many activities that we all do that maybe we’d rather not do, and that aren’t super value added, but actually by leveraging people on a talent platform, they can free up their time for more value-added activities or more time to think strategically, or what not.  So getting that message out there of the upside, both the collective upside to the organization of being able to solve really tough problems, or to the individual about what it might mean for their own personal productivity, I think is really critical to helping organizations get over that challenge of being threatened.

JOSEPH FULLER:  Curt, I think there are two barriers that I’d like to just also mention.  The first is that managers like to control things.

CURT NICKISCH:  Oh, really?

JOSEPH FULLER:  A nd they just, you know, they want to have as much control and influence on anything they’re paying for that they can, anything that’s in their budget, and that includes staff.  So it’s asking managers to do something that is almost genetically adverse to them.  How do they know this person will work hard?  How do they, how can they make sure that they bring the right attitude and the right dedication to the project?

The second thing is that making gig workers in projects that are complex, that really require the types of skills that we’re talking about here, it requires a fair amount of work to structure the project so those workers can be really productive.  They don’t have institutional knowledge.  They don’t know the informal way to get some piece of data.  They don’t know what happened in the project two years ago.  So a supervisor can’t turn to one of them and say, well, remember that thing we did last summer?  Just do that again.

And so, it requires the work be designed around defined tasks, chunks if you will, and assigned to people in a way that they can do them correctly.  So it requires a more kind of formal process and a little bit, frankly, a little bit more work up front to be able to make these people productive.  And I’m not saying that managers are lazy and don’t want to do that work, but it’s a different type of task, and it’s not familiar, and it’s easy to find reasons that this is just not as comfortable for managers as the way they’re used to doing things.  And that, you have to overcome that if you’re going to make maximum use of this resource.

CURT NICKISCH:  Conversely that probably means that there are opportunities if you work at one of those companies that is trying this out, and you take it on, and you show success using this model, and figure it out, you can also advance.

CURT NICKISCH:  Absolutely. So Allison, what else do companies need to think through before they, you know, really put both feet into this new experiment?

ALLISON BAILEY:  So I think companies really need to have a good understanding and inventory of the capabilities that actually reside within their organizations and their workforce today.

I do think that to manage across all of these different models and mechanisms for accessing and managing talent, that it does actually take a higher skill level amongst the managerial force to be effective.  And we should be looking to help educate and train managers to effectively manage in this kind of environment, and that it won’t be easy.  But with support, with the right kinds of organizational processes, scaffolding and so forth, that they should be able to do it successfully.

CURT NICKISCH:  Joe, five years from now, this doesn’t sound like it’s a fad.  It sounds like just the new reality that is going to be here to stay, and that managers need to learn to contend with.  Is that fair?

JOSEPH FULLER:  I think it is, Curt.  COVID has really put the spurs to this phenomena, because not only have companies learned how to integrate teams and projects across time zones, across geographies, but also it’s really caused a rapid acceleration in companies’ investment in digitalization.  85% of our respondents said that they had significantly increased their investment in digital technologies and digital platforms.  And the senior managers in these companies were pretty much universally, 85-90% saying that this was going to be an important source of talent in their future.

And one thing we do know about supply and demand, while the supply of talent in these marketplaces is growing quite rapidly for a long time, the supply of people with digital native skills, sophisticated digital skills, is not growing fast enough.  And that’s true across the developed world.  It’s not just a U.S. phenomenon.  And it’s not just an issue of immigration, although that exacerbates the problem.  So you put that together.  The stars in alignment for this to become much more integral to companies of all different sizes and shapes workforce management.  And as we all know, once demand starts growing for something, you start getting more scale economies.  You start legitimizing the business model.  More people are trained in how to use it.  And other adjacent innovations will happen.  For example, if you suddenly have a large number of fairly affluent gig workers, you’re going to have innovations in things like how they go about sourcing health insurance.  And then you can get a virtuous cycle going to really let this market become a permanent feature of the landscape.

ALLISON BAILEY:  You know, many business leaders see talent platforms as a primary solve for their talent gaps, as opposed to a strategic lever to transform their business models.  So when companies are no longer limited to the talent that they have on staff and are able to kind of dynamically hire, utilize, and flex their workforces in response to changing needs, what you see is that a whole bunch of new avenues open up.  A whole bunch of new opportunities for business model innovation.  And it used to be we talked about business like Uber and Airbnb becoming sort of asset light.  The question I would have is, why not now for organizations to became talent light?  Right?  Really innovating their business models to take advantage of what these kinds of platforms can offer.

CURT NICKISCH:  Joe and Allison, thanks so much for coming on the show to talk about your research.

JOSEPH FULLER:  Curt, it was a pleasure.

ALLISON BAILEY:  Thank you, Curt.

CURT NICKISCH:  That’s Joseph Fuller.  He’s a professor of management at Harvard Business School.  And Allison Bailey is a managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group.  They are coauthors of the HBR article, “Rethinking the On-Demand Workforce.”

This episode was produced by Mary Dooe.  We get technical help from Rob Eckhardt.  Adam Buchholtz is our audio product manager.  Thanks for listening to the HBR IdeaCast.  I’m Curt Nickisch.



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People turning to poetry and music for pleasure during lockdown, says Poet Laureate – Channel 4 News


Back in March lockdown brought an end to choir practice across the country with singing deemed a high risk hobby when it came to spreading the virus.

But inspired by the memory of the choral societies he knew growing up in Huddersfield, the poet Laureate Simon Armitage has created the lyrics for two new works that express some of the emotions and frustrations of the last few months.

Having rehearsed in groups of no more than fifteen as per government guidelines, next Saturday the Huddersfield choral society will premiere both works in videoed performances.

Earlier we spoke to Simon Armitage and asked him how he became involved with the choir.



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Commentary: US dollar could face turning point soon


CAMBRIDGE: With alternative assets such as gold and Bitcoin thriving in the pandemic, some top economists are predicting a sharp fall in the US dollar. This could yet happen.

But so far, despite inconsistent US management of the pandemic, massive deficit spending for economic catastrophe relief, and monetary easing that Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell says has “crossed a lot of red lines,” core dollar exchange rates have been eerily calm. Even the ongoing election drama has not had much impact.

Traders and journalists may be getting worked up about the greenback’s daily travails, but for those of us who study longer-term exchange-rate trends, their reactions to date amount to much ado about nothing.

READ: Commentary: After a stormy few years, verdict on Trump’s trade war with China is clear

READ: Commentary: Gold may have lost some of its shine but don’t write it off just yet

BUT THE US DOLLAR HAS BEEN SURPRISINGLY STABLE

To be sure, the euro has appreciated by roughly 6 per cent against the dollar so far in 2020, but that is peanuts compared to the wild gyrations that took place after the 2008 financial crisis, when the dollar fluctuated between US$1.58 and US$1.07 to the euro.

Similarly, the yen-dollar exchange rate has hardly moved during the pandemic, but varied between ¥90 and ¥123 to the dollar in the Great Recession.

And a broad dollar exchange-rate index against all US trading partners is currently sitting at roughly its mid-February level.


Monitors display news on 2020 U.S. presidential election and the Japanese yen exchange rate against the U.S. dollar at a foreign exchange trading company in Tokyo, Japan on Nov 4, 2020.(Photo: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Such stability is surprising, given that exchange-rate volatility normally rises significantly during US recessions. As Ethan Ilzetzki of the London School of Economics, the World Bank’s Carmen Reinhart, and I discuss in recent research, the muted response of core exchange rates has been one of the pandemic’s major macroeconomic puzzles.

FLUCTUATIONS HAVE BEEN SMALL

Economists have known for decades that explaining currency movements is extremely difficult. Nevertheless, the overwhelming presumption is that in an environment of greater global macroeconomic uncertainty than most of us have seen in our lifetimes, exchange rates should be shifting wildly.

But even as a second wave of COVID-19 has stunned Europe, the euro has fallen only by a few percent – a drop in the bucket in terms of asset-price volatility.

Fiscal stimulus talks in the United States are on one day, off the next. And although America’s election uncertainty is moving toward resolution, more huge policy battles lie ahead. So far, though, any exchange-rate response has been relatively small.

LISTEN: Just how will a Biden presidency move US and global action on climate change? | EP 13

LISTEN: US election: A bitter fight for the soul of the world’s most powerful nation

Nobody knows for sure what might be keeping currency movements in check. Possible explanations include common shocks, generous Fed provision of dollar swap lines, and massive government fiscal responses around the world.

But the most plausible reason is the paralysis of conventional monetary policy. All major central banks’ policy interest rates are at or near the effective lower bound (around zero), and leading forecasters believe they will remain there for many years, even in an optimistic growth scenario.

ULTRA-LOW INTEREST RATES KEEPING EXCHANGE RATES STABLE

If not for the near-zero lower bound, most central banks would now be setting interest rates far below zero, say, at minus 3 to 4 per cent.

This suggests that even as the economy improves, it could be a long time before policymakers are willing to “lift off” from zero and raise rates into positive territory.

READ: Commentary: Central banks shouldn’t blindly follow the US Federal Reserve

Interest rates are hardly the only likely driver of exchange rates; other factors, such as trade imbalances and risk, also are important. And, of course, central banks are engaged in various quasi-fiscal activities such as quantitative easing.

But with interest rates basically in a cryogenic freeze, perhaps the single biggest source of uncertainty is gone.

In fact, core exchange-rate volatility was declining long before the pandemic, especially as one central bank after another skirted the zero bound. COVID-19 has since entrenched these ultra-low interest rates.

READ: Commentary: Low interest rates don’t necessarily mean we keep more cash in hand

READ: Commentary: Still paying off your housing loan at 65? Five rules to a happy retirement

MARKETS REMAIN FRAGILE

But the current stasis will not last forever. Controlling for relative inflation rates, the real value of a broad dollar index has been trending up for almost a decade, and at some point will probably partly revert to the mean (as happened in the early 2000s).

The second wave of the virus is currently hitting Europe harder than the US, but this pattern may soon reverse as winter sets in, particularly if America’s post-election interregnum paralyzes both health and macroeconomic policy.

Off the Charts Trumps Stock Market

(Photo: AP)

And although the US still has enormous capacity to provide much-needed disaster relief to hard-hit workers and small businesses, the growing share of US public and corporate debt in global markets suggests longer-term fragilities.

INCONSISTENCIES

Simply put, there is a fundamental inconsistency over the long run between an ever-rising share of US debt in world markets and an ever-falling share of US output in the global economy.

The International Monetary Fund expects the Chinese economy to be 10 per cent larger at the end of 2021 than it was at the end of 2019.

READ: Commentary: The end of the decade – the world is in more debt and it isn’t going away

A parallel problem eventually led to the breakup of the post-war Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates, a decade after the Yale economist Robert Triffin first identified it in the early 1960s.

In the short to medium term, the dollar certainly could rise more – especially if further waves of COVID-19 stress financial markets and trigger a flight to safety.

And exchange-rate uncertainty aside, the overwhelming likelihood is that the greenback will still be king in 2030. But it’s worth remembering that economic traumas such as we are now experiencing often prove to be painful turning points.

Kenneth Rogoff, a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Harvard University.



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Turning Out the Lights on Mania: Dark Therapy


Heading into Daylight Savings Time here in the Northeast, we are facing the darker, shorter days of winter. For many people that also means a dip in mood. And for a sub-group of those folks, the loss of daylight hours can trigger a depressive episode, which goes beyond a sad mood to include symptoms such as low energy, impaired concentration, trouble enjoying things, and hopelessness. This is referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

In addition to therapy and antidepressants, we also use “light therapy” to treat and manage seasonal depression. This means sitting in front of a specialized light box, usually for 30 minutes in the mornings, starting in September and continuing into the Spring. Light therapy provides significant relief for people who live with SAD — especially when it works to prevent the onset of an episode.

Light therapy works by re-setting people’s circadian rhythms — our 24-hour internal clocks that respond to light and dark in the environment. The clock is triggered when receptor cells in the back of the eye send light/dark signals to the brain, which then sets off cascades of responses that drive our sleep/wake cycles and energy variations through the day.

People living with depression or bipolar disorder typically experience powerful disruptions to their circadian rhythms. During a depressive episode people often have a terrible time getting to sleep at night and staying awake during the day. Energy is set to low all the time. In bipolar disorder, during a manic episode, the energy is set to high at all times. During a manic episode, they feel no need to sleep — they just keep going like the Energizer Bunny. Helping someone with mania get some sleep is a key step to shutting down the over-charged mood cycle.

Signaling the Brain to Sleep

Knowing the benefits of light therapy on depression, researchers have wondered whether “dark therapy” could calm mania. Could mimicking darkness help someone in a manic episode get better sleep, which would reduce their manic symptoms? In 2005, a researcher studied the effect of 14 hours of darkness per day on patients in the hospital with mania. The results were dramatically positive — sleep was much better compared to a control group. However, enforcing 14 hours per day of darkness was clearly not tolerable for patients.

Since then, scientists have discovered a receptor in the retina (back of the eye) that they think of as a “daylight receptor.” It responds to a limited wavelength of light — blue light in particular. When blue light hits this receptor, it sends signals to the brain’s “master clock” which then communicates the “time to be awake” message to the rest of the brain and the body. When this light is absent, the master clock signals the brain and body that the time to rest and sleep has arrived.

Blue-Light Blockers

Knowing about this receptor has led to the creation of “blue-light-blocking” lenses, which prevent blue light from reaching the “daylight receptor,” so that the master clock stops signaling the brain that it’s time to wake up. Essentially these glasses create “virtual darkness,” which delivers nearly the same benefits as keeping people in the dark for 14 hours a day without the drawbacks of actually doing so.

Now, researchers in Norway have published a paper looking at the effects of “virtual darkness” on the sleep of people in a manic episode. (Henriksen, T. E. G., Grønli, J., Assmus, J., Fasmer, O. B., Schoeyen, H., Leskauskaite, I., … Lund, A. (2020) “Blue-blocking glasses as additive treatment for mania: Effects on actigraphy-derived sleep parameters.” Journal of Sleep Research, 29(5). https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.12984.) It was a small study, including twenty people who were hospitalized with mania. They divided patients into two groups. One group wore blue-light-blocking (BB) glasses from 6 PM to 8 AM, for seven nights, while the other group (the control group) wore clear glasses during that time. They removed the glasses only when they were in bed for sleep, with the lights out.

The results were encouraging. By the fifth night, the group in the BB group experienced more sleep time while in bed and more restful (less active) sleep than did those in the control group. The BB group also needed less sleep medication than did the people in the control group. The difference was noticeable and happened relatively quickly. More hours of darkness helped people in a manic episode sleep more efficiently and more soundly.

More studies need to be done on larger groups of people, and many more questions need to be explored, but the idea and the initial results are intriguing. Treating mania typically relies on powerful medications, which this would not replace, but can “dark therapy” play a role in helping symptoms resolve more quickly? Could it help people with bipolar disorder re-route or mitigate a potential manic episode if they use them as soon as they notice any sleep changes? Does it help us think about how to design living and sleep spaces for psychiatric inpatients experiencing manic symptoms?

For now, those of us living in four-season locations are heading into actual darkness for many more hours of our day. Looks like we have scientific explanations for feeling so tired as the days get shorter, especially until we adjust to the time change. For us, it’s not too soon to bring on the holiday lights! But those whose mania is commonly triggered by the holidays may hope for a pair of blue-light blockers in their stockings, instead.





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Turning the Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre vision into reality


Adelaide’s Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre could rival architectural icons such as the Sydney Opera House and use cutting-edge technology to portray First Nations culture in never-before-seen ways, but could also be at risk of bureaucratic stonewalling. Stephanie Richards talks to the man appointed as a key leader of the $150 million gallery.

Newly-appointed Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre ambassador David Rathman AM, an Eastern Aranda descendant with family connections to the Kokatha, Arabunna and other South Australian Aboriginal nations, believes a gallery dedicated to Indigenous Australian culture in Adelaide is long overdue.

The SA Museum board member and Aboriginal Advisory Committee chair has for about nine years spearheaded calls to build a new public institution to display the museum’s 30,000 spiritually – and anthropologically-significant cultural artefacts, which are mostly stored in a leaking suburban storage shed, at risk of irreparable damage.

When then-Opposition leader Steven Marshall announced ahead of the 2018 state election that he would build an “Australian National Aboriginal Art and Culture Gallery” as the “jewel in the crown” for the redeveloped old Royal Adelaide Hospital site, Rathman saw a golden opportunity.

“I was always in the Premier’s ear about the heritage collection in the museum and ensuring that we get a strong representation of Aboriginal cultures from around Australia when we’re doing exhibitions or telling the story,” he says.

“The centre is not a pet project of the Premier – this is a project which many of us have been waiting for, hoping for, agitating for and now it’s going to hopefully arrive.”

Premier Steven Marshall with David Rathman and members of the SA Museum’s Aboriginal Advisory Committee at the museum’s storage facility in 2018. Photo: SA Museum

To be located next to the Botanic Garden, the yet-to-built AACC is touted as “the gateway to the oldest living cultures in the world”, combining traditional story-telling and modern technology to lure international and interstate tourists to the city.

It will display artefacts sourced from across South Australia’s cultural institutions, including the SA Museum and Art Gallery of SA, to help people to gain an appreciation of Aboriginal peoples’ connection to country.

Less than one week after being appointed ambassador, Rathman meets InDaily at the SA Museum to discuss his vision for the centre.

I worked too long in the bureaucracy and I know the ins and outs of how they want to control things

It’s his job to promote the AACC to the broader community, and to ensure that Aboriginal people are the ones who decide how their 60,000-plus-year-old cultures are represented.

“This is a job around trying to bring some passion and Aboriginal perspective to the task and to ensure that our science and knowledge of country gets properly represented in the purist form as we possibly can, but using the most advanced technologies to get that across,” he says.

“We talk about reconciliation and (former Prime Minister) John Howard once said we need practical reconciliation – well I think we need active reconciliation, not practical.

“We need something that’s active: you can touch it, I can touch it, we can work together on it.

“That’s really my role.”

In the early stages of his term, Rathman is asserting his ability to speak openly about his vision without bureuacratic interference. Renewal SA – the government agency tasked with developing the Lot Fourteen site – insisted on the morning of InDaily’s interview that a media adviser also attend the meeting.

“I don’t want to be constrained by bureaucracy – I worked too long in the bureaucracy and I know the ins and outs of how they want to control things,” Rathman says.

“Getting that rolling support will be important (as well as) making sure that media outlets like your own are given full, frank and honest information – not trying to create spin as we go through this process.”

Taking ownership of the story

Following the 2018 state election, the new Marshall Government quickly set about scrapping well-advanced plans for a contemporary art gallery at Lot Fourteen to make way for an Indigenous arts and cultures institution.

The move has drawn ire from notable critics, including arts administrator Michael Lynch, who spearheaded the Adelaide Contemporary plans and branded Marshall’s revised vision “a strange hybrid that nobody seems to want”.

But according to Rathman, plans to build an Aboriginal cultures centre in Adelaide were progressing well before the election, with the intention that First Nations people would have full ownership and control over the institution.

Spears currently in storage at the SA Museum. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

“When you hear people say it’s just come out of the blue it hasn’t – it’s been talked about forever,” he says.

“We (the SA Museum Aboriginal Advisory Committee) did a paper with the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation about it being an Aboriginal centre in terms of ownership and then leasing it back to the state.

“Aboriginal people have never controlled their destiny, the money and therefore the action is rather tokenistic, what we have control over.

“Once the Premier announced that he was committed to it, we wanted to see how that panned out.”

Rathman says he is “not tied down” to Aboriginal people having full ownership of the AACC.

Australia’s always portrayed Aboriginal people as a curiosity at best and fairly negatively at worst

Instead, he believes there is an opportunity to partner with the State Government “in a way which will give it a strong Aboriginal sense of management (and) control”.

“We’ve got to keep the Government in the space because there’ll be challenges around how it’s going to operate and function, and if the Government’s in the space we can be sure that they’ll make commitment budgetary-wise both federal and state and we can keep it working,” he says.

“There are opportunities through the business side of it, so it would be good to see some business aspects managed by Aboriginal companies as lease-back corporate arrangements with the State Government.

“There are ways without the physical building and land being under Aboriginal ownership.”

“Something that’s way beyond the design of the Sydney Opera House”

Rathman has high-hopes for the built form and impact of the centre.

He sees it as a place where overseas tourists can get a “gold-plated experience” of Aboriginal cultures and where Australians – both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – can gain a better appreciation of the country on which they live.

Asked what he wants the building to look like, Rathman responds “it can’t be a box sitting on North Terrace”, but instead “something spectacular” that will “strike Adelaideans, South Australians, Australians and overseas visitors as something they want to go into and have a look”.

A concept image of the “National Aboriginal Art and Culture Gallery”, released by the SA Liberal Party ahead of the 2018 state election.

“We want something that’s way beyond the design of say the Sydney Opera House or the Festival Centre,” he says.

“It’s got to fit, for me, as an expression of the power of the story of country – the spirit of the country, the fact that we are just passing through on a journey.

“If this building can give us that story it would be great. It would be fantastic.”

Inside, Rathman envisions the centre will go beyond “just a bland set of artefacts sitting around in a room” to instead create an immersive experience featuring constantly-changing holograms, virtual reality and performing arts displays.

“Maybe we can make the boomerangs come flying at you so it really feels as though things are happening, rather than people feeling like if they’ve seen one boomerang they’ve seen them all.

“I would like to think that as you walk into this space you’re going to take part in it, rather than it being a stand-up experience.

“But I don’t want to just see it being an event – I’d like it to actually tell a story with scientific value.”

Rathman says his vision is “highly achievable” within the $150 million state and federal-funded budget he has been given, but notes that spending decisions ultimately lie with the Government.

“It’s a matter of coming up with a design, putting that back to Government to see what they think they’re willing to spend money on,” he says.

A place of pride

While the centre is largely marketed as a global tourist attraction, Rathman sees it having a significant impact on South Australian Aboriginal communities.

For centuries Aboriginal people’s culture has been portrayed – accurately or otherwise – in mostly-European museums, outside their control and often without their consent.

I think we’re a fairly patient people, but I’m glad we’re going to accelerate this process

If all goes to plan, the AACC could provide Aboriginal people with an opportunity to take back control of their stories.

“Australia’s always portrayed Aboriginal people as a curiosity at best and fairly negatively at worst and we have to change that hang-up that Australia’s got,” Rathman says.

“We want to create an image of Aboriginal people which most South Australians have never heard or seen.

“There will be a pride of instead of being on the receiving end, we can be on the giving end of the equation in terms of giving back a strong sense of country through story, through dance, through whatever medium we can harness.”

Aboriginal cultural artefacts in storage at the SA Museum. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The ambassador hopes the centre will provide employment and training opportunities for young Aboriginal people, and further the work already underway by institutions such as Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute and the APY Art Centre Collective.

“It gives back bucketloads in terms of building expertise,” he says.

“We’ve got to make sure that institutions like Tandanya have a space here as well, that Tandanya is a contributor and is made to get some hopefully elevated importance as we go down the track.

“It’s important because that institution has been here 40 years now and it’s important that they become active, remain strong and possibly get spin-off from this particular development.”

2023 opening a “big ask”

Marshall’s announcement in February that the AACC would be open by 2023 raised some eyebrows.

At the time and still today, the centre remains a concept – funded but not yet fully planned, with questions remaining about what it will look like, who will operate it and what it will display.

Asked if he thinks the 2023 deadline is achievable, Rathman diplomatically responds: “If I was a visionary of that type I’d probably say yes.”

“It’s a big ask isn’t it? But I do think that you’ve got to set some timeline, otherwise we could be sitting here talking about this in 50 years’ time.

“I think we’re a fairly patient people, but I’m glad we’re going to accelerate this process.”

A render of the Lot Fourteen development, showing the location of the AACC to the right. Image: Renewal SA

Meanwhile, work continues behind closed doors on the centre.

The Government completed a $86,000 business case in August, but it won’t be released publicly until early next year.

It is unclear what has prompted the delay, but Rathman eludes to ongoing difficulties consulting stakeholders.

“When you’ve got all those institutional inputs and Aboriginal community inputs, it doesn’t all sort of line up,” he says.

“In this case, people got to look at the various reference points from their own organisation in building a business case and I know that some people said, ‘well my support is contingent upon understanding the business case’.

“That’s a fair call, but I’m always interested when non-Aboriginal business, arts, politicians say these things.

“I’ve seen projects in this state start with the flimsiest business cases ever, but because it’s someone’s pet interest and it’s of great value to somebody, it goes ahead and yet we have this sort of, in some cases, stonewalling going on.”

For Rathman, the project is not a question of trust, but faith.

“The resource to start building it is there and we ought to start moving on it.”

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The mystery man charged with turning Wallabies’ scrum into a ‘weapon’


“I came in and made a huge difference: we finished in the top five in Europe last year scrum wise.”

Du Plessis believes the key to his success at Rennie’s former club can be put down to his physiotherapy background.

Wallabies scrum coach Petrus du Plessis takes charge of training.Credit:ARU Media

“Physiotherapy is basically movement analysis,” he said. “That helps me massively. I’m an expert in neck strengthening. That helps massively in the scrum, core strengthening.

“If you put all that together, with the fact I’ve only recently played, so I know all the scrum rules inside out – I’ve stuck my head in those dark places – if you put all that together, that’s where the conversation led with Dave.

“He said to me in his own words, I relate well to all ages and props and front rows. He liked that and he liked the way I present and get the message across. We had an honest discussion and I said to him, ‘Look, if the chance occurred, I would follow you to Australia’. That’s what happened.”

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It has taken du Plessis a few months to finally arrive in Australia. After countless cancelled flights, he touched down in Sydney two weeks ago and completed a fortnight in quarantine. His introduction to the Wallabies’ team and staff came on the same day as the team’s record-breaking loss to the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium.

One of the few bright spots in the 43-5 loss was the Australian scrum.

Du Plessis’ next mission is to turn that scrum into a “weapon”.

“The Wallabies scrum has always been there or thereabouts,” he said. “They didn’t have a bad World Cup campaign but, I suppose, some people might say the scrum was just a restart of set piece.

“The thing we want to change is, we want to make the scrum a weapon. So we can decide whether we attack or not and we can manipulate the opposition. That’s the main thing for me.

“The talent we’ve got at the minute is good enough to possibly have one of the best scrums in the world, I believe. Looking at what talent we have, I’m pretty sure we’ve made good strides.”

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Forward-Thinking Brands Are Turning to Plant-Based Soups



7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


When you’re sick, or cold, or just tired, there’s nothing better than a bowl of soup. And chicken noodle isn’t the only option on the menu.

It’s pretty remarkable to think about: an entire meal contained in one can of liquid. It’s little wonder Andy Warhol found beauty and fascination in ready-to-eat soup, an early figure in the convenience food industry. And in a way, not much has changed since the 60s. Consumers are living increasingly busy lives, and their interest in fast, ready-to-make meals only continues to grow. Soup, over a $16 billion market globally as of 2018, continues to grow steadily in value.

But the contents of that can continue to shift with the culture. More and more, consumers are looking for products that are not only convenient, but conveniently nutritious. In fact, research by Mordor Intelligence found that it’s healthy, nutritious options that are driving the continued growth of the soup category. Also credited in that report is the growing variety of flavors and recipes. A can of ready-to-heat soup, nowadays, can provide not only comfort and a full stomach, but a bona fide culinary experience. As a result, there’s been more interest and opportunity for the growth of plant-based options.

Related: Plant-Based Eating Isn’t Just Salads And Beans. The Vegan Dessert Market Continues To Grow.

Soup is a quickly growing market

The well-known and well-loved company Amy’s Kitchen has been making an expansive, contemporary range of vegetarian and vegan soups for years, covering the taste spectrum from no-chicken noodle to tom kha. Most of their canned soups boast organic ingredients, and for those worried about sodium content — the main health concern with canned foods — reduced sodium options are offered as well.

Anderson House Foods, in fact, has been quietly making vegan soups since 1983. Their line of Frontier Soups, which are dried soup mixes to which customers just add their own broth and cooked protein. Six of their soup mixes are vegan by default, like their “Ohio Valley Vegetable” or “West Coast Kale & Quinoa.” But since it’s BYO meat anyway, actually any of their kits can be used to make a vegan soup — just add a vegetable-based broth and plant protein of your choice instead of the meaty stuff.

And while Amy’s has been in the soup game for ages, other notable plant-based brands are entering the space too. Gardein recently launched a line of soups that use plant-based meat in vegan spins on traditional meaty soups and stews, like “chick’n noodl’” and “saus’ge gumbo.” Their offerings are all on the hearty side, loaded with veggies, rice, noodles, and of course, vegan meats, making them strong options for a meal in a pinch.

Companies are taking a plant-based approach

Upton’s Naturals, a plant-based brand out of Chicago best known for their seitan products, is not far behind. This fall, they will be releasing their own line of canned soups. Similarly, these meaty soups are on the heartier side. Brands like Gardein and Upton’s Naturals are tuned in to the fact that vegetarians and vegans need more than vegetable pureés to feel satisfied and full.

Even Campbell’s, the soup with its likeness hanging in the Museum of Modern Art, has made some changes since the Pop Art era. Their Well Yes! line of soups focus on more ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients, and includes several vegetarian and even a few vegan options. And they’re not basic, either: They offer a carrot and ginger “sipping soup” for a veggie-forward snack, and protein-rich, hearty options like lentil and vegetable, and black bean and vegetable.

Related: Plant-Based in a Pinch: The Frozen Food Aisle Is Turning Vegan, Organic, and Nutritious

No discussion of ready-to-eat soup would be complete without instant ramen. And fortunately, just-add-water noodle soups have taken a plant-based turn, as well. In 2018, the major brand Nissin started selling vegetarian, veggie-packed Cup Noodles, making an old favorite cruelty-free. And while plenty of other leading ramen brands have veg-friendly options (whether they’re marketed as such or not), it’s a growing space. Dr. McDougall’s sells vegan chicken-flavored and miso ramen in ready-to-go cups, as well as several other kinds of soups that also cater to special diets. For the gluten intolerant, rice brand Lotus Foods sells a full line of cup ramen made with rice noodles, in cross-cultural recipes like “Tom Yum” and “Spicy Kimchi.”

Since soup has for so long been a reliable convenience food, it’s hardly surprising that some brands are finding ways to make it even more of a sturdy standby. Readywise, a brand that specializes in non-perishable foods for outdoor activities, emergencies, and everyday life, has a line of soups that come in lightweight, dried packets, and are shelf-stable for three years. Their vegan option, fortunately, isn’t thin and brothy, either — it’s a hearty veggie chili packed with rice and beans.

The brand Miracle Noodle also makes just-add-water soups, several of which are vegan. Knowing that consumers turn to soup for specific reasons, their soups are geared toward various nutritional purposes. Their core soups are focused on detoxing and weight management, and come in recipes like mild lemon curry and Southwest lentil. And for when you’re feeling under the weather, forget chicken noodle — they make a vegan-friendly, lemon ginger “chicken” flavored soup to support your immune system.

Convenience and health consciousness are driving this trend

And since convenience remains the name of the game for busy, health-conscious folks today, it’s only fitting that healthy meal delivery services include soups in their arsenal. Daily Harvest offers a whole roster of vegan, gluten-free ready-made soups in flavors like Thai-inspired turmeric and lemongrass, tomato and zucchini minestrone, and more. Similarly, Splendid Spoon delivers ready-to-eat vegan, non-GMO meals, and soup is a major part of their menu. They have a whole roster of light, brothy soups for cleansing days, like pumpkin pear bisque and fennel consommé, plus heartier soups and stews like Mexican tomato chili and garden minestrone to satisfy your hunger.

Related: Is Vegan Protein Powder the Next Big Wellness Business?

And last but not least, Soupergirl is another ready-to-ship brand, getting fresh, prepared foods straight to people’s doors — a particularly valuable practice nowadays, when grocery shopping requires so much vigilance, patience, and preparation. Their options are all vegan, made with fresh, recognizable ingredients you might have in your own kitchen. And Soupergirl ships samplers as well as big meal plans, so you can have delicious, healthy soup ready for every grey day ahead.

Soup is uniquely comforting and excellent at providing nourishment — hot (usually), chock full of veggies and legumes, and a wonderful template for transformative spices. And now, health-minded consumers can get them via methods that are convenient as well as healthy, with few additives. New, innovative businesses continue to find that this old-fashioned comfort food is ripe for reimagining in the modern world — a perfect vehicle for getting plant-based nutrition into hungry mouths. Fast.



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Choreographer Graeme Murphy is turning 70 but not even COVID-19 is slowing him down


At a certain age it’s not uncommon for women to feel invisible in society but a group of dancers in Tasmania is defying the stereotype and refusing to do that.

In fact, the members of MADE (Mature Artists Dance Experience) are doing the exact opposite and proving that age is no barrier to performing.

Their talent and professionalism is such that one of the country’s most revered choreographers was keen to work with them a second time.

Internationally renowned dancer and artistic director Graeme Murphy has been dubbed a national living treasure — and he hails from the tiny of town of Mole Creek in northern Tasmania.

Murphy spent 31 years with the Sydney Dance Company and still works with the Australian Ballet, and internationally.

In March, the deteriorating COVID-19 situation prompted Murphy and partner Janet Vernon leave Sydney and head back to Tasmania.

They made it in, two days before the state’s borders closed.

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“It is the longest we’ve been in one place, seven months, without packing our bags and going somewhere, so it’s been a whole new experience,” he said.

Murphy has returned to the state many times over the years and values the start in life it gave him.

“I actually love that part of my life in Tasmania, that thing about being the son of a school teacher and living in the most remote [areas] Mathinna, Meander, Mole Creek … all the ‘M’s,” he told ABC Radio.

“All of those places were so important actually and what a perfect childhood and what good fuel for the future. That’s what I always felt.

The Frock was the first dance performance developed with Graeme Murphy.(Supplied: Sandi Sissell)

“When I was was with Sydney Dance Company and with the Australian Ballet, and particularly now with MADE, I am so happy to be drawn back to this place.

“Because sometimes you want to give back and sometimes you want to go ‘well, it was a childhood well spent, and now I can offer something in the dance world’.”

He feels “incredibly privileged” that the opportunity to work on a production with MADE, titled Seven Deadly Sins, has come along at a time when artists and performers are struggling to adapt to life under COVID-19.

“You can only do so much gardening and I’ve become a born-again gardener in Tasmania,” he quipped.

“I love it but then there is a time when you just long to be surrounded by dancers because that’s our lifeblood and that’s what Janet and I have done all our lives so that aspect of it is like a gift.”

It only took a phone call

A woman wearing glasses sits cross legged on the floor
Shirley Gibson is one of MADE’s founding performers.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

MADE’s Shirley Gibson said the experience a second time around had been “unbelievably exciting”.

Their association goes back to 2014 when she approached him about a collaboration.

“I found out Graeme’s phone number from a friend and I rang him up,” Shirley laughed.

“I was scared stiff, but Graeme said: ‘Oh I would love to come and do that. But you may have to wait two years because my dance diary is pretty full.'”

That conversation led to the 2016 production The Frock, which toured to Japan in 2018.

‘No sinner like an old sinner’

Their latest work, Seven Deadly Sins, was at his behest.

“The work is an exploration of sinning and I think it’s a very individual thing — one person’s sin is another person’s saintly behaviour.

“It’s a very murky world … what is bad, and why it’s bad, and it’s really about motivation about what you’re thinking when you are doing a deed that is the difference between a good deed and bad deed.

The women of MADE have also revelled in exploring sins.

“Graham says there is no sinner like and old sinner. That’s our punchline,” Gibson quipped.

A white-haired woman surrounded by sculptures
Sculptor Judith Wright sits among some of her artworks.(Supplied: Saul Steed)

It’s been inspired by the sculptures of Australian artist and friend Judith Wright, who has contributed pieces to be incorporated for the Hobart season.

“I thought to myself seriously if anyone can do those sins justice, it’s the girls of MADE, they are so collectively sinful,” Murphy said, laughing.

“Judith has evolved from works on paper, to in this more sculptural work. It’s such a privilege to work with these strange dark things she does.”

Treating them like the Bolshoi

He calls MADE one of his favourite troupes and coming a home a “huge bonus”.

“Working with this troupe is different to anyone I’ve ever worked with, the maturity of the artist is the first striking factor,” he said.

“But the enthusiasm, the independence of the group, the absolute commitment to keeping dance alive in Tasmania and showing the world that dance is not the domain solely of the young and beautiful.

“Their hearts are young and their spirit is so beautiful, I just love working with them.

“You need to give them poetry in order to get poetry back and that seems to be universal regardless of age and I think we feel exactly the same when we are working with them as if we were doing something with the Bolshoi.”

‘Feisty, rare and wonderful’

Three women crouch ready to dance
Members of the Mature Artists Dance Experience rehearse at the Long Gallery in Hobart.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

With a combined age in the hundreds of years, part of the attraction is their life experience.

“When you work with younger dancers you are often explaining how they would feel because they often haven’t had that emotional journey and you think about a collective like this and their collective ages is probably in the hundreds.”

“So their collective wisdom is absolutely huge and I tap into that and they are very generous.

“So it’s that sort of emotional interaction that I really love and the depth of experience that makes you look at them and you see layers and textures and patina of age and I just think that is rare and wonderful.”

Advancing years is something this pairing has in common.

Murphy will turn 70 two days before the show opens.

“When I think about dancers in the Australian Ballet and and the bigger companies and the opera that I work with, they are just craving to be with each other.

“And in this situation I’m surrounded by people who love what they’re doing and it’s replenishing for me and I’m feeling really privileged.”

A group of women stand together ready to dance
Each member of the group will represent one of the seven deadly sins.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Work for other artists ‘gold’

As well as a top visual artist, Murphy secured the services of leading Australian composer Chris Gordon to write an original score.

Gordon wrote the music for the movie Mao’s Last Dancer and Driving Miss Daisy, among other Hollywood films.

“Each sin has its own instrument and so he was making a score and at the same time giving people some work which is gold in this period.

“He has been able to take some of those unemployed musicians from the major orchestras in Australia and give them work.”

Murphy credits MADE with helping drive that opportunity for others in the arts.

“That’s come from MADE, it hasn’t come from a government incentive,” he said.

“That’s because we managed to get these people who love the art form who care about it to actually give that sort of care and give back.”

Women dance on stage
MADE formed in Hobart 16 years ago.(Supplied: Sandi Sissell)

MADE ahead of ‘young guns’

The Seven Deadly Sins Hobart season starts on November 4 then moves to Launceston.

It will have several performances a day designed for small audiences in keeping with COVID restrictions.

The Hobart season will be in the Long Gallery but when it moves to Launceston, the performers will make use of the entire theatre — the foyer, backstage, dressing rooms and orchestra pit.

“It’s important that MADE is a leader it that area,” Murphy said.

“A lot of people say we’ll just wait until life returns to normal, that’s got a lot of question marks.

“I think it’s wonderful that we have found a way and it’s wonderful that a group of older women are actually leading that, that it is not being pushed by the young guns.”

A group of women in hats hold their hands up
MADE’s performance The Frock toured to Japan.(Supplied: Sandi Sissell)



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Turning 100, a Former Spanish Soldier Laments the Curse of His Birth Year


CARDEDEU, Spain — Andreu Canet turns 100 next month. And his birth year, as it turned out, was a curse.

Having been drafted into Spain’s Republican army at 17, he is now a rare survivor of a contingent of about 27,000 soldiers dubbed the “baby bottle conscription.” They were all born in 1920 and called up by the Republican government in 1938 to replenish the army’s ranks as it prepared a last-ditch attempt to stop Gen. Francisco Franco from winning the country’s civil war.

This July, as he has done every year for the past three decades, Mr. Canet made his annual journey to a peace monument built on hilltops near the Ebro river — the site of a major counterattack launched by Republican troops in July 1938. The already difficult pilgrimage was made even harder by the pandemic. And for the first time, he said, he was the only one who turned up on the day of the commemoration.

“Perhaps I’m in fact the only one left alive by now,” he said wistfully.

Mr. Canet’s story is just one chapter in a civil war legacy that Spain is still trying to come to terms with.

In September, the government led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez presented a draft bill aimed at reviving and extending a 2007 law to facilitate the opening of more than 2,000 mass graves scattered across Spain and to identify the remains of those inside. Most are believed to have died during or just after the war, which took place from 1936 to 1939.

The government also wants to close down any venture or institution that glorifies Franco’s dictatorship, and to revamp the giant underground mausoleum from which his remains were exhumed last year and transferred to a cemetery where his family already had a crypt.

Looking back on the war, Mr. Canet said he was utterly unprepared for battle when he was drafted at 17.

“We had to bring our own clothing and a blanket, and I fought in my espadrilles because my family was simply too poor to afford shoes,” he recalled in a recent interview in his apartment in Cardedeu, about 25 miles northeast of Barcelona. “We got zero training and zero instructions about what we would be doing, and I, of course, had never seen the Ebro until I was told to get across it.”

Their crossing of the river, which slices across northwestern Spain, enabled the Republicans to regain some of the territory that Franco had conquered. But under heavy bombing by German and Italian planes flown by his fascist allies, the Republican advance soon ground to a halt, and the fighting turned into the war’s longest, largest and most deadly battle.

While historians have offered different numbers, most estimate a death toll of at least 20,000 soldiers from both sides during the nearly four months that the battle endured. Once the Republican forces were pushed back across the Ebro, Franco secured his victory, which then paved the way for a dictatorship that lasted until his death in 1975.

Mr. Canet, whose 100th birthday is Nov. 30, said he could still vividly remember both the trench warfare that followed the treacherous river crossing and the aftermath of the conflict. He spent the first part of the postwar period in a military hospital recovering from typhoid, which he probably caught while stationed on a rat-infested islet in the middle of the Ebro.

“The rats kept crawling over my face when I was trying to sleep,” he said.

He shunned any notion of heroism and said that his military promotion, eventually to the rank of sergeant, reflected more a shortage of officer candidates than his own merits.

“When we captured our first hill,” he recalled, “what I really remember is how tired and thirsty I was, being even forced to drink my own urine, and how little sense of pride there was when so many others had already died.”

He teared up when recalling the cruelty of some of his commanders, who once threatened to shoot him for falling asleep during a night watch.

After surrendering to Franco’s troops, Mr. Canet was conscripted again — but this time into military service in Franco’s army. His battalion, based in the northern city of Burgos, was filled with defeated Republicans.

“The war had been horrible,” Mr. Canet said, “but so then was my military service under officers who hated us, while suffering the humiliation of marching through villages where children spat at our feet.”

And although Mr. Canet was the only one who showed up for this year’s commemoration, Víctor Amela, a writer who recently published a book about the conscription, said the veteran was probably not the only surviving member of the “baby bottlers.” Mr. Amela estimates that there are about a dozen survivors left, most of them living in the Catalonia region.

He said that the monument near the Ebro, erected in 1989, had been financed by former soldiers and their families because “the Spanish state has sadly refused to look back and confront the legacy of our civil war, let alone offer an apology to a bunch of children who were forced to fight in it.”

The “baby bottle” conscription showed “the most miserable side of a very ugly war,” Mr. Amela said, as most of the enlisted teenagers came from poor families without the personal connections that allowed others to avoid the draft. “I feel that it is a crime that a government sent 17-year-olds to an almost certain death, in full knowledge of how superior Franco was by this late stage of the war.”

Once Mr. Canet finally returned to civilian life in late 1943, he worked in a factory that made fountain pens and then set up his own shop in the entrance hall of one of Barcelona’s subway stations, where he sold and repaired pens, lighters and watches.

Until he grew more frail, Mr. Canet said, he enjoyed visiting schools to tell children about the experiences of the “baby bottle conscription” in hopes of keeping the soldiers’ memory alive.

But he is unimpressed by the government’s latest attempts to set right the historical record of the war.

“It just all feels too late,” he said. “The current generation has no idea what the war was really like, and no government has actually ever done anything for us.”



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New dung beetle species set to help farmers reap benefits of turning poo into free fertiliser all year round


A new north African species of poo-eating dung beetle has been imported into Australia to fill seasonal and geographic gaps and help livestock producers improve pasture health and productivity.

Australian livestock, such as sheep and cattle, produce about 80 million tonnes of dung a year, which can take months to break down and lead to inefficient grazing of large portions of pastures.

But the faeces-eating beetle’s work is estimated to contribute more than $1 billion in environmental and economic benefits each year.

Charles Sturt University research professor Leslie Weston is leading the national Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers project, analysing the impact and economic value of the insects.

She said she hoped the species from Morocco, which was active in spring and early summer, would fill seasonal gaps across southern Australia so that farmers could benefit from dung beetle action throughout the year.

“They were chosen specifically because of their potential ability to assist us in tunnelling and dung removal here in Australia under conditions with similar climates,” Professor Weston said.

“We are trying to find species that will give farmers the potential to rid their pastures of dung all seasons all year around.”

Research professor Leslie Weston says dung beetles have environmental and economic benefits.(Supplied: Leslie Watson)

Professor Weston said, while there were hundreds of native species of dung beetles in Australia, it was only some of the 23 imported types that were active and effective in processing large quantities of heavy wet dung.

“By removing the dung from the pasture surface, we allow the pasture to regenerate more quickly, we introduce nutrients and organic matter to soil below ground.”

Cow dung in a cattle paddock
Australian livestock collectively produce around 80 million tonnes of dung each year.(Supplied: Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers)

‘Essentially free fertiliser’

Producer and agronomist Hamish Verco started running cattle at his property in Western Flats in South Australia about four years ago and has witnessed the “significant role” of the little critters that were worshipped by ancient cultures.

“They recycle all the nutrients, rather than the dung sitting on top and either oxidising back into the atmosphere or not getting back into the soil,” he said.

“The dung beetles roll and burrow it down their tunnels, which allows the nutrients back into the soil and plants quicker.

A man standing in a paddock with cattle in the background.
Cattle farmer and agronomist Hamish Verco says dung beetles are like free fertiliser to the soil.(Supplied: Hamish Verco)

And some species of the so-called ecosystem engineers can bury dung 250 times their own mass in one night.

“It’s quite visual, when the dung is inhabited by large numbers of beetles and being worked on you can see the dung physically being burrowed and removed and all the fresh soil that is being brought to the surface by the dung beetles,” Mr Verco said.

“It also gives you an idea of how deep they are burrowing because they are bringing up different textured soils from different layers of the profile.”

Reducing environmental impact

Aside from helping livestock holders regenerate their farms, improve pastures and soil health, the productive creatures also benefit the environment and ecosystem.

“The dung beetles positively influence the water cycle by creating their tunnels in which they bury the dung; they are essentially drain pipes,” Mr Verco said.

“So when there are heavy rainfall events, the water is able to move down these tunnels that the dung beetles have left and it helps water to infiltrate the soil.”

A dung beetle
Some species of the so-called ecosystem engineers can bury dung 250 times their own mass in one night.(Supplied: Dung Beetles Ecosystem Engineers)

Professor Weston said they were also interested to see how the beetles would prevent erosion and drainage from dung.

While the dung beetle was worshipped by the Egyptians and people have known of the important role the dung beetle played in agriculture for millennia, Mr Verco believed they might have been a bit forgotten.

“Particularly in Australian agriculture because the native dung beetles in Australia were not quite good enough to actively burrow the dung,” he said.

A man looking at dung beetles in a tube in a lab.
About 23 species of dung beetles have been imported to Australia.(Supplied: Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers)

But over the past 60 to 70 years, the CSIRO and other agricultural organisations have been dedicated to looking at getting dung beetles active for 365 days of the year to bury as much dung as possible on every farm.

“It is pretty awesome to see a collective sort of consciousness moving towards it and valuing it and starting to implement it on people’s properties,” Mr Verco said.



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