Kings of War is a four-and-a-half hour Shakespearean onslaught in Dutch at the Adelaide Festival, under the direction of Ivo van Hove and scenographer Jan Versweyveld. To keep us in the picture there were surtitles, but only our leading Hollander, Dr Andreas Blot, had he been there, could have wrung all the subtleties from the performance.

By Richard Ackland.

King’s lowlanding

Kings of War is a four-and-a-half hour Shakespearean onslaught in Dutch at the Adelaide Festival, under the direction of Ivo van Hove and scenographer Jan Versweyveld

To keep us in the picture there were surtitles, but only our leading Hollander, Dr Andreas Blot, had he been there, could have wrung all the subtleties from the performance.

This was politics in the raw with utterly contemporary resonances as
we see Henry V wringing fortune from war, Henry VI vacillating and ineffectual as warring factions consume him, and the most dazzling Richard III you’ve ever seen, seizing the opportunity that a few good murders can deliver and ruthlessly promoting havoc in a fragile postwar England. 

How today is that? To some extent it is Shakespeare for the Game of Thrones generation, while at the same time a completely mesmerising theatrical exploration of power and its use and misuse. 

The application of video and an onstage videographer takes us into the war room and behind the scenes into corridors filled with bodies or sheep. By the end of the show the Festival Theatre crowd was on its feet, hooting their appreciation to the troupe from Toneelgroep.

Slow food

To be sure, Adelaide has its charms. It still has a major arts festival rather than the story of annual bread and circuses turned on in Sydney. Elections here are in full swing, with the city and suburbs drowning in corflutes. Bars are buzzing, the wine is good, and “infrastructure” projects have the jackhammers going gangbusters in the inner city. 

Yet there’s a languid pace that takes some adjustment. The 40-minute sandwich seems to be a specialty. Gadfly enters a cafe and orders a ham and tomato baguette – nothing too complicated. Yet the skill entailed in its construction takes almost three-quarters of an hour. “I’ll check on your order,” says the hipster. “It will come through the pass any time now.” 

Another innovation that apparently saves time and promotes efficiency in the hospitality sector is not to wash the cutlery, enabling the remnants of the previous customer’s meal to be savoured by successive consumers.

Kept in the family

One of the strange legacies of Bookshelves Brandis has been the appointment of Will Alstergren, former president of the Victorian Bar, to the double-hatted jobs of chief judge of the Federal Circuit Court and as deputy chief justice of the Family Court. 

Justice Alstergren had not been noted for his endeavours as a lawyer in the family jurisdiction. 

In this regard, he is on a level footing with Family Court chief justice John Pascoe, an old law firm colleague of Stan Howard, the brother of Little Winston. Any chief’s role is administration heavy and Chief Justice Pascoe’s job is no exception. It means he can keep as far away from judging as he wishes. 

Just before he finished up as attorney-general, Bookshelves gave Alstergren the leg up as deputy CJ at the Family Court. 

Now, to the dismay of legal beagles and judges, Pascoe has removed Justice Stephen Thackray as manager of the Family Court appeals division and appointed Alstergren to that job. 

As if Justice Willy is not busy enough. One would think that running the Federal Circuit Court with its delays and associated problems would require total concentration. However, lawyers who have concerns about appearances are muttering that it doesn’t look right for the head of the first instance court for family law cases to be allocating work from his own court to the appellate body on which he also sits. 

Two hats too many.

Hypothetical hero

While Gadfly has been occupying digs on Glenelg Beach overlooking Gulf St Vincent, there has been ample time to dip into the latest autobiographic masterpiece of Geoffrey Robertson, QC. 

It’s easy to lose count of the number of photos of Lord Robbo plastered throughout the volume, which Roy Williams reviewed in The Weekend Australian, saying that Geoffrey was a name-dropper without peer. 

You have to get to page 437 before you discover his revelation that his separation from Kathy Lette has been accompanied by a “skinny dip in the fountain of youth, falling in love with (and, amazingly, being fallen in love by) a much (but not too much) younger professor of law from Eastern Europe ... an affair of the heart provides the best protection against calcification of its arteries. It certainly beats golf.” 

Much earlier, at page 257, it has become clear that the real hero of the Spycatcher case is not Malcolm Turnbull but Geoffrey Robertson. 

It was Geoffrey who gave advice to Heinemann’s chief executive, Brian Penman, about the legal pitfalls in publishing Peter Wright’s book. It was Geoffrey who offered the job to Malcolm to defend the right to publish the book in Australia. It was Geoffrey who insisted “the uncouth” Malcolm be kept on the case against the wishes of Heinemann’s publisher, Paul Hamlyn. It was Geoffrey who advised Malcolm how to apply for a Rhodes scholarship in circumstances where the applicant didn’t engage in a “muscular” sport. And so on. 

Robbo refers to Turnbull as “Little Malcolm” and this is because back in the day the Sydney University Dramatic Society was performing David Halliwell’s play Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs

It was about a young man in a bedsit planning to rule the world.

Zoo slander

Former stocks and shares commission agent Maurice Newman repackaged his old trope for The Catholic Boys Daily last week, that the world is cooling and we’re entering a mini ice age. After all, the climate warming movement is “really the triumph of ideology over science”, says the ideological non-scientist. 

This is alarming information, so much so that Andrew Woodward, an environmental and sustainability corporate relations guru, tweeted that Maurice should be sacked from his position as chairman of the Taronga Zoo Foundation.  “His position is untenable. He promotes policies that will kill off species – the species Taronga Zoo protects and proliferated. It is madness.”  

No doubt it came as a shock to many citizens that Maurice could hold this position at the zoo. After all, the foundation’s mission is to raise funds for scientific research and education – the very things deficient in the chairman, a leftover fossil from the Howard era. But there he is on the foundation website, lovingly photographed in the embrace of an Australian sea lion.

Security lapse

The Turnbull government is keen to get its new national security laws onto the statute books, as this paper has meticulously reported. Fresh sanctions against espionage, foreign influence, beefed-up powers for Benito, more secrecy and restrictions on reporting – the works. 

Yet, when it comes to security and counterterrorism, Trumble’s Coalition counterparts in New South Wales are quite sloppy.  Last month the state attorney-general, Mark Speakman, tabled six reports under the Terrorism (Police Powers) Act. The act requires the police to provide annual reports of their activities to the attorney-general and police minister within four months after June 30 each year, which should be tabled as soon as practicable after that. 

These reports relate to things such as applications for covert search warrants, telephone warrants, seizures, use of electronic equipment, arrests and preventative detention orders. The reports tabled under two sections of the act were for the three years 2014–15, 2015–16 and 2016–17. All the reports were dated January 23, 2018, so in two cases the documents were a mere two-and-a-half years late. 

Similarly, the Surveillance Devices Act, which came into force in 2008, requires a statutory review within five years of its commencement. Here we are 10 years after the act began and what has happened? The shadow A-G, Paul Lynch, asked the attorney on notice, who replied: “... the review is ongoing and that final consultation with relevant agencies is under way”.  

No rush. It’s only five years late.

Trumpette #60

It’s been a bumper week for the Dotard

Betsy DeVos, his education secretary, revealed on 60 Minutes that she didn’t know much about schools. Rex Tillerson, who knew more about oil than diplomacy, got the sack because The Washington Post reported he had called Trump “a fucking moron”. A creepy person named Gina Haspel, who is notorious for overseeing a Thai black-hole prison where two suspects were tortured and then destroying the evidence of what went on, has been nominated as the next director of the CIA. 

At the same time, a new book by investigative reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn includes details of Trump’s visits to a Las Vegas club that specialised in a stage show involving simulated urination and the use of strap-on penises, as well as some simulated defecation and a party trick with a champagne flute. Trump was reportedly in the club to woo Azerbaijani pop singer Emin Agalarov and his Kremlin-connected family. It is not clear if they caught the golden shower show.

The only person in Trump’s circle who seems to know what’s going on is porn actor Stormy Daniels. She got the payoff from the lawyers to keep shtum about her alleged rumble in the jungle with the then soon-to-be president. 

She wants to give the hush money back so she can make more money telling us what went on. She says she can accurately describe Mad Dog’s “junk”. 

The waiting for this detail will be torture. In the meantime, Daniels continues her “Make America Horny Again” stripping tour of the US.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 17, 2018 as "Gadfly: King’s lowlanding".

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

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