The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Isabella Kwai, a reporter with the bureau.
Two years ago, the staff of this bureau gathered for the first time in a small spare room in a co-working office space. Some of us were Australians, lured back to the motherland after a few years abroad. Others were long-time residents, eager to share stories from this corner of the world.
Led by veteran New York Times reporter and editor Damien Cave, our goal was simple: to offer a rich vein of reporting on a region far away from — but increasingly important to — the world stage.
For readers here and elsewhere, we wanted to add context to news, deepen our understanding of life here and pose an eternal question: In what ways is Australia connected to the world? And in what ways is it entirely unlike anywhere else?
Two years on, after our official launch on May 1, 2017, our small but growing team of reporters have roamed across most of the country and tried to find some answers.
Among other significant events, we’ve lived through a change in prime minister, a terrorist attack and the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Australia continues to spark conversation on global issues like immigration, climate change and technology — and in our own effort to ensure that New York Times readers everywhere get a well-rounded portrait of this place, we’ve also celebrated Australia’s wine, literature, food, comedy and its natural beauty.
We also, hopefully, managed to occasionally create that magic moment when you read a great story — the ones that make you cry, the ones that make you laugh.
So in the spirit of reminiscing, we dug up just a few of our favorite stories. We are grateful to you, our readers, for supporting us, as we’ve grown from that one room operation (and thankfully no longer sharing desks). Your curiosity, wonder and feedback has motivated us to always seek the truth.
And if you’re enjoying what we do, consider subscribing! Not only are we offering a discount, you’ll get unlimited access to our entire report across the Times.
Do you have a favorite story from us — or the kind of stories you’d like to see over the next two years? Join our Facebook group to share or tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• In a Town of 11 People, Mysterious Disappearance Turns Neighbor Against Neighbor
“I got such a thrill out of trying to solve this case. It was this odd little town with these characters that made the reporting and writing so enjoyable. It was like fiction and fantasy and the response from readers was incredible.”
— Jacqueline Williams
• ‘So Heartbreaking’: Funerals Begin for New Zealand Attack Victims
“This was our attempt to capture both the place and the mood of Christchurch as the first victims of the terror attack found their way to loved ones, and final resting places. On a tight daily deadline, I tried to pour a lot into this one.”
— Damien Cave
• For Sale: 55-Foot-Tall Lobster. Owners in a Pinch. Can You Help?
“I mean, I got to go on a road trip to visit a giant lobster called Larry. What’s not to love? But I loved exploring how seemingly superficial objects can uncover a lot of heart when you dig underneath them.”
— Isabella Kwai
• A War Memorial Is Being Expanded. Some Say It Whitewashes History.
“As someone who spent years in Iraq, I was struck by the Memorial’s push to frame a narrative for two wars that Australia has still not processed. And the amount of money being dedicated to doing that raised questions that continue to go unanswered.”
— Jamie Tarabay
• In Australia, Muslims Call for Pressure on China Over Missing Relatives
“Like most, I got into journalism to make a difference. This article features two Adelaide-based Uighurs who said their family members had been detained in China’s ‘re-education camps.’ Since we began reporting, both said their relatives have been freed. We’re pleased to see our journalism making a difference. But it’s important to note that up to a million other Uighurs are still stuck in these camps and this is a story we will continue to report on.”
— Vicky Xiuzhong Xu
“When 20,000 gathered in a dusty paddock for a weekend of drinking, bull-riding and an unfortunate incident with an owl, Bella Kwai and Asanka Brendon Ratnayake covered the rollicking weekend with humor and compassion, and I loved reading it. Asanka’s work reached the semifinals of the 2019 Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize with one of his photos of the bull rider!”
— Tacey Rychter
… Now for a few more recent journalistic gems — a few great reads from the past week.
• Syrian Refugees Toil on Turkey’s Hazelnut Farms With Little to Show for It: On farms that produce 70 percent of the world’s hazelnuts for Nestlé, Godiva and Nutella, Syrians say they can’t earn a living wage — or much respect.
• The Case for Doing Nothing: Stop being so busy, and just do nothing. Trust us.
• Rom-Coms Were Corny and Retrograde. Why Do I Miss Them so Much?: They were the movies most interested in how ordinary people connect. And they’re essentially gone.
… And over to you
Our last newsletter focused on religion and violence. Thanks to everyone who wrote in. Here’s a selection of your thoughts. If you’d like to contribute this week, you can write us at email@example.com.
“This week’s Australian letter asks a very good question: what can we do about extremists and terrorist attacks? First, don’t buy into the political fear mongering — this would be playing into their hands. I was visiting Istanbul when terrorist attacks were happening and saw the effects on the livelihood of people who depend on tourism. Personally, I extended my stay in defiance — not entirely without fear, but on principle and because I could. Second, follow Jacinda Arden’s lead and show victims some humanity.”
— Anna Lindstad
“I have a hard time understanding how religion does NOT relate to much violence around the world. If you are looking at the dogma of each religion only, then I guess you could make that assumption — little religious dogma overtly espouses violence.
But most practitioners of religions don’t care about the true dogma — they just use religion to make themselves feel better than the nonreligious and to justify their “rightness.” In this, it is a potent force for hatred.
Yes, greed for land and money is probably at the heart of much of the world violence, but if religion serves as one of the main excuses for it, then how can you say it’s not responsible?”
— Marcia Ciro
“Many people are willing to employ violence to further their aims. This extends from dyadic relationships to identifiable groups that may span the globe. Violence, when effective, is a quick solution. The opposition is subdued or eliminated and the immediate difficulty recedes, at least temporarily. Therefore is should not be surprising that individuals will resort to violence if it has succeeded in the past and appears likely to succeed in the present.
I think that there will always humans who decide on violence. Despite all the cant about peace, they still emerge. If the rewards of nonaggression and virtue are evident, fewer will choose the option of violence. If those few are effectively opposed and eliminated, their example will probably be less attractive to any who consider emulation in the future and more repugnant to those who share their beliefs. As in most human affairs, minimization of our failings may be the best course.”
— Jim Lemon