Diarist-at-large Richard Ackland flys about the nation. By Richard Ackland.

Wake in fright wigs

Barrie Kosky, director of the Komische Oper Berlin, tells us that Australians are a “weird combination of Wake in Fright and Strictly Ballroom”.

The thesis had to be put to the test, and with that in mind your Gadfly headed to the Cauliflower Hotel in Sydney’s Waterloo last Saturday. While not exactly Wake in Fright, there was certainly an element of Priscilla meets Ballroom.

Diehard Rabbitohs supporters sat around sipping their beery tonic as several giant TV screens alternated between the trots, the dogs and the footy. From a tiny stage a clutch of drag queens emerged from behind sparkly curtains to entrance the South Sydney drinkers with some top-rate cabaret.

What has happened to drag, I inquired of Miss Ru Bella, chief Cauligirl and MC? From the days of hoofer Rose Jackson at Capriccios with Bill Gleeson on piano, the Oxford Street drag scene today seems a diminished affair.

Years ago I remember having a drink at the Albury Hotel, where the bar itself was a stage for drag artistes, one of whom was a glamorous but ancient Philippine performer, who was introduced as “Rose Hancock’s grandfather”. The scene now has moved south and west of the city. Apparently, you don’t need to go to Oxford Street these days to be gay. You can be gay in any pub, which is something of a breakthrough.

Kosky should send one of his talent scouts from the Komische to check out the Cauligirls at Botany Road: Marilyn Mootrub, Faren Heit, Azzy Sarah Topaz, Bree Vin Ammyl and Berth Ofa Nation.

1 . Piping hot

Pipeline, you may have rashly thought, is a surfing magazine. Not at all. It’s the official organ of the Cake Decorators Association of NSW, which finds itself in court on the receiving end of a defamation action after it published a notice of motion to expel a member for allegedly bringing the association into “disrepute”.

In a preliminary round, Judge Judy Gibson at the Dizzo struck out a few of the imputations, gave leave for an amended statement of claim and ordered some badly needed mediation.

The defamation courts seem no place for the gluten-intolerant at the moment, because in South Australia the full court has had to grapple with the question of whether public interest immunity applied in a case brought by the manufacturer of custard Berliner buns.

The full court judgement says that Dr Kevin Bucket from the SA health department besmirched the buns of well-known baker Vili Milisits by alleging some of them contained traces of salmonella. Fortunately, as a result of the latest appeal in this case, Vili can get his hands on the names of those who engaged in a salmonella survey by the department.

This rush of carb-induced litigation must be contained.

The pipelines of the surfing world, meanwhile, also harbour no shortage of reputational damage.

Indigenous surfer Otis Carey has filed proceedings against the publishers of Surfing Life and one of its journalists. According to court documents the plaintiff was referred to in these terms: “With his apeish face and cowering hair-curtains, I expect little more than Cro-Magnon grunts from his mouth. I am caught off guard by the clarity and eloquence of his speech.”

The magazine’s editor, Wade Davis, who is of African and Indigenous Australian heritage, issued an unreserved apology, saying he was “devastated that a thoughtless misread could have allowed an insensitive and damaging term to have slipped through to publication”.

2 . Freedom on wheels

What would Freedom Boy make of all this? In a sense we don’t need to ask, because he is on record with a set-piece response.

Commissioner Tim Wilson has already told us that there shouldn’t be a law prohibiting Aboriginals being kicked out of the pub on grounds of race. By not allowing people to show their bigotry, “the public cannot boycott that venue and hold people to account for their conduct”.

Brilliant stuff. So brilliant in fact that he repeated it last week in the wake of the Wicked Campers crisis. The company provides campervans sporting adorable slogans about fat girls and blow jobs, comparing vaginas to the weather or encouraging the public to “Save a whale, harpoon a Jap”. There’s been outrage, petitions and parliamentary rebukes. The Blue Mountains Council declared this marketing strategy a threat to tourism.

Wicked Campers director John Webb explained that “a sense of humour is a sense of proportion”.

And Freedom Boy raced to defend the right of the company to sloganise. The ABC reported him saying that, “Just removing things that are offensive, while it may seem attractive, is a very dangerous precedent.” People should protest by not using the business.

Later, coolness prevailed and in the time-honoured way Wilson said he was taken out of context and, of course, he deplored this sort of unpleasantness.

In the meantime, his “road map for the future of free speech” is taking shape. The massive symposium under the umbrella of the Human Rights Commission will be keynoted by Attorney-General Bookshelves Brandis himself.

Among the early-bird registrations for attendance is “Holocaust historian” Dr Fredrick Toben from Adelaide.

3 . Bib and tucker

There’s Clive Palmer, with his cars, planes, properties, shares, minerals and girth.

What a bulging register of interests he’s filed with the parliamentary housekeepers. Page after page of companies, shareholdings, directorships, trusts, real estate, spousal interests, boats, works of art. On and on it goes until you get to page 20, where we discover additional items: “Hermès baby towel, bath mitt and baby winter hat; Hermès men’s scarf; Hermès baby bib.” All valued at approximately $3000, all a gift from Sarina Russo and all incredibly fetching vestiges of patronage and wealth.

This could be the same Sarina Russo whose business straddles Queensland and the globe providing education, training and recruitment services. There’s also the Sarina Russo Institute, which specialises in English language skills.

It’s not the sort of frou-frou you’re likely to find on Jacqui Lambie’s register of interests.

Nonetheless, before baby Lucy Palmer gets to use these alluring items, it’s a beguiling thought that Clive might be munching his way through a caramelised banana split in his Hermès bib and being scrubbed in the tub with a Hermès baby mitt.

For the record, Hermes was the messenger of the gods and guide to the underworld.  

4 . Italian job

To Paddington, Sydney, and the Australian Galleries for the opening of the latest artworks from Michael Fitzjames, a vast space of brooding masterpieces simply called New Works.

The Saturday Paper commentator, biographer and masterpiece in his own right, David Marr, did the launch honours and observed that now Fitzjames has retired as The Australian Financial Review’s illustrator, “he never has to draw another stockbroker again”.

These are “free, mysterious works”, and even though tonally grey, black and white, they are nonetheless full of colour.

There was a smattering of redundant Fairfax journalists in attendance, and Marr observed that since they now had “capital” as opposed to mere incomes, there was no excuse not to buy.

Freedom of artistic expression was a matter on many lips. It was, after all, Fitzjames who scandalised segments of Melbourne’s Italian community with his wondrous map of Italy, which he called “Berlusconia”. Cities, towns and regions were renamed as Sardonica, Mafia, Pugilisti, Truculenti Lazi, Lombastardi, Pissante, Cretino, and so on.

Berlusconi supporters were incandescent with fury and took the Fin to the Human Rights Commission. Proceedings were drawn out, expensive and ultimately resolved.

No one seemed to blackban the The Australian Financial Review or Michael Fitzjames over this offence – which must have come as a disappointment to boycott and divestment advocate Timbo Wilson.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 26, 2014 as "Gadfly: Wake in fright wigs".

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Richard Ackland is The Saturday Paper’s legal affairs editor. He publishes

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