Monthly Archives: December 2015

Hearing women on Q & A

I see that the report has been published into political bias on the ABC’s program Q & A. It found that, despite assertions to the contrary by right-wing politicians and commentators,  it was not a “lefty lynch mob”.  However,

“The representation and participation of females on Q&A panels was significantly below that of their male counterparts,” the report said. “There were fewer female panellists and those that were selected were asked fewer questions and permitted far less time to speak.

“There were fewer female panellists in total (46% female to 54% male). This was due mainly to the under-representation of women selected to appear on behalf of the coalition government. Only 11% of coalition panellists appearing in programs where they were matched against representatives of the opposition were women.”

One of the most egregious examples of the disrespect shown to women occurred when Christopher Pyne, Lindsay Tanner and Piers Akerman completely dominated the QandA episode where Kate Ellis joined them on the panel.  I’ve written about it before, and just to remind you- here’s some of it:

Chrys Stevenson who writes at Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear (great title!) was so incensed that she analysed the interchanges closely. Although the word count total did not differ markedly between the four panelists, the prevalence of interruption when Ellis was speaking was astounding:

Ellis’s heroic 1,962 words were interrupted 36 times during the course of the program – that’s once every 55 words and more than once every two minutes.

The major offender was Christopher Pyne who butted in to Ellis’ conversations an incredible 21 times – an average of one interruption for every three minutes of air time. And that was just against Ellis!

In all, serial offender Pyne interrupted other speakers, including Jones, a total of 34 times. Compare this with Catherine Deveny who drew the wrath of the Twitterverse and a misogynistic media upon her head by interrupting just four times during the course of a program. Where are the newspaper editorials about Pyne’s performance?

Tanner and Akerman made 11 interruptions each. Like Pyne, their major target was Ellis – 5 interruptions from Tanner and 6 from Akerman. Jones interrupted the Minister for Employment four times, the most notable when she opened her mouth to answer a question from an audience member and before she had a chance to speak, Jones said, “We’ll take that as a comment” and directed the next question to her nemesis, Christopher Pyne!

She has provided transcriptions of some of the interchanges- head over and read them!

I listen to a lot of podcasts that have been recorded at conferences and writers’ festivals, where there is often a question-and-answer session at the end. It’s striking how many of the sessions are dominated by men. You often see it in action: “any questions?” they ask and up shoot the men’s hands.  There may be women’s hands up, but somehow they’re just not seen by the chair.  Even in sessions where you can see, or suspect, that the audience is predominantly female, men’s questions dominate question time.

I like it when the chair announces in advance that questions will be taken alternately between men and women.  Yes, there might be an embarrassing silence, but then the questions do come, and possibly the better for a few second’s reflection. For myself, I often need a pause before I can think of a question, and I appreciate knowing that a space will be made for that.



A little trip to the country

We unexpectedly had a couple of days away this week at Lorne, some 140 km from Melbourne along the spectacular Great Ocean Road.  We stayed at the Mantra, the former Erskine House guest house: something I probably swore at some stage I would never do.  Erskine House was located on Crown Land and there was strong opposition to its sale to developers (in fact, there’s an interesting paper by Brian Walters QC about the use of defamation threats to silence opposition to the project here). It certainly is surrounded by apartments, although it’s possible to walk through the complex if you so desire and it still has beach access.  It’s a sad thing that you look at it now and think “it could be worse” and probably would be, were the development proposed today.

Armed with a ‘Lorne Heritage Walk’ brochure, we headed off to see the historic homes, most of which are located in Mountjoy Parade, overlooking the bay.

We found ‘Banyule’, although it’s not the Banyule that I know and love. There was an old house located far back on the block, with its magnificent view blocked by shrubbery.

At bit further along was “Jura”, built in 1919 using Knit-Lock bricks, patented and used by Walter Burley Griffin in a number of his properties, although this is possibly the largest surviving example of their use.  This grand, rather heavy-looking house was built for the Western District pastoral family, the Campbells.  It would have been cutting-edge architecture at the time, although it seems to me to be rather ponderous design for a beach-house.

Did I go for a swim? Yes, I did even though the temperature was only about 23 degrees. Believe me, the water was much colder! I seemed to be the only person without a wetsuit.

Next morning we headed off for the Otway Fly Zipline.  You’re kitted into harness and helmet, then you climb a tower about 20 metres off the ground. You’re clipped onto a cable that is strung between two ‘cloud stations’ and off you go! There are seven cloud stations in all, two of which are connected by suspension bridge.

See this happy person?


Well, it’s not me.  She’s smiling. She’s not gripping her harness, white-knuckled.  She looks like she’s enjoying it.

I wonder why they didn’t interview ME for this promotional video?


Or if you want even more….

Oh lordy, even the music is stressful! Anyway, I’m glad that I didn’t chicken out on the first leg (which I very nearly did.) I’m also glad that I never have to do it ever again for the rest of my life.

Recovered enough, we headed for home. We stopped off at the Gellibrand River pub for a drink.  Gellibrand River had been one of the stations on the Colac-Beech Forest railway, constructed in 1902.  The pub itself was 120 years old, tucked away on the river bank.


In Colac we passed Holts Gun Shop, “Victoria’s Largest Gun Shop”. Thinking of the gun supermarkets in the United States, I’m glad that I live in a state where this is the biggest gun shop.



‘Australia Under Surveillance’ by Frank Moorhouse


2014,  298 P.

I was too young and too tightly restrained by my parents to become involved in the Vietnam Moratorium Marches or any other form of political activism during the 1970s. (I waited for middle-age to indulge!)  I think it highly unlikely that I have an ASIO file, although I remember reacting with a jolt when a congregation member at the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church mentioned in passing that there was probably an ASIO agent within our midst. He may have been right, and he almost certainly would have been right during the 1950s- 80s.   In recent years, activists writers and performers who were of interest to ASIO have been able to access their files from 30 years ago and found a curious mixture of banal, puerile and chilling reports on their activities.

Frank Moorhouse was one such person of interest, and I was attracted by the subheading to this book “Frank Moorhouse takes a look at the organisation that has been watching him”.  I am rather embarrassed to say that I haven’t read any of his works (I do have them on the shelf though) but I was aware of the essay ‘The Writer in a Time of Terror’ that he wrote for the Griffith Review in Summer 2006-2007.   It was highly acclaimed, garnering the PEN/Keneally Award, the 2007 Alfred Deakin Award for Best Essay in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2007 and the  Walkley Award for Equity Journalism. Three other essays followed (listed below).

This book draws heavily on the essay- very heavily, I found when I double-checked. I enjoyed most the parts where he spoke about his own entanglement with ASIO (or more properly, ASIO’s entanglement with him) but I did find the rest of the book rather bitsy. It is structured as seventeen chapters, but each chapter has the appearance of being a separate part, with its own title page.  Visually and in an argumentative sense, such overt separation of the chapters disrupts the flow and suggests a significance to each discrete chapter which is not perhaps justified.

There is a rather curious and lengthy chapter entitled ‘The Interview with Director-General David Irvine- My File Keeper’.  Over sixty pages in length, it is a  transcript of Moorhouse’s interview with the  ASIO Director General. It starts with Moorhouse describing how the interview was set up, and noting that he has “smoothed it out- removing repetitions and irrelevancies, completing sentences” etc.   He also includes “interpolations and commentary” in squared brackets which, for me, compromises any attempt at verbatim reporting.  He excuses such methodological untidiness by admitting that while such a practice gives

the advantage..that I have, as it were, the last word.  But this interview is certainly not the last word from either of us on any of the issues discussed. (p. 158)

Nonetheless, it is a chilling chapter, made even more so by the recent appointment of the same former Director-General David Irvine as the new advisor to the new Border Force.  In many ways recent events have raised the temperature even more, especially with the announcement by those black-clothed Border Force officers that they would check the papers of anyone they encountered – a half-baked plan that was abandoned very quickly in response to  immediate community outrage.  I was already unnerved by this development and after reading Moorhouse’s book I am even more so.

In his acknowledgments, Moorhouse notes that this book came together after eight years. The essays that formed the basis of the book were  ‘The Writer in a Time of Terror’ Griffith Review (summer 2006-2007); ‘Beyond Stigma’ (Griffith Review 33); ‘Dark Conundrum’ (Griffith Review 41) and ‘Pocket Litter and Two Jokes’ (Sydney Morning Herald 29 August 2014). He later notes that “The Writing and editing of Australia Under Surveillance was, for personal reasons very difficult”.  He himself describes the book as “an eight-year exploration rather than an argument for a thesis….”. Perhaps, given its unevenness, it is best read that way.

On a related matter, the National Archives in the UK  have just released the files on Burgess and Maclean, part of the Cambridge Five spying ring.

Movie: The Dressmaker

I was over in Kenya when this was released, so I missed the early buzz. However, recent plaudits for this film have made up for it.

I loved the book when I read it a few years ago for its wicked humour and the film captured that well. I thought that Kate Winslet’s Australian accent was excellent, and I enjoyed seeing many familiar faces. While gorgeous, I thought that Liam Hensworth was too young to play Teddy, though.

I was rather surprised to hear that a ‘young person’ of my acquaintance (yes, I do occasionally meet one or two) absolutely hated the book and refused to see the film.  She had been compelled to study the book at school, and I really do wonder why you’d subject such a light book to being ‘done’ as literature in the classroom.  Poor choice, I’d say, and one that would kill the joy of the book with analysis.

As for me, I loved the film just as I loved the book. Full stop.



He’s b-a-a-c-c-k-k

Mike Duncan, that is, at the  website.

He’s just embarked on the Haiti Revolution.  He finished up a few months ago on the French Revolution (which took about a year), then took a few months off while his wife had their second baby. In recent years, he’s also covered the American Revolution and the English Civil War.  He started off with the History of Rome, but that was before I started listening to him. All his podcasts are available on the site.

There’s nothing very high-tech or overly academic here; just a pleasant American voice, good story-telling, and an ability to draw out the narrative from a mass of details.

I’m glad he’s back and I’m happy to travel (mentally, at least) to the Caribbean for a few months.

The Strays and my missing reviews

Reader, I haven’t felt much like writing lately.  I must confess that most of the reviews I’ve posted since early November have been “a little something I whipped up earlier” as the cooking shows might say.  They have been bobbing around in my drafts folder and I’ve been pulling them out, and dusting them down before posting them here.

Except that WordPress has changed their ‘Blog Posts’ function. When I post a pre-prepared review, it seems to be inserted at the date when I first wrote it rather than on the top of the blogroll at today’s date.  I fiddled around with some of the last posts and managed to get it to show first on the page, but I don’t know how I did it.

And so, I did write a review of Emily Bitto’s The Strays and if you want to read it, click here and it will take you back to November.

‘Nine Days’ by Toni Jordan


Often front covers of books use stock images, but the photograph on the cover of Toni Jordan’s Nine Days is integral to the story.  It shows a young woman being hoisted onto the shoulders of soldiers and well-wishers who are gathered around a troop train.


The photograph was the impetus for Jordan to write this book, and its significance becomes clear by the end of the story.  However, the book is about much more than this photograph.

The Westaway family live in Rowena Street Richmond during the late 1930s. Connie is the eldest, Kip and Francis are 15-year-old twins. Their father has died, money is tight but Jean Westaway, their mother, prides herself that the family has improved itself by living ‘up the hill’, away from the slums .  Nearby lives Jack, recently returned from the country, who has returned to live with his parents whose house adjoins their business overlooking the Westaway’s backyard. It is 1939 and men are enlisting- Jack among them- and it’s no real surprise that in Toni Jordan’s hands, the photograph on the cover is of Jack and Connie’s farewell.

Although this is the central motif, the narrative and chronology of the book skips back and forth. There are nine first-person narrators, all connected to the Westaway family, but separated by time, generation and social class.  Jordan makes you work hard as a reader. Each chapter has the narrator’s name, but no information about date or location, and you need to make the connections yourself.  Too complex? I don’t think so. Even though I almost resented being shunted from one narrator to the next and being dragged back and forth through the decades, each chapter did its work in bringing the plot forward.

In her acknowledgments Jordan thanks historians Janet McCalman from Struggletown and Kate Darian Smith for On the Homefront. Jordan, as a fiction-writer, makes just the sort of use of secondary historical sources that a historian would want.  She doesn’t ‘Trove-ize’ Richmond by slathering on detail, but she gives it a lived-in feel,  because her research has attuned her to the broad sweep of a community and sensitized her to the meaning of place and not just its appearance.   By presenting narratives across multiple decades, she traces the gentrification of both real-estate and aspiration.

This book is a departure from Jordan’s  earlier work, Addition and The Fall Girl, both of which are light, humourous reads.  Even though Nine Days is a sad book which moved me to tears, there are flashes of humour here too.  Overall, it’s a much more complex book than her earlier work.  You have to work harder as a reader, and Jordan has worked harder as a writer too, to good effect.

aww-badge-2015-200x300 Posted to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.