Classic Ellis: Nifty, 1984

(From Goobye Jerusalem)

Speaking at Lionel Murphy’s funeral, Nifty said the world ‘mate’ had lately come to have sinister connotations. ‘But Lionel Murphy was my mate, and I’m proud to say that I was his.’ It was remarked at the time how differently he would have dealt with Mick and the spy story, or Mick and the Paddington Bear. ‘Are you joking?’ he would have said. ‘Fuck off. Write anything incriminating about Mick on this matter and you’ll never cross this fucking threshold again.’

He had his hates of course and one of them was my boyhood friend Chris Masters who in The Big League asserted Nifty was corrupt, as a result of which Nifty had to invent the concept (he was very good at this) of ‘standing aside’ from the Premiership while he was on trial. He told the ABC to fuck off for years after that, and was very snaky too about Mike Carlton who did husky gangsterish imitations of him, accompanied by the sound of a getaway car arriving, and departing. David Hill determined to reconcile them and brought Mike round and they drank together for a while and made it up.

The best night I had with Nifty I think was in a peculiar small cane-covered private room in a Canberra restaurant during the Labor Conference of 1984 (an event made colourful by tattooed and feathered and painted hippies up and down the stairways of the Lakeside Hotel) with Jill and Freudy and John and Jan Brown and Ramsey, my collaborator. Freudy was mountainously pissed (as I remember) and told an anecdote that at full stretch might take forty-eight seconds or so in a total of thirty-two and a half minutes and Nifty, who loved him, heard him out.

Then Nifty began to reminisce – about Balmain and his working-class brothers who still lived there and hated Balmain trendies and of his wild youth.

‘I used to be an actor, you know,’ he said. ‘I left Law School and became a professional actor. I starred in a radio soap called The Martins of Markham Street or some bloody thing and I did very well, made a bit of money. And one night I turned up at Her Majesty’s Theatre, opening night, tuxedo on, sumptuous blonde on me arm, furs all over her, cleavage down to here, and the doorman grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me round, and it was me father. “Listen,” he said, “get back to Law School.” I did too. Silliest thing I’ve done in me life.’

His ambition, he said, was to open a restaurant with a harbour view and a neon sign saying Nifty’s, with a piano bar and good food, and he’d be there every night, like Bogart in Casablanca, and pursue the art of conversation.

And he talked of better things. And then suddenly he said, ‘When I think back on my life, and what I’ve become, and I wonder what I might’ve been, I think what I might better have been is a more radical version of what I am. But in the end, in the end, in the end,’ he said very rapidly, ‘there’s only the Labor Party, isn’t there?’

  1. Ndeville Wran was a brilliant politician and a pity to see great intellects demented like he obviously is. I hope he has minders. The time is coming when his death removed him from defamation protection and his legacy will be stretched and twisted and pulled and turned.

  2. Like Robin Askin the truth will become public knowledge. And so it should. Nonstick will become very sticky indeed.

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