Early in the new year I entered a hairdressing salon in the main street of the Victorian Wimmera town of Horsham (not “Hers and Sirs” but the one next to it, if ever you’re looking). At 9.30 in the morning the place was empty, and in no time the hairdresser was fluffing the hair around my ears in the familiar way of her profession, and I was about to say, in the familiar way of the country, “Hot isn’t it, but I suppose we should expect it at this time of the year.” But before I could begin she said, “So, how’s your day been so far?”
When a new Australian magazine invites me to reminisce about old Australian magazines I have worked for, it has either a lot of courage or a shocking grasp of my history. True, I have written for so many weeklies, fortnightlies, monthlies and quarterlies over the years that an envious colleague once commented I had more columns than the Parthenon. But that’s the good news. The bad news is they are all ex-magazines. I qualify as a serial killer.
In the early morning of March 2 a smoking ceremony took place on Palm Island, north Queensland, to release the spirit of Mulrunji, who died last November in police custody. The sky was overcast and cockatoos screeched overhead as Mulrunji’s cousin, the activist Murrandoo Yanner, covered the arms of close friends and family with red ochre symbolising blood, to bind them with the spirit. The men in the group, including Mulrunji’s 14-year-old son Eric, took off their shirts.
Crisis came early this football year. Round one of the pre-season Wizard Cup was scarcely complete, the home-and-away competition still weeks away, and already the new centre-bounce ruck rules were being denounced as the deathblow for the big man of footballing tradition. Meanwhile the new holding-the-ball interpretation, complained Sydney Swans coach Paul Roos, was killing the ball player. This was news to Australian Football League umpires’ boss Jeff Gieschen. These two innovations, he declared, were pointing the code towards salvation.
On a Saturday morning in Marree, south of Lake Eyre and on the fringe of central Australian desert country, four generations of cameleers are waiting for the town’s annual camel race to begin. Aysha, 94, scrutinises the animals with a professional eye. She is a delicate woman with a thin long face, criss-crossed with wrinkles, and as a little girl she used to watch the camel trains go past her house, ghostly silent except for the tinkling of their bells. In those days the camel trains took three weeks to travel the Birdsville Track to Queensland.
John Howard, a prime minister who supposedly yearns for the days when fathers went to work, mothers stayed home and families lived behind white picket fences, might seem an unlikely hero for single mums. But he can fairly claim to have done much more to alleviate poverty among single parents than the Labor governments led by Bob Hawke and Paul Keating ever did. It is true that Howard’s more explicit plan has been to look after stay-at-home mums with high-income husbands, including 31 on million-dollar salaries at the last count.
Still comfortable but relaxed no more in John Howard’s Australia
By John Birmingham, May 2005
It’s a hell of a thing, to see the dead come back to life. But that’s what it felt like driving through my hometown. When I left Ipswich in the early 1980s the place seemed to be teetering on the edge of a death spiral. Steam-age industries that had supported generations of miners and factory workers were wheezing out their last gasps. Unemployment was becoming something a man would hand on to his children, and they to theirs.
Modern ABC buildings show their bones. Their innards seem exposed to the light. The architecture is a thing of soaring, light-filled atriums, the foyers like stripped down cathedrals or airport departure lounges, without the comings and goings. One is invited to awe. Move into the back offices, though, and you get beneath the skin. Here, there is no awe.
Ken Trewick is late. Which is very unlike Ken Trewick. He told me he’d pick me up at 9.30. And as I stand in the sunshine on the footpath outside my brother’s old Queensland house, I wonder what’s going on. Not that I know Ken too well. I’ve met him a few times I suppose, and I’ve heard some of his story. But I’m going to drive to the Stawell Gift with him.
I first noticed Ken’s name when I was looking through a list of Stawell Gift winners.
1950 W.K. TREWICK (BRISBANE)
The stray animal rounded the corner of Rose-dale Road and Thomas Street at a slow trot, his bony hips tilted slightly to give the effect of walking at a tangent, the front legs not quite square with the back. His coat was yellow and thinning, the skin beneath dotted with the pus-filled scabs of kangaroo ticks. A fragile ribcage pressed outwards along his torso, but the animal’s slender head was held firm and low. The dog had a purpose about him, his eyes bright despite the hunger.
Back when I was careless about what I wished for, someone asked a fanciful question, redolent of hope and innocence, about my up-coming first novel. “If you could choose, would you take critical approval or good sales?”
There comes a moment after a war when the politicians who made it and the generals who fought it and the soldiers who survived it have died or are dying and the truth finally emerges. We are in the middle of that moment now with the war between Australia and Japan, 1941–45. A spate of revisionist histories, of which Cameron Forbes’s huge ambitious Hellfire (Macmillan, 560pp; $45) is one, have been published and more are on the way. In geopolitical terms the importance of the war is enormous.
It’s well known that Andrew Denton is the son of Kit Denton, author of the book on which Breaker Morant was based. It’s less well known that radio, TV and even the ABC itself are in Denton jnr’s blood, if not his very genes; his father worked as an ABC announcer from 1951 to 1965, as a producer/director of radio and TV documentaries, and as the true identity of The Australian’s feared and respected TV critic ‘Janus’ during the 1970s.
I first heard this record coming in from the airport in Milan. A taxi ride, ancient four-storey buildings, thrusting billboards, the beautiful people gorgeously dressed; and then a motorbike accident on a corner, a body beside an ambulance stiff on the ground. Life and death. I was listening to the right record.
‘3 Decades of Photography by Bill Henson’, National Gallery of Victoria
By Justin Clemens, May 2005
A young man masturbates, his face and torso scattered across a sequence of photos. Blurry and disjointed, you never see the act itself. Passers-by are captured without knowing it, oblivious to their neighbours, strangers to themselves. Each mono-chrome expression is so singular there seems no right name for it: it is no accident that Henson’s works go untitled. Two faces, an older man and a glowing pre-pubescent, both dressed to the nines, are juxtaposed in an overwhelming darkness.
‘Brotherboys: The Story of Jim and Phil Krakouer’ by Sean Gorman
By Paul Daffey, May 2005
As footy-mad youngsters, the Krakouer brothers’ inventive quest to improve their Aussie Rules skills included practising over the kitchen table in the family home at Mount Barker, WA. While their father Eric, one of several quiet heroes in this sad and stirring story, sips his tea after a hard day’s shearing, the two brothers try to handball a pair of rolled-up socks as close as possible to his nose.
I am a capital defence lawyer in the deep south of the United States. What that means is I help defend people who have been accused or found guilty of murder and whom the state is trying to execute. The crimes I am dealing with are some of the most heinous, disturbing and devastating there are. My clients are often the most hated figures in their communities, so hated that being identified with them sometimes makes me a target for hatred too.
Chey Miles is a T-shirt designer. He would have to be really, dressed as he is in the edgiest of faded black garments, sleeves torn off at just the right angle to showcase his sun-bronzed upper arms. His shirt is decorated with a scribbled line drawing of Mukima Munky and his “gimassive” brother Jaja, two fantasy characters who are either cartoon-cute or vaguely disturbing, depending on how much dope you smoke.
One Tuesday morning in August last year, Lauren Curnow, a 17-year-old student at Ballarat Secondary College, told her parents that she felt sick and wanted to stay home from school. Her mother assumed Lauren had a cold. But at about four in the afternoon, while Mrs Curnow was outside washing the car, Lauren gave birth, on hands and knees in her own bed, to a full-term baby boy.
In a quiet Adelaide suburb on a sunny autumn day, Gwen Nitschke is sitting at her kitchen table. She is talking about her son, Philip, who for the past ten years has been campaigning in the cause of voluntary euthanasia, and in the meantime doing as much as he can to assist the many people who ask him for help. Very early in the conversation his mother leans forward and looks me sternly in the eye. “Can I ask you a question?” she says. “Are you pro or anti?”
In The Meaning of Liff, Douglas Adams’s book of words that should exist but don’t, he proposed the term “sheppy”: the closest distance, equal to approximately seven-eighths of a mile, at which sheep remain picturesque. Someone should invent an equivalent measure for pigeons.
Tomorrow’s Liberal leaders have issues with gays, greenies, young mums, Malcolm Fraser - and each other
By Chloe Hooper, June 2005
A group of Young Liberals are touring Hobart’s Cadbury chocolate factory. They are warned – along with the other guests – not to take photographs or use recording equipment. They must not put their fingers in the giant vats of cocoa, touch any confectionary as it passes along the network of conveyor belts, or pick up any pulpy clumps from off the floor. Instead, seemingly at every turn, the tour guide offers approved chocolate assortments and most people fill their pockets with an excitement beyond control.
Dr Maurice Raad was a large, chubby South African, 53 years old, with a prominent mole on his right cheek. He appeared harassed on his first morning. As he bustled about the room, opening and closing cupboards, he chatted about Tasmania. He was new to the island but looked forward to working in Swansea at least five years. He wondered aloud about the Japanese restaurant on the highway.
As destitute universities count their pennies, students at one Australian institution count their blessings
By Charles Firth, June 2005
I am standing in the kitchen of the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, worrying whether you can contract diabetes simply by looking at too many sweets. Roy Kirkland, ADFA’s pastry chef, is showing off the desserts he has been making to feed the 100 academic staff and 1,000 students on campus. He begins with a batch of fresh-baked blueberry muffins, followed by an apple tart with calvados (brandy made from apples).
Dead disturbing. A bloodthirsty tale that plays with the fire of anti-semitism
‘Dead Europe’ by Christos Tsiolkas
By Robert Manne, June 2005
When George Orwell was in Burma he asked a young boy he met his nationality. “I am a Joo, sir!” He was no more self-conscious than if he had answered: “I am a Sikh.” No Jew in Europe would have answered the question like this. As Orwell was able to illuminate through this tiny incident, for the best part of 2,000 years the place of the Jews in the Christian West was fraught and strange. Even the phrase “the Jews” was overloaded with mysterious and sinister meaning.
Brown skin black hearts. Two trail-spotting postcards from two different Australias
‘Kayang & Me’ by Kim Scott and Hazel Brown; ‘Balanda’ by Mary Ellen Jordan
By Inga Clendinnen, June 2005
A few years back Kim Scott wrote a novel about being of mixed descent in a racially divided society.Benang: From the Heart was a stunning exercise in actuality transfigured by imagination. In Kayang & Me (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 270pp; $29.95), Scott subdues his formidable literary talents to set down, extend and counterpoint his Noongar aunt Hazel Brown’s recollections of the family’s history.
An overturned bucket of fish, their jaws gaping with a death-rictus, pours out onto the tabletop. A crustacean on a plate is contorted, all hooks and limbs and tail. Opened mussels rest on heavy folds of cloth. A crab clasps its claws, almost meditatively. It looks like a good day’s fishing on the open seas. But you cannot eat this catch; it will not stink or putrefy. It is a work of art, painstakingly carved in wood. It is Ricky Swallow’s Killing Time.
One fine day a young woman, Keiko, presents herself plausibly to the landlord of a Tokyo apartment as the mother of a studious-looking 12-year-old boy, Akira. Thus established as acceptable tenants (though we wonder about Keiko’s skimpy, armpit-baring singlet, and her childish, high, over-sweet voice), mother and son drag their suitcases up the stairs into the new flat and unzip them. Out pop three smaller children, dishevelled but cheerful.
Ballads, blues, babes and a man still expressing himself: ‘B-sides and Rarities’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
By Robert Forster, June 2005
Nick Cave is the greatest rock artist Australia has produced. No contest. Somewhere in history there may have been a contender who never got his or her chance. But with Cave, album after album, shots go off, every couple of years bringing a new bolt of intensity: great songs, good songs, a few bad songs, packed, positioned and aimed at an ever-growing fan-base and a critical establishment baying for his blood. His blood to drink. He’s the man.
Tragically, Big Brother is back. As with Australian Idol, this show’s soundtrack of non-stop hysteria is provided by a mob of nine-year-olds leaping about and screeching as though their complimentary jumbo drink-bottles of red cordial have all been laced with speed. And that’s just the housemates. This year’s lot seem obsessed by the question of who’s going to have sex with whom. Given that they are a largely undifferentiated mass already and most of them seem incurably narcissistic, you’ve got to wonder why they care.
Ray Moynihan has been pursuing the pharmaceutical giants for more than a decade, first with his TV series and book Too Much Medicine? and now – in collaboration with Canadian researcher Alan Cassels – in a new assault that might just draw blood. In Selling Sickness he lets loose a fresh pack of hounds to stalk the big guys behind some of the biggest medical cons since phrenologists’ bump charts.
‘Birds of Australia’s Top End’ by Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow
By James Bradley, June 2005
Early on in these pages, Denise Goodfellow marks out some territory. Relating her Aboriginal sister’s reaction to a picture of a cassowary (“What’s this? Different emu?”), she declares: “Rather mischievously I did consider adopting the classificatory methods of my Kunwinjku relatives. But I didn’t think twitchers would approve.”
On May 11, 1989, the worst team to leave Australia was playing the Marylebone Cricket Club at Lord’s. One of the worst team’s worst bowlers, Mervyn Hughes, was fielding a few steps from where I sat on the boundary. England welcomed Hughes, an antipodean caricature well known for his handlebar moustache and risible Big Bad Wolf impersonations of a fast bowler.
On the cover of the first Australian edition of Vice, a free street magazine published about once a month, a bloodied rat lay dead on a metal floor. Inside were lots of cool ads – for Pants General Co, Zoo York, K-Swiss, freedom.of.choice and Asahi beer – aimed at the cashed-up youth market. The content came mostly from Vice’s New York parent edition and included “The Vice Guide to Eating Pussy” and “The Day I Joined the Ku Klux Klan”.
Rebecca Smith, 16, broke curfew. She knew she was going to be late and she knew her mother, Janelle, would be sitting at home waiting. She knew her mother would not understand. She didn’t care. She stayed at her church youth group until the last prayer. And so, Rebecca Smith was grounded.
Brendan Nelson, John Howard’s education minister, did a funny thing a while back. Funny strange, that is, not funny ha-ha. He apologised to an opponent. Even stranger was the choice of enemy upon whom he bestowed this rare benevolence: Tony Windsor, independent MP for New England and bête noire of Nationals leader John Anderson. Most days, if what was left of Windsor’s hair caught fire nobody in the government would cross the chamber to piss on it.
Ten days after the incident at Brisbane airport, we were in a Port Moresby hotel watching Sunday morning current affairs from Australia. It was a while before Somare’s shoes got a mention, and when they did even the best of the Australian journalists seemed bemused. It was “a bit silly”, one of them said. In Papua New Guinea, silly was not what it was.
How a lovestruck teenager, an angry man and an ambitious baron made sure bad news was no news on the path to Iraq
By Robert Manne, July 2005
On the road to the invasion of Iraq, and through the two and a half years of bloody chaos since Baghdad’s fall, almost every Australian news-paper owned by Rupert Murdoch has supported each twist and turn of the American, British and Australian policy line. Oddly enough, however, during 2002 the humble Hobart Mercury did not. Here is its quite characteristic, fiercely anti-war editorial of September 12:
The battle for the Timor Sea, home of oil, gas, hot air and hope
By Tony Clifton, July 2005
Now here’s a puzzle, and it’s right on Australia’s sea-girt northern doorstep. Under the sea between Australia and Timor – but much closer to Timor than Australia – sits a huge geological formation known as Greater Sunrise. It contains perhaps $50 billion or more worth of gas and oil. Not a drop of this oil, or a breath of this gas, has been raised to the surface above because Australia and Timor cannot agree who owns it. This doesn’t bother Australia all that much because it has plenty of gas and oil, plus all the other riches we carol about in the national anthem.
W. made his slow way up the steps into Am Sandwerder and accustomed his eyes to the light, uncertain whether the streaks in the sky signified dawn or dusk. Never could he recall feeling so depleted. He had lost count of the hours he’d spent in the basement room, absorbing its smells and its darkness, breathing in the fetid atmosphere of the small set of people he lived with, concentrating on his work. Tired though he was, he feared that unless he escaped to stretch his legs and grab a bite to eat he would use his hands to do something violent.