June 2011


Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Barry Jones & Arthur Koestler

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Among the handful of authors who shaped his young mind, Barry Jones told his television audience in September 1968, Arthur Koestler ranked high on the list.

In Darkness at Noon and other books, Koestler had borne witness to the maelstrom of European history, not merely as a commentator but as a participant. The very model of the rootless cosmopolitan, he’d written himself into the story of the twentieth century, first as a follower of absolutist ideologies, then as their most trenchant critic.

Imprisoned and condemned to death by the fascists during the Spanish Civil War, he spent 101 days in constant expectation of summary execution, his ears ringing with the sounds of men being dragged from their cells to be shot.

Postwar, Koestler’s interest turned from politics to “the invisible writing” of the universe but he remained an active opponent of capital punishment.

Barry Jones, too, was exercised by the issue. As a small boy, the National Brain was terrified by newspaper accounts of hangings, his imagination furnishing the awful detail. It was “an extraordinary and emotional preoccupation for a child” and when the Victoria premier, Henry Bolte, decided in 1967 that judicial murder was a sure-fire vote-winner, Jones was prominent among those calling for the abolition of the death penalty. The cynical, cold-blooded execution of Ronald Ryan affected him deeply.

By then, the high school teacher turned quiz champion was hosting his own high-end television chat show, Encounter. He thought Arthur Koestler would make an ideal guest. An invitation was issued and the wandering mind, now a British citizen, agreed to a first-class trip. Jones met his plane in Sydney and escorted him to Melbourne.

Almost from the outset, Koestler made a prick of himself. The past was behind him, he declared. He was now a man of science, a student of levitation, psychokinesis, hallucination and rapture. The human brain, he’d concluded, had “a screw loose”. Petulant and arrogant, he spent his Encounter interview dodging and deriding the questions. At one point, Jones was moved to ask if he wasn’t talking nonsense. Koestler then tried to renege on his agreement to give a lecture on capital punishment. The public meeting was a disaster and much of the audience walked out. The press depicted the visiting intellectual as “a pint-sized martinet”.

Arthur Koestler committed suicide in 1983, bequeathing his estate to the study of parapsychology. Barry Jones became Minister for Science. Ronald Ryan is still dead.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

June 2011

From the front page

Pub test: ‘Who?’ for Wentworth

The stakes are ridiculously high in tomorrow’s by-election

At the gateway to Cape Fear

After the storm, North Carolina is a glimpse into a climate-changed future


Feliks Zemdegs, Rubik’s champion

Meet the world’s fastest cuber

Image from ‘The Insult’

The personal is political in ‘The Insult’

Ziad Doueiri’s tense film excavates Lebanon’s violent past

In This Issue

Shi Zhengrong and his wife, Vivienne, with Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett, atop the Sydney Theatre Company, which is 70% powered by Suntech's Pluto technology, November 2010. © Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

The sun king

Shi Zhengrong

'The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution', By Francis Fukuyama, Profile Books, 585pp; $59.95

‘The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French’ By Francis Fukuyama

Women tend a garden under the gaze of history. FROM LEFT: Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. © Reuters/Stringer Shanghai

Bitter fruits

China’s twelfth five-year plan

'Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial', By Janet Malcolm, Yale University Press, 155pp; $32.95

‘Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial’ By Janet Malcolm

More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller

Read on

Image from ‘The Insult’

The personal is political in ‘The Insult’

Ziad Doueiri’s tense film excavates Lebanon’s violent past

Image from ‘A Star Is Born’

Lady Gaga mesmerises in the uneven ‘A Star Is Born’

After a beguiling first act, director Bradley Cooper struggles to maintain momentum

Image of ‘The Arsonist’ by Chloe Hooper

The Detectives

Inside the hunt for the Black Saturday arsonist – an extract

Image of Sydney Opera House

Promo ScoMo and commodifying public space

The crass commercialism of last week’s promotion on the Opera House was a step too far