Great Quadrant Coup
Trash faction captures control of Quadrant
patrons of the Brushtail Café were all a-twitter at the news
of ructions on of the editorial board of Quadrant, the premier
intellectual mouthpiece of capital 'C' Conservatism in Australia, not
to mention the announcement that The Great Fulminator himself, Paddy
McGuinness, was taking the editorial reins.
seemed control had been wrested from the Political Correctness Faction
following a palace coup, rumoured to have been led by right wing academic
Dame Leonie Kramer and celebrated arts grant recipient and self-confessed
'redneck' poet Les Murray. The coup toppled the eminent historian Robert
Manne from editorship of the low-circulation journal.
followed the traditional exchange of politely vitriolic letters and
restrained op-ed pieces with which the Sydney Morning Herald
covers such fallings-out in the small and incestuous world of conservative
the face of the debate, Manne's heresy was to have steered Quadrant
towards what the board felt was a fashionable left-wing political correctness
-- by which they apparently meant his interesting idea that the women
and the boongs had had a rough time at the hands of society.
it was only marsupial instinct, but a nagging inner voice kept insisting
there might be more to the case.
seemed to be a nice sort of bloke and his book The Culture of Forgetting
*, is a masterly analysis of the intellectual cause celebre surrounding
Helen Demidenko-Darville's anti-semitic novel The Hand that Signed
the Paper. Unfortunately, his resolute defence of historical truth
against rabid anti-semitic folklore can hardly have been received with
pleasure by many on the conservative side of politics and, indeed, on
the Quadrant editorial board.
Leonie was, after all, one of the judges who awarded the prestigious
Miles Franklin prize to the hoaxer Darville and who, as the controversy
mounted, doggedly refuse to acknowledge the anti-semitic nature of the
novel or to withdraw the award.
Dame Leonie, Paddy McGuinness, and the Sydney Morning Herald's
nameless editorial writer (was it Padraic P. himself?), not to mention
scores of newspaper and radio pundits, the affair was about the intolerance
of the "politically correct".
followed the general line of the anti-political correctness party which
tends to shamefacedly defend demagogues, racists, misogynists, and thinly-concealed
nazis with the plea that any criticism of the ideas of these people
is tantamount to censorship. Thus, for the Demidenko defenders, criticism
of her novel was an attack on "free speech" (in Paddy's words)
or even on "a tolerant and fair-minded society" (as Kramer
would have it).
mind was troubled by these things when Bettina popped into the café
to take the weight off her six inch heels. Tricks were slow up at the
corner, she said, and besides that she wanted to jot down some ideas
she had for a Quadrant piece. She had a thing about original
sin, the primacy of feminine perfidy and the alarming growth in the
number of women politicians ... which she saw as an assault on male
is your big chance", I said, "There'll be no sacred cows in
Paddy's Quadrant ... it'll be a veritable charnel house of holy
beasts butchered at random".
ordered a coffee prepared in the manner popularised by the friars of
the Capuchin order and began scribbling in a tiny scratchy hand on the
back of a napkin.
I thought, at the level of literature, in terms of the pure pleasure
of reading shady ideas expressed in wild and tortuous prose; on the
level of ingenious special pleading and effortless bitchiness, perhaps
at that level -- there was no getting away from it -- Paddy was The
Right Choice, especially if, as so often happens with little journals,
he is forced to contribute regularly himself, in order to fill up the
also, as onerous as his weekend editorial duties would be, Paddy had
needed this sort of challenge for a long time.
writing had, I felt, declined in interest since he cut his SMH columns
back to two a week. When he was pumping out four or five, the pressure
of the deadline pushed his writing towards a unique stream-of-consciousness
analytical style ... in which his real strengths came to the fore.
frisson of anticipation ran down my tail.
Manne, The Culture of Forgetting: Helen Demidenko and the Holocaust,
The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne 1996.
and loathing on the fireline
for conscription in the war against The Great Harlot Nature
I went down to the Brushtail Café at dusk, I was surprised to
see Bettina propped up at a table in the corner reading the Sydney Morning
Herald. She looked terrible. There were big bruises on her arms and
in spite of her sunglasses I could see she had a black eye.
God", I said "Not one of those screen jockeys from the merchant
bank again ... I could get Ann and Geraldine from Dykes on Bikes to
pop down to Pitt Street and sort them out ..."
it wasn't them, I don't know what happened" she said, "He
reckoned he was a member of parliament ... the State mob down in Macquarie
Street, so I congratulated him on his superannuation rise and the next
thing he went berzerk and started thumping me."
was a bad business and she looked depressed so I changed the subject
by asking how her article for Quadrant was going.
pulled a wad of paper from her handbag and spread it out on the table.
Her tiny spidery handwriting covered the backs of used envelopes, parking
tickets and old Wetchex instruction leaflets.
had titled it 'The Role of Female Triumphalism in the Decline of Male
Self-Esteem'. It drew heavily on the public panic over girls' successes
in the 1996 HSC, the writings of St Paul and a rambling op-ed piece
on the Wingello bushfire tragedy from the Sydney Morning Herald
by one David Foster who was said to be an author and a deputy captain
in the Rural Fire Brigade.*
is a genius", she said, "Listen to this: 'I believe it imperative
that we redefine fire-fighting as men's business. That a woman was critically
burnt in that Wingello tanker was the worst aspect of it. Women can
certainly do the work, but the presence of women on a fireground, and
the voluntary nature of the service, militates against the efficient
deployment of our equipment'".
David seems to have a problem about women", I said, "Check
out paragraph three: '... and the bush, that old tart, perfumed up and
deshabille, smelt like a new-age boutique', and then, 'The eucalypts
are in heat at present ...'.
then follows his description of the burnt-out tanker and the burnt men
and his lush remarks on the inaptness of comparisons between the burn
wounds and the hairy fan-flower Scaevola ramosissima and his
tasteless observation that 'It must be a nasty way to depart the service,
cooked in close company'.
then there's his anthropomorphic stuff about the stringybarks (in heat,
no doubt) and how he hates them with a passion; how the stringybark
will 'cosset a flame' and how David and his boys 'spent a lot of time
chasing flames, with a hose stream, up the stringybarks'.
then he winds up with a terrific flourish: the good old volunteer brigades
aren't good enough for David, he wants 'a well paid army of conscripts
and professionals ... a job for young rural unemployed men'.
all sounds pretty obvious to me". I said, "The bush is female,
an old harlot no less, and it needs to be triumphed over by a bunch
of ardent stormtroopers ... and on the way to the final conflagration
we'd better purge the women from the ranks lest they weaken our boys'
resolve and fighting ardor. If there isn't a freudian subtext in all
this, I'll be a mangy wombat".
had cheered up and was nodding ethusiastically "You're right, she
said, "David sees so much further than Phil Koperburg, and he is,
after all, a famous author".
felt confused and out of my depth. There was no accounting for human
taste. I was struggling to think of a single novel that David had written
and his article read like an turgid fusion of poetry and prose ... but
then an inspiration hit me like a firestorm running uphill with a gale-force
westerly behind it and a fine fuel loading of two tonnes to the hectare
in front of it.
don't you ring David and suggest he calls Paddy McGuinness", I
said "The Millenium is rushing upon us. The Book of Revelations
is coming back into fashion. His stuff will go down well in the new
David 1998, 'Lightning turns the bush into friend and foe', Sydney Morning
Herald, Tuesday 13 January 1998, p. 13.
goes on ...
Pearson appointed to Quadrant
let out a guttural possum chuckle when I read in the Sydney Morning
Herald that dear old Bill Hayden, former ALP 'Left' minister, former
Queensland cop, former prime ministerial aspirant, former republican
and former governor-general had been appointed to the editorial board
of Paddy McGuinness's new-look Quadrant.
then the right-wing scribbler and Bob Dylan freak, Imre Salusinszky,
came on ABC radio telling a startled Peter Thompson that the Hayden
appointment disproved rumours that the new board was dominated by the
Far Right. It was just that the Melbourne Tory Paternalists had been
Hayden was "... a quirky, freethinking, idiosyncratic kind of character"
he maintained, and then went on to point out that Bill was one of Australia's
first economic rationalists.
gibbered on in his undergraduate sort of way and I went back to reading
the Herald. It was then I noticed that Christopher Pearson, formerly
John Howard's speechwriter and the most famous right-wing gay in the
country had also got the nod from Paddy and my interest was aroused.
is editor of the something called the Adelaide Review and I suddenly
remembered a most curious thing in one of Paddy's recent SMH columns.
went back across the lane to the office, pulled out the PaddyWatch file
and returned to the cafe. There in Paddy's ramblings of 18 December
1997 I found it.
was the most enjoyable sort of Paddywaffle imaginable: a wild fulmination
on the rights and wrongs of the Cheryl-Kernot's-had- former-student-lover
affair in which nobody (except Paddy) emerged too well, but women who
had relationships with younger men seemed to emerge particularly badly.
some of the women of that era [the 1970s] continue to flaunt their relationships
with younger men, their 'toy boys'. Apart from the grossness involved,
provided the younger men are neither their employees nor their students,
that is nobody else's business. The same goes for older men with younger
girlfriends or 'trophy wives' and, of course, for homosexual couples
of whatever orientation. And even for those who did none of it but confined
themselves to solitary practices [presumably a reference to columnists]."
this followed a passage in which Paddy comments on the plight of Christopher
Pearson who had, somewhat improbably, attacked Cheryl Kernot over her
relationship. Paddy hastened to Pearson's defence with the following
the Adelaide Review editor ... cannot complain that his own past
has been brought into the matter, but it needs to be pointed out that
at the age of 22 when he became the lover of South Australia's Chief
Justice, John Bray, who was then nearly 60, Pearson was neither a pupil
nor an employee of his lover. Such relationships between young and old,
especially when the older partner is a person of great intelligence
and civilisation, can be enormously beneficial to the younger partner."
Paddy really driving at something here? Was there something he
was alluding to? Something he wanted to share with us? Did I
detect, in the last sentence a note of longing? Is the toy boy
thing OK for an intellectual elite -- for persons of "great intelligence
and civilisation" (however that may be defined) and not for the
others, when it constitutes grossness? Were we close to Nietzsche's
few days later I noticed something different about Paddy's dinkus in
the Herald. He seemed somehow younger and less threatening, although
perhaps not yet more appealing. I put the two pages side by side. Yes,
Paddy had lost a lot of weight over Christmas. My imagination ran wild
but I banished the thoughts from my mind ... it was not a matter of
Christmas weight loss: left, Paddy McGuinness as depicted
in SMH of 18 December 1997, right, on January 24 1998.