Sisters For Sale

Posted March 03

The search

Scroll down to see the most recent posts, or click here to see the complete list of blog entries. For her protection, all media links with M's name and image have been temporarily removed.

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Like clockwork

Posted May 04

To the audience, a good film seems to flow uninterrupted from beginning to end. 

The images and sound seem to blend together to create a single continuous piece, a river of light streaming from one scene, one shot, one idea, to the next. 

Behind the scenes, it's a very different experience. It's said that an editor's work is best when it is invisible. 

To the editor, the film is not a single unit, but a precise clockwork mechanism composed of thousands of dynamic interlocking pieces, each just the right size and shape and colour to fit with all the rest. 

You first begin with vast boxes filled with countless complex little pieces which do very little on their own. Then begins the tedious process of sorting the pieces from one another, to see which will work together, and what they will do. 

Some of the pieces are very similar. Others are wildly different. 

For every piece that finds its way into the finished mechanism, ten or twenty are thrown away. Some are thrown away for good reason. Others are beautiful pieces that simply won't fit with the rest, and it can be hard to let them go. 

If you don't begin with a clear idea of what you're trying to build, if you don't know exactly what it's supposed to do, and how, then the pieces themselves can lead you astray. You might find yourself building something beautiful and utterly useless. 

You'll need complex tools to fit all those complex little pieces together. You'll need to bend some, compress others, shave away the edges. Each piece will need to be painted, and smoothed down. 

At first, the thing you're building won't work. You'll need to tinker with it, to meet a thousand little technical challenges, to bridge the tiny gaps. Sometimes it's a matter of skill and knowledge. At other times, there is no clear answer - it's just a matter of trial and error, patience and persistence. 

It starts to move - slowly at first. It rattles, and gets stuck in places. You stick with it. You find yourself thinking about it at all hours, puzzling out the tiniest little pieces, coming back to it when you should be doing other things. 

Finally, the gears mesh. The wheels spin smoothly. Everything sounds right, and does what you want it to do. 

It runs like clockwork - but this mechanism doesn't do anything so tangible as moving a pair of hands across a face to tell the time. 

It deals with black and white facts, yes. It works with hard edges and measurable increments. But it also deals with more nebulous things, with liquids and gases, with subtle shades of grey. 

This mechanism is designed to tell a story, to explain a series of factual events in the simplest possible way. But what if the very purpose of the story is to show the incredible complexity of an issue - human trafficking, for example? 

This mechanism is designed to change the way people think, feel and act. It is designed to reach into their innermost selves, to touch their hopes and dreams, their fears and beliefs. 

A successful film is not simply a monologue, but an interaction between the filmmaker and the audience. The filmmaker raises an idea, and leaves space for the audience to gasp, to laugh, to breathe and reflect, before the stream flows on. 

The filmmaker dedicates years of his life to shaping an hour or two of yours - but if he does his work well, it will not be easily forgotten.  A good film can reach far beyond a screen. 

'Sisters For Sale' is on target to be completed in September. 

For four more months, I'll be tinkering away - fitting little pieces together, bridging gaps, smoothing out the motion until it all flows together. If I do my work well, you'll never even notice. 

Soon, others will be joining me in the workshop, to do some tinkering of their own - on the sounds, music, colours and animations. 

Then it will be your turn, to come and see what we've built, to flip the switch and see it run. 

I can hardly wait. 

To keep up with all the news on 'Sisters For Sale' and 'The Human, Earth Project', subscribe here

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Posted April 13

Since my work against human trafficking began four years ago, there has been a high level of uncertainty in my life.

I didn't know what had happened to my kidnapped friends, or how to find them. 

I didn't know what would happen to my friends - or their children - after I found them. 

I didn't know if I would be able to continue my work, or complete the documentary, at all. 

I didn't have the equipment I needed, and didn't even have enough funds left to live in my own country. 

Now - for the first time in four years - I have certainty, and continuity. I have the time and funds needed to finish 'Sisters For Sale'. 

It has made an incredible difference to be living a simple, clean life on a steady rhythm. 

To wake up in the same place every day, and have a good idea of what the day holds in store. 

To have a sense of control, to be making this documentary out of something more than desperation. 

To be able to listen to the rhythm of the story, not just the ticking of the clock. 

I still spend far too much time on the computer, but now it's a choice. 

There are many people who know me as a nomad, a risk-taker, a perpetual wanderer. 

They might be surprised to know how easily I've slipped into a more stable life, a comfortable cycle of editing, writing, and reading. 

'Sisters For Sale' is progressing even better than I'd hoped, as it grows ever longer and gains new depth. It's right on time, too - on schedule for September. 

In about six weeks, I expect to have a complete edit of the documentary, and will start collaborating with the rest of the team to finish the sound, colours, music and animations. 

You might not hear from me until then. That's a good thing. 


In 2015, Belinda Bauer - one of the world's best crime writers - released 'The Shut Eye', a novel inspired by our work in Vietnam. 

'The Shut Eye' was shortlisted for the prestigious Golden Dagger - an award Belinda has won previously - competing against both Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. 

I've finally had a chance to get my hands on a copy, and it's not hard to see why Belinda's recognised as one of the best in the game. 

Knowing the inspiration for the book, I thought I had an unfair advantage - and Belinda still managed to fool me at every turn. 

If you've been following our work and are looking for some weekend reading, I'm sure you'll enjoy it!

To keep up with all the news on 'Sisters For Sale' and 'The Human, Earth Project', subscribe here

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Beyond the waves

Posted February 24

This week marks not one but three milestones. 

On Tuesday I shared a birthday with 'The Human, Earth Project', now in its fifth year, so this - my 200th blog post - seems like a good moment to pause for reflection. 

I was fortunate enough to have been born and raised in a safe, comfortable home where my basic needs were all met. That's an easy thing to take for granted, when you've never known anything else. 

Five years ago, my life fell apart in ways I never imagined possible. All at once, I found myself without money, a job, a home or friends in a city where I couldn't even speak the language. 

What followed were the most difficult months of my life. An experience like that can teach you a lot - about the world, about others, and about yourself. 

You'll learn to separate the things you need from the things you merely want, and learn to recognise the things that are truly important to you. You'll learn just how strong you can be, and how much you're capable of. 

Four years ago, I launched 'The Human, Earth Project' to raise awareness of human trafficking, and to help people in situations far more desperate than my own. 

In a sense, by pushing me back into the world, this work also became part of my own healing. I was hurled back into the current of humanity, not knowing where it would take me. 

So where has it taken me? 

To plunge into that current of humanity is to open yourself to the full spectrum of human emotion. 

There is a popular belief that we human beings are fundamentally kind and caring creatures, willing to use what power and privilege we have to help those less fortunate than ourselves. 

In many cases, that's true, and it certainly makes us feel good - but it leaves so much of the story untold. 

Working against human trafficking has exposed me to the most hideous parts of humanity, the horrendous cruelty and suffering we inflict on one another to get ahead. 

For my efforts to share a difficult, complex but vital message, I've received both praise and blame from around the globe. 

I've been accused of, and occasionally congratulated for, all kinds of things I've never done. I've been lifted by applause, and struck down by heartless attacks. 

I've witnessed outpourings of incredible kindness and generosity from complete strangers. I've felt envy and misguided anger from those who understand neither my work, nor the struggle and sacrifice behind it. 

There was a time that I kept a close eye on each of those waves as they came rolling in, monitoring traffic to the Project's website and social media, carefully handling each response. I rode the crests, and sank into the troughs. 

As the years pass, however, the individual waves no longer seem so important. I see them now as fast but meaningless oscillations, tiny pieces of a much larger pattern. 

Somewhere beyond those voices of praise and blame are the ones I'm doing this for, and they don't have voices. 

I understand that I'm here for the long haul, and - though I'll never see the final results of my work - I'm going to keep pushing forward. 

I understand that there will always be detractors, people incapable of believing in the goodness of others. 

Me, I need that belief to continue, so I'm going to focus more on the positives. 

I'm not going to waste my time worrying about the waves, when the tide rises more gradually. 


The CNN Freedom Project reaches huge international audiences in their efforts to raise awareness of the global human trafficking crisis. 

Yesterday they began sharing a short film on my own work, both online and via their international TV network. 

You can check it out here - I'd like to thank Stephen Roberts, Kerstin Raitl, Annalena Moritz and 'Explain-It' for making it possible!

To keep up with all the news on 'Sisters For Sale' and 'The Human, Earth Project', subscribe here

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Posted February 03

Some of you haven't heard from me in three months, and I apologise. 

A technical glitch has prevented delivery of news via the mailing list. You'll have missed some interviews, my year-end reflection, and my new year's resolution

Today I'll be looking at where 'The Human, Earth Project' stands, where it has come from, and where it's going, for those of you who have been following and supporting the project. 

Behind the scenes

Over the past four years, 'The Human, Earth Project' has been incredibly flexible. 

At times, there have been a dozen or more people working with me on the project. They come with particular skill sets for particular tasks - be it filmmaking, coding, communications, or whatever - and when their work is done, they disappear. 

With the 2016 fundraising campaign behind and a long edit ahead, the project has returned to its original state: just me. For the next four months I'll be immersing myself in vast seas of sound and vision, working alone to complete the rough cut of our feature documentary, 'Sisters For Sale'. 

(Well, that's not quite the whole story: there are a few exciting things happening behind the scenes, but it's too early to share those just yet!)

When the rough cut is finished, I'll be bringing together a team of professionals to help finish the music, sound, colours and animations for the film, which is on schedule for completion in September. 

A year in review

Since the very beginning of 'The Human, Earth Project' four years ago, I've been keeping a close watch on my finances, to minimise expenses and continue my work against human trafficking for as long as possible. 

Last January, I began collecting more detailed information, keeping a close watch not only on how I spent money, but I how I spent my time, so that I can keep making that work as effective as possible. 

This January, for the first time, I had a chance to review my 2016 data. 

For me, 2016 was a year split in half, dominated first by post-production on 'Sisters For Sale' - researching, scripting, editing, creating graphics and animations - then by our overwhelmingly successful fundraising campaign, which involved a huge amount of preparation and promotion. 

My work expenses were lower in 2016 than in any other year, by a significant margin - less than half those of 2014. (2017 is expected to be much more expensive, however, as I purchase additional equipment and software, and bring together a team to complete 'Sisters For Sale'). 

As dull as it might sound, sifting through the data has been of great benefit in helping me to identify where time and money is best spent, and where it is not, to make plans and allocate resources going forwards. 

This blog is one example. While still a useful means of updating existing supporters, writing this blog can be very time-consuming, and has never been a highly effective way of raising awareness of my work. 

Last year I wrote 36 blog posts for this project. At an average of 3.5 hours per post, that's three full working weeks. I'll be blogging less frequently this year, and using my time in more effective ways. 

Reaching millions

The overarching purpose of my work is raising awareness of the global human trafficking crisis. 

Our feature documentary 'Sisters For Sale' will be the key channel for raising awareness - but it is not the only one. Sharing our story via traditional and digital media can also be extremely effective. 

Last year, our story reached the front pages of Imgur (four times) and Reddit (twice). It was shared by major news sources, including VICE

According to Imgur, our story reached six million people via their site alone, in a period of just two months. Our most popular Imgur post continues to rise, currently standing as their 29th most popular post ever, from over a billion posts. 

It's worth taking a moment to recall that 'The Human, Earth Project' started with a single human being and a seemingly impossible idea. It has been kept alive by a little luck, a lot of persistence, and the support of countless individuals around the world. 

Don't ever let them tell you that one person can't make a difference. And, hey - you're one person. 

Going the extra mile

I'm grateful to each and every one of you who have helped keep this dream alive by contributing to my work, and by helping to spread our message. 

I'm overwhelmed by those of you who have gone the extra mile, using your energy and initiative to raise funds on behalf of 'The Human, Earth Project'. 

There's Carola Irvine, who rallied her family and friends in the Netherlands to support our 2014 fundraising campaign;  Suzie Hanlan, who raised money by teaching yoga classes in Alaska; and This Is Water, who ran a one-day yoga event in Malaysia in December. 

And of course, there's Myste Laquinta, whose search for more intelligent uses of social media brought countless thousands to our cause, made her the true heroine of our 2016 fundraising campaign, and embarrassed us all by making it look easy.

My mother Susan reached out to family, friends, and many of her contacts within the Girl Guides, with whom she has volunteered for 20 years. One of her guide leaders, Sammantha Mavin, organised a fundraising trivia night on our behalf with her group. 

Most recently, I've been deeply grateful to Rita Schaad and her band of "Xmas pudding ladies". For two decades, Rita, Margaret Smith, Susan Callister and other members of the former Lambton/Mayfield Girl Guide Support Group have been making and selling Xmas puddings in my hometown in Australia. 

This December, Rita's group used their work to support my own, which was amazing: Thank you!

A story worth telling

I find it beautiful that 'The Human, Earth Project' seems to have reached a point where it has taken on a life of its own, and no longer needs me to guide it through every step. 

All but one of the fundraising efforts mentioned above were undertaken without my knowledge. Articles have begun appearing promoting my work, written by people I've never spoken to, published on sites I've never heard of. 

While ours is a complex story about a complicated issue, and details can be lost or confused in the re-telling, awareness of the core message is spreading. 

It has proven itself as a story that people want to hear, and want to pass on to others - even before the documentary itself has been completed. 

I'm excited to see where the film itself will take us... 

To keep up with all the news on 'Sisters For Sale', subscribe here

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