Charlie Hebdo revisited

Are we free to offend is a question that we looked at on the first post on this site.  It was looked at again after the Charlie Hebdo murders.  Garry Trudeau is the creator of the cartoon Doonesbury.  He is obviously a very perceptive and articulate man.  He gave a speech recently to Long Island University that contained the following:

Why were they [his first cartoons] so subversive?  Well, mainly because I didn’t know any better.  My years in college had given me the completely false impression that there were no constraints, that it was safe for an artist to comment on volatile cultural and political issues in public.  In college, there is no downside.  In the real world there is, but in the euphoria of being recognized for anything, you don’t notice it at first.  Indeed, one of the nicest things about youthful cluelessness is that it is so frequently confused with courage.

In fact it’s just flawed risk assessment.  I have a friend who was the US army’s top psychiatrist and she once told me that they had a technical term in the army for the prefrontal cortex, where judgment and social conduct are located.  She said, ‘We call them sergeants.’…….

As you know, the Mohammed cartoon controversy began eight years ago in Denmark, as a protest against ‘self-censorship’, one editor’s call to arms against what she said was a suffocating political correctness.  The idea behind the original drawings was not to entertain or enlighten or to challenge authority – her charge to the cartoonists was specifically to provoke, and in that they were exceedingly successful.  Not only was one cartoonist gunned down, but riots erupted around the world, resulting in the deaths of scores.  No one could say to what positive social end, yet free speech absolutists were unchastened.  Using judgment and common sense were denounced as antithetical to freedom of speech.

And now we are adrift in an even wider sea of pain.  Ironically, Charlie Hebdo, which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population, has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers.

This is a bitter harvest.

Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable.  Satire punches up against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful.  Great French satirists such as Moliere and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule.  Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny – it’s just mean.

By punching downwards, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence.  Well, voila – the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger in which 10 people died.  Meanwhile the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting more than 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks…..

What freedom of speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend to offend a group does not mean that one must.  Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged.  They’re allowed to feel pain.  Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility.  At some point, free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious.  It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.

If I may say so, there is much rude good sense here.  The people of Charlie Hebdo showed and they continue to show that they can stare down violence and death.  And for as long as they and others of a like mind continue to do the same, they will provoke violence and death for people who have had little or no choice about buying into this argument.  There is a dangerous naivety, a dangerous failure of risk management, a dangerous readiness to allow high theory to roll over bare facts in those whose faith in and commitment to an ideological imperative drive them to contradict the teaching of common sense and the prescription of ordinary good manners.

The people that Mr Trudeau calls ‘free speech absolutists’ may be dangerous for no other reason than that they subscribe to absolutes.  As soon as you allow absolutes in our political or legal thought, you will face an unacceptable risk that innocent people will have to be run over to accommodate the theory or prescription.

That is one reason why the common law avoids them.  It is one reason why we can get into awful trouble when we try to overlay the experience of the common law with some overarching constitutional imperative.  You have only to look at the juristic mayhem caused by the phrase ‘absolutely free’ in s. 92 of the Australian Constitution to see what damage can be done by absolutists when they seek to play around with our laws.  You might also look at the effects of the constitutional right to bear arms in the U S, and the frightful mayhem of a different kind that the U S Supreme Court has unleashed on its people as a result.

These issues were discussed by Sir Gerrard Brennan in a judgment in our High Court on the question of whether the law of defamation was inconsistent with a freedom of expression that the court found to be implied in our Constitution:

‘Freedom’ can be used in several senses and there is a danger in attempting to define a constitutional principle by use of an abstract noun of imprecise meaning, especially when the history of s.92 reveals that the corresponding adjective is extremely troublesome.  At the outset, it is necessary to distinguish between an absolute freedom and a freedom which is protected or guaranteed by law.  In law, there is no absolute freedom to do anything that might affect another.  Laws necessarily restrict absolute freedoms in order that all may live in a society of freedom under the law, by which we mean a society in which absolute freedoms are restricted by law to the extent that is thought appropriate to our history and culture……There are thus two distinct senses in which the term ‘freedom’ may be used.  One is a freedom to do anything – an absolute freedom; the other is a freedom or immunity from legal regulation created, expressly or impliedly, by the Constitution – a constitutional freedom.  The Court is concerned only with the nature and scope of constitutional freedoms.

One of the mantras of the champions of Charlie Hebdo, here and overseas, is that they have to protest against something called ‘self-censorship.’  Censorship is a form of control of speech.  It is assumed that any form of censorship is bad for that reason; a law that penalises a form of speech inhibits freedom of speech; anyone who succumbs to the ban and inhibition imposed by a law therefore engages in a form of censorship; any kind of censorship is bad; this law is therefore bad because it produces that bad result – it diminishes freedom of speech.

This is bullshit.  Almost every law diminishes our freedom because it forbids us to do something.  Almost every law diminishes our freedom of speech because our general law forbids us to agree to break that law.  If I offer you one million dollars to murder our head of state, you will think of the laws about murder and treason before you accept that offer.  If I offer you one million dollars to brand the Prime Minister a liar, you will think about the law of defamation before accepting my offer.  If I offer you a case of Johnny Walker Blue Label to stand out outside the MCG on Grand Final Day with a megaphone and publicly announce that a certain black footballer is as stupid as the rest of his race, you will give thought to at least three sorts of laws before accepting my offer.  Not necessarily in order, those laws are the laws of defamation, the laws dealing with racial vilification, and summary offences prohibiting insulting or abusive or offensive behaviour in public.  If you got legal advice, you would also be told that you will almost certainly miss the whole game because you will be in the slammer with no immediate prospect of bail.

In each of those cases, you would probably agree not to chance your arm.  If you chose to describe that process as one of ‘self-censorship’, people might give you a funny look, but that is just what the relevant laws were designed to.  They were designed to stop you from saying or doing something nasty that might hurt others – or just start a fight.  It is just absurd – or, in the language of Trudeau, ‘childish and unserious’ – to say that the laws that led to such an act of censorship are on that account bad.

This is I think no more than what Sir Gerrard Brennan, in the judgment that I referred to above, said in response to the argument of the press that the law of libel (defamation) has a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech.  Of course it does – that law is there to prevent some people from claiming to be free to destroy the reputations and lives of other people.

The defamation law, it is said, has a ‘chilling effect’ on the freedom to discuss government, governmental institutions and political matters which is inconsistent with the freedom.  The submission does not illuminate the answer to the relevant question.  It simply translates into tendentious language the legal truism that the tort of defamation achieves its purpose of providing protection for personal reputations by providing the remedy of damages against the tortfeasor.  If the publication of defamatory matter were not chilled by the remedy, there would be no sanction for publications that are neither justified nor excused. The question is not whether the absolute freedom to discuss government, governmental institutions and political matters is chilled by the law of defamation but whether the law of defamation, by chilling the publication of certain defamatory matter, is inconsistent with a constitutional implication.

So, we can forget any notion of absolute freedom, or of condemning a law merely for inhibiting freedom of speech.  The question for the law-maker then is this – given that we value our capacity to speak our minds with as little restriction on that capacity as possible, does the interest or value sought to be protected by the law imposing such a restriction warrant it?  This is the familiar question in the law of – where do you draw the line between interests of people that cannot all be accommodated?  There will frequently be a range of political views, in which there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – except to say that those who think that they can shut down the debate by invoking some political or ideological trump card are just plain wrong.

The law of defamation affects freedom of speech.  Some think it goes too far – such as the press; some think it does not go far enough – such as those who have been run over by the press.  There is no right or wrong answer.  We have laws meant to help preserve public order by making certain kinds of insulting words or offensive behaviour illegal.  These laws are never mentioned by the free speech absolutists.  Do we still need them?  Would they scrap them and just sit back and watch a riot start outside the MCG on Grand Final Day?  Opinions on these issues will vary as do opinions on most political issues.  Opinions also vary over time.  The relevant laws also vary greatly geographically.  We still have a law of blasphemy on our books.  It looks very different to us now than it did to our forebears one hundred years ago.  Should we keep it, or expand it?

We have laws forbidding insult or offence on racial grounds – these are just a particular application of those laws that enforce public order – should we extend those laws to forbid insult or offence on religious grounds?  In this country, is insulting or offensive behaviour on the ground of religion less likely to lead to a breach of the peace than insulting or offensive behaviour on the ground of race?  These are some more political issues that will not disappear with some ‘Open Sesame’ found at the bottom of a think tank.

One comment may be added to the last example.  Garry Trudeau asks the good question.  What is the point of provoking a religious group with language that we know will offend them?  Is it just to prove that we are so keen on this notion of freedom of speech that we will test others in our midst to and past their limits just to show how keen we are?  Or might the law-makers look more to the first purpose of our law – to contain violence and the vendettas that violence spawns?  Are we so politically naïve that we must champion the exercise of some ideological value that we will insist on doing so even when we know that as a result innocent people may well die?  Has our legal history sat comfortably on the shoulders of ideological champions?  Or do we behave like kids behind the shelter shed and say – it is not our fault but theirs’ – their ideas are not as good as ours?

In closing his speech, Mr Trudeau made two ad hominem points.  Charlie Hebdo had fired someone for being anti-Semitic.  Where you draw the line in offending a minority might therefore depend on the political clout of the offended minority.  The White House took a lot hits for not sending a big hitter to the march in Paris.  They may now look smart – especially given the identity of at least one big hitter in the front line of the march.  But, then, he was there to make a political point nearing an election, and in politics few things are sacred, especially at election time.  The ancient Gauls took many ferocious maulings when Julius Caesar was in their area – that we now call France – near election time.  Political decisions then as now were made on earthy, squalid grounds, far removed from the innocence of the colleges in our salad days.

Are we free to offend becomes a silly question.  If you mean ‘free’ in the legal sense, the answer is no; if you mean ‘free’ in some theoretical or absolute sense, the answer is yes, but at a price to be both determined and possibly paid by others.  The serious question of Mr Trudeau remains – why are some people intent on offending some other people for the sake of it?  And can they decently ask the rest of us to join in paying the price?  There is no black and white answer.

These are matters of deep moment for Freedom Boy and his appointor, Bookshelves, to ponder and opine upon.  At $400K+ a year, we stand assured of rich enlightenment.

Honouring the dead

The response to the post of yesterday suggests that a lot of people are revolted by many aspects of what some people – especially politicians – are planning for tomorrow, 25 April, the centenary of the abortive landing at Gallipoli.  It may help if we try to spin out some of the differing threads, because different things evoke different responses – and of great strength.

Respect for the fallen

Most people want to honour their fallen, especially those who died fighting for their people.  I started at about the age of eight, in about 1953.  I was taken on a tour of Victorian war graves by George Dawe, a mate of my old man, which lasted a week.  George was a war graves commissioner, and he and this venture made an enduring contribution to my fear of snakes.

I visited the war graves at Singapore in 1963 and I was humbled and appalled to be looking at the remains of boys younger than me.  Two military funerals for men killed in Vietnam affected me heavily.  I was balloted out.  Two mates were not.  One put his feet up in St Kilda Road as an officer; the other joined the infantry and went to Vietnam.  He came back, but it did him no good.  Then a mate got killed after they bribed him to go back with a cheap home loan.  Then I found out that our government had lied to us when getting us into the war.  No government can regain faith after lying to start a war and then conscripting its young men by ballot to die in it.  And then rejecting those that got back.

I have since been to Gallipoli, the Somme, and Flanders.  The most moving memorials in London for me are those for Bomber Command and Bomber Harris who were both cruelly treated by an ungrateful nation.  The most moving is that to American airmen that I visit each time I go to Cambridge and the memorial to Iwo Jima in Washington.

No one argues with this kind of piety – unless perhaps you are a citizen of China or Korea and you read of the Japanese Prime Minister visiting a shrine to their war dead – including those who perpetrated the most frightful crimes against humanity.  And celebrating the death of some servants of the Reich might be a war crime in itself.

Acknowledging history

We all want a great and heroic past.  America has one.  We do not.  I need not rehearse why the cruel and pointless fiasco at Gallipoli seems such a sad jumping off point in our quest for a story.


This is not a good or easy word.  A love of your country might be useful; it might be the reverse.  If you asked an Australian if they were a patriot, you would get a very funny look, and a query about your mental health.  By and large, patriotism is a value in America, and one that no American would want to see challenged; to the extent that it surfaces in Australia, it may be an object of either curiosity or suspicion, if not downright abuse.

Most people, at least in Australia, understand the word ‘patriot’ to mean someone who loves their country and is loyal to it.  Australians do not use the terms Fatherland of Motherland; neither did the English; those words make both lots uneasy, but the similarity is seen.  A glance at the Oxford English Dictionary shows that something more is required of a patriot than passive loyalty.  The OED refers to French, Latin, and Greek roots, and says that a patriot is ‘one who exerts himself to promote the well-being of his country; one who maintains and defends his country’s freedom or rights.’  To be a patriot, you have to get off your backside and do something – this then raises the spectre of the busybody.  The two meanings look different, or you just accept that being a patriot in South Korea is very different to being one in North Korea.

Apart from saying that patriotism means more to Americans than us, there is not much to be said.  The frightful jingoism we now tend to see at this time can be terrifying.  Hitler’s SS and the Emperor’s kamikaze pilots were the purest patriots you could ever find.

The peak of chauvinism now also leads to a dreadful moral blindness.  About 8000 Australians were killed at Gallipoli.  The Turks lost about eight times that number.  The total killed on each side was of the order of 56,000.  The fact that our side lost the battle is not all that matters.


This is a related poison.  It also relates to our lack of history.  One of the reasons I regard those poor pilgrims who shroud themselves in our flag on the shores of Gallipoli as sad if not pathetic is that we are not yet grown up enough to have our own flag or head of state.  And we have a galah as Governor-General who is now sad that he copped a gong, because he now sees that he looks an idiot, and he greets the press with ‘Call me Peter.’  Jane Austen could have gone into ecstasies over condescension as rich as that.

There is an Englishness about this nostalgia for Australians dying for King and Country in 1915 that must be foreign to most of this decently multinational migrant country, and which shows that we are nowhere near independence or maturity.  God only knows what the blackfellas make of it.  It probably confirms their worst suspicions.


We and the English and the Americans can be proud of what our service people did to win a war that they did not seek but which they had to win in World War II.  The civilian population of England, and especially London, were nothing short of heroic. In that war we fought for our own lives, and against evil regimes bent on world dominion.

That is not the case with any of our other wars.  It is too late to talk of why we went to war with the Empire in 1914, but I have the clear view that we should not have gone to war in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, or now Iraq again.  These are matters on which opinions might differ, but not many now say that the Middle East or we are better off because we went to war there.  Even the bombing of Libya, which I supported, has now proved to be a prelude to a hellish humanitarian crisis.  I gather that our position on Iraq is that the problems that they face now are down to the people that we invaded because they did not ask us to stay longer.

We need to have a cold-eyed view of our failures at war, if not our crimes, and the glitz and glamour that some want to invest in Anzac Day are the reverse of what we need for that purpose.  I would prefer to focus on those who saved us while we were directly threatened, and on our appalling treatment of those who served us in Vietnam.  We also do not reflect enough on the frightful moral and emotional damage that we do to our troops when we get them into wars like those in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  I suspect that it might make the defence of Tobruk look a little different.  And while we speak of how we treated those who returned, spare some thought for those who came back to a land fit for heroes after the war to end all wars – and got put into soldiers’ settlements.


With the death of God and the emptying or conversion of His churches, nothing has been put in their place.  Hence our need for ritual, and some feeling of the supernatural, some communion with the dead, and a quest for some moral bedrock.  This is a different kind of immaturity, but pagan rituals will appeal to some more than others.


With Anzac Day, our main pagan ritual is with sport.  It used to trouble me a little, but it does not now.  I have no doubt that the players get something good from it.  Funeral games were very Greek.  They are described in that great epic of war, the Iliad, which took place just over the water.  When Patroclus, the lover of Achilles, was killed, the Greeks marked his death with funeral games – and then Achilles went mad massacring everyone he could find and despoiling the corpse of Hector.  But if you go to the site of my club the Melbourne Storm, you can find a video that is a commercial presentation but which I have little doubt correctly reveals the feelings of profound respect of the players.  It just helps that three are of them are among the best to have pulled on a boot and wear the same number on their back in jerseys for Queensland and Australia.  They express what might properly be called a bond that is natural and harmless.  The same goes for the AFL and other codes.


I gather that all existing records for bad taste have been shattered recently.  Hawke annoyed me.  Howard sorely troubled me.  Abbott appals me.  Because of his personal and political insecurity, he has a lust for conflict and choreographed shows about war that are frankly terrifying, even allowing for his customary banality.  The exploitation of our dead for personal or commercial purposes is a form of desecration or prostitution that shames us all.  And then there is the inanity of a drip like Bookshelves Brandis.

My father’s father, Bill Gibson – with the worrying middle name of Campbell – fought at the Western Front and came back.  He died long before I was born, but if I have got anything from him, I cannot believe that he would be anything but unhappy with the way we honour our fallen.  I cannot believe that he fought so that we might wallow in this kind of bullshit.

For myself, I have the choice between an international lunch at Malmsbury – featuring Turkish and Greek cuisine – or going to see the Storm; the bonus for which is that they play the enemy of mankind – Manly.

But one thing is clear.  I am too fond of my Grundig TV to go anywhere near it when that schoolboy drip in the mid-blue tie or the sadly vacuous Mr Shorten might haul into view.


What follows is an extract from a book dealing with the different experiences in war of the US and Australia.  It is not a good story for us.

Chapter 10


‘I now wish to make the personal acknowledgement that you were right and I was wrong’.  President Abraham Lincoln to his successor, General Ulysses S Grant.

The turning point in the battle of Gettysburg came on its second day.  Lee was determined on staking the fortune of the South on a major battle – he thought that the North was just too strong to lose the war. He was intent on taking the North by its flank on his right, near a hill called Little Round Top.  His men charged again and again.  The Southern boys were not used to losing straight fights.  The casualties were, as usual, appalling.  The end of the Northern Line was commanded by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain (who taught Rhetoric at Maine.)  Chamberlain saw that his men were nearly out of ammunition and the will to resist.  He gave orders to them to perform a manouevre that is hard on the parade ground.  They were in part to retire at an angle behind the end of the line and then advance in a sweeping movement around the enemy.  In the movie, Jeff Daniels plays Chamberlain, and when he gives the order for ‘Bayonets’, you can see the whites of his eyes, and he is staring straight into eternity.  He is, as they say, running on adrenalin – and upbringing.

The manouevre was perfectly and successfully executed.  The Southern boys were thrown back by the charge.  The Northern line held.  The next day Lee saw his army smashed in Pickett’s charge.  The proud Army of Virginia would never be the same threat again.  Had that battle been lost, Lincoln may have had to sue for peace, and the Union may have been lost.  God only knows how Europe may have responded to Germany – twice – without aid from the nation that we know as the United States.  All those consequences turned on the extraordinary valour and coolness of a lecturer in rhetoric from the State of Maine.  It is on such personal threads that history hangs.

We saw that the war of independence was a frightful guerilla war with atrocities on either side.  The Civil War would be a more orthodox war, a war of attrition, with casualty rates piled up by a mode of warfare that would offer a ghastly premonition of the Great War.  Once the colonies decided to revolt, it was victory or death for the leaders of the colonies seceding from the Crown.  That threat was not so real for those seceding from the Union, but in that war, both sides were equally charged morally.  In the first war, the rebels never lost the moral high ground, and motivating English or Scots or Irish soldiers to fight against Britons on foreign soil cannot have been simple.  We have tried to list the military advantages of the home side.  Because of the course that events took, the first war was a precondition of the birth of the Union; the second war was a precondition of the survival of the union.  From Paul Revere to George Washington, the war of independence was mythologised in a way that looks completely American.  There was no need to mythologise the Civil War.  It had its own stark grandeur that would be given precise expression by the greatest American of them all.  For some people outside America, this was the real birth of the nation that they so admire.

George Washington was pompous and patrician, a vain old Tory.  He was in many ways definitively Un-American.  As a general turned politician, Eisenhower would be everything that Washington was not.  But the new nation needed more than a hero; it needed something like a cult.  The very shortness of American history led to almost indecent haste in making Washington a saint.  As Daniel Boorstin said, ‘Never was there a better example of the special potency of the Will to Believe in this New World.  A deification which in European history might have required centuries was accomplished here in decades.’  Might perhaps the Americans have a propensity to talk themselves up?

Never did a more incongruous pair than Davey Crockett and George Washington live together in a national Valhalla.  Idolised by the new nation, the legendary Washington was a kind of anti-Crockett.  The bluster, the crudity, the vulgarity, the monstrous boosterism of Crockett and his fellow supermen of the subliterature were all qualities which Washington most conspicuously lacked.  At the same time, the dignity, the reverence for God, the sober judgment, the sense of destiny and the vision of the distant future, for all of which Washington was proverbial, were unknown to the ring-tailed Roarers of the West.  Yet both Washington and Crockett were popular heroes, and both emerged into legendary fame during the first half of the 19th century.

The Civil War was so much more bloody and destructive than that fought in England more than two centuries before.  It was fought over four years after southern states, with nearly half their population enslaved, wanted to secede from the union on issues of the extension of slavery into the new territories.  About 620,000 Americans died in the conflict.  Names like Fort Sumter, Bull Run, Antietam, Shiloh (‘Place of Peace’), Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Appomattox would lie deep in the national consciousness, and become well known outside because of the outstanding TV documentary by Ken Burn.  It was a mechanised and industrial war.  The Northern economy was so much stronger, and they had the numbers to win, but dreadfully inept military leadership against a brilliant Southern general prolonged the war until the North produced two generals that were as good.  In the meantime, the emancipation of the slaves had been proclaimed, and the nation is still picking up the pieces.  The whole people of the United States had paid a most fearful price for that lesion in the Declaration of Independence on the equality of all men.

Not the least of the pain and tragedy of this war came from the hold that the States held over men of ‘honour’, a term of elevated content in the South.  Nearly one hundred years after the Union was born, there were many who saw their paternity and therefore loyalty in their home States, something that most Australians now, one hundred years after federation, find very odd.  There is no doubt that State loyalty is still much stronger in the US.  It strikes people as odd that a man could be Virginian first, and American second.

Robert E Lee had served the Union for thirty-two years, but he could not raise his hand against his family in Virginia, and he resigned his commission.  God knows how many other families would mourn that decision.  Lee was a great commander, and he was not scared to take risks.  He had the stamina to go on to win and not just avoid defeat.  He was brilliant in manouevre.  Those were all qualities that his early opponents did not have.  He developed an aura of invincibility, and later trumpeted virtues led to a reaction.  This is the balanced assessment of a British military historian:

Lee’s victories were won against the odds….This is an unusual experience for American commanders, who usually enjoy the benefits of plenty…His victories remain among the greatest humiliations ever inflicted on the armies of the United States.  None the less, the link with the other American commander, George Washington, who battled against the odds, is a just one.  For this reason, Lee still ranks among the very finest of American generals, for like his hero, Washington, he managed to achieve much with the most meagre resources.

What other general on the losing side, including Hannibal and Rommel, ever inflicted so much loss and damage on the enemy?

Ulysses S Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman had been failures before the war; Grant hit the bottle, and Sherman was deeply unstable, too wobbly to command.  After the horrendous first day of Shiloh, when Grant had lost about ten thousand men, Sherman sought him out to discuss withdrawal.  He found Grant under a tree, hurt and leaning on a crutch, rain dripping from his hat, and chewing on a cigar.  Sherman decided against withdrawal, and the next day they won the biggest Northern victory so far.

Grant was a gift from God to his president, and Sherman held the same place for him.  Grant had force of character and military intuition; Sherman was an intellectual and widely read in history and theory (as Patton was).  They both had the iron nerve and steely determination required of commanders in a bloody civil war.  Their comradeship was sustaining.  Sherman wrote to Grant: ‘We cannot change the hearts of the people of the South, but we can make war so terrible that they will realize the fact that however brave and gallant and devoted to their country, still they are mortal….’Sherman and Grant were facts of life men.  ‘They cannot be made to love us, but may be made to fear us.’  Grant said this of Sherman: ‘I know him well as one of the greatest and purest of men.  He is poor and always will be.’

Best of all, Sherman said of Grant: ‘He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now, sir, we stand by each other always.’  You may not find that in the Iliad of Homer, but it is a thing of great beauty.  Grant and Sherman are, like Lee, assuredly American heroes.

The Americans were latecomers to both world wars, but their intervention was decisive, especially in the Second World War, both in Europe and in the Pacific.  In the Second War, America was directly attacked and its military and industrial mobilization left it the most powerful nation in the world.  Wilson and America failed at Versailles, but so did other Allies, but worse.  America produced more real military heroes in Bradly and Patton, and the future President Eisenhower.  The Marshall Plan was statesmanlike and humane, and by crushing Germany and Japan militarily and then being generous in victory, the US avoided the awful errors of Versailles.  Korea was at best a draw; Vietnam was a moral and strategic black hole; and whatever else might be said about the perceived failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, their memory is not inducing America to try that kind of thing again.  America has retired hurt as the world police officer.

The defining war for the US, at least to one outsider, is the Civil War, and its enduring legacy not just for America but the whole world is Abraham Lincoln. What might be called the original sin of the young republic was a blood libel that would have to be redeemed in blood.  Abraham Lincoln was the chosen instrument of the redemption of the United States.

Born poor and low down in the back blocks, Lincoln learnt English through the King James Bible and Shakespeare.  While doing labouring jobs, he largely taught himself law, often reading with his long legs up a tree.  He was also a crack shot.  He practised rough and tough law before rough and tough juries, commonly sleeping head to toe fully clothed with his opponent when on circuit.  He rose up through state politics and came to national renown in great debates on the poisonous issue of slavery.  His marriage was difficult and he knew personal tragedy.  His election as President effectively signalled the beginning of the Civil War.  He had a God given ability to get to the heart of the matter and then express himself in language that will not die.  He also had the political gifts of being forever underestimated, and of having immense personal appeal and humour right up close.

But under that rustic open charm lay a mind of rat cunning and political genius.  He had to endure awful generals and awful defeats.  It is very doubtful if any lesser person could have held the nation together.  But in Grant and Sherman, he found generals who could and did win the war for him.  Lincoln had seen his job as being to preserve the Union, and he did so.  It is impossible to imagine what might have happened if he had failed.  He also emancipated the slaves.  He was assassinated at the end of the war.

Here is the full text of the Gettysburg Address.

Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.  We are met on the great battlefield of that war.  We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract.  The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who have fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause or which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead men shall not have died in vain; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Here is the full text of a letter to Grant.

Not expecting to see you again before the spring campaign opens, I wish to express in this way my entire satisfaction with what you have done up to this time, so far as I understand it.  The particulars of your plans I neither know nor seek to know.  You are vigilant and self-reliant; and, pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any constraints or restraints upon them.  While I am very anxious that any great disaster or capture of our men in great numbers shall be avoided, I know these points are less likely to escape your attention than they would be mine.  If there is anything wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail to let me know.  And now, with a brave army and a just cause, may God sustain you.

Here is the text of a telegram to Grant.

I have seen your despatch expressing your unwillingness to break your hold where you are.  Neither am I willing.  Hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible.

The second inaugural contained the following.

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained.  Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease.  Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and sustaining.  Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other.  It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us not judge that we be not judged.  The prayers of both could not be answered – that of neither has been answered fully.

There follows a passage of remarkable Biblical intensity to a people raised on the Old Testament, in which Lincoln says that the scourge of war might continue ‘until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword’.  And then, as in Wotan’s farewell, we reach distilled peace at the end.

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all that which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.

Lincoln was a colossal achievement for the humanity in us all. When Lincoln left us from the wounds received at the Ford Theatre, a member of his cabinet said ‘Now he belongs to the ages.’  He certainly does, and we stand in awe of him.


The Australian war experience got off to a bad start.  The colonies jointly – this started just before federation – went off to the aid of the leading world power in a fight that had little or no intrinsic merit or interest to Australia, that was deeply divisive at home, with consequences that are at best disputed, and for no discernible benefit to Australia, apart from paying some kind of respect or dues to the world’s leading power.  Very much the same damning assessment would later be made of Australia’s tagging along behind America in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  One difference is that in the case of both Vietnam and Iraq, the government of Australia told its people untruths, to put it softly, when that government determined to send off its young men to be killed in foreign conflict.

‘Plain George’ Turner had done the articled clerks’ law course, become an honorary officer of a number of friendly societies, and a senior chief warden in the Masons before becoming the first Australian born premier of Victoria and then the first Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia as the Right Honourable Sir George Turner, P C., K C M G.  Truly, it could only happen in Australia.  He achieved his own kind of immortality in joining the decision to send colonial troops to help the British War on the Dutch settlers in South Africa (the Boers): ‘If ever the old country were really menaced, we would spend our last man and our last shilling in her cause.’  When the Vietnam War got very bad under President Lyndon B Johnson, an Australian Prime Minister called Harold Holt, who later disappeared while snorkelling in waters known to be dangerous, alarmed even his own supporters by declaiming ‘All the way, with LBJ.’  Some Australians have grovelled better than others.

The Australians were just showing solidarity, or fraternity, with Britons everywhere.  They were after all Australian Britons.  They were ‘For the Empire, right or wrong.’  The troops were mainly bushmen and the officers tended to be squatters.  These were the sort of men that Kitchener for the British wanted for the Bushveldt Carbineers to put the fear of God into those diamond hard Boers.  But the Boers were fighting for their own land, and an Australian called ‘Breaker’ Morant – he was a gifted horse-breaker – was adjudged to have gone too far in shooting prisoners, and he was executed.  In his last ballad he said he was ‘Butchered to make a Dutchman’s holiday.’  There are still Australians who want him as a hero.

The early confidence turned sour, as happens.  It was a very dirty guerilla war, and the British use of concentration camps appalled many.  Billy Hughes said that the English were cowards and bullies.  Cardinal Moran gave intimations of martyrdom; Mr Barton offered the troops one of those peculiarly useless bromides that Australian troops would come to expect from their politicians.  He said that Australia stood for ‘truth and justice, not militarism’.  (When the then Prime Minister in 2013 reviewed Australia’s role in the Afghan War, Mr Abbott said that that that war had ‘ended not with victory, not with defeat, but with, we hope, an Afghanistan that is better for our presence here…..Australian troops do not fight wars of conquest; we fight wars of freedom’.)  The new nation was overjoyed at the return of its troops, but what had it got for the 518 of the 16, 175 men who did not come back?

Australia would lose more than 60,000 killed in World War I, and about half that in World War II.  It was only in the latter war that Australia was directly threatened, and it was Australian troops under their own commanders who halted the Japanese advance into New Guinea.  The appalling war crimes committed by Japanese troops serving under Emperor Hirohito on Australian troops and prisoners of war etched very deep in the Australian consciousness.  The frightful games that the Japanese play with their own brutal history has, to put it softly, not helped.  When Australians look back on their history during the two world wars, Japan is in a place all of its own.

Yet, when Australians commemorate their war dead, they tend to focus on the charnel house of the Great War, which posed no direct threat to them, and where the weight of their contribution to the Allied victory might depend on whom you are talking to.  This concentration on the First World War reflects the mystique, for the want of a better word, of Gallipoli.  The major commemoration day for the Australians is not 11 November, but 25 April, the anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli in 1915.

The scheme, largely that of Winston Churchill, and it cost him his job in Cabinet and saw him in the trenches, was part of a grand strategic vision to shorten the war by a dramatic intervention on the bridge between Asia and Europe.  This is how a middle-aged Australian described the landing to the English writer Compton Mackenzie.

He reported that all he knew was that he had jumped out of a bloody boat in the dark and before he had walked five bloody yards he had copped a bloody bullet in his foot and had been pushed back to bloody Alexandria before he bloody well knew he had left it.

He was a bloody lucky Australian.  Mr Mackenzie was there for the second, Suvla landing, and he left this wonderful remark: ‘An absurd phrase went singing through my head.  We have lost our amateur status tonight.’

The trouble was that there were too many on high that had not lost enough of their amateur status.  On two occasions, the infidel invaders were within touching distance of achieving their objective, but on each occasion they were caught in time.  The whole expedition was botched from on high from the start.  The invaders were facing Turks defending their own soil, and with Allah on their side, and they ran into a man of military and political genius called Mustafa Kemal, more the Father of Turkey than George Washington was the Father of the United States.  There were months of stagnant fighting in trenches, the very type of war that the planners had sought to avoid, before the Allies slunk out under cover of night, defeated and demoralized.  The casualties on both sides had been horrendous, and all for nothing – except for the creation of modern Turkey.

It was memorable for the Australians and New Zealanders (Anzacs) because this was a form of debut, and their casualty lists loomed larger in their smaller country towns.  Very few country towns in Australia do not have a memorial to those lost in this war, frequently with additions for later wars.  But this was a complete military failure, what Churchill would describe in another context as ‘a colossal military disaster’, and both the English and the French suffered more casualties than Australia.

The glow that Australians now see this disaster in comes from the need for a sustaining myth that found a little more to latch on to in the U S with the man who could not tell a lie.  So, each year around 25 April, young Australians make what is in truth a pilgrimage from Asia to Europe to sit huddled under a flag that is hardly their own and reflect on an heroic miss just across the water from the ruins of Troy.  If you go there on a clear quiet day, you can feel a marvelous peace where men had torn at each other hand to hand most barbarously for nothing.  There is a moving monument on which Kemal assures the foreign mothers of the fallen that their sons are resting in peace.

They also fought in the desert and the Western Front.  The charge at Beersheba by the Light Horse was one of the last of its kind, but the men had to put the horses down before they came back.  They were part of the sausage factory on the Western Front, the last gasp of ruling monarchies and a cruel and effete ruling class.  They produced a general of the first order in Monash, but he too had to serve under a butcher.

As debuts go, this was a hell of a deflowering, and they lost their amateur status the hard way.  Except when they got pissed on Anzac Day playing two-up, under the gracious licence for the day of the Establishment, the returned men did not want to talk about it.  As if to rub salt into the wounds, some were offered ‘selection’ lots, and that operation was also botched.

There would be lingering resentment about the way that the Poms’ earls, lords and knights had shoveled colonials into the cannon and then got lousy with the medals.  This resentment really flowered when the Poms cheated at cricket in an effort to defeat a boy wonder called Bradman during the Depression.  The Poms were bad winners and worse losers.

In the Second War, the Japs got very close.  Darwin was bombed.  There was real tension with the Mother Country about Australian troops being kept to face Rommel in the desert rather than defending their own homes against the Japs coming down in the jungle.  The fall of Singapore to the Japs – the guns pointed the wrong way – and the loss of English capital ships led Australians to turn their gaze to across the Pacific and look to Uncle Sam as their new protector and Godfather.  That still position holds.  It was by and large American troops that pushed the japs back at the most frightful cost, on the islands and on the oceans.  The American admirals were preeminent, and Australia has nothing like that monument to the US Marines at Iwo Jima.

Thank God it’s nearly over

About twelve months ago, I saw this coming.  I thought I should leave the country for this time.  I am bloody sorry I didn’t.  The bullshit about Anzac Day might choke me.

A young country sent its young men to a cruel and useless death on the other side of the world.  It just did as it was told by a parent whose cruel and stupid ruling class murdered so much of our future.  We went, we lost, and we quit – or, as the Honourable Alexander Downer said about Iraq, we just cut and ran.  And we celebrate this frightful waste every year.

Why?  We have no history and this is our way of trying to invent one.  We whites should leave the dreamtime to the blackfellas.  We invented this bullshit about ‘mates.’  The last time I looked, more French troops died at Gallipoli than ours’.  Did those poor buggers not have mecs or amis?  Did the Turks that we invaded and killed not have mates?

If you go there, and look at the cliffs, and see how close the trenches are, you can just about hear and taste the cult of death that we sent our young men to die in.  And now we prostitute the memory of the poor bastards in every way that we can.  We ought to be ashamed.

There is another view.  About 25 years ago, the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, took a team over to Gallipoli with some aged veterans.  One old guy – I think his name was Syd – declined the invitation to go back after all those years.  When the ABC asked him why he was not going, Syd gave a very sensible answer. ‘Quite frankly, I wasn’t too keen on the reception I got the first bloody time.’

A distinguished Englishman who had served in intelligence in the First World War was fascinated by what the Australians had done at Gallipoli.  He got this reaction from one digger.  ‘He reported that all he knew was that he had jumped out of a bloody boat in the dark and before he had walked five bloody yards he had copped a bloody bullet in his foot and he had been pushed back to bloody Alexandria almost before he bloody well knew he had left it’.  The commentator, Compton Mackenzie, who wrote the original Monarch of the Glen, also said: ‘An absurd phrase went singing through my head.  We have lost our amateur status tonight’.

Well, Sir Compton may have lost his amateur status, but we haven’t.  We are at it again.  We are doing what we are told to kill Muslims in a part of the world that we have nothing to do with, and with no idea about how things might turn out.

I’m with Syd.  And Einstein.  He said one life was enough.  It’s the same with me for Gallipoli.

Three young guns

Whether Jordan Spieth is the White Tiger is up in the air.  The performance at the Masters was enough to provoke wonder.  And from such a young man – such poise, and such manners.

There is a young man in his first year in F1.  He is Max Verstappen.  He is only 17 – too young to hold a driver’s licence.  His dad was an F1 driver, and is behind him.  In Oz terms, that is a disaster.  For the Dutch, I hope it works.  People who know more about it than me say he has  what it takes already.  He might be the next Schumacher.

In the first match of the year, a kid wearing number 5 for the Swans caught my eye with some blackfella vision in white skin. He came out, in any sense of that phrase, last weekend.  He has freakish gifts and composure, blond hair, and he gets on with Buddy.  His name is Isaac Heeney, and the girls will go dotty over him, the prime of Australian manhood.  It is a Sydney promoter’s dream, and an NRL nightmare, because the kid comes from Newcastle.  If it were not the kiss of death, I would have said he  could be the next Haydon Bunton.

The three appear to have one thing in common.  They are yet to learn fear, the fear of failure.  The golf commentators wanted to know how he might go after he has four putted from six feet.  I was reminded of what Maina Gielgud said about the Australian Ballet about thirty years ago.  ‘They are young and fresh enough not to be intimidated b y the classics.  They are prepared to give it their best.’

May the gods of sport protect them, and allow them to entertain us, and enlarge our prosaic lives.

Stefan Zweig on two wars

Stefan Zweig was a remarkable writer and The World of Yesterday is a most remarkable book.  It covers his life – from Vienna near the end of the century to close to his tragic death.  If I had to name one book to inform people of the 20th century, this might be it.  This book plus Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner explain the rise of Hitler in a way that whole libraries of academic history do not.  These two men were there, and they wrote before the horror of the Final Solution became known. The writing of Zweig, even in translation, has amazing grace and power, and shows the fineness of the line between form and substance in the hands of a great writer.

Here are two extracts from a book that I commend as strongly as I can.

On the outbreak of World War I:

Every little post office worker who usually worked from morning to night, Monday to Saturday, sorting letters without a break, every clerk, every cobbler suddenly saw another possibility lying ahead – he could be a hero, the women were already making much of men in uniform; those who were not going to the front specifically bestowed the romantic term of hero in advance of those who were.  They acknowledged the unknown power that was raising them above their ordinary lives; even their grieving mothers and anxious wives were ashamed, in these first hours of elation, to show their only too natural feelings.  But perhaps there was a deeper more mysterious force at work in this intoxicating frenzy.  The great wave broke over humanity so suddenly, with such violence that as it foamed over the surface, it brought up from the depths the dark, unconscious primeval urges and instincts of the human animal – what Freud perceptively described as a rejection of civilisation, a longing to break out of the bourgeois world of laws and their precepts for once and indulge the ancient bloodlust of humanity.  And perhaps these dark powers also played their part in the wild intoxication that mingled alcohol with the joy of self-sacrifice, a desire for adventure and sheer credulity, the old magic of the banner and patriotic speeches – an uncanny frenzy that eludes verbal description but is capable of affecting millions, the frenzy that for a moment gave wild and almost irresistible momentum to the worst crime of our time.

Today’s generation, who have seen only the outbreak of the Second World War with their own eyes, may perhaps be wondering: Why didn’t we feel the same?…..The answer is simple – they did not feel the same because the world in 1939 was not as childishly naïve and gullible as in 1914….In 1939, on the other hand, this almost religious faith in the honesty or at least the ability of your own government had disappeared throughout the whole of Europe.  Nothing but contempt was felt for diplomacy after the public had watched, bitterly, as it wrecked any chance of a lasting peace at Versailles.  At heart, no-one respected any of the statesmen in 1939, and no one entrusted his fate to them with an easy mind.  The nations remembered clearly how shamelessly they had been betrayed with promises of disarmament and the abolition of secret diplomatic deals…..the generation of 1939 knew about war.  They no longer deceived themselves.  They knew that war was barbaric, not romantic.

The war of 1939 had intellectual ideas behind it – it was about freedom and the preservation of moral values, and fighting for ideas makes men hard and determined.  In contrast, the war of 1914 was ignorant of the realities; it was still serving a delusion, the dream of a better world, a world that would be just and peaceful.  And only delusion, not knowledge, brings happiness.  That was why the victims went to the slaughter drunk with rejoicing, crowned with flowers and wearing oak leaves on their helmets, while the streets echoed with cheering and blazed with light, as if it were a festival.

On the rise of Hitler:

But we still did not notice the danger.  Those few writers who had really gone to the trouble of reading Hitler’s book, did not look seriously at his program, but laughed at his pompous prose style instead.  The great national newspapers, instead of warning us, kept soothing their readers daily by assuring them that National Socialism, which could finance its agitation only with money by heavy industry and by audaciously running up debts, must inevitably collapse tomorrow or the next day.  And perhaps the outside world never understood the real reason why Germany underestimated and made light of Hitler and his increasing power in all those years – not only has Germany always been a class conscious country, but within its ideal class hierarchy, it has suffered from a tendency to overrate and idolise the values of higher education.  Apart from a few generals, the high offices of state were filled exclusively by men who had been to university.  While Lloyd George in Britain, Garibaldi and Mussolini in Italy and Briand in France had risen to their offices from the ranks of the common people, it was unthinkable for the Germans to contemplate a man who, like Hitler, had never even left school with any qualifications let alone attended any university, who had slept rough in mens’ hostels, living a rather shady and still mysterious life at that time, could aspire to the position that had been held by Freiherr von Stein, Bismarck and Prince Bulow.  More than anything it was the high value they set on education that led German intellectuals to go on thinking of Hitler as a mere beer hall agitator who could never really be dangerous.  By now, however, thanks to those who were invisibly pulling strings for him, he had long ago recruited powerful assistants in many different quarters.  Even when he had become Chancellor on that January day 1933, the vast majority, including some who had helped him get to that position, still thought that he was just a stop-gap and that National Socialism would only be a transient episode.

It was now that Hitler’s cynically brilliant technique first revealed itself on a grand scale.  He had been making promises to all and sundry for years, and gained important supporters in all the political parties, each of whom thought that he could exploit the mysterious power of this ‘unknown soldier’ for his own ends.  But the same technique that Hitler used in international politics, when he swore alliances and the loyalty of Germany on oath to the very powers that he intended to annihilate, utterly triumphed for the first time.  He was s such a master of deceit by making promises to all sides that on the day he came to power, there was rejoicing in totally opposite camps….

It is difficult to rid yourself in only a few weeks of thirty or forty years of private belief that the world is a good place.  With our rooted ideas of justice we believe in a German, a European, and international conscience, and we were convinced that a certain degree of inhumanity is sure to self-destruct in the face of humane standards.  I am trying to be as honest as possible here, so I must admit that in 1933 and 1934 none of us in Germany and Austria would have contemplated the possibility of one hundred part, one thousandth part of what was about to break over us a little later…..

Even the Jews were not anxious and behaved as if Jewish doctors, lawyers, scholars and actors were being deprived of their civil liberties in China instead of just three hours journey away in the same German-speaking part of the world.  They took their ease at home and drove around in their cars.  And the comforting phrase ‘This can’t last long’ was on everybody’s lips.  But I remembered a conversation in Leningrad with my former publisher in Russia.  He told me how he had once been a rich man; he told me about the beautiful pictures he had owned; and I had asked him why in that case, he had not, as so many others had done, emigrated as soon as the Revolution had broken out.  ‘Oh, well’, he said, ‘whoever would have thought at the time that a republic consisting of workers’ councils and the army would have lasted more than two weeks?’  Here we had the same delusion, arising from the same propensity for self-deception.

The Slow Death of Victorian Football


A mate who has suffered under the curse of the Demons told me a gag the other day. Another supporter said that when he died, he wanted the Melbourne Football Club to provide the pallbearers – so that they could let him down one last time.

That bloke could have got a big hit of masochism yesterday. I flicked the screen on when the D’s were leading 45 points to 18. I did some work and we had only gone on to 49 points. The other side, the newest kid on the block and wet behind the ears, had gone on to 98. About 14 unanswered goals. I doubt whether the players can recover – the supporters cannot.

God only knows why as a kid I settled on Melbourne. Neither Mac nor Norma had any interest. While I was at Glen Iris State School, the then secretary of the Melbourne Football Club, Jim Cardwell, singled me and a few others out for season’s tickets for Melbourne (the Football Club) because we were wearing Melbourne jumpers. That was in about 1953. Although Melbourne had been extremely successful in the 1950s, including a hat trick, I had either been too young or too busy to go to see them much. In 1964 I saw almost every match. I was there for the Grand Final. They had given Collingwood a dreadful hiding in the second semi-final or preliminary final but I had an ugly premonition about the Final. I got to the ground early with a mate of mine. We drank beer to settle ourselves. I then had to meet my mother. We must have been able to buy seats although my recollection from those days is of people sleeping out for a very long time in order to get them. We were at the Punt Road end quite close to the goals on an angle looking toward the Members – right in line for each of the famous goals of Gabbo, including the one on the run. I can remember seeing the Melbourne back pocket player, Neil Crompton, called the Frog, pick up the ball and I can remember very clearly seeing it go through for the winning goal. (I met the Frog once or twice in later years – he was a gifted cricketer as well as footballer, but everyone could only ever remember the Frog’s goal in the 1964 Grand Final.)

The next year, I think, Melbourne sacked the legendary coach Norm Smith. I felt sick to the stomach. I can remember being interviewed on television by Phil Gibbs as I got to Brunswick Street wondering who on earth was going to coach the team that day. It has proved to be like the Red Sox letting Babe Ruth go. Melbourne has not won a Premiership since. I do not regard this jinx as an extravagant exercise by nemesis because the hubris of those involved must have been enormous.

I was not to know this at the time. I was not to know that it would not be until 1999 that I got nearly hysterical when Melbourne won a Premiership and that this time it would not be Australian Rules but Rugby League and Melbourne Storm. Ronald Barassi had become Robbie Kearns. Had I been told this in 1965, I would have taken it as conclusive evidence first that God was in truth dead and secondly that Australia would fall to Communist China.

I suppose that I saw about half the matches played by Melbourne between 1964 and say 1999, when I gave up. We lost most of them comfortably, and on the two occasions that we made the Grand Final by accident, we were thrashed. Two of the wisest decisions of my life led to my being at Iguazzu for the first and Gallipoli for the second – a choice shot through with irony.

I gave up in about 1999 not because we always lost, but because we were just not in the race, and the results were as unattractive as they were unbecoming. Then they made it a TV entertainment and we lost the Saturday lunch which was the only reason that we went. Now I do not like the way game is played, and I spend more time watching the other three codes. Many of my age are happier to watch the amateurs.

The problem for the VFL is that Melbourne is not the only side to have proved to be uncompetitive. The most popular side in Victoria is Collingwood. It is to the AFL what Ferrari is to Formula I. It has to do well for the sake of the competition. It has won two flags since 1958, one less than Melbourne. Footscray and St Kilda have only one won each, 1954 and 1966, in their entire history. It will be 50 years next year since either has won a flag. Flags were last won by four other sides as follows: Richmond, 1980; Carlton, 1995; North Melbourne, 1999; and Essendon, 2000.

From 1967 to 1989 the premiership was shared between Carlton, Essendon, Hawthorn, Richmond and North Melbourne. Two Melbourne sides have been sent out of Victoria (South Melbourne and Fitzroy). Of the 24 flags won from 1991 to 2014, 13 have been won by Victorian clubs and 11 by non-Victorian clubs. The thirteen flags won by Victorian clubs were Carlton (1), Collingwood (1), Essendon (2), Geelong (3), Hawthorn (4), and North Melbourne (2). Since the ratio of Victorian to non-Victorian clubs has only recently reached 10: 8, the boys from out of town have been kicking with a stiff breeze – or they have been playing with loaded dice.

The supporters of South Melbourne and Fitzroy who followed them to Sydney and Brisbane have been rewarded with 5 flags between them – one more than the four that have been earned by a rump of seven VFL clubs during that time – Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Footscray, Melbourne, Richmond and St Kilda.

You can assess the impact of nationalisation this way: the power-houses of what was called the VFL, Carlton (16), Collingwood (15), Essendon (16), Melbourne (12) and Richmond (10) have won a total of 69 flags in all. In the 22 years since West Coast became the first non-Victorian side to win a flag in 1992, those five Melbourne clubs have won only four flags between them. On a cold day in Melbourne, a warm person might say that the guts have been ripped out of Melbourne football,

Three things seem clear.

The business of the AFL is to provide entertainment. If that means that the fans should have a roughly equal chance of seeing their side win, the AFL has failed badly.

The people of Victoria have paid a fearful price for the extension of the game that they invented across the nation. The expressions of gratitude are less than overwhelming.

The consistent failure of the Victorian clubs, including those with the best and oldest names, suggests that the market cannot sustain the present number (ten). In about 1982, the late Jack Hamilton, who knew more about this code than anyone ever, told me that he thought four clubs would go to the wall. Two have. It looks like two more should. This could best be done by mergers within four clubs who have the least capacity to resist it – Footscray, Melbourne, North Melbourne, and St Kilda.

Whatever else happens, can some bastard please put Melbourne, if not Victoria, out of its misery?



Three things came to mind when I heard of the death of Richie Benaud.

The first was the tied test in, I think, 1961. That was up there with Hoad and Rosewall winning the Davis Cup, the Ali v Foreman fight in Kinshasa, and our winning the America’s Cup. I listened to the end of it in the backyard at Glencairn Avenue, East Brighton. We had fed my Astor radio – possibly then called a wireless – out the back window and hooked an aerial up to the top of a metal window to get a better reception from Brisbane. These were about the times when I would jump off the garage roof to practise parachute landings for the Commandoes and on a very desperate day try to play a golf-ball off the garage wall with a stump – after you know whom. (We hardly ever made contact, but the game got nasty if the golf ball ricocheted back off a paving stone.) The test match had been set up by the batting of Benaud and Davidson, when other teams might have gone for a draw*. My mate – his name was Kim Eason, and he was trying to be a wrist spinner – and I could hardly contain ourselves. The game was so up and down. We could not believe that it was a tie! As I recall it, Michael Charlton even lost his cool. This was when our cricket came out of a very boring period of a kind of sectarian disgust with the Poms. Cricket got to a level of popularity – as a game – that it has not got to again. This was all down to the West Indies and Richie Benaud. It was ticker-tape parade stuff, a fantastic achievement. We were witnessing attacking cricket but played as a game – at a very high altitude.

The second was a World Cup final. The West Indies were batting, I think second. The game was open. Richards was in with, I think, Colin Croft. Some trundler was trying to hold his own. Then Richards stepped right away to expose all his stumps and smote – not struck, but smote, or more modernly, smoked – the ball that crashed into the pickets at point, and bounced back a third of the way to the pitch. All the coloured dudes were whooping and hollering and giving high fives. Richards was leaning back on his bat chewing his gum and giving tout le monde a cool, icy stare, capless. Raw, black muscled power. Then Benaud said, sotto voce: ‘There was an element of contempt in that stroke.’ That, ladies and gentlemen, was Sir Vivian Richards in action, performing an execution.

The third was the shirt. This was not a fashion statement. This was a bloody rite of passage, mate. For about the whole of the seventies, when I was supposed to be turning sane, the Smiler and I spent most of every summer in a cricket shirt – we called it the Richie Benaud – that was cut like a blowsy golf shirt, with no buttons done up in the V-neck, collar turned up, and sleeves ever so artlessly gathered between the elbow and the wrist. The Smiler could play and I couldn’t, but I was buggered if I was going to let an aberrant historical anecdote like that stand between me and my bronzed Anzac uniform. On a bad day, we might even sport a chain, like a dude called Lillee. I only relented when the truth was brought home to me that I while I may have qualified in some way an Anzac, I was anything but handsome or bronzed. This may have been my first serious intimation of mortality.

Benaud would be criticised by some, including me, for trashing the game with one day cricket and being too close to the money crowd like Packer and Murdoch. I am of that generation that saw the empowerment – that is, the enrichment – of the players as being bad for the game and its real players and fans. On reflection, I think that blaming Benaud or Packer for what has happened in cricket is like blaming Charles Darwin for evolution or Martin Luther for the Reformation.

Australian sports administrators were notoriously small minded and enclosed twerps without either grace or imagination. They were cordially loathed, and they deserved to be. (It is why a lot of people are cool on Bradman and Michael Clarke – they were seen to be too close to management.) The administrators in the old days treated the players – in both cricket and football – as rightless and mindless serfs. Like all inadequate people corrupted by power, they were supremely – sublimely – blind to the revolution that they were so sternly stoking. They deserved everything they bloodywell got, and we just have to live with the consequences and salvage what we can. Benaud was not scared to stand up to the Establishment, and in this country, that is no bad thing.

It was the place of Richie Benaud, a man of French descent, to show that even after the revolution, the game of cricket could be attended with some degree of professional grace and charm. That was a large job. It is not hard to imagine what other motor-mouthed spruikers who are fond of the mob might have done to us. We also tend to forget that his record for wickets taken in tests would only be broken by Lillee. For reasons that I cannot put my finger on, I think I might have Ian Chapple in as the captain of our all-stars – perhaps I feel more raw aggression in Chapple simply because I saw him more in action – but it was Benaud who put his stamp on that form of captaincy and cricket – as he did on cricket commentary.

But if you want to know what a game of cricket was like in the days of its glory, get a film of the tied test, and watch one of the greatest sporting contests you will ever see. Just watch the dead pan reaction of most players when a wicket falls – except for the last over, which is unconfined hysteria; look at Benaud lead his team, and look at the frightening explosive power of Gary Sobers, whose execution of a bowler could be more flamboyant even than that of Richards; and then get hold of the famous after-dinner address by Wes Hall in which he describes the last over of that match. (‘I’m watching you, Winfield.’) Then you might know what drove John Milton to write Paradise Lost.

As for me, I will try to find a shirt that I can flash before the Wolf in front of the fire, and then raise a glass to a great dead cricketer and, thank heaven, a very decent Australian.


*According to this morning’s press, they were 6 for 92 chasing 232. Any team I was in would have adjourned to the bar.

The Leviathan


It was extraordinary how so many intelligent English people became Communists and whose faith survived a visit to Russia. The distinguished historian Dr Christopher Hill, of whom I am very fond, is an example. He reminds me of the remark of Chesterton that the ultimate test of a Catholic was to keep the faith after a visit to Rome. Well, the film The Leviathan will extinguish any faith or hope that anyone may have had in Russia.

It is hell on earth – drab, lawless, and soulless, and above all, a land that will not tolerate any hope at all. Every shot shows that lifeless, unfinished and motiveless emptiness that you see all over suburban Russia and Turkey. The State runs on corruption; people run on vodka; and the Orthodox Church leers over all. The survivors of the serfs, the Cossacks, and Tsars have never learned the meaning of freedom, much less how to govern themselves. The State operates like a totalitarian state – it just grinds down any person or decency or life that gets in its way – and there is not an oligarch or KGB hood in sight. The Leviathan consumes all, and a sense of hopelessness oozes out of the screen like the vodka that so many pull from the bottle or take straight like medicine. No part of life is left undenied.

The plot is that of The Castle but without the happy ending, and with a lawyer who is not quite so flawless. There is a complication involving the lawyer and the wife of the hero. She is wonderfully played by a woman who invests the part with haunting elements of Anna Karenin and the wife of The Doll’s House. The bad guy is also flawless. (Remember T P McKenna as Richmond in Callan?) The film does not move fast, but the pressure never drops. It is inevitable and unrelenting, and with more meaning and purpose than a Wagner opera.

This is the strongest film I have seen since Mystic River. I went back to see that film again the next day, as I did, for very different reasons, The Castle. The Leviathan is like the former. It has something like a Shakespearian intensity that leaves you drained and unsettled, but somehow purged. If the cinema were closer I would go back to it tomorrow. This is a movie that calls for a serious liquid debrief.

I spent a lot the Easter break writing a long note on 800 years of Magna Carta. Its most famous clauses say that we (the State) will not move or send against you except under a judgment of your peers, and to none will we sell, delay, or deny justice. If you want to know what life might be like without those rights written into the fabric of our law, go and see this mighty film. If you asked me to say how far Mr Putin’s Russia is behind the West, I would say not less than 800 years.

The Passion


We know next to nothing of Jesus until he began his public ministry when he was about thirty. He then came down from Galilee and Capernaum (under the Golan Heights). This rich country then produced fishermen and activists – and religious leaders, holy men (hasidim), healers, wonderworkers, miracle-workers – what would now be called shamans. The politically inclined of these young tearaways might have been freedom fighters or liberators – the Romans would have seen them just as terrorists to be killed as quickly as possible. Galilee may have been a place for the Romans to visit, but hardly a good place to live in.

Jesus began by identifying with another ragged preacher called John the Baptist (later beheaded by an inbred Quisling dictator called Herod). Jesus collected twelve disciples to represent the twelve patriarchs of the twelve tribes for the new Israel. He said that he kept the law, but that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. For Jesus, being true to God meant loving God and loving your neighbour. He preached that the Kingdom of God was at hand and he told his listeners that they should repent. He preached by parables and sermons and sayings. He healed the sick and followers said that he performed miracles. He had what we call charisma and he was getting a following. The problem with the miracles – and it is a problem with all miracles – is that there are never enough witnesses for their reports of the miracles to carry conviction to the world at large.

Jesus was bound therefore to make enemies with either the religious establishment or the secular establishment (the Romans). He was new. He was different. He was a change. He was popular. He was therefore a threat. But above all, he was good. Many people have trouble adjusting to real goodness. It makes the rest of us look terrible, and it can make most of us feel awful. There will always be some who felt like Satan in Paradise Lost when he ‘felt how awful goodness is’. When Milton wrote that Satan ‘thought himself impaired,’ he may have had in mind that chilling remark about Cassio made by Iago, that most evil predator on another’s honour:

He has a kind of beauty in his life

That makes me ugly.

It was inevitable that the religious status quo had to see Jesus as a threat. He was not sent to give them comfort. His mission was to institute a change of management. And if he came to the notice of the Romans, they too might take an adverse interest. You only have to look at the threat to world peace, not just regional stability, from the religious feuds in the Middle East today, not to mention the scary attraction that serial murderers hold for disaffected people of faith in what they see as occupied territories.

That is how things stood when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. He was to tell his disciples that he foresaw that he would die in the way he did and at a supper he in substance took his leave from them. He did so with words that have led to the deaths of so many people. He took to the money changers in the temple amid suggestions that he had talked of the destruction of the temple. It would be difficult to imagine a greater assault on the Jewish religion than talking of the destruction of its temple, and his action in clearing it would very likely have got him a conviction for sacrilege and a death sentence if he had done it to a Roman temple. He had in truth signed his own death warrant.

Spinoza described the impact of Jesus in a way that shows that he – Spinoza – would have been too hot to handle in some quarters.

His sole care was to teach moral doctrines and distinguish them from the laws of the state; for the Pharisees, in their ignorance, thought that the observance of the state law and the Mosaic law was the sum total of morality; whereas such laws merely had reference to the public welfare, and aimed not so much at instructing the Jews as keeping them under constraint.

Spinoza too was cast out. He was excommunicated from the Jewish community. Kant had an almost conscientious objection to ritual in any form – he always had something else to do when his university required him to attend at some religious function on an official basis. But Kant never lost faith in the man he referred to as ‘the Teacher’. Kant described Jesus as ‘the ideal of humanity well pleasing to God’. Einstein said that it was impossible not to be moved by ‘the luminous Nazarene.’ The young tearaway Hasid executed as a common criminal has never lacked followers of genius.

The ‘passion’ is the phrase for the suffering of Jesus from his last meal to his death on the cross. This is the sacred heart of the religion founded on his life and teaching. It has been celebrated in words and music. The most notable is Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion. Put religion to one side, and this work is one of those Himalayan peaks of Western civilization, like El Greco’s paintings of the Cleansing of the Temple, Shakespeare’s King Lear, Michelangelo’s Pieta, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, or Mozart’s Requiem.

The painting of El Greco at the National Gallery is amazing. (The Frick has a version, too.) Almost all the figures are distorted in the way that became the trade mark of this great artist. The Christ figure is a man on a mission and flowing with energy to that end. The whole thing has the movement of Mozart, but it is movement charged with colour, and behind the head of Christ is an Italian Renaissance background. This is what one scholar says. ‘The money-changers, panic-stricken more by the sudden revelation of power in the suave Christ than by the punishment itself, try to escape, but they cannot. Brilliant is the planned confusion of the detail. The upward-catapulted figures…make a frantic explosive series, away from the Christ and diagonally back into the picture space.’ It is very rare for a picture to be charged with so much energy and movement and rhythm.

Bach, ‘the supreme musical genius of the late Baroque period’, some say of all time, came ‘from the most gifted family in musical history.’ He was born in Saxony. He lost both his parents at the age of nine. He was twice married, and he had twenty children. He moved from town to town in Saxony and spent a large part of his time at Leipzig. He held court or church appointed posts. He was often wrangling with government or his employer. Most work was generated for his employer, and most of it was religious.

He was most famous during his life for his Cantatas (‘something to be sung’) which were sung during the service in church in the ordinary course of that service. He is best known now for the two passions – of Saint Matthew and Saint John – the drama of the passion of Christ according to either gospel and performed with a baroque orchestra and choir and soloists, and the music for piano called The Well-Tempered Clavier and the Goldberg Variations, and much other incidental baroque music. People of sense are not deflected from enjoying some of the most beautiful music ever written by the fact that they do not share Bach’s faith, or any other faith. It is the same with the other great artists I have mentioned.

At that time you could see artists trying to break clear of a monopoly by the church on commissions for new art. With Bach, it is very necessary to bear in mind that music then was supposed to serve a purpose. As John Eliot Gardiner says in his recent and marvellous biography of Bach:

In Bach’s day the arts were still expected to impart some explicit moral, religious or rational meaning. It was not until the second half of the century that aesthetic concepts such as ‘the Beautiful’ and ‘the Sublime’ began to uncouple the artistic from the scientific and the moral.

Then we have to see that Bach was not just the product of a musical family, but a religious family, and one that followed Luther at that. Luther had not just wanted to bring the bible to people in their language – he wanted to bring them their religion in words and music that were at once of the people and lyrical. One of his best known hymns – Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott (‘A Mighty Fortress is our God’) – has both music and words by Luther, and expresses his sense of swelling security within God’s many mansions. This is one of the themes of the St Matthew’s Passion. The Bach family sang at meals – as did Gardiner’s – and this vocal participation was easily carried over into the congregation and communion within the church.

Gardiner himself witnessed the survival of old traditions in the region of Thuringia – in the middle of the service, he and his choir were suddenly joined in the organ gallery by a group of local farmers who sang a short litany in Thuringian dialect and departed. That must have been quite a show. The German philosopher Herder said that the chorales sung in church retained the moral effectiveness (‘the treasury of life’) that German folk-poetry and folksong had once had. Herder also said that the moment the poet writes slowly in order to be read, art may be the winner, but there is a loss of magic, of ‘miraculous power.’ Isaiah Berlin had said that ‘Language alone makes experience possible, but it also freezes it.’

Luther held that ‘the notes make the words live’ and that without music, man is little more than a stone. He also wanted to know why the Devil should have all of the good tunes.

Yet, notwithstanding this close tie for Bach between God and his music, all of that music, including the two great Passions – especially the two great Passions – is open to all of us. Gardiner quotes William James as saying that ‘religion like love, like wrath, like hope, ambition, jealousy, like every other instinctive eagerness and impulse…adds to life an enchantment which is not rationally or logically deducible from anything else.’ Gardiner then goes on to refer to some observations of a contemporary European composer, Gyorgy Kurtag, that are at once both sane and mystical.

Consciously, I am certainly an atheist, but I do not say it out loud, because if I look at Bach, I cannot be an atheist. Then I have to accept the way he believed. His music never stops praying. And how can I get closer if I look at him from the outside? I do not believe in the Gospels in a literal fashion, but a Bach fugue has the Crucifixion in it – as the nails are being driven in. In music, I am always looking for the hammering of the nails… That is a dual vision. My brain rejects it all. But my brain isn’t worth much.

I first heard the St Matthew’s Passion of Bach about ten years ago at the church opposite the Astor which I gather is famous for its acoustics and choral work. The drama alone overwhelmed me – it is the drama and the music and a sense of ritual that is still overwhelming as I listen to any of the three recordings that I have of it. The first time you hear it, or, better, see it, you think at times that you might be listening to Negro spirituals with commentary from Joel Grey as the M C from Cabaret. The ending is signalled by a colloquy within the choir one part of which is Mein Jesu gutte nacht (Good night, my Jesus). Life cannot offer much else that is so fine.

My first recording was by Gardiner with his Monteverdi ensemble. The second is a large boxed set by the Collegium Vocale Gent that features Ian Bostridge as the Evangelist. The third, which I have listened to over the last two nights, is a recording with Karajan and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra made not long after the war in Vienna. That morally stained city was a husk and Karajan had joined the party – twice. Yet the sound of this choir is almost unbearably ethereal. So are the tempi of the choruses and the recording techniques then serve to put distance into the choirs. The effect is remarkable.

John Eliot Gardiner concludes what is in truth a frank and dry-eyed biography with these words.

Monteverdi gives us the full gamut of human passions in music, the first composer to do so; Beethoven tells us what a terrible struggle it is to transcend human frailties and aspire to the Godhead; and Mozart shows us the kind of music we might hope to hear in heaven. But it is Bach, making music in the Castle of Heaven, who gives us the voice of God – in human form. He is the one who blazes a trail, showing us how to overcome our imperfections through the perfections of his music: to make divine things human, and human things divine.

People who shuffle off this mortal coil without getting up very close to Bach’s St Matthew Passion are short changing themselves very badly. This is not a spiritual or Godly age; we have lost our taste for ritual and communion; and those who suffer under the emptiness and vulgarity of what passes for sport in Australia should not pass up a chance as good as this to at least glimpse the mystical.

(This piece draws heavily on two books that are available on Amazon and Apple, Parallel Trials (Socrates and Jesus) and The West Awakes, the third volume of a history of the West.)



In a famous moment of cricket history, an Australian blasted the English by saying something to the effect that there were two teams out there and only one of them was playing cricket. There is a wide consensus that something similar occurred on Sunday in the World Cup Final. There were two teams out there, but only one side was playing like sportsmen.

The New Zealand team had a great cup and were worthy finalists. They were brilliantly led by Brendan McCullum, and Danny Vettori has about the most respected name in world cricket. These were just two of the champions that we abused in a shameful manner. Sadly, the worst offender was not the pin-up suburban lout David Warner, but Brad Haddin – who is old enough to know better. He was rocketing around in the face of the Blackcaps like an ourangatang with terminal piles. It was disgraceful behaviour that was saddening for Australians to watch – and not least because it was so unnecessary.

Brendan McCullum took out his grief at the death of Phillip Hughes with his bat. It was as if he had been inspired. He and Phillip Hughes showed the good side of cricket. We have now painted the textbook image of the bad side.

The poison of Indian money is now finding its triumph in crass Australian vulgarity. It is awful to behold and God only knows what effects all this will have on the nation’s children. These overpaid entertainers are not sportsmen at all. This is what we have to teach our children. These people are gladiators made and trained and kept for TV. They sit in their multimillion dollar harbourside residences and forget what it is like to be Australians much less sportsmen. Cricket Australia should be told that too many of us want nothing to do with them. If this is what it takes to win   a World Cup, I want none of it. They might well start with Boofhead whose tolerance of the boorish David Warner gives no reason for confidence.

There is in our argot a term for overpaid larrikins. It is Cashed Up Bogans. That is all that these twerps are, and we should send a note of apology across the Tasman. They do things better there – in both rugby and in cricket.

Speaking of bad sports, spare a thought for Ben McDevitt of ASADA. Having fought and lost a contest that has become another national disgrace, but made every day Christmas Day for the lawyers, Mr McDevitt spat the dummy once again and committed an act of murder on the English language. ‘What happened in Essendon in 2012 was, in my opinion, absolutely and utterly disgraceful.’ Why is that we pay a fortune to some public servants to spend a fortune of our money and transfer another fortune to the lawyers so that they can lose their wars and make fools of themselves, and then moralise at our expense?

And, yes, the date was 2012. I wrote the note underneath a year or two ago about that dreadful bullshit about a black day for Australian sport. It looks like the note was written before the last federal election. Since then, it looks like ASADA’s decline has matched that of our cricketers.



In the ‘Circumlocution Office,’ Charles Dickens savagely lampooned bureaucrats. Its sublime function was to show HOW NOT TO DO IT. Now we have the tragic Dickensian farce executed upon us by the AFL and ASADA in the sterile months following their stagey revelation of ‘the blackest day in Australian sport.’

Journalists just love ‘the AFL drugs scandal.’ What scandal?   No one has been charged with breaking the law. No one has even been charged with breaking a rule. There is no charge, and, we infer, no evidence, that any team cheated by obtaining an unfair advantage. There is no evidence that any player suffered harm. There is therefore no scandal – except the Great Vegemite Scandal – how much Vegemite did those flighty Bombers put on their WeetBix?

The only scandal is that confected by the AFL and ASADA by childlike mismanagement and flood-level leakage through tame conduits. They, not Essendon, have trashed all Australian sport. They have harmed sport more than dirty money, botched television interference, the ridiculing of umpires, and screechingly vulgar and corrupting bookies.

The AFL’s first mistake was to get into bed with ASADA. Can you imagine BHP ‘outsourcing’ its ‘governance’, fancy talk for management, on corruption to ASIC? This will remain a classic MBA study in corporate balls-ups for generations.

ASADA take too long. They proceed in secret. They follow the path of the Inquisition. They do not announce their results but clothe them in dark secrecy. Then, when they fail – miserably – to live up to their own political grandstanding, they refuse to take their medicine. They just sulk. They resemble philosophers – blind men in a dark room looking for an absent black cat. Can you think of a better recipe to bring the house down? No one I know has any faith left in either the AFL or ASADA. No one.

ASADA is not made of real coppers. Imagine this. The Fraud Squad gets headlines internationally by saying that there is rampant dishonesty in, say, Myers. After six months’ agony for Myers, the Police say: ‘No one will be charged under the law, but you cannot say that we drew a blank, because this report is just interim, Mate: we could be here for bloody years – and we are handing over a huge dossier of secret nothings so that Myers can nail its own for breaching its Code of Conduct. So, there!’

It is beyond argument that the AFL and ASADA have brought AFL football into disrepute – they jointly blacked football and now they cannot back it up. The AFL blacked itself. They are paradigm scandal-mongers, little boys playing with matches, and caught calling Wolf. AFL, this is your scandal. Will they, then, apologise to Essendon – and to us? Not on your Nelly, Mate.

Now, when Essendon and its people are cleared by ASADA, the AFL charges them with the crime of which they, the AFL, stand guilty. This is Monty Python but it is not funny – real people are getting badly hurt by this arrogant exercise in revenge driven by hellish pride.

James Hird is one of best footballers we have seen. He had silky grace and frightening courage. He is also a gentleman. If the AFL were international, Hird would have captained our colours with the full faith and credit of the entire nation. Hird towers above the gnats who now nag him. Who has a good memory of Fitzpatrick or Demetriou in football?

What, then, have we done for James Hird? We have trashed him and bashed him for month after bloody month in a witch-hunt that has become a pogrom. As ever, in this country, mediocrity lashes back.

I am as an Australian appalled and ashamed at what we have done. It just makes it so much worse that the ‘offence’ of which the AFL is guilty and with which James Hird is now charged – ‘bringing disrepute’ or ‘conduct prejudicial’ – is the last resort of the military and the first resort of the fascist.

‘To none will we sell, to none will we deny or delay right or justice.’ Can you imagine a worse denial of due process? ‘No free man is to be taken except by a lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land….nor will we go or send against him.’ The AFL and ASADA and their Myrmidons have gone and sent against the people of Essendon like bad losers intent on giving us all a frightening reminder that all power corrupts. They have done so with all the charm of feudal barons or Mafia dons. The dooms that they have been leaking out remind us that Shostakovich once picked up Pravda and read that ‘this affair could end badly’ – he knew it was written by Stalin

Well, there is nothing new in the bureaucracy being stupid or in the AFL being a bully. Our Circumlocution Office has given taxpayers 404 pages of secret zeroes – HOW NOT TO DO IT. The AFL is tearing itself apart. We Australians have been badly let down and affronted by people who should know better.

This squalid little vendetta should come before somebody who understands due process. The notion that the AFL might sit in judgment on itself is plain silly. They are not just an eminence grise – they are the instigating Inquisitor, prosecutor, star witness, and prime suspect. Neither they, nor Egypt’s army, can just wish away a state of war. And how can footy be good for kids if those running it cannot comprehend a ‘fair go’?

Everyone – everyone – is just sick of all this dark nastiness. The AFL is plainly too big for its boots. The Commission has trashed its own brand and lost the confidence of the community. It should therefore resign. Australians need a Commission untainted by this circus. ASADA should be abolished by statute. The next government could then seek to resurrect Australian sport.