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

Richard Ackland
The art of strategising

Like all good Sydney institutions the dear old Art Gallery of NSW has embraced the glittering world of conquest and construction.

Conquest over neighbouring parklands is the mission as the gallery seeks to implement a vision it calls the Sydney Modern strategy. This is a fancy-pants name for a vast new construction to dramatically expand the size of the cultural institution so as to stage bigger and bolder exhibitions, no doubt accompanied by fatter management structures and well-buffed egos.

Already, the strategy has seen the creation of some fabulous jobs and even more fabulous titles. Jacquie Riddell, former PR-marketing guru for SBS and then the triumph that is Barangaroo, has come onboard as the “director of public engagement”.

Jacquie is described in the trade as a “creategist”, which is something to do with being a creative strategist. In the process, the gallery’s public program has been rebadged “the department of activation”.

John Richardson, who most recently worked with Russell Crowe and the Rabbitohs, is now the gallery’s director of development, and he has the distinct advantage of having up his sleeve an MA in arts administration.

Gallery director Michael Brand has also unveiled Barbara McKee, whose job is, among other things, to develop “two-way Sydney Modern strategy feedback opportunities and an internal communication plan … communicating goals to precinct partners … and one-on-one discussions with gallery stakeholders”.

Great interface skills are required. So with all these resources being tipped into this corporate mumbo-jumbo and expansionism we can only hope there are a few shekels left over for art curators.

Oscar Wilde famously said that he preferred the company of bankers to that of artists. “When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money.”

So very Sydney.

1 . What the‽

Just across the Domain parklands, heading towards Macquarie Street, we find another fine institution, the State Library of NSW.

The library has cleverly registered a trademark for the “interrobang”, which is now its official logo.

The interrobang is a combination of a question mark and an exclamation mark and it used to be on some Remington and Smith Corona typewriter keyboards.

The now displaced Lucida Grande font used by the Apple operating system, and replaced with what looks like Helvetica Neue, also had an interrobang.

Gadfly was hoping for a restoration of this joint symbol of exclamation and interrogation to all computer keyboards, but with the State Library owning the mark this might be out of the question.

Meanwhile, the Walkley exhibition of photojournalist finalists is still on display at the library, which gives James Packer an opportunity to see “Bondi Biffo” and a close-up of how he rubbed David Gyngell’s face in the footpath.

He was recently deprived of this pleasure when visiting the State Library of Victoria after sensitive management types hauled the same snap from the wall while the casino tsar was on the premises with young Lachie Murdoch.

2 . Old battle sparks fresh fight

Load your muskets, the history wars are back on. This time around the skirmish is over two Tasmanians, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, who were hanged in a ghastly botched public execution on a jerry-built scaffold outside what is now the City Baths in Franklin Street, Melbourne, in 1842.

Fervent Green folk around the Melbourne City Council, and the eccentric anarchist-in-chief and serial election candidate Joe Toscano, are keen to have a statue erected to honour the pair as freedom fighters.

Not so, says a trio of warriors at Cold War monthly, Quadrant. Patient readers may recall the bold efforts by the mag’s editor, Keith Windschuttle, to demonstrate that almost everything written about white settlement and Aboriginals was tripe.

His hundreds of thousands of words on the topic have been well rebutted. One example will suffice: Windschuttle describes the lethal 12-pounder used on unarmed Aboriginals at the start of Tasmanian hostilities as a “cannon often used for ceremonial purposes to fire a salute to welcome or farewell important visitors”.

John Connor, former senior historian at the Australian War Memorial, points out this and other blues by Windy, even as far as being wrong about what constitutes a war.

Now Marie Hansen Fels, David Clark and Rene White surge into battle, dissing the council for its “history-lite” story of the executed pair and gunning down The Age for “giving oxygen to the view” that the men were freedom fighters resisting white settlement.

Now all this would be the usual Quad-Rant pot-stirring if it were not for the writers’ suggestion that a memorial should be raised to a songwriter and man of respect, Winberri, who said with “unassailable logic” sheep ate grass belonging to his kangaroos, the whites took the kangaroos so why should he not be given sheep?

Which reminds us that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s sheep thief.

3 . Symposium begets pearls of wisdom

Gadfly spent Monday at a massively wonderful symposium on privacy, under the auspices of the fetching International Association of Privacy Professionals, Australia and New Zealand chapter.

I had no idea that privacy was a profession, but it’s pretty clear that it is, because of a significant colony of lawyers in attendance.

One of the sessions was a panel on the “internet of things” – which is something to do with your refrigerator talking to your car and telling you to bring home fresh cheese.

Former CSIRO boffin Dr Ian Oppermann made it clear that we’ve actually moved from beyond the internet of things to the “internet of everything”.

He gave the example of a project in Tasmania where sensors monitored the impact of pesticides on the land, their runoff effect on the water and how that water affected the oysters in the river system.

There were electronic sensors on the oysters to tell whether they were happy or sad. If they got too sad, a message was sent electronically to mollusc farmers telling them not to harvest their crop.

Peter Leonard, a partner at law shop Gilbert + Tobin, asked the crucial question – whether the oysters had learned to be permanently sad so as to trick the sensors and not get harvested and eaten.

This is why lawyers are worth fat hourly rates.

4 . Second chance for pulped nonfiction

Gadfly is pleased to report that Random House is aiming to have back on the shelves for Christmas the revamped version of He Who Must Be Obeid by Kate McClymont and Linton Besser.

It temporarily disappeared from circulation following an identity crisis, but fortunately nothing has deterred the publisher from hanging in there. Factoid checkers and lawyers have pored over every paragraph to make sure Santa can deliver an unblemished version of this rollicking Sydney bodice-ripper.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 22, 2014 as "Gadfly: The art of strategising.".

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

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