The death of a legend


I was sitting on my couch last night watching TV when the news came through that Bob Hawke had died. He was 89, I knew he’d been crook for some time, but the news still struck me hard. I think much of Australia, on both sides of the political spectrum, had the same reaction. It was only after he was gone that I realised I had loved him.

Bob Hawke will probably go down as the greatest Labor Prime Minister ever, though he himself idolised John Curtin. I think there’s a strong argument that he’s our best Prime Minister ever of either persuasion. Together with Paul Keating, Hawke transformed Australia. They were a bold, reforming government with a vision of Australia that was innovative and ambitious. Somehow they managed to deliver most of their agenda. No other government has ever done so much, and it set us up and left us in a stronger place.

The economic foundation they set has seen us through some dark places since, but sadly the social and cultural direction they set – liberal and enlightened – has been waylaid by successive governments since. It’s an argument for another day, but had Keating not been defeated in 1996 Australia today would be a different place, and a better one. Enough survives however, the legacy remains.

Many contemporary Australians wouldn’t know that, but despite having left office in 1993 Hawke remained a public figure and became a cultural icon. Pretty well everyone loved him because he was a good bloke. There was no pretence to him, his compassion was authentic, and he was as he seemed, a garrulous, charming larrikin who epitomised the attributes we Australians like to think we embody.

For me, I remember much more than that. When I heard of his death last night I sent a text to a friend I knew who would be similarly affected. We spoke for a while and for the rest of the night exchanged SMS as we watched the coverage on TV and remembered. There was some mighty nostalgia at work.

The first election of any kind I ever voted at was the 1983 federal election, the election which Hawke beat Fraser. If I remember right it was held on the day after my birthday. I don’t know how it happened, but I was already deep into politics. I think a personality like Hawke’s probably encouraged that. I’d grown up with him being the president of the ACTU. He was immensely popular throughout the country. He was tough and smart – people forget how smart he was – with the boundless, inspiring confidence of man who knows he’s smart. He was without pretence though. There were no airs or graces to him and I doubt anyone ever doubted his genuine passion for the cause. I think many Australians could see something of themselves in his unabashed Australian-ness. He gave us permission to be ourselves.

That carried through to his prime ministership, though by now he had progressed from open neck shirts to fine Italian suits. He went into government with the imagination to create a better Australia, and the will to achieve it. We were all lucky that he had a man by his side – Paul Keating – who had similar imagination and drive. Together, and with possibly the best cabinet in Australian political history, they forged a new Australia.

Throughout that time he was on our TV screens and in our collective imaginations. He lives on in vivid memories, in great moments we all recall. He was someone we liked, someone we could be proud of. For all his great abilities what I cherish most about him was his compassion and decency. He was a truly good man who couldn’t abide injustice or bigotry. He stood for good, as no leader for many years has. He opened Australia up and made us look outwards, and in so doing embraced others with less opportunity, or disadvantaged by circumstance.

I can recall him crying on national TV, which he did several times. He was an empathic, sensitive man, and that only endeared him more. They’re the best people.

I look back and I remember sunny days and good times. Australia was burgeoning, we had belief, life was sweet. And we were lucky – how lucky we’ve only come to realise – to have leaders of the finest quality. We live in an era of pygmies, but Hawke was a true giant and a fine man. I’ll miss him.

PS It was good to see Hawke reconcile with Keating in the last few weeks ahead of this election. They are an iconic duo. It’s sad to see Hawke depart before seeing Labor win on Saturday, but his timing is impeccable otherwise. He always knew how to milk the political advantage. Australia is awash with sentimentality today remembering the prime minister they had once and what he stood for. That will stand today’s Labor in good stead.

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Up for grabs


Getting ready for work this morning I was listening to an interview with Kevin McHale. For those that don’t know, McHale was a great power forward in the NBA who played for the title winning Celtics in the mid-eighties. I remember him well, tall and pale skinned with a mop of dark hair, he seemed destined to play for the Irish themed Celtics. Later on he became a commentator, which was what the interview this morning wall about. It was a terrific interview.

Naturally much of the conversation revolved around the current NBA finals series, which is coming to a crescendo. A good three or four minutes was spent discussing Kawhi’s buzzer beater against the Phillies in the seventh game of that series.

It’s already a famous shot, but in time it will become one of those moments in folklore. The shot itself, the seconds ticking down to zero, the high degree of difficulty shooting from the corner with the Sixers tallest player, Embiid, guarding him. The ball had to loop high to get over him and landed on the front rim of the hoop, bouncing straight up the height of the backboard, and coming down on the same rim. This time it took a forward bounce, hitting the front of the rim on the far side, before plopping into the basket. Time has stopped, the crowd is hushed, the fate of two teams, two cities, all wrapped up in the bounce of the ball. It goes in, the crowd erupts, and the Raptors win by two.

As a pseudo Sixers fan I wish it was otherwise, but Kawhi Leonard is one of my favourite players and really elevated his game in the playoffs. They went through and the Sixers went out, while in the other playoff series my number one team, the Celtics, went out to Milwaukee. I reckon the results would have been the opposite had the Celtics matched up on the Raptors, and the Sixers on the Bucks, but you play the game you’re given.

The Bucks now take on the Raptors for the Eastern divisional title. They’ll take on the winner of the Warriors/Trailblazers series in the west.

The Bucks/Raptors contest is enticing just to see Leonard go up against Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo is my pick for the MVP, though they’ll probably give it to Harden again (overrated in my book, but that’s another conversation). I reckon the Bucks will get up in six games and probably take on the Warriors.

The Western conference finals is a different ball game with the two back courts going up against each other. Curry is a hall of famer, but I loved Lillard both as a player and a personality. The Trailblazers have been brave and will take a game or two off the Warriors but can’t see them winning unless Kevin Durant – another great play-off player – doesn’t make it onto the court. I’d like to see the Blazers win the whole thing, but nah.

That would leave a Bucks/Warriors final. Warriors have been there so many times and won so often it’s hard to go against them. But, this time I reckon the Bucks might have a slight edge.

That’s what I’m thinking now, but it could be completely different. I’ll be watching. For mine the NBA is one of the great competitions in the world and shits all over the other American sports.

Crash and burn


A lot of talk about the final series of the Game of Thrones, now being broadcast. Much of the commentary has been negative – too violent, lacking in logic, literally, lost the plot, and so on. Having been an avid watcher of the series for many seasons now I agree entirely.

I’m far from being one of those GoT geeks who can recite chapter and verse every plot development and nuance over every season. I took delight from the show for the same reasons as most people. Here was intricately detailed world with a strong backstory and engaging characters and a myth to lead us on. It was beautifully designed throughout and well-acted, with wonderful set pieces and changes of fortune we could believe in. We all had our favourite characters. It was a world we could immerse ourselves in.

This last season was widely hyped. Here was to be the culmination of years of story development. Instead what we’ve been given appears to be a rushed resolution. What might have been better served over eight episodes has been squeezed into five. More fundamentally, aspects of the back story have been forgotten or dropped altogether, and inconsistencies in motivation and behaviour have taken the story in an unsatisfactory direction. Most obviously, the story has been overtaken by huge set-piece battle scenes and incongruous violence, as if suddenly pandering to a different audience that have stuck fat from the first.

It really does feel a rush job.

Take Daenerys. She’s always had tendencies towards megalomania and even cruelty. They were always hairline cracks in her personality. Come this season they’ve suddenly become wide breaches, dictating the direction of the story. She has become the mad queen all at once. So okay, maybe this was always going to happen, but the haste with which it’s happened is jarring.

Then there’s Jon Snow. If there’s meant to be a central hero of the show he’s probably it. He’s always been the decent, reluctant type who’ll always do his bit. Fine. But in this series he’s become basically a softcock, slow on the uptake and as wet as a lettuce leaf. Supposedly it’s from love for Daenerys, but gee, it’s an unconvincing love story.

You have other characters acting counter to their established nature, and all the lovely, intricate threads of myth and foretelling have seem to be all lost – unless they’re to make a belated appearance in the last episode.

What we have instead is this violent, almost nihilistic portrayal of a world bent on self-destruction. It’s a bleak, dispiriting vision full of special effects and grand sequences, but empty of purpose.

I’ll be watching the last episode next week hoping for some miraculous and satisfying resolution to what appears right now a steaming mess. I can’t see it happening, though I’m pretty sure were the story goes from here.

Long running shows sometimes go off the rails as they run out of ideas. In this case it feels not a lack of ideas but rather an artificially rushed ending, as if they had to be somewhere else and couldn’t be bothered tying up all the loose ends. Let’s just burn them all instead.

I’ve seen this before. I used to watch the Walking Dead for years but gave up on it about 18 months ago, for similar reasons. The violence had taken over from the story of survival. At one stage the show seemed almost fascist in its depiction of violent might. That came to a crescendo but wasn’t played out properly, and thereafter was just lame.

Oh well, there’s bound to be another cracking series to come along soon.

The big call


Look, I said I wasn’t going to speak after the election until it was done and dusted, but here I am and I want to make bold prediction: Labor will bolt it in.

I’m not one for sweeping pronouncements like that. I lot of that is superstition: if you say it, you risk it. Here I am being the outrider though. Most pundits are predicting a close contest but a Shorten victory. The polls are still tight, though it’s years since the Coalition have been in front. Me, I think Labor have had it won for a while and will end up with a good majority.

Part of my confidence is the sheer vibe. I talk to people and just about all of them are dismissive of a government they’ve become cynical of. Just about all of them consider it sloppy and incompetent. I have acquaintances who have voted Liberal most of their life now firmly intending to vote for Labor. My only caveat is that I probably move in a circle while not atypical, is probably more discerning.

Reading the paper yesterday I see that 2.2 million people have already voted – including me – and I reckon a good portion of those will be for Labor. Much of the damage has already been done. The LNP good have a stellar last week – which seems unlikely – and it would likely be insufficient.

Regarding the polls I think there’s a factor no commentators have accounted for. Thousands of young voters registered to vote for the SSM plebiscite. They’re still on the books and we know the great majority of them favour the left side of politics. I don’t know that they’ve been factored into the polling. A lot of them are still living at home and so their voice is not being counted. I think they’ll be a big part of the count on Saturday.

Given there are so many tight seats, and the government has such a slim margin, it’ll take basically fuck all for them to lose. I’ll be interested to see what happens in Queensland, and NSW will be particularly fascinating watching if the Nationals vote holds up, but Victoria is the big state in this election. That’s my state and I reckon it’ll go hard against the government. This is where they’ll lose it.

One of the really interesting developments in this campaign is the rise of the independents. Once upon a time they could be largely defined as fringe to kooky. These days the independent candidates – many of them disaffected Liberals – are almost all candidates of great quality. They’ve been given a high profile and I expect them to pick up a bunch of seats, mostly at the expense of the Libs.

Once upon a time I had a jaded view of independents as I thought they got in the way of good government. I have the opposite view these days. The cross-bench are an able bunch and are a good check on incumbents. Good policies should get through, or are modified on the way through. Bad policies don’t get that far. That’s a generalisation, but these days I see much more good in the cross-bench than bad. Now it’s set to expand I see them as a sensible bloc who represent no-one but the Australian people. They’re a fact of life now, here to stay.

High maintenance


It was a pretty standard Saturday morning for me. Caught up for a mate for coffee and Danish, walked up the road to do my weekly grocery shopping, returned home to unpack it while I had some playlist going loud in the background. That done I wander into my study and tap on the keyboard to check out what’s news. No emails of note, no messages, but hello, on Facebook I find an ominous post.

It’s by my cousin, of course. He starts in by saying what a toxic life he’s had. Then he says had he not been denied the inheritance from his grandparents that went to his cousins instead he might have had a chance (was he talking about us, I wondered, or the other side of the family? We got nothing.) He concludes by stating that he’ll be ending his life later in the day.

As I read this my heart falls. There’s every chance this is a cry for help. And, though I don’t know him that well, it seems consistent with his attention seeking self-pity. But I can’t presume that and I know I can’t just sit there and do nothing.

I contact a friend to get an opinion. At the same time I report his post to Facebook. We agree I have to do something, but I’m not sure how you go about it. If I say the wrong thing it could aggravate the situation so after I get off the phone I call Lifeline. I explain the situation to them and they guide me through the process.

While I’m talking to them I tap out a message to him. I tell him I’ve seen his post. I ask him (redundantly, but you have to say something) if he’s alright. His response is immediate “Fuck off”, he writes.

I half expect that and ignore it. I continue. I understand you’re in a bad way, I write, but I’m here to listen if you need it.

Once more his response is immediate, and the tone has changed. He asks where I live.

I know I don’t want him coming to my place. I don’t want him to know where I live for fear that he’ll never leave. But these are desperate times.

I tell him my suburb, but also tell him that I can come to him. And, as I’ve been advised, I give him the number for Lifeline.

There’s no response to that and in fact it’s hours until he reads it. I admit, I feel some relief. I barely know him, and what I know of him I don’t like. But I can’t ignore him. I wonder if I’m being unfair. I may dislike him, but isn’t that unreasonable – like being annoyed by a one legged man because he limps?

In the meantime I call my father – the man I haven’t seen or heard from for over two years. My call goes to voicemail. Half an hour later he responds with a message. He greets me, then says he’s well aware of my cousin’s (his nephew’s) behaviour as he is always threatening to kill himself.

Somehow I am relieved by this, but unsurprised. Then I get angry. It’s the worst kind of emotional blackmail. I want nothing to do with him. When the dust settles, I resolve, I’ll block him.

In the meantime others have posted responses on his Facebook page exhorting him to think again. One person has even ‘liked’ the post.

There’s nothing more from him on Saturday, but on Sunday come a flurry of posts. Everything is different. Now he appears bright and positive. He announces plans. Then he starts uploading family photos going right back to his great-grandparents. His posts are eloquent – he’s clearly educated and intelligent – but they come in such a rush that I snooze him on my timeline.

I’m glad things are better. His behaviour seems to confirm theories on his mental state. I’m sour on him still. Good for you, I think, but leave me alone.

Today he contacted me again. He was friendly. I responded in kind. I suspect he was looking for information on a friend of mine that he remembers from when he was a boy, the guy with the red Trans Am. He’s not hard to track down – he’s a Facebook friend of mine, after all. And I anticipate that my friend now will be inundated with communications as the latest addition to his retinue. I’m sure this has been the pattern throughout. He consumes people until they’re exhausted with him before moving onto the next on the list. He uses them for the attention they can give him.

Maybe I’m being cynical. I can’t turn my back on him, not yet – but what I am is no more than the sympathetic bystander. I feel no stronger bond with him than with the people I work with, and less so than with many of my colleagues.

Early hours


I had an early breakfast before work today so was out of bed by 6.30. It was dark still outside as I readied myself for work.

The sun had not risen yet when I walked out the front door. There was a stillness to the air that was only deepened by the occasional random raindrop falling from the sky. For the first time in months we’d had decent rain overnight. I’d lain in bed listening in surprise to the rain rushing down. Before 7am the roads were still slick with it and, judging by the occasional puddle, the rain must have been substantial.

Normally I take a shortcut to Hampton station, heading down laneways and cutting through carparks. I had more time available today and so I walked up to Hampton street where I was certain of having cover should the rain some again.

The street was stirring as the day slowly lightened. A shoe store blazed with light advertising its goods, still hours away from opening. Farther along the newsagent was taking deliveries and preparing for the day. Good morning, he said to me as I passed him by. At the green grocer they were laying out the kerbside stands they would fill with produce. The butcher was getting ready too, and the bakery was already trading.

There are few people around at this time of morning except for those who have a living to make. It’s a separate world to what I live in, mostly overlooked and taken for granted. I’d rather stay in bed than get out of it, but I enjoy these sojourns and the insights they provide me. I feel aware of the world about me and, by extension, aware of myself. It lends perspective to the routines we unthinkingly follow day by day. The air is fresh too, and there’s a sense of awakening. The newness of the day is not yet rubbed off, and for a change you can enjoy it.

At the station the yellow lights reflected off the rain dark platforms. In either direction train tracks stretched straight and long. City bound the platform was sparsely populated by commuters silently waiting. Then the train comes and each of us shuffle onboard and find a seat, not a word spoken.

At my desk now feeling full after a big breakfast with a friendly colleague. I’d happily nap now but ahead of me is a full day before the journey home.

Summer/autumn, autumn/winter


For the first time since the year began – and probably since about October last year – I pulled on my pair of Red Wing boots this morning, thus signifying winter. When I walked out the door it was 11 degrees outside and, besides my boots, I wore a woollen jumper and a padded jacket.

I’m a believer in global warming and climate change in general. You’d have to have rocks in your heads these days not to, though naturally many with gravel for brains deny it. All the same, it seems to me winter pretty well comes the same time every year.

This is not true winter, of course. Autumn is a season of transition, from bright summer to austere winter. In my memory, almost all of March is what I’d describe as summer/autumn, which has been the same this year – warm, bright days more often than not. Then, about the last weekend of March – often coinciding with Easter, and with the end of daylight saving – the weather will turn, it will become autumn/winter.

The days become cooler. The clouds crowd in. We’ve had no rain practically all year, but this morning it was steady for a few hours, and will come again soon.

We’ll still get the odd warm day and throwback to summer, days in the mid or even high twenties, but they’ll be past too in a months time.

I don’t mind too much. It’s been a bloody hot summer, plus I love my Red Wings, and prefer winter fashion to summer. And – I reckon – I write better in this weather. I’ll enjoy the cosiness for it over the next few months but reckon, come August, I’ll have had my full of it. Just as well we have seasons.