We need all the laughs we can get in these trying times, and for Melburnians Andrew Bolt has done his bit with the announcement that the city has done him in and he’s leaving.
The column in which he announced it was the typical Bolt fantasia for the diminishing but loyal, actual paper-buying readership that he throws red meat to: Melbourne, one of the safest cities in the world, is some sort of Mogadishu East where you take your life in your hands.
We no longer have shared stories, says the columnist for a paper that has killed off its city reporting functions to become a right-wing culture war newsletter. Plus there’s a bonus splash of racism: the overseas-born have twice the rate of COVID, says the son of Dutch-born migrants. They’re bringing disease, they’re…
All the usual farrago, impossible to tell whether its author believes it or whether its the late act of a onetime B-list journo, failed poet and lost soul, offered the chance to play a character — at which point the mask ate the perpetually unhappy face and he became the cultural Jeremiah he was projecting.
Having ground this out for two decades, a sea/tree change was in the offing. Why not turn it into yet another apocalyptic sermon? So there was much hilarity when it was revealed that Andrew Bolt’s move to “the bush” involved decanting himself and fam to… the Mornington Peninsula. True homesteading.
The place is not merely part of greater Melbourne for admin and stats purposes, it’s built up with sprawl halfway down — contiguous, ugly ‘burbia pretty much from Frankston to Dromana. It’s a 50 minute drive from the Melbourne CBD, off-peak. Tens of thousands of people commute daily. The bush? The only grazing is from cheese plates at micro-winery jazz festivals.
Bolt is moving to be with his people, those plain decent folk who enjoy treeless identikit McMansion apartments in Safety Beach (original name: Shark Bay). Well, er, no. Because the chaser to the Morny Peninsula shot is that the Bolts are moving to… Somers.
Let me uh explain Somers to out-of-staters. Nestled in a baylet on the peninsula’s east, it’s an unusually beautiful small village, its attractiveness owing much to the fact that it was laid out by Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony, designed as an anti-industrial retreat where Melbourne’s thin crop of intellectuals might gather. From the 1920s onwards, it has fulfilled that function. Two lefty Melbourne publishers summer there. Labor intellectuals have long favoured it. It has not one, but two, Lacanian psychoanalysts.
Tired of a Melbourne he’s alienated from, Bolt is moving to Fitzroy-by-the-sea. He’s not going to get thumped by anarchists (hip replacements), but he’s basically moving to the second act of a Hannie Rayson play.
But of course, that’s the point isn’t it? It was all a bit of a con. Your reward for 20 years of advocating growth, industry, progress, that Green is a religion, that concerned locals are elite NIMBYS, is to move to the modern equivalent of Le Petit Hameau, Marie Antoinette’s fake dairy farm.
Somers is beautiful because there’s no sprawl, locals having fought tooth and nail against the suburbanisation of this part of the peninsula for decades. It’s peaceful and bucolic because local landowners started retreeing cleared land decades ago, the sort of thing Bolt would have portrayed as anti-human nature worship. It’s villagey, because planning laws restrained the market from putting a shopping strip there.
Bolt is moving to the centre of everything he purports to hate. But then again, the man has earned the right to some time to reflect. For all the manic energy Bolt has put into fighting the culture wars — the blog posts stamped 5am, the dash from office to studio, the tub-thumping appearances at the right’s deathful conferences — he has been unsuccessful in changing the basic progressive direction of the country, and a spectacular failure as far as Victoria goes.
Bolt’s purported deep values — a nativist conservatism, crossing into north-European racism, which sees Christianity as central to a viable civilisation — have been unwound year on year through his entire career as a columnist. During that time, Labor has become hegemonic and the Liberal Party has destroyed itself as a viable alternative government, largely by taking Bolt’s advice as to what the silent majority really believes.
In that time Victoria has come to resemble the whacky progressive Disneyland of Amsterdam, with skyrail ready to take non-binary couples straight to euthanasia when they get bored of changing the gender on their birth certificate. Indeed the whole Herald Sun project has been a joke. This must be the most incompetent propaganda rag in the western world.
But as noted, whether that has ever been the point is a question. Bolt’s selling point may always have been the forlorn and nostalgic quality, amid a changing world — a sort of reverse-Somers for his readership, a place in which everything is still all right.
Doubtless he will continue from his newly chosen green world. But he has earnt his slowdown, and the chance to put on a silk dairymaid’s uniform and squat beside a wooden cow, milking it. Which rather describes the whole of his career.