We’re all familiar with the role of the Daily Telegraph (and its interstate tabloid equivalents) as power-brokers creating regime change in Australia.
And so, on the day after Senator Cory Berndardi makes headlines for ‘defecting from’ (leaving) the Liberal Party to found his own, all-new ultra-conservative party, you wouldn’t be the only one to find the timing and nature of the following news story suspicious:
Yowies are being re-introduced to the market in Australia. This is real news. Hard news. For, surely, most of us didn’t even realise Yowies had ever been off the market. Where was Tim the Yowie Man when yowies needed their profile raised?!
One of the quirky news stories that came up in the Twitter feeds throughout the day was Cory’s insistence on handing out Easter eggs to the press corps last year.
You know what this means, don’t you: nationalism, bread and circuses – this is the first phase of bread and circuses from Bernardi’s yet-to-be-formed new party. Heck, at this stage, I wouldn’t even be surprised if it were the ‘Wowie Wow Zowie Yowie Party’.
Did you know that NSW has an official “graffiti removal day”?
Well it does. And it’s today.
That’s the message the Premier, the Hon Michael Bruce Baird, MP posted to accompany a photographic portrait of himself standing next to a satirical painted portrait of him as ‘Casino Mike’.
It came to my attention via Christopher Moriarty, who’s Facebook page is one of the handful you need to stay atop what’s going on in the world at any time.
Did you know that NSW has an official "Premier removal day"?
Well, it does. And it's the next election.
I couldn’t help but point out that, come next state election, I’d be voting for Christopher Moriarty. Just saying.
I also feel I should add, for the edification of the Premiere and for anyone else: the painting is definitely [street] art rather than graffiti. The difference is the care taken with the artwork, the fact that it's making a statement, offering social commentary that speaks of the milieu (temporal, political, social) in which it was created, rather than merely the ego of the artist. But, you know, removing it, ‘disappearing’ the artist etc also speaks volumes.
By now, lots of people are passing judgement (thanks Katie and Simeon for pointing this out) and of course überblog Junkee has written it up, the site going on to note some of the cleverer comments such as ‘will you replace it with a mural of apartments?’
The most important points to be made at this point are these: the brilliant artist is Scott Marsh; and if the Premier could have just handled the political commentary, spectacular and larger than life though it is, he would have likewise been ‘embiggened’ by it.
Unfortunately, this supposedly ‘humorous’, light-hearted approach to creative political commentary has backfired – as the contributions under the picture on the Premier’s Facebook page attest.
One of my several buddies who’s a comic, bemoans the collective reaction to the Premier’s post.
“Mike Baird takes playful, ironic dig at himself on social media. Irony zooms miles overhead of the usual suspects and Facebook goes into meltdown,” he says. “Bloody hell Sydney, you deserve everything you get.”
Look, I’d like to agree, or feel guilty that I’ve over-reacted, or go easy on that good bloke the Premier (after all, I’ve seen him dressed as a civilian, chowing down on the best restaurant-bought pizza you’ll ever have, at Mimmo’s Pizzeria in Brookvale). And maybe I could. The day after NSW Graffiti Removal Day, if it turns out the mural’s still up then we clearly over-reacted at playful ironic self reflective Premier with a sense of humour. If, however, it's gone the way of live music venues, century-old houses and trees, affordable public transport etc, then I stand by my disdain and that of every detractor.
Only, it seems the mural was painted over; “months ago,” according to one Facebook commentator, “reportedly… one hour after Mr Baird finished the Facebook post,” according to an ABC report.
So as far as interacting humorously with the media, the Premier, that supreme wag, isn’t quite as much of a cool dude as, say, former PM Sir John Gorton, who in 1975 told journos trying to doorstop him that he couldn’t stop to talk, he had to “get home to watch Countdown!”
Not very Gorton at all, our Casino Mike. In fact, if he were to be compared to a former PM, some may go as far as to consider his manner less swimmingly, and his behaviour, more ‘bottom-of-the-harbour’, than Harold Holt.
When, as an undergraduate enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Sydney, I was told – or perhaps it was written in a handbook or on a noticeboard – to sign up for Philosophy subjects under the jacaranda tree, it sounded very quaint and ‘fairies at the bottom of the garden’ English.
Until I realised the entrance to the faculty offices were in the part of the Main Quadrangle behind the jacaranda tree, and the relevant notice boards were around the entrance.
I was to discover just how much of a role the jacaranda played in campus life, as much a part of the quadrangle as the tables laden with jugs of juice and platters of pastry (provided as post-graduation refreshments back in the day when budgets allowed such lavish morning and afternoon teas); Christians dry rooting on the lawn in front of the clock tower; and random students inviting you to bible studies.
I remember signing up for SUDS (Sydney University Dramatic Society) auditions under the jacaranda, and reclining on a lawn garlanded with the tree’s petals during marathon O-Week debates featuring PUIs (pronounced ‘poo-ease’, and standing for ‘prominent university identities’) who have gone on to careers in politics, media and, occasionally, international celebrity.
It was said that students who hadn’t started studying by the time the jacaranda began to bloom would fail. I was oblivious to this element of folklore – probably because my own experience had proven that students who didn’t take Sudafed had a harder time pulling all-nighters to cram or complete essays.
But don’t mistake this for evidence of nostalgia for my varsity days – my most fondly recalled days were after the degree, editing publications for the Student Representative Council and then being employed by the University of Sydney Union.
I am saddened by the passing. Not of those days, or of campus life, which, back in the 1990s, seemed only a pale imitation of previous decades as depicted in various collected memoirs of past students (but shine more vibrantly than the ensuing decades til now). Rather, I am saddened to hear that the landmark jacaranda tree, around and under and behind which students gathered to fulfill a myriad of agendas, collapsed on Friday 28 October. it had ‘thrived’ in the Main Quadrangle since 1928, apparently planted by Professor E.G. Waterhouse, McCaughey associate professor of German and comparative literature, in preparation for a visit by the Duke and Duchess of York.
After 88 years its passing is sadder than that of free education, compulsory student unionism and legendary halcyon days of 50-cent cappuccinos and 20-cent donuts. (Did such days exist? Oft-promised by many a candidate in the lead-up to student elections, I can remember no occasion of the 20-cent donut discount taking place in the same week as a 50-cent cappuccino discount, during four years of my three-year degree, or the subsequent two-and-a-half years of forgetting to leave the campus and editing publications for my supper…)
However, I’m not shedding a tear. To everything there is a season, turn, turn, turn, etc.
The jacaranda’s imminent passing was announced in 2014 – it was nearing the natural end of its long life. Cuttings were taken by a specialist jacaranda grower, two clones produced, and thus, the university reports, the now defunct jacaranda will be replaced with genetically identical stock.
Future PUIs – the offspring of PUIs past who progressed beyond dry-rooting on the lawn – will go on to marathon debate, dry root, audition for SUDS productions and register for courses and subjects on or around the jacaranda in the future, just as they have always.
I find myself part owner of a book shop – Desire Books & Records, in Manly. How I came to own a fifth of it is a blog post for another time (I know I say that a lot, but it’s too long a story to tell now, especially as a preamble for the quick post I want to write right now).
The other day, I was behind the counter when an older gentleman came in. He was in boardies and t-shirt, and though getting on a bit, was built like the proverbial brick shithouse. Like he’d been surfing since surfing was first introduced to Australia by Duke Kahanamoku (or not, as it turns out).
However, I was taken aback by his choice of purchase – a paperback biography of the poet W. H. Auden. (I’d love to be able to tell you who the biographer was, but I didn’t pay enough attention; I was only clever enough to put it towards the end of the a’s in the poetry section, figuring someone looking for Auden’s work might also be interested in his life.)
If you’re not familiar with the work of Wystan Hugh Auden, I say you’re mistaken. You’ve most likely been exposed to one of his poems; it’s read out at the funeral in Four Weddings and a Funeral, the so-called ‘Funeral Blues’ (AKA ‘Stop All the Clocks’):
If you studied him at school, particularly a generatation-and-a-half ago as I did, you would have analysed ‘Lay Your Sleeping Head My Love’, but have been told repeatedly that the fact Auden was homosexual and the love addressed would have been a same-sex partner, was not at all relevant. And then when you got to university, a lecturer would have insisted that of course the poem has a greater imperative, given it deals with ‘the love that dares not speak its name’. Even less mature school kids, nowadays, are generally much more chilled than adults a generation-and-a-half ago – even the adults whose professional duty it was to broaden the educational horizons of the children in their care.
And of course, if you did study him, you probably had a copy of a Faber & Faber anthology, the one adorned with a headshot of the poet quite late in life, where his face was so wrinkled that were you trace every contour with the tip of a fine marker, you could stretch out his skin and come up with a map of the greater London area – or something quite like it.
None of this is, strictly speaking, relevant.
However, being a chatty, interested seller, I of course couldn’t just sell the book, I had to do some ‘interesting chat’.
“Ah, Auden,” I said. “I remember studying him in high school. I can still remember my favourite poem of his, ‘The More Loving One’. It’s about unrequited love.”
I left a polite pause, in which the customer could have directed the conversation away from me; handed over cash, taken change and scarpered. Instead, he looked interested and made an ‘okay, go on’ kind of sound. So I began quoting from memory – not verbatim, because I haven’t looked at it for some 25 years, but as accurately as I could remember it:
Looking up at the stars, I know full well That for all they care I could go to hell. If equal affection cannot be, Let the more loving one be one be me.
Again, I left a little pause to give him time to close the transaction, or at least give me a ‘look’, to let me know that I should. Still nothing, so I continued.
Lover as I think I am Of stars that could not give a damn, I cannot, now I see one, say I missed one terribly all day.
This time my only pause was a dramatic one, the first of the few that rendered the final stanza a tour de force as I grew in stature and whatever the god or patron saint of hamming it up, possessed me…
Should all stars disappear or die I should learn to look upon an empty sky And feel its total dark sublime – Though this might take me a little time.
Although the look on the customer’s face never quite said, “you’re clearly a freak!” it was at this point that he did feel the need to explain, “I just wanted to read about him before I read his poems!” as he literally backed away, and then escaped from the shop.
To be honest, though, he did get off lightly: I only recited a poem. Depending on the audience – ie non-older, former surfy, built like the proverbial brick shithouse – I usually prefer to share a particular anecdote about Auden. It’s one I remember Stephen Fry telling, and, as with the poem, I quote it as I remember it, so I’m almost certain it’s not verbatim.
Apparently, the artist David Hockney, tasked with sketching the poet, looked upon Auden and said, “Christ! If that’s his face, imagine what his bollocks must look like!”
But I barely had time to tweet about it before the customer returned. “What was the name of that poem?” he asked. “I’m going to go to the library and find it!”
I discovered – via The Criterion Collection website, via filmmaker Juhyun Pak – that a university is offering a degree in David Lynch. Or David Lynch is teaching about his work. Or something. You get an MA in Film, learning from David Lynch. Possibly about his work. I think it’s a fair estimation he will offer extensive examples from his oeuvre.
I’d love to attend.
I’d hand in all my assignments wraaaaaaapped in plaaaaaaastic.
I’m not sure how all this ‘liking Facebook pages’ works. The other day I received an invitation to like Laminate Wood Flooring’s Facebook page. Laminate Wood Flooring is a carpet and flooring concern located in Cork, Ireland. (I wonder if they offer cork flooring options…)
Perhaps it’s an overhang from my time in furniture retail, when I discovered nobody really wants a table, and that nobody really ought to have a ‘kitchen dunny’ in their ‘office’. Maybe, while trying to find an interesting way to dress up a mahogany dresser for their internet feed, I googled upon the laminate flooring concern.
I do think I’ve encountered it previously; the profile pic of the lady in the frock with the gorgeous legs rang a bell.
The week began with news that Cilla Black had passed away at 72 years young. She'd had an awesome career, considering she was a singer delivering a series of charting hits throughout the 60s, hosted a chat show in the '70s and fronted a dating game show for almost two decades from the mid-'80s. I wasn't a massive fan, but knew a number of her songs that still stand as classics, as enduring and recognisable as her ranga bob and prominent choppers.
The first time I was aware of Cilla was when she appeared on The Don Lane Show, the long-running Australian tonight show hosted by the 'lanky yank' of the title. During her appearance, she happened to refer back to her previous visit downunder.
"You mean 'puffy'," Don corrected her, in his American accent.
"Yeah, 'poofy'," she repeated. "What's the difference?"
"Oh, believe me," Don explained, "there's a difference."
It was still the '70s, and Australia, so if making fun of people who speak differently or are in same-sex relationships was neither funny nor inoffensive, who could tell? (Or, more to the point, who would tell?)
In time I'd learn more about Cilla Black in passing: contemporary - and friend! - of the Beatles, who helped get her noticed by their manager Brian Epstein; real name Priscilla White, gaining the stage name she kept as a result of a gig booker muddling her name.
Some of her enduring hits include fine Burt Bacharach songs like Alfie and Anyone Who Had A Heart (or, as Peter Sellers delivers it in the sketch A Right Bird, Anyone 'Oo 'Ad An 'Art); Lennon/McCartney songs like Love of the Loved, It's For You, and Step Inside Love (the latter, the theme to her chat show, Cilla), and You're My World.
At its height, her dating show Blind Date rated around 17 million (if you were ever a fan of Ben Elton's stand-up, you'll recall the phrase 'strictly for the birds, Cilla; strictly for the birds…'; I can't remember the context).
And she maintained the respect of the next generation(s) of viewers doing a sterling job of hosting episodes of Never Mind the Buzzcocks: "Hullo and welcome to the Boozcocks…" (Thanks for the reminder, Cat!)
If I were a cartoonist, my tribute to Cilla would be a single panel with St Peter at the pearly gates, welcoming her with the words "step inside, love". Failing that, I figured I'd photoshop the same with some judiciously pilfered images.
However, in the process of locating suitable imagery, I cam a cross this lovely photo of Cilla hamming on the sofa as a guest of Jonathan Ross:
So I figured there might be a different 'tribute' to Cilla, a different song title:
You'll no doubt recognise the grim reaper from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. I think it's fitting, since my first glimpse of Cilla Black's Cilla was as a visual 'quote' in a season 4 episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. It's an episode of Cilla featuring Ringo Starr as a guest, so fittingly, the graphic brings Cilla, Python and Beatles back together (It's For You being one of the Lennon/McCartney songs she recorded).
However, my search revealed this gem: Cilla, when she was smoking hot!
Finding a suitable St Peter was more difficult than finding a God, and there's an awesome God in Monty Python and the Holy Grail - so again Cilla, Python and the Beatles come together:
Admittedly, the Old Man n the Sky comes across as a Dirty Old Man in the Sky, but… well, can you blame him?!
I apologise for my efforts failing to do justice to Cilla Black. The best tribute to her, of course, is the miniseries Cilla. Made in 2014, it's utterly brilliant, not only for the presence of Sheridan Smith in the title role - she's a knock-out and, apparently, supplied the vocals herself. That's the facsimile - imagine how amazing the real thing must have been in her own time.
On Friday 29 May, some football happened, as it frequently does, and I ignored it, as I usually do.
However, days later, media is still buzzing with a certain incident, reading all manner of threat and offense in it.
As I understand it, after consistent heckling from Carlton fans at an AFL game being played at the SCG, Adam Goodes kicked a goal and celebrated it with a dance.
As I say, football happens frequently to my utter indifference.
Even so, I'm not totally ignorant to the joyful celebratory activity of players overtaken with the elation of having scored points. Take the elaborate jersey-over-the-head antics of goal-kickers in the World Cup, say. To be honest, I'm not adverse to recreating the same in the front room when I score a goal against the kids in foosball…
Back to Adam Goodes.
Apparently, the game was an 'Indigenous Round'. I don't really understand the full ramifications of that title but I assume players are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background or ancestry, or at the very least, there is some link to those cultures that enable an otherwise broadly racist country/administration/sporting code/fanbase to feel it's doing its bit for race relations for another year.
It turns out, however, that Adam Goodes' little celebratory fancy-stepping is an alleged 'war-cry' dance. It was accompanied by some kind of 'hurling a spear' gesture. Although Adam later attributed it to an U16 team he's hung out with, the Flying Boomerangs, fact is, at the time, and in the days subsequent, the more Anglo aspects of Australian footy fanbase, admin, talkback radio and the population in general, appear to be losing it as a result.
There have been a range of often contradictory responses.
At half time:
“We’ve never seen that before and I don’t think we ever want to see it again to be perfectly honest, regardless of what it is.”
After the game:
"It’s quite aggressive, let’s be honest."
"Even if it made us feel a little bit uncomfortable in the first instance ... let’s not get too precious about the whole situation."
"Let’s discuss whether we want to have that type of celebration as an ongoing thing."
"I think we have to be careful on things where players are going to the crowd in any manner.”
"Personally, I don’t like to see demonstrative celebrations after a goal or anything else."
On Monday morning:
"Had we known before the game that Adam or the indigenous players were planning to do some sort of war cry, we could have been able to educate and understand the situation."
"This is a made-up dance, this is not something that has been going on for years."
What? Eddie McGuire contradict himself over controversy involving Adam Goodes? Really? That's never happened before. Except with the foolish girl fan called Goodes an ape, not realising the racist overtones of the term, and Eddie stepped in to smooth things over. And then cracked a 'King Kong' joke at Goodes' expense not very long after. Still. Rugger b*ggers, eh? Does anybody really expect them to think? I mean the ones employed to make important decisions and be media personalities and all that.
There have been other responses by other people. But they all seem to revolve around the threat posed by Adam Goodes' pretend spear.
Waleed Aly intelligently pointed out that, on occasion, footballers have given opposing fans 'the finger': "they might get a fine, but they don't get boo'd for it," he said. "The fact that this was some kind of cultural expression that people found confronting is the issue."
His take on the furor?
"Australia is generally a very tolerant society, until its minorities demonstrate that they don't know their place. The minute someone in a minority position acts as though they're not a mere supplicant then we lose our minds and say, 'no, no, you need to get back in your box'. And that's why Adam Goodes ruffles feathers - it's because he says, 'I'm going to express Aboriginality, and I'm going to do it at a time and a place in which the vanilla frontier of Australian society doesn't cope with it very well'."
Now, forgetting for a moment the expression of Aboriginality ruffling the feathers of the vanilla frontier, consider this:
Football is a ritualised recreation of tribal warfare. This team, the warriors of the tribe from this village, fight that team, the warriors of the tribe from the other village - and we can tell them apart by their distinctive battle colours - over the disputed, desired object. If it were a beauteous chick instead of a ball, and one team snuck into the other team's half, secreted in a giant wooden Brownlow Medal that appeared to be a gift from the gods, we'd have the classic Trojan War scenario. Indeed, if the losing team (or the winning team - academics still argue about it) was sacrificed at the end of the game, you'd have Ōllamaliztli - the ritualistic ball-game 'played' by various Mesoamerican cultures, often as a proxy for war itself.
But all of this, though not being irrelevant necessarily, is pointless to dwell upon. Spectators, commentators, the elements of the Australian population who took issue with Goodes' dance and gesture just don't want an outspoken indigenous Australian threatening them. With his pretend spear.
And this is where the nonsense lies.
Consider sporting events involving a New Zealand team. How do they begin? With a ritualised dance. The one known as the Haka.
A Haka is a war dance. No two ways about it. Traditionally, it was performed before battle. I've been told it's all about threatening to tear the enemy's heart out, and eat it.
Did you get that?
TEAR THE ENEMY'S HEART OUT. AND EAT IT.
It's okay, though. It's just pretend. The New Zealand team isn't really going to tear the other team's heart out and eat it. Not literally. It's just pretend.
This is my question:
Why is Adam Goodes' war dance and pretending to chuck a spear more threatening than a whole tribe doing a war dance and pretending to threaten to rip your heart out and eat it?
Well, clearly, it's because, as Waleed Aly says, we're uncomfortable with the Aborigine ruffling our feathers. The ritual of the Haka is now part of the performance, part of the game; we know it's harmless. New Zealand's white population reconciled with and acknowledges the history of its indigenous peoples. There is some kind of actual and more real harmony - it would appear - in the New Zealand culture, compared to Australian culture.
But forget the lesson we should learn from that.
Back to pretend spearing and pretend ripping out and eating the enemy's heart.
Surely the pretend spear is just as harmless as the Haka.
No, actually, the pretend spear is even less of a threat than the Haka.
Think about it.
Which would you rather face? A pretend spear being pretend chucked at you? Or a tribe of warriors pretend threatening to pretend rip out your heart and pretend eat it?
I mean, at least with the pretend spear, there's a chance it will pretend miss.
How long do you think you'd be able to pretend elude a pretend attack of a pretend band of pretend warriors pretend intent on pretend ripping out your heart and pretend eating it? There's a whole pretend bunch of them - at least pretend one of them's likely to pretend catch you and pretend proceed with pretend rippage and eatage...
I prefer my pretend chances with the pretend spear.
If only footy and furore, and whatever the latest human rights violations they're diverting attention from (decimation or total eradication of our health services; sale of prime farmland - the food bowl of Australia - to a Chines concern, for coal mining; human rights violations in detention centres; the Trans-Pacific Partnership…) were also just pretend.
Rest in Peace, Stuart Wagstaff - one of Australia's finest BLANKS.
There will be no shortage of tributes and obituaries for Stuart Wagstaff - an entertainer with a lifelong career on stage and screen. In addition to a series of cigarette ads I barely remember (tobacco advertising ended on Australian television in 1976 - replaced by intense ad campaigns for matches) Wagstaff was a regular panelist on the game show Blankety Blanks. Which was still enjoying repeats in the late 1980s. It also had a spin-off brand of lemonade. Featuring a who's who of Australian celebrities, it proved a popular DVD release.
Here are some random excerpts courtesy of Youtube:
(Here's the soft drink ad if you really need to see it.)
I was tickled pink by the news that the Grateful Dead were reconvening for their 50th Anniversary: July 3-5 at Soldier Field, Chicago.
Once I'd gotten my head around the staggering ticket prices - a three-day pass has been offered on StubHub for $116,000 (that's US dollars, I'm guessing) - a series of questions immediately sprung to mind:
Matt reckons he's selling the severed finger to raise money for said upcoming 50th Anniversary show.
"It pains me to part with this one-of-a-kind collectable," he writes, "but I believe Jerry would want me to see the last show."
Matt doesn't explain how he came to own Jerry Garcia's picked finger, preserved in brine solution and hermetically sealed "for long term storage".
Of course, this is the perfect marketing opportunity: individual vials with replica Jerry Berry Finger tabs, immersed in the specially prepared Electric Kool-Aid Acid available at the merch booth.
If they really wanted to, they could clone a whole new Jerry Berry from the DNA contained in the preserved digit.
At the very least, this concert should be recorded for posterity. Adorned with the image of Garcia's finger, it would be the perfect way in which to revive that series of live Grateful Dead recordings known as 'Dick's Picks'. Ladies and Gentlemen, Dead Heads, Acid Casualties, Mobility Scooter-bound Baby Boomers – may I present Dick's Picks Volume 37: