Fran Kelly Channels The Mahatma

Nancy [Ed’s dog] just loved the exchange about what’s in the daily newspapers which took place on Radio National Breakfast on last Wednesday.  James Carleton was the commentator and Fran Kelly was in the presenter’s chair. Let’s go to the audio tape.

James Carleton:  We have news that, while Australia’s education sector may be looking less attractive to Indians – what with the violence and the revelations in Four Corners this week – Australia’s coal seems to be retaining its lustre, for want of a better word.  The Australian‘s business page says India [is] about to embark on coal sector acquisition – part of their five year plan to connect all impoverished households in India to electricity.  Can you imagine the amount of coal that’ll come from the generators out of a policy like that?

Fran Kelly:  Can you imagine the carbon emissions? [Laughter]

James  Carleton: Indeed. [Laughter]

Fair enough.  Ms Kelly is on to something here.  Why should impoverished Indians get access to household electricity – in view of the carbon emissions that will result from such indulgence?  Let’s keep the poor in India poor – clad in sandals and handwoven loin-cloth and living in electricity-free slums by the side of the road.  Such a pollution-free lifestyle may not suit ABC types who live in inner-Sydney.  But it should work for Indians. After all, they’re used to it.  Or most of them, anyway.

Missing in Abstinence

Alas, Louise Adler at MUP did not see fit to invite Nancy to the launch of Tony Abbott’s tome Battlelines at the Wharf Restaurant on Sydney Harbour last Tuesday.  Battlelines was launched by the gorgeous Sarah Murdoch but few if any of the Fourth Estate in attendance bothered to report what she said about the political, economic and social themes in the book. [What was she wearing? – Ed].

However, the most astute reporting of the occasion was by two sassy sheilas.  Namely, Annabel Crabb at The Sydney Morning Herald and Caroline Overington at The Australian.  Both hitched on to the BIG STORY – that the Liberal Party frontbencher had invited his one-time celibacy adviser, a certain Josephine Ul, along for the occasion.

It seems that Ms Ul had been engaged to advise Mr Abbott on matters carnal when, as a young man, he studied to be Catholic priest.  But it all came to naught, or rather, somewhat more than naught.  As Ms Ul told Ms Crabb: “I didn’t have a 100 per cent success rate. There were one or two lapses”. Well, you know what she means.  It seems that, like all of us, Tony Abbott was afflicted by The Fall – and that he fell, on occasions, into a horizontal position.

Still, Josephine Ul is famous today because she failed as a celibacy coach yesterday (or thereabouts). If Mr Abbott had become a celibate priest, who would have heard about Ms Ul today?  She is now somewhat of a (failed) guru – with a touch of celebrity.

Come to think of it, having the role of celibacy coach to Tony Abbott, father of three, is akin to having advised:

–         the late Michael Jackson on sleep therapy or

–         the late Elvis Presley on the evils of peanut butter sandwiches with The Lot or

–         Kevin Rudd and/or Malcolm Turnbull on the virtue of humility or

–         Leigh Sales on the Protestant Reformation. [By the way, has Ms Sales yet stumped up evidence for her claim that the seemingly dogmatic Martin Luther (1485-1546) was actually a theologically wobbly type who was heavily into self-doubt? – Ed]

Barrie Kosky’s Locker-Shed High (or Low)

Nancy was also very impressed this week with the off-stage performance of Australian-born Berlin-based director Barrie  Kosky. [Don’t forget to mention that he was educated at the Melbourne Grammar – Ed].  Mr Kosky is about to return to Australia for the opening of the opera Poppea at the Sydney Opera House and gave an interview to the Sun-Herald‘s theatre writer Nicholas Pickard, which was published last Sunday.

It seems that Mr Kosky is upset that his work was recently criticised by playwright David Williamson. Your man Barrie told Pickard that Williamson’s “recent ariosio about ‘razzle-dazzle’ theatre and his breathtaking self-importance and self-entitlement strike me as nothing more than the sad musings of a sad man”.  Kosky added: “Dear oh dear, the banality of it all.”

How touching that Kosky should accuse another of self-importance and self-entitlement – or even banality.  Kosky’s essay On Ecstasy, which was published by MUP in its “Little Books on Big Themes” series, is replete with self-regard.  So much so that it should have been titled “On Kosky”.  As to banality, well what can be said about the reported attitude of Master Kosky to “the olfactory spice bazaar that was the Melbourne Grammar School Changing Rooms”. Really.  Mr Kosky went on – and on – in On Ecstacy :

Body odour of every imaginable flavour, sweat, socks, Dencorub, hot water, cheap soap, the wet old wood of the lockers.  All clashing in my nostrils, all fighting to get up my nasal cavities.  Whirling in my nostrils like a thousand miniature tornadoes. Sometimes it became so overwhelming I really thought that I was going to faint, or vomit or scream.  Forget cocaine or pharmaceutical stimulants; the smells of the Melbourne Grammar School Changing  Rooms were the most intense thing that’s ever been up my nose.

I usually stayed until everyone had left.  First, because I didn’t like to change in front of the other boys, and second, because it allowed me to experience the changing rooms as an empty temple. I was an ancient Israelite priest entering the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem.  A sacred space charged with more smells than the Chanel laboratory.  A forbidden zone touched with rapture.  My Holy of Holies.

Come off it, Barrie.  It was just Melbourne Grammar’s locker room – which is quite some way from Jerusalem, irrespective of which way the wind is blowing.

Barrie Kosky also told Nicholas Pickard that he had absolutely nothing to say about Australian politics – and he then went on to say quite a lot about this very subject:

I have absolutely nothing to say about the current political situation in Australia and its impact on the art scene except that it is as depressing, mean-spirited, ill-informed, banal and provincial as ever. Rudd and Garrett are just the same birthday party clowns in slightly different panto costumes.

Talking about his own productions, Kosky declared:

I do regret that Australian audiences have not seen much of my work in Europe over the last 10 years, in particular, my opera work in Germany.

Quite so.  Nancy very much regrets that she has not been able to see – or, rather, smell – a live production of BK’s Le Grande Macabre – which is described at some length in On Ecstasy. Here’s a glimpse of Kosky’s work as described by Kosky:

Many years after my Dybbuk production, I staged Ligeti’s Le Grande Macabre in Berlin. The climax of the opera occurs when a gigantic meteor crashes into the earth.  This has been foretold by a mad prophet, Nekrotzar.  In Berlin, he sat on a white plastic toilet while a never-ending stream of brown excrement poured out of the toilet and over him.  Ligeti’s apocalyptically gorgeous music blasted out of the orchestra pit, as behind the toilet, half-dead hermaphroditic mermaids crawled across the stage, their glittering fins, sadly flickering in the air as they desperately searched for water, rest or salvation.

Many people in the audience found this scene offensive and tasteless.  As if taste has anything to do with theatre.  The baritone smeared himself with the excrement, ate it and sang.  The more radiant the music became, the more he ate and smeared.  I was, however, delighted that many people found this scene not tasteless, shocking or grotesque, but beautiful.  As it was intended to be.  Mountains of excrement, dying hermaphroditic mermaids and a baritone sitting on a toilet singing Ligeti with shit all over his mouth may not be your average subscriber night at the opera, but something happened in the theatre at this moment.  Something occurred. Something emerged.

Yeah, right.  Nancy joins in Barrie Kosky’s condemnation of Kevin Rudd and Peter Garrett in preventing Australian theatre-goers from seeing more of Kosky’s crap (in the literal sense of the term) on stage.  Give the man another grant – along with a dose of Epsom Salts to fund such work Down Under, Nancy says.  And may Julia Gillard’s “education revolution” funding never be used to finance the demolition and rebuilding of the Melbourne Grammar School Changing Rooms.  What’s good for Mr Kosky’s nose is good for the arts in Australia.


While on the issue of taxpayer funded art, consider the case of SBS. Over the past decade, the taxpayer subsidised SBS has commissioned two documentaries on Australian politics – one on Labor’s Gough Whitlam and one on John Howard’s Coalition government.

Gough Whitlam In His Own Words, which screened in November 2002, was written by Labor’s Senator John Faulkner. Senator Faulkner also conducted the interviews with Mr Whitlam.  It was an important documentary but it did not contain any scathing criticism of Gough Whitlam or the Whitlam Government.

Then SBS decided to commission a documentary on John Howard and the Howard Government.  The final episode of the three part series Liberal Rule: The Politics That Changed Australia airs on SBS1 this Wednesday.  Not only does Liberal Rule contain much scathing criticism of John Howard and the Howard Government. SBS 1 is using the comments of some Howard-haters, who are interviewed on the Nick Torrens/Garry Sturgess documentary, to advertise the documentary.

First up, SBS ran an endorsement from Canberra academic Norman (Number 96) Abjorensen.  [Is this the very same Norman Abjorensen whose book John Howard and the Conservative Tradition had sold a whopping 96 copies as of 11 July 2009? – Ed]

Most recently SBS 1 has been using the following endorsement by leftist Mark Davis:

“Absolutely masterful….candid new Howard admissions are pure gold”

Mark Davis

Author & Political Commentator

University of Melbourne

This is the same Mark Davis who bagged John Howard and the Howard Government in his book The Land of Plenty (MUP, 2008). And it is the same Mark Davis who wrote an article in the New York Times on 28 August 2004 which suggested that Australian voters might get wise to John Howard’s “fundamentally anti-democratic ruthlessness” and vote him out at the 2004 Federal election in favour of the erratic Mark Latham. Remember him?

The irony in all this is that the funding to do Liberal Rule was obtained during the time of the Howard Government.  Once again, the Liberals have funded their critics.  Not much sign of “fundamentally anti-democratic ruthlessness” in this.


MWD was up early this week to see if Monash University academic Dr Waleed Aly made his usual appearance on the ABC 2 News Breakfast program.  In his appearance on News Breakfast on Monday 20 July, Dr Aly said that any link between the recent suicide/homicide bombings in Indonesia and Afghanistan “deserves to be interrogated”.  Put simply, he did not believe that there was any connection between al Qaeda and the terrorist attacks in Jakarta.  Dr Aly even queried whether the home grown Indonesian Islamist Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist organisation was involved in the attacks. (See Issue 20).

It would have been great to have Waleed Aly back analysing the news on News Breakfast this week. Why, he might even have been asked by presenter Virginia Trioli to comment on the report that the fugitive terrorist Noordin Mohammed Top, who is a known JI associate, has claimed responsibility for the attacks on the J W Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in the name of an organisation called “al Qaeda Indonesia”.  Fancy that.

How unfortunate, then, that Dr Aly did not get the chance to clarify his views on News Breakfast this week. Perhaps he slept in.  Here’s hoping that Waleed Aly returns next week.  We’ll keep you posted.

HISTORY CORNER – In Which MWD De-mythologises Some Of The Oh-So-Many Myths In Australian History

Jenny Hocking, Research Professor in the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University, is perhaps best classified as a bespoke historian for the Australian left.  Per courtesy of the Australian taxpayer, of course.   It goes like this.  Professor Hocking holds a research position at a publicly funded university.  From this base, she acquires funding from the publicly funded Australian Research Council or a like institution.   Then she writes essentially soft biographies on heroes of the Australian left.  First up there was Lionel Murphy: A Political Biography (1997) – an account of the life of the left-wing Labor hero. Followed by Frank Hardy: Politics Literature Life (2005) – an account of the life of leftist hero and one-time Communist Party member. And now Gough Whitlam: A Moment In History: The Biography Volume 1 (MUP, 2009).

Those sandal wearing, Whitlam admiring luvvies who were hoping for a hagiographic tome from Professor Hocking will not have been disappointed. Gough Whitlam: A Moment In History meets such expectations.  And it was all made possible per courtesy of the Australian taxpayer.  As the author puts it in her acknowledgements section:

This biography has come about through the Australian Research Council’s important and innovative Linkage Grant Scheme.  The ARC provided a three-year grant, with partner organisations the National Archives of Australia and the National Library of Australia, for a biographical study of Gough Whitlam. These two institutions, the pre-eminent national repositories, could not have been more appropriate partners for the project and the Linkage Grant has been the basis of a most successful, productive relationship.

Alas, it seems all the taxpayer funded horses and all the taxpayer funded men and women could not stop Jenny Hocking regurgitating one of the great myths of Australian history.  Namely, the claim that in 1961 – when led by Arthur Calwell with Gough Whitlam as his deputy – Labor lost the Federal election to the Robert Menzies led Coalition because Communist Party preferences in the Queensland seat of Moreton went to the Liberal Party candidate Jim Killen. Here’s Professor Hocking – in full mythology flight – at  Page 218 of her Whitlam biography:

The 1961 election was a cliff-hanger.  The tightest election in Australia’s history, it was eventually determined by 110 second preferences from the Communist Party candidate in Liberal Party member Jim Killen’s Queensland seat of Moreton.

Not so. This myth was busted around three decades ago by Adam Graycar and Joan Rydon in articles which they contributed to the November 1971 issue of Politics published by the Australasian Political Studies Association and edited at the time by Professor Henry Mayer.  The election statistics are set out in Colin A. Hughes and B. D. Graham Voting for the Australian House of Representatives 1901-1964 (ANU Press, 1974).

The facts are as follows. In the election for the seat of Moreton in 1961 there were four candidates, who obtained the following primary votes.

C. J. Hagen – Democratic Labor Party                         3,882

M. N. Julius – Communist Party of Australia                   676

D. J. Killen – Liberal Party                                        22,667

J. E. Donnell – Australian Labor Party                        25, 123

Max Julius was eliminated first – 193 of his preferences went to Hagen, 390 to O’Donnell and 93 to Killen. The Communist Party how-to-vote ticket put O’Donnell ahead of Killen and Hagen.  It is likely that some of Julius’s preferences which went to Killen resulted from a “donkey vote” down the ticket.  In any event, after Julius had been eliminated from the poll, O’Donnell was still ahead of Killen by 25, 513 votes to 22,760 votes.

Then it came time for the distribution of DLP preferences. Killen obtained 85 per cent of Hagen’s preferences and O’Donnell a mere 15 per cent.  As a result, Killen moved ahead of O’Donnell – obtaining 50.7 per cent of the two-party preferred vote.

Clearly Jim Killen was re-elected on DLP preferences – not those of the Communist Party.  The Liberal Party’s victory in Moreton gave the Coalition 62 out of a total of 122 seats – a narrow majority but one large enough for Robert Menzies to hang on as prime minister until the 1963 election, when the Coalition increased its majority.

How did Menzies react to this narrow survival?  The word, according to Jim Killen, was that the Prime Minister sent a “Killen, you’re magnificent” telegram to the Member for Moreton.  In fact, no such message was ever dispatched.  As Killen later admitted, he just made it all up.

But myths have a way of enduring – and are invariably repeated when historians fail to check primary sources.  A check of Jenny Hocking’s sources for her claim that Jim Killen won Moreton on Communist Party preferences reveals that she relied on secondary sources only and failed to check the actual election results.  Professor Hocking had taxpayer funding to do this kind of research.  Instead she ran the lazy left-wing line that Menzies remained in office in 1961 per courtesy of the comrades in the Communist Party.


▪ The Razer Gang

It’s no surprise to find that the left is beginning to attack Labor from the left – on the ABC.  That’s what it has invariably done when Labor is in office.

MWD was not surprised when the ABC’s Unleashed website gave pride of place to a leftist rant from Helen Razer – who advised readers in passing that her educational studies were in “philosophy, Australian Literature and Queer Studies”.  In any event, Ms Razer made use of her training to (i) accuse Kevin Rudd of “whoring himself”, (ii) describe Stephen Conroy as “genuinely evil”, (iii) depict Mark Arbib of engaging in a “vomit softly” tactic and (iv) describe Lindsay Tanner of having “hoisted up his trousers in a manly fashion”.  Apparently, the powers-that-be at the ABC regard Ms Razer as a sophisticated critic.

Hawker/Morris Declare Unto Everyone

MWD just loves the political commentators of Bruce Hawker (who runs a Labor line) – and Graeme Morris (who runs a Liberal line) – especially when they are together in a radio or television studio.

But there can be a case of too much (political) information.  Last Monday, for example, when Mr Hawker and Mr Morris did joint gigs on ABC Metropolitan Radio in Sydney followed by the Sky News PM Agenda program at 4.30 pm which was repeated that night. In other words, Hawke and Morris could be heard in the morning, in the afternoon and at night.  Which leaves open the question – what did they do at midday?  [Here’s hoping they said the Angelus – Ed].

▪ Goodbye To All That – For Now

Last Wednesday ABC 1 The Chaser’s War on Everything (except Militant Islamism) was supposed to be the last such event.  But the word is that The Chaser “Boys” (average age 35) will be back – but in a different format – at the taxpayer’s expense.

The final episode in the current series ended with a bang, not a whimper.  The Boys were into their traditional (soft) targets – janitors, non-English speaking visitors, African Americans, the poorly educated and so on.  As usual there was how-courageous-are-we-boys stunts in the United States and Italy.  But none in, say, Saudi Arabia or Iran or China or Zimbabwe.

In view of The Chaser’s eventual return, MWD is keepings its (travel) campaign open. There are two funds – one for the well-off and the other for the not so well-off.

For the well-heeled, there is MWD‘s “Send the Boys to Mecca Campaign” (one-way economy fares needed) where they can attempt to mock Islam the way they mock Christianity. BYO prayer-mats.

For the less well-off, there is MWD‘s “Send the Boys to Lakemba Campaign” (one way railway tickets needed) where they can attempt to mock Islam the way they mock Christianity. BYO falafel.

Any left over funds will be used to enshrine in marble Chaser jokes on the disabled in wheelchairs, waiters, security guards, terrorist attacks and, naturally, cancer victims.

Until next time when, promise, Professor Jake Lynch will get his day in the kennel.

This column originally appeared on Gerard Henderson’s Watch Dog website.