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

Eyebrow television

Citizens are braced for Sunday night’s screening of part one of Little Winston Howard’s hagiography of Pig Iron Bob Menzies. Winston’s televised doorstopper The Menzies Era must surely soon be followed by the musical. 

There are similarities between the two men. Both were warmongers – Pig Iron cantered into the European war because Britain was in it, followed by Korea and Vietnam; Little Winston proudly wears the triumphs of Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Both coasted on rampant economic prosperity that was delivered to them on a plate. Pig Iron delegated the closed-shop model of economic management to the Deliverance end of the hill tribes, led by Black Jack McEwen, while Little Winston and Costello frittered it away on welfare and tax cuts for the comfortable. 

Both were philistines. Menzies didn’t want modernist painters represented in a proposed academy of art, while Winston failed ever to express a thought about Australian literature, theatre, music or art. 

In fact, up to the time he lost the prime ministership in 1941, Menzies was regarded as an early model Graham Richardson – a “whatever it takes” operator and wheeler-dealer. 

For Winston to adoringly rebadge Menzies, founder of the Nasty Party, as the father of “modern Australia” is enough to make you want to reach for the sick bag.

1 . Acts of revenge

Gadfly travelled to the dark side of the Harbour Bridge this week, to the Cremorne Orpheum, for a three-hour session of Richard III

The play was directed by London artistic star Rupert Goold and filmed at London’s Almeida Theatre with Ralph Fiennes murdering and raping his way to the crown.   

Shakespeare showed us politics in the raw, reminding us that contemporary political dramas are so pathetically devoid of serious bloodletting. 

The film of the play opened and closed cleverly, with the recent discovery of Richard’s bones underneath a Leicester car park. The injuries to the bones are alarming, including having the skull sheared in two by a halberd, with other wounds inflicted posthumously as “humiliation injuries”. 

The Middle Ages still has much to teach us about revenge. 

Down the front of the theatre, spotted munching on choc tops, were the Supreme Court’s Justice Elizabeth Fullerton and silken copyright guru David Catterns.

2 . Lather of the House

Which reminds me... Spotted in Woolworths Potts Point was Australia’s human rights envoy, Fabulous Phil Ruddock.

It’s a long way from his old stamping ground in Pennant Hills, but there he was carefully examining a shelf of spray-and-wipe products.

3 . Knackered hacks

The Fairfax Legends cocktail party saw a gathering of more grizzled hacks than you could poke a stick at.

Everyone was crammed into the underground cavern that is Machiavelli in downtown Sydney, and the temperature soared. 

It was billed as a “time to bring together the giants of Jones Street journalism – a celebration of the Fairfax legends of the ’80s & ’90s”. 

Editors and reptiles clutched their tinctures and grabbed at passing plates of arancini balls. It could have been the last days at Jurassic Park. 

Eric Beecher, David Marr, Peter Fray, Damien Murphy, John Shakespeare, Darren Goodsir, Peter FitzSimons, John Lyons, Michael Fitzjames, Mike Seccombe, and a thousand other faces that blurred as the night wore on. 

From the walls, Alan Jones, Greg “Maserati” Hywood and Molochs père et fils looked down. In the belief that no one can get too much of him, there is even a portrait of FitzSimons filling
a blank spot. 

True to form for a gathering of legends, the sound system didn’t work, so no one heard a word of the speeches, which no doubt contained rallying cries about the bright future over the horizon.

4 . Kranksy sources

Which gets us to Kransky Mitchell, and his self-ordained role as an editorial living treasure.  

The former editor-in-chief of The Catholic Boys Daily has turned out Making Headlines, the first of what a grateful nation hopes is many books. 

It’s a mixture of hoary bits of gossip from inside the News Corp cult, Kransky hobnobbing with politicians, and copious swoons about Lord Moloch. 

A couple of things are striking. Kransky gets on the syrups with national adornments such as Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd and then spills their revelations, which they would have assumed to be confidential.

But what’s confidential when you have a book to fill? There’s Abbott dumping on poor, ursine Joe Hockey, saying he knows his “weakness” – he loves his food, he sleeps in and would be late for football games at university. Mitchell also fingers Rudd for leaking a telephone conversation with Dubya Bush and reports Abbott’s mockery of Julia Gillard’s bottom. 

“Of course I have broken a confidence,” Kransky tells Chris Kenny, his patsy interlocutor on Sky News. But he says this is “in the realm of tittle-tattle” so it’s all right to shop the source. 

It would surprise if many other journalists had the same slippery view, although on hand to lend support was another old European sausage, Michael Gawenda. According to an unnamed hack in the Daily, the former Age editor said he thought Kransky’s memoir would provide the public and historians with “an extremely valuable insight into a big chunk of Australian political history”. 

Then there is the author’s touching concern for his former paymaster, Lord Moloch, who was devastated by the revelations of Wendi Deng and Tony Blair’s horizontal folk-dancing.

The old mogul, we are told, has a sore back. “He was clearly lonely and struggling to sleep at night.”

This is a wretched state of affairs. Moloch is supposed to dish out the dirt on other people’s lives, hack their phones and reveal the peccadilloes, not have his own cuckolded circumstances ventilated.

5 . Relief Clover

It cannot pass unnoticed that after The Daily Smellograph’s relentless campaign against Clover Moore, the lord mayor of Sydney increased her vote by a primary swing of 10 per cent at Saturday’s city council elections. 

With enemies like the Smello, you don’t need friends. The paper similarly did a sterling job at the federal election, where its hysterical campaign for the Nasty Party saw the Libs lose seven seats in New South Wales, the Smello’s home turf.

6 . Mal missing

To the Brisbane Writers Fest where I find Barry Jones talking about discussions he had with Malcolm Fraser in the last months of Fraser’s life. They floated the idea of a new political force – The Courage Party. Fraser had said: “Just wait – Little Malcolm will do it.” 

Barry quipped to the crowd: “We need to report Little Malcolm to the missing persons’ unit. We might say Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews are assisting police with their inquiries.”

7 . Courting conservatives

Across to the Land of the Strangled Vowel and a wonderful, rollicking defamation case. As St Bernardi flirts with the idea of forming his own uber-conservative party he might consider what conservative bedfellows in New Zealund are up to. 

The NZ Conservative Party’s former leader, Colin Craig, is being sued by the head of the local taxpayers’ union, Jordan Williams, after Craig distributed a leaflet in which Williams and other “culprits” were accused of spreading “false allegations” about him and being engaged in a plot to damage his fabulous political career. 

Craig’s anti-gay-marriage party, which campaigned on “family values”, got almost 4 per cent of the vote in 2014, but sadly no MPs. 

The NZ High Court has heard evidence that Craig was allegedly harassing his press secretary, Rachel MacGregor, sending her lewd messages, one of which mentioned something about “magic hands down your panties”. 

There were other explicit texts and poems too graphic for a family organ such as this. But here goes: “I slept well because I dreamt of being between your naked legs.” Elsewhere, he is alleged to have said, “If there were two of me I’d marry you.” In a romantic gesture, the messages were marked “private and confidential”.

Colin informed his party, in a curiously worded sentence, that “any allegations of moral impunity were ‘scurrilous and false’.”

He told the court: “I considered Rachel to be like a sister to me... I accept my affection went too far... my behaviour was inappropriate, I regret that.”


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 17, 2016 as "Gadfly: Eyebrow television".

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

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