Monthly Archives: May 2013

Summing Up

Let me be plain about this. There are police who beat black youths to death on Palm Island and in the Northern Territiory. That is racism. There are police who pursue black car thieves in Perth till somebody dies. There are church officials still alive who raped and ruined little girls in ‘orphanages’. There are ‘foster parents’ who enslaved and shamed and abused black children of both sexes unpunished for decades, uninvestigated now, repeatedly. That is racism.

It is racism to not give a penny in reparation to tens of thousands of the kidnapped, abused, enslaved and beaten children still living and sorrowing and grieving for their lost mothers while giving fifty-eight thousand dollars to prissy white girls touched up or peeked at by army officers in Duntroon. That is racism.

It is not racism to say a man looks like a monkey. Some men, like George W Bush, really fucking do. It is not racism to tell an Irish joke. It is not racism to tell a Tiger Woods joke. Or if it is it does not compare with racism involving rape or death or ruin or stolen children. Racism is deeds, not words; not a few ill-chosen, misspoken foolish words in a land where speech is free.

Saying it is, is really lazy. It is missing the point.

Got that?

Didn’t think you would.

A pox on the lot of you.

Canberra Diary, Thursday

7.40 am

A long night of constipation at the end of which I give birth to a column of cement at 5.30. I am asleep by 6 and at 6.20 drilling begins, and the hellcat sisters on jackhammers, or something near jackhammers, make sure I am thereafter awake and frantic, and defending, for some reason, Eddie McGuire on the blog and cursing Adam Goodes.

10.30 am

I pack, and repack, and lose things, and shower, and lose my car-keys, and pack and check out, avoiding verbal violence, and get in the Volvo, become lost on a freeway and seem to be near Yass when I turn back.

I achieve Parliament House at 9.15, go in the main entrance and am found to be carrying a saw-toothed long knife — which has got through the Reps’ entrance twice — zipped up in my bag. It is confiscated, and I am warned not to kill anybody by other means, and Viv signs me in. In the bookshop is no copy of my book, though Costello’s memoir is prominently placed.

I settle in Aussie’s, eat yoghurt with coca cola, confer with Craig Thomson on a secret matter, write lots of lines.

On the television is the Russian News in Russian, with cyrillic subtitles. I eat a banana, and realise I can change the channel, seize the instrument, and do so.

Gillard is in a school, and looking relaxed and warm and radiant. She has just got the ACT to sign up to Gonski, and speaks of her dead father giving his organs to science.

A headline crawling underneath her says Abbott has gone back on the electoral funding deal.

12.10 pm

Soon there is a headline, ‘Abbott’s credibility shredded’, by Mark Kenny in the smh. I read amazed, then offer the following lines on my blog to Glllard, or anyone.

‘There is more and more evidence that the Liberal Party can’t make up its mind. It’s divided on the baby bonus, the pregnancy bonus, Gonski, the fast train, the electoral reforms, Global Warming, the monarchy, the republic, the surplus, the deficit, the national educational standard and the morning-after Pill. They’ve changed their minds on all these things. Who knows on September 14 which half of the schizophrenia you’ll be electing; and how long it’ll last.’

12.40 pm

The mood has palpably changed. Is this the tipping point?

McTernan appears in the coffee queue and I walk, or shamble, with him the half mile to the lift. He is what Tynan called an Imposer, one whose disapproval you fear, and I stammer out my proposed ‘schizophrenia’ speech, walking sideways. He gives it some heed, revolves it, then forgets it, probably; and, emphasising there’s more good news coming, signals the conversation is over and walks on.

3.40 pm

A ructious Question Time with many throwings-out, Shorten warned and Morrison ejected, bizarrely, in mid-question. Swanny’s earnest righteous defence of good policy and good numbers is more convincing today, and more compelling than ever before. Today it seems more true. The faces behind Abbott are dismal. It is to do, perhaps, with his visible yearning for the old brontosauran union-bullied Labor Party Ferguson mourned and their twitchy Papist leader antiphonally wept for. It showed they were following — and saluting — a stranger, a spy, a secret agent, a puffed-up, strutting cuckoo, a sheep in wolf’s clothing, they knew not where.

He had kept from them, it seemed, the deal he had made — and signed — on electoral money (33 cents per annum per voter to the person you voted for, shock horror) and was threatened by his caucus and, creepily, turned around. And here he is, exposed as a welsher, a shirker, a double-dealer, a forger of a signature that blurred on the page as the ink spread, as it was meant to.

And we will win now. The shadow line has been passed. We have achieved, improbably, lift-off.

4.10 pm

I am greeted by Sam Dastiyari, Craig’s betrayer, in the hall, and he smiles at me, and Abbott runs by in his track suit, smaller, head down, diminished, receding down the corridor. Dastiyari asks if he’s allowed to do that. Phillip Coorey says it might be unwise to ask him to stop.

5.50 pm

I go to the office and pack my things; and say to anyone who will listen a variant on the following:

‘To win the war you have to win battles. And Abbott has lost eighteen battles on the trot. He lost Broadband. He lost the very fast train. He lost, or drew, round one of Gonski. He lost round two when O’Farrell signed up to it. He lost gay marriage when Spain, France, Britain, New Zealand adopted it. He lost the morning-after-Pill, again, when it suddenly re-emerged. He lost, or drew, the battle of NDIS. He lost when Hockey said the adjective ‘disabled’ might have to be redefined. He lost when the Vic young Turks proposed to privatise the ABC. He lost when he gave up the Baby Bonus. He lost when he said in his Reply that Gonski was gone., and Pyne said it was a con. He lost when the ACT signed up to it. And he lost when he was rolled on the electoral funding (33 cents a year to someone you love, shock horror) . And he lost when he wept for Ferguson and called Labor a ‘great party’.

And somewhere in there he lost the status of a certain winner.

And he shrank and became diminished, and foolish-looking, and creepy, and not a little mad.

And so it goes.’

7.10 pm

Tom Cameron walks me all the way down to the carpark, talking affectionately. It is good, but I am hoping yo get to Gatsby in 3D in Goulburn and must rush now.I get lost in Canberra and lose ten more minutes.

6.40 pm

What a week. It was the week it all fell down for the Liberals. Turnbull will be moving soon. Gillard has achieved, at long last, after nearly three years, blast-off.

9.50 pm

Gatsby is in 2D and so horrible, and ill-cast, and ill-written, and … Bazzy, I leave after twenty minutes. I walk to the Paragon,’which I seem to be have been eating in since before I was born, and have oysters kilpatrick and vegetarian pizza.

I am greeted warmly by Jim, at the accustomed motel, and he listens gravely when I tell him Abbott’s finished. Who are these people I talk of, he wonders, nodding. Why do I care so much?

He gives me a carton of milk, which I spill all over myself on the way to room 2.

I turn on the television, and am soon asleep.

Lines For Julia Gillard (29)

Every day there’s more and more evidence that the Liberal Party can’t make up its mind. It’s divided on the baby bonus, the pregnancy bonus, Gonski, the fast train, the electoral reforms, educational standards, Global Warming, the monarchy, the republic, the surplus, the deficit and the morning-after Pill. They’ve changed their minds on all these things. Who knows on September 14 which half of the schizophrenia you’ll be electing? And how long it’ll last?

King Kong Deconstructed

After Charles Darwin wrote his book it was thought by most educated people that Great Apes and humans were closely related, and it was not insulting or defamatory or libellous to make the comparison. They had 99 percent of our DNA, and resembled us in hundreds, thousands of ways.

The film King Kong, written by Herman Mankiewicz, who wrote Citizen Kane, treated a particular Great Ape very sympathetically. A parable of the perils of migration, it shows a giant humanoid, misplaced and distressed in the big city, and in love with a girl he cannot have.

It is a tragic story, like Frankenstein, or Greystoke, or Eugene O’Neill’s play The Hairy Ape, and to compare any man to its hero is a compliment, not an insult.

That Eddie McGuire should have to ‘stand down’ or ‘issue an apology’ or ‘undergo mediation’ for doing so is bizarre.

It is no more insulting than comparing John Faulkner to Hamlet, or Kevin Rudd to Coriolanus, or Julia Gillard to Boadicea.

It has never been suggested that King Kong is a Negro. He is an Ape, displaced in a world of his human cousins, and roaring defiance as they try to kill him.

I cannot imagine what the media think they are doing.

They should cease and desist, and apologise to Eddie.

And tell Adam Goodes he is a fool.

Classic Ellis: The Monkey Metaphor, 2008

Nothing Andrew Symonds does surprises me any more. He’s our best all-rounder since Keith Miller but he’s behaved really stupidly in this case, and he should like Warne, I guess, be banned from Tests for a year, or else be made to listen to Alexander Downer sing Gilbert and Sullivan standards unaccompanied for half an hour. And his confederate Steve Bucknor should be fined a hundred thousand dollars and required to take an eye test. And Ricky Ponting should be breath-tested for hubris before each game. I refer them to the phrase ‘It isn’t cricket’ and what it means.

It means that when you’re out, and you know you’re out, you walk. It means that if you give a man out and the camera says you were wrong, you call him back. It means that if you know your enemy is coming on to bowl, you don’t appeal against the light for this reason only. It means, above all, you don’t report anything said on the field to any official whatever the rules of the day. And it means if you win by a combination of all of the above, you apologise for winning and say why you’re sorry you won.

It also means (let’s spell it out) that if you unjustly escape being given out when you were out, you don’t gloat; you don’t brag, as Andrew Symonds foolishly did, about having cheated and having wrongly survived.

I saw every minute of the second Test in person or on television and most of the larger minutes replayed six or seven times and believe me, Symonds was out at 30, Dravid not out at 38, Ponting was out at 17, and the difference this made, of no more than 260 runs that were thieved from India’s lead, would have seen their victory assured by Saturday night, and what Harbhajan said, in the context of cricket, as cricket has always been played, meant nothing, nothing at all.

Let me quote from page 1 of Alex Buzo’s great book Legends of the Baggy Green.

‘It was the fourth day of the fourth Test in Antigua on a windy May day 2003 and Rannaresh Sarwan was heading for his first century against Australia. Hoping to focus his thoughts on other topics, bowler Glenn McGrath greeted him at the non-striker’s end with an enquiry. “What does Brian Lara’s cock taste like?”

The beanpole paceman then waited for an answer. Sarwan, loyal to his leader, responded, “I don’t know, ask your wife”.

As an attempt to introduce a more savoury note into the conversation, this was a failure. “If you ever fuckin’ mention my wife again, I’ll fuckin’ cut your throat out,” shouted McGrath, towering over the Indian-descended Sarwan and pointing for emphasis.

There followed a complaint about sledging to the umpire… by McGrath.’

But neither man was suspended, as I recall, for three Tests because of this exchange though the story was soon well known. Is the epithet ‘monkey’ somehow worse, more vile, more offensive than the above? Let’s look a little closer at the English language and its usage.

Political cartoonists are allowed to make bears, rodents, King Kong, Gollum, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck out of politicians and are never sent to gaol for it or laid off work for weeks. The phrase ‘the lying rodent’ was used of John Howard and ‘Wile E. Coyote’ of Peter Costello without legal penalty.

I compared Wally Grout, the wicket-keeper, to a wombat in 1968 without imprisonment, and the perfect Anglo-Australian Michael Charlton compared Wes Hall to the Abominable Snowman in 1960 and was allowed to continue on air and to front, in fact, the first Four Corners for years thereafter.

And Harbhajan called Andrew Symonds a monkey and may lose his honour, his career, his livelihood and Ponting keep what he winningly calls his ‘integrity’ because of what was called by him a racist epithet and reported to the umpire and the Board.

I have some knowledge of racism in cricket, having made a film called Dreaming of Lords about an Aboriginal Test Team going from empty stadium to empty stadium in England, and having seen neither hide nor hair of these brilliant young men in any State side thereafter. Bradman, it seemed, didn’t like Blacks, and his successors were somewhat of this mind as well.

Is the word ‘monkey’ racist? Or does it more or less adequately describe a man with a dark face, big white painted lips, addled rust-coloured corkscrew hair and a clownish agitatedness that adds to that first, impulsive, slanderous impression?

He looks a bit like a monkey to me, just as Bucknor looks like Morgan Freeman, Ponting like a fugitive Afghan boat-person, Sharma like a fraught greyhound, Stuart Clark like a white cockatoo, Gilchrist like a King Charles spaniel and Brett Lee like the young Tab Hunter. My wife didn’t know that Symonds was black, and agreed he looked like a monkey before she knew he was black. Should she be charged with racism as well? And in what way should she punished? And for how long?

The whole truth of it, I fear, is that Symonds is one of the world’s finest cricketers, one of the best of all time, but is not, I fear, if I may put it this way, gingerly, with caution, what we used to call a ‘gentleman’.

And he now and then avails himself of the chance to, I won’t say cheat, the language is struggling here, but bend the rules, tweak the ancient traditions a bit — letting Dravid be given out unprotesting, for instance — and he, yes, also, now and then, in some lights, does look like a monkey; in the same way as, in some lights, Winston Churchill looked like a bulldog, a vile aspersion if I ever heard one. And Jack Kennedy, as was remarked at the time, looked like Bugs Bunny. And Charles de Gaulle, as was remarked at the time, like an imperious poodle.

The entire French nation, come to think of it, were once called ‘cheese-eating surrender-monkeys’ by no less than Homer Simpson without the teeniest hint of racism ever imputed to the epithet. Cultural revulsion yes, but not racism. And the world’s cartoonists, moreover, have many, many times portrayed George Bush as a chimpanzee and were never called racist for this repeated insult either.

I am by a useful coincidence a member of the Primates, a luncheon club of drunken rogues and reprobates that includes Bill Leak, Warren Brown, Richard Fidler, Bruce Venables the actor and popular novelist and Meredith Burgmann the politician, a monthly gathering dedicated to the acclamation of ape-like, exuberant, uproarious behaviour, and we lately, contentiously, after much close-reasoned argument, part-funded the purchase of an orang-utan by Taronga Zoo. And some of us think the orang-utan should have drinking rights at our secret venue.

So at our next meeting, ever the diplomat, I shall propose that Andrew Symonds be asked to come in his stead.

And sink a few schooners. Tell a few jokes. Sing a few songs.

And learn how true gentlemen behave.

…And, ah yes, what to do about it?

Rudd should ask Ponting to say that in his view the Second Test was drawn, and to try at least to withdraw his charge of racist abuse and say he might have misheard it. And Rudd should invite both teams to Kirribilli House to meet the Primates and have a few jars.

I’m sure this won’t happen. And it’s a pity.

In Sixteen Words

Thirty-three cents a year?

In ten years you’d have shouted him a cup of tea.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (30)

I invite anyone to buy The Year It All Fell Down and review it in these pages.

The first three reviews submitted will be printed.

There has to be some evidence you have actually read the book.

In Fourteen Words

A person you voted for is not worth thirty-three cents a year? Wow.

How Labor Can Win Easily (6)

Buy the Ford factory, keep everyone on, say it will build Fords for three more years and, after that, a green car.

The Thirty-Three Cent Solution

So … it’s wrong, is it, for a person who likes Tony Windsor enough to give him thirty-three cents a year, but right for Gina Rinehart to give Barnaby Joyce three quarters of a million dollars? Wow.

Thirty-three cents if you VOTE for him? Wow.

If you don’t like it, vote informal.

Defaming A Primate

I am told that Eddie McGuire should resign or be sacked from Collingwood for a simile. He compared a big strong hairy black man to King Kong.

It will be very worrying if he suffers for it, in my view. It will mean Bill Leak, who often portrayed George Bush and John Howard as monkeys, may have his right hand cut off. And Michael Charlton, who in 1961 compared the footprints of Wes Hall to those of the ‘Abominable Snowman’, will have to report to the local chapter of the Taliban and have his tongue cut out.

And my mother, who more than once referred to our neighbour, Eddie Dorrough, as ‘a big ape’, will have to be dug up, hung in chains and pelted with dried faeces, as our New World Order currently, it seems, requires.

You will recall how in The Life Of Brian anyone who says ‘Jehovah’ is immediately stoned to death? This is like that.

As a longtime film critic, I am trembling in my shoes. I have compared Jim Carrey to a ‘jabbering chimpanzee’, described my friend Tilda Swinton as a ‘semi-albino’ and Gene Hackman in Scarecrow as resembling ‘Sasquatch’.

Sir Martin Gilbert, who sometimes compared Winston Churchill to a ‘bulldog’, and Charles De Gaulle to a ‘French poodle’ may soon, I guess, lose his knighthood for these considerable, unforgiveable crimes against humanity.

I barely know who Eddie McGuire is, or how to spell him. AFL is a mystery to me. But I will defend to the death his right to make a verbal comparison of one thing to another.

It is not beyond reason (in my view) to compare the face and ears of Adam Gilchrist to those of a King Charles Spaniel, as I, alas, once did in print. Should I be imprisoned for it? For thus equating this national hero with a lower order of being? Should Alf Garnett’s phrase ‘you silly old moo’, in which he compared his lawfully wedded wife, no less, to a cow, land him in the stocks?

I am aware that black men were once enslaved, and treated like animals. But so were white Australian convicts. If I were to call a white man a ‘work horse’ or a ‘mule’ or a ‘silly ass’, should I be publicly condemned for it?

Somewhere in there the word ‘racial’  has got mixed up with lesser things. You can call a man a Black but cannot, adjectivally, describe him as being ‘black’, as in the common colloquial phrase ‘you big black cunt’. If I were to describe Arnold Schwarzenneger, say, in his last defiant days as Californian Governor, as resembling King Kong on the skyscraper, would that be seen as the racial vilification of a thick-vowelled, body-building Austrian? No it would not. If I were to say of Gerard Butler in The 300 that his body language in pitched battle resembled that of King Kong, would that be racially vilifying a Scot? No it would not.

How then can Adam Goodes be offended? Was he? Was he really?

If he was, then every sarmajor should be court-martialled for ‘inappropriate similes’, like those bellowed forth in An Officer And A Gentleman, and put away for twenty years.

What are we coming to?

I invite discussion of this.

In Forty-Three Words

It is important Nick Bryant rebut my suspicion that his review of The Year It All Fell Down was rewritten, or added to, by a craven Murdoch hack.

If he does not sue me for saying so, I will think my allegation confirmed.

How Labor Can Win Easily (5)

A medium close-up of Maxine McKew saying:

‘The Liberals are going to privatise the ABC and I hate it. I truly, truly hate it.

Vote Labor. Please.’

Freeze. She fades, very slowly, to black.

Canberra Diary, Wednesday

11.50 am

Viv is busy, and I wait half an hour for Tom and his luscious tall non-smoking girlfriend Claire to come down and sign me in.

I immediately see Larry Hand smoking in the courtyard. He sees me, and flinches out of sight.

I go to Aussie’s and Larry, who has been somehow by a process I cannot readily comprehend teleported, is in the queue and buys me coffee, refusing emolument, and sits somewhere else, avoiding my eye. Perhaps he has lost my book while drinking heavily, or read some of it and been repulsed by its Keynesian fervour. It is a mystery. Windsor is there, and I give him the book which he demands I inscribe. The ink runs.

Craig Thomson has come in, seems pleased I have met his parents and seems not, as I have heard, suicidal. He needs a compere for his benefit, whose date has moved, and I suggest Muldoon, Littlemore, Biggins or Mike Carlton. It will be interesting to see what their view of him is. We agree, as well, on some students polling 800 locals before there is a Labor candidate. I must work on this.

3.40 pm

An enflamed Question Time, with Pyne attempting to interrogate a Labor backbencher under an obscure, ill-tested House rule and Albo saying it was unconstitutional, and Gillard, looking terrific, with lively argumentativeness jeering at Abbott’s crude, raucous levity about ‘national security’ and his ‘ripping money away’ from Westie schoolkids to pay 75,000 dollars to rich, pregnant Lindfield wives. Behind him, it is dawning on his loyal troops, at last, at last, that they could lose.

Afterwards, an astonishing trio of speeches. Martin Ferguson, foreboding the end of his years in parliament, proud of his part in the seismic shift of the Hawke-Keating-Kelty years of the social wage and the expanded economy, sorry for the good men and women put of work in the industries that were thus made redundant, and grateful to his parents Jack and Laura who were here in parliament when he was first sworn in, and had now ‘passed on’, read a good speech very, very well. Then Gillard, off the cuff, gave a great parliamentary speech of thanks for his career though it included an attempt to assassinate her.

Then Abbott, amazingly, topped both of them, evoking his deep respect for ‘Labor traditions’, and the great heart of a good party, saying sorry for decrying, in the past, his place in ‘Labor royalty’, and going near tears at the loss of him.

Overtired; yes. Distracted; yes. False; no. It was one of what I call his ‘truth burps’, which he cannot, sometimes, contain. He breaks through the cellophane and says what he feels. It is why I liked him so much for a couple of years: a Scott Fitzgerald ‘romantic readiness’ to spill over into self-destruction. He did it, I think, out of hatred for the dishonest game he was in. He is (I think) a true DLP man still, and hates the sneering jackal he has become.

6.10 pm

Viv rings and wants me to come to Aussie’s and comfort her. Her father-in-law is dying, her husband Peter distraught, her own father’s octogenarian companion stricken with cancer, and she asks how you deal with death, Ellis, what do you do.

Sleep, I say. Put, with sleep, three thicknesses of glass between you and the dread moment when you heard the news. Forgive yourself for neglecting them in their last years. We all do that- write something down and read it to them, whether they can hear you or not. Say it to them. Think of them after the funeral as being ‘unavailable for interview’, no more than that.

6.30 pm

I get an email saying Don’ O Kim is dead, and in a phone call hear Tom Manefield, knocked down by a truck in the rain at eighty-seven, is too. Kim’s funeral is tomorrow at 9 am in Kings Cross and I can’t be there; Penne Hackforth-Jones’s in Melbourne on Friday, when I am filming in Leichhardt. And so it goes.

Tony Abbott runs by in his tracksuit. I almost hail him and thank him for his words, and his tears.

But you do not do that.

He is the enemy, now.

After Morgan

Morgan shows 16 percent of all Australians (men 19 percent, women 13) likely to ‘consider’ voting for Clive Palmer’s party.

This would be, or most likely be, or most likely include, 45 percent of all Queenslanders.

If half of them did vote that way, no Coalition seat in Queensland, federal or state, would be safe. Palmer’s break with Newman would punt his preferences to Katter and Labor, and Labor would pick up seats in Queensland, perhaps as many as five.

This would make up for the three or four or five they could lose in Sydney; and, with the  two they will pick up in Victoria, the one they will pick up in South Australia, and the one (maybe) in WA, will assure them majority government with 77 or 78 seats.

Prove that I lie.

A Question

Where is the latest Morgan and what does it say?

Can somebody put it up, please.


Pell: A Poem is now complete, and should be read, and savoured, and read aloud to your children’s children, for the next fifty years.

Canberra Diary, Tuesday

11.50 am

As I drive down to Canberra in my new grey Volvo I am again struck by the immensity of good green pastureland I am calmly progressing through and how few cows there are. In Asimovian reverie I imagine Lake George transformed into a satellite city of three million souls, commuting by very fast train to Wollongong, Sydney and Canberra and see no fault in it. How absurd it is to think Australia full up already. An entire country, the size of Tasmania, could be tucked into Katter’s electorate and given to Tamils, Acehans and Shi-ites and farms, towns, mosques, universities, hovercrafts, airships built there. Where there is no vision, old friend, old friend, the people perish.

On the radio I hear a great deal about bladder cancer and Parkinson’s Disease, more than I want to, from various chapters of Radio National. With breakfast, and a deep sleep in a McDonald’s parking lot while Fran harasses Bill Gates, I take six hours to get there.

I book into my usual malvolian small prison, am greeted with suspicious kindliness by the puritan hellcats in charge, leave my stuff and get a cab to Parliament House and am signed in by Viv, as always, and we go to Aussie’s and drink coffee. The mood of the young backroomers has improved, she assesses, but victory still seems a long way off. ‘We will win by a landslide,’ I assert, unconvincingly.

12.40 pm

Steve Bracks and Peter Collins confer at a nearby table, heads nodding like stud horses or old college friends. They were I suppose both Leaders of the Opposition in 1999 and may have known each other then. Collins sees me and comes over and wishes me ‘Happy birthday two weeks ago’. We share a birthday and a home town and for ten years caroused and ate red meat on the big day (we called ourselves The Tenth Of May Club) until, as in Jules et Jim, life drove us apart.

Tony Windsor comes up and gives me his email that we may conspire more effectively. He introduces his female biographer, and beams. ‘About time too,’ I say. I tell her he is like Chifley. She notes that down.

1.40 pm

Bill Gates addresses a big adoring crowd a few feet away and I see his image on television; the sound is down and no-one at all is attending. I eat a spaghetti bolognese with sparkling mineral water, move near the television, turn it up and await Question Time.

2.30 pm

It’s interesting; interesting.

It may be turning, I think; or not. Abbott has withdrawn his No Confidence threat, and was forced by a gleeful Oakeshott to say what his view of Global Warming was and if he’d have it fixed by 2020. Yes, he said unconvincingly, by planting trees and growing hardier brussels sprouts but never, never taxing our worthy citizens, no way. Mark Kelly in the smh claims Katter and Wilkie would vote against no confidence, and Abbott looks a goose either way since to withdraw it is to — in effect — show confidence in the government. And that would never do.

The mood of the faces behind him is darkening, The Pell-smell creeps in under the door and around the ankles of most of them (Hockey, Pyne, Mirabella, Turnbull, Bernardi, O’Farrell, Morrison, Abbott and Newman are fervent Catholics) and they must fear now some defrocked pervert will finger one or other of them in the next few weeks as a co-conspirator, or a coverer-up, or a sodomy victim in denial, of instances of choir-boys held down and buggered in the last thirty years. I imagine Christopher Pyne so placed, and it fits.

3.20 pm

Peter Collins arrives and sits down, and we talk for half a hour. He asks, mildly, where Carr will be after September. I say I have no idea; I have little stomach for arguing we we will win. We agree on how lucky he is, achieving power at 47 on the last fifteen votes of a female candidate simultaneously doorknocking constituents and suckling twins; and getting, last year, the job he coveted all his life. Peter, his amiable rival since their days together in the late 60s in the ABC, had no such luck. His opposite number Alan Stockdale, the Victorian Treasurer, ran away with his wife and three boys to Melbourne. He served in Iraq and saw horrors there. A good Treasurer and superb Arts Minister, he became Opposition Leader after Fahey stood down but was prematurely displaced by, amazingly, Chikarovski before he could face, at last, his old friend/foe Carr at election. He should have gone federal like Fahey but by then the Reith-Howard Sado-Thatcherist Cockroach Insurgency were in power and of course disdained him. And so, as with Baird and Puplick and MacPhee and Hamer and Chaney and Georgiou, the Liberal Party was depleted of one more good soul. He wrote a good book with a fine title, Nothing Personal, which his idiot publisher changed to The Bear Pit. I reviewed it glowingly in a long dead magazine called HQ. And here we are. We swear to visit each other’s homes, and he goes away.

3.50 pm

I am approached by Sam, a young man from GetUp! who wants me to come to his headquarters in Surry Hills and bestir with old battle stories his eager virgin twentysomethings. I agree, and reflect that had we not been at adjacent tables he would not have thought of me. Aussie’s is a great facilitator, a great short-cut to intellectual intimacy, and, provenly, a pick-up joint of enormous range and subtlety.

5.40 pm

I go up to Shorten’s office and talk to a young bald man called James about Abbott’s maternity scam but I am soon told he is not James. He looks a good deal like James, though shorter, thicker and less bald, and he is sitting at James’ desk. James is away with his new baby, I am told, neglecting thus our masterplan for Abbott’s downfall. Strange how these driven young men merge into one another in my mind; not so strange, perhaps.

I am invited into a vast echoing conference room by Tom Cameron, who worked for Beazley and Gordon Brown, and we talk for a while about a winning strategy. I somehow at last convince him that the million ‘Undecideds’ are where all our votes went, and they can be got back. They didn’t quite leave us, they’re hovering, waiting to be wooed. We write, together, a speech that might lure them back.

6.55 pm

I pack up and begin to leave, and encounter in the corridor Tim Costello, who boisterously hails me and introduces me admiringly to a man with him. He is pleased with his friend Bill Gates, who is giving more foreign aid to the storm-trashed region than our government. We reflect on the long tradition of American billionaires giving hugely to good causes and Australian billionaires hugging, like Rinehart, or Scrooge McDuck, their sheaves of banknotes to their bosoms parsimoniously. He is tall, like his brother, and, though a Christian fundamentalist, almost universally admired. I recall for the first time in some years Ellis’s Second Law: ‘Every man over six foot two is forgiven.’

9.30 pm

I exit the building after intertangling my pass in the string for my spectacles and amusing the guard no end and in a cab achieve the bookshop in Manuka, and buy The Year It All Fell Down which has sold eight copies in four days, four to me. I go to the pub seeking red meat and Peroni and there encounter Larry Hand, the sinister saturnine star of Rats In The Ranks who works for Albo now, and give him the book. I tell him and the young gay man with him that Labor will win in a landslide. We have picked up 180,000 votes in a fortnight and we need 600,000 more and there are fifteen weeks to go.

We drink shiraz, eat steak, talk of television miniseries, and commune. He is one of my favourite people and was my campaign manager for my second tilt at Bronwyn. Like Evatt he was expelled from the Labor Party and came back. He explains how it happened to Evatt, who got on the wrong side of Lang by announcing he had a preselection for Balmain before he, technically, had it. We explain to the young man how Lang was sacked not for refusing to pay the debt to England but for proposing to delay for a year the interest payments on it. And, of course, for taking all the money out of the bank in two big suitcases and driving away with it. This riled the Poms very much and there then occurred the first Dismissal, which eventually steeled Kerr, a teenage witness of the first, to enact the second.

I was here that day, November 11, 1975, and remember it well.

(I would normally go to a flashback now, but I do not have the technology.)

10.40 pm

I go back by cab to the drear malvolian bread-and-dripping house of unremitting Christian virtue I am again in, which firmly closes its doors at 9. I get inside in time, but discover at 9.15 that I do not have my room key. I may now need, I grimly forfend, to sleep in the corridor (by shrewd forward planning I have my trusty blue pillow with me always, wheresoever I go), there being, I know already, no other accommodation in Canberra, except some leaf-strewn park benches, perhaps, in wet and bitter cold. Happily however the senior stern hatchet-faced deaconness — or whatever high church office she currently holds — is still on the premises, and gives me, smiling angelically, another key. Then she finds my actual key hanging in the front door, and while I am undressing enters breezily waving it, her suspicions now confirmed that I am a famous drunkard.

I read a chapter of my book, which is really very good, and sleep.


Pell: A Poem

A young tall shavenheaded far-flung backroom friend of mine has asked me to read the following, uncompleted verse on Tuesday at the Primates. I will, of course. Of course I will.

It came in two grabs, and I hope he adds to it.

I will put it up, progressively, as he sends it in.


Attend the fate of Father Pell
Who strives to save our souls from hell,
Yet now is brought to per’lous pass,
And many a sore and aching arse,

Unlike the saintly Lot of fame
Whose daughters saved an angel’s shame.
His shepherds spurned the quim’s delights
In favour of their acolytes.

Into this bum-fuck Shangri-La
Came Anthony from Warringah,
His bastard child a cause for cheer:
“At least we know he’s not a queer!”

And even when he jumped the wall
- for siren songs trump Jesus’ call -
For quite a while there, all was well:
Votes for Abbott, hush for Pell.

Yet crack by crack do cracks appear
In such a cruel yet thin veneer.
First Pell is named with those who sinn’d
In civil case, in court, in print,

And worse to come! Young Anthony
Is also quite a prick, for he
Supports these sexual preferences
By handing out of references.

Hauled up they were, to answer quick
For what was done by holy dick
In outrage (and in irony)
An Inquisition came to be.

It’s hard to hold your congregants
When priests are known as deviants:
Confessions by the dozen, score
Hundreds, thousands, even more.

At least for Tony all it meant
Was he’d win, be the government.
Far worse the fate awaiting Pell,
A billion years or so in Hell,

And this is what the clergy choose;
Tis better, sir, to join the Jews!
At least they only clip your tail,
Then let you be. Amen. Wassail.

How Labor Can Win Easily (4)

A photo of Abbott fading slowly to black and a male voice saying:

‘Who didn’t speak up against the Church’s massacre of the innocents for forty years? Tony Abbott.

Vote Labor.’

How Labor Can Win Easily (3)

A photo of Steve Bracks fading slowly to black, and a male voice saying:

‘On September 15 Tony Abbott will sack Steve Bracks and ask for his wages back.

Vote Labor.’

How Labor Can Win Easily (2)

An image of a crippled girl fading slowly to black, and a male voice saying:

On September 15 Tony Abbott is going to redefine “disabled”. Let’s hope you’re among the lucky ones.

Vote Labor.

Abbott’s End (64): The Jeremiah Moment

Some thoughtful pundit, Peter Hartcher perhaps, might call this ‘Abbott’s Jeremiah Wright moment’.  Like Obama, he finds himself biographically intertwined with a loathed and scandalous, blustering cleric with iniquitous tendencies in an election year. Like Obama, he must now give a great speech disentangling himself.

Or so a thoughtful pundit might propose.

What a pity there aren’t any.

Marr of The Guardian, perhaps.

Paul Murray Tonight

Paul Murray is ‘disgusted’ by the ‘corruption’ and ‘crookedness’ of a ‘secret fund’ that is now rewarding each MP with a dollar for every vote that he or she gets at each election. Well, the cure for that is not to vote for him; or her.

A dollar is not that bad. It’s less than the forty-eight thousand dollars Rinehart got while you were reading this piece, or reading it thus far. It’s only a dollar, to someone you like, a dollar a year. Two cents a week. To someone you like. Two cents a week for representing you. You, in particular.

He hasn’t said the obvious yet, that there is a bigger story today, and it’s this: that Abbott being a friend of Pell, and an admirer of him, is a far, far worse and more horrible thing than being a friend of Obeid, and an admirer of him.

Pell facilitated the rape of children, or so it now seems; he defended at least once a rapist of children by walking beside him to the courthouse. And he told the parents of a child who therefore suicided, to go away. And Abbott is smeared with all that.

How can he not be?

Classic Ellis: Battlelines, August 2009

This is my review of Battlelines, Abbott’s memoir/meditation/bugle cry, first printed in Unleashed in 2009. I will read Battlelines 2 soon and review it, making comparisons.


Though apparently similar, Abbott and Costello differ markedly. One is a charming rogue, the other an uncharming bully. One admits his failings, pleading drink, lust or weariness, the other denies having any. One is a wily survivor and the other a proud recalcitrant egoist unmanned by his pride, a stiffnecked Coriolanus contemptuous of the herd, and the timorous party morons who failed to note his pre-destiny.

One works hard, the other (I believe) is lazy. And one, Tony Abbott, can write really well, with lucidity, mischief, moral persuasiveness and a kind of jovial dignity like his fellow Oxonian blow-in Bill Clinton. A first-class boxer, he has an unbroken nose, a truly impressive achievement in one so ideologically combative.

He writes really well; yet I wish he had told us more. What a Jesuit boarding school was like after hours. What he and Ed Campion spoke of in the seminary. What he thinks of while jogging uphill through mist in Manly at dawn and looking over at St Barnabas’s, where he spent formative years. What alternative life he imagines, shotgun wed to Kathy at 19 and raising another man’s child. What he said to Tanya Costello on their eight or nine dates, and what she said to him. How one goes from dating to priestly chastity, and how it feels a month after. With whom, while he was a trainee priest, he was “not as celibate as I should have been” and how often.

I look forward to reading his equivalent, post-politics, of Adventures in the Screen Trade. He has the ability to write it, and the charm to tell Phillip Adams about it in detail without losing friends. “Has your whole life, in fact, your whole career”, I can hear Phillip ask, “been a kind of Vatican Roulette?” “Well… ah … Phillip…I…ah….”

He writes really well, and gives the Howard era the most compelling defence it will get from a first class mind in the next 50 years. He makes you almost agree with him on those things - the hectic misery of Opposition, the lower class roots of One Nation, the bureaucratic ructiousness of Health Care in a federal system, the causes of the Federation and why it isn’t working, the prescience of Fightback!, the persuasiveness of Santamaria, Hayek, Plimer, Reith - you haven’t yourself thought through.

He examines with care, in a wonderful couple of paragraphs, the alternative ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ arguments for Work for the Dole, the Intervention, the turning back of the boats and the Pacific Solution, and how they overlap and converge. He explains the emergence of Wentworth Man and why Howard lost the ‘doctors’ wives’, and how he to his shame helped create One Nation by giving Oldfield a job and the use of a fax machine, and how he sought to destroy it.

He looks again at the Reid-Deakin arguments over individualism and interventionism which continue unabated, pretty much, in our political life today. He is fair to his opponents and his judgements of Swan, Tanner, Gillard and Rudd ring true. “Rudd lacks close friends or staunch allies to rely on when his popularity finally fades,” he says, and that seems about right.

And his paragraph on marriage, no small subject, is as good as any I have read.

“A hundred years ago,” it says, “most people married their first love at about 20 and lived to be about 50. These days, people typically marry their third or fourth love at about 30 and live to be about 80. It’s not realistic to expect most young adults in this hyper-sexualised age to live chastely for many years outside marriage. Even if people’s expectations of their partners and spouses were much less high, longer lives would tend to mean more potential exposure to the rocks on which marriages often founder. People have not so much abandoned traditional mores as found that the old standards don’t so readily fit the circumstances of their lives.”

Though he sued me and cost me income and influence and a lot of public dignity (I wrongly alleged he listened to Tanya Costello’s views on politics - a shocking thing to do, it seemed in those far off days, to listen to a woman, for it cost my publishers a million dollars) I find him in person curiously disarming, and I find myself agreeing with him uncomfortably and often. Constitutional monarchies do have a better track record than republics. Abortion should be legal, safe, infrequent and frowned upon. Our hospitals do not need more administrators but more nurses, doctors and beds. Hawke’s Economic Summit was a success, and Rudd’s 2020 a glittering failure. Conservatism is not a political philosophy, but, as Oakeshott said, a state of mind.

Yet in foreign affairs he proves, alas, to be one more woolly Howardite denialist. It was fair after 9/11, he says, to start to bomb al-Qaeda’s hideouts to smithereens, though for eight years we’ve been bombing them, it seems, in the wrong country. Saddam Hussein would have killed or driven into exile more Iraqis than we did, he says - five million I suppose, to our more modest four million, or 10 times more than in the previous 30 years. Bush was wrong to have sacked the entire Iraqi civil service and let half a million sacked soldiers keep their guns, he says, but right to admit his mistake. America’s leadership which has this millennium killed 20 million children with AIDS, bad water and cluster bombs isn’t perfect, he says, but a worse could come in its place. It’s hard to see whose. Zimbabwe is “not a regional threat”, though it’s not very good for Zimbabweans. Does he believe all this? He can’t.

He writes very well. But in the end he is, like Turnbull, just putting spackle over the concrete cancer that is Liberal incompetence and adding one more layer of craven obeisance to America’s vacuous bombs-away barbarity with a nervous, widening smile. In foreign affairs, like his party’s founder Robert Menzies who admired Hitler and loathed Churchill, it seems he doesn’t get it. For killing children is wrong, monsignor, is it not? And we kill more of them each month, do we not, than the Taliban, Hamas and al-Qaeda put together? And this distresses their mothers and loses us influence everywhere, or am I wrong? No children died on 9/11 and 10,000, perhaps, under Shock and Awe. A small discrepancy, monsignor, not worth worrying about, surely.

This is not to say he’s ineducable and won’t change. What’s most impressive about this book is the sinuous lucidity of an evolving mind at work, forever wrestling dark angels of doubt, illogic, bad habit, exploded traditions and the occasional urge to sink a Guinness and break a Protestant nose.

Or even, perhaps, perhaps, to reject or resist a Catholic education. He still thinks eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood most Sundays a useful pastime and Mother Church not a swarm of predating sodomites who will fry in hell forever (his affable portly comrade Christopher Pearson perhaps among them) but his learning curve may lead him to less barbarous convictions when he is, as he may be, Prime Minister in 2014.

I wish this young man well in his important endeavours and hope he finds, beyond the celibate priesthood and a badly corrupted, wowser-heckled, down-hearted and squabbling parliamentary party, his true calling.

PS. The person he most resembles, I’ve just decided, is Scott Fitzgerald. The classic good looks, big flashing smile, easy Irish eloquence, angelic writing style, self-doubt, Catholic guilt, hot temper, Gatsby-like yearnings for past relationships long gone and luminous in remembrance, fondness for football and self-flagellation and his need for a son, all bespeak a literary genius drawn by Life and lesser pursuits into spiritual shallows and drunken remorse like Scott, poor Scott. We have lost thereby good books he might have written, and gained - what? - a cheery, self-mocking buffoon?

Or the Tories’ last, best hope of power?


5.55 pm

Pell is still in the dock, bearing up gamely. It is hard to think him guiltless of sins that would earn him billions of years of hellfire, and crimes worth eight or ten years in the slammer, for mitigating the investigation of private events that moved some kids to suicide, and ruined elsewhere thousands of lives.

It makes me imagine a question that Craig Thomson, for instance, might ask in the House. ‘Will the Opposition Leader tell us what sex crimes he witnessed while a trainee priest which he is still covering up?’

Or: ‘Does he still regard George Pell as his mentor and his friend?’

Or .. well, there are others.

Watch this space, and read Hansard.

8.10 pm

The Fosters in 7.30 say Pell betrayed no emotion when shown their daughter’s slashed wrists in a photo. He was hectoring, unmoved and unhelpful. He said until a charge is made this is gossip, and I don’t listen to gossip.

They look like a virtuous couple from a Capra movie. Their cause is just, and plain, and unanswerable. So unanswerable that Mother Church, exceeding tenfold their ‘cap’ on payments to those they have ruined, gave them three quarters of a million, for killing one of their daughters and crippling another with rape; at age five; and after.

This is worse than Hollingworth defending Shearman, and he must resign.

If any of the Liberal Catholics — Abbott, Pyne, O’Farrell, Hockey, Newman, Turnbull, Bernardi — speak up for him, they will be finished.

If they do not speak up for him … well …

We will see what we shall see.

7.05 am

Pell made page 14 of The Daily Telegraph, the bottom half of it, under the headline ‘Cardinal Admits Mistakes Made’. This contrasts with its full front page of Slipper cartooned with twitching ears and whiskers, like a rat.

It goes as well against Murdoch’s lifetime policy of emphasising sex and its cover-ups, as in the ‘tampon’ conversation of Charles and Camilla bugged by his undercover team and headlined as a reason why Charles should not be king.

The direct connection between Pell and a little raped girl’s suicide was not so speciai, it seems. It barely made page 14. Ah, well. There are more important stories this Tuesday, May 28, after all; of course there are. Like a move against graffiti and the ‘winds of change’ now threatening Tony Windsor.

We will see what we shall see.

How Labor Can Win Easily (1)

Put out a fifteen-second ad showing Leigh Sales fading slowly to black and a male voice saying:

‘Tony Abbott has a secret plan to sell the ABC, cheap, to Lachlan Murdoch. Vote Labor.’

The Year It All Fell Down, Selling Out

I am told by my collaborator Damian Spruce that many, many people want to buy our book The Year It All Fell Down, already hailed world-wide and the subject of a weird schizophrenic review by Nick Bryant in The Australian which both praises it to the skies and blasts it, claiming it never should have been written.

Those wanting a ‘softback’ sent to them must email:

And those preferring the e-book;

The Rupert Rewrite

Nick Bryant has not yet denied that his review of my book was rewritten by a Murdoch editor who, under orders, countermanded its praise and I therefore assume, and here proclaim, that this indeed is what alas occurred.

I ask him to sue me if I am wrong.

Abbott and the Thinker, 2010

(From Suddenly, Last Winter)

4.40 p.m.
The bamboo tosses in fading sunlight and the winter chill nears freezing. In thirty-four years I have not known, till this, a July so cold. I begin a journal-letter to John Ralston Saul (the world’s greatest thinker) relating Australia’s politics as I promised five weeks ago, then give it up. I and Rhys Muldoon arranged that John, in his present guise as President of PEN, meet Abbott and Rudd on consecutive mornings on the last weekend in May, at a breakfast I actually witnessed (Abbott belatedly begged that I come, to give him, he said, ‘guidance’), and a morning tea at The Lodge, with Andrew Charlton and Therese in watchful attendance, that lasted, amazingly, ninety minutes.

Abbott was in his tracksuit with a scaly red face and a somehow disorderly crew-cut and a five o’clock shadow and looked, to John’s dismay, more like a disputatious homeless person than a world statesman, and brought a corpulent female minder with him to fend off unruly utterances, I guess, that John or I might quote. It didn’t go well; it looked, as I said later, ‘like a meeting of Piltdown Man and a lesser angel from Milton’s Paradise Lost’, in part because John seemed uncertain it was really Abbott he was talking to and not some mischievous friend of mine, a drunken actor perhaps, and ended with John doing most of the talking and Abbott attending with fabricated Jesuit keenness while drifting toward the sleep he knew his pummelled body was owed.

John talked about Afghanistan a lot and Abbott at one point suggested we fix the opium problem by buying, at a fair price, the whole crop. ‘But then they’d only grow more,’ John said, ‘and what would we do then?’

Abbott promised to join PEN and left after forty-five minutes pleading an appointment he’d put off to be there, and I asked John if he liked him.

‘It’s hard to know,’ said the world’s greatest thinker, ‘what he’s actually like. He could be really smart, or really stupid. With some politicians it’s hard to tell.’

His talk with Rudd went rather better. ‘An alert and knowledgeable man,’ he said. ‘He told me things about China that I never knew.’ He too promised to join PEN (a remarkable double since he and Abbott must know that PEN is about freedom of speech and prisoners of conscience and unjust detention, and they both favour gaoling boat people offshore), but I suppose that’s all, as we say in Hollywood, in turnaround now.

Rhys rang saying Rudd was ‘over the moon’ meeting John and they ‘got on like a house on fire’.

And so, I guess, it went.

Walsh Bay Diary, Sunday

11.10 am

We get up early and drive a long way to get to a 10 o’clock session. But it proves to be Sylvia Nasar, whose unrelenting incivil patronising dimwittedness and ignorance of economics, her chosen subject, and her coarse uptilting nagging Brooklyn brogue bring the tightening silence of the tested audience to the point of pain; and we leave, shouting ‘Roobbish!’, or I do, to the useless bitch’s brief and fading dismay and a nice young usher’s alarm, buy a Gielgud video, cross the road and drink coffee.

The coffee is not that easy to come by, as a strict and baleful equivalent of the Soup Nazi, proud of his pungent exclusive brew, makes us wait for twenty-two minutes for it and bellows our Christian names like an obergruppenfuhrer herding Jews into trains. But it is very good coffee.

11.50 am

I queue for Marr and Cantwell for thirty-five minutes and wonder why I must do this. I was on the the festival committee for ten years and for most of that time queues would stand in the rain for an hour or be harassed and sheep-dogged by a shouting illiterate Maori bull-dyke and her thick-shouldered squaddies who would not let you into the building or, once in, forbid you to go to the toilet; and I would beg the committee year after year to issue instead a roll of tickets, in the old and proven medieval way, their number equal to the number of seats in the session, tearing off two thirds of them at the start of the day and a third half an hour before the session began. This would allow us elderly shuffling booklovers to have a coffee or buy a book or see, gadzooks, another session. This was a method, I pleaded, that had worked well since Babylonian times, one ticket, one seat; but no. It was thought better I queue as I did today, chatting amiably to a man I vaguely hated for having cancelled two of my feature films forty years ago and wished never to see again.

1.10 pm

Cantwell proves to be a mixture of stand-up comic and homeric hero. Mugging and smiling, he tells of being lost in a tank in the night in the desert, being bombed by fool Americans and giving orders that were disobeyed and wondering whether or not to shoot the relevant mutinous digger, a friend of his, as he was entitled to and what would follow if he did; and, more grimly, of reattaching the heads of conscript Iraqi boys, killed in a war we shouldn’t have been in, so the whole of them, or a good deal of it, would be in the same shallow grave their parents would look for sorrowing in months to come.

His worst experience was after a suicide bombing of a gas-bottle collection place in Baghdad, watching explosion-mutilated mothers and children bleeding to death in front of him because Iraqi men would not let a westerner touch their women, even to put a torniquet on a severed, spouting limb, and would have killed him had he tried to. Gently nudged by David Marr, whose mild-mannered public tact increases as his books grow more splenetic, he proved to be thus far the best thing I have seen at this festival; he knew, more than any of us, what the words ‘kill’, ‘wound’, ‘fear’, ‘regret’ and ‘waking nightmare’ meant. His considered assessments, Gulf War: good; Iraq War: bad; Afghan War: good at first but soon went bad, seem fair to me. I am tempted to ask how soon it was after Osama moved to Pakistan that the Afghan war went bad but I lack the courage to annoy a man so scarred and wise and sad and adept at aiming weaponry.

1.30 pm

An unshaven thirtyish young man in toothbraces, reeking of cheap wine and claiming to have worked in Rudd’s office ‘every day of his prime ministership’, sits on the damp ground beside me talking earnestly of the past. I listen quietly. He takes a photo of us on his cellphone, mourns the good old days and moves off thoughtfully seeking further drink. I recognise him after a while; he did work in Rudd’s office, and it clearly ruined him. A parable of Australia, I reckon, surely.

3.40 pm

Annabel Crabb, Malcolm Turnbull, Neil James, Michael Fullilove and James Button are asked Is Rhetoric Dead In The Age Of The Soundbite on the stage of the Sydney Theatre and answer civilly and wittily. Button, whose book on speechwriting for Rudd and grieving for his father John is very fine, says a speech you write for a leader is a form of advice, and he ‘owns’ the speech and you do not. Turnbull says Americans do better big orations than we do, set, pre-written monumental unveilings, but we do better parliamentary exchanges. He rarely reads a speech, he says, preferring a lawyerly off-the-cuff soliloquy like the one I saw launching Michael Kirby’s book which was magnificent. The audience like him till he goes after Gillard on boat people and a roar of disapproval warns him that he, and his gang, are not in office yet.

4.10 pm

Kate Box, Drew Forsythe and Simon Burke read from A Thousand And One Nights, a remarkable, brutal, wrenching and curiously modern work in which a king deflowers and beheads a fresh virgin each night for a couple of months and thereby causes ‘civil unrest’, until a wise cool girl, Shehezerade, delays not her deflowering but her death by telling the king for a thousand and one nights absorbing cliff-hanger stories of increasing beauty and wonder (The First Voyage Of Sinbad is a corker) and slowly, I guess, melts his heart and wins his love. The actors are astoundingly good and the hour enthralling; not least because the names Basra, Samara, Fellujah and ‘Baghdad, city of peace’ occur and resound now with different familiarities.

It occurs to me that I and my co-authors Ramsey and Spruce, who all have beautiful baritone voices, could do a travelling show called ‘The Three Authors’ in which we read for ninety minutes from the Year it All Fell Down.

6.10 pm

The book has sold out in all the festival venues. I buy a Complete Tony Hancock DVD box, after first considering thieving it, for sixty-nine dollars my wife says we cannot afford.

Back at Ground Zero I exchange affectionate plans with Darren Hanlon for a travelling show we are it seems to do together, me speaking and he singing, called Necessary Journeys. He has just been in my home town Lismore where he, too, lived for a while. We agree on the epigram ‘Lismore may not be the answer, but it is the question.’ He flies off to America tomorrow for another tour there. He has fans in Washington State, Finland, Uzbekistan and Broken Hill, and should be more remarked in other places being as he is as good as Paul Simon, or nearly. Soon, at his fortieth birthday at Coaster’s Reach, I must perform a poem to him; and, before that, write it.

7.20 pm

My son Jack emerges displeased from some readings of prison poetry and he and Annie and I drink beer as twilight foregathers and the chairs are stacked, the unsold books put in boxes and the boardwalk swept. Ed Campion was not here this year, or else I did not see him, though Susan Ryan and Tom Keneally were, and Michael Wilding has wrecked his back and did not come, and Terry Clarke, a lofty parsimonious fellow, does not any more care to. The vivid scarlet animations go up on the wall again. The darkness grows. This festival enclosed my happiest hour, by the reddening water under the animations with my son, grandson, wife, co-writer and daughter-in-law admiring a beautiful harbourside precinct and I will recall it with love and pleasure in the eight or nine hundred weeks I have left on Earth to think on things and be thankful for them.

I foresee a career for myself in these last pained, shuffling years like Charles Laughton’s in his late fifties: reading poetry and speeches to gullible provincials while Darren plays guitar and sings songs I have co-written. You can book a hall in a country town at a fortnight’s notice, my game friend swears, and the people in such regions have, in Les Murray’s phrase, ‘a hunger for speech in dry places’, and remain still ripe, old friend, for the picking.

10.40 pm

We eat good Chinese with Jack and plan some novels and get home by nine. I doze off watching Insiders in replay then realise I have missed like a fool most of Cliffy; which I see the last fifteen minutes of, and is very good indeed.

I must go, tomorrow, or Tuesday, alas, to Canberra and save the fucking nation.

And so it goes.

Murder At Walsh Bay

Those wishing to keep up with the ongoing suspense thriller at Walsh Bay should read yesterday’s entry, now complete.

Shakedown In The Northern Tablelands

It seems I was wrong about the Northern Tablelands — I was underinformed, inattentive and elsewhere engaged — but it is hard to read from it anything useful in any other context. It should, on the face of it, prefigure a 60 percent swing to Barnaby Joyce, but local polling last week showed Windsor on 49 and Barnaby Bonus on 38, a gap he cannot close and oblivion looms.

It is possible the Obeid Connection wrecked not just Richard Torbay but the entire Independent brand in that region forever, but this is unlikely too, since a swing to Labor of about 4 percent occurred simultaneously.

A 4 percent swing to Labor would put Gillard over the line.

It shows only, I guess, that New Englanders choose carefully who they want to speak for them. For twenty-two years they preferred Windsor, and that, so far, is that.

And so it goes.

The Beautiful, Changing Mind of Poor Nick Bryant

Nick Bryant’s name is on a review of The Year It All Fell Down but half of it seems to be by someone else, his friend Nick Cater perhaps, or a Murdoch editor affrighted by his initial praise of me.

I here reprint this curious two-backed beast in full.


Much like 1956 or 1989, 2011 was a year of mega news, when each week seemingly produced the kind of tumble of events that would ordinarily keep newsrooms occupied for months.

On their own, the Arab Spring, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the Christchurch earthquake, the Breivik massacre in Oslo, the Occupy movement and the Queensland floods would have made for an unusually chaotic news year. But there were also the London riots, the closure of the News of the World, the royal wedding, the strange affair of former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the attack on the Kabul Inter-Continental, the loss of the US’s triple-A credit rating, the deaths of Elizabeth Taylor, Vaclav Havel, Amy Winehouse and Steve Jobs, and, of course, the killing of Muammar Gaddafi and Osama bin Laden.

Even the final weeks of December, when journalists’ thoughts usually turn to the newsroom Christmas party, brought no let-up. Small wonder that on December 17, when the news came that the North Korean dictator had died, at least one weary anchor referred to him as Kim Jong the Second.

In his latest book, a news digest entitled The Year It All Fell Down, Bob Ellis revisits these world-altering events. He writes evocatively of major episodes such as the Japanese tsunami, and reminds us how extraordinary it was to see them unfold in real-time.

“It was a God’s-eye view of unfolding calamity, simultaneous with the event,” he writes of Japanese broadcaster NHK’s helicopter-mounted high definition cameras, “unlike any thus far in world history”. His description of “cars tumbling over a seawall in a dark Niagara” is particularly sharp and haunting.

As well as revisiting the obvious events, Ellis reminds us of stories that in another year would have hogged more headlines. Brazil experienced its first school massacre when a man posing as a lecturer shot dead 12 children in Rio de Janeiro. Texas suffered its worst wildfires, with more than 1500 properties razed. Science also had a red-letter year, capped by significant moves towards confirming the Higgs boson particle, as well as the detection of a planet 36 light years away in the Vela constellation “as likely as ours to have life on it”.

Woven through this book is the touching story of Gabby Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman shot in January, who doctors thought would not survive the week, let alone the year. To the remarkable Giffords, Ellis dedicates the book.

Occasionally, this sweeping narrative contains revealing details. At the time, I missed the story that Leon Panetta, the then director of the CIA, celebrated the successful mission against bin Laden with a bottle of 1870 Chateau Lafite Rothschild owned by a rich schoolfriend and set aside for that precise purpose. It was served in commemorative shot glasses embossed with the CIA insignia. The story, however, was reported widely at the time, which points to the book’s chief deficiency.

I could not identify a single instance in which Ellis has added to the historical record or delivered a fresh insight to enrich our understanding.

After wading through this compendium, I am still at a loss as to why he wrote it, still less why Penguin published it. Had it been a hot-off-the-press “quickie” that hit bookstores at the start of 2012, it would have made more sense.

Bringing it out 18 months later serves little purpose.

The publishers, confronted with the challenge of composing a blurb for the back cover, note that it will “refresh and repopulate our memories”. But a new book surely has to do more. It creates a sense that anybody with access to a handful of news websites could have written this kind of book, and also that nobody should have.

Absent is any great overarching thesis, or much of an attempt to explain the forces driving, say, the Arab Spring. Rather than being structured in a thematic manner, which would have lent itself to more theorising and intellectual coherence, it is merely a blow-by-blow chronology. Even then, the structuring is hard to fathom. Monthly chapters are subdivided into numbered sections, which one assumes at the beginning equate with days of the month. It soon becomes apparent, however, that these numerical sections are completely random.

As far as I could tell, Ellis has not borne witness to any of these events other to watch them on television or read about them in the newspapers. Large chunks are from previously published articles, which are introduced with the grating line: “Of this Ellis wrote”. Even more strangely, he quotes at indented length from the work of his collaborators, Damian Spruce and Stephen Ramsey. “Of this, Damian Spruce wrote”, and so on. Like Ellis, they are good writers, but their contributions add to the sense of disjointedness.

Of Ellis it should also be observed that some of his passages feel as if they were delivered to the publisher chiselled on granite, or perhaps dictated by the author clad in a toga. “Osama bin Laden’s tall silhouette,” he announces, “bewitched America’s bad dreams in Christendom’s third millennium like no other.”

Perhaps there are those who will enjoy reading about news events two years after the fact. Here, though it probably was never his intention, Ellis has produced the perfect antidote to the hurtling pace of Twitter: slow news.

Even the title, The Year It All Fell Down, is never explained adequately. Ellis has produced a peculiar and frustrating book.

The Year it All Fell Down by Bob Ellis with Damian Spruce and Stephen Ramsey, Viking, 264pp, $29.99

Nick Bryant is a journalist and author who will soon take up the post of the BBC’s New York and UN correspondent.


…. Well.

The palpable change of heart after the words ‘the book’s chief deficiency’ is, on the face of it, remarkable. One ‘fresh insight’ he quotes himself: ‘the God’s-eye view of unfolding calamity, simultaneous with the event, unlike any thus far in history’. Others lie in the portraits of Kervorkian, Schwarzenegger, Jobs, Havel, Assange, Paul Simon, Tony Bennett, Wills and Kate, and the connection between Strauss-Kahn’s ill-fated blow-job and the Europe-wide economic meltdown that followed within three days.

In the first half, he mentions ‘revealing details’ – the Chateau Lafite, the soul’s journey of Gabby Giffords – then says, contradicting himself, they were ‘widely reported’ anyway. This would be true too, I guess, of the details of the Dallas assassination in three thousand books, and a reason not to write them. Who cares any more what happened in 1963? It was all so long ago.

His astonishing view that it should have come out on January 1, 2012, a technological impossibility, shows a mind at the end of its tether. Should the book 1599: A Year In The Life Of Shakespeare have come out in 1600, and never after, or The Guns Of August in September? It is hard to argue this.

He says the title is nowhere explained. Let me explain it now. Fianna Fail fell down after sixty years.The Japanese economy, tsunami-smashed, after fifty years. Mubarak after forty. Ghaddafi after forty. The News of the World after a hundred and forty. Strauss-Kahn, felled by a false charge of oral rape, a physical impossibility. The US triple-A, felled by the Tea Party. Wall Street’s dominance of the known world. Young Labor in Norway, felled by Breivik. The pre-Zuckerman world. The orderly, safe image of London. Osama Bin Laden. Kervorkian. Jobs. Winehouse. The bizarre Orwellian Ruritania of Kim Il Jong. The secular sainthood of Julian Assange. The architectural beauty of Christchurch. The US towns trashed by the worst tornadoes in history.

All clear now?

And … the idea that this is a book that ‘anybody could have written’ and ‘nobody should have’ is entirely bizarre. You can’t say some of it seems ‘chiselled in granite’ by an ‘author clad in a toga’ – one summons to mind Gore Vidal, Robert Harris, Bob Carr – and that all of it is by definition tiresome because it all occurred, oh dear, two years ago (seventeen months ago, actually); you can say one but not both, for both is evidence of a confused mind. Is a book on Strauss-Kahn, Assange, Steve Jobs, Elizabeth Taylor, Bin Laden or Kim Jong-il impossible now because it concerns itself with events too remote to be any more of interest? Who but a damn fool would argue this?

Yet argue it Nick does, after praising it hugely.

I ask him to declare, in these columns, that he wrote all of this review, and this was the review he first submitted, or to say why he suffered mid-stream so identity-splitting a change of mind.

Abbott’s End (62): The Gonski Wars, Part 1

The News that O’Farrell is now officially at war with Abbott earned not a front page headline LIBERALS IN CHAOS but a tenderer, sadder, timider one saying ‘Piccoli fires back in Coalition bust-up over-education’ in tiny type at the top of page three.

Piccoli, we learn, ‘urged other states to sign up for Labor’s funding offer’ after Pyne called it ‘Connski’ and said no-one would get a penny unless everyone (a political impossibility) signed up to it as it was.

This war between Liberals over the second most expensive ingredient of the Budget merits, surely, a bigger headline than the several hundred overexcitable RUDD TO MOVE SOON fabrications of the past two years. It bespeaks a fracturing bloodier than the Labor Split, or that which broke off Chipp from Fraser’s government and formed The Australia Party. But no. That does not follow the Murdoch plan, in which Labor is in chaos, and the Liberals ‘behaving like adults’.

Today’s byelection will show how efficiently this mortal schism has been thus far hid. Or not.

I predict the Coalition will not win it, and an Independent, once again, will.

We will see what we shall see.

Walsh Bay Diary, Saturday

10.50 am

On my way to the wrong venue (it is a brisk, deplenishing half-mile walk from the right one) I meet my young friend Liam Kennedy who runs the Youth Theatre now and in bright blue water-glittering sunlight we admire the ‘perfect village’ that comes but once a year ‘like Brigadoon,’ he says, to these harbourside spaces in Writers’ Week when everyone you ever wanted to meet is buying books and reading them out loud and drinking coffee and rehearsing their memoirs and asking each other indecent questions in late middle age.

I say that merely opening a book shop here would extend the life of that village but Liam (who played Macbeth to my son’s Macduff at the Newtown School of Performing Arts in 1992) says there is a a better plan, by an architect he knows, for these drab grey buildings to be immortally transformed into Ozymandian magnificence, including, at one end, a vast glass theatre with a wraparound harbour view of twilight and sailing boats forever. I ask if there is money for this, and he says, ‘Not a sausage.’ I tell him my friend the Minister for the Arts will fix it, after Labor wins in September. He laughs, ‘You’re priceless, Bob,’ and we begin fighting.

2.20 pm

Viv gets me a ticket for the sold-out session Ideas That Changed The World. On the stage are three amused American beautiful women, more beautiful and amused than Carrie Bradshaw and more pleased with themselves than I had thought it possible for humans to be. One, Sylvia Kamar, alleges that Karl Marx lived ‘in intellectual isolation in central London’, and therefore understood little about the working man and his factory conditions. This ‘intellectual isolation’ included daily visits to the British Museum Reading Room, and George Bernard Shaw wooing his daughter, and having lately witnessed the Paris Commune (the basis of Les Mis), after covering the American Civil War.

‘Intellectual isolation’ includes having read Dickens, Thackeray, Mills and Nietzsche, and seeing on London streets the whoredom and beggary that so disgusted Blake, Hogarth, Rowlandson, Gladstone, Gissing, Van Gogh, Priestley, Chesterton, Conrad, Ford, Wells and, later, George Orwell.

‘Intellectual isolation,’ she says. Wow.

I take the microphone afterwards and tell her and the room succinctly what a fool she is. The chairman Richard Glover, who may well be a saint, calls me a ‘great eccentric, and a great writer’.
I say to Viv, ‘I am not sorry I met you, but I am very, very sorry you brought me here.’

3.40 pm

Viv seems inclined never to speak to me again.

I have a brownie, a beer and a latte in the outdoor area beside the bookshop I call Ground Zero and go to a session with Shami Chakrabati, the feminist lawyer and female-rights campaigner, and to my surprise she is excellent. Free of stridency, calm, humorous, and teeming with unwelcome facts — until 2003 any Brit could rape his wife; in some Islamic states the raped woman, not the rapist, is the one punished, sometimes by whipping — she showed, like Jen Robinson, that one can be beautiful, female, stirring, impelled and argumentative without being also a boring prat like Eva Cox. I was so glad I went.

The day is exultantly beautiful, like August 1914. Never such innocence again.

4.45 pm

I saunter in blue water-dappled embracing sunlight back to Ground Zero and find, as in a vision on the point of death, my wife,son, daughter-in-law and tiny buoyant grandson Remy, and Liam and his gorgeous girlfriend (who promptly gets locked in a toilet and pleads and thumps and whimpers in vain till he comes and fetches her with crowbar) and drink Peroni. Tim Soutphammasane the cheap teenage philosopher comes by and I give him by book. He has just debated Nick Cater my enemy who lately, it seems, wants to kill me, and had foul further things to say of me, Tim says, beaming, that my mother mated with a stoat, or whatever. I explain to Tim that the nine big lies he told of me in only eighty-two words of his fool sado-Thatcherist book portend scores of thousands of others and he might therefore cost Murdoch tens of millions in coming libel suits and he, Tim, poor devil, might find his paltry wage halved because of it.

6.40 pm

There follows an hour in the sunset, and the twilight by the reddening water, with the vivid, scarlet animations on the wall above us delighting my little grandson, and the feeling of communal, carousing, intimate, literate civility and remebered honeymoon gladness in a setting not unlike Venice in autumn with Mahler playing, that may be the happiest of my life. I declare to Liam, a local grandee, that this should happen all the time, and my son Jack, a great mediator, propounds instead a Saturday book-and-record market, here each week on Ground Zero, where readings can occur and musical performances, between two and eight, after the matinee for some, before the evening show for others, and the rich empowering atmosphere now present in the blessed spot, this other Eden, this fortress, this demi-paradise, forever.

I go immediately to Gleebooks, and Roger, though havering a bit, says he likes it. My collaborator Damian, who has joined the table, and has friends on the City Council, says he will fix it.

And so it will (may) come to pass.

9.30 pm

I am told two reviews of The Year It All Fell Down, by me, Damian and Steve Ramsey, are in the smh and The Australian. The smh is fine, but the Australian one, by my enemy Cater’s friend Nick Bryant (the friend of my enemy is my enemy, discuss) is very peculiar, a mixture of high fawning praise and contemptuois revulsion that bespeaks a Murdoch editor — or Cater perhaps — rewriting after midnight, gin in hand.

We eat a good steak, refuse to hear some new young writers reading, and drive home.

I reread the review on the way, and plan revenge,

I will answer it, tomorrow.

Walsh Bay Diary, Friday

2.10 pm

Cold grey day, no rain. I walk out of session on sex between female academics and their younger students, a frequent occurrence lately, it seems, and goodly thrill to be savoured by influential women, drink coffee and eat a brownie. Robert Manne bids me sit with him on a low grey ledge in the wind by the water. He thinks only of climate change now, he says, now it’s too late, and we wonder what difference President Gore would have made. More than Obama, he avers (‘avers’ is a good verb for Robert), Obama whose biography, he says, will be called Words, Words, Words. We fight about the polls, which he says are ‘the most accurate on earth’, and I say ‘only on election day they are’, and, avoiding fisticuffs, agree on the excellence of modern miniseries, emphasising Mad Men, Enlighten, and Borgen.

I and Annie queue for his session. A smiling American woman assures forty of us that we will not get in, but we can huddle in the rain around a loudspeaker. I inwardly beg her to go home to Minnesota, sit on a pile of sodden newspapers and blog.

2.55 pm

An octogenarian former lover of my wife is ahead of us and allows us to join him and jump the queue. Robert’s address is gloomy, emphasising the Industrial Revolution’s coal-fumed alteration of everything on a planet now doomed; and the next speaker, Antoinette Aboud, recounts how the neoliberals made lunacy seem like common sense. The carbon price was never meant to work: it was brought on to buy time for the uglies to dig up even more coal and make even more money.

3.40 pm

My octogenarian cuckolder rises like like an Old Testament prophet and in a stentorian bellow, seizing the microphone, adjures the lily-livered multitude abashed and amazed around him to take to the streets, overthrow world government and claw the pollution back from the skies. I squeeze his elbow beseechingly and the panel look alarmed. Applause and cheers, however, acclaim his thunderous peroration, and worse abuse is then heaped on world capitalism and its evasive, gimcrack ‘solutions’, like ‘a trillion mirrors hanging in the sky’. The session ends in mutinous rabble and threatened affray and I give Robert my book and flee. He warns me as I go that Nick Cater has denounced me and I must watch out for this shallow madman, who knows not what he does.

3.55 pm

The rain returns. I drink coffee, eat a brownie, and blog. The phone rings. Drew Forsythe says our new play The Bookworm will get a reading next year and could we write it please. I talk to him intensely. Phillip Adams sits down meekly beside me unnoticed and, after four minutes, gets up, blows me a kiss and goes away, leaning on a walking stick. He encounters my wife, who asks after his health. ‘Not good,’ he says, and limps on, parting the crowds, into the blowing rain.

5.05 pm

At the Sydney Theatre some actors read a memoir, a poem, and two short stories. The memoir, read by Jacqueline McKenzie, brings the audience to tears. It is of a stolen child and her six siblings in their Sunday best watching, as their train pulls out, their mother and aunties, also in their Sunday best, receding and sobbing on the station. They are split up, adopted by different families and apart for twenty years. William McInnes, in a score of individuated American voices, does Pat Hobby and Orson Welles, a zany Hollywood story by Scott Fitzgerald. Stephen James King does a worthless, windy Walt Whitman rant (he contains multitudes, I hear, and endlessly, messianically farts them out), and does it very well, and Claudia Karvan, quite wonderfully, a short story about a strict, implacable country husband paralysed by a tractor accident and his bullied wife’s fleeting hope that he will die and what follows. A startling number of older women laugh at this grim tale, familar I suppose with the territory.

8.10 pm

We hail in the rain four taxis and in the last of them get in time to Town Hall where Graham Morris, Neil Lawrence and the Obama backroomer Joe Rospars tell Leigh Sales how they win elections. I find I like Morris more than I want to after I hear he came from the country and went to NIDA in Mel Gibson’s time and only narrowly opted for journalism and the life he is now in.

A familiar young loud fool at an aisle microphone claims Rudd was brought down by the Jews, who ‘control everything’ and is told by Leigh Sales to go awayand he, amazingly, does.

It is a terrific session of the right length, ninety minutes, with old political commercials up on a big screen (the best by far is Rudd’s down-on-the-farm two-minuter in February 2007) and brief, thoughtful questions from the floor.

We leave promptly, get a taxi and head off in pelting rain towards Neutral Bay where our car is parked. On the Bridge the cab starts backfiring, and in the traffic-thronged six-lane road up to North Sydney thuds and groans and gas accumulates inside it and it seems we might soon die. The perplexed African driver asks what may be wrong with it, and I say ‘Your cab is about to explode!’ and he says ‘What can I do about this?’ and we try to clamber out into roaring, hectic, rain-swept multitudinous traffic that may kill us in a more straightforward way — Septuagenarians In Fatal Bridge Fiasco — but he continues in ignorant bravery and we get out on Military Road and gasping and shuddering soon eat an excellent Chinese meal with Tsingtao beer and read, in The Literary Review, of Oscar Wilde’s part in the Dreyfus affair (he became a fascinated friend of Esterhazy while fellating Dreyfus’ lawyer) and begin to plan a movie.

11.10 pm

We find a further taxi after quarrelling in the rain over where to hail one, achieve our beloved grey Volvo, and Annie, driving home in it, has an asthma attack and begins dying.

We make it to Mona Vale hospital, and park there for a bit while her breathing improves. An official says we can’t park there, if she’s dying she should come inside, and we drive home, feed the possums and the resident white pigeon, and sleep.

And so it goes.

Beheading Lee Rigby

It is somehow thought that the hacking to death and partial beheading of Lee Rigby is in some way worse than killing him with sniper fire or a bomb dropped from thirty thousand feet. It is thought that what happened to him in the last six minutes of his life was more important than the absence, forever, hereinafter, for all eternity, of life itself.

This, in my view, is wrong. What is bad is killing people, not how you do it. The killing by Australian soldiers of two Afghan boys in March was worse by far than the killing of Lee, a professional soldier (i.e. killer) on a London street unexpectedly by machete. A hundred and forty years of lived life were lost on the one hand, sixty or sixty-five years on the other.

It all derives, I suspect, from the weird post-Christian belief that suffering is worse than death. It is not. Mandela suffered more and longer than Biko but Mandela lives, and Biko died young. Ergo, what was done to Biko was worse. David Hicks suffered more and longer than Jesus Christ but Jesus Christ was killed, and Hicks is growing oranges in Forestville. The little naked running girl with napalm burning her is alive. Six million of her fellow citizens are dead, from shellfire, napalm, Agent Orange and area bombing. Ergo, they had a worse fate than she.

Children traumatised by Auschwitz who are now alive, and old, suffered less than their relatives, who died there.

Death is the question. Death, above all. Get it right.

It is therefore meaningless to ask who is using chemical weapons in Syria. It is meaningful to ask how many are dead, and what bribe or drone will stop the killing.

Get it right.

Just get it right.

Classic Ellis: Nick Greiner, 1993

(From The Hewson Tapes)

LATER….I was awoken by a Mercedes crunching into our stone fish pool and distressing the carp, and what proved to be Nick Greiner, stumbling and drunk and ill-shaven, and physically struggling with his co-religionist Mrs Heaney, who decked him with a rudimentary right cross and laid him out on the couch and then poured him a gin and tonic.

He clearly had something on his mind, and proposed to tell it to me.

I therefore got into my dressing gown, mixed myself a vodka and ovaltine, and sat down opposite him.

‘G’day, old mate,’ he said feebly. ‘Old college…mate.’

‘G’day, Nick,’ I said warily. ‘How’s it been?’

‘Been?’ his voice rose a decibel. ‘It’s been great.’ He aimed a soda siphon at his glass, and wet himself. ‘I…sit on a lot of…second-rate boards. I travel a bit, I’m an urger to the Asians for New South
Wales. I…do auditions.’ His eye roved round my quarter-acre living room, enviously I think. ‘Lotsh of auditions. I was on the short list to replace David Dale, but David Hill – that’s a coincidence, Hill, Dale – said I had a voice like a cicada gagging on DDT.’

‘It’s tough,’ I said. ‘Tough what happened.’

‘ICAC?’ he asked. ‘Metherell? Moore? The Independents? No, that wasn’t it. What happened was…inevitable for a Catholic Jewish Hungarian Riverview Harvard Rationalist who needs to shave on the hour. You weren’t Harvard, were you?’ he added cruelly, the blue-chinned little tick.


‘What were you? Oh, yes, Baffin Land.’

‘Saskatoon.’ My lips thinned.

‘Look, don’t worry, I understand.’ He gave his awful orthodontally worsened smirk. ‘After you got a Second, and I got a First, you had little choice. But you were a WASP, you see. That was the problem. You have less motivation than me.’

‘I was working class,’ I said angrily. ‘That’s motivation. Working class,’ I got up and secured more vodka, wrenching the bottle from his pathetic grasp, ‘from Welfare Avenue, Beverly Hills. You live on Welfare, they’d say. You’re a bludger, are yer? Nya nya.’

He looked round the room. His toadlike moist eyes filled up with grief.

‘They called me a Transylvanian blackhead. At school. At Riverview.’

‘Why’d they do that?’

‘I come from Transylvania. It was quite a setback I can tell you. You can’t say anything like “from log cabin to White House” if you come from Transylvania. From vampire’s castle to Macquarie Street? It doesn’t have the same ring.’

‘Nick,’ I said firmly and frankly, ‘why are you here?’

‘I saw you on TV. I had nothing else to do. The days are long. My God, Johnny, I…’Tears sprang to his eyes which, in his volatile Magyar manner, he did nothing to curtail. ‘…I used to have power. Influence. Glamour. Richard Wherrett returned my calls. I was invited to opening nights. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve gone all the way. And now…I’m just a no-good bum.’

‘It’s not as bad as that.’

‘Yes, it is. Remember how it was at Sydney Uni, Johnny? Sidere mens eadem mutato? When we were there together? Swots at the same classes, dating the same nurses? How we were going to go out, warm dry economists, no nonsense Friedmanite arse-kickers, and change the world?’

‘We will. You have my word, we will.’

‘I got to think what a pernicious place Sydney Uni is. Everyone comes out of it convinced they’re going to change the world. Malcolm Turnbull. Germaine Greer. Michael Kirby. Gough Whitlam. International wankers like Geoffrey Robertson and Clive James.’

I held my peace. ‘Well, some of us make it,’ I said gently.

‘But don’t you see, Johnny? Don’t you see my point? If we’d been there ten years earlier we would’ve been Keynesians? You and me. And today we’d be fashionable again, and in work. Not just…doing auditions. We picked the wrong era to be at Sydney Uni. And that’s fatal.’

‘Listen, you may be tempted to backslide. But I’m keeping the faith. I am.’

‘What, with Slideback? I don’t believe it.’ He seized the vodka bottle. I struggled with him. ‘No, no, you’re going halfway to where I arrived at, a bit earlier. And you’ve got to go the whole way. It’s the realisation that people get used to living well. And if you, say…confiscate the Jaffas as they enter the cinema in order to save cleaning costs, you end up with a very empty, very clean cinema. And that’s why it can’t work. They won’t stand for it. That’s democracy. Democracy is the sum of things people won’t stand for. One of them is us.’ He looked at me. ‘Two of them.’

‘You drove all the way down here to tell me this?’

‘No. I was auditioning for a summer gig as disc jockey in Goulburn. It’s work. I need the work.’

‘Nick,’ I said. ‘This is my life. This is what gives my life meaning.’

‘Like your Baptist faith.’

I looked at him smiling. ‘You’re in the consortium, aren’t you?’ I said without rancour. ‘The Catholic ASIO consortium? You and Heaney and Unsworth and Coggins. And Richardson. And McLeay.’

‘I’m not following you.’

‘Get out!’ I raged. ‘Get out.’

He got up, stumbling and retreating.

‘I thought I’d stay the night. Mrs Heaney is drumming up some roast lamb.’

‘You’re in it together!’

‘No, John, no, John, no, get a hold of yourself. We’re old friends.’

‘We’re not old friends!’ I wept. ‘Not after you got a First!’

‘Oh, yes! Now it all comes out!’ he said.

We quarrelled bitterly thereafter, until 2 a.m., with Mrs Heaney bringing intermittent roasts and pumpkin scones and port and coffee and joining in, calling us a pair of focking Laodiceans, tepid in our prupper Christian faith, not caring enough, not caring enough about the cummun paple and eventually she and Nick went off to early confession together, the silly pair of prats, inviting me in a note they left to join them there, and begin to receive Catholic instruction. What a half-witted indoctrinated faith it is. Pack of superstitions really. I mean the Virgin Birth for instance. It’s like saying you can become Prime Minister without undergoing a little necessary soiling, the political equivalent of a lot of other people coming and pissing in your shower, to get there.

The Secret Handshake

It’s reasonably clear what’s happening.

Murdoch has a secret deal with Abbott by which he sells the ABC cheap to Lachlan.

After Greiner

Greiner, a former proud purveyor of the addictive poison tobacco to teenagers (including, I am told, his children), has been removed for corruption, again, or maybe just for being a stormy, hubristic pest.

He is the fifth Liberal leader to be overthrown in five months (Redmond, Baillieu, Humphries, Giles, Greiner) and, with five Queensland MPs walking out on Newman and Palmer not only walking out but forming his own party, and their star recruit Torbay under arrest, and O’Farrell fighting Abbott over gays and Gonski, and Napthine fighting Abbott over the GST and the ABC, and Hockey fighting Abbott over pregnancy leave and cracking down hard on the poor, the halt and the lame without mercy, and Pyne unapologetically persecuting babies, and Joyce losing big in New England, and Thomson holding up in Dobell, and Slipper about to be exonerated and Brough to be sent to gaol, it is hard not to describe this fratricidal bunch as ‘a party in chaos’.

Or perhaps you disagree.

Walsh Bay Diary, Thursday

12.40 pm

At the rainswept Sydney Writers’ Festival. I meet in the big theatre foyer Maxine McKew who offers her hand, then, confused at my outstretched arms, kisses me. She is pleased she will be played in the Rudd miniseries by Miranda Otto, not having thought, in her shy, self-diminishing way, that she might be in the narrative at all. I strive to get a cancelled ticket for her session (usually someone dies between booking and performance) but there are none, and I go, as planned, to The Origins Of Sex with the sleek young Anglo-Indian historian Faramerz Dabhoiwala and Richard Glover.

2.10 pm

This proves excellent. We learn of a pregnant woman allowed to have her baby before she was hanged for adultery in England in 1689. We learn of an eighteenth-century English gentlemen’s club whose revels climaxed with all the gentlemen tossing off into the one silver bowl simultaneously. Of how hangings for homosexuality were were still a public spectale in Dickens’ lifetime, in London, in the 1810s. He is a shrewd stand-up historian who will, I imagine, have his own TV show soon.

Worst, perhaps, was the adulterous couple stripped and whipped and paraded and beaten and outside London’s gates released and never again allowed in the city, where their work was, and their family, and their life; this in the 1590s, the era of women’s first legal empowerment, when aristocratic adultery, to judge by Simon Forman’s diaries, was the norm.

2.50 pm

I walk through light rain to the Wharf where, eating a lamb wrap, I am shyly approached by an oldish Balmain couple who prove to be Craig Thomson’s parents, thankful for my persistent, persuasive defence of him in these columns. He is ‘optimistic’, they report, and more convinced than they are that the Dobell voters, who know and like him, will stick by him in September. They too hate Kate McClymont very much, and the Channel 7 crew that besieged Craig’s house and peeked in his bathroom window at his pregnant wife showering.

I suggest we organise a phone-and-supermarket-face-to-face-poll of eight hundred respondents, asked by six students who they will vote for, who they will preference, and if they think Craig guilty, with a respected pollster, Murray Goot perhaps, doing the final count. It is agreed we do this.

I suggest as well that Craig sue Pyne and Abbott for having by running out of the chamber defamed him, and offer to withdraw the suit if they apologise and pay costs. They doubt that he will do this, but they will ask him to consider it.

4.50 pm

I and Annie hear some good writers read their work. One of them, Sheila Heti, a Woody Allenish Toronto Jewish female reading in front of her mother for the first time, enumerates the blow-jobs that she gives dutifully and vigorously and frequently though they make her gag, and looks forward to giving blow-jobs in heaven. A subsequent writer, male, and possibly gay, wryly avers that his life might have been different had he been able to speak with similar geniality of his blow-jobs to an audience containing his mother.

8.10 pm

We have tickets to a dialogue with Darren Hanlon in The Green Room, doors open at 6.30. We search and ask, despair and search, find two Green Rooms, both empty and locked, and a lot of young official people shrugging in the French manner when we ask where this particular fucking Green Room is. It proves in due course to be in Enmore, and the show starting in ten minutes’ time.

Aggravated, we eat instead an excellent meal in a restaurant hard by one empty, desolate Green Room with a good house red. Angela Katterns and Wendy Harmer, at the next table, engage us in conversation. Wendy, a Peninsula neighbour, has been asked to stand against Tony Abbott and was keen to but received many death threats against her family if she did and probably won’t.

We agree on the excellence of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, about one man who witnessed the Black Plague, the Peasants’ Revolt, the first French Revoltion, the era of two Popes (like this one) and the last crusade, which I for a long time called the best book I had read. Wendy met her husband Brendan at a benefit for us after our house burned down, and is vaguely grateful for our tragedy and always friendly. She is running a website called The Hoopla and I agree to contribute to it.

After we have left I remember Angela Katterns and I both come from Lismore and wish I had spoken about it.

11.30 pm

Get home, and feed the possums. Am sorry to see Paul Murray back on the air, attacking McTernan as unintelligent (he was a Thinker In Residence) and asserting, again, that nobody listens to Gillard any more (she picked up a million votes in a week). He claims there will be two more busloads of Liberals in parliament in October, but sounds less convinced than he used to be and looks pale and flabby and affrighted by me, lerhaps.

I read more of Clive’s Dante, and am soon asleep.

And within ten minutes awoken by Darren Hanlon ringing to enquire where the fuck I was when he was being brilliant in Enmore.

Clive In The Twilight Excelling

I am reading Clive James’s translation of Dante, the book he will be remembered for.

Its excellence is almost indescribable. A quote perhaps would help.

‘But all at once there stood
Before me one who somehow seemed struck dumb
By the weight of a long silence.”Pity me,
And try to tell me in what form you come,”
I cried. “Is it a shade or man I see?”
And he replied: “No, not a man. Not now.
I was once, though. A Lombard. Parents born
In Mantua. Both born there.” That was how
His words emerged: as if with slow care torn,
Like pages of a book soaked shut by time,
From his clogged throat. “Caesar was getting on
When I was young. That’s Julius. A crime,
His death. Then, after he was gone,
I lived in Rome. The good Augustus reigned.
The gods were cheats and liars. As for me,
I was a poet.” He grew less constrained
In speech, as if trade-talk brought fluency.
“I sang about Anchises’ son, the just
Aeneas, pious, peerless. When proud Troy
Was burned to ashes, ashes turned to dust
Which he shook off his feet, that marvellous boy.
He did what any decent hero must:
Set sail. But you, you turn back. Tell me why.
Why not press on to the delightful peak?
The root cause of all joy is in the sky.”
Almost to shocked and overawed to speak -
For now the one who fought for words was I -
I asked him, just as if I didn’t know:
“Are you Virgil? Are you the spring, the well,
The fountain and the river in full flow
Of eloquence that sings like a seashell
Remembering the sea and the rainbow?
Of all who fashion verse the leading light?
The man of honour? What am I to say?
Through learning you by heart I learned to write.
My love for your book turned my night to day.
You are my master author. Only you
Could teach me that Sweet Style that they call mine.
I could go on. But what am I to do
About this animal that shows no sign
Of letting me proceed? It scares me so,
My veins are empty, all the blood sucked back
Into the heart. There’s nothing you don’t know,
My sage, so tell me how this mad attack
Can be called off.” Then he: “You need to choose
Another route.”

It is Clive as he always was — clear, colloquial, cumulative, concise and perfectly rhymed — trying, again, the heights of world literature and, as, always, prevailing; winning inch by inch and line by line a war whose end, on Panassus’ too, is a new Paradise Lost in his native tongue, a new golden treasure that will last as long as English, or nearly.

What a task to complete while dying. What a last high vault for Olympus. What a buzz.

I will write more when I have re-read it.

The Character Issue (2): To Slipper With Love

Peter Slipper was forced out of the Speakership, it now seems, not for sexually harassing a thirty-four year old male ( the first such charge in world history), nor for using word ‘cunts’ in a private communication (who has not done that), but for misusing cabcharges, if he did, cabcharges worth a thousand dollars, a sum he could pay back in an instant, misusing them to cross a border and visit a winery.

This is a measure of the wickedness of Abbott, Ashby, Pyne and Brough. They were willing to drive a longtime friend to suicide to seize his parliamentary seat, and his vote; willing to drive him mad and agonise his children and his wife.

He was the man whose vote elected Abbott leader. Abbott is as vile as that.

He has pleaded innocent, of course, and must wait until Christmas to find out what his punishment is. It will be, at most, a fine that is equal to, or double, the thousand dollars he has or has not misspent.

This is the slimy, jeering, ungrateful wickedness of Tony Abbott, our next Prime Minister, and a measure of his moral stature.


The Newspoll Fraud Confirmed

Telstra is sacking a lot of people because nobody uses landlines any more.

This means I was right, and only older people use landlines, and these are the people whom Newspoll, disproportionately, rings; and deliberately rings, to get a particular result.

Which means Labor is, probably, on 49.


I invite O’Shannessy to sue me any time.

Pyne And The Sodom Factor

Pyne has clearly been pondering the fate of Sodom. In Genesis 18, you will recall, Abraham asks God if, in immolating Sodom, he doesn’t mind destroying the righteous with the wicked. God says, What righteous? What are you talking about? Abraham says, Well, if there are fifty righteous men in Sodom will you spare it? God says yes. Too right. Abraham gulps, and asks if there are twenty, will you spare it? Absolutely, God says. Too right. Abraham haggles him down to one, and there still isn’t any. And Sodom burns, in what seems now a rehearsal of 9/11.

And so it went last night on Skynews with Richo pleading with Pyne to spare Gonski. And Christopher, Godlike, said he would not spare it, nay, not even for O’Farrell, nor yet for O’Farrell plus the Labor states, nor by Yahweh would he spare it even for seven out of the eight states and territories. He would spare Gonski only if every state signed on. And if they did not, the disabled and Aboriginal and language-challenged hobbled and crippled children could burn in Hell for all he cared. He would not spare them. Not a one of them.

In thus impersonating the God of Israel, Christopher may have exceeded his mandate. Richo was baffled when told in arch and fearsome tones no contract would be honoured, and O’Farrell must take his punishment like a man.

It may be that Christopher has become insane.

O’Farrell, thus thwarted, may feel like the visiting angel in Sodom whom the Sodomites wished to anally penetrate, and Lot, a good host, protected by offering the roistering crowd at his gate his virgin daughters in place of that heavenly arse, and he may not like the sensation. And he may soon seek his revenge.

And we will see what we shall see

Certain Housekeeping Matters (28)

There were 7,591 hits on Table Talk yesterday; whatever that means. It is the highest number anyway that I have scored in the eighteen months it’s been going.

More and more Liberal moles are besieging this bastion of reason, and being sussed and rejected. Most commit the basic error of breaking the one house rule. This is that you can argue any premise you like, and attack any opinion I have, but you cannot attack my character or my motives if you do not know me personally. You cannot say I am like Goebbels in the bunker, as one affrighted fool I am currently suing said, wrongly implying that I would collude in the killing of my children. You have to be a little careful in this regard.

Otherwise, welcome. As it grows more and more likely that Abbott will lose, it will be an interesting read.

Thomson Agonistes

Those who wish to read afresh the arguments about Craig Thomson, and the uniqueness of what is being done to him, and in the injustice, should look up episode 61, below, completed overnight.

I am quivering with fury.

Abbott’s End (55): 114 Days To Go: The State Of Play

Today is a measure of how small an arsenal the Liberals have. Once again they spoke of Thomson’s criminality; once again, they claimed Rudd was coming back.

Everything else they tried on lately zilched. Hockey said he would cleave the tax office; that he might reduce the child rebate; that Howard’s giveaways, though they caused the current deficit, were okay with him; that he hated homosexuals marrying; that the most-praised economy in the world is in ‘emergency’; ‘emergency’ being redefined as ‘not being in suplus yet’; that the head of Treasury was lying with his every breath but his job was not in danger.

It was mooted that the Liberals would sell the ABC — to Singo? Gina? Lachlan? — and would take away the schoolkids’ money, because they said Labor ‘was going to do it anyway.’

They haven’t got many places to go any more. Only Slipper, Thomson, Rudd and the boats will get them headlines, and their boats policy — piracy, plus grovelling to Indonesia — looks more and more like lunacy.

But they have 114 days to go, and no good news anywhere.


In Fifteen Words

What is wrong with the following sentence:

‘Newspoll is owned by Murdoch and behaves honestly’.