The Weekend AFR, which is a very good paper, had two items that caught my eye.
There was a lot about the late Alan Bond. This is not surprising. Bondy was a crook, but the nation as a whole still has a soft spot for him because he won the America’s Cup. Perhaps it took a crook to do so. Another Australian entrepreneur of foreign birth is currently coming to grips with questions about how clean his hands after bidding for an event against regimes and to an outfit that make the New York Yacht Club look decidedly angelic.
But none of the press, so far as I could see, asked who got hurt by Bondy. It is as if Bondy just sat under one money tree after another, and the denuded branches then just shot new leaves. Lawyers celebrated the eternal truth that you catch them going up and you go back for seconds, bigger and better, when they are on their way down again. But somewhere real people got hurt, and there might be limits to which the pure shittiness of Christopher Skase can somehow make Bondy look better.
Well, attitudes to crooks in this country, which was founded by them, vary. Some people do not even accept that Ned Kelly was a crook, although there is frequently an ethnic component to that view. I did two mediation courses at Bond University at a time when some thought that it should change its name because its founder was in the big house. The students would have none of it – and Heaven bless them!
And there were some good anecdotes. Jennifer Hewett said that she would always be grateful to Bondy because she met her future husband on the press boat at Newport. The present Chanticleer recalled the glory days in London in the ‘80’s when various kinds of Australians got right up the noses of the English Establishment – I doubt from my many visits whether we have ever recovered. Most people that Chanticleer spoke to who had made a lot of money out of Bond did want to talk on the record because ‘they did not want to attach their name to a crook.’ There is something rather cold and ungrateful about that kind of attitude, and I am glad to see that it was not shared by a former partner of mine, Aleco Vrisakis – another person of European descent, and very considerable charm. One merchant banker told Chanticleer that Bond’s doing time for falsifying the books was unusual because ‘30 years ago half of Perth was guilty of the same thing.’ Especially, it should be said, the politicians.
The truth is that entrepreneurs commonly put their shirt on the line every day in a manner that most of us simply could not bear. They have a completely different attitude to risk. They downplay it instinctively, and correspondingly they are incurably optimistic. This leads them to say things that leave ordinary investors open-mouthed. Just look at Twiggy Forrest and his famous statement that he had binding contracts in China – tout le monde, except for the Justices of the High Court, knew that that statement had to be false. Indeed you could have a good MBA Seminar on: ‘Compare and contrast Alan Bond and Twiggy Forrest: Why did one do time?’ The energy of both to do deals and get together with others, and to talk about it, was or is apparently insatiable. It is as if they were on a kind of commercial Viagra.
And that, Gentlemen, brings me to the second item in the Weekend AFR. The final phase of the Descent of Man is, I regret to say, at hand. The newspaper reports that a ‘female Viagra’ is nearly set for approval in the US. It is described in the paper ‘as a pill to treat low sexual desire in women.’ Why ‘treat’ it at all? The FDA has apparently raised concerns about the risks of women fainting. Some may have thought that such an outcome would show that the pill had in fact worked. For some reason, this reference to the risk of fainting, or swooning, in a woman brought to mind something I wrote about Ibsen at the time of a set-back in the ascent of the Woman.
‘Henrik Ibsen left Norway because he was stifled by it. He said that he wanted to put a torpedo under the ark. He went to Rome and was captivated by Michelangelo and Bernini because, he said, ‘they had the courage to commit a little madness now and then.’ That is a very revealing remark. He was a member of the Scandinavian Club, that was doubtless as conservative as ex-pat groups tend to be. The torpedo launched in Rome was a proposal to give women at the Scandinavian Club the vote. This was 1879. The motion was narrowly lost. Members at the Club were uneasy about how Ibsen might react.
No one would have guessed it – but Ibsen came. He looked magnificent, in full panoply, with medals to boot. He ran his hand ceaselessly through his rich, grizzled hair, greeting no one in particular, but everyone in general. There was a deep peace in his face, but his eyes were watchful, so watchful. He sat alone. We all thought that he had forgiven his fellow mortals, and some even supposed him penitent…Then he began, softly, but with a terrifying earnestness. He had recently wished to do the Club a service, he might almost say a great favour, by bringing its members abreast with contemporary ideas. No one could escape these mighty developments. Not even here – in this community – in this duckpond!….Now he was no longer speaking calmly, no longer thoughtfully stroking his hair. He shook his head with its grey mane. He folded his arms across his chest. His eyes shone. His voice shook, his mouth trembled…He resembled a lion; nay, more – he resembled that future enemy of the people, Dr Stockmann….He repeated, and repeated: what kind of women are these….?
Thump! A lady, Countess B, fell to the floor. She, like the rest of us, flinched from the unspeakable. So she took time by the forelock and swooned. She was carried out. Ibsen continued. Perhaps slightly more calmly. But eloquently and lucidly, never searching for a word. …He looked remote and ecstatic….And when he was done, he went out unto the hall, took his overcoat and walked home. Calm and silent.’
Well, Boys, it might be time once more to flinch from the unspeakable and take time by the forelock – before we run into someone looking remote and ecstatic. Some of us dipped out on the Sexual Revolution in every possible way. It was not there when we might have felt it; we were behind bars when it arrived. And now this, the cruellest step of all – there has been nothing like it in the fifty years that have transpired since a well-made blonde tapped a well-known VFL footballer on the shoulder and said ‘Who said you could finish?’ Talk about ‘Did the earth move for you, too, darling?’ The poor fellow was hardly a shadow of himself after that earthquake.
You can just imagine it. A dude, who may no longer be at the height of his powers, takes a woman to the movies. John, as we might call him, is going through a change of life and it is not his best time of the month. There is stress at work; his ex is wickedly vengeful; his adult children refuse to mature or leave home; his bank manager has just had another nervous breakdown; his doctor is getting terse again with the LFT (liver function test) results; he has just bought another bigger belt; and the tax man has got the figures wrong yet again. John is just plain worn out, and he badly needs some kind warmth and understanding from a tender mate. As the credits roll, just after George Clooney has done something spitefully suave and masculine in a way that makes Cary Grant look like a sook, John gets a firm, close, but breathy tap on the shoulder, and Betty says: ‘I have just popped the pill, Sportsman, and I suggest – indeed, I firmly suggest – that you pop yours now, too. Industrial strength, Honeybum. Otherwise there could be what the NRL calls an ugly scene. You might just go down for a TKO in the first of six tackles. Assuming, that is, that you make it out of the bloody car. Pecker up, Old Boy – I have only set aside two hours before my next session on the heavy bag.’
I predict a strong upsurge in the number of hermits.