With nine human rights quangoes all going full blast in the fight for "equality" at the taxpayer's expense, we ought to be able to assume that no dark pockets of discrimination are tolerated against anybody in the new enlightened Australia, ought we not? How then does one explain the slogan on a series of prominent hoardings advertising the services of a firm of female undertakers? Underneath a picture of a woman in a silly hat like a parking inspector's sniffing, for some reason, a rose, we read: "A woman's understanding". A woman's, eh? Therefore by implication a form of understanding a man doesn't have.

But what of male undertakers who would like to think of themselves as showing just as much "understanding" in their job as the lady in the hat? Are they not being shockingly discriminated against, besmirched, held up to ridicule, put down, belittled, offended etc? If they are, that's just too bad, for all the quangoes could care. Yet imagine the screeches from the whole taxpayer-funded establishment of anti-discrimination busybodies if the advertising referred to "a man's understanding". How very understanding of them all not to make a fuss when the boot is on the other foot.

22 June 2013


With well under 100 days to go before polling, Councillor Les Rhiannon, Mayor of the inner-city municipality of Burchett Hill ("proudly twinned with Pyongyang") has made a dramatic pre-election intervention in the debate on illegal immigrants.

"Keeping these guests to our shores in what amounts to a concentration camp in Nauru at a cost of $1000 a month for each arrival is a shameful return to the genocidal policies of the Howard terror,” he said. "It's outrageous. We could do it far more cheaply in Burchett Hill."

Councillor Rhiannon proposes that the "spontaneous visitors" (plus their subsidy) be diverted to Burchett Hill, where they could be housed in "sustainable accommodation" for "a much more reasonable figure". The sustainable accommodation is understood to be the redundant steel-mesh "suites", each with main cage and "kitty's walking area", from The Purring Pussy, a cat-boarding establishment conducted by Councillor Rhiannon's daughter Kimberley, which failed recently amid rumours that Kimberley had "snorted" its profits.

The Mayor proposes that the surplus from each $1000 would be allocated to “public benefit projects” in the municipality. Asked what these projects were, Councillor Rhiannon said that any agreement over asylum-seekers coming to Burchett Hill would put him in the position of a "scrupulous custodian of public funds held on trust" and he was therefore not at liberty to give further details. But according to e-mails allegedly seen by an anonymous "whistleblower" in the Town Hall, the only public project Councillor Rhiannon has in mind is the the campaign fund to get the Greens party, which controls the city council, re-elected when Burchett Hill residents vote for a new council on 14 September. 

The fund is in particular need of contributions, with local polls uniformly predicting an 85 to 90 per cent vote against Greens council candidates. Councillor Rhiannon dismisses these figures as "mendacious inventions by the hate media" and "venomous attempts to misinterpret the People's will", but there are indications the Greens are rattled, not only by the prospect of a landslide against them but by the risk that their own vote will be split by a "wild card" in their ranks.

The wild card is the Mayor's estranged "partner", Ms Drusilla Alitosis, the hot-blooded Hellenic siren who has entered the hustings on an all-female ticket, "Drusilla's List" (hers is the sole name on it). There's been a strong Greek community in Burchett Hill since the days of postwar migration and if Ms Alitosis can harness their political clout she stands a chance of unseating Councillor Rhiannon. Her campaign headquarters in the room behind her brother Georgiou's Blue Aegean fish shop in Racecourse Road is crammed night and day with volunteers, dancing, singing and smashing glasses. As campaign guru Ms Alitosis has recruited Georgiou's "equal marriage partner" ("we tied the knot on Mykonos") Max McTernan, a wealthy retired PR consultant.  He's already recommended that Ms Alitosis use her "natural advantages as a feisty female" (or as he put it privately, "Let's face it, Druse, you're a fag hag from way back") to pitch her appeal towards the substantial SSASGD (same-sex attracted, sex or gender diverse) community in Burchett Hill.

Last night, also on McTernan's advice, Ms Alitosis unleashed a "killer" attack on the Mayor, accusing him in a fiery speech of being not only a misogynist but a paedophile too. "That's why," she told an audience in the Our Lady of Lesbos parish centre, "he snaked his way into the position of patron of the Burchett Hill Under 10s' Coalition for Climate Change. Those kids are at risk," she shrieked.

This morning the Mayor hit back by accusing Ms Alitosis of "not being a true Green at all" and undeserving of party support. "She leaves on lights during Earth Hour, brings home non-organic feta, throws all the rubbish into one bin instead of sorting it for recycling and exploits the immunity from traffic fines I gave her by parking her Prius in bicycle lanes while she spends hours having her legs waxed," he said. He also suggested that, in the happier days when she was unofficial Mayoress, Ms Alitosis had regularly "siphoned ratepayers' money" from the mayoral entertainment allowance "to fund her retsina habit." "She's got thousands of bottles stashed away behind the fish shop," he told reporters. "Ask her where she got them."

Councillor Rhiannon moved out of the cohabitational home several weeks ago but the cause of the rift between Burchett Hill's most celebrated power couple has not been revealed. "It's private and personal," says the Mayor. A clue emerged during a civic reception for members of the Burchett Hill-Hezbollah Friendship League when, somewhat inconsistently in view of her earlier accusation, Ms Alitosis apostrophised the Mayor for being "unable to keep his hands off" the couple's Japanese au pair, Sushi. "His brain's in his pants," she informed the room, "and he's done this once too often. It was the same with that Kiwi scrubber." Her remark is believed to be an allusion to the Mayor's former "executive personal assistant", Ms Cherylette Gibney, who received an undisclosed figure in settlement of a harassment charge against Councillor Rhiannon and has now returned to her native New Zealand.

The Coalition's number one candidate for the council, merchant banker Mark Smarmley, has also had to put his house in order - literally. In spite of seeing the mayoralty of Burchett Hill as a step towards his political ambitions, he was neither living nor paying rates in the municipality until recently. He's redressed that by buying the biggest house in the district, "Graftdene", a boom-style mansion built by nineteenth-century financier and Legislative Council power-broker Sir John "Dirty Money" Gladhander. Smarmley has expensively restored the mansion after its many years as a rooming house, removing fibro-cement partitions and replacing smashed plasterwork. "The place was in a disgusting state," he told Burchett Hill Bugle Living 'n' Style reporter Lisa-Lu Alberici. "There was room after room full of derros. It took forever to get them out, but we managed."

Other parties are an unknown quantity in this election. Fielding a candidate for the first time is the First Nations Separatist Ancestral Lands Reoccupationist Party, whose leader, Chanel-outfitted Aunty Larissa Tomandjeri-Heiss, declared at a meeting around the historic Corroboree Tree in the Julian Assange (formerly King George V) Gardens that it was up to "typical blackfellas like myself to spearhead the struggle to drive the invader into the sea." As leader, Aunty Larissa has impeccable credentials, having been stolen, she says, not once but twice: "First when I was sent away to boarding school and didn't want to go and again when I won a cultural studies scholarship to Adelaide University and they made me live away from home or I couldn't have got to the lectures". To underline its separateness the FNSAP has established a "permanent tent legation" in the foyer of Burchett Hill Town Hall where it applies "selective sanctions" against the rest of Australia by picketing the cashiers' windows and obstructing citizens from paying their parking permits and pet registration. As an electoral force the party's strength is hard to estimate, though its support seems to be strongest in the area around Burchett Hill Central Station.

Another first-time party in this election is Sharia Now, which claims to represent the entire Muslim population of the municipality. Imam Ibn al Choppa-Hedoff Poofa of Burchett Hill Mosque has demanded "permanent non-elected representation on the council" for what he calls "the city's fastest growing faith community". Insiders believe the Mayor is "inclined to do a deal" with the Imam on this. Certainly, the votes of Burchett Hill's Muslim bloc could go some distance towards neutralising the electoral power of Ms Alitosis's Greek supporters. As an indication of their political convergence the Imam has made what Councillor Rhiannon calls a "public-spirited offer" to station members of his congregation with machetes at every polling booth "to persuade voters to do the right thing". "They will 'scrutinise' each vote before it is dropped into the ballot box," the Imam has promised.

So, polls or no polls, there are various factors that could turn this election in any direction. Mark Smarmley says he's "quietly confident" yet experience suggests that it would be unwise to underestimate Councillor Rhiannon. "After years of Greens politicking he knows every trick in the book," says an inside source. "He'll be checking for all the possible skeletons in his opponents' closets and he'll probably manage to discover that Smarmley's not really paying rates on his mansion and has set up a trust or something dodgy to pay them for him. And when it comes to polling day, well, it wouldn't be the first time in Les's career that boxes of votes got lost, or new ones appeared from nowhere."

The Mayor himself says he "has no doubt the good sense of the citizens of Burchett Hill will prevail" and that "come 15 September I'll still be wearing the mayoral chain, figuratively speaking" (a reference to the fact that the chain has not been seen since Ms Gibney returned to New Zealand).

In a sermon on Sunday, the Anglican vicar of Burchett Hill, Canon Owen Featherhead, commented sagely that "if only all women and men of goodwill would render unto Caesar and be like He who turned the other cheek by putting their own political preferences last and voting for the other side our fair city would get the council it deserves."

22 June 2013

There are other news stories from Burchett Hill in Argus here ("Municipal News"), here ("A Feast of Reason"), here ("On the Street Where You Eat"), here ("The One Day of the Year"), here ("The Glorious First of May"), here ("Support for the Arts"), here ("How May I Not Help You?"), here ("Our Very Own Olympics"), here ("Marriage Reform in Action"), here ("A School Story"), here ("A Voice in the World"), here ("A Blow Against Misogyny") and here ("Let Justice be Done").


Peter Prattle writes about two important arts events in Melbourne.

It was a night of pure magic such as the young Marie Antoinette must have known as she danced with the Sun King on the Field of the Cloth of Gold - except that it wasn't ancient history, it was in Melbourne this week. The occasion? An Evening with the Stars hosted by theatrical grande dame Robyn Archer and legendary satirist and funny person Rod Quantock in aid of Women for Gillard. The Joan Kirner Arts Space on Southbank has never been seen to greater advantage: its legendary green-spangled auditorium with Indigenous motifs of genitalia - the tour de force of architects Ashton Raggatt McCrock - coruscating with talent and glamour. Everybody who is anybody was there and it made me proud to realise what incomparable riches we possess in the Melbourne arts and intellectual community. Cultural cringe! Forget it.

Rod and Robyn were impeccable hosts. As the first act Rod introduced himself in his much-loved rôle of Cap'n Snooze. Perhaps the only tiny blemish on the evening - and it was no more than the effect of a beauty spot on the countenance of the Queen of Sheba - was when Rod seemed to want to continue beyond his allotted time. Was it my imagination or did I hear a hissed "Stop hogging the f****ng stage!" from Robyn? I should calculate that fully an hour had passed before Rod, still pulling his hilarious funny faces, was carried off bodily by the next act, the hunky black-bearded scimitar-wielding Sons of the Caliphate, the Islamic performance group from Burchett Hill we had all come to see. Their well-honed blades sliced and flashed, streaks of pure silver and gold, as the Sons demonstrated with dazzling dexterity the various chopping movements traditionally employed in their home country for removing the hands of thieves and other malefactors. True, it seems brutally harsh to us, and I do not know how anyone could condone this kind of punishment for gay and transgendered people, but I fear one must never forget that in an imperfect world all culture is relative.

By now it was time for interval. Over a cool crisp glass of local bubbly I had a brief chat about literature with Morry Schonkhauser, the tall good-looking property-developing publisher for whom I briefly worked (though perhaps the less said about that the better) and his shy and retiring wife Anna, whose Flinders Lane gallery is currently featuring Bill Henson's latest show, Anuses. She laughingly told me that if I bought one of Bill's - photographs is an inadequate word: artographs perhaps I should call them - she'd "throw in" another at half price. 

One of the great things about these cultivated Melbourne evenings is that the audience can be as much an attraction as the acts on stage. I suppose it's part and parcel of being in not only the world's most liveable city but the world's most culturally aware city - yes, even compared with places with a reputation for enlightenment such as Adelaide or Auckland, both of which I have visited. 

At the bar, where the excellent cool-climate Mount Bogong Sparkling Chardonnay was on the house - a very civilised touch - I bumped (literally!) into Victorian Arts Funding supremo Gail Lesdyke and her Japanese partner Sashimi. Both are very much involved in Women for Gillard and believe that it is crucial for the arts in Australia that Labor be returned to office on 14 September, something she has no doubt will happen. "All these reports about Julia being down in the polls are nothing but scaremongering by the hate media," Gail told me, just as adorable Marieke Hardy hove into view. She'd spilt chardonnay down her pretty denim tube top, poor thing, and was very put out - even Gail had to ask her to "chill" with the language. I was helping mop her down when out of the corner of my eye I spotted my truly favourite ABC lady Margaret Throsby recording an interview with Richard Tognetti for her marvellous program, a daily "must" for me. I believe she has interviewed him 31 times! 

Another ABC great down from Sydney to enjoy the evening was the omniscient Tony Jones, who must be one of the keenest intellects I have ever encountered. It beggars belief that the hate media (again!) can go on about "bias" in our wonderful national broadcaster when its public faces are as impartial and fair-minded as Tony. I suppose it's the "tall poppy" syndrome - little pinched right-wing minds are envious of greatness.   

The bell rang to summon us back to our seats but I managed to down a couple of last glasses of wine before they stopped serving. Having just met one eminent media person in Tony who should I see as we started moving towards the auditorium but another of my pin-ups with important media associations. Justice Mordy Bromberg is a legal genius whose sage deliberations have had a most beneficial effect on our freedom of speech. At first I thought he had a twin brother with him, but that must have been the chardonnay! Before filing in, I just had time to congratulate the reclusive Michael Leunig, in town from his country hideaway, on his cartoon for the cover of the evening's souvenir program. His drawing of Tony Abbott secreting a key labelled "Your Freedoms" in his "budgie-smugglers" was alone worth the $75 I paid for the program. 

Back inside, a hush descended for perhaps the evening's most challenging act, "Goodbye Baby and Amen", a hauntingly beautiful evocation of partial-birth termination from the Raunchworks Liberated Dance Company of Coburg. The dancing was rapturous; the sinuous interplay of the dancers with their dolls as delicate and natural as the movement of reeds in the wind. I was glad that the organisers had had the courage to defy any attempts to censor this "meditation" on a very significant women's health issue. This is the kind of exploratory art we will be in serious danger of losing if the forces of reaction are voted in on 14 September.

A change of mood next, to the inimitably dry and austere wit of stand-up comedian Dave Hughes, whose impersonation of a man wanting to "take a leak" and not being able to find a loo has to be seen to be believed. After Hughesy, a musical interlude from Melbourne Theatre Company lead and singer Frankie J. Holden, who gave us a selection of songs made famous by the late Aboriginal tenor Harold Blair, who would have been at Covent Garden and the Met (Opera Australia had not then started) if it hadn't been for the racism of Australia under Menzies in the 1950s. I particularly enjoyed the traditional ballad "My Mabel Waits for Me", with its haunting lyrics (to which Frankie's golden voice did full justice):

My Mabel waits for me underneath the bright blue sky
Where the dog sits on the tuckerbox, five miles from Gundagai.

and the sublime refrain, so redolent of the rural outback:

I think she's bonzer and she thinks I'm good-oh.
I'm going to enter her - 
Going to enter her in the local show...

This is the version as adapted for vaudeville by the celebrated "Mo", Roy Rene in the 1920s. Is there a double entendre in the penultimate line? The jury's out on that one, though "Mo" did have the reputation of being "edgy" by the repressive standards of his time.

When Robyn, now acting as host by herself, announced the next act - and pièce de résistance of the evening - I thought the thunderous cheers would dislodge the green spangles from the exposed "neo-brutalist" concrete roof (Ashton Raggatt McCrock's homage, I understand, to Melbourne's pioneering modernist architect, Roy Grounds). "Please welcome," she said, "the incomparable" - and the adverb was absolutely appropriate - "Max Gillies, the greatest Australian satirist and mimic of all time." Max was in sparkling form and delighted us with a smorgasbord of his favourite characters - Marcel Marceau walking uphill against the wind, Malcolm Fraser (looking like Lurch in The Addams Family), little John Howard in jackboots with a Nazi cap and swastika, Pope John Paul II ("Eet veel make you go blind!") and (of course!) Sir John Kerr falling over drunk at the Melbourne Cup. All were as fresh and original as when Max first performed them it seems like a century ago. The audience went wild and it was a pity that when Max as Kerr fell over he was unable to get up again. As he was carried off, the great curtain, consisting of literally thousands of Aboriginal bark paintings sewn together with synthetic crocodile gut, was rung down. Then Robyn appeared and explained that Max had twisted his ankle in the fall. "Max is such a dedicated artist - he can't help throwing himself into the part," she quipped, and the house roared.

A busy busy week. Thursday I was at the Wheeler Centre, Melbourne's own Areopagus, where people meet to talk and exchange ideas just as they did thousands of years ago at the original Areopagus in ancient Rome. The evening was a landmark event for Australian literature: the launch of Christos Filthios's new book Gobble by public thinker and intellectual Robert Manne (I sometimes think the Wheeler Centre would shut down if it couldn't rely on Robert's regular appearances). Set in Melbourne, Christos's novel tells the story of Imram, a young Pakistani gay man living in Preston, a devout Muslim whose ambition is to expiate what he has been taught to believe is the stigma of his sexuality by becoming a suicide bomber. He decides to sacrifice himself by blowing up Flinders Street Station at rush hour, but when he goes into the "gents'" to put the semtex into his underpants he is seduced by a stranger lurking in one of the cubicles. This stranger turns out to be a right-wing radio host in disguise, and Imram is so ashamed and disgusted at what has been done to him that he plants the semtex in the radio host's coat as the latter is slinking out of the cubicle and - well I won't reveal the rest of the story. Robert was in excellent vein and made a terrific speech arguing that climate-change denialism makes one question the whole case against capital punishment. Afterwards I chatted with yet more of Melbourne's beau monde - Morry and Anna Schonkhauser, Bill Henson, Gail Lesdyke, Mordy Bromberg, Marieke Hardy, Richard Tognetti, Max Gillies (on a crutch but obviously on the mend, I was happy to see), Dave Hughes and of course Christos, who was with his new partner Grant, who he told me proudly is a champion surfer in his native Queensland. Such an endless array of interesting people and exciting ideas, such a glittering calendar of social exchanges. Who needs New York or London? We've got it all here. Marie Antoinette - eat your heart out!

Critic and writer Peter Prattle, former editor of Pretentious magazine, reviews theatre for The Spectator Australia and is Argus arts and culture correspondent. 

14 June 2013


I see that my old school in Melbourne now has a “commencement”. One can only imagine what the English master of my time (or teacher as he would these days be called), the Olympian A. A. Phillips, coiner of the phrase “cultural cringe”, would have had to say about this unnecessary and fatuous copying of an American educational usage. And he might have been very terse about the abandonment of the principle that for good style in English, where two words exist for the same thing, the shorter one is usually to be preferred, which is generally the one from pre-Norman English rather than French and Latin. 

If the school must have a commencement why not call it a beginning? T. S. Eliot didn't write, "In my commencement is my end". Oscar Hammerstein II might have had Maria sing, "Let's start at the very commencement / A very good place to start", but as a good stylist he didn't. And surely it was not only for alliteration that Cole Porter chose not to write, "When they commence the beguine".

10 June 2013


“Conservative” Catholic commentators clutch at straws to maintain that Pope Francis, who is clearly steeped in Vatican II and its ensuing nonsense, is fundamentally in continuity with the ecclesiology of Pope Benedict XVI - well, at any rate, not in outright discontinuity. But has it occurred to them that Francis might tactfully be keeping his real agenda up his sleeve out of respect for his predecessor as long as the latter remains alive? When Benedict dies, conservatives might not know what’s hit them. The innovations of Vatican II could well seem mild by comparison once this South American Jesuit starts implementing his ideas.

For his part, Benedict XVI will come to be seen as one of the more historically significant popes, though whether as the one who started the Roman Catholic Church back on the road to post-Vatican II recovery or the last gasp of the old order it is too soon to tell. But to some extent he undermined his good work by two mistakes. One was the establishment of an ordinariate for disaffected Anglicans who, it was explained, wanted to convert to Catholicism yet retain their "liturgical patrimony". The Pope's intentions were no doubt wholly pastoral, but to smooth the Romeward path of these Anglicans surely it was not necessary to create a separate fold for them within the Church, with its own hierarchy and jurisdiction. Would it not have been enough to license, after due doctrinal examination, the English Missal, the eucharistic rite traditionally used by Anglo-Catholics - an amalgam of the less Protestant parts of the communion rite in the Book of Common Prayer with excerpts from the Tridentine Mass translated into a sort of Cranmerian English - as a legitimate alternative rite for any Catholic to use?  And the same with Morning and Evening Prayer, as alternatives to Lauds and Vespers? The patrimony-loving Anglicans - of whom it turned out that there were not that many at all - could then have converted individually, as anyone else coming into the Catholic Church must do. They, and any other Catholic who wished, could have used these Anglican-derived rites at will. As it is, the ordinariate converts have joined a sort of sub-church with its own services, a non-territorial quasi-diocese without the historical justification, as the ancient Uniate churches have, of ethnicity, culture and tradition. Where is the unity in that?

The other mistake was in the implementation of Summorum Pontificum. An act of justice and aesthetic sensitivity in itself, it was, like the first Gulf War, flawed in execution by not being followed through. The restoration of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass as a legitimate rite throughout the Church was intended to offer Catholics an alternative to the rather uninspiring liturgy concocted (with Protestant input!) after the Council. But it's not an alternative because it follows a different calendar. Pope Benedict had apparently hoped that the two rites would function complementarily to widen the spiritual experience of Massgoers. But you can't go one Sunday to one and the next Sunday to the other because liturgically the Sundays are not the same Sundays of the year and the scripture readings are different. Since the Sunday readings are intended to present the Gospels and the rest of the scriptural canon in continuity, and are not bits of the Bible arbitrarily selected here and there, you have to follow the sequence either at one rite or the other. This means that the sacrament that above all expresses the unity of the Church is celebrated separately by two worshipping communities, again without any cultural or other justification. Pope Benedict ought to have ensured that the Latin calendar be made uniform as a necessary pre-condition for the reintroduction of the Old Mass. 

10 June 2013


President Obama, the erstwhile “community organiser” who went on to become a successful Canute (by rhetoric alone he has been able, according to the latest data, to fulfil his electoral promise to halt the rising of the seas and the warming of the planet) found himself the other day in front of an audience but without a teleprompter or a script. Whatever words of wisdom he intended to impart, not being in his head or in his heart, were thus unavailable for delivery. You would think he could have ad libbed a bit about hope and change or the injustice of British treatment of the Mau Mau, but he just floundered. "My remarks are not sitting here," he complained, inspecting the empty lectern. "I'm uhhh.... people.... oh goodness..."

No doubt behind the scenes later on the language was a little stronger against whoever let this clockwork president out on the stage without winding him up first.

10 June 2013