Diary

Gadfly
Enid blight on

Gadfly’s inbox is bursting with alluring invitations, so for the next little while he’s going to be a busy little fly. 

Next Tuesday, Menzies “Research” Centre executive director and Queensland floods expert Nick “Goosebumps” Cater is hosting a massive spread at Old Parliament House in honour of the memory of Dame Enid Lyons, the first openly female member of the House of Representatives. 

The exciting part is that the Tasmanian Liberal Senate Team is hitching a ride on the event and at $2200 a head you could have the pleasure of Otto Abetz at your table or, better still, have him waiting on your table. 

The spiel adds that “a large number of federal ministers will also be present at the Gala Dinner at other tables”. What a relief. 

If that is not going to be fun enough, three days later it’s off to the Moonee Valley Racecourse for the Roman Catholic archbishop’s annual dinner with guest speaker Dr Andreas Blot (BA, flopped). 

This is a special discount event at $140 a head. The Knights of the Southern Cross are manning the till, with money going to the education of priests. As former archbishop Denis Hartless would say, “Better late than never”. 

Hartless was famous for many things, including telling a victim of sexual abuse who knocked on his door, “Go to hell, bitch.” It should be a fab night. 

By October 11, your correspondent will have composed himself sufficiently to head up to Whale Beach to sit alongside Liberal MP Jason Falinski for a Spring Dinner at Moby Dicks with special guest speaker swivel-eyed Benito Dutton

The catering is by The Boathouse Group, which has connections to the family of Liberal jewel and Chinese ports adviser Andrew Robb

Just when citizens of the peninsula thought it safe to go outside after Beehive Bronwyn was trounced, along comes Dutton. It’s only $150 a head and for many it will be tax deductible. The electorate of Dorothea Mackellar has the lowest proportion of Asians and Muslims anywhere in Australia, so Benito will feel quite safe.

Downer in history

Nation building... Nation building... The words have been buzzing in Gadfly’s head ever since they were uttered by Fishnets Downer at the recent Ham & Mayo byelection. 

The point he made was that nation building was in his family’s blood and like all liquids it must flow downhill. In this case, it begins with 19th-century politician and premier Sir John Downer, ignoring for the moment the immigrant tailor Henry Downer who first washed up as a boat person in South Australia in 1838.  

Gadfly remembered a terrific essay in The Monthly from Tony Roberts, who outlined, chapter and verse, some of the finer points of Downer-style nation building. In those times the Northern Territory was governed from Adelaide and a pastoral boom was under way in the Top End. Huge stations had been leased to just a handful of landholders, all but two of them wealthy business types from the eastern colonies. 

Of course, it’s a story of the massacre of Aboriginal people on a barely comprehensible scale. Roberts writes that as attorney-general the early Downer ignored an important clause in the pastoral leases guaranteeing Aboriginal people “full and free” access to the land and to waters, the right to hunt and to erect dwellings. 

The point was to mitigate the effects of dispossession. Instead, Downer turned a blind eye to what was going on and to the massacre of hundreds of Aboriginal people in the Gulf Country. 

He tried to hide the atrocities but when it looked like becoming a public scandal Sir John was forced to appoint a board of inquiry. Throughout this, he was anxious that the knighthood he craved might slip away, so the investigation was a cover-up, held in private with no notice of the hearings. Needless to say, the board found unanimously that Aboriginal people were treated with respect and there was “no evidence ... that slaughter or cruelty was practised by the police”. 

Nation building. It’s in the blood.

Bar light

If it’s not nation building, it’s myth building that has some people bedazzled. Most of the electorate by now has worked out that Prime Minister Trumble’s driving motivation is an abiding love of himself and the expectation that the entire nation is of the same view. 

This is reinforced by myths that never seem to get busted. One of them was floated in The Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday in an article that asserted, “Our prime minister has all the successful qualities of the superb barrister he once was. Once given an issue he prosecutes it brilliantly ...” 

Get real, banana peel. Turnbull was a barrister for about a year, during which time he was a bar reader. He was never regarded as a “superb barrister”; rather, when he left the bar he was viewed by his colleagues as a self-indulgent smart-arse. 

To be fair, he did do well with the Spycatcher case, in defence of Peter Wright’s miserable book, but by then he was a solicitor, plus he had the assistance of his able wife, with Tom Hughes, QC, handling the appeals. 

As Trumble himself said, quoted by Paddy Manning in the biography Born to Rule: “The media business has always been my real love; I’m temperamentally more a journalist than a lawyer.” 

Still, it’s not as though Malcolm is going to disabuse you if you want to call him “superb”.  

You’ll get ‘Yours’

One of the joys for ABC staff is the constant flow of inspirational memos from management. Last week Aunty’s corporate affairs people got busy with a missive telling the troops about the “new brand position, ABC ‘Yours’ ”.  

“Yours”, it offers, “is a simple word that sums up our commitment to audiences and embraces our point of difference ...” 

The messaging on air uses a reworked version of the song “I Am Australian” and the next phase of the “Yours” campaign is “The Best Stories Are Yours”, which “showcases Australians who have generously shared their heartfelt memories, reinforcing the importance of the national broadcaster in their lives”.   

Very quickly, put-upon staff and tired ABC hacks began signing off their emails, “Up Yours”.

Columb gossip

The hoary cliché “colourful racing identity” could have been invented for Nick Columb, who has died in Spain, aged 72. 

His death notice in The Age was duly respectful, though eyebrows were raised at a tribute just below from another colourful identity, Mick Gatto. There is an innocent explanation for this friendship, as Columb paid for Gatto’s wedding to Cheryle, Nick’s secretary at the time, a gesture not forgotten by the Melbourne businessman perhaps most famous for shooting hitman Andrew “Benji” Veniamin.

Columb made his name as a racing writer on the old Melbourne Herald, and later became a successful entrepreneur, businessman, racehorse owner and president of the now Western Bulldogs AFL club. 

He recently reinvented himself in Hong Kong, travelling the world with millions to buy horses for the former colony’s turf club. Along the way he dated, momentarily, Ivana Trump, and an Australian woman who married into the English aristocracy, with whom he had a tumultuous and celebrated bust-up in Umbria, witnessed by actor Donald Sutherland, who congratulated him on the way he handled the acrimony. 

He won a million dollars when his horse Imposera won the Caulfield Cup by a nose in 1988. 

Nick Columb. RIP.

Spaghetti Westerner

Also dead is V. S. Naipaul, who got a tremendous sendoff by Tariq Ali in the London Review of Books

Naipaul had an aversion to having his work transferred to the big or small screens but his US agent persuaded him at one point to fly to Francis Ford Coppola’s “hacienda” to discuss filming A Bend in the River

Against his better instincts Naipaul arrived on the west coast, where Coppola informed him that the only other guest apart from family would be George Lucas

“Naipaul was amazed. ‘Georg Lukács, the Hungarian philosopher? I thought he was dead?’ It got worse,” Ali writes. “During supper Coppola handed Naipaul a script that he had commissioned. He wanted Naipaul to have a quick read of the adaptation and see what he thought. While handing the script, ‘Mr Ford was also trying to swallow some spaghetti which he managed to spill on his shirt. It was a very vulgar occasion. I decided to leave.’ Which he did. Since then, he had turned down every proposal.”

Trumpette #82

From “lowlife” to “not smart” to “dog”, Omarosa Manigault Newman acquired a collection of Trumpian epithets in rapid-fire succession. Quite something for the only black American then in the upper reaches of the White House.

Once again we see that there are no boundaries of taste, charm or style that the great Orange Bampot will not obliterate.

Not that there is any love lost for Omarosa among her colleagues. She is now widely recognised as more Trump than Trump, with one former administration insider telling Axios, “She may be the purest of all the Trump characters.”

Bloomberg columnist Tim O’Brien notes that the president was “fascinated by her self-absorption and nastiness” and, like others in Camp Trump, such as the lovely Michael Cohen, she felt it best to secretly record much of what was going on.

Frank Bruni in The New York Times said: “When you grease the walls of your sanctum with lies and put fun-house mirrors everywhere, is it any wonder that dazed people inside try to protect themselves with a lifeline like proof.”

Others working in the West Wing say they were terrified of her intimidating presence, so it was inevitable that Trump and Omarosa would fall for each other and for the whole thing to end badly.

It’s sad. All Omarosa was trying to do was point out, in her book Unhinged, that the president is a racist and a misogynist who is in mental decline, which we all sort of worked out ages ago.

 

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 18, 2018 as "Gadfly: Enid blight on". Subscribe here.

Richard Ackland
is the publisher of Justinian. He is The Saturday Paper’s diarist-at-large and legal affairs editor.