From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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Brushtail Graphics

The Great Quadrant Coup

White Trash faction captures control of Quadrant

30 December 1997

The 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.

It 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.

There 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 ideologists.

On 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.

Maybe it was only marsupial instinct, but a nagging inner voice kept insisting there might be more to the case.

Manne 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.

Dame 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.

For 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".

This 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).

Paddy's cows

My 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 self-esteem.

"This 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".

She 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.

Perhaps, 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 pages.

Perhaps also, as onerous as his weekend editorial duties would be, Paddy had needed this sort of challenge for a long time.

His 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.

A frisson of anticipation ran down my tail.

*Robert Manne, The Culture of Forgetting: Helen Demidenko and the Holocaust, The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne 1996.


Fear and loathing on the fireline
Call for conscription in the war against The Great Harlot Nature

13 January 1998

When 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.

"My 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 ..."

"No, 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."

It was a bad business and she looked depressed so I changed the subject by asking how her article for Quadrant was going.

She 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.

She 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.*

"David 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'".

"Well 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 ...'.

"And 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'.

"And 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'.

"And 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'.

"It 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".

Bettina 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".

I 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.

"Why 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 Quadrant".

*Foster, David 1998, 'Lightning turns the bush into friend and foe', Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 13 January 1998, p. 13.

The rampage goes on ...
Hayden, Pearson appointed to Quadrant

24 January 1998

I 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.

Just 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 cleared out.

Bill 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.

Imre 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.

Chris 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.

I 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.

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.

"And 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]."

Now 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 observation:

"Thus 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."

Was 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 ubermensch here?

• • •

A 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 public interest.



Mystery Christmas weight loss: left, Paddy McGuinness as depicted in SMH of 18 December 1997, right, on January 24 1998.