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Views from Down Under

Oz Jesuits break new ground in communications Piaras Jackson describes and illustrates his experience in Australia, where he spent two months working in Jesuit Communications, Melbourne, as part of his Masters in Media Studies, DCU.


Completing the Masters in Journalism in DCU required spending eight weeks on a placement. I had thought that an experience in a commercial radio or print newsroom in Dublin might be useful, but, as the year progressed, realised that some time in a non-commercial setting would bring another aspect of journalism into focus. Looking for an office that might have a range of publications and a Jesuit relevance prompted me to explore the possibility of spending the time with Jesuit Publications in Melbourne.

So it was that, with coursework finished and dissertation submitted, I headed for Melbourne. An office in the largely Vietnamese area of Richmond houses the offices of Jesuit Publications, though this is shortly to be left in favour of offices in a former Jesuit school. This move will draw some Jesuit works to share a campus in a way that Jesuit Publications itself amalgamated publishing a number of years ago.

At that time it was felt that the independence offered by running a number of magazines from different offices might be surrendered in favour of pooling resources. Jesuit Publications thus took on the publication of the ‘major titles’ Australian Catholics, Madonna and Eureka Street and was responsible also for the issuing of other magazines such as Companions, News from India and Jesuits in Oceania. The Australian Jesuits’ equivalent to the Irish AMDG series is Province Express, a bulletin emailed fortnightly to some 2,500 subscribers.

The Australian penchant for abbreviation has seen the moniker ‘JesPubs’ being exchanged for JesCom as a broader communications brief develops. This is similar to what has developed in the Jesuit Communications Centre in Dublin, as communications strategy is refined to reflect the continuing change and development in media. In Australia, as in Ireland, established patterns of independence led to omissions and duplications. Sharing resources and pooling of expertise allows for more cohesive and cogent communication in a variety of media.

The changing nature of publishing is well illustrated by Eureka Street. This became a web-only magazine after fifteen years in print format, completing its transition while I was in the office. This change required attention to managing online subscriptions and access while keeping the character of the magazine. Named after an adjacent street which is in turn named after Australia’s first serious civil insurrection at Eureka Stockade, Ballarat, Eureka Street is publishes articles on on public affairs, the arts and theology. You can see the magazine at http://www.eurekastreet.com.au and sign up for the newsletter.

As well as writing for and doing some office work related to Eureka Street, I was engaged in interviewing and writing for Australian Catholics of which almost 200,000 are circulated around Australia – a logistical challenge we can’t imagine in Ireland! I was interested to pursue some personal interest in interviews and in the work on ‘OzCaths’, spending some time deliberating on religious education applications of the material published and in interviewing people such as Philip Cooper, a sculptor and artist, and Jim Stynes, former Dublin and Australian rules footballer.

A long-standing interest in photography was indulged with the ordinary often being, to me, remarkable. My sister recalls drawing attention to the ‘escaped parrots’ when she first saw the Australian birds. Nor was I there long enough to get used to the ‘exotica’ clamouring in the evenings in the Park Drive area where I lived.

Our national icons can become tourist clichés, but it must be said that our promotion of leprechauns is bound to disappoint as I have yet to find them as obliging as their down-under counterparts.

The invasion of Lebanon took place while I was in Australia. The evacuation of a significant number of Australian-Lebanese citizens added to the local coverage of the events, bringing a local dimension when protest marches were held around the country.

A brief stay in Sydney was an opportunity to pick up some interviews for RNN, such as one with Bishop Anthony Fisher, Coordinator of World Youth Day 2008 which is to be held in Australia.

A stopover in Malaysia Having on the flight home offered a chance to visit Malacca and the first tomb of Francis Xavier. It was a privilege to have a local guide in the person of Simon Yong, a onetime resident of Ballymun (who retains a lot of Irish English in his vocabulary!). Simon studied in Milltown Institute and is now parish priest of Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur.

The photographs may be seen on http://picasaweb.google.com/piaras.jackson/Australia