how to make a herb terrarium

So. Terrariums are pretty great. I’ve tried my hand at a few terrariums over the past month or so ever since I saw a few choice ones posted on my friends’ Facebook streams. Such as this infamous Breaking Bad terrarium from etsy.

At first I thought the whole terrarium making process was a pretty complicated one, but I’ve realised that once you’ve got all your tools together, a quick and easy one will take you anywhere between 20 – 30 min. If you’re fast. And on a sunny day.

Indeed, I was rushing for my beloved friend‘s surprise party one afternoon and smashed this easy-to-care, succulent terrarium together in about 20 min – booya.

terrarium, succulents, succulent terrarium, gift terrarium

My first terrarium was a little bonsai number and it’s graciously taking its sweet time to grow, but I figure I’d tackle something a little more tricky.

As part of my bid to get back to regularly writing / content making, I’ve been signed up for a 6-month stint volunteering for the good folks at Oxfam Australia for their GROW campaign, writing blogs on sustainable eating and food waste and the like.

My most recent – and final post, since my stint ended recently (so sad) – was tackling the topic of sustainable eating. It was basically an excuse for me to break out the terrarium making tools on a simple “How To” on terrarium-making herb style.

This post was recently published on Oxfam Australia’s youth website, 3Things, where you’ll also find some of my other bits of writing. I’ve republished it below for an easy read otherwise.


Pretty house decor, plus a tickbox on the ol’ sustainable food you say? It can be done with a herb terrarium.

Eating sustainably doesn’t have to be hard. Lots of people like you and me are already taking that first step by kickstarting our own gardens at home, whatever the size – house or balcony, you choose! By taking advantage of the rich earth we live in (and our local garden centre – yay!), we could help reduce food waste and build an alternative food future that produces enough food to feed the world.

Terrariums make great gifts, balcony gardens, and sit pretty all at the same time. A thing to remember about terrariums is that you’re building a micro-ecosystem, so it’s important that the herbs you choose work and grow harmoniously together – no use having one plant that needs full sun and another that needs shade in the same house. It’s like putting Wolverine in the same room with Cyclops – fun times!

If you’re a herb enthusiast – frankly, who isn’t – then this project will be pretty much everything you’ve ever wanted for a quiet weekend in.

herb terrarium, how to make a herb terrarium, rosemary thyme oregano terrarium


  • Glass / plastic bowl (discount/two dollar shops are good for these)
  • Very hot (not boiling) water
  • All purpose potting mix
  • Charcoal
  • Sphagnum / peat moss
  • A variety of pebbles in different shapes and sizes (we used 3 types)
  • Flyscreen or garden mesh
  • Small pots of herbs (we chose rosemary, oregano, and thyme, which grow rather harmoniously together)
  • Fertiliser / plant food – optional, but useful for that extra kick

rosemary, thyme, oregano, herb terrarium


1. Sterilise your new ecosystem by filling your bowl half full with the hot water and swirling it around so that the sides are wet properly. Let it sit for 5 minutes so that the steam builds properly. Empty out your water and sit your bowl upside down, so the steam can float around for another couple of minutes.

sterilisation terrarium, herb terrarium sterilisation

2. Break out your pebbles and fill the bottom of the bowl up to about 4-5cm (1-2 inches) height.

pebbles terrarium, herb terrarium pebbles

3. Cut out your mesh to fit the top of the pebbles. This will act as part of your terrarium’s drainage system.

terrarium drainage, herb drainage terrarium

4. Layer up the charcoal to about 2-3cm (1 inch) height. Charcoal will help combat the smell of the soil – this is particularly useful if your new ecosystem plans on spending time indoors.

terrarium charcoal, herb terrarium

5. Now we continue our drainage system by adding our peat / sphagnum moss layer to the height of about 2-3cm (1 inch). There’s no need to press down the layers as the weight of the whole thing will do that on its own (thanks gravity!)

peat moss herb terrarium, peat moss terrarium

6. Soil time! Dump about 2-5cm (1-2 inches) height of potting mix straight on top of the moss. Don’t forget your herb seedlings will also come with soil, so feel free not to dump too much of the potting mix on. I went a bit happy with my parents’ magical supply of gardening tools, so the fertiliser you see in the photos is completely optional.

terrarium potting mix, herb terrarium, fertilizer terrarium

7. Make some holes for your new seedlings by digging a little into the soil with your hands or a small spade.

herb potting mix, herb terrarium potting mix

terrarium layers, herb terrarium layers

8. NOW WE PLANT ALL THE THINGS. This part can get a bit tricky as it’s case of trial and error to get the placement of your herbs correct. There’ll be a lot of root trimming, prodding and praying that your seedlings don’t fall apart in the planting process, but don’t worry – these are resilient little things.

rosemary terrarium, thyme rosemary terrarium, herb terrarium

9. Once you’re happy with the plants, start decorating the final layer with pebbles.

terrarium pebbles, herb terrarium

And you’re done! Woohoo!!

herb terrarium, how to herb terrarium

Need extra terrarium making tips?

    • Keep in mind that your herbs. WILL. GROW. So make sure the jars or bowls you buy allow room for growth. Also helps to check the growth rate, sun and water requirements of the plants you’re planting.
    • Fancy trying other herb combinations? Basil, parsley and dill work well together, as do fennel and rosemary. If you’re a mint lover, peppermint and lemon balms love the shade, while chives and tarragon are lovers of cool weather.
    • Your local IKEA and two dollar / discount store are your friends. Etsy is also pretty useful if you want to add that special touch to your terrarium gifts with miniature goodies.


By the way, if you were wondering how my herb terrarium is growing now – IT’S GROWING TOO FAST AND IT’S OVERFLOWING. HELP, SOMEONE TAKE IT OFF ME.

This post was brought to you by Janelle Monáe’s cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, which is tops!

Op-ed: Asians in Hollywood

About 18 months ago, I was nostril-deep in my Masters degree and feeling particularly stale on the freelancing front. At the time, I was juggling four jobs as a retail assistant, data production editor at Thomson-Reuters, interning at Grazia, and attempting to blank my mum’s 1573 pleas to drop journalism and go study finance so I could get a real job. Do not ask me how I managed not to crawl into a hole and die from sheer exhaustion. Exhaustion = direct symptom of ambition that potentially borders on insanity.

Anyhoo – I wasn’t looking forward to much for my 21st birthday. Epic party with garage band and jumping castle hijinks had been delayed til July (this is what happens when you’re the only one in the batch who does an exam-free degree) and Asian-Australian/American/media research seeped from my very pores. It got to a point where I figured hey, let’s put all these textbooks to use. Two birds with one stone – lifelong ambition of being published in Sydney’s premier broadsheet newspaper, plus thesis material cheerfully juiced for the masses and my brain’s sanity.

What I originally penned under ‘Chortle chortle WISHFUL THINKING MUCH? Chortle chortle,’ became quite the giddy reality in a mere number of days. Needless to say, the Sydney Morning Herald gave me the best birthday present I could ever wish for.

Original article can be viewed online here.


Hollywood fails ethnic realism test
By Margaret Tran

As an Australian-born Asian I am well-versed on the Asian stereotypes that plague the Western film industry. The nerdy Asian guy, the exotic dragon lady, the perpetual foreigner type – the list goes on. Racial caricatures often have little if any basis in truth, but their impact continues to permeate society.

When I heard that Ben Mezrich’s book Bringing Down The House was being made into a film I was stoked. Here was a story with the potential to be a positive step against typecasting Asians in film. The book tells the true story of how six MIT students, mainly Asian-Americans, perfected a card-counting tactic and reaped millions of dollars from several Las Vegas casinos. The film adaptation, 21, was picked up by Sony Pictures and the Australian director Robert Luketic.

The ethnicity of the main players of the team was crucial to the story. In his book, Mezrich explicitly states that a Caucasian guy walking into a casino with huge sums of money would be more conspicuous than a non-Caucasian doing the same thing – “A geeky Asian kid with $100,000 in his wallet didn’t raise any eyebrows.”

In the film the lead roles were given to white actors. The role of Jill Taylor, based on Jane Willis (who told The Boston Globe the team was mostly Asian and male), was elevated to a leading role, despite being a minor member of the original team. The up-and-coming British actor Jim Sturgess was cast as the team leader, Ben Campbell, who was named Kevin Lewis in the book. Sturgess required coaching to perfect an American accent. In reality Lewis was Jeff Ma, an Asian-American Massachusetts Institute of Technology student who, with his Asian-American friends Mike Aponte and John Chang, took on the casinos.

In response to the casting, Mezrich said that even as Asian actors were entering more mainstream films, such as Better Luck Tomorrow and Memoirs of a Geisha, stereotypes of Asians still existed. Numerous internet forums erupted over what many deemed a “whitewashing” of an Asian-American story.

Amid the controversy the Asian-American actors Aaron Yoo and Lisa Lapira were cast as secondary characters. This happened well into the production schedule, possibly to throw token Asians into the mix. Their characters were nothing more than kleptomaniacs.

Film is a powerfully persuasive medium. By saying something is “based on a true story”, factual evidence is immediately implied. Unfortunately, Hollywood films are based on how marketable – and ultimately how much money can be made – from the story and the actors. To this end the industry dictates when and how ethnic actors can make it in the mostly white middle-class bubble that is the film industry. In the event that they do, ethnic actors are reduced to stereotypes.

More and more non-Caucasian actors – in this case Asians – are being cast in roles that leave little room to diversify.

Arguments pointing to the casting of apparently minority actors such as Will Smith in I Am Legend or John Cho and Kal Penn in Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle are unconvincing. These films did not depend on the role of ethnicity to drive the story. They were successful because their stories appealed to a general audience even though their leads happened to be non-white.

The core of Bringing Down The House was based on the group’s ability to use society’s perception of them to their advantage. By changing the part-Asian characters – Kevin Lewis and Mickey Rosa – into white Americans, the point of the story is contradicted.

Such a decision has significant implications for the portrayals of Asians in the film and media industry. An opportunity to show assertive, intelligent and real Asian-American characters to a mainstream audience was lost.

The studio’s decision to change the characters’ ethnicities is a glaring insight into the Hollywood of the 21st century. Despite the casting of Aaron Yoo in the film, some argue that producers were merely looking for the best actor for the role, or that there were no Asian-American actors good or profitable enough to carry the film.

It is a disturbing assessment of society, as similar financial reasoning is often applied to justify everyday gender and racial discrimination in the workforce.

The cultural myopia of Hollywood continues to ignore the multicultural melting pot that makes up many Western nations. It appears an Asian lead is just not Western enough for a Hollywood film.

semi-permanent beast

Self portrait 1.0
cr; lamahkun @ Facebook

It worries me that I spent NYE sitting at home catching up on performances from Korean end-of-year award shows. Rather than drive the 15 minutes to my friend’s farm for cosy NYE board games and drinkage. Rather than watch the brightness of the Sydney fireworks on the living room TV with my family. Rather than sit outside my yard watching mildly illegal fireworks prickle off and explode in sparkles of colour at the high school behind my back fence – which they have been for the past hour and continue to crackle away on a balmy night that drips with promise.

I got home at 8PM after spending the past four days swapping driving shifts in Melbourne and in between Melbourne and Sydney while listening to craploads of old pop, Western pop, K-pop, J-pop – I convinced myself not to buy a t-shirt that said ‘J-pop’ and sought refuge in the thought of creating one at home emblazoned with ‘K-pop for life’. I tried to eat myself toward the point of vomitting, sought cool shelter in the National Gallery of Victoria before melting on the sidewalk trekking from Queen Victoria Night Markets back to the apartment. Halfway through a bowl of wonton noodles on Russell, a cousin took a seat beside me and carefully placed his helmet on the next table. He’d taken a chance early that morning to ride his motorcycle from Sydney to Melbourne not realising that his cousins would also be there at the same time. He and I went looking for new friends on what was my last night in the city.

‘Have you done this before?’ I asked, sussing out a quartet waiting at the lights. Mildly tall, Asian-looking, cute-ish and heading toward San Churro, at least according to my lack of 20-20 vision. His glance met my bitten lip – habitual lip-biting thanks to mild anxiety-slash-overanalysis.

‘Once before, but accidentally,’ came my cousin’s reply as he assessed and digressed the situation. Two mildly dyed-up Asian girls, donned in skin-tight corsets and jeans that were clearly skinnier than my own, were most definitely coupled up with the two Caucasian guys. I half-decided I wanted my own skin-tight white corsetry before realising that we were assessing two different groups.

We ended up at a rooftop bar with a familiar yet unexpected face. As workers packed away the remains of the rooftop cinema, we draped across the railing making small talk and watching the New Years’ Eve Eve folk trickle across the astroturf. It felt mildly depressing that I spent most the night over-agonising to my own rambles and tacking them onto the ends of conversation, convinced that my cousin thought me more odd than usual and that his friends thought none too similar.

Self portrait 2.1
cr; lamahkun @ Facebook

I spent most of the year looking, but never really finding. I let myself settle, convinced to go with the flow and tried so hard to find what it was that I was so sure I was looking for, but could never feel truly satisfied. It worries me that I find so much near-implosive joy when I’m watching things online, reading things and fangirling and letting myself be carried away by the hilarious things filtering through my 22-inch screen instead of being in the genuine company of friends or enjoying the intricate pieces and nuances of real life.

In all honesty, I don’t mind being alone but these days it feels like I’ve spent so much time being alone that maybe I’ve become lonely before beginning to realise it as such. I reach for conversation and never feel as satiated like I used to be. I sit online and I blog and look to people I’ve never met. I know I spend so much time living inside my head, ‘feeling’ satiated by the stories in my head, but never ‘being’ because I spend so much time in my own world trying to find something. A connection, contentment, something to mirror all the things I see between people and moments that sit alone, but are so much more. I long to the point where I feel like I’m aching for something that will fill this void that I can’t quite place.

I used to write a lot when I was at uni and I used to channel parts of myself through the characters I’d create. I remember refusing to write in first person, despite the advice of lecturers and peers, because I was so adamant at never letting myself get too close to the characters. I hated writing in first person because I was convinced the folks in my workshop could see parts of me radiate from the page and it fucking scared me. It still does. I still hate writing in first person and I still hate writing stupid personal shit on blogs because it feels like all my fears and vulnerabilities are laid out for everyone to see. Hello stupid thought is stupid – the whole point of writing a blog is to do so with the knowledge that it will be read by someone. Never mind the fact that I hate self-indulgent blogs with a passion – yeah, watch me guzzle word vomit.

I keep most of my thoughts in text messages, conversation, freakishly long emails, private messages, the odd glance and common understandings between myself and the few albeit growing fewer close friends that I have. I don’t know why I’ve suddenly taken to laying bare some of my insecurities. Maybe it helps.

Self portrait 2.2
cr; lamahkun @ Tumblr

New Year’s resolutions tend to expire three months into the year, but anyhoo. This year I will:

  • Re-learn guitar. Specifically Julie Delpy’s waltz from Before Sunset and Lisa’s acoustic version of what is possibly my most favourite Korean song ever,누난 너무 예뻐 (Replay). My mum’s guitar has been shooting evils from the corner of my room all year.
  • Travel a.k.a. take some damn leave already. Specifically to hit up the USA in April so I can finally meet the Facebook friends I’ve been chatting for two years. And I will inhale bits of Hong Kong, Korea and Japan before this year ends.
  • Take more photos.
  • Spend more time in real time a.k.a get my damn arse offline.

In other news: my day-after-Christmas was spent with my primary school friends rolling, frying and steaming pork 140 dumplings, attempting to make a Domokun cake, making and inhaling Vietnamese prawn salad with jellyfish of awesomesauce, trying to make a roast pork mildly Korean with ssamjang sauce, watching my friend make implosively good green tea meringues. I later indoctrinated said friend and virgin Korean drama friends (yes, they exist) with 미남이시네요 (You’re Beautiful). Quite possibly the best/only Christmas I’ve had in a very long time.

NB: Dear Lamah – please stop me from hocking your beautiful photography to break up the monotony of my blog. I will buy you OJ if you do.

love: my mum is made of awesomesauce

A straw painting (blow air on paint through a straw) I did when I was three.
…and the corner of a poster of, um, fangirly joy *twiddles thumbs*

Of all the things to come home to, this almost takes the cake. These lovingly written notes appeared within a few days of each other and have been sitting above my workspace at home for the past month or so as constant reminder that “Hight Blood presser is NO Good.”

HELLS YEAH my mum is cooler than your mum. She totes a mean umbrella on blindingly sunny days, laminates each article her daughter’s every published and proceeds to Blu-tack them around the house. I think she will eventually lose her voice over the amount of times she comes into my room to lecture me and avalanche her love and concern in a jagged melody of Vietnamese proverbs followed by the old “Do you understand what I’m saying?” from which she’ll then proceed to translate in Vietlish.

My mum will fork out the hundreds of dollars for the professional graduation photos, put each of my degrees into wooden plaques as well as trot down to Cabramatta to get them done up in hardwood frames to display around the house. A humble smile will fill the corners of her mouth when old friends exclaim, “Wahhh con chị học ký giả? Giỏ quá!” (“Wahhh your child studied journalism? So clever!”) even though her immediate response at her daughter’s wish to pursue this profession was, “Không có người tóc đen học ký giả mà!” (“But there’s no Asians in journalism!”). And that’s barring the sheer amount of cooking and force-feeding she does to make sure my sister and I get all the nutrients we need even if it kills her – “Canh make con ấm” (semi-Vietlish translation: soup makes Child warm). I love coming home to the scents of Canh chua lá giang cá kèo and thịt kho (caramelised meat stew). Sometimes she might be making gỏi cuốn (Vietnamese rice paper rolls), bún gà nướng (baked chicken with vermicellli) or fry up a T-bone steak marinated in hoisin sauce and sesame seeds served with gỏi (Vietnamese salad) and fish sauce dressing – okay maybe that’s just me.

Bún gà nướng. Yes, I appreciate food porn.
No, we don’t make phở at home cuz it takes 13 hours to make the damn soup alone.
And I never though I’d mention the word ‘porn’ in the same blog as my mum. Aiyshhh..
Photo: Merydith @ Flickr

My mum speaks five languages while yours truly conducts her speech in odd English syntax and Vietnamese at the level of a 10-year-old. Her English is better than my Vietnamese, her Teo-Chew slaughters my own and as I struggle at times to differentiate between phonetic Cantonese and Mandarin, she’ll rattle off in both with sheer fluency at the Chinese grocer over the price of mangosteens .

It freaks me out sometimes being reminded that she was just 20 when she escaped Vietnam during the war. She’d sewn the jewellery her mother gave her into the hems of her clothes and blackened her face and hands with coal and boat oil to deter the pirates raiding her rickety boat. With just over a shotglass of water and a piece of moldy food to get her through the day, she’d be the one trying to quiet her nieces and nephews while grasping onto any sliver of hope that they would find land. She stared at open sea, seeing the sky meet the sea for almost five days straight and I think this is why a quiet fear seems to envelop her face whenever I tell her I’m going to the beach with friends.

So many people were lost at sea, so many drowned or were killed, or died at refugee camps. My mum was extremely lucky that her whole family made it to Australia – her brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews and her beloved parents. She has so much love to give and she doesn’t know what to do with it, so it comes at me in furious spurts that I have a tendency to interpret in all the wrong ways. In some ways, it’s a generational guilt I feel each time I do something wrong in her eyes or anything that doesn’t aim to make her proud. It can feel like a lifelong battle to make her content.

A lot of people would take the easy argument of “oh it feels like I’m not living my life, as if I’m doing everything for THEM” with the last word rolling off their tongue with resentment and thinly veiled anger. As if they lack the capacity to think on their own, using their own brain to make their own decisions and drive their own lives. As if their parents sacrifices have cemented their entire existence until the next generation is born, a role that can be emotionally agonising to fulfil.

I was at a multicultural food festival one weekend in Bankstown when a mother and daughter walked passed. The daughter looked about 17 or so and her hands were weighed down with Asian groceries, her little brother toting a similar weight while their small-framed mother walked behind them carrying food containers.

The moment they walked by, the daughter shrieked “YOU’RE ALWAYS FIGHTING WITH ME!!” in such a tone of anger that it rose above the dull roar of the huge bustling crowd and people turned to look at what the commotion was about. Her mother responded, “I’m not trying to fight with you,” in such a voice of calm that my heart ached for both her and her daughter.

Balancing parental expectations is nothing new, but I think it’s a whole new ballgame when it comes to migrant children. To say that it’s agonising figuring out the balance between familial aspirations with your own is putting it lightly. I’ll never know a single right way to live with my mum, or how to respond each time she makes an outrageous demand or purports that “showering after 9pm will make your bones shrivel up and die when you get old” – but I do know that she is only trying to raise me in the best way she knows how. I can’t expect her to drop everything that she’s ever been raised with and adapt completely to a new way of raising her daughters. I always remind myself that she is the way she is for a reason and that understanding each other is just going to take time.

For a woman who went through 13 hours of labour and a stint on the operating table to have me – a fact my dad and extended family have never let me forget – my mother is the strongest and most graceful woman I know. With a limp she’s had since she was three, she’ll walk with her head held high, “tsk tsk” disapproval at my constant habit of not standing with my back straight and work twice as hard as anyone around her. She wittily balance lectures on the importance of an education (“Don’t you know your cousins all got 99.35, 94.05 and 90.85 UAIs? Your cousin Tony had afternoon detention for five years in high school and he got 95.00!”) with personal hygiene (“If you don’t take a bath, your vagina will bleed worms!!” – yes I appreciate that everything directly translated will come out wrong). She potters around in a bid to make her home and her family the very best that it can be, in some ways to make up for the imperfections in the mirror that her eyes seem to see.

It’s funny realising how badly we clash sometimes. I guess it’s a startling yet comfortable reminder of how alike we are. My mum can care too much at times but whenever I’m helping her out with dinner, working from home in front of my computer or sitting with her in the living room watching a Korean drama dubbed in Vietnamese, I know she’ll be watching me. She’ll pat my head, pull me to her and say, “Child, do you know I’m very proud to have you as my daughter.”

Now I’m off to have a ‘short sleep for long periou of time’ and maybe lower my ‘blool precor’ while I’m at it.

I love my mum ❤

Review: Russh (July/August 2008)

Ugly post below. Pretty post here. Please show Erica Bartle some love! =)


July/August 2008

My first impression of Russh was via a work friend who brought Issue 8 into the retail shop and tried to indoctrinate me into what I immediately considered a magazine that was a wee bit too left of field for me with its offerings of retro styling, slightly-above-average writing, and overt brand of fashion photography. Looking back now, I’ve begun to realise that “overt” and “retro” were just excuses I made for my own misgivings in the same strand of “I-don’t-understand-this-magazine’s-purpose- and-therefore-I-am-above-it”. My first seriously purchased issue was number 18 with my newfound curiosity peaking as I partook in my New Year’s Resolution of “read magazines you wouldn’t normally read”. That issue was bought solely via the musical headlines “I’m With The Band: Famous Groupies” and “Best Ever Mix Tapes” – and I digress my superficiality: the title presented in super shiny gold lamination.

So it was with similar anticipation that I opened another Russh issue emblazoned by the word “groupies” (no, this is not my aspired mode of getting into music journalism). In a particularly beautiful understated allure that the magazine is famed for: black and white imagery dominates alongside muted colours in the “Pinch The Look” sections, where muted greys and pale blues are touted as shades to sport this season. But perhaps I’ve spoken too soon, because lo, behold: sequined and shimmery pants make a comeback in true 80s fashion (pun intended?) alongside black lace numbers in “Racy, Lacy”. A few doilies are thrown in for good measure via a white accessories driven shoot, which continues to cement Russh’s distinct drive for fashion reverb.

I often forget that models, beauty artists, and designers are indeed human beings, what with their often immaculate bone structure and facial features – plus the fact that they seem to occupy a whole other world to the average magazine reader means that I find any insights into their personalities a little unnecessary. This is what I found with cover star Hanna Soukupova’s interview talking about her personal style, favourite beauty products, place to shop. I can understand why those aspiring to be in the fashion industry being interested in what cues to take – which to me, is the purpose such interviews serve. Russh takes this opportunity to discover the person behind the face, which is all well and truly good, but the end results often bore the bejeesus out of me.

The cover story on haute couture house Gucci has editor Natalie Shukar speaking to creative director Frida Giannini about rock ‘n’ roll’s influence on the brand as well as the timely muses that inspire the designs and imagery. It’s an interesting take on the traditional fashion profile, despite the feature’s ordinary Q&A style. I was excited to see many of my favourite musicians featured in the music playlist of the fashion powerhouse, which only goes to show how well music seems to act as a social leveller – at least between the financially-challenged uni student and a luxury brand.

Knitwear is given an airing as the needles come out and nanny-fashion is suddenly made fashionable again via questionable takes on stockings. Rodarte takes knitwear to a whole new level of a muted sexuality with interesting takes on the “knitted dress”. Shapes are challenged via Sandra Backland’s rendition of a very complicated sheep fleece, but then again, perhaps I’m just not well-versed in the style stakes.

Fashion features continue as writer extraordinaire Fiona Killackey delves into the introverted mind of Josh Goot, while Fashion Week continues to ebb through the magazine sphere via Carli Philips profiles up-and-coming Australian label Arnsdorf, where the designs seem to echo Josh Goot’s simple, understated style with a much greater emphasis on neutrals. Russh’s editors have their own slice of the fun with their own impressions of the week. It’s interesting comparing Russh’s coverage of Fashion Week alongside other mags. We all know that Russh has a tendency to be caught in a perpetual cycle of retro-loving – clearly evident in their selection of highlights where lace and pastels seem to dominate in comparison to the other glossies.

That said, the mag has definitely improved their articles since the first few issues I picked up. There is a more sass and greater insight into the topics they cover. Lesley Arfin is a refreshing voice in her advice upon arriving in New York – “Eat at your favourite place, Make out, Embrace jet lag” – while Nicole Haddow goes cold turkey on her email, Facebook, and mobile for a week with refreshing results.

Killackey (nope, definitely no bias here) ponders the evolution of beauty alongside images of Charlotte Gainsborough (one of my favourite beauties – I think her slightly larger nose gives her character), ordinary girl Chloe Sevigny, and an interesting contrast of Sofia Coppola alongside Kirsten Dunst. Indeed: what is considered beauty? And what role does the media play in perpetuating such views? In any case, academic Paula Hamsforth offers some insight into the changing image-driven industry: “You only need to think back to the 1960s and the ‘Black is Beautiful’ movement to see how far we’ve come. Today we have models of all skin colours and we’re embracing that which differs from the traditional Anglo-Saxon idea of beauty.”

Despite the improved articles, however, I find that one of the only reasons why I buy Russh is to look at the visuals – it is possible that I may be both superficial as well as fashion-illiterate. And I possess equal parts love and apathy over the publication’s use of token retro garbs of soft-lit photography, 1960s beauties via Britt Ekland and Anna Karina, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and psychedelic coloured clouds in the Josh Goot feature. Russh also has a perpetual preoccupation with sexuality and nudity in both its photography and advertisements. With previous issues I’ve always felt compelled to play “Spot the nipple” in the same vein as a game of “Where’s Waldo?”, particularly after this issue’s advertorial of Irina Lazareanu. That said, the mag drives a much healthier balance between contemporary imagery and that of decades gone by this month, something which I put down to the dominance of Fashion Week coverage.

I still consider Russh to be the cool kid I’m still yet to understand and at times, find a little pretentious. She occupies a world where I fluctuate between enviably wanting to be in, and being totally ignorant to it all. A lot of the time I put this down to the fact that we do not and cannot match or relate to each other as often as myself and other magazines seem to. I still love the way she looks and I’m always finding beautiful images and sparks of inspiration between her simple laid out pages, but ultimately I’m content to agree to disagree in her sartorial and lifestyle choices.

Feature: Belles Will Ring

belles will ring review, belles will ring sydney feature interview, margaret tran belles will ring
I encountered who could quite possibly my favourite Sydney band, Belles Will Ring way back in 2006 when they opened for Death Cab For Cutie. I walked in pumped to see Transatlanticism unfold before my ears and eyes, but was completely carried away by the beautiful sounds of psychedelia washing over me. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before – a gorgeous thing that seemed to restore my faith in the Sydney music scene. The way the chords and sounds just seemed to wash over the crowd, floating softly in small lush fragments on air.

Anyhoo, I got the opportunity to interview the lead singer Liam Judson about the writing process, and the songs they were looking to unleash with their new album (which they’re currently working on). As music editor of Vibewire, I banged it up here. Also accessible below..



Belles Will Ring released an exquisite slowburn of retro psychedelic sounds to critical acclaim last year with their debut Mood Patterns. Liam Judson sat down to discuss the band’s upcoming show and writing for the new album.

Belles Will Ring entered the Sydney music scene like the proverbial slivers of sun on a dreary rain-drenched afternoon. At a time when the aural landscape felt saturated by electro beats and 80s disco revival, the Blue Mountains band offered some purer retrospect via simple melodies and refreshing though oddly seductive psychedelia. The fact that it’s barely been two years since the band started out is hard to fathom, especially considering the release of their debut LP within their first year of existence.

“Things happened for us really quickly, which was great, and that was one of the things that people would always point out,” says Liam Judson, lead singer and guitarist. “They’d say ‘oh Belles Will Ring, they’re so fresh, they’re so new, they’ve only been around for x amount of months or so’, and that kind of thing always sort of follows you around. But then you think, there’s absolutely nothing new about us anymore. We’re totally old, right now.”

There’s a self-deprecating quality to the band despite their serious pursuit of music. The bespectacled Liam in particular has a tendency to find things to keep his hands busy as we talk on a quiet night at The Annandale. The earnestness about the new record and the stuff that inspires the band is tangible in the way he talks and the much-loved sounds of Mood Patterns.

“A lot of people said it was really retro and all, and I understand that. There’s no hiding the fact that we’ve taken a lot of inspiration from a lot sounds over the late 60s,” he concedes. “But I like to think that [our music] is the sound of modern music.”

He appears adamant in making the distinction between old and new, as we start talking about new bands. “I sort of get freaked out by bands who do 60s bands really well,” he says, a sense of quiet observation in his tone. “They even do the suits and sort of mod haircuts, and everything is just so spot on, that it’s all kitsch, and you wonder how really relevant it is.”

When asked if there’s any pressure to live up to the first album and the prospect of suffering “second album syndrome”, Liam shakes his head.

“I’ve never felt the need to think, ‘oh how does this compare to Mood Patterns’. I haven’t even listened to Mood Patterns for a while,” he says. “And if I was freaked out about it, I would probably try to be infused from what I should do. If we like it, then there’s a good chance that a whole bunch of other people will like it, cuz you know, we’re not that weird.” He pauses. “I like to think we’re not, I know we are fairly strange people.”

With a new single looking to be released by the year’s end, Liam and fellow band mate Aidan Roberts have been holed up in the Mountains region for the past few months writing new songs. With recording being done in various rooms in his folks’ house, we can expect similar Belles’ compositions, more distinct highs and lows and “hopefully, it’s less ‘oh it’s a retro record’.”

“It’s not gonna freak people out, though it is a bit of a left turn,” Liam says of the new sound. “It’s probably a bit more varied in a sense that it’s different to Mood Patterns, it goes to more extremes. The first one has a kind of walking tempo to the whole thing, it was crusier, whereas this one is probably a bit more severe and it probably a bit softer too.”

The song-writing process doesn’t seem to have been entirely difficult, with old songs being brought out from the dusty memory banks pre-debut, and new ones being written moments before recording sessions. That said, Liam admits to having rather few recollections of the writing process.

“Who knows where the songs come from,” he says, fiddling with my tape recorder. “I don’t know where I write them, how I write them. They just end up there. I have no memory of writing them.” He takes a moment to consider the previous record. “I sort of remember writing Coldest Heart, sort of. It was in a particular room in my folks’ house in the mountains, and I thought that’s a great tune.”

With their live shows, audiences familiar with the original five-piece line up will notice the absence of one particular keyboardist, Jacqui Schlender. Liam says that just like any band, “we just had to split apart for several reasons – it’s not a big thing. That was Belles Will Ring then, this is Belles Will Ring now.” This definitely hasn’t affected live performances, as recent reviews have continually lauded. It’s all a case of keeping it “fresh” and new as they quietly permeate the live music scene.

“Some songs, we probably don’t play as much now because there were songs we playing a whole lot when you first start out, but the beauty of that is that when you stop playing it for like six months, and then you just think, ‘yeah let’s pull this out’, and it’s the freshest thing you could do.”

Belles Will Ring seem to have mastered the pleasing bridge between old and new, melding it to create the sound of a retro-futurist. Going by the success of their live shows and the melodies that seem to induce sporadic skipping through meadows, the band have definitely created an intriguing niche.

“What we’re always trying to do is to create music that just totally surrounds. We want the sound to be kind of dancing around you.”

WRITING: Palm Beach

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Photo by Toby Forage.

Another university assignment that involved me going to the beach on the first day of winter this year. I actually dislike travel writing immensely. I find it incredibly tedious and quite boring – why read about someone else’s thoughts about a destination, when you ought to visit it for yourself?

I really can’t be screwed typing out my thoughts for this one, but am posting it here for your perusal.



I suppose it was the perfect time for me to go. I’d seen it grace my television screen five nights a week, fluctuating between the Diner and the high school, arguments between the major characters on the beach, teenager-infused beach parties and under-aged drinking, and really, with tonight’s episode possessing the requisite cliff-hanger, how could I resist? Rolling waves, pristine sands, and a chance encounter with the cast of Home and Away perhaps? Who was I to deny such an opportunity?

Not one to be fussy with directions, as well as lacking the ability to reverse in manual, I let him do the driving. I sat with the street directory in my lap, deciding which of the main roads would be best travelled, and I wondered whether the year ‘1997’ on the bottom left hand corner of the directory was something to worry about.

In some ways, I started to worry when we began venturing into bushland, the tarmac road winding and stirring before us. A traffic pile up on the Lane Cove called to mind a fearful premonition of the long trip back. We kept an eye out for street signs, or rather he did. I’d forgotten my glasses.

The car endeavoured up a hill, turning and weaving in between the trees. It was a terribly windy, so we kept our windows up a fair bit. Traffic lights seemed to dwindle, and the shops became smaller and sparkled less of the commercial sheen that dominated the city. The trees seemed to open out as we drove, revealing parts of the ocean sewn by the horizon to the clearest blue skies. They were punctured by the grey steel barriers along the road, no doubt to keep the travellers from losing themselves completely in the beckoning fragments of utopia.

We exchanged good-natured profanities as the multi-storeyed houses came into view. It seemed amusing until the last bend. I found blanket of blue, picturesque to say the least and breathtaking to be the most. He took his time parking and I quickly thrust the required amount of coins into the ticket machine, imagining the granules of sand seeping between my toes as I got out of the car.

I stepped onto the sand that weaved a path through the grass toward the beach. Vegetation and ocean backing, I concluded vaguely, noticing the council men a fair way up ahead with their whipper snippers roaring. It was faint, but I found myself irked by the noise as I slipped off my shoes.

I used to shuffle a path through the sand when I was a child, digging my feet beneath the warm surface and feeling the cooler sand shock the nerves in my toes. I was rusty in my shuffling today, I remembered there being a certain art to it. Or at least the art that comes when one is six years old. I very rarely went to the beach, which is why I found it almost amusing that I should visit one on the first day of winter. I walked closer to the water, hopping as I went along in a struggle to roll up my jeans. My feet came to rest by the line on the sand where the waves washed up.

There came that moment of clarity. I stood watching the ocean, scrutinising the horizon, cursing the break caused by the yacht in the distance. It was white as usual, a jarring entity against the backdrop of blue that commanded the seascape. I wasn’t sure if it was bobbing or not, but I assumed it to be. There was also a faint black mass resting on the water in the distance.

My friend had since come up to stand a fair way behind me. He refused to take off his shoes, and the familiar green alligator embroidered on them seemed to chuckle and I wondered how long they would last with the tide. He was dressed top to toe in high couture street wear and I amused myself matching the whites on his jacket with the fourth storey balconies perching high on the cliffs behind him, overlooking the beach. I wondered what the black mass was in the distance. Thoughts in my head tossed up between an oil liner and a black whale, thought I was pretty sure it wasn’t the latter.

There was little wind on the beach and I was surprised. Waves lapped at my ankles and I found myself cursing my shadow. It rested on the orangey yellow sand, a black mass which grated the sand and the water. It moved like I moved, swayed like I swayed.

I began walking along the coastline, letting the waves chase my ankles. I wished that my shadow would just disappear. It seemed so jarring travelling along the sand beside me, at times, disturbed by the waves that came up to meet it, though it was the other way around more often than not. It seemed to destroy the peaceful nature of the beach, and I found myself dwelling.

A friend told me a story once that if someone didn’t have a shadow, it meant that they’d sold their soul. It made sense once you thought about it, and I couldn’t help but wonder what price you had to pay to gain any semblance of a property in the area. All the houses seemed incredibly vast and virtually impossible to obtain.

I continued to walk along the side of the waves, steering myself closer to the water each time I miscalculated how far the wave came and moving further away as the bottoms of my already rolled-up jeans began to drip.

He, on the other hand, continued to avoid the water, meandering as close as he dared and jogging slightly each time a wave came to close to those white, white shoes.

I counted nine other beach folk apart from myself and him. Apart from that, I realised there weren’t very many people around. We’d driven past an RSL and a golf club on the way in. Both had their dominant share of mature-aged patrons. High rollers and retirees I’d concluded. It seemed to breach the edges of the beach itself, nudging it with a certain darkness, and not just because of the dim lighting within the establishment.

There was a lighthouse up on a hill, and I noticed the enormous flight of stairs leading up to it nearly overgrown by the grass. I liked how it seemingly disguised itself from visitors, perhaps belonging to the earth one day, whereas the lighthouse continually flashed its presence.

Against my will, I decided against climbing up to it because of my time constraints and the commitments I had back home. It was difficult to pick up those memories though. The place had a certain microcosmic air, a natural bubble unimpinged by the rest of the world save for a few houses here and there. The roads were narrow and simplistic in their signage with their ‘Beach Road’ and ‘Ocean Road’, and curved all around the natural establishments. Natural process, I called it.

I stepped into the footprints of recent joggers, commenting on their foot size, how much they might’ve weighed by judging the depth of their feet. Sand had a way of doing that, measuring the worth of someone by the way they walked and ran. I looked back at my own prints and saw the faint outline of my feet and I wondered what that said about me. My friend’s prints did not follow mine in such a straight line, diverting at angles each time the wave came too close. I found it hilarious.

There was a shell in the sand and I picked it up, washing it in the surf. I noticed him doing the same, and we swapped our findings. They were similar in shape and texture, scallop-like, but their colours were starkly different. His was black in shades, whereas mine gleamed white.

He and I had grown up together from completely different households. I suppose in many ways, we’d grown up together and were close when sandpit wars were the main terms of negotiation. Somewhere down the track, we lost touch with the workings of each others’ minds, and although much time had passed, I believed that we were still the same.

I stood with my back to the waves for once and raised my head to look at the selected houses sitting on the side of the cliff. I remember reading somewhere that Lleyton Hewitt lived here. I amused myself wondering which one could be their house. These houses irked me in a way I found difficult to pinpoint. It all seemed so hierarchical. The trees that surrounded each house provided shade despite the morning sun and I amused myself thinking that perhaps they bought the trees to shade their empty human shells.

There was a certain dichotomy about Palm Beach, I realised as I got back into the car. There was no mistaking the calmness of the beach, and the pure stillness that came with it despite the ominous cliffs that shaded it. But there was this feeling that I couldn’t shake off. I guess in some ways, there would always be a kind of bleakness during the natural process. Human beings and their vices. I wondered if that would be escapable.

I realised he’d driven us to Star City for the second time in a week and parked in the same parking spot just outside the Pyrmont branch of Channel Seven studios, where, from my extensive knowledge of Home and Away, they filmed the majority of their programs. It was then that I knew that escape was an impossibility.