‘Farewell Olympic doughnuts. Thanks for the memories.’

Friday was market day in my childhood household.

Mum and Dad would pack the “carrello” (those old-fashioned shopping trolleys that are now back in vogue) into the boot of the red Simca (a little French car similar to the Hillman) and head off to Footscray Market.

During school holidays, they’d already left by the time I woke. Getting to the market early was a must for two reasons: parking was at a premium and, according to Mum and Dad, the early shopper always got the best produce.

None of that prodded-and-cast-aside fruit and veg for us. It had to be the best quality on offer and post-‪9am, apparently it would be gone.

Friday was also fish and chip day. Not the takeaway kind I so hankered for. Home made, by Mum. So the other good reason Friday was market day was to buy fresh fish for the evening’s “Aussie” meal.

By mid morning, the “parentals” would return with a bursting carrello full of the freshest “marketta” (a modified English/Italian word) produce available to the early bird.

I would always help unpack the shopping cart. I wasn’t just being good; I had an ulterior motive. It wasn’t the ripest cherries or the freshest ricotta I was after. There would always, always be a treat brought home by Mum and Dad for me and my two sisters.

It was a bag of doughnuts. Not just any doughnuts. Hot Olympic Doughnuts.

There were six in the bag. Two each for the siblings. They’d cooled a bit on the car trip from Footscray to our home in Yarraville. But no matter, they tasted so good.

I would eat my two doughnuts slowly to make them last longer. When I’d finished, I would regularly make the request of Mamma to buy more next time. But it was always six. And they were always from the Greek man in the battered Olympic Doughnuts van at the foot of the stairs at Footscray railway station.

On hearing the sad news this week that OIympic Doughnuts had closed its shutters permanently due to the ill-health of the master doughnut maker, Nick Tsiligiris, I reminisced with my mother about that Friday ritual.

We laughed about the dolphin-shaped jam dispenser, about the way Nick was meticulous in how he turned those frying balls of dough, about how, as he was about to drop them in sugar, my mother would say “No sugar please”, they were sweet enough.

Back then, Mamma Cafagna remembers, a bag of six cost 60¢. Cheap as!

In adulthood I kept up the Olympic Doughnuts tradition, on the way to uni on the train, or just driving through Footscray. It didn’t need to be a Friday. I could eat six at a time. I reckon I still could today.

I often bought dozens of them as treats to bring back to the office. I wanted to share that nostalgic flavour with my friends.

I’ve also been known to buy a tray of cannoli, to share among work colleagues, from that other Footscray food institution, the Cavallaro Pasticceria (Italian cake and coffee shop), just up the road from the Olympic Doughnuts van.

The Cavallaro sons continue to make their father’s delicious Italian sweets, cakes and coffee, which is just as well. This westie couldn’t cope with the disappearance of another local gastronomic icon.

So, farewell Olympic Doughnuts. Thanks for the yummy memories.

I feel privileged to have grown up with such Footscray foodie treasures, long before trendy was even a word. I have loved eating the best of the west.

Correction … the best of Melbourne.

Josephine Cafagna is a media and communications consultant. And a westie.

This article was published in The Age on 18 January 2017

Men wanting more time for parenting must demand flexible workplaces

Here are a couple of questions that are likely to elicit completely different answers depending on your gender. Have you ever worked part-time so you could look after the children? Would you ask your boss for more flexible work arrangements so you can do so?

If you have answered “yes” to both those questions, I’m betting you are a woman.

Even in modern, progressive Australia, it is overwhelmingly women who are the stay-at-home child rearers, and it is mainly women who work part-time to accommodate that need. According to figures from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, women account for 75 per cent of part-timers and 57 per cent of casual workers in Australia.

Despite decades of gender equality battles, it is still taken for granted in too many homes and workplaces that it will be the women who will stay home, at least for some of the time, to parent particularly infants and young children. The professional careers of those women – their promotions, their income levels and their aspirations – stay on hold while those of their male contemporaries soar.

There are many men – most of us know some – who would love the opportunity to do more stay-at-home parenting. But there are some systemic reasons why many feel that they can’t.

First, the gender pay gap – yes, it’s still there – means that in most cases men earn more than their female partners, and it makes sense that for the duration of early child rearing the one who earns the most should continue to do so uninterrupted.

The other main reason there are more stay-at-home mums than dads is that, sadly, too few workplaces in Australia offer flexible work arrangements and too few men are shouting about it.

So here’s my message to the men of Australia: if you want things to change, you are going to have to speak up and demand it.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency has a campaign running called The Equilibrium Man Challenge. It may be an awkward title, but the aim is important. With several big corporates already on board – including Telstra, Mirvac and Corrs Chambers Westgarth – the program is trying to encourage more companies to introduce flexible work arrangements, particularly for male employees. It makes the firm a more attractive place to work and more likely to keep and attract talented employees looking for better work conditions.

A series of video interviews on the agency’s website sums up the situation and underscores the need for change. Energy consultant and mother Nives, for example, says of her own experience: “We pretty much started out as equals in terms of career, but with children coming along his career has taken off, my career not so much.”

And this from Laura, who works in international development: “My husband’s job takes priority. I find that really difficult because my job is really important to me. I guess it comes down to the fact that my partner earns more than I do.”

It’s not all downbeat. Some of the videos showcase examples of workplaces where flexible arrangements are operating well for men, who grasp the opportunity and proudly speak about it. They’re keen to make it work long term, and put in great effort to show the boss that it can. Their motto might be summed up as, Workplace happy, family happy.

But the good examples are too few. Construction foreman Adrian, 31, says in another of the videos: “I hardly saw my father growing up.” His dad, Gary, was a construction worker from 6.30am to 8.30pm. Gary knows the cost. “I never saw Adrian play football,” he says. “I never saw my daughter play netball, never saw one game.” Adrian works for Mirvac, which has adopted a flexi plan. He’s now working three days a week and is determined he won’t miss out on seeing those precious life moments with his young daughter.

What we need now are more companies, more businesses, more bosses and even more government agencies to get with the times and provide more flexible work options for the growing number of men who want to spend more time parenting their young children. Picking up the kids from school, being home to cook dinner, attending their child’s sports day or school play, or helping with the homework or bath time.

And men, if you want more of this then it’s up to you to start the conversation with your boss, with your workmates and with your peers. The more men who speak up and ask for flexible workplaces, the sooner it will become the norm.

What are you waiting for, boys?

Josephine Cafagna is a writer and communications consultant.

This article was published in The Sunday Age on 5 July 2015

Best political leaders apply Wizard of Oz factor

The anatomy of a good political leader can be distilled down to three simple elements – brains, courage and heart – writes Josephine Cafagna.

While discussing the regularity of leadership challenges in Australian political life, a good politician recently told me that every member of parliament thought they had the makings to be a leader. “That’s the reason they enter politics in the first place – to get the top job,” he said.

That may well be true. But sadly, it is also true that very few members of parliament actually have the abilities and qualities needed to become a leader. Those who do make it to the ultimate job often prove to be a disappointment.

So exactly what is the anatomy of a good leader? Having reported on politics for longer than I care to recall, and then having “jumped the fence” to work in the inner sanctum of the Office of Premier, the following is my assessment of the qualities a good leader should have. Individually, they’re pretty basic. Together in the one person, they’re rare and impressive.

Guts or a spine; intellect and instinct; and a heart. It’s pretty basic. In fact, it could be boiled down to an even simpler formula – one eloquently dissected in that beautiful movie classic The Wizard of Oz.

Scarecrow longed for a brain, and at one point in the movie young Dorothy sings to him, “You could be another Lincoln if you only had a brain.”

 Lion so desperately wanted courage, so he could be the true king of the jungle he was meant to be. Despite the urgings of his newfound travelling companions on that yellow brick road, Lion laments, “If I only had the nerve.”

And, finally, Tinman is the empty vessel longing for a heart – “If I only had a heart I could just register emotion.”

Now, politics has many more characters and is a lot more complex than a single road towards a wizard who has all the answers, but it’s often the simple, basic traits that can secure success and public admiration.

A couple of examples from recent history.

Let’s take brains. It takes more than a university degree to establish that a country needs a universal healthcare system, as Gough Whitlam did so long ago. Generational public policy achievements are rare, and yes, it takes the smarts to come up with such plans. But on a smaller scale, good leaders come up with more mundane but necessary strategies. One obvious plan is to win the next election, but beyond that there is little evidence that our politicians of all persuasions turn their grey matter to a blueprint or a vision for the nation or state.

Now to courage. Think John Howard’s staring down of the gun lobby to do the right thing on gun ownership, a move still being lauded across the world today. It took guts and a spine for Howard to address that public rally of gun owners in 1996 to try to persuade them the move was for the greater good. It was Howard’s instincts, those of a good politician, that led him to that rally. (Although he does concede one mistake: taking security advice to wear a bullet-proof vest. That’s where he didn’t follow his instincts.)

But courage in everyday political decisions doesn’t have to be that momentous. For a leader it can be staring down the factional players or business leaders or union officials trying to control decisions, or disciplining the backbencher who continually embarrasses the party.

Now let’s go to the heart. What is it about our politicians and their lack of emotional intelligence? The sad reality of our politics is that many decisions are made without emotion, without empathy and with little regard to the personal impacts on people.

A political office is made up of hard-heads and number-crunchers and strategists. Little room for a heart. The decision to introduce a National Disability Insurance Scheme was applauded by the public as a sign that political leaders can have a heart. And remember Queensland Premier Anna Bligh leading her state through the floods crisis a few years ago. Shedding a tear, speaking from the heart, and going out to put an arm around those affected. The cynics may see that as political opportunism. I see it as one of those all-too-rare moments in politics when a leader is not afraid to expose their heart.  We need more of it and less of what Tinman describes as his “hollow empty vessel”.

At the end of The Wizard of Oz, Tinman, Lion and Scarecrow defeat the Wicked Witch and discover they already had what they were always looking for. They just needed to use their brains, courage and heart.

Politicians of Australia, take note.

Josephine Cafagna is a writer and communications consultant, and a former journalist and political adviser.

This article was published in The Sunday Age on 14 June 2015

Better to change lifestyle before heart attack strikes than after

The lives of about 153 Australians a day are turned upside down when they have a heart attack.

Dear blokes,

It’s too hard to get you individually so please regard this as my personal letter to you. It’s important.

I’ll start with a question. When did you last go to your GP for a health check?

I hear a collective groan. I know it’s a pain in the various body parts but before you dismiss the question, imagine this.

Imagine your wife or loved one getting a phone call telling her her husband is in an ambulance on the way to the hospital with a suspected heart attack.

Imagine being in the back of the ambulance, paramedics feeding tubes and painkillers into your body.

Imagine your wife or nearest driving in a mental fog, rushing there not knowing what news awaits her.

Imagine your wife or dearest dashing through hospital corridors with the darkest thoughts of life without you going through her mind.

Imagine your partner sitting by your bed to the news that you’ve had a major heart attack.

Then imagine your dearest having to go and collect your son or daughter from school to tell them dad is in hospital: “Collect your books; we should visit dad.”

Imagine how you would feel when your teenage son or daughter approaches your hospital bed in the critical care unit and you’re attached to a dozen wires and machines monitoring your heart’s every beat.

Imagine your child’s thoughts. “How can this be happening to my dad. I thought heart attacks were what old people died of.”

Imagine what you would say to your loved one as you are wheeled into surgery to see what damage there is to your heart. “See you, hun”, “I love you”, “it’s gonna be fine”. She tells you she wants to grow old with you.

Imagine your wife or loved one waiting hours for you to emerge, pacing the ward, buying a coffee at the hospital cafe, calling a friend to keep her company, visiting the chapel. She just waits for news, with the worst thoughts lingering.

Such scenarios happen every day to people who never imagine this would happen to them. In fact the Heart Foundation says it happens to about 153 Australians each day. The foundation helpfully tells us on its website that there is one heart attack every nine minutes.

Imagine you are one of those.

Now imagine you are lucky enough to have survived your attack. You’re told it’s been a warning for you to change your habits, change your lifestyle. Exercise more, get fit, eat properly. Imagine your life changed forever: daily drugs; frequent home visits by a nurse; regular trips to the heart specialist.

I imagine you would think: “I should have gone to the doctor more regularly”, “I should have listened to the warnings” or “I should have kept exercising.”

Anyway, dear blokes, enough of the nagging and doomsday messages from me. I’m sure you get enough of that from your loved ones.

I do love your “she’ll be right” attitude. It’s endearing, uplifting and shows great optimism for life. But she won’t be right if you’re not around.

By the way, my husband had a heart attack last month. He’s OK and I thank the doctors and nurses at the Royal Melbourne Hospital for their care.

Neither he or I could have imagined this ever happening to us. That’s why I’m writing to you.

Best wishes and good health.

Josephine Cafagna is a writer and communications consultant. 

This article was published in The Sunday Age on 12 April 2015

I have shed any guilt about my passion for fashion

Even if it makes others think less of me, I love fashion because it makes me look and feel good.

I have a confession to make. For years I’ve kept mum about a passion of mine, for fear it would dent my credibility as a serious, hard-headed, investigative journalist with a keen eye for politics. Worried it would make me appear ditsy or frivolous in the eyes of men and women in the corridors of power that I have trodden as a broadcast journalist and guided as a political adviser.

But now, I have convinced myself that part of being a fearless, independent woman means caring less about what people think of you.

So here I reveal this secret love of mine and to hell with the consequences.

I love fashion. Yes, there it is. I have a passion for fashion. Shoes, bags, clothes and accessories. I buy them, I ogle them, I covet them. I browse through fashion magazines and websites. Not just brand-new fashion – I collect vintage fashion too.

I know about ruching and embroidery, wedges and peeptoes, can turn old kimono silk into a bias cut dream (not bias of the left or right kind), I can tell crepe from georgette and know Alencon lace from Battenburg. I’m up on early Schiaparelli design and Trifari trinkets. I can pick synthetic at 10 paces and I scour op-shops and markets for that rare old beauty that has been neglected for years.

 My first vintage purchase was at the age of 17. A pair of micro mosaic earrings from a little op-shop under Glenferrie railway station I would occasionally visit on my way to Swinburne Uni. I remember the horrified reaction from my mother. “But they are old!” she despaired. “The person who owned them is probably dead.”
That’s true. Today I guess I own many dead people’s clothes. I reckon they would be rather chuffed that someone likes their fashion taste and has recycled their attire. I know I would be.

When I started my career as a journalist there were few women in the field, even fewer in politics. But I remember one of the first female cabinet ministers in Victoria telling me what she thought of fashion and clothes. She was a smart, strong, talented MP and I admired her tenacity amid the sea of suits and ties in the then government. I’m not sure how the conversation came up, but she told me fashion and shopping was frivolous and a waste of one’s time and energy. Those words have stuck with me for years and I confess to feeling guilty about this time- and mind-consuming passion of mine.

It’s not just the intellectual guilt, there’s also the moral guilt that modern fashion is burdened with. Those super skinny, ultra young girls on the catwalks of Paris, New York, Rome etc, that shape the body image of our teenage girls who aspire to look like them. The cheap labourers earning a fraction of a living wage in China and India who are producing garments and textiles under intolerable working conditions for a multibillion-dollar worldwide industry.

There’s a growing trend in Australia to buy Australian, to read the labels on our supermarket products to see where they come from. Perhaps the same rigour should be applied to the labels on clothing: where it came from, who made it and how much of it is Australian content.

There’s little wonder I have carried this secret for so long. There are probably many other good reasons to feel guilty about owning a pair of Miu Miu or Prada; the price tag alone is one.

So while some women are shedding their make-up and hair dye, I am shedding the guilt about wearing them and about wearing and loving fashion.

I take a second glance at stylish men and women on the streets of Melbourne, and I reckon occasionally I attract a second glance too. I want to look good, I want to look stylish, not for the opposite sex, not to appear alluring, not to hide my imperfections. I want to look good because it makes me feel good.

If that makes me less of an intellect, if that makes people think less of me, if that means I’m frivolous, then so be it.

There, got that off my chest. Now, where did I put that Voguemagazine?

Josephine Cafagna is a writer and communications consultant.

This article was published in The Sunday Age on 29 March 2015

Time for Australia’s powerhouse women to put their hands up and show their faces

I came across a newspaper magazine feature the other day listing the 50 most powerful women in business in Australia. It was a good read and I was terribly impressed with the women’s achievements. They could each be role models on this International Women’s Day.

But there were only a few among them I recognised. Even fewer I had seen or heard speak publicly. If these women are the country’s top echelon of female business grunt, then why aren’t they household names?

Think about the top 50 most powerful businessmen in Australia. James Packer and his dad before him didn’t seek the limelight, but were not shy when they had something to say. Let me roll a few other names off the top of my head. Kerry Stokes, Gerry Harvey, Lindsay Fox, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, Frank Lowy, Solomon Lew, Daniel Grollo, Ahmed Fahour. You get my drift. They are successful businessmen running giant corporations and they’re not media shy. You can certainly put a face to the name.

Now, test yourself. Name 10 top businesswomen in Australia. OK, so Gina Rinehart might be No. 1, but who else can you identify?

It’s not just in the business arena that women either hold back or are held back when it comes to media appearances.  Over decades working as a journalist on radio and TV, I struggled to find “spokespeople” who were women. Even the word “spokesman” rolls off the tongue more easily then “spokeswoman”. Women were either not in the positions of power, or when I found them were reluctant to speak publicly.

Look at the print media. For example, the Comment pages in The Ageand the Sunday Age. On a rough estimate, I would say that  three-quarters of the writers who feature are male. Seventy-five per cent! Are women too afraid to express their opinion and contribute their expertise, or are they hiding undiscovered? Certainly among my peers there is no shortage of insightful, articulate women who can put their views in a forthright manner – but, I hasten to add, often only in private.
Now let’s look at the electronic media. Leave aside the dearth of female hosts of current affairs radio shows (hello Jon and Neil, and Tom and Raf, and Denis and Richard, and Ross and John and Red). Just listen to those being interviewed on radio and TV.  The politicians, the academics, the business leaders, the union reps, the police officer at the scene of the crime, the “talent” as they’re called – how many of those are female voices? Apart from some of the talk-back callers, not many. Not enough.

I can only proffer a few suggestions as to why. Perhaps girls of my generation, and those before, were brought up not to be showy, not to talk too much, not to boast about their achievements and not to create waves. You wouldn’t want to be be labelled pushy or arrogant or a smart arse, would you? But such labels were rarely applied to the loud boys.

Here’s a memory from way back. As a primary school student I recall on numerous occasions knowing the answer to the teacher’s question but being too afraid to put my hand up, then kicking myself afterwards for not doing so. Not sure why I didn’t throw my hand up, it could have been just shyness or fear of the reaction from my peers. I can confess that, as an adult, I sometimes still do the same.

Here’s another recollection, this one more recent. Offering a potential solution to a problem in a room dominated by senior male colleagues, my suggestion was ridiculed, only to be adopted later. Is it any wonder that some women’s first instinct is to stay silent?

Or perhaps in today’s sometimes-vicious social-media age, women fear the potential backlash if they speak out in public. I hope not. I want to see and hear and read many more women give me and the wider public the benefits of their experience, their views, their knowledge, their insights, or just their 10cworth. Coz I’m tired of hearing it only from the boys.

Josephine Cafagna is a writer and communications consultant.

This article was published in The Sunday Age on 8 March 2015

Banking on loyalty doesn’t pay off when it comes to personal money matters

Does loyalty to a bank count for anything these days? It’s a rhetorical question really.

Last week I wrote a complaint to the NAB. I started, off with the words “I have been a loyal customer for decades”, as though that fact would somehow force them to take my complaint more seriously or answer me more quickly or even move them to ring me and express gratitude for my lifelong custom.

I think I still have my first bankbook, buried deep in the boxes of my childhood treasures. As kids we were encouraged to put 20 cents a week into our money box and build our savings. We knew the local bank manager, who lived behind the bank.  And what joy when we were given a new money box by those lovely bank tellers who we knew by name. Ahhh, those were the days.

Back to reality. Last week I went to the NAB to open a business account. No problem so far; the staff at my local branch were helpful and friendly. But they told me I needed to make an appointment. I did so for the next day, and off I went.

Now for the uninitiated, you need what’s called an ABN to set up a business account. Alas, a check with my accountant confirmed that mine would not be ready in time for the meeting with the bank.

 No point going the next day without the relevant paperwork, I thought, so I’d better cancel the appointment. Sounds easy enough, but here’s what happened next.
It turns out there’s no telephone number listed for my local branch. So, en route to another appointment, I pull over and ring the only NAB number I can find. It’s a 132 number. What chance a real person will pick up?

Let me emphasise here – all I wanted to do was cancel an appointment I had made with my local bank branch. That’s it. I can ring my local doctor and speak to his staff to cancel an appointment, I can ring my hairdresser and cancel an appointment (she’ll answer the phone herself, how good is that), I can even ring my local car repairman to cancel an appointment (“No worries luv”), all of which takes no more than a minute or two. But I can’t ring my local bank branch to cancel an appointment. Why not?

Back to the 132 number. A recorded message asks me the nature of my complaint. “I need to cancel an appointment with my local branch tomorrow,” I enunciate loudly. The voice asks me to punch in my NAB ID number. What? I didn’t even know I had an ID number. “Located on the back of your credit card,” the recorded message says helpfully. OK, I punch that number in. Should get through to a person now.

Not so quick. Now I am in a queue.

I briefly consider driving back to my local branch to see if that’s quicker than waiting on hold. Finally a nice lady answers and I tell her I need to cancel tomorrow’s appointment. She kindly offers to put me through to the branch. Nearly there.

But alas, there’s no answer, so she offers to send them an appointment-cancellation email. I then ask for the branch phone number so I can call at my convenience to make another appointment. No, is the polite reply. “Imagine if everyone rang their local branch,” she says. Ummm, and why exactly would that be a problem, I think to myself.

“I will get them to call you,” she offers. No, because I had no idea when my ABN would be ready. “Can I please have the branch number so I can ring another day?” No, comes the reply again. “We don’t have their phone numbers, only an extension,” she says.

Sigh! Ten minutes and some angry words later, the phone call concludes.

It’s rare that I am moved to write a complaint. But now I set about putting my grievance in writing.

I would go straight to the top, I thought. Write to the CEO, Mr Andrew Thorburn, and let him know how absurd the no-ringing-your-local-branch policy is. The NAB website has a page introducing the executive leadership team, with the smiling image of Mr Thorburn. He looks like a nice man who would take my humble criticism on board.

I detail my dissatisfaction and push the “feedback” button. But now there’s another problem. My submission is rejected, the pop-up message informs me, because my “input contains invalid characters. e.g. angle bracket, quotes, slashes, semicolon”. So I remove all the offending punctuation. Nope. Rejected again, the pop-up message this time saying I have used too many characters.

I abandon the website and set out to directly email Mr Thorburn. I ring the NAB, hoping to get his address. The cycle begins again. There I am on hold in the queue again, fumbling for my ID number. Another five minutes of my life tick by. I hang up.

Scouring the website some more, I finally find a “feedback” email address and send off my remonstration.

And now, days later, I’m still wondering whether Mr Thorburn or anyone else at the NAB has read my email.

Maybe I’ll give them a call.

Josephine Cafagna is a writer and communications consultant.

This article was published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 15 February 2015