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

Let Him Eat Cake

RICHARD LAIDLAW

Book Review

 

IT must be very difficult being a political satirist these days. So many politicians, to a man and woman, get underfoot with plots that would outdo a Goon Show episode and leave their writers wringing their hands in frustration: Why couldn’t we think of that?

So we owe a deep debt of gratitude to Griffith University historian professor Ross Fitzgerald and ABC broadcaster Antony Funnell for giving us the latest chronicle, the sixth, of the fanciful world of Professor Dr Grafton Everest. In 2015, Everest found himself Going Out Backwards. Apparently this difficult manoeuvre, performed with co-writer Ian McFadyen and shortlisted for the 2017 Russell Prize for Humour Writing, must have worked. In 2018 Everest has reappeared with another misadventure. Somehow this prompts fond remembrance of the Irish scaffolder who plunged from the thirtieth floor and was heard to suggest as he passed the fifteenth that it was OK so far.

These days, in the symbiotic worlds of populist politics and instant twitterdom, serious writers of farcical fiction face significant difficulties. In Australia, where Everest in So Far, So Good builds on his already established presence as the man who briefly held the balance of power in Senate and was premier of the state of Mangoland for ten days, and in Britain, he becomes an instant celebrity via a series of tweets of unsurpassed vacuity. They’re good landscapes for political vacuity, the crowned republic and the septic isle, sitting as they do right on fault lines between sense and nonsense. The earth moves frequently, creating significant shocks on the open-ended Rictus scale.

Several unpublished amateurs are in the mix there, operating on the shifting lines that no longer fully divide intelligent satire from unbelievable farce. There’s Australia’s latest revolving door prime minister, whose campaign bus which he has vacuously labelled with his ScoMo pitch runs around without him on board, because he has a busy schedule, you see, and lots of important things to do (like upset the Indonesians and a valuable trade deal in pursuit of a few extra votes in the Wentworth by-election that his party didn’t win anyway). He can’t waste time on the ground. He has to fly. Still, there’s a giggle in the thought that he’s labelled the very bus that he’ll almost certainly be going under, metaphorically, on Election Day.

Meanwhile his opponent Shorten (or is it Curly?) keeps his head down and some contentious policies under wraps. No point in taking fire if leading members of the other mob are running around all over the place offering themselves as targets. Besides, his political friend in NSW, the just departed opposition leader Luke Foley, has recently acquired public notoriety and Very Silly Boy status by letting his hands do the walking at Christmas drinks in 2016 and trying to avoid the consequences until – as was inevitable – someone on the other side, corrections minister David Elliott in this instance, poured a bucket on him under parliamentary privilege.

In these circumstances, the chroniclers of Everest have done a sterling job. In So Far, So Good, the good professor-doctor even becomes president-presumptive of the forthcoming Republic of Australia, by virtue of his instant further celebrity, a venally vacuous PM, a series of farcical incidents in Australia and Britain, and acquaintance with a smart robot whose real task is to spy on him but who covers himself in virtual glory by also baking cakes. Everest has a strict wife who rations everything from sex to comfort food. Many will sympathise with him in this predicament.

Among the walk-on characters in the latest misadventures of Professor Dr Grafton Everest is a large, assertive woman who was once a leading politician and is now Australia’s ambassador to the U.S.A., the U.N., Italy and the Vatican. A good gig if you can get it and you like Fifth Avenue and Milanese millinery. There are other vignettes that strike a chord for anyone well versed in Mangoland’s history and culture – one senior female academic, for example – and the labyrinthine nature and Byzantine ways of Canberra. People sometimes ask themselves if they miss this suspect bouillabaisse. The sensible among them are apt to answer no.

So Far, So Good – the title sounds like a lift from The Compleat Optimist– takes the reader on a manic ride around the commercially focused universities of the Neocon Age, through the drivel-strewn gulches of Western politics (where are the Apaches when you really need them?) and the obsession with eyes down, two thumbs technology, fear of outsiders and distrust of elites that misinforms modern dialogue.

As a certain British wartime ambassador to Moscow observed, in a report to the Foreign Office in London that he typed himself and which remained suppressed for fifty years – it noted the arrival of his new Turkish counterpart, Mustafa Kunt – in dark days one looks for little shafts of light from heaven. Fitzgerald and Funnell have provided one with Everest’s latest dispatches. Its cover is evocative too. It features a lovely illustration by Alan Moir, the Fairfax cartoonist, to whom the book is dedicated.

It’s now in my library. I’ve put it next to my volume of Collected Rants. It seems a very suitable prophylactic against the tsunamis of confected angst that otherwise threaten to submerge us.

So Far, So Good. By Ross Fitzgerald and Antony Funnell. Hybrid Books, Melbourne. Paperback and e-book. IBSN 978-1-925272-97-0 (p) | 978-1-925282-55-9 (e)

A Bitter Blow

HECTOR’S DIARY

 

Snippets from his regular diet of worms

 

THE CAGE

Bali

Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018

 

THE second Lombok earthquake, on Sunday evening (Aug. 5), was far worse than its immediate predecessor (Jul. 29), and as finally calculated at seven on the Richter scale the biggest in this area in quite some time. Deaths are officially put at 131 (Aug. 9) despite other reports suggesting a toll closer to 400 and the government saying the toll is certain to rise as collapsed buildings are searched. There are countless injured. There was a very small tsunami, measuring centimetres not metres. Inevitably, there was chaos after the quake and when it’s dark and there’s no power, as was the situation in Lombok, it’s extra scary. Aftershocks continue. There was a 6.1 tremor today (Aug. 9). The place looks like a battlefield. The bulk of the impact was in the north of the island. Senggigi is a ghost town. The northern Gilis have been largely cleared of people. Hotels and restaurants have closed for the duration, which is unknown. Villages have been laid waste everywhere.

The Indonesian authorities responded immediately and effectively and deserve applause. There were already troops on Lombok after the first quake, which killed 20 people, and these were swiftly reinforced, including by two medical battalions and an Indonesian Navy hospital ship. Evacuated tourists were flown to Bali at no cost (to themselves), another creditable action by the authorities. Others in the Gilis have been evacuated by sea.

The Australians issued advice to reconsider the need to travel to Lombok and the Gilis, promising to keep this under review in consultation with the Indonesian government. Lombok is certainly not a place for a touristic experience at present, or a place for too many well meaning but competing feet on the ground.

It’s early days. The casualty count cannot yet be finalised or a realistic estimate of infrastructure damage provided. Fortunately it’s the dry season and at least some of the publicly funded reconstruction work should be completed before the rains arrive. The public priorities are immediate relief with food and clean water, healthy shelter, preventive health measures, and strict policing to minimise looting and theft. But the people of Lombok will need on-going assistance well into the medium term future, and in that scenario there’s room for private charities as well as public assistance and that provided by investors with assets – which are also damaged and at least temporarily non-performing – in the area.

The longer-term economic consequences are unknown. It is a tragedy that Lombok did not deserve, and one whose relief will require everyone’s attention, and their wallets, for a while.

And So It Goes

A BLUDGE is beaut. That’s what we suggested in the previous diary a month ago, if anyone can remember that far back. And so it was. But we suppose we should now get back to scribbling. Actually we’ve missed it. We’re not really in favour of gentle decay and decline.

The month away from the quill was fairly active here, it seems. Far too much went on that might have dipped the nib in the ink had we been energised enough to hold the feather attached to it.

Bali elected a new governor who campaigned on a platform of ignoring Indonesia’s two-child policy, preferring the Balinese standard of four, and failed to elect the rival candidate whose promise was that he would stamp on Tomy Winata’s proposed Benoa Bay despoliation forever (an emergent smaller excrescence at Serangan seems to be a fait accompli). The Bigger Families Party takes office on Sep. 17.

Mt. Agung bubbled along with its long period of volcanic activity, monitored by scientists whose discipline of volcanology is by nature inexact, which mystifies tourists present and proposed, as well as others, who wonder why no one can really say what the mountain will. In the old days, before 140 characters became not only the limit of argument but also its epitome and its leitmotif, such people could be ignored. That’s if you heard from them at all.

Cheesed Off

YES, we know you’re not supposed to do it, so when you’re nicked all you can do is suck it up. But we do like our cheese and occasional affordable imported rations are always welcome. The unofficial dispensation is a kilo of curd per pax, though even then, if someone super-officious or out of sorts happens to spy it in your baggage on arrival you’re up for a lecture about how Indonesia makes its own cheese. There’s no argument there: It does; and some of it is very nice.

On our recent return home from the land of the fractious girts, we had stretched the envelope with four kilos of tasty mousetrap, a mainstay of our larder. It’s far cheaper when sourced from places where cheese is not an exotic concoction that wouldn’t go at all well with nasi goreng.

We had handed in the customs form on which we declared we were carrying food and, on the back of the form, in the space provided, had scribbled a note saying this was cheese for personal consumption. This information was ignored. So indeed was the form itself, which was snatched away, crumpled up, and left on the bench.

We were pointed at a poster nearby that warned not declaring foodstuffs was punishable by hefty fines involving multiple zeros after some big numbers and/or a stay in one of Indonesia’s lovely prisons. Our protests that we had declared it as required led a young woman in Bea Cukai hijab rig to put on her bossy face, what could be seen of it, and tell the Companion to sit and wait “correctly”. The Companion didn’t sit, correctly or otherwise, but we’ve been here long enough to know when not to poke a stick in the cage, however much you’d like to.

They called the senior duty quarantine officer, a gentleman who struggled into view 40 minutes later. It had long been clear that while with Indonesian officialdom sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t, this time fate had arranged for us to run into a whole pack of can’ts.

There ensued a scene worthy of the best British farce. “I have a deal for you,” said the Diary, loudly enough for other defaulting arrivals nearby to hear and have to supress a giggle, while dumping his contraband loudly on the bench. “You have the cheese and I’ll keep the plastic bag.”

Great Line-Up

IT’S pleasing to see double Miles Franklin Award winner Kim Scott in the line-up for this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (Oct. 24-28), because Noongar country, the southwest of Western Australia, is our home when we’re not in Bali. Scott is a celebrated Australian writer who has been weaving the magic of Noongar lore into his novels since Benang: From the Heart(1999), which won the Miles Franklin 2000 prize. He won again with That Deadman Dancein 2011. He’ll be a treat in Ubud this year.

So will Fatima Bhutto, Hanif Kureishi, and a whole list of others. It’s the UWRF’s fifteenth birthday this year. It’ll be a rave. Check out the festival’s website.

Flying High

THE Merah Putih is fluttering at The Cage, up for its annual outing. It’s Independence Day on Aug. 17 and our practise is to fly the flag for the whole month of August.

We won the unofficial race for First Flutter in the precinct again. Ours was up and waving triumphantly well before any others, though a little raggedly as it has been in service for some years.

Big Bird

BIG is best, or so the legend goes across a very wide field of human endeavour. And now the big Garuda on the Bukit above Jimbaran is complete. It has even won the imprimatur of chief foreign social arbiter Sophie Digby, of The Yak Magazine. It’s very big, at third biggest in the world of oversized monumental statuary. Ozymandias might even be jealous, if his remains were real rather than just the poetic fancy of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

In Bali those who seek to monumentalise have until now tended to be more modest about it, unless on a traffic circle, or about monkeys, or in honour of Independence Hero I Gusti Ngurah Rai. But from all reports most people are very pleased with Big G, so that’s good. We’ll all have fun finding out how the access roads to the new attraction will cope with all those big buses.

It is plainly visible from a long distance as an artificial eminence. Closer to hand and from the back side, as Indonesian English delightfully puts it, it looks more like a chap with his hands up, trying to surrender perhaps, than a mythical eagle. But never mind.

Farewell, Friend

IT was sad to learn recently that Dale Sanders, a long term resident of Lombok and a fierce Kiwi, had left the field. He had been in poor health for a while. We’re sure they gave him a very fine and richly deserved Haka at the pearly gates.

We first ran into Dale 12 years ago, when for our sins we were editing the Lombok Times, from Bali, and he, for his, was marketing real estate across the strait. One day the All Blacks were playing the Wallabies and we were both watching the televised match, he from Kerangandan in West Lombok and we from Nusa Dua. The lads in green and gold scored first – they can’t have read the rules of trans-Tasman rugby clashes, which state that an All Blacks’ Haka gives the Kiwis a 10-point lead before kick-off – and we incautiously messaged him pointing out that the Aussies were ahead. His response was succinct: Not for long. It proved a depressingly accurate forecast.

Chin-chin!

The Bludge Report

HECTOR’S DIARY

 

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

VASSE, Western Australia

Monday, Jul. 2, 2018

 

WE are, we’ve told friends, having a bit of a bludge. One of them very kindly said we deserved to do this. Many others, perhaps, just shrugged, Atlas-like or otherwise. Some others among them may have breathed a sigh of temporary relief. We’re aware that diarists can be a bit in your face sometimes.

But having a bit of a bludge is a very Australian thing to do. It’s one of the finest aspects of being a citizen of the land down under. Bludging has a long and honourable history in settler Australia. It may even trace its origins back to the day Captain Phillip got his boots muddy at Sydney Cove in 1788 and gave himself the next day off to recover.

It is fifty years since John Gorton, our personal favourite post-war Australian prime minister – Gorton was an honourable man who later voted himself out of office with his casting vote in a tied party room leadership challenge – bemused the British media when he arrived in London on an official visit. Someone among the small flock of hacks present asked him what he had come to Britain to do. Gorton cracked his engaging lopsided grin, a product of his war injuries, and said: “I’m here for a bit of a bludge.” This mystified the assemblage of Poms until it was translated for them. Then, we think, they not only understood, but also empathised. The true bonds of former empire were stronger then.

A little downtime helps to reduce the overburden of premium dross under which we have to live these days. And even if this is the depth of what passes for winter in the southwest of Western Australia, it works a treat. A change of climate is as good as a rest.

Black Hole

TELSTRA, Australia’s still formally protected telecoms utility, struggles to provide adequate IT service to many parts of the country. It’s a sizeable pebble, Australia, after all, though most of its 25 million people are huddled along the eastern seaboard. In the west, where people make an art form of feeling deprived by federation and policies designed (they claim) to advantage the big cities “over east”, it struggles even harder.

Vasse is a pleasant town near the major tourism centre of Busselton, on the edge of the Margaret River wine country. It is not remote, in any sense. But it is one of Telstra’s many black spots; a place where in IT terms service might sometimes be better spelled ecivres. Worse, it’s such a black spot that it’s really more of a black hole, like one of those intergalactic gravitational vortexes into which everything gets sucked and not even light can escape.

The Diary’s travelling modem, by which access may be obtained to the Internet without impacting on the data plans of one’s hosts, works brilliantly. Except in Vasse, where, not to be crude (hah!), an allegory comes to mind relating to the ephemeral habits of tarts’ couture. Still, we’re here for a bludge, as previously noted, so it really doesn’t matter terribly much. Except when it does. But then again, if that’s the case, there’s a measure of relief in just muttering, “Oh knickers!”

Batik On

WE chose to fly Bali-Perth this time with Batik Air, one of the local labels of the Malaysian-Indonesian Lion spinoff Malindo. It’s a good outfit and flies the latest Boeing 737 marques. It’s also dry, which might be a downer for some travellers, but who really needs to drink alcoholic beverages on a flight of less than four hours? Don’t bother answering. The question is rhetorical.

It’s cheap but full service, and with more legroom than you get in cattle class on other low cost carriers, who really should call themselves Packemin Airlines. It was our third time with Batik. And we’ll be back on board again.

Speaking of packing them in, we hear from travellers who have endured the new seventeen-hour Perth-London nonstop flights with Qantas – part of the grand plan to link bits of the Anglosphere without the distressing necessity to land even briefly in other bits of Gaia that so worry the tremblers – that if you’re down the back in QF’s sardine-tin 787s, it’s a very long time to spend with your knees up round your ears.

It’s a Con, All Right

NOT many people read Quarterly Essay. It’s published every three months, as perhaps its title might suggest to the mathematically astute, and it features writing that goes rather beyond the hundred words with pictures format that seems to attract the text generation. It’s a shining example of what Australian intellectual thought can actually offer, if anyone wants to bother.

In its latest issue, just out, the headline article is a brilliant deconstruction of Neoliberalism. Even if you don’t believe Neoliberalism is a con job by the oligarchs and others whose policy is to keep the proletariat under the heel, it’s a damn good read.

Foreign Affairs

MANY years ago, an editor of practical erudition for whom Hector had the privilege of working gave him a weekly foreign affairs column in his newspaper, and announced this at the daily news conference with a smile and a line that we’ve always remembered: “He has many of them,” he said. It wasn’t quite true, not unless you’re the sort of person who thinks many is any number above zero, that is. But never mind. Hector’s cachet was temporarily given extra glister. Of such things are undeserved reputations built and unlikely legends made.

Foreign affairs have always been our interest. We began that exercise long ago, in the country of our birth and in a pan-European fashion, though with a pre-EU (and certainly pre-Brexit) British cast, even if was not the then authorised one. It was better than trying to gauge the density of the fog and worrying about the fish and chips. Later, we thought at the time to the mutual interest of both parties, we transferred our spyglass to the antipodes and engaged the world with an Australian perspective. That was back in the days when the Anglosphere was a clubby sort of thing, a bit like the Freemasons without the goats, instead of a network of fear-filled foxholes in an alien world. Even these days, it’s still better, as well as more fun, than staring blindly at the back fence muttering about the perfidy of the government in forever failing to buy you the most expensive beer on the bar list.

So the advent late last year of Australian Foreign Affairs, a journal to be published three times a year by Schwartz Publishing Pty Ltd, was a welcome shaft of light from the heavens. Allan Gyngell, honorary professor at the ANU in Canberra, wrote in the inaugural issue an article headlined The Company We Keep. In it, he said this of Australia’s foreign affairs interests: “Australians need to see themselves as the actors, not the audience, in the drama of the changing world; to shake off that nagging fear of abandonment and replace it with confidence in our capacity to set our own goals and to understand the path we have to make, with others or alone, to get there. No one else can do it for us.”

Amen to that, we said silently to ourselves as we nestled in the warmth of early afternoon lamplight and the space heating mandated by the wintry weather in our present location.

Bali Bind

WE’LL be back in Bali on Jul. 12, if the schedule is adhered to and unless Mt Agung chooses that day to make yet another effusive demonstration of its power. A date with the limpid ripples of our favourite Bukit beach soon thereafter would be welcome. That will follow the adventure of switching on the hot water system at The Cage, a task that involves fiddling around in the midnight dark outside, so that pre-slumber showers can be taken without the bad language that accompanies cold ones.

Thereafter, Hector will be back to his regular regime of scribbling on local issues of note. We’ve kept his to-read folder up to date throughout, but we’re not entirely sure he’s actually read much of it. Still, he can catch up with all that on the evening flight back. It’s a dry one, after all.

Chin-chin

 

The Doolally Squad

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

The Cage, Bali

Sunday, May 20, 2018

 

 

IT’S hard to know what to write about the Surabaya bombings. Doubtless there are those who would advise against writing anything about them. But that won’t do. Perhaps we could start by saying that at least the suicide bombers did everyone a favour by exiting the gene pool. It’s a shame hell doesn’t exist except as a human notion. They’d look good rotting there forever.

There are, however, some practical things worth noting about the events of the past week in East Java and elsewhere. First, let’s consider this: it is all but impossible to live a secluded, unnoticed life in Indonesia, the more so within the majority Muslim community, where the mosque is not only the prayer room but also the community centre and the focal point of guidance. The archipelago is in any case communal by cultural history, social preference and force of habit. In Surabaya, someone must have worked out that the mad father and mother of the sacrificial children seemed a bit bent, if not actually murderously doolally. Perhaps they decided it would be better, or safer, not to have worked that out, and that if the local prayer leader wanted to do so, he would; there’s a sort of communal blindness too. The substantial cache of pipe bombs found after the church attacks would have been difficult to pass off as spare motorbike mufflers, even to the thickest of casual observers. Did anyone say anything, to anyone? If they did, to whom was it said?

The second thing to be said is that the police did a good job after the events, both in Surabaya and in Pekenbaru, though clearly more needs to be done in the intelligence gathering area by both the police and the national intelligence body. A good rule of engagement for any police is one that states that if you see a terrorist, shoot him dead instantly, or her, since it seems women are taking up the profession of mass murder. Going some way back to Densus 88’s previous tactics, as has now been authorised, is also a sensible protective measure. There’s an argument too for reviving the military’s tri-service special forces, also now under way, though they should stay out of it unless the situation is truly dire. Densus 88 is the best policing anti-terrorist tool in the kit.

The third, and most important, thing to say is that Indonesia should not allow itself to be spooked by terrorism into retreating from the democratic norms that it has courageously and progressively put in place since the Suharto era. It shouldn’t worry, either, about the longer-term effects on tourism of an uptick in terrorist activity ahead of next year’s presidential election. There may be short-term dip, primarily in western source markets. Leaders, especially in Bali, need to develop a responsive and responsible narrative on that front.

Taking Fire

AN old friend, Ross Eastgate, a former Australian army officer who now writes (in Australia) on military issues, got into trouble for a column he wrote after the Israeli army employed snipers to pick off selected targets on the “front line” between Israel and Gaza. As he noted, snipers are legitimate military assets when they are used to target enemy military personnel (or important insurrectionists or terrorists). Using them against a crowd of protesters chiefly armed with slingshots, whether or not they have been organised by Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist outfit, is not. It’s a war crime, plain and simple.

Hamas in Gaza took advantage of the Trump decision to shift the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to drum up more anti-Israeli action. Given the conditions that exist in Gaza under Hamas’s control, we can safely assume that the interests of the common people there are not its primary concern. But the modern State of Israel, originally the product of a European Jewish plantation in the Levant two millennia after the Romans threw them out, has a duty to abide by international law. It’s a legal state and it must behave lawfully, particularly if it proclaims its democratic credentials.

The trouble is, the global Israel lobby has turned into an art form the idea that anti-Zionism is the same as anti-Semitism. It isn’t.

A Lovely Man

WE left Queensland 13 years ago and headed to the west coast. Not in the Billy Joel sense. We’re not doing a stand-up routine in LA. Who’d bother in Perth anyway? And we retain east coast connections and lots of old friends, some of whom come to see us from time to time, though that’s in Bali, our Fat Controller-proof bolthole.

Sadly, we lost another of our old friends recently, former Queensland treasurer and Labor Party strongman Terry Mackenroth. He died, far too early, and unexpectedly, soon after the lung cancer that he’d beaten 20 years ago had been diagnosed again. They gave him a state funeral (in non-Toff Australia that’s without the trinkets and baubles). It would have been good to be there (it was in Brisbane on May 8) but like so many things these days that was not to be.

Mackenroth was a hard-fighting politician but straight as a die. If he said he’d do something, you knew he’d do it. If he said he wouldn’t, all you could do was shut your briefcase and go away. He was also a very lovely man.

When people leave us, we pause for thought. There are always anecdotes that spring to mind. They can be a comfort. After he saw off his first bout of the Big C two decades ago he got into the annual shave heads for cancer fundraising effort. At that time, for his sins, Hector’s amanuensis was working in politics, having given up on Rupert Murdoch. It was the opposite side of politics from Mackenroth’s.

The annual tribute visit to the minister’s parliamentary office, to deposit that year’s personal contribution to the razor gang, was always a treat. We’d stay for a brief chat and then return to our own quarters. The funny looks and pursed lips of our own little troupe of flacks when we got back from enemy territory were fun to observe.

Name Games

THERE’S another of those curious Facebook-focused phishing exercises going around at the moment. It purports to list the 20 people most important to you. That’s on Facebook, of course, which isn’t real life at all and your best friends (who are also your worst enemies) are actually those two chaps called Cursor and Autocorrect.

We’re very happy that we haven’t appeared on anyone’s virtual nearest and dearest list. At least, we hadn’t when we last checked. To appear on one would bring to mind Groucho Marx’s sensible injunction against joining any club that would see fit to invite him.

Big Wedding

SINCE we were in Bali, where big weddings are all the go, we felt no pain in missing out on that other sizeable celebration in Windsor, U.K. Well, we wouldn’t have anyway, but let’s not spoil a good story.

On Friday evening we were at the Nusa Dua nuptials of a couple whose connections, from our perspective, are some lovely friends we’ve known for years. Nyoman Sueta is a community leader in Nusa Dua and his wife Made Siri is too. She also makes fabulous pancakes.

We ran into other old friends there, Made Winarsa – who is now sommelier at the St Regis Bali – and his wife Ayu Trisna, whose hospitality records run right back to the Conrad Bali years ago and both of whom we’ve known since they were students. There were lots of speeches – it helped that they were all in Balinese and Indonesian of course – and between times, opportunities to chat.

The setting was Peninsula Island, which will be familiar to many Australian and other visitors. It didn’t rain (it’s the dry season now) and the south-easterly breeze from the ocean was pleasantly cool.

It was a great night all round, and it was an honour to be present. We had our photo taken with the bride and groom, an obligatory thing. Possibly we jumped the queue for that. But nobody seemed to mind.

MEOWvellous

IT’S without question the purrfect way to spend a Saturday evening in Ubud. There will be no yoga, for one thing. The occasion is the inaugural Villa Kitty ACATemy Awards, an invitation only soiree at Indus Restaurant. It’s on May 26.

Elizabeth Henzell, hostess with the mostest on the night and the inspiration for Villa Kitty, tells us we should be dressed up as much as we like and be prepared to dance the night away. Yes, um. Good. Make mine tonic water with ice so it looks like a G&T (an old trick from our flack days).

Villa Kitty does marvellous work for Bali’s feline community and is worth support every time. Its sponsors are great people.

Elizabeth recently lost Maya, the light of her life. She arrived six years ago as a hairless waif and became a silken black tortoiseshell with the love and proper food and care she found with Elizabeth, along with the 10 other cats who shared her domain. She had a good life and was loved. There’s nothing to beat that.

Chin-chin!

Off We Go

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

The Cage, Bali | Wednesday, May 10, 2018

 

IT’S been a while between scribbles here at the Diary’s desk, for all sorts of reasons that really don’t rate a mention. We have heard no complaints, but we’ll ignore that silence and the signals it might otherwise send, and bat on. It’s compulsory for writers to write, but not for readers to read.

We were back on the Outanback Track today, the Diary and the Companion, for the first time in eight months. It was a doddle, though the proof of the pudding, not to mention potential denouement, will come later, when the muscles react to the shock. It was nice to stride out (and largely up) our 2,400 metres of morning walk routine. From a walker’s viewpoint it didn’t look much different from how it looked the last time we did it, which was before last year’s two-month European adventure.

A brisk morning walk in these parts, of course, requires an early rise, or else the sun melts you; and this in turn demands both alarm calls and earlier nights. Still, that’s said to be better for you than reading – or, worse, scribbling – into the wee hours. It’s probably not quite as much fun, though we can set that off against the necessity for karmic equivalence.

Mount Up

GENERAL Prabowo Subianto, he who likes military-style parades with his politics and a fine horse from which to review them, and who envies ants their ordered eusocial societies, has secured the backing of the Prosperous Justice Party for his candidature, as leader of the Greater Indonesia Party, in next year’s presidential election.

This was expected. He ran against the current president, Joko Widodo, in 2014, and lost, which, predictably, he didn’t like very much. The Jokowi presidency is not to the taste of those who believe government is better in the hands of people who hold the Quran aloft and cite it in preference to the Constitution, or others who believe they have a field-marshal’s baton in their kitbag.

This week’s news from Malaysia may have emboldened their optimism. There, the 61-year stranglehold on power of the formerly ruling Barisan Nasional has been broken by the voters.  Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s informal collection of “others” won the popular vote and a sizeable majority of parliamentary seats. His venerable age – 92 – might give Bernie Sanders hope for 2020. The voters heard Mahathir’s message loud and clear. They were fed up with the institutionalised corruption of the ruling clique. But Indonesia is not Malaysia. This is not just because Indonesia was formerly Dutch and run as a dysfunctional mercantile empire while Malaysia was British and run as a much more efficient one.

Phoney Argument

THE pre-paid mobile phone shemozzle continues. It was a joke to begin with. Now it is well past that point. Under regulations that took effect this year, people who buy pre-paid SIM cards with which to operate their phones have to provide official identity documents and register. This is sensible in an era where otherwise any phone can be a covert command post.

But there’s some glitch in the system – apart from the shambolic nature of the phone companies’ own administrations – that means even if you have registered, they’ll still cut you off. If the phone companies were running a kids’ party, there’d have been a riot by now.

Since rectifying the continuing idiocy requires further queuing up – take a number and wait to be called – and that this frequently means many wasted hours, it’s easy to see why people are fed up with the whole thing. Many Indonesians use pre-paid SIM cards and top them up. The telephone companies profit from this. With the acquisition of profit comes a duty of care, along with – one would have thought – some interest in keeping customers happy. These benefits of consumer capitalism are often invisible here. Indonesia might be a little more raya if its privileged private sector could get its act together. Well over 200 million Indonesians must dearly wish it would.

The phone registration funfest only affects pre-paid numbers. A better way is to have a post-paid plan.

The Germane German

IT was Karl Marx’s birthday on May 5, so happy 200th birthday to him. It’s probably just possible to mention the name in Indonesia without getting into trouble for expressing communist sympathies. We certainly have none that stem from the subsequent perversion of Marxist theory by the later crop of despots, tyrants, various leaders dear or great, or helmsmen or mass murderers, who purloined essentially sensible social ideas and buggered them up, or ignored them, in single-minded pursuit of their own misanthropic interests.

Though we do like good theories and to consider these objectively, as an otherwise unreconstructed Tory of our past acquaintance, economic theorist Henry Ergas, did recently in an engaging commentary in The Weekend Australian. His conclusion was basically that communism didn’t work because political practitioners bent its theoretical basis out of recognition, and anyway that the theory itself contained fatal flaws, especially those concerning the morality and ethical standards of the sort of people who historically end up dancing privileged mazurkas on the froth on top of the great beer of human affairs. Agreed. You could say exactly the same about capitalism.

Past Imperfect

WELL, it always is. It makes everyone a little tense. Just ask any historian. But in this instance we refer not to that which passed before, as in the entity that is a foreign land where they did things differently, but to the novel of that name by writer, film director and actor Julian Fellowes. It’s the Diary’s current reading for siesta time. It’s pretty good in 10-page tranches.

We should have read it long ago – it was published in 2008, following his first novel, Snobs– but didn’t. Most of our reading is not fiction. There’s enough farce and incredulity in real life to fill our regular reading list. What makes Fellowes’ Past Imperfect perfect for our relaxation is that it is set in two eras – the (now decade old) present, and fifty (then forty) years ago – and, moreover, in Britain, our domicile before we flew the coop, um, nearly fifty years ago now.

The narrative has some lovely vignettes – the fictionalised Season of 1968 provides many and seems to have been somewhat more outré than that of 1965 – and some devastating put-downs. There’s one that particularly caught our attention. The narrator, confronted by someone who unwisely asserts in conversation that something wouldn’t happen where he came from, responds:  “Where was that? I forget.”

Neanderthalistan

CHRISTINE Retschlag, the Global Goddess whose travel writing has made her a familiar face in Bali, reported a sour incident the other day, from Yeppoon, a little place on the central coast of Queensland, Australia.

She was in the area doing some scribbling, as you do if you’re a global goddess, and would be dining alone. Women have been doing that for ages, after all. It’s actually a pleasant pastime, too, even for men. There are no embarrassing pauses in the conversation, and you can quaff the wine of your first choice.

Retschlag had called in at a restaurant in the afternoon and said she’d like a table – that table in the corner, she pointed out – and duly returned at reservation time. The establishment had given the table to a couple.

She protested, as you would. She’d reserved it and they’d taken the reservation. They told her she could have another table, slap bang in the middle of the room. There was a row.  We’re sure it was decorous, if steely-eyed. And she finally got the table.

But sheesh! It’s 2018, fellas. Even in provincial Queensland. The restaurant’s name is Vue.  We mention this so others in town with less prehistoric attitudes are not unfairly thought to have been responsible.

Heads Up

TODAY is Ascension Day, in Indonesia Kenaikan Yesus Kristus, a red day in the national calendar, a public holiday. It’s a Christian festival. It is also relevant to Muslims, since Yesus, aka Isa, is their Messiah and a very important Nabi, being the last prophet before Mohammad.

The day is marked by Indonesia’s millions of Christians, those whom the loudly Arabian-desert robed lot, who’d like Arabian mores to swamp ancient archipelagic customs, would rather ignore. Indonesia’s Christians officially come in two constitutional brands:  Kristen and Katolik. We’ve often wondered what the Pope makes of that.

A Little Bit Rudy

FORMER mayor of New York City and now Trump legal flack Rudy Giuliani got off to a flying start in his new day job. Avi Steinberg | The New Yorker

 

Chin-chin!

Peak Effort

HECTOR’S DIARY

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

The Cage, Bali | Saturday, Apr. 28, 2018

 

DIAN Cahyadi, with whom we had the pleasure of working in Lombok more than decade ago, on a little and now extinct monthly newspaper called the Lombok Times, has achieved a new personal best for 2018. Actually, it’s a double triumph.

He scaled Mt. Rinjani, a feat in itself. We’ve seen photographic evidence. It wasn’t photo-shopped. It did look a tad chilly up there at 3,726m, where if the air is dry – and it is at the moment, now the dry season has properly kicked in – the lapse rate can easily take 25 degrees Celsius off the sea-level equivalent temperature.

Lombok’s Sasak people are not necessarily built for chill. This is a property they share with most Indonesians whose good fortune it is to live in an equatorial archipelago. His wife Barbara, who with Dian produces the useful Lombok Guide monthly, tells us the air temperature was zero Celsius when hubby and party left their long-way-up-the-mountain base camp at 2am to trek to the summit for sunrise. Brr-risk.

He’s a glutton for punishment, too. He’s done the climb four times now, an annual treat at the start of the climbing season. He and his mates clean up rubbish left on the mountain and take time out to educate porters and local communities about the importance of the environment.

(This item has been edited subsequent to its original publication, to reflect information later made available.)

Plumb Line

THE Governor of Jakarta says he’d like to see all the boats that service the Thousand Islands off the city operate safely. That’s an eminently reasonable position to take. It follows a report by the national maritime transportation safety agency to the effect that most of the boats are unsafe and poorly crewed.

There’s an easy solution. It is to ensure that boats are well built, adequately maintained and their crews competent, that navigation is conducted by the rules and not by whim, that boats are not overloaded, that weather conditions are taken into account, that harbourmasters work as harbourmasters instead of collectors of additional fees, and that the waters are effectively and not just ephemerally patrolled by enforcement agencies.

In short, the trick is to run things as they should be run and not as an informal and frequently manic circus. We made that point publicly. Someone came back immediately and said, well, that’s where the grand plan fails, then.

It’s hard to argue to the contrary, though we wish this were not so.

What Refugees?

THERE’s an interesting article in the Jakarta Post today – the newspaper is celebrating 35 years of telling it like is, give or take a line or two, by the way – that points out the refugee problem Indonesia faces. There are 14,000 such people, that we know of, who have arrived in Indonesia for a variety of reasons. One of these is that Australia remains a preferred destination for people seeking a new life, or any sort of life at all.

The Australian drawbridge was pulled up sharply some years ago, of course, assisted by a policy of employing the country’s navy to turn back unauthorised vessels. Australian policy is to deny entry to anyone claiming refugee status and specifically to keep such people out of Australian waters where, should they reach them, the courts might take a less political and more humane view of the country’s responsibilities.

It’s a policy that has worked, in terms of reducing basically to zero the number of people who are able to place their lives in the hands of rapacious people smugglers and get on leaky boats that might sink and drown them. Stop the boats was the Australian government’s mantra. It was a constant refrain.

It has left Indonesia with a problem, however, though that’s not Australia’s fault. These people – refugees, economic migrants, potential pogrom victims, whatever – are in Indonesia after unauthorised arrival and are therefore Indonesia’s responsibility. None will be going on to Australia, short of a change of conceivable government and a Damascene conversion among the electors. That won’t happen. So they’re stuck.

Kuta Crawl

WE’VE just had the considerable pleasure of a visit from an old friend of the Companion, and of the Diary’s by natural association. She’s a journalist who lives on the Gold Coast in Queensland – and who had a lengthy spell in Hong Kong too, long before its reacquisition by China – and whom we had been trying for ages to get to come and see us.

She and the Companion go back a long way, more than three decades, in fact, via various adventures and misadventures, and she’s a lively sort. So we all had fun. Ubud and Candi Dasa were on the expeditionary schedule, in pleasant accommodations (Tegal Sari in Ubud and Bayshore Villas in Candi Dasa) and plenty of activity (Venezia Day Spa in Ubud and Vincent’s – for the Thursday evening live jazz – in Candi Dasa) plus time at The Cage with its cooling Bukit breezes, ocean glimpses and chance of chainsaws. On the latter, it did seem that the gods had smiled upon us and declared a moratorium on borrowed buzzing for the duration. Or perhaps it all took place while we were away.

On her last evening we went into Kuta, toured the shops, bought some things, and dined at Un’s, a favourite spot of ours. Their frozen margaritas were declared a thing. The traffic afterwards, in contrast, was declared an unimaginable thing. And so it was, but then it almost always is. The more bucolic lifestyle of the western Bukit is much better, especially if you want to take photos of pretty little cows.

Handbag Parade

THE Kuta outing provided another chance for the Diary to prove his credentials as Handbag to the Companion. This is something we’ve done, in various places and forms, over rather more years than it is now comfortable to recall.

These days, it’s not corporate hand bagging. We are no longer required to stand around, consort-like, and engage with small talk persons who are unknown to us and whom we might otherwise wish to keep in that state of dimensional offset. It’s actual, physical, handbag carrying that’s now all the go. This is a duty we perform with serious intent, since a woman’s handbag is like one of those black holes in space. Things go in them that are apt never to be seen again, but it wouldn’t do to be the duty handbag holder if something were to be required from within and could not be found. Not finding things in her handbag is a job reserved for the lady who owns it.

In Jl. Legian in Kuta this week, while the distaff detail was in a shop looking for things with bling on them, we stood sentry outside, toting the handbag and trying to ignore the importuning of the massage ladies across the street. Sometimes it’s good to have reached an age where, like other things among life’s former functions, blushing is no longer feasible.

Whine o’Clock

180428 HECTOR'S DIARY CARTOON

This is a very good point. More information please.

 

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Chin-chin!

Absolute Rubbish

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his diet of worms

 

THE CAGE

Ubud, Bali

Wednesday, Apr. 18, 2018

 

THE perennial problem of rubbish has yet again raised its head as a topic de jour. The trash that litters Bali’s beaches – it’s not only in the tourist-overburdened south – is something that won’t go away. At least, it won’t without concerted government-led action to set up efficient, sustainable and sufficiently funded waste management programs island-wide.

Getting troupes of anti-litter activists out onto the beaches to pick up trash isn’t the answer. It is merely a necessary immediate response (and very welcome and public spirited) to the universal practice of despoiling the island’s environment, from the tourist beaches where it’s blindingly and revoltingly evident to the piles of discarded garbage thrown away everywhere. The way to deal with the overall crisis – for that is what it is – is to reduce the amount of trash that gets dumped in the drains (ha!) and little streams and creeks, and the one or two watercourses that actually qualify as rivers. This is a local problem, not a tourist one, though of course the authorities point out that without tourism there wouldn’t be the level of waste with which they choose not to deal because official indolence is easier than effort. That way, in the methodology of Indonesian excuse making, it’s the tourists’ fault anyway.

There was an irate outburst on Facebook recently, from someone who lives in a family compound. She reported that she went off – there’s no better way of expressing what she did – when she saw one of her family neighbours littering the collective home environment. There’s no excuse for doing that. It’s not a matter of education. The only explanation is that the perpetrator doesn’t give a shit.

Yet as Yoda might say, “A shit is what we must give.” Until that happens, the criminal littering of Bali will simply continue.

Rubbish on a beach in the Sanur area recently.

Photo: Ton de Bruyn |Facebook

Plain Sailing

IT’S abundantly clear that Australia won’t be joining ASEAN in its present format, not least – as Aussie-Kiwi Indonesian hand Duncan Graham recently noted in a post on an Australian site for more conservative chatterers, On Line Opinion – because every member state has an effective veto on such matters.

Nonetheless, it’s a theoretical question that should be raised now and then, for example in the context of Australia hosting an ASEAN summit, as it did in Sydney recently. Such navel-gazing is in the interests of all parties to any such future arrangement, and James Massola, the new South-east Asian correspondent for the Fairfax media group, was right, not naïve as Graham implies, to do so. He had asked that question of President Joko Widodo and had received a Javanese answer. We’re sure Massola understood that this is what it was. But it was an answer that should be placed on the record.

Australian membership of South-east Asia’s leading geopolitical architecture would make more sense, in the future, and in the regional political circumstances that might well arise on the coattails of Chinese instead of American hegemony, than metaphorically sailing Australia round the world and anchoring it in the Atlantic in the middle of the New Anglosphere, as some Australians apparently would like.

Der Dummkopf

THE Commonwealth Games, a quadrennial sporting festival held among the countries that in long-ago days were jewels in the British imperial crown, and which have recently finished at the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, provided the country’s leading former fish and chip shop proprietor with yet another opportunity to embarrass herself.

Two Indians won shooting medals at the games. According to Senator Pauline Hanson, she of the burka ban farce in the Australian parliament’s upper house in August last year, this was unsurprising since Indians were Muslim and Muslims do this sort of thing (shooting) for a living. She said this on Sky News television, the station of choice for those with towering intellects.

There are many Indian Muslims, but they constitute 14.2 per cent of the population. Hindus are the majority, totalling 74.3 per cent. It was possible, and indeed would be unremarkable if this had been so, that both Indian medallists were Muslim. But they weren’t, as their names would make abundantly clear to anyone even lightly briefed on the sub-continent, such as (even) an Australian fringe politician. The male winner was a chap called Jitu Rai. The female – she’s only 16 – was Manu Bhaker. For the record the men’s silver medallist was Australian Kerry Bell. He’s also neither a Muslim nor a terrorist in training.

Expeditionary Notes

WE’RE in Ubud again, as we write, with a visiting Australian friend who was last in Bali shortly after that dove got back to the Ark with a twig. She notes that things have changed. She enjoyed our drive up to Ubud from the Bukit the other day. It didn’t quite teach her any new words, but the form and expression of them was something of a novelty.

We’ve dined – again – at Kagemusha, the little Japanese garden restaurant at Nyuh Kuning, and the girls went shopping and dropped into the Diary’s favourite Monkey Forest Road café, The Three Monkeys, for a cooling drink. It’s hot work toting the totes.

Tomorrow we’re off to Candi Dasa. That’s a 57-kilometre drive which Google Maps told us today would take an hour and forty minutes. We’ll see tomorrow how long it actually takes to shift by road from Tegal Sari in Ubud to Bayshore Villas at Candi Dasa.

Tomorrow night it’s live jazz at Vincent’s. Pianist Nita Aartsen and her trio are on the bill. They’ve just performed at the closing night of the Ubud Food Festival.

Get It On

WE had a little note from Clare Srdarov the other day, telling us that An Evening on the Green is on again. This one’s on Apr. 28, at Hatten Wines in Sanur, with lots of wine, beer, games, raffles, auctions, and of course food trucks and bars. There’s music too, from four bands: Kim Patra, Muara Senja (from Ceningan), Eastern Soul and Linga Longa. Entry is by pre-purchased tickets only (Rp.200K a pop) and funds raised will go to BIWA, Solemen, Rumah Sehat and Trash Hero Sanur. Hatten’s technical adviser Jim K’alleskè, who also goes by the moniker Blue Cat Jimmy, was at last year’s show in his party hat as well as his Hatten one. This one should be a good gig too.

Chin-chin!

Fair Sets You Off

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

The Cage, Bali

Saturday, Mar. 31, 2018

 

 

LAND of the fair go, mate! That’s what they say. Hector’s amanuensis got into trouble during the week, because he’d dared to write about a friendly little warning he got not to diss the Aussies, over this and that (and in Barnaby Joyce’s case, possibly the other, though this wasn’t directly canvassed). He’s an immigrant to Australia, you see, Hector’s helper.

We’re a precious little mob, sometimes, we Aussies. The Bushwhacked Brigade has its moments. Anyway, never mind. It’s all water under the bridge, or would be if they hadn’t sold already off all the water in the Darling River to people to profit from and then avoid paying tax.

There are far more important things to talk about where Australia’s reputation is concerned. Two Australian friends of ours who were on holiday in India when the news of the Cape Town Test match ball tampering came out told a little story that puts some redeeming points on the scoreboard. When a party of Brits in the hotel restaurant wished them a cheery good morning at breakfast, they replied: “We’re Australian. We cheat at cricket.”

We don’t know how it went from there – they didn’t say – but we expect the omelette was scrambled. No one would have tampered with it, of course, even though India is a cricketing country. Most people have better manners and the ethics and morality to go with them. But it’s not nice being a laughing stock.

The fair-go Aussies have done it before. That infamous underarm bowling incident in the 1981 one-day international against New Zealand was puke-worthy. This week, after the ball-tampering affair in the Cape Town Test match against South Africa – they were either mad or stupid, take your pick – three Australian players including the captain were sent home in disgrace. They have since been seeing weeping in public. Sheesh! Breaker Morant (the Australian officer executed by a British firing squad for killing Boer prisoners during the South African war) did it better, at least in the Australian movie about him. “Shoot straight you bastards. Don’t make a mess of it.”

Part of the problem with modern international level sport, as others have pointed out, is that it has become big business, a competition for audience and advertising, a process that prefers the pecuniary benefits of colour and movement ahead of sporting spirit that risks being boring. It was always going to end in tears. The people like bread and circuses. The Roman emperors understood that very well. They always got sell-out crowds to the annual Coliseum Challenge Cup even though everyone knew the result would be rigged: invariably it was Lions 10, Christians 0.

But here’s the bottom line: If you can’t play the game to win fairly, then don’t play at all: cede that honour to those who will.

Easter Message

THE Diary was out getting the messages on Friday – a note for our Aussie friends who think everyone from Britain is English: that’s Scottish for shopping – and felt in need of refreshment, so we dropped in at Tempoe Doeloe on Sunset Road in Kuta for a nice es campur.

There was an eclectic crowd within, seriously eating lunch. It was after Friday prayers for Muslims, who would have been reminded during these that the day was Wafat Isa al-Mahdi. That’s Good Friday for Christians, for whom the day marks the same death: that of Jesus Christ, the foundational figure of Christianity, Isa ibn Maryam, in Islam the precursor to Mohammad, the Mahdi (Messiah) and the most mentioned person in the Quran.

The tables were mixed, in some cases not just by placement but also by diners. The white caps of Hajis – those who have made the Haj to Mecca – and Hijabs of the women mingled with the interpretative Western attire of Christian Indonesians, along with loud chatter and lots of smiles and laughter. This is a picture of Indonesia that many in the West don’t get, either literally or figuratively.

The es campur was delicious, by the way.

Chat Time

JEWEL Topsfield, who is settling back into four-seasons-a-day Melbourne after her three-year stint as the Fairfax media group correspondent in nicely tropical Indonesia, was in Perth this week to give a talk at an event organised by the Australia Indonesia Business Council. We couldn’t be there, though we should have liked to go along. It’s always fun to catch up with Topsfield.

Direct interpretation of events – it’s a crucial function of journalism, and the most likely to cause argument – provides essential intelligence for those who are engaged in any enterprise. The relationship between Australia and Indonesia is far more important south of the Timor Gap than it is north or east or west of it. This is something too few people understand.

Sure as Eggs

A LOVELY Dutch friend who was recently our houseguest left some welcome Easter gifts for us. We’ve done the right thing and kept them for tomorrow, Easter Sunday. They comprise stroepwafel and wickedly rich Belgian chocolate eggs.

Since we are Notas (None Of The Above in terms of religion) it might seem strange that we mark Easter in any way. Of course it’s a Christian festival, and we honour that at one remove. But like many such rites, its timing was borrowed – long ago so it’s no longer a live issue – and in the case of Easter, it was borrowed from the ancient pagan Spring rites of what is now known as Europe.

It’s a fertility thing, really, so it’s fun. It has to do with budding plants and blossoms, the promise of summer fruit, and the return to practicality, with warmer weather, of the chance of rumpy-pumpy.

There’s a Thought

JADE Richardson, who is by way of being The Diary’s favourite facilitator of writing talent – she is also a fine lunch companion – and who has just run the latest in her series of classes in Ubud, posted a little note today which was a much needed antidote to the inchoate quibbles that have otherwise intruded into our week. Here it is:

“Ah… the way it works… so exquisite! Creation, maintenance and transformation laid out before me in the art of fallen flowers. A parting gift from the nest from which I taught this week… and there, rebirth, tucked away at the heart of things. Life is eloquent.”

It certainly is.

And here’s what she was talking about:

PHOTO: Jade Richardson | Facebook

 

Chin-chin!

 

We Have Been Warned

Sunday, Mar. 25, 2018

 

 

SOMETHING happened the other day that caused me to think deeply about the political direction Australia is taking. It was a disturbing incident; it was nothing to worry about personally, but it gave me pause. It did so especially because it came in the course of an exchange of views – by email – with someone I’ve known for a long time.

It was this: I should be careful in my criticism of Australian domestic security issues, since I was an immigrant, and it didn’t matter how long I’d been a citizen.

It’s true that I am an immigrant. I arrived in Australia early in 1971. I was fully formed by that stage – I had just turned 27 – and was thus not fit for moulding to the local matrix except by consent and (I have to confess) peripherally. I was, and still am, British, though I acquired Australian citizenship by declaration in 1972. There was no hoopla involved in such a decision then, neither pledges of allegiance nor hands on hearts; nor flag-waving. It was just a bit of paper: just as I wanted; nationalistic hyperbole has always alarmed me. It’s perfectly possible to be patriotic without turning out with the mob.

So, to set out the scene more fully: I’ve been an Australian citizen for longer than the half of today’s population aged under 45. Half of them wouldn’t pass the apparently nascent, unpleasant Australian Birther test, since they were either born overseas or one or both of their parents were.

Peter Dutton, the Home Affairs minister who is leading the charge towards making Australia even less relevant to the world than it already is, was two months old when I arrived in Australia, and he was two years old – just off rusks – when I became a citizen.

But I’m an immigrant. And because of this I should modulate any comments I make about my adopted homeland.

When I arrived in Australia its population was 12,507,349, less than the number of Australians today aged 45 or under who have therefore been Australian for less time than me. (This year Australia’s population is estimated to be 25 million.) I found a country that was still identifiably British in many of its ways. This wasn’t a requirement of mine. It was just that it was pleasant and comfortable to be in a place where, while the Old World shadows might be getting longer and changing hue, certain principles remained in place with which I had grown up and was thoroughly familiar. You could call these liberal values, the distilled product of two centuries of social advance.

I first voted in Australia in 1972, the Whitlam election. I voted for Gough Whitlam, less for political motivation than because poor Billy McMahon was plainly a joke. I was living in Tasmania then. I shared a lunchtime giggle with Margaret Whitlam during the campaign. It was an unusually hot day in the Apple Isle and I remarked to her that it really felt quite like Australia. After voting in Launceston on Dec. 2, 1972, I went trout fishing in the central highlands with friends. It snowed on us. Ah, Tasmania! Beautiful one day, English the next.

In 1973, I moved to Queensland. I lived there, except for three years in Papua New Guinea, for 32 years until 2005 when we moved for family reasons to Western Australia (and part-time in Indonesia). I served in the Army Reserve, perhaps poorly according to some, though I’d be entitled to a medal for turning up if I wanted one. I don’t. I worked in the national media and in state and federal politics. Nothing I did ever indicated to me that I was anything other than “an Australian” – just one of the growing number of Girts on the Big Gibber, surrounded by warm seas and buoyed by membership of an inclusive and caring community.

But I’m an immigrant, and should therefore be careful about what I say and write. Perhaps the warning was intended kindly – it came from an old mate, after all – but it was a sickening shock. And I’ve thought about it for a day or so and now I’m writing this.

I should be careful? After 46 years of being as dinky-di as I’ll ever be, because some flat-footed politicians mightn’t like what I say about policies of being beastly to Foreigners Not From The Anglosphere or Certain Other Currently Favoured Places? It might be “noticed” – by the Stasi perhaps, oh no, that police state’s gone now; by the Gestapo maybe, no, same difference; by ASIO or ASIS then, or the Border Farce, though surely they’ve got better things to waste their time on – that as an immigrant I’m not entitled to full free speech because I’m not a real Aussie. Geddoutofit!

Australia might have doubled its population in 46 years, but at 25 million it’s only 2 million people larger than the city of Shanghai. It’s smaller than California and Texas in the U.S.A. Even Madagascar’s got more people.

On these figures an “Australian Birther” movement is a risible exercise (demographically I mean: it might play to parochially perverse local politics) and socially it’s an excrescence. Or to put it even more plainly, it’s a sick joke.

If you don’t like it here, go home, is a favourite line among exclusivists and (occasionally) of politicians and political activists under pressure. But I am home. I vote in the federal electorate of Curtin. And I won’t be shutting up.