The chase for The Thorn Birds loot is taking on the hue of Jarndyce v Jarndyce and the presiding judge, Nigel Rein, has already urged the parties to step on it, with lawyers’ costs rapidly gobbling up what’s at stake. In the meantime, citizens have been spellbound by news of a fake will designed to soothe McCullough’s widower, Ric Robinson, a tearful lawyer in the witness box, bedroom shouting scenes, evidence that the couple were getting low on cash, claims of fabrication and instructions that Ric should “take” a mistress.

By Richard Ackland.

Scrutiny of the bounty

“Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain / Where the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet / When the wind comes right behind the rain...”

There’s been plenty of wind and Rein in the New South Wales Supreme Court this week as the University of Oklahoma Foundation follows the ebbs and flows of the battle of the wills – the contest over Colleen McCullough’s estate.

The chase for The Thorn Birds loot is taking on the hue of Jarndyce v Jarndyce and the presiding judge, Nigel Rein, has already urged the parties to step on it, with lawyers’ costs rapidly gobbling up what’s at stake.

In the meantime, citizens have been spellbound by news of a fake will designed to soothe McCullough’s widower, Ric Robinson, a tearful lawyer in the witness box, bedroom shouting scenes, evidence that the couple were getting low on cash, claims of fabrication and instructions that Ric should “take” a mistress.

Robinson says he is the sole beneficiary and that the bequest to the University of Oklahoma Foundation is a “forgery ... a composite fabricated by a person or person’s unknown”.  The plaintiff and estate’s executrix, Selwa Anthony, says McCullough was “dominated and overburdened” by her husband, who is a descendant of the Bounty mutineers.

One important but unreported courtroom sidelight followed a story by Eddy Meyer, a senior reporter with Channel Nine, who had mistakenly attributed a question to the judge, which in fact had been asked by one of the barristers. Justice Rein went to the trouble of pointing to specific pages of the transcript to confirm that there had been a reporting mix-up.

David Murr, SC, Ric Robinson’s brief, made some purring noises to the effect of, your honour, if we were to try to correct the mistakes of the media we would be here all day.

Oh dear, that was the wrong thing to say while ace ABC reporter Philippa McDonald was in the court. She jumped to her feet and announced her appearance on behalf of the assembled reptiles, telling the court Murr’s comments were “unfair and unfounded”.

“I was shocked at the hostility of the barrister towards the media,” she said afterwards, “and I don’t want younger journalists who are starting out to be subject to this.”   

Both the judge and Kim Morrissey, SC, for the estate, made it clear they did not support Murr’s pronouncement.

McDonald has form when it comes to objecting in court to suppression and no-publication orders, but was especially fired up that morning, having been to a Women’s Network breakfast where the guest speaker was the enough-is-enough journalist Tracey Spicer, who called upon the gathering to stand up for themselves.

Cult of pursed banality


The wrecking ball that is the Institute for Paid Advocacy continues to heave and lurch madly across the landscape, seeking the destruction of culturally important institutions.

If it’s not the obliteration of the ABC, which it wants flogged off to those who already own it, it’s the abolition of the Human Rights Commission and specifically the position of race discrimination commissioner.   

No need to replace the outgoing commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, insists the swivel-eyed IPA svengali John Roskam. Apparently, the position creates division in the community because Dr Soutphommasane produces reports that encourage “government sanctioned ethnic apartheid”. To cap it off, the race discrimination commissioner himself has “confected” the idea of “far-right nationalist extremism”.

You wonder what flavour Kool-Aid they drink at that crazed cult, although it’s fairly apparent this is a leaden attempt at payback after the good doctor not once, but twice, successfully beat off the IPA’s push to scrap section 18C of the Race Discrimination Act in order to open the floodgates on being racially vile.

Apparently, card-carrying cult member and communications minister Mitch Fifield has retreated from his earlier support for selling Aunty and now says Australians can trust him with the broadcaster. Back in 2008, Fifield advocated the selloff in a lecture to the Australian Adam Smith Club. He called the speech “Fiscal contraception: Erecting barriers to impulsive spending”. Looking back, he says: “I was a slightly frisky backbencher in those days.”

With his beard and gormless expression, Mitch more and more has the bearing of a friendly but hapless toilet brush.

Escaping the net


We also have to contend with that other IPA sprig or sprog – Georgina “Baby Fishnets” Downer.

Citizens have been posting questions on her Facebook page asking about her position on climate change. There’s even a hashtag: #WhereDoYouStandOnClimate


Memories of Mick Young come flooding back, for it was he who described Fishnets snr as “the idiot son of the Adelaide aristocracy”.

Where does that leave the new Liberal candidate for the seat of Hold-the-Mayo, the daughter of the idiot son? The answer to that is becoming steadily more clear as campaigners unsuccessfully seek direct answers from her on tricky topics, such as anthropogenic climate change.

Strangely, some report that these questions, posted on Young Fishnet’s Facebook page, disappear in the dead of night, unanswered. Mysteriously, her Twitter account also vanished after impertinent people pressed her for answers.

Never mind, she’s utterly supportive of a new indoor swimming pool for the Adelaide Hills.

Jolly hockey-sticks to that.

School tithes


NSW parliamentarians were tickled pink to get an email message from John Sidoti, MP, the member for Drummoyne and parliamentary secretary to the cabinet.

John is facilitating support for a new group called the Parliamentary Friends of Catholic Schools. For this to become a reality at least 15 current members have to support the application.

The idea, apparently, is that the parliamentary friends will promote a “better understanding of Catholic schools and to raise awareness and grow ties between the schools and the parliament”.

In fact, what we’ll get is an in-house cheer squad of signed-on politicians lobbying for the vested interests of these schools and the Catholic Church in general.

The separation of church and state is in the process of being nibbled away from the inside.

Power transformers


Speaking of which, Christian warrior Lyle Shelton has been saddling up for a Queensland Senate spot wearing the Australian Conservatives jersey.

He’s got some exciting new initiatives, including the idea that transgender people are responsible for rising electricity prices.

Lyle said in a recent radio interview that the Australian Conservatives will: “wage war on political correctness, the gender ideology and ideologies that have held back the development of states, it’s locked up the resources that are needed to help keep our electricity affordable and available for everyone.”

Go Lyle.

Trial period


The latest inquiry into the murder of British private dick Daniel Morgan has been delayed and a report to the Home Secretary now won’t be ready until some time next year.  This is a case that has dragged on for 31 years, after Morgan, who co-owned Southern Investigations, a small detective agency, was found with an axe embedded in his skull in the car park of a London pub.

This is the sixth investigation, according to Gadfly’s calculations, and there have been numerous charges and failed trials.

It’s intriguing because the slimy fingerprints of Lord Moloch’s hacks are not far from the action. Morgan’s business partner was Jonathan Rees, a prime suspect in the case and an investigator and fix-it man for Moloch’s News of the Screws.

The investigations and trial costs totalling about £50 million make this the most expensive and longest-running failed prosecution in Britain. The Morgan family has blamed police corruption and incompetence for the snafu.

Rees was eventually convicted for unrelated offences and sentenced to seven years’ porridge.

After he got out of chokey he went back to work for Moloch. There were numerous other snoops, spies and spivs on the payroll of the wizened press baron, including Steve Whittamore and John Boyall, who pleaded guilty to obtaining confidential police data to sell to Grub Street.

The theory is that Morgan was axed because he was about to blow the whistle on police corruption, which included coppers selling information to Fleet Street. The whole thing is a gripping whodunnit that may never end. And the Tories insist there’s no need for a new Leveson inquiry into how the Met was perverted by hacks.

Trumpette #71


The distinguished United States journal Foreign Policy has made a useful comparison of the diplomatic techniques adopted by the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief and those of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, homeland of the Grabber’s forebears.

Professor Jeremi Suri from the University of Texas writes that Trump’s letter to Kim Jong-un cancelling their meeting was a mix of “personal pique, faux gratitude, exaggerated generosity and blustering threats”. In his analysis of the president’s missive, the professor says that the tone is one of “unrequited benevolence”, while Kim displayed apparent disrespect for Trump’s “grandeur and generosity”.

Trump’s letter will likely be remembered as among the “most internationally alienating presidential acts in the last century”. Similarly, we find this with Kaiser Bill, who in 1908 was interviewed by the London Daily Telegraph, where he managed to sound strangely Trumpian:

“You English are mad, mad, mad as March hares. What has come over you that you are so completely given over to suspicions quite unworthy of a great nation ... My actions ought to speak for themselves, but you listen not to them but to those who misinterpret and distort them. That is a personal insult which I feel and resent ...”

Foreign Policy observed that “narcissistic belligerence ... aggressive pettiness and delusional self-importance” actually crank up the prospect of conflict.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 2, 2018 as "Gadfly: Scrutiny of the bounty".

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

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