Category Archives: australia

Terminal

This isn’t a culture war: although it’s become a long-exhausted joke, the phrase implies some kind of commitment to values above mere partisan loyalty. With the exception of a few idiots, the Liberals and the News Limited hacks are not fighting to impose their personal morality, or that of their own communities, on the rest of the electorate. (I’m sure Tony Abbott has not cut off social contact with his sister, as an earlier form of conservative would have done. Some of my best friends are, etc.)

This isn’t even about ideology, it’s about the end. Complete exhaustion of the ability to articulate a political program which is not about brutality. Battles which are not tactical moves but the clonic twitches in the limbs of an organism which has already undergone brain death.

It isn’t an accident that one of the focuses of this is the bullying of queer kids in school. It seems too obvious to put into words. If you grew up here, you know this. A political system whose only successful policy on either side is the torture of people who can’t vote either side out of office is reduced here to the elements at the core of white male Australian identity: indifference to suffering, contempt for difference, panic fear of tenderness, the schoolyard taunt. The last pathetic tatters to which an idiotic culture clings as it dissolves.

Don’t pay the journalists who peddle this stuff the compliment of reading them, and don’t link to or screen-cap their gibberish, even to mock at it. They’re well-paid careerists who’ve found comfortable posts in the dying print leviathans of the last century, like the bone-eating worms which mysteriously find their way to whale carcasses on the ocean floor. But look, even the worms have courage and perhaps even personalities.

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Five Fantasies about Tony Abbott

The fantasy about distributism

Abbott’s relationship with B A Santamaria, still a compulsory mention in every op-ed about his political character, implying that he represented some strain of mainstream Australian conservatism which opposes free-market neoliberalism. Look, I like G K Chesterton as much as the next guy (if I were to meet Abbott, my first question would be, “do you like Chesterton?” and my second would be “what do you think of his anti-semitism?”) but this idea is as much a fantasy as The Man Who Was Thursday. The last positive traces of distributism in Australian political life were probably the soldier’s settlement schemes of the twentieth century: intended (by Santamaria and others) to breed a race of stout yeomen capable of resisting the corruptions of modern life, actually resulting in some of eastern Sydney’s drearier tract housing.

In reality, there’s no Australian conservative movement of any significance which opposes capitalism. (This is why I don’t like to call them ‘Tories’: Australian conservatism starts with Locke, and any attempt to pretend otherwise is just cosplay.)

The fantasy about social conservatism

Speaking of B A Santamaria, much of his later career was devoted to plaintively challenging the huge, progressive shift in the ability of the state to police sexual behaviour which took place in the last two decades of the twentieth century. This rout of social conservatism was so dramatic that we’re still in the swirling confusion after the battle, and the stupider members of the right are still running around with Cory Bernardi, unaware that they’ve lost.

All that Abbott could do in this field was shore up Howard’s rearguard action against marriage equality, which is doomed anyway, as eventually we’ll need to recognise marriages ratified by other jurisdictions. There’s no suggestion that the LNP at a State level are going to change anything in this regard.

There’s a really interesting story to tell about how mainstream conservatism came to a rapprochement with the decriminalisation of homosexuality, a reform which up until the 80s they (and a large part of the ALP) had been firmly against, but a conservative tradition as unreflective as Australia’s is unlikely to tell it.

The fantasy about the boats

The fantasy about what’s actually happening under the veil of operational secrecy; the fantasy that the Dickensian legal trickery of extraterritorial detention won’t eventually fall apart at the seams; the fantasy (from the nice left) that all of this is somehow a radical degeneration of Australian law and morality, rather than a continuation of its traditional racialised brutality.

The fantasy about an Oxford education

The English, when they speak of Oxford, talk mostly about class. Australians, of either political persuasion, talk about brains, despite the fact that the Rhodes Scholarship has no particular academic entry standard above what’s normally required. It’s rather touching. One thinks of the Rhodes Scholar as a stock comic character in such nostalgic entertainments as Max Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson, and wonders what Max would have made of Tony.

The fantasy about ‘economic management’

Here’s a scary thought: Abbott and Hockey weren’t exceptional, the remnants of an otherwise competent and sane conservative party at the end of some dreadful process of Faulknerian decline. They were perfectly representative Libs, running on nothing but half-inarticulate social prejudices and Baden-Powellish ‘character’. Turnbull had to get rid of them before they completely wrecked the fantasy of the Liberals (also based on half-inarticulate social prejudices) as the party of (stop laughing up the back there) fiscal responsibility and (look here) reform.

Waiting for Broadband

I’m home from work this morning, waiting for a Telstra technician to come and activate the phone line in my new flat so that my ISP can switch my broadband over. It’s about six weeks since I got approved to move here, and almost four weeks since I moved in.

This has got me thinking a fair bit about Australian broadband, and about how people complain about it, and why I think they’ve been complaining about the wrong thing, and how it’s probably too late, but anyway:

The problem with Australian internet is not that it’s slow, it’s that it’s not a utility.

Australian complaints about the speed of the internet fall into two categories:

  • Robot surgeons on the Moon, and
  • I wanna pirate that rapey dragon show faster

Neither of these are a good argument for the NBN, because only a few places are going to need some kind of massive network connectivity to do gee-whiz immersive futuristic stuff that isn’t actually happening yet, and because complaining that you can’t watch Game of Thrones intersects with another big tedious argument, the one about copyright and how unfair it is that Australia doesn’t get everything at the same time as America. And if you wanted a show that would make broadband seem like a compelling mainstream issue, GoT is exactly the opposite of that show.

What we should have got out of the NBN, and what I would love right now, is for network access to become like power, water and gas: so we don’t have to layer it on top of an analogue voice network and deal with two levels of call centres. My flat is hard to identify in databases because it has a couple of different addresses, which is the main reason for the delay. I had this issue with the power, too, but the way I resolved that was to walk out to the backyard and write down the number on the meter.

I should have been able to do something that simple so that my kids could do a bunch of boring but necessary stuff, like read their email and access their school’s website, immediately after we moved in.

Anyone who is still talking about ‘futureproofing’ in this context needs to be put in a box and left out for the council cleanup. Our network infrastructure isn’t even presentproof.

The Tragedie of King Murdoch

As faithfully reported by the Australian media

MURDOCH DIVIDES KINGDOM
It’s not just politics: it’s business

EN GARDE! MURDOCH FLIES IN COL ALLEN AND RETINUE OF PARTYING KNIGHTS
Sure to win support among marginal evil daughters

“OFF, YOU LENDINGS”
MURDOCH RAVES NAKED IN STORM
“Canny move” say media insiders

Sydney

One of the rules of Sydney is that you are only supposed to speak about your part of it, so here goes: I grew up in the west, have lived in the inner city and the inner west, studied in the north, went to school in the outer southwest, worked in the Sutherland shire, which is where half of my family live, and have spent enough time in the east to thoroughly lose the chip on my shoulder about it.

All these places were and are inhabited by drongos, derros, bible-bashers, wowsers, wankers, ockers, snobs, molls, junkies, airheads, revheads, dickheads, bogans, dags, ratbags and bludgers from every imaginable part of the world. (Yes, even the Shire.)

In my lifetime, the city’s material environment has been homogenised by franchises and rising standards of living – when I was a kid, most of the roads in Granville didn’t have kerb and guttering, and the flashest car you were likely to see was a Holden Statesman – and its population has become ever more diverse. (Yes, even in the fucking Shire.)

All this is by way of illustrating why it is that when people talk about ‘western suburbs’ or ‘the Shire’ or whatever, as if that means a single homogeneous chunk to be used as an element in political debates, I think they sound like idiots,* or, even worse, pollsters.

*When I was young I used to generalise about Sydney areas all the time and my Mum used to try to correct me. She was right.

“A curious animal”

Friday, 22nd Feb. 1788 […] He said that on Thursday morning he was told that one of the convicts had a curious animal to sell. He interviewed Stow, who showed him the animal and asked a gallon of rum for it. Meredith took the animal on board the ship and showed it to the Master, who agreed to pay the rum. He told Meredith to send ashore one bottle, and some bread and beef. Later the Master heard that this was contrary to orders, and forbade him to send anything more ashore.

Monday, 25th Feb. 1788 […] The court reassembled to hear the case against Meredith. John Marshall, the Master of the Scarborough, was the only witness. He said that on Thursday morning, while he was in bed, an opossum was brought on board by Meredith. He got up to look at it and went back to bed. When he was dressed he was told by Meredith that the price of the animal was a gallon of rum. Not at that instant recollecting the Governor’s orders, he told Meredith to pay it but, instantly recollecting himself, told him to take the beast ashore. He said that his ship’s company knew the orders against buying anything from the convicts, and that the fault was largely his for not sending the animal ashore immediately.

Meredith was found guilty of disobedience to orders and sentenced to receive 100 lashes. The papers were marked “to receive 50” by the Governor.

—from John Cobley’s chronology Sydney Cove. Frederick Meredith was my First Fleet ancestor, and came to Botany Bay as a steward on the Scarborough.The incident with the possum occurred just after Governor Philip had ordered that no military were to engage in trade with the convicts. I’d like to know how Stow came by the possum, and I’d also like to have seen John Marshall’s expression on being woken up on Thursday morning to see it.

Austria or Australia? A guide for the confused

Questions of national identity being apt to cause distress, the following guide is offered to commentators of all nations.

Austria Australia
Natural beauty Natural beauty
Beer Beer
Blond, blue-eyed iconography Blond, blue-eyed iconography
Remnant of once-proud 19th century empire Remnant of once-proud 19th century empire
Child prodigy who went on to embody national aspirations in song: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Child prodigy who went on to embody national aspirations in song: John Farnham
Sachertorte Vanilla slice
Reluctance to come to terms with history of racism Reluctance to come to terms with history of racism
Thomas Bernhard Richie Benaud
Reckon they do a better coffee than the Italians Reckon they do a better coffee than the Italians
Sausages Sausages
Sigmund Freud James Freud
South-eastern Europe South-eastern Earth