Passing Bull 63 – A fine miscellany for Grand Final weekend



The CBA boss makes more than $12 million a year.  (Perhaps I should say that he gets paid that much.)  A quarter of his bonus would be a lot more than what we pay our Prime Minister or Chief Justice.  It will now turn on a reference to ‘diversity, inclusion, sustainability and culture’.  Not surprisingly, some in the market thought that this formula was at best bullshit, and at worst a ruse.  The bank, in which I have shares, responded in kind – with bullshit.

CBA occupies a special role in the Australian economy and society and it is important to ensure our executive remuneration hurdles can adapt and reflect the views of a wide range of stakeholders, including employees, partners, customers and the community more broadly.

The introduction of the people and community hurdle as part of the long-term incentives for our executives does not reduce the focus on long-term shareholder interests and forms part of our social licence to operate.

We believe strong performance in this area, similar to that of customer satisfaction, leads to strong and sustainable shareholder outcomes in the long term.

Well there is a bit more to it than a licence, either social or legal.  The banks are privileged – we stand behind them, so that their executives, with no capital at stake, cart home millions in bonuses, under cover of our guarantee.

And as any partner of a law firm will tell you, if you think you can award bonuses on any criterion except money, you are stroking yourself shamelessly.

(Footnote.  The US bank Wells Fargo is in big trouble for having false accounts.  That’s not good for a bank. A Senate hearing asked why the bank had fired 5,300 employees but taken no action against executives.  The WSJ says that the CEO has now forfeited US $41 million, about a quarter of what he has earned over 35 years.  Now, here’s the question.  The bank operates on public money and it trades on public trust.  The CEO has presided over a public scandal.  How could the bank find its CEO culpable to the tune of $41 million and not fire him?  Is capitalism as we know it disappearing up its own bum?)


In The Australian, Mr Greg Sheridan said that there is a determination across the leading figures of government ‘that the immigration program should not import trouble’.  We will ‘minimise the number of Middle Eastern Muslims, especially young men, who can come permanently to Australia.’  The ‘special provision of 12,000 extra people to be taken from Syria will comprise a majority of Christians.’  And our government is doing all this ‘without breaching Australia’s long-standing non-discriminatory immigration program.  It has also done so without any minister or representative making any statement which could remotely be described as anti-Muslim.’

Even Saint Augustine or Saint Aquinas would have had trouble in explaining how we could prefer Christians to Muslims without discriminating against Muslims – but, apparently, stealth covers all.  It takes your breath away.  The shortest poem of my mate Chris Wallace-Crabbe says: ‘Whatever Christ meant, it wasn’t this.’


The State of Arizona runs posses.  That’s right – posses.  That of Maricopa County is a 1,000 person force of volunteers who buy their own uniforms and guns and sometimes their own marked patrol cars.  Its Sheriff is an 84 year-old who has been elected five times.  He calls himself ‘America’s toughest sheriff.’  In 2011, he assigned a five-member ‘cold case posse’, funded by ‘conservatives’ (= nuts) across America to investigate whether his president had faked evidence of his birth in America.  The Sheriff announced his conclusion the following year – the certificate released by the White House was a ‘computer-generated forgery.’  A federal judge has recommended that he be prosecuted for contempt for defying court orders to stop racially biased policing.

The sun is setting in and on the West.  It must have been quite a night in Honolulu when the Arizona posse descended from the sky.


The RAND Corporation has inquired into the Immigration Department. They are WBP (World’s Best Practice) bull artists.

A significant review of detention capability is under way….A departmental report is in the process of being finalised that will provide recommendations to further strengthen the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of detention operations as well as recast the role of detention into a more strategic context, connected to detention priorities and focused on the detention of higher-risk persons while enabling status resolution of others in the community.

Also being implemented are a new detention placement model and better risk assessments and management of detainees….Efforts are under way to address all aspects of the detention system.

Such areas as escapees, the wellbeing of detainees (with a particular focus on the protection of children and families) and the mental health of detainees are being considered within the newly developed documentation……

Investigations are hindered by the lack of unified platforms, including integrated information technology systems…. The ongoing intelligence integration at the department level has yet to be fully pushed down to the regional commands…. Building of a single department culture has been hindered by lack of progress in the learning and development area.  Infrastructure – particularly related to detention activities – was cited as another issue requiring attention…..All of these shortfalls have a direct effect on the ability to conduct investigations in the field.

There is a risk that I’m being unfair and that some of the above may have been taken out of context, because I have taken it from a press report, but I can’t help thinking that the Soviets should have called on RAND to bless the gulag.


The markets closed higher after the first Clinton and Trump debate. Mrs Clinton was seen to have won.  Trump was thought to have done poorly.  (The Huffington Post only found sixteen lies by Trump in an hour and a half.)  Still, what would the markets know about Trump?  Look at BREXIT.  Trump is America’s answer to Sam Newman.  The more like an animal he gets, the more popular he becomes.

Martin Wolf is a conservative columnist for a conservative paper, The Financial Times.  Mr Wolf says this.

Sometimes history jumps. Think of the first world war, the Bolshevik revolution, the Great Depression, the election of Adolf Hitler, the second world war, the beginning of the cold war, the collapse of the European empires, Deng Xiaoping’s ‘reform and opening up’ of China, the demise of the Soviet Union, and the financial crisis of 2007-09 and subsequent ‘great recession’.

We may be on the brink of an event as transformative as many of these: the election of Donald Trump as US president. This would mark the end of a US-led west as the central force in global affairs. The result would not be a new order. It would be perilous disorder.

The fact that Mr Trump can be a credible contender for the presidency is astounding. In business, he is a serial defaulter and litigator turned reality TV star. He is a peddler of falsehoods and conspiracy theories. He utters racist calumnies. He attacks the independence of the judiciary. He refuses to reveal his taxes. He has no experience of political office and incoherent policies. He glories in ignorance. He even hints at a federal default. He undermines confidence in the US-created trade order, by threatening to tear up past agreements. He undermines confidence in US democracy by claiming the election will be rigged. He supports torture and the deliberate killing of the families of alleged terrorists. He admires the former KGB agent who runs Russia.

Mr Wolf therefore shares my astonishment.

I may add that in my view there is a failure of logic in a lot of the opposition to Mrs Clinton.  I entirely agree that she has form for lying and has a history that leaves her untrustworthy.  But to my mind it does not follow that therefore Mrs Clinton is unfit to hold office as President of the United States.  As presidents of the U S go since Harry Truman, Mrs Clinton would be at least par for the course – look at Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (senior), Clinton, Bush (junior), and Obama.  To my mind, the first and last of those and Bush (senior) would be the three that Mrs Clinton would have most trouble in bettering.  And all that is before you look at what is said to be the alternative.

This failure of thought is why the U S is fading as the leader of the west, and why Putin and Xi are rubbing their hands.  H L Mencken is credited with saying that no-one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.  He was speaking of tabloid newspapers that were directed at the less well educated, what Mencken called ‘near-illiterates’.  What he in fact said was:

No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.

Trump is a tabloid politician who directs himself to people who think that the more lies he tells, the better placed he is for high political office.  It will be interesting to watch their faces if he wins and then turns his back on those silly enough to back him.


Meanwhile the same-sex marriage issue sputters toward moral and intellectual bankruptcy.  People are bored stiff, but the mess of this inability to govern shows exactly how far our politicians have failed us.  The mess was started by factional desperation in the Liberal Party and it is now being made worse by appalling opportunism in the Labor Party.  (The more I see Shorten, the more I think that he is as unprincipled as he is spineless, like a school prefect beetling off to the Headmaster to finger a class-mate.)

The factional desperation of the Liberal troglodytes looks to be driven by religion on this issue.  It is at best ironic that these are the same reactionaries who fret so much about fanatics in another faith, and the inability of subscribers to that faith to keep their religion out of politics.

As Gough said to a minder at a function where someone got his name or office wrong, ‘Comrade, we are surrounded by savages.’


Finally, here’s some good news.  Do you remember the hysteria when we bought Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles?  And the bullshit – ‘my five year old could do better.’  According to the AFR, we just insured it for $350 million.  Gough paid $1.3 million for it – about one tenth of the annual package of the CEO of CBA.

Note: after the poem there is set out the current book catalogue of the author.


Poet of the Month: Ibsen




The last, late guest

To the gate we followed;

Goodbye — and the rest

The night-wind swallowed.


House, garden, street,

Lay tenfold gloomy,

Where accents sweet

Had made music to me.


It was but a feast

With the dark coming on;

She was but a guest —

And now, she is gone.


Book Catalogue

Five books printed

  • The Journalist’s Companion to Australian Law
  • The Arbitrator’s Companion
  • Law for Directors
  • The Making of a Lawyer
  • The Common Law – A History

Twenty-six books on line

History (16)

  • A History of the West: (Five volumes: 1. The ancient West; The medieval world; 3. The West awakes; 4. Revolutions in the West; 5. Twentieth century West)
  • Parallel Trials
  • The German Nexus: The Germans in English History
  • The English Difference? – The Tablets of their Laws
  • Terror and the Police State: Punishment as a Measure of Despair
  • A tale of two nations – Uncle Sam from Down Under
  • Looking down the Well: Papers on Legal History
  • Some History Papers: Essays on Modern History in England and Europe
  • Listening to Historians: What is Truth?
  • Events in France 1789 to 1794
  • Some Men of Genius

Autobiography (4)

  • Confessions of a baby boomer
  • Confessions of a barrister
  • Summers at Oxford and Cambridge
  • Up your North

Literature (3)

  • Windows on Shakespeare
  • Some literary papers: Tilting at windmills
  • Top shelf, or what used to be called a Liberal education.

Philosophy (2)

  • The Humility of Knowledge: Five Geniuses and God
  • Different Minds: Why are English and European Lawyers so different?

Language and logic (1)

  • Passing Bull

Dogs, Swans, Storm boys and Grand Finals


This note is dedicated to my counsel, a true son of South.

It was soon after we moved to Rosedale Road, Glen Iris that I started following Melbourne.  I can’t recall where we lived before that, so I think that we moved there in about 1950.  (I can recall wanting to chisel a ‘D’ before the 24 etched into the concrete driveway: D 24 was the call sign for Police H Q, at least on radio programs.)

Neither Mac nor Norma then had any interest at all in football.  As best as I can recall, I selected Melbourne for the sound patriotic reason that it was the capital city.  My first Melbourne jumper had number 1 – Dennis Cordner, whose house in Ashburton a few of us walked around to one morning.  (Cordner was Demons royalty – even Mac looked up to him.)  Every other kid in the street, or in the school ground at Glen Iris State School, wore a Collingwood jumper or an Essendon jumper with number 10 on the back.

Some people spoke of Coleman with the same kind of soft awe as when they spoke of Bradman.  I can recall Norma taking me to the MCG to see the Lightning Premiership just so that I could see Coleman play.  (The alternative, I suppose, may have been the odd newsreel and Hopalong Cassidy at the flicks before the Saturday matinee.)  I can also recall both Mac and Norma taking me to the Southern Stand to see Typhoon Tyson run through an Australian side that I think included Keith Miller.  It was about then that I started to fret – was it worse for Australia to lose to England or for Melbourne to lose to Collingwood?  This was an agonising moral question.  It still troubles me occasionally.

My interest in Melbourne was for some time confined to listening to the games on the radio, or the wireless as we sometimes called it then.  You could hear the footy or the races on the radio as you walked past people edging their nature strips besides burning autumn leaves, the harbinger of footy – just as the longer and warmer days told you that the season was ending.  It was good to align rituals with seasons.

The footy was a lot more regular and homely then.  We got to know and respond to every ground – and, later, what pubs best serviced them.  And the games only ever started at one time.  Night footy was decades away; Sundays would be reserved for the irreligious VFA, and cast-offs from barbecues who tuned in to the VFA of the day for the fights.

Each ground had its charm – or lack of it.  The Lakeside oval at South Melbourne was a great venue – it was a place where people played footy, not a temple to Mammon and press barons.  You could confidently expect to hear the umpire addressed as ‘You bludger!’  (My mate George spent a match hearing the umpire addressed as ‘You Hitler bludger!)

Lakeside has a lot of memories, but now I only get to it for the Grand Prix.  During the height of our secular conflict in 1952, a Methodist preacher got heavy raspberries for addressing the crowd.  Well, it was after all Saturday, not Sunday.  He appealed to common decency.  ‘After all, we are all Christians.’  ‘What about the bloody umpire?’

I have a clear recollection of listening to radio talk shows on Saturday evening – as I recall, the London Stores Show and the Pelaco Inquest – and on Sunday morning – I think H V Varley, who made trousers.  Some of the commentators were, I think, Baron Ruthven, Skeeter Coghlan, Chicken Smallhorn, and Butch Gale.  I would listen to their discussion spellbound by the radio beside my bed.  Later I would acquire the habit of buying The Sporting Globe (‘the pink comic’) when the Demons won.  I think that the name the Redlegs was used as much as the name the Demons back then.  For forty or so years, the Sunday roast at East Brighton (and others would not let you drop the qualifier) would be dominated by World of Sport on Channel 7, a definitively Melbourne ritual.  Even Liza, Norma’s mum, took some interest, although of course the roast was had in the laminated kitchen, in a house that we pretended had not started life in the Housing Commission.

I can recall paying a game of school footy at Gardiner’s Creek, Glen Iris when Jim Cardwell, the secretary or manager of the MFC, came waddling down the slope and handed out membership tickets to those in Demons jumpers – including me.  I was then well and truly locked in.  I think this was about 1953.

Norma’s sister lived in Elsternwick on Williams Road opposite Rippon Lea, the last house before the railway bridge, squeezed in like a triangulated sardine can.  The whole place rattled whenever a train passed, and it always had a dank and off-putting odour for me.

My cousins John and Roger barracked for South Melbourne.  That seemed to me to go with the depressed condition of the house.  I can recall the respect that they held Smokey Clegg in, but the glory days of South were long behind them, while the Demons were about to come into their own time of glory when between 1955 and 1964 they won six premierships.

I felt very sorry for South and John and Roger – my instinct is still to refer to Sydney as ‘South’.  I also felt somehow guilty.  I can recall Melbourne beating them after they, the Demons, had been five goals behind at the start of time-on.  I would think back on that when Leo Barry took that mark to secure a flag for the Swans about five decades later.

I only saw two of those Melbourne premiership wins – 1956 and 1964 – but on a good day I could still now reel off the names of a few of the main players.  Of course that whole era was, at least for Melbourne supporters, dominated by Ron Barassi.  He was a wonderful specimen of humanity, a wicked enthusiast and a magical figure who just attracted all eyes whenever he got near the ball.  After he left Melbourne, I would have to wait for about 40 years till I saw someone playing for my team who had anything like the same magnetic power of attraction.  That would be Billy Slater playing for the Melbourne Storm.

I certainly did not see the 1954 grand final in which Footscray, the Bulldogs, comfortably beat Melbourne.  It was one of those games featuring Barassi and the great Ted Whitten.  I can barely recall listening to the game, but I can clearly recall being accused of spending some part of the afternoon throwing bricks at the chooks of the family next door.  (My bedroom window overlooked their outside dunny – from which young Betty, as I will call her, would look up and flash it.)  I can’t remember much about the game, except that people were excited that the Bulldogs had at last won their first flag.  And apparently, the chooks next door were not happy.  (I have since seen a homemade film of the game with a phantom call by Ted Whitten.)

They were very different times then.  Some years ago I heard a radio interview with the guy who played fullback for the Bulldogs that day.  I think his name was Herb Henderson.  He was an apprentice butcher and he duly put in his Saturday morning shift on Grand Final day.  He then went home to Thornbury to get his gear – and probably put it in one of those little TAA plastic bags – before driving to the MCG for the game.  When he got there, he found that he’d left his boots at home.  So he asked the man in the blue coat in the car park – do you remember the men in the blue coats? – to look after his spot while he went back to Thornbury to get his boots.  He said that he made it back just in time to hear the end of Charlie Sutton’s pre-match address.  Charlie was a robust captain coach who, I think, would now be called an on-baller.  One version of that address that I have heard has Charlie saying: ‘You fellas look after the ball; I’ll look after the other stuff.’  And Charlie bloody well did, with the consequences that I have referred to.  Well, we won’t see much of that this Saturday.  Some of us might regret that.

I can remember being at the 1956 Grand Final – at least I think it was 1956, the year that we had the Olympic Games.  The crowd was huge – they were on the roof, and I think in part over the fence.  The record shows the crowd was 115, 000, but there were ugly scenes as 20,000 got turned away.  I’ve forgotten who I was with, but I was in front of the old scoreboard, on the terrace.  I wanted to go to the dunny and I went down in front of that parapet – and I then got lifted up off my feet in the crush.  It was terrifying.  Mercifully, a bloke reached over the parapet and pulled me out of the crush and suggested that I go back to where I had come from and just sit on it – while standing up.  Well we won, and it was against Collingwood.

The Melbourne v Collingwood rivalry was a kind of class war that got more and more stupid as the Smokers got more and more plebeian and the Pies got more and more drenched in white collars.  But it took off one day when Bluey Adams came on as nineteenth man, spotted someone in black and white, made a bee-line for him, and cleaned him up.  A mate of mine swears that he can still hear the sweet crunching sound of Noel McMahon running through Bobby Rose, and watching him leave the ground on a stretcher before a quieter Collingwood crowd.  Their revenge came in 1958 when they denied the Demons their fourth consecutive flag.  Mac, who never saw a game, said that Hooker Harrison had got Barassi in.  That may not have been too hard, but what would Mac know?

I saw Melbourne beat Collingwood in 1964.  We had thrashed them in the semi-final and I was extremely nervous about the rematch.  I was to sit with my mother, but I went with my mate John Burns to see the two preliminary games.  We knocked over some tall boys to soothe our nerves.  (Do you remember those anodised aluminium drinking cups that came in pigskin pouches that were handed out at 21sts?)  We were standing right behind the Punt Road goal, and the seats for Norma and me were right behind that goal about six rows back.

I therefore had a perfect view of the two extraordinary goals of Ray Gabelich.  The first he just grabbed out of the air from, I think, a throw in and got his boot to it as he was being dragged to the ground; the second he ran for about 100 yards and kept fumbling the ball until he finally got to the goal square and put it through.  There was mass hysteria of Nuremberg proportions.  Then I think it was Hassa Mann who got the ball to Neil Crompton (the Frog), who had followed his rover down the field from the back pocket, and who lined up from about 45 yards and put it through.  I had a perfect view of that one too.  The crowd was even more insane, and Burns said that from where he was standing, he feared that I might levitate.  The Frog was a very good footballer and cricketer (for Victoria), but people only ever wanted to talk about that goal.

The next year the most insanely stupid administration in the history of sport sacked the most successful coach in the history of VFL football, Norm Smith, and the Demons came under a curse like that of the Boston Red Sox when they let Babe Ruth go.  Our first game after the sacking was at Coburg for some reason.  Phil Gibbs interviewed me for TV.  I said, sagely – ‘there is more to this than meets the eye.’  In truth, it was probably just the arrogance and inanity of Australian sports administrators.  Then Barassi went to Carlton, and we were left, like Cleopatra, with mere boys.  Then Melbourne spent a generation waiting for the return of the Man, and then we found that he was out of miracles for us.

I can recall the day that South (the Swans) made it to the finals for the first time in the living memory of my cousins.  I had to attend two weddings that afternoon, but out of deference to my cousins, I was determined to listen to the game via an earpiece from my little plastic transistor.  I just had to pray that the cord would not come out and impugn a sacred moment.

The first wedding was an Italian one in some indiscriminate suburb that I have forgotten.  A bearded priest in a suspicious looking white gown kept waving us forward.  We kept resisting.  But he kept waving us.  So we moved down near the front.  Then he said – and I can recall this precisely – ‘I will give some of the service in English for the benefit of the white people present.’  The word was ‘white’.  Well, Sport, you magical herald of multiculturalism, one of those bloody white people just wants to listen to the bloody footy.  White people are like that.

We scampered away to the second wedding.  It was a Greek wedding in, I think, East Melbourne, somewhere.  The game was still going, and I still had to fight to listen to it.  As I recall it, this service was rather more mobile, and I can’t recall what language it was given – my interest was elsewhere.

And now looking back, I can’t even recall who bloody well won, or whether Bobby Skilton was playing or not.

In the late 60’s, I went to the outer on a regular basis to watch the Demons take their medicine. I went with John Wardle.  He was doing medicine.  When it came time for him to study at St V’s, we used to look carefully at the three quarter time scores of other games.  If the Pies were getting done, it might get ugly at St V’s casualty that night.  (More than four decades later, I was instructed by Slaters in a big case.  The solicitor had been brought up in Port Adelaide.  He told me that if Port got done, the blinds at home would be pulled down, and the children sent to bed without dinner.)  A lot of that raw tribalism has been dulled by television and money, although you can still find pockets of it west of Broken Hill.

Early in the ‘70s I went with an Irish Mick Carlton mate to watch Carlton in a Grand Final.  (I see that it was 1972.)  We decided to do it in style and go to Vlado’s steakhouse for lunch, and not just some pub.  There were no prices on show.  Big Jack comfortably devoured his mountainous steak.  I got through about half of mine.  Then came the bill.  Disaster!  No credit cards.  We would be short of big cans to stand on at the game!  We stood right up at the back (so I would have a sporting chance of reaching the loo).  There were 112,000 there, and Carlton reversed an earlier result and won.  Big Jack came back to our place very tired and emotional.  It had after all been a big day.  Our hall moved when he did, and he burst into tears when I put on Verdi.  The crowd, he said, sang the Slaves’ Chorus at Verdi’s funeral.

Jack was wont to devour large slices of life, but I have seen other mates reduced to tears by Jussi Bjorling while we communed after yet another Demons’ disaster.  I would say that I have seen three losses for every Melbourne win – I hardly got to go in the glory days.  I can recall John Wardle asking me to put on music of great things beaten, and I can remember a former Olympic rower getting very teary over the great male duet Au fond du temple saint (especially as sung by Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill).

After Barassi left Melbourne as its coach, the Demons made the Grand Final on two occasions.  As was utterly predictable, they were ritually slaughtered in each.  I had made a very smart tactical move before each of those games – for the first, I was at Iguazzu Falls; for the second, I was at Gallipoli.  In each case, the distance was both safe and mollifying.  (My middle name is McPherson, the maiden name of Mac’s mother.  The McPhersons too once made a very smart tactical move.  They were a day late for the battle of Culloden.  They may have forgotten that steam trains had not yet been invented.)

During the ‘80s I tried to ease the pain of Grand Final Day by going to the Old Boys’ breakfast, and then entertaining a select bunch of coudabeens and wannabes for lunch before watching the game live at home.  (Wedge got to the first, but he was immediately put under a life ban when he got home.  Just how he got home is the big question.)  Then we would go the Malvern Hotel.  Before the first of these challenges to decency and medical science, I had spent hours and days compiling a tape of great things beaten.  I still have it – a cassette.  It is a relic of schmalz and kitsch – but it was a good release for us withdrawn Anglo-Saxons.  As well as music, they got Richard Burton and John Gielgud.  The killer was the Maori farewell.  It slays drunks.

But then there was that magical day at the Western Oval in 1987.  If we won and Hawthorn beat Geelong, we would be in our first finals since 1964.  (That does seem a very short drought now.)  The Doggies broke free, and we prayed that they would put us to sleep mercifully.  Then Our Son – the most graceful footballer I’ve seen – rose again.  He did so twice!  We got ahead, Dunstall put Hawthorn in front, and grown men cried – all the way to Young & Jackson’s.  I took my girls to watch the boys in training, and they asked me why I was crying.  ‘Bloody long time between drinks, Girls.’

Then came the apocalypse at the misbegotten and frozen Waverley when an anal Baptist with whistle addiction called out Jimmy Stynes after the bell and then sweetly gave the ball to the only bastard on the ground that could make the distance, and I turned round and saw the faces of the GIs who had entered Belsen.  My mate, now a criminal silk, said he was prepared to do time.  I reflected on the education of my daughters on the subject of the blood feud and the vendetta.  Then I – or Freud, or God – threw a lever in my soul or psyche that ensured that no mere game would ever get so dangerously close to me again.  I think that day comes within the phrase ‘soul-destroying.’  Shit, it was a hard road back home from the end of the bloody earth.  (Imagine going to New Zealand to watch the Wallabies get yet another lacing!)

The Demons got so bad that when the Melbourne Storm was created, I was very glad to attend the first game.  I soon became attracted to the game for a number of reasons – when you followed the Demons, you did not go to see the football, but to enjoy a lunch beforehand, and the AFL, as it had then become, was not minded to give us too many bloody games at home on a Saturday afternoon.  Another reason for the attraction was the ferocious snobbery about League – even in Sydney.

So, I followed the Storm, and I patronised the Greeks in Swan Street before or after the game for that purpose.  My patronage of Salonas became an indispensable part of a civilised existence.  Most of the time I went to the Greeks and the footy on my own.  I took the late Jim Kennon one night.  He left at half time after perceptively noting that they were passing the ball backwards.  I took my mate George, a hopeless Pies addict from the Malvern Hotel.  We had a very good lunch.  The game was awful.  So we went back to the Greeks and had an even better dinner.  The ambulance, in the form of George’s wife, arrived to a scene of mild carnage.

Then there was the sheer bliss of our first flag.  I think this was 1999.  We were down and out at half time, but we came back and won with a penalty try.  And Little Johnnie Howard was there to share the pain, going through one of his preposterous little sportsman phases in a St George jumper.  You can have even money that that is still the only NRL game that Little Johnnie has ever been to.

I have been fortunate to watch players like Billy Slater and Cameron Smith.  Men have taken their sons to the Storm just so that they could say that they had seen Billy Slater.  In his own way, Smith impresses me now as much as Barassi did when I was a boy – he quite possibly has far more impact on the games he plays because of the nature of the role of captain in NRL footy, and because Smith in number 9 is pivotal in either attack or defence.  He is certainly the coolest player in any sport that I have seen since Steve Waugh.  (I would pair the two as captains.)

We have won four flags – you can put to one side that fascist nonsense from those bastards in Sydney who did not appreciate our version of double entry accounting – and the club has persistently rewarded its members and supporters as well as any of them could decently ask for.  My sense is that the only football club in Australia that could match it for coaching and leadership at the moment is Hawthorn.  (As it happens both clubs will lose their current leaders at about the same time.)

So, I will have a split of allegiance between the Bulldogs and South (the Swans) on Saturday.  I will just have to resolve that as best I can, but rather than put the kiss of death on my boys, I will stay silent about what might happen in the game at Sydney on the following day.  The Sharks will be as popular with the crowd as the Doggies will be, but we are used to that up there.  We do after all give Sydney so many reasons to be jealous.  Among other things, we invented the best code of footy on earth.

I will however say this.  The Storm boys are resolved.  The big question is whether I can steel myself to watch the game live, or if I should put on Verdi’s Rigoletto or La Traviata – or perhaps La Forza del Destino! – and sneak a peek at the scoreboard between scenes.  At my age, a man has to look after his heart – even with the benefit of the 1987 by-pass.

And yes, it is 52 years this Saturday since the Frog slotted the sealer; and yes, the Red Sox finally broke free of their curse for selling Babe Ruth; but I have it in my water that it took them a lot longer than 52 bloody years, at least to win a World Series; and yes, even the great Barassi might have to give right of way to the Babe.

Good luck to all who take part in either game.  These games are proper and decent national rites.  Am I still allowed to say that they are tests of manhood?

Passing Bull 62 – Asking the wrong question


There is one unavoidable axiom of our logic.  A thing cannot both be and not be at the same time.  If you deny that proposition, you deny logic, and you destroy the possibility of rational thought.

It may be that the one unavoidable axiom or foundation of morality is that like cases should be treated alike.  If you deny that proposition, and dictators definitively do just that, you destroy the possibility of a moral system.  If you give a dog a biscuit for presenting his paw five times and then kick him, he knows that he has been hard done by.  (He also probably knows the difference between an intentional kick and an accidental one.)

This feeling or instinct is fundamental to our sense of fairness, or if you prefer, justice.  There is I think a related feeling that we have, and that runs deep in us. This is that somehow we should organise our communal lives so that our reactions to each other are in some way proportionate or reasonable.  A lawyer might be tempted to say that it is an implied term of our arrangement that we will at least try to get on with one another.

There is nothing surprising or high faluting about any of this.  The propositions I have just mentioned underlie a lot of our jurisprudence.

Communities that persistently breach our notions of fairness or proportion are likely to break apart in what we call revolutions – as happened in the United States in 1776, in France in 1789, and in Russia in 1917.

Let me mention five instances where our sense of fairness or proportion is being breached on a huge scale.

First, some people in this community earn millions of dollars a year while the national average wage is well under $100,000.  We have school teachers and nurses doing vital work for us all while we watch bank managers get paid 100 times as much for doing a job that we at best mistrust and at worst view with contempt.  This is an affront to sense as well as to decency.  The boss of Fox was sued for abusing a female staff member.  She got $20,000,000.  He got $40,000,000.  Is this public money or just in-house Monopoly?  I can recall devoting days on the free list in helping a worker get to the High Court because a number of judges who had never got their hands dirty could not bring themselves to describe as ‘serious’ an accident that had mangled his arm and left him marked for life.  Can you imagine the uproar if one of their Honours had suffered such an accident at work?

Secondly, what we call the Great Financial Crisis, which threatened all of us and which still hangs over us, was caused by greed, stupidity, and criminal dishonesty.  In the United States, the Department of Justice has handed out fines of $40 billion –that is $40,000,000,000,000.  So far as I know, not one executive has been jailed.  We nightly see or read of big corporations doing deals with regulators whereby the state is bribed to allow shareholders to be milked to allow executives to avoid jail and to trouser their bonuses.  The concept of open justice, either the openness or the justice, has ceased to exist for a large part of business.  It is a gaping scandal in our public life – and a scandal that runs across the whole of the Western world.  Meanwhile, in some parts of Australia, we throw blackfellas into jail for stealing a loaf of bread if that is their third offence.  We do this because the legislature has been bullied by shock jocks into confessing its distrust of our judges and imposing on our judges mandatory sentences.  They put judges on a conveyor line even though a lot of us think that punishment is just a measure of despair.  So, in the year of our Lord 2016, we repeat the moral infamy that caused the English to set up a jail in this land in 1788 and so commence the destruction of its original inhabitants, the people that we have still not learned to look after.

Thirdly, look at the most recent manifestation of the ghastly gun culture in the United States.  About once a week now, a black person is shot by a police officer in circumstances that could hardly be repeated elsewhere.  This tragedy could yet unwind the Great Republic.  This chasm between black and white is the result of a compound of two ideological trainwrecks – Jefferson’s lie about all men being equal, and the juristic nonsense about the right to bear arms warranting the ritual murder of school children by mad or evil people using automatic handheld guns.  It is also a grim testament to the power of money and selfish prejudice at the centre of what we nervously call capitalism.

Fourthly, we are witnessing the rise of giant corporations that look to be utterly ungovernable.  They absorb or wipe out any competitors and they treat tax like the French church did before 1789 – as a don gratuit, or free donation.  The rest of us have to pay more tax because the great and powerful do not.  That is a precise description of the main economic propellant of what we call the French Revolution.  The Economist issued this warning:

The rise of the giants is a reversal of recent history.  In the 1980s big companies were on the retreat, as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took a wrecking ball to state-protected behemoths such as AT&T and British Leyland.  But there are some worrying similarities to a much earlier era.  In 1860 – 1917 the global economy was reshaped by the rise of giant new industries (steel and oil) and revolutionary new technologies (electricity and the combustion engine).  These disruptions led to brief bursts of competition followed by prolonged periods of oligopoly.  The business titans of that age reinforced their positions by driving their competitors out of business and cultivating close relations with politicians.  The backlash that followed helped to destroy the liberal order in much of Europe.

That should be sobering.

Fifthly, we see the rise of populist leaders like Farage, Corbyn, Trump and Hanson.  Their programs bear no proportion to the national interest.  In the case of at least two of them, it is hard to avoid concluding that they put their own interests before those of their party, let alone their nation.  These people threaten not just the political fabric but the moral fabric of their nation.  But when we advert to the evil done in their name by their supporters, we risk making things worse.  In the same edition of The Economist, there is an article headed ‘Who’s deplorable?’  The subheading is: ‘It is perilously hard to criticise Donald Trump without seeming to insult his voters.’

Put simply, Mr Trump’s shtick should not be working.  In part, that is because he has repeatedly made appeals to bigotry since entering the race more than a year ago.  It is dismaying to see so many Americans either nod in agreement or pretend not to hear what he is really saying.  To be still more blunt, to anyone with their critical faculties undimmed by partisan rage or calculation, he is obviously a con-man… In short, Mr Trump has brilliantly manoeuvred himself into a place in which fact-checking him sounds like snobbery.  As his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, has bragged: ‘He’s built a movement, and people are proud to be a part of it.  When you insult him, you insult them.’

It hardly bears thinking of what kind of person that remark might remind us of.  Were the case not so threatening or tragic, it might be a perfect example of what some people are pleased to call ‘identity politics’.  Or as Philip Coorey remarked in the AFR, Trump and his ilk did not create this swamp – they arose out of it.

You might be tempted to add a sixth case of a failure of fairness or proportion – it is not offhand easy to identify a trade union in this country that is properly administered to look after the interests of its members and nothing else.  Too many have leaders that are on the take financially, on the make politically, or who have just been there too long and are locked into class wars that we should have quit generations ago.  That proposition may be a little too sensitive politically, because there must be some good unions, but if it is correct, that is another essential organ of ours that has failed.

Well, all this may be obvious enough, or at least arguable enough.  But what does it have to do with the subject of bullshit?  Just this – most of our press commentary has failed to blow the whistle on our edging toward the brink of collapse, and it has failed sufficiently to notice the connection between the first four issues and the fifth.  A sure way to get the wrong answer is to ask the wrong question.

Poet of the Month: Ibsen


Her griefs were the hours

When my struggle was sore,–

Her joys were the powers

That the climber upbore.


Her home is the boundless

Free ocean that seems

To rock, calm and soundless,

My galleon of dreams.


Half hers are the glancing

Creations that throng

With pageant and dancing

The ways of my song.


My fires when they dwindle

Are lit from her brand;

Men see them rekindle

Nor guess by whose hand.


Of thanks to requite her

No least thought is hers,–

And therefore I write her,

Once, thanks in a verse.

Passing Bull 61 – Trading insults and labels


The trouble with our politicians and political commentators is that this is all they do – they trade insults and labels.  Take Janet Albrechtsen in The Australian yesterday.  She refers to Hillary Clinton’s ‘basket of deplorables’ – which I would think is a fair comment on Trump supporters.

But Mrs Clinton went on to give particulars – ‘racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it.’  I agree entirely that these terms are commonly abused in an endeavour to shut people up.  The grossest example is calling doubters of Israel anti-Semitic.  This is a cowardly smearing by labels.

How does Ms Albrechtsen respond?  By the same method – by hurling abuse that is over the top in an attempt to shut opposition up.

In one fell swoop the unplugged Democratic presidential candidate lifted the lid on the neo-fascist Left.

Clinton’s moment of ill-discipline reduced the fraud of so-called progressive politics to a simple illiberal equation: if you disagree with me on race matters, you are a racist…..Rather than engaging in debate, too many on the Left would rather portray disagreement on totemic issues as grounds for a mental disorder with the sole aim of shutting down any challenge to leftist orthodoxy.  [You do wonder what ‘rightist orthodoxy’ is, and who speaks for it apart from Andrew Bolt.]……

The end of Liberalism for many on the Left started more than 40 years ago when, by embracing identity politics, they untethered human rights from classical notions of freedom.  Sex, sexuality, race and other forms of personal identification trumped Enlightenment freedoms and the very notion of universal libertarian rights…..

We need more people like Baldwin who are honest about the Left’s conversion into loathers of freedom.

So there you have it.  Put to one side the usual labels, slogans, and bogeymen, if you call me racist, sexist or homophobe, I will call you a fraud, a fascist, and freedom-hater – and a traitor to the Enlightenment.  You have let down Spinoza and Kant!

The political commentators in The Australian fall into three categories – former staffers, mainly Liberals or defectors; people who subscribe to think tanks; and journalists who are close personal friends of Tony Abbott.   It is not just that we don’t get comment on issues.  We don’t even get comment on politicians.  All we get is commentators on commentators, disappearing up their own communal Platonic bum.  They commune with the faithful in their own bubble and in their own argot, and they pull faces at and trade insults with outsiders.  They are like warriors in paint-balling.  It is hard to imagine a more terminally useless bunch of bastards.

And of course s 18C gets wheeled out against the freedom-haters.  When people talk about ‘freedom of speech’ they are, I think, using the word ‘freedom’ in the dictionary sense of a ‘faculty or power to do as one likes’.  If therefore you can be arrested and jailed for making a certain statement, then to that extent your freedom of speech is limited, because you are prevented from doing what you like.

I could be arrested and jailed if I said to man walking with his wife in the street ‘That sheilah is a fucking slut and all the worse for being an abo.’  Does Ms Albrechtsen want to be free from our laws to say something like that?  If so, would she mind steering clear of Malmsbury?  If not, what is all the fuss about?

More than sixty years ago, when I was about six, I learned a saying: ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.’  I commend the wisdom of children to our politicians and their awful press.  Thank heaven that all this bullshit is just nonsensical moonshine to ninety-nine out of one hundred Australians.  On this at least, they know better.

PS  Followers of this column or just connoisseurs of bullshit may get Numbers 1 to 50 on Amazon/Kindle.  I will publish them in batches of fifty.

Poet of the Month: Ibsen


Burnt Ships


To skies that were brighter

Turned he his prows;

To gods that were lighter

Made he his vows.


The snow-land’s mountains

Sank in the deep;

Sunnier fountains

Lulled him to sleep.


He burns his vessels,

The smoke flung forth

On blue cloud-trestles

A bridge to the north.


From the sun-warmed lowland

Each night that betides,

To the huts of the snow-land

A horseman rides.

Passing Bull 60 – Bull about popularity, Hanson, and Trump – and Adolf Hitler


If I kill a man without justification, I have done something wrong.  And I am guilty of the crime of murder.  I do not get to be acquitted of that crime just because some other person applauds my action.  I remain guilty of that crime even if twenty million people applaud my action.

A proposition does not become invalid merely because one person denies it or because twenty million people deny it.  Put differently, popular support or endorsement of a proposition provides no warrant of its validity.  It is in logic a simple non sequitur to suggest that popular support of a proposition implies or warrants any validity of that proposition.

The definitive instance of popular will is the Lynch mob or the Ku Klux Klan – people on the outside who demand what the law won’t allow to them.  The principal exponents of popular will are shock jocks such as Alan Jones or Andrew Bolt.  It is obviously bullshit to suggest that we should endorse a Lynch mob or Jones or Bolt just because some people believe in them.

For some years, Adolf Hitler may have been the most popular political leader in the history of the world.  When Pilate handed over the rebel named Jesus to the mob, he was giving ultimate expression to popular justice.  The trouble with popular justice is that it is a contradiction in terms.  And it looks like we may now be facing the same problem with democracy.

It is therefore surprising that we are being told that we should respect the opinions of people like Trump or Hanson because many people share and endorse those opinions and for that reason are prepared to vote for those people.  It would be absurd to suggest that we might have to regard a ratbag as respectable if we found out that many people look up to, or respect, that ratbag.  It is therefore just bullshit to suggest that if someone can get enough people to vote for him, then we must respect that person or the views that he expresses.  Respect for a person is not logically entailed by the fact that other people are prepared to give that respect.  As my mother, Norma, used to say to me, you would not put your head in an oven just because someone said that it would be a good idea.

Here are four examples to illustrate this bullshit.

There is a killer in the Philippines called Duterte.  He was elected President and he currently has about 90% approval in the polls.  Do we have to respect this mass murderer?

Adolf Hitler never got to 50% of the vote in a straight election.  But he got very close once or twice.  Was he to be respected then?

Two great moral issues recently in Australia were the invasion of Iraq and the offshore detention of refugees.  The nation was divided but our politicians were united on each issue.  Does that mean that we have to respect those political decisions?

I regard Cory Bernardi as inane and nasty.  I think that he is a blot on our public life.  He gets enough votes to be a Senator.  Does that mean that I have to respect him?

The only significance of people like Hanson being voted into office by people who others regard as stupid or mean, or both, is that the people then elected are better able to spread their poison.  The upside is that we get to see the cancers in our national psyche exposed to the sunlight.

And it may be time to stop pussyfooting and to acknowledge that those who vote for inane ratbags like Trump or Hanson are likely to be stupid or mean or both, and that we are in deep trouble if we allow ourselves to be governed by those who have lost in the great race of life, or who were hiding behind the door when they were handing out taste and sense.

But, yes, I acknowledge that we don’t do that because it would be like serving blood to a tiger.  And we would also upset the voices of reaction and be branded as snobbish or elitist by those who have a close acquaintance with each of those terms.

Reactionaries get themselves in knots in defending Hanson.  In The Weekend Australian, Chris Kenny, who is authentically thick, has a piece about that awful maiden speech of Hanson.  It is headed: ‘Hanson speech reaction reeks of witch trials.’  He even refers to the famous Arthur Miller play.  The sub-heading is: ‘A new breed of denouncers is misusing pulpits.’  We get the usual melange of types, brands, abstractions, and labels.  The theme seems to be that Hanson can detect and respond to parts of the popular will better than the ‘political media/class’ – presumably excluding Kenny and his mates.  He quotes his colleague Greg Sheridan on ‘the new illiberalism as it pertained to the gay marriage debate’ – what we have apparently is an ‘authoritarian ideology of bureaucratic statist liberalism.’  This is an open challenge – find a purer form of bullshit than that.  This is fiercely and proudly Himalayan bullshit.

If I may be allowed an ad hominem comment, it is that it is curious that these people who pussyfoot around about the radical reactionary Hanson were the loudest people in condemning Obama and Turnbull for not repudiating radical Islam, whatever that means.  Why don’t we just say it as it is?  Hanson is a cold hearted and dull witted bitch that no decent person would allow into their own home.  Even by the standards of Australian politics, it was nauseating beyond endurance to watch elected galahs line up to embrace this callous bitch.

Trump embodies the vulgarity of new money.  He is preposterous enough to have been created by F Scott Fitzgerald.  Instead, this is how Lampedusa described the nouveau in The Leopard:

….free as he was from the shackles imposed on many other men by honesty, decency and plain good manners, he moved through the forest of life with the confidence of an elephant which advances in a straight line, rooting up trees and trampling down lairs, without even noticing scratches and thorns and moans from the crushed.

Truly, we go to great writers for the truth.

I have referred to both Trump and Hitler.  Hitler may be the ultimate example of the triumph of an abject failure (the kind of person that we are told supports Trump or Hanson).  Erich Fromm analysed Hitler and said that he was a man bent on destruction.

Fromm made the following comments about his subject.  When Hitler gave his orders for destruction, he was only aware of his ‘duty’ and of his noble intentions; he repressed the awareness of his craving for destruction.  Hitler was the perfect example of self-love, or narcissism: he was interested only in himself, his desires, his thought, his wishes; he talked endlessly about his ideas, his past, his plans; the world is real only as far as it is the object of his schemes and desires; other people matter only as far as they serve him or can be used; he always knows everything better than anyone else.  He would listen to recordings of himself and ‘throw himself in a big overstuffed chair and enjoy his voice in a trancelike state like the Greek youth who was tragically in love with himself and found his death in the water while admiring his own image on its smooth surface.’

A consequence of this narcissism was an utter lack of interest in anybody or anything except to the extent that was of service to him, and his cool remoteness from everybody.  What people believed to be warmth was in fact excitation.  Speer said of him: ‘Hitler lacked all the more gentle virtues of man: tenderness, love, poetry were alien to his nature.  On the surface he showed courtesy, charm, tranquillity, correctness, amiability, self-control.  This outer skin obviously had the function to cover up the really dominant traits with a complete although thin layer.’

Hitler treated his female companion with a complete lack of consideration – in her presence he would enlarge on his attitude towards women as though she were not present: ‘a highly intelligent man should take a primitive and stupid woman.’  Another part of his narcissism was the unshakeable certainty that he felt about his ideas.  Hitler could talk glibly and with a claim to knowledge about almost everything under the sun.  He was a crashing bore.  His biographical memoire emerges as hardly the work of a man with any solid knowledge but as a cleverly – and dishonestly – constructed propaganda pamphlet.

Hitler was kind to his staff and his dog – Hitler could play the role of a friendly amiable and kind man well, not only because he was a good actor but because he liked the role.  It was valuable for him to deceive those closest to him about the depth of his own character, and most of all to deceive himself.

In analysing Hitler, Fromm therefore found a number of severely pathological traits.

Which of those observations could not, with any necessary modification, be applied to Trump?

The list might overlook the three most important common denominators.

First, Hitler could be devastatingly wrong on the big picture; so can Trump.

Secondly, Hitler in the end viciously betrayed his own people, and the amoral self-loving Trump shows every symptom of having just that capacity.

Finally, Hitler did not attach and Trump has not attached any meaning much less value to the concept of truth.  Hitler was committed, and Trump is now committed, to preside over an era of ‘post truth’.  Both recall the outburst of Louis XVI: ‘It is lawful because I wish it!’  And then there was the proposition attributed to the Sun King, Louis XIV: ‘L’état, c’est moi.’  ‘I am the State.’

What are the differences?  Hitler sought to murder a race.  Trump wants to lock one out.  Hitler was much smarter than Trump – at least on detail.  Hitler was better at masking his dark side; Trump’s dullness and ego prevent him from doing the same.  Hitler could remain very focussed while Trump has no powers of concentration at all.  But the worst thing is that no one, including Trump, knows what he might do next – and if elected, Trump will have access to sources of destruction beyond the gaudiest dreams of the Fuhrer.

The most polite thing that could be said about Trump is that he is an idiot who was hopelessly spoiled as a child and who has never grown up to get any sense or manners.  The most polite thing that you could say about those who believe in him is that they are delusional.

But as was the case with Hitler, so it is with Trump – no one – not one person – will be able to say that they have not been warned of the evil that this man might do if he is put in a position of power over others.  It is just childish to suggest that Trump could be trusted in any such position, just as it is pure bullshit to suggest that this spoiled brat might pose as the champion of the downtrodden and oppressed.  He will drop every one of them on the first call of his alpine ego.  Loyalty is another word that has no meaning for this oaf.

Trump has been nominated for President of the U S for the Republican Party and he might be elected.  Does that mean that we have to respect Trump?  Those who vote for him have a legal right to do so, but must we then respect the way in which they exercise that right?

Poet of the month: Ibsen


Her griefs were the hours

When my struggle was sore,–

Her joys were the powers

That the climber upbore.


Her home is the boundless

Free ocean that seems

To rock, calm and soundless,

My galleon of dreams.


Half hers are the glancing

Creations that throng

With pageant and dancing

The ways of my song.


My fires when they dwindle

Are lit from her brand;

Men see them rekindle

Nor guess by whose hand.


Of thanks to requite her

No least thought is hers,–

And therefore I write her,

Once, thanks in a verse.

Up and down with the doctors


When you get down to it, for most of us going to hospital is like going to court – at least for the punter, either the patient or the client.

First, no sane person wants to be there.  The occasion of the visit is usually some hurt to you and some consequent pain.  At the very least, there are other and better things that you could be doing.  Resentment is never far from your surface.  Neither is suspicion.  How far are the agents of the system who are on display complicit in or responsible for your predicament?

Then, the moment you walk through the door, time seems to stand still, and you feel hopelessly out of place.  You know what it means to be a ‘displaced person.’  The markings of foreign distinction are everywhere in uniforms, furniture and equipment.  They have their own impenetrable coded language, hierarchy, and rituals.  You may feel displaced, but you are constantly reminded of that fact.

Next there is the uncertainty.  Unless you are very badly advised, you will be told two things about any medical procedure or legal trial.  First, each involves risk.  Secondly, the result of neither is predictable.  You can be very badly hurt in either.  Hospital might be the only source of death, but in either a court or a hospital you can take a hit that will ruin your life.  And yet you have to make decisions on matters of such consequence in a chamber that is at best unreally strange – and yet both imposing and threatening.

Finally, and above all, there is that sense of loss of self-control or that sense of disempowerment.  From the moment the drawbridge goes up, you feel that you are a prisoner of the System.  You are subject to the power of others.  You sit there helplessly watching its agents play with your mind.  Will it ever end?  How in the name of God did I get here?  Even the gown they put you on is degrading.

The word ‘domination’ is interesting.  It comes from the Latin dominus – lord.  We might have a queen, but we don’t have lords down here, and only Poms into kinky sex go in for domination.  Too many professional people do not understand the dread that so many descendants of convicts have for any form of authority.  Recent events in the UK and the US show that well educated people have not understood those who are not so well educated – and you end with a black hole like Farage or Trump – or One Nation.

These reflections came to the surface over the last few days.  On Tuesday I had a bronchoscopy at Royal Melbourne.  I did yet another scan first.  I arrived before ten and left well after five.  The procedure involves looking at the affected area while the patient is under anaesthetic or sedated to the point of unconsciousness.  (Don’t ask me what the difference is.)  I was warned that mine might be difficult because of the location of the lesion.  I’m now told that it was and that they spent fifty minutes doing the probe.  That is why I felt punched up after it.

They did not get affirmative proof of the malignancy of the lesion but the good news is that there was no evidence that it had spread.  Surgery, the preferred option, was still on the table.  They wouldn’t let me go until my blood pressure had settled.  I’m afraid I may have got a bit difficult – but I felt hopeless and powerless.  I felt imprisoned.

I finally escaped into the wet and bleak Melbourne evening.  A mate from school kindly picked me up and drove me home and stayed the night.  And boy do they police the pick-up.  That must be physically supervised by the System – what Ken Kesey called ‘the Combine’.  In the name of God, please keep me away from anyone like Nurse Ratched.  (I see that in writing about that great book, I said that ‘McMurphy has balls and Nurse Ratched wants them.’)

On the way home, I started to feel an ache or pain in the middle of the chest that seemed to move to the right.  It affected my sleep and stopped me from sleeping on the side.  It seemed to me that it was within the range of predicted consequences, but I thought that I should check with base.  It occurred to me also that my breath was shorter.  That being so, I was advised to go to my local doctor and get an X-ray.  I attended on him at 2.15.

A physical examination revealed an asymmetry.  I went next door in the hospital for the X-ray.  That meant I was within the clutches of the System again.  I must have had a premonition, because I normally take the Wolf to town, but now I had left him at home – alone and palely loitering.  A concerned looking radiologist said that the doctor would be down to talk to me.  A procession of equally concerned nurses asked me about my breathing.  They seemed surprised that I was still standing.  I had been arrested again.  They kept getting the run-around on the phone at RMH and they could not make contact with those who had done the procedure.

I can well understand why they thought RMH should look after what looked like a collapsed lung.  That sounds worse than the technical term pneumo thorax.  It involves an irregular placement of air.  I hurriedly and worriedly made arrangements for good neighbours to collect and look after Wolf.  That had problems – one of them is currently undergoing radiotherapy for a similar problem.  Then I was off, all strapped up and hooked up in an ambulance.  I was back in RMH within 24 hours – almost to the minute.  What an absolute bastard!

Well, at least I would be able to see firsthand how Casualty works in one of our overloaded public hospitals.  And that would prove to be educational – for want of a better word.

I was driven down by Mat and looked after in the back by Al.  I had very informative discussions with both of them either en route or in Casualty.  They both struck me as very professional people who were both sensible and caring.  We discussed the problems of young people with drugs and the accidents that can happen on the freeway – or the areas notorious for heavy injuries, including a recent death, caused by roos.

After about twenty minutes, they found a cubicle in Casualty and I was unloaded from the ambulance trolley.  I was very glad for their sensible care.  My view of Paramedics is now very different – I had been inclined to lump them in with firefighters, who are not in my good books.  Al and Mat are truly professional people – we shouldn’t get too snooty about that title.

A youngish female nurse then began the formalities of incarceration, and that awful sinking sensation just got worse.  People in Kyneton had said that I might be there for days!  Then, to my most grateful surprise, the doctor who had done the bronchoscopy, a most capable man from Respiratory, came in.  (He had also supervised one of the bike stress tests and had allayed my terrors of that process.)

He looked at the pictures and was less concerned.  I was not surprised since he had advised me that this was a foreseeable consequence and that they might just decide to allow the irregularity to take its own course – or do something to promote the correction.  Had I lived locally, I may have been sent home, but since I was there – in the clutches of the System – I may as well stay there, under observation, and with X-rays to ensure that the irregularity was not getting worse.  In saying that, neither he nor I was being critical of those in Kyneton – in light of the findings before them, and the facilities available to them there, any course other than that which they adopted would have been foolhardy – not least if I had gone home and carked.

So, I had to wait for a bed.  This did not look to me like a panic night in Casualty, but there was enough hustle and bustle, and merry humour to ensure I would not sleep in Casualty.  I expect that they hand out beds on need, and my priority rating was about zero.  On one view, I shouldn’t have been there.

The hours went by.  I engaged with a medical student, as I had in Kyneton, and would do again in town.  Put largely, they now spend four years on theory and four in practice – a model I commend to the lawyers; along with the fact that most of the professors are in practice.  I had only had a bowl of soup in two days, but I was past hunger, and even scarcely conscious that this was my second AFD of this year.  I felt better when the nurse said that draining the lung over days was an unattractive option that the doctor had excluded.  To that extent, my luck was holding.

I did start to wonder if people suffer nervous breakdowns while trying to survive Casualty.  There was a change of shift, and a very affable male nurse told me that he had switched from being an academic political scientist – a most interesting shift.  Then he came back with news that I had a bed.  Protocol required that I go by wheelchair, and then there were the same old forms and questions.

It troubled me when I heard a kind of wailing, or keening, or banshee –from a very troubled old woman – which I sometimes thought was answered.  Was this perhaps the psychiatric ward?  Had I really been handed over to the Combine?  A very nice nurse of Indian extraction gave me some pyjamas, and to my surprise I fell asleep, at about midnight.

I was awoken many times.  The first was when my cell-mate decided that 2.30 am was a good time to be on the cell phone.  To be fair, she was sotto voce, but not sufficiently sotto not to disturb me.  For about half an hour she then competed with the banshee howls, and those infernal machines that blip so audibly every ten seconds like Chinese water torture.  (I had fashioned some ear plugs from wet Kleenex – they were a bugger to get out next morning.)

The second time I was awakened was for observations.  Well, it is axiomatic that if you want peace and rest, the last place you go to is a bloody hospital.  The third time was when an older woman patient was having a scrap with a nurse right outside my door, and in the most fruity terms.  ‘If you don’t wipe that fucking smile off your face, I will fucking do it for you.’  It was evident that this poor old woman had form for this kind of outburst, and she was sadly full of self-loathing as well as hostility to the System.  But I wondered why it had to take place just outside my door, and I wondered if we were now looking not just at a possible nervous breakdown, but total madness.

Anyway, sleep after that was out of the question, and the object was to ensure my release as soon as practicable – it did not bear to think what might happen if I had to endure another night like that.

Happily my good doctor arrived on time, with a couple of students, and offered me the option of his draining some of the air to promote the process of repair.  This procedure took about 40 minutes and he thought he had got a fair bit of the stuff out.  During that time, I had met the professor who had attended the original process, and who turned up with about ten students in tow.  We put on quite a show for them.

Then I had to wait to get an x-ray, and so I slipped into that form of timelessness, fretting about whether I would get back home in time to pick up the Wolf before my neighbour had to go back to Bendigo for radiotherapy.  Minutes turned to hours, and I was finally taken down on a trolley for the x-ray.  A young lady with the broadest of Irish accents then helped me up toward the frame for the x-ray – and for the second time in two days, I felt like I might faint in that position.  They were able to take the x-rays with my being seated, and I prayed that the notion that I may have fainted did not get back to other parts of the System and give them evidence to prolong the incarceration.

In the parking bay outside radiology, it was gratifying to see the range of colour and ethnic backgrounds in those pushing and parking the trolleys.  You see it throughout this hospital.  People in England are worried about what might happen to the levels of nursing staff if they get too hard on immigration, and from my experience, we could have that problem here too.

After some mild pestering, a particularly nice young lady of Chinese descent gave me the news that liberation was at hand.  There were still a couple of meters of documentation to go through, but I finally got out – that is, I finally escaped – at about 1 30.  I was determined to get a taxi from  RMH straight to the Kyneton hospital where I had parked my car so I would be in time to collect the Wolf from my neighbour.

I had an extremely pleasant Pakistani cabdriver.  He has three children.  One of them has a degree in mechanical engineering.  The second, the daughter, is about to complete a degree in science.  The third is still at school.  They had all gone to private schools in the western suburbs.  He lives at Taylors’ Lakes.  This was a Thursday, and every Thursday he and about 11 mates get together at the house of one of them for a barbecue.  It is a boys’ only event.  They have the barbecue and then take coffee and play cards.  These evenings run from about 6.30 to 11.  Then they drive home – stone cold sober – because they are Moslems, they don’t drink.  I wish that some of those who get exercised about immigration, and particularly Moslem immigration, could reflect on the success of people like my driver yesterday, and the contribution that they make to the life of this country.

My neighbour told me that the Wolf had had an adventure.  He got anxious during the night, so they brought him back here to sleep.  When they came to pick him up next morning, he had shot through.  The Wolf had done a Lassie!  I don’t know whether he had set off in search of me, but thankfully the Ranger picked him up, and he has since been in a softer and more chastened mode.  I feel sorry for the poor little bugger in being left like he was.

So, I could go home and then start to field calls.  I have to say that I’m afraid I got a little curt because I was feeling, as the phrase goes, a little tired and emotional.

Some people like talking about these things.  I’m not one of them.  When you talk about things that you don’t understand, bullshit is inevitable, and I had got a full serve at lunchtime from my cellmate talking to members of her family about the comings and goings and thoughts of doctors and nurses.  When I started this process, a good friend of mine said that I would be exposed to any number of old wives’ tales, and that I should just endure them and forget them.  That was good advice.  You see it all the time as a lawyer when your client is obviously getting advice over the back fence which is worth far less than what client has paid for it – zero.  If there is no point in discussing what the doctors are doing, because that is beyond our full understanding, there is in my view even less point in discussing your own reaction to the process.  Who benefits from loaded self-psychoanalysis?  Even the pros bugger that up.

I must confess that I have some difficulty in seeing what the fuss is about.  The following propositions appear to me to be inarguable.  We are all going to die.  A major mechanism of that end is called cancer.  When you get to seventy, the biblical age, you cannot in my view complain if you get a tap on the shoulder.  I lost my two best mates to cancer more than five years ago, so on any view I am ahead.  It looks like my cancer has been diagnosed early enough to be dealt with.  I was a heavy smoker for a long time, and my life will be shortened in any event as a consequence.  The question then is whether it may be further shortened by this recent, and most fortunate, discovery.  I live in the best place in the world to deal with that issue.  And because I was an Australian born when I was, I have had more opportunities in life than almost any other bastard on this planet.

These facts of life being what they are, I don’t really see what the fuss is about.  For those reasons, I issue bulletins to the family, but otherwise I would prefer to talk about the usual suspects – footy, or whatever – even politics.

The Wolf and I went to bed in a fairly chastened manner, but I had had the benefit of the best part of a bottle of Leconfield Cabernet, while he had had the benefit of the remains of my ox-tail and mashed potatoes.  Rather to my surprise I had a reasonable night’s sleep.

I have made a mental note to develop a kit to have available for the next time I am subject to random incarceration.  In addition to toiletries, and nickers, it will contain best quality earplugs and sedatives and sleeping tablets.

Finally, may I tell you that my Pakistani cabdriver did not let me down?  Whenever I get one of them, I say that I was there when the Pakis knocked over the Poms at the MCG.  ‘You mean 1992 – the World Cup?’  ‘Of course.’  ‘I was there too!’  ‘Of course!’  It is truly both beautiful and wonderful.  I must’ve been one of the few bastards there that day that was not then or about to become a Paki cabdriver.  As soon as you mention the subject, a bright light flashes across their eyes – just like when Peter O’Toole said to Omar Sharif that ‘We are a long way from Damascus!’

The range of ethnic backgrounds in the staff at RMH is a wonderful thing for a white man from the sticks to behold.  Do you know what the trouble is in living in the sticks in this country?  THERE ARE TOO MANY BLOODY WHITE PEOPLE!

Passing bull 59- Bull about banks


The Bendigo bank, of which I am a shareholder, made a number of mistakes with my account.  As a result, I am now fending off rude or disappointed suppliers, and speaking to people over the ocean who call me ‘Joffrey’ to explain the penalty I will have to pay, after the computer has offered me a sighting of their privacy policy.  The most disappointing thing was that while unravelling these mistakes, and there were a few of them, I never once heard the word ‘sorry’ uttered at the local branch.  Has the computer banished courtesy as well as humanity?  Are all bank officers, even those in the sticks, just flak-catchers now?

My reasons for leaving the NAB are set out in the two letters to the then CEO which are set out below, and neither of which drew any response.

I’m now in two minds about the Royal Commission into banks.  The main argument against it for me is the insipid opportunism of the proposer.  The main argument for it is the astonishing ignorance revealed by many company directors and many in the financial press about who is responsible for the culture in public companies.  Some people say it is a matter for the CEO, and not the directors.  That is bullshit.  The Law says so in as many words.  Directors may be able to delegate, but they cannot absolve themselves of the ultimate responsibility for the management of the business of the company.  Just imagine someone at Melbourne Grammar School saying that the culture of that school was a matter for the Principal and not the Council.

23 March 2012

Mr Cameron Clyne
Chief Executive Officer
National Australia Bank
Reply Paid 2870

Dear Mr Clyne


You don’t know me.  Neither do any of your employees.  Since you have been my banker for 60 years, I think that that is very sad.  Don’t you think that is very sad, Mr Clyne?

When I bought my present house, I was subjected to treatment by some of your operatives that in part caused me to write the attached paper on ‘The Decline of Courtesy and the Fall of Dignity.’  You will see that your bank has the misfortune there to be compared to Telstra and Qantas.  That is not good company to be in, Mr Clyne.  The part that really got me was the threat – that is exactly what it was – to pull the pin – that was the phrase – on a bank cheque.  Your staff could give a customer a heart attack threatening to do that to them on the day that they are settling on a house purchase.  A bank threatening to renege on its own paper?  It is hard to imagine a better example of how banks have lost their way – how once respectable business houses have now become unrespectable counting houses.

Being minded to move home, I thought I should confirm my leeway with your bank before making an offer.  I drew Sales Team D in the lottery.  I said I was happy to go to your Kyneton Branch and talk face to face, but, no, Sales Team D told me they were on top of my case.

Your staff can fill you in on the sad results, Mr Clyne.  I had to prove my identity – at least twice.  Sad after 60 years, is it not?  The property I am looking at is worth under half of a city property that I can offer for security.  The increase to the existing facility is modest.  For any bank that knew me as its customer, and wanted to look after me, the proposed transaction would hardly raise a query.  Not so with Sales Team D, Mr Clyne.  I was required to produce tax returns, and then told I would have to surrender one credit card and submit to a reduction on the remainder.  I began to feel for the people of Greece.  Now, Sales Team D wants to go beyond the tax returns, and I now have two accountants wondering just what has got into Sales Team D.

How would you or your fellow directors like it if they were treated like this by someone they have been doing business with for ten minutes, let alone 60 years?  In the course of more than 40 years’ legal practice, I have held various statutory appointments, including running the Taxation Division of the AAT, later VCAT for 18 years.  Some people – including Her Majesty the Queen in right of the State of Victoria – therefore felt able to take me at my word.  But not Sales Team D.  Do you know why, Mr Clyne?  My bank does not know who I am.

Perhaps they are worried about my recent expenditure on credit cards.  Let me assure you, Mr Clyne, so was I.  Very worried and very annoyed.  I bought a CLK Mercedes about six months ago at a very good price.  I just needed to extend a borrowing facility by six thousand to get the $26,000.  I got handballed around four operatives, having to prove my identity along the way.  I got referred to various teams.  Most asked my occupation.  (Sales Team D the other day asked if I was still a member of a firm I left about ten years ago and which ceased to exist the other day.)  I was told my case was difficult because the facility was secured.  Then I was asked to produce tax returns to support a request to extend a secured facility by six thousand dollars.  That is when I gave up, and used the credit card to buy the Mercedes.

I do not blame any of the few employees you have left.  They are trained – programmed – to be automated and not to think.  They also know that the market, which can never be wrong, values their contribution to the bank at about one hundredth of yours.

Do you know what I think, Mr Clyne?  George Orwell was wrong.  It is not big government that is tearing up the fabric of our community by Big Brother – it is Big Money, and Big Corporations.  I think that you and your fellow directors should be ashamed of yourselves.

If it matters, I hold shares in the bank, and I am not a happy shareholder either.

Yours sincerely

Geoffrey Gibson


3 April 2012

Mr Cameron Clyne
Chief Executive Officer
National Australia Bank
Reply Paid 2870

Dear Mr Clyne,


Well, they did it for you.  Sales Team D – may we just call them STD for short? – stopped me from buying the new home that I wanted.  It was not perfect – it was just ideal.  Ideal for me, Mr Clyne.  But, then, what is a mere home to someone like me to a great Australian banker?

How did STD manage to pull it off, you may ask, Mr Clyne?  Quite simply really.  They did not know me, and they did not know what they were doing.  This all became sadly but inevitably apparent when a roaming STD cell-commandant opened his phone talk with me after my first letter to you with the gambit that my problem was that I had overstated my income.  Really, Mr Clyne, your attack-dogs and flak-catchers would want to be on the highest level of dental insurance if they want to go around behaving like that.  No wonder you forbid them to meet your customers in the flesh.

But I suppose that the ADs and FCs of STD kept you safe from my letter.  You would prefer to stay like Achilles gleaming among his Myrmidons, except that you would not stay sulking in your tent – no, you would be glowing over all that lucre.

You and the people at STD are a real threat to business in this country, Mr Clyne.  You should be helping the flow of capital.  The big Australian banks are doing just the reverse.

And you should really stop those ads that tell the most dreadful lies.  Lies like your people are free to make decisions, or that the big banks like competition.  Nothing could be further from the truth, Mr Clyne.  The people at STD know that they are forbidden to think, much less make decisions, and STD shut up shop completely, and have been in a surly sulk ever since I told them I was talking to another bank.  (Although they did ring the other bank to inquire – without my consent – about what I was doing.)  The major Australian banks are just a collusive cartel operating sheltered workshops that rely on the people of Australia to bail them out whenever they balls it up – and then they pass on their guilt and paranoia to those same people by refusing to lift a finger for their customers when they need a bank.

Those people do not hold your staff responsible for the shocking fall in the standards of our banks, Mr Clyne.  They hold you and your like responsible.  You do after all get paid about one hundred times as much as the folk of STD.

If you and your board step outside your cocoon of moolah, minders, and sycophants, you will not find one Australian – not one – that has a kind word for any of you.  What all those people should do to the big banks is to take their business elsewhere.  That is what I will do.  You never know, Mr Clyne, I may meet a real person in the flesh, one who might know what they are doing, and who will even know who I am.

Yours sincerely,

Geoffrey Gibson


The Press have it in for this man, across the board.  He was very stupid when someone waved money at him.  The Chinese must have had trouble believing it.  But was he any more stupid than Sinodinos when someone waved money under his nose?  Arthur’s problem, as it seems to me, is that the amount waved under his nose had a few more zeroes at the end.  And he now has form as a messy bag man.

The perils of drink

Someone gave me a book called Order, Order!  The Rise and Fall of Political Drinking.  It is the kind of book you can take on a long flight.  One anecdote is worth recalling.  It relates to a George Brown who was a very serious drinker.  Somehow he became Foreign Secretary.  He turned up heavily under the weather at the Brazilian President’s Palace of the Dawn for a diplomatic reception for visiting dignitaries from Peru.  The setting was sumptuous.  It is alleged that Brown made a beeline for a ‘gorgeously crimson–clad figure’ and asked the person to dance.  The reply is said to have been: ‘There are three reasons, Mr Brown, while I will not dance with you.  The first, is that I fear that you have had a little too much to drink.  The second is that this is not, as you seem to suppose, a waltz that the orchestra is playing, but the Peruvian national anthem, for which you should be standing to attention.  And the third reason why we may not dance, Mr Brown, is that I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima.’

That makes me feel a lot better.

Poet of the month: Ibsen


To the Survivors

Now they sing the hero loud; —

But they sing him in his shroud.


Torch he kindled for his land;

On his brow ye set its brand.


Taught by him to wield a glaive;

Through his heart the steel ye drave.


Trolls he smote in hard-fought fields;

Ye bore him down ‘twixt traitor shields.


But the shining spoils he won,

These ye treasure as your own.–


Dim them not, that so the dead

Rest appeased his thorn-crowned head.

A morning in Nuclear Medicine


The cab driver from Southern Cross to Royal Melbourne Hospital was a laconic Turk.  He had a lot to be laconic about.  It was not so much the fall of Troy to the perfidious Greeks and their sulky champions – it had been a slow day, and he is probably one of those cabdrivers whose business capital is being shredded by the process that we antiseptically describe as ‘disruption’.  I tried to cheer him up.  He seemed to pick up on our discussion of house prices in Newport. That is not a subject that occasions happiness or relief in me.  I have a daughter who lives in Newport, and she correctly formed the view that I could not afford the luxury of living there – on a good day, I might get a small pad in Altona.  (Well, at least it’s named after a German town, and it is about half a century since I was doused in kerosene and had paint-scrapers applied to the bitumen sticking all over my body after cleaning a big vertical tank at the refinery there.  It had had a narrow manhole that my charge hand said that only I could slip through – that was one time you let me down, Len Foster.)

A volunteer at RMH showed me the way to the Department of Nuclear Medicine.  There I was to have some tests directed to determining the working capacity of my heart.  It felt like I was traipsing through the bowels of an aircraft carrier of some considerable age.  The highlight of the trip was formed by two huge photos of nurses at RMH, one taken in 1916, and the other in 1972.  There were of course obvious differences in uniform over the spread of nearly three generations, but far more remarkable were the differences in facial and bodily structures.  The photos are studies in themselves.  They reminded me that the male stock that we sent to the Western Front was very different to that which we sent to Vietnam.

There was a mild hiccup when I arrived at Nuclear Medicine.  I should have gone off one heart drug earlier before the tests than I did.  There was a suggestion, that I was not keen to embrace, that I may have to come back.  I could even feel a tantrum coming on.  The nuclear physician understood and shared my reaction.  He said he would talk to his boss.  He – I will call him Roger – seemed a very decent man, and I will come back to him.

After the nuclear injections are made, you have to wait before they take the first set of pictures (scans).  And you then go out in one of those silly open-fronted hospital gowns – the dream of any flasher – and sit there with two or three others involved in the process.  It is then that those on the conveyor belt to death or redemption exchange sympathies and anecdotes.  I was reminded of the day I turned up early at pathology at Kyneton and found that there were already three in the queue ahead of me.  The first said that he supposed it was time for the lady to do her vampire routine; the second said that we were all headed in the same direction; and the third said that we were all destined to go underneath the grass.  Bloody charming – the humour can be a little mordant.

One of the guys I talked with would have been in his mid-70’s.  He was English.  He had no teeth between his eyeteeth.  He also had a very curious view about climate change.  He thought that the winters were getting warmer and that the summers were getting cooler.  If you live near me, any such view is out of the question, at either end, and I wondered whether the condition that had brought him to Nuclear Medicine had affected his mind.

We were just getting on to discuss house prices at Newport when a charming young lady, whom I will call Julie, asked me to come in for the bicycle test.  I was very glad to get this invitation because the nuclear physician had expressed doubts as to whether I could successfully do this test since I had had one heart drug only 24 hours ago.  It now looked like we could do the whole session of pictures, stress test, followed by more pictures – with, I gather, different injections being made from time to time.  You start to feel like a bloody colander.

Julie is one of those professional people who ooze calm and confidence.  Her father was from Latvia, and she has what I would describe as an eastern European mien.  As it happens, Julie lives in Newport, and she was thinking of cycling around Malmsbury and Hanging Rock this weekend.  She, too, was the full bottle on house prices at Newport.

Julie was accompanied by a doctor during the actual time I was working on the exercise bike.  On this occasion, I did not get the statutory declarations, as I might call them, of the possibility of my dying on the job – and I did not miss them.  The doctor was extremely pleasant.  He was a man of colour, I think from the Subcontinent.  I sought to sound him out by referring to the recent cricket matches between Sri Lanka and Australia, but we did not get past discussing the cricket.  He was very absorbed in his work.

The setting up and completion of that test took almost an hour.  I then went back to the waiting area to wait for the next set of pictures.  I there had discussion with a man who I knew had come from Hungary.  (I knew that because I could overhear his examination while I was waiting for my injections to settle.)  He was a most charming and intriguing old man.  He had one of those gorgeous eastern European accents that you used to hear all round the MSO.  (Do you recall the time when Barry Humphries referred to the guy at the Bendigo or Ballarat town halls who said that ‘If it were not for the Jews and the poofters, we’d be up Shit Creek’?)

I asked him when he had left Hungary.  He said that was in 1945.  He left when the Russians came in in their tanks.  I omitted to ask how old he was then.  (I later overheard him say that he had been born in 1928.  He is therefore getting on.)  He was very interested to hear my description of the ballet of Anna Karenina that I saw in Budapest in about 1989.  He laughed out loud when I said that the first thing you see when the curtain goes up is a headlight of a steam train coming straight at you.  And his eyes fairly sparkled when I said that our gold medallist in the Pentathlon had gone to live in Hungary to improve her fencing and equestrian events.  He told me how good the Hungarians were at those sports.  I believed him.

He was a very interesting man, and I was sorry when they came to take him away – rather to my surprise, for a session on the bike.  He was very frail and shaking.  I later spoke to him after the session when he was resting on a hospital trolley.  He looked very distressed, and I had to suppress a wobble of the bottom lip.  I wished him all the best, and he said he was going to need it.  Via con dios, good and brave old man of Budapest!  (The salt of the earth?  At least our raw fabric.)

After he left, a small Chinese lady in full civilian dress padded in, and sat down.  I was about to open with her, when a head came out of a door, and said that her scans had remained constant, so that she could go.  She padded off, nodding contentedly in what I imagine is a Chinese way.

During this time, the head of nuclear medicine, Roger’s boss I suppose, would occasionally stop to have a word with me in passing.  He is a very matter-of-fact type of person, and his simple manner called to mind a manager at the Daylesford IGA telling me where I could find dog food.  That is I think a sensible way for a person in that position to behave.  There is no need to feed that old wives’ tale that they think they are God.  (Leave that to those my lot who wear ermine.)  His name is a good old-fashioned one – Associate Professor Meir Lichtenstein.  After the second lot of pictures, he came out and told me that they would do another one with a different camera and that I would be called in when they were ready.

While I was waiting, I heard Professor Lichtenstein examining another patient who sounded very young, but who apparently had been suffering from strokes.  I gathered that the question was then whether his condition affected his intellectual capacity because the professor was giving him tests in simple arithmetic.  It is very sobering to reflect that a person so young could be so sorely afflicted.  That is one thing about going to public hospitals – no matter how badly you think you might be travelling, the next poor bastard may be doing a whole lot bloody worse.  A little later, a male nurse of some age and a real burnished colour came in to comfort the young man – whose face I never saw – with that smiling white-eyed benevolence that people of such colour are so good at.  You miss this diversity in the sticks.

Now let me go back to the nuclear physician, Roger.  Quel nom!  Nuclear physician!  How do you improve on that, Mate?  He is a good-looking and plain speaking man on, I would think, the sunny side of 40.  He has a simple, direct manner and he is happy to engage in conversation, which is I think important in professional people dealing with others who may be in a state of anxiety if not fear.  We had a good laugh about the extent to which the sexiness of the French lady at La Couronne had contributed to my heart attack by selling me chocolate croissants and sausage rolls every Saturday and Sunday for years and years and bloody years – not to mention the baguettes which would later accept slabs of butter and fatty roast beef, served with full cream milk, before the siesta with the schnauzer (Ferdinand) and a Burmese cat (Miles Davis or Ella Fitz).  I gather these issues are not unknown to Roger.

I asked Roger if I could read my book while I was waiting for the injections to take effect.  Since the book was The Europeans, by Henry James, that led to a discussion about immigration.  Somehow I got on to his family.

Roger’s parents had come out here from Egypt in 1968, well before his birth.  They had done very well and they had been able to afford to send him to a private school (which in a very un-Melbourne like moment, I did not ask him to identify.  Bugger.)  His father was of French extraction, and he had trained in and got tickets in fine arts in both Paris and Florence.  No wonder he did well at the end of the earth where they were just coming out of six o’clock closing – even if his business was in graphic art down here.

Roger’s mother’s contribution was of a different order.  She is still with us, but in her time she was a woman of singular beauty in Egypt.  As such, she was given a small appearance in the epic film The Ten Commandments.  She even got to meet Charlton Heston – this was of course decades before that ghastly moment when Heston held up a gun and declaimed ‘from this cold dead hand’, so symbolising the madness of Americans about guns.  Roger treated me very well and I was very grateful.  I wished him all the best, but we agreed that poor Egypt looked like being past recall.

After the final set of pictures, the boss had a brief word to me saying that nothing untoward had been shown, but that they would report to the people at Peter Mac.

I was then free to go, which I did after going past again those big photos of the nurses, and a lot of that old kind of ducting that hangs from the ceiling that I used to crawl through to clean in the 1960’s.  (Crawling through ducts in hospitals or the RA CV was a piece of cake, but if you had to access ducts above a greasy kitchen, you had to act much like a human pull-through, and you had to ring your overalls out to squeeze out the fat when you were pulled out. There was every chance that you might come across one or two dead rats.)

So, I was released back into the world at large, after seeing a pretty good slice of life in a place where people go to fend off death – all this in the most blessed city on earth.

And I can’t help thinking that the medical profession may be travelling better than mine.  That’s one of those statements that is large enough to be plain silly – but it is gnawing at me, and from different angles.

Passing Bull 58 – Bullshit about being well informed


It is curious that the Looney Tunes of politics and what used to be called the chattering classes have over the last generation or so gone from one side of politics to the other.  Formally it was the Labor Party that was plagued with theorists and purists – now it is the Liberal Party.  If anything, the Liberal Party is suffering more from internal dissension now than used to be the case with the Labor Party.  If, like me, you can recall how toxic Labor Party politics were in the generation leading up to 1972, this is an appalling conclusion.  But I think it is correct, and it is one of the main reasons why this country is becoming ungovernable.  The decline does now look to be vicious – the more people distrust mainstream politicians, the more likely they are to vote for people who will really merit that distrust – and revulsion.  Just look at people like Farage, Trump, Corbyn, and Hanson.

Let us take Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt as examples of the chattering classes on the side of reaction in Australia.  (They like to call themselves ‘conservatives’, but that offends me – so do I.)  They see the world as split between those who can look at issues like Islamic terrorism and ‘freedom of speech’ clearly for what they are and those whose thinking is warped by what they call ‘political correctness’.  They live in a world of labels and slogans.  Their thinking is inhibited and their minds are closed.

There is another division that you can see.  It is between those who belong to or subscribe to the chattering classes and those who do not.  Would you agree that less than one in, say, twenty Australians happily take part in this kind of discussion?  A far smaller number knows ‘the Canberra bubble.’

There are currently four issues agitating people like Bolt and Jones – gay marriage; climate change; free speech and section 18 C; and the republic.  What thread can you trace between those four issues except reaction?  Would more than one person in twenty Australians want to spend more than five minutes talking about the lot?  If you sought to raise any of these issues – except perhaps the monarchy – in any pub I know, the best result you could expect would be a very funny look.

Now, there is nothing inherently wrong in a person reacting, but it does look a little hard to avoid the impression that it is just a matter of time before these people are run over by the bus of history on each of those four issues.  (Was it Trotsky who spoke of people being thrown into the dustbin of history?)

And you can see how much trouble the reactionaries are causing the Liberal Party.  While he was Prime Minister, Tony Abbott was the very dux of reactionaries on each of the four issues I have mentioned.  (Indeed, it was his fawning adulation of the monarchy that finally convinced the nation that he was about as sane as Don Quixote.)

The new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has a very different view on each of the four subjects – his view is flatly opposed on each to that of Abbott.  His view is I think closer to the temper of the nation, but he has been placed behind bars put up by the forces of reaction. The result is a disaster for the country.  And it does seem a bit hard for the reactionaries, who are the core of most problems facing the Liberal Party, to blame Mr Turnbull for the lack of leadership that has bedevilled this country since the fall of Paul Keating.  In truth, the Liberal Party has been arrested if not hijacked by troglodytes.  It is grimly fascinating to watch Corbyn’s people do the same thing to the other side in England.

Mr Shorten is powerless to help.  He is the reverse of passionate intensity – he lacks all conviction.  He looks like a school prefect whose mum has dressed him and combed his hair, but who has lost his way to school.  I call him the Kelvinator Kid.  He can’t pass a refrigerator without opening the door to feel the light shine upon him.  And speaking of galahs who lust after the limelight, has Canberra seen anything more repellent than Sam Dastyari, the reincarnation of Edward G Robinson, the big screen’s standard hood?

There is another division that we can see.  It is between those who are well educated and those who are not.  You see it most plainly with Trump.  Most people I know would not allow Trump into their house – not because he is a stupid, lying, racist bully, but because he has no manners at all – he is just a spoilt child who never grew up.  Whenever he comes on to the screen, I have to suppress a feeling of nausea.  Then my eye goes to my copy of The Great Gatsby and I think of that immortal line:

It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people – with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.

We therefore wonder how anyone could vote for a man like Trump to become the President of the United States.  And for once, I’m happy to say that nothing like that could happen here.

Well, my view is that most of these people who are taken in by Trump are watchers of reality TV.  They are not too bright and are not very attractive – the sound and vision of the public addresses are very unsettling – there is a fever pitch of hate. It is very redolent of fascism. But we tend not to say things like that – first, because it would be impolite, and secondly, because it would be unhelpful: Trump and his followers feed on rejection.  But if you stand as the champion of those opposed to the elite, you may have to face the possibility that you are the champion of the gutter.  If the elite are the chosen, their opponents will come from those who have been rejected.  The trouble is that these rejects glory in their own martyrdom.

This division in education was well illustrated by Professor A C Grayling in discussing our gay marriage plebiscite.  (I incline to the view that this unholy imbroglio was devised by Satan to bring out the worst in our politicians and in our clergy.  If so, this is his biggest win since the apple.)  Grayling compared the history of this plebiscite with that of the British referendum on the E U – a prime minister making a bad promise to appease a faction of reaction in his own party.  He said that the result was terribly divisive ‘and tremendously unsettling to most informed opinion.’  That is certainly the view in places like Oxford, Cambridge, and London.  It is the view of most people I know here or in England.  They see the result as a very sad aberration.

The trouble is that the success of people like Farage, Corbyn, Trump, and Hanson shows that people of ‘informed opinion’ have utterly failed to come to terms with the views of people who are not so well informed on issues like migration and refugees. It is like the problem we have with our politicians – they get out of touch with what the proverbial people in the street or on the land think, and too many of them have never had a real job.

That last proposition does not go for people like Jones and Bolt – the less well-informed are precisely those to whom they appeal.  And the appeal consists of labels and slogans.  ‘Freedom’ is bonzer for any label – except for choosing the sex of the person you want to marry.  (This issue does put a bit of a dent in the aspiration of the reactionaries to call themselves ‘libertarians’.)

There was a beautiful example on a BBC panel show.  On the burkini issue, one very conservative commentator gave Milton and John Stuart Mill chapter and verse.  ‘I choose what I wear – not the government.’  Well, that is fine.  But any slogan has its limits.  Try giving that answer to the copper who arrests you on Piccadilly for wearing a T-shirt with the words ‘Freedom or Death’ – and no further garments.  And if you can be arrested for wearing too little in public, it might seem a little odd if you could also be arrested for wearing too much.

The truth is that these theoretical arguments about ideas are not welcome to us down here.  Australians distrust ideology – the distrust is visceral.  That is why propaganda coming from think tanks is so dangerous for either major political party.  It is just, as I said, that at the moment it is the Liberal Party that is suffering the most from this form of political infection.

Not only do Australians not like ideology, they reject by and large the idea of being preached at by ‘intellectuals.’  The term ‘intellectual’ is almost as much a term of abuse as the term ‘academic’ or, God save us, ‘scholar’.

These aversions are not native to us in the Antipodes.  They come from more than 1000 years of history in the development of the English law and constitution.  The English have never asked whether a proposal to change or add to the law accorded with a theory.  They just asked whether it worked – and if it did, then later on someone might be bothered to invent a theory as window dressing.  Rousseau preceded the French Revolution; Locke came after the English Revolution.

This difference between the empirical approach of the British and the rationalist leanings on the other side of the Channel runs very deep through so many aspects of our public life.  It is why we and the Americans get into trouble when we try to impose some overarching absolute – like section 92 of our Constitution – on a quilt made out of centuries of hard, gritty experience.

So, on a slogan that is as plastic as that of ‘freedom of speech’, the English experience is to ask not whether a law accords with a theory or a political scheme, aspiration, or slogan, but whether it works.  We therefore put high theory or aspiration to one side and ask how long we would last without tearing ourselves apart like enraged Yahoos in a state of mayhem if we abolished all laws relating to offensive and insulting speech, and the police were then left powerless to deal with someone marching outside the front of a convent with a placard saying ‘All the women inside this building are sluts,’ or someone marching outside the Shrine on Anzac Day with a placard saying ‘All Anzacs are war criminals and cowards,’ or someone marching outside the Bendigo mosque with a placard saying ‘These Towel-Heads are not Religious – They are Mad’.

It is really a source of wonder that some people get so wrapped up in their own bullshit that they lose all contact with the rest of us.

Poet of the month: Henrik Ibsen

In the Picture Gallery

With palette laden

She sat, as I passed her,

A dainty maiden

Before an Old Master.


What mountain-top is

She bent upon? Ah,

She neatly copies

Murillo’s Madonna.


But rapt and brimming

The eyes’ full chalice says

The heart builds dreaming

Its fairy-palaces.


The eighteenth year rolled

By, ere returning,

I greeted the dear old

Scenes with yearning.


With palette laden

She sat, as I passed her,

A faded maiden

Before an Old Master.


But what is she doing?

The same thing still–lo,

Hotly pursuing

That very Murillo!


Her wrist never falters;

It keeps her, that poor wrist,

With panels for altars

And daubs for the tourist.


And so she has painted

Through years unbrightened,

Till hopes have fainted

And hair has whitened.


But rapt and brimming

The eyes’ full chalice says

The heart builds dreaming

Its fairy-palaces.