We’re surrounded by death and the passing of great totems of our time. The death of Fairfax’s independence coincided with the death of one of the era’s standout journalists, Evan Whitton. Then we had news of the death of Clive Evatt, the great Sydney defamation barrister, turf man, art collector and frequent visitor to Wagner at Bayreuth. Whitton and Evatt were polar opposites – one liked to expose wrongdoing while the other liked to sue the backside off newspapers on behalf of punters who were exposed. By Richard Ackland.

Gadfly: Legends lost

We’re surrounded by death and the passing of great totems of our time. The death of Fairfax’s independence coincided with the death of one of the era’s standout journalists, Evan Whitton.

Former ABC man, and a fellow Queenslander, Quentin Dempster emceed the Whitton wake/celebration at the UTS Haberfield Club on Sunday morning. Importantly, it gave the reptiles a chance to hop into the refreshments before the sun was over the yard arm.

Evan always referred to those engaged in the noble craft of journalism as “reptiles” and lawyers were always “shysters” – originally from the German “scheisser”. It was an assembly of the Fairfax alumni – newspaper hacks so old some had the countenance of tissue paper that might at any moment crumble to dust.

Whitton managed to combine longform journalism with crisp sentences and jokes every 30 paragraphs – “to keep the punters interested”. His formula for finding out what was going on was to ring people up and talk to them. These days it’s much easier not to talk to anyone, just sub up a press release and post it online.

Then we had news of the death of Clive Evatt, the great Sydney defamation barrister, turf man, art collector and frequent visitor to Wagner at Bayreuth. Whitton and Evatt were polar opposites – one liked to expose wrongdoing while the other liked to sue the backside off newspapers on behalf of punters who were exposed.

Evatt sued so many media outlets that he brought huge amounts of work to the Sydney defamation bar, in the process creating an entire class of rich shysters who lived off the output of reptiles.

In a 1994 Queensland defamation case Clive was acting for former deputy police commissioner and “Rat Pack” member Tony Murphy. During a ruling, the trial judge, “Snappy Tom” Shepherdson, repeatedly referred to “Mr Evatt of Queen’s counsel”.

Subsequently, Evatt rose to his feet and said, “I have to correct your honour. My name is Clive Evatt. My father’s name was Clive Evatt. He was a Queen’s counsel. Unfortunately, the title is not hereditary.”

Government a joke after gag attempt

Willy Hodgman’s government in Tasmania is crawling with Christians and now we know that one of its God-fearing number dobbed in Angela Williamson to her employer, Cricket Tasmania, for the sin of terminating her pregnancy.

That would be the “health” minister Michael Ferguson, who told her boss that he viewed Ms Williamson’s conduct through the prism of “forgiveness”. She had been tweeting her views about abortion policy in Tasmania and calling for reform. Not only was her pregnancy terminated but her job was as well.

Next up news emerged that Willy’s minions were designing a new social media policy for state government employees – there should be no criticism of politicians or any associating online with “groups or individuals”. Also, to like or share a post was deemed to be akin to creating it.

To top it off, there are delicate issues around the use of the “angry face” emoji. Infringement of these loose-at-the-edges rules could lead to a breach of the public sector’s code of conduct and more sackings.

On Wednesday, Willy was out of bed with what looked like a back-pedalling exercise. “The draft social media policy has a number of unintended consequences that are clearly out of step with community expectations,” he said.

The policy is to be reviewed to “ensure a common-sense approach prevails”.

As Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling once said: “I have learned from my mistakes and I feel I can repeat them exactly.”

Cockies’ crooner

Didn’t you love the sight of PM Trumble, in a hat he must have found when cleaning out Beetroot Joyce’s ministerial locker, strutting around the parched paddocks of New South Wales with his measly chequebook while comforting weeping, drought-stricken cockies?

“Stay strong. We’ve got your back,” Trumble instructed. Of course, as with everything else, the PM has a deeply personal connection with whatever is happening.

“Luce and I are in the sheep and cattle business in the Upper Hunter,” he said in an attempt to share the pain.

There may be the slight difference in a couple of hundred million smackers to help the Trumbles struggle through the drought, so maybe he won’t have to hold his hand out for the $12,000 in relief funding.

What is so timeless is his tight little head-prefect strut he perfected at Sydney Grammar while warning the lower remove not to flick spit balls at the blackboard.

A continued Blot on humanity

Wouldn’t you think Andreas Blot – the dimmest and most thin-skinned Dutchman ever to wield a computer keyboard – would have learnt his lesson by now?

Blot went down with his 2010 “White is the New Black” smear of fair-skinned people of diverse backgrounds, whom he accused of selecting an Indigenous identity to further their careers.

That column was riddled with so many errors of fact that Justice Mordy Bromberg had no option but to find it trampled on section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Despite this being “a terrible day for free speech” neither Blot nor his newspaper could muster enough spunk to appeal the finding.

Here is Blot again with an error-strewn swipe at foreigners invading the country and in the process Australia loosing its identity. The “tidal wave of immigrants” refused to assimilate and instead thought of Australia as a “hotel” not a “home”.

It was left to Robert Manne to point out the folly and mistakes. What Blot had done was lazily cherry-pick the 2016 Bureau of Statistics census findings. In the process he came up with various skewed notions – for instance that 41 per cent of the residents of North Caulfield are Jewish.

Manne had to point out to Blot how to read the data accurately.

While 41 per cent of the residents of North Caulfield have ticked Judiasm as their religion, 59 per cent were born in Australia, 69 per cent speak only English at home and 5 per cent think of their ancestry as Jewish. A bit different from 41 per cent Jewish.

In Box Hill, Blot claimed “an astonishing two-thirds of residents were born in China or have Chinese ancestry”. Manne points out that he could have only got this figure by adding together those who claimed Chinese ancestry with those born in China, which ignores the fact that the census asked two separate questions. Those born in China would also have ticked the box for Chinese ancestry, while those of Chinese ancestry may be Australian.

Making a hash of birthplace, language and religion is a Blot specialty.

It also raises the question about how well Blot himself has assimilated into Australia.

All clogged up

It’s devastating to learn that another dashing Dutchman is in the news, with Luke Hartsuyker, the Cockies Corner MP for the seat of Cowper, announcing he will not contest the next election.

After 17 years in the saddle he’ll be a sad loss to the parliament, what with his solid position against marriage equality and his unwillingness to take part in discussions about climate change.

The big development in his district, which takes in Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour, is a $1 billion federal government contribution in the May budget for the Pacific Highway to bypass Coffs. This may be 17 years late and it’s regrettable that Luke won’t be around to cut the ribbon on the new road.

What impact this will have on the Hartsuyker family’s “Clog Barn” right in the heart of Coffs Harbour is uncertain. Luke says the Clog Barn is “the second largest tourist attraction on the North Coast”, maybe after the Big Banana.

If travellers bypass Hartsuyker’s business they’ll be missing free clog-making demonstrations, the amazing miniature Dutch village with working railway, “mouth watering” Dutch delights at Big Oma’s Coffee House, and accommodation where guests can swim in the “world’s only clog shaped pool”.

There’s one other fascinating element: a Gadfly research fellow, with a medical bent, says there’s a part of the male anatomy called Cowper’s glands, useful in the production of spermatozoa.

It’s interesting to speculate whether the electorate draws it name from this gland.

Trumpette #81

The Orange Bampot loves nothing more than a huge rally with his faithful, where, unchallenged, he can abuse, lie, preen and boast.

HBO’s Bill Maher called them “Hillbilly Nurembergs”. It’s all highly puzzling that hillbillies would be so attracted to someone whose administration is predominately composed of Mafia-type crooks, spivs and gougers – but here we are.

One thing that must alarm his followers is news that the National Rifle Association says it is going broke. In a lawsuit filed by the NRA, it says that as a result of being “blacklisted” by the State of New York it is facing financial ruin.

If this blacklisting keeps up, it may not be able to produce its magazines, run video-streaming services or hold rallies.

It also claims to have lost its insurance coverage after the regulators halted an NRA-branded insurance product called Carry Guard.

New York State fined the NRA $US7 million after finding that the policy provided insurance cover to gun owners “for certain acts of intentional wrongdoing”.

The suit filed by the NRA and first reported in Rolling Stone says that the defendants “seek to silence one of America’s oldest constitutional rights advocates. If their abuses are not enjoined, they will soon, substantially succeed.”

Thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 11, 2018 as "Gadfly: Legends lost".

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription