Benjamin Gilmour

The entirely remarkable Ben Gilmour was interviewed for a whole hour on the ABC the other day. The topic was well worth the time. He’s just published a book about his experiences as an ambo – a paramedic – stationed in Sinny at Bondi. This meant that he and his partner were usually the nearest to be called to a suicide attempt (or success) at The Gap – the most popular spot in the country for offing yourself. I bought the book (which is called The Gap) and read it in a day. It’s one of the most gripping books I’ve ever read.

But that’s only half of my point here. The other half was not mentioned by the interviewer at all (unless I missed the very beginning of the interview) – namely, that Ben Gilmour has directed and had released two feature films! Son of a Lion (shot in Pakistan) was released in 2007, and Jirga was shot in arguably the most dangerous place in the world, Kandahar Province in Afghanistan, and released in 2018.

The Shepherd’s Hut

I think what most preoccupied Tim Winton in working on this  novel was getting the voice of the narrator, Jaxie, right. As it’s almost all we hear for the duration, it’s just as well he succeeded. It’s not understood to be written by him, of course—he’s probably barely literate—but it is narrated by him, and the language on the page represents what he ‘would of’ written if he ‘could of’—thus giving examples of the principal solecism which occurs consistently throughout—together with ‘et’ for ‘ate’, which is complicated, but works.

The other main character, Fintan, only appears halfway through, and is represented only by what he says to Jaxie—who does not understand half of it, but records it accurately (of course). Jaxie is the character who is in search of … ‘peace’ is the preferred term, and Fintan is the spiritually advanced character who has perhaps found it.

Then there’s a plot, which is a bit stuck-on-at-the-end, providing closure for the story in a way that is convincing enough. One is usually glad to escape from the world of a Winton novel—he’s often said not to do his endings well—and this one provides a neat half-page summary (almost like a PowerPoint slide) which tidies everything up, and lets us go.

But this novel does not let us go when we have put it down. Its evocation of Jaxie’s universe is so precise and convincing that it will stay in the reader’s mind for some time – well, this one, at least.

Which of the Two Popes

I was at first bemused, and then amused at the idea that Jonathan Pryce was being nominated for Best Actor while Anthony Hopkins was only getting the Best Supporting nomination. Makes sense in terms of the proportion of the story occupied with Francis as opposed to Benedict, but not at all in terms of who owns the film in terms of acting. I was totally absorbed in every syllable uttered and every gesture made by Hopkins’s Ratzinger, whereas I was noting where Pryce fell short in charisma, accents, in being generally wishy-washy.

John Barker on leadership

I thought this piece by John Barker on leadership (in Australia) was too good for Facebook. In fact, it should be widely republished.

We have been particularly poorly served by those who presume to be “leaders”. Which would lead one to wonder what we need, want or expect of this function.

Perhaps, two centuries ago, we needed somebody to help us muster courage and articulate a vision of possibilities in an unknown country. But then we just had profiteers and convicts.

Today, we have an educated and continuously informed society that doesn’t need a PM to be a proxy for their reasoning or emotions by offering his thoughts and prayers on their behalf. We don’t need a PM whose words are carefully crafted to “play to their base” in selected electorates in order to eke out a slender majority so that they can impose their idiosyncratic beliefs on us all.

The reality is that although a select few believe that they will be relieved of their mortal coil by the Rapture, the agnostic majority know that we are stuck here, with our children and grandchildren. There is no Planet B, there is no Country B and there is no longer an unexplored frontier in this wide brown and blackened land.

We scarcely need a “leader” – we probably never did. We just need a good “manager” of the “common-wealth” – to continuously review our position and direction with regard to our “sustainability”.

The notion of a “modern manager” would be useful, but alas! Our corporate leaders view themselves as “celebrities”, but are shown to have silver tongues and feet of clay- a self-serving “fourth sector”, distinct from customers, staff and shareholders, more focused on bonuses and golden handshakes after their brief tenure.

Similarly, our political leaders, many of whom become unaccountably wealthy while on relatively modest public salaries, using their tenure as a step towards “soft” corporate roles, undoubtedly trading the knowledge garnered from their privileged public positions.

No – we don’t need “leaders” like these. We just need good managers of the sustainability of the “common-wealth”, so that we aren’t an embarrassment to our grandchildren.

The Experience of Montaigne

Montaigne was the greatest essayist. Here’s the best bit from his best (and possibly last) essay, ‘On experience’. This is as good as it gets.

We are great fools. “He has passed his life in idleness,” say we: “I have done nothing to-day.” What? have you not lived? that is not only the fundamental, but the most illustrious, of your occupations. “Had I been put to the management of great affairs, I should have made it seen what I could do.” “Have you known how to meditate and manage your life? you have performed the greatest work of all.” In order to show and develop herself, nature needs only fortune; she equally manifests herself in all stages, and behind a curtain as well as without one. Have you known how to regulate your conduct, you have done a great deal more than he who has composed books. Have you known how to take repose, you have done more than he who has taken empires and cities.

Carmen Lawrence on living in a (small) city

Carmen Lawrence’s piece on being among the heritage buildings of Fremantle will be of interest to anyone who has ever for a moment thought about their experience of being in a city – of any size.

People do not simply look out over a landscape and say, “this belongs to me” they say, “I belong to this”. Concern for familiar topography for the places one knows is not about the loss of a commodity but about the loss of identity. People belong in the world; it gives them a home.

Dr Lawrence was Premier of Western Australia, and later also Chair of the Australian Heritage Council.

Douglas Hofstadter on machine translation

One sometimes comes across some piece of writing that perfectly encapsulates something, and there should be a way to keep such things where they can readily be found.

A ‘pillow book’ used to be such a thing.  Now I suppose it’s a blog.

I can’t remember how I arrived at this piece by the legendary (to me, anyway) Douglas Hofstadter on machine translation, but I want to record the source here.

From my point of view, there is no fundamental reason that machines could not, in principle, someday think, be creative, funny, nostalgic, excited, frightened, ecstatic, resigned, hopeful, and, as a corollary, able to translate admirably between languages. There’s no fundamental reason that machines might not someday succeed smashingly in translating jokes, puns, screenplays, novels, poems, and, of course, essays like this one. But all that will come about only when machines are as filled with ideas, emotions, and experiences as human beings are. And that’s not around the corner. Indeed, I believe it is still extremely far away.

ABC bad taste

I’ve been remonstrating about this for years without anyone even expressing likemindedness, let alone doing something about it.  But here I go again.

It’s about ABCTV.  I only watch one or two programs on broadcast a week, so I don’t know if this crassness is present everywhere. What I can tell you is that when the show I’ve been watching has barely finished – the last words of dialogue have only just been said, and the end music and credits have only just started to roll – when this otherwise-unemployable actor’s voice comes on – quite a lot louder than program, and therefore in-your-face/ear – and not only makes a comment in a few very loud and clear words about what you have just watched, but also tells you what you will watch next time, and also what the next show is.

What this tells us is that the ABC thinks that we are completely insensitive, we have no need to process what we have just seen (which in some cases is actually art), and that we desperately need to be told not to switch off, and to keep watching the next show, and to stay around for the following program. And that’s all that matters: that we keep ingesting whatever is broadcast, whenever.

The result – for anyone with any sensitivity whatsoever – is that we simply don’t watch the ABC at all.  If we want to view the programs being broadcast, we obtain them by some other means.

Not only that, but we no longer support the ABC politically. Because if it’s that vulgar, it’s not worth supporting.

I am told that the otherwise-unemployable actor’s name is Adrian Mulraney. I am trying not to hold it against him personally, but I hope I never meet him and have to try to be polite to him.

Amanda Redman’s left arm

Just before starting to watch the last episode of The Good Karma Hospital, I was starting to develop the idea of using Amanda Redman’s left arm as a metaphor for … just about everything about The Meaning of Life. Only to find that the scriptwriters had the same idea. And they used it.

Good afternoon

‘Good afternoon’, ‘good morning’, and ‘good evening’ are ways the middle class have of identifying themselves to each other. They also keep hoi polloi at a distance when so addressed.