Category Archives: Current events

Heide Gallery in Autumn

The redoubtable Sarah Palin is famously and erroneously noted for announcing  that she could see Russia from her porch.  Well, it’s not quite as exotic but if I had known that it was there, I would have been able to see Heide from our front porch as a child growing up in Heidelberg.  However, I was not at all aware that John and Sunday Reed lived on the hillside across the river until they were long gone and Heide Museum of Modern Art had been opened in what had been their homes.

Autumn is a lovely time to visit Heide.  The deciduous trees stand out against the bushland setting.

Heide Gardens, Bulleen May 2013

Heide Gardens, Bulleen May 2013

We’ve been to Heide several times but it’s always seemed that one or other of the three galleries has been closed either for construction or refurbishment.  But when we went last week, all three were open and bustling.

Heide I is a weatherboard farm house that the Reeds renovated in French Provincial style after purchasing the property in 1932.

Heide I

Heide I

At various times Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, John Perceval and Danila Vassilief joined them there.   Sidney Nolan painted his Ned Kelly series in the dining room.  The study has been left much as it was and it doesn’t take much imagination to picture the conversations, the wine, the cigarettes, the laughter, the arguments.  I wish that there were other photographs of the way it looked when they all lived there.

Rear view Heide I

Rear view Heide I

Heide I features an exhibition called “The Sometimes Chaotic World of Mike Brown”.  You can see a slideshow of his work here . The first image shows him painting the dining room at Heide I.  His work referenced pop lyrics, pornography, psychedelics, tribal art, Dadaism and garbage and he was the only Australian artist to be successfully convicted of obscenity.

In 1963 the Reed commissioned architect David McGlashan to build Heide II, a grey concrete structure with huge north-facing windows, a cantilevered staircase and mezzanine and a snug conversation space with open fire.  It was designed to be a ‘gallery to be lived in’  and small pictures in each room show the ways that it was used domestically while the Reeds lived there. There’s a display ‘Collage’ in Heide II.  The Reeds lived there until 1980 when  they sold Heide to the Victorian Government, and shifted back into Heide I.  They hadn’t been living back in Heide I before they died in December 1981 just ten days apart.


Looking out from Heide II

Heide III is a purpose-built gallery built of black titanium zinc and completed in 2006.  It is a striking building, but because it was designed as a gallery, it doesn’t have the same connotations of living-as-art that the other two buildings have.


Heide III

Until July 21, Heide III features an exhibition ‘Big Game Hunting’ by Fiona Hall.  Like the Mike Brown exhibition in Heide I, it is a very political exhibition with repeated themes of the threats of war-mongering and abuse of the environment.

The gardens of Heide are beautiful. Sunday Reed’s kitchen garden has been rehabilitated and now supplies Cafe Vue.  Her Heart Garden is now visible.

Kitchen garden adjacent to Heide I

Kitchen garden adjacent to Heide I

Entry to the Heide Galleries (I, II and III) costs $14.00 for all three.  The gardens and sculpture park are free.

[And of course, since you’re in the neighbourhood, you could visit the Heidelberg Historical Society Museum on a Sunday afternoon between 2.00 and 5.00 pm to see the Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin exhibition ‘Against the Forces’.  Cost $5.00.  I’ll write more about it soon]

Vale Hazel Hawke


This morning’s Age had eleven full pages and one editorial devoted to the Ford closure.  On page 13 there was a 9 paragraph story about the death of Hazel Hawke, barely 1/4 of a page.  Her obituary, written by Gerry Carman, was headed “A woman with homespun appeal”.

I’d like to think that The Age could do better than that.

I was not particularly impressed by the writing style in the book Hazel’s Journey: A Personal Experience of Alzheimers.  But I deeply admired the woman it described: her resilience, her warmth and her sheer courage in agreeing to become the public face of Alzheimers.

When I heard that she had died, I felt so sad for her family because I know what such a death would have meant.  Vale Hazel.


Going down to see them at Geelong

Every Christmas my Uncle Johnny from Geelong would say to me

Coming down to see us, Jan-nine?

Kenny’ll drive you round.

My Uncle Johnny was a broadshouldered, tanned man, butcher by trade, Geelong Football Club player as a young man, and in my mind’s eye he always wore a hat, as men often did in the 1960s.  Kenny was my cousin, and they lived a stone’s throw away from the Cardinia Park football ground at Geelong, about 75 kms south-west of Melbourne.  I must admit we didn’t go down to Geelong very often and when we did it always seemed a monumental trek for a day-trip.  You’d pass the abattoirs in Kensington, the smelly sewerage farm going through Werribee, the You-Yangs in the distance and the yellow tongue of flame flickering above the Corio oil refinery.

But a week or so ago I sat in traffic trying to drive from Bundoora to Fitzroy and it took 45 minutes to travel 13 kms.  Good lord, I thought, I may as well go to Geelong!  And so I did- 75 minutes to travel 95 km (because I live north of the city) on freeway the whole way and not an abbattoir or refinery to be seen or sewerage farm to be smelled-  although there was still the tang of something noisome when we passed an industrial estate on the way.


Geelong is much smaller than Melbourne. Its city centre is dominated by the bay and Eastern Beach which is a popular promenade complete with boardwalks, a carousel and sand.   They have some rather cute bollard figures along the boardwalk as a tourist feature, reflecting different aspects of Geelong’s history. There are over 100 of them, created in 1995 by artist Jan Mitchell, utilizing wood from an old pier.  I remember seeing them first in Barwon Heads, but they’ve obviously proliferated!


In Judge Willis’ time (i.e. 1840s) , Geelong very much rivalled Melbourne as the main city in the Port Phillip district.  It was surveyed only three weeks after Melbourne and it developed largely in tandem with it in the early years.  Its post office opened in 1840 (the second in the district); it had its own newspaper when John Fawkner, proprietor of the Port Phillip Patriot published the Geelong Advertiser under the editorship of James Harrison (the maker of the first mechanical refrigeration process to produce ice), and steamers plied the bay regularly between Geelong and Melbourne.  Many of its streets reflect the names of Port Phillip pioneers who had a presence in Geelong as well as Melbourne  (Fyans, Swanston, Lonsdale, Verner, Kilgour, McKillop…)  and there are still several large National Trust properties in the district that were built by wealthy pastoralists in the area.  Corio Villa, which is privately owned, is a beautiful cast iron prefabricated house that has a prime position overlooking the bay (you might remember that I visited the much more humble South Melbourne cast iron ones here).


The Geelong Botanic Gardens, opened just a few years after Melbourne’s were laid out by Daniel Bunce on the crest of the hill that overlooks Eastern Beach and the bay- probably a less than propitious place to establish a botanic garden.  Although quite small, they have all the formality of the Melbourne Gardens and they had- wait for it!- a pelargonium conservatory, although why pelargoniums need the protection of a conservatory is beyond me.  Apparently they were left the money to built it, as long as it was dedicated to pelargoniums (pelargonia?)


Geelong became the focal port for the pastoral industry of the western district. Huge bluestone and brick wool stores were built on the main streets and facing the wharf.  The Australian National Wool Museum is located in one of the most beautiful of them

wool museum

There is a permanent display at the Wool Museum celebrating the importance of wool to Australia’s economy and national identity.  Its a very hands-on exhibition with lots of wool to squeeze, with some fascinating recreated woolsheds, shearers’ quarters and wool factory workers’ houses.  There is a temporary exhibition space as well.  And what would you find there, you may ask…… NOT DINOSAURS!


They may look like dinosaurs to those of us not blessed with a six year old, but as a tousle-headed little blonde boy announced as he ran from exhibit to exhibit roaring in dinosaur-like fashion (whatever that is), “Not a dinosaur.  Not a dinosaur”.  Instead they were creatures from the Permian era, 290 million years ago.  They were nearly all wiped out by the Permian-Triassic Extinction which wiped out 96% of all marine life, 70% of all terrestrial vertebrates and all insects. None of the creatures shown survived the extinction as such, although some variants of them were the progenitors of the next stage.  The exhibition suggested (although I think that there are other theories)  that this mass extinction was prompted by the lava flows of the Siberian Traps, one of the largest volcanic events on earth that lasted a million years and  covered over 2,000,000 square kilometres with lava.   The exhibition has been extended until 10th June.  It costs $7.50 for an adult and both the Permian exhibition and the permanent wool exhibition  (how poetic) are included in the price.

Then off to our very prosaic motel which certainly looked better on the web than it did in real life: clean, quiet but still a motel.  The next day brunch with a friend that I haven’t seen for ages, then back up the freeway for 95 km again.

So, Uncle Johnny, I did come down to Geelong, even if Kenny didn’t drive me round.

Twilight Sounds at Sills Bend 2013

It’s March, so it’s Banyule Festival time again and down to Sills Bend we went last night for Twilight Sounds, just like we did in 2011 and 2010.  I’m nothing if not a creature of habit.    This year it was Mental As Anything.


I suspect that the person or committee that chooses the acts for Twilight Sounds has a baby-boomer streak, because they tend to be acts from at least twenty years ago who are still performing -or perhaps it reflects the budget provision for the event?  Certainly the age of the audience is much younger than that, with lots of young families with kids in strollers, as well as the baby-boomers you’d expect to be attracted and still spry enough to negotiate the crowd with their fold-up chairs and picnic sets (that’s us).

They were good and the crowd responded accordingly.  When I think back, there’s no way that I would have known or listened to the music that was popular when my parents were young.  But with the ubiquity of broadcast sound in public places, radio stations that have a 30-year music list, remixes and re-recordings, and exposure to music in films that now have an extended life in DVDs after their cinema and television life is over,  it’s quite likely that songs from 25 years ago are part of the aural wallpaper of people not even born when they were released.


In fact, I’d forgotten just how many hits the Mentals had.  They just kept them coming, one after the other.  The crowd was a-jigging, too- in fact, I had just as much fun watching them as what was going on onstage.  And if the voices were a little strained, the music itself was essentially unchanged and you were able to mentally singalong with the original soundtrack in your head anyway.

But, in case you want to here one of the originals- here it is, courtesy of Countdown. Strange track (as many Countdown clips are) – no one actually seems to be singing!  I could never work out what the song was about at the time- in fact, I thought it was somewhat racist!!

Fragile subversions

Yet another hot day, so off to the National Gallery of Victoria to enjoy their relative coolth.  Melbourne has had seven consecutive days of temperatures higher than thirty degrees, with at least another three to come.  What happened to my ‘four-seasons-in-one-day’ city?  It’s all getting a bit tedious.

Anyway, off to the NGV International to see their current exhibition Kings Over the Water.  This time, I’m writing about an exhibition that has months to run- until December 2013- instead of writing about it two days before (or even after) it has closed, as is my wont.  So, there’s a good chance that it will still be on when you read this.


In 1688 James II, the Catholic King of England, Scotland and Ireland fled to France, and William and Mary of Orange were installed as monarchs in the Glorious Revolution.  The Glorious Revolution is now, and certainly was during the nineteenth century, held up as one of the cornerstones of British parliamentary democracy.  But many of the supporters of James II did not accept the legitimacy of the William/Mary ‘package’, and for seventy years held fast to the hope that the Stuarts would return.  In 1745 it seemed that this was to come to fruition when ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’  (the grandson of James II) led an insurrection that culminated in defeat at  the Battle of Culloden .

Seventy years- my, that puts the Coalition’s snit at not forming government after the 2010 election into the shade.  It was dangerous to publicly avow loyalty to the Stuarts, and so Jacobite (the latinized form of ‘James’) sympathizers formed into clubs where they would toast loyalty over a bowl of water- thus toasting The King Over the Water  (i.e. in French exile).  The heavily engraved glassware they used in these toasts was decorated with etched symbols, and while at first glance the glasses seem similar to other glassware in vogue at the time, they were an act of fragile subversion.

Some have the actual image of the Pretender- although such glasses are particularly rare.  More subtle were those draped in Jacobite imagery: the six flowered rose with two buds (symbolizing James and his two sons); an oak tree with a daffodil (Charles II sheltered in an oak tree during the Civil War and the daffodil symbolized Wales and the Prince of Wales); the six pointed star; and engravings of Latin mottoes.  Some of them had Maundy money embedded within the stem of the glass: the threepences dispensed to the poor on Maundy Thursday before Easter by the real King (in their view) in 1687, the year before the Glorious Revolution.  Others had the Jacobite anthem engraved onto them in tiny script.

It was here that I felt rather let-down by the curators of this display.  Mention was made that the Jacobite anthem was the fore-runner of the National Anthem today.  But I gather from Lord Wiki that this is not necessarily the case as the Hanoverians (i.e. the supporters of William/Mary and later the Georges) and the Jacobites each had their own versions of the same song.  I found one version of the Jacobite anthem,  halfway down the page, sung to something similar to the National Anthem today:

God bless the prince, I pray,
God bless the prince, I pray,
Charlie I mean;
That Scotland we may see
Freed from vile Presbyt’ry,
Both George and his Feckie.
Even so. Amen.

This 'Amen' glass sold for 43000 pounds last November in UK.

This ‘Amen’ glass sold for 43000 pounds last November in UK.

So what was written on the glass on display at the NGV?  The writing was tiny, and it was on the side facing away, so you needed to squint through the glass to see it written backwards on the other side. I found myself wishing that either the glass was turned around, or better still it had been magnified with a transcription of the anthem provided in a panel on the side.

Part of the subtlety of this subversion- and make no mistake, treason had its consequences- was that the symbols were hidden within the decorative fashion of the day.  Six-petalled roses were a common decoration and not subversive in themselves- but if they had two rosebuds beside them, they were.  Placing money in the stem was quite common, but it depended on the date shown on the coin. One of the symbols was only visible from the bottom, when the glass was being drained- and again I found myself wondering why the curators didn’t make it more visible by putting the glass onto a mirror so that you could see the bottom.

I found myself wishing for a time line or a family tree or some other graphical depictions of the history of the period.  There is an explanatory panel at the beginning of the display, but it was more a memory-prompt than an explanation.  For those of us old enough to have done ‘The Kings and Queens’ in history at school, the memory is getting a bit fuzzy;  those who were spared the long chronologies of such arcane knowledge, a bit more explanation wouldn’t go astray.

Still, it’s a good exhibition and one that makes you appreciate the wealth of the NGV’s holdings.  They’re beautiful glasses in their own right, very carefully and tastefully displayed, with a fascinating back story as well.


Pressing matters

So, what do we think of today’s new sized Age?  Personally, I like it.  The Australian Financial Review has been tabloid- oops- COMPACT- for years and both the Guardian (whose advent in Australia I’m looking forward to) and the Independent in the UK are small newspapers.

Mr Judge and I divide up the paper each morning over breakfast, and I’ve got to say that sometimes, particularly early in the week, we were ending up with virtually one sheet of paper each.  Not a lot of paper for $2.00.  Thursday and Friday’s papers looked meatier, but much of the bulk comprised full-page alcohol and vitamin supplement advertisements.  Saturday’s Age has always been good value with longer articles and a more international approach . I often whinged that some of the Saturday content that took almost all day to read could surely have been distributed across the other days of the week instead. The Sunday Age is rubbish.  Today’s new edition, at least, had longer and better quality articles and more pages – but let’s see how long that lasts.  I must admit that for the first time in nearly 40 years, I hesitated before renewing my subscription this time  (I am philosophically opposed to direct debit so I had to decide whether I wanted to have a full year subscription again).   I splashed out and bought a tablet on the weekend, so I may well be tempted by the Guardian when it arrives.

I was rather amused by the holier-than-thou, lofty statements of the editorial:

The Age’s unparallelled coverage of the social, political, intellectual and cultural life of this city, this state, this nation and beyond will continue in abundance.  So will our commitment to independent journalist, free of corporate, commercial and political influences, robust in argument and fair in  analysis.  The Age’s much-envied reputation for reporting and scrutinising without fear or favour has been hard won, but deservedly so.  It is what generations of readers have come to expect, and it will continue to underscore what we do best.

I was amused because, thinking about the three newspapers in Judge Willis’ Melbourne, all three of them  (The Port Phillip Gazette, the Port Phillip Herald and the Port Phillip Patriot) each made similar claims.   Each paper published twice a week in turn, so it meant that there was daily newspaper available for each of the six days of the week.  Visually, they were very similar, even though they preened themselves on the superiority of their type and typesetting.  Each was four pages in length; each had the first page entirely devoted to advertisements;  each had an editorial blatantly  reflecting the politics of its editor; and each had a letters column stuffed with letters often written by that self-same editor under pseudonym.

I was even more interested this morning to see the response of the Herald Sun, skanky little tabloid that it is.   They led with an exclusive on tape recordings made of conversations between staffers in Baillieu’s government and eyebrows are raised about Simon Overland, the OPI, Peter Ryan etc. etc. etc.   Despite an overall leaning towards the Liberal party, I suspect that the Herald Sun had been sitting on these tapes for some time, and brought them out this morning quite intentionally.

So, fun times at the breakfast table.

‘Thinking for yourself’ Robert Manne

Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.


I learned yesterday that these were Steve Jobs’ last words but I want to use them for something closer to home:  a conference entitled ‘Thinking for Yourself’ held at La Trobe Uni on Thursday and Friday to honour Robert Manne, who has resigned from La Trobe University where he has been since 1975.  Strictly speaking, I guess that it was a Festschrift but I don’t know that we’re particularly good at this sort of lionization in Australia.  It paid tribute to a man who has made a broad contribution to public discourse in Australia. As the publicity blurb for the conference notes, he has been at the heart of many of the large debates in Australian public discourse:

During his almost four decades as a university researcher and teacher and public intellectual he has been involved in a series of bitterly contested controversies concerning the interpretation of the Holocaust, the nature of Communism, the Cold War, social democracy and its neo-liberal critics, the dispossession of the indigenous population of Australia, multiculturalism, the state’s responsibility for asylum seekers and, most recently, the politics of climate change.

He’s a man who has moved from the left to the right, and to the left again.  I don’t see this as indecision or wishy-washiness: instead I see it as the use of intellect and information in action.

Robert Manne has been closely associated with Morry Schwartz, who publishes The Monthly and the Quarterly Essay. The lineup of people who paid tribute to and reflected on Robert’s interests was almost like a roll-call of regular contributors to these publications.  Hugh White, Mark McKenna, David Corlett, Clive Hamilton, Anne Manne.  But wait- there’s more: John Hirst, Dennis Altman, Tim Soutphommossane, David Ritter, Patrick McGorry, Raimond Gaita, Pat Dodson, Mick Dodson, Ramona Koval, Ghassan Hage …. it just went on- top-flight commentators and academics (albeit of a largely but not exclusively) left-ish persuasion.  Each of the speakers was introduced by a short paragraph that Robert Manne himself had written about them, and they of course reciprocated with comments about him.  There were participants from all over the globe, on a wide range of topics.

The presentations were grouped around a number of themes that reflect Manne’s work: The Cold War and Intellectuals; Australian Political History and Culture; The Public Sphere; Universities; Multiculturalism and the Republic; European History and Politics; Asylum Seekers and the Rule of Law:  Contemporary Social Democracy/Left and Right, and Culture and Politics.   Several references were made in passing to George Orwell, Hannah Arendt and Tony Judt- writers and thinkers who have had a deep influence on Robert Manne and  in whose tradition he himself fits.

There was just so much to think about that I really can’t do it justice.  Have you ever been in the audience of something and thought “How lucky am I to be hearing this?!” It was like watching a particularly good edition of The Monthly played out live in front of you, and I could have listened to nearly all of them for hours.  Oh wow.


Ever since the Black Saturday fires some years back, 774ABC radio is the designated emergency ratio station for Melbourne.  As a result, if there’s fire, flood, funny smells- then 774ABC goes onto ’emergency’ footing with frequent warnings and advice interspersed with its normal programs (unless of course it’s a REAL emergency, at which time usual programming is suspended).

There was a fire at a recycling centre in suburban Melbourne this morning, and this triggered  774ABC emergency warnings right in the midst of “Making Christmas Gifts with Craft”- quite a surreal juxtaposition!  I was interested that at the end of the warning about toxic smoke, keeping your windows shut, turning off the airconditioner and staying inside etc, there was advice to call Nurse- On-Call if you had any concerns.

Nurse-on-Call is a telephone service that provides 24 hour a day advice from a registered nurse. I’ve never used it.  From what I have heard from people who have used it, they’re normally told to go to hospital.  This may reflect the demographic of my sample- i.e. old codgers primed for heart attacks, and perhaps it’s different when people ring with a baby or young child.  But I can’t help thinking that in these litigious times, it would be unwise to advise to “just wait and see”.

Perhaps in a situation like this though, when people are wanting reassurance as much as anything else, there might be a role for nurse-on-call as a way of deflecting unnecessary panic.  But it did make me wonder about the statistics on Nurse-on-Call: is my perception that they always advise ‘go to hospital’ valid? Has it saved hospital visits or increased them?  I did actually go to the Dept. of Health webpage where they had their annual report, but it would have taken 8 minutes to download and I thought…..nah.

On to The Conversation website and blow me down….there’s a report on telephone medical advice lines. In a Medical Journal of Australia article, researchers looked at the difference in  ‘appropriate referrals’ from GPs, a telephone medical advice line, and self-referral.  I’m a bit disconcerted by their definition of ‘appropriate referral’ which ranged from  admission to hospital, referral in an inpatient or outpatient clinic, transfer to another hospital, performance of radiological or laboratory investigations- or death in the Emergency Department. (I’m hearing echoes of Monty Python’s ‘I told you I was sick!”)  As might be expected, GPs scored the highest in ‘appropriate referrals’ but interestingly telephone-line and self-referrals were ranked much the same- in fact, the self-referrals scored slightly higher.

Moreover, the study found that people when do receive advice to seek medical advice in a non-Emergency Department (so there goes my theory),  50% of people ignored the advice and turned up anyway. The conclusion of the study? The MJA editorialized:

It is not clear that, if offered an informed choice, the community would choose to pay for telephone advice that makes little difference to their behaviour over other health service priorities. In relation to whether an ED visit is required, it appears that a phone call will not answer the question.

Does this ring a bell?

In a brave attempt to ward off dementia, I have taken to doing the daily quiz in The Age each day.  I’m rather disconcerted that I seem to hover around the 13-16 point score and that too many times I find that I do know the answer but just can’t quite recall it.

This morning, however, I was quite confident that I knew the answer to the question “The letters JKL appear on which number of a modern telephone?” I do recall that as a child, our telephone number was JL7117, later changing to 45 7117. (That was before they added a nine after the 5 to make it 4597117; then later again 94597117!)  My maiden name was ‘Lumley’, and I felt rather  proud of the fact that my phone number had my initials at the start of it.  But hold on- that’s two numbers (4 and 5) and yet the question suggested that both these letters appeared on one number.  And sure enough, looking at the phone on the wall of my kitchen this morning- there they were under 5.

Had they changed it perhaps? Or was I not only not remembering, but remembering incorrectly?? But  no- thanks to Lord Wiki, I was right! Until the 1960s, the first one or two digits of each telephone number were alphabetical, and each letter represented a distinct number. Thus

  • A = 1;
  • B = 2;
  • F = 3;
  • J = 4;
  • L = 5;
  • M = 6;
  • U = 7;
  • W = 8;
  • X = 9;
  • Y = 0

My phone number was, indeed, JL 7117.  And here’s a picture of the old dial, with the numbers and letters clearly shown.

Phew! Not completely doolally yet.


“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man…”

Well, that was some week in Parliament!  Like many others, I watched the video of the proceedings in Parliament, transfixed. I gasped when Abbott used the phrase “dying of shame”. I inwardly cheered when my Prime Minister said those things that nearly all women think in their heads and do not say about small slights that mount into a sense of “What would you know, girlie?”  I wonder what a historian twenty, fifty, a hundred years down the track will make of it? Of course, we as people living in the present, don’t know if it’s just yet another tumble in the hurly-burly of politics or whether something just shifted fundamentally.

I greatly admire a group of Australian historians loosely grouped under the term ‘the Melbourne School’, exemplified by Greg Dening, Inga Clendinnen, Rhys Isaac and Donna Merwick, and I think that you can detect their influence in more recent histories published by, for example, Robert Kenny, Alan Atkinson and Tom Griffiths.  One of their techniques is to take a ‘performance’- particularly a ritualized performance- and to examine it almost frame by frame, teasing out the layers of meaning that are implicit in the words and actions.

Greg Dening described it like this:

The ritual occasion is marked off from everyday actions by special languages, formal postures, careful etiquette.  There is always a ‘priest’ at ritual moments, someone who knows the established ways of doing things, someone who plans and marshalls the actions.  Or there is a book of rubrics, a permanent record of the order of things.  Of course in social actions of a symbolic kind it is always, in the phrase made famous about the ‘thick description’ of them, ‘wink upon wink upon wink’.  The actions are a text in which the abstract realities are mythically read, certainly, but the participants are also observing many levels of meaning. [Greg Dening, Mr Bligh’s Bad Language p 199]

Parliament is our nation’s ritual performance writ large, and although there is little sign of careful etiquette, there are rules, and there is a permanent record through Hansard.  It is not lost on me that the debate on Tuesday was about the very person (the ‘priest’ if you like) who as Speaker “knows the established ways of doing things, someone who plans and marshalls the actions.” [An aside: quite apart from his personal failings and offensive language that would make it absolutely untenable for him to have continued in the role, Slipper was able to control Parliament far better than his predecessor and successor seem to do.  Under his speakership, Parliament no longer sounded like a rowdy Grade 9 class on a wet Friday afternoon.]

I was interested to see The New Yorker’s take on it.  Our own media here has prided itself on the suggestion that Barack Obama could learn a few lessons from it, but I was more interested to see how the New Yorker contextualized it for a readership that I’m sure knows nothing about present Australian politics.  I think they did a pretty good job, with my own commentary in italics and brackets:

  • they picked up on Slipper’s rather Dickensian  name [ how easy it is to slip into farce-mode; how the sense of theatricality is heightened]
  • they noted Slipper’s reference to shellfish for female genitalia in a message to a staffer and that he is being sued for sexual harassment [eliding the fact that it is a male staffer who is suing him and that these comments emerged merely as background and had nothing to do with the sexual harassment case]
  • Slipper had been in Abbott’s party but had left in the wake of an earlier scandal [what was the scandal again? That’s right- over use of travel entitlements. All seems a long time ago now], in effect becoming part of Gillard’s razor-thin majority coalition [not strictly true- no mention of the fact that she made him Speaker and the voting implications of that appointment]
  • Abbott’s motion for him to be fired immediately rather than through parliamentary procedure [I’m indulging in a bit of what-if here- I don’t really think that he could have continued in the role anyway. Nor should he]
  • The article lists other motives that Abbot might have had beyond the vile and derogatory texts- a personal friend who had become an embarrassment; chipping away at Gillard’s majority
  • It then lists a number of examples of Abbott’s behaviour e.g. Abbott’s newspaper comment “what if men are by physiology and temperament more adapted…”; Abbott’s “make an honest woman” comment; allusion by a colleague to Gillard as “barren”; Abbott’s description of abortion as the “easy way out”; Abbott’s comment “housewives doing the ironing”; Abbott’s failure to denounce “a man’s bitch” and “ditch the witch” and being photographed with them.
  • The article noted Margie Abbott’s contribution
  • The article noted Alan Jones’ comment about her father dying of shame and Abbott echoing the same phrase.
  • It identifies the carbon tax
  • The article noted Anne Summers’ speech available in full here [Worth reading] which identified ‘Ju-liar’ and YouTube clips

There are ‘winks on winks on winks’ at work here.  I’m thinking of the treatment that Kate Ellis received on Q & A on the previous night.  Gillard’s speech the next day was not a direct response to it, but it was the sort of speech that women often wish they had made when they find themselves in Ellis’ situation.

Q & A Kate Ellis

There’s an interesting and very detailed analysis of the episode here that points out that Kate Ellis was interrupted 36 times during the course of the program. An example:

TONY JONES: Kate Ellis?

KATE ELLIS: Well, can I just say first up what I’m not going to take is a lecture from Piers Akerman on women issues and how women feel about issues in this country and I am really glad we’re actually able to speak on this. Going back to the actual question, I mean I think there is a couple of different issues here. What Australian women have been concerned about is not that Tony Abbott does not love his wife. Of course he does. It is not that Tony Abbott doesn’t love his daughters. It is not even whether Tony Abbott likes Downton Abbey or not. Like that was all very nice…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It’s a disgraceful campaign, Kate.

KATE ELLIS: That was all nice but it’s completely…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It’s an orchestrated campaign.

KATE ELLIS: …irrelevant to the concerns of Australian women…

LINDSAY TANNER: Don’t you like Downton Abbey either?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I love Downton Abbey.

KATE ELLIS: …and that is, if you’re going to…

LINDSAY TANNER: It’s a very good show.

KATE ELLIS: …if you’re going to…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I like the Dowager Duchess too. I think she’s hysterical.

LINDSAY TANNER: Maggie Smith is sensational. Sensational.

Another wink?  The sotto voce comments that Abbott habitually makes across the despatch box in Parliament.  Abbott checking his watch at the end of her speech.  Winks, yes.  Fleeting,” hold-on-what-was-that?” type actions; a shared indulgent here-we-go-again attitude held by those in a position of power smirking at the powerless.  Small, inconsequential in themselves that you feel foolish in naming, and yet these small winks accumulate into a collective blindness.

As for our putative historian a hundred years down the track: Hansard won’t capture this performance.  The video will capture it better. The media, mainstream and social, will capture the audience response.  Time will be the arbiter.

I’m still not sure what I saw last Tuesday.  When I read Michelle Grattan’s [enough said?] report on it in the Age’s the next day, I wondered if I’d even seen it at all.  I don’t know if it changes anything.  All I know, is that I said “Good on you” and feel perhaps a little stronger in speaking up at these winks on winks on winks as well.