Beyond the Darkness: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness

Health, Mental Health

Helen Megalokonomos


It’s an early Winter’s evening. As the crisp night air gets colder on my face, there is not a soul to be seen, the streets are all but deserted as the darkness of the night begins to take hold.

But tonight, at a local public hospital, the emergency room is packed to the rafters with people. Wall-to-wall, patients are lining the cramped corridors, and sprawled across the dirty linoleum floors, as hospital staff hurriedly walk over them in a bid to get to the next patient.

Its 10:42pm. Through the automatic glass doors, a desperate, hysterical mother presents her adult son to the triage nurse on duty.

The young man in his early 20’s, head bowed down staring at the floor, lost in his own black darkness, stands beside his mother, when in desperation she tells the nurse:

“My son just told me he wants to kill himself…”

The mother’s pain is etched in her face. Her primal instincts for the survival of her child, overwhelm me.

The nurse hardly bats an eyelid, as she takes their Medicare card and tells them to take a seat.

There is no urgency.

She is not telling anyone, she is not paging for assistance, she is not yelling for help.


I’m in shock. What did I just hear? As I bear witness to the dismissal of the mother’s desperate plea for help, my heart breaks, and the tears well in my eyes.

Doesn’t anybody care? He wants to kill himself!


Nearly half of all Australians will experience some form of mental illness during their life. The teenage and early adulthood years, sees the first onset of symptoms present themselves, with those aged 18-24 having the highest prevalence to mental disorders than any other age group, according to the 2014 Mission Australia Youth Survey.

The three most common mental disorders identified were; depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

With 9 billion dollars spent on mental health in 2015-16 and 4 million people estimated to have had a mental disorder in 2015, public hospitals are under strain and unable to cope.

Patients who presented themselves to the ER and triaged as ‘emergency’, were still left waiting to be seen much longer than the recommended 10-minute guidelines, set up for mental illness episodes, as reported in the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report in 2018.

According to The Black Dog Institute, over 65,000 people a year attempt suicide, with most of those being women.



“When I was 17 I tried to take my own life. I took 40 tablets from my own medication…I don’t remember how I got to hospital…I was in-and-out of consciousness, I felt my body shutting down, I couldn’t move my body. I remember saying to myself ‘this is it’, and I quickly accepted that this was my fate – to die,” says Maria Lagadinos.


Maria is a 33- year old university student, and suffers from depression, anxiety and on-going stress, and had a PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) diagnosis in 2012-13.

She was taken to Fairfield hospital where she was treated for the physical symptoms of her overdose, but not her psychological symptoms. In hospital, she was bought back from the brink of death, but once she was stable and her chest x-rays were clear, Maria says she was then sent home, with no mention of, or treatment plan, for her mental health issues.

Sometimes, Maria wishes she didn’t live. She is highly emotional and stops to catch her breath. As the words slowly spill from her mouth, the pain and suffering is as raw today as it was back then.

“Living with depression, anxiety, the bullying and the people around you not supporting you…the system lets you down a lot, it abuses you and every day you wake up it’s just a fight – right now I’m fighting to keep myself alive.”

“My wish was to wake up and not have that depression and that weight on me every day, but other times I’m glad that I didn’t (die), because I wouldn’t have my dream of coming to uni to become a social worker and to help other people,” she says.

In a subsequent episode, Maria’s cry for help was misconstrued as another suicide attempt, where police and ambulance were called, and she was forced to stay in the mental health ward at Bankstown hospital against her will, where she says she was abused and left bruised by hospital staff and security guards.

“Security kept throwing me to the ground-they were stopping me from getting to my mum, which made me more distressed. They injected me with something, and all I kept thinking was I was going to get raped or something (from being sedated), but all I wanted was to tell my mum about some seizures I was having,” she says, her voice trembling as she recalls the terrifying incident.



Maria Lagadinos: despite her ongoing struggles, Maria wants to help others struggling with mental health issues, with her social work degree. Photo by Helen Megalokonomos




Naomi Krl, 22, and a university student, has struggled with depression and anxiety since she was 15. She believes the hospital system is ill-equipped for mental health emergencies- especially with teenagers. On her first hospital visit she waited 2-3 hours to be seen by a doctor, and due to a bed shortage in the adolescent ward, was placed in the adult’s mental health ward. A disturbing environment for a young teenage girl.


“I had to have my room door open, and they even made me have the bathroom door open when I went to the bathroom or had a shower, to make sure I wasn’t doing anything to myself – fair considering they’re trying to keep me alive, but still wasn’t a nice thing,” she says.


It took a few days for Naomi to finally access a psychologist, who visited her only four times throughout her two-week stay. She desperately wanted to get out of the demeaning ward, so she lied to her carers that she felt much better – a ploy that not only saw her discharged from hospital, but it triggered a re-lapse and subsequent trip back to the hospital ER, due to inadequate treatment.

On her second admission, she was placed in the adolescent ward – a friendlier environment with bright colours on the walls. A place which caters specifically to the mental health requirements of young adults, and a place where she received better care.

Naomi took part in group therapy sessions, stress relief activities, as well as one-on-one therapy. But questions why the adult ward must be so bland and sterile?


Naomi 1

Naomi Krl’s personal diary: a collage of photos and drawings (top), and a haunting poem she wrote while in the mental health ward (below).


Naomi 2


In a Orygen Report labelled – ‘Under the Radar’, there is research which suggests that university students are more likely to experience psychological distress, than their peers who are not studying. The report also suggests that university students are less likely to ask for help within that academic setting – with fear that the stigma attached to mental illness, will be a mark against them, and that academics won’t understand how to respond to them.

Some students choose to leave their studies entirely rather than seeking help, causing a detrimental effect on their mental health and employment outcomes.


Peter Gray is 26 and a combined Arts/Laws student. He has been diagnosed with treatment resistant depression, as well as severe anxiety. Peter has been on four different anti-depressants as well as mood stabilisers, and is still not in full remission from a depressive episode that occurred when he was 23.

“I have experienced anxiety since I was in primary school, and despite having a family history of depression and anxiety, nothing prepared me for the journey I have been on over the last three years,” he says.

Peter’s father passed away during the first week of his university studies, which inevitably led to him deferring his studies for six months. Peter had also taken on the role of campaign manager for a political candidate in the NSW state election in 2015, a role which took its toll on Peter – both physically and emotionally, culminating in constant verbal and psychological abuse from the candidate.


“During this time, I sacrificed time with family, left my employment, and struggled with the university workload, leading to poor grades in order to try and keep up with the tasks, demands and expectations,” he says sadly.


Peter was battling depression for six months until he realised that he needed to see his doctor.  His ordeal had led to him not working or studying for about 18 months, with visits to psychologists and the beginning of trial and error with his prescribed medications.

“I made a conscious decision to let go many of my commitments I had with uni and friends (because) I needed to focus on my health…(it) has had a significant emotional and financial effect on my life and my family,” he says.



Peter Gray: wants investment into treatments and services for mental illness sufferers, as increasing rates of mental illness is impacting society. (Photo supplied)



Kathleen McCarthy is 46, a university student, married and a mother to three children aged 7, 9 and 11, and works three days a week – a supermum by most people’s standards. She also suffers from moderate anxiety, mild bi-polar, depression and sensory processing symptoms.

“I have been struggling. I have cut back on my load at uni, so that I can have some down time. But I am in a bit of a ‘down cycle’, I need to keep busy – but not too busy, it’s a fine line,” she says.

A sexual assault five years ago has been a big part of her mental health struggles. This triggered past emotional and mental health experiences earlier in her life, which led to Kathleen wanting a fresh start.  So, she decided to return to university study.


“I found getting the kind of help that I needed and wanted very difficult. All the medical staff were always very sympathetic and supportive, but I wanted something different. I didn’t want to be back to the ‘way I was before’ or to ‘put it behind me’,” she says.


Her two medications place a burden on the family’s finances, and there have been times when she has not been able to afford it. She didn’t take the mood stabiliser for a while because of the costs – but paid a heavy price with her health, when she got very sick not long afterwards.

Sadly, Kathleen has in her darkest moments thought that her family would be better off without her. Not because she wanted to kill herself, but because she sees herself as a burden to them.



Kathleen McCarthy: her children’s love makes her feel worthwhile, and they remind her how much she is loved. Pictured with her three children Oliver at the back, Ruby on the right of photo, and Sophie on the left. (Photo supplied)



Dr Aiman Muhammad, a psychiatrist at Auburn Doctors in Sydney, says that environmental and cultural stresses, together with the lack of brain maturity during early adulthood, sees the volume of mental health episodes increase for this age group, more than any other group.

“Awareness and training for hospital staff is crucial as to be able to identify the risks of mental disorder in young adults,” he says.

President of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) Dr Kym Jenkins, says that major funding for mental health care is required across our hospitals.

“We have significant shortages of psychiatrists, not enough acute inpatient beds for people experiencing mental illness, and poor access to community care and support programs”, he says.


Maria Lagadinos wants people with mental health issues to be acknowledged and accepted in our society. By telling her story, she wants sufferers to know that they can overcome their issues and break the mental health stigma.

“Mental illness is like cancer. You can’t see them, but one is accepted and the other isn’t,” she says.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from in life, you can overcome it, you can talk about it…you can accomplish stuff in your life.”

Naomi Krl agrees, and says that depression is like cancer of the mind, and that we should be treating mental health the same way we treat physical illness.

As for the young man in the emergency room?

I sincerely hope he wasn’t kept waiting for hours to be seen by the psychiatric unit, and that he received the treatment that both he and his mother needed – unfortunately its something I will never really know.

There is always hope after short or long-term mental illness. Good mental health outcomes, are what we should all be striving for.


If you or someone you know needs help:








When All Hope Is Lost…Refugees want to go home

Education, employment, Politics, Refugees

Helen Megalokonomos


For those who’ve come across the seas We’ve boundless plains to share;

With courage let us all combine To Advance Australia Fair’


So, goes the national anthem – the song of Australian pride.

Here, everyone is welcomed to this country, to contribute and make it great.

 But when African refugees arrive in Australia, there are many struggles that they will go through. The cultural shock of day-to-day living, the taste of strange new foods, the learning of a different language, and the assimilation within a diverse Australia, but never did they think that getting an education would be their stumbling block to leading a fulfilling life in their new country.

It is something that all refugees are told. Getting an education and further learning is the ‘key’ to permanent employment and a good life in Australia, but this is when the fabric of hope, begins to unravel.

In the western Sydney suburb of Blacktown, the Darfur Community and Cultural Association sits above some shops along a busy road. To get to the centre, you must first walk through a tunnel covered in graffiti to get to the stairs, however it is a popular thoroughfare amongst the local shoppers and the community. It is tucked away almost obscured from the world around it- symbolic perhaps of the way the Darfurian community views its job prospects.

Old books line the bookshelves around the room, and evident is a children’s story book ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, a perennial favourite that seems to cross all boarders and cultures, a true sign of assimilation perhaps?

Musa Mohamed, an elder of the community, greets me warmly, “we have children learning our language and culture here,” he said, seeing my gesturing to the book resting on the edge of a desk at the front of the room.

The centre is small, yet there are many tables and chairs around the room. The street noises of traffic and pedestrians outside, can be heard as they filter their way inside the community centre.

A refugee himself, Mr Mohamed says that his government was targeting him as a rebel supporter, and was accused of helping the activists working against the government.

Detained several times, Mr Mohamed finally had the opportunity to escape to the border with Egypt and eventually made it to Australia – forever grateful to the Australian people.

But, many Sudanese are telling him that they are unable to secure full-time employment – even with university degrees and experience, and this is causing an escalating level of stress throughout the community.

“Australia is not what we thought it would be like when we first came here, so people have started talking about discrimination – we are not getting a job,” said Mr Mohamed.

“Some people are even thinking about going back home. Even if the war is still on, some of them are thinking, ‘what’s the point?’, we are not being supported here,” he says, shaking his head in disbelief.



Musa Mohamed, elder of the Darfur Community and Cultural Association, stands among the various books at the community centre. Photo supplied.


For most Australians, it would be difficult to understand returning to a country which endured unspeakable atrocities of torture, rape and murder on its own people, and the burning of their villages. Mr Mohamed’s statement should be ringing alarm bells across the nation and across all political parties.

Australia has always been called the ‘lucky country’, but Sudanese refugees feel like the government has failed them, when they claim they want to go back.

The Refugee Council of Australia says there are 22.5 million displaced refugees around the world, with only 0.28% protected by Australia in 2016.

Australia has given refugees a safe haven to escape to from the war in their country, and the opportunity to overcome the pain of what they have endured. The access to education as well as funding and social programs has greatly assisted them, yet it’s the discrimination that the African community face at interviews, that is stopping them from getting a full-time job.

A job that they are more than qualified for, yet are told time and time again, that they don’t have the necessary experience.

University graduates told The Conversation last year, even with qualifications, it’s the way they look (their skin colour), and their “strong accents” that are stopping them from being employed, claiming discrimination by employers is forcing them to take casual jobs despite being qualified.

In a joint standing committee on migration – particularly on migrant settlement outcomes, released by parliament last year, Mr Jason Wood MP – Chair of the committee said, that discrimination faced by African refugees regarding employment is growing.

“We are hearing this from a few sources. If you are from Africa, you do not put your name down on the job application,” he said.

Catherine Scarth, CEO of AMES Australia (providing settlement to new refugees), told the committee that there are many African refugees that are highly qualified, yet are incredibly underemployed.

“There is definitely more to do in raising employers’ awareness of the skills and qualifications that people bring with them and raising employers’ awareness about unconscious bias. No employer is going to tell you, ‘We won’t employ anybody from a particular background.’ It is an unconscious bias,” Ms Scarth said.


Ibrahim Elnor, a former member of the Sudanese parliament, responsible for housing, claimed that he too anticipated returning to his country, following settlement discrimination.

He had hoped for a better life and opportunities in Australia for his family, far away from the civil wars of the Sudan.

What he didn’t realise is the fact that it would be a lot harder (employment wise) than he had anticipated, so yes, returning home is an ongoing thought.

Mr Mohamed tries to explain the dire straits that his community members face financially. Many Sudanese refugees who came to Australia claim that finding full-time work is an on-going issue for them.

“Some of us have qualifications and experience while working in Darfur, but when we came here, it was very hard to find a job,” he said.

“No one has been able to get a proper job – it’s very sad.”

Mr Mohamed has been in Australia for 13 years, and has been unsuccessful in securing a full-time job, despite his qualifications in social science.

He has been struggling to support his family on the pay packet from his casual position.

“It is a casual job, it’s not a secure job. We are not even able to buy a house because a casual job does not allow you to get a loan from the bank,” he said.

“Even to secure a house to rent is not easy, it is very, very hard. Some members of our community are not even entitled to get some support from the government, so we share the money with them, even if it’s not enough for us, what can we do? We still have to help everyone.”

Mr Mohamed says that ever since The Liberal Party took office, things have been much harder for his community, and refugees in general.

A Department of Jobs and Small Business spokesperson, said “the Australian Government is committed to helping all eligible job seekers, including migrants and refugees. The jobactive Service Guarantee, requires providers to treat all job seekers fairly, with respect and in a culturally sensitive way.”

Dr Shanthi Robertson, Senior Research Fellow from the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University, says that there are a lot of challenges faced by refugees and its very difficult to get into labour markets here.

Policies that urge employers and businesses to consider refugees, as well as have systems in place to connect them, are required she said.

If Australia wants to achieve successful settlement of displaced refugees, and to make the Sudanese community feel a valued part of Australian society, then the government must do something more.

Employers need to put pre-conceived notions, biases and stereotypes of what certain community groups are aside, and start to realise that what makes Australia great, is the diversity of all cultures, contributing to a productive workplace.

“I give people a chance, I throw out all résumés. How can we overcome our problems if we have racism? Give them a chance, employ them, say ‘yes’,” Deng Adut says, a Sudanese refugee himself, and the face of a Western Sydney University advertising campaign.


These people have the capacity and the potential to achieve so much, they only need the opportunity to prove it.


Sarah Ferguson and ‘The Killing Season’

Labor Party, Politics

From the archives- 2016

About 180 academics, business and corporate guests, listened to Four Corners journalist Sarah Ferguson, speak about the Rudd-Gillard Era, and the insights to her interviews with both leaders and the politicians around them. Ferguson spoke of the famed ‘factional men’, who played a pivotal role in getting Gillard to push Rudd out, and become Australia’s first female Prime Minister.

“With such a divided narrative the challenge of political reporting is hard enough at the best of times, but in this case the narrative behind those two camps was so intense, so split, so divided that the chance of finding the truth was always going to be a challenge, and I knew that the one thing we had to do was to insist on no ‘off the record’ sources of any kind”, Ferguson said.

ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson, spoke about the series ‘The Killing Season’, which is also the title of her new book, at a ‘women in business’ special event hosted by Coleman Greig Lawyers, at the Novotel Parramatta, on Thursday, May 12, 2016.

For there even to be a series, both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard both had to be on board, but how do we find the truth behind what really happened?

With over 18 hours of interview time with Rudd and 14 hours with Gillard, the truth about what happened behind closed doors in the leadership challenge in June, 2010 within the Labor Party had Ferguson determined to seek it out.

Rudd’s interview style was to “draw you in, to be a supporter”, Ferguson said. Gillard had a reserve about her and the series, she didn’t like being interviewed. “You cannot make this series, unless you examine the role of the media”, Gillard told Ferguson.

“Two people, highly ambitious stars of their generation on the Labor side, who were cut off in their prime…their careers in politics destroyed, they destroyed each other, they snuffed each other out”. Ferguson told the audience.

“The media turned its back on the Australian public and became too closely involved with the events that were taking place in Canberra”, Ferguson said. Of particular interest to the media was the group of factional men, wielding the power and influence. “She, (Gillard), was manoeuvred and flung into that position effectively by the party”, Ferguson said.

“She was Rudd’s natural successor, she would have been the Prime Minister when they won the election…but she was put into the position by a group of factional men”, Ferguson said. These men who effectively put Gillard into that position, were relatively newcomers with very little political experience, all first termers.

The audience was very receptive to Ferguson’s insights of power, intrigue and the machinations within the Labor party.

Audience member Cynthia Payne asked Ferguson “How much post the series, did you then get insight from people?”. Ferguson replied, that the big events of that time, “the challenge in 2010, then the return to Rudd in 2013, were moves that were done by a such a tiny number of people…most people didn’t know…none of the cabinet knew, most of caucus didn’t know”, she said.

Ferguson’s last statement to the audience, was that people should start a conversation regarding media stories. Readers should ask themselves “where did it come from? and distrust people who use background sources”, she said. Those who leak stories and won’t put a name on the record, should make us all question the information, and place accountability of media on the agenda



sarah 2

Sarah Ferguson.  Photo: Helen Megalokonomos



Helen Megalokonomos with host of Women in business. Photo: Coleman Greig Lawyers.


Article: Helen Megalokonomos


AGL must go, residents want gas mines shut down now

Community, Health


AGL’s coal seam gas mines must shut down, say residents in Sydney’s South-Western suburb of Spring Farm, amid claims of cracking homes and sick family members.

Local resident Danielle Hodges, claims she and her family have been affected since moving into the local area.

“My family has suffered increased hay fever, increased respiratory symptoms, ongoing headaches, nausea, and the children have experienced prolific nose bleeds,” she said.

Documents obtained from The Environment Protection Authority (EPA), show risks of water pollution from wastewater, questions on the integrity of underground storage tanks, and issues with the management of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides at the Camden site.

In a NSW Gas Plan Report, Anthony Roberts, Minister for Resources and Energy stated that the government will deliver ‘world’s best practice’ when regulating gas production in NSW by announcing that no gas mining will be allowed within a two-kilometre radius of people’s homes.

“The NSW Government has already introduced tough new requirements for gas producers which include a two-kilometre exclusion zone around residential and village areas,” he said.

But new homes being constructed in the suburb of Spring Farm near Camden, are only two hundred metres from coal seam gas mining plants, much closer than the NSW Government claims of two kilometres, with residents reporting cracks in their new homes, as well as worrying health concerns.

Spring Farm residents, claim a government loophole has seen the two-kilometre radius apply only to new gas mines, and since some mines were there before their homes, the government has forgotten about them.

Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, senior advisor to the National Toxics Network, released research into the effects of coal seam gas mining to humans in this email sent to the Legislative Council’s Environment and Planning Committee, in 2015. It states:

“Coal seam gas drilling releases toxic BTEX (Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene). Benzene is a human carcinogen. Benzene causes (leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) and also affects the immune system.”


Video By: Helen Megalokonomos


Marina Farid, a local and an opponent of coal seam gas mining, said the NSW health department worked with AGL to create a fact sheet. “It says health impacts are ‘negligible’ however community members are not convinced,” she said.

“Neither soil, water or air is being tested in Spring Farm, even though a new school and shopping centre have been built.”

Dalveer (surname not provided), has recently built an investment property close to the mine, with the first tenants due to move in next week, claims he had no idea his new home was located so close to a gas mine.

“I didn’t know about it, nobody told me anything (when he purchased the land),” he said.

“It would have definitely caught my attention, so, what are they going to do about it? What are the sicknesses people have?”, he asked.

Spokesperson for AGL Brooke Selfe, said she was unaware of any health concerns and therefore could not comment. She did provide a previously written statement by AGL which reads:

“AGL maintains a strong commitment to the safe operation of the Camden Gas Project as well as working and investing to reduce any potential harm to community or environmental health.”


GASCoal seam gas boreholes in Camden.  Image from: SEED NSW government.


AGL’s website claims methane gas has a low toxicity “which has no impacts on human health” and “neither the main gas extracted (methane), nor the most hazardous BTEX compound Benzene, could pose a risk even to health of residents living very close to gas well heads in the Camden area.”

But AGL was fined $1,500 by the EPA, for exceeding the Nitrogen Oxide limits at Camden, and a further fine of $15,000 for a breach in the plant equipment, which saw 10,000 cubic feet of gas released into the air.

The Camden coal gas seam mines, produce approximately 5% of the energy needs for NSW, with the rest of the gas coming from inter-state. AGL’s website states a total of one hundred and forty-four wells exist, but only ninety-six are operational.

With such a low percentage being produced for the state’s gas consumption, questions are being asked about their viability in NSW, by local community and activist groups.

Local activist group ‘Stop CSG Camden’, recently posted an event on their Facebook page, urging residents and locals to join in a protest at the NSW Labor Conference, asking the opposition to commit to a ban on gas mining, and to shut down the site at Camden.

In a media release last year, AGL announced that it will stop the proposed expansion plans into exploratory gas mining, and cease production at its Camden Gas Project, in 2023 – twelve years earlier than the company had previously proposed.

“Exiting our gas assets in New South Wales has been a difficult decision for the company. AGL has invested significantly in these projects and communities over the past seven years for the Gloucester Gas Project, and ten years in the case of the Camden Gas Project,” it stated.

“AGL has regular meetings with community groups, and they will be discussing the decommissioning and rehabilitation schedule,” Selfe said.

There is also a contact number for concerned residents to call, on 1800039600

Danielle Hodges urged AGL, Camden council and state and federal governments to act now, ahead of the proposed mine decommissioning of 2023.

“Think about the people of Camden and the surrounding areas, instead of big business, and close the Camden Gas Project as soon as possible,” she said.


gas 2AGL’s Camden Project timeline. Image from: Department of Planning and Environment, Resources and Energy


Article By: Helen Megalokonomos



Carbon fibre solar car set to steal the show

Solar Car Challenge, Solar Energy, Western Sydney University

A carbon fibre solar powered car, to be raced by a team of Western Sydney University’s science and engineering students in the 3021 km Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, from Darwin to Adelaide, is set to steal the show.

The car is much lighter and far more efficient, says, team manager Saamiul Bashar.
“We have learnt so much from the previous two cars, without them, we certainly wouldn’t have the car we have now,” he said, via email.
“Every minute detail has been thoroughly examined and iterated upon, to produce a car that is lighter and far more efficient. Some specific improvements include the extended nose, combined trailing edge, new bearing design, an improved battery design, better solar cells and updated electronics,” Mr Bashar said.

solar carUnlimited 2.0’ the 2017 model entered by WSU. Image: Facebook


This year’s entry in the race is ‘Unlimited 2.0’, using solar energy to power the vehicle.“We use a solar panel to capture some of the energy from the sunlight that falls on the car, which is stored in a battery, very similar to those found in road-going electric vehicles. We use this battery to store energy and provide power to our direct-drive electric motor, which is then able to move the car along the road at up to 130km/h,” he said.

So, what is solar energy and how exactly does it work? The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), is an Australian government led body that expedites the country’s usage of renewable energy sources. It states that solar energy is created by the heat and light of the sun, and then converted into electricity.

There are two main types of solar energy technology; Solar Photovoltaic which takes the sunlight and converts it into electricity via photovoltaic (PV) cells, (like the panels used in the solar car challenge) and the second is Solar Thermal, which converts sunlight to heat, used for space heating or heating up water, (like a solar hot water system), found in many homes.

Nathan S. Lewis, a professor of Chemistry at California Institute of Technology, told Science Magazine last year, that while solar energy has garnered support from governments and environmentalists, more research needs to be done to develop energy conversion materials, which will work with existing PV technologies, at a reduced cost.


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The composition of a solar cell. Image: Science Magazine

“The costs of Si-based solar panels have declined so rapidly that panel costs now make up less than 30% of the costs of a fully installed solar-electricity system.  Opportunities also exist to improve the capabilities of concentrated solar power systems that convert sunlight into heat. Improved thermal storage fluids would provide longer-term storage to compensate for cloudy days in areas of high direct insolation,” he claimed.

Professor Lewis suggested that thermoelectrics, could in the future, replace engines to provide efficient conversion systems that would therefore have no moving parts.

“Learning by doing and R&D will both be needed to produce an innovation ecosystem that can sustain the historical rate of cost reductions in PVs and concentrated solar thermal technology,” he said.

Dr Ali Hellany, supervisor of the Western Sydney University team, explains the solar challenge as an industrial-like, project based learning, giving engineering students the opportunity to put solar research and technology into practice.

“A final year project for 4 student engineers in 2011 then became a team of 50 students from all over the university, competing against the best in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge,” he said.

One of those students and instigator of the project is Jay Manley, who famously featured on a Western Sydney University ad, and now works for Tesla, leading the way in electric and solar energies.

“Climate change is real and we are the cause,” Jay Manley said. “Since I like civilization and progress, I am going to work on something that will prevent or mitigate the economic and social catastrophes that can endanger them,” he said.

The World Solar Challenge will celebrate its 30-year anniversary this year, seeing high school and university students from around the world, design and build a solar driven car, able to withstand the harshness of the Australian Outback.

The race begins October 8 in Darwin, and finishes October 15 in Adelaide.


Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, Western Sydney University. Video: You Tube

Article By: Helen Megalokonomos

What the 2017 federal budget means for local schools

2017 Federal Budget, Community, Education, Politics


The new funding model for schools revealed in this year’s budget, is causing concern for parents and schools across south-west Sydney.

The budget revealed changes to public, private and Catholic school funding, claiming that ‘most’ schools would be better off under the new model.

In his budget speech, the treasurer Scott Morrison announced that the funding package would be a fairer way for all students needs for education to be met, in accordance to the previously prescribed ‘Gonski’ model.

“In addition to the funds provided by the GST to the States, we will meet 20 per cent of the needs-based funding for every student in our public-school system and 80 per cent for students in non-government schools by 2027,” he said.


beb45942d9c78f534a66294f6c755b54Treasurer Scott Morrison delivers the 2017 budget. Photo: ABC news.


Some south-west Sydney principals are not happy with this new model.

Chris Presland, principal of St Clair’s Public High School, told ABC News last week, that when he used the on-line calculator to work out how much funding his school would receive, it showed a $121, 600 increase for 2018, but it’s $300,000 less than the old Gonski scheme.

“So every school in NSW that would have received that money will now receive less under what the Government has promised this morning,” he said.

For public and private schools, funding is determined by the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS). This is basically a certain dollar amount based on per child in the school, with extra amounts for remote and disadvantaged schools, as announced in the 2017-18 budget.

Most schools will see an increase to their allocated funding, but the figures supplied by the government only account for the years leading up to 2027.

According to Choice, there is no mention in the budget of what will happen to the SRS, and how further funding for schools will be calculated in the future.

At St Clair’s, Mr Presland said he will have to make cuts to numeracy and literacy programs.

“At the expense of our children,” he said.

The budget also promises an extra $18.6 billion in school funding, over the next 10 years, but teachers and parents are wary.

The Teacher’s Federation told 9 news last week, that “Narellan Public School, will be $650,000 poorer than it would have been under the original deal.”

“At Cabramatta High School, the figure is $1.9 million, and Merrylands High School will get $1.2 million dollars less than it hoped,” the article said.

These examples show how Sydney’s disadvantaged south-west may end up losing, under the new funding.


src4_1426675908970_l Narellan Public School will lose $600,000 in funding, according to new model. Photo: Narellan P.S webpage.


The Prime Minister talked up the new funding model, in a live Facebook broadcast last week, for HuffPost Australia.

“We are delivering [in terms of schools] exactly what David Gonski recommended – national, consistent, needs-based funding,” he said.

Catholic schools across the local area, are not happy with the government’s new model. Under the proposed changes, they will not receive individual funding per school, but one payment to each of the state’s Catholic Education Commissions, who will decide which school gets what money, and allocate accordingly.

Last week, the South-West Diocese sent a letter home with all children, from the Director of Schools for Catholic Education, Peter Turner.

The letter stated that even though the Catholic schools educate over 20% of students, “it was extremely disappointing that the Government did not properly consult with the Catholic sector before the announcement was made.”

“Our objective is to ensure that Catholic school students receive a fair level of funding and have Government acknowledge that parents are both taxpayers and school fee payers. I encourage you to also communicate to your local Federal member, preferably in person and directly express your views,” the letter said.

Local mum Tiffany Church whose 7-year-old son attends a Catholic school in the west, did not welcome the changes to funding at her local school.

“I think Catholic school fees will go up unfortunately, and I think it’s too much money for most people with all the expenses we already have, everything seems to be going up,” she said.

Parents and schools can now go online to use the online School Funding estimator, to see what funding their school will be getting. Parents can make comparisons with other schools in the area and interstate, and see first- hand how much the government will be allocating to similar schools.


Watch the Treasurer’s Budget speech in full below:

YouTube video courtesy ABC News.

Article By: Helen Megalokonomos

Winners of local Art Prize announced at Camden Civic Centre

Camden Art Prize, Community

Artists, residents, and dignitaries all turned out for the annual Camden Art Prize last Friday, at the Civic Centre.

The event is the largest art competition in the region attracting entries from all around the country, and was officially opened by The Honourable Dame Marie Bashir who announced the winning entrants on the night.

Gaylene Feld, president of The Camden Art Prize committee, said this year’s event was one of the biggest ever seen, with hundreds of people attending the opening night.

“It was such a wonderful turnout, it was just remarkable with wall-to-wall people,” she said.

Mrs Feld was also honoured with a lifetime achievement award from Dame Bashir, for her many years of service to The Camden Art Prize.

The art competition is open to anyone, both locally and interstate, and this year’s winner was Julie Simmons, for her oil painting titled ‘Lady in Red’.

The judges commented on the strong confident use of colour and texture, and it had definite wow, they said.

“It’s a self-portrait of the artist, and the judges pointed out that the paint and texture of it has made it look realistic, and given the artwork a 3D effect,” Mrs Feld said.


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2017 Camden Art Prize winning entry ‘Lady In Red’ by artist Julie Simmons. Photo: Helen Megalokonomos



“In art, we talk about ‘the gesture’, which is the spirit of the artwork, and it’s that spirit that will draw people to the artwork, it’s what they recognise within themselves,” she said.

Evie Messar, an entrant in this year’s competition, was glad to be part of the event, and said there were many great entries this year. “I entered the photography section. I didn’t do any good really, but I’m happy to be part of it,” she said.

This year’s event had many sections for artists to submit their work to, such as traditional, sculpture, watercolour, and photography.

Camille Gillyboeuf, winner of the Youth Award, two years in a row, claimed the position again with her work titled, ‘Dans L’Atelier’. Her work shows great influence of the old masters, the judges said.

The winning artwork, will be purchased by The Camden Art Prize Committee Inc Acquisitive, to the value of $3,000, and it will be kept and displayed alongside previous winners, at Camden Council.

The Youth Award offers a $750 prize amount, with other categories offering between $1,000-$1, 250, for first place within the category.

When asked about the success of 2017, Mrs Feld said the success of this year’s event, was due to some changes that were made.

“Each year we try to do something a little different. We decided we’d have feature sections for the sculptures and the photography, and by doing that, we’re attracting artists,” she said.

“It’s not just me.  I’ve got a wonderful team with the committee members, as well as Margaret Bowring, who was on the inaugural committee, and on the committee for many years after that.”

Mrs Bowring who is now a volunteer, believes that adding the youth award, was a great idea. “It’s very good that The Camden Art Prize has expanded to include young people. The most important thing we can do, is get good sponsors and great judges,” she said.

As there is no government funding, The Camden Art Prize depends on the generosity of sponsors. This year, Macarthur BMW came on board and ensured its success. They say sponsors are still needed for next year’s event.


2017-05-08 13.03.29Volunteers Jan Docherty (left), and inaugural committee member Margaret Bowring. Photo: Helen Megalokonomos


According to The Camden Art Prize website, the aims of the committee is to stage the Camden Art Prize, and to acquire various works of art for Camden council. It also helps to promote the visual arts locally and to broaden the perception of art in the area.

The Deloitte Report, published in 2015, states art is recognised as an integral part of the community, and art produced in Western Sydney continues to set new standards. The report recommends more money be invested in arts within Western Sydney, and be delivered by Governments.

In ongoing efforts to foster arts in the community, the committee is looking at holding future workshops at night, led by talented artists, to attract more people to the art world.

The Camden Art Prize is open to the public until the 12 May, where all the entrants’ works will be on display.



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Various artworks in the Camden Art Prize.  Photos: Helen Megalokonomos

Article By: Helen Megalokonomos


Young opinions matter, National Youth Week 2017

Community, youth

‘Get involved, be heard, make a difference,’  that’s the motto from NSW Youth Week, running from 31 March –  9 April. Camden will be offering a lot of fun activities, aimed at getting the young involved and having a great time as well.

The voices and opinions of our local youth matter. “It is through their insights and thoughts, that the community can engage with them about what they want to see happen in Camden,” said the local council.

Kathy Foden, of Mount Annan, said “I went to the Positive Partnership program run by the council and Aspect. It was very useful and gave me lots of resources,” she said.

Video: YouTube, National Youth Week 2017

The Camden Youth Council, actively assists Camden Council with decisions and initiatives, regarding younger people in our local community, and how best to reach them, and get them actively involved.

According to the Camden Council website, “The Camden Youth Council is for young people aged 15 to 25 years who are interested in discussing issues, expressing views and contributing to the development of the local Camden community.”

In a report titled ‘Mental Health of Young People,’ The Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals, “Interaction with other people is vital to human development. Social relationships and networks can act as protective factors against the onset or recurrence of mental illness and enhance recovery from mental disorders.”

Young people need interaction with peers, and to foster healthy connections with other young people. Youth Week is one government initiative working towards achieving just that.

Activities such as, Skateboard clinics, barefoot lawn bowls, $5 youth week movie-night, yoga and chocolate making, are all part of the fun and inclusive programs on offer in our local area. Last year over 1,500 young locals took part, and with so many activities to choose from, council are hoping for even bigger numbers, at this year’s events. See the official flyer here.

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Photos: Camden Youth Council Facebook page

Article by: Helen Megalokonomos


Australian Bureau of Statistics Mental Health Report

Ongoing growth in South-West Sydney cannot be sustained.

Community, growth, sustainability

According to statistics provided by Camden council, record growth in the local area and increases to the population, raises the question of sustainability in Camden.

In a recent press release, Minister for Planning and Housing, Anthony Roberts, said “new housing completions in Sydney hit the highest level for 45 years last year and look set to reach an all-time record later this year.”

Last year Camden had 2, 144 new homes built, and the projected figures from the Department of Planning and Environment for dwelling requirements for 2021, are 38,850 (all types of dwellings included), along with population growth estimates at 109,400 for the same year.

camden graph 1

Image from Camden Council website

According to Keith Steer, Principal at Yellow Brick Road Campbelltown, infrastructure such as roads and public transport upgrades, as well as the building of new schools, parks and shopping centres, are needed to keep up with the population growth, and make the community functional and viable.

“Growth can’t be sustained,” said Steer. “There eventually will be a large stabilization – I won’t call it a decline…but it has to slow down,” he said.

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Keith Steer, Principal at YBR. Photo: Helen Megalokonomos

“While home prices are going up, it’s attributed to a shortage of housing right now, a seller’s market, however, we will reach a time where there will be no further growth, with all land sold to developers both local and foreign,” said Mr Steer.

Harrington Grove, Kirkham Rise and Oran Park, are three of the newly developed estates, commanding premium prices, and changing the look of our landscape from semi-rural to developing towns, particularly in the case of Oran Park, set to accommodate over 25,000 residents.

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The changing face of Oran Park development. Photo: Helen Megalokonomos

In a media release this month, APRA, the government body overseeing banks and financial institutions, revealed “reforms have been undertaken in response to deficiencies in the management of traded market risk that were identified during the financial crisis of 2008. The Basel Committee timetable anticipates domestic implementation of these reforms by January 2019.”

The government has been putting pressure on lending institutions, to slow the amount of investor loans being approved, trying to free-up home purchases to owner-occupiers. Smaller, lesser known lenders have already raised their investor loan rates, and then two of the ‘big four’, NAB and Westpac followed suit.

“We’ve got the Blue Mountains on one side, we’ve got Wollongong, we’ve got Newcastle and then the ocean. Eventually there’s not going to be any land, and the problem is, we’re taking out our farmland too in the area, so what’s going to be left for us to eat?” Steer said.

Local fruit grower Ed Biel, told the ABC News this month, that agricultural land is being sold to developers for millions of dollars, as fellow growers decide to pack-up and go.

He claimed the number of farms growing our food, are shrinking.

“I can pick my fruit in the morning and deliver it to Flemington markets tonight and you can purchase it tomorrow, but it’s not only the freshness, it’s the connection the city will lose to its agrarian beginnings,” he said.

Article by: Helen Megalokonomos

Resources:   APRA Report

Camden Local Area Command set to receive 10 extra police.

Community, Policing

Local police are set to receive a boost of ten extra officers, after a decision was reached on March 6,  for the rapidly expanding Camden local area.

Sgt. Phil Gornall of Narellan police station,  said the extra officers would offer more police presence. “More police presence is a big thing in policing these days,” he said.


Narellan/Camden police and officials. Photo: Kayla Osborne

Sgt. Gornall said the extra officers will help with the massive growth that has seen our suburbs increase in population. “The extra officers will help with custody issues, and offer more supervision and guidance to other officers,” he said.

Last year police dealt with 1600 extra calls for assistance within the Camden LAC, whilst being short-staffed, and with continual growth in the area, extra police numbers are needed to assist with policing duties.

Police Association of NSW president Scott Weber, told The Daily Telegraph last week, that the newly placed  police will help with ‘first response’ positions.

October 2014 to September 2016 
Assault – non-domestic violence related, Camden Local Government Area

No statistically significant upward or downward trend over the 24-month period.


Graph: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research

Sgt. Gornall said the local police have a crime coordinator who deals with local issues such as, youth liaison, crime prevention, and domestic violence prevention.

“We go to local shopping centres, we have a display at The Camden Show, and we’re teaming up with the West Tigers rugby league team, to ensure community engagement,” he said.

Police have witnessed the increase of public engagement on social media platforms, and have  reached out to their local community via social media. It is via their Facebook page, that the police encourage community feedback on local issues, and ask the community to take part of their surveys. (Take the survey here).

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Narellan Police Station. Photo: Helen Megalokonomos

The police work in partnership with the community, and want people to feel comfortable and that they can approach them with ease. “The public message police want to give, is I’m your friend,” said Sgt. Gornall.

Article by: Helen Megalokonomos


NSW Police Force Facebook page.