I was one of those despicable climate protestors blocking the Perth CBD yesterday. I hate inconveniencing people, but this is an emergency. I was feeling dread in the days leading up to the protest. For security reasons, there weren’t many details given out to rank-and-file protestors like me about what we were going to do. And you never know how the police are going to act. They can be fair and respectful to protestors or they can play hardball and be unpredictable. And who was going to look after the kids if we both got arrested? Continue reading
It was humbling to be led by school students, born this century, in the Global Climate Strike on Friday. But also inspiring. The turnout in Perth was estimated at 10,000, and Forrest Place was filled to the brim. Even this impressive turnout was overtaken by smaller cities, Hobart and Canberra, but that’s just a sign of how big this day was, how many people are concerned enough to make a stand. Continue reading
Shorten conceding. He speaks in waves
And says the right words
Politicians have bigger selves than me
I’m only watching by accident
Having sworn off all politics a couple of hours ago
For years it’s taxed my time
And left me with a dry mouthful of shit
How many times do I learn the same lesson?
Salesmanship trumps substance
These are the things Australians choose:
Reality TV, franchise shopping, tabloid media, property speculation, the Liberal Party.
To be prime minister you need slogans and photo ops
You don’t need to answer questions
You don’t need policies
You don’t need to try to save the world
Let’s just carry on to hell as we were
Today I’ll turn off the news forever.
Today, tell me if you voted Liberal
So I can unfriend you and never speak to you again.
Today I’m retreating to aesthetics
I’ll look at paintings from long ago
And live for myself, it’s the Australian way now.
Today we’ll sell the house and go self-sufficient in Balingup.
Today we’ll gird our loins and replenish the armoury,
Planting seeds in the backyard with the kids
And saying you have to keep hoping no matter what.
When I was growing up, Dad would say there wasn’t much difference between Labor and Liberal any more. There used to be some truth to that, but not at this election. I’m desperate for there to be a change of government because I think so much harm is being done to Australia and the world. Continue reading
The day Tony Abbott became prime minister we were in Lauterbrunnen, a town in the Swiss Alps, the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. For the second night, we were eating at a restaurant run by an Australian. He was jubilant about the result. I was quiet, melancholic, and suddenly unhappy to be in his restaurant, sitting outside in the dusk. He was going on about the mess the ALP had made of things and I couldn’t possibly be sorry to see that over. I was sorry, sorry it hadn’t worked out better, sorry for the tragedy set off by Rudd’s character flaws. But the ALP wasn’t my party and I made no more than a cryptic suggestion to him that it was complicated for us; if he thought Abbott was a good idea, there was no point telling him how far left we’d voted. We went to a different restaurant the last night in Lauterbrunnen, even though his food had been good. Continue reading
Autobiography is an impossible genre. Memoir is easier – the writer is allowed to present an aspect of their life, to create a story out of one of its strands or seasons. Autobiography has to try to include them all. The desire to remember and record names, dates, and places is in the tension with the need to craft a narrative. And different phases of life require quite different types of writing which might not go together. The problems of autobiography are on show in Justina Williams’ Anger and Love (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1993), but it’s an important, fascinating text. Continue reading
To my dear member of parliament,
I am very concerned by your government’s move to drug testing for welfare recipients. In 2003 when I graduated from university, I was on Newstart allowance for six months while I looked for work and I found dealing with Centrelink alienating and dehumanising. The attitude of the system toward welfare recipients already feels so harsh. I wasn’t on any drugs but the addition of testing would have increased my sense of disillusionment with a state which treated me with suspicion and heavy-handedness.
I can’t believe this measure comes the same week Tony Abbott admits to being too drunk to vote in a crucial bill. It feels to me that your government risks seeming hypocritical. I’m not convinced this measure is actually concerned with helping people with addiction problems – if this is your real concern, increase funding for addiction services.
Yours sincerely, Nathan Hobby.
I didn’t remind my MP of the fact that he was caught drink-driving without a licence two years ago. I don’t know why this testing measure bothers me so much, but it seems just a little fascist and also yet another move of a government which despises the underclass. There are no jobs for people to be getting at the moment. There are actually so many activities / classes of people who receive subsidies or concessions from the government – as someone tweeted, why aren’t the negative gearers being tested for drugs?
Like many biographers, I have a list of possible future subjects. One of my ten names has been Australia’s second prime-minister, Alfred Deakin (1856-1919). While researching his interactions with Katharine Susannah Prichard, I found him a fascinating character. I was surprised that the only comprehensive biography appeared fifty years ago. But I’ve removed Deakin from my list because Judith Brett has written a superb account of his life in The Enigmatic Mr Deakin, out this month.
Brett begins her biography with a comparison to a more famous Victorian born two years earlier, Ned Kelly:
Deakin is remembered too, but not so vividly, more as a bearded worthy than a national icon. He was Australia’s most important prime minister in its first ten years after federation, but he sits uneasily as a representative Australian figure. He is too intellectual, too respectable, for the larrikin masculinity of the Australian legend… Deakin was never a mate. He didn’t swear and rarely drank. He didn’t play organised sport nor fight in the Great War…. In short, he was middle-class, well-educated, urbane and supremely self-confident, like the city and the colony in which he grew to manhood. (3)
Australia needs more heroes like this, and Brett lays out a strong case for his significance and his achievements, while always alert to the ambivalence which marks him and his legacy. Continue reading
There’s hope yet. The surge in the Labour Party vote under Jeremy Corbyn in the British election shows it. He had much of the parliamentary wing of his own party against him, sold on the idea that Labour should accept the gospel of neo-liberalism. He had against him all the money and power of Rupert Murdoch and the corporations that have pushed the Western world into a nasty society of privatisation, insecure employment, and inequality. The Sun newspaper, one of the most read tabloids in Britain, has a picture of him in a garbage bin:
Only a vote for the Conservatives — not Ukip, or any other — will help keep Corbyn and his sinister Marxist gang away from power… The result would be economic collapse and soaring unemployment, inflation, interest rates and home repossessions.
On Twitter, the ABC’s Media Watch host, Paul Barry, called Corbyn the Cory Bernardi of the left a couple of days ago. Routinely, “moderate” commentators equate any politicians who reject neo-liberalism – like Bernie Sanders in the US and the Greens in Australia – as extremists, a symptom of a world gone mad as disturbing as Trump. But it is neo-liberalism that has created the troubles we now find ourselves in. It has promised wealth for everyone but it has only privatised everything and widened inequality. In the name of “efficiency” it’s told so many lies to line the pockets of the few. Neo-liberalism has messed up our economy and our society. Now it’s crumbling. The only hope is that in the ruins, social democracy prevails over right-wing populism.
I’ve just found a remarkable passage about the USA in a letter from the Australian playwright Louis Essson during his stay in New York to Vance Palmer (both friends of Katharine Susannah Prichard) dated February 16th 1917:
The country is not a democracy at all, but a plutocracy. The president has the power of a Kaiser, and all diplomacy is secret. The people haven’t a say in anything. Politically America is far behind Australia and in reality behind Britain or Germany. If a strong President arose, a Caesar or Cromwell, he could simply keep his position and make himself perpetual dictator. Labour has no strength here. At a recent strike at Bayonne the men were simply shot down, the authorities assisting Rockefeller.
What Esson didn’t foresee was that exactly a century later it hasn’t taken a Caesar or Cromwell but a reality TV star – the PT Barnum of our day – to take the country into apocalyptic times.
Dispelling any smugness I might have about the superior insights of the Australian left in 1917, Esson then veers into appalling racism, quite typical of the time: “Some terrible thing will happen here, which I hope will be spared Australia. I feel sure Australia must be kept white and have severe immigration laws.”