Andrew Olle Media Lecture

Kate McClymont speaks at Olle Lecture

Kate McClymont speaks at Olle Lecture

“Because I haven’t lived in Sydney before, I didn’t quite understand some of the references”, my friend Sue told a couple sitting at our table at last night’s Andrew Olle Media Lecture. Last night’s lecture was given by Kate McClymont, the Sydney Morning Herald investigative journalist who famously writes about crime and corruption in New South Wales. The woman in the couple then related a story about how she had purchased a house from one of the crime world figures mentioned in Kate’s speech. Between purchase and settlement, hers and a bunch of other houses were burned down in suspicious circumstances, I recall her saying. “These are very Sydney stories”, I told Sue.

“I remember Abe Saffron”, is a phrase I’ve commonly heard in social occasions with older journalists. “I reported on the disappearance of Juanita Neilson”, someone once told me. “She’s in a ditch somewhere in the Blue Mountains”, is a phrase you’ll also commonly hear. Everyone in Sydney seems to have a dodgy crime story. Indeed, I know quite well one of the “flamboyant figures” Kate often writes about.

Because of that sense of familiarity, her speech last night got a lot of laughs. I loved this anecdote in particular…

Not that I am saying journalists are infallible. We are human. We make mistakes. Look at me, I identified the wrong person in He Who Must Be Obeid, the book I co-wrote earlier this year with Linton Besser. When I was told that the book would have to be recalled, it was one of the worst days in my entire life. But a setback for one person is an opportunity for someone else. In the middle of my misery I received the following text message.
Thursday 21 Aug 2014 10.36am
Hi Kate, It’s John Ibrahim her (sic) could u pls send me a copy of ur book that be nice…thank u.
Me: Very funny! Who is this really? Kate
“It really is John,” he replied. I had last spoken to the nightclub boss several years earlier when we had run into each other outside Goulburn jail. “I don’t like what you write,” he said. “That’s funny, because I don’t like what you do,” I shot back, mentioning his penchant for threatening witnesses. He pointed out that the charges against him had been dropped.
We ended up talking about our mutual love of the TV series The Sopranos.

As much of her speech dealt with the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Sue and I both loved the fact the couple sitting next to us at dinner included Nick Greiner, the former NSW Premier who set up ICAC, and in fact became the first “victim” of investigation. Really interesting guy to chat to by the way, as was his partner.

The thrust of her speech was that, in many ways, investigative journalism, and investigative journalists are under threat. As well as for economic reasons, there’s the the issue of free speech and she mentioned the case of the Australian journalist, Peter Greste, currently in prison in Egypt.

But she also made the point that all journalism, to an extent, should be investigative.

People often ask me about the secret of investigative journalism. There is no secret. All journalism should use the same tools – curiosity, scepticism and the willingness to take the road less travelled.

The speech will be on ABC TV tomorrow night, and is well worth watching. You might even see me, as they often cross to images of the audience during the televised speech. “The one thing you need to remember is don’t drink during the speech as they’re bound to cross to you just as you’re having a glass”, I told Sue. I knew this from experience. There was one year when they crossed to an image of me twice during the speech: on both occasions I was sipping on a glass of wine. But there again, that’s “Very Sydney”, isn’t it?

Read the speech in full


Biscuit The Cat

Biscuit The Cat

I was sitting at home the other night watching television with the balcony window open. I live on the first floor of my apartment block by the way. First floor, not ground floor. With one notable exception, that usually means I’m high enough off the ground not to have to deal with unexpected visitors. I exclude the flying cockroaches of Sydney in that. But the other night, quite unexpectedly, Biscuit The Cat paid me a visit.

Biscuit is owned (as much as a cat can be owned) by a woman who lives on the third floor of my block. Quite how he managed to go from her apartment on the third floor to my balcony on the first floor remains a mystery. There can be only one explanation: he’s a cat with Spiderman-like skills.

It’s not the first time he’s paid me a visit in such circumstances though. Quite often I can be happily sitting at home with the balcony window open and all of a sudden he’ll walk through the door, look up at me and say “feed me”. Generally, I have a small can or two of sandwich tuna in the house and so will often invite him into the kitchen, open up a can, and give him some of that. As these visits were so regular, I decided I’d buy some cat food to have on hand for such an occasion. And not just your cheapo crappo cat food, but some quite good quality cat food. The first time I opened up one of the saches and presented it to him, he looked at me as if to say, “You expect me to eat that shit?”. The last couple of times, he has actually eaten a little of it, before moving back on to the balcony with plans, presumably, to visit another apartment with an open window.

Busy Week – Many Choices

It never rains. It pours. There are many weeks (and weekends) where I find myself sitting at home staring at the ceiling, or sitting on the couch scrolling through the television channels hoping desperately there’ll be something to watch. Dullsville

This week and next don’t fall into that category. Work is super-busy right now. On top of that, I have a number of after-hours work-related social occasions. On top of that, there’s a trip to Western Australian for work (with a bit of pleasure tagged on at the end). I’m looking for ideas on the weekend in Perth, by the way, which I haven’t already done, having spent a year of my life living there. I’m catching up with friends, but there are still some gaps in my schedule, especially on the Sunday.

And of course, I also have a “real life” which includes a birthday lunch on this weekend, my own birthday in November, and a bunch of unrelated social catch-ups.

The combination of all of these things means I’ve actually had to say “no” to a number of events.

Tonight, I had the choice of attending Art After Hours at the Art Gallery of NSW, or a recording of Now Hear This at the Art House Hotel. In the end, I chose Now Hear This, a story-telling night that eventually finds its way on to ABC Local Radio and Radio National.

I’ve attended a few of these previously, and I have to say tonight’s was the best. The room was crowded, the stories were great, and there was a lovely vibe. I even received a heart-felt thankyou from the host, Melanie Tait, for some of contribution I’ve been able to make. I even contributed what I thought was the most interesting user-contribution of the night to the theme of unexpected surprises. A lovely night, and an excellent choice.

I’m sure that in two weeks time I’ll be sitting on the couch twiddling my thumbs. :)

Swedish beer

My Swedish is better when I’ve been drinking

Once again I’ve decided my Swedish is better when I’ve had a drink or two, or three or four.

I first discovered this a few years ago at a bar in Stockholm. I was chatting in English with a couple of Swedish guys, and when the topic got around to learning the Swedish language, I discovered my Swedish was far better after a few drinks. We enjoyed a reasonably fluent discussion after the third or fourth beer, as I recall.

The notion was further re-inforced when, after a boozy night in Stockholm, I happened upon a taxi driver who was taking me “the long way home”. I knew exactly where I wanted to go and how to get there, but I guess he assumed I was some dumb tourist from Australia, and so took a left turn when he should have taken a right, which would have resulted in a significantly higher fare. I was able to challenge him, negotiate the “right way home” and ensure he stopped the meter early to compensate.

Deep down, I think the “speaks better when I’ve been drinking” scenario is because when you’re feeling less inhibited due to alcohol, you’re also feeling less self-conscious about your failings, in terms of vocabulary, fluency and that “weird accent”. In short, it becomes more instinctive, and less “thought out”.

The “speaks better when he’s been drinking” scenario happened again the other night. I was walking home (and I’d had a drink or two) and surprisingly crossed paths with a couple of young women speaking Swedish. Our conversation, though brief, was almost fluent, even though I haven’t been to Swedish classes for most of the year, and I’m feeling a bit rusty.

This year has been quite busy work-wise, and I haven’t had much in the way of motivation to go to Swedish class at 8.00pm on a Wednesday night. Put simply, I’m far too tired by the time Wednesday night comes around. I’ll possibly return to Swedish class next year. Or maybe I’ll just keep drinking? :)

Redfern Architecture Walk

Koori Radio - although the design looks complex and random, there's actually only three different "panels" which makes them easier to replace, Terrence explained.

Koori Radio – although the design looks complex and random, there’s actually only three different “panels” which makes them easier to replace, Terrence explained.

“What do you think the inside of a radio station would look like…?”, Terrence asked. We were standing on the footpath, admiring the facade of Koori Radio, as part of a tour of Sydney’s Redfern by the Architectural Association. It’s the kind of question a large group would, undoubtedly, have had a multitude of answers, based largely on what they’ve seen on television and film. The difference this time was there was no “large group” to answer the question: there was just me.

When I first turned up at Redfern Post Office, the starting point for the the tour, and soon noticed there was no one else hanging around, I thought I’d made a mistake. I thought maybe I had the wrong address. I thought I’d put the wrong date in my calendar. Then I thought they might have cancelled the tour and I’d missed the email notification. But right on time, Terrence turned up, introduced himself and confirmed I was indeed the only person on the tour.

I’ve been on a few of these walking tours organised by the Architecture Association previously, including walks around Middle Cove and Surry Hills and remembered them fondly. I actually recognised Terrence from the tour of Surry Hills in 2007. That was quite a big group, as I recall, and so it was great to have something a little more personalised.

There were a few things I really liked about the tour, aside from the personalised nature of it all, and the obvious passion Terrence has for both architecture and the area itself. I really loved the way the tour gave me a better understanding about some of the principles underlying design in Sydney. I really loved how it opened my eyes to the types of buildings which I would otherwise see as ugly or incongruous. And I really loved the way I got to see parts of a nearby suburb I don’t otherwise usually see.

White. Minimalist. Industrial.  But in keeping with the lines/styling of a terrace house.

White. Minimalist. Industrial. But in keeping with the lines/styling of a terrace house.

“The main difference between Melbourne and Sydney architecture is the way Sydney architects try to design with context in mind”, Terrence said, as he pointed to a large white building. He talked about how the lines were in keeping with the other terrace houses. He also pointed it out in the design of the gym at the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence, a large building on a residential street, but designed so it didn’t feel so large for the pedestrians walking along side it.

“I don’t think I could live in the white house”, I told him, as he showed me photographs of the internals. Minimalist. White. There was, however, a nearby house which I quite liked the look of with a timber facade, neighbouring a small park. Not that I could afford either, as Redfern is definitely a suburb “on the way up”, and already out of the price range of most people I know.

National Centre for Indigenous Excellence - the scale of the building is minimised for the pedestrian walking along, as all you really notice is the Mondrian styling.

National Centre for Indigenous Excellence – the scale of the building is minimised for the pedestrian walking along, as all you really notice is the Mondrian styling.

We both laughed when I mentioned to Terrence the reason I couldn’t answer the radio studio design question in the way he would have otherwise expected.

It was a really enjoyable tour that was supposed to go for two hours, but which we completed in ninety minutes due to the more personalised service, and because there were no “stragglers”. These tours are regularly advertised on the Architecture Association website, and I’d recommend this one if you, like me, have a passion/interest in architecture and in Redfern.

Sculpture by the Sea

The last few times I’ve been to “Sculpture by the Sea”, I’ve found the sheer number of people visiting to be a little too much for my liking. I think it’s great so many people go to see the exhibition, I’m just not one for crowds, these days. So I decided I’d get up early this morning and head off to see the exhibition before the big crowds descended. Sue was planning to come with me, but piked at the last minute, deciding an hour or two extra in bed was preferable.

Even at seven o’clock there was already a healthy crowd of people. There were lots of photographers (possibly an organised photo walk). Add to that, every man and his dog with a smart phone seems to think these days an event never happened unless there’s a selfie to accompany it (I include myself in that). So despite the early hour, there were moments I found myself having to queue to take a photograph. On top of that, there were the glares from the Bondi locals who are used to the Bondi to Tamara trail as the site for their morning run, who you could see weren’t happy about having to share the space.

While there were no “wow” moments for me with any of the sculptures this year, I thought the standard was pretty good. I was also really pleased to see a lot of more traditional sculptures (humans) compared with the more abstract works which have dominated in the last few years.

Makeup at Myer

Men and Women

“Do you mind if we call in to Myer? A girlfriend told me about some great new mascara and lipstick from Clarins”, my friend asked as we made our way through the city this afternoon.

As I stood and watched, I listened to the conversation between the two women. “It doesn’t run and all you need to do is rinse with warm water…” the assistant told my friend. “What about tears? They’re warm water, aren’t they?”, I interjected. The looks on the faces of both my friend and the shop assistant clearly told me I was out of my depth in this conversation.

It was then I looked down and saw cotton buds, presumably used in the application and or removal of makeup. “I could really clean my ears out with those”, I thought to myself. It was then I realised the difference between men and women.