Romanians of my acquaintance once told me that the final straw with Nicolae Ceausescu came with his sixty-first birthday. Why sixty-first I asked? Well, they said, his sixtieth birthday had been the occasion for three weeks of national celebrations, with compulsory parades by every school, even when children were fainting from hunger, and an outpouring of official poems (“Ceausescu you are the granite mountaintop from which we see the sun of socialism rise in the morning of the future” is my favourite — it actually sounds worse in Romanian) from the sort of people who if they were Australian, would have three year Oz Council fellowships and be signing petitions in support of Bill Henson without reading them.
That was tough to get through, but sixty is a milestone people thought. Maybe it’s a one-off. When a year later it was announced that there would be four weeks of birthday celebrations. The prospect that within a decade, the celebrations would be back to back lasting the entire year, put the first wheels of the 1989 revolution in motion.
The closest Australia has come to a Ceausescu moment was the News Ltd celebration of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch’s centenary. Desperate hacks, thinking of their mortgage, the future of their industry, etc etc, discovered in a moment that, had they been tested in eastern European, no Solzhenitsyns would they be — they’d be the frightened timeservers pumping out “Rupert you are the bronzed coit from which the sun etc etc”.
Dame Elisabeth was feted at about the same time as one of her son’s too clever clever tax schemes had left the old lady with an eight figure tax bill, but what the hey. She was a philanthropist, a stalwart, a blahdiblah…
It’s fair to say that the Bolts, Akermans, Mitchells etc won’t be turning their guns on the unquestionably formidable Dame E for her latest venture — a global group called ‘Influential Women for Climate Change Action’, a group that notes in a letter to Michelle Obama, ‘the world is facing a “global emergency”.
“… the group will be a “campaign to enlist influential women in Australia and around the world to take the lead in protecting and nurturing Mother Nature by encouraging people to reduce their emissions”.
“Having seen many challenges in my 100 years, I believe it is time to add my voice to what could be termed ‘a call to arms’, a call for people around the world to act now to reduce our impacts on the planet,” Dame Elisabeth writes.
Wow. Mother Nature? Influential women? A week ago the Bolter was taking the piss out of Cate Blanchett for flying to Copenhagen to tell business leaders to go green. If Blanchett isn’t a potential charter member of IWFCC, who is? Will any of the professional paranoiacs and shambling burnouts who constitute News Ltd’s commentariat have the courage to denounce the Murdoch matriarch as a pagan deep green earth worshipper?
Of course not. If they weren’t cowards they would have quit when Rupert announced that he would ‘insert’ a green message into News Ltd stories (the above record of Dame E’s doings is from a news report in the Oz). What sort of self-respecting person allows themselves to be “editor” of a paper in which green messages are going to be “inserted”?
News Ltd’s moronic cc-sceptic inner core have managed to maintain themselves as the last bastion, as one by one Rupe’s global titles have fallen prey to their master’s sudden conversion to the climate change message, at the hands of his kids. Now that his mum’s on board, it’s all over. A boy listens to his mother.
I think honest cc-sceptic material should continue to be published — as long as you can find one who isn’t either a lunatic ex-Maoist or deeply corrupt — and I agree with Bolt et al that the spectacle of rich people jetting round the world to urge people to consume less is absurd. The green movement has to ditch these people and get interested in a global solution that takes account of the legitimate desire of China and India, etc, for development and western parity — otherwise it’s a late white-skin imperial indulgence, and not worth a locally grown fig.
But News Ltd Australia has done enormous damage to clear thinking about climate and the environment, and they really need nobbing off.
So if you’re out there Dame Elisabeth and reading this, can I humbly suggest that your greatest contribution to this ‘global emergency’ would be to announce that unless your son sacks Chris Mitchell, Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt and Christopher Pearson, you will give a full and wide ranging set of interviews about his toilet training, including the release of family snapshots of him not wearing pants?
No other intervention would be necessary. Dame Elisabeth you will be the granite mountaintop of common sense on which the sun of common sense rises in the dawn of the future….
Repeat until retirement.
So farewell then McGills. Your correspondent had no sooner hit Southern Cross station — Melbourne’s one great architectural triumph of the last 20 years, and something which puts the Kennett era’s third-rate foxed-up boxes to shame — than came the news that Melbourne’s best newsagent was closing down. Today in fact.
For any pre-internet news junkie this is a sad sad day. McGills on Elizabeth and Bourke was the place you went to get not only every international magazine – from the New York Review of Books to New Zealand Kickboxer — but to grab interstate papers the day they came out. Midday at McGills, pimply kids from media monitors, bug banks and the rest would rock up in a taxi and leave with an armful of newsprint from the SMH to the Geraldton Whatever.
You could even get — gasp — foreign newspapers for a small ransom. Five day old issues of the NY Times and the Guardian, to see what the world was saying without the mediation of the Oz papers’ foreign editors (“skip Pakistan and India at war, go with two Aussies bitten by donkey in Peru”).
Nothing illustrates the profound revolution our lives lie across than that that vision is now as archaic as some old-timer muttering to his young staff about the days of vacuum tubes and the Stone. McGills was gone as soon as we went from profound scarcity — the rest of the world drip-fed one delayed paper at a time – to an abundance that has turned us all into information diabetics, our cognitive pancreases groaning and spluttering in a vain attempt to filter out and dispose of the endless flow of news, neaws (near-news) and noze (non-news) that comes our way.
I won’t miss the paying nine dollars for a copy of the Guardian, to see what is being said in the metropolis — but I will miss leaving McG’s with a pile of mags from Private Eye to Harpers and right on through that would keep you going for a week. The old place was a sad shell yesterday, its stock run down, its bare shelves staring out, its soon-to-be-redundant staff preoccupied with the their suddenly precarious future. After I went for a copy at the GPO, which has gone too.
Your correspondent enjoys a hatchet-job as much as the next man, but there are times when the hatchet arm can be thrown back so far that the first casualty becomes the attacker’s own ear. In this week’s Australian Literary Review Louis Nowra does a three page job on Bob Ellis’s rambling, baggy annual chronicle, “And So It Went”. Nowra begins with a thousand word demolition of Ellis’s script-writing career, before getting to the book at hand, which he finds pompous, prolix, repetitive unstructured and almost psychotically boastful.
Which is of course the point. Reviewers are entitled to a degree of subjective preference, but to find yourself shocked that Ellis is a conceited fabulist is like slating Shakespeare for making Falstaff less than fully serious. The authorial character of Ellis’s works is obviously a bumbling, self-deprecating delusionist, a man forever at the margins of things happening, seeing great things, being part of none of them. To not get this you either have to be cloddishly thick — which Nowra ain’t — or wilfully missing it.
So why the Nowrian animus towards Ellis? The answer comes in a discussion of David Hicks whom Ellis — and a fair section of Oz — viewed as deserted and betrayed by his own government (when Les Murray drafted the doomed preamble to the Constitution he put in a line about ‘I will be loyal to Australia and I expect Australia to be loyal to me’. Guess which half of that sentence never made it to the final draft?). Nowra regards Hicks as a “scumbag” who implicitly deserved what he got – a feature of what theatre professionals will wearily tell you is another one of Louis’s self-reinventions, this time as Western cultural warrior, jumping on the wait-listed bandwagon to denounce “tribalist” aboriginal policy, Western weakness etc etc.
Like US cultural warriors Nowra came to the intoxicating addiction of neo-conservatism after being failed by an old addiction — chronic alcoholism which nearly killed him with pancreatitis (recounted in his flat-footed and boring memoir, The Twelfth of Never). When ethyl alcohol has failed, nothing gets the blood up like a five minute hate and Ellis’s sprawling mix of sentiment, political radicalism, cultural conservatism and the rest.
Bizarrely, Nowra’s recent non-fiction efforts appear to recapitulate the swirling paranoia of one of his best plays Albert Names Edward, in which language, identity and power frustrate any possibility that the characters can achieve a stable perspective on the world. Nowra hasn’t written anything worth a fig since those first half-dozen plays in the 70s, when the gin took over (staff tip for those writers who use booze as fuel – when you start rather than finish with spirits you officially have a problem). Ellis gets better and better. No wonder Nowra’s pissed. And he can’t even get pissed.
Here’s your hatchet Louis. We’ll keep the ears.