The pull of the family tide…

•October 26, 2010 • 1 Comment

It seems I spent most of my late teens and my entire 20s pulling away from my family. Like many of my friends, I moved cities and even countries in a bid to put space between my family and my fiercely independent self.

I created new families made up of like-minded friends. I rarely saw my real family and even relished working on Christmas Day. I made catastrophic mistakes and was so proud of my independence.

However, life has a way of bringing us back to the thing we rejected for so long.

In my case it was the death of my father, followed three weeks later by the birth of my son and then the subsequent breakdown of my marriage and the ensuing court case(s). I needed support in a way I’ve never needed before. My family was amazing. My virtual families were equally amazing.

I feel guilty that the family I rejected for so long was there when I needed them. I felt terrible that I needed everyone more than ever before.

And now I find myself in Manly, sitting across from St Matthews Church where my grandparents were married in the 1930s. I think of them on their wedding day. The church was relatively new then and they were so excited.

George and Nancy Watson on their wedding day

Wedding Day

I feel so much closer to them now. I know they walked where I’m walking. I know the street where they lived. I think of my grandmother when I catch the ferry and think of her also travelling into work. She  was a secretary and said men literally chased her around the desk and wanted her to sit on their knee while she took dictation!

I feel safe here and happy and I do wonder if some of that is because I feel closer to my roots.

What is it about the pull to the things we know when things are tough? Do we split off again when things improve?

Now I have my own child, am I ready for him to pull away? I already feel that wrench when he stubbornly refuses my help and is determined to do it himself. How hard must it have been for my family to watch me do exactly the same thing and make a great and not so glorious mess of everything?


The Secret Shimmmergirl Slow-cooked Beef in Guinness Recipe

•October 6, 2010 • 8 Comments

I’ve been asked about my Secret Shimmmergirl Slow-cooked Beef in Guinness Recipe for a very long time. I’ve usually declined, only because it’s in my head, and God knows it’s hard to untangle my brain sometimes! However, I was talking to my fabulous friend Fiona about the joy of slow cookers today…and I was inspired.

I’ve just put the casserole in the slow cooker and thought I’d blog the recipe before it was lost to the ravages of time.

Now, please know measurements aren’t exact and you can play with different vegies/herbs etc. The one thing you must include in Guinness or a very dark stout. And you also have to drink Guinness while you make it or it doesn’t turn out as well. That said, that’s a bit of an ask if you’re putting it in the slow cooker at 9am.


500 grams of chuck steak, cut into medium sized cubes and shaken in a plastic bag with 1/2 cup of plain flour and a bit of salt and pepper .( I’ve only just discovered chuck steak. I used to buy the cubed beef from Coles or similar, but it dries out. Get the chuck steak and don’t cut the fat off it. Trust me.

2 tablespoons of HP Sauce or Beerenberg Coopers Ale BBQ Sauce .

1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce

A bouquet garni. This is where I get all Jamie Oliver and say use fresh herbs like thyme, parsley, rosemary and tie them with cooking string and dangle them in the pot so you can take them out when cooking is finished. I like to use a Herbies Spices bouquet garni which is in a bag and makes everything taste great. That said, just throw in about 2 tablespoons of dried herbs and drink more Guinness.

About 3/4 of a can of Guinness (you can drink the rest) – otherwise 1-2 cups of Guinness – remember you don’t want too much liquid in the slow cooker. As long as the level of liquid comes up to halfway up the pot, you’ll be fine.

1 can of tomatoes

Half a cup of tomato paste.

1 Massel Beef flavoured stock cube (or similar brand – I’ve even used Oxo in the past)

2 carrots – chopped any way you like

3 sticks celery, chopped

optional veggies: mushrooms, parsnip, potatoes (cut into small cubes)

1 onion diced

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter (in the words of that great Dream Cuisine chef, Owen Saddler, ‘butter makes everything better’.


Put the oil and butter in a heavy based fry pan or a nice big cast iron casserole and heat it over a medium-high heat. Fry the meat rolled in flour until brown. Some people say it makes no difference, but I believe it does. Put the meat in your slow cooking pot (or on a plate if you’re going to use the casserole dish). Now put a bit more oil in if needed and fry your celery and onion. Do not put raw onion in your slow cooker. You’ll have no friends for days.

Throw the meat and all the vegies in the slow cooker. Put the can of tomatoes in the pan you’ve been frying in and scrape off all the delicious bits that have caught up on the bottom of the pan. Pour onto veggies and meat.

Put the bouquet garni in the pot. Put the HP or Coopers Sauce in the pot as well as the Worcestershire sauce. Don’t put the tomato paste in yet.

Now, pour the Guinness in. This really is a matter of judgement. If you think there needs to be some more liquid in then throw some more in. Drink the rest.

Put in the slow cooker on low for eight hours or on high for about 6. If you’re cooking in the oven, I have no idea what temperature and for how long, but I imagine on a low heat for three or four hours.

When it’s cooked have a taste. If it tastes a bit ‘thin’ add the tomato paste and salt and pepper. If it’s too watery, then take the lid off the slow cooker, ramp up the heat and reduce the sauce. If still too watery, add the stock cube.

This casserole tastes fantastic with mashed potato (I’m a recent convert to Dutch Cream potatoes for mash) or rice and for some reason has to have baby peas!

It also makes a great filling for pies.

So there you go, the secret Shimmmery recipe.

Music and podcasts…why quality makes all the difference.

•January 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment

My name is Kylie Johnson and I have a problem. I confess I hate bad music. I confess I especially hate royalty free music.

It’s not actually true that I hate bad music. I seem to know all the words to a lot of very bad songs. What I actually can’t stand is that horrible tinned royalty free music that many people use in their podcasts.

They use it because the alternative is paying enormous amounts of royalties for music and it’s usually not possible. For example in 2006, I wanted to use the great Coldplay track “Clocks” for CSIROpod, but it would have cost CSIRO many thousands of dollars. APRA (Australasian Performing Rights Association) does a great job of protecting the rights of musicians but in 2006  it hadn’t caught up with the technology and was treating humble podcasters the same way it was treating radio stations. The reality is that no podcaster can afford to pay mega thousands for a music track.

I had a deadline to meet and so I started investigating royalty free music. Oh the humanity! It’s like someone gave a chimpanzee a synthesiser, a glockenspiel and bottle of rum and let them loose with a tape recorder. Awful awful awful.

With only a day to go before the podcast was due to be released, I discovered some music one of CSIRO’s science communicators had written, and used that (with his permission obviously). I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it and I had a deadline…and suddenly it became the official CSIROpod music. It had an unusually lazy beat and someone called it “the p*rn music”. The name stuck and it’s been called that ever since. I must confess I haven’t listened to CSIROpod for sometime so I’m not sure if they’re still using the same music.

Last week I was faced with a similar challenge. I had to create the first Digital Dips podcast for Fleishman-Hillard in about two days. This time, I was determined to get the music right.

So I contacted Charlie Chan. Charlie is a magical creature who writes beautiful music for movies, television and documentaries.

I met her when I was working at Channel Seven. I was working on this horribly tabloid television show and Charlie wrote the intro music. She was a very bright spark in a bit of a wasteland and while I only met her a couple of times, I never forgot her.

Fast forward (ahem) 19 years and I’m on the phone to Charlie, asking if I can buy a music track. Not just any music track. I want the track she wrote which was used by the ABC’s program Australian Story.

I knew it was probably impossible, but I have always loved the Australian Story music. If you shut your eyes, you can just imagine travelling on a journey, winding your way along a road set in the rainforest. It’s a really evocative piece.

The track is called Paradise, from Charlie’s album “East and West” which you can buy from Martian Music

Charlie and I struck a one off deal for a year.  I used a remix of the Paradise track and it just makes all the difference to the podcast. If you want to hear it, check out my earlier post which includes a podcast interview with Kate Lundy

I truly believe it’s worth spending money to make a podcast sound good. You can cut corners in other areas, but it makes sense to pay a one-off fee to a local musician than using hideous royalty free music. Plus you’re supporting local arts and culture.

If I’m creating a podcast for a client, I like the result to sound polished and professional. Good music, a good ‘radio voice’, good talent and good editing make all the difference.

You can check out the amazing Charlie Chan at her website:


p.s. for the cynics among you (and I’m normally one of them), this isn’t a plug for Charlie. I just like what she does.

How do you commute to work?

•January 11, 2010 • 1 Comment

So how do you commute to work?  I caught the ferry to work the other morning for the first time in 15 years!

Canberra has ‘the lake’, but it’s not exactly a commuter hotspot.

Usually, my Canberra commute is made up of hurried car trips, drinking tea out of my thermos and munching on toast with one hand while I steer with the other.

The Sydney commute is another story.  I don’t drive for a start. It’s just too hard. Instead…the ferry is a much better option.

I walk past the little cafe, grab a coffee and some turkish bread and head down to the wharf. The caveat I would put in here is that I’m only in Sydney on the days I don’t have Jack. The other half of the week is still spent charging around in the car getting him to school etc.

When I’m in Sydney on my new commute, I keep thinking how lucky I am to look at the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge on the way to work. Surely no one ever gets sick of this?

 Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House

the best commuter view in the world?


The power of podcasting…and why I love it.

•January 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’ve spent the past few days rediscovering my love of podcasting. I began podcasting at CSIRO in 2006. CSIROpod became far more successful than anyone (especially me) ever expected.

After the success of CSIROpod, I became swept up in the possibility of the new.  New possibilities take up time and I just haven’t had a chance to get back into podcasting.

Ironically, I’ve run several podcasting workshops over the past few years…but I just haven’t been podcasting myself.

It’s funny how things can change so rapidly, because I spent last week creating three podcasts. Each one was fascinating, interesting and challenging in equal measure.

It started when my General Manager at Fleishman-Hillard, Walter Jennings (author of, asked me to create some audio podcasts about Digital media.

I chose Gov 2.0 and then just threw myself into it. The end result? Interviews with Australian Senator Kate Lundy; the General Manager of Fleishman-Hillard in Korea, Yvonne Park and Gov 2.0 advocate Craig Thomler (author of

They’ll be up on the Fleishman-Hillard website shortly. In the meantime, click on the audio player link below to listen to Senator Lundy discuss the future of Gov 2.0, the implications of the Australian Government’s Clean Feed proposal and the ‘Obama factor”

When the IT Department is not your friend…

•January 11, 2010 • 2 Comments

I’ve been reading a really interesting post by Che Tibby, about the need for guerilla tactics when trying to introduce web 2.0 projects into a government department or private enterprise:

Che cites the example of New Zealand’s National Road Safety Committee and how staff went about setting up its Road Safety Forum. They found they had a lot of resistance from their IT department.

This is really typical of a lot of IT departments. I first encountered it at a Government agency I once worked for. We needed to get RSS up in order for our new podcasts to be a real podcast, as opposed to a downloadable audio file.

The IT department told us it had many other priorities and it could take more than a year to get RSS up and running.

In the end, one of the fabulous negotiators from the agency’s website spoke to a contact in the IT department, and RSS was enabled in less than a day.

But I remember being so shocked. I thought that IT departments would be really encouraging of social media, but as Che says in his post: ‘ICT support in many agencies usually centres exclusively on the provision of certain core services. Anything slightly innovative is viewed with skepticism, distrust, and passive aggression’.

One Government client I worked for virtually had to sign his life away to guarantee to his IT department that one little podcast wouldn’t bring down the entire website.

Having spoken to IT staff, I think part of the problem is security. The other thing is that they’re understaffed and have many competing priorities.

One thing I find really interesting is the number of IT Departments who try to hose down Web 2.0 projects by saying “we don’t have the bandwidth”. And everyone just nods their heads and goes back to their desks. IT departments have done really well out of this, but now I’m seeing a trend where people are finally firing back with “OK, how do we get more bandwidth?”. When they’re told it will be expensive, they say “OK, well give me the figures”.

One Government Department I know had such a difficult time getting Web 2.0 material up on its website that it’s outsourced it to a private company. They were quoted more than a million dollars by the IT Department for a service that’s costing them much, much less.

And other departments are going around in circles, trying to convince a reluctant Executive to approve web 2.0 projects. They just keep hitting brick walls.

So, what’s the answer? I think Che is right. Guerilla tactics are needed. Sometimes it’s much better to seek forgiveness than ask permission. I know of one Government agency that has been debating setting up a Facebook page for at least a year. In the meantime, a staffer from Queensland set up his own page, which appears to be an official site.

The Government agency and its IT Department had legitimate reasons to be concerned. It’s not allowed to put its IP on a foreign server without special permission. However, as one Gen Y PR graduate said to me “But all the interesting stuff is on foreign servers”…

So, how do we work with (and not against) reluctant IT departments? Do we feel their pain and give up quietly, do we fight them, or can we find a middle ground? Plenty of public servants are dealing with this issue right now, and its driving many of them demented.

Social Media policy in the gov 2.0 space

•December 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I never thought I’d be the policy person. I’ve always been the person who shuns the bureaucratic approachand just gets on with the job. However, someone out there thinks I’m the  grown up and now I’m the one creating policy. I’m also the one ensuring it’s enforced.

The fact is that to convince many companies and departments to become more engaged, we need to make them feel safe. Policy does that. To be honest, there’s a lot of very good sense in creating intelligent guidelines around social media

One myth in this space is that you can just copy someone else’s policy. That may be true for some, but for many of us in the Gov 2.0 space, it’s about creating your own and referencing others. We end up talking to each other and sharing our suggestions and challenges.

One of my key contacts is Craig Thomler who’s currently working on the YourHealth taskforce at the Health Department. His excellent blog is a great reference tool for those of us working in this space. He lists this website as a good starting point for social media policy