I was asked to write Australia’s first national report on health promotion in 1978, while teaching in the inaugural year of Australia’s first Master of Public Health at the University of Sydney. A few years later, I helped get Paul Hogan removed from the Winfield advertising campaign because of his immense popularity with children. The floodgates then opened to news media contacting me as a go-to person for comment on anything to do with smoking.
Evidence-based health policies that influence millions of people have the capacity to make whole communities safer and healthier. I’ve worked in tobacco and gun control, and more recently in exposing the antics of anti-wind farm fruitcakes and ideologues. Smoking rates have never been lower than they are in Australia today, and our advocacy for gun control that handed a policy blueprint to John Howard to adopt after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre saw mass shootings stop for 22 years, after we had 13 in the 18 years before. Public health is a field where you can make massive positive differences to the health of whole populations.
I’ve retired now, but academics never really retire like butchers, electricians or lawyers do. I love writing and a day without writing 1,000 words is like being starved of oxygen. In the years since I left the campus, I’ve published two books: a collection of short stories on travel and a memoir of boyhood, both available on my web page. In retirement, I have total freedom to write what and when I like.
I’m a strong supporter of open access publishing because my primary goal in writing is for lots of people to read my work. My articles for The Conversation have had 3.159m reads and my five open access books for Sydney University Press have had 128,000 downloads, with no money coming to me. But the few thousand dollars I’ve earned over the years from copyright payments resulting from the Copyright Agency’s university audits are very welcome. Academics must be unique in willingly supplying their creative and intellectual property to scholarly publishers, who sell it for massive profits and pay them nothing. The small payments we get back from the Copyright Agency make those foul arrangements not quite so hard to swallow.
THIS SONG CHANGED MY LIFE
In 1984, I had a research fellowship in London, and one night went to see one of the most revered Congolese rhumba bands, Sam Mangwana and the African All Stars. I was mesmerised and for the next 18 months ate my lunch most days in the nearby Sterns African record centre, drinking it all in and educating myself on the many styles of music. Ever since, I’ve visited the African quarters of cities wherever I travel, in search of music shops and gigs. There are many stories of stellar African musicians who struggle because of rampant music piracy throughout the continent and the fragile to non-existent status of copyright protections there.