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

The route of no evil

Overheard on Sydney bus route 333 on Wednesday morning was an audible message crackling over the two-way from HQ to the driver, reminding him to be vigilant for unattended objects due to the heightened security levels. 

No one else had been told there was a heightened security level, which has remained stubbornly at “High” since Tony Abbott and Bookshelves Brandis jacked it up in September last year. 

The 333 is the current prime minister’s “second favourite” bus route, making a glorious trek from the city, along Oxford Street through Darlinghurst, Paddington and Woollahra, onto Bondi Junkyard, Bondi Beach and North Bondi. 

It does raise the question whether the heightened alert for the 333 is simply because it is among Malcolm Turnbull’s favourite bus rides, or whether the 171 from the city to Manly in Tony Abbott’s electorate is also subject to heightened security. 

1 . Yellow House art space comes to life

Things are looking up for the art space at Sydney’s Yellow House, which in recent years has gone through a number of iterations – pop-up shops, vodka bars, kitchenware store, and gallery. 

Now proprietors Phillip Bartlett and Janet Pennington, who redeveloped the Potts Point property in 2003, are behind a project to revitalise the space that in the 1970s was an artists’ collective, loosely under the direction of Martin Sharp, and inspired by Vinnie van Gogh’s unrealised dream of an artists’ colony at Arles. 

It was a full house on Wednesday night as the Australian Art Quartet took to the floor with works by Kats-Chernin, Puccini and Ravel. 

Dan Russell and Rebecca Gill on violin, Leo Kram on viola, James Beck on cello and Alicia Crossley playing the recorder wowed the locals and celebrities clutching increasingly warm glasses of wine. 

Pennington is the creative director of the space and more is planned – stage performances, art shows, more music. In fact, the AAQ is back for six more performances next year, one of which includes artist Wendy Sharpe leading the audience in life drawing of a naked composer whose work the musos will be playing simultaneously. 

What could be more synchronistic than that? 

Leo Schofield was among the throng, fresh from his magnificent spray that morning at the creative and business breakfast, where he described the current crop of festival and arts company brochures as resembling a catalogue for a Soviet-era department store. 

He said that his earlier outburst on Tasmanians and their politicians for chopping the funding for the Apple Isle’s baroque festival is now referred to in Hobart town as “Bogangate”. 

The new Yellow House arts project is a case of successful property developers giving back to the community. Not everything will be a profit-making enterprise, so a fair amount of philanthropy is entailed in this commitment. 

Around the corner, Bartlett also redeveloped in 2001 the old Benny’s nightclub and drug den into what is now Fratelli Paradiso. He bought the property from Abe Saffron on a handshake. How many people would have survived that? 

Abe was known for many things, but there’s one aspect of his career that has been neglected. A few years ago a drag-queen showgirl told Gadfly that Abe had the “Dick of Death”. 

2 . Tragedy strikes family of PR great

Weeks have passed since the upsetting events that have touched Melbourne’s prominently networked Kerr clan. 

Laurie Kerr was arguably Australia’s smoothest PR operator and many were saddened by the news that his daughter, Penny Bailey, was killed and her son, Stephen Bailey, arrested for the murder. 

Last month the 34-year-old was excused from a court hearing because of his mental state. 

In Melbourne speak, Kerr was a “Carlton great” and his widow Vivienne is the club’s No. 1 female ticketholder. The family tentacles spread into vineyards and horse breeding. Some offspring are flacks.

Kerr began International Public Relations, which earned him megabucks and business and political influence across the country. He and his former boss, Eric White, gave birth to PR consulting as we know it today. 

White had been Bob Menzies’ flack-merchant. Together White and Kerr made scandals and crises vanish, while avoiding the limelight themselves.

Among Kerr’s nine children, 34 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren a story endures. A young Kerr son was listening on his crystal set and rushed to tell his dad that United States president John F. Kennedy had been shot. After confirming the news Kerr rang the Herald and Weekly Times radio station 3DB and told it to play funereal music all night.

“Are they a client, Dad?” the boy asked.

“They are now.” 

3 . Roaring over-40s

Lord Moloch and Jerry Hall sprang to mind as I came upon Peter Porter’s moving poem, Sex and the Over Forties. I’ll spare you the entire offering. This will suffice: 

It’s too good for them,

they look so unattractive undressed –

let them read paperbacks! 


Trying it with noises and in strange positions, 

trying it with the young themselves,

trying to keep it up with the Joneses! 

[Last verse]

Back to the dream in the garden, 

back to the pictures in the drawer,

back to back, tonight and every night.

4 . Editing the editors

Meanwhile, Moloch’s pack of genius editors in his Australian newsprint division is being shuffled. 

Chris Mitchell, the beefy ed-in-chief of The Catholic Boys Daily, is transferring to an exotic new executive position and has signed to MUP for two books, the first a “funny and entertaining” account of his not very funny and rarely entertaining stint at the Daily

Lubyanka insiders say he’s to be replaced by another Queenslander, Paul Whittaker, currently the editor of Sydney’s tabloid comic book, The Daily Tele.

And, spare us, Queenslander Chris Dore from The Bowen Hills Bugle, aka The Curious-Snail, is coming to Sydney to edit the comics. 

The Guardian’s report of the changes at News Corp was accompanied by a grainy snap of Mitchell and his counterpart at The Australian Financial Review, the equally portly Michael Stutchbury. A reader’s comment captured the moment: “The photo reminds me of the younger Les Patterson cracking a few coldies with one of his mates to celebrate the news he’d just been knighted.” 

Dore is the fellow who ran child-like editorials in support of the ill-fated former chief justice of Queensland, appointed for political rather than meritorious reasons. 

His reasoning seemed to be that Tim Carmody was a battler, and his critics were from the “private boys’ club”, so obviously he’s the right man for the job.

The usual dim-witted mulch. 

5 . ABC hunt heats up

Meanwhile, over at the Spigeltent, there are groans greeting the contenders for the job of ABC managing director. 

Mark Scott is anticipated to depart in the middle of next year and the line-up is tipped to include former News Corp grand fromage Kimbo Williams; Michael Ebeid from SBS; Angelos Frangopoulos, the CEO of Sky News; and a couple of home turf people – the head of ABC digital Angela Clark and head of Aunty TV Richard Finlayson

If Frangopoulos got the gig it would give Moloch an insider at the helm of the public broadcaster. Williams would bring impressive dollops of pompousness to the task, while Finlayson was the fellow who hastily issued a grovelling statement just after Zaky Mallah appeared on Q&A. He said the program “made an error of judgement” in allowing Mallah to join the audience and ask a question. 

Mallah’s question was a perfectly reasonable one. What would happen if the minister had been allowed to decide whether to strip his citizenship, after he was charged, only to be later acquitted, of terrorism-related offences? 

It’s still a puzzle why the ABC comprehensively buckled over the confected furore from the usual suspects, with the board appointing the dole-bashers’ hero Ray Martin, and former SBS functionary Shaun Brown, to review Q&A

We’re still waiting for their collective output. 

Gadfly is authoritatively told that the MD job at the ABC, while ostensibly a decision of the ABC board, does not get ticked off unless the government of the day approves the selection. 

You can’t get more independently arm’s length than that. 

6 . What a Boy!

Freedom Boy Tim Wilson is safe and sound after having his dinner interrupted in Paris by the terrorist attacks. 

He’s on a global sweep spreading the word on freedom, and his unusual take on human rights, to officials in Ireland and Brussels, to dropped-jawed students at Oxford, and to this week’s G20 interfaith summit in Istanbul, where he received a set of Turkish cups and saucers for his troubles. 

Freedom Boy’s a legend.

7 . Press Council cries freedom at last

It’s heartening to see the Australian Press Council, the newspaper industry watchpoodle, is planning a gala press freedom conference next May to celebrate its 40th birthday. 

Obstructions to press freedom, defamation law and the effect of technological change on journalism are the themes.

Among the line-up is celebrated Russian investigative journalist Anna Nemtsova, Madhu Trehan from Delhi’s Newslaundry, and Willy Lam, formerly China editor of The South China Morning Post

Nemtsova was detained by the militia when reporting on the shooting down of MH17 and Russia’s support for the rebels in eastern Ukraine. 

The APC is also changing gears, moving beyond complaint handling and into press freedom advocacy, education and training. 

Bravo. About time reptiles of the press were trained and educated.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 21, 2015 as "Gadfly: The route of no evil".

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

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