It was a stellar panel of Grumpy Old Sheilas at Glebe’s Toxteth Hotel last night, with a full complement of curmudgeons, including Wendy Bacon, Elizabeth Farrelly and Meredith Burgmann lining up to talk about what gets their goat.
The hardest part of the talk — which raised money for Tranby Aboriginal College — was deciding the order of speakers, as MC Kate Barton had decreed that they would talk in order of age, from oldest to youngest.
The first speaker, molecular biologist Marion Manton, said she thought one of the worst parts of aging was “sagging jowls and disappearing eyelashes, I used to be able to bat my eyelashes and now I can’t find them.”
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She also said that as a member of the infamous Sydney “Push”, she was naturally an atheist “but I don’t want to go into an atheist retirement home, I don’t think atheists would be able to manage them properly.”
Meredith Burgmann had the longest list of “grumps”, saying that the last time she had spoken on this topic, “I attacked Buddhists, large white square plates, bromeliads and something else which I’ve forgotten because I am a senior.”
This time, however, she was grumpy about Buddhists (still), Chaser-haters proteas and Pilates. “And of course, young people.” Burgmann, Former President of the NSW Upper House, said that at a recent demo she had told a young journalist that she wanted to get the CMFEU to institute a green ban on a proposed development. “And he said, ‘what’s a green ban?’ That’s why the young can never be trusted.”
Buddhism is irritating because it is the only acceptable religion for the inner-city leftist intelligentsia, she said. “Why is Buddhism acceptable when other wacky religions are not?” And as for Pilates: “If another middle-aged woman tells me to do Pilates I will strangle them, except I won’t succeed because of their very strong neck muscles.”
Journalist and academic Wendy Bacon said that she was also an atheist, but was returning to her Presbyterian roots because she was angrier about lies than she used to be, and had a feeling that people in public life were lying more easily. “Weapons of Mass Destruction was an astounding lie and we have never made anyone pay for that.”
Wendy also weighed into the infamous SWF/UTS imbroglio. In a nutshell, last year the UTS Journalism students, under the steely eye of Bacon, their journalism professor, were asked to write a daily newspaper for the Sydney Writers’ Festival. The problem was a cultural one — the students thought that they were Woodward and Bernstein and the SWF thought the paper was part of its marketing arm. The inevitable stand-off occurred, culminating in a huge fight between the festival and the university which ended in a flurry of legal letters.
Personally, I would not take on a woman who had paraded in a nun’s habit bearing the slogan “I have been f-cked by God’s steel prick”, but UTS saw it differently, and Bacon is still fuming.
“I’m very grumpy about the SWF. Last year the students from UTS wrote the SWF newspaper and it did not do the PR that SWF expected. This year they banned the newspaper, and I’m very grumpy with UTS because they said it did not happen when about 300 people knew that it did.”
Bacon was also grumpy about the fact that she didn’t seem to be able to get a grip on time. She said she remembered living in Glebe in about 1980 and Malcolm Turnbull and (now Justice) Virginia Bell were there, “and we would spend hours and hours playing poker”. There was a pause and we leaned in expectantly — did Malcolm slip in a home-made Ace of Spades, was he fond of Virginia’s cat? Sadly, this was a precursor to some Proustian points about the experience of time; not a lead-in to a juicy anecdote about young Malcolm.
The final speaker was SMH columnist and academic Elizabeth Farrelly, who looked too young to qualify, but did round off the evening with a long list of complaints written in the form of a poem. It included property developers, the NSW state government and Peter Garrett, the “singer without a song” who has been “tied up and brutalised by Penny Wong”. She also said she was grumpy about having curly hair.
Just before the end, MC Kate Barton asked Bacon if she had to leave; she said she had time to have “one more for the gutter”.
On July 30, it’s the turn of the Grumpy Old Men, featuring Bob Ellis and actors Tony Llewellyn-Jones and John Derum. Grumpy old people unite, you have nothing to lose but your temper …