Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Out With The Old...

So Kevin won. Sworn in yesterday and already ratified Kyoto. He may be 'the Blair of Australia' but he was by far lesser of two evils in this election. So much has been written in the weeks since his win that I don't really have much to add (or the time to add it currently), but I think the following image and link sum up beautifully how horribly conservative Howard was, how he dragged Australia backwards, and how things might change now he is swept away. Ah, the politics of aesthetics (you may notice that this blog's font has changed under the New Regime).

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Resistance is Futon

On a rather glum note, the graffitied chimney and urban resistance that impressed me on arrival are both virtually defunct. The chimney is in the process of demolition as I write, while the planned mall at St Kilda has got the go ahead. Of course the Save St Kilda campaign was always Nimbyism rather than an outlet of anarcho-syndicalist collective action, but it was the lesser evil against a behemoth of anonymous purchase power. Doesn't this country have enough fucking malls as it is? The forces of banalification win again.

I visited one of the places myself recently (all in the name of sociological research you understand) to go to Ikea. My God, how can one place inspire such contrary emotions? On one level, I love it. Everywhere you look there is elegant yet functional design, and all at low, low prices. Surely this is the realisation of the modernist dream? Well, you can almost convince yourself "yes", when you notice that everything in the store (bar the gourmet food items) is stamped with 'Made in China'. The products are so cheap not because we live in a socialist paradise but because some other poor bastard lives in a communist hell. They are produced not by smiling workers who get a fair share of their output, but by depressed non-unionised near-slaves, who work 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week in the grim factories of a pseudo-Maoist regime keen to swallow the phallus of neo-liberalism. What awfulness. And all around are pictures (not unlike Maoist icons) of the smarmy Scandinavian designers who have drawn up these sleek commodities. Their smiles beam out, as well they might, having been educated in the inclusive and affluent 'Social Model' before foisting the hard labour onto some faceless yellow-skinned drones. It was almost unbearable, but I soothed my soul by buying an excellent chopping board, in which the knife is hidden within the board itself! In an age when Slavoj Žižek writes copy for Abercrombie & Fitch what else would one do?

Sunday, 4 November 2007

In Loompa Land

Still two weeks to go and even a political junkie like myself is bored with this campaign. Thanks to a six month trickle of government propaganda everyone is worn out. I cannot even muster outrage at the Coalition's cheap anti-union campaign.

Last night I watched 'The Last Mitterrand' and I was struck by the President's declaration that "I am the last of the great Presidents, after me there will be only accountants and money men". Whether or not one regards Mitterrand as a great man the latter part of his statement is painfully true. In the post-Thatcher/Reagan West there is no room for great men, for grand dreams or proud goals, there is only finance. A dour Scottish bank manager rules Britain, making a mockery of the fact that he is a "Labour" PM. The greasy weasel Sarkozy is busy dismantling the Gaullist state, while in Australia the choice is between two dull-as-dishwater accountants. Howard's ideology amounts to little more than "keeping interest rates low" while Rudd champions his "economic conservatism", believing it to be the key to victory. And most likely he is right. There are no Gough Whitlams anymore.

The Melbourne Racing Festival began this weekend and showed the new breed of Homo Economicus in all its glory. Women in big hats have always dominated the landscape at these types of events, but the specimens on show here are particularly hilarious. Saggy, orange cleavage hangs out everywhere and Kath and Kim-esque screeching voices ring through the city as sozzled slags roam around following a day of drinking and imagined sophistication. They stagger on broken high heels, envisaging themselves as Princess Grace, wowing the crowds with their elegance whilst looking for the next glass of cheap 'champagne'. They're a walking billboard for the New Vulgarity. I thought that seeing a man with dribble on his cheek and a silk tie around his head Rambo-style was the lowpoint but I was wrong, the best was saved for a tv advert:

"Melbourne Cup Day:

Outrageous Behaviour: Safe Bet

(image of man in suit urinating in a bush despite men's toilets being in view)

Pashing a Stranger: Outside Chance

(image of man in suit dry humping woman with high-heeled bare legs splayed)

Enjoying an Unbeatable Taste: Dead Cert

(image of Nando's family pack)

Nando's: Pre-order your Racing Day meal now!"

It would be easy but unfair to blame this entirely on the Nouveau Riche, after all it's not just the monied-up plebs who have succumbed, as a glance at the Gen Y royals and the awful clubs they frequent will attest. We live in a brave new world where bling is king; the true legacy of the 1980s.

There was some controversy a few years back about whether or not Mrs Thatcher would get a state funeral. But wouldn't this would be an insult to everything she stood for? She is no Mitterrand. Surely the best tribute would be to let her body decompose and then sell the corporal mulch for fertiliser at a tidy profit. Perhaps they could even use that orange hair as dye for a fake-tan, rubbing her into the wrinkling tits of the rich. Thank you Maggie and goodbye.

What finer salute could we give?

Monday, 15 October 2007

...And They're Off!

So two days in and Johnny Howard, the people's friend has unveiled his latest bribe package. He's offering his 'battlers' (so much more noble a word than 'strugglers' or 'plebeians') a $34 billion tax package. Or is he?

Under the new package the average wage earner ($45,000-55,000) will see a $20 a week tax rise. While those earning slightly more or slightly less than average will see an $11 a week rise. Now let's be honest, it's a pittance, piss all. That is not to underestimate the extra money, which is always handy, but if Howard cares that much about the 'battlers' then why does a part-time worker on $20,000 see a 9 per cent rise in income, while someone earning $200,000, ten times as much, sees theirs rise by 15.5 per cent? It's a tax break for the rich conveniently dressed up with some crumbs from the table. Howard is tossing pennies down and crying "dance to my tune and drink my piss you worthless wretches!"

This is an empty and expensive promise. It is another waste of the much boasted about budget surplus. Mr Howard and Mr Costello love to bring up the budget surplus as evidence of their fiscal credentials. They rarely like to discuss how they have achieved this though, which is:

- Drastically cutting health and education spending, resulting in chronic skills shortage due to drag down the economy in a generation.
- Creating a mountain of foreign debt approaching unmanageable proportions (this isn't factored into the surplus calculation which merely measures tax revenue versus government spending)
-Being the highest taxing government in Australian history, despite claiming to be conservatives.

And yet they still boast of the surplus as if it were a good thing in and of itself. They might like to listen to John Maynard Keynes, however unfashionable he may currently be, who said "The whole objective of having a low rate of interest is in order to do things. But if you begin to think it is wise to stop doing things in order to lower the rate of interest, you are standing upside down." The same may be said of the surplus. It is useful to have a surplus to invest in the nation and its economy. To cut investment to gain a surplus is muddled and useless. Yet that is exactly what has happened. All sense has been sacrificed to the great god Surplus.

Now we are seeing some of that money being used, but to what end? They have used the revenue from record high taxes to offer paltry tax cuts, a tiny and incredibly short-term bonus that costs billions. Unlike infrastructure investment, tax cuts do not reap anything. Rather than invest in reducing foreign debt or encouraging skills or better health care they are investing in nothing at all. Like Homer Simpson putting his money in pumpkins and waiting for the prices to keep rising after Halloween they are foolishly squandering the nation's wealth on transitory economic soap wanks. It will do little to help the economy, in fact pumping cash into an already overheated economy will cause inflation and send those precious interest rates up, hurting the very people this break purports to help. Says who? The governor of the Australian Reserve Bank, they who actually control rates. Not usually known for his socialist leanings, he pleaded with Howard to limit any tax cut in order to avoid a rates rise, but he has only partially succeeded. Rates look certain to rise anyway, and this will only make things worse.

Will people see through this initiative? Well, the polls have shifted towards Howard after the announcement, showing that they will most likely not. If you ask a small child whether they would rather have a block of chocolate now or a whole bar in an hour, their lack of understanding and foresight means that they will choose a block now. We may well be living in a world of small children.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Ready For Kick Off

Well, having been silent when Sudanese men are attacked, and refusing to apologise for the inflammatory nature of his comments, or even say anything even vaguely indicating that he isn't stereotyping African migrants, Kevin Andrews has waded in to condemn an attack by two Sudanese men on a police officer as Un-Australian.

So, when two Sudanese men drunkenly punch a policeman, giving him minor bruises, that is Un-Australian. When two white men beat an African to death? Silence. The message is clear: It is only violence by migrants rather against them that is of concern.

The media will smell the blood and lap this up and then everything will be set for a full-scale race riot. It is difficult to believe that the government doesn't know this, and also hard to believe that they aren't hoping for it. Australian politics has sunk to a new low.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Imprudent Jurisprudence

So Gordon bottled it at home, "if only I could wait until 2010!" thinks John Howard. Another week, another refusal to name an election date. And as Johnny is planning to go to Tonga next week it seems unlikely we'll get one then either. The penicious rodent is even more fearful and piss-weak than I had thought. His nervous little arsehole must be pumping like Tim Henman's fist. How long is he going to push this waiting period? How long will government-funded propaganda clog our screens in a desperate grab for votes before the official electioneering begins? Well it now seems that Howard will wait as long as he credibly can (which is not much longer) in the hope that Kevin Rudd will provide the mistake that allows the government and the shrill hyenas of right-wing TV news to pull him to shreds. And it seems as though this morning he may have found something to get his teeth into.

With the Bali bombers seemingly about to face execution Labor's Foreign Affairs spokesman Robert McLelland last night reaffirmed the Party's (and also officially the Nation's) opposition to capital punishment in all cases. He also accused John Howard of being a hypocrite for ostensibly promoting Australia's stance against capital punishment whilst personally endorsing it in certain cases. Fair point, after all this is not the kind of issue that can have a selective application. If a government is against the death penalty, then it is against it. If it is in favour of the death penalty 'in certain cases' then it is in favour of it. It is a black and white issue. Not so for John Howard though, who seized the chance to smash down McLelland's logical argument with a populist sledgehammer.

Speaking today Howard described McLelland's opinion as "extraordinary" before adding (and bear in mind that the Australian Government, his Government, has consistently and officially stated its opposition to capital punishment)

"The idea that we would plead for the deferral of executions of people who murdered 88 Australians is distasteful to the entire community. I find it impossible myself, as an Australian, as Prime Minister, as an individual, to argue that those executions should not take place when they have murdered my fellow countrymen and women."

And there we have it, a masterful example of Mr Howard's sophistry, his spineless opportunism and shameless abuse of power. It's all there, the Nationalism, the populism, the cheap sentimentality all tied up in a neat little soundbite. Labor, with its cold rationality doesn't understand the man on the street, not like dependable old Johnny, who says what we're all thinking. This goes to the core of Howard's "leadership" style. Rather than have the guts to act like a true statesman and defend a momentarily unpopular, but nevertheless essential Australian principle of justice, he takes the tone of a deranged radio talk show caller and scores cheap political points. Howard's opinion that he cannot oppose the execution of those who "murdered his fellow countrymen" as he so emotively puts it, has difficult implications. What if an Australian citizen were to murder 88 Australians in Bali, or say 8000. Would he support their execution? And say they did it not in Bali but Brisbane, would his government have them executed? And if not how can he then justify a selective application of the anti-death penalty policy?

These are the types of questions that those who make and implement laws are forced to ask and angry talk show callers are not. That is why Judges with extensive legal training are responsible for sentencing and not electricians with ideas on "what this country needs". They are also the types of questions one would expect a Prime Minister with a law degree to consider before attacking a rational argument as 'insensitive'. But alas no.

Of course McLelland's opinions might appear insensitive, because the law can appear insensitive. By its very nature it stays cold and unmoved, refusing to bend to the whims of pubic emotion. Its objectivity (to give 'insensitivity' another name) is its core feature, it is what prevents the administration of justice descending into mob rule. The families of the victims are furious with McLelland, and it's not hard to imagine why. However, this doesn't justify taking the voices of the grieving as the most valid in questions of legality, simply because they have suffered. If a child was killed in a drink driving incident and the father demanded a horse whipping for the driver would we yield to it on account of the strength of his grief? The opinions of the victims and their families are skewed and we mustn't mix sympathy with righteousness. One angry parent, who previously was against the death penalty went so far as to admit that "In these circumstances, I agree with it. Realistically, for me, it is just vengeance and vengeance isn't good, but I can't help that, I can't help that." We should be able to understand this without endorsing it.

The pain of the families must be unbearable, but a good leader has to occasionally take unpopular stances in order to defend high principle. Howard chooses not to defend such principles (on which his precious "Australian values" are built) and instead takes the easy vote-winning option and to hell with consequences. He has neither the balls to defend his own policy, nor to suggest changing it. He simply trots out puerile have-your-cake-and-eat-it aphorisms to grab headlines and attacks those who are willing to defend legal procedure and the objective application of justice as elitist and insensitive. It is rule by the heart and not the head, the very thing legal thinkers from Plato onwards have identified as bad which a good legal system is supposed to defend against.

The saddest thing is that the alternative Prime Minister Rudd has joined in too, forcing McLelland to retract his perfectly sensible statement and issuing one of his own assuring voters that Labor's policy is "exactly the same as the Liberals'" i.e. the same as McLelland's speech only Rudd and Howard aren't brave enough to say so. Just to show that it's not only Howard who can do tough-talking meaningless rhetoric Rudd also said that terrorists should "rot in jail". What does that even mean? Is he advocating starving them and sitting them in their own filth and disease on the verge of malnutrition? I doubt even Kevin knows what it means, it is a piece of populist tabloidesque gibberish of the type his opponent has perfected and which he is fast becoming fluent in.

I doubt this minor scandal will be a mortal blow for Rudd's electoral chances, but it might have just killed off the chance of having a Prime Minister of principle in Australia for at least a generation.

Heart of Darkness

The fallout from the immigration ban has been long and loud. One voice of support coming from the ever reliable Pauline Hanson. The written press has however been commendably responsible on the issue, with even the tabloids coming out broadly against the decision and defending the Sudanese community against racist slanders. It's difficult to imagine the same kind of behaviour at home from shitrags like the Daily Express and the Mail. Only the other day I caught sight of a copy of the Daily Express with its pompous imperialist St George logo and humble slogan "The World's Greatest Newspaper", it's headlines declaring "It's Official: Police Can't Cope With Massive Rise In Immigrant Crime!" (below this was the usual 'Diana Woz Done In' headline) The phrase 'it's official!' is often used by Fleet Street vermin, yet the stories rarely seem to correspond to any type of officialdom. Usually it's a populist poll from the paper itself in which 98% of readers have agreed that "asylum seekers are all AIDS-ridden, criminal lunatics intent on rape and pillage on a scale unseen since the Vikings". Given the relative backwardness of Australia's media and politics on race issues it has been refreshing to see the newspapers report responsibly and refrain from headlines such as this gem in 2005:

Not only was it disgustingly xenophobic and outrageously emotive, it was completely inaccurate. It would be quite funny if it didn't sell so well. Being confronted with the Express again on foreign soil was a horrible experience and made me ashamed to be British. So congratulations Australia on your more responsible tabloid press. Unfortunately the same can't be said of the commercial television networks. Channel Seven, Nine and Ten, the big three all reported the story alongside "African gang" stories, thus rather unsubtly justifying the government policy. Channel Seven opened with:

"Sudanese gangs caught on camera as the government shuts the door on African immigrants…"

While Nine went for:

"New footage has emerged showing Sudanese gangs terrorising shopkeepers in Noble Park. Business owners are demanding more protection from local authorities while the Federal Government has announced it’s shutting the door to African refugees."

Channel Seven too had footage, asking us to "put racism claims aside for a minute" while we watched. So what was this sinister footage? Well it was indeed footage of violent young men but despite the Seven assurance that it was footage of "Sudanese gangs taking over a shop and stealing alcohol", a closer inspection showed only one man present was Sudanese and he wasn't shown doing anything violent. There was footage of him stealing a single can of beer but this transpired to have been taken on a different day. Meanwhile a shopkeeper complaining of having a bottle thrown at his head on Channel Ten was taken out of context to imply the thrower was Sudanese, when in fact it was a white woman. But wait there was some sinister news of the Sudanese man in the footage:

"One of those featured in the video is 19 year old Liep Gony who died after being savagely bashed by rival gang members last week"

Actually he was bashed to death by two white men in a racist attack. Nevermind that though, who ever let facts get in the way of some audience-grabbing rabble-rousing? Certainly not Channel Ten when they said:

"Ten news believes a man recently entered the Springvale police station vowing the rape and kill a female officer… the Federal Government shutting the door on African refugees until July next year because of concerns about their ability to integrate."

Well, that was news to the police who confirmed that the report was "completely without substance". They also confirmed that the Sudanese arrest rate was no higher than for the general community, but the seeds of fear over 'ethnic gang violence' have taken root thanks to dark rumours, misquotes and downright lies, all spurred on by government and media. News has just come through (via the newspapers of course) of another violent attack on a Sudanese man by white youths. You can bet that the government and commercial networks will be silent on this one. They don't want us to see the blood on their hands.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Suffering Election Dysfunction?

Into October now and Mr Howard STILL hasn't called a date. The old man really must be having nervous bowel movements. Our own PM Broon will call one first at this rate. But while the election campaign has not officially begun all the tricks are coming out.

The previously mentioned decision on African refugees has come under fire and is all over the papers. Curiously this announcement came out only a day after a searing indictment of the Workchoices scheme was published, showing the inherent unfairness of the system. Not only this but after the Government's Workplace Relations Mafioso, sorry, Minister, Joe Hockey waded in with his usual bully-boy tactics and attacked the report as biased, one of the academics involved threatened legal action against both him and the Treasurer. Very embarrassing, but what better way to distract attention than through some good ol' fashioned ethnic-bashing? It seems that just as you think the racism can't get any more blatant the Coalition keeps on pulling white-power rabbits out of the hat.

Meanwhile tax-payer funded propaganda is still clogging up our airwaves and letterboxes. A click here will show just how many adverts promoting Workchoices have been made so far. I particularly recommend the 'Two Blokes' adverts. If proof were needed for my previous observation that Howard has slowly drained all charisma and character from Australia here it is. These 'ordinary blokes' are ordinary in the most banal way possible. If they were any less animated they'd be on a life-support machine. So this state-sanctioned vision of the proletariat is what John Howard has in his head when he talks about "the Australian people". Ye gods, such a pair of dreary bastards have I never seen before. Here's an immigration policy: Recruit some foreigners with a little joie de vivre and kick these fuckers out. Put them on a Norwegian vessel, stick Andrews, Hockey and Howard with them and hopefully no-one will take them in, leaving them to bore each other to death in the Pacific.

Ah sweet justice, why are you restricted to mein head?

Monday, 1 October 2007

Chucking Spears

Although race hate is currently more fashionable in Australia than elsewhere, a trash mag advertisement reminded me this morning that some forms of vitriol are near universal. The magazine in question yelled out "Britney's Worst Week Yet!!" with a picture of Ms Spears looking rather worse for wear. Last week there was a similar headline, but that only had one exclamation mark. Presumably the lower she sinks the more punctuation is required to convey the glee. Since that poster was printed she has had her kids taken away from her so perhaps next week a triple exclamation will be called for. One wonders what will happen when the logical conclusion of the Britney Spears spectacle is reached and she is presented to the cameras in a cage; a drooling vegetable in a shit-stained nappy with her hands behind her back. How much punctuation will be needed for that one?

It is quite curious to see a mediocre human being catapulted into the stratosphere of the gods before being slowly dragged down to earth and toyed with, like a cat toys with a mouse. The rational responses are moral outrage or cold, detached observation. An irrational response is to weep into a webcam but this is not advised unless you want a tv show (oh how those Big Brother contestants must be seething, humiliating themselves for weeks in a cannibalistic rampage of torture, narcissism and loose sexuality, when all it took was a few minutes blubbering on YouTube). Perhaps to stick with detached observation is best. It is quite heartbreaking to see an innocent human being bludgeoned into spasticity, but what to do? A Roman at the Colosseum might express his moral objections, but who would hear him over the maniacal jeers and cheers? So it goes. Bread and circuses.

So we just accept it without judgement? Not quite. The people who hoover up the filth are also simultaneously feigning disapproval and blaming anyone they can for it. But who can we blame? The Media? This is the common target, but what does it even mean? "The media" is not a lone homogeneous voice. It contains all manner of opinions, including those attacking the behaviour of "the media". Even those specific magazines that egg on Britney's mental collapse will defend themselves, "if celebrities use the media then they get what they deserve" they say, "and besides if people didn't buy it we wouldn't print it." Indeed, so what of those who buy it? "I only buy it to look at the pictures" they carp, "and besides, I bought her album." Well, no arguing with that then. So the record company must be to blame. "No, of course not" they say "why would it be in our interests to destroy our talent?". Ah, then no-one is to blame. The crime is being committed but no-one is holding the weapon. We can all keep our consciences clean, and should she go out with a bang in a suicide we might even get to indulge in a spot of Diana-style Hallmark teddy-bear grief and point the finger of indignation at each other. On the other hand, should Britney simply fade away like Kafka's Hunger Artist, back to the blank avatar she began as, we need not reflect on it at all and comfortably move on to the next feast, collectively sucking Perez Hilton's cock along the way.

Oh modern life, how sweet thou art!

It's That Man Again...

Yes folks, saviour of the Australian nation Kevin Andrews is on the war path again. This time tackling the problems of the White Man's burden. The man is social architect of pure genius. "Angry locals murdering your immigrants? Simple; ban immigrants!"

Those darn Africans, refusing to fit in. After all, if I, speaking as a white fella, were to escape a war torn nation and was dropped suddenly into a small Australian town with next to no support my first instinct would be to crank up the barbie and flick on the cricket. These people just haven't been trying hard enough. Luckily the new citizenship test is on hand to help. Along with a helpful booklet it seeks to teach about Australia's culture and values. There aren't many questions on Aboriginal culture but hey, there are some on cricket. After all what sums up "Our Land, Our Values" better than an English game?

I'm sure that one of the new applicants featured in the press, a Liberian mother of three, fleeing the fall out of a vicious civil war, will find her knowledge of Don Bradman most useful, and would quite happily accept her application being refused should she neglect her study of decades old sporting events.

All of this has the feel of a joke I recently heard:

An Afghan and Indian, lifelong friends, are granted permanent residence in Australia. They set up a friendly bet as to who can become the most Australian in a year. The day arrives and the Indian is invited around to the Afghan's house. The Afghan shows him the Holden and the barbecue, and greets his friend with "g'day, mate". The Indian looks at him and says, "Why don't you fuck off where you came from, towel-head?"

Thursday, 27 September 2007

A Spot of Doctoring

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews has been fighting the good fight again this week. He is demanding an inquiry into how foreign GPs are vetted after discrepancies were found in one doctor's work history. Can we guess the doctor's ethnicity? Of course! An Arab! (boooo! hisss!)
The dodgy CV was discovered because the said doctor was a friend of Dr Haneef (remember him? The GP who was slandered, accused of terrorism and then found completely innocent but had his visa revoked by Mr Andrews anyway) and so he was investigated.

Now let us set something straight, the doctor did not lie about his qualifications, he did not neglect his duties but he did fudge his CV. Hmm, I wonder if this minor transgression had been undertaken by a white Australian doctor we would be hearing quite so much about it. I doubt it, Andrews is yet again shamelessly playing the race card.

Of course it is important that doctors are closely regulated but this was not a major issue, it has been blown out of proportion to stoke up distrust and fearing of foreign doctors (and by association all foreigners) to play to the Coalition's strategy of vote-winning through dirty racial slurring. This is a desperate clammer by a discredited politician to find something, anything to justify his heavy-handed attitude to Dr Haneef. The message is: 'well he may have been innocent but we still can't trust these other Muslims.'

The tragedy is that the doctors are providing vital services to the same remote communities that the government is hoping to turn against them. If Andrews successfully invokes paranoia about doctors then they won't come here anymore, they will go to America, to the UK, to New Zealand or somewhere else they are valued and not pelted with state-sanctioned racial abuse, and the people who will pay are the rural communities, because no Australian doctor wants to go to the outback. Shamefully the Labor Party has backed Andrews stance, because it knows that challenging it would lose votes. Yet another indicator of how twisted and intolerant this country is at the moment. If I seem to have been unusually harsh recently then it's because election fever has brought out even more of the unpleasantness underlying the jolly Australian image. I still like it here but only a thug or fool could not be disturbed by the atmosphere in contemporary Australia. There is little room for a positive spin.

In other news, whilst Kevin Andrews is busy slagging off doctors I just purchased my 'ambulance cover', without which I would have been charged for an ambulance. So should I keel over with anger whilst writing this blog I won't be landed with a hefty bill. And that's not just because I'm a foreigner, that's for everyone. So you have to pay for the most basic health care, yet the government boasts of its billions of dollars in surplus tax revenue and feels it a valid use of tax-money to send leaflets aimed at families to every single address in the country (two in two months). Sometimes I feel like I'm in the Australia in the Beano and the Dandy, where everything 'Down Under' is topsy turvy.

The AFL Grand Final is this weekend and the weather should be nice, so perhaps some beer and sunshine will return a little light into my currently gloomy take on the state of the nation.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Oedipus Waves His Flag

I am currently reading Kingdom Come by JG Ballard. One of the recurring motifs in the novel is Ballard's growing unease at the seemingly inexorable rise of the St George flag in small town England. He is right to be concerned about the political implications of this rise in patriotism, but if a few England flags are making Ballard twitch then a couple of months in Australia would give the poor man an aneurysm. Australian flags bedeck all manner of shops from bakeries to newsagents with no apparent purpose other than to display their Australianism, the unspoken message being that this means white Australianism. While shopping for souvenirs the other day I came across two car stickers, one read "Australia: Love it or leave it!", quite a stark choice with not much room for rational debate or contemplation, yet this implied ignorance and xenophobia was carefully hidden behind a fairly innocuous slogan. The same could not be said for the next sticker, which proudly declared "Australia: Support it or fuck off!". I'm not sure what the sticker was defining as "support" but I'm fairly certain that even daring to question it would have earned me a rousing 'fuck off'. The kind of climate that allows this sticker to made, sold, and proudly displayed does not welcome self-reflection or critical questioning, especially not from outsiders. This type of nationalistic fervour is everywhere with barely anyone bringing it to ask.

A few months ago Channel Seven's Sunrise featured a report on a young Muslim man who burned the Australian flag and his ensuing "journey to redemption"(or was that assimilation?). Clips of the flag-burning incident also featured clips of drunken thugs wrapped in Australian flags with provocative slogans like "you've flown here, we've grown here" written on them. However we weren't treated to a story on the redemption of these slobs, in fact no-one criticised them in the whole report. I can't speak for the motives of the young Muslim's attack on the flag, but by the end of the report I felt like burning the bastard flag myself. You feel alienated enough being an Anglo-Saxon non-Australian, I can only imagine how it feels to come from the Middle East or Asia. Whenever I hear the Neanderthal cry of "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!" it send a chill down my spine like a "Heil! Heil!", and it's certainly an equally brainless and pathetic chant as the Nazi call. It is a rally cry for the hate-filled and frustrated, and a lot of people are answering it.

Hyperbolic words like 'fascism' are thrown around often without proper thought, especially towards America, but in Australia's case it may not be too far wide of the mark. It is certainly closer to fascism than any other Western nation. America is in the grip of a repressive conservatism too, no doubt about it, but America is different. Its patriotism is the hubristic triumphalism found in any empire at its height. The flag waving belies a genuine confidence, some might say arrogance in its power. Fascism does not thrive in these conditions, it feeds on self-loathing and insecurity, traits that Australia has in spades.

America severed itself from the British Empire and stepped boldly forward with its own flag, its own identity. It set out created a new country and succeeded. Australia by contrast sort of stumbled into being, inexorably tied to 'the Mother Land' even now. If Australia is so sure of itself why does it still have to have a Union Jack on its flag? If it is so forceful and independent why did it vote to keep a foreign monarch as head of state? The answer is that behind the tough talk Australia has a terrible lack of confidence in itself. It fails to stand aloft on its own terms and so collapses into imbecilic, unquestioning rhetoric about being "the greatest country on earth" without considering what that means. The best country in the world surely wouldn't need to keep telling itself that it was the best, but Australia pumps its national ego up again again with cheap patriotic pep-talks because otherwise it would collapse. Rarely is the question of why Australia is supposedly go great explored as the self-relection would be too complex, too ambiguous. Yes it is beautiful, but it would be a pretty bleak country with no beauty spots at all. Europe, Asia, the Americas and Africa are all beautiful too, earth is beautiful so why is Australia special? Yes it is a stable country nicer to live in than, say Zimbabwe, but so are Europe, New Zealand and North America, so why is Australia singled out? The patriots shun such difficult questions and prefer instead to use sport as a measure of who's 'best', because that's something easy and tangible you can measure. If you win the most gold medals you must be the best country right?

America is the brash, independent offspring and Australia is the boy who likes to act hard in the playground but in reality likes holding Mummy's hand and secretly wishes he was still on the teat. We see it all the time in the obsession with Britain that is not reciprocated. Brits like Australia and Australians, but they also like Americans, Irish, Canadians and other nationalities. Australia holds no 'special place'. Similarly Australia has a place in the national consciousness as nice place to live, but so do New Zealand, Tuscany, Spain and the south of France. Australia is not given any special priority. In Australia by contrast Britain is held up a a sort of obsessive love/hate object. Whenever they beat us at sport (which is admittedly quite a lot) the nation goes into a Oedipal frenzy, but they still cling to our flag, to our Queen and to the idea that we are desperate with envy of them. A recent advert show hordes of Brits flocking to Australia from drizzly old Blighty to sample the wonders of Bundy Rum in the sunshine. Thus Australia is defied as a desirable place not because it is nice in and of itself, but because the Poms want to come, so it must be good. It's the national equivalent of self-esteem coming from being liked by the cool kids.

Hitler thrived on Germany's lack of esteem after defeat in the great war. Mussolini appealed to Italians' jealously of the other European nations' empires. John Howard's ugly, xenophobic policies thrive in a nation with only a half-formed idea of itself. Until Australia becomes truly independent it will continue with its destructive bipolar nationalism, with its fear of change, with its hatred of non-Anglo-Saxons. My fear is that the rot has already set in too far.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Stop Press

Pavarotti is dead. Bono was first on the scene with a tribute;

"Some can sing opera, Luciano Pavarotti was an opera."

Makes you wonder why bulemics use their fingers to be sick when they could simply type 'Bono' and 'quotes' into Google.

(Apologies to Anna)

APEC on the cheek

I read yesterday that two thirds of blog entries posted on the Internet begin along the lines of "sorry for the lack of posts recently". I'm not sure who calculated this or how, or even if it is true, but rather than add to the pile I shall make like John Howard and issue no apologies.

Speaking of the Great Satan, he has been in the news a lot the last few days as Australia is hosting the APEC conference. Half of Sydney has been shut down behind a huge metal wall and security forces patrol the streets below thundering military aircraft. Howard has been widely criticised for imposing this over-zealous Diet Coke version of martial law, but think of it another way, perhaps he was just trying to make the other Asia-Pacific leaders feel at home.

Of course Johnny's friend George was in town too, and looking quite jolly after some recent press conferences where his "serious" face went into overdrive. It seems a little incongruous to be so upbeat when the 'surge strategy' is looking increasingly ineffective and it appears that his successor, whether Republican or Democrat is not going to continue his Iraq mission. Perhaps he has realised that with only a year to go his reputation is fucked, so he may as well enjoy the ride while he can. Certainly his response to a question about the situation in Iraq ("We're kicking ass!") smacked of someone sticking a defiant finger up at the liberals, a dead man going to the gallows with a smile on his face.

No-one seems to have explained any of this to poor old Johnny though. He has taken every opportunity to pose with George and Condi, gleaming his rodent toothed smile as though every camera flash were another swinging voter coming over to him. It's certainly a vote winning strategy, but unfortunately for the Prime Minister it's a vote winning strategy from 2004. The whole thing feels a bit like someone bringing a mangy stripper to breakfast after a drunken lads' night out, "that was last night Johnny, we're past that now and slightly ashamed."

While Johnny makes his moves on yesterday's babe, Kevin has been cosying up to the sexiest new human rights abuser in town. His speech to the Chinese delegates proved that it is possible to speak Mandarin with your tongue up someone's arsehole. Still, while a communist behemoth keeps the Australian economy afloat it doesn't do to upset them (even left-wing students seems to recognise this, being strangely uncritical of a genuine dictator while working themselves into a pant wetting fury over Bush).

Reading a transcript of the speech though, it seems Mr Rudd's Mandarin vocabulary may not be as extensive as we have been led to believe. "You have many, many friends here in Australia" he told them "many, many friends, many, many real friends" , before adding "I went to work in Beijing in the 1980s. My wife and I have a particular love for Beijing — we love the feeling of Beijing, we love the people of Beijing." It sounds like Kevin knows a few phrases, a few key phrases, a few very key phrases.

Of course the ABC's Chaser have been on the scene, dressed as (who else?) Osama and highlighting the spectacular incompetency behind the stern facade of security. Predictably condemnation has ensued with APEC's chief security policeman saying "I enjoy a big laugh, but this isn't funny." Well it's never very funny when the whole world realises that you haven't done your job properly is it? Particularly when you've spent $150 million doing it. But I doubt whether someone who describes themselves as enjoying "a big laugh" has much of a sense of humour anyway. It implies a face permanently twisted in a hate filled grimace but occasionally allowing a chortle to escape, perhaps during Last of the Summer Wine or a prisoner beating.

The people involved in the Chaser stunt have apparently been arrested, so with the conference ending soon it seems that a few comedians will sit in jail, while a ramshackle bunch of war-mongers and despots are flown back home in luxury. Wither satire?

Monday, 20 August 2007

Living on a Prayer

Opposition leader Kevin Rudd spent a drunken night in a strip club four years ago. Who cares? Well apparently everyone does. This story made in onto television and newspaper headlines for a fourth day in a row today. I found this suprising, coming as I do from a country where the "private life is private" doctrine has been firmly entrenched. Modern Britain is a place where accusations of cocaine abuse (still undenied) can't stop David Cameron becoming Tory Party leader, and where repeated infidelity has done nothing to hamper Boris Johnson's mayoral ambitions. The Brits, the conservative old prudes are now extremely liberal and forgiving. Easy going, larrikin Australia, by contrast is twitching its sour-faced puritan nose up in disgust at a minor indescretion.

But t'was not always so. Twenty years ago the mysterious loss of former-Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser's trousers (apparently after being drugged by a prostitute) was met with light amusement rather than disgust, and around the same time Prime Minister Bob Hawke admitted that his legendary beer intake probably did more for his popularity than any policy. The transformation between then and now is bizzare, and just goes to show how succesful John Howard's terminally reactionary agenda has been. This once amusing and wayward nation is now a hundred times more serious and conservative than Mother England. Yet the oddest thing is that this is not how Australia perceives itself. I'll never forget the drunken Aussie backpacker who, telling me about my own country, declared "the British are very conservative people". Presumably he also thought that the Australians were not very conservative, but it was his country which had just re-elected a man whose main leadership goal is to drag the nation back to 1956. And even not the real 1956 (far too many interesting characters and union upstarts there) but the 1956 which exists only in the head of disheveled old scroats like John Howard. It is Australia that hangs the Union Flag over all and sundry (albeit counterpointed with the southern cross) to remind people that this is first and foremost an Anglo-Saxon country, so mind your mouth. It is Australia whose memorial day has mutated from a national day of mourning and remembrance into a jingoistic carnival of nationalism and militarism. ANZAC day now has more in common with the parades at Red Square than the ceremony at Whitehall. The whole idea of Australian identity has become overwhelmingly serious.

John Howard has taken traditional, decent Australian values like mateship and "a fair go" away from their exuberant and genuine origins in the labour movement and reinstated them within a morbid and indulgent fetishisation of Gallipoli and the ANZAC myth. In doing so he has destroyed their real meaning and removed them of any contemporary resonance. Mateship and a fair go ought to, for instance, mean opposing unfair industrial relations but now we are told that it means supporting them, because that's what the ANZACs would've done, kept their heads down and got the job done, not sat around complaining.

The conservative assault on Australian history is positively Stalinesque. The diggers were a bunch of scared young men who died because a foreign king told them to go to war, but now we have superimposed over this images of chisel-jawed Aussie blokes who died for "freedom". Does that include the freedom to turn back immigrants? What ought to be a parable showing the folly of war and slavish, weak governments (the Australian establishment betrayed the diggers at least as much as British generals did) becomes a story glorifying military conquest and nationalism, all whilst comfortably maintaining a foreign monarch as head of state. Self-reflection went out of the windows years back leaving only a blinkered machismo and a faint whiff of cheap sentiment. The coalition would probably put a rose-tint on the flag if suggesting changes to the flag didn't identify one as a communist, immigrant-loving pooftah.

I want to see the old Australia come back, and not the fake, quaint, imagined old Australia but the real old Australia. The Australia that built the modernist buildings that so impressed me on arrival, the Australia on show at the Eureka Stockade rebellion, the Australia of the Whitlam era, driven by hope and self-belief, not by fear and mistrust. It is not too late to turn back the tide of pathetic, arrogant, narcicistic, greedy, xenophobic hatred that has been stoked up for the past years, but it all hinges on the election. A defeat for Howard would be a tiny ray of light. Another victory would be the final nail in the coffin.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Creating The Emperor

My new job is of questionable veridicality. On the one hand it is almost certainly real, but then I float through my days in a technopiate haze and stumble out at the end of the day a little unsure.

On the average day I enter my state of the art workplace through the security system (to keep out undesirables presumably) before whizzing up to the 21st floor and taking my seat in this glacial tower. I then undertake my two jobs, which are;

- Cross referencing people's scanned identity documents with the details on their scanned application forms looking for anomalies and scanning errors.

- Checking other verifiers flagged scanning errors and deciding whether they were right or not (meanwhile someone does the same with mine)

This sort of job is as menial as it sounds and consequently I spend a lot of time gazing out across the city, thinking of ways to improve it, like an admin Le Courbusier. Conversation is kept to a minimum so I often listen to ambient electronica whilst working, adding to the general sense of cyber-unreality.

One of the plus points though is that no-one keeps track of my work rate any longer, and I am free to net surf for quite ridiculous amounts of time (hence the now regular updates here). I seem to have landed a George Costanza role.

Anyhow, during this morning's shift I came up with an idea for a new type of condom called 'The Emperor'.

- It will be manufactured in purple, the colour of the Roman emperors, which will make it a more visually attractive. The company will use the profits of condom sales in the west to finance the distribution of Emperor condoms in Africa along with a sexual education anti-AIDS programme to counter anti-contraception propaganda by Christian groups.

- In the African context the purple will also represent the democratisation of protected sex, since this once most elite of colours will be available to the world's poorest people.

- The packet will have a symbol of Imperial Rome on, the Colosseum or whatever, to represent Rome's pre-catholic past and set the product aside from catholic intervention in Africa on sexual issues.

- Finally, Bono and Bob Geldof will not be allowed to endorse the product.

But to whom does one go with a product like this? And does Bono have your legs broken if you don't polish his halo?

I don't know but I shall try and find out or lose my kneecaps trying!

Monday, 6 August 2007

A Blessing in Disguise

There is a general lament in Britain about the lack of housing affordability, but having now witnessed a country where property is still (just about) affordable to younger people I hope Britain stays as it is. Knowing that you have little hope of being able to buy a house has turned people to regard their youth as a great fin-de-siecle rort of resigned abandonment. There is something of the raw liberation of Wiemar about this decadence before the deluge, albeit on a more innocuous level.

In Australia by contrast, as soon as the teenage years are over the Australian dream of a plot of land enters the brain and as the years pass it grows and grows, rotting away any joie de vivre like a personality cancer. Money and mortgages are all anyone ever thinks about. They claw after more and more cash with a deranged obsession, like grotesque characters from a second rate parody of Thatcherism, forcing themselves to work with the flu and always finding reason to stay back (Australia works more unpaid overtime than anyone else). Of course however much you have there's always someone on more to bitch about, and so every pay rise saps away a little more humanity and replaces it with envy and hatred. Gradually life become measured out entirely in payment installments and how much you are earning, or, more crucially, how much you aren't.

I am not suggesting that money is a bad thing per se, my upbringing was not affluent enough to allow that indulgence, but to place it at the centre of one's whole being is truly sick. If you have money it should be enjoyed frivilously, not fetished. The fixation of some people here could not be any more perverse if they tried to fuck an ATM.

On the plus side I just read a tabloid scare story about house prices going higher than ever, so maybe there is still hope. Throw away your 1950s dreams Australia, the party is just beginning...

Sunday, 29 July 2007

A City in Need of Cruz Control

I am sick of seeing Penelope Cruz's face, but not in the same way that I'm sick of seeing Jeremy Clarkson's face (I'm afraid he is popular in Australia too). No, there's a difference between my annoyance at her luminous good looks and my distaste at his denim-chaffed mug, which resembles a battered old dustbin overflowing with discarded pubic hair. Hating Clarkson's face is almost enjoyable.

There's something a bit like being at the pantomime when watching him decide which cars are cool and uncool (has he looked at himself in the mirror lately? Clarkson labeling something 'uncool' is a little like Adolf Eichmann calling something 'immoral') or moaning about how he's being persecuted by speed cameras when his only crime was to deliberately break a law designed to save lives. Poor old Jez, even Adolf Eichmann would think speed cameras were going too far surely? Clarkson plays the pathetic, declining middle aged prick with such unapologising aplomb it's quite amusing. With Penelope my anger is much more unsatisfying.

What riles me up is that her profile seems to have emerged all over Melbourne in the past few weeks unannounced, on various bus stops and bill boards and it is now almost impossible to go five minutes in town without having her cast a seductive, eyelash-heavy pout at you. The problem with this? Everything else is dismal by comparison. Ordinary people are ugly at the best of times, but now I feel as though I am walking amongst some troglodyte race of nuclear survivors. And it's not just other people I apply my rule to. A glance at the bathroom mirror reveals only a hideous mutant; and once he moves out of of the way I can see myself, which is almost as bad.

Please, oh gods of Melbourne remove lady Penelope and her impossibly high ubermensch standards and let us be human again! Nothing could please me more. Nothing, apart from Jeremy Clarkson being knocked down by a speeding car and the driver escaping because all the speed cameras have been vandalised. Even Adolf Eichmann would have to laugh at that.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Mobster in My Pocket

Those who know me best would attest to my gross negligence of phone credit. I almost always am out of it and use is sparingly when available. This behavioural pattern grew out of financial hardship, but has continued to languish even though I am able to afford phone credit, in much the same way that war rationing survivors still get every scrap out of their beef joints, even though they could easily buy another. This is not to be sneered at, there is a lot to be said for frugality. Interestingly I read at weekend that Ian McKellan still thrills at a bargain even though he now has tons of cash. Some habits are hard to shake.

Anyhow, this reluctance to spend phone credit took a shake upon my registering an Australian phone and checking my balance. I was informed by the robo-operator that "Your current balance is $35.76. You must top up before 12th March 2007 or your service will be suspended." "What??" I cried at poor Shira, who must be so sick of shouldering the injustices of her nation "does that mean even if I still have credit they'll take it away??". "Yes", she answered meekly, knowing that an outraged kick-off was sure to follow. And it did. But I shan't bore you with details, all you need know is that I did not recharge out of principal and now have no credit as usual.

All of this was annoying, merely annoying, until tyhis morning, when it became sinister. I received a text message whilst at my desk and reached to see who was popping in my inbox. It was Optus, the subject of my embargo. "This is Optus" the message said "you must recharge your credit by the due date or all phone services will be cancelled." Christ! The fuckers are laying it on the line. Pay up or else. There has been Melbourne mafia violence in the news lately, but via text message? Orange were happy to leave me for a year without topping up, safe in the knowledge that other Orange users were ringing and texting me. But this lot are not happy with that. It's 'Give us your cash or you'll be incommunicado sunshine!'

I have one month to decide my next move. And I feel a fight coming on...

Monday, 7 May 2007

Dreaming of Ithaca

One of the main advantages of being an expat is that the homeland exists as a land of mental perfection, far removed from the day to day reality. Britain in Australia is certainly better than Britain in Britain. With this in mind I have started to pine for various things from home including:

Snooker on telly
Decaying seaside towns
Cox's Orange Pippins
English Countryside (what would a life-long city dweller know about this?? It is a pastoral ideal I know, but still it's there)
Puddings with custard in cold weather
Ale in old men pubs
The Thames
Free Museums

But then a visit to the BBC website shows me the faces of Russell Brand and Graham Norton and my dream-world Blighty collapses into second-rate actuality.

Curse you reality for being so poor!!

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

The Sweetness of The Mourning Jew

April is the cruelest month, or is it?

It has been rather kind to me, allowing us to finally settle into a house after being bitch-slapped left, right and centre by February and March. That is largely the cause of my prolonged silence.

Native Britishers would not believe the rigmarole necessary to apply for a house in this city. Viewings of properties often host up to 50 people, who must then fill out an application which resembles that for a job more closely than a house. You must give a personal statement, personal references (we needed nine for this house) and wage slips to confirm your affluence. Getting a car in the Soviet Union would have involved less red tape than this, and unpleasant as Russian civil servants might be I'd wager they had nothing on the grotesque smugness of a Real Estate Salesperson. My only hope is that after death they're all condemned to some kind of eternal Glengarry Glenross hell-fire.

If you were wondering, there is in this entry no Mourning Jew as referred to in the title, 'twas merely a pun I thought of and enjoyed! There is a wisecracking Jew and an anti-Semite though, being Groucho Marx and T S Eliot. I recently read Groucho's letter to Gummo about when he dined at Eliot's house. They had three things in common, he reported; a love of cigars, a love of cats and a habit of constantly punning. But while Groucho apparently tried to suppress his urge to make puns at every opportunity, he reports that Eliot was unashamed, even proud, of his. And why not?! I despise those who relegate the pun to a cringeworthy device. In the right hands it is a thing of wonder, as demonstrated by Mr Marx himself. And besides, what's good enough for a founding father of modernism is good enough for anyone.

Returning to more everyday affairs I must report the only down-side to our new location, we are forced to cram onto Melbourne's over-burdened train system. Things here are really reaching dire straits, with the government buying back trains it sold off 12 months ago to try and alleviate the pains of the severely antiquated system. Not that this is helping. This morning we were forced to let two trains go by since we could not physically fit on them. One man had had enough and let rip at the station attendant. "This isn't fucking good enough!" he spat out, articulating the rage of an entire city. The attendant, although it wasn't his fault, sensed this, and in his heart he knew the man was right. All he could do was stand, simpering like a little boy.

And this is how the blog ends,
And this is how the blog ends,
And this is how the blog ends,

Not with a bang but with a simper.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Odour Toilet

I had been enjoying going to the toilets at work. They are clean, roomy and the soap dispenser lets out a high-pitched "toot toot" every time I press it. I like to pretend I'm the fat controller and Ringo Starr is narrating my life. But today my relationship with the water closet changed.

I entered the toilet with my usual cheery swagger, only to realise that my advance coincided with that of an office nodding acquaintance. We walked in together, awkwardly nodding and hoping each other would make a surge to the left for the numerous and spacious urinals. Imagine then my horror (and his no doubt) when we both continued forward to the cramped and claustrophobic cavern of cubicles. There are three only, and although we both did the decent thing and selected the traps furthest away from each other, this was not enough. Every rasping fart and viscous plop was deafening, and what is more they were not protected with the usual anonymity, but tethered unequivocally to a recognisable face. I would, of course, have left and waited before things went this far had it been possible, but it was too late for that, and too late for my associate also by the sounds of it.

Both this man and this room are now debased by the horror. I passed him at the photocopier today and we both stared at the floor. Once I reached my destination, the "toot toot" was oddly hollow. Another friend lost and another small pleasure exterminated. These are tough times.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

A Bunch of Bankers

The Australians have many different stereotypes about us Brits, but the most annoying is that of 'The Whingeing Pom'. Having spent the height of the English summer sleeping next to a Queenslander who moaned "it's too bloody hot" I feel this label is a little rich.

However, that said I have had a week which is cause for complaint.

First I received my first pay packet (Hurray!), only to discover that a lot of what I had earned had gone astray, taken by the federal government. If I was at home I could console myself with thoughts of the NHS, but this is a country where you have to pay to see a doctor. A bloody DOCTOR! They reimburse you some money, but not all. And what kind of system is that anyway? Reimbursement? What is this, a business expense tax write off? No it's my bloody health!! I heard Aussies moan about the NHS's inefficiency, but any organisation on such a scale is bound to be pretty inefficient. At least you don't have to pay to see a fucking DOCTOR! (just underlining the point). So the rich pay a little tax, the poor pay a lot of tax, and the services provided by the state are minimal. Where then, does this revenue go? No-one seems to know. It's like the policies of Hayeckian and Keynesian economics rule simultaneously, but with only the negative points of both.

If this annoyance weren't enough I then got my bank statement to find a $1.50 bank charge for... wait for it... checking my balance! I knew you were charged for withdrawals from other banks, but paying money to check how much money you have?? Suspect every time one of these charges is processed a switch goes off & a bulldog licks the rectum of an obese, pink-faced, cigar-chomping banker who yells "Balance statement? Well, you've got $1.50 less now mate!" This on top of the $4 a month "accounting charge". And these aussies just sit back and take it. They are commendably relaxed people but they need a bit more bloody-mindedness. I'm all in favour of being laid back, but if you lie back too far you might get fucked.

I also found out that Haribo sweets do not exist here. The only gummies they have feature words like "natural" and "pure" on the packets. These aren't gummies, they're like some disgusting organic crap that an Islington mother would shove down the throat of Tristan, her ungrateful, long-haired, bourgeois sprog. I wouldn't even eat these if they were in the shape of the Venus Di Milo. Proper gummies are crammed full of sugar and pig remains, there's nothing "natural" about them. Boy they do things weird out here.

On the other hand I had a haircut yesterday and was handed a complimentary beer. For all their faults they are, occasionally, way ahead of us.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

The Lollyman Cometh

I sit here tired from my day of issuing court dates for the Victorian Civil Administration Tribunal. It is dull work, but I get to use a stamp that says "EXHIBIT A" so I am happy. There are also occasionally interesting cases that I can snoop at. Last week I read of a woman who purchased a well-behaved horse, which subsequently turned out to be a wild horse that had been drugged. She was demanding a refund. There was also a man who arranged to have his house demolished, only to cancel the arrangement. Unfortunately for him the demolition company did not take sufficient note of this and proceeded to demolish the house anyway. He demanded recompense but had been foolish enough to make the cancellation a verbal agreement only, and his case was subsequently thrown out. Owch.

This Bureauarbeit was today alleviated when the staff pelted around the office declaring "the lollyman is here!! the lollyman is here!", which to my sweating person was a great relief. What better a refreshment than an ice lolly?

Imagine then my surprise when I discovered that in Australia, "lollies" are sweets. Any sweets. Much like how in Old English 'meat' meant any food substance rather than only animal flesh. So he did not have anything cold, just several rather sad looking plastic bags full of toffees. For shame.

This is not the only gastronomic discrepancy I have noticed in this land. For example, in cafes when one orders the Full Breakfast (note the lack of the word English) it is standard to receive avocado and spinach, but there is only a fifty per cent chance of seeing a sausage. This is bad enough, but of course the major issue for the outsider down under is the national allegiance to the dreaded Vegemite. Whereas in England Marmite is the quintessential 'love it or hate it' foodstuff, in Australia Vegemite is more of a 'love it or die' kind of food. I have not met a single person who does not like this sickening glop. Of course the comparison is not entirely fair, for there is, apparently, a difference between Marmite and Vegemite, although to me being shown this is like a bushman pointing out the subtle difference between two opposing piles of kangaroo shit.

The food is, to be fair, largely much fresher and it is commendable that it is almost entirely domestically produced (a recent damage to the Queensland banana crop sent prices up by 50%, as they do not import them from somewhere else when this happens as we would in Blighty) but they have a little to learn in the savoury snacks department. No scotch eggs, no black pudding, no Bovril. Beautiful fresh fish is a blessing, but every now and then a man needs a pork pie.

If my reader who left comments on an earlier entry is reading, this is simply a nostalgic (in the Greek sense) lust for snacks, not an imperialist tract. Calm down dear boy, calm down.


Thursday, 8 February 2007

The Lizzard of Oz

The government here is incredibly sinister, and I believe that I know why.

Whilst strolling in town the other day I noticed a building named London House, which was accompanied by the familar City of London crest. Merely an interesting and nostalgic curiosity at first, I then was reminded of David Icke's theory that the dragons on the crest are representative of the reptilian race which secretly control the earth. He proposes that William of Orange was a shape-shifting lizzard and that it was he who gave the City of London the neccesary powers to financially dominate the world. Could there be a connection?

Further intrigue developed when I strolled into the Royal Arcade, one of Melbourne's many beautful arcades (they would make Baudelaire orgasm in his pantilooms) and saw two monstrous statues banging a clock. They were copies of the statues of Gog and Magog built at Guildhall, in 1706, copies of which also strike the clock of the St Dunstan-in-the-West church on Fleet Street. According to legend (as reported by Geoffrey of Monmouth) these two giants were captured by the Trojans in their war against the ancient Britons and forced to fight against them. After the conquest they were used to guard the Trojan castle at the site of Guildhall. Thus the new British Kings were Trojans, descendants of Aeneus, as were the Romans. So two great empires stemmed from the original Trojan lizzards.

And now they are in Australia, another Anglo-Saxon outpost. It all fits so well, if only I could believe that an alien reptillian race controlled the earth. It would make things a whole lot simpler(and more enetertaining!). Unfortunately Gog and Magog also occur in the Hebrew Bible, the Q'uran, Magyar mythology, and many other places. They are, in fact, amongst the most popular icons in Western mythology.

So they aren't lizzards, we aren't Trojans, and (much as many 19th century Scots wished it to be so) the name Angus is not philologically connected to the name Aeneus. Still, it was something to ponder on during a nice stroll around Melbourne.

Those who still sense a reptile presence and believe my refutation to be part of the conspiracy may turn here for further reading:


Goodnight, and good luck

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

The Mundane and the Maddening

Melbourne seems to be a city that has developed rather than being aggressively "re-developed", the one major exception being the South Bank complex, where I was informed by a promotional board that the amazing project I now stood on (a row of anonymous wine bars) formerly housed countless abattoirs, factories and brothels. For shame! Who would not prefer the venal excitement of the latter to the banality of the former?? Probably most people, and that is cause for a large sigh. But even here there is a sign of hope as a large chimney that looms over the city is covered in protesting grafitti. Imagine such a thing in central London.

Perhaps the main thing I enjoy is the lack of converted urban apartments or office spaces. Those corporatist, vacuous, and ghostly structures that are currently purging inner-city London of "undesirables" and raping the historicity of central Manchester.

There is some kind of 'exciting project' being proposed in St Kilda but I received several leaflets against it this weekend, which is at least a sign that where such ghastliness exists it is being actively resisted, rather than gulibly swallowed down with an unhealthy dose of provincialism. Perhaps my first impressions will be proved wrong, but at first glance it appears that there exists here a type of civic pride which does not involve petty, unquestioning submission to the dark forces of property fiends. Manchester Evening News take note.

I have been asked to give more details of the day to day mundanities of my trip and so here we are; It is very hot some days, though very temperate on others. Apparently Melbourne is the only place in Australia to experience four seasons in one day, as the locals never tire of telling you. This is a slight exaggeration but four seasons in one week seems entirely possible. It is apparently getting extremely hot next week but for now it's a satisfying twenty-six degrees.

As well as my restrictions of working I found out that my tax rate is significantly higher than that of Australians. The Howard government, which seems so keen on laissez-faire apparently doesn't extend this to UK visas, where protectionism rules the day. Just another reason to despise this racist junta (the word multicultural was recently removed from the Immigration Departments' name and replaced with citizenship, thus the emphasis changes from accommodation to integration). They have already provoked me to writing an angry letter to the newspaper after describing Aboriginal history as "rubbish". Shira had forgotten how terrible and embarrassing it was but it's at least a relief from the Butskellism of home.

And now my coffee maker whistles so...

Monday, 29 January 2007

Meeting Melbourne

So here we are; Melbourne, Victorian city abroad.

Actually, I must stop using the word Victorian in this way. Here it simply means someone hailing from the state of Victoria, while to me it counjers up images of chimney sweeps, toffs and children in factories.

Melbourne is very proud of its architecture, and rightly so. What they are most proud of though, are the Anglo-Saxon nineteenth century structures. Towers of neo-Gothic/Orientalist glitz. If this is what blows your bubble then they are indeed perfec examples, but these are viewable in any English major city (perhaps that is traditionally the source of pride? Cultural cringe etc?). But what has impressed me most id the whole-hearted embracing of modernism. Not the concrete brutalism of post-war London, but elegant, poetical design that encompasses the best of modernist intentions.

For instance, the local library in the area we are staying in is a fantastic, perfectly proportioned building of wood and glass that is two parts Bauhaus, one part traditional Japanese. All along this street are buildings that reflect Roman villas, Gaudiesque towers, futurist pamphlets, or nothing seen before, and all with a delightful twentieth century edge. For a supposedly conservative nation they have taken to new ideas of architecture in a way that makes dreary old England look like a curmudgeonly, bigoted backwater.

The city centre too espouses this ethic. No-where to be seen are the disgustingly anonymous blocks of central Manchester or the unthinking, pseudo-design of modern London buildings. Everywhere are bold, bright, imaginitive designs from Art Deco to the modern day. This is what Manchester could and should have looked like if it wasn't so short-sighted.

In a word; impressive.

More to follow...


Friday, 26 January 2007

Fear and Loathing in a Cable Car

The dreams came, or was it just the jetlag?

I saw a dismembered fish head, at least five kilograms and with no corresponding body in sight, still gaping and twitching on a stall. A chinese doorman told me that he lived in Heald Green. More bizzare was the sight of a man sat on a public toilet, door open and trousers down, gently weeping into a hankerchief. There is a sense of ethereal unease around.

Hong Kong itself is a kind of Corbussieran dream, with 7 million residents packed into high-rise living. On the ground in Hong Kong Island the car is king; shops are few and one is dwarfed by the giants of commerce standing eighty floors high. Above this stretches a maze of concrete passage ways, intersecting and crossing buildings, and it is in this Barbican-like web that the people dash from sunrise until midnight. Brash businessmen stride in their suits, declaring their wealth to the unfortunates who slave for crumbs in this low-tax, no-state, laissez-faire paradise. Yet, strangely, because the people are Asian this seems less offensive to me. Is this a kind of cutsiefied, patronising racism? Almost certainly, but I refuse to confront it fully.

As well as this bustling New Asia we saw remnants of the past at the "Big Buddha" of the Po Lin Monastery. Though even here things were not as they should be. We paid our $15 to enter the Walking with Buddha exhibition, a "multi-media presentation on the life of Siddhartha Gautama". After viewing a re-enactment of his transformation into The Buddha we were treated to a room of Buddhist aphorisms, all emphasising the abandonment of attachments to pysical things, and then we exited into... a souvenir shop! Jesus Christ. Or rather, Buddha.

Further strangeness ensued on the cable car journey back from the temple. The mist was so thick that we were unable to see the Big Buddha at all and our cable car was shrouded in grey. We were unable to see any other cars, and the only sign that we were not simply floating, unattached to the physical realm, was the occasional appearance of pylons, supporting the track, which groaned into view like ghostly beasts of the mountains. If this were not odd enough I slowly realised that the Englishman to my left was none other than Ralph Steadman. I recognised his voice patterns, his wife and his distinctive, shuffling walk (in that order) from a lecture I had attended earlier in the year. What was this guru of Gonzo doing in my cable car with this mountainous, Herzogian landscape behind him? Was it a sign? If so of what?

I have yet to find out, but I am still smiling.


Friday, 19 January 2007

Last Night I Dreamt...

"Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me", or so sang Morrissey, but not so for me. Last night I dreamt that I went to a small suburban house party in Manchester and the only guest was Sir Anthony Eden.

There is no real conundrum as to why; he was evidently a manifestation of Blighty, a moustachioed Albion incarnate. Strange though, that someone of my background should choose a patrician Tory Prime Minister as the avatar of England. Why would I identify with a version of Britain that has been long since extinguished by Mrs Thatcher, and never really existed outside the corridors of Eton and the misguided heads of patriotic dreamers anyway?

Perhaps enough of us dreamt of this vision for it to thread into the Jungian tapestry. Has it now taken its place alongside King Arthur, St George and decent train services in the file marked "Mythical England"? Perhaps this idealised Anglia is itself a kind of Eden. Semantics and Miltonic religiosity melding in my unconscious mind?

Enough of this now though. We leave tomorrow for Hong Kong. I wonder if the presence of Mythical England is stronger in a former colony, or whether the Chinese took charge of the metaphysical Hong Kong as well as the concrete in 1997. WIll I dream of Eden or Mao?

We shall see.

Adieu Mon Patrie,