"We have become a multicultural society with many different ways of celebrating life and mourning loss," intones an ad from a firm of undertakers that Argus chanced across somewhere. "We have become better educated about grief and this has led to many requests to make funeral services 'more personal'". It turns out on further reading that the advertiser has a "request" too: that those not yet dead will get out their credit cards and purchase a "pre-paid" funeral.

Clearly this firm is following the lead set by Here & Now Funerals, the entrepreneurial undertakers who have amalgamated the notions of the "more personal" and the "pre-paid" funeral into the "pre-loss" funeral, designed to take place before the dear departed's departure.

"A pre-loss funeral is of enormous advantage in terms of grief therapy," says Here & Now's managing director Barry Squinge, fifth generation in the family business. "Since there is no death or other unpleasantness of that sort involved there is no grieving process - apart of course from in those isolated cases where the mourners are put out that their loved one has not yet, in fact, passed away.

"Another advantage is greater flexibility of venue. Without the inconvenience of having to go to the cemetery or memorial park the pre-loss funeral can be held just about anywhere - restaurants, nightclubs, football fields, vintage trains, chartered sightseeing flights - anywhere you can party. Of course for our complete guaranteed service we recommend a cocktail party or luncheon in our own fully-licensed chapel. That comes with what we call "the Here & Now Experience", our high-end package for discerning clients who want to celebrate life and mourn loss in style."

So what do you get if you sign up for the Here & Now Experience? "When your loved one checks in," Mr Squinge explains, "they are greeted by a complimentary bottle of Australian champagne and a basket of chocolates. They are offered a choice of shrouds - we have some very tasteful ones in pastel colours - or they can bring their own costume, your know, their smartest leisure wear, their bike shorts or whatever they feel says something about them. We had one gentlemen who had a reputation as, well, being a bit too fond of young children and he insisted on bringing his Santa Claus suit. We dress the loved one and make them up, as in any funeral preparation, arrange them nicely in a casket standing on end in which we've installed a comfy cushioned seat, put a glass of bubbly in their hand - or some happy dust or a needle, whatever turns them on - and the obsequies begin. It helps enormously that the non-deceased can get up and circulate and join in the fun - dance, sing, chat, in short be the life of the party - rather than just be passively 'viewed'. It also gives them a chance to snub those so-called friends who haven't been in touch for years and only show up at funerals.

"Further, from a feelgood point of view, the Here & Now Experience is a real shot in the arm. Listening to all the glowing eulogies and reading the cards on the floral tributes about how much you'll be missed does wonders for anyone who's low on self-esteem."

What was the most unusual pre-loss funeral Mr Squinge had arranged? "On one occasion a loved one's daughter asked if she could combine her wedding ceremony with her father's send-off and she and all the bridesmaids wore black. Everyone looked great and it was a real occasion of family bonding in an age when the traditional family is under assault from all sides. Unfortunately, while the daughter and her guy were having their photographs taken in our columbarium a couple of contract mortuary staff who hadn't been properly briefed boxed dad up - he'd had a few too many earlier and passed out in the Chapel of Rest during the "As We Remember You" slide presentation - and trundled him off to the crematorium. He was half-way into the oven before his mobile phone rang inside the casket - a mourner calling to say he was running late, apparently. They managed to stop the conveyor belt - don't know how they did it, normally those state-of-the-art Supa-Nitschke 451 ovens have you in cinders in a flash - and whipped the lid off and found him. Thank goodness they were in time. An accident like that could have spoiled the whole funeral."

Mr Squinge said that while most Here & Now clients were "getting on a bit", the occasional younger person goes through his hands. "Most P-plater or train-surfing passings-over have to be handled by our post-need department but just last month we had a schoolie who was given a pre-need send-off for his eighteenth birthday. It was so nice, everyone lighting a candle and going to the rostrum to say, "We love ya, Dane," and "Have one for me, mate" in emotional tones. But just as the guests were getting ready to leave the chapel we discovered that the loved one was missing. It seems he'd slipped out while everyone was listening tearfully to Molly Sanden singing "Hallelujah" and driven off in a hearse out the back that was waiting to be sent to the garage for brake repairs. He'd been doing burn-outs down on the freeway when they found him and brought him back in for post-need treatment. It was very unfortunate really, particularly from the point of view of the client, who was involved in considerable extra expense. Our Here & Now service guarantee clearly states that, regretfully, we are unable to convert a pre-need ceremony into a post-need one without a substantial surcharge."

25 February 2012


Scarcely was the post "Sacred Sales" (Argus 16 February 2012) on the blog than the Weekly Times ran a front-page lead on church closures in rural Victoria. It seems that the cull of churches forecast by Argus is already under way.

"Divine intervention is needed to save country Victoria's churches," announces a heading on the Weekly Times story (22 February). Reporter Chris McLennan likes a nice ecclesiastical metaphor: "The last rites are being given to hundreds of churches across rural Victoria," he begins. "Closures show no signs of slowing, with one faith (sic) alone having shut dozens of places of worship in the last three years." This turns out to be the Uniting Church, which, as mentioned in the Argus post, regards a third of its churches in Victoria as dispensable. According to the Weekly Times it has so far closed forty-four churches in country Victoria.

Other denominations, says the story, are in the same boat. According to church authorities it's all part of rural decline. "The bank manager has gone, the policeman, the post office, now the clergy... the last thing to go will be the footy club," Anglican Archdeacon John Davis of Wangaratta is quoted as saying. Unidentified "church officials" give it as their opinion that the closures are "symptomatic of a major rural population shift, particularly to the large regional centres." A spokesman for  the Presbyterian Church of Victoria believes "the city" is the lure: "Many young people who move to the city for post-secondary education and employment never come home." One wonders whether these young people were churchgoers before they left and if so whether they continue to be in the city. A Catholic priest in Bendigo goes so far as to blame population shifts on "drought, then flood, and even uncertainty caused by the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan", as though there had never been drought and flood and water-management schemes in the bush before.

But is it really so straightforward? If it's just rural decline and depopulation what explains the rate of urban church closures? Besides, some country towns are growing in population, with "tree-changers", elderly urban "empty-nesters", inner-city arties, bed-and-breakfast operators, "gourmet" restaurateurs, wine experts, old-wares-and-collectibles dealers and suchlike moving in - plus of course the urban poor who move to the country because it's cheaper and settle on the fringes of the town behind a barrier of rusting station wagons on blocks and old refrigerators. But there's no indication that the churches in such towns are doing any better than in places where the population is visibly shrinking, because in general these new arrivals don't go to church.

And this, more than population decline, is surely the main reason country churches are shutting down. The remaining inhabitants of rural districts, long-term residents and urban immigrants, no longer use their churches as much as people once did. While there is a still a pro rata demand in reduced rural communities for the post office, bank and football club, the percentage of rural churchgoers has undoubtedly fallen. If it had stayed the same as in, say, the 1930s there would be fewer churchgoers in the countryside today but not as few as there are. "The young ones don't come," a devoted church cleaner, a cheerful English lady, told me when I looked inside a tiny Anglican church near Portland in western Victoria a couple of years ago. "We used to have the Smiths sitting in that pew and the Browns in that and the Whites in that," she said, referring to local farming families. "Then the older Whites died and their children are still on the farm but not in the pew, even at Christmas."

Multiply that across Victoria and it will be seen that falling population is not the only cause of church closures and I suspect may not even be the principal one.

25 February 2012



Then who's picking up the tab?

That old expression "free as air" might have been OK in our great-grandparents' day. But it's way off target in the sustainability-conscious 21st century when a a bigger population means air resources have to be stretched much further.

Like any other commodity, air has to be paid for. As another old saying goes, it doesn't grow on trees.

That's why your Federal Government is bringing in an air consumption levy for all Australians.

How does it work? Simple. You pay for the air you breathe. You don't pay for the air you don't breathe.

All air consumers will get an aerometer. That's a machine for measuring air. Most people will pay as little as $1499.00* for this invaluable little gizmo. Pensioners will pay less than half that.

Paying for the air itself will be as easy as, well, breathing. We've worked out a generous standard quota for normal respiration. Heavy breathers will pay a slightly more. **

We reckon that the cost for the average air consumer will work out at something under 99 cents per breath. That's a fantastic bargain when you think what could happen to the world if we don't act now.

By controlling air exhalations we're striking a blow for cleaner air. Not to mention reducing all that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that risks turning the earth into a fireball.

Your aerometer will help you too. You'll feel better about taking up space in the environment when you know you're not polluting it as much. And your aerometer will help you save money. Computer modelling shows that with controlled air supply people use less air than before. They hold their breath longer and get more out of each inhalation. Sometimes they burst and find that from then on they can do without air altogether. That's a real saving.


This announcement has been authorised by your new air managers FlanneryAir Pty Ltd in association with the Australian Government. It has been paid for by you.

* Includes GST and Carbon Tax adjustments. Installation extra.
**  Rate Card available. Telephone breathers pay 25% surcharge.



24 February 2012


Is there a church cull looming? I've written before (in "Buildings at Risk", Argus 20 January 2012) about the particular vulnerability of churches among public buildings to unsuitable alteration and demolition. There's been so much destruction over recent decades. Some of it has been in the name of liturgical "renewal" and some of it is the result of church sales forced by "dwindling" (as they are also described in the media) congregations and the need for "better use of resources". I sometimes suspect that in a very few cases the congregations and resources reasons are exaggerated slightly to justify selling up some extremely valuable properties and stashing the cash away - sorry, using it for "mission" - but I could be wrong. Anyway the concern about vulnerable buildings is all the greater now because, yes, it looks as though a real church cull is under way.

The Uniting Church announced not long ago that a third of its churches in Victoria were surplus to requirements. This is not surprising in a denomination that when it was formed in the 1970s inherited at least two churches in every parish. Each of them must have had a congregation of sorts at the time, but before long at least one church had been closed and in many cases profitably sold. There is some anecdotal evidence that people in the church marked for disposal - say the former Methodist congregation - were bullied to combine with the former Presbyterians up the road. Certainly one wonders whether the blended congregations ever really "united". There is also evidence that some churchgoers who still regarded themselves as Methodists, Presbyterians or Congregationalists couldn't relate to the new hybrid and fell away.

The union was intended to be a work in progress - ah, the heady ecumenical 1970s when even the prelates of what had previously considered itself the one true Church, filled with a new-found openness to their "separated brethren" supposedly enjoined by the Second Vatican Council, were taking part in "joint acts of worship" and participating in "interchurch" councils as one "faith tradition" among many and everyone supposed that wholesale Christian reunion was just around the corner. It was in this happy expectation that the new denomination gave itself a present participle as a name. But in the event no one else joined and it is extremely unlikely that anyone ever will. In fact there'll probably be nothing to join within a generation or two, given the rate at which the Uniting Church is declining. At the time of the union the three participating denominations accounted for over 20 per cent of the Australian population, even allowing for the fact that a not inconsiderable number of Presbyterians stayed out. At the last census that figure was down by about half.

So the Uniting Church is now about as united as it is ever going to be, and it has more churches than it can use. Its reduced local presence is perhaps to some extent masked by the high profile it gets in the media. It makes a lot of noise about "social justice", for which read the various modish obsessions of the chardonnay-and-sympathy classes, which appeals to the Left-liberal media and, quoted and publicised, make the church seem more of a force than it is. But progressive utterances on gay marriage or refugees are not going to re-fill the pews of that redundant third of its remaining churches and the Uniting authorities seem resigned to this.

Quite a few of these churches are architecturally important and this is a worry for those who care about church buildings. For some reason when Uniting churches are sold they tend to end up converted to residential use, usually as apartments and maisonettes, and this results sometimes in external disfigurement and always in the complete loss of the interior and its fittings. Notable cases around Melbourne over the years are in Armadale, Brighton, Middle Park and Kew. A more recent sale, presumably one of the first of the redundant third to be closed down, was of one of the prettiest churches in Melbourne, the former John Knox church in Brighton (which prompts the question of why so many churches put up for sale are in upmarket suburbs. Is it the tempting value of the land, the indifference of the well-to-do to religion or both?). The John Knox church with its graceful spire and polychrome brick is now, along with its handsome manse, the centrepiece of a "luxury" housing complex and has had ugly square windows cut into its roof. I sometimes think it would be better for a church to be demolished entirely than to suffer this degree of mutilation. Property developers might well agree, since the price of giving a banal design a cute focus in the form of an empty husk of a church is expensive and bothersome compliance with all sorts of inconvenient "heritage" requirements.

To its credit the Uniting Church has been known to discount its asking price if a prospective purchaser such as a smaller denomination proposes to keep the church as a church. This happened most recently in East St Kilda where the former Congregationalist church was sold to the Russian Catholics. It is far and away the best solution from the point of view of architectural conservation (and faithfulness to the intentions of the builders of the church) but there are nothing like enough ecclesiastical buyers for all the churches that will come up for sale.

And what of the other major Christian denominations with churches to dispose of? While the Uniting Church has announced that a certain number of its churches have to go, the Anglicans just keep whittling away at their architectural patrimony, closing one here and another there without a publicly stated policy of disposal. In the Melbourne metropolitan area in the last three decades the Anglican Church has closed churches in Alphington, Armadale, Brighton, East Brighton, East Brunswick, Darebin, Deepdene, Highett, Malvern, Middle Park, Mont Albert, Northcote, Port Melbourne (where development has brought in large numbers of new residents), Syndal and Thornbury and there are doubtless others I have overlooked. In every case the reason has been a depleted congregation that can no longer raise the diocesan "quota", the minimum figure for paying its way. The strange thing is that not one of these churches is in what would once have been called a deprived area. As noted above, it is in the affluent suburbs that churches struggle, and increasingly fail, to survive. Churches are closing for no other reason than that the people who live around them have stopped going to them, and this in predominantly middle-class suburbs that were once the heartland of Australia's mainstream denominations. Almost imperceptibly from one Sunday to the next the congregations have slipped away - moved, died, found they had too much else to do on a Sunday, lost interest. Faces in the congregation disappear and no new ones take their place. An elderly churchgoing couple sell their house and the people who buy it (and naturally extend it to give themselves space and facilities undreamt of by previous owners) don't go to church, though in all probability they will send their children to what are supposedly church schools (the sale of the church across the street from the school, when it happens, must surely say something about the effectiveness of such schools as communicators of religious belief). Quietly, without the melancholy long withdrawing roar of Arnold's sea of faith (census returns indicate that some 70 per cent of Australians still say they believe in God) churchgoing has given way to indifference.

Several of these disposed-of Anglican churches have been sold or leased to smaller, usually immigrant, denominations. This is the case at one of the architecturally finest and best sited of them all, the Church of the Epiphany in Northcote, with its pinnacled tower high on a hill and visible from all over inner eastern Melbourne. This 1920s church was among the more ambitious designs of the architect Louis R. Williams (see "Buildings at Risk"). Its interior has been mucked around with a bit by the new owners but at least the building is still in use as a church. The same cannot be said for an even more distinguished work, St Alban's in Armadale, a splendid edifice of the type known as a town church, that is, rising directly from the street. Rich red brick inside and out, it was built in 1898 to a design by the inventive firm of Inskip and Butler. Its lofty interior was stripped bare last year when the church was put up for sale. Now, with its purchaser's intentions unknown (at least to me), St Alban's stands forlorn and empty in the heart of one of the most prosperous residential districts in Australia. I looked  in one evening when I saw lights on and there was a contemporary dance class in progress, a Fellini-esque spectacle in which the arches enclosing the soaring clerestory windows could dimly be discerned high above the eerie spotlighting.

Unless churchgoing picks up again, which to put it mildly does not seem likely if left to human agency, we are going to see many more fine churches gutted, secularised and, in the worst cases, altered deleteriously. Many, I predict, will be Roman Catholic. I have left the Roman Catholic Church till last in this consideration because, although it has disposed of a few minor churches, mostly in depopulated rural areas, it has never to my knowledge had to sell an urban church in Australia because the congregation had fallen away (convents are another story). Most Roman Catholic parish churches are comfortably attended on a Sunday, but - what cliche shall we use? - this is the calm before the storm. The deluge is imminent. Look around that congregation in a typical RC church and count how much of it is under seventy. Perhaps 25 per cent? Time's winged chariot is about to decimate Roman Catholic church attendance. In ten to fifteen years that comfortably attended church will be much emptier, and it can't be too long after that that the sales will start. Then we shall be faced with the loss or mutilation of some of the most important architecture in Australia.

The fate that has befallen other denominations has been staved off longer in the Roman Catholic Church because of a much stronger legacy of churchgoing. But that legacy began to dissipate a generation ago and the vast sums of church - and even more of taxpayers' - money spent on the Catholic school system have not succeded in perpetuating it.

I remember when I lived in Italy years ago walking a along a street in Ferrara and being confronted with an imposing domed basilica that had been turned into a carpet emporium. Deconsecrated churches, especially big ones, are not common in Italy and the sight was all the more striking for that. But I thought if such a thing can happen in a country steeped in Catholicism, what is in store for churches in a country such as Australia where organised religion has put down much shallower roots? Hang on to your hats because we are about to find out. The Uniting Church's wave of forthcoming sales will be just the start. We are in for a very distressing time for lovers of ecclesiastical buildings, their architecture and art.

16 February 2012


With "peak oil" casting doubt on a principal source of energy and coal out of political favour, it is clear that if the industrialised world is not to shut down it must turn to some hitherto untapped source of renewable energy. Wind farms have been touted as a hope for the future but, depending as they do on an inconstant, they are not reliable, as was demonstrated in the recent "Arctic chill" in Europe when, if conventional electricity generation had failed and wind farms been the only source of power, everyone on the continent would have frozen to death.

It is obvious that for wind turbines to work a sustained wind supply must be found, and here Argus can help. Right here in Australia, available for instant use, is an unfailing source of wind which, if harnessed and piped to wind-farm sites, would set the blades spinning as never before. This hot stream of air is known as the "Adams effect" and blows out of the ABC's Radio National at least eight times a week. As a particularly potent aerial concentrate, distilled by years of intense self-promotional energy generation and the production of advertising jingles, the Adams effect is matched by no similar resource in the country (although there are grounds for thinking that, were it still available, a now"peaked" alternative source of hot air, the Whitlam effect, could probably provide equally effective motive power for wind farms). Oddly for such a potentially valuable source of energy the Adams effect has been assessed by experts and found "useless for any other purpose" in its natural gaseous state. Though it is emitted in considerable volume in each of its "transmissions" it is at present entirely dissipated in the atmosphere. This is a huge waste of what could be a precious natural resource.

Air from the Adams effect would need to be treated with care as there are fears that it may have certain negative qualities. Some people who have been exposed to prolonged blasts have reported that it contains a strong soporific element and doctors have warned that in large quantities it could lead to Trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness. As well, substantial traces of egotumescence have been detected in the current itself, though these are believed to remain intrinsic to the source and to be not contagious through casual contact. But with appropriate safeguards this enormous resource if redirected at wind turbines would bring a dual benefit to the community in removing the risk to health caused by exposure to the Adams effect and channelling a potentially unlimited supply of wind to where it is needed.

A further advantage of ABC-sourced energy is that no capital investment is needed to locate additional sources of wind power to supplement the supply from the Adams effect. Several other rich seams of self-generating energy exist within the Corporation and ought to be explored. Some, such as the Throsby effect and the Tony Jones effect, blow constantly at regular hours of the day; others such as the Doogue effect and the Paul Collins effect (normally emitted in tandem) blow frequently but irregularly. Argus believes that, unlike oil, none of these resources is likely to "peak" in the near future. But given that the ABC has an apparently infinite capacity to renew itself from within, there is every reason to expect that when they do they will be succeeded by alternative sources of wind power, equally efficient for keeping the turbines turning, as for example the Sales and Uhlmann effects have substituted the O'Brien effect, once thought to be inexhaustible.

10 February 2012


Two defining characteristics of our vanishing civilisation, solipsism and vulgarity, meet in happy harmony in this coruscating example of bumper-bar wit spotted on a utility vehicle with a P-plater at the helm: "You don't like my driving? E-mail me at eatshit@gofuckyourself. com.au." Noel Coward could not have improved on it.

8 February 2012


As a high-quality journal of record. Argus prides itself on the accuracy of its reporting. We therefore wish to apologise to reader Mr J. G. Seedhead of "Evening  Rays" Retirement Village, Burchett Hill, for the misleading impression given by our recent report on the Southern Suburbs Elderly Citizens' annual golf day in which he participated. Mr Seedhead wishes us to make it clear that, contrary to our account, he is not Australia's richest woman; that he has never met the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Rev. Peter Slipper, nor accompanied him on nocturnal excursions to King's Cross, Sydney; that he is not a refugee from Afghanistan; that he has never been arrested for "upskirting" in shopping malls or any other public or private place; that he is not nor ever has been a "compulsive firebug", "singlehandedly responsible  for the destruction of hundreds of thousands of hectares of native bushland";  that he was never Minister for Equal Opportunity & Diversity in Hitler's war cabinet and subsequently resident in Paraguay; that he was not a pioneering logical positivist and author of Language Without Meaning (Cambridge University Press, 1937); that he was not master of the Costa Concordia at the time of the vessel's recent mishap or at any other time; that he was not a member of the Kelly Gang nor met his end in the "shoot-out" between that gang and the police at Glenrowan, Victoria, in 1880; that he was not found with Semtex in his underwear while departing from Melbourne airport with Mrs Seedhead on a Seven Nights "South Island Wonderworld" Over-60s Tour to New Zealand; that he does not carry out late-term abortions in his unit at "Evening Rays" nor is he building a nuclear weapons facility there; that he is not a frequent "train surfer"; and that he is not engaged to Senator Bob Brown and planning a spring wedding if appropriate legislation is in place by then. Argus regrets any embarrassment to Mr Seedhead caused by these inaccuracies, which were due to an error of transcription of our reporter's copy.

8 February 2012


The debate about whether it is better on environmental and social grounds to transport goods by road or train would seem to have been resolved, in Australia away. The answer is both. That is, trains that run on roads. The heavy transports that hurtle up and down our highways are longer than many trains, travel just as fast and are every bit as dangerous for those who inadvertently get in their way.

These enormous vehicles get bigger all the time. A few years ago those of particular vastness bore the legend "Long Vehicle" across their rear. This label has now become necessary on virtually every lorry you see. The legend on long vehicles really ought to be "Standard Vehicle".

And yet, for all the preponderance of road transport, federal and some state governments still spend money on railway "upgrades" to speed up delivery times by goods train. "It's a bloody waste of the taxpayer dollar," yells trucking industry magnate Mr Ron Hogg, CEO of Road-Hogg Heavy Haulage, speaking to Argus by mobile phone from the control tower and company HQ high on top of the three-storey cabin of his Helldriver "Speed Giant" road train as it thundered down the Hume Freeway, cutting a swathe through smaller vehicles and "tail-gating" an elderly Volvo with a "Friends of the ABC" sticker.

"Let's face it, it's roads that need more investment," he continued, as the ten-unit transport, its brakes shrieking, plummeted through a roadworks site, sending a workman holding a "Slow" sign diving for cover. "The roads we're stuck with are just not up to the kind of fleet that in an ideal world this country would have. As the slogan says, 'Australia would stop without trucks'. We contend that as the nation's heaviest-volume road users it is our right to have roads built for us that are up to the quality of the service we provide - shit, that was close! That guy's a f...ing menace, thinks he owns the road." A Winnebago went skidding and spinning towards the roadside where it landed on its roof.

Air horns blasting, the "Speed Giant" (legend on back: "Another Road-Hogg is passing you") shot along the freeway while its owner, ingesting a pep pill, spelled out his "philosophy of logistics". "Road-Hogg," he said, "recognises that better roads will not come overnight, so in the meantime we are doing our bit to reduce pressure on infrastructure, mainly by introducing more advanced equipment such as the new state-of-the-art 890-kilometres-long Intercity Overloader." This vehicle, he explained, would stretch from Sydney to Melbourne, allowing goods to be loaded on in one city and almost immediately unloaded from the other end in the city of destination. "The nett effect," said Mr Hogg, "would be to maximise productivity while minimising volume of traffic, at the same time reducing so-called wear and tear on roads." The latter, he emphasised, was a particularly desirable outcome, given that haulage companies had been "bled white" by successive governments in taxes for road maintenance.

The other means of reducing traffic volume, said Mr Hogg, was "by restricting non-commercial use of the roads." He said that unless governments were prepared to spend the hundreds of billions of dollars necessary to widen highways and freeways by at least twenty lanes, there would be "no alternative" but to declare "transports only" sections on all major roads.

"It is a matter of national priority that we stop the clutter of non-essential private transport getting in the way of commercial users like ourselves, frequently at considerable risk to the commercial vehicle," he bawled, as the Helldriver ("speed-governed at 100 kmh") rocketed past a tourist coach of pensioners enjoying a singalong on their way back from an outing to the pokies. The strains of "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" froze in dozens of elderly throats as the coach driver, blinded by the swirl of diesel fumes and dust from the Helldriver, swerved from the freeway and careered through a roadside "rest 'n' barbecue" reserve, scattering picnickers, burnt chops and thermos flasks over a wide area.

7 February 2012


"The road to hell is the road to heaven walked backwards."
Oliver Wendell St. Q Blatherwick (1853-1927)

4 February 2012


The Midsumma Multicultural Festival in the inner-city municipality of Burchett Hill was "a wonderful celebration of community cohesion in the spirit of Australian mateship," the Mayor, Councillor Les Rhiannon, told last night's council meeting. He said that the ceremony of handing over the title deeds of the Town Hall to its traditional owners, the Tomanjeri people, had been "a big step forward on the road to reconciliatory progress". Its significance, he said, had "not been detracted from" by a "hiccup" when the smoking ceremony to purify the building from "racist spirits" had activated the sprinkler system and drenched the council chamber. In the ensuing inundation IT systems in the Rates, Animal Management and Diversity offices short-circuited, starting a fire that spread to the adjacent municipal library in which most of  the few books still on the shelves after a "cull" of "seldom-consulted print stock" were damaged - "beyond repair I'm happy to report," says progressive-minded librarian Deirdre Kindle. Water from the fire hoses swirled into the Town Hall's basement kitchens, causing a flash flood that washed away an afternoon tea waiting to be served to the guests upstairs. Wattleseed sandwiches and witchetty rolls floating on the tide blocked drains and brought an accusation of "anthropogenic waste pollution" from council's Environmental Protection Commissariat (formerly City Engineer's Department) which had not been informed of the politically impeccable cause of the mishap.

At the high point of the ceremony, Councillor Rhiannon presented the title deeds, rendered illegible by contact with the water, to Tomandjeri "Auntie" Doris McGillicuddy-O'Halloran-Warrambungle, who refused to accept them, describing them as "typical white-invader tokenism" in that they represented not an absolute transfer of ownership but were subject to a "leaseback" clause. Signalling to a group of delegates from the Aboriginal "tent consulate" opposite the Town Hall, who began to hurl spears, she extracted a piece of bone wrapped in a tissue from the recesses of her Ferragamo handbag and pointed it at Councillor Rhiannon, who declared the ceremony closed and, attended by paramedics, said he had been "touched" to be a "first-hand privileged witness of traditional spirituality in action", normally reserved for Tomanjeri eyes only.

The Pride March arranged by Burchett Hill's Non-Hetero-Gender Alliance was another highlight of the festival and "a huge success", although the police contingent in the march ("Officers Who Are Out") was obliged to call in reinforcements when the marchers, turning a corner, were unexpectedly confronted with another festival event, the multicultural tableau "Sons of the Caliphate", who were demonstrating their artistry with the scimitar to an enthralled audience. At the sight of the marchers and their forest of rainbow flags the Sons erupted in bloodcurdling warrior cries, quite drowning out the strains of the late Dusty Springfield singing "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" over the loudspeakers. Scimitars whipping to left and right, they surged into the crowd, slashing a number of "Gay Marriage Now!" and "Gay, Green and Glad of It" banners and causing consternation among a contingent of Lesbian couples wheeling pushchairs (from several of which arose placards held in pudgy infant hands with the legend "Scissoring is Good for You"). Squealing activists from the Burchett Hill collective of OutRage! dived for cover, their chant of "Hey, hey, Tony A. How do we know that you're not gay?" dying in the air. In one case of particular multicultural zeal, a Son of the Caliphate, brandishing his scimitar, shouted "Death to the decadent spawn of a whoredog!" and sought to chop off the hand of an intersex marcher who, fortunately, managed to slip out of reach, although he later complained that his mauve PVC hot pants had been "ruined" by a scimitar cut. Councillor Rhiannon told council that the march and the tableau were scheduled for different venues and it was clear the programme had been sabotaged. "The festival was proceeding smoothly and harmoniously like the Costa Concordia before it hit the iceberg," he said, "when things started to go suspiciously wrong." He added he was convinced the Israeli secret service had an agent in the municipality's Festivals and Celebrations Unit and promised a "full investigation and if necessary a purge".

Council also agreed at last night's meeting to accept a recommendation from its Arts and Cultural Enrichment subcommittee that a bust of the late Kim Jong-il be added to the collection in the "Peacemakers' Walk" at the Botanic Gardens in Flannery Drive. The commission has been offered to Anouk Chagall (born Bronwen Pollard), artist-in-residence at Burchett Hill People's Creativity Powerhouse (as the municipal gallery is now known), who works principally in barbed wire and electrodes. Her portrait bust of the distinguished North Korean statesman will join a select group of international benefactors such as Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Enver Hohxa, Walter Ulbricht and Idi Amin already on display in the Peacemakers' Walk, which has been created on the site of the redundant King Edward VII Memorial Garden. Interestingly, the statue of the king by Sir Bertram Mackennal, removed from its plinth, is now in the People's Creativity Powerhouse where it is the centrepiece of the Kids' Republican Installation. Children and their parents are invited to "improve" the statue by adding their "visual comments" in the form of funny teeth, moustaches, spectacles etc in texta-colour and placing "found objects" such as fast-food containers on its head.

Council approved a motion to express "solidarity with our traduced Islamic friends" by inviting a muezzin from Burchett Hill mosque to use the tower of the Town Hall for calls to prayer "on a daily basis". As a further act of friendship the tower clock would be placed permanently on Mecca time. An application from St Andrew's Uniting church for a permit to extend its elderly citizens' centre with a "sympathetically designed extension containing disabled toilets and other much-needed facilities" was rejected on the grounds that in a multicultural and pluralist community adding to a building "intended for sectarian use" would amount to "provocation".

3 February 2012