The virtuous and the vicious


On Friday all over the world children skipped school to rally against the politics that have led to careening climate change. For many this was controversial. Politicians on the wrong side of that argument warned they should be kept at school. They were ridiculed as being too young to really understand, or as being puppets of the left. In truth, these accusers are the people the children are rallying against – the blind, the conservative, the corrupt and the inept. It’s come to the point that our children are protesting at what their parent’s generation failed to do.

It may be too late, but now there is such momentum that the naysayers are losing their influence. The organiser of this event, Greta Thunberg, is a formidable schoolgirl from Norway. She has managed to do what so many others well intended have not: she has electrified an issue and given it into the hands of those who will be most affected by its evil.

The tide has turned, I think, and it’s heartening to see such passion and commitment in those so young. There was a time when kids of that age would engage in the playful, mindless fun that comes easy when life is good. What need of passion or ideals if life is served warm to you on a plate? Times have changed and become more immediate. The pendulum returns, as it always must, having reached one extreme – the extreme being an era of poor, weak or corrupt leadership. It has led to the situation we find ourselves in now and our children roused, won’t have it anymore. If they survive the climate coming at least we can begin to hope our world might be in better hands.

For me, this was reason for hope and inspiration. But then came the other side of that.

I was at work Friday afternoon when the first reports of a shooting in Christchurch came through. Anyone who’s been in this situation knows how odd it seems. At first, you tend to think it’s probably nothing much. We have become inured to everyday violence, and there are so many nutters out there it comes as no great surprise. But then updated reports come through. Up to nine dead, you read. People begin to turn to each other. Have you heard what’s happening in Christchurch? And you go back, seeking more news, and it comes. It was a mosque that was attacked. Hospitals preparing for forty or fifty casualties, you read. Wow, you think. You catch eyes with someone. You start to feel it in your stomach: something awful is happening.

You go about your work nonetheless. Computers hum, phones ring, emails come and go, meetings are called. On Friday we had a late function. Going into it I saw the latest update – 29 confirmed dead, dozens feared to be. And you think: dozens?!

Finally, when I got home, I saw – 49 dead – and as I watched the full story unfolded, about how the gunman live-streamed his rampage to Facebook, about the garbled, racist manifesto he wrote, finally, that he was an Australian.

Such terrible events are hard to comprehend, but it was the news that the killer was an Australian from Grafton that gave it another edge. I felt fear and shame as well as sorrow and anger. I didn’t feel the surprise knowing he was an Australian that I did at the event itself.

Naturally, there’s an upwelling of grief and compassion across the globe at what has happened, mixed in with anger and despair. That’s been the case here too in Oz. New Zealand is our closest neighbour. We are cousins to each other. We know each other well, like family. But then one of ours has gone there and murdered so many of them and, unfortunately, it’s easy to see why.

This is a problem all over the world, divisive extremities, not just in Oz. Here though, as in some places, it has been leveraged for political purposes. It started with John Howard here, may he burn in hell, the first man to politicise asylum seekers and turn it into an election issue. He changed the conversation, and in so doing changed Australia. We went from being an open, warm society to a society protective of its good fortune and closed to the sorrows of others. That’s been exploited since by Abbott and Morrison, and throughout, by Dutton, aided and abetted by a media either complicit to the point of cheerleading (Murdoch) or being too weak or cowardly to properly stand up against the cold-hearted values being espoused.

When that becomes the language, when human life has been devalued to that of a statistic, when those poor folk caught in the crossfire and seeking a better life are demonised as either terrorists or opportunists, then it is easy to dismiss the woes of others. In a world where everything has become polarised everyone who is perceived as being not ‘us’ must, therefore, be against us. Multicultural as we are in Australia, in the eyes of the bigoted it means every one of colour, everyone not Christian, becomes suspect at least. And so in the demented minds of a few the events on Friday loom as a crusade against so-called enemies.

There’s no point saying not all Australians, just as there was no point proclaiming not all men. Most Australians aren’t like that, are horrified by what happened – but this lives within our society, and has been encouraged and been allowed to thrive when it should have been stillborn. We all have to take responsibility for that.

When the news came out Friday the deplorable Fraser Anning came out effectively blaming the victims for being Muslim, guilty of their own murder. Yesterday he attended a right-wing function only a few kilometres from where I live. Famously – now – a 17-year-old kid smashed a raw egg into the back of his head. It’s a moment that will go down in folklore, and ‘eggboy’ has been hailed since all over the world.

It’s an instructive moment. Here was Anning with his white supremacist cronies, swathed in swastikas, swaggering and pitched towards violence. These are dysfunctional, damaged members of society, drawn towards a toxic ideology because of a lack in themselves (if only being intelligence). They’re the sort of men who commit violence against women and others weaker than themselves. That’s the disaffected breeding ground for those who one day will resort to violence on a broader scale.

Then there’s the kid, perhaps a kid who marched on Friday, a kid who believes in an inclusive world and better selves, a kid engaged in what it means to be a part of a true society. Some of decried what he did as some sort of violence, but what I see is a kid who has made a mockery of Anning in this silly act, and revealed Anning for what he truly is. Anning turned and attacked the kid before his cronies piled on top of him and got him in a choker hold. The kid lost consciousness – he’s okay – and what the world saw was the gleeful violence so easily adopted.

We saw it too, in Australia. I’m always hopeful, even after such a terrible thing. This is our moment to be properly ‘woke’. They’re not just a ratbag few. They’re among us, and can’t be tolerated any longer. I reckon fully 95% of Australians are horrified by these people and are now just waking up to the danger they represent. It’s a harsh lesson, but the actions on Friday I think will rebound on the supremacists. We want to say, as the Kiwis have, this is not who we are.

I should add that I think it’s pulled the teeth from the government ahead of the election as well. Before this – sad to say – they’d have sought to exploit the divisions between us and them, lead by those good Christians Morrison and Dutton. They can’t do that now. Hopefully, no-one ever can again.

It’s a hard thing to say after fifty people are dead, but I think the pendulum is shifting back. I think the act on Friday was a sign of that, evil as it was. That’s poor comfort for the families of those murdered, but a small thing the rest of us can hold onto and hope is true. Better times will come.

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Lost voices


In the last week two giant names in Australian journalism have passed away.

The first of these was Mike Willesee, possibly the finest interviewer of the last fifty years. Back in a time when political interviewing was an artform (a time, sadly, long past) Willesee was king. He would appear every night on our TV screens, mostly on A Current Affair (when it wasn’t a tabloid program), probing and interrogating a range of politicians and hucksters and very often bringing them undone. He was highly intelligent and very well researched and had a composed, patient, insistent manner. When he was on your tail you knew it you were in trouble – most famously John Hewson, caught out ahead of the ’93 election when questioned about the GST on a cake.

Growing up dad would watch the program every night, and over time so did I. Truth mattered then and our officials were held to account daily. I don’t think that’s been the case in Australia since Willesee’s successor, Jana Wendt. I think there’s a distinct connection between the decline in journalistic rigour and the knowledge and active engagement of the electorate, and democracy is the loser.

The other to have died, just yesterday, was Les Carlyon. Off the top of my head I can’t think of another Australian journalist anywhere near as good a pure writer than him. Everything he wrote was evocative. I read a lot of his stuff over the years – his books on WW1, both wonderful, plus his general journalism, particularly his heartfelt appreciation of great horses – and often times I would pause reading to truly appreciate his prose, and to reflect on the insights he shared with us.

He was a grand writer, but he had a way of seeing that told of his journalistic background. He was editor of The Age at 33, so he had more than just a way with words. That’s what made him so memorable – a wonderful writer paired with insight and sensitivity. I reckon he saw beneath the surfaces and touched upon the human truths which really are the basis of every good story. You read his stuff on the big race days or our abiding affection for the racehorses of folklore and what he understands is the essential meaning of these things, a meaning held deep inside which is something close to love. We want to believe. We want to belong. We want to love and share and celebrate.

His histories have that, too. He was a humane, incisive commentator who valued the uniqueness of experience.

He was 76. Sadly this means there’s no more of his writing to look for, but grateful for what we have.

Enough with the heat


I’ll tell you what I’m sick of: hot weather. Today is actually reasonable, 24 or something, but it’s been bloody hot more often than not.I read this morning that January was the hottest month on record in Oz, following on from the hottest December on record. Personally, I can’t remember a hotter January in Melbourne.

It’s funny how such fierce weather can be so pretty. January was a beautiful month. There was hardly any rain, though there was a picturesque thunderstorm on Wednesday, few clouds, and the sky has been that very Australian blue. We need rain though, as always, and too many hot days lead to exhaustion and ill temper.

I find it trying, but I can live with it. My heart really goes out to all those beasties who have to endure this without the comforts of home. On those really hot days, I close the back door with Rigby inside and leave the aircon running for him. It also means I come home to a relatively comfortable environment, and it’s easier keeping the place cool than making it so.

January we had two days of about 44 degrees Celsius, a couple more in the low forties, and probably eight or nine days in the thirties. For most of the month, I had only the bedroom aircon working. The main aircon actually conked out on the first of the 44 degree days. I was able to sleep okay with the aircon in the bedroom but I’m never completely comfortable sleeping with it on. It dries out the air and makes for a lighter sleep and most days I would wake up weary. Tack a few days on end like that – and mine is a hot home – then it begins to add up. And it’s the same for pretty well everyone.

I managed to get the aircon fixed last week (on the same day I had a specialist appointment costing me $380; got my car aircon regassed; and had my bathroom taps replaced – on a 38-degree day). This weekend we have another 35 and a 39 forecast.

This sort of weather is made for staying indoors where it’s cool, or socialising out in the sunshine. I spent Sunday afternoon wading up to my knees at Hampton beach before having a few beers, some wine, and some take-away fish and chips with some friends on the foreshore.

This is what summer should be, only there’s too much of it. This is all over Australia and it’s hard not to think climate change and global warming, and be fearful. I wonder what those born today will have to endure in years to come. There’s no real reason to believe the small-minded politicians all over the world will ever wake up to the fact and actually cooperate in doing something to prevent this. By the time they do it’ll be too late. Hands up who disagrees? Barring some technological miracle, I figure that in a thousand years’ time we’ll be pretty well wiped out. All our doing, too.

Burning zeppelins


Watching Brexit play out is like watching a replay of the Hindenburg catch alight and the flames slowly engulfing it. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen that footage, but it’s iconic, and Brexit looks just like it. From a small spark the whole thing gradually becomes ablaze, crashing to earth an inferno from which little survives.

There’s a couple of months before it becomes official, unless the British government either asks for a stay of execution, and/or calls another referendum. As it stands it’s a shambolic mess with no-one really knowing what’s going on, and no-one who can agree what they want, even among the Brexiteers.

I have to admit watching on with wry fascination. It could hardly be messier or more confused. Though Theresa May is the architect of much of this mess I’ve developed a grudging admiration for her bulldog spirit. She’s on record as a remainer, but true to the result of the referendum ploughs on in the face of discord and abuse, the intransigence of parliament and an obstinate EU, she persists seeking a solution.

It would be clearer and easier if the divide between those who want to leave and those who want to remain was clearer, but half the Conservatives want to leave, some fanatically, and Corbyn on the Labor side has come out in support of Brexit to, though most in his party are opposed to it, because that’s what the people voted for. Then there’s the people themselves. There’s much talk that many have changed their mind when confronted with the facts of Brexit, but the fact is there are increasing protests by those who support it.

It’s the hope of the remainers that a second referendum will be called, and while I understand that I have problems with it too. They voted. There’s many an election here I’d have liked recalled, but just because you don’t like the result you can’t ask for a re-vote. I mean, that’s not what democracy is. And if, say, they did call a second referendum then that’s a can of worms that shouldn’t be opened. It basically discounts the votes of everyone who voted exit and there’d be blood on the streets, I’m sure.

Either way this is a divisive situation. I think the best option is to seek an extension and hope in the time available to find an agreeable solution – whatever that is. I’m not sure if another couple of years will settle things down, and the uncertainty may lead to greater problems. As someone who things the very notion of Brexit is ridiculous this looks like a lose-lose situation.

It really is funny if you’re so involved. Who knows, May might just pull a rabbit out of the hat. Otherwise, this Hindenburg is going down.

The myth of Bundy


I finished watching a short series on Ted Bundy on Netflix last night. He’s a fascinating figure in history, but I found my perspective to him shift as I watched.

Bundy is close to being the most famous of serial killers, and surely the most romanticised. His alleged good looks, charm and intelligence enough to elevate him beyond the common rank of psychopaths. I think much of the mystique comes from the fact that such a ruthless killer could also appear like ‘one of us’. I think he seduced and fooled many people like that, but the rest of his mystique comes down to his good looks.

That’s the background, and that was my general perception of him leading into this program. I can say after watching all four episodes that he was a supreme narcissist who thrived on attention and personal engagement. I thought his good looks overrated, and his ‘charm’ creepy and contrived. I’m viewing him in retrospect, aware of the full scale of his crimes, but I still don’t understand how so many so readily fell for him.

Watching him closely he seemed to me full of tics and twitches in the form of great smiles, greetings, and winks. He was someone who craved recognition and sought a response. Observing him it felt like a performance, though heartfelt, and by that I mean while it wasn’t authentically born the reaction he sought was vital to his sense of self and wellbeing. Deny him that reaction and I imagine he would appear the monster he was in actual fact. To me, an Australian, much of his behaviour came across as smarmy.

Much was made of his intelligence also but again, I thought him very cunning, but not nearly as smart as he thought he was – which was much of his downfall.

It was fascinating as so many of these stories are. We’re forever drawn to the lurid, and nothing is as lurid as a serial killer. It’s an interesting story to when you consider his repeated escapes from the law. At the end of it though I found that the aura he had was much diminished in my mind. He was murderer who just happened to have a face and manner that some people found attractive. It was a squalid tale of a squalid personality.

That’s my take, but clearly then – and it appears now – found something more in Bundy than that. Most of them appear to be women and I suspect a lot of it is sexual – here is the ‘acceptable’, even handsome face of murder. It’s dangerous and illicit and thrilling, evidenced by the breathless girls and women who attended his trials and sought to meet him. That too is a lurid fantasy, though it didn’t stop him from fathering a child by one such devotee.

Now there is a movie coming out starring Zac Efron. I guess there’s a story there, but I fear what Hollywood will do with it.

The smarter state


I remember the last state election I was staying in Rosebud. I voted there and in the evening my entertainment was watching the election broadcast. By coincidence I was once more in Rosebud over the weekend when the latest election took place.

I was busy out and about through the day but caught up with latest reports and results as they filtered in as I sat down for dinner. Very early on it was a clear that Labor where going to bolt it in. As it turned out that was spot on. The Libs in Victoria have been decimated and Daniel Andrews and his government given a ringing endorsement. It’s well deserved.

I’m a big fan of Daniel Andrews. I was a sceptic when he took on the role of Labor leader but I’m a convert. As premier he’s done what few of his predecessors have managed to do. He’s set out an agenda and delivered on it. It’s been a bold, innovative agenda too – removing level crossings, starting on the much mooted but forever delayed metro tunnel, he’s brought in assisted dying legislation, the safe injection room in Richmond, has championed safe schools and initiated a ground-breaking inquiry into domestic violence – among many other things.

Andrews has made things happen and my admiration on that front is shared by many Victorians. That’s a big reason he got so many votes on Saturday: he does what he says he will do, and he does a lot.

That’s not the only reason he go re-elected. The Libs, both federally and at state level played into his hands.

The rank dysfunction federally, the policy confusion, the stupid booting of Turnbull, along with an embarrassingly buffoonish PM don’t go down well in Victoria.

At state level Matthew Guy is a uncharismatic, slightly shifty character it’s hard to warm too. He might have had a chance, however, but for the ridiculous policy direction and campaigning.

Their slogan for the campaign was ‘Getting back in control’. I guess they’re trying to make a point, but fact is most Victorians would have laughed at the idea that things weren’t in control. The corollary of this slogan was law and order.

Law and order is a classic election theme, especially for the conservative side of politics. The problem in this case is that the scare tactics so much in play over the last twenty years have worn thin. It’s taken a while, but people are beginning to see them for what they are – hysterical attempts to inflame outrage and fear. Most of us have become cynical, if not disgusted, by the hyperbolic attempts to politicise what are matters of humanity.

It might work in Queensland, but there’s no chance in Victoria. Victoria is the most progressive state in the land. Victorians are not prone to knee-jerk reactions and will make their own judgement. Much has been made of this post-election, but I think it’s true. The Liberal tradition here has always been small ‘l’. We are liberal by inclination. With the Liberal party swinging to the unpalatable right a successful Labor party becomes a much more attractive option. Add to that a pretty handy protest vote directed at Canberra there’s no surprise it was a Labor landslide.

What is surprising is how the Libs have been ignorant of this. None of this comes as a surprise to the man on the street. I’ll tell you what’s important – climate change matters and we should be doing more about it, rather than playing politics. Education and transport matters. We’re tired of the demonization of asylum seekers and pity the children marooned offshore, and we’re cynical of the dog whistling regarding Muslims and ethnic groups – the likes of Dutton and Abbott have been disastrous in Victoria.

I expect the Victorian result will be largely replicated come the federal election next year. The Libs show no ability to learn and Morrison is a fool of the highest order. And I expect the lunatic right wing fringe will continue to hold the party to ransom. Reality is they’re too damn stupid to deserve power. I thought Abbott was a shocker, but Morrison comes a close second.

Democratic processes


Did my civic duty early and voted today in the Victorian state election. Election day is not till the 24th, but there’s always a rush on the day, besides, I’ll be away on a golf weekend. Good to get it out of the way, and an easy decision too – one of the candidates gets things done, the other is a ratbag.

As usual, there were people handing out flyers with earnest persistence. I escaped the clutches of an eager Socialist asking if I knew about the “upper house deals being done.” I told her I knew all about it – a slight fib, I know some, but the truth is I know all I want to know about it.

I stood in line and as always refused every bit of electioneering guff with a polite no thank-you. It’s a waste of paper and I always know who I’m voting for regardless. It’s fascinating nonetheless. The unassuming Labor types, a grim-looking woman telling us it was time to ‘take back control’, another earnest and passionate Socialist I’d happily share a bottle with, and a lovely middle-aged woman who seemed to epitomise the Greens.

It took me back to a time – many years ago – when I was one of them. I’ve written about this before, so will keep it brief. I was a scrutineer for the republican movement for the referendum in 1999. It was an interesting and unexpected experience – I became ‘it’ because there was no-one else there to do it. I set up that morning stringing our banners up early on a cold winters morning and ahead of our monarchist opponents who arrived after I did. Take that royalist scum, I thought.

On this occasion, the royalist scum happened to be a lovely, reasonable man who’d had the foresight to bring a thermos of hot coffee with him. When he offered me a cup midway through the morning I hesitated, wondering if I would compromise my political integrity if I accepted it. I was easily bought it seems, and that little episode has informed much of my political thinking ever since. We demonise our opponents when they’re in the abstract. Face to face we realise often they are reasonable people with a view a little different from our own. I guess it’s about respect, ultimately. As it happened this guy was not against the republic per se, just against the model being voted on. That’s all down to John Howard, a man I have no respect for.

Funnily enough this week I had a passing thought that I would nominate as an independent senator prior to the next federal election. It wasn’t entirely random, I’ve thought about it occasionally in recent times – and why not? I’m informed, I’m informed and I’m educated – which is more than can be said for much of the riff-raff being voted I these days. I’d like to make a difference.

Even if I did nominate it’s a million to one against being voted in, but I’ve got a lot better chance in the Senate than in the house of reps. It’s unlikely I’ll do it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.