Slam dunk for underprivileged kids

In the fading afternoon sun, a young man stands on a basketball court with four young children excitedly running around him.

Minutes pass and the four children multiply until more than 30 are bouncing around his ankles with endless energy, seemingly immune to the day’s freezing conditions.

The man unzips the bag at his feet, pulls out a basketball and says: “Okay guys it’s time to start! Split up into two groups and form a line at half court.”

The children sprint off down the court and the young man draws an old silver whistle to his mouth.

His name is Steve Bacash, the head coach at Helping Hoops Richmond.

He gives his whistle a soft toot capturing the children’s attention and yells “okay guys let’s start off with a little warm up, give me two suicides!”

Helping Hoops is a charity dedicated to running free basketball programs for underprivileged children.

What started in 2009 as a single program in Footscray now delivers more than 450 free basketball sessions to more than 1000 children of all abilities, ages 7 to 21.

Participants at Richmond Helping Hoops. Photo: Joseph Regan

Steve first became interested in helping underprivileged youths while volunteering with The Big Issue.

“I was helping out with a street soccer program, which I had heard about through my days playing street basketball in high school, but felt like I couldn’t really help the kids out because I never played soccer.”

“So, when I heard about the opportunity to actually coach basketball and teach kids a sport that I knew the fundamentals in, I jumped at the chance.”

Steve started volunteering in 2013 and was promoted to head coach in 2015.

“I first started volunteering with Helping Hoops six years ago and then two years ago an opportunity came up to coach but our executive director Adam McKay was a bit reluctant to give me the role.”

“He said that he thought I would always be a bit more of a sidekick and that burned in my soul a little bit. However, I didn’t show it and I knew I had more to give.”

“They ended up giving the role to another African American dude with a lot of experience, but about six months later that didn’t work out so they gave me the job.”

“Two years on and I’m now doing four programs in Richmond, Croxton, Prahran and North Melbourne teaching the fundamentals of basketball to more than 150 kids a week.”

Steve is an easy going character and this relaxed, happy-go-lucky approach clearly comes through in the clinics with the focus on the kids having a good time rather than driving the technical development of basketball skills.

“At Helping Hoops we’re not here to turn these kids into champion basketballers, we’re here to create a feeling of community and instil values like teamwork, respect and interpersonal skills.”

“I layer the program because if it’s all basketball most of the kids won’t stay interested.”

“I try to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable to speak and be heard because a lot of these kids come from challenging families so I think it’s important to give them a space where they feel they have a voice.”

The energy and excitement on court is palpable, it’s clear the kids respond well to Steve’s approach as he orchestrates the mayhem with carefully timed bursts of his whistle.

Long-time Richmond Helping Hoops volunteer Meredith Oldhan says that Steve is an excellent mentor for the children.

“He’s a bit of a king of the kids when they are all out on court.”

“Tonight is a perfect example, we’re getting buffeted by freezing gusts, pelted with ice cold rain and it’s the first day back for lots of schools and there’s still at least 35 kids down here to shoot some hoops!”

“Steve thrives in this organised chaos and the smiles he puts on the kids’ faces at the end of each session always make it completely worthwhile,” says Meredith.

Helping Hoops executive director Adam McKay said that the work Steve does running four training sessions each week is invaluable.

“Each week Steve runs four different programs Wednesday to Saturday spread out across Richmond, North Melbourne, Prahran and Croxton, and at every one of the programs he knows every kids name and takes a genuine interest in who they are as people.”

“It’s only through the generosity of our dedicated coaches like Steve that we are able to reach as many people as we do.”

For Steve, it doesn’t feel like work anymore.

“Initially I found it difficult because you have to give so much of yourself and it can be difficult working out what kind of person these kids need you to be.”

“But after a while, you reach this level where you understand what you’re here to do and that’s when you really start to pick up on how rewarding [it is] working with these kids and watching them grow and develop into young adults.”

“At the end of the day these are great kids who just like anyone else need to be guided, nurtured and supported, and it’s an amazing feeling to be able to provide that to some of these kids.”

Helping Hoops is a not for profit orginisation dedicated to helping underprivileged children achieve their full potential through competitive sport.

More information on Helping Hoops can be found here.

Written by Joseph Regan

Neighbourhood watcher: Judy Ryan’s war on drugs

From the moment you meet Judy Ryan her passion for the neighbourhood she fondly refers to as ‘my village’ is impossible to ignore. “I just love this grungy area; I love walking out of my front gate and going ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen today.'”

As it turns out, this love of spontaneity has proved a valuable asset for Judy’s involvement with her neighbourhood and has led her to become one of its most valued members.

The seventh of eight children and hailing from Wangaratta, Judy is driven by a need to feel connected to those around her.

Warm and bubbly, it’s not hard to feel connected to her. “I just love knowing people,” she says with a shrug.

“Having lived in the country, I was very involved in the community … my parents were very involved – we’ve always had a sense of getting your energy from the community.”

So when Judy and her husband John settled in Abbotsford five years ago, the first thing she did was seek out a place for herself in her new neighbourhood.

“One of the things I wanted to do was create community for myself.”

She began by volunteering as a mentor with Yarra Community Friends. Then there was a stint in the Abbotsford Convent’s choir. But Judy’s greatest act of community involvement began last year in July 2016.

It was a typical Melbourne Sunday she says; cool but clear, not a cloud in the sky. Judy was on her way out and in the laneway behind her home, a young man lay overdosed on the concrete.

This has become so common that Judy is often afraid to leave her home – not out of concern for her own safety, but for the wellbeing of those she refers to as her ‘regulars’: the individuals using her laneway as their own injecting facility.

Upon leaving to meet me, she explains, there was someone using her laneway to inject. She has become so involved in the lives of addicts her GP has advised her to be vaccinated against hepatitis.

Judy’s work has brought her into close contact with victims of drug abuse and their families. Photo’s: Judy Ryan

Not one to be passive, Judy reached out to her council and after failing to get results, decided to run herself as a single-issue candidate. She received more than 600 primary votes, putting her on the map and on top of various organisations’ contact lists.

After being inundated with emails from interest groups across the Yarra, she noticed one from Victoria Street Drug Solutions.

Judy picked up the phone and arranged to meet them the next day, and became involved instantly. Her first order of business was to instil her community values into the organisation, which she did by changing the name.

Judy is now secretary of Residents for Victoria Street Drug Solutions (RVSDS) – a community-led initiative campaigning for the introduction of a supervised injecting facility into the community.

After touring Sydney’s Kings Cross injecting facility, Judy decided “I want one of these in my backyard” and began the push along with RVSDS’s other members: “I just felt the residents didn’t have a voice”.

RVSDS has become that voice and Judy is its loudest member. “We often call Judy the Erin Brockovich of North Richmond. She’s really helped bring a spotlight to what is going on here,” says Penny Francis of North Richmond Community Health.

“She is genuine, generous and has true community spirit – around her kitchen table strangers become friends,” says Kylie Troy-West, one of Judy’s fellow RVSDS members. “There’s that sense of dedication to her community and the drive to act in their benefit.”

When our conversation turns to the addicts there’s no bitterness or judgement, only maternal concern, and an empathy coming from personal experience. Having lost two nephews to heroin addiction, Judy is no stranger to the suffering families affected by drug abuse. She believes, if they had had access to a supervised injecting facility they would have been saved.

After our meeting, Judy takes me on a walk around her neighbourhood; we visit local injecting and dealing hotspots. It’s a tour Judy has conducted many times with various politicians and journalists to highlight the need for injecting facilities, “I like people coming out to see for themselves,” she says.

“Education is key,” she tells me, and the streets speak for themselves. Stepping into one commonly frequented car park, we witness someone shooting up. Syringes and cotton swabs litter the ground.

“Imagine overdosing in a place like this,” Judy reflects as we stand in the falling rain, among piles of rubbish and muddy puddles. But she’s optimistic RVSDS’s efforts will end that possibility: “I’m so full of hope,” she tells me.

Judy doesn’t want recognition or credit for her efforts, but her dedication shouldn’t go unrecognised. Since becoming involved Judy has put her life on hold.

She still works three days a week at a school in Brighton, but it’s clear her work with RVSDS is her true passion, and she is determined to see her project through, “mum would say ‘you should never die wondering'”.

It’s clear that though Judy may be keen to return to her everyday life, she has no plans of quietening down until she’s achieved a better environment for all of her village.

Residents of Victoria Street Drug Solutions will hold their inaugural March to Stay Alive on August 27 in anticipation of International Overdose Awareness Day to raise awareness and funds.

To become involved or find out more about RVSDS visit its website or Facebook page.

Written by Alice Wilson


One souvlaki to rule them all

After a night out on the town, some would say, nothing on earth compares to a big, fat, greasy souvlaki.

Fitzroy’s Brunswick street is home to some of Melbourne’s best venues, for an evening out and the subsequent 4 am souvlaki that follows.

Four shops near the corner of Brunswick and Johnson Streets dominate Fitzroy’s souvlaki game, each bringing a special style and flavour to one of the world’s most loved hangover cures.

At the Yarra Reporter, we have selflessly sacrificed our Saturday morning to talk to locals and comprehensively taste test each souvlaki to answer once and for all which is best!

Lambs on Brunswick, located at 314 Brunswick Street, serves your traditional, no frills souvlaki with a choice of home made sauces.

Richmond local and late night souvlaki enthusiast Lucas Anderson said Lambs on Brunswick is your best bet for a late night feed.

“Lambs is my favourite spot, the guys in there are super efficient and always send your food out fast.”

“My only issue with lambs is that sometimes I find they char their meat slightly too much,” Lucas said.

Of the four shops on Brunswick street, Lambs sits right in the middle value wise with a souvlaki starting at $11.

The Real Greek Souvlaki at 315 Brunswick Street offers a slightly more upmarket souvlaki, as well as an array of moreish sweets and treats including homemade baklava and kataifi.

The Real Greek Souvlaki is slightly more expensive than Lambs with standard souvlaki’s starting at $12.

Real Greek Souvlaki. Photo: Joseph Regan

However, Fitzroy locals Jacob Friest and Andrea Crocco believe the one dollar premium is entirely justified.

“Of all the shops on the strip Real Greek easily has the most appetising spread – all the food looks really fresh and you can tell everything’s hand-made.”

“Out of the four, Real Greek is the place to go,” they said.

Chubbys Kebab, Pizza and HSP might be the best value on Brunswick Street, with the going rate for a souvlaki at a measly $9.50, but regular Chubbys’ customer and Fitzroy local Adam Crew said that there’s a clear reason the souvlakis are the cheapest on the strip.

Chubbys kebab, pizza and HSP. Photo: Joseph Regan

“At the end of the day Chubbys is cheap and nasty, it’s the kind of place you go late at night and it tastes good at the time, but you pay for it the next day.”

“In saying that I think they have the best bread on the strip, particularly the Turkish bread,” Adam said.

Souvlaki King at 311 Brunswick Street also serves souvlaki’s starting at $11, however locals know that this isn’t value-for-money.

Lucas Anderson said that of the four shops on the strip, Souvlaki King is easily the most forgettable.

“Souvlaki King is alright, but it’s not the first place I would be going, in fact it’s probably the fourth,” Lucas said.

All four souvlaki shops on Brunswick Street are open until 5 am, so if you’re ever feeling so hangry you could ‘squirrel grip’ your brother we at The Yarra Reporter would recommend The Real Greek Souvlaki.

Written by Joseph Regan

Subsidised solar anyone?

Residents Yarra wide will soon have access to subsidised solar panels through the Yarra Energy Foundation’s ‘Solar Bulk Buy’ program.

The program’s expansion comes after a successful trial in the neighbouring suburb of Richmond where there were more than 300 expressions of interest and solar capacity within the suburb increased by 10-12%.

The bulk buy gives residents access to market leading rates by aggregating suburbs of people and making a single discounted bulk purchase.

Yarra Energy Foundation acting chief executive Dean Kline said the program’s expansion will make solar power more accessible and affordable.

“The solar bulk buy, planned for early 2018, will give all Yarra residents the opportunity to purchase high quality solar photovoltaic (PV) systems for their homes or businesses at market leading rates.”

“This is the best option for homeowner’s eager to invest in solar power. The program’s scope means that we are able to demand quality materials with bulk purchase discounts.”

“This process makes it easy for households to make the move towards solar power because we organise everything from finding quality manufacturers, to overseeing installation and even project managing if required,” Mr. Kline said.

Solar powered panels installed as part of the program are predicted to have paid for themselves after five to eight years and PV systems are guaranteed for at least 25 years.

Saint Marys House of Welcome in Fitzroy received an eight kilowatt (Kw) solar PV system last September and business manager Kathy Hogarty said the donation makes a huge difference to their bottom line.

“Our services like hot showers, a warm place to relax and freshly prepared meals demand considerable electricity use and the solar panels save us about 10 to 12% on our monthly electricity bill.”

Solar piping can be used to heat water without gas or electricity. Photo: Joseph Regan

“That equates to around $2500 a year, which is enough money for us to provide meals to the homeless for a month.”

“The installation itself was quite seamless and a sideline to that it brought a level of awareness both to our organisation and the community at large where by people consciously thought about their own energy use,” Mrs. Hogarty said.

Doctor Jacek Jasieniak Monash university’s director of Energy Materials & Systems Institute said solar power is the most viable renewable energy option for those living in metropolitan areas.

“About 16% of Victorian households have solar power, which equates to about 400,000 homes. It’s a popular renewable energy option for metropolitan households because it is among the cheapest available and only limited by roof direction and size.”

“The average household uses between 20 – 25 kWh per day. To produce enough solar power to meet these energy demands a household would need 17 – 21 high powered panels at the minimum.”

“While it is unlikely that typical metropolitan houses will be able to go off grid, there is no impediment for local generation on a smaller scale that is used, passed back to the grid, or stored in a local energy storage system,” Dr. Jasieniak said.

Registrations for the Yarra Energy Foundation’s solar bulk buy are expected to open early 2018, for more information click here.

Written by Joseph Regan

New Laws Leave Cyclists Flat

New road rules are set to redefine Victorian arterials for both cyclists and motorists from the 1st of July.

The laws give riders access to all bus lanes across Victoria unless otherwise signed and include $476 on the spot fines for cyclists caught using their phone.

These changes bring cyclists into line with all other road users and are designed to streamline the prosecution process with police issuing on the spot fines, rather than charging riders through the expensive and time-consuming court process.

Changes to the bus lanes come following a five year trial on two of the Yarra’s busiest arterials, Hoddle Street and Johnston Street. The trials found that allowing cyclists bus lane access increased rider safety and reduced traffic congestion.

Acting Minister for Roads and Road Safety John Eren says that the new legislation will make Victorian roads quicker, and easier for everyone.

“Safety is our top priority – that’s why we’re investing in separated cycling paths and updating the road rules to move riders away from high volume traffic lanes.”

“These are common sense changes aimed at keeping people safe on our roads,” Mr. Eren said.

However, Val Nagle from the Yarra Bicycle Users Group believes that giving cyclists access to bus lane’s is only a start and much more should be done to improve rider safety.

“These changes are window dressing, cars going down these roads are travelling at 60 kms an hour and any cyclist who has any awareness of their own safety doesn’t ride down a road with a bus lane in it,” Mr. Nagle said.

Bus/Bike lane on Hoddle Street. Photo: Joseph Regan

“Personally, the only bus lane I use is the one on Johnson Street and that’s spooky enough as it is, there’s so many bikes and cars moving in an out, particularly between Smith Street and Hoddle Street, that it’s just too tight.”

“No cyclist likes using bus lanes, its dangerous but it’s the lesser of two evils, it’s like the choice between Stalin and Brezhnev.”

The new on the spot fines have also caught the ire of cyclists with many feeling the new law is unnecessary.

“I can understand the argument that there should be one sort of penalty for everyone operating a vehicle on the roads, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen one person out on their bike having a text.”

“This is not a real issue for cyclists, it’s just a law for laws sake,” Mr. Nagle said.

Distracted road users are a danger to themselves and others. Photo: Joseph Regan.

However, Chief Scientist – Human Factors from the Australian Road Research Board Professor Michael Regan believes that any legislation that encourages people not to use their phones while commuting will reduce road trauma.

“In terms of crash risk, the latest studies suggest that if you talk on the mobile phone while driving you increase your risk of having a crash by two times. If you are texting on a phone your risk is roughly multiplied by seven.”

“Using a mobile device while riding takes your eyes off the road, mind off the road and hands off the road, so I would say that in many ways using a mobile phone while riding a bicycle is more dangerous than in a vehicle,” Prof. Regan said.

A full list and further details on the new laws are available on the VicRoads website.

Written by Joseph Regan

Human toe stolen from Canadian bar serving human-toe-cocktail.

In a mining town in northern Canada, an alcoholic beverage exists, which is aptly known as the “Sourtoe Cocktail”.

The menu item, being less of a cocktail and more of a shooter, has only two ingredients, whiskey and… you guessed it, a mummified human toe.

In what seems to be a set of absolutely true events, the human toe was recently stolen by a man from Quebec, likely for notoriety amongst his peers, but also quite possibly for a number of other sinister and horrifying reasons.

Legend has it, a ‘rumrunner’ lost his toe to frostbite in the 1920’s while transporting barrels of booze to Alaska during the prohibition; he then preserved it in alcohol and left it in a Cabin where it was discovered some 50 years later.

No one knows why the unnamed rumrunner would have attempted to preserve the toe, as Replantation – the medical term for limb reattachment – wasn’t a thing until the 1960’s.

Luckily for the Sourdough Saloon, a questionable character by the name of Captain Dick Stevenson discovered the toe in the 70’s while cleaning out an old mining cabin. Bringing it back to town, he used the toe to concoct the “Sourtoe Cocktail”, and created what could be the first ever drinking game; daring those brave enough to take a sip. 

Downtown Hotel/Facebook

The case of the missing toe, was for obvious reasons, international news. In Canada, a nationwide police hunt was underway last week, while the bar itself was offering a reward for the safe return of the stolen toe.

Just four days into the investigation, with pressure mounting, the criminal-mastermind, sensing he may have one foot in the grave, mailed the toe back to the Sourdough Saloon, along with a handwritten apology.


Unsurprisingly, the bar’s “toe captain,”  Terry Lee, had told the Global News that they were furious as “toes are very hard to come by.” However, it did come to light that they have several mummified toes making the rounds at any given time.

In fact, the likelihood of the stolen toe being that of the unnamed rumrunner from the 20’s is slim to none, putting a real dampener on the wow-factor of the story.

Although, the knowledge that the toe has been replaced several times, once because it was accidentally swallowed by a patron, does bolster its overall appeal.

Unlike most stories in the news this one ends on a happy note for all involved, except of course for those who have donated their toes.

I think we can all agree that the “Sourtoe Cocktail” would be well suited to a number of establishments in the Yarra.

By Tiyana Matliovski  

Inner Melbourne suburb on the brink of losing a community recreational space

A group of Richmond residents have pledged to campaign against Richard Wynne, the current State Labor member for Richmond, in the next Election after the suburb’s netball courts were sacrificed in a land swap to deliver a new high school.

However, earlier this month, Mr Wynne announced that the rezoning of Ryan’s Reserve, despite strong community opposition, would go ahead, but would deliver a 10-storey commercial/residential development instead.

“Ostensibly a land-swap with the Department of Health and Human Services to build the new Richmond High School on surplus DHHS land, the proposal is to rezone Ryan’s Reserve to allow it to be developed as a 10-storey commercial and residential development,” Maree Nahill, Saving Ryan’s Reserve convenor, commented in The Age.

The story first came to YR in November 2016 when residents began campaigning against the rezoning of Ryan’s Reserve (RR), a popular recreational site at 510 Swan Street in Richmond.

Six months on, momentum is building with Federal Greens Leader Adam Bandt committing to their cause. A disallowance motion was put forward in the Upper House by Greens MLC Greg Barber to reverse the zoning change and will go to a vote on June 7.

The campaign’s Facebook page has asked locals to “write to the Liberal Upper House MP’s to ask them to support the Green’s motion.”

The RR netball courts, which are also used as tennis courts, have been public land for more than 100 years, servicing over 1000 players every year.

Considered an integral part of the community in Richmond, the courts provide people of all ages, particularly girls and women, with a thriving recreational space.

Almost a year ago, there were whispers that the netball competition conducted at RR would be moved to another Richmond location on Gleadell Street.

After locals were officially informed about the proposed move, the netball community argued against it as the new site would be unable to host the volume of people currently using RR. A lack of parking and access issues on Saturdays were among the main issues.

A group of long- time Richmond residents met Mr Wynne to outline their concerns that the plan would be the death knell for the netball competition and participation of girls and women in sport. They also said it was poor planning to be robbing the community of prized and well located recreational space in the Burnley area, which is facing a population growth of more than 70 per cent in the next 20 years.

Saving Ryan’s Reserve convenor, Maree Nihill, had hoped that their arguments would sway the minister’s decision, but to no avail.

Mr Wynne, with his hat on as Planning Minister, had already referred the land to the Government Land Standing Advisory Committee (GLSAC) to assess the land for rezoning to allow a nine-storey commercial and housing development.

In late October the GLSAC held public hearings and received 90 submissions, most of them from people opposed to the rezoning.

The Richmond Netball Association submitted that loss of the courts was discriminatory to women and girls playing netball. The submission also said its competition could not be replicated at Gleadell Street due to capacity issues.

During the public hearings, Mr Wynne had sought to defuse the issue by announcing “new” netball courts at Richmond West Primary School and Melbourne Girls.

With the courts already in existence, and currently used for multiple sports by the schools, the Richmond Netball Association has stated it is not suitable for their needs.

Many campaigners opposing the closure of RR had supported the introduction of a new school for the area to meet the needs of the growing population.

With an obesity epidemic and a significantly lower number of girls and women in sport than men, restricting recreational space has the potential to cause lasting and irreversible damage to the community and taking away Ryan’s Reserve can only serve to punish the current and future residents of Richmond.

Read the GLSAC report here, which reviews the decision for rezoning the land.

And head to the Saving Ryan’s Reserve Facebook page to join the campiagn and keep up to date with the fight for saving the much-loved community netball courts.

Written by Claire Heaney, Saving Ryan’s Reserve