Diarist-at-large Richard Ackland flies about the nation. By Richard Ackland.
Oh Fatherland, show us the sign
In this story
The sun on the meadow is summery warm
The stag in the forest runs free
But gather together to greet the storm
Tomorrow belongs to me
Traditionally this is sung by a blond youth wearing a swastika armband. And there it was, hauntingly rendered at Sydney’s Hayes Theatre in a terrific production of the musical Cabaret.
Judging by the average age of the audience, it was more a case of yesterday belonging to them. Nonetheless, the song has lost none of its chilling resonance.
A cast led by Paul Capsis, Chelsea Gibb, Kate Fitzpatrick, Jason Kos, John O’May and Debora Krizak created the louche spectacle of Berlin on the cusp of being Hitlerised.
It’s a crying shame that there aren’t more establishments these days like the Kit Kat Klub, the fleshy, schnapps-infused establishment where a lot of Cabaret’s action takes place – a reminder of the Sydney Journalists’ Club of long ago.
What strikes the audience are today’s lingering echoes of the 1930s. It started then with the collapse of civil discourse so that people were off the leash and free to hurl hateful abuse.
You wonder whether the anti-18C squad has any idea about history. Or as Bertolt Brecht put it: “For though the world stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”
My London field agent tells me he was settling in for a quiet night watching the box when onto the Beeb’s Nightline program popped “Spectator columnist and novelist” Helen Dale (ex-Darville, ex-Demidenko).
The former David Leyonhjelm adviser was debating political correctness with Catherine Mayer, author of Attack of the 50 Foot Women and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party.
There were hardly any surprises to be had because they both agreed it was a complex topic, although the BBC might have been surprised if a production intern had done some Google diligence on Helen Dale.
She told viewers that she grew up in socially conservative Queensland – “they handle snakes there and I just had to learn to deal with it”.
The famous author added that she had come to believe, “if you cannot handle nasty language then public life is not for you”. The handling of nasty language by people who aren’t in public life was left unaddressed.
Sadly absent were the ethnic Ukrainian clothes and the blonde tresses from the Demidenko era.
Brenda Lin is the surviving member of her family murdered in their North Epping home by her uncle Robert Xie, who is now serving five life sentences.
She appeared last Sunday on Channel Seven in an interview for which she was paid a reported $200,000. She came across as an impressive young woman.
Because of the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act her identity could not be published, but once Channel Seven started airing promos for the interview it was clear that she had outed herself.
She gave evidence she had been sexually assaulted by her uncle, which the crown said provided a motive for the murders – Xie wanted rid of Lin’s parents and siblings so that she could go live with him.
Channel Seven homed in on the sexual assaults during the interview with Brenda – after all, the $200,000 payment had some important ratings work to do.
It appears that while all the mainstream media in Australia dutifully avoided publishing her name, organs from the Chinese-language media, both here and in China, didn’t bother, identifying her and the evidence throughout the proceedings.
At the end of the trial they were hauled over the coals by Justice Elizabeth Fullerton, but by then every Mandarin speaker from Hurstville to Chatswood knew what was going on, while everyone else was in the dark.
Other attention-grabbing proceedings are under way before Formidable Fullerton J in the NSW Supremes.
Gordon Wood, former chauffeur to Rene Rivkin and masseur, is suing the state of NSW for malicious prosecution and wrongful imprisonment. He says he had a terrible time doing porridge, before he was acquitted on appeal in 2012 of the murder of his girlfriend Caroline Byrne.
Wood said the case against him has been “hopelessly corrupted” because of Byrne’s jealous ex-boyfriend and policeman Andrew Blanchette, the motives of expert witness Associate Professor Rod Cross, biased police, and crown prosecutor Mark Tedeschi making submissions without sufficient evidence.
If it seems pitched high it’s because the plaintiff has to prove that the prosecution instituted and maintained criminal proceedings maliciously and without reasonable or probable cause. The state denies this, saying the proper process of the law was followed.
Apart from being the senior crown prosecutor, Tedeschi is also a photographer and author of several books, the latest being Murder at Myall Creek.
He will be giving evidence in these proceedings – a rare event for a prosecutor to publicly explain and defend his trial tactics.
In a news flash from the South Pacific, I hear that former Tasmanian Supremo Pierre Slicer has adopted a Samoan name and has resumed sitting on the Supreme Court of the tropical paradise.
He has been installed as a Matai chief, with the name Lautalatoa (“child born in the shadow of the mountains”).
In 1992, the Tasmanian Supreme Court considered a case called Informal v Chief Electoral Officer, in which a gentleman called Dean Raymond Lohrey changed his name to “Informal”.
In the judgement, Slicer J reminded us that in ancient times the Pythagoreans used to change names with each other so they could share the virtues they admired in their friends.
In 2006 His Honour did a stint of judging in Apia and enjoyed it so much that the then chief justice of Tasmania, Hollywood Pete Underwood, had trouble getting him back.
His colleagues in Hobart were livid because while one of their number was enjoying life in sublime Pacific conditions, they were shivering with Antarctic winds whipping around their nethers.
President Trump is keen to do the banks a favour and scrap the Dodd–Frank Act, which is designed to protect consumers and make it harder for bankers to flog “shit” derivatives to customers.
Also under attack is the Volcker Rule, which largely prevents banks using deposits for speculative investments and trading.
The great vampire squid Goldman Sachs will have its tentacles all over these “reforms”. Despite Trump making play of Hillary’s Wall Street connections, he’s loaded Goldman into the top end of his administration.
Gary Cohn is the president’s chief economic adviser; Steven Mnuchin is the Treasury secretary; and the choucroute garnie-faced Steve Bannon is his chief strategist: all former operatives of the squid.
The choice for head of the Securities and Exchange Commission is a lawyer named Jay Clayton, who for years represented Goldman and other Wall Streeters.
A recent instalment of London’s Private Eye magazine handily reminds us that last April Goldman paid $US5.1 billion to settle charges of selling junk mortgage-backed securities. In 2010 it forked out $US550 million to see off SEC charges related to unloading “crappy” mortgage bonds onto investors.
The disaster of 2008 seems entirely forgotten now the banks are back in Washington big-time.
The great post-1929 protections in the Glass–Steagall Act, which prevented banks trading speculatively, were abolished in a wave of deregulation fervour in 1999. Hence we got 2008. Now Dodd–Frank is destined for the cutting-room floor. Stand by for the next round of greed-fuelled catastrophe.
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 4, 2017 as "Gadfly: Oh Fatherland, show us the sign".
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