Mr Porter’s Problem

Thursday, Mar. 4, 2021

It’s not that he’s an entitled brat who’s never properly grown up. It isn’t that he counts himself among a group of Liberal politicians who style themselves The Swinging Dicks (a tip, fellas: buy better underwear). It isn’t that, as a consequence of his all-too-common adolescent male fantasy, he’s in that cohort of men who think women are privileged that he has noticed them and should be grateful for this beneficence. It’s not even that as attorney-general of the Commonwealth, he’s Australia’s senior law officer: that may formally be the case, but he’s just another politician, and in his case, a bad one.

Christian Porter’s problem is that when he finally fronted up to a media conference and unwelcome photo opportunity in Perth yesterday, having by his silence for far too long allowed the other 15 males in federal cabinet to be speculated upon as possible rapists, he spent 45 minutes explaining that he was the victim. Pass the sickbag. With that pathetic demonstration of the true nature of his character, he identified himself very clearly as a man with whom it would be unfortunate if not fatal to share a foxhole under fire in No Man’s Land. He denied all allegations against him. He is entitled to do so, under oath or otherwise. But there could not be a police investigation because – and there are sensible reasons for this – a complaint dies with the complainant. In this instance, too, the woman who lodged the complaint, alleging that the attorney general of the Commonwealth raped her in 1988, when he was 17 and she was 16, had not formalised her complaint before she took her own life.

Ending a police inquiry – before it had begun, in this instance – has no bearing on determining whether there should be an inquiry into historical allegations of rape. Again, Attorney General Porter is entitled to protest his innocence. He is entitled to smear the memory of the woman who claimed she was his victim, by asserting that none of the events alleged took place. In his view, then, she lied, or was mistaken, or was malicious or mad. He can do that in perfect safety. The dead cannot sue for defamation. 

But there is a word that aptly describes powerful, well-connected men whose superior sense of entitled grievance when challenged leads them to assert that they are excused scrutiny. Mr Porter has added a substantial footnote to the lexicography of crude epithets with his performance yesterday in Perth.

Instead of clearing the air by finally finding some courage – by announcing, say, that he maintained his denial of the events alleged but that in the circumstances there should be an inquiry and that he would stand aside while this took place – he gave us a fairy story. He asserted that if allegations were made against politicians and others who denied them, and that if they had to stand aside while these were investigated, then the whole basis of our rule of law would be destroyed. Give. Me. A. Break. The office of attorney-general is just that, an office like any other. If an incumbent cannot act, whether or not temporarily, other people can fill that office. No one would fall off the sides of Mr Porter’s apparently flat earth if he did the decent, sensible thing. Except perhaps in astonishment.

NOTE: Paul Kelly has a good piece in The Australian today that puts another argument. It’s worth reading, if it’s available to you, and I have done so. I can’t post a link to it here, as I no longer subscribe to the newspaper. That’s a budgetary decision rather than a cerebral choice. I’ve always read from a variety of contestable sources.

The God Squad Has the Crayon

Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021

Other people’s fairy stories have never bothered me. We’re all entitled to a little fantasy. It’s polite, too, to keep one’s own counsel on the sublime veracities that other people like to claim illuminate the liturgies with which humankind’s need for fiction has underpinned their lives. It is no moment, to most, that these have almost all been created by hierarchies to bolster their social, economic and political control systems. Anyone heard from Ra lately, or Osiris? No, didn’t think so. Just thought I’d ask. Though Seth might still be around, in many of his profoundly split personalities, or under an alias, at least.

But look, I’m only joking. Anyone with a working intellect, a functioning moral compass, and an ethical balance (these are not elite attributes) surely reveres – and reveres is the word, I use it deliberately – the faith that others display and which they use in their lives for the good of all. I have known many religious in my now seven decades on the third rock from the sun, and I would say this: it is the Jesuits who most attract me, for their gentle humour and the intellectual facility with which they balance science (and scientific fact) with ineffable religious faith. As with Groucho Marx and clubs, I wouldn’t join a church that asked me to. I said that once to a priest (a Jesuit, again) and he beamed. He then allowed himself a far from mild guffaw when I added that, as far as I knew, that was my original sin. 

All that is by the by. It demonstrates, to my own satisfaction at least, though perhaps not to the present government’s informal groups of rough-riders and (at this point metaphorical) lynch-squads that what I shall now write is informed and objective. I await advice on this, gratuitous or otherwise. 

I do not believe that it should be seen as just an anti-religious, anti-establishment rant, though some who don the bother-bootees may see it that way. It goes instead to the issue of what sort of country Australia is and should aspire to be. This behavioural mediation in favour of advancing sentience has never pleased the Flashhearts of the Anglosphere, but you wouldn’t expect it to. It’s just a shame, from the standpoint of human progress, that they seem to be charge hereabouts.

We commence, then, with a statement: There are several things wrong with the promotion of Margaret Court to the rank of Companion in the Order of Australia. Her original honour, in 2007, was as Officer of the Order, and it was awarded for her long-past tennis prowess. The fact that Rod Laver, also an Australian tennis great, later got an AC for achievements valued as equal, is one for the Fates. It’s really not an issue of gender balance, as the Council of the Order of Australia now suggests, since the common herd has had the temerity to inquire. He got one so she should have one is a ridiculous argument in the context of awards for merit. For clarity, it would be just as ridiculous (in this context) if the genders were reversed.

Because the Order of Australia is organised in a monarchical-at-one-remove courtier manner, wherein things should not be made known to the general public (for fear of what, one wonders, civil commotion, insurrection, lese-majesty, also at one remove?) we do not know who nominated the Rev. Margaret Court, former tennis player and present mentor, for promotion to the highest rank of our country’s honours system. It is this left-over from history that offends our democracy, much more than the giving of an even better gong to some woman whose mad god-bothering views about sexuality would otherwise reduce her social relevance to zilch. Australia’s all-time great female tennis player believes that homosexuality is a sin and that lesbian couples shouldn’t contrive to raise children, because these young individuals won’t have a dad. Give us a break. It is now 2021. 

She also apparently believes and wishes to promote her view – yes, this is where it gets really scary – that the only permissible position in which to have sex is the missionary one. Eat your heart out, Kama Sutra. Oops, that must be No. 65. Yes, missionary works. If you work at it, it can even be fun sometimes (though it shouldn’t be, we gather, since sex is ordained by god for purposes of procreation and isn’t a recreational pursuit; so sayeth the Rev). And she and her Pentecostal congregation are fully entitled to believe that, and clap about it to their hearts’ content. Along with any other adherents to the theory that social and sexual licence has gone far too far, god what, and all sorts of impulses, social and political as well, should be reined in forthwith, the better to secure heaven for the moneyed clappers. Yeah, well. Pass.

Kerry O’Brien, whose gimlet glare on national TV froze far better leaders than the present crop of complacent dissemblers will ever be, refused to accept his AO announced in the 2021 Australia Day Honours List, after initially accepting nomination, because of the promotion given to Margaret Court. So did an artist and a transgender doctor. 

The Order of Australia Council and the Governor-General, and the prime minister and assorted other social recidivists, should hear that message. Margaret Court is entitled to hold her abominable views. It is not the place of the Commonwealth of Australia to endorse these by default.

The same collective of guardians should also look at how Australian honours are organised. It mightn’t matter too much at the lower end – the OAMs and the AMs – but at the AO and, crucially, the AC level, we need to know who has nominated whom and upon what justification. This would assist the people, who are sovereign in our Commonwealth, to make their own informed judgments on the merits or otherwise of proposed recipients. Otherwise, as in this instance, we must assume that the god squad has requisitioned the crayon.

Here’s Mud in Your Boots! Cheers!

Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021

This week we will be marking our first Australia Day in country in fifteen years. Throughout the decade and a half that preceded April 2, 2020, when we were FIFOing as a lifestyle, we always managed to be absent for the rounds of increasingly strident and mawkish flag-waving and gong-giving that takes place every year on January 26, or has, at least, nationally, since 1994. It wasn’t until 1935 that all Australian states and territories even used the name “Australia Day” to mark that date. 

Some Australians prefer to call it Invasion Day – including from this year the national broadcaster, though the ABC would be wiser to stick to its charter and the official name and refer as necessary to other preferences – and from an Aboriginal perspective you can hardly argue. First British Boots in the Mud Day was precisely that: an invasive act of imperial requisition. Never mind the natives, they don’t matter: that was the soupçon du jour in 1788.

There is a lot to celebrate about modern Australia, and we’d be better doing that than continuing to argue by implication that the natives don’t matter. Aside from anything else, such as comprehension, for example, or conscience, or an appreciation of the nuances of history, we are all natives now; of Australia. 

Some of the more primitive Birther types among us like to pretend that no one’s a true-blue Aussie unless born within the special biosphere, that bit of the globe that’s both the world’s largest inhabited island and its smallest continent, the bit that’s girt by sea. It’s a fundamentally proto-fascist point of view rather than risible, picture-book nationalism, and it goes well with boots, muddy or otherwise, and a preference for hagiography because it tells the right fairy stories. 

But in the context of modern Australia, it’s bullshit, to use a vintage Australianism. The country has been built on constant flows of migration. Over time, it has factually ceased to be the last white colony in Asia, though not yet functionally. It’s worrying that some of its leaders seem still to want to perpetuate that long form of suicide as national policy.

So, we’ll be sitting quietly at home on the big day. We don’t have a flag to wave, or an overwhelming need to chug-a-lug, or a set of corks to sew around our hats, or a sausage sizzle to attend. You go to Bunnings for sizzles these days, anyway.

I might instead revisit the story of Woollarawarre Bennelong, a senior man of the Eora people, who made a name for himself in 1788 and is far more worthy of remembrance than the booted, plumed and beribboned Brit who became the First Jailer of New South Wales.

Tracking down the Morons

Kealy, Western Australia

Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020

We’re getting to know our new home area better, now that the temperatures are generally up a degree or two on deep midwinter and the rain, while still frequent and chill to the skin, is more likely to be in the form of showers and thus is relatively easy to dodge.

So we’ve been exploring the benefits of the Wadandi Track, which happily links our precinct to the several delights of Vasse Village, where if you’re lucky, you’ll find something open other than Coles supermarket, the Shell petrol station, and Maccas.

The Wadandi are the First Nations people of this area, an element of the Noongar nation. They are therefore to be honoured as our original citizens, a concept that like much else continues to elude many Australians.

Their track, now a paved walkway along our stretch of it, traverses country that is flat as (flat as the Lincolnshire fens, a bit of England to which the Distaff was introduced some decades ago). Being flat as, is good for walking. For the older walker, it beats the Bali goat track limestone country on which we walked for several years. On a recent perambulation, the Distaff, dear girl, noted that while flat as, it was not whiffy as, the South Holland district of Lincolnshire being the capital of cabbages.

But it is whiffy in another way. To everyone’s cost, later settlement in the region includes elements of the Moron tribe, that worldwide blot on the landscape.

One recent shuffle, including use of the handy step-ups infrastructure the Busselton city council has placed half way between ourselves and Coles, took only 55 minutes out and back, with only a little rain, dear.

But it also included a doggy do-do bag, filled with its quota, left on top of a wooden pathway perimeter pole. Why would you do that? Don’t answer, the question’s rhetorical. It also included a drowned Coles shopping trolly, lying rusted and abandoned in the flood drain under the bridge that carries the Wadandi Track over it.

Some moron had obviously decided that it was a good place to abandon the last remnants of his sentience.

There was another, a little further on, abandoned in a bush.

Silence is No Longer Golden

BOOK REVIEW: GODS AND DEMONS A foreign correspondent’s memoir | Deborah Cassrels

It’s certainly not Scoop, and Deborah Cassrels is hardly Evelyn Waugh. But there are enough fanciful echoes of imagined distant drums in Cassrels’ book, and there’s sufficient colourful reportage, to prompt consideration of the demerits of figjamery.

According to the book cover, it is a foreign correspondent’s memoir that takes the reader behind the tourist veneer of Bali and greater Indonesia. 

Well, blurb is blurb. The real mysteries and genuine delights of the archipelago will remain obscure. Little further illumination has been shone upon the 322 sheets between Cassrels’ hot covers. Indonesians, Balinese especially, will be glad that this is so. They quite like to be excluded from the glaring gaze of western impertinence, though they are very polite and rarely say so publicly.

Instead – though to give the narrative credit, it’s not all breathless – the reader is invited to a pastiche party: streams of consciousness stuck together with insubstantial vignettes. Going along for that ride is a bit like being an extra in Being There

There’s a lot of personal stuff in the book too, as befits the modern fad for laundering your linen in public rather than keeping shtum. There’s not much appetite for discretion in the self-absorbed swamp that western civilisation has become. It gets in the way of Look at Me! 

 It may surprise some readers to hear that abandoned wives who have expatriated themselves to tropical places are apt to look for sexual frisson here and there. But not many, I fancy. What may surprise is that the author has laid out clues as to places and persons – writers’ festivals and good-looking authors with finely chiselled features, e.g. – to pique the inner voyeur.  

It’s moot whether a journalist’s memoir of their time as a foreign correspondent is the right place for wink and nudge personal disclosures, if it’s designed to be taken seriously and isn’t just another I-was-wronged soliloquy.

Still, it was interesting to read Cassrels’ book because we share some of the history that is laid out within its pages. We both worked at Queensland Newspapers in Brisbane, for example, and for the same editor: Chris Mitchell. Though she was consort to Rupert’s princeling, which added some zest to our relationship. 

When I returned to Brisbane in 1983 from three years away in Papua New Guinea and fronted up at the office canteen counter the lovely lady behind it smiled at me and said, “Oh hello! Have you been on holiday?” It’s nice to be missed without having to prompt. There’s something queasily ersatz about enforced recognition. As a question, “Do you know who I am?” holds the seeds of many destructions, including derision.

Cassrels and Mitchell were later arrivals in Brisbane, following the Murdoch takeover of Queensland Newspapers. It was clear to me that I was surplus to the Murdoch circus requirements to be implemented by Mitchell. And Mitchell’s assertion that I was astonishingly well paid (he wasn’t?) didn’t worry me. I’d had a fair run. I’d managed to stay out of the limelight (journalists are supposed to report the news, not make it) and had an iron in another fire that would glow a welcome red well before Mitchell might deem it necessary to don his Black Adder Bishop of Bath and Wells suit and approach me from behind with his own.

Never mind.

And of course, a book should be read by people who don’t know the inside story. Cassrels writes with a light touch and in a way that engages the casual reader, who will be interested to discover what happened after she arrived in Bali in 2009 with a laptop computer and a business card.

FOOTNOTE: Cassrels appears at this year’s virtual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, on Nov. 3, when she’ll be in conversation with Wayan Juniarta of The Jakarta Post. They’ll be discussing the challenges facing Indonesia, and her book. Visit ubudwritersfestival.com for the full 2020 UWRF experience.

GODS AND DEMONS Deborah Cassrels. HarperCollins. Published 2020. ISBN 978 0 7333 3890 8 (pbk) 978 1 4607 0913 9 (ebook)

Feisty Gal

Mara Wolford, 1969-2020

Soon after the Distaff and I left Indonesia at the beginning of April this year, Mara Wolford sent me an SMS from Bali. It said, simply, “I’m glad you’re safe at home. That is all.”

I thought nothing of it at the time. Wolford had a penchant for oblique reference. It complemented rather than sat awkwardly with her astonishing directness, her take-no-prisoners approach to life and its issues. It was one among many things about her that I found attractive and intriguing.

Perhaps, in retrospect, I should have messaged back asking her to elucidate. She had a writer’s eye for an elegant word, something else I liked about her. When I got her message, I’d thought fleetingly about getting back to her, to ask her what she had meant, and what had lain behind her statement. But I didn’t – that phone was a Huawei and soon after surviving the strains of Covid-19 quarantine in Perth it fell over and all its workings with it; its successor is a Nokia – and now of course, I cannot get back to Mara.

We’d known each other for some years, though we only met in person a handful of times, such being the modern world of social media and information technology. Our last face-to-face comprised an interesting hour or two at our villa at Ungasan on the Bukit in Bali not long before we left the island. It was the usual wide-ranging discussion and it was much enjoyed by all four people present.

Wolford, as always, had plenty of plans. She was never a gal to sit in decorative idleness. She wasn’t outré, in the usual sense in which that word is understood, but she was certainly out there. A lot of people seem to have difficulty with others who, from their point of view, either won’t or can’t shut up. In that way, too, we were kindred spirits.

Our paths first crossed in 2016, when she was served a spiked drink in a dodgy bar that was later closed down by the authorities, and afterwards made a fuss about it all over Facebook. The seamier side of tourist and foreign resident entertainment in Bali has never liked to be outed by complainants who make a fuss and endanger profits.  

Wolford’s was not the only incident of its sort, merely one of the most publicised.

Social media isn’t an environment where it is safe to assume that any of the formal rules of civility apply. It’s the ignorantly self-interested who rule and the loudly angry who raise lynch mobs against those who have offended them. (It’s interesting that lynching is a word of American origin, taking its name from one Captain William Lynch, head of an informally raised judicial tribunal in Virginia, circa 1780.)

A year after her seaside bar ordeal in far from gentle Canggu, Wolford reprised the matter on her Facebook page. We joined the fray (see Feisty Gal here). Among other things, it gave us an excuse to reprise a favourite line of our own, to the effect that it was a pity we’d ever given away our sjambok.

Wolford, who died far too young and unexpectedly, some days ago at Benoa, Bali, was a surfer, writer, muse and mother from Santa Cruz, California, among other claims to fame. She had a heart of gold and I will miss her. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Officially an Elderly Obstruction

 

THE CAGE

 

Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019

 

 

My diary noted today that 2019 had now produced 12 rabbits and that our household – that comfortably mannered and predominantly civil paradigm that is not quite entirely virtual since wherever it has been it has always had some physical form – has been smoke-free for eleven months. A number of friends on Facebook applauded the latter, which was nice of them. One, a day or so earlier, had advised that he had finally thrown out the ashtray he kept at his Gold Coast address for us to use when passing by. We have any number of ashtrays, some of them of the finest glass, in storage elsewhere. They’ll be thrown out when we finally break open the eight cubic metres of expensive space we’ve rented for years, pending occupation of our next desirable domain.

 

The Distaff and I tell each other that we feel better for being off the fags. And that’s true, in the prosaic and tedious way in which, in search of a small extension of anticipated lifespan, people nowadays obsess about their health.  But the real reason for abandoning the thoroughly enjoyable habit of a lifetime lies in its monetary and social cost. In many of the jurisdictions in which we choose to pass our time, it’s too damn expensive, inconvenient and embarrassing to continue to act like Thomas The Tank Engine on uppers.

 

Today is notable for another fact too. Before the month has run its course, I shall officially have become an Elderly Obstruction. That’s what happens to you when you’re an Australian and you turn 75. (The Distaff is much younger, lucky duck.) Seventy-five is the age where car hire companies laugh when you suggest they might like to rent you a vehicle. It’s the birthday that finally makes you completely invisible to anyone under forty, except (very rarely) young and visibly pregnant women who might offer you their seat on a bus. It’s when the passport office offers you the child rate on your renewal, half price and half time – five years instead of ten. To add to all this beneficence, various offices of the nanny state are growing impatient to tell you they are ready to send – on their schedule, not yours, and if you qualify as indigent, having lived far beyond the life expectancy of your retirement kitty  – such assistance as may from time to time be authorised, either free or subsidised, to accommodate your medical, paramedical and social needs, as officially defined.

 

This is disagreeable to a free spirit. It signals that you may no longer truly cite William Ernest Henry’s ‘Invictus’ as your order of the day:

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

 

That verse is wonderful, by the way. Its first line goes just as neatly, and aptly, with straight and gait.

 

And that’s the thing, you see. Adversity needs to be met with humour, just as responsibility must be met face-front, head high. Laugh at the daemons and stand up straight for the firing squad.

 

When Clive James died last week (Nov. 24) I was half-way through rereading Philip Roth’s ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’, the 1969 Onanistic and onomatopoeic American-Jewish-socio-sexual testament that made his name as a writer. It was given to me by a lovely friend who visited and who I had suggested, since she had told me she hadn’t, that she should read it. I read it first in the year of its publication and have known it ever since as ‘The Gripes of Roth’. Steinbeck’s shade has never haunted me over that jest. I like to suppose therefore that he gets a giggle out of it too.

 

James’ departure was unsurprising. He made it to eighty, an age he once noted was a decade-long bonus on the old allotment of three score and ten. He died in Britain, where he had lived since the 1960s when he joined the Blighty Expeditionary Force of Thinking Antipodeans.

 

The art of the quip was James’ forte. Some were short, some were longer, and among the most memorable were book reviews which comprised a single yet Medusa-headed complex of put-downs.

 

He was an acute observer, noting once that the British secret service was staffed at one point almost entirely by alcoholic homosexuals working for the KGB. (I’ve known one or two who were not homosexuals, but who’s to argue with a leading penseur de bonnes pensées?)

 

Nothing escaped his piercing intellect. He said once that you can never get a woman to sit down and listen to a drum solo. (Though that aside, he never observed, at least to my knowledge, the guiding principle that I have always found invaluable in gender comparisons: That as a man I have more in common with an illiterate Mongolian yak-herder than with any woman ever invented.)

 

Among his many talents, James found note as a poet. Of this, and of poetry in general, he said (in 2013 and I surmise only half in jest): Ban poetry. And make sure that anyone caught reading it is expelled from school. Then it will acquire the glamour.

 

He will be missed, Clive James, though he has left us a body of work to remind us that he walked among us before he returned to our normal state of non-existence. He had a thought about that, too, once: No one gets out alive.

 

He told Mark Colvin – alas, now also non-existent – on the ABC radio program PM in 2015: Little books are things to write at my age, I’ve decided.

 

That last thought is his best advice to me. I’m no Clive James – far from it: I’ve never been to Kogarah in my life – but there is one little book in me that is struggling to emerge.

 

I must see that it does.

 

And here’s a visual prompt to Clive James, a BBC appearance in 2016.

 

 

How High Can Everest Rise?

This appears in Quadrant magazine’s November 2019 issue, just out.

The Dizzying Heights

Ross Fitzgerald and Ian McFadyen

ISBN No: 978-1-925736-30-4

Hybrid Publishing : Melbourne

pp. 248, $24.99.

 

Review by Richard Laidlaw

It’s plainly very difficult being a political satirist these days, when the politicians seem to have cornered the market themselves and to have requisitioned all the best scripts, in the national interest, naturally. No matter. Those with the wit and the will to soldier on will scribble regardless. Someone will get a laugh, or a wry smile, or perhaps break down and sob uncontrollably at the hopelessness of it all, and give us all a giggle.

So it is with the indefatigable academic Ross Fitzgerald, teamed again with writer and actor Ian McFadyen, who has brought us a welcome glimpse of light from the heavens in the shape of ‘The Dizzying Heights’, the seventh book in the Grafton Everest saga.  Fitzgerald and McFadyen have penned an engaging yarn. By dint of supreme effort it manages – just, perhaps, and by the narrowest of squeaks in the view of some – to stay ahead of the tsunami of paradox and parody that threatens to submerge the embattled remnants of western liberal tradition and its totemic universal democracy with it.

As those who are familiar with his life and works know, Everest earned his stripes in the challenged academic environment of Mangoland. That alone is worth some sort of medal, surely? It’s not quite Texas (there are fewer assault rifles at large in the community for one thing) and is actually three times bigger and hosts a small town called Texas; but it’s certainly a place of wide-brimmed hats and a colourful antipathy to learning. To many, of course, that’s a plus. After all, as such people and their political or genetic descendants like to remind themselves, relatively few café latte liberationists or chardonnay socialists avoided official molestation or escaped punitive vigilantism in Mangoland in the early culture wars.

Yet as Gangajang so ably reminded us in ‘Sounds of Silence’, its 1984 debut pop anthem:

Out on the patio we’d sit,
And the humidity we’d breathe,
We’d watch the lightning crack over canefields
Laugh and think, this is Australia.

The block is awkward – it faces west,
With long diagonals, sloping too.
And in the distance, through the heat haze,
In convoys of silence the cattle graze.

No one with any sense of what Australia really is, beyond the end of the freeway out of town, would fail to sense a frisson – even if only ever so slightly – at the visceral, olfactory images those words evoke. Except, of course, farcically fictional fantasy figures like Professor Dr Grafton Everest, whose life’s work as been to avoid labour of any sort, physical or cerebral.

Grafton Everest is too good to lose.

In his six previous memoirs of the moment, Everest has touched every marker on the academic orienteering course and stumbled over, or kicked aside, most of the witches’ hats and police line tapes that these days impede progress on the roads of life. There are many who show one or two of the behavioural traits that Everest himself exhibits in spades. We are very fortunate that he is a work of fiction, a figment simply of very fertile imagination. (He would shudder at the word “work,” perhaps in the manner, as Saki once wrote in another context, of an Italian greyhound on contemplating the approach of an ice age of which he personally disapproved.)

The Dizzying Heights’ is a rollicking read.

Fitzgerald and McFadyen keep up the frenetic pace of previous Everest misadventures, in this latest volume of his saga. It wraps up some loose ends and brings other streams of consciousness to some sort of conclusion. It looks at times like a final curtain, though perhaps we’re looking only at the first of a series of Melba-like farewell tours. The latter would be best. Everest is too good to lose.

In a way, he is something of a modern Stoic, albeit from the modernist Frank Spencer school that perfectly stitches together stoicism and farce; he too makes an art form of drawing uncountable numbers of impossibly tangled strings together and then wondering why the cat’s cradle won’t hold. It’s a safe bet that the Stoic’s stoic, Marcus Aurelius, did not have university luminary, premier of Mangoland, inaugural president of the Republic of Australia and nearly President of the United States Professor Dr Grafton Everest in mind when he jotted down his ‘Meditations’ two millennia ago.

 

The Dizzying Heights’ is a quick read, a rollicking one; you could easily knock it over on a rainy day, between lunch and dinner with time off for afternoon tea. It is perhaps even more unbelievable than its predecessors, but that’s one of the results of serial farce, and not simply in the framework of literature. Certainly in this slim volume the good doctor-professor rises to dizzying heights indeed. Some Americans, bless them, even try to adopt him as a presidential candidate. But enough of plot giveaways; read the book, it tells the story much better.

++++++

Richard Laidlaw, who nowadays divides his time between Western Australia and Indonesia, was for many years a journalist in Queensland, and later a political adviser, including for National Party Premier Rob Borbidge in 1996-98. He has a blog at 8degrees0flatitude.com.

QUADRANT MAGAZINE, November 2019, pp 83-84.

Ross Fitzgerald & Ian McFadyen’s The Dizzying Heights  is currently available from the publishers:  https://www.hybridpublishers.com.au/

And from Booktopia:   https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-dizzying-heights-ross-fitzgerald/book/9781925736304.html

It Will Be Meowvellous

Bali

Sep. 4, 2019

Australian Elizabeth Henzell, from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, is a fixture in Ubud and runs Villa Kitty at Lod Tunduh, although it might be more accurate to say that it runs her, since that’s the way of much charity work in Bali. She would modestly demur, no doubt, at the assertion that she rates any number of gold stars for her energy and dedication, but it’s an incontrovertible fact. Her overcrowded establishment for homeless cats proves that.

It’s far from a thankless task, though it must often seem that it is, and of course funding is a constant battle. It’s made especially difficult because people dump cats – kittens especially – at levels demonstrating epidemic levels of lack of conscience, or leave them at the door, as it were, so they become someone else’s problem, and a charge on someone else’s wallet. The same is true of charities that look after Bali’s deprived dog population.

Henzell last year came up with the idea of staging the ACATemy Awards as a way of raising awareness, raising funds, and rewarding Villa Kitty staff and supporters for their work in the feline interest. The First ACATemy Awards were held in May last year. It was a fun night.

The Second ACATemy Awards are on Friday, Sep. 13, and like the first, at Indus Restaurant in Ubud. Black Friday is an auspicious date for any cat, black or otherwise, and whether or not they are in the company of a witch and/or a broomstick.

For Rp 400,000 at the door (Rp 350,000 if you buy a ticket beforehand) you’ll get a great night out, a welcome drink and canapés, Indus Restaurant’s famed cuisine in two courses for dinner, live entertainment in the shape of guitar music from Renda Pangestu, performance by Cecilia Wong courtesy of the Bali Beach Shack, presentation of the 2019 awards, balloon raffles and dancing to 11pm to music by DJ Tiger and DJ Pantha.

It’s in such a good cause.

And as Henzell puts it: “Our staff deserve a night a year to recognise their work and just for fun. Boy do we need a bit of fun!”

Meow to that!

Silence! Well, Sort Of

Richard Laidlaw

Bali, Mar. 7, 2019

IT’S Nyepi today in Bali. Tomorrow, Mar. 8, 2019 CE, it will be the first day of 1941 in the Balinese Hindu Caka (say Shaka) calendar of 210 days. We’ve been more or less fixtures in Bali since 1926.

Our first Nyepi, back in the Roaring Caka Twenties, was an eye-opener. We had a live-in housekeeper that first year and, come Nyepi, she sent us away to a designated tourist hotel. Nyepi was not for Bules; too difficult, she told us. We thought she meant Bules were too difficult rather than that Nyepi was, but demur we did not.

Bules are foreigners; usually white ones. The word is informal, which is to say it’s rude, which is probably why these days you find it used even in court proceedings when some silly white person has got into trouble, as too many do.

But we were curious, and asked her how she proposed to spend Nyepi (in our house). The answer was instructive: having a quiet little party with a few of her friends who would move in for the magic 24 hours.

Several years later we decamped to a favourite seaside resort for Nyepi – these days we just stay home, because it’s easier and really no trouble – where we and other cultural refugees were shooed out of the restaurant after a very early dinner so the place could plunge properly into darkness.

We had booked our usual poolside bungalow. And while we sat quietly on its terrace, making sure the lights in the room behind did not escape to alert any bad spirits that there were people around, the hotel staff arrived en masse with all the pool toys and had a lively party in the H2O.

In more recent times Bali’s authorities have tightened up on Nyepi observance. The Internet is “closed” for 24 hours – 6am to 6am – though that’s functionally the mobile Internet. Hence the appearance of this little piece today, brought to you by the fixed installation at our house. The airport is closed for 24 hours and only police and public order and emergency vehicles are allowed on the roads. The day after Nyepi dawns nearly pollution free.

Actual observance is governed locally, though there seems to have been a shift recently towards a more universal code of practice. Effectively, everyone stays at home and does nothing, or does something very quietly, spending time in contemplation of sins and the meaning of life.

Our banjar (local “adat” precinct) disappointed us this year. We didn’t get the usual “no light no noise no sex” letter they stick on your gate before Nyepi. The nearest one I saw yesterday, returning from a late supplies mission, was on the gate of a house about 250m from ours. They must have miscalculated stock required.

Over recent years the concept of Nyepi has attracted the interest of locally resident lovies and the wider global diaspora of chakra-shakers and the like. It’s been touted as a sort of extra-powerful Earth Day, an idea that everyone who isn’t a Balinese Hindu should immediately take up as a gift from the List of Gaia’s Preferred Myths. It would do us all good, it is said. Yeah, right.

In the warp and weft of modern western life, not to mention its supposed yins and yangs, eastern philosophies have gained new traction. It’s always been a syncretic process, religion, in which beliefs formed in the early forest faerie sector have leached from one into the other. The founding Abrahamic influence in Christianity is by no means remote from this factor. Nonetheless the mysticism of eastern religions has new attractions for westerners whose culture has staled and whose civilisation is in cyclical decline.

Bali, of course, is the latest leitmotiv in chief of this phenomenon. Its unique syncretic Hindu religion – part Majapahit, part Buddhist, part animist – emphasises karma and incorporates eroticism that many outsiders, not all of them westerners, confuse with sexual licence. A whole cottage industry is now devoted to servicing the desires of western women to have their chakras adjusted. For the most part these desires are misplaced and too often have been fuelled by pulp-faction Eat Pray Love-style self-awareness books. The women get touched up both literally and figuratively.

Needless to say, none of it has anything to do with Bali’s Silent Day or the Hindu beliefs from which it springs. Nyepi is not an early Earth Day concept that the consumer-capitalist world should seize upon as a corrective to its many ills, real or imagined. To assume Silent Day is a formula for social renewal outside of its specific rites, or, worse, to actively suggest that should be so, is disrespectful of Nyepi rather than respectful of it.

For unbelievers, the requirements of Nyepi are more honestly observed in their quiet breach. The Internet for example is a utility, a function of modern life. If the religious authorities believe Hindu adherents shouldn’t use it on Silent Day, then that’s a matter for religious instruction. The faithful should wish to forgo it of their own volition.

Nyepi is not an opportunity for unbelievers to submerge themselves by specious acquisition into the sublime wonders of an imaginary world without intrusive technology. They can do that any time they like, by switching off their phones. It is for Balinese Hindus. It is a rite that flows from their belief system and it deserves honour and respect from everyone, unbelievers included.

It doesn’t demand detailed participation. Silent Day requires that certain measures are applied to your dwelling place and behaviour, and that’s fine. Observing the letter of these things, such as showing no lights or playing music that would be audible beyond your boundary, is no more difficult than, say, taking care not to publicly contravene Ramadan fasting restrictions in a majority Muslim community.

That’s chiefly a matter of courtesy and common sense. We could do with a lot more of that, everywhere.