The Real Housewives of Melbourne set their own rules about catfights

The Real Housewives of Melbourne (L-R) Andrea Moss, Jackie Gillies, Lydia Schiavello, Chyka Keebaugh, Gina Liano and Janet Roach: the show will premiere on Sunday on Arena. Photo: Tamara DeanDon’t be fooled by the big hair, spangly dresses and killer heels.
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There is evidently more brain than brawn among this group of alpha Melbourne “housewives”, who are about to explode on screens on Foxtel on Sunday night in the latest chapter of the reality juggernaut.

The colourful sextet who arrived in Sydney on Tuesday morning and are taking to the Harbour on Wednesday, are about to launch onto television screens as part of the global franchise The Real Housewives, which is also filmed in New York, Orange County, Vancouver, Beverly Hills and Miami, among other US post codes.

For the uninitiated, the format typically sees a handful of gazillionaire wives, who argue about who said what to who, socialise and attend functions. They are pursued by cameras which eavesdrop on their every move. The over-the-top results are traditionally wildly disturbing yet utterly fascinating.

In what appears to be a world first, Fairfax Media has learned that these wise-cracking, fast-talking, Louboutin-wearing women of the up-market postcodes of 3141-3144 (or “Planet Toorak” as Housewives outsider Jackie Gillies likes to say) asserted their authority on the show’s producers, Matchbox Pictures, before they had even filmed their first scene.

Gathered at The Darling Hotel in Pyrmont the perfumed posse reveal that after much discussions with the production company’s lawyers, the group negotiated to have things removed from the standard contracts issued to Housewives across the globe – which they were not comfortable with.

No bitch-slaps and poolside wig-tugging for this lot, as is the standard pre-requisite and what we’ve come to expect from flash-and-trash Real Housewives series.

Barrister Gina Liano, 47, a divorced mum-of-two who has been fighting battles in the courtroom for 14 years (not to mention creating a range of sequinned stilettos on the side), leads the charge to have certain clauses removed after reading the contract.

The main sticking point was the clause in the contract which said the Housewives were allowed to be physically harmed in the line of duty and would not be able to sue the production company if they were hurt.

Traditionally cast members around the world get pushed into pools, shoved from their towering heels or involved in catfights with no recourse. Think Jerry Springer but with Gucci, false lashes and hair extensions.

“Even in the contracts in the US, I understand they are actually allowed to assault each other. It’s part of the contract. When we got our contracts that was one of the conditions. It said that we consented to being assaulted. But I got rid of it,” legal eagle Liano reveals.

“I said, apart from anything I’m not about to embark on anything like that and nor are the rest of the cast – or the three girls that I knew [before the show started taping] – and I said to them ‘you can’t bind yourself into anything like that’.”

Despite being a likely first for the franchise, all of the women read their contracts and agreed it had to be removed.

“I think we all had a discussion about what we were comfortable with – all the girls read it, we are all business women,” Liano says, with Janet Roach, 55, the solo blonde of the pack adding: “I was going through mine with a tooth comb but Gina explained it really well. She said ‘we’re not doing that, we’re not doing that or that’.”

Brunette mum and extravagant shopaholic Lydia Schiavello, 45, said the only part she agreed with on her contract was the name and date.

“The only part of the original contract I was going to actually sign was the date and my name, they were the only things that were fine until we all attacked it.”

Liano, with her background, then approached the show’s legal department.

“I went and sat with the solicitor face to face for about 30 hours actually. There were about five things we changed.

“We the signed uniform contracts, with special conditions attached to each contract and particular to all of us.”

Clearly the leader of the pack, the no-holds-barred Liano even calms the youngest member of the pack, rock star wife Jackie Gillies, 33, (she’s married to Silverchair’s Ben Gillies) when she asks if we should be discussing contracts at all.

“Yeh, yeh it’s fine,” Liano settles her. “Trust me, I know what’s in that contact! It’s fine.”

Even after fixing their contracts the women agree they didn’t really know what they were signing up for.

A little like lambs to the slaughter, the group admit they were naieve when it came to the editing process and dealing with the media. Both Roach and Moss hadn’t even seen the other Real Housewives shows when they were approached.

“It’s all new to us. We are all raw. I think they chose us for that reason,” says the most level-headed of the group Chyka Keebaugh, 45, who along with her husband Bruce runs one of Australia’s biggest and most successful privately-owned catering companies, The Big Group.

“We knew this was going to happen – but we didn’t know the level to which it would happen,” Keebaugh says.

Property developer Roach, a singleton who dumped her husband last year after an internet dating scandal, says she’s nervously awaiting episode four and seven when she goes on a date with a younger bloke.

“It’s nothing like what I expected, but lots and lots of fun,” says the effervescent blonde. “I think when it was sold to me it was a little bit less; it wasn’t such a big thing that we would film this little show for a few weeks.

“I had never seen an episode. We had to watch an episode before we signed, and I watched Atlanta. They had sequinned dresses on and pulled each others wigs off and pushed each other into the pool. So I did have an idea of what I was getting myself into.”

Moss says her husband told her she shouldn’t do it after he watched a Miami episode where one wife had sex.

Are they worried about how they will be portrayed?

“I went into this with a TV background, and I am a journalist, so I felt they could only portray me the way I am,” Moss says.

She, however, didn’t bank on the copious amounts of champagne supplied creating onscreen gold.

“The tricky thing is when there’s no alcohol involved you are yourself and you’re careful. But when they put the alcohol there and you have one or two glasses of champagne (for the record Liano doesn’t drink), well, after a couple of champagnes you loosen up … which is fine, I can drink a lot being a journalist. But then I don’t have such good recollections of what I said or did.

“Having said that I think I’ve pretty much stood true to who I am.”

In the first few episodes alone fat-wobbling machines have opening nights, vaginal botox is discussed (seriously) and when Gillies, a psychic, tells Liano her long distant boyfriend is having an affair she hops on a plane straight to the US.

It’s also evident several friendships have been ruined by the show – a common trait of the series, which sees best friends end up enemies.

Liano and Moss came into taping as the firmest of friends and it’s clear during our photo shoot that isn’t the case now. The tension is noticeable as Moss and Schiavello appear to be the ones cosying up together today. (A little bit Mean Girls but outside of the playground.)

“Yes, it’s true,” says Liano.

“Friendships and relationships did fall apart. I think Andrea has described it the best way. In normal life if you had a falling out with a friend you’d back off and wait a while till you saw each other and cool down, but with this you were contracted and forced to see each other the next day.

“We don’t speak that much now…”

Moss agreed she and Liano had come into the show friends. “We came together more because of the contract initially. I’m too busy anyway with work and kids. Gina said a couple of things that upset me.”

All six women then heatedly rake over what happened in most heated moment of the first episode, when Liano was given the reading by Gillies and the ensuing fallout.

“I wanted to be Switzerland,” says Schiavello. “When Jackie gave Gina a reading she was upset and I rang to see if she was upset. I then had to go to the art gallery to explain it to Jackie.”

“But you misquoted me,” Liano interjects.

The fallout was the result of chinese whispers at play, which created the typical blown-out-of-proportion hysteria expected of reality drama.

“The producers won’t manipulate the storyline by telling you actually what happened – I guess that’s why we’ve got a good show,” says Liano. “But that means you’re reacting to situations without knowing everything.”

The entire group have signed for three series and it’s up to Foxtel whether it’ll commission them. Series two is apparently in the pipeline.

“We all pushed and pushed and pushed only to do one [series] – to suck it and see – but then the fee was not negotiable,” says Moss.

“It’s uniform and I think we’re all paid the same as what the American girls are paid. You don’t want someone who does a show like this for the money, you want unfiltered real women.”

For Roach the show was “definitely an emotional rollercoaster”.

“I found lust,” she says, with a laugh, about her young romance depicted in the show, while another voice adds: “It was the young jump she had to have – which is very good for the ego.”

“So far all we’re all happy,” says Schiavello.

For tough-talker Liano, dealings with the media have actually been the hardest on her during the whole experience.

“I think what’s been challenging about it for us is the media and what’s been quoted and what’s being said.

“I said things about Lydia, like she’s a beautiful woman, she’s a beautiful mother and they just cut it – and I can see that now, so I’m much more careful about what I say.”

Roach says she too has been shocked by the publicity process.

“Before as a punter I had a different idea about what was on TV and what was written about it.”

And while Gillies had been warned of how things worked by her rocker husband, who has spent years in the spotlight, she says nothing can prepare you: “I knew they take things and write anything to sell a paper. They add things. Things are left out and taken out of context. We think now before we talk.”

Always armed with the most rounded view, Chyka chimes in: “I think the level of production has been fantastic, Melbourne looks incredible and so far the back stories have been true to us.”

Mind you, the ladies have only seen up to episode three – there’s seven more episodes to go.

“I have no regrets at this stage. Though I’ll let you know after 10 episodes,” Liano says with a wink.

With talons sharpened, no doubt that will be one reunion episode worth watching.

The Real Housewives of Melbourne premieres Sunday, February 23, at 8.30pm on Foxtel’s Arena.

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Biennale of Sydney: artists send protest letter over detention centre links

Luca Belgiorno-Nettis is executive director of Transfield Services and the Biennale chairman. Photo: James Brickwood Signatory: Angelica Mesiti with “The Calling 2013/14”. Photo: Angela Wylie
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The ethical minefield of arts sponsorship

Artists involved in this year’s Biennale of Sydney have threatened to pull out unless event organisers abandon a sponsorship deal with a company involved in offshore detention centres.

The move casts a cloud over the showcase event, the biggest on the nation’s visual arts calendar.

The Biennale of Sydney, which starts on March 21, lists Transfield Holdings as a major sponsor.

Transfield Holdings is a minority shareholder in Transfield Services, which holds contracts with the Immigration Department to provide services at detention facilities at Nauru, such as management, maintenance and perimeter security

Transfield Services has also been in talks with the federal government to extend its services to Manus Island and take over welfare services, including education and recreation, at both sites.

Transfield Holdings and Transfield Services are partners in the Transfield Foundation, which supports the Biennale of Sydney.

Refugee advocates have been calling on artists and the public to boycott the event over Transfield’s involvement.

In an open letter to the Biennale board, sent on Wednesday, 28 Australian and international artists called on the directors to abandon the funding arrangement with Transfield. There are some 90 artists taking part in the event.

In a separate statement, the artists said some were “reconsidering their participation” and others were “organising different forms of protest from within”.

Signatories to the letter include prominent British artist Martin Boyce, winner of the coveted Turner Prize.

Australian artists include Callum Morton, Deborah Kelly and Angelica Mesiti – a video artist who won the Art Gallery of NSW’s Anne Landa Award last year.

The artists say mandatory detention contravenes Australia’s human rights obligations and they object to “being funded by an arts organisation whose sponsor is profiting from the policy”.

The furore coincides with a call by Human Rights Commission for an independent inquiry into the conditions in Australia’s offshore detention centres and follows clashes between security forces and asylum seekers on Manus Island that left one Iranian asylum seeker dead and 77 injured.

A spokesman for Transfield Services said “this is a matter for the Biennale and its board to discuss with artists”.

Transfield Holdings has a stake in Transfield Services and its executive director, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, is the Biennale chairman. Transfield Holdings founded the Sydney Biennale in 1973.

Mr Belgiorno-Nettis said: “Many Australians struggle with the problems of managing the transit of refugees to this country; this is a global challenge. The Biennale of Sydney acts as an artistic platform for dialogue around issues such as this.”

A spokeswoman for the Biennale said the board would meet on Thursday to consider the letter.

Transfield Holdings has a long history of sponsorship in the arts and its philanthropy has been directed towards a number of the country’s premier cultural institutions.

As well as the Biennale of Sydney, it has ongoing relationships with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Walsh Bay Sculpture Walk, Sculpture by the Sea and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Mr Belgiorno-Nettis, AM, is not only chairman of the Biennale of Sydney, but also chairs the Art Committees at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and the University of Western Sydney (UWS), and is a member of the Australian International Cultural Committee.

His brother, Guido Belgiorno-Nettis, AM, who is also on the Transfield advisory board, is president of the Art Gallery of NSW.

The Biennale’s website says the event, themed You Imagine What You Desire, shows that “powerful art is not divorced from the cultural conditions, political, social and climactic environments in which it is generated”.

with John Saxby

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‘It won’t survive’: bashed newborn’s Bunbury grandfather reveals heartbreaking pain

“It won’t survive” were the simple, yet heartbreaking words from the grandfather who expected the life support to his one-month-old grandson would be turned off this weekend.
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The prematurely-born baby suffered critical head injuries, allegedly by his 15-year-old father at Bunbury Regional Hospital on Saturday night.

The father, a ward of the state who was abandoned by his own mother three years ago and reported to have atroubled past, has been charged with aggravated bodily harm.

The mother’s family spoke out how they are confused as to how the tragedy was able to unfold.

“We just want to know what happened and how it happened,” the newborn’s maternal grandfather told Radio 6PR.

“I want to know how come that boy was allowed back in.

“He’s supposed to be under care and wasn’t supposed to be at the hospital – that’s what we’re trying to understand.

“Especially at night like that, where were the nurses?”

The grandfather claimed the teenage boy did not have access to the child on Friday and wanted to know what changed between then and Saturday night, when the alleged assault occurred.

“He shouldn’t have been allowed in there,” he said.

His daughter, the mother of the child, was yet to come to terms with the injuries inflicted on her son, he said.

“She’s completely in shock.

“She keeps on asking how it happened, why it happened, all that.

“There’s nothing much I can do, nothing much I can say.

“No one should have let that kid in there – he’s only a kid.”

Department of Child Protection director general Terry Murphy told Radio 6PR that the father’s visitation with his son was restricted, but not banned altogether.

“All the advice that I’ve received from the hospital, from our staff who meet with families through these situations, was that the father’s access to the child was never questioned,” Mr Murphy said.

“At one point, after a meeting between hospital staff and the family, it was restricted to some degree, in so far as it was only to occur between visiting hours and not during the lunch break, and [at] a time at which there would be adequate staffing on the ward and adequate support for what are very young parents.”

But he said hospital staff had not predicted the father would pose a danger to the newborn.

“I, on the basis of everything I’ve seen from the hospital, from our staff, from other government agencies, am of the belief this was not a predictable event,” Mr Murphy said.

“It is a tragedy – there’s no question that this boy had a troubled life, there’s no question that this relationship between these teenage parents had difficulties, but none of those facts would predict such a tragedy as has occurred.”

As far as the department’s investigation had learned, the family had not requested the boy’s access to the child be restricted, Mr Murphy said.

It was reported on Tuesday thatthe father regularly visited and helped feed the babyfrom the day he was born.

Mr Murphy said the department would continue to supply support to the mother where possible.

“We’ve had a relationship with mum since her relationship with father and her pregnancy came to our attention late last year,” he said.

“That relationship continues – this mum needs tremendous amount of support.

“That will come mostly from family, but we will provide whatever support we can to her and her family.”

All future medical decisions concerning the baby will be made by Mr Murphy, following thebaby being taken into the care of the Department of Child Protection.

The baby has been transferred to Princess Margaret Hospital where staff are continually reviewing his health.

Advice given to the family by a PMH neurosurgeon was that they were still waiting for swelling to go down, the grandfather said.

“It’s just a waiting game,” he said.

“I’m going up there now just to hold him or kiss him and show my support.”

All decisions relating to a 28-day-old baby fighting for life after being allegedly bashed by his teenaged father will now be made by Department for Child Protection (DCP) and Family Support chief Terry Murphy.

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Education union criticises appointment of Greg Craven to chair Coalition’s teacher training review

Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of the Australian Aatholic University, has been chosen to chair the federal government’s review into teacher training. Photo: Louise KennerleyThe Australian Education Union has blasted the Abbott government for appointing a vocal critic of minimum entry scores for education degrees to lead its review into teacher training.
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Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced on Wednesday morning that Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven will chair the government’s review into teacher training.

Mr Craven has previously said that ”university cut-offs are as easy to rig as a bush picnic race meeting” and rejected NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli’s call for all teaching students to have an ATAR of at least 70.

AEU president Angelo Gavrielatos said Mr Craven’s views compromise the review before it begins.

“We stand on the side of rigour and strong standards – Greg Craven stands for something different to that.”

He said the fact Mr Craven’s university enrols students with an ATAR as low as 50 makes him ”part of the problem, not the solution”.

The AEU wants the review to consider setting minimum ATAR entry standards for teaching degrees.

Mr Craven denied that his position at the ACU poses a conflict of interest and said he was prepared to take on the unions over minimum entry standards.

”I would say to the unions: if they succeed in restricting entry to teaching amid a high number of retirements then they are advocating a shortage of teachers and massively increased class sizes,” he said.

”I find it fascinating to see an element of the industrial sector lining up against diversity and more lower socio-economic students coming into education. I am happy to have that debate.”

Speaking in Adelaide today, Mr Pyne said he believed teacher quality was the most important factor in improving student outcomes, ahead of a rigorous curriculum and school autonomy.

“For a long time the anecdotal evidence, surveys and results have shown that neither the students coming out of university, the principals who are employing them or the year 12 students choosing teaching are happy or satisfied with the offerings at university,” he said.

He said he wanted teacher training to involve more experience in school classrooms rather than in university lectures and tutorials.

An independent consultant will also be engaged to conduct a benchmarking study of the world’s best teacher education programs and compare them to Australia’s.

The advisory panel also includes University of Melbourne Dean of Education Field Rickards, University of Wollongong Deputy Vice-Chancellor Eeva Leinonen, Grattan Institute school education program director Ben Jensen, and maths education expert Kim Beswick.

John Fleming, deputy principal at independent Victorian school Haileybury, and Trevor Fletcher, principal of the Eastern Fleurieu School in South Australia, will also sit on the panel.

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Kanye West enlists American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis for Yeezus film

Kanye West brings Yeezus tour to AustraliaFull movies coverage
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Already a man with a musical empire, a fashion business and an ego the size of Microsoft and Apple put together, Kanye West is set to become a film mogul.

The musician who is long past the simple description of “hip-hop star” has inveigled celebrated author Bret Easton Ellis to write the screenplay for a film based on West’s chart topping 2013 album, Yeezus.

The pair began work seven or eight months ago, said Ellis, who told an American website that his initial reluctance evaporated when West gave him an early copy of the album “and I thought, regardless of whether I’m right for this project, I want to work with whoever made this”.

While something of a concept album, being semi-autobiographical and examining West’s pressures, fears and (inevitable) triumphs, Yeezus is not strictly speaking a narrative album with an obvious story within its “three act” structure.

However, as Fairfax Media critic Craig Mathieson put it: “Given [West] is a fashion designer, he knows how to extrapolate small tendencies into big things.” Mathieson said Yeezus was “a fascinating album that is critically focused on remaking both pop music and hip-hop even as it wallows in narcissism”.

If West is new to the film world, Ellis isn’t a stranger to the idea of books and music converted to film, or vice versa. Several of his novels – American Psycho, Less Than Zero and Rules Of Attraction – have been made into feature films while he wrote the screenplay for last year’s Paul Schrader film The Canyons.

Furthermore, not only does music feature heavily through most of his books, as character pointers as much as scene-setters, both Less Than Zero and its “sequel”, Imperial Bedroom, were named after Elvis Costello songs.

It may disappoint West to hear that he is not the first to go this route as films inspired by or made from songs make up a small but surprisingly vibrant sub-genre.

Sean Penn’s directorial debut, The Indian Runner, was based on the characters in Bruce Springsteen’s song Highway Patrolman while Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant Massacree inspired the film Alice’s Restaurant (which could also inspire Kanye West as Guthrie had a role in the film).

Country music’s fondness for stories-in-song helped turn hits such as Harper Valley PTA and The Gambler into big screen efforts; Pink Floyd’s tale of rock’n’roll ennui The Wall was made into a film, starring musician Bob Geldof; and more recently playwright Tom Stoppard adapted Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon for a radio play called Darkside.

Meanwhile, West will tour Australia in May performing songs from Yeezus.

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