The Morrison government is a sewer — No Place For Sheep

An allegation of the brutal anal rape of a child in 1988 has been made against an un-named minister in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s cabinet.  The victim took her own life in June 2020. NSW police have confirmed that a criminal investigation into the allegation dies with the victim. Despite their knowledge that police will not investigate because the […]

The Morrison government is a sewer — No Place For Sheep

Rudyard Kipling – A short revisit

Rudyard Kipling stands, 85 years after his death, as a re-discovered literary giant. His re-discovery is conditional, however. He is viewed as a stunningly versatile writer, with verbal and expository skills which can still amaze us. His tone is timeless, and if read today his ability to convey exactly what he intended is remarkable. In 1907 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first writer in English to be so honoured.

He was a journalist, a short-story writer, a poet, and a novelist. He was born in India, which inspired much of his work. His use of language can be seen in some of the phrases that he has left us. “The white man’s burden”, is probably the best known, for a variety of reasons, mostly bad; but “lest we forget” and “It’s clever, but is it art?” are reminders of his ability to distil an idea into a pithy statement. His reputation as a writer rests on more substantial evidence than a slew of quotable quotes, however.

His stature flows from his breadth and his versatility, his ability to simplify the complex, and his remarkable ability to speak directly to the reader. But his reputation is tied to, and diminished by, his apparently racist, misogynistic, and jingoistic language. His views are undoubtedly those of the society in which he lived, and they also reflect the times, which could be described as being at the high point of Britain’s Empire period.

Is it fair to judge a writer by the standards of a later century? Although a hot button issue for the last fifty years, I want us to see Kipling as a creature of his time, and his work as being deeply reflective of his place in society, and of his sense of belonging to, and pride in, that society. He was writing for the British reader, during Queen Victoria’s reign, and Britannia did rule the waves.

Kipling was Anglo-Indian, a term then used to describe ethnic Englishmen who had lived and worked in India for most of their lives. The term has changed its meaning over time, and it now means Indians of mixed Indian and English heritage. It was a small and self-conscious minority, and although it enjoyed almost unlimited privilege and power, it was figuratively ‘riding the tiger’.

India, after the Rebellion in 1857, and the savage retribution which was rained down upon the Indian population, by a vengeful British Army, had emerged into a period of relative peace, and unprecedented prosperity. The British Government had replaced the East India Company in administering India. But the Empire’s fabric was stretched very, very thin, and the forces of Indian self-determination and rising nationalism were gathering strength. Many felt that it was only a matter of time before the country exploded, again.

Kipling’s oeuvre is dominated by that India. It is difficult to define his relationship with the country, the culture, or the people. There is no single Kipling position on India: In fact each story will differ, and within stories the tone or voice, or even the attitude to aspects of India, will change. And Kipling’s voice was surprisingly nuanced, especially when it described human emotion. He is able to make the specific represent the universal.

To accept that Kipling is writing of and within his time and place does not invalidate his vision. If you read him for the beauty of his language and the style of his writing, but you excise the politics or the social attitudes, you will be in danger of losing the essence of Kipling’s work. You will miss out on the legitimate, and hard-earned ‘insider’s view’, which informs all of his writing. You will also lose a true historical voice.

Of course we are able to read and study Kipling’s work with the benefit of over a century of hindsight. Kipling’s reputation in 1891 was very different to that with which we struggle today. In 1989 Mark Paffard wrote that in 1891 Kipling was seen almost universally as being ‘at the source’, as being able to provide a “tremendous insight into Indian life.”

It is perhaps surprising to us now, but at 23 years of age, Kipling was seen as a second Dickens. He was a prodigy, knowledgeable, patriotic, readable and decent. His accessibility was the very key to his popularity, and allowed him to “persuade, entertain and offer his personal view”. His children’s books, such as “The Jungle Books”, are universally deemed to be classics, and his collections of short stories offer a remarkable range of subject matter, from tales of British soldiers struggling with life in India, to supernatural horror tales. His “Kim” is a spy story with a twelve year old boy as the hero.

Kipling intended to convey specific historical understandings of both the period and the place, and he was highly successful in doing so. His favoured protagonist is a well-loved technocrat, the Indian Civil Service (ICS) man, who stands between chaos and order. He is competent, wise, decent, manly and above all else, protective. He will sacrifice himself, although he often feels neglected and abandoned. He will not complain, but he will criticise from within. He will listen to the demagogues and the liberals, but he knows better, in his heart of hearts, what is best for the country.

It is a difficult decision, reading someone with such a controversial reputation. Should we judge him on our standards, and miss out on a rare artist’s work, or should we approach him, with an interest in his artistry, taken with a good dose of skepticism when it comes to the social commentary. I would read the work, and judge for myself. I think it is well worth the journey. And there is no best place to start. All of Kipling’s work reflects his sublime skills with words and with narrative.

What Rupert wants, Scotty gives

My public posts are now unavailable on Facebook, because the dopey Morrison Government chose to charge Facebook for linking to media websites. As far as I can see, that meant that sites such as the Guardian, the Herald Sun, and The Age, amongst others, actually benefited, free of charge, every time a FB reader clicked on a link. That is because the reader then landed on the media website. This means that the tech giants were actually providing a service to the media companies, such as Nine Entertainment, and News Corp. Is it a compliment to be treated like a major media entity, and to be cancelled? I think not, just more collateral damage for Morrison and Murdoch.

The Morrison Government has taken its adversarial position for two reasons; because Rupert Murdoch told them to, and because they are playing the patriotism card. This is the same card they have been playing in the China dispute. We must always look to the words of the immortal Dr Johnson, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” When you have nothing in the policy saddlebag, pretend that plucky little Australia is being attacked by a bully. It works every time.

Rupert Murdoch is hocked to the eyeballs, and he does not really make money in competitive markets, unless he takes his mastheads down into the sewers. He does not run a company which provides journalism, because, like his father before him, he is a marketer, and not interested in “journalism” as such. I refer you to use another tech giant, Google, and read about the “Gun Alley Murder” and its aftermath. That was a famous story in the 1920s in Melbourne, and a man was hanged partly because of the campaign run by Keith Murdochs’ Herald. No regard for consequences then, and none now.

Did you see what Rupert did over the week just past? He blamed the electricity shutdown in Texas on renewables, although the regulator had actually dismissed that claim. But it still appeared in the Wall Street Journal, and on Fox News, so there is no differentiation in the places where he subverts the truth. Clearly his journalists are ‘opinions for hire’, so nothing they write is worth a pinch of salt. So people of intelligence tend to look elsewhere for their information. Does it remind you of The Australian?

Anyway, every disaster has an upside. If you can’t get your news and commentary on Facebook, and you want some diverting, even sometimes, amusing reading, you should do yourself a favour, as they say, and continue to use He’ll tell you.

Our so-called leaders in the ‘Bush Capital’

The Australian population deserves better than to have its alleged leaders re-cycling discredited ideas and conspiracy theories to anyone who will listen. Our democracy has been hijacked and our country has become more divided than ever.

Our media

Our newspapers are mainly owned and ‘run’ by a foreign citizen, whose list of favourite politicians includes Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. Our broadcast media has become so degraded that it is difficult to distinguish between the channels, except where Murdoch is involved. Sky News is a pale imitation of Fox in the U.S. with a bunch of presenters who would be entertaining, if they weren’t so tragic. Their faux outrage is embarrassing and pointless.

Of course there is always ‘old faithful’, aka the ABC, if you want a reasonable facsimile to the facts. Of course the ABC is now running scared, because they are just as likely to suffer another funding cut, if one of the ruling junta decides they don’t like their dirty dealings made public.

Our education

Our education system has been destroyed by neglect, and the starvation of funds, so that the right to a free and secular education is largely meaningless. Schools in the regions make do with sub-standard conditions, while the wealthy private school sector continues to ‘steal’ funds from the pot. Is it a surprise that the gap between the private and the public sector continues to widen?

The Catholic system, which was once seen as espousing the Christian values of social justice, happily admits to re-directing funds from the neediest of their portfolio of schools, to such as St Kevins College, buried in the heart of Toorak. Other examples abound.

Gonski’s reforms have been bastardised to the point of caricature. Apparently the wisdom of the bush capital goes like this: Latham lost an election because he had a hit-list of very wealthy schools, which he intended to give a funding haircut. He would then put the saved funds back into the public sector.

I would argue that Latham’s abrasive personality, his bullying handshake with Howard, his attack on a taxi driver were more damaging to Latham’s election chances than any ‘hit-list’. Anyone who has watched Latham’s career since then would really feel that we collectively missed a bullet there.

Look where we are in mitigating climate change

Global warming is happening, because we all watch weather reports, and we know the difference between climate and weather. We know there is almost no ice now in the Arctic, and that even glaciers in the Himalayas are melting away. The largest iceberg in history has separated from Antarctica, and large parts of Australia’s coastline is being regularly inundated by rising seas.

We are now a pariah internationally, and our emissions reduction minister thinks gas will be the magic bullet, with which we will power out of the coronavirus recession, and re-build a low carbon economy. He seemed to once believe that each wind turbine “built today” (2014) would receive “half a million dollars or more of subsidies every year for its life”. He also believes that electric vehicles (EVs) are unsuitable for Australia, and backs a hybrid version of EVs. Taylor has had a life-long aversion to wind turbines, which makes him a strange choice as our climate change minister.

We all lived through last year’s bushfires, and we saw those in California. A level of devastation never seen before. Speak to any wine-grower. They are harvesting their grapes six weeks earlier. But we have a posse of climate science deniers, led by past Prime Ministers (Tony Abbott), to prevaricating current Prime Ministers, to the entire right wing rump of the Liberal Party, to most of the National Party, to the self-interested Joel Fitzgibbon, who thinks coal employs many more people in Australia than it actually does. Note to Joel F: According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics coal mining employs 37,800 people. I think we could, as a country, manage a sizeable investment into the coal mining parts of the country, so that suitable jobs could be created, to alleviate the pain. Look what we started, but never finished, with our cane-growers. It is doable.

What about our economy, coming out of the pandemic?

Josh Frydenburg is an enthusiast for ‘trickle down theory’, although it has also been discredited by the vast majority of economists, world-wide. Does he believe in austerity, or is he just following orders? Well, in Josh’s own words, he is particularly drawn to the policies of Thatcher and Reagan, which resulted in a massive increase in inequality and reduction in public services. He believes that they were both very successful, because they were re-elected.

That is a strange way to evaluate economic success. As a leader of an Australian Government I would think that he would be more interested in improving the lives of Australians. Driving Australians into an induced depression is not the way to improve our lives. And when considering his obsession with a deficit, consider Thatcher’s words anew: “It is not the creation of wealth that is wrong, but the love of money for its own sake.”

Vaccines really are beneficial, for you and your children. All we need do is check the history books. They tell the tale of small pox, measles, rubella and the annual flu. Those diseases killed millions until our scientists came up with vaccines. Any politicians or community leaders who think otherwise should be shunned, and de-platformed. Their opinions are dangerous to the rest of us.

Some of those views are so ‘out-there’ that it is hard to believe anyone really believes them. Craig Kelly’s views on hydroxychloroquine as a cure for the coronavirus, is difficult to evaluate, especially when it has been so effectively debunked. Is he sincere in his beliefs, or is he just trying to be noticed? Even Facebook has removed some of his recent posts. “Even Facebook”.

The first step is to stop electing idiots to Parliament. It is embarrassing. And some of them rise to the top. That is dangerous. At some point a discerning public has to draw a line in the sand, especially when the stupid and the misled continue to spout rubbish. If you look carefully, you will be able to spot the stupid ones, but can you spot the canny contrarians?

Levin’s God, by Roger Wells, a short review

Roger Wells
FACP, $29.95pb, 462pp, 1 92073 131 8

LEVIN’S GOD is a novel, written by Roger Wells, and published in 2004, by Fremantle Arts Centre Press, and it is a classic coming of age story, charting the personal journey of the protagonist, Levin Hoffman, as his life unfolds, from late seventies tram conductor in Melbourne, into lead singer for a successful rock-band, and then onto Thailand for his next chapter.

The novel begins in 1977, and it is written in the first person. It uses a surprisingly confident (remember it is a first novel) narrative style, which moves effortlessly between interludes of existential angst, peppered with pithy and often amusing ruminations, and non-stop action.

This book is the re-telling of a spiritual and emotional journey, and it is remarkably open about the characters’ successes, failings and excesses. It is relentless in describing unfolding events, and carries the reader forward, in a seemingly unstoppable narrative. This is a book which is engaging, because the characters are open, and vulnerable, and we care about what happens to them.

There is an anarchic vibe which sits well with the time, and the setting. Young men and women in dead-end jobs, yearning for meaning, and success. Melbourne in the late 70s and early 80s was undergoing huge changes. The inner suburbs were changing. There was a creative and cultural surge happening, and some of what we might now call ‘the disruptors’ were emerging.

Students, artists, musicians were invading the old working class suburbs, often causing disruption and resentment. Gentrification raised rents, and the old sureties were challenged by the arrival of, and the lifestyle choices of, the newcomers. Wells’ book catches that shift in mood, but he wastes no time contemplating the change. His characters are rushing toward their destiny.

This was the time when the movie Dogs in Space appeared, when Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip shocked the city, when the artists from Roar Studios took control of their own exhibitions. It was an exciting time in Melbourne.

Roger Wells is the perfect travel guide. He studied art at RMIT, and after several dead-end jobs, tried his hand in the music scene. After early struggles, he ended up leading the band Little Heroes, which enjoyed considerable success between 1980 and 1984. Although the book is a novel, it is fuelled by insider’s knowledge, and the battles and personalities are authentically drawn.

The closing chapters of the book sees the action move to Thailand. The narrative does not falter; it ramps up, if possible, and although new characters are introduced, its force is undiminished, and it ends on a hopeful, if ambiguous note.

With the wisdom of hindsight, some of the introspective musings, and a sexual encounter or two are overblown. Notwithstanding these moments, and they are few, the writing is sure, the journey is documented, the history of a city in flux is spot-on, and the characters’ trajectory is believable, and engaging.

This is a first rate Bildungsroman, or ‘coming of age’ novel, with the added bonus of being a faithful record of Melbourne, and I think a worthy companion to Monkey Grip.

Levin’s God is available as an e-book, but it is difficult to find as a physical book. I would suggest a call to Fremantle Arts Press, demanding a re-print. I only lend my copy to people who leave a deposit. (I’m joking, but I mean it.)