Pain is not a story unless it leads to peace

Who’ll stop Ukraine?
Will it be the pro-Russian separatists who almost certainly shot down the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 last week, will it be the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who has supplied the separatists with weapons, technology and advisers, or will it be the media, who are likely to forget the crisis once all the bodies and human remains are moved from the crash site and the fighting resumes civil war proportions. In other words, when the casualties are mostly Ukrainians.
Don’t get me wrong. I am as upset as the Dutch Foreign Minister, Frans Timmerman, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop and the PM’s Special Envoy, Angus Houston, all of whom spoke eloquently about the terrible tragedy that took place in eastern Ukraine when flight MH17 was shot down, and 298 passengers and crew were killed, including 38 Australians.
Mr Timmerman praised Minister Bishop for her leadership in getting approval for a UN Security Council resolution demanding that the separatists in eastern Ukraine return the victims’ bodies, allow full access to the crash site and an international investigation: “I want to start by wholeheartedly thanking Australia for taking the initiative with this resolution, and especially the personal commitment from Julie Bishop that has made this possible. Without her perseverance, we would not be standing here today with this resolution adopted by the Security Council.”
Tony Abbott has been a resolute world leader – some say better than he was as Prime Minister – from the very beginning of the tragedy: “If it does turn out that this aircraft was brought down by a surface to air missile [which is almost certain], there is no doubt this would be … an unspeakable crime.” Angus Houston, who’s in the Ukraine to look after the return of bodies from Operation Bring Them Home, said: “This is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions.” And Julie Bishop said after looking at the impromptu, moving memorial on the steps of the Dutch Embassy in Kiev: “It is so unspeakably sad.”
It is, but I wish Tony and Julie and Angus would stop using the word “unspeakable” as an adjective or an adverb. I know they’re saying it’s “impossible to express in words,” as the Macquarie Dictionary puts it. But we need to speak about this “unspeakable” crime, and continue to speak about it until we have a resolution. It might be called unbelievable and unimaginable, but I don’t find it hard to believe Putin is behind it all, and I don’t find it hard to imagine pro-Russian separatists would shoot down a plane without checking if it were full of civilians. I think the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister will pursue it to the ends of the earth, or the dark recesses of the Kremlin where the Russian President may be hatching plans to regain parts of Ukraine, defined and ratified in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. Russia is a signatory to these international agreements, which clearly defined sovereign and independent Ukrainian territorial borders, including Crimea. Of course, Crimea, with a mostly Russian-speaking population, voted to secede from the Ukraine in a referendum in March, which the European Union described as “illegal and illegitimate.” US President Barack Obama told President Putin the vote would never be recognised by the US and the international community, as it was held “under duress of Russian military intervention.” http://bit.ly/1x9IirE
And that’s why the international community must do all it can to help Kiev stand up to Putin and the pro-Russian separatists, described by some Ukrainians as mercenaries, who are doing their best to divide a proud nation of 46 million people, with a cultural and linguistic diversity similar to that of Australia. It doesn’t mean we have to go to war against Russia. Sanctions and aid for the Ukrainian government, now in political limbo after the resignation of Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and the collapse of his ruling coalition, are necessary if the EU and the US really want to help end the crisis. http://bit.ly/1l036w4
The images of the victims of the shooting down of flight MH17 have been heart-breaking, but we must continue to speak out for the victims of the pro-Russian rebels, supported by Vladimir Putin. Tony Abbott is giving the Russian President the benefit of the doubt in his continued claims that he wants to see the bodies returned home: “President Putin gave me assurances he wanted to see the families of the victims satisfied. He wanted to see, as a father himself, grieving families given closure and, as I say, so far he’s been as good as his word and we want to ensure that he has a further opportunity to be as good as his word.” http://bit.ly/1rBqmGD
Well, it’s nearly impossible for many of us who have watched President Putin over the years to believe he’s as good as his word – it is, after all, the word of a man who was a lieutenant-colonel in the KGB where lying was an occupational hazard. He wants to stay in power as long as he can and he wants to control as much territory as he can.
AfpMH17275554-b14154d2-1441-11e4-a666-f58ec9841f00
We must speak out for the families who have to wait for the bodies of their loved ones to come home (AFP photo above of Dutch military personnel carrying coffins to a waiting hearse at an airbase in Eindhoven, the Netherlands), while Julie Bishop and Angus Houston and the Dutch authorities negotiate with the Ukrainian government to allow a large contingent of forensic investigators into a war-zone crash site where more innocent people may die — no matter how many Federal Police or Defence Force personnel are present. The rebels are still in control of eastern Ukraine. http://bit.ly/1rGKQxO
But, of course, the families can speak for themselves, more eloquently than world leaders, politicians, the media and the countless other commentators, including this one. The most poignant tribute came from the Maslin family. Anthony Maslin and Marite Norris, the parents of the three Australian children who were killed on flight MH17, spoke out about the “relentless pain” they are suffering from the deaths of Evie, 10, Mo, 12 and Otis, 8 (whose smiling faces adorn the photograph at the top of this post), along with the children’s grandfather, Nick Norris, 68. http://bit.ly/1nz65jl
Here’s an excerpt of their message addressed to the “soldiers in the Ukraine, the politicians, the media, our friends and family”:
“Our pain is intense and relentless. We live in a hell beyond hell. Our babies are not here with us — we need to live with this act of horror, every day and every ¬moment for the rest of our lives.
“No one deserves what we are going through. Not even the ­people who shot our whole family out of the sky.
“No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for our children, for Mo, for Evie, for Otis.
“No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for Grandad Nick.
“No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for each other. This is a revelation that gives us some comfort.
“We would ask everyone to remember this when you are making any decisions that affect us and the other victims of this horror.”

And for me, the last line in Sarah Elks’ article in The Australian spoke volumes when the couple asked for privacy from the media: “Pain is not a story.”
We should never bother them again until they are ready to tell their own story.
I just hope the soldiers, the rebels, the politicians and the media allow Mo, Evie, Otis and Nick to come home and rest in peace … and that some of that peace rubs off on a hellhole in eastern Ukraine.

Journalism is not a crime; it’s a way of life

It’s a question often asked by people in my profession: “Journalists are nice people, but would you want your daughter (or son) to marry one?”
Well, my answer is yes, and I’ll give you three examples why from this week’s news: Peter Greste, Ian Cook and Martin Beesley.
You’ve heard about Peter Greste, who was sentenced to seven years in jail by an Egyptian court, which did not know the meaning of justice. His two Al Jazeera colleagues, Mohamed Famy, and Baher Mohamed were also sentenced to seven and ten years respectively. (Pictured above from left are: Mike and Andrew Greste, and Peter Greste).
Caged like animals each time they were brought to this so-called court, to listen to an incoherent prosecution present irrelevant evidence, including old stories Peter Greste had filmed in Somalia and photos of a European holiday he had taken with his parents. Somehow they were convicted of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and spreading “false news” about the military coup. How this judge could know what false news was, given the prosecutors’ presentation, is beyond me, and the defence. All it proved was that the judge was as blind as justice is supposed to be.
Peter Greste, an award-winning Australian journalist, and his family, two brothers in court, Mike and Andrew, and his mother and father, Lois and Juris, in Brisbane watching the verdict on their computer were stunned. Mike Greste said: “I’m totally gutted. It’s devastating. It’s the death of democracy in Egypt.” Juris Greste said: “That’s absolutely crazy.” Lois was sobbing: “Oh my God!”
ABC’s excellent Foreign Correspondent program also had reaction from the family of Peter’s Al Jazeera colleague, Mohamed Fahmy. His mother, Wafa Barriouni, asked the ABC producer: “Seven years he will keep in the prison, seven years… for what? Can you, one of you tell me for what?” It was a question that could not be answered. Mohamed’s brother Adel gave the most realistic appraisal: “There is no hope in the judicial system. We had hope in the judicial system, now we know there is no hope.” http://ab.co/1qzB7YD
Peter had been through hell in the world’s flashpoints before, and won a Peabody award for his documentary on Somalia for the BBC Panorama program. In 2005, he was in Somalia with his friend and BBC colleague, Kate Peyton, when she was shot and killed in Mogadishu. But this was a different kind of hell, parachuted into Cairo to cover the military coup while the regular correspondent was on holidays, only to find himself in prison for simply doing his job. The imprisonment of Peter and his colleagues has prompted a mantra used by human rights organisations like Amnesty International and journalists around the world to highlight the injustice of the Egyptian judiciary: “Journalism is not a crime.”
vcm_s_kf_repr_259x194
Would I want my daughter to marry Peter Greste? Of course, I would, and the same goes for Ian Cook (photo above), an Australian television legend, news director of Channels Nine, Seven, Ten and Sky News in London and Australia, who died this week of motor neurone disease at the age of 68.
Cookie, as he was known, was a tough news director, who cared for the craft of journalism, and hated getting things wrong. He knew ratings were paramount for commercial television, and for most of his years, starting in the seventies, the stations he worked for, won those ratings. Robert Penfold, long-time reporter, foreign correspondent and Los Angeles Bureau Chief for the Nine Network, said: “Ian was a great mentor and leader for me and so many others in the news business for so many years.” Robert said Brad Smart, one of his fellow reporters in Melbourne, when they were working for Cookie at Channel 0 (an Ansett station) in the seventies, “reminded me of a 1974 article in one of the Sunday papers about the ‘27-year-old whiz kid who was running Reg Ansett’s newsroom.’ He was indeed that.”
Robert Penfold wasn’t the only one who remembered Ian Cook as a great mentor. When the news of his death was first reported, Twitter and Facebook erupted with scores of tributes to this media executive who had helped them at the start of their careers. Here are just a few of them:
Ian Kain, supervising producer at ABC24, who also worked at Nine and Sky News, posted on Facebook: “He taught generations of Australian Journalists and producers how it’s done. He taught me to keep sentences simple, that a tease is just that, and let the pictures tell the story. Cookie, you will be missed but never forgotten.”
Nicole Webb, a former presenter at Sky News, also posted on Facebook: “He was a great mentor for so many of us. Scary as hell in those super early days, but underneath a giant softie with a heart of gold and a real news man who knew his stuff more than most.” Asha Phillips, former producer at Sky and Nine News, added: “He was my first boss, my first mentor and the first person to teach me how to really write for tv. He was a tough Cookie but he was a gentleman.”
And Ky Chow, Associate Multimedia Editor at the Australian Financial Review, told friends on Facebook how Ian Cook, then News Director at Sky News, gave him an internship, despite his lack of experience, then sat him down and taught him the rudiments of video editing and scripting. “He gave me my first job in journalism and he gave me encouragement and advice in the years after, even after things got tough for him.”
Things really got tough for Cookie in the past four or five years. He had motor neurone disease, which he kept quiet until he had difficulty walking without a cane, and then one day at Sky he came in with two canes. I had one walking stick that day, due to one of my artificial hips playing up, and he joked: “I’m a two cane man.” He later had a fall and had to get a wheelchair.
I had emailed him and asked how he was going. He replied: “I’m on four wheels and Angelos (Frangopoulos, Sky News chief executive) very kindly bought me a very flashy electric model so life in here’s not too bad at all. How are the hips these days?” Ian was like that. He’d always ask about my hips while he was suffering an illness that had no cure.
In recent months, he was at a nursing home in Sydney’s western suburbs, getting the best of care, while losing much of his mobility. But he was still able to subedit on his computer from his sick bed. A former Niner, Barry Matheson, said Ian had played an important role in his life, being responsible for sending him to LA as Nine’s first North American correspondent; he visited Ian at the nursing home earlier this year: “I was blown away that he still did subbing for Sky every afternoon (from 4 to 6pm). A pro to the very end.” Barry recalled what it was like to work for Ian Cook: “He was very inspirational and, unlike other news directors, Cookie rolled up his sleeves and was a “hands on” guy, pounding away on the typewriter, going through every script and checking the film editing. I have to admit we had a few screaming matches over stories, not unusual in a high-pressured newsroom, but he never held a grudge and we just got on with the job.”
Sky’s political editor, David Speers, also spoke of his professionalism: “Cookie was a great newsroom leader, never an easy job. He was also the best mentor of young journalists I’ve seen. He was always willing to tell me when I was on the right track or the wrong track. I respected him hugely and will miss him dearly.” The last word on Cookie should go to Angelos Frangopoulos: “Ian has left a lasting legacy in Australian journalism, guiding hundreds of young people through their careers, offering advice and support.”
vcm_s_kf_repr_316x421
And last but not least in this trio of journalists who I’d let marry my daughters (they’re already taken, I hasten to add) is an old mate from my newspaper days, Martin Beesley (photo above), former editor of the Daily Telegraph, and managing editor of The Australian, who died this week at the age of 66, only six months after his retirement.
I worked with Martin at The Australian in the late seventies and early 80s, and also saw him quite a bit at Channel 9 where he was chief of staff for Mike Willesee’s current affairs program. He later became news director at Channel Ten before returning to News Limited in the late 80s, including a role as editor of the Media Section of The Australian.
I remember Martin as a cool customer, always remaining calm in the middle of any media storm. He was a bloke you could depend on when a big story broke. He also had a terrific sense of humour, usually aimed at himself. Peter Meakin, now director of news at Channel Ten, worked with him at Nine, and told the Daily Telegraph: “He was much loved — easy to work with, always without dramas and always with a lovely self-deprecating sense of humour. He was a true gentleman.” http://bit.ly/1iM3hzA
Stephen Romei, the literary editor of The Australian, posted a nice tribute to Martin on Facebook: “He was a smart, tough. fair editor. I never saw him lose his temper, or his sense of humour, or his commonsense or his sense of perspective.”
Like Ian Cook, Martin Beesley was a great mentor. He took on the role enthusiastically in his last seven years at News Limited when he moved to Cumberland Newspapers, later to become NewsLocal, News Corp Australia’s community newspaper network. The Daily Telegraph obituary comments: “This allowed him to concentrate on a mentoring role, teaching young journalists the finer points of the newsgathering business. He said this job gave him renewed pleasure in his vocation and reinforced the value of community links between journalists and their readers.”
Martin Beesley, Ian Cook and Peter Greste. Three excellent journos I’d love to have a beer with. Sadly, Martin and Ian are no longer with us, but I will be raising a glass in their honour at services next week. I hope the Free Peter Greste campaign is successful, and I can toast Peter in person.
Journalism is not a crime, it is a passion with a cause. It is a life worth living.

Patty Mills: A role model shooting for the stars

I love basketball. I grew up in the mecca of B-Ball — West Philadelphia – where we played the game all year round, even in the winter when it was snowing. In fact, we used to shovel the snow off the courts so we could play on the concrete surface. Okay, maybe not in a blizzard, but once the snow stopped coming down, and the sun came out, we started playing half court.
Those were the days of Wilt Chamberlain, Tom Gola, Hal Lear, Guy Rodgers, Paul Arizin, Walt Hazzard, Neil Johnston, Herb Magee and Jimmy Lyneham – all names most Philadelphians of a certain age would know. Basketball players who could shoot and run and loved the game. It meant teenagers like me would stand in their concrete backyards and dribble the ball with the left hand, then the right, and when they got to a court, they would shoot layups, driving into the basket, with their right hands, then their left. In another hotbed of basketball, the Midwest, former New York Knicks star and US Senator, Bill Bradley, practised each day as a teenager in Crystal City, Missouri, shooting hundreds of free throws. It was a labour of love.
When I first came to Sydney in the early 1970s, basketball wasn’t a big sport. There was no National Basketball League (NBL), and the main games in Sydney were played in Alexandria Stadium … a glorified tin shed, hot as hell in summer and cold in winter (not as cold as a Philly winter, of course). I played basketball there and at Mitchell High School in Parramatta. The conditions weren’t great and you had to chip in a couple of bucks (it’s hard to remember as it was 40 years ago!) to pay the referees. But it was fun and the legendary Ken Cole was leading the way for the expansion of basketball from a national club championship to the NBL, from his base in South Australia. He played for four different State teams from 1961 to 1972 and was an Olympian at the 1964 Melbourne Games. http://bit.ly/1invbkY
In 1979, the NBL was launched and basketball has been on a roller coaster ride ever since, with its shares of ups and downs. There have been great players like Andrew Gaze and Luc Longley, both of whom also starred in the US where the sport still reigns supreme, even with the rise of European teams in recent decades. One player who also made a name for himself was Danny Morseu, the first Torres Strait Islander to represent Australia at the Olympic Games in 1980 and 1984.
And this week, he’s known as Patty Mills’ uncle. Yes, the same Patty Mills who helped the San Antonio Spurs win the National Basketball Association (NBA) Championship this week, scoring 17 points in 18 minutes against the 2013 title holders, Miami Heat. Morseu was one of Mills’ basketball mentors and was in San Antonio to watch his nephew take on players like LeBron James, acknowledged as probably the best basketball player in the world today. Patty Mills was draped in the Torres Strait Islander flag after the game, along with another Australian, Aron Baynes, also a Spurs player, celebrating with an Aussie flag over his shoulder.
Patty Mills and his family are great role models for Indigenous Australians. His mother Yvonne was a member of the Stolen Generation, taken from her brother and three sisters at the age of 2 and a half and forced to live with a white family, thinking her mother had abandoned her. But she didn’t find out until 1997 that her mother always wanted her children back. Patty’s father, Benny, also a Torres Strait Islander, started a basketball club in Canberra for Indigenous kids who couldn’t afford to play with a regular team.
Benny and Yvonne taught Patty to stand up against racism when he was growing up in Canberra, attending Marist College before getting a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport. Benny told The Australian’s Will Swanton this week: “We told him, the best thing you can do is walk away.” http://bit.ly/1spgMJx
vcm_s_kf_repr_316x421
When you see Patty Mills play basketball, you can tell his days of walking away are over. The photo above shows him scoring a layup against LeBron James, and his all-out hustle has endeared him to his team, his fans and his coach, Gregg Popovich, who paid him this compliment after the championship game: “He’s a special guy. His energy has been important to us all year long. He’s a real significant reason why we got to the finals. Obviously he’s also played well in the finals but the energy, that team sense that he has, it has been infectious.”
Mills’ team play fits in well with the Spurs. They remind me of the New York Knicks’ teams of the early 1970s, coached by Red Holzman and starring Bill Bradley, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere and Dick Barnett, with several other lesser known hoopsters who played the role of Patty Mills – coming on as substitutes and busting the game wide open. There is a wonderful book about the Knicks in that period called When the Garden was Eden, written by Harvey Araton. I’ve written about it in a previous post http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-a6 but if you are a big fan of basketball I’d suggest you get the book from Amazon or somewhere in the States. It’s also about racism and social unrest in the late sixties and seventies, and how basketball helped change the face of racial relations in the Big Apple and the US in those tumultuous times.
I’m hoping the same thing will happen here where we also suffer from racism. I know young Indigenous athletes tend to play Australian Rules, and Sydney Swans coach John Longmire said he tried to get Patty Mills to switch from basketball a number of years ago to play for the Swans, but admitted “it’s fair to say he made the right decision.” And there are certainly two strong Indigenous role models on the Swans: Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes, and Aussie Rules superstar, Buddy Franklin.
But Patty Mills is now a free agent, and is likely to get a lot more than the $2.2 million he earned this year with the San Antonio Spurs. The New York Knicks are one of four teams who’d like to have Mills as a starting point guard, and he would be a perfect match for Madison Square Garden – the famous home of basketball in Manhattan. And, as we all know, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!
Yet, I have seen a number of players just go for the money, and regret not staying with a team like the Spurs, with a great coach, teammates like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and loving fans. Whatever his decision, though, 25-year-old Patty Mills has a bright future.
And basketball in Australia has a special role model to attract young Indigenous athletes to shoot for the hoops … and the stars.

How a Tea Party Brat brought down a divided House

“This country needs to get back to the way it was.” That was 60-year-old David Moffett telling a New York Times reporter why he voted for David Brat, the giant killer who brought down House Majority leader Eric Cantor in a Virginia Republican primary. With nearly all the votes counted, Brat had 56 per cent to Cantor’s 44.
Times reporter Trip Gabriel was a stickler for detail, telling us that Moffett was shopping for milk, salad, chicken and potatoes in Glen Falls, Virginia at the time, and said: “People are sick and tired of him — sick and tired of the way government is nowadays.”
It sounded like a classic Tea Party reaction to a Republican leader who was partial to allowing unaccompanied children crossing the Mexican border to stay in the US, while publicly taking a tough stance on immigration. That convinced his constituents that he was just another politician. One of them, a retired handyman, Malcolm Spencer, told Gabriel: “I don’t think people coming into the country illegally should be granted a free pass and we the taxpayers pay for it.” http://nyti.ms/1v1gk29
The Brat campaign, of course, portrayed Cantor as being hypocritical, and Tea Party supporters knocked on doors and made phone calls, spreading the word. The Cantor campaign raised about $5.4 million compared to $231,000 for David Brat, an economics professor at a local college (Photo above P. Kevin Morley, Richmond Times-Dispatch). It was one of the biggest upsets in US political history – no sitting House majority leader has lost since the position was created in 1899.
A Virginia legislator who worked with Professor Brat on State budget issues at Randolph Macon College, Christopher Peace, told the NY Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer: “I don’t think even he expected to win.” Brat, like many American politicians, is religious. He has a Master’s in divinity from the Princeton Theological Seminary and a PhD in economics from American University. Christianity plays an important part in his writings, including his thesis, “Human Capital, Religion and Economic Growth” and a presentation to the Virginia Association of Community Banks titled: “The Moral Foundations of Capitalism, From the Great Generation to Financial Crisis … What Went Wrong?” http://nyti.ms/1ofzQID
Apparently, this religious theme does not extend to his supporters, some of whom are, apparently, brats (I had to use that somewhere). As Amanda Terkel reported in the Huffington Post: “Brat had a loud, committed following on the campaign trail, generating an intensity that Cantor failed to muster. During a local GOP convention last month, Brat backers loudly booed Cantor in front of his family.” http://huff.to/1oWPG6J The boos erupted because Cantor had dared to claim Brat had used “inaccuracies” in his campaign.
vcm_s_kf_repr_600x338
Cantor (photo above, Steve Helber, AP), who was tipped to become the first Jewish Speaker of the House, resigned as majority leader, effective on July 31, as the Republicans tried to stop a struggle within the party over the leadership. Like many political losers, Cantor gave an eloquent concession speech, and spoke about how his Jewish faith helped him in difficult times. Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times reports: “In announcing his decision to step down, he told his colleagues of a Holocaust survivor he met who put political travails in perspective. He told reporters that in his religious studies, ‘you learn a lot about individual setbacks. You also learn each setback is an opportunity and there’s always optimism for the future’.” http://nyti.ms/1nxTXhJ
Until yesterday, the Tea Party’s influence had been waning after a series of losses in high-profile primaries, including Georgia, North Carolina and Kentucky. The Democrats are now worried the arch-conservatives will make it even more difficult for President Obama in upcoming mid-term elections. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) sent out emails to their supporters (declaration: I am a supporter), saying: “Talking heads like (conservative columnist) Ann Coulter are already gloating over the Tea Party’s shocking victory last night. They claim the Tea Party is resurgent. They’re predicting that right-wing Republican extremists will wipe out Democrats this fall, and wreck President Obama’s agenda. (But) they’re flat-out WRONG. We’re building a national grassroots movement, the likes of which Republicans have never seen. And we WON’T let the Tea Party take out our Democratic candidates with ugly attacks.”
But it’s obvious that Barack Obama’s agenda, already under threat, will be under attack as never before. With only two and a half years left in the Obama presidency, a poor result in the mid-terms could spell disaster. The Democrats do have a chance, though, with their grassroots campaign, raising funds by asking supporters to contribute as little as $3 each. But, as David Brat has demonstrated, money doesn’t always win elections. The Democrats need to have thousands of door knockers and phone callers to make it work. They had that in 2008, and, to a lesser degree, in 2012 to help Barack Obama to two terms in the White House. This could be the summer of campaigning dangerously.
ALWAYS LOOK ON THE FAR RIGHT
In one of their first statements on the primary, it was clear the Democratic National Committee was going on the attack and would portray the November election for Cantor’s seat as a race between a traditional Democratic candidate and a Far-Right Tea Partyer. DNC Chair and Florida Member of Congress, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, said: “When Eric Cantor, who time and again has blocked common sense legislation to grow the middle class, can’t earn the Republican nomination, it’s clear the GOP has redefined ‘far right.’ Democrats on the other hand have nominated a mainstream candidate who will proudly represent this district and I look forward to his victory in November.” Brat’s Democratic opponent in November will be Jack Trammell, like Brat, a professor at Randolph-Macon College. He’s also a political novice, the author of 20 books, who lives on the family farm with his wife and seven children, and teaches disability studies at the college. Brat lives outside Richmond, with his wife and two children, and helps run the Ethics Bowl, a competitive debate team, where he often banters with the team’s other adviser, a liberal professor. A student on the team told Jennifer Steinhauer Brat has a sense of humour. He’ll need it. It should be an interesting campaign, with the result certain to be far from academic.
By then, the Democrats’ Hillary Clinton may be getting ready to announce her run for the presidency, the Republicans might have decided who their candidate might be (Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz spring to mind; Chris Christie blew it), and the Tea Party might have found someone as far right as Genghis Khan.
No matter what happens this November, the presidential election in November 2016 should prove to be one of the most fascinating contests in US history, especially if Hillary Clinton is the Democrats’ nominee. Will her campaign slogan and song be: “You’ve come a long way, Baby?”

An Irish journey around the Sydney Writers’ Festival

The Sydney Writers’ Festival ended over a week ago, and I thought it might be too late to write about it, until I received an email this week from the Artistic Director, Jemma Birrell, with a summary of the books fest, a newsletter titled “It’s a Wrap.” http://bit.ly/1hqKA41
She quoted Irish author, Emma Donoghue (photo above), who said in her Closing Address: “When you challenge your readers, you also need to comfort them.”
Emma Donoghue was one of the writers we found comforting, in an interesting conversation with Suzanne Leal, about her latest novel, Frog Music (Picador), a tale about an unsolved crime in San Francisco in 1876. It features a burlesque dancer, Blanche; her lover, Arthur, and his mate, Ernest, and the murder of an eccentric young woman, cross dresser and frog hunter, Jenny Bonnet. Blanche, Arthur and Ernest are former stars of the Parisian Circus, and Donoghue peppers her novel with lots of French words and songs from the period. She has song notes in the back of the novel, along with a glossary of the French words, but in most cases Blanche translates for her friend Jenny, and the reader, of course.
It’s a great read, and Emma Donoghue, like most Irish people (she now lives in Canada), has the gift of the gab. She admits: “There’s a bad mother in me,” and drops off her kids at school and can’t wait to get back to writing. But she loves her children as well, and has written Room (Picador), a novel shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011, in which a mother lives with her 5-year-old son in a room 11 feet by 11 feet. She was a good mother, keeping her son Jack safe from the man who has taken her prisoner, but Emma found writing about Blanche and the way she treated her baby was a relief. She told Goodreads website she had never been able to escape from Room: “Not only has it been continuous publicity since Room came out, but I’ve been working on the screenplay as well. So working on Blanche and her many moments of low, nasty hostility to her baby was, indeed, a great contrast.” http://bit.ly/1rBp2G0
So a session with Emma Donoghue led me to sing a song of praise for Frog Music, and my wife Gillian and I continued on our Irish path through the Sydney Writer’s Festival, heading to another fascinating discussion with another Irish author, Eimear McBride, whose novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, has set the literary world a buzzing.
vcm_s_kf_repr_460x276
Like Emma Donoghue, Eimear McBride (photo above) had an excellent interviewer (I can’t stand the word “facilitator”), Geordie Williamson, the chief literary editor of The Australian, who began the session with the comment that A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (Text) is “a book like no other,” and asked her to read an excerpt. I’d suggest you watch this brief video of Eimear McBride reading a passage of her book on Faber and Faber’s YouTube Channel. It really gives you the flavour of the novel. http://bit.ly/1pL90EN
If you’ve just watched it, yes, the book does have a Joycean feel about it. McBride said she spent a lot of time searching for her voice, and then she read James Joyce when she was 25. It’s a story about a girl growing up in rural Ireland until the age of 20, with a religious mother (not surprising in Catholic Ireland), a molesting uncle, a brain-damaged brother and a brutal adolescence during which she was subjected to sexual abuse.
The language is uncompromising. Here the girl gets angry at her mother (and a statuette of the Virgin Mary) for disparaging her brother’s intelligence:
“I don’t want to. I don’t want to. Hear that. I shout stop that. Saying. Believing that. Always saying stupid things about him. She says will you calm yourself. No I won’t. No. No. He’s fine. That’s awful to say. Well that tumour could’ve done more harm than we. Stop. I belt young Virgin Mary on the dashboard. Take it. Take that. Take that.”
It’s a dark Joycean stream of consciousness, blending with a bit of Beckett. She gave a hint of how to read the book during the Festival session: “Full stops encompass a lot of life experience.” She also mentioned that “commas are overrated.” Eimear McBride said she was looking for a new way to tell the old stories about Catholic misery, and was also influenced by Edna O’Brien, whose The Country Girls broke new ground about the repressive treatment of Irish women, sexual matters and social issues in Ireland.
It took nine years for A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing to make it to print, with publishers saying it was unmarketable, while acknowledging the quality. The owner of their local bookshop in Norwich, England asked to read it as he was thinking of starting his own press in 2011. Two years later, his Galley Beggar Press published it, and an influential critic, Adam Mars-Jones, praised it in the London Review of Books and it took off from there, eventually winning the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize in November 2013.
Eimear McBride is working on a similar book now, with “an evolution of the style.” A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is not an easy read, but it’s worth the effort.
vcm_s_kf_repr_620x827
And last but not least, our third Irish author, John Connolly (photo above by Mark Condren), born in Dublin, took to the stage of the Richard Wherrett Studio in the Sydney Theatre to regale us with a history of the crime novel from Dashiell Hammett to Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith and Agatha Christie, to name just a few.
Jon Page, the general manager of Pages & Pages Booksellers, had an easy job as facilitator (ugh, that word!) with Connolly standing at the podium at first, then moving around the stage while speaking quickly and eloquently, as you’d expect of an Irish writer.
My wife and I have been big fans of Connolly since his first novel, Every Dead Thing (Hodder & Stoughton), featuring the former New York City detective, Charlie Parker, hunting the killer of his wife and daughter. He’s just published his 12th Charlier Parker novel, The Wolf in Winter (Hodder & Stoughton), and they keep getting better. The first time I heard him speak was in the Stanton Library in North Sydney in the early 2000s, promoting Every Dead Thing and its first sequel. He talked about his days as a freelance journalist for the Irish Times (he still writes the occasional piece for them) and how one gruesome murder he covered led him to write about such details in his novels. Connolly now divides his time between his native city, Dublin, and the United States, where his Parker novels are set. http://www.johnconnollybooks.com/
The Charlie Parker books are well written and hard to put down. I was surprised to read a review of The Wolf in the Winter in the Sydney Morning Herald by Sue Turnbull which mentioned Connolly’s “often arcane prose.” http://bit.ly/1x4u2TE Arcane means “mysterious, secret and understood by only a few,” according to the Macquarie Dictionary, and I would argue that while his prose is mysterious (he is writing about mysteries), it certainly is easy to understand. Sue Turnbull questions Connolly’s description of the character of Charlie Parker’s “ageing sidekick Angel” as ‘… mortality shadowed him like a falcon mantling its wings over dying prey.’ This is not your usual urbane crime fiction.”
John Connolly is not trying to write your usual urbane crime fiction. He writes about religious sects like the Familists in England and how they settled in Maine to do dark deeds in his latest novel, and a similar sinister organisation, the Fellowship, which murdered a religious community and buried them in a mass grave in northern Maine in his third Parker book, The Killing Kind (Hodder & Stoughton). Here’s some prose from that novel. I’ll let you judge if it’s arcane or not: “I went to Angel. A smear of blood lay across the width of his plastic shield, where it had fallen against his wound. Carefully, I lifted it away so that it would not stick. His gun was still in his hand, and his eyes were open, watching the figure out in the water. ‘He should have burned,’ he said. ‘He will burn,’ I replied.”
In an entertaining 40 minute lecture, Connolly covered everyone from the stylish Raymond Chandler in The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye to Ross Macdonald, crime writing’s poet of empathy and compassion in The Chill, to George V Higgins, the Balzac of Boston, and his The Friends of Eddie Coyle. In an anthology co-edited by Connolly and Declan Burke, Books To Die For, famous crime writers discuss their favourite mystery novel. The late and great crime novelist Elmore Leonard said in his essay: “It doesn’t get any better than Eddie Coyle.”
After the session, we went to get The Wolf in Winter signed. John Connolly could tell we were big fans when my wife asked him about whether he had a whole scenario in mind, as he was writing about his father’s death in the Parker novels. Immediately, he reached into a box and said: “You are old fans, you deserve something special.” He handed us a copy of I Live Here, a memoir of his early encounters with the supernatural and a meeting with an older woman with a query about a haunted house – a little pamphlet specially bound and signed by the author: copy 908 of 1000.
A special gift from a special writer: it was the perfect way to end our Irish journey around the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

RIP Harry Potter: A magical mentor

I’m getting pretty sick of this – writing tributes about colleagues and old mates who have left the newsroom forever, who have turned off their computers and will never open their contact books again.
But I had to say goodbye to Harry Potter, no, not the JK Rowling character, but the best crime reporter in the Southern Hemisphere (sorry, Steve and Simon and Adam and Norm et al), and the nicest. And don’t worry, Harry had already made fun of his famous namesake in a news story recapped in this tribute made by Ten to celebrate his 30 years with the network. And Harry, I’d rather have you sign the book anyway. http://bit.ly/QknAX2
Harry Potter was the nicest because he never met a young reporter he didn’t help. All they had to do was ask, and he was there with contacts and suggestions on the best way to do the story. In every tribute or obit I read about Harry since he died, his colleagues and protégés would mention how helpful he was. My favourite was written by Nine reporter, Gabrielle Boyle, who posted hers on Facebook (a photo above of Gabby with Harry). This is an example of his mentoring … and how he watched over Gabby at Ten: “You called me with countless tip-offs. You critiqued endless scripts. You sent limitless, encouraging text messages and emails. You taught me that reporters should always strive to be good people first. You set an example … Harry, you set the tone, the standard and the culture in our newsroom.”
At the Kennedy Awards for Excellence in NSW journalism last year, Harry was given the Les Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award, accompanied by this moving video tribute: http://bit.ly/1gG99Ut In the Kennedy Awards’ farewell this week to Harry, journalist and crime reporter Adam Walters had this to say: “You could not hope to meet a nicer bloke on the road. Forever humble and apparently oblivious to his genuine legend status Harry never hesitated to help a younger reporter and introduce his protégés to contacts. An up-and-coming crime journalist couldn’t wish to have a more impressive imprimatur. An introduction by Harry to a senior police officer would cement a relationship forever more.” http://bit.ly/1qFkHB5
The tribute also mentioned how Harry’s son Tim, a former Ten journalist, now media adviser to a NSW minister, told the Kennedy Awards last year of his father’s commitment to the victims of crimes decades after they lost their loved ones. He kept in touch because of his love of his family and his pride in his children, knowing how crime rips families apart. Adam Walters writes: “On those long days of stake-outs and waiting outside courts Harry would unfailingly update us on the progress of his kids at school and on the sporting fields. We would hear of his hopes and prayers for one of his sons to crack the big time in the AFL, his pride in seeing his other son follow so faithfully in his footsteps as a fine journalist, and of course his admiration for his beloved Kate.”
vcm_s_kf_repr_650x366
And this is where my personal anecdote comes in, with the mention of his beloved Kate. That’s his widow, Katrina Lee, whom I first met at News Limited in the 1970s. In 1975 I was the acting foreign editor at The Australian, and begging the editor for a pay rise, when the editor-in-chief, Jim Hall, came up to me and said: “I can’t give you a pay rise, but how about a trip around the world.” It was a launch of a PanAm flight from London to Frankfurt. We would fly to the US, stopover in Honolulu, San Francisco and New York before heading to the UK for the flight. Once we got off the plane in Frankfurt, we were on our own to return to Australia, first class, of course, on PanAm flights. The journos on the junket were chief subs and chiefs of staffs and a reporter by the name of Harry Potter. We didn’t have to write anything, unless we wanted to.
The first flight to Honolulu took about ten hours, and we journos lived up to our stereotype by drinking most of the way. I seem to remember we only sat down for takeoff, turbulence and landing. After checking in at the hotel, we had a night’s sleep, but woke up, hungover and thirsty, and headed for the hotel’s pool. I noticed Harry chatting to a young lady in a bikini and next thing I knew, he was down on his hands and knees looking for something. “Whatcha looking for, Harry?” I asked. “This young lady’s lost one of her contact lenses. Can you help?” Well, of course, we did, but being journos we couldn’t resist suggesting Harry had an ulterior motive in his search for the lost lens. After a few minutes, Harry excused himself, looking a bit embarrassed by our good-natured heckling, and said he’d see us in the bar before dinner. A few hours later, Harry returned, this time with a big smile on his face, saying: “I have an announcement to make. I called Kate and asked her to marry me. And she said yes.” We all looked at each other, laughing, and congratulated him. (A photo above of Harry and Kate on their wedding day in 1977! News Limited)
So for the next 38 years, until the last time I saw him at the Kennedy Awards last year, my first question to Harry after saying hello, was: “Did you ever find that contact lens?” I told Tim about it when I worked at Ten News in 2011, along with his wife, Brooke, who’s still at Ten, and they said the whole family knows about it now.
Harry must have been sick of hearing about it, and yet, when I called him, I was usually asking for a favour, on a Saturday or Sunday morning when he was acting as chief of staff, and he never said no. No matter if I were calling from Seven, or Nine, or Sky, whether it was vision or a contact number or if Ten was planning on doing a particular story, Harry always helped when he could. And in 2011, I saw him in the Ten newsroom, as he was catching up with former colleagues, and asked how he was going. He told me about his cancer and how optimistic he was, and he managed to beat it, with the help of a revolutionary treatment last year … until last week.
As soon as I read the sad news on Twitter last Friday, I tweeted: “Farewell Harry Potter — legendary journalist & great bloke. I hope you find that contact lens in heaven. Condolences to Kate & Tim & family.” I only had 140 characters, so let me add Brooke, Nick, Elisa and Jack and the rest of the family now.
Harry Potter, rest in peace, my friend.

A day of contrasts: From bride to gloom in Bondi

It was one of those beautiful autumn days in Sydney. I was driving along Maroubra Road heading to the airport to drop off my brother-in-law and his wife after the wedding of my youngest daughter the day before at Bronte.
A cold wind was blowing, but the bride and groom pictured above had planned the wedding ceremony to perfection at the Bronte RSL. Flower girls, including my granddaughter, threw the rose petals in front of the proud father as he walked up the aisle to hand over his stunning daughter to her beloved. A poem, vows spoken with love and humour, a marriage sealed with a kiss or two, then speeches, drinks, dancing to The Time of My Life, with the newly wedded couple looking like Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing, toasts, more speeches, more dancing, more photographs taken by the inimitable Kristjan Porm (http://www.kristjanporm.com/) and a myriad of guests. You could drink, dance and keep an eye on the Swans game on the plasma TV on the wall (sound turned down, of course).
That’s why I posted on Facebook: “The wedding of the year. The wedding party of the year.” You can understand why I was feeling good about life, the eastern beaches, my fellow Sydneysiders and a sunny Sunday for the ages. The glow continued until the first rumblings of the Billionaire’s Brawl in Bondi were heard on Twitter. A resident and neighbour of James Packer tweeted he saw the billionaire fighting in the street with a man he didn’t recognise (David Gyngell, Nine Entertainment Company’s CEO) “like two mad dogs going at each other’s throats.”
It made me ponder that on Sunday afternoon when all seemed right with the world, two of Australia’s most influential businessman were wrestling and punching each other while a bodyguard and a personal trainer tried to pry them apart. Unfortunately for both men, a photographer managed to capture images of the Crown Resorts chairman and the Nine Entertainment chief executive as they behaved like two schoolboys.
As a journalist who’s dropped a typewriter on the floor – in order to get it fixed – and turned over the editor’s desk – in a moment of rage against management (no one was behind it) — I’d be a hypocrite if I said I couldn’t understand why they were fighting. But I never hit anybody, and I did apologise for my behaviour. James Packer was angry about a satellite technician who had parked his truck near his house, and complained to David Gyngell. The tech was a neighbour of Packer’s and often parked there when he got home late and had to get up early. He was not trying to get pictures of Packer and his alleged new girlfriend – an Australian celebrity. Gyngell threw the first punch and took the blame for it by day 3 of the prolonged news cycle. There were fears Packer’s casino businesses could go south if he were charged with affray. Due to the public nature of the punch-up, the police were forced to investigate, and at the time of writing, still haven’t decided whether to lay any charges.
UPDATE: On Friday, the NSW Police issued James Packer and David Gyngell infringement notices for “offensive behaviour” and fined them $500 each. No conviction was recorded. I hope that’s the end of the matter.
vcm_s_kf_repr_650x366
It was a silly confrontation for both men – long-time mates, but possibly no longer – but the one I feel sorry for is David Gyngell. As managing editor of the Sunday Program, I worked under Gyngell in his first incarnation as CEO of Nine from 2004 to 2005. He was a passionate chief executive. He knew when to praise and when to criticise, and he was fair. He loved television and was hands-on. I was most impressed with him during the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. I was on annual holidays from the Sunday Program, which was on summer hiatus, when I got a call from David, asking me if I could come in to help produce A Current Affair, with acting executive producer Ben Hawke and supervising producer John Muldrew. “Wild horses couldn’t keep me away,” I said. My wife was less impressed, but she knew I wouldn’t be happy sitting at home when a story as big as this one was breaking. Gyngell came in every morning and asked what we were doing, and the sky was the limit as far as the budget was concerned. He explained early in the disaster: “One hundred and fifty thousand people could die. We have to cover this from every angle.” He led the coverage, and it was a pleasure to work your guts out for a man who cared about the news and the victims of this horrific tsunami that killed and maimed so many people. (The official death toll is more than 230,000 in 14 countries). He also made up for my working during my holidays, with a trip to Tasmania for me and my wife for a couple of days at the end of January, before I went back to work at Sunday. He paid for the trip himself.
That’s why David Gyngell has the full support of the Nine board, despite the police investigation into the Sunday fracas. The chief operating officer of Nine Entertainment, Simon Kelly, described his boss as a passionate leader: “He lives and breathes the business, he has 100 per cent support of the management and the board and he has been in the office working.” http://bit.ly/1ssaaXA Speaking of support, I like what Gyngell’s wife, Leila McKinnon, a presenter for Nine’s Today Show, and one of the straightest shooting journos in the industry, had to say on Facebook yesterday: “He may be a brawling bogan but he’s my brawling bogan.” He really is a good bloke.
It’s been painful watching the news on every channel covering the fisticuffs and its aftermath as a joke. On the other hand, a friend and former colleague at Nine, Janine Perrett, now the presenter of her own show on Sky Business, The Perrett Report, has been calling on the two executives to apologise all week. On her program on Thursday night, another friend, Crikey business and media commentator, Glenn Dyer, said both men “should have apologised to the community, the shareholders, the board and the employees for embarrassing them.” He added it was a matter of the bosses holding themselves to the standards they expect of other people and the people they employ. A reasonable request from Janine and Glenn.
vcm_s_kf_repr_613x848
But back to a happy ending. The response to my daughter’s wedding has been enormous on Facebook. It’s a love story about a young attractive couple with a long and happy marriage in front of them, surrounded by family and friends who adored them – with the photos to prove it.
In my father of the bride address, I meant to recite the A.A. Milne poem that I had read at her sixth birthday three decades earlier, Now I am Six, but I didn’t want to make my speech too long. On second thought, I should have. So here it is, Heidi:
When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three,
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever,
So I think I’ll be six for ever and ever.
Like any Dad, I said at the time: “And Heidi, I hope you stay six for ever and ever.” And she said, as any clever six year old would say: “No, I won’t. No, I won’t.”
But on the night of the wedding, I thought: “In her heart, she remains as enthusiastic and passionate as she was as a six year old, and in her mind, she is as clever as clever as ever.”
We will have these moments to remember.
But wait, just one more ending, happier and funnier. I’ll leave the last word to Heidi, who posted this on Thursday night on Facebook:
Honeymoon Day 4 (in Bali) — Time for some extreme sports action white water rafting down the Telaga Waja River where I FELL OUT OF THE BLOODY BOAT into the rapids!! My husband (the hero) came tumbling in after me, smacking me across the face with his oar as he fell. And that, my friends, is why you should never leave your private villa and pool.

Portrait of the artist as a middle-aged muso

What happens to a world-class caricaturist when he decides to pursue a career in music? Does he lose his 15 minutes of fame, if he’s not successful as a recording artist? And what happens when he becomes a music teacher to pay the rent and put food on the table?
Well, if you’re Ulf Kaiser, who came to Australia as a 15 year old from Austria, speaking little English and staying at the Villawood hostel in Sydney, you go back to your first love – drawing caricatures in the style of David Levine, the famous artist long associated with the prestigious New York Review of Books.
Ulf, now in his fifties, would love to return to caricatures, but hasn’t found a newspaper or magazine or online publication willing to hire him, even on a freelance basis. I worked with him on The Australian newspaper in the early 80s when I was the literary editor and TV critic. When you needed a quick professional caricature, getting to the essence of the subject, Ulf was your man. Anyone from American author Saul Bellow to former Prime Minister John Curtin, to blues/jazz singer Tom Waits, plus a self-portrait of the artist as a younger man, as you can see above.
David Levine has always been his hero, and it’s not going too far to say his work resembles the master caricaturist. The renowned American author, John Updike, said this of Levine, who had drawn him many times: “Besides offering us the delight of recognition, his drawings comfort us, in an exacerbated and potentially desperate age, with the sense of a watching presence, an eye informed by an intelligence that has not panicked, a comic art ready to encapsulate the latest apparitions of publicity as well as those historical devils who haunt our unease.” http://bit.ly/1h1Xr6y
Like Levine, Kaiser’s caricatures ranged from politicians to authors to artists and entertainers and writers – and like any newspaper artist, he drew portraits of journalists on their departures or their significant birthdays or events.
I hadn’t seen Ulf for at least 20 years, and this profile began when I had a query from the political editor for the Nine Network, Laurie Oakes, a friend and former colleague on the Sunday Program, asking if I knew who had drawn the caricature below of former Governor-General, Sir Zelman Cowen. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Federal Member for Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg, had the caricature hanging in his office, and he wanted to make a plaque out of it. But he asked Laurie if he could confirm who the artist was, and when the caricature was drawn – probably for the Sunday Program. As soon as Laurie emailed me the drawing, I knew it was Ulf, and called him to check on the date.
ZelmanIMG-20140320-00516 (2)
I found his contact details on his website — http://ulfkaiser.com/ – and he was as surprised as I was. “I had been thinking of trying to resurrect my ‘caricature art stuff,’ and I’m going to see if I can knock on some doors, so it’s timely to hear from you.”
When he was working for The Australian in the 80s, Ulf also drew caricatures of politicians and prominent Australians like Sir Zelman for the Sunday Program. By the time I joined Sunday in 1986, he had a small spot in The Bulletin magazine, called “The Portrait.” Back in those days, two of his journalistic supporters at Consolidated Press, Trevor Sykes and Trevor Kennedy, reportedly kept urging Kerry Packer to sit for a portrait by Ulf. You can probably guess Packer’s reaction: “I don’t care if he’s fucking Rembrandt, I’m not sitting for a portrait.” Then Ulf managed to get a gig doing “Kaiser’s Komment” for The Australian IT section, which lasted for four years before the section crashed. (It has since resumed publication.)
Enter Ulf Kaiser, the artist, who began what he called a “wonderful project” painting historic sites for the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), as part of their Heritage and Community Department. They commissioned him to paint Monet-esque landscapes, including famous Australian buildings, like the first concrete bridge in the Southern Hemisphere and governors’ residences. It lasted for four years until one of the managers of the project died unexpectedly.
Enter Ulf Kaiser, the musician. He’s always had a love for music, but the opportunity arose for him to record a few albums in Australia, and they went pretty well. He invested some money, hoping his songs would go just as well overseas. Where else would you go to record an album, but Abbey Road in London, where he met people like John Barry of James Bond film themes fame, and had to vacate studios for the likes of the Beatles, Annie Lennox, George Michael and Harry Connick Jnr, to name a few.
Then bad luck struck, a bit of an accountancy stuff-up, and the album didn’t sell as well as the ones in Australia. An honest and humble Ulf Kaiser explains: “When I got to Abbey Road, I just wasn’t good enough to take my music to the next level. Not rubbish – just not exciting enough to grab attention in the adult market which included Sting and Robbie Williams.”
Where to, from here? Ulf’s degree and experience in London enabled him to get a job teaching music in Australia on condition he go to Bourke High School. He loved teaching the kids, but Bourke was no picnic. From the outback to the western suburbs of Sydney Ulf wound up teaching music at Lurnea High School – a home of sorts. It’s not where he’d really like to be – at home or in an office, drawing caricatures of the rich and not so rich, and the famous and not so famous.
‘SIR, YOU SHOULD BE AN ARTIST’
But he loves teaching students at Lurnea High, especially the Pacific Islanders, and his latest protégé, a girl named Ruthie. Ulf plays the piano and coaches her singing. He gives her a big rap: “I think she will end up in schools spectacular or on TV. She is the package. The musical rapport I have with this teenager is first class, and as good as music ever gets. I had this relationship with an Islander boy who played the piano while I strummed the guitar. It felt like Lennon and McCartney in the old days.”
Ulf is still performing his own songs. He’s just recorded his latest album, Lloyd Avenue, which he printed himself and put together manually. It’s like a cottage industry. He only ever assembles a few at a time, and leaves some at the local radio station at Hunters Hill in Sydney, where he used to live, at the RRRs end of the dial. His idea is to give them a test run, and if the demand is good, he will commercially produce a larger quantity. But he adds: “You’ve usually got to have a fairly big run to be cost effective. A lot of musos end up with a stack of CDs under their bed.” I’m no music critic, but I did like the album, with classics like Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” and Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” and Ulf’s compositions, including “Red Lounge,” “Sometimes When You’re Down” and “Windmills & Sails” (my favourite). He describes his music as full of “rich textures and arrangement in the Pop-Reggae-Jazz-Country-Folk sort of way … a kind of a male version of Joni Mitchell, who spans many musical genres.” He also likes his latest album, even after repeated listening: “Liking your own CDs is not always the case or guaranteed.”
Despite his gift for music, Ulf Kaiser would like to give caricatures one last shot. He occasionally does a bit of drawing at Lurnea, and the kids have a look and say: “Sir, you should be an artist.”
Ulf says if he were ever to write his memoirs, that would be the title: “It also serves as a metaphor of the people who end up in teaching, when they might have been, or ought to have been, somewhere else. Weaving teaching with art and music, prompting that old refrain from the sixties film: “To Sir with Love.”

Ian Frykberg: The Master Negotiator

Ian Stewart Frykberg was a giant of a man in so many ways – but not in so many words.
The political journalist, TV executive producer, news and current affairs director, sports rights agent extraordinaire, and family man could say so much with just one word than others could do with one hundred.
He was the first executive producer I worked for at the Channel Nine Sunday Program from 1986 to 1991, and on reflection, probably the best in my 20 years at the show.
Frykers, as he was affectionately known, would call up the producer or reporter like Graham Davis on a Monday morning, and say one word: “Privatisation.” He would add: “That’s the cover story this week.” As Graham Davis put it on Facebook this week, “The yarns would always make a splash because Frykers was extraordinarily well connected.” Ian was very close to the NSW Right, and in those days, it was Paul Keating and Mick Young and Graham Richardson, to name just a few. He drank with most of them in the Bellevue Hotel in the Sydney suburb of Paddington. It was owned by Susie Carleton and his close mates included Brian Johns and Peter Barron.
One Saturday afternoon in 1991, I was at the Sunday cottage in Willoughby when I got a call from Frykers. I could tell from the background noise that he was probably at the Bellevue. He said: “Could you please call WIN in Canberra and book a studio for a guest for Laurie tomorrow morning?” I said: “Why don’t we just use the studio at Nine in Canberra?” He said: “It’s a special guest and we don’t want anyone to see him before the interview.” Of course, it was Paul Keating making his second, and soon to be successful, leadership challenge against Bob Hawke. Frykers had managed to line up Keating and wanted to make sure the interview was exclusive and there would be no door-stopping of the Treasurer. It worked a treat.
When Frykers started making calls at 10.30am to arrange lunch, he was working. By the end of a frequently long repast, he would have a guest, a cover story and was still able to talk to the supervising producer, Richard Carey, or later Richard Andrews or Allan Hogan, about what should go into the program that week. Even more important, if the show had been particularly good on Sunday, he would take the staff to lunch on Tuesday. It was a way of boosting morale and if there were any problems, they could be discussed over a beer. The lunch often ended with PCAs: “Palate Cleansing Ales.” Those were the good old days.
That was the key to Frykers’ success: his ability to negotiate. He could do it with staff and management, and later with sporting codes, and he often did it over a beer at the pub. As Damien Murphy put it in the SMH obituary (Photo above: Jacky Ghossein) this week: Ian “became the ‘go to’ man when rich men and sporting organisations were in deadlock.” As they often are, in both sport and the media. http://bit.ly/OeOkHn
My favourite beer story is Frykers taking Charles Wooley, then a Sunday reporter, to the local Nine pub, the Bridgeview, to conduct contract negotiations. Charles said Frykers would get him a bit drunk and then have him sign the contract, so he decided to pull a swiftie. He told the bartender to just give him light beer and his boss his usual full-strength ale. It worked for one round, until Frykers picked up Wooley’s beer, looked at it, smelled it, and said: “Give him a schooner of real beer.” Charles said he eventually signed the contract – as usual. You couldn’t put one over on Ian Frykberg.
A PERCEPTIVE EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Ian Frykberg was a perceptive executive producer. In 1990 while I was on a press mission to Israel, sponsored by the Australian/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, I had a confrontation with the Israeli police. I was trying to secure the release of four Palestinian women arrested for selling embroideries with representations of the PLO flag. The women were simply fund-raising for a school being built by the well-known advocate for non-violence, Father Elias Chacour of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. I was with a World Vision representative when an Israeli policeman gently shoved us out the door of the police station in Ibillin in Galilee. Father Chacour (who recently retired as Archbishop of all Galilee) was allowed to go, but the women had to stay. I had to call Frykers in Sydney to tell him what had happened, just in case something might go wrong. He was calm, as usual, and told me to stay cool and get some sleep. Just one question: “You didn’t get involved?” “No,” I replied, “except to the extent that journos ask questions.” He just chuckled and said goodbye. That was Frykers. (And yes, the women were eventually released.)
Frykers knew when it was time to go. He left as EP of the Sunday and Business Sunday programs to devote all his time to being head of sport at Nine. He knew when to leave BSkyB in London to launch his own sports rights organisation, International Sports Television in 1996, and step up to multi-million dollar deals with cricket, soccer, Aussie Rules and Rugby League. And he knew how to multi-task before the phrase became popular. A workaholic, he was actually EP of Sunday at the same time he was editor of the Bulletin magazine. He used to tell the Bulletin staff he was at Sunday, and the Sunday staff he was at the Bulletin. I’m not sure exactly where he was, but neither the program nor the magazine suffered because he was always working. He came up with stories that produced ratings and circulation, as well as quality. His mantra to Sunday was: “All I want from you is quality television.” And he always wanted the program to be “on the pace.”
Ian Frykberg was never one to complain about his illness. When I heard that he was very crook, I called and left a message asking how he was, then followed it up with a text, saying I just wanted to wish him well. I received a text a few days later: “Apologies for the tardiness of my reply. I will give you a ring … And yes, the Sunday days were great! Ciao, Ian F”
I responded with “It’s hard to keep a good man down. Just call when you can …” A close friend of Ian’s told me he had seen him in Sydney’s St Vincent Hospital and, despite his failing body, he was hanging in there: “That big brain still ticking over… ”
That was Frykers. There will be plenty of tears and beers at his funeral and wake tomorrow.

Good news: Aussie baseball is good for business

They came, they played, they conquered. The Los Angeles Dodgers arrived in Sydney last week, played Team Australia in an exhibition game, and the Arizona Diamondbacks in two Major League Baseball (MLB) matches, and won all three.
Okay, non-sports fans, I’ve already previewed the opening series of the MLB season (my previous post on “Dem Bums” are coming to town http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-ga), but it turned out to be a significant event in Australia, and this is not all about sport, so I decided to do a follow-up.
I had my doubts about how the game would be received Down Under, as the Australian Baseball League (ABL) has struggled a bit to gain the recognition it deserves. But if the enthusiasm for the two American professional teams spreads to the ABL, it’s likely to be brighter days for the sport in Australia.
Nearly 80 thousand people attended the two MLB matches at the Sydney Cricket Ground – dubbed the Sydney Baseball Ground by some fans who put up a sign to that effect at the stadium — with many of them wearing hats and jerseys of their favourite US teams.
I was sitting in the Millers Bullpen Bar section at the SCG on Sunday – next to the “bullpen” where relief pitchers warm up before being called to the mound to replace a failing or tiring teammate – and wrote down the team names worn proudly by fans. Aside from the Dodgers, there were the Giants, Yankees, Phillies, A’s, White Sox, Red Sox, Mariners, to name just a few, and celebrity t-shirts, Derek Jeter (star shortstop of the Yankees) and Mark McGwire (hitting coach for the Dodgers and former home run leader for the A’s and the Cardinals).
They cheered loudly for the Dodgers, not so much for the Diamondbacks; sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and laughed at the line to “root, root, root for the home team;” drank Miller beer out of plastic cups; and ate a plethora of junk food, including hot dogs, with lots of trimmings, despite the dogs’ lack of quality. Continental franks are still the only hot dogs worth eating in Australia, and they don’t sell them at the SCG!
But, of course, baseball is not all about food. It’s America’s national pastime because it’s a game that, like cricket, can be played in backyards or on the street, and has traditions going back to the 19th Century, which are still part of the culture. Baseball phrases dot the English language: “Down to the last out,” “grand slam,” “a whole new ball game,” “Three strikes and you’re out,” “in the ballpark,” or “ballpark figure,” “cover all the bases,” “play hardball,” and “step up to the plate.” There are many more, including a good double-entendre like “switch-hitter!”
The former US Ambassador to Australia, Jeff Bleich, writing in The Australian last week summed up his love for baseball: “It’s a game about perseverance. The best batters in history – the ones who are in the hall of fame – still failed seven out of 10 times they stood at the plate. Ballplayers never quit … and most of all baseball is about hope. It is a sport where no matter how many runs you are down, as long as you have an at bat left, you can still come back and win.” http://bit.ly/1prytBp
I sat next to a nice couple from Sydney at the game, John and Lolita Danieli, and we chatted about baseball over a few beers. John said he got interested in the sport when he spent some time in New York with the family. He said he’d like his son to take up baseball, so these Major League games in Sydney might just do the trick. I think there are a lot of Australians, like the Danielis, who go to the US and come back baseball fans. Like cricket, baseball grows on you, and the more you know about it, the more you like it. Well, that’s my experience anyway. I grew up with the game, and have been a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies for 65 years.
The big crowd also applauded for the 17 Australians who played in the Major Leagues, including David Nilsson, Craig Shipley, and Graeme Lloyd, and were part of a special roll of honour before the game. But what does all this mean for the future of Australian baseball? Will Swanton has been covering baseball for The Australian and has written some very good pieces about the game. Here’s what David Nilsson told Swanton in Monday’s paper after a conversation with Major League Baseball Commissioner, Bud Selig: “He (Selig) said if we don’t follow up on this in Australia, it’s a waste of time. It’s about continuing the momentum, game growth, trying to secure another series down here, better facilities, more kids playing the game, more exposure. That’s what it’s about.”
A GEM OF BASEBALL COVERAGE
The coverage of Nine’s digital channel, Gem, would certainly whet the appetite of kids hungry to play the game. Sunday’s game (News Corp photo above) on Gem started with a good voiceover from former cricket captain, Ian Chappell, over a montage of the history of baseball in Australia, going back to the 1850s when it was introduced by Americans digging for gold. It was well produced and edited, with perhaps a few too many shots of kangaroos and “koala bears,” as the commentators on ESPN kept calling them. Chappelli also did the colour for ESPN, and provided a much-needed Australian flavour to the broadcasts. But the US coverage would have certainly inveigled international viewers into the delights of Sydney on a picture perfect day. As Jeff Bleich put it in his piece: “Baseball is good for business … Based on ticket sales throughout Australia, the US, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Asia, the exclusive Sydney engagement between the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks has brought baseball fans from across the region and injected millions of dollars into NSW and the Australian economy.” He’s right, judging by the multicultural mix of spectators at the SCG yesterday.
And he’s also right about baseball being good for business. Corporate leaders gathered for lunch in Sydney to hear Commissioner Bud Selig talk about the importance of the MLB matches in helping to internationalise the sport. The head of the Business Council of Australia, Tony Shepherd, told The Australian’s Glenda Korporaal after the lunch that staging the games would “have a remarkable effect” on the business of baseball here, already lifted when MLB reorganised the game through the ABL, a 75 per cent-owned subsidiary (http://bit.ly/1rmJrfg). And MLB has a lot of money: US baseball is an 8.5 billion dollar business!
But there is still a long way to go. Baseball is not a major sport Down Under, and even though I watched the first game on Gem on Saturday night, I found myself switching back and forth between it and the AFL match on the Fox Footy Channel. The contest was between two low-ranked sides, St Kilda and Melbourne, but Australian Rules is still the most exciting sport, by far — though I did see the Sydney Swans coach, John Longmire, going into the SCG with his children yesterday. Hmm, I wonder if his kids will prefer baseball to AFL!
So when Bud Selig says the MLB bandwagon may be back in four years, it will depend on whether Australian baseball continues to grow as a sport. I predicted years ago that basketball would thrive as a sport Down Under when the Sydney Kings joined the National Basketball League in 1988. But it hasn’t quite made it to the top echelon, despite many of its young players being recruited by US colleges and several making it to the National Basketball Association. The Ten Network started broadcasting NBL games this year, which could make a difference. If a major network decided to do the same with the Australian Baseball League, and Gem could be the one, the future of the sport could almost be guaranteed. (Gem’s ratings on Sunday night, with its live coverage of the T20 match between Australian and Pakistan, were only half a percentage point behind Channel Ten!) The community TV station, TVS, began live screenings of Sydney Blue Sox home games last season and all the ABL games are live streamed on the Internet on ABL TV. Laurie Patton was the “starting CEO” at TVS and is now the Chairman of the Marketing Committee of the Blue Sox. He’s also an old friend and we had a beer at the game. He told me: “As a Blue Sox board member and father of a 16-year-old pitcher cum right fielder, I have great hopes for the expansion of the fan base next season based on the success of the MLB outing here.” He also promised to “take me out to a ball game” this year.
In fact, we’ll know that baseball has really made it in Australia when they change the lyrics of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” as the Sydney Swans did with the lyrics of the Notre Dame fight song from “Cheer, Cheer for Old Notre Dame” to “Cheer, Cheer the Red and the White.” No longer will it be: “Let me root, root, root for the home team,” but “Let me cheer, cheer, cheer for the home team …” And Aussie fans won’t be buying “some peanuts and cracker jack,” but plenty of meat pies and VB.