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Henry Johnston is a full time writer of fictional short stories. Thus far he has published two novellas; Best and Fairest and The Last Voyage of Aratus. Best and Fairest is set in inner city Sydney in the 1960s and follows the fate of 13 young men who come together to play Rugby League. One of their number, an Aboriginal, wins the coveted Best and Fairest trophy. The Last Voyage of Aratus follows a much different path. This journey of redemption across the south Pacific Ocean is cast as magical reality. Henry’s family migrated to Townsville from the U.K. before moving to Sydney at a time when the city sparkled with luminous golden sandstone buildings and low-rise ornate Victorian architecture. Henry’s short stories explore the collision of cultures, and are often told from an immigrants’ perspective. As an essayist he contributes popular culture commentary and political observations to Independent Australia and the Australian Independent Media Network. He divides his time between inner-city Rozelle in Sydney Australia, and Bruny Island Tasmania. During a career in media, Henry worked as a broadcaster and producer with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Henry latterly served as a senior policy adviser in the NSW State Government and as a media adviser with the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Henry also worked as a speech writer for several NSW Government Ministers. A compendium of Henry’s short stories and the novella The Last Voyage of Aratus is published by Forty South Publishing. Best and Fairest is published by Valentine Press.

Website: https://tasmania-40-south.myshopify.com/products/last-voyage-of-aratus-the-by-henry-johnston-pb

The neglect of Menzies’ Forgotten People

As the cameras scanned the room filled with the Labor faithful eager to welcome Premier Daniel Andrews on Saturday night November 24 2018, I noticed the citizenry’s remarkable diversity.

Beaming African faces, men wearing the head covering of the Indian Sub-Continent, women with scarves I presume signify adherence to Islam, and smiling Asian male and female faces. Each person roared as the young, slightly stooped and bespectacled Andrews, whom I presume claims Scottish heritage, approached the microphone. With wife and family by his side, Andrews savoured an electoral victory which marks a profound shift in the Australian political landscape. Those in the audience and the volunteers who worked for Andrews’ stunning victory, like the Premier, cherish their family and strive to make a better life for themselves and their community.

Daniel Andrews spoke directly to these men and women whom the Liberal Party has neglected for the past six years. These citizens are the 21st century equivalent of Sir Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People.

The Liberal Party freely cites Menzies, and latterly John Howard, as the talismen of liberal values. Saturday night revealed just how far the party of Menzies has drifted from his ideals of individual aspiration.

Menzies delivered his oft cited speech in May 1942, and used its title as an electoral slogan. The Forgotten People eulogises the thrift of the middle class

It is a matter of fact Victoria has witnessed horrific violence meted out by people with names that do not ring with a Scottish burr; Hassan Khalif Shire Ali killed Sisto Malaspina, and the car mad James Gargasoulas, butchered citizens walking along Bourke Street.

On 20 November three young men were arrested over an alleged plot to carry out mass murder in the name of Islamic State. Earlier in the year we read stories about gangs of African youths running riot and scaring the wits out of Melbournians, on the town for a night of fine dining.

Once again it is a matter of fact the conservative press and the Liberal Party directly and indirectly deployed these incidents to ensure the defeat of the Andrews Government.

And yet the opposite occurred.

Why?

Victoria and Melbourne are familiar with violence. Cast your mind back to 1998. This year marked the start of Melbourne’s so called Gangland Killings. By 2010, 36 prominent criminals had been slaughtered. Their murders were cynically celebrated in a television series, Underbelly. One of their kind, Mark Brandon ‘Chopper’ Read, was lauded by the Victorian art world. Now turn back the pages of history to 3 February 1967, and the death by hanging of Ronald Ryan. Next, check out June 28 1880 and the Siege of Glenrowan led by Ned Kelly. Go further back to the Battle of the Eureka Stockade on 3 December 1854 led by Peter Lalor. And of course let us not forget the countless murders of Aboriginal men and women and Chinese citizens working the gold fields. Victoria, like the rest of the nation, is the sum of its history; violent, aggressive, proud and progressive.

But for the past six years the Liberal Party cynically ignored Menzies’ Forgotten People to such an extent, even the most seasoned observers cannot now accurately identify the party’s base.

This morning as I digest the news on the first day of the last sitting week of the Federal Parliament, those forgotten people seem determined to forget the Liberal Party and everything it does not stand for.

Daniel Andrews is now the most powerful premier on the nation’s political stage, but there is one element of his ascendancy that we can be certain of; Dan Andrews will not forget the people who entrusted him with four years of stewardship of their state.

It is apodictic private money pours into Victoria to build electric cars and the next generation of clean, green renewable energy sources. Universities will thrive and hospitals strive to cure the sick, and the young taught about a future with endless possibilities.

I can almost hear Dan Andrews stand up in the Victorian Parliament and say the following, “I do not believe that the real life of this nation is to be found either in great luxury hotels and the petty gossip of so-called fashionable suburbs, or in the officialdom of the organised masses. It is to be found in the homes of people who are nameless and unadvertised, and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma, see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race”.  I can guarantee Andrews will not use these words, but he might be tempted to quote them to the legatees of Robert Menzies who, to their electoral peril, have grievously neglected the Forgotten People.

If you can be bothered, the text of Menzies’ Forgotten People speech is published here.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale at Brays Bookshop in Balmain an at Forty South Publishing.

Lest we forget to remember

The request seemed simple enough on first reading. The text from a niece said her son, my great nephew, is having an assembly on Remembrance Day, and do we have anyone in the family who fought in World War 1, and if so do we have any photos or memorabilia?

My equivocal response ended with the explanation that my great nephew might find it difficult to describe the story of our family’s involvement with the Great War.

Sure enough my niece did not respond, but when I tried to put her request out of my mind, I could not erase the image of the tale told me by my long dead mother.

It is not a myth of derring-do, or patriotism, or a tear jerker in the mould of Saving Private Ryan. It is a casual observation about two men who returned to Ireland after the 1914-18 war. I think they were brothers; certainly my mother’s uncles. When she first told me the yarn, I imagined them wizened aged men, whereas in truth they were probably a mere decade or so, older than my great nephew.

My maternal grandmother hosted a Hooley in their honour, complete with fiddler, tin whistle player, a lilter, a large jug of poitin, plenty of spuds and a side of pork. Before proceeding, here is a brief explanation for the uninitiated: A Hooley is an Irish party. A lilter is a person who enunciates a form of traditional singing. (If you are curious look up Séamus Fay from Cavan). Poitin is made from cereals, grain, whey, sugar beet, molasses and potatoes.

This Hooley was probably unleashed onto an unsuspecting Irish community, in about 1920. My mother was born in 1918, and was told the anecdote by an elder sibling.

Any gathering of young, strong men in rural Ireland in the 1920s would likely attract the attention of the Dúchrónaigh. You probably know of them by the colour of their uniform; black and tan.

The Tans were ex-British Army counter-insurgents, deployed across the island to fight the Irish Republican Army.

World War 1 had changed the world order, and like Humpty Dumpty, ‘all the King’s horses, and all the King’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again’.

For the Black and Tans service in Ireland meant a suit of clothes, a few bob and a Webley revolver to shoot up the Paddy’s.

It seems the Carrigallen poitin set cheeks ablaze, as the fiddle player urged the young men and women to dance the night away. As my mother recounted it, both men refused to enter the cottage, preferring instead the stand beneath the stout lintel beam of the front door. And here they remained for the rest of the night, politely refusing all urgings to come inside and enjoy the craic.

Years later I asked my mother why the brothers refused to enter. She clicked her tongue and dismissed them as poor, befuddled, amadán’s (pronounced oma-thons) who could not look after themselves. Both relied on the kindness of local women to feed them and do their washing. The Hooley was my grandmother’s way of attempting to reintegrate them into society. Her kindness failed. The brothers had learnt in the battles of Flanders, or the Somme, or Ypres or Villers-Bretonneux, or wherever it was they endured war, the lintel beam of a door was the safest place to wait out a bombardment.

These men, and millions like them, suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder, or shell shock, or in rural nations like Ireland, and across Europe, they were simply known as ‘eejits,’ idiots.

How do you tell a six year old child that your only extant, family connection with World War 1 can be traced back, like a spidery filament, to two young blue eyed men, driven insane by the sights and sounds of the War to End All Wars? It is not the sort of parable one would expect anyone to recount on Remembrance Day 2018, but it is the only link I have with that century old calamity. And when the clock chimes the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 2018, I will recall the sad fable of my great uncles, lest I forget to remember them.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale at Brays Bookshop in Balmain an at Forty South Publishing.

War, religion, and a half billion dollars

When you do the maths, you realise almost a half billion of your dollars has been set aside by the Morrison Government to redevelop the Australian War Memorial. Add to this $100 million spent on the Monash Centre in Villers-Bretonneux. Now add almost $13 million to document the official histories of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor. Then add the $40 million dollars lavished on the refurbishment of Sydney’s ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park.

So far I’ve tallied almost $653,000,000. I am innumerate, so this figure might be off the mark, but you get my drift. I do not know how much money has been set aside on war memorials or their equivalents in other states of the Commonwealth, but the tally might approach three quarters of a trillion dollars.

So, what is going on? The 100th anniversary of the Armistice of World War 1 comes and goes on November 11 2018, but the question is, does this sad anniversary justify this massive expenditure?

Social media is taking the pulse of Scott Morrison’s largesse, and the indirect beneficiary of this near half billion dollar grant, the Australian War Memorial’s Director and failed Liberal leader, Dr Brendan Nelson. All I detect is a general consensus suggesting the dough be spent on the health and well-being of men and women injured in Australia’s most recent conflicts.

As a writer I’ve woven the effects of war into my novels and short stories. I am of a generation directly affected by World War 2. My father worked in war industry and before him long-dead nameless great uncles survived the horrors of World War 1.

My first reaction is ANZAC Day and war memorials large and small in Australian towns, villages and cities, serve as a substitute for a national religion. The Dawn Service held at Gallipoli, Turkey on April 25th each year, is a rite of passage for thousands of young Australians. These rituals are not uncommon. Young European men and women tread the path of Camino de Santiago in Spain, or complete the five routes to achieve Ireland’s Pilgrim’s Passport.

Religion and war freely borrow one another’s iconography to snare this youthful optimism and I reckon the half billion dollars earmarked for the decade-long redevelopment of the national war memorial, continues this tradition.

I doubt the Labor Opposition will criticise the expenditure because there is no political mileage in so doing. Indeed, former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appointed Dr Brendan Nelson Director of the Australian War Memorial, and the good doctor will now be comfortably remunerated until he retires.

So on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of World War 1, it is worth considering two examples of religious iconography deployed by propagandists, during that awful period of our history.

The first is the Angels of Mons. The second the Miracle of the Sun, known among pious Christians as the Miracle of Fatima, a village in Portugal. Both occurrences are inextricably linked with the actual apocalypse.

The Angels of Mons occurred shortly after Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914. A mere 19 days later on August 23rd, the British Expeditionary Force clashed with the German Army. After the shock and awe of battle, the BEF somehow managed an orderly retreat, and staved off a major defeat.

An account of events in Mons, written by journalist Arthur Machen, described heavenly bowmen from the Battle of Agincourt shielding the retreating British forces. Machen’s item became a cause celebre among home front spiritualists. His story eventually morphed into the myth of the Angels of Mons, and was deployed to boost morale. The Angels of Mons fantasy is documented by the Australian War Memorial, but not so the Miracle of the Sun, or Fatima. The latter is probably ignored because Portugal’s involvement in World War 1 focused principally on its imperial possessions in Africa. However, the date of the Miracle of Fatima 13 October 1917, is significant. The Russian Czar is in custody. The Bolsheviks in power, and with Russia out of the war, the redeployment of German divisions to the Western Front means defeat. Three of Fatima’s children describe visions of the Virgin Mary. The sun dances in the sky as an accompaniment to the miracle, which remained a powerful example of Marian piety until the reign of Pope John Paul the Second. In reality the Miracle of Fatima was used by the Vatican in its campaign against Communism.

And so to our own great myth; the debacle of the landing at the Dardanelles where 8,709 Australians died. By the end of the obscenity of World War 1, 61,522 Australians perished.

I do not belittle those who take spiritual nourishment from the story of Gallipoli or the Angels of Mons, or the Miracle of Fatima, but I hope a tiny portion of the half billion dollars will be set aside by the Australian Government to valorise the memory of young Aboriginal men and women, killed in battle to defend their Australian home lands. I doubt this will happen because as of now those frontier wars do not fit our view of who we are, and how we became Australians.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale at Brays Bookshop in Balmain an at Forty South Publishing.

Through the looking glass darkly

October 2019. The Australian Labor Party is the government of Australia holding a whopping majority in the lower house, but it must deal with a pesky senate.

Bill Shorten’s government develops into an effective technocracy. The Federation of Australian States is positive about the carve-up of the GST. Victoria and New South Wales are in the Labor fold. House prices continue to tumble. A stimulus package is mooted courtesy of a fulsome budget crafted by Treasurer Chris Bowen. Wages rise.

Kevin Rudd is short odds to be the next Secretary General of the United Nations. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is gravely ill. Rupert Murdoch is dead. Brexit negotiations continue. Elizabeth Warren announces she will contest the 2020 U.S. elections for the Democrats and Elon Musk reveals a breakthrough in cheap, hydrogen energy.

Back home Prime Minister Shorten enlists Paul Keating as spokesperson for the looming referendum on an Australian Republic. Julia Gillard is the firm favourite to be the nation’s first president. Royalists are outraged. Alan Jones collapses on-air from apoplexy on the day Anthony Albanese turns the first sod on a national very fast rail service.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hosts high-level talks with Foreign Minister Penny Wong. It seems there are ructions about some of the refugees resettled in New Zealand. Peter Hartcher opines in the Western Sydney Morning Herald it has something to do with the large number of Kiwis deported to New Zealand from Australia.

The drought worsens. Oil prices fluctuate. Wall Street is about to crash. Global warming continues.

Parliamentary debate, especially Question Time, is quiet, almost cordial. A large cohort of independents sit in the lower house.

A split looms in the Liberal Party. At the behest of the former Member for Warringah Tony Abbott, Gerard Henderson joins John Roskam writing A Manifesto for Renewal. Meanwhile Malcolm Turnbull enlists Peter van Onselen to craft A Conservative Dialectic: Finding Menzies’ Forgotten People.

Paul Kelly writes a two-volume history of The United Australia Party, and a descendant of Archie Galbraith Cameron becomes leader of the National Party, now arguing to maintain its status as a legitimate political entity.

Near Mt Isa a geologist-cum prospector uncovers an enormous seam of scandium and yttrium also known as Rare Earth Elements. Clive Palmer lodges an Intent-to-Mine document with the Queensland Government. The Australian Financial Review describes the discovery as ‘the next great mining boom of the north,’ and predicts domestic high-tech industries will expand.

Elon Musk meets with Prime Minister Shorten who kicks off a national debate about reviving the Australian car industry by building Tesla electric cars in South Australia and Victoria. China lodges a protest with the World Trade Organisation.

Barnaby Joyce threatens to retire as the Member for New England if a local Aboriginal land council continues to lobby to change the name of his Federal seat to Anaiwan.

Senator Pat Dodson is set to chair a national discussion in Old Parliament House Canberra to define Australia’s first Makarrata.

Sky News announces the Liberal split is underway.

Footnote: An incomplete snapshot of political party splits. The United Australia Party (UAP) forms as a new conservative alliance in 1931 with Labor defector Joseph Lyons, its leader. In 1939 Robert Menzies becomes prime minister as war looms. Menzies resigns as leader of a minority World War II government, amidst an unworkable parliamentary majority. The UAP led by Billy Hughes, disintegrates after defeat in the 1943 election. Menzies calls a conference of conservative parties and other groups, opposed to the Australian Labor Party. From 1942 onwards, Menzies maintains his public profile via an ABC radio series entitled, The Forgotten People.

During the 1954 federal election, Labor receives more than half the popular vote and wins 57 seats to the Coalition’s 64. Two key political players emerge; B.A. Santamaria and H.V. Evatt. In the subsequent election, the newly formed Democratic Labor Party directs its supporters to give their electoral preferences to the Liberals, ahead of the ALP. In 1961 and 1969 Labor wins a majority of the two-party vote, but DLP preferences result in Labor coming up short of the Coalition’s hold on government. The DLP still exists.

Tony Abbott describes B.A. Santamaria as his formative political hero. Herbert Vere ‘Doc’ or Bert Evatt serves as the third president of the United Nations General Assembly from 1948 to 1949 and helps draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale at Brays Bookshop in Balmain and at Forty South Publishing.

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When Sputnik went ballistic

As its 61st anniversary approaches it is worth pondering the lasting impact on popular culture of a polished metal sphere whose 21-day orbit ushered in the space race and tightened the ratchet on the cold war. The sphere, known as Sputnik, marked the commencement of a new era.

On the 4th October 1957, citizens of the planet fortunate enough to own a radio, myself among them, uttered a collective gasp. The Soviet Union launched the world’s first spacecraft. named Sputnik 1, the 58-centimetre sphere, passed into an elliptical low orbit and forever changed earth’s perception of itself.

Sputnik, which emitted a single watt of power and is written thus in Russian, Простейший Спутник, marked the literal end of one period and the beginning of another.

The successful launch more than 60 years ago of this remarkable example of Soviet technology, is an event worthy of a brief analysis of its lasting cultural impact.

The football-sized satellite emboldened the United States to launch its own venture, which triggered the space race and a concomitant influence on popular culture.

A few years after Sputnik, the Soviets again trumped the United States when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the earth on 12 April 1961.

I recall imploring a cantankerous father to buy a set of Gagarin postage stamps which if mint, would today be worth a pretty pack of kopecks.

“Communist,” he snorted.

The following month Alan Shepard earned the moniker First American in Space, but it was the clean-shaven and crew-cut astronaut John Glenn who emulated Gagarin’s feat on 20 February 1962. More than a decade later in 1979 American author, Tom Wolfe declared Shepard and Glenn et al had The Right Stuff. Yuri Gagarin and his comrades apparently did not.

Sputnik spawned a new category of heroes. The Soviet cohort, led by Gagarin, bore the prefix ‘cosmo,’ their American counterparts ‘astro’.

Sputnik emboldened post-war children to throw away treasured Davy Crockett coonskin hats, and scour the dictionaries for words commencing with both prefixes. Cosmology, cosmos and cosmonaut entered the lexicon alongside astronomical, Astrodome, astrobiology and astronautics, to name a few.

In 1963 Japanese youth shared the global passion for shiny space-age newness, by empowering Astro Boy to take artistic flight from the pages of manga, onto the black and white screens of nascent television.

Around the world, designers, advertisers — especially for Campari — graphic artists, furniture and light makers and others, drew inspiration from the tiny orb. Meanwhile in the good ole’ US of A Sputnik breathed life into a genre of silly, speculative pulp, written in the preceding decades.

Science Fiction rocketed into a favoured form of escapism when it ‘slipped the surly bonds’ of penny dreadful novels and become a night-time television staple.

The monotonous Mixolydian mode of the beeping Sputnik monitored and re-broadcast by ham radio operators, became a tone poem for authors of the calibre of Phillip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin and Arthur C. Clarke. And while Gene Roddenberry died before dreaming up the sophistication of an astrometrics lab, courtesy of Star Trek Voyager, I’m confident Roddenberry would’ve approved its creation.

Stanley Kubrick produced Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 to the accompaniment of Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, the Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss and new music by the Austro-Hungarian contemporary composer György Ligeti. In the meantime in a mysterious cosmos far, far away, Sputnik inspired Soviet writers and artists to dream dreams of a serene, egalitarian space populated by a fragile humanity, with the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, its locus.

In 1972 Andrei Tarkovsky launched the fictional Solaris, Солярис in Cyrillic, (also spelt Solyaris) to the strains of J.S. Bach’s Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, and the electrosonics of Soviet composer Eduard Nikolayevich Artemyev.

As I sat in the Lido cinema located in a forgotten quarter of downtown Sydney, I imagined wandering the corridors of the Baikonur Cosmodrome, a few kilometres from the snow-shrouded Magnitogorsk, a locale I thought the home of Magneto of X Men fame. Солярис, Solyaris epitomised an art-space which I naively believed flourished behind the weirdness of the Iron Curtain.

In the same year of Solaris’ cinematic release, the impact of Sputnik began to slip from popular consciousness thanks to the song Star Man from the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Artemyev’s electro plunking did not stand a chance against Mick Ronson’s soaring guitar licks. For chronologically challenged readers this pop milestone, written by David Bowie, is now 46 years old.

So as the second decade of the 21st-century edges to a conclusion, books, films, comics and a myriad of other cultural manifestations of ‘space, the final frontier’, owe an incalculable debt to a tiny device which carried less onboard technology than a $200 drone.


Henry Johnston is a Sydney based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus and other stories is available at https://tasmania-40-south.myshopify.com/products/last-voyage-of-aratus-the-by-henry-johnston-pb

What do think tanks think?

Auguste Rodin’sThe Thinker is universally regarded as a symbol of science and philosophy. But Rodin originally called it The Poet as a detail of a larger work known as The Gates of Hell to be used as an entrance to a Parisian museum. Neither the museum nor the bronze doors — the Gates of Hell — were built.

Rodin was born in 1840 and died in 1917. In 1848 eight years after his birth, Karl Marx wrote The Manifesto of the Communist Party. In the year of Rodin’s death in 1917, communism swept away the Romanov dynasty and changed the world forever.

For more than a century scientists, philosophers, poets and artists – like The Thinker — pondered these and other events.  But a strange phenomenon which evolved in the 1970s, irrevocably changed the way citizens think.

A coterie of American business people came up with an idea to outsource critical thinking. Though not new, the notion was informed by free-market philosophy. Decades on and think tanks impact our lives almost without our knowledge.

George Lakoff an adviser to the U.S Democrat Party published a book entitled Don’t Think of an Elephant. Lakoff has also penned at least seven other books, but Don’t Think of an Elephant goes to the heart of the conservative think tank movement.

Lakoff traces the history of modern think tank to Nixon-era America. The US was wracked by the obscenity of the Vietnam War, and capitalism in genuine peril. During this seminal time, America’s best and brightest turned away from traditional conservative business pursuits.  

Lewis Powell, a doyen of the conservative movement, wrote to the US Chamber of Commerce encouraging the business community to endow professorships and institutes at major American universities. Powell also called for the establishment of lavishly funded private foundations for hand-picked scholars. These foundations would provide their ‘fellows’ the tools to conduct research for subsequent publication in journals and magazines. Powell argued the US business community should own the means of publication and take control of media and communications. Sound familiar? The model has boomed over the last 50 years.

So how does a think tank work? As a cognitive scientist, Lakoff is an expert in the mechanisms behind the framing of public discourse. Consider a ‘frame’ as a conceptual structure. Lakoff uses the simple notion of a bottle. Look at one and you think liquid. No real effort involved. Next, frame a public discourse, let’s say, ‘we must follow the law,’ or as Malcolm Turnbull said, “and the court shall so hold”. But before the discourse is unleashed, a phalanx of media and communications strategists, book expensive TV and radio airtime and ensure acres of coverage in the slower print media. Behold. The rationale is rolled out to an unsuspecting public. Consider programmes such as Q&A and The Drum on ABC TV, talk shows on 2GB in Sydney and its equivalents around the country, or The Project on the TEN Network, not to mention different radio programmes on ABC Radio National and Sky after Dark.

Nowadays the media is awash with think tankers. Gerard Henderson, Parnell McGuinness, Georgina Downer to name a few from the right. From the left, we have Jenny Hocking, Stephen Fitzgerald, and Margaret Wilson, and in the centre, Ben Oquist of the Australia Institute There is the Sydney Institute, the Whitlam and Chifley institutes and Tom Switzer of the Centre for Independent Studies. But the stellar performer of Australian think tanks is the Institute of Public Affairs led by its Magister Ludi, John Roskam.

The IPA website proclaims it, “accepts no government funding, and is supported by thousands of individual members and donors; your tax-deductible donation to IPA research will ensure the IPA remains a loud voice for freedom in Australia”.

The IPA which, like its American counterparts, recruits the best and brightest, (IPA staff list here https://ipa.org.au/people-ipa ) is in my opinion, a defacto policy arm of the state and liberal governments. Over the years Liberal government sacked independent public servants who routinely applied SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis to policy development.

The IPA is the antithesis of Rodin’s vision of science and philosophy. If you are sceptical about my claim, read Jennifer Marohasy’s critique of the Bureau of Meteorology. This clap-trap is just one missile in the institute’s arsenal of weapons deployed in the on-going war against climate change science.

The nation’s greatest publicly funded think tank the Australian Broadcasting Corporation remains in the crosshairs of the right. And Australian universities are not far behind. Somehow the Australian National University managed to survive a right-wing onslaught led by Tony Abbott on behalf of the Ramsay Centre, to establish a degree course in western civilization.

Expect more of the same.

If think tanks continue to presume to dictate the national philosophical and scientific agenda, it is only fair their financial backers are exposed to public scrutiny.  Thus if the IPA’s Darcy Allen is prepared to argue The Case for Personal Income Tax Cuts (IPA, 5 December 2015) it follows the status of think tank tax-deductibility should be scrutinised by the Australian Tax Office. Consider this gem by Darcy Allen, albeit out of context; Australia would do well to make our income tax system more simple and transparent – clearing out our attic of special interests. Special interests indeed!

The time is at hand for Australians to think for ourselves rather than outsource our cognitive discourses to privately funded institutions, which do the bidding of unnamed and unseen patrons.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here https://tasmania-40-south.myshopify.com/products/last-voyage-of-aratus-the-by-henry-johnston-pb

The language of treachery versus a statement from the heart

When I thought there was nothing more to write about apropos the events of the last fortnight, I came across an op-ed penned by Daily Telegraph shill Tim Blair.

The headline read ‘The coup we had to have’.

An impressionable child could fairly ask a parent, what does coup mean?

So the language of sedition and treachery dominate the Australian vernacular as never before.

I lived through the dismissal of Gough Whitlam, a prime ministerial stickler for the values of the Constitution. And while Australians were outraged by his ignoble sacking by an unelected governor general, at no time — correct me if I am wrong — did the nomenclature of treason enter the debate.

Yet descriptions of the moves against former Prime Minister Turnbull were punctuated with shadowy mutterings about the means of a political killing.

Coup, destabilisation, put him to the sword, the killing season, political assassination, bloodletting Kill Bill, the Mad Monk, Morriscum, Jbish … Just a few of the words and phrases deployed by journalists, commentators and ordinary citizens to describe the events which paralysed the nation.

How and when did we allow our language to become so malevolent?

In the year 2000, after the Sydney Olympic Games opening ceremony, Australia presented an image of a young, sanguine nation. And the planet responded in kind. The Games marked the emergence of Sydney as a world city and Australia a capable, buoyant and welcoming nation with limitless potential. We were magnificent, and I was fortunate to observe my city and country behave in a fashion which confirmed an earlier decision to become a citizen.

Eighteen years on and every Prime Minister since John Howard — the incumbent resident in the Lodge during the Olympic Games — has suffered the ignominy of political termination with extreme prejudice.

Eighteen years marks a generation, and this new voting cohort knows nothing but political instability. This young constituency is bombarded by the lexicon of treason. A shameful inherited, national legacy.

How is this possible? And how can Australians debate big ideas such as a republic without a notion being subverted by seditious language?

With swathes of the media addicted to the rhetoric of the school yard bully, it is apodictic we will remain trapped in a cycle of recrimination. And with this craven determination to tear down any proposition which may change the status quo, it is almost impossible to question who we are and how our destiny might evolve.

I recently eavesdropped a conversation about politically correct terms being deployed to neuter the words granny and granddad. This alleged insistence of the use of gender neutral language is a popular trope among sections of the community, convinced the thought police are denying their right of expression.

There is no evidence for the assertion but this and similar myths, persist and trouble tens of thousands of Australians, many of whom live in regional and rural parts of the nation.

The propensity for hate speak in political debates has grown to such a level, incendiary rascals such as Tim Blair regularly use the allegory of violence to make a point.

A grand master of colourful political vituperation Paul Keating learnt the art of a genuine Australian turn of phrase from his mentor NSW Premier Jack Lang who literally mounted a soap box during street corner debates.

But with the deployment of the cold-blooded invective of the assassins’ creed we have drifted from the resonance and sincerity of Keating’s Redfern Speech.

Or have we?

The Uluru Statement from the Heart dismissed by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is for me an almost transcendental declaration of the possibility of a noble future. The Statement, free of cant and sincere, describes a space Australians should consider occupying if we are to become truly great. It embraces the notions of unity and truth telling and therein the possibility of a confident Australia.

It behoves us as parents and grandparents to teach this generation of its intent, for by accepting the Statement’s recommendations, Australians might become emotionally equipped to occupy an optimistic country; beyond political spite and the dark bombast of propaganda. Consider this paragraph from The Uluru Statement from the Heart.

“This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown”.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney based author. His book, Best and Fairest is available at Valentine Press

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Watching Richard Di Natale posit the Greens political philosophy on Insiders with Barrie Cassidy (ABCTV 19/08/2017) reminded me of Kermit the Frog’s cutesy tune, It’s Not Easy Being Green.

On the eve of another round of political destabilisation, Di Natale had an opportunity to make a case for Greens’ values. Instead the interview ended with the leader defending an increasingly irrelevant so-called leftist party.

Di Natale and thousands of Greens supporters refer to mainstream political groupings as ‘the old parties’. This despite the fact a majority of the Greens faithful — at least in the electorate where I live — are white-haired baby boomers or greying Gen Xers. These well-educated trend makers have gentrified popular inner-city electorates to such an extent they are now no-go zones for up and coming millennials. The 20 somethings, who prowl the charming inner-city streets, cannot and will not own local real estate, yet Di Natale’s rank and file don’t see the inherent contradiction with this new-fangled colonisation.

Parsing Di Natale’s political rhetoric exposed the hypocrisy of the Greens under his leadership. Instead of calculating his responses he made his political tactics crystal clear to an incoming Labor Government should the electorate choose to kick Turnbull out at the next election.

Di Natale said the Greens would oppose a revamped energy policy.

But apart from trotting out the usual tropes of more renewables and attacking Labor’s base in coal mining electorates, such as the Hunter region, Di Natale failed to articulate his own party’s energy policy. Cassidy gave him the opportunity, and Di Natale fluffed it, choosing instead to speak to his uncritical supporters. Rather than answer the obvious follow-up question Di Natale avoided his party’s greatest environmental failure.

Cassidy recalled August 2009 when Greens elder statesperson Bob Brown voted down Kevin Rudd’s carbon pollution reduction scheme. During this ignoble Greens train-crash, Brown rationalised the target of five per cent reduction, too small. In a subsequent interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Brown said the Greens target of 25 to 40 per cent reduction meant “the foundation is there to get it right”.

In fact, had the Greens supported the legislation, the energy debacle which continues to roil Australian politics, would likely have disappeared.

Brown’s catastrophic political misjudgement is now Di Natale’s legacy, and his utterances on Insiders make it almost impossible to imagine a well-disciplined incoming Labor Cabinet countenancing any deal with the Greens over energy.

The Australian electorate want the energy wars to end and Labor is aware of this self-evident truth.

As the producer gave the wind-up, Cassidy asked Di Natale about allegations of sexual abuse in the Greens Party, aired on a recent edition of the ABC’s 7.30 Report.

At least three young Greens women stared down the camera and recounted their graphic and grievous experiences. The women are part of an inner-city cohort which sit on milk crate stools, sip coffee and dream about a world without coal mines. Perfect cannon fodder for the Greens who are expert at exploiting idealism. But their day-to-day reality is badly paid work in the gig-economy as baristas or waiters, and being groped by political hipster yobs. Unfortunately, this behaviour is not confined to the Greens Party, but on Insiders Di Natale squibbed the matter by saying he could not comment because of an on-going investigation.

Ask one of these women, or their millennial friends, to list the number of inner city music venues closed down by Greens ‘community action,’ because the noise of people enjoying themselves distract Dakota and Jemima from their Pilates exercises. Or speak to one of my neighbours who still shudder when recalling a Greens pincer hijack of a Westconnex meeting at the nearby Jimmy Little Centre.

A quick trawl of social media reveals a party waging an internal stoush every bit as fierce as the Second Battle of Kharkov. Stalinists take note. But Richard Di Natale is no Nikita Khrushchev. He is a well-heeled Melbournian Senator representing a constituency identical to my local NSW State seat of Balmain

Before his election four years ago, the successful Greens aspirant for Balmain Jamie Parker, letter boxed the electorate with a stark, blue flier. On it were printed these words: “If you’re voting Liberal 1, give Jamie Parker your number 2. The Greens.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney based author. His book, Best and Fairest is available at Valentine Press.

Drought, the end of the right, and the Last Man

The sight of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull embracing a distraught woman trying to make sense of drought, reminded me of a line from an old song A Pub with No Beer, made famous last century by Slim Dusty.

There’s a dog on the verandah, for his master he waits, but the boss is inside, drinking wine with his mates. He hurries for cover, and cringes with fear; it’s no place for a dog, round a pub with no beer. (Songwriter: Gordon Noel Parsons).

If a rural publican offered a Penfolds Grange Hermitage or a schooner of Reschs, Malcolm Turnbull would probably choose the former. And here is the dilemma. Public houses and other small businesses trading across rural and regional Australia can barely afford to stock and sell much of anything, let alone beer and wine. And there is nothing the bosses can do about it.

Neither market forces, innovative business techniques, trickle-down economics nor individual determination can withstand drought. No matter what the marketeers throw at it, nothing can make it rain, and a failure to develop public policies which accept the forces of nature, will likely see off this current crop of right-wing nongs.

Speaking of nongs, when Francis Fukuyama published The End of History and the Last Man in 1989, conservatives around the globe punched the air, claiming they were right all along. The Soviet Union had collapsed, communism had failed, and liberal democracy fuelled by unfettered capitalism, ascendant.

In the year Fukuyama published his drivel, Malcolm Turnbull turned 35. The great dust storm of 1983 which denuded the Mallee and Wimmera, and the Ash Wednesday bushfires which killed 70 people, had begun to fade from the national memory. But like a beaten, cowering dog, the bush remembers, and it is this stark reality which deflates the logic of right ideology, namely market forces will solve our problems.

What the bush needs more than ever are far sighted, well-financed state and federal government policies. And those who work the land need to face the fact Australia is an arid continent which cannot sustain water-hungry crops such as cotton and rice, or graze cloven-hoofed bovines or sheep.

Malcolm Turnbull is now 64. And during his lifetime communist China has become the world’s largest economy, Russia is run by a master spy graduate of the KGB, England is facing the fact its fate has been entwined with Europe since Julius Caesar, and the President of the United States looks and acts like an episode of the Sopranos.

And drought, as articulated by Dorothea Mackellar, remains an undisputed Australian truth; beyond climate change, beyond coal, and beyond the prognostications of the Institute of Public Affairs.

So there he stood; the Last Man, swallowed by an endless, wizened landscape, wearing an ill-fitting Akubra hat. Skilfully placed beside him the distraught woman, dressed in expensive R.M. Williams clobber, and as far from the image of Russel Drysdale’s The Drovers Wife, as I could imagine. She nodded dutifully as the PM said her $12,000 relief cheque must be used for household expenditures and that only and the states are responsible for funding stock feed.

Image from theaustralian.com.au

Not once did the PM mention the travails of Indigenous Australians who do the bulk of hard yakka on the big country stations, nor the need to develop innovative methods to till and graze this arid land.

Instead the PM paid lip service to the drongos of the National Party, or whatever the so-called Coalition partner is called, and reminded us of the resilience of rural people. Perhaps he should have channelled the words of Dan Sheehan, the bush poet who inspired A Pub with No Beer …

The cowards become brave and the weak become strong, the dour and the grumpy burst forth into song, if there’s aught to resemble high heaven down here, ‘tis the place of joy where they ladle out beer.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney based author. His book, Best and Fairest is available at Valentine Press.

The dearth of Australian journalism

ABCTV’s the Insiders broadcast 29/7/2018 the morning after Super Saturday demonstrated the parlous state of quality Australian journalism.

After interrogating Liberal Minister for Defence Industry and Leader of the House Christopher Pyne, and Opposition Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek about the results of the previous night’s Super Saturday by-elections, host Barrie Cassidy introduced the panel.

For me this is when Australian journalism slipped over and fell on its arse.

The Guardian’s Katherine Murphy, the Australian’s Niki Savva and News Corp’s jolly old Uncle Malcolm Farr, all but spat their coffee across the set when Cassidy suggested it is time for media to drop the Kill Bill / Anthony Albanese-is-waiting-to-challenge nonsense.

The Three Amigos came close to hyperventilation. I would not be surprised if half their press gallery colleagues did the same, as they swallowed Berocca and munched handfuls of Panadol to clear muzzy heads.

The gallery including the Conversation’s redoubtable Michelle Grattan, fell for a Liberal Government ‘drop,’ namely Albo is set to challenge Bill Shorten.

Never mind the fact Tanya Plibersek minutes earlier swatted the story as so much tosh, or Wayne Swan said much the same on an earlier ABC news programme, or that Albo had called the story rubbish. No. Three top notch journos turned face-on to the cameras and said in effect, ‘we reported a non-story and are sticking with our assertion’.

Journalism?

Arrant nonsense.

How do I know this, and why do I believe this morning marked a low point in the worst week in the history of Australian news media?

If these three reporters had squeezed into the Unity Hall Hotel in Balmain on the day then Prime Minster Kevin Rudd announced reforms to mechanisms to appoint Labor Party leaders, and thus forbid a repeat of the Rudd / Gillard / Rudd debacle, they would have witnessed Anthony Albanese (Albo) at his finest.

Albo is my local member and I am a rank and file member of the Australian Labor Party.

Anthony Albanese, his close friend and mentor, former Senator John Faulkner, and the nation watched acts of unparalleled bastardry, which spelt the imminent examination of the ALP.

Make no mistake; Labor as a collective knew it either reformed or experience a horrible death.

Neither Albo, Faulkner nor other party activists, were prepared to allow this to happen. If Savva, Murphy and Farr didn’t know this, then they should not be in the business of reporting.

Here is the rub. This trio and the majority of the Canberra press gallery – so called ‘insiders’ – no longer report. They comment. But commentary is not journalism. Rather it is a corrosive aspect of the global entertainment industry’s gleeful destruction of the integrity of the fourth estate. Witness the Channel 9 take-over of Fairfax.

Did Savva, Murphy, Farr and others ring Albo’s office and ask for an interview? I’m not sure, but if they did, they did not file a report; at least I cannot find one. Indeed, Savva and Murphy said to Cassidy, ‘according to unnamed sources we knew something was going on and we faithfully reported this.’

Huh? How is it small journals such as this news outlet, with unerring accuracy, called the story out as a non-starter?

By the end of Insiders Savva, Murphy and Farr on cue, wept crocodile tears about the demise of Fairfax, but avoided the perspicacity of Cassidy’s argument the Kill Bill strategy had failed.

The ‘Albo for PM’ yarn will stink-up the place for a few more days despite the fact a slew of ALP federal members would make exemplary prime ministers.

Consider the talent of Albanese, Bowen, Plibersek, Burke, Chalmers, Clare, Wong, Dreyfuss, Lamb, and others. Now imagine a Muslim PM, Ed Husic, or an Aboriginal Prime Minister, Linda Burney. I can. Compare these citizens to the nincompoops which comprise the LNP Government. Yet according to the Canberra press gallery, their version of the story – Albo, aka Beatrix Kiddo, aka the Bride – will faithfully follow the Kill Bill script. Yeah right, just like the fairy tale of South Australia’s darling of the IPA Georgina Downer, taking her seat as the new federal member for Mayo.

Pick up your redundancy cheques, boys and girls, and don’t bother switching off the lights on your way out.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney based author. His book, Best and Fairest is available at Valentine Press.

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