April 2014

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

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.

From the front page

Image of WA Premier Mark McGowan. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

The gospel according to Mark

Is this the moment WA Premier Mark McGowan goes too far?

Image of Oliver Twist. Image supplied.

Oliver Twist’s ‘Jali’

With quiet charisma and gentle humour, the Rwandan-Australian performer weaves together vivid autobiographical stories in this one-person show

Image of South Australia Premier Steven Marshall addressing the media during a press conference in Adelaide, August 24, 2021. Image © Morgan Sette / AAP Images

Marshall law

Premier Steven Marshall claimed South Australia was “COVID-ready” when the state opened borders just as Omicron was emerging, but it now faces the same issues as the eastern states

Image of Lisa McCune, Zahra Newman and Peter Carroll appearing on stage in Girl from the North Country. Image © Daniel Boud.

‘Girl from the North Country’

Weaving Bob Dylan songs into a story of Depression-era hardship, Conor McPherson’s musical speaks to the broken America of today

In This Issue

A woman greets her fiance aboard the HMAS Sydney, 1969. Photo by Cliff Bottomley. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia.

The Royal Australian Navy's struggle for our hearts and minds

The time of the modern mariner

Edgard Telles Ribeiro’s ‘His Own Man’

Scribe; $29.99

LEFT: Angelo Kaloudis waiting for the train at Newcastle. RIGHT: Harley Page and Nathan Isherwood after getting off the train at Cardiff.  CCTV images courtesy of NSW Police.

Last train to murder

One terrible night on the Newcastle line

Trent Parke’s ‘The Christmas Tree Bucket’

Steidl Verlag; $100


More in Arts & Letters

Bing Crosby and David Bowie on Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, circa 1977.

Oh, carols!

The music of Christmas, from the manger to the chimney

Image of Gerald Murnane

Final sentence: Gerald Murnane’s ‘Last Letter to a Reader’

The essay anthology that will be the final book from one of Australia’s most idiosyncratic authors

Image of The Kid Laroi

New kid on the block: The Kid Laroi

How Australia has overlooked its biggest global music star, an Indigenous hip-hop prodigy

Still from ‘No Time To Die’

The Bond market: ‘Dune’ and ‘No Time To Die’

Blockbuster season begins with a middling 007 and a must-see sci-fi epic


More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

Chips Rafferty & The Monkees


Online exclusives

Image of Oliver Twist. Image supplied.

Oliver Twist’s ‘Jali’

With quiet charisma and gentle humour, the Rwandan-Australian performer weaves together vivid autobiographical stories in this one-person show

Image of South Australia Premier Steven Marshall addressing the media during a press conference in Adelaide, August 24, 2021. Image © Morgan Sette / AAP Images

Marshall law

Premier Steven Marshall claimed South Australia was “COVID-ready” when the state opened borders just as Omicron was emerging, but it now faces the same issues as the eastern states

Image of Lisa McCune, Zahra Newman and Peter Carroll appearing on stage in Girl from the North Country. Image © Daniel Boud.

‘Girl from the North Country’

Weaving Bob Dylan songs into a story of Depression-era hardship, Conor McPherson’s musical speaks to the broken America of today

Still from ‘The Worst Person in the World’, showing Anders Danielsen Lie as Aksel and Renate Reinsve as Julie. Image courtesy Everett Collection.

‘The Worst Person in the World’

Renate Reinsve is exceptional in Joachim Trier’s satisfying Nordic rom-com