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Diarist-at-large Richard Ackland flys about the nation. By Richard Ackland.

Gadfly: The biggest barnacle

The end of the year looms and citizens have been hanging out for Gadfly’s assessment of national affairs. 

The thing that strikes me is that various spokespeople for the Credlin government are letting the side down. Take that fellow Abbott – he’s riddled with clerical fervour and lots of antediluvian ideas about how to take us backwards. 

God gave us coal and He’s in charge of the climate, so what are scientists on about? The Queen and the rest of the Battenbergs are great people, so there’s no need for any republican nonsense. Bunyip dames and sirs are just what we have been clamouring for. Boats full of dark people are confronting, so too gay marriage and women in high places. The underprivileged are a drain on the nation’s wealth. What we need to boost things are boats full of £10 Poms. 

In order to look vaguely connected to the rest of the population, spokesman Abbott is constantly trying to process and filter his thinking, so as not to let too many of his dark ideas escape through his mouth. 

This is a dreadful struggle and accounts for the poor man’s leaden manner, the grindingly slow thought processes, the ahhs and umms, the nervous bursts of cackle and the tireless three-word slogans. 

All this suppressed fervour can’t be doing the poor fellow any good. In 2015 Prime Minister Credlin should either put him out of his misery or pull him into line. 

A dark knight rises

Talking of dames and sirs, there was an item in last week’s Financial Review tipping a knighthood in the next round of gongs for high commissioner to the court of St James Alexander Downer.

Apparently a title would be useful in “opening doors” in London. Since the Poms more or less invented rank and privilege, they would be aware that Downer’s AC ranks with knighthoods such as KCMG (Kindly Call Me God). 

But what of the AK, which comes directly from Tony Abbott’s trouser pocket? Is this just a mere KBE, or does it rank right up there with the GCMG (God, Call Me God)? Given that Abbott’s bauble does not go through the stringent selection process of the Council for the Order of Australia, the natural expectation is that it would rank well down the scale. 

His excellency might find doors slamming in his face, which Paul Keating has unkindly likened to a “knee”. 

Actually, the right gong for “Fishnets” Downer surely would be the Order of the Garter.

Gifts that should stop giving

As the crackle of Kris Kringle-enforced giving ripples across the nation’s workplaces, we are indebted to Geoff Bowyer, who runs the Yarraside lawyers’ trade union. 

He’s warning his rank and file against improper gifts. Don’t, at risk of your career, give a Kris Kringle with a sexual innuendo.

He remembers a colleague getting an innocuous-looking mug. When filled with hot liquid it revealed “well... a way-too-scantily clad person”. 

He gives this example of the wild sense of humour for which lawyers are justly famous: “I know a work colleague who, as one of the few women on staff, received a cleaning bucket and sponge – I didn’t think it was funny, either.” 

Bowyer, who is president of the Law Institute of Victoria, advises via Twitter against gifts that have anything to do with personal hygiene, such as nose hair trimmers or deodorant, and not to get the largest person in the office the Biggest Loser cookbook.

Helpfully he suggests presents that do not threaten one’s climb up the greasy pole, such as hand cream (even for chapped chaps), personalised mugs in footy team colours, an indoor plant, wine, a flash drive, “hipster” tea or coffee, awesome choccies, or a gift to charity.

Lawyers. Where would we be without them? 

Sick white boomer

Shoppers froze as over the sound system at Woolworths Potts Point came the dulcet tones of Rolf Harris with his special Christmas song “Six White Boomers”. 

Treacly lyrics such as, “Hop up on my lap here, son, and have a look around”, slowed the trolleys in the biscuit aisle. 

An affronted shopper complained to one of the managers, who said he’d look into it, adding, “I never liked that song.” 

Shop as usual

The terrible hostage siege in Sydney on Monday had consequences throughout the city. 

Whole blocks were shut down, office workers told to get out and go home, retail shuttered, traffic stopped, streets deserted. 

Two blocks from where the crisis was unfolding on the corner of Martin Place and Phillip Street is the Market Street emporium of David Jones. It had been shut for a while on Monday and had been reopened after the police deemed it safe. 

A baleful floor executive beckoned Gadfly in and said, “Please shop.” The place was empty. I had it all to myself and could have wrapped up Christmas shopping in 10 minutes if only I could have found personalised mugs in footy team colours. 

Oscar’s party

Last week, yarts connoisseurs gathered to launch Oscar HumphriesThe Art Book magazine. 

Proceedings took place in the uber-white-walled and cream floor-tiled atelier of tailor Patrick Johnson in Walker Lane, Paddington, surrounded by suits on mannequins and tastefully stacked shirts with nothing so gauche as a price tag in sight.

Guests, including former Art Gallery of NSW director Edmund Capon, art dealer Tim Olsen and actor “Little Nell” Campbell, stood in the former art gallery, refitted by Johnson’s wife, interior designer Tamsin JohnsonBarry Humphries’ goddaughter – and quaffed bubbly as Bill Henson held forth on how much he’d learned from Oscar’s first edition and a reminder that “meaning comes from feeling”. 

Oscar stood with arms folded across a grey suit cut by the bespoke in-house tailor, and thanked Henson in rarefied British tones, father Barry at his side.

Paterfamilias chips in with an essay in issue one of The Art Book, in which he calls the “noctambulist” Henson “Australia’s greatest photographer”. Naturally, he also took a swipe at Kevin Rudd, who called the snapper’s work “disgusting” without having seen it. 

Oscar announced that Little Nell’s younger sister, Cressida Campbell, who was also present, would be the Australian artist featured in issue two of his mag, published in London.

It was a family affair as Oscar’s mum, Diane Millstead, holding an umbrella, departed with ex-husband Bazza. 

The satirist said he’d been up early that day on ABC News Breakfast, spruiking his 2015 Adelaide Cabaret Festival, during which he’d accused Australians of having an “almost pathological obsession with sport”.

If only there’d been an interesting interloper at the launch, such as David Hicks. Instead, there was Sharri Markson

And finally...

There’s not a soul I know whose spirits haven’t been darkened by the loss of two bright, talented young people during the hostage siege in Sydney. 

The city rose up and replied with beauty and dignity. Thousands and thousands of people silently placed flowers in Martin Place so that this huge thoroughfare is now covered in blooms, from one side to the other. 

Gadfly would like to wish his reader a loving time at Christmas and a peaceful and brilliant 2015.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 20, 2014 as "Gadfly: The biggest barnacle ". Subscribe here.

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

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