Thursday, August 25, 2011

Of course they bloody do

Michelle Grattan's piece in the Age today is not only disingenuous but even perhaps a tad hypocritical, reporting today from well up in the high moral ground that the Federal Labor MPs all have cheat sheets, media questions, for the answering of.

Because as if the very best efforts of Craig Thomson were not enough to bring the party crashing down around his ears and usher in the era of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who if he falls over will be replaced by Prime Minister Julie Bishop, some unidentified (a) total doofus or (b) rat in the ranks (tick one) has left his or her notes lying around on a chair where, of course, the meeja just happened by and picked them up.

Whether it was done by accident or design, you can only imagine what Julia Gillard is thinking this morning. When you've been forced by circumstance to make a fateful lose-lose decision about leading your party, fought an election, exercised your stunning negotiating skills to form government, kept it all together for over a year despite some truly frightful attempts to oust you, and made a few appalling mistakes all by yourself, who needs a rabid, grubby Opposition, a hostile media, a big smear of misogyny right across the national board (Opposition, media, electorate, one's own party, you name it) when you've got one f*ckwit who can't keep either his credit card or the other thing in his pants, and now another who is too absent-minded, or treacherous*, to avoid leaving this kind of thing lying around?

But here's the thing. Of course they've got a bloody cheat sheet. No sensible person who has anything at all to do with media questions would be without one. Because most, not all but most, journalists in our country in its current incarnation seem to think that journalism is about nagging, needling, asking hostile, mindless gotcha questions (50 extra points if you make someone cry or lose his/her temper) and then putting as sensational a spin as possible on whatever the answer was in order to sell more papers. Even Michelle Grattan, who used to be the gold standard.

Or about taking some perfectly ordinary fact, like, say, that MPs have had media training and have paid attention to the advice they were given, and blowing it up with the rhetorical equivalent of a few acronyms and punctuation marks, as here, where the invisible OMGs and exclamation marks are thick on the ground. Get real, Michelle. If the media were doing a good job of reporting neutrally and truthfully on the facts, just the facts, about the way the country's actually being run, people wouldn't nead cheat sheets to help with the Augean-stables task of resisting being tormented and misrepresented by the ladies and gentlemen of the press. As it is, WTF do you expect?

*I'm going with 'treacherous'. You don't 'inadvertently' leave your notes 'on an Opposition seat in Parliament'.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Don's legacy: more complex than you thought

The lovely Greta Bradman, granddaughter of Sir Donald.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dr Max Nicholls, 1927-2011: a good start in life

When people say 'So-And-So had a good start in life,' they usually mean that she or he was born equipped with silver spoon. I can't claim that, though I do remember being very struck by the words of the great South Australian activist, novelist and parliamentary reformer Catherine Helen Spence, on the first page of her autobiography: 'I count myself well-born, for my father and my mother loved each other.'

My sisters and I had that: they loved us too, and we had a country childhood, and there was enough money (though farming is a tough and jumpy-making gig, whatever townies may think).

And as I now know, as of today, I had the good fortune to be delivered by a very distinguished man.

My earliest memory is of gorgeous red and purple rhomboids and lozenges of light, reflected in the polished boards of the hallway, from the stained glass in the front door of the building I was born in. The Curramulka Hospital had been built on land donated by my great-grandmother (I do so love the enlightenment implicit in that sentence); she laid the foundation stone with the silver trowel presented to her by the contractor for the purpose, and then they all went across the road to the Institute for ice cream and a fund-raising fox-trot competition. Oh, it was all go in Curramulka in 1927.

In February of that year, my dad and a man called Edward Maxwell Nicholls were born within eight days of each other, country boys in different country towns. After an eventful education, Max Nicholls arrived in Curramulka with his young wife in 1951, and stayed long enough to escort me into the world two years later at the age of 26 (him not me) before moving on to Mannum later the same year.

Both of my parents always spoke highly and warmly of him. But I knew nothing about his life as a pioneering geneticist in the wake of that early stint as a country GP until today, when my older sister handed me a clipping she'd saved for me: a content-rich obituary by his daughter Christine Nicholls, herself a distinguished scholar with an international reputation. I particularly like these bits.
... he topped the state in mathematics in his Leaving Honours year. Although he wanted to study pure mathematics, his father urged him to follow a vocational pathway so Max accepted a full scholarship at the University of Adelaide where, in 1944, he enrolled in medicine, boarding as a secular student at Wesley Theological College with his brother, Les. At Wesley, Nicholls's relationship with the authorities was uneasy and his stay was punctuated by constant arguments with resident theologues. He also organised a dance - at a time when dancing was frowned upon by hardline Methodists - and came close to being expelled from the college.
After graduating in 1949, he was a resident medical officer at the Royal Adelaide Hospital before joining the Royal Darwin Hospital. As a flying doctor in the service's early days, Nicholls visited remote Aboriginal communities and leprosariums and delivered babies. As a 23-year-old, he briefly found himself in charge of the entire Northern Territory Medical Service when his senior medical officer announced, at a day's notice, that he would be taking annual leave interstate.
In 1953, the family moved to Mannum on the Murray River ... He attended many serious boating and drowning accidents and regularly visited the large Aboriginal settlement near Swan Reach, where he co-operated with the indigenous midwife to deliver babies.

He did postgraduate study in genetics in Mannum -- picture the scene: postgrad studies by correspondence in a South Australian country town while managing a large general practice and a growing family -- and not long afterwards was offered a university job, where his research made a significant contribution to what we know about genetics. Read the whole thing here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Landscape With The Fall of Icarus

What are the odds of reading two new novels in 24 hours that both reference this painting, I wonder. But having done so, I felt compelled to find it online and have another look at it. Breugel died in 1569, when Shakespeare was five. Imagine still haunting human imagination 550 years later.

If you're wondering where Icarus is, click on the picture to embiggen and then have a look in the bottom right-hand corner.

W.H. Auden was a profoundly political poet and his work, more than most, was written for and about his own times. But he didn't go in for knee-jerk rejection of any universalising thinking, either, and in 'Musée des Beaux Arts' he uses this painting to say something about his own times that is probably true of any place and any age.

Monday, August 8, 2011

She got away with blue murder and loved every minute of it: vale Nancy Wake

I'd say RIP, but she doesn't look to me at all like the kind of person who'd have any interest in resting in peace, not even at 98.

Here's a question*: why is it that Australian history devotes thousands of words to that pair of expensive, incompetent show-ponies Burke and Wills, not to mention the criminal and obviously a bit disturbed Ned Kelly, but that there are few books, and I was never taught anything at school or university and I bet nobody else reading this was either, about this heroic ratbag and tearaway of a woman?

*Rhetorical. You know the answer, and I know the answer.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The good, the bad and the ugly

The Good:

NewSouth Books who have just sent me my advance author copies of Adelaide,

which were waiting for me tonight when I got home from my brush with death (see The Ugly).

French brandy.

My dad.

The Stella Prize.

My friend Stephanie, aca and entrepreneuse extraordinaire.

The lovely Garry Disher's Challis and Destry books.

The bathroom scales (never thought I'd say that).

The Bad:


The South Australian government and its treatment of employees and citizens. On the other hand, Premier-In-Waiting Jay Weatherill belongs under The Good, at least for now. (NB the Neanderthal mindless macho bullshit rhetoric of the Opposition here.)

Otherwise intelligent anti-feminist women setting the cause back 50 years. Not that I have anyone in particular in mind or anything.

The Ugly

Idiot drivers who come barging out of side streets straight into the oncoming heavy traffic, in the dark, in the rain.

Supermarket white bread.

Great big slugs.

The cat litter tray.

Please feel free to add to these lists.