Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Monster Ellis Exposed

SARRAH LE MARQUAND: Well, yeah, like most journalists I’m very passionate about freedom of speech and, of course, they say the best way to test the veracity of that conviction is by thinking of someone whose views and work really offends you and just how passionate then are you about them exercising their right to free speech.

So for me, for example, I might nominate Bob Ellis as the most offensive writer in Australia, because just when you think his misogyny has reached an all-time low, he manages to outdo himself. But would I take Bob Ellis to court and claim vilification? I wouldn’t and the reason I wouldn’t do that is because to do so would actually be to make him a martyr in the eyes of him and his supporters and it would actually confirm his world view, which is that he is the poor repressed white male and I’m the evil woman trying to destroy the world.

So I think this is probably an unpopular view with a lot of people but as media consumers and every single one of us is media consumers, we need to be very wary of how we respond and how much power we want to give to those who offend us.

On that note, for the record, I have just stopped reading Bob Ellis and, honestly, I have never been happier.

A Prediction

I’m not sure about this, but it seems to me pretty likely that Abbott won’t be PM on July the first.

He’s already behind Shorten as preferred Prime Minister, and ICAC may show him, soon, to have been involved in funneling money into the slush-funds of his party for fifteen or sixteen years.

Many of his caucus think him mad. He will be made to resign on the grounds of an unspecified illness, and Hockey elected unanimously to succeed him. Hockey will sack Morrison, expel Sinodinos, and make Corman Treasurer.


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How To Rort The PPL

Give your wife a job, as your personal private secretary, on 100,000 a year. Pay her, in the next three months, 27,000 of it. Arrange that she gives the money back to you, or spends it, as she usually does, on household goods.

Knock her up.

Pay her for three more months. Get the money back from her, as usual.

Give her leave from the job so she can have the baby.

Collect 50,000 tax free dollars when she has the baby.

After six months, re-employ her. Make sure she gives the money back to you.

In two years, do all this again.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (107)

A portrait of John Faulkner will be up soon on Ellis Gold.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (106)

My reflection on sex in the seventies, A Quite Unloseable Game, is now completed, and can be read on Ellis Gold. It’s cost me a fair bit of pain and I commend it to you.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (105)

Ellis Gold is up, but I’m not sure anybody’s reading it. Will those that are put up the occasional comment?

It’s awfully quiet out here.

Nobody Left To Lie To

It happens pretty fast. The Abbott government can’t find a policy or an excuse that anybody likes.

The great big new levy; the breastfeeding billionaires’ baby bonus; the twenty-four-billion fighter bomber that won’t fly; the downed plane we can’t find in two oceans; the fifty thousand car-workers with nowhere to go; the disabled who suddenly aren’t disabled any more; the murderers Morrison likes to keep employing but dare not name; the bad words we can say to migrants now; the unnamed decade we’ll be in surplus; the war on Australian history; the slush funds that, as Greiner says, are ‘the inevitable fabric of the Liberal Party’; the three sacked Liberal Premiers, eight scarpering Ministers, and an Assistant Treasurer who seems to be on the take; the Liberal Party fundraiser the PM has ‘never met’; the Killing Fields in which the refugees’ children can work as child whores, or starve: all these point not just to a lousy contemptible government but to one that can’t remember what its last lie was.

Can they come back from here? Don’t think so. Even Paul Murray is dismayed, and that most soul-bought of shufflebums Paul Kelly this morning swears Abbott ‘excites hostility and provokes confusion’.

Day by day they bury the last bad headline under the next. But there are no good headlines, and for them there almost never were. This is the Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight, not a government. This is Mayor Quimby with red hand up a blonde and yelling ‘Ask not what the Budget can do for you. Ask what you can do for the Budget.’

There’s been nothing like them in our history, and I await each day developments with the occasional sweet sadistic surge of pleasure.

And so it goes.

Outsourcing Our Conscience

This nastiest of governments will send refugees now, genuine refugees, actual refugees, to the Killing Fields and pay big money to ‘settle’ them there.

My son Jack’s novel Mango Rain is set in Cambodia. It’ll be out next year. Reading this draft of it, I’m glad he doesn’t live there any more. There’s a lot of street violence in it, starvation, AIDS, abuse of children. Half of all Cambodians want to live somewhere else. Now more of them will.

This whole thing, ‘outsourcing our conscience’, a bloke on Agenda called it yesterday, begs a lot of questions. Will the refugees have jobs? What jobs are these? Will they get support from here? Will they be encouraged to whore themselves if they are children? Will they be allowed to visit their cousins in Australia? Will they be allowed to visit them for six months? Will they be allowed, if they pay, to come to university here? If they qualify as doctors, will they be let in to treat the sick in country towns here? Or will they be blacklisted, not allowed to join their husbands, mothers, children here, however qualified they are, for even a holiday?

The whole thing is contemptible, and not just for these reasons. It’s contemptible also because, as MH 370 shows, boats are getting through all the time. If you can’t find a plane that big in eight weeks, how can you find a boat that small in three days?

Morrison’s not been telling us how many boats have set out, lest we ask Indonesian witnesses how many more have. They’re clearly coming in via Western Australia, and in packed meat trucks getting to Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.

Morrison is meantime harbouring two murderers and the Governor-General should sack him and the Commonwealth Police — or the ACT Attorney General — arrest him for perverting, or attempting to pervert the course of justice.

A nasty, nasty government. It always was. But now it’s plain to everyone how nasty it is.

Closing Time In The Burnt-Out Casino

Is the Liberal Party coming apart? Does it have a future? It would seem, in the last three days, to be disintegrating, fast.

A new Premier is forced to moot new rules that forbid it to raise money in the developer-kickback way it always has. Abbott is proposing to tax the rich, but his caucus won’t have a bar of it. Marshall has failed to win the unloseable in South Australia, and Napthine in Victoria, already ten percent behind, seems as corrupt as Hartcher, Obeid and Sinoodinos. Palmer has thieved three of Newman’s members and three of Giles’s, and Hodgman, lately triumphant, is already behind in the polls.

All this would matter less if the Liberals’ core values were something more than advantage to their donors and plush jobs when they retire. But we do not see that kind of Liberal — Fraser, Peacock, Hewson, Chaney, Puplick, Hamer, Killen, Collins, Brogden, Georgiou, Troeth, the elder Baird — any more. What we have is the Looters’ Party, individually scrambling in a pile of gold bars with their feet on one another’s noses. It is closing time in the burnt-out casino, and the chip supply has dwindled.

A good deal of it is Abbott’s fault. A twister and a shirker, a slippery fellow addicted to fibs, erasures and rewrites, he cannot hold a belief in his head for a day without dropping it as he scrambles over the fence with the Dogs of Truth pursuing him.

And his followers are frantic. They were not told what he was to say last night until he’d mooted it in the papers, any more than he told them he was knighting Howard, and Howard wriggled out of the honour like the cat resisting Pepe Le Pew.

This is a functional madman, a loaded dog, and they don’t know how to contain him.

In the next few days he will be spoken to severely, and he will not listen.

And we will see what we shall see.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (104)

I will put up, progressively, on Ellis Gold, a dozen or so of my pieces that show I am not a hater of women but something more like a fellow-travelling male feminist and thus persuade, if I can, the ignorant Murdoch blonde Sarrah Le Marquand to apologise and offer me a quarter of her next year’s salary lest I sue her, and the ABC, for rather more.

Watch them as they come out. They are fairly convincing.

Further To Mark Scott

I’m surprised to have got no response from you.

I repeat, I was grossly defamed with a falsehood no-one would wear lightly, and I need compensation.

Please organise an apology, or a payout, or a balancing appearance for me on Insiders or Q&A, or an interview on Breakfast, or a regular spot on late-night or morning radio, or The Drum which I used to write for, or I will sue you for the maximum sum, which I understand is 350,000 dollars, plus costs.

Do not imagine I am kidding.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (103)

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The Bob Carr Masterclass In Recent World History: An Appreciation

(By Nic Nelson)

One of the more fascinating things about a book is when its reception becomes as entertaining as the book itself. The expected and obvious responses in the Australian media that decried Carr’s work for its content (too liberal in divulging information) and for the author’s personality (Carr’s obsessions with diet and fitness) simply missed the essence of this piece. Those who read Carr’s book (I mean read, not the desperate ones who nitpicked for jealous gossip or political innuendo) will find something that is far more than a diary that “reveals the eccentric demands of a former Foreign Minister”.

Carr’s Diary of a Foreign Minister is refreshing because it is what politics in our nation needs- honest, deep, intellectual and educative. The extent of disclosure in this book helps to illuminate the 18 month period in which Carr was Foreign Minister. While our current Foreign Minister Julie Bishop may disagree when she says that such honesty is “unworthy of any Australian politicians let alone a foreign minister”, I believe that those who read it will see that publishing text messages from the Indonesian Foreign Minister, divulging Security Council bid conversations, providing insider information on John Kerry or outlining briefing notes adds to the nuance of this text and would do little to damage our strategic relationships. Perhaps it would provide a sliver of extra intelligence to Chinese officials concerned about how closely Australia is aligned to the United States, but it’s unlikely that any of what Carr has disclosed is a revelation to those involved in the diplomatic sphere.

On the contrary, we need politicians who are honest and unafraid to wear their convictions and personality on their sleeve “the kitchen staff…know that for breakfast it’s got to be…organic steel-cut oats…lots of berries…two poached eggs”. Such a ruthless diet was condescended in the media, but why shouldn’t we promote a healthy approach to life? My feeling is that Carr would be damned either way. The array of diet/exercise anecdotes help to illuminate what it’s like to be a Foreign Minister.

Without such candour, Carr’s diary would solely read as a history of world events over the last 18 months. Some examples of this where it sheds new light include our relationship with Indonesia, the situation in North Korea, the United States’ view of China and the inner workings of Australia’s successful Security Council bid.

Further, this book is full of great passages for those who read in order to learn. There are passages on the workings of government- the Rudd rebellion, developing Australian foreign policy or determining UN votes. There are lessons of how to be a successful politician “sell yourself and your cause hard, carry the electorate with you, explain your policies, be the huckster”. For students of foreign affairs, there are fantastic strategic passages on the Middle East, China, Southeast Asia, the Pacific, the United States, Indonesia and South Asia. For the aspiring diplomat or sensitive traveller, there are good tips on cultural sensitivity “I had switched to Melanesian mode, been hesitant and low key”.

As a young person and someone quite despairing with our current government, I found that there are inspiring moments throughout this book, none more so than Carr’s work to shift Australia’s position on the UN Palestinian vote, the advocacy for the Pacific or observations like “this is the dream that must sustain us, that the Abrahamic faiths can rediscover commonalities”. It highlights what Australia’s foreign policy can be, in stark contrast to our blundering with Indonesia of recent months. Carr’s continual trumpeting of American liberal internationalism point to what is possible in both our own foreign policy and the attitude of our nation to other nations too.

The book is also filled with novel ideas for Australian foreign policy, most notably, our relationship with China, the need to temper our closeness to the United States, reaching out to the Middle East and Africa as a new partner, embracing change in Burma and accepting that the best outcome for both Israel and Palestine will be Palestinian statehood.

What makes the book so readable is Carr’s eccentricities and personality.

Whether it is silly “slightly delirious, I indulge a fantasy of the world leaders moving from behind these tables, linking one another in a conga line and led by Putin- with Obama clutching his hips”, self deprecating “I am the best Chairman I know”, or just plain excellent “if this- New York light through the canyons of Midtown buildings and the liberal internationalism of the newspaper- is not perfection, I don’t know what is”, one can’t not be enamoured with Carr’s idiosyncrasies. We should celebrate the kind of intellect that can weave a discussion on Islamic culture, Central Park and late 18th century revolutions into two paragraphs, or the boyish enthusiasm with which Carr embraces the “global trivia” contained in the diplomatic cables he receives.

The anecdotes on diet, hotels and the amount of Normisons (sleeping tablets) that are taken give the diary an expeditionary feel and the book has a great flow to it, so much so that I read 100 pages in one night without realising the time.

Carr’s discussion of the ALP makes for interesting reading, especially the passages on the leadership struggle, his personal reflections on the direction of the party and his character appraisals of Gillard, Shorten and Conroy are honest and often brutal.

Where this book suffers from a foreign policy perspective is it is underwhelming on aid. Carr is a storyteller, and that is how he transmits his messages on aid, but there isn’t a clear passion for a big aid program that Australia runs, nor does he go into detail over the aid program. It would have helped to illuminate how positive our foreign policy was over those 18 months. Interestingly, he leaves out the day that the ALP cut the aid program from the memoirs.

From another perspective, Carr can be arrogant “I’m a self-generating publicity machine”, which is bound to put some readers off and his judgementalism on plastic surgeries and weight probably weren’t necessary. Carr can be a little overawed with Henry Kissinger and there are odd paradoxes- his support for Palestine and Rudd’s Manus Island policy is one clear one. He shows he can be insensitive, stating that “my lilac tie on lilac striped shirt; navy suit” was “enough “to win the case on its own” in reference to his TV appearances when discussing the mistreatment of Papuans in Indonesia.

My recommendation is that if you’re interested in educating yourself on Australia’s neighbours, Shakespeare, travel journals, high culture, international strategy, want to discover a great new diet, or you just want to take yourself back to a time where Australia didn’t screw up its foreign policy or aid budget, then read this book.

In The Wars

(First published by Independent Australia)

Signs of a twilight war between Hockey/Cormann and Abbott/Credlin grow by the hour. Pensions at seventy (Hockey) have tanked after private polling, but so have the billionaires’ baby bonus (Abbott), and a Great Big New Tax (Hockey) is now the go, thus proving you can tax your way to prosperity, and it well may be that Abbott no longer has any power over policy, any more.

It’s likely too that both camps will be dangerously stained by the onrolling ‘culture of criminality’ ICAC show that, in the next month, will start a good few bribesters grassing and more Liberal MPs resigning their party membership. It’s pretty certain Abbott has had a meal or two with Di Girolamo (he’s had a meal or two with me) and pretty likely he’s received, in the past, good money from that thug’s poisoned water hole for one or more of his campaigns, and so – perhaps – has Hockey. Never before has a government eight months in power had so little authority. Never before has a Prime Minister looked such a dumb-bum.

No Newspoll, though one is due, came out this morning. This indicates a precipitous fall in the Lib/Nat vote two-party-preferred in an honest count that has been suppressed and a big surge to Palmer, who now controls eleven seats in various assemblies and will control the Federation, pretty much, on July 1. It’s certain his power will grow and Abbott’s shrink in the next week, and the next month, and the notion that Abbott has power, power over anything, will be out of date by June. By then Scott Morrison will be in the searchlights of the Senate and the Governor-General and may be on a slow march to prison for harbouring two murderers and covering up thirty or forty atrocities that it was his duty to reveal to the voters. By then it may well become evident that Abbott has drop-kicked to corporate mates not just the universities’ money but the decade-long search for MH370 in the wrong part of the ocean at a cost, over time, of hundreds of millions of dollars that could have been better spent elsewhere.

No precedent exists for the present situation, the present crisis in our democracy. In the Caribbean, in South America, in some former African colonies there have been governments as hated and mendacious as this one. But never here. It’s likely now that not just Shorten, but Palmer, and Plibersek, and Albanese, and Hockey, and Turnbull, would beat Abbott in a face-to-face poll as preferred Prime Minister. It’s likely the Liberals’ ‘core’ vote, never more than 32 percent, is down now to 25 or 26, and the party, long-term, is crashing and burning like the Democrats after Meg Lees signed on to the GST.

It’s hard to imagine a worse lead-up to a Budget in peacetime, and so it goes.

An Open Letter To Mark Scott

Dear Mark,

A woman called Le Marquand on Q&A called me ‘anti-woman’ and said, in front of perhaps two million people, that the best thing to do about me and my vile misogynist opinions is not read me.

Can you or Tony Jones apologise to me publicly for this?

In the last eight weeks I have published essays in praise of Doris Day, of the wonderful feminist films Le Weekend, The Invisible Woman, and Tracks, the pro-woman series The Paradise and Downton Abbey, an essay on sexual love and, in the piece that inaugurated my new website, apologised on behalf my gender for how we treated women, and especially pregnant women, in the twentieth century. This first appeared a day ago.

In the year before that I praised in my columns without caveat the actresses Mia Wasikowska, Lindsay Duncan, Meryl Streep, Amanda Bishop, Essie Davis, Judy Davis, Cate Blanchett, Isabelle Huppert, Fannie Ardant, Lauren Bacall, Ava Gardner, Julia Moore, Kristin Scott Thomas, Robyn Nevin, Kate Fitzpatrick, Emily Blunt, Emily Mortimer, Emily Watson and the late Wendy Hughes, and the late Penne Hackforth-Jones, as well as the politicians Anna Bligh, Tanya Plibersek, Natasha Stott-Despoja (who launched two books of mine), Carmen Lawrence, Nicola Roxon, Jane Lomax-Smith, Vini Ciccarello, Penny Wong, Lara Gidding, Kristina Keneally, Shirley Williams, Glenda Jackson, Anna Lind, Clare Martin, Aung San Suu Kyi and Maxine McKew, and listed among my favourite authors Penelope Lively, Penelope Gilliatt, Joan Didion, Iris Murdoch, Olga Masters, Doris Lessing and Charmian Clift.

I have portrayed in my various dramas Rose Lindsay, Marilyn Monroe, Vivien Leigh, Bea Miles, Anna Murdoch, Edith Florey and the heroines of Newsfront, Goodbye Paradise, The Nostradamus Kid, Man of Flowers, My First Wife, Perhaps Love, Down Under, Neon Street, Fatty Finn, Opening Night and The Legend of King O’Malley and received not one complaint or request for rewrites from any of the actresses portraying them.

I have been with the same wife for forty-eight years and cannot, on most counts, I believe, be said to be ‘anti-woman’ or ‘misogynist’.

I ask that you, or Tony Jones or, preferably, Ms Le Marquand apologise in a public way, please, very soon.

It is only fair.

Yours sincerely,

Bob Ellis

A Serious Question

Can somebody tell me what that woman just said about me on Q&A?

Warm Nights On A Slow-Moving Ruminant: Davidson’s, Curran’s and Wasikowska’s Tracks

Tracks, a great film, opens in America this week and will do well there, or not; it did not do well here. Half the reason, I think, was the drab deciduous title (why not Camel Lady? Getting There? Davidson? Journeys? Travelling West?) and a quarter of it was the trailer (romcom, with dromedaries) and the rest of it the soggy unchanging pitch (vonts to be alone, does she? big deal). Even I delayed seeing it for weeks, and I now pronounce it one of Australia’s top ten films. The others are Samson and Delilah, Breaker Morant, The Year My Voice Broke, Snowtown, Beneath Hill 60 …

(Continued on Ellis Gold, tomorrow morning)

Certain Housekeeping Matters (102)

There will be reviews of Tracks and Hannah Arendt on Ellis Gold as soon as I am apprised of how to put them up. I also intend a meditation on Mad Men and Breaking Bad and what they tell us of America, now and then.

There were fourteen more subscribers yesterday. Spread the word.

The Cruellest Month

It will be a while before we know what the Liberal backroomers did in March and April, to the nation and each other.

There was the plot, successful, against O’Farrell, the last of the North Shore Wets, and his replacement by a privatising, climate-change-denying, abortion-despising, surf-jogging, goofily smiling trainee priest.

There was the war between Abbott/Credlin and Hockey/Corman over millionaires’ pregnant wives and whether to punish the old with twenty years of misery this term or next.

There was the growing derangement of Abbott, who, after suffering lavish mockery for his plan to bring back knighthoods, decided to spend a hundred million, which would have saved Holden, on scouring the South Seas for scrap metal forever.

There was the bitter backroom quarrel, still going on, over whether to expel Di Girolamo from the Liberal Party or further soil themselves, as ICAC continued, with the buckets of money he was still shovelling their way.

There was the sharp, cold realisation that Shorten was pulling ahead; and, if Morgan was right, Labor certain to win a majority of seats in Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and, bizarrely, Tasmania. That the vote was where it was in November 2007 and it was not going to shift under Abbott and he like O’Farrell had to be shafted, framed or forged out of office or somehow made to quit for ‘medical reasons’. That those medical reasons might in fact be there, and involve, by the look of it, a form of early senility.

And then there was the difficulty of the Manus murder, and its cover-up by Morrison, and the evidence leaking out of what caused the riots in which it occurred, and how Morrison, the responsible Minister, was still concealing the names of the murderers (white, Australian, unpunished, still employed) whom he continued to pay handsome wages, thus impeding the course of justice.

And the way it was all coming to a head, with Hockey saying one thing and Abbott the other, and half a million Liberal voters, all over sixty, vanishing in a month.

And the moment approaching when the money-axing recommendations (work till you’re seventy, you bastards; don’t dare expect the pension if your house is valuable) would be aired, and Manus murder findings be looked at by 7.30, and the Senate begin to enquire into the Liberal Party’s ‘culture of criminality’, and Di Girolamo facing fifteen years and beginning to grass on everybody.

And the Last Post playing, and the Royals flying out, and the dodgy fighter-bomber looping the loop, and the vote staying stubbornly where it has been for three months now, and Labor landsliding everywhere, and Palmer quickly replacing the Nationals in every latitude.

And we will see what we shall see.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (101)

I am told by my minders and blood-relatives that I cannot threaten to ban for life paying customers of Ellis Gold and not give their money back.

I will with reluctance obey them.

Come one, come all.

The Power In The Land

In A Christmas Carol the Ghost of Christmases Past is always presented as a jolly, rubicund, portly, convivial figure with a close resemblance to Clive Palmer; the bearer of old outmoded glad tidings of how things used to be. But Clive is more interesting than that; and, as he showed on Insiders this morning, a much more Shavian figure.

Like Higgins or Valentine or Shotover he tells plain, unwelcome truths: that if Abbott thinks he’s got a mandate he should count the numbers in the Senate; that if he thinks taking money from war orphans and spending it on warplanes that still can’t fly is a good idea he’s not only mistaken but cruel and unpatriotic; that the Aboriginal, Anglo, Chinese and lesbian MPs of the Palmer Party are, however you cut it, all Australian citizens; and however many bags of money you spend on promoting it, a bad policy is a bad policy and most voters can sniff that out.

This is a remarkable politician, underrated till now by commentators who mistook him for a racist fat greedy earth-gouging philistine Queenslander. He is nothing  like racist, as his boat people ideas demonstrate and his embrace today of three black female Indigenous MPs. He is nothing if not thoughtful; his three percent versus ninety-seven percent insight on global warming (twenty-five percent of it, I hear, is Indonesian bushfires) I’ve never heard so plainly put before. He is by far the crispest, rapidest interviewee since Whitlam, with more good one-liners than even Bob Brown. Those who think he’s a dill or a blowhard or a bombastic dilletante should not just punch up this morning’s exchange with Fran but read a transcript of it.

What most of the pundits have missed thus far, and sorely missed, I think, is that he is a good man. Respondents I’ve asked to quote one bad policy of his can’t find any. He’s not there for the money, he’s got a lot of the money already. He’s more like a Rockefeller or a Carnegie, imagining and funding a better civilisation with civic beneficence.

And a tipping-point occurred this morning from which, if he lives, there will be no shrinkage of numbers. He has done what the Democrats never did, get seats in the lower house of a state, a territory and a federal parliament.

And he is the biggest factor in our politics now, and he cannot be sneered away.

Let the mightiest potentates tremble.

He’s here to stay.

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A Recommendation

I refer this readership to Peter Craven’s review of Bob Carr’s Diary Of A Foreign Minister in The Sunday Australian, purchaseable still today. No better unlocking of a fine book has been printed, as far as I know, in this country, and one would have to go back a long way in England — to Muggeridge, to Orwell, to Strachey, to Powell, to Jenkins, to Foot — to find an equivalent.

I invite any reader of this blog to review it, in no less than eight hundred words, and I will buy him/her lunch at Macchiavelli’s.

My own review, in yesterday’s smh and Age, I will reprint in Ellis Gold tomorrow.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (100)

Ellis Tabletalk, the subscriber’s version, will be up tomorrow. Emails are going out to those who have already paid.

The amount is one dollar a week, fifty dollars a year. All poems, Classic Ellises, film, TV and theatre reviews and larger discussions will henceforth appear in that platform only. Politics will be discussed, as always, on this free space, as always.

Anyone who pays his dues for Ellis Gold can respond to anything, regardless of previous banning. Those who offend inordinately will be banned again, with no money refunded.

The first six offerings will be on turning 72, a portrait of the next Laurence Olivier, the funniest Primates Poem, a classic essay on sexual love, Spacey’s Crouchback, and Anzac Day, 1974.

Quiz Time (70)

What is the connection, apart from the Orwell film, which for eighteen years he was to star in, between Colin Firth and Bob Ellis?

Rorting Pollution: The New Economy

(First published by Independent Australia)

It’s hard to think of a wider gateway to corruption than the paying-the-biggest-polluters legislation Greg Hunt pitched to us last night.

A company has to cut back by, say, one percent the carbon it puts in the air and someone has to measure this. If he says yes, too right, it’s down to 99 percent, that company gets fifty million dollars. If he says no, bad luck, it’s as bad as it was, or worse, the company gets nothing, not even a fine. It would be hard to find a job more suitable for Arthur Sinodinos, provider of clean sewage to Nick Di Girolamo in times past, or John Elliott, say, or Jodee Rich.

Who gets this job? And what is he paid? How do we know he’s not paid extra, a half million, say, as ‘commission’ for drop-kicking fifty million a big polluter’s way?

What is truly amazing is the penalty for a big polluter that pollutes even more, which is no penalty at all. Killing the planet, it seems, is not even a misdemeanour now. If you do it, you pay less than a parking fine. You pay nothing at all. And next year, when the age of entitlement is over, and corporate welfare is ended once and for all, a big polluting corporation gets fifty million dollars for farting at the atmosphere one percent less often, and pays not a cent to the virtuous judge who signs the money over.

Not since Enron has there been a sillier set of numbers. Everything that happens – new fighter bombers, offshore processing, sewage pipes to new suburbs, the brave new world of ‘infrastructure’, Australia is ‘open for business’ – is seen as a new open door to corruption by this, the Looters’ Party. They have no purpose other on earth than these dirty backroom dealings, these twenty millions for Sinodinos, these half billion dollars to Wilson for beating children on Manus. It’s what the Liberals do. And now they’re giving the big polluters billions for killing the planet one percent slower.

And it takes your breath away; literally. They are truly, truly awful people.

And so it goes.

An Anzac Day Reflection

It might be a good idea if in this, the hundredth year of the Anzac afterglow, the phrase ‘they did not die in vain’ were adjusted, and we said ‘they died in vain in some cases, poor buggers.’

This would include everyone on Gallipoli on our side, though not anyone on the side of the Turks who won the battle. No inch of ground was gained by us, and sixty thousand of us were killed there (as many as America’s dead in twelve years in Vietnam) and our failure there meant the war went on for two more years, and twenty more million died, and World War Two occurred. About seventy more million died, and half a billion more were traumatised, in short, because our brave lads fucked up on that legendary beach, or were perhaps fucked over by Whitehall dunderheads, or the mad Ian Hamilton, or the telegram not getting through, or however it went. It’s alleged we came of age there. But coming of age means seeing clearly, and admitting honestly, how we failed, if we did, or stuffed up big, if we did, in our reckless youth or early manhood. We died in vain, sometimes; we truly did.

We didn’t die in vain in Kokoda. We did in Long Tan. We didn’t in East Timor. We did, in our scores, in Afghanistan. Those of us killed by our Afghan trainees truly died in vain. We didn’t die in vain liberating the Philippines, or Burma. We did on Iwo Jima, probably, and Okinawa, because the atomic bomb was already in production and on its way to Hiroshima; and so on.

And I am more and more sickened, I truly am, old friend, old friend, by this death-denying, bugle-sounding, high-prattling, bible-waving spin. By the word ‘sacrifice’, which was what Abraham proposed to do to my ancestor Isaac before he thought better of it and allowed me into the world, the slaughter of one’s child, the cutting of the throat of one’s child.

‘Sacrifice’ is not without good meaning, though, in other contexts. If it applies, say, to money spent on a child’s education that might else have been spent on a bigger house, a better lifestyle, it has meaning, real meaning. But it has no meaning when it is applied to those who die unwillingly and suddenly in battle, the way most young men do. You’re not there to sacrifice yourself for your country. You’re there, as George Patton snarled, to make some other poor bastard sacrifice himself for his country.

These dim organ-sounding demi-religious words, which bespeak emotions nobody has actually had, and may not even exist, should not be used, I think, any more. Those who charged with unloaded guns up the Nek had no option but to charge uphill into a hail of death. They would have been shot if they turned back by a comrade officer there to shoot them. This is not sacrifice. This is not sacrifice. It is primal fear of one kind of death, a death deliberately dealt in battle-heat by a friend, versus random death at the hand of an enemy. There is a lot of truth in A.E. Housman, in Siegfried Sassoon, in Wilfred Owen, in Michael Herr, in Catch-22, in ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’, in ‘I Was Only Nineteen’, but very, very little in ‘sacrifice’.

We should tell the truth at last. It’s time.

Lines For Albo (71)

Is the Prime Minister knighting anyone on the Queen’s Birthday? Who does he have in mind?

Quiz Time (69)

What was Mussolini’s funniest one-liner?

How To Solve Everything

Halve all rents, and put up the GST by 2 percent.

And leave all the Labor programs as they are.

And be back in surplus in 2017.

Hockey’s Complaint

It was good to watch Hockey ego-tripping last night, in the withering rattlesnake gaze of Andrew Neill, who had not come down in the last shower and knew Thatcher personally, and was well aware of what her kind of sado-monetarism – and sado-narcissism – leads to.

It’s evident that Joe, an unacclimatised Palestinian, doesn’t know what country he’s in. He thinks there are massed demonstrations, crying ‘What do we want? A Budget surplus! When do we want it? Now!’ But he’s wrong about this. There will be cries on the May Day march not for a surplus but a fair go. A fair go is when you pay all your working life the taxes that come back to you as an old age pension, and you get that pension on the day it was promised you would get it. A fair go is when you’re disabled and can live, for the first time, as other people do, and you don’t have this taken away from you by Hockey after you’ve been redefined by Abetz. A fair go is when twenty million want to keep the ABC the way it is, and if you’ve said you’ll keep it the way it is, you do so.

Like many migrants Joe assumes that many Australians, like him, don’t have many relatives in this country. He doesn’t understand that all of us, all of us with great-grandparents born here, have a disabled relative, all of us have a mentally challenged one, all of us have a gay relative, all of us have a jobless, devastated one, and we think about our relatives when we vote. He doesn’t understand that even mentioning a reduction, or delay, in old age pensions has lost his party a million votes, and they will be on 40 percent by June.

The difficulty is that Joe is in a bubble of sycophantic approval in his big office with a smiling, fearful, cringeing staff of dunderheaded neocon fundamentalists and cokeheads. And he doesn’t understand that he isn’t when all the chips are down very bright, and that Turnbull, say, would never have done what he is doing, never ever. It may be the anaesthetic that accompanied his stomach-strapping eroded some of his brain, as happens quite often, my three doctor in-laws tell me. It may be he was just born dim and resentful, and being fat has made him more resentful.

It is certain he will be out of office by Anzac Day 2015, and very, very likely out of politics altogether.

Stupid is as stupid does.

And not adding or multiplying or joining the dots is very, very stupid when you’re Treasurer.


Anzac Day: An Exchange

Nanalevu April 22, 2014 at 7:50 am

Thanks Bob. This is exactly how I feel about ANZAC Day. I am here in Turkey again. Was here last year but stayed away from Galipolli on 25 April. Visited it instead on 19 May, a Turkish national day when Turks flood in to Canakkale to commemorate their fallen. If our diggers back then had the opportunity to travel all through this peninsular and seen this rich and varied land they would have known it would not be given up easily.

And it is good to read you write of how Paul Keating said Australia already had nothing to prove, no need for this ‘great game of drongos’.

Helvi April 22, 2014 at 8:33 am

I’m have not recovered from watching young long-haired, bare-footed men dragging crosses on my TV screen, and now the old men bent down with medals go o’marching…

Give me a real Carnival like they do in Rio.

chris hunter at 8:38 am

Well I for one will be giving a talk to sixty young men and twenty adults at a bush camp at Cape Elizabeth (near where I live) on this coming ANZAC eve. The theme being ANZAC and the recipients of this discourse young Mormons.

I will be reading some of my anti-war poems and generally railing against The Great Stupidity. I am of course not a religious person in the normal sense so it should be interesting.

There is real doubt about Bert Facey’s personal account of the first wave of the ANZAC landing. Records show Facey was not in the first wave, I realised that when I read his book – his account of relentless machine gun fire did not ring true – just a few errant shots greeted the first to land. In fact a Maori section reached the top of the peninsular on the first day, had lunch, then wandered back down the hill again to the Cove..

They never regained that position again. Churchill’s gambit in tatters. A monumental fuck up – like South Vietnam.

Doug Quixote at 1:08 pm

The argument is that we need some day to commemorate. This day was always a strange choice, and we now seem to be stuck with it, by historical accident and sheer inertia.

I agree with you and with Keating on Kokoda being a far better choice for a commemoration; is there a suggestion as to which date might be suitable?

Perhaps 28 September when the Japanese started to withdraw, after almost getting in sight of Moresby. This was the first time the Japanese advance had been reversed anywhere (28/09/1942)

Or the recapture of Kokoda on the 2 November, though that is probably a date too close to Armistice Day.

chris hunter at 1:35 pm

Whilst ANZAC day certainly celebrates a military defeat it has of course altered a bit in meaning since inception.

As a former RSL president I made sure the town Fire Brigade, Boy Scouts, Cubs, Ambos etc were invited to march along too – in reality ANZAC day has slowly evolved into an annual day of march, commemorating all past wars and battles (sacrifices).

After WW1 the bereavement was so great, the wound so raw, that something had to be done. In England they began the memorial project, one in each town, as a way of directing the grief. That practice spread to the outer reaches of the Empire. As we see today.

Prior to this the wives and mothers (and families) actually searched through the grizzly French battlefields for their loved ones, picking through the sun dried grinning corpses. On some occasions with success.

This is a different age, they did, in their ancient madness, the best they could. ANZAC will stay.

Doug Quixote at 4:37 pm

I daresay. The forces of history, inertia and a general conservatism in the community will ensure that.

But after 100 years or so it will outlive its use; Waterloo Day was a big thing once, but how many even notice 18 June these days?

But as the prophet says, we shall see what we shall see.

Chris O’Neill at 4:28 pm

This holocaust of blood where more men died than at Hiroshima and Nagasaki put together

Of course, the apologists for the Japanese killing machine would have us believe that soldiers’ lives are worthless.

Glow Worm at 12:32 am

Chris O’Neill – if I can venture a small observation from my recent travels in Malaysia.

There is a museum in KL that portrays the history of the peninsula from earliest days (Bronze Age) to today. Detailed vignettes. Copious notes. Photographic treasures. Relics, mementos. Historic documents. All fascinating.

There is one obscure, dusty glass box containing a Samurai sword, a few buttons and a uniform, a proclamation, and a bare, sketchy narrative on the Japanese occupation. I thought it decidedly odd, and BB at once detected a conspiracy – placating Japanese tourists and ensuring continued investment.

We mentioned this lack of “detail” on the Japanese occupation of 1941-45 to our taxi driver – an Indian – who responded emotionally that the bastards had murdered his Grandfather: by public beheading. Even in the humidity and heat, it caused a chill through my heart.

He agreed with BB – the 100,000 (civilian) dead as a result of the Japanese killing machine has been whitewashed in recent history – a ‘real-politik’ of a curious kind.

I must re-visit the war memorial in Canberra soon …
I think perhaps it’s too late to change April 25th, but it should be, perhaps, more of a memorial day: Kokoda, Villers-Brettoneux, Long Tan …

Jenny April 23, 2014 at 10:37 am

Ah yes agreed re spin, but then if not ANZAC day, then how do we honour the poor bastards who have been killed and maimed and brutalised in all these damn wars…? Lest we forget. You can’t possibly expect that Joe Bloggs the average Australian punter would actually bother to find out what really happened in all those heinous battles in all those heinous wars do you? No Gallipoli is a symbol, one easily digestible massacre in a dim and distant war full of many many massacres. Gallipoli kinda neatly sums it up, a nice simple mythologised battle to give the ‘dimwits’ some heroes to hold on to, in a world so bereft of heroes give the punters their Gallipoli – Surely its better than nothing?

allthumbs April 23, at 12:02 pm

I dislike seeing no movement on this blog for such a long time, it is not a good look and therefore I offer at random a page from the Melbourne Argus, page 7 in fact from April 25th 1930 in regards to the media attention given to ANZAC day back then compared to now.

I would also commend a read of the adjacent column concerning a petrol enquiry and the role of Victorian Attorney General, to show how little ground we have made during the intervening years.

Doug Quixote at 12:45 pm

While you are at it, look at the adjoining articles, including one on Menzies’ connection to Shell Petroleum.

It is a 1933 newspaper, BTW.

chris hunter at 3:16 pm

The Libs invented petrol sniffing.

Zathras April 24 at 12:24 am

I’ve always considered it a day of shame for those politicians who sacrificed so many on the altar of greed and self-interest. It fills me more with anger than with any sense of pride.

It’s a day when some people should be cowering under their beds instead of using it as recruitment propaganda for the next generation of innocent victims.

Smedley Butler’s admission that “War is A Racket” should be taught in schools.

Wood + Stone April 24 at 6:12 am

Churchill’s imaginative plan for the Dardenelles was an attempt to bypass the wall of blood red mountains that stretched from Nieuwpoort to Mulhausen.

I don’t think anyone could seriously argue that the idea itself was without merit.

Rollcall: Owen, Rosenberg, Sorely, West, McCrae, Thomas, Apollinaire, Marc, Macke, Boccioni, Abbey, Dichamp-Villon, Schiele.

Bob Ellis at 7:19 am

It was a good idea, and they landed on the wrong beach, and failed to link up with the British, as arranged. Churchill tried to call it off, but the boy in the telegraph office didn’t understand the message.

Had it been done properly the First War would have been over by Christmas, 1915.

And there would have been no Second War.


Quiz Time (68)

The answers to Quiz Time (66).

Geoff Gallop — John Garfield. Jim Cairns — Alan Ladd. Gough Whitlam — Stephen Fry. Paul Keating — Ray Danton. Bob Hawke — Bob Crane. John Howard — Ronnie Corbett. Kim Beazley — Ronnie Barker. Peter Garrett — Woody Harrelson (in Game Change). Bob Carr — Viggo Mortensson (in Good). Peter Debnam — Kevin Bacon. Steve Bracks — Edmund Purdom.

Lines For Bibi (1)

Unless you’re at war with Gaza, you’re not at peace with us.

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

The Joint Strike Fighter, That Is The Question

Is anybody wondering what the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is to protect us from? And who? What invader, precisely, will in great bomber squadrons fly south to Darwin, Cairns, Longreach, bombing civilian targets in daylight, avoiding storms, which the F-35 can’t fly in? What armadas of dogface Mongolians or camouflaged Acehans will follow in troopships, in their tens of millions, coming ashore at Broome or Rockhampton, machine-gunning Anzacs and marching south?

What nonsense is this? What are we talking about?

These are the same experts, or similar ones, to those who believed Saddam Hussein would be rocket-launching nuclear bombs at US bases and European cities, when what happened was roadside IEDs blowing up trucks and suicide bombers ploughing lethal jeeps into police academies and pilgrim throngs and marketplaces. What killed the greatest number of people in a fortnight in our time was not a nuclear strike on a city but machetes, in Ruanda, taking out eight hundred thousand civilians, one by one, and no fighter-bombers anywhere.

How, in 2040, when the principal weapon will be small drones going out at night to assassinate cabinet ministers, will the F-35 Strike Fighter be of use? Can it shoot down a drone that’s five feet wide as it leaps up out of a stealthy upthrusting submarine near Manly and whirrs off through the night just above the water towards Kirribilli? In what way will the F-35 be useful then? Tell, tell.

Drones don’t cost very much, four or five thousand, mostly, and F-35s cost eighty million each. Why are we not buying, or building, drones? If ever there was an example of the madness of the Military-Industrial Complex — Buck Turgidson spoiling for trouble, banging his fist, planning world war and chewing gum — it is this. A plane that still gets cracks in it we are paying twenty billion for and using in 2050 to do…what?

Sir Peter Cosgrove, our Commander-in-Chief, should put a stop to this. There are better things in a time of austerity to be doing with our money. And he, an experienced general, knows this.

He should countermand this costly mistake, and sack the Minister responsible. Which he has the power to do.

Or perhaps you disagree.

Alas, He’s Mad

Evidence is growing that Abbott has lost his mind. To spend two billion a year on a plane that can’t, yet, fly very well or shoot down the planes and drones the Chinese and Russians are currently building, while cutting money to dead soldiers’ children, doctors, nurses, teachers, the disabled and their carers and war-maddened veterans and making bricklayers work till they are seventy, is politically foolish, in my estimation, and way, way, way ‘off message’.

Two billion dollars could have kept Holden going for ten years and saved, as a knock-on consequence, two hundred and fifty thousand jobs and half a million livelihoods. Two  more billion, next year, would have paid all university fees. Two billion more, in 2016, would have funded twenty feature films as impressive as Lord Of The Rings. Two billion more, in 2017, would have bought small farms for ten thousand Hazaras. Two billion more, in 2018, would build in two country cities two teaching hospitals as impressive as Prince Henry.

And he is doing this after cutting the CSIRO by a third, thus driving our next three Nobel winners overseas, and proposing to abolish ABC drama, as his hero Howard did, in this, its golden age. And, oh yes, abolishing local round-the-clock Medicare centres in ‘selected suburbs’.

This is more than the ‘Abbott innumeracy’ Costello warned of. It is actual insanity. He is even saying he will not break any of his promises; just redefining ‘promise’, that’s all.

He has become what we used to call ‘a suitable case for treatment’ and should be hauled, in a straitjacket, out of the Kirribilli mansion, and, at Royal North Shore, investigated.

The Story So Far: Yesterday’s Morgan Poll

(First published by Independent Australia)

Morgan shows Abbott has lost some things that, even in the week of the visit of a future king to his beach, and a game-changing deal with Japan, can’t any more be got back. The 55 percent of women that now vote Labor, or prefer it. The 51.5 percent of West Australians, the 53 percent of South Australians, the 53 percent of Queenslanders, the 55.5 percent of Victorians that now vote Labor, or prefer it.

This means, must mean, that the Kevin ‘07 votes are back, and the relaxed and comfortable Howardist vote has been smashed, once again, by… what?

It’s the ‘non-core promise’ factor, probably. Gonski, NDIS, Medicare, the ABC and the Old Age Pension they swore would be protected, are being trashed. The anxiety of the carers of the disabled, and everyone has a disabled relative, though gone for a while, is now sadistically restored. And the mistrust women, especially, feel for Abbott (he abandoned his pregnant bride-to-be and made her give up her newborn baby) will not now, ever, be allayed.

But there’s also, I think, a ‘cock-up’ factor in play as well. Murder has occurred on Manus, and two killers are still on Morrison’s paid staff. A sea-search for a crashed plane for six weeks has turned up nothing, not even a floating passport. Money that has been spent on this search could have saved Holden, and a quarter of a million livelihoods. Amid calls for ‘shared sacrifice’ we learn Sinodinos got a quarter of a million dollars for fifty hours work, and was promised twenty million more. Amid boasts that ‘the adults are now in charge’ and ‘leadership stability’ was now the go, the Liberals changed Premiers in Victoria, New South Wales and Northern Territory and sacked the Treasurer, a former leader, in Western Australia. Brandis has come out for bigotry (88 percent of Australians think this is crazy) and called climate science ‘medieval’. Bernardi has compared gay men with ‘beasts’ and Pyne wants to write colonial brutality out of our history.

And it’s hard to overturn that perception, of a sackful of struggling cats in a swift-flowing river. Bronwyn Bishop is already the most lunatic Speaker in our history. Julie Bishop, after Carr’s book, seems a cross-eyed, angry amateur. Hockey’s quest for a surplus seems more and more a tilt at windmills, or the unleashing of a loaded dog.

And so on. It’s not, though, easy to know what to do with all this politically. Manus is tricky. The surplus has eluded better Treasurers. The ‘direct action’ absurdity has been gazumped by Palmer…

What could be done is a ‘save ABC drama’ campaign, in a year when, though at its best, and selling as never before overseas, it is marked, nonetheless, for Hockey destruction. Roxburgh and Blanchett could address mass meetings, Micallef, Biggins, Amanda Bishop do a sketch on Youtube. A ‘save Medicare’ campaign, too, would have no enemies. Bill Hayden, Bob Hawke, even Gough could be part of it. On Anzac Day it should be noted that dead soldiers’ children are being dudded of their money, and traumatised veterans thieved of their disability pensions, probably, if Eric Abetz, the chittering droid, has his way.

There are things to do before the Budget sinks Hockey’s credibility and Abbott’s honesty, once and for all. Not least of these is to assert that Labor continues to be ahead in all the polls, unchangingly, and the Rudd numbers have come storming back.

And the Coalition is in ‘leadership turmoil’ and fighting, as always, like cats in a sack.

Quiz Time (67)

What is the connection between Melvin Douglas, who in the Gore Vidal drama The Best Man played a presidential candidate, and Richard Nixon?

So Let It Be Written, So Let It Be Done

It is likely O’Farrell was brought down by a plot, and the letter forged. Chikarovski said as much on Q&A last night: he would not have handwritten such a letter and then forgotten it, she said, nor forcefully sworn that he had not received, nor drunk, the wine.

Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, Watson, must be the truth. O’Farrell repeatedly offended Hockey and Abbott (over Gonski, NDIS, gay marriage and selling state assets) and so was brought down; discuss.

What happened, probably, was something like this. O’Farrell made a routine call thanking Di Girolamo, his fundraiser, three days after the election win. Di Girolamo, meanwhile, that morning had sent off the wine. It was received, by persons unknown, at the wrong address, or at the right address and mislaid, by arrangement or by accident.

Three years later, cause had grown in the minds of some Rightist Liberals to remove O’Farrell and put in someone more compliant. The wine sent, and not received, was or was not an honest mistake, and it came up before ICAC, damagingly. And it seemed on Wednesday O’Farrell was likely to survive it. So on the Wednesday night the letter was forged, and, on Friday, by the harried, embittered and fearful Di Girolamo delivered.

The clue lies in the underlining of the word ‘all’. No sitting Premier would thus hint at wrongdoing on a government letterhead. ‘All your help’, with the ‘all’ underline is a nudge-nudge-wink-wink, unmistakeable in its implication, of wrongdoing co-conspired and covered up. It resembles closely, in the sum of its parts, the forged Kennett letter that in 1996 cost Keating six or seven seats and Beazley, thereafter and therefore, government in 1998. No Premier would suggest a lie in writing, he just wouldn’t, then or now.

And a further clue lies in the timing of the party meeting, due at that point to occur today. If it had occurred today, the Premier, Barry O’Farrell, after photo-ops with the the Royals on Manly Beach and appreciative obituaries by family and friends in the Sunday papers, would have been asked by some of his Ministers (Smith, Souros, Page) to stay on, and would have done so, after polls that showed the public wanted him to. And so the meeting was brought forward, and O’Farrell’s frantic tactic — resign now, and be applauded back into office on Tuesday morning — stymied. Instead, they acclaimed him as an honest man, and threw him out with the garbage.

It may have been, it well may have been, that O’Farrell planned, in the five days he had before he was obliged to resign officially, to suss out this probable forgery, and threaten Abbott with it, and with Abbott’s known record for this sort of thing, and survive that way. But once the early meeting was called, there was no time, and he was knackered eftsoons, within thirty hours of the letter appearing.

And now a lot of ‘unsuitable’ Ministers — Smith, Souros, O’Farrell — are to be sacked, and an Abbottite sell-off-the-farm gang installed by this ‘bloodless’ coup in their stead by a no-abortion, no-gay marriage, ex-trainee-priest like Abbott. What a coincidence.

I ask ICAC to get an expert to look at the handwriting and see if it is, indeed, O’Farrell’s.

And we will see what we shall see.

Classic Ellis: Anzac Day, 2010

It was lost on the night of bombardment before the first landing, lost in the first hour on the beach, lost on each of the two hundred and forty-five days that followed, lost in the planning at Whitehall, lost in the choice of the deranged Ian Hamilton, lost in the luck of getting the genius Ataturk as our principal foe.

It was the largest amphibious operation in world history then and we lost it early and often and five thousand of us were killed there and ten thousand crippled and twenty thousand sent half-mad with what they saw and survived. Dick Casey, Bert Facey, Clem Attlee, Compton McKenzie, Leon Gellert came home from it and God knows how many young men of equal worth like Rupert Brooke stayed on to moulder in shallow graves and be eaten by dogs and fill the dreams of the girlfriends and sisters and mothers they never came home to, sneaking out in the boats at night in gently falling snow with their mates on Christmas Eve.

It was a bloody debacle and a murderous waste and its failure meant the First World War killed twenty million more young men to no good end and World War 2 came then as a consequence. And I and my father and thirty million subsequent Australians were told it was a kind of triumph.

In a spin exercise as enormous as the one that followed the Crucifixion we were told it was Australia’s ‘coming of age’, the ‘finest sons’ of a ‘new young nation’ proving what we could do - die pointlessly in Churchill’s incompetent conception of a knock-out blow, a back door to victory.

And many of us believed it, the audacious, denialist spin that a battle ill lost from which no good came was worth being in because it ‘tested our mettle’ and ‘showed what game young men can do’.

Paul Keating, launching Graham Freudenberg’s Churchill and Australia said Australia didn’t have to prove anything. It already had the highest standard of living in the world, along with female suffrage, pensions, exemplary health care, a literate working class, good writers, athletes, musicians, painters, cartoonists. What was there to prove? That we could perish bravely in war, that great game of drongos?

‘I have never gone to Gallipoli,’ Keating said, ‘and I never will. Kokoda is more my speed. There we fought, and won, a long battle that made a difference to our nation’s future. That saved us from something, as Gallipoli never did.’

I have often thought since then that Australia’s Picasso, Gershwin, Hemingway, Eliot, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jack Dempsey, Nye Bevan, Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Charles Chaplin, died on Gallipoli probably, or came home too limbless and smashed of soul to attempt the careers they might have had. Twenty or thirty thousand of their sons and daughters were never born. Two or three thousand of the girls that waited for them only to read their names on a post office wall, never themselves had children, or grandchildren, a hundred thousand of whom might be retiring now after useful, talented, civic lives.

And yet we are asked to celebrate this now, to ‘honour’ a ‘sacrifice’ that ‘had to be made’. It was a battle that should never have been planned and should never have been fought. It gave Turkey a nation-founding hero and us a century of bloodstained hypocrisy, ending hopefully soon.

Death should never be celebrated. It is too big a defeat. It is celebrated by men like Howard and Rudd and Bush and Blair and Bin Laden who do not believe in death and think it only a moment before the story continues, among angel choirs on green meadows with lions and lambs at play together. It is celebrated by pious dimwits, not men and women of intellect; not any more.

Some realism, to be sure, now attends Anzac Day as it didn’t when I was young. It is more a song of mourning now than a hymn of praise. But we would do as well to celebrate with marches and brass bands and bugles and flags the Myall Creek Massacre or the Granville Train Disaster or the Newcastle Earthquake or the Port Arthur Slaughter (on Anzac Day), or Black Saturday, or Ash Wednesday, as we do this holocaust of blood where more men died than at Hiroshima and Nagasaki put together, on both sides, in their youth, in the first of their strength, forever. And are not looking down on us now.

Spin has come a long way since then. We believe almost anything now. That Afghans will want to go back to the valleys where their brothers and fathers were killed, now the ‘situation has improved’. That Sri Lankans yearn to be home among ethnic cleansing. That men and women as brave as boat people are will not be good citizens and should be sent home, like my friends the Bakhtiyaris, to die at the hands of their enemies or join their cause as suicide bombers.

That it’s worth bombing a village to save its women from cruel marriages. That the drug-running Karzai brothers are worth dying for. That it’s worth immolating a country for any cause. That sending young men to gaol is a useful thing to do. That the Catholic Church’s good points outweigh its pederasty. That Christ rose from the dead and hears our every whispered prayer and is interceding for us, every one of us, in a heavenly court right now. That chasing stolen cars does more good than harm. That Sol Trujillo was worth the money we paid him.

Spin lives, and it continues. In our Anzac Day Last Post it lives and marches on.

And gathers more and more good people into its great implacable cause, pointless death and needless suffering.


Classic Ellis: Neville Wran, 1984

(From Goodbye Jerusalem, 1997)

…..Nifty I had known in a different way. When Rosemary Foot had asked in the Legislative Assembly was it true that Neville Wran’s close friend Bob Ellis had got a ten-screenplay contract, the first ever, with the New South Wales Film Corporation, Nifty rose and said, ‘It is true I have met Bob Ellis from time to time. For anyone resident in Sydney this experience is almost unavoidable. But I would not rank him as one of my close friends; and he, I think, with equal pride, would not rank me as one of his.’ Nevertheless we connected, and, drinking late, were often the last to leave State functions. I remember once grabbing him by the back of the neck, and grabbing Bob Caswell, the writer of Scales of Justice, about State government corruption, also by the back of the neck, and bidding them now talk, you bastards. You can’t do that sort of thing in guided democracies, I expect; I’m a little surprised I did it here.

Nifty saved my bacon once when John Howard as Treasurer changed the rules of film investment and all the money we had for Goodbye Paradise evaporated. I sent him a telegram and it was witty enough, calling on our legendary old friendship, and he walked down Macquarie Street and wrote a cheque, and so the film was made.

And so it was that Paul Riomfalvy of the NSWFC called me, as was his custom, for whiskies at 7 a.m. and over his large panatella proposed in his mild Hungarian shriek that I and Jill Wran and Graeme Murphy of the Sydney Dance Company plan an evening at the Wharf in celebration of Nifty’s ten years in power.

We did this and it was a good night of some vulgarity. Drew Forsythe sang The State is in the very best of hands with new words by me. A swag of young ministers, Brereton, Debus, Cavalier, Walker and Sheahan, did a song number and Bob Carr, famously, failed to tap-dance adequately for his leader. The final item (Riomfalvy’s idea) was a speech by me from the forestage and it went down well. And I stayed long after.

‘There are two kinds of people in the world,’ Nifty said in his speech in reply, ‘those that were born in Balmain, and those that wish they had been,’ and his fear of what Australia was soon to become, a Jaruzelski Lilliput with a bug in every phone and a walloper on every doorstep saying maybe we can come to some arrangement and Rodney Cavalier’s lovingly fondled quotes from P. G. Wodehouse, and Neville Cardus, and Nifty kissing me and saying he owed me, and so on. The champagne flowed and the talk abounded, there were lights on the dark water and the ships passed and it all felt like some Scott Fitzgerald occasion in a far-off bright and darkening time of hope. It seems a long time ago.


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

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

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

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

‘I used to be an actor, you know,’ he said. ‘I left Law School and became a professional actor. I starred in a radio soap called The Martins of Markham Street or some bloody thing and I did very well, made a bit of money.

‘And one night I turned up at Her Majesty’s Theatre, opening night, tuxedo on, sumptuous blonde on me arm, furs all over her, cleavage down to here, and the doorman grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me round, and it was me father.

‘ “Listen,” he said, “get back to Law School.” ‘

‘I did too. Silliest thing I’ve done in me life.’

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

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

The Film That Dare Not Speak Its Name

I chanced upon a fine Australian film last night. It was the best film about cricket since the Rattigan-Asquith fifties classic (co-starring Miller, Lindwall, Hutton, Compton, Robert Morley, Jack Warner), The Final Test, and the best film about cricket, maybe, ever.

It was called, unfortunately, Save Your Legs!, and my hands are covering my face as I reveal this. The title achieved the unlikelihood of putting me and perhaps two million Australians off it, and this is a pity. It might not have mattered in India, where it is mostly set, but it mattered here. Why not Padding Up? Why not Teddy’s Eleven? Why not Beating Bollywood? Why did not the scenarist, Brendan Cowell, an actor and writer of massive gifts and an erstwhile friend of mine, not call me? Why not Bombay Blues?

It’s a gang show like Don’s Party, Sunday Too Far Away, Stir, The Club, The Odd Angry Shot, The Oyster Farmer, The Sapphires and The Moodys and it celebrates, like most of them, the Australian tendency to miserable failure, hangover, chundering on one’s in-laws, self-loathing, denial, and not growing up till one’s mid-forties, if then. But it does it better than most of them. It is a perfect film. Let me explain.

Never before have we seen on film the sense of how, in montage, a game is going, so swiftly, brutally, balletically edited. Never before have we got so clearly the…triumphant desolation of a team of the second rank, back in training. These are guys who have given up, thus far, 650 Saturdays to a gallant pursuit which has not, thus far, rewarded them in a way that in boyhood they dreamed it would. We see the cheery, thumbs-up, group-hug enthusiasm, hear the war-cries, but observe the eyes going dead behind the goofy smiles.

When is the time to let go, and grow up, that is the question. A fine film, Lifeguard (called Time and Tide in Australia) asked this question, equally well, thirty years ago, and a great play, Henry IV, Part 2, four hundred years ago. It obsessed in his plays my friend Alex Buzo, a Sunday cricketer, also. I played in his team alongside Mel Gibson, Ron Haddrick, Barry Oakley, Stewart Granger, Roger Milliss, David Hill, but I would not, would not, would not, go to Tuesday training. I lacked his religious fervour, which kept him cursing his underlings on Tuesdays till he was fifty-five.

Derived from what is now called ‘true events’ (the director, Boyd Hicklin, made both doco and movie), the tour of the Abbotsford Anglers in 2001), it draws on the fish-out-of-water genre that from Dad And Dave Come To Town to Wake In Fright to Bazza to Crocodile Dundee has served Australia well, and with much ribald foolishness pits against the lads a leering, priapic Bollywood idol Darshan Jarivala (Sanjeet Thambuswarry) who lusts, too, after Anjali, their Indian-Australian sponsor’s Rai’s daughter (Pallavi Shardi), wellbeloved but untouched by the meek, shamed and sorrowing Teddy Brown (Stephen Curry) who has not, though sobbing with rage, prevented the lads from whoring, shopping, taking drugs and immolating their innards in livid, rebarbative curries, and, worse, MISSING TRAINING.

He is in grief too because Rick, his boundary-smashing, tearaway all-rounder (reminiscent of Keith Miller, played with sarcastic verve by Brendan Cowell, the auteur) is proposing to quit and ‘grow up’, and his brilliant opener Stavros (Damon Gameau) is moving with his pregnant wife to the Caribbean, and, worse, evicting Teddy from his garage. Teddy is 35 and and wants to validate his life. He has stolen Tendulkar’s genital-shielding ‘box’ and keeps it as a talisman until, in a weeping rage, he throws it into the Ganges and, in jealous fury, makes a younger batsman, who could have saved the crucial game, come in at number eleven. And so on. Curry’s performance, tender and pained, is as good as Blundell or Kennedy or Keaton might have made it, and world class.

The editing is majestically good, the camerawork, the costume design. Called Padding Up, or Batting On, or Bollocking Bombay, it would have made (in India, the UK, the Caribbean) fifty million dollars. But no, no, no, it premiered at the (gulp) Melbourne Film Festival, the snootiest such foregathering on the planet, when it should, like Red Dog and The Dish, have opened in a country town and stayed there exclusively for a fortnight, and played one session a week, in Sydney and Melbourne, till it picked up speed. Or opened in Mumbai, packed them out for a year there, then came here.

It was nearly a great lost Oz classic, like Wake In Fright was for a while, and Bazza Pulls It Off, or The Sentimental Bloke, but here it is, on Foxtel, to be savoured.

I urge the producers to re-release it, under a new name, in Broken Hill or Mount Isa, then play it once a week in the Randwick Ritz and the Parramatta Riverside, until it finds, at last, its legs.

Then count their money.

Useful New Words (3)


It means giving the jobs young people used to do to machines, and multiplying thereby the unearned millions of ‘shareholders’. The Harbour Bridge tolls machines collect now. The parking station fees. The parts of cars machines build now. The ATMs that each do the work that once kept fifteen breadwinners employed for a lifetime.

The purpose of capitalism is the restoration of slavery and robotization is the first stage. The second is the export of all jobs to the Third World. The third is the transformation of all Australians to waiters, paid only by tips, half of which go to the owner.


Useful New Words (2)


Self-explanatory. Think Pyne, Costello, Palin, Putin, Rudd, Van Onselen, Blair.

Useful New Words (1)


Self-explanatory. Think Abetz, Corman, Campbell Newman, Bronwyn Bishop, Jeff Kennett.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (99)

There will be a few more film and theatre reviews, and a Classic Ellis or so, before Ellis Gold kicks in — on May Day, I am informed by my sons — and those who wish to imbibe and savour these lavish offerings — long essays on Shakespeare, Australian theatre, Russian cinema, Churchill, the Kennedys, Disney, Bergman, Luhrmann, Polanski, Woody, The Simpsons, old age, death, the age of the Pill, the decline of the swallowed blow-job after 1962, the monthly Primates poem, the occasional work of long fiction or personal verse — must pay a dollar a week, or fifty dollars a year, or half that if they are pensioners, to enjoy, disdain or respond to them.

The up-to-the-minute political stuff can still be experienced free, of course, and the occasional articles by contributors (allthumbs, Quixote, Canguro, Dali, Hugh Weiss, Laurel McGowan, Helvi, Drew Forsythe come to mind), but the initial honeymoon era is over, alas, and the passionate fan base, if one exists, must now gird its loins (alas) and pay up big at least for a while — if a dollar a week is paying up big — for essays, reviews, remembrance, obituary remorse, and verse of quality.

Quiz Time (66)

What male film star most resembled, physically, Geoff Gallop? Jim Cairns? Gough Whitlam? Bob Hawke? Paul Keating? John Howard? Kim Beazley? Peter Garrett? Campbell Newman? Bob Carr? Peter Debnam? Steve Bracks?

In Twenty-Three Words

Abbott has met me twelve times and dined with me thrice but he has never met Nick Di Girolamo, his principal fundraiser. Discuss.

Quiz Time (65)

Which film do the experts acknowledge ‘kick-started’ the revived Australian film industry twenty years after Menzies effectively abolished it, in the early 50s? Which two great iconic male film stars were in it, one old, one young, at, respectively, the end of, and the beginning of, their film careers?