The Russians know a thing or two about how to hold a press conference. In Moscow, Vladimir Putin holds an annual end-of-year session running for about four hours. In Canberra, his ambassador, Grigory Logvinov, was responding to the expulsion of two diplomats as part of a Western response to chemical weapon attacks on the Skripals in London. By Richard Ackland.

Gadfly: Throwing the book at Dutton

Two fabulous singers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo greet Gadfly and other guests at Gleebooks. This is not a run-of-the-mill book launch at the bibliolatry’s famous upstairs venue. 

Miriam and Jemima came to Australia via a refugee camp in Malawi. In fact, Jemima was born in the camp. Such is life’s journey. 

We’re all here for the launch of Dr Lydia Gitau’s book about the South Sudanese holed up in the Kakuma refugee camp in north-western Kenya. Gitau is a Kenyan who has been doing her PhD at Sydney University and currently works at the trauma and torture treatment service in Sydney. 

Snake-eyed Dutton should go to Kakuma and see how people live beyond his empathy-free world. He might find there are more than a few suitable au pairs. 

The camp was built for 60,000 people and currently houses 180,000 refugees from South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Burundi and the DRC. It’s about the size of Geelong or Townsville and less than 5 per cent of its inhabitants are expected ever to leave. 

South Sudan has been at war for five decades, with its northern neighbour and with itself. The American Civil War, by contrast, lasted a miserable four years and the English Civil War nine years. 

The death and displacement of South Sudanese has been one of the world’s great horrors. Rape and murder are everywhere. China and Russia have been supplying weapons. Oil production is half what it was in 2013. 

Gitau stayed in the camp interviewing refugees. Her book is full of sadness, resilience and hope. Here is the context missing from Dutton’s lazy, cheap shots at South Sudanese refugees living in Melbourne. 

Rush out and buy it, for a solid bit of Easter reflection: Trauma-Sensitivity and Peacebuilding.

The lionising of the unicorn

There were scenes of serenity at the Art Gallery of New South Wales for a viewing of The Lady and the Unicorn, which requires an advanced booking for an inspection of no more than half an hour. 

These French tapestries are from the Middle Ages dealing with the Aristotelian senses – smell, touch, taste, hearing and sight, plus a special sixth sense, desire. 

They were discovered in 1840 at the Château de Boussac – rolled up, with the rats having had a good gnaw – and ultimately restored. Premier Gladys Berejiklian went into overdrive at the official program: “Securing such a remarkable work exclusively for Sydney reinforces NSW as a global destination and shows the Art Gallery of NSW is held among the world’s most acclaimed cultural institutions.” 

We also learnt that the unicorn was a very busy creature in the mediaeval period. It symbolised, among other things, speed, chastity, purity, grace, courage, compassion, Christ’s incarnation, love and marriage. Ever since, it has been hanging about on crests in the company of lions. 

Uniquely, unicorns could be caught only by virginal maidens in forests. That’s why there are none at Taronga Zoo.

From Russia with Logvinov

The Russians know a thing or two about how to hold a press conference. 

In Moscow, Vladimir Putin holds an annual end-of-year session running for about four hours. 

In Canberra, his ambassador, Grigory Logvinov, was responding to the expulsion of two diplomats as part of a Western response to chemical weapon attacks on the Skripals in London. 

His excellency told the bug-eyed press contingent that the Ruskies had no spies at its embassy Down Under – categorically, absolutely, no way José. 

Grigory used a combination of favoured techniques to deal with the media: victory by asphyxiation and exhaustion. The reptiles are herded into a crowded, airless room while every question is answered at interminable length. It’s amazing how quickly everyone starts looking at their watches and fiddling with their phones. 

Gadfly has also witnessed another time-honoured method – the bladder technique, whereby the hacks are filled with fluids before the show gets under way so the questions are cut short as they race for the facilities.

Junket ban

In other media news, The New York Times is advertising for an enterprising and versatile correspondent to bolster its coverage of Australian and New Zealand affairs.   

The demands include reporting, synthesising, revising, iterating and multi-tasking. A colleague who does part-time writing for the NYT discovered some smallish print in the contract: 

“You agree that with regard to the materials written under this agreement, you will take care to avoid conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflict, and you will otherwise comply with the applicable provisions of the policies on ethical journalism ... For example, but without limitation, in connection with the materials, you will not accept free transportation, gifts, junkets, or commissions/assignments from current or potential news sources, and you agree to disclose to The Times any financial interest you may have in the subject matter of the materials.”

What – no conflicts, no gifts, no junkets? Little wonder journalism is going to the dogs.

Beefed-up steak

Meanwhile, The Australian Financial Review was lifting journalism up a notch last week with the story about a $600 steak sold to punters at The Star casino. 

Former advertising man turned restaurant reviewer Terry Durack was on hand with the superlatives: 

“[The chef] places it over cherry wood coals to imbue it with the aromatic smoke and bring it to room temperature. Then he moves it to the fiercely hot open grill over glowing logs of iron bark ... I take a bite and my mouth is instantly swamped with buttery juices, taking me by surprise. It’s the intramuscular fat, clean and buttery, melted by the heat. The meat is tender and giving, but still feels like real meat ... It’s not so much beefy as savoury and vegetal – pure umami – with a slightly smoky back flavour.” 

Synchronistically there was a whole page more of this tosh about the $600 lump of meat in the PR-riddled Life & Leisure liftout in the middle of the paper. 

Let’s hope there were no compromising “commissions/assignments from current or potential news sources”.

Mass direction

It was gratifying to see Little Winston once more bursting into print in the Fairfax press, addressing Kevin from Heaven’s claim that Howard lied about the invasion of Iraq. 

Winston says this is a baseless claim and went on to split the hair on the head of an angel while it danced on a pin. 

His government relied on intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and on the strength of that it decided to invade.

“In the event,” wrote Howard, “this proved not to be the case. That does not mean, as claimed by Mr Rudd, that my government had misled the Australian people. Rather it meant the intelligence was wrong.” 

This takes semantics to a new and exciting place. Using incorrect intelligence to justify a catastrophic invasion doesn’t mean the public was misled. Try to get your head around that.

Trumpette #62

Mrs Donald Trump Jr is putting as much distance as possible between herself and her slimy-looking husband and his family. 

Vanessa Trump has filed for an uncontested divorce from the president’s eldest son. Her father was the lawyer Charles Haydon, previously Charles Hochman. According to a report in The New York Times, he was famous for representing Solomon Schwartz (no relation to our proprietor), who was charged with trying to smuggle 500 rifles and ammunition into Poland. He also acted for the real estate entrepreneur Abe Hirschfeld, who got off a tax rap. 

Vanessa and Donald Junior’s engagement in 2004 was accompanied by all the commercial bling you might expect. Young Donald produced a $US100,000 ring that he secured without charge from the jeweller Bailey Banks & Biddle. The “deal” was that he could have the rock free if his proposal to Vanessa could be snapped by the paparazzi. The publicity must have backfired, because a few years later Bailey Banks & Biddle went bankrupt. 

In the interim, there has been no stopping the rise and rise of Stormy Daniels, whose booking fees for her strip show are going through the roof. As one sage put it, Stormy “has been in control of her own narrative”. 

Originally she wanted to be a journalist, but found adult entertainment more meaningful. She also considered running against a Louisiana senator who had been mixed up with a prostitution scandal. She came up with the slogan: “Screwing people honestly”.

Gadfly hears that people are having Dark and Stormy parties all around the country. 

Easter blessings to all.


Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 31, 2018 as "Gadfly: Throwing the book at Dutton".

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