A Treasured Gentleman




Died Queensland, Australia, Dec. 8, 2017


171210 RON AND TANIA from Tania's FB timeline 

Ron and his wife Tania dining out in style in Brisbane just days ago. (Photo from Tania Watson’s Facebook page, with my apologies for lifting it without first getting permission.)


RON Watson was a lovely man. We were never close friends. Life’s exigencies had taken us on divergent paths less travelled, though in recent years we had compared our fitness walk performances via social media. But when I had most to do with him, which was during the 1989-1996 Goss Government in Queensland, we profited from a shared insistence on getting things right.

Ron’s background was media – he was the Australian Associated Press political correspondent in Queensland for 10 years before joining the dark side. He wasn’t an apparatchik, though one felt that even if he had been, he’d have insisted on propriety. He had the mark of the true professional.

He was media adviser to Treasurer Keith De Lacy from 1990-1996, a job that required presentation of financial fact rather than the smoke and mirrors favoured in more political ministries. He did that well. He certainly made the job of an editorial writer with some divergent ideas much more pleasant than it might otherwise have been. The political-economic nuances of editorial writing are not all that different from those of partisan collectivism within a government that’s anxious to advance specific interests and its preferred narrative. We got along famously, especially since we could share, from time to time, in camera, the sort of journalistic frivolity that gets you through your day. Ron knew I was straight down the line and I knew he was. He made it easy.

Well, mostly. There’s an anecdote that deserves retelling. At this distance I cannot readily recall which state budget it was, or what the specifics of the media inquiry were, but that doesn’t matter. It was at a budget lock-up, one of those annual and arcane previews of the budget attended by the media and carefully monitored by Treasury boffins and ministerial minders, which used to be such a feature of the annual exercise and perhaps still is. I jumped ship more than two decades ago and don’t know, and don’t want to.

Because I was writing the next day’s leader in The Courier-Mail, which on the morning after budget day would inevitably be on the budget, I was in the lock-up. I kept to myself – editorialists are best when they are solitary creatures – confident that Ron and the boffins, and afterwards the Treasurer, would respond in a timely way to a furrow of the forehead or a raised eyebrow. Budgets of course are political documents and they hide things. You need to know what they’re hiding, even if you’re not going to let that particular emaciated cat out of the bag in print. Ron knew my thinking. He was good like that.

That time, however, the list of things the media might ask even if you’re totally surprised that they’ve even thought about it, proved deficient in one minuscule detail. By the time it was raised as a question, after the lock-up and in the area where you waited for the elevator, Treasurer De Lacy, his boffins and his media man had left the building. Only the Premier, Wayne Goss, remained amidst the media scrum. The question was put (I think by Mike D’Arcy then of Channel Nine).

The Premier looked alarmed. Goss was a lawyer (a good one). He was not an economist. He looked at the ceiling. Sadly, he found no inspiration there. He looked around the crowd, somewhat in the manner of a kangaroo caught in a spotlight. His eyes fixed on me. “Richard, can you explain it?” he said, following this up without pausing for breath with a general statement to the gathered chooks: “Richard can explain it.”

Fortunately I could, at least to the satisfaction of the questioner and his colleagues. Ron and I had a good laugh about that later, in suitably discreet and private surroundings.

There’s another anecdote worth telling, this one from a Treasurer’s private dinner at Budget time. I arrived at the chosen restaurant on crutches, with one leg swaddled so tightly that even a Bethlehem manger baby might have complained, and hobbled up the steps to the door. Ron came to help me get in – he knew I was struggling but that there was no way I was going to miss one of Keith De Lacy’s chatty budget soirees – and whispered to me, “they’ll want to know how that happened.” He said this like a smiling assassin, though I knew he meant well.

I told the table, in response to the collective of raised eyebrows, that I had injured myself at home. That was perfectly true.

I just didn’t say that I’d done so in haste and panic a couple of days earlier when – as one did on balmier Brisbane mornings, in the privacy of one’s house – I was naked in the kitchen making myself another coffee before getting ready to buzz off to work when our cleaner, who usually arrived long after I’d left, opted that day to turn the key two hours early. I made it to the bedroom and managed to slam the door shut before I was seen. But I left a good bit of skin and tissue on the doorjamb and split my foot between the little toe and the rest in the process.

I never told Ron the real story. I should have. He’d have had a good laugh. So Ron, this one’s for you.

Vale, mate.

Born Free



The Cage, Bali

Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017



His regular diet of diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


THERE is a release, of sorts, in being relieved of the duty to write for a publication. You’re freer to write what you really think, in the patois of your choice, in the absence of a publisher’s preference for the Life Unmolested, and in a timeframe that suits your own elastic concept of deadlines. It’s a bit like being Truman Capote (though only in certain respects) except that he was famous and could deal with deadlines by simply ignoring them.

Those of us at the grafting end of the writer’s writ must obey those who pay. Or else the dosh does not materialise. So when there’s no dosh to be had, and you’re your own proprietor, publisher, editor and virtual printer, deadlines can take a back seat. Though not too far back: it’s sensible to remember Idi Amin’s advice that if you don’t want to vanish with a boot up the bum, you have to give the population something to hum.

As most of you know, Hector is a retired cockatoo. He squawks a lot (the habits of a lifetime are hard to retire and can’t be fobbed off with a gold watch) but only when he wants to, or can be bothered. A lot bothers him, of course. You’ll have noticed that too. He proposes to continue being bothered, because he can, and to do so on a malleable seven-day plan, from wherever his cage is situated. This is his first in that new milieu.

Cease and Desist

SUCH orders are given rather more frequently than might be understood in today’s media world, where genetically mixed American actresses becoming engaged to British princes fifth in line to the throne, and President Trump’s latest twittering insults to people outside the “native” white oligarchy he prefers to favour, are deemed more newsworthy than real events. Cease and desist sometimes has legal utility, though mostly it’s a waste of time (see Trump, above).

It would be nice if we could issue one against Nature, which is giving us a hard time in the central archipelago at present. It’s quite understandable that volcanoes should erupt from time to time – it’s what they do, after all – but it would really be much better if they could manage to stick to a schedule and advertise it. We’ve also had a cyclone, though it hit Central Java, the province of Yogyakarta, and East Java, where it killed 19 people, far harder than Bali and Lombok. It was unusual in forming inside the normal exclusion zone for cyclones (10S-10N, the equatorial belt) and was less powerful than those experienced in true cyclonic areas. They’re not unknown, but are rare. The climate change shamans did rain dances about it, of course.

UPDATE (Dec. 7): The Java cyclone death toll more than doubled to 41 in latest reports on the aftermath, including 25 people killed in a single landslide.

Notional Airline

WE try to love Garuda, which is up there with the high flyers for cabin service. We’ve even renewed our membership of its frequent flyer club, though we more frequently fly with other airlines that charge you less for the privilege of defying gravity.

Garuda is impossible to contact by phone. Its sales office in Kuta won’t even take calls. If you can’t book online – and that’s a mammoth struggle, mostly – you have to actually go to the office. It used to be at Nusa Dua, which is where we went two weeks ago when we needed to book flights to and from Lombok. It was there no longer, however, and the helpful security guard at the entrance to the Bali Collection shopping centre told us it had moved to Jimbaran Square. We worked out that this was actually Benoa Square and went there. There was an office but it was unoccupied. Other helpful security people at the scene told us the real one was at the Kuta Paradiso Hotel, in Kuta. We called Garuda’s customer service number (sic) and they gave us a number to call. It was the Kuta Paradiso Hotel. Um, thanks guys. So we went there and finally managed to buy tickets.

Our flight to Lombok was uneventful. The trolley dollies just managed to get round the packed cabin with the sweet buns and water bottles they were required to hand out. The pilot deserved credit for flying his Boeing 737-800 at what seemed to be just above stall speed, so that the flight time could stretch out to the required 30 minutes. (It’s 18 minutes Ngurah Rai to Lombok International at jet speed, at the most.)

Our flight back to Bali did not take place. Gunung Agung on Bali had spewed ash into the atmosphere in the interim. Lombok’s and Bali’s airports were open on the day we were due to fly – Dec. 1 – but Garuda had cancelled all its Lombok-Bali flights that day. You only found that out when you got to the airport. The melee inside – that is, past the melee of the security screening – was not to be borne, and we didn’t. We left the scene, got a taxi to Senggigi where we stayed overnight, and a boat to Bali next morning. Apparently Garuda’s interest in customer service does not extend to calling in extra staff to deal with reallocated flight requests in such situations. Our next task: to get a refund on our unused return tickets.

Scrofulous Scribbles

THE volcano drama has brought out the best – that’s as in, the worst – of the foreign scribblers who get paid for dramatizing events by interviewing people (or sometimes themselves) so they can gild the lily and get their names up in lights. This is especially so if they want to have a go at airlines that cancel flights not because volcanic ash is deadly to aircraft and possibly their crews and passengers, but because they’re on a mission to mess with the personal holiday plans of Mr or Ms Aggrieved. Fuckwits are a swiftly growing demographic (see – there’s one immediate benefit of blogging rather than writing for print). They’re ripe for satirising, and should be thus dealt with, as some brazen outlets have done. There was a lovely piece the other day, somewhere or other, which foretold shocking disaster for any Aussie tourists still stranded in Bali when the Bintang ran out.

The other side of that coin is seen in the sterling efforts of expatriates and locals alike in getting essentials such as food and water and basic medicines and health preservatives to the poor Balinese who have been shipped off to evacuation camps because their villages are in the volcano exclusion zone. There’s one camp in particular that we know of, at Kubu on the northeast slopes of Agung, where 110 people are living in appalling conditions. The charities I’m An Angel and Solemen Indonesia and others are helping out there, with donated funds. A food convoy the other day was met with smiles from people who in reality were close to tears of despair. That’s the human story. It’s not about poor Wozzer and Tosser, world travellers, yair, mate, whose sense of Anglosphere entitlement excludes consideration of anything beyond their own convenience.

Serial Affendi 

YES, we know. The shocking issue of dominant male versus submissive woman, the result of residual caveman genes and men’s stupidity, isn’t really something to laugh about. But nonetheless, we’ll keep trying. There really is humour in everything, if you look hard enough.

So we were pleased to see a report in The Straits Times on Nov. 28 about a chap in Singapore whose cerebral cognisance is so severely deficient that even though he was shouted at by his victim after he touched her thigh in a bar, he was not deterred from later touching her breast while her boyfriend had his arm around her.

Take a bow, Affendi Mohamed Noor, 54. You really are a prize chump. The annual Darwin Awards honour idiots who remove themselves from the gene pool by misadventure. There should be a Weinstein Award for those other idiots who apparently live by the motto, “I’ve Got a Prick, So I’ll Be One.”