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

Into the darkness

“Welcome to a Mazda Winter of Opera,” says the electronic signage at Sydney’s Bennelong Point. Mazda and opera are an interesting branding connection and one that audiences are coming to respect, along with surtitles that say: “Opera Australia – follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.”

Whatever you do, don’t start twittering now because Sir David McVicar’s production of Don Giovanni
is about to get under way.

Smatterings of the older glitterati are here – former justice John Hamilton and his wife Wendy Robinson, QC, former CJ of the Family Court Elizabeth Evatt, and Kathryn Greiner, now separated from former NSW premier Nick.

And all alone is the dumpling-like figure of Struggle Street hero Alan Jones. It’s hard to know if the Parrot thinks this show is up to the standard of musical favourite André Rieu, but he doesn’t look like a cheery soul as into the night he trudges the few metres from the Opera House to his digs at the Toaster.

A lonely, ageing butterball in a camel-hair coat. Maybe he is pondering Don Giovanni’s dreadful fate – the ghostly reappearance of the person he stabbed to death, followed by a series of convulsions as he’s dragged into hell by the devil’s handmaidens.

1 . From silly sausage to changed man?

There’s been an enormous tussle over the past 100 years between disciples of the “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck and American poet John Godfrey Saxe as to who was the original author of the phrase: Laws are like sausages – it’s best not to see them being made.

This came to mind as your Gadfly read about the pre-sentence hearings of former Bendigo solicitor Euan Vance.

Euan, who is a former Presbyterian minister and army chaplain, has pleaded guilty to charges in connection with siphoning $1.2 million from a client’s account to buy cars for female members of his staff he quite fancied.

He gave up making law and moved to Queensland where, no doubt inspired by von Bismarck or Saxe, he worked for a time in the sausage manufacturing business.

His evidence to Justice Michael Croucher showed the stress of working variously in law and sausage production. His wife worked for his law factory until he sacked her because she was constantly correcting him.

“She was a woman who had a lot of fine qualities, but one of her missions in life was to constantly correct me. We’d get home and she’d say, ‘Have you rung so and so? Have you done such and such?’ … In the end I had to say, ‘You’re fired.’ ”

Euan has since married a woman from Ghana he met online and he’s training himself in self-defence, should the need arise in prison.

Importantly, he’s a changed man: “I did tell a lot of lies when I was in legal practice and I was always covering up my badness, but because of my increasing trust in God … I have decided not to lie.”

No more law practice, no more sausage processing, no more lies.

2 . Pulp nonfiction

In the latest bulletin from book world, I see that publisher New Holland has recalled copies of Evil in a Blue Hoodie: The Tragic Murder of Jill Meagher, by Joe St John.

This is due to a court suppression order requiring everyone to keep shtum about the priors of Meagher’s convicted killer Adrian Bayley.

The fact that Bayley’s criminal history has already been widely reported makes no difference. He’s facing another trial and the fiction that the jury lives in cotton wool must be maintained.

St John’s book will stay under lock and key until after the verdict comes down next year.

Meanwhile, the pulping machine has done its dreadful work on the first edition of Kate McClymont and Linton Besser’s He Who Must Be Obeid.

Chris Brown is the man whose identity was muddled in the book, and in his corner is solicitor Mark O’Brien. He acted for Obeid and against McClymont in the notorious 2006 Oasis defamation case; he acted for her when he did the legals at Fairfax; and now he’s resumed his natural posture acting against her.

Meanwhile, Random House is going over HWMBO with a fine toothcomb, aiming to have it back in print as soon as humanly possible, without the inclusion of the wrong Brown.

3 . Cross put through Weekly content

Over at The Catholic Weekly the censor’s scissors are also snipping away. Some readers of the organ are upset at what they see as an overly saintly attitude towards what can appear in print.

The Australian Catholic Historical Society (ACHS) had arranged to place monthly advertisements in the newspaper, giving notice of their regular meetings and talks – yet from time to time the paper objects to these subversive missives and refuses to publish them.

For instance, notice of an address earlier this year to the society by the writer, historian, broadcaster and former Catholic priest Paul Collins was canned.

Apparently, you can’t get anything more blasphemous than a speech by Dr Collins.

The Catholic organisation, Catalyst for Renewal, sought to promote a forthcoming talk by Mary McAleese, the former president of Ireland, but that too was knocked back by the Catholics’ official organ.

According to The Irish Times, McAleese had been critical of George Pell’s appointment to Rome, describing it as part of the “old boys’ club”. Might that have had something to do with the black ban?

When noted lay Catholic Dr John Carmody, president of the ACHS, sent for publication his summary of a talk to the society by Father Edmund Campion, it too was spiked. Apparently a reference to the recently deceased Cardinal Clancy upset the editors.

Actually, Father Ed’s speech was an absolute cracker. It was called “Spying for the Holy Office: A Sydney story.”

Ed had been ploughing through some of the archive boxes left to the State Library of New South Wales by Terry Purcell, the former parish priest at St Benedict’s, Broadway, and discovered that Terry had deluged the Vatican with correspondence denouncing heretics, dissenters and other doctrinally suspect people.

The man from St Benedict’s had been supplying Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) with these secret character assessments. Father Purcell suspected the reliability of the postal service so he entrusted his correspondence to be hand-delivered to the authorities in Rome by a Qantas steward, described as his “senior acolyte”.

4 . How tweet it is

And what’s happened to free speech at the Institute of Paid Advocacy? There are dreadful reports that Alan Moran has been booted from the “think tank” for, of all things, being a bit of a bigot on Twitter.

If an IPA fellow gets defenestrated because he offends, insults and humiliates on the basis of race, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Moran is a big opponent of renewable energy, Islam, Labor, the Human Rights Commission, the ABC and lots of other things that endanger our beautiful way of life. In fact, Team Captain Tony Abbott was thinking of getting Moran to run the review of the renewable energy target, but decided he might be too soft for the job, so got old fossil Dick Warburton instead.

On August 9, Moran cheerily tweeted: “Is there ever anything but evil coming from Islam?” He also retweeted a tweet from @BarracudaBrigade in the US: “Even ordinary Muslim families are infected by evil.”

If that was not fetching enough, Alan let his inner charm bubble to the surface with this tweet on August 17: “Tanya Plibersek backs rape probe into unnamed senior Labor figure. Can only be ’cus he is a rival for leadership?”

Only days earlier IPA grand fromage, John Roskam, said: “Freedom of speech is fundamental to democracy. If people are not free to debate and discuss ideas then we no longer live in a free society.”

Except when it comes to Alan Moran’s raw knuckle variety of “debate”.


Tips and tattle: [email protected]


This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 30, 2014 as "Gadfly: Into the darkness".

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

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