A Magazine with Soul ...
Celebrating 100 issues in the chair, NOVA Magazine editor Margaret Evans answers our questions about her motivations towards a life in holistic media ...
What motivated you to become a journalist in the first place?
At secondary school I nurtured a dream of becoming a newspaper reporter because I suppose even back then, I needed to communicate. I loved the thought of meeting interesting people and being able to convey their thoughts to the world - the glamour certainly appealed! Little did I realise that I’d start off writing the Ombudsman column, but at least it wasn’t the TV schedule! I can take some pride in thinking back to the piece I wrote to gain my cadetship with West Australian Newspapers - it was critical of tin mining in the town of Greenbushes in South-West Western Australia that had a huge impact on the landscape and it was very passionate as I recall in that youthful, but very honest, way.
Was there a defining circumstance which motivated you to become involved with NOVA Magazine?
NOVA came to me at a very opportune time. I thought so at the time and it’s even clearer now, more than eight years later. I had a successful business as a consultant writer and marketing advisor, but I’d reached a stage after seven of so years of desperately needing to do something with more depth. Just the thought of another ministerial speech or business newsletter was enough to leave me speechless.
And then my wonderful husband Ray told me he’d found the perfect antidote - and it was NOVA Magazine. It was a very different journal back in those days, published only in Western Australia and much more new-agey than now. But I was drawn to the wisdom and knowledge of many of the writers, people like astrologist Daniel Sowelu, naturopath Jeremy Hill and dreams columnist Jenny Albertson, and felt I could find a home here.
It immediately appealed to me as something already significant - even then it had a strong following in Perth – that had an important message to bring to a much wider public. So that’s been our journey since then - to spread our wings to reach as many readers as possible and we now do that in two separate editions that reach all over Australia in the print version and online to an international audience.
Just after publishing our first issue as a couple in July 2001, I realised the healing power of NOVA at first hand. My mother was struck by a sudden illness that left her critically ill for several weeks, but every day I found I could draw strength and compassion from those around me and the words in the magazine itself. And when 9/11 occurred at much the same time, it became my lifeline, just as I know it helps a great many people face up to their own individual challenges every month. It has an extraordinary healing grace and the word people most frequently use to describe their feeling about NOVA is “love”.
As well as being a journalist, you have a teaching background. What field were you teaching in, and do you feel that your interest in the passing on of knowledge is reflected in the articles you choose for NOVA?
Yes, I’ve had two periods as an English teacher, separated by many years and life experience. I first went teaching after finishing my Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Western Australia but frankly, I was terrible because my heart wasn’t in it. And that’s when I was lucky enough to find my way into journalism.
But I went back to teaching almost 20 years later when my son was small and I wanted a job that had more family-friendly hours than daily newspaper journalism tends to offer people. And then I loved it! I taught English again and English as a Second Language to students from South-East Asia, mainly Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Many of these kids were very homesick so I became a sort of mentor to them as well as helping them meet the very demanding challenge of gaining university entrance in a language that wasn’t their own. It was extremely hard work and I’ve always admired teachers for the uncomplaining way they go about such a demanding and responsible job.
My husband was also a secondary teacher and administrator for most of his career, so between us we’ve brought a strong interest in the welfare of young people into NOVA. A couple of years ago, we introduced an Our Kids column to develop an understanding of the pressures young people are facing - and those pressures are enormous - and to explore alternatives to what’s conventionally seen as success in the education system. I suppose we follow very closely the Steiner approach that honours the individual child, rather than making them all fit “ the round hole”. It just doesn’t work because everyone is different.
NOVA stands almost alone in its refusal to run paid advertorial articles about products, choosing instead to run articles about ideas, experiences, beliefs and discoveries. Why was this decision made and do you think the readers notice the difference between NOVA and other publications?
That’s a very perceptive question so thank you! Sadly, I think it’s true that as a society we’ve sold out to advertorial in all forms of media, from magazines through to all those blatant “infomercial” programs on both free to air and pay TV. It’s such a pervasive influence it’s almost as if as a society we’ve given up the ghost in trying to combat it.
I don’t pretend for a minute that we’re perfect because the commercial pressures are always there. But we do try really hard to make our editorial stand apart from the advertising space to preserve the integrity of an independent viewpoint.
That’s the standard I inherited at NOVA in 2001 and I suppose my own background in journalism and working at one stage as the deputy editor of a regional daily newspaper, has reinforced that stance.
Frankly, I think it makes everything so much easier because people respect boundaries. And, yes, people do understand the whole concept of advertorial and are keenly aware that they are being “sold to” rather than reading a legitimate article. I think the pervasiveness of advertorial and infotainment is very damaging because it’s making us all so cynical. And that attitude just perpetuates more of the same.
We’ve learned from our readership surveys and just the fact that the magazine is so popular every month that people desperately want something to read! And they also want to be challenged and that’s something else that probably surprises a lot of people.
NOVA has many longstanding contributors who are highly qualified and experienced in a wide range of fields including acupuncture, naturopathy, veterinary science, nutrition, Jungian and primal therapy, yoga and astrology. How do you find your contributors and why do you think so many of them have such loyalty to NOVA?
The strength of NOVA is the great community of holistic knowledge and spiritual wisdom it represents. Every month we have 20 or so contributors and many of these wonderful people were there to greet me when I arrived. Daniel Sowelu who’s been called “the astrologer’s astrologer” was a foundation writer who was “found” by NOVA’s first editor Sui Oakland, who I think was really a very visionary woman. So Daniel has been with us for 16 years and other long standing contributors include Jeremy Hill and Jenny Albertson whom I‘ve already mentioned, as well as music writer Phil Bennett and our film critic Mary O’Donovan.
Others who joined up about the same time as me include our fabulous wholefood writer Jude Blereau, Adrian Glamorgan who brings with him that Quaker passion for the environment and peace, Dr Clare Middle, a highly qualified veterinarian but who chooses to practise in a holistic way, and Dr Charmaine Saunders who manages to offer very grounded advice on relationships.
And we have plenty of recent arrivals too - people like Olivier Lejus who’s an acupuncturist in Sydney specialising in Ayurveda and TCM, holistic naturopath Chandrika Gibson who writes our Yoga and Holistic Healing columns, Eric Harrison, a very well known meditation teacher, and Jeremy Ball, a Buddhist who lives his passion for a more peaceful, interconnected world. And not forgetting the powerful contributions of Dr Peter Dingle, a nutritional and environmental toxicologist who is equally passionate about urging us all to take greater responsibility for our own health.
There are many others I can’t mention here. But what they all have in common is a commitment to holistic healing, regardless of their speciality. And that’s what makes them very special - they only put up with crazy monthly deadlines because they believe in what they are doing and the importance of a holistic approach to healing the world’s ills.
And I regard many of our writers as personal friends who are very important to me and it’s always nice to reconnect every month.
New people join us all the time, but I think what distinguishes them all is a generous heart.
Of the countries you've visited since becoming NOVA editor, has any particular country struck you as being more holistic, or more spiritual, than other places?
India, India and India! The spirit of India imbues NOVA and gives us what I hope is a very authentic yogic approach in all sorts of ways.
In fact, it was a six week trip we took as a family to Southern India at the turn of the millennium that changed my outlook in many ways and I think prepared the ground for both my husband and me to come to NOVA. And so many people say the same thing- India changes you forever. We took our son Luke out of high school in order to make the trip and I think he looks back on that time in places like Kerala, Goa, Bangalore, Mysore and Mumbai as a special experience. Even if he did have an upset stomach on both Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve!
You can’t fail to be moved by the confronting poverty you see especially in the big cities where people sleep on the bitumen of the Apollo Bunder just 200 metres or so from the absolute luxury of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai.
But we were also struck by the good humour of Indians, how a woman walking by in the dusty street with a load of rocks for road building perched in a basket on her head will give you a warm smile and a head waggle!
I’ve been back more recently in late 2008 to the Brahma Kumaris Peace of Mind retreat in Mt Abu in Rajasthan. And although that was beautiful and peaceful, the frantic pace of life now in India is changing the country in profound ways. But that age-old wisdom of India will still be there, I’m sure of that.
Asia has always drawn us as a couple and another country whose spirituality moved us deeply was Sri Lanka. This was in December 2005 and early January 2006, a year after the Boxing Day tsunami and before the insurgency became very serious.
The predominant Sinhalese population are Buddhist, practising the Theravada form which calls for true devotion. Our driver Ananda, for instance, would stop every morning to offer a brief puja at a roadside shrine, something we found humbling. I clearly remember the day he inched our car around two dogs sleeping in the shade to fit into the small parking area outside a restaurant. They remained unperturbed as I squeezed my way out of the back door and tiptoed past them so as not to disturb their rest. What a beautiful approach to life!
Obviously, the conflict with the minority Tamil Hindu population who live mostly in the high country and the north east of the tiny island has been an ongoing grief for the whole country. We can only hope the peace that has now been achieved can be maintained and the Tamil people successfully integrated into the island’s structure.
Sri Lanka and its gentle people, because Buddhism does instil that quality, touched my heart. It is unbelievably beautiful and we plan to return very soon.
We often hear that Australia isn’t a spiritual country, yet NOVA carries many articles of a spiritual nature. So are we spiritual or not?
Yes we hear that all that matters to us is sun, surf and sand - and the occasional shrimp on the barbie! And that’s the message we get through the mainstream media. But we’re a much more complex country than that and I feel many Australians are really quite spiritual- and that trend, if anything, is increasing.
It’s not that we’re dashing off to church, but the Dalai Lama is certainly drawing more and more people to his form of compassionate Buddhism. But our magazine shows us there is so much interest in a huge range of spiritual pursuits and some very impressive people guiding us all in Vedic philosophy, Buddhism, the Oneness movement, and so on. I believe there is a tremendous sense of optimism about the dawning of a Golden Age or, as others call it, an Age of Transformation and that starts with each of us as an individual seeking to raise our own level of consciousness. That’s an intensely spiritual and uplifting journey.
Since being involved in NOVA the magazine has gone from being a Perth-only publication to launching an East edition in 2002, plus developing the Nova Online Directory. Are there any relaxation strategies or things you do to maintain balance/equilibrium in the face of publishing two magazines every month?
I try, above all, to maintain a reasonable level of calm in my day, even at deadline time! It doesn’t always work but people have been struck by how tranquil our office seems.
I’m a firm believer in Ayurveda - I really think we can learn something from how Indian people have been living their lives for the past 5000 years! So I start my day in a measured way – I’ve gone back to early morning meditation after lapsing for some time but I find that very energising, then I have a healthy breakfast with my family and, because I’m lucky to live very close to our Perth office, I walk to work.
I find music is the perfect soother - I love classical music in particular and all sorts of other world music and always have music playing at my desk. Anything but aggravating talk back radio which I avoid like the plague!
I suppose I’ve always been interested in an Eastern approach, so at various times Tai Chi and Yoga have been on my relaxation schedule and I’m looking to take up Tai Chai again because it is a perfect exercise, as well as being a flowing meditation. Something else I have planned for 2010 is to renew my interest in Japanese calligraphy. I studied Japanese language many years ago but had to give it up for work commitments then- a familiar story for us all. The thing I enjoyed most was writing the kanji script and now I want to do that in a more formal way.
And perhaps most importantly, I love cooking. My first ever cookbook was a wholefood cookbook and that’s been an ongoing love affair, one my family have enjoyed as well.
NOVA is known and respected for its choice to cover issues, ideas and therapies years before they become "accepted" enough to be covered in the mainstream media. What are some examples of these groundbreaking articles which come to mind?
As a consciously alternative publication we do take a very different view on many subjects, from the conventional, pharmaceutical-based medical approach to what’s considered a successful education for our children.
I think many of our health articles and columns over the years have been highly original and here I’d highlight the work of Dr Peter Dingle PhD, a nutritional and environmental toxicologist and Associate Professor in Health and the Environment at Perth’s Murdoch University. His series in late 2009 questioning the value of statin drugs for lowering cholesterol and the whole idea of a “magic bullet” approach to medicine has made a big impact, along with his other work on the need for more sunshine to raise levels of Vitamin D. Both of these are quite revolutionary ideas and go against the prevailing medical wisdom.
We’ve also been a long way ahead of the “too clean for our own good” hypothesis that’s now widely accepted as being involved in conditions like asthma, and have maintained a strong and consistent support for a natural wholefood diet as the basis of good health, again years before this was generally accepted.
I’m also proud of the work we have done on the issue of GE cropping which has been a personal area of interest for me - we have carried several features in recent years highlighting the dangers of this pervasive intrusion into our nation’s food crops, and ultimately our entire global food chain.
We’ve carried a monthly environment column for several years and our writer, Adrian Glamorgan, has been very vocal in encouraging us all to take personal responsibility for minimising the effect of climate change, a message of increasing importance.
And finally, I’d single out Nabila Cowasjee, a psychologist, teacher and mother for her excellent features over many months on the need to take a holistic approach to our children’s education, rather than force them to fit the mould. Again, I believe this awareness is only now spilling over into the mainstream.
At a time when many magazines and even large newspapers are looking at the possibility of going online only and discontinuing their hard copy print issues, is NOVA planning to continue providing both options to its readers and advertisers?
Indeed we are. While we are happy to provide readers in more remote areas with an online edition of the magazine, and I believe we were the first in our industry to do so, it will only ever be additional to the print magazine.
We're very confident of the future of print media where it successfully serves the needs of its readers. NOVA has always concentrated on quality, both in our selection of articles and how we present them, and that focus has been very well received by both our readers and advertisers. Many of our pieces need some time to sit and reflect on them – and that’s much easier to do with a magazine in your hands. We’re told that all the time.
At the same time, we’ll be exploring the great strength of the Internet to reach new people - for example, we have recently launched the Nova Magazine website in New Zealand to take our message to our cousins across the Tasman. We have so much in common with New Zealanders and we’d love to share our ideas and experiences with them.
I think it’s vital for a publication to be flexible and innovative - and I think NOVA Magazine has shown that in recent years. But most of all it needs to be sure of its identity. And I have a whole and rapidly growing community of holistically minded people reinforcing that for me all the time!
NOVA has three online presences: the NOVA Magazine website, the page-turnable "virtual copy" of the magazine, and the NOVA Online Directory. Check them out today. To advertise call Michelle Garcia (East Coast Display) on (02) 9692 8099 or Anne Stewart (West Coast) on (08) 9328 9377.