April 2014

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

John Howard & Uri Geller

John Howard & Uri Geller

When it came to ruining cutlery, Uri Geller was the world champion. By the early 1970s, the former Israeli paratrooper had become internationally famous for his ability to bend spoons using only the tips of his fingers and his unique powers of telekinesis. So great were these powers, given to him by extra-terrestrials, that he could not merely deform tableware but also start stopped watches, read minds, cause keys to droop like limp spaghetti and detect mineral deposits by psychic prospecting.

Long after Geller’s paranormal abilities were discredited as being no more than well-known conjurers’ tricks, people continued to believe that he possessed secret gifts. These included the directors of Zanex, an Australian mining company. In 1985, Zanex paid Geller $US250,000 to fly over the Solomon Islands, mind-probing the jungle below for buried diamonds, and to intuit potential gold deposits at Maldon, an old gold-mining town in Victoria.

On a commercial fight to Brisbane in October that year, Geller was noticed by another passenger, an up-and-coming politician in his mid 40s. John Howard was the new Liberal Party leader and the father of three young children aged five, eight and eleven. He sent the celebrity illusionist a note, asking if Geller could provide an autographed photograph for his kids.

“We duly met and I bent a spoon for him in the usual way,” Geller wrote later, adding that he took the opportunity to predict that Howard would one day be leader of the country.

John Howard’s rise took more than the prophecy of a prestidigitator, however felicitous the forecast. It was just over ten years later, after two leadership bouts and a lost federal election, that he finally succeeded in making Labor vanish from power. In that time, and the decade that followed, he proved himself more of a master magician than could ever have been foreseen. The Great Winston, he made things disappear in plain sight, sawed his opponents in half, switched the contents of locked cabinets, and delivered the cold spoon treatment to the ambitions of his treasurer.

Zanex, meanwhile, terminated its loss-making operations in the Solomons, citing poor management. Geller dropped his supernatural claims, became a close friend of Michael Jackson, sued Pokémon for filching his image and took to calling himself an entertainer. This didn’t stop a British tabloid reporting that he’d been enlisted to use his “remote viewing” skills in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.

John Howard’s children must have appreciated the autographed photograph. In 1997, he was declared our Father of the Year.

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.

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