Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

18.5.17

A barrister, a football player and a bureaucrat walk into a bar. Who buys the first round?

Once, a long time ago, when the offence industry was yet to be funded by the Australian taxpayer, Lou Richards made Melbourne laugh.

Yesterday his Flinders Street journey ended at St Paul's Cathedral after long sojourns at the Herald Sun HSV7 building and the Phoenix Hotel. Patrick Carlyon tries to define Richards' appeal:
Part insecurity, part vanity, part truth, part mockery.
Mockery? Isn't mockery a crime now? Ron Joseph delivered some choice Richards scorn on the late clown's behalf at his funeral, including barbs such as "Rhodes scolar, my bum" for ex-AFL bureaucrat Mike Fitzpatrick, who hasn't cracked a smile since he lost a game for Carlton in 1981 when an umpire pinged him for wasting time. Carlyon continues:
It was always impossible to read Richards' deepest motivations for his lighthearted grandiosity, except that we knew Richards was always looking for a laugh.
Speaking of looking for a laugh, in the same newspaper, letter-writing barrister Geoffrey Steward, under the heading 'Our humourless malaise', mourns the death of humour:
Not a day passes when we do not hear about someone being offended ... The cause of this indulgent malaise is the diminishing possession of any sense of humour by so many.
One of the examples Steward cites was an ad for SportsBet featuring 1988 Olympic drug cheat Ben Johnson. That is, repeat, 1988. A twenty-nine year old incident. The infantile bureaucrat class was beside itself, aided and abetted by its social media security blanket. Drug cheats! Gambling! Whatever!

Stephen Brook, 'media writer': "This disgraceful ad for Sportsbet ... celebrates cheating in sport." No, it doesn't, Stephen, it celebrates being able to have a bet, which is legal. Federal sports minister and nanny state bully Greg Hunt: " ... utterly inappropriate ...". Acting ASADA chief executive Judy Lind said she "could not condone the message sent in the advertisement". You can hear the ice in these comments.

Nevertheless, humour still exists. In pockets. Last weekend, a sledge of Lions player Nick Robertson by Hawthorn's Isaac Smith had the umpire laughing (The Score, Scott Gullan, Herald Sun 18 May). Smith believes what is said on the field stays on the field, and is not a fan of a suggested 'code of conduct' for sledging.
"Give me a spell," he said. "Fair dinkum, I don't know what we're going to if we have a players' code of conduct on sledging. ... With sledging everyone has a moral compass and you know where you sit on that."

17.5.17

Rewrite that caption, editor. Editor?

Caption to photograph (Herald Sun, 17 May) of new AFL umpire:
AFL football operations manager Simon Lethlean unveils new league umpire Eleni Glouftsis yesterday.

15.5.17

Days Eight to Ten.

I had been dreaming about being chased by a large mosquito that kept going around my head getting louder and louder. Then I woke and the mosquito noise was a power boat doing laps of the lake.

I had drifted off in a deck chair on the grassy bank of a large lake. Now it was late morning and the sun was warm and there was a light breeze. The newspaper I had dropped had blown across the grass and one piece of broadsheet was actually in the lake. Now the boat was on the far side of the water, and trailing the boat was a large round inflatable dinghy to which two small figures were clinging. The driver of the boat seemed to be flicking the steering wheel, so that the dinghy was being drawn back and forth across the corrugated wake of the boat. The two figures were hanging on like cats on the roof of a moving car. The boat came back around clockwise and as it turned, one figure loosened his grip, apparently intentionally; and the g-forces pushed him over the other figure and the dinghy moved under the weight and overturned and the two figures were thrown off and did a kind of gymnastic commando roll in slow motion and smacked the water. The boat did a lazy arc back to the two figures who were hauling the dinghy over itself to right it, and they pulled themselves out of the water and on board the dinghy, and the boat roared off again. The figures were William and Thomas.

They went around about twenty times. Then the boat idled in to shore and flicked the dinghy around in one lazy arc and the boys collapsed onto the shore, almost unable to walk, dizzied by the ride and the wake and the falls.

The rest of the time they raced go-karts around the dusty pathways of the park between the cabins. The park stretched around the lake from 5.25 to about quarter to eight on a clock. The lake looks large but its perimeter allows a slow run or a fast walk well under an hour. They print scenic run of the month in Runner's World but nothing has ever beaten the scenery around Lake Boort.

*

Cabin No. 7 was at the end of a row, looking out over the lake. On the first night the sun had turned the lake and the sky orange as it went down and the orange flooded the cabin. The cabin had a covered platform like a low balcony out the front and we sat in the orange glow and ate dinner that I had cooked on sparkling utensils on a stove that was out of a 1970s kitchen cleaner commercial. It was so clean you could practically hear the jingle. The whole place was so spotless you wanted to hose the children down outside before letting them in, if at all.

*

Sometimes you lose at travel lotto, and sometimes you win. I had passed through Boort (which means "Smoke on the Hill" or "Smoke on the Water" depending who you ask) some years ago and seemed to remember a resort by a lake, so we pushed on through Hopetoun and Woomelang, which sounded like one of those 1960s girl band songs, then onto the main highway before Wycheproof and off again and directly east on a B road to Boort.

*

There was a sign on the manager's office: Under New Management. I had walked in and asked the usual question and yes, there had been several cabins available and the manageress had given me the keys to cabin 7. "You might see a mouse," she had said, "We've set traps. It's because of the harvest." I said that's OK, I'm not worried about mice, but I'll watch out for the snakes. They always come after the rodents. A man came into the office, obviously her husband. She told me they had been running the place for only three weeks and hoped the cabin would be OK.

*

The husband was the pilot of the boat, and had taken his own son and his friends around the lake and then my boys. Then Alexandra had a ride and he went only a bit slower. The system was simple. If you wanted to go faster, you raised a thumb: and if was too fast, you turned the thumb down. I was the spotter in the boat on the second round. A brilliant plan; it worked beautifully until you realised that the thumb sign required one hand to be removed from the restraint rope on the dinghy. Ker-splash. Another rescue.

*

We stayed three days.

*

Destination summary: Smoke on the water, fire in the sky. Boort is a small wheat belt town that no-one has ever heard about unless they have been there. Let's keep it that way.

Accommodation summary: Every child in Australia should spend a week at the Boort caravan park. Leave their devices at home; or even better, bring them along and throw them in the lake for good.

Phrase of the day: Jump in the lake.

5.5.17

Ridiculous conceit: writer starts book with longest sentence in history.

Three short sentences begin The History of Rock'n'Roll in Ten Songs by Greil Marcus. The fourth sentence begins:
That basically familiar way can be summed up by scrolling through the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, letting the names compose the history of the music ...
That sentence starts on page three and marches on relentlessly to page eight.

The writing is transcendentally dense; but highly readable if you switch off your information processing brain and turn on your stream of consciousness. Marcus admitted the book's concept was a ridiculous conceit, adding that 'trying to ascribe the entire history of a form containing hundreds of thousands of exemplars into ten is fundamentally absurd'. Tongue-in-cheek, he suggested in an interview that a contest be held to see what ten songs readers would choose (instead of his own selections), the prize being a copy of his book 'for the winner to tear up'. Eureka! A self-deprecating intellectual!

One Amazon-reviewing reader who had bought the Kindle version declared it: '... the worst book I have ever attempted to read. I deeply regret purchasing it.'

*

The History of Rock'n'Roll in Ten Songs by Greil Marcus
Yale, 2014

Summary: Buy the hard copy; this kind of writing doesn't work on screens. Don't ask me why, it just doesn't.

28.4.17

Day Seven.

Late Sunday afternoon. The town rose in slow motion out of the flat, endless wheat fields of the Wimmera, like a long tracking shot in a Terence Malick movie. A couple of grand-looking buildings came into view, boom era hotels wearing ostentatious iron lacework like a couple of ageing society dames. It's not until you get closer that you see the shuttered window, the gap in the wrought iron, the yellowing mail gathering in a dusty doorway. Nhill looks closed for business.

In the forecourt of a lonely silo next to the rail line a gaudy coffee caravan was touting for business, bizarrely contrasting the swapping fortunes of country and city commerce.

A Brunswick-style hipster coffee caravan in a place like this? It looked like an escaped animal from the zoo. Then it struck me. That crackly football broadcast on the radio in the middle of nowhere yesterday had been the Adelaide game – playing in Melbourne. Many of the Croweater fans make the journey by road, and Nhill is the halfway point. Accommodation suddenly looked scarce.

*

I saw the sign on the door as I walked into the manager's cabin in the caravan park. I hadn't noticed it until I pushed it open. It read No Vacancy. I stopped in the half-open door. A man was sitting behind a counter next to a small window.

"You just answered my question," I said to him.

"Hang on," he replied, and ran his hand down a list. "You could have cabin four. I'll do it for ninety." I paid up front. I wondered, why the discount?

*

The gaffer tape on the door of cabin four should have been a warning. The key stuck at first, but I managed to wrench the door open. It wasn't tracking properly. I walked into the smell of a month's worth of stale cigarettes smoked without any open windows. Had it been any earlier or had I not already paid, I should have moved on, but the task of negotiating an immediate refund this late in the day on the basis of cigarette smoke seemed too hard. So I opened all the windows instead. That got the smell out of the air but not out of the sheets or the blankets or the curtains of cabin four. I boiled the kettle to wash the dishes I would be using for dinner.

*

There was still an hour or two of daylight. We went our for some fresh air. We walked through the town, past the closed hotel. Further along were houses, some federation-style still well kept, others starting to look rundown, some actually vandalised if not abandoned. I noticed a couple of dishevelled characters who had not bothered to put on their Sunday best.

Back in the middle of town – literally at the parting of five ways – was a metal and glass extravaganza of a building, a postmodern marvel sparing no expense and looking like it embraced every sustainability refrain in the songbook. It probably even sucked the sun out of the wheat fields. It was the shire office. In that environment, it looked a like a space ship that had plonked itself in an alien zombie landscape of a B-grade 1950s sci-fi movie. A couple of the shady characters from the rundown end of town walked past, playing bit parts without realising it.

*

Back in cabin four, I boiled some pasta and cooked up a sauce, using the two of three burners that worked, and looked for a colander to drain the pasta. Nope. Not even a lid. I used a dinner plate held against the upturned pot and tried not to burn myself on the steam.

*

You can deal with gaffer tape and cigarette smoke and a stove with one burner not working. But then it was time for the children to go to bed. Right above the left upper bunk, growing downwards from the ceiling, was a thing. The thing was a bulbous growth, a mass of fungus, a mould about nine inches across and hanging down like a convex art deco light fitting. I hadn't noticed it earlier. You would have your face in it if you sat bolt upright in your sleep. It was green and hairy and it was directly above the pillow, where it might fall on you at three in the morning. We put the children in the other bunks; and we got out quick next morning.

*

Destination summary: In Nhill the shire officers seem to be doing alright for themselves.

Accommodation summary: Avoid cabin four at the Nhill caravan park. Cabins 1-3 and 5-10 might be palatial.

Phrase of the day: Nhill desperandum.

27.4.17

Day Six.

Even out here, several hundred miles from a state capital, the major highways pulse twenty-four hours. The big trucks go overnight and the ones that run by day stalk the campervanning grey nomads who check the speed limit then halve it. You may as well save your money and drive up and down the Maroondah Highway all day and then sleep in your own bed. I turned off the Sturt Highway just out of Paringa and pointed the car south towards Pinnaroo, which sounds like a party game involving native fauna.

*

I was spellbound by the landscape but alert to the dangers. A kind of hypnotic vigilance. Or entranced caution. I don’t know. You have to relax but expect a kangaroo through the windscreen any second. It almost happened to me once. I was driving towards Melbourne at six in the morning about ten years ago on the Northern Highway just before Heathcote. A large eastern grey came out of the scrub just as a ute was overtaking my car. We were abreast, me on the left at 100, the ute on my right at about 130. The kangaroo shot out. I hit the brake. The ute swerved left, into my space, and the kangaroo overshot us both by inches and disappeared into the bush on the other side. Mornings are worst but you have to be vigilant all day.

*

This was early afternoon, on a Saturday. The radio was trying to drag an AFL football broadcast out of the white noise of some distant country station on relay from 3AW. We were in the middle of a piece of real estate called the Ngarkat Conservation Park which incorporates the Mount Shaugh, Mount Rescue and Scorpion Springs Conservation Parks; and lies alongside the Big Desert Wilderness Park, which in turn adjoins the Wyperfeld National Park to its east and has the Murray-Sunset National Park to its north.

So there's nothing to look at, according to some. Nothing but several million beautiful untouched square acres in which to admire the wonder of nature, and die from thirst when you get lost.

You comprehend the vastness of this place when you drive for hours and the children think you're going past the same tree or shrub over and over again. But this is a just postage stamp compared to the real inland - the Simpson Desert or the 'Little' Sandy Desert.

After a few hours of pristine, primeval, flat, majestic, unspoiled scenery that hadn't changed for millions of years, small localities and towns started to appear. The first was just a silo with a name, the next was a general store with a name, the following had a hotel next to the general store, and finally, one with a football ground. Civilisation! The oval was circled by cars like cattle at a dam in a heat wave and the game had just finished, the scoreboard showing Kybybolite 12.17.89, visitors 11.21.87.

Destination summary: Naracoorte is home to the World Heritage-listed fossil caves into which prehistoric animals fell, their bones collecting across millions of years and several ice ages, the cave acting as a kind of primeval Westinghouse deep freeze.

Accommodation summary: William McIntosh Motor Lodge. A Scottish-themed hotel in the outback? Our room looked through a floor to ceiling window onto a lawn sweeping away to a forest. You can sit outside this with a Scotch and imagine you're in the Highlands. Four stars.

Phrase of the day: Watch your step.

20.4.17

Day Five.

I sat on the edge of the Murray River just after sundown as a nearly full moon came up. The water looked still at first glance, but through the growing darkness I could see the current rippling in the soft copper moonlight. It would carry you a mile in a few minutes. Once, in 1830, they rowed a whaleboat up the river against the tide; 'they' being explorer Sturt and his crew. The party had reached the so-called mouth of the river that ended in a lake. Sturt climbed a ridge at the end of it and saw surf breaking in the far distance beyond a mile of sandbanked channel. They were landlocked. So they rowed the whaleboat a thousand kilometres back up the Murray at the height of summer. It was either that or walk. I went back inside the cabin and picked up the day's newspaper and tried to read a story about gender diversity in the workplace.

*

Next morning we took the road north. The other road crossed the river by ferry and followed the Murray on its south side. We would go north and rejoin the river upstream later. What Sturt would have given for a car. Earlier we'd gone into an information centre doubling as a post office/newsagent/general store/museum, I can't remember which, where a volunteer lady wearing an large and faintly ridiculous red bow (among other things) was declaring to an old couple who couldn't decide for themselves, "Oh, you don't want to go that way, there's nothing to see except paddocks."

She was right. There was nothing, if you like Big Pineapples. Level farmland dirt-brown after the harvest stretched away from the river flats on both sides of an arrow-straight highway. We passed an occasional Federation farmhouse; perhaps one every ten or twenty or fifty kilometres. These were neatly fenced as if to keep out the emptiness. Inside the neat fences were trees, shrubs, lush lawns, clotheslines partly visible in the backyard, and scattered toys. These interruptions of green looked like they had been lifted block-whole from a street in Camberwell and transplanted on the moon. The morning wore on. We passed some abandoned, ghostly houses whose residents had long gone, the buildings left to fall into disrepair. But the belladonna lilies and the freesias keep coming up decades later where the garden beds once were. You drive past and wonder who planted them and whether they knew the bulbs would outlive them and the house, and then the whole vision disappears into the distance.

It is so quiet out here out here that you occasionally get the finger from a passing local farmer. Not the rude finger of the city, but a forefinger raised from his steering wheel in greeting. We had left the plain behind, and now the road curved gently as it climbed budding hills that seem to part like curtains to reveal long vistas. A purple haze on the horizon looked like low cloud, grew larger, came closer, and turned into a row of hills that soon became a low mountain range, still purple. Take a photo and you've got a Namatjira painting. When I was growing up we had one on the lounge room wall, soft mauve watercolour mountains and not a dot in sight. The hoi polloi working classes had Namatjira prints on their poky walls, while the literati scattered their houses with Nolans and Boyds. I used to wonder why mum took the Namatjira off the wall and hid it when her rich friends from Kew came over.

*

Then the purple mountains receded and we dropped slowly down into irrigation territory again, having returned to the river via a triangular journey into the vastness of rural South Australia. Now there were trees everywhere, not gums any more but deciduous trees with medium size trunks and pretty canopies, all ordered into a thousand orchards. That's a thousand orchards, not a thousand trees. There must have been literally millions of them: almond trees.

*

Destination summary: Renmark processed 85,000 tonnes of almonds last year, a figure expected to rise to 135,000 tonnes within eight years, with 9000 new products on supermarket shelves worldwide having almonds as an ingredient. (Source: Almondco)

Accommodation summary: Paringa caravan park, full of noisy European backpackers in for the picking season.

Day Five in a phrase: Warning, contains nuts.

12.4.17

Day Four.

It was raining, so I was heading north away from the coast and into some warmer weather. Before leaving town, I stopped at the main street cafe where the owner of the house worked to drop off the two-day tariff. You can just leave it on the kitchen table, she had told me, but I preferred to hand it over in person, being from a crime-ridden major city. Seems they don't have house break-ins down this way. But I had put the keys back under the terracotta pot. Same thinking: in Melbourne they don't look for the keys, they just break down the door.

I drove around the coast to Kingston then struck north along Rowney Rd for 50 or maybe 60 lonely kilometres, through mixed grazing country and pine plantations that stretched away down south as far as Mt Gambier. We hit the Riddoch Highway, and traffic again, and passed through Keith, a small settlement minding its own business. Then Tailem Bend, a town that sits on top of red cliffs along the Murray River, its main street and the road through an eastern tangent to an almost perfectly round bend in the river.

Then Murray Bridge, self-explanatory. It was close to stopping time, judged daily by the state of the rear occupants of the car, an 11-, 10-, and six-year-old. I drove another half hour or so to Mannum, an old seaport and shipbuilding centre from the paddle steamer days, and found a caravan park.

Cabin 13 was literally seven steps from the Murray River. None of us sleepwalks. The river crossing service operates around the clock and the night was punctuated by the metallic clunking rasp of the ferry docking. Late in the evening a paddle steamer churned up the river, lit up like a circus, its below-deck engine making a thudding echo across the water.

Destination summary: Mannum boasts the last steam-powered, woodfired, side paddle steamer in the world. Who was I to argue?

Accommodation summary: On the Murray - literally. Four stars.

10.4.17

Day Two and Three.

Another small town and another open air lunch break. We stopped in the middle of town at a small park near the 'information centre' in which volunteer staff ask you where you're going, where you've been and did you see this and that along the way; and if not, why not; and you musn't miss the historic feature on the road five miles out of town on north route 6. They're just trying to be helpful. But I just wanted a map.

Crowning the small park, set into an elaborate plinth, was a long white thing that looked like a narrow but very long overturned canoe. A plaque set into the plinth told the story. The long white thing was not an overturned canoe; it was one blade of a propeller from a wind turbine, an advertisement for the local wind farms. The local council website explained:
While in Millicent take time out to enjoy, experience 'clean & green' ... turn left at Canunda Frontage Road. Experience the peace and beauty of the natural environment, the bird life ... in their habitats ... gaze in awe at the mighty wind turbines that stretch as far as the eye can see ...
Birdlife? Mighty wind turbines? The council bureaucrats obviously published this without picking up the copywriter's savage irony. It is the very height of copywriting skill to inject irony into your words and have it published by an oblivious client. It might also be unethical, but funny nevertheless.

We ate lunch. Three or four birds sat on the propeller blade in the sun and preened themselves, the ultimate insult to the becalmed blade.

*

Earlier, we had stopped at the South Australian border and dumped a load of apples, after eating some, in the quarantine bin. Do the bugs know not to cross the border, one of the children very logically asked. I didn't know, I said. I imagined they stayed around their food source and that transportation, not self-propulsion, was the main cause of fruit fly infestation. I was able to demonstrate this later.

*

Ten thousand - or more - years ago, a Postglacial Marine Transgression made the sea rise, resulting in a coastline kink that was later named Guichen Bay in 1802 by French explorers who went around naming things but never actually settling. Not sure what the French were after but it obviously wasn't a pretty if somewhat wild and windblown bay which the British eventually turned into the seaport of Robe, now a sleepy fishing village.

We arrived at the house mid-afternoon. It was a 1940s timber cottage set on limestone footings, off the main street on a corner block. I opened the gate, drove in, parked by an overgrown rose garden at the side of the house and retrieved the keys - as instructed by the owner - from under an upturned terracotta pot on a shelf behind a small shed. A lawn behind the rose garden led to a rear garden, and an orchard behind that was sectioned off by a lattice fence with a small gate. I half expected Peter Rabbit to bolt from somewhere chased by Mr McGregor wielding a garden rake.

Inside the cottage was a timber-lined lounge with easy chairs arranged around a heater, an east-facing kitchen off that with a huge window that let in the morning sun, bedrooms at either end of the house and an old-fashioned covered laundry off the back door porch. There was a table and chairs on a front deck under the cover of some trees and another small table outside the back door that caught the morning sun. We stayed here two days but I could have moved there permanently.

*

Later the owner, a tall thin pleasant lady in her early fifties who had an easy smile and an air of being permanently busy in that getting-things-done way dropped in to see if everything was in order. She went behind the lattice gate in the garden, re-emerged a few minutes later with a basket of apples and figs, placed them on the table and then disappeared with a wave.

I looked at the apples. Perfect. Every home garden apple tree in Victoria produces fruit that is always full of worms or codling moths or whatever they are. There's the reason for the quarantine.

6.4.17

Day One.

The rain started in Gellibrand, a small town on the edge of the Otways. We had started at eight in the morning of a warm, sunny late March morning.

Now it was midday and I had pulled the car into a small grassed park with one of those octagonal concrete picnic table and chairs. We sat and ate and watched the clouds gather. Down this way it can turn in minutes. I threw the lunch things back into the box I use as a hamper as the rain started and we resumed the journey into a raging storm.

Deep in the forest it was black at two thirty in the afternoon. The only other traffic was logging trucks going the other way, and I pulled over tight against the edge of the bitumen as they barrelled past carrying timber to be turned into home renovations for city hipsters with Save the Forests stickers on their cars.

Then over Laver's Hill, and the drive was a long coast down the mountains to the Great Ocean Road. The sky was clear now, but spume drifted across from the waves eating into the jagged cliffs. Past Loch Ard gorge. Imagine climbing up that at night, being one of only two people to survive a sailing shipwreck. Then the Twelve Apostles, all eight of them or is it seven now? Across the road from this, fifty buses were parked in careful lines, having disgorged tourists who were clambering along a small ridge where the cliffs met the churning ocean. Over the road, uniformed bus drivers could be seen smoking, bored, staring at nothing. Seen it all before. Then the collapsed London Bridge, or was that earlier? Port Fairy was a fuel stop.

I turned off before Portland along a lonely, picturesque road with no traffic, past towns with names like Bessiebelle and Codrington, and rolled to a stop in Heywood. Found a double room in an original fifties motel ("Business For Sale") with a DVD player and a selection of obscure old movies. For no reason, I put on The Magnificent Two, a 1967 Morecambe and Wise product extension satirising the John Sturges movie, its humour arising chiefly through Morecambe and Wise not being Yul Brynner, James Coburn, Steve McQueen or Charles Bronson. Earlier, the boys and I had visited the local footy oval which was still in that special twilight zone of having its cricket pitch still up, its football lines freshly marked and goalposts in place. Bring it on.

*

Destination summary: Heywood is a small town with very little in it except genuine shops and no 'shoppes', which is its main attraction. Tourist attractions and theme shops are the great fakery of the age.

Accommodation summary: Book in at a fifties-style motel while you still can and relive your retro dreams. Four stars.

Day One in a phrase: Hey! Wood!

23.3.17

Egg them on.

Football for 2017 commences in approximately 33 minutes. You need to make food fast.

Leek and cheese omelette.

Crack four eggs into a jug; whisk lightly with half a cup of milk and a good dash of salt and pepper. Slice the white section of a leek into very fine rings. Grate a cupful of cheddar cheese.

Pour the egg mixture into a melting teaspoonful of butter in a non-stick pan. Scatter the leeks and cheese over the egg. Lid the pan. Cook on lowest heat for fifteen minutes or until leeks are soft.

Slide off onto a plate. Segment into quarters. Serve quarters with a salad of shredded red cabbage, grated beetroot, grated carrot, walnuts, thinly sliced apple and mayonnaise; kind of a cross between Waldorf and coleslaw. It works well.

Tonight: Richmond should beat Carlton but you never know with Richmond.

15.3.17

Moral Superiority, the Sequel.

History repeats:
... and was soon recognised as one of the best cartoonists in Australia. ... not everybody reading the Australian was happy. ... 'You name it, Bill got attacked by everybody. If it wasn't the left wing it was the right wing.' People ... 'tried to stop me from drawing by complaining to the Press Council. There are also those who complained to the anti-discrimination board because you draw a black person black. What are you supposed to do. I'm a cartoonist. ... you jump in with both feet. Anyhow, all those attempts failed'. According to him, government ministers had written letters of complaint and the Church of England once claimed he was a racist.
The 'Bill' mentioned in the above extract from Comic Commentators: Contemporary Political Cartooning in Australia was not Bill Leak; it was one of Leak's predecessors, the savagely satiric cartoonist Bill Mitchell who died in his fifties in 1994.

It seems it takes a satirist to know a satirist. Everyone else is just plain offended. On Saturday, Barry Humphries wrote:
"Bill Leak was the best political cartoonist in the world. ... He made the mistake of telling the truth, which is the mark of a great satirist. ... Bill despised aspects of political correctness, in the sense that they obscured the truth. A famous cartoon - or you may say an infamous cartoon - was so blatantly a pro-Aboriginal cartoon that only an imbecile could throw the epithet 'racist' at Bill Leak. He was the very opposite ... ."
Critics of the cartoon Humphries mentions blindly ignored its portrayal of the appalling and wilful neglect of aboriginal children; rounding instead, like a bunch of droop-lidded Texas salamanders sniffing out a waterbug, on the alcoholic father of the child as the victim. Yes, you would have to be an imbecile to run, arms outstretched, to the drunk instead of his impoverished son.

In a column last year Leak wrote, "By enabling tantrum-throwers to re-establish their feelings of moral superiority they can walk away purged." Last Wednesday night, at the launch of his book Trigger Warning, he said, "When I met the great cartoonist Bill Mitchell about 34 years ago, he said, 'Mate, a cartoonist only has to be funny once a day, but it's a lot harder than you'd think.' ... Political correctness is a poison that attacks the sense of humour. Luckily for Mitchell, it was tipped into our water supply at around the same time he retired."

Comic commentators: Contemporary Political Cartooning in Australia
Edited by Robert Phiddian and Haydon R. Manning
Network Publishing, 2008

Trigger Warning: Cartoons by Bill Leak
Wilkinson Publishing, 2017

7.3.17

What if a politician turned up to your cafe on Sunday?

Talk about being played for a fool.

Now let's go back a little first. One of my many jobs in the far distant past was in the hospitality industry. I was a wine waiter. I worked weekends. I worked weekdays, too; but weekend work was necessary as well.

Weekend work earned more money. The reason was that fewer people wanted to work on their weekend; it was a supply and demand equation. Then the award was enshrined in law; or rather the concept of the weekend was enshrined in law, a bargaining chip the unions would never let go. The weekend was sacrosanct. No-one goes to church any more, but the weekend remains a quasi-religious occasion. So you get paid more to work. A lot more. Sometimes three times as much.

The other truth - there are always several, despite current beliefs - is that small businesses can't afford multiple staff on weekends, especially Sundays, when trade can be sporadic. Weekdays in the cafe business bring regulars who work close by; weekends bring customers who might decide to brunch in Northcote, Moonee Ponds, East Brunswick or Seddon instead. Four staff at $50 or more an hour times five or six or seven hours means no profit, so you don't open. It's a no-brainer. Weekends are sacrosanct for workers, but owners will open on the same day at a loss? Don't be ridiculous.

So the Fair Work Commission reduced penalty rates. I couldn't see them bringing down the same result under a Bill Shorten government, before checking with Bill that he could roll it. No problems checking with Bill, they're all mates. It's a Labor club.

But we don't have a Bill Shorten government. We have a Coalition government. You beauty, said the FWC. Bring it on.

A landmine.

It's blown up in Turnbull's face. What does he do? Nothing, beyond muttering about more jobs being created because lower wages mean more to go round. Cold comfort for the worker.

Are you serious?

This week, we have a disgraced Labor politician who has just (9.30 a.m.) been chucked out of the Labor Party for hiving off a hundred grand of taxpayer funds for beach house money; we have a Liberal minister who forgot she just bought a house. No, not Sussan Ley, that was last month. Michaelia Cash. Wait, isn't Michaelia Cash the minister for employment? Responsible for among other things, part-time work?

This is nuts.

That self-same thieving, amnesiac political class says, "Hospitality staff, in order that we run Australia better, you are required to pool the contents of your pay packet with your fellow staff. Now, where's my limousine, I'm off to the airport/Bruce Springsteen concert/global warming convention."

Those baseball bats they sold out of at Rebel Sport for home invasion and carjacking protection are going to do double time at upcoming elections. Look out politicians.




6.3.17

Monster tomato vine.

The tomatoes are over the fence. Ignore all the mythology about growing tomatoes. You just need four things: sunshine, water, air and nutrients. Air meaning pinch out the lower limbs as the plant grows taller. This season I grew a cherry tomato, Tommy Toe, in the old compost-filled ex-laundry trough on the east side of the garden, so it gets the westering afternoon sun. It is now above the fence line and I have tied its upper canopy to the unroofed pergola. That's eight feet of tomato vine. It has yielded hundreds and more are still coming thanks to a fortnight of unbroken sun.

So, into the salads with fetta and olives; chopped with basil onto olive-oiled crusty bread; and into pasta dishes, such as:

Gnocchi with ricotta and cherry tomatoes.

Boil four medium peeled and chopped potatoes until soft. Mash thoroughly, make a crater in the mound on a floured breadboard and tip in an egg, three-quarters of a cup of flour and some chopped basil. Hand mix and then roll out the dough to make cylinders. Chop into one-inch sections, make fork impressions if you wish, and transfer the sections to a lightly-buttered and floured tray.

Drop gnocchi into boiling water in a large pot and wait until they rise to the surface, then scoop them out using a slotted spoon.

Meanwhile, press a cut garlic clove into serving dishes; add the gnocchi and top with tomatoes, either whole or sliced in two (I like them whole but the unwary diner can squirt juice clear across a table when biting into them), ricotta, a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of extra chopped basil and parsley. Crack pepper over the lot. Finish off with grated parmesan.