By Frances Goold
The leftovers from a walk-in, walk-out sale of a Fitzroy Falls pile until recently owned by notorious racist, misogynist, carpet-bagger, footy coach, shock-jock, racehorse-owner, climate denier and all-round nice guy Alan Jones, AO (hereinafter referred to as AJOA), are currently up for auction at Lawson’s – and time is running out for final bids.
As eclectic and chaotic as the front yard of a Bondi hoarder, the Lawsons catalogue nonetheless manages a neat encapsulation of the proximity between AJOA’s aspirational accumulations of a lifetime and the petty mind behind them, a singular achievement exceeded only by the shamelessness with which this embarras de richesses has been mounted for public display.
Yet Lawsons can proxy as housecleaners here and emerge with bottom-line and reputation intact; it’s what they do. It’s no big deal that the contents of AJOA’s wardrobes have zero value or that a public airing of private linen might double as a metaphor for a nasty man whose paltry sensibilities are represented by the miscellany of kitsch scattered across the length and breadth of his old digs.
If taste may be characterised as a capacity for self-restraint, this is a virtue neither visible here nor generally associated with AJOA who, among other singular achievements was in 2007 deemed to have encouraged the Cronulla riots and engaged in the vilification of Lebanese people. Like a boxed set, AJOA’s racism has been consistently accompanied by a relentless misogyny (some memorable instances being that in his opinion women leaders were “destroying the joint”, recommending Julia Gillard be taken out to sea in a chaff bag, and that New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern have a sock shoved down her throat for her public views on climate), a characterological explanation for which remains elusive despite the grovelling walk-backs and apologies.
The link between AJOA’s tawdry opinions and appalling taste was perhaps most perfectly instantiated by his public campaign in 2018 to utilise the Opera House as an advertising billboard – in this instance for a horse race, the Everest Cup. His commercial interests in horse-racing aside, the unseemly spectacle exemplified his misogyny and lack of ethics, as well as his execrable taste. His on-air vilification of Opera House CEO, Louise Herron (who attempted to resist this philistine attack on a venerated symbol of national culture), was subsequently endorsed by the now disgraced then PM, Scott Morrison, and overruled by the now disgraced then NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian.
Thus the bounteous kitsch comprising the contents of AJOA’s home is unsurprising. His art and antiques collection reveals – like his ugly scattergun opinions – a flighty aimlessness that would shame a bowerbird; the result is a cabinet of curiosities resistant to description or classification beyond its usefulness not simply as an exemplar of poor taste, but as a symbol of the intrusive, bullying, colonising mentality for whom nothing pre-exists that has intrinsic goodness, beauty, or integrity worth the bother of protecting and conserving.
Aside from recurring themes reflecting AJOA’s interests (cars, horse-racing, himself, and so on), this auction array reveals an almost perverse inclination towards anything bereft of style, taste, depth, or consistent philosophy. Accustomed to talking up the grotesque and worthless, however, Lawsons has risen gamely to the occasion undeterred by a persistent dearth of provenance – even sentimentally inscribed gifts must fall under the hammer, a situation poignantly exemplified by a single work from a quietly embedded series of four by ‘Artist Unknown’ – the first of which is titled, ‘Remnants of Grand Dreams’, surely a fitting description for the entire shebang.
The entire collection is rife with equine statuary, prints and paintings and the inevitable racing mementos, alongside various examples of mounted jockeys and horsemen reminding us of AJOA’s refusal to be unseated as the self-appointed king of conservative radio talk-back. His penchant for vulgar opulence, Asian artefacts, and Empire (in the broadest aspirational sense) furthermore strengthens the impression of a man nursing a persistent delusion of himself as royalty of sorts.
Real treasures seem almost accidental, putting paid to any notion of AJOA as a serious collector, however. Aside from some genuine antique furniture and obvious investment acquisitions (a lovely Bridget Riley screen-print, an original Cazneaux photograph, the predictable Arthur Boyd, are but some examples), the indigestible remainder serve only to undermine the integrity of a few rare gems.
Nothing has been left out: Lladros figurines, a multitude of small ceramics of birds and animals, a trio of dodos (!), the inevitable frog ornament, wirework roosters and emu, a ‘pottery bush toilet’, a musical globe that plays ‘Silent Night’, a Waterford crystal Maserati, a laundry-sculpture-cum-lamp by Michael Yabsley of Wombat Hollow, and numerous groups of “small sundries” reveal a man of meagre intellect and negligible aesthetic sense for whom the smallest value takes precedence over principle. Indeed, one is struck by an overriding theme of the false and superficial, as if depth and integrity are a foreign country to this collector and famed gasbag.
Nor does anything seem real or alive, at least by day. Repeated glimpses of artificial flowers filling every vase (which also must go) scotch any notion that the Fitzroy Falls acreage might produce – god forbid – anything so tiresome or inconvenient as the real thing. There is truly no happily pristine environment for which one cannot find an ersatz substitute.
As well as harmony and truth, conservatives eschew reality. Take the kerosene lamp converted to electricity, for example – a staunch reminder of AJOA’s enduring confidence in the stability of the weather and his own well-heeled immunity from climate catastrophe. A little further along, in a poke to woke and the political correctness AJOA virulently eschews, blackamoors comport themselves in various positions of glittering, mute servitude to their owner’s imperial fantasies.
A taste for kitsch is fundamentally insightless and infantile, harmless in some but chillingly revealing in others; thus, given the context, Karen Choy’s anti-kitsch jokes were snapped up for the very thing they set out to satirise.
It’s often said that you can’t polish a turd. AJOA’s financially lucrative public conservatism, untroubled by reality, ethics or even a modicum of ordinary humanity has netted him vast wealth. The Lawsons catalogue is more than an inventory of the contents of a house; it is a catalogue of the tasteless, the despicable, and the offensive as concentrated in one man. It is a concatenation of follies no amount of gilding can conceal. It is also a glimpse into the meanness and provincialism of a Trumpian autocrat unruffled by any amount of jetsam from a malignant, lifelong crusade for wealth, power, influence, and revenge. After all, whatever muck is left behind will be mopped up by the ‘blackamoors’, by us lesser mortals, by ordinary Australians (OAs).
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