Testing the thesis . . . Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts (continued)
In 1987 Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, the Country Party (Agrarian Socialists) longest-serving Premier of Queensland, delivered himself as follows: “The greatest thing that could happen to the state and the nation is when we can get rid of all the media. Then we could live in peace and tranquillity, and no one would know anything.”
It would be a very short answer to the question: when did Bob Hawke, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, and Julia Gillard, ever cross the threshold of a theatre, a concert hall, or the sublime Sydney Opera House, for cultural purpose; when was any of them ever noted for attending a lecture, or a book launch which was not strictly to the advancement of their political career? Has any of them ever read a work of fiction, seen a play, or a subtitled film, or sung in a choir, or debated moral questions since high school?
In May 2011 Opera Australia staged a performance of Puccini’s La bohème, one of the most romantic, one of the most frequently performed operas internationally. From the publicity one could have thought that Mimì had just left some night-club where modern youth go to jump-up-and-down, and binge away their life – scantily dressed, half dishevelled, ready for anything on the backseat of a car, or wherever the occasion demands. Rodolfo looked no better: some kind of labourer going to the locker-room for a well-deserved shower. Topless prostitutes figured in a promotional image and were introduced in the ‘modernisation’, presumably to portray the atmosphere of the Quartier Latin and of the Café Momus, to give a palpable sense of looseness (we are in Paris, after all!). If this was done to ‘up-date’ the ‘scenario’ so that young people could be attracted, it was a waste of time and money. It completely amounted to traducing Puccini, and Illica, and Giacosa, and the original Murger. Most ‘old Italians’ may not have understood the original words anyway, and may have had a problem with the subtitles. Both groups could hardly have afforded the extortionate prices. Such is, however, the ‘production’ of ‘culture’ in ‘multicultural Australia’.
At mid-2010 the late Bob Ellis, a well-known social commentator, one who had a life-long association with the Labor Party, published a book, a sort of election diary. In it, and at several points, he wrote about Prime Minister Gillard that she is “not well informed”, while Tony Abbott, then Leader of the Opposition, has “good manners”, is “formidable” and possessed of a “first-class mind.”
There was no love lost between Ellis and Abbott. But it is for Gillard, who is “sudden, firm and wrong” in everything she does, that Ellis reserved some of his most acidic barbs. He opened with some rhetorical questions, “Is Julia Gillard a brilliant parliamentary performer …? Or is she a political drongo [in Australia: a slow-witted or stupid person] who should be sacked from the Ministry and deselected?” He answered his own questions in favour of the ‘political drongo’ option, and then launched into an entertaining, but devastating, resumé of Gillard’s actions throughout her time in parliament. Three pages are devoted to such examination, and they carry the voice of truth.
Then came a veritable broadside:
“She’s not well-informed” he writes. “She hasn’t, I think, read a novel or seen a film with subtitles and I doubt if she has read Encounter or the New Statesman or Vanity Fair or Harper’s or the London Review of Books or The New York Review of Books and therefore she doesn’t have hinterland. She has not much except a kindergarten sandpit response to things: ‘Nyah, nyah you’re just jealous because I’m prime minister and you’re not.’ … It’s perfectly all right for some reason if you are deputy prime minister to do that but when you are prime minister, you have to speak for the nation and I don’t think she has discovered what that is. … One thing is sure – there will be no Gillard era. This is not a 20-year stretch. Civilised people’s hands are already over their faces every time she speaks. That cannot last. She has no power, no influence, no friends, no learning. There’s not much there.”
So was there no way back for her? Ellis paused for a while and then pronounced: “She needs a Falklands war. She modelled herself a great deal on Thatcher but lacking, alas, the husband or twin children that would have made that kind of act respectable.”
Gillard was part of a Melbourne-based gang Ellis dubbed the “Mouse Pack”, which included [two other ministers]. “They twitch their whiskers and come out in favour of the Afghan war without studying the problem or noting that an army intelligence officer [Independent MP Andrew Wilkie] holds the balance of power.” Ellis said. “This is not so much dumb stuff as stuff that comes from people who have been in the same small room for too long, stroking each other’s fur.”
And then there is the ‘can-do’ mentality. In August 2010, visiting her old school in Adelaide Ms. Gillard said that she would have ‘fast track[ed]’ new teachers. Accountants, engineers, lab-technicians, journalists would do an eight-week course, then learn on the job in classrooms to be full-fledged qualified teachers in two years. As Bjelke-Petersen of Queensland memory used to say: “You do not learn experience from a book.”
“What grieves me most” – wrote Ellis in a by no means final tirade – “is Gillard’s utter lack of any apparent moral continuity. Smashed marriages, betrayed leaders, ungratefully punished unionists, shamed and amazed schoolteachers and billions wasted on architectural white elephants trail in her wake and she sees no wrong in this record of wilful, senseless vandalism. She thinks it is a good idea to bust things up and requests our congratulations for her serial spontaneous atrocities, laughing at them off merrily as she would spill popcorn.”
Whitlam, a profoundly erudite person and patron of all arts, was universally condemned by the Australian corporate media and the populace-at-large for being caught ‘viewing ruins’ in Athens in December 1974 at the time a cyclone inflicted huge damage on Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. Keating, a self-taught person, was derided for having ‘academic’ ambitions in cultivating Mahler and a passion for old clocks.
Australians have a word for this kind of ‘passive or emasculated’ (males only, please!) highly cultivated person, who is by definition not ‘virile’ as the Fascists wanted to be portrayed. The word is poofter and it goes well beyond a reference to one’s sexual proclivity.
Remember? “Abbott is unmistakable. Everybody knew Tony Abbott. He was all over [the University of Sydney] campus all the time. [in the seventies] He walked past me quickly but his gang screamed ‘commie’ and ‘poofter’ and the guy behind him grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me against the wall. I was furious. I picked myself up and immediately followed these thugs down the corridor.”
Tomorrow: Testing the thesis (continued) . . . Obsession with crime and punishment
* In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975 he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.