Tag Archives: Books

Great Views

The views are pretty spectacular from the sixty-first floor of Governor Phillip Tower.

As someone who works from an inside office on the second floor of a building in Ultimo, I couldn’t help but be impressed as I gazed out the window of Governor Phillip Tower. Sneakily, I took a photograph, worried that I might be picked up by a security guard concerned I may have been a terrorist. Sadly, I felt too shy to take another shot, and therefore can only rely on my memory to convey the Harbour Bridge and Opera House view that was just around the corner, and which provided a side-drop (not a back-drop) for the talk Damo and I attended tonight put on by the Sydney Institute.

It was the first time I’ve been to a talk at the Sydney Institute. The lure of hearing Hugh Mackay and Sol Liebovic. however, was too great to resist, and when I received the invitation I said yes immediately. I think they’re both very interesting men with many interesting observations based on years of doing one of the most interesting and important things in life: asking questions. Maybe it’s why I’m in the career I’m in, but I’ve always thought questions are more interesting than answers.

Hugh Mackay’s thesis was pretty much as he outlined in his book, Advance Australia Where? which I read a few weeks ago. That is…

The main theme for this work was his theory to explain the level of disengagement from “the big picture” which has occured in Australia over the last decade or so. As “the big picture” became too complex to consider (or to find solutions), Mackay argues the nation retreated into home renovation and other similar “distractions”. Mackay argues there is evidence of a mood for change.

And while Mackay argues that because Australians are, by and large, reasonably content with the economic circumstances of Australia, Liebovic argues the economy remains the crucial basis on which people will make their voting decision. Liebovic went on to argue the case that Labor has a very significant “soft vote” that, when push comes to shove, people will vote for the Liberal Party (despite the current poll) because John Howard is still miles ahead in terms of economic credibility. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to ask the question about the degree to which people still felt comfortable enough with Labor’s economic credentials to trust them, which Peter Hartcher argued a few months ago at Glebe Books.

Still left with more questions than answers, Damo and I headed off for dinner at the recently renovated Quay Bar. Although the food and wine we enjoyed were excellent, the views weren’t quite as good at Quay Bar.

Airport Reading

Crikey Election Guide

Crikey Election Guide

For my recent trip north I bought two books at the airport; one going up and one going down. As I’m quite interested in politics, especially the electoral process, on the way up north I settled on “The Crikey Guide to the 2007 Election”. Although I found much of the book went through material I was already familiar with, there were two interesting sections: one dealing with the press gallery, the other focussing on who would or wouldn’t win the forthcoming election based on historical precedents.

I found the part about the press-gallery particularly interesting. Most memorable was the quote attributed to Walter Cronkite (I think it was) that Australia had “too many reporters and not enough news”. As the book was written by a number of people, with Christian Kerr the editor, I’m unsure who wrote the chapter about the gallery, but it was particularly scathing. I suspect it was probably Mungo McCallum who observed the most senior members of the gallery spend much of their time analysing and talking on radio and television to each other, leaving the more junior members of the gallery to actually ask the questions, and thereby abrogating both their responsibility and experience.

When the book was written (which I guess was about March-May), editor, Christian Kerr was of the firm belief the Liberal Party would be re-elected. History was on the side of the Government, he argued, for two reasons. First, when Australians change federal governments they usually do it in a convincing manner (49, 72, 75/77, 83 and 96). At the time of writing, the polls indicated the best Labor could hope for was getting “just over the line” which Kerr argued wouldn’t be enough, And second, history shows most Australians make up their minds several months before the election, with only a small number making their decision during the campaign or on polling day. Both, he argued were reasons why the Liberal Party would be re-elected, though several months down the track, it could be argued they’re precisely the reasons why the Labor Party could be elected before Christmas.

The other book I read up north was “Advance Australia Where?” by social commentator, Hugh Mackay. The main theme for this work was his theory to explain the level of disengagement from “the big picture” which has occured in Australia over the last decade or so. As “the big picture” became too complex to consider (or to find solutions), Mackay argues the nation retreated into home renovation and other similar “distractions”. Mackay argues there is evidence of a mood for change.

Perhaps both books were saying something similar?

Harbour Day

Walsh Bay, Sydney Australia
Walsh Bay, Sydney Australia

Walsh Bay, Sydney Australia

It was one of those really great winter days in Sydney, where the sky is blue, the sun is warm, and there’s lots to do. Although unfortunately I didn’t make it to the Italian Festival in East Sydney, I had a really enjoyable day hanging out around Circular Quay and Walsh Bay.

The day started with a bit of thud when I woke late and quickly realised I was already running late for a preview screening of the new Australian film “Lucky Miles”. The film concerns what happens when an Indonesian fishing boat abandons a group of refugees on a remote part of the coast of Western Australia. For a week, or maybe longer, they wander throughout the landscape in search of the promised land. Along the way, some of them are arrested, while the others face the problems of a lack of food, water, and any sense of direction about where they’re headed.

Like most films, these days, it’s probably ten minutes too long and there are aspects of the film that could have been edited out to achieve that. For example, I thought the film would have no weaker (in fact stronger), if they’d dumped the plotline about the three coastal patrol blokes looking for the refugees.

I think it might have been a stronger film if they’d just concentrated on the central refugee characters, without feeling the need to bring in some central Australian characters. Nonetheless, I thought it was a really lovely film, that was well-acted (mostly) and told a good little story without getting too political along the way. Highly recommended.

And from there it was off to Damo’s place, as we’d made plans to see a couple of talks together at the Sydney Writers Festival. Unfortunately, one of the talks we really wanted to see was canceled, since the author was stuck in Afghanistan.

So with a couple of hours to fill we wandered along the wharf at Walsh Bay, finally settling at a restaurant, Ventuno where we enjoyed a nice bottle of Italian wine made predominantly with chardonnay grapes. They have very comfortable couches, a great view, and the food looked good from a distance (we’d already eaten), even if they did mess up the cheque. “We only had ONE bottle of wine”, I told them.

And from there, we wandered back to the Writers Festival to see the talk featuring Caroline Overington and Alison Broinowski. Broinowski is a former diplomat (she worked with Alexander Downer, apparently) turned academic, with a strong interest in (and supporter of) the United Nations, describing it as “the only things that separates us from chaos”. Overington is a journalist turned author who has written a very extensive book about the Australian Wheat Board “oil for food scandal” called Kickback.

They made no bones about their belief that everyone who claimed to know nothing about the scandal in fact knew a lot. They also foreshadowed class actions and criminal breaches of the companies act, but said nothing would occur this year, an election year.

They both spoke with such an incredible passion. As we walked out, Damien observed they’d both be great fun to have dinner with (including a couple of bottles of wine), though I thought they might be a little scarey. Both, however, appeared to have great minds, a great attention to detail, and a great sense of “the right thing to do”.

So yeah, a great day, with lots to think about. And now, of course, I’m watching “Big Brother Up Late”. A life of contrasts.

Babooshka

Bipolar Nation by Peter Hartcher

Bipolar Nation by Peter Hartcher

In stark contrast to last week when I went to the Unisex Amateur Strip Night, tonight I went to a rather erudite discussion at Glebe Books about the forthcoming Federal Election, followed by tapas at a nearby Spanish restaurant. The occasion was a discussion between former ABC journalist and now political aspirant, Maxine McKew and Sydney Morning Herald journalist, Peter Hartcher. I admire them both for the consistently even hand approach they have demonstrated in their professional careers. The discussion was organised, though, in the days before McKew nailed her political colours to the flagpole. As such, what was probably going to be fairly independent and dispassionate discussion between two commentators on the state of Australian politics, took on a more overtly political hue.

I can’t decide, however, if the crowd was overwhelmingly an ALP-supporting audience, or if they were a crowd of ABC-TV viewers who just love Maxine McKew. The audience consensus was the former, but I suspect a fair degree of the latter, as McKew was welcomed with rapturous applause, and there was a fair bit of rubber-necking occuring, as the audience angled for a “real life view” (off-screen) of Maxine.

So although Peter was supposed to be the centre of attention, much of the attention (for the first half at least) was focussed on Maxine. Perhaps it was just as well, then, that she had to leave early to attend her first ALP branch meeting, as attention became focussed back on Peter Hartcher’s book, which has a very interesting central thesis.

At the heart of Hartcher’s book is a multi-faceted argument which explains why he believes Kevin Rudd and Labor (despite the current opinion polls) will still find it difficult to win this year’s Federal Election. Hartcher observed tonight that, historically speaking, Labor’s popularity has usually peaked, and John Howard’s popularity has usually bottomed, six to eight months out from the election. Hartcher also observed that, at the Federal level at least, Australians have preferred Liberal/National Federal Govenrments.

Hartcher explains this preference for State Labor Governments and Coalition Federal Governments in terms of “mummy” and “daddy” politics. That (and this is a generalisation) at the state level, we want governments who will care for us in the areas of health and education (for example), while at the national level, we want governments who will look after us, and sometime be tough, when it comes to national security and the economy. In the first instance, McKew responded to this conceit as one which waas “incredibly paternalistic”, but then offered the argument that Howard was the old-fashioned daddy who had failed to keep up with the times, while Rudd was new, younger father who was in touch with his children and was open to the ideas of the new world.

A recurrent theme for McKew, and perhaps indicative of the way in which Labor will position itself at the Federal Election, was the idea that Kevin Rudd offered solutions to an uncertain future, and that staying with John Howard was a “risk” because “he didn’t”. In common with Hartcher’s theme that Australians only choose Labor Federal Governments in difficult times (the 1940’s when we were at war and the 1980s when interest rates were at 22% and the resources boom had all but collapsed), McKew argued the challenges of climate change, mean the time is right for another federal Labor Government.

Despite the opinion polls which suggest a Federal Labor victory this year, with Kevin Rudd clearly the preferred Prime Minister, both McKew and Hartcher observed the rubbery-ness of the figures. Both noted that on the key issues of national security and economic management, the opinion polls show Howard remains the preferred choice.

Hartcher argued that unless Labor can convince the electorate they can be trusted on these key issues, they won’t be able to unseat the Coalition. McKew agreed, though, she noted the difference between Howard and Rudd on these issues was narrowing. To support his argument, Hartcher quoted a Rudd analogy that Labor was like one of those multi-layered Babooshka dolls. Rudd’s analogy was that Labor would only be “trusted” federally if the electorate was convinced of their credentials on the outer-layers of the national security and the economy, that the electorate won’t look inside unless they are happy with the outer layers. Hartcher explained that when he recently asked Rudd about where climate-change fitted within this, Rudd said “somewhere between the two”.

Oh yeah, and fellow Sydney blogger, Glen Fuller from Event Machinics works there. Hi Glen…

“All yours,
Babooshka, Babooshka, Babooshka-ya-ya!
All yours,
Babooshka, Babooshka, Babooshka-ya-ya!”

Makes Me Cry

Dressed for a funeral, at the wake of a mate who lived on property outside Wagga Wagga.

Dressed for a funeral, at the wake of a mate who lived on property outside Wagga Wagga.

It’s late at night and I’ve just been watching the film, “The Sum Of Us”, and once again I found it a teary affair. There’s one scene, in particular, that gets me every time I watch this film. And it got me wondering if this was a normal reaction? Well of course it is, as it’s a very moving scene, but sometimes I wonder if I cry a little too much. So I began thinking about what else from the worlds of film, music, and literature have brought me to tears in recent years. Here’s the first ten I could think of…

1/…”The Boy from Oz – I’ve watched the original television documentary, have seen Hugh Jackman perform live and I’ve seen the original production in Melbourne. The television documentary was very sad, especially when friends like Bette Midler remembered the life of Peter Allen. I also vividly remember the original production in Melbourne when Peter’s partner sang, “I Love You, I Honestly Love You”.

2/…”Tenterfield Saddler” – related to the previous, there’s the Peter Allen song about growing up in a small country town and moving away. Still remembering his roots, though conceding he can never go back he declares “There’s no place for George and his library or the son with a gun to belong, except in this song”. Other tragic lines include “it’s easier to drink than go crazy”.

3/…”Muriel’s Wedding” – I love this movie on so many levels, especially as “Porpoise Spit” was exactly the kind of town in which I grew up. The killer scene for me is when Joanie tells Muriel that her mother has committed suicide… “It’s mum, she’s dead, she took pills”.

4/…”The Winner Takes It All” – the ABBA song is incredibly sad from start to finish. Agnetha, resigned to the divorce, sings “seeing me so tense, no self-confidence”. Although the line has sometimes been mocked due to its perhaps uncomfortable rhyme, it’s the way she delivers the line that tells you she’s incredibly fragile. And I won’t begin to tell the story of hearing it on the PA system at Coles Redfern at about 9pm on the Tuesday night in the week after my ex and I broke up.

5/…”Brokback Mountain” – I don’t remember the exact moment I started crying, but I think it was probably when Ennis (the character played by Heath Ledger) delivers this line: “Because of you, Jack, that I’m like this. I’m nothing… and nowhere.” In the last half hour or so of the movie I cried several times. There’s something about this movie that touched some of those essential human frailties associated with denial and regret that plague most of us at some point.

6/…”Holding the Man” (book and play) – It was sometime in 1995, though I’m not exactly sure when, when I bought and read the book in an all-night session. In such a short period of time I had never experienced so much laughter and tears. And then late last year, I saw the play. By the play’s end I was also in tears.

7/…”Blue Sky Mining” – What I remember most about the first time I saw “Lemon Tart” was their spectacular version of “Blue Sky Mining”, a fairly big hit for “Midnight Oil” in the 1990s. On this night, in particular, Genevieve transformed what I thought was a fairly typical Midnight Oil rock and roll protest song about corporate intransigence into a beautiful ballad. I’d never really listened to the lyrics until Genevieve brought them to life. The killer line for me is… “And the company takes what the company wants, and nothing’s as precious, as a hole in the ground…”

8/…”Diana’s Funeral” – just one word… the card labelled “Mummy”.

9/…”Day In The Death Of Joe Egg” – Last week I went to see this terrific play which concerns the life of an English couple who have a teenage daughter with a severe disability. Partially because of a similar situation in my own family, I was at times quite teary, as the couple dealt with an incredibly difficult situation both with humour and humanity

10/…”The Sum Of Us” – There’s a couple of sad scenes in this movie, but in particular, it’s the scene where the two older women are separated, with one going into a nursing home, which makes me cry every time.

…and before all that there was “Beaches” and “Terms Of Endearment”.

Pathetic really, isn’t it? I dare you, dear reader, to ‘fess up about the films, books, music etc, that make you cry.

Three People

I mentioned the other day on this blog that I’d received an autographed copy of the new Edmund White biography. When I got around to putting this in my bookcase, I just sat down for a while and had a look through some of the other autographed books I’ve been lucky enough to obtain.

As each of these books has an interesting story associated with them, I thought I’d choose three at random for your reading pleasure…

At the time of interviewing Peter Ryan, he’d recently been relieved of his duties as Commissioner of NSW Police. There had been rumblings from the grass roots of NSW police about his so-called autocratic style (and the amount of money he was paid), but until fairly recently he had been sill very much in favour with the NSW Government. But clearly something had changed, and it was time for him to leave. This book was seen, at the time, as either payback or his opportunity to present his side of the story. As a biography, it was interesting at the time, though I’m not sure it still has the currency it once had. However, in hindsight, with a potential political career of her own a possibility, it was interesting that his wife Adrienne Ryan (now separated) was also offered up as “interview talent”. Given the controversy surrounding Ryan at the time, of course I had to ask for an autograph.

The interview with Major-General Sitiveni Rabuka was also an unexpected one, as I thought I’d organised to interview the biography’s author, John Sharpham from the University of New England. As such, I’d prepared a series of interview questions which sought to define Sharpham’s understanding of the man who’d led a military coup in Fiji a couple of years earlier. “What did you really think of him?”. Imagine my surprise then, after being told by phone, “Your guest is at reception”, I discovered it was the man himself. A quick re-think and the questions were still useful and still made reasonable sense, though they needed a slight re-wording. Of course, I had to ask for an autograph. After all, how often do you get to meet the leader of a coup?

Asking for an autograph from Caroline Jones, however, was for completely different reasons. I’d admired Caroline Jones for many many years. I remember her, primarily, as the host of “Four Corners”, and though I’d grown up in the country and hadn’t been all that aware of the finer details of her early radio career, I’d heard some of that work too. I was, however, aware of her terrific program, “The Search For Meaning”, broadcast on Radio National, in which she’d interview people about issues of faith and belief. I ‘d always thought of her as a broadcaster of integrity. I’ll happily admit to being a little daunted to meet her, but I found her natural warmth quickly allowed me to relax. It meant a lot for her to thank me for a “fine interview”. There’s also a great line in this book, “An Authentic Life” which I often quote in which she declares, and I’m paraphrasing, that for many years people have thought that “seeing is believing”, however now an increasing number of people also recognise that “believing is seeing”.

Edmund White

Edmund White

Edmund White

I had a lovely surprise at work today, being presented with this autographed copy of the new book by Edmund White, an autobiography.

White had been in to work a few days ago and I’d mentioned to a colleague how much I’d enjoyed A Boy’s Own Story (and after that “The Beautiful Room Is Empty”) as a teenager living in a small country town in Northern NSW.

As the book deals with growing up gay, it was a crucial book to read at the age of sixteen or seventeen. I told my colleague who was about to interview White how important the book was for me, and how I’d read half the book in the local “Angus & Robertson” before I’d summoned up the courage to actually purchase it. I also remember in hindsight, the young man behind the counter telling me how much he’d enjoyed reading the book, and how much I’d also enjoy it, without realising what he was “really saying”.

“He’s outside, tell him”, my colleague urged me. “No, he’s heard this before, he wouldn’t care”. After a little urging, my colleague convinced me to go with him to meet White and to tell him the story of how important his book had been in my life, which, nervously, I did.

And that was it, or so I thought. Until today, when my colleague brought in this signed copy of his latest work.

Receiving this touched me in a number of ways: first, that White (who I admired immensely because of these books) could be bothered to do this. Second, that my colleague thought enough or me to either ask for this, or organise this. Nice stuff.

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