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

Princess Charlotte’s web of thrills

The highlight of Tony Abbott’s week was the birth of Princess Charlotte, fourth in line to be Australia’s monarch. Already the PM is organising an Order of the Wombat to be pinned on the tot’s tiny chest. 

On these occasions people tend to go wobbly. There were lines of ancient and besotted Poms draped in Union Jacks outside St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London, beaming as though their lives had been saved. 

There was even the buttock-clenching sight on the telly of cherubic young Australian monarchists having a gay old time toasting the latest arrival to batten on to the revenues of the Duchy of Cornwall. 

The blatts were beside themselves as they competed for exciting angles. The Women’s Weekly asked the question on everyone’s lips: “How will George cope! ... Plus: knit his cute jumper.” 

Needless to say, Woman’s Day is out with a souvenir issue, “providing all women with a window into one of the greatest fairytales ever told”. 

The nation awaits an appropriate lyric poem from Professor David Flint. However, the cake was taken by Lord Moloch’s Sun, which headlined the joyous event, “It’s a Tory” – with the Photoshopped head of PM David Cameron poking out of the royal shawl: “Today, after a gruelling five-year wait, and an appalling Labour, The Sun is proud to deliver our choice for the election...” 

This was contradicted by Zoe Williams in The Guardian, who thought the royal baby would “give Labour a bounce”. 

Celebration of descendants of the houses of Saxe-Coburg and Battenberg of Hesse knows no limits. To sober up we really ought to commit to heart Henry Lawson’s 1892 ode to Queen Victoria

There’s an ordinary woman whom the English call ‘the Queen’: 

They keep her in a palace and they worship her, I ween; 

She’s served as one to whom is owed a nation’s gratitude; 

(May angels keep the sainted sire of her angelic brood!) 

The people must be blind, I think, or else they’re very green, 

To keep that dull old woman whom the English call ‘the Queen’.

And so on for another seven seditious stanzas. 

1 . Gittany’s ex goes to court, looks to bar

The defamation trial of Rachelle Louise v Nationwide News has the reptiles packed into the NSW District Court’s Madd Tower. There’s a jury of four with Judge Judy Gibson presiding. 

Ms Louise is the former squeeze of Simon Gittany, the man found guilty of throwing Lisa Harnum to her death from a 15th floor apartment in Sydney. 

Louise is pleading that The Daily Telegraph called her a stripper, a prostitute, a woman of loose morals and suggested she is deluded because she believes Gittany is innocent. 

She was examined by her barrister Clive Evatt and said that since Gittany’s imprisonment her connection with him had changed. 

“I think it’s very difficult to sustain a relationship with someone who is in jail,” she observed. 

The Telegraph seized upon the news with the headline: “Balcony killer’s romance is over.”

The “modern day Joan of Arc” also told the court that she wants to be a criminal barrister, “to help people”.

Clive Evatt shot back: “Do you think barristers help people?”

2 . War hacks head back to Saigon

The 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon brought old war correspondents limping back to what is now Ho Chi Minh City. 

Tony Clifton, for decades Newsweek’s crack war reporter and now a habitué of inner Melbourne, was among those to return, while Bernard Edinger, formerly of Reuters, remembered flying in on a Boeing 727 just two days before Saigon fell.

His only fellow passengers were three Belgian TV hacks.

The odd thing was it was the plane’s captain, not the journos, who needed reassurance as he nervously paced the rows of empty seats. “What do you think will happen?” he asked. “Will the communists take over? What will they do to us?”

When all communication to the outside world had been cut off for a week, Edinger, travelling on a French passport, managed to send out the first story under the new regime, scooping the world by several hours.

Edinger notes his two colleagues, Australian Bruce Pigott, 23, and Briton Ron Laramy, 31, were killed in Saigon on May 5, 1968. Two other Australians died that day: Mike Birch, 24, of AAP, and John Cantwell, 29, of Time, travelling in the magazine’s pink Mini Moke.

Edinger recalled that the war in the Reuters’ Saigon office matched that of the battle in the field. Two of the bureau’s newsmen, David Laulicht and Pat Massey, were not speaking to each other and Edinger had to pass notes between them when they absolutely had to communicate. 

There’s nothing like journalists battling their way through the prickly thickets of no-speaks. 

3 . Into the theatre Fray

It was a dark and stormy night in Sydney and Gadfly battled the elements to arrive at Leichhardt Town Hall for a theatrical event in which he hoped someone would tear the thin silk from a heaving, alabaster shoulder. 

It was not to be. Instead were two thoughtful plays produced by long-suffering journalist Peter Fray and written by Mrs Fray, aka Katie Pollock

Blue Italian and Nil by Sea are about discovery, leaving home, finding yourself, belonging, identity and displacement. 

What could be more pertinent? There’s a charm to theatrical events on this scale that is often missing from the well-padded productions of the state-sponsored theatre houses. And at Leichhardt Town Hall, home to Rats in the Ranks, you can really sense the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd. 

Peter Fray Presents… is on until May 17. 

4 . We shall fight on the beaches…

I’m a great fan of local suburban newspapers, with their emphasis on advertorials and crime. 

Lord Moloch’s Manly Daily Street Watch column records all the criminal horrors of the neighbourhood.

There are also helpful safety tips from northern beaches crime prevention officer Senior Constable Kylie Boss, who advises: “Fences and gates should be low and allow full visibility of your home, so trespassers have nowhere to hide.” 

While we thought things couldn’t get much worse with threats from Islamists, the Daily stokes up the jingoism with news of despicable Spanish behaviour:

“A Spanish national who thought he could come to Australia and trash the place has been fined $350 for throwing a lit cigarette butt out of a car in Warringah Rd at Forestville.” 

Lucky he was not too close to the Abbott residence. God knows what the AFP would have done to him.

5 . AFTRS thoughts

I know everyone is thirsting for an item on the latest peregrinations of attorney-general and arts minister Bookshelves Brandis. Where would this column be without him? 

There was a revelatory piece in The Canberra Times on Monday from former senior public servant Paddy Gourley, who pointed out that Bookshelves had inserted himself into the process of selecting a new director of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. 

Outgoing director Sandra Levy leaves at the end of June and the school’s council has gone through all the hoops of appointing a recruitment firm to find a replacement by means of a rigorous competitive process, with the net flung nationally and internationally. 

It has come down to one person who has been recommended for selection. The AFTRS Act says the director shall be “appointed by the governor-general on the recommendation of the [school] council”. 

Now Bookshelves wants to interview the person selected by the council. So who’s running the show, the council who does the recommending, or the GG (shorthand for the executive council) who does the appointing? 

Since there’s only one candidate left standing, it’s not as though Bookshelves has to make a choice. If his past choices are any guide, he’ll be keen to see the appointee has the right political credentials. 

He’s already handed out a heap of jobs to former Coalition hacks. Gary Humphries was appointed a deputy president of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Former Howard-era minister Ian Campbell landed on the council of the National Maritime Museum and so did the diminutive former NSW Liberal leader Peter Collins. TV cameraman, cinema manager and National Party pollie Paul Neville was given a gig on the board of the National Film and Sound Archive.

And, I nearly forgot, Doc Albrechtsen was dispatched to put a bit a spine into the board of the National Museum of Australia. 

Not that Gadfly suggests any of these people are not fit for their appointments. All dazzling adornments to these publicly funded outfits within the gift of Bookshelves. The board of the Film, TV and Radio School is in a state of high alert. 

6 . And poof!, the partner vanished

So there they were at Le Bourget, the tricolour and Australian flags flapping lazily in the evening breeze as a small party await the arrival of AbbottAir 1. 

There was Australian ambassador to France, Stephen Brady, his partner, Peter Stephens, a French protocol fellow, Monsieur Hulot, or some such, and a few other functionaries in powdered wigs. 

Suddenly, a message arrives from Abbott HQ. Mr Stephens is to go and sit in the car. No one is to take him a pink lemonade. He’s not to take part in greeting the arriving PM. No explanation.

Brady felt he had no option but to resign his post. 

The whole thing was all a terrible misunderstanding. Tony Abbott was bursting at the anticipation of being met by both chaps … It was all “trivia” by “junior officials” … Brady is probably the PM’s closest friend … He’s a magnificent servant of Australia, etc, etc. 

Thank God it had nothing to do with Abbott’s well-ventilated sense of feeling “threatened” by homosexual men, who “challenge the right order of things”.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 9, 2015 as "Gadfly: Charlotte’s web of thrills".

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