Lines For Joe Hockey (11)

The age of entitlement is over. The corkage stops here.

Deciphering O’Farrell

The critical part of the handwritten letter is ‘all your support’, and the underling of ‘all’.

This can only mean ‘support beyond the call of duty’, whose other meaning is ‘corrupt’.

If there’s another interpretation of it, please let me know.

Quiz Time (60)

What four films, all set in Texas, could have been set in Australia, without a word of dialogue changed?

In Eight Words

How soon will he be Sir Barry O’Farrell?

The First Rule Of Propaganda

It’s a fairly obvious thing to say, but two things always work in politics. One is crime. The other is big scary numbers.

The Liberals gained office by accusing Thomson, Slipper, Obeid and Gillard of various crimes, and by waving big scary numbers — eighty billion deficit! six hundred billion debt! — at the affrighted, prurient, buffeted voters.

Labor will win anyway; but it can win I think with a vast majority by accusing Morrison of harbouring murderers, Brough and Pyne of framing Slipper, Sinodinos of seeking twenty million dollars by bribing, if he could, O’Farrell, Abbott of spending on illegal travel to the criminal Mirabella’s flamboyant wedding ten thousand dollars, and more money, in tens of millions, on seeking sea-wreckage than would have saved Holden and a quarter of a million jobs.

Crime, and big scary numbers. It works. It always works.

And we will see what we shall see.

After O’Farrell

And so things change. Sinodinos cannot any longer be a Senator, Carr may return as party leader, or Rees, and no Liberal can win in New South Wales, Victoria, or Queensland in the next year, and the map will be pretty red by the hundredth Anzac Day, Abbott no longer Prime Minister, Labor on 54 or 56 two party preferred, Morrison in gaol, and the Greens on 20 percent.

And all because of a good Grange, duly drunk with sausages and thanked for in writing. Never in the field of human wine-tasting has so little cost a Party so much, for so long.

And so things change.

In Twenty-Four Words

If, in World War 2, the US could build an airfield in two weeks, why is it now taking five hundred times as long?

In Eight Words

What is the upside of driving scientists overseas?

Gielgud: An Appreciation

(From Bob Carr)

A gallop through the plays and sonnets, shaped by a luminously intelligent appreciation of the works, and delightful accents as well. Made me want to see it again, to bully everyone else to see it, to buy the latest book on Gielgud. What a concept!

Michael Boddy

‘All of us will always owe him everything,’ Jean-Luc Godard said of Orson Welles, and another big, multi-talented man, Michael Boddy, was like that in many lives, mine especially. Without him there would have been no King O’Malley, and, it can be argued, no renaissance in the Australian theatre and its love-child, Australian cinema. Without him there would have been no Nimrod Theatre, no Nimrod Theatre Company, no Biggles, no Hamlet On Ice, and no (I guess) Bell Shakespeare Company

Six feet four and twenty-four stone, he cast a big shadow. Standing beside Jackie Weaver in You Never Can Tell (‘My name, sir, is BOON!’), vast, scarlet-bearded and bellowing lik Pavarotti, he seemed a Disney special effect or a lost twin, perhaps, of James Robertson Justice. His various past career paths (gaolbird, policeman, saxophonist, peasant farmer, busking tenor, fiance of Sylvia Plath, roommate of Peter O’Toole, pupil of E.M. Forster, cuckolder of Barry Humphries, co-star in Age Of Consent with the ever-naked teenage Helen Mirren, formidable director and explicator of Brecht, prizewinning chef and food writer, Tasmanian historian) made him, for a decade, a vivid metropolitan presence, and his populous, epic lunches at the Tai Ping unforgettable. Asked to write (with me) dialogue for Tony Hancock for ten pounds a script, he voluminously refused, and Tony immediately committed suicide. Asked to co-write and star in Biggles, the Nimrod company’s first professional production, he did so, risking infarct night after night in the hundred degree summer heat of December 1971 and under the low tin ceiling, lost half a stone a night. More to come.

Nielsen Shows Abbott Has No Way Back

The figures in the Nielsen Poll today suggest the Abbott government is in more trouble than it can get out of, like the Gillard government in its last five months.

Abbott is preferred as Prime Minister by 45 percent, Shorten by 44 percent, with 11 percent uncommitted. In Victoria Shorten leads Abbott by 49 to 41, in Queensland 43 to 41, and in SA/NT trails him by only 46 to 43.

44 percent of women want Shorten as PM, 41 want Abbott. 50 percent of 18-24 year olds want Shorten, 41 percent Abbott. 50 percent of 25-39 year olds want Shorten, 37 percent Abbott. 52 percent of all people are preferring Labor, 48 percent Coalition, a swing of 5.5 percent, the highest since 1975.

And this was in a week when all commentators were declaring the Labor Party in crisis, and Shorten in doubt, and brandishing a narrative in which Labor, smashed in WA, and approaching extinction, needed root-and-branch reform and another leader. These figures, which are detailed and plausible, show the ‘bigotry’ legislation rejected by 88 percent of Australians, and the ‘knighthood’ initiative by 67 percent.

And Joe’s fresh attack on the old, saying those who paid tax for forty years, expecting they’d get a pension when they were sixty-five, now won’t, has only begun to sink in. His mob will have lost 2 more percent by this time next week, and be unelectable thereafter, whatever they do.

Why is this the case? It is because their narrative is all over the place. Every Australian will have to ‘share the pain’, Joe says, except millionaires’ pregnant wives. We cannot afford to prop up Holden (and with it a quarter of a million jobs) bu we can afford an equal amount spent, if need be, on a search of the sea bottom for scrap metal and corpses. We can afford to pay Arthur Sinodinos 250,000 dollars for fifty hours’ work, but not give the kids of dead soldiers 12,000 a year to buy textbooks, shoes, tennis racquets and go on school outings.

They believe the taxpayers should give billions to prop up drought-parched Queensland farmers but not even twenty million to save canning factory workers and fruit-growers in the Goulburn Valley.

Their narrative is all over the place. Joe believes we should sell our best farms to a Chinese Communist government and Barnaby is horrified by this. And just when the ABC is making world-beating drama, Joe will take away the money for it, and close down country stations, which to most National voters are sacred sites.

And, as global warming becomes more and more real, and more and more urgent, Joe is cutting by a quarter the money to the CSIRO and driving climate scientists out of the country.

Hence the Nielsen figures, and the 10 percent byelection swing to Labor in the Northern Territory, the 18 percent byelection swing in Queensland, the 8 percent swing against the Coalitiin in the Senate in WA.

Soon there will be worse news. The country towns will be outraged by the Abbott ‘sellout’ to Japan, Korea and China, one that shuts down even more small businesses. And Morrison will be shown to harbouring two murderers and torturing children, which is illegal.

It will happen very quickly, as it did in Queensland, where Newman would now lose fifty seats, including his own.

And we will see what we shall see.

A Stratagem

A class action might be mounted by some paralympians asserting Tony Abbott promised no cuts to NDIS and breached that promise. A class action by some fifty-five-year-olds who for thirty-five years paid tax believing they would get a pension at sixty-five and now, under Abbott, won’t, could be mounted also. And one by the ABC which Abbott on election eve, seven months ago, swore blind he would not cut.

‘Breach of promise’ is a reality in law, and it involves a vow of advantage to a recipient which is broken. It has been a reality in law since the Magna Carta, eight hundred years ago.

This case, I think, should be tested. Even it is ultimately lost, it will embarrass Tony Abbott, an already proven liar.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (98)

A Bronte Reader, Jay Buoy, Louis Phillips, Aint Misbehavin, Nicholas, shad, and Milton are banned for life. None would say Bob Carr should not have been Foreign Minister. None would deny he was the best Foreign Minister we have had. None would say he was a bad Premier. Yet all kept attacking him because of a few sentences in a world masterpiece they had not read. They heckled, smeared and bollocked him while fearing to attack him fundamenrtally — by, say, asserting Bishop or Downer was better at his job.

A rule of this blog is you can say anything, pretty much, but you must answer questions that follow on what you have said. If you will not answer these questions you are out of here. You can be light-hearted, you can be serious, you can be messianic, rebellious, haughty or Satanic, you can be a Liberal voter, but you cannot be a coward in your opinions, a sneak and a graffitist like this lot,

Go start a blog of your own.

An Important Caveat

The ABC will have its budget cut if Clive Palmer lets it happen, and he won’t.

Tut Tut: The New Orwellian Dispensation

Last week I had an exchange with A Bronte Reader which ended (of course) with her banning for life. She said Bob Carr was ‘arrogant’ and I said no-one who has spent half an hour with him thinks that, and I had known him for forty years and I didn’t think he was, and anyone who had led the Labor Party for seventeen years would not have survived that long if he was. And she said she didn’t care, that was her opinion. And I said, well, do you think then than he should never have been Foreign Minister? And she said ‘I’m not going to play your little games’. And I asked her who she thought had been, in world history, a better Foreign Minister. And she wouldn’t answer that either. And I told her to go to buggery. She keeps coming back and saying she has a right to her ‘opinion’; but what she is doing is, consciously or unconsciously, something else.

She is following the Fox News tactic of heckling, sneering, dismissive interjection, rolled eyes and raised hands that adds up to a verdict of what might be called ‘Crime without punishment’. You mention that a political opponent has a character flaw, but you do not ask that he be sacked for it, you merely mention it, again and again. You suggest that Kim Beazley uses too many big words, or Barry Jones’s ideas are too complex, or Gareth Evans gets angry, or Paul Keating said ‘get a job’ to a demonstrator, and you…well, the word is, you ‘smear’ him with that. You do not ask that he be removed, you merely note it, that’s all. He did it, more’s the pity. And that is…such a shame.

It is very shrewd as propaganda. Because it introduces, every day, new rules into political life. Kevin Rudd had a ‘meltdown’, we are told, when he said, ‘7.30 Reportland’, and ‘Mate,’ as if it was wrong to criticise an interrogator; and really, really wrong to get angry. When did it become a sin to get angry? John Howard got angry all the time. But lo, it was decreed, after 2009, you couldn’t get angry any more. And you couldn’t be terse with a waiter, that was a sacking offence. Or, after 2013, silent with a make-up girl.

It is how they do things now. Since nothing Bob Carr did as Foreign Minister can be cursed as iniquitous, we must look, not to his diet, but to the fact that he mentions it, to prove that he is…well…the wrong sort of person. Eccentric. Daffy. Past it.

Such a thing, asserted, and confidently asserted by a strong personality, like O’Reilly, Hannity, Jones or Bolt, will be believed, especially by those migrants insecure in English and thinking there may be actual, valid reasons for dismay, if this good, strong, forceful opinion leader says so.

It is quite wicked; and the most wicked thing about it is, it works. It has removed from politics the discussion of all policy, and replaced it with…misdemeanour…or manners, or personal style. It allows good men to be ruined by hint that one ‘lacks ticker’ or another ‘can’t rise above his union background’. It is Orwellian, like the rule among Seventh-Day Adventists when I was a boy that if a woman wore makeup, she must be a harlot, or she is attracted to the thought of becoming one.

It has turned our politics from a reasoned discussion of how we should organise our society to the shrieks and babblings of a medieval cult. Sinners! Bumpkins! Heathens! Heretics! Witches! Burn the witch! Burn the witch!

The Thoughts Of Chairman Uhlmann (3)

It is hereinafter forbidden that any autobiographer make mention of any detail of his private life. This is not what autobiographies are for. My name is Chris Uhlmann, I am the nation’s foremost thought leader, and this is my decree.

I say, could I have just a little of that excellent brandy?

It is just a little headache. It will go away.

I bleed from my nose and ears at the same time quite often. All the time, in fact.


Certain Housekeeping Matters (97)

Anyone who writes a review of Bob Carr’s book (after reading it right through) I will buy, if it is good, lunch at Macchiavelli’s and print it in these columns.

If is really good I will take, at a convenient time, the writer to Bob Carr’s office for a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon and twenty minutes of chat with the Elder Statesman.

The first two pieces offered will be printed. They should be over eight hundred words. If the winner is a Melbourne or Brisbane resident, he/she may have to wait until I am in their vicinity, and can take them to an equivalent restaurant in that city.

Quiz Time (60)

What significant anniversary in Bob Carr’s life occurs this year?

Quiz Time (59)

What passage did Bob Carr ask Bob Ellis to read at Carr’s father’s funeral? What was the reason for this?

Lines For Barrie Cassidy (1)

Is Julie Bishop a better Foreign Minister than Bob Carr? What does the panel think?

Anti-Intellectualism In Australia: An Exchange

Agent99, Saturday, April 12

Why have so many of our media mob reduced a life of scholarship and leadership to a collective snigger behind the hand?

Bob’s a food snob for eating steel cut oats. Bob’s up himself for liking first class air travel. Bob bloody watches opera. Bob’s a girly man for not driving and he probably uses moisturiser and plucks his nostril hairs. (It’s not only the Americans that Kathy Lette could accuse of having an ‘irony deficiency’).

Why is intellectual elite a term of abuse in Australia? Why invoke hostility to those who are well travelled and well read. At 66, Bob Carr is entitled to a respectful reading of his memoir.

Was Hartcher’s some kind of hatchet job for a perceived wrong? It felt like it was when he accused Bob Carr of having lost his mind. A grave and stupid conclusion, unworthy of Fairfax. Independent. Always. Really?

Tell us what the book said, Peter?

And when did narcissism become the insult du jour for powerful men?

I haven’t yet read ‘Diary of a Foreign Minister’ but I have read Gore Vidal.

There comes a time in the affairs of men like Carr and Vidal when it is natural to look around one’s peers and to have a healthy self-regard.

As for the good things in life, Paul Keating said it always rankled the Conservatives that he enjoyed classical music and French antiques. Didn’t he know he should have stayed in a fibro culture and worn suits from Lowe’s.


Why is intellectual elite a term of abuse in Australia?

Australia is a bogan culture. It celebrates the mundane and superficial and populist, and is not comfortable with refined mindsets. Witness its treatment of tall poppies, and its enthusiastic embrace of the syndrome, along with the dumbing down of the newspapers, TV etc.

It’s a celebratory mindset downunder, Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi! We are the champions, we win the cricket and all’s well with the world.

And now have a bogan PM, who went to Oxford and wrote four books, and stayed a bogan.

Yes, Australia is not a place for intellectual elites in public life.


Yes Canguro, I shall never forget the Bogan-In-Chief’s promise to get sport back on the front pages.

‘Israel is very, very disappointed’ read the third highest ranking headline on the Herald online.

More about Bob Carr, I thought.

But no. Tall Poppy Down.

Back to normal transmission.

“Frustrated” doesn’t begin to explain the reaction to benching of Israel Folau this weekend.

Bob Ellis

To Canguro:

This is not entirely so. The most popular politician of three generations was Barry Jones, a relentless intellectual and quiz-show-winning fount of knowledge. Robert Menzies, who read Shakespeare through every year, was esteemed by the common man. And Gough Whitlam, who read Dante aloud in Italian, was adored, over time, by twenty million Australians, living and dead.

John Faulkner is esteemed, Tim Flannery, Germaine Greer, Marike Hardy, Michael Kirby, Les Murray, who speaks eighteen Aboriginal dialects, Clive James who translated Dante rom the original demotic Italian over thirty-two years.

Jason Lee is hero-worshipped by many of his generation. Christos Tsiolkas. Peter Carey. The quiz questions of the ABC, eight times a day, are widely listened to. The poetry Macca quotes aloud is much beloved.

Festivals of Henry and Banjo are copiously attended. Writers’ festivals grow exponentially every year. The Bell Shakespeare Company never lacks an audience. There is a book club in every other street. Kids read Harry Potter and keep reading, usually, imaginative novels life long. Our Prime Minister reads Brideshead every seven years or so, admiring, he told me (and an awed Gleebooks audience) the underlying, unadmitted gay Papist content. Nathan Rees, a rough-spoken Westie, once played, while Premier, Satan in Paradise Lost in a crumbling church on a wild night harried by rain and lightning and a leaking roof.

There is much untruth in what you say.


I think you are over reaching yourself to claim Tony is a bogan. Bogans don’t read books or write them. They celebrate their ordinariness. Tony Abbott is not ordinary but an exceptional human being.

There are many Australian intellectuals. You just don’t know any.

The Thoughts Of Chairman Uhlmann (2)

It is forbidden that a retired Foreign Minister say to anyone that a pro-Israeli lobby exists, and makes phone-calls to anyone.

If he publishes this heinous falsehood anywhere, he should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Vote Liberal. Vote Liberal, early and often.

The Thoughts Of Chairman Uhlmann (1)

It is above all essential that a retired Foreign Minister should conceal what he feels about airline food.

If he but once, in a work of a thousand pages, says what he thinks about airline food, he should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

The Carr Tsumani (3): The Story So Far

An email from Bob Carr:

‘Shops selling out.’

The Carr Tsunami (2): Faster Than A Speeding Bullet

(First published by Independent Australia)

Though strongly advised by his father Jor-El that he must not intervene in human history Bob Carr, the mild-mannered reporter, has flown backwards against the spin of the Earth and thus time-travelling restored the past and plumped us down in March, 2012, his finest hour, and shown us how things happened in that faraway time, and by doing this earned a lot of money for Interplast, his favourite charity, which adjusts the hare-lips of disabled children.

Millions more will be added to this worthy cause I think when he confidently sues Peter Hartcher (‘he has lost his mind’), Chris Kenny (this book shows ‘the grown-ups are back in charge’), the smh editorial writer (‘has let down his party, his colleagues and his country’), Tom Allard (‘a tosser and a snob’), Emma Alberici (‘puts his own interests ahead of those of the nation’), Simon Cobcroft of the letters page (‘like Narcissus lured by Nemesis’), and perhaps twenty more – five million in all, I would calculate, a worthy small triumph for Superman who has been known to rescue a cat from a tree.

I’ve read a third of this fine book now, and it’s fair to say, I think, that it’s already altered our politics immeasurably. Julie Bishop must now produce a better one, or even a better paragraph, or a better sentence, or a better phrase, and she can’t. The current policy idiocy over Asia is exposed. The Kenny line that ‘the grown-ups are now in charge’ is laughable. When, as it will, it gains a Pulitzer Prize or a Premier’s Award (something that, curiously, Battlelines did not) the damage it has done to the Liberals will be greater even than it is now, three days later, when they are spending on a search for South Seas scrap metal more than would have saved Holden, and a quarter of a million jobs, they seem like boastful ignorant peasants neck-deep in Sargasso doldrums and bound to lose three states and, for the last time, the Federation.

Their response to Bob’s book is predicated on the mistaken belief that forty thousand people would not buy it and four hundred thousand people would not read it, nor talk to others about what is in it. The mistaken belief, too, that a tell-all memoir that curses airline food has gone beyond the Pale and a Foreign Minister who wants to arrive washed and shaved and well-slept at a meeting with Hillary Clinton is a ‘tosser’. For the book is a very good book indeed, rivalling some of Gore Vidal’s long essays and some episodes of The West Wing, and Clive James’s delicious account of going with Mrs Thatcher to China, and this excellence cannot be countermanded by a sniffy toss of the head from Julie Bishop, a much worse Foreign Minister, or Alexander Downer, a fatuous cross-dressing dill. It is there. It is there. And it can be read by anyone.

I note two paragraphs on pages 16 and 17, the first about David Miliband (‘forty-six, energetic, bright, athletic and stranded on the back bench’), the second about London’s available cultural entertainments:

‘(Miliband) is passionately pessimistic about Afghanistan. He thinks it will all end up in a messy, tribal, regional chequerboard, whatever is done. He is as pessimistic about British Labour being led by “brother Ed”. Doesn’t sound like he thinks he can ever become party leader. I tell him to read biographies of Gladstone and Disraeli and be patient: “Anything can happen in politics. Stay in.” He needs the patience of politics. The capacity to bide one’s time, to survive a decade in the wilderness…’

‘A boring National Theatre production of She Stoops To Conquer seen through drooping eyelids (why revive that creaky old thing at all?) and a snatched one-hour visit to the Lucian Freud exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (enough time to sicken on the acres of belly and parted groins) on the way to the Eurostar.’

Does this writing show him to be mad, or shallow, or a haughty dilettante not doing his job? Yet the front page of the Daily Telegraph, composed by someone who has not read very much of it, claims the book shows him to be a ‘tosser’. It is as if Winston Churchill’s first volume of war memoirs (‘I knew I had been walking with destiny’) were described in 1945 by the Daily Mirror as the ill-judged work of ‘a decrepit old wanker’.

We are in the region of ‘guided democracy’ here. We are being told we should not read a good book, the best narrative memoir in our nation’s history, probably, since The Naked Island. We must not read it, we are told. We must not read it. We must not read it. The writer has become insane. Look into my eyes. Insane.

It would be good if Julie Bishop and Carr now debated, say, South East Asian policy in the Sydney Theatre in May at the Writers’ Festival. Surely she could find time to do that. But no, she will not. She will not soil her schedule with eye contact with a ‘tosser’.

It is bad when Big Lies become the tactic of an incompetent government already behind in the polls. If history is repeated, these Big Lies are always the first part of a destabilising process that leads to political arrests, secret torture and an army coup, along Greek, Egyptian and Chilean lines, and then more suppression of freedom of thought in many institutions.

That suppression has begun, of course, in the public service, and the tired, wrenched, impacted sentences of poor, fraught Chris Uhlmann. And the battle-line, if I may put it that way, is this book and what has been untruthfully said of it.

And we will see what we shall see.

The Carr Tsunami (1): Remembrance Of Things Past

My book Goodbye Jerusalem cost Random House a million dollars (some of which bought our Prime Minister his Forestville bungalow) because of thirty-three words which wrongly alleged that a woman, a mere woman, changed the political views of two amusingly named undergraduates, Abbott and Costello. It was then thought libellous to say a woman, a mere woman, might have a political impact on a man, and for this my life as an earning, breadwinning journalist was ruined.

The which is well known. But the avalanche of condemnation currently swamping Bob Carr’s book has reminded me, thirteen years on, of a single, resonant, peculiar, illogical thing. This was the belief — back then — that all six hundred and forty pages of my book were about the sex life of Abbott and Costello (who’s in first?) when only thirty-three words were.

The rest of the book was about Lang, Whitlam, Hawke, Evatt, Chifley, Curtin, Clinton, Carr, Calwell, Churchill, Wilson, Jenkins, Healey, Benn, Foot, Heath, Button, Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher, John F Kennedy, John Hepworth, Francis James, Bob Hawke, Mick Young, Bryan Brown, Kamahl, Geoffrey Rush, my children, my wife, my friendships with Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Collins, Chris Puplick, Jim Killen, Les Murray, Fred Daley, Graham Freudenberg, Graeme Wedderburn, Bruce Hawker, David Britton, Wayne Swan, Kim Beazley, my then esteem for Mark Latham, my run against Bronwyn Bishop, my delight in Neville Wran, my house burning down, and so on.

Yet millions of Australians were taught, and somehow came to believe, that it was only about the bedroom arrangements, untruthfully asserted, of two sleazy young Liberal movers and shakers, Abbott and Costello. And about nothing else.

And with Bob Carr’s book the story is similar. Five hundred pages are about international issues, and the men and women that guide them, and questions of what we as humans in difficult times should do with our nation-states, our voting systems, our taxgathering, our inbuilt injustices, our weapons, our ecology, our planet’s fate. Thirty pages, perhaps, are about airline food, facial surgery, diet, exercise, novels, exhaustion, and live theatre.

Yet we are led to believe Bob writes of nothing in his book but his arrogant need to maintain his health (surely he should abandon that lost cause?), and size up the people he needs to convince of things that would further Australia’s interest, and to read, eat, sleep and go to the theatre; and this, of course, is the act, five hundred pages long, of a ‘tosser’.

What an amazing thing to say. What an absolutely amazing thing to say.

Yet it is how, of course, the Liberals, who do not read books (Howard’s was remaindered) react to everything. Nothing longer than a slogan exists for them as brain-activity, anywhere on Earth, and reading more than a page on any subject is bizarre. And ‘self-indulgent’. And ‘wanking’.

This is why they do foreign policy so badly. John Howard believed Saddam was burying in Arabian sands atomic bombs he didn’t, for some reason, plan to use and we should therefore immolate his country. Peter Reid believed not just that mothers were throwing their children in the sea, but that these children were not struggling with them, crying, ‘Don’t kill me, mummy! Don’t kill me!’ but submitting, like Isaac, to their own sacrificial slaughter. Scott Morrison believes he can shield white Australian murderers from Niugini justice, and keep that country’s esteem in spite of his treatment of them, like houseboys.

This is how lame-brained they are. They do not read books. They do not know about things. They are ignorant. And they do not care.

And seeing a man who does know about things telling us what he knows in clear, amusing English really scares them.

And they sink, squawking and waving their arms, beneath the quicksand yelling unsuitable slogans and claiming they hear ‘pings’.

And so it goes.

Or perhaps you disagree.

Classic Ellis: Bob Carr, 1999

Bob Carr is a Labor hero now, and his rather ordinary life, I suppose, will take on, like Chifley’s, legendary force.

The fibro beginnings and swottish boyhood. The day he came in short pants holding an ice-cream cone to join, at fourteen, a train driver’s son, the Party. The apprenticeship of fire in the Young Labor movement of Keating, Richo, Laurie Brereton. The academic triumphs at Matraville High and UNSW. Years of thoughtful journalism with Packer and the ABC. The life plan to be, at forty-five, Australia’s Foreign Minister. The state seat that was to lead to the federal seat, and then, at thirty-eight, the Environmental Ministry. The Labor debacle of 1988, when six potential Premiers lost their seats, and he alone was left standing. His unwilling acceptance of the leadership, and the end of his life plan. The sour but bracing years of Opposition, the near miss of ’91, the leadership threats and ugly photos and mocking headlines, the wilderness years of bushwalking, Proust, the uncompleted novel, the parliamentary harassment of the hated enemy. The narrow victory of ’95. The uncertain years since then. And then last Saturday night, and the speech that echoed Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath: wherever there’s a poor guy who’s lost his job, I’ll be there. A new iconic presence. A new story. The novelist as politician. An Australian Adlai Stevenson, Roy Jenkins, Michael Foot, but one that wins. The intellectual’s via dolorosa, nose to book, as the horny-handed multitude throw bricks and mock him on his way. But see how the story ends.

I’ve known Bob for eighteen years now. I’ve spent a lot of nights with him, at the theatre and over Italian and Chinese meals, and collaborated on speeches with him and talked at length on the phone, but I don’t know him well. ‘We are intimate,’ I would say, ‘but not close.’ He has, like many politicians, a force-field of humorous reserve around him that seals out intruders, and only a few people – Helena his wife, John McCarthy his old Young Labor comrade, Kris Neill his female Chief of Staff, his fellow diarist Rodney Cavalier, his former minders Bruce Hawker and Graeme Wedderburn, Paul Keating perhaps – can penetrate. He reveals much to us others, in selective flashes of lightning, but not all. He does his nightclub acts, the devilish mimicry, the delightful spontaneous self-mocking heroic soliloquies. But we do not know him.

He wept on the night before the poll in 1995, thinking all was lost, alone in his darkened office among the vain cardboard boxes of press releases of seven years, high above the lights of the city. He wept at the funeral of a young policeman killed off-duty, of a young firefighter with children. Sometimes his famous carapace of cool and tireless and ironic professionalism drops, not often.

He acted quickly and formidably in my presence, for instance, when Franca Arena accused him and others of protecting paedophiles. Within half an hour there was a judge, an enquiry, a set of guidelines, no panic, brilliant lines given on the radio, and Franca’s eventual doom. He evinces cold fire sometimes when talking of heroin, the drug that killed his brother at twenty-nine, after a year of coma, but deals with the issue justly and objectively. He is not convinced, he says, that supplying free an addictive poison to its pathetic victims helps the world much, but he will hear the arguments. And after heroin what? Crack? Cocaine? White lightning? Why not?

His voice is the best and most durable in Australian politics. Baritone, classless, inclusive, big enough to command a thousand people without amplification, and pinion interjectors with a subclause, it is bigger somehow than his lean, Clark Kentish frame. It adds to him what I call that quality of ‘authoritative tenderness’ that woos an audience, a radio audience in particular, and wins elections. A tenderness deepened, perhaps, by the death of a sibling, his childlessness and other thwartings. ‘That’s a voice I’d kill for,’ said Paul Keating simply.

Like many good leaders. Beazley for instance, he both excites and relaxes you. He makes friends across unusual gulfs of belief and culture. Cavalier on the left, Alan Jones on the right regard him highly, Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer are pen pals and overseas hosts. He loves America and Europe, and once in a rush caught two acts of Don Giovanni on his way from his hotel to Frankfurt airport, and nearly missed his plane. Nick Greiner once called a by-election in January and thus prevented him seeing The Madness of George III on stage in London. ‘It was at that point,’ he said, ‘I determined to destroy him.’ If he were not bound up in his unsought destiny as Labor saviour, he would be, I think, opera critic of the London Guardian, or roving correspondent, like Hitchens, of Vanity Fair.

He has an intricate inner life. At one point he told me he was half-convinced there was a parallel universe in which John Fahey was still Premier and he was a fading disc jockey in Queanbeyan. He admires Idlewild, a novel in which Jack Kennedy survives his assassination, and Marilyn Monroe survives her suicide, and they meet again in the 1990s, and the world is very different. He is intrigued not only by what happened, and how it happened, but what else might have happened.

He is famously and copiously a reader (Anthony Powell he now ranks higher than Proust, having read both novel-cycles while in office), but more secretly a writer too – of diaries, passionate book reviews (Lincoln and the American Civil War his specialty) and, endlessly, his novel on Young Labor people in 1971. Keating is in it under his own name, vividly and buoyantly evoked, others more disguised. Publishers are tussling for it, but may have to wait.

He bushwalks still, strolls beaches, drinks coffee, has late-night conversations like the student he has never ceased to be. He strives always to find out what happened, and the full context of why it happened. The Kennedy White House. Chifley’s defeat.

He is loyal and kindly to the most wayward friends. Malcolm MacGregor worked for him, left him, worked for the Liberals, attacked him personally in print, went off the grog, rebefriended him, invited him as Premier to his fortieth birthday party, and Bob came. His staff, the best in political Australia, worked seven days a week for him since Christmas, as they would for no other. He ran, and amazingly won, a campaign of no big promises, standing on his record, and not criticising the Opposition. That took some doing.

He stood on a table last Friday night, and thanked his staff in a remarkable, tired, unconfident, self-effacing speech. There were lines on his face, and a searing of his spirit, a cathartic gathering of inner exhaustions that weren’t there a year ago. He looked and felt like Chifley, or Dunstan, a Labor hero. He had become a part of the story, the big story, he had for so long studied. Like an archaeologist time-travelling in his favourite Egyptian dynasty, he had arrived at last, in full focus, in the prime of his intellect and curiosity, a leader, a man for all seasons, at the hub of things.

I will watch what he does now, as a friend, an admirer, with interest.

(First published in The Age)

Alberici Goofs Again

Alberici just said, or implied, or I think she implied, that Bob Carr was putting his interests before those of the nation, revealing government secrets in order to make himself a swag of money out of this, his latest, self-serving, shallow, boastful book.

But all the money he makes from this book, and it may be as much as a quarter of a million dollars, will go to a charitable foundation, one that treats, heals, educates and empowers disabled children.

And if he sued Alberici, as of course he could, for thus implying he is or has been a kind of traitor, he could give these disabled children’s carers and healers even more money. He could double the amount.

How foolish this girl sometimes looks, like the night, already a television classic, when she was steamrolled by Clive Palmer.

She should apologise, really quickly

Another Prediction

MH 370 will never be found.

This is because it was shot down by mistake by Americans a long way to the north, and burned up, and the Americans gathered up the evidence and concealed or destroyed it in the following days.

A Prediction

Pistorius will walk free.

It is unlikely the one man has no feet, killed a beautiful girl deliberately, and is a better actor than Colin Firth.

It was a mistake. It may have been a sort of sleep-walking, or the effect of waking suddenly from a sleeping draught. Alcohol may have had something to do with it. But he did not shoot her, or wound her, deliberately.

It happened as he said it happened.

If it was deliberate, he would not have tried to revive her. He would have stormed about the building, looking for burglars, hiding his gun, claiming others had stolen his gun.

Or he would have done it out of the house, by some other method, or hired a hit-man to do it.

He’s not a fool. Nothing that he’s doing now  bears any other interpretation but that he’s innocent. Not of manslaughter, but premeditated murder.

He will get five years good behaviour.


In Thirteen Words

Scott Morrison is harbouring murderers. And the Governor-General should order his arrest.

Lines For Chris Uhlman (1)

Any man who in a frank memoir will criticise the airline food is not fit to be in politics.

Any man who thinks a Foreign Minister should have a wash and a shave before meeting Hillary Clinton has no idea of what it is to be a true Australian.

Any man who thinks it necessary to be well rested before deciding what his country will say to the United Nations is a tosser.

My name is Chris Uhlman. Vote Liberal, early and often.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (97)

The correct number to ring for the Gielgud is 0405 965 560.

A thousand curses.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (96)

Louis Phillips, Nicholas, Jay Buoy and A Bronte Reader have been banned for life. I had not expected so many lies to be told about Bob Carr, a man I’ve known for forty years, a man some respondents said was ‘arrogant’, as if that were possible in one who had been a party leader unthreatened for seventeen years, a period longer than Whitlam, Curtin, Chifley, Keating, Beazley, Hawke, Wran, Rudd, Cain, Cain, Dunstan, Gallop, every Labor leader in our history in fact but Lang and Rann, both of whom were sacked as he was not. ‘Arrogance’ is what Rudd had, and was sacked for. An arrogant Labor man unsacked for seventeen years is a political impossibility.

Anyone who has spent an hour with Carr will agree how startlingly attentive, unjudgmental and amusingly humble he

But the jackals are gathering, and hoping to start up a Big Lie about him, our most successful leader ever, a lie that, tragically, some respondents joined in.

They will never be heard of again.

In One Hundred Words

It’s drawing a long bow to describe as a ‘bigot’ a man with an Indian-Chinese-Malaysian wife who visits Holocaust sites and rates Primo Levi’s If This Is A Man as the most important book of the twentieth century, wooed the vote of twenty African and Caribbean nations to get us into the Security Council, made a Lebanese woman the first female Governor of NSW and counts among his friends the Jews Kissinger and Mailer and the homosexuals Vidal and Don Dunstan, the Native American Walt Secord, the Laotian Tim Soutphomassane, the Westies Keating and Rees, and Hanan Asrawi the Palestinian activist, and ran the most successful Olympic Games (a multicultural event) in two thousand six hundred years.

Perhaps another word could be used.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (95)

I am banning for a month, for two months or for life a good few respondents who are alleging Bob Carr was a bad Premier but will not name any policies of his that were wrong policies and are joining the general smear that if Obeid and Carr were in the same party and in the same faction they were accomplices in everything. But Sinodinos was in the same party, and the same office, as John Howard and accepted an offer of twenty million dollars for fifty hours’ work, paid by taxpayers, to further the interests of a crooked water company, a crooked Obeid water company, so therefore he and Howard — and Abbott — were accomplices in significant acts of political corruption advantaging Obeid and compromising O’Farrell, and they should be gaoled and expelled, like Thomson and Williamson. Stands to reason, doesn’t it? Off with their heads.

I am depressed at how many of this readership have so meekly and flabbily copped the propaganda of Murdoch (Spoke uncivilly to a Woy Woy waiter, did she? Off with her head! Iguanagate! Iguanagate!) and disgusted at Uhlman’s interview an hour ago.

Fran Kelly’s was a lot better.

What I’m hearing in all of them, however, is that a reveal-all political memoir is utterly unacceptable, we need an airbrushed one, and it must be first censored by Julie Bishop, Andrew Bolt and Chris Uhlman.

Who believes this?


Yesterday’s Newspoll

Tediously, I must report that O’Shannessy is cheating again. He has Labor on 49, the Coalition on 51 ‘based on the preference flow at September 2013 election’. But Morgan shows the 2013 election flow is wrong now. People asked what their second preference was now, seven months later, gave Labor 1 percent more. So that’s 50-50 not 49-51. Morgan had it 51.5 Labor’s way, 3 percent down from a fortnight ago.

Unlike Morgan he rings only landlines on Friday night and Saturday night when anyone under fifty-five is out of the house. There are 6 percent ‘uncommitted’ and 2 percent ‘refused’ — that’s a million voters — and a margin of error of 3 percent, that’s four hundred thousand voters.

So a million and a half aren’t in his sample or misreported as to their actual preference and a further half million out of the house.

Morgan has Labor this week, I repeat, on 51.5 percent. Morgan was dead right last federal election, in Tasmania, in South Australia and Western Australia.

This was after the Craig Thomson news and and after, also, the mitigating $inodino$ news and after whatever traction Abbott got from hunting scrap metal in the south seas.

It’s close, but Labor is ahead, in even New South Wales, and even Queensland, and even — amazingly, according to Morgan — Tasmania.

And O’Shannessy, as always, lying.

Bob Carr Invitation

Will those of this readership who would like to, come to the launch next Monday, April 14, of Bob Carr’s Memoir Of  Foreign Minister at 11 am at Dymock’s, George Street, Sydney, by Gareth Evans.

I’ve read a third of it and it’s like an intellectual thriller. Astonishing piece of narrative and meditative writing, in the manner of Gore Vidal.

The Human Factor

MH 370 and the Pistorius case both show the same flaw in our reasoning. As in the Lindy Chamberlain case, we look at the forensics (sound-deadening fluid an ‘expert’ said was foetal blood), and not, not ever, the human factor. We scour the southern seas for a wrecked plane that is not there. And we imagine a disabled, impelled careerist would deliberately shoot a beautiful woman in the head in his own home though it would cost him glory, millions and that thing he treasures most, his freedom to move about.

Why would he? Why would Lindy Chamberlain cut the throat of a healthy baby and come back to a barbecue smiling, and then agree to serve twenty years though confessing to it would mean she would go free immediately? Because she was guilty? Or because she was innocent?

Pistorius, likewise, is innocent. A lie detector would show this, and any rational person hearing his anguished account of what happened to him yesterday, and the state he’s been in for a year, would believe it.

And what happened to MH 370 is not to be found out by chasing ‘pings’ through the seven seas but imagining what the pilots were up to when they turned the plane left suddenly and their communications went dead. Were they on a suicide mission? Both of them? And all the crew? Were they obeying hijackers? Or were they coping with a sudden emergency?

If they were obeying hijackers we would have heard, by now, what the hijackers were up to, from a third party, or a message left behind. So there were no hijackers.

If thery were on a suicide mission would have seen by now a farewell video.

So…they were coping with a sudden emergency. It’s possible the plane went down fairly fast, somewhere to the left of Malaysia, in the sea, at 4 am.

And it’s possible they were shot down, by Americans, and this moronic response to an approaching, unidentified plane in the dark before dawn has been covered up by them, and the Malaysians, ever since.

There is no other alternative.

And the search five thousand miles away for wreckage that is not there is a waste of time and money.

A sensible thing to do would be to interrogate all the pilots in Diego Garcia, and see who dobs who in.

The human factor, you see, not the forensic evidence, is where the truth lies.

And you can hear it in Oscar Pistorius’ voice.

The Gielgud Counterrevolution

(From Rowan McDonald, in 5th Wall)

Three microphones, three male voices, a tale of a time gone yet just within grasp of living memory, and by making this reach we might peer further back into the years before, centuries perhaps, of Hamlets, Macbeths, Bottoms, Falstaves and Cassieia. This kind of theatrical telescope into the past can reveal all manner of insight into the word as spoken – alive again in the prism of Gielgud’s particular vocal method.

The text is by arrangement of Bob Ellis, weaving the anecdotal with the classical, the casual aside with the musical, and the historical with the modern. It is easy to cast yourself adrift in the sea of pentameter in this whistlestop steamboat cruise, a sampling plate of Elizabethan delights. Yet just as this rhythm starts to wash across there will be a change in tone or shift in tempo, or a phrase out-of-time to crash you back into the experience anew. The passing comment comparing Henry VIII’s brutal treatment of adulterers with the Taliban springs to mind – such is Ellis’s turn of phrase he perhaps matches the mentor for imagery, without letting his careful segues take the limelight from some of the Bard’s most memorable characters and the scenes which some lucky actors might carve their likeness into the sandy shores betwixt the tides of time.

For as we well know theatre is such an elusive game, and only the rarest of us have ever caught Sir Gielgud in full recital mode (I am not one such creature) – but this might be as close as you can get, three voices in carefully trained mimicry of his style, each finding their own truth or bouncing off the other. It is a stark contrast with the Shakespeare of today and such an important historic counterpoint that is a must-hear for any student of the craft to fully comprehend the significance of the shift toward the conversational tones that are du jour.

There is a cultural memory here — or perhaps one from watching BBC dramas in discontented wintry schoolrooms – but the marked and pointed vocality of Sir Gielgud is a kind of lightning rod for today’s casual emphasis toward the everyday. It’s highlighted with some archival footage of one such black-and-white film – a monologue of the lean and hungry Cassius, imbued with such epic intensity, barely a facial twitch with cross the screen, it is all in his eyes, and that voice – one cannot help but submit to be slain by the voice.

Gielgud cuts a fragile enough figure onscreen and is thus difficult to picture in the kind of commanding presences we have come to expect of today’s romantic casting we will often see in leading roles. There exists no footage of his stagecraft (not even for ready money) so one must imagine, and with a little help from the talents of Messrs Clarke, Burke and Ellis, now one can.

The staging is of such simplicity our imaginations are forced into the kind of overdrive Shakespeare’s language will dictate. No flourishing sets or modernist imprimatur – Ellis remarked in a post-show conversation this is a “counter-revolution” against the kind of auteur-Shakespeare we have come to know of late. And we enjoy as much, but to fully comprehend what we have won with such expressionistic leaps and bounds one must also take account of what we have lost. Which is, sadly, Gielgud’s particular emphatic approach to each and every word, then in sequence to the grander epic emotional reality of the world he would inhabit. To have glimpsed it is a revelation in itself.

Part rehearsed-read, part archaeological archive; “Anthology Theatre” is the term being used for this approach to a nostalgic review of a theatre icon – in homage to his muse William Shakespeare and fascinating vignette into the style with which Sir John Gielgud approached his immortal words, and such, his life. For the serious theatre historian, student or casual listener it is a vital piece of the tenuous lineage now some several thousand years in the make, for the art of live performance is one best handed on face-to-face. It is the second such arrangement of these scenes and fragments of note, the first in 2013 being The Word Before Shakespeare down at The Bondi Pavillion some windy Tuesday eve. My understanding is there are several more in process, all similarly themed or named from hitherto unheard of Ludlum Trilogies; The Olivier Expansion, The Shaw Revolution, The Beckett Tautology, The Milligan Conundrum, The Scott Morrison Dancing Bear Show…

And so on…

The performances are intermittent so keep an ear out. The next reading for Gielgud is this Sunday April 13th at 5pm at the Hughes Gallery Sydney. Featuring Simon Burke, Terry Clarke and Bob Ellis. Recommended.

Quiz Time (59)

In what film did Mickey Rooney appear with Judy Garland, he playing someone else, and Judy playing herself?

The Rooney Hundred

We were told by the ABC that Mickey Rooney was ‘the last star of Hollywood’s golden era’.

Why do they keep doing this? Kirk Douglas is alive, Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds, Olivia De Havilland, Kim Novak, Lauren Bacall, Luise Rainier, Robert Wagner, Christopher Plummer, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, George Hamilton, Margaret O’Brien, Claire Bloom, Jane Powell, Joanne Woodward, Sophia Loren, Leslie Caron, Leslie Phillips, Jerry Lewis, Elaine May, Sarah Miles, Terri Moore, Shirley MacLaine, Shirley Bassey, Shirley Abicair, Marge Champion, Carol Lynley, Warren Beatty, Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay, Tom Bell, James Bolam, Richard Attenborough, Michael Craig, Rod Taylor, John Gavin, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Jane Fonda, Julie Christie, Vanessa Redgrave, Keith Michel, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Donald Sinden, George Cole, Bill Kerr, John Hurt, Barbara Windsor, Liz Fraser, Maggie Smith, Hayley Mills, Virginia McKenna, Millicent Martin, Julie Andrews, Petulia Clark, Judy Geeson, Sandra Dee, Yvette Mimieux, Tippi Hedren, Tuesday Weld, Eva-Marie Saint, Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, James Garner, James Fox, Edward Fox, Stuart Whitman, Sid Chaplin, Tab Hunter, Paul Anka, Terence Stamp, Twiggy, Tommy Steele, Tommy Tune, Tony Bennett, Cliff Richard, Pat Boone, Fabian, Carrol Baker, Diane Baker, Sally Field, Angie Dickinson, Eli Wallach, Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Max Von Sydow, Catherine Deneuve, Fanny Ardant, Brigitte Bardot, Bibi Andersson, Harriet Anderssen, Liv Ullmann, Danielle Darrieux, Gina Lollobrigida, Alain Delon…

That’s a hundred.

Give me a break.

MH 370: The Answer

That which happened to MH 370 was either by accident, or by human intervention, or a mistake that followed an accident.

There is no fourth option.

An accident, given the lack of radio messages or texts or emails, had to involve the instant death by asphyxiation or gas leak of everyone on the plane, or their immediate unconsciousness. But the plane turned left and flew low, changing altitude, indicating the pilot, or pilots, were alive.

Human intervention would have to involve a pilot or co-pilot who didn’t mind killing his crew, and there is no such man; or at least three suicidal hijackers, one who could fly expertly. But, since they did not advertise their cause, their intentions, their threat, or their price, and since no group like al-Qaeda ‘owned’ the disaster in the hours afterwards, as they did 9/11, there was no such hijacking person, or persons.

This leaves us with what happened, an accident followed by a mistake.

An emergency occurred, probably involving fire and smoke. The pilots turned left, and headed, flying low, towards an airport, Palau Langkawi, that was near and unencumbered by intervening hills or mountains.

And, seeing them coming, some Americans shot them down. They scrambled some fighters out of Diego Garcia and shot them down.

The whole thing took perhaps twelve minutes.

There is no other possibility.

The ‘pings’ we are hearing are far, far away from where the burnt and shattered plane is.

The Americans will keep what happened secret as long as they can.

What WA Means

Gallop and Bishop have called the ALP’s numbers ‘disastrous’ in Western Australia. This is because their primary vote was down by five percent.

But all of those lost numbers went to the Greens, and will come back, in preferences, to Labor. This will ensure they keep the Pratt seat they lost in September, and regained on the recount.

At least two percent of the Green-fleeting votes were because Bullock, a Papist fool, opposes abortion and gay marriage and thinks Abbott potentially a good Prime Minister and said so. At least one percent was part of the twelve percent (it will not be fifteen) that disliked voting three times in year, and also, some of them, thought Bullock a joke, a dunderhead or a mole.

The commentators have their agendas, however, one of which is Shorten is faltering, and they will not see, or say, what really happened in Western Australia. This is that the Prime Minister called it ‘a referendum on the carbon tax’, and it was. And the party that most favoured the carbon tax, and the mining tax, the Greens, picked up seven percent and nearly doubled its vote. And the parties that most opposed it, the Liberals and the Nationals, lost eight percent.

And the carbon tax, as an issue, is now a dead duck, and Abbott, for whom its repeal was a panacea for everything, is a busted flush and a smoking ruin.

Labor is ahead in every poll; would win any election, hugely or narrowly, held today, is soon to win back Victoria and New South Wales, possibly the Northern Territory, and certainly Queensland.

And there is no crisis, and there was no catastrophe.

Get real.

Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance: Lambert’s, Morrison’s, Martin’s, McKellar’s and James-Moody’s The Drowsy Chaperone

‘The best show I’ve ever SEEN!’ I exclaimed, a little overexcitedly, perhaps, after the last performance of The Drowsy Chaperone at the Hayes yesterday, having secured a front row seat a mere thirty seconds before curtain-up. I then went on hastily to explain that by ‘show’ I meant ‘high-kicking buoyant Broadway musical’, but my reaction was, well, a bit more complicated than that.

The director, Jay James-Moody, who also plays the lead, seems to have invented a new kind of theatre, which resembles, closely, an episode of The Simpsons. Big, hyperbolic performances, tiny theatre. All those limbs and leers and grimaces coming at you like 3D in the cinema. It’s like what Baz was attempting in Moulin Rouge, but he of course, famously, doesn’t know what he’s doing. I cite the ‘Over The Rainbow’ scene in Australia, where the little boy learns it, and rest my case.

The book, by Bob Martin and James McKellar, and the music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, all Canadians, use a ‘framing’ device that, like Noises Off, or Hamlet, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or The Taming Of The Shrew, or Travesties, puts a theatrical performance, a play-within-a-play, into the life or dream-life of another character, in this case an ageing Broadway buff playing old microgroove LPs of a show he hasn’t actually seen but loves imagining, a twenties musical of the Wodehouse-Bolton-Gershwin kind (like Oh, Kay!) about an interrupted Manhattan marriage, of a rich dimwit to an ardent showgirl, and the complications of the Gatsby-Ziegfeld-Speakeasy-Lindbergh era. He takes off the record from time to time and the performers freeze, and he tells you things (like, say, Graeme Blundell would) about the actors and what became of them; the one who played Adolpho, for instance, the enthusiastic Italian gigolo, was three days dead and largely eaten by his poodles when his decomposing body was discovered in his mansion. ‘Try not to think about the poodles,’ says the narrator as Adolpho sings like Lanza and leaps like Valentino upon an elderly lady. He tells us elsewhere, like wikipedia, things we need to know, adverting only occasionally to his own loneliness, confused sexuality, hatred of Lloyd Webber, and so on.

It is, among other things, and I should be careful about this, a meditation on theatre itself. Until Pinter, theatre was where you saw clever people doing almost impossible things with verve, panache and precision: tap-dancing, sword-fighting, hitting high C, swinging from chandeliers, eating fire. After Pinter they merely scratched themselves and concealed the plot, if any. A measure of how bad it got was Webber’s Right Ho, Jeeves! He didn’t ‘get’ the Wodehouse-Bolton-Gershwin musical, its levity, insouciance and infantility, and this show does. At one point the narrating buff puts on the wrong LP, and we see for a couple of minutes a number from a show like The King And I about ‘Asians’ and ‘Caucasians’. At another he apologises, almost, for the ‘national stereotypes’ (Italian gigolos, New Jersey gangsters, uptight British butlers) of the day.

And we see how much we have lost. Every now and then, as in The Simpsons’ party-turns on The Music Man and A Streetcar Named Desire (the musical), we get a glimpse of the ‘good night out in the theatre’ that Pinterism, or ‘life is a sombre mystery, the three-hander, discuss’, replaced. It was good to see fifteen brilliantly talented people on stage, invading your space, sadistically delighting you.

The choreographer, Monique Salle, and the musical director Paul Geddes, do that most difficult thing, sending up what they delight in, and doing it excellently also (like Coogan and Bryden’s Caine in The Trip), and giving it a sense of both joy and danger like the Big Dipper on Coney Island

And…the performers. Well…they’re excellent; not sure what other word there is for it. Hilary Cole, at twenty-three as beautiful as Miranda Otto at twenty, sings as well as, oh, Streisand, and, as the tempestuous fame-glutted prima donna Janet Van Der Graaf (shall I marry mere wealth or gobble fame addictively?) resembles Garbo in Grand Hotel. Laurence Coy as the gangster-impresario Feldzeig on bimbo alert, is as feisty as Cagney and paranoid and pussy-whipped as Woody. Brett O’Neill as the gangling besotted klutzy bridegroom Robert, a character Preston Sturges would approve, resembles, exactly — as a fellow audience member, Geoffrey Rush, remarked, correctly — a New Yorker cartoon of the day, and packs a baritone as big as Gordon McCrea. Jamie Leigh Johnson (twenty-two!) as the screechy-voiced bimbo Kitty (like Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, Susan in Citizen Kane, and the bumped-off broad in Bullets Over Broadway) is, well, superb.

Richard Woodhouse and Steven Kreamer, playing two tall hit-men disguised as pastrycooks (and resembling, closely, the ferrets in Pinocchio), could not be bettered. Tom Sharah, as Adolpho, not that it matters, pretty much stealing the show, has the impact, as we say in the trade, of Pepe Le Pew on steroids. A lovely bittersweet double act, Underling the butler and Mrs Tottendale his careless, adored and resented employer, give Chris Coleman and Gael Ballantyne a fine, autumnal mating dance. Michele Lansdowne, as the drowsy chaperone, pissed, mostly, on Prohibition hooch, puts one in mind of Eve Arden, and holds one piercing, angry high note for about three minutes. Ross Chisari, Emma Cooperthwaite and Anna Freeland fill out a lively, leaping and menacing chorus line, and the choreographer, Monique Salle, tops and tails as an aviatrix, the deus ex machina, gorgeously.

And…Jay James-Moody, director and narrator, adds to his character, a rumpled reclusive embittered bisexual nostalgist, a Bennettian or Beckettian melancholy that even…well…Pinter…would applaud.

An extraordinary evening. Lost now. Revivable perhaps? Are there angels dancing still in Greenhough Street, Potts Point?

Pray heaven they exist.

After The Greenslide

The Abbott government lost its credibility last night. They campaigned on what’s become their only policy, their panacea for everything, the cure-all, repealing the carbon tax (a loathesome impost on each suffering, sorrowing voter of twenty-two cents a week, as much as that), in the state that most fears it, Western Australia. And the PRO-carbon tax party, the Greens, got seven more percent than they did in September.

This shows a few things. It shows the carbon tax formed no part of the Coalition win last year. It shows, probably, that it was only the ‘leadership instability’ of the Labor Party that lost it government. None of its policies was unpopular, none of its ministers reviled, and some of its policies — broadband, Gonski and NDIS in particular — were admired everywhere. They created a lot of jobs and, in their last months, pretty much stopped the boats. Abbott was not liked, but he was thought to be, probably, a better economic manager and leader of a more stable team and worth a try.

And all that is gone now. They have no credibility any more. And each new poll that shows them under 50 will be, should be, must be, reported as a new crisis, a new debacle by PVO and Hartcher and Henderson, and bewailed by Bolt and Bramston as a national tragedy.

For they are not doing well. Julie Bishop mixed up thousands and millions on Insiders this morning, and Matheus Cormann refused on agenda to say which DECADE would supply a surplus, and Abbott looks more and more like an HIV sufferer or an anorexic, or a sad example of mismanaged facial surgery. He has lately refused knighthoods to Lillee, Warnie, Twiggy, Richie, Singo, Richo and Geoffrey Rush, and will soon give damehoods to Peta Credlin, Pru Goward and his ‘love mother’ Bronwyn Bishop before he demotes her, with regret, from the Speakership and runs one of his frisky daughters as her replacement in Mackellar.

And…Liberal party workers all over the land will be hereinafter trembling with fear, and at midnight after their fourth scotch thinking, just thinking, of seeking work with Palmer.

The carnival is over. And from this day forward, for the Liberals, the LNP, the CLP and the Nationals, oblivion begins.

Counting in WA

12.20 am

At midnight the swing against the Coalition was 6.5 percent, against Labor 5.8 percent. But the swing TO the Greens was 6.9 percent.

This means, or I think it means, a swing against the government of about 10 percent once you factor in the small eccentric parties’ preferences. And this, if duplicated in a full election would lose them fifty seats, and speed them into electoral oblivion, pretty much.

1.00 am

At 12.55 the Coalition vote was down by 7.2 percent, the Labor vote by 5,3 percent, the Greens up by 6.9 percent, and Antony Green calling three Liberal, one Labor, one Green and one Palmer. But one of his columns had Labor with 1.49 quotas, the Greens with 1.13 and, most significantly, the Hemp Party with 0.8. This means, must mean, Labor will win — 0.49 plus 0.13 plus 0.8 is 1.22 — the last seat, its second, and that makes the final outcome Labor two, Liberal two, and the Greens and Palmer one each.

Or am I wrong?

Quiz Time (58)

What was Oscar Levant’s famous joke about Doris Day?

Doris Day

Doris Day turned ninety yesterday. She was/is six years older than Marilyn Monroe and when she succeeded her in Something’s Got To Give (retitled Move Over, Darling) it was remarked by Time Magazine that though MM was the blonde we fantasised about, DD was the one we’d settle for.

Though she was the biggest money-earning female star of the fifties and sixties and, by some counts, the biggest star of all time, the fortune she made was misspent by her crooked husband Marty Melcher. She was forced into mere television to pay his posthumous debts with the sometimes unsatisfactory Doris Day Show whose premise altered from year to year. She refused to play for big money, however, Mrs Robinson in The Graduate because its premise disgusted her, and the nude scenes, not then common for forty-five year olds, daunted her. Her private life was mostly unhappy, her son predeceased her, and she now nurses stray animals in Carmel.

Underappreciated at the time, her track record now seems remarkable politically. She was in the only Marxist musical ever to do well on Broadway, The Pyjama Game. She became a lesbian icon in Calamity Jane, providing with it the same-sex anthem ‘Once I Had A Secret Love’. She climaxed Lover Come Back, co-starring Rock Hudson, by giving birth ten minutes after the marriage, behind the altar. She pioneered phone sex in Pillow Talk. She climaxed the Hitchcock film, The Man Who Knew Too Much, by singing ‘Que Sera Sera’ so loudly her kidnapped son could hear her four floors above, in the US embassy in London. She played Ruth Etting, a gangster’s moll, in Love Me Or Leave Me, co-starring Cagney, so well it surprised most commentators that it didn’t win her an Oscar. She was paired most effectively with Frank Sinatra, the nice suburban girl to his self-destructive junkie, in Young At Heart. When she sat beside him on the piano stool, the screen brightened and sizzled, and she ended, as most good girls do, supporting his habit in the grimy city.

Her singing voice, bright as lava and sweet as honey, had a clear, impactful tranquil certitude like no other. The way she told it, the way she sang our story, we were in safe hands: que sera sera.

She was a one-woman sexual revolution, Rosie the Rivetter on the march. She was a grease-smeared tomboy in By The Light Of The Silvery Moon, lived in sin (in 1917!) with Gordon MacRae before he went to war in On Moonlight Bay, and when she famously asked Cary Grant in That Touch Of Mink, ‘Did you just ask me to marry you?’, he said ‘No’. Permission for hot foreplay and possible premarital swiving irradiated every screenplay. And post-marital swiving sometimes also. In Send Me No Flowers Rock believes he is dying, and ‘sets her up’ with several candidates for the sexual succession, vetting their Country Club credentials, their form playing tennis, bridge and canasta.

Slightly cross-eyed with big improbable teeth, she convinced two generations of plain girls they might make it in the great world anyway by sheer pluck, dauntless practise and cheerful, zesty hoofing. An expert dancer (and spoiled for a career in ballet by a car accident in her teens) she contrasted with the tempestuous, difficult Ava, Marilyn, Bette and Elizabeth with her exhaustless, round-the-clock spot-hitting professionalism. She made more good movies than any female before Streep. She won no Oscar, lost no friend, and when she landed a plane without qualifications in Julie, you believed she could do it, though in real life she hated flying.

It is important she be praised in these last, sad years of a life she believes she has failed in. A Christian Scientist, a Republican, an important animal-rights campaigner and an early friend (because of Rock) of the sufferers of AIDS, she stuck to her beliefs and did good things for her fellow-creatures with humility, ardour and mercy.

A record she made two years ago topped the charts, the only octogenarian so honoured other than Vera Lynn.

And so it goes.

Palmer Rising

Palmer picked up ten thousand votes when debating Garnaut last night. When he said only three percent of carbon is man made — and a lot more, presumably, made by bushfires, volcanic eruptions, lightning strikes, forests destroyed by landslides, eroded permafrost and similar — he got no adequate reply from Garnaut, and this was pretty worrying.

It’s wrong to underrate him. He has a pleasant voice, and a swiftness of discourse that, like Bob Brown’s, will persuade many swinging, insecure voters that he, a self-made billionaire, might have some idea of where he is going which Tony Abbott, clearly, does not.

I hold with my prediction that he’ll pick up — eventually, after recounts — two Senate seats, and leave the Liberals with only one.